Money, Weight, and Freedom

1888 “Goddess of Freedom” gold* coin.
*copper core

Attending Spanish School every weekday morning, I spend a lot of time thinking about etymology, and language in general. I also spend a lot of time thinking about money and freedom. Recently, it occurred to me that the words in various languages for “money” and “freedom” (and “weight”, it turns out) are related in interesting ways. For instance, the Peso is the local currency in many Spanish-speaking countries. “Peso” also happens to be the Spanish word for “weight”. Gold, our oldest surviving currency, and the material long considered the best “hard money” by students of the Austrian School of economics, is measured not by bills, coins, or shares, but by weight. And of course, the British currency is the Pound, which is also the word for our pre-metric unit of weight.

Heroes of the Austrian School of Economics

The Spanish word for “pound”, meanwhile, is “libra”, which shares the same Latin root as our English word “liberty”. Biggie’s classic notwithstanding, most people would agree that money equals freedom. Delinquent debtors throughout history have been imprisoned alongside thieves and violent criminals. Even today, when people can’t pay their court-ordered fines, they are thrown in jail. (The logic behind this policy seems questionable, as prisoners have a hard time earning money to pay their debts, not to mention the fact that it costs the state even more money to keep prisoners in jail…) And money literally equals freedom (at least temporarily) for those awaiting trial in some countries, who can buy some time on the outside by posting a bail bond.

It’s fitting then that Facebook has named it’s forthcoming cryptocurrency the Libra, referencing both weight and freedom. More than any crypto issued to-date, the Libra has the potential to reach a vast, global population in very short order. The Libra purports, eventually, to become a global, standard currency free of state control and manipulation, designed for everyday purchases, peer-to-peer transfers, and international remittances. The Libra aspires to bank the un- and underbanked, providing those billions of people with a level of financial freedom unmatched in modern history.

But most importantly, in my opinion, the Libra will introduce the mainstream population to cryptocurrency in general, and inevitably to Bitcoin, the only truly decentralized, censorship-resistant, non-manipulable “sound money“, and the best store-of-value humanity has known since the days when money was measured by weight – before the days when governments and despots began manipulating their currencies by carving slivers off their coins without changing their nominal value. (Side note: the ridges around most modern coins are intended to instill confidence that the coins have not been devalued by carving; pay no mind to the printing press behind the Fed’s curtain.)

While I’m very bullish on the Libra, I don’t expect it to be true sound money, at least not initially. The Libra will be pegged to a fiat currency – most likely $USD – making it an inflationary currency subject to the whims of central bankers and their puppet masters. But it’s interesting to imagine a future in which the foundation that supports the Libra might decide to sever its Dollar peg. Such a move would be tactically similar but strategically opposite to the Nixon administration’s 1971 decision to break fully from the gold standard, completing a move initiated by FDR almost 40 years earlier.

FRD et al broke from the gold standard in order to explicitly inflate the money supply. I imagine (read: hope) that the Libra Association might break from its Dollar standard in order to cut loose that inflationary ballast which would otherwise weigh down the Libra’s purchasing power. For now, I remain optimistic that the Libra may one day become a true sound money. Sound money is freedom, weight is worth, and language is fun!

Parting thought: when travelling in Latin America, don’t confuse “atravejas” with “avestruces”. You might end up with a side dish you weren’t expecting.

The Pet (aka Food) of the Century!

It all started with the appetizers: papas fritas, locra de papas and un sanduche de huevo y chancho. But it was the entree that really mattered. We had come to Salon Tres Estrellas to eat cuy. People say that if you come to Ecuador you HAVE to try it. I was excited. But then I learned what it was.

Papas cocinado y mote, side traditionally served with cuy

Cuy: The guinea pig or domestic guinea pig, also known as cavy or domestic cavy, is a species of rodent belonging to the family Caviidae and the genus Cavia. Despite their common name, guinea pigs are not native to Guinea, nor are they biologically related to pigs, and the origin of the name is still unclear. Wikipedia

Lifespan: 4 – 8 years

Gestation period: 59 – 72 days (Adult)

Mass: 0.7 – 1.2 kg (Adult)

Scientific name: Cavia porcellus

Length: 20 – 25 cm (Adult)

In other words, food.

When I first saw the cuy on the rotisserie, it looked really weird. Even though I knew some people keep them as pets, I didn’t feel bad about eating a guinea pig. Sorry to you people who have pet guinea pigs, but just know that people do eat them.

Vegans beware!

Out came the magnificent cuy. I was the first to dig in on the tiny little animal. It was small, but tender. The meat was juicy and the skin was crunchy. I had been excited to try it, and when I finally did, I really liked it. “It tastes like chicken,” I said to my mom. And it did. It really did taste a lot like a tiny chicken.

Cuy, minus the piece I’m eating!

Then I got to dissect the head!!!!!!!!

I pulled it apart and tried to find the brain. When I found it, I wanted to eat it!! So I made it happen. I got my mom to video me eating it so I could show you guys (just a heads up: it’s super cringey).

EATING the Cuy brain!

I ate the brain and it tasted terrible, “like cheese,” I said. I liked the rest of the cuy, but definitely not the brain. My dad told me not to say I didn’t like it because the waiters and cooks might get offended. But honestly, I don’t see how anyone could like the brain of a guinea pig.

Cuy brain

So that’s the story of how I ate the pet (aka food) of the century. As I said, it tasted delicious. I give Tres Estrellas a very good rating, a job well done to the cooks and the waiters. And a big thank you to the guinea pigs that give their lives to people who are hungry for some cuy!

My Trip to an Ecuadorian Zoo

My family and I went to the zoo yesterday. We left our apartment to find a taxi which took a long time for us to get. Finally we found a taxi. It was an Ecuadorian zoo and its name is Amaru Zoologica. It was very different than the Birmingham zoo. It is different than our zoo because there are many different animals and they’re all over the place. I got to get up close to the animals – some I could actually touch. We weren’t allowed to touch them, but we did it anyway. It wasn’t boring. It was exciting!

My favorite animals were a lion, a monkey, a crocodile, and a llama. I liked the lion because it was soooooo close to us. I liked the monkeys because they were so cute and they could go anywhere they want. And guess what: they use their hands like humans. I liked the llamas because they almost spit at me, which was really cool. And I got to pet one!

Last but not least is I’m sooooo grateful that I got to go to this awesome zoo here in Cuenca. Plus, my awesome dad helped me write this post, correct my spelling, and so much more. I hope you liked it, and this video we made:

When we get back…

are perhaps the four most commonly uttered words in our house over the last several months. Any number of wishes, plans, and projects have been temporarily punted into some vague future with the turn of that simple phrase. It’ll be interesting to see which ideas survive a year in limbo.

Our favorite family portrait, by Susi Baxter-Seitz

One of my punted projects was conceived two nights ago, as we sat on the couch watching Fellowship of the Ring, most of our packing done, nothing to do but wait. I wanted a bigger movie screen. So I began architecting in my imagination a hi-def projection system. I calculated the maximum size of the screen, factoring in wall size, projection distance, aesthetic margins, and aspect ratio.

Then it occurred to me that “when we get back,” consumer virtual reality may be a real thing. With VR, we won’t need to hang an actual screen on the wall. We can simply hang a virtual screen, only visible through our VR (AR, actually) goggles, leaving the actual wall free for artwork, or maybe photos of us doing things in the real world.

I quickly realized that with VR we won’t need a virtual screen to watch the movie on, nor even a wall for that matter. The movie could take up our entire field of view. My next realization, of course, is that we could all be watching a different movie. Finally! The tense battles over which movie to choose will be a thing of the past. But so too the valuable lessons in negotiation and compromise. Also gone: the shared experience of watching the same movie at the same time in the same room, with each other in the corners of each others’ eyes.

Get ready for VR. A lot of the time.

I predict that within ten years most people in the developed world will spend more time in VR than they do in the real world, much as today, my good friend Eric pointed out, many of us spend more time on social media than we do socializing in person. If I’m right, the world “when we get back” will already be a much different place. For us, that difference will be amplified by having spent the previous twelve months in less developed places and a generally slower paced society. In just a few short years, what we’re embarking on today may seem a quaint notion from a a bygone era: experiencing the same thing, at the same time and in the same place, with the people we love the most.

VR is often lauded for its ability to transport us to far-off places – the very places my family and I are going to visit over the coming year. But consumer VR will be used for more than just visiting exotic and beautiful locales. My second prediction is that for our generations (those of us who’ll remember a world before VR), we’ll don our goggles to recreate our past experiences in the real world. Some next-gen tech will comb through our photostreams to generate 3D worlds based on placetimes we’ve actually been to, immersing us in our own memories, brought back to life through the magic of VR.

Las Cajas National Park outside Cuenca, Ecuador

If Bitcoin is digital gold, data is digital oil. Tech companies around the world are siphoning up as much data as possible, feeding it to their machine learning algorithms in a race to extract insights, intelligence, and ultimately profits from this newly valuable and abundant resource. The data that will power much of VR’s magic ten years from now is our own experience in the real world today: memories and artifacts from when we spent most of our time in the physical realm. That’s why I’m especially grateful for this year abroad, this amazing opportunity to experience exotic, beautiful locales in the flesh and siphon up some data of my own.

As I watched Frodo pull Sam out of the water and into the boat with him, I imagined that one day, when my kids are grown and gone, I may don a pair of VR goggles, dial up our couch and carpet from 2019, hang a virtual screen on a virtual wall, and watch videos of the real-life experiences we’re about to share. The tech will paint blurred hints of my family just there, in the corners of my watering eyes, creating the illusion of us sharing the experience of reliving our shared experience. But that’s a virtual reality from some distant tomorrow. Today, we have an actual plane to catch.

Packing is…

I still don’t know if it will all fit…

How many words can you find to fill in that blank?! My dining room floor has been covered by suitcases and clothing for about 10 days now as I’ve moved through the process of choosing what to pack, what to store, what to donate, and what to throw away. We are pretty sure our donation stack has exceeded 200 pounds by now and let me say, I DO love a good purge. There’s no better way to declutter and pare down than to prepare your home for another family to inhabit; anything we leave out is theirs to enjoy so we’ve had to be choosy about what stays and what “disappears.” The sweet family we were fortunate enough to find has, wait for it, 5 kids 6 years old and under! They are busy and beautiful and I think their energy will be a perfect match for our hidden away tree house. That being said, I’ve decided to store many of our cherished items like a few heirloom lamps and some art work. Best to hide away anything that we aren’t willing to have “used” – especially by curious little kiddie hands.

Art and lamps will head down to our storage area in the basement until we return.
Today I took EVERY house plant I have to my good friend – she’s a biologist and plant lover and runs the conservatory at Samford Univeristy. These babies will probably be so happy they won’t want to come home to me!

We have just 3 more nights in our home before we depart for a single night in Atlanta. On Monday, July 1, we head south for 6 months. We plan to spend about 80 ish days exploring Ecuador and then transition to Argentina for the second half of our first 6 months. We will return to Birmingham for Christmas and New Year’s and then head south again for a 6 month stay in Peru.

We would absolutely LOVE to entertain guests at ANY point during our stay, so if you’re interested in visiting, reach out and let me know!

And guys, please be gentle with me. This is my FIRST blog post EVER. I’m looking forward to learning more about this process and hopefully presenting better and better content!

If you’re not already following my Instagram, please go add me @fishinyogini