Retrenching

June 12, 2016

This blog has been dormant for almost a year, and has been without much conversation for even longer. In picking up the thread again, it’s impossible to tell whether the one-sided activity of blogging will engender more response if I refurbish things here and try a new tack in my writing style and choice of content. In any event, my old writing habits will probably take over again if I stick with this for very long at all. But having changed the title of my blog and set aside some time for writing today, I’d like to start by writing more autobiographically than I usually do, focusing on how my life has changed since the last writing.

In terms of budgeting for creature comforts, I’m in much better shape than I was last year. I’ve started going into overtime at my full-time job and my secondary sources of income have also been robust. I’ve established sensible spending habits that keep my savings rate on the increase, and at the same time, I’ve relaxed my budgetary restrictions on groceries to enjoy more fresh foods and to do more cooking from scratch. I’ve progressed from relying on prepackaged foods to innovating (cautiously) in the art of vegan cooking, and I’ve switched from eating almost the exact same thing every day to trying a new recipe every week. One major culinary achievement is that I’ve learned how to approximate a peasant curry.

In terms of recreation, I’ve started spending a lot less time watching movies and a lot more time reading books. I now try to set aside two hours every day for reading, more on weekends, and I always bring a book to work for my half hour break. I’ve also established a much more stable social routine, visiting Badget nearly every Sunday. She knows when to expect me, and I know exactly where she wants to be scratched at the end of our walk. So far, this summer has been kinder to the dogs than last summer was – hardly any fleas!

Badget_march

I’ve finally finished two books on bureaucracy that I’d been wanting to read for a couple of years now, one of which I’ll probably review for my blog sometime soon. Now I’m reading a good book on body language and the mass market paperback classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People.

I’m also making a project of familiarizing myself with Russian literature. I started The Brothers Karamazov, then stopped to read The Robbers first, which I haven’t yet. I’ll probably go back to the beginning once I have. I’ve finished a verse translation of Eugene Onegin and begun a collection of Chekov’s short stories. On my wish list for next year are Master and Margarita, The Bronze Horseman and Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s autobiography (funny how MS Word’s Spell Check recognizes his last name but not his first).

Major regrets for this year include not setting aside time to volunteer in the primary election campaign, not finding time to meet people outside of work, and not finding any accessible avenues for horseback riding in the Tacoma area. But I do have an endearing horse print hanging in my bedroom, showing a mare peering over a fence to ask, “where’s dinner?” and I’ve picked out a new one for my living room.

Peering through my library notes in search of material for my blog, I came across a Bagehot quote that I found in a book by Joseph Stiglitz. I actually had the opportunity to hear Stiglitz give a talk about the idea for which he won a Nobel prize – information asymmetry – at a university in Boise more than ten years ago. Here he was digressing about the disincentives to laying bare one’s aims or reasoning to the world of discussion:

“‘Democracy,’ it has been said in modern times, ‘is like the grave: it takes, but it does not give’.  The same is true of ‘discussion’. Once effectually submit a subject to that ordeal and you can never withdraw it again; you can never again clothe it with mystery, or fence it by consecration; it remains for ever open to free choice, and exposed to profane deliberation.”

I suppose this quote sums up my superficial reasons for renaming my blog to mark a transition from fandom orientation to more mainstream blogging habits. I’ve enjoyed trying to foist my film tastes on a reading audience, but my tastes have moved away from film lately, and a fandom idiom doesn’t really feel appropriate any more.

Stiglitz ends his paper by contrasting the dynamics of information hoarding with the democratic ideal Wilson described as “open covenants openly arrived at”, observing:

“The incentives of secrecy are simply too great, and the scope for discretionary actions is too wide. I have therefore stressed the importance of creating a culture of openness, a task where organizations like Amnesty International have an essential role to play. ..  In  more technical terms, the practice of secrecy leads to an inefficient Nash equilibrium.”

His description of a world in which secrecy is increasingly out of control rings true in the context of the rollback of campaign finance reforms and the irregularities being reported at the polls this election year.

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