Sunday, July 22, 2018

The "United" States Isn't Anymore

United, that is.

The people in the country have become so polarized it is no longer possible to have a civil conversation with someone who disagrees with you on any given issue. Rather than an honest give-and-take discussion, people are labeled - even on the basis of a single issue or single comment - as either Conservative or Liberal. If you are in one camp, there is a genuine hatred for anyone in the other camp. Flag-wavers vs flag-burners. Patriots vs Traitors. Hannity vs Maddow.

Each side spends most of their time in their own echo-chamber and rarely hear the views from the other side, other than the spin put on opposing views by the talking heads on the favorite TV channel within the comfort-zone bubble. Or they might invite a guest from "the other side," then constantly talk over them when they try to say anything.

What's especially appalling is that people of one persuasion have become genuinely afraid to let their views be known, at least by someone they don't know all that well. There could be repercussions in the workplace or in school. I heard of one student who had gotten along well with a professor for most of the semester, until the liberal professor learned the student held conservative views and the prof's attitude immediately soured toward the kid. I heard of a young girl who started choking another girl who had expressed admiration for Trump. We are seeing more examples of in-your-face behavior in restaurants and other public places, as well as personal violence for wearing a hat or t-shirt or a comment that triggers instant rage.

The level of vulgarity also continues to descend into the sewer. How can otherwise-intelligent people think that cursing someone out is going to persuade them to listen to your views?

And given the proliferation of guns in America and open-carry states, how long before that behavior turns into shootings - simply for exercising your 1st Amendment right?

The Americans are united in one area: widespread ignorance of what things are like in the rest of the world, based on misinformation promoted by the US media, left and right. For example, the impression Homelanders are given is that terrorists have overrun Europe - since 2012, one shooting attack, two bombings, four trucks driven into crowds in Western Europe. In that same timeframe in the US, two truck attacks, 4 bombings, 15 mass shootings (not counting the daily activity in Chicago and Baltimore), a bioterror attack, and a couple of machete lunatics.

There are dark forces at work. The uber-wealthy on both sides of the fence (the Koch brothers, Adelson, Soros …) own the politicians and own the media, and they are manipulating the messages that dominate the airwaves and social media to deliberately divide the American people. The bogeyman changes with the news cycle - one day Putin, another day immigrants, another day terrorists - but there's always a constant stoking of the Us vs Them flames. Most Americans are so busy just trying to cover their mortgage, car loan, credit card debt and other bills that there's little time to even consider, to any depth, the major issues and forces at work in the country and the world. So they accept the headlines and spin from a single "trusted" source and ignore or reject all other voices.

I left the US five years ago, and have only started to discover the rest of the fascinating world beyond Etats-Unis. But since I've been gone, the America I know has all but disappeared. It's not only sad, it's become truly frightening. With no real leadership in sight anywhere, it will only get worse.

Monday, July 9, 2018

We've been De-Matriculated and Kbis-ed into Oblivion

Trying to get a replacement for our stolen automobile registration in France has to be about the 3rd most frustrating experience of the past several years.

The new online "carte gris" system is totally bolloxed. (I'm trying to be polite here in mixed company. What I really want to do is scream obscenities en fran├žais at the top of my lungs.)

It's been since December … now into early July … that we have been without an official registration since ours was stolen when the driver's window was smashed by some a** or a**es who did likewise to more than a dozen cars in the village.

It so happens that was the week the French government decided to take a very functional process -- go to the local mairie, make your request, give them your tampon (company stamp), and off you happily go. They launched the online system with virtually no warning and no training, turned it over to 3rd-party vendors, and immediately there was a 100,000 backlog. Car dealers trying to sell new and used cars were especially livid. I can imagine their blood pressure now that the backlog is about 300,000.

The vendor we are dealing with allegedly lost our paperwork after the initial wait of 3-4 months. So we had to repeat the process.

They called yesterday, and said they need a different piece of documentation for the business, what's know as a Kbis. So we copied the Kbis from when the business was initiated in 2013, and drove in the 90-degree F heat (no AC in the car) to the vendor. Oh, no, they said, the document has to be current within the last two years.

Back home, ordering the updated Kbis via the web took only three tries. Seriously, the bank needs to provide an authorization code for a €4.62 transaction?

In other downbeat motoring news, on 1 July the French reduced the speed limit on secondary roads (without centre barriers) from 90 kph - about 55 mph - to 80 kph, or about 50 … and drivers are irate. Appears to be mostly an extra revenue grab, as France has installed thousands of highway speed cameras and even provides private contractors with speed guns to shoot their fellow motorists.

Maybe we'll take the train more … wait, are they on strike today?