Divorce litigation in Israel


Israel is a country of immigrants, which means that many Israelis make the decision to marry in a different legal system from that in which they will get divorced (the fate of 30-41 percent of Israeli married couples, depending on who is counting). At the Museum of the Diaspora, for example, an exhibit shows a guy who was married in Ethiopia and then divorced in Israel:

Based on my discussions with some experienced attorneys, Israeli divorce lawsuit defendants from countries that operate under Civil Law will probably be the ones who wish that they had stayed in their original home. Jewish law provides few financial incentives for divorce plaintiffs. If a man divorces a woman he has to pay her according to the ketubah, essentially a prenuptial agreement. If a woman divorces a man she may not receive any share of the man’s future income (it could still be financially rational for a woman to divorce her husband if she can find someone richer to replace him with). On top of this ancient legal tradition Israel has layered some aspects of British common law. The result of this combination is that what would have been a straightforward procedure in Europe or Russia (examples) with legal fees (if any) limited to a small percentage of total assets can turn into an American-style no-holds-barred war in Israel.

The end of an Israeli marriage results in the parties’ assets being consumed by lawyers in both the government-run courts (about 74,000 cases in 2015) and also in a religious court. A woman who wants to be rid of her husband will sue him in the government court for property division, custody, and child support. The divorce per se is litigated in a religious court, e.g., the rabbinical court for Jews, an Islamic court for Muslims. “The rabbinical court is a lot more efficient than the civil court,” said one lawyer, “but it can still cost [$50,000+] in fees to a separate attorney.”

Israeli plaintiffs who follow economic incentives will sue a husband for property division, custody, and child support in the civil court but not seek a divorce in the rabbinical court. The litigation posture is that she wants to stay married and isn’t interested in a divorce, but she wants to live separately, be the primary parent, and get paid for taking care of the children. Then there is a game of chicken to see who will crack and sue first in the rabbinical court (as noted above, if the woman were to initiative a divorce per se she wouldn’t be entitled to alimony).

Property division is simple in theory but complex and expensive to litigate in practice. It is supposedly a California-style system in which premarital property cannot be obtained by a plaintiff, but property acquired during the marriage is divided 50/50. “There was a Supreme Court decision about two months ago,” said one source, “in which a man had inherited an apartment that was rented out. He deposited the rent into a joint account and that was enough to make the property divisible by the court.” Plaintiffs also may allege that a defendant has hidden assets and don’t need any documentary evidence to keep the allegation alive through a final trial.  If there are assets worth fighting over, litigation can take more than three years. “If there are 1 million shekels in assets [$250,000] the fees will end up being about 1 million shekels,” said the attorney. As in the U.S., a judge can order a defendant to pay a plaintiff’s legal costs but this may be only 20 percent of the “real costs.”

What happens to the joint apartment (standalone houses are rare in Israel) during the three years of litigation? “The court cannot order the husband out,” said the attorney, “unless the wife makes an allegation of domestic violence, so either the couple negotiates or, more commonly, the wife accuses him of physical or psychological abuse.” (A variety of U.S. states have a similar system; see “The Domestic Violence Parallel Track” and Amber Heard)

Israel is not a great jurisdiction for profiting from extramarital sex. Unlike many U.S. states where it is more profitable to have sex with a high-income person than to be in a long-term marriage with a middle-income person (some numbers), in Israel child support starts by considering the needs of the child. This in contrast to the U.S. system in which the primary factor determining profitability is the income of the target of the child support lawsuit (see the History chapter for how the big switch happened around 1990). Child support can still be profitable in Israel if there was a marriage and a shared household for at least a year or two. Now the defendant can be ordered to pay to keep the children in the lifestyle to which they were accustomed during the marriage and the only way to enable that is also to keep the plaintiff in the lifestyle to which she was accustomed. If the litigants just met for one night in a bar, however, the official standard for child support is more based on the cost of rearing a typical Israeli child.

As noted in a July 23 posting, custody lawsuits are simple if the child(ren) are under 6: Mom wins. Mom also is guaranteed to be the one receiving child support, even if the children live with their father. As in the U.S., legal fees can be expended to determine a child’s schedule but the end result is nearly always that children are entitled to spend every other weekend with the father (Friday morning until Saturday evening or Sunday morning) plus a few hours on a weekday. With older children, 50/50 schedules are possible though the cash continues to flow from father to mother even when the two parents have equal incomes or when the mother earns more than the father. The mother’s revenue is reduced to one third at age 18 when a child will enter the military and cut off at age 21 (compare to full cashflow through 21 in New York or 23 in Massachusetts).

The Mandibles: turning sex into money before and after an economic collapse


Continuing my posts about Lionel Shriver’s The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047

Shriver’s vision of United States society in the 2020s isn’t very different from what attorneys told us in Real World Divorce. Americans can get hold of assets through marriage and divorce, but much of the litigation involves people who were never married:

Technically Florence may have been a “single mother,” but single mothers in this country outnumbered married ones, and the very expression had fallen out of use.

Reference to diesel engines was strategic. The bulk of the Mandible money was amassed by Carter’s great-grandfather Elliot, a Midwestern industrialist. Douglas had added to the pile a bit, but he’d always lived high, and Mimi extracted a fair whack of his agency earnings in the divorce. The inheritance from Mandible Engine Corp. was protected from marital depredations by a trust.

[at the dinner table with econ professors, one of whom is a thinly disguised Piketty] “Why not?” Tom said. “You regard everyone else’s finances as your business. Fact is, you made a killing from sticking your nose into other people’s bank accounts.” “Hardly a killing,” Ryan said disdainfully. “Internet piracy was already approaching its zenith. For the handful of the upstanding, Amazon was discounting at 70 percent. As for what small royalties I did recoup, my ex-wife walked off with half. Calling me wealthy would be absurd.”

After the economy melts down, however, and an alimony or child-support judgment not indexed to inflation wouldn’t be worth much, turning a sexual relationship into cash has to be done without court involvement:

[late teenage daughter to her parents] “Mom, please! Nobody’s having dinner parties at all, much less catered ones, and most people wear the same clothes for a month!” “The only thing I’m too proud to do is what you’re doing.” “You’re too old for my vocation. And somebody’s got to bring some scratch into this house besides Florence. You want to see inflation work to our advantage for once? Because my prices are going up.” Savannah grabbed her coat and marched out the door.

After the government stabilizes the economy, laws are adjusted so that more sectors can be taxed. Here’s a conversation among three siblings, one of whom works for the “Scab” (formerly the IRS):

he appreciated that Savannah’s work as a “stimulation consultant” was now a legitimate career. While he might have expected to discern a clichéd coarsening in her features, her manner, or her spirit, in truth he detected no such thing. Accredited, registered, regulated, and—most crucially—taxed, Savannah parlayed a respectable expertise. She carried business cards. She didn’t hide behind any euphemistic “escort” nonsense. She was high end. She’d held her own against the robs—increasingly inventive, cheaper, and programmed to swallow at no extra cost. So she was doubtless very good at it. Still. Willing had a conservative side. You couldn’t legislate away that little shiver.

“This is new,” Bing said respectfully. “And very exciting. You’re planning a family soon?” He might have been talking to his schoolteacher, not his own brother. “Sooner the better,” Goog said. “Somebody’s gotta do it. You’re hardly up and at ’em with the ladies. And our sister’s a hole.” “You know I don’t like that word,” Savannah said. “I don’t like being called a scabbie, either,” Goog said. “I’ve manned up about it. You can’t honestly expect me to call you a stimulation consultant with a straight face.” “I have a degree,” she insisted quietly.

“A community college degree in a subject that comes naturally to any slit who can lie on her back. Listen, I know it’s asking a lot, but could I have a real glass?

The novel chronicles a change in female beauty standards. As the Chinese have become the world’s wealthiest people, Caucasian women undergo surgery to appear more like the Chinese.

More: Read The Mandibles.

Banner for aspiring mediocrities


Here’s a sign from Israel that could be a banner for any person or enterprise aspiring to mediocrity:

(From a beach at the Dead Sea; the sign says -418 meters, which is 1371 feet below sea level.)

Readers: What person or enterprise would you nominate to adopt this sign?

[Separately, this region of Israel has a lot of signs to replace if sea level changes dramatically!]

The Mandibles: Inter-generational Conflict


Continuing my posts about Lionel Shriver’s The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047

The novel directly concerns four generations within one family and the relationships among these generations as well as the way in which a society’s GDP is parceled out to various age groups.

For those periods in the novel when the U.S. GDP is flat or shrinking, the younger generations resent the money being spent on the old. Being old is psychologically tough, even at the beginning of the novel before the meltdown:

I see the same thing in my elderly clients all the time. They have different obsessions, of course: we’re about to run out of water, or run out of food, or run out of energy. The economy’s on the brink of disaster and their 401(k)s will turn into pumpkins. But in truth they’re afraid of dying. And because when you die, the world dies, too, at least for you, they assume the world will die for everybody. It’s a failure of imagination, in a way—an inability to conceive of the universe without you in it. That’s why old people get apocalyptic: they’re facing apocalypse, and that part, the private apocalypse, is real. So the closer their personal oblivion gets, the more certain geriatrics project impending doom on their surroundings

Inter-generational conflict is worse when the younger generation is a different ethnic group than the older generation:

[a young man who works for a senior citizens’ outdoor excursion company called “Over the Hill”] … Because they don’t like following a guide. Especially a Lat guide. They’re enraged that Lats are running the show now, since somebody has to—” “Enough.” Florence threw the cabbage into what was starting to look like pork soup. “You forget. I’m on your side.” “I know you get sick of it, but you’ve no idea the waves of resentment I get from these crusties every day. They want their domination back, even if they think of themselves as progressives. They still want credit for being tolerant, without taking the rap for the fact that you only ‘tolerate’ what you can’t stand. Besides, we gotta tolerate honks same as they gotta put up with us. It’s our country every bit as much as these has-been gringos’. It’d be even more our country if these tottering white cretins would hurry up and die already.”

In an economy where it is tough to earn money via work, young people may pay attention to and spend time with old people to ensure an inheritance:

It was also standard on the two-hour trip from Brooklyn—this leafy section through Connecticut was pleasant—for Carter to question his motivations for these visits. With an eye to the long view, you naturally dote on an elderly parent as a subtly selfish prophylactic: to be able to assure yourself, on receipt of that fatal phone call, that you’d been devoted. Sometimes being a shade more attentive than you’re quite in the mood for can prevent self-excoriation down the line. After all, old people have a horrible habit of kicking it right after you ducked seeing them at the last minute with an excuse that sounded fishy, or on the heels of a regrettable encounter in which you let slip an acrid aside. To be dutiful without fail is like taking out emotional insurance. Yet in Carter’s case, the self-interest was crassly pecuniary. Did he keep in his father’s good graces with monthly runs to the Wellcome Arms only to safeguard his inheritance from, say, a rash or spiteful late-life impulse to endow a chair at Yale? He’d never know. Worse, his father would never know, and might not ever feel confidently cherished for himself. A family fortune introduced an element of corruption.

Old people drive the economy and people are anxious to get into the driver’s seat:

But as things stood at present: after a dip in the thirties, life expectancy had better than recovered. On average, Americans were living to ninety-two. The US sported an unprecedentedly large cohort of senior citizens. In contrast to Willing’s passive generation, typified by low rates of electoral participation, nearly all the shrivs voted, making it political anathema to restrict entitlements. Together, Medicare and Social Security consumed 80 percent of the federal budget.

From the start, he knew the variety of employment widely available: home health aide placements, health insurance and billing, design and maintenance of healthcare websites, answering healthcare help lines, medical device manufacture, service of medical devices, medical transport, medical research, pharmaceutical manufacture, pharmaceutical research, pharmaceutical advertising, hospital laundry, hospital catering, hospital administration, hospital construction, and work in assisted-living establishments that served every level of decrepitude from mildly impaired to moribund.

“So what’s up with your parents?” Willing interceded. “Dad’s two years from sixty-eight,” Goog said. “Then he’ll be sitting pretty.” People used to dread being put out to pasture. Desperate to qualify for entitlements, these days everyone couldn’t wait to be old.

The simplest way to get old is to sleep:

Willing was also perplexed by why slumbering hadn’t taken off decades earlier. When recreational drugs were legalized, regulated, and taxed, they became drear overnight. Only then did people get wise to the fact that the ultimate narcotic had been eternally available to everyone, for free: sleep. A pharmaceutical nudge into an indefinite coma was cheap, and a light steady dose allowed for repeated dream cycles. Inert bodies expend negligible energy, so the drips for nutrition and hydration had seldom to be replenished (slumbers were hooked to enormous drums of the stuff). The regular turning to prevent pressure sores provided welcome employment for the low skilled. Slumbers didn’t require apartments—much less maXfleXes or new clothes. They needed only a change of pajamas and a mattress. An outmoded designation revived, “rest homes” denoted warehouses of the somnambulant, who were only roused and kicked out once their prepayments were extinguished. Previous generations had scrounged to buy property. Many of Willing’s peers were similarly obsessed with scraping together a nest egg, but with an eye to dozing away as many years of their lives as the savings could buy.

The eeriest part of the book is that it anticipates the Sagamihara stabbings. In a society with a lot of dependents, Shriver predicts that workers whose mental health declines may target those dependents.

More: Read The Mandibles.

Formerly socialist country celebrates Ayn Rand


Socialist Israel comes full circle with Ayn Rand being classified as a Jewish “hero” in the children’s gallery of the Museum of the Diaspora:

The museum folks say that, after leaving the Soviet Union, Rand “went on to become one of those responsible for drafting the foundations of American capitalism.” Yet Wikipedia says that she began publishing in the 1930s, just as the U.S. was abandoning a market economy in favor of a Welfare state.


The Mandibles: Nobody can agree on what caused the collapse


Continuing my posts about Lionel Shriver’s The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047

One of the things that seems realistic in this novel is that Americans don’t change their views on economics or politics based on new facts. When the economy collapses, therefore, each American explains it according to his or her previously held political or economic viewpoint.

Here are some excerpts:

At Barnard, having written her honors thesis on “Class, 1945–Present” had seemed daring, because Americans flattered themselves as beyond class. But that was before the fabled economic downturn that fatally coincided with her college graduation. After which, Americans talked about nothing but class.

Checking the rice, she [liberal mom] tried to remember what her weirdo son had claimed about the recrudescence of malnutrition in Africa and on the subcontinent, after both regions had made such strides. It was an outrage that the poor simply couldn’t afford to eat, she’d bemoaned to the boy [conservative teenager], when the planet had plenty of food. He’d responded obtusely, “No, it doesn’t.” He proceeded to recapitulate his great-grandfather’s tortured explanation—something like, “It only seems like there’s plenty of food. If you gave the poor more money, then the price would rise even higher, and then they still couldn’t afford it.” Which didn’t make the slightest sense. Around Willing, she should monitor her grandfather’s propaganda more closely. The old man was liberal by creed, but she’d never met anyone with money who didn’t have conservative instincts. One such instinct was to make the morally obvious (if fiscally inconvenient) seem terribly complicated. Like, rice is too costly, then give people the money to buy it. Duh.

[Keynesian economics professor talking with his therapist wife] “Sorry. I did get into an argument, with that boomerpoop Vandermire. Because, okay, the bond auction today, it’s—unfortunate. At the moment, foreign demand for US debt is low—but there are completely unrelated reasons for backing off US debt instruments in a variety of different countries that just happen to be coinciding. Here, the market is hopping; investors can find higher yields in the Dow than in dumpy Treasury securities. Interest rates aren’t likely to stay anywhere near 8.2 percent and this is probably a one-time spike. Jesus, in the 1980s, Treasury bond interest careened to over 15 percent. Bonds paid over 8 percent as recently as 1991—” “That’s not very recent.” “My point is, there’s no reason to get hysterical!” “Then don’t say that hysterically.” “Well, Vandermire is ecstatic. He loves the attention, and he’s on a high of having been supposedly right all along. ‘Unsustainable! The national debt is unsustainable!’ If I heard him say the word unsustainable one more time this afternoon I’d have punched him in the nose. The functional definition of unsustainable is that-which-is-not-sustained. If you can’t keep something up, you don’t. After all that noise twenty years ago about the deficit, the melodramatic shutdowns of government over raising the debt ceiling, and what’s happened? Nothing. At 180 percent of GDP—which Japan proved was entirely doable—the debt has been sustained. It is therefore, ipso facto, sustainable.” The trouble with being a professor is that when you pontificate for a living it’s hard to cut the crap once you get back home. Avery was used to it, though she didn’t find Lowell’s rants quite as enchanting as when they first got married.

“The Fed chief was emphatic. Krugman said the limits were for a few days, max.” [Paul Krugman is running the Fed and puts in capital controls]

[teenage son talking to liberal mom] “The government will have lots of money. But it won’t be worth anything. Which is the same as having no money.” One of her few concerns about her only child was that he inclined toward smugness. “All right. What. Since I’ve heard we need regular inflation, like at least 2 or 3 percent, my whole life.” “I know you have. You’ve been brainwashed.” He sounded so cheerful. “We could easily get along with a small, steady, predictable rate of deflation. Inflation is a tax. Money for the government. A tax that people don’t see as a tax. That’s the best kind, for politicians. But inflation isn’t inevitable. Starting in 1300, the British pound pretty much maintained its value for six hundred years. And that was during the Empire, when English people practically ruled the world.” … “Prices aren’t going up,” Willing said authoritatively. Florence snorted. “Could have fooled me!” “They have fooled you.” Willing’s stride had developed a swagger. “It’s the mistake people always make. They think things are getting more expensive. Actually, everything costs the same. Prices aren’t going up; the currency is going down.”

“They’re in a corner. They can’t borrow. They could raise taxes. But the rich already pay high taxes. And now their investments are gone. The rich aren’t rich. So the only people left to tax are people like you and Esteban. Who can’t buy cabbage. Blood from a stone, as Great Grand Man put it. What else is there to do? Photocopy the money.”

“Never forget where information comes from, puppet. I wouldn’t accept everything your great-grandfather says as gospel. He’s liberal on social issues, but wealth always pulls people to the right—because they can’t help wanting to keep it. Everyone has an agenda.”

The patriarch is the main source of family conservatism.

“Carter. I will let you in on what isn’t a secret to any housewife who’s bought a cucumber. The American dollar is worthless now not because of the rate spike, and not because of crashing on the international currency exchange, and not because of the bancor. It is worthless now because it was worthless before.” “That’s melodramatic.” “Not melodramatic—dramatic. In the hundred years following the establishment of the Federal Reserve in 1913, the dollar lost 95 percent of its value—when one of the purposes of the Fed was to safeguard the integrity of the currency. Great job, boys! Ever wonder why no one talks about millionaires anymore—why no one but a billionaire rates as rich? Because a man who had about ten grand in 1913 would be a millionaire a century later. Hell, everyone’s a millionaire these days, every halfway solvent member of the middle class. And the majority of that currency decay is historically recent. Why, the dollar lost half its value in the mere four years between 1977 and 1981.”

The academics are the ones who really go at it. Here are the boring Keynesian professor and his exciting Thomas Piketty-like colleague at a dinner party:

“Morally, your money does belong to everybody,” Ryan said. “The creation of capital requires the whole apparatus of the state to protect property rights, including intellectual property. Private enterprise is dependent on the nation as a whole for an educated workforce, transportation networks, and social order. No country, no fortune.”

“I’ll grant you this much.” Tom was making an almighty effort to remain affable, for which Avery was grateful. “’Kay, for the last several years inflation has bounced between 3 and 4 percent. I realize that to experts like you folks, I’ll sound dumb as a coal shovel. But the figure I tripped across the other day came as a shock to me: with 3 percent inflation, the dollar halves in value every twenty-three years. That’s from Fed money printing. So when I don’t control what ‘my’ money is worth, maybe it isn’t really mine in the first place. At best, it’s a loan. Which Krugman can zap into ashes while it’s still in my pocket, like a superhero.”

“Better everyone is somewhat less well off than we keep tolerating the grotesque economic disparities of the last thirty years,” Lin Yu said. “As Americans, we can return to first principles. This is a chance at reboot and rebirth. A chance for transformation and redemption. An opportunity to eschew corruption, and cronyism, and inequity, and division, and re-create this country from the ground up. To be the United States again, to live in a united state. To restore this nation to the egalitarian utopia the founding fathers envisioned. We should all be proud to be participating in this watershed.”“Better everyone is somewhat less well off than we keep tolerating the grotesque economic disparities of the last thirty years,” Lin Yu said. “As Americans, we can return to first principles. This is a chance at reboot and rebirth. A chance for transformation and redemption. An opportunity to eschew corruption, and cronyism, and inequity, and division, and re-create this country from the ground up. To be the United States again, to live in a united state. To restore this nation to the egalitarian utopia the founding fathers envisioned. We should all be proud to be participating in this watershed.”

Eventually the professor debates with the teenagers:

“The national debt was bound to come to a head eventually,” Nollie held forth on her third glass of wine. “It was just hard to predict when. And prophets too ahead of their time are always ridiculed. Take population. In my teens, the species was allegedly reproducing itself into extinction. Last time I checked, the human race was still here. Now we’re closing on nine billion—a tripling in seventy years. But what if the ‘overpopulation’ hysterics were right, just too soon? Same with debt. Twenty years ago, doom-and-gloomers were foaming at the mouth about excessive borrowing. Nothing happened then, either—until a year ago, when everything happened. Familiar with complexity theory? It helps to explain why everything can be fine for a long time and then go to hell all at once.”

Avery had tried to tolerate her husband’s self-importance about “his work,” some vital economic analysis without which the world would fall apart. The world having already fallen apart, her tolerance had morphed to contempt. In retrospect, it seemed pretty rich for her whole family to have none too subtly dismissed her PhysHead practice as quackery, when Lowell’s whole field had been exposed as far dodgier hocus-pocus; at the worst, Avery’s cures merely overpromised, while Lowell’s gang of charlatans had wreaked nationwide havoc.

“I wouldn’t write off the United States just yet!” Lowell said. “See the Dow is climbing back up, Goog? What’d I tell you!” “It’s only going up in dollars,” Willing said from the coffee table. “What else is it supposed to go up in?” Goog jeered. “In a hyperinflationary economy—” “Whoa, hold on there, Willing,” Lowell said. “Hyperinflation is a technical term. In my field, Philip Cagan’s definition is broadly accepted: at least 50 percent per month. We’re nowhere near that. In the 1920s, German inflation was 30,000 percent, and Serbian inflation was 300 million percent. In Hungary, after the Second World War? It was 1.3 times ten to the sixteenth—literally beyond your imagination. No comparison.” “Sorry,” Avery mumbled to her sister. “I think Lowell misses teaching.” “In a high inflation economy, then,” Willing corrected, and it was difficult to tell who was more patronizing to whom, “all assets seem to appreciate, including stock. But the gains are false. In bancors, the market continues to drop.”

“It’s the usual GOP austerity blunder,” Lowell said. “Because this is a time to pump up government expenditure. Invest in infrastructure, like a second New Deal. Reinvigorate America’s industrial base, and reduce the need for imports.” It occurred to Avery that her husband needed to get out more. His familiar economics platitudes failed to connect with the rampaging crowds on the Mall, the encampments on the Potomac, the numerous cars on the interstate on the trip to New York with mattresses and bundles of clothing lashed on top, like a modern-day Grapes of Wrath. She had the same sensation listening to press conferences from the White House. The administration went through the motions of being the American government, and saying the things that American officials say, but the exercise had an air of imitation—the studied intensity of tots who cook pies with mud.

The aunt from France and the teenager try to sum it all up:

“To have that much power and let it go?” Nollie said. “That is pretty stupid.” “It always goes,” Willing said. “Whether or not you let it.” “Having that much money and letting it go, then,” Nollie revised. “Having that much money and still spending more than you’ve got. I call that stupid.”

Characters adapt to changed circumstances, but no matter how severe the adaptations Shriver doesn’t show them changing their politics.

More: Read The Mandibles.

Israeli versus German airport security


Here are some observations based on a recent flight from Tel Aviv through Frankfurt to Boston…

Israeli physical scrutiny is somewhat lax compared to American or German procedures. Adult passengers keep their shoes on. Passengers can keep a water bottle. An oversized tube of sunscreen does not get anyone excited. One exception is that tablet computers must be removed from luggage for X-ray. Human bodies are screened with a metal detector, not a Get Smart-style Tube of X-Rays. The bulwark of Israeli airport security seems to be sorting passengers by risk. A middle-aged U.S. citizen traveling with a child? Wave them through. A man in his 20s traveling alone? Time for a conversation.

Changing terminals in Frankfurt requires going through German security screening. The liquids and sunscreen tube that didn’t bother the Israelis have to be tossed (unlike in the U.S., however, the screeners acknowledge the absurdity of the rule and gently apologize for it even as they are enforcing it). Everyone, including young children, has to be X-rayed.

Separately, here is one thing that you won’t see in a U.S. or German airport…

TLV airport Lubavitch

TLV airport Lubavitch

The Mandibles on France


Continuing my posts about Lionel Shriver’s The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047

One of the family members is living in France when the U.S. begins to truly fall apart:

“Maybe you should stay in France.” “I can’t. For an American, anywhere in Europe is physically dangerous. We’re being assaulted. And not only with crème fraîche.” “Stay in nights, then. It’s sure to blow over.” “Besides, this country’s hardly one big wine-swilling soirée. At any given time, half the population is on strike, and what good is a great train system that never runs? They’re apoplectic that they can’t all retire at fifty-two. They all expect their child benefit, their gold-plated pensions, their token-pittance healthcare charges, their truncated workweek, and two solid years of unemployment at a salary most lawyers don’t earn—all of which is a human right. Along with so many holidays and vacations that the fuckers put their feet up for a third of the year. Oh, and everyone wants to work for the government; most of them do. Your basic all-cart, no-horse. So the whole country plops into the hay wagon and wonders why it doesn’t move.”

“It’s got to be better than here,” Carter said. “Furthermore, the whole Muslim thing is out of control,” Nollie bullied on obliviously. “If I walk down the Champs-Élysées, I’ll get thumped for being a deadbeat. If I walk anywhere less central, I’ll get thumped because I’m not wearing a trash bag. Even in France, they’ve given up on the assimilation shtick, and gone for slavish appeasement instead. Whole tracts of the country are effectively no-go areas for actual French people. It’s the same all over Europe now, so there’s nowhere to go.”

More: Read The Mandibles.

Working around the Arab boycott of Israel


One of the people I met in Israel manages a 35-person company, some of whose customers are in Arab and other Islamic countries. How is that he is apparently working around the Arab boycott of Israel? “Our company is technically based in the U.S.,” he responded. “We’ve got a warehouse in the U.S. with five people handling shipping. We have a U.S. bank account, a U.S. phone number, and we work East Coast hours, roughly noon to 8 or 9 pm here. The customers never know that they’re talking to someone in Israel.”

How would our language change if the U.S. were to collapse economically?


Not too many literary novelists tackle the big economic questions of our time. John Lanchester did it after the Collapse of 2008 with I.O.U.: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay, but he didn’t write a novel. Now Lionel Shriver has actually done it with The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047.

I’ll be writing more about this interesting and fun novel, but for starters let’s look at how American English changes after a big economic collapse circa 2029. The country is majority Latino and they are “Lats” while white Americans are “honks.” A couple of decades after the U.S. defaults on its bonds, both principal and interest, where a present-day American might use the words “shit” and “asswipe” the corresponding words are “treasury” and “T-bill.”:

Maybe even Goog, who wouldn’t be such a T-bill if he didn’t work for the Scab. [Two brothers are named, circa 2020, “Goog” and “Bing”; the Scab is short for “Bureau for Social Contribution Assistance,” the rebranded IRS.]

“You’re always reminiscing about how brutal it was at Citadel. If Elysian is splug, why not go back? You took to that farm treasury more than most of us did.

“And you’re assuming that the chip’s self-destruct is treasury. Why would it be? You heard Goog. A whole unit at the Scab, he said. And doesn’t it sound like exactly what they’d program your chip to do, if you had the impertinence to throw down your cotton hoe, and the ingratitude to walk away from the greatest nation on earth? These people are motherfucking T-bills! Seems biggin’ likely to me that instead of allowing you to throw off your chains, they’d rather you be dead.”

Young folks change the way they greet each other:

“Full faith and credit, man,” Bing said, with a biff of solidarity on Willing’s shoulder. “Full faith and credit,” Willing returned, with a light biff back. The ritual greeting went over the heads of their elders.

Americans who reject the various transformations in society and move to the free state of Nevada are referred to as “Forty-Niners”. The transformations include chipping humans the way that dogs are currently chipped and confiscating guns:

Return to the city necessitated a proper job. Packing up at Citadel in ’41, he already suspected that a job meant being chipped. It was routine; everyone said so. Like applying for a Social Security number. A bureaucratic matter, a relatively painless, pro forma protocol of the modern day. Thus Willing had not considered the inevitability of the procedure with sufficient seriousness. He had been lulled by what was regular, by what was expected and customary. No doubt all ages have their usual things, about which no one at the time thinks twice. Their leeches and bloodletting, their homosexual “cures,” their children’s workhouses and debtors’ prisons. When drowning in the is-ness of the widely accepted present, it must be hard to tell the difference—between traditions like burying your dead and having dinner at 8 p.m. and other, just as mesmerizingly normative conventions that later will leap out to posterity as offenses against the whole human race. Maybe he was letting himself off the hook. He’d had misgivings, after all. Yet it is always challenging to choose otherwise when you are informed in no uncertain terms that there is no choice to make. When Willing was small, people made a great brouhaha over pedophilia, and sexual abuse of any kind. Employees at daycare centers were required to get criminal-record checks. All scoutmasters were suspect. No one ever seemed to care if you were a murderer. Murderers were let out of prison and blended right back into the neighborhood. They could live wherever they wanted. Sex criminals were marked for life—shuttled from hostels to underpasses, and required to report their whereabouts, which were posted on the web—the better for local parents to start picketing campaigns to have the filth evicted. The no-go radius around schools and playgrounds widened every year. It was worse to be a rapist than a killer. By inference, rather than be raped, you were better off dead.

The foreign object was the size of a pinhead. A mere poke would be more painful, a squeeze, even. Parents were far better off anguishing over male circumcision, now roundly discouraged. Willing envied the newborns. The real trauma had little to do with physical torment. A baby’s clean slate would preclude any horror over what the “foreign object” was for. Since he was eight years old, Willing had understood that most systems worked badly. It was a surprise to discover in his young adulthood that they could also work too well.

He accepted that the chip performed the functions it was purported to. It registered direct deposits of his salary. It deducted the costs of any products he chose to buy. It debited his utility bills. Though Willing had no experience of either, it recorded investments and received state benefits. It subtracted local, state, and federal taxes, which totaled 77 percent of his pay. It communicated his every purchase to the agency known until 2039 as the Internal Revenue Service—what the item cost, when and where he bought it, and the product’s exact description, down to model, serial number, or sell-by date. It informed the American tax authorities if he bought a packet of crackers. Were the chip to accumulate an excess of fiscal reserves—an amount that surpassed what he required on average to cover his expenses for the month—it would dun the overage at an interest rate of -6 percent. Should the balance cross various thresholds, that interest rate would progress up to -21 percent. (Saving was selfish. Saving was bad for the economy. Negative interest rates also provided Americans a short course in mathematics from which an undereducated public could surely benefit. At -21 percent compounded annually, 100 was worth 30.77 five years later.) Any additional income, including gift coupons for a birthday, revenue from pawned possessions, bake-sale proceeds, and private-party poker winnings, would also register on the chip, and would also be taxed at 77 percent.

If anyone contacted your chipsite whose distinctive heartbeat didn’t synchronize perfectly with the pounding in your chip, your funds went into lockdown. So no one could pretend to be you, and the account that went everywhere you went was safe from predators. (The feds somewhat oversold this feature in the early versions. In a surge of “chipnappings,” individuals were forced to make online transfers at gunpoint. Updates guaranteed that when the chip detected high levels of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine, or even heavy doses of tranquilizers that might suppress those hormones, transfers would not go through. The same bio-sensitivity ensured that gamblers could not place rash bets while drunk, which had a distinctly depressive effect on the casino industry.)

Much the same reasoning had led to the complete elimination of the cash dólar nuevo in 2042.

Who completely ignored the weapons amnesty in ’38?” “He didn’t completely ignore it,” Bing said. “When they canceled the Second Amendment—” “No one canceled the Second Amendment, you yunk,” Goog said. “It was clarified. Modern constitutional scholars now believe it was never meant to apply to individuals in the first place. A ‘well-regulated militia’ means the police and the armed forces. Not some lunatic with an AK in a shopping mall.”

The chip stuff interests me because starting about 15 years ago I have been waiting for humans to be chipped. I imagined that it would start with criminals as a condition of parole. Then it would be children because we don’t want them to get lost. Then it would be visitors to the U.S. and immigrants as a condition of getting in. Then finally it would lead to a much safer and more secure society if everyone were chipped. Shriver imagines that we get chipped primarily to facilitate tax collection.

What about when they turn on the tap and no water comes out? That’s a “dryout”. Old people soaking up an ever-greater share of the GDP with Social Security and Medicare? “shrivs”

More: Read The Mandibles.

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