Taking care of your own kind (a science fiction quiz)

It has been decided that one of the finer features of the human race is that humans do not only think of themselves. When it comes to survival and even happiness, this species usually takes quite good care of those they love, often makes sacrifices for others, and sometimes even risks their own lives for those they identify as being “one of their own kind.”

Recent world events have caused certain entities to ask the question “What exactly constitutes ‘your own kind’?”

You have been selected to take the following very short quiz. Please tend to this matter soon. Quite a bit may depend on your answers.

your own kind 2There is no need to send the completed form anywhere. Merely answer, even in your own head, and the information will be received where it is needed. Thank you for your participation.

Would you be illiterate?

booksThere was a time, a mere few hundred years ago, when most adults could not read or write. Literacy was the domain of the rich, and of others with power, like clergy,  healers and scholars. And while the ability to read did not automatically confer power, it was a stepping stone of some value.

Fast forward four hundred years. Even today, denying any group a basic education is equivalent to denying them power in society. But the world has grown far more complicated.  Along with flush toilets and stain removers, we have new kinds of literacy. Computer literacy, for starters. Older adults who refuse even the basics of email and cell phone usage are slowly relegating themselves to the sidelines. On the other hand, those of any age who bother to learn the basics of nutrition, medicine, law and even geography are better equipped to navigate life. Knowledge isn’t power, but it is one of the prerequisites. We choose ignorance at our own risk.

moneyYet of all the types of literacy we can benefit from, none seems to be more intimidating even to intelligent, educated people than the one that ties directly to power: money itself. This amazes me.

My financial education began several years ago when I was laid off by the company I worked for for two decades. Along with the expected problems, I found myself with a 401K plan that had been quietly growing in the background. Lucky me. I had the option of leaving it where is was, but I was far too pissed off at the company to leave any of my money in any thing that bore their name. So silly anger inspired me to learn enough to make a roll-over into an IRA. That wasn’t the end of it though. Most of the funds in the IRA were still in the hated company’s stock, which was now doing very well given that Wall Street always loves a good lay-off. So, I sold the stock.

bankersI quickly discovered that the investment community was (1) quite good at finding people in my shoes and (2) quite persistent about letting me know how well they would treat me and my money if I would just turn everything over to them. The louder they clamored, the more cautious I became.  I figured that if so many people wanted to handle my investments so badly, it had to be a very good deal for them. Which meant it probably wasn’t a particularly good deal for me.

Slightly paranoid contrarian that I am, I decided to learn to handle my own investments. I figured I had two years of college calculus. I could explain special relatively to my sister. If all of these guys calling me could all understand investments, so could I. How hard could it be?

Well, I made a lot of stupid mistakes. The good news was that I made them in little tiny increments, because at least I knew that I didn’t know much. I made baby-sized bad investments and itty-bitty good investments. Yes, I did make only a pittance off of stocks that did great because I’d only invested a pittance to begin with. I let a lot of cash just sit there doing nothing while I made spreadsheets and read a lot of stuff I didn’t really think I cared about on the Fidelity and Motley Fool websites.

27-Courage-Quotes-14I did sign up for some services that make recommendations for individual investors. Some were so much of a rip-off that they ought to be shut down. Others were useful and I began to pay a little more for their more elite recommendations. I learned to hold my nose at terms like “preserving wealth” and to buy stocks in companies I didn’t like. I learned to sell stocks I did like. I played with stops and limits and then I experimented with short-term trading. I tried basic options investing, learned how to by higher risk corporate bonds all by myself, and checked out index funds. As long as I only used a little money at a time, and kept track of absolutely everything, I discovered that I could learn a lot.

So. I wasn’t rich before I started and I’m not rich now. I think for all of my effort I about match what the S&P has done over the seven year period that I’ve been doing this. That is fairly remarkable, considering all the dumb mistakes I made. I could well have pissed away what savings I did have, but caution and variety were my friends.

high-frequencyBut wait. I’m way richer in one way. I’m now literate about money. Me, who always thought the stuff was kind of evil even though I liked to spend it. What’s more, I find that I understand the politics of money better. I get how those with wealth can make more wealth and not even realize how easily they are doing it. No evil intended. I get how our system is skewed toward the investor. I get the reasons this is good, and the reasons why this makes our society increasingly lopsided, and allows some of those who are talented and hardworking to still be barely able to get by. I’m not powerful, but I’m literate in a language of the power, and that matters.

Why mention this on a writing blog? Not to brag; I hope there is no bravado in this tale of me stumbling along powered in part by mistrust and in part by anger with a former employer. Rather, I want to share a second facet of this that baffles me.

What I know makes its way into my writing. You’ll find geology in x0 and physics and anthropology in z2. And you’ll find a fair amount of information about wealth in y1 and some basics about the the stock market in d4. Some readers could do without this sort of thing, and I respect that. I do try to keep my fun facts short and relevant to the story. Other readers seem to enjoy them, which is nice. I’ve received praise for my bits about the South Pacific, about anti-depressants, about the sex trade, and the Buddhist path to enlightenment. Only the stock market seems to leave people cold.

“I skimmed over it.” “I don’t understand that stuff.” “I don’t care about money.” It seems that readers, both friends and total strangers, have the biggest block of all when it comes to learning about the financial world. I’m not saying I’m the world’s greatest teacher. But the same people who gamely followed along with entanglement theory and immigration law had a much harder time opening their minds on this subject. That’s cause for concern.

In a world with increasing income disparity, and with the jobs that create wealth the fastest coming from the financial sector, doesn’t it behoove us all to understand that “sector” a little better? I think it does. It’s not that complicated to learn. And while the ability to understand investments will not automatically confer power, it will be a stepping stone of some value. Knowledge isn’t power, but it is one of the prerequisites. We choose ignorance at our own risk.

You don’t need to know this stuff because you have a little money to invest. You need to know this because your world is increasingly run by those that do.


I see what you mean

eyeAm I glad to see you. As a matter of fact, I’m glad to see anyone.  Or any thing. You see (no pun intended) I’ve been having some trouble with my eyes lately. They’ve had a rough five years or so, with my squinting at a computer screen all day in my office and then coming home and squinting at a screen while I wrote.  To add to the problem, I thought I was too busy to get my eyes checked and about a year ago my barely adequate glasses become totally inadequate.

Nature does have ways to talk to us however. My eyes started to hurt and I’d see little flashes of light sometimes and guess what? Then I found the time to get to an eye doctor. He prescribed some strong computer glasses and supported my getting special yellow lenses to help with the overdoses of blue light I was getting and, as far as I could see, things got better.

Then, I moved and they started to get worse again. At least, the pain in one eye returned along with an annoying itching, mostly at night. So I sought out a new optometrist who listened to my saga and spent a lot of time looking at my eyeball. It appeared that somewhere along the way I’d scratched my cornea, and I’d treated my eyes so badly ever since that it had not healed. So I got put on a regimen of eye drops and ointments. Both of my eyes like this attention and feel better, although my symptoms haven’t totally subsided.  I see the eye doctor again in February.

The experience has made me see how much I rely on my eyes. I live in the country and need to drive for groceries, along with everything else but air and water. I live to write, and while I know there are ways to write fiction without vision, I’m not sure I could ever manage them. I’ve put a lot of recent effort into fixing up my new home. Much of it has been to make it look nice, for me, and to emphasize its mountain views that I love. Would I even want to live here if I could not see? The other thing I yearn for is to travel and see the world. Would I even want to go if I was blind?

I had reason to consider some of this when I was trying to describe Ariel’s gift as I wrote d4.  She sees the future. To me, that means that she literally sees images in her head. Of course, someone blind from birth could also have knowledge of the future. This lead me to consider whether Ariel simply saw things, or knew things as well.  They say that “seeing is believing” but we all know that seeing and knowing are two different things. I decided that Ariel did both. By the end of d4 blindness became an element of the story I was telling, in ways I had not expected.

AuggieWhile I was writing d4, I was also enjoying a TV show called Covert Affairs and one of my favorite characters in it was Auggie, a CIA agent who was blinded while on a mission in Iraq. I was moved by the way that the character combined his frustration with strength and competence. He never made blindness seem easy or trivial, but he also showed how those without sight can contribute and enjoy life.

Now that I’ve given some serious thought to how important my eyes are to me, I’m resolved to take better care of them. They are going to get rest, and good glasses and time off the computer and all the eye drops they want. But, as I see it, it also won’t hurt to let Auggie inspire me a little, letting him take the edge of my fear of going blind.  Better care. Less paranoia. Both should make a difference, right? I hope so. We’ll see ….