A Navy Chief Petty Officer is never given the “how-to” just the task to accomplish. The wisdom of the Chiefs’ Mess provides suggestions and a sounding board. That is the wisdom I have lived for the past thirty-five years. For the last several days, I have been dismantling, cleaning, and priming the wood cabinets in our sixty year-old galley kitchen. Removing grime of years needed scrub pads, many buckets of hot water and TSP, and elbow grease. Cleaning and dismantling was easy compared to the next phase of the “in-port Habitability period” (remodeling, for you civilian-types).
What color do I like? I am not sure what “warm”, “complementary” or “2019” colors are. What drawer and cabinet hardware do we want? After hours of online research for kitchens resembling ours, I was given some wide margin. The retired Boatswains Mate at Lowes suggested a cabinet paint that will be “one coat and done” at $50 a gallon. Suspecting, if up to me, I would get the wrong shade, I bought a small can of primer instead, and had Valspar “Voyage” tint added.
In 2019, matching paint and counters to a thirty-plus year old floor was low on my list of worries. Few current-millennium homes have white-tile floors throughout (the previous owner cursed us). Tearing up the floor was a job all my friends said would be a nightmare, so my first thought, would a terrazzo coating over the tile be an option? I kept that idea to myself. I had some experience working with it aboard the USS PETERSON. Color-matching the terrazzo, cabinet paint, with a yet-undecided new countertop, would challenge this Chief’s can-do. We both decided that the floor could be covered with a mat. As for colors, I was going to opine to the Admiral that her next shade pick was a glossy (Navy) Deck Gray. Shipboard colors were kept utilitarian and for camouflage. Deck Gray for decks. Haze Gray for exterior bulkheads (walls) and White, plain white for most everything else. I decided to keep that to myself also.
Next item: these cabinets and drawers never had handles before. I am thinking how to install cabinet handles and pulls precisely. I will need to design a rig to do that. With the ongoing plan to repaint the whole house interior, I am scheduling my “Intermediate Maintenance Availability” for as long as it takes. But time is not really the issue; I am not commuting to a job any longer, so as long as the job is done well, the Admiral shouldn’t fire me?
Any seasoned veteran of the U.S. military who has served overseas, dealt with foreign military allies, patrolled in a war zone, had liberty in many regions where English was not well-understood, or stationed at a U.S. military installation in a foreign country, understands many of the benefits and shortcomings of “Home” better than most.
The reason many 16- to 29- year olds in the United States today embrace “socialism” is due to their ignorance. Without long personal experience of the more mundane aspects of Government bureaucracy, they have only what they were taught and limited exposure. These might be obtaining a driver’s license at the Department of Motor Vehicles, and perhaps a simplified annual income tax filing. Young military members (especially those who marry early in their careers) are exposed to misfiled paperwork, outdated computer systems, confusing terms, differing support for ‘sponsors’ and ‘dependents’, procedures, and the overwhelmed administrative staff inherent in large bureaucracies. Utopians talk of modeling Swedish-style and European Union socialism – without really understanding the development, successes, drawbacks, and requirements. Ignorantly, many promote Government as the best delivery of human needs and wants when they haven’t yet experienced much of what is already under Government administration.
Big Government inefficiency is evident in every aspect of Government-provided services: obtaining vehicle registration and drivers’ licensing; real property titles and building permits; and in family trusts, wills and probate court filings. The limited experience of many, influence the mis-characterized belief that Government harass racially-targeted innocents (police maintain order and enforce laws), disenfranchise non-citizens and “formerly incarcerated” persons (per local, State, or Federal statutes), or limit the living standards achievable to low- or unskilled labor due to “unregulated” employers’ wages and benefit plans.
For others, Government should be reformed to accommodate cultural and social practices of the day, from gender, sex, race, citizenship, language, culture and criminal or civil conviction and incarceration. Policies are very slow to change, requiring many years to make minor improvements. Away from politics and media ballyhoo, Bureaucracy is what the governed are directly affected by and not politicians. Five ordinary examples of Government bureaucracy as it exists today should give some pause to embrace further Government control:
Probate: an old woman dies without a “valid” Will. With negligible assets and few bills, selling a home should be a simple affair. But Probate is not simple and not inexpensive. The State Court system is a labyrinth of procedures and calendar entries; an inexperienced layman is doomed to failure.
A stolen vehicle is recovered, and one seized for a traffic or criminal violation, are towed away. The towing company applies towing charges, and daily storage fees payable by the registered owner, but requires owner identification and registration validation before releasing the vehicle. When the vehicle owner has lost cash, debit and credit cards, or misplaced a state-issued identification, it becomes a Catch-22 where the vehicle cannot be released to the owner until valid ID is presented and payment made. Until such time as ID can be presented, storage fees continue to accrue. Sometimes, the value of the impounded vehicle when sought is less than the accrued fees.
A person with an employer health plan, pays biweekly insurance premiums. In an “emergency”, he visits an in-network hospital Emergency Room for a major health issue. Though the State mandates many “guest” workers, the unemployed, and under-26 year old adults have healthcare, paid by a legal resident taxpayer, the suffering taxpayer waits in line with all the rest who still primarily use ER services (they cannot be turned away legally).
A sixty-year old home requires upkeep. A forty-year old, improperly built “retaining” wall collapsed. The solution? Start excavation and proper reinforcement of a new wall in the same location. A homeowner’s decision to follow county regulations: permit, payment of fees, submission of plans and wait for inspections were far more onerous than expected. After project completion an added bonus: An unexpected (higher) property re-valuation and corresponding property tax increase issued by the County.
Transportation infrastructure: the Government is authorized by its citizens to maintain and upgrade. While citizens continue to pay higher fuel taxes, fees, and other taxes and fees to pay for maintenance, the Government executes over four to five years, a 25-year old improvement plan which then fails to meet the needs of the community. Bureaucrats and politicians redirect new transportation funds into special projects that overrun budgets by billions. Many of these pet projects are public transit measures that lobbyists favor but 2 percent will ever actually use.
the reason the Soviet newspapers, Izvestia and Pravda, were always sold out was not due to the news content. Toilet paper was chronically limited throughout the country.
interview with a resident of the former Soviet Union (1983)
But the merits of employment, housing, public transit, and basic health care in a so-called Socialist system do not justify an even more complex and inefficient bureaucracy than that which presently exists. Limiting the choices available for services to that provided by State-approved operators only, resulting delays, greatly simplified care, and regulation will disappoint everyone.
For anyone who has served honorably in the military, the experience, and camaraderie among enlisted men and women (and undoubtedly among commissioned officers, too) indelibly stamps one’s character. We tend to recognize each other, long after having served, from our demeanor, appearance, and way of speaking. Sometimes, we can approach each other with a particular attitude or sense of humor which can be off-putting for any but another military veteran. It’s a veteran sort of thing.
Over the years, as I have gotten my car serviced, purchased materials at a home improvement store, or had work done at home, a veteran is often one of those doing the work. What branch of service or unit were you in? Where did you serve? What was your occupation? Small-talk that builds acquaintance. At the DMV, and the County Recorder office, when I use my retired military ID card, I have encountered veterans, and family members or spouse of a Brother or Sister veteran. And despite age differences, or service during different conflicts, those who can, generally will hook a “brother” up.
In context, “hook ups” to a military member or veteran, means assistance, discount, bypassing bureaucratic “red tape”, exerting additional effort, and such, to meet the need of another vet or service member. As it happened today, I had requested a junk-removal service to come haul off several items that were bulky and difficult for me to be rid of.
One of the men who came was a Marine, “not currently serving” (whom civilians might regard as a “former” Marine, but a Marine should tell you that is a misnomer). He saw my “retired” Navy flag and asked me what I did in the service. We chatted a few moments as he and his partner hauled everything into their truck. And I received a little discount – probably 10 – 15 percent. Anytime you get a little help, particularly when it helps your wallet, it can be a nice “hook up”.
better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind
Ecclesiastes 4: 6 (NIV)
I listen to an investment talk show on the radio Saturday mornings while driving home from my prayer-hike in the Mission Trails Park (San Diego, CA). The hosts were commenting that the House (Congress) has recently approved changing working Americans retirement savings programs (the SECURE act) to help people who put little to no money aside for their “old age”. The radio show’s hosts were remarking how consumer debt is growing again, and with workers left to voluntarily invest in company 401K plans, IRAs (Individual Retirement Accounts) and funding emergency savings ( e.g. six months of expenses), fewer than four in ten are setting money aside. With consumerism driving cycles of economic growth followed by downturns, unemployment, and bankruptcies since the 1970s, are we headed there again?
Perhaps it is one of the failures of a developed nation that savings and prudent investment is not taught in the K – 12 grades nor in colleges. And young adults, free of parental guidance, are heavily marketed to obtain credit and jump into the consumer lifestyle. After September 11th, our youth grew up with continual exposure to negative future images – homelessness, refugees, terrorist attacks at home and abroad, a bleak economic outlook, and hostility toward “traditional values”. It seems almost forgivable that young people are seeking to have it “now” rather than later.
For the last of the Baby Boomers, for Generation X, and Millennials, the promises of Government, particularly those seeking public office by positioning themselves as champions of the disadvantaged, should sound like a broken record of the past cycles. For those between thirty and sixty years of age, the financial missteps of the past should have served as a lesson to improve one’s financial security. Into one’s Forties, obtaining a trade or marketable skill (regardless of one’s “passion”) can still provide for one’s retirement. The traditional “invaluable employee” mentality should improve wages. If wage or employment benefits stagnate, different employment has been increasingly available.
Like Solomon four thousand years ago expressed, seeking to keep up with the consumerism of one’s neighbors, rather than living prudently leads to “chasing after wind”. Delaying gratification, investing prudently, living within one’s means, and looking to your own welfare instead of the Government’s plans for you, leads to a golden “old age”.
A Thursday evening discussion with an acquaintance over cigars, as retired Navy Chiefs, we were amicably discussing the Navy “salty” life, adventure, and places familiar to each of us around the world. With a lifetime of experience including travel to the same parts of former Soviet bloc countries, we then opined on 21st Century socialist nations. While rigid politically, some tacitly approve of workers ‘capitalist’ use of an underground economy to support their families. He illustrated discussing the merits of fine Cuban cigars he obtained. Skilled cigar rollers have access to tobacco, paper and other accessories to make – after the day’s production was completed and inventoried – some personal cigars to provide under-the-table income. He learned of accessing such side channels during global business travel. And tonight, the ‘entrepreneurial’ wheels in my mind started turning. In a Progressive future, there will always be those who obtain – and those who will then purchase – a premier cigar.
Every motivational program I have heard or subscribed to since my mid-Thirties, has quite sensibly detailed a method to improve finances, marriage, or speaking in public. Several were focused on succeeding in leadership and/or business. Some gave ideas on raising confident and capable children, and others focused on achieving a healthy work/life balance. Most of these were in relation to a Spiritual foundation. While everyone I know who engage in these self-improvement workshops, get something from them, those who diligently apply themselves and are undeterred by resistance, seem to thrive. But am I alone in being stuck in old routines, jobs, or commutes, because of “fear of change”?
Thirteen years ago, I began working at a company located almost forty miles (one-way) from my home. For a few years there was the prospect that a subsidiary a few miles from home would have a position I could transfer into. The subsidiary was closed. Moving was not an option; not just the expense of a new home, but my teens and spouse had strong ties to the local area. As I got older, I made excuses that I would not find stable work somewhere reasonably closer. The issue is that I did not apply consistently or obsess about finding a different job. This goes against my experience, spiritual training, even rational common sense. Do I hate change?
Do others have this dilemma? Do many live with constant economic instability and change, because they prefer the “life” in “work-life balance”? In my mid-Twenties, in between periods that I eventually made a Navy career, I enjoyed not being serious about work. I had heard stories of people who were so driven to always be at work, they became ill or suffered cardiac arrest when they no longer had the constant adrenaline jolts of the job (stress). But I recall being so fearful of “starting over” that I remained stuck for years in something I probably was less suited for than the horses I cared for when a high school student, or the university where I participated in work-study. When the one co-worker told me she was leaving after a year because of her commute (twenty miles), I empathized.
Perhaps metathesiophobia is a covered condition in the employer’s health plan? However, to relieve this condition I might have to make a change in my work-life balance. And I fear hate the idea.
The older I get, the more I find it ironic how some people argue and protest about fairness in life – as opposed focusing on gaining in-demand skills, creating work to employ themselves and others, or volunteering to share their talents and good fortune with others. College students and academics are often the noisiest, when they themselves are better off than most other people in the world. Ironic, as, once upon a time I was one of those post-high school, underemployed, single people whining about fairness. And at the time, I had my own apartment, a vehicle, and was a spendthrift living on credit. In my early Twenties, I was not skilled sufficiently due to personal choices I had made about education. I was economically disadvantaged.
As I grew older, I made better choices. I made the military a career. I used skills and resources gained there to obtain a better living. I have been able to serve my fellow man, here and abroad, with material things I can provide from my income. I have taught some to read. Others, I have helped through translation. And still others I help through donations to Non-Governent Organizations (NGO) medical clinics, disaster-response efforts and volunteers. In the process of working for myself and for others, I learned the maddening impossibility of an efficient bureaucracy. Governments may be able to provide for the national defense, but can spend trillions of dollars and still not have good roads, education that translates into skilled occupations, or decent healthcare. Often I find myself in an argument because I believe more in principles that are in line with my religious and personal views, and individual responsibility, than government “nannies”. I will tell people, “I’m here for an argument, not abuse.” And that usually gets a quizzical look.
In the 1970s, Monty Python, a British comedic troupe was very entertaining with comedic sketches that lampooned society, politics, culture, and history very irreverently and often quite bizarre in a very British styled humor. This sort of humor might harpoon many topics sacred to a generation focused on a dire future. Why few have any opinion on a solution for the topics they brood about, from climate, health care or international relations is odd for an opinionated society. Perhaps if we could laugh at each other and disagree with one another – in a manner that Monty Python did so well -we could find solutions in the best interests of our fellow man.