To Dip or To Work

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My last post was over a year ago — a year that passed pretty quickly.  Time speeding up seems to go with the territory of being double nickels now, as someone recently told me I was.  I hit 55 a couple months ago which makes me old enough to recall when that was the national speed limit…at least for those states that couldn’t wean themselves from the federal highway funding feedbag.  Oh so long ago.

I’ve been frustrated recently by those usurious bastards that go by the all-too-respectful name bankers.  So I got motivated to vent a bit here.

Throughout my investing life I’ve often carried large balances on credit cards/lines at low interests rates in favor of leaving assets in investment accounts that were gaining more than I was paying in interest.  I think it was really just a bit of a convenient justification for living beyond my means.  But, it actually sort of worked.  I saw my net worth climb and climb….the unsecured debt did as well – but, my finance background told me that was not necessarily a bad thing.

Recently I’m not sure it was the most excellent strategy I thought it was.  I’m not sure yet.  But, I’m facing some challenges that were not foreseen and I’ve been trying to decide on next steps…all the while also trying to figure out who to blame.  In the spirit of most in our consumerist society, I’ve decided it’s not my fault I’ve racked up some serious debt that’s becoming less and less economically wise.

Here’s the dilemma.  Upon retiring, and divorcing, my income dropped significantly.  Not unexpected of course.  But, how to make it match up with expenses is the trick that I found myself becoming less and less able to perform.  I’ve always readily met my obligations albeit by leaning on easy money from willing bankers.  It’s funny that I always naively thought in some warm and fuzzy way that they were loaning me money cuz I was a smart and reliable guy.  I mean…top secret security clearance, 25+ years serving the nation..etc.  I deserved it… – when I thought about it long enough….what the hell – deserved it?…. – to pay those crooks even the low rates I was paying when they were getting virtually free money from the fed on the back of our taxes… — ok, let’s leave it at I participated in the system.

So, where was I?

Ah yes, unable to readily perform the tricks.  Well, I found my credit score – and credit lines creeping downwards due to increasing debt to income ratios.  And, too, my previously friendly interest rates conversely began to creep up.

When this began to occur I thought to myself that they surely simply didn’t understand.

I have significant retirement assets, life insurance and equity in real estate …but, my banks could care less and are uninterested in loaning me money although I have a 35 year history of great credit.

So, I’m about to start tapping my retirement assets and incurring penalties because I’m under 59 1/2.  I’m frustrated because although I’m willing to pay these usurious bloodsuckers they’re no longer willing to make loans to me.

Just out of spite I’ve even considered filing bankruptcy. Although I’ve never considered that an honorable thing to do — it seemed like a reasonable weapon against the stacked system.  The rub is that the courts only let you keep a modest amount of equity on your home.  That whole line about getting to keep your home when you go thru bankruptcy…. – well it’s only if your home has little or no equity.  Ironically, I found the equity is less liquid than the retirement accounts….you can’t borrow against it unless you have income to pay the loan back….using a portion of the loan proceeds to make the loan payments seemed perfectly reasonable to me – but not to the UBs (usurious bastards)……heavy sigh.

So, at the end of the vent…all I’m left with is drawing on the retirement income and paying the penalties…. – or going back to work.  Which I’m giving thought to…not any type of serious job with real responsibilities….just something to keep my poker habit from forcing me into liquidating my savings. I was thinking Walmart greeter—but, I just saw today that Walmart parking lots are where Trump is more and more often stopping by to stir the folks up….I just couldn’t take that.

 

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Ignorantia Juris Non Excusat

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6 Dec 2014 – it seemed an apt day to leave some reminder – it was 29 year ago today that I, along with about 30 others, was commissioned an Ensign in the U.S. Navy.

I visited Pensacola maybe 4 years ago for a trip down memory lane – more on that some other time.  That’s where my commissioning took place.  After 14 weeks of “An Officer and a Gentleman.”  Undeniably a very proud moment for a fat kid whose parents never finished high school.

And those first years learning to operate a flying battle control center – I was proud then of what I was doing too.  But, looking back, I was never very interested in what I was doing as an officer in the prestigious Naval Aviation corps per se.   I was in it for the adventure – for the life experiences it would bring me.

I was always a good test taker – smart in that measurable way.  So, almost naturally, I ended up at the top of the basic flight class.  It wasn’t that way in AOCS – Aviation Officer Candidate School…the official name of the Officer and a Gentleman deal — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1Ehz_cAMGc  That test required physical effort – something I’ve never been very good at.

So, where was I.. – oh yeah, top of the basic flight class.  The Navy then, and now I imagine, operated under a concept known as ‘quality spread.’  The idea is that not all the best folks…best in terms of grades that is… can be slated into the same training pipeline.. – why not? – because that would result in the less desirable airplanes being operated by the dregs. It’s interesting that quality spread now seems to refer only to financial manipulations… — google it.

So the way quality spread worked is that the number 1 student got to choose the aircraft he was going to be trained to operate.  Number 2 got his choice only if it wasn’t the same choice as number 1.  Number 3 won, only if winning for him wasn’t the same as for numbers 1&2 etc.

There were 5 basic pipelines in that era.  Carrier-based officers  would go into one of 4 – 1) fighters 2) bombers 3) patrol/ASW (anti-submarine warfare) or 4) something called Airborne Early Warning (AEW) and then there was land-based patrol/ASW.

Then, also as now I imagine, 99 percent of the guys aspiring to be Naval Aviators wanted to fly fighters – the other 1 percent wanted to be bomber guys.  Virtually no one wanted to be anything else.  This is only a very slight exaggeration.  I don’t how much the popular culture back then influenced this dynamic – but, it was the era in which not only Officer and Gentleman was hot – but, right around then the box office smash Top Gun also was being released as well.

But me, with my ticket to be a fighter guy in hand I opted for AEW.  It wasn’t so much that I was a geek…in fact I wasn’t a geek.  It was that the AEW ticket offered a secured spot on the West Coast in San Diego for the next 4 years or so.  The other pipelines continued in Pensacola for a year and then were directed to either of the Coasts depending upon the needs at that future date.

Life experiences…. – the West Coast had to be more pleasant…and fun… than the East Coast….so off I went.

I remember pretty much believing in my country and what I was doing…probably because I was like most folks back then…to the extent I even watched the news or read about the world at large, I was virtually brain-washed by the propaganda spewed by the Reagan machine and the big three networks.  Sometimes when I’m trying to convince myself I wasn’t really such an ignorant slob, I think that maybe  we were fighting the good fight.  After all,  the Commies still did have the potential to trigger a fight that’d likely wipe out the world….so, being ready to fight against that seemed like a worthwhile cause.

I know that’s not true in my heart of hearts as it were.  But it is true that I don’t remember being even vaguely aware of the abuses ongoing in Central America and the whole Iran-Contra deal…I don’t even remember being phased by it.

Although I have great memories of that period of my life, in retrospect, it was a period that I passed in blissful ignorance of the horrors I was supporting by ‘serving’ my country.  It was nothing to be proud of, really.  But, I can’t say that I’ve gotten to the point in my journey where I am ashamed of my time in uniform.  I am not.  But, it is only, I think, because I was ignorant at the time…and so, I don’t hold myself as responsible as I probably should.

Becoming aware of my country’s hidden agendas as I did as I became older and wiser… and as I experienced more and more of the world…and bore witness to the impact of our policies and actions – it gradually hit me that I need to be ashamed of my action and participation… — I think I will always fell less ashamed of my behavior back during those heady days as a member of the Naval Aviation brotherhood… – but, I wonder if that sentiment is justified… — is ignorance an excuse…. – an excellent idea to ponder.

Inspiration

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Yeah, but ain’t it blessing to do what you wanna do?

I haven’t figured why yet. But, I keep running back to a song I recently discovered by a little-known singer named Shawn Mullins.

This existential period of mine seems to be stretching into more than just a period.

It’s nothing new really. All you ever hear when telling someone , at least somone who takes a moment to think about what’s being said, that you’re retired is that …oh, aren’t you bored…you have to do something!! Or die.

The song is about a singer…an early Bob Dylan type…not making any money – just going from coffee house to coffee house playing for tips. The singer is driving along a road that has a view to the sea…not important where really – but, the title of the song gives it away – it’s near Twin Rock Oregon…an interesting little place on the Coast pretty much due west of Portland. By the way – it’s a fascinating exercise to just ‘google maps’ a location when it takes your fancy…doing that in this case I learned that Washington and Oregon are divided largely by the Columbia river…being a mid-westerner and more a vagabond now than anything else – that tidbit was titillating for some reason…. – I’ve been keeping a list of places I want to visit and now that area is occupying a spot there.

Oh yes, — so, he pulls over to look at the sea round about sunset – yes, there are a couple of rocks that gave the area its name – they’re out there in the pacific…but, the song never mentions the rocks.. – there, a bum or vagabond… — knowing the difference is another thing I picked up from curiosity leading to a google search – anyway – the kind of guy one might call a hobo is hanging out there with a bottle of Mad Dog – watching the sun set… – the two get to talking and sharing the bottle…and the singer laments, sort of, that he doesn’t expect much in the way of economic benefit from his singing…and the wise ol man – who’s not really old…37 – sorta gets a whimsical look in his eyes – or so I imagine…and says the tagline of this post…

Man — it’s what it’s all about…the answer to my existential yearnings… — I just ain’t there yet.

Listen to it on you tube – like 25k others have — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_iBEsXMkxcc
Lots of enjoyable live versions there too – peace. – Oh yeah – the song leads one to think the old man is a reincarnation, or perhaps actually is, Richard Brautigan – also a worthwhile Google if you don’t know him – and certain to be another inspiration – of some sort.

Legacies

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I was asked the other day what are the things I’d most like to do before leaving this place- the world…life, that is.  It was sort of a casual question – but it got me thinkin… 

A couple things came to mind. 

I think the first thing I mentioned – and, therefore, perhaps, one of the more important things for me…was to someday set a bunch of helpless creatures free…I just said some lab animals…but as I’ve thought about it more since then…I guess it’s, in an indirect way, touching on the last thing I blogged about…wanting to make a difference…it wouldn’t be a legacy in the sort of way that there are legacies that people, on a broad scale, remember….but, it would certainly make a difference for those 20 or 30 …or maybe even 100 animalitos who were going to spend the rest of their live being wantonly experimented upon….small potatoes…or small beer as that saying goes….but, just maybe – it’s enough for me.

It was really the only thing that would have any impact that I could think of… — I’ve thought since then that it should inspire me to a greater ambition…after all, leaving no imprint on the world to speak of – other than in the minds (yes, I believe these creatures think) of a bunch of dogs or bunnies or maybe monkeys  — not very weighty stuff – but, then again, why do I need to do more…because I could…or because I need to make up for the bad…or that I was put here for better…. – there’s really no good reason that comes to mind.

The other things that came to mind were indulgences –  not worth mentioning except in the sense that none of this is worth mentioning….and so why not.

There were three others that I talked about.  The first was playing in the WSOP…or course those intials will only be recognizable to a minority of the 2 or three people who read this – so, here it is – World Series of Poker.  I had thought that I’d devote considerable time to poker once I retired.  Circumstances more than anything have kept me from that…. – I’m physically not somewhere that poker is available…and online doesn’t much interest me – the feel of the felt on a table or the weightiness of clay chips in my hand…those were things that I enjoyed…stacking up the chip after pulling off a bluff…hearing the chair slide back when an opponent calls it quits – the whole idea that, short of war, it’s the ultimate contest…  – ok, that’s over the top –  there are other things…like being a venture capitalist – but, who can seriously say they didn’t try when it comes to playing cards for money…when they’re beaten – it’s because you matched wits with them and came out ahead… — and it’s something that’s harmless…ok, yes, there are gambling addicts …but, I have convinced myself that the few gambling junkies who might get in my way don’t matter much… — it’s not like I’d be building an empire by exploiting workers….I’d just be outsmarting folks who entered into a game thinking there were going to outsmart me – not very weighty…no substance here – but, there it is.

Another one that has absolutely no link to anything of substance was to travel through all of the states on my Harley.  There’s an earth-shaking undertaking for you…. – no one would probably even know about it – other than my facebook friends…at least with the WSOP there is a 10k to 1 chance that there’s be 10 minutes of fame at the end.  I think it’s the Bob Seger song Roll me Away that that’s a driver for this…it’s got this line in it about salvation that strangely appeals to me – once again the reference may not resonate with you two – so, allow me to expand…the song’s about a dude who is tired of his own voice and just heads out the door one day and hops on his big two wheeler – and heads off into the sunset…he’s from the Midwest like me – and he winds up on his journey in the mountains – sort of – it’s physically somewhere on the continental divide – but, it’s not about the ground under his feet – it’s that he’s a t a crossroads in his life and has to choose his next step… — he’s staring out at the great divide that, because of the lyrics running up to it – one has to conclude is the continental divide…but, it could be anywhere…the guy is just trying to figure it out – which way to go – then he sees a hawk…a young hawk …rising and his soul begins to fly…. – but, then the guys says….next time…next time…he’ll get it right….like – wow – he’s pissed it all away…but, who the hell cares – not him… — to me – he’s saying – maybe next time he’ll get it right…this time, it’s ok… — he’s had a good ride/life…and it’s ok.  So, this soundtrack gives me some solace I guess… — somehow getting on that ride and trekking thru all 50 is a draw to me…. – for what it’s worth.  Oh – and btw – there is some silly contest that the Harley folks run each year to document having visited all 50 states… — so, maybe doing this would bring me 5 minutes of fame in the eyes of the others who are self-obsessed in their dreams… – but, I doubt it.

The next one I’ve come to see a a proxy fuck you to all the powerful folks out there – it makes no sense really – but, in my mind it does… — so, you have to listen to it.  I want to stand in front of an Israeli bulldozer that’s about to crush a Palestinian’s home and flip him or her off.  I put up a posting, one of my first over a year ago now, about a young woman who was run over and killed while doing this…she inspired me and still does…here’s a link to that posting http://wp.me/p2QFop-u so I don’t need to type out what her story is all about again —  — yes, it would be a pretty futile gesture…but, somehow, not to me.

So, there you have it – what is it that someone who’s had all the advantages ends up at 53 thinking he’d really like to do – not much really.  It’s time to acknowledge it is all – I’m not gonna leave any kind of legacy behind…except in the minds, maybe, of some dumb animals… — but, that’s completely ok… – cuz, like Bob sang…next time…I’ll get it right.

Oh and none of this means I quit posting useless crap on FB – trying to change the world that way…Ha!

Living

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Life – you can get through it or you can live it…

To live it you need 2 things says Steve E. – an inquisitive mind and fearless heart.

I always thought I’d have a lot to say that’d be worthwhile. It turns out, not so much. After 53 years on the planet, living extensively in 5 foreign countries and visiting 40 or so others…it just seems like I oughta have a lot to say. But, it’s seeming like not.

I do have around about 220 Facebook friends. And I do spend quite a bit of time throwing bombs there. There are a handful of the 220 who regularly reinforce me. Maybe that’s the best I can hope for.

I took a lot of notes for the first few months after retiring. I thought maybe I’d flesh them out into short stories or commentaries that’d be good enough to attract attention. It came down to simply not having the desire or the talent I suppose. I still think about it though. I get mildly insprired when I read about authors’ lives. I started on a bio of Norman Mailer recently.

I decided to type out these thoughts after seeing a FB posting and the new-ish Monuments Men movie.
The posting was from a blog by a self-described political activist. Here it is if you’re interested: http://www.michaelmaharrey.com/i-wish-i-didnt-care-533/ An old friend posted it to his page – thanks, JC.

The posting touched a nerve because it talks about apathy and how it’s easy to understand and sympathize…the movie made me think because of a character in it with which I identified. The character’s name is Donald Jeffries and the actor portraying him is Hugh Bonneville. He’s a recovering drunk who’s given another chance by the lead Monuments Man…George Clooney’s character. Jeffries dies trying to save a famous work of art…the real life person upon whom Jeffries is based died while doing something similar – thought the art work he wa working on wasn’t famous. In any event, the idea that one can get another chance and die doing something that leaves an impact is appealing for some reason or other.

From time to time I find my self wondering if I’ll end up doing anything that will leave a mark like the Jeffries character. And if so, what will be the path to the action. The posting on apathy speaks to me along these lines because the blogger basically says that he can’t stop himself from being an activist…he’s wired, he says, to not be apathetic. So, he struggles. I thought I was going to be like that….but, I’ve found myself more and more being what I detest…an apathetic bomb-thrower.

It’s a bit of a conundrum. The Jeffries character basically stumbles into an opportunity to leave a legacy. I guess I was hoping to get motivated by the blogger…to recognize what I’ve started to become and move towards action….but, the Jeffries character reinforces me in my inaction…maybe I’ll just get lucky and be able to leave a legacy…without exerting myself.

But, being a Jeffries is a pretty unlikely path to a life lived well and remembered. Being more like the blogger is probably the ticket to that legacy. At least it spurred me to sit down and put these thoughts together – FWIW.

Impunity

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In December of 2009 U.S. cruise missiles fired from a sub off the cost of Yemen killed over 40 innocent Bedouin villagers in southern Yemen. The area was called al-Majalah. Although my job was to be part of our national security apparatus, this event went largely unnoticed by me. It’s fair to say most Americans – probably 99% plus have never heard of this event. It’s a difficult fact to accept – but, it’s likely that even if most knew of it, it wouldn’t matter. I learned of it reading the book I mentioned in my earlier post – Dirty Wars.

I’ve been listening to some Kris Kristofferson lately. I was reminded of his song ‘The Circle’ when I read about the al-Majalah massacre. The song blends lyrics about a Clinton cruise missile strike in 1993 that killed Layla al-Attar, an internationally reknowned artist in Iraq (http://www.uruknet.info/?p=78864) with lyrics about los desaparacidos – victims of the Argentine terror in the late 70s and early 80s. In the version of the song I have – from a live album of a 2002 concert in SF – ‘Broken Freedom Song: Live from San Francisco’ – he introduces the song by talking about how he came to write it. He talks about hearing about how Layla was killed in a news clip. The Clinton strike was in retaliation for Iraq’s supposed attempt on the life of Bush the Elder. 20 some odd missiles were lobbed into a residential neighborhood where the HQ of Iraqi intelligence was located. 3 of them missed their target and Layla and her husband were killed – and their infant daughter was blinded. Kris said he felt like we ought to know the names of those we kill and it inspired him to write the song – interestingly, her name isn’t in the lyrics…but, it’s in some versions of the title.

I also just recently viewed for the first time in its entirety the ‘Collateral Murder’ video put out my Wikileaks (http://www.bradleymanning.org/learn-more/collateral-murder-video). It’s camera footage from a helicopter gunship that takes out about a dozen Iraqis who were in the wrong place at the wrong time as they say. Two of them were Reuters employees and some of them were just good Samaritans who happened by after the first wave of killings had left some live bodies. In the good Samaritan vehicle there were even some children.

According to the reporting in Dirty Wars, there were 75 USG officials involved in the ‘targeting meeting’ where a green light was given to take out the folks in al-Majalah. The target was a supposed Al Queda deputy in the that area who was in a ‘training camp’. Of the over 40 killed there were 21 children and 14 women, 5 of whom were pregnant. Reliable reports in the aftermath said there was no training camp. Yemen took credit for having performed the strike. Not long afterwards it became clear from fotos and reports that the cruise missiles used were unlike anything Yemen had in its arsenal and that it had been a U.S. strike. A quote from the pentagon lawyer who signed off as one of the 75 officials struck me – he said “if I were Catholic, I’d have to go to confession.”

What led to this post is the flip way in which USG officials….my former colleagues – comment on these things. Gallows humor – whereby folks who have these jobs use humor to relieve the inevitable stress associated with killing people – is the way this sort of thing sometimes gets described. The inhumanity – and the impunity…. – the surreal way in which those who bring these things to light are prosecuted – while those who have unleashed the actual atrocities go free and, worse, are celebrated….it’s too much to think about for long stretches of time….ugh.

Rogue State

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I’ve been reading Dirty Wars. Info about it is here: http://dirtywars.org/ The website is a bit too glitzy for my taste – but, a movie based on the book is coming out soon and I guess that explains it.

The book outlines the way the USA is pursuing terrorism. We’ve turned the whole world into a battlefield. Of course, apologists for what we’re doing will say that was the terrorists’ doing. That they chose the world as a battlefield. But, we’ve been waging war on the world for a long time – long before 9/11.

The 200+ years that we’ve been operating under our hallowed constitution is a long time. As history goes, it’s a very long time for a nation to have had peaceful handovers of power. And, in terms of destructive power, we have accumulated so much of it that there’s no question we’re the most powerful nation in the history of the world. So, having gotten here – we must’ve been doing something right, no?

So, the clear abuses of power that have taken place post 9/11 really aren’t something we should be concerned about. The ends justify the means. And our ends are pretty good ones – aren’t they?

As a kid I read all I could get my hands on about Vietnam. I remember reading about the Hanoi Hilton and thinking what animals the North Vietnamese and their Russian and Chinese backers must have been.

Since 9/11, it’s some shocking stuff that’s been taking place. Under the mantra of defending the homeland people have been swept up around the globe and physically and mentally abused in really obscene ways. We’ve been using the methods of our enemies as taught to our special forces folks in order to expose them to what they might expect if they were captured. Our leadership thought this way the right approach to take. This is documented in the book to have been Rumsfeld’s idea. The NSC approved it and various government lawyers came up with arguments they incorporated into documents that said it was all legal.

A quote from the book attributed to a career navy counterterrorist specialist: “we used purely enemy methodologies — taking them way past the safety margins…(which) completely breaks the moral fiber of anyone who raises their hand in oath to support and defend the constitution of the United States.”

Morally, this isn’t really anything new for the USA. Or is it? I think it is. We’ve always supported this sort of stuff – in Vietnam, Central America – School of the Americas – etc. But, now it’s being done in a much more open manner and by many more U.S. personnel. Well, it hasn’t been intended to be open – but, it’s so widespread that it couldn’t really have been expected to remain secret.

This stuff was done on a never-before-contemplated scale. It was evil when it was done before. But, the regularizing of this despicable behavior is what is so hard to face. The country we had is no longer. The flag officers and civilian leaders who determined this path for our country are, simply put, war criminals. And many of these flag officers are still serving. Obama, who has continued the targeted killings programs, is a war criminal. The United States is now what we used to refer to as a Rogue State – operating outside all civilized norms.

A couple quotes from the book – attributed to a Somali warlord – say it all: “The Bush administration overstated the strength of al Queda and Osama. But when he invaded Iraq, we all thought that Islam was under attack. That was al Queda’s biggest vicotory, and that is why we supported them.” “If there was accountability, Bush would have been executed like Saddam Hussein. But no one is powerful enough to hold the US to account.” Woe is us.