Advocacy in Favour of Our Client, Belial.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader wishes that it were possible in the current political climate, and frankly the general societal climate overall, to have a serious discussion. He means this just as broadly as he plainly stated it. No one, at least in the West, is capable of having a serious discussion. Certainly those with opposite political views can discourse seriously on whatever topic you like. It doesn’t happen frequently, but it can happen. When it does it is noteworthy. But getting those with opposite views together to seriously and sanely discuss an issue hasn’t happened in a while. Additionally, particularly in the West, we are not fond of analysis after a crisis event to figure out how we can do things better. And thus we start to segue into the point of this virtual epistle.

It would be, at least in your Maximum Leader’s opinion, worth having a serious discussion about how we in the United States should deal with the current Covid-19 pandemic. Of course, it actually seems too late to have this discussion now, in the thick of it. We really should have had a national discussion (or at least a Blue Ribbon Commission that studied and made recommendations) based on the H1N1, or SARS epidemics. It would have been nice to look over what was done, how it was done, what didn’t work, what did, and lay down a framework for future epidemics. But that didn’t happen and honestly is not going to happen after Covid-19 subsides.

In this discourse, your Maximum Leader wishes to just put a few points to ponder out there for you, loyal minion and dear reader, to consider. Thus far our national response to Covid-19 seems to be a patchwork of recommendations about self-isolation, followed by general closures of public institutions (schools, universities, and the like), and then the imposition of mandatory partial quarantines (such as in New York, Pennsylvania, California, and Washington). There is a general clamor for a broader national shutdown of all but essential services. The rationale for these actions is to slow the spread of the virus so as to not overwhelm the health care system. These actions are all about slowing the spread of the virus. If one is listening carefully, the number of people that will catch the virus isn’t changing just the period of time over which the infected will become infected. By limiting the spread, one allows the health care system to prepare for what is coming, better manage the crisis when it is fully upon us, and save as many lives as possible. The societal cost of this the national economy comes to a stand-still.

Some brave souls, and with this post your Maximum Leader supposes he is one of them, have asked us to consider alternatives. He doesn’t believe many are advocating doing nothing, though some are. The general thrust of many of the alternatives is think about the economy. That is the where your Maximum Leader is going to go. If we shut down the economy, as we are doing, the repercussions are great and worthy of consideration. Many small businesses will close permanently. It seems as though people are happy to believe that the Federal government sending checks to taxpayers and providing loans at low (or zero) interest will magically allow a small business to weather all this and reopen as though we had all taken a long vacation from everything. This is magical thinking. The trillions of dollars circulating through the US economy are not going to be replicated by gifts or loans from the Federal government. Restaurants, small shops, many of the self-employed, are not going to be able to reopen. If these businesses do not reopen, then their employees as well as the business owners will suffer. No one knows how the economy will restart or how much will restart. There is much talk of a bailout of the airline industry. But these bailouts will come with strings. Don’t buy-back stock. No executive bonuses. Companies must retain their work force. Your Maximum Leader asks, how exactly does this work out? If the government bails out Boeing, is the bailout coming with the certification that the 737-MAX is also safe to fly and start producing? Is United going to have to maintain, and fly jets on routes that are mostly empty due to a recession or depression? How does this work out? Heavy-handed government intervention in these areas often has unintended and disastrous consequences. The shocks will come at some point. If the bailouts come with conditions, as seems likely, the shock will be delayed. But they will come.

So why are we proceeding with an economic shutdown? To prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed and thus saving more lives. If the virus spreads unchecked, or even weakly checked, the health care system will be unable to keep up with the care of those infected with the virus as well as those who would have needed services without the virus. We are talking about potentially millions of people dying due to the virus or due to being unable to received needed care. On the other hand, by stopping the economy we are creating a crisis of unemployment, contraction, and medium/long-term dependency on public funds. We all should probably ask if it is worth it. If in fact those most at risk for death from Covid-19 are the elderly and those with immunodeficiencies, are these people fully-participating members of the economy? Where are our people who clamor for wealth redistribution here? We know that retirees have a fair amount of saved wealth which is supplemented by programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. If a substantial portion of this population were to die due to the Covid-19 epidemic, wouldn’t that wealth be freed up? Wouldn’t the pressure on the Federal budget be lessened because the number of transfer payments would be greatly reduced? Isn’t that an overall positive societal benefit?

What about other potential upsides for the economy? Your Maximum Leader will not argue that history repeats itself. He will, however, argue that history has leitmotifs. A leitmotif we might look to is Europe after the Black Death. The plague had pretty much run its course by the early 1400s. The (greatly reduced) population of Europe experienced a tremendous period of economic and cultural growth. A period that later became known as the Renaissance. You may have heard of the Renaissance. It wasn’t just a lot of painting going on. The manorial system of the middle ages had been literally destroyed by the plague and peasants (due to their scarcity) realized that they didn’t have to be tethered to the land of a single lord. It was the beginning of what we might call social mobility. The Renaissance saw the growth of cities, trades, art, music, and that crazy group known as the middle class. Your Maximum Leader will not argue that this would definitely happen in a post-Covid-19 world. But perhaps it is worth considering. Economic historians might also look to the periods of economic growth after the epidemics (plague, smallpox, and others) that occurred in the early 1600s and 1700s. Your Maximum Leader isn’t sure that there is a serious analogue to the Roaring 20s and the end of the Spanish Flu of 1919, but there might be some small connection there as well.

What your Maximum Leader is stating here is that we all ought to consider the trade-offs between shutting down our economy and saving (potentially millions) of lives, and not shutting down our economy and potentially saving ourselves from economic catastrophe.

That is all.

Carry on.

(Don’t forget the tweety-box @maximumleader.)

Sunday Potpourri

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader, despite the flu fears, ventured from the Villainschloss today. He traveled to Charlottesville, VA and visited Monticello. As you all are no doubt aware, Monticello is the ingenious home of Thomas Jefferson. If he had not called in some favors and gotten a special tour of the house (along with a trip to the upper floors and the Dome Room) he might have opted to stay at home and not sojourn amongst his fellow citizens and expose himself (and his family) to the flu. For what it is worth, he didn’t touch much of anything. He washed his hands as often as it was feasible. And once the visit to Monticello was done, he proceeded directly back to the Villainschloss.

Your Maximum Leader really likes Monticello. You wouldn’t have guessed it because he hasn’t visited there in 22 years. But he really does love Monticello. He doesn’t love it as much as he LOVES Mount Vernon. (NB: Since his last visit to Monticello he has probably visited Mount Vernon seven times.) But then again, your Maximum Leader is a great Washington partisan so that may play a role in his tastes. Regardless of preferences, Monticello is completely deserving of its World Heritage Site designation. In so many ways it shows the character and contradictions of Jefferson himself. While your Maximum Leader isn’t a fan of psycho-history (or psychological analysis of historical figures as it were) he does think you can pick up many elements of Jefferson in his home. The dining room for example is comfortable and lavish, but the dumb-waiter and rotating door for serving food allowed Jefferson to keep his slaves out of sight to his guests. (All but one at any rate.) One the other hand, the main entry hallway is a veritable natural history museum of early America and speaks to his inquisitive mind and superior intelligence. Jefferson is a complicated character. Sort of like the country he is instrumental in founding. If you are in the area and have never visited Monticello, it is worth a visit. Frankly, if you are just passing through Virginia (say on I-95 heading north or south) it is worth a diversion to see.

Interesting… In getting the links to both Monticello and Mount Vernon he sees that both places are now closed to the end of the month. There are too many closures to note. It would probably be easier to note what places are still open and what events are still going on? Like the XFL. The XFL played games today. In front of live people. Your Maximum Leader was a bit surprised to see it actually. He wonders if their ratings were good? They are the only live sport on (it seems). One would think they would get a lot of eyes on TV from a population that is anxiously looking for some distraction.

Speaking of distractions… Here is a mental exercise for you. Your Maximum Leader thought of this one in the car driving back from Charlottesville. Ready? Here you go: Assume the former/late Presidents of the United States were alive and in their retirement after leaving office, but living in 2020. What vehicle do you think they would drive?

That is it. That is the game. If all the men who have served as chief executive of our great republic were alive today, what would they regularly drive?

Your Maximum Leader will go first. George Washington would drive a 2018 Ford F-250 SuperCab with a Powerstroke Turbo Diesel. Washington, after his presidency went back to Mount Vernon and managed his farms. He regularly rode 15-20 miles a day checking in and being personally involved in keeping things running. He would need a big vehicle suited to farm work to get around in. Your Maximum Leader thinks that he would put lots of hours on his truck and would keep it for a long time, which is why this truck isn’t brand-new, but a few years old. Your Maximum Leader thinks he would get a new one when he needed, and that was a few years ago.

John Adams, in retirement, would drive an early 2000’s model Subaru Outback LL Bean edition. It would be very high mileage, but still well kept and maintained. Adams would need the all-wheel drive and heated seats up in Quincy. Plus your Maximum Leader imagines that Adams would be a big-time client of LL Bean. (When Adams died, he would leave the car to John Quincy Adams, who would be happy to keep driving it as it would lessen the load on his own Outback LL Bean edition.)

[UPDATED: Loyal reader, Buckethead of the Ministry of Minor Perfidy, comments that Adams would probably drive a Volvo. Your Maximum Leader endorses this idea. More in comments.]

Thomas Jefferson would drive a 2020 BMW 750i x-drive sedan. It is a big car (he had a large extended family living with him so he would need the space) but the car also sends off that vibe of “I pretend not to be a real jerk, but secretly am a huge jerk.” He would claim that he wanted a car that would befit his station, but still be “practical” for his needs. Of course, this car would be leased and he would get a new one as soon as he hit 25,000 miles.

Andrew Jackson was a toughie. Really tough in fact. On the one hand, he was, like Washington, very engaged in his farm. So it stands to reason that he would need a vehicle that he could drive around The Hermitage. But on the other hand, Jackson was a small angry man who needs a car befitting that part of his personality. If your Maximum Leader was to choose a “farm vehicle” for Jackson it would be a 2014 Chevy Suburban. He has the space and power he needs to move people and stuff around around on the farm. But unlike Washington, who your Maximum Leader can imagine putting stuff in his truck and moving it where it needed to be; he can’t imagine Jackson actually moving stuff around in his own vehicle. He *could* move stuff in the Suburban. But he is more likely just to tell others to get the job done and drive away and circle back later. If your Maximum Leader was choosing the “non-farm” vehicle for Jackson it would be a 1968 Chevy Camaro SS. Your Maximum Leader isn’t sure why, but he can imagine Jackson in a blue ‘68 Camaro wearing a leather jacket, mirrored shades, and cruising the streets of Nashville looking to beat the crap out of someone.

Those are the only ones your Maximum Leader could think of in the time he had in the car to think of these things to himself. He wants to think about what vehicle Abraham Lincoln would drive in more detail (he thinks it is probably a Ford F-150). He also is ruminating over what James Madison would drive. (In fact, your Maximum Leader doesn’t think Madison would drive in his retirement. He imagines that Dolley Madison would have a 4-door Jeep Wrangler and would drive little Jimmy where he wanted to go.)

Anyway… If you, dear reader, have any you can suggest, your Maximum Leader would be glad to hear from you.

By the way… This is the type of content your Maximum Leader should be posting more frequently… The really random crap…

Carry on.

Don’t forget your Maximum Leader on the tweety-box: @maximumleader.

Flu Fear

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader will remind readers of his (generally) annual trip to the pork capital of Virginia to buy his Easter ham. Last weekend was the glorious Hamquest. (Your Maximum Leader thinks he should hashtag and trademark “Hamquest” lest some lesser mortal try to muscle in on the term.)

Last Saturday your Maximum Leader roused Mrs. Villain, Villainette #2, and the foreign exchange student he is hosting - who we will call FE - from their slumbers to get into the car and head to Smithfield, VA. Smithfield is the home of Smithfield Foods one of the largest pork processors in the world. It also has a 350+ year tradition of producing country hams. Your Maximum Leader took his intrepid band down to Jamestown, VA and caught the ferry to Scotland, VA. From there he proceeded to Surry, then on to Smithfield. He initially bypassed the town to head directly to his ham provider of choice, Darden’s Country Store.

On arriving at Darden’s your Maximum Leader’s party got a treat. You see, last weekend was the weekend that they pack the new hams in the smokehouse. To describe this process for your benefit, before last Saturday, the extended Darden clan had taken the remaining hams from last year (about 30 or so) and placed them in a temporary storage unit they had next to the smokehouse. In another temporary storage unit (which was actually an old shipping container) they had started the process of curing this year’s hams. They had covered the floor of the container with salt then started stacking the fresh hams in the salt. When one layer was down, they cover the layer in salt. Then they add another layer. Then salt the new layer. And so on until they had over 1300 hams packed in salt. They remained in the salt for 2-3 weeks. On the day we arrived, they were taking the hams out of the salt, wiping them off lightly with a dry towel, and then covering them in pepper. Once the salted hams had been peppered, they were hung in the rafters of the smokehouse. They will hang to dry for another week. Then they will be smoked. The smoldering fire will be built and tended for 7-10 days. Day and night the smoke will cover the hams. At the end of 7-10 days the hams are fully cured and then they just age. Your Maximum Leader, as he noted, got one of last year’s hams. So his has aged for over a year. Aging adds more saltiness to the ham and requires more water before cooking. Once a ham is cured it can last years. In fact, the longest your Maximum Leader has kept a cured country ham is 6 years. He didn’t mean to keep the ham that long. He bought one, hung it in the basement. Forgot about the ham. Bought another and prepared it. And the ham sat in a back corner of the basement (of his parents house actually) for 6 years until his mother moved a shelf and saw it. She was going to throw it away, but your Maximum Leader forbade it and prepared the ham shortly after its rediscovery. It was delicious by the way.

Anyhoo… Your Maximum Leader selected a lovely 22 pound ham and paid for it.

While your Maximum Leader was waiting for the ham to be wrapped, he introduced FE to Mr. Darden and explained how FE was an exchange student from China and how we were showing him bits of America you don’t see by visiting New York or DC. Mr. Darden and FE spoke a bit about the Chinese love of pork and how much pork Smithfield Foods exported to China. (In fact, Smithfield Foods it largely owned by the Chinese national investment trust or some such thing. Perhaps that is a post for another day.) So we had a lovely time with the Dardens. We got the ham and went into town to our favorite restaurant, Smithfield Station for lunch.

For lunch your Maximum Leader had the “Smithfield chowder” and the “Station burger.” The chowder was a thin clear broth with potatoes, onion, celery, country bacon (think country ham, but bacon) and chopped clams. It was quite tasty. The burger was a 1/4 pound aged angus burger, with a healthy slice of country ham, 2 slices of country bacon, cheddar cheese, a generous helping of lump crab meat, with chopped purple onion, lettuce, and tomato on a grilled Hawaiian bun. It was really something else. Mrs. Villain had the creamy crab soup, and fish tacos. Villainette #2 had crab soup and and a grilled chicken dish (with country ham as a compliment to the chicken). FE had the crab soup as well and the pork BBQ sandwich.

We had a lovely lunch, and then went to walk through town…

Now, your Maximum Leader has visited Smithfield many many times (pretty much annually) and has always had a wonderful time and found a way to chat with the lovely people of the town. He was proceeding to do so during this visit. He would introduce himself and explain that we were visiting for ham and to show FE parts of America and American life. After our second stop Mrs. Villain took your Maximum Leader aside and said that he shouldn’t mention that FE was from China. You see, she had observed that after mentioning that FE was an exchange student from China a few people we encountered stepped back and were considerably more restrained than they were before that bit of information was exchanged.

So your Maximum Leader said that he would refrain from sharing that bit of information. But, it came up again at some of our other stops. Only this time FE himself mentioned that he was from China. Your Maximum Leader observed that people did seem to change their body language very subtly after that information was exchanged. Furthermore, if your Maximum Leader offered up that FE had been studying in the US for four years in an attempt to reassure people that he wasn’t a walking viral infection fresh from Wuhan, people didn’t change their posture towards him.

All in all it made me a little sad. FE did go to visit his family in China over Christmas break. But he returned before anyone had heard of the Covid-19 virus. He is, as is the whole family here, clear and feeling fine. But you show some people anyone from China (a large country with a population of over a billion people) and they get all squirmy and fearful that they are going to die from the flu. It was a bit disappointing to see in fact. It made your Maximum Leader more than a little sad in fact.

Anyhoo…

Your Maximum Leader isn’t going to let this stop him from continuing to take FE out to see this great nation and learn more about America and Americans.

Carry on.

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