Uncategorized

Electric Vehicles are superior.

A friend posted a pic on FB showing a small gas generator charging an electric vehicle. It was the second anti-EV post of his in a short time and I also seem to get plenty from FB “Suggested for You” posts pushing EV negativity and from other people; sometimes from those who despise a clean environment, like guys driving around their monster diesel pickup trucks who purposely adjust their rigs to make clouds of black smoke to ‘own the libs’ and others who are sincere but are being snowed by big oil propaganda, so this is to clarify matters.

He called the picture ironic. Well, sure, but it’s also a sad commentary on the unpreparedness of govt for the transition to EVs. There should be charging stations everywhere. It’s early in the transition, but there would at least be a lot more if oil-soaked Republicans and conservatives in other countries weren’t trying to hold up progress.

Big joke on EVs, right? But, really, consider, most EVs get 200 to 300 miles (360 kms to 500kms) on a charge and most people seldom go that far, so most of the time they’d be very conveniently charging it at home in contrast to ICEs (Internal Combustion Engines) always to having to fill up at a gas station. While the cost of electricity is generally very stable, gas can very quickly shoot up in price and you are always dependent on the greedy oil companies. I remember the oil embargo of the 1970s when the biggest problem was availability, there were long lines waiting to fill up. Can you beat plugging it in at home?

Considering fossil fuels are a finite resource and the closer you come to using it up the costlier it gets, the price can only go up. Where do these anti-EV guys think they’ll get the energy to keep ICEs on the road? With EVs there’s always the possibility of installing solar panels on your house to produce your own power. They also can come in handy when there’s a power outage. A fully charged Ford F150 EV pickup can power an average house for three full days.

Anti-EV people also like to point out that many EVs are being charged with electricity from coal power plants. First thing to point out in that regard is that coal is being steadily phased out, especially in the US where it’s cheaper today to build new wind and solar than it is to feed an existing coal plant. It now makes up less than 20% of America’s power and going down every year. Countries building coal plants today are throwing money away considering renewables are already cheaper to build than coal. Besides, if the world is to survive as we know it, that coal burning has to stop very soon. All told, you are still better off pollutionwise using coal to power EVs than just using ICEs because it’s easier to control pollution from a single source than millions of individual vehicles. And the single source would generally be away from dense population centers.

EV skeptics like to point out damage to the earth from the mining necessary to produce lithium and other special metals used in modern EVs. Yes that is a problem and it will be a challenge to produce enough to convert the whole fleet. Still, the environmental cost of extracting oil for the life of an ICE vehicle is far greater.

In its essence electric power is far more efficient than ICE power. Electric motors are about 95% efficient in converting energy to movement, whereas ICEs are 45%, the rest going to exhaust and heat.

Electrics have features like regenerative braking where every time you stop you are generating electricity. Essentially, without getting technical, the same machine we call a motor can also be used as a generator with only a change in the wiring. In place of using energy to spin the motor and move the vehicle, the energy needed to stop the vehicle is used to generate electricity. Regenerative braking is one reason why the Toyota Prius gets more mileage in town than on the road. In an ICE stopping is just friction and brakes have to be replaced regularly. A EV with regenerative braking will seldom need their friction brakes replaced since a big part of the energy to stop is done by the motor.

The other reason they are far more efficient is that EVs don’t idle. When they are at a stop they use no electricity, except for accessories of course. All of us have been in serious traffic jams at times. You’re stuck in stop and go traffic and the motor is chugging away when you’re not moving. The same is true of traffic lights, the engine is working while you wait for the green, but not EVs. Electric urban delivery trucks were common in the 1920s. They don’t go very far so there’s no big deal about range and the fact they don’t idle means they use the same amount of energy whether it takes an hour to make the trip or 10 minutes.

EVs are nearly silent. Some countries are thinking of requiring EVs to make little sounds for the sake of the blind and anybody not paying sufficient attention.

EVs are so simple and dependable, when the entire fleet is converted it’ll take one third as many workers to build them and one third as many to maintain them.

Everything about electrics is better, the only exception being the time it takes to recharge compared to filling a gas tank, but really, after going 300 miles (500kms) it should be time for a break and it won’t be long before fast charging will bring the time down to 30 minutes or so.

People who drive EVs positively love them.

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Uncategorized

Facebook is a pain in the A**

Facebook is one of those facets of modern life that’s hard to do without: How else would I be able to maintain contact with family and friends around the world? Sure there are others, but that would mean trying to get all those people to switch. Besides, I hesitate to add another social media site since it would be just another place to take up my time and energy.

At any rate here’s what fb is hassling me with lately.

Facebook’s algorithm has tagged me for a spammer because I repeat myself every day. You see, I live in a small town of about 50,000 people in Cambodia. Since I’ve always had a layman’s interest in the weather and our town has no official weather station, I’ve become our de facto weatherman. So every day on our local noticeboard I give yesterday’s high, the morning’s low, rain, wind, projections for the future, and it’s all spam to the non-human machine that runs these mostly rote operations.

As a result, every couple of days they call me out as a spammer and have me run through a series of pop-up pages explaining why I’m breaking their standards, etc. On the fourth pop up I have a choice of disagreeing with their decision. At some point I’m told only I and the Noticeboard can see these posts, so of course, the Noticeboard simply passes them on every day. Kampot Noticeboard is a closed group with about 14,000 members and multiple admins and fully capable of knowing what’s spam, yet the algorithm keeps usurping or trying to usurp the local board’s functions.

Here’s what they send me after I disagree with their decision.

“You disagreed with the decision

We usually offer the chance to request a review, and follow up if we got decisions wrong.

We have fewer reviewers available right now because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. We’re trying hard to prioritize reviewing content with the most potential for harm.

This means we may not be able to follow up with you, though your feedback helps us do better in the future.

Thank you for understanding.”

How about that? Because of covid, one of the world’s most valued corporations, based on the internet, no less, can’t find anybody to work for them. And wouldn’t you think I’d get priority for revue since they’ve tagged me dozens of times?

To avoid the frequent hassles a friend suggested I start a personal page and then link to the Noticeboard. Okay I do that and click where is says, link to a group, but when you get there at the bottom of the little blurb which talks about linking, there’s a button which says create a group, but no place to link to a group. Friends tried to explain how to do it, but from a smartphone, the possibility doesn’t exist for PCs.

Then someone pointed out there’s a place for feedback so I tried notifying them there… twice now, but no response. They evidently can’t afford staffing the feedback button either.

As a result, I believe, of the constant accusation of spam, every few days I get a notice that there’s been suspicious activity on my account so they run me through four more pop-up pages and ask me to change my password, which I’ve now done many times in the last couple months.

The worst most insidious crap fb has been putting me through is how often I get ‘suggested for you’ posts that are hateful towards Biden, Fauci and Dems and lately I even got one that claimed renewable energy is bad for the earth. I’ve got friends who are deeply into the 10% truckers’ convoy so I get lots of ‘suggested…’ involving the convoy and antivax memes and evidently their algorithm assumes if I hate vaccines I must also hate Biden. Right wing memes are not the only suggested promotions I get, but they seem to be most prominent. As I remember they’ve been pushing their wingnut politics right along.

There really needs to be some way to break FBs dominance of social media or at least require it to respond with more than a machine.

The tendency of internet companies to be inaccessible by the internet is nothing new. I had a similar hassle with Google a while back. After several years I was unable to access my blog. The story is somewhat convoluted, but suffice to say the only avenue they allowed for contacting them was through snail mail. You have to send a letter to their main office in California. I gave up and changed to WordPress.

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Kampot, Cambodia

My Kampot Nights

I love the tropics at night. There’s never a time when it’s too cold to sit outside here, though it can get a bit less than warm a few days a year when the temperature goes below 21C – 70F. Not like in Portland where it’s always very chilly at night, a least that was true until global warming heated things up. There are also times when it’s raining very hard which tends to keep people at home since 90% of all traffic is motorbikes, mostly what Americans call scooters, and it can get quite uncomfortable in one of those 5 second drenchers, five clicks and you’re soaking wet. Two significant other perks of living in the tropics? I never wear shoes unless I’m hiking and women can dress like it’s summer all year.

I used to go out almost every night, drink five, maybe six beers; now age has crept up on me and I’m relegated to every other night and only four beers. Staying at home can get really boring. When I’m out it’s people, music, good times and conversations lubricated by alcohol and warm easy feelings. Before covid we had lots of live music, it’s returning, but slowly.

Most of the bars I go to are not air-con so are completely open to the outside, there are no doors just folding gates. People take their dogs to bars and you’ll see kids there too, why not? It doesn’t happen often, usually only in the early evenings, anyway it’s just people enjoying themselves. Also there’s nearly always outdoor seating. You’ll sometimes see kids at outdoor music events running around having a good time.

Basic type beers are almost always one dollar in the places I go and that hasn’t changed in the 14 years I’ve lived here. There are places to drink for less, as low as 50 cents for the standard 330ml (11.2 oz.) draft and a few others where I might pay more than a dollar, but anyway you look at it it’s el cheapo to drink here. Spirits the same. Sin taxes are very low here so a liter bottle of Bailey’s is like $16, Kailua $11… a liter bottle of local whisky is less than two dollars and it’s not bad tasting. Sin taxes only penalize the poor.

There are also locally produced craft beers. We had a craft brewers festival in which 10 brewers and about 200 tasters showed up. You don’t really need a license if you’re only doing four cases a week as per a friend and there aren’t any inspections. He should have a license and they aren’t that hard to get and don’t cost much. There are no restrictions on foreign ownership of businesses.

If there are 20 people in the bar there’ll be 8 or 10 nationalities represented and people of all ages. At 80 I’m almost always the oldest person, but even 40 years ago when I went to a dance venue, I‘d often be the oldest. Currently the five bartenders in the bar I most frequent hail from England, Finland, Germany, Australia and Japan.

It’s great to be hanging out with a sampling of the world, much more interesting than in America where I’d be home most nights a week drinking a couple beers by myself. That’s partly because it’s kind of expensive there, partly because my all-white, all-American old fart friends aren’t much into bars. It’d be excruciatingly boring and I’d be bemoaning my fate. Here I can enjoy as much nighttime fun as my body can handle.

We smoke in the bars here, both tobacco and cannabis, though neither is legally or officially sanctioned. And not every bar, each has its own rules. Officially, smoking in bars was banned some 5 or 6 years ago. To enforce that rule the police came by with No Smoking signs. We obeyed them for a few days, the police never came by to check and after ignoring the signs for a year or so they were removed. If you don’t cause the police problems they’re not going to bother you.

I don’t really like being around tobacco smoke, but I did it to so many people when I was smoking, I almost feel I deserve it; besides as I say, the bar is open to the outside and with a few fans you don’t notice it much, though I can in fact smell it on my clothes sometimes. With Cambodia having very low sin taxes you can buy a carton of cheap locally made cigs for $1.25, that’s not a pack, that’s a carton. The government does require awful photos of diseased lungs on every pack and I’m sure everybody knows what they’re doing is not healthy, but what the hell, it’s their choice.

Cannabis is a very interesting case since it’s definitely illegal and growers and larger dealers do get busted, but at the same time there are ‘happy’ pizza restaurants here in Kampot and in the heart of Phnom Penh where they will sprinkle some on your pizza upon request and many don’t even charge extra. It’s even strong enough I can only eat one slice, though it’s true I’m not much into edibles. So in the bars that allow it, we smoke without a thought or concern. If the authorities did want to stop it, they wouldn’t bust they’d just tell the proprietor to end it. If it’s a small farmer growing it, they’ll take his crop and reeducate him to not do it again, but not jail him.

It’s really time for Cambodia to loosen up. It’s practically legal in neighboring Thailand and cannabis is part of a long tradition here. Before the UN came in 1993, you could buy a shopping bag of weed for one dollar in the public market. I was told locals used to smoke it when they couldn’t afford tobacco and they’d routinely use it to flavor soups and such.

There are no closing times here, some bars stay open as long as they have customers, 24 hours if they want. They do have to be aware of not making a lot of racket in the wee hours, but there are no official restrictions.

I can’t really expound on bars in Kampot without including the hostess bars, an activity which I’ve been know to partake of. We had none until 4 or 5 years ago, but now there are plenty. There’s no red light district which I would’ve preferred, but rather they’re scattered around, though mostly in one general area. They coexist with other bars and businesses as part of Cambodia’s live and let live way of life. 

Any way you look at it, I’m truly enjoying myself and loving my life; it’s the perfect place to live out my waning years.

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renewable energy, Uncategorized

Green Machine Update

Note: the following was written mostly for Cambodia: further comments at the end of the text.

Two things prompted me to get this update together. One was seeing people pushing around their non-functioning motos (in Cambodia the word motorbikes gets shortened to motos) almost every day or hearing people trying to start them… wra, wra, wra, wra, wra, wra, wra, wra. The other part is seeing people I know who could afford a new electric trike instead putting a whole family on a motorbike, or in an assortment of other fossil driven moto-trailers, tuk-tuks or honky old cars.

In the first place, E-Trikes have no starters, you turn the key and it’s ready to go. There’s no sound. In fact I’ve gotten into trouble a couple times by leaving the key on and, standing outside the trike, absentmindedly grabbing the throttle and getting dragged along… whoa. It’s always been there 100% ready to go.

I’ve now been tooling around Kampot and environs for two years and it’s been a marvelous experience. Imagine driving a vehicle that long and never spending a penny on maintenance or repairs of the drive train. Or having to stop for gas.

They are just so simple. It takes only three parts to get it moving. Four 150 amp truck batteries, a 1kw (equivalent to 1.3 hp) motor which is about 15cm by 15cm – 6 inches by 6 inches – and a controller where all the wiring is funneled. The controller is the size of a cigar box and costs about $125. I’ll need to replace the batteries in 3 to 5 years for about $500. If they last 5 years it will’ve cost me about $10 per month for energy. The motor and controller will last a long time, they don’t go bad very often.

Yes, I’ve had to do brakes, tires and lights, but that’s part of every vehicle. Further, because the roof is outfitted with 2 square meters of solar cells and I never drive very far I’ve never had to plug it in. It has always produced more electricity than I need. The farthest I’ve gone was 60 kms, but since the roof provides 30 kms for one day’s sun, the batteries still had an 85% charge when I returned home. A full charge is good for 80 kms.

Even if you have a new fossil driven vehicle, you’d still need an oil change in 2 years time and maybe tune-ups and you’ll be stopping for gas on a regular basis.

Greenie was built by Star8 here in Cambodia in 2014, It’s like a beta model, an experiment to see what worked, and I had to make a lot of remedial changes to the basic design to get it to function properly. The design concept was good, but the execution was seriously lacking. The detailed story is on my website http://tripeast.com. The latest model includes a windshield. In mine, there’s no way to stay dry when it’s raining hard, but that’s not a problem for me since I don’t mind getting wet, well, not in the tropics anyway and there are ways to hook curtains up.

I’m not sure the company is still in business, I sent an email weeks ago that hasn’t been answered. They have a complete webpage showing quite a few bikes, trikes, both passenger and cargo, and small electric buses. They had a factory in Phnom Penh and did all kinds of solar but the company seems to keep going through rough patches. I was going to urge everyone to switch to electric, but if Star8 is kaput I don’t know anyplace to buy one here in Cambodia. China makes them, though not usually with solar roofs.

The point I wanted to make was, if you have the money you owe it to yourself and the world to switch to electric, but if there’s no place to buy one that becomes problematic.

If I was twenty years younger, I’d be manufacturing them. The body is simple metal fabrication, the roof is fiberglass. You can buy a rear axle assembly, including motor, differential and brakes as a single unit with a controller already wired to it. The front wheel and handlebar are a basic motorbike assembly.

Very frequently lately I see people pushing the idea that EVs are bad for the world. There are challenges to the conversion of the entire fleet, but nothing compared to the destruction inherent in continuing to burn fossil fuels. Most EV skeptics don’t realize they’ve been manipulated by the fossil industry, others just have an irrational hatred of clean energy. And yet… and yet, they can’t really believe fossil fuels will last forever, can they?

The great thing about electricity is that it’s about 95% effective in converting energy to work, as opposed to combustion engines which are about 45%, the rest goes into heat and exhaust. They don’t idle, no electricity is used when it’s not moving. They also have regenerative breaking, meaning energy is produced every time you hit the brakes. When you put energy into a motor it does work, when you make the same machine work it becomes a generator. Only the wiring differentiates the two purposes.

EV’s are so simple and efficient that when the entire ICE fleet is converted to Electric it’ll take one third as many workers to make them and one third as many to maintain them.

In every way EVs are superior.

Addition: Even if Greenie was street legal it wouldn’t be appropriate in America, it’s too small and too slow. It looks normal sized in the picture, but on the street it’s tiny. It also is totally open air and not the thing for inclement weather. Still, the idea that a vehicle can produce all its power and never need a speck of maintenance in two full years is boggling. Greenie is lightweight so two square meters can get you quite a distance. Solar on a typical electric car roof wouldn’t get you very far but even a few miles is something and should be pursued.

Update: Well it happened, Greenie wouldn’t go on demand. It had been slowing down and drawing too much energy and I was forced to work on it. I got out my multimeter and discovered one of it’s four batteries was low. Upon advice I started to unhook it from the others so I could charge it individually with a 12V charger. I have a 48V charger that juices up all four at once. I discovered that the clamp holding the cable to the terminal was broken… well that would certainly account for the weakness. I tried to charge up the weak battery but it wouldn’t take; I could see that one cell was dead, there were no bubbles indicating it was charging.

There was no way around buying another battery. It’s a bit of a mystery why a broken clamp would kill one cell of the battery. Maybe it had been broken for a long time and just slowly drained the battery. The clamp was still in place and making some contact even if not quite adequate. Anyway, not bad for once in two years and it was a freak besides; It’s strange how the clamp, made of thick brass, could crack and break in two after all that time. At any rate, at least I learned all four batteries need to be fully charged for it to run properly.

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Politics, US Politics

Disaster Socialism

Lefty politicos are familiar with Naomi Klein’s seminal work: Disaster Capitalism, where corporate friendly politicians of both parties use natural disasters and political instability to introduce privatization type/corporation friendly programs that would be a lot more difficult to implement in uneventful times.

After Katrina, New Orleans went big for charter schools and closed down a low income housing project that hadn’t been flooded, but is located on real estate with a lot more value than housing for commoners. The mayor was a black Democrat.

So now we have the Democrats – bless their hearts they’re finally getting some gumption – bringing a sea change in providing benefits for America’s proletariat. They’re using the pressure of the great needs caused by the virus to bring large scale aid to families. It’s only for one year, but already there’s talk of making it permanent. It will be impossible to abandon after people have gotten used to it. Just imagine, a government that actively tries to make people’s lives easier. A far cry from Trump meanspiritedly cutting back on food stamps at the height of the pandemic and trying to make it harder for the disabled to claim Social Security benefits.

The child tax credit – which in one form or another is common across Europe – of $3000 per year per child will make a vast difference in people’s lives. This will make it much easier to properly care for children. Considering 40% of Americans don’t have savings to cover a measly $400 emergency, that money will be transformational for a great many. And how about the millions of parents earning minimum wage?

People will remember where it came from and vote accordingly, if they’re allowed to vote at all, that is, with state-legislative Repugs going all out all over the country to suppress the vote. They’re even going against their own constituents who support easier voting.

The tax credit will cost $120 billion, that’s about what Bezos’ wealth increased by in 2020. How about free tuition at public colleges: Only $70b, though it is true that a lot more people will attend if it’s free and even lots more if good students receive a stipend. An educated populace would make a great improvement in society as was clearly shown by the results of the last election: All the dozen or so most educated states went for Biden, all the twelve least were trump voters.

The other major goals of progressives: Voting rights, Medicare for All, Green New Deal will have to wait on a change in the Senate’s filibuster rules. Mitch McConnell who’s been scorching the earth with his extreme partisanship and total absence of integrity for years, now threatens to scorch the earth if Dems change the filibuster rules. The filibuster exists only in the Senate’s rules, it’s nowhere in law or constitution. It’s mostly been used in the past to stymie civil rights legislation.

Senators used to have to try to talk a bill to death, but lately it only takes an email from the minority leader and 60 votes to pass. If the 50 Dems agree they can change the rules at any time. One proposal is to require talking filibuster but also require 41 senators on the floor the whole time. Senate rules say it only takes a quorum, 50 senators, to pass a law. If they don’t keep 41 then the Dems can come to the floor 50 strong at any time, surprise them at 3am, and pass the legislation. The outcome of that battle is still up in the air since there are a couple recalcitrant Dem senators who want to keep the filibuster.

If Dems are to be sure of success in next year’s election, passage of the Voting Rights Act is crucial since the GOP is full speed ahead on suppressing the vote around the country and will have a free hand in many states to gerrymander themselves into power. If in addition to guaranteeing voting rights, D.C. and Puerto Rico are admitted as states the Dems will be unbeatable.

All of the programs that congressional Repugs are adamantly opposed to are widely popular, even in most cases to a majority of Repub voters.

The Repugs are shooting themselves in the feet, but are so manically ideological they don’t care/can’t see the harm they are doing to their party. They evidently figure they can make up in lost voters by putting obstacles in the way of progressives voting. They may be right, that’s why it’s imperative that the filibuster be changed even if it’s only for the Voting Rights Act. If that’s past it’ll be clear sailing after 2022.

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Cambodia Politics and Development, Kampot, Cambodia, Uncategorized

Cruising in Cambodia

Driving in America is exceedingly simple: Stay in your lane, keep a safe distance, watch for brake lights. Traffic is orderly and highly organized and almost all vehicles are four-wheelers. Road rage often ensues when a motorist gets out of line, breaks the rhythm, even sometimes for a minor infraction.

In contrast to the US where there’s only an occasional bike or motorbike to break the pattern, here two wheelers make up about 80% of all traffic with three-wheelers of all sorts along with cars and such making up the rest. Most 2-wheelers here are 125cc or less, what we’d call scooters in America.

In contrast to the strict orderly nature of American traffic, being out on the road here is like entering a miasma of opposing, sometimes conflicting intentions in a panoply of different kinds of vehicles. There are 3 wheel taxis and delivery vehicles and a variety of trailers pulled by motorbikes or sometimes very slow one cylinder diesel tractors. There are hand carts, bicycles and here in Kampot an occasional pony cart. In a car you feel like a big fish surrounded by little ones scurrying about. When they pass you and return to the lane they sometimes come very close.. used to freak me out, still don’t like it, but now I just blow it off.

They can come at you from all directions and not just by cutting corners as they are wont to do, but you often see 2-wheelers driving near the curb in the wrong direction. For instance, you’re coming to an intersection on a bike and want to make a left turn, but there’s too much traffic to cross so you just drive the wrong direction along the curb until you see an opening in the flow where you can slide over. Sometimes your destination is to the left and would mean crossing traffic twice to reach it so you don’t bother and drive the wrong way, sometimes as much as a few blocks.

There’re also pedestrians to consider since sidewalks are often not available. They’re either usurped for parking or commercial purposes or they’re so poorly designed as to be difficult to use. For instance, property owners have free reign to build the walk in front of their place to their taste with no reference to neighboring sidewalks and no government standards to abide by. As a result some will be higher than the adjacent ones and others built on a serious slant. When not encumbered they’re often so ragged it’s easier to walk on the street, but having people walking on the street is dangerous and disconcerting for both walker and driver. It wasn’t always that way, back in the sixties before the country’s troubles all the sidewalks were built on the same level and kept clear for pedestrian use.

In the states you can zone out while driving, especially plying the same route every day. You don’t have to think, you’re like a drone. Last time I was in Portland, Ore. walking around downtown in rush hour I saw two drivers in quick succession almost cause accidents because they were on their phones and running on autopilot. And the thing is neither was even aware of how close they came to causing an accident.

Here you can’t space out for a second; you never know what might be coming in your direction or cutting you off. You might see a big SUV or pickup truck with it’s ass end blocking half of your lane; it’s a small town and drivers are often quite lackadaisical about how they park. It’s worth noting that there were hardly any cars 20 years ago, so most drivers are new to the skill. Sometimes people drive very slowly (like me at 78) or there’s a vehicle in front that can’t move very fast and some sections of street are more potholes than pavement.

What’s most fascinating about driving in Cambodia is that people rarely get bent out of shape over even blatantly bad or incompetent driving. Every time I’m out I see many instances of clueless motoring that would result in road murder back there. Even when someone crashes a red light and forces others to wait for them to pass do you see more than a grimace, they shrug off the transgression and move on. They sometimes honk their horns to warn you they’re coming or to arrogantly insist you get out of their way, but not in anger when someone else forces a quick braking response.

It’s give and take, ebb and flow: an intricate dance that requires a constant readiness to adjust for unexpected behavior. That’s one reason why I’m more comfortable riding a bicycle here than back in the states: here everyone on the road is on the lookout for every possible contingency. Back there 2-wheelers are often invisible, auto drivers don’t expect odd vehicles to be on the road.

However that magical dance where everything goes smoothly doesn’t always work out and there are lots of accidents. Everybody has their souvenir motorbike scars. And since there’s little enforcement of rules of the road, you can drive as fast as you want here; the only time you’ll get into trouble is if you actually cause an accident and even then lots of people just run. Sometimes it’s fear for their own safety that they run since crowds of locals have been known to deal very harshly and right on the spot with dangerous drivers, though that happened mostly in the past and not so much in Kampot.

The police will never try to stop a moving vehicle or chase an offender down unless the case is especially grievous. They consider it too dangerous. The streets are quite chaotic and most drivers would try to outrun them.

The police rarely are out and about, they don’t really patrol, but they’re always near by. The country is divided into 1760 communes and each one has a police station. For instance, Phnom Penh, a city of 1.5 million, has about 100 communes. They’re akin to American neighborhoods except they also have administrative duties.

I know two people who were seriously hurt by motorbike drivers going way too fast in congested areas. One had a serious break in her leg, the other eventually lost part of his leg below the knee. It must be said, in fairness, that both were also known for driving too fast, though in those individual cases the onus was still mostly on the young Khmer speeders. The second probably would have saved his leg if he hadn’t depended initially on the local medical system which can be very rudimentary at times. When he finally decided to go back to the UK to have it worked on it was too late.

A few years back an arrogant, privileged young expat, part owner of a riverside resort, was driving his big bike very fast on a country road when he hit and killed two local people who had turned right on to the road without looking. They do it all the time. He had already been warned by the police to slow down. The upshot was he had to cough up $35,000 for the families, and very likely a little tea money for the police, and was immediately deported.

In another case the son of a government VIP borrowed his father’s car without asking, got stinking drunk and drove very fast in a congested area. He wound up killing a tuk-tuk (3 wheel taxi) driver leaving a wife and four kids. She settled for $3500, a paltry amount for a life, but the little people are quite stoic about being taken advantage of by the powerful. He wasn’t rich like many who have government jobs here, but he does own a car worth $10,000. Both killers should have spent at least a few years in prison, but like a lot of places in the world, standards are different for the peons and the powerful.

One of the things we expats like about living in a third world country like Cambodia is that there are fewer rules and regulations that govern life and enforcement of those that do exist is often lax and/or fungible.

For instance, Cambodia has a seatbelt law, but I’m too lazy to bother. That’s in spite of a story told to me once by a woman I met on an Amtrak trip. She was headed home after a long drive and stopped at a rest stop about 10 miles from her destination. She always wore her belt but getting back on the freeway she figured it was such a short distance it wasn’t worth the bother and very quickly was involved in a serious accident that laid her up in the hospital for months. There are no rules here about car seats for kids. People routinely drive their motorbikes one handed while holding the kid in the other. They dial and talk on their phones while driving their bikes.

However the police do occasionally set up check points where they fine bike riders for not wearing helmets or having rear view mirrors and car drivers for not using their seatbelts. In Phnom Penh, the capital, they are quite strict and nearly everybody wears a helmet, but here in Kampot it’s only about 25%. So far the helmet law only applies to the driver and it’s common to see bikes with one or two or even three extra passengers so they’re not even required to have them.

Driving age is 15, but here in my small town, about 60,000 population, you see kids as young as nine or ten driving their little scooters. No matter how often I see it, I still can’t get used to it. I can’t imagine my little kid out in that chaotic traffic. Some are cautious drivers, others zip around like little demons. They learned all their bad driving habits from their parents and rarely wear helmets, like the general population. Bicycles are dangerous enough in traffic but at least they don’t go very fast.

I did get ticketed once for not having my seatbelt on; cost me $6.25. They never asked to see my driver’s license or car registration. Though they might’ve asked in Phnom Penh or other cities, in Kampot they are quite relaxed about things like that. It used to be very easy to get a license as long as you had a valid one from another country, just pay an agent $35 or so. Now you have to go through government rigmarole. It’s not that big a deal and a lot cheaper at only $2.50, but the only place it can be done at present is in Phnom Penh, about 100 miles away, so for now I’m driving with one that expired a couple years ago. I haven’t been asked to see my license in years, but if I was it’d probably cost $20 or $30 to continue driving. You can often bargain with them, How about $10?

The above paragraph was written six months ago. They’ve increased traffic fines and are strict about driving licenses, now a $30 fine for driving a bike (greater than 125cc) without one and $200 for a car, lots of people who didn’t think it was worth the bother before are scrambling to get theirs. They’ve also make it easier for us expats to obtain and renew licenses.

I don’t drive very far and mostly at night. It’s strictly bicycle in the daytime even when it’s raining unless I need to cart something around that requires a car. Driving at night has special hazards since many motorbikes don’t have working lights: sometimes they’re lazy to get them fixed, other times they’re really poor and don’t have the little money it takes – and maybe there’s a special problem that does cost a few extra bucks – and sometimes they don’t use them just for fun! Especially for someone my age, with waning eyesight, it is disconcerting to say the least to come across nearly invisible vehicles. I was once trying to cross a busy street where my vision was blocked by a truck. It was night so I could see headlights coming, I waited a bit and started off when the way looked clear and almost hit a bike with no lights… I generally drive very slowly so it was no problem stopping in time.

Many auto drivers don’t get the purpose of using running lights while stopping for a short time so they leave their headlights on, which is a particular problem when they’re on the side of the street directly facing you.

The registration card for my car has the original Khmer owner’s name. Most cars here were imported used from the US about ten years old: sometimes they leave the American license plates on till the new local ones are obtained which causes quite a doubletake the first time you see a California plate here. When I bought the car I obtained an official bill of sale and the paperwork for the past owners and that’s enough.

They are trying to tighten up a bit. I bought my first car in 2007, with it I got a registration card and a form to pay my annual road tax, $25 for a 4-cylinder, ten times as much for 6s and 8s. All went well paying my taxes for the first six years. The following year I took the tax form in and the fellow behind the desk said he needed to see my registration card. That was a first. I returned with the card, he took a good hard look and told me the two didn’t match. What the hell? The form was all in the local language so I had no idea what any of it meant. I went home, checked the paperwork I had and the vehicle ID number and it turned out the ID didn’t match the registration card or tax form. All three were different. My guess is the car was imported without paying taxes and that the importers then got tax paperwork, plates and registration from cars that were junked. It was an illegal alien.

Many of the neighboring countries place hurdles and make you go through hoops to be able to drive there, but it’s as easy as can be here and one of the country’s greatest draws for people like us. Scooters can be rented here in Kampot for about $5 day (bicycles for $1/day) and driver’s licenses aren’t needed for anything 125cc and under. A good running older model scooter can be had for about $300 and repairs are dirt cheap. Talking about dirt, dirt bike enthusiasts are in heaven here with lots of funky roads to test their skills. Per capita income in Cambodia is only about $1500 per year so there’s a tremendous backlog of roads that need upgrading. Those rangy mud pit roads will sorely try your patience in rainy season if you only want to get somewhere rather than horse around in the mud on a big dirt bike.

The emphasis on 2 wheelers not just makes it easy to get around, but also they’re very light on the environment. They’re so common, lots of expats here who could afford a car, still use bikes. I don’t like them, for me it’s either bicycle or car. I even feel a little guilty about driving a car; even though my current one is tiny, its still a guzzler compared to a motorbike.

All in all it’s an exciting time on the roads of Cambodia.

Update: since I wrote this I acquired a solar electric tuk-tuk, but that’s another story… coming soon.

Kiddies on scooters.  https://www.facebook.com/100010265837992/videos/989366154748903/

 

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Coronavirus, Uncategorized

Fed Takes Drastic Action to Shield Investors from the Vagaries of the Free Market.

Yet even with the sharp falls of the last few days on March 19 the price earnings ratio of the S and P index was almost twenty to one, one third higher than the historical average, meaning the market was still overpriced. Price/earnings is the only logical way to judge the value of a stock. Simply put, it’s the earnings of the firm over the stock value so, lets say, the company is worth $100 and the earnings are $10 you have a P/E of 10 to 1, or a ten percent return, not a bad investment. If your earnings are $5 your P/E is 20 to 1, or a five percent return, not so good. Back in the dot com boom of the late nineties it was up over 100 to 1. In the Great Depression it was 8 or 10 to 1. Historically, averaged over the last 120 years, it’s been between 14 and 16 to 1 depending on how you calculate it.

So you have the Fed freaking out, throwing trillions around when the market is still too high. In NPRs business show you hear happy music when the market goes up, sad when it goes down, but it’s not a song and dance; if the market is valued too high to begin with you should be hearing happy music when it goes down. It isn’t always supposed to go up, it’s supposed to reflect true value, ‘the magic of the free market’.

Interest rates are slashed to near zero, free money for the banks, but of course not credit card or student loan costs, they’re always a rip-off. Interest rates have been rock bottom for a decade in the near desperate mania for forever growth.

But how can you worry about preventing a recession when people can’t even leave their houses? Whole industries are shutting down, all entertainment shelved, there’s no place to spend money to ‘boost’ the economy. The only task now is to keep people afloat until some level of normalcy returns to society. That obviously is going to take shiploads of money.

If we followed the advice of John Maynard Keynes an extra trillion dollars of borrowing would not be such a big deal. He formed his ideas during the Great Depression. When the economy tanked after the stock market crash of 1929, then president Herbert Hoover responded to falling government income by cutting expenditures. Made sense to him at the time, but he also thought it would hurt people’s self reliance if they received food handouts. Hunger spurs to action, right? Keynes suggested that it was important to spend more in hard times to ameliorate the effects of the depression, but that the govt should also put money away in good times to balance its books. The neolibs embraced the deficit part, but pretended the balancing savings weren’t important and besides that would mean raising taxes. It helps the economy look good when you borrow the equivalent of 5% of GDP but eventually, at least in theory, at some time you have to pay it back.

So where are we now? One trillion dollars of emergency money will be added to the already planned trillion dollar deficit and it’s very likely that won’t be the last tranche of extraordinary expenditures that will be needed. That’s all on top of record student debt, credit card debt,   corporate debt. The country is leveraged to the limit and it could easily all come crashing down when millions seek coronavirus treatment.

The health care industry’s stocks shot up when Biden captured most supertuesday states since he’s positively opposed to M4A and totally behind protecting their profits, but the whole system will implode when it’s overloaded with people who can’t afford treatment. 40% of Americans don’t have $400 on hand in case of an emergency and it’s a good bet most either don’t have insurance or couldn’t come up with co-pays if they did. Even many of the ones who do have a few dollars in savings couldn’t handle the co-pay cost of a day or two in an ICU.

Anyway, it’s going to come to a head way before Jan 2021 when the next president takes the oath. Best estimates are that Covid-19 will take 12 to 18 months to play itself out, about the time it’ll take to have a vaccine ready. But it’ll become overwhelming long before that. Giving everybody a grand or two a month will cushion the blow of unemployment, but cash payments for a year? For how many trillions of dollars?

It’s wise to shut down society now for a month or two to slow transmission, but life must go on, you can’t shut down a whole country for a year.

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Uncategorized, US Politics

Biden Surges, Bernie’s (sadly) Toast

The Democratic Party electorate has swung mightily towards what they consider the safe candidate, never mind that nearly All the polls I’ve seen showed Bernie beating Trump by a larger margin than any other candidate. Anything can happen yet, but President Sanders is a very slim possibility.

With Biden there’ll be no change in America’s endless wars, no relief for the long-suffering Palestinians, no relief from crushing student debt and only minor tweaking of health care and its attendant outrageous medical bills which are the cause of most bankruptcies in the US. He’ll fiddle around while the planet burns, advocate for cutting Social Security as he has for the last 40 years and protect his billionaire buddies from paying their fair share of taxes. However, Bernie has set the stage, he’s brought to the forum all those programs Americans desperately need and made them topic of the day, made it impossible for the so-called moderates to ignore. On Biden’s own initiative, during reasonably normal times, single-payer health care would be a non-starter, but exceptionally, decidedly, not normal times are ahead.

The tanking of the stock market and the plunge in oil prices precipitated by the sharp fall in economic activity caused by the Wuhan virus, not to mention how overvalued it had become will erase Trump’s ‘great economy’ blather and his stunning incompetence in handling the virus will doom his reelection chances. That will also lead to turning the Repug party into a faint remnant of its former self.

By the time old Joe takes the reins of power in nine months the country will be in a shambles. The virus will cause a major breakdown of America’s for-profit health care system. Currently less than 500 people have officially contracted the virus, but that figure would be a lot larger if more people had been tested. Adequate testing isn’t happening now because of the ineptitude of the administration and can’t happen at any time if some people have to pay thousands of dollars to get tested. And if it hits hard? Wuhan with a population of 11 million had to set up places with 4 to 5000 additional hospital beds.

Alex Azar, Trump’s man at the FDA, first said, many people might not be able to afford a vaccine when developed. He quickly walked that back, but really, who’s going to pay for it? Is the US government going to cover all coronavirus costs? If not, large numbers of people will go without treatment and merely infect a lot of others. Those people with their ‘great’ health plans who don’t think good insurance is important for all citizens, will have nowhere to hide.

The virus will also require many people to get locked down in quarantine, thus losing their income and since 40% of Americans don’t have $400 in savings in case of an emergency a monumental crisis will ensue.  A lot of people, including Trump, think I’m overreacting, we shall see.

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Kampot, Cambodia, Uncategorized

Easy Does It

 

This was originally published in internationalliving.com

Cambodia is a blessedly easy place to live. That’s in part from it’s warm, friendly, live-and-let-live people. In Rough Guide’s annual survey of the friendliest countries in the world to travel, Cambodia consistently comes in at the top and by a wide margin.

A young fellow I was talking to at my favorite pub recounted how, after leaving his work-a-day life, he’d spent the previous 5 years in 20 countries, just traveling and checking things out. He said when he crossed the border into Cambodia he immediately felt relaxed. After he got to Kampot, the town in live in, he hadn’t stopped smiling in three days.

I’ve been here for 12 years. I had been teaching in Phnom Penh, the capital, for six years, but as soon as I had the means to leave the big city, I came to Kampot. Big cities have a lot going for them, especially jobs, culture and entertainment, and considering Cambodia has been one of the world’s ten fastest growing countries for the last decade or so, there’s a lot happening there and plentiful opportunities to work, start a business or just have fun.

I’d spent lots of time in some of the biggest cities, but at retirement age I just needed a quiet laidback place to settle. When I first got to Kampot there were about two dozen expats here, now there are about 2000. People come here after traveling around Cambodia, planning to stay a couple days and they don’t want to leave. While we old-timers lament many of the changes over the years from our virtually private, little, light-duty paradise, that essential pleasant feeling we first felt hasn’t been lost, it’s still magic.

The first thing to consider when relocating abroad is the visa requirements. On that score Cambodia has always been one of the countries most open to foreigners. Basically, anyone can come to Cambodia from anywhere in the world and get a visa on arrival that will allow that person to stay as long as they like. Recently visa and residence rules have tightened up a bit. It used to be until the last few years all you had to do was pay your $300 annual visa fee. That’s still true of people over 55. You can get a retirement visa with no documentation, paperwork or minimum income requirements and you can stay permanently without ever having to leave the country to renew your visa. You just pay for your visa and you’re home free.

If you are under 55 you need to obtain a work permit which adds another $130 to your annual cost. There’s a lot of flexibility in the rules here: I’ve known people who were under 55 who got a retirement visa by proving they had sufficient income or assets to take care of themselves.

If you need an income there are lots of ways to do that.

For one thing, Cambodians are hungry for English proficiency so there are plenty of teaching jobs. It’s still possible to get a teaching job based solely on being a native speaker and exuding confidence, especially if it’s young children. However you’d earn a lot more and have many more opportunities by having a degree and/or a TEFL – Teachers of English as a Foreign Language – certificate. They can be obtained online or in special schools. Nearly all higher education is taught in English so it’s not just language teaching that’s available.

If that’s not your thing there are quite a few other ways to earn a living. One way is to open a business. There’s minimal paperwork or government intrusion: A friend had his bar up and running for 3 weeks before he made contact with the authorities to get the permits done. There’s no requirement of a local partner as in Thailand, for instance, so you’re free to create it according to your whim. And even though Kampot is up-and-coming and rents are increasing fast you can still open a bar or restaurant for a relatively small investment, far less than in a western context. However, lots of other people are contemplating the same thing so there’s plenty of competition and no guarantee of success.

Maybe you were a baker or butcher or brewer in your past life, well just get cracking. If you’re working out of your house you might need to get a business license, not all do, and your kitchen won’t need to pass an inspection. What’s more you don’t need to include a list of ingredients or a net weight, something which I personally think should be mandatory. That could all change as Cambodia grows and advances but so far the dearth of rules and regulations is one of the perks of living here.

Serving drinks in a bar can net you enough to live a minimal lifestyle. You might earn only 4 to $500 a month, but in a place where you can rent a studio apartment for $50 and get a local meal for a dollar, eminently doable. For a lot of people, living simply in Cambodia is far preferable to struggling in the West.

On the other hand if you’re more into your comfort there are new 2 bedroom houses available for $200 and up and quality international restaurants if you’re more the gourmand.

As fast as Cambodia is growing and as many luxury cars you see around (many owned by people in government) the vast bulk of vehicles are motorbikes. They’re mostly 125cc and less so we’d call them scooters back in the states. Some pull trailers full of people or loads of freight, but mostly it’s personal transportation. It’s a great way to get around Kampot and old but reasonably dependable ones are cheap to buy and maintain. Most expats ride them, including those who could own a car. Scars and bruises from minor spills are nearly ubiquitous. I almost feel guilty driving my tiny little 800cc car around since it’s still much harder on the earth than a motorbike. In fact, I only use it at night and to haul items too large for a bicycle which I ride in daytime; the town is flat and small enough – about 60,000 population – to be ideal for pedaling around.

Cambodia is still a very poor country. Per capita income is around $1200 per year, so you are surrounded by people living very basic, hardscrabble lives, but smiling still, and you encounter very rough roads and dodgy infrastructure, though conditions have improved greatly over the past few years.

One of the great perks of living abroad is making friends from all over the world. If there are 20 people in the bar, there’ll probably be 10 nationalities represented and the punters will be of all ages. All my friends in the states would be old farts like myself and few are into going out much so I’d be home most nights bored silly.

One of the things I like most about Cambodia is that it levies low sin taxes. At one dollar for a glass of draft beer at my favorite pubs and limited capacity to drink I can hang out with my friends and imbibe almost every night without sinking my meager bank account. And with intense competition, there are spots with 50 cent beers. I shouldn’t say this but you can get a carton of locally-made, off-brand cigs for $1.25! I don’t want to encourage smoking, but at the same time I believe everyone has a right to choose their own poison. Marijuana is illegal, but there are ‘happy’ pizza restaurants in Kampot and Phnom Penh where you can have a little weed sprinkled on your pie for an extra couple dollars and if you’re sensitive to the herb, you have to be careful not to eat too much, because it’s decent quality.

Representative of the laid back attitude in Cambodia is the country’s multitude of public holidays. At 26 days a year it’s the most of any country and that doesn’t even include Chinese New Year which most people also take off and usually for 3 days.

When you have time there are beaches, caves, boat rides and mountain treks to enjoy around Kampot. A must-do experience when in Cambodia is Angkor Wat, one of the greatest wonders of the ancient world. It’s a series of impressive, sometimes breathtaking, temples dating back to the 10th century that cover a 50 square mile area.

Climate is also an important criteria for where to locate. This is the tropics so it’ll be hot and sweaty the bulk of the year, with April generally the hottest. It’s relatively cool in December, January and February, going down below 70 – 21C – a few nights. We’re so used to the heat, it feels chilly to us. When it does go above 90 – 32C – in cool season, it’ll be dry. In rainy season centered between July and October it could rain and be cloudy for days or weeks at a time, but it’s cool, green and fresh.

Cambodia is a cool, hip place to be if you’re looking to just hang out for a while or relocate for the mid or long term. There are lots of great places to live abroad, out in the wide wondrous world. Cambodia is one of the best, though not for everybody.

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