Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Spin magazine debunks the popular idea that Nirvana, and grunge generally, killed hair metal. It points out that toward the end of the eighties, several hair groups gave up their makeup and teased coifs, stripping down their music and their look to the basics. This was largely thanks to Axl Rose. (He himself had teased hair in the first Guns n'Roses video, then went natural in the next one.)
Monday, April 28, 2014
The debate over Thomas Piketty’s new book Capital in the Twenty-First Century is as dumb as every other issue-set in the public arena these days — a product of failed mental models, historical blindness, hubris, and wishful thinking. Piketty’s central idea is that wealth will continue to accumulate and concentrate among individual rich families at ever-greater rates and therefore that nation-states should take a number of steps to prevent that from happening or at least attempt to correct it.
The first mistake of Piketty fans such as New York Times op-ed ass Paul Krugman is the assumption that the dynamic labeled “capitalism” is an ism, a belief system that you can subscribe to or drop out of, depending on your political correctitude. That’s just not true. So-called capitalism is more like gravity, a set of laws that apply to and describe the behavior of surplus wealth, in particular wealth generated by industrial societies, which is to say unprecedented massive wealth. The human race never saw anything quite like it before. It became both a moral embarrassment and a political inconvenience. So among the intellectual grandiosities of modern times is the idea that this massive wealth can be politically managed to produce an ideal equitable society — with no side effects.
Hence, the bold but hapless 20th century experiment with statist communism, which pretended to abolish wealth but succeeded mainly in converting wealth into industrial waste and pollution, while directing the remainder to a lawless gangster government elite that ruled an expendable mass peasantry with maximum cruelty and injustice.
In the other industrial nations, loosely called “the west,” the pretense to abolish wealth altogether never completely took, but a great deal of wealth was “socialized” for the purpose of delivering public goods. That seemed to work fairly well in post-war Europe and a bit less-well in the USA after the anomalous Eisenhower decade when industrial labor enjoyed a power moment of wage arbitrage. Now that system is unraveling, and for the reason that Piketty & Company largely miss: industrial economies are winding down with the decline of cheap fossil fuels.
Piketty and his fans assume that the industrial orgy will continue one way or another, in other words that some mysterious “they” will “come up with innovative new technologies” to obviate the need for fossil fuels and that the volume of wealth generated will more or less continue to increase. This notion is childish, idiotic, and wrong. Energy and technology are not substitutable with each other. If you run out of the former, you can’t replace it with the latter (and by “run out” I mean get it at a return of energy investment that makes sense). The techno-narcissist Jeremy Rifkins and Ray Kurzweils among us propound magical something-for-nothing workarounds for our predicament, but they are just blowing smoke up the collective fundament of a credulous ruling plutocracy. In fact, we’re faced with an unprecedented contraction of wealth, and a shocking loss of ability to produce new wealth. That‘s the real “game-changer,” not the delusions about shale oil and the robotic “industrial renaissance” and all the related fantasies circulating among a leadership that checked its brains at the Microsoft window.
Of course, even in a general contraction wealth will still exist, and Piketty is certainly right that it will tend to remain concentrated (where it isn’t washed away in the deluge of broken promises to pay this and that obligation). But he is quite incorrect that the general conditions we enjoy at this moment in history will continue a whole lot longer — for instance the organization of giant nation-states and their ability to control populations. I suppose it’s counter-intuitive in this moment of the “Deep State” with all its Orwellian overtones of electronic surveillance and omnipotence, but I’d take the less popular view that the Deep State will choke to death on the diminishing returns of technology and that nation-states in general will first degenerate into impotence and then break up into smaller units. What’s more, I’d propose that the whole world is apt to be going medieval, so to speak, as we contend with our energy predicament and its effects on wealth generation, banking, and all the other operations of modern capital. That is, they’ll become a lot less modern.
As all this occurs, some families and individuals will hang onto wealth, and that wealth is apt to increase, though not at the scales and volumes afforded by industrial activities. Political theorizing a la Marx or Thomas Piketty is not liable to deprive them of it, but other forces will. The most plausible framework for understanding that is the circulation of elites. This refers to the tendency in history for one ruling elite to be overturned and replaced by another group, often by violence, and then become the new ruling elite. It always happens one way or another, and even the case of the Bolsheviks in Russia during the industrial 20th century can be seen this way.
In any case, just because human affairs follow certain patterns these days, don’t assume that all these patterns will persist. I doubt that the Warren Buffets and Jamie Dimons of the world will see their wealth confiscated via some new policy of the Internal Revenue Service — e.g. the proposed “tax on wealth.” Rather, its more likely that they’ll be strung up on lampposts or dragged over three miles of pavement behind their own limousines. After all, the second leading delusion in our culture these days, after the wish for a something-for-nothing magic energy rescue remedy, is the idea that we can politically organize our way out of the epochal predicament of civilization that we face. Piketty just feeds that secondary delusion.
Sunday, April 27, 2014
Friday, April 25, 2014
In honor of Earth Day, I just filled up with gas. Thanks, Earth! Gas is awesome!— Eric Hankins (@HankinsEric) April 22, 2014
Indeed. Kunstler says nothing can adequately replace petroleum as a fuel to run things. So what happens when it becomes scarce? More later.
Monday, April 21, 2014
What’s Been and What’s Next
The wonder is that more Americans are not ticked off about the state of our country than whatever is happening ten thousand miles away. For instance, how come the US Department of Justice is not as avid to prosecute the pervasive racketeering in the US economy as the State Department is for provoking unnecessary wars in foreign lands on the other side of the planet, over matters that have little bearing on life here? This racketeering, by the way, amounts to a war against American citizens.
I’m speaking especially of the US military racket, the banking and finance rackets, the health care racket and the college loan racket, all of which have evolved insidiously and elegantly to swindle the public in order to support a claque of American oligarchs. In other civilized lands, health care and college are considered the highest priority public goods (i.e. responsibilities of government), and national resources are applied to support them under the theory that bankrupting people for an appendectomy or a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering is not in the public interest. In our land, that would be considered “socialism.” Instead, we “socialize” the costs of supporting Too Big To Fail banks — so their employees can drive Beemers to their Hamptons summer house parties — and a military machine that goes around the world wrecking one country after another to support a parasitical class of contractors, lobbyists, and bought-off politicians in their northern Virginia McMansions.
Hence, the laughable conceit pinging through the news media lately that some dynastic grifter like Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton will slide into the White House in 2016 as easily as a watermelon seed popped into a shot glass. I don’t think it’s going to work out that way. The US political system needs to be turned upside down and inside out, and I expect that it will be. Either it happens within the bounds of electoral politics, or you’ll see it playing out in the streets and the windswept plains.
Just a glance around the USA these days ought to nauseate the casual observer. We have an infrastructure for everyday life that is failing in every way imaginable. Are you disturbed by the asteroid belts of vacant strip malls outside your town? Or the empty store fronts along your Main Streets? What do you suppose these places will be like in ten years when the mirage of shale oil dissolves in a mist of disappointment and political grievance? How are Americans going to feel, do you suppose, when gasoline just isn’t there at a price they can pay, and they are marooned in delaminating strand-board-and-vinyl houses 23 miles away from anything? Does the sheer immersive ugliness of the human imprint on the American landscape not give you the shivers?
Look at the pathetic and disgusting appearance of our cities, which for the most part present themselves as demolition derby arenas or war zones — except the strongholds of the red-white-and-blue oligarchs: Washington, San Francisco, and especially New York, Financialization Central.
What happens at the “magic moment” when Facebook stops being a narcissistic virtual playground for “selfies” and becomes a bulletin board for political revolution? Think that can’t happen here? And what if that revolution is a kind that doesn’t appeal to you — say, a revolution of race hatred, or fascist zealotry, or Marxist gangsterism of the type that took Russia hostage for 70 years?
All this is happening, incidentally, because the supposed best minds in our nation are paying no attention whatsoever to the most important story of our lifetime: the winding down of the techno-industrial global economy. It doesn’t really matter anymore why they don’t get it. Hubris. Greed. Distraction. Denial. All that matters is that they can’t be depended on and when that happens authority loses legitimacy. And when it comes to that, all bets are off.
The disintegration of Ukraine would be best understood by Americans as a mirror of ourselves and our sclerotic republic, poised to sink into poverty and disorder. Everything we do and say rings hollow now. What used to be called The Establishment has run out of ways to even pretend to save itself. We have no idea what’s next, but it’s not going to be more of what’s been.
Sunday, April 20, 2014
Saturday, April 19, 2014
One day we'll look back on this testing craze as the batshit, Kmehr-Rouge-like experiment in reverse, episode of mass hysteria that it is.— corey robin (@CoreyRobin) April 10, 2014
Thursday, April 17, 2014
==(18 April update) Still Finding New Music==
A few days ago (maybe the 14th), thanks to a post on Proyect's blog, I learned about Fred Ho, a saxophonist and composer who recently died.
I found Cassiber yesterday when I read an Economist article on the vogue in Britain for German culture, both popular and high, which mentioned the avant-garde composer Heiner Goebbels. His Wikipedia page led me to the one for Cassiber. Then I found a video on YouTube (see above).
Hawaii and New England have many ties, mainly through the missionaries. Hiram Bingham was a leader of missionaries to Hawaii. His grandson Hiram Bingham III not only discovered Machu Picchu, but later became a U.S. Senator.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
More here on the Punjabi-Mexican-American community, part of the larger Indian diaspora.
Monday, April 14, 2014
Saturday, April 12, 2014
Friday, April 11, 2014
India has just begun a nine-phase election in which over 800 million people will vote. It is
Tuesday, April 08, 2014
Monday, April 07, 2014
Ilind.net: Is "Degrowth" the Next Big Thing More interesting this week is Ian Lind's post about "degrowth", discussed thoroughly in OfTwoMinds.
Sunday, April 06, 2014
Friday, April 04, 2014
By chance yesterday, I found this list of articles on Amazon.com by a local writer, Lisa Ishikawa. What I guess is that she got back her copyright and uploaded her articles to Amazon, where she can sell them as digital downloads.
(6 April update: The Editorial Dead Zone has kept track of media closings for years.)
(A sample tweet from @themediaisdying. Note the photo of a page from The Honolulu Advertiser.)
I have seen the future of newspapers: pic.twitter.com/UfmWt2OTCP— Michael Moran (@TheMichaelMoran) January 29, 2014
11 April update: Opinion piece on newspapers and the Koch brothers, et al. filling the gap
It doesn't mention when the Kochs tried to buy the Tribune news company, though.
Thursday, April 03, 2014
That afternoon I wondered if I should postpone meeting Hattie at the farmer's market the next morning, but the evening news pointed out no flooding was predicted. The ocean would be rough. I decided to go downtown the next day.
Nearing the market today, I could smell the salt air.