Category Archives: Wasteland

The Wrong Phone Number

My contact at the archives isn’t answering the phone. I look their number on the internet.

The first number doesn’t work. The second rings and rings without an answer. An old woman answers the third number.

“Is this the archive?” I ask.

“Oh, no, she replies right away. Their number is 2-6 and you dialed 0-6.”

I’m surprised that she knows this, and glance again at their webpage.

“Do you know that your phone number is on your webpage?”

She says something I don’t understand. Her voice is old. Maybe she doesn’t know what a webpage is.

“They are advertising your phone number. They are saying it’s the phone number of the archive.”

“It doesn’t do any harm,” she says.

Her indifference makes me angry. “Maybe you should call them and tell them to change it so that people stop calling you.”

“Oh, I don’t get that many calls,” she says.

I thank her and hang up.

Be a Smart Traveler!

Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) – A service of the US State Department for U.S. Citizens traveling abroad

The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service provided by the U.S. Government to U.S. citizens who are traveling to, or living in, a foreign country. STEP allows you to enter information about your upcoming trip abroad so that the Department of State can better assist you in an emergency.

What Can You Do With STEP?
• Enter information on your trip or overseas residence
• Subscribe to receive updates on Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts and other information for a particular country

https://step.state.gov/step/

Paid toilets — an economic mystery

First of all, please excuse the vulgarity of this post. I’m making a point. I took this picture a couple months ago at a bus station.

I had walked past an empty desk when a babushka came roaring out of some back room, gruffly demanding one hryvnia (12 cents) for the privilege of relieving myself amongst this sanitary beauty:

2013-04-26 14.34.06 2013-04-26 14.33.14

How is this travesty possible? Shouldn’t paid toilets be of better quality than the free toilets which businesses (McDonalds, among many others) make available throughout Ukraine?

Not so. Not at all. You see, the babushka is not a private owner. She’s not the innovative, risk-taking sanitation entrepreneur you might mistake her for. She is a bureaucrat squatting (no pun intended) on dilapidated, neglected Soviet era infra structure. What’s even more pathetic is the possibility that she paid a bribe to rise to her current position.

Oh, the humanity…

1990s Donbass — A Glimmer of Liberty and Prosperity

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, miners in the east homesteaded abandoned mines. Their efforts grew into a complex operation, but sadly, gangsters eventually took over (with considerable help from local bureaucracies which were — and are — indistinguishable from the gangsters).

The title of this article translates as HOW DONBASS BECAME, INSTEAD OF NEW AMERICA, THE INDUSTRIAL MIDDLE AGES.

http://texty.org.ua/pg/article/editorial/read/42483/Shahtarskyj_adat_Jak_Donbas_zamist_novoji_Ameryky

The article references “anarcho-libertarianism”.

Translation: here

***

Again and again and again: Half Ukraine’s problems would vanish overnight if everybody owned a gun.

Americans who favor restrictions on guns are the spoiled inheritors of a private law culture that evolved with the frontier where people owned guns and found private solutions to the problems of security and justice.

Unwarranted Pessimism & the Reason for Ukraine’s Bureaucracy

Thank you for the condolences I received on my previous post. I’m concerned, however, that this blog tends unfairly toward pessimism.

Ayn Rand wrote that the government makes us all criminals because criminals are easier to control. In the U.S., the federal tax code alone is more than 24 megabytes in length, and contains more than 3.4 million words; printed 60 lines to the page, it would fill more than 7500 letter-size pages. (The often cited figure of 80,000 pages seems to be an exaggeration.)

In any case, the vast quantity of laws, regulations and codes leaves every entrepreneur scared that he might have violated one of them. There’s no way to be sure. Hence, success should be enjoyed quietly. Entrepreneurs have good incentive to hide any triumph over bureaucracy. Failure doesn’t invite a bureaucrat’s scrutiny the way success does.

***

I’ve alluded to this before. I think I’ve come to understand thee reason for Ukraine’s psychopathic bureaucracy. Where western bureaucracies were created from nothing in pursuit of a goal — education, food safety, building safety. Perhaps the worst you could say, they were created with this public goal, while the private goal was the establishment of monopoly privilege. They had to at least appear to be working. Ukrainian bureaucracy is an *imitation* of these failed systems of the west built atop the lingering habits and moral depravity of Socialism.

There was no lustration as happened in central Europe. Ukraine inherited more Soviet bureaucrats and bureaucracies than did other post-Soviet states.

Days like today make me miss America

So for the past couple weeks, a friend of mine who works in a municipal level gov’t position has been telling me that everything’s fine, that he’ll call tomorrow and tell me when I can pick up documents I’ve been waiting for. His help has been completely selfless. I’m grateful, and want to be polite, even when he never calls. I kept waiting TWO days, giving him a chance to live up to his promise, and then calling him, and receiving the same reassurance.

When I called him yesterday, he finally said everything was ready. “Travel to the regional office and pick up your stuff.”

Public transportation in Ukraine kicks my ass. I’ve written about train stations before. Same goes for bus stations: the only way I’m able to figure out when a bus is going somewhere is to travel to the station, stand in line, and then ask the clerk.

Yesterday evening, I enlisted the help of a native Ukrainian. She made an inquiry online. She said there was a bus from L’viv to the regional office at 15:00. That didn’t sound right and I decided to take a marshutka first thing in the morning to find out when the buses travel.

I take the #10 Marshutka to the bus station. I just googled the distance and see that it’s about 10.5 kilometers. The fact that a ten kilometer trip takes 45 minutes is one of the miracles of L’viv’s public transportation system. It’s a little cartel. Marshutky are filty, slow, and even more crowded than the NYC subways I grew up riding. There are never enough.

It turned out my Ukrainian friend was wrong. One bus leaves at 8:30 in the morning. I learned this at 8:45. The next one at 13:00. I waited in a nearby restaurant for almost four hours.

I eventually took the bus to the region where my paperwork was being prepared. During the two-and-a-half hour ride at a snails pace to avoid pot holes, I telephoned a cousin and asked him to meet me. We went together to the office where everything was supposedly ready. Nothing was ready.

I couldn’t even pay the 26 uah fee (about $3). I was told the following week not to return there, but to go to the Oblast center to get my documents, and then later to the regional office to pay the three bucks.

It would have been a foolish, rookie mistake to try and figure out why I’d been asked to go there in the first place when apparently I had to first picking up the documents in the Oblast center. The fact that the question didn’t even occur to me until much later is a sign of my maturing to the reality of Ukrainian bureaucracy. It has no logic, no center. It is idiocy for the sake of idiocy. It is a cruel joke without a punchline. It just keeps stumbling along, but without ever actually getting anywhere.

I waited another two hours for the bus back to L’viv.

Here’s what really made today special:

I had intended to take Marshutka #10 back toward my apartment. I thought I saw a #10, and moved to secure my place in the crush of people. (There are never enough Marshutky.) It turned out that it was #40. I zoned out for what I expected to be a 45 minute, 10 kilometer trip, and didn’t realize my mistake until I was in a little town beyond the municipal boundary of the city. My cell phone battery died.

I was able to take a different Marshutka back to the bus station, and arrived just in time to see the last bus departing toward the city center. Of course, I didn’t realize it was the last bus until after a good twenty minutes of sitting on the cold bench.

I started walking home, and found a big crowd of people at a different Marshutka stop. I waited with them for quite a while, but felt reassured by their number. Thirty one. I counted. I took that Marshutka. One lady told me it was the last of the evening. After a half-hour ride, it may or may not have gotten me closer to my home. Not sure. I exited and walked across what seemed like half the city, climbing piles of snow and wading through ankle deep slush.

It was after midnight when I returned home.

My day has been as smart and efficient as a bag of hammers.

My Post Office Experience

My landlord slipped a note under my door. It came from the Post Office. I had received a package. I had been expecting one — a French Press — a personal gift from a dear friend in Prague.

I carried the note to the main post office where they told me to go to my local post office, number 18 or something.

The next day, I walked to a post office near my apartment. They directed me to yet another one near the bazaar. At that post office, they told me packages are handled in the adjacent building, but they only worked until three pm. It was almost four.

I left and made a mental note of the adjacent door, which had no sign or distinguishing markings. It did not seem like a post office, but it was the only thing even remotely matching the clerk’s directions. I returned the next day.

The door opened into a small chamber which could have been foyer or waiting room. There was a table with one tall stack of papers leaning heavily against the adjacent cabinet.

One of two chairs was occupied by a middle-aged woman who ignored me. I sensed her fanatical indifference to the world. She seemed capable of ignoring a locomotive, should one ever come crashing through the wall of that chamber. If indifference was a religion, she’d be a high priest.

I felt very much the outsider in a world loathe to acknowledge me. Perhaps it was my own insecurity, but I felt like Alice who initially struggled for the attention of Wonderland’s denizens. They ignored her as another uninteresting fixture.

“Is this the post office?” I asked, breaking the silence. I had the suspicion the lady would look right through me without seeing me. For some reason, I felt started by the fact of her reaction.

She said nothing, but waved her hand to a door opposite the entrance. I tested it. Its bolting mechanism was sufficiently ill fit that the door gave a centimeter or so before the bolt banged against the latch hole.

Immediately, I felt guilty of something, though I wasn’t sure what. The noise of the deadbolt had echoed in the chamber announcing my effort. Perhaps the noise condemned me as a sinner in this wonderland, guilty of desiring some outcome and working purposefully toward it.

The lady’s indifference remained. One might think of a Buddhist monk, but without any hope of reaching of Nirvana. Hers was a more perfect harmony, without hope and without fear. If you ever find yourself by the bazaar, please find this door and peak inside. I suspect she’ll still be there.

It occurred to me that I might not have sufficiently twisted the doorknob. Surely, anyone inside in the room would have heard the clatter. Should I test the door again?

I waited, hoping for some sign of sentient existence beyond the portal. Nothing.

I grabbed the door knob again, with both hands this time, twisted with all my strength. I clearly heard a latch-bolt retract, but when I pulled the door, again, what must have been a deadbolt pounded loudly against the latch hole.

I felt glad for my second try. Though it didn’t represent progress toward to my goal, I helped me understand the situation. I felt confidence of two things:

1) The door was indeed locked.

2) The second chamber was almost certainly uninhabited, because any occupant would certainly have reacted to my noisy appeal.

Though the outcome was unfavorable, I the issue’s resolution filled me with an albeit miniscule sense of accomplishment. I had tried exhaustively, but failed. Now it was time to move on. Perhaps this wasn’t the adjacent building they’d told me of. I would ask a local friend for help. Now it was time to move onto the next task.

Perhaps the pleasant thought of leaving wonderland, of returning to civilization is what inspired a playful feeling in me. I flippantly rapped the door with my knuckles before turning contently. I walked half way across the room before the sound of an opening deadbolt froze me in place.

I felt the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. Did I really hear it? Surely, a human would not have waited for me to knock. Surely, a human would have understood the meaning of clattering deadbolt in a public building during business hours. I turned slowly to the door, bracing for whatever demon or alien life form might hurl itself toward me.

I felt my heart pounding. Looking at the door, I adjusted my stance, braced to move quickly, to dodge or to flee. Nothing. There was only silence. The door did not budge. Only it’s deadbolt had been pushed open by someone, or someTHING. Was this an invitation? Was it a dare?

The woman did not return my gaze. I felt lost. I did not know the rules of this world and reminded myself that I had once been a paratrooper, that I was a three time combat veteran, a warrior and leader of men.

I turned the knob and the door opened with a squeak. An office. Definitely an office. Perhaps a Post Office. Two desks. A woman at one of them. She doesn’t notice me.

I had reassured soldiers en route to Afghanistan that things are much less scary up close. This certainly seemed to be the case here. I closed the door noisily. There was nothing to fear, but much to puzzle over.

I surveyed the room. The strongest hint of a postal vocation was the cubby shelving on the wall. Other than that, it could have been any sort of office: Cabinets, two chaotic desks, one with an old Cathode Ray Tube monitor atop it. There was no sign of a computer. The strangest thing seemed to be the woman scribbling busily at one of the desks and not acknowledging me whatsoever.

I imagined her ignoring the pounding of the deadbolt. I imagined her, annoyed by my interruption, eventually rising from her desk, slamming open the bolt and returning to her place. I stood in utter awe of her capacity to ignore me, and didn’t even think to say anything until she finally looked up from her work and said something so quickly that I understood nothing beyond the irritated tone of her voice.

I did not react to her impatience, though, as my sensibilities had not yet adjusted to this strange world. I would have felt no less baffled had I discovered a troop of Kozaks sipping coffee in my kitchen one morning, their horses drinking from my toilet.

She spoke again, pointing the scrap of paper which I had forgotten I was holding, the paper my landlord slipped under my door. For the first time since entering her office, I felt I was interacting with a human.

My wonderment ended, and I stepped toward her, offering the paper. She responded angrily, indicating that she did not want the paper handed to her, but placed on the desk. Clearly, these were self-evident rules in this wonderland, and I, very much the clumsy, bothersome tourist. I placed it on the desk, and she immediately snatched it up.

With surprising animation, she shuffled through some papers and boxes in one part of the room, then in another. She found my package, much to my delight, then placed in on the table and asked to see my passport. I signed two or three slips of paper, and she returned to her previous posture, huddled over her desk, scribbling.

“Is that it?” I asked.

“Yes, yes,” she said impatiently. “That’s it.”

“Thank you,” I said.

It seemed she no longer heard me, or saw me, but I was happy. I left, gently shutting the door behind me. The woman in the first room also seemed oblivious to my passing.

Q: How many signatures does it take to receive a water delivery in Ukraine?

A: TEN! I couldn’t believe it. Exactly ten. I counted.

I had two jugs (approx. five-gallons each) delivered for my water cooler. This was the initial delivery. Subsequent deliveries will only require three signature.

Here’s a picture of the documents they left me:

documents left after water deliver

On the other hand, Nova Poshta is emerging as a Ukrainian FedEx. They are professional, efficient and require only a single signature for deliveries.

Ukrainian man on 50-hour drunkfest opens door on plane

The sad story of modern Ukraine can be summed up in this sentence from the article:

He had gone to Ukraine to build a house, but told the FBI that once he learned he could not start construction as hoped, he decided to start drinking.

***

“Hung over from a 50-day drunk, Anatoliy N. Baranovich thought Delta Flight 1215 was on fire when the aircraft landed at Salt Lake City Tuesday night, so the Ukrainian man frantically tried to open the rear door of the aircraft and furiously struggled with passengers trying to restrain him, authorities allege.” (Read More)

Concise Summary of Ukraine’s Upcoming Election

Okay, let me start by saying that I haven’t been paying attention to politics. Democracy makes me sick. In the words of Albert Jay Nock:

“. . . a decent person could find no place in politics, not even the place of an ordinary voter, for the forces of ignorance, brutality and indecency would outnumber him ten to one.”

However, I overheard the following concise summary from a well-respected lawyer who’s been doing business in Ukraine for over a decade. I think it’s worth sharing:

The Party of Regions will either falsify the election, or they’re all going to prison. Expect to hear a lot of noise in about a month. It’ll sound like all hell is breaking loose. But you know what it means for you? [He was talking to a prospective American investor (not me).] Nothing. Business as usual. Ukraine’s economy is already 70-80% underground. I just want to warn you.

Ternopil Area Taxpayers on the hook for €10 million loan

“The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has issued a loan of EUR 10 million to Ternopilmiskteplokomunenergo under full municipal guarantees under a pilot project to modernize Ternopil’s central heating system.

The parties signed a relevant credit agreement in Kyiv on Friday.

“The term of crediting is 13 years, the interest rate is 5.9% per annum. The payback period of such projects in the field of heat supply is now five or seven years,” head of Ternopil City Council Serhiy Nadal said at a press conference in Kyiv following the signing of the agreements.” (Read more)

It is translated!

They were closed for an “archival day” but she had a connection and got us in to have a lady check our documents. The lady studied the one page document for a full minute, holding it close to her squinting face.

“The problem is this: it needs to be translated and the translation needs to be certified,” she said. She sort of leaned back in her chair, relieved, no doubt, that she wouldn’t be required to do any actual work this moment.

I looked at her with such a dead expression that she asked whether I understood Ukrainian. I told her it was translated. Every other line was in Ukrainian. We argued briefly about whether or not it was translated. Eventually, she realized it was.

To her great relief, however, she found a problem with the translation of my passport. It needed to show the page with my last entrance stamp to Ukraine. I needed to have it re-translated and re-notarized.

The Invincible Army of Saint Nicholas, Patron of Merchants

I thank the 2012 Property and Freedom Society Conference for reminding me that my opponents are bureaucrats, that their obstacles are weak and fake. They are centrally planned and therefore stupid and inefficient.

They can’t touch me. They can’t even come close. Commerce is as powerful and inevitable as the blossoming of flowers in the Spring. No amount of laws and bureaucrats can stop it.

***

I am reminded of the legend Dan Gable:

“If I knew I was going to Wrestle in the finals of the Olympics against a Russian and I knew he had been training specifically to beat me, but then I knew the guy was on Steroids, That would HELP me. Whereas some might think ‘oh he’s cheating, for me you didn’t pay the price. You’re not as committed as I am. It’ll tear him apart. He may be strong, but all I have to do during that 9 minutes of wrestling is loosen one single wire in his brain, make him do something that isn’t perfect, and he’ll fall apart.”

***

I am reminded of a conversation I had in Iraq in 2003.

Some context: Since the fall of Sadaam’s regime, farmers were no longer scared to take more than their quota of water from Iraq’s open air canal system. The farms down stream were drying out. My job involved escorting incompetent police in support of their stupid, archaic irrigation system. We’d go harass the farmers tapping the canal illegally. One industrious farmer had dug a channel and created a pond in his backyard.

When I told my colonel that enforcement was near impossible, and that arresting farmers was hurting the morale of my soldiers, he suggested we have our engineers fill up his channel, repeatedly if necessary, until the farmer gives up. “I’m pretty sure the US Army can out work some guy with a shovel.”

He was wrong. The US Army didn’t stand a chance.

***

[youtube]jzekDivpK3M[/youtube]

The Devourer of Dreams — a requiem for Ukrainian aspirations

I stand in utter, horrified, awe at the density, enormity, and sheer stupidity of Ukraine’s bureaucracy. It is a hell of futility and waste — an amorphous, brutish, rank, smothering blob of contradicting rules, locked offices, and stamped documents.

Yes, I know. In western countries bureaucracy is also evil, but you can at least discern a purpose. You understand your enemy’s logic. It is there to control you. It is there to enrich politicians, their friends, or the bureaucrats themselves, to kill competition or efficiently extract money, perhaps. But this miserable place . . . . dear Lord. So pointless, so ponderous.

Perhaps Western bureaucracies have arisen like tumors atop wealth accumulated during freer times. Ukraine was never free. The Soviet Union was not reality but “a monstrous caricature of reality.” Upon this caricature, in the hope of imitating the West’s wealth, Ukraine’s aspiring elite readily built shoddy imitations of the tumors growing atop it. They’ve combined the lingering institutions and habits of socialism with the parasitic institutions of the West.

What has arisen is hideous altar to some sadistic god, festooned with politicians’ smiling faces and patriotic appeals. It looms terrifyingly, incomprehensibly, casting a fetid shadow over all facets of life. It is the alter upon which Ukrainians sacrifice their dreams, ambitions, and what little time God has given them on the Earth.

However, it is not the altar itself which perplexes me most, but the masses who kneel before it, come to worship its many heads. Yes, native born Ukrainians will be the first to point out its difficulties, to condemn it, insult it with blazing intensity, but what they’ll cling to to the last bit of strength in their cracked, laborer’s hands is the idea that such an altar is necessary. It is just a matter of swapping this face for that one, this political appeal (victory over the Nazis, seventy years later, still the enemy of enemies) with that one (preserving the Ukrainian language).

The thought of conducting peaceful, mutually beneficial commerce with your fellow man without an array of permissions and constant inspections? Unthinkable! The idea that marriage should not be the government’s business? Radical! The thought of not being REQUIRED to register yourself at some address? Impossible! How could such a society function? Let us not even speak of the right to defend oneself.

No. The problem with Ukraine, they say, is that people do not follow the rules. There are rules, and if only more people followed them, things would be as they should be. Things would be orderly and proper. (I wonder how many more rules are required for society to finally achieve perfection.)

It is as if 46 million innocent people have been wrongly convicted and imprisoned, their hopes and dreams sentenced to death. And when one of them finds a loose brick in the prison, digs under a wall with his bare, bloody hands, files away a bar on his cage after many years of dedicated effort, rather than rejoicing, Ukrainians condemn their fellow prisoner. He’s not following the rules! They’ll grab his ankles to drag him back into his cage. They criticize the guard for not being more watchful, for aiding the aspiring renegade (as the guards here are known do), because he was breaking the rules, conducting commerce without the full and proper array of permissions, and only bad people break rules.

So this is it: a portrait of demographic suicide in Ukraine. Suicide by bureaucracy.

I’ll return, as I often do, to Hans Hermann Hoppe, not because I hold much hope of being heard, but because we should all blaspheme at unholy altars: Who owns your body? And if you own your body, who owns your labor? And if you own your labor, who owns the fruit of that labor?

A joke about Soviet hell

Some Americans I’ve told this joke to don’t get it. Ukrainians always get it.

***

Two men die and go to hell. The Devil asks whether they want to go to American hell or Soviet hell. In American hell you can do whatever you want, but you have to eat a bucket of shit every day, and in Soviet hell you can also do whatever you want, but you have to eat two buckets of shit every day. One man chooses each hell and they meet after a year.

“How is American hell?” The guy in Soviet hell asks.

“It’s not as bad as I expected,” he replies, “but eating a bucket of shit every day is driving me crazy. I don’t think I can take it much longer.” Then he asks: “How is Soviet hell?”

“Well,” The guy is Soviet hell replies, “there’s either a shortage of shit or somebody keep stealing the buckets.”