In the Cambridge something-something dictionary the title means my true thoughts, and this essay is supposed to be just that, which is not easy since I have a one-track mind and a double standard.
I learned my weaknesses quite well as my life passed by.
Let’s get down to business now.
West Texas Intermediate, the oil grade most associated with American production, plunged down to -$40 April 20. For a while yesterday, sellers had to pay people forty bucks to take a barrel of crude.
As of this morning, there are still at least 24 supertankers carrying at least 50 million barrels of Saudi crude en route to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Most will arrive in May, seeking to fill up as much of what remains of U.S. storage as possible.
But the big show will happen when the world runs out of storage capacity.
Most folks in the know are now musing that what storage remains, will be filled up completely sometime in May or early-June.
All this flies in the face of the theory that fossil fuels are finite, that they somehow are a product of dinosaurs dying and forests and threes from before.
Like dinosaurs went to one place in the desert to die? Why there? And why we’re getting so much from the oil from under the bottom of the oceans? How did the fossil get there?
Whenever the West catches a cold, Africa catches pneumonia. The Middle East is in the process of being destroyed and Asia remains a pit of slave labor, crowded living conditions, and inadequate infrastructure.
This is not right, something is wrong. The problem is that the media have psychologically terrorized people and broken one of the critical ties in civilization, where everybody comes together and we all benefit from the synergy. All this is gone now because of a virus that has maybe 10% mortality rate of a regular flu.
And we have an economy that is 70% service oriented, so interaction is critical, not silly social distancing for no reason at all.
I age gracefully but I am still surprised with what is happening, the Covid-19 hoax, the climate change hoax and so on, and how seriously some people take it.
What disappoints me is folks wearing facemasks and bypassing me in a wide circle on the grass as I limp on the sidewalk.
There is no pandemic people, it’s just nonsense from TV, nothing dangerous out there.
This is how God protects his children, he allows them to think. Be one of them.
For the moment, we don’t have an economy. Nor does much of the rest of the world and nobody has the slightest idea how to bring it back.
Believe me, that’s a problem.
Gas is cheap, I was out on my motorcycle today, it was about 2 degrees and snowing from time to time. It cost me $15 to fill up the tank.
In my life I made a long journey from an altar boy in a small village in Eastern Europe to the “one percenter” crowd, you know, the ones that don’t fit and don’t care.
Reading lots of good books likely kept me safe.
Writing one even more.
You’re hearing now from someone who’s seen it all.
From the category “I can’t believe what I’m hearing”, comes a statement by Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice President of the EU and Commissioner for Competition, who said that EU states should now nationalise companies in the fight against China.
Consider, that the European Central Bank has been buying stocks in selected blue chip companies, which flies in the face of fair market competition and her role, but I will let that one slide. Just don’t whine that Apple got a tax deal in Ireland.
Let me tell you something about nationalized industries, as I was a born and raised in a communist country. Nationalized companies are painfully inefficient and uncompetitive. They go down in flames in a matter of time, there is no exception. There is only one way for them – down.
Back in the Iron Curtain days, the joke was that if they introduce our economic model in the Sahara, they would run out of sand within a month.
If a ship is going through a storm on the ocean, do the passengers make decisions by committee, or do they let the captain decide what to do? You need a boss, not government running businesses.
But there is more to the statement by Ms. Vestager, and it’s serious.
Who in their right mind would invest in European companies if they were to be nationalized? The stock market sell off would be brutal at the first indication of this idea getting traction. This would ruin retirees, who already suffer from ultra low bond yields.
If a long bond (say 30 years) pays 5% coupon, for every million you save in your retirement fund you get $50K a year. If, as right now in Switzerland, the same bond yields -0.129%, you simply are getting taxed, there is no income (a bond yields negative if the market price exceeds the face value of it and all coupon payments combined).
It’s quite possible that I am losing touch with reality, I just have trouble getting it anymore.
As Mark Knopfler had it “the right becomes the left and the left becomes the right.”
Perhaps the Covid-19 scare is here to keep us at bay and focused on something else. Somehow Bill Gates is outspoken now and he is voicing his concerns about overpopulation and availability of vaccine to fight the virus.
Well, you can’t have both, you can’t be long and short the same trade (in market terms).
He is also a contributor to WHO, an organization that has been asleep at the wheel, and president Trump is right pointing out this fact and cutting payments ($116 million a year). This should kick the organization into a higher excitement, as money is the language everybody understands.
Meanwhile, countries opted for flat-out medical Gestapo action. Stories are coming out of Switzerland that a doctor, Thomas Binder, who has spoken against the coronavirus fraud, was arrested. He’s been brutally attacked by the Swiss SWAT team in his medical practice.
I am of the opinion that we have become utterly intolerant of uncertainty.
This is not good, it kills the entrepreneurial spirit and appetite for risk taking, both essential factors of a successful economy.
But in the absence of certainty, that age-old human cognitive skill called pattern recognition, which has made us such a successful species, kicks into high gear scanning the field-of-view for answers. They will not be pretty, but this is the way out from current mess – life will eventually find a way to normal.
It is essential to understand that our only deterrent against war was the strength of the American economy, which everyone relied on to sell products.
I hope they teach kids this obvious fact elsewhere too, I know they do in Canada – I am impressed with the level of thinking that goes into education here, it’s really that good.
Germany exports 50% of what they make, a totally misguided national policy. China is not even remotely able to absorb internally what they produce. There are more exporting countries I can name which are doomed to failure. And they will fail.
It’s the paying customer that saves the world, always.
And it’s us here, but we will buy local, no issue.
America’s engagement in the world trade is only about 10% of the GDP, so really nothing.
If we choose a reset, the MAGA (making America great again), which I think we’ve already did, a number of countries will go into tailspin, as in the toilet, direction down.
Make no mistake – this is what the Trump controversy is all about, the rest is just blubbering.
China, South Korea and Japan get most of their energy supplies through the Hormuz Strait (two miles waterway in each direction plus two miles buffer in the middle). Iran is on the other side, aggressive and hungry for power. And you know what? You can’t beat the Persians, their geography makes war in Afghanistan look like a walk in the park.
Obviously the Iranians know that.
It takes all of US 5th fleet stationed in Bahrain to keep the Strait open, a huge amount of firepower unmatched by the rest of the world’s navy combined, but it takes only one destroyer to shut the passage down if the Americans leave. And they’re leaving.
At about $20 dollars per barrel of oil, the budgets in the Middle East are getting busted, the Saudis budgeted $100 from here to eternity. They have many princess’s to pay off.
You don’t hear about them much, no? You know what happens when children in the next room are quiet for too long.
And how come Putin is not being blamed for Covid-19? He used to be the pouching bag for whatever goes wrong in the world. How did he manage to dodge that one?
A disease that has 10% fatality rate of a regular flu has shut down the worlds’ economy and it will take years to recover.
And where is Geneva’s WHO in all of this? Weren’t they supposed to be the health organization? Worldwide, no less.
Or are they the definition of “asleep at the wheel”.
They’re actually privately sponsored, not a government organization. Dig into that one at your own risk.
I will be 51 tomorrow, the time just flew by.
Here is Bob Dylan again:
“There must be some way out of here
Said the joker to the thief
There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief.”
And now the hour is getting late.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and ruler of the Emirate of Dubai.
Dubai has been ruled by the Al Maktoum family since early 19th century.
Under Sheikh Mohammed it became a phenomenal development story - between 1995 and 2015 the GDP increased from $11 billion to $101 billion, all while reducing the contribution of oil revenues to GDP from 18% to 1.2%. Dubai export saw a 645% increase during the same period, while gross fixed capital formation increased by 733%.
The Sheikh has built Dubai into a local hub, with the economy mostly driven by services, trade, transportation and logistic, retail and tourism.
The Dubai International Airport beats Heathrow in the number of international passengers, and the quality of living in the city ranks above that of Tokyo and Seoul, to name a few.
“There is no looking back, and anything less than number one is not acceptable”, he said.
He also owns the third largest ocean going yacht in the world – a very nice piece of machinery.
In an example how well Dubai is managed, the Sheikh ordered setting up drive-through stations for Covid-19 testing and regular disinfections of the streets.
On that note, I always thought that it is good to hear both sides of the story, and I recently came across a talk on corona virus by an American epidemiologist with impressive credentials.
He said that, as in every respiratory disease, we should protect the elderly and the fragile, because if they get pneumonia, they have a high risk of dying.
On the other hand, children do well with these types of diseases, their immune system is evolutionary and designed to be exposed to various sorts of diseases as they go through life. They should keep going to school, which will strengthen their immune system. In fact containment only prolongs effect of the virus.
What people are trying to do is “flatten the curve” and it’s not easy to figure out why, as it only prolongs and widens it, and the respiratory disease will stay in the population longer than necessary.
This is not the first corona virus and it won’t be the last, it’s a part of every flu season. Normally it peaks after about two weeks, then declines, and after one month it’s all over.
The professor was of the opinion that if it hadn’t been for government intervention the epidemic would be over by now.
Let’s take Sweden as an example of a different thinking, a country which has not locked down its economy and society.
Sweden has not closed the bars. Shopping malls are open. Schools and companies are open too. There are some restrictions such as on gatherings of over 50 people. But, in comparison with most European countries, life in Sweden is relatively normal.
As of this writing, Sweden has the death rate from corona virus of 33 per million of the population. In France it is 83, in Italy 230, in Switzerland 101.
Whether the professor is right or not, I can’t judge, but what’s clear to me is that we were all been caught off guard.
In a world with this level of people connectivity, the government needs to have a buffer and plan to handle crisis like this, call it insurance policy, and the absolutely worst thing one can do with insurance is try to time it.
But the officials did, and by now the whole world is in a damage control mode.
There is no reliable data on the number of cases (that would require testing EVERYONE), or deaths (the official line usually is “possibly corona virus related”) and so the governments shut down the economy without knowing exactly what they’re doing.
Dubai is a quiet place these days, I saw a picture of gazelles roaming the empty streets, replacing the booming Bentleys and boxy Mercedes G-Wagen.
The way it works there, the shorter the number on the license plate the richer the owner– two digits could mean a billionaire.
The hotels on Jumeirah, the palm island, are empty, beaches and water tours cancelled. The magnificent Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world is closed to visitors, if there are any.
The population there consists of about 80% expats. The rest of them, the locals, when they get married, they get a piece of land from the Sheikh to build a house - he doesn’t want his subjects to rent a home.
Significance, not just success.
Strong leader, and a cool guy.
If this title sounds familiar, it should. I took it from Charles Dickens novel, I just substituted cities for bikes.
As Bono, the one of the U2 fame, famously said every poet is a thief and every writer is even worse.
I stole a lot of my writings from others over the years, but I added some original content to it, I am sure.
I am convinced that’s how progress happens and besides, science works the same way. You build on what is already there, it doesn’t make any sense otherwise.
I stole most of my texts from Kurt Vonnegut, he is gone now, but I don’t think he would mind. I like his dry sense of humor, just read “God bless you Mr. Rosewater” and you will see what I mean.
A bit of an issue is that I am running out of things to read, and so I write.
People seem to like it.
Now for the bikes, and let’s keep it light in these confused times - I have two, one in Europe and one in Canada.
The red bimmer in Switzerland is a masterpiece of technology, it shows on the display really everything, from temperature to tire pressure and all the stuff in between. It’s got the boxer engine, which nobody understands how it works except for the people who make it. It’s also pretty rough when you start it up.
It just sounds like nothing. Half the experience with motorcycles is how they sound, that’s what made Harley-Davidson big.
I crank it up entering the highway to the point that the front wheel gets light, but I still can’t hear much. Goes very fast though.
The Yamaha in Canada is a perfect opposite of it, it shows just the speed and the lights comes on if it just a gallon of fuel in the tank. I think the word to describe the experience is “visceral”.
The world describes me too, and it takes two to tango.
And the bike sounds amazing, so guess my preference.
One day a black 911 Turbo pulled beside me at the stop light.
The young guy behind the wheel was looking at me smiling.
I thought “You really want to flex with me? – don’t be silly. I can do 0-100 in three seconds.”
Kids these days.
And I think a Porsche is a girl car, can’t take a guy in it seriously.
I am a fan of British sport cars, but I make the exception for the Lamborghini Urus.
The business are closed, it’s an eerie feeling, my two-for-one favourite pizza lunch is not happening, lights are out.
I got on my big bike the other day even though it was raining on the highway, but hell, I ‘m not made of sugar and will not dissolve (Polish expression). My wife says that I’m a stubborn eastern man, but somehow she is still interested in what I have to say and she tolerates me. The boys tolerate me too.
I was likely breaking some rules in these Covid times , but I just can’t sit.
I drove to service the motorcycle for the summer and somehow the guys at Serpa Automotive still keep the doors open. They told me it will take about and hour and I went for a coffee only to find out that everything around is closed.
Starbucks with the lights out.
So I was limping around, which is another story.
We landed in Geneva on an Emirates flight some days back and I fell on the stairs from the plane with the bags in my hand. I fractured a bone in my foot.
Being a stubborn eastern man, I tied my shoe some more and carried on.
It’s my right foot, and you need to know that on the motorcycle the left side is for riding, the right side is for breaking, so I am a little wild on the road.
At the dealership I was sitting in the waiting area watching the depressing stuff on TV when I heard my bike starting, which shook the building. I may had gone a bit far with the exhaust upgrade, it sounded like somebody is starting a tank.
Anyway, we got out from Europe on the last flight, just in time. Air Canada suspended operations until the end of April. They were flying the crew to Toronto that was supposed to service the next flight. Hasta la Vista, as they say in the south.
Lights out, as they say here.
As it happens, I got a new motorcycle jacket that just shipped from China, thick KLIM gloves and I know a place called Ania’s Deli for breakfast, about two hours drive north.
Ania drives a Yamaha too, an FJR1300ES and she makes great food. It's a halfway stop on the way north. North is where you will find me.
We’ve all lived life within similar boundaries, having iPhones with the same applications, CNN on TV, Al Jazeera for some, some of us ignoring TV altogether. Dinosaur desktop computers at work loaded with ancient Microsoft software.
All that, plus financial markets priced to perfection and a slough of reality shows for the evening entertainment. Life was steady.
Then the reality changed and set us apart, the awakening coming in the form of a virus, which was always out there but somehow now it’s getting a lot of attention.
Go figure why, it beats me.
Now we work from home practicing “social distancing”, as going to the office requires permission, and we use Skype or similar apps to do business.
There is an app for conferencing called “blue jeans”, as flat of a name as one can possibly imagine. May as well call it “wet towel”.
I don’t get excited about blue jeans, but try Victoria Secret blue and I will dial in.
The current virus scare shows that there are no similarities from continent to continent and we’re not the same.
The climate matters – if you have hot summers and cold winters with insect and bacteria kill, you’re better off. Living mostly in Europe for the last few years I have been watching in amazement the number of TV drug commercials for cold, flu, joint pain, muscle pain – there are hardly any of this kind in Canada.
We get down to -40C in the winter, but also to +40C in the summer and people are healthier. This is in contrast to rainy and sun-less climate in Central and Northern Europe.
Location matters too – Italy has the oldest population in Europe and they live in densely populated communities, in contrast to say, Canada. They have a high number of deaths every flu season.
Nevertheless, life will come back to normal eventually and by this I mean soon, the media is going to drop the topic like a hot potato and all will be good on the western front again. Lost taxes and increased welfare payments will put pressure on governments to lift the absurd business closures.
Then later in the year, come October on a random Tuesday evening I will heat the pool to the point that steam will be raising from the water and blinding me when I swim.
And my pool is big, not Olympic size but close, and I will be enjoying it to no end.
Then I get nasty letters from the local energy supplier about how I am not doing my part in being tame and how I am the worst among the neighbors.
They show how bad I am in fancy graphs.
To which I say: “I pay the bills, no? Go away and focus on something else.”
I am under quarantine now for 14 days, today is day number six since I returned from the desert (read my Long Stem Rose for the account of it.)
I have no symptoms whatsoever, if anything, I never felt so good. I go for walks sometimes and the streets are deserted, if I meet people they make a round through the grass to keep away from me. We all seem to be living on the edge.
The way life feels now is like we’re going through a big reset and we will come out better on the other side, I am convinced of that.
We have plenty of human capital: strong backs and agile minds. They just have to be reconditioned off their addictions to canned entertainments and raptures of techno-narcissism – in other words, we need to get real. Mostly that means re-adjusting our attention back to the people and the place around us, while expecting a whole lot less from distant institutions far away.
Hell, just saying that feels so good.
I walked barefoot through the desert gate after a brutal ride through the dunes in a Toyota Land Cruiser, where the truck was leaning sideways to the point that I was loosing my sense of space. The Arab driver in traditional thwab was casually changing radio stations as he was furiously working the brakes and the steering wheel.
“You’ve done it before, no?” I asked.
“Highway drive is boring, I live for this here”, he replied in perfect English.
“Bet you own the camp in the desert too.”
“Yes,” he gave me a wide smile, “I do”.
He parked the car high on the dune and I went down where the lights were.
“Don’t rush,” he said. “We can be the first car out or we can be the last car out. It’s all the same to me.”
As I walked down, a man with a falcon on his arm came by and I didn’t know much about falcons so I asked him.
“Look,” he said, “the Bedouins didn’t have guns to hunt for animals in the desert, but they needed to eat all the same. What’s the second fastest thing that can catch an animal?”
I was looking at the falcon he held.
“This guy here.”
“He can go 400 km/hour when he strikes.”
I looked at the bird and he didn’t look like much and the man in the white thwab read my mind and said: “that’s the idea.”
The sunset came early in the desert and the food was ready, with belly dancing show on stage and all that.
The cold weather came with it.
Being here, so far away in the south, I wanted to wait out the corona scare even though I don’t believe in any of this, but the flights were getting cancelled and I had to make my way to the airport.
I did it in a Tesla and it’s a compliant ride, but I like a car that makes healthy noise, I need a manual transmission to make me feel how the car works, what it says, how the gears engage with the engine. Is the third gear too long? Is the steering loading heavy as I get into a turn?
The Tesla experience was like driving a dynamic wheelchair and the popularity of it makes me feel out of date. Not a bad feeling actually, simply because I think the others are missing out on something that I got under my skin.
Nice finishes inside the car though.
And no, I will not talk about the corona virus this time; except for the fact that this artificial scare makes most people think that something doesn’t add up.
That we’re all being had.
As Leonard Cohen had it:
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died
Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long-stem rose
And everybody knows
Every year, worldwide, we have new types of viruses. They want to keep changing, because if they come next year in the same form, our immune system will recognize them and will not let them multiply, and they want to multiply.
There are about 100 types of viruses out there that evolve constantly, and the corona virus was always a part of it, accounting for about 7 – 15% of the mix.
This is nothing new.
Normally about 8 - 10% of the population has some viruses that make them sick or unwell. Obviously, if the tests are performed on patients already in clinics and hospitals, that number is higher, but there still will be the corona virus present in the 7 - 15% of the virus’s mix. To assess the data and determine the level of risk, we need first to know on which group of people the tests were performed.
The point also is this - there is no way of knowing if the corona was the reason of a patient’s illness or death – impossible to determine.
The province of Ontario (about 15 million people) announced 214 confirmed cases without saying on which population the tests were done.
Premier Doug Ford introduced draconian measures, which are bringing economic activities to a halt. He declared a state of emergency and said that we are facing a crisis of unprecedented proportions. There is so far one death case “potentially related to the coronavirus.”
Let’s look at the cold facts, taking Germany as an example – every winter between 20,000 and 30,000 people there die of the flu. Let’s assume for simplicity that corona accounts for 10% of the death cases, meaning that it causes between 2000 and 3000 deaths every year in Germany alone, and it did for years.
However, as the media focused on this subject in their typical incompetent way, forcing the politicians to come out and do something decisive, it became impossible for logical people to come out and say – “wait, there is nothing unusual happening, you are destroying the world’s economy because of a common flu.”
Now the damage has been done, with massive layoffs, huge losses in the stock market and bottoming commodity prices. The tourist season will be terrible for countries that rely on it the most, like Italy.
The official approach seems to be to kill the patient to cure the disease.
The critical question now is this – how is the insanity going to end?
The government’s response to this non-crisis will undermine people’s confidence in it, and at some point we will start ignoring the safety measures imposed on us, simply because there is no justification for them.
Life will go on, some governments will fall, and I can’t believe that they do not see how they’re cutting the very branch they’re sitting on.
The rain came down hard just after midnight and I like rain, it fills up the space and it makes a better background noise than TV.
The Caribbean islands are perfect for this – you get the rain in the night and beautiful sunshine in the morning. Like the rain washes away the sins.
An interesting thing – there are no animal sights in the South, in Canada I will see the deer and hear the coyotes, see the squirrels too, which are black in Ontario.
I will take Muskoka over Barbados every day of the year, you know.
Outside the coronavirus panic continues. My sons just flew in from Toronto and the plane was almost empty. Felt like taking a private jet, they said.
More controversial are claims that political structures become top-heavy after long periods of success, and these bloated, brittle hierarchies lose the flexibility and boldness needed to deal with novel challenges hitting at the same time.Their response to the crisis is pathetic.
This applies directly to China, which is experiencing not just a public health crisis (Covid-19 pandemic) but a host of overlapping crises triggered by the epidemic.
As for the export economy: Chinese companies were already relocating abroad as a result of the trade war with the US, to Mexico for example, where the labor cost is just as low and that country is within the NAFTA zone. This will only accelerate going forward.
One thing is clear for me – this is the end of China as a global manufacturing hub, there is no going back. The important question is what comes next over there – the ruling party needs to keep people employed otherwise they will be on the streets soon. China doesn't have the domestic market to absorb the factories output. A lot of people will learn the lesson that the domestic demand is the key, not the export economy.
Problem is that we’re dominated by the political left, that is incapable of acting in the crisis. Someone needs to put the foot down and stop the nonsense. The left refuses to accept that every value system produces a hierarchy and if you dispense with the hierarchy, you dispense with the value system. It’s a Marxist thinking that we can somehow not shake off and it is now coming to hunt us. We’re looking at major confusion and swings that will get the best of most people. It’s coming.
Tom Kubiak is the author of The Traveler