March 2019

Following is (still subject to some editing) the intro for the third and final segment of the novel The Burghal Hidage

 

March 2019 –

Final dissolution of the European Union was hastened with the official exit of Germany. Following the UK’s exit referendum of 2016 additional members leave; The Netherlands, Sweden, Italy and Austria. Movement for exit in France was narrowly defeated the previous summer amid much controversy surrounding an alleged manipulation of balloting. Western Europe teeters upon the edge of chaos for months. Officials in Brussels attempted desperately for the 30 months following the British referendum to manage the damage and reconstitute the remaining union to validity with little success.  Measures prove to serve only as delaying the inevitable.

The Merkel government scarcely retained their governing coalition in fall of 2017 as the country struggled with the massive influx of muslim population initiated in 2015-16.  The policy grew increasingly unpopular among the native German population, leading to growing numbers of defections from traditional center right/center left parties to the populist based AFD. With surprisingly strong showings in three state elections in the spring the AFD continued to gather momentum through the summer. As the SPD plummeted in their currency in two of the three state elections the beginning of cracks in Merkel’s coalition began to form. In an unlikely development leaders within AFD and the The Left Party began finding at least some common cause on the subject of the refugee crisis. After the narrow victory it became clear that the Merkel coalition was left standing upon an unstable foundation.  The 2017 campaign succeeded in casting enough doubt upon the AFD for its courting of Russian support. In the months to follow attacks of terror cells continued to rise across Europe and increasingly violent confrontations between muslims and native Germans stirred a growing level of buyer’s remorse in the German electorate. The tipping point was reached with the attempted dual attacks with explosives and nerve agents on Munich and Vienna in July 2018.

With Germany having provided the glue to maintain at least the appearance of solvency for the Euro, European financial markets fluctuate wildly during the period.  Further brewing currency crises around the world are compounded by the final default of members Greece, Portugal and Italy. The Italian default ushers the abrupt and untidy exit from EU in mid 2018, following a near miss in a referendum the previous year. With greater and greater pressure leveraged upon Germany from Brussels to underwrite the preservation of the crumbling union a reactive groundswell erupts throughout the country. Defections from the SPD party and other lesser parties split the narrowly held coalition and force a confidence vote. Merkel is forced to resign and new elections are called less than a year after having formed her third cabinet. In the social and political chaos to ensue another shaky coalition cabinet is left to wrestle through the balance of 2018 to maintain an orderly exit from the EU and return to the Deutschmark. With their departure finalized in the March 2019 referendum the Euro falls and effectively ceases to exist, its already unstable value reduced to zero. International trading and finance, already treading water through a prolonged worldwide recession starting in October 2017, are thrown into free fall.

April-May 2019 –

The US administration had begun some tepid reforms of currency and spending policies starting in 2017 which had begun to stabilize the dollar’s tenuous reign as the reserve currency, but proved to be too little too late. Inflation had already begun to accelerate and a divided government was stalemated from exercising adequate corrective measures. As the EU unraveled so too had confidence in the NATO alliance eroded with eastern European members Poland, Romania and the Baltic States departing the alliance and seeking to reach accords with a growing Russian menace. Under the Liberal cabinet in Ottawa the Canadians also began to initiate a withdrawal from the alliance. Muslim fundamentalists emboldened by the increasingly authoritarian regime of President Erdogan take on a more overt role in supporting the crumbling caliphate of ISIS on their southern border, further complicating an already deadly mix of rivals supported in varying degrees by both the US and Russia. Combined with a growing civil war in the northeast with the Kurdish rebels their departure from NATO, though not yet officially declared, was understood by all parties as imminent. To avoid another catastrophic embarrassment in the region the US began to gradually remove their assets from long held NATO bases.

By the late spring of 2019 the situation across Europe had devolved into “every man for himself”. With the total collapse of the EU and the Euro western financial markets were dragged down into utter chaos. On April 10 China and the OPEC nations announced their official withdrawal from the dollar. US currency collapsed overnight and hyperinflation ensued, fostering the complete collapse of western currencies within 48 hours. Washington ordered a halt to trading and tripped the freeze switch on all electronic transactions.  Appeals to calm were unheeded as citizens rushed on the banks and panic buying swept the country. Without the currency on hand to cover depositors accounts many banks were simply abandoned rather than face the mobs. In the few instances that banks had remained “open” many firefights with mass casualties ensued between armed citizens and civil authorities desperate to maintain some semblance of order. Overnight trillions of dollars on paper simply disintegrated. On April 13 any remaining banks were ordered closed and National Guard units were mobilized to provide security in urban centers across the country. Edicts from Washington went largely ignored in many quarters and Guard units were hopelessly outnumbered to effect adequate control. The fabric of the entire social order of western civilization began to fall apart at the seams.

Through the second half of the month of April panicked meetings were convened in Washington, London, Brussels and Geneva. Every effort to exert control and restore order was futile, the institutions proving utterly unprepared to address the magnitude of panic. Joint meetings of the US Executive Cabinet and the IMF were held in Washington April 13-15. Contingency plans to secure the physical gold reserves of EU members to locations in the west were determined inoperable and met with no co-operation from most of the European states. China and Russia leveraged gold’s value on the international market by announcing added gold reserves previously suspected but never verified. Both refused calls from the west for a physical verification.  On April 16 an emergency session of the UN Security council was convened. The proceedings were a sham, hijacked by the Russian and Chinese delegations wielding their veto power. Any protests from US, UK and other western delegations were drowned in procedural maneuvers of the Asian powers, joined by other hostile members such as Iran, Pakistan and oil rich Gulf States.

Under Chinese domination the council moved to restore stability to the international financial markets with the adoption of the Uniform Currency to re-establish a medium of exchange.  This measure could not pass through the council officially but a majority of members agreed in principle to form the basis for the “Uni” and join their trading currencies to the central system through digitization and the establishment of a World Bank to be headquartered in Geneva. Upon news of this plan the currency markets seemed to reach bottom and stabilize for a time.  Washington remained opposed to the plan but a majority of major US banks, all of which bore an international footprint, moved to salvage their assets by joining the world exchange. The President moved to exercise unilateral executive authority to bar the action, but was challenged by a divided congress.  As details emerged to the public pressure rose to accept the plan as depositors were insured to receive at least twenty-five cents on the dollar versus the zero value held in US currency. In spite of mounting public pressures the congress remained paralyzed to act on a measure throughout the month of May.

With oil and other vital imports having been halted for over a month and store shelves remaining virtually empty growing pockets of insurrection arose across the nation.  Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana agreed to joint measures in their state legislatures to move toward secession. The federal administration cited a constitutional ban against these measures and threatened the dispatch of federal marshals to apprehend their members under a charge of treason.

 

June 2 2019 –

 

The Governor of Texas declares that National Guard and regular Army, Navy and Air Force units and facilities were now under the executive control of Texas state government. The President exercising his authority as the Commander in Chief countermands this declaration and the nation remains poised for a constitutional crisis.  Commanders of units remain silent on their loyalties and issue orders to stand down for those under their authority.  The Governors of Oklahoma and Louisiana issue identical declarations the following day with similar results. In Baton Rouge members of the legislature voicing their opposition to the measure were forcibly removed from the chamber. Continuing to voice their protest at a public venue they were rushed by a hostile crowd. Sheriffs and State Police attempted to halt the mob, shooting and killing six before being overtaken. Twelve officers were shot, eight killed, and four state representatives were captured and hung.

Citing a state of emergency and invoking the war powers act the President announced the suspension of posse comitatus and ordered the deployment of a brigade from the 101st Airborne from Ft. Campbell to restore order and a show of force to back down the states in rebellion. Special units of the FBI and BATF were also deployed to apprehend the Baton Rouge shooters. These orders gave rise to further dissension in the congress and a rise of militias from surrounding states to further challenge federal authority.

 

June 6 2019 –

 

With the western alliances crumbling and their member states in disarray Russia chooses to exploit the circumstances and strike at neighboring republics that were once subject of the Soviet regime.  With Poland, Romania and the Baltic States having already made overtures to keep peace with the Russian threat Moscow was emboldened to expand their dominance over Europe and rolled across the frontier of Belarus unopposed. In a matter of days they had swept aside the remaining opposition in the western Ukraine and succeeded in installing a puppet regime in Kiev to finish their long conflict with the one time NATO candidate. Sporadic Ukraine resistance continues in pockets, but lacking supplies and western support they are soon eliminated. By the end of June Russia has re-established their control of European Russia and brought nearly half of the former Warsaw Pact back within their orbit.

 

July 14 2019 –

 

As internal strife and economic collapse continue to grip the west Russia forms an accord with Iran and Turkey. Radical elements succeed in gaining full control over the Turkish state, bringing the country within the Iranian sphere, despite their majority Sunni population. The Russians lend their support to both regimes to crush the troublesome Kurds, long oriented to the west. This, along with ceding portions of Azerbaijan and Armenia to both, the Russians then absorb the remainder of these republics and Georgia. They gain full control over the Black Sea, the straits of Dardanelles and unfettered access to the Mediterranean. Thus surrounded Bulgaria and Moldova join the other east European states that submit to Russian dominance to be left intact. In dire straits and abandoned by their former EU patrons the Greeks join suit in exchange for relief from the Russians.

 

 

August 2 2019 –

 

Having secured an assurance of a free hand from Russia and cementing the installation of an allied regime in Turkey, Teheran makes their long planned move toward hegemony in the Islamic world. The farcical nuclear “deal” concluded with Iran in 2015 finally bears the bitter fruit it had promised.

The NATO alliance, having all but dissolved entirely, was still desperately working to muster support from its remaining nominal members to craft some response, if even only symbolic, to counter the Russian aggression and Turkish betrayal. The alliance had by this time been so diminished that symbolic gestures were practically all that was within their ability. The EU’s lack of response to the events in the previous decade had done nothing to repair their vulnerability from internal threats. In the most spectacular Islamic attack since 9/11/2001 terror cells from within Europe, aided and sponsored by Iran and other fundamentalist factions, succeeded in a devastating attack upon NATO headquarters with rockets, firebombs and nerve agents. Deaths and casualties ran into the hundreds at NATO HQ while thousands more in Brussels were killed or severely wounded from the chemical attacks.

While claiming no credit for the attack the Iranians issued a public proclamation from their own state television and the Al Jazeera networks within an hour of the Brussels attack,  announcing that they were in possession of multiple nuclear warheads and the means to deliver these upon Israel and into the heart of Europe. Beset at all sides the United States and the west were entirely impotent to lend any significant support to Israel. Even had they been the domestic sentiment, though not entirely unsympathetic, was such that any question of rushing to the aid of the Jewish state in current circumstances was inconceivable. There was not the will and but barely the wherewithal. American and British ambassadors to the UN made almost immediate motions for UN intervention and protection, but the body mostly populated by other rogue states or others unwilling to act the pleas fell upon deaf ears.

On the evening of August 2 an emergency cabinet meeting was convened at the white house including the Israeli ambassador and representatives of the Israeli Defense Force. Against the backdrop of growing chaos internally and the rapidly deteriorating situation in Europe the Israelis were met with statements of moral solidarity and little more. The message, whether stated overtly or not, was essentially that they were on their own. With any hope of western support removed the Israeli ambassador conveyed the bleak news to the Prime Minister and announced his resignation. Before midnight both the Israeli and American militaries were placed on the highest level of alert. Fearful of the acts of other terror cells and an exploitation of the conditions by rebel factions internally the President addressed the nation the following morning at 8:00 AM to declare martial law. Supply and communications networks already severely hindered were in effect shut down and converted strictly to government use.

 

August 3 2019 –

Amid the growing crises the price of oil soared to nearly $ 500 per barrel. Oil produced domestically in the US had already been restricted for distribution to refineries by companies that would no longer accept payment in US dollars, which had become worth less than the paper they were printed on.  As one of the measures of martial law domestic fuel sources were declared nationalized.  In response naval units acting under command of the Texas Governor seized control of several offshore oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Air Force commanders in San Antonio refusing command from Austin attempted to secure control of bases and retain federal control in response to Defense Department orders to DefCon 1. In this state of heightened readiness aircraft had been ordered scrambled to take out the mutinous naval units in the Gulf. There were conflicting reports reaching Washington that Texas airbases were in mixed control. Unable to determine which units remained under federal command and concerned that this might compromise DefCon 1 readiness against external threats orders were issued to all bases in question to stand down. Seeing the condition of defense being severely compromised members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff rode across Washington to the Capitol to appeal to congress to grant them command and initiate emergency proceedings to remove the President from office.

Shortly before sundown in Tel Aviv the Israeli Prime Minister met with the Minister of Defense and high ranking officers of the Israeli Air Force to discuss readiness for a first strike contingency plan that had been in existence with periodic modifications for several years.  The Prime Minister was informed that all assets were in place and were prepared to launch on his order. He advised that the units should remain ready to execute on a moment’s notice, but he would stay the order pending further intelligence reports. Iranian surrogates Hamas and Hezbollah had staged numerous smaller scale attacks in and on the borders of Israel on the heels of the declaration from Teheran the day before, but there had been no detection of a move made directly from Iran. After the exit of Air Force personnel from the meeting the Prime Minister directed his Defense Minister to issue orders for the deployment of Israel’s submarine nuclear arsenal to their predetermined locations for Operation Samson, their last resort defense posture.

 

August 14 2019 –

 

A state of high tension continued across the globe for nearly two weeks. The world had come to the edge of the abyss and then paused to catch its breath.  Inflammatory rhetoric proceeded from Teheran and Ankara as well as from other muslim clerics from around the world. Mass incarcerations of all muslims began across several European countries, including France, Belgium and Germany.  The Belgian government had been deposed by a coup following the Brussels NATO attack.  Throughout the western world remaining governments and vigilante citizens exacted reprisals upon muslims. With few still prepared to offer defense or shelter thousands upon thousands were jailed, exiled or slain. Propagandists and apologists for Islam were quick to exploit these developments to condemn the west and call more warriors to jihad across the globe. Attacks by lone agents and organized terror cells increased in kind throughout the west and in Israel.  As tensions continually climbed a potential source of truce arrived from a most unexpected source. Eager to latch on to any prospect of stabilization that would allow beleaguered governments to address their domestic turmoil the proposal was welcomed with a sense of relief.

In the UN General Assembly the Russian ambassador, accompanied by Iranian representatives, introduced a plan to placate the Iranian fanatical zeal. In essence the Russians placed themselves in the role of keeping the Iranians on a leash and ensuring the security of Europe. In exchange the Israelis and the west would need to cooperate in the establishment of a Palestinian state with a share of control in Jerusalem. The Iranian parties assured that this compromise, though certainly not their first choice, would be enough that they would be able to quiet their more radical elements and insure a peaceful co-existence.  Many were wise enough to know that this was nothing more than a further manipulation, but in the chaos existing across the globe there were enough members to endorse the plan and pressure the opponents to go along, if for no other reason than to buy a little breathing space. It was not a solution that was going to be reached immediately, but it was enough to halt the escalation and return to dialog where some accord, whether ideal or not, could be reached.  Israel and the US remained on alert, but backed off into DefCon 2. Still holding the gun, but finger off of the trigger.  The proposal had little chance of gaining majority support in Israel, but would bring so much international pressure upon the cabinet that they might be obliged to accept the deal and face the fire at home after the fact.

 

September – December 2019 –

High level talks began and diplomacy moved from Geneva to New York, Washington, Paris and Jerusalem. Any step forward was then accompanied by a step to the side or two steps back, but negotiations continued and tensions slowly began to subside.  Attacks were halted but militaries remained on alert. The Russians and Iranians played along through the process, dragging things out and stalling a resolution.  Within Israel debate rose against decisions being made for their nation without enough voice being given in their own affairs. The Israeli cabinet continued to wither against heat from home and in the negotiations.

More countries and banks entered into the Uni and currency and trade began to stabilize. Transport and communications, though still severely disrupted, began to resume. It had begun to appear that the bottom had been reached and the rebound could begin. Enough goods returned to major markets that rations could be doled out, but the population remained restless.  In some parts of the country the desire to return to normalcy prompted some to support Washington’s efforts to join the Uni, but large numbers of Americans whose wealth had been invested more in land and property resisted accepting what they perceived as a low ball offer robbing them of their worth. A nervous standoff continued between federal forces and Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. Across the country more and more pockets of militia formed armed camps exerting their own sovereignty.  Open clashes with federal forces grew frequent but almost as frequently military units refused to act upon their own people and joined themselves to local movements. As a whole the situation across much of the country remained so fluid that Washington was simply unable to regain a firm and sustained grasp.

Across much of the globe daily life remained a struggle for most.  Though the degree of panic had subsided nowhere was there a full restoration of order.  Services and goods long taken for granted remained absent or scarce and mob justice remained the order of the day.  By this time most had come to understand that they were on their own. The progress or lack thereof in international affairs became irrelevant to the average citizen. Matters of their own immediate security remained paramount. As the year drew to a close the word from the negotiation table offered the promise that an accord had been reached and would be finalized early in the coming year.

 

January 30 2020 –

 

On the eve of the preliminary signing of the Palestinian Treaty Russian forces attacked and took down multiple satellites. A short time later low yield nuclear devices designed as Electromagnetic Pulse weapons were detonated over the North American continent, the UK and the eastern Mediterranean. Within 30 minutes the eyes of western defenses were temporarily blinded and all electronic devices within the pulse zones were rendered useless. The instant that satellite communications were interrupted in Israel the order for pre-emptive airstrikes on Iran were launched.  The craft were unable to escape the pulse zone before detonation over the Mediterranean and plummeted from the sky somewhere in the western deserts of Iraq.

Minutes later word was transmitted via a simple, unsecured radio signal from human intelligence assets within Iran warning of the launch of missiles from Iranian bases.  It was never learned if this was done with the knowledge of the Russians or if the Iranians acted on their own. Faced with their imminent destruction the Israeli Prime Minister initiated the command to the submarine fleet for Operation Samson to commence. Within 25 minutes nearly every square mile of land from the Suez and eastern Mediterranean across the middle east and south central Asia as far east as Islamabad was transformed into a barren, irradiated wasteland. Scores of millions perished instantly. Hundreds of millions died in the weeks and months that followed from radiation poisoning, burns or other injuries resulting from the attacks.

Across the planet people either tried to shelter or braced themselves for what they were sure would be their end. But enough damage was done. There was no more to come; the air had already been let out of the balloon. Whether under their direction or not the Russians had succeeded in reconstituting the old Soviet empire, bringing the west to their knees and placing themselves as the largest oil producer on the planet. It no longer mattered what happened on the other side of the globe. The Chinese could be left to extract whatever payment of debt they could collect from North America, the Islamic problem was effectively erased and they would be left to rule Europe, most of Asia and Africa all to themselves. When the time came they were confident that they would be able to deal with the Chinese too, but in this new world order that could be a hundred years away.

As the sun rose over the eastern seaboard on the morning of Friday January 31, 2020 the federal government in Washington, D.C. had ceased to be an effective rule over the United States of America. There were no more United States. The greatest experiment of self-governance in the history of mankind had fallen prey to Plato’s warning from The Republic: that democracy as a permanent form of government can not continue to exist. That once office holders learn that they can curry favor with their electorate by the promise of reward from the public treasury it will lead to irresponsible fiscal policy and thus to ruin. The more sage of their founders, Franklin and Jefferson, had also warned of these perils, but like Plato as years passed and ever greater rewards were promised these too went unheeded. In the latter years of the once great Republic such admonitions were even scoffed at. The end result can not all be blamed on the government’s poor policy choices and fiscal recklessness. A good measure of what ultimately occurred was due to a set of circumstances beyond their immediate control. It was a culmination of events, a perfect storm, that sealed their doom. If they had, however, mended the error of their ways and steered a more prudent course the nation may not have been left in a condition as to be so vulnerable to external events. As is true with most tragedies this too could have been avoided.

Any tragedy will include an element of greed, avarice or envy. Or all at once. The tale of the fall of America was populated by ample measures of these, but more than any other it was the transgression of hubris that brought them down.  In the minds of the ruling elite they, the government, were what constituted the nation. Their interests were only to preserve themselves and their fiefdoms. For them these were the things that defined “the nation”.  The halls of power stretched from Washington D.C. up to New York City, the cultural and financial center, and beyond up the eastern coast to academia residing in the Ivy League schools of New England. Anything outside of that insulated tube was simply an inconvenient nuisance, like so many insects collected upon the windshield. In what followed the great collapse the former rulers only further multiplied these faults, but the people of the nation demonstrated that it was they, not Washington, who defined what it meant to be an American.

Before they had even been able to fully understand everything that had happened the Washington elite knew that the rules of the game had been completely and inexorably altered from anything they had known, but their instincts remained the same. Rather than concern themselves with the restoration and preservation of the country they were interested only in preserving their rule and exploiting the circumstances to strengthen their rule. Their difficulty was that they no longer possessed all of the means of exercising their rule. Too much of it had slipped through their grasp and with no money and no credit they were left with little means other than what they might take by force of arms. Within their immediate sphere of influence in the mid-atlantic and the northeast the government still possessed enough armaments and commanded enough remaining forces to maintain their hold and control upon these areas. To attempt to expand their hold beyond those boundaries without having an assured means of resupply in fuel, ammunition and the other necessities to keep an army in existence would be spread perilously thin, jeopardizing the tenuous hold they already had.

The first step had to be the restoration of consistently reliable communication. With nearly all electronic based devices cooked by the pulse attack older analog technologies, already scarce from the advance of the digital age, became invaluable commodities. Some military vehicles and craft had been shielded against pulse weapons, a contingency the Pentagon was not entirely unprepared for, but fuel for these was in perilously short supply.  Even where reserves might be found the logistics of obtaining them were cumbersome at best.  Power generation and distribution, which had likewise become dominated with digital technologies, had also been incapacitated in the pulse attack. Any production whatsoever was sporadic and unreliable. The challenge they faced in obtaining adequate fuel from any source was not as simple as manually siphoning a few gallons out of a small tank with a short neck. Some generators were available, but scarcely enough for their need.  Radio transmissions could be restored fairly reliably and the administration even went as far as powering up an old analog television transponder, a technology retired over a decade before.  In the vain hope that there were any across the land who even had an operable set to receive an analog signal they broadcast meaningless orders and instructions to a citizenry who could not see them and would likely have ignored them even if they could.

Alaska was the next former state to move for secession. With few exceptions military facilities and units within the state accepted command from Juneau and declared that any move by forces remaining under the command of Washington would be treated as an act of war against the Alaskan Republic and would be met with force. The following day commanders of the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii announced their alliance with the Alaskan Republic, further removing any federal control over a large segment of naval and air force assets.

The Governor of the State of Washington dissolved the state legislatures and announced a union with the Canadian province of British Columbia. Canadian federal authorities in Ottawa issued an order of protection for the citizens of Washington pending stabilization and a legal resolution of the crisis. In heavily populated areas along the coast the transition was uneventful and embraced by many, but in the eastern reaches of the state garrisons were formed in opposition to the administration in Olympia and a de facto state of civil war existed.

Unrest rose in neighboring Oregon until any semblance of control evaporated. Guard and police units with divided loyalties made it impossible to determine which side anyone was on and if an area was secure or not. A group declaring themselves the Peoples Revolutionary Council of Oregon seized control of the city of Salem and ousted the state government. The Capitol was razed and surrounded by a mass of nearly 90,000 gathered to chant as the flames roared. The council proclaimed independence for the Peoples Free State of Oregon, moving the Capitol to the University of Oregon in Eugene. As in Washington state the more urban parts of the state along the coast supported the coup, while resistance was formed and mounted in the eastern counties. Again a state of civil war existed, though there were few open conflicts, the two sides gathered within their own camps and observed a nervous truce.

The remaining government in Washington D.C. was effectively powerless to control events on the far west coast, still scrambling to determine a course of military response to the mutinies in Alaska and Hawaii. The Governor’s office in Sacramento declared it’s loyalty to the government in D.C., but their state was splintering as well.  Well armed and organized drug cartels from Mexico with allies and operatives within U.S. boundaries moved to seize control of many cities and broad stretches of territory across Southern California, Arizona and New Mexico. Federal authority in Mexico City, already weak and corrupted, was removed and the entire country was under the direction of a cadre of drug lords. An undeclared war existed against the southwest with the unspoken but clear intention to restore those lands to Mexican control. By late March of 2020 the besieged states of Arizona and New Mexico first pledged their intent to work alongside Texas and provide for the common defense of the southern boundary. With some divisions within each state their remaining legislatures moved to join officially to the Texas Republic, Arizona on April 9 and New Mexico on April 13. Legislatures in Utah, Nevada and Colorado initiated moves toward the establishment of separate but allied republics in each of their states.

As the country continued to careen in multiple directions from Washington’s control the remaining federal government grew desperate to reassert their authority. Air and infantry forces were deployed to secure military assets in Colorado, Nevada and Florida where they were met with poorly organized resistance, but stalemated nonetheless. Some Senators and Pentagon officials in Washington attempted to seize control wishing to restore constitutional authority. The coup faltered at a critical moment and the principals of the effort were executed. As news of the developments trickled out and reached other quarters of the country more military units abandoned Washington’s command. A Mexican delegation was mounting a campaign of support in the UN for their claim to a restoration of Mexican sovereignty in the American southwest and events continued to spiral out of the control of Washington. The President travelled to New York to address the UN in person.

Ostensibly this move was to appeal for the denial of Mexican claims, but very quickly became an appeal to the UN to provide aid to urban centers on the east coast and to assist the government’s efforts to restore control and authority over the “outlaw” states. The motives of many UN representatives were to stand aside and cheer while America burned, but others saw the opportunity to exploit the invitation to their own advantage. With the ready cooperation of the US Ambassador representing Washington a measure was passed for UN action on four primary points.

The first was the establishment of a UN Mandate of protection to be installed in those areas remaining under the nominal control of the Washington government. A multi-national force would be deployed to work in cooperation with federal forces to strengthen security and order in those zones.  These would be accompanied by relief agencies to provide adequate supplies of food and humanitarian aid to the large populations in these areas.

The second was to negotiate with a strong Canadian role to resolve the border disputes and civil wars in the Northwest and provide a further support and Mandate of protection to Californian efforts to remain attached to rule from the US capitol.

The third was to broker a negotiated settlement with the Mexican government that would grant some of their demands, but would still preserve American interests in the southwest.

The fourth was a measure which was most desired by Washington and which ultimately led to the full outbreak of the Second American Civil War. Multi-national forces, heavily populated by Chinese, Brazilian, Japanese and Canadian units were pledged in military support to aid Washington in defeating and subjugating those states in rebellion against Washington’s authority.

The administration had gambled that they could find enough support from the international community to obtain their help in restoring the whole country under their control and not have to sell their souls to do it.  Behind closed doors many promises of the delivery of US treasure were offered in payment for the assistance.  What had in fact been accomplished was the administration being relegated to a steward of a vassal state with no sovereignty of its own subjected to the control of UN authority. Everything the United States had ever been about was sold away to preserve their own hides and power.

The news of this spread as the first of UN forces were marshaled and deployed to American ports. Through the first week of these operations the leaders of multiple states were gathered and convened in Austin. Resolutions were drafted and a provisional constitution was formed recognizing the creation of the Union of Free States of America. The constitution was written to mirror that of the first American constitution adopted in 1789. Delegations were nominated and seated at the first congress to hold a vote on May 10. The union was joined by the following states:

Idaho

Nevada

Utah

Arizona

New Mexico

Colorado

Wyoming

Montana

South Dakota

Nebraska

Kansas

Oklahoma

Texas

Iowa

Missouri

Arkansas

Louisiana

Illinois

Indiana

Kentucky

Tennessee

Mississippi

Alabama

Georgia

Florida

South Carolina

North Carolina

Alaska

Hawaii

 

This union placed their capitol in Austin, Texas. Member states were pledged to the common defense of the Union and each declared their sovereignty from UN rule. The Union of Free States did not recognize the UN or the government in Washington and further declared that a state of war existed between them and the Washington regime and any forces lending their material support.

The Canadians, positioned to move more quickly than any other UN members had moved rapidly to declare the UN Mandate in control in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Maine and the northern counties of New York, Vermont and New Hampshire. In areas around the urban centers of the lower great lakes several areas were in disputed control, the boundaries unclear. Along the western shore of Lake Michigan the Mandate had asserted their control with limited forces of their own supported by local surrogates. Their control stretched across the rest of the Lake Michigan shore to include a loose hold upon the northwestern counties of Indiana extending inland to control the major east-west highways. A combination of federal and Mandate forces held a nominal control over Ohio, though their hold was only firm across the northern two thirds of the state. Their alliance extended over Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia as well but with large pockets in each of these states operating on their own. In Pennsylvania the northwest corner surrounding the Port of Erie was firmly in Mandate hands and east of the Susquehanna river under federal control. The Alleghenies and western ridge of the Appalachian spine through Pennsylvania, southeast Ohio and the western counties of both Virginia and West Virginia were populated by partisans for the Free Union. Even with UN support many vital resources, especially fuel, were in short supply. With much of the country’s infrastructure still paralyzed and logistics still operating well below 100% all sides had to choose their priorities judiciously.  Many of the more remote areas were neglected out of necessity. As their numbers posed no immediate serious threat and partisans generally labored under the same limitations, if not more so, great expanses of land would endure the entire conflict without a shot fired.

The Union of Free States sat upon much of the wealth of the continent’s resources, but were at the time greatly limited in their ability to develop these to their full advantage. The Mandate was better equipped in many instances and had some advantage in reliability of supply, but still spread too thin to wrest control of broad regions and maintain their hold. The ability to distribute large quantities of foodstuffs on a consistent basis to the large urban centers on either coast had already been severely compromised. What both sides learned was that even the availability of many of these goods was now removed from the equation, so much of it within the boundaries of the free states. Mindful of the season Mandate forces set their sights upon areas that were large agricultural centers. There was a tactical advantage in this due to the nature of the geography of these areas. Wide open plains were much easier to police and control with lesser numbers than were urban areas or rougher terrains. The first offensives of the summer were targeted at Iowa, Illinois and Indiana in the north and along the coastal plain region of the eastern Carolinas.

In the early stages of battle the Mandate was able to rapidly press their advantage through the effective use of air power. Fuel reserves were released from various sources worldwide and Russian production was ramped up to stabilize supply. This allowed enough fuel to be made available for the Mandate to conduct a sustained air campaign. American aircraft still in federal control, Canadian and Chinese jets were employed to scatter the poorly organized Union forces, but this was not wholly effective against hit and run guerilla tactics conducted by newly formed Union units and partisans. The Union of Free States had considerable air power at their disposal but efforts were poorly coordinated and fuel supply remained erratic. Efforts in Texas and Louisiana were progressing to restore and increase refining capacity but still fell short of meeting the demand. There was an added difficulty in distribution to key areas. Aircraft directed to defenses in the Midwest had to fly from distant bases using more of the already precious fuel.

Given the fuel supply challenges the Union needed to confront an unpleasant reality in that limited supply compelled a priority of air defenses in the Gulf and refining centers.  The southern boundaries were also beset with Mexican incursions. Valuable military assets and oil from Alaska were unavailable to the continental conflict.  Secure transmission or transport of the oil could not be assured and concern of Russian and/or UN moves to seize the oil field required all available defenses. In the wake of the global collapse no help from other sources could be expected. Preservation of oil resources within their grasp were vital to future effort. The Union had to choose their battles wisely at this stage. They were still struggling to organize all of their assets into a cohesive force, restore fuel production, communications infrastructure, command and control function, all while facing threat from multiple directions. In midsummer the difficult decision was reached to employ a scorched earth tactic on the Midwestern front. Unable to effectively conduct battle with any hope of gain the best remaining option was to simply deprive the enemy of what they were after. From July to the end of August millions of acres of cropland were rendered useless to all by fire, flooding or poisoning across Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. Precious shale deposits in Dakota had to be abandoned to enemy control.

By the end of summer Union forces had made sufficient progress to mount a strong defensive position across Kansas, Missouri, extreme southern Illinois and Kentucky. The eastern end of the line extended along the Ohio River across part of West Virginia and as far as Pittsburgh. Fear of mounting forces to launch an offensive down the Mississippi that would bisect the Union became a priority while still trying to stabilize production and supply. Naval skirmishes erupted in the Gulf of Mexico as enemy forces attempted to find weaknesses on the southern coasts and to disrupt oil production on the Gulf platforms. Defenses in the eastern Carolinas were holding their own against federal forces. Armies under federal control were often weakened by high rates of desertion and sabotage. In Washington the remaining government were finding themselves overtaken more and more by UN officials and foreign interests. On the other side of the globe the Asian powers were also occupied by other concerns.

China had employed their North Korean puppets to reclaim all of the Korean peninsula. Facing this threat the Japanese had been coerced into cooperating through the UN actions. Peking was for the time being content to hold Japan within their sphere of influence through a combination of intimidation and the promise of a share in the plunder. The maniacal North Korean leadership, however, was emboldened to slip the leash of their Chinese masters and issue ultimatums to the Japanese government.  American forces that had been in the Japanese islands and South Korea were withdrawn some time before and joined to the Pacific force in Hawaii. The North Koreans were determined to fill this vacuum with or without the blessings of the Chinese.  This left the Chinese little option but to send a large force into Pyongyang to bring them back in line.  In a colossal miscalculation of North Korean instability the Chinese and Japanese both were stung by the unleashing of their nuclear arsenal upon the Korean peninsula and the major cities of Japan. In the wake of this catastrophe the Chinese government found themselves still firmly in control of their military, but faced growing dissension within their own teeming borders.

In Russia they had relied upon the former Soviet states of central Asia remaining in allegiance, but with large Islamic populations of their own and a steady influx of muslim refugees streaming across their borders popular uprisings in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan seized control in much of each country.  These were Islamic Revolutionary Councils in the model of the Iranian revolution who openly voiced a call for jihad against all infidel powers. Though nearly all of the muslim world lay in ruin there remained a potent Islamic threat in the heart of Asia that was in possession of the nuclear weapons of Kazakhstan. The Russians were better equipped to contain the threat, but it still required vital resources to be used up at a rate higher than anticipated.

With productivity in all sectors across the globe severely hampered even those nations better positioned in reserves and resources were hard pressed to meet demands.  Virtually all oil production and refining was diverted from consumer markets to supply military need, limited food transport or to the use of the select few. The disruption to transport created a wave through the world economies.  In many parts of the globe vital commodities had been nationalized, but too often by governments that were incapable of efficiently running the production.  Where oil and refining remained within the control of multi-national corporations these producers found that their capital reserves had been devastated by the collapse of the dollar.  Companies and countries alike that had remained heavily invested in the dollar found their purchasing power on world markets evaporate overnight. With Asian powers in control of the Uniform Currency and exchanges they set the rate to be offered in exchange for holdings in failed currencies. Even with the pressing demands of consumer markets removed from the equation worldwide a full restoration of production and distribution was far from reach. Every large scale operation consumed resources at a rate that simply could not be sustained. Along with every other aspect of the advanced economies of the world the energy production infrastructure that had fueled their societies had crumbled and showed only feeble hope of returning to its prior scale.

Under these circumstances the state of the conflict in America grew into a stalemate of two sides forced to rely upon tactics of asymmetrical warfare. With much of the technological advantage of modern weaponry removed from the battlefield an ill- defined front disintegrated further into ever shifting pockets of skirmishes, neither side able to gain and hold control for prolonged periods. While societies around the world stumbled through continued efforts to rebuild their order the fractious condition of the North American continent persisted for the next three and a half years. While lines of battle remained largely static during this period each of the major combatants steadily improved their production and built up reserves to preserve their gains or prepare to advance.

Much of the order that the communist regime of China had been able to maintain over their vast populations had come from the ability to grow industry for export, thus keeping the potentially restive masses employed and able to steadily raise their standard of living. Following the worldwide economic collapse much of their manufacturing capacity that had expanded so rapidly in the twenty years prior was left idled.  With resources devoted almost entirely to production for military purposes  China had grown stronger in the power they could project externally, but the deteriorating conditions domestically for a population that had only begun to catch up to western standards led to an ever growing challenge to maintain control within their own borders. As the wealth and treasure the nation had created was concentrated into fewer and fewer hands those who had profited by the government’s long term expansion found themselves left out of a share. Once introduced to a taste of capitalism they found the regime’s reversion to communist central planning difficult to swallow. Revolution was brewing, slowly, but in numbers that would prove to be nearly impossible to contain. The tipping point came with a flu pandemic.

Worldwide outbreaks of disease had claimed increasing numbers of lives in each year following the collapse. The production and distribution of vaccines and other vital medicines had ground to a halt. Viral infections grew in scale and frequency across Africa and South America.  The outbreaks in North America and Europe, although increased, were largely contained due to higher rates of immunizations in those populations. Various parts of Asia had suffered large flu outbreaks, but the strains had been mostly non-lethal. In March of 2024 the first cases of what came to be known as the Yangtze Flu appeared in large coastal cities of China. Through the first four weeks of the contagion it appeared to be limited to only those regions. The fatality rate of nearly one third of those contracting the virus was alarming to health officials, but party officials restricted reporting of the disease as much as possible. In mid April outbreaks spread rapidly into southern and western provinces of the country, the rest of southeast Asia and much of India. By the end of May it had run it’s course leaving nearly 160 million dead in its wake.

The chaos created by the pandemic proved to be too much to keep the lid on an already simmering pot and civil war ensued. This rapidly escalated into a bloody conflict with multiple factions vying for control. The situation grew further complicated by Russian support for rebel forces in China’s Xinjiang province bordering on Kazakhstan.

Prior to the collapse the Russians had enjoyed good ties with a Russian oriented regime in Kazakhstan.  This allowed them access to the nation’s considerable gas and oil reserves. After the Islamic revolution seized control the Kazakhs grew hostile to the Russians.  A vast but sparsely populated nation, the Russians encountered the same difficulties in trying to tame the land as they had experienced decades before in Afghanistan. The mullahs in the Kazakh capitol supported the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang province seeking to expand their Islamic dominion. The Russians lent their support quietly to other factions in the province that were fighting both the communist government and the Uyghur faction aligned with the Kazakhs. Following the elimination of most of the middle east’s oil rich lands the Kazakhs found themselves sitting atop nearly 10% of the world’s remaining known oil reserves. As the conflict intensified the otherwise small percentage of oil removed from the market was crucial, but the nuclear armed Islamic republic seated in the center of Asia was like a land mine buried in the middle of the road.  The communist Chinese had also been trying to court the Kazakh regime as a pipeline outlet for exports that would bypass the Russians. The situation in central Asia grew more complicated and dangerous by the hour.

In August 2024 the Canadians withdrew from the UN Mandate, leaving the dwindling federal forces and Chinese forces under the UN the only substantial force remaining in defense of the Washington regime.  Deployments were tightened about the remaining regions under their control in the east, with California and the western republics left to their own devices. As occupied areas of the Midwest were reclaimed under the Union of Free States federal sympathizers were hunted mercilessly. Tremendous devastation was rained upon the large urban centers of the region reducing many to mere shells.  With external support vanishing the pockets of resistance were routed through the autumn months.

While these developments occurred in America tensions were rising between the Russians and Chinese over the Kazakh conflict. The Islamic state’s interests were informed not by practicality, but by ideology.  They were not interested in profiting from the oil. Instead they meant to withhold it, knowing as long as it was in their possession it gave them power. Where the Chinese and Russians sought power it was to wield it to some purpose of self-enrichment. For the Islamic fanatic power is sought only to exercise the will of Allah. In the council of mullahs it was agreed that to be the sword of Allah is to be the ultimate power. The great Satan, the United States, had been brought to its knees, but not wholly vanquished.  The little Satan of Israel had been erased, believing that they had taken the disciples of Mohammed with them. Now they were poised to strike the final blow upon the west and would usher in the age of the twelfth Imam.

On December 13, 2024 the Islamic Council of Kazakhstan served up a large contingent of rebels in the Xinjiang province to the communist government forces of China.  This move was designed as a show of good faith to engender Chinese trust. On December 22 a contingent of Chinese communist officials flew secretly into Kazakhstan to engage in the first serious talks regarding an oil pipeline through China’s western provinces. The following day while the first formal meeting was in progress the Chinese air crews were overtaken by Kazakh soldiers.  Two planes were loaded with nuclear devices and their fuel tanks were topped off and were off into the skies before the Chinese knew what had occurred. The Kazakhs had also set 15 nuclear devices at major wellheads about the country. At the hour of the first break in the talks these devices were detonated, rendering 90% of the nation’s oil reserves irretrievable.  A little over eight hours later,  within four minutes of each other, the two planes arrived over Washington DC and New York City airspace at approximately 5,000 feet and detonated their devices. Both cities became irradiated craters in an instant. The remnants of a United States federal government were now gone in fact as well as function.

The world was hurled into a deeper abyss, the shaky currency and trade system that had emerged from the ashes of the great collapse caved in upon itself dragging most nations down with it.  The UN continued to exist as an ineffectual organization, now headquartered in Geneva. Their role as an interventionist force ceased, any troops remaining under their banner serving in a strictly peacekeeping or security role.  The Mandate, as they continued to be called, served in the security zones along the eastern seaboard surrounding and between the twin blast sites. This force remained comprised largely of Chinese with smaller contingents from other member nations rotating through the zones on an annual basis. On April 4, 2025 the hostilities between the Union of Free States and the UN Mandate were officially ended.  The Second American Civil War was over. The new Dark Ages had begun.

 

 

 

 

The Two Shoemakers

Long ago, in a land far away, there lived a humble shoemaker.  He was plain and unassuming, residing in a modest cottage set in the shadows of the great forest. As a young man he had worked diligently at his craft and was content to lead a quiet and frugal life plying his trade in the bustling town.  He presented the same face to all of his customers and the townspeople, always forthright and honest in his dealings. The shoemaker was not really happy living in the town, though. He wished to continue doing business, but dreamed of having a home a little more removed from the carts and hawkers, the constant chatter, gossip and quarrels which are the stock of nearly anywhere that many people may congregate. He didn’t begrudge any of the townsfolk or hold any judgement against them and the way they chose to live: he just didn’t care to be in the middle of it all.

After having mastered his trade and accumulating some gold he had taken an old stable to rent and set up his shop. He required little more than the loft above for his personal quarters, furnished with a simple straw mattress and a small stove for the winters. He developed a sound reputation for producing a small repertoire of sturdy, well made and affordable shoes. They were not fancy or in any way decorative, but were consistently well made, properly sized and he always delivered as promised. His most popular creation was a sturdy and durable pair of boots which served well for woodsmen or hunters, farmers, or those who simply liked to hike the wilds. They were also an excellent choice for the winter months with a solid tread to travel the cold, wet snow, slush or mud of the season.  He had no rival in the town and his business flourished until he had set aside enough to purchase a small plot of ground along the lane that led from the town into the great forest beyond.

There he built his cottage of stone and great oak beams. He constructed a great fireplace in the middle of the cottage with a broad hearth on either side and a formidable stone and mortar tower to the roof to house the chimney. The front side of the cottage housed his workshop and all of its wares and was partitioned by a long, log wall running the length with a single door to enter the rear half of the home. Behind this wall, arranged about the other side of the hearth was his cook pot, water basin and a collection of cast iron and wooden cookware. There was also a small array of ceramic pots with lids and wax seals for the storage of dried goods, a rocking chair, a small wooden table with a pair of matching benches, and in the back corner of the cottage was his simple wood framed bed and a standing cupboard to house his modest wardrobe.

He put in a garden and taught himself how to can many of his summer vegetables. He later constructed a smokehouse for the drying of meats, acquired a horse for which he built a small stable and cart, and a collection of chickens and geese with a coop to house these as well. There was an abundance of berries, honey and various nuts from the neighboring forest and at need being a fair bowman he might dine regularly on hare, pheasant and deer. He had settled a very happy home which fulfilled all of his simple needs. He was not so far removed from town as to be inconvenient for his customers, many often bringing their children along to visit with the shoemaker’s horse or play with the chickens and geese. There were some smaller trees on the edge of the forest which were fine for climbing about, though the youngsters were always cautioned by their parents and the shoemaker both that they were not to wander any further into the forest. It was not often, but there were on occasion the chances that one might encounter a lumbering bear seeking berries or, in the worst case, the fearsome wild boar.

It was an idyllic life at this sylvan junction. The shoemaker’s trade remained steady and as years passed wagons and carts from other towns passed increasingly through the lane and others which led to the town. The town itself grew and he became acquainted with a second and then a third generation of customers. Word had travelled to other distant parts of the well crafted and excellent value of footwear to be had from his small shop, especially those boots.  As merchants would pass through to the town in increasing numbers the shoemaker was met with some of these who inquired if they might negotiate a price for a wholesale order of these fine boots to pick up in their next travels to take and sell in their own distant towns and villages. The shoemaker would always treat with this visitors in the most cordial fashion, often offering tea and at times make some inspection of some of the wares they carried. He was flattered at these offers, but always politely declined, telling them that he preferred to continue with his custom fitting and fine quality. He feared that production in scale might compromise the quality for which his boots were renowned. There was also the matter that as he now approached the early years of middle age he had begun to suffer the onset of fading vision and arthritis in his hands and joints. He simply wasn’t prepared to work that hard any more. Each time a merchant would reply that they would call again on their next trip and indeed they would, always with an attempt to change the shoemaker’s mind.

One year a winter came that was particularly cruel in its cold and wet assault upon his bones. Trade was good, to be sure. Those who had not already acquired a pair of his boots were most eager to obtain a pair for the long remaining winter months to come. The shoemaker worked at a steady pace, fulfilling the demand in as timely a manner as he was able, but with each passing day he was finding it more and more difficult to make his fingers work the needle smoothly or to see well enough without placing a great strain upon his eyes. Where he used to work by fire or candlelight well into the evening hours he now found that in the dancing shadow of the twilight hours his eyes might fail him altogether. He struggled mightily through this season yet still made it through not too much worse for the wear and with more gold coin stored up in his chest.

As the snows melted and March crawled into April he began to make ready for his garden. Being a shoemaker was his livelihood, but this simple farming was his true love. This year, though still very fulfilling for him, he grew very conscious of the fact that he was finding it more and more difficult to perform these chores. He could still manage to get it done, he just had to slow down and on some days take rest from it to recuperate from his labors. It was during this time that he began to think about what he was to do. He knew that the hands of time did not turn back, that his condition would reach the stage that he was no longer physically capable to do this work. And the same would eventually be true for his craft. So what would it be then? He had saved enough to sustain himself, but would he be able to continue to live here on his own? Never having taken a bride and with no children to carry on his legacy he began to think harder upon those offers from travelling merchants.  A small seed of an idea began to grow in his mind. Perhaps there was a way….

After a fairly rainy period around the middle of the month the clouds abated and a week of a steady, warming sun proclaimed the spring had finally arrived to stay. The warming air and sunlight were a restorative balm to his aching joints and he awoke one morning with more vigor than he had felt in months. He washed, pulled out his finest clothing and hitched the cart to his horse to ride into town. It was time to start working on his new plan. It would not be long now before those travelling merchants would return and each season seemed to bring more than the last.

As he rode into town in the mid morning hours he found good numbers of people out and about their business for the day. He was hailed from the street by many of his long time customers, to each he would politely nod and tip his hat in reply. He rode at a stately pace into the streets, noting new buildings and more underway. There were many more people than he had ever remembered. The shoemaker wound his way through the town until finally arriving at the smith’s shop. He pulled up the reins to halt his horse and climbed down from the buckboard seat to tie her off at the post and enter the forge. The fires were stoked, the smith in his heavy leather apron hammering away upon an anvil, so intent in his task that he failed to see that a guest had arrived. The shoemaker stood at a fair distance and patiently awaited a pause in the hammering to announce himself.  The smith finally paused in his labors to set the mighty hammer aside and brush the heavy sweat from his brow.

” Good day, smith!”

The smith let out a long sigh from exertion and turned from the shimmering heat to find his caller. ” Well hello, shoemaker! Good to see you about! What news from the forest?”

“Oh, little news, I fear, but all is well. I have some business for you and a favor to ask, if I may?”

The smith now set aside his tongs as well and took up a heavy cloth to brusquely wipe his hands of the grime and further daub at the sweat still pouring from his bald head. He stepped closer to the shoemaker and extended his hand in greeting. As they shook the smith replied, “Certainly, friend! What business and what might be that favor?”

“Well I need to have my horse re-shoed for the season, for the business. The favor would be more of a recommendation, I suppose.”

The smith nodded. “Aye! And what might that be?”

“Would you know of a young man of suitable age and skill to commend as an apprentice for my trade?”

The smith, for only a moment, appeared mildly surprised at what he had just heard, but then quickly his brow creased into some contemplation of the question. He scratched his jaw and rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he searched his recollection of any fitting this description. After a minute or so the smiths face relaxed from the furrowed brow to reply, ” Well let’s bring your horse in here, shall we, and I’ll have to think a bit more on an apprentice. There might be a couple that I think of…”

The shoemaker led his horse in and left the smith to his work, telling him he would be about to visit some of the local shops and return soon. The smith replied that he didn’t expect to be more than a half hour at it and would hope to have some suggestion for him then. The shoemaker wandered up one side of the block and down the other, peering into any open storefronts to peruse textile goods, furniture, a candle and soap maker among others.  He did enter a small confectioners shop and treated himself to a stick of colored sugar candy in a red and white spiral. The proprietor was a jolly fellow with a shock of carrot hair who had purchased boots and shoes for his family for some years. The candy was a nice treat, but a bit more sweet than he was accustomed to. He broke off the tip to let it dissolve under his tongue and placed the rest into a deep pocket of his tunic.

By the time he had made his way back around to the smith’s he had nearly finished shoeing his horse, just completing some filing on the last hoof and pulling the nails from a bucket to finish the job. ” That was good timing, friend! Nearly finished with ‘er”, he said as he set the file down and took up a mallet to set the nails. After tapping in the first two for proper alignment he went on speaking without turning back to look at the shomaker. “Thought some on what ye’d been askin’…about an apprentice? There’s that Jones lad, the tanners boy. He’s fit enough for less strenuous work. He’s got some kind of problem with his breathin’….too sensitive to be around dust or smoke, or those nasty fumes at ‘is father’s place. He might be a good match for you.”  The smith finished placing the nails and set his tools aside, wiped his hands and softly brushed the back of the mare. ” All done with ‘er. Just two silvers, if you please? Ye know where the tanners place is?”

The shoemaker fished from a coin pouch to procure the smith’s payment and replied as he held out the two coins, ” Aye, I know that tanners place. Other side of the hill for the stink!”

“That’s right! Thank you, friend. Anything else for ye today?”

“No, thank you, smith! I’ve got what I came for today. I’ll ride up to the tanners and see if I can speak to the boy. What was his name?”

“Er….Desmond, I think it was. Yes! Desmond Jones, thats it! Well good luck to ye!”

The shoemaker hitched the mare back to his cart and rode off through the town to the lane that wound about the hill at the far side. The tanners was set mostly where the winds would not carry the awful reek of urine and caustic fume into the town, but as an added measure had been placed opposite the hill for those occasions when the breeze might sway back towards the settlement. Where the shoemaker lived on the outskirts by choice, Jones the tanner was placed there by necessity. He was an honest and skilled tradesman, but sadly the foul odor of his work seemed to follow him about making him a man to avoid on those times when he might come into their midst. The boy, Desmond, was normally sent to do his father’s bidding with the inhabitants and only thus was he known to the people. The shoemaker didn’t much care where the lad came from. If he was capable and willing to be trained he would be his choice. If the boy had physical limitations that precluded him from other occupations this might be well suited for him.

The shoemaker had a further motive, of course. If the lad was an able study and could take to the work quickly then he might produce enough product to fill those prospective orders for the travelling merchants, whose carts and wagons would soon return to this corner of the land. This would allow a further funding of his nest egg, letting him retire quietly to his little farm lot and nurse his failing condition in relative comfort until the end. The boy would then have the business to carry on on his own to have a livelihood more forgiving to his own malady. It surely seemed a good match.

As the shoemaker rode on through the growing town he saw many new faces, town dwellers he’d never encountered, though a number bore some resemblance to families he had come to know over the years. There were so many new settlements, it seemed the borders of the town had spilled out in all directions, save but two: his own little lane and the way to the tanners. There were distant farmers and hunters who had migrated in from the surrounding country to take a bride and take a trade to raise and support a family. It saddened him to some degree to see this, but accepted it as the way of things. There would always still be farmers as long people wished to eat, too many now conditioned to the town life that skills like growing, hunting, gathering from the land were fading from the population. Who could dream what wonders may come? But these were not for him. He was a simple man merely seeking to live out his days in simple fashion.

The noise and movement faded behind him as he emerged on the opposite side of the town to the winding way into the looming hills in the east. The road took a slow, steady climb as he approached the first of these, almost unnoticeable at first.  Entering the bend that wrapped around one side of the near hill the foul stench of the tanners first wafted to his nostrils, telling that it was not much further. The road continued its slight rise as the bend progressed around to the opposite side and then leveled off where the collection of shacks first came into view. A long, low wooden building with the many vats sat in the foreground. Beyond this and further up into the crease of where hills met there was a barn lot with a couple of dairy cows, some chickens pecking about the grounds and long set of cords strung between posts where hides and fabrics had been hung to dry. It was a sad and ramshackle looking homestead, yet the tanner’s trade seemed to be thriving. It was all the same as he had seen it so many times before.

He halted the mare and sat at this distance looking over their little settlement nestled into the hillside. As he further studied the grounds it occurred to him that in all of his trade with the tanner over the years for the supply of his leather he had never once seen or been introduced to his wife or children. Set off into such isolation he wondered what the tanner did with his earnings. Not that it was any of his concern, only as an idle curiosity, for he was certain that his trade had remained steady and only grown with the town. It was as he sat pondering this that he heard what sounded like a door slamming shut carry through the air. Alerted by this he again scanned across the grounds until spying the younger Jones for the first time.

A long and gangly youth with dark hair emerged with a loping gait from behind one of the little sheds that dotted the plot of ground. From such a distance he was unable to recognize any details of the lad’s appearance other than the fact that at the ends of his long limbs the hands and feet seemed exceedingly large in proportion to the rest of him. There was an almost comical quality in his movements, like the dancing of a jester at a summer fair.  The boy ambled across the lot towards the hanging lines, bringing him toward the lane. The shoemaker did not believe that he had yet been seen and waited until the tanner’s son reached the end of the posts to call out and announce himself.

“Hail, I say, boy! You are the tanner’s son?” His voice sounded clearly into the hollow between the hills and caught the boy’s attention. He stopped in his tracks and could be seen to cup both hands above his brow to shield the sun and peer up to the lane.

Once he had spotted the shoemaker’s horse and cart he seemed to falter in his stance, initially hesitant to answer. With one hand still held at his brow he took a few tentative steps toward the lane and only then did he muster some response. “Aye….that I am. Do you….er…have you some business for the tanner’s ?”

The shoemaker now felt at ease to proceed, gently prodding the mare to move forward. As the cart rolled ahead slowly he called again. ” Alas, no, my young man. My business may be with you. May I meet you at your gate to speak?”

The boy appeared mildly puzzled at this, looking about as if he suspected that this stranger was perhaps speaking to some other than he. He collected himself and began stepping backwards toward the front of their property. ” Come ahead, I will meet you at our gate.”

The shoemaker urged the mare on a little faster now, eager to pass by the sour fumes from the long row of vats on his left.  It was not as horrid as it would be in warmer months, but still enough to discourage any lingering nearby.  In moments he had arrived at the front gate outside of the Jones’ home and waited for the young man to meet him there. The shoemaker remained seated in the cart as he arrived at the gate. At this closer distance he could perceive that there was indeed something that ailed the lad. The only robust part of his anatomy were the oversized appendages that swung from the end of his limbs. Otherwise the lad was gaunt, a long horse-like face that was drawn to hollow cheeks, his shirt hanging upon his frame like an empty vessel swaying in the breeze. Overall an unhealthy look like a malnourished beggar. His skin had an unwholesome blend of jaundice, pallor and acne that would surely leave a pock-marked trail on his face when older. The shoemaker had to wonder suddenly if this was perhaps a bad idea, for surely this youth suffered from more than just a sensitivity of breath. Nevertheless he was here now. He had come to speak with him and he would. Things are quite often not as they may first appear.

“Good day, Master Jones. I’ve come at the suggestion of the town smith to speak with you about an apprenticeship proposition. Are you free to discuss this with me, or would you prefer your father to be present as well?” The boy’s expression contorted through several stages of perplexity as he weighed the shoemaker’s question. Once assuming the more normal aspect of his face he gazed directly with clear blue eyes that conveyed a genuineness. For whatever other shortcomings he might have it did not strike the shoemaker that there was any guile in him.

” No sir, I am free to speak. If we should find an accord then I will inform my father and he may ask what he will of you.”

Well. He was a well spoken young man. It was a somewhat curious response; answering the question while perhaps implying something more without actually saying it. The shoemaker noted this with the thought that this was a signal of one more clever than they might appear. It was here that he elected to climb down from the cart and meet at the gate.

“Very well. I should introduce myself. I am Samuel the shoemaker. I have a workshop on the opposite side of the town near the forest.” He considered for a moment to suggest that perhaps he would have heard of his boots, but glimpsing bare feet then thought better of this.  Desmond replied with a curt bow and ” pleased to meet you, sir.”

The shoemaker went on then. ” As you may see I have grown some advanced in years and I fear that I may not be able to perform my trade for much longer. I have no family of my own to whom I might pass on any legacy and there appears to be great opportunity to expand the fortunes of my craft, though sadly I am unable to fulfill these demands. I have thus decided to take an apprentice to train in this craft and assist in production for a period of a few years, after which I should want to retire and bestow the trade upon the apprentice to carry on for himself.”  There it was stated as the broad proposition, minus any more specifics of the terms. The shoemaker believed that this was enough to present initially and waited to observe the youth’s reaction.

Desmond had listened carefully and understood the proposition pretty clearly. He was not experienced enough in life to give any thought to more specifics.  In his head he performed a rapid assessment of his circumstance and considered the benefit which this proposition offered him. He was here, alone with his father, whose temperament like the environment of his trade was caustic. His mother had passed on long ago in his childhood. He was 19 now, and where other young men had joined in their fathers’ enterprise or taken an apprenticeship in trade by the age of 17, he had not been so fortunate. He had since an early age been prone to respiratory spasms, triggered or exacerbated by any smoke or heavy fume. A further consequence of this condition was that these made him vulnerable to fainting spells as well. For this he was either unwanted or unable to take on most trades available for a young man to set out on his own.  His father was begrudgingly tolerant of him remaining at home, accepting his cooking, errand running and such help as he was able to render in the daily operation of the tannery.

He had never given any thought to making shoes as a living, but for what little he knew or could guess of it he considered it would be a trade not too taxing upon his physical limitations. He was certainly well acquainted with the medium for their construction and already had some skill in forming leather into lacing for boots. Without any thought or care to any of the details he considered this a gift dropped from heaven. This offered a way off of the tannery and further held the prospect of a profitable livelihood for years to come.

The shoemaker observed carefully as Desmond stood in silence considering his proposition. The boy’s expression betrayed nothing of his thoughts or impressions at all; like a closed book with no title. Not even a hint as to what lay inside. As the silence hung heavily between them the shoemaker thought that perhaps he should provide some additional details of the arrangement, though he honestly had not thought all of these through himself. He had opened his lips just a fraction to begin to say something more when Desmond offered his initial response.

“When would this begin?”

The shoemaker knew this answer well enough, though it was hardly the first question he would have expected. ” As soon as possible. There are travelling merchants who will return soon with this season and have expressed an interest in purchasing a large lot to return for sale in their own lands. ”

Desmond was able to make a rather quick deduction from this. If the shoemaker’s trade grew to supply other trading merchants from other towns then this would require more leather, which in turn would equate further business for his father. If his father would hold any reluctance to allow him to leave and accept the offer this would be a sound point upon which to build his case for it. He was old enough now that his father could not bar him from it anyway, but there was still the matter of some respect. As to whether or not he could accept was a decision he was free to make on his own. Without further thought on the matter Desmond gave his reply.

” I will accept your offer, sir. If you would allow me a couple of days to settle some matters here I can be at your shop on the morn. I know where you are by the forest.”

 


 

In spite of his clumsy appearance and rather awkward manner Desmond proved to be a quite clever young man. He had shown to be a quick study and took to the work with ease.  He was quite intent on his work and with careful attention to small detail. In only a short time the shoemaker found that he could have confidence in the quality of his work and allow him to proceed with minimal supervision. There were still things to teach him in performing fittings and cutting and assembling for other designs, but for the immediate purpose of fulfilling larger orders Desmond had proven to be a skilled and highly productive boot maker.  For these larger orders there was not fitting involved; they worked from patterns. Desmond was able to replicate the template flawlessly with every pattern inside of a month, just in time to begin building for merchant orders.

For his labors Desmond was furnished a cot and meals and a stipend of 30 crowns per month. The work week was generally five and one half days per week, depending on the arrival of orders when either longer days or seven of seven days might be demanded. The larger boot orders were seasonal, in the spring and the fall, leaving him at some greater liberty the rest of the year. The shoemaker still did his part, though Desmond could outpace him in turning out finished boots at a rate of 2 to 1.  The shoemaker would do what he could for production and perform individual orders, create templates and cut leather to sustain the operations.

As these orders of boots landed in other towns and counties their exposure and the demand for them expanded. After three years the shoemaker was satisfied that he had taken enough profit from the trade that he could at last retire. Other merchants still arrived with each season seeking allotments of their own, but it had reached a point that some of these would simply have to be turned away.

At the time of the winter solstice that third year the shop was closed for a respite. The shoemaker had prepared a dinner of roast goose, yams, a dark bread with berry preserves, canned beans and a bottle of well aged wine. He intended to use this to mark a special occasion, one for which Desmond was unaware. When they sat down to light the candles on that shortest day of the year at dusk the shoemaker asked Desmond to open the wine, his own hands not up to the feat, pour their glasses and prepare for a toast.

“Desmond, I toast to you the blessing of another year of good fortunes passed in our endeavor and the hopes for many to come!”

Desmond raised his glass and responded ” Hear hear!”

They each drank from their glasses and then set to serving the dinner. The shoemaker offered a blessing and thanks for the meal and they began to dine. After a few morsels had been sampled from his plate the shoemaker set his utensils aside and began to speak.

“Desmond you have proven to be an exemplary pupil. The fortunes of this shop could not have achieved the great return of these last years without your fine craftsmanship and great labors. I don’t believe at this stage that there is anything more I could teach you. We have profited handsomely by the expansion of trade and I am now prepared to retire from my toils. The inventory, the tools, the many loyal customers all belong to you now. You have earned it.” He paused to raise his glass here in a further toast. Desmond had stopped eating and shared in more wine as he struggled to find some fitting words to offer. Before he could form these the shoemaker went on.

“In addition, Desmond, I have set aside 20% of the profits from our merchant orders and bequeath this sum to you. You may for a time continue to conduct the business here, but with this sum I expect that you will locate a new venue for the shop and carry on to further fortunes.”

So it was that the torch was passed. Though Desmond had not expected the announcement to come when or how it had, he had in fact been making future preparations for some time before. In addition to his mastery of the craft he had further honed his savvy for the business end of the trade. He had been able to save a fair portion of his stipend and had arranged to supplement this with the granting of a modest commission from his father for the increased trade in leather. He had already formed plans to exit the small cottage and erect a building solely for the manufacture of shoes and boots adjacent his father’s land. It put the primary supply of raw material for production right next door to the shop, never to leave it wanting for delivery of material to complete orders in a timely fashion. With all of these preparations in place and the sum of 150 gold sovereigns from the shoemaker Desmond was set to seek his own fortunes in good style.

The shoemaker settled quietly to his cottage with no cares for the town or the rest of the world beyond.  He spent his days before the warming sun or a warming fire as the seasons might decide, tending his small garden at a leisurely pace, watching the birds and serenaded by their songs and the sighing breeze. He would still take his cart into the town a few times a year for certain provisions or to hire for someone to cut wood or till the ground, tasks he could no longer manage.  From time to time he would have visitors, former customers who would come just to look in on him and bring pastries or other such delights. He was happy and content to spend the rest of his days in this fashion.

Now Desmond, it seemed, had always harbored a measure of shrewd acumen for business, little known to any that saw him. In the town he was still regarded by many as that silly looking boy from the stinking tanner’s, even though he had in recent years fitted and made boots or shoes for many of them. As he grew into adulthood he remained an angular figure but shed the once malnourished look. His color had grown better, though still rather pale, and much of his sensitivities had abated to a manageable level. Word got around that Desmond was now the man to see for boots and shoes, often evoking a groan for the need to travel near the tannery. Desmond was aware that this might disturb a number of his patrons, but in his long term plans this would no longer matter.

Desmond and his father hired and trained more workers for both the tannery and the shoe shop. Production capacity was tripled and was equipped to expand further. No longer did either of them perform the work themselves, instead supervising the work, training and managing the business end of things. Desmond’s plan was to end the practice of personal fittings. He had once been truly grateful to the old shoemaker, but as he learned that the production orders built from a range of size templates were more profitable he grew to have a disdain for the old man. What a fool! Working so hard for so little return! He was indeed a master of his craft, but he had no sense for business. Soon there would be a shoe and boot merchant in the town to take inventory in larger lots to distribute to the townspeople just the same as elsewhere. And Desmond had schemed a way to use this to take yet another bite from the apple. He would underwrite the opening of the store and install a stooge to run it. The store would pay for the inventory and Desmond would take a percentage of the store’s sales, in effect getting paid for the same product twice. And none would be the wiser.

It proved to be a good model and did indeed become quite profitable in a short time.  The business continued to grow and expand. People were generally pleased with the shoes and boots they could obtain from the shoe store, though they had certainly grown more costly. Still, the town was growing, more jobs became available and more commerce between the growing population grew into more jobs. As the town’s overall fortunes grew so did that of its residents.  The shoes became the most sought after in the land, the famous boots still the most popular. The arrangement that he had forged in the town soon became the same in other towns, taking a stake in those stores and even bestowing a brand name: Desmonds Shoes & Boots.

When his father decided to retire Desmond assumed direction of the tannery as well, expanding and modernizing it to increase capacity and efficiency. All he needed to do was oversee those he hired to manage these factories and rake in the profits hand over fist. With the arrangement he had made he was in for a cut of the action at every stage in the business.  As he amassed further and further fortune he took a bride and built a fine manor in the city. It was an ostentatious jewel of architecture to remind all that he, Desmond Jones, the smelly, skinny boy from that disgusting tannery, now had the finest home in town. Then there were mistresses, more land, homes, he couldn’t find enough ways to spend his wealth. Times were good.

Some years passed and the old shoemaker was still whiling away his time on the edge of the forest. He heard of Desmond’s spectacular success and swelled with pride at the results of his tutelage. He had never wanted all of that, but was happy for Desmond just the same. He sometimes wondered, though, why he never heard from him. He had been to visit only twice since striking out on his own, and even then only very briefly. Why it had been years since he’d even heard word from him. The shoemaker had never been one to hold any grudge and attributed it to the very busy nature of what had become multiple enterprises.

Life had grown in bounds for all in the town. The distant throne of the land and the monarch who occupied it were of no consequence to them. Then the war came. One day news travelled to their ears that a new monarch had ascended the throne and through some quarrel with relatives over the order of succession the country had been plunged into war with a neighboring land. It was disturbing news, to be sure, but in the near term made little difference to their happy lives in the town. It would not, however, take long for this to change.

First came the levy of burdensome taxes, expropriated under threat of imprisonment, forfeiture or worse. When soldiers came with arms and many horses they were surrounded and under the point of the sword were left little alternative but to submit. This was followed by more of the king’s soldiers coming to take their sons to make more soldiers. The people paid tribute to the crown under threat with first their treasures and then their blood. These were dark days that followed, but not for all.

The army needed many pairs of boots for their soldiers. Their soldiers could not march into battle after battle without sturdy footwear. The only place where they might obtain such numbers of good quality boots was Desmond’s factory and he was only too happy to oblige their need. The coin extracted from the townspeople would now, at least in some part, land in his coffers. It was just too good to be true!

An emissary of the king came to see Desmond at his handsome manor. He was acting as an agent for the crown and had been authorized to issue an order for no less than 50,000 pairs of boots and an urgency for 15,000 of these to be delivered in a month’s time with similar increments at 60-90 day intervals. If the war were to drag on of course there would be more. Desmond assured the king’s agent that they could accommodate their need and would be proud to serve the crown and the army in this way. He was starting to count the gold already.

There was an element of this which Desmond had not anticipated. The crown was only prepared to part with a price per pair which was considerably below the normal margin. Then there was the matter of how he was to be paid. Desmond would not receive the actual gold for the sale, rather a writ of credit from the crown would be deposited to an account set up specifically for the contract. An account with the crown’s official bank, of course. This was a less than optimal arrangement to Desmond’s thinking, but he began to scheme how he might make some advantage of it. Would he have free access to this credit from the bank? Why of course, he was assured. He made some further calculations in his head over dinner with the agent and with brandy served after the dinner he agreed to and signed the contract.

He planned to pay the tannery for materials with monies from the shoe factory, simply moving funds from one pocket to another in the same pair of trousers. He would utilize the writ of credit to purchase more hides for the tannery and then funnel the finished leather direct to the shoe factory to backfill materials inventory. Any sale of goods outside of the crown contract could be taken at 100% profit, using the writ of credit to pay his workers as well. This would more than make up for the lesser margins of the contract, increasing volume and overall profits at the same time. All he had to do was continue this process again and again, always keeping ahead of the curve. It was brilliant! The longer the war went on the more money he made.

He was also clever enough to play this contract as a plus to the store customers. Each Desmond Shoes & Boots store would proudly display a poster in their storefront with the image of the kings valiant soldiers marching into battle with the legend beneath reading: Desmond Shoes & Boots, proud to carry your sons in their brave fight against the enemy! The patriotic message perhaps did little to grow sales, but it was a master stroke of good public relations. It made people feel good about buying Desmond Boots!

The war did indeed drag on. Each campaign promised the final victory. And each campaign only delivered more death with no foreseeable end. Now Desmond thought that things just could not get any better, and his personal treasury agreed with that sentiment. There evolved, however, a consequence which he had not foreseen. In the ongoing effort to fulfill the demands of their army contract the factory had begun to cut some corners. Consumer orders were delayed in preference for army orders. Some stores did not see delivery of more product for weeks at a time. When they did it was often found that “seconds”, material rejects which had previously been disposed or repurposed were now being substituted to fill partial orders for the consumer market. Customers would arrive daily with some complaint of poor workmanship in their recently purchased shoes and boots. Leather uppers and tread not properly aligned. Loose stitching causing the uppers to tear or to separate from the soles. As the army’s demands grew and grew these problems with the consumer market also grew until something Desmond never imagined would occur. In order to fill their needs for shoes and boots small shops began to spring up in towns across the land, serving that need in much the same way as the old shoemaker had done before.

He was so consumed with keeping the contracts and shuffling finances from one fund to another, and back again, that this situation developed without any knowledge of what was happening. Orders from Shoes & Boots stores ceased. Some shops simply locked the doors and the storekeepers walked away. This went on for some while until the profit subsidy from consumer sales had evaporated to a negligible level. Desmond first became aware of what was happening when he happened to spy some citizens on the streets of town wearing shoes and boots which were most definitely not from his factory. Upon inspection he found that these were made with lesser materials, or perhaps the stitchings were not as precise, but all in all passed muster as at least a suitable pair of shoes. Then he learned of the purchase price and the alarms sounded.

Prompted by this to investigate further he found that footwear such as this had begun to spring up in nearly every quarter of the kingdom. This led to the further alarming discovery that some stores had closed their doors and been left abandoned. Under this set of circumstances there was absolutely no way the model of the army contract could be sustained. He would have to hope for a swift end to hostilities – not likely- or, ask for an increase on the contract sell price – again, not likely. Otherwise he would be ruined! There was one other possibility….

Desmond sent an urgent dispatch to the crown’s agent describing the perilous conditions that these “rogue” and “black market profiteers” posed to Desmonds Boots and in turn to the continued supply to the army. If the crown could perhaps outlaw these unauthorized makers to protect him, their valued supplier? On receipt of the message the agent conferred with the king, urging him to issue a decree to save Desmond’s from this unfair opportunism. The crown had a further motive in keeping Desmond happy which he did not know.  If he were to learn that the writs of credit issued from the royal bank were now nigh unto worthless it could be disastrous. It could be the first piece to fall that would bring the entire house of cards tumbling to the ground. The kingdom would face ruin and defeat.

Two days later a courier arrived with a brief answer from the agent and a copy of the royal decree banning all but Desmonds from the production of shoes and boots in the kingdom. He was saved! At least for the time being. He wasn’t so fool as to think that he didn’t need to revive his consumer sales. Over the course of some late nights he devised a set of solutions.

First there were to be new shopkeepers installed at those stores which had been abandoned. Inventories were boosted as much as could possibly be spared. Then he returned to his role as craftsman and began to design a new set of templates and to make a sizable buy of sheep on the shaky livestock market.  In a gesture of apology to his patrons mutton was offered with the purchase of shoes. The hides were collected from slaughter to the tannery where these were converted to the less costly and lighter sheepskin. With manpower being rapidly depleted in the kingdom he found it necessary for the first time to recruit and train women for work in the factory. Within six weeks time the added production was staffed and trained to begin to produce the sheepskin shoes exclusively for the consumer market. The “brave soldiers” posters were removed and replaced with an apology and an appeal to all Desmond Shoes & Boots patrons:

Please accept this, my most sincere apology, for having failed to deliver the standard of quality and service that you have come to expect from Desmond Shoes & Boots.  The war has created difficult circumstances for us all as we have each been called to make some measure of sacrifice. It is in this spirit of sacrifice for king and country that Desmond Shoes & Boots now offers a solution to some of these difficulties we have found ourselves in. In order to sustain our commitment to the king’s soldiers and meet the expectations of all of you, our loyal patrons, we are pleased to introduce a new line of footwear exclusively for our consumer market: SoftShoe. In order that we may conserve leather required for army boots we have created this new product made with the finest quality sheepskin. SoftShoe offers the same quality workmanship you have come to expect from Desmond Shoes & Boots. Come on inside the store and give them a try!

If only the people were to know the true nature of the “sacrifices” made. With his competition eliminated by royal decree the crown could be seen as the goat, while Desmond Shoes & Boots demonstrated their commitment to both the country and their loyal customers. The people would all say, “Isn’t that Desmond Jones a great man? Why he is not only a patriot, but he has still worked hard to find a way to look out for us too!”Of course none of this was true, but nonetheless it is how it came to be perceived by many. That clever Desmond Jones had found a way to look after the needs of our valiant soldiers and keep us all supplied with shoes for our families at great cost to himself and his company. The new SoftShoe, in addition to being fully stocked, was offered at a price 40% less than the traditional line of Desmond footwear. Again, whether true or not, a perception was created that this reduction in price came at a drastic reduction in Desmond’s bottom line. The reality was that even with this substantial reduction in sale price the wide disparity in the price paid for the sheep hides more than made up the difference. And to top it all off the sheep were purchased from his royal bank writ of credit, taking nothing from the liquidity of the company.

The ploy worked. Customers, albeit with nowhere else to go, returned to Desmond’s stores and the sale of the new SoftShoe took off. They were not as good as the originals, but they were at least as good as those replacement shoes that had sprung from the ground before the decree banning them. For Desmond there was the added advantage that these did not wear as long as leather, creating a need for more frequent replacement. It began to appear that everything was going to work out just fine, and for a time it was.

Then the war ended. The kingdom had finally prevailed in battle, but in a sense had still lost the war, so high was the price paid in blood and treasure. Within months of the end the collapse of the royal bank could no longer be postponed. The well had run dry, the vault was empty. The payout at the end of the line that Desmond had counted on would not come to be. The writs of royal credit were worth less than nothing. Now being the shrewd man that he was Desmond’s personal fortune had been amassed in gold, which was now worth more than ever. For the Desmond Shoes & Boots, however, it was a different matter entirely. No longer were they able to obtain materials needed for production. No longer could they meet the payroll of their workers. And with everyone’s currency now worthless there were no more sales to be had anyway. Like the shopkeepers during the war who simply walked away from their stores Desmond simply locked the doors and walked away to engage in a new endeavor: The Desmond Bank.

This crisis, as they always do, passed eventually. The soldiers came home, businesses and trades sputtered to a start again and the people began to return to a normal life. As their SoftShoes eventually wore out the people of the town were left to wonder where they might now find new shoes and boots? With Desmond Shoes & Boots closed it was unclear if the royal decree banning other shoemakers was still in force. There seemed to be none rushing forward to fill this gap. As remaining pairs in stores dwindled a group of citizens began to discuss this problem among themselves.

“Hey! What about the old shoemaker? I think he’s still around out there by the forest. Maybe we could go see him.”

“Him! Why he’d have to be 100 if he’s a day!”

Another chimed in. ” No, no! He’s not quite that old. Maybe he’s 80, but no more. He doesn’t move so fast, but he’s still out there. I’ve seen him sitting out sunning himself on warm days.”

“Hmm. Maybe we should go to see him. He could help out until something else comes up, I suppose.”

And so it was agreed that this small party of four would ride to the cottage at the edge of the great forest and seek out the old shoemaker. It was a fair autumn day, a mild breeze but with plenty of sunshine. As they rolled up the lane to the cottage the old shoemaker was indeed sunning himself on his front porch, ensconced upon a rocking chair. He was near totally blind now, but could hear their approach and make out the fuzzy outlines of movement out on the lane. He watched, inasmuch as he could, and listened carefully for their voices.

“Hello? Mr Shoemaker?”

He replied with a feeble croak, “Aye.Thats me. Used to be. I’m just Samuel now. You’ll need to come closer dear!”

At this they made the short walk over to the porch. The young woman spoke again for their little group. ” Mr. Shoemak…..er, uh….Samuel. We’re glad we found you out today. It is a lovely day, isn’t it?”

The old shoemaker chuckled softly and then replied, ” My dear I’m afraid you should save the small talk. No offense, but at my age I fear I don’t have the time left for it.”

This evoked some laughter from the group and with the ice thus broken she began to state their business. ” Samuel, you heard that the war has ended?”

“Has it? Well…..yes, I had heard there was a war. You say it has ended? Well good. War is a nasty business…”

“Yes sir, it is. We’re all glad it’s over. Uh…since the war ended a lot of shops and businesses have folded up…”

“Oh? Why that’s a shame, isn’t it?”

” Yes sir, it is. Sir, the reason we rode out here today is because the town is in need of a shoemaker…”

The old shoemaker seemed genuinely surprised at this. “Oh? My goodness….what has happened to Desmond?”

” Desmond had to close his factory after the war, I’m afraid. He is a banker now.”

“Is he? Well, well…. I always knew he’d be a success, that one! You know he was my apprentice?”

“Yes sir, uh, we did. Umm….well that’s partly why we came out here to see you. You see we were wondering if maybe you might be able to make some shoes. Only for a short while, of course, until another shop gets started….”

” Well what about some of those fellows that worked in his factory?”

“Well sir that may be, but Desmond locked everything up. All of the tools, the patterns. We don’t have anything to start with.”

“Oh my. Yes, yes…that would make it rather hard at first….” The shoemaker sat nodding, his mouth still open as though prepared to say something more. They all waited, looking at one another with quizzical expressions, wondering who should speak next. Then the old shoemaker cleared his throat. ” Eh-hehmm….excuse me. You know when I first came here the town was no more than a few shacks and a stable. There were four families here. And a mill. That was all. I learned my trade self taught, I did. Started from nothing, just a few tools and some leather. As the town grew I had more customers, worked hard at it and I got quite good at it. I never got any special equipment or special training for it. I just figured it out, I did good work and I made a fair livelihood at it for years. Why I probably fitted shoes for your granny, sweetheart. ”

“I’m sure you must have yes.  Maybe you could still help us somehow? Teach us how to measure, make patterns…..”

” Missy I don’t mean to hurt your feelings in any way, truly I don’t. Just listen now. There is nothing magical about making shoes or boots, alright? Any soul can do it. There is nothing to it today that there wasn’t years ago. I’ve been out here alone for a long while, but I don’t think peoples’ feet have changed any, have they?”

“Umm….no, sir. I don’t think they have, that is true.”

“Well, there you are, see. You young folk don’t need my help. I’m blind now and probably be little help to you anyway.  Go on back to your town and figure it out. I did. What was right then is still right today. No good me telling you. You have to figure it out for yourselves. You’ll either get it right or you won’t. The world will go on either way and people will still have their feet.”

He was the Walrus, goo-goo-ga-joob

What day is this? June 18, 2017, you say? Why that can’t be! That would mean that…Holy Shit! Paul McCartney is 75? Oh, say it ain’t so!

No, it’s true. Happy Birthday and many returns, Sir Paul.

This is the man, the versatile artist and gifted songwriter, who made so much of his stock in love songs.  Where we look from the outside it appears he has lived his life with a reverence for love, not one to give his affections wantonly. As a young man he was known the world over. Those big brown eyes and boyish charm melted the hearts of girls and women everywhere. He could have had his pick of anyone, and perhaps in his bachelor days he did. I have no idea, but in spite of the great fame and adoration that might easily have swept him into ill advised romance he was instead patient and prudent in when and where he chose to make a commitment.

I was never privy to the inner workings of his marriage to Linda. I’m sure it wasn’t perfect, for no marriage ever is. By all outward appearances, though, it surely seemed to be a love that was true and enduring. They certainly seemed happy. And Paul never spared his praise for and devotion to her, in public pronouncements and in song. My Love and Maybe I’m Amazed still stand as some of the most poignant love songs of all time, both inspired by his love for Linda.

I can imagine the awful heartache and sorrow that came with her passing. This was surely a case of someone losing not just a wife, a friend and lover, but losing a part of yourself. Envy is a bitter potion, yet properly indulged if felt for what these two people had in each other.

I thought at the time that he would never remarry. I thought he would be like George Burns, enduring life for fifty years alone without his beloved Grace. Paul and Linda seemed to fit that mold, don’t you think? Still, loneliness can be a potent intoxicant. When he took up with Heather it seemed that sufficient time had passed. It was good to see that she made him happy. This good man could have given to her the same kind of devotion that he gave to Linda. A heart as large and true as his could hardly be left bereft for the rest of his days. I understand what happened to him. Maybe he did too, yet still could not resist. The Achilles Heel of the sentimental romantic.

I looked at Heather and saw something I recognized. Not in her so much as in the familiarity of the feelings involved.  Sir Paul had fallen into a trap which has snared many a man. To find your love, the soul that is your other half of being, is a rare and precious gift. I can speak with ease for my sex, admitting something that perhaps many will not. Men are easy. Where it concerns matters of the heart most of us are blind or we are fools. In the worst cases both. Some of us never find “the one”, succumbing to a life of womanizing or just dedicating ourselves exclusively to the “masculine” pursuits. Some of us stumble blind through life and trip over the one without ever knowing. Ignorance is bliss. A greater woe betide the man who misses this and realizes later what he has missed, especially if he has gone on to “settle” for someone else. A piece of advice for you ladies: don’t allow yourself to be a man’s “Plan B”. This never ends well. And let’s be honest with ourselves here, it works the same in reverse.

Then there is the case when a man finds that one love, that person who “gets” you. The Yin to your Yang, a pairing that completes both of you. And then you lose her. You screw it up and she leaves, or she is taken from you by accident, untimely demise or unknown circumstance. It leaves a hole in you, but also a burden. For the rest of your days, consciously or unconsciously, your eyes will forever watch, your ears forever listen, your heart will ever seek a replacement. You will tell yourself that you can love her because you want so badly to believe it. It may be her eyes, the way her hair falls across her face. It may be her voice or her laugh. The inflection of voice when saying certain words. She reminds you of her. It may be something more subtle. Perhaps she emits pheromones that pair to your receptors. Whatever the case you can easily find yourself taken in this web, willing your heart to accept what the mind sees and projecting your lost love into this person. For all the similarities that may exist eventually your heart will know that it has been deceived. She is not the same.

Some men suffer this fate and make the most of it, for better or worse. Sir Paul suffered this and had to pay dearly for it.  Not the money. To a heart like that and a wealth like his the currency would be inconsequential. Its the price of betrayal dealt to his heart. Yet in spite of the whole nightmare his capacity for love remained, manifest in his music and later with a new bride, Nancy.  Now I can look at her and conclude this was not a case of equating the physical appearance to the lost love. She is a lovely and accomplished woman, still nearly twenty years his junior but wearing it quite well.

A lover needs someone to love. Women are better equipped to be alone, I think. We men simply can’t bear it; we end up killing ourselves through one means or another. I hope Sir Paul has a fab birthday and has many years of happiness to share with his new love. Thankfully for the world he has not “had enough of silly love songs”.

 

The Odd Things I Remember from the 70s

Preschool and elementary years in a suburban apartment. I only realize now how young my parents were. They were still on their first leg of life’s journey. My younger sister was still an infant and had many health problems, several surgeries before the age of five. It seemed a fine enough home to me, what did I know any better? I thought everyone lived in an apartment and had grandparents with a farm out in the country.

Our apartment was an end unit, my bedroom window looking out upon a common green where I first learned to play football. Back in those days my dad was still pretty athletic. He had that Johnny Unitas flat-top. He was a fan of the AFL, before the leagues merged in 1970, his favorite team the Oakland Raiders.

In just a little over a mile to the north there was the constant sound of construction as the 270 outerbelt was still being built around Columbus, Ohio.  My parents were country folk from neighboring Pickaway County. My mother was afraid to drive in Columbus; she thought there was too much traffic and everyone drove too fast. My dad had a red Corvair convertible that he was so proud of. It’s design was the curiosity of our block, especially after Ralph Nader succeeded in branding the car “unsafe at any speed”.

I walked to my elementary school, a little less than a mile away. After being escorted for the first couple of weeks I was permitted to make the walk to and from on my own, something almost unconscionable today.  Most all of us had stay at home moms, except for one boy in my class, Danny. Danny was a bit of an oddity, the only child picked up by a van from KinderCare at the conclusion of each school day. Danny’s mother had to work because she was raising Danny on her own while his dad was fighting in Vietnam. Danny was so proud to tell that his dad was a soldier.  I did not discover until years later that during the time we were schoolmates Danny’s father had already died in combat sometime in 1969.

My dad’s older brother was also serving in Vietnam at the time, with the Air Force, flying low level counter-insurgency missions in an AD-10 over the jungles. The AD-10 was among the few non-jet planes used in that conflict, known as the flying dump truck for the heavy load of ordnance it could carry. I remember sitting in our basement at my dad’s workbench, watching him paint and build models of the AD-10 and other warbirds.

That year at Christmas I got my first radio, a small Motorola transistor powered by a 9V battery. This began many years of my childhood to be spent in my room listening to the radio and reading books. There were always piles of books in our house.  My dad was an avid reader of paperbacks, my mother of magazines, and my grandparents were always buying me books. There were numerous collections; Scholastic Book Series “______ do the strangest things” and child’s biographies of Washington, Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Lincoln.  Also JFK and MLK, both fairly fresh in their graves at the time. I remember my first copy of Jack London’s Call of the Wild, Kipling’s The Jungle Book, and a collection of short stories Tales of Time and Space. The latter of these was of special interest as our home were avid followers of the nation’s space program.

I remember at the time of the Apollo 11 mission my grandparents were away on a trip to Europe. My dad had his vacation during that time and we spent the duration at my grandparents’ farm. The lawn tractor nor the farm tractor, a rusty old International Harvester model, were considered safe for me. Instead I learned to care for the chickens, sheep, collect the eggs and help in the garden. The garden was a gigantic plot to my young eyes, surrounded by berry brambles, a variety of Irises in pink, purple and white. And in the very middle of this garden there was a slim galvanized pipe that towered to a height of fifteen feet above where there was mounted a Martin house. The Martins made full use of this. During the day they were always heard fussing and rustling about the house. In the evenings we would marvel at their sleek vee wings spread as they swooped down and soared away from the buffet of mosquitos.

On the night of the moon landing I tried to stay awake but fell asleep on my grandparents’ living room floor in front of their gigantic RCA console TV. Back in those days they were built right there in Circleville. I remember my parents waking me to witness the historic event. There had been so much build up to it all, I remember at the time finding it somewhat anti-climactic. At that age I hardly know now what I had expected, I just remember some sense of disappointment. My parents were born in the depression. They attended high school in the 50s and witnessed the space race as young adults. It meant something more for them.

I realize now that in spite of the title I have shared an awful lot that was actually the end of the 60s, chronologically. Some decades bleed into others as an era. I think this was true for 1968-1974, the Nixon years. So I guess my recollections are bifurcated into two 1970s: the 70s that bled from the end of the 60s and then everything that came after. The after coincided with puberty and the teen years so maybe that is the difference. Memories of childhood and memories of growing up; two different things, aren’t they?

Coming back to that radio… That summer of 1970, between 2nd and 3rd grade, I remember spending a lot of time listening to it. WCOL AM, 1230. That was the pop/top 40 station of the time. This was my introduction to music. FM radio was still relegated to “doctor’s office music” at the time. From 1970 to 1974 this was the voice we youngsters of the time shared. I began that summer with a steady diet of CCR, The Beatles, Mountain, Mott the Hoople, Three Dog Night, Aretha Franklin’s Rose in Spanish Harlem. They played that one a lot. Mac Davis and Ray Stevens were early “crossovers” who got a lot of air.

In the fall of 71 we moved to a rental house in the country. I remember that the rent on the place was $125 per month. It wasn’t my business and I had no reason to care, I just remember it because I was often entrusted with delivering the rent check to the landlady, just a couple of houses up the road. I wasn’t aware at the time, but my parents were beset with a lot of medical bills for my sister. Dad had to sell his prized Corvair and we made our travels in a used, blue Chevy Bellaire sedan for a few years thereafter.

It was then, largely thanks to my grandfather, that I developed my interest in NFL football. To this day it is really the only sport I have any interest in. The Baltimore Colts were the reigning league champions at the time. My grandfather was a huge fan of the Miami Dolphins because of his attachment to Don Shula, who he had watched play as a defensive back with the Cleveland Browns back in the 1950s. I got my very first package of Topps Football trading cards that fall, some of which I still have today. I remember they came in a three compartment, clear blister pack with a cardboard tab at the top to hang from the display. From that first pack I obtained such NFL notables of the time in the form of Johnny Unitas, George Blanda, Joe Namath, Don Maynard, Dick Butkus. Also some forgettable players like Larry Krause, Cyril Pinder and Bake Turner. One of the things I remember most about these packs was the smell of the hard-as-rock stick of bubble gum that was sealed with the cards in every package. Once in a while I may dig out some of the old cards and still catch the slightest hint of that scent lingering. I went on to collect hundreds of more cards in subsequent years, but none of them ever seemed to measure up to the 1971 set. With each year the cards became more and more of a disappointment.

The music changed. 1971 brought the Beatles’ solo efforts, George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord, John Lennon’s Instant Karma and Ringo’s It don’t come easy.  Time passed and the venerable WCOL favored us with the likes of Joan Baez, Carole King, Melanie, Todd Rundgren and Harry Nilsson. Three Dog Night’s Jeremiah was a bullfrog and Paul McCartney’s (he hadn’t sprouted “Wings” yet) Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey were regular staples for months. Good Christ! I just realized that Paul McCartney turns 75 tomorrow! Happy Birthday, Sir Paul!

Another little thing that was anticipated from the radio every day was Dick Orkin’s syndicated spoof, Chickenman, a two and a half minute vignette featured during morning drive and again around 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. This bit of silliness originated in Chicago several years previously. We were always a little behind the times in those days. Carly Simon, James Taylor, Al Green, Gladys Knight and the Pips were played a lot. And Elton John. He was just beginning to take off in the states at that time.

Halfway through junior high we moved to a proper farm, a lovely plot of ground along Darby Creek. Unlike my grandparents, who at the time still had their farm, we did nothing with livestock. We were just dirt farmers. With this change there came a change in the radio too. I now had a plug in model with AM and FM. I outgrew WCOL and migrated to WNCI FM, 97.9 on the dial. WNCI had a pop format, but they also featured Casey Kasem’s weekly Billboard Top 40 countdown. It was here that I began to learn of Fleetwood Mac, Seals and Croft, ZZ Top, Queen, Supertramp, The Who, whetting my appetite for more. These were also the days of the Sunday night silliness we all knew as the Dr. Demento Show.

I was not into watching a great deal of television in those days. It would be nearly another 20 years before anything even resembling cable would come to our part of the world. Somehow our household had remained a mostly “radio” home. The set in our living room was set alternately between 610 AM, WTVN or WMNI AM, a country station. In those years I would cringe whenever my mom put on the country station. Oddly I now have a liking for some of the old country classics. There were a few TV programs that we enjoyed. My parents enjoyed MASH, though I was not permitted to watch it until the 8th grade. It was deemed unsuitable for me before then.

My most lasting memories of television in those years was watching the NFL on CBS or NBC until it grew dark. Then on Sunday evenings there was The Rockford Files with Jim Garner. I thought he was cool, I loved his car. I can’t remember now if it was a Camaro or a Firebird. And then there was the NBC Sunday Night Mystery Theater, which featured alternately McMillan and Wife or McCloud or Columbo. There were a few others in that repertoire as well. Jim Hutton’s Ellery Queen and George Peppard’s Banacek. On occasion now I may catch one of these old gems on one of the “retro” networks. I am dismayed to see how camp these were, but it was gripping viewing at the time. I can still sit through some of them, if only to remember lying on the floor in front of the fireplace and watching on our little 32″ screen.

In the summer of 75 came new discoveries.  Nixon was gone, we were stumbling through the Gerry Ford years.  Our house did not have central air. On warm nights the only relief to be found came from having your windows open and a gigantic, industrial strength attic fan in the upstairs hallway. This behemoth was right outside of my bedroom. Though it did draft a mighty breeze through the windows it was loud as a truck! In fact it was so loud that it carried down that hall to the landing at the top of the stairs and filled the wide open space of the A-framed ceiling. This would cause my parents to crank up the volume on the TV when Johnny Carson was on.  There was many a night when I drifted off to sleep hearing the laughter of that Burbank studio audience and the guffaws of Ed McMahon.

One night in the middle of that summer it was a steambath outside. The fan and the television were roaring, but it was too hot to close the door. Since all other sounds were drowned out I could turn up my radio to block the din. I was scrolling through the FM dial and chanced upon Close to the Edge, by the band Yes. I had never heard it before and sat up in my bed transfixed by Steve Howe’s lilting caress upon the neck of “that” guitar. What I was hearing was only an excerpt, though. It was the intro theme music for a radio program on WCOL FM, which until that time I had never known existed. The show was called Midnight and other Beasts, hosted by a DJ named Terry something-or-other. Come on! I’m doing great to remember this much!

Midnight and other Beasts featured deep album cuts. Jeff Beck and Jan Hammer ( later of fame for his Miami Vice theme music in the 80s), Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, King Crimson, Zeppelin, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Fleetwood Mac before they went pop. Before this time I had occasionally heard a little David Bowie from the top 40 countdown, but otherwise he received little airplay where we were. I got a heavy dose from this program. There were more Stones than I had ever heard, The Who, more Yes and Genesis. I became a regular listener of the program, each time coming away wondering “How come we haven’t heard this?”

In the pop music scene we were entering the dreaded age of disco. There were all of these other exciting things happening in the music world and we were missing out! I didn’t know what it was called at the time, but I was developing a taste for “prog rock”.

The 70s droned on. We suffered through disco, the Jimmy Carter years. There were some highlights. Those early years of SNL were precious. I also discovered cigarettes. And weed. Lots and lots of weed. Dr. Demento had introduced me to more of Monty Python. In those years, if you were lucky, you might catch an episode after 10:00 on PBS on a Saturday night.  We were treated to the early years of Steve Martin.

About 1978 I got my first cassette tape player. I loaded up on everything I was missing from the radio through the Columbia House music club. Steely Dan, ZZ Top, Rush, Supertramp, Queen, Yes, Genesis. There was a fairly decent catalogue to choose from and between this and the vinyl I had been able to purchase I built a respectable collection. It was then that I realized that my tastes fell mostly outside of the mainstream. I was ripe for the alternative movement in the decade to come. It wasn’t until then that I finally got current. I later had the opportunity to travel and live in other places that broadened my universe in many ways. When alternative morphed into grunge I was still on the train. They lost me somewhere after that. Since then I still hold to my musical roots and to the 80 alternative, but for the past decade I’ve been exploring the indieverse. There are still a lot of good things happening out there, if you know where to look. And there are a lot more places to look today than there were in 1970s midwest America.

It is often said that America lost it’s innocence after the JFK assassination. As an event that may have been the start of it, but from my life experience I’ll say that we had not fully shed this until the 70s had passed. It was the last days of the analog age, where we were still mechanical rather than digital. Much of this modern technology has its uses, this forum here as a fine example, but I thought we did alright with what we had in the 70s.  Now that I am mostly retreated from the outside world I find myself doing many of the same things I did then.  I still till the ground, plant the seeds and tend the garden. Things like this and the trees, the birds, the earth, they are constants. Yes they change, but in their own time and not as a result of anything we do. We are still only renting this space.

Johnny Carson is dead, you can’t even buy cassettes any more and the world is still a scary place. We just have different kinds of scary now. When I lay down at night and close my eyes I can still hear Close to the Edge playing feebly through the air as I drift to sleep. As I enter the land of Midnight and other Beasts….

For the Newshound-to-Novelist ( Donna-Louise)

We reflect on the state of our lives. Not when we’re happy, no. When we are happy we are simply enjoying living it. If it’s good don’t think about it too hard: you might spoil it. It’s the Heisenberg Principle as applied to relationships.

It would probably, at least sometimes, be healthier for us all to spend a bit more time in reflection. Reflection like anything else requires a balance. Not enough and you rocket blindly up the motorways of life, unprepared for those pesky obstacles that will arise in your path. Too much and you’ll simply drive yourself mad. It seems for most of us, sadly, that regret is the impetus behind our reflections. We search our past to determine where it all started to go wrong. Often the search will only further cloud the issues, or worse. Sometimes these reflections cause us to discover very disturbing things about ourselves.

There will be in any given year a score or so of writers, pop psychologists and self help gurus who will profit by their recorded musings upon marriage or relationships in general. Most I suspect are charlatans, though this is likely my inherently skeptical nature. Let’s be fair. They’re not all charlatans and even those who are probably come at the question with only the best intentions. Of course good intentions are the tarmac laid upon the path to hell, if one believes in that sort of thing. But I digress…

Suffice it to say that there are libraries filled with books and advice on the subject of marriage and relationships. Clever, thoughtful, probing analyses filling page after page, volume upon volume, often saying the same things dressed up in varying costume. There are topics that warrant such exhaustive study, but I would submit that our interpersonal relationships need not be one.  All wisdom on the subject has been given in brief phrases, poems, song. These are the medium for things so elemental.

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Fond affections are never said. They are only sung in song.

Gordon Sharp, This Mortal Coil, It’ll end in Tears

Oh, save your life                                                                                                                                     Because you’ve only got one…                                                                                                               …And I’m not happy                                                                                                                               And I’m not sad…

Morrissey (The Smiths), This Night has opened my Eyes

No six-hundred page tomes, no matrix of bio-rhythms, no meditation technique or tantric rituals. Simple things can be easily complicated, to their ruin. Complicated things are better simplified.  We all hear different voices. What speaks to one heart may not to another, but these few precious lines speak to me.

Do these speak to your heart? I invite others to share those voices which speak to theirs.

Keep Calm and Carry on!

       

The Wise King Solomon: A response to thoughts on Universal Basic Income

It is written that the good King Solomon once stated ” There is nothing new under the sun.”  Without diving into the context of this within scripture I have always found this to be a timeless statement of a universal truth.  To place it within the context of the oft cited “Fecal handbook of the world’s religions” it is the Hindu truism contained therein: this shit has happened before.

The Paradoxical Millennial has again favored us with some thought provoking material. In his post today, Money for nothing….

https://aparadoxicalmillennial.com/2017/06/13/money-for-nothing-a-few-thoughts-on-universal-basic-income/feed/

He has opened discussion on the concept of Universal Basic Income.  It is not an entirely new idea, as surely there are few that are, but it is an idea which has been steadily creeping into numerous forums.

In his opening TPM correctly cites the fact that UBI is a concept raised before now, indeed by some of the more notable minds from the field of economics. As a general concept the UBI is not entirely without merit. It is only when the questions surrounding how we are to arrive at the methods of implementation that we find ourselves at some difficulty. It is an astute observation to state that there is something there for everyone. It appeals to the equality and social justice crowd as it has a certain visceral connection with the emotional argument.  And there is also the appeal for those of a libertarian persuasion in its purely economic rationale.

I do not believe that the UBI in and of itself can bridge the divide in economic theory between right and left spectrums, but in opening the debate it exposes much of the falsehoods  which have taken root in both sides. It is when we are to place the argument upon the template of market versus big government that we begin to remove the first layers from that onion. In doing so it may well also bring tears to one’s eyes!

The left, if not in fact openly hostile to capitalism, is at the very least highly suspicious of the model and it’s titans. They admonish us with regularity that big business, corporations, the rich are not to be trusted. It is only by placing our trust in their advocacy on our behalf against these greedy forces that we may be saved from these malevolent powers. Conversely the right will always tell us that the left is not to be trusted and come to the defense of the corporate world by espousing the gospel of free trade. Let the market decide. Allowing the market to decide would surely be the right medicine, but if only this were true in practice. In all honesty we have not enjoyed a true and unfettered practice of “free trade” since some time back in the 19th century, and even then it had already begun to be tainted.

Despite what either side may say for the consumption of their respective constituencies, neither are honest in what they purportedly practice. What is simultaneously sold from each is in fact entirely contradicted by their actions. Instead of a watchdog guarding the consumer or a free pass issued to corporations there is in reality a conspiratorial policy of “We will allow you to do as you like as long as we are cut in for our share of the action, pay no attention to what we say publicly.” This is more often referred to as “crony capitalism”. It is anything but free trade.

In a system of a true free trade, pure commerce as exercised between peoples absent any other external authority placed upon it, one would find the very purest form of Social Darwinism. For those who truly embrace the practice of free trade such conditions would be the ideal. For those who only mouth the words while practicing their own self-serving version of it there can be no inclination to accept it’s true form. Their false version of free trade tips the scales to insure that they are assured a positive outcome for themselves irrespective of the vagaries of economic tides. It’s rather ironic when one gives this just a little further thought. The so-called free traders claim that they support free trade because it allows the entrepreneur to pursue their aims upon a level playing field. It is in a very real sense, were it truly as they have stated it, a form of gambling. The entrepreneur takes their disposable income and/or that of investors (also gamblers) and forms capital. This capital is then placed into the market under some enterprise which they have reason to believe has favorable odds of a positive return. There are no guarantees ; it is all subject to chance. When there is a hedge in place behind every wager it is no longer gambling. It’s a form of cheating. When government authority can collude with corporate enterprise to their benefit it is no longer free trade. It also is a form of cheating.

There are some from within this camp who further qualify their position by stating “I don’t believe in just free trade. I believe in fair trade.” This is as close as the right will ever come in finding common ground with the left and their quest for equality and social justice. They both claim to be seeking what is “fair”, albeit for different audiences. And therein lies the peril of accepting the social justice argument on behalf of UBI. Fair is an abstract, not an absolute. It is not so clear cut as, say perhaps, darkness and light or hot and cold. It is not an objective term.  If one approaches the question of a UBI under these parameters there is a problem at the very outset: who is to decide what is fair? Equality and social justice are subjective human constructs. They are myths.

We have a symbol for justice, the blindfolded lady holding up the scales. This is to signify that justice is blind, that it plays no favorites and only makes judgement based in truth. It is a good way of illustrating what justice ought to be in it’s ideal, but it is still only a symbol providing a human form to what is in the end only a futile human aspiration. We do not render justice. We may try to, but justice as determined and administered by man is not blind. It is imperfect because it derives from the imperfection of man.  I do not mean to say that we should not strive to achieve justice. We simply must humble ourselves to accept that we are not so infallible as to truly reach the goal. When we strive for perfection we may at best reach excellence, but nothing more. Nature, or as some care to characterize it “God”, is the only blind arbiter. Nature makes no judgements and can favor no side. Nature simply acts/reacts to maintain balance. These are the true “scales” of justice. This is perhaps fitting. We refer to nature as “mother”; we refer to justice as a blind lady holding a set of scales.

Nature is not conscious. Nature randomly “selects” members of any species which carry those traits that are optimal in assuring a species’ survival within any environment as may exist at the time. As conditions may change a trait or set of traits will be in the ascendant or decline to adapt to those changes. Where this translates in humanity, in Social Darwinism, is that there will always be winners and losers in the lottery of human life. We may fool ourselves into believing that we are somehow clever enough to steer or alter this course, but the truth of the matter is that it has precious little to do with what we do or don’t do.

This may come across as being hard-hearted, but it’s just good science. I can provide a stellar example for all of you. We pat ourselves on the back for having learned so much about our bodies, how they work. As a species we have made revolutionary advances in or understanding and even manipulation of genetics. We have made enormous strides in medicine, curing diseases and preserving the lives of great numbers of human beings who absent these advances may not have survived. They would otherwise have been “culled from the herd”, their contribution to the human gene pool forever erased.  These were traits which Nature had determined, for whatever purpose, were undesirable. They were not to the long term benefit of the survival of our species. While we may delude ourselves into believing that we have somehow outsmarted Mother Nature with these advances, she will in fact still have her way. Not following me? Well it works like this. When we intervened in this process, contrary to nature’s selection, we have in effect watered down our own gene pool by permitting those inferior traits to remain and grow within the pool.  We have expanded our vulnerability to what nature had determined was a weakness, an undesirable trait. We may not see the effects in our lifetimes, but rest assured in her own way Mother Nature will have the last laugh.

We may try to impose our own order on our society and in many respects we may well succeed in doing so. There are, however, limitations to this. There are too many factors that are too random, simply beyond our capacity to control. Aside from the purely genetic science human beings are possessed of other traits. Social traits. These are determined by a personality type, upbringing, cultural heritage and the overall environment. These are those things which help to define our human rather than our animal nature. Included among these many traits are those who are possessed of a drive and those who are not. Those who will succeed and those who will fail. Those who will learn from their mistakes and those who will not. There will always be givers and there will always be takers. All of the clever and enlightened social engineering for all time will never alter these basic facts of the human condition.

I fear that I do not see a way that the UBI can or will be administered without trying to ignore these facts. The stated ideal is that this income be set at a universal mark and applied equally to all, regardless of talent or skill, vigor or lethargy. I clearly understand all of the mathematical calculations making the case for this versus whatever we may be doing now. They are indeed valid points and in the purely numerical sense these provide a sound footing in support of the concept, but for one minor shortcoming. They do not take into account the quantity of human nature.

This may be somewhat clumsy by way of an illustration, but please bear with me as it is the first practical example which comes to mind. Let us say that there is a restaurant chain that employs mostly younger, unskilled workers. All new employees start at the federally mandated minimum wage, with merit increases of $.30 per hour with every 6 months of service with acceptable performance. Troy, who works full time as a cook on the night closing crew, has been with the establishment for 30 months. He has earned a positive performance review with each six month interval and has had perfect attendance, thus entitling him to five merit increases in his hourly rate. When he began working the minimum wage was set at $7.25 per hour.  With his merit increases he is now earning $8.75 per hour. In 60 days a new minimum wage will take effect, raised to $10.00 per hour. So Troy also gets a raise to the new minimum, but subsequent new hires coming on board after the increase, with no experience and no record of performance, will earn the same as he.

Now maybe for Troy it’s not about the money. Maybe he’s just dedicated to his craft. Or maybe not. Maybe Troy sees some injustice in this and says to his boss, ” Hey Boss! If I have earned $1.50 in merit increases for my services then shouldn’t I be getting $11.50 per hour? Its not fair that I earned the increases with my hard work and these other yahoos just starting make the same as me.” Now by law the employer is not obliged to accommodate Troy’s request, but the young man does have a valid point nonetheless. Oh what to do now? Hmm….

My point in this illustration is that human nature being what it is and everyone trying to determine what is “fair” this would be only the first of many challenges in finding the UBI rate that is “fair”. An example of this unconditional grant was given stating that the unemployed elderly male would be provided exactly the same grant as the young female lawyer.  Who would it be to decide what that “fair and equal” grant was to be?  I understand that the concern might easily be countered with “everyone gets the same” when the young lawyer will cry foul. “Hey! That’s not fair, he gets the same as me! I worked hard, sacrificed a lot of my youth to obtain this law degree. And I have law school to pay for! Shouldn’t I get more?” That is just one example of what I am sure would be many. I can understand the rational argument that ” It’s just a basic minimum, Miss. Everyone gets it, even you, see? It’s not even means tested.” Where one is likely to encounter problems in addressing these concerns as they arise comes from the rather improbable assumption that everyone is able to think rationally where it comes to money. I dare say that there are too many among us whose every reaction is rooted in the emotional response, even the ability of rational thought being entirely absent.

There are legitimate answers to this type of objection being raised, but there will be the ongoing battle of having to keep people convinced of these explanations. And then of course there are all of the other questions that are raised.  How is this to be funded? If, for example, the funding would come (in the interest of fairness) from a universal tax to be paid by all into the UBI treasury how is it that it does not become a redistribution of wealth? If it were mandated that all pay the same amount and then even those who didn’t really “need” the grant would receive exactly the same then there will be this objection: What Joe Schmoe the plumber paid in was a significantly higher percentage of his income than the billionaire out in the Hamptons, yet the billionaire gets exactly the same grant? No matter what we may do there will always be those people who will be convinced that even though the rich paying more will do nothing to benefit them directly it is still necessary in the interest of “fairness”. So then in response to this objection the tax rate to fund the program would be set where all citizens pay the same as a percent of their income. In that case it ends up with essentially what we have now: the rich pay more dollar wise as a percent of their income, but the poor, though paying the very same rate, realize the greater benefit from the program. That is a de facto redistribution of wealth no matter what one may call it.

If UBI is an entitlement that is to be administered through the government we can be assured that it will be so far bastardized from what was originally drawn up as to be unrecognizable. It will be played as a bargaining chip for yet more government authority under the guise of “fairness”. Make book on it. The ideal might very well be for the UBI to supplant so many other redundant government programs and on it’s face that is a fine idea. The difficulty there is that one must place their trust in government to act in the better interests of the people than those of their own socio-political class. I believe you might say “Not bloody likely!”

UBI is, however, something which may have a chance at working, once the details are all sorted out. There is one crucial element that would need to be realized first: education. We would all need to radically alter our thinking about many things that have come to be accepted as the norm. There are surely more than I may list here, but as critical matters I believe there are three. These are, assigned no specific order of importance:

  1. The funding of education, in particular higher education
  2. Taxation
  3. Private property

On the first of these I would cite the earlier example of the young female attorney, or any of the “professional” disciplines. Law school, Med school, any post grad school is an expensive proposition. We should ask ourselves why. If we mean to achieve a basic threshold of sustenance to all citizens, regardless their station in life, their training, skills, etc. we should all be clear on our understanding of why, to what ultimate social benefit. There is the fairness/justice case which seems to steer us onto the thin ice. Then there is the “more cost efficient” case, which moves us back closer to terra firma. If monetary concerns are the measure of advantage/disadvantage in determining fairness and equality in an outcome, might we not also (or instead) apply this thinking in determining the fairness/equality of opportunity? Afford all citizens an equal opportunity in education irrespective of an ability to pay. The playing field is equalled, the only remaining determinant is what one does with that opportunity. The young attorney in this instance would not have an argument that she was entitled to the greater grant for her education debt. Conversely the tool and die maker would not have the argument that he is stuck in a tradesman’s career because he did not have the money to obtain a more esteemed degree.  We need to learn to be more careful when discussing opportunity that we do not equate it with results.

On the next matter of taxation never has there been any matter of public policy more worthy of a complete demolish and rebuild.  The world over taxation is misapplied and misused. The misapplication comes in the practice of taxing property and productivity. The misuse is in the exercise of taxation to alter or influence behaviors and to wield the power to tax as a punitive tool. In either instance these are, whatever their intent in theory, in their practice a tax upon productivity. Productivity builds wealth. It builds the wealth of individuals and nations alike. To put it in nautical terms productivity is the engine; wealth is the ship.  Why in heavens would you try to power the engine of a ship while dragging anchor? It just isn’t logical, is it? Yet this is what we do when taxing income, real property and family estates. It is government wielding a confiscatory club over its people. It removes capital from the market where it is more likely to do the most good. In the private sector it is necessary to produce results or close shop. The enterprise that continually loses money is doomed. Yet in government, where failure can be reliably expected the failure is rewarded with? Just throw more money at it. Tax it, print it, doesn’t matter. The well of the public treasury never runs dry.

Suggestions that we tweak the code, go to a flat tax, add a VAT, these are all just subterfuge. They are regurgitations of the last bowl of vomit they served us. All of the existing tax codes need to be rendered null and void. In the case of the US the only sensible approach is for the individual states to establish a sales tax at a rate they deem proper. This is not a tax on productivity; rather a tax on consumption. Take away congress’ ability to borrow and SHUT DOWN the Federal Reserve. For those duties specifically enumerated for the federal government in the constitution they will make due with revenues collected and not spending budgets formulated out of some fantasy realm. Individual states collect their revenues and the Federal government is granted a percentage of each state’s collection. No more; no less.

There is a further beauty in this plan in that it would stimulate economic growth at a rate unseen in over a century. This tax structure forces the states to compete with one another for commerce. If for example the State of New York wanted to continue to fund their own brand of fool’s paradise at the taxpayer’s expense they might determine that they would require a state sales tax of, let us say, 16%. If their population would sustain this level of taxation, were pleased with what they received for price of admission then everyone is happy, right? And this would contribute more dollars as their share to the federal treasury. While next door in Pennsylvania the Statehouse says ” we dont need 16%! We can do our job at a tax rate of 9%” People and businesses will figure out rather quickly that it is to their advantage to set up shop in Pennsylvania, rather than New York. The tax rate remains the same, but their revenues climb because of the increased economic activity.  Vermont sees this and decides that maybe they could reduce their rate too. Eventually New York has to either wise up and change their ways or watch their tax base continue to wither and their services go unfunded. The Federal Government is not going to bail them out in this case because? Well the Federal Government is now dependent on the states, not the other way around.

On the third and final of these points, private property, we again need to look and listen more closely at what is said versus what is done. By taxation, regulation, probate courts and the abuses of eminent domain private property rights have been steadily eroded. With a growing percentage of the population being “unlanded” it has become quite easy for governments at every level to trample upon private property rights with impunity and go largely unnoticed. Where the cries of protest have been raised governments have managed to squelch their volume through the combined forces of intimidation and appealing to the politics of envy before those who hold no vested interest in these fights.

If private property rights were respected and property owners left unmolested by government agencies many of the concerns that a UBI is touted to solve simply would not exist.  Real property left to be developed or preserved and appreciate as a free market would allow would help to insure the elderly remaining secure in their homes and that wealth could accumulate to the benefit of subsequent generations. The grotesque and obscene estate tax laws in the US have nearly extinguished the family farm. The best way to care for your people is not to care for them. It is to empower them to care for themselves.

These are three huge questions that will arise and will have to be properly addressed if a UBI ever has a prayer of happening here. Elsewhere in the world is anyone’s guess, I suppose. I can only speak for here.

Finally there are two other observations about the benefits to be gained from the establishment of a Universal Basic Income that I wish to close with.  To state that a UBI would aid in an increase of market efficiency and reduce the size of the state hovers on the periphery of a truth. Reducing the size of the state in itself  would carry us all light years in the direction of increasing market efficiencies. There were the further observations as to the social and cultural benefits to be realized by a UBI and it’s potential need as a response to the growing trend of automation.  I do see UBI as a potential positive in fostering artistic and cultural growth as well as a hedge against economic displacement resulting from technology. In mentioning these two things together I am, however, reminded how one in fact aided in the creation of another without the addition of basic income endowment.

A little over 11,000 years ago humans embarked upon one of the most life altering technologies in our history as a species. We had functioned primarily as hunter/gatherers roaming across the vast open tracts of lands on the planet up until this time. And then agriculture was developed, a true game changer. The development of the technology of agriculture allowed for the development of the static settlement; forerunners to cities, city-states and a growing human civilization. When fewer hands were required just to keep the people fed this freed up the development of other skills and talents: art, writing, food preservation, irrigation, further experimentation and tool building, just to name a few. And each of these lead to improvements in the standards of human existence and the creation of still more new arts and sciences. All of these were the positive benefits derived from an advance in technology.  Yes, it put a lot of hunters out of work for a while, but they did find other things to do with their time. And at this point in our history we were still some ways from the development of currency. I’ll grant you it hasn’t all been peachy since, we’ve had our share of troubles, but in the overall as a species we have fared at least reasonably well since.

Universal Basic Income is an intriguing idea, one which certainly is worth further exploration, but I would offer a final caveat.  It seems that we are always trying to solve our problems by doing something different. Perhaps we should realize that a good portion of our problems are of our own making and anything else are simply things that are beyond our ability to control. We are able, however, to control what we do. Perhaps our answers lie in doing less.