Monday, August 31, 2015

Kunstler: Say Goodbye to Normal

Kunstler: Say Goodbye to Normal

The tremors rattling markets are not exactly what they seem to be. A meme prevails that these movements represent a kind of financial peristalsis — regular wavelike workings of eternal progress toward an epic more of everything, especially profits! You can forget the supposedly “normal” cycles of the techno-industrial arrangement, which means, in particular, the business cycle of the standard economics textbooks. Those cycle are dying.

They’re dying because there really are Limits to Growth and we are now solidly in grips of those limits. Only we can’t recognize the way it is expressing itself, especially in political terms. What’s afoot is a not “recession” but a permanent contraction of what has been normal for a little over two hundred years. There is not going to be more of everything, especially profits, and the stock buyback orgy that has animated the corporate executive suites will be recognized shortly for what it is: an assest-stripping operation.

What’s happening now is a permanent contraction. Well, of course, nothing lasts forever, and the contraction is one phase of a greater transition. The cornucopians and techno-narcissists would like to think that we are transitioning into an even more lavish era of techno-wonderama — life in a padded recliner tapping on a tablet for everything! I don’t think so. Rather, we’re going medieval, and we’re doing it the hard way because there’s just not enough to go around and the swollen populations of the world are going to be fighting over what’s left.

Actually, we’ll be lucky if we can go medieval, because there’s no guarantee that the contraction has to stop there, especially if we behave really badly about it — and based on the way we’re acting now, it’s hard to be optimistic about our behavior improving. Going medieval would imply living within the solar energy income of the planet, and by that I don’t mean photo-voltaic panels, but rather what the planet might provide in the way of plant and animal “income” for a substantially smaller population of humans. That plus a long-term resource salvage operation.

All the grand movements of stock indexes and central banks are just a diverting sort of stagecraft within the larger pageant of this contraction. The governors of the Federal Reserve play the role of viziers in this comic melodrama. That is, they are exalted figures robed in magical Brooks Brothers summer poplin pretending to have supernatural power to control events. You can tell from their recent assembly out west — “A-holes at the J-hole” — that they are very much in doubt that their “powers” will continue to be taken seriously. This endless hand-wringing over a measily quarter-point interest rate hike is like some quarrel among alchemists as to whether a quarter-degree rise in temperature might render a lump of clay into a gold nugget.

What they do doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is that a great deal of the notional “wealth” they conjured up over the past decade or so is about to vanish —poof! Perhaps that will look like a black magic act. That wealth seemed so real! The bulging portfolios with their exquisite allocations! The clever options! The cunning shorts. Especially the canny bets in dark derivative pools! All up in a vapor. The sad truth being it was never there in the first place. It was just an hallucination induced by the manipulation of markets and the criminal misrepresentation of statistics, especially the employment numbers.

There are rumors that the Grand Vizeress of all, Ms. Yellen, is flirting with possible indictment over the “leakage” of valuable information out of her inner circle to potential profiteers. Whoops. It may lead nowhere but to me it is an index of her more general loss of credibility. All year she has spouted supernaturally fallacious nonsense about how “the data” guides Fed decision-making. Only her data is contrary to what is actually happening in the pathetic Rube Goldberg contraption that the so-called US economy has become (Walmart + entitlements). Her “guidance” amounts to a lot of futile drum-beating on a turret of the Fed castle, hoping to make it rain prosperity. Her enigmatic utterances have kept financial markets in a narrow sideways channel most of the year until recently.

I’d say she’d lost her mojo, and the lesser viziers on the Fed board are looking more and more like the larval, sunken-chested dweebs that they really are. So where is the nation to turn? Why, to the great blustering Trump, with his “can-do” bombast about “making America great again.” What does he mean, exactly? Like, making America the way it was in 1958?” Behold: the return of the great steel rolling mills along the banks of the Monongahela (and so on)! Fuggeddabowdit. Ain’t gonna happen.

I have to say it again: prepare to get smaller and more local. Things on the grand level are not going to work out. Get your shit together locally, and do it in place that has some prospect for keeping on: a small town somewhere food can be grown and especially places near the inland waterways where some kind of commercial exchange might continue in the absence of the trucking industry. Sound outlandish? Okay then. Keep buying Tesla stock and party on, dudes. Hail the viziers in their star-and-planet bedizened Brooks Brother raiment. Put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Delicious Dishes (1950)

The Dog Days Continue. In the Meantime...

Here's "Any Day Now" by Chuck Jackson. From the Inherent Vice soundtrack.

and X-Ray Pop, "Oh Oui J'Aime."

Friday, August 28, 2015

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Personal Bibliographies and Biobibliographies

On Classifying Personal Bibliographies and Biobibliographies.

Various Tweets


Monday, August 24, 2015

Kunstler column: "Worse Than Hitler."

Kunstler column: "Worse Than Hitler."

E ven the formerly august New York Times grants that Donald J. Trump has ignited a voter firestorm of grievance against a dumb show election process that rewards a craven avoidance of real issues. Immigration is actually a stand-in for the paralysis, incompetence, overreach, and bloatedness of government generally in our time — but it is a good doorway into the larger problem.

Immigration is a practical problem, with visible effects on-the-ground, easy to understand. I’m enjoying the Trump-provoked debate mostly because it is a pushback against the disgusting dishonesty of political correctness that has bogged down the educated classes in a swamp of sentimentality. For instance, Times Sunday Magazine staffer Emily Bazelon wrote a polemic last week inveighing against the use of the word “illegal” applied to people who cross the border without permission on the grounds that it “justifies their mistreatment.” One infers she means that sending them back where they came from equals mistreatment.

It’s refreshing that Trump is able to cut through this kind of tendentious crap. If that were his only role, it would be a good one, because political correctness is an intellectual disease that is making it impossible for even educated people to think — especially people who affect to be political leaders. Trump’s fellow Republicans are entertainingly trapped in their own cowardliness and it’s fun to watch them squirm.

But for me, everything else about Trump is frankly sickening, from his sneering manner of speech, to the worldview he reveals day by day, to the incoherence of his rhetoric, to the wolverine that lives on top of his head. The thought of Trump actually getting elected makes me wonder where Arthur Bremer is when we really need him.

Did any of you actually catch Trump’s performance last week at the so-called “town meeting” event in New Hampshire (really just a trumped-up pep rally)? I don’t think I miscounted that Trump told the audience he was “very smart” 23 times in the course of his remarks. If he really was smart, he would know that such tedious assertions only suggest he is deeply insecure about his own intelligence. After all, this is a man whose lifework has been putting up giant buildings that resemble bowling trophies, some of them in the service of one of the worst activities of our time, legalized gambling, which is based on the socially pernicious idea that it’s possible to get something for nothing.

I daresay that legalized gambling has had a possibly worse effect on American life the past three decades than illegal immigration. Gambling is a marginal activity for marginal people that belongs on the margins — the back rooms and back alleys. It was consigned there for decades because it was understood that it’s not healthy for the public to believe that it’s possible to get something for nothing, that it undermines perhaps the most fundamental principle of human life.

Trump’s verbal incoherence is really something to behold. He’s incapable of expressing a complete thought without venturing down a dendritic maze of digressions, often leading to an assertion of how much he is loved (another sign of insecurity). For example, when he attacked Jeb’s (no last name necessary) statement that we have to show Iraqi leaders that “we have skin in the game,” Trump invoked the “wounded warriors,” saying “I love them. They’re everywhere. They love me.” In the immortal words of Tina Turner, “what’s love got to do with it?”

Trump’s notion that he can push around world leaders such as Vladimir Putin by treating them as though they were president of the Cement Workers’ Union ought to give thoughtful people the vapors. It doesn’t seem to occur to Trump that other countries could easily get pugnacious towards us. He would have us in a world war before the inaugural parade was over.

The trouble is that it’s not inconceivable Trump could get elected. Farfetched, perhaps, but not out of the question. The USA is heading for a very rough patch of history — as those of you with your eyes on the stock indexes lately may suspect. The country stands an excellent chance of waking up some morning soon to discover it is broke and broken. When that happens, all the anxiety and animus will be focused on looking for scapegoats, and they are likely to be the wrong ones. World leaders considered Hitler a clown in the early going, too, you know. But the Germans were wild about him. He pushed a lot of the right buttons under the circumstances. Trump is worse than Hitler. [Emphasis mine.--P.Z.] And the American people, alas, are now surely a worse lot of ignorant, raging, tattooed slobs than the German people were in 1933. Be very afraid.

In his 20 July column Kunstler wrote, "I’ve proposed for many years that we are all set up to welcome a red-white-and-blue, corn-pone Nazi political savior type. I don’t think Donald Trump is it. But he will be a stalking horse for a far more skillful demagogue when the time comes." Now he says "Trump is worse than Hitler." Is it America's nuclear arsenal that makes him say that? I know a lot of people who aren't "ignorant, raging, tattooed slobs." Kunstler should stay with his July assertion that Trump is just a foreshadowing of an even more charismatic, manipulative pol.

31 August update:

Sunday, August 23, 2015

On "Invasive" Species

The September issue of Harper's Magazine has three articles sure to spark conversations. Besides an essay on how college has sold its soul and a grumpy review of four of Manhattan's most expensive restaurants, there's a timely article by Andrew Cockburn, "Weed Whackers", on "invasive" plant species, and how the Monsanto company encourages the use of its product Roundup.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Lionel Richie, "Love Will Find A Way."

I heard this song for the first time a few days ago.

From Can't Slow Down (1983).

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Straight Outta Compton

I went to the 3.45 showing of Straight Outta Compton today and found it to be the best movie I've seen this year.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Kunstler: True Believers

Kunstler: True Believers.

August 17, 2015

True Believers

There is a special species of idiot at large in the financial media space who believe absolutely in the desperate and tragic public relations bullshit that this society churns out to convince itself that the techno-industrial high life can continue indefinitely, despite the mandates of reality — in particular, the fairy tales about oil: we’re cruising to energy independence… the shale oil “miracle” will keep us driving to WalMart forever… our wells doth overflow as if this were Saudi America… don’t worry, be happy…!

Such a true believer is John Mauldin, the investment hustler and writer of the newsletter Thoughts From the Frontline, who called me out for obloquy in his latest edition. After dissing me, he said:

I have written for years that Peak Oil is nonsense. Longtime readers know that I’m a believer in ever-accelerating technological transformation, but I have to admit I did not see the exponential transformation of the drilling business as it is currently unfolding. The changes are truly breathtaking and have gone largely unnoticed.”

Mauldin is going to be very disappointed when he discovers that the vaunted efficiencies in shale drilling and fracking he’s hyping will only accelerate the depletion of wells which, at best, produce a few hundred barrels of oil a day, and only for the first year, after which they deplete by at least half that rate, and after four years are little better than “stripper” wells. The PR shills at Cambridge Energy Research (Dan Yergin’s propaganda mill for the oil industry) must have pumped a five-gallon jug of Kool-Aid down poor John’s craw. He believes every whopper they spin out — e.g. that “Right now, some US shale operators can break even at $10/barrel.”

The truth is the shale oil industry couldn’t make a profit at $100/barrel. The drilling and fracking boom that began around 2005 was paid for with high-risk, high-yield junk bond financing and other sketchy, poorly collateralized financing. Most of the earnings in the early years of shale oil came from flipping land leases to greater fools. Now that the price of oil has fallen by more than 50 percent in the past year, the prospect dims for that junk financing to be repaid. Since that was “bottom-of-the-barrel” financing, the odds are that the shale producers will have a very hard time finding more borrowed money to keep up the relentless pace of drilling needed to stay ahead of the short depletion rates. They are also running out “sweet spots” that are worth drilling.

We will look back on the shale oil frenzy of 2005 to 2015 as a very interesting industrial stunt borne of desperation. It gave a floundering industry something to do with all its equipment and its trained personnel, and it gave wishful hucksters something to wish for, but it never penciled-out economically. Shale oil production turned down in 2015 and the money will not be there to get the production back to where it was before the price crash. Ever.

Some additional uncomfortable truths should temper the manic fantasies of hypsters like Mauldin. One is that we are no longer in the cheap oil age. All the new oil available now is expensive oil — whether it’s Bakken shale or deep water or arctic oil — and it costs too much for our techno-industrial society to run on. That is why the world financial system is imploding: we can’t borrow enough money from the future to keep this game going, and we can’t pay back the money we’ve already borrowed. We have to get another game going, one consistent with contraction and with much lower energy use. But that is not an acceptable option to the people running things. They are determined to keep the current matrix of rackets going at all costs, and the certain result will be very messy collapse of economies and governments.

Industrial economies face a fatal predicament: Oil above $75/barrel crushes economies; under $75/barrel it crushes oil companies. We’ve oscillated back and forth between those conditions since 2005. The net effect in the USA is that the middle class is rapidly going broke. All the financial shenanigans aimed at propping up Wall Street and Potemkin stock markets was carried out at the expense of the middle class, now deprived of jobs, incomes, vocations, stability, and prospects. They may already be at the point where they can’t afford oil at any price. That “energy deflation” dynamic, in the words of Steve Ludlum at the Economic Undertow blog, is a self-reinforcing feedback loop that beats a path straight to epochal paradigm shift: get smaller, get local, get real, or get out.

The hypsters and hucksters won’t believe this until it jumps up and bites them on the lips. These are the same idiots who believe we are going to continue Happy Motoring by other means — self-driving, all-electric cars — and who think there is some reason for human beings to travel to other planets when we haven’t even demonstrated that we can plausibly continue life on this one.

As I averred last week, America is at the bottom of a self-knowledge low cycle in which we are incapable of constructing a coherent story about what is happening to us. The techno-industrial fiesta was such a special experience that we can’t believe it might be coming to an end. So, one option is to believe stories that have no basis in reality. As Tom McGuane wrote some forty years ago: “Life in the old USA gizzard had changed and only a clown could fail to notice. So being a clown was a possibility.”

Monday, August 10, 2015

Kunstler: The Spectacle So Far.

Kunstler: The Spectacle So Far.

Y es, there is such a thing as “the public,” a term that derives from the ancient Latin, populous (the people), via publicus (of the people), via old French, public — pertaining generally to the mass of adults dwelling in a polity, a society under (political) governance. In the USA, government is vested as a republic, also from the Latin, res publica, meaning the public thing, the vessel that contains the public.

I present these terms to clarify how our society is cracking up. The American public, we the people, lately swoon into a morass of multi-dimensional failure: failure to control their economic lives, to regulate their appetites and their bodies, to understand what is happening to them, to fend off the propaganda and distractions that disable them, and to properly express and direct their wrath at those elements of the polity who deserve it.

True, their awful, epic failures at this moment in history are largely engineered and aggravated by those who have captured the polity and turned it into a looting and racketeering engine. The net result, though, is a self-reinforcing circle of degradation that rots the collective ethos of the public while it destroys the vessel of the republic that contains it.

Societies that act as though they are hostage to these forces of degradation are able to pretend that they are helpless in the face of them; that the public bears no responsibility for its own choices or for the disintegration of the polity they live under. Hence, the current condition of the American public and its disgraceful government.

It’s not difficult to understand how Donald Trump becomes the instrument for the public’s wrath. Whatever his checkered career in land development amounts to, he is at least a freely-functioning and unfettered actor in the political arena. The public enjoys most of all his assertion of independence from the tremendous engine of grift that the republic has become. His arrant contempt for his rivals, and for the disgusting political process erected for the election contest, also thrills a big wad of the public. So far, his actual ideas for governing lack coherence, except for the rather general notion that uncontrolled immigration, and all the mendacious fakery associated with it, is a bad thing for the republic. Beyond that he offers only blustering claims that he is “very smart,” an “artist of deal-making,” a “patriot.”

Almost nothing so far can knock him down or take him out. Fox News tried in last week’s “debate” — which was not a debate at all, really, but a half-assed interrogation — by trying to set the female half of the public against him for his nasty remarks about women over the years. Of course, the dirty secret of both politics and the media is that the common backstage chatter among pols and TV news producers is every bit as vulgar and hateful as anything Trump said. In case you haven’t noticed, all of America has turned into a verbal sewer, especially the virtual public realm of television. I don’t remember anyone complaining about the comportment of the characters in Tony Soprano’s Badda-Bing Lounge. In fact, awards were heaped on the depiction of that behavior. That’s who we are now.

The rise and persistence of Trump raises a more pertinent question: why are all the other candidates such obvious shills for the implacable engine of grift that is destroying the Republic? Why has nobody with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders, called bullshit on the basic operations of the machine? Why have no other persons of real stature stepped forward to challenge the suicidal dynamic of the age?

There are many cycles in history, politics, and economics. One in particular afflicts the American public today: we’re at a cycle low for comprehending what is happening to us. Sometimes societies know very well what is going on and communicate it superbly. Such was the case in the late 1700s when American leaders filed divorce from Great Britain. Can you imagine any of the clowns onstage for the Fox News “debate” playing a role in writing the Federalist Papers? Obviously, the public and its putative representatives today don’t have a clue what is happening. And then, necessarily, they don’t have a clue what to do about it.

The foregoing assumes that they are honorable persons, though, which may not be the case. This is the chief gripe against Hillary Clinton, of course: that she is an unprincipled monster of ambition and little more. That would be my take on her, for instance. Among the Republicans (as in party) only Rand Paul stands out as not appearing to be some kind of puppet shilling for the grift machine. After all, the party is the very embodiment of that machine. And by trying to play nicely in its arena, Rand Paul may lack the fortitude to attack it.

I’m with those who think that the 2016 election campaign is going to be a wild spectacle beyond the current imaginings of news media. I’m serenely convinced that, among other things, the banking system is going to implode so hard and fast well before the nominating conventions that the nation will be in a state of near chaos. What’s out there now is just a tired dumb-show replaying the shopworn themes of an era that is about to slam to a close.



Friday, August 07, 2015

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Monday, August 03, 2015

Kunstler: Where Candidates Fear to Tread.

Kunstler: Where Candidates Fear to Tread.

That the snarkier circles of political commentary thrill to the elephantine bellowings of Donald J. Trump only shows the pathetic limitations of the snarkists. They enjoy Trump’s filterless mouth, his harsh goadings of the other presidential wannabes, and his supposed telepathic empathy for the suffering public outside the magic kingdom of DC.

Trump has one legitimate issue, immigration, plus a brief against the general incompetence of professional politicians, and a pocketful of grandiose claims about his majestic skills in business and deal-making. As business goes in this huckster’s paradise, being a real estate developer is perhaps one click above being a car-dealer, and the fact that some of Trump’s artful deals end up in bankruptcy court might argue against his self-proclaimed mastery. Hence, his relegation to the clown category.

What Trump represents most vividly in this moment of history is the astounding lack of seriousness among people who pretend to be political heavyweights. No one so far, including the lovable Bernie Sanders, has nailed a proper bill of grievances to the White House gate. A broad roster of dire issues facing this society ought to be self-evident. But since they are absent so far in the public discussion, here is my list of matters that serious candidates should dare to talk about (all things that a sitting president could take action on):

The security state. America has developed the most horrifying state security apparatus that the world has ever seen in its NSA and associated agencies. It has become the sugar tit for some of the most malevolent enterprises of the corporatocracy — the black ops companies and the weapons dealers. The growth of this monster was not mandated by heaven. A president could lead the move to deconstruct it. A candidate with a decent respect for our heritage would make this a major campaign issue.

Related to this is the disgusting militarization of the police. Police forces in small towns have no business owning MRAP vehicles, tanks, and heavy weaponry. The federal government gave a lot of this stuff to them. Guess what? It can take the stuff back. Serious candidates should propose this.

There is a more general militarization of national life that ought to be disturbing to thoughtful citizens. I live near a US Naval base. I see enlisted men in town wearing desert camo uniforms on their time off. I resent this hugely. Military personnel at home have no business wearing war theater garb in a place where they are not at war. Historically, it was never before the case that US soldiers went about in battle dress at home. This disgusting trend has even been adopted in major league baseball. The New York Mets and the Pittsburgh Pirates have gone on TV wearing camo baseball uniforms. What are they trying to prove? That we are all at war all the time?

The pervasive racketeering in American life is destroying the country. Medical racketeering leads the way. Be very clear: it is a hostage racket. You are the hostage when you are sick or in need of treatment. You will probably agree to anything that will save your life. The medical racketeers know this. Hence, we live under the tyranny of the “Charge-master” pricing system that assigns ludicrous costs to everything doled out as “medicine,” with the pharmaceutical industry creaming off whatever remains. A trip to the ER with a broken arm can easily propel a household into financial ruin. A president could apply the antitrust laws to many of these rackets and practices. There is no excuse for failing to take a stand.

The most dangerous rackets of our time are those running through banking and finance. The superficially genial President Obama has done absolutely nothing to defend the public against gross financial misconduct and pervasive accounting fraud. His justice department has failed to prosecute widespread criminality in banking and his regulators at the Securities and Exchange Commission and other agencies have sat on their hands for six years while markets are hijacked and manipulated. This behavior gives credence to a greater conspiracy between the governments, the “systemically important” banks, and the Federal Reserve to prop up a Potemkin financialized economy for political cover and favor at the expense of crumbling real economy. A potential president has got to swear to defend the public against these institutional turpitudes. A president can lead the way by proposing to reinstate the Glass-Steagall act and by directing the justice department to break up the “systemically important” banks before they implode the entire operating system of the global economy.

President Obama didn’t do a damn thing in the wake of the 2010 Citizens United decision issued by the Supreme Court. This decision endowed the alleged “personhood” of corporations with a “right” to express their political opinions by giving money in unlimited amounts to candidates. The decision has been a disaster, since it amounted to a “right” to buy elections. The “personhood” of corporations has evolved during the industrial age from a very circumscribed set of chartered practices to the very dubious realm of “personhood” privileges. The basic truth is that corporations do not have duties, obligations, or responsibilities to the public interest; only to their shareholders and boards of directors; and this condition should be self-evident to jurists. Hence, it is necessary to directly address by statute or constitutional amendment the limitations on the personhood of corporations. A president can lead the effort to do this via his party allies in congress.

Why has the foreign policy apparatus of the USA gone into the business of antagonizing Russia? How does it benefit the American people for its government to finance and direct a coup d’é·tat in Ukraine? Why did the Senate Foreign Relations Committee cease to function. Some of the GOP candidates for president are sitting senators. Why doesn’t press inquire of their failure? Why is there no public discussion of this very disturbing policy?

President Obama promised in 2009 to put an end to the revolving door between government regulators and the entities they were regulating, banks in particular. He did absolutely nothing about it. In fact, he installed a revolving door at the White House, allowing the free movement of such rogues as Robert Rubin, Gary Gensler, Mary Jo White, and Larry Summers in and out of government. Such villains are destroying the nation. Any president with a shred of common decency could put an end to this practice.

There you have a few choice things to chew on. They go beyond mere inchoate rage and revulsion against politicians. They represent a very rich agenda of matters the country must attend to if it is going to survive. I wonder if the major media grandees who make up the debate questions will even think of these things.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

American Journalism Review Ends