Thursday, May 7, 2020

How Will Things Change Going Forward?

The virus continues to wreak its havoc in the US and all over the world, and as it does the governing paradigms stress and shift. We're entering a new era, a "brave new world" of sorts, and the outlines of it are beginning to be revealed.

The US imperial juggernaut is shuddering to a halt. "The World" cannot rely on the US for leadership or guidance but only for whining, complaints and chaos. "The World" has to go it alone without the US. This is a monumental strategic collapse, something eagerly longed for by the widespread nihilist contingent online, but like so much that passes for erudite opinion these days, the consequences are not thought through. Instead, the collapse of the Empire -- however you describe it -- is a Good Thing in and of itself, bugger the consequences.

This collapse, such as it is, may ultimately be attributed to the internal chaos of the Trump regime, but most observers and participants probably recognize the seeds were planted long before the advent of the Orange Shitgibbon, and symptoms of systems instability leading to eventual collapse were inbuilt long prior to Trump's election and installation.

I've maintained that our rulers have prepared for just this set of circumstances, and they're not too frightened of it. They knew it was coming. Some not only anticipated, they actively helped precipitate it. Crisis is opportunity after all.

The virus arose and spread, and here we are.

About half The World seems to have a handle on dealing with the virus positively; the other half does not. The US is in the latter category, but our rulers seem to think everything is going well enough. They, after all, are protected (for the most part) and do not witness nor do they suffer the losses of everyone else. They see a partial sketch of what's happening and think it's pretty good, all in all.

1) The stock market is doing OK thanks to enormous injections of "free money" for the rich and well-connected to play with.

2) Illness and death due to the virus is largely being confined to the Lower Orders where it belongs, reducing the population of useless eaters -- the old, the disabled, those with pre-existing conditions, the homeless, the mentally defective, the poor, the brown... yadda, yadda... with almost surgical precision. What's not to like if you're rich and well connected?

3) Government is now overtly authoritarian almost everywhere, and look, The People by and large are OK with it. There are periodic staged "revolts" -- the yowling moblets at state capitols, for example -- but it's mostly kayfabe, show business. The rightist mobs are helping to keep the Vox Populi from being heard at all. We can see that the efforts at mitigating the effects of the virus are limited, very limited, and to the extent they are working, they are merely slowing the impact of the virus and the chaos, not stopping or diverting it.

4) Illness and death rates are flattening or slowing in some places, rising and accelerating in others, and overall, the US is on course to witness a hundred million or more infections, a million or more deaths by the end of the year. And modeling predictions now suggest this rate of infection and death could continue for two or three years, even with a vaccine. Details of the virus aren't well known yet, but it doesn't matter. It's been established that the virus is "vicious" and "virulent" and does much damage among about 20% of the population. It hardly affects the other 80%. Even if 20% of the population dies (they won't) would it be a bad thing? Especially if the illness and death can be concentrated among the classes of useless eaters already identified? Sure enough, it looks like it can be, so what, exactly, is there to worry about? This is how our rulers are thinking about this thing. It's time we came to grips with it.

5) Main Street is being wiped clean yet again. As if the collapse of 2008 didn't do a good enough job. It took more than ten years to partially recover from that collapse. It appears that there won't be a recovery from this one. The Economy as we knew it isn't coming back. What will take its place is barely recognized as yet, but we have some clues.


  • The death of Main Street (again) tells us that a handful of giant ("essential") corporations will dominate The Economy going forward. Independent enterpreneurship will all but vanish.
  • A handful of banking giants will determine the economic status of everyone, and once determined that's where you'll stay for the rest of your (shortened) life. 
  • New Deal social programs will go away. 
  • Great Society social programs will go away.
  • Public education will probably go away.
  • Charity will take the place of some programs for some people. Otherwise, too bad so sad.
  • Religion will become the universal opiate of the people, along with plenty of opiates.
  • Typical lifespan will decline further.
  • Typical income will decline further.
  • Status will determine reward. Those who can't make it on their own won't make it at all unless they are of high enough status -- thus constantly winnowing the herd.
  • Work will be transformed into something akin to "patriotic slavery." Once assigned to a status and function, that's where you'll stay until... well, the end.
  • Accustomed accouterments of "civilization" such as electricity, running water, transportation, internet access, etc. will be gradually restricted only to those of high enough status to "deserve" them. As for the rest, oh well!
  • A sham democracy may endure, but ultimately the uselessness of the practice will be clear. 
  • Borders will be strictly controlled as the ruling interest is to reduce population, not increase it. 
    • What used to be isn't coming back. There will be no 'better future' for most Americans. 
The End.

It didn't have to be this way.






Tuesday, May 5, 2020

As the Toll Mounts

Very strange. I went on an expedition yesterday to collect enough cat food to hold us for a week or so. I usually buy it at the Walmart in the next town over because they have the large bags (when they aren't sold out) and the kind of canned food the house cats like. But yesterday I got to the parking lot and turned around. The place was mobbed -- after weeks of lower than normal traffic through the store. So much lower that sometimes kids were skateboarding in the aisles.

What happened? I dunno. New Mexico is still on semi-lockdown, Gallup is shut completely. Most people have been unhappy about the restrictions, but they're unhappier about the virus, especially now in Indian Country where the virus seems to have free rein.

So I came back to our little town and pulled into the Dollar General parking lot. I can get cat food in smaller quantities there, and usually there's not a crowd. On the way, I passed the hardware store, and its parking lot was full -- the first time I'd ever seen that. There was a social-distancing line out the door. My doG, what's going on?

At the Dollar General, the parking lot wasn't full, but there were few carts outside, and when I went in, there were more people inside than I think I've ever seen. Only one was wearing a mask, and it was nearly impossible to "social distance." There was plenty of cat food, so I loaded up and waited interminably to check out. There were so many people. Most were buying just a few things but some had full carts of groceries and sundries -- as if they'd finally run out or hadn't bought much for weeks. Maybe that's what had happened. We and folks we know have mostly been getting groceries and supplies once a week, sometimes once every two weeks if we don't need anything fresh. But this was a case where people, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in groups (saw one group of teens numbering five or six) just out for a lark, picking up soda or sweet rolls, were jamming the store.

Very few wore masks or kept their distance.

So. We know that this thing is far from done and that the restrictions on businesses and social life have slowed the infection rate significantly. But still. Tens of thousands are dead -- officially up around 70,000; likely double or triple that given the deficiencies in testing and reporting. And the numbers are not declining. Expectations are for another spike as states "open up." And our rulers don't seem to care as long as the illness and deaths are confined to the old folks' homes, the prisons and jails, the Indian reservations, immigrants, the working class schlubs and so on. Herd culling. As they say.

We like to think of what's going on as some sort of accident, act of God, or what have you, but in fact deliberate policies are being implemented, though often badly. Some observers have pointed out that because of those policies, the ultimate death toll a year or two from the start of the Outbreak is liable to be in the million plus range in the US alone.

Given the way things have been going, that is widespread policy. "Let them die." The activity and business restrictions were put in place to control the spread of the virus, and they've pretty much worked. But if you listen carefully to R pols, they're nearly of one voice: "You can't stop the virus. You've got to learn to live with it." And studies have apparently shown that 80% or so of those who get it do "live" with it. Only 20% die, you see. And the deaths have been concentrated within the Lower Orders. As long as that's the case, what's the problem? Right?

It's interesting that the rightist activists clamoring for the re-opening of business are a relatively small bunch of loudmouths -- almost all white, some strutting around with their guns and camo -- and practically everywhere they appear, summoned by rightist media and organizations, states "re-open" almost immediately, or at least parts of the business and recreation sectors do. Yet over the years we've seen massive popular movements and demonstrations, literally millions in the streets over and over, be ignored (ie: anti-war, women's marches, March for Our Lives, etc) and/or be violently suppressed (ie: Occupy, Black Lives Matter, etc,)  by our rulers. Get the picture yet?

In December of 2000, the Supreme Court yielded the presidency to the same radicals who are out yelling at capitols today.

The rightist demonstrators are not our rulers, but our rulers inevitably yield to them, no matter what they want.

So in effect, their demands are policy, while the people's righteous demands, no matter what they are, are routinely ignored or denied.

That in a nutshell is how this nation operates.

Clarifying, no?

Monday, April 6, 2020

"Let Them Die"

As shit gets real with this Outbreak, we're seeing the consequences of decades of diminution of the notion of public service and duty and the triumph of greed and cruelty. The heroes of the moment are the littlest of the little people, those who keep the wheels turning, working the farms, staffing warehouses, the open stores and shops, driving trucks, cooking, serving, cleaning, staffing hospitals, keeping the skeleton of government running, and dying on the front lines while their betters dither and dither and figure out ways to better profit from the crisis.

Given the logarithmic scale of the calamity, "Save yourself and let them die" has become the generally agreed-upon path forward among the High and the Mighty. Pernicious, yes, but not at all surprising. We've been allowed to see the models which offer a best-case scenario of up to 240,000 dead from the Outbreak in the US alone. Best-case. Realistically, the toll will be much higher; ten times as much is possible, and if there are many waves of infection yet to come, the eventual toll in the US could be multiple tens of millions. Too bad so sad, right?

Not to our betters, no. The loss of so many lives would probably fill them with delight -- so long as they themselves survive.

I expect the death toll to stop being reported when it reaches 100,000 or so, simply because reporting more dead will serve no useful purpose anymore. Of course, people will still be dying, but further death beyond the low best-case estimate won't matter much to the overclass -- so long as it's not them dying, of course.

But it will be partly them. And their managers and administrators. Nevertheless, most of the dead will be as ever among the lower orders.

Of which, always, there are too many. "Let them die."

On the other hand, the Queen's message to Britain yesterday climaxed with her startling reference to that WWII anthem, "We'll Meet Again."



Also, and maybe more apropos, the ending theme music to "Dr. Strangelove" :


Another version for those who need a bit more...

This too shall pass...

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

"Hoocoodanode"

One of the ways previous generations got through the tribulations of their times was through the same kinds of dismissal and denial our rulers like to propose to excuse their inability or unwillingness to deal with the current Outbreak. "Hoocoodanode" things would or could get this bad this quick or that so many people would get sick and die and hospitals would be overwhelmed and it couldn't be controlled as easily as flu?" Hoocoodanode??

Of course, practically everybody who should have known did know. The fact is they didn't properly prepare, didn't act quickly enough, didn't care enough to think it was all that important, and the truth is some still don't think it's all that important in the vast, eternal scheme.

To many of them, nothing is as important as making and keeping ever more money and ruling the lives and deaths of their serfs.

It's all about the money and power, not about people. I thought the furious push back against the Trumpist/money-maker notion that the country should be "reopened for business" by Easter was interesting. The idea, broached by several people who shoulda knowed better, at least one in the medical profession, was that we shouldn't let the fight against the virus be worse than the disease caused by the virus, and that, in the end, we would do well to let some of the ill die so as to make a better life for the survivors possible. Ummm, bad optics. Underlying the notion was the thought that the Economy (as it was) is ultimately more important to the future than the lives of old people and defectives.

Let them die. Compassionately, of course, but let them die nonetheless.

This is in no way different than the arguments to dispose of all sorts of people during the terrible times of the 1930s and 40s. It wasn't just the Nazis who thought this way. Genocides were practiced as a matter of course by the US and many imperial powers of the time as their right and duty as powers. The Nazis took it too far, but they didn't invent the idea.

Now we're seeing a revival of these ideas as a means to cope with the Outbreak. Part of the reason why is that the virus is running rampant through Western society and is strongly affecting the High and the Mighty, where it apparently first took hold outside China. When members of European royalty, the prime minister of Britain, the wives of the prime ministers of Canada and Spain, members of the US Congress, White House staff, guests at Mar-a-lago and so on all fall ill with the virus, and it spreads uncontrolled through the halls of power, priorities must be set.

As there is a serious lack of medical personnel, equipment and beds, no vaccine or cure, and people who matter are facing financial ruin because of the shut-downs of their usual economic exploitation and looting, something has to be done. Human sacrifice is always appropriate. But in times like these, large-scale human sacrifice, particularly of the Useless Eaters, is of paramount importance to preserve, protect, and defend a way of life that should never have been allowed and enabled in the first place.

Yesterday's conventional wisdom (thanks to Dr. Fauci, what a dude!) was that we should prepare ourselves for millions of infected cases and at least 100,000 deaths in the US alone, because why not get used to it now?

Trump even puffed himself up and beat his chest about it: coulda been millions dead if not for his brilliance and compassion. Bow down!

All kinds of other fallout is likely, on top of the direct consequences of the virus. We'll see shortages well beyond those of hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Worker strikes are likely to spread and become more disruptive. The systems we've lived with -- and often loathed -- are trembling and parts will collapse.

We're seeing constant reminders of how soulless and disinterested, let alone incompetent, our rulers and their sponsors are.

How bad our circumstances will become is still a mystery, but BAD is the correct pre-assessment of the temporarily unknown future. "Hoocoodanode?"

We all shoulda.




Saturday, March 28, 2020

Tracking

Covid cases in New Mexico may have begun their exponential rise. The confirmed number of cases stands at 191 as of yesterday, a rise of 55 over the day before, quite a jump after a week or more of no more than a couple of dozen new cases daily. So far, about 10,000 people with symptoms have been tested.

The first death connected to Covid in New Mexico happened on March 22. However, it was not identified as a Covid death until March 24, and it was reported on March 25. The 70 year old man with underlying conditions took sick and was transported to the hospital on March 22. He died in the hospital later that day. As I understand it, a test was not administered until after he died. But I could be wrong about that -- he may have been tested before he died but results were not received until afterwards.

This suggests to me that there are asymptomatic cases or mildly symptomatic cases that quite suddenly become life threatening and they are devilishly hard to identify -- until it's too late.

But it also suggests that comparatively speaking they are very few in the overall universe of symptomatic New Mexicans, let alone in the population as a whole.

Nevertheless, as identified cases start an exponential rise, it's pretty clear that the virus has been circulating for some time, weeks at least, and that there are likely to be many asymtomatic or mildly symptomatic individuals spreading it even though initially their numbers might be very low.

The first identified cases in NM were among people who had recently returned from travel to Egypt, Italy and New York. These people were isolated, their contacts were traced and isolated, and initially it seemed the virus was contained. But then, community transmission started turning up -- people who had not traveled to or through hot spots and who had to their knowledge not been in contact with anyone who had or was suspected to have Covid-19. At least some of these community spread cases appeared to have connection to the highways in that they appeared near the three interstates that criss-cross New Mexico. Clusters of cases then appeared in the Permian Basin oil fields which are closely connected with the Texas oil fields. Destinations for well off escapees from various hot spots -- destinations like Taos and Santa Fe -- started showing clusters.

Albuquerque is a special case, as it's the only large city in New Mexico. Although there are more cases there than anywhere else in the state, they are still relatively few given the population and the cross-roads nature of the city. People travel to and from and through Albuquerque from everywhere, by air, rail, truck and automobile, and some are no doubt bringing the virus with them largely unbeknownst.

Until yesterday, there were no controls on travel except for the "shelter in place" rules that were implemented as soon as the first community spread case was identified. Those rules were gradually tightened until the schools were closed and eventually all non-essential businesses were ordered shut down, gatherings of more than five were prohibited, and people were told to stay home except for essential trips (groceries, pharmacy and such).

As of yesterday, people arriving by air were ordered to self-isolate for two weeks, and those who came in contact with them were also ordered to self-isolate. There are still no restrictions on highway travelers, however, and it seems to me the virus will continue to spread via the highways as more and more people flee the hot spots. The flight of the wealthy to their resorts, summer homes, and bunkers is one of the primary means of spreading this virus. And they are still fleeing New York and Los Angeles and other hot spots. Some are coming to New Mexico, to their ranches spread around the state, to their pied a terres and estates in Santa Fe and Taos, and some are no doubt bringing it with them.

If New Mexico is on an exponential track for the virus we'll see quick doubling of cases every few days, or maybe not. We'll see.

So far, there are no confirmed cases in my county. The virus may be spreading anyway, and at least for the time being, there's no way for us to avoid going into Albuquerque now and then for meds and such that have to be picked up.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Random Speculation

Now that the Outbreak is shutting down New York City, hub of the Universe, and is actively spreading through the Hallowed Halls of Congress and even the White House staff, you would think it would concentrate the minds of Our Rulers. Oddly it doesn't seem to. Instead, they dither the way they always do, and they come up with one Rube Goldberg contraption after another to pretend to do something but actually do nothing but make a ball bounce around in a maze. Entertainment, in other words.

The idea that there has been no preparation for an Outbreak of this potential scale and lethality is silly. Of course there has been, and we're seeing the plans --- such as they are --- implemented day by day. That's where the lockdowns and shelter in place orders come from. The cessation of most business comes from long made plans. The demands of the overclass for MORE MONEY!!!! are all planned in. The lack of medical equipment and supplies has been known for years, and how much time it would take to "ramp up" production is also well understood.

What's happening is no mystery to most of those in charge, and they expect it to get much worse until and unless there is a concerted and sustained effort to reverse the situation. Which may -- or may not -- come in a year. Or more.

In the meantime, tough luck suckers.

The die off so far is interestingly not as high as expected. So far, we're nowhere near the 1% thought likely, let alone the 4% considered probable given the lethality of the virus elsewhere. It's early yet, but not that early, so there must be something mitigating the overall death rate in the US, whether it is under reporting or different treatment or what. The progression of infection seems completely exponential, but not -- so far -- the death rate.

Are we dealing with a mutated virus, one somewhat different than the one ravaging Europe? Maybe.

Has anyone tracked down the US Patient Zero and traced travel and contacts? How many Patients Zero were there? The Outbreak was first noticed in the Seattle area and it was grotesquely lethal as it spread through skilled nursing facilities, carried it seems by a single staff member who worked through a number of them. But though it was first noticed there, was that the original US infection site? Maybe not.

I can look at the way the virus has spread in New Mexico and notice that the first cases were among travelers -- some to Egypt, some to Washington state and New York, and that at least some future cases, not related to the first ones, seem to have been transmitted through Interstate Highway routes.

Then there are some that have mysterious origins. They just seemed to pop up out of nowhere. Could there be a simultaneous domestic origin? Could the virus be something that exists commonly in the background and spontaneously mutates into a more or less lethal version of the Outbreak virus? I don't know. But the theory that all cases have been the result of spread from Wuhan may have some holes. It may take years to find out.

Then there's the question of treatments. Plaquenil, which I take, has apparently disappeared from the market scarfed up like toilet paper and being hoarded. It supposedly can be an effective treatment, and maybe it is, but it has side effects that can be worse than the disease.  I've had to cut back my dosage because I can't get any more, perhaps for the duration, and if I run out, oh well!

There are other treatments being speculated on and tried, and maybe, just maybe, something will be found that's widely effective before the virus mutates again into something else.

Our ruling class is affected perhaps more so at this point than the Rabble, as the virus has spread widely through the Upper Class resorts and hideyholes. So far, I haven't found any reports of death among them, but who knows? Would they tell us?

The Hallowed Halls of Congress are starting to look pretty empty. First they bar tourists and the general public, and then Members started testing positive. Community transmission is going on as they grind the sausage of some kind of bill to give much money to the High and the Mighty, and by the time they get to a compromise, there might not be a quorum. Who would have thought?

Meanwhile the Daily White House Follies and Freak Show continues, the lockdowns spread across the nation, and people continue to get sick.

Failure is more  than possible. Our rulers are following a pattern we've seen over and over again. The question is whether they will get away with it this time.

Maybe not.




Sunday, March 22, 2020

No Cable, Yay!

I probably pay more attention to the news than I should, but we don't have cable teevee, so we aren't inundated by 24/7 screaming and partisan political spin on everything. The news we see on the teevee is almost entirely local broadcast (well, regional, as there is no truly "local" news outlet around here), national PBS, and international DW. We also listen to NPR while driving, but neither of us drive much any more, and not solely because of the Outbreak.

Of course, I check news, opinion and updates on the intertubes constantly, too often, really. But I get a more or less realtime picture of the development of the Outbreak, and it's ugly, yet strangely not as bad as we're led to expect or believe. Number of cases grows startlingly fast; number of deaths and seriously ill, not so much; and despite all the running around screaming about it, hospitals, so far, are not reported to be overwhelmed. Except in some places. Some of the time. "Next week,"  they tell us, will be the tsunami. May be.

I've watched parts of the daily White House Freak Shows and find them practically useless for any purpose. Even as propaganda for the regime, they fall short. The regime acts primarily to protect itself, as regimes are wont to do, but the blather from the podium is so self-contradictory or obfuscatory that it's hard to imagine anyone with a functioning brain believes it. Even Anthony Fauci is caught up in the whirlwind of lies. Not that I ever had that much faith in him. During the AIDS crisis, he was not as up front, honest, medically useful or politically astute as his later narrative would have it, and a lot of people were sacrificed to his and others' dithering. But water under the bridge.

We're here now, and given the company he keeps, he's the sane one. Jeebus.

In this case, it seems that -- like the AIDS crisis and many other crises since then -- the PTB are quite prepared, even in some cases eager, to let a certain proportion of the population perish in the interests of some notions of Greater Good. Perhaps it's always that way, I don't know. I've seen estimates of a 20% die-off in the Western world, and some of our rulers seem to see it as just as well to be done with the excess useless eaters once and for all. In their view, 20% isn't nearly enough. But if predictions are realized, the Outbreak will return again and again, and so... the eventual cull will be much higher.

It may be apocalyptic for the rabble but not at all -- so far -- for the High and the Mighty. Well, perhaps there are some exceptions.

Apparently the Colorado Outbreak is not concentrated among the Christianist enclaves around Colorado Springs as I thought. Nope, according to the NYT, the Colorado Outbreak was focused within the ski resorts, the international destinations, where members of the upper classes have long had their winter revels. For a time, at any rate, there were more cases of COVID-19 in Eagle County than in Denver. And these people travel the world. OK then.

It tends to focus the mind, doesn't it.

Of course there were the cases at Mar-a-Lago, in Congress, at the White House, among the prime ministerial families, and even European royals (oh my!). Apparently, the virus doesn't care who you are or what your position is in the scheme of things.

And so I wonder about the specifics of the Outbreak in New York, where the confirmed cases are so high, they're not even testing the public any more, only health care workers and hospital patients who have significant symptoms. They're assuming anyone else with appropriate symptoms have it. But who are they? What is the infection rate among Our Betters, and what is the outcome? Too soon to know, but we may be surprised.

The Outbreak is spreading in New Mexico. Cases went from 43 to 57 over night an then up to 65 this afternoon with one new county added to the list, and there are now at least 26 cases on the Navajo Nation which straddles New Mexico and Arizona with sections in Utah . It's not quite as fast a rise as we've seen elsewhere, but it's concerning nonetheless. So far no deaths, but it is obvious that there is growing stress in the medical community -- near-panic -- and the regional media, while not going to happy-talk all the time is working to keep people's spirits up rather than focusing on what could go wrong.

The fact that transportation routes have barely been affected is worrying. The virus is introduced via transport from infected areas via the highways and airports primarily. I don't advocate closing them down, but the absence of any controls means that the virus will spread throughout the country, and there is nothing to stop it -- or to even track the spread. This seems to be the current policy. Just let it spread, and clean up afterwards. 

Or not. Our rulers are all about protecting themselves from the filth of the masses, and looky-looky, they're getting contaminated and/or falling one after another. They try to escape to the Hamptons or their bunkers in Idaho and they carry the virus with them. They think they're immune in the Capitol or White House and one by one they test positive, fall ill or what have you. Rand Paul is the latest I saw any news about.

As for the collapsing economy, that may ultimately be more deadly than the virus. I've wondered whether there is already a rise in suicide. As things get worse and supplies dwindle, it'll be tough to get through the period ahead for many, many millions. The potential fallout is not even being acknowledged in public.

This is a perfect opportunity for Disaster Capitalism to work its magic. The problem is that even those who would play that game are vulnerable to the virus. And so, we hunker down and hope for the best.

At least I don't have to see the hysterics on cable teevee!

Yay.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

On the Upward Curve

Just looked at the numbers. Hm. I shouldn't have done that. We're on pace to meet some of the ugliest projections of death and disease from COVID-19. New York appears to be the present epicenter, but California's state-wide shut down is perhaps more worrying as it includes the possibility that upwards of 25 million residents will be infected without it and an unknown number with it. With a 1% death rate, that means potentially 250,000 dead. Or some fraction thereof. In California alone. If that situation is replicated in other states and localities, we're looking at many millions of dead, perhaps ultimately close to the 11 million predicted at one time.

China has apparently controlled the Outbreak domestically through enacting some tough quarantine measures in Wuhan and locating and isolating carriers and patients outside the region. They may not have done it as early as they should have, but they did it and it seems to have worked. At least for now.

Something necessary, however, is not happening in Italy and much of the rest of Europe, or in most of the English speaking countries where the virus is running rampant despite spotty or even nation-wide shut downs, gathering prohibitions and stay at home orders.

Part of the problem of course is the near absence of tests and testing for the virus in so many places. Where tests can be done on a relatively large scale -- nowhere near the scale of testing in China, Korea, Japan or practically anywhere in Asia -- the number of infected individuals is high and growing exponentially. Italy got overwhelmed, and it looks like New York and California could be next, while Washington is struggling mightily to keep up with constantly increasing numbers of victims. It's a situation compounded by a reluctance or inability to test and, shall we say, a porous Shelter In Place policy. Projections are grim, very grim. And there's no way out.

As I understand it, in Wuhan and Hubei Province, the lockdown was real. Residents were confined to their homes or to hospitals, and violations were spotted and punished promptly. Testing was widespread and continuous. Travel within the city and province was confined to that necessary to transport food and supplies, which were delivered to residents; they did not go out shopping or for any other reason without permission and strict supervision.

Nothing as strict and enforceable is underway in the US or pretty much anywhere else in the West. Thus we're seeing continuing spread -- in some places almost completely uncontrolled.

Much of the failure to control the virus in the West is, I believe, due to the imposition of neoLibCon ideology onto everything. Ultimately, it's a nihilist death cult that has been waiting, if you will, for just such an apocalyptic situation for its ultimate triumph.

Our rulers have been preparing for years, decades, at least a generation. They have their bunkers stocked, their escape routes plotted, and their financial reserves are fat and in some cases still growing. They have no reason, it seems, to fear the virus. It won't affect them, or if it does, their concierge medicos will take care of it in short order. After all, even for ordinary rabble, 80% or more recover without intervention of any kind. So they say. There are apparently a number of treatment options for the well connected who get sick. But few will, as most of the High and Mighty never come into contact with the Lower Orders.

A 20% die off of the Rabble doesn't bother Our Rulers a bit, especially if it is focused on the old, the ill, the useless eaters, the rebellious, and so forth. If anything, I'm sure some would be happier if the cull rate were higher.

I've watched the goon show in Washington that hasn't really addressed the situation and appears too incompetent to do so, and I'm becoming more convinced every day that their "incompetence" is a charade. It's quite deliberate and very cynical. They have no intention to do what is necessary to prevent a major die-off. They never had any intention to interfere more than minimally.

What we've been witnessing in Italy is an example of what they want to see here. The public healthcare system completely overwhelmed, triage that saves the young and otherwise healthy and consigns the old, the ill, and the not-well-connected to their fate -- which for many is an unpleasant death.  There's nothing to do about it because there isn't "enough" of anything, anywhere, to control the Outbreak. Tough luck, suckers. Too bad, so sad.

Those stocks of toilet paper you've been hoarding? May as well give them to the dogs to play with:



And so...

So far, the Rabble has mostly submitted with little resistance. How long that will last, I don't know. If, as I suspect, the situation gets desperate enough in certain locations in the US, there will be rebellion. But it is unlikely to be universal, and it may be put down rather easily -- or it may be co-opted, too.

Uncontrolled chaos is unsustainable, but we haven't reached that point yet. There's no consistent leadership from DC, and there won't be. Localities are essentially on their own, and any help they receive from On High depends on their submission. Unquestioning. And even then, it looks like that won't be enough.

We ain't seen nothin' yet.

Stay alert, stay well, don't fear the Reaper.

















Thursday, March 19, 2020

Closing Down (in an abundance of caution...)

Our governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, had announcements to make yesterday. I've never been fond of her elementary school principal presentation, but I guess she thinks it's effective. The point was to drive home the importance of shutting down much of the state's economic and transportation activity in order to contain the spread of the Outbreak. There was an apparent case of community transmission yesterday. That triggered a raft of new restrictions.

Thus, while not being confined to their homes -- unless they have the virus -- New Mexicans are urged not to travel (especially not out of state), not to gather in groups of 10 or more, and not to work outside the home unless necessary. Many businesses and activities were ordered closed including most that would have more than 10 people on premises at a time. Restaurants can no longer serve patrons inside, they can only provide take out and delivery. Bars must close. Casinos must close. Social distancing is encouraged. Wash, wash, wash. Retailers are directed to put limits on purchases of paper products, soap, sanitizing supplies, and so forth (3 per at one time), and they are encouraged to provide special shopping hours for the old, the halt and the lame.

Schools have been closed for some time. Hand sanitizer has not been available for weeks, so distilleries are making it themselves -- since they have stocks of alcohol, after all, and apparently can get quantities of aloe vera gel -- and distributing it for free to first responders and police. Doctors' offices and hospitals are limiting contact with routine patients in order to prepare for possible corona virus patients. Dentists are cancelling routine appointments. I got a call from my pulmonologist yesterday asking me to postpone my appointment -- if I was feeling OK -- until this situation calmed down, as she would likely not be able to provide more than observational service. The pulmonary function test equipment was being reserved for those in immediate distress.

Yes, I am feeling OK, so I agreed to postpone, and then went ahead and postponed oncologist and rheumatologist appointments until September, when I hope things settle down somewhat, but who knows. I have not yet scheduled semi-annual rituxan infusions that would ordinarily be done in June and December. June will probably be impossible, but we'll see when the time comes.

Ms. Ché went to visit with friends in Albuquerque yesterday and they had a video call with their friend in Delaware. She's self-isolating for two weeks because she believes she's been exposed, though she has no symptoms, then she is thinking of heading to North Carolina to stay with a friend there. Delaware doesn't have a lot of cases, but our friend has been exposed to half of them, and there are many more in New Jersey and Maryland. So far, North Carolina has some dozens of cases, but the number isn't growing fast. Of course knowing the number requires testing, and in many places it is still not available or being done.

A neighbor came over to check on us yesterday while Ms Ché was gone. We keep an eye on one another. It's what you do. We're all in the elders with chronic conditions demographic. One of our neighbors is a long distance trucker who's usually gone five days a week or more. Younger than us, but probably at more risk, we give him a call now and then just to be sure he's ok. Ms Ché's relations in California and Nevada are hunkering down, too, either because of official policy or out of an abundance of caution.

And so it goes.

Stay home to the extent you can, wash and wash, check on neighbors and relations, and be safe.

I've referred to what's going on as a paradigm shift as consequential as those following 9/11 and the financial crash of 2008. I have no idea how we'll come out on the other side, but the signs don't bode well. And yet, there's always the potential for something better in the end, no?

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Anticipating the Cull

Now that the US death toll from the Outbreak has passed 100 and all 50 states have reported infection (announced totals close to 6000, but actual totals may be 10-20 times higher) it's time to consider both the immediate future and the mid-term as well as a post COVID-19 future.

As I researched my ancestors, I was struck by how many of them and their relations died between 1918 and 1920. Some were old but most weren't. Hm. Spanish flu victims, probably. As was the case with many families, this loss wasn't discussed much while I was growing up. It must have had an effect, but nobody talked about it, and if I asked questions about it, I don't remember any answers if there were any.

I suspect it will be like that with regard to the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was a huge cull of Americans and many, many others around the world on top of the devastation of WWI due to the Spanish Flu, but it seemed to fade from memory fairly quickly. There is every sign there will be a significant cull due to the current pandemic -- how big is yet unknown. The incomplete statistics suggest an overall death rate of about 3%, but estimates of the real death rate vary between 1% or less to 5% or 6%. This is much higher than seasonal flu, and could mean as many as 2-3 million deaths in the US alone before the epidemic burns out (assuming it does). Deaths will be concentrated among the sicker of the old.

"Boomer Doomer" they call it.

This is only partially a joke, and the fact is, the loss of so many oldsters is not an unpleasant thought to some of the younger survivors. Indeed, surviving members of the ruling class might well appreciate the passing of a large percentage of the Boomer generation.

A major cull of humanity has long been seen by nihilists as necessary for the good of themselves or the earth, after all, and if the Outbreak can accomplish it, so much the better. If it's primarily a cull of the olds, how much more beneficial for the younger survivors would that be?

The immediate future is one of isolated anxiety for many millions of Americans. Out here in the wilderness, we've been under semi-lockdown, but most services are still operational, and while Ms. Ché and I stay in most of the time, we aren't limited to home confinement by any means. We go out for groceries, cat food, and supplies in our little town or in the next one, not that there's much on the shelves. We go into town for medical appointments or to socialize with friends. We could go to local and in town restaurants (most are still open) if we wanted. UPDATE: This afternoon, the governor ordered the closure of all bars, restaurants, casinos and so forth due to the enumeration of the first case without an identified source. Community transmission is assumed to have begun.

But we're very conscious of the risks, and we try not to push our luck. Ms. Ché and I are prime targets, not just Boomers, but Boomers with chronic underlying conditions.

In a telephone town hall with our congressmember yesterday, we learned that there is no community spread in New Mexico -- yet. The 23 28 currently identified cases are all in isolation and they are all due to travel-exposure and/or exposure within the household of someone infected. See update above. So far, no one has died, though I seem to recall at least one is hospitalized in critical condition.

Just north in Colorado, it seems the virus is raging, so I'm not at all sanguine about the likelihood of New Mexico escaping eventual widespread infection. It's not just Colorado. Texas and Arizona have cases and because of political ideology I strongly suspect they are underreporting cases and refusing to implement various mitigations. Sadly, we've seen this pattern throughout Trump-country, following the lead of the rightist media and Trump himself until recently. Ah but because there has still been very little testing, no one has any idea what the real infection rate is.

The immediate future is likely to include a good deal more "lockdown" procedures, but how strict it will become is hard to say. In fact, it seems as if Our Rulers, like Boris Johnson in Britain, are toying with the "herd immunity" fantasy by letting the virus infect a substantial percentage of the population and let nature take its course, along with triaging the ill and letting the young and strong survive.  The old and frail? Not so much.

Boris was apparently shamed off that approach as it would be overwhelming to the health care system, and it would mean literally millions dead in Britain alone. Ultimately there may be no choice, as the spread of the disease appears to be out of control in several locations, and so far there's been no real effort to end travel between these locations and the rest of the country.

China's experience, however, indicates that closing off travel between hot locations and elsewhere in the country seems to work, though it takes a while. The Chinese brought their infection rate and death rate down substantially by strictly limiting travel within China, indeed within cities and even apartment blocks. They also put up numerous temporary hospitals to treat those who became infected. It wasn't perfect, it still isn't. But it's been effective.

The Korean experience has been different, but it has also worked to lower the infection rate and death rate.

So far, though, the English-speaking countries and Western Europe have largely been failing, no matter what they try. There are mitigations, but they seem to be too little, too late. How that will translate into infection and death rates remains to be seen. But given the sense of calamity out there, we can expect rates to increase in every area, and substantially increase in some areas. For example, the Seattle area, the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, and a few other areas are having a very hard time right now and the expectation is they will get much worse before they get better. Many other places may not see a high infection/death rate, or even much of an effect at all. People may get sick but most or all will recover.

There will be a cull, no doubt, and most of the dead will be the old and unwell. How many? Who knows? And what will the world be like afterwards? That's the question.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Things Change

Spent part of today on the phone with a friend in Delaware. There are four confirmed cases of the virus at the University of Delaware where she is getting her MA, and the campus is essentially closed for the duration. She was thinking of coming home to New Mexico, but it's difficult. She'd have to drive. She doesn't want to fly. And she's afraid if she did drive, she'd run into travel restrictions and barriers on the highways because things are changing so fast. She saw people panicking at the grocery store this morning, hoarders piling up all the meat  they could cram into their carts, pushing, yelling, scaring the old people, just crazy. This is what we're descending to?

So after some long talk, she thought she'd take a break and go to the beach, maybe go stay with a friend in North Carolina. Or just tough it out in Wilmington. She finally said she was afraid to come to New Mexico because she might be a carrier and she didn't want to bring any harm back home.

Jeeze that sucks.

We told her that things are still relatively calm here, but there are changes. Gatherings of 100 or more are prohibited. All K-12 schools are closed. "Social distancing" is the rule. Reduce travel. Drive thru testing facilities are open in Gallup and Albuquerque and will expand statewide. Coronavirus tests are still in short supply, but more are "coming." You don't need a doctor's referral to use the drive thrus. But if you don't have symptoms, they'll turn you away. 24 to 36 hours for results.

There are officially ten positive patients in New Mexico, all of whom are either self-isolating or in the hospital. But it is believed there are probably many more people with COVID-19 in the state.

Services are being arranged to provide food and supplies to those who aren't able to get their own. Schools in Albuquerque are closed, but many will provide take away breakfast and lunch for students at no charge, and some even provide three meals a day and will provide adult meals for $4.00.

Stores continue to be picked pretty clean. Most are limiting purchases of supplies like toilet paper and bottled water. There are no wet wipes, hand sanitizer and in some places no hand soap to be had.

Ms. Ché and I are OK and not out and about much in any case. We have pretty good neighbors, but they're not well off, and we'll be doing the best we can to look after one another. It's still hard to believe, though. We're living in interesting times.



Thursday, March 12, 2020

And So It Begins

The first three coronaviris patients in New Mexico were reported yesterday, and the governor declared a state of health emergency. The panic appeared to begin all but immediately, though it was muted. How things proceed from here we'll see. I loaded up on some supplies at the grocery store, but we can't really anticipate what will happen can we? There seemed to be a good-sized supply of paper products on the shelves, though, so there's that. The store was packed with old folks. Some of the staff was showing real stress. The cases are not close by, they are all self-isolating, but transmission seems to be almost random at this point.

More and more of Ms Ché's planned events are either canceled or postponed. The campus where she's completing her MFA is effectively shut down for the rest of the school year. No more in person classes, possible canceling of graduation ceremonies, no tours or visits from outside. Students living on campus can stay, but those who left for Spring Break are encouraged not to return except to pick up their things.

Gathering of Nations has been postponed. It's one of the biggest Native American events in the country. The Cherokee group in Albuquerque will not have its scheduled meeting this weekend. Friends coming from various parts of the country have been advised to hold off.

There are a lot of other actions being taken, some I'm unaware of or only vaguely aware of. Things are changing fast, yet some things are not. The fear is there but for now is low-key.

And then there's the regime in DC and its constant fraud and bungling. Trump made a major gaffe in his speech to the nation last night, stating that neither shipments nor passengers from Europe would be allowed into the USA, only to have to tweet -- or someone twitted on his behalf -- that he didn't mean that shipments were banned, only passengers. OK. Sure, whatever. And I've seen that in any number of appearances lately, backed up by all these health professionals, he lies about everything, assuring falsely, and so on, and no one corrects him in real time, and all these experts first have to ensure they don't cross him before they sometimes tell something like the truth --carefully parsing their words so as not to enrage the man in the big chair. It's nightmarish.

There are said to be 2500 test kits in New Mexico, and we are instructed to call a triage hotline before doing anything else if we suspect we have symptoms of the virus. Then and possibly only then we will be brought a test or be referred to a clinical facility for testing. We are not to go to hospital ERs or in some cases even to our own doctors. Interesting.

The shortages of tests and protective gear for medicos is a big part of the restrictions. There simply isn't enough materiel to address the looming crisis. And it may get worse as the bungling continues. The oil price free fall will severely affect New Mexico's public funding ability too.

And it's happening all over the country in one way or another.

The paradigm shift is and will be significant.

Take care.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Life Changes

The progress of The Outbreak is continuing to change the way we behave and to control more and more of what we do and don't do, even way out here in the wilderness. There have been no cases of The Disease reported in New Mexico, but still.

Things have been disappearing from the stores -- we have a few -- for weeks. Hand sanitizer has long been hard to come by or unavailable. Stocks of toilet paper have been declining, but you can still get some. OTC pharmaceuticals are iffy, depending on what they are. Vitamins -- particularly B12 and D3 -- are spotty at best. Masks? Forget about it. Ordering online is not much better, as availability is limited and price gouging is not uncommon. No one is panicking that I've seen, but there seem to be fewer people out and about.

We live a few miles from the Interstate, and there are three truckstops and a number of motels for travelers in "town" up the road. That means, of course, that transmission is almost certain -- eventually. What happens then, we don't know.

There is an urgent care and a public health office in "town" so there is that. What they can or will do if there is an outbreak here is anyone's guess. So far, no announcements have been made, and concern is still modest. We may not be safe, but there is time to prepare.

I've been essentially housebound for several years due to my condition. That condition requires me to take a lot of immunosuppresant medication -- which keeps me relativeley pain free, but it means I'm at very high risk of succumbing to the disease given my age and compromised immune system.

Ms. Ché is also at high risk due to age and diabetes. She didn't go to a writers' convention in San Antonio because of the risk, and now she's learned that several other conventions and conferences she was planning to attend this month and next have been canceled. We're wondering if her graduation ceremonies will be canceled in May when she's supposed to be getting her MFA. She long ago made plans, bought tickets to a concert and arranged lodging in Las Vegas for June. That might be canceled too. She lost her pre-paid nonrefundable hotel charges in San Antonio (about $500) and she may lose much more if the Las Vegas trip doesn't materialize as she prepaid all of that almost a year ago.

I was planning on making one more trip to California to close down our storage there, but it may not happen this year at all. We'll see.

It's definitely an odd sensation, knowing something (may be) coming, knowing there's not a whole lot we can do about it, knowing the regime is concerned primarily with appearances, and knowing this could be an end game. But then, realistically, it's always an end game, isn't it.

Things could change in an instant -- or not.

Stay well out there.


Saturday, March 7, 2020

The Outbreak

It's looking more and more like we might have a real problem just down the road with the global outbreak of COVID-19, the new coronavirus that's been spreading in the US with few or no barriers as the Trump regime botches the public health response in order to curry favor with or not to contradict El Caudillo.

It appears that what is being done is completely --and deliberately -- inadequate because Trump gets cross if anything happens or is reported that makes him look bad. So tests are slow-rolled, numbers of patients and spread of the virus are kept artificially low, officials who try to tell the truth are smeared and denounced -- or ignored. And Trump relentlessly campaigns for his show's renewal in the midst of the unfolding tragedy.

Everyone has to kow-tow to him, for if they displease him in any way, they're out. More and more incompetence is rewarded. As more and more people contract the disease and/or die from it, the regime insists that's what's really important is the stock market and the economy, and some wags point out it would be better if "everyone" got the disease at once so that it could be over with faster and the stock market would stabilize. Or something.

So far, there haven't been any cases reported here in New Mexico, but who knows, really? We faced a decision last week, however, when Ms. Ché was slated to go to San Antonio, TX to attend a writer's and publisher's conference. While she was getting prepped to go, it was announced that a woman who tested positive had been released from quarantine (there are two sites near San Antonio where cruise ship passengers were quarantined) and had gone shopping in town. Oh. Then it was realized that thousands of people were coming to this conference from all over the country and the world, and many of them could be carriers. What to do? There was lots of discussion on the tweeter machine, and for a time it was touch and go whether the convention would be canceled altogether. Dozens of presenters backed out, hundreds of attendees canceled. In the end, the organizers and the city said the conference would go ahead but that attendees should be aware of the (then slight) risk and practice protective behavior (no hugging, kissing, handshaking, wash and wash and wash, keep distance from one another and a greater distance from anyone sick, don't bother with masks -- unless you're sick), and so on.

Ms. Ché and her travel companion discussed it at length and ultimately decided not to go. Ms Ché herself is high risk as an elder diabetic, and even if they didn't get sick, they could potentially bring it back with them. It wasn't worth the risk. Not going meant the pre-paid hotel wouldn't be refunded, but oh well. Better to lose some money than a loved one.

Then we heard that SXSW in Austin was problematical as the big ticket attendees withdrew. Eventually, it was "ordered" canceled altogether as too great a risk. We'll see more of this, and Trump will rage and insult and things are bound to get worse because no one will know enough about what's going on to do anything much about it.

And so it goes. Welcome to the new normal.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Houses Again. This one in particular...




Some additional thoughts about this house. The photo is from the Google Street View taken sometime last year. The exterior of the house hasn't changed much at all in the nearly 100 years since it was built. The front door has been painted gray, but it appears to be the original oak plank door, 2" thick, very heavy. The carriage lights on either side of the front door were added when the house was renovated after my sister's husband's grandmother's estate sold it c. 1962.

The floor plan, which you can barely make out, is of the house in Scarsdale. The one built in Sacramento was nearly the same, but there were some slight differences.

The upper floor plan is the first floor. You entered into a large terra cotta tile floored entrance hall. To the left, in the Sacramento house but not the one in Scarsdale, was a powder room, very tiny but adequate for doing one's business. It took up a small portion of the fireplace recess in the floor plan. There was a coat closet next to it, also utilizing a bit of the fireplace recess.

Memory update: the powder room was the only part of the fireplace recess utilized in the entry hall. There were two coat closets, one on either side of the front door, built into the front wall. 

You went up a step into the main part of the house, specifically into the stair hall. From there you could turn to the right and go under the stairs into the butler's pantry, turn left into the living room, or go straight into the dining room, passing by the stair landing. There was also an entrance into the pantry from the stair landing.

The living room entrance was framed with a heavy fumed oak archway. Fumed oak is very dark. In the plan it looks like there is a step down into the living room, but in the house in California there was no step down. The room was approximately 27' x 16' not counting the bay window which probably added another three feet in length. The ceiling was 20' above the floor. There were three french doors leading to a long screened loggia. The fireplace was in a corner opposite the french doors, in a deep recess. On either side of the entry arch were built in bookcases, also fumed oak.  The room was heated with radiators which were built in to the walls, one under the window on the wall where the fireplace was, and two others between the french doors. Each radiator had a wrought iron grille.

There was a Sarouk rug filling most of the dark-stained oak floor. The draperies were heavy wine red velvet, and the ones at the bay window and near the fireplace were hung on wrought iron rods. A Steinway "3/4 grand" piano was in the corner beside the bay window.

I remember three double branch electric candle sconces and two single branch ones, all in wrought iron with gilded leaf decoration. With all of them on, the room was dimly lit. It looked quite medieval, even chapel-like.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Houses Again

This house in Scarsdale, NY, is the model for the house where my sister and her husband lived in Sacramento from 1956 until (about) 1962, when the house was sold after the death of my brother in law's grandmother who owned the place.

 

It's too bad there are no interior pictures of the house. It was really rather grand, especially the two story living room with a huge bay window at the far end.

There is at least one other version of this house in Greenwich, CT. It was listed for sale a few years ago, I believe at an asking price just under $3 million. It had been expanded and partially remodeled in a more contemporary style, but it still retained a number of original attributes.

The house in Scarsdale is Norman French style, though because the house in California had a red tile roof, I thought it was Spanish when I first saw it in 1957 on a visit with my mother from Southern California. Wrought iron lighting fixtures, some gilded, heavy oak woodwork, old gold wall coverings, oriental rugs, wine colored velvet draperies, a Steinway grand piano, I think I was stunned when I first stepped in the oak plank front door.

The house was built in 1923 by the general manager of a local department store. He was the grandfather of my sister's husband. He died in the late forties, I think, and the house was  inherited by his wife. Their son went on to manage department stores in Sacramento and Seattle, while their grandson was at boarding school. When he graduated, he moved in with his grandmother while he attended college. He married my sister while both were students. She moved into this house with him and they had three children before they moved out.

The house was purchased by a doctor who did some remodeling and updating and added a lot of what I thought were excessive French accessories like chandeliers and so forth. I toured the house while it was being renovated and I remember being aghast at some of the things that were done to it. On the other hand, it could have been worse.

My sister was not unhappy to leave it at all. She called it a monster. Way too big to care for by herself, especially with kids, and she was still going to college for her masters. She hired a housekeeper/nanny, but even so, she always felt overwhelmed by the place.

When they moved out, though, they moved to a new but even larger house. I think the stress of maintaining it was at least equal to that of the older house.

There are more stories I could tell about this house -- I have a lot of memories there -- but for now I just wanted to preserve the record from House Beautiful magazine, since I stumbled on it quite by accident today.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Impeachment Thing - Round 2

Gordon Sondland testified before the committee today, and he seemed like a decent sort, not terribly savvy but certainly eager and well-enough meaning to be considered credible. He offered his honest-ish opinion of what was going on during the summer when the White House ordered withholding of some $400 million in military aid to Ukraine while, supposedly, the new president Volodymyr Zelensky was vetted for... well, that's the question, isn't it?

He said the White House -- ie: Trump -- had an ask that needed to be satisfied before the funding would be released: Zelensky needed to clearly and publicly state that he was ordering the opening of investigations into Ukrainian interference in the 2016 US presidential election and the corruption of gas company Burisma with a focus on the Bidens, père et fil.

That was the deal, the whole deal, according to Sondland. And even though Trump never used the exact terms with Sondland, he did with Zelensky in the infamous July 25 phone call with Zelensky. Case closed.

Sonland basically confirmed the allegations being investigated by the committee. Therefore, there is nothing much more to say, is there? Trump did what he's accused of and "everyone" in the loop at the time knew it. The argument from the Rs is basically "So what? This sort of thing goes on all  the time, BidenClintonClintonObama. Nyah nyah."

And they might get away with it.

The way Trump conducts the business of government is outrageous, but quite a few people inside the government (and not just Rs) are fine with it. He gets them a lot of what they want, and a lot of what they want is a change in the way government and foreign policy operate. There's a lot of resistance from inside the government bureaucracy. Bureaucracy does not like change and doesn't adapt well to new things or people who don't "fit" the standard models.

Bureaucracy considers itself permanent and indispensable, but there is a faction within government and without that believes the bureaucracy is intrinsically wrong and out of control and should be destroyed and/or rebuilt.

Trump has taken upon himself the task of fixing things the way he wants and he's now facing impeachment for it.

I predict right now that neither the bureaucracy nor the White House will win this one. Trump will be impeached for what amounts to the least of his crimes, but he won't be  removed (nor will he be reelected barring the unforeseen) and the government bureaucracy will be overhauled to serve the president much more than the institution or constitution.

There's no going back from where we are. That's the problem. A grossly authoritarian president has been put in office and has been allowedto get away with pretty much whatever he wants, and there is very little that can be done about it now. He's instituted strong-man, indeed gangster rule at the top, and a lot of those who might otherwise object are fine with it. He's packed the courts with right-wing ideologues who share is proto-fascist beliefs, and from them the institutionalisation of the Trumpist authoritarianism will flow for at least a generation to come. There's no going back, and the republic is effectively kaput. This is it. We've reached the long-anticipated end-point of the US experiment in self-government.


Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Impeachment Thing

[Note: Buddhism, in some cases especially Zen, doesn't preclude one's interest and involvement in the material world. It does, however, affect one's sense of the importance of this or that aspect of it. 🕉]

The current impeachment inquiry is the third in my lifetime. There have only been four attempts at impeachment of a president in the history of  the United States. None have been successful [Nixon resigned before the impeachment resolution went to the floor of the house]. The betting is that this one won't be, either, but of course you never know.

The charges likely to be included in any House resolution to impeach Trump are being laid out day-by-day, pretty much as follows:


  1. Abuse of power -- impeachable, not criminal
  2. Bribery -- of Zelensky/Ukraine; impeachable, criminal
  3. Intimidation of witnesses -- impeachable, may be criminal
  4. Suborning perjury -- impeachable, criminal
  5. Defying Congressional subpoenas -- impeachable, may be criminal
  6. Probably violations of emoluments clauses -- this might be a throwaway
  7. Misprision of felony -- impeachable, criminal
And so on. The charge-list could get quite long indeed. But there is no likelihood, whatever Trump does, that a Republican-controlled Senate would vote to convict and remove him from office. At least not now. 

It's possible that not even a Democratic controlled Senate would do so.

Here's the problem as I see it:

Trump has been allowed to get away with just about anything he wants to do during his tenure in office -- just like he's largely been allowed to do whatever he wants throughout his life. He's a terrible person and a rotten president, but.... he gets away with it, just like he always has.

As president, he's changing the presidency and the nature of the federal government. He's making the presidency over into a highly authoritarian position (it's always had such elements) in command of not just the government, but of the nation as a whole. In other words, the point is to make the president a ruler rather than a servant of the people. Opposition to be crushed rather than co-opted or negotiated with. 

In this remodeling of the presidency by Trump, the president is to have full and personal control of the federal government independent of any advisors, systems, precedent, Congress, or the courts. S/he will personally direct and control every aspect of the federal government (something no individual human being can do, but that's beside the point). The president becomes a de-facto emperor. Something that again is inherent in the position, but which until recently has been suppressed in action.

These are among many aspects of systemic changes we're seeing in real time under Trump's presidency, and they will become precedent for future presidents. Trump may be a bad emperor -- oh yes -- but what he's being allowed to do can lead (in time, if we're very, very good) to a Good Emperor. But Emperor it will be, good, bad or indifferent.

I came to this conclusion while watching part of the Yovanovich testimony yesterday. What it boiled down to was a question of whether the president has the power and authority to emplace anyone he wants in an ambassadorship (yes), and whether it is appropriate for a president to engage in the smearing of an ambassador in the process of having her removed (could be.)

In this case, the ambassador is the avatar of any federal officer, the smear is the symbolic means of removal/replacement that could affect anyone in federal service. We've seen examples in the past (Shirley Sherrod comes to mind, but there have been many others, especially since the 2000 election.)
But now it seems the smear-and-removal will be codified. 

These are big changes to what the presidency is, not so much what it could be, and I predict they will be permanent. Trump can go or stay, it really doesn't matter. The governing system is what is being overhauled-- mostly without the knowledge or consent of the governed -- and there will be no going back. Impeachment may just fade entirely from the conception of checks and balances. After all, the consistent argument during the Trump reign is that ONLY impeachment can be used to control the actions of the president, and if impeachment fails to remove him (likely), there's no remedy under the constitution or law. That's it, he gets away with it.

Ambassador Yovanovich was quite eloquent in defending norm, process, propriety, etc., but I don't see a future in which those things are considered necessities for governing. Indeed, just the opposite may become normalized. The reasons are simple enough. We're entering into a rough transition period in which the consequences of climate change and decades of neoliberalism become one continuous crisis. There's really no escape at this point. Past norms and processes will have to be jettisoned in order to deal with the inevitable crises, or the permanent crisis. No way around it. Trump is crude and awful, but he's doing what the ruling class believes is necessary to cope with the transition and beyond. That's why he's been protected and allowed to get away with so much harm.

Better it should happen now. So that we can become accustomed to it. It's only going to get worse for most of us.

Trump won't be in the Big Chair forever. And whoever comes after him -- whenever that happens -- will almost immediately be considered a "savior".  Because he or she won't be as terrible a person nor as incompetent and chaotic a ruler. 

But Ruler/Emperor the follow-on president will be. And most of the hoo-hah during the Trump years will seem silly in retrospect. We have serious business to attend to.

So, that's my theory of what's really going on... 

🕉




Sunday, November 10, 2019

Guided Meditation

For the last few days, I've been participating in guided meditation sessions. At times they make me laugh.

This is a practice I haven't done for decades, and I'm finding it difficult to return to. Guided meditation can be useful, I think, to people who are unfamiliar with the practice of sitting meditation, or to people involved in a therapeutic situation, but I'm not sure it works very well for someone who doesn't fit those fairly narrow categories. It's a technique that's often used as introduction and motivation, and not solely in a Buddhist context.

Introduction to what? Motivation for what? In my case, I was looking to dealing with some habits I'd built up over the years I've been dealing with chronic health conditions. I was in so much routine physical pain for so many years that I had consciously and unconsciously developed habits to cope with the pain. Habits that continued even when the pain was gone. They restrict my movements and actions and my thinking, ultimately interfering with living a relatively full life in my dotage. As I explained to a relative not long ago, I'm pretty much housebound these days, even though the original reason for limiting my activities (pain) has almost completely dissipated.

The pain has been all but gone for the last three years or so thanks to a whole lot of medication and treatment, but the habits I developed to cope with the pain continue. I could say that about a lot of habits I've developed as coping strategies. But I specifically wanted to deal with the habits of pain-coping when there was no longer any pain to speak of.

I thought guided meditation could be useful, and to some extent it has been, even if the guides from time to time unintentionally spur my laughter. One, for example, started the session with a very long introduction, claiming over and over we would be doing a two minute guided meditation, starting "now," and then doubling back on himself and introducing and "starting" the meditation again, and so on repeatedly, so that in the end, the two minute meditation took a good ten minutes and maybe more. Each time he went around the introduction circle I laughed. I don't know whether he was conscious of doing that, and I doubt he saw or understood how funny it was to people like me.

On the other hand, by participating in the sessions (a few more to go) I've been able to focus my attention much better on my particular goals for starting these meditations, and gradually some of the habits that are no longer useful are dissipating or lifting.

Just yesterday, I was able to get up and do things consciously and mindfully without falling back on coping mechanisms that had stymied me in the past. It's going to take some time to work through all of this, though, and that's OK. I can see progress already, and because the necessity to cope is lessened if not altogether gone, I can more easily visualize a forward path.

Many years ago, I had guided meditation tapes that were useful to begin a series of zazen sessions, but I was encouraged not to rely on them, ultimately not to need them. I don't recall how long I used them -- I don't think it was very long -- but it was a little odd to be put back in that guided context again after so many years. My laughter, I think, was prompted in part by the realization that this was something I hadn't done for so long but with which I was very familiar. Is it like riding a bicycle? You never forget? Well, guess what? I can't ride a bicycle very well anymore.

As I gradually become re-accustomed to the dharma, all sorts of things are changing, coming back to me, new paths opening. Christians refer to being "re-born". That isn't quite what's happening. But it is very interesting to witness a kind of automatic youth reversion that carries me back to another time. Or at least evokes it.

Wonders never cease.  


Thursday, November 7, 2019

Unless We Are Japanese

Much of Western Zen practice is modeled on that of Japan -- as would be expected given its origin in the West among immigrants from Japan in the 19th century. Too often, though, I think Zen practice in the West is completely divorced from its Japanese cultural, political and economic context, though not necessarily divorced from its history.

The history points to lines of transmission of the dharma from the Buddha through various teachers in India, then China, thence to Japan where three main schools of Zen developed from Chinese Cha'an Buddhism, and so here we are today. Most Western Zen practice amalgamates these Japanese schools without getting into the weeds of how they came to be and what their differences are and the many and sometime bloody struggles between them.

When the roshi tells you about the peaceful intent of Zen Buddhism, question it.

I've mentioned that Zen is in some respects a warrior cult, and Zen monasteries are partly modeled on samurai training. Zen's origins in China provide the foundation, but the development of Zen in Japan was  closely tied to the samurai and feudal Japanese culture. Zen flourished (and was sometimes repressed) under the Shoguns, particularly so, it would seem, under the Tokugawa Shogunate, the ruling power in Japan from the 1600s until the Meiji Restoration of Imperial rule in 1868.

Zen declined from that point as did all Buddhism in Japan. The Imperial Shinto cult took its place. After the War in the Pacific, as it is called, the Imperial cult declined, but Buddhism, for the most part, did not revive much. Irreligion and secularism became the model to follow under American occupation after the war, but gradually Buddhist and Shinto practices reasserted themselves.

Zen, it must be understood, was never universal or even the dominant school of Buddhism in Japan. It isn't now. It is a special practice meant for a certain class or quality of individual. In old Japan, that was generally the samurai and some elements of the Shogun, Daimyo and Imperial households. In other words, very much upper class. Of course the lower orders could practice zazen, anybody can. But the hierarchy of Zen teaching and transmission, and admission to the monasteries was not open any but the "right sort", and the right sort usually meant high born and wealthy.

Monastic Buddhism can be criticized for being very class conscious. It's hard not to be, I think, given the Buddha's own princely origins. His example may apply to all classes, but he couldn't help being the aristocrat he was. His monastic life was outwardly poor and simple, but it was an aristocrat's expression of poverty and simplicity, not at all something grown from the bottom of society.

And so it has been with most monastics in the West as well as Asia. I don't criticize Zen or Buddhism for its classism, but I do acknowledge it, just as I would with Catholicism or any other religion.

St. Francis, my adopted patron saint, was also the son of an Italian merchant-aristocrat and a high-born French woman.

To see these high-born men and women putting on robes and going out begging is rather stunning when you think about it. But that's the way of monastics. Has been for many long centuries.

That aside, I think it's critical to recognize -- and honor -- Zen's Japanese origins without necessarily "turning Japanese." We in the West don't have more than a very superficial and probably erroneous understanding of Japanese society and culture and how Zen is integrated within it. We may be able to see and touch its outer shape and form, but Zen teaches us that's an illusion. We see nothing, really, because there is nothing really there.

Why would we put on robes or go on pilgrimage or chant the sutras? There's nothing to find, is there? No merit is gained.

There's nothing to learn, nothing to gain, nothing to have, nothing to be. Zen teaches knowing nothing.

There's a cow-kitten at my feet playing with a catnip fish taco.

That is Zen.

Other household cats will practice zazen randomly. We could ask "Does a cat have Buddha nature?" But why? Do the cranes flying overhead know and practice the dharma?

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Palace Zen

Katsura Rikyu (Katsura Detached Palace,  Katsura Imperial Villa) is one of several historic properties  in Kyoto overseen by the Imperial Household Agency. As the former capital of Japan and a strong spiritual center today, Kyoto boasts many historic and important cultural sites. Katsura Rikyu is considered the purest and most expressive example of Japanese "traditional" architecture and an almost perfect example of Zen and Ma in the material world.

Katsura Rikyu was built and expanded over a number of decades during the 1600s by members of the Imperial family -- not the Emperor -- as a retreat and part-time home for its members. It is a complex of buildings situated in a park along the Katsura River several miles beyond the historic center of Kyoto and the historic Imperial Palace. When the capital was transferred to Tokyo during the Meiji Restoration of the 1860s, the Kyoto palaces and temples remained behind and the spiritual and cultural life of Japan stayed rooted in Kyoto as it had been for centuries. Indeed, for the recent enthronement of Emperor Naruhito, the thrones of the Emperor and Empress, kept at the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, were carefully dismantled, transported to Tokyo and re-erected at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo for the ceremony. And then they were taken back to Kyoto.

It's worth noting that the Emperor and Imperial family had little public profile and no power in the 1600s when Japan was ruled and controlled by Shoguns and Daimyos. At best, the Emperor was a figurehead. Typically, he was captive to Shoguns.

That's a context that often is not clarified in the sometimes rapturous consideration of the Katsura Imperial Villa as a shining ideal of "traditional" Japanese design and architecture. The Emperor was rarely put on display, and the members of his extended family were, to be blunt about it, "nobodies."

Luckily for the Imperial princes who had Katsura Rikyu built, they married money and so were able to carry out their ambitious though severely ascetic plans.

The result has been preserved nearly intact for us to admire to this day. The Imperial Household Agency -- essentially the Emperor's management organization -- conveniently makes it available for public tours from time to time, along with the other Imperial properties in Kyoto as well as the current Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

Their website hosts some very nice videos of the Imperial properties in Kyoto, and I urge readers to vicariously visit them in order to compare and contrast Katsura Rikyu with the other Imperial palaces from approximately the same time.

I've said that Katsura Rikyu is all but unique. There's nothing else quite like it in Japan or anywhere else, though it was certainly influential in its own time as it still is.

The other Imperial palaces in Kyoto seem excessive and over-done compared to it. Yet in some ways, the others are just as "empty." They are presented with no more furnishings than Katsura Rikyu. The construction module is nearly the same, floor plans are not dissimilar, the stark black and white exteriors evoke one another though they are not the same, and even the gardens and tea houses are similar between the Katsura Rikyu and the other Imperial palaces in Kyoto.

In other words, there is a family resemblance, but Katsura Rikyu is on another plane.

The difference may appear subtle but it's there and it's profound. The difference is Zen.

Zen was a practice deeply ingrained in the samurai warrior culture of the era. It was a form of mind discipline that helped enable and maintain the warrior's supremacy in battle and in life. The Shogunate was an outgrowth of Japan's feudal warrior culture. The Emperor and all things Imperial were outside it, almost irrelevant to the Shoguns and Daimyos. And yet at Katsura Rikyu, some members of the Imperial family took on the task of showing what Zen would look like in the material world. Not at all like the overdecorated and heavy-roofed, vermilion, gold and gem encrusted palaces of the Emperors, Shoguns and Daimyos nor like their temples but rather it evokes the lean, spare, stark, and "empty" houses and gardens of the samurai and the primitive accommodations of the Japanese peasant.

Of course the scale of Katsura Rikyu is quite different, and the materials, fit and finish are on another level altogether, and yet... that can be considered Zen as much as anything else about the place.

As a means of "showing" Zen, Katsura Rikyu puts the many monasteries and Zen temples around Japan to shame. By reducing decorative elements almost exclusively to nature and the moon (very important in Buddhist iconography) and emptying the residence (body and mind) of everything that isn't the "Now", Katsura Rikyu becomes the embodiment of Zen, even more so than its models in samurai and peasant houses and gardens.

But in the end, it's an Imperial palace, quite beyond the wherewithal of any ordinary person or family to undertake and maintain. When it came under Imperial Household Agency control and authority it was partly because no one else could afford to maintain it. It has to be renovated and restored periodically -- at breathtaking expense -- and the gardens, gates and teahouses require constant maintenance in order to maintain an appearance of Zen perfection.

It takes an army of servants even now to keep the place in order and looking its best.

That doesn't come cheap.

As an embodiment of Zen, Katsura Rikyu, of course, is not Zen. The appeal to the senses is undeniable, but it's an illusion. Everything you see, feel and experience there evokes a sensation which is not Zen, and in the end, as captivating as the great emptiness and stark beauty of the site may be, it is neither Zen nor enlightenment.

The perfection of Katsura Rikyu may indeed prevent enlightenment.

That preventional problem has been noted of much of Zen practice. Monasteries, teachers, roshi, the whole panoply of Zen practice has long been criticized as the perfect means to ensure that practitioners, sensei and roshi never achieve satori or enlightenment but remain forever trapped on "the path."

When I initially engaged my interest in Zen in  the early-mid '60s in California, I corresponded with someone at the San Francisco Zen Center. I believe he was from Japan, but as I never met him, I cannot say. I informed him that I could not come to San Francisco at the time, and so I could not be part of the community (sangha) in person. I was told there was no need. One did not have to be there in person to participate, but also one did not have to participate in the community to practice Zazen. Not everyone who could did, and not everyone who did should.

Zazen was a practice that existed independently of Zen sites and communities.

And I've wondered if Katsura Rikyu was an intentional alternative to "monastery/temple Zen;" we might call it "Palace Zen." In many ways, it seems to represent the interest of an individual, rather than a community, in the practice of zazen. A prince could sit himself down essentially anywhere at the site and practice zazen, with or without company, and it seemed to me the whole place might have been intended for just that purpose and no other.

The thought made me smile. 😊

And this gets us into the influence of Zen and especially Katsura Rikyu has had on modern thinking about architecture, dwellings, and so forth.

I mentioned that initially my exploration of Japanese design and architecture which led to my interest in Zen was driven by the fact that the house I was living in at the time featured elements of Japanese design in the roofline and decorative appliques on the facade. The living room also featured a 16' wall of glass with a sliding door, and there were various Japanese or Frank Lloyd Wright inspired touches here and there in the interior. This was fairly radical for the time.

This is a Google street view of the house taken in 2011. You can't see much of the "Japanese" look of the house, except for the roofline over the garage. The rest has either been painted out or replaced as in the case of the garage door which originally had an applied "shoji" design.



We moved in in 1962, but the house was built in 1957, only two years after the publication of "The Japanese House and Garden", and from the outset, I was quite astonished by its Japanese-ish features. The builder was previously known for building thousands of nondescript post-war houses in Sacramento and the Bay Area with no style at all. Then suddenly in 1957, he started offering new houses and floor plans, with a choice of three stylish exteriors -- Farmhouse, Contemporary, and Japanese -- that sold quickly and at a premium price, although the Japanese-ish model was not the favorite. Nevertheless, it was influential, and you started seeing Japanese-ish features on many houses built by other builders until the late '60s-early '70s.

I was taken enough with the minimal Japanese-ish features of our house to eventually add elements like verandas, attempts at extended eaves, and a small Japanese-ish garden behind a Japanese-ish reed and bamboo screen-fence. The front garden was still there in 2011, pretty much as I planted it, but the screen-fence is long gone.

None of it was Zen, of course, but it was pleasing.

The interior of the house was a mish-mash of "builder styles" that was pretty chaotic but late in my residency there, I attempted a minimalist-ish re-design that got rid of most of the accumulations of the decades and limited the chaos. I see it in my mind's eye better than I remember it, though!

My practice of zazen started while I lived there, and it continued for a number of years after I moved out, but by 1973 or 74, I'd pretty much stopped the practice, though probably I should have continued. Or maybe not.

Zazen creates conditions within the practitioner that can lead to satori  (sudden enlightenment) and once it does, if it does, the question arises: what's the point of continuing with zazen? Of course. There is no point. So. One can continue or not after enlightenment, just as one can continue or not before enlightenment. (One chops wood and carries water regardless.)

How liberating! 🕉

My carved wood image of the Kamakura Daibutsu is painted gold so it will glow in the light from Kanthaka. Hotei smiles. A laughing sage stands under cherry blossoms made of silk. The scent of nag champa wafts in the perpetual breeze. Reminders one and all.

Monday, November 4, 2019

The Japanese House and Garden and The Space Between


I received the book promptly, despite the electricity blackouts and wildfires in California, and I've been reading it in sections since it arrived. This is the 1955 edition, second printing 1956, so it's not quite the same as the version I read in the '60s. But it's close enough. According to the author's preface, it's a re-do of the original 1935 German version, published in Berlin. In fact, some of the illustrations have German captions. It's a little disconcerting given the circumstances in both Japan and Germany at the time of the original publication, and even in 1955, the bitter taste from the late war -- referred to as the War in the Pacific by the author, Tetsuro Yoshida -- still lingered.

I'm given to believe that Yoshida died in 1956 and he was quite ill during the revision process for the 1955 edition. Thus, I'm somewhat puzzled over how the revisions in the 1962 and 1969 editions came about. Oh well, it's hardly important now...

Yoshida treads lightly on the topic, but he does try to inform his Western readers of how -- and when -- "traditional" Japanese domestic architecture came about. He puts it delicately, but he points out that these "traditional" tatami rooms so beloved in the West have an origin-point in Zen practice by the Japanese warrior class or samurai. The style was developed from prior hybrid Japanese-Chinese styles, but without the Zen and warrior overlays, the asceticism of the "traditional" style would have likely been much less if not completely absent.

Like most people, Japanese love their ornament. The "empty" style was something else again. It isn't entirely ornament free, but it is stripped to the bone. Such ornament as there is is confined to specific places (the tokonoma, eg) and specific times (the tea ceremony, eg.) Otherwise and at other times, there is practically nothing to experience but the bare structural elements of the room or building and whatever people happen to be there at any given time. Not to forget, however, the natural world all around and interpenetrating the empty spaces of the tatami/Zen rooms.

This extreme emptiness captivated Western observers starting in the 19th century and continuing to this day.

The "empty style" is partly the product of the tea ceremony and the tea huts built in gardens of noble properties in the 16th century in imitation of peasant houses. The tea ceremony itself is partly a product of Zen asceticism dating back much earlier but adopted by the samurai and noble classes in feudal Japan starting in the 13th century and becoming almost universal among them by the mid-1600s.

The "empty style" was not the rule among the common people then, nor is it today. Like contemporary minimalism -- which is itself founded in the "empty style" of feudal Japan (::waves at Marie Kondo::) -- it is an important style but not the ultimate or universal style of the entire people.

In fact, if you visit a traditional "empty style" Japanese house today, you'll find they're not so empty at all. By contrast to the illustrations of the "empty style" in books like "The Japanese House and Garden", contemporary lived-in examples are rather cluttered. Lots of things accumulate during living, and despite an apparent abundance of storage in these "empty" houses, there''s really no place to put it all. The "empty" rooms start filling up. In addition, no one today, and hardly anyone back in the day, has or had the wherewithal to employ the army of servants necessary to maintain an "empty" household.

I suspect that originally, these "empty style" houses could be just as cluttered if not more so than what we see in traditional Japanese houses today. And to pile on the criticism, they were, and in many cases remain, extraordinarily uncomfortable.

Of course discomfort was part of the asceticism of the style.

Which goes back to Zen. Let the circle be unbroken....


One of the principal examples of the style, frequently referenced by Yoshida and many others, is the Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto, now a museum but formerly a pastoral retreat for the Imperial family, a complex of residential and ceremonial structures and gardens built in the 1660s, and about as Zen as you can find anywhere in Japan, more Zen in some ways than the Japanese Zen temples.

Yoshida uses it as a primary example of traditional Japanese architecture, but in fact it's rather unique. Though there may be some others, I'm unaware of a single comparable complex anywhere in Japan -- or elsewhere for that matter.

Katsura Imperial Villa (aka Katsura Detached Palace) stands essentially alone in its stark simplicity and exquisite emptiness.

A five minute video tour:


Of course it should be noted that the "exquisite emptiness" of the Katsura Imperial Villa is part of the long time museum presentation, not necessarily how it was used by the Imperial family in the 17th century.

But then again, the emptiness of the palace today is part of its charm. And there are many examples of Japanese traditional tatami rooms in houses of all classes, spanning a wide range of eras, including today. A tatami room is ideally "empty" though in practice the rooms are not empty at all.

And there is a concept of "ma" -- the space between -- that is found throughout Japanese culture, Shinto and Zen.

This discussion has become more and more circular, so I'm going to put it to rest. There may be more to come. Or not. 🕉