Archive for Reprimitivization

Giving Africa a Bad Name

No offense to the great and noble continent, but that’s hard to do:

A man who ate another man’s flesh in the Central African Republic has told the BBC he was seeking “revenge” for the murder of family members.

Ouandja Magloire, who calls himself “Mad Dog”, was in a Christian mob who attacked a Muslim in the capital.

He said he had been “angry” because Muslims killed his pregnant wife, his sister-in-law and her baby.

Oh well, as long as he had a reason.

Again, I don’t wish to offend our Central African readers (however spurious such a notion might be), but let’s look at a map:

Central African Republic, DR Congo, South Sudan—and who but Bill Clinton can forget Rwanda and Burundi? Millions and millions of deaths; many more miserable and displaced. The heart of Africa is not healthy.

I would go so far as to say: one more genocidal war and Africa moves into Europe’s league. They have been warned.


You Can’t Define “Ruin Porn”, But You Know it When You See It

You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken [bleep], one saying goes. Yet another saying has it that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Detroit seeks to learn if you it make lemonade out of chicken [bleep]—and perhaps it can!

He’d heard stories of ruin and blight, but that didn’t prepare Oliver Kearney for what he saw:

Prostitutes roaming the streets at 8 a.m., rubble-strewn parking lots overrun with weeds, buildings taken over by bright pink graffiti, the message scrawled on blackboards in deserted schools: “I will not write in vacant buildings.”

He took 2,000 photographs his first day.

“No other American city has seen decline on this scale,” Kearney said. “It’s really a once-in-a-lifetime thing you’re going to see.”

And he saw it all on a tour.

The city estimates it has 78,000 vacant structures, and demolishing each derelict residential building costs $8,000 — money the bankrupt city can’t afford.

The city says that 85% of its 142.9 square miles had “experienced population decline” over the last decade, and efforts to persuade investors to buy commercial buildings and rehabilitate them have been mixed, at best. For example, plans to turn the Michigan Central Depot, a once-grand train station, into a casino and then into police headquarters have gone nowhere, and it’s stood empty since 1988.

Photographers have flocked to the city to capture the decline; two French photographers even produced a book, “The Ruins of Detroit.” But since the city declared bankruptcy in July, hotels say they’ve seen an uptick in visitors inquiring about the ruins. So have restaurants in the up-and-coming district of Corktown, near the abandoned train station.

We’ve posted some of those pictures ourselves. They are striking. Reprimitivization is fascinating.

But not everyone is with the program:

Locals use a derogatory term, “ruin porn,” to describe the phenomenon of people gawking at the decay. They want visitors to see the positive parts of Detroit, such as the vacant fields that enterprising farmers have turned into urban gardens. If tourists are going to look at the ruins, they should then volunteer in the community, many Detroiters say.

“The decay is not cool, not arty-farty,” Jean Vortkamp, a community activist and onetime mayoral candidate, said in an email. “I see the lady with bags and three layers of clothes on, and then I see a group of white young people climb out of their dad’s cars with cameras that are worth so much.”

Why bring race into it? Detroit is about 80% black, but the story doesn’t mention that. And since when are vacant lots considered a positive to any city? You want to exploit the tourists? Open up a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise next to the derelict train depot. You’ll make a fortune. Complaining, alas, is still an underpaid profession.


Profligacy Kills

Isn’t that the real lesson here?

If austerity had been a clinical trial, it would have been stopped. As public health experts, we have watched aghast as a slow motion disaster arose from austerity policies in Europe, while politicians continue to ignore the evidence of their disastrous effects.

Austerity was designed to shrink debts. Now, three years after Europe’s budget-cutting began, the evidence is in: severe, indiscriminate austerity is not part of the solution, but part of the problem — and its human costs are devastating.

But suicides and depression are not unavoidable consequences of economic downturns: countries that slashed health and social protection budgets have seen starkly worse health outcomes than nations which opted for stimulus over austerity.

Greece, for example, is in the middle of a public health disaster. To meet budget-deficit reduction targets set by the European Central Bank, European Commission, and International Monetary Fund (the so-called troika), Greece’s public health budget has been cut by more than 40%.

As Greece’s health minister observed, “these aren’t cuts with a scalpel, they’re cuts with a butcher’s knife.” The spending was reduced to 6% of GDP, a figure lower than the UK, at 8%, and Germany, at 9%.

As a result, HIV infections have jumped by more than 200% since 2010, concentrated in injection drug users, as needle-exchange program budgets were cut in half. There was a malaria epidemic in Greece — the largest in 40 years — after mosquito-spraying budgets were slashed.

More than 200 essential medicines have been de-stocked from some pharmacies as the state’s drug budget was reduced and pharmaceuticals companies exited the country in arrears.

Since 2008 there has been a rise of more than 40% of people who report being unable to access healthcare that they believe to be medically necessary, the majority concentrated in pensioners.

I’m awfully sorry to read these statistics, truly I am, but how is austerity to blame? Austerity is the natural successor to profligacy. Austerity is what happens after you run out of money. Profligacy is how you run out.

Two of my favorite Maggie Thatcher quotes (at least I think they’re hers) are: “the facts of life are conservative”; and “the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s [Germany's] money”.

I added Germany, if you couldn’t tell. So, why don’t these Drs. Goody-Two-Shoes blame Germany for the outbreak of malaria? Why shouldn’t Angela Merkel take the hit for the HIV epidemic, rather than the junkies themselves who pass needles around like joints?

Silly, of course, but expect it. Greece is Detroit on a national scale (before America becomes Detroit on a national scale). Detroit was put into receivership after losing two-thirds of its population and just about all of its ability to fend for itself. The situation is humiliating and demeaning, depressing and dehumanizing—but it’s all that’s left.

Detroit is lucky there’s a Michigan (and a federal government). Greece is lucky there’s a Germany (and an EU). The history of species teaches us that behavior like Greece’s and Detroit’s almost always leads to extinction. “People who report being unable to access healthcare that they believe to be medically necessary” should consider themselves blessed they are around to “believe” anything. Especially when their “beliefs” have been the problem all along.

Besides, there’s always a silver lining in destitution:

My fiancé and I receive a CSA farm share every week, and this week we got bok choy that had been pulled from the ground in central Massachussetts the same day. When shopping at a supermarket, it’s easy to forget that our vegetables are grown in the dirt – our obsession with cleanliness and sanitation has seeped into our food, and any produce that’s not squeaky clean is discarded or ignored by consumers. Again, it’s important to remember that this concern for cleanliness is not without merit – we know what happens when contaminated food gets into the retail pipeline – but though many microbes live in the earth, soil is not the source of most infectious disease.

A little rinse with water (clean, sanitized water from a municipal water system) was enough to remove most of the dirt on the bok choy, but what about the microbes that hitched a ride? Many environmental bacteria form biofilms that can prevent easy removal, and a cursory hand-scrub isn’t likely to do the trick. During most of human evolution, humans have been consuming microbes from the environment, and it’s clear that this exposure shapes the populations of microbes in our guts. A experimental link between microbes consumed in the diet and specific health conditions has not been shown, but it’s quite plausible that at least some of the observations linked to the hygiene hypothesis aren’t just due to passive microbial encounters, but because of what we put in our mouths.

I don’t think the Greeks (or Detroiters, either) are heavily into bok choy, but the point applies to all produce it seems to me. And with Detroit turning ever more ghettos into community gardens, they would do well to heed this advice.


Problem Solved

We were pretty upset the other day at the plight of wild dogs roaming the streets of Detroit—though more for the dogs, I confess, than for the ever-fewer people of that minuscule municipality.

So nice that nature has seen fit to provide a natural solution:

Stray dogs are a common sight in Detroit. What about a big cat?

According to reports, many residents on the city’s northeast side have seen what appears to be an exotic cat, perhaps as tall as four feet, roaming the streets.

Officials with the Michigan Humane Society said they have received several calls about the animal and workers are out in the city, trying to find the feline.

Antwaun Asberry, a 6-foot-5 Detroiter, told the Detroit Free Press the cat’s tail is longer than his arm.

“I was like, what the (expletive) … I don’t know what it is. I just want it gone,” Asberry said. ”He walked like he ain’t scared of nothing… This thing is out here, bro.”

Fourteen-year-old Paul Hatley said the cat, which apparently has large black spots and stripes, stared back at him when he saw it a few days ago.

“It wasn’t normal,” he said. “It didn’t run away like a normal cat. It just stared at you. It was scary.”

Whole tracts of the city are ghost towns; trees and other flora reclaim once-paved areas; wild dogs roam terrorized neighborhoods; wild cats prey on wild dogs—is this a contemporary American city or a Mel Gibson movie?

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderbird.

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Reprimitivized Pooches

Time was, when you referred to the Big Three in Detroit, you meant:

Today, you mean:

As many as 50,000 stray dogs roam the streets and vacant homes of bankrupt Detroit, replacing residents, menacing humans who remain and overwhelming the city’s ability to find them homes or peaceful deaths.

Dens of as many as 20 canines have been found in boarded-up homes in the community of about 700,000 that once pulsed with 1.8 million people. One officer in the Police Department’s skeleton animal-control unit recalled a pack splashing away in a basement that flooded when thieves ripped out water pipes.

“The dogs were having a pool party,” said Lapez Moore, 30. “We went in and fished them out.”

Poverty roils the Motor City and many dogs have been left to fend for themselves, abandoned by owners who are financially stressed or unaware of proper care. Strays have killed pets, bitten mail carriers and clogged the animal shelter, where more than 70 percent are euthanized.

“With these large open expanses with vacant homes, it’s as if you designed a situation that causes dog problems,” said Harry Ward, head of animal control.

The number of strays signals a humanitarian crisis, said Amanda Arrington of the Humane Society of the United States, based in Washington. She heads a program that donated $50,000 each to organizations in Detroit and nine other U.S cities to get pets vaccinated, fed, spayed and neutered.

Arrington said when she visited Detroit in October, “It was almost post-apocalyptic, where there are no businesses, nothing except people in houses and dogs running around.”

“The suffering of animals goes hand in hand with the suffering of people.”

No, it doesn’t. Not really. Abandoned dogs don’t have food stamps, Section 8 housing, SNAP, WIC, Medicaid, ObamaPhones, Obama’s “stash”, etc., etc. They have to fend for themselves, or die. More accurately, they have to fend for themselves, then die.

It’s people who are inhumane.

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Michigan or Mogadishu?

I asked that yesterday. Little did I know:

The Shelby Township man arrested July 4 after residents called 911 to report gunfire from his tank-like vehicle was not driving and did not fire the firearm replica, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Allen Wolf of Lake Orion said John Lind was “very remorseful that anybody was frightened by this.” He added: “This clearly was not his intent to have anybody scared.”

Wolf said Lind has brought out his vehicles in the past and did so July 4th to show patriotism. Wolf would not say who was driving the vehicle or firing the replica, only that Lind was on board.

“At the most, he may be guilty of poor judgment, but not guilty of any felonious assault or any felony crime — in my opinion, any crime,” Wolf said of Lind.

Who would notice another .50-caliber gun blasting away in Detroit? Over all the arson fires?


From Now on, It’s Michigan City

The state owns it, the state names it. Henceforth, all Detroit athletic teams will be known as either Wolverines or Spartans.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced Friday that the state will take over the operations of Detroit’s city government due to its long-standing financial problems.

The takeover is short of a formal bankruptcy, but it will include appointing an emergency manager who would have many of the same powers as a bankruptcy judge. It could mean throwing out contracts with public employee unions and vendors that the city can’t afford, and could lead to further cutbacks in already depleted city services.

Detroit has 10 days to appeal Snyder’s decision that there is a financial emergency in the city. Snyder said he has a “top candidate” for the manager post, but that he won’t announce it until after the appeals period has passed.

Snyder, a Republican, insisted the emergency manager is the best way to deal with the problems facing the city’s operations.

“The current system has not been working. We have not stopped the decline,” he said. “This is time for us not to argue or to blame, but to come together as Detroit, Mich., not Detroit vs. Michigan, and bring all of our resources to bear.”

One visible—or not—example of the city’s dysfunction:

Dillon struck a hopeful note for residents who live in the dark — and fear — saying that he believes some of Detroit’s thousands of nonworking streetlights will be repaired this summer with the state’s help.

Citing the newly created Detroit Public Lighting Authority, Dillon said, “We can start hanging lights this summer.

They can’t even light their streets. But it’s really far worse:

A state review team concluded last week that Detroit could not do so on its own, facing $14 billion in long-term liabilities and a $327-million accumulated deficit at risk of growing by $100 million by July. That’s despite the city being under state oversight since city and state officials signed a consent agreement in April designed to avoid the appointment of an emergency manager.

Now, should an emergency financial manager be appointed, that person will be in charge of restructuring Detroit’s dire financial mess, likely to include significant cuts and adjustments in public services and a top-down rethinking of the type of government a shrunken city with a dwindling tax base can afford.

The city council is going to fight on appeal, but they should be asking themselves what took the state so long? Fourteen billion dollars in debt? A population loss of over 60% over the last 60 years (over which time the rest of the nation has doubled in population)?

Democrats are the guilty party in this crime against Michigan humanity, but Republicans are surely in violation of some sort of good Samaritan law requiring them to intervene if they see the commission of a crime.

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De-troit De-urbanized

It’s a natural cycle: cities that once sprang up around industry should naturally fade away as the supporting industry does. In the west, they’re called ghost towns.

In the midwest, they’re called Detroit:

There’s a new driver grabbing the wheel in the Motor City.

He’s not an elected official, or a local business titan. He’s not even a Detroiter.

He’s Rip Rapson, president of the $3.1 billion Kresge Foundation, and his combination of ambition, political connections and financial resources has made him a powerful force in the effort to remake a city much of the country wrote off a generation ago.

Under Mr. Rapson’s watch, Kresge has invested more than $100 million in Detroit’s transformation, funding a riverfront promenade, building greenways and backing incentives for entrepreneurs. And he’s just getting started.

“Philanthropy has emerged as the sector best able to provide the long-term vision and shorter-term investment of capital the city needs to right itself,” Mr. Rapson said at a private gathering of urban experts in Detroit this spring.

That foundation-knows-best attitude exasperates Mayor Dave Bing and City Hall officials, who have sought to reassure Detroiters that their voices, not outsiders, will guide efforts to rebuild the city.

“Everyone talks about Kresge, Kresge, Kresge,” the mayor said in an interview. “We’re pleased with the support we’re getting from them, but… Kresge is not doing this in a vacuum by themselves.”

Mr. Rapson dived head-first into city politics last year when Kresge agreed to fund Detroit Works, Mr. Bing’s signature campaign to consolidate the city’s shrinking population into healthy neighborhoods and re-purpose vast tracts of vacant land. Kresge also put up $35 million to spark development of “M1,” a light-rail transit line down Woodward Avenue, the spine of the city.

Both initiatives are now in limbo. Kresge stopped funding Detroit Works at the start of the year after disagreements with City Hall over the role of outside consultants. The foundation also is rethinking its support for the rail line amid a separate spat with city officials.

I like Dave Bing: he’s a Hall of Fame basketball player. I like Detroit: it’s where my grandfather lived out his final years (until the riots, when he moved to the suburb of Southfield); the ’68 Tigers were my first favorite baseball team, Al Kaline my first favorite ball player. But government is what got Detroit into this mess. Government and the economy and a dying automobile industry and the overweening power of the unions, to be fair—but it was government’s failure to encourage a diversification of industry, by cutting taxes and regulations to encourage new business, that was the real downfall of the city. Dead Man’s Gulch, Arizona, didn’t have a lot to sustain it after the gold mines were cleaned out; Detroit did. Or should have.

Whatever attracted Kresge to Detroit is a mystery to me: the city’s been dying for decades. Maybe the allure of being a white knight (so to speak) riding to the rescue made the mission seem noble. The best that can be hoped for Detroit now is a drastically downsized city: vast tracts of land sold off and a smaller hub within. A two-bedroom ranch, from a six-bedroom gothic revival.

And even on that they can’t agree. The city (predominantly African American) resents being told how things are going to be by someone wielding Kmart money. Which is fine—even as it should be in a democracy.

But that money isn’t going to be there forever. The will to revive a dying city isn’t going to be there forever. Maybe beggars can be choosers—but dead men tell no tales.

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Some have talked about this, but I’m having trouble getting my head around it.

Detroit was once the fifth largest city in America; now it is 18th. From its peak in 1950 (pop. 1,849,568), it has lost over 60% of its population (713,777 in the 2010 census), 25% of that in the last decade alone.

And while Detroit is still overwhelmingly black (82%), even the black population has fled the city in about the same percentage as the population as a whole.

And that may be the good news:

Akinya Khalfani, who has run his own small planning firm since leaving the city’s recreation planning department in 2002, projects Detroit’s population to hit bottom at 500,000 in 2016, the same date Detroit Public Schools has projected its student population will fall to 50,617. The school system had 168,213 students in 2000.

“A half-million, that’s the core of the population that can’t afford to leave,” said Khalfani, of the Southfield-based Central Place Planning Professionals.

“At that point, when we bottom out, even the service industries like fast food restaurants won’t have enough people in the city with disposable income to support them. At that point, the population is so poor, so poorly educated and spread out that the city becomes an urban prairie, a wasteland,” the Detroit resident added.

“This city now is the center of an unnatural disaster that is a harbinger of what could happen to other cities,” Metzger said. “There are a lot of funders now looking at Detroit for experimentation, to see what can happen to turn a shrinking city around. What can be done has been done in New Orleans. With these new figures, you will see more federal and national effort and attention turn to Detroit.”

New Orleans, which was struck by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, is the only U.S. city with more than 100,000 residents to have a greater percentage decline than Detroit. New Orleans dropped 29 percent, losing 140,000 residents.

I honestly don’t know how to analyze this. Detroit has been overwhelmingly black for decades, but other overwhelmingly black cities aren’t basket cases like Detroit. Birmingham, Jackson, Baltimore, and Atlanta—all roughly two-thirds to three-quarters black—aren’t swirling the drain. And New Orleans was swamped by a one-a-century natural disaster, Ray Nagin. Maybe it is Detroit’s over-reliance on one industry, auto manufacturing. But people haven’t stopped buying cars.

I suspect there is something in the combination of single party politics—the Democrats—and union membership. Remember, as GM and other car companies faced bankruptcies, then and only then did the unions give up some of the perks like the so-called jobs banks—which were funds paid to unneeded workers in lieu of salaries.

But the “reprimitivization” (a word and concept I learned from Mark Steyn) of Detroit is complete. The only thing Mayor Dave Bing (one of the greatest players in NBA history, and therefore a hero of mine) has contemplated is contracting the remaining Detroiters more densely and turning vast tracts over to farm land.


All sorts of commercial agricultural plans have been offered to the city, from a proposed winery on Belle Isle to the Hantz Farms and RecoveryPark projects. Proponents say the project will do more than grow fruits and vegetables; they say farming will create a local food-based industry with jobs and tax base coming from food processing, agritourism and the like.

But the proposals are on hold until the city deals with two main issues — Michigan’s Right to Farm Act and Mayor Dave Bing’s Detroit Works planning project.

The Right to Farm Act bars municipalities from curtailing farming operations already under way. It was designed to protect farmers from suburban sprawl. Detroit officials worry that it will keep them from regulating operations like Hantz Farms once they get started.

Meanwhile, Bing’s planners have yet to decide whether they want to make large-scale commercial agriculture part of the city’s redevelopment efforts under the Detroit Works Project.

Meanwhile, others are even more desperate:

Gov. Rick Snyder reissued his State of the State call for increased immigration, telling Muslim leaders gathered in Lansing last week that Michigan’s diversity is a selling point for businesses.

New numbers show there are between 300,000 and 400,000 Muslims in the state.

“The nice thing about Detroit is it has a lot of vacant land and cheap housing stock,” Vogel said. “The resourcefulness and energy of immigrants has always driven economic opportunity in this country.”

That’s true, but only up to a point. Immigrants can enliven an area, but the area has to have a pulse first. It’s not clear Detroit does. And let’s be honest with ourselves. Muslims are welcome contributors to American society, but they number only about one or two percent of the population of America. Given the very real and not at all bigoted concerns over home-grown radicalism among some American Muslims, is an enclave of disadvantaged Muslim immigrants in a failed city really such a good idea? I ain’t convinced.

Wither Detroit, certainly. But whither Detroit?

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Recipe for Disaster

Take decades of poverty and misery; shake; add plenty of cholera and let sit.

Sprinkle with UN and other western imperialism and serve!

Feeds none.

Here’s the $64 million question: Is Haiti’s seemingly intractable misery the result of a society and culture that is incapable of organizing itself to create civil order and a viable economy? Or is it the consequence of ruling kleptocrats—abetted or at least tolerated by influential foreigners—treating every economic transaction in the country as an opportunity for personal enrichment?

Evidence abounds that it is the latter. So why have the U.S. and the U.N. refused to take even small steps toward shutting down an official corruption racket that pushes millions of helpless people into lives of desperation? Instead they’ve put Bill Clinton—whose political family famously went into business with the notoriously corrupt former President Jean Bertrand Aristide—in charge of rebuilding the country with billions in foreign aid.

Haitians are fed up with the squalor that seems to promise an end only in death. They are angry not only with their own crooked politicians but with the way in which outsiders turn a blind eye to their tormentors. The fact that Washington and the U.N. have refused to rein in the extortionists running the port demonstrates the lack of international political will to alter the status quo.

Even I, who hate the UN with a passion and anger greater than that for any organization not the New York Yankees, have a hard time blaming it for Haiti’s wretchedness. But I’m willing to listen!

Some of you may find my interest in Haiti a distraction from my pom-pom waving for Israel or my brick-throwing at President Obama. Not so.

Haiti is a living (barely) example of society gone wrong. It should be studied as much as it is pitied. And if there is blame to go around for its reprimitivization, that blame should be scooped up and rubbed in the face of the responsible parties.

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Brother, Can You Spare a Quintillion Dimes?

I know what you’re going to say: that I really have to stop this unseemly fascination with Zimbabwe’s utter misery. It’s not good for me, not good for you, I really have to move on.

I will, I promise—tomorrow:

Cash-strapped Zimbabwe revealed plans Saturday to circulate $200 million notes, just days after introducing a $100 million bill, Finance Minister Samuel Mumbengegwi said.

After the $100 million note began circulating on Thursday, the price of a loaf of bread soared from 2 million to 35 million Zimbabwean dollars.

Amid allegations of illegal foreign currency trading, the government also fired top executives at four major banks Thursday, according to The Herald, a state-owned newspaper.

Many anxious residents of the nation’s capital, Harare, have been sleeping outside banks, waiting for them to open so they can make withdrawals before the institutions run out of cash. Watch how Zimbabwe’s children are suffering »

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe had capped maximum daily withdrawals at 500,000 Zimbabwean dollars: about 25 U.S. cents, or about a quarter of Thursday’s price of a loaf of bread.

Last week, restrictions on cash withdrawals — due to severe money shortages — triggered riots.

This is called—pay attention now, class—”reprimitivization”. When a civil society breaks down completely, and man is thrown back into a state of nature, and life is nasty, brutish, and short (such small portions!).

But it’s like Halley’s Comet or a solar eclipse: how often do you get a chance to see it?

At least our curiosity has its analytical side: CNN has been stuck on 231,000,000% inflation for some time now. But inflation is anything but steady—so where is it really?


Zimbabwe is the first country in the 21st century to hyperinflate. In February 2007, Zimbabwe’s inflation rate topped 50% per month, the minimum rate required to qualify as a hyperinflation (50% per month is equal to a 12,875% per year). Since then, inflation has soared.

The last official inflation data were released for July and are hopelessly outdated. The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has been even less forthcoming with money supply data: the most recent money supply figures are ancient history—January 2008.

Absent current official money supply and inflation data, it is difficult to quantify the depth and breadth of the still-growing crisis in Zimbabwe. To overcome this problem, Cato Senior Fellow Steve Hanke has developed the Hanke Hyperinflation Index for Zimbabwe (HHIZ). This new metric is derived from market-based price data and is presented in the accompanying table for the January 2007 to present period. As of 14 November 2008, Zimbabwe’s annual inflation rate was 89.7 Sextillion percent.

Let’s see: that’s 89,700,000,000,000,000,000,000%—as of three weeks ago! It might be in the octillions by now. (Go for googol, Zimbabwe!) Cholera is about all anyone there can afford.

Okay, okay, I’ll stop. I admit I have a problem—nothing like Zimbabwe’s, but still a problem.

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A Banana a Day…

Mark Steyn refers to himself as a “demography bore”—and he is, but a fascinating one. So I guess I’d have to call myself a “reprimitivization bore”. I have an unnatural and unhealthy obsession with watching civilization go down the toilet.

And, yes, I mean Zimbabwe, where their lack of toilets and clean water are two prime examples of their once-thriving, robust economy and society now at the bottom of the privy.

Police in Zimbabwe chased away residents from long bank queues and arrested several trade union leaders Wednesday to head off a protest against limits on cash withdrawals in the inflation-ravaged African nation.

A day earlier, the country’s former defense minister appeared on television, flanked by two top army officials, to warn the union groups against holding the protests, the spokesman said in a statement. The former minister, Sidney Sekeramayi, accused the unions of colluding with solders who went on rampages in the capital twice in recent days.

The angry, unpaid soldiers clashed with foreign currency exchangers and some civilians Monday. And on Friday, soldiers also looted some shops they suspected to be illegally dealing in foreign currency after failing to get cash from their banks.

Queuing up to withdraw money has become a daily sight in the country that is facing an acute shortage of cash, and the money that banks give out sometimes is not enough to purchase basic necessities.

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe allows a maximum daily withdrawal of 500,000 Zimbabwean dollars — the equivalent of about 25 cents in the United States — as a way to ease the country’s acute cash problems. The amount is not even enough to pay for a loaf of bread, which costs about 2 million Zimbabwean dollars ($1 U.S.).

Yesterday, we noted that Zimbabweans could withdraw 50 pence a day, enough to buy one banana. Those days—that day—sound like they’re long gone. At a quarter a day, they’ll be lucky to buy a grape.

Who needs apocalyptic movies when we have BBC World News?

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