Wealth from a Child’s Perspective

I stumbled onto this essay today (Jan. 22, 2023), one that I had composed in 2003 — almost 20 years ago — and had forgotten. Since then I have published articles on money and wealth both at this page at AlbertJayNock.org and at this page at Poor David’s Almanac.

I understood money in pennies and even in quantities as high as a few hundred dollars.”

There is enough here, though, to offer it as a stand-alone article, especially for its emphasis on how, when I was a child, I perceived other people’s wealth (not our own — we didn’t have any).

A Poor Child’s Understanding of Money

From an early age I understood money, but not as you might expect I did. In the late 1950s, at about nine years old, I delivered the Toledo Blade to four customers in Gomer, Ohio. Pennies were real money. By eleven, and until I was sixteen, I was delivering the Lima News to eighty customers in a mostly-Black neighborhood west of Cole Street in Lima. The weekly rate for seven-day delivery was thirty-five cents during my first few years as a Lima paper boy.

My mother was a school teacher before I was born and until I was an adult. When I was five and the oldest of three kids, my father started college. He worked numerous jobs and went to school for eleven years. We lived on my mother’s teacher’s pay. At forty my father was finally qualified to teach. By then he had six kids.

During those years, from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s, we lived in and around Lima, Ohio, and we were just above dirt poor. On a couple of occasions during those years my parents declared bankruptcy. I remember watching the movers come and strip the house of all but our beds and toys (what few we had).

In the fall of 1960, when I was ten, we moved to a house at 1165 West High Street in Lima, which my parents “bought” (mortgaged) for $13,500. We lived there for seven years. That’s where I lived while I was learning the most about money.

What did I learn?

I learned that we didn’t have any. My parents didn’t have savings or investments or property. Only one or two relatives even owned their own homes, and to me they seemed rich. (My mother’s sister and her husband, a Lima firefighter, never had children, so they owned a spotless little two-bedroom bungalow as well as a cottage at Indian Lake — with an actual view of the water.)

I tried to maintain a bank account in order to save for college and later to save for a car. By my early teens, being able to maintain a couple hundred dollars at a time, I became responsible to buy my own clothes and occasionally to “loan” my parents grocery money. At 15 I even bought a car, an immaculate 1939 Chrysler, for $395. But by the time I was heading off to college, whatever I had remaining in savings was entirely spent in applying and matriculating. I made it through my freshman year at the University of Cincinnati without income or remaining savings.

Other people of my closest acquaintance, as a child and teenager, also didn’t have money — relatives, friends’ families, neighbors. But one block behind us in Lima lay West Market Street. Somewhat in the 1100 block, and certainly in the blocks farther west, there was money.

Now this is important, so pay attention. There’s a concept here that is central not only to my early understanding of money but also, I believe, central to the understanding of anyone in any century who doesn’t have money but lives one block from any Market Street anywhere else. It’s also a concept that someone who has always had money would not suspect is held by those who never had it.

I understood money in pennies and even in quantities as high as a few hundred dollars, which was a lot to me. Even as an older teenager I didn’t understand thousands or higher quantities of money. There was no need to, because I was convinced I’d never amass that kind of fortune anyway. There was the amount of money I could amass myself as a kid, which was more than my parents could boast; then there was any quantity over that. One or two thousand dollars was functionally indistinguishable to me from thousands of thousands. A few thousand and a few million seemed equally out of reach.

Not that I was poor in math. I could multiply raw numbers, a thousand times a thousand, and so on. By junior high I had memorized the population figures of several states and countries in the millions. I could concede that there might be ten million cornstalks in an Ohio cornfield. But I could not conceive a million dollars. It’s not that I concluded that the people in the stately homes on Market Street (or the “West End”) had millions. I understood only that they had money and we didn’t. Quantity was irrelevant.

They had money waiting for them at the bank. They had paychecks that could go partly into savings. They could buy clothes whenever they needed them. They didn’t go from the A&P for the 19¢ hamburger and then across town to the IGA for the 19¢ bread. They were rich. Rich people were those who could go to the bank and withdraw a hundred for whatever they wanted, and up to my early teens I couldn’t conceive of wanting anything more than I saw a block away from me.

I didn’t know who lived on Market Street. I don’t believe I ever learned the name of anyone who lived there. And this, too, is important: I understood, probably from remarks that my parents occasionally made, that the people of Market Street and the West End were in a different social and economic stratum. Not a class, but a stratum. We would never be in that stratum. I even felt awkward when any of the kids from the West End, whom I knew in school, would speak to me. I was honored whenever one did, and I know I behaved accordingly.

Since I was pretty much a high-achieving student, I probably could have taken more advantage than I did of those associations. Instead, my best friend for several years was Mike Stewart, a darkly Black boy from around the corner. And I would never trade that relationship for one with a rich kid anyway. (In those days, there was still a “society page” in the Lima News, and sometimes I thought it was my mother’s highest aspiration to get one of us written up on that page.)

I recall having a sense, however, that these rich people, including the households of the kids who awed me, were involved in business. I concluded, correctly or not, that they were people who owned or managed businesses. (I was aware that there were a few doctors among them, too.) There was money in businesses. I understood that, once I became an adult, I could probably hire on as a laborer for someone, as I had seen my father do during his eleven years of odd jobs through college. But, throughout my youth, it never occurred to me to aspire to own or manage a business. I understood absolutely nothing about commerce or management. I could even say that it struck me as a distasteful direction when considering career options.

I don’t mean that business and management struck me as evil or the people involved as greedy or mean-spirited. (Those concepts were yet to be widely disseminated by the hate-America political factions.) I simply didn’t know anyone who liked what he was doing in those nebulous fields and therefore I didn’t think I could like it either.

(I also recall being told that you had to go to college for ten years to become a doctor and I dismissed that idea both because I knew I couldn’t afford even one year of college, although I expected to go, and because I concluded you had to be some other kind of person than I was in order to put up with that much schooling. On the other hand, I never questioned whether I would go to college and get a degree. My teachers all expected me to go, and who was I to question their expectation? My parents, for their part, assured me that my grades would get me full scholarships. Not true, but I trusted them…)

I didn’t envy my rich classmates. And I especially didn’t feel that I was owed anything by them. I had heard and taken to heart all the proverbs about hard work and thrift and knew that my duty to myself lay in cultivating those qualities. I vaguely grasped that a Thomas Edison or Henry Ford could occasionally make the leap from the no-money stratum to the money stratum. I didn’t conceive myself an inventor, but I also vaguely grasped that, while I probably couldn’t cross into that stratum financially, I could probably earn the respect of anyone in that stratum by my own accomplishments in another respect. (I believed I would achieve that respect as a pianist with a classical repertoire, a profession well-populated, I was aware, by the gifted poor.)

Throughout my public education there was no attempt made to explain free enterprise or basic principles of business and finance. There was no education about taxes, about personal banking, about the stock market or investing (other than a game played by all eighth graders where we chose a couple of stocks and followed them for a couple of months). There was a club one could join at Lima Senior High School called Junior Achievement, or maybe it was the DECA club, which stood for distributive education. I did understand that that’s where kids went who wanted to pretend to run a business. I didn’t join because my thing was music.

Never, never in my junior high or high school years did a “guidance counselor” or teacher ever attempt to assure that I comprehended all my options or attempt to assess my potential in various other career paths. Unfortunately, they probably didn’t feel they needed to. I was an ‘A’ and ‘B’ student with notable skills in reading and writing as well as foreign languages. I was a whiz in math, although math was entirely theoretical and had no practical application for me. But any guidance counselor who knew me also knew that from the time I was in seventh grade my mind was made up and that I would be a pianist — no counseling needed.

I was a giver, not a taker. I saw myself reaching out to the world, to rich and poor, through music. (Also, at about 12 or 13, I told my parents I wanted to be like Albert Schweitzer – an idea I quickly abandoned because I realized he was also a doctor.) I had no ambition to become rich, like the people on Market Street, although I was pretty sure I could become as prosperous as my aunt and uncle, the fireman, who had no kids.

And I didn’t desire accolades and acclaim for my musicianship; I wanted to perform and to continue to compose music that would reach the depths of people’s souls as certain music filled my own. Knowing that I had sent something sublimely beautiful into the airwaves was my motivation. Unfortunately, I suspected incorrectly that music such as that which enthralled me would speak to most other humans in much the same way — that there would be a “market” for my artistic creativity.

It might make more sense, though, if one realizes that it was the music of Rachmaninoff that was wrapping itself around my soul in the 1960s, and if one realized, concomitantly, that Rachmaninoff himself had lived and performed well into the 1940s. It was not completely unreasonable, therefore, that I might consider the classical era in music still alive and deserving to be prolonged by my efforts to write more of it. (And by the mid-1960s I was writing more of it.)

Back to money: I believe that this same fallacious two-level concept of money — you’re either someone who never had it and never will or you’re someone who always had all you wanted and always will — is held by most poor-from-birth people today, and not just while they are children but also as adults. What’s more, I suspect that stratification of people into socio-economic classes is driven from below as much as it is from above. I don’t believe that those born into money perceive the gulf as readily as those born into none. Those with money, (as I would have sorted them out as a child), aren’t as conscious of their “stratum.” It’s especially those who have enough (however much that is, but that’s where I am today), but who aren’t really wealthy, who are the least likely to realize that they are lumped in with the super-rich by those who have nothing.

I also grew up in the last period in American history when a family that didn’t have a telephone or a television or a car or insurance also had no expectation that the government would provide any of those luxuries. We had a roof and meals and presentable clothes, (as a ten-year-old boy probably construes the word “presentable”), so we were doing just fine, thank you. Besides, we were all smart and healthy and on good terms with our neighbors. It’s interesting to me that, in spite of our circumstances, my father drilled into me that the genius of America was in letting people achieve what they could. The evil wasn’t that some people had money while others didn’t. The evil was that those who didn’t had the audacity to demand it from those who did. He fumed at the “Great Society” of Lyndon Johnson and decried the notion that someone else should be taxed just to put our family on welfare.

Growing up poor, I was also less aware than I am now that some people are voluntarily poor, or poorer than they have to be. I don’t remember how much cigarettes cost in those days, but my father smoked a pack or two a day. (I was allowed to purchase them for him at a couple of stores, also for the grandfather of my friend, Mike.) My father also squandered money in other ways, and I even recall being mildly embarrassed by his naïveté about some “investments.”

What changed for me? Well, among the principles drilled into me as a child was the one which said I would certainly get a college education. Whatever I studied, furthermore, would be for my own edification and only incidentally to prepare me for a career. It was a 19th-century concept of the purpose of a college education, but one that stands as perfectly valid just the same.

So I went to college for a year, took three years off to become a Vietnam-era veteran, then returned to complete a degree program. (Not in music mainly due to an injury, but that’s beyond the scope of this explanation.) And I went right from college into… business and management — the paper industry.

Yes, the money was there, in business, at least until the end of the 1970s. And, although I still expected never to become rich or even necessarily have a bank account with anything more than a few hundred dollars in it, I rapidly came to comprehend that money can be viewed as a continuum of quantities. There isn’t a level with an upper limit of a few hundred and right above it a level of untold wealth — the two strata of my youth. There is everything in between and beyond. But that understanding came late, not until I was an adult.

Two more aspects bear mentioning, one an anecdote, one a concept. When I was fourteen and had been a paper boy for some five years already, the U.S. government decided that the citizens of all the countries of the world no longer needed a medium of exchange that carried intrinsic value. So, thirty years after turning gold from a medium of exchange into a commodity to be hoarded by governments and their central banks, and to be regulated like uranium, the USA did much the same with silver.

For at least five thousand years those two metals had served to represent value and had served as standards of exchange in commerce. They had also stood as wealth that individuals could own outside the view of government, which no government can tolerate, of course. In my lifetime and before my own eyes, the last medium of true value in the world was sucked from our hands and pockets. As vaguely as I understood quantities of money at fourteen, I understood the historical significance in substituting promissory notes (and now electrons and magnetic recordings of digital values) for true money.

When I was a teenager, also probably about fourteen, my father once commented to me: Do you know that you’ll earn over a quarter of a million dollars in your lifetime? To which I remember I replied, authentically: Wow! I won’t even say how quickly a quarter million newfangled mini-dollars pass through my household nowadays…!

The other final aspect that bears mentioning: At fourteen I wouldn’t have imagined that I would not only earn but eventually save over a quarter of a million dollars, nor did I consider how that amount might become devalued after it was no longer tied to a tangible standard. I now have IRAs and a 403(b) and other investments with well over a quarter million set aside. And if it weren’t for certain stock market shudders after the 1990s, that would probably be nearer a half million today. (But my quarter million-plus is a mere shadow of what that amount would have meant forty years earlier.) And it’s money in concept only. Even if cashed in, it would only result in bags of paper promises from the federal government. I don’t trust it, but it’s what I have to show for my life’s effort.

What I also have, but not to show, are a few pieces of silver and gold in denominations that, on their face, amount to a few hundred dollars. It wouldn’t serve as money unless the entire country (and hence, the world) fell into permanent fiscal collapse. Sadly there is probably no way that a country’s citizens could seize control (by force?) of the precious metal that supposedly supports each one’s paper promises of today. The gold and silver that men and children risk life and limb to extract from underground is all confiscated and buried back underground by the governments that pretend to serve them. So be it. It doesn’t exist for me once it is mined and minted into coins just as surely as it doesn’t exist for me before it is mined.

I can claim only a rudimentary understanding of money and finance in today’s terms, since it is no longer money that we’re concerned with but the pretense of money. There is so much hocus-pocus in government fiscal policy, economics, accounting, investments, and “the market” that none of it should be trusted, and surely none of it is understood by any but those few who control it. (And those who control it probably only comprehend that special aspect that each one controls.) But my meager fortune is trapped in that electronic confusion, and I will hope that collapse and chaos don’t erase it in my lifetime. If it does happen, I will be carrying a silver dollar in my pocket until I need it to buy my very last meal.

David A. Woodbury
27 August 2003

Is This Forgiveness?

I didn’t realize until now that The Onion leans toward the delusions of collectivism — (left, new liberal, socialist; choose your flag).  Inasmuch as I read a clip from it perhaps only a couple times a year I hadn’t looked at it enough to notice.  Plainly, though, it struggles to deliver satire as effortlessly as does The Babylon Bee.  Maybe the subjects that lend themselves so easily to the mission of The Bee are too dear to the heart of The Onion.  (I italicize their names as if they are genuine newspapers, as I was taught to do in high school English in the 1960s.)

A link in another source led me to a slide show at The Onion, dated August 29, “Americans Explain Why They Oppose Canceling Student Debt.”  One of the Americans, identified (fictitiously of course) as Sloane Gutierrez sarcastically spouts: “In the Bible, Jesus says to never forgive.”  The rest of the piece, straining to be humorous, presents sadistic “Americans”  taking pleasure in the suffering of those who borrow for college and who are then expected to repay their loans.

What’s next?  Perhaps colleges will be invited simply to send tuition bills to the President from now on?

It struck me at last what has bothered me since the inane idea of student loan debt “forgiveness” came up a few of years ago, on the heals of President Soetoro’s bail-outs: Yes, collectivists, of course Jesus counseled us all to forgive.  He also admonished us against theft. But a central tenet of collectivist politics is language manipulation.  This proposed bail-out of student loans isn’t forgiveness.  As one well-circulated cartoon recently put it: You borrowed money.  Pay it back.  Debt crisis solved.

A loan is settled in either of two ways: It is paid back according to the original contract or as otherwise negotiated between the borrower and the lender, or it is written off such that the lender incurs a loss.  When you don’t repay the lender, as when you compel the lender’s “forgiveness,” that’s theft.  If this strong-arm overreach of executive duty is implemented, Biden’s student-loan-borrowing “community” will be stealing from those who will bear the cost — those who will ultimately fork over the money or who will pay more dearly in a world where there is nothing to buy even if you have money.

Another American in The Onion’s slide show, an aromatherapist, scolds us, the unforgiving: “Students who agreed to take on the debt should have known that they would be heading into several recessions and a pandemic after graduation.”  Yeah, and I should have known I’d be heading into the Vietnam war, the energy crisis, Watergate, and every other catastrophe that has occurred in the decades since I signed for my first college loan.  I’m no aromatherapist so maybe I’m not qualified to respond, but no one offered to buy my vote during my military service and my remaining college years, when payments were merely deferred, nor during the ten years after I graduated.  I was thirty seven when my student debt was fully repaid — by me.

Borrowers, hear me.  I’m not the one from whom you’ve borrowed, so even if I wanted to write it off for you, I can’t.  The lender of student loans isn’t the federal government, either.  Nor is it the banks through whose hands the money in question slurps along like wet cement, assuring that some sludge from it sticks to the banks’ palms.  The lenders are the people not yet born who will inherit our national debt and who will be excavating our landfills by hand in search of morsels to sustain their pitiless existence, perhaps only a little beyond my own lifetime.

It’s their money and their way of life which will be sacrificed to fund Biden’s student loan “forgiveness.”  They are the lenders.  By wiping out your current debt Joe Biden merely wants to borrow from our descendants, yours and mine, to buy votes.  Never mind that it ought to be downright illegal.  Is there not another crisis more in need of attention than this?

Let us trust… er… wrong word; let us fantasize that Congress will rebuke The Big Guy and invoke its own authority over the funds in question, or let us wish that a watchdog group might drag the issue before a federal judge.  (I can’t sue to stop it, since no individual has access to a federal court any longer).  Will Rogers once commented: “Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.”  Sadly, since there is no limit to the federal government’s present liberty to tax and borrow, we are getting all the government that government can conceive for itself.  Our elected representatives now frankly admit that no one alive today will have to pay a cent toward what it will cost to actually begin reducing our national debt, which currently approaches $100,000 per citizen or a quarter million dollars per taxpayer.  That burden is our gift to our grandchildren; we love them that much.

=David A. Woodbury=

George Orwell’s 1940 Review of Mein Kampf

It is a sign of the speed at which events are moving that Hurst and Blackett’s unexpurgated edition of Mein Kampf, published only a year ago, is edited from a pro-Hitler angle. The obvious intention of the translator’s preface and notes is to tone down the book’s ferocity and present Hitler in as kindly a light as possible. For at that date Hitler was still respectable. He had crushed the German labour movement, and for that the property-owning classes were willing to forgive him almost anything. Both Left and Right concurred in the very shallow notion that National Socialism was merely a version of Conservatism.

Then suddenly it turned out that Hitler was not respectable after all. As one result of this, Hurst and Blackett’s edition was reissued in a new jacket explaining that all profits would be devoted to the Red Cross. Nevertheless, simply on the internal evidence of Mein Kampf, it is difficult to believe that any real change has taken place in Hitler’s aims and opinions. When one compares his utterances of a year or so ago with those made fifteen years earlier, a thing that strikes one is the rigidity of his mind, the way in which his world-view doesn’t develop. It is the fixed vision of a monomaniac and not likely to be much affected by the temporary manoeuvres of power politics. Probably, in Hitler’s own mind, the Russo-German Pact represents no more than an alteration of time-table. The plan laid down in Mein Kampf was to smash Russia first, with the implied intention of smashing England afterwards. Now, as it has turned out, England has got to be dealt with first, because Russia was the more easily bribed of the two. But Russia’s turn will come when England is out of the picture—that, no doubt, is how Hitler sees it. Whether it will turn out that way is of course a different question.

If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon.

Suppose that Hitler’s programme could be put into effect. What he envisages, a hundred years hence, is a continuous state of 250 million Germans with plenty of ‘living room’ (i.e. stretching to Afghanistan or thereabouts), a horrible brainless empire in which, essentially, nothing ever happens except the training of young men for war and the endless breeding of fresh cannon-fodder. How was it that he was able to put this monstrous vision across? It is easy to say that at one stage of his career he was financed by the heavy industrialists, who saw in him the man who would smash the Socialists and Communists. They would not have backed him, however, if he had not talked a great movement into existence already. Again, the situation in Germany, with its seven million unemployed, was obviously favourable for demagogues. But Hitler could not have succeeded against his many rivals if it had not been for the attraction of his own personality, which one can feel even in the clumsy writing of Mein Kampf, and which is no doubt overwhelming when one hears his speeches. I should like to put it on record that I have never been able to dislike Hitler. Ever since he came to power — till then, like nearly everyone, I had been deceived into thinking that he did not matter — I have reflected that I would certainly kill him if I could get within reach of him, but that I could feel no personal animosity. The fact is that there is something deeply appealing about him. The fact is that there is something deeply appealing about him. One feels it again when one sees his photographs—and I recommend especially the photograph at the beginning of Hurst and Blackett’s edition, which shows Hitler in his early Brownshirt days. It is a pathetic, dog-like face, the face of a man suffering under intolerable wrongs. In a rather more manly way it reproduces the expression of innumerable pictures of Christ crucified, and there is little doubt that that is how Hitler sees himself. The initial, personal cause of his grievance against the universe can only be guessed at; but at any rate the grievance is here. He is the martyr, the victim, Prometheus chained to the rock, the self-sacrificing hero who fights single-handed against impossible odds. If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon. One feels, as with Napoleon, that he is fighting against destiny, that he can’t win, and yet that he somehow deserves to. The attraction of such a pose is of course enormous; half the films that one sees turn upon some such theme.

Also he has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all ‘progressive’ thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’tonly want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades. However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life. The same is probably true of Stalin’s militarised version of Socialism. All three of the great dictators have enhanced their power by imposing intolerable burdens on their peoples. Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people ‘I offer you a good time,’ Hitler has said to them ‘I offer you struggle, danger and death,’ and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet. Perhaps later on they will get sick of it and change their minds, as at the end of the last war. After a few years of slaughter and starvation ‘Greatest happiness of the greatest number’ is a good slogan, but at this moment ‘Better an end with horror than a horror without end’ is a winner. Now that we are fighting against the man who coined it, we ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.

–George Orwell, The New English Weekly, March 21, 1940

Some readers have been disturbed by the line, “…I have reflected that I would certainly kill him if I could get within reach of him, but that I could feel no personal animosity…” asking whether that doesn’t mark Orwell as a psychopath. I am rather of the persuasion that, in Orwell’s thinking, it would be a matter of duty to eliminate somebody who has become so dangerous, even if you see how he can be so attractive to gullible people. In 1940 Orwell did not have our advantage of hindsight. He had, instead, a clear vision of what must surely come to pass and merely fantasized how he, given the chance, which was impossible, would disrupt the future promised by that vision.
=David A. Woodbury=

Ukraine: A Settlement

If you don’t condemn Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin as a villainous tyrant, if you don’t call for regime change in Russia, and if you don’t demand that the rest of the world arrest and prosecute him on charges of mass murder, you may as well call him Vladimir the Great and prepare to applaud his next conquest. In a speech he was giving in Poland on March 26, 2022, Bystander-in-Chief Joe Biden inadvertently said something sensible when he went off-script and blurted, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” Here he echoed Senator Lindsey Graham, who, on March 3, stated during a television interview: “Somebody in Russia has to step up to the plate. Is there a Brutus in Russia? Is there a more successful Colonel Stauffenberg in the Russian military?” Graham doubled down: “The only way this ends, my friend, is for somebody in Russia to take this guy out. You would be doing your country a great service and the world a great service.”

Meanwhile, Hungary, which has forgotten Russia’s invasion in 1956, has re-elected Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, (born in 1963), a proud Putin puppet, to a fourth consecutive term. Strategically, Hungary lies along Ukraine’s western border, so Russia has an ally within NATO and the European Union from which to attack Ukraine on what would otherwise be its safe side.

Putin has greater plans. He has tested the resolve of the rest of the world and found it timid. Hungary has his back. The United States has turned its back, mumbling the word “sanctions.” Joe Biden’s handlers have cautioned us against taking the President at his word. The American news media, in order to steer our attention away from the single enduring crisis of a lifetime, have turned up the volume on Disney’s social activism and some non-incident of resounding insignificance at the Oscars.

Could a true leader — if there were one — rally the responsible nations of the world (assume NATO) to stand up to Putin? Could we not call his bluff on nuclear weapons? We’ll never know. There is no leadership, only hand-wringing and calls for “diplomacy.”

A Little History

Before World War One a map of Europe showed four bordering empires (in addition to some countries you’d expect to see such as France, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain). These four empires were all ruled by monarchs, not parliaments. Some of the modern-day countries that were partly or entirely ruled by these monarchs were:

  • the German Empire
    • Germany
    • Lithuania
    • part of Poland
  • the Austro-Hungarian Empire
    • Austria
    • Hungary
    • the Czech Republic
    • part of Romania
    • part of Poland
  • the Ottoman Empire
    • Turkey
    • Lebanon
    • Israel
    • part of Syria
    • part of Russia
  • the Russian Empire
    • Belarus
    • Ukraine
    • Finland
    • Estonia
    • part of Latvia
    • part of Poland

The end of World War One (1914-1918) left Europe and the eastern Mediterranean with a different map. Standing as countries with distinct or near-distinct borders were:

  • Finland
  • Estonia
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Poland
  • Czechoslovakia
  • Romania
  • Yugoslavia
  • Ukraine
  • Syria
  • Arabia

And standing, with reduced borders at the end of World War One, were:

  • Turkey (the core of the Ottoman Empire)
  • Russia
  • Germany
  • Austria
  • Hungary

Russia has nothing like the concise ancient history of Egypt, China, Great Britain, or Italy. The city of Kyiv, anglicized until recently as Kiev, was founded by Kyi, a Slavic knyaz in the 500s. Knyaz is a title which we loosely render in English as “prince.” No one knows for certain, but the root of the name, Russia, (they pronounce it Ross-E-ya), may have arisen in the 800s from a word used to describe the Viking invaders and pillagers, also known as the Varangians or the “rus” (pronounced “roos”), who plied the rivers between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. The largest of these waterways, the Dnepr River, runs through the center of Ukraine. Those raiders rowed their boats along these waterways and conscripted others along the way to do the rowing as well, and the rowers may have been called rus. The people in the region of Kyiv were known as the Kyivan Rus by the time of Knyaz Oleg in the late-800s.

Russia’s oldest city-state, Novgorod, at first a Viking outpost, began to take form in the late 800s as well. Oleg and succeeding grand rulers of Kyiv appointed rulers over Novgorod from the late 800s until about 1020. It was in A.D. 862-863 that the Greek missionaries Methodius and Constantine (later calling himself Cyril) traveled into Ukraine and, among the local people, are said to have stumbled upon the rudiments of what is now the Cyrillic alphabet, the same alphabet currently used in one form or another for the languages of Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia, and some other Slavic countries. (A possible origin of the alphabet that Cyril developed further is a theme in my 2017 novel of Ukraine and Khazaria, Fire, Wind & Yesterday.) Methodius and Constantine became the patron saints of the Russian Orthodox Church, in part for their contribution to rendering the Holy Scriptures in the languages of the Slavic people.

A century later, V. V. Putin’s namesake, Volodymyr, the ruler of the Kyivan Rus, adopted Byzantine Christianity in A.D. 988 on behalf of what was becoming a confederation of regions, the Rurik Dynasty, which for most of the next three centuries would be the largest and most powerful state in Europe. When the Mongols invaded the lands of Kyivan Rus in the 1200s Moscow was an insignificant trading outpost, easy to miss where it lay deep in the forest. The Principality of Moscow, also called simply Muscovy, became significant starting in the late 1200s. The first Russian to call himself “tsar” (derived from “caesar” and presuming the same level of self-importance) was Mikhail of Tver in the early 1300s. Continuous use of the term, tsar, by those ruling Muscovy, came a couple centuries later and lasted until 1917.

The Russian Revolution and subsequent upheaval (1917-1922), which deposed the tsar and imposed dictatorial rule, saw the brief existence of an independent Ukrainian People’s Republic. This was quickly overpowered by the Russia which found it prudent to include Ukraine as a founding republic in the formation of the new mega-nation, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics — the USSR.

In the immediate aftermath of World War Two (1939-1945) the USSR, pretending to be the voluntary union of like-minded (socialist) republics, usurped several countries along its western border, or at least installed puppet governments in many — among them Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and the eastern third of Germany — and moved in military hardware, thus drawing across Europe what was known for more than forty years as the Iron Curtain.

For the brief existence of the so-called Union of (Soviet Socialist) “Republics” (1922-1991) several countries were wholly or partly mismanaged and aggressively exploited by the totalitarian (self-described communist) regime centered in Moscow.

Vladimir Putin cites a thousand-year history in which Ukraine (the Kyivan state) was a region of Russia. This is a distortion of the facts typical of the Lenin-to-Putin dynasty ruling Russia. He is counting the period beginning with Vladimir’s adoption of Christianity in A.D. 988. Ukraine didn’t arise from Russia. Russia grew out of Kyiv.

Putin claims that his mission is to de-nazify Ukraine, which is about as logical as if he intended to de-Disneyfy the country. Finland, a region within imperial Russia before World War One and not currently a member of NATO, may need to be de-nazified next. And maybe Sweden needs to be punished soon afterward, for its army’s incursion into Moscow in 1610 and subsequent battles over the 90 years after that.

Negotiating a Settlement

Ukraine must declare flatly: “We are interested in nothing but Russia’s complete removal from Ukraine’s sovereign territory. We will negotiate nothing with Vladimir Putin. What we will consider are proposals for Russia’s reparations.”

Diplomacy is the art of assuring that justice is set aside so that aggressors don’t whine afterward — if diplomacy reaches a conclusion and there is an afterward. To do justice for Ukraine, diplomacy must be set aside and a settlement imposed upon Russia. How? By a united world telling Russia that this is the way it will be and that if Russia fails to abide by it, the rest of the world will suffocate Russia until its people overthrow those remaining in power.

An opening premise:

Spain is a sovereign nation. Poland is a sovereign nation. Israel is a sovereign nation. Canada is a sovereign nation. The same must be said for Japan (which once tried to rule China), India (which was once under British rule), the United States, and you can name many more.

A second premise:

Ukraine is a sovereign nation and should be enjoying the continuing peace that it recently knew and which every other nation expects for itself. Ukraine’s boundary as established under Soviet rule was recognized by Russia when the Soviet Union was dissolved and the 15 Soviet Socialist Republics became, once again, separate countries. Other sovereign nations on Russia’s border include Finland, Mongolia, and China. (Belarus has voluntarily remained a vast region under Russia’s command since the breakup of the so-called USSR and never stood alone as a sovereign nation.)

A third premise:

The map of the world at the beginning of this millennium, which describes the boundaries of a relatively stable world order, defines the nations which mutually recognized one another’s sovereignty at the time, the aspirations of some to possess others notwithstanding. The rest of the world recognized Russia’s boundaries from 1992 onward and Russia supposedly had relinquished claims to its former Soviet Republics. Others wish to possess Israel. North Korea and South Korea wish to possess one another. China wishes to possess Taiwan. We get that. We live with but do not recognize the claims that create those tensions.

A fourth premise:

Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereign territory was unprovoked and unwarranted. In so doing Russia, apparently indiscriminately, committed crimes of aggression against innocents. Russia owes Ukraine reparations as well as the severed heads of those in power who ordered it done.

Therefore:

The only sensible settlement of Russia’s war against Ukraine will have these provisions:

  1. The borders of Ukraine will be those which it had at the fall of the USSR. This includes Crimea and the eastern steppe.
  2. The Russian perpetrators of the war will be brought to trial in Ukraine on charges stemming from the consequences of their actions. Those perpetrators include V. V. Putin.
  3. Russia will pay the cost, either in money or in needed resources, to restore the infrastructure of Ukraine and the housing of its people to a reasonable semblance of its pre-war status.
  4. Russia will disavow all present and future claims to any portion of Ukraine’s sovereign territory. Russia will likewise disavow all claims to the sovereign territory of every other nation in the world.
  5. Ukraine will disavow all claims to any portion of Russia’s sovereign territory and to any other nation’s sovereign territory.
  6. Ukraine will pledge never to launch a retaliatory war against Russia.
  7. Either country may cede territory to the other at the assent of the other with no un-negotiated strings attached.
  8. Ukraine, as a sovereign nation, is free to associate with any other nation in any way it may deem prudent or useful. This includes the liberty to join NATO and the European Union.
  9. Russia and Ukraine make no restrictions on the actions and free associations of one another so long as those actions and associations do not interfere with the other’s free actions and associations.
  10. Diplomatic relations between the two nations may be established according to the will of the people in each country as expressed through the government each population retains in power.

The Alternative

The world’s failure to impose these terms will assure future aggression on the part of the demons who currently rule Russia. The world’s failure here will also serve as an invitation for China to overrun Taiwan at its leisure. It will also be tantamount to a declaration that, should the United States re-interpret the history of North America to its advantage, then the U.S. is just as right and free to add the sixteen provinces of Canada into its union of states. Mexico will be just as right to reclaim Texas. Germany could re-annex its territories of the 1890s. The examples are endless and most don’t require a distortion of history for justification.

Any settlement that leaves Russia any authority over one square meter of Ukraine, that does not prosecute those responsible, and which lets Russia walk away owing nothing, is a crime committed by the rest of the world. It’s sad to realize, though, given the history of diplomacy, that precisely such an inadequate settlement is the most likely outome if any settlement is reached at all.

A Parting Thought

The following is an excerpt from a tribute I wrote to my Uncle Woody, who, as a frightened kid in uniform, was killed in Korea in 1952. A version of this also appears in the novel, Cold Morning Shadow:

I have this idea about war.  It’s like, if the bully punches you once, but you’re not prepared to resist, then you’ve been warned, and you’d better be prepared for the very next punch.  If, sooner or later, the bully punches you again, and you’re still not prepared, by default you have decided to accept whatever he decides to deliver, because life isn’t fair and the strong decide how the rest will live.

Once a bully hits you, though, he has forfeited all his rights: the right to choose your response, your weapon, the setting, the timing, the intensity, and the duration of your response, whom you enlist to help you, and whether he survives or is reduced to dust.

If the bully is a kid on the playground, you can surround yourself with protective friends or go to the principal.  If you’re a nation and the bully is another nation, you have no one to run to.  It’s up to you, and you had better not be ducking around and trying to find your escape route and protecting you nose while he rearranges your internal organs.  You’re sure as hell an idiot if you’re trying to talk peace while he dislodges your teeth.

If you’re a nation, and a bully hits you, I think you should lay him out flat, suddenly, and with everything it takes to forever prevent the next punch.  I know America doesn’t start wars, but when America gets sucked in by some tinpot dictator with a bad haircut and a pet word for God, (P. J. O’Rourke’s words, not mine), I cannot comprehend why we tiptoe around with so-called diplomacy and feed our soldiers to their bullying.  If the bully punches first, I think he ought not have time to draw another breath before he gets knocked out cold instantly.  The United States has had the ability to do that ever since the end of World War II.

=David A. Woodbury=

Cossacks Writing a Letter to the Sultan of Turkey

Regarding the post, Ukraine and Your Future, the painting by Ilya Yefimovich Repin is titled “Cossacks Writing a Letter to the Sultan of Turkey” and this is a modern-day approximation of the legendary correspondence between the two parties. Ukraine’s response to Vladimir Putin has put me in mind of this splendid story:

Turkish Sultan Mehmed IV to the Zaporozhian Cossacks, A.D. 1676:

As the Sultan; son of Muhammad; brother of the sun and moon; grandson and viceroy of God; ruler of the kingdoms of Macedonia, Babylon, Jerusalem, Upper and Lower Egypt; emperor of emperors; sovereign of sovereigns; extraordinary knight, never defeated; steadfast guardian of the tomb of Jesus Christ; trustee chosen by God Himself; the hope and comfort of Muslims; confounder and great defender of Christians — I command you, the Zaporogian Cossacks, to submit to me voluntarily and without any resistance, and to desist from troubling me with your attacks.
Sultan Mehmed IV

Ilya Yefimovich Repin’s “Cossacks Writing a Letter to the Sultan of Turkey.”

Zaporozhian Cossacks of Ukraine to the Turkish Sultan:

O sultan, Turkish devil and damned devil’s kith and kin, secretary to Lucifer himself. What the devil kind of knight are you, that can’t slay a hedgehog with your naked arse? The devil excretes, and your army eats. You will not, you son of a bitch, make subjects of Christian sons; we’ve no fear of your army, by land and by sea we will battle with thee, fuck your mother. You Babylonian scullion, Macedonian wheelwright, brewer of Jerusalem, goat-fucker of Alexandria, swineherd of Greater and Lesser Egypt, pig of Armenia, Podolian thief, catamite of Tartary, hangman of Kamyanets, and fool of all the world and clown of Hades, an idiot before God, grandson of the Serpent, and the crick in our cock. Pig’s snout, mare’s arse, slaughterhouse cur, unchristened brow, screw your own mother! So the Zaporozhians declare, you basest of runts. Y ou won’t even be herding pigs for the Christians. Now we’ll conclude, for we don’t know the date and don’t own a calendar; the moon’s in the sky, the year with the Lord, the day’s the same over here as it is over there; for this kiss our arse!
Koshoviy Otaman Ivan Sirko, with the whole Zaporozhian Brotherhood

Ukraine and Your Future

It’s only three weeks into Russia’s murderous assault on its neighboring country, but Ukraine fatigue is already setting in. If you are one of those Americans, ignorant of that region’s geography and history and feeling sorry for the Russians killed in Ukraine’s resistance, this brief piece will not untangle your confusion. It may prod you to some research, though, and that will be to your benefit.

What will the world look like geo-politically in a few years? Keep in mind that the crisis of today, the situation that is just so wrong that we must rush to the “negotiating table” and invoke “diplomacy” (an absurd word if there ever was one) — today’s crisis becomes a scab on a wounded earth for a generation and then the scab crumbles and falls off. Those who will be opinion-makers twenty years from now are still in diapers today. To them, Russia’s reconquest of Ukraine will be a fact, a nasty scar, not a travesty that should have been prevented or that must be undone.

The news-packaging industry will drop Ukraine not when the war there ends, for it will not end, but when Americans show by what they pay attention to on social media and tweet about that they’re more interested in the next baseball strike or the next actress offended by a scarcity of gasoline or cosmetics. Ukraine’s desperate struggle will be overshadowed when Russia turns its tanks and missiles on its other neighbors; Georgia and Kazakhstan are easy marks.

For the present — the next two to five years, here’s where we are headed.

China will divert the hand-wringers’ attention to Taiwan. This is the island in the western Pacific Ocean, about the size of Switzerland but with three times the population, that has been a country independent of totalitarian China since 1949. At first, as the “cultural revolution” was winding down, Taiwan called itself China and insisted that its leadership was the real government of China. This was no more effective than it is for China to call itself a “republic.” Mao Tse-tung insisted that his was the real government and, besides, he occupied the mainland.

In recent history, seventy-five years has been long enough for worldwide acceptance of a country’s independence. Two of my grandparents were out of diapers seventy-five years after the War of 1812 (which lasted until 1815) and no one was suggesting that the United States was still a territory of Great Britain. Taiwan is a free, independent country. China isn’t buying that.

China cannot move tanks into place, alerting the world weeks in advance of its pending takeover. Instead, a swift air-and-sea assault, calculated to succeed almost overnight, will overwhelm the island nation. Weeks later the United States, pledged to defend Taiwan to the death, will be scrambling to suggest a city in a neutral country where a negotiating table might be set up. But Taiwan will be won and China won’t deign to “negotiate.”

China’s next objective will be to annex Outer Mongolia, a country whose constitution was introduced in 1992 after representatives visited the United States to learn about our Constitution. An arrangement may be offered that is similar to its relationship with Tibet, affirming China’s sovereignty but granting Mongolia a parody of autonomy. Annexing this independent country will cause some friction with Russia, but China will make none of the mistakes that Russia has made in its imperialist aggressions of the past 40-50 years, beginning with Afghanistan.

The United States will “object strongly” to China’s conquests. China knows how easily it can weaken the United States. Right now it relies on its American customers, who are as dependent as addicts to China’s products. But China takes a long-range view. China also knows that its greatest ally for raw materials and ultimately for customers is the Russian empire.

China also knows that Vladimir Putin is finished. Putin will be punished within his own country for his blunder in Ukraine. Ukraine will fall to the Russians, but Russia will step out of that quagmire with a new emperor, and probably one who can project the charm of a Volodymyr Zelensky while concealing the ambitions that ruined Putin.

A new Russian president will understand Russia’s deepened isolation from western Europe and so will relinquish his country’s century-old pretenses of unity with Europe. He will embrace the overtures from China toward a vision for a strong European Union-style cooperative in central Asia.

China’s long-term strategy will be to turn its back on its markets far away from Asia, for it can see that it has already bled most of the available wealth from the United States. Its products have been cheap for 50 years, since Richard Nixon’s bold but naïve rapprochement with Mao Tse-tung.

Nixon may not have been foresighted so much as he facilitated the result in this country. As China began demonstrating its ability and willingness to produce whatever Americans wanted, the United States began virtuously to outlaw manufacturing. Agencies were created and regulations written in this country seemingly to assure that production would be shifted not only to China but to any country where workers earned pennies in worthless currencies against the dollars that were once paid to Americans, where workers have no protection from hazards, where there are only pretenses of concern for the natural environment, where industrial waste is flushed away untreated or piled in agricultural and forested land, where the skies are a permanent yellow-gray, where the oligarchs grow rich, just like the oligarchs in the U.S. Congress and regulatory agencies.

We want the luxuries that such manufacturing makes possible but we have made certain that its horrible side-effects are visited on other countries whose individual citizens don’t matter to us.

It’s a very sinister future if it unfolds this way. This, though, is the best we can hope for. We have given away our best technology and we cannot replicate its products here. When China turns its back on us we will be left without the ability to manufacture anything of consequence and with laws that prevent the building of anything resembling a factory. Just writing the environmental impact statements for a paper mill can provide half a career’s work for an army of lawyers. And perhaps that is as is should be. Perhaps we should not be wreaking such havoc on our world as it takes to give seven billion people all the luxuries that Americans enjoy today. But then, perhaps we should all go back to living as my grandparents did in the 1880s, which is not far removed from the way most of the world’s population still lives today.

Vladimir Putin may still believe that a wave of victories will secure him a place above Lenin in Russian history. Ukraine, though, is frustrating him. The near future, the next generation or so, will follow a path very much like that outlined above if Putin retains his delusions and fails to identify his Brutus. If he becomes angry, though, the world faces the reaches of his wrath, which will not manifest itself in his face or his speeches. Provoked enough he will use so-called tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine to hasten their surrender, risking “severe economic and diplomatic sanctions” from Europe and America. If any NATO country intervenes in any way, all NATO countries are susceptible to a nuclear pushback.

If Putin strikes anywhere outside Ukraine with anything worse than a tactical nuclear weapon, the future as surmised in the earlier part of this article is out the window. A nuclear attack anywhere in the rest of the world has only two possible consequences: Total worldwide capitulation to Russia (presumably to Putin, if he is still in charge), or nuclear annihilation. How the United States responds to a nuclear missile attack will depend upon our leadership when it happens. Waiting for the senate to approve the names of candidates to attend the negotiations with Russia after a Russian nuclear attack will only assure our surrender. And perhaps that is as it must be. The only conceivable defensive response would be for the nuclear-armed NATO countries to launch, within seconds, or at the latest within minutes of an initial Russian nuclear strike on a member nation, all missiles needed to completely destroy Russia’s nuclear offensive arsenal. Militarily, tactically, politically that is the only alternative to surrender. I believe we have neither the procedures in place to do that nor the will.

I’m glad I studied Russian intensively when I was young. I have retained much of it. It looks as though it will come in handy before long.

=David A. Woodbury=

For more about the painting illustrating this article, see this post.

Does My Mask Hurt Your Freedom?

If I were motivated to take such an interesting journey, I could step out my back door and hike 55 miles through the Maine woods to the border with Canada without crossing a paved road.  (I’d reach U.S. 1 just before the border, to be precise.)  Since I’m a wildlife biologist and Registered Maine Guide, this particular hike does not entice me.  My feet have trod plenty of forestland and I can think of more interesting places to explore.

Imagine, nonetheless: I hoist my backpack and set out east by northeast.  I submit to you that I could walk the distance in an almost-straight line, weaving a little in order to side-step a tree or skirt a pond.

I submit to you, as well, that if you would stand me on a low platform and then strike me with a blast of 250-mph wind, I surely would be bulleted into the forest as a molecule propelled by a sneeze, but I wouldn’t travel 55 yards, not to mention 55 miles, before I would be smeared against a tree trunk, never to take a step farther.

It is February, 2022, and we are two years into this covid pandemic.  We now know that, before there was news of human infection with SARS-CoV-2, our oracle, Anthony Fauci, MD, was transferring money to a lab in Wuhan, China, to fund gain-of-function research into the genome of that virus — that is, to fund whatever China wanted to do with U.S. taxpayer money, since accountability for that country’s actions is non-existent.

That is not what surprises and appalls me.  I marvel, instead, at the passionate response to the facts manifested in two factions of Americans.  In the nearly three quarters of a century that I have observed human folly, it should not astonish me that freedom-loving rebels — the people who could most effectively return this nation to a constitutional republic — have chosen to rise up as a cohesive force against… against masks and vaccines.

I have been sounding the alarm for decades as the IRS has grown to resemble Audrey in “Little Shop of Horrors.”  I have been demanding explanations as the banking industry has secured permission to charge me a fee to store my money in its “vaults” and charge me three percent for the privilege of spending it instead of paying me interest of at least three percent.  Where were those rebels as these boots were being driven into their necks?  All of a sudden they have risen up as one against… against masks and vaccines.

What person among them has not taken a needle to prevent annual influenza strains?  What person among them has not worn a protective covering somewhere?  What person among them has not buckled a seatbelt?  Stepped through a metal detector?  Paid for a license to perform a basic human function? I do not wear a mask outside my home because the government tells me I must. I don’t give a damn what the government tells me to do. I wear it because it protects me and it protects those whom I encounter.

The absurdity of the anti-masker, anti-vaxer movement is compounded by Republicans in Congress who have suddenly detected a threat to freedom. Where were they, all through my lifetime, as our property was being handed to the banks and our freedom was being handed to the regulators? I want to blame those abuses on the Democrats, but the two parties now resemble each other so closely that both are equally responsible for our loss of future.

I am closely and warmly acquainted with a woman, a medical doctor in fact, who protests masks and needles based on her Christian faith.  I propounded to her that the God I worship is interested in the substance of my soul, not the agent in my arteries or the strew in my stomach. “God created us to be his image on Earth,” she countered.  “And the virus is 200 times smaller than the spaces within a mask.”

Regarding her first point, I argued that, in my vulgar condition, I more closely resemble the virus itself than God, although I do understand that, as one Christian apologist has said, “You may be the only Jesus that some people will ever see.”  So, yes, I try in all encounters to behave as Jesus would.

To her second point, I compare the virus going through a mask to my initial example of hiking through the forest.  If the virus has the leisure time to meander through a manmade filter with holes 200 times its width, it may indeed “hike” right through a mask.  But propelled at the rate of a sneeze or a lungful of exhaled or inhaled air, I suspect that the mask will act as would the forest against my randomly-catapulted body.  Is it a perfect barrier?  No.  But it is better than most alternatives including the alternative of no barrier at all.

I live with someone who has a serious auto-immune disease. I live with someone else who was born in the 1920s. I myself am a fourteen-year survivor of a heart attack. We are all three highly vulnerable to the severe immediate effects of “covid” and to its long-term effects as well. None of us has yet become infected with it. We have taken advantage of the protection in vaccines. We wear masks in public. We appreciate the courtesy others show by wearing their masks.

To those who have suddenly come to the defense of my freedom not to wear a mask, how about joining me by the millions to defend my freedom not to fund a corrupt government? How about throwing the bums out and electing 435 new members to the House of Representatives this fall, not to mention 33 or 34 new senators? Then I will believe in your commitment to freedom.

=David A. Woodbury=

Facebook’s Yawning Arrogance

[updated 21 February 2022]

It has been a long time since I was last reminded how small and insignificant I am. In spite of its pretensions to virtue and social responsibility, Facebook is really just the modern face of corporate greed and manipulation, vices which it pretend to despise. I need to use it as I originally started out doing, to make connections — (I’m still “bumping into” old childhood acquaintances) — and just stay clear of its bulldozer blade.

David A. Woodbury, 14 December 2021

THIS THIEF, FRAUD, AND FACEBOOK EMPLOYEE DOES NOT VIOLATE META/FACEBOOK’S “COMMUNITY STANDARDS” – a personal experience

Some years ago Facebook invited me to create a page — a space, distinct from my profile, where I might feature a hobby or business. And so I did. When it had enough “Likes” Facebook assigned it the URL (universal resource locator) of my choice. Thus, https://www.facebook.com/RegisteredMaineGuide became my first page. At the time, I was actively making a little money as a guide in fishing, hunting, and wilderness exploring.

Later, I created the page /ProverbialBeer for my beer-making hobby, /MaineMapleSyrup for that hobby, and then /BabieNayms and /ColdMorningShadow for two of the books that I’ve written. All of these were contained in my /woodbury.david Facebook account.

Nowadays Facebook invites us to compose a “story” of some sort, join a chat, join a group, set up a business identity, and more. I have added a business identity, but mostly I avoid those confusing digressions. The whole Facebook experience now feels like navigating a Maine coast fog in an ill-equipped trawler.

Through the years I have followed all of Facebook’s recommendations for keeping my account secure. On November 17, 2021, however, my account was hacked by someone in the Philippines with the email address vergiemhle@outlook.com. I reported this as soon as I discovered it, and two days later Facebook restored my profile to me after I held my driver’s license up to my computer’s camera and let them take a picture of it.

I was grateful and went back to Facebook-as-usual until December 4th. It was then that I discovered I was no longer the administrator of /RegisteredMaineGuide or any of my other Facebook “pages.”

Facebook — or Meta, as we are now asked to call its parent company — believes they resolved the November 17th hack. I tried reporting the newly-discovered problem with my pages, (and in case you think you get to describe the problem, you’re mistaken), but I was led again and again around the same circle: Secure my account by changing my password. I followed through a couple times, getting dizzy with the ‘round-and-‘round, so I began looking for another way to request help.

I did some more digging into the settings for my compromised pages and found lists of people who had been assigned “admin” privileges in each one, reducing me to “analyst” on each of them — in other words, no control. I took screen shots.

In some of its “help” guidance Facebook asked how they could improve their support, adding that they would welcome screen shots. Since there is no way to report hacked and stolen “pages” separately from a hacked account, and since they think they have resolved the hacked account, I tried explaining the difference in 500 characters or less through the improve-our-support interface. I did this again and again, asking that someone please respond to me about it. Facebook sometimes presented a box on the screen cautioning me that this is not the place to report a problem and that I will not receive a reply.

I continued daily assaults on the AI (artificial intelligence/absolute ignorance) of Facebook’s support services, unattended by human eyes, for about a week. During this time I looked up several of the names who had been granted admin privileges in my pages. I settled on one who appeared most often and who seems to have a genuine active Facebook account/profile of his own, Phạm Linh, in Vietnam. Ironically, he claims to work for Meta. Aha! — I thought — Facebook will certainly want to know this — he’s made himself the admin of my pages, also appears as my “friend,” and he pretends to be a Meta employee and even links his profile to meta.com.

I found a link on Phạm Linh’s profile to report a suspicious account, so I clicked it. There was no option to provide supporting details. I could only click Pretending to Be Someone Else (among other options) and then click Submit. I did and waited a few hours. Sure enough, Facebook replied that this person’s profile does not appear to violate their “community standards.” And since his profile says he’s one of their own and making that claim doesn’t violate their standards, then I must accept that as Facebook admission that Phạm Linh is indeed their own employee. I tried again a day later using a different violation from their list (Harassment). Same result.

I tried this approach as well on the profile of Jeonard Balmaceda Jimenez, another unauthorized admin on one of my pages who also claims to be employed by Facebook. Same result. I tried reporting Violation of Intellectual Property. That’s also acceptable in their community standards.

Phạm Linh’s most recent timeline post is from November 6th, so I thought maybe he doesn’t look at his profile very often, but on December 12th I composed a polite message to him nevertheless. Since my screen shot of the message thread is restricted to a tiny box, here you will see a screen shot of the part showing his reply followed by a transcript of the entire exchange.

Here’s what I know so far:

  • Phạm Linh works for Facebook — Meta has confirmed this. (Claiming so on his profile meets with their community standards. Who is this “community” by the way? Clearly it doesn’t include me.)
  • As a Meta/Facebook employee, Phạm Linh bought my pages from some source that sells Facebook identities.
  • With Facebook’s permission, Phạm Linh is demanding a ransom. (The amount that would satisfy him is unspecified, nor am I going to ask the price.) If I pay him, separately from his Meta salary, he will return control to me.
  • Meta/Facebook has no option within its “support” system whereby I can reach a human being, by email, chat, phone, message, or any other means.
  • Meta’s web site lists no contact information — no main office address or phone number. It does provide one email address, press@fb.com, for “press inquiries.” (What’s a press inquiry?)

To survive in the wilderness such as the forest that surrounds my home, an animal that is not, in some combination, cunning, camouflaged, cautious, or vicious will not survive. The internet is a wilderness. To a predator in another part of the world, an American is a fat, bumbling meal to be pounced upon and consumed. That is Phạm Linh’s perspective. (Given that I was an American GI during the Vietnam war, he is doubly justified, I suppose.)

To survive in the city you must be some combination of chic, undefinable, unapproachable, or evasive. Facebook is a quintessential city creature. With its fashionable transformation to Meta it has reinforced, among its qualities, the arrogance of unapproachableness. I have been violated in their boudoir. Facebook cannot be approached with my complaint. But Facebook still invites me to create a story. OK. Here it is (but not using the “story” format).

It remains unresolved. If you have pages in Facebook, be warned now that they are for sale by Facebook employees and you can pay the ransom to get them back — maybe. These pages which I created are no longer my own. I cannot add to, modify, or delete them.

https://www.facebook.com/davidandrewwoodbury (for publisher DamnYankee.com)
https://www.facebook.com/ColdMorningShadow
https://www.facebook.com/ProverbialBeer
https://www.facebook.com/RegisteredMaineGuide
https://www.facebook.com/MaineMapleSyrup
https://www.facebook.com/BabieNayms

These screen shots tell the rest of the story…

This story, with all its screen shots, still resides on my Facebook profile, https://www.facebook.com/woodbury.david/, with numerous comments. Among the comments are a couple of telephone numbers that one friend suggested might reach the company. I tried one. It did reach a recorded menu at Facebook telling all callers that they must search the Facebook web site for answers. I didn’t bother with the second phone number.

I did compose a letter with the necessary details and mailed it to the physical address that appears on their web site, 1101 Dexter Avenue N, Seattle, Washington. Ten days later I sent a second one just asking how they were coming on my request. Both letters were returned as undeliverable. I suppose that I too could refuse to accept all mail and refuse as well to be contacted in any way. And I could pretend at the same time to be a friendly entity that encourages people to communicate with one another.

On the supposition that, since Meta’s web site invites press inquiries sent to the email address, press@fb.com, I assumed that there might be an email address, legal@fb.com. Therefore, I composed a message, included the URL for this article, and sent it off from the email address associated with my Facebook account. It bounced back immediately with this caveat:

Your message to legal@fb.com couldn’t be delivered. legal@fb.com only accepts messages from people in its organization or on its allowed senders list, and your email address isn’t on the list. -How to Fix It- It appears you aren’t in the same organization as the recipient or your email address isn’t on their allowed senders list. Contact the person you’re sending your message to (by phone, for example) and tell them to ask their email admin to change the settings on their mailbox so it will accept messages from you. Was this helpful?

Frankly, I no longer care. For most people, it appears that Facebook is viewed with the same love and respect that they afford the IRS and the insurance industry, to name two of our other necessary evils.

It has been a long time since I was last reminded how small and insignificant I am. In spite of its pretensions to virtue and social responsibility, Facebook is really just the modern face of corporate greed and manipulation. I need to use it as I originally started out doing, to make connections — (I’m still “bumping into” old childhood acquaintances) — and just stay clear of its bulldozer blade.

Update, 13 March 2022

After a brief exchange of messages between the hacker and me, https://www.facebook.com/davidandrewwoodbury/ (a page dedicated to the publisher, DamnYankee.com), has been returned to my control by the hacker.

=David A. Woodbury=

America’s Slide Toward Fascism | George Smith

The article that is linked below may be the best analysis of what our rulers in the United States will never understand about their responsibility to govern.  All of what Ayn Rand has to say, in this piece by George Smith for libertarianism.org and republished at fee.org (the Foundation for Economic Education), are thoughts that have stewed in my mind but never come to words, at least not words as clearly expressed as she did.

As Smith says: Rand knew better than to accept the traditional left-right dichotomy.  It has always been about the individual vs. the state.

In a letter written on March 19, 1944, Ayn Rand remarked: “Fascism, Nazism, Communism and Socialism are only superficial variations of the same monstrous theme—collectivism.”  Rand would later expand on this insight in various articles, most notably in two of her lectures at the Ford Hall Forum in Boston: “The Fascist New Frontier” (Dec. 16, 1962, published as a booklet by the Nathaniel Branden Institute in 1963); and “The New Fascism: Rule by Consensus” (April 18, 1965, published as Chapter 20 in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal [CUI] by New American Library in 1967).

Rand knew better than to accept the traditional left-right dichotomy between socialism (or communism) and fascism, according to which socialism is the extreme version of left-ideology and fascism is the extreme version of right-ideology (i.e., capitalism).  Indeed, in The Ayn Rand Letter (Nov. 8, 1971) she characterized fascism as “socialism for big business.”  Both are variants of statism, in contrast to a free country based on individual rights and laissez-faire capitalism.

She warns especially against choosing the middle of the road between the two extremes of the same collectivism, a position that gives us, as I have written elsewhere, the Pigrolet.

Read Smith’s article here: https://fee.org/articles/ayn-rand-predicted-an-american-slide-toward-fascism/.  If left to me I would say no one should graduate high school without understanding this analysis and what is behind it.

=David A. Woodbury=

Note: This article was originally added here in October 2017. It has been brought forward because it remains timely if not downright urgent with the unbelievable incompetence-to-govern among all who hold office in the nation’s capital. If it becomes unavailable at the FEE link in the preceding paragraph, it is available in a downloadable PDF file by clicking below.

Banned in Boston

My regrets for the length of this piece, first published at DamnYankee.com, but so much is at stake and much needs be said.  I originally wrote this as a letter to The Weekly Standard after reading its 2006 article, “Banned in Boston – The coming conflict between same-sex marriage and religious liberty” by Maggie Gallagher, 05/15/2006, Volume 011, Issue 33. The magazine did not publish or acknowledge my letter.  And so, I offer it here.

In Maggie Gallagher’s engaging and informative article about Catholic Charities of Boston in the wake of Goodridge (a decision from the Massachusetts Supreme Court), neither she nor any of the legal beagles she interviewed so much as mentioned the simplest solution of all.  Churches can simply restrict themselves to performing the sacrament of marriage and forgo acting as agents of the State (with a capital ‘S’ to use Nock’s catch-all term) in certifying a couple’s intentions.  Then, those churches interested in marrying same-sex couples but located in states that only recognize male-female marriages can confer the sacrament of marriage on any couple the church alone approves, and likewise for churches that recognize only male-female marriages in states where same-sex civil unions are sanctioned.  Never mind that people, such as myself, who are not interested in the government’s sanction of anything we do, can even exchange conventional male-female vows in a non-controversial church ceremony and save the fee downtown.

If a church turns in its permit to certify the civil status of a union, couples married in the church but seeking government sanction as well can then go downtown, right after the wedding or years later, pay the fees, repeat their intentions before a state official if need be, and submit to the State’s blessing at their convenience.

People do the opposite all the time: They save a trip to the church alter and get their civil union, commonly called a marriage, certified at the town office after a religion-free ceremony at a banquet hall.  Some even show up at a church years later and ask for a church ceremony, to make it right in the eyes of God.  (And some never bother with either ceremony, opting for what we used to call a common-law marriage.)  This is tolerated more in today’s American culture than ever before; we are collectively unperturbed by any arrangement of co-habitation.)

In this country, perhaps more than in others, we have adapted to a concept that a marriage is one thing and one thing only, that it is the exclusive privilege of the State to sanction, and that, as an option, a church can be called upon to bless it.  This is incontrovertibly backwards.  The experts Maggie Gallagher interviewed do not seem able to shake this misconception, and thus they predict endless debate and litigation.  I wish they had re-examined the common American concept of marriage, which has been confused with the wedding ceremony and all its trappings.  Marriage is the union of two people – perhaps even three or more if the state becomes whimsical about it; a wedding is the ceremony that results in a marriage along with the festivity that typically follows immediately afterward.

As for Catholic Charities and the mess they’re in in Boston, it only proves that no good deed goes unpunished.  In this country, a church that wants the State to stay out of its affairs will stay out of the government’s affairs.  A church that engages in commerce, as Marc Stern pointed out to Gallagher, invites the State’s scrutiny and interference.  So too for a church that provides community services cooperatively or under contract with a government agency.

Why, then, does any church assume the civil authority to certify a marriage on the State’s behalf?  It may well be rooted in the Middle Ages I suppose, but a joint statement of intentions made in a civil hearing and an exchange of vows in a sacramental ceremony are two distinct things with two separate purposes.  In spite of what legislatures or courts may declare about the civil certification of a union, if churches in the United States would just stick to the sacrament and stay out of the civil certification process, they could always be entirely free to perform the sacrament of marriage according to their own rules and with couples they select and approve, without asking the government’s permission to do so!  My wife and I, for instance, submitted to our church’s questioning and the related scrutiny of our suitability to become wed.  Unless the State presumes to take over that responsibility and force all churches to follow one doctrine on any subject of the State’s choosing, a church still has the final say-so.

People who desire a religious blessing are free to marry in a church and may decline to register the marriage with the civil authorities.  And any couple of any description is free to decline God’s blessing and find a civil authority willing to register their pledge (and willing, later, to accept their revocation of it).  It is when the church functions as an agent of the State and combines the civil arrangement with the religious sacrament that the State has an interest in who is denied the State’s arrangement by being denied the sacrament.

A church may choose not to acknowledge a marriage certified outside its rules, and the State may choose not to recognize the marriage of a couple who have not paid the registration fee and obtained, of all things, a “license.”  (Is that still required?)

A marriage not recognized by the State is no less a marriage in the eyes of God.  Americans seem more concerned with the definition of marriage according to the IRS than the definition according to sacrament.  But, in spite of what the Internal Revenue Code may say about it, and I’m not going to waste time searching the Code, even the IRS makes no demand of proof that a couple filing a joint tax return produce a civil license to call themselves married.  In the several decades that my wife and I have been married we have never been called upon to show it and we don’t even have a copy of any such license.

I submit that Catholic Charities of Boston, if unable to reconcile the two definitions of marriage, must remain true to its own traditional definition.  The church’s standards remain constant, or one can hope that they do, while the State is free to write a law declaring the union of peanut butter and jelly a marriage (requiring a permit), if it wants to.  Not realistic?  What about the union of three people, then?  Is that so far-fetched?  And how would a church handle a legislative or court definition like that?  If some rich socialite can will her estate to her terrier, what’s to prevent the State from taking the next logical step and permitting her to marry the dog first?

If Massachusetts loses the services of the Catholic adoption agencies because the State has a better definition of marriage, and thereby a better definition of family, then let the State do a better job of handling adoption.  That is, let the people of Massachusetts, who presumably are unperturbed by their elected representatives’ fiat in allowing the court to correct the church’s stodgy and now-erroneous definition, fork over the revenue that the State will need to go it alone in adoption services.  The people of Massachusetts have said, through their representatives, that they don’t need the church’s help.  Let them live with that decision.

It is plain that Massachusetts has, until now, consigned a number of children to Catholic Charities to be placed according to the church’s standards, or according to some standards jointly agreed upon.  (And once placed, the children live under the parents’ standards.)  The State now chooses no longer to consign children to that agency, (chooses in the sense that the agency felt compelled to close), because the agency’s standards, which are not changing with the whim of popular culture, were set centuries before there was a fickle legislature in Massachusetts with the voters’ assent to write ever-changing law.

Perhaps the next step will be for the State (of Massachusetts in this case) to follow up by visiting the homes where children have been adopted and ensuring that the adopting parents have the proper non-discrimination notices posted, thus assuring that the children rescued from Catholic Charities are subsequently protected from Catholic or Sunni or Hindu influence at home.

This is not a tirade against the exchange of devotional vows by homosexual couples, nor against adoption by homosexual singles or couples.  (The latter — deciding who is suitable to adopt a child, is always the State’s sole responsibility.)  This is merely a defense of the church’s right to remain unaffected by the State in the practice and promotion of its beliefs, and likewise an insistence that the State practice its shenanigans without regard for the sensitivities of any church.  In either regard, that is as it should be.

Do I believe that homosexuals should not be parents?  No, I do not believe that.  Do I believe that homosexuals should endure State-sanctioned persecution?  No, nor any persecution.  Do I believe that the State, by prohibiting discrimination, will put an end to persecution?  No.  And that is where the State’s “solution” becomes insidious, for it is the State’s apparent belief that, by prohibiting discrimination and assiduously enforcing the prohibition, unlawful discrimination will evaporate.  In its zeal, the State will neglect certain of its children, perhaps its most vulnerable citizens.  It’s a legislative victory on behalf of those who feel stigmatized by society for their sexual orientation.  It’s a tragedy, perhaps, for someone more vulnerable.

I do believe it is the duty of those whose activism brings about anti-discrimination legislation to concede that the law will not instantly change people’s perceptions or end discrimination overnight; to concede also that, while unlawful discrimination is not OK, there just may be a population more vulnerable than those whose grievance is redressed by a single act of a sacrosanct State, in this case, the decision of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts.

A vocal cadre of indignant activists, whatever cause they advocate, and a complicit legislature or crusading court, should always consider these realities.  That’s not to say that they should jointly search out all possible affected parties and concoct grievances for them too, but only that they should jointly acknowledge, and let the law make allowance for, the fact that, as a society, we are somewhat like a small crowd jammed into an elevator. I shouldn’t be expected to accept having the point of your umbrella jammed into my foot, but I should accept being jostled a little.  You should accept my unintentionally offensive odor, but I should take care to bathe daily so that there is at least a limit to how smelly I can be from day to day.  And when the door opens and opportunity presents, we should put space, but not hatred, between ourselves.

What’s missing here is tolerance, or, as Maggie Gallagher quoted Marc Stern, “‘Live and let live’ is the only thing around the world that works.”  Isn’t it fair to say that those protected by the anti-discrimination law, (the entire body of those protected, as distinct from their most vocal advocates), are chiefly seeking tolerance for what sets them apart?  Isn’t it also fair to say that those thus protected owe their fellow citizens tolerance for their various beliefs and standards as well, however distasteful?  That was briefly the objective in America, when the law set out to prohibit harmful acts and promote responsible action — before law became the monster it now is, dedicated to the eradication of any notice of obvious differences, the police state of political correctness.  It should shame the Massachusetts legislature, and indeed, the people of Massachusetts who permit that body to represent them, that the chief beneficiaries of this new mess will be the lawyers, who will likewise miss the point of tolerance, to the considerable expense of the people whose taxes support them.

A church’s only role in American society, in order to assure First Amendment protection, is to preach its doctrine and exhort its listeners to faith and right action.  Marc Stern agrees when he says, “Beyond speech, nothing is safe.  People exhorted may then individually put their faith into practice without too much threat of State interference.  But churches have become big business in America, some, no doubt, with more paid accountants than clergy.  Concerted action, in contrast with individual action, makes a church appear very effective in its doctrine and charity, but it also calls the church to submit, account, and justify.  I do not disapprove the State’s legitimate scrutiny of many churches’ big-business affairs, since the Constitution calls upon the federal government to regulate interstate commerce.

For churches worried about whimsical, peanut-butter-and-jelly definitions of marriage, why fret whether federal or state legislators will one day grant religion-based exemptions?  This was a development that Robin Wilson speculated on in Gallagher’s article.  Why not simply turn in your permits to confer civil status to a marriage and restrict yourselves to conducting religious ceremonies only?  And offer newlyweds an instruction brochure explaining, for whatever town or municipality they’re in, how to register for a State license to be wed as well, either before or after the church blessing.  For those few couples who still wait for their wedding night, they’ll have to choose whether the celebration of the sacrament constitutes the wedding or the hearing on their civil petition.  That decision may depend more on whether they’re interested in the IRS benefits, probate, and insurance beneficiary status or in the blessing of God.

Even if the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, or in Massachusetts, gives up certifying the civil status of marriages, the result of Goodridge for Catholic Charities of Boston remains the same.  Massachusetts voters have put them out of the adoption placement business.  I’m glad I’m not a child-pawn in that state’s politics.

=David A. Woodbury=