Friday, May 31, 2013
(I wouldn't call the show a mockumentary, because it claims to present facts, although there was a disclaimer. Anyway, I saw a little bit then changed channels.)
Monday, May 27, 2013
Let's All Go Medieval
By James Howard Kunstler
on May 27, 2013 9:34 AM
That voice! All a'quiver with the dread of self-knowledge that it is confabulating a story, much like the "money" that his Open Market Committee spins out of the increasingly carbonized air. His words fill the vacuum of the collectively blank American mind, where hopes and dreams spin like debris in an Oklahoma twister, only to fall incoherently on a landscape of man-made ruins. If Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke were hooked up to a polygraph machine when he made a public statement -- such as last Wednesday's testimony before congress -- I bet the output graph would look something like a seismic record of the 9.0 Fukushima megathrust, all fretful spikes and dips.
When historians of the future ponder our fate around their campfires, they will marvel that this society invited such a temporizing little nerd to act as its Oracle-in-Chief... that he made periodic visits to sit before the poobahs of the land, and issued prophesies that nobody could really understand -- and that the fate of the people in this land hung on his muttered ambiguities. Let's face it: people need oracles when they don't know what the fuck is going on.
What's going on is as follows: America's central bank is trying to compensate for a floundering economy that will never return to its prior state. The economy is floundering because its scale and mode of operation are no longer consistent with what reality offers in the way of available resources at the right price, especially oil. So, rather than change the scale and mode of operations in this economy -- that is, do things differently -- we try to keep doing things the same by flushing more "money" into the system, as though it were a captive beast receiving nutriment.
One problem with that is that the "money" is no longer money. That is, it's not really an effective store of value, or pricing reference. It remains for the moment a medium of exchange, but the persons exchanging it grow suspicious of what this "money" purports to represent. Does it stand for promises of future repayment? Hmmmm. Those promises are looking sketchy lately, especially since this is an economy that does not generate enough new real wealth to make the interest payments, let alone manage to pay back the principal. Is it a claim on future work? Some are afraid that the future work deliverable will be less than they expect. Whatever else it is, does it find respect in other societies where different money is used?
These questions are making a lot of people nervous these days. Of course, a time will come when all matters concerning this particular incarnation of money will be seen as strictly ceremonial. Ben Bernanke, we will understand, was not stating facts before congress but rather singing a song, or rather chanting in a low, repetitive, tedious way in the primal manner of a frightened person trying to comfort himself with reassuring sound -- that is, prayer. You'd be surprised how well that goes over in a place like congress, which is stuffed with prayerful characters, people who exist in a religious delirium. These are not the people who are nervous, by the way. The nervous tend to be more secular, and inhabit the margins of life where unconventional thinking thrives weedlike at a remove from all the mental toxicity at the center.
These nervous ones are looking ever more closely these days at the distant nation of Japan, where an interesting scenario is playing out: the last days of a giant industrial-technocratic economy. The story there is actually pretty simple if you peel away the quasi-metaphysical bullshit it comes wrapped in these days from astrologasters like John Mauldin and Paul Krugman, viz. Japan has no fossil fuel resources. Zip. You can't run their kind of economy without the stuff. And they can't. Japan is crapping out, as they say in Las Vegas. Tilt! Game over. As this happens, Japan issues a lot of distracting financial noise that involves evermore "creation" of their own "money," and the knock-on effects of that, but it's all just noise. Japan's only good choice is to go medieval, that is, to give up on the rather hopeless 150-year-long project of being an industrial-technocratic modern super-state, and go back to being an island of a beautiful artistic hand-made culture. I call that "going medieval," though you could quibble as to whether that's the best word for it, since I'm not talking about cathedrals or crusades.
One of Japan's other choices is to "go mad-dog," something they actually tried back in the mid-20th century. It didn't work out too well then. The Japanese leadership is making noises about "re-arming," and a nice state of conflict is already simmering between them and their age old rivals-victims next door in China, a country that has lately enjoyed the upper hand in the industrial-techno racket (though it will be faced with the same choices as Japan not too many years hence). Do the Japanese start another world war on their side of the planet? Let's hope not. Let's hope they lay down their robotics and their nuclear reactors gently and go back to making netsuke. Just give it up and do things differently -- after all, that's what all the human beings on the planet have to do now.
For what it's worth, Japan's stock market has tanked a hearty 14 percent in the past five days, if that means anything, and I'm not sure it does considering the aforesaid "noise," but there you have it. Our own stock markets are mercifully closed this holiday, having given American worriers an extra day of anxious reflection on the state of things out there. My own opinion is that we're all going medieval sooner rather than later and the big remaining question is how much of a mess we'll make on the journey to it.
Also, personally, I don't like these manufactured holidays when the landscape is cluttered with morons enjoying motorsports. I'll be working today, and grateful when it blows over.
Saturday, May 25, 2013
Monday, May 20, 2013
By James Howard Kunstler
on May 20, 2013 10:03 AM
The collective state of mind in the USA these days may be even more peculiar than what went on in Germany in the early 1930s, when the Nazis were freely elected to lead the country and reconstructed the battered national psyche into a superman cult that soon beat a path to mass death and ruin. America has its own way of going crazy. We don't goose-step to tragedy; we coalesce into an insane clown posse and stumble into it by pratfall -- juggaloes dancing backwards off the cliff edge.
We've been softened up and made extra-stupid on a 60-year-long diet of TV and kreme-filled donuts. Instead of a "master race," our political fantasies revolve around a master wish - to get something for nothing. Want to feel good about yourself? Smoke some crank. Want to become economically secure? Buy a Powerball ticket or drive to the local casino. Want political esteem? Plug a flag pin into your lapel. Want status? Borrow free money from the Federal Reserve at zero interest and arbitrage it into massive earnings for your primary dealer bank. All these behaviors are the consequence of a culture that elevated advertising to such a high social good, it ended up drowning in its own manufactured bullshit.
A subset of our master wish has been on vivid display in recent months, namely the idea that God has blessed the USA with a limitless supply of new oil that will allow us to keep driving to WalMart forever. This propaganda from an oil industry desperate for capital investment has been swallowed whole by people in authority who ought to know better, just as that same class of people in Germany of 1934 should have known better about what they were bargaining for in economic well-being with the Nazi agenda. In our case, the propaganda drumbeat is being led by formerly respectable news organizations. The New York Times, National Public Radio, Bloomberg News, Forbes, and The Atlantic Magazine [Note: The Atlantic has changed over the years from a literary to a general magazine focused on "Big Ideas"==P.Z.] are media giants that have lately spread the "good news" that America will soon be 1) "energy independent," 2) the world's leading oil exporter (greater than Saudi Arabia is now!), and the "go-to nation" for cheap manufacturing.
All of these claims are false, by the way. The American way-of-life was designed to run on $20-a-barrel oil, not $90-a-barrel oil, and "new technology" has not changed that. The unfortunate and, to some extent, mendacious memes about the wonders of "new technology" have only snookered the public into a false sense of security about a future that will disappoint them badly and probably provoke an extreme political reaction as the reality of our predicament sweeps through daily life.
Most of the current "endless oil" fantasy revolves around shale oil. Just to get a visual idea of what this amounts to, consider this map. It depicts the two major shale oil production regions of the USA: the Bakken in North Dakota and the Eagle Ford "play" in Texas. Bakken production is confined almost entirely to four counties in North Dakota (Williams, Mountrail, McKenzie, Dunn). The Eagle Ford region touches perhaps ten Texas counties. Now, realize that the oil fields all over the rest of the USA (including Alaska) are in decline. Here's where the "bonanza" of new oil all comes from:
The oil coming out of these places is high cost and low flow-rate oil. This is exactly the opposite of what US oil production used to be (low cost and high flow-rate) when we were busy building all the freeways, strip malls, housing subdivisions, suburban office parks and all of the other stranded assets that now make up the infrastructure of daily life in this country. Those were the days when you could pound a single pipe vertically 1000 feet down (not much deeper than many home water wells) into the temperate wheatfields of Oklahoma (drive to work in shirtsleeve weather!) and after that modest investment in drilling you could kick back and depend on a great flow rate (5,000 barrels-a-day, not unusual) of sweet light petroleum for years.
Horizontal drilling (often more than 10,000 feet down + many "laterals" an additional 10,000 feet horizontally) and then fracturing "tight" rock for shale oil is not only a way larger capital expense (lots of steel!) but the flow rates per well (82 barrels-a-day average) are laughable compared to the halcyon days of conventional oil -- little better than "stripper" wells. Consider also that shale oil well flow-rates decline greater than 60 percent in the first year (rapidly thereafter, too) and you can see easily that there will be no "kicking back" to run the pump-jacks like cash registers, as in the old days. In fact, the rapid depletion only prompts more frantic drilling and re-drilling to keep the production at its current rate - the "Red Queen Syndrome" ("I'm running as fast as I can to stay where I am"), which means fantastic capital expenditure to keep drilling and fracking more wells (even more steel!). Consider also, that the small "sweet spots" in the shale oil regions were the ones drilled first (in earnest after 2003), for the simple reason that they were the most promising. This was the "low hanging fruit" -- easy to pick. Outside these sweet spots the oil may be too meager or difficult or costly to bother drilling for.
This is a picture of a boomlet that may run a few more years -- if the banking system doesn't implode and the massive stream of capital doesn't quit flowing to the shale counties. The excitement will all be over before 2020, but I suspect that troubles in finance and banking will put the schnitz on the shale gas mania long before that date. What will happen when the American public discovers that they were lied to about yet another important matter? The discovery will coincide with very severe changes in daily life that won't be avoidable. Everyone will be affected. Many will be impoverished and suffer real hardship. That's when the public goes apeshit and starts tearing down the house.
Apart from the issue of sheer economic suffering and all the damage that will ensue, consider that it will be generations before anyone believes the "authorities" again -- though, like the oil age itself, the era of giant national media will probably prove to be a one-shot deal, too. Future generations -- if they are lucky -- may read the news on one-page circulating broadsides, printed laboriously in hand-set type by letterpress. Or maybe they'll be reduced to just parsing out rumors.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
I'm dreading the Baz/Leo version of The Great Gatsby tonight since it seems that every generation gets The Great Gatsby movie it deserves...— Bret Easton Ellis (@BretEastonEllis) May 14, 2013
Baz Lurhmann's awful "The Great Gatsby" seems like some kind of ghastly Illuminati prank with Leo fighting against it and losing, decimated.— Bret Easton Ellis (@BretEastonEllis) May 15, 2013
20 May update: According to BoxOfficeMojo.com, The Great Gatsby has a budget of $105 million, and has earned a little over $90 million domestically. What is the point of all this?
Thursday, May 09, 2013
I wouldn't call them "morons" (correct spelling) for chanting "USA", although I'd exclaim something like "Hallelujah!" or "Praise God!"
Wednesday, May 08, 2013
detailed in his subsequent World Made by Hand fiction series. But at the same time, much wealth (which exists only on paper and in computers) will vanish. Think of the Great Depression. (Some say it'll just change hands). In other words, a lot of rich people, especially those with most of their money in stocks and other investments, will become poor.
38.coozledad said on May 8, 2013 at 12:05 pm
You have to remember the Republicans are essentially frustrated dynasts, and Bill Clinton, while politically indistinguishable from the Republicans, shit all over their plans when he defeated Bush the elder at the polls.
They want a sort of Christo-monarchy so they can mop up the last bits of natural resources and finish centralizing wealth in a neofeudal gambit. They’ve got plenty of willing little monkeys with that fundie mindset, and the ones that aren’t quite that stupid get snookered by the pseudohistories of Niall Ferguson and Jonah Goldberg.
Another distinguishing feature of the authoritarian mind is that reliance on hero figures that most modern cultures seek to discourage through higher education. The weepfest among American rightists(and virtually no one else) over the long overdue death of Margaret Thatcher gives some insight into their reflexive death occultism, and the eternal defensive crouch of the information deficient.
Monday, May 06, 2013
Saturday, May 04, 2013
Here's an article on a Lei Day pageant held in Hilo a few years ago.
General busyness and an illness in the family have precluded me from actually observing May Day this year (no lei, no wearing an aloha shirt), but I must acknowledge it, and sometime I plan to look for photos of old May Days, and share them.