The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Sunday, June 29, 2014
Art & Entertainment ... History ... Personal Reflections ...

Not long ago at work, I told someone that I was “on the bomb run” for retirement. What I meant was that if I could get through another handful of years and if my luck really held up somehow, I might possibly be able to retire! Well, I’d probably still have to get a part-time job somewhere to make ends meet (and to get myself out of the house to mingle with people – admittedly, my job is probably 2/3 of my present social life, as I’m not a natural mingler). Nonetheless, I’m at the point where retirement is starting to become “imaginable”. (My cousin, who is my age, is less than 18 months out on his own “retirement bomb run”; he’s closer than me, and I hope he makes it!).

But who knows, a lot could yet go wrong, and I don’t want to jinx it. Nonetheless, the world is changing faster and faster, and my office is also changing; I’m getting tired of running faster and faster all the time just to stay in place. I feel like my best career days are behind me and it’s become less of a rat race and more like a rat inside a running wheel. So, I daydream more and more these days about retirement, and do various back-of-the envelope calculations to see if I could pull it off financially. Finances are a huge hurdle for many baby boomers these days; because of recession, job losses and lack of savings, many face the (grim) prospect of needing to work full time into their seventies.

So, I look at my present career and financial situation as though I’m “on a bomb run”. For those of you who aren’t fans of aerial combat, when a bomber airplane goes out on a mission and starts to get near the target where they will drop the bomb, the crew will initiate a procedure called “the bomb run”. They try to fly straight and level as they approach the target, and go through a checklist of procedures as to make sure they are in the right place, flying on the right course, and that their plane is working properly and the bomb is ready to be dropped at just the right spot. The idea is to keep this up even if they are being shot at from the ground or from an attacking enemy airplane. Otherwise, the person (or nowadays, the computer) pushing the button to release the bomb may get confused as to where the target is and how fast they are moving, and could thus miss the target. Only if things really get bad and it becomes clear that they aren’t going to make it can they break away from the run.

Bomb runs and retirement planning are both damn serious business. So it’s good to have a theme song for a bomb-run retirement mission, which got me to thinking about “Johnny Comes Marching Home”, the theme music from the bomb run scene in Doctor Strangelove. Ah yes, Doctor Strangelove or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. That movie is 50 years old this year. Half a century!! So I went on-line and pulled up a bunch of You Tube clips showing most of the important scenes – including the famous bomb run sequence, which concludes with Major Kong finding a way to open up the jammed bomb bay doors and riding the H-bomb like a bronco as it falls downward towards a Russian missile base.

Only now do I understand the profound anti-war sentiment that Kubrick was conveying in that film. When I first watched Dr. S back in high school (on TV, as I didn’t get to see it in the theaters when it was released in 1964), I focused on the technology stuff – ah, so that’s how you would fly a B-52 and arm and drop a nuclear bomb from it. Fascinating. I was just a young geek then, but now as an older geek, I can better appreciate the “social message” that Kubrick was sending.

I think that Doctor S was too “black” in some ways, and went too far in connecting our “dark side” to unsatisfied male sexuality. Kubrick went overboard on the Freud 101 aspect, including the opening scene with the phallic interpretation of an aerial refueling of a B-52 bomber plane (it turns out that the tanker refueling nozzle does NOT look like a “male member”, unless you have a really active imagination; Kubrick was taking a bit of artistic license in showing a penis-shaped metallic re-fueling probe). I nonetheless understand his point, i.e. that we are raping the world by preparing for nuclear war. The film did help to promote the notion of “protest” in the mid-1960s; it set the ground for anti-war / anti-establishment feelings in youth in the later part of the decade, as it contended that anyone who just “did their duty” in the nuclear age (like the B-52 crew under Major Kong) was as much a criminal as any Nazi (like Dr. Strangelove), given how terrible the nuclear brinksmanship game was and given its potential consequences.

What surprises me when reading peoples’ reactions to Doctor Strangelove on the web is how many think it to be funny. A lot of people on web sites say “I couldn’t stop laughing”, for example at the cynical names that Kubrick gave the characters (like Jack D. Ripper, Turgidson, de Sadeski, Bat Guano, K. Kong, Burpleson AFB, and of course, Strangelove himself!). Famed movie critic Roger Ebert also found Strangelove amusing, and the Guardian called it the number 6 best comedy film ever. Various people on certain Internet forums report that Doctor Strangelove made them “LMAO”.

I agree that Doctor Strangelove is a good satire, and that it represent a classic example of film as sardonic and skeptical and ironic. It may be absurd, it may be tragic, it may be a farce, it may be “black”; but it’s definitely NOT a comedy, not even a “black comedy”. Perhaps younger people today can laugh, but for those of us who remember the Cuban Missile Crisis and got a taste of how real nuclear war might have been – it is NOT funny !!!! And if it was truly a comedy, the proposed War Room piefight scene at the end would not have been dropped. But it was; Kubrick finally realized that slapstick just didn’t fit. And really – James Earl Jones doing comedy? How could you not feel terrified with the realism of that bomb run scene, with Jones’ dead serious high-tech checklist talk, e.g. “bomb fusion circuits 1 to 4 test, lights on”.

If there was a comedic aspect of Doctor Strangelove, it was just a device on Kubrick’s part, another way to hammer home a chilling point. Stanley Kubrick was hoping to change people and change the world with his dark art. He wanted to show us the madness and wrongfulness of our ways. And yet, just what were we to do? Did Kubrick expect us all to turn into radical pacifists and have the US unilaterally disarm its nuclear weapons while Russia (and now China and North Korea, perhaps soon Iran) built up theirs? That just wasn’t going to happen.

But maybe some good did come of it. There has been some nuclear disarmorment in the decades since Doctor Strangelove, and the film is said by some to have convinced the US military to take its nuclear weapons more seriously and put in better systems as to avoid a “rogue general” from launching WW3. (And yes, General Curtis LeMay, who was in charge of the US nuclear force in the 1950s and then was US Air Force chief of staff through 1965, was a hyper-agressive bastard who could have blown us all up; he reportedly wanted to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis). Perhaps we took a few steps back from the brink, and got our enemies to do likewise because of the sentiment that Kubrick helped to stir up. We have gone more than 50 years in a “balance of terror” without blowing up the world. Can we go another 50? Or at least another 25, so that I can complete my own career bomb run, come marching home, and have a nice-enough retirement?

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:09 pm      

  1. Jim, Can’t say I blame you at all for thinking about retirement and planning for it. Yet, you set me to thinking about the major things that happened in my life – one of which was retirement. Having been retired 21 years now from work I loved deeply, a couple of things come to mind.

    I’ve known people who worried themselves almost sick over whether they would be able to make it when they retired, what they would “do” to keep themselves occupied, how they would manage life in general when they were so used to the routine of work. I have noticed that these same people never seem to complain when they actually retire. In fact, making a simple lunch date with them can turn into a problem of “when will I fit that into my schedule?”

    (And here I speak not only for them but for myself too; I was a college professor and my general attitude toward teaching was that if it had not been invented before I came along, it would have *had* to be invented just for me to do it; I loved it so.) Somehow or other people easily become used to not having to go to work every day and manage to “fill in their time” with resourceful and beneficial work both for others and for themselves. OK, a little change in schedule is required, but it works out; and one is surprisingly content.

    As to worrying about money – basically, the same thing applies. One manages to “fiddle” with one’s finances and make due with the money coming in; life goes on OK. I should say here that I’m speaking of retirement here, not a sudden loss of a job, being laid off unexpectedly, etc. Sometimes that kind of “retirement” (which really is not a “retirement” but a sudden loss of an important part of life) can cause all kinds of havoc in an individual’s life.

    The second thing that I’ve noticed about the major things in my life is that, while one anticipates them coming, worries about them coming, makes all kinds of plans for their coming, somehow or other, when the particular “major thing” in life actually occurs, it somehow is a shock of sorts. Not the kind of shock that is like an electrical shock – totally knocking one off one’s feet; but, nevertheless, it’s a change that one didn’t quite expect at that particular time; so in that sense it’s a “shock”. Yet, again, I’ve found both with myself and others I have known who’ve been through the major changes everyone experiences in life that, once again, the individual manages better than might be tho’t. Perhaps that “managing better” is due to all the preparation and thinking that went into the coming situation. Nevertheless, one gets thru – and here I speak specifically of retirement as other major changes often have other kinds of effects; so this discussion is limited to retirement.

    So, I’d say, prepare well. But look forward to a good period of life coming – retirement. I’d also encourage you not to worry about it as you’ll be surprised how easy it will be to retire once retirement is upon you. Well, it may take 5 years yet, but look forward to a time in your life you won’t be sorry about. Look forward to a time in life you’ll be glad has come for you. MCS

    [Jim G comment: Interesting advice, i.e. don’t freak out over it — but not necessarily a good portfolio management approach. Which is what I increasingly need at this point. One tip that I will leave the world with, after sweating over some spreadsheets during the past few days — putting Social Security off as long as possible, e.g. to age 70, does have many advantages if you have the savings to do it. One big consideration — if you do outlive your retirement plan and run out of savings, you will have a bigger Social Security base on which to try to stay alive with. BUT FIRST THING: DO HAVE A FINANCIAL PLAN!!!! The only alternatives: keep working until you drop. Or, prepare to be like my friend George, who lived a wonderful, artistic life, not worrying himself sick about retirement finances, but trusting that things could be “fiddled” into place when the time came; and now he gripes in his old age about not having enough in his refrigerator!!!!]

    Comment by Mary S. — June 30, 2014 @ 7:28 pm

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