Dec 31, 2009

More surfing

That was today. I've got a nice bruise cooking on my jaw from being smashed into the bottom, but it was still fun. I seem to be oddly good at it.

Dec 30, 2009

Mini formation

Today on a hike we saw the formation from yesterday in miniature.

Dec 29, 2009

Hole in the wall

This is an odd geologic formation. I jumped into the middle there.

Dec 28, 2009

Jungle hike

Today we took a stroll up a thick jungle creek. There were some outrageous spiders, but it was still beautiful. Reminded me of Belize, actually.

Dec 27, 2009

Lazy day

Today I spent most of the day just hanging around recovering from the surfing yesterday. A good relaxing day.

I'm hearing a lot of Xhosa around these parts. To my ear it sounds a lot harder than Tswana. It's got the pops and clicks that are so troublesome for non-natives, and the average word seems to have about 30 letters. Sounds beautiful, though.

Dec 26, 2009

Surfin' Mzanzi

Today Noah and I rented a surfboard and spent a couple hours trying our best surfing on this beach. It might be hard to see, but the surf was quite heavy, I'd say between 2 and 4 feet. We got homogenized out there, but it was a lot of fun. It's a holiday here, so hopefully next time there will be less people.

Dec 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

This is the beach here at Coffee Bay. It's the Indian Ocean, which I'd never seen before.

Dec 20, 2009

Happy 202nd post!

I was going to have a huge blog-tastic celebration for my 200th post, but I forgot. So you're going to have to be satisfied with this rather lame substitute.

I made it successfully to Noah's, and we've spent the day working in the garden and making some pancakes for lunch. He's in Northwest province, which as far as I can see is broadly similar to Northern Cape (maybe a bit flatter). We're getting ready to go to Pretoria and generally having a good time. More news shall be forthcoming as it is available.

Dec 18, 2009

Holiday time!

So I'm going to be away for the next couple weeks and posting will be rather light. So here's couple of things to keep you busy:
The Riemann hypothesis is pretty cool. Can't say I really understand it, but it seems shiny.

David Vitter (yes, the same one) comes up with some good questions for Ben Bernanke.

Tom Friedman says Muslims need to kill each other more.

Ben Nelson says he's going to filibuster the health care reform bill. I give it a 50% chance of passing before Christmas.

The military's super-duper technology foiled by ultra-advanced terrorists.

Check out this trailer.
Wish me luck!

Fans...

 
...are truly glorious machines.
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Dec 17, 2009

Peace Corps post of the week

My friend Noah brings Teh Funny:
While the actual washing part I don't find particularly appealing, I do like the air drying. I find it satisfying to hang up wet clothes knowing that in a little time they will be nice and dry. It is not so much the drying part that is satisfying but the notion that I want something to be done and the way I make it happen is to leave it outside and then it gets done without me doing anything. Additionally, there is something about wind and sun dried clothes that makes the clothes a little nicer, someone needs to spend a lifetime researching what that is and then put it in a bottle or teach it to a dryer. Billion dollar idea!
Go read.

Video games are good for you

No, really:
Who says shoot-’em-up video games are a waste of time? A new study has found that playing action video games dramatically increases the players’ ability to detect subtle shades of gray.

We're doomed article of the day

Chris Mooney:
Yet at precisely this time, a growing movement argues that 2° Celsius—which corresponds to roughly 450 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—simply isn’t “safe.” Famed NASA climate scientist James Hansen and the 350.org movement are pushing the boundaries of the conversation by calling for a return to levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations that we have already passed (we are currently at 390 parts per million), and that correspond to something more like 1.5°C. And in Copenhagen, a bloc of developing nations has also coalesced around this goal, citing the threats of submerged Pacific islands, a scorched Africa, and much else.

Dec 16, 2009

Further reading

On South Africa and rape: see here, here, and here.

News: last couple weeks' reax

This is probably the last message you’ll get from me for a while. On Friday I’m going over to another volunteer’s site to visit and hang out for a couple days, then we’re going to Pretoria, then to Eastern Cape! I’m still debating whether or not to take my internet phone, but I’m leaning towards yes, so I should have the occasional post on my blog. I know everyone is keeping up on that religiously, right? (Right?) I’ll be back around the fourth or fifth of January.

School is out here, so things have been a bit dull here for the last couple weeks or so. I actually ended up writing the math and English test for the 7th and 8th grade, since I did almost all the teaching for those subjects this year (even though I arrived 3/4ths of the way through the year). I only tested them on what I had taught, which was several grades below level, but most of them did fairly well. I figure with a whole year of me forcing English on them they’ll be a lot better next year. In my humble opinion, this is probably the best year the grade 7-8 learners have had with math and English at my school in the last 5 years or so (when the last volunteer left), which is just another way of saying the educational needle is off the peg, if only by a notch or two. Hard to do worse than zero.

After the learners took their final exams, the educators spent the last three weeks of school tallying grades and submitting the reports to the department of education. Of course they slacked off until the very last minute and managed to infect their computers with a devastating virus, but with a little help, and only about half the reports fabricated, they managed to get everything submitted on time. (On a side note, here viruses are rarely spread by email or internet, since few people have such things. Instead, it’s USB jump drives. We got ours from one provided by the DoE.)

My principal is now officially retired. The party was huge; nearly the entire village came. I got to be involved in the slaughter and dismemberment of a cow, which was tremendously interesting. (I did a pretty graphic post on it, you can check it out if you like here.) I spent most of the party chatting with two of my principal’s three daughters (one born out-of-wedlock, one not) who are at their first year in college in Pretoria and Johannesburg. Their English was excellent; one was studying to be an doctor and the other a clinical psychologist. It’s always revealing to see someone who has escaped the village.

Since both these women spoke English about as well as I do, I got an up-close view of the rancid sexism that permeates South African society. As this party progressed and people got liquored up, each one had to turn down a sleazy pass about every twenty minutes or so. Then people talked trash to them because they were speaking to me in English and not Setswana—the standard progression of male jerk-off behavior, first a crude come-on, then anger at rejection. “What, you think you’re too good for me!?”

The women dealt with it a lot better than I did; I felt ashamed of my gender (yet again) and protective towards them as some of the men said they would be coming to their house later that night (just to "visit"). To them though, it was totally routine, in fact, they said it was much worse in Pretoria and Joburg. They were rather amused by my awkward offers of protection, but I think they understood I meant well. They said that in the village no one would dare try anything as they were under their father's protection (and he's a powerful man in the community). The courage of these women is stupendous; I can't imagine what it must be like in the city.

It seems to me that while the women in this country are victims of terrible abuse (South Africa has the highest recorded rates of assault and rape in the world), their culture is still functioning (to some degree), meaning they continue to participate in society, doing most of the heavy work of raising children, finding work, keeping house, etc.

Men, on the other hand, have a much worse cultural problem. The male culture here seems diseased: entitled, misogynist, violent, prone to crime and rape, alcoholic. It's perpetuated by astounding numbers of single mothers (or grandmothers) and lack of male role models. An example: in 2006 the current president, Jacob Zuma, who has three wives, was acquitted of rape in what was basically a technicality. Outside the courtroom, his supporters were burning pictures of his accuser. (Quick aside--I'm sure to an anthropologist, I'm playing fast and loose with the word "culture." I don't mean to refer to something inherent to the Batswana, or Zulu, etc. I'm just using it as a shorthand for how men behave as men here in South Africa.)

Well, that got rather depressing. I don’t want to give the impression that all males here are evil—I know several here that seem to have turned out okay. Generalizations are always partly wrong. In any case, the next day one of the grade 8 boys asked me why the two women talked to me for hours and casually rebuffed the advances of several of his friends. “A ka gore wena ke lekgowa?” (Because you’re white?) “Nnyaa,” I said. “Ka gore ke buile ka bone jaaka batho.” (No, because I talked to them like people.) I’m not sure if that made sense, but it was the best I could do in Setswana, and the English didn't seem to be getting through. I’m pretty sure he’s convinced I slept with both of them, but one has to keep trying.
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Dec 14, 2009

Being cranky

I admit it: I take advantage of being a foreigner. The villagers here think Americans are incredibly strange, so everything I do people are staring blatantly, five feet from me, or following me around. I can't resist the temptation to just be bizarre, like walking in circles or talking to myself in Spanish.

Another volunteer posted recently about her experience with cultural beliefs and "indirect communication:"
When I was staying with my host family, I engaged with an interesting, if exhausting, conversation with my host family father about my motivation for serving Peace Corps and why I was "serving" in South Africa.
I tried to explain that I was a volunteer, had left my life and family at a great personal sacrifice, all because it was a great honor to serve my country and a wonderful opportunity for a life experience. He seemed to think that I was doing it because the governement would make me very rich.

After I picked myself up off the floor from laughing so hard, I attempted to convince him otherwise. And here was my mistake: there is no convincing a South African national (who is of this mindset) of anything else other than all Americans are rich and Peace Corps volunteers come only for financial gain. Phew! I can't tell you how many times I've tried to engage in this futile conversation.

[...]

In the future, to spare myself this exhausting, frustrating experience, I'll just practice this practice of "indirect communication":
anyone: Your government will provide you with wealth and riches when you return.
me: Yes, my government will provide me with wealth and riches when I return, I am very rich and will be even richer.
This is absolutely true. Every South African I've met here in the village is absolutely convinced that I'm a multi-gajillionaire. I've long passed the point of being culturally sensitive about it, and I just get snarky:

PERSON: You have lots of money.
ME: Nope.
PERSON: Yes, all Americans are rich.
ME: [deadpan] You found me out. That's why I came here. Because I love money, and there's lots of it here.
PERSON: [blank stare]

At training, Peace Corps went over the whole "indirect communication" thing for a long time. Money especially was described as an incredibly sensitive topic, where two men would talk for twenty minutes about donkeys and how hot it is when the subtext is really that one owes the other some money. I don't doubt that's how it used to work, or how it might work sometimes between two Batswana. But here's how it tends to play out for me:

PERSON: Mpha madi! (give me money.)
ME: No.
PERSON: Legkowa, o na le madi! Mpha 2 rand! (White person, you have money. Give me 2 rand.)
ME: No. Tsamaya. (go away.)
PERSON: [angry muttering]

I feel like Christopher Hitchens sometimes, but it tends to pass. Suffice to say that my rather unrealistic ideas about cultural sensitivity quickly went out the door. Living here has coarsened me a bit and no mistake. Still, I don't think it's permanent. At least at this point I can turn it on and off at will.

Epic sunburn

 
The sun is much more powerful here than I remember it being in the Northern Hemisphere. I assume it's the ozone hole, because this was after standing outside for about 15 minutes.
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Dec 13, 2009

The latest from Matt Taibbi

I tend to like Matt Taibbi, and I thought his latest in Rolling Stone was pretty good:
Around the same time that finance reform was being watered down in Congress at the behest of his Treasury secretary, Obama was making a pit stop to raise money from Wall Street. On October 20th, the president went to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York and addressed some 200 financiers and business moguls, each of whom paid the maximum allowable contribution of $30,400 to the Democratic Party. But an organizer of the event, Daniel Fass, announced in advance that support for the president might be lighter than expected — bailed-out firms like JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs were expected to contribute a meager $91,000 to the event — because bankers were tired of being lectured about their misdeeds.

"The investment community feels very put-upon," Fass explained. "They feel there is no reason why they shouldn't earn $1 million to $200 million a year, and they don't want to be held responsible for the global financial meltdown."

Which makes sense. Shit, who could blame the investment community for the meltdown? What kind of assholes are we to put any of this on them?
Matt Yglesias didn't like it, and engaged his worst moderate passive-aggressive instincts.

I tend to agree with Kevin Drum, though:
Taibbi's piece is basically about how the finance industry owns Congress and the Obama administration, and that's basically true. In fact, I have a piece coming out in a week or so in the print magazine that makes pretty much the same point. My approach is different, and my language is all PG-rated, but my conclusions are pretty much the same. The finance industry, through both standard lobbying and what Simon Johnson calls "intellectual capture," has, over the decades since Reagan was elected, convinced nearly everyone that what's good for Wall Street is good for America, and that what's bad for Wall Street would be catastrophic for America. Everything else follows from that.

Dec 12, 2009

To kill and butcher a cow

WARNING: This post will be fairly gruesome. Don't say I didn't warn you.

I've always thought that people that eat meat should be willing to partake in the physical dismemberment of the animal in question, so when my principal told me that I was going to help slaughter a cow, I agreed. He said at first that I would be delivering the killing blow, which made me a bit nervous, but it turned out not to be the case. A bit of a letdown, actually. I've always wanted to prove to myself that I could actually kill something that large. I think the biggest thing I've ever killed is a prairie dog. In any case, we went over to a local farm owned by a man named Saudi who had the cow. We paid R4000 for a smallish heifer (there was a much larger one for R6000).

I didn't bring my camera to this part, which is a shame as it was the most interesting bit. They put a slipknot around the neck of the cow with a thick rope and took a turn around a nearby tree, so that with two guys pulling on the end the cow couldn't move very much. Then Mr. Saudi took a small pocketknife (no bigger than 4 inches long) and stabbed it in the back of the skull, where the bone is weak. The first couple stabs only made it flail around a bit, but on the fourth one (or so) hit home and the cow dropped. It wasn't dead, but incapacitated enough that they could work open a good-sized hole so the blood could drain out. After digging a hole in the sand so they could get a bucket under the wound, we just sat around for awhile as they cow's struggles got weaker and weaker. As far as humane considerations, it seemed a pretty brutal way to go. Somewhere at the time greenish stomach juice started flowing out, about three gallons worth it seemed.

Then we hauled it up onto my principal's bakkie (pickup). Even smaller cows are heavy sonsabitches; it took eight of us to get it up into the bed. Before we left the farm, we stayed to have some bread and milk. Peace Corps says we're not supposed to drink fresh milk as it might have parasites, but I chanced it and had a few sips. It was delicious, even warm.

We drove slowly back to the school, where the work began in earnest. The first task is skinning, which is done by slowly working the skin away from the meat with a really sharp knife (though they were all still tiny pocketknives, nothing bigger than four inches). First the did one side, then they rolled it back over for the other side. This was probably the longest part of the butchery; I estimate that it took 45 minutes.

That knife there is mine.
After the fine work of skinning, the violence of removing the legs was a bit surprising. They just hacked the things off, and wrenched off all the ligaments and tendons. Then they punch a hole through a bit of skin so they can hang the limb from a tree by a bit of wire. It's important to get it behind a tendon so it doesn't fall.

Once all four legs were gone, then they carefully cut open the abdomen to vent the gases that have been building up. They pick out the choicest guts first (kidneys and liver I think), then break out the hatchet to break open the breastbone and remove the stacks of ribs. This part required the most force, as they had to cut or break every rib. Mostly I was surprised at the size of the stomachs, which seemed at least twice as big as the rest of the guts put together (in the picture, it's that big white bag). It really takes some serious machinery to be able to digest cellulose.

After the ribs are gone, the heart is accessible, which is quite the delicacy. I had a small bite which was lean but tasty.

Then it's pretty much a matter of sorting the guts and getting rid of the waste (mostly just the undigested grass in the cow's stomach). It's unbelievable how much was in the biggest stomach alone (shown below). It seems like these cows just eat all the time!
Hungry?
The whole situation was about a thousand times more rational and efficient than everything I've dealt with at the schools here. I reckon that simple businesses where the capitalist incentives are straightforward really help that along, not to mention that the Batswana have been butchering cows for the last few thousand years. This part of their culture at least wasn't destroyed by the colonizers.

Dec 11, 2009

Just giving this a try

I took a video of a couple guys dancing at the recent party with my cell phone. I know the quality is crap, but it might be interesting to check out.

My principal's party

 
This wasn't too bad, as far as these kind of things go. All the Tswana get-togethers seem to happen in roughly the same way. First, it will start late and end later. There will be a long program where lots of different people give speeches. This will happen under a tent of some sort, and since it's summer it will be unbearably hot under there. There's breaks every so often for dancing or songs (shown to the left). The old ladies will get really into the dancing if it's good (or they're drunk), and sometimes they'll start dancing themselves and wade into the dancers. At the least they'll ululate, and if enough of them do that they'll drown out the singing. It will finish later than you could have imagined, and people will stay a long time getting wasted. Most importantly, everything will proceed in a completely haphazard and illogical way. See here for a good demonstration:
It's now getting on 1pm. We ask when we might make it to our tour and find out that our appointment there was for 11 o'clock and that that part of the the trip would not be happening. Apparently though, facilitating teenage drunkenness is every bit as worthwhile. We are still just parked, baking in the heat and we decided to check out this liquor store, thinking at least there might be a walk-in fridge. We find all the chaperones hanging out inside nonchalantly chatting with each other. They ask if we are there to purchase anything. We were surprised at this question. We were surprised that this trip had even stopped at this location, confused even. We ask if this is not irresponsible for us and share that this whole sponsored high school drinking thing was foreign to us. They reply that when we are in Rome, we must do as Romans. We asked if they would be making any purchases to which they replied in the affirmative. With the heat and stagnant feeling of the day so far, our arms did not have to be twisted very much and we glory in the walk-in fridge and make our purchases.
This one was basically true to form, but as my principal's daughters were there, I at least had someone to talk to since they are both fluent in English (and Afrikaans, and they speak some Sotho and Xhosa and Zulu. And Venda. And Swati. Suffice to say that I felt rather boorish). The food was delicious, and I must say I felt a lot less out of place than I have in the past. Since this was in my village, nearly everyone showed up, and every single person knew my name (with the exception of a couple out-of-town folks). I honestly had a pretty good time.
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Dec 10, 2009

Men in trouble

Male employment from 25-55 is apparently as low as it's been since they started keeping track.

Dec 9, 2009

Epic day

I didn't get up too early today, but right out of bed I went to a farm to watch a cow be slaughtered. That was super interesting, but I'm going to do an extensive post on it later, so I won't spoil it now. Then I went with my principal to Kuruman to buy about R1600 worth of booze for his going away party (as he's retiring at the end of this month--did I mention that?).

On the way back to my village (after making multiple stops, of course), we went to pick up one of his (two) illegitimate daughters. I learned that not only did he have three kids in one year from three different women, he also claimed that one of them wasn't his for a time and refused to pay child support, and was thrown in jail as a result! His daughter is at her first year in university and speaks fluent English with an Afrikaans accent. It's always good to meet one of the kids who makes it out to a university and ends up sensible and intelligent.

Dec 8, 2009

The Municipality

 
On the 7th, I got to Kuruman at 6:45 from the village I was visiting. After some coffee at Wimpy, I went to the municipality where the Kuruman library is and waited for it to open at 10 am. I sat on the steps out of the rain, read two chapters of Ulysses, and took this picture.

The library was about half the size of the one in my hometown (of 10,000), but it had air conditioning, so I sat there for the next six hours and read 2.5 Stephen King books. (Each one took about as long as the chapters of Ulysses, but were a lot more enjoyable.) It's definitely a place I'm going to be visiting a lot.
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A view of Kuruman

 
Some people I've talked to seem to think I'm in the middle of Darkest Africa, so I thought this might be interesting. The level of development scales down exponentially as you go to the villages, but Kuruman is a reasonably well-developed place. One thing you might not know (you can see it in the picture): here they drive on the left side of the road. Damn Brits.
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Dec 7, 2009

Article of the day

From Mike Tidwell in the Washington Post:
December should be national Green-Free Month. Instead of continuing our faddish and counterproductive emphasis on small, voluntary actions, we should follow the example of Americans during past moral crises and work toward large-scale change. The country's last real moral and social revolution was set in motion by the civil rights movement. And in the 1960s, civil rights activists didn't ask bigoted Southern governors and sheriffs to consider "10 Ways to Go Integrated" at their convenience.
As President Obama said, "So when Brian Williams is asking me about what's a personal thing that you've done [that's green], and I say, you know, 'Well, I planted a bunch of trees.' And he says, 'I'm talking about personal.' What I'm thinking in my head is, 'Well, the truth is, Brian, we can't solve global warming because I f_cking changed light bulbs in my house. It's because of something collective'." Via MY.

Nachos!

 
Oh man, these were delicious. They might not look quite as good through my cheap camera, but they still must be recorded for posterity. The avocados especially were fantastic.
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Dec 6, 2009

Something else I learned today

I set up email posting, which means I can post quickly and easily with my phone! Now even my most random and ill-considered thoughts can be put down to haunt me during my Senate confirmation hearing.

Away...

I've been away from my village for the past couple days visiting other volunteers, as school is basically out and I don't have much to do. Right now I'm staying at a volunteer's site who has an entire two-bedroom house all to himself. I'm a bit jealous, but we made some guacamole that was simply heavenly. Yum!

Dec 3, 2009

Opposition parties

One of the big problems I see here in South Africa is that there is basically no credible opposition party to the ANC (quick genuflect to Peace Corps policies--I'm not endorsing or criticizing any specific policy or party in South Africa, merely a structural tendency of humans in general). Parties that control a country for a long time (which is currently the case here) tend to get lazy and corrupt. We've seen this with Republicans and Democrats in the US, and it's much worse in SA given the moral victory after the end of Apartheid.

Thus I recommend The American Conservative, The Agitator, The Daily Dish, and Unqualified Offerings. It's easy to get lost in one perspective, and these folks keep me sharp.

Dec 2, 2009

On the word "blog"

Boy, I hate it. It combines the fecal connotations of "log" with the foul miasmatic imagery of a bog, and has the look of "bleh" or "slog." It seems to have lodged in the vernacular like a tapeworm though, so I imagine it's here to stay.

Sunset

 
This from a couple days back. I was on a run, and really had to slog it out to make it back in time.
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Dec 1, 2009

News

As a card-carrying liberal elitist, and given that it’s passed into December, I’m going to loose a salvo in the War on Christmas (cf. Bill O’Reilly) and say Happy Holidays!

For Thanksgiving, one of the volunteers rigged together a little party for a few of us in Kuruman. We got one of the bed & breakfast places to set it up for us—all we did was pay about $18 for a full spread. It was delicious, and a nice reminder that there are a few traditional practices that I can talk about with the Batswana. There are a tremendous number of the B&B/ lodge places in Kuruman, around 20 by my count. Yet there aren’t any US-style hotels. Not sure why that is.

All these B&Bs are owned by Afrikaners, and last weekend I met more of those folks than I had in the past, and got a more subtle picture than I had up to then. After Thanksgiving I planned to visit another volunteer, so I went around town with him as he searched for some medicine for his horse, which has terrible saddle sores (more on this later). Every one of these stores is also owned by Afrikaners, and all of them knew my friend, who’s the gregarious type. He also bought an Afrikaner hat at the feed store, and we got used to people speaking to us in Afrikaans all day (brown brim hats are like a big Afrikaans poster). One lady randomly stopped on the street and gave us some mincemeat (ground beef) sandwiches that were delicious.

One of these horse experts told us all about his horses and the general brutality toward animals he witnesses with the Batswana. I can say PETA would have a fit here—the traces of the donkey carts are rusty wire and chains, and they whip the daylights out of the poor beasts. Sensitivity towards animals—or perhaps just efficient care of them—is developing slowly in rural South Africa.

Some familiarity with the Afrikaners (and white South Africans in general) has definitely changed my view. Before I came here I had a vague impression of them as horrible racists who were forced by the rest of the world out of their apartheid system kicking and screaming. There’s some truth to that, but personally every Afrikaner I’ve met here has been kind, courteous and generous. The apartheid system is surely one of the worst injustices in the modern era, but I knew almost nothing of the Anglo-Boer war, and the radicalizing effects of the British savagery (the usual concentration camps, salting land, poisoning wells, etc.). In the end, one must also remember that the whites gave up their power, grudgingly or not, in what is arguably the greatest diplomatic victory in postwar history. They also didn’t flee their country like Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe—whose white population halved overnight).

I’m not trying to romanticize the Afrikaners—I’ve met some real racists—but I don’t want to demonize them either. Situations like this are always messy and complicated, and it seems like there are more victims than genuine evil.

So after Thanksgiving, I took a long taxi ride with my friend Justin up to his village. He’s even further from Kuruman than me, 154 km or so. The town is quite a bit more developed than my village, probably because there was an asbestos mine there for many years. (Justin says that they’ll have 3G-capable cell service there next year!) A lot of these villages have no reason to exist, and are slowly withering away. The country is a lot different than around my village, with some rolling hills and a large salt flat from what I assume is a dried lake. Justin has a horse, and we practiced a little horse medicine on his saddle sores, troweling on some violent orange disinfectant paste.

I’m inclined to agree with my father that owning a horse is like standing in a pile of shit tearing up hundred-dollar bills, but here it’s a lot more practical. When my friend gets his horse in working order, he plans to ride it around to visit other volunteers. It even has advantages over a bike, as you can’t get a flat hoof. At least he won’t have to buy a truck and trailer to haul the dang thing around. But as my financial situation will probably remain pretty tight, I’ll likely just get a bike.

With the holidays coming up and the weather doing a better and better impersonation of a pressure cooker, I’m looking forward to my vacation. I’m headed to Mathata in Eastern Cape, where we’ll strike out for the beach and any number of adventures (I hope).

The national debt

A lot of people I know have gotten cranked up about the national debt. Sure, it's a big problem, made worse when douchebags like Reagan caused it for no reason. Yet now is not the time to be worrying about it. Krugman sez:
When I was on This Week yesterday, George Will tried his hand at the debt scare thing, saying that we’re in terrible shape because by 2019 the interest on the debt will be SEVEN HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS. (That should be read in the voice of Dr. Evil). I get that a lot — people who talk about the big numbers which are supposed to imply that things are terrible, impossible, we’re doomed, etc.

The point, of course, is that everything about the United States is big. So you have to interpret numbers accordingly. As the graphic above shows — it’s taken from an article that managed to maintain a grim tone while reporting numbers that actually weren’t all that grim — what we’re talking about is a debt-service burden roughly comparable to that under the first President Bush. How many of the people now warning about the impossible burden of currently projected debt were issuing similar warnings back in 1992? Not many, I’d guess.
That and inflation are the other thing that people should chill out about. Right now we're facing a real possibility of deflation, and that's a problem. A little bit of inflation can help out a country in recession.