Ed's thoughts

"One final paragraph of advice: Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am-a reluctant enthusiast... a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to your body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards." - Ed Abby

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Paddling Out

We are blessed here with 3 point breaks and a beach break. On small days the beach is better, and on big days the points are better. But whenever the points are working, they are crowded. Forty people in the water does not always create the best vibe. Some are locals. Some are tourists. Sometimes tempers flare.

I surf to relax, and so I prefer the beach when the points are crowded. More often that not, however, this means that the waves are breaking on the outer bar, making it harder to paddle out. On the points you can always paddle around the breakers, but on the beach you've got to go through them. This does not make for an easy commute.

Commuting was on my mind last week when I heard a story on NPR about a helicopter commuter service from northern New Jersey to Manhattan at a fee of $100 each way. At $200 for a round trip, the service represents significantly more money than I live on in a week, including rent, food, and my Wednesday 110 kilometer roundtrip commute to the University.

Like paddling through breakers on the beach, that commute does not represent the easy way out. It's starts with seven kilometers on my folding bicycle with a backpack full of books, a patch kit and pump in case of a flat. My Busit card rewards me with a $2 discount for the next 43 kilometers on Gobus, and my folding bike ensures an interesting conversation with a stranger.

Once in the big city, I've got another 5 kilometers to the University campus. The streets are mostly flat and many have cycle lanes. By now I know the shortcuts through quiet neighborhoods, and which bakeries sell day-old donuts at half price.

The return trip is much the same, except for the donuts. I do, however, arrange to stop at the supermarket next to the bus station where prices are significantly lower than at our small, local grocery. By picking up a few items there, the money saved is greater than the price of the round trip bus fare, which is just over 10 New Zealand dollars. At the average exchange rate, that's about 6 U.S. dollars. Not bad...compared to what I hear some people pay to commute.

But it's no helicopter ride, and it's not what most people would consider convenient. But convenience costs. By reducing my expenses, I reduce the need for income. Reduced income comes from fewer hours worked. Few hours worked allows more free time. More free time means more time on the board...even if it is at the beach.

Speaking of which...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Rogue Wave

Of course hindsight is 20/20. But it is helpful for taking stock.

With light, offshore winds and a small swell this week, I've had ample time to sit on my board and look back over the last few years. A lingering cloud ceiling has offered protection from the sun, but it makes it extraordinarily challenging to judge the size of incoming waves. On the water, depth perception is hindered by filtered sunlight. Nonetheless, the lully sets are mostly predictable. Occasionally, however, they offer a surprise and catch almost everyone inside.

I never saw it coming.

As an environmental educator for the last 20 years, my attention was dedicated to ecological issues such as species extinction, atmospheric issues such as climate change, and in the last decade, geological issues such as peak oil. I could readily recognize unsustainability in these realms, but gave little thought to the world of finance. My personal financial strategy was extremely conservative: I paid off my college loans as soon as I could; I contributed the maximum to my retirement account; I kept my savings in bank CDs. I was a good boy. I never lived beyond my means. I was the poster child for prudence.

I saved all my money for 10 years and bought a 38 acre farm with cash. No mortgage. No personal debt. The national debt always concerned me, but whenever I brought it up, friends and family insisted it was not a significant concern.

Remember, I had plenty of other concerns: species extinction, climate change, peak oil, etc. Hindsight has proven how naive this next statement is: I had faith that those running the financial institutions knew what they were doing. Sitting on my board and looking back over the financial tsunami I have to laugh at myself...for a moment. And then I get angry.

This is why I am angry.

I played it safe. I was conservative. I did not put myself at risk, but now I am paying for the recklessness of others. Nearly every financial policy decision coming out of Washington over the last year rewards spenders and punishes savers. Beyond the big bank bailouts, they include government subsidized home buying and car buying. In other words, certain Americans get a coupon from the federal government to go shopping which is (theoretically) paid for by all American taxpayers. More likely it will simply be put on the national credit card and further saddle future generations with crippling debt.

But for me, the greatest injustice is so-called "quantitative easing." Like lawyers, economists use language to exclude ordinary folks from the conversation. Quantitative easing is simply the United States Federal Reserve creating dollars out of thin air. But it does not take a degree in economics to understand supply and demand. When the supply of something increases, the value of each individual unit of that something decreases. In other words, if you are a saver, your savings are worth less. You are paying for the recklessness of others. This choice is not yours. It has been made for you by "financial experts."

Again, this may be naive, but I feel betrayed. No good deed goes unpunished. I consider myself powerless against the unsustainable decision-making of governments and financial institutions. Unlike tea-partiers who choose to fight, I choose withdrawl. I refuse to invest my life energy into a corrupt system. The naive would say I am no longer a contributing member to society. Yes, I'm not contributing to the growing debt, but I should be thanked for that. I can also grow more food for less expense per square meter than nearly anyone on the planet. Who knows, this knowledge may contribute to society one day.

I guess I'll just have to wait and see. Wait on my board and see what emerges through the filtered sunlight. If I'm lucky, a rogue wave will carry me all the way to shore.