Forget Barry & Tiger. Cal Ripken is still my hero

Today’s news says it’s all over for Barry. A lot may be over for Tiger, since Pepsi says their eponymous drink will be canned — or not canned, as the case may be. Still, it’s hard to feel terribly sorry for either of them. Barry never showed much affection for his fans, and Tiger apparently didn’t have enough affection for his family to keep them out of the sordid spotlight. But I suspect neither will wind up in the poorhouse unless they find new ways to abuse the public trust. For Barry, today’s news, reported by John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle, just looks like a confirmation of last year’s news:

Barry Bonds’ agent finally acknowledged Wednesday that the home run king is done playing baseball.

‘It’s two years since he played his last game, and if there was any chance he’d be back in a major-league uniform, it would have happened by now,’ agent Jeff Borris told The Chronicle. ‘When 2008 came around, I couldn’t get him a job. When 2009 came around, I couldn’t get him a job. Now, 2010 … I’d say it’s nearly impossible. It’s an unfortunate ending to a storied career.’

I’m just not sure it couldn’t have had a happier ending. If, perhaps, he had seemed to care more about the fans who made him rich and less about the stuff he was stuffing into his body in the presumed interest of getting richer. Maybe Tiger can find a happier ending, if he gets his act together before he hits retirement age himself; golfers don’t hit it quite as early.

There is a caveat which should be entered here: 99% of my sports information comes second hand from my husband, who has the uncanny ability to read complex books and magazines with one eye while digesting unbelievable hours worth of every known sport on TV with the other. But who didn’t follow, first-hand, the steroid saga of Mr. Bonds? And who could possibly be missing all the interminable coverage of the Woods family tragedy?

For a while I occasionally watched Barry Bonds do magic at the plate, and for a while he made such an attractive hero. I never saw Tiger except on the small screen, but at first he seemed such an attractive hero. So now I’m left feeling just a tiny part of one more national betrayal.

But here is the good news: Cal Ripken will be in Secaucus, NJ at the World Series MVP and Heroes Show on December 12.

Let’s all go to Secaucus.

Finances after 50: Have we learned anything from the Great Recession?

Too soon poor, too late smart? A story by WSJ staff reporter Glenn Ruffenach in the November 14/15 Wall Street Journal “Encore” section  asks if we’ve learned any lessons from the financial crisis. And just in case you’re feeling smug about having done so, a quiz inside may shine a sober light of reality. It also contains a lot of data you will find useful, interesting and possibly surprising.

Amid the tumult of the past year, financial advisers are telling us that the Great Recession has produced one invaluable benefit: an education.

We now know, for instance, that our nest eggs can lose almost half their value in a matter of months; that “diversifying” our holdings doesn’t necessarily safeguard those holdings; and that our homes—our one investment for later life that was supposed to be foolproof—can make us look like, well, fools.

How much have you taken away from the events of the past year? Try our quiz and find out.

OK, so it isn’t much of a silver lining. But even worse is that we’ve supposedly learned these lessons before—after each recession, sell-off and market bubble since the 1960s. And yet, we continue to make the same mistakes.

How much have you learned about retirement finances in the past year? And has it sunk in this time? Our quiz will offer you a chance to see if you know where you stand—and provide some guidance for the future.

You’ll have to pick up the Weekend Journal for the quiz, but here’s one freebie in advance:

Q – In retirement, Social Security will likely replace what percentage of your pre-retirement income: (a) 23%; (b) 33%; (c) 43%; (d) 53%.

A – Well, don’t guess high.

Or:

Q – The single best cure for a battered nest egg is: (a) invest more aggressively; (b) save more money; (c) Work longer; (d) Plan to withdraw less money from retirement savings

A – And just when that pile of books to read is so inviting… sorry. (c)

The quiz is full of useful data and interesting insight (fully 40% of men and 41% of women ages 40-50 are considered obese by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, for instance; you knew?) One overall message seems to be, in fact: If you have one, don’t quit your day job.

Housing, homelessness & other inequities

Today’s Sonoma County (CA) Press Democrat features a front page story about Joe Montana’s digs near Calistoga, available for $49 er–million. It is right above a photo of homeless vet Jack Saltzman reading in his hatchback, the juxtaposition of photos hard not to notice.

Others vets don’t have hatchbacks. Press Democrat feature writer Jeremy Hay reports that according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 400, or 12%, of Sonoma’s 35,000 vets are homeless, which fellow homeless vet Don Bridges says is “just the tip of it.” Some 131,000 of the nation’s 24 million veterans are homeless on any given day.

Hay details some of the measures being undertaken to alleviate the problem, including $3.2 billion recently pledged by the V.A. to be spent over the next five years toward getting veterans off the street and keeping them from falling into homelessness. But returning vets have been part of another world most of us only see in the extreme abstract and can’t possibly comprehend; fitting right back into mainstream America can be harder than anywhere they have served, where at least, another vet explains, “you’ve been part of your tribe.” More vets will return, and more will wind up on the streets.

None of this is the Montanas fault.

Another Press Democrat front page story, a New York Times article by Andrew Martin and Lowell Bergman, mentions a 91-year-old Florida woman who got a letter from Citibank last month advising her that her new credit card interest rate was 29.99 percent, up 10 points from the previous rate. Haven’t we been reading about Citibank lately?

These bits of information are being digested by those of us who elected Mr. Obama and now feel sad and frustrated because our expectations were, perhaps, too high. Some of us are wondering why he ever wanted the job in the first place.

We don’t have an answer to homelessness. We may not make an offer on the Montana estate — even though, with a Tuscan-style mansion, equestrian center, full-sized basketball court, gym, pool, etc, etc it is probably worth that matching 49er price — because with 20% down and a 30-year 6% fixed rate mortgage the monthly payments of $235,023 would be a stretch. And we are not planning any credit revolt, despite the fact that it is the responsible credit users who are being penalized by the likes of Citibank. What we are doing is just trying to comprehend the surreal nature of today’s news as covered on one front page.

And keep the faith.

Presidents, Patriotism & the Blue Angels

The Blue Angels were in town for San Francisco’s Fleet Week in recent days, along with assorted presidents for the President’s Cup golf tournament and planners for the 20th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake, all of which made for a patriotic sort of time. Not to give away the punch line, but two out of the three fell victim to the famous San Francisco fog, which little factoid offers too many metaphors even to think about.

The Blue Angels bring with them, it has to be noted, a lot of ambivalence. Something about all that military might, ear-shattering noise and expensive fuel, plus the radar that lets them know when anyone is considering a quick nap… but then, they are incredibly good at what they do, and strangely beautiful streaking around up there.

Letters to the editor, however, poured in. Against the warrior culture, the display of power, the celebration of aggression and militarism, pollutants in the air. In favor of flyover celebrations and tradition. Nobody mentioned interruption of naps. I remain ambivalent.

A flag-waver to the core, I find myself resentful that flag waving has been hijacked by those who mean God Bless America and the hell with everybody else. I’m even resentful of the hijacking of God Bless America, which is a beautiful song and shouldn’t mean please don’t bless anyone else, Ma’am.

By the end of the weekend, Tiger Woods had come off a hero again, the skies had cleared just enough for a few aerobatics, the spectators had spent a lot of money on extra San Francisco sweatshirts and foot warmers to get them through the festivities and the planners were still planning for the impending earthquake celebration, all proving that Nature bats last. And a few flags of all sorts were out.

Patriotism used to feel good. I yearn for the day when it can feel good again, and we patriots are too busy promoting peace and goodwill around the globe for other stuff. And earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes are more to be feared than somebody else’s nuclear missiles. It could happen. Nature, sports and celebrations notwithstanding, does bat last.