Monday, December 30, 2013

Kunstler: "The End of Pretend"

Next week will be his forecast for 2014.--P.Z.

...December 30, 2013 The End of Pretend

If being wealthy was the same as pretending to be wealthy then people who care about reality would have a little less to complain about. But pretending is a poor way for a society to negotiate its way through history. It makes for accumulating distortions which eventually undermine the society’s ability to function, especially when the pretending is about money, which is society’s operating system.

The distortion that even simple people care about is that the gap between the rich and the poor is as plain, vast, and grotesque as at any time in our history — except perhaps during slavery times in Dixieland, when many of the poor did not even own their existence. We’ve had plenty of reminders of that in pop culture the last couple of years, including Quentin Tarantino’s fiercely stupid movie Django Unchained and the more recent melodrama 12 Years a Slave. But you have to wonder what young adults weighed down by unpayable college debt think when they go to see them, because without a rebellion that millennial generation will not own their own lives either. They must know it, but they must not know what to do about it.

The pretense and distortions start at the top of American life with a President who broadcasts the message that some kind of “recovery” has occurred in the economic affairs of the country. Either he just wants the public feel better, or he is misled by the people and agencies in his own government, or perhaps he just lies to keep the lid on. To truly recover from the dislocations of 2008, we would have to make a consensual decision to start behaving differently in the process of adapting to the new circumstances that the arc of history is presenting to us. We’d have to decide to leave behind the economy of financialization, suburban sprawl, car dependency, Wal-Mart consumerism, and prepare for a different way of inhabiting North America.

The dislocations of 2008 when the banking system nearly imploded were Nature’s way of telling us that dishonesty has consequences. The immediate dishonesty of that day was the racket in securitizing worthless mortgages ­— promises to pay large sums of money over long periods of time. The promises were false and the collateral was janky. It got so bad and ran so far and deep that it essentially destroyed the mechanism of credit creation as it had been known until then, and it has not been repaired.

Since then, we have pretended to repair the operations of credit by falsely substituting bank bailouts and Federal Reserve “quantitative easing” (QE) or digital money-printing for plain dealing in borrowed money between honest brokers at the local level. The unfortunate consequence is that in the process we have distorted — and possibly destroyed — the value of our money and the various things denominated in it, especially securities, bonds, stocks and other money-like paper.

The crash of the mortgage racket occurred not just because of swindling and fraud among bankers; in fact, that was only a nasty symptom of something larger: peak oil. I know that many people have come to disbelieve in the idea of peak oil, but that is only another mode of playing pretend. Peak oil, which essentially arrived in 2006, undermined the basic conditions of credit creation in an advanced techno-industrial society dependent on increasing supplies of fossil fuels. Most people, including practically all credentialed economists, fail to understand this. There is a fundamental relationship between ever-increasing energy supplies > economic growth > and credit-based money (or “money,” if you will). When the energy inputs flatten out or decrease, growth stops, wealth is no longer generated, old loans can’t be repaid, and new loans can’t be generated honestly, i.e. with the expectation of repayment. That has been our predicament since 2008 and nothing has changed. We are pretending to compensate by issuing new unpayable debt to pay the interest on our old accumulated debt. This pretense can only go on so long before our economic relations reflect the basic dishonesty of it. Reality is a harsh mistress.

In the meantime, we amuse ourselves with fairy tales about “the shale oil revolution” and “the manufacturing renaissance.” 2014 could be the year that the forces of Nature compel our attention and give us a reason to stop all this pretending. I’ll address this question in next week’s annual yearly forecast.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Cornell Lecture on Peak Oil and Peak "Everything"

Peak Oil is Real, Says a Former BP Geologist

Peak oil doesn't command public attention the way it did ten or even five years ago, especially as the fracking boom and extraction of oil from shale and tar sands, lulls people into a false sense of petro-abundance. But as a former BP geologist recently said, it poses a real threat.

Peak Oil is Real and Can Break Economies

How Many of Kunstler's Predictions for 2013 Have Come to Pass?

About this time, Kunstler issues his annual forecast for the year ahead. Here's his look at 2013: Forecast 2013: Contraction, Contagion, and Contradiction

"What India Could Teach the World"

"What India Could Teach the World", a Fareed Zakaria GPS special.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Hannemann Hijinks

Sunday, December 22, 2013

2019: After the Fall of New York (1983)

I found this movie by chance on YouTube last night, and was watching it during Saturday Night Live.

The American Studies Association Endures a Backlash for Its B.D.S. Resolution

More soon.

Links added as I find them.

Tax-Exempt Status of ASA Challenged Because of Boycott.

Brandeis Withdraws from ASA.

Max Blumenthal, keeping up with this matter, as always:

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Kaleidoscopic Tones of Christmas

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Various Things

Another Kunstler column on financial hijinks.

If I entertain at home, I'd make sure to serve fresh and tasty food kept at the proper temperature. One can never go wrong with crackers or Melba toast with tapenade, pesto, etc. An array of drinks, and so forth.

Being Poor, What It's Like


20 December update: POOR Magazine.

BAD Plans

Wednesday's Tribune-Herald had a front-pager about the Naniloa Resort and its new owners' plans for it, including a three-story-high sculpture of a whale! Because a lot of art and artifacts will be on display throughout the hotel, the owners want to play up the museum aspect, to the point where visitors can't tell whether it's a hotel or a museum. To that end, bellhops will be called "curators", and instead of keys, guests will open their doors with so-called "museum passes." If Ken Fujiyama turned the Naniloa into a bad hotel, the new owners will turn it into a BAD* hotel.

(*See Paul Fussell's BAD: Or, the Dumbing of America, which in fact deals with BAD hotels.)

22 December update: The 5 February 2012 edition of the Tribune-Herald had an article titled, "Rebirth: Can Naniloa Reclaim Former Glory?" splashed across the front page. It began: "With a little imagination, the Naniloa Volcanoes Resort has the potential to be great." The article reveals that only one of the hotel's three towers, the Mauna Kea, was fully refurbished.

Brian McKnight, "Christmas Time is Here"

Friday, December 13, 2013

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Kunstler on the Federal Reserve, etc.

Another Kunstler column on the Federal Reserve and financial shananigans.

Belatedly posted because was down Monday, I was busy cleaning Tuesday, and had a molar extracted on Wednesday morning, from which procedure I had to rest the remainder of the day.

I got the December issue of Harper's, which wasn't that special. There was a good "Easy Chair" column by Thomas Frank on Chicago: once a gritty working-class city that is now "home to the largest concentration of hipsters outside Brooklyn." But "beyond the perimeter of the nicer neighborhoods ... Chicago now leads the nation in homicides; just before my last visit, the crime wave crested in a South Side park, where a gunman unloaded his semiautomatic rifle into a group of kids playing basketball, hiting thirteen of them. Similar acts were occurring almost daily." (Frank doesn't mention that many Chicagoans refer to their city as "Chiraq", pronounced like eye-rack.) And a somewhat interesting account by Colson Whitehead of a 1991 road trip to Las Vegas he and two friends took. The best part of the article was the comparison of Vegas to a jellyfish flopping on the desert floor. Otherwise a standard contrarian piece proclaiming that the best thing about Vegas is its tackiness.

Compared with Joyce Carol Oates's recent story, "I Can Say Many Nice Things" by Ben Marcus was a letdown: a workshop-fiction kind of story about a fiction workshop held on a cruise ship. The author's new book will be published by Knopf next month. Based on what I've read, I don't think I'm missing much.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Not Yet in the Christmas Spirit

We're still catching up on work but I hope to start preparing for Christmas this week. It takes work, and doesn't just happen.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Belated Acknowledgment of the Thirtieth Anniversary of the Broadcast of The Day After

The Day After first aired nationally on 20 November 1983, on the ABC network. (There was a special screening a few days earlier in West Germany, for an audience of dignitaries.) I was in the second grade and the teacher said we ought to watch it. My mother said no, so I didn't. When I saw it a few years later (1989?) I'm glad I wasn't allowed to watch it as a seven year old.


Friday, November 29, 2013

Interesting article on jet fuel.

A natural-gas pipeline exploded in Missouri.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Century's End

Five writers, including Kunstler, predict the state of things at the end of the century.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

H.R. 2728

True. China feels a need to prove something. If you're inclined to boycott a country's goods, it's relatively easy to boycott Israeli products, but what about China's.

Monday, November 18, 2013

George Zimmerman Arrested--Again

George Zimmerman arrested on domestic violence charge after allegedly pointing a shotgun at his pregnant girlfriend's face. N.b. He is still married to Shellie Zimmerman, although they are estranged. Apprarently, Zimmerman and his girlfriend were breaking up.

The Field Negro's post.

A lot is coming out. Shellie Zimmerman's lawyer was finally able to serve her estranged husband with divorce papers--while he was in jail. And yesterday's Politics Nation with Al Sharpton concluded with Al interviewing a psychologist on Zimmerman's mental state.

Schilling Shilling

Kunstler takes on notions of energy independence and the seeming abundance of the shale boom.

Schilling Shilling

Such is the power of wishful thinking that a set of fool-making memes now pulses through the word-clouds of financial chatter in America spreading the false good cheer that our economic troubles are behind us and pimping for perpetual motion in wealth expansion. A poster boy for this bundle of falsehoods is financial analyst A. Gary Schilling. Just last week, he was talking out of his cloacal vent about US “energy independence” and “the manufacturing renaissance” that will allow this country to magically decouple from the compressive contraction driving the rest of the world.

Shilling is among the growing chorus of cheerleaders who believe that the shale oil and gas boom will make it possible for so-called “consumers” (what we foolishly call ourselves) to keep driving to Wal-Mart forever — which is the master wish behind all the current fantasies of endless expansion. That idea is going to leave a lot of people disappointed and put the nation further behind in the necessary reorganization of all the key systems that support everyday civilized life, namely: food production, commerce, transport, and the management of capital.

Here’s what’s actually going to happen with shale oil and gas. Best case scenario: shale oil production rises for three more years to about 2.3 million barrels a day and then crashes so quickly that in 10 years the shale oil industry ceases to exist. A less rosy forecast would admit that the exorbitant costs of drilling-and-fracking will not find the necessary capital to even take the industry that far. Rather, dwindling capital will see the shocking decline rates of shale wells (commonly 50 percent the first year and double digits the following) and will run shrieking for other places to hide.

Contrary to Gary Schilling’s blather, America is not practicing “energy conservation.” Rather, an economy engineered strictly to run on cheap oil has gotten crushed by oil that is not cheap. Does Schilling believe, for example, that American suburbia works just as well on $90-a-barrel oil as it did on $11-a-barrel oil, or that it has a future as the basic armature of daily life, or that we are doing anything meaningful to alter the burdens of living this way? My guess is that he has never thought about it.

Likewise, as the American economy got crushed by no-longer-cheap oil, all the working classes in this country below the one-percenters got crushed, hammered, and trashed. Among other things they can no longer afford is gasoline. Total vehicle miles driven has gone down by almost 3 percent since 2007. It will keep going down, and the Happy Motoring matrix will collapse for another reason: capital scarcity will translate into fewer available car loans for Americans, and fewer qualified borrowers, and Americans are used to buying their cars on installment loans.

The shale gas situation is also not the “energy savior” it’s cracked up to be. Because it costs so much to export the stuff, and we don’t have the export infrastructure in place — ocean terminals, fleets of special (expensive!) tanker ships — shale gas is hostage to the US domestic market. The initial boom was so extravagant that it produced a gas glut, which drove the price way below the level that makes it economically rational to drill for the stuff. Now, a lot of those drilling rigs are migrating to North Dakota, where the Bakken shale oil fields require perpetual increases in rig-counts to offset the rapid decline of existing wells.

The shale gas regions of Barnett (Fort Worth), Haynesville (Louisiana), and Fayetteville, Arkansas, are already dwindling. The “sweet spots” turned out to be smaller than the hype suggested. The Marcellus (Pennsylvania and New York) is next. Several of the other hyped shale gas “plays” — the Antrim and the Utica — proved too unpromising to even bother with and never made it out of the wish bag.

The problems with fracking and groundwater pollution are secondary to the economic quandaries as far as the fate of the industry is concerned. At under $8 a unit (1000 cubic feet), shale gas is not worth drilling-and-fracking for. It’s currently around $4. Above $8, Americans are going to have a hard time paying for it. So, enjoy the temporary glut and now stand back and watch the industry begin to dry up and blow away.

As for the “industrial renaissance,” clowns like Gary Shilling can’t put together the obvious trends. The talked-about new factories will be operated by robots, so there would be no employment renaissance to go along with them. Then there is the question of who might the products be sold to? To Americans who have no jobs and no money? To Europeans who are also going broke and also have the ability to roboticize industrial production and impoverish their own working people? To Asia, which is already at industrial over-capacity — and which will only grow worse as Americans and Europeans buy less stuff? I guess that leaves South America and Africa. Well, good luck with that.

Schilling is really only shilling for delusional stock market psychology, which tends to be a self-reinforcing racket until it reaches a threshold of credulity criticality and then implodes from a sudden loss of faith, ruining even a great many one percenters. Money may indeed keep pouring into the US stock markets, especially from other countries, where the money is frightened. I’ll tell you what it ought to be really frightened about: that it doesn’t represent genuine capital, i.e. has no real value. One day not distant, all the nations will discover that their money is only notional and that notions have a way of going up in a vapor. Foolish ideas, though, appear more durable and plentiful. They just keep coming, no matter what’s going on in reality.

My basic wish is that we would quit all our wishing in America and get on with the job of transforming our economic arrangements to a scale and mode that are consistent with the resource and capital realities of these times — before they whap us upside the head and put and end to the project of remaining civilized.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Vegetable-Gardening Website

Monday, November 11, 2013

Kunstler: The Turning

Kunstler: The Turning

In these northern climes, this turning into the year’s final quarter feels written in the blood, or at least into the legacy code of culture. The leaves skitter across the streets in an early twilight, chill winds daunt man and dog, the landscape buttons itself up for the long sleep, and human activity moves indoors — including the arduous festivities around the spooky solstice. We take the comfort that we can in all that. But a strange torpor of event attends this year’s turning. In the year’s final happenings, nothing seems to happen, and what little does happen seems not to matter. The world sits with frayed nerves and hears a distant noise, which is the cosmic screw of history turning.

The nation gets over everything without resolving anything — fiscal cliffs, debt ceilings, health care implosions, domestic spying outrages, taper talk jukes, banking turpitudes, the Syria bluster, the Iran nuke deal fake-out. It’s dangerous to live as though there was no such thing as consequence. Societies have a way of reaching a consensus about something without ever stating it outright. The American public has silently agreed to sit on its hands though one more Christmas and after that things shake loose.

What happens, for instance, in the limbo months of ObamaCare ahead, when people either won’t sign in for health insurance, or can’t because of the stupidity of the website design, and the failure of its work-arounds, and the number rises of people falling seriously ill without insurance, and the ludicrously extortionate hospital bills start rolling in and the machinery of bankruptcy and re-po turns the screws on tens of thousands of families — while the insurance company executives spend their 2013 bonus money on Beemers and McMansion additions? There must be some threshold for criticality there, some breaking point that prompts a swindled population to break out its fabled arsenals. Say, somewhere in America a child tragically dies after being hit by a car and three unsuccessful surgeries to try to fix the damage, and thirty days after the funeral, the uninsured dad gets a bill for $416,000? I doubt a society can withstand many insults like that.

Above all, this big nation has failed to reckon the central quandary of our time: the fatal hypertrophy of finance. This ghastly engine of rackets and swindles is the enlarged heart of a dying body politic, and all we know how to do is feed it more monetary Cheez Doodles. This has been going on far longer than the doctors and the witch doctors thought possible, and there is a foolish hope among the credulous that the larger organism of the economy must therefore be immortal. But the reality-based minority stoically awaits the final congestive infarction.

Everything points to 2014 as the moment the pretending stops and things get real. Nobody believes anymore that the Federal Reserve can replace an economy of authentic transactions with promissory notes. There is only one final thing that can happen with the Fed, and that is losing all control over rising interest rates. Janet Yellen is being set up as one of the epic chumps of history, and proof of her academic fecklessness is the mere fact that she accepted the post as Fed chair. She will preside over a fabulous disappearance of wealth in America. The blame for it will be epic, too, but it will not represent any genuine understanding of what happened.

Much is being made of the loneliness of Barack Obama these days. He also occupies a rather tragic niche in history — or the arc of his story at least points that way these days. Right now, it is very hard to tell whether he has been a hostage or a fool. He could have moved to break up the big banks in January of 2009, and any time since then he could have sent a memo to the Department of Justice instructing the prosecutions of financial crime to begin in earnest (or replaced the Attorney General). Didn’t happen. Was he being blackmailed by the likes of Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein, or did he just not know what was at stake?

The history of Barack Obama will be one long record of omissions to act, not just overt failures. He is the Bartleby the Scrivener of our politics. He “prefers not to….” Hence, the powerful lure of the charismatic figure who is sure to act. Adolf Hitler was very clear about his proposed program in the early 1920s, a decade before he came to power. He spelled it out unmistakably in his speeches and his political testament, Mein Kampf: do away with pain-in-the-ass democracy and destroy the Jews. He couldn’t have put it more plainly. The residual admiration for Hitler among the extreme right-wingers of today derives mainly from the simple fact that the man actually did what he said he would do. You can’t overstate the potential hunger for that sort of thing. The current climate of US politics being Weimar-on-steroids, I’m sure that an American corn-pone Hitler would have huge appeal for a beaten-down citizenry.

The means for such a coup of the zeitgeist are rather frightful now: drone aircraft, computer surveillance, militarized police, a puppet press. It makes thoughtful folks queasy. My bet, though, is that a fascist takeover of the US would end up being as inept and ineffectual as ObamaCare. It is one of the great hidden blessings of our time, actually, that anything organized on the massive scale is doomed to failure. But it is likewise the great mission of our time to prepare to get local and smaller, something we’re not really ready for and certainly not interested in. The intertwining of these dynamics will be the story in the year to come.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Oil and Gas Exploration in Somalia

On oil and gas exploration in Somalia.
When we look back at the early twenty-first century, we will be astounded by the pace of social change.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Goliath Arrives

I received my copy of Goliath in the mail yesterday. It's a substantial book, which Max Blumenthal began writing in 2009. I think publication was delayed a few times so he could include more material. Following his Twitter account these last few years is how I learned about the persecution of African migrants in Israel.

Some people have crowed that the book is a "flop" (especially when compared to the sales for Killing Jesus and Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims). Two reasons why it hasn't gone gangbusters, I think, are:

It deals almost exclusively with the situation inside Israel, whereas Republican Gomorrah was about American politics. And, it is a very critical overview of Israeli history and society. So, the cable-news shows that featured RG in 2009 have not done the same with Goliath because it's not America-centric and because it "goes there" on Israel. Yet, the book is one of Amazon's top sellers on the topic of Israel.

This review, at Religion Dispatches, is mixed, but also worth reading.

9 November update: Towards the end of Goliath, Max focuses on young Israelis immigrating to the U.S. and Germany. Berlin has a sizable Israeli population.

10 November update: "Attacks on Max Blumenthal's Goliath Escalate Veer Into Wingnut Land."

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Drilling for Oil in the West Bank

6 November update: On a related note, Israel is counting on a natural gas field to become "energy independent."

But as we've seen from Eike Batista, there might not be much in the ground anyway.

Even if there is, Israel will have to "navigate a geopolitical quagmire that risks angering enemies and enemies alike" according to an Associated Press article ("Israel Faces Geopolitical Tangle With Natural Gas" by Tia Goldenberg) published in the 30 March 2013 edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. The article adds that Israel's discoveries of the Tamar and Leviathan gas fields represent "just a portion of the huge reserves in the Levant Basin, which the U.S. Geological Survey estimated in 2010 holds some 122 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas."

Much to Write About

It sounds better than another cutesy/clever/navel-gazing novel.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Football and Farming

Inspiring story of a small Dallas-area college which gave up football (because it was a financial drain) and converted its field into an organic farm.

It might be the first, but certainly won't be the last football field to become a farm or garden.

I'm reprinting this pro-football speech, because it shows that football isn't going away yet. But small colleges will continue to end their football programs.

“Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.”

September 2013

John J. Miller
Director, Herbert H. Dow II Program in American Journalism
Hillsdale College

Football and the American Character
JOHN J. MILLER is director of the Herbert H. Dow II Program in American Journalism at Hillsdale College and national correspondent for National Review. A graduate of the University of Michigan, where he served as editor of the Michigan Review, he has also worked on the staff of The New Republic. A contributing editor of Philanthropy magazine, he writes regularly for newspapers and journals including the Detroit News, the Wall Street Journal, and National Review. He is the author of several books, including The First Assassin, a novel set during the Civil War, and most recently The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football.

The following is adapted from a luncheon speech delivered at Hillsdale College on September 9, 2013.

When we talk about football, we usually talk about our favorite teams and the games they play. The biggest ongoing story in the sport right now, however, is something else entirely. It’s not about the Bears vs. the Packers or Michigan vs. Ohio State, but rather the controversy over concussions and the long-term health effects of head injuries.

On August 29, 2013, the National Football League agreed to pay $765 million to settle a lawsuit involving more than 4,500 players and their families, who had claimed that the league covered up data on the harmful effects of concussions. Although medical research into football and long-term effects of head injuries is hardly conclusive, some data suggest a connection. A number of legal experts believe the NFL, which will generate about $10 billion in revenue this year, dodged an even bigger payout.

Football, of course, is much bigger than the NFL and its players, whose average yearly salary is nearly $2 million. Football’s ranks include about 50,000 men who play in college and four million boys who play for schools or in youth leagues whose pockets aren’t nearly so deep. A Colorado jury recently awarded $11.5 million to a boy who suffered a paralyzing injury at his high school football practice in 2008. How long will it be before school districts begin to think football isn’t worth the cost?

Earlier this year, President Obama waded into the debate. “If I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football,” he said. He also called for football “to reduce some of the violence.” Others have called for a more dramatic solution: Malcolm Gladwell, the bestselling author of The Tipping Point and other books, thinks football should go the way of dogfighting. He would like to see America’s favorite sport run out of polite society.

So football’s future is uncertain. But the past may offer important lessons. After all, football’s problems today are nothing compared to what they were about a century ago: In 1905, 18 people died playing the sport. Football became embroiled in a long-running dispute over violence and safety—and it was almost banned through the efforts of Progressive-era prohibitionists. Had these enemies of football gotten their way, they might have erased one of America’s great pastimes from our culture. But they lost—and it took the efforts of Theodore Roosevelt to thwart them.

On November 18, 1876, Theodore Roosevelt, a freshman at Harvard who had just turned 18, attended his first football game. Destined for great things, he was enthusiastic about athletics in general and eager to see the new sport of football in particular. So here he was at the second game ever played between Harvard and its great rival Yale.

As Roosevelt shivered in the cold and windy fall weather, he watched a game that was quite different from the sport we know today. There were no quarterbacks or wide receivers, no first downs or forward passes. Before play began, the teams met to discuss rules. What number of men would play? What would count for a score? How long would the game last? They were like school kids today who have to set up boundaries, choose between a game of touch or tackle, and decide how to count blitzes.

Harvard’s veterans agreed to a couple of suggestions proposed by Yale. The first would carry a lasting legacy: Rather than playing with 15 men to a side, as was the current custom, the teams would play with eleven men. So this was the first football game to feature eleven players on the field per team.

The second suggestion would not shape the sport’s future, but it would affect the game that afternoon: Touchdowns would not count for points. Only goals—balls sailed over a rope tied between two poles—kicked after touchdowns or kicked from the field during play would contribute to the score.

In the first half, Harvard scored a touchdown but missed the kick. By the rules of the day, this meant that Harvard earned no points. At halftime, the game was a scoreless tie.

After the break, Yale pushed into Harvard territory and a lanky freshman named Walter Camp tried to shovel the ball to a teammate. It was a poor lateral pass that hit the ground and bounced upward, taking one of those funny hops that can befuddle even skilled players. In a split second, Oliver Thompson decided to take a chance on a kick from about 35 yards away and at a wide angle. The ball soared into the air, over the rope and through the uprights, giving Yale a lead of 1-0. No more points were scored that afternoon.

In a letter to his mother the next day, Roosevelt gave voice to the frustration that so often accompanies defeat in sports. “I am sorry to say we were beaten,” he wrote, “principally because our opponents played very foul.”

More about Teddy Roosevelt and what he did for football in a moment. But first, let me discuss briefly why football matters.

Love for a college football team, whether it’s the Texas Longhorns or the Hillsdale Chargers, is almost tribal. In some cases the affiliation is practically inherited, in others chosen. Whatever the origin, football has the power to form lifelong loyalties and passions and has supplanted baseball as America’s favorite pastime. Yet it almost died 100 years ago. Over the course of an ordinary football season in those days, a dozen or more people would die playing it, and many more suffered serious injuries. A lot of the casualties were kids in sandlot games, but big-time college teams also paid a price.

Football isn’t a contact sport—it’s a collision sport that has always prized size, strength, and power. This was especially true in its early years, when even the era of leatherheads lay in the future: Nobody wore helmets, facemasks, or shoulder pads. During the frequent pileups, hidden from the view of referees, players would wrestle for advantage by throwing punches and jabbing elbows. The most unsporting participants would even try to gouge their opponents’ eyes.

The deaths were the worst. They were not freak accidents as much as the inevitable toll of a violent game. And they horrified a group of activists who crusaded against football itself—wanting not merely to remove violence from the sport, but to ban the sport altogether. At the dawn of the Progressive era, the social and political movement to prohibit football became a major cause.

The New York Evening Post attacked the sport, as did The Nation, an influential magazine of news and opinion. The latter worried that colleges were becoming “huge training grounds for young gladiators, around whom as many spectators roar as roared in the [Roman] amphitheatre.” The New York Times bemoaned football’s tendency toward “mayhem and homicide.” Two weeks later, the Times ran a new editorial entitled “Two Curable Evils.” The first evil it addressed was lynching. The second was football.

The main figure in this movement to ban football was Charles W. Eliot, the president of Harvard and probably the single most important person in the history of higher education in the United States. Indeed, Eliot hated team sports in general because competition motivated players to conduct themselves in ways he considered unbecoming of gentlemen. If baseball and football were honorable pastimes, he reasoned, why did they require umpires and referees? “A game that needs to be watched is not fit for genuine sportsmen,” he once said. For Eliot, a pitcher who threw a curve ball was engaging in an act of treachery. But football distressed him even more. Most of all, he despised its violence. Time and again, he condemned the game as “evil.”

One of Eliot’s main adversaries in the battle over football was Walter Camp, one of the players in the game Teddy Roosevelt watched in 1876. A decent player, Camp made his real mark on football as a coach and a rules-maker. Indeed, he is the closest thing there is to football’s founding father.

In the rivalry between Eliot and Camp, we see one of the ongoing controversies in American politics at its outset—the conflict between regulators bent on the dream of a world without risk, and those who resist such an agenda in the name of freedom and responsibility. Eliot and other Progressives identified a genuine problem with football, but their solution was radical. They wanted to regulate football out of existence because they believed that its participants were not capable of making their own judgments in terms of costs and benefits. In their higher wisdom, these elites would ban the sport for all.

Into this struggle stepped Theodore Roosevelt. As a boy, he had suffered from chronic asthma to the point that relatives wondered if he would survive childhood. His mother and father tried everything to improve his health, even resorting to quack cures such as having him smoke cigars. Ultimately they concluded that he simply would have to overcome the disease. They encouraged him to go to a gym, and he worked out daily. The asthma would stay with Roosevelt for years, but by the time he was an adult, it was largely gone. For Roosevelt, the lesson was that a commitment to physical fitness could take a scrawny boy and turn him into a vigorous young man.

This experience was deeply connected to Roosevelt’s love of football. He remained a fan as he graduated from Harvard, entered politics, ranched out west, and became an increasingly visible public figure.

In 1895, shortly before he became president of the New York City police commission, he wrote a letter to Walter Camp that read as follows:

I am very glad to have a chance of expressing to you the obligation which I feel all Americans are under to you for your championship of athletics. The man on the farm and in the workshop here, as in other countries, is apt to get enough physical work; but we were tending steadily in America to produce . . . sedentary classes . . . and from this the athletic spirit has saved us. Of all games I personally like foot ball the best, and I would rather see my boys play it than see them play any other. I have no patience with the people who declaim against it because it necessitates rough play and occasional injuries. The rough play, if confined within manly and honorable limits, is an advantage. It is a good thing to have the personal contact about which the New York Evening Post snarls so much, and no fellow is worth his salt if he minds an occasional bruise or cut. Being near-sighted I was not able to play foot ball in college, and I never cared for rowing or base ball, so that I did all my work in boxing and wrestling. They are both good exercises, but they are not up to foot ball . . . .

I am utterly disgusted with the attitude of President Eliot and the Harvard faculty about foot ball . . . .

I do not give a snap for a good man who can’t fight and hold his own in the world. A citizen has got to be decent of course. That is the first requisite; but the second, and just as important, is that he shall be efficient, and he can’t be efficient unless he is manly. Nothing has impressed me more in meeting college graduates during the fifteen years I have been out of college than the fact that on the average the men who have counted most have been those who had sound bodies.

As this letter indicates, Roosevelt saw football as more than a diversion. He saw it as a positive social good. When he was recruiting the Rough Riders in 1898, he went out of his way to select men who had played football. The Duke of Wellington reportedly once said, “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.” Roosevelt never said anything similar about football fields and the Battle of San Juan Hill, but when he emerged from the Spanish-American War as a national hero—and as someone talked about as being of presidential timber—he knew how much he owed not just to the Rough Riders, but to the culture of manliness and risk-taking that had shaped them.

Like Roosevelt, our society values sports, though we don’t always think about why—or why we should. My kids have played football, baseball, hockey, soccer, and lacrosse. As a family, we’re fairly sports-oriented. It has forced me to think about a question that a lot of parents probably ask at one time or another: Why do we want our kids to participate in athletics?

Many parents will point to the obvious fact that sports are good for health and fitness. They’ll also discuss the intangible benefits in terms of character building—sports teach kids to get up after falling down, to play through pain, to deal with failure, to work with teammates, to take direction from coaches, and so on.

It turns out that there really is something to all of this. Empirical research shows that kids who play sports stay in school longer. As adults, they vote more often and earn more money. Explaining why this is true is trickier, but it probably has something to do with developing a competitive instinct and a desire for achievement.

Roosevelt was surely correct in believing that sports influence the character of a nation. Americans are much more likely than Europeans to play sports. We’re also more likely to attribute economic success to hard work, as opposed to luck. It may be that sports are a manifestation—or possibly even a source—of American exceptionalism.

When Roosevelt ascended to the presidency, football remained controversial and Harvard’s Eliot continued his crusade for prohibition. In 1905, Roosevelt was persuaded to act. He invited Walter Camp of Yale to the White House, along with the coaches of Harvard and Princeton. These were the three most important football teams in the country. “Football is on trial,” said Roosevelt. “Because I believe in the game, I want to do all I can to save it.” He encouraged the coaches to eliminate brutality, and they promised that they would.

Whether they meant what they said is another matter. Walter Camp didn’t see anything wrong with the way football was played. Harvard’s coach, however, was a young man named Bill Reid. He took Roosevelt more seriously, because he took the threat to football more seriously. Indeed, within weeks of meeting with Roosevelt, he came to fear that Eliot was on the verge of success in having Harvard drop the sport, which would have encouraged other schools to do the same.

At the end of the 1905 season, therefore, Reid plotted with a group of reform-minded colleges to form an organization that today we know as the NCAA and to approve a set of sweeping rules changes to reduce football’s violence. In committee meetings, Reid outmaneuvered Camp while receiving critical behind-the-scenes support from Roosevelt.

As a result, football experienced an extreme makeover: The yardage necessary for a first down increased from five to ten. Rules-makers also created a neutral zone at the line of scrimmage, limited the number of players who could line up in the backfield, made the personal foul a heavily penalized infraction, and banned the tossing of ballcarriers.

These were important revisions, and each was approved with an eye toward improving the safety of players. Yet the change that would transform the sport the most was the introduction of the forward pass. Up to this point, football was a game of running and kicking, not throwing. There were quarterbacks but not wide receivers. It took a few years to get the rule right—footballs needed to evolve away from their watermelon-like shape and become more aerodynamic, and coaches and players had to figure out how to take advantage of this new offensive tool. But on November 1, 1913, football moved irreversibly into the modern era.

Army was one of the best teams in the country, a national championship contender. It was scheduled to play a game against a little-known Catholic school from the Midwest. The headline in the New York Times that morning read: “Army Wants Big Score.” The little-known Catholic school was Notre Dame. Knute Rockne and his teammates launched football’s first true air war, throwing again and again for receptions and touchdowns. And they won, 35-14. Gushed the New York Times:

"The Westerners flashed the most sensational football that has been seen in the East this year. The Army players were hopelessly confused and chagrined before Notre Dame’s great playing, and their style of old-fashioned close line-smashing play was no match for the spectacular and highly perfected attack of the Indiana collegians."

A West Point cadet named Dwight Eisenhower watched from the sidelines. He was on Army’s team but didn’t play due to injury. “Everything has gone wrong,” he wrote to his girlfriend. “The football team . . . got beaten most gloriously by Notre Dame.”

With that game, football’s long first chapter came to a close. It had reduced the problem of violence, and the game that we enjoy today was born.

The example of Roosevelt shows that a skillful leader can use a light touch to solve a vexing problem. As a general rule, of course, we don’t want politicians interfering with our sports. The only thing that could make the BCS system worse is congressional involvement.

At the same time, our political leaders help to shape our culture and our expectations. They can promise a world without risk, or they can send a different message. As a father myself, I can sympathize with President Obama’s cautious statements about football. At the same time, his comments would have benefited from some context: Gregg Easterbrook, who writes a football column for ESPN, has pointed out that a teen who drives a car for an hour has about a one in a million chance of dying—compared to a one in six million chance for a teen who spends an hour practicing football.

Americans are a self-governing people. We can make our own judgments about whether to drive or play football—and when we make these choices, we can make them in recognition of the fact that although sports can be dangerous, they’re also good for us. They not only make us distinctively American, they make us better Americans.
Copyright © 2013 Hillsdale College. The opinions expressed in Imprimis are not necessarily the views of Hillsdale College. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the following credit line is used: “Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.” SUBSCRIPTION FREE UPON REQUEST. ISSN 0277-8432. Imprimis trademark registered in U.S. Patent and Trade Office #1563325.

Excellent post by Louis Proyect about bullying in the NFL and football as a modern gladiator sport.

Friday, November 01, 2013

The Downfall of Eike Batista

Eike Batista, once the richest man in Brazil and the eighth-richest man in the world, prepares for bankruptcy. He'd borrowed billions to fund exploration of offshore oil deposits, whose value he'd estimated at a trillion dollars.

I'll post a lot more on this, but as the article says:

Batista and OGX had to admit that their much-hyped “new frontier” of oil off the Brazilian coast was actually a collection of mediocre-to-dud oil wells. Production would come nowhere close to paying off the billions he had borrowed in the bond market to finance exploration and production.

At one point Batista was worth $34.5 billion but has since lost $30 billion! He still has several hundreds of millions of dollars.

60 Minutes segment from December 2010:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I Wouldn't Talk

The bad language is in this person's tweet. I apologize in advance.

I wouldn't call either Eric Alterman or Max Blumenthal "radical leftist." Alterman is left-liberal and Blumenthal is left. The terms a**hole and d-bag apply to Alterman and certainly to the tweeter. Just look at his face.

7 November 2013 update: Takes one to know one.

White-on-Black Violence

(a post in progress)

I'm keeping track of the aftermath of the George Zimmerman trial* but wanted to list some lesser-known cases of white-on-black gun violence and their relation to stand-your-ground laws.

Michael Dunn shot and killed a black teenager at a gas station.

*2 November update: George Zimmerman had left a bullet-riddled target for his wife.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Kunstler: "Two Forces and Three Bears"

"Two Forces and Three Bears"

In these climax years of industrial technocratic society, two opposing forces shape the destiny of government: the desperate effort to control everything versus the decline of the ability to carry out that effort. The result will be the loss of legitimacy and the collapse of government from the highest levels, moving downward until the real power to make anything work re-sets at a feasible and appropriate level — probably very local. This dynamic is seen very clearly in three spectacles du jour: the “national security” (spying) mess, government-sponsored accounting fraud in finance, and the ObamaCare rollout.

As history develops, people do things for the simple reason that it seems like a good idea at the time. Computer tech made it possible for bureaucrats and military apparatchiks to invade the privacy of everybody, but in the end it only had the effect of embarrassing the perpetrators and eroding a big chunk of the US government’s legitimacy. The attempt at maximum control will eventually lead to maximum resistance and, quite possibly, some sort of political revolution, perhaps starting with the death of the two dominant political parties. When political disruption finally occurs, it will manifest quickly, as criticality thresholds are breached. It has the potential of taking this society in very undesirable directions including civil war, theocracy, and war against other peoples.

The diminishing returns of computer technology applied to intelligence gathering are that it produces more mountains of data than any team of professionals can make sense of, and it prompts said professionals to make mischief with the information that is easiest to sort out: the financial records of ordinary citizens. Nothing will create political resistance more surely than messing with people’s money. The NSA apparatus is now a self-reinforcing monster that will strive for ever more control ineffectively, creating a debris path of ever more embarrassment and resentment. A lone true patriot like Snowden does more to oppose this monster than all the “freedom” and “liberty” spouting, flag-lapel-pin-wearing cowards in either political party.

The pervasive accounting fraud in the attempt to prop up an unsound banking system is even closer to criticality. A society that produces tradable goods needs sound money which functions as 1) a medium of exchange, 2) a store of value 3) a unit of account for establishing prices. The combined accounting frauds in Federal Reserve policy, private banking and securities markets, and government fiscal management is destroying all these functions. The more abstracted finance gets from real productive activity, the more fragile the system becomes. We are doing nothing now except adding more complexity and abstraction to it, causing the system to become more detached from reality. In effect, we’re opting to forego an economy based on goods in favor of one based on empty promises and paper swindles. The potential and probable consequent destruction of nominal wealth would be an event that advanced technocratic society likely will not recover from — in the sense that today’s standard of living could be preserved for billions of people worldwide. That destruction would herald a new dark age, this time without any prospect of recovery via the exploitation of natural resources, which will have been depleted.

The ObamaCare piece of the picture is a mere pathetic soap opera compared to the first two quandaries. The 2000-page law did nothing to address the core tragedy of medicine in America — namely, that it has evolved into a hideous hostage racket. You go to a hospital with a terrifying illness and you are susceptible to fleecing by the so-called “care-givers” for the promise that you may get to live. No prices for treatment are [n]ever discussed. They are presumed to be astronomical — but who cares if you end up dead, and if you do get to live, you’ll figure that out later. If you hold an insurance policy, these charges will be subject to a fake negotiation between grifting insurance companies and grifting hospitals, physicians, and drug companies. The price “settlements” are only slightly less a joke than the actual charges, and are obfuscated in documents designed to bewilder even well-educated policy-holders.

Even if you are insured, the charges may bankrupt you. A typical one-day charge for “room and board” in a non-specialized hospital in-patient bed runs $23,000 at my local hospital. For what? Half a dozen blood-pressure checks and three bad meals? You can be sure that ever-fewer families will be able to fork over $12,000-a-year for basic coverage. The ObamaCare legislation and its laughable rollout of a useless website is just a punctuation mark at the end of the soap opera script. The result eventually will be the complete implosion of the medical racket and a return to a very primitive clinic system, with payment in chickens or cords of stove-wood. The smaller number of surviving humans will surely enjoy better health, and greater p[eace] of mind, when this monster racket expires of inertia, bad faith, and deceit.

These efforts to manage runaway hyper-complexity with more complexity are guaranteed to fail. Our prime task at this moment in history is managing contraction, and the means for doing that would be simplifying, not adding layers of complication larded with fraud, pretense, and mendacity.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


As Halloween approaches, I'm posting videos of horror movies, particularly those by the Ramsay Brothers.

Max Blumenthal Further Discusses His Book Goliath

Max Blumenthal discusses his book Goliath in an interview with

He acknowledges the book has received far less attention than his previous book Republican Gomorrah, because it's easy to look at the religious right but not Israel.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Movie Remakes

Not all movie remakes are bad, but generally they are. Paul Fussell wrote: "[A]mong the intelligent the threat of a remake was almost always a cause of sinking spirits as viewers experienced repeated disappointments comparing the 1964 Night Must Fall with the good one of 1937....Despite the obvious folly of trying to remake Modern Times, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, High Noon, or even On the Waterfront or Hud, someone ... is sure to try and then, when the contempt pours in, respond by designating the critics elitist."

This doesn't even cover what I call the "Hollywoodization" of foreign movies. Compare, for example, the 1996 Japanese movie Shall We Dance? about a salaryman who discovers the world of ballroom dance, with the brassy 2004 American version, starring Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Kunstler: "The Snapback"

Kunstler: "The Snapback"

I'll post the column soon. For now, I'll say that things are going as fast as they always are. They're building a giant gas station in the Safeway parking lot, for example. Everything's bigger and brassier than ever. I'll also say that I refuse to partake in the Christmas hype before it's time. I'll also write on Christmas creep.

22 September update: Here's Kunstler's latest. Coozledad has nothing on him when it comes to Southron-hatred.

The Snapback

Well, at least the poobahs cleared a path to the annual orgy of Christmas, which, along with the S & P 500, have become proxies for the American economy. Lately, the Christmas season starts directly after Halloween, so, the whole fourth quarter of the year becomes a circus of ceremonial distractions. In the background, though, the nation grinds toward anguish, measured in soiled Justin Bieber dolls deposited in the landfills.

Historians who look back on these strange years of suspended consequence will marvel at how this empire of grift kept its wheels turning after its engine died. Being on the downhill slope is often enough to keep anything going. One might think the young people of this land would be seething at the eclipse of their futures, but it seems they have been successfully lobotomized with cell phones — when the endorphin hits lag between text messages, they can watch sitcoms, or porn.

You can be sure there will be a snapback from all this drift and anomie, and when it comes, the snap will be savage. Like the US economy, the Republican Party is dead but hasn’t gotten the news. It killed itself just as the Whigs did in the years before the Civil War, by splitting up into factions — one faction of “know-nothings” preoccupied with scape-goats opposed to a faction of sclerotic parasitical fat-cats too timid and greedy to engage in the emergencies of the day.

The Tea Party faction should change its name to the Cracker Party because it represents the interests of white southerners who are too dumb to know what these emergencies amount to. They are really more comfortable with the supernatural, hence their fondness for religions based on snake-handling, visitations of the dead, and motor sports. Personally, I believe they will eventually contrive to form their own break-away Cracker Republic and attempt to re-enact the Civil War. They will fail, and starve, and find themselves back in an even worse long-term depression than Dixieland experienced from 1860 to 1960, in a de-suburbanized wasteland of bare subsistence farming. Their highest art will be soup-making.

The non-Tea Party Republicans will just shrivel and vanish out of sheer irrelevance. This leaves the Democrats to become the focus of intense ire as they attempt to ‘splain why the nation’s affairs went to shit on their watch. A lot of them will end up being executed and plundered by the new kid on the block, the Savior Party, led by some charismatic character willing to ignore procedural protocols to clear away the debris left by his-or-her predecessors. Alas, the juice will not be there to permit the Savior to really control a territory as large as the continental USA. By juice, I mean money and oil. Thus, the nation enters its new dark age.

Who knows when that will get underway in earnest, though I think the folks who say 2014 are onto something. If you believe in cycles, which I tend to, then it rhymes nicely with 1814 and 1914, two watersheds when one epoch ended and another truly began. 2014 would logically be the year that China tells America to go piss up a rope. The message would be sent on the back of the envelope containing $2.7 trillion in official American debt paper. As Ole Blue Eyes used to say, this could be the start of something big.

Sentient observers of the current scene are clearly frustrated by the remarkable homeostasis that seems to rule the scene, these horse-latitudes of history where the air is still and nothing moves and the mind is exhausted by watchful waiting. Things will get lively, soon enough, so enjoy the holiday quarter of the year which is so soon upon us. Gorge on candy corn. When you recover from that, roast a turkey. Then make a nice figgy pudding. Then pop some bubbly and salute your loved ones. Then gird your loins for the new age of consequence.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Weekend Movies

Pretty astute rundown of this weekend's movies. Benedict Cumberbatch has the kind of name the studio bosses of old would not abide. In other words, they'd say, "Benedict Cumberbatch?! What kind of name is that?! There's something European about you, maybe French? What about--Julian Assange? Yes. From now on, you're Julian Assange!"

Friday, October 18, 2013

Alterman vs. Blumenthal

In The Nation, Eric Alterman panned Goliath, Max Blumenthal's book on Israel, and Max has been tweeting away.

Some Nation writers are known for their feuds with their colleagues: Alexander Cockburn vs. Christopher Hitchens, Eric Alterman, and Katha Pollitt; Hitchens vs. Pollitt and Cockburn; Alterman vs. Cockburn, and now Blumenthal. Hitchens even quit the magazine.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

And I'll look at Hattie's post about Tea Partiers signing up for Medicare.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Light Yogurt and Anachronisms

If he were actually "a busy woman in 1983" he would've more likely had a Tofutti or a Tab, because Yoplait Light had just hit the market around early 1989, as pointed out in this Chicago Tribune article.

Kunstler: "Creepily Close"

"Creepily Close"

Things that can’t go on, the prophet Herb Stein once observed, go on until they can’t. Criticality eventually bushwhacks credulity. The aggregation of rackets that American life has become is rolling over like a great groaning wounded leviathan and the rest of the world is starting to freak out at the spectacle. Instead of a revolution, we’re having a suicide party.

But don’t worry, a revolution would not be far behind. My guess is that it would kick off as generational rather than regional or factional, but it would eventually incorporate all three. A generation already swindled by the college loan racket must be chafing at the bureaucratic nightmare that ObamaCare instantly turned into at its roll-out, with a website that wouldn’t let anyone log in. Isn’t technology wonderful? I wonder when the “magic moment” will come when all those unemployed millennials join a Twitter injunction to just stop paying back their loans. If that particular message went out during this month’s government food fight, it would do more than just get the attention of a few politicians. It would crash the banks and snap the links in every chain of obligation holding the fiasco of globalism together.

So far, the millennials have shown about as much political inclination as so many sowbugs under a rotten log, but it is in the nature of criticality that things change real fast. In any case, the older generations have completely disgraced themselves and it is only a question of how cruelly history will treat them in their unseating. The last time things got this bad, the guys in charge divided into two teams with blue and gray uniforms, rode gallantly onto the first fields of battle thinking it was a kind of rousing military theatrical, only to find themselves in a grinding four-year industrial-scale slaughter in which it was not uncommon for 20,000 young men to get shot to pieces in a single day — one day after another.

Of course, things are a bit different now since we became a nation of overfed clowns dedicated to getting something for nothing, but despite the abject futility of American life in its current incarnation, there is room for plenty of violence and destruction. The sad and peculiar angle of the current struggle is that both sides in government wish heartily to keep all the rackets of daily life going — they just disagree on the distribution method of the vig.

What amuses me at the moment is the behavior of the various financial markets and the cockamamie stories circulating to explain what they are doing in this time of perilous uncertainty. One popular story is called “the energy renaissance.” This is a fairy-tale that pretends that we have enough oil at a cheap enough price to keep driving to WalMart forever. Of course, shale oil wells that cost $12million to drill and produce 80 barrels-a-day for three years before crapping out altogether do not bode well for that outcome, but the wish to believe over-rides the reality. Another laughable story du jour is “the manufacturing renaissance.” This story proposes that the “central corridor” of the USA, from North Dakota to Texas, is about to give China a run for its money in manufacturing. The catch is that any new factory opening up in this scenario will be run on robots — leaving who, exactly, to be the customers paying for what these factories produce? Think about it for five minutes and you will understand that it is just a story calculated to goose up a share price here and there, and only for moment until it is discovered to be just a story. What interests me most is what happens when the stories lose their power to levitate the legitimacy of the people who tell them.

Well, Christine LeGarde, chief of the IMF, tried to read the riot act to the American clownigarchs over the weekend, but they’re not paying attention to her. What has she done for her own country, France, lately anyhow. They’ve got their own set of rackets running over there. The Chinese are getting a little prickly, too, since they are sitting on a few trillion in US promises to pay cash money in the not so distant future. The Chinese are beginning to apprehend that future perhaps never arriving.

In case you haven’t heard: America is “in recovery.” We can play all the games we want with money, or what passes for money these days. And then the moment will come when we can’t. That moment begins to feel creepily close.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Fossil Fuel Euphoria and "Petro Machismo"

We took in our computer for routine maintenance on Friday and picked it up this afternoon, so I've been offline. I'll post Kunstler's latest column as soon as possible, but now I'll link to this article by Michael T. Klare on fossil fuel euphoria and "petro machismo."

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fracking: Disproving Peak Oil or a Symptom of It?

Peter Orszag writes that the fracking boom disproves peak oil.

But what if fracking is really a symptom of peak oil?

The Shutdown and Political Variety

My staunchly rw friend and I were at his brother's place last Thursday and we watched a bit of Rachel Maddow and Hannity. Ann Coulter was a guest on Hannity and my friend gnashed his teeth about her. Up till now he sang her praises, even joking that he'd marry her. But he grumbled about her support for Chris Christie, unaware that she took it back because of his pro-reform stance on immigration. My friend thinks the Republican party should be all Tea Party, never mind that the TP viewpoint is that of a miniscule segment of the people, especially in Hawaii.

I miss the old days of Scoop Jackson Democrats and Rockefeller Republicans. I'd also like to see more parties represented in Congress: Green, Libertarian, Socialist, etc.

Monday, October 07, 2013

On the Racial Wealth Gap, Especially Between Blacks and Whites

I'll post more as I find links.

Kunstler: "Paradigm Blindness"

Kunstler spent a few days in Irvine, CA (a "notably honky and mercantalist" place, in the words of Paul Fussell).

Paradigm Blindness
by James Howard Kunstler

Something is sucking the air out of the humid terrarium that is US politics, making the lizards, tarantulas, and scorpions within hyperventilate. That something is the vacuum of disappearing wealth. All the accounting fraud, statistical mis-reporting, price manipulations, naked-short beat-downs, high-speed arbitrage hijinks, and carry trade rackets can’t conceal the reality that the nation is going broke – at least 99 percent of the nation. The remaining 1 percenters, outside the terrarium, are swimming in a pool of notional wealth that is primed to go down the drain and leave them at the bottom, desiccated little husks of animal matter that the crows will feed on.

The reason nobody seems to know what to do is because they know anything they do will make them look bad, so the only thing to do is nothing, with a sound track of lizard squawks and much darting of forked tongues. Nature is now in charge, not personalities, and nature is now leading a purblind humanity to the place it has to go, which is smaller, simpler, and local. The flailings and squawking of politicians can only avail to make the journey more painful and disorderly, but the march is on.

Leadership in every realm — politics, business, the ivory tower, media — does not grasp that the terms for carrying on the human project have changed. The agenda now is to go medieval, and not in the Pulp Fiction sense, but in our arrangements for daily life. We are being asked by nature to say goodbye gracefully to the hubris known as the current edition of modernity. If we don’t do this gracefully, nature will kick our ass out of it and drag the stragglers along kicking and screaming into the next disposition of things. That is pretty much the true subtext of the struggle in government this season, but it is not being translated at the conscious level into a coherent narrative that the public can understand. The failure of narratives produces a failure of leadership. Failures of leadership lead to failures of action.

I can especially understand this after being in a particular part of the USA for three days last week: Orange County, California, specifically the fiasco known as Irvine. This so-called “city” was once a ranch comprising hundreds of thousands of acres consolidated out of old Spanish land grants by one James Irvine, an Irish immigrant who made a fortune selling groceries and dry goods during the California Gold Rush and parlayed it into real estate — including eventually the nearly 200-square-mile tract of creosote bush and sagebrush forty-odd miles south of nascent Los Angeles. The so-called city named after Mr. Irvine — and still largely controlled by a private real estate development company he founded — prides itself on being rationally planned. By this they mean that all the angles have been figured out for producing massive volumes of exquisitely-tuned suburban sprawl at a nice profit.

One thing this demonstrates is that rational planning is not the same thing as intelligence because the end result on-the-ground is a nightmare of the most extreme car dependency in the nation, arguably even worse than Los Angeles. That it is also a nightmare of crushing uniformity, disconnection, boredom, and ennui probably matters less because the essence of the place’s character is that it has no future. There is absolutely no way that the American people can continue their Happy Motoring frolic for another generation, yet the Irvine Company is still busy slapping together new monocultures of housing pods, strip malls, and all the other usual furnishings with the kind of stupid confidence of people intoxicated on Rotary Club bullshit — which is to say zeal minus consciousness. It is the same frame-of-mind that produces the famous Orange County right wing politics.

Orange County, and places like it, represent a tremendous tragic problem for this country. They were the products of emergent economic forces that humans only pretended to control with their vaunted rational planning. They almost certainly cannot be fixed. They’re too big and the money won’t be there; it’s the essence of our predicament that capital formation is crippled and that situation will only get worse.These places will enter a state of widespread crisis within the next ten years, and possibly much sooner. The people who live there will see their property lose all its value, and then they will have to make choices about where to move to. In the process, they will dig in their heels, cause an immense amount of political mischief, and eventually lose anyway.

The emergent path of going medieval means living in smaller, tighter towns and doing some kind of business, or working some kind of trade, that is based in the economy of the town and its region. Under these conditions, things like the federal government are destined to wither. The dumbshow underway in Washington these days is just a symptom of all that.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Support Athletics? No Thanks.

I don't donate to athletic programs because they all have dedicated boosters. But what about the library? Or the humanities department? These and other college departments aren't as flashy so they don't get the big money sports programs do.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Gravity Looks Like a Heavy Movie

Based on the trailer playing on TV, that's much the vibe I get from this movie. It just doesn't capture my interest. But then I didn't think much of Turbo from its trailer, until I saw the movie and had my expectations exceeded.

Kunstlercast: The Economy as a Waste Engine

Kunstler discusses the economy with Steve Ludlum of the Economic Undertow blog.

I'll try to listen to it later.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

The Shutdown

As we were preparing to leave Monday for a short vacation in Waikoloa, the news had variations on a theme, "Countdown to the Shutdown." The shutdown would happen at 6 p.m. Hawaii time (midnight Eastern time). We left Hilo at 4:45 and listened off and on to NPR. By the time we reached our hotel at 6:30 p.m., the government had been closed for thirty minutes.

The next day, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser had coverage of the local effects, for example, the closure of the Volcano National Park.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Kunstler: "Then What?"

We end the month with Kunstler's latest, an overview of things written in his inimitable style. Next month, I plan to gather more information on aviation, climate change, Colorado, and sprawl in Hilo, then write a coherent overview.

Then What?

A theme in my 2005 book, The Long Emergency, was the counter-intuitive idea that the federal government, rather than becoming the omnipotent Big Brother Moloch so many feared, would instead spiral into impotence and become too incompetent and ineffectual to run everybody’s life. Another theme was that the USA was entering a political impasse comparable to the years that preceded the civil war, with many of the same old grudges playing out in disguise. What we’re seeing is an empire that had grown too quickly to even acknowledge it had become an empire, enter, just as quickly, the throes of contraction.

Hence, the great unacknowledged task before the leadership class is managing contraction. The radical Republicans, even in their Jeezus-driven transports of Dixieland retribution and John Bircher paranoia, come a little closer to recognizing the situation than the Democrats with their Leviathan problem — their nanny-state grandiosity. So, those red state radicals are gonna run that ole ‘possum up a gum stump now and see what happens.

What will happen is whole lot of uncertainty that will further undermine a faith-based economic system lurching on the fumes of legitimacy, especially where money and banking are concerned. The trouble with this kind of brinksmanship is that it is bound to produce unanticipated consequences. When the Carolina secessionists bombarded Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, they didn’t have in mind the carnage-to-come of Spotsylvania and Chancellorsville. Similarly, the genteel spectators who rode carriages out of Washington to observe the doings at Bull Run as if it were the NFL season opener. In short, neither the Union or the Confederacy had a clue that they were entering upon the world’s first extravaganza of industrial mass slaughter. So, one wonders if their descendents today realize that are toying with the financial suicide of an advanced technocratic society.

The merits of the case for or against Obamacare are almost impossible for even well-informed and educated citizens to parse. You start with a law roughly 2,000 pages long, cobbled together largely by lobbyists for the insurance and medical industries, both of them hideous rackets, and move to a labyrinth of 50 different state’s systems for administering the darn thing, and then consider the supposed beneficiaries, namely young people so burdened by college loans in an economy that only offers minimum wage scut-jobs that, from one day to the next, they probably don’t know whether to shit or go blind. They don’t even have the scratch to pay the opt-out tax, let alone purchase an insurance policy.

Beyond that kind of uncertainty is the certainty that a whole lot of things are primed to shake loose. One that deserves the anxiety it is generating is the question of US debt, which translates directly into the question of US currency, i.e., the fate of the dollar. Does the legislative branch want to play games with the only thing that supports the market for US Treasury paper — the dollar’s proxy — which is the generally-held notion that the full faith and credit of the nation stands behind promises to pay? 200 measly basis points in the ten-year note is all that stands between the pretense of economic stability and some pretty serious chaos in the government/banking matrix. The one-two punch of the continuing resolution for appropriations and the imminent debt ceiling crunch may rip the fabric of our constructed financial reality and open a black hole into which the wealth of nations disappears forever.

Some observers think a government shutdown would be salutary, the beginning of a wholesale house-cleaning of federal agencies and pain-in-the-ass public employees who get paid too much, enjoy too many benefits, and work strenuously to impede honest enterprise. There may be something to that. But the current actions in congress are more likely to produce a kind of epileptic seizure of all economic activity, public and private.

If congress is really hot to de-fund something, I suggest they start with defunding suburban sprawl, which enjoys more direct government subsidy than even the medical racket. I bet that would not go over so well in the big red Nascar states of Dixie, where driving in a car to do anything has been more-or-less mandatory for decades. This is the kind behavior that is truly killing American civilization, but it’s the last thing we will pay attention to.

Update to Post on George Zimmerman in Hiding

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Update to "All Aboard the MLK Bandwagon"

I added a link to my post "All Aboard the MLK Bandwagon."

Monday, September 23, 2013

George Zimmerman in Hiding

George Zimmerman in Hiding: Trying to Avoid Being Served Divorce Papers.

(26 September update) He was pulled over in August for excessively-tinted car windows.

Shellie Zimmerman Speaks to the Today Show.

Kunstler: "Taper (Not)"

In his weekly column, Kunstler alternates between peak oil and its effects on society and the precarious situation of the economy and financial system.--P.Z.

Taper (Not)
Remember, the doleful, lonesome figure of Ben Bernanke stands (or slumps) at the top of a pyramid of obfuscation so high, broad, and massive that all the debt serfs in a history of the future will not avail to reconstruct its hypothecated contours. When the world picks itself up from the smoldering ruins of the financial landscape currently being rigged to blow, nobody will be able to explain how the modern world collateralized itself out of existence.

What a set up. Bernanke gave the financial markets five months of the heebie-jeebies punctuated by a big fake-out and so the consensus finally perceives a giant green-light for resumed asset inflation. That’s why I like standing outside the consensus. Assets can inflate all they like on their way to the biggest train wreck of organized money ever recorded. Dow 20,000 is accelerating on a parallel track with the complete loss of confidence in paper representations of wealth. Enjoy your Facebook shares, or at least the digital ghost of them on your iPhone screen, while they’re fluorescing.

It was perfectly obvious all spring and summer that the Federal Reserve could not neck down its purchases of US Treasury debt paper and bundled mortgage swindles without causing the equivalent of the 1942 Boston Coconut Grove nightclub fire in the financial markets. But not pretending to contemplate the “taper” would have entailed an admission that the so-called economy was on artificial life support juice. That would have suited neither the politicians and their political economists, who clung to their “recovery” story, nor the 1 percenters who were the direct beneficiaries of the wealth transfer activated by the life support liquidity juice injections.

The net result is a return to the grand theme of pretend, with an increasingly dark outlook for the consequences, which will be the repudiation of what is officially called “money.” Meanwhile, congress now convenes to debate the question of extend, which can only add a frisson to the spectacle of pretend. The problem with these best laid plans of mouse-like creatures is that shit happens.

Those distant rumbles of thunder are the audible traces of the destruction at the margins, certainly out of earshot of those at the very center. The margins is the place where nations, towns, institutions, families, and individual lives are ground down into a fine entropic powder of broken dreams. From the standpoint of the blogger-journalist, the story has been about how the destruction travels from the margins to the center. The center has been able to protect itself so far with one swindle after another, at the expense of the poor schnooks at the margins. The swindles are so abstruse and impenetrable that the schnooks don’t have a clue what is hitting them. At least so far.

Faced with such a quandary, the schnooks may opt for political suicide, which is apparently the program of both major parties. Out of this sort of tragic muddle, Great Men emerge to galvanize the potential energy of the swindled multitudes. Recent models of this archetype are not so reassuring: Lenin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Ayatollah Khomeini. What history has in store for the USA is probably something that could only be cooked up on TV. One can hope that it turns out to be comedy, not something breaking bad.

Of course the inverse of the idiotic American exceptionalism story lies beyond the fact that were not as special as we think. There is a whole vast world beyond the podium of Ben Bernanke and in that big world other mouse-like creatures are working sedulously to take advantage of our exceptional fecklessness. Distracted by everything from same-sex marriage to Monday Night Football, we don’t pay attention to the attrition. They’ve got our gold now, and despite the theory that gold has no more intrinsic value than $100 Federal Reserve notes, you can bet that before this is all over it will buy whatever food and fuel remains in the ground.