Friday, March 29, 2013

Roger Ebert's review of Pasolini's The Gospel of St. Matthew (1964), which he saw not long after watching Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (2004).

Hitting the

Reading today, I found out about Hitting the Stage, a website about Hawaii's theater scene. I might add it when I revamp my list of links.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Kunstler: Money Worries (a.k.a. Cyprus Ills)

Kunstler's latest. It would have been better titled "Cyprus Ills"

Money Worries
By James Howard Kunstler
on March 25, 2013 8:20 AM

Of course, everybody should have been worried a lot sooner than last week because the basic operating system of global banking is accounting fraud, and has become that stealthily, insidiously, for about fifteen years now. Nothing is what it appears to be anymore. Compound interest has not really been working since 2008 because the world can't increase its energy production enough to generate the additional surplus wealth needed to cover the aggregate interest due all around the world.

What remains are games of musical chairs, Ponzi schemes, frauds, swindles, stonewalls, ruses, ploys, scams, dodges, bluffs, subterfuges, QE martingales, interventions, rehypothecations, pretenses and other modes of evading or disguising reality. The reality is that there is not enough real wealth to go around, certainly not enough to cover the giant web of obligations that masquerades as "money." So, now whenever somebody or some company or government or entity is called upon to put up or shut up, the danger arises that the whole web will disintegrate, since all the participants are broke. You want "your" money? Wait three days. Make that four days. Check that, let's say next week. How about two months from now? Oh, forget about it.... No wonder folks are spooked.

This is really getting out of hand. That's why the ills of the poor, untoward, tiny crypto-nation of Cyprus have got everyone's knickers in a twist. Cyprus is everybody writ small. Cyprus ran out of pretense. It's banks are toast. It can't take care of itself. It is too poor to be a "modern" economy. It failed trying to be a money laundromat for the brigands of Russia and the dope merchants of the Eastern Mediterranean. The tourists and retirees may even have to pack up and leave now because there will be no access to ready cash for day-to-day living.

The terms of the latest bailout announced Sunday night are curious. The New York Times reports that, "the deal would scrap the highly controversial idea of a tax on bank deposits, although it would still require forced losses for depositors and bondholders." Say, what? In fact, there is no material difference between the so-called "tax" and the "forced losses." That was just semantics. The word tax had been bandied about two weeks ago when the EU first proposed that the Cyprus government might pass a legislative act skinning its bank depositors. That didn't go down, of course, so now its just an EU mandated haircut on deposits over E-100,000 and bank bondholders. As for the deposits under E-100,000... you're welcome to them, the catch being that the banks aren't open for business... and the EU bailout money will not arrive in Cyprus until May. They are sending it by packet boat from Antwerp and hoping for fair winds.

Cyprus has to become somebody's ward again. Cyprus was either Turkey's or Great Britain's ward for most of the past 400 years. The population is ethnically split about 60 / 40 Greek / Turkish making for chronically uncomfortable governance. The island remains physically divided into two separate and hostile north-south zones. If you look at it on the map, it is nowhere near Greece, but rather tucked right up under Turkey's bosom. It is strategically a naval hub of the Middle East and is occupied both by NATO troops and by two remaining British military bases - a convenience given the ongoing deterioration in Middle East geopolitics, as nation after nation melts down, and threatens to impinge on much of the world's oil supply. My guess is that Turkey will eventually recover administration of Cyprus by dint of sheer geographical proximity. It is said to possess considerable offshore gas, but the politics there are so problematic that the stuff may not be logistically recoverable, especially with the rest of the Middle East in flames.

The current bailout deal with its confiscations and haircuts is the first time in the multi-year melodrama of the wobbling EU that big-shot EU officials had voiced the idea that they had any authority to snatch private property (money) of a member's citizens. So, instantly the notion reverberated around Europe that they could easily do the same thing in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Greece - the usual broke suspects - if the EU was pushed too hard. And a few nervous nellies stateside began to wonder out loud when the US government might try some confiscational monkey business, such as the much-blogged-about notion of forcing retirees to put all their money in US Treasury instruments.

More to the point perhaps was the additional notion that the money was not there in the first place. Or anywhere. It was not snatchable. The banks were insolvent. They had pissed their meager reserves away on bad paper - like every other financial enterprise around the world - and the collateral was a joke. Depositors in Cyprus banks might indeed lose their money, but the EU would not collect any theoretical plunder either, so the whole bailout exercise was just another empty bluster. Even more to the point was the additional notion that no money in any bank in any sovereign EU member would be plunderable because there is no money in any of them, and the fiasco in Cyprus was leading to the recognition of the utter bankruptcy of the system.

In other words, this charade is far from over. There will be more bank runs. They may or may not take the form of disgruntled depositors physically standing in line along the pleasant blocks of Europe's cities as the street trees burst into lovely spring bud and flower. In the first flush of activity post-Cyprus, a lot of hypothetical cash will probably just end up shifting out of Europe altogether and into the clutches of Jamie Dimon and his fellow miracle workers, primed for grand new acts of rehypothication with the inflow.

The chatter around this crisis has not included any consideration of the dark forces roiling in the alternate universe of rackets known as derivatives -- which should now be primed to detonate whatever remains of financial legitimacy even while governments and central banks rally with new sets of excuses and "ring-fence" strategies for the floundering banks. All the ruling parties this whole world round won't face the fact that absolutely nobody can cover his losses, and the losses just keep mounting with every central bank keystroke. Welcome to the age of phantom money.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Al Jarreau: "One Shot"

Another of tonight's discoveries. This is the B side to the "All or Nothing at All" single (1988), included on the 2012 reissue of Heart's Horizon (1988).

Mixed Medications is a comic strip I just discovered.

A March Miscellany

Last night Nightline marked the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq with stories on "tween" girls dressing provocatively, children distracting their parents while driving, Tiger Woods's new girlfriend, and only at program's end, a brief overview of the war, according to the reporter, a mixed bag. There was untold carnage, but did you know there are now 21 million cellular phones in Iraq?

Power-walking with Michele Bachmann.

How Far is Heaven? Jack Schaap, former pastor of the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, (The megatacky megachurch building was Kunstler's Eyesore of the Month last August.) was sentenced to twelve years in prison for having sex with a seventeen-year-old parishioner.

Drone Warfare:

Neither Cheap Nor Surgical Nor Decisive

Friday, March 15, 2013

James Salter

Described as perhaps the last great American prose stylist, James Salter is a writer whose work I should check out.

16 March update: Searching the state library catalog, I find six books of Salter's in the system: Burning the Days, The Hunters, Last Night, Light Years, Solo Faces, and Then and There: The Travel Writing of James Salter. Three are available at the Hilo library, and two of these are only at the Hilo library.

His latest novel, All That Is, comes out in April.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Seventh Anniversary

This is the seventh anniversary of the founding of Poppa Zao, a blog which I use to comment on and make sense of this immense world.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Just Found Out Thomas Naylor Has Died; New Pope Chosen

All kinds of people are on Twitter, so I wondered if secession activist Thomas Naylor also tweets. It turns out that he died last December.

As I type this, at eight-ten in the morning, news has broken that a new Pope is chosen.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Proyect Mentions Kunstler

I had to give Louis Proyect props for mentioning Kunstler in his post about a woman fighting the gentrification of Williamsburg. Did you know that he interviewed Jane Jacobs in 2000? I hope he can get permission to publish that interview on his own site.

12 March update: I spoke too soon. It turns out the interview is on his site.

14 March update: And Metropolis Magazine, in which the interview originally appeared, is still around at age thirty.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Too Much Magic

Yesterday I picked up the copy of Kunstler's Too Much Magic that I'd ordered a few weeks ago. It's reviewed here but I should have my own brief review up soon.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Kunstler vs. Gary North, or Kunstler vs. Big Box Retail and Its Apologists

Reply To Gary North
By James Howard Kunstler
on March 3, 2013 6:56 PM

Last week, extreme right-wing, hyper-patriot blogger and "Christian Reconstructionist" Gary North published a piece that bounced around the Web titled "James Howard Kunstler: Foul-Mouthed Apologist for the Good Old Boys." Gary North was inflamed because I had put out a recent blog inveighing against the chain-store rape of local economies from sea to shining sea. North wrote:

Consider his [JHK's] most recent screed. It begins with an attack on the most successful free market retailing operation on earth, Walmart. He uses Walmart as a representative company for all of the low-price, high-volume box stores. He hates them all.

In the United States, millions of customers return day after day to buy at stores like these. But Kunstler, who is an arrogant Leftie elitist, dismisses them as helpless rubes who need protection from price competitive retailers. And who will supply this protection? The Good Old Boys.

My point, of course was that the chain store business model, and WalMart in particular, has destroyed local Main Street economies all over America, as well as the networks of social relations that went with these economies, in which local business owners employed local people and had to take responsibility for how they treated them. The damage to American civic life ought to be self-evident in the desolation of thousands of crumbling traditional downtowns, the extermination of a whole class of local business owners (and the local institutions they cared for), the funneling of business profits out of every local community to a few corporate bank accounts in distant places, as well as the desecration of the once-rural landscape outside our towns, now a uniformly profaned wilderness of parking lots and the tilt-up warehouses of chain-store commerce.

My further point was that the WalMart model of business now faces its own demise as America contends with the realities of a what will prove to be a permanent energy and capital formation crisis, requiring us to downscale our activities and rebuild fine-grained local networks of economic interdependency.

Gary North's intemperate response to these ideas illustrates everything that has become malignant and dishonorable in conservative politics lately. It also displays a brand of shocking stupidity that bodes darkly for America's political future. There are many towns across America where WalMart is not just the only place to buy all goods, but the chief employer, too. How is it a good thing for anyone's home town to be dominated by such a single despotic entity? How does it square with the rhetoric about "liberty" spouted by conservatives? How is it so different in kind from the tyrannical one-party rule of the old soviet system that is the pole star of conservative animus?

WalMart is the largest corporate employer in the USA and most of its rank-and-file store workers barely get paid enough to live on (those with children fall statistically below the official poverty line). They have no control over their working lives, are cruelly deprived of full-time status in order to avoid giving them health insurance, have been subject to lock-ins during late-shifts, and are forced to attend off-hour browbeating ("coaching") sessions with no pay. WalMart trumpets "made-in-America" propaganda around its stores but buys the majority of its merchandise from foreign countries -- over $20 billion in merchandise from China every year, and more from other overseas vendors.

For Gary North, the supposed benefits of "bargain shopping" trump the fantastic damage that this mode of commerce wreaks on the nation. It was some bargain to sacrifice all the local business enterprises in this land, and the careers that went with them, and the incomes they produced, and the choices they represented so that underpaid chain store serfs could save five bucks on a toaster-oven. Gary North writes:

Kunstler is merely one more hapless defender of local business oligopolies. He stands in front of the freight train of price competition, yelling: "Stop!" He will be run over, just as they all have been run over.

Gary North is not being ironic when he characterizes the Americans whose independent businesses, lives, and towns were destroyed by WalMart as "good ole boys." The owners of all those shuttered mom-and-pop stores along the vacant Main Streets of America were oligarchs?

Gary North is exactly what I have in mind when I refer to the "corn-pone Nazis" who threaten the political future of this country. Either he's a hostage to his own ideological rigor mortis or he is a genuine fool. He's certainly a fake patriot. He literally knows not what he actually stands for. There is no precedent for such malign totalitarian nonsense in American history. But it matches the spell that Germany fell under in 1933. And it can happen here, too.

All Publicity is Good Publicity

On 28 January 2005, John Stossel hosted a special on ABC, 20/20: Lies, Myths and Nasty Behavior with John Stossel. Among other things, he set out to prove suburban sprawl was actually good because it supposedly gave young families the chance to buy houses. (In retrospect, this was the time of the housing bubble.) And he had
a confrontational interview with Kunstler:

I told Kunstler "smart growth" is destroying the lives of poor people, that he's basically telling low-income people who want back yards that they can't have one.

"Well, you can't have everything," Kunstler said.

I could have written him off as an arrogant ass, and some doubtless have. But Kunstler was new to me. The idea of peak oil was also new. That June I saw a TV movie, Oil Storm, that supposed an oil shortage brought on by a hurricane. Though not strictly about peak oil, the movie underscored modern society's dependence on oil, and the difficulties people encounter for lack thereof. Then in the early fall, I went to a talk on peak oil by Shepherd Bliss. Among the books I saw on display was a new one, The Long Emergency, by that crusty old guy, James Howard Kunstler.

Just as I discovered Kunstler through his contentious exchange with John Stossel, so some readers of the North column just might be intrigued by that elitist. Incidentally, North praises Wal-Mart, etc. as the free market in action, but doesn't take into account the massive government subsidies it receives.

I ordered Kunstler's latest book Too Much Magic through a local bookstore and hope to pick it up soon.

Friday, March 01, 2013

A Good Day to Flop Hard

Early 2013 Expendable ["Bomz"]