I always thought that if something is worth doing, it’s worth overdoing, and this was back in times when I still cared about the consequences.
And I remember were my attitude came from.
I had a business lunch with an older man in Houston, Texas a long time ago. He had the Strohhut hat on and a bolo tie and he drove a Lexus.
He said, “take whatever original skill you have and amplify by ten. That’s how you make it in life. Find the original you, something that only you can say and do.”
I was listening.
Also, I think I lived through the best 50 years of all of humanity – the progress, the growth, the access to information, the openness and inclusion of the western culture has been unprecedented.
All this may be closing a little now.
I was always a spiritual man, attracted to religion because of the distance it gives to current happenings in life. Walking into an old church from a busy street is like changing reality. And I always liked the Old Testament more than the New one, the Old is way deeper in my opinion, except for what St. John had to say in his gospel, easily the best part of the bible.
What he said about the “word” defined humanity and it is extraordinary. It keeps people interested still, despite constant shenanigans from the Vatican, two popes on the display, arguing.
The name Israel actually means “he, who wrestles with God”, and this is a sign of a life that is lived properly, because if God is the source of meaning, the place where answers can emerge – you will wrestle with it all your life it if you’re honest.
Important thoughts get lost in the daily rutine and visions get blurry. Just ask yourself this question: who is now able to build Jerusalem?
I admire people who don’t watch news on TV and I think I’m half way there, taking the long view from the heart of the Alps here.
I consider a German - Rainer Maria Rilke, the best poet that ever lived.
One Christmas some years ago I was flying home through Frankfurt and I stayed the night at the Sheraton at the airport. I picked up a book about Rilke earlier and I was fascinated by it, reading it at the bar late into the night until they kicked me out.
His famous verse “and the song remains beautiful” rings in my head every day.
No matter what happens in life, don’t you just want this to be about you?
Now the capital flow models are indicating that there is a high concentration of dollar hoarding in Germany as fears continue over the future of Deutsche Bank. Brussels EU leaders do nothing about it - they’re simply lawyers trying to get around the constitution, not the leaders you want. The fear of a “Deutsche Bank moment” is causing repo rates to spike because banks don’t trust each other for the fear of exposure to DB. US Federal Reserve has stepped in as intermediary – the nonsense you read in the media about them pumping trillions into the market is just that. They extended a line of credit of sorts that is repaid daily; there is no new money in the system.
And they’re saving the world again, make no mistake about it.
They say that history isn’t kind to men who play Gods and I don’t agree with that for a moment.
Which is to say, I don’t believe in mediocrity. Make your life remarkable, be the God.
Back when I was in eleventh grade, our high school owned a chalet deep in the Sudetes, which is a mountain range on the border with the Czech Republic. Take a look.
To qualify for the winter skiing trip you had to make the school famous by winning medals in sport competitions. My friend and me did just that and we were tasked with going to the chalet earlier and get the place ready for the rest of the team.
So, we took a couple of trains and then found a taxi in this town close to the border. Wet wind came, the snow was blowing and people were hiding in their homes. The man drove as up as far as the car could make it and then he said – “you’re on your own now boys.”
We were walking uphill in waist deep snow for most of the evening.
If this is not an impression of an empty planet for a 16 year old, I don’t know what is. Nevertheless, when the team came two days later we had the house warmed up and hot food on the stove.
Fast-forward to today and to my take on the empty planet now.
The world population growth prediction by the United Nation Population Division assumes nearly linear increase until the planet can’t sustain us anymore. The model is based on trends that may have been right in the past, but they don’t consider changes in society.
In fact the world’s population is about to take a dive.
The reduction in fertility in developed countries is by now an accepted fact; fertility rate of Canada today is 1.6, way below the 2.1 replacement level.
The extreme case is Japan, which lost almost half a million in 2019 (out of a total population of about 125 million). Do the math when the last Japanese will walk the earth.
It gets really interesting looking at India and China (40% of world’s population lives there).
China has a birth rate of 1.5 and India has just been reported at 2.1, so you may wonder how we can explode if we’re hardly replacing ourselves.
And keep in mind that Eastern Asian countries just don’t accept emigrants.
It’s the same in Eastern Europe – a cultural issue, they would rather shrink and be united, than expand and be divided.
In China’s case there is a twist to it – thanks to the disastrous “one child policy”, they now have 60 million more men than women.
That’s roughly the population of France, all men no women.
The major driver in population decline is urbanization – for the first time in history we now live mostly in cities (55% of humans). When you move into the city, a child stops being an asset (another pair of hands to work in the field) and starts to be a liability (another person to feed).
Keeping in mind that statistical 2.1 children per family is just the replacement level, here is how we score elsewhere: European Union is at 1.6 (740 million people who’re not replacing themselves, just rapidly aging).
The problem with aging population is that they just don’t buy that much.
And old populations are expensive – healthcare, pensions and all the issues you have to deal with as people age.
One way to deal with population decline is immigration. Canada, US and Australia are doing it right, the EU is doing it wrong.
Russian demographic is just a disaster, the fertility rate collapsed with the Soviet Union. This means that if they have any military ambitions in Eastern Europe, they need to do it now.
There is a twist with Russia as well – the population there is still in support of the old communist order (up to 60% by some polls). President Putin has been doing a good job of keeping the old demons at bay, but he is on his way out.
If Russia slips into a more democratic system, all bets are off who raises to the surface.
Back in the mountains, there was a classified military area not far from us, where they used to mine uranium in the 1950’s. One local took us to the entrance of an abandoned mine and we went in and took some blue sparkling crystals from the walls. Back in the chalet they were exploding when thrown in the fireplace. It made for a fine combo with the howling wind outside.
* ”Empty Planet” is a book by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson. The statistics in the text above were taken from the book.
On my annual pilgrimage south I ended up on an ocean beach called just that.
Palms, luxury villas and kite surfers all around me.
The resort in the bay is run by a crazy Austrian, who doesn’t move anywhere without bodyguards. Whatever the reasons, the man thinks he needs more than one.
The singer Falco from Vienna (of the “Rock me Amadeus” fame) used to stay here. He died here too, in a traffic accident.
Things get out of control easily in the south if you’re not careful; in his case he met his Maker courtesy of speeding bus on a bad night.
Here we are at the end of the second decade of this century, and I am typing this essay waiting patiently for the New Year’s party to start.
In the last twenty years we have seen the collapse of a tech bubble and the implosion of fake debt, aka the sub prime. Central banks have skillfully navigated between Scylla and Charybdis and managed to avoid the implosion of the system.
The world today seems to be convinced that with MMT, or Modern Money Theory (Trickery) we can replace work with money printing. This, combined with AI (artificial intelligence) might be the ultimate nirvana if it wasn’t for years of decadence and false economic theories.
As societies start to fragment, as we are seeing globally, the interconnectivity declines. Commerce returns to local, hoarding of money increases and it’s velocity drops. I don’t see much wrong with going local.
I am also convinced that the country to watch next year is China, as it is entering a traumatic squeeze with the end of its thirty-year growth spurt. When the going gets tough there, the government cracks down. And when that doesn’t work, China historically sinks into some kind of civil war. The action in Hong Kong this past year may be a preview of coming attractions for Beijing and Shanghai.
Beijing is also stepping up the battle to stop money flowing out of China - cash has been leaving the country at a record clip - total net capital outflows occurred for the sixth straight quarter and reached a new record of $221bn. The decline in official reserves was also a record at $161bn.
On average, the amount of money leaving China in the last few years is an equivalent to 6% of the country's GDP according to an estimate by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, even though anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that China's GDP is grossly overstated.
In total, China lost $1.28 trillion, which shows people voting with their money on the state of Chinese economy and confidence in the government.
Understandably, this is not the type of news that can be delivered in mass media by a news anchor with a twenty-three-word vocabulary and an impulse control problem, so you can read it here.
Europe has experienced serious blowbacks from its contracting standard-of-living as expressed by the Yellow Vests in France, the Brexit humiliation and the raising of nationalist movements in many nations.
The European banks, led by the sickest of them all, Deutsche Bank, suffer from a crushing burden of non-performing loans, bad derivative obligations and zero interest rates regime, which makes the operations of banking insane.
And then there’s Greta growling, “How dare you” at the world with that spittly grimace of pubescent moral superiority.
Luckily, these incidents of public madness always burn out.
Now I see two bodyguards flanking the patio, so the Austrian is here for a drink.
I don’t need bodyguards yet, but I learned that life could turn on a dime.
Recently I boarded a 787 Dreamliner to fly home for Christmas.
Actually, I flew north first, to Warsaw, on a regular city-hopping jet.
I couldn’t resist a nice lunch in my favorite restaurant, which is located just across the Royal Palace, on the greatest boulevard in the city (it is called Krakowskie Przedmiescie, and you have to be Polish to say it properly).
I met there with a pilot I know, he was getting ready to fly to Los Angeles that afternoon. He calls LAX the best airport in the world for landing and taking off, and I am sure he likes hanging out in the warm climate too.
“The ‘Dreams’ are great, you know”, he said, “they go to a higher altitude than the rest of them, less traffic.”
“You get a better route, it’s like having your own highway.”
“Can you walk my dog before you go to the airport?” he asked before getting into a taxi.
“Like, to where?”
“Don’t worry, the dog knows what to do.”
So I was sitting on a bench in the Park Szczesliwicki (good one, no?) checking news and the dog was chasing birds from the bushes.
What caught my eye was that the central bank of Sweden, the Riksbank, has thrown in the towel on negative interest rates, and has become the first central bank in history to do so.
One of the motives for raising it, is household indebtedness which is among the highest in the world – exceeding 190% of disposable income — in part due to the low and negative interest rate environment that caused Swedes to borrow with reckless abandon.
This comes at a time when the European Central Bank is undertaking a “policy review,” as it is facing a wall of resistance against negative interest rates from the finance ministers of Eurozone member states because of the damage they do to the banking system and pension funds.
The ECB’s policy review will likely produce a NIRP-exit strategy, and the re-pricing in the bond market will be significant (interest rates move opposite to bond prices). The ECB will have to find a creative way to wag the dog and divert market’s attention to something new and shiny.
In a piece of news that hints at a reason of the liquidity shortage, Wall Street Journal wrote that billions of dollars in cash are vanishing from circulation.
“Banks are issuing more notes than ever and yet they seem to be disappearing off the face of the earth. Central banks don’t know where they have gone, or why.
The puzzle is especially perplexing since societies and companies are going cashless, given the boom in payments by cards and cellphone apps.
A Federal Reserve report from 2016 says that 75% of all $100 notes ever printed have left the US.
At the same time, gold hoarding has declined in many regions because dealers have to report who the buyers are, which defeats the purpose of hoarding to begin with.
And the US of A doesn’t even want the dollar to be the reserve currency of the world - they want to manage the economy based on domestic considerations.
They also want a weaker dollar, but managing it down is a tricky proposition, since it negatively impacts foreign investments in the US, which is not very well understood.
The international trade numbers are not reliable, because they’re not filtered through currency movements.
If a currency moves 20% over two years, they’re yelling at each other – “you have a surplus! we have a deficit!”. Meanwhile it’s all in the currency fluctuations.
Enough of that and time to give the sparrows a break.
I got the dog back on the leash, walked him home and took the long flight west on the ‘Dream’, flying high.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined to say late Wednesday, after the impeachment vote, when she would send the articles to the Republican-led Senate. Until the articles are submitted, the Senate cannot hold the trial that is nearly certain to acquit the Republican president.
There are certainly more forces at play against president Trump than just the two stated in the proceedings, and they are international in nature.
He is presiding over a major shift in American foreign policy, long overdue since the end of the Cold War, extracting his country from providing global security for free and from opening US markets to all.
He is widely criticized for introducing trade tariffs, but when he offered EU to lift them all if Europe does the same to the US, France right away said “no”.
He is abandoning NATO, into which US was the only country paying their share, which prompted president Macron to call for European Army Forces.
It was likely a PR move, as this man has a lot of internal affairs on his hands right now.
But the biggest political risk is in China. Not for the US, but for the country itself.
There isn’t going to be a meaningful trade deal with the United States because agreeing to the Americans’ demands would be the end of the Communist Party and the end of united China. At the same time, if the world’s largest consumer market, and the physical guarantor of Chinese supply chains walks away, the Chinese are out of options. And president Trump doesn’t seem to be disturbed with the high stakes, just pushes forward.
In the words of geopolitical strategist Peter Zeihan: “China’s crash will be much like its rise. Big, bold, brash, loud, all-consuming, and, in hindsight, completely inevitable.”
Moving on to Europe - a fundamental principle of liberal democracy is national self-determination. If you don’t have that, no other right is meaningful.
The EU has a very different view, that national identity is something that is a problem. If you have too strong of a national identity that you’re excluding others, its an issue that became a real showdown.
Countries like Poland or Hungary, and several others, will not give up and will protect their identity. They don’t want the Euro currency, they have their own rules on immigration, and the EU institutions are increasingly helpless in influencing them.
There are nationalist movements appearing all over the continent, and the crushing Conservatives victory in Britain, and coming Brexit, will only support this process (it will also put back in spotlight Scottish independence).
With Brexit, Britain will be pushed closer the United States, and the two countries have a lot in common. Take this – Great Britain scores the highest in Europe when it comes to entrepreneurship. In most other EU countries people just want to work for big corporations.
The EU leading, unelected, Troika (European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF) doesn’t seem to know how to handle the situation which is unfolding.
As Mike Tyson said, everybody has a plan until they’re hit hard.
They display the attitude – “aside from how it looks, it’s all cool.”
It’s like the commercial for duct tape – “we can fix it!”
Could be a bit of a go.
A crisis in liquidity is unfolding, meaning that the banks just don’t trust each other. The Federal Reserve is buying $60 billion in Treasuries every month in the effort to pump cash into the system, but the banks hoard the cash and don’t lend.
There are no new technologies out there, like it was with the Internet or mass production of cars from the years gone by, nothing big at the horizon worth investing serious money into.
The Bank of International Settlements in Basel recently put out a report about it, and they’re supposed to be some sort of authority, even called the “central bank of central banks”.
For the last few years I am trying hard to understand why, and I am failing every time I try.
The report is a joke, so don’t bother reading it, but here is my understanding of the issue – it’s all about access to cash to settle overnight obligations, or not (read: being broke).
When you go about your business every day you make payments, buying gas, groceries and other things. Now, the gas station you paying at doesn’t necessary have the account with the same bank you do.
When you make your payment and the little terminal flashes “approved” it is everything but. Nothing is approved at this point – your bank is on the hook to settle overnight with the bank of the vendor.
It is not about your account balance, it is about settling between banks, which they may, or they may not be able to do, depending on how much cash they have on hand.
They will put up commercial paper at a discount for cash to be able to pay up, and this discount is the repo rate. We’re talking about $1 trillion money moving overnight, to put it into perspective (and the repo rate spiked at the end of September from about 2 to 10%).
The US banks will not lend to European banks, because they don’t trust them. “Who is holding all the worthless paper?” is the question. Just look at the percentage of non-performing loans in Europe (NPL) and realize that someone has trillions of the junk paper that backs it up on the books.
Welcome to the definition of “banks don’t trust each other”.
Just when you thought that it’s safe to go outside, huh?
The institutions can put up Treasury bonds as a collateral to get cash and take positions in the markets, which was illegal until 1971 (end of the gold standard).
What we have now is that you can post debt to guarantee new debt.
It’s like using your car, which has a loan on it, to borrow money for a new boat. Once you have the loan for the boat approved, you use is as a collateral to buy a new Harley Davidson.
I am amazed just watching it, looking for a punch line that will punch hard unless there is a divine intervention.
But the divine intervention record is bad. Not existing, actually.
What if the worst is true, that there is no God and you’re only going once around and that’s it?
Enjoy every moment of it, that’s all.
The image of Him cures the illusions that make you sick – I think it may be the central point of any faith, actually.
“You’re a fine looking old man,” I said to myself in the mirror this morning.
“And what’s more, you have the correct attitude – you don’t care if it ends or if it goes on. And as for the violin music, there will be plenty of it in paradise.” *
I am convinced that guys with that attitude live the longest.
In the Biblical Garden of Eden, in the paradise, the snake shows up, a most unexplainable thing. And then he changes the reality forever, ruining the undisturbed life, demanding effort and causing pain.
The way I read it is that God had the choice to make us safe, or to make us strong.
He went with strong.
* Lyrics by Leonard Cohen
Which I interpret as “be careful about the things you say.”
I’ve never seen anyone get away with anything, in the sense that every thing you do and know it to be wrong will come back and haunt you. It’s a sobering thought.
Let’s take one example that is annoying like a loud radio in the apartment upstairs.
Greta Thunberg is being coached by Greenpeace’s Jennifer Morgan who attended Davos along with Al Gore. Greenpeace is funding. For me Greta is a confused child, who belongs in school. She flew to the Canadian province of Alberta just before the elections trying to convince people who work in the oil fields to quit their jobs.
The Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, embraced the same ideals we are listening to in the rising trend of socialism and climate change. Pot came to admire the tribes in Cambodia’s rural northeast. He saw these people were self-sufficient and lived on the goods they produced. In trying to force society back to a rural commune, there was a mass starvation that become known as the Killing Fields.
In our times there is some humor in these shenanigans – a climate conference started in Madrid (COP25), so Greta sailed to the port of Alcantara to save energy. The captain of the yacht Nikki Henderson was in Great Britain at the time and had to buy a plane ticket to join with them and command the eco-yacht on the way south.
Woody Allen said that you need a delusion to make your life work and it looks like the climate change crowd has found one.
I don’t understand it and I don’t like things that I don’t understand.
In analyzing any input from the outside world, the brain has two hemispheres to handle it – the right hemisphere is on the look out for predators, the left is on the lookout for prey. You may put a nicer definition on it, but you get the idea.
It’s the same with hands, the left performs exploratory motions, and right is grasping and evaluating.
In essence the right hemisphere acts like a highly efficient bureaucrat handling the input from the left. One works on facts, the other on emotions.
There is a big resistance to that attitude, we see it in all sorts of public forms; we don’t trust people ability to think through things. The mania around artificial intelligence (AI) stands for the proposition that humans aren’t supposed to think too much. We want machines to be thinking in the world where humans have little intellectual agency.
We don’t trust rationality, we maybe believe in the wisdom of crowds and in some form of mechanistic process, but we don’t believe in the mind.
That is the raison d’existence of the AI, but it will add nothing, because well-lived life requires making choices and choosing sides, we just need to be brave enough to do so. And use the right side of the brain to make decisions.
I will slow down now.
It’s raining hard and it’s dark outside, I opened the windows because I like the sound of the rain - it fills up the space and brings me closer to the elements.
And then I heard that somebody out there was playing Paganini Caprice on a violin. The music is remarkable to me because it's built like a conversation - it starts low, then goes up, pauses for a bit for a heated exchange, then it all goes down in flames, and finally it reflects on things and goes back to where it started.
And you don't need one word to understand it!
Canada it is.
I lost my Canadian passport, or somebody lost it for me at the Geneva airport (you know who you are), and for a few days I felt like a man without a country, even though I was still able to travel.
I have more than one passport and can move around, but a Canadian citizen I am, proud and attached to the great country.
Take this picture in.
Back in Geneva, Swissport said that my passport has been located and it is with the police. When I signed for the little blue book I was as happy as a teenager with a girlfriend who just whispered: “Boy, you are my star”.
And I do like the European experience, but not for the obvious reasons. I like motorcycle riding here; I like some of the food, Spanish mostly, some views in Ticino, highways with no speeding cameras (Germany and Italy…ahem, tickets never come from there), don’t like European TV – I just don’t get it.
In Canada, and in America in general, the business is booming. They got over the 2007-2008 crisis in a way the European financial system never did or could.
You may say they did it in a cowboy style, but it worked – in the darkest hour, the bankers and Federal Reserve officials got together on one Sunday afternoon in Manhattan, broke God knows how many laws, decided to pump fresh $700 billion into the banking system and the next day the country was open for business.
You can’t do it in Europe, for this would mean money crossing borders, north to south – politically unacceptable.
There is a good story related to the 2007 crisis that just came to my mind. Many people consider it a Lehman Brothers event, but the bank where it all started was Bear Stearns, also one of Wall Street finest.
Now, let’s move back another 10 years or so from that date. The (in) famous Long Term Capital Management ran by two Nobel laureates and Chicago University professors made a huge leveraged bet on Russian bonds.
Enter the Bank of Italy, (there is a connection, just wait) which was trying hard to meet the requirements of the coming Euro zone (this is 1998) but they couldn’t pass the grade, in terms of debt to GDP, so something had to be done. The Finance Minister of Italy at that time was a guy named Mario Draghi, you may have heard of him, advised by Goldman-Sachs. They told him that these LTCM guys produce annual returns in the 40% range (true for a while). Draghi told the Bank of Italy to “lease” gold (the number of 400 metric tones is floated around), which means selling it in the market and invest the proceeds in the Long Term Capital Management. Shortly thereafter Russia defaults on its bonds, LTCM goes down in flames and Italy is out of its gold and its money.
To keep things quiet, Goldman Sachs bought Draghi’s silence by making him the chairman of G-S International.
Then an interesting meeting took place among LTCM investors, with a simple agenda: how much haircut we need to take to bail out the firm. Bear Stearns wouldn’t have any of this and they just walked out.
In 2007 they got their payback and the company was absorbed into JP Morgan for a few cents on a dollar.
At the end Italy did make the Euro membership – it’s a 3rd largest economy in Europe, impossible to roll out the project without them, and Mario Draghi went to an even higher post. They call him Super Mario for a reason.
Woody Allen famously said that every hundred years or so, somebody presses a button and a big toilet flushes, everything on the earth changes and a new set of characters comes in. We may be getting close to that.
Either way, you can find me where the life is a beauty; just look at the picture again.
I will be riding.
I was marveling the Sirkeci train station, once the final destination of the Orient Express train from Paris. It is located on the tip of Istanbul's historic peninsula next to the Golden Horn bay.
It is a touristy place today, with many old style boutique hotels for passengers from the days gone by, as the station is hardly used anymore.
Five times a day the mu'azzins call for prayers from minarets that are all around, and they are synchronized and don’t shout over each other.
Up to four minarets around a mosque mean it was founded by a regular Pasha (still country’s elite), more than four of them means it was paid for by the royal family. It’s also reflected in the size of the mosque, in a big way.
The Muslims here coexist with Christians and Jews – there are more than 2200 active mosques, but also active churches and synagogues.
Then something stroke me in the Blue Mosque – the Islamic religion is full of symbols, and the great ones relate to flowers.
God, the Creator is symbolized by a tulip – single, strong stem, great beauty on top. When praying, the position on the carpet puts the tulip under your heart.
The prophet Mohamed is symbolized by a rose and it’s scent.
There are no paintings in a mosque, there is no personification of God as a human, but there are great flower displays in the city, especially in the spring. God is in the beauty of nature.
It’s an interesting place, Istanbul – by far most powerful city in Turkey, but not the capital, which is Ankara, five hours drive east, into Asia.
The choice is easy to understand – Istanbul lies on both sides of the Bosporus strait, an ultra important waterway, and it has bridges connecting Europe with Asia. In case of any conflict it will be an immediate target, so it’s not wise to locate vital government functions there.
Istanbul is a mix of East and West, sometimes not easy to navigate, but intoxicating still, with a good vibe. I liked it.
The imams, who lead the prayers, are all men, not different from the Christian religion.
I have realized why there never would be a female pope, by the way.
Women always find things and men loose things.
Men lost the Holy Grail some centuries ago, and the last thing you want is a woman pope opening a cupboard somewhere in the Vatican and saying – “here it is!”
You can see that I have been thinking lately.
Constantinople, as the city was called before, was conquered by Sultan Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire in 1453, after a vicious 55 days battle. To be fair, Mehmed II and his army were remarkably restrained in their handling of affairs after the fall of the city.
For Europe, the exodus of many Greek scholars to Italy as a result of this event marked the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance.
Guess its a kind of win-win for all of us.
Snapping back to the current day, this piece of news has caught my attention lately,
Just can’t sit, no?
The switch to electric cars is taking its toll on luxury automakers. Mercedes announced it will slash more than a 1,000 jobs, including 10% of management, in efforts to cut $1.1 billion in costs by 2022.
EVs have yet to generate big sales volumes for premium manufacturers, per The Wall Street Journal (translation – there is no money in making them even though EVs require less components). Daimler’s new chief said efforts to meet tougher fuel EU efficiency standards are also likely to dent profits for two years.
How did he come up with two years time frame is not immediately clear.
But more important is what was left unsaid. If Daimler is struggling, Audi and BMW are too – they all operate in the same reality.
Call it a triumph of EU bureaucrats over business sense, killing us slowly.
For now – life will find its way.
I woke up one morning and before the coffee kicked in I found myself driving south on highway A8 towards Monte Carlo.
I called my wife and she asked, “where are you?”
“I am going through Puy de Sancy.”
“Is that a nasal infection?”
“Take all the time you need,” she said, “really.”
So I drove, crossed the Italian province of Liguria, went into France and checked in a hotel by the seashore, half empty off-season. The lady at the reception spoke perfect English with a sweet French accent.
“I am sorry if I mispronounced your last name,” she said looking at me.
“No, you said right. “
It’s a nice place, Monte Carlo, not a big city, literally as small as London’s Hyde Park.
Ruled by a prince, not a parliament, isolated from the world, just looking at the life from the outside, very different from the rest of Europe.
If Monte Carlo is my definition of normal, then we live in interesting times.
Outside of it the nationalist movements are taking hold, wherever you look, pretty much in every country in Europe, but this is how the world normally is. We return to a time when nation state is dominate, when economics are important, but no the deciding factor. There are always nations that are rising and nations that are falling and the natural process of conflict evolve. Nothing new under the sun.
We have declining nations, China is one (the massive protests in Hong-Kong wouldn’t happen if it was growing), Russia is a pale shadow of what it once was. Japan is raising, stable and strong in all aspects including military (second largest navy behind the US, it can project power all over East Asia and there is nobody to stop them). Turkey is taking control of the Middle East, - historically when the region was stable, it was because of Turkey, and their influence lasted for centuries. They managed things good. The Americans are going home, closing military bases all over the world. They will close the CENTCOM in Kuwait next year because there is nothing left to command. We will miss them, no? Just look at the pathetic NATO, what do they mean without the Americans? The Yankees provided stability for a long time but it’s over now and the old demons are coming to the surface. How do you think the Poles feel about the Germans, or the Koreans about the Japanese? There is no love lost there, just pure hate. And when you pray for rain, you need to deal with the mud too. There was never a century in Europe without a major war.
In Monte Carlo I parked my car in the center of the city – I’ve been here before and I knew my ways.
It was a sunny afternoon and I sat on a patio with the view of Casino Royale and Hotel de Paris. Palms, sun, striking women and great cars all around me. But what really stroke me was how green it is here in a very relaxing way.
“Gin and tonic, shaken, not stirred”, I said to the barman. I need to be driving but later.
A two door Rolls Royce drove by with Russian license plates, then another one, looking the same. McLaren 720 was next, but I am too old to get in and out of the low car, so not for me. Then a Ferrari Roma roared by, a beautiful thing.
All not for me, get me a Jeep Sahara, black on black and I will be the happiest guy in the world.
I am a simple man, to which my wife says that I am not.
I like the simple life, can’t help it. You give, you get, that’s what I learned in my 50 years on this planet. But sometimes somebody helps you beyond that, and you never forget. A sweet woman makes the world turn.
Now I am looking at her as she steers ice in the glass with the elegant finger.
Tom Kubiak is the author of The Traveler