Friday, 7 March 2014

09:28 – We got nailed by a winter storm overnight, which continues today. There’s a lot of sleet and ice on the ground. More than 100,000 homes and businesses locally are without power. Barbara thought about going in to work, but she’s decided just to take the day off.

I’ve decided to be completely arbitrary about foreign shipments. On Tuesday, I got a query from Germany asking about buying multiple kits and combining shipments to save postage. I told him we’d be happy to ship the kits to him. On Wednesday, I got a query from a teacher at an international school in a very poor Western African country. He wanted to buy a bunch of chemistry kits. I turned him down, simply because I’m not comfortable shipping to that country, or indeed to any other third-world country. The risk is simply too high. Yesterday, I got a query from a guy in Denmark who wants to buy a biology kit. I told him we’d be happy to ship to him. What it all comes down to is that I trust the customs and postal services in first-world countries, but not those in poorer countries.

Speaking of biology kits, we’re down to under 15 in stock, so we’d better get started on building more.


16 thoughts on “Friday, 7 March 2014”

  1. One of my favorite things about Winter Storms is how they keep everyone inside. As soon as the bad weather hits I go out because it feels like I have the town to myself. Of course, in Nebraska most retail businesses stay open normal hours in bad weather, so there is something to do.

    Outside of that, nothing beats a huge Great Plains thunderstorm.

  2. What it all comes down to is that I trust the customs and postal services in first-world countries

    I don’t trust any of them.

    On every one of our five trips to Europe we have had something stolen from our luggage. We resorted to putting any stuff we don’t want stolen in our carry on baggage. We used to just do valuables, now we do anything we don’t want to lose.

    Whether it is customs, or as I suspect, those assholes at the TSA, something always comes up missing. Seriously, a bottle of hand lotion and a $20.00 souvenir knife?

  3. Try an antique Leica and a couple very nice lenses at Heathrow. Doubt if the asshole who stole them even knows how to use it.

  4. We sent a box of used clothing, some candy and a few odds and ends to our daughter in Ecuador. It took forever to get there and then they charged her $25 duty on it.

    On our recent trip to China, the most expensive things we checked were our suitcases. I would not check anything valuable on any airline, foreign or domestic. If somebody wants my used underwear, especially if it’s dirty, they’re welcome to it.

    A few years ago, our son was meeting us in Brussels. He had a connection through Amsterdam. In Amsterdam he fell asleep and missed his connection. The KLM agent, who we dubbed the airport Nazi, told him that he would have to pay $400 to take the next flight and if he didn’t pay it, they would cancel his return flight. I called Northwest in Minneapolis, spoke to a supervisor and explained the problem. I told her I would drive from Brussels to Amsterdam (about 2 hours) and pick him up. She said she would show the missed flight as forfeited and reconfirm his return flight. She sent me an email confirming this. When we got to Amsterdam we found our son and the airport Nazi. She told us that we would have to pay $400 to get my son’s luggage, claiming that the flight was delayed because they had to remove it. Since we had been at the Brussels airport and the flight was 20 minutes early, we knew that was a lie. I asked my son if he had $400 worth of stuff in his luggage and he told us he didn’t, so I told the airport Nazi to keep his luggage. She said his return flight would be canceled and I just smiled. The next day we went to the Brussels airport, gave them his claim check and they gave us his bag, telling us that it had come in the day before. No charge. I don’t have a high opinion of the Dutch. Ironically, the route he was on from the US was the same airline and route that the shoe bomber was on. If the Dutch security was as phony as it was for our son (they should have pulled his luggage and did not, although the airport Nazi said they did) I am not surprised that he got on the flight.

    Rick in Portland

  5. My best friend from first grade on decided in the second semester of his senior year of college that he wanted to go to med school. By that time, all the US slots were filled, so he started applying to foreign medical schools. He was accepted in Chile. I pointed out that he didn’t speak a word of Spanish. No problem, he said, given that he had three or four months to become fluent. He apparently did, because he hit the ground running in Chile.

    What I really remember is David telling me about mail in Chile. There wasn’t any Internet back then, so snail mail was the only option. If I mailed him a letter, paying the required postage on my end, it’d eventually get to him. But he had to buy the letter from the postman. If he wasn’t willing to pay, the postman wouldn’t give him the letter. It was understood that recipients had to bid. If they refused to bid what the postman thought the letter or package was worth, he simply wouldn’t give it to them. Presumably he took it home and opened it himself. That was back in the mid- to late-70’s. I don’t know if it’s any better now.

  6. Police in many other countries are the same way.

    When I was in the USAF we flew into Naval Station Coronado in 1996 and while spending the night in San Diego (actually managed to get the Hotel del Coronado to drop their rates to our allowed lodging allowance) we decided to head in to Tijuana for a night of drunkenness and debauchery. About 3AM we were headed back to the border and one of the guys on our aircrew needed to pee. So, being drunk, he whipped it out and peed in the nearest alley. Some Tijuana police saw him. They told us we could pay them $250 cash (USD only – no MXN) or they would take him to a local jail. So, it was a matter of us all chipping in and bailing him out or sending an active duty airman to a Mexican jail. Of course, we paid. After talking to some San Diegans the next day we learned that is quite common. The Tijuana police will catch you doing something laughably minor and use the threat of being locked up in a Mexican prison to extort money from you and everyone else in your party.

    Ever since then, I won’t spend another penny in that shithole of a country.

  7. Depends where you are in Mexico – the border area is unpleasant, and Americans are there to be fleeced. I spent some time in the central Highlands, and they are very different – people are pleasant and civilized.

    It helped to point out that we were from Switzerland, though. The US has won no friends anywhere in Mexico.

  8. “The US has won no friends anywhere in Mexico.”

    Has the US won any friends anywhere in the world? I would not be surprised if not. “The Ugly American” came out decades ago and today we’re even uglier than back in that time.

    I well recall from my sentence on Uncle’s plantations in SEA that the vast majority of my fellow serfs/soldiers were either indifferent to, or actively mean and contemptuous about the locals. I went to language schools and generally lived off-base during my times there and got along famously with the citizens; if you made any attempt at all to learn their language and customs, they’d treat you like royalty and couldn’t do enough for you. But we stomp around the world braying like demented jackasses, brandishing all kinds of weapons and threats and killing folks left and right, usually the wrong folks, too, with way too much “collateral damage.”

    Bring the troops home now and close all the bases. Never send a National Guard unit out of its home state again, unless it’s another state/region in the country that desperately needs the help. And let’s impress upon our kids and grandkids that joining up is increasingly a stupid and wasteful thing to do. None of our wars were worth a piss-hole in the snow except for getting people mangled and killed, and none met/meet the ‘just war’ criteria of the Church.

    If Iranian or North Korean paratroops are falling upon us out of the sky here in northern Vermont I will be the first son-of-a-bitch out the door with a rifle. Otherwise come me the fuck out.

  9. Has any “government” ever “won friends” anywhere? That’s more of a person to person thing.

    What prompted this response: The eponymous Ugly American was the good guy.

    A rifle just won’t do. RPGs, MANPADs, COMJAM, IEDs, NAPALM-B.
    Plus unit cohesion. You can’t do it alone.

  10. And as we bring US troops back to the US, let’s not forget to tell the world to kiss our shiny white multi-ethnic asses when they suffer from a natural disaster or have aggressive neighbors. I’m thinking specifically of the Philippines, which kicked the US out of its naval base six months after the US helped massively after the Mt Pinatubo eruption and which has recently been asking for US promises of protection in light of the PRC’s expansionist noises, and of Indonesia, which had been ginning up anti-US protests for some reason shortly before their tsunami and then screamed for US aid and then screamed that the US hadn’t done enough to help them.

    I’ve got a suggestion for how the US should handle nations and peoples who want US assistance: they can petition to become US colonies. We’ll weigh the costs and benefits in light of our national interest and decide on that basis. Seems fair to me, and any nation or people which objects is pretty much admitting that they’re freeloaders.

    I don’t go quite as far as RBT and OFD in wanting to pull the troops back and never use them and shrink the military to a home-defense force only. The world is still a dangerous place, and ICBMs by themselves aren’t enough to protect US interests. Furthermore, there’s nothing in the world so useless and expensive as an untested military. They need to see some action in order to teach young soldiers how to fight and in order to get rid of barnacles and high-ranked officers that accrete on a peacetime military. As with the foreign assistance, though, the use of the US military should be determined by US interests. A decade of “peace keeping” and “nation building” in Asia’s Armpit serves no conceivable US interest.

  11. The problem with “US interests” is simple: who defines what those are? The US as an entity doesn’t have “interests”. No nation does. Collective interests is an oxymoron. Individuals have interests, and your interests aren’t necessarily the same as mine. Given these conflicting interests, the US government has no business advancing one set of interests over another.

    The US has never fought a “good war”. The last good war we were involved in was the revolution, and that was fought before the US legally existed. Some might argue that the Second American Revolution was also a good war, but that is at the very least debatable. We had no business whatsoever being involved in WWI, WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, and so on.

    Let the rest of the world do what it wishes. We as individuals should attempt to maintain friendly trade relations with others in other countries, but if they don’t want to trade with us that’s their decision. We don’t need them.

    If they invade us, we fight them. If the Iranians or North Koreans start dropping paratroopers on US soil, OFD may be the first SOB out the door with his rifle, but I’ll be right behind him and millions of others will be right with us. Otherwise, as OFD said, count me out.

  12. Millions, hell. Tens of millions. Talk about kicking over a hornets’ nest.

  13. “US interests” as I meant them above include organized attacks on American citizens and actions which affect large numbers of Americans or the US as as whole. In the former case, flattening governments which carry out or allow attacks seems a reasonable response. In the latter, I’m thinking of, for instance, Mexican air pollution, which sometimes causes toxic clouds to drift into US territory.

    The US arguably has a national interest in protecting our shipping, even though the ships are private commercial interests. I’d rather arm the commercial ships, but a navy to go after pirates and foreign navies has been traditionally seen as a legitimate use of government power and I don’t have a big problem with it.

    As for colonies or client nations, I could see it as in the interest of Americans as a group (if you don’t like the term “national interest”) to have a ready supply of some natural resource, for instance. Whether it’s worth the cost of empire, as contrasted with simply bidding up the price on a free market, is a concern, but it could be worth it.

  14. The US is remarkably well supplied with everything we need to flourish and prosper. Those very few things we don’t have in abundance, such as some rare-earth metals, Canada generally has plentiful supplies of. But none of those are show-stoppers anyway. If China decides not to sell us REMs (as it has, essentially), then we’ll buy them from Canadian suppliers or elsewhere. Or we’ll do without long enough to discover our own supplies or invent a substitute. That’s the wonderful thing about free markets. Someone always has what you need and is willing to sell it for a price.

    The costs of empire go far beyond those visible at first glance. There are huge indirect costs, of course, along with opportunity costs. And there are the non-monetary costs, such as loss of freedom.

  15. What prompted this response: The eponymous Ugly American was the good guy.

    Depends entirely on your perspective. I lived in Germany during Iraq, and prior to Shrub’s personal war for his dad, we were welcomed as long lost cousins. When the war began, the chill was palpable. Germany is much better friends with France than they feel towards America, and France ended up losing big time as a result of that war, because they had actually invested heavily in Iraq, unlike most of the rest of the world; Germany and Germans were sensitive to that. Shortly after the war started, we moved to the former East Germany, where they do not like ANY foreigners, so we were not particularly singled out. In West Berlin, we lived in the “American sector” (Zehlendorf), and even there, Germans would go out of their way to try and convince us Shrub was wrong about invading. Not that we needed any convincing at all.

    Yeah, Americans think of themselves as benevolent benefactors to the world, but many recipients think of Americans as meddling a**holes. Which is a good reason to stop with the do-gooding and mind our own business. John Perkins’ “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” describes well how America thinks its motives are nothing but the best for everyone, while showing how foreigners are actually harmed by our well-meaning so-called benevolence.

  16. I’m just thankful that my uncle, dad and grandparents aren’t around anymore so that I don’t have the temptation, whether drunk or sober, to tell them they fought their wars for nothing. (and of course, me, likewise). And that the generations of Quakers between my WWI grandpa and the guys who fought in Queen Anne’s, and King Philip’s (Metacomet’s) War were actually doing the right thing, i.e. staying the fuck out.

    I agree with Bob in that our national interests mainly involve this continent, including resources or the ability to develop our own resources, and that anything beyond that is to be treated with utmost care and discrimination, i.e., fair trading practices on a level playing field.

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Ugly-American-Eugene-Burdick/dp/0393318672

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