Thursday, January 31, 2013
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Monday, January 28, 2013
By James Howard Kunstler
on January 28, 2013 9:13 AM
The gentlemen and ladies of the meme-o-sphere, where collective notions are birthed like sleet from clouds, have decided lately that the USA has entered a full-on broad-based bull market - a condition of general happiness and prosperity as far advanced beyond mere "recovery" as a wedge of triple-cream Saint-Andre cheese is advanced over a Cheez Doodle. It has become the master fantasy of the moment, following the birth of some junior memes such as... we have a hundred years of shale gas and the "housing sector" (i.e. the suburban sprawl-building industry) is "bouncing back." What a sad-sack nation of credulous twits we have become.
You can be sure that when a nation is led by the reality-deficient, unhappy outcomes are a sure thing. They will systematically destroy trust in the way things actually work and beat a fast path to either tyranny (where reality doesn't matter) or anarchy (where reality cannot be managed at all). This is what happens when nations go mad. Even when they are led by people later-determined to be "evil" (Hitler, Lenin) this sad process is allowed to happen because it just seems like a good idea at the time - which is the central political tragedy of human history. To the beaten-down Russians, Bolshevism seemed like a good-idea at the time. To the bankrupt, hopeless Germans, Naziism seemed like a good idea.
I'm not even sure what to call the current disposition of unreality in the USA, though it is clearly tinged with different colors of grandiosity ranging from the plain dopey idea of "American exceptionalism" to the wishful claim that we're about to become "energy independent," to the lame assertion so popular in presidential addresses that "together we can do anything." Speaking of the inaugural, in all the Second-Coming-of-Lincoln-Meets-MLK hoopla of the grand day, with the national mall lined by gigantic flat screen TVs (an Orwellian nightmare), and the heartwarming displays of ethnic diversity, and the stridently inoffensive songs and poem, there was the genial Mr. Obama at the epicenter of the huge ceremony delivering a bouquet of platitudes so stale and trite that it could have been composed in a first-year Harvard Law School ethics skull session at a back table of Wagamama. Despite all the blather about his graying hair, and the wisdom of age, and the supposed music of his rhetoric, I couldn't detect a single idea in Mr. Obama's inaugural address that wasn't either self-evident, or devised to flatter some "identity" bloc, or an imitation of old tropes out of the "Great Speeches" book.
What's obvious to me is what I have been fearing about this country for some time now: that all the disorders of our time would prompt a campaign to defend the status quo at all costs and to sustain the unsustainable. That is really the master wish behind all the political hijinks of the day, especially the pervasive accounting fraud in all high-order money matters. We see the comforts and conveniences of modernity slipping away and we'll do anything to try to hang onto them, including lying to ourselves to such an immersive degree about what is really happening that we suppose we can manufacture a happy counter-reality. That's at the heart of zero interest rate policies, and Federal Reserve manipulation of markets, and statistical misreporting from all the national agencies charged with adding things up. So, the Fed pumps its $90 billion-a-month and the Standard & Poor's index inflates like an old tire while ten thousand more families get added to the food stamp rolls, and the banks sit on enough foreclosed property to fill the state of Indiana, and another 25-year-old college loan debt serf ODs on vodka and Xanax because he finally understands that even bankruptcy will not save him from perpetual penury.
Apparently, there are moments in history when nations just get lost. I maintain that things would go a whole lot better for us if we acknowledge what is actually going on, namely: a major shift of direction into economic contraction after 200-plus thrilling years of expanding energy resources and easy-to-get material riches. It's in the nature of this world that things cycle and pulse, and we have entered a certain phase of the cycle that demands certain responses. We have to make the scale of human activities smaller, finer, simpler, and more rooted to the local particulars of place. We have to let go of WalMart [and Target, the archetypical retailer of the 2010s--P.Z.] and globalism and driving cars incessantly and attempting to manage the affairs of people half a world a way... and we just can't imagine engaging with this endeavor. That is true poverty of imagination.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Sunday, January 20, 2013
Thursday, January 17, 2013
Manti Te'O's fake relationship with his imaginary girlfriend sounded deeper, more meaningful and passionate than most real relationships...— Bret Easton Ellis (@BretEastonEllis) January 17, 2013
4.nancy said on January 17, 2013 at 8:15 am
Doesn’t anyone think there’s at least a halfway decent chance he was in on the deception? He was a top-five Heisman candidate, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he thought a little human-interest angle might have put him over the top.
9.nancy said on January 17, 2013 at 9:15 am
I think he’s gay. This is the tragically-dead-girlfriend plot from the gay canon: “I cannot marry, for you see, I have this tragically dead girlfriend. My heart was buried with her. So no, I won’t agree to be fixed up with your sister, for I no longer have the capacity to love. Say, is your brother still in town? We really need to catch up. Maybe have some drinks.”
13.nancy said on January 17, 2013 at 9:43 am
I dunno. A Mormon kid who plays football at a Catholic school might have trouble coming to public terms with his sexuality?
I’m doubling down on the Gay Theory. Although the Heisman should still be at 3-2.
30 January update: I added comments (above) by Nancy Nall in which she thinks Manti was gay. But it turns out that the hoaxer, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, engineered the deception because he was in love with Manti.
1 February update: Various tweets and retweets from one Akolea.
@cvpayne I don't get it. Only plausible explanation is the dude was on the down low.— Akolea (@akolea) January 17, 2013
@jaybwood no kidding. He will drop to the 4th round now.— Akolea (@akolea) January 17, 2013
why couldn't te'o just meet a pretty catholic gi-sorry i just couldn't get through that without laughing— TRAPBOY (@BadNewsRapDudes) January 17, 2013
advice to te'o: go on oprah, confess you made up lennay kekua, get a hug from oprah, and then watch her give away 50 new cars— TRAPBOY (@BadNewsRapDudes) January 17, 2013
Hey Manti, good luck in the 4th round draft. Do yourself a favor and don't have a news crew follow you on draft day. #nohomo— Akolea (@akolea) January 17, 2013
Doonesbury, a day late and a dollar short.
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Here is his list of the best movies of 2012. And not a mention of Zero Dark Thirty.
But Armond White does name Zero Dark Thirty, as markedly inferior not only to the French movie Unforgivable but also to Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and Taken 2 in his annual "Better Than" list.
Monday, January 14, 2013
Going To the Movies
By James Howard Kunstler
on January 14, 2013 9:26 AM
I don't go to the movies much anymore, alas, because the nearest mall cineplex -- owned by a company named Regal that runs the place like a self-storage facility -- is a dump with broken seats and teenage employees who forget to turn out the lights when the movie starts. But the weekend weather here was sloppy, and this is the movie awards season, and I wanted to get an idea of what Hollywood thinks America is about these days, so I hauled my carcass over to see Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty, in that order.
Years ago I rather admired Tarantino's Pulp Fiction for its rococo storytelling method and comic expansiveness. The sheer volume of gore and mayhem strained my suspension of disbelief, but I was charmed by the audacity -- for instance the scene where a character played by Quentin himself repeats to the two hit men with a dead body that he's not in the business of "dead n----r [dashes mine--P.Z.] storage," which was in there, I'm sure, just to rub a lot of sanctimonious minds the wrong way.
Django Unchained is something else: perhaps the most incoherent movie ever made, but in a way that nicely represents the culture that it comes out of. For the uninitiated, the movie tells the tale of a slave named Django ("the D is silent," actor Jamie Foxx informs another character) rescued from a slave coffle by a German bounty hunter named Schultz posing as an itinerant dentist. Together they ride forth to slaughter white people involved in the slavery business to 1) make a lot of money off bounties, 2) free Django's captive wife Broomhilda*, and 3) enjoy many acts of bloody revenge.
What you notice right away is that the filmmaker has no sense of American history or geography. One moment you're in the Sonoran Desert, the next moment the Montana Rockies. Huh? Of course the line on Tarantino by film savants is that his weltanschauung is a gleeful composition of movie history pastiche. That is, his ideas come only from other movies (or television), not from the so-called real world and the record of goings-on there. So in this case they are derived from previous movies made by earlier auteurs who got the details wrong about mid-19th century life. That may be so, but the difference is that the earlier movie directors, however mis-educated or befuddled by convention, might have cared about the milieu they attempted to represent. Tarantino is content to be wildly wrong about just about everything. Or rather, the details don't matter as long as the fantasy satisfies portions of the brain where ideas are not processed.
What interests me about all this is how perfectly Tarantino's mental universe reflects the current situation in our nation, in particular the infantile disregard for the facts of life, the self-referential inanity of our culture, and the complete absence of authenticity in anything. What disturbed me about the movie was the sense that Tarantino has set the table for race war, like a jolly arsonist playing with matches and gasoline in a foreclosed house. He won a Golden Globe award for directing last night.
Zero Dark Thirty tells the tale of a CIA unit based in Pakistan and its laborious efforts to track down Osama bin Laden, perpetrator of the 9/11 airplane attacks on the USA and other misdeeds. It focuses on the doings of a female American agent, uncelebrated in the annals of this long, strange "War on Terror," who pored over the minutiae of cell phone records for a decade before locating the messenger who led CIA watchers to bin Laden's hideout in Abbottabad, where Navy SEALs finally sent him to his eternal reward of feasts and virgins.
The movie, directed by Kathryn Bigalow[sic], is a bloodless recounting of some very grim and bloody business from recent history. The controversy around it comes from the extensive scenes of "extreme interrogation" carried out by American officials against captured jihadists in "dark" locations. Critics have objected to the movie's lack of a moral position about these brutal activities. Was it right? Was it wrong? The movie simply asserts that it happened that way. Some politicians have objected as to whether the depiction of all these matters is correct in the first place. Nor is the killing of bin Laden treated as an occasion for fist-pumping histrionics. If anything, the event leaves you with a hollow feeling and a bad taste for the time we live in. I admired especially - for the first time in many a movie - the absence of techno-triumphalism involving computers.
The contrast between the two movies is extremely interesting to me: Tarantino the populist, shall we say, reveling in a splatter-film Americana with barely a tenuous connection to reality, either historical, cultural, or emotional; and the assiduous Bigalow [sic] laying out the very serious business of capable adults engaging with a world that consistently terrifies and disappoints. Kathryn Bigalow didn't win an award for directing at the Golden Globes.
*Tarantino was most likely referring to the Broom-Hilda comic strip.--P.Z.
Sunday, January 13, 2013
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Tuesday, January 08, 2013
Monday, January 07, 2013
By James Howard Kunstler
on January 6, 2013 9:44 PM
The story behind the "fiscal cliff" melodrama and the much-memed handwringing about the "good-for-nothing congress" is probably not quite what it appears -- a set of problems that will eventually be overcome by "better leadership" armed with "solutions." The story is really about the permanent disabling of government at this scale and at this level of complexity. In other words, the federal government will never solve its obvious problems of mismanagement and bankruptcy and is now only in business to pretend that it can discharge its obligations (while employees enjoy the perqs). It's just another form of show business.
The same can be said of most of the state governments, too, of course, except that they have a lower capacity to pretend they can take care of anything. They can and will go bankrupt, and then they'll go begging to the federal government to bail them out, which the federal government will pretend to do with pretend money. By then, though, the practical arrangements of daily life would probably be so askew that politics would take a new, darker, and more extreme turn --among other things, in the direction of secession and breakup.
The wonder of it all is that there hasn't been civil disorder yet. When I go into the supermarket, I marvel at the price of things: a single onion for a dollar, four bucks for a jar of jam, five bucks for a box of Cheerios, four bucks for a wedge of cheese. Is everybody except Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein, and Mark Zuckerberg living on store-brand macaroni and ketchup? It's hard to measure the desperation of households in this culture of rugged individualism. At social gatherings friends rarely tell you that they are two months behind in their mortgage payment and maxed out on their credit cards. And that's the supposed middle class, at least the remnants of it. I can't tell you what the tattoo-and-falling-down-pants crowd talks about in the parking lot outside the 7-Eleven store. Perhaps they swap meth recipes.
Civil disorder would at least mean something, a consensus of dissatisfaction about how life is lived. Instead, we only get mad outbursts of tragic meaninglessness: the slaughter of innocent children in school, or movie theater patrons mowed down by a lone maniac during the coming attractions. Life imitates art, as Oscar Wilde said, and these days television is our art. Hence the United States is now equal parts Jersey Shore, Buck Wild, the Kardashians, and Honey Boo Boo. That's not really a lot to work with in terms of social capital, especially where radical politics might be called for.
Does anybody now breathing even remember radical politics? Whether you liked them or not -- and I was not crazy about the whole "revolution" of the late 1960s, which I lived through -- it at least represented a level of seriousness that is now absolutely and starkly absent today, especially in young people. Who, in the West, besides Julian Assange, has stuck his neck out in the past ten years? And please don't tell me Ron Paul, who had ample opportunity in congressional hearings over the years to really call out the banksters and their government wankster errand boys, and all he ever did was nip around their trouser legs.
So I stick to the point I made in The Long Emergency and again in Too Much Magic: expect America's national and state governments to only become more ineffectual and impotent. They will never recover from the insults inflicted on themselves. Events are in the drivers seat, including things unseen, and the people pretending to be in charge have arranged things into such a state of fragility that accidents are sure to happen, especially involving the basic structures of money. In case you don't know it yet, you're on your own now. Put whatever energy you can muster into finding a community to be a part of.
Meanwhile, reality stands by with mandates of its own. Do people like Barack Obama and John Boehner think we're going to re-start another round of suburban expansion (a.k.a. the housing market)? That's largely what the old economy was based on, and what Wall Street fed off of parasitically the past twenty years. That is so over. Do they believe that when absolutely every task in America is computerized there will be any gainful work outside of a sort of janitorial IT to tend all the computers. We've already seen what happens with the telephone system: after 30 years of techno-innovation in "communications," it's now impossible to get a live human being on the phone and robots call you incessantly during the dinner hour. Anyway, we don't really have the energy resources to supply the electricity for all this crap indefinitely, or probably even another twenty years.
All the tendencies and trends in contemporary life are reaching their limits at the same time, and as they do things will crack up and fall apart, whether it involves the despotic reach of a government, or a tyrannical corporation, or a hedge fund server farm stuffed with algo-crunching computers sucking the life out of every honest market transaction until the markets are zombies. The euphoria that greeted the end of the fiscal cliff ritual has settled back into the feckless collective state-of-mind that we call "bullish." It's all noise and the madness of crowds now. And black swans shitting on your head some sunny day.
Thursday, January 03, 2013
I'll have more later, but I remember when we got digital cable in 2001. Newsworld International was a Canadian-based news channel with much more international coverage than CNN or Fox News. It disappeared a few years later, replaced by Current. At the time, Current was a kind of proto-You Tube, with short videos, often made by viewers. Again, I'll expand on this later.
Tuesday, January 01, 2013
I donated recently, but I'll send a little more, and hope you do too.
Swans has been around since 1996. Help it stay around.Wikipedia page on Swans.