Saturday, January 30, 2021

Of Property Insurance Cancellation

As part of the efforts to assist my father (TB The Elder) and my mother as we continue to sort out their situation, my sister and I have started splitting tasks.  She (being closer) has been helping with appointments when I am not there as well as the finances (with the able assistance of my brother in law), and I get the outlier projects.  The first one came in this week:  a notice from their insurance company that they were canceling their property insurance.

This was not a wholly unexpected event.  As you may remember from this Autumn, they do live in a place that is impacted by forest fires. Last year my Uncle and Aunt, who live just up the road, had their canceled.

My father has always been very conscientious.  The small rise on which the house sits has very few trees and the grass is always cut down several times until it stops growing of its own accord.  The fire department, when they have come out, have always commented on how defensible the space is.  And, as is noticed from my various month walks, a great deal of underbrush has been knocked down through the years.

But policy is not set by the fire officials or by common sense.  It is set by statisticians and those who which to minimize risk and maximize profit.

The precise language:  "We are unable to renew home coverage due to wildfire or brush exposure, including one or more of the following conditions on or near your property:  close proximity to flammable vegetation; steep slopes that may increase the speed and intensity of wildfire; limited access and/or dead end roads that may impeded fire fighting equipment".

Translation: We might have to pay out in the event of a fire.  We do not want to take the risk of doing so.

I checked - it is completely legal for them to act in this fashion.  And as someone who supports the right of businesses to act in a logical fashion, I rather (in a contrary sense) support them being able to do this.  At the same time, of course, I am a little bit taken aback by this provider - and the ones before - whom, for years, collected money without any claims being made - and somehow managed to raise rates every year regardless.

(This raising of rates is arbitrary and I am more than a little bitter about it.  In New Home, we changed insurance providers as the company we were with raised our policy prices 10% because of a statewide natural disaster which in no way impacted us.  The slightly nasty part of me thinks the only thing it impacted was their profit margin.)

There is, of course, one option which my uncle is already using:  The state-sponsored insurance pool which all insurers have to support.  The pricing will, I am sure, be higher (in a slight fit of vicarious enjoyment, I noted that the insurance industry was complaining that they were having to support as it was being used for more and more people like my parents, which the pool was not originally envisioned to do.  The state's response was "If you do not like it, start insuring those people".  I am not often a fan of state mandates, but this once they seemed to get it right).  

So of course I called. The very nice woman on the other end of the phone, their regular insurance agency, was quite polite and said they would get to work on it right away.  I expect something to review will come soon.

I do not have easy answers, of course.  On can make a decent argument that the risk of fires is increased due to no fault of the landowners or the insurance companies but by government inefficiencies and failures to manage woodlands appropriately or to allow them to be managed appropriately (with local, state, and federal authorities and private companies all pointing fingers).  And one can also look at the insurance companies, who can make rather large profits and collect rather large fees and do little yet bolt at the first sign of risk of payout.  One can even blame people who build foolishly or fail to take fire precautions (This, too, happens.  Just because you can build in a stand of trees does not mean you should build in a stand of trees).

Perhaps the one legitimate question out of all of this is if I am supporting governments, insurance companies, or really anyone, and they are not getting the job done, why do they exist?

Friday, January 29, 2021

Indicators And Informed By Who You Know

 One of the more interesting factors about becoming a Digital Recluse is the fact that one's flow of information is largely informed by  the indicators that one sees and by who one follows.  It strikes me that this is the way things used to work once upon a time before the advent of the InterWeb or even of the concept of a media:  indicators were the signs the weather and the wildlife and people and goods one was familiar with and information was exchanged with ones friends and neighbors in the vicinity.

By either metric, I get the idea that folks are none too happy out there.

On the indicator front the  economic news, from what I can see in the markets and reporting, seems to look a bit silly.  And concerning.  A Brick and Mortar game store in an age of games delivered by e-mail rises 34% in value before crashing, driven up by a whipped up InterWeb Craze.  An Oil pipeline is canceled and not surprisingly jobs are lost; no idea what those folks will do nor do I get the impression that a whole lot of individuals that said they were for "working folk" care whether or not they find other jobs.  Rent and loan repayments continue to be deferred, the elephant in the room that everyone knows will have to be dealt with some day although no-one is willing to say how.  And, of course, the continuing course of the economic woes driven by The Plague.

On the "informed by who you know" front, there is a certain tension running between the lines, a sense that something is going to happen - waiting to happen - and that it is just a matter of time before it does.  Or a complete decision to go very, very quiet.   And some of this people that on the whole, I would consider sane and thoughtful individuals.

These are only impressions of course, vague reflections of events as seen by those that I follow.  And of course depending on your sample size, it will definitely impact how your data appears - so there is not necessarily a great deal to read into it other than "interesting" (On the informed by who you know part.  The economic indicators seem a lot more solid - and alarming).

But interestingly, the other sense I get - rather an overwhelming one - is the sense of a lot of people getting their houses in order.

They are doing it quietly, on the side, not advertising it out in the big wide world (but thankfully, they do write about it and thanks to the InterWeb we can benefit from them).   In some sense just getting on with their lives, but in another getting on with them the way individuals that expect a long bad winter or a merciless summer do.

With determination.  With a quiet, grim speed.  And with a silent efficiency.

This is the sort of thing, were I in a position of power or authority, that would worry me.  It is not when people are out complaining or yelling that there is a real issue.  It is when they have gone silent but you know there are steadily busy in the background doing things - things that they are not talking about.  

Because they are no longer talking to you or the larger society.  They are working as if you did not have the ability to impact their lives.

In this case of course, it can be nothing nefarious.  Folks plant gardens or make things (candles, for example) or do home and property improvements or learn a new skill or even save money.  All quite legal and proper.  But they are not out there talking about it or advertising it on Social Media, making a production about what they have done.  They just quietly carry on doing it.

Sometimes, you can learn a lot by simply stopping and listening to what is around you instead of always training your eyes over the horizon.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Off Again To College

Nighean Gheal  left for her last semester of college yesterday.

She is headed back to Hong Kong to finish out her last semester and her college education as they are actually doing a modified form of in-person classes (her "main" campus is still remote and likely will be through the end of this year, if not longer).  There are people that have done well with the on-line education that The Plague has enforced; she is not one of them.

Traveling back there is more a task than a year and a half ago when she went.  Beyond the Visa (required for entry anyway), she must have a certified Plague test certificate with 48 hours of travel.  Upon arrival, she needs to take another test and pass that.  After that, she is allowed to enter the country - but then has to spend 21 days in quarantine in a hotel (there are locations in Hong Kong that are catering to this market).  After that, she will be allowed to enter - with all the now expected processes of masking, limited indoor exposure, etc.

People have asked me if I have concerns.  Honestly, not any more than I would have with her returning to her main campus for her last semester (Hong Kong, in terms of risk for bad things happening to you, is actually far safer than where she was going to school).  In terms of The Plague, she is also probably far better off than where she was, which has turned into one of the "hotspots" for current development.

It is odd - I was a bit of a college nomad myself, ending up attending 4 different colleges in the course of pursuing my undergraduate degree.  I never ended up with any kind of strong or enduring loyalty to the university I graduated from - it was just the place that I happened to gain enough credits to get on with my life.  I have always been fascinated (and, perhaps, a bit repelled) by the sorts of enduring college loyalty some have as I have never understood it - although to be fair, such loyalty also seems to help in terms of longer term career goals in some cases, which Nighean Gheal may benefit from.

She is in the process of getting a remote job while she is away (some computer related gig she is able to perform from there - she even pushed back a bit on their initial offer) and already has an internship for the summer, so in some very meaningful ways this is much less of a "last semester" as it is a coda to a part of her life that is drawing to an end.

It strikes me as odd to consider - if I actually sit and consider for a moment - that we are in a meaningful way winding down a journey that began almost 22 years ago.  Yes, she has been gone for the last four years so it is not as abrupt as it might be, but it is winding down and the relationship, for better or worse, transforming.   And she has become her own person, different in significant ways than I am but still, I think, with the core of what The Ravishing Mrs. TB and I tried to instill.  And in drips and drabs, you can still see little hints of me hidden away.

I am sure we will revisit this once or twice more - once upon graduation and return and once upon that day when she is finally able to relocate to begin the laborious process of living beyond college, but thinking of those seems to be much less of milestone than this.  

Those will just be the grace notes; the main song has already faded away.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Outside The World: A Report From the Bubble

I am now approximately two weeks into my great social media experiment and my "avoiding the news" experiment and thought I would offer a little feedback on how things are going.

I am tracking this by means of a spreadsheet.  Ever day, I rate if checked social media,  aggregator sites, and general "news and opinion" sites.  I try to be kind with myself in that if I check something once a week, that does not count against the total.  There may also be occasions I want to post - like, for example, my parents' birthday.  I have worked to find sources that discuss economic news, as that remains one that I am very much interested in and tracking.

I will note that I chose the word "bubble" intentionally.  This effective media "blackout" combined with the ongoing Plague does really make one feel as if one is a defined bubble of existence.


The first note I have is that, especially when working remotely, is that it is pretty easy to avoid news if you do not want to see it. If I am not commuting, there is no need to listen to the radio.  We have no cable, so television is easy enough to avoid.  And the InterWeb - well, if you do not click, you do not go to the sites.

The second note is that my life is that much more stress free.  I am not having internal arguments with myself over people's opinion pieces or choices governments are making about policies - which, of course, I have zero chance of impacting any way.  I am, overall, much less annoyed during the day.

The third note is that I do need to increase my exposure to economic news - reliable economic news, not just the "happy news".  Currently I track and  Happily looking for recommendations of unbiased economic reporting with a minimum of political news.

Social Media

The first note, again, is that it is pretty easy to fall out of the habit of checking social media multiple times a day.  It becomes easier (perhaps not oddly enough) when you do not post anything and thus, you are not constantly nagged by your mind to "check" on how it is doing.

The amount of feed in The Book of Face and the relative non-reaction to two weeks of posting suggests that for most folks, I just blend in to the overall background noise of their social media experience and thus an interruption in news from me is nothing that seems that remarkable.  In other words, it really just confirms the fact that my importance, at least in my own mind, is vastly over-rated.

I will say that what I miss is not so much the individual updates but the updates to groups that I belong to - more for interest factoids than for anything else.  

Is there a reduced place for social media in my future?  I am not sure.  Certainly to this point there has really been nothing ill that has come from not "checking in" every day.  I am willing to let the experiment continue to run and see how I feel.

What have I replaced this time with?  Reading.  Bits and pieces of other projects, working to string together those bits and pieces into a more coherent whole.

Overall, this has been a wonderful experience.  I am now wondering why I did not do it sooner.

Monday, January 25, 2021

200,000 Miles


The Grey Ghost hit 200,000 miles this weekend.

We bought the car new in 2010 (one of precisely two cars I have owned since I started driving in the mid 1980's that was actually new, not just new to me).  It is the cross between the old station wagon and the newer SUV  that companies tried to make popular in the mid to late 2000's as a sort of Mini minivan; the fact most of them seem discontinued suggests it was an unsuccessful experiment.

In its 10.5 year sojourn with us, it has driven us to Old Home and back at least three times, been to college dropoffs which are almost in Old Home twice, driven all about New Home for all kinds of activities.  Once it passed to me, of course, its life became much less exciting, as its primary job became ferrying me to and from work and to the rounds of life I have made for years now:  Iaijutsu training, the Rabbit Shelter, the gym.  It has made any number of trips in and around the state as I threw as well, completing not a few 300 + mile round trips in short periods of time.

It has its quirks, of course.  It "seats" six but really only four comfortable.  It is a standard transmission (blessedly).  And over the years it has acquired small malfunctions:  the CD player and converter for the phone music do not work (the radio still does), one of the passenger windows only goes down 50% in Winter (but I seldom have passengers), two of the three climate control buttons are not lit at night (I looked into how to change the bulbs.  As it literally involves tearing out the whole dash assembly, I can live with it:  at this point, I have memorized which way is heat and cool).  But it is roomy enough for myself, my swords, my throwing box, or various and sundry rabbit and gardening supplies.

Thanks to The Plague this year, I only logged about 4,000 miles.  The most recent ~ 200K service suggested that the engine itself is in pretty good shape - and with a manual transmission, my fear of significant repairs in that area have dropped (I have had to have a transmission rebuilt.  Once.  Never again.).  My dream - and how lovely it would be - would be to keep this car for another 150,000 Miles (Not implausible:  we also owned a 1993 with a similar engine that made it to 315,000).  Even assuming my driving increases a bit to 6,000 miles a year, that would be 25 years.  By that time they either no longer make parts or the internal combustion engine will be a collectors item only.  And at that point, I might have only one more car purchase to make - or no longer need or want to drive at all.

To be honest, I grumbled about the price of the car when we paid for it.  While strictly not an "investment", I can say that I am now incredibly pleased we did.  

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Bridge Builder

 (Sometimes, I suspect for many of us, our efforts to preserve some measure of the past or pass along some measure of knowledge or revive a forgotten skill can seem like hopeless, pointless tasks.  I found this poem over the weekend.  It reminded me that I am likely doing this not just for myself, but for those we do not know coming after us, who will appreciate our efforts even though we remain unknown.)

The Bridge Builder

An old man going a lone highway
Came at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.

The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.

"Old man," said a fellow pilgrim, near,
"You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again will pass this way;
You've crossed the chasm, deep and wide-
Why build you this bridge at the evening tide?"

The builder lifted his old gray head:
"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
"There followeth after me today,
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him."

- Will Allen Dromgoole (circa 1900)

Saturday, January 23, 2021


 So finally - four months after we actually purchased the materials - we made candles.

The process is actually a great deal easier than I anticipated. I fully planned to show you the whole process, but realized that my first "outing" might not be the best one to start with.

A short version is:  Prepare and melt wax in double boiler.  Prepare wick and mold.  Add color and fragrance.  Pour melted wax into mold.  Top off and let sit.  Remove candle from mold after cooled.

About 85% of that actually worked.  I learned at least one thing that did not (for sealing the bottom wick outlet, one must used mold sealant, a sort of clay.  Other sorts of clay - like Playdoh, for example - will not quite get the job done).  Also, that one probably needs to add more fragrance than one thinks.

But overall, they are candles and they burn.  I would call that a success.

Friday, January 22, 2021

No One Is Coming: A Reflection

Back somewhere amidst the 3800-odd entries to date (the Blogger search functionality is not great) I had written about the realization that I had made that no-one was coming - the reality was that I was effectively on my own, and no movement, state, party, or even any religious group had a particular interest in or need to notice and be involved with myself and my issues.  In the modern era, I was effectively on my own.

What I had not anticipated then - what I am finding now - is that in a very real way, it was preparing me for the last year:  The Plague, A Sort of Hammerfall, even the Ending of Social Media.

Part of it is simply the realization that people that were important have changed in their significance.  Before The Plague, I had several sorts of small groups I was a part of.  Over the course of the last year, those have really dwindled down to four - Iai, the shelter I volunteer at, my family, and those of you that read this blog - and a smaller series of one-to-one peer relationships based on service or friendship.  The rest have simply disappeared into the ether, whether by lack of engagement, effective cancellation of the activity or concern, or the discontinuation of the mediums whereby they existed (e.g. social media).

The importance of things has changed as well.  Yes, part of this was likely due to a change in the economy and the resulting concerns about job stability and part of this due to the fact that there was simply less places to go and thus less things to accumulate - but it is also as much due to the fact that a smaller world focus breeds a lesser need for things.  Arguably I have more time to engage in the things that I already have, or at least less of a need to engage in passing fancies.

Ironically through all of this, my world has become broad and narrow at the same time:  Broad in that my interests and knowledge of some matters has grown deeper and more focused; narrow in that such a focus has become about less and less.  A lot of the trivia has dropped out of my life over the last year; a lot of the interpersonal goings on - be they work or social - have disappeared.

The realization that no-one is coming - and the fact that The Plague has really reinforced this belief - has not turned out to be nearly as alienating or depressing as it might seem at first.  What it is creating is a focused, narrowed depth which finds itself less and less at the mercy or convenience of the world around it - a bonus, I would argue, in a world that I find myself increasingly distanced from.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Dangers Of The Decline Of Civic Involvement

One of the best things that happened to me at the end of December was taken up a recommendation by Borepatch to listen to a podcast called The Fall of Rome.  It is an informative, well done podcast by Patrick Wyman (who at one point makes gentle fun of himself for making "the bad life decision" to study Rome) who discusses the fall of the Roman Empire in a very approachable and interesting way. The episodes run about 35-45 minutes and make for an excellent sort of background for a workout session, allowing just enough attention that I can do what I am doing and still get the information from the podcast.

In one episode - I believe it was "Just How Screwed Up Was The Roman Empire" - he makes a note about the transition of the political process which, in his opinion, was a factor - perhaps a major one - in the political portion of the breakup of the Empire.

Prior to the beginning of the Fourth Century and the reign of Diocletian (reigned 284-305), the Emperor clung to the appearance of the being the First Citizen, not a ruler.  Any citizen, in theory, had the right to appeal to the emperor (for those of you that are Christian, you will remember the Apostle Paul did this very thing).  But with the advent of Diocletian and for a number of issues that had little to do inherently with personal aggrandizement, the relationship changed.  The Emperor became a Lord, not an equal citizen, and was to be served unquestioningly.  The bureaucracy expanded as well, from the relatively small group which comprised the Emperor's household to a much larger, full scale bureaucracy.

One of the senatorial classes that, in the older periods and through the early parts of the Empire that had contributed to the operation of it was the decuriones..  These were a local senatorial class which managed things such as public contracts and collected taxes.  They also served to provide public entertainment and city improvements.  At the initiation of the Republic and even the early Principate (early Empire) these were coveted positions and the decuriones would strive to outdo each other in constructions and celebrations.  There was pride - great pride -in being recognized for one's contributions to one's city and thus, the Empire

This all changed under the aforementioned reign of Diocletian, where the role became primarily that of a tax collector instead of a civic administrator- and when the taxes fell short, the decuriones were expected to make up the difference.  Suddenly being civically minded and serving was not a blessing but a curse.

Wyman's assertion is that this change in the role of the decuriones was one of the factors that broke the Empire.  Previously they served to bind the Empire together both by their administrative functions as well as their civic support; they justified the Empire's rule by providing civic support to the local inhabitants.  In a meaningful way, they were the Empire:  the Emperor was far away, the decuriones were nearby and responsive.  When the decuriones gave up, the pretense of civic attachment and pride of Romana failed as it was replaced by a strict and increasing Master/Servant relationship.

(This is a very cursory overview. Wyman does a much more thorough and better job.)

So why does this matter?

States (an administrative unit having territory and the power to direct their own destiny through policies and laws) exist as long as the people that live in them believe in them and build them up.  The fact that people support the state through things like civic pride, patriotism, or ready and willing assent to its policies and procedures are the things that continue to allow the state to exist.  Yes, states can and do exist by threat of force or the actual exercise thereof, but at best that makes for a state that will eventually collapse (although not, perhaps, in one's lifetime).  States, like religion, philosophy, or lots of other things, are as much a construct of the mind as they are of the physical reality the exist in and if people stop believing in them, stopping believing that it is better to actively build them up and serve them, then the clock is starting to run down on them.

When groups of people no longer see the value in the state, nor the value of building the state up - not even the concept of tearing it down, just not the value of perpetuating - this is a sign that state has fundamental questions to consider about its need and purpose in existing.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Of Presidential Inaugurations

 I cannot ever remember watching a presidential inauguration.

I suppose it stems from a couple of items.  The first, simply, is that I do not like or respect most ceremony.  There is some ceremony that I can live with - for example, when we attended the Yasukuni Shrine last year and went in for a ceremony following our demonstration.  To be fair, that sort of ceremony has well over 1,000 years of history and practice behind it.  That, I can respect.  But most modern ceremonies - graduations, the swearing in of officials, the proverbial "passing of the torch" all strike me at best as boring and at worst as silly.

The second item, frankly, is that Americans really cannot do ceremony.  At least, not well.  If I want a transfer of power ceremony, I will hold out for an actual coronation with royal guards and history.  If the Austro-Hungarian empire was still a going concern, that would be a thing to see.

So in my lifetime presidents have been sworn in more or less without my attention or notice.  If asked "Are you going to watch?"  my response is always along the lines of "Why, is there going to be an outcome other than I expect?"  There is not, of course, and so I blissful continue on with the work I have to do and leave actual observation to the what I interpret as the same fan base that in their own spheres watches royal weddings and All Star/Pro games - those to are the truly interested in that level of ceremony and detail.

In the course of typing the first portion of this essay, however, I learned something new.

Inauguration is apparently a word I do not use often, and so I did not spell it correctly.  In looking at the spelling, I caught the word "augur" - the Latin word for a particular kind of priest in Ancient Rome, a diviner, one who looked for omens in all sorts of things.  The verb inaugurare (you see the root of the word there) meant to practice augury, or the reading of the signs and portents, especially before an important political or military action.  The point was not to enable the action per se,  but to determine if the gods approved of the action or appointment to be made.  This, in turn, became in time the meaning of installing or investing with an office.

I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, nor an augur nor the son of an augur, but if any inauguration is meant to be searching of the skies to see if anyone approves, I think I have been wise to avoid them all along and will continue to do so.

Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to look for flocks of birds flying in shapes in the heavens...

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

On Currency And Mediums Of Exchange

 So a big round of thanks to everyone that participated in yesterday' discussion of Cryptocurrency.  I am somewhat comforted by the fact that the takeaways from the conversations are similar to my own thoughts:

1) It seems complicated.

2) It seems interesting.

3)  It has possibilities.

4)   It could be a limited for investment, like many others.

5)  You could lose everything.

The other question - the more interesting one, the more I thought about it - is the nature of currency, the market, and mediums of exchange.

One of the concepts from yesterday's discussion is the fact that an underlying economic system - one that somehow involves a government - has to exist.  It is odd that when I think of the "economy", this is not something that I consider as I am thinking only of the buying and selling of goods between individuals and businesses - but "the government" seems to underlie the whole thing.  Yes, in maintaining the system, but also in a sense continuing to allow it to exist.

Perhaps it has always been so and I have never considered it as such; but it certainly seems to me that any economy or mechanism that relies on the government allowing it to be used as an economic medium of exchange is really all and only dependent on the government allowing it to exist at all.

Which brings up currency and mediums of exchange.

A currency is, per Merriam Webster, "something which is used as a medium of exchange" and only dates to this use in English back to 1624 - which is not very long at all, if you think about it.  The fact that it could be "something" implies it could really be anything to be used as a medium or exchange, although traditionally it was precious metals as they had value - now, of course, virtually every nation uses bank notes and to a lesser or greater extent coins which are magically linked (to Ed's comment yesterday of dark matter and black holes) to the country's repository of precious metals or (more alarmingly) its "ability to pay".

So now, really, paper and electronic currency is really a medium of exchange on a theoretical value that we all choose to believe in and accept, even though we can neither see it nor take hold of it.

Now, to be fair I use this system as much as anyone else.  My "check" goes into the back:  taxes are withdrawn, retirement withheld, and various forms of payments made without me ever seeing or touching this "currency".  Nor does anyone that receives these payments question them:  the government does not write me an ugly letter, my electricity continues to be on, and my retirement account to continue to be funded. 

But all of this presumes that we use the official currency, the government's decreed medium of exchange - in my case, the U.S. Dollar (your mileage may vary).

An interesting historical note is that in the U.S. constitution (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 5), only the U.S. government has the power to coin money and determine the value thereof - and that it is a violation of federal law for individuals or organizations to create currencies to compete with the official currency system.  This supposed to preserve the value of the currency and give everyone a level playing field; in point of fact it does create a bit of a monopoly as well.

A medium of exchange can be anything, of course; that is whole point of the barter system.  Barter can be difficult to manage for larger amounts of goods (one ton of wheat, for example, is not very portable), which is a major reason that currency exists.  Barter is also limiting in the fact that it only allows me to trade what I own.  If everyone needs carrots I am in luck; if no-one needs carrots I will either have to find something else to trade or eat a lot of carrot soup and carrot cake.  So currency has its practical place.

Is there a way for currency to exist without overall government control?  I really have no idea - in theory cryptocurrency is an example of something filling this niche, although it could be declared illegal for use by any or all of the world's governments - and while they may not control the systems this currency exists on, they do control the world in which it operates.  Which would limit its usefulness to the small items not easily traced or electronic bits and bytes that exist only on your electronic devices (neither of which is very practical for daily living). 

I have no solutions of course, only more questions.  But given this considerations, the whole system certainly seems rife for abuse and with a high potential for failure as soon as someone - a person, a nation, a world system - declares another country's currency to be "worthless.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Question: Virtual Currencies and Decentralized Finance

 A true information gathering question for a post today:  What do people think about Virtual Currencies (e.g. Bitcoin and its competitors).

I have precisely zero knowledge of such things.  I have tried to do some reading on Blockchain Technology and "Defi" (Decentralized Finance, to you oldsters like me) but do not seem to grasp the basic concept of it.

I do, however, grasp the concept of anything having the value that two individuals ascribe to it and that with such value, anything can be used as medium of exchange.  To be fair, I am also attracted by the fact that a currency without government interference - the amount of dollars we have been pumping and will be pumping into the economy last year and into next year suggests that at some point, inflation starts and the dollars we all currently hold will be worth less overall.

One could argue - and many do - that precious metals fill this void and in some sense they do.  My complaint in that regard is simply that the purchase market for this seems a bit rigged.  Between the amount I would pay in spread to cover the seller's "costs" and their shipping, immediately upon purchase I have to wait for the price to increase 10-20% to recap my loss.

Full disclosure: I own a bit of virtual currency.  Turns out if one goes to Coinbase, they will give you small amounts of virtual currency just for watching some videos.  The amounts they give you, based on the actual value of the currencies, is not much - for example, I own 0.00031015 of BitCoin, or $11.00 today - and the whole point of it is to get you to buy more, but I am in some small way "invested".

I do get the very real sense in some ways it could be the proverbial "Ponzi" or pyramid scheme, but I also am a believer that as the push for electronic currency and transactions continue, there will be an equal push for a system in which government or banks are not involved and cannot interject themselves into the system, for example deciding where one can spend their money and where one cannot.

As I have said, I have been trying to read up on the subject and find myself having to constantly stretch my mind and learn new things, which in no case is a bad thing.  I have to tell you that many of this seems way beyond what I can muster for understanding, which suggests I may need a more basic course.  But I was this way about stocks once upon a time too; I can learn anything, given time and effort.

But I am truly curious:  Thoughts and opinions on the concept of virtual currencies and decentralized finance?

Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Collapse LXI: Of Rumors And Coffee

January 14th 20XX +1

My Dear Lucilius:

I had a pleasant long chat with young Xerxes this morning.

He seems to have become the self-appointed village gossip (apparently such things are in again), seeming to have information on virtually every household that remains in our little burg now (6 deaths, 2 births, and a reduction the households to 40, in case you were wondering). Most people, I gather, are holding out – which is not surprising, considering – with the exception of the loss of electricity – people around these parts are used to being stuck at home for days at a time.

You will remember the young woman that knocked on my door in July and invited me out? It turns out that she and Young Xerxes are an “item”, as I believe it was called once upon a time. Apparently they had divided our town; I was in her section, he was on the other side of town. I would call it “luck”, but in point of fact with so few homes around, it is just a matter of statistics.

There is talk, he says, of the Spring.

The Spring – it worries us all. The coming of Spring here typically meant the coming of days of no snow, of the verdure of the growing grass, and at some level the inevitable rush of tourists coming through our town, headed somewhere else. This year, however, Spring has a far worse connotations. The roads will clear, and no-one is sure what will come with clear roads.

The radio that I have has long gone silent, the commercial stations and even the emergency broadcasting system long gone dormant. From what Xerxes related, there are still ham radio operators which are broadcasting and by whom we can get some kind of update, if spotty and localized. Their news, unfortunately, is not good but not unexpected: the cities for the most part sound as if they are wrecks and ungovernable. The collapse of the distribution system has meant not only that supplies could not be shipped to them, but that farmers that would get acres and acres of crops into the ground are getting a few at best, as there is neither fuel nor market to support them.

The only comfort – if it is to be a comfort – is that from the shortwave connections, literally everywhere is the same as here. When distribution and the economy stopped, it stopped everywhere.

Before he left, young Xerxes asked if there was anything I wanted or needed. Coffee, I replied – I miss having my coffee in the morning. He laughed and said he agreed, and would see if he could find some in the midst of the Winter. I offered up 3 lbs of honey (and 1 lb to him) if he could make it happen.

Even the midst of despair, some will find a way.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Friday, January 15, 2021

Leaves of Snow And Sunlight

Water and sunlight
battle in the fallen leaves,
reflecting like snow.

Winter's sunlight falls
across the dead brown of death
sprinkled with life's green.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

I Do Not Know Who Needs This...


But there really is still beauty in the world.

(This is taken from the town nearest to where The Ranch is).

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Ranch Walkabout 2021: Off-Road Edition

 Walking about at the Ranch, I was coming back towards the house when I heard the folks that keep the cattle up the road a bit.  I like to leave people to their own devices when I can; so I decided to leave the trail and head "off-road".

Coming off of the road, I found this stand of madrone trees.  I have never seen so many in one group:

This rock just appeared in the ground with no other rocks around it. So odd.

Deer Droppings pile:

It confirmed that the slight cuts in the tarweed were deer paths:

A nice little stand of spruce trees:

A fairly large madrone tree (they can grow that large):

Looking back toward the house, I came across a fallen tree:

I pulled out one of the branches (the wood was soft).  The process of decomposition hard at work:

I need to go off road more often.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

A Moment Of Perspective

 I was out walking yesterday.  I was muttering and grumbling to myself about...well, about everything.  The world.  The way the world is.  

And then I stopped and looked around.

Enough rain has come that I could hear the frogs out chirping the Lower Meadow.  Birds were twittering away in the trees. Away from the trail I could hear something heavier - probably a deer - moving through the brush.  The wind was rustling the remaining leaves and needles on the trees and blowing over the wet, dead leaf mold on the ground.

Walking along, I passed a stump that had been left after the tree was cut down.

Even though the hole in the center narrows down, it still opens up onto the other side.

The reality is that, for everything that is going on the world right now, it is still a very large one with  beauty all around it.  

Monday, January 11, 2021

The Currency Of Purchase and Attention

 If we want to change the world in the current era, the currency that we have to spend is our purchases and our attention.

To be fair, these are the currency of the modern era as opposed to earlier eras.  The individual vote is largely irrelevant in a society of millions of people.  Violent revolution is unlikely in the age of modern armies.  But the economy - which the world really rather runs on, as you cannot eat votes or revolution - needs a continuing stream of income.  And the society and social culture wants - needs - attention to continue to be relevant and make them work.

I am not speaking of a boycott - these can work, but not in a meaningful way.  A boycott is meant to be a short term or single event to prove a point, a sharp immediate check.  What needs to happen is starvation.

How do you starve a company, a movement, an institution?  Here are a few thoughts from that I am trying to implement:

1)  Curtail spending:  This happens at two levels.  The first is to curtail spending with specific companies or organizations.  The second is to curtail one's spending in general.

This accomplishes three things:  It denies companies and organizations operating capital.   It denies government tax revenue.  And, it gives the individual the power of having the money not spent available - in a world where money is spent as soon as it comes in, the one with the reserve is King.

2) Cut off your attention:  Most online social media outlets make money not from the use directly from the user, but from the businesses that have access to the user - those annoying ads that pop up at unwanted times or scroll through your feed.  By removing your attention from those social media outlets, you (again) deprive them of a source of a revenue as companies are smart enough to realize what works (and ad campaigns that do not result in revenue will be terminated).

The other - more subtle - result that comes as the attention is cut off is that these outlets become less relevant.  No-one who is "in" wants to spend time or energy on a platform or that is failing (think MySpace).

3) Practice the art of thinking for yourself:  Businesses and institutions in the modern world thrive on individuals not thinking for themselves.  They tell us what we should buy, when we should buy it, how we should think and believe.  Thinking for ourselves - conversing among ourselves, actively reading the great old works and thinking on them, and then changing that information into action - pushes back and denies them the influence they desire.

I am aware that what I am discussing is not the speediest path to resolving issues.  It may seem like a set of passive activities (although if you save more, do more thinking, and then do more for yourself, you will be far busier than you think). However, it does engage your mind and will in something a bit more productive than just grumbling about the state of the world.  And it will ready all of us to approach that new world from a position of strength, not weakness.

After all, sometimes victory comes not to the strongest or the powerful but to those who can endure longest.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Collapse LX: New Year's Plans

 07 January 20XX+1

My Dear Lucilius:

Our temperature here was slightly above freezing (if you can believe it), which makes for an almost Spring-like day after the rather hard slog of cold weather that we have had. It never becomes quite warm enough to fully melt the snow, only enough to make things a bit muddy and difficult.

The New Year here was quiet enough, as I am sure you can imagine. Young Xerxes did take the time to walk by and give a New Year’s greeting, which was deeply appreciated. Truth be told, even we curmudgeons need a bit of human interaction now and again in order to feel “engaged” with the rest of the world.

Normally at this time of year, I would be bustling about with a combination of planning for the upcoming year, planning for my tax submission, and perhaps thinking of some local drives I would like to take for the coming year. Most of that is off the table now, of course: planning will still go on, but it has a vastly different cast to it (e.g., survival instead of interest or novelty). Even if I had retained the truck at this point, the chances that I would be going anywhere this year would appear to be nil (I do still have my receipt carefully stored away and fully intend to attempt and collect it from whatever governmental authority, if any, rises to the fore someday). I suppose on the bright side there are now taxes to plan for at this point, which I am forced to admit pleases me to no end.

Still, it is the New Year and I need to have some kind of goals to aspire to, even if they seem much more constrained by circumstances. To live without any sense or desire for improvement is simply to begin the process of dying that much earlier.

I have all those works of Dostoevsky that I purchase right before everything stopped, of course. I need to pick those up for reading (I know, I know – what have I been doing with my time up to this point? Perhaps avoiding what seems like the finality of the last set of new books I may see in my lifetime. Agreed, it is a maudlin sentiment). And the garden – well, the garden has become even more necessary than ever (and fortunately as I will be going nowhere, I have the additional time to devote to it). The usual banal commitments to health and weight, which are not so banal now that there is slim likelihood of seeing a doctor in a while.

But that is probably not enough. None of those are particularly stretching goals.

I need to ponder more, my friend. There is something – even in this (to this point) quiet, “armchair Apocalypse” (it was a genre of books, by the way) in my world – that my heart tells me I need to be about. I can be here, alone and ensconced, probably for quite a while. The suggestion that keeps bubbling back to the top of my mind is that there is something more.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Cutting The Knot On Social Media

 I finally, effectively, cut the knot on social media this week.

I have not gone so far as to delete accounts, as (truly) the Book of Face account is kept primarily at this point for updates and interactions about my family and the simple fact that (sticking with my rule of not drawing attention to one's self) sudden cutoffs draw attention.  But all platforms are off of anything I easily get to them on.  If I want to log in, I have to go through the laborious process of logging in.  

More to the point - along with my other tracking sheets for 2021 - I have added a new spreadsheet, and will start adding on days that I am off of it the way I track my aerobic miles, my dairy making, and any other activity that I was going to make progress on this year.  It has now become a trackable goal.

Today is Day One.

This will cost me, certainly.  Any organization I am a part of that is based on Social Media will now become effectively dead to me (which, with exception of Iaijutsu, is all of them).  Any conversation outside of a very narrow band of people that I interact with in person or on text will vanish (to be fair, most of those are long range and irregular at best anyway).  I will be woefully uninformed about the goings on in any number of ways.

What am I buying?

My sanity, for one.  My privacy, for another.  Perhaps most importantly, the first real step in working to extricate myself from a system that needs to know all about you and sacrifices the privacy of the individual to do it.

I feel, strangely enough, a bit forlorn in doing this.  Not that it has been a large part of my life over the last few years, but it has put me in contact with a great many people, some of whom I have greatly enjoyed.

But my life now trends in a different direction.  Time to simply move on.

Friday, January 08, 2021

On Long Rides and Disappointment

 Once upon a time I had it in my mind that I was called to the ministry.  This was many, many years ago when the non-denominational movement was fairly nascent and as a result one had to apply to the local episcopate or region and be accepted as a candidate if one wanted to be a minister.  It was a long running internal discussion (10 plus years off and on) that resulted in my formal application.  As part of that then-application process, one had to undergo a psychological examination and assessment - the reasoning was that this was a preventive move to avoid burnout and career mismatch but also, frankly, as a legal mitigation.  I underwent the two days of testing only to get the assessment that  I was not the "personality type" for the ministry (the assessment at that time was that I was too prone to depression).  That recommendation stood, and the summary board that reviewed my application and met with me later politely and kindly agreed with them, thanked me for applying, and wished me well.

Those two rides -the one back from the screening seminar and the one back from the regional meeting - were two of the longest rides in my life although the distance was really not that long.  It was as if the course of my life, which I had thought to be so clearly laid out and self evident to me (after all, God would not put a thing in your heart that He did not intend to be brought to fruition, right?) was suddenly plunged into a chasm and there was absolutely no guidance to the next step other than "keep doing what you are doing".

This happened to me earlier as well, when I went to interview as part of The Foreign Service exam.  I was finishing up my Master's degree and this was clearly what I was trained for (after all, did I not have a B.A. in Political Science with a minor in International Relations and an almost Masters in the same?). The Then- Affianced Ravishing Mrs. TB had made sure I had a new suit to wear and so, new suit and bright ambitions in hand, I went to the screening.

Of course, as you have probably figured out, that precisely went nowhere.  The gentleman at the end who provided was kind but direct:  "Sometimes I have good news to deliver.  This is not one of those times".  I was not fitted for The Foreign Service for reasons that I now no longer fully remember.  

The drive back from there was even longer geographically, as I had to make my way from the center of a large urban area to my home during the commute hour.  His words rang through my ears the whole way up the city streets to the freeway and through the traffic that seemed to move like a herd of buffalo, slowly grazing.  The only solace I had that night was a bag of McDonald's French Fries my friend purchased for me when he heard the news; for some reason I recall those fries as being especially delicious that night, salty and hot.

It was another version of the same story:  the direction of my life, so clearly laid out in my mind and in a way what I had sort of found my way towards, ended in a road in the middle of a field that went nowhere beyond that.

In the end, of course, I suppose it all worked out:  had I joined the ministry I would have probably long since departed that denomination and perhaps the ministry itself (nor, to be fair, with my own personal failings would I have been a great minister) and my inherent anti-authoritarian tendencies and sincere lack of interest in the minutiae of paperwork would have moved me out of the Foreign Service.

But those outcomes prove to be scant comfort (if they would have arisen; who knows that if I was in the ministry I would have been a better person and persevered elsewhere or as a Foreign Service member I would have learned to love paperwork) as I grapple with the fact the sense of disappointment - and the psychically long rides returning from them - continue to haunt me 20 to 30 years later.  I can still feel, as I write this, how I felt as I sat in the car driving home, the intense sense of emptiness and abandonment and even confusion.

Sometimes the worst thing about a disappointment is not the disappointment itself, but the ragged edges it tears in our souls that never really heal. 

Thursday, January 07, 2021

On Lack Of A Professional Clergy And A New Church

 When I had posted my 2021 Goals, Glen had asked the not unreasonable question to my goal of "Find a New Church" if good churches were so rare in my neck of the woods.  I have been giving that question a great deal of thought, because I needed to have a more ready answer for others that asked and also to really understand what I was looking for versus what I have been finding.

I can come up with some external matters:  type of music for example (while I do prefer some modern styles of music, I have to confess both a love for old hymns and a growing weariness of songs which only, ever seem to be weepy imploring), types of service (I tend to be a "high church" sort of fellow, and prefer an order of service to a free-flowing movement), even types of dress (I am not necessarily a fan of vestments, but stepping up to preach with a sports team logo shirt is a bit much). But if I am honest, all of these, while being important, or not critical.

What bothers me the most, I realized, is the lack of a professional clergy.

Preaching and handling the Word of God is a profession, like any other profession.  I would not go to a doctor who was not trained in medical school nor a massage therapist who trained using You Tube videos.  I do not take my car to someone who does it in their spare time.  If I am going to a professional, I expect professional work.

But there has been a trend in the Christian church - at least the non-denominational Church (the Catholic, Orthodox, and Main Line Protestant Denominations, while having other significant issues, have at least been spared this problem) to completely dispense with the idea that preachers of the Word need any education in it.  Good preaching - good church leadership - is a craft and skill as much as any other exercised in the modern world.

To be clear, a degree in Religious Studies - really a Masters in Divinity or Doctor of Theology - requires a great deal more than just "how to preach".  It requires study of church history, church doctrine, original languages (Hebrew and Greek typically, Latin perhaps thrown in for good measure).  It requires thought and multiple writing projects and presentations and preaching practice.

But for many churches, they have dispensed with all that.  "Being Led By The Spirit" - which is, while important, not the only qualification for preaching - or being in a leadership position in the church - again, needed but not the only qualification - are considered to be enough.

The result?  Bad preaching, bad theology, a willingness to be swept along with the larger culture (because that is what you as a preacher understand and know; you have no frame of historical reference), and a reliance on almost anything other than the revealed Word of God (if they are using more examples from books and public speakers than the Word of God, that is a problem).

Having said this (I can hear some of you thinking in the back of your minds), this does not take away from what I consider to be other significant issues with the modern Christian church and would be considerations for any new church that I would be thinking of going to (but beyond the scope of today's mediation).  They are important, and they need to be considered.

But as I have mulled it around in my head for a week or more, the lack of professionalism has stuck out to me more and more as a weakness that many churches now have.  As has been said by wiser heads than I, if you have a society that devalues theologians and plumbers you will have bad theology and bad plumbing.  And while religion is effectively a private endeavor (e.g., at least here in the US it not a regulated industry), it does not change the need to have the same expectations and levels of professionalism that one would seek from any other organization, especially one that (to those that attend) influences so much of their life.

I do not know that I have actually questioned any church I have attend about the credentials of their preaching staff - not just did they give a biblical message, but did they have the training to do so.  Be assured, I intend to do so going forward.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

On A Duck Egg

One of the things that has both fascinated and interested me is the concept of duck eggs. I have only, pretty much ever, eaten chicken eggs except for a two year period or so when we had quail.  The literature - from what I have read - has always suggested that duck eggs are somewhat richer than chicken eggs.

As it turned out over the weekend, we were in a place that sold duck eggs - why not?

(Notice the point of origin:  "Product of Canada".  I had no idea Canadian duck eggs were so well known!)

Below you can see a comparison:  on the left is a "standard" chicken egg, on the right a duck egg. There seemed to be much less of a difference in size that what I had read or anticipated, although the duck egg clearly has a different color caste of shell (the shell was not exceptionally thicker either).

In this case I cooked and scrambled the egg.  Honestly, I could not retally taste a difference.

It is not as if I do not have information on ducks and the keeping of them:

I find the concept fascinating (although it seems most people do not keep them primarily for eggs, apparently, although there are some species that appear to be higher producers than others). Perhaps something to investigate in the coming years now that it is quite possible I will have a place to keep them.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

On Tabi

Yesterday morning when I was getting ready for the day, I realized that I was a bit behind on my laundry and thus was out of socks for the day.

No problem - I had tabi!

Tabi, if you have not ever seen them before, are a traditional Japanese sock which have a spot for the big toe and then another for the rest of your toes.  They are traditionally worn with zori (sandals, seen below), waraji (woven straw sandals), or geta (wooden clogs, often seen being worn by geisha).  They are traditional in martial arts as well, so I have more than one pair.

The next two shots are of new tabi, unwashed but out of the package.  As you can see, they have fasteners (four is typical but you can also find six), an ankle height cut, and a sole that is of a more durable material.  Traditionally they are made of hemp or cotton (or potentially, I suppose, silk).  Now they are also made of more modern materials as well (these are a cotton/tetron mix).

As you can see, the stitching on the soles is reinforced.

The next two shots below are of tabi (modern materials, or stretch tabi) that I have used for a while now (while much sturdier than traditional Western socks or stockings, they are not indestructible).  These are also freshly cleaned, but you can tell the fact I use them regularly for training on a rubber mat floor.  Also, judging from the right sole big toe wearing and the rips on the upper toes, you can tell how I am often stepping when I perform kata

Now, of course, they come in all kinds of materials.  Here is a pair of more "Stocking" like tabi:

There is also another kind of tabi call jika-tabi, which incorporate a rubber sole on the bottom of them (interesting trivia point: developed by Tokujiro Ishibashi who was the brother of Shojiro Ishibashi, one of the founders of the Bridgestone Tire Company).  They come in a number of styles, including now running shoes and work boots:

(Source:  Tabis Online Japan).

For the traditional tabi, you can get them many places.  I get mine at Seido as much for the quality and to support traditional Japanese industry.  They are priced perhaps a bit more, but they will last a long time.

I have not used jika-tabi (not permissible in our school), but I am now tempted to buy a pair as work-boots to see how they hold up (amazingly enough, they apparently also come in the steel toed version).

If you are looking for an alternative to socks (or, you know, just because you are "different") I highly recommend them.

Monday, January 04, 2021

The Ranch: An Update On TB The Elder And The Future

Thanks for all of your kind thoughts and prayers.  My father (TB The Elder) is back home after two nights in the hospital.  The current diagnosis is "Syndrome of Inappropriate Antidiuretic Hormone Secretion" or SIADH (if you are truly curious, see Wikipedia here).  The simple version (e.g., my version) is that due to some condition, the kidneys push sodium out instead of regulating it, lowering the overall blood sodium level and causing hyponatremia (low sodium).  There are a number of potential causes and fortunately the most concerning - heart, kidney, or other organ issues) seem blessedly absent.  The doctors are continuing to work diligently to find a root cause - currently they have changed some of his medications and we have another round of appointments coming over the next couple of weeks, so hopefully we can get to the bottom of this.  

As before, any prayers or good thoughts you have to spare are greatly appreciated.

But this has implications.

One thing that he has now mentioned both to my sister and myself is between his current medical conditions and my mother's continuing decline due to dementia, it is probably time for them to consider an assisted living situation.  There is one in the town they came from - my hometown - that they will be looking into next week that they already have friends living in.   

Which means leaving The Ranch.

Fortunately, my parents are in a position (by years of carefully planning and diligent work; to be clear, they built this life, not anyone else for them) that they would not be required to sell The Ranch to move.  And my father has made it clear - he reiterated it this weekend - that he wants the land to remain in the family. 

So there is a better than even chance that this year, The Ranch will become effectively our concern and responsibility as we will take over the costs associated with it and with managing it.

We are lucky, luckier than most. That cattle that you see in some of the pictures is tended by a man and his family that have had their cattle their for 15 or more years, who love the land as much as we do, and are (literally) there every day.  We also have the small cabin you have seen in some of the pictures, occupied by a long time renter who has done work for my parents in the past - all of this to say there are responsible people onsite (as well as my Aunt and Uncle, who literally live up the road).  So it is not as if things would go unoccupied with no-one around.

All of this means that the theoretical process I have been discussing for years now needs a timetable. I am not sure what it completely looks like - after all, there are two tethers that keep us in New Home at the moment, the major one being a sophomore in high school and the second one is my job (which, to be fair, already now allows me to commute remotely one week a month).  Items of import - but of lesser import - include negotiating how I will continue to practice and improve in my martial art and building a home gym to replace the one I use (yes, yes, I know,  pretty much of less import but I have worked to hard to get to this point to completely give up my progress).

Strangely though, I am confident that these things will resolve themselves as we continue to move forward.  Not by themselves, of course:  there needs to be a plan and steps and such (what luck that I was "transferred" into project management last year).  It is just a matter of moving forward in a purposeful manner.

The Future, as they say, is suddenly here.

Sunday, January 03, 2021

The Ranch: Small Vistas

Hopefully by now you know The Ranch as the land of Vistas:

We are almost (but not quite) at the annual snowline, but we do get a great deal of hoarfrost.  This walk was looking at the smaller worlds the frost makes when it is in the shade, unmelted by the sun.