November

 

          A Roll of the Dice in 1932

Uncle Charlie knew which plants make you itch

And he knew which plants take the itch away.

He could get deer, rabbit, muskrat, and fish.

He could start a fire on a rainy day.

 

When his own brother took off for the West,

He treated his nephews like his two sons.

Loyal Charlie stayed home and did his best

To keep food on the table with his guns.

 

One late winter day, he fell through the ice.

He was out on the lake, hunting a duck.

The North’s best woodsman let go of his dice.

In your last role, you’re always out of luck.

 

For five young boys, the dying time came home.

From that point on, they grew up on their own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stroud Preserve NLT in the fall

 

      Southeast Pennsylvania is a lovely spot.  It has rolling hills, farmlands, woods, towns, and suburbs.  It has streams, rivers, ponds, and a few small lakes.  It has so many sunny and pleasant days that you don’t mind when it is cloudy.  There is enough rain that the land is fertile and enough snow to know how it feels to be in a winter wonderland.  Southeast Pennsylvania doesn’t have the dramatic vistas of the Rockies or the Grand Canyon or the Maine shoreline.  It can’t boast of unendingly perfect weather like southern California or lure sun-bathers in the winter like Florida can.  As a place to live for decades and enjoy the passage of the seasons, Penn’s Woods is the best.  We need our heaters to work from November into early March and switch to air-conditioning in the hottest weeks of July and August.  For about half the year, we leave our windows open to breathe the clean fresh air.  In the fall, which is peaking now in early November, the hills boast crimson oaks and yellow maples behind golden fields of hay, ready for their last cut of the season.  On our walks in the neighborhoods, we are likely to find flocks of robins carefully monitoring an overhead hawk, or a few crows chasing the hawk away.  The Chipping Sparrows leave and the White-throated and Song Sparrows take their place.   And we dig around in our closets to find our favorite pair of gloves.

 

 

 

11/2 – Binky Lee

This preserve is a jewel in the center of Suburban Chester County, PA.  It’s a former farm that Natural Lands Trust has saved from development and then improved to create a complex, but integrated, set of habitats.  The most obvious feature is the big hill behind the barns that is actively farmed.  To one side of that is an orchard; I think the trees are nut bearing.  On the other side of the hill is a large woodland that borders on Pickering Creek.  There is a healthy variety of deciduous trees and several very large plantings of White Pine.

      Late in the afternoon on this brisk November day, Chris and I were mostly taking Beans for a walk.  We brought binoculars and saw a few birds.  On the trail near the creek we heard a Red-tailed Hawk screech several times while we were down in the woods, but didn’t see him until the trail led us out to the back of the field on top of the hill.  A minute after the Redtail flew off, a Cooper’s Hawk flew through.  The top of the hill gives a beautiful view of some wonderfully preserved land.

 

11/3 – Bridge to Bridge Trail

Chris and I tried to visit a preserve that we had heard about north of Exton, but when we got there, we found it was closed to the public on weekends and also, during the week, it wasn’t open until 9 AM.  We won’t go back.  I understand that it is a good idea to keep certain preserves closed to the public, especially if they are protecting sensitive nesting sites.  I’m confused why someone would bother to advertise a place as a wild life preserve, encourage people to visit, and then make sure no one can enter when the animals might be active.   Since we had spent a good bit of time driving to what is probably just somebody’s tax shelter and hadn’t gotten out of the car to walk yet, we decided to go back to Binky Lee and walk there.  As we turned off Route 113 onto Pikeland Drive towards Binky Lee, we had a second change of plans.  I stopped in the small parking lot just off the highway to check out the Bridge to Bridge Trail that starts here.

      This trail follows Pickering Creek and even though it must be reasonably close to Route 113 for the entire length of the trail, you would never know it.  It’s a completely wild and secluded trail, edged by big trees and plentiful bushes with some giant sycamores dominating the woods.  The day we were there, the trail was full of birds.  In one stand of trees, there was a big flock of Cedar Waxwings.  A little farther down the stream, there was a flock of Common Grackles.  My guess is that both the waxwings and the grackles were resting and eating on a migration further south.  There were at least five Red-bellied Woodpeckers and four Downy Woodpeckers.  We saw a Brown Creeper edging up a tree branch, upside down.  Very high up in the trees hanging over the trail, I saw several birds with heavily spotted breasts and bellies.  If they had been on the ground where I would have expected to find them, I would have known right away that they were Wood Thrushes.  Mixed in with these birds were a large number of Robins and sparrows, including my first White-throated Sparrow of this fall season.  There were also some Blue Jays, some Turkey Vultures, and a drab adult female Bluebird.

 

11/7 - Exton Park – dumb hawk

The walk was pleasant with a few looks at the common fall birds.  A Great Blue Heron was perched on the top of a tree out across the corn field.  He didn’t move at all.  We saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk and saw him again on the return loop of the walk.  As the rest of the group continued to the parking lot, I stayed behind to get his picture.  It was an overcast day, so the colors are washed out, but it’s my first picture of a hawk that you can tell what it is.  The hawk let me get right up under his tree and didn’t fly.  George commented that some birds, this juvenile bird included, are “dumb”.  They haven’t learned to be afraid yet.  Considering that humans haven’t hunted these birds in this region for seventy years, I’m surprised that the adult birds are bothered by us.  But definitely they are, and usually fly off quickly as we approach.

 

juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk, Exton Park, PA, November, 2013

 

11/9 – Crow’s Nest NLT – cool woodpeckers

On the Exton walk, Sarah gave me a few tips on some good nearby birding spots.  One of them will have to wait until spring.  That’s the Bridal Trail at Ridley State Park.  She said that spot is awesome for warblers.  I don’t have to wait on Crow’s Nest though.  Right now they have Redheaded Woodpeckers!

      Crow’s Nest Preserve is one of the Natural Lands Trust sites.  It protects a portion of French Creek as it flows out of its source in the adjoining French Creek State Park.  Eventually this important stream flows into the Schuylkill River.  The NLT Trail Guide for the preserve explains that the 600+ acre preserve is “a gateway to the Hopewell Big Woods, a 73,000 acre expanse of forest that reaches north into Berks County” (Seventy three thousand acres!!!).  Crow’s Nest is formerly settled land that was clear-cut over and over in the 1800s and early 1900s for charcoal and timber.  In the last one hundred years, the forest has grown back.  The special protection and restoration provided by Natural Lands Trust started in 1991.

      This is a fine place for a nature walk at any time, but right now it has a special draw for birders.  Redheaded Woodpecker populations are “on the decrease.  (F24.)  I have not seen one since I was a teenager.  This year, I’ve been around birders who just saw one or who saw one at the spot we were at a few days ago.  I had not been lucky enough to see those birds for myself.  At Crow’s Nest, leaving the parking lot and going down the Creek Trail across a boardwalk through a swampy area, you come to the creek.  Right there is a wide open area with lots of recently dead trees.  The woodpeckers like the soft rotten wood and hide nuts in the tree tops.  They are high up in the trees, so I doubt you will disturb them.  I’m not giving away a secret and encouraging a horde of birders to descend on the location and chase off the birds.  This sighting happened in August and has extended into the fall.  I saw accounts of birding trips to see these birds posted on the internet.

      I found several Redheaded Woodpeckers in the top branches along the boardwalk.  Their all red heads and black backs with a broad white horizontal stripe were evident and distinctive.  The birds were not moving, but they were so high up that my telephoto lens did not have the power to get great pictures.  My photos are more than good enough to identify the bird, but when you magnify them, they are blurry.

      We continued our walk up through the agricultural fields and into the edges of the forests.  We saw a lot of the small winter finches and sparrows, some hawks and a flock of female Ring-necked Pheasants.  The pheasants were probably released for hunting, but it was still fun to see these pretty game birds.  These birds, introduced from China in the 1800s were common in New York in the 1960s.  With the changeover in farming methods, I have heard that there are less hedgerows for nesting and hiding places, so in many areas these birds are uncommon where they had previously done well.

Directions:  Go north from Exton on Route 100 to Route 23.  Turn left on Route 23 and pass St. Peter’s Village.  Turn right onto Tryhall Road.  Go to the end and turn left on Harmonyville Road.  The next right is Piersol Road and the preserve and parking lot are clearly marked.

Phone:  610-286-7955

 

11/10 – Chambersburg Lake

A naturalist who I respect told me that this is a great spot in Chester County to see water fowl and shore birds.  We found the state park near the lake and hiked down to the lake.  A ranger told us enthusiastically that he had seen several kinds of sandpipers on the shoreline recently.  It was cold and very windy.  The water level of the lake had been dropped several feet to allow winter time work to be done on pumps that are used to regulate the water level.  That exposed a wide muddy edge all around the lake.  So it wasn’t pretty; it wasn’t pleasant; and there were no birds – none.  I know that this is a very good birding location.  I just hit it on an unusually bad day.  Chambers Lake is in Hibernia Park, four miles north of Coatesville, PA, off Route 82.

 

11/14 – Exton Park – the eagle shows himself

Sue was on this walk and she told me that for a few years they had seen a pair of Bald Eagles around the trail, mostly in the trees in and on the edge of the corn field.  Several times the birding group saw the eagles carrying nesting materials, but they never spotted the nest.  Sue wondered where the eagles went.  At the end of the walk, Sue went ahead to get a table at the diner, while the rest of us chatted in the parking lot.  Of course, a Bald Eagle flew over us, making several low passes across the parking lot and the adjacent fields.  I felt like yelling, “You’re too late!  Sue already left!”   But I don’t really know this bird and didn’t want to offend him.  So I just watched.

      I had been talking about cameras with George and with another birder who had just gotten a new camera.  She interrupted George to tell him that he was overwhelming me with detail.  In her opinion, I would never use the features on the high end cameras that he was telling me about.  She showed me her Nikon D3500 with the 70-300 mm lens and took a few pictures and showed them to me.  She took a photo of a small sign on the far side of the field.  Even though we could just see the sign with our naked eyes, in the enlarged photo, we could clearly read the fine print on it.  When the eagle flew overhead, she quickly focused on it and the camera tracked it and kept it in focus while she got several very nice clear shots.  So she demonstrated that at a moderate price, I could move to the next level and get equipment that would allow me to get better pictures.  Both the comments that she made on the one end and the comments that George made on the other end got me started on a search for my next piece of equipment.

 

The last two weeks of November – learning about cameras

I won’t embarrass myself by pretending to be a camera expert and giving advice on how to select a really good camera.  For that, you should do what I did and talk to some of your friends who are true experts, talk to the sales people at camera shops, and read articles and reviews that are all over the internet.  You will get so many contradictory recommendations that it will spin your head around.  Every recommendation will be good, but you will have a limited budget and will have to pick out one solution from many excellent choices.  Birding, sport photography, landscapes, and portraits all have different requirements and lead to different “best choices”.   I’ll briefly describe the process I went through.  Even if you aren’t thinking about buying a camera, the experience is an important step in my growth into a birder, sort of like learning to hit a curve ball for a baseball player.  Also I think the approach is useful in buying other high-end products.

      My first step was to do a little reading on-line, so that I wouldn’t be completely lost when I started to talk with real photographers, like I was when I was trying to follow George’s advice.   There is an entire unique vocabulary that is required for the conversations.  After my startup reading, I mentioned to a person on my work team who had shown interest in my Olympus camera purchase that I was shopping for an SLR camera.  Two others on my team joined our discussion and all three of them are experts in photography and had a lot to share.  One of them, Daniel Lee, spent quite a bit of time explaining the basics of photography and cameras and even brought in his camera to let me practice with it.  Thanks, Daniel, for this lesson and also for teaching me the basics of UI programming over the last several years!!!

      Here is the basic terminology.  The two key concepts are focal length and aperture.  Strictly speaking, focal length determines the angle of view, which in turn determines how much magnification you will get.  Or in my simple understanding, it means “how far you can see”.  The greater the focal length, the farther away your subjects can be.

      The aperture is a measure of how big is the camera opening, which determines how much light gets in.  The more light, the better picture you will get.  The aperture is also called the “F number”.  In this case, the lower numbers are better.  A lower F number means a larger aperture and more light, so a better picture.  This is also called “being faster”, since it allows working with a faster shutter speed and still maintaining quality.  So two of the main choices to make are how much focal length you will need and how low an F number you can afford.

      Still on the basics, let’s go back to focal length.  Wide angle lenses are designed for close ups and landscapes and have focal lengths less than 35 mm.  Normal lenses are what Daniel refers to as “what you see is what you get” and have focal lengths of about 50 mm.  Telephoto lenses from 70 mm to 135 mm are often designed for portraits.  Wildlife and sports require more magnification than that, since your subjects are usually far away.  Extenders are devices that can be added to a lens to increase its focal length, but the additional glass will cause some degradation of picture quality.  Zoom lenses are lenses where the focal length can be varied, whereas prime lenses have a set focal length.  Optical stabilization is a feature that reduces the susceptibility to camera shake from small hand movements, or even from clicking the shutter on tripod mounted cameras.  (For that, you might be able to set up your cell phone to use as a remote control to snap the picture!)   Canon calls their optical stabilization feature “Image Stabilization” or “IS”.  Nikon calls the feature “Vibration Reduction” or “VR”.  Tamron calls their anti-shake implementation “Vibration Compensation” or “VC” and Sigma calls it “Optical Stabilization” or “OS”.  No matter what the name, you want this feature, especially on lenses with high focal lengths which amplify small movements of the camera.

      Did you notice that I spent several paragraphs on the lenses and haven’t mentioned cameras yet.  Those seem to be two different topics, although obviously they are related.  Multiple serious photographers, including two professional photographers, told me to focus on picking the best lens that meets my needs and budget, and then find a camera that works with it.  They recommended that if you need to compromise on price, save on the camera and even go to a refurbished camera.  The strategy is to “get good glass” and upgrade your camera as you can afford to do it.  You stick with your high quality lenses, perhaps adding complementary special purpose lenses.  These same people also said that you need to be either a “Canon guy” or a “Nikon guy” with regards to cameras.  The zealots argue the relative merits of these two excellent camera companies.  That tells you that both are superior.  I expect that other companies have been catching up to the two giants and some of the really good buys can be found there.  A good example is my Olympus, which has a 24x optical zoom (make sure you buy optical zoom; don’t get digital zoom), ease of use features exactly like the more expensive cameras, and very easy to use editing software.  At half off its retail price tag of $400, it was a great buy!  I intend to keep using it even after I get a new camera, because it is so small that I can slip it in my pocket and take it everywhere.  But for your “go to camera”, either Nikon or Canon are safe choices.  Depending on your choice of lens, you might be forced into just one of these, especially if you choose a Canon or Nikon lens.

      With the basic terminology down, I started reading articles that I found using the search tag “lenses for birding” and came to the initial opinion that a Sigma 150-500mm F5-6.3 APO DG OS lens with a Nikon 7100 camera body would be a good fit for my budget and intended usage.  I e-mailed that choice to my neighbor, who is a birder/photographer, and he thought that would be a good choice.  He suggested that with that kit, I should add a monopod and filters.   I went to a camera shop and snapped a few photos with this setup and also tried the Sigma 70-200 mm F2.8 lens with a Canon body.  The in-store salesman told me that he sold a lot of the Sigma 150-500 lenses for sports and wound up having them returned because the F5.6 aperture was not fast enough to capture the far away sports action.  He thought the F2.8 lens might be better for me and, if I needed more range, I could add an extender.  I really liked that lens, so I went back home to do more reading.  I thought, “What about a prime lens?” and found my dream lens, an AF-S NIKKOR 500 mm f4/G ED VR, with a dream price tag of $8,579.  Ouch!!  I found some high focal length prime lenses that I could afford, but only if I got them used.   I also did some more reading on the kit that my bird walk partner at Exton had shown me, the D3500 with the Nikon 70-300 lens.

      After some thought, I realized that my subjects were always going to be far away and usually not moving, at least not moving like in sports photos.  A key comment that influenced my decision was the one attached to some dynamite pictures of birds taken with the Nikon 70-300.  The photographer pointed out that most of his pictures were taken from within twenty feet.  He said, “I’m not a retired dentist who can bang away with his 500 mm optical stabilized lens.  I need to crawl around in the bush and get close.”  I respect that.  Thirty years ago, I would have been right there down in the bush with him.  Now I intend to bang away from a distance.  Also I like to take pictures of water fowl and shorebirds and I can’t see myself swimming up to them to get their pictures.   So I needed the high focal length and could live with the F5.6 aperture.  Since this was going to be my “go to” lens, I probably needed the flexibility of the zoom.  A co-worker suggested another option.  A photographer in the team room next to mine (I’ll explain the team room concept some other time.  If you are a Dilbert fan, you already know about the way I spend my week days) was selling his Canon 100-400 mm lens.  He brought it to work, and I tried it out and liked it a lot.  So I narrowed my choices down to the Sigma 150-500 mm new lens and the Canon 100-400 mm used lens.  Price was about the same.  The Canon lens was the higher quality lens.  I actually found an on-line comparison of the two lenses where the reviewer took the exact same pictures with the two lenses and displayed them side by side.  The Canon 100-400 was a little crisper and kept the images on the outer edge of the photograph more in focus.  Possibly, the colors were a little richer on the Canon.  But truly, they were close.  I was leaning towards the used Canon, but the new Sigma with a 12 month warranty also appealed to me.  When the Canon owner changed his mind over the long weekend and decided to stick with his good glass, I settled on my original lens choice.  However, instead of the Nikon 7100 body, I saved $600 and paired it with a Nikon D5200 body.  I went to the local camera shop that had shown me the lenses and told them the on-line prices, which of course they already knew.  They matched them.  Then they sold me the rest of my peripherals and cut me deals on each item.  I got a tripod with an insert that converts to a monopod, a ball joint attachment for the tripod, and a camera case.  When Mike bought me a Manfrotto Be Free compact and lightweight tripod for Christmas, I returned the other tripod and ball joint for store credit and immediately spent some of that on a UV lens filter and an instruction book for the D5200.  So my kit is complete and with it I should be able to get some nice pictures of birds.  Birds that were too far away to be even recognizable with my Olympus will be decent pictures with my new equipment.  Close up shots should come out really nice and birds in flight are now reasonable targets.

 

11/17 – Bombay Hook

There was a good-sized flock of Avocets out in the middle of Shearness Pool.  They were wading through belly deep water, swishing their bills through the surface of the impoundment.  In flight, their bodies and inner half of the wings are white, while the outer half of the wings are black.  On the ground, with their wings folded, they have a distinct horizontal pattern of stripes with black on top, white in the middle, another black stipe below that, and a white belly.  During their breeding season, their heads are a rusty red.  Their thin black birds are long and curved upwards.  They are large shore birds and at 17 to 19 inches about the same size as a Willet.  These birds are common in parts of the West and in the far South, but uncommon in the Northeast.  They breed on the Delaware side of the Delaware Bay and can be seen at Bombay Hook into the early winter.  Avocets are very cool birds and rank very high up on my list of favorites.

Avocets, Bombay Hook, November 2013

      We also saw lots of Buffleheads, some Great Blue Herons, a nice flock of Dunlin (finally I saw these shorebirds!), a big flock of Snow Geese, Black Ducks, Mallards, a Northern Harrier flying out over the marsh, Canada Geese, Common Loons, thousands of Red-winged Blackbirds, and Coots (black body, white beak).  I know that I’ve been looking for Coots, but I’m not sure if I formally identified them yet.  I took some pictures of what I thought were Gadwalls, but looking them over and checking with the field guide, I now think these are immature and female Northern Pintails.  Their coloration is pretty much the same as Gadwalls, but the grey color of their beaks and the long graceful necks make me think Pintail.  There were also some nice Ruddy Ducks in the pool close to the road, but my camera ran out of charge before I could snap their pics.  We were about to leave, when we saw a birding group watching a squat grey and white heron on the edge of the marsh.  I had seen this bird earlier in the year and knew right away that it was a juvenile Black –crowned Night-heron.  They were guessing that it was a Green Heron, which was pretty far off base.  I politely and enthusiastically told them what it was and they were very happy to get the id.  They made me feel pretty good when they got just as excited as I was and thanked me several times.  That’s not too bad for a rookie.

Juvenile Northern Pintails, Bombay Hook, November 2013

     

 

The concept of money

When I bought my new camera equipment, I did it like most of us make purchases, with a credit card.  I showed the clerk my card, which allowed him to get credits moved from the credit card company’s account to his store’s account.  Later, I logged on to my internet bill pay application and moved credits from my personal account to the credit card company.  The credits are denominated in dollars, but they don’t have to be.  If the quantities in the accounts were just called credits, we wouldn’t care, as long as the seller accepted them for the purchase.

      Money has always been a concept, although most people think of it as something real.  When people first started using money, they traded in small things that other people valued, like metals, gems, sea shells, and packages of salt.  The material was useful for money as long as it was universally valued, easily measured, easily transported, rare enough to be valuable, and common enough so that there was enough to be circulated around the society.  The goods being exchanged were the real valued items.  The money was always just a convenient way to make these transactions easier.  When two societies with vastly different value systems try to do business with money, it probably can’t work.  You get stuff like Europeans exchanging $24 worth of beads for Manhattan, while the Indians perceived that they got a big pile of useful beads for nothing.   The idea of selling land made no sense to them.  When not enough money exists in an expanding society, its growth is stifled, like the Chinese society starved for silver in the late 1400s.  (F25.)  When the Spanish in Mexico started trading lots of silver to China for porcelain and spices, the Chinese money got devalued, which is what always happens to a valuable commodity, when its supply increases.  At one time salt traded pound for pound with gold.  Now we spread it on roads to melt ice.

      For a long time, money was either material, or a document that promised delivery of something material.  The U. S. dollar was a gold certificate until the 1950s.  Now it is a piece of paper that, although it makes no promises, is the dominant currency on the planet.  The trick of the money producers has been to only put into circulation enough new money to fit an expanding economy and not so much that existing money is devalued.  I have no idea how the new money can be distributed fairly, but it seems that using it to pay for general federal obligations is reasonably fair and spreads the potential devaluation across the whole society, while spending the created wealth on society as a whole.  Maybe that is what the Fed does.  I wouldn’t know.  For that matter, neither would you.

      Here’s an expression that you’ve probably heard a few times and probably not thought about it much.  Do you remember a few presidential campaigns ago when one of the candidates tried to convince us he was smart by saying we needed to put our Social Security contributions in a “lock box”?  For my editor, Kathryn, who was five years old at the time, I’ll recap.  The two candidates were equally challenged intellectually and managed to both lose the election.  The constitutional crisis that played out was “who should get the disputed Florida votes”.   It should have been, “people voted for ‘None of the above’ (like in the movie Brewster’s Millions), so why not just leave the office vacant”.  A recent poll showed that Americans were unanimous in preferring that result.  (F26.)  

      My intention is not to discuss whether or not the particular candidate who said “lock box” is an idiot, but to show why that particular idea is wrong.  Individuals can transfer their wealth into money or other monetary devices and spend it later by transferring it back to goods and services provided to them at that time by other individuals or organizations.  But a government saving its own money for the future makes no sense.  Taking money out of circulation and storing it does not mean that on a society-wide basis more people will be unemployed or less goods and services will be bartered in the society.  It just means that the government contracted the money supply and will probably need to print more new money to keep up with an expanding society.  On the future end of the deal, when the money comes out of the “lockbox”, it will be contracting for goods and services produced by the current society.  These services are a percentage of that society’s energy, which will be spent on the retired people and has nothing to do with past economic events.  It makes very little difference whether the federal government pays out of a “lock box”, out of general current revenues, or prints new money.  The key point is that a percentage of the future society’s output will be spent in a certain way.  A society as a whole can’t save in the same way that individuals can.  The idea of “saving Social Security” is lame.  The real question is whether future societies will continue to provide goods and services for retired citizens and how much will they provide.  Social Security is not a savings plan; it is a tax.   It’s nice to get letters from the government stating how much they will pay us per month in the future.   But those projections are just guesses at what future governments, staffed by different people, will be able and willing to provide.  If I promised you that my future grandchildren will invent a new energy source and give all the proceeds from the invention to charity, would you take that to the bank?   But I’m not being all Doom and Gloom on this.  As long as we continue to become increasingly more productive and our rate of new invention continues to increase in the same amazing trajectory that it has done for hundreds of years, there is every reason to believe that our society will have the means to provide services to its retired population.  When 90% of a population is engaged in food production, as it was for most of human history, there was little energy left to focus on caring for the elderly, cosmetic products, self-actualization, and other fripperies not directly related to survival.  Societies who use only 2% of the workforce in Agriculture have a lot of lee-way in how to utilize the other 98%.

      I am not suggesting that this next thing could or should happen.  I’m only wondering “what if”.  What would be the result if a multinational company or a group of several international companies decide to stop taking money created by national governments, but instead accept only electronic credits supplied and circulated by each other?  How would that play out?  When I was a young man, all business was done with paper dollars or checks that directly represented ownership and transference of paper dollars.  Now I rarely use paper dollars, except for very small purchases, like lunch or coffee.  Now I get paid my salary electronically and spend most of it electronically.   Since most people in the advanced societies are doing the same thing, there are huge amounts of dollars that exist electronically in bank accounts.  It is unlikely that there are enough paper dollars in the world to match the total values in the electronic accounts.  Even if there were, why would that matter?   It doesn’t, and makes the point that on one level our electronic money supply is already decoupled from the money supply represented by paper money.  As long as I can use my electronic accounts to pay for stuff, they are good.   Since we can still transfer these accounts into paper dollars and back to electronic dollars, it seems that the monetary function of government to manufacture money seems to be operating unchanged.  But for the first time in history, the concept of purely virtual money might be possible.  If that happens, who will control its creation and management?  Will it obsolete national currencies?

      I’m thinking probably not.  Or at least not as a complete collapse of national currencies.  There will be some cool enhancements to the credit card concept, like maybe you will identify your accounts by a retinal or DNA scan, which could be more secure and obviate the need to carry around a wallet.  But for the most part these electronic credits will be linked to the value of a national currency.  You can already do that, buying Bitcoins with dollars and using them online to buy products.  Even the clumsy recent attack on the Bitcoin, where the all-news radio station passed on the propaganda that billions of dollars of Bitcoins have been either stolen by hackers or been devalued, points out that many people are comfortable using this type of currency.  As long as a person or organization avoids “newly minting” the new monetary vehicles, the governments won’t interfere, in fact they will probably assist.  However, I do see a potential transformational evolutionary trend related to monetary practice.  That would be evolving beyond the use of money.

      Look at some other concepts that are uniquely human.  As a first example, the use of words to communicate is fundamental to our success.  Tools that enhance that ability, like paper, the printing press, the computer, and the cell phone, have been transformational for our species.  Communication without words via mental telepathy would probably be considered “not human” or “super human”.  A second example is that the concept of a state religion has been a unifying force that helped form some of the great empires.

      As the cultural offspring of ancient Greece and Rome, we still study their state religions, calling it mythology.  We still practice the second state religion of Rome, which the emperor Constantine created at Nicene in 300 AD and is called Christianity.  The British Empire had its own very specific flavor of Christianity and called their state religion Anglicanism.  Germanic Protestantism was a unifying force as separate Germanic groups coalesced into an empire in the late 1800s.  My Hindu friends at work have a totally different set of beliefs that helps bind their polyglot subcontinent in Asia into one of the great enduring empires left from the ancient world.  Even the attempts to stamp out religion have the trappings of a state religion as exemplified by socialism in Communist China and the former Soviet Union.  Without a common religion, it is hard to see how a nation state can hold together.  Easy examples of this are the Soviet Union breakup and the breakoff of Muslim Pakistan and Bangladesh from India.  If you “Imagine” a world where everyone lives together in peace, like John Lennon did, that world would be without nation states and without organized religions.  Those of us engaged in the activities that a recent Nobel Peace Prize winner calls “clinging to our guns and bibles” consider the non-believing minorities to be lacking a basic human need. 

      Now let’s go back to money and look beyond the basic idea of money as a means to facilitate the barter process by decoupling the exchange into two acts with a value storage medium in between.  What happens in a family that has set up its finances so that there is a fair amount of discretionary income left after paying for their basic expenses?  The need to budget goes away and purchases are made with very little regard to score-keeping (except at Christmas, when the piles of presents should be all approximately the same height).  When a family member needs dental surgery, or a prom dress, or a first baseman’s mitt, the money comes out of the family accounts and no one is particularly concerned with “is it fair”, or “is it a right”, or “whose money is it anyway”.  In societies of Homo sapiens ultra, who I expect will have no need to budget, there should be plenty of wealth to satisfy any needs and reasonable wants and the wisdom to not abuse a system that freely provides for its participants, just like a well-off family of Homo sapiens sapiens functions on a small scale. 

 

      This will work.  If you think it won’t, you may be afflicted with a very common disease that has as one of its symptoms overconsumption.  Pretend that you are at a really good, all-you-can-eat restaurant.  Select a group of twenty people who look to be significantly overweight.  Select another group of twenty people who appear healthy and athletic.  Will you need a calorie counter to determine which group has more calories on their plates?  Will you need to monitor the two groups to see which group has more returns to the buffet for seconds or thirds and which group has the most members who selected more than one dessert?  Presented with an unlimited quantity of delectable foods, the over-consumers will continue to over-consume, while the healthy eaters continue to consume in a healthy way.  For very culturally advances societies, I would “Imagine” that producers could give their goods away and consumers could take what goods they need without the necessity for money to regulate the exchanges.  Of course, this is Karl Marx’s definition of Communism (F27.) which has failed miserably on a large scale and caused huge misery. A problem with the application of utopian ideas is that they do not work with non-utopian individuals (F28.).  After five hundred years of serfdom it is unreasonable to expect a society to smoothly vault into either a communist market or a free market.  I don’t see the bulk of Homo sapiens sapiens ever getting so far that they won’t need money, or something like it.  On the other hand, do you think Homo sapiens ultra will need state religions to stay organized or money to exchange goods?  Probably it won’t be too long before we can ask one of them.  I hope that they respond using words.