Posts by admin

Book: Helmet for My Pillow – Veteran’s Day 2019

Hell of book to finish right before Veteran’s Day. So many good quotes:

– Nor was my squad troubled by racial or religious bigotry. We had no “inner conflict,” as the phrase goes. These things happen most often in the imagination of men who never fought. Only rear echelons with plenty of fat on them can afford such rich diseases, like an epicure with his gout.

– The man who has had it roughest is the man to be most admired. Conversely, he who has had it the easiest is the least praiseworthy.

– It is an American weakness. The success becomes the sage. Scientists counsel on civil liberty; comedians and actresses lead political rallies; athletes tell us what brand of cigarette to smoke.

– A soldier’s pack is like a woman’s purse: it is filled with his personality. I have saddened to see the mementos in the packs of dead Japanese. They had strong family ties, these smooth-faced men, and their packs were full of their families.

– Smell, the sense which somehow seems a joke, is the one most susceptible to outrage. It will give you no rest. One can close one’s eyes to ugliness or shield the ears from sound; but from a powerful smell there is no recourse but flight.

– Charlie did not kill many people, but, like Macbeth, he murdered sleep.

– This was no feeling of dedication because it was absolutely involuntary. I do not doubt that if the Marines had asked for volunteers for an impossible campaign such as Guadalcanal, almost everyone now fighting would have stepped forward. But that is sacrifice; that is voluntary. Being expended robs you of the exultation, the self-abnegation, the absolute freedom of self-sacrifice. Being expended puts one in the role of victim rather than sacrificer, and there is always something begrudging in this.

– upon that change he passes over to the ranks of the Old Salts and ceases to be a Boot forever. Youth rebels and age conserves; between them, they advance. The Marines will cease to win battles the moment either camp achieves clear-cut ascendancy.

– when a map and a compass come into contact with a second lieutenant, prepare yourself for confusion.

– My eyes having adjusted to the gloom, I found myself in a room about twenty feet by fifteen, into which a murky light sneaked through a rectangle of thick glass high in one wall.

– We devoured the food. What a banquet! Here was the lowly hot dog, but it was spiced with risk, flavored with prohibition and washed down with the nectar of a watering mouth.

– Keep it up, America, keep telling your youth that mud and danger are fit only for intellectual pigs.

– Naval shells hissed shoreward in the air above us. Those of us who had been on Guadalcanal, remembering our own ordeal with naval bombardment, could spare a pang of pity for the foe—

– I turned to go, and as I did, nearly stepped on someone’s hand. “Excuse me,” I began to say, but then I saw that it was an unattached hand, or rather a detached one. It lay there alone— open, palm upwards, clean, capable, solitary. I could not tear my eyes from it. The hand is the artisan of the soul. It is the second member of the human trinity of head and hand and heart. A man has no faculty more human than his hand, none more beautiful nor expressive nor productive. To see this hand lying alone, as though contemptuously cast aside, no longer a part of a man, no longer his help, was to see war in all its wantonness; it was to see the especially brutal savagery of our own technique of rending, and it was to see men at their eternal worst, turning upon one another, tearing one another, clawing at their own innards with the maniacal fury of the pride- possessed. The hand saddened me and I offered it a respectful inclination of the head while recovering my balance and making a careful circle around it.

– Racehorse drew his pistol and laid it against the driver’s head and said, “Get youah ass moving,” and the driver quickly shifted gears and drove frontward with a roar. Racehorse had won a Navy Cross for his bravery on Guadalcanal. He won another on Peleliu, but it was awarded posthumously. He perished attacking a pillbox, may he rest in peace.

– Rutherford had said, “See you in the old home town.” But now I would go home alone. May he rest in peace.

– Heroes turn traitor, warriors age and grow soft— but a victim is changeless, sacrifice is eternal.

– now pray in the name of Chuckler and Hoosier and Runner, in the name of Smoothface, Gentleman, Amish and Oakstump, Ivy- League and Big- Picture, in the name of all those who suffered in the jungles and on the beaches, from Anzio to Normandy— and in the name of the immolated: of Texan, Rutherford, Chicken, Loudmouth, of the Artist and White- Man, Souvenirs and Racehorse, Dreadnought and Commando— of all these and the others, dear Father, forgive us for that awful cloud.

Read More

The Will to Survive

The Will to Survive

We recently saw a black, mangy bird with one leg at a gas station on our way back to Savannah Georgia. It had that wild, crazy look. One of it’s eyes was hazy and it’s feathers were missing in places. It was hard to look at, but it was alive and it wasn’t giving up.

It came up to the car begging for food and my girlfriend told me there’s a bird withbonenleg as she fed it. I strained my neck to look out past her through the passenger window. As soon as I saw how bad of shape it was in, I told her to give it french fries because they are more calorie dense, and it definitely needed as many as it could get.

She had a hard time throwing the food only to that bird, because other healthy birds kept flying in. I think she got it some food, but it flew away and we lost track of it. We waited a few minutes, but had to leave and get to then airport. I felt a twinge of guilt for not waiting a bit longer.

It made me think a lot about life. I felt sad for the bird, but also kind of proud. It was crafty hanging out at a gas station, relying on primates to give it food. I loved it’s fighting spirit, literally a life and death struggle, barely hanging on. It’s strange how we all know when another animal is distressed, not quite achieving homeostasis.

We are all barely hanging on…

Read More

How Do You Define Rich & Poor?

How Do You Define Rich & Poor?

Like any symbol, rich and poor is very hard to define because it has a lot to do with our own perceptions. To me, it appears that we have two delineated groups of people who have shared understandings of what it means to be rich:

  • The Bottom 80% consider the top 20% rich
  • The top 20% consider the top .1% rich (or smaller)

We could break this definition down into an infinite set of categories, but for the purpose of political and philosophical debates, it appears that these shared understandings are good enough to get further into the debate. In reflection to my time living in each of these groups, I will now add my own definitions:

When I lived in the bottom 80%, including the bottom 10%, I considered rich to be:

  • Able to afford all necessities (food, utilities, etc)
  • Can handle an unexpected bill
  • Live in a nice house
  • Have a nice car or cars
  • Can afford travel
  • Can afford buying things which are symbolic of power (jewelry, watches, etc)

As my income increased and it put me in the top 20% I started to create a set of necessary but insufficient conditions. When all of these conditions are met, I consider you rich:

  • Do not receive more than 10% of your income from W2 earnings
  • Have total net worth capable of sustaining an income of more than $500K US per year
  • Have made enough transaction decisions, measured in the the tens of thousands, to be very comfortable and logical when making them
  • Have made enough transaction decisions, measured in the millions of dollars, to be very comfortable and logical when making them
  • Have become completely comfortable making $5000+ decisions (in 2020 dollars)
  • Do not have a significant emotional reaction to transactions (either positive or negative)

While not all encompassing, I think this definition captures a shared understanding that people display when debating in social media, at parties, etc. While poor people receive an almost ecstasy-like sensation when making large financial transactions, rich people do not. It’s as if they have made so many that it just doesn’t matter to them as much. I consider this a critical distinction. Gaining expertise in making financial decisions, like practicing a sport, prepares you for the game. When, you are poor, it is a game of life and death. When you are middle class, you don’t even know that it’s a game. When you are rich, you are playing the game with full knowledge.

I decided to share my definition of rich and poor because I think having navigated so much financial territory, I have a unique perspective. I have definitely lived in poverty, but now the bottom 80%  would probably consider me rich. Even the richest of the rich would understand and concur that I have seen how they live and understand it. I can comfortably sit in a room with a person with $100M in wealth and have an interesting conversation.

The top 1% worldwide has assets worth above $770,000 USD (per Investopedia – May 2019). While the average earner in the top 1% of the United States earns 1.32M a year (per CNBC – July 2018). Another definition that helps is High Earners, Not Yet Rich (Henrys) coined in 2003. Sadly, none of these have ever given me satisfaction when discussing the concepts of rich and poor in the context of economics, philosophy or politics because they lack any provision for “why” they people earn what they do.

Feel free to use any of these definitions when you are debating the meaning of rich and poor, but remember to consider that economics is a model, an approximation, used to describe human interactions in a financial context, mostly in the last 500 or so years. It cannot and does not describe why people find things important. In my humble opinion, Anthropology (coincidentally an offshoot of in the London School of Economics) does the best job of describing the fullest range of values that humans on our interactions and culture.  Even then, only an approximation. Only you can determine the value you place on anything 🙂

Read More