Phone it in Friday VIII: Coronavirus Conundrum

It’s been another crazy week here in the world of yours portly.  The quarter is coming to a close, and I’ve got a mountain of ungraded quizzes and tests to slog through to appease the gods of higher education admittance.

Ergo, it’s time for a very special coronavirus (or “COVID19,” for your cool kids) edition of Phone it in Friday!

  • Tomorrow’s SubscribeStar Saturday will be a detailed rundown of what I’ve been doing to prepare for the extremely remote possibility that we all get quarantined in our homes and have to practice social distancing to avoid spreading the bug any further.  Here’s the short preview:  I bought a bunch of rice, beans, and spaghetti.
    • On that note, I’m yet again flummoxed by fears of everyday hunger in America.  Ten pounds of rice came to about $7; same with the spaghetti.  Twenty cans of beans cost around $12.  You can eat—maybe not well, but enough to survive and function—for a month for extremely cheaply.  Whining about “hunger” in the United States is a farcical outlier.
    • I am thankful to live in the United States, a country with the best medical system in the world, and the means to treat most diseases.  I’m optimistic that the virus will pass through quickly
  • Was it bat soup, or a Wuhan biological weapon?  Either way, I think we’ve seen the wisdom of the trade war with China, even though we weren’t anticipating something like a Chinese-created pandemic.  The coronavirus exposes the weaknesses and contradictions at the heart of China, and puts lie to the notion that this is a “Chinese century.”  I’ll be glad to be done with such rubbish.  The Chinese have come far, yes, but it turns out a totalitarian regime built on a culture of death and lying (“saving face”) can only snooker people for so long.
    • That doesn’t mean that China will no longer pose a threat.  Indeed, I believe China to be our biggest geopolitical competitor.  All the more reason to relocate industries back to the United States, or at least to friendlier countries like Vietnam, rather than deal with the Chinese.
    • For the best treatment of this subject, read blogger Didact’s essay “Corona-chan Comes for You.”  He spells out the economic threat of the coronavirus, and how the whole thing is likely the result of Chinese incompetence and the insane cultural concept of “face,” in which it’s better to lie (in the Chinese mind) than to risk bringing shame to your family.  Concepts like that make me glad to live in the United States.

My hope is that after all is done, China will be a pariah, no longer vaunted as a power on the rise, but maligned as a malicious, mendacious regime.

That’s it for this brief Phone it in Friday.  Wash your hands, stock up on dry goods, and stay healthy!

—TPP

Birth(day), Death, and Taxes

“Nothing in life is certain except death and taxes,” the old saying goes.  But we are also born, those of us fortunate enough not to fall prey to the abortion industry.  Today marks my thirty-fifth birthday.  I celebrated by paying $162.57 in vehicle property taxes to Darlington County, South Carolina.

Yesterday, I purchased a new vehicle, my first new car in thirteen-and-a-half years, and only the third I’ve ever owned.  It’s a 2017 Nissan Versa Note SV.  The other two were a 1988 Buick Park Avenue Electra, which I bought from my older brother for $800, after my grandparents gave it to him one year, and a 2006 Dodge Caravan, which those same grandparents gave to me as a college graduation gift (after the Buick was totaled when a lady ran a yield sign and smashed into me).

The Buick is long gone, but I kept the Dodge.  I figure it’s worth more to me as stuff-hauler than I would have gotten in trade-in value.  Of course, that means maintaining insurance on both vehicles, and paying taxes on each.

Well, I awoke today to the news that our military assassinated Iranian General Qassem Soleiman last night.  When I first read that Soleiman was “assassinated,” I was picturing a fate similar to the death of the “austere religious scholar,” the ISIS guy, al-Baghdadi: covert operatives swooping in under cover of darkness, swiftly and surely relieving the general of his life.

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Corporate Grind II: The Return of Corporate History International

It’s been a golden week for reblogging, as some of my blogosphere buddies continue to generate some amazing content.  It looks like I may have to do another Dissident Write feature soon (here are I and II).  Armistice Day always brings out the best material, too.

As we head into the weekend—mercifully free of professional obligations—I’m pleased to note the revival of my buddy fridrix’s blog, Corporate History International.

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The Leftist Pantheon, Part I: Environmentalism

I’ve written a good bit lately about the spiritual hole in the lives of many Westerners (see “The Desperate Search for Meaning,” as well as Parts II and III). A big part of Marianne Williamson’s appeal, for example, is that she casts political battles in spiritual and moral terms—a point on which she and I agree. I think President Trump, too, intuits that politics is about more than officious wonkery.

Progressivism offers a kind of fleshly faith for its sycophantic, virtue-signalling followers. But it is not a monotheistic religion; rather, it is a polytheistic cult with its own pantheon of gods and (often) goddesses of greater and lesser importance. Progressivism is a means to an end—power and dominion—so it can’t claim one central deity, as it seeks to cobble together multiple believers in a paradoxical pick-and-choose theology—so long as you pick from the approved list.

With all the scuttlebutt about teenage imp Greta Thunberg, the angry Apostle of Mother Gaia, I thought it might be interesting to delve deeper into the Left’s pantheon.

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Trade War with China is Worth It

There’s a lot of disingenuous scuttlebutt flying around about a looming recession, the inverted yield curve, and the costs of the trade war with China.  I can’t help but think such doom and gloom reporting is part of an effort to undermine President Trump.  Investor and consumer confidence are emotional, fickle things, based as much on feeling as they are on hard economic data.

As such, I suspect that major media outlets are attempting a bank-shot:  scare investors and consumers enough, and they panic into a recession.  President Trump’s greatest strength at present is the booming economy and low unemployment rate; take that away, and loopy, socialist Democrats have a much better shot in the 2020 elections.  With Leftists like Bill Maher actually hoping for a recession to unseat President Trump, that’s not a far-fetched speculation at all.

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Carnival Gets Even Lighter in the Loafers

There’s something inherently flamboyant about Latin cultures.  Maybe it’s all the hip-thrusting dances and melodramatic machismo, coupled with the passionate temperaments of the people.

Whatever the reason, Brazil just got even gayer.  Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled 11-6 last week in favor of criminalizing homophobia and transphobia.  Wrongthink regarding same-sex marriage and other issues will be treated as equivalent to racism.

Violent crimes committed against homosexuals are a problem in Brazil, so rather than prosecute those assaults and murders as such, Brazil will now treat them as “hate crimes.”  Apparently, simply enforcing the law isn’t good enough for gays, so to be treated like everyone else, they want special treatment.

A homosexual rights group in Brazil argues that their kind are subject to violent attacks, citing the deaths of 141 homosexuals in the tropical nation this year.  That figure is, of course, tragic, but consider the high-risk lifestyle associated with being gay, lesbian, or transgender.  We don’t often discuss these risks in polite company, but the gay lifestyle invites dealings with some shady characters—older gays grooming younger men for the lifestyle, dangerous “bed-hopping” activities, etc.

Part of this vote is, surely, a reaction to Right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, a self-described homophobe.  I would never endorse treating homosexuals poorly—or, God forbid, attacking them—because of their sexuality, but it takes a certain amount of courage and bravado to straight-up call yourself a homophobe in 2019.

But I digress:  President Bolsonaro, the “Trump of the Tropics,” strenuously opposes gay marriage and the undermining of traditional Brazilian values.  We might disagree with his tactics here in the United States, but, to his credit, he’s seen what happens when homosexuality becomes normalized.

Consider:  here in the United States, deep-blue States were voting against legalizing same-sex marriage just fifteen years ago.  Now we have trannies reading pro-LGBTQ2+ books to pre-school kids in public libraries.  You can’t blame Bolsonaro for wanting to block his country from sliding down that same slippery slope.

The other part of this ruling must surely be the creeping secular-progressivism that seems to afflict ruling elites of many Western and Western-ish nations.  No good thing can go unsullied for long from the globalist tentacles of Soros, Inc.

Finally, it does seem that Bolsonaro’s popularity is fading.  But like Trump, he retains a die-hard group of core supporters, and it could be that the overwhelmingly enthusiasm of his historic campaign is merely dwindling as the difficult task of governance continues.

All people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.  That said, the aggressive attempts to normalize homosexual behavior and other alternative “lifestyles” are destructive to social stability and civilizational survival.  We shouldn’t be celebrating our own decadent embrace of decline.

The Impermanence of Knowledge and Culture: The Great Library and Notre Dame

On Sunday, blogger and antiquarian Quintus Curtius posted a piece about the famed Great Library at Alexandria.  The Library is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient War, and its destruction is an event that stands as one of the great cautionary tales of history.

Except, as Curtius points out, it wasn’t a single event.  Historians point to the accidental burning in 48 B.C., when Julius Caesar’s men’s burned Pompey’s fleet, and the flames spread, consuming a substantial portion of the Library’s connections.  Curtius mentions other events that may have damaged the Library, including Emperor Theodosius II’s decree to destroy pagan temples and buildings.

But, significantly, Curtius argues that it was centuries of neglect that destroyed the Great Library, rather than one single, spectacular event.  The burning of the Library in 48 B.C. makes for a dramatic story, but lack of maintenance, poor funding, and corrupt officials, Curtius contends, ultimately destroyed the Library.

To quote Curtius (emphasis is his):

The point is that libraries, like all institutions of culture, must be maintained and refurbished by every generation.  As I see it, the evidence points to a stark truth that tells us much about human nature.  The primary destroyer of the library, and perhaps of most cultural artifacts, was apathy.  How does this happen, in practice?  It is very simple.  It happens the same way official neglect happens today.  A new king or government minister would have said to himself, “I don’t think we need to allocate funds to the Alexandrian Library right now.  I have other priorities.  I would rather spend the money on ships, the army, or my new summer retreat.”  And this is how it starts.

Apathy—a general lack of care and concern for our cultural artifacts—destroys them far more effectively than book burnings.  Death by a thousand insouciant cuts, rather than the dramatic thrust of the sword, causes all things to wither away.

Having read Curtius’s piece (and a podcast related to it, which I cannot now locate), I very much had this topic on my mind when I heard about the tragic fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday.  I did not realize that the great cathedral is 850-years old.

Let that sink in:  it’s stood for nearly a millennium, surviving the Wars of Religion in France; the Thirty Years’ War; and the First and Second World Wars.  It also survived the French Revolution, which saw many churches destroyed or converted into blasphemous “Temples of Reason” throughout Paris and France.

Notre Dame is a powerful symbol of Western Civilization:  a bold testament of the faith and piety of a once-proud, Christian people.  A civilization that believes in itself and its God builds and maintains an edifice like Notre Dame.

We don’t yet know the source of the Notre Dame fire (at least, I don’t), and I’ve heard and read several explanations, from the careless (a dropped cigarette) to the, if true, quite wicked (Islamic terrorism; to reiterate, I am not claiming this was the cause of the fire, just that I’ve heard it insinuated).

What we do know is that France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, has promised to rebuild the destroyed roof and upper level of the cathedral “in a way consistent with our modern diverse nation.”  I let out a moan of despair upon reading that phrase.

Notre Dame is a not a symbol of a “modern diverse nation,” nor should it be.  The only universalism it embodies is Christ’s universal Love for all of humanity.  Beyond that, it is a symbol of the French people, and of Christendom.  I am not convinced that the “diverse” Maghreb and Bedouin tribesman of the banlieues are deserving of that patrimony.

The West is constantly bending over backwards to accommodate foreign cultures in a show of cosmopolitan hospitality, but the favor is never returned.  Unassimilated migrants and “refugees” don’t deserve architectural “representation” in a building that never would have been built were it not for Charles “The Hammer” Martel.

Knowledge and culture are both one generation away from darkness.  Westerners should understand the deep roots of our civilization, and protect it at all costs.  That means teaching it to our children, and instilling them a love of and reverence for our institutions, culture, and faith.

TBT: Cold Turkey

As the fate of Brexit still hangs in the balance, it seems apropos to look back to a post I wrote shortly after the successful Brexit vote in 2016, “Cold Turkey” (by the way, why is Turkey in NATO again?).  As I wrote then, all of these objections—what’re we going to do about the Irish border, for example—are distractions.  Yes, they might require some sorting out, but just rip off the Band-Aid.  People will find a way to make money.  Europeans will be itching to keep their business in Britain—remember, London is one of the world’s financial capitals—and will find ways to get business done.

The devil’s bargain of the European Union was simple:  give up your freedom and national sovereignty in exchange for sweet government bennies.  The British people chose the better, harder option:  they voted for freedom (and probably government bennies on their own terms, just without European largesse).  Of course, the British people never got to opt-into that bargain; it was thrust upon them after the bait-and-switch of the European Common Market—a good idea!—morphed into an unholy, supranational tyranny.

So, here is 2016’s “Cold Turkey.”  Like any addiction, the best approach is to “just say no”:

Last week, approximately 52% of Brits voted to “Leave” the European Union in a national referendum.  They did so peacefully and democratically.  Already, 23 June 2016 is being hailed as Britain’s “Independence Day.”

I’ve written several posts about Brexit recently (herehere, and here).  Last Friday’s post, which I wrote as the results were coming in Thursday evening, explored why liberty–a vote for “Leave”–was worth the price of temporary economic disruption and, too, of giving up certain “benefits” bestowed to EU citizens.

(A quick aside:  I still find it interesting that a supranational organization that originated as an economic free trade zone evolved into an entity capable of forcing twenty-some-odd nation-states to pool sovereignty; didn’t Europe fight two world wars to prevent Germany from ruling the Continent?  But I digress.)

Based on several comments on my Facebook page, and from personal conversations, it seems that some of my pro-Remain friends and colleagues missed this point, or very candidly admitted that national sovereignty and liberty are not worth the price of sweet EU bennies (one colleague–a reluctant Brit–discounted the entire “Leave” campaign as fundamentally xenophobic and racist, implying that those alleged qualities alone invalidated the entire movement).  To the latter contingent, I can only hope we can agree to disagree.  To the former, allow me to address some points.

“[D]idn’t Europe fight two world wars to prevent Germany from ruling the Continent?”

One poster discussed at length that Brits have “become VERY accustomed to the benefits,” and that, whether they are in the EU or not, they “will still be governed, regulated, and heavily taxed by their own government but no longer enjoy the goodies that come with EU membership!”

Consider, if you will, a drug addict.  Let’s say someone addicted to heroin seeks treatment and begins taking daily doses of methadone.  Would we say, “Oh, well, sure he’s off heroin, but he’s still chemically dependent on methadone, and now he’s missing out on the sweet high that only heroin can provide”?  Or would we continue to encourage this recovering addict to kick his methadone habit, too, and restore a sick, dependent body to healthy independence?

Quit me cold… and don’t let me in the European Union.

Generous government benefits–whether they come from the EU or the British government–might come with some nice “perks” (every pro-Remainer I’ve talked to seems preoccupied with the ability to travel freely through Europe, something most of us plebes haven’t had the luxury of doing without a passport; this, to me, seems to be the definition of a “First World Problem”), but those “goodies” come at a price.  The British people have freely said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Naturally, there will be those who will start jonesing for cheap travel opportunities to economically depressed parts of Southern Europe, where they can live out leisurely, government-funded retirements.  There will also be everyday people who still find themselves frustrated by high taxes and tight regulations, and missing out on certain opportunities afforded them by EU membership.

“The Brits have thrown off one level of bureaucracy because… they realized it was not worth the cost.”

But is the solution more regulations and higher taxes?  The Brits have thrown off one level of bureaucracy because, despite the redistribution of wealth it brought (which mostly went away from productive countries like Britain and Germany and to profligate nations like Greece), they realized it was not worth the cost.  One of two things will now happen:  either Brits will demand further deregulation and reform of their own government, which will further ease their burdens and lower costs; or they will make an oft-repeated mistake and demand more redistribution and more taxpayer-funded goodies.

Crucially, though, the choice will be theirs to make.

Leaving the European Union will be like tearing off a bandage.  It will hurt like hell initially–we’re already seeing the effect on markets, which can’t stand uncertainty–but the pain will be fleeting (as I’ve argued in my earlier posts on the topic).

Similarly, any nation facing heavy regulations and stifling taxes can pursue a similar course–if it hasn’t become too hooked already.  “Austerity” failed in Greece not because it demanded that the Greek government stop paying janitors wages comparable to skilled tradesmen; it failed because the Greek government couldn’t kick its habit (and because austerity required tax increases, not stimulating decreases).  The nation–and the Greek people–have become so dependent upon handouts, they can no longer function without huge bailouts from wealthier nations.  That dependency will only perpetuate the cycle of addiction.

The best approach is not more dependency–more bureaucracy, more social programs, more taxes–but quitting cold turkey.  Rip off the Band-Aid, then get back to being free… or end up like Greece.

Soccer Sucks

Over the weekend, France and Croatia squared off in the championship match of the 2018 World Cup.  The French team—which only has six players (of twenty-three) you and I would think of when we imagine a Frenchman—defeated the plucky Eastern European squad 4-2, an astoundingly high score for a soccer match.

Other than watching my students play occasionally, I can’t stand soccer.  The game has numerous flaws:  it’s overly-long, without any true breaks (an obstacle, as my brother pointed out, to monetization—you only have one half-time in which to show commercials); the scores are too low; and the action is rare.

The typical soccer game certainly requires a great deal of endurance:  I’m told that an average soccer player runs several miles during the course of a match.  But it’s all kabuki theatre, at least to my (admittedly) untrained eye.  All that running around seems to accomplish precious little, as players scamper about for agonizingly long stretches of time without really accomplishing anything.

In that meaningless but constant motion, I see a metaphor for the political systems found in nations that are perennially good at soccer.  Take this year’s champions:  France is not about actually being productive—scoring points—but about treading water.  Lycee-educated bureaucrats kick back to comfortable, easy jobs with short hours; workers of every stripe enjoy excessive labor protections; nothing is open on the weekends.

No wonder France’s unemployment rate in 2017 was 9.4% (down from a modest 10% from the previous year), while its youth unemployment rate is a whopping 19.3% (and didn’t get below 20% until April of this year).  French youngsters can’t get employment because the statist economic system limits growth, discourages innovation, and incentivizes bad or lazy employees.  Employees cannot be fired “at-will”—that is, without cause—and the process to remove underperforming employees takes month.  If you’re a French employee who knows he’s going to be fired, you might as well kick back for a few months and enjoy getting paid for doing nothing.  What’re they going to do, fire you?

While we should certainly treat workers with respect—and some labor protections are no-doubt positive—we have to remember there’s an employer who has put up a great deal of capital to try to make a profitable enterprise work.  No employer, no employees.  Sometimes a worker, while well-intentioned, just doesn’t work out, and the employer needs the flexibility to replace underperforming employees at will.

But I digress.  This essay is ostensibly about soccer.  Some additional thoughts:

Soccer is inherently un-American.  Yes, it’s hugely popular with younger children, which has led pundits to predict its ascendancy for decades.  But let’s consider why it’s popular.  John Derbyshire in his latest episode of Radio Derb argues that soccer caught on among upper-middle-class American children because their overprotective and status-conscious mothers saw it as “European,” and, therefore, more sophisticated and cultured (ignoring, as Derbyshire points out, all the hooliganism that goes with soccer).

A more compelling theory is Chuck Klosterman’s, from his 2004 book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, a collection of essays that I enjoyed immensely in my graduate school and early teaching days.  Klosterman argues that children like soccer because they’re bad at sports:

Soccer unconsciously rewards the outcast, which is why so many adults are fooled into thinking their kids love it. The truth is that most children don’t love soccer; they simply hate the alternatives more. For 60 percent of the adolescents in any fourth-grade classroom, sports are a humiliation waiting to happen. These are the kids who play baseball and strike out four times a game. These are the kids afraid to get fouled in basketball, because it only means they’re now required to shoot two free throws, which equates to two air balls. Basketball games actually stop to annihilate them.

That is why soccer seems like such a respite from all that mortification; it’s the one aerobic activity where nothingness is expected. Even at the highest levels, every soccer match seems to end 1-0 or 2-1. A normal eleven-year-old can play an entire season without placing toe to sphere and nobody would even notice, assuming he or she does a proper job of running about and avoiding major collisions.

When I read this passage originally—probably around 2007 or 2008—I experienced that state that constant readers know well:  the state of having read one’s innermost thoughts and experiences in a book.  As a perpetually plump (and extremely unathletic) child, I looked forward to soccer in Middle School PE class (and my high school NJROTC class) because I knew I’d be able to stand around doing nothing most of the time, and the good athletes would cover for me.

Again, we come to a metaphor for working life in socialistic bureaucracies (and, sadly, many corporate gigs):  if you just keep your head down long enough, someone minimally competent and motivated will get something done; just try to avoid messing up spectacularly and you’ll be okay.

When I’d heard that the United States failed to make it into the World Cup, I was relieved.  It’s not that I don’t want the United States to do well—if we’re going to do something like participate in professional soccer, we might as well do it as well as we can—but I was loathe to witness the spontaneous generation of soccer “fans” awakening from their four-years’ slumber to proselytize about how it’s such a good game.

Methinks they do protest too much.  Soccer sucks; long live [American] football!