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PARKER'S PLACE

Ruff News and Other Bones of Contention : Or, the High Cost of Stupidity

July 15, 1993|T. Jefferson Parker | T. Jefferson Parker is a novelist and writer who lives in Orange County. His column appears in OC Live! the first three Thursdays of every month.

The signs are everywhere, indicators of just how stupid I am.

Items in recent newspapers have left me baffled. I awoke fresh a few Mondays back, to read with delight that still another pillar of Wall Street now is suspected of knowingly leading investors astray. This company allegedly sold speculative oil stocks just as oil prices were plummeting (late '80s), then supposedly borrowed huge sums of money to make returns look appetizing to still more investors.

Investor money had been used to finance wildly extravagant flings for company executives, such as trips to a hunting camp in Louisiana where it costs $400 a day to shoot quail. Basically, it came down to this: If you bought a share at $250 in 1988, it is worth basically $000 today, and the critics say our Wall Street friends should have seen it coming from a long way off.

I've never had much sympathy for people who make bad investments. Those who gave millions to Jim Bakker after seeing his face on TV got exactly what they deserved. How could one send money to a man with a face like that? So, being one of the earnest dopes who actually had invested in these stocks, I had a hard time working up a full dose of sympathy for myself.

Instead, I called my broker for some nuts-and-bolts information on just how much money I had lost. The receptionist was curt. Naturally, my broker was out, probably shooting quail down South. He has yet to return my call.

Thus abandoned, I resorted to the statement that arrives every month and which I promptly file in a large, tax-oriented bag and don't read. The reason I don't read it is because these statements actually don't state anything. They are mystifying green sheets that plop open like some legal writ yet offer none of the bottom-line mundanities such as: How much did I give these pin-striped whiz kids, and how much is it worth now?

Not to worry, though, because I read in the article that a company called, of all things, Parker & Parsley had made a legitimate offer to buy the partnership units from investors at a "fair and reasonable sum." Since these Robin Hoods had been sending me fat envelopes for the last few weeks, I dug through the aforementioned slag bag and read their offer.

For each share that I bought at $250, I would be paid $78. Some quick math suggested that this wasn't a great deal. I called my broker again to see if I should really take this insulting offer, but this time nobody answered the phone at all.

On the principle that financial trouble is shameful while financial ruin has a certain cachet, I refused to sell my meager few near-worthless shares to anyone who couldn't come up with more than $78 for each. Understand, my original investment was for retirement, not to get rich quick, which I certainly didn't. Now what am I supposed to do with these stocks, line my dog kennels with them?

But all these monetary high jinks pale when compared to another set of recent events--namely, our bombing of Iraq. It isn't that I don't understand such action; in fact, I think Saddam Hussein is a blight on the entire world, not to mention his own country. What I don't understand are two ancillary facets:

1. The news said that "beleaguered" President Clinton now had taken a step toward "gaining the public's confidence in him as a decisive and sure-handed leader."

2. A following article noted that although uncounted Iraqi civilians died in the latest bombings, "no serious consideration was given to harm or kill Hussein." This, Administration officials explained, was because of the "legal prohibition on assassination of foreign leaders."

Now, even if the latest polls show our President's "approval rating" is higher because he bombed Baghdad, does that really mean we've come to see him as a better leader? I haven't. Nobody I've talked to has said as much. So if the polls indicate this, they're simply talking to the wrong people (nobody I talked to has ever been polled, either). Is President Clinton truly beleaguered, or is he just a bit unsteady with this new and rather challenging job? Who makes up this stuff?

Why we would kill innocent civilians but make every effort to spare Hussein himself is a nuance clearly beyond my understanding. This is why I'm not a "topical" columnist, because topics like this leave me feeling as if the earth is falling out from under me. They make me feel dumb.

So, feeling dumb, I went outside to poll my dogs, who can always be relied upon for the simple, seat-of-the-pants sagacity that escapes me. I outlined the basics to both the golden and the Lab, explaining the apparently irreconcilable contradictions that plague the human condition, the concept of greed, the generalized inability of humankind to solve the problems it creates. I reminded them that simply giving up was not a viable option. The happy blankness of their gazes puzzled me.

"Why don't you care about truth, justice, the betterment of society?" I bleated. "Why don't you care about anything but yourselves?"

"Why should we?" their eyes said back. Then they both lunged for the same chewstick and commenced a mock battle that raged for half an hour.

I cannot understand money, politics or the problems of this planet. I can understand my dogs, sometimes, although the Lab recently has taken an interest in black magic; he was able to disappear from one side of the fence and rematerialize on the other (this actually happened). Later that evening, I caught him out in the hills with a conical hat on his head, some yarrow sticks spread before him, "The Book of Runes" in the dust by his side.

Still later that night, I looked for succor in the Good Book, a wonderful place to find it. And find it I did! Proverbs 30:1:

"Surely, I am too stupid to be a man!"

Am I alone out here?

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