Thursday, December 31, 2020
Sunday, December 27, 2020
Today's unusual entry is, “fictitious capital.” Breaking it down, “capital” is money, and “fictitious” is like fiction, which means not real, as in a “fictional character,” no such person exists. Captain Ahab only exists in the story of Moby-Dick. So you'd think that spending fictitious capital would be impossible, but you'd be wrong. Our rich brethren spend fictitious capital every day. They also borrow against it, although it is, as the clear meaning of the words implies, not real. That's what makes it strange.
Do not attempt to spend some of it yourself. It only works for people who are already rich.
I discovered the phrase today in a Salon article about the failure of centrism in post-fiat money American politics. That's a deeper time-line than they were using; they only went back thirty years or so. But figuring post-Nixon is a better way to go. Post-silver-standard. Modern money has no intrinsic value, nor does any object or commodity. Things, and money, are worth whatever people will pay for them. That's why concert tickets cost hundreds of dollars now. It's mischief.
Fiat money is a vast generator of fictitious capital.
The phrase itself was coined by Karl Marx. Mr. Marx was talking about interest mostly, and also stocks and commodities. Interest is the cost of borrowing money, and it creates money out of thin air. Stocks, to be fair, were until recently rationally related to the value of the physical plant of the company and the accounts receivable, etc. Now the sky is the limit for stocks. Thin air is putting it mildly. Many companies exist for years on borrowed money, never make a nickel in profit, then go public and sell a billion dollars worth of stock. Now that, my friends, is thin air. That is FICTITIOUS CAPITAL!
Wall Street, not the place but the state of mind, has gone completely off the rails with this concept of making money out of thin air. They have proved over and over again how much they really need regulation. They are like a demented child playing with fire in the basement of a tenement. When things go wrong, they can go very, very wrong. Like in 2007! If you haven't seen the movie, “The Big Short,” you should look for it. It's on Netflix. Don't tell me that you don't have Netflix! The movie lays it all out very nicely. You can learn about those collateralized debt obligations, and all of their spin-offs, that almost destroyed the world's economy. They managed that because of CENTRIST DEREGULATION WHILE A DEMOCRAT WAS IN THE WHITE HOUSE. That would be Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Let's work together! It'll be great! What can we agree on? How about massive deregulation of the banking business, and let's shit-can social welfare programs while we're at it. All in the spirit of cooperation! It'll be centrist! Mischief, mischief, mischief.
Didn't work for Clinton; didn't work for Obama; not going to work for Biden.
It is, I suppose, mild consolation that most of the trillions of dollars now held by our tens of millions of billionaires is made up of fictitious capital. Facebook stock goes down five percent, and the holders lose a total of several billion dollars that day. It's cool, though, because the money never existed in the first place, although it seems to spend just fine on yachts, aircraft, ranches in Wyoming, and fine art. Not consoling at all is the fact that when their bank accounts go poof, leaving only a blue mist, our little bank accounts will also go poof.
The main problem, of course, is that you, dear reader, must pay your rent with real dollars. Donald Trump, the master of fictitious capital, could be a billion dollars underwater for all we know. He has assets, certainly, but he also has massive debts. He'll be fine though, because only the non-rich need to worry about such things. You'll get your ass kicked out into the street, but Donald will be in his golden monument to bad taste, shitting on a gold toilet, having a net worth of negative millions of dollars. Your net worth is higher than his, but you are shit out of luck, pal, because you're a taker, not a maker. We have rules in this country.
Isn't vocabulary fun?
Saturday, December 26, 2020
There has been an awful lot of talk recently about some hypothetical return to normal. “The vaccine is coming,” said the New York Times on Xmas morning, “and Trump is going. Sometime in 2021, life will begin to look a lot more normal.” Please disabuse yourself of this lie immediately. There is no more normal. Normal is out of the question. We used up our entire stock of normal long ago.
Having said that, normal has always been overrated. People should pay more attention to history. What a shit-show.
2021 will be a profound disappointment. It will not be a return to anything. It will be a slow procession into the dense cloud of bullshit that is crowding out all of the clarity and security in the world. We are not facing one problem, or two. We are facing multiple simultaneous problems.
What does the Times foresee if only two small alleviations occur? We get “the” vaccine for COVID-19, and we get a new president? Even taken together, these things do not represent any kind of magic wand. They are not even a decent set of crutches to help us make forward progress.
The vaccine, for instance. People talk about the vaccine as though it were some panacea for all of our current confusion. Let's consider the vaccine for a moment. How many are there presently? The many now being rolled out include a Russian vaccine, but most people that I talk to don't trust it. Is it a fake? How about the Chinese vaccine? People seem to like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but but there are doubts surrounding all of the current vaccines about how long they will be effective. Will they be effective against all strains? How many mutations are currently at work?
How many developing countries will get vaccine this year? Or even by 2022? Will they get Hail Mary vaccines from dubious sources, like India? Will the “international” hospitals in the developing countries get a supply of the real vaccines to sell at market prices? Like $100 per person? I could pay that for my wife and I, and I would, but most people in my adopted country could not.
And who in their right minds thinks that Trump is going away? Even if he leaves the White House, which is beginning to seem likely, why should he leave the political scene? All of the action, and all of the money, are right there. 71,000,000 people voted for that asshole. They still think he's a straight shooter! He's here to save the country! They're still sending money to his re-election campaign! Most of those yokels who pay attention to the mega-church “pastors” will stick with Trump even if the phony religious leaders abandon him.
There will be Q, and there will be idiocy, and there will be guns. And there will be Trump.
And there will be President Joe Biden. He is still the same Joe Biden that he has always been. I don't expect him to wake up and start doing the right thing all of a sudden. He has no track record of supporting or advancing any helpful social programs. Unless, that is, you are a fan of mass-incarceration. I've been laying off Joe because getting Trump un-elected was job one.
But Joe will reach across the isle! There will be cooperation in our polity! He may try, but there be no cooperation. It's enough to make me scream out loud that no one seems to remember what the Republicans did to President Obama only a few short years ago, and to ask people to recall the Republican's treatment of President Clinton is like asking them the beginning and ending dates for the Mexican-American War. You get dull stares.
Americans are not famous for their mastery of American History.
There's a lovely and very old Chinese proverb that says, “the mountains are high, and the Emperor is far away.” Get it? So what if the Emperor is an dangerous asshole. He's a thousand miles away in his palace, and there are huge mountains between us. We are safe to live our lives in peace, because we are far beyond the Emperor's ken. If there ever was a “normal” in America, it happened when the mountains were high, and the Emperor (the Federal Government) was far away. Small town America was relatively autonomous. Now, there are no mountains, and the Emperor is in your home. Your neighbor's doorbells video you leaving your house for work in the morning. Every traffic light reads your license plate to track your commute. Your phone tells the world where you are every moment of the day.
This is not the “new normal.” This is a weird dystopic vision brought to vivid life by our wonderful new technologies. Welcome to our nascent future. You're not going to like it.
What would normal look like, if such a thing were still possible?
Normal would be a luxurious ice cap covering the Arctic Sea.
Normal would be plentiful, inhabitable, comfortable islands in the southern and western Pacific Ocean. Remember Fiji? The Marianas? Tuvalu? Soon most of the Philippines will be so crushed by storms that vast areas will be abandoned for habitation. The others that I mentioned already get crushed all over again before they can be rebuilt. The populations are wondering: do we need to leave? The population of American Samoa is migrating to the continental United States as soon as it is individually practicable.
Normal was average Americans growing up, getting some kind of shit jobs, probably only the husband working, getting married, and being able to buy a house, have a car, and raise a family. After 1935, they had Social Security. They had a lot more security of all kinds than people have now.
Normal would be a slow and manageable break-off of portions of the Antarctic ice shelves. Now pieces as big as Rhode Island are breaking off. Normal was a “Greenland” that was some kind of joke, because it was actually white from coast to coast. Now the ice is quickly melting, and all of this fresh water is going into the oceans. We are seeing powerful effects on ocean water temperatures and salinity. The acidity of the water is changing. The flow of the major ocean currents is changing. Only jellyfish seem to like the new ocean water. No one will like it if the Gulf Stream turns south, causing everything north of Spain to freeze solid.
Normal was mild to moderate fire seasons in some states, and a mild to moderate hurricane season in the mid-Atlantic. We had regular wars and pandemics, too. Not all of the normal was pleasant. But it was more predictable, which made it all easier to deal with.
Whatever normal was, it is now long gone. Don't be shocked, because that won't do any good. We have made our new world, and now we must live in it. Its effects will vary from family to family, from country to country. They may hit you in between the eyes, or in the teeth. But they will hit you. If you are most people, they have hit you already.
The Mystery of It All
It's all very mysterious, this new world.
COVID-19 is the sniper of viruses. So many sufferers are asymptomatic. Their temperature is normal; they look and feel fine. They're just wandering around, touching everything and breathing on everybody. Not to mention that it hits everybody in a different way. It presents with different symptomology in young people as opposed to older people. There is also a wide range of ways that the virus can affect people of the same age and medical history. Do they get the “second week crash” or not? Will they be in the ICU for a month, or will they go home in three days? Many sufferers are simply sent home from the hospital and told to quarantine themselves, stay in bad, and take Tylenol or something.
The vaccine idea has elements of mystery to it as well. There are now something like four that are being distributed and administered, with another four or so to follow soon. These are all different. No one is quite sure for how long they will be effective. Some of them may require booster shots every year or two. How will that all play out?
COVID-19 will find a way to lurk out in the corners for a long time, decades if we are particularly unlucky. A no longer surprising number of people are saying that they will not take the vaccine. Their reasons vary from almost reasonable to completely insane. No, people, Bill Gates is not using the vaccine to put the Mark of the Beast on you. George Soros is not using the vaccine to track everyone in the entire world.
Warfare. The nature of warfare has changed, and most people seem not to have noticed. The old formula, front lines advancing, occupying territory, blowing shit up, armies wearing uniforms, all of that has changed. The number of countries around the world that are either building or buying aircraft carriers is shocking to me. Isn't that a bit like building battleships after 1944? The days of their utility may have passed. Battleships still functioned nicely as bombardment platforms after their obsolescence, but their original role as ship-to-ship gun fighters was as dead as the dodo.
There will still be the local dust-ups in the ungovernable areas of the world, but war will heretofore be much quieter for the major powers. We are probably at war with Russia this very moment, an undeclared cyber war. And with other countries as well. North Korea for sure. Maybe China. Even against satellites, it seems like a waste of resources to use rockets of some kind to blow them up. Why not just hack them, and infect them with viruses? Or, even better, repurpose them and use them against their original owners?
Why expend vast resources on manpower, explosives, and delivery systems to destroy an enemy's infrastructure when you can launch a computer attack and accomplish the same thing from the comfort of your bunker in Colorado? The Russians have been doing dry-runs for years, and are ready to hit the ground running the minute the next war starts in earnest. They had a great success shutting down a large segment of the Ukrainian electronic grid simply by reprogramming the transformers to overspin themselves into destruction. That experiment achieved all of its goals. It proved that they could do it, and it proved to the Ukrainians that they were helpless to resist Mother Russia. This very month (December, 2020) the news has been full of reports regarding hacks in various American intelligence agencies. The Russians love to poke around inside our most sensitive computer systems, testing their own capabilities, and leaving back-doors to facilitate future attacks. Just sightseeing! For now.
In more conventional areas of warfare, there have been great advances in the miniaturization of nuclear bombs and the speed and accuracy of their delivery systems. Things could get very exciting.
Our Climate. Everyone seems to agree that we have a serious problem with the climate, and also to agree that we are not doing enough about it. The general response, however, seems to be, “let's wait and see what happens.” Really, that is not going to work.
We should all have learned from our own little lives that foreseeing potential problems and making effective plans is a much better way to manage our lives than coasting along and allowing the decisions to make themselves.
The mysteries here will bring difficult choices. Which areas of the world will become uninhabitable, and in what order? Who will be a host country to displaced populations? Which crops will begin to fail first? What will people eat when the staple crop of their area fails?
We are already seeing Pacific island nations beginning to give up in the face of these numerous super-storms. We are already seeing various plants failing to propagate due to rising temperatures in their regions. I suppose that I'm starting to sound like a geezer version of Greta Thunberg, but I think that lovely young woman is absolutely correct in her main thesis: all of our so-called leaders, every one of them, has a sacred responsibility to husband our life-sustaining environment and resources, and they are all failing even to take the problem seriously.
That, to me, is a real mystery. It is also a fatal error in judgment on their part. This isn't a harmless game of kick-the-can (down the road, as it were).
“Normal” is a relative term. Normal is a word used to describe prevailing conditions, whatever they are. A popular word to describe the prevailing conditions where soldiers were located during World War II was, “SNAFU.” (Situation normal, all fucked up.) There was a lot of talk about “normal” during the presidential election of 1920. Warren Harding's slogan was “return to normalcy.” He was talking about the situation that prevailed before World War I. Is the New York Times suggesting that we return to the situation that prevailed before the election of Trump? The eight years of Mr. Obama's presidency? What sane person would want to go through that again?
Maybe this is just the sad admission that we have been tolerating inadequate leaders and terrible conditions for the entirety of human history, and with Trump we achieved the certain knowledge that America's political system is so full of holes that a really dangerous, deranged man like Trump can waltz right in and take over, making matters exponentially worse. Our great luck is that Trump is no Hitler, no Stalin. Trump is more of a “Killer Klown from Outer Space.” He will not be taking power permanently. The way has been shown, though, and lurkers in the dark have been taking notes. We may not be as lucky the next time, and if nothing is done to firm up the foundation of our political way of life, there will definitely be a next time.
Wednesday, December 23, 2020
I'm on a fence about posting this. I'm leaning towards “yes,” because everything that I have to say about my first wife is positive. I've loved the woman since I met her, and I still do love her. I believe that marrying her was a great bit of luck, and I am grateful for every minute of the marriage and sincerely grateful for everything that she did for us, me and our boys. My only regret is that the marriage imploded short of the target date. I was written out of the script at the end of the second act, and I would rather have been a main character until “The End.” Having nothing bad to say about the whole situation, I suppose I'll go ahead and finish this and post it.
We were married for over forty years! There was a time when I would joke that, “we've been married for thirty-five years, and it's been about twenty-seven of the best years of my life.” She never liked that.
The woman's most prominent feature is her remarkable energy. This surfeit of energy turned out to be a mixed blessing, at least for me it did. On one hand, She got an awful lot done everyday, and organized her career around a self-run business that was very successful. Her many side-projects were also energetically pursued and yielded good results. On the other hand, her sheer drive made her nature somewhat demanding, and she was often disappointed in the slower pace of other people's lives. Like me, for instance. The effort that was required to put up with me finally became too much for her to bear.
There was a time when I thought that it would be a great idea to teach my first wife the game of poker and take her down to the Bicycle Club in Los Angeles and set her loose on the unsuspecting marks that played there all the time. She is a highly intelligent woman, very good at reading people and manipulating them, and she is extremely competitive. She was already engaged in competitions of her own design with everyone that she knew, friends, family, me, agencies of the State and Federal government, and everyone in her profession. The competitions themselves were never the goal. No, the goal was always to win. She'd have out-grown the Bicycle Club within a year or two, and would quickly have made her mark in Vegas.
She imagined our marriage as a catalog of struggles. Our marriage was the nexus of many little wars, against the background of constant tests and comparisons. Who is doing more housework? (Hint: less housework wins.) Who is making more money? Who is making decisions about the boys' lives? Who is spending more money? We did everything her way. There was no discussion. I simply complied with her wishes. Well, to the greatest degree possible.
We discover in life that there are things that we can do, and there are complications that can get in the way of our attempts to do other things. Our personalities, or our temperaments, or our learned behavior patterns, or our body chemistry, any of these things can make it impossible to do what is desired of us. No one can simply wish away depression, or a fearful temperament, or various anxieties. Maybe this is not the time to bring up my shortcomings. I recognize them, but as the three-time loser said when the judge asked him if he had anything to say in his defense, “your honor, whom amongst us is poifect?”
Everything was a competition for my first wife. She had two sisters, and thank God both of them only had two children. We had two children ourselves, which made it a three way tie. To lose that battle with her sisters would have killed her. She became, and remained, furious at me because we tried for years to conceive a third child. Nature did not allow it. Part of her desire for a third child was a desire to achieve a clear win over her sisters. The other part was that her own mother had had three children, thus setting the goal for another competition. Losing that one to her mother became a real sore point in our relationship, because she believed that it was obviously due to a physical failure in me, or I wore the wrong kind of underwear, or something. I had certainly not shirked my responsibilities in the attempt. Something wrong with me, though, definitely. Maybe a motility problem, or a lack of vitamin B. I'm not a doctor, and we did not consult fertility specialists. She remained furious at her mother and me over that loss, long after her mother's death.
We enjoyed eating out. I learned early on never to answer the simple question, “where should we have dinner?” I only answered with a non-response in the form of a question. Like, “what are you in the mood for?” Or, “where haven't we eaten in a while?” Long ago I would suggest somewhere. Maybe, “let's go to Vito's.” She would always respond angrily. “I'm never going to Vito's again! Every time we ate there we were the youngest people in the room! Only old people eat at Vito's!” Any place that I suggested would get that treatment. So yeah, “what are you in the mood for?” was a much better way to go.
We also always vacationed where she wanted to go, bought and sold cars when she said so, modified our house according to her instructions and her schedule, and once we moved from Los Angeles to New York for a year because she had a reason to want to be there for a while. I never minded being the back-seater in the crew, the Goose to her Maverick. There was always something in it for me. For instance, when we went to New York for that year, I was given the chance to finish up a BA at my old university. She got a well-paying, high powered job in her field, and the trip met all of the goals of her agenda for it.
She was an exciting woman, very lively, and beautiful besides. We had a lot of laughs, and I was always proud to introduce myself as her husband at affairs for her various activities. She wanted to be the boss, well, let her be the boss! I saw no harm in that, but she could be funny about certain things. Many things.
Toilet flushing in the middle of the night was an issue where my first wife's orders changed every six or eight months. Sometimes it was a water conservation issue, and I was forbidden to ever flush the toilet during the sleep period. Other times it was a smell issue, and I was ordered to flush every time I used the toilet. At other times it was liable to become a noise issue, and flushing the toilet was forbidden because it woke her up. All of that was easy, though. Just pay attention and follow the rules wherever they led.
Dish rinsing was another sensitive issue. We were married for many years before we had a dishwasher. I stand powerfully opposed to allowing any food to dry onto the dirty dishes, and I generally prefer to procrastinate by not doing the dishes immediately. This resulted in me comprehensively rinsing dirty dishes before stacking them in the sink. (California is an In-sink-erator state, so food down the drain is not a problem.) My first wife was a conservationist on this issue, and felt like I was wasting water by doing all of that rinsing. To make the matter worse, even after we got a dishwasher, I tended to rinse dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. I'm sure all of that was due to the poor toilet training that I received as a child.
All of this worrying about water was silly, of course, and pointless. I played golf, so I knew what real water-wasting looked like. I saw how all of the golf courses just left spigots open all day with the water running down the drain. That was in addition to their vast use of water to maintain the green grass over the entire course in the middle of a desert, with humidity down about ten percent, and the sun blasting down as though it were fifty meters away. They left all of the spigots on to insure that their water allotment would not be cut for the next year. Bear in mind that in Los Angeles, golf courses are as common as temples in Thailand. Every neighborhood has one. If every family in Los Angeles rinsed dishes like I did, it wouldn't add up to one tenth of one percent of what the golf courses wasted. But I always tried to follow my first wife's program, and to keep up with the frequent changes.
My first wife did all of the bill paying for the family. Those days, it was all done by mail, receive a bill, send a check. We put our pay into the same bank account, and the checks were drawn on that. Every couple of years she'd get sick of it, and yell that it was my turn, she was sick of doing the bills every month. After getting a look at all of the bills, I would inevitably become alarmed at our spending. “The balances on the cards are too high,” I'd explain. “I don't think we should use the cards at all for at least three months, and we should start sending them at least $50 over the minimum every month.” She would start gathering up all of the paperwork. “You don't know what you're doing,” she'd say, “give me that.”
I never found any of this annoying. I love the woman! Early in our marriage I would find arguments in this competitive atmosphere, but I stopped competing at some point. I learned how to avoid disagreements in my town growing up, where disagreements frequently led to fighting. I'm not sure if my increasing passivity became part of the problem. More likely it was a mixture of disappointment and compassion fatigue.
We joined the Peace Corps at age fifty-five, which came to me as quite a surprise. Although she had never shared the desire me me, she had hoped to serve in the Peace Corps since its inception when we were both in high school. Kennedy's speech drew her to it. I readily acceded to the idea. It would never have occurred to me to suggest it, but I liked the sound of it. We were “invited” to serve in Thailand after a lengthy application process. We worked on modernizing the grammar school English curriculum and teacher development issues. I thrived in the role, but she was homesick and miserable after about six months. She rode out the enlistment, because not to finish what she had started would be a black mark in the “loss” column in her philosophy. Two years shoulder to shoulder, sleeping and waking, working and relaxing, almost every minute of every day, was the last straw. I had officially become much too annoying.
Her plan to be rid of me was ingenious. It worked perfectly, except for one small detail. Thank God for California's Community Property laws! She wouldn't file for a divorce, because that would look too much like a failing on her part. Instead, she maneuvered me into filing. I was unemployed for a while when we returned from Thailand, and she asked me very seriously, “could you get a job if you went back to Thailand? Get a job and support yourself?” Of course, that would be easy, and in the event, within seven days of returning I had a perfectly good job and a place to live. I thought that I was coming back for a year or so, just to give her a break. I had the first job for a while, and then got a much better job with a one year contract. I told her in an e-mail that after the contract, I'd really like to come home. I missed her, and our sons, and everything. That's when she let the cat out of the bag. “I can't live with you anymore. Don't come back here.”
I gave her a bit of push-back, but she was adamant. “I really feel like it's time to come home,” I said. Her reply was, “make your own long range plans; maybe you would like Oregon.”
I waited five years for her to change her mind. Five years living alone and having no girlfriend. The job worked out superbly. I'm still there. I returned to Los Angeles for a visit every year, but she always said, “you're better off where you are. You can learn to take care of yourself. Stay in Thailand.” Finally, to drive home the point, she agreed to pay me to stay away. That's when I realized that she was serious.
Her plan was to be rid of me, but not get divorced. That way there would be no division of property. She knew that I couldn't support myself in California, or any of the other forty-nine states, especially without a property settlement. She wanted me to remain far away, leaving her to be in sole possession and control of our property.
At some point I had to stand up for my legal rights. On a visit, I told her, “I don't want to rush you. I want you to have plenty of time to plan your future without me. But this time next year we need to file for a divorce.” There was no way that I could take full financial control of the rest of my life without the financial settlement.
She just said, ”I don't want to get divorced.” Fortunately for me, California is a “no fault” divorce state, with Community Property style property settlements. If one partner files, it's a done deal, as long as the property settlement follows the rules.
I think that it has worked out okay. I remarried a few years after the divorce was final. A nice, normal, age-appropriate Thai woman with a decent education, by the way. I'm no cradle robber. I bought a nice condo in what has been my neighborhood for thirteen years now, close to my university, and my favorite mall, and my hospitals, my doctors, and my dentists. Things are okay.
I hope that my first wife is also doing well. I receive no updates on the subject. She really fit the bill for a great first wife. Between the two of us, we made a good living and built a good life for ourselves. We raised two wonderful men, who are good men, good friends, good husbands, good workers, and good neighbors. One of them is even a very good father! (That's not a dig. Only one of them has been blessed with children.) That's my family, and I love them all. If I was ultimately a disappointment to my first wife, that is not exactly a surprise. I was also a disappointment to my parents. But those relationships, both over now, are cut in stone. Death and divorce are only changes in legal status. In our dreams, our family remains our family.
My Thai wife is a wonderful second wife. Confucius said, “a common man gets angry; a wise man understands.” It's been years since I've seen my second wife angry, and that wasn't even directed at me. You could say that she cools down before she gets angry. She understands. It is perhaps the greatest good luck of my life to have been blessed with a wonderful first wife, perfect for that busy time of life, and a wonderful second wife, perfect as a companion and a comfort in my old age.
I have often said, as depressed as I have always been, I know that I am a very lucky man. If I can get through the time remaining to me without disappointing my current wife, that will be the icing on the cake.
Friday, December 18, 2020
Somewhere around the time when grunts and burbles were advancing in the process of becoming words, a group of primitive hunters were creeping around a forest waiting for an opportunity to present itself. They quietly came across some kind of manageable prey, and they slowly maneuvered themselves downwind and loaded their throwing sticks with spears. Before they could launch their missiles, some kind of big saber-toothed cat dropped out of a tree onto the prey animal's back, sunk its huge teeth into the victim's neck. One of the modern but unsophisticated hominids blurted out, “what the fuck!!!” That was the beginning of a linguistic tradition that continues to this very day. (“WTF!”)
I'm sure that many readers are already thinking, “yeah, this is about Trump, for sure.” You may be certain that it is, but I am a rambling, shambling story-teller, so give me a minute to warm up to my subject.
Modern media has given us access to the close secondhand experience of every weird, shocking, fantastic, belief-defying event in the entire world, whether terrifying or terrific. YouTube; Instagram; Facebook; specialty websites; it's all spread out there for us to see. For those who prefer to read the details, that vicarious experience is also available. We get these opportunities whether the experiences are good for us or bad. We see things, or read about them, and then we often wish that we had never been subjected to the knowledge of them. In the visual realm I am especially careful to avoid eye contact with many varieties of the entertainments that now present themselves. Just the reading bits can leave a mark on you.
For instance, about seven years ago I came across a story on a reputable news aggregation site that drew my attention. “Man Dies After Having Sex With Horse.” Now I am a man of the world, and I know that the practice of men engaging in sex with farm animals exists. One most often hears about it in connection with female sheep, or dogs. It makes the man an object of ridicule, which is only proper, and it doesn't do much for the reputation of a good dog either. I had never given the matter much thought, and previous to this article, my greatest WTF moment in connection with the practice was the discovery that in some civilized countries sex with farm animals is a popular sub-category of the local pornography. Well, you think that you know somebody. The world is full of surprises.
“Man Dies . . .” I read the article because I wondered how fucking a mare could be fatal. Also, I assumed that there must have been some interesting kind of make-shift platform involved, to make up for the size difference, and it's always interesting to read the list of charges filed by police. As for the death, I was betting on either a heart attack or a massive back-kick from the horse. Brother, I was way off.
The horse was not a mare, but a stallion. An intact stallion; a sexually active stallion. Yes, there was a specially built platform involved, and the man was kneeling on it. He died as a result of several internal injuries, which were in the general category of “perforations.” It turns out that this is a thing, a thing that does not usually result in death. There are multiple entrepreneurs who own ranches out there in the woods and provide the service. I guess this stallion got carried away. If the article described any criminal charges, I have no recollection of them. Perhaps I was in shock. This story became, and remains, my benchmark for WTF.
As the great Bob Dylan once said, “the times, they are a'changing.” As the great Eddie Cantor famously said, “[we] ain't heard nothin' yet!” There is a pyramid of WTF now under construction that will put to shame not only Giza, but also that rampant stallion and his unfortunate boyfriend.
We just had a presidential election. You may have noticed. This is nothing unusual. There have been nineteen presidential elections in my lifetime. They haven't all gone smoothly, but the losers had, without exception, graciously accepted their defeat and offered a timely concession. Every outgoing administration, without exception, had cooperated fully in the transition to a new regime. This has been a point of pride in the United States. The world's great fortress of democracy! We play by the rules here! Fair is fair! The nation comes first! That's the way that it's always been.
The elections themselves may be a different story. There have been thumbs placed on scales. Several of these elections were affected by illegal behind the scenes machinations. (1968 and 1980, and probably 2016.) One was decided by murder. (Go ahead and guess.) There were some pretty vicious contests, and harsh words were often applied to opponents (whether the opponent replied in kind or not). The appearance of third party candidates has often stunk of mischief (George Wallace; Jessie Jackson; H. Ross Perot; Ralph Nader). The governor of a swing state took over the voting process in his state and, with the assistance of conveniently appointed Justices of the Supreme Court, stole an election for his own brother (2000). But still, none of this rises to the flood tide of illegality, abuse of legal process, poor taste, and sheer insane bullshit that we are witnessing now, here in December, 2020, six weeks after the sitting president lost decisively after a single term in office.
All of which brings us to our current What The Fuck situation, and it is one for the ages. It is part of a tsunami of WTF that has gone global. It is a worldwide WTF. Humanity as a whole has lost its ability to separate fantasy from reality, and what the fuck is that all about?
In this instance, this inability seems to have arisen spontaneously. Sure, politicians in certain countries pushed the delusion along, but I think that the essential problem arose from circumstances, a vast coincidence of circumstances. Computers happened, and people did things that could be done with computers. Mass communication spread to the four corners of the earth. Everyone from Eskimos to Wall Street bankers to Cargo Cultists to Portland hipsters to Amazon rain-forest Indians watches the same CNN. Many ordinary people became prosperous, fat, and lazy minded, and they confused their elevated social condition with high intelligence. Heads all over the world were filled with crap, and they jumped to bizarre conclusions en masse. Although their strings are being pulled by a ruling class, they do not bear the typical indicia of a manipulated class. Our new reality had the seeds of fantasy in it, and people only needed a nudge to make the leap into irrationality.
Rampant greed and corruption after about 1980 pushed the entire Republican party, most of the rest of the political and corporate apparatus, and more and more average Joes into the irrational zone. Deregulation, blah, blah, computerized stock trading, blah, blah, collateralized debt obligations (real and synthetic, you can't make this stuff up), the black president, and then, the coup de main, Donald Trump! What could go wrong! War is peace; freedom is slavery; ignorance is strength. Pay no attention to the men behind the curtain, those doughy, luxury-besotted white guys smoking Cohibas and getting blow jobs from sorority girls while they laugh at the working stiffs whose lives they are dismantling as quickly as possible. And into all of this shit steps the WTF extravaganza of all time: the stolen election!
Editorial comment: I got scooped by the Supreme Court before I could post this thing, and the reaction of the Supremes was anti-climactic, thank the Gods. This particular sequence of actions by our elected officials is still worth examining.
We were five weeks post election, and Trump was still insisting that he had won. Even now, his reelection committee continues to raise money from his stooges (about $200,000,000 at this time), and Trump says that he is saving America from the “greatest fraud in political history.” His gang of crack attorneys has lost almost sixty court actions since the election, but they continue to file law suits everywhere trying to get votes thrown out, or recounts without those pesky mail in ballots, or signatures triple checked, any damn thing that sounds like a legal argument. Judges are starting to lose their tempers, on the record, in open court.
The really breathtaking What the Fuck moment came on or about December 11th, after every state, Red or Blue, had certified the vote count, certified the Electoral College situation, and declared Joe Biden the winner, and by a wide margin. The Trump lame duck administration then somehow got the Attorney General of Texas to file a lawsuit directly against four other states praying that the results in those states be overturned, and Trump declared the winner! That's a law suit between the sovereign states of America, and the original jurisdiction for such law suits lies in the Supreme Court.
The gall required for one man, or one AG's office, to do this, is beyond imagination. But it got worse. The White House, of course, joined the suit. Six states officially joined the law suit. (Arkansas; Louisiana; Mississippi; Missouri; South Carolina; and Utah, to break up the Confederate tone of the proceedings.) The Attorneys General of an additional seventeen states, acting together, filed an amicus brief, which means they want to lend moral support while not putting their own asses on the line. 106 (one hundred and six) Republican members of the House of Representatives also filed an amicus brief. The Supreme Court wasn't having any of it. They just shrugged it off with a decision consisting of one short paragraph, on the grounds of lack of standing. Even so, this was still some Top-of-the-Pops WTF.
The Texas AG who got this ball of shit rolling? Why was he doing this? He needs a presidential pardon, because the law has been after his dumb ass over what, I do not care to know. The rest of them? All Republicans, we must always remember who we're talking about here. What was in it for them? Are they all still afraid to make Trump angry? Are they afraid to alienate Trump's base? After all, 71,000,000 Americans voted for the guy.
The voice of reason in that mess, and possibly the lead counsel for the defense if the case had gone forward, was Chris Carr, the Attorney General of Georgia. He is a solid Republican who was just not having that shit. Not after triple checking the vote count in his state and verifying three signatures for every vote more than once. His patience had run out. He went on TV and said that the law suit was “constitutionally, legally, and factually wrong,” which I thought was reasonable. He got a nice, long, threatening phone call from Trump himself after that statement.
He turns a nice phrase, Mr. Carr. In his filing with the Supreme Court, he said, “[t]he novel and far reaching claims that Texas assert, and the breathtaking remedies it seeks, are impossible to ground in legal principles and unmanageable. This Court has never allowed one state to co-opt the legislative authority of another state, and there are no limiting or manageable principles to cabin that kind of overreach.”
The Supreme Court agreed with Mr. Carr.
The adults in all of this were few and hard to find. Only twenty-seven Republicans in Congress will admit that Joe Biden won the election. Much worse than that, a statistical calamity, is that 71,000,000 Americans voted for Trump, and that two-thirds of the self-identified Republicans among them believe that the election was “rigged.” (From a Reuters/ Ipsos poll.)
Trump, of course, still refuses to concede, still refuses to admit that he got beat. That he lost. He knows that he will be leaving the White House, but he will never admit that he lost the election. Now we can look forward to the spectacle of Trump complaining loudly about “the stolen election,” and various militia groups threatening or actually shooting people. Some of us have seen Presidents fuck up royally in our lifetimes, and we have noticed an unfortunate trend: when individuals, parties, or circumstances, present a genuine threat to our democracy, the matter will be swept under the rug with as little ceremony as possible to avoid anything that could erode people's confidence in our government.
That will happen in this case as well. Any normal person in Trump's situation would easily be driven into obscurity by a combination of pardons and failures to prosecute. It's been four years now, and society and the media and the political establishment still insist on treating Trump like a normal human being. So we'll get the worst of all possible worlds: no justice for the aggrieved, and Trump still parading around complaining about how badly he has been treated, and how he really won the election, and how Joe Biden is a socialist stooge, and whipping up his MAGA idiots and the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers to generate as much mischief as possible, while threatening to run again in 2024, mostly as an excuse to raise money, which he will use to support his lifestyle. Don't forget, Trump's expenses will jump shortly after his removal from office. Between the divorce, settling scores, finding a new fake-breasted trophy wife, and filing numerous law suits on multiple subjects, Trump's budget will be stressed. Baby needs a new pair of shoes! “White House Apprentice,” coming soon to Fox Entertainment!
I have a good idea of how we got into this mess, and I shed some light on that subject in my wonderful book, “Political Rants: Lefty Vitriol in the Age of Obama and Trump,” available almost free on Amazon (99 cents, Kindle). The current state of What The Fuck now in progress is painful to even consider. How do we get out of this mess is a question for the ages. I wonder if any of our current crop of geniuses is up to that task.
And What the Fuck! 3,600 Americans died last Wednesday (December 16th) of COVID-19! That's over 300,000 all together! More killed than in all of World War II! What the Fuck? The Russians hacked into dozens of our government agencies, intelligence services, and corporate headquarters, all at once? And Trump hasn't mentioned it? And what? What the Fuck! The Pfizer COVID vaccine is just sitting in warehouses, or sitting on loading docks back at the factory, because no one has given instructions regarding its distribution? And the MAGA people dying up at the hospital are groaning at the doctor with their last breath that COVID-19 is a hoax! What the Holy Mother-Fucking Fuck is that all about?
The way that things are going, I wouldn't bet you a dollar that the sun will come up in the East tomorrow.
Wednesday, December 16, 2020
Monday, December 14, 2020
Monday, December 7, 2020
Friday, December 4, 2020
This has been a recurring topic on this blog. What on earth could be easier than taking a human life? There are a million ways to do it. It happens every day, the taking of life, and it is accomplished with little difficulty by people who range from highly intelligent to kind of stupid. Physical strength might be an advantage, but it is in no way required. Ordinary people who resolve to murder someone succeed most of the time, but when the government undertakes to murder someone, all of a sudden it's an unconquerable dilemma. What's all the hubbub, bub?
All of the traditional methods of execution have been discarded as either too brutal or too messy, yet the United States remains determined to murder miscreants in numerous categories. They settled on lethal injection in or around 1977. What followed was a waking nightmare for the condemned prisoners, their families, and the public employees charged with administering the “injection.”
After endless stays and appeals, the process itself bears no resemblance to a simple injection. You'd think that it would be easy. Just fasten the lucky winner to a Lazy-Boy (TM) chair and give him a gentle shot of Fentanyl to cool him out. Let him relax for a short time listening to his favorite music. He may nod out, or he will at least be on Cloud-9. Then administer the fatal dose of Fentanyl. No one, I repeat, no one survives a massive overdose of Fentanyl. Hell, dozens of people every day die from accidental recreational overdoses of Fentanyl, or heroin, or Oxy. None of the doomed prisoners would complain about this type of execution, and it would be much less emotionally damaging to the prison staff as well. So of course we're not going to do that.
Instead of doing it so gently and quickly, every death-penalty state has some kind of contraption to administer multiple drugs in a particular order. They create special tables shaped like crucifixes that the celebrant must be strapped onto. The lucky winner is then catheterized and hooked up to the rather large, multi-colored array of muscle relaxers and poisons that will kill him. All of this takes time, and is done before a live studio audience. The condemned prisoner can watch as the first chemical comes down the tube and into his arm, followed by the second, and the third. This drama is sometimes followed by the death of the person on the strange table. Sometimes it goes horribly wrong, and the audience is treated to long periods of moaning and squirming. Mistakes are made with the order of the chemicals, or the nature of the chemicals, and the target of the enterprise may only start screaming, and straining at his restraints, while not dying at all. Someone ordered the wrong chemicals, or the usual chemicals were not available and substitutions were made on the fly. Sorry, Charlie! In which galaxy could this be considered a humane method of execution? There is nothing remotely humane about it in my estimation.
Our increasingly deranged president has directed the Department of Justice to forget all of this lethal injection crap in favor of a return to more traditional methods of execution. Methods that are even less humane than lethal injection. He's a death-penalty fan, evidently, and he's been on a tear since he lost the election trying to kill as many condemned prisoners as he can before January 20th. I guess he wants to speed up the process.
He wants a return to death by hanging; death in electric-chairs; death in gas chambers; and death by firing squad. All of these things are no less problematic than those stupid lethal injections.
Most of the shortcomings of these methods are well known, and were included in the articles that have been appearing on the subject. They include:
Hanging is a mathematical challenge. It always has been. There are many variables. The weight of the prisoner to be hanged; the sturdiness of the neck that will hopefully be snapped; the dimensions of the prisoner's head; the crafting of a proper noose in the proper size. Drop the person too far, and the head tears off; not far enough, and the person dangles awkwardly and slowly strangles.
Electric chairs are also subject to variables. Not enough electricity and the subject slowly boils in their own juices. Too much electricity and the subject may burst into flames. Wasn't it Florida that had an electric-chair with a cute nickname? I can't think of it right now. Was it Old Sparky? That thing was over-amped. Flames and sparks would shoot out of the condemned prisoner's eyes and ears.
Gas chambers were a stupid idea in the first place. For one thing, doesn't it seem like something that Ming the Merciless would try to do to Flash Gordon? You get the old strapped to a chair routine, with windows for the audience to see the process, and then the release of some kind of poison gas. This all went wrong frequently. In practice, the gas had wildly different effects on the various celebrants. Life clings to some people like barnacles cling to a battleship, so there would often be a prolonged period of moaning.
The firing squad may be the most difficult to pull off. That's too many shooters to manage comfortably. Men, and these days they would make sure to include women in the squad, do not take easily to this duty. How many in the squad? Between five and ten? Minus the one whose gun is loaded with blanks? They're supposed to shoot to kill a person who is bound to a post? Or these days more likely strapped to a wall? No way this is going to go smoothly. Most firing squad members are going to avoid firing the death-shot. This is what was happening in the last states to give up the practice. Seven man squad, one with blanks, and the prisoner would end up with six non-fatal bullets in him, hanging there slowly bleeding to death. In a proper traditional firing squad, the captain of the squad would have approached the victim and shot him in the head with his pistol, that's the coup de grace, die Gnadenschuss (the mercy shot). It appears that we are out of the mercy business at this point.
Why has Trump called for these old-school punishments to be brought back now? Is this another case of red meat for his base? The low-functioning portion of his base at least. I'm sure that his rich fans are just as horrified as the rest of us. Secretly, that is, because we know that there is nothing lurid and stupid enough to scare them away from those glorious tax cuts, with the hope of further cuts to follow.
I have hated the Twenty-First Century with a passion almost from its first day, and certainly since that pathetic circus that was Bush v. Gore. The whole thing has been an unfunny carnival of idiocy, from W. Bush throwing away a budget surplus on a foolish tax cut for the rich (“it's your money!”), up to and including whatever Trump is Tweeting about today. The cherry on the Cake of Fools is the fact that seventy-one million voters cast their ballots to reelect Donald Trump, who is manifestly a bad person, a bad businessman, a bad politician, and the worst president in history. What were they thinking? Oh, that's right, Q-Anon, etc., they were saving America from those socialist Demon-Rats. This election will long be taught as the greatest failure in the history of Political Science.
Thursday, December 3, 2020
Tuesday, December 1, 2020
Sunday, November 29, 2020
Saturday, November 28, 2020
Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Turning loss into victory has always been a popular human pastime. No one likes to lose, but there are ways to turn a loss around and make it start to look like a win. You will need an attractive lie, preferably a vaguely plausible lie, and you will need a huge chorus of supporters who will tirelessly repeat that lie until it has enough support to defeat the truth of the matter. This technique works surprisingly well.
The Civil War
Reputable historians, and all well-informed and open minded Americans, agree that the Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery. The contemporaneous written record lavishly proves that the break-away states were taking that treasonous action for the simple reason that they refused not only to give up their slaves on the spot, but also refused to admit that there was any possible future in which they would ever give up their slaves. They also insisted that human chattel slavery would follow any western expansion of the states that were doing the expanding. The new Confederate States of America, having seceded from the Union, wrote themselves a fine new constitution that clearly betrayed their true goals in creating a new “confederacy.” It was almost exactly the same as the United States Constitution, except for some new language permanently installing slavery as the everlasting law of their new land. All writings in support of secession, and all transcripts of speeches in support of secession, stress that the whole enterprise had the goal of preserving the property rights of slave holders and protecting the white people from those uncivilized (and enslaved) Africans. It's very hard to argue that there was any other cause for the war of secession.
But they came up with one after they lost! The famous “Lost Cause” mythology arose not long after the disastrous loss of the Confederate military to the Union forces. The Lost Cause holds that slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War. No, it was really about states' rights! Adherents described the war as a war of aggression started by the Union (the north) with the object of denying the southern states their Constitutional rights as sovereign entities! The southern states were only protecting themselves! Slavery, in this beautifully constructed lie, was a peripheral issue at best. “Certainly we all knew that the institution of slavery was dying on its own anyway! There was no reason to rush it!” The Confederate States were still stuck with the loss, but it wasn't their fault! The Union was to blame for the whole thing! They have managed to sell this bullshit story to the entire Old South by now, and even as they continue to abuse their black population, they do so under the banner of states' rights.
The Treaty of Versailles
By 1918, World War I was going very badly for the Germans. America was in it with both feet, and German armies were being pushed back across every mile of the western front. German civilians were suffering terrible deprivations from the years long blockade, and deaths from hunger were increasing. It was the German generals themselves who petitioned the Kaiser to sue for peace. The Treaty of Versailles just made everything worse. Although it did manage to stop the shooting in the short term, it contained in its pages enough powder to blow the entire continent to hell in only twenty short years. How much worse did Versailles make things? See, “World War II.”
The Germans did not like losing WWI. They do not like losing in general. In fact, they may like losing less than almost all of the other peoples of the earth. The German military felt like they were being saddled with a loss that had never really happened! They argued loudly that they were “never defeated on the battlefield,” and a lot of people listened. The lie that they came up with to explain why they had never lost was a work of art.
Everything sounds better in German! Unscrupulous politicians and social agitators came up with “die Dolchstosslegende.” This literally means “the dagger thrust legend,” and is usually translated as the “stabbed in the back” theory. Germany, the German people and the German Army, had not lost the war at all! They were “stabbed in the back” by a rather long list of internal enemies. This grievance grew in strength through the 1920s, which were a very difficult time in Germany. I'll let you look it up yourself. The list of enemies changed along with the wishes of whomever was putting the list together. When the Nazis came along, they really ran with this lie. By the time they were done with it, Versailles and the downfall of Germany had been intentionally caused by Bolsheviks, bankers, communists, capitalists, internationalists, liberals, and, of course, the Jews.
Massaging away embarrassing loses, and turning those negatives into positives, is very common. It is an art that is still practiced around the world. Something very much like the Dolchstosslegende happened after the Vietnam War. That story goes like this: the United States government, and the U.S. Military, were never defeated by little Vietnam. We were stabbed in the back by those fucking hippies, students, and liberal college professors. Another big lie is about to come to prominence as we speak.
The Biden Presidency is Illegitimate!
As I have been saying for many years now, the real problem in America is the Republican party. They find someone that they think will serve their purposes as a figurehead and go about their business back in the dark corners of American politics. Reagan was a Godsend, and his empty head and stupid smile were the cornerstones of all of our problems today. The Republicans adopted the tactics of politics as total war during the Clinton years, and they have never looked back. Trump was spectacularly successful as a distraction while the Republicans were fulfilling almost their entire wish list out in the hallways. Trump, a brash, petulant ignoramus of a man, a brainless oaf who shouted off his head for his entire time in office, kept all attention on himself while the men behind the curtain were hard at work ruining everything that America had built over the two preceding centuries. And then he lost his bid for reelection. How he is taking that loss is a matter best left to psychiatrists. The real question is, “how are the Republicans taking it?”
They are going with the “loss as victory” idea that I described above. They are formulating a “big lie” that will allow them to keep all of their opponents off-balance for the next four years. For the next four years they will be filling the airwaves and the Intertubes with innuendo about the fraud and malice that caused the election to be stolen from good President Trump. Trump will be helping them, of course, in any remunerative way that he can, hoping either to be elected again in 2024 or at least to serve as kingmaker in that election cycle. He just wants the spotlight, and the money. Any criminal prosecutions of Trump, in either Federal or state courts, will only feed this narrative. (Civil suits will do little to damage the brand, and do nothing to keep Trump off of the money train.) It goes without saying that the Republicans will also be doing every single thing that man can devise to obstruct and oppose anything that Biden or any Democrats want to accomplish. I expect that no appointments will be ratified, no judges will be appointed, and if the Republicans keep control of the Senate, you can forget any legislation passing.
The Republicans will be fine. Their formula has a great track record of success over time. It matters little who is in the White House or in control of congress. I sincerely doubt if they care if Trump lives or dies. If he lives, they will wave shiny objects in front of him and he will do their bidding; if he dies, he will die a hero and become a martyr to his cult.
I feel obliged to mention also that any practicable scenario for the next ten or twenty years includes no hope for avoiding some level of climate collapse. At some point, one must assume, the fire will engulf the house and the television will blink out. That may get a reaction from the inhabitants. Whether the awakening comes in time to avoid the worst, I will not be alive to see. When the end comes, we Baby Boomers will be gone, and somewhere, some twenty-something will raise his fist to the burning sky and say, “those fucking Baby Boomers! They got the best of everything!”
Saturday, November 21, 2020
Saturday, November 14, 2020
Thursday, November 12, 2020
We had a big flood year in Thailand in 2011. The end of the rainy season comes in October or November, and by then in 2011 the outlet of every river to wherever it led had spread out over the land in a flood that reminded us all of what the term “flood plain” means. The Chao Praya River runs straight into and through Bangkok, on it's way to the Gulf of Siam. That's a big river all the time, and in 2011 in flooded many low-lying areas of the city. That means most of the city, because most of the city stands at elevations of about two to four meters.* Whole urban areas near the river were hip deep in water, and I mean entire neighborhoods, every street, and the ground floor of every building, whether store, workshop, or domicile, hip deep. It took more than a week for those flood waters to go down. It was a terrible imposition on the good nature of Thai people.
The news was there to record it. People wading or boating around, trying to keep the babies dry and fed, trying to save what they could of their possessions. If you saw them on TV in your own country, you would probably be surprised to see that almost all of the people on camera looked happy, there were big smiles all around. You might be tempted to believe that those smiles were genuine, and to think that those people were used to such things and were simply carrying on with their happy lives. I had broken the code by then and knew better.
That smile does not carry the same meaning that a similarly beaming smile carries in America. Thais love to smile, but the smile can carry different meanings in different situations. That smiling, soaking wet Thai woman is miserable, and she is in the midst of a family tragedy, but she smiles because she doesn't want us to worry about her. She is saying, I'll be fine! Don't let my misery harsh your mellow! Her smile is part of the miracle of living in a country where most people care as much about other people's feelings as they do about their own. The group comes first in traditional Thai culture; how can individuals be happy unless the group is happy?
This phenomenon was explained to me by a Korean friend in Los Angeles before I had come to Thailand. Call it the miracle of being a hyphenated American, because normally you would not expect someone who was culturally Korean to know anything about happiness. We were both lawyers, and my friend had come to California with his parents when he was about seven years old. Being American, and curious, he had thought about the relative happiness of the various national cultures that he saw around him in L.A. His idea was that Koreans were so severe and so narrowly oriented and Thais were so warm and community oriented due to the differences in the size of the rice fields in Korea and Thailand.
The rice fields in Thailand are huge, fertile, and spectacularly productive. How huge are they, Johnny? Like bigger than Rhode Island. Many provinces are capable of growing three rice crops annually. The fields are so big that there are many villages in the midst of the rice field, villages of considerable size. For thousands of years, Thai families have lived and worked together in these villages. Thai boys and girls have grown up together, worked together, and families have intermarried. Some move away, and new people may arrive, but one thing remains constant: the village lives and breathes as one organism. Everyone wakes up when the cocks crow; everyone sweeps the floor and has some breakfast; everyone walks to work in the field together; everyone takes their breaks at the same time, or the same position of the sun; everyone walks home together; everyone takes a bath and cleans up; extended families cook together and eat together; and when it gets dark, everyone goes to sleep because candles are very expensive.
In those Thai villages, everyone knew one another; families were connected by marriage; and the rhythm of everyone's life was the same. If bad-blood arose between individuals, or, God forbid, families, you all had to see each other tomorrow, probably all day, certainly at work. The only answer was to avoid conflict and always consider the effect of one's actions on the group. It's still like that in half of Thailand.
In Korea, on the other hand, the rice fields were rather small. Korea is a mountainous country. A few families farmed a rice field, and the next field was over the hill somewhere. And, my friend said, “these people didn't like the people over the hill.”
I can see this same priority given to community welfare at work this year, as Thailand battles the multiple crises created by the COVID situation. In Thailand, as in America, people were told to wear masks, keep some social distance, and wash their hands frequently. The difference has been that here in Thailand people actually did what they were told. During the lock-down phase, businesses were closed and the streets were empty. Thais are still wearing masks. This response by average folks is another fine example of Thais helping each other and cooperating. We all benefited by doing what we were told, without cutting corners or complaining. Compare Thailand's statistics with those of America. Americans are showing an amazing lack of concern for other people's health, or even for their own health. If this thing were the Black Plague, the entire population of America would be dead already.
It has been hard, though, even in Thailand. All non-essential businesses were closed in the initial shutdown, and it lasted a long time. Many of those businesses couldn't survive three months or more with no income. Tourists disappeared completely, and that put another huge group of businesses down for the count. That was a lot of lost jobs, with all of the same ripple effects that are being felt anywhere in the path of COVID.
I took a day-trip last week to teach a class at a remote campus in a normally busy tourist destination, and it was a ghost-town. Over the entire trip, I saw one Farang. I've seen TV news spots with film of the big tourist destinations, and they are empty. No traffic on the roads, and almost all of the stores and businesses are boarded up with “Kai/ Chow” signs on them (“sale or rent”). That's a huge job loss. Where did everybody go? How are they coping with it all? I'll get to that.
The official ghost-greeter at the airport that I traveled to was a Boeing 747, painted in gray primer, in the process of being stripped for parts. This was at one of those Thai airports where the runway is so short that even landing a smallish Airbus or a Boeing 737 is like landing on an aircraft carrier. They slam the plane down on the first five feet of the runway, reverse the engines immediately, and jam on the brakes. I don't know how they got the 747 up to the terminal, but there it was, parked at the last gate. One thing for sure, it's not taking off again. All of the engines have already been removed, and the wings looked like maybe some of the avionics had been torn out as well. It was an eerie sight. Planes arriving and departing were on the empty side, and the historical sites, usually bustling with foreign and domestic tourists, were empty. It's like this all over.
We don't notice it in Bangkok. It's still seems like a crowded city. But businesses are suffering, and many mall stores are boarded up and gone. The taxi drivers complain freely about it to anyone who will listen, and I love talking to taxi drivers. (They are my best teachers!) Their income is suffering. Hotels, empty. How many people have lost their jobs? Who knows. That problem is less visible in Thailand than it would be in America.
When someone in America loses a job, it's a major crisis. No money, so they are unable to pay the rent. And they have nowhere to go! Maybe they get some unemployment, or COVID relief, to help them hold on, but even in America it's not enough. There were some gestures at COVID relief in Thailand, but not enough to do much good. Here, that person simply abandons their apartment and goes home to the countryside. There will almost always be a “back home” to return to, and a family member who will take them in. They may be sleeping on the floor, but they will have a roof over their heads and meals to eat. They'll smile about it, too. Don't worry about me! It'll be better next year. Maybe I should go back to school!
It's wonderful to watch this community cooperation up close, but I'm sure that this year has really challenged the system. We, all of us here in Thailand, have been very lucky with the disease itself, but the side-effects have been dire and they will be with us for a long time to come. The Thai government did a great job of knocking down the virus and saving lives, and for that they have my respect and my appreciation. The effort was organized quickly and well, and everyone from hospitals to local community groups joined in to respond effectively to the threat. The government is still doing what they can to mitigate the economic impact of the disease, but much of that is not within their control. I also appreciate the fact that the Thai government is not rushing “solutions” that would lead to more sickness and death in the Thai population. They're playing that one way on the safe side, which I think it great.
We are all hoping for a vaccine solution to the pandemic sooner rather than later. When a vaccine becomes available, I'll bet you five baht that I'll have another reason to be glad that I live in Thailand. In a place like America, the vaccine will give people another reason to hate capitalism. When companies have the rights to a product that everyone wants as soon as possible, they won't be in the mood to give it away. My guess is that the process in Thailand will be more orderly and more affordable.
*My own condo is in an area that is a full nine meters above sea level. This was not a conscious decision on my part; it happens to be a short walk to my university, and near to my medical providers (and my favorite mall). A lucky accident, I'd call it. I will, of course, take all of the good luck that I can find, wherever I may find it.