Monthly Archives: October 2017

Social Insecurity

Should one plan for what one hopes for or plan for what one fears?

I have reached retirement age.  This is my year to mull over the “right” time (if there is one) to sign up for the Social Security benefits I accrued (and paid for with my taxes, if I may remind Mr. Trump and Mr. Ryan) during my working lifetime.

If I were destined to enjoy a shorter-than-average lifespan or a debilitating old age, then it would make sense to start my Social Security payback right now, while I have the capacity to enjoy the income.  On the other hand, if it were my destiny to live to a ripe age without much health drama, then delaying the payback of my Social Security benefits would make my later years and old-age care more secure.

So, should I take the money now or later?  You will find plenty of advice on this topic from self-described financial experts on the internet, but here is my take.

I glance out my living room window, at 6:02 pm on an early fall evening, and I see a vista of pale blues and peach clouds and it is amazing.  I just want to keep looking.  I hope to look out there, at these colors, from this room, with my spouse, for a long time.

This is the message our skies send me:  I am lucky that I have a choice to make.  In the game of life, I already won the toss.  I am fortunate that I can even think about deferring my payback to the second half of my life rather than electing to receive.  Mine is one of those first-world decisions that is about optimization, not survival.  I am not dealing with social insecurity — for that, I thank my lucky stars in those peach-and-blue skies.

In the grand scheme, my now-or-later choice matters only at the margins of probability.  Many people have much larger stakes in this decision and I am unqualified to advise them. To serve their needs, I would like to see financial professionals stop chasing after me and instead offer Social Security advice to soon-to-be retirees for free, no strings attached, no names taken, no promotional lunches or dinners involved.  Why should those who are most in need of financial guidance be the least likely to be offered it?

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• I like to present myself as an expert on the last topic I read something about.

• I have no problem with George H. W. Bush getting called out for butt-grabbing women who happen to be nearby.  Old people should not have a free pass to grope, and let’s hope that this puts an end to that.  Let’s also (at the risk of saying something a man might say) try to maintain a distinction among rape, abuse, bodily insult, inappropriate touch and sexual harassment.  The pedant in me would like to say that if words mean anything, they should be consistent with the acts they describe, just as punishment should fit the crime.  But the woman in me says that all these acts fall on the continuum of living in a world full of arrogant, powerful-because-they-are-enabled, testosterone-driven men.

• Name-calling never served us well.  It enjoyed a long tradition in the U.S. (see late-19th and early-20th century political cartoons) but Donald Trump brought name-calling and playground-bullying, his blunt-force weapons of choice, into the 21st century.  We nerds know that the best response to a playground bully is to be smart, not to try to out-bully or out-ridicule, because that is the turf the bully knows best.  Parody of Trump — making fun of his hair, his hands, his oafishness — may be an escape for some but it does not comprise a winning tactic.  Smart people need to devise a smart response to Trump.  Everything else distracts from that.

• We in the United States seem to be helpless (perhaps impotent is the better word) when it comes to dealing with those we suspect to be sociopaths.  It is next to impossible for us to marshal and coordinate social, investigative and law enforcement resouces at the local, state and federal levels so that we might prevent the Sandy Hook or Las Vegas massacres.   There is no 711 number to report people we think may be dangerous.  If there were such a number, it would have to shut down in a matter of hours from the volume of calls.

• Mama Mia, Microsoft.  They offer six easy ways to do things, one hard way to undo them. Take Excel and the task of assigning / deleting a name for a cell range   One can assign a name to a selected range by moving the cursor to the name box above the grid, typing in the custom name and hitting ENTER.  Pretty straightforward.  But what if you want to undo this?  Instinct tells me to move my cursor to the range whose name I want to erase, click the name box and hit DELETE.

Afraid not.  One must instead: (1) Click the Formulas tab (why Formulas?)  (2) Locate the Name Manager icon and click it.  (3) Locate the range name in the name list.  (4) Click on the range name to select it and then click the DELETE button to delete it.  (5)  And finally click OK when the “Are You Sure” box appears.

I’m convinced that Microsoft software was developed by Catholics: easy to get married, hard to get divorced, and the escape key doesn’t work unless the priest gives his OK.

• I would have liked to have been the guy my friends would call to help him or her move, after which we would have a beer or two afterwards.  That never happened.  Perhaps I sent the wrong message or — more likely — presented the wrong muscles.

• Note to self:  The next time I go to Trader Joe’s and see a bottle of Barolo on sale for $13, it is going to taste exactly like what I think a bottle of Barolo on sale at Trader Joe’s for $13 would taste like.  It is never going to taste better because I paid less.

• Halloween Quiz:  If you stood perfectly still and an amoeba challenged you to a race to the nearest pumpkin, which one would win, the amoeba or the toenail on your big toe? Answer: an amoeba can crawl 5 micrometers a second.  This means they are 10,000 times faster than the rate your toenail grows.  So the amoeba would win easily, unless it gave your toenail a head start.  What makes this a Halloween Quiz?  Because fast amoebas are scary, man.  Especially the smug ones that challenge you to a race they know they will win.

• I have been cleaning out the storage room to make a space to do art.  I came across my box of poetry from high school and college and reacquainted myself with it.  I have finally acknowledged that these were not works of genius, and that even my well-scattered ashes would be embarrassed were someone to discover and read these writings after my death.  Thanks to the Art Gods for granting me this chance to throw them out first.

• By the way, they were pathetic, and no, I’m not going to post an example!  If you want a cheap thrill, go check your own storage room.

• Okay, here’s just one howler, from a high-school poem titled The End Results Confusion: “Aimless searches for meanings / Trivial in themselves / The confusion of our minds / Ends in rebellion from truth.”  Did every 1969 high-school boy try to imitate Jim Morrison or was it just me?

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Blocks_7632I am in the process of cleaning up and clearing out our workshop-slash-storage room so that I can have a place to prep and finish my canvasses.  (Our garage is too open-air and dirty for this purpose.)  So, while decluttering, I came across my blocks (or my sister’s) which my mother saved and then my sister saved until she mailed them to me.  Which means I get to throw them away.

The blocks have been sitting in a shoebox in our storage room for several years.  The lid of the shoebox bears my mother’s label (in crayon): CRAIG’S BLOCKS.  I guess this made it official — though the blocks were originally given to my sister, the fact that I defaced every single one of them with pencil and/or crayon and/or model paint was apparently enough in the eyes of the law to make them mine.

I must say, playing with these blocks gave me an early appreciation for font design.  The blocks shown here (which comprise the full contents of the CRAIG’S BLOCKS shoebox) came from four different sets.  Set No. 1 had big bold letters like a Clarendon slab-serif, while Set No. 2 offered a more formal look, similar to a condensed modified Roman font.  The blocks in Set No. 3 were not letters but parts of an illustration of a girl’s face.  (Take a closer look at those earrings — their expressions are disturbing.)  Finally, there was the orphaned hollow plastic block from Set No. 4 (shown as the mouth of the block-face girl).  One of its faces was a capital B, the next face a lower-case p, its third face the word eight in lower-case italics.  This was not one of my favorites.  It was the only block I did not deface.

Before one gets overly sentimental about one’s blocks, a grandparent must ask, what is the lead content of the paint on the letters?  Would I let my grandson play with these?

The answer is no.  They have already caused enough brain damage.  These blocks must go.

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