Monday, January 23, 2017

8 Years Ago

This morning The Ravishing Mrs. TB texted me that Facebook had helpfully reminded here that 8 years ago today I was laid off.

Could not be, I thought.  So I went back and looked at the archives.  Yup, it was 8 years ago today.

I stand by my initial reaction:  although it was unexpected and bad news, it was not the worst news I could have received: "There's also a sense, as I told some folks at work, that I could have gone to an office where a doctor could have told me "You have pancreatic cancer and three months to live". In the scheme of things, this is not the worst thing to happen."

Certainly we never expected to have to move away from all of our family and friends - in a very real sense, our universe up to that point.  But we were pleasantly surprised by the results:  Na Clann adapted far better than we could have hoped and made friends and found interests.  We found a school that worked and then a church that did.  I worked the same job for almost 7 years; The Ravishing Mrs. TB ended up finding a job at the church at that has become our church.  We bought a house as well, something that was not at all expected so quickly after having to sell our last one under duress.

And myself?  I was thinking about this as well, and suddenly thought "What if I told my former self as of that moment that 8 years from the date of being laid off and having to ultimately move I would have:

- Learned to Make Cheese;
- Raised Quail;
- Learned to actually use a Japanese Sword and practice Japanese swordsmanship, resulting in a teaching certificate;
- Get a certification in Japanese;
- Run multiple road races;
- Run two obstacle course races;
- Compete in Highland Athletics;
- Learn more about rabbits than I ever thought (and continue to keep them); 
- Climb a 16 foot rope (still one of my personal favorites);
- Write and publish not one book, but eight (still not making any money - but done!);
- Train with weights and find out I can lift would I would have believed to be unbelievable amounts;  
- Find out that my passion for doing things like growing and making and raising are shared by thousands of people across the planet;
- Add a whole new bevy of wonderful people whom I can actually call friends;
- Finally got the promotion I was shooting for.

I suspect my former self would have simply laughed and shook his head.  After all, any one of those things seems pretty much of a stretch.  Altogether they would seem impossible.

So yes, it has been eight years.  And a very full and busy eight years at that.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Right Thing To Do

Lost in this weekend's shuffle of inauguration and protest is the question of, going forward, what is the right thing to do.

As a nation-state, we have come to interpret the "right things" as something which benefits some portion of us, not all of us.  The closing of coal plants is celebrated as an environmental triumph; the workers put out of work and businesses that supported them are ignored or perhaps thought as acceptable casualties; health care for those that did not have it is a triumph while those whose bills climb extraordinarily are overlooked or thought not to exist. We want "free choice" in so many things, but cannot extend the concept to something as simple as raw milk.  In other words, although lots of people would pretend otherwise, we have come to view policy as a zero-sum game with winners and losers - and the winners are also sub-groups, not Americans as a whole.

Is it a wonder we are so divided?  I suspect that if you asked people as whole they would have little agreement or indeed little idea about what would be good for all Americans.

I have yet to see a sustained movement in politics that actually implements the philosophy that everyone like to espouse, that things are not a zero-sum game but rather a pie and we all succeed by making the pie bigger, not dividing the pie we have.  It strikes me as odd that so many like to proclaim this as their belief in the future of the world but few actually try to make it a political reality.
What if we spent our efforts both on protecting the environment and finding technologically better ways to use what we currently have, thus securing employment for some and supporting the businesses they support?  What if we found ways to actually cover people while not forcing others to pay or buy things they have no wish to purchase (whatever happened to the right of individual to decide to buy?)?  What if we found better ways to promote food safety and natural food and allowed those that wish to do something such as drink raw milk to do so?  What if we measured how America was doing by how Americans citizens were doing instead of how our favorite sub-group of American citizens were doing?

This has been a difficult article to write and I have had to go back and delete or rewrite portions at least three times, because of the tendency I have to want to politicize or personalize things myself instead of drawing attention to the root question.  There is plenty of that circulating around at the moment and of itself will solve nothing but only make the issues less resolvable.

Is it possible that we can strip away our differences, humble ourselves, and start asking what is as good for "the other side" as it is for ourselves?  Or are we too far gone in our thinking that while we proclaim "larger pie" we act as quickly as we can to empty out the pie-plate ourselves?

In the first version, we have a state and possibly a nation.  In the second, we have neither a nation nor state, only the long dark road to inevitable national and state suicide.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Inauguration Day

Tomorrow - no matter who you voted for - a ceremony takes place which recalls events almost 2500 years ago.

It reaches all the way back to the Roman Republic and 508 B.C. when the Praetors of Rome (who became the Consuls) voluntarily surrendered their executive power based on a vote of the Senate and the Population of Rome (Senatus Populusque Romanus).  It was a civil transfer of power:  without violence, without revolution, without war.

If you think this is not a remarkable thing, think the world that this existed in:  the next closest form of government, Athens and its democratic experiment, was just getting started.  So far as we know, everywhere else in the world was dominated by kings and chieftains, hereditary leaders.  And think of how rare it was:  by 48 B.C. the Republic had become a dictatorship, never to return.  Read the history of Rome after this and the constant internal strife and death and war (in some cases) that occurred upon the death of the ruler in charge. Or view our own recent history on the transition of power for many countries and many governments; you will find that human nature has not changed at all.

We take this all for granted now:  one day in January, the Executive power on of the most powerful countries in the world changes hands.  If you do not think it to be remarkable, remember this day.

 Because some day such a thing will seem remarkable to you that it ever existed.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Linking Out

So this week I shut down my Linked In Profile.

Linked In, to those who may not know, is a social networking website primarily designed for the business world.  People essentially list a version of their resume - with work history, education, certifications, publications, etc. - and then "link" with other individuals.  It is really a sort of Facebook for the business world.  For the most part people keep politics and most personal things off of it.

It was a benign membership.  It never really brought me any grief.  One could occasionally follow up on previous coworkers to see where they had ended up and and what they were doing.

So why, you are asking, would I have discontinued such a thing?  A combination of reasons"

One, a call today from an organization whose certification I no longer use and let expire but who is wanting me to come back (with the fee, of course).  Old business left unfinished  always returns.

Two, a realization that it was not really contributing anything to my life at all.  People create their profiles either to sell themselves or to sell something to someone else.  In that sense, it has none of the merits of a social network such as Facebook.  Even friends only discuss business on it, if at all.  Is that really something that adds value to my life?

Third, I have never really benefited from it (to be sure, I have not "used" it to its full potential).  No jobs ever came through it. Occasional recruiters trying to sell me (or drop you just as quickly) or sales people really trying to sell me.  And articles which, if I were really interested, I could find somewhere else.

Fourth, it was just another beacon to someone, another easy way to gather a fair amount of information about me without making them work at all. Why leave myself that exposed in public?

It will be a trial run, of course - you have 20 days to "revive" your profile and I certainly did that with Twitter once or twice before finally cutting the plug.  But, using Twitter as the example, I can already predict the results:  after a week or so of false starts to get updates and not being able to log in, I will find that I am not missing it at all.

And just like that, a little piece of freedom pops back into my life.  How often does that occur?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

On Failure

Sometimes the moment of failure is spectacular.

Sometimes it is a massive flame out, an explosion of such unimaginable intensity that those watching are left both stunned and amazed by it.  Such a failure cannot be hidden:  it is exposed, on display, a sudden focal point of attention.

Sometimes the moment of failure is quiet.

It happens without warning, in the quiet hours of the morning or night or in the quiet places of the soul.  Not one observer from the outside would suspect anything.  Such a failure is almost always hidden:  it is secret, unattended by anyone except the one who knows it, a silent blot in a black night.

A great many would contend that the public failure is the worser, that failing in the sight of God and everyone is by far the more painful act.  I would tend to disagree.  The public failure, with all of its accompanying attentions and perhaps even mockeries, at least bears within it the potential for public support and public teaching.  Some may benefit from the lesson of failure, while others will reach out with friendly gestures and words.  

But the quiet failure will almost always be hidden and suffered alone.  There will be no public fanfare, no laughter in the gallery.  But neither will there exist the possibility of the lesson or of support.  The quiet failure is the one whom, most often, bears their failure in the silence of their souls while functioning in daily.

Most all can survive the public failure  Very few can weather the private failure.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Of W-2s and Social Security

January (at least in the United States) is the season of the W-2.

For my non US readers, the W-2 is the form which employers provide to both you and the government detailing how much you earned and how much you paid in taxes.  It is one of many documents (for many of us, the key document) which makes up our tax submissions later in the year.

Another document - not key to the process, but interesting - is the form that comes later in the year from the Social Security Office detailing how much money you are supposed to get from Social Security (yes, I know the concerns about Social Security.  It is not the question here.  Hang with me).  The actual thing that I find rather interesting is that it also supplies you with a record of what you have earned every year that you have had a W-2.  In my case that is now over 30 years worth of data.  It turns out it is a unique record of how one has faired over the course of one's career life.

My very first entry was $958 (and, in a stunning example of inflation, that is worth at least $2100 in today's purchasing power). I can see my first year in the industry I am now in, the years that I joined the Firm (my first year income plummeted 40% and only came up because I took a job the next year), the year I got laid off and moved here, and the slow rise up after that (it took me 5 years to reach my pre-layoff number).

In doing my calculations this weekend for what my income will likely be and how things are going, I suddenly made the realization that the move to my new job in August will end up lowering my gross by approximately 13%.

My breath caught a bit at that number.  10% of anything is not a matter to be sneezed at.  And the change is explainable - we had a generous bonus last year and I cashed out my remaining vacation.  So my bottom number remains the same - so in that sense, it is not a terrible thing.

What is does cut into - and what makes the exercise of budgeting we have started on so important - is that excess of feeling as if there was money to spend and certain things which we used to simply "do" without worrying where the money came from.  It certainly makes one more conscious of every dollar one is spending.

This is not entirely without benefit - I think I can safely say that my life is overall much better since I took my new job.  I enjoy work a great deal more, I have more time, I am (I think) more pleasant to be around, and my commute has drastically shrunk (from 2.5-3 hours a day to 40 minutes a day).    

But it is a useful lesson for myself and perhaps a good reminder for others (and especially those just entering the job market) that decisions have consequences, sometimes very meaningful ones.  And to pretend that circumstances only continue on the upward path is to set one up for failure.