Archive for November, 2008

Saving a little money

2008/11/23

Now that folks are starting to realize that it is not just them, we are all broke, maybe we can start changing some wasteful practices.  Such as paying one set of people to take care of our elders, and another set of people to take care of our children.  Both functions were part of the family experience up until about 60 years ago, the elders taking care of the children, teaching them culture, history, manners, and social skills, until the children were old enough to start taking care of the elders, when they became infirm.  Today, we seperate these two groups, so that many young children never get to know really old people, and our elders pining their days away wishing that they could spend time with children,  Any children.

Many of the people who have been placed in assisted living or nursing facilities are alert, active, and interested in what is going on around them, they simply are in need of care which family members can’t, or won’t, provide.  They are capable of spending an hour or two a few days a week helping to watch over a group of children.  Not by themselves, of course, but with the assistance of young, able bodied people.  And not in the common room of the facility catering to the elders, but in a special, home-like setting, perhaps not even on the same grounds.  Elders could be compensated for their time, and the proceeds used to help defray the cost of their care.

Somehow, a way should be found to utilize the free time, culutural knowledge, and historical background of our elders in socializing our youth.  Very young children love to please elderly people, and elderly people love to spend time with very young children.  When these two populations are allowed to interact, the results are often far more positive than when either interacts with any other age group.  It is a waste to keep them segregated.

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I’m so confused!

2008/11/23

Here in the United States, we use a celebration of Death to kick of the celebration of Life.  What am I talking about?  Thanksgiving and the Christmas Shopping Season.  Although Thanksgiving is dedicated to the Pilgrams landing at Plymouth Rock, it is really a harvest celebration, just a little late in the year.  (I for one never believed that people ate outside at Thanksgiving ever! Especially in Massachuesetts.)  The roast beast, the trimmings, the goodies, the pies, the whole production is a celebration of the bounty of the land, and the sacrifice made so that Life can go on.  Everything on the table will be dead, and that is what the celebration is all about.  We give thanks to that which has died so that we can continue.

Unless you live in some place without electricity, you will probably notice that the sky glows at night a lot more than usual in the days after Thanksgiving.  Some people already are burning their Christmas, or Yule, lights, and the day after Thanksgiving in the ‘official’ kick off of the Christmas Shopping Season.  The Yule Tide was a celebration of Life, of re-birth, of renewal.  It started a few days after the Winter Solstice, and ran for days or weeks into January.  (What else is January good for, except partying?)

Because merchants want us to buy our gifts, instead of making them ourselves, as was done in the old days, they sponser concerts, public events, lighting displays, and anything eles that they can think of to get people out shopping.  Gradually, the Christmas season has swung around from the weeks after the Winter Solstice to the weeks before the Winter Solstice.  Inadvertantly, we have moved a festival of Life into a time when the LifeForce is ebbing from the land, leaving nothing for when the days begin to get longer.

To make things even more unsettling, late autumn has always been a time when people tried to conserve their resources as much as possible, by staying close to home, eating very little, and sleeping a lot.  For thousands and thousands of years, what food we had would have to last until Spring, at the earliest.  So, getting out and being extra active in late autumn just feels wrong somehow.

We must remember our instinctual heritage, what cultures practiced before written history, when analyzing our motivations and emotional responses to modern societie’s demands.  There are ample reasons for feeling confused and out of sorts in the weeks ahead, and some we don’t even acknowledge.

Have a wonderful Harvest Festival!

Games people play

2008/11/18

Want something new and different to do during the downtime at work, or when you are sitting around wishing that there was something worth watching on TV?  Try the Volvo Ocean Race Virtual Game!  Over 70,000 people have signed up to run a virtual sailboat in this ’round the world’ race, which follows the same course as the real Volvo Open 70 boats.  You don’t have to be a sailor, or even know anything about sailing, just be interested in participating in an online game.

http://www.volvooceanracegame.org/play.php  is the URL that will get you to the sign up page.

For those of you who are into sailing, the new 24 hour record for a monohull boat was set during leg 1, at 602 miles.  That is by a sailboat, folks, not a power boat.  Maintaining an average of about 25 knots, or 30 miles per hour, for 24 hours is quite a feat.  This is the Formula One of sailing, with boats built entirely of carbon, huge sails, and a special ‘canting keel’ which allows the boats to go upwind.  This is not NASCAR, with things going around and around, this is not football, with people hitting each other,  this is not any sport you have ever seen.  People have died during these races, and boats have been lost.

In an age when burning gasoline is becoming less than politically correct, sailing is a clean, green sport.

What is ‘normal’ for markets?

2008/11/11

Over and over again, in reading about the financial/economic crisis, I come across the expression “when markets return to normal,” Do people really believe that we are going to go back to the dividend-driven, supposedly risk-free, immediate return seeking ways of the last few years? Doesn’t anyone realize that the wealth that was supposedly created in those years never really existed, it was just an illusion to allow a few people to benefit hugely at the majority’s expense? We artificially inflated our net worth, by bidding up the prices of everything, and paying ourselves huge bonuses for being alive. The money that was zooming around, being loaned out again and again, was a fantasy, with nothing to back it up. Just because someone claims that something is worth a certain amount does not make it so, no matter how hard we wish.

So we had better start adjusting to a new reality, one where wealth is again hard to come by, and is only created by work, not by manipulating numbers. We must accept that we cannot live off of our investments alone, because they are not going to provide the steady stream of money that so many have become addicted to. Stock dividends are going to become extremely rare, because the companies will be too hard pressed to come up with cash. Credit default swaps are not going to prevent risk, because too much has been invested under the false belief that it cannot be lost. The government cannot hand out trillions of dollars to keep investors from losing when the slowing of the economy stops the payment of debt.

The entire premise that being owed money increases one’s worth will have to be jettisoned, because too many accounts receivable are not going to be collected. A bank holding company may claim that it worth large sums of money because of all the debt that it holds, but how much of that debt will be converted into cash cannot be known in advance. Those companies that do not re-invest their profits into reducing debt and improving efficiency will not see their stock increase in value, unlike in the past. We have gotten used to believing that we were wealthy because we could easily borrow money. We never were wealthy, and we sure aren’t now.

What is that?

2008/11/09

Even though most people pay little or no attention to the night sky, it is possible to be startled by a sight that can defy explanation.  A brillant object, sometimes even brighter than Venus, can be observed moving swiftly across the heavens.  It is not always visible, and disappears for weeks at a time, but, for as long as two weeks, it can be seen at least once a day, and often twice.  The first time I saw it, it freaked me out, because I could not imagine what I was seeing.  Since then, it has grown considerably, and I have seen it when it is quite brilliant.

What am I talking about?  The International Space Station.  Our outpost in the new frontier, 280 miles above the surface of the Earth, traveling at 17,500 miles per hour.  Right now, there are three people living up there, learning how to survive and be productive in an environment that is totally alien to humans.  They are the pioneers, breaking trail for the rest of us, making the first crude discoveries in the realm that we call outer space.

120 miles above our heads, no matter where we live, the Earth comes to an end, and space begins.  That is the altitude where we can orbit our home planet without immediately falling back to Earth.  That is the altitude where the atmosphere is so thin that it is hardly more than a good vacuum.  Earth is a speck of dust, hurtling through the emptiness, as it goes around and around the star that we call the Sun.  No where in all that we can see is there any place like Earth, although some people want to believe that Mars could be made into another planet where we could walk unprotected under the open sky.  If such a thing is to happen, it will be long after anyone alive now has passed on.

Most of what is out there is emptiness, bathed in powerful radiation, with no noticable gravity.  A hostile realm, where temperatures of 450 degrees exist only inches away from minus 250 degrees.  Whatever is in the sun gets hot very quickly, while whatever is in the shade loses it heat very quickly.  Practically limitless energy is there for the taking, as well as mineral resources that we use here on Earth.  Everything that we have here exists out there, except a gentle environment.  That we have to create ourselves.  Learning how to do so reliably is one of the goals of the multi-national program that maintains the ISS.

Hopefully, we will learn how to master this new frontier before we use up or destroy the only home that we have, the planet Earth.  For the resources of the Earth are finite, limited.  As more and more people enjoy a higher standard of living, the planet suffers greater and greater wounds.  Soon, there will be 9 billion of us here on Earth, competing for a slice of a pie that is getting no bigger.  Unless we begin to expand our sphere of activities off planet, that pie is doomed to shrink, not grow larger.

This is why the ISS is so important, because there the first steps are being taken to teach us how to live on other worlds, or in the vast emptiness between those worlds.  The only way that we can protect our home while still enjoying a standard of living like the one we do know is to expand beyond the confines of this one world, and begin using the resources of our Solar System.  Everything that we will need for any conceivable length of time exists out there, waiting for someome to come along and pick it up.