Mondays The Day After Funday

You know it’s a solid Monday when the last thing you get to do before bed is clean up the projectile vomit of your 15 year old bulimic cat. Which is apparently what I get to do tonight. Today was already a solid 1 on the Likert scale of days as I spent the last few hours of the day trying to both figure out how to reduce the load time of our landing page and entertain a four year old who needs attention. Now I get to go around to the 5 (FIVE!) piles of cat puke and clean them up, scraping the grooves in the wood flooring with my fingernails so that it comes out.

One thing I miss about the office (of the two things, free donuts being the other) is the more natural impulse to get up and leave the computer throughout the day. I’ve noticed that my eyes are shot and my head is tight and my body aches for the sweet release of death at the end of most days when I’ve done nothing but stare at the computer all day. In the office, at least there were meetings, mostly meaningless, but away from the desk at least. Now, meetings are still just staring at a computer 24 inches from your face. It begins to wear on you. I’m only a pretend manager too, not that many meetings, mostly because I refuse a bunch of them, so I have no idea how real managers do it, their entire day soaked up in Zoom.

At least today was warm. Seven days ago, I think the high was 12. Today it was close to 65. The difference between 65 and 12 for Texans is like the difference between Ann Richards and Ted Cruz. Don’t give me any shit, analogies are never perfect. So Wobbles and I went for a walk to the park which helped.

I’m not burned out from the work though that’s certainly some of it. I don’t even have to work that much. It’s the monotony mostly. The only thing that makes today different from tomorrow is the five piles of regurgitated Blue Mountain I’m putting off dealing with. Probably just jinxed tomorrow. Having a kid and trying to juggle work and her is more than most people imagine. Luckily, it looks like she’ll be going back to school in June which frankly can’t get here soon enough.

I’m reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird which is a treatise on writing. The book opens with a story about her brother who has had 3 months to write an essay about birds. It’s due tomorrow and he hasn’t started it and is at the table, weeping inconsolably at the despair of writing an essay on who knows how many birds in 12 hours. And his father sits down beside of him and answers the question of how this will get done: “Bird by bird buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

I think that’s sort of going to be my approach to the days ahead. I can sort of rationally see the end of the tunnel way off in the distance but it’s so faint that I have no proof it’s not a mirage. And the only way to get there is day by day. Reminds me of the old saying “how do you eat an elephant?” “One bite at a time.” Tasks that seem insurmountable are if you look at the totality. But reaching totality requires ten thousand tiny steps along the way, each mostly in the same direction. I think that’s the only way to make it through this crazy time. Speaking of eating an elephant, I’ve got some cat puke to clean up.

On Attention

In a wide ranging, often insightful, occasionally politically passive aggressive article, Craig Mod writes about how he got his attention back. It’s long and given the attention span of the Internet these days, chances are you didn’t even read it. Wow, speaking of passive aggressive. I digress. I do think it’s important piece that feels around the edges of what has gone wrong with our society, not just this year but beginning decades ago when we stopped paying attention to those things that weren’t immediate. He talks about the 2016 election as if it was a huge surprise, a geologic shift in the tectonic plates of our nation when in reality, it was the logical conclusion of our click-bait, always on, flood of misinformation economy. The fact that Donald Trump as President is a surprise to people shows how little we pay attention.

The information society has become machine scale. No longer can you pick up one paper and know approximately what is going on in your town or nation or world. Perhaps you never could but only those things that were actually important bubbled to the top. Now, false stories are spread at the click of a button and because the information landscape is so chaotic, we have no hope of performing the necessary validation ourselves. Any rebuttals are missed entirely because they don’t fit our world view. We live in echo chambers where people post and repost and tweet things that are demonstrably false but that fuel our moral outrage. They fit our world view and so have long and unjustified lives. Michael Tracey has been one of the few I’ve seen writing about this. The net effect is that we are actually less informed and we are less able to feel outrage when it is truly justified and necessary.

The current chaos is the natural progression of information flow. Fifty years ago, information was limited, slow and filtered. Now it has become unlimited, immediate and unfiltered. It is the difference between human scale and machine scale. We are uniquely unprepared to deal with it because the scale is so immense. We are driven by the reptilian feedback mechanisms to try and keep up which only results in anxiety and loss. Studies have shown that we check our phone 85 times a day on average. Let that sink in for a moment if you can. Of those 85 times, almost none of them are truly important. Perhaps none of them are. We have fully achieved the consumption society. We spend all day eating and drinking junk food while ingesting huge quantities of empty, sugary information. We live with attention deficits and nutritional deficits and financial deficits and physical deficits. Not only do we live with them but we actively pursue them with a zeal and a pride that when analyzed closely is at least mildly terrifying.

Of course, when you attempt to check out, people look at you like a Luddite. My aunt recently deleted her Facebook account. When someone does this, they are often accused of not wanting to hear about things they don’t agree with. But throughout recorded history, we have done fine not hearing about things we don’t agree with and also many of the things we do agree with. Those times were not more scary than the times we now live in when everyone is “informed”. People could think and act for themselves then. Now our opinions are given to us in a constant stream of media soundbites, many of them false or misguided, all of them driven by some bias we can’t verify. We are the most informed and yet uninformed generation.

The irony is that just when we need our collective attention most to sort through the chaos, we have precious little experience in it. Just like you must work hard physically for long periods of time to be strong enough to handle times of shock, our attention should be cultivated and exercised so that we can handle times of informational chaos. That is not the state we find ourselves in. We find ourselves on the informational couch, fat, lazy, hands covered in the Cheeto dust of informational nuggets of nothingness. At the very time when our President and media are actively making the media landscape more chaotic and warlike and we need to rise up and fight, we cannot walk up a flight of stairs to defend ourselves.

Of course, we find ourselves in this position because it is all so much easier. It is easier to buy something you can’t afford on a credit card. It is easier to buy a Big Mac than it is to make a decent meal at home. It is easier to sit on the couch than it is to go for a walk. It is easier to read Twitter than it is to create art. It is the path of least resistance and with few exceptions, we have gone down that path until we can hardly walk or stuff another calorie into our face or another byte into our head. Of course, with physical or nutritional deficit, we know we have failed. It is obvious all the time. But with attention deficit, there is no physical representation of our inability to focus, no out of breathness when we reach the top of a hill. And that is the most dangerous kind of debt, one you cannot see until it is too late.

Is there hope? There is always hope. The more people check out and return their focus to their families and the community and their local leaders, the more good it does. The collective effort of people doing small things for people who matter to them will change more than any consumption of information ever will. A key quote from Mod’s article:

There is a qualitative and quantitative difference between a day that begins with a little exercise, a book, meditation, a good meal, a thoughtful walk, and the start of a day that begins with a smartphone in bed.

Or a smartphone at any time. Gathering our attention back in, refusing to parcel it out to whatever outrage happened today, using it to actually do something, those things create quality. Perhaps slowly, over time and with great effort, we can regain our attention. That would be the greatest success of all.

Friday Morning Ramblings

For Christmas, I received Desert Solitaire which is a tale of one man in the American West, specifically the desert region of southern Utah around Moab and the Arches National Park. Abbey writes beautifully of the desert and of the wilderness in general which he was afraid was becoming urbanized and lost. His tales of adventures like rafting down the Colorado river in two inflatable dinghies with a friend, sans any life jackets, just so they could see Glen Canyon before Lake Powell was built reminds me of John Graves Goodbye To A River which I read last year. The poignancy of Graves is contrasted with an almost militancy of Abbey who rails against the loss of a wilderness once haunted only by Native Americans and wildlife. Abbey’s works later became the basis for many environmental anarchists which is unsurprising. He quotes Bakunin, the great Russian anarchist, in one place in the book so I assume he must have read and probably approved of the philosophy in many ways. The intrusion of the state into what once was pristine wilderness was a theme of both Graves and Abbey, each in their own way. Bakunin wrote (slightly paraphrased) that “sometimes creation can only be achieved through destruction. Therefore, the passion for destruction is also a creative passion.”

On its face, this seems illogical but is in fact how the natural world and in theory the capitalistic world operates. Only through destruction of the weak as well as the unlucky can things evolve. The flash flood that roars down a dry arroyo sweeps away much but allows nature to regenerate and change in ways a central planner could never even conceive of. In the same way, when a business fails, it opens a hole in the ecosystem for a better or more appropriate business. Of course, the mule deer fawn unlucky enough to be born in that arroyo is destroyed as well when he cannot outrun the flood, a incident of bad luck unrelated to fitness. This is the concept that we as conscious feeling humans cannot bear. However, our inclination to save all things is carried to far when we save those things that are irreparable or fundamentally flawed. We “save” things that should be dead. This is evident in all aspects of our life from our artificial struggles to extend life at its boundaries, our bailing out of banks that should be tits up, our desire to keep wildfires from the forest and so many other examples. Our drive to protect from events like a flash flood or a forest fire or a global financial melt down causes us to only postpone and worsen the event when it happens. This is proven over and over again. This central planning eventually fails, in all cases. In theory, our federation of states protects us as a country from this but over time, our states have become more bureaucratic and our central government has become more powerful especially financially and militarily.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes of this failure in central planning a great deal in Antifragile. Bureaucracies are like black holes unfortunately, in that they eventually achieve their own gravity, sucking in the galaxies that surround them. Without constant involvement and care, our governments become larger and larger because people have a natural inclination to “do things” when oftentimes doing nothing would be the right choice. This makes me think of code and the effort required to keep it running and error free. As we become more distracted and riddled with our own problems, we do not have the capability to devote to keeping our civilization and government under control. In the same way that invariably we eventually throw something away and replace it with something new, our liberal democracy will eventually be thrown away because we did not invest the required effort to keep it running. This seems unlikely, possibly even impossible, in a country that has not had a revolution in 150 years. But it is the nature of the world and we are part of the world. Without regular care and pruning and hard choices that none of our current mass of politicians and their cushy jobs for life can manage, liberal democracy will go away. We see this happening at the edges now and ignore it at our peril.

As we continue to grow the throw away society that we currently operate under, it only becomes more and more ingrained that fixing things is an outdated idea for the dustbin of history. Already, self-reliance is almost unheard of (though in some urban settings there is a resurgence of things like gardens and chickens which is promising until the city you live in decides to outlaw the practices). Our debt fueled society and world is already beginning to groan under the weight as growth slows down. We tell kids to get a college education, any college education, at any cost, student loans can be worried about later and then wonder why they can’t spend money in our consumerist society even if they are lucky enough to get a job. We give people larger and larger portions of increasingly crappy food and wonder why we have a health crisis blowing up. We have a pill for everything, the easy way out instead of the hard way. Our lives of comfort leak into everything that affects us and we often unquestioningly choose that which is easy or that which seems protective, forgetting that it is through hardship and struggle and even destruction (or the removal of something) that causes growth.

Is all of this so much “Hey you kids get off my lawn!” or the age old complaint by your grandparents that you never had it so easy? To some degree, perhaps. But we know that when we go longer than we should without some form of destruction or deprivation, the resulting event that nature wreaks on us is larger and more painful. Turns out three meals a day for life probably isn’t good for you, any more than giving trillions of dollars to the four largest banks so that they could continue to leech off our blood was. Without destruction, there can be no creation. They are opposite sides of the same coin, one that we have flipped in our society and forced it to come up heads for too long. When it finally lands on tails, it will be too heavy for us to pay what’s due.

There is a beautiful sunrise out my eastern kitchen window. The way light is morphed into so many colors is fascinating. I took a half day off Wednesday and we went to see Monet: The Early Years at the Kimball. He was a master at studying and recreating the effects of light in a way that if you look closely turns to painted gibberish. I wonder how many of our artists today study and reflect on light in the way the Impressionists did. I wish that my view wasn’t obstructed by power lines and neighbors trees and houses. A sunrise like this on the prairie or mountains would be truly magnificent. Still, the light changing from pinks to orange with light blues interspersed and streaked between is wonderful.

Weekend Activities

We are now T-minus 11 days and counting until mini-me makes an appearance. We know this because yesterday we picked a delivery date which is a little like picking a date to burn down your house or to marry a schizophrenic. Typically these things just kind of happen and at least you have the benefit of the surprise. Here, we know full well when life is going to CHANGE in a capital sort of way. Before all the natural birther types in the audience start sending me hate mail, this isn’t a lifestyle choice unless you consider crazy high blood pressure and possible seizures a lifestyle choice. There are extenuating circumstances that require us to bring the demon child future Bambi killer sweet angel into the world. Because we are sympathetic to the natural birth strategy (we did spend every Tuesday night for 8 weeks going to a Bradley birthing class, for heaven’s sake), efforts are underway to avoid or at least mitigate some of the modern miracles of birth science whereupon you show up to the hospital and they convince the previously unwilling uterus of the expectant mother to decide Man actually does know better than Mother Nature using drugs like Pitocin which your natural birthing Bradley teacher thinks is somewhere on the scale of Mexican tar heroin in the drug universe. Some of the aforementioned efforts at convincing said uterus to naturally decide it’s time include borage oil (don’t ask, I didn’t), acupuncture, foot massage and a witch doctor dance we learned down on Elm Street in Deep Ellum one night. I kid. Only partially.

All that is the long way to say life changes are coming so the final todo list is underway. Today’s activities included mowing the jungle and planting two peach trees that had been purchased several weeks ago on a half price sale. The yard was a jungle because I made the mistake of fertilizing two weeks ago right before it rained 3 feet and apparently fertilizer makes grass grow. A lot. Who knew. I did not fertilize last year because I don’t actually like to mow the 8000 acres any more than is necessary according to city code. This year, I guess I looked in the future and thought “Mowing is probably way better than changing a diaper”. Concerning the peach trees, for several weeks in April and May, I had regularly monitored the prices of fruit trees at Lowe’s and Home Depot, knowing that they always had too many trees and that they would have to put them on a half price sale at some point once the hellish temperatures of North Texas became imminent. And they did, right on cue so I picked up two peach trees, a La Feliciana and a June Gold. I’m pretty sure this happened May 14th which by any basic calculations is a month ago. However, it takes me at least two weeks to finish any project so the pressure of a living creature like a peach tree meant it took four weeks to decide where to plant them. Finally I did. Today. So they are out on the edge of the property because peach trees are only pretty about two months out of the year and there is a city owned lot that direction that regularly imitates the Amazon rain forest in growth characteristics. Perhaps the trees will block the view a bit. The June Gold is planted nearest the street which is only mentioned so that I can remember next year when I wonder which is which.

The other main Saturday activity was taking a box of magazines to the library to donate. The funny story behind that is that last year some time, M got a form letter from Delta Airlines saying that she had X number of miles that were about to expire and they weren’t really enough to fly from Dallas to even Fort Worth so maybe she’d like to spend them on some magazine subscriptions. Because we are readers and also because we are idiots, we thought that was a fantastic idea. While we did not have enough points to take a Greyhound to the airport, we did have enough for 5 magazine subscriptions. Note, we already had 3 or 4 magazine subscriptions including Garden & Gun which I love but haven’t read lately (like 4 months) because we have a hoarder’s stack of other magazines to read and Kiplinger’s which is perfect bathroom reading because nothing in it requires any focus. This story reminds of the days of Columbia Music House where you went through the catalog picking out the 12 free albums plus the three bonus albums for a penny more. Probably not worth retelling that one. I’m sure you have had the same experience. So we picked out five subscriptions. While I cautioned strongly against any weekly rags, both Time and the Economist were chosen along with Fortune, Vogue and Western Horseman. One of these things is not like the others. I’ll give you a few minutes to work out which one. However, that one (assuming Western Horseman is the one you chose as the black sheep) is the only one that regularly gets read cover to cover. If I can’t live on a ranch in Montana, I can live vicariously through those who do. Time never gets read and the Economist only barely. Frankly, the pressure of even getting the Economist, knowing the postman delivers it probably thinking someone important lives here, is more than I can stand. It haunts me. I have dreams about throwing away unread issues. There are probably 6 Vogues still in the wrapper and Fortune turns out to be worse than Kiplinger’s when it comes to useless advice. At least Kiplinger’s actually analyzes stocks and stuff.

So right off we knew we had to atone for the small Asian rain forest that was being sacrificed monthly to deliver magazines to our house. I found out that the library took donations and started boxing up the hoarder’s paradise. I envisioned small unfortunate children without the ability to ruin their lives with magazines from Delta finding the Economist and resolving to change the world. The library probably throws them away since it’s a British magazine and we live in Texas. I digress. M said 3 months ago when she was still mobile that she would take the box on Tuesday to the library. I think this may have been in early April only slightly before I bought two peach trees. This morning, as I sat on the couch trying to write code, Picasso the cat started staring intently at the box which always means he is either about to poop or there is an insect close by. Based on the sounds in the box, I knew it was the latter. So once it got light, I dumped the box out on the front step, killed the small baby Kafka-like creature that was stuck in the box and put the box near the back door to take to the library post haste. I traded seven thousand magazines for This Side of Paradise which is what I assume life is about to be about. What side that is, I have no idea.

All this and it’s only Saturday. Maybe tomorrow I’ll cure cancer. Or perhaps even finish the sprinkler project I started three weeks ago. We all need goals.

On Regularity and Bill Simmons

It’s been over two months since I’ve written anything in this space which is exactly NOT how to begin an essay but hopefully you’ll bear with me for a bit. As a closet neurotic, though some might think the door has been yanked off the hinges, one of the habits I am intimately acquainted with is of self-improvement through habit. We all have these nebulous ambitions of “doing something better” but without the necessary habit of actually doing those things, we tend to revert to our natural inertia of laziness and cookie consumption. One of the great analogies for this problem is The Rider and The Elephant where our conscious mind is represented by a tiny rider on top of an elephant and our unconscious reptilian cookie loving mind is represented by a huge elephant with the power to go where he wants. The key to change is managing those two entities in ways particular to each. Often, a component of that change is the replacement of inertia with habit which is something I firmly believe in. Discipline before mastery and all that.

But those things aren’t what interests me today. Instead I’m fascinated by the modern phenomenon of people who have some habit, particularly of writing, and turn that into a career. Pre-Internet, if you wrote in a journal every day, you were either a author or a teenage girl, the Venn diagram of those two groups being quite similar. Today, writing on a blog every day can turn you into a media empire assuming you have the requisite audience for your voice. I think about this because it became public two weeks ago that Bill Simmons will no longer be writing anything for ESPN. For those unfamiliar with the Simmons canon, he started writing a sports blog about 20 years go when the Internet was still largely driven by AOL CDs and flamewar chat rooms. He wrote about Boston sports and developed a big enough audience that ESPN hired him. Think about that for a second. He was writing a blog before blogs were really a thing and he did it so often and with enough interest that ESPN hired him. If you enjoy sports and writing, surely that’s a dream job, one you effectively created by perseverance and talent.

From the lowly Page 2 where ESPN originally put their edgy, non-mainstream voices back in the day up to running Grantland where they put their edgy, non-mainstream voices today, Simmons became a power house at ESPN all the while writing and podcasting in a very similar manner to how he started. If you read a post of his from 2000 and one from today, they are remarkably similar. Along the way he also created and spearheaded 30 for 30 which is one of the best things ESPN has ever done. Oh and did I mention he makes around $5 million a year? It’s not too much of a stretch to say he turned a blog into a career worth $5 million a year. This is our modern day Sam Walton.

There are others who have done the same thing. Ree Drummond comes quickly to mind as someone who took a blog and turned it into a wildly popular media career. There are likely others I’m unaware of. Partly, this is winning at the internet lottery. There are probably thousands of other regular writers out there in internet land who are just as entertaining who never even rise above the level of “the friends and family audience” which can be rewarding but usually not in the same way $5 million is rewarding. In my long and storied internet surfing career, I have read some very funny or poignant or whatever else interests me writers who never started working for the Food Network or running an entire division at ESPN. Part of it has to be luck and fortune and rubbing the right Buddha’s belly.

But I can think of zero writers without that passion and perseverance and habit who went on to work at ESPN. The only way to find your voice and thus your audience is to write, though voice and audience are not linearly related unless you are James Joyce. Simmons cranked out 3000 word articles and essays at an insane pace. This was partly due to his apparent chronic case of diarrhea of the pen, an affliction I regularly share and one that never really abated even with the strong antibiotics administered by the masters at ESPN. But even that works in the favor of today’s aspiring Simmons clones because you can always turn more words into fewer words with some decent editing. Rarely can you do the opposite. He once wrote 2500+ words about the power of E-Bay for God’s sake.

When you look at the ascent of writers like Simmons or Drummond, it’s important to see the interaction between the author and the audience. One of Simmons’ ongoing article themes is the mail bag where he answers emails from actual readers. This is a genius way to expand an audience because everyone likes to see their name in lights, even if it’s the lights of a no name blog in a dusty corner of the internet. And if it’s on the front page of Grantland, well that’s icing on the cake. Very few artists can ignore the audience entirely and more often than not, it’s a symbiotic relationship not unlike a theater performer. Today’s blog writer gets immediate feedback with all the pros and cons that come along with it. Immediately knowing that you’ve hit a chord with your audience is invaluable if you are building a marketing platform.

One of the keys to building an audience beyond the obvious ability to say some thing interesting is regular content. An essay a month probably isn’t going to cut it unless you are Gore Vidal. Of course, not all of the output needs to be for public consumption. Most writers have a journal for ideas, experimentation and basic brain dumps. But if you want to move out of the dusty corner of the internet you currently live in, you need to write more. Simmons wrote a weekly NFL column for years that made an attempt to pick the winners of that week’s games. I faithfully read Simmons’ NFL picks essay every week for years. That kind of regularity does two things. One, it builds anticipation in your audience. If your readers know they can count on an interesting piece on a topic they enjoy every X number of days, you are going to be far more successful. Two, it creates a habit, one that gets harder to break as it happens more and more often. These two things feed off each other in a very positive way.

It seems that regularity is good for the bowel and for the budding artistic career. Maybe next month’s post can examine how to make that possible. PS. You now have the ability to sign up for notifications when I actually do write something. If you’ve liked my stuff in the past, feel free to sign up in the column over there on the right. Oh and tell you friends I’m hilarious. I’ll try not to disappoint you too terribly.

On Understanding Currency Wars

Imagine if you will the following scenario: Nigel lives in the Land of People with Below Average Dental Hygiene (LOPWBADH). Bob lives in a neighboring country, the Land of Guns and Large Border Fences (LOGALBF). Both Nigel and Bob own dairies. Nigel makes exceptionally good clotted cream in his dairy while Bob makes organic grass fed butter in his. Both men sell their products domestically as well as internationally. In Nigel’s country, the method of monetary exchange is the crumpet. He sells one pound of clotted cream for one crumpet. In Bob’s country, it’s the waffle and he sells a pound of butter for one waffle. One of the most interesting things about each man’s country is that there are a strictly defined number of crumpets and waffles respectively. In fact, there are only 10 crumpets in all of Nigel’s country and 10 waffles in all of Bob’s (yes, this greatly restricts the number of anything that gets sold in the country but bear with me).

The beneficent governments of the two lands have a set exchange rate for crumpets and waffles of one to one. When someone travels from either land to the other, they can exchange their respective pastry currency easily. Exports of all goods are stable. Both countries are strong. But one day, the winds of change come to Bob’s LOGALBF and the local economy takes a turn for the worse. A recession happens. A few people lose their jobs. And suddenly, Bob isn’t selling as much organic butter as he once was. Bob has a friend, Carl, in the government who sits on the Committee For Using Waffles As Currency and Bob hatches a plan. He knows that his fellow LOGALBFers will not be able to buy much fancy organic butter because they are struggling to get by. However, he knows that there is still demand for fancy butter in the LOPWBADH and that demand could increase if only they could buy more of his butter somehow. Bob goes to Carl and explains that if there were only a few more waffles around, he could sell more butter to people in Nigel’s country. If the supply of waffles doubled to 20, people with 1 crumpet could buy twice as much butter as they could before. Carl, being a good protective friend, agrees and whips up 10 more waffles. Butter exports to LOPWBADH go up and everyone is happy.

Well, not everyone. Nigel won’t be very happy because his clotted cream is now a lot more expensive to people in Bob’s country after the waffle increase. This is because waffles are now worth half as much and people in LOGALBF won’t buy as much clotted cream because it costs more. If Nigel has a friend that controls the quantity of crumpets, he might try to get more crumpets created to level out the playing field again. This in turn might cause LOGALBF to create more waffles and everyone ends up in a pastry/currency war in a race to the bottom.

This fanciful story leaves out a bunch of details in order to show what can happen when countries start devaluing their currencies in an effort to jump start their economies. The result is a currency war where every country tries to devalue their currency to increase exports. This essentially steals growth from neighboring countries whose currencies are stronger. The most recent currency war in history happened in the 60s and 70s culminating in the Nixon Shock when President Nixon effectively took the dollar off the gold standard in an attempt to jump start the American economy.

Like most political moves, the drive to devalue a national currency is always the expedient decision but rarely the best long term solution. There is a floor to how much devaluation can occur before a break down in confidence in the currency starts to happen. When Germany went off the gold standard at the beginning of WWI to make it easier to pay for the costs of the war, the result was a hyperinflation 8 years later that resulted in an entirely new currency being created.

Lots of smart people think we’re in a currency war now. Even though the dollar has strengthened of late, the long term goals of the Fed are aimed at a cheaper dollar with their QE and QE2 and other fancy new tricks at increasing liquidity. The problem is, none of those tricks have made much of a difference except to the rich who own stock (see the last chart on that page). We are stumbling towards another crash because none of the problems that brought us the last two have been fixed. We still have massive banks playing with taxpayer money and zero down side risk (because we’ll just bail them out again). The more we debase our currency, the longer we kick the can down the road but eventually, there is a wall at the end where we can’t kick it any farther. Until we have an economy focused on the middle class again, something we haven’t had in 20 years, we’ll continue to stumble along from crash to bubble to crash.

The Blood Moon and Inflation

Last night at around 3 AM I watched the blood moon eclipse from the backyard. It was a fascinating experience that felt primal as if I were living 400 years earlier when an occurrence of a total eclipse would have been something people revered or even feared. Watching the moon go dark would have been a form of entertainment, one seemingly simple in our environment of constant entertainment. It was a clear night last night, perfect for star gazing. The coyotes were prowling off in the distance and twice became quite vocal. The hunting was probably good for the predators last night even with the moon eclipsed as it was very bright. At about 2 AM, when the moon in three quarter eclipse, a night bird flew over my head at about 10 feet. He made no noise and was above me and gone almost before it registered. It reminded me of the scene in The Orchard Keeper when the owl claims the cat.

I thought about the interaction of the earth’s and moon’s movements last night. My mental model still isn’t right for the seasonal changes of the earth but I think I have a good idea how the earth’s rotation and revolution affect things like lunar eclipses. It’s quiet at 3 AM (at least when you view the eclipse alone, apparently some friends had their kids up and it was more like a slumber party) and easy to think. With the chill, there weren’t any bugs to worry about and it was a peaceful event.

Speaking of chill, Mother Nature again decided to mock global warming by sending a cold front with freezing temperatures into the area well past average freeze date. Lows were right at 32 though likely colder out in the more rural areas including our house beyond the concrete jungle. We covered all the sensitive veggies last night with an assortment of tools. They will remain covered into tomorrow as the temps are near 35 tomorrow night as well. The squash and tomatoes were just starting to really dig in and grow. Hopefully, this will not be a significant setback.

Prices of meats, poultry, fish and eggs rose 4 percent in February compared to a year earlier but of course, the government says there’s no inflation in the Consumer Price Index. Thankfully, chocolate chip cookies and sugar are both down over 7%, a sign of our misguided nutritional system. We don’t worry too much about those silly volatile items like food and energy even though those are the prices the poor and middle class are most affected by. It’s yet another way the oligarchy becomes more powerful. Prices are affected by the ongoing widespread drought along with a virus that is killing piglets on farms across the country. The drought isn’t something within our control but of course, our increasingly industrialized modern farming system easily could be exacerbating a swine epidemic. Pigs are raised on often inhumane environments and an outbreak could metastasize. Because it’s a virus, our normal procedures of throwing antibiotics at the problem will be ineffective. Just one more way modern agriculture weakens our food supply. Too much sameness and efficiency results in fragility and susceptibility to black swan events. Our confidence in our own ability to circumvent Mother Nature on a large scale leads to greater problems. Perhaps the blood moon will signify the return of the rain gods and lessen the drought in a meaningful way.

Consistency Is Hard

One thing I’ve learned from trying to write every day for 40 odd days is that it’s very hard to do. Even if you aren’t particularly worried about quality (and it’s clear I’m not), doing anything other than eating and breathing for 40 days in a row is difficult. Other things get in the way on a regular basis and the necessary commitment wanes over time leaving you wondering what in the hell you were thinking about when you made the commitment in the first place. Also, I could have sworn commitment had two t’s.

Apparently Mother Nature is pissed and is sending a cold front this direction late in the season for the second year in a row. Last year we had a freeze in April. This year, it’s going to be close but looks like we’ll miss freezing temps on Tuesday morning though there is a frost alert. I’m going to have to get out tomorrow or Monday and cover everything with plastic. I guess the constant stress might be good for the plants, makes them stronger but I’d prefer to not have to deal with it.

One thing commitment teaches you is that in order to be committed (now it has two t’s), you have to give up other things. My reading list is growing and I keep adding books to my Amazon wishlist with the full intent but zero time to read them. On top of that, I have to get a Kentucky Derby pool built in The Sports Pool Hub before May. It’s the work thing that really takes up so much time. I need to just retire. Alas, that probably isn’t happening any time soon.