It Could Always Be Worse

2020 has been an exceptionally challenging year, so far, and we’ve still got nearly five full months of it to go.  But your perspective informs your view, doesn’t it?  My grandmother, for example, frequently said:  “Nothing’s so bad that couldn’t be worse, from the day you were born ’til you ride in a hearse.”  Drawing upon her wise counsel, I’ve adopted a world view that says we shouldn’t complain too much, because things could always be worse than they are.

And even in 2020, there’s no doubt that things could be worse than they are.  Much, much worse, in fact.

e0b8a5e0b8b4e0b887e0b887-2-1-copy-696x392-1Consider the plight of Lopburi, a city of 750,000 people in central Thailand.  It’s now being overrun by thousands of famished, libidinous monkeys who rampage through the city, gorging themselves on fast food, having sex on the streets, and attacking whoever stands in their way.

Interestingly, Lopburi has always been associated with the monkeys, a species called macaques.  For years, the monkeys have hung around the Khmer temple and Khmer shrine in the city, and have been fed by the locals.  And in November, the people of Lopburi put on the “Monkey Festival” to celebrate their crab-eating primate pals.

But now the monkey population has exploded.  Gangs of angry monkeys, with no fear of humans, roam through the city, taking what they want and terrifying the locals, who have barricaded themselves in their homes.  The monkeys live on a diet of sugary fast food that makes them even more unpredictable; one official made the terrifying observation that “[t]he monkeys are never hungry, just like children who eat too much KFC.”  (Anyone who has experienced a kid on a post-fast food sugar rush knows just how frightening that comment actually is.)  The number of monkey babies seen in the city indicates that an even bigger monkey population bomb may be getting ready to explode.  Police estimate that thousands of monkeys have established a base in an abandoned cinema, where they attack any human that tries to enter.  The police apparently believe that trying to disperse or deal with the monkeys is “hopeless.”

So yes, 2020 could be a lot worse than it is.  Until we open our front doors and are confronted by hundreds of ravaging angry monkeys eating cheeseburgers and eager to take a bite out of your skull, we haven’t really hit rock bottom.

In A Star-Crossed Year, Anything Can Happen

It’s fair to say that 2020 hasn’t been a great year so far.  In fact, it’s fair to say that 2020 is not only below average, it is probably the worst year that I’ve experienced in my lifetime.  With the coronavirus pandemic, government-ordered shutdowns, massive shocks to the economy and resulting unemployment, and widespread civil unrest, it’s safe to say that, when the clock nears midnight on December 31, no one is going to be looking back fondly on the year limping to a close.  To the contrary, I would expect that people will be drinking heavily to forget the year gone by and to toast the arrival of a new year that is bound to be far better — that is, assuming we make it to December 31.

And that’s really the significant, underlying problem with 2020:  it has forever altered our perception of what could actually happen.  Before 2020, anyone predicting the arrival of a strange new virus, sweeping closures and stay-at-home edicts, and the other elements that make this year such a bummer would have been laughed out of town.  But now — well, it seems like just about anything is possible, doesn’t it?  That’s why gun sales, survival gear sales, and, relatedly, liquor sales are through the roof.  So far, 2020 has been like Edvard Munch’s The Scream brought to life.

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So when I read that scientists have measured significant “earthquake swarms” underneath Yellowstone National Park that could presage the eruption of a catastrophic “supervolcano” in one of Earth’s hottest hot spots — something I would have scoffed at until recently — I now think:  “well, it’s 2020 — why not?”

The strikingly counterfactual element of 2020 opens the doors to many possibilities that seemed absurd only a few months ago.  Remember those stories we see from time to time about asteroids and meteors coming uncomfortably close to Earth?  Well, it’s 2020, so . . . better get that survival gear handy.  And for everyone who’s wondered about when we’re actually going to make contact with intelligent alien life, well, it seems like 2020 is the ideal year for that to happen, doesn’t it?  And it’s not going to be cuddly, adorable E.T. aliens, either.  Because it’s 2020, after all, think Independence Day or Predator or Aliens, and you’re probably going to be closer to the mark.

To prepare myself mentally for the rest of this year, I’ve tried to identify every worst case, disastrous scenario that we’ve been warned could happen — locust invasions, massive solar flares, global warming and cooling, zombie apocalypses, Ragnarok, the reunion of ABBA — and am bracing myself that they all might happen this year.  And if we make it through without finding ourselves on a denuded, brutalized planet that has to endure a remake of Waterloo, I’ll raise my glass to 2020 come December 31.

Back To The ’60s

2020 has been just about the worst year imaginable so far, but over the last few days it has acquired a definite ’60s vibe, too.  With riots happening in the streets of American cities in reaction to the shocking and outrageous death of George Floyd, it’s like 1966 and 1967 and 1968 all over again.  Even middle-of-the-road Columbus has seen its share of disturbances.

636178516108265271-dfpd24221Civil unrest seemed pretty commonplace when I was a kid.  Whether it was “race riots,” Vietnam War protests that got out of hand, reactions to the assassinations of leading figures like Dr. Martin Luther King, or random civil disobedience, smoke in the air and tear gas canisters on the ground were a familiar sight.  Authorities would warn about what might happen during the “long hot summer,” and rioting and looting seemed to occur as a matter of course.  Footage of people throwing Molotov cocktails, smashing windows, and running with armfuls of loot from burning buildings were staples of the nightly TV news broadcasts and morning news shows.  And authorities learned the hard way that when a population gathers in sufficiently large numbers and decides to go on a building-burning rampage, there’s not much you can do about it — without applying overwhelming force and ramping up the tension even further.

Although rioting seemed like an annual occurrence during the ’60s, eventually the riots stopped.  Unfortunately, they left behind areas of gutted buildings and ruined, derelict neighborhoods that in some cases still haven’t recovered, more than 50 years later.  And the small businesses that are typically the focus of the burning and smashing and looting often don’t come back, either.  Drive around modern Detroit if you don’t believe me.

Disturbances happen when people feel that they are being treated unfairly and that they have nowhere to turn for justice.  They protest because they feel its the only way to make their voices heard.  Mix in some people who are looking to gain some cheap thrills and personal advantage from the unrest, and you’ll have looting and arson, too.

The best way to begin to deal with the issue in this case is to let the system work and do justice in the terrible case of George Floyd.  Giving people the feeling that things are getting back to normal, by lifting some of the coronavirus restrictions, might help, too.

2020 Fraud

Every year, it’s a struggle to get the subconscious mind to accept the notion of a new year.  If you write a check or date a document after the turn of the calendar, for example, you might reflexively write the old year for a few weeks until your brain finally assimilates the fact that it’s 2020 and no longer 2019.  Such dating foul-ups are just a standard part of the process of moving from one year to another.

writing-2020-checks-hand-860x462-1This year there’s another aspect of dating documents that’s been in the news:  potential fraud.  This story from CNN addresses the issue.  According to the article, consumer advocates, auditors, and police departments all are saying that you shouldn’t use the abbreviation/slash approach to writing the date — like, say, 1/5/20 — on documents because a fraudster could get the document and mess with the year by adding digits to the end, so that “1/5/20” becomes “1/5/2019” or “1/5/2021.”

I get the concept, but I’m not clear on how fiddling with the date could practically lead to fraud.  The CNN article gives two examples.  At some point in the future, you might have a check lying around, dated 1/4/20, that is more than six months old.  A crook could take the check, make the date 1/4/2021, so that the check is no longer more than six months old and difficult to cash.  Left unexplained is why in the world anyone would have an old, dated, but otherwise incomplete check lying around, and how a fraudster could find it and forge the rest of the writing to scam you.

Here’s the other example from the CNN article:

“Or, let’s say you sign a credit contract — an agreement between a borrower and a lender — and date it 1/4/20. Say you then miss a month or two of payments, and the lender goes to collect the debt that’s owed. Theoretically, they could add “19” to the end of that date and argue that you owe more than a year’s worth of payments.”

It seems like this example raises a more important concern — don’t borrow money from crooked entities that would consciously commit deliberate fraud.  I’m guessing that any entity that would be willing to engage in such conduct probably wouldn’t stop at fiddling with the date.  In fact, they might send some burly guys to your house ready to take a tire iron to your kneecaps unless you pay up, now.

The CNN article doesn’t give any more plausible examples of potential fraud, saying that it doesn’t want to give crooks any ideas.  I appreciate that, because fraudsters are a creative sort, and I appreciate the warning.  So when I’m writing the date this year, I’ll write it out in full, and enjoy the fact that by doing so I’m thwarting vaguely defined potential fraud.  Even unlikely fraud is better left avoided.