Thursday, 04 July 2019

The Fourth

I'll be over tomorrow.

What? The party is today! On the the Fourth.

It's not the Fourth in the US, yet.

So? We are not in the US. It's the Fourth here, now. The party is today.

Yeh, that conversation really happened only a few minutes ago. My friend is absolutely wrong. It is the Fourth in the US, albeit, it is 2AM on the Fourth there (on the east coast and 1AM in Illinois where he last lived). Just when did he think we should celebrate? One PM on the East coast would be 1AM of the Fifth here. 

Our party is at 6PM today. It will be the Fourth all over the USA when we celebrate. Sure, no one will be out at the BBQ at 6AM or earlier depending on where in the US you care to mention, but it most assuredly will be the Fourth. 

Being half a world away does cause confusion on occasion. I am giving birthday greetings on Facebook while the intended recipient is most likely still in bed. I receive emails from folks when I awaken and the immediate reply may not be seen until the next business day. 

That alone provides the backdrop for while communications are now instantaneous, we do feel distant from those back in our home nation. Some just want to get back in step. It can't be done; at least not if you stay here.

Wednesday, 05 June 2019

Democracy and the mob

There have been a seemingly endless number of articles recently about Steven Crowder, Carlos Maza, Vox News and YouTube. It's enough to make your head explode with the competing constitution rights issues. (Don't know what this is all about? See this post.)

Quite frankly all of it is beside the point. 

Here's a question for you. What is the difference between true democracy and mob rule.

No, it is not a trick question, and no it isn't a question of nuanced understanding of the terms. The simple answer is, there is no difference. None. 

There are no true democratic polities in the world. Each has hedges at the least. What's a hedge? Well, if you vote in political subdivisions for a representative, you do not have pure democracy. The USA doesn't even pretend to be a democracy. It is a republic and good old Ben Franklin was doubtful if even that could stand for long. 

No, on a purely political level, there are no true sovereign democracies in existence and that is a damned good thing. 

But, the Internet functions very much like a true democracy, and therefore, it functions very much like mob rule. It is true that some platforms can be influenced by flows of cash, but if the mob has cash, well, there will be money. 

Political subdivisions can be effectively boycotted much easier than a vloger on the Internet. The concept that Internet platforms are not microphones for the mob is to have one's head in the sand. The expectation that Internet platforms, such as YouTube, or Facebook, or Twitter, can police and correct the needs of the mob is beyond foolish. 

As wonderful as the Internet is in some many ways, it is also that which is the essence of the mob. China's response is a massive firewall and even that has holes in it. Europe thinks it can regulate by imposing onerous fines, it can't. Oh, sure, it will extract some income, but the more it gets from the fines, the less it has reason to find a way to shut off the spigot, and it can't shut off the spigot anyway.

China's other way is to indoctrinate its citizens to think that questioning the State is evil. Many young Chinese when the issue of Tienanmen comes up tell people, It is better to not know some things. Why can't we just move on. Those things are in the past. In such a culture, a firewall on information is sold as you might think of seat belts. It's there to keep you safe. And in a truly bizarre way it is. 

Mob responses among one point three billion people is a truly scary prospect. It's scary enough in a nation of fewer than four hundred million people. 

The truth, as the founding fathers of the USA were cognizant of, is that political stability necessitates mediation, distance, and abstraction from direct democratic rule. In their time in the USA, that's what they designed. The UK has in its own in a fashion with levels of mediation, distance, and abstraction from direct democratic rule as do all the EU nations. Many nations only have a fig leaf of democratic rule, with a powerful class running the show. In other nations simple dictatorships exist. 

All polities are afraid of the mob for the simple reason that mobs are destructive (and eat their own): Crowder vs Maza being a prime example. It is our version of 'strange fruit hanging...'.

But even where the attempt is to accept as much democratic rule as possible, there exists the desire of some to lesson democratic input by limiting the right to vote, by rigging voting districts, and by any of a number of ways that make even what was supposed to be an effective limited democracy (or republic) only a fig leaf of covering a complete power grab. 

And so what we have are polities that are either playing hide the ball or are totally undemocratic and an Internet that is essentially mob rule if not totally censored. 

And now I ask you, are you really surprised with things like Crowder and Maza? Such a thing is baked into the cake. Our polities have no mechanism to deal with it and the Internet is the mob itself.

The numerous articles about Crowder, YouTube et. al. are simply missing the point that it is not a problem, it is simply a symptom of a far larger problem and that is why there is no good resolution.

Sunday, 02 June 2019

Do I need to know this?

This morning on the NPR.ORG website, prominently posted in what in the old days of newspaper journalism we would have called above the fold was a link (with catchy photo) to an article titled Another Tick-Borne Disease to Worry About. So, like so much click-bait, I clicked to read about what might be worth knowing.

So, what did I learn?

  • The disease is currently localized to Inner Mongolia (China, not the country).

  • It is treatable.

  • It is not as severe as a common flu.

  • It lasts maybe a week following anti-viral and antibiotic treatments.

Another words, in the vast scheme of things, did I need to even know, much less worry, about this?

Of course not!

What have we become as a people? Are we to be afraid of our own shadows?

How much fear is the average human expected to carry around? Are we all going to live in bubbles, afraid of the world itself?

And in the process of this establishment and aggrandizement of a fearful world, are we constructing insane new rules and demands of behavior that simply make life intolerable for the vast majority those around us?

Years ago, a relative, who I dearly love, came with her family to visit me. It was far enough from their normal stomping grounds that they had never been within a thousand miles of my place before their visit. Her two boys were aged 19 and 17, hardly babes in arms. The boys were bored. 

As I lived in a small town, the entire place could be explored by bicycle. I had two decent bicycles in the garage and I offered them to the boys. It turns out neither knew how to ride a bike. I asked my relative, How can that be?

She looked at me and earnestly told me that bikes were dangerous and she had barred her kids from all such dangerous activities. 

I truly believe that living with fear of all around us is as great a hobble as any enemy from abroad. 

I surmise that I have come to a very unfashionable way of thinking, but I am convinced that we need a course correction because societies that: fear all and any disease found anywhere; fear anything that could possibly be unsafe in any manner of use; need 'trigger warnings;' need laws and institutional protection from bullies; need codes of conduct that all but require written consent in social interactions, produce exactly what we have now, a totally polarized society. One of those poles seems to be willing to cast any members adrift for any infraction, while the other is convinced that infractions no longer matter as to go down that path at all leads to madness. 

Public society can't fix everyone's individual problems: 

  • Have sexual identity issues? I'm sorry to hear that, but creating an entire class of public facilities doesn't make any sense. We separate bathrooms so that those with a penis go one place and those with a vagina go to another. The distinction is not about rape. It is about pregnancy from a rape. Why does that have to be so hard to deal with or to understand?

  • Don't like to be called a name? Yeh, we all have things we don't like being called. Grow up. You should have gotten beyond that by second grade. Remember the childhood adage, sticks and stones will break my bones but words can never harm me? Why do you think we have that saying? It's because that's when we learn to ignore some crap.

  • Afraid of getting a disease? There is no help for you. Unless you literally suffer from some ailment which has killed off your immune system, all I can do is tell you to grow up. Childhood fears have no place in the lives of adults. And, by the way, get everyone around you vaccinated. I don't care if you have a fears. You don't have a right to put others in jeopardy, regardless of your fears. Sure, wear a condom if you are having sex with someone you are not sure of. But normal life should not be a place of overhanging fear.

  • Think we need laws about bullies? The earlier you are exposed to bullies,the earlier you will learn to survive them. You will encounter them all through your life. A bully can't make you suicide. Your fear does that and the longer you stay in your shell the larger your fear grows. Get the fuck out in the world and suck-it-up. And if you have kids, kick them out of the house to play unattended as early as possible. Age six is not too young. The younger the better. Don't fight your kids' battles for them. They need to learn how the world works. Every time you, or institutions, intercede it delays their process of learning to deal with them.

Why must the world believe what you believe? Convoluted, self-righteous logic might make you feel superior but only creates bizarre chasms of beliefs. 

In almost all cases, absolute judgments about social processes are wrong as there must be an understandng of the function of time, place and context. There are few, if any, absolutes in this world and 'ought-to' is a concept that often implies condescension. If not used self-referentially, it is freighted with inherent problems. 

  • You might well believe that it is best that people avoid marriage until a specific age. You are certainly entitled to your belief. But when you say it is true to all and all time, you have crossed a line and you are simple wrong.

  • Your religious beliefs are yours and not mine. As much as you might live in a multi-religious society, many of your beliefs/values have religious bases. Some societies are based on a single religion.Telling them to change is both arrogant and simply wrong. Will there be individuals in those societies who disagree with the rules of their own society? Sure. Stay out of it.

  • Think you understand the value of life? Who appointed you God? Each society does that for itself. Oh, there are exceptions. Genocides beg the question, but life is valued differently in different places. To many Hindus, someone who lives on burgers and meat in general is not valuing life as many Hindus avoid eating meat because they believe that it minimizes hurting other life forms. There are those who will tell you plants can feel pain. Truth is conditional and context driven.

I started this piece with a question of, do I need to know about a disease? The simple fact is that the very reason that such an article is written and posted where it was, for a readership far from Inner Mongolia, is symptomatic of a societal mindset that has gone terribly wrong. There is no way to approach the wrongness of it without seeing it in the larger context. 

Our society is being pushed via the media and social pressures by kids who were never let out of the house to play on their own until age thirteen, who live with massive fears due to their own socially stunted development, and who spent those 'formative years' interacting with electronic devices instead of the hurly-burly of real life. They can't even make good eye contact! There needs to be push-back but I doubt it will come.

Friday, 26 April 2019

A trip to the USA: Filipina vs American thinking

Objective: Attend my mother's one-hundred-and-fifth birthday party.

  • See my son, daughter, my sister and her family, and cousins.
  • Beth gets to visit with her BFFs in the USA.
  • Shop for things we can't get in the Philippines.
  • Do some traveling and sightseeing.

The international flight rules allow for two 33K (50lb) checked bags each plus a carry-on each. So from GenSan to NY and from LA to GenSan those rules apply. We have a domestic flight from NY to San Diego which allows for one checked bag and one carry-on. 

In truth, we do not need to bring a lot with us. We could get along with one bag a piece going to the USA. All I need is a carry-on size, though I'd probably check it. I figured Beth would want a full size bag.

We will purchase things we will ship back to GenSan in a Balikbayan box (a couple of cases Manischewitz wine [Beth], a kilo or more of beef jerky [Nicole], a down pillow [me], plus other stuff) which we will ship from my sister's home in Pennsylvania. There are a few things we will pick up while on the east coast that we will need to bring with us on the domestic flight.

Shopping for the things we will bring back to GenSan in suitcases will occur while we are in California.

So I thought... OK one checked bag and one carry-on flying to the US. Maybe we purchase a smaller bag while on the east coast if needed before flying to San Diego. The purchase of three large bags while in California, bringing back the full allowed amount back in luggage on the return leg.

Then my wife says, No! I can buy more if I don't have to by more suitcases!

So I suggest, we pack my carry-on and put it inside an empty checked bag. That means would fly with three bags but you would only see two. 

But no... Here's how my Filipina wife sees it. We will bring four bags with us to the USA! A checked bag each plus a carry-on each! Why? Well, she tells me, pointing to piles of clothing she has already in piles in our bedroom, “We need this to pack around things in the balikbayan box so nothing breaks! Where I put the things for my sister, my nephew and niece in Wyoming? And where I put the dried fish for my friends when I see them in California? All four bags will be filled on the way to the USA!

We are not going to Wyoming, but I guess we will ship some things UPS or FedEx ground to Wyoming, once we get to the US.

And yeh, we are bring kilos of smelly dried fish from GenSan to San Diego. Gotta love your Filipina wife!

Friday, 05 April 2019

Guilty Pleasures

My latest bread, a mixture of Bob's Red Mill organic whole wheat and Bob's Red Mill organic all-purpose flour is a hit in the house. I have a supposedly 'Amish' white bread recipe that calls for far more sugar than I would normally use and for vegetable oil rather than olive oil or butter. Using that recipe but with the flour I wanted, I made bread.

It rose nicely and the response in the family to it has been pretty funny as it is disappearing; made two days ago, one complete loaf was gone when I came down from the bedroom this morning.

Last night there was a still a fair amount of the first loaf left as I sliced off a thickish amount to make into two 'buns.'

The idea was to cook up two links of my homemade Ohio-German-style sausage (recipe courtesy of my neighbor, Irv Nichols) and put them between pan toasted (with olive oil) slices of the homemade bread.

I found some fancy french mustard (Maille Old Style) at the supermarket a week ago.

And so last night with some Argentinian Shiraz, and the fancy mustard, I had my homemade guilty pleasure. And the taste … well … it definitely qualifies as a guilty pleasure. I may not be a great chef, but damn, that was good.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Lessons in bread making

An acquaintance here, a fellow from Norway, referred to the two of us, the other day, as pensioners. It is not a term I think we really hear in the USA, but it fits. That's what I am. And so the question of how I spend my time, now that the house is built, the job, well and finally done for over a year, is a primary issue.

My 105-year-old mother has been voicing her concern that I should stay busy.

I have, for decades, been riding a desk. And, truth be told, I still do it a significant chunk of the time. I keep abreast with current events. I read books. I do some writing.

But I have also been doing some cooking. I purchased a pasta maker and have been making ravioli. I have the semi-permanent loan of a meat grinder with which I have been making sausage. Both the pasta and the sausage endeavors have been highly successful.

And then there is my bread making. It is not a disaster. Some of the loaves have been quite nice and all taste great with good internal structure. But I am still a novice. And I find that making bread in the Philippines with recipes that work fine in the States, comes with some real challenges.

When I actually faithfully follow recipes, it's a disaster, and so each time I have to adjust. Some of it may be the flour. We don't have 'bread' flour here, but we do have 'first class' flour which is allegedly the same thing. I am not convinced. I found some Bob's Red Mill unbleached all-purpose flour but it also doesn't behave as the standard 'all-purpose' flour recipes call for. My bread rises sure enough, but not as exuberantly as what the recipes indicate. My bread never rises once put in the oven as is shown in youtube videos.

I also find I always need more flour to liquid than the recipes call for. It's not that I don't understand that there may be some stickiness, but when the dough is so wet that it cannot be kneaded without the constant need of a scraper, nor made into a shape for a bread pan for the same reason, clearly the dough needs more flour.

I am not getting deep crusts. Yes I get a crust, but not the 'home-style' crusts that I am supposed to get. The consistency of the bread is good each time and it slices nicely. Everyone seems to like it, but I know I am missing something.

I have tried kneading longer. That doesn't help. I tried shortening the kneading. No dice with that. I tried lengthening the times the dough is allowed to rise and that helps a little, if it is the second rise. As opposed to many recipes which call for a shorter second rise time, my dough works better with a longer second rise, longer than the first rise. If I let it rise too long the first time, I don't get a good second rise.

All is done by hand. There is no stand mixer here. But, that should not be a problem. Stand mixers have not been around for long and folks have been making bread for thousands of years.

Clearly, I have a lot to learn.

Today's loaves.

The prettiest I have gotten, from two months ago.

Saturday, 01 December 2018

There are things

It has been five and a half years since Beth and I made the move — she to back home and me to become an expat.

In these five years we have built our home and created a new normal.

Driving a vehicle here is nothing like driving in the USA. My blind eye was not a big deal there, when driving. Here it is a big deal and Beth does much of the driving… all of it when we go somewhere together. It’s not that she is a much safer driver, but rather she pretty much freaks out when I am driving.

But overall, life is good here and I very much do not regret the move. I would not be regretful of having made the move, even if the political climate in the USA was less insane. This move works for me on many levels.

The reality that we were able to bring here what we had in the States has made it far nicer for me than I gather it is for others who sold or gave away everything when they made the move.

And so, when I now mention there are a few things that I do miss, I say it without regret. Sadly longing for something that is no longer attainable is foolish. There are things that I was missing but if I was in the States, there are things in the Philippines I would be missing.

But of those things I did miss… that list seemed intransigent.

In these five years, I have for the most part, eaten Filipino food. Filipino food does not include beef.

I have been missing good ground beef. Beef in general here is not all that good and what is sold here as ground beef just doesn’t cut it for me. I missed good Italian sausage. They have sausage here, but Filipino sausage is sweet. It’s good for what it is, and I like it, but I also like other types of sausage. I had found a guy, who, for a while, sort of made a decent version of Italian sausage here, once I gave him a recipe, but he is no longer an option.

It occurred to me that if I had a meat grinder I could make my own. I started looking around and was not having a lot of luck, finding one that would work for me. But then my neighbor, another expat, lent me his motorized meat grinder he had years ago brought over from the States. I have no idea how many years it has been just sitting and gathering dust here, but it is now sitting in our kitchen. With it I have made a sage based sausage for my neighbor, Italian sausage for me and real ground beef for both of us.

And with that ground beef I have made real and decent burgers for all in our house and meat loaf that was good for two nights after that. The nice thing is that everyone here, all the Filipinos, liked both.

So while I will continue to miss a good rib-eye steak, my other meat issues are no longer longed for.

I want to make lasagna but there is no ricotta or cottage cheese to be purchased here. Once again I thought I was just stumped. But I have found a way to make good cottage cheese here at home. So lasagna will happen maybe as soon as next week.

The last items on my list are bagels and good breads in general. I yearned for a bread with a real crust!

Years ago I tried making bread and failed miserably. But once again, I decided that as I am now retired, there was no reason not to try again. While I still have not found rye flour, I do have access unbleached white good flour and whole wheat flour.

And so today, with a good and new package of dry active yeast, I made two loaves some decent whole wheat bread. It was good enough that one of the loaves was gone three hours after it came out of the oven. I will make more bread in two days and bagels right after that.

The interesting thing is that, not only am I scratching my itches, but those who live here with me are finding new things to eat that they have never eaten before.

Now there is damned little left on my list of things I am missing. And that is a good thing.

Sunday, 07 October 2018

Saying goodbye to the USA

There sits, on the oak filing cabinet that must be over one-hundred-years old, here in my office/study, my official ballot for this November's election back in Wyoming. It is filled out. I did that over a week ago. It waits for my daughter to complete hers so that I might mail them back all at the same time.

It seemed important to me when I filled it out. Now, I am not so sure.

The country I knew, or thought I knew, is no more.

The staunchly conservative Republicans who were obsessed with high moral character have shown themselves to be nothing more than power hungry liars, willing to sell out all they believe in, for the ability to retain power. Sell it out even so far as to sell out to foreign enemies.

The Democrats have morphed into socialists and pandering populists.

The checks and balances we were taught to respect as a crucial and essential balance that would preserve the Union has been shown to be meaningless. There is collusion now between the Courts, Congress and the Executive. The age of American democracy is over. What comes next is unknowable.

But there is one thing that is knowable. It will not be the country I called mine.

I will not relinquish my citizenship for the simple reason that I need to continue receiving my monthly social security checks. I paid into the system and I am damned sure going to get those checks now. But if it were not for that? I don't know. Clearly the US passport allows me to travel in places a Philippine passport would not allow, even if I could get Philippine citizenship.

Still, though I had been following the news in the USA, I can't anymore. It just makes me sad and very distant.

My life is here, in the Philippines. That is not to say that I am enamored with how things are going here politically, but this is where I live. This is where we have built our house, our only home. This house is not owned by a bank. It is owned, lock, stock, and barrel, by my wife and me. I am not yearning to return to the USA. I am mourning for a USA that will never be, or maybe never was, what I thought it was.

I can't say I have gone through the stages of grief regarding it, but I know something has died. Whether it was my fantasy about what my country was, or it is the country, that actually was, that has died, something most assuredly has died.

It is time to let go and say goodbye.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Super Typhoon Mangkhut / Ompong

Super Typhoon Mangkhut barreled into the Philippines early Saturday morning as a category 5 with sustained winds of over 150 miles per hour. That is what the US press reported and while it is accurate, up to a point, it might leave you thinking that I and my family in the Philippines are dealing with the typhoon.

We are not. While we got some rain yesterday, Friday, and a few sprinkles this morning, we have had sunny skies most of Saturday.

The typhoon, which in the Philippines is called Ompong, hit the northern end of the northern most island on Luzon, in the chain of islands which constitute the Philippines.

We are on the southernmost end of the most southernmost island in the Philippines which is called Mindanao. In point of fact, the eye of the storm four hours ago as it rips through the Philippines is over 1,300 miles north of us. Yes, effects are felt less than 900 miles away from us, but in USA terms NYC is only 875 miles away from Atlanta Georgia.

So while this is a very large and deadly storm, it is not hitting all of the Philippines and it sure as hell isn’t hitting us.

Friday, 31 August 2018

The death of Democracy as we knew it.

It would appear that completely free and unfettered universally accessible free speech is anathema to real democracy. No less so than is control of media and communication by the State.

As the USA teeters toward despotic rule, as Russia and China are now back in the hands of despots, as the Philippines has freely elected a despot and may follow up by electing a Marcos next, as Europe unravels, via Brexit, via Hungary returning to strongman rule, via Italy electing a far right potentially pro-fascist government, … and, and , and… it seems that a relatively genial, democratic polity is increasingly unsustainable.

The ‘local’ gravitational social forces that moderated the fabric of democratic societies, pre-Internet, when you needed to listen to your neighbors, has been irreparably ruptured by Internet technology that makes meaningless the concept of local, destroys the guard rails of true democratic polity and in its place provides hothouse for nativism, hate, anger, and racism.

Welcome to the New World where truth is meaningless, knowledge is vilified, and vigilantism is popular.