Monday, July 30, 2012

If You Were Starting Off at Age 25...

I read on Mish Shedlock that the birthrate has fallen to a 25-year-low, in part because young adults are having such a hard time finding jobs. Mish believes that America is in for a decade or two of structurally high unemployment. I certainly don't envy young people starting off in life today, since greedy and irresponsible Baby Boomers -- America's Worst Generation -- have stacked the odds against them. But what advice would you give to a frustrated and discouraged 25-year-old today about making a living? 

We must guard against the tendency of oldsters to get suckered into 'grass is greener on the other side of the mountain.' Otherwise we will tend to romanticize a dream job as an antidote to decades of frustration and disappointment suffered in a real job.

It is easier to say what you wouldn't start off in, if you were 25 today. Manufacturing is ancient history in our post-industrial society, of course. And yet I'll bet colleges still teach useless subjects like math, chemistry, engineering, and physics. But it could be counter-argued that most of the industrial sector's decline has already happened and that it has bottomed out because of government protection, which preserves a sticky post-industrial residue such as military industries, "Government Motors", green energy, and the like.

The last few decades most of the employment growth was in health care, education, debt engineering (aka finance), and law enforcement. But as always, it might be risky to assume that these trends will "grow to the moon." It was amusing to run into this quote from Seneca yesterday:
Yet nothing involves us in greater trouble than the fact that we adapt ourselves to common report in the belief that the best things are those that have met with great approval,--the fact that, having so many to follow, we live after the rule, not of reason, but imitation.

It is the example of other people that is our undoing...
Our 25-year-old must try to do more than merely extrapolate the hot trends of the last few decades; otherwise he will fall into the classic trap of thinking some idea is safe because everybody accepts the idea, which ironically makes the idea past its prime and therefore dangerous. "Conventional" does not mean "safe." 

Take health care. Emotion runs high on "government versus private," so much so that it hogs attention from the mathematical fact that, at 18% of the economy, health care increases have to slow down. This might be hard for people to believe since health care has seen inexorable growth for decades now.

Another long-running trend our 25-year-old must be cautious about is becoming a government employee, especially at the local level (school teachers, police, firemen, etc.) This category of workers has evolved into the upper class of the American labor marketplace. In the endlessly downsized private sector, employees live in fear that, when quarterly earnings are announced, the figure will come in at 49 cents per share compared to Wall Street's prior expectation of 50 cents per share, and thus another 5-10% of the jobs will be eliminated or outsourced. In contrast the local-government employees must only worry about a serious recession that erodes the local tax base. If they are even shrewder they have gotten onto the federal payroll; wouldn't that make them virtually layoff-proof? After all, the federal government runs a deficit decade after decade. Apparently it can stay in business by printing unlimited amounts of money to cover any shortfall of funds.

Since these government jobs must be done in the USA they haven't felt competition from China; the jobs have been so safe that strong unions have grown up in the government sector, in contrast to the inexorable decline of unions in the private sector. I remember a unionization drive with university employees around 1980 by -- get this! -- the United Auto Workers. You must give the UAW leaders credit for having the perspicuity to see that their union was doomed in the automobile sector because of competition from Toyota and the rest, and that they needed to move into a quasi-government sector like education, where politicians will see to it that you can borrow yourself blind for inexorably higher education costs.

The recent recall election in Wisconsin and several municipal bankruptcies in California should be a warning to our 25-year-old that (unionized) government employees are about to get their long overdue come-uppance. 

The private sector has largely eliminated "defined benefit" pensions in lieu of "defined contribution" plans, such as 401K and IRAs that are the individual's responsibility to manage. Only the government sector still gets "defined benefit" pensions. Politics aside, it is a mathematical impossibility to pay the "defined benefit" pensions that the recipients expect. These pension plans are based on actuarial tables and the assumption of earning 7-8% on the pension fund investments. How do you do that when Bernanke is running a multi-year Zero Interest Rate Policy (ZIRP)? 

The construction industries were red hot for many years. Besides the political and financial hangovers from the sub-prime housing bubble, recovery will be held back by demographics: young adults (permanently unmarried) will be forced to live in the basements of their parent's home, as they shuffle from a part-time job at a restaurant to a part-time, benefit-less job at the dollar store until they're middle-aged, at which point they get laid off because they're earning 70 cents per hour more than the minimum wage.

This post is starting to sound like a gloom-and-doom, anti-government, financial newsletter. I've chosen to focus on 'what not to do' first because the negative side of the ledger is usually more tangible and concise. Next post I'll talk about what our frustrated 25-year-old should do.

'

Friday, July 27, 2012

Western Tanager

It would have been easy to drop my hiking pole over the cliff (like Gayle the other day) when I saw this bird on a trail that would soon present a marvelous vista of Ouray CO.  After fighting the urge to immediately run to Bobbie (in the Ouray RVing and Hiking Team) for help, I actually managed to identify it as a western tanager. It would only pose for one shot before it flew off. (From my 'birds' album in Picasa:)


This made the hike for me, as did coffee and banana/pumpkin bread back in town.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

On the (Ungrown) Horns of a (Ovine/Cervine) Dilemma

Normally a dog is quite an asset on a hike or mountain bike ride; the human feeds off the dog's energy; it brings out our Inner Wild Child; it's as if the dog becomes an extension of our own nerve endings. But yesterday my dog turned out to be a nuisance. Although I don't have an inordinate fear of heights and cliffs, I freak out when my kelpie, Coffee Girl, gets too near the edge of vertiginous trails. So I abandoned the Ouray RVing and Hiking Team and descended Bear Creak trail.

Most of the way back down I heard crashing through the forest and saw a large brown body through the leaves and needles. I snapped Coffee Girl back on her leash so she wouldn't chase the deer-like animal on still dangerous slopes. A half minute later this creature popped out on the trail:



My initial reaction was that this was the ugliest deer fawn that I've ever seen. It was pretty small; maybe hip high or so. It stood above us on the trail and looked right at us. It would take a couple tentative steps towards us and do a sheep-like baaa-aaa-aaa, and then pause. It repeated this a couple times.

We've all gotten in the habit of saying 'Google it' or 'look it up on Wikipedia' to any question these days. But I didn't have any luck in hearing recordings of the sounds that baby ruminants make. So unless a reader knows better I'll conclude that Junior was a bighorn sheep who got separated from momma.

A minute later a family of humans came hiking up the trail, with several young girls in the party. Their faces showed how upset they were about Junior's chances: they said it was being chased by a 'large fox' lower down the trail. A coyote is far more likely, but I'm not going to launch into one of my favorite stump speeches about city-slickers. It was just too precious to read the girls' faces and see their pained concern for Junior.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Arguing My Case on Courthouse Mountain

I hate to admit it but it would be nice to carry a smartphone with a flower, tree, or bird "app" when hiking in the mountains. As an alternative, hike with Bobbie. (Besides, she doesn't require batteries. She is a battery on the trail.) Seriously I'd rather just ask somebody a question than play with some distracting gadget. For instance, the shape of this flower was reminiscent of Indian paintbrush, but the color was wrong. She explained that Indian paintbrush does come in more than one color.


Mark and Bobbie complained about my wisecracks (on my blog) against eye candy, postcards, pretty-poo scenery worship, etc. It surprised me that I'd given offense. Perhaps they underestimate the difference between a part-time RVer (in vacation/tourist mode) and a full-time RVer who must expand his interests in other directions.

At any rate I was making a certain amount of progress mending my fences on the way up Courthouse Mountain, just past Chimney Rock where they shot the climactic scene in John Wayne's "True Grit", when there was a surprise and a setback:


Gus, a friendly Australian shepherd, was resting at the top with his owners. Immediately I felt huge pangs of guilt that I hadn't brought my kelpie, Coffee Girl. While I circled around Gus and his doting owner and photographed them from every possible angle, while ignoring the world class scenery around us 360 degrees, Mark, Bobbie, and John Q could only roll their eyes at my foolishness.
 
But Gus wasn't the only animal star on top of Courthouse Mountain. There was an enterprising chipmunk, obviously an experienced shakedown artist. How he could make a living off of a couple hikers per day is beyond me:


When I spot something that inspires me with its beauty, Mark and Bobbie seldom give me credit (sniffle). They would have you believe that the ultimate Ouray experience comes from driving far enough and hiking long enough to some special place whose beauty measures 8.1 on some sort of postcard-Richter scale. If you end up with a mere 7.9, you have missed your chance.

Folks, I'm here to tell ya it ain't so. For an RVer the ultimate aesthetic experience comes from going to the one and only laundromat in town; it's a real dive, despite Ouray being a rather upscale place. As an aesthetic exercise, give in to the scumminess of the place: dilapidated machines that rip you off, no phone number for a refund, dirty floors, and touristy-ripoff prices. And it's hot in there too! Outside, my dogs were possibly getting hot in the van -- Ouray can get a little toasty in early afternoon.

When you step out of that filthy laundromat you see monsoonal clouds pinching off the canyon. The clouds are scrubbing the canyon walls. Ahhh, the first cool afternoon shade hits Ouray. It's my favorite time of year and my favorite moment in Ouray. I suppose contrast is what we need to look for.


It doesn't cost a dime to contrast a beautiful thing -- not necessarily visual -- with a mood based on some prior experience of ugliness. And it can be done anywhere.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The (Colorado Camping/Hiking) Hostess with the Mostest

It was time to get reacquainted with Ouray CO and Mark and Bobbie at Box Canyon Blog. I left the 9000-foot-high lava plateau (Springerville, AZ) this morning when it was still dawnlike and dew-soaked. It just didn't seem right to have been sleeping at night with a skull cap on -- in the middle of summer! I just left it on when I took off driving. 


What a surprise it was to see clear sunny on the way to Ouray. I'd forgotten how dessicated the Four Corners is. The lowest and hottest spot on a trip in the West is the river crossing, the San Juan River in this case. I crossed at the town of Shiprock, named after the famous volcanic throat, nearby:

To my eye, Shiprock is better looking than the over-photographed Monument Valley. From my "geology,rocks" Picasa album.

The San Juan River doesn't even earn a 5 handle there (a mere 4900 feet).  I got out for lunch break and was reminded of what Dry Heat can be. How quickly a camper can get out of shape if he camps high in May and June, when he would otherwise develop a resistance to it. 

Driving across a bridge over the San Juan River, I looked down upon a small collection of cottonwoods, widely dispersed on an unpaved, dusty floodplain. At no other time, and from no other angle, would this have made such a big impression on me. Each cottonwood had a lunch-hour-automobile sucking shade out of it -- sucking it dry, just as cottonwoods do to the San Juan River, and the river does to southwestern Colorado. The cottonwood/car pairs seemed so important and earnest. They adumbrated the afternoon buildup of puffy cumulus clouds, just starting to happen. Each cluster, sky-born or earth-bound, was fine and noble.

The dogs were panting again. They too were out of shape. I instantly became cautious about how I parked the van. The glory of suffering in Dry Heat was all coming back to me, except that it wasn't so dry by Southwestern standards. It all seemed so natural and healthy. I was starting to feel morally redeemed after "flunking" early summer by camping at 9000 feet.

In a couple hours I was in Ouray CO. Mark had done a wonderful job finding camping spaces in town for his several visitors. He even found a place for ol' Boonie to boondock within walking distance of downtown. You must realize that this town isn't made for free camping, so he is really using his imagination.

We went up a gravel road with 6-wheel-drive turned on -- my 2 and his 4! One of his visitors, John, gave us a hand backing my trailer into its private site. Remarkably the trailer did not get damaged. This was the most impossible campsite that I've ever bagged. And what a location! You will have to go to Box Canyon Blog to see Ouray photographs; why should I try to compete against Mark's photography.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Fun and Frustration Outside the RV Mainstream

As much as I like having solar panels on my RV it has always seemed strange that they should be so over-praised by many RV bloggers. I always thought it was just the emotional gratification of feeling Green, and look forward to going to heaven and sitting on the right-hand side of Thoreau or Gandhi. The other reason for over-promoting solar panels is ad income of course.

Now that the monsoons are hitting the Southwest, you need a generator to boondock camp. Oh sure, it's easy to say that you "just" need to try harder to conserve electricity; but rainy and muddy days are the very times when you spend most of the day indoors and need the most electricity.  



While considering the camping location of a nearby camper who was out in the open, I suddenly had a "new" thought about solar panels -- new to me, that is. He had a large and prominent satellite TV dish on his small rig. Ahh, no wonder he needs to stay out in the open -- his boob toob wouldn't work with trees blocking the signal. Once resigned to camping in the open, it doesn't hurt anything to have a roof-full of solar panels; in fact they'll cool the roof slightly.

And all these years I've considered parking in the summer sun -- instead of the shade -- as an act of foolishness caused by having solar panels on the roof of the RV; whereas in fact, for most RVers, it's the satellite boob toob that causes them to park in the sun and fry all summer. This thought took a decade to grow in my thick head because nothing is less desirable to me than bringing a TV into the camping experience. Of course some people would say that about my wireless internet addiction.

This experience was wryly amusing to me. There are other examples of how surreal or comical it can be to be outside the RV mainstream. For instance I was studying a small travel trailer in the consignment lot, the other day. The gravel underneath the trailer was rough and a bit wet, but there I was, snooping around underneath the trailer, looking for trouble, complaining about the 14" tires and the low drain plumbing. Meanwhile 99% of normal RVers would only want to step inside the trailer and flutter their eyelashes over the floor plan, window treatments, color scheme, etc. When I stepped inside, I just rolled my eyes at all the nonsense: microwave oven, convection oven, 3 burner stove (in a small trailer!), stereo system, etc. 

Consider what trivial junk the inside of an RV really is! Why oh why do people think that you need to see a glossy brochure or YouTube promenading all the superficialities of interior decor? Or the excessive window area? (It makes a positive visual and emotional impression, but it is one of the worst features of a standard RV.) Meanwhile they ignore (or deliberately repress) information such as ground clearance, interior standing height, axle rating, battery storage, etc.

Shopping for a new trailer and tow vehicle has been fun and frustrating for me. Thanks to one blog (cargovanconversion.com) I learned the shocking news that the Ford Econoline van is being discontinued in 2013. It is being replaced by a full-sized version of the Transit van. Will it have small tires and tight wheel wells, thereby restricting it to pavement? Perhaps van-lovers will have to condescend to pickup trucks and get a Toyota Tacoma with a "good" cap -- not that any cap is much good compared to a van.

I have finally found a travel trailer that is desirable for a (probably single) boondocker: the Carson Kalispell. Short, light, and high ground clearance! Why do they omit the interior standing height from their website -- that makes me very nervous! If I bought a stock unit I would have to send the following items to the dumpster: refrigerator, furnace, water heater, battery, converter/charger, microwave, stereo, water reservoir, awning, cabinet doors, dinette table, foam, etc. And after paying for them! Gosh I hope it's possible to buy a custom unit.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Update: The Pleasure of a Perfect Match


Uhh! Uhh. It's been so long since the wind was knocked out of me that I forgot how scary it was. The first couple seconds were precious because I felt no sharp pain -- and didn't that prove that no bones were broken?
 
After about ten "uhhs" I started breathing normally and pushed myself off the dirt trail. I was going down a single track trail built for "downhill" mountain bikers.  Naturally I was only willing to test a baby jump or two. After jumping one small log on the steep slope I must have taken my hand off the brakes momentarily because the bike shot forward and downward like a rocket; I flew over the handle bars, mercifully landing on a rock-free ramp up to the next -- and larger -- "ski jump."
Ski jump for bikes in the background -- ouch!

Long-suffering readers know that the foolishness of technical mountain biking and trails is one of my standard stump speeches, so we'll skip that. Suffice it to say that I walked down the rest of the downhill mountain bike "trail", and returned to camp unharmed, but chastened.


Was I really supposed to bicycle over this log by using the ladder?

This day's results were just the opposite of an earlier and happier one. The trail developed in a way that I wasn't quite prepared for. Perhaps the reader has experienced something similar, long ago. Maybe you were playing a racquet sport (tennis, racquetball, etc.) or team volleyball with a well-matched opponent. After a rather ordinary game, you somehow got a volley that went on and on! You started to think you would just drop to the ground out of exhaustion before someone finally missed the ball. Even if you lost the point, you felt utterly joyful.


Both you and your opponent knew that you had experienced something so rare and so remarkable that it might be years before it happened again.
  
For a human, there'll be years of waiting. But even an animal as ebullient as a dog will have to go to the dog-park many times before they have a perfect tussle with another dog that is the right size, age, and temperament. When it happens, their owners will be almost as happy as the dogs.

That's the way this earlier ride was working out: a perfect match between difficulties and abilities. It wasn't just ten seconds of perfect match-up either; it went on and on, for maybe an hour. That has never happened to me before.

The perfect match-up must be an underrated pleasure and beauty, and not just for outdoor activities. Recall your Bertie Russell:
Pleasures of achievement demand difficulties such that beforehand success seems doubtful although in the end it is usually achieved.
Let's move away from the subject of outdoor activities and ask how universal this principle is. For instance how many times have you had a perfect match-up in conversation? Isn't it possible that this could be an exquisite -- but underrated -- pleasure? And we could get better at this as we age. So why doesn't it happen?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Losing and Reinventing a Certain Outdoor Pleasure (plus "team" update)

'Be careful of what you wish for' is an old saying that deserves respect. In years past I suffered and obsessed over Dry Heat in June. In the Southwest it is the hottest and most oppressive month.

But then I did something stupid: I got good at avoiding the Dry Heat! I've been cool all May and June, while everybody else has been whining about the heat. You can credit Luna NM and Springerville AZ for this tragic turn of events.


Alas, the lack of June Agony makes it hard to experience the usual Ecstasy when the monsoons finally arrive near the first of July. How great it would be to flop on the ground during a monsoonal thundershower and scream, "We're saved!" It would be reminiscent of something Bertrand Russell once described:

Whatever we may wish to think, we are creatures of Earth; our life is part of the life of the Earth, and we draw our nourishment from it just as the plants and animals do. 
I have seen a boy of two years old, who had been kept in London, taken out for the first time to walk in green country. The season was winter, and everything was wet and muddy. To the adult eye there was nothing to cause delight, but in the boy there sprang up a strange ecstasy; he kneeled in the wet ground and put his face in the grass, and gave utterance to half-articulate cries of delight. The joy that he was experiencing was primitive, simple and massive. The organic need that was being satisfied is so profound that those in whom it is starved are seldom completely sane.


But that can't happen this year. Instead I felt surprisingly weak when Arizona's high country had cold rain for most of one day. Cabin fever flared up instantly. (Just try boondocking with dogs on a rainy day!) I just couldn't believe that this was happening at the Fourth of July. If some of my commenters were here camping with me, they would have tried to cheer me up. You know, 'emphasize the positive.' But that would merely have anesthetized me with sugar-frosted aphorisms. Instead I chose to wallow in the brutal truth that I had lost one of my favorite outdoor pleasures: enjoying the onset of the southwestern monsoons.


But there was something promising in this disappointment. Somehow there must be a beauty here that replaces the one that I've lost. It didn't seem like sunny Arizona at all. The sky was dismal, with low clouds and faint light; so faint and eery that it belonged at some far northern latitude...

...It was reminiscent of one of the most moving movie endings that I know of: "The Dead," directed by John Huston just before he died. It is based on the James Joyce's short story of that name, included in his "Dubliners." It starred his daughter, Anjelica Huston. 

Most of the movie is boring since it is all dialogue, indoors, on a winter evening in Dublin. But there is a lot to be said for patiently suffering boredom through 95% of any movie, opera, or even football game, for the sake of a few brilliant moments at the end.

Towards the end of the soiree in Dublin, Anjelica Huston was coming down the stairs, but then stopped -- froze -- to listen to an Irish tenor, singing a plaintive and nostalgic song from higher in the building. Framed by the stairway and a stained glass window behind her, with the light hitting only her architectural face, she gave a memorable and moving performance by hardly moving, and without saying a word.

A few minutes later she told her husband the story of lost-love and early-death that had happened to her early in life. She collapsed into bed and wept herself to sleep. Her husband (Donal McCann) was devastated by her story. He went to a window and looked out on the moody, soggy, dim, Irish landscape. His spoken words closely followed Joyce's original words (Gutenberg.org):


A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun
to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling
obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on
his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general
all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central
plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and,
farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves.
It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the
hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the
crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on
the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling
faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of
their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

It was a perfect confluence of story, cinematography, and spoken dialogue; or maybe it was the perfect vocal delivery by the Irish stage actor. But it left me speechless. Perhaps there is nothing more exquisite than a beauty that you are just barely able to imagine, especially if it occurs just after a period of gloom and melancholy. 'Barely able', but you must!
_______________________________________________________


Exercise-and-Boondocking Team Update: Ted and I have camped in an ideal boondocking location for a couple weeks, in marvelously cool weather near Springerville AZ. We've had quite a few hikes and walks together. Some were hikes that lasted a couple hours and crested volcanic knolls with 50 mile views 360 degrees around. Some were just 15 minute doggie walks at sunset.

Our outdoors interests only overlap about 30%, but that has worked just fine. I go mountain biking with my dog instead of Ted, since he doesn't mountain bike. He rides his Kawasaki motorcycle to town to do errands, or just to get around and explore. He has a cat (groan) rather than a dog. He has a rig with fairly low ground clearance, so we've taken pains to get calibrated about how much roughness he can take compared to my rig.

Nor are our generator habits identical. I only have 280 Watts nominal of solar panels compared to his 350 Watts, but I need more electricity because of my 12 Volt (compressor-driven) Whynter refrigerator. But this hasn't been a problem because we can space out; also my generator is one of the small, quiet ones. It's really only the large construction-site generators that bother adjacent boondockers.






Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Amerika's Most Obscene National Holiday

Is "obscene" too harsh of a word? It could be. For many years I called Christmas the most obscene national holiday. But that was a mistake. The commercialism (and endless, stupid music) of Christmas might be objectionable on the basis of taste, but it doesn't really offend important values held by serious and sincere people. After all, Christmas really isn't a Christian holiday; it never was. It's simply about fun.

But the hypocrisies of the modern Fourth of July do offend the values that most Americans used to take seriously. What could be more disgusting than pretending to care about "freedom" one day a year when, in fact, freedom means little to the average Amerikan today.

Too bad I haven't paid more attention to politicians' speeches; it would be great to have statistical proof of a mere suspicion of mine that Democratic politicians don't even bother bloviating about freedom -- nobody would believe them if they did. The whole notion seems hopelessly retrograde, archaic, and embarrassing to them. In contrast, neo-con, police-state Republicans still pay lip service to "freedom." They don't mean a word of it.

If a Democrat gave a traditional Fourth of July oration s/he would probably blush, whereas a Republican wouldn't even see a problem, since the modern version of the Fourth of July has moved towards themes that he genuinely cares about: jingoism, militarism, and global imperialism.

We must go to words of the prophet (grin), Fred Reed (#348):
I gather that Americans tend to regard their national character as comprising such things as freedom, independence, individualism, and self-reliance. One thinks of Daniel Boone or Marlboro Man.
In fact we no longer have these qualities and probably never will again. Generally we now embody their opposites. Modern society has become a hive of largely conformist, closely regulated and generally helpless employees who depend on others for nearly everything.
Character springs from conditions. Consider a farmer in, say, North Carolina in 1850. He was free because there was little government, self-reliant because what he couldn’t do for himself didn’t get done, independent because, apart from a few tools, he made or grew all he needed, and an individualist because, there being little outside authority, he could do as he pleased.
All of that is gone, and will not return. Freedom has given way to an infinite array of laws, rules, regulations, licenses, forms, requirements.
And so, my fellow Americans, I say unto you that you should ignore this dreadful farce of a national holiday.