Living In the New Norm.

The last few weeks have seen several proclamations that we have re-entered the non-pandemic World and a New Norm prevails.

For my own part it feels like I have dived into a seemingly innocent pool to find it much deeper than expected, infested with both sharks and powerful swirling currents not immediately apparent.

What I am told and that which I see and is reported can all be quite different.

The expected and unilaterally provoked war in Ukraine is well underway. News outlets are re-stocked hourly with indignant records of atrocious incidents. The country, its cities and infrastructure are continuing to be destroyed and eventually completely levelled.

And innocent citizens, men and women, young and old are sacrificed, violated and displaced. Over 3 million refugees fled Ukraine’s borders within the first month of hostilities.

The prodding, poking, goading and political maneuvers that began this progression are quickly accomplishing inevitable outcomes.

Reporters and observers are outraged, even surprised. Yet this type of (almost) Total Warfare have been the norm since even before the writing of the notorious Von Clausewitz.

We have seen similar events and progressions of destruction since WWII in former Yugoslavia, Georgia, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq and on and on. Each of these countries saw on-going warfare for many years even following the initial destruction of their infrastructures.

In the beginning there are Lofty Goals, Inspirational Rhetoric, Political and National Maneuvers at the forefront. These eventually and quickly faded, leaving the simple civilian populations exposed as the meat in the ground-level grind of warfare.

There were no National innocents involved in the provocations that led to the inevitable outbreak of this war. Yet as in every war each side believes it is wholly right and positions its National News, Reporting, Opinion and Insights accordingly.

And so, from where these words are written and read the monster is called Putin.

Things swirling around in my local world also have their own, yet far more minor ups and downs.

The clocks have jumped forward in the US for what may be one of the last Daylight Savings events. Times will truly be changed. 😉

Masks and Covid mandates are falling away in the US since the SOTU address and even the UK has dropped its vaccine mandates for unwilling Health workers so as NOT to lose a further 80-90,000 professionals from their already diminished ranks.

Gas prices continue to rise following the onset of the Ukrainian War. In my recent Northern California travels North upon the Highway 5 backbone I have seen fuel prices run up from the very lowest just under $5 / gallon to over $6.10 at supposedly more cost-effective stops.

As for Diesel, that is already often priced well over $7.00, adding expense to every single product that can be purchased.

I read that Inflation is now around 7.9% by current measures. For my own part it seems every product or service I purchase has risen steadily to objectively be some 20-30% more costly than at the end of 2020. That is a large jump in 15 months, way beyond what is advised and emerging long before any knock-on effects of the Ukrainian War could occur.

Everywhere I go in Northern California there are “Help Wanted” signs. In addition, Placards adorn most businesses, commonly requesting patience with their understaffed offerings.

Services and products are reduced in Restaurants, Hotels and Stores. Everyone requests your tolerance as employers struggle to first attract and then retain workers now accustomed to their home-based, Covid lifestyles and funding.

And the worker shortage has fueled wage increases, in turn driving staffing reductions which then affects overall service and prices levels. We have indeed entered a New Norm. ☹

As routines return there have been Irish Bands and Music in my local Capitola Village. St. Patrick’s Day offered a welcome break and return to celebration and the more familiar. 😊

Springtime blooms and blossoms have appeared and my cold weekend overnights on a boat in Alameda are moving into the rearview mirror.

For daily activity, my time has been mostly consumed in February and March with bike rides and surprisingly picturesque and brilliant sunsets. The evenings have steadily become warmer, and the post sunset-chill has diminished.

From the beginning of March there were just more people out and about. Days hereabouts have been sunny, somewhat warmer (if not so the nights) and less cloudy. 😊

The airline industry is concerned about travel, not just caused by exploding fuel prices, but as a direct result of quickly and massively growing demand.

Recent weekend stays in Alameda have also highlighted signs that the Supply Chain constipation continues, visible from the (lack of) movement in the Container Ships being processed through the Oakland docks.

Virtually NO Container Ships ever anchored below the Bay Bridge in the San Francisco Bay as recently as the end of 2020. Now seeing 5 or 6 vessels piled high, held-up waiting to get on the docks from their anchorage is a common sight, even when as many as 7 other vessels are already tied-up dockside.

The once quite open land around the docks’ waterfront and beneath the giant, stork-like cranes is filled to water’s edge, stacked to the skies with Containers waiting for trucks to move them on. The system of delivery and pick-up remains visibly choked and moving sluggishly.

It is noticeable that when I travel the 300 miles from my home in Santa Cruz to as far North as Redding there are distinct cultures in play, affected more and less by their Covid experiences…

All this region is in Northern California, which was largely aggressive in pursuit of Covid medical restrictions and requirements. In the busier towns like Alameda and immediately along the Highway North leaving the Bay Area, people are still often following covid protocols and using masks. Here Doctors, Dentists and medical professionals remain required to be masked while processing visitors with Covid practices.

My own ophthalmologist complained that although he never now wears a mask outside of work, he feared the rest of his working career might require him to do so on-the-job.

In early March I boarded one of the now fewer, sparsely filled high-speed ferries from Alameda into the Ferry Building on the San Francisco waterfront. Masking was mandatory aboard and of mixed interest on the streets of the city. However, entry to restaurants required vaccination and masks that could be quickly discarded once inside.

Upon entry to the world-famous Buena Vista for Irish Coffees we were required to show official proof of vaccination which was carefully scrutinized. No masks were required indoors though our servers chose to wear them.

The size of crowds along the Embarcadero seemed perhaps 60% of normal on that warm, sunny day and many street vendors have returned, but were now often confined to slightly different street locations than before the pandemic.

Several passages around the Piers (esp. Pier 39) channeled pedestrians in strange ways and even had multiple blocked-off walkways, clearly tied to obviously persisting Covid restrictions. Oddly, this restrained organization seemed to funnel people together, which is intuitively unwise. 😉

As I visit more rural towns and travel further North such restrictions seem to vanish entirely and are actively dismissed. Nobody is masked, many are not vaccinated and frequently proudly so. In conversations I find people often disdainful of the lack of working ethic in their neighbors just to the South in more suburban regions.

For myself, I like to travel and have done so continually throughout Covid locally, Nationally and Internationally. Inevitably I am vaccinated. By visiting other places, at-risk people and watching my own health I have been tested some 20+ times for Covid; always negative.

Following a Moderna Booster shot before my Christmas travel, I managed to pick up a couple of blood-clots below the right knee within a day or so. Coincidence? Really? Such risks are only JUST starting to be acknowledged liabilities and even then, most infrequently.

There have been several hundred million Covid shots administered in the US alone with more recently >>50 million Boosters… ideally data that will have provided massive information and pinpointed efficacy, benefits and even very minor health risks that might surface over a very meaningful period.

Yet nothing is published that overwhelmingly demonstrates the simple proof of benefits. Why is that?

Did the CDC forget or miss this blatant opportunity? Could this focused, major Institution really be that foolish? Or does this mass of data show something that is better not revealed? In all honesty there truly is reason for suspicion.

And do we not all know fully vaccinated (even Boostered) people who have contracted one or another variant of Covid, sometimes even twice. Though in all reasonability, this can be expected.

For myself I am fully vaccinated. Yet I am extremely suspicious of the shocking lack of detailed data presentation. Its sheer absence is at best, quite troubling.

And Certified Covid Testing can be a pricey business. After last New Year I paid $250 /person for a required rapid certified PCR test to board a flight from Sweden to the UK. Less expensive self-administered Lateral Flow tests can be intermittently hard to find in stores and yet also fail to offer any certification that may be required.

California is (politically) bright Blue in its major Cities (particularly San Francisco, LA, San Diego and their surrounds) and deep Red everywhere else.

As I travel about California it seems blatantly obvious that even localized political affiliations sharply affect on-going ties (or lack thereof) to Covid Protocols and Pandemic Fears.

So, now moving to a lighter subject, let me describe my recent fishing trip (300miles from Santa Cruz) up North to Redding, CA…

Well, the Drift fishing was a blast!

Again, I was looking for Rainbow Trout on the Lower Sacramento River, this time South of Red Bluff.

The fishing was mid-week and quite quiet after Mid-March where daytime temperatures were still below 65F and rains on-and-off, though dry on that day and with afternoon winds topping 12mph on more exposed sections.

There was just me fishing and a guide aboard our drift boat.

Water flow was at the lowest legal limit (perhaps just 25% of preferred fishing flow norms) the water authority can release from the dam; it was the same as six months earlier but now headed into Spring and then the heat of the coming Summer.

So, local fishermen, guides and suppliers are concerned for the future of the fishery.

Well, we had a peculiar, unique and banner day.

I doubt we saw more than 7 or 8 groups of people including those in boats or on the banks. Groups were typically of 2 or 3 people each; not many were fishing on the 15 or so miles over which we mostly drifted and partly motored through.

We spotted truly little successful action among them and those we asked professed minor or no success. Ours was a different tale.

Between 9.00am and 4.00pm we hooked into over 70 Rainbow trout. Over 35 were brought into the boat for release. The fish ranged from 14”-20”, mostly around 16” and >2 years old.

Typically, a good day fishing for TWO Anglers would be hooking into 30 fish total and getting as many to the boat as possible for release.

In all honesty we had stopped counting catches by noon and the estimates may be quite conservative. Everywhere there should be fish, there were, and I hooked fish most everywhere I tried.

We joked that the guide’s year would be a disappointment from this point onwards; everything to come would likely be downhill.  😉

In truth I have always been remarkably successful on this river, but this was an exceptional experience. 😊

We employed three different fishing techniques, all of which produced: Dry fly overhead casting with a nymph dropper was least successful. Euro-nymphing with bottom bouncing worked well in deep holes, but a basic triple rigged nymph setup with an indicator was most productive and required less touch and skill, anyway.

There was however something quite different about this trip…

Less than a year ago (mid 2021) I had noticed increased numbers of Sucker Fish in these waters and was concerned the fishery would be destroyed for Rainbow Trout. Suckers are an invasive species. And I saw this same phenomenon play out about five years ago in the Merced River coming out of Yosemite.

The trout there were gone in a just a couple of years. Each visit found more prime Rainbow fishing runs overrun with Sucker Fish.

By September of 2021 I began noticing more Suckers in the Lower Sacramento water and even caught a couple of (5lb and 7lb) those fish. This was already a notable change from mid-year.

I commented on it at the time, but nobody seemed particularly concerned, at least outwardly.

This visit (mid-March 2022) I was seeing 100’s of Suckers, actively spawning in the shallower water. I probably saw as many as 1000 fish over the entire day. This was new. This is dramatic.

These fish have few natural predators other than the Trout grabbing their spilled greenish eggs and an occasional Osprey pulling a Sucker-fish meal and loudly advertising its success.

Clearly these massive numbers of sightings say this invasive species has already been extraordinarily successful. They stick to the bottom of the river, are not troubled much by angling and generally have little affecting their proliferation.

And how does all this matter? Consider the following…

My own fishing trip likely benefited greatly. I was running a (green) egg pattern at the top of my most successful rigs. Even though many of the Rainbows I took were on other flies and droppers, the egg pattern was almost always there and at worst functioned as an attractor. The Sucker Fish were in spawn.

I am guessing only a few other fishermen that day were running a GREEN (various Trout have red and orange eggs) Egg Pattern. I had an INCREDIBLY wise guide. Thank you, Jason!  😊

And the greater significance…

There is probably little, or no work being done by local fishery employees that can or will meaningfully control this invasion. My own experience has been that when such damage is underway it happens very quickly, and all goes in one direction.

This does not bode well for locals who rely upon the river for their livelihoods: Guides, Stores, Suppliers, Hoteliers and so on.

Perhaps this major trend will not prove disastrous? Maybe there are steps (of which I am unaware) that can protect the fishery and reverse the trend? But at this point the signs are not good.

And there is more to life than fishing…

Covid has been put on the backburner. Restrictions are lifting in many places but persist (as already mentioned) as cultural norms and hang-on in some regions and many (all CA?) medical environments.

Covid has been down-graded to “a flu-like risk to work thru’” in several parts of the World. I am sure it will be brought forward again when the War in Ukraine no longer serves all required purposes, or if a genuine, powerful new variant emerges.

But for now, many will get a general break from the Covid onslaught. 😊

Today, Putin and the War are tagged as the focus and cause of all our woes and the people of Ukraine must die, suffer, be displaced or flee as hostilities rage on.

It is said that people deserve the Government they get… the belief being that if it is truly bad you should rise and overthrow your oppressors. This is easier to say than do when the collective and personal cost is often so formidably high.

Much of the Western World is on-board in support of the Ukrainian cause. It is mute that its government was thought, until weeks ago, as highly corrupt. Times change. Convenient Politics reign.

Many other Countries see Russia as an ally, or a sovereign State protecting its historical territory, interests and own security. And this completes the troubling division of World opinion.

China has made its choice and (generally) backs the Russian efforts. She also wants to re-assimilate Taiwan under her umbrella and is biding time and watching how things play out for Putin.

The recent Middle Eastern peace-accords forged by the last Administration have now been abandoned and displaced. Consequently, previous allies (Saudi Arabia and UAE, etc.) will not even take US calls to address a bail-out for the US Oil pricing catastrophe.

And inevitably, Iran and North Korea are back, acting-up with spurious missile shots. This, even as the US is seeking an inexplicable renewed and punitive (to the US) Peace, Nuclear Proliferation and Oil-Supply deal with Iran. Ouch. ☹

Further, an Administration attempt to get Oil Supply relief from Human Rights Violator and failed Socialist Venezuela after Russian imports were finally banned, had the Venezuelans formally reporting back on the conversation to their (Russian) ally within days. Ouch, again. ☹

Domestically, the last 15 months of open boarders have shepherded in >> 2 million illegal US entries, Gas Prices have gone out of control, Inflation has spiraled, The Supply Chain is staggering, Afghanistan has been disastrously abandoned, Debt has surpassed the imagination and Crime has exploded with Drug and Human Trafficking growing precipitously.

The current US President is already broadly tagged as worst ever, surpassing even Carter. There is a convincing argument he OK’d the Russian incursion with inviting words and absent proactive action. His VP is similarly maligned and despised domestically and on the World front. Where does this all end? How deep a hole might yet be dug?

With all the aid pouring into Ukraine for defense, what could possibly go MORE wrong?   ☹

Not surprisingly it seems the (Ukrainian) defenders are running out of space to operate. Let us hope operations do not spill into adjacent territories and ignite an even larger and more Global event.

Several months ago, I wrote about three Leaders (Putin, Biden and Xi) who needed wars to distract from mounting Domestic political failings and personal unpopularity. Two of them now are up and running with Xi is in the wings, watching and waiting.

Weak leadership provides a catastrophic platform and opportunity whereby events can quickly overtake the players.

Realistically, these are gloomy times. The world needs to move quickly toward measurable de-escalation.

As for myself, I have little meaningful effect on problems of this scale. So, I will focus on things that might be accomplished. 😉

Every day offers the opportunity for work, exercise and the chance to find and enjoy those positive scenes and events that surround us all.

Are you able to find such opportunities? Are you, your friends, colleagues and loved ones able to find truly effective distractions and diversions?

We need not ignore the reality of events. You can keep abreast of both troubling and inspiring News.

But be sure you find time to clear your head and do not obsess unhealthily about those things you cannot practically affect or control. And above all, keep your chin up!

Ian R. Mackintosh is the author of Empower Your Inner Manager Twitter@ianrmackintosh.

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