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Belmont Club

“O” the Great and Powerful

March 20th, 2013 - 6:03 pm

Reuters says that Cyprus now has a Plan B to resolve its financial crisis, involving a modified levy on bank deposits and a nationalization of pension funds, in addition to issuing more bonds.

Officials said it could include: an option to nationalize pension funds of semi-government corporations, which hold between 2 billion and 3 billion euros; issuing an emergency bond linked to future natural gas revenues; and possibly reviving the levy on bank deposits, though at a lower level than originally planned and maybe excluding savers with less than 100,000 euros.

The banks will stay closed at least until Tuesday next week, probably because there is no point opening them. In their bankrupt state there is nothing to pay depositors with anyway. With the banks closed until further notice, the UK has urged its nationals on the island to make other arrangements. “British pensioners living in Cyprus are being urged to switch their state pension payments to UK bank accounts, after the British government suspended payments to accounts lodged with Cypriot lenders.” Until then the British government will hold on to the dough.

Will the Cyprus bank depositors ever see their money again?

Myke Cole, who did three tours in Iraq, has an interesting reflection on his own Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms that cast a surprising light on the banking confidence problem. Cole said he long believed that PTSD involved the classic Hollywood depictions of nightmares, flashbacks, nights sweats etc. Then he realized that in his case at least, PTSD was much bigger than that.

I kept seeing non­profit TV spots, charity pieces and solemn psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ical essays. They all described a PTSD that I’d never seen in myself, and more impor­tantly, in anyone else I knew who suf­fered from it. I’ll never forget this one spot on AFN, where a sol­dier washes his hands, only to find blood pouring out of the faucet Stephen King’s Shining style. He hears gun­fire, looks into the mirror, the back­ground is a desert bat­tle­field strewn with corpses, glowing red.

I picked that apart with some friends for an hour. I’m not saying that there aren’t people out there for whom PTSD is like that, but it sure as hell wasn’t like that for any of us. …

Because PTSD isn’t a dis­ease, it’s a world view.

War, dis­aster response, police work, these things force a person to live in the spaces where trauma hap­pens, to spend most of their time there, until that world becomes yours, seeps through your skin and runs in your blood. Most of us in indus­tri­al­ized western soci­eties live with feeling that we are safe, that our lives are sin­gular, mean­ingful, that we are loved, that we matter. We know intel­lec­tu­ally that this may not be the case, but we don’t feel it.

PTSD is what hap­pens when all that is stripped away. It is the cur­tain pulled back, the deep and the­matic real­iza­tion that life is fun­gible, that death is capri­cious and sudden. That anyone’s life can be snuffed out or worse, ruined, in the space of a few sec­onds. It is the shaking real­iza­tion that love cannot pro­tect you, and even worse, that you cannot pro­tect those you love. It is the final sur­ren­dering of the myth that, if you are decent enough, eth­ical enough, skilled enough, you’ll be spared.

It’s a change in world view.

And that’s exactly what happens to the confidence of a citizen when he sees that the supposed safety of his bank account and inviolability of his pension funds exposed for nothing but an illusion. The myth dies; the curtain is pulled back. Oz the Great and Powerful is shown up as nothing but a huckster from the Midwest.  Though in a much weaker way than PTSD losing a large part of your life savings isn’t so much a momentary shock that can soothed away by a politician’s words as an awakening.

But an awakening to what?

Cole’s most interesting observation is the idea that person once marred by the Life (as I refer to it in my own novel, No Way In), he finds it hard to regain his faith in the conventional reassurances.  Once doubt has entered into the perfect Faith it can never be perfect again. And having glimpsed the world outside the wire, Cole writes, many would rather than live there than go back to BS:

And this is why so many of us, even post diag­nosis, go back to work in the fields that exposed us to the trauma in the first place. Because the fear is bone deep, and the only thing that puts it to sleep is the thought that you can maybe patch a few of the holes in the swiss cheese net under the high wire. Because we are fright­ened from the moment we wake until the moment we sleep, and if we can stave that off for someone else, well, then maybe that’s some­thing to live for.

And that’s for those of us who get off easy. In the worst cases, people aren’t able to find meaning in a reg­ular job, or in wealth-building, or rela­tion­ships, or any of the things that modern soci­eties tell us charts the course of a life.

This echoes the eloquent Frederick Forsyth, who in his novel The Dogs of War, memorably described the psychological damage that compelled poor ex-soldiers to keep returning to the mercenary life.  He wrote of the impossibility of going back to the world of canned laughter.

The real problem was being able to stick it out, to sit in an office under the orders of a wee man in a dark gray suit and look out of the window and recall the bush country, the waving palms, the smell of sweat and cordite, the grunts of men hauling the jeeps over the river crossings, the copper-tasting fears just before the attack, and the wild cruel joy of being alive afterward. To remember, and then to go back to the ledgers and the commuter train, that was what was impossible. He knew he would eat his heart out if it ever came to that. For Africa bites like a tse-tse fly, and once the drug is in the blood it can never be wholly exorcized.

And in my own book the characters struggle to escape the Life, mostly without success. “Most people had very little to look forward to at fifty-two except an impending old age. Alex at least had this one last mission in a great cause against daunting odds: the last chance to live the Life.” And yet, “damn the Life. It contaminated everything it touched.”

That it does. That it does. But once a person knows there is neither “certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain” in living as the celebrities on TV recommend, in the unending parade of cooking shows and Lena Dunham cool posturings, or making the trip each day to the office for the sake a pension that might never be there — there’s no help for it. Fact is, you’re not in Kansas any more.  The “world view” changes.

Men with genuine PTSD get a glimpse of life as it really is. In a milder way, the lines of depositors in Cyprus waiting outside banks in hope and desperation get a glimpse of what the game always was. Once upon a time, as Cole notes, men knew the necessity of relying upon things to give life, uncertain as it was, some meaning. There were warrior cults, for example. “Even if you look past the promise of immor­tality, they offer a tremor in the world, a ripple of sig­nif­i­cance in your passing.”

Today’s elite has stripped civilization of all meaning except the pension and the welfare check at the end of the rainbow. That was supposed to be enough. What happens when there’s not even that?

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99

Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99

No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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Top Rated Comments   
Pain is not a disorder. It is the body's way of telling you there is something wrong.

There is no such thing as “post-traumatic stress disorder”. It's post-traumatic stress. It is how our brains are wired to deal with trauma. It is a normal reaction to brutality. It is no more of a disorder than pain.

Imagine someone who cannot feel pain. That person gets horribly wounded by minor stumbles that a normal person would recover from easily. Likewise, imagine someone who feels no post-traumatic stress after combat. Perhaps it is those who do not feel post-traumatic stress who are the nutcases.

If you get flashbacks, welcome to the club. It means you are human.

Nowadays, we are getting bombarded with vicious government propaganda that portrays veterans as people with mental disorders, as victims and weaklings without an ounce of manhood left. Those ads are downright creepy. The real problem we have is a government that tells veterans they not only lost but deserved to lose because they fought in a “dumb war”. It would be nice to have a government that believes in winning wars rather than losing them.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
15 or 20 years ago the realization finally floated to the surface in my thoughts that a big difference between the way we act and think HERE compared to most of the world consists of the assumptions we make that to which we never give a moment's thought: We won't have to step around dead bodies on the path when we leave the house in the morning; there won't be dogs and rats fighting over food scraps in front of the local post office, grocery, diner, doctor's office; we don't have to carry spare cash to pay bribes to police officers, building inspectors, postal clerks, school administrators; we are not in much danger of being crushed or trapped to starve when the buildings in which we work or live collapse; we are far more likely to suffer diseases of old age and die from over-indulging in rich foods and soft living than from privation or exposure to the elements; parents have a reasonable expectation of seeing their children grow up to provide grandbabies for them to spoil...

Is it entirely bad to be aware of these awakenings? I think they have made me appreciate much more the daily miracles we enjoy.

But these have also made me much more suspicious and hostile to the idiots that are busy dismantling our country, determined to ensure that children born today will not enjoy such comforts.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
When I was laid off two and a half years ago my first reaction was to take a bit of a sabbatical. After 30 years of showing up I decided to take some time off on unemployment… look for work but not that hard while took a several hundred hours of college classes.

Then there was the occasion of my mother being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and my father’s death not long after that due to medical indifference. During the same period I have spent my 401k, frittered through my savings, sold everything dear to me except a small storage with some keepsakes. I have had some temp jobs in the past year that were utterly abusive and now, I have been unemployed again going on three months. I want to move to Texas but can’t leave my mother high and dry. I am not bitter. I love life and am trying to see the blessing that are in each day. I do empathize with the descriptions of PTSD.

I live in a completely different world now. In ways I hope for a worldwide nuclear holocaust because I know I will never be able to fight for my own freedom nor will I see a dime of the retirement that I worked a lifetime to accrue. It is being offered openly to foreign invaders in my name. I expect to be eventually killed off like my father by an evil state of medicine run by government bureaucrats. The world has turned to crap for me and now all I want is a humble place to live and cook simple meals and enjoy the light of the day. Government has stolen that hope from me and everyone else who made it on the dole before the whole thing falls down shouldn’t be so quick to tsk tisk those who followed the rules but weren’t insightful enough to work for the state or to live in the time when selfishness and intergenerational theft was so profitable.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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The latest, latest, word is that Cyprus has come around full circle,

Now the buzz is that ALL of the tax is to be (essentially) applied to the Russian Mafia. (The average Ivan doesn't have any money in off shore accounts, of course.)

Next, Cyprus is going to have to get out of the Russian Mafia money laundering business. The old business model is kaput.

It is increasingly apparent that the RM shoved bad Greek (sovereign) paper at inflated prices down Cypriot throats -- and booked a tidy profit.

Getting a financial institution to purchase dodgy securities in illiquid markets is a classic control fraud mechanism. (It was common as dust eighty-years ago.) The shakedown can always be reframed in court as "whocouldhaveknowed?"

It also works in conjunction with that old classic: "painting the tape." (Colluding traders toss securities back and forth, creating an electronic record that can be presented at court should anyone question transaction prices. This works in securities debt because they trade infrequently -- all of them.)

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Steinar's bank is Nordea

"Nordea is the largest financial services group in Northern Europe with a market capitalisation of approximately EUR 29bn, total assets of EUR 677bn and a core tier 1 capital ratio of 13.1%.

Nordea has leading positions within corporate merchant banking as well as retail banking and private banking. It is also the leading provider of life and pensions products in the Nordic countries.

With approximately 1 000 branches, call centres in all Nordic countries and a highly competitive e-bank, Nordea has the largest distribution network in the Nordic and Baltic Sea region.

Nordea has the largest customer base of any financial services group in the Nordic region with approximately 11 million customers including new European markets, of which 10.4 million are household customers in customer programme and 0.6 million are corporate customers.

Nordea’s vision is to be a Great European bank, acknowledged for its people, creating superior value for customers and shareholders."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I hve an idea for Crete. Have Norway take over their banking system. The Norwegians provide the 6 billion Euros that the EU is demanding in Kroner. Exchange Norwegian Kroner for 6 billion Cretean Euros. The Cretans pay the EU with the Kroner. The Norwegians can spend those Euros in the EU like any other Euro. They have something to trade, North Sea oil.

The Creatans have a hard currency to escape the Eurozone, Kroner. Norway demands drilling rights and they have the basis for a deal. Norway launders the Cretean Euros to spend in the EU plus they get future potential oil reserves. NATO keeps control of the naval bases on Crete, freezing out Putin.

All that for a measly 6 billion Euros! Somebody call Steiner Juel!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Your Cretean idea is off by nautical miles.

Cyprus is the island of the hour.

Its NATO military base is run by the RAF - - going back a long time.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Reality, and the stress of facing it. Something hard for all of us to do. Our American society is so artificial that we seldom dip below that "thin veneer". I am thankful that Richard and Mike Cole wrote these pieces. As with most of Richard's work it makes me think. I notice that it is really hard to have a meaningful conversation with most people I meet. Every subject of discussion has to be superficial, or else they begin to draw away. You can see them thinking or often hear them saying "Aw, that's too negative. Who wants to think about that kind of stuff. Lighten up!".

Of course all reality isn't dire and unpleasant, but some of it is. The refusal to think about all aspects of reality, or with many people the refusal to think about much at all, is disturbing. It is also the source of much of our current problems. "If we just hide our heads in the sand, it'll all go away."

No one has all the answers. But if you don't even ask or think about the questions .. ?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"issuing an emergency bond linked to future natural gas revenues”

During the Weimar inflation, the government proposed mortgaging the wheat? or was it rye? crop to raise the cash necessary to stabilize the economy. Good sense prevailed.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Dagger -

Another idea. Rather than thinking of women with PTSD as being weak because they have maternal instincts, you should treat it as a strength for serving as mentors to younger girls in various organizations such as the Girl Scouts.

Watch the Wounded Warrior project ads and see how kids fit into the successes. Kids have a lot of energy and are naturally sympathetic to others who are learning to do hard things, because they themselves are learning to do hard things every single day of their lives. There is safety and comfort in numbers. Don't let the warriors become isolated and alone.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Dagger - Exhibit One

Holly Finn

" Brave people underestimate. SEAL on Bin Laden raid: "It's like pick-up basketball: can you shoot, move & communicate?" "

I wrote her and told her to consider the SF 49ers. How did they win? Joe Montana to Jerry Rice via sight routes?

Guys do extemporaneous things all the time. Women want everything planned out. They don't do sandlot football.

I'd tell her "cowardly people (frequently women) overestimate".

Read her column

The Humane Way to Crack Terrorists - Big data may make 'enhanced interrogation' obsolete

Great, now that you know where OBL is hiding, what are you going to do?

Send in SEAL Team Six to serve him an engraved invitation to a TV press conference?

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
MP, that actually meshes. The rates in women are approximately twice the male rates. Obviously not all men are wired to fight and not all women are wired for flight, but maybe a working hypothesis.

I mentioned "Antifragile", the opus from Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in a prior post. I am starting to wonder if men are optimized for more chaotic environments (generically), while women are more optimized for static. This actually has a strong benefit evolutionarily, because both capabilities are maintained at roughly 1:1, regardless of the prevailing environment. The female-optimized environment at present (blue state model, etc) is showing structural flaws, and unfortunately those who view that as the norm are going to have a rude awakening (unless they are Cypriot, in which case they are wide awake). I don't know if women (writ large) have an inherent ability to be as antifragile as men. Maybe my reading of the book as instructional is based on my gender; women are probably mortified at the upshot.

Not to get too far ahead of the data, but I would predict that men with less of a fight response (i.e. support troops) would have a higher
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
rate of PTSD per exposure than men. Falsifiable prediction made...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
OK this format has me all messed up. I wish I could delete and start over. Sorry all...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I think what Wretchard is pointing out relative to PTSD is what Bill Whittle once called the the thin veneer of incredible privilege that is our civilization.

That's also what Mad Fiddler is saying. Godzilla, attacking aliens, SMERSH, THRUSH, Red Dawn, giant meteor impact, Fail Safe, Hans Gruber, worldwide pandemics, are all out there. They really are, or at least their equivalents. That's why we have Design Margin, or should. The guys with PTSD have looked past the thin veneer and discovered that.

I recall hearing of a study that said that Conservatives had different nightmares when sleeping than liberals. Conservatives tended to have nightmares about external threats. I don’t know what Liberals had nightmares about; maybe being caught wearing white after Labor Day or running out of caviar at a party. This study was reported in August 2001. And suddenly on 9/11/01 those nightmares were not so far fetched.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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