Archive for the ‘Finance’ Category

Wonderful World

June 20, 2020

If you look for Sam Cooke’s Wonderful World—an absolutely wonderful song—you’ll find a whole page of Louis Armstrong’s homonymous tune, so you need to dig a little deeper.

Cooke goes through a series of school subjects and topics—I’ve always found the lyrics poignant and amusing, and when I play it I change the line ‘don’t know what a slide rule is for’ to ‘don’t know what a spreadsheet is for’, to reflect modern scholastic ignorance.

Toward the end, the young Sam Cooke informs us that he ‘don’t know much about the Middle Ages’, which is fair enough—no one does.

The Middle Ages are widely seen as a period of historical darkness, sitting somewhere between the end of the Roman Empire and the Italian Renaissance, and no one is quite sure of the start and end dates.

We’re talking about a period that spans a thousand years—no mean feat. Between the Vth and XVth centuries, Europe lived through systematic violence and abuse—France came up with the three estates—clergy, nobles, and commoners—and that convenient concept (if you weren’t a peasant) was widely adopted.

The first two estates, clerics and nobility, were largely exempt from taxes—these were borne by the peasants—a movie that could never end well, as Marie Antoinette found out.

My first book was about the Age of Discovery, associated to the renaissance, and my account of the marvels of Portuguese naval exploration was followed by a book on the travails of Columbus, a man who is overrated in his achievements but not in the consequences of his discoveries—for centuries, the English, French, and Spanish preferred to fight their battles in the Americas and left Asia and Africa to the Portuguese, and to a lesser extent to the Dutch.

Now, I’m sinking back into the dark ages, the Hundred Years War, and the great lords of France—violent and intractable men who thought it shameful to die in your bed, and that adultery was the only true form of romantic love.

The nobility and its troubadours coined the term ‘courtly love’, and in De Amore (About Love) the XIIth century courtier Andreas Capellanus (the surname means chaplain!) wrote that ‘marriage is no real excuse for not loving’—part of this concept stems from the fact that nobles entered into arranged marriages to consolidate property, wealth, and power—love didn’t come into it.

My mentor is Barbara W. Tuchman, a lady who, like me, took up history and made it fun, and was criticized by professional historians who resented the inroads of an amateur and the easy and humorous style of her prose.

Tuchman died in 1989, on the cusp of digital discovery, and I am sure if she were still writing today she could report on amazing things—I could never have been a writer without the internet: it’s given me facts, made me friends, and opened doors.

In the medieval period, education was predicated on seven ‘liberal arts’, and I quote:

Grammar, the foundation of science; logic, which differentiates the truth from the false; rhetoric, the source of law; arithmetic, because ‘without numbers there is nothing’; geometry, the science of measurement; astronomy, the most noble of the sciences because it is connected with divinity and theology; and lastly music.

I find the choice as bizarre as the definitions—certainly science depends as much on mathematics as on the study of natural phenomena such as the flow of a river.

The question “How much water comes out of the Mississippi River?” has a standard answer: “As much as goes in.”

This may seem glib, but a complete answer requires an understanding of precipitation and evaporation, drainage basins and gravity flow, and percolation through the soil. After those topics are mastered, in other words with a working knowledge of geography, geology, and meteorology, a reasonable approximation can be produced without ever actually measuring the flow of the Mississippi.

The relationship between astronomy and religion is typical of the misconceptions of the era—God above was taken literally, and astronomers formulated deeply flawed models where the sun went round the earth and the atmosphere was a pathway to a set of seven heavens.

Medicine was not classed as a liberal art (duh) but considered analogous to music because its purpose was to promote the ‘harmony of the human body.’

History was straightforward and finite—the world began with Adam and Eve and would end with the second coming, which would be followed by judgement day. Perhaps that’s the genesis of the T-Shirt slogan ‘Look Busy, Jesus Is Coming’.

In the United States, creationists live by these rules, despite clear evidence to the contrary—they deny natural selection, and speculate on the end of the world based on opinions uncontaminated by facts.

Tuchman’s interpretation is that in a world of finite history leading to an examination on judgement day, there was no requirement for humans to improve themselves morally or socially in this world—that would come in the next. This is nicely captured in the song ‘The Weight’, where the narrator and Luke sit waiting for the judgement day.

 

My interest in the Medieval Period, which in many ways is paroxysmally boring, came from the present pandemic—I’ve avoided mentioning it so far, but it seems obvious that more’s-a-comin’—and in particular my interest in the Black Death.

It’s impossible to analyze the Middle Ages in Europe without considering the plague. The disease was first observed in October 1947, when a Genoese merchant ship full of dead and dying men anchored at Messina, Sicily. The ship had come from Caffa in Crimea, a trading post owned by Genoa—the town is now called Feodosia, after the old Greek name Theodosia—it was once part of the Greek empire.

Caffa was one of the world’s most important slave markets, and the bubonic plague arrived from the east, brought by the Mongolian Golden Horde.

Just as with COVID-19, the pestilence spread with great speed—slower due to the lack of globalization, faster due to the lack of hygiene and hospitals.

The Welsh talked about the ‘shilling under the armpit’, a reference to the egg-sized buboes (thus bubonic), or swellings, that appeared in the groin or armpit.

The buboes oozed blood and pus, and the skin quickly developed black splotches due to internal bleeding. The black blood that appeared in the lungs, sputum, urine, feces, and buboes gave the disease its name.

Europe lived in perplexity about many phenomena that are well understood today—which makes it all the more remarkable that cretins like the orange man and his tropical cousin refuse to act on that understanding.

To the medieval populace of Europe, the plague was the end of the world.

It was inevitable, in the religious fervor of the age, that the Jews would get blamed. As a consequence, well before the time of the Spanish Inquisition, widespread pogroms ensued.

Jews carried the plague from Toledo in little packets or a ‘narrow stitched leather bag’. These messengers brought with them rabbinical instructions for poisoning wells and springs. Many Jews were burned alive.

The word that best describes the Middle Ages in cruelty. Ignorance comes a close second.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Main Street

June 6, 2020

American folk music speaks of simple things: love, loss, the yen to up-and-go. Often, the travel is about running away—because deep down, those simple things aren’t simple at all.

Families made and broken, war and death, the call of the highway, the freight train, or the wild country—that’s Main Street.

Those are values people understand: a job, a place, watching a boy become a man, a girl turn into a woman…

So how did it all go so horribly wrong? What made simple things not matter?

I took a trip down memory lane to revisit the market meltdown of 2007-2008, a result of extraordinary institutional greed and regulatory neglect. On Wall Street, even traders who saw how fragile the system was continued pushing it, like a heroin addict who knows he’s killing himself but can’t stop.

My journey down that road began with an English trader of humble Pakistani origin and a book called Flash Crash by Bloomberg journalist Liam Vaughan.

Navinder Singh Sarao—Nav, to his mates—was accused by the US Department of Justice of cheating the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, or CME, and causing the stock market flash crash of May 6th, 2010. The fact that he did it from the comfort of his own home, located in an immigrant neighborhood near London’s Heathrow Airport, was even more remarkable.

That got me into the fascinating world of automated trading—in other words, computers. Put it this way—if you trade shares manually, it’s like running the hundred meters in flippers.

As I revisited the sub-prime mortgage scandal of 2007 and 2008 that led to the worldwide collapse of the banking system, the bankruptcy of Lehman Bros., and the bailout of AIG—the world’s largest insurance company—by the federal government, all I could think about was venality and greed.

And what the fuck was an insurance company doing in the sub-prime housing market anyhow? Greed, greed, fucking greed!

At a speech in Houston in 2008, George W.Bush—an intellectual stalwart by today’s presidential standards—went off the record:

Wall Street got drunk, that’s one of the reasons I asked you to turn off the TV cameras. It got drunk and now it’s got a hangover. The question is how long will it sober up and not try to do all these fancy financial instruments.

When you look at the way things are going now, with Wall Street on a tear and Main Street in the ditch, it’s pretty clear the market is back swigging from the poisoned cup.

For a fee, brokers supply a mechanism called web services that allows anyone with the money or the know-how to design and implement their own trading strategies—that’s the way the game is played in the new millenium.

In the lead-up to the mortgage crisis, traders were looking at the most bizarre stuff. This is how rogue trader Mark Wendale sums it up in my 2013 book, Atmos Fear.

“You got property goin’ up a steady six points or more, re-fi in suburbia is hotter than wife swapping. Yup, we’re good for a while yet,” said Wendale, the consummate trader.

Only one or two of the more clear-headed understood that the ship was headed for the rocks. After all, selling mortgages to sub-prime clients, charging the interest on only half the principal and then adding the unpaid part to the total owed, so that the new homeowner’s debt went up over the years instead of down, was bound to end in tears. But for pretty much everyone in finance, it was boom time. Dot com all over again.

“Some of those products we reviewed, I rather think they might put one in a spot of hot water.”

More Brit pinstripe-speak.

Wendale was now trading CDOs squared, and even cubed, where the product was supported on an identical product, making it increasingly difficult to grasp what the exposure was.

The height of bizarre, both in name and purpose, was called the Gaussian copula—I’ll spare you the sex jokes.

In 2000, David Li, a Wall Street mathematician employed by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce—a touch of the Raj, methinks—worked out a formula to co-correlate probabilities, and the formula became a Wall Street darling.

But the formula was flawed—in worked well in some circumstances, in others it was disastrous.

Don’t blame Gauss—he’s one of my heroes. At three years old, Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss was correcting his father’s arithmetic. At seven, he came up with a lovely way to add consecutive numbers.

If you want to add the numbers between one and a hundred by hand (or mentally), it’s a tedious job. Bear in mind we’re in 1784, when the child prodigy was seven—no calculator. No Excel.

One of my math teachers told me that all good mathematicians are lazy—that’s why they find quick ways to solve problems.

Young Carl realized that 1 + 100 = 101. No prizes there. But he also figured out that 2 + 99 = 101. Better. And 3 + 98. And 4 + 97. And 50 + 51. Wow!

So, after he discovered that every convergent pair added to 101, he understood that 101 multiplied by 50 (one hundred numbers gives fifty pairs) gave the result he was after: 5050.

Pretty cool.

I played around with his trick and worked up a formula. Then I tested it in Excel. I’m sure any mathematician will laugh—this is old hat. But it made me happy, and the Gauss formula will add any list of consecutive numbers, for instance 102346 to 2487371. Instantly.

The answer is 3 088 271 188 821. This would take you a while in Excel. On a calculator, if you entered a number every five seconds, never made a mistake, and didn’t sleep, it would take you twenty-three days.

If you want to try a simple example, add the consecutive numbers from 1 to 4. Gives you 10. So does (1+4) X 2 (there are four numbers in the series, or two pairs). Try 3 to 6. That’s 9 X 2, or 18. I am easily amused.

What I don’t find nearly as amusing is the market rock ‘n roll. That’s how simple became complicated, and how we all got screwed.

Greed and irresponsibility is what I see. Trading mountains of mickey mouse money leveraged on virus bailouts.

I’ll leave you with a country tune, maybe we’ll get back to our roots.

Kind of crazy, with summer coming on, but all I see is black clouds.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Reboot

May 31, 2020

Anyone who’s been through a life change knows exactly how this year feels right now.

The kind of change I’m talking about is a crappy thing—a battle against cancer, the death of a child, total financial loss, an acrimonious separation, a jail sentence. A good plan for life is to minimize the chance of such things happening—but of course they do.

But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
          Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
         For promis’d joy!

Robert Burns, November 1785

I’m sorry to hurl a Scottish poem at you without warning—I always had a hard time with poetry, unless someone put it to music—then it becomes lyrics and all is well.

Interpreted: The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray and leave us nothing but grief and pain instead of promised joy.

Nils Lofgren put the concept into a song called Black Books that has one of my favorite acoustic solos—it’s a very dark tune, which earned it a slot in Season 2 of The Sopranos.

The main problem with a reboot is that things never seem the same—what the pundits like to call the ‘new normal.’

To a lot of folks, it seems like the first half of the year simply disappeared. Vanished. Travel plans. Weddings. Vacations. Puff! All gone.

2020 is about to reboot.

I see people around me coming out of this in a kind of daze—you start to do stuff but you’re not used to it any more. It happens to me. I don’t have the appetite to get on a plane—it’s become a big deal instead of an everyday thing.

You have questions. If I go, will restaurants be open? Will I be comfortable riding a subway or a bus? In a meeting or a conference, will I want to sit in a small, packed room?

Eating out feels weird. For about three months I’ve been eating at home, playing guitar over my lunch break, and I’ve adjusted to it. I like it. One quarter of a year. My days have been (over)stuffed with Webex and Zoom. I don’t like that, but I deal with it.

I’ve started going out. All the waiters wear masks. Every place is like Zorro’s trattoria. I’m not sure how I’d prefer it. With or without. But it feels weird. I sense it all around me—every table—it makes me uncomfortable.

I can only compare it to the austerity years of a decade ago. And some things linger since then—I still don’t buy newspapers—I found another way, and I doubt I’ll go back.

There is much speculation on the economic recovery—will it be v-shaped, as the orang-u-tan preaches? Or perhaps u-shaped, as many others believe? If there’s a second peak, maybe it will be w-shaped. And there are another twenty-three letters in the alphabet—it could be an m.

The key difference between this plague and the previous ones is connectivity—in 1918, commercial air travel was a millionaire’s pastime, now it’s everyone’s god-given right. A century ago, hotels and restaurants were scarce—there was no such tradition, and there was no disposable income—now there’s Airbnb.

I’m worried it’ll be people like me who’ll stop the recovery—we’ve changed, and all it took was three months. John Le Carré made a revelation about his father, a celebrated English conman called Ronald Cornwell; after being released from jail, Ronnie would stop in front of a closed door waiting for someone to open it—we are easily formatted.

There seem to be a lot of people like me—I was supposed to be in Maine right now, but instead I ended up on a video conference this week with twenty people—two whole days, it was like pulling teeth. Someone was delayed due to a traffic jam. I asked, “What’s a traffic jam?”

Once in a while, one of the tiny squares on the screen would bemoan our predicament. “Won’t it be great when we can meet again in person? At next year’s meeting…” As the ever-hopeful business owners tirelessly tell us, we are social animals. We’re gregarious, we love company.

But despite these moans, not one person was able to suggest a meeting venue and date. I suspect that if they had, others would have been quick to point out that ‘well, at this stage…’

People ask me about flights and I tell them that I now own a collection of vouchers. I have no appetite to add to my collection, particularly since the vouchers all need to be used within one year.

Memorial Day weekend was supposed to mark the start of economic recovery in America—throngs packed the beaches and citizens went on camera with the usual fallacies. The president doesn’t wear a mask, so I don’t either, said a youngster from Alabama. We all have to die of something, said an older man sitting in his deck chair.

That weekend, the one hundred thousand mark was closing in—by Wednesday, May 27th, the virus that populists invariably labeled ‘a small, seasonal flu’ blasted through the barrier—as I write it’s already three percent higher.

Around that time, fueled by tweets, America erupted. Lots of folks going out, but not on a shopping spree—the flavor du jour was looting. The orange man was quick to capitalize on the tragic death of George Floyd—nothing like a spot of rape and pillage to divert attention from the pestilence.

The poor are dying from ‘rona, the rich are taking a staycation. And many of those poor are black—there’s no evidence of health links to minorities, it’s spurious correlation.

Spurious correlation

This excellent (but spurious) correlation (r=0.955) between train wrecks (how appropriate) and oil imports reminds us of something every lady knows—statistics are like men: properly manipulated, they’ll do anything you want. View more wonderful stats here.

As an American friend told me this week, the level of support for the orang-u-tan, given his lack of condemnation for such abhorrent acts, suggests racism in the US may be endemic in half the population—who knew?

America is now truly going through ‘fire and fury’. Instead of campus protests, hordes of youngsters who were confined at home have suddenly been let loose by social media and are busy tearing the place apart. Effective protests have a start and an end point, and a collective goal—riots, on the other, are a typical consequence of the madness of crowds.

As successive cities descend into chaos, the stark consequences of populism are on display. The great nation of the United States of America has become a populist plaything.

And now it truly is broken.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Tiger King

April 25, 2020

While the stock market collapses, a few companies have been leaping up. Predictably, Amazon and other home delivery businesses, but also home entertainment companies like Netflix, have made a quick comeback—I don’t believe this pattern will last, in this most unpredictable year.

During the lockdown period observed in much of Europe and parts of North America, folks have been going pretty crazy—what New York Governor Andre Cuomo aptly described as cabin fever, while extolling the virtues of immigrants, who are busy keeping essential services running for everyone.

Cabin fever breeds all sorts of behavior—not so much new foibles but an exacerbation of existing ones—we’re creatures of habit, and 2020 is anything but habitual. Street crime is down, as are burglaries and rapes, but domestic violence is up—in France, it’s up thirty percent.

And Tiger King, a heady mixture of petty conflict, gay polygamy, guns, and fake news has gone er… viral. This is a good fit with the daily orange man press conference, the 5G mast attacks, and the rumor mill of Chinese labs releasing COVID-19 on an unsuspecting world.

While the new Netflix series certainly isn’t worth watching, it’s instructive to go through a couple of episodes—they show the worst America has to offer: a collection of people devoid of morality, the disenfranchised abused by ruthless business operators, animals kept in dubious conditions, sexual predators of the human variety, jail as a common transit point—in essence, all the messages you would wish to shield your child from.

I can’t help associating this metaphor to the behavior of the current US president. Every afternoon, he rolls out a select panel of government members and public health officials and puts on a circus act for the nation.

Like Tiger King, his objective is to keep folks coming back every day—ratings are what matter—and everyone forgets about Joe Biden. This is a smart course of action for a man who needs to be in the limelight, a strategy that is poorly understood by the public.

Trump is naturally bombastic, but at these daily ‘briefings’ he exceeds himself. Unlike the rally paradigm, where the president boasted to the converted—Tiger King folks who know little better—his audience here is small, well informed, and critical.

This makes for shouting matches with reporters—CNN in particular—reminiscent of the mutual accusations traded in the big cat show.

I have no doubt that much of what comes from Trump is stream of (un)consciousness, and if it generates controversy, all the better—that’s what ratings are all about.

At the start of these briefings, which indicate that the president has taken over the job of press secretary, believing he can do a better job in self-promotion, the various unfortunates who shared the bully pulpit crowded round the orange man, clearly rejecting any physical distancing.

Now the rules have changed—while Pence poodles in the background as the presidential pet, Dr. Deborah Birx holds forth at the podium—six feet away, the president stands staring at her, his face alternating between frowns of disagreement and incomprehension.

The last time this behavior was on display was during the 2016 debates, when Hillary Clinton was stalked around the stage by a menacing-looking orange creature.

There’s plenty of material here for new episodes of Tiger King, including the administration of  intravenous Dettol as a cure for big cat ailments, or ultraviolet endoscopes and skin applicators—UVA for rapid ageing and UVB for skin cancer.

I find the ultraviolet concept particularly attractive—through the fast onset of wrinkles, it will be possible to develop a narrative that only older folks are victims, and by killing them off with melanoma, the death rate from Coronavirus will rapidly decrease, allowing the economy to safely re-open.

Unfortunately, the economic consequences of the current public health crisis are much deeper than the level at which they are being discussed.

Countries that thrive on international tourism are in a particularly bad way—in Southern Europe, Turkey, and North Africa, this summer is going to be a total washout. The same applies to Bali, Thailand, Brazil, and Caribbean destinations.

And if the virus infection has a peak in the fall, that will destroy the Christmas market also—we’re stuck between a vaccine and pot luck.

Apart from the fact that most restaurants and hotels have been shut for the past month or so and employees have been laid off or fired, the reliance of the tourism infrastructure on international guests is a major liability.

Tourists from Northern Europe and North America are unlikely to be booking holidays to exotic destinations this summer, partly due to the economic situation at home, but also the natural reticence of folks to wander too far astray at a time like this—the tendency will be to stay closer to home, where a return to a safe space is easier and where health services are familiar.

Oil prices have seen a major downturn, demonstrating that the market only briefly reacts to initiatives such as the US-driven Saudi-Russian talks. The market responds… to the market (duh).

But many other commodities are facing difficulties with overstocking—shellfish are a particular example, since for many consumers seafood is typically hotel and restaurant fare. The big European and North American producers of oysters and mussels are facing serious business challenges— as are shrimp producers in Asia serving the fresh market.

The high-value capture fisheries industry for lobster, crab, and scallops faces similar problems.

Consumer sentiment is unlikely to bounce back, contrary to the joyous tidings proclaimed from the White House pulpit by Don Exotic.

After a bad fall, you walk a lot slower.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The Year of Ecology

April 11, 2020

Outside my window, a little girl is tentatively playing the notes to Beethoven’s Ode To Joy on a child’s piano. The tune wafts up, hesitant, a wrong note here and there, and despite the fact that I’m more of a Roll Over Beethoven type of guy, it gives me a profound sense of peace. Apart from the slow tinkle of the keys, there’s not a sound in the air. Even the wagtails and blackbirds that live in the tall pines are silent—in the blue sky above, the ragged bursts of white fluff are untouched by the crisscross of contrails.

All is balmy, as nature warms up to its key springtime display—the grand shag.

And it is doing so with great gusto, because this is the first time in many decades when mankind has retreated—not for the usual reason, i.e. bombing the shit out of each other, but due to a force larger than itself, yet only two hundred nanometers across.

Vanishingly small, incredibly abundant—the first plague of the new millennium.

The influenza virus looks like a pillbox with a diameter of 200 nm—a nanometer is one billionth of a meter. If we use simple geometry to calculate the volume of that pillbox (a SWAG—Scientific Wild Ass Guess—reveals that the height is 10 nm), and assume that its density is similar to that of human tissue ( 1 gram per cubic centimeter), we can estimate that one of these little boogers weighs 3.14 X 10-16 g. But there are an estimated 1031 virus particles on the planet—not all corona, you’ll be pleased to hear—so that gives a combined weight of about 3 X 1015 g, or three billion metric tonnes.

Compare that with three hundred million tons of humans, and they beat us to a pulp. For each cell in the human body, there are one hundred million virus particles.

Okay, the good news is that (i) most viruses attack bacteria; (ii) many are smaller than two hundred nanometers so the overall mass is less; and (iii) the stats for each cell are lower—for a fair comparison, we should use only the viruses that attack humans.

Despite these palliative points, in this David and Goliath battle we may well find that we turn out to be David. So let’s hope medicine can come up with a good sling shot—not a slingshot, mark you.

This is certainly not the year of the economy—rather in many respects it’s the Year of Ecology.

All over the planet, our fellow organisms are teaching us a much-needed lesson. The dolphins that appeared in the Grand Canal of Venice, and many other species that have returned to their one-time ecological niches on land, air, and water gave us an important sign—one that we have deliberately chosen to ignore as we sacrifice our world to the gods of economic growth.

When I discussed E.O. Wilson’s book, Half-Earth, I quoted an asinine US journalist called Emma Marris, who declared:

Our true role as rulers of the planet is to turn its biodiversity into a global, half-wild rambunctious garden tended by us.

It’s this arrogance that nature has now addressed—the dictionary definition of ‘rambunctious’ is uncontrollably exuberant—I guess someone missed the adverb.

Whenever humans stop what they’re doing, nature responds in a good way. If we are more considerate about how we treat the organisms that accompany us in this journey through life, many things will be better—water quality, air quality, more beauty, less stress.

If we are not—if we abhorrently crowd the poor creatures that we eat, if we pay no regard to the natural laws of reproduction, if we fail to understand density-dependent mortality… then nature responds in an entirely different way.

A map of the US published by the New York Times is an clear example of density-dependent infection, and at a lower rate, density-dependent mortality.

This is James Lovelock’s Gaia showing its fangs—not as a sentient being, I don’t subscribe to that concept—but by providing the enabling conditions for other species to thrive by taking advantage of our own errors.

And what are those errors? This is a blog, not a litany—despite the Easter period—but at the very least we as humans need to understand the ecological concept of carrying capacity, which predicates that at a certain point a climax community will exist in an ecosystem. Such a community is an idealized state, where biodiversity is optimal and growth in terms of biomass and other metrics has reached a plateau—think ‘flattening the curve.’

There is one area where ecology and economics converge—resources are limited, whether measured in carbon, silicon, or any other indicator—except money, which is a virtual commodity and therefore has the potential to destroy us when it becomes an indicator of mistrust.

As the great spring shag begins, plants and animals will benefit from our reduced activity—lower emissions, less pollution—and the resulting environmental improvements. In that kind of situation, ecosystems shift.

It is quite possible that the new species that colonize these habitats as they recover will displace whatever is now there—whenever the economy restarts we will start to see a rollback to status quo ante—except that ecology has taught us about regime shift, which is the manager’s nightmare, and it applies equally to the economy.

Systems—of both ‘eco’ flavors—will come back via a different route, i.e. will undergo regime shift, and if that wasn’t enough, they will return to a different baseline.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The Black Death

March 22, 2020

Last week, the ISIS newsletter al-Naba had a gem for its readers.

The healthy should not enter the land of the epidemic and the afflicted should not exit from it.

This was taken to mean that terrorists should not travel into Europe or other parts of the West where the current flavor of coronavirus is flourishing—it led to a rash of commentary in Western, Indian, and Arab media.

Most of those comments were er… rash, and this week’s edition of the terrorist organization’s newsletter dispels any comfort that it has no plans for renewed attacks in Europe.

And they must have no pity for the disbelievers and the apostates even as they are at the height of their tribulation, and they must intensify the pressure on them so they become more pressured and incapable of harming the Muslims by the permission of God the Lord of the Worlds.

It’s a particularly risky time for such an attack—the suicide bombers will be  home-grown, as they largely have been, and I suspect they won’t be too concerned about dying from the pandemic—the timing will most likely be the predicted infection peak.

This lack of concern mirrors Trump’s approach over the past two and a half months—enough intelligence material was circulating in the corridors of power in DC to prompt alleged insider trading by various senators on both sides of the aisle, but as usual the president’s gut knew best.

The US reacted far too slowly and in a completely fragmented fashion—at the federal level it focused on the economy instead of public health, like someone trying to fight melanoma with cold cream.

Finally, some of the right noises are coming from above, mainly from Anthony Fauci, head of NIAID, and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force—a man worthy of respect.

Trump, on the other hand, is adept at sowing confusion, with glib suggestions about the efficacy of the malarial drug hydroxychloroquin—the most up-to-date information from the Centers For Disease Control is not nearly so sanguine, but folks don’t read that—they stick to Twitter and WhatsApp.

On March 18th, Bill Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square Capital, raised the bar on CNBC, asking for America to shut down, along with affected areas in the rest of the world—governors in several US states have shown clear leadership on this while the federal government showed none.

In the United Kingdom, the approach has been similar—the tail wagging the dog. The narrative from the prime minister is as confusing as his hairstyle, drifting from tepid to lukewarm—Brexit lurks everywhere, since the government cannot possibly align with the EU in this brave new world. Finally, the pubs are shut, following Ireland’s lead one week ago—and it took balls to shut them forty-eight hours before St. Patrick’s day!

Leadership, balls and ovaries, and good ideas—Yossi Sheffi, director of MIT’s CTF, came up with a brace of them this week—my favorites? 3-D printing of ventilators, one-way aisles in supermarkets, and getting rid of the asinine term ‘social distancing’ by calling it what it actually is—physical distancing.

And when it comes to leadership and balls, observers have been quick to point out the contrast between Andrew Cuomo’s pledge that ‘the buck stops on my desk’, contrasting it with the president’s utter rejection of responsibility.

The analogy between republican president Herbert Hoover’s mishandling of the Great Depression and the leadership shown by Franklin D. Roosevelt, then democrat governor of New York, escapes no one, particularly in an election year.

As the song goes, and we need music at this terrible time, it makes me wonder.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

It’s the Ecology, Stupid!

March 14, 2020

I was looking forward to going to the US at the end of the month—both coasts, wonderful plans—everything canceled.

As a consolation prize, I drove to Spain yesterday to pick up a Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy—the AKC describes the ridgeback as a ‘renaissance hound‘ but I have no idea what that means.

As soon as the digital border was crossed, my radio flipped to Onda Cero and I was subjected to an excitable babble of panic-lisping about the coronavirus.

I drove through Extremadura in the thinnest of traffic, and when I stopped at a gas station on the highway, the entire shop was locked down. I bought some washer fluid through a night-pay hatch—at 5 pm—and the guy who served me looked like he’d seen a ghost. All I could think about was The Day of the Triffids.

The anchor on the radio said Spain was expected to top ten thousand cases—with delicate irony, the minister for equality had just tested positive—and the signs on the highway simply said ¡Quédate en casa!

On the way to Spain, I ate lunch at a favorite spot on the Portuguese side of the border. By the time I leave, the place is usually teeming with Spaniards, drawn in by the excellent seafood and the great prices—queues past the door are the norm, kids run amok, and a small bar outside serves barrel-loads of beer to waiting patrons—but today there were six people eating.

Europe is closed but the Shengen borders are open. The different EU nations know perfectly well how to self-regulate, and there’s no better example in the world than Italy—a democracy that shone a beacon of leadership in everything: testing, disclosure, and mitigation.

Every nation in Europe has a policy in place—in Portugal, schools and universities have closed, and restaurants can admit only one third of their current capacity—I shall shortly be putting that rule to the test.

It’s outrageous to hear pundits on the US TV channels attempt to rationalize Trump’s cretinous decision to stop travel from the EU (and now also the UK and Ireland) because of free movement in Europe—the virus escalation in the US has just started, yet anyone can travel from California to Oregon, from Florida to Tennessee, without any restrictions—European Union means exactly that.

It’s quite normal to lie about the economy, foreign relations, home affairs, and voter support—most politicians do it at one time or other, though none as consistently as the current US president—I grew up in a totalitarian country where government-mediated disinformation was the norm, but in a vibrant democracy like the United States there is consistent push-back and Trump and his minions continually struggle to contain the criticism.

You can lie about biodiversity, about climate change, and other issues related to ecology—although if there are only five species left on earth, or the ocean has risen to the height of your dining room table, the narrative becomes slightly less robust.

In the end it wasn’t Stormy Daniels or the series of other women allegedly abused by Trump who brought him down, not the perennial lies, denials, and flip-flops—it’s the ecology, stupid.

And yes, I know he’s not down yet, but this is the closest it’s been—I can smell it. And the irony that a Chinese virus will achieve what American democracy seems unable to do is unmissable.

Why ecology? Because nature doesn’t lie. You can’t borrow, print, or obfuscate your way out of trouble when people are dying from a disease like this—not in a democracy you can’t—dead is dead.

Everyday fibs generate little response—but reassurance about a pathogenic agent by a pathological liar is another matter. The narrative of excuses and fabrications about contagion, testing, and treatment is patently pathetic, as is the coterie of sycophants.

Someone (members of the CDC please raise your hand) remind this gaggle of clowns that three to six feet is a prudent distance to avoid contagion.

As the human race morphed into Übermensch—that’s not a novelty cab driver, by the way—biology was replaced with economics. From our elevated heights, we wallowed in the constructs built by the master race—many so fictional we are unable to predict an interest rate next year or an exchange rate next month.

With people like Trump at the helm—a giant helm for tiny hands—the initial measures taken to fight Covid-19 practically all focused on minimizing economic impact, when the key emphasis, as well as the discourse, should have placed biology front and center.

This is a recipe followed by epidemiologists worldwide—predicated on detection, confinement, treatment, and transparency, and tested on the battlefields of Ebola and Bird Flu—shithole-country epidemics one and all. Instead, we got disingenuous and callous TV video bites, and five-second pseudo-clarifications.

The results were predictable: confidence tanked and the stock market dived. Yesterday the market came rocketing back up after a drop not seen since 1987. Next week it will drop again as more cases and more deaths are inevitably reported  in the press—economic concerns condition the tough public health measures needed in the US from a president who always put his self-interest at the core of any decision.

A young houndette contemplates the American president’s chances in 2020.

Key crisis management measures have not been put in place internally for fear of jeopardizing the November election—American lives are being sacrificed for the putative benefit of one man.

In parallel, two other things are abundantly clear: (i) disbanding key government departments to please the voting public is dumb; (ii) surrounding yourself with a coterie of brown-nosers who salute the emperor’s new clothes is even dumber.

Panic has set in, as evidenced by a key indicator—Costco ran out of toilet paper. I am bemused—I can only speculate that those cardboard centers are used for some kinky sexual act that has never penetrated (excuse the pun) my sheltered existence. But on the other hand, I have laid down a few weeks’ supply of red wine.

In the United States, people infected with coronavirus will continue to die. The fact that they may end up giving their lives to save American democracy will be cold comfort.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

TIA

March 1, 2020

“I’ve had malaria nineteen times,” the man said. “The problem with the pills is that the test comes up negative even when you have the bug.”

All around me were the people of the lake, lifers who’ll never leave Africa. Mostly whites, with a smattering of blacks and Indians, who the locals disparagingly call monhés. The language of choice was English, but with the broad vowels of Zimbabwe.

The rough-hewn terrace of the lodge overlooked the huge lake, one thousand square miles that dam the mighty Zambezi, about three hours northwest of the city of Tete.

My last trip to Mozambique was five years before I wrote The India Road, but I never made it up north. Domestic arrivals (is there any other kind) at Tete airport herald the week to come—the road rapidly degenerates after you negotiate the toll queue at the Zambezi bridge —pickups and trucks belch smoke over small boys who run shoeless between the lanes, straining to sell bags of peanuts.

Moz used to be the last row on the UN world poverty list and it’s still down in the catacombs of deprivation—180 out of 189. Two decades ago, the Russians and their satellites were in-country—now they’ve been replaced by the Chinese. The two blocks share a mission—the systematic rape of the country’s natural resources, to the usual benefit of the very few, while the population languishes in desperation.

In Tete arrivals, the light blue T-Shirts of Vale S.A. engineers heading for the coal mines, tiny Brazilian flag sown on the sleeve, and the billboards advertising mining and drilling services tell me what makes the economy tick.

North of the bridge, the road loses its verges, pulverized by the steady stream of double tractor-trailers hauling coal to the coast—from the port of Beira direct to the Middle Kingdom to fuel the imports of the West.

Toyota rules the roads, as in much of Africa, and the giant trucks push you off the road as they barrel south. My pickup drives through squalid villages made of circular mud huts with a conical thatched roof—I had some illusions that the human scenery would be different, that maybe small children wouldn’t look so desperate, but I soon got the picture—Africa doesn’t change.

The road to Songo shows the heart of Africa: women fetching water, tiny children, little hope.

I stayed at a lodge right on Cahora Bassa, a hotel built on one big idea—fishing. The reservoir has twenty-two species of fish, but only three are on the radar—the predatory tigre, a prized sports-fishing trophy, the tiny kapenta, a sardine-like plankton feeder, and the ubiquitous pende—a mixed bag of tilapia, both the local species and the invasive one from the Nile.

A tiger fishing competition takes place over the weekend, and teams have come in from Zim, from Malawi, and as far afield as Zambia. They fish in groups of four, and many have towed speedboats over picadas—the local name for dirt tracks—for miles in order to win the grand prize.

I’m curious about the trophy—what would tempt a man to drive a couple of days through the bush to win the competition?

“The first prize is a car compressor,” says the lodge owner. “One for each member of the team,” he adds with pride. The fishermen gradually fill up the lodge, occupying the small huts—the same formula, round structures with a thatched roof, one double bed and a single for the kids, and a bathroom with a shower, a sink, and toilet. The shower has perennially cold water, but when the outside temperature tops one hundred and five, who needs hot? The huts stink of DEET—no malaria, but the potent chemical will do a number on you in time. Digital is inexistent—no wifi, no cell signal. As soon as I landed in Maputo, digital roaming vanished and I was forced to buy a Moz SIM card, but out here I might as well beat a drum—TIA.

The fishermen don’t give a shit—they crowd the terrace, trading tall tales, chain smoking, and knocking back 2M. The other beer is called Txilar, a local spelling of ‘to chill’, but these guys are roots. They talk about Kariba, on the Zim-Zambia border, where the grand trophy is a pick-up truck, and other lakes to the north where they’ve fished—Malawi, Tanganyika, Victoria…

As night falls, and near the equator it falls like a sledgehammer, the kapenta boats come out. The two-stroke engines pound my eardrums—by law, there’s a five-hundred-meter buffer to shore, but no one gives a shit. The fishery is dwindling, prey to the tragedy of the commons. Back in the mid-nineties, a boat hauled more than three hundred crates a night—at thirty keys a crate, that’s around a metric ton of fish.

These days, maybe five boats can catch that tonnage—after salting, the fish is trucked to the DRC via Zim and Zambia. The industrial fleet lives at odds with the locals—the destitute folk from the villages that surround the lake also fish, but they do it in dugouts. And they do it with mosquito nets. Through aid agencies, the government distributes impregnated mosquito netting to the population to improve public health. The locals sell the nets to the fishermen, who use them to catch anything that swims—TIA.

The illegal fishermen net the coastal areas, net the mouths of the rivers, net everything they can. They catch kapenta, tilapia, anything goes—any size, any time, any place. Oh yes, there are regulations, I’m told, mesh sizes, licenses…

Lake Cahora Bassa in all its magnificence. There’s no getting round the stunning beauty of Africa, even if every critter in it is out to eat you.

But the only regulators are the hippos and crocs. Once in a while, brother hippo rams a canoe, and if the native fishermen don’t drown, cousin crocodile is waiting in the reeds as they come ashore—the lake is the first place I’ve been where I’m afraid of getting eaten.

This Is Africa—TIA, my friend. Governance is a mirage and white men are walking targets—they structure businesses and provide employment and are easily tapped for money in a society that fails at miserably at both.

On my way out of the country, the security guy pulls me aside. “How many meticais are you carrying?”—the local currency trades at about fifteen bucks per thousand. I’m ready for the question—most of my stuff is stashed in a money belt, and the wallet is fool’s gold.

“About five hundred.”

“Show me.”

I open the wallet and show fifteen hundred mets.

“And the other side?” My friend knows all the patter, but I’ve seen this movie before.

He sees a few euro banknotes.

“Are you with the Red Cross?” He eyes my safari vest.

“Not Red Cross.”

“When are you coming back?”

“In three months.” Wait for it…

“Do you have any meticais you don’t need?”

I pull out a five hundred, slip it to him, and I’m on my way. Five minutes later he passes me, smiling and holding hands with a female security officer. TIA.

As I board the plane, I remember the last words from Malaria Man. “When I tested negative, I went to see the doc. Ah told him the bladdy test was negative.”

The doctor turns to him. He’s a local man from the Songo, where the disease is endemic. “My friend, you have malaria. You must get treated right now!”

“Doctor, you’re sure you haven’t made a mistake?”

The doctor gives him a tired look.

“All my mistakes are dead.”

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Timur

February 15, 2020

When compared to other languages in Southeast Asia, Bahasa Indonesia is easy to learn. Like Mandarin, verbs are infinitive only—it’s about the only thing in this part of the world that doesn’t conjugate—but unlike putonghua, the people’s language of China, there are no tones, and the Western alphabet is a visual cue to the spoken word.

After a week in-country, and three islands down, I feel right at home. Europe and the US seem eons away and the fortitude and friendliness of these people is a very special experience.

Life is cheap in Indonesia, in every sense of the word. Prices? Day-to-day purchases are inexpensive, unless you go for a spot of anggur—wine is worse than the driving, and believe me, that’s saying something.

A few days ago, I drove down from Lake Toba on a single-lane carriageway—work dragged on and night fell, so the four-hour trip to Medan, on the north Sumatran coast, was astonishingly scary. The driver’s name was Arni, and he was immediately christened Arnie Schumacher.

Lake Toba, in peaceful sleep, shrouded with clouds in the early morning. A typical Sumatran Batak sits in the foreground.

The Sumatrans are a fearless lot—they’ve elevated the technique of parallel driving into a martial art. At any given moment, you may be three layers out on a single lane, flanked on the inside by a truck and then a bike—in all likelihood, the bike has more passengers than the truck, and you watch spellbound as Arnie flashes and honks his way past an oncoming bus, which is busy running a scooter equipped with a full siu mai mobile kitchen rig off the road.

Pedestrians, kids, and dogs go about their business wholly unconcerned, smiling through the exhaust fumes, only inches away from a certain death. I feel as if I’m living in my own video game—virtual reality it ain’t.

Medical care is of variable quality, but as long as your health holds up and you scored the infinite lives hack for the driving game, everything’s a blast.

Lake Toba is seventy-four thousand years old, created by one of earth’s most orgasmic volcanic eruptions, and scientists have argued fiercely over its effects—it is consensual that six inches of ash settled all over south Asia, and that the atmospheric aerosols lowered the planet’s temperature for a substantial period of time.

Values of one, three, and five degrees have been proposed, and there is no doubt that effects of the Torgasm were detected in both Lake Malawi and Greenland—other theories that suggest global cooling endured for a thousand years, affected the snowline, and almost led to human extinction are more contentious.

Bali was the last stop of the trip—I headed east, or timur, from Medan, back across the equator, and into another timezone. Inside the plane, we all looked like extras in a Zorro movie.

Denpasar is usually loaded with Chinese, but the Indonesians blocked all ports of entry—the fleshpots of Kuta and Seminyak were free of celestials.

My business lunch was a stroll through Jimbaran market, where trigger fish, snappers, and parrot fish fight for space with local crabs and lobsters. Pics don’t due it justice—you miss the potent smells of ikan, cigarette smoke, and the faint aroma of sewage.

After a suitable beastie is bargained, bought, and bagged, a princely sum of five bucks changes hands and the warung around the corner grills the snappers for a buck or two. The restaurant itself is part of a row of lean-to shacks, and the patrons are mainly Russian—one guy has a mountain of Bintang, a local Heineken clone, in front of a him, and his girlfriend wears a T-Shirt that says, ‘Bad Choices Make Good Stories’—I hope she doesn’t get to test that one—Kerobokan prison is just down the road.

Bali is a Hindu enclave in a nation of two hundred sixty million Muslims. To the more extreme Islamists it’s a dissipated inferno of sex, alcohol, and drugs. Fifteen years ago, Jimbaran beach—a stone’s throw from the warung where I’m sitting—and Kuta Square were targeted by the Jemaah Islamiyah.

The 2005 bombings followed the 2002 terror attack on a nightclub—to Islamic radicals, the height of kuffar debauchery—in Kuta called Paddy’s Pub.

The monument to those killed in the 2002 Kuta bombings. The cameo appearance of the Jemaah Islamiyah in my book Atmos Fear is inspired by the Bali bombings.

Indonesia recurrently deals with radicals intent on moving the nation toward Sharia—a quick look at a map illustrates the challenges facing the country—from NW Sumatra to West Papua it spans three and a half thousand miles and contains seventeen thousand islands.

In my wanderings so far I’ve barely scratched the surface of this nation of gentle people and ready smiles—three out of seventeen thousand? Come on!

I wake up just before five in my Lake Toba hotel. Jet lag is biting, but that’s not the whole story. Across the valley, the muezzin is calling the faithful to prayer, singing his lure from the minaret.

But wait… what is this other sound that turns the rainy pre-dawn into the battle of the bands?

Ah yes, it’s the competing forces of the Methodist and Catholic Gereja P.A. systems, broadcasting the Lord’s Prayer in Bahasa.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Toodle Pip

February 2, 2020

Brits are masters of the euphemism—sorry, was that EU-phemism?

At the drop of midnight on Friday in Europe, eleven post-mortem UK time, the Brits went on their merry way. When I say ‘merry’, one’s tongue is firmly planted in cheek, since practically everyone I know in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland is thoroughly ticked awf at the prospect of leaving the European Union.

Total number of applications for Irish passports from residents of Northern Ireland and for the whole of Britain.

But the majority voted, the pols played their silly games, and here we are. The true spoilers, of Farage and Bannon calibre, are hell-bent on destroying the EU. Trump’s a big fan of tearing it apart, and then there’s a smattering of neo-fascists in places like Poland and Hungary who are talking up dismemberment—literally the process of removing members.

In the recently published book ‘A Very Stable Genius’, the authors reveal that after the Bastille Day parade, Trump confided in Macron that ‘ he never realized France had won a few wars.’ Useful idiots and historical autism aside, the coterie of EU bashers have one thing in common—wistful tears for long-vanished empires, and a hatred that there may be a new kid on the block—Ursula von der Leyen expressed it perfectly: ‘in unity lies strength.’

As for European diversity, Mississippi and Rhode Island too have little in common, except McDonald’s and arguably a common language.

I’m flying to Asia right now, munitioned with a couple of surgical masks, since the airports look like scenes from Armageddon. This is the Asia that once housed the British Empire, and Doha’s Hamad airport was pretty er… mad, replete with Indians, Afghans, Chinese, and every other stripe, looking like a surgeons’ convention—as for the locals, it’s pretty funny to see Mid-Eastern men wearing veils for a change.

As a viral aside, I wonder if countries where the veil is worn show a difference between sexes (or genders, if one must) when it comes to contagion—I would imagine it would be easy to test, even for the common cold—in places such as Saudi Arabia, where segregation is routine.

My stomping ground over the next couple of weeks is exactly where the English (for it is they, not the thrifty Scots nor the Irish diaspora) hope to make the deal of the century—perhaps Bojo & Co. plan to memorize DJ’s ‘Art of the Deal’, but unfortunately the English, much like the orange man, aren’t particularly good at making deals unless accompanied by gunships, of the helicopter variety or otherwise.

The Financial Times weekend edition—you get through a lot of newspapers on long-hauls—carries a particularly interesting review of the love-hate relationships between UK prime ministers and Europe.

Churchill’s position, later endorsed by Eden, was well-known—Europe must unite, but without the Brits, who would dedicate themselves to building the bridge between the continent and the US and sally forth to their erstwhile empire to seek their true destiny.

With typical English arrogance, they neglected to accept that they had all but lost the empire, that Britain would never have won the Second World War (or the first) without America, that the US considered the UK a minor relative whereas a grateful post-war Europe welcomed Britain with open arms, and that the ex-colonies had no desire whatsoever—much less a strong incentive—to do trade deals benefiting the UK.

Furthermore, when waxing starry-eyed of empire, the English thought themselves unique, ignoring the reality of so many other European countries, including Spain, whose projection in South and Central America was and is huge, France, who remains closely linked to an important swathe of central Africa, and Portugal, who until 1975 actually had an empire.

India, Pakistan, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda and  all the others saw an opportunity to sell goods into the UK, far more than buying from them. But mainly, their nationals saw a huge chance to offset Britain’s shortage of menial jobs through immigration—the sons and grandsons of Bengalis, Kashmiris, Sri Lankans, Keralans, and so many others are now far better placed in British society, from business to politics, than the vast majority of Brexiteers.

The move away from Europe is very much in the interest of those high-flyers—children of Pakistani bus drivers and cleaners—whose natural alliances are not to be found in the commercial houses of the Rhineland, the agricultural powerhouses of the Po valley, or the region of Champagne, but in the floodplains of the Irrawaddy and the Ganges.

When China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Russia, and the other big boys get the call from the Foreign Office, it’s unlikely they’ll shiver with the fevers of orgasm at the prospect of a bilateral deal with a nation of sixty million moderately affluent people, a country better known for perfidy and calculation than equitable terms, when in the grand scheme of things they’re selling to four hundred million Europeans—from the corner convenience to the Kremlin capitalists, everyone knows the difference between retail and wholesale.

So let’s turn to the British citizens, and in particular to those who celebrated Brexit—many of whom have no clear idea why they want to leave, in what ways the EU actually makes their life worse, and what their expectations are for this bright new day—these are the folks that make up the backbone of the disenfranchised British working class, weaned on the glory tales of the Tommies, who watched their local economy shrink and their jobs migrate, both at home and overseas.

At home, the pitiless march of corporate greed left whole communities empty—my forthcoming book, The Hourglass, tells that tale—and what little remained was scooped by busloads of Poles and Romanians. Britwealth sits in the boardrooms and trading floors of the square mile, while the country sits on its haunches and, true to form, blames the bloody Frogs and Krauts.

Once again, the trusty FT comes to the rescue, this time with an article about Lincolnshire—just east of Nottingham and Sherwood Forest, where Robin of the Hood stole from the rich to give to the poor.

In the town of Boston, celebrated for voting Brexit three-to-one, the former mayor now runs a model airplane store—I’m not sure if we’re talking Airfix here, but I’m pretty sure eBay will put him out of business shortly after I hit ‘Post’.

The mayor describes the local economy as ‘a broken system of ruthless supermarkets—driving down the price of food—captured suppliers, cheap labor, and rising rents.’

The tale of the town is the tale of Brexit. Big Ag ran the market gardeners to the ground, and menial work was taken over by East Europeans. Bloody Frogs! Back to Russia with the bloody lot of ‘em.

And awf they went, in good order. Now that Britain is a third country in respect of the EU, let’s hope its good friends are ready, willing, and able.

One thing’s for sure, there’s no one left to blame. Well, except the bloody Scots!

Happy trails Bojo. You break it, you own it.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.


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