There Will Be No Return to the Same Normal

And That’s Not Necessarily Bad

I am not only thinking about Covid-19, but also four years of egregiously bad government and a badly divided populace that has replaced reason with gonzo conspiracy theories.

There will be a lot of fast growth once the plague tocsin has stopped ringing, but the economy is not the only thing that needs to be rebuilt. For one thing, the younger generation (whatever we choose to call it) must have more to look forward to than ill-paid temporary gigs while a college loan Sword of Damocles hangs over its head. This is just one of several things that have to change.

I strongly suspect that one change will be a continuing diminution of the influence of Christianity on our lives. And very soon, we have to come to our senses about the fact that the weather is changing. Maybe not permanently, but remember we have come out of a mini ice age that began in the 18th century. And the earth will, for the time being, continue to warm up.

Look for It To Re-Open Soon

Will we continue to be a beef and potatoes nation? I don’t think so. I think we are headed toward plant-based substances that are a substitute for red meat.

The one thing we can depend on is change. Edmund Spenser had it right when he wrote:

Mutability

 When I bethink me on that speech whilere,
 Of Mutability, and well it weigh:
 Me seems,that though she all unworthy were
 Of the Heav’ns Rule; yet very sooth to say,
 In all things else she bears the greatest sway.
 Which makes me loathe this state of life so tickle,
 And love of things so vain to cast away;
 Whose flow’ring pride, so fading and so fickle,
 Short Time shall soon cut down with his consuming sickle.
 
Then gin I think on that which Nature said.
 Of that same time when no more Change shall be,
 But steadfast rest of all things firmly stayed
 Upon the pillars of Eternity,
 That is contrare to Mutability:
 For, all that moveth, doth in Change delight:
 But thence-forth all shall rest eternally
 With Him that is the God of Sabbaoth hight:
 O that great Sabbaoth God, grant me that Sabbaoth’s sight.

How NOT To Live

Some Current Starbucks Offerings: Real Vital Stuff

During her long exercise walks, Martine frequently finds strange things that have been thrown out, including credit and debit cards, requests to appear in court, and bank statements. She calls these her “tiny treasures.” This post is about one person’s American Express card statement she picked up that I find startling for (1) how much is owed and (2) what types of expenses are charged.

I have chopped off any data fields that would identify the person whose statement this is.

Account Summary

A few years ago, I owed upwards of $16,000 on all my credit cards combined—and I was appalled. Fortunately, I paid off every cent owing before I retired. The Amex user above, whom I will call X, owes $26,315.67 on a single credit card. For the period covered by this statement, X spent $547.08 on new products and services, and $404.45 on interest.

On the lower left of the summary above, note that X would pay off the whole amount in 28 years—assuming that he/she would not add any new expenditures and that the minimum payment is made. (But that is not likely to happen, is it?)

Now let’s look at the expenditures:

Amex Card Expenditures for the Period

Apparently X is a millennial, given the nature of the expenditures. Other than the AT&T Mobile and Chevron Service Station charges, almost all the expenses are for Uber, Starbucks, or Postmates (a food delivery service)—all lifestyle-related. Absent are groceries, rent, auto repair, healthcare, clothing, utilities—in a word necessary expenses.

And yet X is in hock for $26 grand and apparently making minimum payments, while running up the bill on mostly frou-frou charges. This is not a good situation in which to find oneself. If X has other credit cards with similar expenditures, I would consider getting counseling.

We have located X and passed the bill on to him/her.

I Agree With Mark Twain

I Am an Unrelenting Enemy of the Smartphone

As far back as 1890, Mark Twain sent out this Christmas message:

It is my heart-warm and world-embracing Christmas hope and aspiration that all of us-the high, the low, the rich, the poor, the admired, the despised, the loved, the hated, the civilized, the savage-may-eventually be gathered together in heaven of everlasting rest and peace and bliss-except the inventor of the telephone.

I have more or less come to terms with my land line. (“What’s that?”) I’m pretty good at sorting out the fakers and phishers who make up most of my calls. (“We’re canceling your Amazon account because [Click]” and “Your account with Apple [Click].”) One just has to be hyper skeptical with all robocalls and perhaps a majority of live callers.

But there is something about the cell phone which makes it irritating in the extreme:

  • It’s ridiculously expensive
  • It turns most callers in public places into boors
  • Particularly with the smart phone, it is dangerously distracting—particularly on the road
  • Too many parking spaces are occupied by idiots fingering their smart phones
  • Everyone assumes you have one
  • The screens are so tiny that, past a certain age, one can’t view them comfortably
  • What passes for a keyboard with cell phones is a sick joke

Today, I couldn’t get into my personal accounting system on QuickBooks Online because Intuit decided I had to change my password. To prove that I am me, they sent a code to my cell phone. I couldn’t view the code because the first text message on my system was corrupted, so I had to restore factory settings and destroy all five text messages. (No problem, that.)

People occasionally call me on my cell phone, but I never answer calls because most of them are in Chinese; so I would rather keep my cell shut off except when I have to place an emergency call. (That’s the only good thing about cell phones.)

Sorry about the rant. Why do I get the feeling with most technical innovations that they are one step forward and two steps back?

The Disunited States of America

The Fracture Lines Are Becoming More Evident

At some point in the last few decades, it appeared that the people of the United States of America could not agree on much of anything. Does water flow uphill? Is a fetus worth more than an actual human being? Did the Confederacy actually win the Civil War? Did the moon landing really take place? Can we fight the coronavirus by injecting bleach into our veins? Does the Hollywood QAnon child sex ring exist? Is the Earth flat?

All these questions which to me represent the pinnacle of stupidity seem to have large numbers of adherents—people who are angry with Liberals who have ignored them as inhabitants of “Flyover Country,” made fun of their strange religious practices, and insisted that they conform to scientific principles that are somehow unfriendly to them. These people are seriously pissed off, to the extent that they will stridently and repeatedly deny home truths believed by their adversaries.

Will the USA eventually fragment itself into agglomerations of states such as the map shown below?

One of Many Possible Variations

I was discussing the matter with my friend Bill Korn this evening. We both agreed that we were mistaken in thinking that a real existential crisis would bring us together. Well, coronavirus is nothing if not an existential crisis, and we are finding millions of people who are saying, “F—k it! Let’s go back to normal and ride it out!” Them’s brave words, but I would not trade my life for a chance to go to a bar or patiently listen to an unmasked person ranting in my general direction.

Perhaps I am timorous because I am:

  • Diabetic
  • Overweight
  • Asthmatic
  • Blood Type A

That makes me a four-time loser if I get the ’Rona. Thanks, but I’ll watch all you fine folks self-destruct from the sidelines.

 

Fairbanks 142 Goes for a Ride

Chris McCandless in Happier Days

In August 2017 I wrote a post entitled “Fairbanks 142” in which I talk about the end of Chris McCandless, who died isolated in the Alasks wilderness while living in an abandoned Fairbanks City bus.

The problem was that thanks to a book by Jon Kracauer entitled Into the Wild, a number of visitors to the bus site either had to be rescued or even lost their lives while staging a pilgrimage to the site of the bus. According to a CNN story:

In April 1992, McCandless hitchhiked to Alaska, where a man dropped him off at the head of the Stampede Trail, according to the book. A few days later, he came upon the abandoned bus and lived there for about three months before deciding to head back to civilization.
As he attempted to make his way back, he arrived at a crossing of the Teklanika River. But because the river was running fast and high from rain and the snowmelt from glaciers, he was unable to make his way across, according to Krakauer.
Defeated, he turned around and headed back toward the bus, where he survived for about a month before succumbing to death in August 1992.
Hikers from around the world attempt to retrace McCandless’ steps every year, but many have failed and have had to be rescued. Some even died.
Last February, firefighters and Alaska state troopers rescued five Italian hikers on the Stampede Trail as they were returning from visiting the abandoned bus. Less than a year before, a Belarus woman died on the trail trying to cross the Teklanika River to visit the bus with her new husband.

Alaska National Guard Helicopter Coming for the McCandless Bus

Finally, the State of Alaska decided to airlift the ruined bus before more tax dollars had to be spent rescuing pilgrims. They haven’t decided what to do with it yet, though I think it would make a fine addition to one of the state’s museums—acting as a warning to wilderness buffs who are tempted to follow in McCandless’s footsteps.

 

Unexpected Angels

Young Volunteers Removing Graffiti

In general, I am not one to praise the younger generation—probably because they have adopted too many aspects of our culture which I find spurious, including smart phones, e-scooters, and in fact the whole gig economy.

Imagine my surprise when I found many young men and women cleaning up the mess in Santa Monica after the looters and other thugs had their way last Sunday. Okay, I guess I was a little tough on them, but after all they shouldn’t ought to have have stepped on my lawn.

More Graffiti Cleanup

I have always loved the look of Santa Monica. In 1966, when I moved into an apartment on Sunset Boulevard near Barrington Avenue, the first trip I took on my own was by bus to Santa Monica and its beach. After having been raised in grungy Cleveland with its dirty red brick, I saw Santa Monica as a pretty town at the edge of the sea. In Cleveland, we had no beach to speak of along the shores of poor, polluted Lake Erie. For many years, I lived in Santa Monica, until I was squeezed out around 1979 when Proposition 13 was adopted by the voters of California. Still, I live within two and a half miles of the ocean and I like to walk there from time to time.

 

 

The Ruins of Santa Monica

National Guard Protecting Santa Monica Place Shopping Mall

The above picture shows two aspects of yesterday’s widespread looting of Santa Monica businesses. On the one hand, the National Guard was moving into place to protect businesses; and HUMVs with guardsmen were seen in the streets. On the other, if you look to the left of the photo, you will see a mother and daughter with brooms, two of the many people I saw today helping to clean up the mess.

I spent an hour visiting places where Martine and I shop. The amount of damage was appalling. While the demonstrations were going on, looters moved in with hammers to break into businesses by shattering glass doors and windows. Below is a photo I took of a smoke shop on Broadway near 2nd Street that had been entered that way and ransacked. You will notice that the windows and doors had been smashed::

Cleaning Up the Damage at a Looted Tobacco and Vaping Shop

It seems that half the businesses in town were putting up plywood to protect their doors and display windows:

Putting Up Plywood to Protect Businesses

Finally, as I was searching for a bus stop where the re-routed #1 bus could pick me up, I noticed an ATM whose glass had been broken with a hammer:

Damaged ATM Window at Pacific Western Bank

I do not blame the protestors for the looting. It’s just that highly mobile thieves were using them as a screen. While most of the police were with the protestors, the looters quickly moved in, parked their cars, smashed their way into businesses, and made off with whatever merchandise they could find. Among the businesses looted were a Target three blocks away from us, the Italian deli I usually walk to, the Vons Supermarket across the street from it, several local pharmacies, a smoke shop, and a branch of Recreational Equipment Inc (REI).

 

Mayhem Comes Close

Looters in Santa Monica on Sunday

To begin with, I think that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin should be severely punished for his murder of George Floyd—and I believe that First or Second Degree Murder would be a more appropriate charge. The worst option, which would result in riots across the country, would be for him to be set free.

Today the protests came very close to home. In conjunction with the protests, which were generally peaceful, there were both looters and anti-police provocateurs. The latter came armed with firecrackers, shields, and weapons. There were major outbreaks in nearby Santa Monica and in Long Beach.

Tomorrow, I plan to walk to Santa Monica to survey the damage and take pictures for posts to follow. I suspect by then that the hubbub will have moved on to other locales.

 

 

Weasel Words

To Be Sure!

One result of quarantining in place is that I have been exposed to a good deal more television than usual. Watching the ads on my favorite programs, when combined with my experience doing marketing for a software company, I have become acutely aware of advertisers’ practice of being so overwhelmingly positive as to be prevaricating.  I myself have produced numerous ads for the software products of Urban Decision Systems. The pressure was always on for me to omit anything that could give rise to a negative customer response.

Every day I see ads that are so clearly n the bait-and-switch category: They quote prices that are as low as $9.95, or starting at $9.95, or “as little as” $9.95. Or the price contains certain additional features in selected areas. What do you want to bet that those selected areas are ZIP codes with no residential or business population? Call the phone number attached to the ad, and you will see that the come-on is just a starting point to products and services that cost much more.

You’ve Undoubtedly Noticed the Literal Puffery of Food Ads

Because I tend to watch programs geared to older viewers, I am bombarded by health ads of dubious provenance. Everything either has copper woven into some sort of brace, or there are Medicare-supplemental insurance that includes free meals and other services that I doubt would be normally provided. Colonial Penn will offer to pay for my funeral for a cost “starting at” $9.95 a month, even if I have advanced leprosy or ebola. And the price will never go up.

I know that most programming is paid for by advertising, but I wonder how many viewers like me cringe when they see the pitches aimed at them. How many TV ads have I responded to over the last ten years? Zero. Zip. None.

 

It’s Not Like Flicking a Switch

Abandoned City on Hashima Island, Near Nagasaki

Let me start by saying that I am no Pollyanna-ish prognosticator of Good News. The worldwide COVID-19 plague has wounded all economies to varying degrees, some of which may not return to “normal” for decades. I cannot help but think that most Americans in flyover country think that all the government has to do is flick a switch for us to return to the good old days before March 2020. I for one do not think it’ll be that easy.

What will inevitably happen is that the plague will settle most heavily on states which have gone off social distancing and quarantine too early. The people that Trump is most trying to help—his supporters in the South and Midwest—will die by the thousands, if not tens of thousands. Any attempt to return to “normal” too quickly will re-energize the plague as people go back to being in close contact with one another.

The governors of states like New York and California are for a more gradual approach. States with anti-science GOP governors, like Florida and Georgia, will suffer the consequences disproportionately.