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.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

The Deep State

Those on the Trump side of the political divide often complain about the Deep State. A Machiavellian Illuminati type of evil thing controlled by dark personages, of whom we can only guess.

Those on the other side tend to scoff at the notion, snickering at the paranoid fantasy of those who make the claim. They assert that no such nefarious Deep State exists.

Both are wrong.

There is a Deep State. In the USA it is a very Deep State. It is part of the bone and sinew of all our governmental institutions and it is nigh on impossible to root out. And there is a very good reason why it is resistant to removal – it is headless.

The Trumpians are right to note its existence. They are wrong to suggest an active directorate leading it.

The Deep State has been with us for a very long time. It is, in fact, part and parcel of, the American experience.

It lives within the mindset of each American and, saying that, we can note that governmental employees are a subset of that group. The Deep State is the collective belief in what America is and what it must be.

Those whom the collective mindset are seen as disruptive to that ideal will find an intransigence, if not outright hostility, to their acts and wants.

There has been over the past two hundred and twenty-nine years more of a pushback against ‘progressive’ and ‘liberal’ ideas, than there has been support for such, as the Deep State is fundamentally conservative.

It is how we got the Dred Scott decision.

It is how we got Plessy v. Ferguson.

These decisions were not abnormal. They were emblematic of Deep State thinking.

Usually, it takes a very long time for the conservative Deep State consciousness to absorb and accommodate a new idea. And that has been the bane of the more liberal and progressive elements of our society.

For my 'Liberal' or 'Progressive' readers, think back to before November 2016. Did you really hold the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA in high regard? Was James Comey your hero? Were your heroes named Brennen or Clapper?

These men all represent, all epitomize, the conservative Deep State mindset. In saying so, I do not seek to diminish them, nor do I wish to disparage, and, nor are they are the head of the snake. No, they simply represent a mindset deeply enmeshed into our national psyche. On the extreme side, it gave birth to organizations such as the Federalist Society and the Cato Institute.

However, change in the mindset of the Deep State can also occur due to a cataclysmic occurrence.  

For a few decades, the Deep State engaged in an unhealthy tolerance with conservative, but highly undemocratic elements of the national consciousness. Better to side with those than accept the push from liberal and progressive forces.

The Deep State tolerated much hate, violence, misogyny, racism, neo-“Jim Crow” legislation, and high-jacking of the right to vote.

And its reward was Donald J. Trump.

Is the Deep State fighting back?

Yes, it is, but it does not command an army. It does not control cabinet officers. It cannot establish budgets. The Deep State is only a blocking mechanism, a defensive guard. It can slow down, hinder, and cause to nullify by inaction. It cannot ‘act,’ per se.

And so, yes, Donald J. Trump, the Deep State does not like you. But, Donald J. Trump, it is you who is the fool. Presidents are not dictators and all they can do is nudge things this way or that within the narrow confines of our slow moving national consensus. It is why politicians seek to tell the collective national unconscious consensus, should they actually achieve a large popular plurality of the vote, Hey, look! I have a national mandate! And even then it is just a way of saying, I am going to try to push us a little more than I would be able to without the mandate.

Mr. Trump, you were elected with no mandate. You are attempting to govern as a dictator. And worst of all, as all those in high office know, all and any unethical lapses you may have, will be ruthlessly exposed. This is true regardless of your party, your race, your religion, your parentage, or your wealth.

The Deep State will use all of this against Donald J. Trump. Those who think otherwise are without an understanding of the society, and the government of, the United States of America.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Trump's Criminals


Sunday, 19 August 2018

How to save money on call center staff at PLDT

Notify all your business customers to via text to dial 177 when assistance is needed.

  • When receiving a call on 177, tell your customers to look at a website that provides no assistance, and then, HANGS UP!
  • Should the customer call the basic assistance line, screen the phone number and then tell them they are a valued Enterprise customer and to call 177, and then, HANGS UP!
  • You know that sending them email, it can take a week or more for them to answer and you need to speak with them now. Via a google search find a page for support for the PLDT service you use, you click on it and…

    It tells you to do one of the following:

  • call 177 (which will HANGS UP)
  • text 177 from your SMART cellphone service which you do not have
  • Use a Cellphone app which does not support the need for which you need to speak to PLDT and never worked whenever you used it in the past, anyway
  • Use an online chat system that when you click on the link, DOES NOT WORK.
  • You go back to google and look for more options. You find a number (02)888-8171 and you call it. It screens your phone number and tells you to call 177, and then, HANGS UP!
  • So you send at email anyway. An auto-responder sends back a message,

    Dear Enterprise Customer,
    To assist you with your request, please click below icon.

    Where does the icon take you? Back to that same webpage!

    Addendum (the next day): I met with office staff at the local PLDT office. They report that due to manpower shortages, the only way for business class customers to get service is to contact the local office during business hours, but that they have expanded from five to seven days a week to mitigate the problem as much as they can. And so, while I am appreciative of the efforts of local staff, this is just pure nuts. All the advertised methods do not work and the only method is a non-noted and inadequate workaround. The wheels have come off PLDT in a serious fashion. Exactly why that is, is a story as yet untold.

    Monday, 16 July 2018

    The end of the Western Alliance and the world as we knew it.
    A Realpolitik perspective.

    Regardless of whether Donald J. Trump is a narcissistic egotistic psychopath, or in the pocket of Vladimir Putin and a traitor, or just a damned fool, he is singlehandedly dismembering and ending what has been a sixty year western alliance and a stable international order.

    He has done it via trade war actions, abrogations of treaties, hostile behaviors and hostile words, by casting the allies of the USA as its enemies and siding with its enemies.

    In his abrogation of the deal with Iran, he has forced sanctions against the allies of the USA should they not also abrogate that treaty, which they won’t.

    At the same time he has engaged in a trade war of vast proportions with China.

    Clearly, Chinese companies, most likely with the tacit support of the Chinese government, have been stealing intellectual property controlled by companies in the USA.

    If Europe was not under threat of crippling sanctions by the USA, the fight with China regarding that intellectual property might in some way make sense. If Europe was of a mind to ban Chinese product that used stolen USA intellectual property the USA might have a strong card to play to force China to act in accordance with international norms.

    However Europe is dependent on the use of that technology. The combination of both things happening at the same time, the sanctions against Europe (which Trump has now called a foe of the USA) and the war with China, creates a witches brew.

    If Europe cannot get USA based technology legally, and it needs it in the most basic and critical way, then it has every reason to ignore the protests of the USA and buy that same technology from China regardless of how China got its hands it the technology. In doing so, Europe will have ended the international recognition of patents. There will be no way back.

    By China modifying standards away from and making incompatible with standards in the USA, the world moves continually away from the USA and makes the reintegration of USA technology nigh on impossible to achieve.

    The USA loses essentially everything. It loses any control of its intellectual property, it loses its customers, and its economy suffers. It creates a new alignment between Europe and China. Chinese industry and Chinese technology becomes the main engine for the world’s activities. This includes communications technology.

    Without the USA as its strongest member, NATO will become a European only assembly and as Russian meddling in European politics continues to roil the public sentiment throughout the continent, NATO will splinter and fall away.

    Russia will re-assemble at least part of its satellites as petty grievances between previous NATO allies increase.

    In the short term Russia appears to have a leg up as its oil fuels Europe. But overall, Europe becomes an economic vassal of China, unable to influence China and unable to control Chinese accretion of intellectual property from Europe.

    All across the globe, banks will sever ties to USA financial institutions to avoid any USA retaliation against actions taken in contradiction to US law. USA banks will fail and the dollar will lose stability.

    Foreign investment in USA property will collapse, not only will the moving of capital into the USA become a huge problem, but investment in the USA will cause the investor to become entangled in the political sanctions regimes that have riven the relations between nations. This will engender a real estate market crisis in the USA.

    Having lost all its trading partners other than Canada and Mexico, and unable to sell its technology to any nation including those two, with a real estate market having tanked, and a banking system that has been destroyed, the USA economy crashes.

    And that is what it means to Make America Great Again.

    Tuesday, 03 April 2018

    Greatness?

    When folks talk about which country is better, I frequently just want to shake my head in sadness at the futility of the question. It isn’t only that it is impossible to answer the question, it’s that the question is, at its root, meaningless.

    How shall we measure it? What are we measuring?

    Is freedom to be measured by the number of guns you can own? Or maybe by the number of people who can vote? Or by the number of different political parties able to run candidates? Or by the lowest percentage of the population incarcerated? Or by the restrictions on libel and slander laws? What shall it be? And how is any of this proof of freedom?

    Is economic equality to be measured as the World Bank measures it? Here at the bottom of this post is a snip, I stole from Jason Beaubien's post on the NPR website, of a graphic representing the World Bank findings.

    Is it meaningful? Sure it tells you something about how the wealth of a nation is dispersed among its people, but if there is little or nothing to disperse, and poverty is pervasive, then poverty is equitably dispersed. Does that make it a better nation? Note the relative position of the USA and the Philippines, and then tell me this chart is proof of a better nation. It most assuredly tells us nothing other than in the USA there is a massive accumulation of wealth clustered among a very few. It tells us nothing else. It doesn’t compare the economic stability and security of the general populations of these two nations. And whose wealth is it those at the top of the USA population are holding? Is it wealth that ought belong to other US citizens, or is it wealth extracted from others around the globe? This chart can’t tell us that either.

    The concept of ‘better’ or ‘great’ is a cultural perception, a national myth, told within that tight circle of shared identity.

    Most assuredly, within that tight circle of shared identity, each group can identify that which it is not perceived to be great.

    But, how better to understand why better than 80% of Filipinos readily ignore otherwise credible complaints about extra judicial killings and the actions of their own president? Culturally, they see a stable society, run by a strong ruler, to be a far better option than a ‘fair’ ruler, where corruption, drugs, and scams continue without a credible check. If their ruler needs to break some laws to get a handle on it, so be it. Will some Filipinos complain? Sure, that 20% exists, but it doesn’t change the reality on the ground.

    How better to understand why Americans are so attached to an amendment of their constitution that was effectively mooted by a civil war one hundred and fifty years ago? In 2016 alone there were more than 38,000 deaths by firearms in the USA. In 2015 the number was more than 33,000. To put that in context, fewer than 59,000 US soldiers died in the Vietnam war. So in two years gun deaths in the USA were more than 72,000 souls, or 13,00 more souls than perished  in the 19 ½ years of the Vietnam War.  And yet, knowing this, there is no national memorial in Washington DC for those dead and Americans adhere to their gun culture.

    Oh I could go on and on, with example upon example. Statistics are often misused and misunderstood. They often do not tell us anything useful. They most assuredly can’t tell us about the greatness or the goodness of a nation.


    Monday, 26 February 2018

    Big Data

    I suspect that serious and skilled writers do not read what I write here. I most assuredly do not write dystopian societal fiction. It's not in my wheelhouse. But I do have a plot for those who can write such things and I urge someone to do so along the lines I will outline here. (The sad fact is that to get folks to pay attention, good fiction is more effective than a non-fiction narrative.)

    Many know the premise of the movie "The Minority Report." Some may be familiar with the TV show, "Person of Interest."

    In my estimation the premises of such offerings fall short as they don't deal with everyday issues and how society must categorize, organize and act of such things. Such issues are far more intriguing than a murder mystery.

    There must always be a balance between behavior a society tolerates and that which it prosecutes.

    Today, criminal prosecution is essentially spotty as we, as a society, and as law enforcement, are not aware of most crimes. In a simple example, how many times does someone have to be driving drunk before they are pulled over for driving drunk?

    In a society that is based on Big Data, where so much about you is known, and your predilections, behaviors, and risk behaviors can be evaluated via analytical matrixes, rather than in our society where most crimes are never detected and prosecuted, that society would have a very different problem. It would know far too much.

    That society would need to come to grips with, how much of the population should be behind bars, under societal sanctions and control, or in some way, banished? What laws are unrealistic as everyone, or damned close to everyone, is guilty? When does morality and ethics bend toward reality?

    Consider just two types of crime.

    Shoplifting

    It is estimated in one report that there are approximately 27 million shoplifters (or 1 in 11 people) in the USA today. More than 10 million people have been caught shoplifting in the last five years. (From http://www.shopliftingprevention.org/what-we-do/learning-resource-center/statistics/.) I suspect if the question was, 'have you ever shoplifted anything, even just once,' the number would be far higher.

    Unwanted Sexual Contact:

    In one report 54 percent of American women say they have experienced unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances from men. (From: https://www.newsmax.com/newsfront/women-experienced-unwanted-sexual-advances/2017/10/17/id/820228/) In other reports, the number is even greater.

    It is said that between 33% to over 50% of men have engaged in acts of unwanted sexual contact toward women.

    So sure, right now we are in a lock them up, #metoo, climate. But what are the consequences when such a thing is really, completely, possible toward all?

    How does society grapple with the tension of what it can do, what it thinks now it 'should do,' and the outcomes if it does so in a Big Data culture?

    These problems are not science fiction. They are right around the corner. Big Data is already here and getting bigger every day. There have been reports of instances of Artificial Intelligence programs, which getting a real leap forward from the next generation of quantum computers, are independently creating computer languages. These AI systems actually make up code and share that code with other quantum computers running AI. These systems are finding relationships faster and with greater accuracy than the humans who set up the computers could accomplish. This is happening right now.

    Companies such as Google, Amazon, Walmart, Facebook, among others, all want to push the capabilities of Big Data so as to sell you stuff. In that effect, they want to know all about you. Governments, worried about homeland security, are equally motivated to push the Big Data capabilities to mitigate risks to those they deem need protecting. Cyber bad guys want access to Big Data, so as to change your mind, or gently convince you to vote for the other guy. But the simple fact is that as AI and Big Data get better, which is happening at a very fast rate, the things Big Data will tell us will outstrip that which we thought we were asking.

    We are woefully unprepared for the world that is becoming all too real, all too fast.