Monday, April 30, 2012

Kunstler: Letter from the Rust Belt

Elegy By James Howard Kunstler on April 30, 2012 9:40 AM A few weeks ago I flew to Chicago, hopped into a rent-a-car, and navigated my way on the tangle of interstate highways to the now mostly former industrial region in the northwest corner of Indiana just off lowest Lake Michigan between the towns of Whiting and Gary. The desolation of human endeavor lay across the land like nausea made visible, but more impressive was how rapid the rise and fall of it all had been. Not much more than 150 years ago this was a region of marshes, dunes, swales, laurel slicks, and little backwater ponds of the huge lake. The forbidding flat emptiness of the terrain made it perfect for running railroad track, and before long much of the heavy industry that epitomized the modern interval opened for business there, downwind from the pulsating new organism called Chicago. The storied steel mills of Gary are gone, and the numberless small shops and sheds that turned out useful widgets exist now, if at all, as ghostly brick and concrete shells along the stupendous grid of highways. The one gigantic enterprise still going was the BP oil refinery, originally the Standard Oil operation, a demonic jumble of pipes, retorts, and exhaust stacks that sprawled over hundreds of acres, with flared off plumes of leaping orange flame from gas too cheap to sell lurid against the Great Lakes sunset in a lower key of rose and salmon pink. The refinery was there to support the only other visible activity in region, which was motoring. In a place so desolate it was hard to tell where everybody was going in such numbers on the endless four-laners. Between the ghostly remnants of factories stood a score of small cities and neighborhoods where the immigrants settled five generations ago. A lot of it was foreclosed and shuttered. They were places of such stunning, relentless dreariness that you felt depressed just imagining how depressed the remaning denizens of these endless blocks of run-down shoebox houses must feel. Judging from the frequency of taquerias in the 1950s-vintage strip-malls, one inferred that the old Eastern European population had been lately supplanted by a new wave of Mexicans. They had inherited an infrastructure for daily life that was utterly devoid of conscious artistry when it was new, and now had the special patina of supernatural rot over it that only comes from materials not found in nature disintegrating in surprising and unexpected ways, sometimes even sublimely, like the sheen of an oil slick on water at a certain angle to the sun. There was a Chernobyl-like grandeur to it, as of the longed-for end of something enormous that hadn't worked out well. Yet people were coming and going in their cars from the welfare ruins of East Chicago to the even more spectacular tatters of Gary, where the old front porches are disappearing into prairie grass and the 20th century retreats into the mists of mythology. For a while, I suppose, people were interested that the Michael Jackson nativity occurred there, but that, too, is a shred of history now merging with the fabled wendigo of the Wyandots and the fate of the North American mastodon. You might draw the conclusion that driving cars is the only activity left in certain parts of the USA. Many of the ones I saw in this forsaken corner of the Midwest were classic beaters occupied by young men in pairs searching, searching, searching. It takes a certain special kind of mental bearing to persist in searching such a place for something that is not there. [There's no there there, as Gertrude Stein said.--P.Z.] I was never so glad to get out of a place than those hundred-odd square miles of soured American dreamland. I was driving too, along with everybody else, on the Dan Ryan Expressway (US I-94), and for about 20 miles or so, from Pullman to the West Loop, the traffic barely pulsed along, like the contents in the terminal portion of the human gastrointestinal tract. This is what remains out in the Heartland of our country: a place so dire that you want to race shrieking from it and forget what you saw there. I have a feeling that its agonizing return to nature - or what's left of nature - will not be mitigated by anything Barack Obama or Mitt Romney might propose to do. I wouldn't want to be around when the driving stops.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Kunstler: "As If Nothing Matters"
No one in the American media is paying attention to the unfolding tragedy of Japan - and by this I refer not only to the unfinished Fukushima saga, but the parallel story of Japan closing down virtually its entire nuclear power industry necessitating gigantic additional imports of oil and gas to generate electric power - all of which points to the likelihood that Japan will become the first advanced industrial nation to bid sayonara to modernity and return to a neo-medieval socio-economic model of daily life. The Middle West and North Africa still smolder away like giant root fires. Nothing has been settled politically and the prospects are excellent that Islamic maniacs will shortly be in charge of Egypt and Libya, not to mention Syria, or even America's trillion-dollar battleground of Afghanistan where, after ten years of persistent struggle, we can't control either the terrain or the behavior of the people who dwell on it. Meanwhile, half of Sudan's oil production was blown up over the weekend. [As this points out, Sudan and South Sudan are disputing ownership of oil reserves, most of which lie in South Sudan. And South Sudan now refuses to export its oil through Sudan. This is an overview of the conflict.--P.Z.] And King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is not getting any younger at 88. Saudi spare oil capacity won't matter so much when the kingdom is up in flames. What I wonder is how long the American public will remain in its Kardashian trance. At this torpid moment no one believes that any theoretical political cohort in this land - tea-partiers, swindled youth, professional lefties (or what's left of them), or the fugitive thinking centrists (wherever they are) - might bestir themselves to bust up a nominating convention or march on one of many debauched institutions in the nation's capital, from the SEC to the wax museum formally known as the Department of Justice. I think differently, though. I think this grim interval of crisis consolidation is drawing to a close and, like the buds swelling on every tree in New England, events will soon burst into astounding efflorescence.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Huffington Post Wins Its First Pulitzer

When The Huffington Post first appeared in 2005, I thought it was Arianna Huffington's vanity project, and wouldn't last. As it grew, the HuffPo grew on me. It was and is a mixture of hard and soft news, but with this Pulitzer Prize, it has come of age.

Spring Cleaning

In the near future, I'll be cleaning up the list of links, some of which are long defunct. I'm also considering posting some longer pieces of writing, but I write best in longhand (that is, on paper).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

New Life for was one of the liveliest peak-oil sites around, before the proprietor, Matt Savinar, inexplicably closed it down and turned it into an astrology website. But now another peak-oil blogger has obtained the rights to the site. I hope she'll bring it back to its former heights.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Kunstler: "A Kid With Skittles"

Kunstler discusses the Trayvon Martin case.

A Kid With Skittles
By James Howard Kunstler
on April 16, 2012 9:54 AM

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, the excellent Bill Moyers hosted political activist Angela Glover Blackwell on his weekly interview show, Moyers & Company (April 13; "An Activist for Our Times") and in the course of things (12:18 in the program) Ms. Blackwell said, "America does not want to talk about race." In point of fact, we'll talk about it all the live-long day, just not very honestly.

The Trayvon Martin incident certainly provoked a broad media conversation about race all over the cable TV networks and the Internet. It's been an inconclusive discussion because the facts of the case are so muddled and the truth may never be known, or may not satisfy anyone if it becomes known. Mostly, the talk followed predictable patterns of grievance, accusation, and especially hand-wringing - the latter well represented by Bill Moyers, the embodiment of 1960s-vintage idealist Democratic liberalism, who came on the scene as a close aide to President Lyndon Johnson at the height of the civil rights struggle.

The reason the race conversation remains so constricted in America is because the central question makes everyone so uncomfortable. That question is: what accounts for the failure to thrive of such a large percentage of black America? It is uncomfortable for whites (especially Progressives) because it implies a failure of the social justice movement itself, and in particular the watershed civil rights struggles of the 1960s. It's uncomfortable for blacks because it stirs up immense anxiety over the stigma of racial inferiority.

The crucial moment in this recent history of race relations, it seems to me, must be located in the events between 1966 and 1970. This was the historical moment that followed the deconstruction of legal race codes with the passage into law of the Public Accommodations Act of 1964 and then the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These two legislative milestones, promoted and signed by Lyndon Johnson, were supposed to conclude the unfinished business of the Civil War and emancipation, which had festered so long in the Jim Crow inurement.

The expectation was that the removal of legal obstacles to full citizenship would hasten economic justice and cultural equality, but just then something curious happened: the youth revolt of the late 1960s was underway and young black America immediately opted for separatism. Opposition to anything and everything was the motif for my generation back then. A few years after the 1964 Public Accommodations Act passed, the black students at my college demanded (and were given) their own separate student union building. During the riots that followed the Kent State shootings in the Spring of 1971, somebody burned the building down - a mystery never solved.

I believe the black separatist movement of that time derived largely from anxiety around the issues of cultural assimilation - that is, of black and white America forming a true and complete common culture. In any case, it was at this moment of history that the multicultural movement presented itself as an "out" for white America. Multiculturalism allowed white America to pretend that common culture was not important. It also promoted the unfortunate idea that we could have a functioning civil society with different standards of behavior for different ethnic groups. It has left the nation with the unanswered question of black America's self-evident failure to thrive, and an enormous body of narrative affecting to explain it away as "structural racism."

Bill Moyers did not even attempt to address the failure to thrive question in his interview with Angela Glover Blackwell. Both of these people are about as well-intentioned as anyone in the country where race relations are concerned, but neither of them were able to honestly confront the issue. My own opinion is that it's about behavior at least as much as its about race and probably more, and we continue to make tragic decisions in this country about what behavior is okay and what's not. Are there proportionately more black men in prison than members of other races in America? Yes there are, and most of them behaved badly enough to get locked up, whether our drug laws are stupid or not. Is something preventing black children from learning in school? Probably a number of things, but I would begin absolutely with the duty to teach them to speak English intelligibly - something that nobody expresses any interest in, especially white Progressives. Do white people fear black males who affect to act as if they are dangerous? Maybe black men should stop trying to scare people. Are these "racist" observations or exercises in reality-testing?

I doubt even that question can be settled conclusively in our time. The truth is that white America is too uncomfortable with the discomfort of black America and white America will do anything, and will bend any view of reality, in order to avoid the most frightening outcome of all, which is the possibility of race war. Well it's hard not to sympathize with that, but it still leaves us with the burden of all the tragic choices we made since those heady days of 1964 and 1965 when Bill Moyers could stand behind President Johnson signing those landmark civil rights bills, basking in the broad-based belief that real human progress was being made.

I don't know for sure what Trayvon Martin was doing in the moments before George Zimmerman shot him in the Florida condo cluster. The public may never learn what really went on, even after Mr. Zimmerman's trial. People don't get shot for no reason, though sometimes it is not a good reason, or one we want to talk about.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Bob Krauss Newspaper Index

Alexander Cockburn: Is the Foodie Frenzy Finally Fizzling Out?


Friday, April 13, 2012

Sepia Mutiny is Defunct

I just found out through a Colorlines article (linked at Feministing) that Sepia Mutiny has stopped publishing. The article discusses the challenges the ethnic blogosphere faces: lack of money and buy-outs.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"Global Oil Risks in the Early 21st Century"


Al Jarreau: "Girls Know How"

From the original motion picture soundtrack of Night Shift (1982).

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

John Derbyshire Interview with Gawker


12 April update: Tom Fleming of Chronicles says, "Johnny, They Hardly Knew Ye"

On the other hand, the worst thing that John Derbyshire has done to his reputation with serious people is to associate with NR. He is intelligent, reasonably well-read, possessed of a decent prose-style and the courage of his convictions. What in the world was such a man doing in such company?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Santorum Drops Campaign

Rick Santorum Suspends Campaign.

But the news of his departure is overshadowed by George Zimmermann's lawyers' announcement that they will no longer represent him.

It's obvious Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee, but I think Ron Paul will hang on until the end.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Kunstler Predicts Youth Uprising

Strange Jubilee
By James Howard Kunstler
on April 9, 2012 9:26 AM

Is there a Baby Boomer so dim in this land of rackets and swindles who thinks that he or she will escape the wrath of the Millennials rising? The developing story is so obvious that only an academic economist could fail to notice. Here's how it will go: some months from now, as the financial unwind worsens, and the mirage of gainful employment shimmers away to nothing, and the technocrats of Europe meet nervously by some Swiss lakeside (and are seen glumly shaking their heads), and Romney and Obama try to out-do each other peddling miracle cures for the tanking national self-esteem - a dangerous meme will go forth across the internet, and this meme will say: Millennials, renounce your college loans and set yourselves free!

And then something truly marvelous will happen. They will at once disempower the swindling generation of their fathers, teachers, loan officers, and overlords and quite possibly bring on, at long last, the epochal collision of pervasive American control fraud with the hard hand of reality.

I think this will happen, and I would venture even to set the meme loose here and now and watch it go viral. The college loan racket has been an even more cynical enterprise than the mortgage racket was because so many people who ought to have known better, people of supposed intelligence such as college deans, cabinet secretaries, and think-tank Yodas, all colluded to support the false promise that the gigantic cargo cult of higher ed would keep churning out fresh careers forever - when the truth was that the entire groaning vessel of hopes and dreams was already under water and sinking into the eternal darkness.

And is there a Millennial so dim who believes that the promised package of lifetime goodies once called "a job with benefits" waits like a liveried servant to conduct them without friction through the ceremonies of career and family according to premises and promises of an obsolete American Dream? Dreams do die hard. As dreams go it was a pretty good one while it lasted, but like all dreams, it has vanished in the mists of a new morning leaving the dreamers half-sick, anxious, and drained. They have nothing to lose but their fears of the re-po man and the simulated dudgeon of telephone robot debt-collectors.

This idea should catch on as the election season heats up. Like the anti-war youth of August, 1968, burning their draft cards in the streets of Chicago, the Millennials should flock to Charlotte and Tampa this summer and fill the parking lots (there are no streets in these places) with the smoke of their burning loan contracts - and then proceed with the loud repudiation of party politics in its two current useless, lying, craven, feckless factions. The effrontery of these rogues, promising a hundred years of shale gas, and jobs, jobs, jobs, and a personal relationship with Jesus! Send them packing into the bowels of history, then go home and make it work locally, where it will have to happen in any case because the arc of events has a velocity of its own now and that is our certain destination.

The colleges themselves will, of course, implode shortly, along with everything else currently organized on the super-gigantic scale. They are no more prepared for what is about to happen to them than the chiselers in government, banking, medicine, and global corporate enterprise. We will wonder in retrospect how they ever managed to winkle 50-grand a year for their absurd promises, and how we permitted young people with undeveloped powers of judgment to sign their financial lives away on terms even more stringent than their parents' mortgages. When the universities do go down, tossing their employees overboard in the process, it will be interesting to see the former faculty chairpersons and distinguished professors of econometric modeling learn how to plant kale and care for chickens side-by-side with their formerly-indentured students. I can imagine a period of turmoil in America even harsher than, say, the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s in China where officials, professors, and authorities of all kinds were paraded through the angry mobs wearing dunce caps. Weird things happen history.

The college loan money will not be paid back anyway, so Millennial youth ought to seize the golden opportunity to make the deliberate point that the years of swindling are officially over now. This strange jubilee could, and should, change everything.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Al Jarreau: "Burst in With the Dawn"

From the 1977 album Look to the Rainbow.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Monday, April 02, 2012

Kunstler: "Unthinkable"

By James Howard Kunstler
on April 2, 2012 9:29 AM

In the drunken, drug-crazed twilight of its run as Leader of the Free World, America's collective imagination swerves from one breakdown lane to the other while the highway patrol throws a donuts-and-porn party down at headquarters and the news media searches the gutter on hands-and-knees looking for the spot where it dropped its brains.

The other day, Larry Kudlow, the king popinjay at CNBC, told viewers that the US has over a trillion barrels of oil waiting to be drill-drill-drilled on our way to "energy independence." This is the kind of malarkey that America thrives on these days, the way yeasts thrive on sugary mash. [The two links I added are typical of Kudlow's views.--P.Z.] It's a complete falsehood, of course, but the working dead over at The New York Times said substantially the same thing in a front-page story the week before. The Timespersons have only one source for their stories: Daniel Yergin, chief public relations pimp for the oil industry, because he makes it so easy for them by providing all the information they will ever need. The oil and gas companies would like to direct the fire-hose of loose and easy money out there into their stock prices - building to the magic moment when, Mozillo-like, the executives can dump shares, cut, and run for the far hills where no SEC officer or DOJ attorney will ever think to look. This is just another racket in an all-rackets society.

The fantasy of energy independence therefore takes shape as a "settled matter" as we lurch toward elections. The arch-moron Mitt Romney will inveigh against Obama for holding the oil dogs back while Obama pretends to spank the oil companies for gouging the public on that alleged Niagara flow of new oil. None of them understands the true situation, which is that the USA is enjoying one last gulp of a very expensive oil cocktail with the last few dollars it can prestidigitate out of the central bank's magic box, and then there is no more even notional surplus wealth to blow on more drinks.

And it isn't even much of a gulp. US production of "all liquids" - which includes methane gas drippings, ethanol, etc - went from 7.2 million barrels a day in 2004 to about 7.7 in 2011. We use about 19 million barrels a day, down about a million from peak US consumption before the financial crash of 2008. The reason it's down: Americans are going broke, one household and one small business at a time. Shale oil production is approaching half a million barrels a day. That's about 45 minutes of daily go-power. It might go up to an hour-and-a-half before production of shale oil permanently crashes on the combination of fast-depleting wells and a lack of capital to keep drilling new ones at $8 million per well.

The story for shale gas is similar, except that initial production was so exorbitant that it drove the price down to nearly nothing (the $2 range), and the bust from that Ponzi will be even more spectacular than the shale oil. Everyone from Mr. Obama to the chiselers who run Citigroup maintain that there is a one hundred year supply of gas in the USA. They are going to be very disappointed. The public, on the other hand, will not even remember what they said as they burn down the cornfields in anguish.

I met a guy at the pumps last week who was filling up a pickup truck at least twice the size of mine a few yards away. I asked him how things were going fuel-wise with that monster Ram-Charger he was feeding. At more than $100 a fill-up, it was killing him he said. His line-of-work required him to drive all over the county incessantly. His reality was a bit different from the oil company execs promising limitless horizons of oil to CNBC-watching retirees desperate for some "yield" on investment in the face of ZIRP bond rates. The price of oil (and gasoline) may well crash again, but when it does, there will be fewer business reasons for anyone to drive around the county all the live-long day, and that guy's Ram-Charger could fall into the hands of the re-po goon squad. He may never be able to get another one, either. No more money for truck loans. Capital shortage. Sorry. [I know a man with a GMC Sierra, and he says it costs about $90 to fill. But his truck has been fully paid off. A retired airline pilot, he's starting a car restoration business with his brother who lives on the far side of town so he drives--a lot.--P.Z.]

This oil and gas thing cuts so many ways that the public will feel like it is gargling Gillette blue blades. Just add up the total tonnage of steel necessary to keep this Ponzi going and you would reach a discouraging conclusion: this thing has nowhere to go but swift and implacable contraction. The ultimate destination of "energy independence" will be a nation with no cars and trucks to run. We'll get there, you'll see. But that is speaking the unthinkable.

Thanks to all readers for sending many kind and thoughtful letters about cholesterol, diet, statins, doctors, and the medical racket in response to my two previous blogs on those subjects.