Every time Independence Day rolls around, I think about the contradictions between the soaring ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the baser actions of the author. There’s a lesson in there for all of us, if we care to give it any thought.
Thomas Jefferson worked to undermine George Washington while serving as Secretary of State within his administration. He spoke of equality while owning slaves. Like many southern gentlemen, he held a rank in the militia, but never dirtied his hands in combat. He racked up enormous debts he couldn’t repay in his lifetime, leaving his heirs to deal with the fallout. He placed the autonomy of states, specifically his own state, above the security of the nation. As founding fathers go, he was the worst.
And yet…he penned what remains one of the most revolutionary and inspirational documents in human history: The Declaration of Independence. An open letter to the rest of the world, the declaration argued that governments are subservient to the rights of the governed and that all men are created equal. In a world of kings and commoners, the idea that royal subjects could simply say, “You’re not the boss of me anymore,” was about as radical as you can get.
Every year around this time, I re-read the Declaration of Independence and every time I get misty as it ends with, “We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Signing the document was pretty much the same as signing a death warrant for John Hancock and all the delegates who followed, and all of these were prominent men with both lives and fortunes in the balance.
When I read the Declaration, I’m always challenged by two major topics. The first is the airing of grievances against George III and his government. Run through the list and you’ll find a half dozen, or more, complaints that many people levy against our own government today. This isn’t a political blog, so we’re not going to dive into all the similarities and differences between then and now, but it’s a telling reminder of the tensions that always exist between individual citizens and their governments.
Second, and more challenging to me, is the stark difference between the ideals of the author and his lifelong practices. Jefferson was both a radical in theory and a conservative in practice, which made him a hypocrite.
We’re all like that, aren’t we? We pen open letters to the world, proclaiming our ideals and our morality, but we might be just a trifle looser about that vision when it comes to our institutions, our state, our leaders…and ourselves. We might insist on holding others to high standards while writing ourselves a Get Out of Jail Free card. We just might be more like Thomas Jefferson than we ever recognized, although not in a good way.
BTW, if you haven’t read the DOI lately, here’s a link to the text at the National Archives. Have a great holiday.
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In the spring, an old man’s fancy turns to leaving the damned house and complaining about the heat and humidity. And bugs. Now that the nation is reopening, it’s time to review what’s out there and what’s ahead, from the only source you can trust 137% on 73% of the issues.
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WARNING: Crotchety old man at the keyboard this week.
There was a time when I wondered how I might fill my days if I retired. Now, I wish I was back at work so I could get more rest. Why didn’t anyone warn me that retirement is harder to manage than a career?
The first big surprise for most of us is how bad we are at time management. We never really appreciate while we’re working, but our jobs organize our lives for us. They determine the hours we’ll sleep and the hours we’ll be home and what we’ll be doing all week. It feels like a straitjacket at times, but the daily grind creates a structure that holds our lives together.
When we're working, we know the time pressures of doing the laundry and we stick to the schedule. We're more likely to let things slide when we're retired, which is why so many old people wander around all day in sweat pants and World's Best Grandparent T-shirts.
After we've mastered time management, it's on to Latin 201, which is a prerequisite for reading the reports from our MRIs and our CT scans and our blood tests and everything else the medical profession throws at us.
Then we're forced to learn an arcane dialect known as Legalese, a combination of Latin and arrogance invented by attorneys to convince us we need to pay them $500 per hour. Otherwise, how would we know if we’re leaving money to our pet turtles pari passu or per stirpes, or both? Seriously, it’s better to die broke.
Beyond linguistics, retirement demands expert timing to sync with the medical machine. The internist will only see patients on Tuesday from 10 to 4, but the dentist is only in on Wednesdays from 9 to 3, and the pharmacy is closed for a lunch break every day from 1 to 3. Abandon hope, all ye.
Then there’s the issue of insurance, as in Medicare. You need at least two policies from Medicare and one or two more as supplements, depending on your medication needs, and the amount you’ll pay will vary with your income and other factors. It was so much easier when the company picked our insurance and we had to take whatever they gave us.
Yes, I know, the company’s insurance plan rejected 100% of our claims 100% of the time, but at least we didn’t have to shop for all the coverage we weren't getting. It will be much simpler for our kids, of course, since all of them are “independent contractors” who don’t get any insurance at all. How I envy them.
With all these demands on our time, we can’t schedule activities with friends, which is fine because we don’t have any. We put them on the shelf while we were building our careers and now they’ve all dumped us. That’s why we need to spend our free time with the grandkids, who are the only people who aren’t fed up with us by now.
Of course, the other reason we don’t have many friends is that they’re dropping like flies. We retire at exactly the same time our working parts go kaflooey. After a while, hospital visits and funerals are almost a regularly scheduled event.
Meanwhile, it’s damned near impossible to get any sympathy from our still-working brethren as we struggle to fill our days with meaningful, non-medical, non-funereal pursuits. At a social gathering some months ago, a business executive asked me if I was retired. When I said I was, he simply turned around and walked away.
I wanted to chase after him to tell him all the new Latin words I had learned that week, but then I thought better of it. Why cheat him of the opportunity to discover the challenges of retirement all on his own?
One of our favorite Latin words is subscribe, which is what we want you to do by clicking right HERE. Really, what else do you have to do with your time?
Ya know how people will post a meme that you are supposed to stare at for a minute before the secret image materializes? Isolation works the same way. After a while, our perspectives can become clearer…
The Limits of Capitalism
Capitalism is a great system, but it has its limits, and the current pandemic has exposed every one of them. Will we give this any thought or will we just continue the mindless “capitalism/socialism” mantras that make us sound much dumber than we realize?
I like capitalism. It’s been a very good system for me, both as a worker and as an investor. But I also recognize that capitalism is not patriotic and it certainly isn’t conservative, and free markets aren’t the answer to every conceivable question.
For instance, companies focused on profitability and repeat sales will emphasize disposable products, rather than reusable ones, with can make shortages of masks or gloves or respirators more challenging. The emphasis on efficiency and profitability leads to zero slack in the supply chain, which makes it harder to adjust to any disruptions anywhere. And, need I mention the profit-driven displacement of U.S. manufacturing to lower-cost centers like China?
Of course, every capitalist becomes a socialist when survival is at stake. We’re bailing out the nation’s airlines for a third time in two decades, after they spent almost all of their excess cash on dividends and share repurchases at the expense of debt reduction. Congress imposed stiffer terms this time than in 2010, which is progress of a sort. Still, the same people who are calling for help now will be insisting that government butt out of the free-market system two years hence. Unless there’s another meltdown, in which case they’ll be back for another handout and screaming that any limitations imposed by the government are “socialism.”
Maybe Universal Health Care isn’t such a bad idea
It might turn out that employment-based health insurance is a really stupid idea. First, it creates a major cost differential for U.S. companies that pay for employee health care versus firms in countries that have universal care. Second, it disappears when people lose their jobs, which multiplies their economic risks. I’ve never been a big proponent of universal health care, but I’m waffling on it a lot more than in the past.
Ditto for paid sick days, which used to be the norm for employees, before everyone became a contract worker. It seems our business masterminds have outsmarted themselves by giving employees an incentive to work while sick, spread disease, and force essential businesses to close. Clever.
Mainstream Media aren’t so lame after all
We need the traditional news media much more than we recognize. It’s almost de rigueur to talk about left-wing media conspiracies and unfair coverage, but the fact is that the mainstream press has been doing a solid job.
People accuse them of being unfair and biased when the media criticize their favorite politicians, but they do tend to be similarly “unfair and biased” about everyone. They’ve been the source of the most credible information about the virus and the most balanced insights about everything else. Compare that to the “news” sites where everything is the fault of X and THEY are all conspiring against Y. No contest.
While the cable outlets are all politics all the time, the mainstream media cover pretty much everything like they always did. You wouldn’t know it from watching most cable news, but there are actually some people in this country who are helping each other out, donating to charities and finding no need to protest, accuse, blame or destroy. There are stories that don’t involve politics, but you’ll only find them in your lamestream media.
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Wall Street and Main Street are out of sync, still, and we have a better place for big companies to spend their advertising dollars...
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Am I the only person who wants this self-isolation to go on just a bit longer, if only so I can cross some more items off my to-do list?
Now that the politicians are talking about a return to normal, I keep thinking, “No, not yet.” Yes, I know we’re not going to reboot until we get past the bulge and come up with a treatment for the next victims. Even if the all clear sounds in July, though, I’m absolutely not ready.
I absolutely miss playing with the grandchildren and I miss restaurants and I miss the days when someone might cough a few feet away from me without causing a panic. Still, I’m kinda liking this whole shelter-in-place thing. It’s a new adventure, and it’s absolutely anything but boring. F’rinstance…
I’ve been kicking myself for the reading habit that disappeared over the years, vowing over and over again that I would catch up on all those books I had planned to buy, plus the ones I already bought and never cracked open. In the month since Jill and I sealed up our apartment, I’ve actually read four books and I’m in the middle of three more. Hooray for me, but I was really hoping to get through a few dozen before my parole.
Ditto for movies and TV shows that I missed along the way. I’ve checked off 28 of the top 100 films on some list I downloaded, plus another dozen from friend recommendations, but I’ve made it through only six at this point. Only another 80 hours to go and I’ll be caught up. Then, it’s time to stream Game of Thrones, Handmaid’s Tale, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, and a hundred other series I never got around to bingeing when they were new. My best estimate is that I will get to the Red Wedding in 2032.
(Side note: Remember when it took less time to see the movie than we needed to read the book? Ah, good times.)
FTR, it’s not that I’ve been twiddling my thumbs for the past four weeks. I’ve been keeping up on my exercise, more or less, and I’m FaceTiming the grandkids about five times a day. I’m still mentoring start-up companies, writing the blog and WASHING MY HANDS every time I touch anything. I’ve been cooking more, doing more dishes, and recalculating my retirement savings at least three times a week.
And then there’s all the home movies I shot over the 39 years since we bought our first VHS camera. It’s taking me about two days to edit one year’s worth of tape, and all I am doing, really, is cutting and pasting. At the rate I’m going, I need another two months of isolation to finish the job, assuming I don’t watch any movies or read any books or Facetime the grandkids, or or or or or or.
That should bring me to the photo albums, but who am I kidding? I won’t be getting to the photos until three pandemics from now, assuming nobody makes any movies or television shows between now and then. Is it wrong of me to be making plans for the pandemics to come? Don’t answer that.
All this talk about returning to normal reminds me of last call at the bar. Whatever we’ve been doing, it’s an alert that we only have so much time to complete our mission. We all have different goals and different projects, of course, but all of us are on notice that this part of our journey is not going to last forever.
It’s a lot like life that way.
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Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.