I’ve lately been riding the Washington Metro (the much resented, decidedly second-rate, but often adequate, rail transportation system) most days of the week at least once, sometimes twice.
It’s not as bad as it was a few years ago. Many of the old problems are still there and the system remains something of a disappointment, and at times an embarrassment. Certainly it is those things to those who have seen what other countries/places have done. I feel confident I’ve written on this topic before on these pages.
What I want to record here is on masks in the Metro, something unheard of before March/April 2020. I mean to try to coherently record some sociological observations here, so we’ll see if I can stay disciplined and do so.
First I should state my position clearly.
The “Covid Mask“:
A dehumanizing symbol of submission…
A psychological (re-)enforcer of destructive Flu Panic and vector of the Panic Pandemic…
A sign and symbol of social dis-cohesion, of atomization…
Even a form of moral cowardice, absolutely not the stuff of which greatness is made…
A magic amulet-like item useful for social signaling and little else (studies show no evidence of any benefit; blocking normal access to oxygen, though, does happen)…
In case any of that was too ambiguous, count me as against masks.
I was against them from, approximately, the start.
But as I write these words (this post was written/revised between July 20-22, 2021), the nightmare of living in dystopian Covid Mask World feels nearly entirely gone, in even the most pro-mask parts of the USA. I see almost no one in masks in public places outdoors anymore.
When one does see a masked visage on the street, it most often seems to be an East Asian. Not exclusively, but on a per capita basis they’re way out in front. And they look highly isolated now, just as they did before the Panic really got into gear.
There was a kind of unstated consensus that the wearing of surgical masks for some general fear of flu or cold viruses in public was a sign of some kind of social pathology. This quickly disappeared, but seems to have somewhat recovered. I was in Japan for a time in 2015 and saw a few of the masked-in-public people. There might be one on a full subway car, or one or two visible as you look over a very busy street from above. It was not a general practice. And in my time there I got the feeling that those Japanese who worse surgical masks outside were: (1) usually women, (2) in many cases clearly trying to conceal themselves from others, to hide, to be anonymous—for the high-riding mask was usually paired with a low-riding cap.
Masks in the big blue urban centers in the USA are even largely gone even from indoor places, but still far above the former rate of ~0.00%.
The tide turned somewhere back there in April/May and the entire Flu Panic regime was rapidly rolled back.
I’m trying to think, but I don’t think any stores even maintain an illusion of a mask rule anymore. The last of the major disruptions in for-profit businesses were gone by May/June, with a few stragglers reentering the world in early July. A few McDonalds still don’t allow dine-in as of early July, one tangible example of lingering disruptions, but a big one I pass regularly that clung bitterly to the shutdown model finally reopened June 13; but rival Burger King had been basically fully open for dine-in since at least June 2020.
Businesses serving paying customers, those who have multiple options for rivals, exist under market pressures and must cater to customers. Non-business monopolies do not need to do any such thing. Non-market monopolies can impose whatever rules or ways of doing things, be they ridiculous or humiliating or capriciously arbitrary or even malicious, that they want. (Cf. any Department of Motor Vehicles).
The only places I think you still see these mask rules are in such monopolies. That generally includes anything to do with governments. The Metro is a monopoly player and is quasi-government run.
This whole thing–the social phenomenon of the Flu Virus Panic–is, of course, big, a big deal to our culture and politics, some say the biggest such thing since 1945. Simple narratives are crammed through the avenues of opinion-shaping one one side or other, but the whole thing is highly complex. They’ll be studying this thing for years across lots of disciplines, how it happened and how it got such staying power.
I underpredicted the strength, and staying power, of this thing in spring 2020. I overpredicted its staying power a year later in early 2021. I don’t want to believe the Flu Panic people who demand crude, no-exit-strategy sledgehammer options will be back on top, when flu season comes again in a few months. I see worrying signs that they will be back, but maybe not.
In any case, I’ve been interested in signposts for this, basically from the start, and that is where the Washington Metro comes in.
There is a posted rule in Metro (“federal law requires you to wear a mask while in the…”). And signs of the old Flu Panic regime still linger in the system. But lots of people are now ignoring the mask rule on the trains and stations with impunity.
My observation, from a large sample of observations by now, suggests that if you enter the Metro system, wherein it is still nominally mandatory to obediently don the “Covid Mask,” you will see something like the following mask rates at any given time:
10% to 30%: No mask at all. In some of these cases, the person probably does not have one on him/her; in others, the person is still “carrying” but did not want to wear it and did not take it out;
10% to 30%: Have a mask but it’s just for show. A mask is visibly attached to the person in some way, hanging somewhere on or near their face, but NOT actively worn at any given moment;
40% to 80%: Loyally wearing a mask. The ruler followers.
A common type of non-masker is a relatively young, professionally dressed male. That type of passenger is much more likely to be conspicuously non-masked in Category 1 than tourists (to the extent there are many of them). All else equal, males are more likely than females to be free of a mask. All else equal, Blacks are more likely to be without a mask than Whites. Come to think of it, this latter one I suspect may shield the non-masked whole from any attempt at crackdown (the concept “disparate impact” comes back to bite…?)
There is flexibility between these categories, which is where one particular interesting sociological observation comes in.
I notice that tipping-points occur locally with masks on the Metro, via the “demonstration effect,” and can tip the ratio at any given moment.
An illustrative example:
Seven passengers are in one end of a train-car within peripheral vision of each other, aware of each other. Two of the seven have no masks. Five have masks. The two with masks show no sign of being ashamed of not wearing masks and content about it, breathing free. Of the five masked people, some don’t want to wear the masks but feel they have to, or are frightened to break a rule, or think another person might yell at them, some set of fears. Observing the non-masked passengers are not being attacked, insulted, accosted, or arrested, soon one or two or three of the five originally masked passengers either take off their masks or transition to the “Mask just for show” category. The ratio of 5:2 Mask:NoMask soon flips to 2:5 Mask:NoMask. Then a few more people board the train-car, all loyally masked, and one or all of the “defectors” tip back into the Masked camp, perhaps afraid of being yelled at by a Volunteer Mask Enforcer, calculating that their chances of unwanted problems have just done up and it’s not worth it; they slink back into East Berlin, leaving their heartier fellows who breached the Wall to their own devices.
Decisions are socially influenced. Everyone knows it but sometimes we get these beautiful little natural experiments to show it and see it.
Metro which nominally mandates masks but never enforces the mandate, and by now the wider-social pressures are much relaxed and few wear them outside anymore, and in the right conditions the number of mask-wearers can plunge, even under a system of stated penalties for failure to comply.
We are seeing here a modified free market at work, one which could have kicked in from the start, if they’d dlet people making their own decisions and adapt, which eventually they did (had to do) anyway. A very large part of this whole debacle and International Flu Panic Response Quagmire an endless social and economic damage could have been averted.
I have seen no real effort in the DC Metro system to enforce masks at all, in June/July 2021. I myself have foregone some potential rides in the second-rate world of the DC-area subway, in the recent past, because I didn’t have a mask with me and felt annoyed or morally offended by the practice. I realize now that this one-man boycott was not necessary, for I have seen not a word spoken to any of the rule-breakers, and after I realized this I, too, have decide to stop wearing masks in the Metro system.
It’s not like Korea. A 1990s-era guidebook I once read described South Korea as “a democracy with authoritarian overtones.” In Seoul, teams of police (?) strut through train cars inspecting passengers confronting people who fail to wear their masks to some perfect standard, demanding these people adjust their masks. Basically that’s the kind of scene you’d get in an dystopian nightmare-world. And a lot of good it did: Their major social and economic disruptions continue without a clear exit-strategy, and no political courage to simply reject the Panic and apologize for the whole thing. They are totally quagmired in the system they created.
Lately I’ve heard Singapore has taken steps to reject the Panic model and treat “Covid” as any other flu, dismantle the entire Anti-Covid dystopia-lite apparatus.
Top-down edicts work better in Singapore, of course, than a place like Washington DC or any other of the USA’s “big blue cities.” It may be one reason why there is no enforcement of the ostensible mask mandate in the Metro is that they think they simply can’t do it. And this means the entire thing is something of a giant with feet of clay, and people’s individual decisions drive the whole thing more than government edicts.
These personal choices exist over a baseline in which the stale leftovers of the Flu Panic regime’s marketing campaign are still visible, like “Workers of the World, Unite!” signs in shop windows you pass as you creep up to the Wall to observe those who have breached it and are on the other side.
A picture I took a few days ago, a pretty good example of the kind of marketing campaign I mean:
The forces of the Panic itself linger, but it was clear they were essentially out of power even in the USA’s “Big Blue” areas. The old slogans look weak now.
Here is another, taken on the same day:
The most ridiculous-seeming of all were the leftover posters warning passersby at the MLB stadium that “Covid-19 is a VERY DANGEROUS disease!” etc., as dozens of maskless people walk almost every minute, at close quarters to each other, for hours. (The Washington Nationals organization lifted its attendance-limit on June 9, and signaled it would be doing so weeks earlier.)
All this makes me wonder where things stand. In 2020 we saw the rise of a hardcore and ultra-committed Flu Panic coalition. You still hear from them but their influence, their hold on power which was once so impressive/terrifying, is shown now to be now pretty weak, even in monopoly-controlled spots that still cling to the old slogans, such as the Washington DC Metro system. Are they waiting for the next flu season to strike back in force?
There are signs that some in the old coalition want it to be over. As for Metro, they are running commercials on TV boasting about how they are doing super-special cleaning measures, i.e., public-health theater.
But those sticking to the Flu Panic coalition are still too numerous, agitated, and influential to just roll it all back by a one-time decree (hence the Flu Virus Panic “Quagmire”). This is all the more so when flu season comes again. Even now, a lot the news-commentary squawkers are spending much time on flu, even in mid-summer when there is seldom much flu at all in the climates typical of the USA.
Some may not remember that masks were not particularly a feature of the early stages of the Panic Pandemic in the West, but only gradually rolled in. The mask mandates were surprisingly late on the Panic’s timeline.
I think masks survived specifically because they were such a clear way to overtly signal obedience to the Virus Consensus (which was, roughly: “Panic now, ask questions later or never; dissent is unpatriotic; and to hell with the consequences of the lockdowns”).
The phenomenon I’ve observed on Metro, of some people consciously choosing to ignore the rule and of social tipping-points being observable within the dynamic environment of a train-car, I think fits with that.
(This began as a country-size comparison, continued into a latitude comparison, and freely drifted into a discussion of Brisbane, Australian politics, the US-Australia alliance, China, and more. These are loosely related topics but, I hope coherent-enough thoughts. The whole amounts to 4000 words and covers the gamut of the usual fare which I put to digital-paper here.)
I came across this Australia vs. USA size comparison. It’s a map-over-map overlay and is NOT latitude-aligned but is effective at showing the relative sizes:
Another map I find purports to align the latitudes, “flipping” the familiar shape of Australia for purpose of the latitude-matching.
In other words, if Australia were in its exact same relative position but mirrored onto the northern hemisphere and tossed above South America, it would be here:
I didn’t realize Australia was nearly the same breadth as the United States, coast to coast. I don’t know that I’ve ever thought about it one way or another, though,
For practical purposes, the USA is much bigger in that most land in Australia is unusable and therefore empty. Australia’s size is impressive on a map, but measured in arable land, the continent USA has Australia beat by 4x or 5x as of today.
Brisbane is the place in Australia I can claim some acquaintance with, from personal experience and indirect experience through people I’ve known.
Brisbane is half-way up the eastern coast.
They say the name (Brisbane) as BRIZ-bin, and not Briz-BANE as some might guess (and, please, no “Bry’s Bane”).
I spent three days in/around Brisbane in August 2015. My cousin (M. W.) had moved there in January 2015, stayed several years, and is now somewhere in Oregon, after a total of four or five years in Australia. I think the last year or so was somewhere other than Brisbane. I can’t remember. I haven’t seen her since the day she dropped me off at the Brisbane Airport to proceed across the Pacific.
I’m quite sure I have written elsewhere on these pages about my August 2015 return-trip to the USA, to date the most memorable such trip I’ve done. I was leaving Korea after one of my successful stays there and a visa expiration. Australia was one of my stops on the way back to the USA.
(The tickets were a true win-win, a series of one-way tickets with the cheap carriers, strung together by finesse and boldness of action. I was able to spend time on the ground in Malaysia, Australia, Fiji, a very brief visit to Christmas Island (Kirimati), Hawaii, Seattle, before arriving back at Washington. The final price of all these together was not much above a direct ticket. Given that I got all this “free” travel worked in, that was the win-win.)
(As for Kirimati, a.k.a. Christmas Island, the airport was cut out of jungle and had exactly two buildings, large shacks, one for Arrivals, one for Departures. Or so I remember it. They didn’t let thru-passengers get off the plane. The scenes I remember were of mysterious figures, carrying unusual equipment, emerging slowly and piecemeal from the “Departures” shack. These were passengers who recently completely their scuba-diving or whatever sea-based adventuring they’d been up to and were re-entering the world.)
It’s a good thing I am the controlling editor of that which gets published here, because this is already digressing two levels down, a digression within a digression. I will allow it. No complaints. You, reader of the present of future or distant future, get what you pay for. Complaints allowed only if you paid for this. Onward we go.
Given that I’ve already written about the Brisbane trip itself, I’ll add something new: Several Brisbane connections from Korea.
Brisbane inserted itself in my life several times in the mid-2010s.
I don’t know why or how. I did not seek it out. But I met a series of people from that one city. All met independent of one another, all in Greater Seoul. There are three I can think of now. If there were others, I didn’t know them well enough to remember their place of origin.
One was G. D., whom I met in 2014 in Bucheon, my home for two years ending in September 2013. G. D. was then unhappily toiling in the hagwon world. I was glad to be able to help a Western foreigner having trouble in Korea who felt alienated and alone. I was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of this kind of assistance in my early days there, and soon G. D. was well-enough integrated into life.
Another was Martin B., whom I first encountered briefly in mid-2015 but really got to know in 2016 and thereafter. I have always gotten along with him and even admired despite his flaws.
The third is E. S., whom I met in, I think, June 2017 in Seoul, within the same general setting as Martin (ILC) but unconnected thereto except by citizenship and place of origin.
Of the three, Martin is still in Korea today but the the two are not.
Martin occasionally mass emails his thoughts to a hundred or more on his email list (seemingly always altering the list slightly). I don’t know what percentage of his mass-emails I am on, but they’re occasional. I enjoy reading them and he has a particularly unique writing style. He often drifts into territory few others would in such mass communications, relating to personal problems. Martin is now I think over 60 and has been in Korea over twenty years.
I am unclear what E. S. is doing.
E. S. was ambitious in mid-2017 but had never been to “Asia” before and reminded me a lot of myself when I was new. She was sent to Korea on some kind of scholarship in 2017. I was working at a low-level but prestigious academic-type job in summer 2017 in Seoul. E. S. is one of the people with whom I hoped to stay in contact, but have had limited success. I returned over the winter 2017-18 (ahead of a study trip to Japan), but E. S. had just left Korea, after completing six+ months there, and as best I can tell was back to Brisbane, air-dropping back into the usual.
E. S.’s interests at the time overlapped greatly with the world I was in, in the late 2010s, certainly in 2017, 2018, and even into 2019, but I think began fading in 2019.
One forms portrait-impressions of people and what they are up to at any given time. People with whom you fall out of touch, the portrait is faded, maybe not well sketched, but still exists. The last firm impression I have of E. S. is that she was hoping to fall comfortably into some kind of government employment. To what grander purpose, I don’t know.
What is the meaning of my having known three separate, unconnected Brisbane people, all in Korea?
Adjusting for unconnectedness and population size, Brisbane must be among the highest per-capita rates of personal origin-place for foreigners I knew above acquaintance level in Korea. Hong Kong and Singapore likely easily outrank Brisbane, but that’s almost a given.
At the height of the TEFL industry in South Korea in the late 2000s, statistics had it that there were nearly as many E-2 visa (language teaching visa) holders from Canada as from the United States. The USA of course had nearly 9x the total population. It shook out to mean Canadians were around 7x as represented, per capita, as Americans. (This was just for the E-2 people, of which I was one, and did not count the gyopos, usually meant to mean “Korean-Americans,” U.S. passport holders of Korean ancestry, but in fact for visa purposes it was for a wide net of countries).
Something about Canadians pushed them to Korea much more often. Does the same apply to Brisbane? I have no idea. My experience is probably not scalable.
If there is something special about Brisbane, what is it?
Brisbane turns out to be at the midpoint between the 27th and 28th Parallels South. The exact midpoint of the two parallels (i.e., “27.5” degrees South) passes right through the middle of the University of Queensland campus.
The same parallel here in the northern hemisphere (27.5 North) passes through (among other places) central Florida, meeting the Gulf of Mexico at a place called Manatee Beach, a pleasant-seeming beach community at the southern end of the Tampa Bay area.
On the western coast of North America, fronting the Pacific, the 27.5 North line (the mirror-image latitude of Brisbane) passes 20 miles south of a place called Bahia Tortugas, Mexico (part of Baja California) (apparently the town is NOT “Bahia de Tortugas;” what are they doing with this sloppy Spanish?) (Bahia Tortugas has no English wiki entry and a very spare Spanish one explaining that nothing much goes on down at Turtle Bay except fishing, but tourism or eco-tourism is a natural growth market).
Brisbane is, therefore, at a latitude promising a really favorable climate. From the times I’ve occasionally checked its weather, it does not disappoint. I was there in late August, southern hemisphere winter (the equivalent period would be late February here in the northern hemisphere) and it was pleasant and summer-like.
This seems almost a stereotype of Australia fulfilled, the image of Australia as processed through millions of pairs of ears countless millions of times since the early 1980s with the “Land Down Under” song, its tone and themes:
This highly favorable climate is a mis-match with the kinds of people who settled and built it up, Europeans from mostly much higher latitudes. (I had to correct my original “more northerly climes,” which doesn’t work in the case when northward means towards the equator…!).
In E. S.’s case, some of her ancestors come from around 51 degrees North latitude in central Europe. None of those people were acclimated to the sunny climes of the Australian coast at such cheery and creamy latitudes.
Am I getting at anything here? I’m not sure. The point I think I’m approaching is, if something is special about Brisbane, the climate could have something to do with it. This sounds like amateurish armchair analysis, I know, but it’s at least something.
I took myself on another digression for ten minutes and calculated my own ancestral median, out of curiosity. In latitude terms it falls around 55 degrees North, give or take.
(And the median lat-long coordinates, a single hypothetical point denoting the geographical median of my ancestors’ birthplaces several centuries ago, falls somewhere in the western Baltic Sea, or possibly lands one of the islands of Denmark — which, conveniently, is where my paternal line traces to about two centuries ago (the island of Fyn). This high median latitude comes from my father’s side’s Norwegian ancestry; none of my mother’s ancestral lines go too far south.)
In any case, latitude and climate don’t exactly align (Europe is warmer than its latitude suggests it should be), but sunlight stays consistent across latitudes. Brisbane is getting Florida coast or Baja California sun.
I was told by some locals that Queensland, Australia, is the per-capita skin cancer capital of the world. Looking at the map I see Brisbane is flanked by something called Sunshine Coast and on the other side by Gold Coast (at whose airport I arrived in 2015).
This all lends itself very much to outdoor activities, in addition to the long tradition of low-population and thus elbow-room. This combined with Northwest European cultural traditions meant Australia was always going to be something special once it got rolling, and if it had a strong enough sponsor, which ended up being so with the Britannia Rules the Waves-era UK.
This is probably getting closer now to a good explanation for why Brisbane ended up tossing so many more of its people, per capita, to a place like Korea in the 1990s-to-2010s era, than other places, but the right combination of words has not occurred to me to drive the point home in one sentence,so I’ll stop dancing around it and move on.
It’s so easy to look things up, but sometimes the picture you get is not quite right, and data must be interpreted with caution.
From the latest census results, it seems the Brisbane region’s population stock is around 60% White Australian today, by which I mean those descended from the pre-1970s (White) population.
Around 2% identify as Aboriginie. I remember seeing a few people who looked part-Aboriginie on a ferry heading to an island off Brisbane, but I don’t recall seeing any in the center of the city itself.
(Tangent: I remember when Australia hosted the Olympics in 2000. I remember them making a big deal about Aborigines in their opening ceremony, or so my impression was and so my memory tells me now. I remember finding it a little strange at the time. The Aborigines were there first, true, but so much attention was given that you’d think they founded the Australian state itself and its core institutions and culture and then somehow lost control to White immigrants. At my age at the time (2000), it’s not something I had any kind of fully formed opinion on one way or another, just impressions. The 2000 Olympics along with the Simpsons late-1990s Australia episode formed my early views of Australia; the Simpsons episode is delightful in how brazenly anti-Australian it was, mocking of Australia, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they quietly banned that one there.)
If White Australians + Aboriginies together form just over 60%, that leaves the rest (35-40%) as recent immigrants or descendants thereof.
Degree of personal-identity Australianization no doubt differs from person to person among this group, and there doesn’t seem to be able simplified narrative to latch onto. But it does seem the 35-40% is tilted towards actual foreign-born. The rate of personal-identity Australianization is still going to be relatively low in the 2020s for that reason alone. What the 2030s and 2040s and beyond holds is harder to say.
But no group seems particularly dominant among the 35-40% of recent origin, almost as if immigrants were selected by lottery to ensure a relatively random draw. I am sure that is not the case. And of the 35-40%, it seems something between a third and a half are White themselves, broadly speaking.
When all is said and done, the total of what Canada’s statistical agency calls Visible Minorities in the Brisbane region must have broken the 25% barrier sometime the 2010s, certainly so by the close of the decade. I would assume this would follow the US pattern, the 25% applying in the region as a whole but being higher in core areas of the city proper and lower in “suburb”/”exurb” areas. This aligns with what I recall from 2015.
We are now 15% of our way into the 2020s, though, and the number of Visible Minorities may be pushing fast towards the one-third mark, especially among the active, core-age population. This is just my reading of the data I see and maybe I’m missing something.
It seems East Asians, broadly defined (including Filipino), are still below the 10% mark and may be so for some years to come, with maybe half of that of Greater China origin. Nothing like parity between Chinese and White Australians is ahead in the near term — not in Brisbane, anyway.
Anyone who knows how Overseas Chinese operate knows they don’t need numerical majorities to start to dominate, if that’s their play. It’s a complicated matter (for one thing, there are all kinds of different Chinese on the scene, Taiwanese, Southeast Asia Chinese, Hong Kongese, and PRC-Chinese are, I assume, a minority).
This Overseas Chinese matter is subject to a bit of a taboo in our culture today, and I assume the same holds in Australia, whose system of cultural-political taboos seems to closely resemble the USA’s own. My experience working at a think tank in 2019 gave me several insights into Australia, which got me thinking about the matter, anyway. Why do think tanks exist if not to inspire thinking? I understand the taboo and respect its power — I’m not stupid, right? — but these things do deserve thought.
Both Martin and E. S. are of self-identified German ancestry. Martin speaks German fairly well but seems self-taught, by which I mean he did not inherit much/any language but learned by force of will in classes or self-study over the years.
It seems both Martin and E. S. had several generations of nativity in Australia, but retained some coherent sense of German-Lutheran ancestral identity. They fit in the “around 60% White Australian” aggregate-grouping there but even that aggregate category obscures some differences which may be important.
The third Brisbaner I knew, G. D., also fits in the 60%; G. D. never mentioned any other origin and appears likely predominantly if not wholly British Isles origin.
Fear of China
I mentioned just above that when I worked in the Asia policy-related think tank in 2019, I got a feel for just how much the Australian state and security apparatus fears China today. They do. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Disregard the words of any official or unofficial spokesmen for the Australian state (or security apparatus) who tells you that they don’t fear China.
Maybe Australia will “flip” at some point in the second quarter of this century and side with China (that is, against the USA). This would be an extreme move and I have a hard time imagining it, though it suggests the plot for some kind of action/spy movie.
Much more likely than “flipping” would be neutralization, what was once called Finlandization in the US-Soviet Cold War setting,
If Australia willingly neutralizes (detaches from the US without joining Team PRC-China) before 2050, it’ll be later (2040s) and not sooner (2020s, 2030s). Even then it would require an entirely new generation to come into positions of influence and would only be assured if the U.S. (Navy) undergoes some shock or other problems by which it loses the ability or will to continue its security guarantee to Australia. That combined with new people significantly less committed to the US alliance, that’s the trigger for Neutralization.
People talk about the “two aircraft carriers” threshold. I made up the term, but not the thinking, which goes like this: If China can sink just two U.S. Navy carriers, the entire strategic board is turned over and pieces go flying everywhere. The board game must be reset. Picking up the pieces, realignments can be rapid.
Americans hardly think about the U.S.-Australia alliance.
This is one of the many dogs that don’t bark in U.S. discourse. In global terms it’s a fairly major thing but gets zero press in U.S. media. Australia is much more likely to get coverage for wildfires or coral reef or crocodiles than for anything geopolitical or related to the US-Australia alliance.
I get the feeling that Australians cling tight to it, that they implicitly think of the ties to the U.S. as a cornerstone of their state itself. Australia voluntarily extends its their own sovereignty, partially, to let the U.S. in a bit.
I remember conversations to that effect at the think tank. A big reason no one ever thinks or talks about the U.S.-Australia relationship (in mainstream political / foreign affairs discourse, excluding certain academics or specialists) is because the Australia give the U.S. everything it wants and more — basing agreements, everything. This all sails by everyone’s awareness because there was never any controversy to get it in the news.. Don’t mistake non-coverage and non-awareness for non-importance.
On the other side, I know from sometimes watching Australian news that they pay close attention to even minor matters in U.S. affairs. I was surprised to see how much they follow U.S. news, as if Australia were a part of the USA itself. (In one case in 2019, I remember the Australian anchors repeatedly referring to Trump as “the president,” as in a rendering like “Today the president traveled to Europe in order to…” What? Which president? Why not “the American president”? Or maybe “President [Name]”?)
One can ask why Australia is so pro-America. To me it’s got to be because Australia has always viewed itself as an outpost of Western civilization in a distant part of the world and therefore in need of assistance. It didn’t matter the extent to which this became much less true with time, for the thought-pattern was set. And if there was a long respite, it really does again apply, vis-a-vis PRC-China, as we head into the mid-21st century.
When the UK abandoned its global security commitments between the 1910s and 1940s/50s, and as the U.S. inherited the same by the 1940s, the impetus for the relationship was obvious, and has been for eighty years.
There are many other similarities between the two peoples, at least traditionally.
This brings us back to the immigration question, and what it means for Australia itself and the core nature of the regime there, and therefore the US alliance. The most obvious group of interest must be the ethnic-Chinese in Australia. (This breaches the taboo, I know, but at a high enough level you are allowed to; this venue probably does not earn such an exemption, so I proceed with caution.)
I was under the impression that Chinese of various sorts, by no means all “PRC-Chinese,” were a major population element within Australia now. I know several Koreans who went to Australia, and if the image it has in Korea is anything like what it has in China, that is a major pool of potential immigrants. I am certain Australia makes it harder for PRC-Chinese to come than most of the wealthy smaller East Asian states, including South Korea.
As for Brisbane itself, to continue my amateur analysis of that city, they have some Chinese but really not that many. There must be comparatively many Chinese in the big population centers down south to balance it out.
I once calculated Australia’s Chinese-immigrant population at nearly 10x as large, per capita, as the USA’s own (not-insignificant) Chinese population. This doesn’t seem to hold for Brisbane.
It doesn’t need to be some ethnic sedition lobby at all. It may simply be a policy establishment of immigrant-stock technocrats with sundry personal-ancestral origins, who feel little need to maintain the traditional ties to a distant benefactor like the USA which in the past was tied to Australia by mutual European-colonial heritage and more.
Some of the immigrants attracted to Australia are very talented indeed, and if they pull their weight or more within a near- or medium-term technocratic, business, and policy-making elite, why wouldn’t they entertain the idea of neutralization? It seems obvious.
Australia and the Flu Virus Panic of 2020: Why?
One thing I don’t understand. Australia seems to have run among the most authoritarian Virus Panic regimes of anywhere in the Western world.
This frankly shocked and disappointed me, and the millions who viewed Australia as a bastion of rugged individualism (or something of that sort) who might stand up against the madness, a Sweden of the Southern Hemisphere. Why did the precise opposite happen, Australia diving deep into a a dark fantasy-land of paranoid virus hysteria and dystopic policy fanaticism? I don’t have a good answer.
At one point I spent time in an international airport, March 2020. The worst-off, sad-sack, camping-out-in-airport cases were Australians, whose government’s crazy policy stranded its own people, refusing them entry into their own country, over purported fear of a flu virus.
A few of the themes of this essay suggest some possible explanations to the puzzle.
Australia’s heavy rate of immigration has got to cause them some apprehension, even if they seldom admit it to each other or even to themselves. How could it not be so? This might be one reason they started down the dark path of embracing the Panic, good and hard, rather than going about life as normal as we all should have and accepted the losses inherent to a severe flu wave.
Early on, an important narrative strand in “Covid” discourse was “shut down the borders!” to which the most common response was: “Closing borders is racist; Whatever you do, do not do that!” — these being holdover positions from a normal Right-Left dichotomy but transposed awkwardly onto the demagogue’s blank-slate that was “Covid.” If the virus’ impressive global P.R. network could gin up enough scare stories, the border-shutdown people could push through their preferred policy.
I doubt this was even a conscious thing. It could as well be unconscious, preferred policies permeating a seemingly unrelated event (the perceived need to drop everything and panic!, over a flu virus).
In the USA, Lockdownism eventually became a Blue Team vs Red Team thing. This does not apply everywhere, and in many cases right-wing governments were fanatical Lockdowners (including the likes of Hungary), whereas the hero of the whole thing, Sweden, standing out within the OECD as the only national government to refuse to demagogue on a flu virus, had a left-wing Social Democrat and Green-led government.
Australia’s policy-makers — who led their country into artificial major recession, social disruption, and a long period of bizarre, dystopian lockdown and what is set to be two full years of a travel ban — were/are Center-Right.
It also seems likely that the Fear of China arc, which was clearly ascending in the 2010s in Australia, could tie-in with the Flu Virus Panic of 2020-21. Given that the virus “came from China,” this may have tapped into a Fear of China political vein in Australia, and caused what natural opposition to Endless Lockdownism there was to stand down at first, exactly when a hard line against Lockdowns were needed.
Then there is the US-Australia alliance itself, and the apparently significant US cultural/political influence on Australia. When our big agenda-setters decided that it was to be “Lockdowns Today, Lockdowns Tomorrow, Lockdowns Forever!” — this sent a signal to the satellite states in the US orbit to get with the program and start panicking along with the cool kids.
This essay has wandered into interesting territory, reaching some 4000 words. When I commit to writing one of these, I never quite know where it’ll go.
The bad news for Australia continues, with this recent headline:
Prime Minister Scott Morrison – who faces an election next year – has announced Australia won’t re-open borders until mid-2022
That means over two full years of major disruptions, especially hitting any Australian seeking to go abroad (or even get home, in many cases) and any foreigner trying to enter.
The whole thing feels like watching a society in the midst of mass delusion. The major bastions of VIrus Panic in the USA seem to have begun falling in May and especially by June 2021 we re-entered the world of Reality and its warm and comfortable shores. Some bitter-enders will continue the disruptions even longer, but for now it seems to basically be over for most people in most situations.
Australia’s decision to demagogue on the whole thing in early 2020, and turn authoritarian, over a flu virus which we knew with certainty by relatively early on was not a major threat, simply does not fit the image I had of the country and people and the character thereof, which I had developed my limited experience in the 2010s. I am still puzzled by it, but I’m puzzled and dismayed by almost every society’s reaction to it.
As for Brisbane, the city that I ended up with multiple nodes of connection to, the news is also bad. Two news stories I find:
Brisbane restaurant cluster linked to flight attendant rises to five cases Three new community cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Brisbane, linked to a woman who tested positive after leaving hotel … 2 days ago
A recent trip to the repair shop got me thinking about my relationship to the smartphone and the digitization of most aspects of life which it represents/induces/necessitates. I’ll try to approach this indirectly through a small handful of memories.
I distinctly remember once, in Seoul, in spring 2014, being teased by a then-acquaintance from Europe, both privately and publicly, for writing out a map on a piece of paper. I didn’t mind the teasing nor his attempts later that day to show others my hand-drawn map. It got the job done, and who can argue with results? The mockery had nothing to do with results but of form: It was analog! Get with the digital age, was the message.
The reason I remember this little incident is I was surprised with the confidence with which he mocked me, as if in 2014 I were telling him I’d send him something by fax or give him a movie on VHS, something just laughably obsolete such that he couldn’t even imagine doing it. That was the tone. Obviously he did still use pen and paper in some cases, but for navigation in a city from A to B? Who would do that?
I had created this little hand-drawn map to navigate to the Seoul city wall, with the plan to hike the half length from West Gate to East Gate along the northern arc, which only this intrepid acquaintance was interested in doing on a Saturday morning. Finding access to the path from a certain meeting point was not easy. It involved twists and turns through alleys, and I planned it out at home and traced out the route on paper, making a sketch map. I had a hard copy of it.
I had a Smartphone at the time and “data,” but the data was on a pay-as-you-go plan, which meant when it ran out I had to pay to recharge, which was an annoying process; in any case, I didn’t want to use data when not needed. I also wanted to plan out the route to make sure I knew what I was doing. But something in me in spring 2014 was still profoundly uncomfortable with navigating by “phone” (as we end up calling such devices, which are used as telephones about 0.1% of the time for many people).
The sketch-map served its purpose wonderfully and we didn’t get lost.
I remember how amused he was by this map. He called it something like “the cutest thing I’ve seen all year.” Later that day he told others about it and insisted I show it to them. He was making fun of me, but I don’t remember taking offense, because I was in my own heart making fun of anyone who would be stunned at a pen-and-paper sketch-map.
I remember this even seven years later because it was in the transition period between when making sketch-maps like that was reasonably normal in the 2000s, and when it was laughable, given the always-on interactive map in your pocket (i.e., your “phone”), certainly so by late-2010s and in leading circles already becoming laughable in the mid-2010s. To have made an used a map like that by the late-2010s, it would have to extraordinary circumstances or maybe somewhere far outside a city where phone signals were unreliable.
I have always had an ambiguous attitude about devices.
For whatever reason, I also didn’t get a basic cellphone until rather late, I think in the last half of my last year of high school. I never used SMS “text messaging” until 2007 and that especially because of one particular person, M. K.; as for Facebook, I registered an account in late 2007 but was seldom active, and very much actively avoid it now. Although I use the Messenger app to communicate with people I otherwise have no way to contact, I avoid actually signing in — the last I did was some time in 2019.
This is all related to another sometime internal discussion I have. When does the Internet Age begin?
There are a lot of landmarks one an point to but these generally amount to trivia. If you must choose a ‘0’ year or a ‘5’ year, which is the best to attach to the concept of “Start of the Internet Era”? Note this is really a social question and not a technical one. I know there was technically some predecessor to email even as early as the 1980s, and there was an active early Internet scene in the 1990s. But these do not do. I think it has to be 2010, by which time the infrastructure we understand as the Internet was really in place. The Smartphone wave in the years that followed rapidly gave us our world as we knew it for the rest of the 2010s and now into the 2020s (1.5 years down, not a good decade so far for me).
Mobile digital computing devices connected to the Internet had made rapid gains and by 2014, the idea of someone making and using a paper sketch map to navigate a tricky path to a destination was something to laugh at, for some. Five years earlier, it wouldn’t have been so.
As for my own relationship with the Smartphone. I had none at all until the very end of December 2013, when one was given to me as a gift. In the last days of that year, I was sick with flu and living in a tiny room in a goshiwon in Seoul (in what some Koreans have been known to call the worst part of Seoul due to the presence of Chinese and Korean-Chinese). It was in my windowless room in that place that I entered the Smartphone Age after recovering from the flu on or soon after New Year’s Day 2014. The “pen-and-paper map” incident followed a few months later.
This timeline, I should add, means that my entire cross-country (South Korea) hike attempt in September and October 2013 was done Smartphone-less. In fact, it was basically done without any phone. I had a non-smart phone I kept off about 99.9% of the time. It had a good dictionary (an “offline” one, which in the Smartphone Age became a rare commodity). In the 2020s, it seems hard to imagine someone similar to 2013-Me attempting the hike without Smartphone access, perhaps even trying t o navigate by Smartphone, which is probably not a good idea, but the point is I just imagine people would do so by default.
People aging into social consciousness in the past few years, and in the years to come, and my own children God-willing I have any, may think that smartphones were common much earlier than they were, and that the Internet Era was much earlier than it really was. Even into 2011, the Smartphone was still considered fairly unusual, even something for eccentrics. The attitude was already changing by then. The spring 2011 Arab protests were hailed by our media for being led by organizers with smartphones communicating on the run (an attitude towards political-dissidents’ use of technology which they turned against sharply by the late-2010s).
By the mid-2010s, the Smartphone was rapidly becoming the standard.
I remember a case of a birthday party in 2012 or 2013. A Korean male about my age and I were among the many invitees, at the notoriously difficult-to-navigate Bupyeong Underground. In recent years they’ve invested huge amounts of money in making it more navigable, but you’ll still get lost there. I somehow linked up with him on the way. The venue was Outback. We both got totally lost and spent about fifteen minutes going this way and that through the maze-like underground before finding the right way. One thing I think I remember is neither he nor I had an easy way to communicate with the party’s kakao groupchat because we did not have smartphones. In any case I am sure he didn’t have one, which surprised me for a Korean male in his twenties at the time, but so it was.
I distinctly remember being surprised in early-mid 2014 when A. L., a Singaporean classmate in my first-ever Korean class, told me she used Google Maps for absolutely everything in getting anywhere, for all navigation. This stunned me, and made me think the less of her, I think. Did it mean she couldn’t navigate on her own, but just followed the arrows on the screen? It seemed so, and that seemed ridiculous. I think she said as much, said she would be hopeless without Google Maps.
I remember wondering how much data A. L. was using, for in those days data was often bought and paid for in fixed amounts, and when it ran out, you were out for the month unless you bought more. I remember thinking it extravagantly wasteful when A. L. revealed she rented an unlimited-Internet emitter, at some high cost per day at the time, for all her time in Korea. This amounted to around two months at longest, and shorter trips at other times. I remember thinking this was technically possible but seemed inadvisable, an excessive expense, and probably bad for the soul.
By the end of the 2010s, it was increasingly the norm to outsource all navigation or geographical-anything to Google Maps or the local equivalent, but in 2014 was still within the transition period. She had been an early-mover in the general direction.
A. L. (the Singaporean totally reliant on Google Maps, same age as me), J., the male co-hiker from Northern Europe who made fun of my hand-drawn paper map, several years younger), and I were all classmates in what was for me my first Korean class, the start of several years struggling to learn Korean, off and on.
These two I mention had both mentally and socially transitioned to something like a full-digital life and worldview by early 2014 when I met them, to the point they could not conceive of analog-life in certain important ways, which means it had probably not been a recent thing (i.e., was earlier than 2013) for them. In these years of 2014 to 2016, my own lifestyle changed much as theirs had some years before that. I thought then, and I think now, that I was lucky to hold out as long as I did.
The Smartphone has changed my lifestyle, and from the perspective of 2014-Me, probably for the worse. Still I have made a point to make at least one several-day hiking trip per year. For it I prepare paper maps beforehand. This kind of travel is always more rewarding. As forday-to-day movements and places I know well, there is no need necessarily for any use of a map. (Except that I am so often looking at the bikeshare map for my hobby of bike rebalancing.)
I visited China in December 2019 and was surprised by how much stricter their Internet policy was than my previous visit in 2010. Basically I could not use the Internet at all in China in 2019 except in my hotel room, which I think was arranged by the hotel and connected to my passport. There was no such thing as a free public wifi. This meant absolutely no navigation-on-the-fly staring at one’s phone screen. To go places I needed a good paper map, or an offline digital map, or to navigate by feel and landmark. I used all three methods.
For all my talk of still hanging onto the pre-Smartphone spirit into the late 2010s, I must admit the experience of being forcibly offline in China was quite disorienting.
I was in China for some of the last days of the 2010s, December 2019, and was thinking a lot about the closing decade and what it meant for the world and for me. Had I used my time well? How had I changed? Those kinds of questions. But also observations on China, especially given my previous visit in 2010, the opening of the decade. One thing that certainly changed was the digitization of life, the smartphone in one’s pocket.
What were the 2010s?
The decade seems defined as the age of digitization of lifestyles more than anything else. A lot of the social and political movements of the 2010s were tied fairly directly to the march of digitization, mobile Internet, and the Smartphone. The memory-anecdotes I’ve recorded here are little signposts in the sand from one person’s little corner of experience. I’m sure similar things happened all over.
It’s occurred to me that the Flu Virus Panic of 2020-21 occurred very specifically because of this digitization, and that therefore we have a very important meta-lesson to learn which has nothing to do with masks, lockdown orders (a tragic entry into Global English, which I’d retroactively nominate for worst new word of 2020), PCR tests, “social distancing,” or any of the other jargon of the Panic.
The meta-lesson is that digitization turns out to have been a risk to our health in ways few appreciated, for without it we could have avoided an artificial Great Depression-style economic contraction and major social disruptions hitting hard the young or anyone in transition, and the ripple effects will be with us for years.
Since so many still want to cling to the Panic and its various doctrines, I don’t expect this will be announced from on high anytime soon, but this is the bigger lesson than even my complaints about the insane virus restrictions and the weird Virus Cult that emerged. It was digitization that did this, and the same mechanism has done much else. Something about the smartphone seems to create moral-panics which end up doing damage and causing deadweight losses to society. We haven’t grappled with how do deal with this, nor d we even see the problem.
People have come up with cute renderings of this, something like “the real contagion spread via social media.”
People have also said the 2009-10 Swine Flu Panic never quite got off the ground, even though there were so many similarities to the events of ten years later, and a common explanation for the big reaction gap is: “The 2009 Swine Flu was not as bad.” I say: No one knew exactly how bad or not bad it was. People made the decision to panic — and push panic, hard, in March 2020, and to hell with the consequences — without full information. Panic had its own logic not tie-able to some specific magnitude of threat.
This leaves us asking what the big differences were between 2009-10 and 2020-21 in the nature of our society. It’s obvious to me that the biggest difference is the always-on, hyper-connectivity. Nothing like that existed in spring 2009 when the Swine Flu Panic peeked its head over the abyss. The soon-forgotten Swine Flu Panic looked frankly quite a lot like the early stages of the Corona Flu Panic of 2020.
I was on my way to Korea for the very first time. In Tokyo our plane was boarded by a team of doctors in some kind of hazmat-esque gear to check passengers for flu symptoms. They did this on board. We all remained seated. It all seemed ridiculous to us. I remember specifically someone laughing that they sent on hazmat-suited people. We were aware they were talking about Swine Flu on the news but really no one cared.
As I force my mind back to that day (it being my first time in Asia, I was a little dazed in general, and would drop into the deep water all alone at the hagwon by the next day), I also come up with this:
The Japanese medial quarantine team offered surgical masks to each passenger. There was some half-hearted announcement that we were encouraged to wear them. This was an American plane, possibly United, and I am confident in my memory that virtually no one wore the masks, ignoring the request. To wear surigcal masks seemed unsettling, even like something from dystopian fiction.
My memory tells me I pocketed mine and never put it on. It must have eventually ended its life in a garbage bin, possibly on Korean soil, possibly even in my new inherited apartment somewhere near Lake Park, Ilsan.
In any case and in short, no one cared about Swine Flu, even with this public health theater performance staged by Japan. (The Korean side was much more relaxed and simply handed out cards which effectively asked: “Are you Sick? Yes [ ] No [ ]. Check one. Thx. Bye.”)
The raw-material for a Flu Panic was there, but it never took off. The gap in experiences makes the time gap of eleven years (spring 2009 vs. spring 2020) feel more like fifty, or more. How can culture have drifted that far in eleven years, from casual mockery of an incipient Flu Virus Panic (2009) to an uncritical, semi-fanatical, monomaniacal embrace of the same (2020)? What happened to us?
The biggest difference, I propose, is the smartphone and the Internet, as we’ve come to know it. No one on that plane that day in 2009 had a smartphone. No one anywhere did (with possible/arguable exceptions of a handful of journalist- or CEO-types who, for several years, often carried a device known as a Blackberry; even in the late 2000s I wasn’t quite sure what a Blackberry was). That’s what happened to us.
Blogging as a medium, especially in the way I do it, is not really an activity of the Smartphone era, which is why I feel better about doing it. Of course, the same kinds of critics such as he who mocked my pen-and-paper map in 2014 have for years mocked the blog as a medium. What if the cool guys are wrong? What if diving into full-on digitization wasn’t as good as was thought?
Taking advantage of unseasonably good weather and clear skies, from October 25 to 28 I was hiking in western Maryland, primarily in Washington County. I did a long tour of Antietam battlefield as part of this, which is entirely within Washington County. Harpers Ferry is also part of the general battle theater, which is where I came up from. (I don’t know how many people do an all-on-foot tour of Antietam, but it can’t be many. The battlefield area is definitely car-oriented.)
Maybe I’ll have another opportunity, another day, to write about that hike itself. I have done many such hikes and they are always liberating and you always learn a lot, regardless of what you think you know.
The most notable thing in Washington County, Md., was the overwhelming support for Trump. Granted, western Maryland is ‘red’ anyway. But Arlington is ‘blue,’ an there was a distinct lack of signs for Biden around Arlington, which I wrote about in a recent post. This is a strong contrast I was immediately hit by.
It feels like I felt ten Trump signs for every Biden sign in Washington County, which if much higher than the actual likely vote ratio.
One of the few Biden signs I saw actually included a separate sign next to it apologizing for the Biden sign:
This elaborate explanatory note attached to the Biden-Harris yard sign display is something I’ve never otherwise seen. I interpret it as an apology for Biden support in this area, given the strength of Trump support.
The same is true in much of Middle America. Washington County, no doubt has people in it tied economically or otherwise to the Washington DC-centric core, but the basic population stock here is Middle America Whites, the Trump 2015-16 base.
I didn’t bother taking pictures, in part because I was trying to preserve my phone battery and in part because there were just so many houses with Trump signs. Here is one, a very large sign (see the mailbox opposite for scale):
The largely rural landscape here fits with the image of core Trump supporters.
Here someone took it upon themselves to decorate a stop sign at the intersection with the Harpers Ferry Road (which dates back two centuries and featured in the battle at Antietam):
Being here a few days made me think of Iowa, my father’s home state. His home county delivered the biggest margin to Trump in Nov. 2016 than it ever gave to any presidential candidate in history. Trump is the type who tosses around words like “historic,” but in that case it really was, literally ranking number one in the modern political era. There are lots and lots of counties like this, once you step out of core metro areas, which broke much more ‘Red’ than they normally do. Deep-blue areas tended to do the opposite, which led to Hillary’s win in the popular vote.
What to make of clear and strong Trump support in western Maryland and places like it? For one thing, Maryland is a locked-up blue state. Everyone knows who’s getting its electoral votes. The fact that these people in western Maryland are so dedicated to the Trump movement, despite knowing full well they won’t swing the state, speaks to the mystique and power of MAGA many have spoken of.
If Trump wins again in most of the key states, the belt of Obama-to Trump states, Pennsylvania to Minnesota, and thus wins the election, it may be because of strongly motivated core supporters like these. I even spotted evidence of sign wars in Northern Virginia:
As I write this, it is just past noon on election day. There are a few more of these types of stories I wanted but I got in mostly what I wanted. There is always more to say. I’ll be in DC in the evening and till late with more stories to tell.
The COVID19 virus is all over the news. Though it began in the Chinese interior in Dec. 2019, South Korea is again in the news for an outbreak, as if on cue re-earning its sometime-nickname of the Land of Extremes. S.Korea has racked up more confirmed COVID19 virus infections (called in Korea “Corona19,” 코로나19), by a considerable margin, than anywhere outside the epicenter around Wuhan.
I have a few things I’d like to say related in some way to this latest big virus panic and/or to Korea’s place in it, in descending order of how long ago:
(1) My observations on what’s going on around me now with regard to the virus panic; (2) China’s soft-power problem; COVID19 as a potential serious a blow to China’s image/prestige; (3) S.Korea and the negative influence of the Shinchonji group [신천지] (my experiences with this group, which is definitely a cult by popular understanding of the term, date to 2014; second-hand as early as 2012; the experiences were through no fault of my own, as they use front groups and all manner of deceptions to get in contact with people, effectively like an intelligence agency); (4) My memory of the MERS virus panic of June 2015 that hit South Korea.
I’ll do these in succession in separate posts, starting with the last and most distant, the MERS virus panic of 2015 (2015년6월의 메르스 바이러스-감염병 위기).
I remember “MERS” well. What’s strange to me is how few others seem to, or their memory of it as something minor. I doubt it made the news much at all in the US.
Nov. 2019: I passed through California for about five days.
(Observations about Southern California with pictures, and some springboarding off of them.)
Places I spent at least some time were: Van Nuys; the Santa Ana River trail in Orange County; Anaheim and “Anaheim Hills;” Orange (the city of); Santa Barbara. On a previous visit (late Aug. 2018), I went to Huntington Beach.
Leaving Southern California, north to Silicon Valley, I spent time in: San Jose; Palo Alto; the Stanford campus; Menlo Park; Redwood City. (Another post, maybe.)
Friday early morning. I arrive at the airport from points east (Korea, by way of a long layover in Hawaii) and am soon on the bus to LA Union Station. Or am I? I am not. I got on the wrong bus. It was not labeled. It came to the place marked LA Union Station; I decide to take this new opportunity. and follow the shuttle bus where it goes. New destination: Van Nuys.
(Expanded from a draft from mid-August 2015. I was reading about Fiji at the time before I was to spend twelve hours in that mysterious, tropical island-country as part of one of my returns-to-the-USA in late August 2015. I was coming from Brisbane, Australia, visiting my cousin, Mel. W. The long layover in Fiji was also the cheapest option. From my perspective fortuitous as it would give me a foray into Fiji on the cheap.
In the weeks before I was to briefly spend time in Fiji in August 2015, I looked around for material. One thing I found to be so amazing as to be worth recording here. It is something published in March 1859, which concludes with a series of futurist predictions about Fiji and the world. Reading these predictions from 1859, I am amazed.
The predictions have (nearly) all come true:
(Final two paragraphs of an anonymous, ten-page book review appearing in The Knickerbocker [March 1859 issue] . The reviewed book is the 1858 Fiji and the Fijians by Thomas Williams and James Calvert (ed. George Stringer Rowe). The Knickerbocker was a New York literary magazine with an 1833-1865 publication run. It was similar in style, and likely a partial antecedent to and/or inspirtation for, The Atlantic [first issue published in 1857]). The entire March 1859 edition of the Knickerbocker is online here.)
First, my own brief experience in Fiji, then an attempt to evaluate the Knickerbocker writer’s predictions with the distance of 159 years of time elapsed since publication. Summary: Very accurate.
A Brief Foray into Fiji, Late August 2015
Fiji is not like any place I have been, before or since.
A pleasant, sunny Saturday in May 2015. We took a few wrong turns and ended up here:
We were four — Myself, two Canadians from Ontario (Robbie and Heather) and an American from Massachusetts (Sav. C.). The wrong turns were taken near Gyeyang Mountain in Incheon, South Korea.
These others were all new to Korea, such that I was leading them around. I translated the sign:
등산객 여러분의 안전을 위해 우회도로를 이용해 주시기 바랍니다
Shooting in Progress
Hikers are requested to use the bypass road for their own safety.
Commanding Officer, Unit 9100
I proposed a brief reconnaissance in the arrow’s direction, but was vetoed by the two female members of our group.
We’d come down from summit on the right-hand-side path. At the time, I assumed that this side path would lead to a shooting range which would be blocked off by barbed wire or something. I was sure we wouldn’t just walk into a place which had live bullets whizzing around.
Only one time have I heard gunfire in Korea. It was while hiking north of Ilsan in Paju County, which is adjacent to the DMZ. Paju’s hiking trails are full of elaborate and well made but unoccupied defensive positions on hilltops, some small and some big enough for artillery, as well as networks of trenches, covered tunnels, dug-out hiding places big enough for vehicles or tanks, and other such things.Continue reading “Post-316: Warning. Live Fire Drills (Incheon)”