Tuesday, January 29, 2013


There is nothing better than travel to jolt ones mind out of rutted tracks. One of the benefits of Peace Corps service is the near-constant opportunity and obligation to travel, at least within the host country. If much of this travel is unglamorous and exhausting we may better appreciate the times it is refreshing and exhilarating.

I'm back from a week about in San Bernadino, La Colmena, Asuncion and Luque for respectively our CloseOfService Conference, a trip with nearly our whole training group (G-35) to a beautiful waterfall called Salto Cristal, office business and a Sunday visit to a friend. I arrived back in town five hours before my Tuesday morning reading class, which was fun and heartwarming as usual.

Salto Cristal

G-35 Living it up

I've got some un-Peace Corps related ideas I'd like to get down before they get any more corrupted by habitual thinking...

Gun control: I've actually had my opinion mature about gun control, which surprises me given the intransigence and vitriol that generally accompanies it in the public discourse.

1) The USA's annual rate of shooting-deaths is insanely, unacceptably high.

2) The USA also has a rate of gun ownership much, much higher than comparable countries.

Therefore: it is too easy to get guns in the USA.

3) Most shooting victims are shot by handguns. Scary rifles are the instrument of few American civilian deaths.

4) Mexican drug cartels purchase guns in the USA because it is really easy to do so. These assault weapons are used against the Mexican Army, Police, and citizens at large.

Therefore: restrictions on purchasing assault weapons should be strengthened, but we shouldn't expect this to lead to a significant decrease in domestic shooting-deaths.

5) It is an American right for citizens to own guns for hunting or protection.

6) A gun in the home is more likely to harm its owner than an intruder. "In the 1990s, a team headed by Arthur Kellermann of Emory University looked at all injuries involving guns kept in the home in Memphis, Seattle and Galveston, Tex. They found that these weapons were fired far more often in accidents, criminal assaults, homicides or suicide attempts than in self-defense. For every instance in which a gun in the home was shot in self-defense, there were seven criminal assaults or homicides, four accidental shootings, and 11 attempted or successful suicides." NYT editorial

7) It is extremely difficult to effectively confront a mass-murder in the heat of the moment even for experienced soldiers and police officers.

Therefore: Gun ownership ought to entail considerable responsibilities, including training, background checks and registration of all owned firearms.

1) I am well positioned compared to the average american. I am well-educated, supported by stable family members, smart, talented, without a criminal record. To top it off I am a straight white male, which presumably still has its implicit advantages (I don't think that's fair or right, I'm just saying). I will shortly be a returned Peace Corps Volunteer, which I am told carries some weight, in a general sort of way.

2) I have negligible experience doing specific skilled jobs.

3) There are many many people in my age-cohort with similar qualifications (good education, stable backgrounds, good at lots of general things, etc.)

4) The pool of well-paid, satisfying jobs is small. The so-called creative-class are the people who have jobs which involved creative output, thinking and making decisions essentially. Teachers, managers, planners, lawyers, doctors, consultants, executives, engineers, writers, journalists, designers, etc. and make on average $80,000 per year.

5) The rest of the job-sector is made up of blue-collar work (factory, construction, transportation jobs) and the service sector (food service, retail, cleaning, etc.). The service sector is the least paid and fastest growing part of the economy, while the blue collar sector is shrinking. These classes both on average earn between $25,000-$40,000 a year (service sector is at the lower end).

6) Much, possibly most, of my generation is trained for and aspires to creative-class jobs. Blue collar work, upon which the USA was physically and spiritually founded, is decreasingly common, decreasingly well-paid and is treated dismissively in much of what we tell young people about what they should do when they grow up. To work in the creative class is essentially the only way to participate in the American Dream (safe, stable family life, ownership of a comfortable home and comfortable cars, assurance of quality health-care and education for the whole family, difficult but satisfying work) in modern American society.
"the more fundamental long-term problem is that there is simply something of a mismatch between the expectation of students and also the reality of the job markets. We have do have four million retail sales clerks in the United States. These are not very glamorous jobs but there are a lot of them, and those are still growing in number. We have a lot of home health care aides and truck drivers and plumbers and electricians. More and more and more of our 22-year-old young adults have college degrees. They're not all going to get jobs as scientists and managers. Some of them are going to be almost forced by the sheer numbers into these other kind of positions." - Dr. Vedder, University of Ohio

7) I am a democrat. I admire and esteem the life of the average person, I believe in the wisdom and virtue of the population at large. I think beauty can be found in a simple life and that material wealth does not equate happiness or necessarily evince a life well-lived.

8) While there will be competition for jobs and status within the creative class, the greatest competition, the existential competition, will be amongst those who are trying to get in to the creative class and stay there.

9) I aspire to an interesting, well-compensated job that will allow me to pay off my student loans and also live the middle class American Dream (which I may modify with bicycles instead of cars and urban density instead of suburban). Therefore I must spurn my democratic impulses and try to claw my way into is 35% of the working population (to be fair I was born into it, so I suppose it's just clawing out my own nook) of whom consist the creative class.

Therefore: I've got to decide on what I want I want to do in the next years of my life and make it happen. I'm not going to "sell" myself, because I don't believe in buying or selling human beings, but I've got to promote myself as a job candidate to out-compete my peers for those good jobs.

what comes next?


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