A chronic lack of confidence in the government stops investment


Argentina has been suffering from electrical distribution problems, leaving some poor souls without electricity for over a week, when it hit the high nineties and low one-hundreds every day. The government blames the power companies for not investing in infrastructure, and the power companies blame the government for setting rates too low. The government buys votes by keeping utility rates artificially low and then says something to the effect of, “We love the poor like a mother loves her children! Is that so wrong?”

 

The problem remains that without foreign investment and confidence in the government, no one will lend Argentina money. Eventually the value of their currency will continue to fall, and their reserves of dollars will shrink to almost nothing. Then the moment of crisis will occur. Without the ability to import raw materials, factories will close. The poor will become even poorer. The rich will actually do quite well and benefit from the crisis, because no matter what happens they will find access to dollars. 

 

Just as you can’t spend your way out of debt, you can’t blame your way out of taking responsibility for the mess the Argentine government made of the nation’s economy. Since the blaming and wishful thinking has been going on for decades, the current administration is justifiably loathe to take full blame for the situation, but I suppose saying “the buck stops here” is one of the requisites of good leadership.

 

Anyway, whining about vulture funds and passing legislation to limit the flight of dollars from the country only serves to confirm everyone’s worst fears, including those of potential investors. 

 

 

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Western style democracies aren’t for everybody


And western concepts such as free speech and individual liberty aren’t prized by other cultures. We shouldn’t be surprised by this, but our news media loudly and consistently cluck their tongues whenever a foreign government doesn’t behave like the United States or Western Europe. 

 

Thailand, for example, seems incapable of democracy. They don’t want it, but in order to seem modern and progressive and attract foreign investment, they play the game, usually half-heartedly and often badly. What can you expect from a country where the King is revered and anyone who says anything non-worshipful about him or his family is thrown into prison or life, where political parties hate each other, where the military steps in every few years and changes the government, where they draw up a new constitution every couple of years which nobody even bothers to read much less follow?

 

Thais value loyalty above all else. Venezuela and Nicaragua elect Presidents for Life. That’s the way they like it. 

 

 

<a href="https://geezersabroad.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/nic071

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I stuck my camera onto a kite with a really long string


and then sent the kite up into the sky. I kept running out of string, so I tied the kite to a fence, ran to the nearest store, and bought another spool until there was no more string to be had. This is the photo my camera took. Of course, getting kite and camera back down was no walk in the park, either. Fortunately, the wind stopped blowing long enough for me to spool it in.

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advice you would do well to keep


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  1. Always pick up hitchhikers. They are usually angels in disguise.
  2. Never date a woman who feels like “family.” She probably has many more problems that she initially seems to, and the reason she feels familiar is because you’ve already been down this road before. Look where it led you the last time!
  3. Don’t struggle to read books you find boring. There are plenty more out there that will delight and inspire you. The time you spend plowing through a laborious read is time you are taking away from the delightful ones.
  4. Anything you cheerfully give away will come back to you in some form. If you give reluctantly, you will indeed lose out.
  5. Most things worth doing are harder than they initially seem to be and will take longer to accomplish than you had hoped. But they’re still worth doing.
  6. If you don’t want a haircut, don’t hang around barbershops.
  7. If you don’t want to buy something on impulse, don’t troll through Amazon or eBay.
  8. You can’t spend your way out of debt.
  9. When somebody says “Honestly….,” or “To tell the truth…,” that means he’s lying.
  10. People without hidden problems and addictions usually don’t need to borrow money.
  11. If somebody asks you a question and wants you to give an immediate answer, that proves they don’t have your best interests at heart. At times like that, it’s best to say “Let me get back to you.”
  12. Young women who are addicted to their cell phones do not make good girlfriends.
  13. When two vampires are working a crowded room, they spot one another immediately.
  14. If you are an older man and an attractive woman in her early twenties assures you that she likes older men, that means she thinks they’re easy prey.
  15.  Many people are waiting for a miracle to get them out of a situation of their own making. Wouldn’t it be easier simply to learn the lesson and forget about miracles?
  16. Never buy the cheapest or the most expensive of anything.
  17. Most things that are supposedly being sold at a “sale” price, aren’t really any cheaper than they were before this supposed promotion began. The “sale” is simply a snare for those prone to impulse buying, which is itself a compulsion and resistant to logic.
  18. Young men who drive recklessly and identify strongly with beer brands have little to offer anyone until they grow up. For a variety of reasons, this may never happen
  19. Most people are working for the Man, but have deluded themselves into thinking that it’s just a temporary state of affairs. It isn’t.
  20. The longer you continue to lie to yourself, the harder it is to do something about it.

 

Don Daniel inspects his holdings


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It’s Christmas morning and for the first time in my experience of living here, there are no motorcycles zipping along noisily on the street in front of our building. Oh, if it were only this quiet the other 364 days of the year! Here, people are at work by seven and the buzzing of motors begins before dawn.

 

The sun is very bright, the temperature is quickly rising, but nobody is out walking.  On Christmas morning people stay home with our families.  If we don’t have families, we hide in our rooms. Here, they call a rented room a “piezza,” and sometimes usually they come with a shared bath and access to a minimal kitchen

 

I imagine the single people are lazing about their rooms, sipping terrere and scrolling through Facebook posts on their laptops. The parents of families are doing the same, while their children play and fight among themselves, systematically destroying their new Christmas presents.

 

For some reason, this Christmas morning I am reminded of my first plans for retiring in a third-world country. These were my dreams of five years ago. Even though I had no savings and not much income, I was planning on buying a coffee plantation in Nicaragua. Then I would be Don Daniel, riding on his white stallion, wearing riding boots and holding a riding crop and wearing an enormous straw hat. The workers would bow when they saw me and pretty women in colorful skirts would curtsey.

 

I am so glad none of that came to pass. Today, the idea of responsibility and being tied down to real estate of any kind makes my skin crawl. 

MEET THE NEW BOSS, SAME AS THE OLD BOSS


PSYCHIATRIST 023

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHhrZgojY1Q

When I was in college, I became enraptured by the album “Who’s Next” and especially the song “Won’t Be Fooled Again,” which proposed in a cheerfully anarchistic way that we were now hip to the controlling machinations of the Man and would no longer be dupes of his nefarious schemes. Maybe we had been blind once, but now our eyes were fully open. Nixon and Kissinger were crafty old devils, but the kids could defeat them, and surely would. Any day now. Just a matter of time. 

 

That was over forty years ago. I am living in South America now, and forty years ago the cruel military dictatorships propped up by the United States’ “Operation Condor” were in full swing back then. Things are certainly better here today than they were in the early seventies. Your chances of being dragged off, bind-folded, in the middle of the night, tortured and then shoved out of a military helicopter or dismembered with a chain saw are far less today than they were forty years ago. At the moment of this writing, Christmas Eve, 2013, things are better in the States than they were five years ago, when the greatest “legal” heist in the history of our union was accomplished when everyone who we trusted to mind the till suddenly figured out that collateralized mortgage backed securities were a Ponzi scheme of frightening proportion. The stock market is up. The dollar is gaining strength. 

 

But for how long? Argentina is tottering on the edge of something big. Recently, police departments in many major Argentine cities went on strike, and as if one cue, mobs began looting supermarkets. The Police demanded raises before they would leave their barracks. They got them. 

We lived in Thailand for a year, and I put a third of my savings into the bank there, because they paid an interest rate of 3.5%, which was better than the 0.5% my bank back in the States offering. Since then, the Thai Baht has weakened considerably, the country looks like it might be on the verge of civil war, and if the King dies (he’s 86 and not in the best of health) I’m afraid blood will run in the streets. So much for diversifying my assets. In retrospect, I wish I’d bought gold.

 

 

 

 

THROUGH THE WINDOW (a short story)


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What I write is of no importance, nor will it have any in the future. But still, I write. I cannot stop myself, and I can only watch YouTube videos for so long without wanting to jump out the window. The ground is a long way down.

For the past few years, the stock market and especially hedge funds have been good to me, and so I live a long way up. The 72nd floor is so high that it feels like I’m in an airplane coming in for a landing. This feeling does not mix well with the nesting instinct. In fact, simply looking out the window makes me want to take a tranqulizer. When I come home from a hard day at work (OK, it’s not actually work, it’s mostly playing with my computer and making arrangements about lunch) I half expect to hear an announcement advising me to fasten my safety belt and that the contents of the overhead bins may have shifted.

So these are the circumstances of my life, yet when I write, I have nothing to say, no advice to give, no counsel to offer. In fact, my life may best serve as a caution to others: live as simply as possible and try to appreciate the moments of peace when they occur. It is peaceful sitting here at my dining room table, my laptop open in front of me, watching the clouds that float below casting shadows on the tiny buildings.

Sometimes I become aware of all the people who labor daily to provide the ease and comfort I enjoy. When I imagine their lives I briefly become sad, and then frightened. I think they resent my ease and comfort, and if they could, they would get even with me. They would enjoy throwing me out of the windows I now look through. Then I want to take a pill, to calm me down and stop the obsessive thoughts that are my constant companion once I try to enjoy a simple moment of peace, like the one I am now doing my damndest to experience.

The cook has brought me my dinner, but I have a hard time relaxing and enjoying my meal, or even swallowing my food, knowing that she wants to clean up and return home as soon as possible. So even though at this moment she is hiding in the kitchen, I feel as if she is standing next to me, glaring at my plate, waiting for me to finish my meal so she can whisk it away. Surely she is well-paid, at above the normal rates for cooks in these parts, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier for me to swallow my food.

What I’m writing here is the truth, so my confessions may have value simply because they are an accurate record of what it is like to be me, a moderately wealthy, mostly law-abiding middle-aged man at the beginning of the twenty-first century, living in the most expensive neighborhood in the capital city of an emerging economy, which is a polite way of saying I am surrounded by tens of millions of extremely poor people who would gladly throw me out my window if they could.

Is this the thanks I’ll get for fearlessly telling the truth? I feel like William Wordsworth at Tintern Abbey, grieving the lost innocence of his youth. I am like Milton mourning his blindness, consoled only by the fact that God no longer needs his services. Through an accident of birth and education, a convergence of circumstances that I had no part in, I enjoy high status. What I call “work,” others would call “play.” Essentially, I earn a handsome living gambling with other people’s money. If they win, I win. If they lose, I win.

A few yards to the side of our building’s entrance, I saw a group of fifteen or so men with shovels, digging a ditch in which to lay some sort of pipe. It was, as it typically is, horribly hot and humid. One of the men was my age and build, and the sight of sweat pouring off him as he gripped the shovel with muddy hands almost made me swoon in sympathy. “There but for the Grace of God go I!” I muttered as I walked the few steps to my BMW.

Yesterday was a real scorcher, and as I was walking a few blocks in an unfamiliar neighborhood I came across a small sewage pond with a few boys swimming in it. Actually, they didn’t know how to swim, but they weren’t drowning. In fact, they seemed to be enjoying themselves! Looked like a lot of good, not-so-clean fun. One of the things I appreciate most about the locals is their ability to enjoy the direst of circumstances. Absolute horror seems not to faze them in the least.

Far be it from me to judge how they run this country. There are a lot of locals who are far richer than I, and they seem untroubled by the great discrepancy of wealth. Maybe they’re hoping they will set an example to which others can aspire, and serve as role models. As a foreigner, I am thought of as an entirely different species altogether, so I can’t help inspire or motivate the locals to do as I have done. Besides, their path to the top would probably involve hard work and talent, while mine certainly did not.

No, it behooves me to keep my mouth shut, smile in an insipid and unfocused manner as I go through my day, and keep as much of my inner life as secret as possible. The Internet invites all sorts of fools and show-offs, voyeurs and exhibitionists to contribute to their own undoing, but I am not tempted to follow them on this road to ruin. My real name, my personal photo and e-mail address do not exist anywhere except in the most formal and appropriate of settings. No matter how diligently you search, you will not find a photo of me with a beer bong in my mouth, or posing in my underwear, nor do I comment on such postings by others. Discretion is in short supply nowadays.

Lately, the newspapers have been full of warnings of local unrest. The thin truce that has held for so long seems to be fraying. The military warns that they will not tolerate any nonsense from the communists, and the communists claim that the military is only interested in protecting the interests of the elite. A few public demonstrations are quickly crushed. Then, one night when I have come home from work I am sitting at my table, looking out over the city, I notice there are fires in several places, down along the river. Even though at this distance and through the thick plate glass of my windows I cannot hear sirens, I can see the flashing lights of emergency vehicles. I am listening to a recording of Miles Davis’ Kinda Blue on my excellent sound system when the power fails. Fortunately, the Internet still works for a while, and my laptop battery is new, but the official news sources say little more than repeating a stern warning from the military that nothing will be tolerated.

With the power off, even more than the lack of artificial light, I notice the absence of moving, cool air. How long until the power comes back on? How will this place feel in a few hours without air-conditioning? Only one window opens, and I open it, to let in some muggy air. Now I can hear the sirens and what sounds to me like gunfire, punctuated by larger explosions.

The housekeeper brings me my dinner because the cook, she explains, has gone home. I ask about the fires, but she only shakes her head sadly and returns the kitchen.

This is not how I had planned my evening. Fortunately, the last time I was back in the States, I bought a wing suit, a flying costume of the sort popular with dare-devil extreme sports types in Switzerland. I keep it in the original box in my closet, near my diving gear. I’ve never bothered to read the instruction book that came with it, and in this light it will be difficult to do so, but I am urged to do my best by hearing shouting and angry voices coming from the stairwell. They still sound very a long way off, but surely a motivated mob could climb seventy-two stories in half an hour.

Getting into the suit proves no small task. It turns out I have neglected to purchase the small parachute that actually allows you to come to a stop. I remember seeing a National Geographic television documentary about flying squirrels, which contained a montage of their rough landings. Even though the wing suit stops the user from plummeting like a stone, you are still zooming along at over one hundred miles per hour. My only hope is to fly through the canyon of tall buildings until I reach the river, and then glide in for a landing over water. A surface dive. I was always good at surface diving back on the swim team. And, as swimmers go, I am still nearly at the top of my form.

Provided I am not knocked unconscious by the water landing, I’ll ditch the suit and holding my breath, swim underwater, undetected until I’ve put some distance between myself and the sinking suit. That way, if anyone has been following my egress, they’ll mistake the suit for me. Yes, this just might work.

The voices are getting louder. I hear cries of pain from my lower neighbors, breaking glass, laughter and cheers as something or someone tumbles downward from the windows below. As I put one leg through the open window I look back and see my housekeeper standing frozen in the kitchen doorway.

Like Errol Flynn in a pirate movie, I wave jauntily to her, and then sitting momentary on the edge of the sill, push off, spreading my arms and legs as I saw them do on YouTube, and hoping for the best.