The Human Condition:

Another Doorway – January 1, 2023

Janus coin

Another trip around the Sun. Another race that’s just begun. And so we pass through another doorway.1

The past year was pretty good for me. I published one book, Revolt on the Iron Planet, and started two more. Those new novels are progressing slowly, and the pace of my blog postings has also slowed down. I don’t know if this is age creeping up on me or distraction with other events, but it is so.

I dropped, dumped, tipped over—whatever—two motorcycles in the fall, with significant reparable damage to each but no significant injury. I then sold out of my bikes entirely—and almost immediately bought one of them back. So my mind, for better or worse, remains changeable if not malleable. I have come to accept that my continued riding will be a test of my skills, judgment, reflexes, balance, and endurance. And it’s just fun: I come back from each ride relaxed and exhilarated.

I continued to exercise and try to manage my weight. I had no significant health issues, except for a molar with some “resorption,” which means a breakdown in the root dentine that usually calls for root canal. This tooth couldn’t be saved, however; so I had it extracted right before New Year’s Eve and am in line for an implant.

I had no significant attachments or detachments in my personal life. And after my fifth year alone, I still miss my late wife Irene. So I do have some human feeling left, I guess.

What will 2023 bring? And am I ready for it?

The good news is that California seems to be in for a wet winter, and we need the water after several years of drought. The bad news is that my condo complex is coming up on fifty years old, and we have to deal with a number of leaks, both externally because of the rain and internally because of the aging plumbing. But the structure is sound.

The bad news internationally is that, from this perspective, Russia seems determined to continue its war of attrition, destruction, and death against Ukraine. With the abduction of thousands of Ukrainian children and indiscriminate murder of adults, the Russian goal seems to be depopulation in favor of occupying a barren land as a buffer against the West. That’s old-style thinking and, also, inhuman. But that seems to be the whisper inside Vladimir Putin’s head. Either Ukraine will disappear, or he will.

The further bad news is that Chairman-for-Life Xi Jinping seems also to be listening to bad whispers. First, he locked down his country to fight a weakened virus—and also to punish economic areas that might defy him. Then, after a spate of protests that did not look to topple his regime, he removed all precautions and opened the borders. The trouble with any system that returns all thought and inspiration to one great leader is that you have no checks and balances if he’s wrong, or delusional, or just plain out of touch. And the correction mechanisms include a lot of bystander deaths. Either Xi will disappear, or China will.

At home, the country remains fairly evenly divided between conservative, populist, traditionalist homebodies and progressive, centrist, daring radicals. Each side of the aisle appears to hold less than 51% or 52% of the seats in the House and Senate and governorships across the nation. Such division can be a useful thing, because neither side can effect crushing change against the other. It is also useful if it forces negotiation and compromise to get anything done. And it can be useful, at least to the traditionalist side, if it keeps the government from undertaking radical changes that half the population doesn’t want. But then, spinning your wheels and hurling invectives that will change nobody’s mind are exercises in wasted energy.

On the economy, I don’t think anyone knows what’s going on. We have persistent inflation and a Federal Reserve that is pledging to fight it with the tools at hand—interest rates. But we also have a constrained supply system, chaos in international trade and shipping, a tight labor market, and collapsing retail, housing, and infrastructure sectors … all while the federal government spends more and more of the money it does not have, hampering the Fed’s moves. The stock market, which I watch daily, gyrates between hope and fear, and experts are predicting a deep recession, a “soft landing,” and a bull market in 2023. Nobody knows. And all the adults seem to have left the room.

The failure of one crypto trader, who may have been attempting a Ponzi scheme and might just be a moron, demonstrated to most financial experts that a currency backed by nothing, except perhaps a large and indecipherable number, is actually backed by nothing—and worth every penny. I’ll try a lot of new things in the name of technical advancement; cryptocurrency and day trading are not among them.

The pandemic seems to have morphed into a more transmissible but less severe form. That is the way of all successful viruses: infect as many people as possible, in order to increase the presence of viral particles; cripple or kill as few people as possible, because an incapacitated or dead person cannot spread those particles; and mutate constantly to overcome the tenacious human immune system. This is evolution in action, and the winners of all time are the rhinoviruses and a subset of the coronaviruses, both responsible for the common cold: easily transmitted, no more than an inconvenience, and present in everyone’s nose. But we still have some unsettling, lingering effects of Covid-19, including brain fogs and systemic weaknesses. So the story is not written yet.

The whole experience of the pandemic disrupted many of our systems—economic, social, cultural, and political. It closed down vulnerable businesses and advanced the cause of work from home for those whose functions allowed it—think of well-paid knowledge workers as opposed to low-paid service workers. It made people hesitant to gather in large groups, and so changed our habits for meeting in forums and clubs, going to movies, and other social encounters. It ended a bias toward locality: with internet connections and Zoom calls, groups and organizations can now entertain national and even international participants. And the pandemic pretty well changed the voting process, from a single day to show up and mark your ballot in the booth, to a month-long affair of mail-in ballots, chain-of-custody surveillance, and endless squabbles about counting. Some things will go back to normal in 2023 after the pandemic, and some things will remain forever changed.

So the drama continues. Cheers!

1. See my blog from last year at this time: Janus, God of Doorways from January 2, 2022.