Tuesday, November 30, 2021

"It is pay-back time" Fiction

Nancy's face glared out of the video screen; frozen into a stone-like grimace by far too many Botox injections.

"We did everything we could for you. Now it is pay-back time" her voice as dry and gravely as a sidewinder's belly scraping across wind-polished, Mojave gravel.

She paused letting it sink in.

"We pressured City Halls and State Capitals to give you Election Day off as a paid holiday" she said to the assembled public-sector employees and retirees.

"We said it was so you could exercise your right to vote. But in fact, we did it so you could make sure the right candidates win" Nancy said.

People who were not in-the-know always marveled at how smoothly elections ran. For an event that happened once every two years it was incredibly smoothly orchestrated and everybody seemed to know how to swing with their partner.

It was no accident. Most election workers worked together every working day down at City Hall. Same chain-of-command. Same smoking breaks. Same person went out to Tim Hortons for coffee and donuts. The only difference was the address they showed up at in the morning.

"I shouldn't need to tell you how important THIS election is" Nancy hissed as her dentures hitched forward in her mouth.

"Chicago and Illinois are going to hit-the-wall in the next cycle. Pensions will be nullified if the God-damned Republicans are in the majority."

"Our best estimate is that we will be able to salvage twenty-cents-on-the-dollar because of our strength in the Illinois Statehouse. That means that your $3000 a month pension will become $600 a month. You will not be able to make your house-payments or even be able to pay your property taxes with that" Nancy reminded them.

There was a collective gasp as many of the seniors inhaled.

"It gets worse" Nancy drilled in relentlessly.

"Retirees who retired before age 66 will have to pay their own health insurance premiums. That will be at least $22,000 a year for a couple" Nancy said. Some of the retirees were 48 years-old. They would not be eligible for Medicare for another 18 years.

"Whatever happens to Chicago and to Illinois will be the template. It will be the precedent and everything that happens in Chicago and Illinois will happen to YOU. Maybe not next year. Maybe not in five years. But I guarantee that it will happen to most of you while you are still alive."

"The stakes have never been higher."

Some in the audience started sobbing. They lived in a NICE neighborhood. Their friends lived there too. And they had a house in Florida and they would have to give that up, too.

They knew about Medicaid. They knew that their very good, very UNDERSTANDING doctor did not take Medicaid. They would have to go to clinics and get their medical care from the same doctors that POOR people were forced to go to.

"It is pay-back time" Nancy hammered. "We need to have Democrats win from the top of the ticket to the bottom.

"It is pay-back time. Your job is to make sure the right candidates win. Whatever it takes."

Low visibility agriculture (continued)

Sidebar 1: The Inca empire of South America did not have money or currency. Taxes were paid as labor or as merchandise such as agricultural produce. One tribe was so poor that that the Incas levied a tax where they were required to pay a certain number of dead fleas every year.

Sidebar 2: According to R.A. Oliver in his book The African Middle Ages, 1400-1800 the expansion of the Asante Empire was primarily fueled non-native inputs like horses and firearms which were paid for by captives (sold for slaves), gold and diamonds.

Neither horses or firearms were "durable" in the climate of Benin, Togo, Ghana and Nigeria. That region had no indigenous, large, traction animals due to endemic diseases. Horses did not last long. Firearms firing corrosive black-powder soon had their touch-holes rusted shut in the oppressive heat and humidity.

A secondary factor that fueled the expansion of the Asante Empire was the primary agricultural model shifted from slash-and-burn (academics prefer the term 'midden') agriculture with cassava, yams and plantain as the primary crops to heavy-hoe/grain (primarily sorghum) as a crop.

Oliver observes that it is difficult to overestimate the impact grain has on warfare as no other food is as compact, as transportable and as non-perishable as grain. Can you imagine trying to wage war if your only source of food was turnips or sweet potatoes (especially if you had no draft animals)?

History can teach us much if we pay attention.

One of the advantages that potatoes had for the poor Irish was that, unlike a field of barley, potatoes were not damaged by a party of fox hunters or soldiers riding horses over the field.

Raiders and looters are looking for grab-and-go food. Foods that need to be dug are at the bottom of their list. Foods that are 80%-to-90% water are at the bottom of their list.

Corn and wheat fields are instantly recognizable. Potatoes, turnips, carrots and the like are much less recognizable (especially if there are a few weeds in the field) and require that the raiders be much closer before recognizing what they are.

Theft as a tax

If you think about theft as a tax, then it changes your mindset to determining ways to minimize the tax.

Is a small amount of petty larceny, like neighbor kids lifting a few watermelons every summer, the lowest tax?

Is paying "protection money" to local strongmen the lowest tax? It might be if they enforce their monopoly and suppress vandals, raiders and outsiders.

Is dedicating 30% of your workforce to guarding the fields the lowest tax? It might be if you have a bunch of old men who are otherwise unsuited to field work.

Offer value-added alternatives

This is a little bit out-of-the-box and may sound naive, but what if you offered to cook and serve the hungry boys (the raiders) a mess of cheese omelets and hash-browns in exchange for leaving your chickens and milch animals alone? It could even be a standing offer: Any time the raiders swing by they get a discount on breakfast, much like cops get free donuts.

"But they will eat everything I have!" you protest.

I suspect that if you tell the "boys" that you are running short of firewood, they will gladly "find" some while you are mixing up and cooking their omelets or flap-jacks. In a similar way, if you start running low on food, if you whisper into the ear of the leader, they will bring food to supplement what you are cooking for them.

That might be at odds with their standing orders but HQ does not need to know about everything that goes out in the field.

There are other value-added propositions. Can you brew anything resembling beer out of native materials? As long as you accept that (heavy) taxes are inevitable, then your farm/craft center will become a destination for grain and food resources instead of a net exporter of them.

Atrocities will undoubtedly happen, but not as ubiquitously as the entertainment industry would have you think. Mass slaughter makes for good entertainment but very bad economics.

Fine Art Tuesday


The Message
Edward Lamson Henry born in 1841 in Charleston, South Carolina. Died 1919.

E.L. Henry's parents died when he was seven. He grew up in New York and Pennsylvania.

E.L. Henry is notable for capturing his sense-of-humor in his paintings and the empathy he shows for rural life. Unlike many contemporaries, he includes Negros (to use the term of his day) in his paintings.

Kept In

The New Woman

Barnyard in Pennsylvania

Country Breakfast

Monday, November 29, 2021

Heuristic: Enough

The roughly dressed man stood in the doorway, wringing and kneading his battered cap. Mrs Marfy recognized him as the foreman at the Brewery where Paddy worked.

"Mrs Marfy, it is my sad duty to inform you that Paddy died at the Brewery today."

"What happen't?" Mrs Marfy asked.

"Paddy fell in the vat and drown't" the foreman said, sadly.

"Was it quick?" Mrs Marfy asked.

"I'm afraid not" the foreman said, regretfully. "He climbed out three times to use the men's room."

I am not getting much love from my laptop. The essay I wrote in LibreOffice will not open so you get a slap-dash version of it.

Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin wrote a book titled Your Money or Your Life. It had its day in the sun and folks moved on.

Dominguez makes the point that Prospect Theory is wrong.

Prospect Theory suggests that the joy of a gain has a singularity around zero and then the joy increases monotonically as the gain increases. Further, Prospect Theory holds out that each increase in gain is subject to diminishing returns but it always inches upward. 

Dominguez contends that the joy/gain curve is shaped like an upside-down "U". It goes up rapidly at the start just as Prospect Theory contends. It has a broad, almost-flat region (Dominguez calls this almost-flat region "Enough"). But then the joy starts to drop downward when total gain is more than "Enough".

Occam's razor

While there are many cases like poor Paddy Marfy like the man dying of thirst in the desert who prays for rain and drowns in a flash flood, those cases are one-ofs. Occam's Razor demands a single unifying mechanism even if it is not as dramatic as Mr Marfy heroically climbing out of the vat the third time.

That single unifying mechanism is that every person has a limited number of hours in their life. The hours and dollars (money is a proxy for the hours of our life) that are expended seeking MORE of something beyond "enough" are robbed from other facets of our life where we are lacking.

In aggregate, we are sub-optimizing when we hyper-focus on one narrow facet of our lives. More money, for instance, cannot fix rotten arteries, a lazy mind or a defective character.

Consider firearms. A first gun might be a single-shot, full-choke shotgun. The owner might be happy to keep 8-of-10 shots on a paper plate at 35 yards. Lets call that 30 MOA.

The next weapon the newbie buys might be capable of hitting a playing card 8-times-of-10 at a hundred yards. Lets call that a 3 MOA firearm.

Then the shooter wants one that is a 1MOA firearm at 100 yards. Then a 1/2MOA rifle. Then a 1/2MOA at 200 yards and so on.

The first gun was $50 at an auction sale. The second was $300 and every rifle and associated hardware was 5X more than the previous.

With me so far?

If the shooter's needs were to shoot bunnies in the cabbage patch, raccoons in the chicken coop and to pot an occasional deer on his five acres...the first gun was probably "enough".

How did we get trapped?

We were trapped into this thinking by the simplest of classical conditioning. Going from Not-Good-Enough to Better-but-not-enough tickles our pleasure centers. Tickle those pleasure centers enough times and gains will continue to do so even after "enough" is passed.

How to get un-trapped

Make decisions consciously. Maybe your life doesn't shower you with joy. Racing past "enough" in one or two facets of your life might be totally rational.

On the other hand, reaching for more may be habit. Slow down. Ask "What is the best use of my next hour or next $20?"

NOTE: Computer still locking up. Hence the lack of pictures.

St John's Wort: Herb of the Week


St John's Wort (aka Hypericum perforatum) is a plant that has been documented as having properties similar to Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors used for the treatment of anxiety and depression.

Unfortunately, St John's Wort also comes with the drawbacks of the first generation SSRIs. For one thing, it takes several weeks before the brain chemistry stabilizes and full effects are in place. That makes dosing adjustments a slow process. Further, it means that the side-effects associated with starting a medicine (sleepiness, changes in appetite) are drawn out.

The reason I front-loaded the few herbs that have effect against depression and anxiety is that if things go sideways half of the population could be incapacitated by depression. People who were raised to be empathetic and "sensitive", people who are "traumatized" when they saw robins feed their nestlings earthworms will see actual humans die, sometimes in very ugly ways.

For the record, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), one of the Omega-3 oils found in fish oil has also been documented as being an anti-depressant. While oily, ocean fish might be difficult for most people to acquire linseed (flax seed) oil is rich in ALA another Omega-3 oil and about 10% of ALA is metabolized to EPA in the human body. So it is reasonable to assume that imbibing flax-seed oil MIGHT have antidepressant effects. Milled flax seeds are also an option but one must be mindful that linseed oil is perishable and very prone to oxidizing.

Point being, folks will have to make-do with what is available even if it is not considered a top-shelf drug in a modern, functioning, first-world country.

St John's Wort is available as seed or small plants from all of the usual suspects.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Notice to readers

I upgraded to Windows 11 today.

It is buggy.

My cursor disappears when I move it around the page. I can see typos, misspellings and grammatical monsters and I cannot highlight and fix them.

So be forewarned. The posts over the next few days will be...odd.

Your patience is appreciated.

Bitcoin, Beanie Babies and Pokemon Cards

One of the most prescient things I ever read was somebody pointing out that Beanie Babies were not inherently "collectable" because they were made of materials that did not age well.

At the height of the mania, grannies and pre-teens were planning to make a killing on Beanie Babies because they were guaranteed to double in price every year. Who was making that guarantee and how they intended to backstop that guarantee was never made clear to me.

Pokemon cards were worse. How hard can it be to counterfeit a printed piece of cardboard? And cardboard is not the most durable material in the world, either.

I look at cyber-currencies and cannot help but wonder, how are they any different than the digital equivalent of Beanie Babies or Pokemon Cards.

I have no intention of investing in cyber-currencies. There are too many other useful items I can invest it....items I understand and know how to use.