Wednesday, December 31, 2008

One Word

In a few weeks a much-discussed biographical movie should be coming to Hilo. Its subject is a man, who in his brief time upon the national stage, had everyone talking. Just as he was about to reach new heights of achievement, he was brutally gunned down. The title of this movie is only one word. But one word can say it all.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Kunstler's Forecast for 2009

Reprinted in full. Curiously, there's no mention of Dubai, so extravagant it makes Las Vegas look like an Amish village.

December 29, 2008
Forecast for 2009

There are two realities "out there" now competing for verification among those who think about national affairs and make things happen. The dominant one (let's call it the Status Quo) is that our problems of finance and economy will self-correct and allow the project of a "consumer" economy to resume in "growth" mode. This view includes the idea that technology will rescue us from our fossil fuel predicament -- through "innovation," through the discovery of new techno rescue remedy fuels, and via "drill, baby, drill" policy. This view assumes an orderly transition through the current "rough patch" into a vibrant re-energized era of "green" Happy Motoring and resumed Blue Light Special shopping.

The minority reality (let's call it The Long Emergency) says that it is necessary to make radically new arrangements for daily life and rather soon. It says that a campaign to sustain the unsustainable will amount to a tragic squandering of our dwindling resources. It says that the "consumer" era of economics is over, that suburbia will lose its value, that the automobile will be a diminishing presence in daily life, that the major systems we've come to rely on will founder, and that the transition between where we are now and where we are going is apt to be tumultuous.

My own view is obviously the one called The Long Emergency.

Since the change it proposes is so severe, it naturally generates exactly the kind of cognitive dissonance that paradoxically reinforces the Status Quo view, especially the deep wishes associated with saving all the familiar, comfortable trappings of life as we have known it. The dialectic between the two realities can't be sorted out between the stupid and the bright, or even the altruistic and the selfish. The various tech industries are full of MIT-certified, high-achiever Status Quo techno-triumphalists who are convinced that electric cars or diesel-flavored algae excreta will save suburbia, the three thousand mile Caesar salad, and the theme park vacation. The environmental movement, especially at the elite levels found in places like Aspen, is full of Harvard graduates who believe that all the drive-in espresso stations in America can be run on a combination of solar and wind power. I quarrel with these people incessantly. It seems especially tragic to me that some of the brightest people I meet are bent on mounting the tragic campaign to sustain the unsustainable in one way or another. But I have long maintained that life is essentially tragic in the sense that history won't care if we succeed or fail at carrying on the project of civilization.

While the public supposedly voted for "change" this fall, I maintain that they underestimate the changes really at hand. I voted for "change" myself in pulling the lever for Barack Obama. I regard him as a figure of intelligence and sensibility, but I'm far from convinced that he really sees the kind of change we are in for, and I fret about the measures he'll promote to rescue the Status Quo when he moves into the White House a few weeks from now.

Where We Are Now

Without reviewing all the vertiginous particulars of the year now ending, suffice it to say that the US economy fell on its ass and that the "global economy" did a face-plant as well. The American banking sector imploded spectacularly to the degree that investment banking actually went extinct -- as if a meteor landed on the corner of Madison Avenue and 51st Street. The response by our government was to shovel "loans" onto the loading dock of every organization that pretended to be something like a bank, while "bailing out" an ever-longer line of corporate claimants with a pitiable song-and-dance. The oil markets went on a roller coaster ride. The housing bubble collapse grew to avalanche velocity (taking out whole colonies of realtors, mortgage brokers, and construction contractors in its path), the commercial real estate sector developed hemorrhagic fever, retail drove off a cliff on Christmas Eve, the stock market fell in the toilet, jobs and incomes went up in a vapor, and tens of millions of ordinary citizens addicted to revolving credit found themselves in a life-and-death struggle for the means of existence. None of this is over yet.

The Year Ahead

Much of what has been lost in 2008 will not be recovered: enterprises, personal fortunes, chattels, reputations.

I expect a period of euphoria to mark the early weeks, perhaps months, of the Obama team. It will be a relief to have a president who speaks English correctly and has experienced something like real life prior to politics. Restoring credibility and legitimacy in leadership will be a big deal. If nothing else, we may recover a collective sense of consequence from a president who tells the truth, even the harsh truth. The age when it was enough to claim that "mistakes were made" might be over. A sign of this sort of change may be the commencement of prosecutions for misdeeds in banking and securities that are now destroying the entire system of deployable capital. A good place to start will be an investigation of Henry Paulson for insider trading stemming from Goldman Sachs's shorting of its own issued mortgage-backed securities when Mr. Paulson was the company's CEO. Beyond his case, there should be enough work at Attorney General Eric Holder's office to employ a line of law school graduates stretching from Brattle Street to the planet Mars. It will be salutary for the nation to see those who engineered the banking collapse come to greater grief than the mere surrender of their Gulfstream jets and Hamptons villas. By the way, being allergic to conspiracy theories, I don't believe for a minute that there is some kind of shadow elite of "Bilderburgers" standing in the background to protect these grifters -- and I also believe the reason these paranoid notions persist is because it is otherwise hard to account for the extravagant irresponsibility of the Bush circle and its servelings.

Apart from "cleaning up Dodge," so to speak, and from issues of collective character-and conscience-in-office, I worry that the avalanche of troubles already ongoing will overwhelm Mr. Obama and his people. It's also well worth worrying whether they will pursue policies similar in kind to the ones pursued by Bush, namely throwing money at everything and anything, and it sure looks like they are planning to do just that. I am especially concerned about an "infrastructure stimulus" project aimed at highway improvement at the expense of public transit. This would be the epitome of a campaign to sustain the unsustainable. We need to begin planning right away for a transition away from automobiles, not in order to be good socialists but because Happy Motoring is at the core of our unsustainability trap. The car system is going to fail in manifold ways whether we like it or not, and it will fail due to circumstances already underway. For one thing, it will cease to be democratic as the remnants of the middle class find it impossible to get car loans, or pay for fuel, or insurance, and that will set in motion a very impressive politics-of-grievance setting apart those who are still able to enjoy motoring and those who have been foreclosed from it. Contrary to what you might make of the the current situation in the oil markets, we are in for a heap of trouble with both the price and supply of petroleum (more on this below). And there is no chance in hell that any techno rescue remedy to keep all the cars running by other means will materialize.

A consensus in the blogoshpere says that the stock markets will rebound strongly during the first Obama months. This is possible just on the basis of pure "animal spirits," but the Obama Bounce will occur against a background of continued dismal business and financial news. It will appear to defy that news. By May of 2009, the stock markets will resume crashing with the ultimate destination of a Dow 4000 before the end of the year. Meanwhile, jobs will vanish by the millions and companies will go bankrupt by the thousands, especially in the so-called service sector, and in all the suppliers of such, along with the landlords in all the malls and strip malls. The desolation will mount quickly and will be obvious in the empty storefronts and trash-filled parking lagoons. In the event, two things will become increasingly clear to the nation: that the consumer economy is dead, and that there is no more available credit of the kind that Americans are in the habit of enjoying.

We'll turn around early in 2009 and discover that we are a much poorer nation than we thought because from now on credit will be extremely hard to get for anyone for anything. The businesses that survive will have to keep going on the basis of accounts receivable. This is the area where the crash of giants will be heard. I've been saying since publication of The long Emergency that comprehensive downscaling in all our activities, from farming to business to schooling to governance, will be the categorical imperative of the years ahead. Giant enterprises requiring giant loans to get from quarter to quarter will tend to not make it. Borrowing from the future will become a practical impossibility as past bad debts from previous borrowings continue to unwind, cease performing, and get written off. This argument implies that the federal government will tend to flounder just as General Motors, Citicorp, Target Stores and other gigantic enterprises will tend to flounder. It would be sad to see a President Obama so hamstrung and helpless, and it is largely why I see his role as largely symbolic -- as a reassuring presence encouraging the distressed public to bravely bear their hardships, and to be kind and helpful among their neighbors.

Households, like businesses, will have to pay as they go from earned income. The house as ATM is over. Credit cards are maxed out and credit ceilings are lowering like the ceiling in "The Pit and the Pendulum," preparing to slice-and-dice the old "normal" of family life in America. Bankruptcy will be the new Nascar. A lot of families will lose everything. They will sift and disperse into the housing owned by other family members -- parents, siblings -- and a strange new not-altogether comfortable kind of togetherness will become common. Over time, a lot of people will go looking for casual work "under-the-table"( and probably low-paying). To some degree, these workers will begin to look and act like a new servant class, and before too long they may be absorbed into the households of people who employ them. There will be plenty of room for them there.

Counties, municipalities, and states will join in the bankruptcy fiesta. It would be reasonable to expect collapsing services as a result. This would be a situation fraught with danger -- of rising crime, of public health emergencies as water systems are not kept up and sewage treatment becomes unaffordable. I don't imagine the federal government stepping into every Podunk or Metropolis from sea to shining sea and propping up these services. People will have to cope with danger and deprivation.

2009 may be the point where we begin to understand what kinds of places will be more hospitable to human society further ahead. I maintain that our giant urban metroplexes have way overshot their sustainable scale and will contract severely. With all the economic hardship, we ought to expect a lot of demographic churning, people leaving hopeless places and moving on to something more promising. I believe we will see them move to smaller towns and smaller cities. The reorganization of the rural landscape into smaller-scaled farms has not begun to occur -- though 2009 might be very hard on agribusiness, given the shortage of capital and if oil begins to march up in price by late winter. Eventually, the rural landscape will require the labor of many more people than is currently the case. Whatever else happens, 2009 will surely see a massive return to home gardening as budgets become strained to the extreme. As the New Urbanist Andres Duany said recently, "Gardening is the new Golf!"

The oil scene

Many were stunned this year to witness the parabolic rise and fall of oil prices up to nearly $150 and then back around $36 by Christmas time. Quite a ride. I said in The Long Emergency that volatility would be the hallmark of post peak oil because it was obvious that advanced economies could not absorb super high prices and would crash in response; that at some point after crashing, these economies would respond to the new lower oil price, resume their cheap oil habits, and build to another price rise. . . and crash again. . . in a declension of ever-lower industrial activity.

What I probably didn't realize at the time was how destructive this cycling between low-high-and-low oil prices would actually be in the first instance of it, and what a toll it would take right off the bat. We can see now that our first journey through the cycle took out the most fragile of the complex systems we depend on: capital finance. As a result, a huge amount of capital (say $14 trillion) has evaporated out of the system, never to be seen again (and never to be deployed for productive purposes). It will be harder for the USA to rebound from the grievous injury to this crucial part of the overall system, and Europe has foundered similarly -- though the European nations are not burdened to the same degree by the awful liabilities of suburbia.

Even if these advanced economies -- throw in Japan too -- remain moribund, the price and supply prospects for oil look ominous. My own guess is that the price of oil has overshot on the low end just as it overshot on the high end, and that, when all is said and done, we'll still see an upwardly trending price line over the long haul. The plunge, which began right after the $147 peak in July 2008, was as much the result of banks, hedge funds, and individuals dumping oil investments and positions to raise cash as it was a matter of the markets predicting a sharp fall-off in economic activity (and supposedly oil consumption). The truth is that demand destruction for oil in the USA has been surprising mild compared to the drop in price. Jim Hansen's Master Resource Report says that gasoline consumption dropped from 9.29 million barrels a day in 2007 to 8.99 million barrels a day for 2008. That's not much of a fall-off, especially compared to the price drop.

As Julian Darley of the Post Carbon Institute put it recently: "There won't be any energy bail-out." And, as many other people have noted, the recent plunge in oil prices strongly implies future supply destruction, since so many planned oil projects have been suspended or cancelled because they are economic losers at $40-a-barrel (or even $70). Even projects well underway, such as Canadian tar sand production, have been scaled back or shut down because they don't make sense at current prices. Some of these other newer projects will now never get underway -- they have missed their window of opportunity with so much capital leaving the system -- and so the hope of offsetting very-near-future depletions in old giant oil fields looks dimmer and dimmer.

Those depletions are very serious. For instance, Mexico's super-giant Cantarell oil field, the second-largest ever discovered after Saudi Arabia's Ghawar field, has shown a 30 percent depletion rate in the past year alone. (Pemex had forecast a 15 percent rate entering the year.) Cantarell provides over 60 percent of Mexico's total production, and Mexico is America's third largest source of imports -- just after Saudi Arabia (#2) and Canada (#1). Obviously, Mexico soon will lose its ability to export oil, and as that occurs, America is going to feel more than pinch -- more like a two-by-four upside the head. In short, remorseless depletion is underway and we are less likely now than even a year ago, to make up for it.

At some point, then, demand, even if slightly lower, will catch up with declining supply. My prediction for 2009 is that we will see two things occur, possibly at the same time: a resumption of rising prices, and spot shortages. I say this because the global economic fiasco is sure to produce geopolitical friction, and inasmuch as America has to import almost three-quarters of the oil we use, the prospect for trouble is great.

The tragic part of all this, of course, is that the temporary plunge in oil prices has prompted an incurious American public to assume, once again, that the global oil predicament is some kind of a fraud. Given the flood tide of fraud they have been subject to in banking and investment matters, I suppose you can't blame them from thinking that everything is some kind of a scam. Given feeble car sales this season, there are reports that an increasing percentage of those sold now are are trucks and SUVs.

Though I give Boone Pickens high marks for stepping up to the leadership plate, I'm not altogether on board with his energy proposal for swapping natural gas for gasoline in motor fuels while we swap out wind power for natural gas in electric power generation. I don't believe that the ballyhooed shale-gas-plays of the last few years will prove-out long-term, as some huckster's claim. They are expensive to drill and run, and they all tend to deplete very quickly -- around one year. I'm not convinced we have the capital or the resources even to come up with the steel necessary to drill for it. Anyway, the last thing we need is a way to prolong our car-dependency.

In the meantime, there are still those who hope (as described above) that various systems will insure the continuation of Happy Motoring. This is an idle hope, and 2009 will be very sobering for those who imagine that hybrid cars, or electric cars, or "air" cars, or natural gas cars, or any other kind of car technology will save the day. Even if President Obama mounts an "infrastructure stimulus" program, it will not keep up with all the necessary routine road repair that our highway system requires. The extreme financial hardship faced by localities and states insures that they will have to postpone a lot of expensive highway maintenance -- even if the federal government fixes a big bunch of bridges and tunnels -- and so we face the interesting prospect that our roadway systems will enter their own deadly zone of systemic failure even before the whole car issue is settled.

I am waiting to see whether Mr. Obama will undertake a restoration of passenger railroad service. I've said enough about this in the past, but it's worth reiterating that a failure to get comprehensive passenger rail service going will be a sign of how fundamentally unserious we are as a nation.

The Specter of Inflation

This is the "other shoe" that a lot of people are waiting to drop. Right now we are caught up in a compressive debt deflation as mortgages stop "performing" and loans of all kinds are welshed on. Since money is loaned into existence, and a great many loans are not being repaid, then a lot of money is going out of existence. That's what I mean when I say that capital is leaving the system. At the same time, the Federal Reserve has made good on its promise to drop money from helicopters if necessary to prevent an implosion of the banking system (as all that older money goes out of existence), and so it's now a question as to when the amount of new money will exceed the disappeared old money. (Of course when I say money, I mean "money," because we are dealing here in a shadow realm of assumed value.) In any case, there is bound to be a lag period between the time that the Fed's money is dropped from the choppers and the time it actually filters through the banks and other recipients to the so-called "real economy" of people who buy and sell real things. The credible estimates I hear run between six and 18 months.

I'll only venture to guess that we could see the start of serious inflation sometime in 2009. To some extent, all currencies are now free-falling together, some at slightly faster rates than others, but the situation of the US dollar is so grotesquely dire, and our structural imbalances so monumental, that it is hard to imagine that our currency will not win the international race to the bottom. Gold resumed its movement upward against the dollar a week before Christmas, and that may be an early sign. The government -- and anyone badly in debt -- benefits much more from inflation than deflation, so every effort will be made to avert the latter. The trouble lies in the government's dumb incapacity to control dangerous things that it sets in motion, so that an inflationary campaign to avoid compressive deflation can so easily lead to a fiasco of super or hyper inflation -- the kind that kills governments and turns societies into murderous monsters. I'll forecast the that the US dollar is worth 40 percent of its current value by next Christmas.


Well, now, who the hell knows what's in store. Aside from a few bombs here and there, and pirates skulking around the horn of Africa, the world scene was miraculously free of major incidents in 2008 -- perhaps the worst being a toss up between the September [November, actually--P.Z.] Mumbai bombings and the fiasco in Georgia, where the US prompted Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili to send troops into the South Ossetia region and the move was answered by overwhelming force from neighboring Russia, leaving the US looking feckless and retarded for our troubles. But otherwise, there wasn't a whole lot of action out there.

Until the last few days of the year, that is. I'm sure the ever-growing cohort of American anti-semites who send me emails will be tickled when I assert that the Hamas rocket attacks against Israel of recent days guaranteed a sharp response from Israel -- and now, of course, Hamas is playing the crybaby card: "... what'd we do to deserve this...?" Well, you fucking fired a bunch rockets into Israel. Did you ever hear of cause-and-effect? This matter requires no further elucidation, except that it seems to suggest a ramping back up of hostilities. I wonder if it is the beginning of a new coordinated offensive by Islamic extremism aimed at taking advantage of the West's current economic plight (and the West's probable aversion to anything that will complicate its desired recovery). We'll know in a month or so, I think, since any coordinated campaign (if such a thing were possible) might well be aimed at confounding the new American president.

The other hot corner of the world right now is the India-Pakistan border where the 60-year-old rivalry, which has already produced three wars, looks to be gearing up for yet another round. I'm not the first one to say that Pakistan is an extremely dangerous regional player, being an economic basket case, possessing a score or so of nuclear bombs, harboring more Islamic fundamentalist maniacs than any other place in the world, and having a government held together with duct tape and twine. The caper in Mumbai last September could well have been construed as an act of war, but somehow India kept its head. Who knows where this is going. . . .

So far I have only described what is already obviously going on. Add to this the likelihood that Iran is closer to achieving membership in the atomic weapon club. They've been spinning their centrifuges all year and nobody has done anything about it. My guess is that neither the US nor Israel will attempt to take out their facilities in the year ahead. If Iran used a nuclear device against Israel, or anybody else, they would be asking to become, in turn, the world's largest ashtray. End of story. A different story, though, is how Iran might behave if and when the US Military presence in Iraq is reduced. I can imagine Iran doing anything possible surreptitiously to gain control over Iraq's southern oil regions around Basra, but even the Iraqi Shia don't like the Iranian Shia that much. Anyway, iran's economy has suffered hugely from the fall in oil prices. That nation may be in for more internal trouble than they have seen in thirty years since the Shah was tossed out by the minions of Ayatollah Khomeini.

There's been a lot of sentiment the past year that as the US and the Europe fall into economic disarray, China would emerge as the great new hegemonic superpower. While it's come a long way in a quarter-century, China's internal problems are still enormous and worsening. They're in trouble with water, food imports, mass unemployment, and energy. They have locked in some oil contracts around the world, but they are still susceptible to vagaries in the oil markets and Black Swan events. As the US consumer economy falls into a coma, and the shipping containers from China to WalMart get sparser, the Chinese government will face the wrath of millions of unemployed workers. I believe they will struggle through 2009, perhaps growing more surly as the US dollar inflates and their holdings of treasury bills begins to look more like a swindle.

Russia may be suffering economically for the moment due to the crash of oil prices, but they are energy resource-rich -- at least for the next couple of decades -- and if they don't like the current price, they can keep more of their oil in the ground until the price looks more attractive. I think Mr. Putin has the confidence of the Russian people and will survive the current malaise.

Japan remains a riddle wrapped in toasted nori. They're beggaring their own factory workers to stay solvent. Their banking sector has been zombified for a generation. They import 95 percent of the energy they use. Do they have a plan? One can imagine them sliding in resignation back to something like the sixteenth century, giving up the whole industrial circus as more trouble than it's worth, just as they once gave up on firearms.

The over-arching geopolitical theme of 2009 will be the end of robust globalism as we've known it for some time. Reduced trade, competition for energy resources, sore feelings over debts and currencies will drive the nations inward or, at least, direct their energies toward their own regions. Note to Tom Friedman: the world turned out to be round after all.


The big theme for 2009 economically will be contraction. The end of the cheap energy era will announce itself as the end of conventional "growth" and the shrinking back of activity, wealth, and populations. Contraction will come as a great shock to a world of conventionally programmed economists. They will toil and sweat to account for it, and they will probably be wrong. Unfortunately, this contraction will do its work in unpleasant ways, driving down standards of living, shearing away hopes and expectations for a particular life of comfort, and introducing disorder to so many of the systems we have depended on for so long. People will starve, lose their homes, lose incomes and status, and lose the security of living in peaceful societies. It will become clear that the Long Emergency is underway.

My hope for the year, at least for my own society, is that we will transition away from being a nation of complacent, distracted, over-fed clowns, to become a purposeful and responsible people willing to put their shoulders to the wheel to get some things done. My motto for the new year: "no more crybabies!"

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Grid

Our Christmas was fairly mellow. It was cold and overcast and I read one of my gifts, An Incomplete Education. Also I watched the marathon of A Christmas Story.

As it was snowing on the mainland, so was a storm brewing over Hawaii. About ten, we heard loud thunder and rain. Yesterday, the storm continued. Honolulu had a blackout, which really underscored how much people depend on electricity. Obama already had a generator in place, but HECO brought another one to supplement it.

That brings me to mention the book I bought as a gift for my father: Just in Case: How to be Self-Sufficient When the Unexpected Happens, by Kathy Harrison. The power grid is not as reliable as we think, even as demand for electricity increases. I recommend the book very much.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Ocean of Babel

Interesting essay in Forbes about the Internet fragmenting everything. I'll have to read it more thoroughly but can, right now, disagree that the 'Net merely feeds users' tastes and reinforces their previously held ideas. Some things I just wouldn't have discovered without going online.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What Now? Hawaii Free Press Ascends Into the Aether

Hawaii Free Press is becoming a solely online paper. The 7 December print edition is its last. Editor-publisher Andrew Walden attributes his going online to the high cost in money and time of printing and distribution. Interestingly, HFP hadn't had a website until very recently.

Walden also points out the "Big Island newspaper-Democrat revolving door.":

"...[A] couple of quick items from local blogs which illustrate a permanent conflict of interest: reporters are eyeing a job in government. Since almost all elected positions are held by Democrats, this creates an unspoken alliance between journalists and Democratic Party candidates and officeholders."

One should find this dismaying, no matter what one's politics are.

11 January update: I just found this Big Island Chronicle post on HFP's becoming online only.

Monday, December 08, 2008

'People Get Ready'

From Kunstler's latest column:

President-elect Obama has announced his intention to kick off a massive "stimulation" program when he hits the White House "running" in January. Early indications are that it will be directed at things like highway repair. If so, we will be investing long-term in infrastructure that we probably won't be using the same way in ten years. But I doubt there is any way around it. The American public can't conceive of living any other way except in a car-centered society. Anyway, some parts of our highway-bridge-and-tunnel system are already so decrepit that they pose a menace right now, and the clamor to direct "stimulation" there is already very strong -- backed by all the fraternities of engineers.

Stimulus aimed at perpetuating mass motoring will be a tragic waste of our dwindling resources. We'd be better off aiming it at fixing the railroads (especially electrifying them), refitting our harbors with piers and warehouses in preparation to move more stuff by boats, and in repairing the electric grid. Unfortunately, our tendency will be to try to rescue the totemic touchstones of everyday life, things familiar and comfortable, regardless of whether they have a future or not.

The ominous forces gathering out there will defeat these efforts and everyday life will reorganize itself some other way consistent with the single greatest trend: the force of contraction. Every sign we see is pointing in that direction, from the inability of the earth's ecology to support more human beings, to the dwindling of mineral and energy resources, to the destruction of farmland, to mischief in the climate. We just don't know how badly things will fall apart in the meantime, or how kind (or cruelly) people will act in the process.

Mr. Obama would be most successful if he could persuade the public how much more severe the required changes are than they currently realize, and inspire them to get with program of retrofitting American life to comply with these realities.
A recent article in The Hawaii Tribune-Herald quoted Hilo Harbormaster Ian Birnie on the state of Hilo's piers. I'll try to find the article.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Caught Out There

Lew Rockwell passes along David Gordon's pointing out a mistake by economist Brad DeLong, who then went into defense mode:

Writes David:

Did you see Brad DeLong's attack on Mises? He wrongly said that Mises cited two authors in a misleading way. When I pointed out that he himself failed to note that his citations to Theory of Money and Credit were to the 1944 appendix, not the original text, he almost immediately shut off comments. See the bottom of comments on the Mises entry .
All of the quotations from Mises are from the Appendix, "Planned Chaos", written in 1944. This isn't in the original edition.

Posted by: David Gordon | December 03, 2008 at 06:23 PM

OK. Time to cut this off and prune it down to something useful...

Posted by: Brad DeLong | December 03, 2008 at 06:34 PM

Mickslam, are you $%#$ kidding me? Taxes don't create demand, they substitute it. The money that was in the hand of the citizen was to be directed in a manner as he demanded, the government takes the money, and substitutes the demand for a government one, less, of course, the administrative costs of taking and spending it.

This is why the price level is not stable in a Keynesian system, but are in a long term trend increasing with periodic deflationary crashes.

Posted by: Mick | December 03, 2008 at 06:37 PM

could be a lot of pruning.

Posted by: Colin Danby | December 03, 2008 at 06:41 PM

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Unnecessary Name Changes

Steve Sailer takes on the Name Game:

They couldn't say "Terrorists Strike in Mumbai" because few of the local rag's readers know in what country "Mumbai" is. Readers have heard of "Bombay." They've eaten at Bombay Bicycle Club restaurants and they've bought end tables from Bombay Co. Furniture stores, so they mostly know Bombay is a city in India. But, Mumbai they don't know from Kolkata [Calcutta, naturally--P.Z.] or Chennai [Madras--P.Z.]. So, the headline writer has to refer to "Indian City" because the English-language media recently stopped using the place name that has been used in English for centuries.

The effect, of course, is what normally happens when names are changed. The Name Game just makes most people more ignorant (while giving a few people another reason to self-congratulate over their superior sensitivity). Older Americans who grew up hearing about Bombay can't understand today's news; and younger Americans who are growing up hearing about Mumbai won't be able to understand all the books in the library that refer to Bombay.
In his 1991 book, BAD: Or, the Dumbing of America, Paul Fussell opines:

"Intellectuals tend to go in for self-righteous enthusiasms, and it is they (as well as politicians) who lie behind the BAD idea of changing the names of their countries from time to time, making the study of history and geography more difficult than necessary. It is they who decide that Ceylon should now be known as Sri Lanka, Rhodesia as Zimbabwe, and Upper Volta as Burkina Faso."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The (Dis)United States of America

From the Drudge Report:

Tue Nov 25 2008 09:04:22 ET

A leading Russian political analyst has said the economic turmoil in the United States has confirmed his long-held view that the country is heading for collapse, and will divide into separate parts.

Professor Igor Panarin said in an interview with the respected daily IZVESTIA published on Monday: "The dollar is not secured by anything. The country's foreign debt has grown like an avalanche, even though in the early 1980s there was no debt. By 1998, when I first made my prediction, it had exceeded $2 trillion. Now it is more than 11 trillion. This is a pyramid that can only collapse."

The paper said Panarin's dire predictions for the U.S. economy, initially made at an international conference in Australia 10 years ago at a time when the economy appeared strong, have been given more credence by this year's events.

When asked when the U.S. economy would collapse, Panarin said: "It is already collapsing. Due to the financial crisis, three of the largest and oldest five banks on Wall Street have already ceased to exist, and two are barely surviving. Their losses are the biggest in history. Now what we will see is a change in the regulatory system on a global financial scale: America will no longer be the world's financial regulator."

When asked who would replace the U.S. in regulating world markets, he said: "Two countries could assume this role: China, with its vast reserves, and Russia, which could play the role of a regulator in Eurasia."

Asked why he expected the U.S. to break up into separate parts, he said: "A whole range of reasons. Firstly, the financial problems in the U.S. will get worse. Millions of citizens there have lost their savings. Prices and unemployment are on the rise. General Motors and Ford are on the verge of collapse, and this means that whole cities will be left without work. Governors are already insistently demanding money from the federal center. Dissatisfaction is growing, and at the moment it is only being held back by the elections and the hope that Obama can work miracles. But by spring, it will be clear that there are no miracles."

He also cited the "vulnerable political setup", "lack of unified national laws", and "divisions among the elite, which have become clear in these crisis conditions."

He predicted that the U.S. will break up into six parts - the Pacific coast, with its growing Chinese population; the South, with its Hispanics; Texas, where independence movements are on the rise; the Atlantic coast, with its distinct and separate mentality; five of the poorer central states with their large Native American populations; and the northern states, where the influence from Canada is strong.

He even suggested that "we could claim Alaska - it was only granted on lease, after all." Panarin, 60, is a professor at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and has authored several books on information warfare.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

What Now?

As far as I know, Hunter Bishop isn't linking to Kristine Kubat's new blog, Kubehead. It's as if he's hoping, maybe if I don't link to it, Kubehead will wither and die. Though off to a rough start, Kubat has this interesting post on the recent mmeting of Public Works and Planning. The Tribune-Herald reported on similarly lively meetings about Mauna Kea and the military.

Meanwhile, Ian Lind gives Andrew Walden props for his reporting on Hawaiian mortgage scams.

I have to credit Andrew Walden, who all too often slips far over the edge into ideological territory, for sticking largely to the record in his review of information available online concerning Mahealani Ventura-Oliver, the woman in the middle of an alleged scam aimed at Native Hawaiians. Walden follows many of the same sources cited here the past two days and is able to paint quite a picture of Ventura-Oliver and the larger network of which she is a part.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Overused Typeface: Copperplate Gothic

I had a hunch that Copperplate Gothic is overused. Searching online for "overused Copperplate Gothic," I found others who think so, too. But unlike those who want to get rid of it completely, I think CG is appropriate in some places. Papyrus, however, needs a long hibernation.

More later.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Wastrel Show: Cancelled?

Boomie of The Wastrel Show blog has endorsed McCain, praising him in many of her recent posts. So I wondered how she was taking Obama's victory. Apparently the blog's been taken down, which I find curious.

Neither candidate really was (or is) an advocate of frugality in government. Boomie might've considered Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party. After Ron Paul (who endorsed Baldwin), he was the thriftiest-minded presidential candidate this year.

From Wikipedia:

Baldwin says he would end all federal income taxes and phase out the Internal Revenue Service.[34]

Regarding tariffs, Baldwin has made conflicting statements. In an interview, he said "what I would propose is an across-the-board, general 10-percent tariff on all imports and that would meet the Constitution's prescription for financing the federal government—duties, imposts, tariffs"[47] which, he claims, would also help keep jobs in the United States.[48] But Baldwin's website says that "a tariff on foreign imports, based on the difference between the foreign item's cost of production abroad and the cost of production of a similar item produced in the United States, would be a Constitutional step toward a fair trade policy that would protect American jobs and, at the same time, raise revenue for our national government."[49]

He has said that as president he would streamline the federal government, and tap oil reserves in Alaska, the Dakotas, and the Gulf of Mexico. He believes the United States should return to the gold standard.[34]

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Monday, November 03, 2008

Election Eve

Kunstler's Election Eve column, with the really good stuff bolded.

November 3, 2008
A Nervous Nation

This is a nervous nation. Though I'm usually allergic to paranoia, something makes me think that there's a back office in the US Treasury that is buying the entire Dow Jones Industrial Index at opportune moments -- like fifteen minutes before the closing bell -- at the direction of Mr. Paulson. He seems to easily spend $50 billion a day on other dubious hand-outs. At that scale, buying the whole Dow would just take his walking-around money. The idea behind it, my paranoid fugue goes, is to jack up the stock market enough around election day to give the dimmer members of the voting public the idea that the financial fiasco is over and happy days are here again. You can't put this past the Republican party, despite John McCain's friendly turn on Saturday Night Live, consorting with "the enemy" for laughs.

Apart from that, McCain has run the flat-out most scurrilous campaign I've ever seen, despite his reputation as a war hero and a sterling fellow among the senators. He's run a campaign of malicious innuendo and slander, seemingly aimed at voters who would have trouble qualifying for the Special Olympics. And you have to wonder whether he actually requested Vice-president Dick Cheney to lay that "kiss-of-death" endorsement on him at the last moment. It could only have been better if Mr. Cheney borrowed some trick-or-treater's Darth Vadar costume for the grand occasion.

What many people are nervous about, of course, is the chance of shenanigans with the voting tally. Just one minor feature of the general paralysis gripping this society has been our inability to get rid of those mischievous Diebold computerized voting machines that leave no paper trail. By the way, these touchscreen voting units are an example of the diminishing returns of technology. There was nothing wrong with the old mechanical units, but by making over-investments in complexity we've just created more problems for ourselves. This ought to be a warning to those in the thrall of techno-triumphalism.

People are nervous not just because Mr. Obama might be swindled out of a victory, but because John McCain might get elected. Credibility in his judgment dissolved about eleven minutes after he picked the Bombshell from Wasilla to be a heartbeat away from the oval office. Anyway, the Republican Party needs to crawl off to a dark hole somewhere and either pupate into something better or die -- as the Whigs did in 1856. The Republican Party is not through wrecking America. They have three more months to destroy the US dollar and the economy that runs on it. And with Mr. Paulson shoving out pallet-loads of bundled dollars to the likes of JP Morgan, so they can continue doing the very thing that provoked this financial fiasco -- lending money recklessly to anyone with a pulse-- they might just "get her done!"

Other people are afraid that Mr. Obama will hand out bales of money, too, only to a different class of people. I suppose he will. I hope he will show restraint and apply it to public works that benefit all Americans -- such as my pet project of restoring passenger railroad service so people don't have to drive, for instance, from Atlanta to Louisville or Cleveland to Columbus. Even so, the new President will face not only a tide of woes created by his predecessor, but very likely, too, an obese and ineffectual federal bureaucracy unable to carry out even well-intentioned programs.

He will take office in what may be the darkest economic year this country has ever faced. 2009 shows every sign of being worse than this one, with house foreclosures and car re-pos accelerating, companies hemorrhaging jobs, oil prices heading back up (with shortages possible), and a large new group of the formerly middle class growing restive and sore in the background. It will be an historic act of governance if he can keep the lid on all this. Many people will be worrying, of course, whether he will even survive. The ghost of JFK and the dashed hopes he represented (however real or illusory) still haunt this nation.

Apart from the awful debt deflation and probable rebound hyper-inflation that will whipsaw the nation cross-eyed, the new president will face the energy question. I hope he learns the fundamental lesson: that the only way we can hope to become "energy independent" is to severely reform our car-dependent living arrangements and live more locally. Anybody who believes we're going to run the interstate highways and WalMart on solar, wind, tar sands (which belong to Canada, by the way), oil shale, methane gas, algae-diesel, or used fry-max® is going to be disappointed. We'll have to inhabit the terrain of North America differently -- in traditional towns, villages, cities (scaled smaller, to a lower energy diet), as well as a productive agricultural landscape that will require more attention from live human beings (and maybe help from our friends, the animals).
Much of the real work of the next president will be guiding a transition out of obsolete habits, practices, and expectations that we must shed whether we like it or not. The painful downscaling of the financial sector, from a bloated 20+ percent of the US economy back to something more in the 5 percent range, is only the first of these agonies. The transition away from suburbia -- our tragic misallocation of resources in an infrastructure for daily life with no future -- will be even more harrowing because of the psychology of previous investment, which will provoke a misguided effort to sustain the unsustainable, and squander our dwindling resources in the process.

I reject the label "gloom-and-doomer" where these difficult transitions are concerned. There's a lot about the way we live now that is disgusting, degrading, demoralizing, and socially toxic -- from our suicidal diet of processed fat, salt, and corn syrup byproducts to the spiritually punishing everyday realm of the highway strip to the fantastic loneliness and alienation of a people made hostage to a TV-consumer nexus of corporate colonialism. Were done with that. We just don't know it yet. Mr. Obama may not know it, either, but he is a trustworthy soul to hold our hands as we enter this unknown territory.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

What Now?: Alan McNarie's Blog

Former Hawaii Island Journal writer Alan McNarie follows the lead of Hunter Bishop, et al. and has set up a blog, which I just found this Sunday evening. Most of the posts so far are his previously published articles, but McNarie has original stuff, like a commentary on Sarah Palin.

22 February update: This is Alan's site devoted to his fractured Christmas carols.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Update: I've added Wall $treet Folly to the Economics and Fionance section of "The Ever-Evolving List of Links" post (click on "All Links" in the sidebar). Like Dealbreaker it takes a detailed look at the Wall Street subculture.

Harry's official site.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Books for Hard Times

as listed by Heather Mallick. She ends her column with a recommendation of The Long Emergency.

"For people thinking farther ahead – and that's everyone who has read this far; haven't you learned that it can still get worse? – read The Long Emergency, James Howard Kunstler's book on surviving in the years ahead when the global economic collapse will make us nostalgic for crises that are possible to solve. If you don't read it, just remember one thing. Never buy a condo above the sixth floor. When the electricity grid gets dodgy, you won't want to climb 54 storeys to get home.

As gloomy as it might sound, I didn't say I would provide false comfort. The truth is comforting. You know where you are with the truth."

Mallick also remembers watching this cartoon when she was five.

Degrassi: Season Eight

All about Degrassi's eighth season here, with spoilers, character bios, etc.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Why Blogs are Useful

"[O]ne of the excellent functions of blogs: to bring people with affinities into contact who would otherwise not be accessible to each other."--Aunty Hattie, 16 October 2008

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Not All That

Michael Berube's back (I never knew he was gone), and though he's been called "the best blogger of all", Louis Proyect makes it abundantly clear he never thought Berube was all that.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Literal Gasbag

There's a whole genre of these videos online.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The City's End

In The New York Press is an excerpt from Max Page's book The City’s End: Two Centuries of Fantasies, Fears, and Premonitions of New York’s Destruction. This might be the East Coast counterpart to Ecology of Fear.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Kunstler's latest.

September 15, 2008
A Ripe Moment

It turns out the real hurricane blew through Wall Street last week, not Galveston. This morning, Manhattan is strewn chest-deep with the debris of banking and at this hour (seven a.m.) nobody knows how far, deep, and wide the damage will spread. The fear, of course, is that we are witnessing a classic "house-of-cards" or "dominos-in-a-row," situation, and that the death of Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch will cascade into a generalized collapse of the entire consensus of value that supports mediums of exchange.

At least one thing ought to be clear: this has happened due to the negligence and misfeasance of the regulating authorities, namely the Republican Party, and that now all the hoopla surrounding Sarah Palin can be swept away revealing that group to be what they actually are: the party that wrecked America. I hope one or two Barack Obama campaign officials are reading this blog. You must commence the re-branding of the opposition right now. The Republicans must be clearly identified as, the party that wrecked America.

Many things happening this week will be interesting to see and hear, but just now an outstanding question is how on earth can the Bank of America buy Merrill Lynch for $50 billion after assuming the liabilities of the tarbaby known as Countrywide? But that little detail may be lost in the din as other banks and bank-like organizations start crashing like sequoia trees in a national forest.

I wish I knew whether this extravaganza of ruin might settle the question as to whether America goes into hyperinflation or implacable deflation, but the net effect is that money is leaving the system in big gobs. And if not money per se, then the idea of money as represented in certificates, contracts, counter-party positions, and gentlemen's agreements. This is the day that America finds itself a much poorer nation. The capital we thought was there, is gone.

A lot of it was actually translated over the years into Hamptons villas, Gulfstream jets, and other playthings that will now go up on Ebay or some equivalent as we turn into Yard Sale Nation in a general liquidation of remaining assets. Of course, the trouble in a situation like this, where absolutely everybody is trying to pawn off assets, is that there are very few buyers on the scene, so the prices of all these things go down down down. Everything is for sale and nobody has any money.

This was essentially the state of things in the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the only escape from that turned out to be the mobilization for war. And in the aftermath of that terrible war, we were the only industrial nation that hadn't been bombed to rubble. What's more, we had a very handsome supply of industrial world's primary resource, oil, at our disposal. So we spent the next thirty years making oodles of things and selling them to people in other lands (lending them the money to buy), until these nations were back on their own feet and solvent. And after 1975, the industrial club picked up a bunch of new members and they all began to clean our clock.

So, as our industrial base waned, and our factories got old and brittle, and our labor force was steeply under-bid by cheaper labor forces, we embarked on a quest for "the new economy." This was represented in successive turns as the information economy, the consumer economy, the high-tech economy, et cetera. They were all ruses, aimed at concealing the truth -- which was that we had become a society no longer producing things of value, no longer generating real wealth. The final act of this farce has been the so-called "financial industry."

That "industry" turned out to be most earnestly devoted to the production of complex swindles. They were so finely engineered that it took twenty years for the swindles to stand revealed, and they were cleverly hitched to the primary thing that the American public vested its identity in: house-and-home. Thus, much of the public finds itself in very real danger of becoming homeless and broke.

We generally recognize that some wicked-massive transfer of wealth occurred in the process of the mortgage fiasco, but it remains to be seen whether any residue of this wealth can actually be retained, as represented by currencies, contracts, and supposed securities. The wholesale settling of debt now underway may leave an awful lot of this stuff with no value.

We should be frightened by the political implications of this Great Implosion of presumed wealth. Some group of somebodies will have to clean up this mess. Moving toward a major election, it is hard to imagine the American people giving the clean-up task to the very group that created the mess -- no matter how many cute little faces Sarah Palin can make on TV. Both parties have so far managed to ignore the gathering crisis of banking and money, but they can't ignore the sequoia trees crashing down around their ankles and shaking the earth they stand on.

At issue now will be the question of legitimacy in all its human social dimensions. Is our money legitimate? Is the authority of our elected officials legitimate? Are our values and ideas legitimate? These are the things that will determine what kind of future we find ourselves in.

So, to begin this process, and to clarify the situation, I urge readers of this blog to identify the Republican Party by its new brand-name: the party that wrecked America. At least, then, we can reinstate one cardinal value into the juddering structure of what we claim to believe: that actions have consequences, that you can't just swindle and loot a society and walk away with the swag.

Spread the word, change the tone of this campaign, and keep posted. This will be a momentous week.


Incidentally, I'm reading The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression by Amity Shlaes.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Future?

Vacant McHouse on the outskirts of Saratoga Springs, New York. Construction begun, 2006. Completed, 2008. Never occupied. Never put up for sale. Never cared for. Weeds and saplings taking over the McGrounds. Who knows the tale of woe behind this embodiment of the burst housing bubble? Divorce? Insolvency? Bankruptcy? Repossession? Death? Whoever finally does move into this pre-haunted dwelling will be greeted by one king-hell of a heating fuel bill. The northeast has not yet seen the kind of new house desolation now visible in parts of California, Nevada, Arizona, and Florida. But the housing bust has long way to go before the median price of a house is equivalent with the budget of the median income.

Decay and promise in Detroit. The "ghetto palm."

This photo is from Sarah Palin

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Leslie-Walker in '08

James Wolcott has aptly called Sarah Palin a "Northern Exposure Karen Walker", but has he or anybody noticed John McCain's resemblance to Beverley Leslie, Karen Walker's sworn enemy?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Salon Parody

Saturday, September 06, 2008

An Actual Drudge Report Headline

Swaziland Leader Criticized For Oppulant Lifestyle, Birthday...

13 September update: I've just found, through the blog of mrschili, a frequent commenter on Two Blue Day.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Kunstler's View of the Convention

The Political Campaign Mini-Blog

Sept 4

The Patriot Game - Wednesday

The odious soap opera in Minneapolis gets worse each night, this one like a Sandra Bullock movie produced and directed by the Devil. I tuned in for Rudolf Giuliani's keynote speech, a hyperthyroid exercise in oratorical thuggery, which led directly to the main event, Sarah Palin's acceptance of the vice-presidential nomination.

She quickly proved to be a confident podium performer, but the content and tenor of her remarks conveyed all the petty viciousness and insecurity of the Republican right-wing. As she spoke, the cameras panned around her rapt audience, affording snapshots of the dumbest white people in America, self-congratulatory in their small-town ignorance and brined in a dangerous jingo-patriotism that must make leaders in other nations cringe in amazement at the rhetorical recklessness being served up. Everything about her speech was small-minded, vindictive, smugly sarcastic, and shot through with falsehood (e.g. that the Republicans will "lead America to energy independence"). You wonder how much kool-aid these people have to drink to believe their own bullshit. In fact, watching Ms. Palin's performance, two notions came to mind and lodged there firmly: 1.) That the Republican Party has itself become a vector of terrorism, and 2.) that these are exactly the people I had in mind when I conceived the term "corn-pone Nazis" to describe the worst outcome of an over-stressed society.

In the aftermath, with the whole Palin family bathed in cheering before a giant televised waving flag, the true ethos of this phony spectacle revealed itself: this is the party of losers, and Sarah is their cheerleader. Deep down, Americans feel like losers. Our economy is cratering in an abyss of greed and foolishness. We're exhausting our resources in imperial military adventures. And we're stuck in a car-dependent living arrangement with no future. This bunch doesn't want to face the reality in any of this. They just want to "drill drill drill" so they can keep snowmobiling and rack up more credit card purchases of Chinese-manufactured salad shooters in the WalMart.

Here's an interesting question: if they win the election, will Sarah Palin and her whole family move to Washington when she takes up her duties? What will her husband do there? Who will take care of her "special needs" baby while the mother is learning how to become commander-in-chief of the armed forces and guardian of a nuclear arsenal (plus presiding over the senate)? Will daughter Bristol stay home in Alaska with her teenage husband and their new baby?

Tonight is the climax of this awful spectacle. John McCain gets to explain why the party that wrecked America deserves another term running things in the in the nation's capital.

Sept 3

Pretend-O-Rama in Minneapolis

What a sordid spectacle it was to watch the Republican dignitaries and delegates strain to pretend that John McCain's impulsive Vice-Presidential pick, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, was a great choice, and that the US economy was strong. But as one member of the club explained it, this election is not so much about issues as about feelings. I'll tell you what feeling is expressed overwhelmingly by the Republican script: insecurity. They know they are absolutely full of crap and that a big portion of the electorate is on to them. Hence, all the jingo-patriotism, including their scurrilous motto, "Country First," as if their Democratic opponents were foreign agents. There were moments last night (Tuesday) when the pretending and outright lying got so strenuous, I thought I was at a Pinocchio look-alike contest. These are the people who are locked into defending the mis-investments of the past, in every sense. They will not adapt to the emerging realities of the future, or even entertain the notion that it is necessary. They will also come to be regarded, as this campaign moves into the heart of autumn, and the banks start crashing, as the party that wrecked America. In fact, speaking of feelings, I have a feeling that the Republican party is so morally bankrupt that it might actually explode in factional war after this election, and maybe even blow up altogether. They are the Whigs of our time.


There's a young lady from up north who acts cute and charming only when it serves her. ...She has a short temper and is easily agitated by others....

Her name is Sarah.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


With her bouffant and spectacles, Sarah Palin is described as a "naughty librarian." But points out her naughty behavior towards librarians:

...People acutely interested in high level politics in the US who also work in libraries may be interested in this Time magazine article about Sarah Palin. I was very interested in this paragraph.

[Former Wasilla mayor] Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. “She asked the library how she could go about banning books,” he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. “The librarian was aghast.” The librarian, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn’t be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire her for not giving “full support” to the mayor.

Usually I’m just happy to see libraries even mentioned in national level politics, but not like this. Mary Ellen Baker resigned from her library director job in 1999.
This Anchorage Daily News article from February 1997 mentions letters of termination Palin sent to the Wasilla police chief and librarian because of their perceived disloyalty:

City librarian Mary Ellen Emmons will stay, but Police Chief Irl Stambaugh is on his own, Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin announced Friday. The decision came one day after letters signed by Palin were dropped on Stambaugh's and Emmon's desks, telling them their jobs were over as of Feb. 13.

The mayor told them she appreciated their service but felt it was time for a change. ''I do not feel I have your full support in my efforts to govern the city of Wasilla. Therefore I intend to terminate your employment ...'' the letter said.

Palin said Friday she now feels Emmons supports her but does not feel the same about Stambaugh. As to what prompted the change, Palin said she now has Emmons' assurance that she is behind her. She refused to give details about how Stambaugh has not supported her, saying only that ''You know in your heart when someone is supportive of you.''

The three met briefly at Wasilla City Hall Friday afternoon, and Palin called them twice at Stambaugh's home before making the decision.

Palin said she asked Emmons if she would support efforts to merge the library and museum operations. Emmons said she would, according to Palin. ...

The actions have caused a stir in Wasilla, a town of about 4,600. City Councilman Nick Carney, who has been an outspoken critic of Palin, said he received several calls at his home Thursday night and Friday from outraged citizens.

The sudden personnel shift is part of bigger problem of mismanagement in the city, he said, and may prompt a recall petition.

''Before, I told (people) to hold off, but now all bets are off,'' he said. ''I fail to see what good this is doing for Wasilla.''

But Councilwoman Judy Patrick said people voted change when they elected Palin and part of that is changing who is in charge.

Reached at home, Stambaugh said he still doesn't understand why he's been fired. ''There never was an appropriate response,'' he said. ''How did we not support the administration?''

Now he's talking to an attorney. While both Stambaugh and Emmons serve at the mayor's pleasure, Stambaugh said he has a contract that prohibits the city from firing him without cause.

Both Stambaugh and Emmons publicly supported Palin's opponent, long-time mayor John Stein during the campaign last fall. When she was elected, Palin questioned their loyalty and initially asked for their resignations. But Stambaugh said he thought any questions had been resolved....Emmons, who has been the city's library director for seven years, would not comment about the affair.
This is a list of the books Palin tried to ban, according to

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Blubber by Judy Blume
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Canterbury Tales by Chaucer
Carrie by Stephen King
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Christine by Stephen King
Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Cujo by Stephen King
Curses, Hexes, and Spells by Daniel Cohen
Daddy's Roommate by Michael Willhoite
Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Peck
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Decameron by Boccaccio
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Fallen Angels by Walter Myers
Fanny Hill (Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure) by John Cleland
Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Forever by Judy Blume
Grendel by John Champlin Gardner
Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
Have to Go by Robert Munsch
Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Impressions edited by Jack Booth
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
It's Okay if You Don't Love Me by Norma Klein
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
Little Red Riding Hood by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Love is One of the Choices by Norma Klein
Lysistrata by Aristophanes
More Scary Stories in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
My House by Nikki Giovanni
My Friend Flicka by Mary O'Hara
Night Chills by Dean Koontz
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
One Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Ordinary People by Judith Guest
Our Bodies, Ourselves by Boston Women's Health Collective
Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl
Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones by Alvin Schwartz
Scary Stories in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
Separate Peace by John Knowles
Silas Marner by George Eliot
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
The Bastard by John Jakes
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Devil's Alternative by Frederick Forsyth
The Figure in the Shadows by John Bellairs
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Snyder
The Learning Tree by Gordon Parks
The Living Bible by William C. Bower
The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
The New Teenage Body Book by Kathy McCoy and Charles Wibbelsman
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
The Seduction of Peter S. by Lawrence Sanders
The Shining by Stephen King
The Witches by Roald Dahl
The Witches of Worm by Zilpha Snyder
Then Again, Maybe I Won't by Judy Blume
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary by the Merriam-Webster Editorial StaffWitches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts: The Story of the Halloween Symbols by Edna Barth

It's probably an apocryphal list.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Monday, August 18, 2008

Reality Bites Again--Kunstler

Kunstler's latest, reprinted in full:

August 18, 2008
Reality Bites Again

The feeble American response to Russia's assertion of power in the Caucasus of Central Asia was appropriate, since our claims of influence in that part of the world are laughable. The US had taken advantage of temporary confusion in Russia, during the ten-year-long post-Soviet-collapse interval, and set up a client government in Georgia, complete with military advisors, sales of weapons, and even the promise of club membership in the western alliance known as NATO. These blandishments were all in the service of the Baku-to-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which was designed specifically to drain the oil region around the Caspian Basin with an outlet on the Mediterranean, avoiding unfriendly nations all along the way.

At the time this gambit was first set up, in the early 1990s, there was some notion (or wish, really) among the so-called western powers that the Caspian would provide an end-run around OPEC and the Arabs, as well as the Persians, and deliver all the oil that the US and Europe would ever need -- a foolish wish and a dumb gambit, as things have turned out.

For one thing, the latterly explorations of this very old oil region -- first opened to drilling in the 19th century -- proved somewhat disappointing. US officials had been touting it as like unto "another Saudi Arabia" but the oil actually produced from the new drilling areas of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and the other Stans turned out to be preponderantly heavy-and-sour crudes, in smaller quantities than previously dreamed-of, and harder to transport across the extremely challenging terrain to even get to the pipeline head in Baku.

Meanwhile, Russia got its house in order under the non-senile, non-alcoholic Vladimir Putin, and woke up along about 2007 to find itself the leading oil and natural gas producer in the world. Among the various consequences of this was Russia's reemergence as a new kind of world power -- an energy resource power, with the energy destiny of Europe pretty much in its hands. Also, meanwhile, the USA had set up other client states in the ring of former Soviet republics along Russia's southern underbelly, complete with US military bases, while fighting active engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, if this wasn't the dumbest, vainest move in modern geopolitical history!

It's one thing that US foreign policy wonks imagined that Russia would remain in a coma forever, but the idea that we could encircle Russia strategically with defensible bases in landlocked mountainous countries halfway around the world...? You have to ask what were they smoking over at the Pentagon and the CIA and the NSC?

So, this asinine policy has now come to grief. Not only does Russia stand to gain control over the Baku-to-Ceyhan pipeline, but we now have every indication that they will bring the states on its southern flank back into an active sphere of influence, and there is really not a damn thing that the US can pretend to do about it.

We could have spent the past ten years getting our own house in order -- waking up to the obsolescence of our suburban life-style, scaling back on the Happy Motoring, reconnecting our cities with world-class passenger rail, creating wealth by producing things of value (instead of resorting to financial racketeering), protecting our borders, and taking the necessary measures to defend and update our own industries. Instead, we pissed our time and resources away. Nations do make tragic errors of the collective will. The cluelessness of George Bush is nothing less than a perfect metaphor for the failure of a whole generation. The Boomers will be identified as the generation that wrecked America.

So, as the vacation season winds down, this country greets a new reality. We miscalculated in Western and Central Asia. Russia still "owns" that part of the world. Are we going to extend our current land wars there into the even more distant and landlocked Stan-nations? At some point, as we face financial and military exhaustion, we have to ask ourselves if we can even successfully evacuate our personnel from the far-flung bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

This must be an equally sobering moment for Europe, and an additional reason for the recent plunge in the relative value of the Euro, for Europe is now at the mercy of Russia in terms of staying warm in the winter, running their kitchen stoves, and keeping the lights on. Russia also exerts substantial financial leverage over the US in all the dollars and securitized US debt paper it holds. In effect, Russia can shake the US banking system at will now by threatening to dump its dollar holdings.

The American banking system may not need a shove from Russia to fall on its face. It's effectively dead now, just lurching around zombie-like from one loan "window" to the next pretending to "borrow" capital -- while handing over shreds of its moldy clothing as "collateral" to the Federal Reserve. The entire US, beyond the banks, is becoming a land of the walking dead. Business is dying, home-ownership has become a death dance, whole regions are turning into wastelands of "for sale" signs, empty parking lots, vacant buildings, and dashed hopes. And all this beats a path directly to a failure of collective national imagination. We really don't know what's going on.

The fantasy that we can sustain our influence nine thousand miles away, when we can't even get our act together in Ohio is just a dark joke. One might state categorically that it would be a salubrious thing for America to knock off all its vaunted "dreaming" and just wake the fuck up.

August 11, 2008
Kunstler recently took part in the forum "What is the Future of Suburbia?"

In other news, Pervez Musharraf announces his resignations, twenty years and a day after another Pakistani dictator died in a plane crash. And Prachanda was sworn in today as prime minister of Nepal.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Madonna at Fifty

Her birthday is this Saturday. Camille Paglia considers how Madonna is in the news for everything but her music. As she puts it, "On the pop front, Madonna's life has been passing before our eyes like a decadent German expressionist film."

23 August update: The Drudge Report, where I found this photo, is getting all futless because it shows Madonna's impressively muscled physique.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Real Alison Poole

I never liked John Edwards and don't care about his affair. However, this item about his mistress details her earlier life as Jay McInerney's girlfriend and inspiration for the character of Alison Poole.

Lisa Jo Druck was born 20 March 1964 and changed her name to Rielle Hunter (first name pronounced "Riley") twenty years later. Her changing a perfectly fine name to one so pretentiously spelled makes me wonder if her character should have been called Alison Foole.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Quelle Surprise

Yesterday I received my GQ in the mail and found this article on peak oil. GQ, devolving since the late 90s into a lad mag, still has great articles such as these. Kunstler is quoted therein, too.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Hana Yori Dango

The first season of Hana Yori Dango wrapped up last night on KIKU. Nothing indicates if the second season will be shown, but the first is on DVD. Unfortunately, it's region two. (More on DVD region codes.)

Episode Titles
Ep 01: Declaration of war! The thing which is absolutely more important than money
Ep 02: The worst first kiss!
Ep 03: Tears! Good-bye to the person I like
Ep 04: First time coming home in the morning
Ep 05: Confession of life-threatening love
Ep 06: A love triangle of a roller-coaster ride hair-trigger crisis
Ep 07: Battle F4 dissolution!
Ep 08: Now the female high school student's "Top of Japan" decision war
Ep 09: The greatest last present

I wonder if the HDY makers were inspired by The Bodyguard's final scenes, in which Rachel Marron gets off her jet to kiss Frank Farmer goodbye. There's a similar scene, in which Domyoji sees Tsukushi running on the tarmac, calling after him. He goes to her, they argue, then kiss.

The Long Emergency Discussed

Monday, August 04, 2008

Kunstler Reviews The Dark Knight

(Revised 11 August 2008)Kunstler's review of The Dark Knight is overall astute, but I disagree with some of his points, especially this: "The People -- that is, the citizens of Gotham City -- literally banish even the possibility of heroism from town at the end of the movie -- they take an axe to it!" While Commissioner Gordon does smash the Bat-Signal (which he had created in Batman Begins), he does so "at Batman's request, allowing himself to be blamed for the murders carried out by Harvey Dent/Two-Face in order to preserve Dent's reputation in Gotham City." Heroism is evidenced when a prisoner on one of two ferries evacuating Gothamites throws away the detonator to the explosives on the other ferry, while his counterpart on the other boat also refrains from pushing the button. Of course, Batman is preventing the Joker from blowing up both vessels, unbeknownst to the evacuees, but the scene demonstrates people can act morally even under such duress.

Kusntler points out that "Bruce Wayne's personal apartment is one of those horrid glass-walled tower condos beloved of the starchitects, which, in its florid exposure to everything external practically screams 'no shelter here!'" But that's not new. In the dystopia We, citizens live "in the One State,[3] an urban nation constructed almost entirely of glass...". Remember that Wayne Manor (portrayed in Batman Begins by Mentmore Towers) was largely destroyed by a fire set by Ra's al Ghul at that movie's end and is still being rebuilt in The Dark Knight. The apartment Kunstler decries is a penthouse in one of Bruce Wayne's hotels. Yet the penthouse has a secret entrance to a location within the building serving as a temporary Batcave. More on the sets here.

I wonder if others have or will pick up on the themes of concealment and revealment, interiority and exteriority in the movie.

11 August 2008 update: James Wolcott links to Kunstler's review on, which, unlike, includes readers' comments. In only 24 days in release, The Dark Knight has become the third-highest grossing movie in American history. The movie's significance will become apparent only in retrospect. For now, people are wondering if it will match or surpass the aptly-named Titanic in box office.

August 4, 2008
Dark (K)night

Note: Posting early this week on account of weekend road trip.

The most striking thing about the new Batman movie, now smashing the all-time box office records, is its emphasis on sado-masochism as the animating element in American culture these days. It must appeal to the many angry people in our land who want to hurt others, even while they themselves feel deserving of the grossest punishments. In other words, the picture reflects the extreme depravity of the current American sensibility. Seeing it all laid out there must be very validating to the emotionally confused audience, and hence pleasurable, in all its painfulness.

The rich symbolism in this spectacle represents the tenor of contemporary America as something a few notches worse than whatever the Nazis were heading toward around 1933. We like nothing better than to see people suffer and watch things get broken. The more slowly people are tortured (including the movie audience) the more exquisite the pleasure derived from the act. Civilization offers no consolation. In fact, its a mug's game. Thus, civilization is composed only of torturers and their mug victims.

Gotham City, the setting for all these sadomasochistic vignettes, is a place devoid of comfort. (The suburbs are missing completely.) Even the personal haunts of "the Batman," a.k.a. zillionaire Bruce Wayne, are hard-edged non-spaces. His workplace (cleverly accessed via a dumpster) is an underground bunker the size of about three football fields with a claustrophobic drop ceiling and a single furnishing: the megalomaniacal computer console that is supposed to afford him "control" of the city, but which appears to be, in fact, a completely impotent sham piece of techno-junk, since it can't even outperform a $300 GPS unit in locating things. By the way, Hitler had a brighter sense of decor in the final days of the bunker. Bruce Wayne's personal apartment is one of those horrid glass-walled tower condos beloved of the starchitects, which, in its florid exposure to everything external practically screams "no shelter here!"

At the center of all this is the character called "The Joker." Judging by the reams of reviews and reportage about this movie elsewhere in the media, the death of actor Heath Ledger, who played the role, adds another layer of juicy sadomasochistic deliciousness to the proceedings -- we get to reflect that the monster on screen may have gotten away, but the anxiety-ridden young actor who played him was carted off to the bone orchard before the film even officially wrapped, (and therefore deserves extra special consideration for America's greatest honor, the Oscar award, while the audience deserves its own award for recognizing the lovely ironies embroidered in this cultural phenomenon.)

The Joker is not so much as person as a force of nature, a "black swan" in clown white. He has no fingerprints, no ID, no labels in his clothing. All he has is the memory of an evil father who performed a symbolic sadomasochistic oral rape on him, and so he is now programmed to go about similarly mutilating folks, blowing things up, and wrecking everyone's hopes and dreams because he has nothing better to do. He represents himself simply as an agent of "chaos." Taken at face value, he would seem to symbolize the deadly forces of entropy that now threatens to unravel real American life in the real world -- a combination of our foolish over- investments in complexity and the frightening capriciousness of both nature and history, which do not reveal their motivations to us.

By the way, forget about God here or anything that even remotely smacks of an oppositional notion to evil. All that's back on the cutting room floor somewhere (if it even got that far). And I say this as a non-religious person. But the absence of any possible idea of redemption for the human spirit is impressive. In the world of "the Batman," humanity at its very best is capable only of being confused about itself. This is perhaps an interesting new form of dramaturgy -- instead of good-versus-evil you only get befuddlement-versus-evil. Goodness has lost its way in the dark night of the American psyche, as might be understandable considering the nation of louts, liars, grifters, bullies, meth freaks, harpies, and tattooed creeps we have become. The best we can bring to this predicament is the low-grade pop therapy that passes for thinking nowadays in educated circles. Any consideration of the heroic is off the menu here. We can't ask that much of ourselves. It's too difficult to imagine. Meanwhile, The People -- that is, the citizens of Gotham City -- literally banish even the possibility of heroism from town at the end of the movie -- they take an axe to it! -- perhaps indicating that they deserve whatever befalls them or, shall I say, "us."

A few other striking elements of this spectacle deserve attention. One is the grandiosity that saturates the story elements, and the remarkable impotence of it all. The Batman possesses every high-tech weapon and survival implement ever dreamed up, yet they avail him nothing -- except a lot off sickening leaps off skyscrapers and futile hard landings on car roofs, shipping containers, sidewalks, and other human carcasses. I doubt the writers/director Chris and Jonathan Nolan consciously aimed to depict good old American ingenuity as utterly valueless in the face of chaos, but that's the effect. Otherwise, everything in the Batman's world is overscaled and out-of-whack from the size of Bruce Wayne's fortune (what an executive package his Daddy must have made off with, and from which investment bank?!), to the energy expended in so many car chases and explosions, to the super-sized doom-worthy towers of the gigantic, soulless city.

Finally there is the derivation of all this sadomasochistic nihilism out of a comic book. How appropriate, since we have become a cartoon of a society living on a cartoon of a North American landscape, that the deepest source of our mythos comes from cartoons. We're so far gone that real human emotion is beyond us. We're to far gone -- and even without shame -- to care how this odious movie portrays us to the rest of the world. It is already making a fortune out there.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

This Ain't No Hula!

It's a Hard Ticket to Hawaii.

And to think I've never heard of this movie until 5:50 P.M. today while I was browsing on YouTube.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Good Knight!

Ever the contrarian, Armond White finds Heath Ledger's Joker far inferior to Jack Nicholson's.

Man’s struggle to be good isn’t news. The difficulty only scares children—which was the original, sophisticated point of Jack Nicholson’s ’89 Joker. Nicholson’s disfigurement abstracted psychosis, being sufficiently hideous without confusing our sympathy. Ledger’s Joker (sweaty clown’s make-up to cover his Black Dahlia–style facial scar) descends from the serial killer clich├ęs of Hannibal Lecter and Anton Chigurh—fashionable icons of modern irrational fear. The Joker’s escalation of urban chaos and destruction is accompanied by booming sound effects and sirens—to spook excitable kids. Ledger’s already-overrated performance consists of a Ratso Rizzo voice and lots of lip-licking. But how great of an actor was Ledger to accept this trite material in the first place?

Unlike Nicholson’s multileveled characterization, Ledger reduces The Joker to one-note ham-acting and trite symbolism. If you fell for the evil-versus-evil antagonism of There Will Be Blood, then The Dark Knight should be the movie of your wretched dreams. Nolan’s unvaried direction drives home the depressing similarities between Batman and his nemeses. Nolan’s single trick is to torment viewers with relentless action montages; distracting ellipses that create narrative frustration and paranoia. Delayed resolution. Fake tension. Such effects used to be called cheap. Cheap like The Joker’s psychobabble: “Madness, as you know, is like gravity—all it takes is a little push.” The Dark Knight is the sentinel of our cultural abyss. All it takes is a push.