Friday, March 31, 2017

Various Tweets on Peak Oil and the Environment







More on deforestation in Bolivia here.





The Laser Cowboys, "Radioactivity."



Italobeat Records, 1986.
A floating farm in New York City.

Kunstler: Racket of Rackets.

Kunstler: Racket of Rackets.

If you thought banking in our time was a miserable racket — which it is, of course, and by “racket” I mean a criminal enterprise — then so-called health care has it beat by a country mile, with an added layer of sadism and cruelty built into its operations. Lots of people willingly sign onto mortgages and car loans they wouldn’t qualify for in an ethically sound society, but the interest rates and payments are generally spelled out on paper. They know what they’re signing on for, even if the contract is reckless and stupid on the parts of both borrower and lender. Pension funds and insurance companies foolishly bought bundled mortgage bonds of this crap concocted in the housing bubble. They did it out of greed and desperation, but a little due diligence would have clued them into the fraud being served up by the likes of Goldman Sachs.

Medicine is utterly opaque cost-wise, and that is the heart of the issue. Nobody in the system will say what anything costs and nobody wants to because it would break the spell that they work in an honest, legit business. There is no rational scheme for the cost of any service from one “provider” to the next or even one patient to the next. Anyway, the costs are obscenely inflated and concealed in so many deliberately deceptive coding schemes that even actuaries and professors of economics are confounded by their bills. The services are provided when the customer is under the utmost duress, often life-threatening, and the outcome even in a successful recovery from illness is financial ruin that leaves a lot of people better off dead.

It is a hostage racket, in plain English, a disgrace to the profession that has adopted it, and an insult to the nation. All the idiotic negotiations in congress around the role of insurance companies are a grand dodge to avoid acknowledging the essential racketeering of the “providers” — doctors and hospitals. We are never going to reform it in its current incarnation. For all his personality deformities, President Trump is right in saying that ObamaCare is going to implode. It is only a carbuncle on the gangrenous body of the US medical establishment. The whole system will go down with it.

More at the above link.

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Friday bonus: The Big Contraction: An Interview With James Howard Kunstler.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Various Tweets

Bernie Sanders is persona non grata among some, but does that mean anything he endorses (see below) should be opposed?



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I'll check it out anyway.

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Karen Pence looks like Cindy Williams.

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Monday, March 27, 2017

Kunstler: The Curse of the Thinking Class.

Kunstler: The Curse of the Thinking Class.

Let’s suppose there really is such a thing as The Thinking Class in this country, if it’s not too politically incorrect to say so — since it implies that there is another class, perhaps larger, that operates only on some limbic lizard-brain level of impulse and emotion. Personally, I believe there is such a Thinking Class, or at least I have dim memories of something like it.

The farfetched phenomenon of Trumpism has sent that bunch on a journey to a strange land of the intellect, a place like the lost island of Kong, where one monster after another rises out of the swampy murk to threaten the frail human adventurers. No one back home would believe the things they’re tangling with: giant spiders, reptiles the size of front-end loaders, malevolent aborigines! Will any of the delicate humans survive or make it back home?

This is the feeling I get listening to arguments in the public arena these days, but especially from the quarters formerly identified as left-of-center, especially the faction organized around the Democratic Party, which I aligned with long ago (alas, no more). The main question seems to be: who is responsible for all the unrest in this land. Their answer since halfway back in 2016: the Russians.

I’m not comfortable with this hypothesis. Russia has a GDP smaller than Texas. If they are able to project so much influence over what happens in the USA, they must have some supernatural mojo-of-the-mind — and perhaps they do — but it raises the question of motive. What might Russia realistically get from the USA if Vladimir Putin was the master hypnotist that Democrats make him out to be?

Do we suppose Putin wants more living space for Russia’s people? Hmmmm. Russia’s population these days, around 145 million, is less than half the USA’s and it’s rattling around in the geographically largest nation in the world. Do they want our oil? Maybe, but Russia being the world’s top oil producer suggests they’ve already got their hands full with their own operations? Do they want Hollywood? The video game industry? The US porn empire? Do they covet our Chick-fil-A chains and Waffle Houses? Our tattoo artists? Would they like to induce the Kardashians to live in Moscow? Is it Nascar they’re really after?

My hypothesis is that Russia would most of all like to be left alone. Watching NATO move tanks and German troops into Lithuania in January probably makes the Russians nervous, and no doubt that is the very objective of the NATO move — but let’s not forget that most of all NATO is an arm of American foreign policy. If there are any remnants of the American Thinking Class left at the State Department, they might recall that Russia lost 20 million people in the dust-up known as the Second World War against whom…? Oh, Germany.

Altogether last January the US military deployed thousands of soldiers and heavy weaponry to Poland, the Baltic states and southeastern Europe in its biggest build-up since the Cold War(Reuters). As they used to say in old film noir Bogart movies: what’s the big idea? The State Department would say they big idea was cautioning Russia against annexing anymore neighboring states or regions, as they did in Crimea a few years back. Apparently the public is supposed to forget that the State Department sponsored and engineered the conversion of Ukraine into a failed state, prompting Russia to retain its naval bases in Crimea, its only warm-water outlet to the world’s oceans. Ask yourself: if for some reason the state of Virginia were plunged into anarchy by foreign mischief, do you think the US would batten down our naval station in Norfolk?

I think the sad truth of the American predicament these day, including the ascension of a narcissistic ninny to the White House, is that we’re responsible for our own problems due, most of all, to the destruction of boundaries in virtually all realms of American behavior from the things we put in our bodies to the ridiculous ways that we occupy our waking hours at the expense of getting our own house in order. I would like to join the party dedicated to getting our house in order. Anybody else out there feel that way? [Emphases mine. --P.Z.]

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A mainland view of Beth Fukumoto's defection to the Democrats. Is the GOP "completely collapsing in Hawaii" as ShareBlue crows? Who can say? Is it good? Probably not. I'd rather see several parties represented in the Legislature.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Kunstler: The Swamp Drains Trump

Kunstler: The Swamp Drains Trump.

The Washington political scene is looking less like The Apprentice and more and more like the old Marlon Perkins Wild Kingdom show, with giant crocodiles slithering down the muddy banks to encircle Donald Trump paddling fecklessly in his leaky dugout while a chorus of angry birds shrieks in the surrounding treetops. Yes, it really looks that bad all of a sudden for Ole Number 45, the Golden Golem.

RussiaGate is flaring to a toxic shock level event. Everything that spun out of Monday’s House Intelligence Committee hearing made all parties look bad. The spooks are everywhere and nowhere. The spooks are leaking to the press. The president is tweeting instead of governing. The two parties are literally at war in congress, and the news media is playing it all like a Stockhausen cantata for kazoo and trashcan lid.

One can’t help marveling at the way the “Russian interference” motif has shifted the spotlight off the substance of what Wikileaks revealed about Clinton Foundation and DNC misdeeds onto Trump campaign officials “colluding” with Russians, supposedly to support their interference in the election. It’s true that the election is way over and the public is no longer concerned with Hillary or her foundation (which is closing shop anyway). But the switcheroo is impressive, and quite confusing, considering recently retired NSA James Clapper just two weeks ago said on NBC’s Meet the Press that there was “no evidence” of collusion Between Trump and Russia. Okay… uh, say what?

On Monday, FBI Director James Comey revealed that his agency had been investigating the Trump Campaign since at least last August. Is that so…? Investigating how? Some sort of electronic surveillance? Well, what else would they do nowadays? Send a gumshoe to a hotel room where he could press his ear on a drinking glass against the wall to eavesdrop on Paul Manafort? I don’t think so. Of course they were sifting through emails, phone calls, and every other sort of electronic communication.

Trump’s big blunder was to tweet that he’d been “wiretapped.” Like the FBI patched into a bunch of cables with alligator clips in the basement of Trump Tower … or planted a “bug” in the earpiece of his bedside phone. How quaint. We also don’t have ice boxes anymore, though plenty of struggling weight-watchers across the land speak guiltily of “raiding the icebox.” But if it’s true, as Mr. Comey said, that the FBI had been investigating Trump’s campaign, the people around him, and Trump himself, since August, how could they not have captured some of Trump’s conversations?

Anyway, the action on Monday shifted to the question of how General Michael Flynn was “unmasked” after the CIA recorded a phone conversation between him and the Russian ambassador. (The CIA is expressly forbidden from spying on US citizens, and anything overheard incidentally when bugging foreigners is supposed to remain suppressed or “masked.”) Somebody at the CIA just handed the info straight to The New York Times, The WashPo, and CNN. That story broke in back in January. How come the CIA has not rooted out the culprit and handed him/her/zhe over to the Department of Justice?

For the record, apart from the General Flynn matter, I have no idea what connections Trump & Co. may have had with Russia before, during, or after the election. But nobody has yet demonstrated that the allegations about Hillary, her email, her foundation, the DNCs treatment of Senator Sanders, or the John Podesta letters were anything but truthful, either, and that was why Hillary lost the election.

It is also worth considering that candidates for high office in all advanced nations have relationships with people in other countries. It’s not against the law per se to speak to people in Portugal, Singapore, Germany, Argentina, and a hundred other places, including, yes, Russia — which, by the way, is no longer a communist imperium bent on world domination, though Senator Chuck Schumer would like you to think so.

Then, on Wednesday, House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes (R-Cal) told the news media that an “unnamed source” in the Intel community informed him that Trump had indeed been surveilled during the transition period following the election. Was he just blowing smoke up America’s ass? I guess we’ll have to stand by on that one.

So, the long and the short of it is that the RussiaGate story is spinning out of control, and Trump’s adversaries — who go well beyond Congress into the Deep State — might be getting enough leverage to dump Trump. Either they will maneuver him and his people into some kind of perjury rap, or they will tie up the government in such a web of investigative procedural rigmarole that all the country lawyers who ever snapped their galluses will never be able to unravel it.

While the nation remains entertained by all this, the Potemkin financial system will wobble, crash, and burn and the humiliation of Donald Trump will be complete. Abandoned by the Republican Party, isolated and crazed in the White House, tweeting out mad appeals to heaven, he’ll either voluntarily pass the baton to Mike Pence or he will be declared unfit to serve and removed under the 25th amendment.

The after-effects of that will be something to behold: a “lose-lose” for both old-line political parties. The Trumpists will never forgive the Republican Party, and the Democrats will have gained nothing. Don’t let the door bang you on the butt on your way out.

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If I've heard of Stockhausen, I wasn't familiar with his music. So, here. --P.Z.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Kunstler: Full Speed Ahead for Murphy’s Law

Kunstler: Full Speed Ahead for Murphy's Law.

You might not know it, given all the ambient noise of the moment, but beyond the torments of news and propaganda there is still something called the nation. It’s more than just a political compact. Until not long ago it was also a culture, an agreed-upon set of values, practices, and customs that amounted to an identity: I’m an American. If you canvassed the crowd in Yankee Stadium one summer afternoon in 1947, I imagine each person would answer that way rather than saying I’m a wounded war veteran, I’m a WASP, I’m an oppressed housewife, I’m a negro, I’m Italian, I’m a Jew, I’m a union member, I’m a communist, I’m queer, I’m a rape victim….

These days, the hardships of history are shattering the nation and our response politically has been to take refuge in a matrix of rackets. Most of these rackets are economic, because it’s the essence of racketeering to extract the greatest benefit possible from the object of your racket at the least cost to the racketeer. In plain English, it’s an organized way of getting something for nothing. The identity politics of our time is another form of racketeering — extracting current maximum benefits on claims of mistreatment, often bygone, specious, or only imagined.

And so one of the truly existential questions of the moment is whether we’ll continue to be a nation, even geographically, and a lot of sentient observers aren’t too sure. Apparently we’re not too sure we even want to be. This is why the campaign slogan of Hillary Clinton, “Stronger Together,” rang so false when the Democratic Party worked so diligently in 2016 to construct separate identity fortifications and then declared culture war on the dwindling majority outside the ramparts. And you’re surprised that Donald Trump won the election?

Trump won by making promises that he’ll never be able to keep under the current circumstances. The main promise was to restore the standard of living enjoyed in bygone decades by former industrial workers and clerks. His promise was based on a misunderstanding of history: the notion that the industrial organization of daily life was a permanent part of the human condition. You could detect by the early 21st century that this was not so anymore. That was exactly why we tried to replace it with an economy of rackets. When there’s nothing left, a lot of people are going to try to get something for nothing, because there’s nothing else to do.

Hence, the financialization of the economy. In the 1950s, finance made up about five percent of the economy. It’s mission then was pretty simple and straightforward: to manage the accumulated wealth of the nation (capital) and then allocate it to those who proposed to generate greater wealth via new productive activities, mostly industrial, ad infinitum. It turned out that ad infinitum doesn’t work in a world of finite resources — but the ride had been so intoxicating that we couldn’t bring ourselves to believe it, and still can’t.

With industry expiring, or moving elsewhere (also temporarily), we inflated finance to nearly 40 percent of the economy. The new financialization was, in effect, setting a matrix of rackets in motion. What had worked as capital management before was allowed to mutate into various forms of swindling and fraud — such as the bundling of dishonestly acquired mortgages into giant bonds and then selling them to pension funds desperate for “yield,” or the orgy of merger and acquisition in health care that turned hospitals into cash registers, or the revenue streams on derivative “plays” that amounted to bets with no possibility of ever being paid off, or the three-card-monte games of interest rate arbitrage played by central banks and their “primary dealer” concubines.

Some of what I’ve listed above may be incomprehensible to the blog reader, and that is because these rackets were crafted to be opaque and recondite. The rackets continue without regulation or prosecution because there is an unstated appreciation in government, and in the corporate board rooms, that it’s all we’ve got left. What remains of the accustomed standard of living in America is supported by wishing and fakery and all that is now coming to a climax as we steam full speed ahead into Murphy’s law: if something can go wrong, it will.

When all of America comes to realize that President Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing, it will make last November’s national nervous breakdown look like a momentary case of the vapors. What can go wrong awaits in markets, banks, currencies, and the immense dark pools of counterparty obligations that amount to black holes where notions of value are sucked out of the universe. There is so much that can go wrong. And then it will. And then maybe that will prompt us back to consider being a nation again.

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JHK on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News broadcast last Friday night:

http://video.foxnews.com/v/5363878500001/?playlist_id=5198073478001#sp=show-clips

Sunday, March 19, 2017

St. Patrick's Day

I spent St. Patrick's Day fighting off an infection and resting. Syfy had a marathon of Leprechaun movies, and although I'm observing Lent, I ate corned beef for dinner.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Goth Ms. Frizzle, a.k.a. Grand Mistress of Funny

By itself, this tweet in @msscheffer's feed is cryptic.



It's but one of a long string of tweets inspired by the photo below. Read the thread, and it makes sense:



She has serious competition from Ben Mankiewicz (who knew he had it in him?).



Belated Anniversary

On 14 March 2006 I started this blog. Happy anniversary!

More Hullabaloo









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Monday, March 13, 2017

Kunstlercast 288: Chatting with Urbanist and Transit Expert Taras Grescoe.

Kunstlercast 288: Chatting with Urbanist and Transit Expert Taras Grescoe.

Direct Download.

Kunstler: The Pause That Refreshes.

Kunstler: The Pause That Refreshes.

Let’s take a breather from more consequential money matters at hand midweek to consider the tending moods of our time and place — while a blizzard howls outside the window, and nervous Federal Reserve officials pace the grim halls of the Eccles Building.

It is clear by now that we have four corners of American politics these days: the utterly lost and delusional Democratic party; the feckless Republicans; the permanent Deep State of bureaucratic foot-soldiers and errand boys; and Trump, the Golem-King of the Coming Greatness. Wherefore, and what the fuck, you might ask.

The Democrats reduced themselves to a gang of sadistic neo-Maoists seeking to eradicate anything that resembles free expression across the land in the name of social justice. Coercion has been their coin of the realm, and especially in the realm of ideas where “diversity” means stepping on your opponent’s neck until he pretends to agree with your Newspeak brand of grad school neologisms and “inclusion” means welcome if you’re just like us. I say Maoists because just like Mao’s “Red Guard” of rampaging students in 1966, their mission is to “correct” the thinking of those who might dare to oppose the established leader. Only in this case, that established leader happened to lose the sure-thing election and the party finds itself unbelievably out-of-power and suddenly purposeless, like a termite mound without a queen, the workers and soldiers fleeing the power center in an hysteria of lost identity.

They regrouped briefly after the election debacle to fight an imaginary adversary, Russia, the phantom ghost-bear, who supposedly stepped on their termite mound and killed the queen, but, strangely, no actual evidence was ever found of the ghost-bear’s paw-print. And ever since that fact was starkly revealed by former NSA chief James Clapper on NBC’s Meet the Press, the Russia hallucination has vanished from page one of the party’s media outlets — though, in an interesting last gasp of striving correctitude, Monday’s New York Times features a front page story detailing Georgetown University’s hateful traffic in the slave trade two centuries ago. That should suffice to shut the wicked place down for once and for all! [Kunstler's snark aside, you can read the article "A Glimpse Into the Life of a Slave Sold to Save Georgetown" here Update: I found out about this one from The Advocate--P.Z.] The Republican Party, to avoid going full-Whig and sliding down the laundry chute of history, made a bad deal for a new figurehead who is liable to make the party look way worse than it could ever accomplish on its own. This golden boy has dragged the party poobahs to the put-up-or-shut-up room of our nation’s capital — the place that Senator Rand Paul was searching high and low for last week — where they are charged with reforming the country’s health care racket. It looks for now like they will cook up a toxic farrago of new giveaways to their patrons in the hospital cartel, the insurance companies, and pharma. The voting public already detects the odor of 30-day-old carp in the first tastings of the dish. There’s a fair chance that the recipe will end up getting tossed in the capitol dumpster, and that in itself could finish the party because there’s little question that the current system known as ObamaCare or the Affordable Care Act (not) is something like a fatal tumor in the nation’s craw. If the effort to fix that fails, the Republicans complete their transformation from the Party of No to the Party of Just Go.

The Deep State seems eager to sever its connections to both putrifying parties and attempt to run the groaning colossus of government ad hoc if necessary. The military and intel chains of command remain intact, along with their “assets,” and one can easily imagine anxious meetings of scenario-running in the back rooms of the Pentagon and the Langley frat house. What if…? “What if we just smoke the fucker?” an old Agency warrior remarks offhand, and the roomful of colleagues pause in their cogitations to weigh the notion. Some of them nod and make a moue, and others just cough into their sleeves. One young striver in the back mentions “a little something” they’ve been working on that involves hairspray and a neurotoxin derived from the Gaboon viper….

And then there is our President himself: Donald J. Trump, in the awesome solitude of his Twitterverse dome. A strange destiny brought him to his place in history thus far, and many of us surveying the scene lo these many months kind of get it: the festering disgust with the other three corners of American power; the dismal fall of the middle class into a purgatory of repossession, idleness, opiates, and tattoos; the accelerating purposeless of the dwindling consumer economy; the matrix of racketeering that systematically drains everyone’s financial mojo while adding humiliation to the shoddy service it delivers; the pointless, costly wars in faraway places and their conversion into permanent shit-holes; the disgraceful disfigurement of a once grand national landscape into a wilderness of dying malls and freeway ramps.

So, onto the scene strides The Donald, a giant among the squalling midgets of our time, with his promise to bigly re-greatify this suffering land. I suppose he means well in his torturous way. So did a lot of other figures in history who found themselves at the top: Idi Amin, Uncle Joe Stalin, Vlad the Impaler, King Leopold of Belgium, Adolf You-Know-Who, Pol Pot. The list of the well-meaning is very long.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Kunstler: The Bag Holder and His Bag.

Kunstler: The Bag Holder and His Bag.

Can you see those swans coming in for a landing on Pond USA? They’re not exactly black swans, because you knew they were out there circling, but they’re dark enough against the twilight’s last gleaming to give you the heebie jeebies.

Troubles and portents of more trouble are stacking up as we approach the Ides of March zone of financial turmoil. You must surely surmise that a debt ceiling impact, a Federal Reserve interest rate hike, and the election of a Dutch anti-EU leader all scheduled for that one day are a good start on the greater unravel to follow. Glowering in the spotlight at center stage will be President Donald Trump, designated bag-holder of the Deep State and its myrmidons. And what’s in that bag he’s holding? Just a couple of shit sandwiches and a hair shirt for his journey down the lonely road to exile. But getting rid of Trump would only leave the Deep State with a bigger problem: itself. That is, an economy and a society that can’t be governed by any means.

I think many professional observers-of-the-scene are missing something in this unspooling story: the Deep State is actually becoming more impotent and ineffectual, not omnipotent. Case in point: RussiaGate — come on, let’s finally call it that — the popular idea that Russia hacked the 2016 presidential election. It’s popular because it’s such a convenient excuse for the failure of a corrupt, exhausted, and brain-dead Democratic establishment. But all the exertions of the Deep State to put over this story since last summer were negated this week by two events.

First, there was former NSA Director James Clapper’s appearance on NBC’s Sunday Meet the Press show with Chuck Todd featuring the following interchange:


CHUCK TODD:
Does intelligence exist that can definitively answer the following question, whether there were improper contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials?

JAMES CLAPPER:
We did not include any evidence in our report, and I say, “our,” that’s N.S.A., F.B.I. and C.I.A., with my office, the Director of National Intelligence, that had anything, that had any reflection of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. There was no evidence of that included in our report.

CHUCK TODD:
I understand that. But does it exist?

JAMES CLAPPER:
Not to my knowledge.

And so what to make of the RussiaGate histrionics served up by CNN, The New York Times, the WashPo, NPR, and sundry tools as Senator Chuck Schumer (D–NY)? What I make of it is a growing civil war in the government itself, and perhaps something arguably like sedition.

Second matter: this week’s release of Wikileaks’ Vault-7 trove of purloined government documents. These seem to suggest that US Intel agencies have acquired the ability to spoof any activity on any sort of computer or program that makes it impossible to track the identity of any hacker and, what’s more, gives US Intel a tool to make any party appear culpable for any given case of hacking — meaning that if so called computer hacking “footprints” had been discovered linking Russia to the Hillary-DNC-Podesta emails, those footprints could have been engineered by US Intel itself… meaning further that any so-called “evidence” of Russian election hacking could not be proven one way or the other.

Now, this might be too fine a point for the RussiaGate partisans, but I don’t see how it fails to moot the issue. The partisans are still finding other ways to propagandize. On Thursday evening, NPR ran a story about Russia breaking a missile agreement with this wrap-up from correspondent David Welna:


WELNA: Still unclear is how President Trump, an admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, might respond to Moscow’s defiance. David Welna, NPR News, Washington.

That lapse of newsmanship is the kind of thing that makes me (a still-registered Democrat) want to support the defunding of NPR.

All this hugger-mugger may be further mooted by the financial disorders of Spring 2017. Don’t underestimate the Federal Reserve’s eagerness in sending Trump on the road to political perdition with his shit sandwiches and hair shirt. The Fed’s board of governors knows full well that their interest rate hike could sink even the carefully fabricated Potemkin appearance of a healthy economy. It would also create more dire debt-servicing problems for the US Treasury when and if the debt ceiling problem ever gets resolved. They’re holding a hand grenade in the old USA bunker and they’re getting ready to pull the pin. Just watch.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Tanna

Yesterday, Louis Proyect posted a brief review of Tanna, Australia's nominee this year for the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar. It was released that same day on video. One of the great things Proyect does is highlight not only indigenous cultures, but indigenous Pacific cultures. Very few American bloggers do. And it says something that The Salesman, which won, got all the hype, and I never heard of Tanna until Oscars night, when the Foreign-Language award was given. I asked Proyect if Tanna should have won. He replied that it should have been considered but his personal choice was Neruda the Chilean biography of the poet. (Neruda was submitted to the Academy for consideration but not chosen.)

RottenTomatoes page for Tanna
(Reviews counted: 24)

RottenTomatoes page for The Salesman, a.k.a. Forushande
(Reviews counted: 114)

Wikipedia's article on Tanna.

Wikipedia: List of submissions to the 89th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

"Camille Paglia Predicted 2017."

A new profile of Camille Paglia that I likely wouldn't have known about were it not for this tweet:



"[P]latonic ideal of anti-clickbait", indeed!

Monday, March 06, 2017

Kunstler: Great Expectations (Not).

Kunstler: Great Expectations (Not).


Halloween’s coming super-early this year and it will be a shocking surprise to those currently busy looking for Russians behind every potted plant in Washington DC. First, accept the premise that your country has lost its mind.

This is what happens when societies (and individuals) can’t face the true quandaries of a particular moment in their history. All of their attention gets channeled into fantasy: spooks, sexual freakery, conspiracies, persecution narratives, savior fairy tales. It’s been quite a cavalcade of unreality for the past six months, with great entertainment value for connoisseurs of the bizarre — until you’re reminded that the fate of the nation is at stake.

The questions Americans might more profitably ask ourselves: can we continue living the way we do? And by what means? These matters of home economics have been sequestered in some forgotten storage unit of the collective mind for at least a year while a clock ticks in the time-bomb that sits on the national welcome mat. That bomb is made of financial plutonium and it’s getting ready to blow. When it does, all the distracting spookery and freakery will vaporize and the shell-shocked citizens will have a clear view of the bleak, toxic, devastated landscape they actually inhabit.

March 15 is when the temporary suspension of the national debt ceiling — engineered in a 2015 deal between Barack Obama and then House Speaker John Boehner — finally expires, meaning the government loses its authority to continue borrowing money. The chance that congress can pass a bill raising the debt ceiling to enable further borrowing is about the same as the chance that Xi Jinping will send every American household a dim sum breakfast next Sunday morning by FedEx. The US treasury will then be left with around $200 billion in walking-around money, at a burn rate of about $90 billion a month — meaning that that around June sometime the country won’t be able to pay invoices, issue salaries, send out entitlement checks, or do anything, really. It means pure government paralysis. It means no infrastructure spending jamboree, no “great” wall, no military shopping spree, none of the Great Expectations sewn into the golden fleece of Trumptopia.

Meanwhile, over the next few weeks, Janet Yellen and her crew of economic astrologasters at the Federal Reserve will have to put up or shut up vis-Γ -vis raising the interest rate on the basic overnight lending rate. The Las Vegas odds of it being raised currently stand at around 95 percent. So, they will be running that play around the time that the debt ceiling issue materializes into a live-action event. Of course, the Fed could welsh on its carefully-scripted previous hints and utterances and do nothing. But that option would probably extinguish the last remaining shreds of the Fed’s credibility, since they’ve been jive-talking about raising rates since they began “tapering” the QE bond-buying spree in the spring of 2013, i.e., a long time ago. The Fed’s credibility is synonymous with the dollar’s credibility. Look out below.

If those 95 percent odds are correct, the end of all that lovely cheap money will be the death of the Trumphoria stock market zoom as all algo hell breaks loose in Wall Street’s server farms and the trend is no longer anyone’s friend. Enter, stage left, the unintended consequences and diminishing returns of computer technology ripping apart the financial expectations of every banking official from Shanghai to 20th Street and Constitution Avenue. The American public will be left out in the parking lot with its head spinning.

So, enjoy the last few weeks of artificial Russia hysteria and LBGTQ bathroom neurosis. You’ll have other things to think about as the daffodils come peeping through the garden loam — like what to use for money to buy stuff if, perchance, the ATM machines go to lockdown, and anyway, after three days of that there won’t even be anything to buy (or steal) at the local supermarket, given the fragility of our supply chains. I know this sounds a little extreme, like Zombie Apocalypse, but you won’t actually see any zombies around. They were just part of the perpetual freak show of the mind that is being shoved aside for the starker theatrics of reality.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Kunstler: POTUS at SOTUS [sic]

Kunstler's Friday column. (It's not abbreviated "SOTUS" but "SOTU" for State of the Union. And it wasn't formally a State of the Union address.)

Kunstler: POTUS at SOTUS"

President Trump garnered props from many quarters for not acting like a crazy person when he delivered his State of the Union address, but one part of the proceedings sure made my skin crawl: the two minutes of applause for Carryn Owens, widow of William “Ryan” Owens, the Navy SEAL recently killed in action in Yemen.

This culture is so screwed up that we have lost all sense of appropriate behavior and decorum. A situation like that customarily calls for a minute of silence, not a round of applause. Don’t we know that? This is not an award ceremony? Being widowed in such a way is a grave life event, not an accomplishment. Not only have we allowed ourselves to be carried away by emotion, but we don’t even know which emotion to attach to which event anymore. And the one appropriate behavior we seem incapable of is silent solemnity — not surprising in a society beset by the noise of incessant messaging.

Of course the politicos assembled were following the cue of President Trump who clapped the loudest — and right into the podium microphone, too — and wouldn’t let up, until everybody in the chamber appeared to be hostage to his idiotic cheerleading, all in all an interesting demonstration of the madness of crowds.

Speaking of comportment and messaging, what was with those Democratic congresswomen all gotten up in white costumes? The LA Times ventured that the this was the emblematic color for suffragettes back in the day. Maybe the congresswomen haven’t heard, but that battle is over. Many women actually voted in the recent election, some even for these female office-holders. The same paper also suggested they might be emulating the sacred white pants-suit that their fallen heroine, Hillary, wore for the occasion of her demi-apotheosis at the convention last summer. Isn’t dressing alike something generally reserved for junior high school or KKK rallies?

A few other notes on the substantive particulars of the SOTU evening:

The ObamaCare quandary. A fiasco for sure. Under it, not uncommonly, a family pays $12,000-a-year for a policy that carries a $5,000 deductible. That’s an interesting number in a land were most people don’t even have enough ready cash for routine car repairs. The cruel and idiotic injustice of such a set-up could only happen in a society that has normalized pervasive lying, universal accounting fraud, and corporate racketeering. I personally doubt the existing health care system can be reformed. Anyway, we’re starting in the wrong place with it.

The part that nobody talks about is the psychopathic pricing system that drives medicine. The average cost for a normal (non-surgical) hospital childbirth in America these days is $10,000. WTF? An appendectomy: between $9,000 and $20,000 depending on where. WTF? These days, a hip replacement runs about $38,000. Of course, you will never find out what a treatment or procedure costs before-the-fact. They simply won’t tell you. They’ll say something utterly ridiculous like, “we just don’t know.”

You’ll find out when the bills roll in. Last time I had a hip replacement, I received a single line-item hospital charge report from the insurance company that said: “Room and board, 36 hours… $23,000.” Say what? This was apart from the surgeon’s bill and the cost of the metal implant, just for occupying a bed for a day and a half pending discharge. They didn’t do a damn thing besides take my blood pressure and temperature a dozen times, and give me a few hydrocodone pills.

The ugly truth, readers, is that medicine in the USA is a hostage racket. They have you in a tight spot at a weak moment and they extract maximum payment to allow you to get on with your life, with no meaningful correlation to services rendered — just whatever they could get. Until these racketeers are compelled under law to post their prices openly and transparently, no amount of tweaking the role of insurers or government policy will make any difference. Note, too, that there is a direct connection between the outrageous salaries of hospital executives and their non-transparent, dishonest, and extortionist pricing machinations. The pharma industry is, of course, a subsidiary racket and needs to be subject to the kind of treatment the Department of Justice used to dispense to the likes of the Teamsters Union.

The healthcare system probably will not be reformed, but rather will collapse, and when it does, it will reorganize itself in a way that barely resembles current practice. For one thing, citizens will have to gain control over their own disastrous behavior, especially their eating, or else suffer the consequences, namely an early death. Second, the hospital system must be decentralized so that localities are once again served by small hospitals and clinics. The current system represents a mergers-and-acquisitions orgy that went berserk the past quarter century. The resulting administrative over-burden at every medical practice in the land is a perfectly designed fraud machine for enabling rackets. Preliminary verdict: congress will get nowhere in 2017 trying to fix this mess. Some things are too big to fail; some are too broken to fix. The coming debacle in finance, markets, and currencies will speed its demise.

Boos and catcalls rose from the Democratic side of the house chamber when Trump brought up the issue of immigration. Taking a position against the rule-of-law is an argument that the Democratic Party is not likely to win. It seems a cynical ploy to pander to a burgeoning Hispanic voter base, combined with a sentimental crypto-religious belief that any effort to regulate immigration is un-American. In any case, they act like people who are unable to think clearly. Trump can to some degree act independently of congress on the enforcement side of existing law, and apparently he intends to do that. Can his opponents find a position on the issue that is not cynical, sentimental, or hysterical? If not, it may be another factor in the death of the Democratic party.

Trump appears eager to continue the idiotic war on drugs that has the effect of making that traffic into an even more deadly and destructive criminal racket. It has already turned millions of small-timers into felon pariahs who can’t find any other employment when they get out of jail even if they want to try. The growing disparity between state and federal law on marijuana, for one thing, is a dangerous legal contradiction that could lead to other failures of federalism. Sanctuary cities is another one. Before long, federal law becomes meaningless and, voila, so does the United States of America. We better get our heads straight on this.

I also cringed when Trump trumpeted the supernatural rise in the stock markets since his election. Looks like a dangerous blow-off topping event to me, the ugly climax to the era of anything-goes-and-nothing-matters. Apparently, he’s unacquainted with the history of stock markets and their tell-tale behaviors. Beyond the markets, grave problems with currencies and banks await an epochal readjustment in the value and price of everything. The event could easily shut down the global banking system for a period of time, and it’s liable to be an interruption that advanced economies can’t recover from — but only re-start at a much lower level of activity and complexity than what we’re used to. Nobody can calculate the cost of that disorder and Trump is cruising into that implacable wall of woe at ramming speed. I don’t think he’ll survive it in office.

Misspellings and Other Misdeeds



A few examples of said smug mockery.

1, 2, 3.

(BTW, the above-cited writer is not a perfect speller himself.)

A response to the recent James Wolcott column.