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