Friday, April 29, 2016

Doofus Of The Day #903


Today's award goes to the pilot of a Norwegian Air Force F-16.

Two F-16s were taking part in a mock attack on the uninhabited island of Tarva off Norway's west coast when one of them opened fire with its M61 Vulcan cannon, which is capable of firing up to 100 rounds a second.

A hail of bullets hit the tower in the incident, which happened on the night of April 12, but the officers inside were not injured.

In a similar incident in 2009, F-16s fired in error on the same tower, with at least one round piercing the structure, but again no-one was injured.

There's more at the link.

After two such incidents, if I were a Norwegian Air Force officer, I'd regard a posting to that tower as the exact opposite of career-enhancing . . . more like an invitation to play Russian roulette at one hundred rounds per second!

(Of course, the US Air Force isn't immune from similar accidents . . . )




Peter

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Fred: The establishment is "Putrefaction most foul"


Fred Reed's latest column is a masterpiece.  Here's an excerpt.

Donald Trump’s campaign reveals the establishment for what it is, a swamp of corruption  as fetid as those of Latin America. It is better entertainment than Vaudeville. The frantic scramble to rig the primaries, change the rules, and thwart the voters–anything to defend their cozy entanglement of political tapeworms–makes absurd any pretense of democracy.

. . .

But it does make sense. The Republicans try desperately to ditch the only Republican candidate who could win the Presidency because... Hillary is one of them. Because, as every sentient being has by now noticed, the Republicans and Democrats are members of the same corrupt club of blood-sucking parasites, the action arm of the corporations, Wall Street, the Israeli lobby, and those who want the US to control the world at any cost–except, of course, to them. They are panicked at the rise of someone who might put first the interests of America. Better Hillary, a fellow parasite, than Trump, who isn’t.

. . .

Will  the two parties succeed in blocking the Donald? Might they even resort to the Martin Luther King solution? My powers of political prognostication would be under zero if they could figure out how to get there.

. . .

The corruption is adroitly hidden, yes, or disguised as something else. Yet it is there. Consider the subprime disaster. To believe that it was an accident, or a cyclical downturn, or other artifact of econobabble, one has to believe that bankers, realtors, and Wall Street do not understand mortgages, credit, or defaults. You have to believe that officials of the Treasury, who slide back and forth between Wall Street and government like the motion of the tides, had no idea what was going on.

At the top, America is as corrupt as Mexico but American corruption is far more efficient. Among the white middle class, the rot is less. But within the clubhouse of insiders,  at the level of the anointed, of the Adelsons and Epsteins and Clintons and Bushes, there is putrefaction most foul.

It is cleverly done, and seldom involves anything so sordid as open bribery. Yet the results are everywhere. Men who knew exactly what they were doing engineered the student-loan bubble. Yet it is legal, like so many scams. Huge military contracts for things not needed, the near-control of Mid-Eastern policy by Israel, poor medical care at high prices, the deliberate gutting of American industry so that corporations can enrich themselves in China–all of this is legal. You pay Congress and it makes legal anything you want.

. . .

Corruption has come to be the purpose of government, and the Club battens on it.

. . .

Of course Trump also is a billionaire,but he is a turncoat, a class traitor, the Benedict Arnold of billionaires. He addresses the issues that the Insiders want to remain unaddressed. He is indeed dangerous. He threatens the endless (immensely profitable) wars, the endless (immensely profitable) shipping of American jobs to China, the endless (immensely profitable) importation of cheap Mexican labor. He threatens the sacred rice bowls.

It is why he must be stopped.

There's more at the link.  Go read the whole thing.  It's well worth your time.

As I've said several times before, I'm neither in favor of nor opposed to Mr. Trump as a Presidential candidate.  Some of what he's said sounds excellent.  Some things in his track record don't square with what he's currently saying, and I'm not sure whether that's political dissimulation or a genuine change of heart.  The jury's out on that.  Nevertheless, I think Fred Reed has put his finger on the pulse of precisely why the establishment - which, as I've pointed out earlier, is nothing more or less than the wealthy class in America - is so united in its opposition to him.

This is also going to be problematic if Mr. Trump is elected President.  What if the establishment - which has long since bought control of Congress and the Senate - ensures that his policy proposals are never enacted into law?  Will he do an Obama and try to rule by executive fiat, without legislation authorizing his measures?  Or will he respect the Constitution, but be forced into a public relations presidency, telling the American people what he would like to achieve but never being able to actually do so?  Your guess is as good as mine.

It would be very nice if the American people would 'throw the rascals out' and elect Congressional representatives and Senators who were genuinely committed to representing their constituents, rather than the establishment . . . but I suspect that would take a home-grown version of 1789 to achieve - and I don't want to endure the inevitable consequences of such an upheaval.

Peter

A tank-buster for maritime patrol?


I was surprised to learn of an unusual maritime patrol aircraft currently deployed to the Philippines.  The Washington Post reports:

The situation in the South China Sea has grown even more complex over the past week, with A-10 attack planes flying maritime patrols over a coral reef chain known as Scarborough Shoal. It’s less than 150 miles to the west of the Philippines, and considered a site where Beijing may carry out “land reclamation” and continue its military expansion in the region this year, prompting concern from the United States and its partners in the region.

The A-10 might seem like an unlikely plane for the mission, though. The heavily armored twin-engine “Warthog” has been in service since the 1970s, and was designed for close-air support, in which combat aircraft assist ground troops by attacking enemy tanks, vehicles and positions. There is none of that around Scarborough Shoal, and the plane is considered more vulnerable than other American military planes against surface-to-air missiles.

. . .

Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, a spokesman for Air Forces Pacific, said Wednesday that the A-10 has excellent loiter capabilities and maneuverability at low air speeds and altitude that are “necessary for conducting the air contingent’s air and maritime domain awareness and personnel recovery missions.”

There's more at the link.

It's an interesting choice for many reasons.  The A-10 might also be pretty capable at maritime interdiction, if - if - it could get through the layers of modern air defenses carried by most navies.  Its 30mm. cannon should be more than capable of turning the average frigate or destroyer into a colander, and it can carry up to 8 tons of bombs and missiles.  If it can get close enough without being shot down, I'd hate to be on the receiving end.

Peter

Fake transgender criminal report


I'm afraid I was taken in by a false news report about a transgender criminal taking pictures of young girls in a ladies' restroom.  I've deleted my post about it.

If you'd like to know more, see here.

My apologies for the confusion.

Peter

Not your average Starbucks


I've been amused by an article in the Telegraph titled 'Ordering Coffee in Italy:  The 10 Commandments'.  Here's an excerpt.

I once met an Italian who didn't drink coffee. He made light of the fact, but you could see that he was tired of having to explain his disability every time some new acquaintance uttered the standard Italian greeting: "Prendiamo un caffè?" ("Fancy a coffee?"). His breezy but faintly passive-aggressive manner concealed, I suspect, deep pools of self-doubt and underground lakes of wounded masculine pride. Vegetarians develop the same nonchalant yet haunted look when travelling in places like Mongolia, where meat comes with a side-dish of meat. But this Italian guy wasn't a visitor, he was local. He was the Mongolian vegetarian.

Coffee is so much a part of Italian culture that the idea of not drinking it is as foreign as the idea of having to explain its rituals. These rituals are set in stone and not always easy for outsiders to understand.

. . .

2. Keep it simple

Thou shalt not muck around with coffee. Requesting a mint frappuccino in Italy is like asking for a single malt whisky and lemonade with a swizzle stick in a Glasgow pub. There are but one or two regional exceptions to this rule that have met with the blessing of the general coffee synod. In Naples, thou mayst order un caffè alla nocciola – a frothy espresso with hazelnut cream. In Milan thou can impress the locals by asking for un marocchino, a sort of upside-down cappuccino, served in a small glass which is first sprinkled with cocoa powder, then hit with a blob of frothed milk, then spiked with a shot of espresso.

. . .

9. The permitted drinks


Thou shall be allowed the following variations, and these only, from the Holy Trinity of caffè, cappuccino and caffé latte: caffè macchiato or latte macchiato – an espresso with a dash of milk or a hot milk with a dash of coffee (remember, mornings only); caffè corretto: the Italian builder's early morning pick-me-up, an espresso "corrected" with a slug of brandy or grappa; and caffè freddo or cappuccino freddo (iced espresso or cappuccino) – but beware, this usually comes pre-sugared. Thou mayst also ask for un caffè lungo or un caffè ristretto if thou desirest more or less water in thine espresso.

There's more at the link.

I can't help but wonder whether the average Starbucks barista would understand most of the terms in #9 above.  They might in one of the 'Little Italy' ethnic concentrations around the country, but elsewhere . . . ?  I think the Tennessee version of caffè corretto would probably involve moonshine!  As for "asking for a single malt whisky and lemonade with a swizzle stick in a Glasgow pub" . . . I think, if you did that, you'd be lucky to escape with your life.  Not a good idea - but I'd pay to watch you try it.

Of course, Scotland has some other rather strange mixtures to offer the discerning drinker - like this one. (Lyrics here, if you need them, but be warned - they're rude!)





Wikipedia says of Hamish Imlach:  "He had his biggest hit in the late 1960s with "Cod Liver Oil and the Orange Juice," a scurrilous and hilarious take on the American gospel standard "Virgin Mary Had a Little Baby" written by Ron Clark and Carl MacDougall. The song was for a time banned by the BBC as it was assumed to be full of double meanings, but at one point became the most requested song on British Forces Radio."

Aye, weel . . .

Peter

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

"The wages of smug is Trump"


There's an outstanding article at Vox in which the author castigates his liberal ilk for turning a blind eye to the real reason why Donald Trump's popularity is so great.  I think his analysis of what plagues the liberal/progressive side of politics and society in the USA (those who he calls "the smug") is spot on.  Here's a brief excerpt from a very long article - one you really need to read in full.


If the smug style can be reduced to a single sentence, it's, Why are [the poor] voting against their own self-interest?

But no party these past decades has effectively represented the interests of these dispossessed. Only one has made a point of openly disdaining them too.

Abandoned and without any party willing to champion their interests, people cling to candidates who, at the very least, are willing to represent their moral convictions. The smug style resents them for it, and they resent the smug in turn.

. . .

Few opinion makers fraternize with the impoverished — or even with anyone from the downscale, uncool, Trump-loving white working class. Few editors and legislators and Silicon Valley heroes have dinner with the lovely couple on food stamps down the road, much less those scraping by in Indiana.

. . .

I would be less troubled if I did not believe that the smug style has captured an enormous section of American liberalism. If I believed that its politics, as practiced by its supporters, extended beyond this line of thought. If this were an exception.

But even as many have come around to the notion that Trump is the prohibitive favorite for his party's nomination, the smug interpretation has been predictable: We only underestimated how hateful, how stupid, the Republican base can be.

Trump capturing the nomination will not dispel the smug style; if anything, it will redouble it. Faced with the prospect of an election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the smug will reach a fever pitch: six straight months of a sure thing, an opportunity to mock and scoff and ask, How could anybody vote for this guy? until a morning in November when they ask, What the **** happened?

. . .

The smug style resists empathy for the unknowing. It denies the possibility of a politics whereby those who do not share knowing culture, who do not like the right things or know the Good Facts or recognize the intellectual bankruptcy of their own ideas can be worked with, in spite of these differences, toward a common goal.

It is this attitude that has driven the dispossessed into the arms of a candidate who shares their fury. It is this attitude that may deliver him the White House, a "serious" threat, a threat to be mocked and called out and hated, but not to be taken seriously.

The wages of smug is Trump.

There's much more at the linkHighly recommended reading.

I'm reminded of the attitude of the British administration in India in the run-up to 1857, or the Russian nobility before 1917, or the French aristocracy prior to 1789.  It can be summed up in the infamous phrase, "Let them eat cake!"  There was a massive dissociation between what the upper crust thought motivated the lower castes and classes, and their real thoughts, desires and aspirations;  between the (lack of) understanding of the former and the reality experienced by the latter.  That same dissociation is visible today between the 'establishment' on both sides of the political divide and the broad mass of the electorate, and between liberals and progressives on the one hand, and the broad mass of struggling-to-make-ends-meet, un- and under-employed America on the other.

It's not going to be pretty when reality sets in.

Peter

How special interests are controlling 'the message'


Here's a fascinating talk by Sharyl Attkisson, the journalist who uncovered the Fast and Furious ATF scandal.  It's particularly relevant in the current election cycle, where special interests are trying to persuade us that their candidate or party or point of view is worth our vote.  Highly recommended viewing.





Ms. Attkisson's mainstream media career was derailed by political pressure on her employer, CBS, but she appears to be doing just fine on her own.  Kudos to her.

Peter

Drugs, metabolism, weight, and health


I've had a rocky road health-wise since a workplace injury in 2004 led to permanent partial disability, and medical retirement with a fused spine and damaged sciatic nerve.  To deal with the resulting 24/7/365 pain, I was prescribed multiple drugs that helped, but also 'zombified' me to a certain extent.  If I took the quantities prescribed, I found I not only couldn't think creatively - I actually underwent a change in personality.  I tapered off the dosage until I found a balance between pain control and feeling like a human being again, and stayed with that.

In 2009 I suffered a heart attack, likely due at least in part to the aftereffects of my 2004 injury, and underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery.  The cardiologist prescribed a different set of drugs for that, including one that, while it helped my heart, also had the effect of causing severe, uncontrollable weight gain.  (Later, another doctor would tell me, "You can almost watch a patient on [that drug] expand sideways.")  I ended up putting on well over 100 pounds in the course of a year.  Diet and exercise - the latter limited by my earlier injury - did almost nothing to help.  Only terminating my prescription for that drug stopped the weight gain.

It took a thoughtful, dedicated physician in Nashville to isolate the problem.  By then, thanks to multiple drug interactions, my metabolism was pretty much shot.  With his help I went through my prescriptions and cut out more than half of them, including all daily pain management medication (although I kept a supply for bad pain days).  I now take each day only those drugs essential to my heart and circulatory health, and I've learned to live with a higher level of pain.  Unfortunately, my metabolism has not 'reset'.  I'm still carrying around that extra weight, and find it almost impossible to get it off.  (For example, my wife helped me stick to a 1,200-calorie-per-day restricted diet.  Guess what?  I gained three pounds in the first week - and I wasn't cheating!  Scratch that option . . . )

I've slowly but surely come to the conclusion that if I don't get rid of the pounds, they're going to get rid of me.  They're adding to the load on my heart, bringing me to the point of being pre-diabetic with serious (and worsening) insulin resistance and showing most of the symptoms of metabolic syndrome, and putting additional strain on my injured spine and damaged nerve.  I've got to do something drastic, or face death within the next year or two.  It's as simple as that.  The risks involved in doing something are more than offset by the risks if I do nothing.

It seems the best alternative short of bariatric surgery is to try water fasting.  I've been encouraged by the work of Dr. Jason Fung in Canada, among others, which has produced remarkable results in some (but not all) people, and I've read extensively on the benefits and dangers of fasting.  (A good introduction to the subject may be found here, if you're interested.)  I'm aware of the real risks involved in so drastic a diet, but since bariatric surgery results in equally serious risks, I think they're acceptable under the circumstances (particularly given the alternative if I do nothing).  If fasting helps to not only lose pounds, but also reset my metabolism, as it's claimed to do, then so much the better.

I've been preparing for this step for some time, with the invaluable help of my wife, Miss D., who's been very supportive.  I've just undergone the most extensive series of blood tests I've ever had in my life, to analyze just about every aspect of my metabolic, digestive and circulatory health and provide me with a baseline of where I am now.  (To my amazement and indignation, my medical insurance is quite happy to cover the tens of thousands of dollars it will cost for bariatric surgery - but it won't cover blood tests to help me fast!  I have to cover those costs myself.  Oh, well . . . gotta sell more books, I guess!)

I hope that today will be the last day I eat solid food for at least the next 30 days.  This initial period will show me what my body will tolerate.  There are a number of options.

  • If I can make it for as long as 30 days without eating, I'll re-evaluate at that point, with more blood tests and medical consultation.  If I can continue, great;  otherwise I'll eat for a while, then tackle another 30-day fast.
  • If my body proves incapable of handling that long a fast, I'll find out what it can handle, then work at fasting for that length of time (say, a week to ten days), interspersed with roughly equal periods of (light) eating.
  • If blood tests and other indicators show that fasting is making other problems worse, I'll have to re-evaluate the whole thing, of course.  However, given the success others have had with this approach, I'll hope for the best.

I'm telling you all this, not in order to solicit sympathy, but to help other readers who are suffering similar problems.  I'm aware of at least a dozen of you who are facing the same sort of problem.  I hope I'll succeed in tackling mine, and if I do, I hope that'll encourage you to tackle yours.  For the rest of my readers:  I hope this will help you realize that there are people who are not sick because they're fat - they're fat because they're sick.  There's a big difference.  I've seen and experienced some of the contempt directed at fat people, and it hurts - particularly when one isn't this way out of choice.  Please keep that in mind when you see someone who's obese.  They may have problems about which you know nothing.  As Scout reported Atticus Finch's words in 'To Kill a Mockingbird':  "One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them".  I've often wished some of those making the rudest, most dismissive comments could spend a few days in mine.  I don't think they'd enjoy the experience.

Tomorrow morning it's cold turkey - or, rather, no cold turkey for me!  I'll be grateful for your prayers and good wishes over the next few months.  If this works, I hope to be a considerably slimmer, healthier, happier me by this time next year.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Peter

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Doofus Of The Day #902


Today's award goes to a newly unemployed weatherman in Hungary.

It must have seemed like a great idea at the time – spicing up a report about incoming windy weather by letting rip a massive farting sound.

Sadly, bosses at the Hungarian TV2 channel didn’t see the funny side.

Szilard Horvath was rapidly fired after his ‘enhanced’ broadcast – which he improvised himself, without asking his bosses – and the clip was deleted.

A somewhat – ahem – deflated Horvath wrote on Facebook ... ‘It’s turned out I can’t do the weather on TV2 anymore… I need to find work.’

There's more at the link.

Sounds like he should be on CNN.  Don't they have a section called 'Breaking Wind News'?




Peter

Some nice footage of Russia's new strike bomber


The former Soviet Union began developing a successor to the Sukhoi Su-24 strike aircraft (which was its attempt to counter the US F-111) in the 1980's.  Thanks to the collapse of the Soviet Union and budgetary and other constraints in Russia, which took over the development, the new Su-34 limped along slowly in development.  The first production aircraft only entered service in the 2005-2007 time frame.  A handful of the aircraft saw combat over Syria last year and earlier this year.

The Su-34 is based on the very successful Su-27/30/35 family of fighter aircraft, but with a two-seat side-by-side cockpit and significant structural modifications to suit it for the bomber/strike role.  It can carry up to 13 tons of external stores and ordnance over a combat radius of 600-700 miles, and reach a maximum speed of about Mach 1.8 or thereabouts (Russia hasn't been very forthcoming about its performance).

Here's an interesting video from Russia of two Su-34's tasked with bombing ice buildup along the Sukhona River last week, to break it up and enable the spring thaw to proceed more quickly.  They aren't carrying much ordnance, which allows us to get a good look at their lines.  They certainly show a sprightly take-off performance.  Watch in full-screen mode for best results.





Their Achilles heel is likely to be their engines, as always with Russian military planes - they're unlikely to achieve more than a few hundred hours without needing a major (i.e. factory) overhaul.  The Su-35, latest generation of the fighter family from which the Su-34 is derived, has a service lifetime of only some 4,000-5,000 flying hours, so I'd assume the Su-34 has a similar limitation.  That's not a lot in comparison to some Western airframes.  Still, it's likely to be a very good performer despite those limitations.

(I can't help smiling at the sight of the Su-34's nose and cockpit. For some reason it reminds me irresistibly of a duck-billed platypus!)

Peter

The madness of New York City housing prices


I found it hard to believe this report when I first read it - but it seems it's genuine.

The Brooklyn housing market is so hot, a slick realtor is asking half a million dollars for a glorified tool shed in Gravesend.

The faded yellow 1-bedroom “home” at 86 Bay 47th Street is a measly 12 by 26 feet and is built with aluminum siding, like some backyard sheds.

. . .

“It’s a legal, single-family home. It’s a teeny tiny house, the smallest one I’ve ever sold. There’s also partially finished basement, ” Mussolino of Ben Bay Realty told The Post.

He added, “It used to be a flop house for pets, mostly pit bulls. So it needs some work.”

The lot, which is 20 by 97 feet total, sits a couple blocks from Coney Island Creek, one of the Big Apple’s most polluted waterways.

There's more at the link, including a picture of the 'home' in question.

A 12'x26' house, on less than one-twentieth of an acre of land, for half a million dollars???  With a floor area of about 300 square feet, that's smaller than quite a few travel trailers I've seen on the roads!




Peter

Monday, April 25, 2016

Full-auto snowball fire?


Since the video I just put up (see the post below) has already vanished, courtesy of the BBC, here's another one.  This is what happens when mischievous boys have too much time on their hands . . . and access to a hardware store.





Looks like fun!

Peter

Not your average soliloquy


EDITED TO ADD:  I'm sorry - the BBC appears to have yanked the video less than half an hour after I linked it here.  *Sigh*


David Tennant, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ian McKellen, Judi Dench and others have far too much fun with the Bard.








Peter

The insanity of debt in the lives of ordinary Americans


I've written many times before about the impact of debt on nations, companies and individuals.  It's probably the single most economically devastating factor impacting most of us today.

Now an article in the Atlantic looks at debt's impact on the typical US resident, with vignettes from the author's own life and experience to illustrate the extent of the problem.  Here's a very brief extract from a very long article, to set the scene.

Financial impotence goes by other names: financial fragility, financial insecurity, financial distress. But whatever you call it, the evidence strongly indicates that either a sizable minority or a slim majority of Americans are on thin ice financially ... A ... study conducted by Annamaria Lusardi of George Washington University, Peter Tufano of Oxford, and Daniel Schneider, then of Princeton, asked individuals whether they could “come up with” $2,000 within 30 days for an unanticipated expense. They found that slightly more than one-quarter could not, and another 19 percent could do so only if they pawned possessions or took out payday loans. The conclusion: Nearly half of American adults are “financially fragile” and “living very close to the financial edge.”

. . .

Median net worth has declined steeply in the past generation—down 85.3 percent from 1983 to 2013 for the bottom income quintile, down 63.5 percent for the second-lowest quintile, and down 25.8 percent for the third, or middle, quintile. According to research funded by the Russell Sage Foundation, the inflation-adjusted net worth of the typical household, one at the median point of wealth distribution, was $87,992 in 2003. By 2013, it had declined to $54,500, a 38 percent drop. And though the bursting of the housing bubble in 2008 certainly contributed to the drop, the decline for the lower quintiles began long before the recession—as early as the mid-1980s, Wolff says.

. . .

With the rise of credit, in particular, many Americans didn’t feel as much need to save. And put simply, when debt goes up, savings go down ... The personal savings rate peaked at 13.3 percent in 1971 before falling to 2.6 percent in 2005. As of last year, the figure stood at 5.1 percent, and according to McClary, nearly 30 percent of American adults don’t save any of their income for retirement. When you combine high debt with low savings, what you get is a large swath of the population that can’t afford a financial emergency.

So who is at fault? Some economists say that although banks may have been pushing credit, people nonetheless chose to run up debt; to save too little; to leave no cushion for emergencies, much less retirement. “If you want to have financial security,” says Brad Klontz, “it is 100 percent on you.”

. . .

In a 2010 report titled “Middle Class in America,” the U.S. Commerce Department defined that class less by its position on the economic scale than by its aspirations: homeownership, a car for each adult, health security, a college education for each child, retirement security, and a family vacation each year ... A 2014 analysis by USA Today concluded that the American dream, defined by factors that generally corresponded to the Commerce Department’s middle-class benchmarks, would require an income of just more than $130,000 a year for an average family of four. Median family income in 2014 was roughly half that.

. . .

In effect, economics comes down to a great Bruce Eric Kaplan New Yorker cartoon that was captioned: “We thought it was a rough patch, but it turned out to be our life.”

There's much more at the link.  Informative reading, albeit not much fun.

The thing I found most depressing about the article was the author's open acknowledgment that his own choices had landed him in difficulties - yet he did not express regret for those choices.  Instead, he justified them on the basis of the demands of the lifestyle he had chosen, or the pressures of society, and so on.  He even spoke (without apparent regret) of drawing on his parents' generosity to fund his children's education, with consequences I can only describe as tragic.  (Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.)

And then, on top of it all, came the biggest shock, though one not unanticipated: college. Because I made too much money for the girls to get more than meager scholarships, but too little money to afford to pay for their educations in full, and because—another choice—we believed they had earned the right to attend good universities, universities of their choice, we found ourselves in a financial vortex ... In the end, my parents wound up covering most of the cost of the girls’ educations. We couldn’t have done it any other way. Although I don’t have any regrets about that choice ... paying that tariff meant there would be no inheritance when my parents passed on. It meant that we had depleted not only our own small savings, but my parents’ as well.

As I read those words, I could hardly believe my eyes.  Why would his parents turn into enablers for an education their grandchildren could not afford, to such an extent that they impoverished themselves?  That seemed - and still seems - insane to me.  Why does he have no regrets, even when he openly admits to depleting his parents' savings?  What about the impact on them?  Has he no shame at all?  And what's this nonsense about a 'right to attend good universities'?  One has no 'right' whatsoever to anything of the sort!  That's a choice one makes, not a law of nature!

(A personal aside:  when I left home, I was on my own, and I knew it.  My father was on the point of retirement, and my parents would need his pension to support themselves.  They didn't have the money to send me to university, but I didn't resent that in the least.  It was up to me, with occasional assistance from them when they had a bit extra and could afford it.  In fourteen years of part-time and distance education, studying at two universities while living in three different cities, I got a general Bachelors degree, then a post-graduate management diploma, then a Masters degree in management from the top business school in South Africa.  I paid for them out of my own pocket, and spent many weary hours over and above my work day studying hard to earn them.  I didn't go into debt, and I didn't have to impoverish my parents to get them.  What's more, I did that during a period of rolling civil unrest, armed conflict and social upheaval, about which I've written elsewhere.  My available study time was frequently interrupted by other demands, including military service and humanitarian relief efforts - hence the many years it took me to earn my degrees.)

The choices the author made seem incomprehensible to me.  Surely one's starting point for life choices should be what's realistic, rather than what one aspires to?  (That doesn't prevent one aspiring to a great deal - it simply means that one begins with one's foot on the first rung of the ladder, and plans to step on each rung on the way up.  Very few of us have the good fortune to be able to jump up several rungs at a time, although that can happen.)  Unfortunately for the author of this article, he didn't - and he openly admits it.

Choice, often in the face of ignorance, is certainly part of the story. Take me. I plead guilty. I am a financial illiterate, or worse—an ignoramus. I don’t offer that as an excuse, just as a fact. I made choices without thinking through the financial implications—in part because I didn’t know about those implications, and in part because I assumed I would always overcome any adversity, should it arrive ... We all make those sorts of choices, and they obviously affect, even determine, our bottom line. But, without getting too metaphysical about it, these are the choices that define who we are. We don’t make them with our financial well-being in mind, though maybe we should. We make them with our lives in mind. The alternative is to be another person.

. . .

In retrospect, of course, my problem was simple: too little income, too many expenses.

That's precisely the problem.  The author chose to be the person he became, even though he couldn't afford to be that person.  That's not logical, nor is it laudable.  It's insane!  To 'follow your dreams' when those dreams are utterly impractical is to set yourself up for failure.  Dreams are great, and I fully support having them;  but you can't live on them.  You've got to earn them, and that means building a solid foundation for real life before you can indulge in them.

I don't have a problem with someone choosing to live in a slum, and live off the simplest, cheapest foods, and get their clothing from thrift stores and flea markets, in order to save every penny to study for their dreams.  That's a temporary choice they're making, an investment in their own future.  However, when it comes to the 'starving artists' of this world, those who live like that in pursuit of a dream that isn't so much an investment as a delusion . . . they're on their own - or they should be.  They wouldn't agree, of course.  'Starving artists' are the sort of people who agitate for the establishment of a National Endowment for the Arts, or something similar, and legislatively confiscate the money of taxpayers like you and I to support people like them - whether or not we like or support their so-called 'art'.  Like hell!  Let them earn their living, not steal it from me!

I'd like to offer Miss D. and myself as an example of practical, realistic living.  We aren't wealthy, not by any stretch of the imagination;  but we try to be responsible in our earning and our spending.  When we married, we made it a top priority, overriding everything else, to pay off the debts each of us brought into our life together.  In five years we not only succeeded in doing that, we also built up a financial reserve that provided the deposit for the home we've just bought together in Texas.  (Part of our reason for moving here was that house prices are significantly lower than where we were before.  Our present home would have cost us between 50% and 100% more in even the less costly suburbs of our former city.  It was financially prudent and realistic to make the move, which helped to support our other reasons such as friends, climate, etc.  Without that, we might not have done so.)  Our reserve also covered unexpected medical expenses and loss of income for me last year and earlier this year, when my earning capacity was drastically reduced.  We're on our way back to full liquidity now, by dint of not spending money like water, watching our outflows carefully, and exercising basic financial discipline.  We choose to live within our limited means, and we thank God for them every day.

I think we're hardly unique in living like that.  I think many of you, dear readers, live the same way.  We use common sense.  Unfortunately, it seems common sense isn't very common in the circles described by the author of the above article.  They're living beyond their means to follow their dreams delusions, rather than building the future one step at a time before actually taking that step.  I think their ancestors would look at them in . . . I don't know . . . disgust?  Depression?  Disbelief?  It wasn't that long ago that people expressed sound common sense in maxims by which most people lived:


I could go on, but why bother?  We, as a society, appear to have lost sight of the real truth underlying those maxims.  We don't want to hear or know that truth, because it gets in the way of our aspirations;  so we disregard it.  Unfortunately, that's landed us in our current economic mess.  As the author concludes:

Money may change everything, as Cyndi Lauper sang. But lack of money definitely ruins everything. Financial impotence casts a pall of misery. It keeps you up at night and makes you not want to get up in the morning. It forces you to recede from the world. It eats at your sense of self-worth, your confidence, your energy, and, worst of all, your hope. It is ruinous to relationships, turning spouses against each other in tirades of calumny and recrimination, and even children against parents ... To fail—which, by many economic standards, a very large number of Americans do—may constitute our great secret national pain, one that is deep and abiding. We are impotent.

Uh-huh.  Folly meets reality . . . and reality wins, every time.

Peter