Inflation

We hear monthly in the statistics associated with the jobs report that inflation is low, that the FED has a target of 2% that they evaluate in the mission to keep the economy moving forward. The FED states that it’s mission is to promote the effective operation of the US economy, generally by conducting monetary policy to promote maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates in the US economy.

I am not an economist. But as a consumer, I see inflation all around me. It is not just in the increases we see in the costs of the products we purchase. We see it in reduced services that we pay for. A few years ago, Consumer Reports wrote about price inflation was hiding around shrinking packaging:

https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2014/05/can-shrinking-packages-trick-inflation/index.htm

The Consumer Reports article talked about reducing the size, quantity, and packaging of a product without an increase in price. I have witnessed this firsthand over the past few years. The package of Oreo’s that I buy my kids. The package is the same, the weight appears to be the same, but when I open it up, it is a few cookies short. The Pop Tarts appear thinner than they were several years ago. Measure the size of a Ritz cracker? The diameter is less than it was a few years ago. A family box of cereal. The size of my Captain Crunch cereal is less than it was several years ago. Same size box and weight. More of it fits on my spoon. Same taste. The list goes on and on.

I can often tell when something is going to change in that I will pay more for less. The company puts the products for sale in the stores. Then they create a new package for the product, or they introduce a new flavor (pumpkin pie Pop Tarts), then put the new packages on the shelf. You are paying the same price, but now you have less. It is later that the reduce the quantity even more in the new process. It becomes a new cycle. Sometimes there are subsequent price increases as inflation picks up in other areas.

My recent experience with some Ritz crackers got me thinking about this issue of packaging. I had two different sources of the crackers, and there it was, two different sizes. Both were Ritz, both were made from the same company. The taste was the same, but the size was different. The impetus for my post was my recent visit to my banks ATM. I typically withdraw money every week for purchases. Up until last week, my $80 withdraw was 4 twenty dollar bills. Now, unless otherwise programmed beforehand, is a $50, a $20, and a $10. It may be that my bank is trying to offer more. It may be that by makinging withdrawals in $50’s instead of $20’s, they are trying to be more convenient. It think it is inflation. When people buy things, they think less about total costs if they get more change back. Stores typically frown when you pay with a $20. My sausage burrito from Chili Works is typically $7.95. If everybody pays with a $20, change can be difficult. Paying with a $50 is impossible. Filling up the car with regular was usually 1 to 2 twenty dollar bills. Now it is $50. I guess costs are just continuing to go up, often at a rate faster than my salary.

Some inflation is understandable if it is tied to the basic laws of supply and demand. Some it is out of control. Medical costs and the costs of higher education are two that have received much press of late. Not clear why these are increasing. My theory is that since Government is involved, there is an unlimited supply of money and so there is no need to control costs. Costs go up, they never go down. All I can say is buyer beware.

Yes, it has been a few weeks

…and that frustration funk within me continues. I have been to work. I have been on travel for work. I have gotten out. I have stayed hidden. I find today that I am no different than yesterday, last week, or last month. Thought that I might have had an epiphany while I was on travel. Trying to sort through it now. Something is weighing on me but I cannot define it, I cannot break away from it, advance it, articulate it. WHAT IS IT? Not optimistic but will meander through it, much like now as I meander through life. Cannot give up. Too much to do. Too many roads left to travel.

Life is good. The kids have been in school for over a month. Son continues to plow through. Got new glasses. Broke new glasses. Taking ukulele AND trumpet lessons. Now if I can get him to just practice! Encouragement doesn’t stick. He excels in math and does ok with the other things, but he doesn’t like to talk about it. Daughter continues to just do enough to get buy. Homework has her slammed. That’s ok but it is a single subject, what we old folks would have said was English back in the day. Rounds it out with algebra, physics, world history and Latin. Yes, you read that right. She is also taking photography, learning to develop on film. As a former chemist, this is so cool.

Work continues to get me up, get me angry, pays the bills. No longer a career. Just another necessity in getting through the day. Management sucks. The contract transition brought in a new group. Never see them around. They are focused on what will make them the most money and not on what the government pays us to do. There is politics, there is greed, there is sex and drugs and it’s human toll, stress, infidelity. A regular Payton Place if I dare to dig into the past. I have long said that if the American population was smarter, that I could write a half hour sitcom that would be watched weekly by millions. Think of the Big Bang Theory meets Get Smart in the daily soap opera. Am I being too negative?

For 21 years I have worked on the same project in different capacities. Stagnation, yes. Belief in mission, yes. Challenging, every day. Good at it, I’d like to think so. The different capacities evolved from managing people to managing money to managing technology. Now it should be just turning the crank yet nothing is ever easy or simple. It was the belief in mission that kept me around the longest. Focused on a belief that I was actually doing something to better mankind. Now that mission set is gone. Replaced with a different mission set. It is cheaper, therefore it must be better. I think not. It has changed from something great to something stupid. In the end, we don’t really advance, we just continue to kick the can down the road. Sadly, as humans we never learn simple realities. They are like fables. This one is equally simple. We will spend billions, but dilution is not the solution to pollution. Sadly, we will learn that lesson somewhere in the future, again!

As humans, we constantly strive to be better. Sadly, we loose too many along they way. Our common human frailties pull us back, knock us down, keep us from being better. One step forward, two steps back. We become greedy, savage, we look at everything in a microscope created by our education, our upbringing, our environment. I see myself, as I am writing this, out of control, rambling words slung together, not knowing where I am heading, or what I am doing. It’s back to that frustration and funk that I cannot solve, that I cannot figure out. Too many cliches?

And now for something totally different. Today is Ullrfest at Pajarito Mountain. Pajarito is northwest of Los Alamos and is the local skiing establishment. Ullrfest is an annual festival where People come to party, to pray to the Norse God of snow for a good ski season in 2019-20 and have some fun! Ullrfest features live music, lift-served mountain biking and hiking, food from Pajarito Mountain Cafe, and a New Mexico Brewfest. I don’t ski but the hiking is good and looks like the weather will cooperate in that it will be nice.

Frustration and a funk…continued

It has been almost two weeks since my last post. I am still in a funk. I am still frustrated. Whether it is at work, at home, or talking to the kids, this blasé feeling continues.

I find myself thinking a lot about it. Why am I frustrated? What is causing my funk? It could be caused by a great many things in my life. I look around at the insanity that there is in the country, in the world. I look inward and wonder about my own sanity. What is it?

Sometimes writing helps, but the fog bank that covers my mind is fairly significant. Writing reports at work is long stretches of sitting at the computer staring at the monitor. I try talking to my kids, to my coworkers, my friends. I cannot put my finger on the problem. What is the problem? Should I be concerned?

I remember one morning about seven years ago feeling like this for quite sometime. Going through some heavy things, divorce and all of that. I was pissed. I was getting screwed. I was confused. What did I do wrong? Long sleepless nights. Well that one day, I think I got up and thought I would go to work early…too early. Could not sleep. Drove to my office and thought this was all bullshit! Turned the car around and went for a drive. Drove from Los Alamos to Telluride. That is over 300 miles on some fairly scenic roads. Driving the back roads of Colorado, snow on the peaks, green forests. Managed to get to the New Sheridan Hotel in time for lunch. It was a beautiful day.

Walked in to the bar and ordered a beer. That was it. Had a cold beer.

Finished the beer and walked out of the hotel. It wasn’t even a fancy beer. But it was cold and quenched my thirst. I was relaxed. The first time in a long time. It was a beautiful day. Took a deep breath, got back in the car and drove home. Forgot about everything that was bothering me. They say that driving can do that. Not sure if it was the serenity of the countryside, the carefree attitude of just blowing off work, the stress in my life, the fresh air. I love Telluride and wish that I could live there all year round.

Anyway, I returned to my reality and realized that I blew off work, blew off picking up the kids, blew off the world around me. All of those stressors suddenly came back. People were out looking for me. My phone had literally hundreds of text messages. I had turned the damn thing off before the trip. The police were out looking for me. I didn’t call into work so there was the whole fitness for duty matter. I was relaxed and at peace. I did nothing wrong, was in complete control of my faculties. I felt great. I actually chuckled at the whole thing. The first really humorous thing that made me laugh in a long while.

Yes people were concerned. But I felt great.

Maybe it is time to take another road trip.

Atomic Protest

I have been cogitating on this article now for about two weeks. Of late I have been distracted, trying to work through some other issues that have consumed lots of time and have kept me from even writing and thinking about what to write. Maybe I have been having my own little atomic protest inside my head…

Early August brings to Los Alamos a number of protestors who spend several days protesting the use of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the modern day efforts associated with Los Alamos and our nations nuclear stockpile.

This year marks the 74th anniversary of those events of August 6th and August 9th. To the best of my knowledge, there we no protests, no silent prayers or people with signs at Ashley Pond. The was no Hollywood type marching across the bridge from the town to the lab to get arrested. To the best of my knowledge, there was no one. And since I live a couple of blocks from downtown Los Alamos, I would have noticed. There was not even a candle lit. There was no master management memo telling employees how to handle the protesters. There was nothing.

Los Alamos and Ashley Pond in December 1946.
https://www.energy.gov/em-la/mission/history-environmental-management-los-alamos-national-laboratory

Nothing remains of the picture above, except for Fuller Lodge and Bathtub Row and the pond (upper right hand corner of the photo). The Laboratory buildings of the Manhattan Project were torn down when the lab moved across the canyon to where it sits today and the townsite expanded as the Cold War evolved. Today Ashley Pond is a peaceful park in the center of town, often the center of concerts, people exercising, people walking with their kids and or dogs, picnics, and a quiet place to get outside.

Ashley Pond today, from Central Avenue.

Anyway, the groups usually protest with signs and hold candlelight services around the Pond itself. The groups, depending upon the year, number from a couple to a few tens of people. In 1999, there were over 400 protestors.

This year there were none.

Last year there were about 85 people, according to the local press. Some were here to protest the 73rd anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Others were here to protest President Trump, who was dealing with North Korea at the time. A third group was here protesting the Laboratory and its ongoing work it nuclear weapons and pit manufacturing.

Probably the best article that I have read about the protestors can be found is entitled “Breaking Through the Normalcy of Los Alamos on Hiroshima Day” by Rev John Dear. To summarize his article, “the normalcy of Los Alamos is so inhumanly, grotesquely, demonically abnormal as to seem perfectly reasonable.” The article can be found at

https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/08/06/breaking-through-normalcy-los-alamos-hiroshima-day#

I found it an interesting read.

Nothing was written and there was silence this year. Aside from an article about a group protesting in April at the Trinity Site in southern New Mexico, all I could find was an August 22 article in the LA Times. The article, which can be found at

https://www.latimes.com/travel/story/2019-08-22/new-mexico-los-alamos-weekend-trip-atomic-van

was a weekend travel review about…visiting Los Alamos and was a promo for local tourism.

There is much more that I could add to this article. There are many subjects for future posts. As my writing and posting picks up….

Technology

Today was orientation for my daughter who is going into 9th grade. After a morning orientation for her, a one hour orientation for the parents, I had to double check her registration since she was out last week. The main office had no idea what we were talking about. After a few phone calls and questions, we were able to get things taken care of so she can start school tomorrow.

First up was to pick up her Chromebook. Let me say at the outset that I don’t think highly about Google. It is clear that they have a monopoly on the internet, and want to take over computers and phones and manage your house. That’s too much control and they really need to do a better job at privacy and protection of personal information. I’ll save that for another time.

Next up was to gather her textbooks. They were closed. So since we had time before lunch and to get son squared away, we stopped by the office to make sure she was registered correctly, and check out her locker and walk around the campus so she understood where all of her classrooms are housed. The campus has multiple buildings.

It was there that she zinged me. I asked if they could help me with my PowerSchool log-in. I was having trouble and could not get in. PowerSchool allows me, as the parent, to check grades, her assignments, and a bunch of things. I commented that we didn’t have these issues when I was in high school 40 years ago. Her response was “well father, back then they did not have technology”. I turned, laughed and. Said “yes, we had typewriters”.

That started a whole conversation about how stressful things have become for kids. The assistant, who was younger than I said that “back then, we didn’t have to worry about things because if you did something stupid, looked bad, whatever. Today it is photographed and on the internet”. My response was, “that was true, but I can find photos of me that would fit these characterizations”. She was right, it wasn’t that they didn’t exist, it was that they would be available for all to see, instantaneously, today because of the internet. In my age, I still had control of the media, who could see these things, so on and so forth. Today everything is instantaneous. That is why today we must have instant satisfaction, instant gratification. No patience. In my day, we had to be patient Time was our friend.

Today, time isn’t a factor because everything happens at the speed of light. We do not have the time to appreciate the finer things, to contemplate what we are doing, to venture down a road that is a bad decision and contemplate our actions.

We need to start thinking for the long term. Contemplate before you act. Stop and smell the roses. Enjoy those moments. I enjoyed mine today. Not to be outdone, son also got to meet his teacher and we checked out his classroom. He will also do well this year I am certain. His teacher is the same teacher as my daughter had when she was in 6th grade. She had fun. I am hoping the same for him.

The Day Before the First Day of School

Tomorrow is the day before the first day of school. Daughter has a morning of orientation and registration. Son has an afternoon meet and greet with his teacher, and a haircut and a fitting for glasses. I cannot believe that summer is over.

Where did the summer go? I had plans for weekend trips and camping with the kids; quiet excursions to coffee shops to read and to work on the stable. I did none of this.

For daughter, much of her summer was spent riding and not doing much of anything else. Riding did not fill her day, nor did she ride everyday. The rest of her day was spent drawing, listening to music and computer games with her friends. As for the riding, she would work harder and ride daily as time got close to competitions. She competed in several events this year, from The Eventing X Games at Goose Downs, the Coconino Horse Trials and the USPC Championships Central Region. She placed individually and as member of a team in some but not all of the competitions.

She was part of the Southwest Pony Club team and they managed several first place finishes last week at the USPC Championships (photo above) Riding will continue with the start of school and so we shall see how things go for the rest of the year.

But school comes first and in the case of daughter, she will be starting 9th grade. My teenager is starting high school.

For son, he spent much of the summer in several week day camps. They included art camp, two weeks of hiking and nature camp and two weeks of a computer game programming camp. The summer art camps were not as good as the school year Wednesday art camps, and we still had problems with him being challenged at the schools and being bullied. Still, he had a good summer, with four of his pieces getting into the end of year art show at Fuller Lodge (photo lower left). Unfortunately, he spent too much time on the computer playing games, but let’s hope that 6th grade will temper his game playing as school becomes more challenging for him.

I think if you ask him, his best day of the summer was when I took him to Dave and Busters for the afternoon (photo upper right). I had fun as well.

Summer is almost over. No trips, concerts, or even weekend getaways for me. I find myself still in my funk and think I need to just get away from work for awhile. Or perhaps a major change.

Sunday ramblings

Today is Sunday August 4. Spent the better part of the past 3 days contemplate my future. In the background is the Fox News broadcast “Life, Liberty & Levin”. I seldom watch the news on TV, but there wasn’t anything else worth watching. The platform is a question and answer session, which is better than many of the talking heads from both sides of the political spectrum. The subject is a discussion about the second Cold War with Niall Ferguson. It entails an economic war as opposed to a military conflict, but that the long view is that China will win because they take a long-term view and that our political system will rive change and we will loose site on the long term. Interesting conversation. I have long found that the interface between economics and history/politics interesting. If I had been smarter, perhaps I could have made a career in the field.

Daughter leaves for the US Pony Club National Championships central region. The competition is in Colorado this year, which is a 6 hour trip near Denver. Son and I will stay home to keep the stress down. I wish her luck in all of the events that she is competing in. Hopefully she will remain n the horse and finish. Both she and Ruby have been practicing hard the past several weeks. She will be competing in show jumping and eventing.

Friday I managed to visit with my financial guy to review my status on the path towards retirement. While I am on tract, I have a few areas to clean up. The discussion covered numerous areas beyond just focusing on 401k balances, debt, and what I plan to do after retirement. Of course, plans are always subject to change. Given the current political climate, I am concerned that much could change and destroy my plans and my future.

Then of course, we had another weekend of a lone gunmen and mass killings. I am pro gun and believe that guns don’t kill people, rather people kill people. That said, I have no problems with background checks, licenses and insurance much like one has for an automobile, keeping automatic guns out of the hands of people, and mental health. You need to keep guns out of the hands of some people. The issue then becomes how. You also need to acknowledge that if people want to harm others, they will. I get a check up annually as far as my mental health as required for my job and my employer. Sadly, I am afraid that the increases in gun killings recently has more to do with the declines in our society and it’s values, the fact that we continue to lesson the value of human life. This is in opposition to those who subscribe to a theory that the increase is associated with the number of guns available.

There is much hate these days, and it surfaces on social media often. Politically, we are divided as a nation and it shows in many areas. I will have more to say about these topics as we continue on the journey of this blog.