Monday, March 29, 2010

Kunstler Asks, Our Turn?

Kunstler thinks America will go crazy. I'm not so sure.
Our Turn?
By James Howard Kunstler
on March 29, 2010 7:49 AM

Nations go crazy. It's terrifying when it happens, especially to a major nation with the ability to project its craziness outward. We look back on the psychotic break of Germany in 1933 and still wonder how the then-best-educated population in Europe could fall under the sway of a sociopathic political program. We behold the carnage and devastation left in the wake of that episode, and decades later you still can do little more than shake your head in bewilderment.
China had a psychotic break in the 1960s in its "cultural revolution," provoked by the mad neo-emperor Mao. He sent cadres of Chinese baby boomer youths rampaging across the land, turned every institution upside down, and let millions starve. Mao's China lacked the ability then to export this mischief, but enough of his own people suffered.
Cambodia was the next humdinger of a national nervous breakdown when the Paris-educated classic marxist Pol Pot decided to make the world's biggest omelette by cracking a million eggs. He took everybody wearing eyeglasses, everybody who appeared to have a thought in his or her head, and sent them out to the bush to be worked to death, or shot in ditches, or disposed of otherwise. The mounds of skulls remain to tell the tale.
Lately we've had the Hutu-Tutsi genocides in Rwanda, the craziness in former Yugoslavia, the cruelty of Darfur, the international suicide-bomber craze (including today's blasts in Moscow). Surely, I've left a few out... but these are minor episodes compared to what be coming next.
Am I the only one who senses it might be America's turn to go nuts? I don't mean a family squabble, like the Boomer-Hippie-Vietnam uproar that was essentially an adolescent rebellion against bad parenting in the national household. I mean a genuine descent into madness, with the very high probability of persecution, violence, murder, and mayhem -- all more or less sponsored by various authorities and institutions.
The Republican Party is doing a great job in provoking such a dangerous episode by making consensual governance impossible in a time of awful practical problems and challenges. They're in the process, right now, of transforming themselves from the party of "no" to the party of no decency, no common sense, no ideas, no conception of the public interest, and no respect for the traditions that they pretend to stand for, like due process of law. In the days since the passage of health care reform, they've gone as far as inciting mobs to violence against their fellow congressmen and senators -- bricks thrown through windows, death threats made, coffins placed in the yards of their adversaries. One day soon, somebody with a gun or an explosive device, someone with a very sketchy sense-of-self, and perhaps a recent record of personal failure and humiliation, is going to sacrifice himself to become the Tea Party's first martyr by shooting up a shopping mall in some blue district.
Republican leaders' avidity to ally themselves with the followers of hate-monger entertainers like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and the Fox News gang is only the beginning of the process that will lead to a political convulsion possibly worse than the one that started at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, 1861. If it comes, it will certainly be a far more incoherent conflict. The guerilla forces of the radical right will not know whether they are fighting for WalMart, or the Financial Services arm of General Electric, or against abortions, or for bigger and better freeways, or the rights of thoracic surgeons to drive families into bankruptcy, or against the idea of climate change, or evolution, or Jews-in-the-media, or their neighbors having something they feel envious about....
In the background, of course, is an economy just barely holding together with political baling wire and duct tape. It has very poor prospects for continuing in the way it was designed to run, on cheap oil and revolving debt. The upshot is an economy now destined for permanent contraction, and nobody has a plan for managing that contraction -- which will include awful failures in food production, in disintegrating water systems, electric grids, roadway systems, schools... really anything that requires ongoing public investment. It includes a financial system that cannot come up with capital deployable for productive purpose, or currencies that can be relied on to hold value, or markets that function without interference.
For its part, the Democratic Party has done a poor job of clearly articulating the realities of these things, and in actions like bailouts they've given the false impression that the nation can somehow engineer a return to the reckless hedonism of the late 20th century. My guess is that the situation is so desperate now that President Obama and his supporters can't risk telling the truth about the comprehensive contraction we face.
The health care reform act was a tortured way of dealing with some of this indirectly. It will absolutely lead to a kind of health care "rationing," but rationing is unavoidable in an economy where there is less of everything that people need, and fewer resources to spread around. The difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is that the Republicans would prefer to see the rationing accomplished by money-grubbing health insurance companies denying coverage to policy-holders who get sick, or by the bankrupting of households (i.e. losers who deserve to die anyway), while the Democrats want to at least try to distribute what we can a little more fairly. The larger failure of both factions to emulate better systems running in sister societies like Canada and France is something that history will judge.
I was in favor of the health care reform act for the reason of that basic difference between the Right and the Left. For all its flaws -- and perhaps even the prospect that we are too far gone in national bankruptcy to ever get all its provisions running -- I believe it was necessary for our national morale to pass the bill, to prove that we could do something besides remain stuck in paralysis and bickering indefinitely. And it was necessary to smack down the Party of Cruelty, to inform ourselves that we are not quite ready to go completely crazy.
Whatever his flaws, omissions, and failures, I'm impressed with President Obama's ability to conduct himself like an adult, like a good father, in the face of the most unseemly provocations by his red-faced adversaries John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Michelle Bachman, Sarah Palin, Jim DeMint, and all the other apoplectic opportunists trying so desperately to turn the United States into a high-definition Jesus tele-theocracy of Perpetual NASCAR. As economic conditions worsen -- I believe they will -- I hope Mr. Obama can discipline these maniacs. I would like to see him start by instructing his attorney general to look into the connection between Republican officials (including staff members) and the threats of violence and murder that were made last week around the country.
My novel, The Witch of Hebron, a sequel to World Made By Hand, will be published in September by The Atlantic Monthly Press.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Spring Blogcleaning in Progress

I'll be taking out defunct links and adding new ones to my Ever-Evolving List of Links (click All Links in the sidebar to see). Just now I added a link to Smatter of Opinion in Politics (Hawaii) and deleted, which has been offline for several months.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


From Kunstler's latest:

Being an actualist, I'm in favor of getting real about things, and the reality we've entered is one of comprehensive contraction, especially for our cities. One of the reasons places like Cleveland (and Detroit, and Milwaukee, and St Louis, and Kansas City....) continue to fail in their redevelopment efforts is because they are already too big. They became overgrown organisms a while ago, unsuited to the realities of the future -- especially the energy resource realities of the future -- and they have tried everything except consciously contracting into smaller, finer, denser, differently-scaled organisms. In fact, the trend up until the so-called housing bubble of recent years was to just keep on expanding ever outward beyond the suburban frontier, which left our cities in a condition like imploded death-stars -- cold and inert at the center, with debris speeding uselessly outward to an unreachable infinity.

This future we're entering, which I call the long emergency, compels us to imagine our society differently. Our cities and towns exist where they do because they occupy important sites. Cleveland is where a significant river empties into the world's greatest inland sea (which has the additional amazing benefit of being fresh water). Some human settlement will continue to be there, very probably a place of consequence, but it will not be run under the same circumstances that produced, for instance, the civic center of Daniel Burnham with its giant Beaux Arts courthouses, banks, and municipal towers.

This disintegrating nation is woefully distracted by Web 2.0, iPads, Avatar movies, Facebook, and the idiot celebrity spectacles of TV, not to mention the disasters of job loss, foreclosure, medical extortion, bankruptcy, corporate loot-ocracy, and the squandered moments of politics. We know we have to go somewhere. We know that something like history is leaving us behind. We have no idea how to get to a new place. And we're spending most of our mental energy gaping into the rear-view mirror, which is the last place to look for your destination.

The confusion is apt to get a lot worse before it gets better. I'm not saying this to be ornery but because I believe it is true, and it will benefit us to know the odds we're up against. The confusion is going to generate a lot of ideas that are inconsistent with reality -- especially involving the seductive nostrums of technocracy. Our redemption will be found closer to the ground in the things we do by hand. But we don't know that yet, and we're going to try everything except looking there before we find out.

If you haven't already, read BAD by Paul Fussell. It is in part a look at America's flight from actuality.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Power of Bhangra

Just discovered this video today. A bhangra-infused update of "The Power."

Kunstler vs. Stossel

March 5, 2010

My Invitation From Fox News
On Mar 3, 2010, at 4:52 PM, Lott, Maxim wrote:
Hi Howard,

John Stossel of the FOX Business Network is doing a show this Friday at 6pm on zoning. We’re going to be comparing zoning rules in Cleveland and Houston, and will also have Randal O’Toole on the show. He will say that we need to get rid of zoning because it gives the government planners too much control.
I was on a John Stoessel ABC show a few years ago and I consider him a completely unethical person, since he used me as a straw man and distorted everything I had to say -- in the editing process.
Randall O'Toole is a shill for the sprawl-builders. You deserve him.
Please tell Stoessel he can kiss my ass.

James Howard Kunstler
“It’s All Good”

Of course, seeing Kunstler on that aforementioned ABC show is how I heard of him in the first place.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Oscar Predictions Half Right

From Bret Easton Ellis's Twitter

Oscar night 2010: George Clooney, Streep, Christoph Waltz, Mo'Nique...
10:42 AM Nov 30th, 2009 via web

Two out of four isn't bad.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Alice in Pandora

Does this sound familiar?

Reviews were mixed, with critics more enthused by the movie's visual splendor than its narrative essence.--From a Reuters review of Alice in Wonderland.

(Nice phrase, that "narrative essence".)

Cop Out seems to have in its plot some implausibilities and inconsistency, but I'd rather go see that than Avatar or Alice. At least it promises to be funny on purpose rather than unintentionally.