BALTIMORE - We recently had our DNA checked.
Unsurprisingly, it showed that we are what we thought we were - Irish, English, and Scottish.
But we are something more.
In addition to the Irish riffraff, English aristocracy, and Scottish bagpipers nesting in our family tree, there are, apparently, some Moors in there, too.
"North African" is how Ancestry.com describes it.
"Where did that come from?" we asked no one in particular.
"Some sh*thole country!" came the answer.
Here, developing like a photo in a darkroom tray, is our modest contribution to Sh*thole Theory.
All Over the Place
When we first caught wind of President Trump's "sh*thole" comment, we were outraged. We thought he was talking about our hometown.
A family friend came to Baltimore for a visit last week:
- I couldn't believe it. You roll up your windows and lock the doors. And drive as fast as you can. There's just block after block of boarded-up houses and padlocked stores. It doesn't look as though anyone lives there. I don't see how anyone could live there.
We were, of course, relieved when we realized that our president was referring to foreign sh*tholes... not those in the USA.
But that's the problem with sh*tholes: They're all over the place.
And they don't stay put. Ireland was a sh*thole for about 400 years, after Oliver Cromwell's army laid waste to the country.
It was considered such a woebegone, poor, benighted backwater - and the "wild Irish" so disagreeable - that efforts were made to keep them from immigrating to the U.S.
Now, Ireland is not so bad. (We're on our way back there at the end of the month.)
China was a sh*thole when we first visited back in the 1980s. Nothing seemed to work. The roads were horrible. The people stared at us as though they were starving and we were a plump puppy.
But when we went back a couple of years ago, China didn't seem like a sh*thole at all. In many ways, it is more advanced than the U.S. - with more skyscrapers, luxury autos, and super-high-speed trains.
Same goes for Russia. A depressing place back in the early 1990s, Moscow is now considered one of the most dynamic and cosmopolitan cities in the world.
Visit to South Africa
One of the nice things about being from Baltimore is that we know a sh*thole when we see one.
On our first visit to South Africa, many years ago, we visited the country's largest ghetto, Soweto, expecting to see a real sh*thole.
This was during apartheid. Soweto had gotten a reputation as a murder zone; young black gangsters called "tsotsis" attacked passers-by... and often killed them.
But we have our tsotsis in Baltimore, too.
Gangs of youths - including young girls - have a go at people for no apparent reason. In a recent incident, they went to work on a young woman with a baseball bat, leaving her unconscious on the street.
The surprise was that Soweto was relatively cleaner and more prosperous than the ghettos of Baltimore.
With little help from the white-minority government, it looked as though the people of Soweto had taken it upon themselves to look after their homes, their families, and their township.
Here in Baltimore, they wait for a federal program.
Sh*thole Theory suggests that there are some bad places with bad people we wouldn't like to have as neighbors here in the U.S. But like all "public knowledge," it lacks specificity.
A recent study, for example, suggests that when African immigrants move into an African-American community, the crime rate there goes down.
And in London, African immigrants tend to earn more and get more advanced degrees than the native English population.
But we do not live in a "country," or know "the people" who live there. Instead, we know specific individuals and families in specific communities.
We've been visiting Nicaragua for nearly 20 years. The second-poorest country in Latin America after Haiti... and ruled by a socialist government... it would easily qualify as a "sh*thole."
Sh*thole Theory suggests that it is an awful place.
But in our experience, it's just the opposite. The people are among the nicest you'd meet anywhere. And the quality of life on Nicaragua's Pacific Coast can be the highest in the world.
One of the most felicitous scenes we've ever witnessed was in Nicaragua. Children had tied a rope to a tree leaning over a river. They swung out over the water and jumped in. No computers. No big screen. No admittance fee.
None of them had any money. None had modern appliances (most houses had dirt floors... or, for wealthier people, concrete). None of them were likely to go to college... or end up with a fat sinecure working for the Deep State.
Would we want to have them as neighbors? Sure, why not? We could use a cheap gardener.
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