Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Of Small Towns And Small Cities

 The trip The Ravishing Mrs. TB and I took over the Thanksgiving holiday was somewhat atypical to the usual vacations we have often taken as 1)  It involved no children; and 2) It largely involved small towns and cities and scenery.

To be fair, I far more identify with small towns and small cities than I ever have with larger urban centers as I grew up in a small town.  At some point of course as one become older it becomes a choice of course, especially as many people either by design or chance spend some time in a large urban center.  But urban centers - at least to me - remain largely sterile of desirability.  Certainly you have every convenience under the modern sun, but you also have everything that comes with packing people in densely (or as our friend Hobo says, "Human Feedlots").  So even when I am in our current large urban center, I still prefer the sights and appearances of small towns and cities.

During out trip, the largest urban center we got to was around 50,000.  Most were at least have that in population if not less, some 6 or 8 traffic lights length of street to drive on, others just a slowing of speed before it picked back up and the town was gone in a blur.

There is a certain desolation, an inconsolable sadness to me as we drove through such places.  On the one hand, these are the small towns I remember of my youth, where each place was in some extent a self contained unit, back before the days of malls and mail order and home delivery of everything.  But most of these towns have not made the conversion that some towns have made to essentially being destinations for dwellers of the large urban centers with their cute knick-knacks and classy restaurants (and thus, now dependent on those same large urban centers). As one drives through them, faded signs suggest what used to be there even as the covered windows and doors indicate they are that no longer.  In some cases the town has a theme, which is then propagated throughout the town, sometimes in awkward ways.  In other cases the original stores are gone but other stores have migrated into their place.

Development, where it happens, almost only and ever takes place on the outskirts of town (which, of course, multiplies the economic problem as people no longer go "into town", as all the new and cool things are outside it).  And so the buildings with their call of yesteryear and odd curious shops and eateries which might be fascinating (but one never knows) sit staring outward onto far different streets than when they were built.

It may sound like an overly nostalgic view - and I freely admit that in some ways it is.  I grew up in a small town; I remember the sense of feeling trapped by the limitations of what was there and the thrill that going to a larger city provided at the time.  And yet, now that I have spent more time in a large urban centers than small town and cities, I wonder what, if anything, we have truly gained.

An interesting sub-note to me is in the great social discussion of - call it what you will, "tiny dwellings" or "back to things we used to know" or "being universally unconscious" - the idea of re-energizing and re-invigorating small towns is almost never discussed.  It is not as if there is not real opportunity in some of these places or that in some ways things are a less expense (housing, for example, is a tremendous difference).  It is as if there remains this sort of urban arrogance, that (once again) the only acceptable solution is the one that is "common knowledge" - and that common knowledge only extends to the large urban area limits.

In my happiest of worlds, I would see the great urban areas depopulated and small towns much more prevalent and thriving.  But, as is commonly acknowledged, I tend to see the world a bit in reverse anyway.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Back From Out There (And Little Soaps)

 Apologies for the lateness of responses (and the generic post) - The Ravishing Mrs. TB and myself got back from a 5 day vacation.

(In fairness, three of the nights were in an Air BNB.  The last night was in a hotel and yes, I took the soaps.  Waste not, want not.)

I (by and large) tried to stay away from the outer world and partially succeeded.  I tried to relax - and of course, had more thoughts that I will have to sort through.  And of course today (Tuesday) I have to go back to work (Sigh.  Digging out of my e-mail will take at least an hour).

But it was nice just to have a vacation to enjoy - sans children - without any greater agenda than just going.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Doing As Process

 A year ago for Christmas, Nighean Gheal bought me some 3-D printed fantasy figures (rabbits with weapons and their opponent, a skeleton) for painting.

Once upon a time I painted this figures for fun, back in the day when they were all cast of lead and the small flakes that floated around were just additional mineral supplements (before we found out that licking lead paint was bad).  But that was long ago and the figures are long gone.  

As turns out, I have some vacation time now - and approximately a month ago, on a whim I purchased a complete "Figure in a Box with Paint and Brushes and Instructions" - it was an Oni, or Japanese Ogre with a Naginata.  How could I say no to that?

So last week, as part of my "vacation", I started painting after a 35 year hiatus.

I started with rabbits' opponent, the skeleton, because after 35 years I thought I might need to "brush up" as it were, and as skeletons can be a mono color (white), that seemed easy enough.  The plastic paints as well as the lead ever did (although back in the day, we only had model paints, not paints specifically designed for these kinds of things) and using a brush was the same as it ever was.  I painted all but one leg (the one I was holding it with), allowed it to dry a bit, and then painted the other.  Then, I was "done"

Except that I was not.

There were still bits and pieces that needed painting, small cracks that had not been reached in my first pass or two.  I was going to press into them and "finish up" so I could move on and get something of my "relaxing list".  But then, I stopped myself.

This, I suddenly realized, was not an event.  This was an activity.

As I sat looking at the plastic figure that had pulled off its own arm and was using it as a weapon,  I suddenly became aware that I was treating this as I often treat many things:  a project or event that I needed to complete so I could move on to the next thing.   

But in point of fact, this was not meant to be an "event".  This was meant to be an activity. 

This has been a constant struggle in my life, if I think about it.  I am very "project" oriented at least in that sense, that things are there to be completed and the next thing moved on to.  It is what made me very good at education and reading books:  there was a set course, there was a timeline, there was a point of completion.

But an activity is far different.  

An activity is something that, while it may have milestones, is never really complete.  Iaijustsu is very much like this.  Weightlifting is like this.  Even things like gardening and cheese making are like this - yes, there are points where the kata  is complete or the session finished or the vegetables and cheese harvested made, but we are not "done". We move on the the same thing, done in a different way perhaps, or even the same way.  Because the goal is the process itself, not necessarily the outcome.

This, to my mind, suddenly explained a great deal of my own issues.  How I often try to rush through something to finish it (and do it poorly) - because I think I have to get on to the next thing.  Or perhaps why there is always this nagging sense of not doing enough - it is not that I am not doing enough, it is that I am thinking of things in discrete tasks instead of totality of the activity.

I put aside the skeleton that day with the promise I would get back to it later, take another single pass at it, and then (again) put it aside.  Because, as I sat and thought about it, one of the differences between activities and projects is that activities are meant, like journeys, to be savored.  Rushing to get it done more quickly does not make it any more pleasant, it just denies the joy of the activity and having something to look forward to.

Also, it mars the final paint of your figures.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

With Tears And Struggle

 "Amma Syncletica said 'Great endeavors and hard struggles await those who are converted, but afterwards inexpressible joy.  If you want to light a fire, you are troubled at first by smoke, and your eyes water.  But in the end you achieve your aim.  Now it is written "Our God is a consuming fire".  So we must light the divine fire in us with tears and struggle.'"

- Sayings of The Desert Fathers, as quoted in The Roots Of Christian Mysticism (Olivier Clement)

Saturday, November 26, 2022

The Longest Johns - Beer Is Good

 Nighean Gheal  and Nighean Dhonn recently introduced me to the vocal group The Longest Johns.  originally from Bristol, England, they perform traditional sea shanties and original music, all done in "the English Tradition". 

For your entertainment and amusement, presented below from the their album "Smoke & Oakum" is there original song "Beer is Great" (with lyrics).  Run time is 1:48.


Friday, November 25, 2022

"I Thought Turkeys Could Fly"

 There are two must watch items for me during the Thanksgiving season.  The first, of course, is  "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving", which remains one of the greatest commentaries on Thanksgiving and the true meaning of it, much as "A Charlie Brown Christmas" offers the same for Christmas.

The second, of course, is the timeless Turkey Drop of WKRP:

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Thanksgiving Day 2022

 Friends - As I have for several years, I post today George Washington's original declaration of a Thanksgiving proclamation.  As I post it, I reminded that in the midst of so much to be thankful for, I am equally thankful of all of you that spend your time here.  Whether reading, commenting, or even occasionally stopping by, your contribution makes my life and hopefully by extension this blog a better place (and a larger extension, the Social Internet as whole).  

A wonderful Thanksgiving to you and yours.

George Washington's 1789

Thanksgiving Proclamation

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to "recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.


Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Not Productive Enough

 One of the things that somewhat amazes me, now that I have some time off, is how difficult it is to actually turn myself down.  Largely, I blame work - or more specifically, post March 2020 (e.g., The Plague) and changed during that period.

One of the things we have discussed here before, and often is lamented out on the InterWeb, is the growth of the idea of "multi-tasking".  Study after study pretty much demonstrates that this as a practice does not actually accomplish things more quickly or better, yet it remains a sort of unspoken work code in the sense that even though it is not "expected", projects and work loads are set up in such a fashion that one cannot succeed except that one multi-task.

The Plague made it worse.

Suddenly, due to the fact that all meetings were virtual, another outlet for effort was available:  working during meetings.  Easy enough to do of course if you work somewhere where "cameras on" is not a requirement due to company policy or bandwidth (my issue).  E-mails zip out during meetings that individuals are "in".  One can usually tell if people are double-working as, when they are asked a question, the response more often than not is "I am sorry - what was the question?"  Meetings have now become another opportunity to "catch up" on things.

The difficulty, of course, is that this seeps over into the rest of one's life.

Focusing on one thing - or even worse, just "relaxing" - becomes a very uncomfortable feeling.  After all, I should be doing more things!  I should be accomplishing this rather long list of things I was supposed to be doing, because if I am not, I am not "being productive".

You may laugh.  But the sensation is very real.

I am working on changing this of course, both in the work life and real life. Work life is more difficult of course, as the work is still there and explaining how only so much can really get done is a bit, well, "difficult".  Personally it is a little easier (although I still seem to need a lot of convincing) that if I only do "some" things - and complete them - I am doing "enough.

When we have built a society and economic system that anticipates over-work as a minimum, it may be many things, but it is surely not a sustainable one.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Moral Virtue For Its Own Sake

 "To bring this whole discourse of mine to an end - the conclusion is obvious from what has been said, namely that one should strive after justice and every moral virtue for their own sake.  All good men love what is fair in itself and what it is right in itself.  It is not in character for a good man to make the mistake of loving what is not intrinsically lovable; therefore what is right should be sought and cultivated for itself.  If this applies to what is right, it also applies to justice; and if it applies to justice, then the other virtues, too, should be cultivated for themselves.  What about generosity?  Is it free or for profit?  When a person is open-handed without reward, it's free; when he's looking for profit, it's an investment.  There is no doubt that a person who is called generous and open handed has duty  (officum, kindly duty and obligation) in mind, not gain.  So likewise justice looks for no prize and no price; it is sought for itself, and is at once the cause and meaning of all the virtues." 

- Marcus Tullius Cicero, The Law 

Sunday, November 20, 2022

A Visit With Mom - November 2022

 While it appears I have not updated here my visits with my mother since July of this year, they have been going on.

The visits post-July remain much as they ever have.  There is a routine to them almost now:  I call ahead around 1030 on a Sunday or the following Saturday (depending on flight times) to get there after 11 AM, which is post lunch for them.  I punch myself in through the gate and open to door to get someone's attention.  They will respond - they know I am coming and a number of the "regular" aides recognize me - and I will go out and pull a chair into the shade or sun, depending on the weather, and wait.  

They will help Mom on out and get her into the chair, let us know to have a nice visit and "take all the time you need", and leave us to our conversations.

Sometimes it is just myself and sometimes my sister meets me there.  We will comment on the weather, what holiday is coming up, and then I will start to run down the list of family events.  I have to remind myself to give context - names and relationships to me and her make more sense than just names.  She listens, nods, expresses surprise when things like how close someone is to graduation is and things like that.  After a while the conversation lags a bit - even with a monthly visit, we are done in about 20 minutes.  Sometimes my sister and I will just start talking about something tangential and Mom will just sit and listen.

She is still herself, however.  She is always happy to see us, even if she seems to have no idea who we are.  And she will not ever say she is uncomfortable: for example, last month was a bit coolish and while she did not say she was cold, she did say "Why do we not go inside?" - which was her way of saying she was cold.  We laughed, told her it was fine - we were on our way out anyway.

This month's visit (this last Friday) saw a sunny but cold November morning and so the owners very kindly offered to let us visit inside.  I sat across from Mom as they helped her into her chair and put a blanket over her lap. 

As she settled in I talked with R the owner of the facility.  Mom's hair was much shorter; apparently she had been playing with it a great deal. Other than that, her health was fine and she was eating well (they take such good care of her there).   With that, she left us to talk,

I asked Mom how she was doing and she said fine.  Then she looked at me and said "You look like and sound like my son.  I think he is around here somewhere".

This is the first time she has indicated she remembered me - at least - at all in a long time.

I laughed, told her "he must be an outstanding fellow then", and carried on with the update.  She responded as she always did as I shared that Thanksgiving was coming up, what the grandchildren were up to, and that I was taking some time off and a trip soon.  The conversation moved right along with pictures on my phone until, about the usual length of time, it was done.

I said goodbye as I helped her up and the caregiver came and assisted her back to the main living area.  On my way out, R let me know that Mom had developed the trait of walking around a lot, which was new - but there is another woman, also with Alzheimer's, who does the same thing, so they walked around together.   It was a new behavior.  

I got back in the truck and teared up.  It is one thing to visit someone you loved and they have no memory of you at all.  It is another to suddenly find they remember you, even if it is not the you right in front of them.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

End Of My Crypto Experiment

 As some readers may recall, in 2020 (November, to be precise)  I took a very small plunge into the heady and exciting world of Cryptocurrency.

You may have heard a bit about Cryptocurrency at the moment, with the complete and utter failure of the FTX exchange where somehow - magically - it went from a value of $32 Billion (yes, Billion with a B) to effectively $0.  If you have not read about this, I would (for once) urge you to do some reading.  This will become the Enron story that a new round of market survivors tell to each other around the digital campfire.

The story spooked yours truly - spooked him to the point that I sold whatever little bit I had in my very small Crypto account.  As this had started two years ago in November, it seemed fitting to end it in November as well.

The specifics:

As you can see, I had wild fluctuations in my account.  At it's height - in January of this year - it was worth a trifle over $400.  At its nadir, it was worth about $76.

The drop off right at the end is, of course my sales.  By the time I was done, I ended up with $136 in my electronic pocket in cash.  As my initial investment was $35, that is still a 388% return.  Not terrible for a little coffee money (although, I suppose, not nearly as well as I could have done).  

You will notice that remaining $0.09.  This is because Coinbase will not do a "complete" transfer from one "currency" to another; there are always scraps remaining and they have lower limits to it.  I have two choices:  keep the scraps, wait to "earn" more cryptocurrency through a small quiz (we will see how soon that happens again) and then sweep it all up for sale, or just donate the rest and close the account.  Me being me, I will try and scrape out that last little bit - after all, it costs me nothing.

One note:  As I had mentioned before as well, I do continue to "earn" the Brave token through the use of the Brave Browser and looking at advertisements and occasional quizzes and that I have successfully converted it into actual gift cards for Amazon.  This continues to go on - after all, why not as it does not cost me money - but the value of the BAT has dropped from around $1.00 to $0.22.  Not a great deal of foreseeable gift cards there in my future.

Fundamentally, I still very much like the idea of a currency and medium exchange that is universally applicable and not subject to government interference and manipulation.  It seems very apparent, however, that cryptocurrency is not that medium.

And thus I end up with a little money in my pocket and a story that starts out "Let me tell you about the time I was in the crypto market..."

Friday, November 18, 2022

On Taxes

One of the thoughts that strikes me as continue to look into the fact of what a change of location and of lifestyle might look like is, of course, taxation.

Taxation - we cannot get away from it, at least in the United States (and, I assume, everywhere else in the world.  That I know of, Mars is still tax-free).   Even if you live in a state that does not have state tax, you still pay property tax (which can be as bad or worse as state taxes), sales taxes, fuel taxes.  You pay taxes on every utility bill for "things" (up to not all that long ago, we continued to pay a tax based in the Spanish- American War, thus proving that taxes never, ever, really die).  That, of course, is on top of the Federal income tax paid above a certain threshold (and for which threshold of being "wealthy" keeps slipping downward every year).

So no-one can get away from taxation.  Theoretically at least, some level of taxation is necessary to pay for "things", although there is quite a vigorous discussion about what "things" we should pay for (and this goes to both parties, of course:  do not tell me how much you will reduce taxes, tell me how much you will reduce spending.  Tax reduction will follow the second option naturally).  And add to that, I am one of those individuals that sees my tax forms in black and white with no grey:  if there is a hint of "it might be income", I will put it on there.  

So if I cannot change taxation and I should not (and will not) practice "creative writing" in them, the only logical thing to do is look at lowering my taxable base.

I write that it as if it is an easy thing.  It is not, of course:  it requires a huge change in lifestyle and a great deal of consideration and planning.

(Disclaimer here:  I am not a tax professional.  Any tax related planning should be done in conjunction with a qualified accountant, tax planner, or CPA.  I am just a guy with a blog that has thoughts on things).

For 2023, the published lowest federal tax bracket level (10%) for married folks is $22,000 Adjusted Gross Income (AGI).  The next cut off (12%) is $89,450.  

Then add on states.  Here, there can be a difference: In Texas, Florida, or Nevada, the tax bracket level is 0%, as there is no state tax.  In California, $22,000 will see you paying 2% and $89,450 will see you paying 9.3% (a fixed amount plus a percentage over $61,214). In Montana (2022 brackets), it is 6.9% for anything over $18,000 AGI. 

(Fun list of all 2022 state tax rates and brackets is located here)

To recap, depending on where one lives, one can pay 0% state income tax to 22% state income tax - not accounting for other factors of course, like cost of living, property tax rates, and local quirks.  Nor - on the Federal Level - does this account for something like the Alternative Minimum Tax, which was originally designed to insure high income earners with low "taxable" income paid something commensurate with their holdings, which has been opened up over time to the larger population.

This gives me data points.  If I lived in X, how much would I need to make to live there?  What is the minimum amount I could make to live and minimize my tax burden?

It comes down to choices, of course:  our society and our entire system is geared towards more and even in the great minimalist sub-culture that is currently enjoying popularity, I do not hear any sense of minimize income to minimize taxes.  We all have our accustomed modes of living, and every one of us considers some things as defensible luxuries or slightly "really needed" necessities.

But for me at least, such an exercise manages two things.  The first is that it engages me on actively thinking about the next phase of my life, what I really "want", and and what I really need.  The second is that this inherently appeals to my inner "government is far too large" thoughts by addressing the fact that if I provide less, there is less for them to work with.

Economizing our lives.  Not just good for us as individuals, good for us as citizens in a government.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

The Price Of A Flight

During the initial outbreak of The Plague in 2020, one of the things that was impacted was travel - more specifically, my travel as a family vacation to a foreign country where Nighean Gheal was then going to school was canceled because, well, the country shut down (which made getting there a bit difficult).  The credit was issued of course, and so for the past two years it has sat there, slowly getting extended expiration dates.

This past June, The Ravishing Mrs. TB sent a note along: would I consider not in Country X, but in Country Y?  Sure, I said.  After all, Country Y had just as much historical interest and as many historical places to visit as Country X and - barring the collapse of the entire system - I could probably use a break.

(To be fair: This trip was originally planned as a graduation trip for The Ravishing Mrs. TB and Nighean Dhonn, our youngest.  They mentioned that they was going and I helpfully invited myself along.)

At the time, the cost of plane tickets would have been about double what we had in credits from 2020 (therefore, 50% more in current dollars).  The Ravishing Mrs. TB and I discussed it, then we made the plunge and purchased the tickets.  It was a gamble that the tickets would not go back down in price, but at the same time with selected dates, it is also a gamble that if you do not reserve tickets, you will not get the dates or times you want (because arriving at midnight in a foreign country where you do not speak the language is, well, awkward).

Near the end of last month she checked ticket prices again - they had doubled from what we paid, or had exhibited a 70% increase in cost overall.

Now admittedly airfare overseas is not something that impacts most people (not even me, usually). And it is a bit hard to have sympathy for individuals complaining that their trip to the French Riviera or the Bali coastline is "unattainable" due to price increases (I, myself, am sobbing into my coffee as I write this).  But a 70% increase in price in a two year period is a sign of things rapidly accelerating beyond not only control, but affordability.

Does it impact me?  Sure, a little.  What is true in international flights is true in domestic flights as well, and I have definitely seen an increase in the cost of getting from New Home to The Ranch.  And it will impact any ability I have to go to train in Japan (which, to be fair, is the last trip I would likely give up and will do everything in my power to do until it simply becomes unaffordable).  

As is evident to almost everyone, prices are going up.  On everything.  And will have impacts in ways that we cannot fully understand until we get there (the term "distorted markets" will come to have a new meaning).

And no, oddly enough, I suspect none of us saw a 70% increase in our salaries over the last two years.  After all, the rest of us dwell here, in the real world.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Economics As Predator

 Of all the things that impact our lives living as social creatures in a state construct, the most influential one is economics.  

It is also the one that seems to be least understood.

Economics creeps into every aspect of our lives. When we turn on our lights, economics is either charging us for that electricity or we paid to have off grid systems to supply it.  When we purchase anything - food, fuel, even books (shocking as it seems), economics has informed the price of that item through availability, supply, demand, desirability, and the inevitable overhead in taxes. Retirements and pensions rise and fall on the global and national economics; in the United States our version of Old Age Provision, Social Security, bases its increases off of the inflation rate of said economics.

And yet, I suspect for most people, their eyes glaze over at the thought of digging deeper.

Most people - myself for years - understood economics in terms of "I get paid.  I lose some money in taxes.  With the rest, I pay for my life".  If I am wise, I am saving for the future. If I am not, I am consuming for the present (I have done both at one time or another).

And then the economy comes back to bite.  And people are mysteriously surprised that somehow this thing, this scarcely acknowledged thing that like a rarely seen fish at the bottom of the ocean is only occasionally brought to the surface, has suddenly appeared in all of its needle-teeth, bug-eyed, bloated body horror.

Inflation eats up purchasing power.  People lose their jobs and suddenly, they cannot buy more thus pushing those business they purchased from closer to the edge of failure.  The government, as provider of last resort, raises taxes to support more programs.  With more taxes comes less ability to spend which, when coupled with rising costs, puts even more pressure on businesses.  Which means more people lose their jobs. 

And so it goes.

Employees react to less ability to purchase by demanding raises.  Employers either give the raises and pass the costs on or give the raise and do not pass the costs on - and then reduce staff to pay for the remaining employees.  Or, they look to other technologies to reduce overhead cost altogether.

Somehow the "rich" are holding on to every thing and making it tough for everyone else, yet the definition of "rich" keeps settling downward as a government desperately in need to money to pay not only the programs it keeps continually creating, but the ever increasing national debt that is now incrementing even more quickly as the interest rates rise to combat inflation.

All of this goes on until, of course, it does not.

This may come across as a somber post for me - because it is. I am no genius and neither an economist nor the son of an economist, yet even I can see that this does not work well.  Like every economic disaster - and arguably, that is what I think we are facing - the bulk of people will find themselves shocked that this occurred.  "How did this happen?"  will be the cry.  "We were the pinnacle of economies!  The richest!  The most productive!  How did it come to this?"

It came, because when the subject of economics came up - the one thing that cuts across every sort of political, social, religious or moral belief - came up, everyone turned away.  After all economics is boring.

Predators from the deep are boring to other inhabitants of the deep.  Right up to the point the predators consume the other inhabitants.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Waiting For An Assessment

 One of the things I hope to get taken care of this week while I am out at The Ranch is an assessment of the property.  I am both eager to get it done and concerned to have it done, as a great deal of the future rides on it.

My parents' estate, currently in a trust, is at its most basic level, divided into two groups:  the 90 acres or so with house, outbuildings, etc. that constitute The Ranch, and all other assets.  If one goes purely by the tax records, these things are more or less roughly equal.  That said, tax records are often poor reflections of current value (if my home in New Home is any example).

This has been a sort of open question over the last two years and has real impacts on the future.  Simply put, if the assessment is miles away from the cash value of the estate, there is (keeping it real) minimal chance that on my side I would be able to make of the difference and thus, the most likely outcome in that situation would be a sale.

Ironic - although I have that thought multiple times over the past month or so as I worked to find an assessor, this is the first time I have written it out.

There are at least two factors that are currently working in favor of a lesser value.  The first, of course, is simply the fact that with rising interests rates and a declining economy, the market is dropping - and for here, where there are literally always homes for sale, I would imagine the drop to be more pronounced (in short, people from "The City" always envision moving out to The Wild as a dream, until they get here and realize that, well, one is out in The Wild and a coffee treat or even grocery shopping is a half an hour drive.  It weeds out a lot of folk).  The second is that with our recent fire, both the value has dropped even more and more people will be looking to get out (as well, of course, as the inevitable increase in fire insurance).

But still, that is an unknown.  The whole thing is an unknown.

There are only four possible outcomes:

1)  Value of the property and value of the estate are approximately the same.  

2)  Value of the property is less than value of the estate (highly unlikely, but technically possible)

3) Value of the property is slightly higher than the value of the estate 

4)  Value of the property greatly exceeds (beyond reason) the value of the estate

Of the options, the only non-bridgeable one is option 4.  Option 1 means active monitoring of the value and option 3 means looking to see if there is a mechanism to start buying at least one parcel now (and cut down on the overall value.

I have thought through option 4.  I have steeled myself against the possibility that this is the outcome and if so, what my next steps will be (one of them, of course, is that moving back no longer becomes an option - after all, if the property will need to be sold, why go through the hassle of moving and then moving again?).  And, at least in theory, I am coming up with a Plan B.

The not knowing is the worst.  But hopefully, that at least can so be resolved.

Monday, November 14, 2022

The Vagaries of Personal Time Off

 When I started in the Biopharmaceutical Industry in the mid-1990's we received two kinds of time off:  Vacation Time and Sick Time.  These could not be conflated:  Vacation Time was not for Sick Time and vice versa.  That is not to say it probably did not go on (I am sure it did), but in principle at least one could still have a vacation without consuming everything due to sickness. And, of course, one could roll over unused vacation time (but not sick time - that expired at the end of the year).

Later, the industry adopted the concept of "Personal Time Off (or "PTO", not to be confused with "Power Take-Off").  In this paradigm, there was only one "bucket" of time to be used.  The bright side of this was that if one was not sick, one still preserved the time for other used.  The less bright side was that the time came to be viewed as only for use for vacation and thus, individuals who probably should have stayed home insisted on coming to work because they had time off planned in two months and needed to "keep" the hours:

Me:  (Listening to an employee hack):  "Sounds like you have a little cold."

Employee: (Sucking down cough drop):  "No, no, I am good.  I feel fine."  (Coughing fit occurs again, part of a lung shows up on the desk)

Me:  "Just go home".

In spite of the issues with people being sick at work, the beauty of PTO was that you could save a certain portion against potential vacations or emergencies for the upcoming year.  

The Plague changed a lot of that.

I suspect for many companies, mine included, 2020 was a year where all PTO was rolled over no matter what the policy was because, frankly, no-one could go anywhere.  2021 was somewhat the same as well, although for my employer the decision to "roll" was made late in the year.

When my company got "bigger", one of the policies they put in place was the amount of hours that could be rolled. This differs wildly from company to company:  in my industry, many companies have policies of keeping up to 360 hours a year (again, that whole "emergencies happen" thing).  My company allows 60 hours.

This has been a silent source of contention for me for two reasons:  the first is the above referenced "emergencies happen" policy as in the past I would keep a month in reserve; the other is that for those of us that take time off early in the year (say, to train in Japan in late January/early February) we start the year at a complete disadvantage as we are in "catch-up" mode until sometime in August, assuming we do not take a vacation in April.

This year, many at my company faced the same issue.  The response from the company was:  "Spend it or lose it".  This, of course, when we are trying to meet year end goals.  Arguments have been made (by high level folks), but the position did not change.  

And so, in this last two months, more and more employees have been "out" on vacation.  As you can imagine, projects are starting to slow down.  Approvals are going longer.  Things are now not happening - because people are sensible:  you never give up time off.

What this means for me personally is that starting from today, of 27 remaining "business days", I will only be working 18.  Adding in planned corporate holidays, of 35 remaining potential work days, I will be off 17 of those days.

It is not the ideal kind of time off I would like of course; a great deal of it will look like "staycation" (as you can imagine and me being me, I am already creating a list of things to do).  The Ravishing Mrs. TB and I will get a little actual vacation as well (sans children, if one can imagine).  Perhaps best of all, given the year it has been, I will end up with two solid weeks of more or less no connection at work (I say that, knowing that I likely have to check e-mails at least once a day.  That is just the way it is).  

It is not the vacation I was planning for, but may be the reset I need.  After all, never leave money (or PTO) on the table.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Heal Them By Means Of Peace

 "Two men who wanted to see the sunrise would be very foolish to argue about the place where it will appear and their means of looking at it, then to let their argument degenerate into a quarrel, from that to come to blows, and in the heat of the conflict to gouge each other's eyes out.  There would be no longer any question about contemplating the dawn...

Let us who wish to contemplate God purify our hearts by faith and heal them by means of peace; for the effort we make to love one another is already a gift from him to whom we raise our eyes."

- Augustine of Hippo, Sermons, as quoted in The Roots of Christian Mysticism (Olivier Clement)

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Philosophy and Tilling


If there is a quote that more less encompassed what I dream of doing, this is likely it.

I know, I know - philosophers have a rather foolish habit of extoling the simple life without either understanding what it entails or not practicing it (Lucius Annaeus Seneca was often mocked for the difference between his preaching of the simple Stoic life and his vast wealth), and I suspect on the whole it is easier to make a living as a farmer that thinks on philosophy than a philosopher that tries to farm.  And yet, the combination can exist in fact:  some of the greatest agricultural philosophers of the last 50 years - Masanobu Fukoka, Wendell Berry, Joel Salatin - have done exactly that.

G. Musonius Rufus, in the quote above, posits that is is living in accord with nature and drawing directly from it, rather than another source.  I suspect that is largely true.  At the same time, at least in my own life, the more I find that I am actively engaged in the practice of something that provides me benefit - be it gardening or cheesemaking or stitching up a sock for the 20th time - the less time I have to think about other things that I want or desire that are beyond what my actual needs are.  

Leisure can have a tendency to do this to me:  the more time sit and surf the InterWeb, the more I seem to find things that I "need", or at least want intensely, regardless of whether or not I actually need them.  Whereas actively spending my leisure on either doing needful things or actually pondering and thinking (and writing, or even swordsmanship in my case) leads to a decided lack of desire.

The more I do and make do with what I have, the less I find that I desire and that those things I desire, I truly need to do things I need to do.

Friday, November 11, 2022

In Flanders fields (Armistice Day 2022)

 I present this poem every Veteran's Day, or Armistice Day as it was once known.  More than any other poem, it speaks to me of the horror of war: Germans, French, British, Belgians, Italians, Russians, Austro-Hungarians, eventually Americans - all loved and were loved and now lie under Flanders fields or a myriad of other battlefields scattered across Europe, remembered now only in pictures and gravestones.

May we all see better days.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lt. Colonel John McCrae 03 May 2015

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

A Lengthy Funk

 One of the things I realized - again, for thousandth time - is that I am simply not mentally the same as I as prior to February 2020.

That month, for those that have been with me long enough, was the date of A Sort Of Hammerfall - my effect reassignment from a job function of 18 years and an executive position to an individual contributor position in project management.  On the whole everything worked out for the best of course, but something just not seem right.

It was not that moment of course, it was all the moments leading up to that moment, things I have to fight against even now in my work environment: focusing on one thing at a time (and paying attention to it) instead of multi-tasking by being in a meeting while typing responses to questions and trying to respond to e-mails and work on something else; reacting or over reacting to simple requests; that nauseous feeling I get in meetings where senior staff is present; an almost complete inability to focus and lack of attention to detail.

Are these all new?  No, there were present in some form or fashion prior to this.  But everything got much, much worse after I got "repurposed", so much so that I feel like I am not a competent employee.

There is a lot that went on prior to that moment of course, four years of a stressful work environment that got increasingly worse and a difficult reporting structure that - even more so in the rear view mirror - was not a good one.

I wonder - Is it a real thing, and what does one do about it? 

Talking to someone, while useful immediately after, did not seem to resolve the issue at all.  In fact, what I list above seem to be symptoms, symptoms of a problem that I cannot fully define.  I do not know that "talking" to someone again will help.  I need some kind of practical actions that can help me snap out of this almost 3 years funk I find myself in.

Gratefully soliciting suggestions.

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

Go Vote 2022

 Today, if you are an inhabitant of the United States (or its dependencies, I imagine), is Election Day.  

So go vote.

If you have already voted via early voting or mail in voting, thank you.  If you have not, today is your day.

As I rule, I try not to discuss politics here - so I do not care who you are voting for.  Just vote.

I know all the old canards:  it does not really matter, we only elect different versions of the same fools, I never believe the results, etc.  

Go vote anyway.

Much like any other participatory activity, if you do not participate, you do not get a say or criticism in the outcome that follows.  To quote and paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt, only the man in the arena gets a say, because if one does not, one's place is "with the cold and timid souls, who neither know victory or defeat."  

Do not feel like you can vote for everyone?  Just vote for the ones you know or care about. 

But Vote.  A great many people expended a great amount of effort so that you could do so.

(Note - and apologies I have to mention it at all:  Comments will be moderated today.  Please mind the rules and remember, the people that come here are not always in agreement on a great many things political. I try to keep this a place where discussion can be had in an open atmosphere, but we are not doing politics today anymore than usual.  There are many other fine blogs one can do that on.)

Monday, November 07, 2022

TB Goes Shopping For Jeans

 Although I occasionally take shopping excursions amongst the high and mighty, most of the time I am a, thrifty, thrifty shopper.  This extends to a great many things, but especially my clothes.  Frankly put, I begrudge spending money on clothes at all.

However, since (apparently) wearing ripped attire or attire with holes is only considered trend when you are young, I found myself recently in need of some jeans. Jeans are my "wear almost any day of the week" pants - and I was down to two "good" pairs and one pair that gets worn to the rabbit shelter and for my "work at home" attire and is thus not really "fitting" for social wear.

The last time I had to get a new pair of jeans, it was almost $40 at that fabulous French-esque store "Target" (pronounced "tar-zhey" by sophisticated backwoods folk like myself) and was done out of a need of desperation, having realized as I left the plane that my pants had torn in a rather awkward place, I did not have another pair, and I needed one now.  I had a little more runway this time, but my goal was not spend any more than I had to.

My first stop was my local charitable organization store.  Oddly enough, I realized it has probably been 10 years at least since the last time I was in one.  It was clean, well organized - and almost completely out of jeans.  Cream or tan business slacks or chinos, there was a 30 foot rack filled on both sides.  Jeans, there was maybe a 5 foot section with most of them far beyond my waist size.

My next stop was clothes resale store.  There are a few chains out there that do this now; this was my first time going into one.  I did not really know what to expect - what I found was (again) a well organized store with clothes and shoes in really good condition.  This made sense to me after I thought about it - after all, a resale store is not going to buy things that they cannot resell.  

They had a splendid section for jeans in my size (sadly, my lower body is pretty much a short rectangle, which makes things a bit hard).  There were a variety of jeans there, some I had heard of and some I had not.  I ended up getting two pairs in reasonably good shape for around $40.  Two pairs of jeans combined with my other two pairs of jeans will carry me a pretty long way.

Good heavens, at this rate - what with me darning my socks, enough of a rotation of underwear and undershirts (at two locations, mind you) and a lifetime's supply of shirts, I may only every have to purchase the occasional set of jeans.  I may end up like TB The Elder yet.

Sunday, November 06, 2022

On The Babylonian Exile

 As I am working through my "Read The Bible" in a year - something I have been doing for 15 years or more - I find myself this week in the book of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah, for those who may not know, is an Old Testament Prophet who was active in the latter part of the of Kingdom Judah to its capture and dissolution by second Babylonian Empire, from 625 B.C. to at least 570 B.C. or even 561 B.C. During this time the Kingdom of Judah tried to rebel against Babylon, but was first conquered and then destroyed in 586 B.C.  The period after the destruction, when thousands over a multi-year period were relocated to Babylon, is known as "The Babylonian Captivity" and in many ways represents a watershed in Jewish history.

Jeremiah had a pretty rough go of things, as prophets who are prophesying the end of their state often do.  His message changes as the situation becomes worse, moving from "Hey - Get right with God and He will preserve the Kingdom" to "Hey - submit to the Babylonian Empire and stay in the Kingdom" to "Hey - Pray for the peace of the land you have been transported to (because you are not coming back)." During his life he was beaten, put in stocks, put into a cistern sinking into the mud, and generally not taken seriously and spoken badly of.  Not quite the "self-actualizing life" people hope for when they are young.

During this week's reading, I was in Chapters 27 to 29, where Jeremiah first tells the nations around Judah - Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, Sidon - that the best thing for them to do is to submit to the rising power of Babylon ("I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon..." (27:9)).  The same advice he gave to then reigning King of Judah (Zedekiah) - for which, in Chapter 28, he is roundly mocked by another "prophet" who proclaims exactly the opposite, that in two years all will be restored (guess how that worked out?).  Finally, in Chapter 29, Jeremiah writes a letter to the exiles already in Babylon, telling them effectively to put down roots, plan to be there for a while as a captive people, and pray/do all they can for the prosperity of the Babylonian Empire, because in that Empire at the current time is their prosperity - and that at some point in the future, God will return them to land of Judah.

"Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I has caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon:

Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit.  
Take wives and beget sons and daughters;
and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters, that they may be increased there, and not diminished.
And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace.
For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel:  Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are in your midst deceive you, nor listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed.
For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them, says the Lord.

For thus says the Lord:  After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you and cause you to return to this place.  For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope."

(Jeremiah 29: 4-11, NKJV)

This really struck me when I read it.

Imagine you are an one of the Jewish exiles in Babylon.  You have already had the experience of being conquered, sorted, marching across the desert, and resettled.  You have tried to make a go of it but always in the back of your mind is the thought of going back to Jerusalem, where home is and the presence of God physically manifests itself.  There is anticipation due to prophets and seers that this will be the case.

And then, from the one prophet that actually has an impeccable track record, comes the actual news:  You are here for duration.  Build a life there with the anticipation that you will be staying there for a while - in fact, not only build a life there, but pray for your conqueror and the pagan people in which you will live - to pray for their destruction is to pray for your own destruction.  "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem" calls the Psalmist, temporarily replaced by "Pray for the peace of Babylon".  Yes, eventually you will go back - but realistically your grandchildren, not you. 

And then, as a coda to that thought "I will give you a future and hope".

What a hard saying.

I do not know why this reached out to me the way it did, but it made me sit and think about it for long after I finished my reading for the morning (thus, the post).  I am predicting precisely nothing (so do not read anything into it; I am neither the prophet nor the son of a prophet) and there are no allegories or current events to be gleaned from this post.  I was just struck by what that must have sounded like to everyone who received Jeremiah's message and was a follower of God: to those remaining in Jerusalem the knowledge that they would either be killed or transferred (imagine taking your family out past the city walls during the siege, the name calling and bitter hate), for those in Babylon the injunction that likely none of them were ever going back, only their grandchildren and beyond.  Make the best of the situation, be stellar citizens, and prepare for a day that most of you will never live to see.

It troubles me to read and then write on it.  It must have troubled at least some of them.

What a test of faith in God.  Other than the prophet Ezekiel, a contemporary, we hear little of the Jews in Babylon until the books of Nehemiah and Ezra, which document the Jewish return to Jerusalem.  Did God speak during that time through a prophet? We have no record of it.  What would it be like to have a promise that one could cling to 30 years in?  50 years in?  When the Babylonian Empire still essentially flourished, how did they manage their faith?

 We know that they managed their faith because Jews did return to Jerusalem following the conquest of Babylon by the Medio-Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great and there were some that returned.  Ezra reports that when the first cornerstone of the Second Temple was laid, the people shouted for joy except for the old men who remembered what First Temple had looked like in all its glory; these wept.

Why this passage?  I have no idea.  Like most of my writing, I suspect it is largely for myself.  There is a lesson here, a lesson I too often turn my own eyes away from:  God's purpose in this life will, ultimately, be determined by Him.  My job is to accept it, all of it - even the hard parts that sometimes literally sound counterintuitive to my sensibilities.

Saturday, November 05, 2022

Baker Creek Seeds

 One of the things I have been in a passive search for over the last 5-6 months is an alternative or additional seed supplier.

Multiple suppliers is a good thing, of course - and especially given the current supply chain challenges.  What added to the need was that my current supplier did a thing that I detest:  they made a political statement about something that had precisely zero to do with seeds.  Make a statement related to what you do, that I can handle. Make a statement about something that has nothing to do with how you make your is a free market.

After some random searching (literally random:  entered "Open Pollinated Seed Suppliers/Heirloom Seed Suppliers" and seeing what came up), I stumbled across Baker Creek Seeds

There is never not a good time to order seeds, right?  So I went through and found three packs (leeks, spinach, and barley) and ordered.  

One immediate good point:  They do not charge for continental U.S. Shipping. So that is already a plus and saves me from buying "extra" to fill out an order.

The seeds came in fancy envelope:

With a fancier back!

When I opened my package, low and behold, I had not three but four seed packets - a free extra (the lettuce below).  When was the last time that happened to me?

Back side of the packets:

I have to say I was quite pleasantly surprised.

My only grouse at the moment is they do not seem to have a lot of grain related seeds (I have this weird interest in grain growing.  Color me silly), but maybe it was the season.  Certainly a company I will be going back to come Spring.

Friday, November 04, 2022

Automated Bread

 While I am not a true bread connoisseur, it must be said that I enjoy a good piece of toast (slathered with butter) for breakfast or a peanut butter and honey sandwich for lunch.  Both of these for me are comfort foods as well as meeting an caloric intake:  toast happened for breakfast almost every mornings except Fridays growing up (which was cereal day) and for special "breakfast for dinner" nights when TB The Elder was gone (and one was allowed to read a book at the table, wonder of wonders), and peanut butter and honey sandwiches have graced my lunch box and plate for almost as long as I have been alive.

One of the recent consequences of the current environment is that bread is, well expensive.   A loaf of Orowheat bread (the somewhat healthy one, not the "corn syrup dusted in flour" version") will easily set one back $4.00 to $5.50, if it is at all available (which in the past year is often not the case).  The resolution in such a situation is to make one's own.

The bread maker above is the one we received from my parents years ago - before we moved to New Home, actually - when my father found out he was diabetic and bread was now forbidden.  It has served us well - for years we would use it to make pizza dough and on Sunday nights we would have pizza and a movie as a family event.

It is stupidly simple, of course - so simple even I can use it:  using the attached ingredient book, dump ingredients into the container.  Lock container into place in the unit.  Select program.  Push button.  Go away for two to three hours, come back at the bell.  Remove hot pan and hot bread from unit (hopefully without burning one's fingers, but that does not always happen).  Immediately cut off a piece while still piping hot and smear with butter.  Eat.  Then go back for another one while it still hot (it never reheats as well).

Five years ago I would have told you that making it served no purpose other than having it hot, as the cost difference was negligible.  Now, I am not so sure:  what is the cost of 3-4 cups of flour, 1-2 teaspoons of yeast, 1 tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon each of oil and honey, and water?  I am rather certain that it is not $5.00.

Na Clann have occasionally made bread from scratch (e.g., in the old style by hand) and this is the next logical step of course:  the one flaw in my practice is that the bread machine relies on electricity to work.  But that is certainly something I can work into.  I am really the only one who eats bread at home anymore on a regular basis and so a small loaf will easily serve my needs for a week.

Now, to start making butter...

Thursday, November 03, 2022

We Are Done: Nibble Ring Edition

 Here at An Taigh a Thoirdealbheach Beucail, we spend more than a bit on pet supplies supporting, as we do a cat, a dog, two guinea pigs, and three rabbits.  It is I am sure (for many) not an entirely justified expense but we have always had pets (certainly through our marriage and for me, most of my life) and they bring me a great deal of joy (and frustration).

One of the treats which are given - twice a day - to the rabbits and guinea pigs are Nibble Rings.

Nibble Rings (for the uninitiated) are small rings of compressed corn and hay.  The practice is that everyone gets one in the morning (5) and the evening (5).  A the Cat also demands one - no harm, I suppose - as does Poppy the Brave when she is here, so add another 2, or up to 14 Nibble Rings a day.

Honestly, I probably should have purchased stock.

My primary purchase point for these is the rabbit shelter I volunteer at, because (frankly) they need the money and it is better than giving it to a nameless corporation.  Given our recent supply chain issues, it has been a bit of a challenge to get these in house.  For a while their supply slowly dwindled as they could not get them for love or money.  Now, they are available - six packs at a time.  I had always tended to buy another pack when I was getting close to bottom; now, I buy much earlier.

I opened up one of the recent packs and as I was distributing them, I thought they looked a little different to me.  I was able to find an "older" nibble ring at the bottom of the food box:

You may notice a change in size.  You would be right.  

Mind you, the cost to the shelter has not gone down.  I am getting it a little above cost, so my price has gone up as well.  I doubt that the animals notice the difference (well, the guinea pigs might have - they treasure every morsel of food and grumble when their "supply" is less), but I certainly do.

If we are at the point of compressed hay and corn rings shrinking in size, we are only a few short steps from the breakdown of civilization as we know it.

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

On Small, Unfortunate Events

 There is nothing more frustrating than a series of small, unfortunate events.

They are the stupid minor things of life which happen on an ordinary basis.  This week it was the plug on the vacuum cleaner failing and arcing (it was replaced) and the headlights on Nighean Dhonn's car giving up the ghost operationally, then at least getting to the point where they are on when the engine is on (but go off as soon as the engine stops).  Two weeks ago it was the low air pressure alarm on my car which was on for weeks after being checked by the shop (no leakage; turns out not one but two of my sensors had died).

None of this are crushing blows of course:  cars can be repaired, a plug can be fixed (by someone who is not me however; my attempt did nothing new) or a new vacuum purchased.  What is aggravating about it is the dripping nature of these things.

Any job is like this, if I think about it.  Mine at least certainly is.  The high victories and low defeats are few and far between.  Far more common are the minor things that constantly seem to go wrong:  we did not ship enough of this; we need more of this; this document is wrong; etc., etc.

I find it far more discouraging that the big failures.

Big failures tend to be one time events.  The small things that come up much more frequently often feel like different verses of the same song, giving truth to the phrase "if it is not one thing, it is another".  There seems to be no seasonality, no periodicity, no predictable patterns of behavior.  Things just break, usually at the most inconvenient time.

My bigger thought - and there should always be a bigger thought - is what is an inconvenience now has the capability to become a huge issue the thing to repair the problem - a different part for the vacuum, a new headlight switch - are no longer available at all.

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

TB Goes To The Mall, Or An Economy Of Buying Things

 During my weekly visits to Old Home, one of the standard practices I have is to meet a high school friend (as she is of Italian descent, hereby La Contessa) for dinner.  We try to meet halfway between her home and The Ranch, which usually puts us in the same geographical location every month for dinner.  As one might imagine, after X amount of times at the same place, one starts looking to branch out. 

Her most recent suggestion was near to Local Big Mall Of Things (LBMOT).  After looking at the location and the likely traffic patterns and the fact that I had not yet exercised for the day, I decided to beat the traffic and take my daily jaunt around LBMOT.

In my limited experience (by limited, not having stepped into a mall in a least 3 and possibly 4 years), there are only two sorts of malls currently: malls that are doing well (which from what I know, typically cater to a typical income level, which is above mine) and malls that are not and are slowly dying (which probably do cater to my income level).  The LBMOT is the former a larger mall in an affluent community and one that, if I recall correctly, I had not been to in at least 8 years.

The mall itself is a gleaming white edifice both inside and out laid out in classic "mall fashion": four anchor stores with two long corridors of two levels with occasional bridges crossing (this one had stores on the crossings; not all do) and the expected food court, movie theater, and arcade.  The white tile floors made to resemble marble clumped under my boots which, wearing one of the father's hats that says "TB Farms" with jeans and a plain blue T-shirt, completed my look of "Local Hick Escapes Back Country For A Ramble And Just Looks Awkward Trying".

I wended my way through the bottom floor and up one side and down the other, then took the elevator to top floor and did the same.  The mall was lightly attended - not surprising for a weekday afternoon - filled mostly with singles and small groups and some families either pushing carriages or shepherding small herds of children.  No annoying background music blared and (thankfully) no holiday decorations were up yet.

The mix of malls always has always fascinated me.  I remember the early malls of my youth being a real mix of different kinds of diverse retail outlets.  From what I know of the ones in New Home this is no longer the case, which was matched at the LBMOT:

- The bulk of the stores (60%?  I did not count - but the majority) were either clothing or shoe stores, high end brands or smaller "indie" brands that make people feel like they are both exclusive and rebelling against the system - for a price (Rest easy there, rebel.  I am sufficiently intimidated by your slightly acerbic attitude and generationally appropriate saying/picture on your shirt.).  

- The standard 4 to 6 jewelry stores/accessory stores, which, while tempting to sink my life's savings into a single item or more cheaply, to get my nose pierced with an accompanying nose ring to tie the ends of my moustache to (Take that, rebel). 

- 3 to 4 home goods stores of the higher end variety, which typically means "I should not touch anything lest I break it".   

- The ubiquitous Sportsball store where you, too, can spend hundreds of dollars supporting those making millions.  

- The odd unique or outlier - a build your own slime shop (no, really), a stuffed animal construction shop,  an alterations store (this was a real surprise - I have never seen one before), and an actual Hallmark Gold Crown shop (when was the last time I was in one of those?).  

- A smattering of snack stores - gelato, pretzels, the every present coffee store with the mermaid, the center aisle stand alone kiosks selling calendars/phones/jewelry/exotic scrub from far off lands whom I try to avoid making eye contact with lest I become engaged in a conversation about the importance of exfoliation.

- The small kid friendly zones that always make me smile if for no other reason than I remember bringing Na Clann here for the same thing (watching a little tyke stand as much as he could on a car ride that just went up and down made my day).  

In other words, American commercial culture at its finest.

Me being me of course, I cannot just "walk around" the mall without thinking and pondering.  In this case, thinking and pondering about what I saw and what it portended economically.

I can safely say that everything in that mall - every thing with perhaps the exception of generating my own personal colored slime - can be procured somewhere else.  Maybe not the precise item, but the type of item represented.  Clothes can be bought at stores of lesser heritage (and expense), online (which is where The Ravishing Mrs. TB gets most of hers) at one's local charity store, or even hand sewn.  And while I have to confess to a secret love of strolling through kitchen goods and home goods stores like Bob's Of Wine-land or Box and Cylinder (I love looking at kitchen gadgets and fancy foods and fancy coffee machines), I usually need none of those things or can purchase them far more cheaply somewhere else. (official shout-out for Lehman's, the home goods store for the rest of us).

In other words, there is precisely nothing I actually need there.  

But in large part this is our economy and at least in the West, our world.

We construct edifices that we fill with things that we then mark up said goods to sell and hire people to sell them so that we can generate "economic growth".  We work to acquire the funds to to acquire said things, then motor our way to and from said edifice to purchase the thing, to use it and then (often) to get rid of it so we can acquire other things. 

We have built an economy that requires us to buy things to remain economically viable.

Imagine - if you will - a world where spending was drastically curtailed.  Let us assume for the moment that it is not for any bad reason (highly unlikely, but go with it), but people came to some grand awakening.  The edifices close.  The people working in the edifice lose their jobs.  The people delivering things to the edifices lose their jobs.  The people make things for the edifices to sell - maybe they keep their jobs making things, but less than they used to (Who knows - do the personalized slime people make it?  I hope so.).  In our imaginary world, we have just created massive unemployment and a possible recession.  

Simply because everyone decided to no longer "consume" things.

To be clear, I am not against the concept of malls or high end stores or people enjoying themselves at them - for some, this is their form of leisure and if leisure prevents a mental breakdown without illegal practices, I am all for it.  Even I keep going back to Bob's of Wine-land to look at the gadgets and admire the fancy coffee machine I would never buy.  But what is foolish is the concept that somehow we have built an solid and stable economy on this, an economy that requires us to continue to spend - and spend big - to sustain it.  Much like riding the tiger, we may suddenly find out we have no option for escape except to let the tiger run itself to exhaustion, lest we be devoured.

On the bright side, if everyone is devoured, my fancy coffee machine may finally drop in price.