August 2011 - Jabberwocky, Part Deux

by Justice William W. Bedsworth

The closer I get to retirement, the more I worry about the economy. This is not an isolated phenomenon—it happens to many people my age—but in my case it’s a little like fretting over whether you have enough provisions for the winter while shoveling snow in January.

It’s also complicated a little by the fact I insist on listening to the radio pundits talking about the economy like they have some clue what actually drives it. They don’t. They’re as mystified by the machinations of the market as a squirrel would be by the instrument panel of a 747.

They just make stuff up after the fact to try to preserve the illusion they have some understanding of it.“The market dropped 100 points today, reacting to news that Feeblevetzer Widgets’ third-quarter profits were a quarter point lower than market analysts expected.”

This sounds very . . . expert . . . but is less honest than, “What the hell happened today? Everything seemed to be going swimmingly and then the bottom fell out. It makes no sense; the only bad news was that damned Feeblevetzer report, and that was only bad news because we were wrong about what we thought it would say.”

It’s very much the same sort of rationalizing retrospeak I use about my golf game. Instead of admitting I have no idea what went wrong, I babble about “cupping my wrist” or “my hands coming through too soon” or some such nonsense meant to express in acceptable terms my own lack of talent, thereby preserving the illusion I have a chance some day to control it.

It’s the best part of my game. If self-deception and rationalization were Olympic sports, I’d be elbowing the economic pundits for space on the victory podium. Like the pundits, it’s important to me that I get to keep playing, so I convince myself enlightenment—and success—is just around the corner.

It isn’t. What’s just around the corner is more flummoxification1 and a concomitant increase in my morning drive-time stomach acid.

Often, the biggest contributor to my malaise is China. I’ll be driving down Coast Highway, happy as a clam at high tide, when some radio guy will pontificate about us owing a brazillion gazillion dollars to the Chinese, which, if they ever called in the debt, would require us all to go back to cutting lawns and delivering papers for a living. He2 then explains how some tiny hiccup in present administration policy makes this not only inevitable but imminent. When he concludes, there are car crashes all over Newport Beach as my fellow drivers3 scramble to hit the speed-dial button to their broker.

I, having no broker, wend my way through the vehicular carnage of Newport Coast Drive4, trying desperately to determine which of my friends of Chinese extraction might vouch for me when our new overlords arrive from Beijing and begin assigning sharecropping franchises.

So I am always reassured when I run across something that reminds me the Chinese are every bit as screwed up as we are. This time it came from Time.

“This fall, young girls in China’s southern Guangdong province will be learning a new subject in school: how to avoid becoming a mistress.” Yep, that’s from Time Magazine. I couldn’t make this stuff up; my imagination is used up on golf excuses and the compilation of my “List of Nice Things I’ve Done for China and the Chinese People.”

It seems Chinese culture, like virtually all the cultures on the frigging planet, has been made up primarily by men. And they have—mirabile dictu—made it up to suit their own interests.

The result is that being a mistress has developed into an acceptable career path in China. Women—including graduates of some of China’s best universities—have increasingly been turning to mistresshood5 rather than more traditional career paths.

This may change once they realize how easy and lucrative the financial pundit game is, but for now, it’s a problem.

And what is the response of the Chinese government? Well, their first response was to make it illegal to keep a mistress. They actually passed legislation to that effect.6

Didn’t work. Seems all the MEN charged with enforcing the law either already had mistresses or hoped someday to have mistresses. Apparently the only way to make the law work was to put women in positions to enforce it, and that seemed way too revolutionary for a country as unaccustomed to revolution as China.

So now they’re turning to education. And who are they educating? The men who create the problem? Hell, no. That would be like treating the source of an infection instead of its symptoms. Who would be that stupid?

No, they’re going to educate the women to “just say no.” That should work like a charm. I’m sure they’ll have this problem licked in no time and can once again turn their attentions to swallowing up my nest egg.

On the other hand, Bob Mars sent me an article that indicates they may have their hands full on this one for awhile. The article is about Zhang Xuyang. Zhang is a nice-looking7, 32-year-old veteran of the People’s Liberation Army, who is now a low-level Communist Party Official. He is also “The Dating King of China.”

This is the title bestowed upon him by Chinese television, where he has been a frequent guest of late. Seems Zhang has gone on 700 blind dates in the last three years and laments the fact that “China’s materialistic society means that many of the women he meets are only interested in whether he owns his own car and house.” One replied to his suggestion they go on a bicycle ride by saying she would rather cry in the backseat of a BMW than laugh on a bicycle.

I might have written this off as the equivalent of my golf excuses. I mean, 700 women in three years doesn’t reflect a lot of time spent trying to get to know any of them. I might have suspected his commitment skills were comparable to my short game.

But, according to the article, Chinese censors last year shut down one of the country’s most popular dating shows “because of its overt materialism after a string of brutal and humiliating rejections for the men involved.” Apparently the college girls choosing mistresshood are not alone.

So the Chinese may have a lot of whirlwind reaping to do in the near future—maybe enough to keep their collective hands out of my cookie jar. They do have a bit of a history of coming up with . . . shall we say . . . counterintuitive8 solutions to problems.

Last month, Foxconn, one of the biggest companies in China, decided they had a problem with employees committing suicide. I’m not sure what the point of diminishing returns is on employee suicides in China, but this company decided they had reached it.

So what did they do? Did they re-examine their hiring policies? Did they conduct an in-depth investigation to determine whether there were common factors in the suicides? Did they try to improve working conditions?

No, they instituted a policy that requires all employees to sign a pledge promising they will not commit suicide while employed.

Maybe the economy will outlast my retirement after all.

Beds Notes
1. Flummoxification. Noun. The act or state of being flummoxed, bewildered, bemused or otherwise clueless. This word is not in the dictionary because the compilers of that book pronated prematurely, causing their hands to come through well before the market could react to a downturn in the price/value index of Tibetan yak halters.

2. Business reporters are almost always men. Women were late getting into this field because they spent so much time laughing at the ridiculous tripe spewed by the stupid men doing it. Then they found out how much money these idiots were pulling down.

3. The ones who actually LIVE in Newport and are not, like me, just driving their six-year-old car through it.

4. This is why there are so few old Mercedes-Benzes and Porsches on the road and so many new ones. Ford and Toyota dealerships don’t get a lot of business from morning economic reports—until the pundits start wringing their hands about the oil Armageddon we’re destined for. Then hybrid sales get a boost until the next morning’s pundit explains why Armageddon will be more like the Invasion of Grenada. Then sales drop off again.

5. A word that would be in the dictionary but for the annualized return on commodity debentures reflecting a cyclical inability to accelerate out of the Laffer curve on bentgrass greens.

6. I can only assume, “You can’t legislate morality”—a phrase so ubiquitous in American legislative circles that it was mistaken for the Surgeon General’s warning on cancer by 62% of the California legislature—is not yet part of the Chinese political vernacular.

7. I know this only because the article includes a picture. I actually watch very little Chinese television. Yet.

8. Actually, the right word here was catawamptious, but actualization of third-quarter profits and the downtick in the LIBOR overtook my ability to maintain a firm left side at impact, resulting in a pull hook rather than the high fade the shot called for.


William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. He can be contacted at william.bedsworth@jud.ca.gov.