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.