Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Warning to Government: Peak Oil is Coming!

This report, prepared for the US Department of Energy by Science Applications International Corporation and authored by Robert Hirsch, should be required reading for all citizens of the Imperial Republic. (Oh wait, most of them can't or won't read and nobody wants to hear about this). For those with limited time or attention spans, try the executive summary instead, although the tone of alarm is significantly muted. Suffice to say: peak oil is coming (it may already be here right now), preparations for it need to start ASAP (or perhaps 10-20 years before), and the longer the wait before doing anything, the worse it will be. "Dealing with world oil production peaking will be extremely complex, involve literally trillions of dollars and require many years of intense effort."

In past posts, Chaos has noted how the facts of peak oil have recently been slipping into news media and government hearings. It is now time to wonder why the Imperial government continues to remain silent, since waiting to educate its citizens and initiate action is clearly deterimental to dealing with the problem. Or, is the government's response to this issue more resource wars in the Middle East and other places around the world? Clearly, competition for energy among nations will be the next wave of international politics, but this only amounts to a short term rearranging of the chairs on the Titanic. Sadly, Chaos believes that the government's lack of response speaks volumes, and requires citizens to make their own preparations for the inevitable end of oil. For further exploration: Sustainable Living Forum ( registration required to view articles), Peak Oil Forums (try Planning For the Future).

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Two Faces of Immigration: Xenophobes and Heroes

Here it is, the two extremes of illegal Mexican immigration, the issue that, as Chaos has noted in the past, has the potential to split the Republican party in two. On the xenophobic end, we have the profile of CO Rep. Tom Tancredo, a "lonely figure who rails against immigration and battles his own president and party." At least, up to now, when anger over immigration has propelled this reactionary to prominence, with such incendiary ideas as fences at the border, denying citizenship to residents born here, and felonizing the mere presence of illegal immigrants in the US. Not all of these will come to pass, immigration being one of the few issues that George Bush thinks he knows something about (he technically was the governor of Texas for a brief time), and opposes, but the "catching up" with Tancredo reflects a deep xenophobia among many citizens of the Empire. On the other hand comes this illustration of how deeply important to Mexico and its economy are these illegal immigrants, such that a parade is held in some Mexican towns for the returning workers, who are hailed as heroes for their financial contributions to local coffers. "People waved and shouted as a line of 51 vehicles, driven by returning immigrants as part of a parade and car concert, made its way through the streets of this town (Rio Verde) of 88,000." Mexican immigrants are apparently responsible for about $1 billion per year repatriating back to Mexico, explaining why the government passively encourages the practice. Chaos observes further that Mexican immigrants have spread to the four corners of the US, which also explains the spread of xenophobia. Hang on, this can only get worse (yes, more entropy).

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Stupids Take Over the Holidays

Of all the ridiculous things to come to pass this year, nothing lowered the level of discourse more than Faux News and it's 580+ segments on the "War on Christmas." The manufacture and flogging of a completely vacuous, bogus issue designed specifically to appeal to willfully ignorant fundies has to be the so-called "fair and balanced" news channel's finest moment in recent memory, and an excellent example of how far the Empire is deteriorating. For a bracing antidote to the silliness, see this outstanding piece by Christopher Hitchens on how utterly stupid these people really are. Money quote:

"The Fox News campaign against Wal-Mart and other outlets—whose observance of the official feast-day is otherwise fanatical and punctilious to a degree, but a degree that falls short of unswerving orthodoxy—is one of the most sinister as well as one of the most laughable campaigns on record. If these dolts knew anything about the real Protestant tradition, they would know that it was exactly this paganism and corruption that led Oliver Cromwell—my own favorite Protestant fundamentalist—to ban the celebration of Christmas altogether.

No believer in the First Amendment could go that far. But there are millions of well-appointed buildings all across the United States, most of them tax-exempt and some of them receiving state subventions, where anyone can go at any time and celebrate miraculous births and pregnant virgins all day and all night if they so desire. These places are known as "churches," and they can also force passersby to look at the displays and billboards they erect and to give ear to the bells that they ring. In addition, they can count on numberless radio and TV stations to beam their stuff all through the ether. If this is not sufficient, then god damn them. God damn them everyone."

Amen, and happy solstice.


Monday, December 19, 2005

Watch This Movie! Or We'll Shoot This Dog!

Ok, seriously, if you ever wondered why ugly, dysfunctional suburban sprawl came to be that way, and what will happen to it in a future without endless, cheap energy (yes, it's called Peak Oil), you owe it to yourself to watch this 78 minute video. Featuring such luminaries as James Howard Kunstler, Matthew Simmons, and Richard Heinberg, this documentary also serves as a useful introduction to Peak Oil. Hearing Kunstler describe suburbia as "the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world" is priceless.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Your Government is Watching (or at least listening)

The story of the week, despite what Bush claims, isn't the Iraqi election. It's this one on how the NSA has been eavesdropping on American phone conversations since 2002. The Emperor signed a secret order allowing the unprecendented actions, but the NSA had already started its nefarious activities even before the order took effect (just couldn't wait). In the country Chaos grew up in, the NSA wasn't allowed to spy on Americans at all, just foreigners. Chaos wonders what other secret orders were signed and what agencies are now spying on citizens of the Empire...

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Peak Oil Hits Congress, Guess What Happens?

Chaos never thought to see the day when the concept of Peak Oil would finally bubble out of obscurity and come to the attention of the evil, corrupt Imperial House of Representatives, but it did, about a week ago. Read Rep. Roscoe Bartlett's testimony (among others) to get the full flavor.

By the way, if you said "the House embarked on a crash course to assure the U.S. has sufficient alternatives to oil in the future," sorry. Nothing will happen, is Chaos' prediction.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Blah, Blah, Blah

As the United States embarasses itself at the UN conference on global warming at Montreal (it took most of the two week long conference to even agree to engage in nonbinding talks), Rome--and the rest of the globe--continue burning. Specifically, the Amazon river basin, the world's largest rain forest, is undergoing an unprecedented and devastating drought. The worst in recorded history (in this case, the past 100 years), the drought is thought to be caused by the same global warming that caused a little bit of weather this summer in the New Orleans area. A being as devoted to entropy as Chaos can only wonder at the coming possibilities.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Decline of the American Empire, Part XIV: Video Game Outsourcing

Yes, it's true: gamers are now outsourcing the boring beginnings of video games to the Chinese. And why not? The Imperial Empire has outsourced pretty nearly everything else to the rest of the world.

Here's another gamer item that illustrates the unreality of life in the Empire today: adult gamers are devastated by Sony's decision to revamp their favorite online game into a juvenile first person shooter. Says one gamer," ...for many people it's much more than a game. It is a part of their lives where they have invested huge amounts of time building a community."

Thursday, December 08, 2005

We're Running Out of Food, Worldwide

Think not? Read this.
We've used up about 40% 0f the planet for growing crops or raising livestock, leaving little left for more expansion. The United States became a net importer of food for the first time recently. Try, if you can, to square this with ever increasing populations of hungry or greedy people.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Trouble With Boys

An article this week in the Washington Post reiterated some familiar concepts and statistics concerning a growing problem: boys (and men) are falling behind, first at school and then (naturally) in work and life. Some grim statistics: men are no more than 43% of the population of university students and boys and young men are 80% of high school dropouts. Some possible reasons for the decline include an emphasis on girls' success, a style of learning in school that's ill-suited to the way boys actually learn (it turns out that boys' and girls' brains are actually different when viewed by a brain scan), and a lack of active father roles. Much of these problems and some solutions are discussed in Real Boys. Having parented a boy for lo these many years, Chaos highly recommends this book for fellow travelers. A stoutly written work, the author nonetheless has deep empathy for boys and many useful suggestions for raising and teaching successful happy boys.

Friday, December 02, 2005

New Scary Climate Change Stuff

The two latest developments in the gradual (but increasing quickly) disintegration of the planet's climate, courtesy of insatiable human consumption of fossil fuels and exponential growth: core ice samples taken from Antarctica's ice cap indicate that current levels of carbon dioxide and methane are at their highest levels in the last 650,000 years. Researchers could not drill any deeper because of technological limits, so the issue may not be settled, but preliminary findings are disturbing at least. In another finding, it seems that sea levels have risen twice as much during the current century as in previous times.

Second finding: The Atlantic Conveyer, also known as the Gulf Stream, responsible for bringing warm water to Northern Europe, has been discovered to be slowing. This is in line with previous computer modeling predicting that the current may collapse from global warming, paradoxically causing the climate in Europe to cool substantially. This recent data clearly needs more study and corroboration, but as a confirmation of previously offered theories, it's an important piece in the puzzle. Of course, humans need a crisis to wake up from holiday shopping and pay attention, so the steady drip of bad news will have no effect on nonnegotiable lifestyles. Chaos wishes readers a happy weekend, unencumbered by entropy.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Nigeria: The "Fun" Country and Why We Need It

Nigeria, whose chief exports these days are fraud and oil (the country supplies 10% of Imperial Nation's needs) may not actually be the bastion of strength and stability you may have thought. Tribal and religious strife, along with corruption, plague oil-producing areas. As a reliable source of energy, the country is questionable and with its tremendously high birth rate (almost three times the replacement rate, 5.8), continued instability is guaranteed. A major source of entropy in the world, in Chaos' view.

Let's Put the X Back in Christmas: SomaFM's Holiday Station

SomaFM, the coolest radio station on the Net (which, by definition, makes it the coolest radio station anywhere) has a seasonal offering up now: Xmas in Frisco, an irreverent, eclectic mix of holiday tunes ranging from Burl Ives to Southpark. Try it, you'll like it (ok, well maybe it's not for everyone, but still...).

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Free Speech No More: Anti-War Sermon Brings IRS Scrutiny; Brain Drain Watch

Here's a nice measure of how the comatose American public has willingly given away the constitutional freedoms Chaos grew up with and thought were inviolate: the IRS has threatened to revoke the tax-exempt status of All-Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, for an October 31, 2004 sermon from guest pastor Rev. George F. Regas, in which he criticized the Iraq war and George Bush, essentially asking, "what would Jesus say" about preemptive war. Since the tax code in its infinite wisdom allows rich and corporate citizens to escape payment but prohibits church intervention in political campaigns (except for fundamentalist church activity), the IRS claims that All-Saints engaged in improper political activities. Oh, yes, it also claims that the church's progressive social activism is not the reason for the attention given (ho ho ho). After some publicity, IRS offers to "settle" with the church if it will admit wrongdoing, which All-Saints declined to do--Chaos admires the stand on principle.

On another front, the ACLU takes on the Bush Administration for denying visas to foreign intellectuals and scholars for taking ideological positions contrary to (what else?) the Bush Administration's policies. "The government should not be banning scholars from the country simply because it disagrees with what they have to say," said an ACLU attorney. The justification for this despicable action comes from (again, what else?) the Fascist USA Patriot Act, which allows the government to deny visas to those advocating terrorism. That "marketplace of ideas-free speech" thing is so quaint, so outdated. The oblivious public now has the government it voted for, and deserves, and the collective IQ slips a tad more...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Peak Oil Perspective: James H. Kunstler

What happens when the oil runs out? As Chaos has pointed out recently, the issue has bubbled up to the surface of mainstream media's attention, and tentative articles on the issue have appeared. Curious readers who wish to know more, however, must drill down deeper and it is in this context that Chaos presents one of the prominent voices of the effects of peak oil (the geologic basis will be further discussed in an upcoming post), James H. Kunstler. The author of several books, including the recent The Long Emergency, Kunstler has done more thinking than anyone else about just how addicted this society is to cheap energy and what will happen once it is gone. Key highlights: the hopeful thought that "technology will save us" is "Jiminy Cricket" thinking--wishing upon a star won't make it so, and no alternatives to oil are able to step in and rescue our easy motoring society. The U.S. has constructed an entire economy based on cheap energy and when it is gone, many aspects now taken for granted will have to be relearned, chiefly food production and transportation. The suburbs, a giant misallocation of resources, will be particularly hard hit, but everyone will have to scale down and live locally. Kunstler's tone is harsh, pitiless, and forbidding, which makes The Long Emergency somewhat depressing, and some of his projections for the future are clearly sheer speculation, but his take on the coming energy crisis is dead-on. (It's not an accident that Kunstler begins with a quote from Jung that "people cannot stand too much reality.") For those lacking the time or intestinal fortitude this holiday season to parse the entire work, here's a summary to get started with Kunstler, and his weekly blog has more thoughts.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Economic Tsunami

Doomerosity level: Extreme

Here's a recent piece in USA Today concerning budget deficits and what will happen to the profligate nation's economy when the Boomer Generation starts retiring. Unlike a real tsunami, this one is mathematically certain to happen, and when it starts and how bad it will be can be precisely predicted, because of demographics. In brief, there simply will not be enough working people to pay for the unfunded liabilities (that's Social Security and Medicare) when the large numbers of Boomers retire, as they will in 2011. Every year after that will produce larger and larger deficits: they are now estimated at $74 trillion. Reasonable people would note that seniors are the most active voting group in Imperial Nation and will fight to the death to preserve "their" benefits. (Many of this generation have not saved much money and believe that a magic pension will somehow appear when it's time to retire...). Much could be done now to stave off this tsunami, but of course there is no political will to do so. (See next post). For further reading, although it won't be pleasant: The Coming Generational Storm, Burns and Kolitkoff (2004), Running on Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It, Peterson (2004).

Meanwhile, back in the Land of Nod: remember the $223 million Bridge to Nowhere? Since it became so highly puclicized, those in Congress have become sensitive to "how it looks," and decided to scrap this particular piece of pork. Oh, Alaska will still get to keep the money (!), the mandate for the bridge will just be "eliminated." In light of this, Chaos wonders why anyone need bother with delineating actual projects for Congressional (that's taxpayer) largesse: just announce the amounts and don't bother coming up with "the Museum for Golden-Cheeked Orioles" or "studies of why people like to scratch their heads."

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Climate Change Again

Environmentalist Bill McKibben writes for Rolling Stone: "we are entering the Oh shit era of global warming." A fine synopsis of what has come before, our sick denials now, and what lies ahead (hint: it's not good). Look for a wetter (higher sea levels-hurray!), sicker (malaria and more), hungrier (America's Bread Basket may dry up and blow away), and poorer world. Will the torpid American public awaken before the cataclysmic effects of the nation's irresponsible squandering become apparent or will entropy rule the Nation of Manifest Destiny? Vote for the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Dose of Realism In Energy Policy

This would be funnier if it weren’t so scary…Charles Grassley (R-IA): “You know, what--what makes our economy grow is energy. And, and Americans are used to going to the gas tank (sic), and when they put that hose in their, uh, tank, and when I do it, I wanna get gas out of it. And when I turn the light switch on, I want the lights to go on, and I don't want somebody to tell me I gotta change my way of living to satisfy them. Because this is America, and this is something we've worked our way into, and the American people are entitled to it, and if we're going improve (sic) our standard of living, you have to consume more energy.”

Hey Chuck, what happens when you flip the switch and the lights don’t go on? Do you bawl and call for your mommy? What happens when you put the hose in your gas tank and nothing comes out? Do you petition the Great White Father in Washington?

The infantilism and arrogance in Grassley's statement is just breathtaking...

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Current Bubble of the Imperial Economy

What follows is a long but compelling explanation of why Imperial Nation is headed for an economic freefall, by Clive Crook:

" Once upon a time Democrats were big spenders and Republicans were fiscal conservatives. That was a while ago. Ronald Reagan's defense buildup and tax cuts caused deficits to soar in the 1980s, and it was Bill Clinton who brought the budget back into surplus in the 1990s, partly by curbing spending. But those fiscal role reversals were timid by today's standards. Since 2000 the Democratic Party has been left in the dust when it comes to spending.
The Republican Party is the new, undisputed champion of big government. The Bush administration has presided over an explosion of public borrowing, fueled partly by tax cuts but also by huge new outlays. Both sides of the public accounts were out of control even before the enormous increases in spending to cope with Hurricane Katrina and the persistently dire situation in Iraq (see "Disasters and the Deficit," next page). The administration's incompetent handling of the hurricane will exact its own price over and above disaster relief, as the White House tries to buy its way back up in the polls. The Republican Party's former reputation for prudent fiscal management is no longer merely compromised; it is ruined, perhaps for good.
Among Republicans in Congress squeaks of complaint are heard here and there. But the White House has drowned them out. Before Katrina, at any rate, the administration was still insisting that the budget deficit would fall over the next few years. That prediction might have been right if Katrina and Rita had not happened and if Iraq had come good—at least if one further assumed that no other emergencies would arise, that most of the administration's tax cuts would be reversed by the end of the decade (which the administration itself, of course, is determined to block), and that demographic pressures (which are causing the government to pile up vast liabilities for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) would magically abate. On this side of the looking glass the deficit will not shrink unless something bold is done.
For those who find its budget forecasts unconvincing the White House has another line—one that slightly undercuts its assurances of fiscal responsibility. It is that the deficit does not matter. Economists have been predicting fiscal meltdown for years, officials point out. It has not happened and it won't, they say, even if the deficit sticks. The reason is that foreign investors just love this country's assets.
The resulting flow of funds—a global vote of confidence in American capitalism—means that the government can borrow without strain. Spend more, tax less, be happy.
It sounds like a confidence trick, and in the end it is—though, like all the best scams, it contains particles of truth. For much of the past decade private foreign investors have poured funds into the United States because they saw faster economic growth and better returns than were available elsewhere. As long as that kind of investment keeps flowing in, the deficit can be financed painlessly. Government spending still has to be paid for eventually, mind you—it is only a question of taxes today or taxes tomorrow. But a willing inflow of capital means that the eventual, inescapable cost to American taxpayers can be postponed at little risk.
Another thing helps. America enjoys the rare privilege of being able to borrow what it needs—currently on the order of $782 billion a year—mostly in its own currency. Countries heavily in debt usually have to borrow in a foreign currency. If they later get into trouble and the foreign-exchange market drives their currency down, the burden of their debt, measured in local money, weighs heavier, pressing them into an even deeper hole. But if the United States got into that kind of fix and the dollar fell abruptly, the value of America's debt would not rise. Instead the countries that had lent the dollars would see the value of their investments (measured in yen, say, or euros) fall.
As far as the United States is concerned, this is an excellent arrangement. With foreign lenders choosing to carry more of the risk, a credit-hungry America can afford to be less cautious.
But not this much less. If America were borrowing at half the present rate, it could probably relax. But $782 billion a year—more than six percent of GDP—is outlandish. Such reckless behavior has made America's privileged place in the world economy as much a curse as a blessing. Foreign capital is no longer voting as confidently for America. Private investors are spending less than before on American assets. Lately the slack has been taken up by foreign governments and central banks, which are pursuing not profit but doubtful policy goals of their own. (China's holdings of dollar reserves are already far greater than makes sense for China.) At some point these lenders are going to curb investment in American assets. Should this happen suddenly, here are some of the likely consequences: a spike in interest rates as the government is forced to find new takers of its debt, at dearer terms; a surge in personal bankruptcies and a sharp curtailment of spending among America's heavily indebted households; a stock-market crash; an increase in inflation; and a slide back into recession.
The present course of fiscal policy is not certain to end badly, but the risks are increasing. This summer, before Katrina, the economist Brad DeLong put the chance of a major U.S. financial crisis at 20 percent. The former Fed chairman Paul Volcker puts it at 75 percent within the next few years if we don't change our policies. Stephen Roach, the chief economist at Morgan Stanley (and a notorious pessimist), thinks it's about 90 percent. Whether any of these predictions is close to the mark is anyone's guess, but that's not the point. The point is that the chance of a bad outcome is substantial—and much higher than it needs to be.
Changing course now—before circumstances leave no choice—would be hard even if the administration believed it had to act. Starting from here, the combination of higher taxes and lower public spending required to bring the deficit down to manageable levels is politically daunting. Yet at the same time, Katrina has perhaps created a political opportunity to undo some of the fiscal damage this administration has wrought—by, say, curbing tax cuts and scaling back the Medicare prescription-drug bill.
Unfortunately, big-government Republicans see no need for such measures; they look at deficit hawks and see Chicken Littles. But this fiscal environment is more dangerous than any other America has faced in its modern history. Without corrective action the sky may fall.

Have a restful weekend; do your part to spread entropy.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Rays of Hope for Oil-Addicted Nation

The famed environmentalist Bill McKibben discusses what individuals could do if any of the plethora of pessimistic scenarios imagined by peak oil believers come to pass, and actually produces a somewhat hopeful scenario exemplified by the town of Burlington, VT. In brief, the town produces approximately 8% of its produce needs through an "intown" organic farming district (which was once the town dump), as well as a local currency known as "brown bread." McKibben envisions the growth of both of these elements should energy prices rise substantially, a not unrealistic view. Note, however, the small scope of these programs and the essential local nature, suggesting that supply-chain giants like Wal-Mart will not survive.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Theocracy Watch; God Bless Texas!

Theocrats win in Kansas, lose in Pennsylvania...Chaos has always been struck by the deviousness of so-called "christians," who apparently believe, among other things, that the ends justify the means. This is glaringly so when abortion opponents bomb clinics or murder physicians, but also when it comes to foisting their (objectively unChristian) viewpoints on others. The current "debate" on intelligent design is an another example: the proposition that this mumbo-jumbo is science and should be presented alongside evolution is merely a subterfuge and a way to get the nose of the camel into the tent. Chaos wonders why any belief system worth its salt needs to resort to such mendacity to spread its message. Do Buddhists or Hindus rely on trickery or lies to get followers?

Meanwhile, Texas continues its' enthusiastic spiral down into ignorance, bigotry, and theocracy, aided in part by rabid applause from the World Capitol of Ignorance. What really rankles is the statement from Glen Maxey, gay former legislator: "this issue is clouded by people's religious views (Duh! you think?)...I don't think Texans are overwhelmingly hateful kinds of folks and I think eventually they will come around." Liberals just can't believe that people choose to be moronic, homophobic and vile. No no no, they're just misinformed, misled, have their judgment clouded, relied on incorrect numbers, had the wool pulled over their eyes by Republicans or some other ridiculous excuse. Sorry, Glen, this wasn't even close.

Drawing upon trends in immigration, education and demographics, Chaos makes the following prediction for the state of the State in 20 years or so: the children of Mexican immigrants inundate the already overcrowded public schools, at least for awhile, until they are forced out by high stakes testing of the Every Child Kicked in the Butt (oh sorry, No Child Left Behind) Law. Non-immigrant (or wealthy Anglo, if you will) schoolchildren enjoy the teaching of creationism in their homes or private "christian" schools, devoid of testing of any kind, while the brain drain caused by the No Gays Allowed In This State referendum reduces the state collective IQ to dull normal or borderline retarded levels.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Trade Gods Declare Christmas Early

The Winter Solstice, the midyear holidays, the celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus, Hanukkah,Festivus, Kwanzaa, or whatever one believes in, seems to begin earlier each year. This year, however, in response to the upcoming anticipation of higher heating costs caused by Hurricane Katrina, the Wise Men of Commerce have decreed an extra-early start, primarily to encourage consumers to spend their lucre on Xmas gifts now rather than something as frivolous as say, utility bills later when the house starts getting cold. Chaos ran into the Xmas spirit yesterday entering the local grocery. A fully-costumed Santa, squatting strategically 20 feet inside the main entrance, bizarrely wished Chaos a "merry Christmas." Various local merchants have had seasonal merchandise displayed for at least the past three weeks (yes, that's before Halloween), and word of the "black Friday" discounts at SprawlMart has leaked out early.

Chaos wishes to make the following observations concerning the "holiday" season: one can now reasonably conclude that any spiritual component of said holiday has been gradually and finally leached out by the relentless grinding of the American retail machine. The demands of the market now dictate how Americans spend their holidays. At best, the rituals have become so degraded by gross materialism that they now resemble a caricature of the original themes and practices. The bestowing of gifts now substitutes for authentic sentiment and is best exemplified by that most modern of gift shortcuts, the gift card, a bonanza for retailers and a boon for time-pressed or careless shoppers. In contrast to the original feasting and merrymaking, many people undertake tasks so numerous that the holiday "break" is in fact more stressful than the normal routine. Overindulgence in food and alcohol, depression and even suicide are typical responses to the dysfunctional anomie of the season. Travel on the holidays is ill-advised, because of huge lines at the airport and price-gouging, but going into debt to "pay" for Christmas is common and expected. The holidays have morphed into such a gargantuan commercial fiesta that retailers now expect that up to 40% of sales and most of the profits for the entire year will be reaped during this three month period. Given the context, Chaos has no doubt that the insensible American public will go along with this "marketing strategy," much like the drooling Pavlovian canines. It may, however, be quite a chilly January when the bills come due.

Friday, November 04, 2005

News Flash! Nobody Trusts Liars!

From the Sun Came Up This Morning Department: latest poll shows 58% of the sleepy-eyed public harbors doubts about the Boy King's personal integrity. One supposes that's what generally happens when mendacity dominates the presidential discourse, or to put it in the vernacular, when you lie all the time, people tend not to believe you.

Doomerosity Index: Elevated
Your daily shot of doomerism appears courtesy of Population Connection and no, it's not a fertility site (hint: formerly known as Zero Population Growth) but one concerned with the horrific impact homo sapiens has on the planet. Check out this fact sheet; highlights: the U.S. has 5% of the world's population but produces 25% of pollutants, 27,000 species become extinct every year, 80% of rain forests have been lost, if every one on Earth enjoyed the U.S.'s "non-negotiable" lifestyle, it would require the resources of 3 additional Earths, and so on.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Useless Facts No One Cares About; Real News

"I know what you're thinking, cause right now I'm thinking the same thing. Actually, I've been thinking it ever since I got here: why oh why didn't I take the BLUE pill?" --The Matrix (1999)

From the News You Can't Use Department: Boy King's Tax "Reform" Commission produces politically impossible recommendations no one will follow-- let's eliminate deductions for mortgage interest, property taxes, employer-provided health insurance, state and local taxes. Sure. Anyone with a brain notice that these are all political nonstarters? In an ideal world, there might be some leadership willing to take on these popular items, but this world is not that world.

From the Actual News Department: More warnings from scientists who say that vast unprecedented changes in the climate will occur in the next 20-70 years unless global warming is halted and reversed. Said one of the authors of the study, Dr. Kenneth Caldeira, "the question is no longer whether we will need to address this problem, but when we will need to address this problem. We can either address it now, before we severely and irreversibly damage our climate, or we can wait until irreversible damage manifests itself strongly. If all we do is try to adapt, things will get worse and worse." Chaos wonders how many more scientists will undertake to futilely sound the alarm to the persons on the planet who contribute most to the problem (hint: it's the ones who make up 5% of the world's population but use 40% of the resources).

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Decline of the American Empire, Part XXIV

Here you go, this is it, civilization's final call: need a new career? unhappy with old economy ChinaMart job with stingy health care? Chaos has the answer, as well as why things will start to spiral out of control relatively soon: it's...animal massage practitioner!! For a mere $1500, you can change your career and change your life. Whee! As is obvious, Chaos is a devoted student of American frivolity, but this represents an unprecedented peak. One can only conclude that Imperial Theocracy is now on the downhill slope.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Recession By the Numbers

Respected financial columnist Scott Burns does the numbers (registration required)on working stiffs and comes up pessimistic. Reason: the rich have gotten richer while those in the bottom 75% (that's household income of $57,343) have not even kept up with the inflation rate while those in the upper 25% have experienced outsized gains. Rising costs of energy and health care hit those at the bottom the hardest and eat up any gains from lower rents, mortgage interest rates and easy credit. There is much more structural weakness in the economy, however, than just wage imbalances.

More broadly, the U.S. economy has lately been propped up by a consumption binge brought about by low interest rates, mortgage refi's and cheap foreign goods. Since the U.S. savings rate has now dwindled down to 0.00% (lowest recorded since 1959!) and our budget and account deficits (the "twins") are at shockingly high levels, depending on ever more consumption seems reckless at best. If foreign central banks decide not to continue financing the U.S.'s spending, the result may be a race out the door to dump dollars. Simply put, the country has forgotten how to live within its means, and neither the politicians nor the public wish to make inconvenient choices that require sacrifice.

Monday, October 31, 2005

All Hallow's Eve: The Gift and The Church of Death

SOMA Fm is perhaps the coolest Internet radio station out there. Kindly accept from Chaos a seasonal treat: click on the website and listen to The Soma Haunt. You will need to download Winamp, and it won't continue much past today, but should get you in the mood. On to more scary things...

Imperial Nation becomes Imperial Theocracy: Cervical cancer strikes an estimated 10,000 women in the U.S. every year, killing some 3700. It is mostly caused by strains of the human papilloma virus, considered a sexually transmitted disease. Good news: there is a preventive vaccine. Bad scary news: mandatory vaccinations of schoolchildren are opposed by fundamentalist theocrats of death, who say that it "undermines our abstinence message" and thereby encourages sexual activity. Chaos supposes that the net effect of this benighted nation's descent into ignorance will be more dead laid at fundamentalist religion's doorstep. Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Peak Oil in Microcosm: The Planet Starves

Chaos considers Hurricane Katrina a distant early warning to the greedy inhabitants of the planet, a mild but insistent omen of future shortages and lifestyle changes wrought by the slow end of fossil fuels. Peak oil is becoming increasingly hard for the unconscious American public to ignore: articles that attempt to present the issue, albeit in the shallowest and most superficial way, have become common. The larger truth has peeked out, however, in today's paper of record, in an article largely concerned with why food prices haven't increased as a result of rising oil prices. Not yet, anyway, as it's clear that the supply side of the food chain can only be squeezed so much. Expect inevitable increases in prices for sustenance to hit about the same time as winter heating bills. Note well how ubiquitous oil and gas are to the food supply: tractors, fishing boats, fertilizers, plastics, refrigeration, transport.

At the bottom of the article, however, (that's where the truth tends to leak out, have you noticed?) one finds the key as well as a harbinger of the future: a restaurant owner in Cleveland, who relies solely upon small local growers, hasn't gotten a price increase of any kind in the last year. Chaos does not prognosticate often or well, but believes that small and local farming will be the only viable methods in the post-peak era. Brush up on gardening skills.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Best Political Pandering: A Cocaine Addict Responds

As the French would say, it is to laugh...pandering to idiots will always get you reelected.

"Hi, I'm Chaos and I'm a cocaine addict."
"Welcome, Chaos"
"I've been an addict for so many years I can't even remember living without my cocaine. I used to use a little bit every day, and it wasn't much of a problem. I even used to grow my own coca plants! But over the years I've gradually ramped up my appetite, and I've gotten to the point where I have to rely on many many coke dealers to keep me happy. I've had a lot of bad stuff happen to me because of my cocaine use: my health has gradually gotten worse and I have a lot of trouble just getting through the day. I'm sure more cocaine would help this, so I use even more. The stuff has gotten a lot more expensive lately; it used to be real cheap and some people say that all the good coca fields are played out and one day there might not be any left. A few days ago, one of the major dealers I buy from even said that most of the cheap cocaine is already gone and what's left is expensive and hard to grow. I can't believe this; the idea that there won't be any cocaine someday is just ridiculous, I mean there's always been plenty of cocaine so there always will be, right? I'd rather believe the people who say there's plenty of coke left. When the dealers raise the price of my cocaine, I get really mad. They always say that the market is to blame, that it costs more for them to get it for me, but I don't buy that. I think it's just these greedy coke dealers who are making big profits on addicts like me. When I tell them this, they just laugh and say I should use less cocaine, but how can I? It's not like there's something else I can replace cocaine with, and it's my God-given right to use as much cheap cocaine as I want to, isn't it? My lifestyle isn't negotiable! I've never tried to live without coke; I think it'd be real bad if one day I couldn't get some, or even as much as I want, but I can't stand to even think about it, so I don't. Can anyone help me?"
"No one here can help you, Chaos; you don't realize you have a problem"

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Ice Melts, Coral Reefs Die, Gaia Shrieks

Environmental milestones abound as those on the Potomac wait with bated breath imminent indictments for crimes of moral turpitude:

As previously noted, the North Pole will in a few decades cease to be a place one can walk to and instead kayaks, oil tankers or the like will be necessary. But the real punch in the gut from global warming, which is now too advanced to stop, lies on the frozen island of Greenland. Described as an upside down Gulf of Mexico, a vast sheet of overlaying ice has started to melt and by the time it ceases, sea levels will rise 20 feet or more. Although temporarily based 150 miles inland, Chaos has always enjoyed ocean views, and the summer seabreeze can be quite refreshing. The condition of the coral reefs, however, is not so nice. Those who wish to experience undersea vistas should plan to become SCUBA certified and visit a reef sometime soon, preferably before 2050 AD.

Peak Oil Watch: Secret Government Report Says Saudis Can't Hold the Line

Well, maybe it's not so secret anymore.

Message from the Boy King: Oooops! When that guy in the headdress held my hand and told me he could send me plenty of oil, I looked into his soul and believed him. Hey, give me a break, our families go back a long way, and he was telling me stuff I wanted to hear, unlike Matt Simmons.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Two More Thoughts On Health Care: It's All Your Fault! It's All Up to You!

The U.S. healthcare system is moving from a "social insurance" model, where healthy people pay the same amount for insurance as those who are sick, to an "actuarial" model, in which sick people pay more than healthy people. By way of background, the social insurance model has been the traditional way of thinking in the U.S. in the past (and still is in most Western nations). Health insuance economics in the U.S. has been infected (sorry) with the concept of "moral hazard"--the notion that people with insurance will use the system more. (An example of this would be if you were provided free sodas at work: you'd probably drink more than if you had to pay for them). As this recent article explains, however, moral hazard, when applied to people's use of health care, is fundamentally flawed: people go to the doctor when they have to, not for frivolous reasons. Do the "well insured go to the doctor because it's free? Do people really like to go to the doctor? Do they check into the hospital instead of playing golf?"asks Uwe Reinhardt, Princeton health care economist. Health savings accounts are the ultimate expression of those who believe that people have too much health insurance, and need less. Check out 2004 Economic Report of the President's outrageous intentional misinterpretation of why poor working people don't have insurance: they had the opportunity (from an employer) but "declined the coverage." Wonder why that would be? Surely not because they couldn't afford it, right? Reading this makes Chaos wonder if Reinhardt is wrong: blaming the devil for the state of healthcare lets the sleazy Republicans who produced this off the hook.

On a cheerier note, one 86 year old man has the cure for healthcare, and it's a booming endorsement of prevention. Exercise and diet (and, possibly, a wife 29 years his junior) keeps this fellow in top form: his doctor, frustrated with his nonparticipation in the healthcare system, tries vainly to attribute his success to nonprescription drugs. Chaos observes that the novelty of the author's habits are the reason for publication, and wonders how many sedentary citizens of the Republic can or will avail themselves of the methods detailed. Given the current rates of obesity, skepticism seems the best course.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Bound: Thirst For Oil Strangles Democracy

You didn't really buy that stuff about "bringing democracy to the Middle East," did you? Even getting past the fact that this was the latest rationale proposed to invade Iraq (lately morphed into the reason why the US is still there...), this was a howler when the minions of Bush trotted it out and is no less unpersuasive today. Ever wonder why Imperial Nation doesn't decapitate the House of Saud? After all, one of the most repressive regimes in the world routinely tortures, flogs and executes citizens, engages in secret detentions, trials without due process, and violates womens rights. This in addition to tolerating the rise of Wahabbism and its progeny, the jihadists, an extreme sect of Islam that advocates violent action and whose most famous follower is Osama Ben Laden. The answer to this question and subsequent followups are found in a current story on democratic parties in Syria. Imperial Nation would like to support these democrats in that troubled country, but is constrained by what would actually happen if it did (hint: it's also Reason #13 Imperial Nation Can't Win in Iraq: Be Careful What You Wish For). Simply put, democracy in Middle East dictatorships would result in elected regimes hostile to the Fatherland, since the vast majority of people in the Middle East: 1. hate Imperial Nation and 2. think being ruled by a strict Muslim government is a fine idea. Oh, and "hostile to the Fatherland" in this context means no more oil to evil infidel empires. When commentator Fareed Zakaria noted a few weeks ago that higher prices for oil were "crippling" US foreign policy, he understated the problem by a magnitude of ten. Once again, it's impossible to credibly talk about "promoting democracy" when one beds down every night with repressive dictators. American officials and the mainstream media downplay this dynamic, probably because those in power know that there really is nothing to do about it, and the media have an awful lot of SUV advertising to sell. Middle Easterners and other people on the planet, however, seem to have no difficulty making this connection.
Tomorrow: Healthcare cleanup...

The Death of a Theme Park?

Hurricane Wilma caused devastation lately to the loathsome tourist theme park of Cancun/Playa del Carmen, including washing away most of the beaches. No doubt the palatial hotels will be easily duplicated, given Mexico's anxiety over its cash cow (President Fox, a lame duck since his inauguration, promised to rebuild within two months, in time for the high season, because it's all about the money, after all) but Chaos wonders whether the once pristine white beaches, clearly why the computer originally chose the place, are so easily replaced. If the beaches disappear for good or become degraded, will the theme park burst its geographic boundaries and become another Las Vegas or will it die? (It probably doesn't matter, since most Americans visit only to consume vast quantities of cheap alcohol, parboil themselves in grotesque bathing suits and pretend they are participants in a Girls Gone Wild video.)

Monday, October 24, 2005

Entropy Meets American Exceptionalism: Collapse

"To the crew of the Nostromo, a word of warning..."
--preview to Alien (1979)

Jared Diamond is a Pulitzer Prize-winning professor of geography and physiology at UCLA. Best known for Guns, Germs and Steel, a survey of prehistoric history designed to answer the question: why did some societies succeed and conquer other, less successful societies (or more concretely, why did the Spaniards sail across the Atlantic and conquer the Incas, rather than the other way around?). The answers to this question fascinate; Chaos highly recommends this work.
Diamond's current book is Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, in which he examines several societies, past and present, under varying circumstances, as to why each succeeded or failed. Diamond finds that several factors are usually present in the collapse of societies, among them:

1. Environmental damage
2. climate change
3. enemies
4. changes in trading partners
5. political, social and economic responses to the first four.

Diamond notes in particular that societies have collapsed at the height of their dominance, as he puts it, in a an effective synopsis of Collapse, "peak power usually means peak population, peak needs, and hence peak vulnerability."
Not content with an historical analysis, Diamond reviews the environmental conditions of several countries (China, Japan, Australia) and regions (Montana, Rwanda) through the prism of societal collapse. (The environmental roots of the Rwandan genocide in particular make compelling reading). Although it is apparent that Diamond sees population overshoot as the precondition of the environmental devastation that he describes, the work overall has a discongruently hopeful tone. A more pessimistic reader may believe Diamond's examples of hopeful progress are creeping incrementalism, instead of necessarily drastic action. (Even the author refers to a race between environmental destruction and human enlightenment, with the outcome far from certain). Further, regional solutions are unlikely to succeed in the present global interconnectedness and indeed, global collapse is possible.

Chaos views Diamond's work in Collapse as the backdrop or landscape to an upcoming series of posts on the effects of entropy in the coming century, in particular the twin towers of uncertainty in the economy, the impending retirement of the baby boomers, peak oil, and global warming. Chaos observes that Diamond has elucidated a theory and a theme, universal across time and place, which can serve both as an organizing principle and an admonition to American exceptionalism. Is the Imperial Nation, now at the height of dominance, also at peak vulnerability? Stay tuned, there's more.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

We Are Not Normal, Here: A Pre-Thanksgiving Sermon

Take a gander at this and then reflect on how unusual you are, when most people on the planet:

1. Can't read or write.
2. Reside in dangerous, crime-infested areas.
3. Have no access to uncensored media (and no, we're not talking about Fox News, or Faux News, as they say).
4. Don't have jobs and live on no more than $2 per day.
5. Live in corrupt countries where civil rights are curtailed (hey wait a minute, that sounds familiar...)
6. Barely get the minimum caloric intake (that's food) to survive.
7. Have no access to electricity or phone service of any kind.
8. Have little or no health care, resulting in high infant mortality and childbirth deaths.

The article points out that our assumptions that what we have is normal or should be, when applied outside the western industrialized world, lead to dangerous (unintended) consequences when we treat other countries as slightly less efficient and free versions of our own. Given the Imperial Nation's lack of sophistication in foreign policy these days, Chaos has little hope that the U.S. will stop trying to impose American "values" on the rest of the world, and do we really want everyone worldwide to emulate our SUVs, strip centers, tract housing developments and insatiable appetite for natural resources?

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Movie (Preview) of the Week

Too too funny (you may need to get quicktime to see it)...what a heartwarmer, and a little meaningless trash to start the weekend. Tomorrow: you may be unique, but you're not normal.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Passage to India

Chaos mentioned in a recent post on health care that roughly 44 million Americans are uninsured. Middle-aged or older people who lose their jobs find that replacement coverage is difficult to get and outrageously expensive. Uninsured people facing major surgical procedures have had no good options. Fortunately, the free markets and global outsourcing have come to the rescue. Many countries around the world, including Thailand, Costa Rica, and South Africa, are now advertising themselves as destinations for "medical tourism." The country leading the pack in this field, however, is India, where the government is handing out support and incentives and growth has been upwards of 30% per year. With prices for some procedures at about 1/10th that of those in the U.S. and other Western countries (even allowing for post-op care and a vacation thrown in), this trend has skyrocketed in the last 10 years and promises to get even bigger in the future, as health care prices increase in the U.S. and access to surgery in Canada and Great Britain becomes more limited. (Note the subtle criticsm of the single payer system: if people can't get the surgery they need in a timely fashion, is that better than the ER-last resort system of the US?) Concerned about the quality? The providers are way ahead of you: facilities in Costa Rica, Thailand and India are acknowledged to be first class, with more staff and highly qualified doctors, many of whom have practiced in the U.S. or are board certified specialists. Some Indian health providers claim to have a lower margin of medical errors than hospitals in the U.S. When a heart valve procedure costs $200,000 in the U.S. but only $10,000 in India, expect more people to vote with their feet and reject the dysfunctional U.S. healthcare system.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Reason #3 Why the US Can't Win in Iraq: Reading is Fundamental

T.E. Lawrence (the famed "Lawrence of Arabia") was a British military liasion officer to the Arabs during World War I. At the time, Arabia was part of the Turk empire and the Arabs rebelled against the Turks. Lawrence ended up fighting alongside the Arabs and produced a book (The Seven Pillars of Wisdom) as a result of these experiences. Lawrence is sometimes called the "Clausewitz of guerilla warfare." His influence reached far beyond the Middle East: General Nguyen Giap, commander of the Vietnamese forces against the French in Indochina, stated that his primary influence was T.E. Lawrence. In particular, Lawrence elucidated six principles of guerilla warfare that have proved to be timeless and are relevant to the Imperial Nation's occupation of Iraq. These are:

"First, a successful guerrilla movement must have an unassailable base-a base secure not only from direct physical assault, but from attack in other forms as well, including psychological attack. Second, the guerrilla must have a technologically sophisticated enemy. The greater this sophistication, the greater this alien force would rely on forms of communications and logistics that must necessarily present vulnerabilities to the irregular. Third, the enemy must be sufficiently weak in numbers so as to be unable to occupy the disputed territory in depth with a system of interlocking fortified posts. Fourth, the guerrilla must have at least the passive support of the populace, if not its full involvement. By Lawrence's calculation, "Rebellions can be made by 2 percent active in striking force and 98 percent passively sympathetic." Fifth, the irregular force must have the fundamental qualities of speed, endurance, presence and logistical independence. Sixth, the irregular must be sufficiently advanced in weaponry to strike at the enemy's logistics and signals vulnerabilities."

Alas, Chaos observes that the Boy King and his minions have been woefully ignorant of history, and reading Lawrence now would be an exercise in futility, even if they were so inclined, which they are not. Iraq is now a dramatic example of Lawrence's principles in action, effectively stymieing the mightiest military on the planet.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Low Culture Discovers Peak Oil

October 2005 issue of Esquire contains a short feature (pay site, but it's the presence of the article, not its content, that's significant...) on peak oil, coming firmly down on the side of the Hubbert/Deffeyes/Simmons crowd. If the concept has trickled down to this frivolous, vulgar magazine, Chaos believes it may be approaching critical mass in the U.S. One small problem: this is a complex issue and can't accurately be reduced to sound bites, so the doomsday aspects are likely to prevail, leading to either (1) hysteria, a la avian flu, or (2) dismissal of the concept as crazy. Chaos had great faith in the ability of the American public to live in denial of the obvious...oh, and here's another one from a real estate agent(!) who's obviously read Simmons.

A System Designed by the Devil: Chaos Comes Face to Face With US Health Care

"Only the devil could have invented such a system." Uwe Reinhardt, Heathcare Economist.

Recently, Chaos took a firsttime involuntary tour of a local hospital on an emergency basis (appendectomy, for the curious, and there were actually two visits, and yes, it hurt). Although Chaos was impressed with the conscientiousness and caring of the physicians and staff (while noting that, in many instances, nurses seemed to be required to perform more menial tasks than one would have thought) as well as the superior technology brought to bear (MRI, lapriscopy, etc.), it wasn't until Chaos recieved the first statement from the insurance company that the revelation occurred: $19,500 (that's dollars, not pesos or yen) for the first three day stay! Yikes!

The U.S. healthcare "system," if one can even call it that, is, by all accounts, grossly dysfunctional, at once wildly expensive and wasteful (the US spends 2 1/2 times more per capita than any Western industrialized nation and a lower life expectancy than Costa Rica), and ridiculously unfair: 44 million or so Americans are uninsured. The US spends three times as much as Canada, for example, just on paperwork. The paperwork can overwhelm even people who are completely familiar with the system, to the point that paperwork "specialists" are available to wade through it for a fee, much like employing a CPA to do ones taxes. It's been estimated that 18,000 people in America die each year as a result of being uninsured. The system has been described as a "hybrid," in that approximately 50% of health care goes through various government programs (Medicare, Medicaid, Veteran's Administration) while the remainder is through private insurance. What this means in practice is that the system is like a game of musical chairs, with each entity attempting to shift the costs to someone else until the music stops. This is what Chaos experienced--"sticker shock," even though the insurance company was paying most of it. The hospital attempts to charge the full "rack rate," (to make up for paying the government much less for Medicare patients) the insurance company negotiates this down a little, and the taxpayers pay for the uninsured, but not before their health problems have so deteriorated that they become a screaming emergency. Of courser, medical problems untreated often worsen (and become more expensive) so that costs for "last minute" treatment are much greater, and people die earlier and more often.

Politicians sometimes defend the current system by claiming that the U.S.can't have a singlepayer system like Canada's because that amounts to "rationing health care." If one ever says this within earshot, box his ears, vote him out of office (yeah right) or throw a shoe at the TV screen. Yeah, there's rationed health care all right: the rich get all the health care they need and the uninsured (notice Chaos didn't say poor, since many people who lose their "good" jobs end up without health insurance) ration themselves by not going to the doctor, and taxpayers have to clean up the mess.

A political solution? Don't bet on it. Powerful forces, who benefit from the current system, will rise up to spew propaganda and corral their paid-for "representatives." Remember the last time health care reform came up? The industry squashed the Clintons easily. Bush's health savings accounts? Great for the healthy and wealthy. Chaos' advice: bet on the current system continuing and invest in health care; it's a sector brokers call "outperforming."

One positive note: following Chaos' release from the hospital, several acquaintances who have been uninsured were persuaded to purchase health insurance. "A ray of light breaks through the clouds..."

Monday, October 17, 2005

Is "Over There" All You Need to Know About Iraq?

This show, a Steven Bochco creation, suffers from the usual television "flourishes" that are characteristic of the medium. For example, in Episode 11, Sgt. Scream doesn't go home (and exit the show) when he has the chance, in an utterly unconvincing "sacrifice" to enable some Iraqi orphans (and their guardian, a comely but oh-so-world-weary French woman) to keep living in their rundown house in the middle of town. And let's not get into the annoying repetition of the title song at the end of every episode.

As documentary, however, Over There has provided the U.S. public with a more realistic view of the war on the ground than most anything offered by the self-censoring news media or the cheery pronouncements of the Bush Administration. Interestingly, the show was described by Bochco as non-political and indeed, there seems to be no need for preachiness. The squad has weekly encounters with a witches brew of Iraq war horrors: limbs blown off, children killed, deaths from friendly fire, and an Iraqi population bitterly hostile to Americans. The show has even been prescient: an episode a few weeks ago showed the character Bo, who lost his foot and was shipped home in the pilot, getting a bill from the Army for missing equipment, while the Army sent his pay to an old address, where it was misappropriated by his dad. Characters often (and rightly) question what they are doing in this seemingly purposeless maelstrom of violence. It is an observed peculiarity in American culture that "fictional" violence and mayhem are acceptable to sell scented toilet paper and other frivolities, but graphic "news" of the real war is not. In this light, Chaos suggests that a more valuable use of time might be to skip the news of the war on FOX/CNN/MSNBC and the print media and just tune in to F/X on Wednesday nights, at least until the reruns begin...more to the point, does Over There undermine the armed forces attempts at recruitment?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

A View From The Matrix; Eating Without Oil

"I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area, and you multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet, you are a plague, and we are the cure."--Agent Smith, The Matrix (1999).

The Oil We Eat, (Harpers, 2004).

Long and quite excellent discussion of the platform on which global society is based. Chaos especially likes the explication of the Laws of Thermodynamics, but there is much more as to why the long term exploitation of the planet will have to end. Did you know that much of the corn we grow goes into...sugar? (Check out the list of ingredients in the food items in your pantry. Hint: the words "fructose corn syrup" are what you're looking for...) Think your vegetarianism will save the planet? Maybe not so much, as John Stewart would say. Did you realize nitrogen as fertilizer is environmentally radioactive? If this article makes you uncomfortable, Chaos suggests that you might ask yourself why.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Human Rights Watch: Imperial Nation Denies Suffrage

A geographic epiphany*: the U.S. denies the vote to felons. Other Western countries do not. Chaos wonders what these countries know that the Fatherland doesn't. Or maybe they're just nicer. Certainly, serving life in prison is unknown in developed Western countries, but enthusiastically embraced here. And let's not even get into the death penalty...like shooting fish in a barrel.

*Geographic epiphany: enlightenment achieved upon the realization that another city/region/state/country has pursued a different way of addressing an issue or solving a problem. Ant.: geographic ignorance

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Population Overshoot: Kristof (briefly) Impaled

Nicholas Kristof, columnist for the paper of record, apparently relies on a series of calamities mostly involving the downtrodden of the world to fill his space. (In all fairness, writing a column several times a week wears upon the brain--coming up with new ideas can be tough. Some columnists resort to synopsizing their latest reading. Chaos, amateur though he is, sympathizes). The latest Kristof column, however, gets it quite wrong, in Chaos' view. Here's the rebuttal, consciously made shorter to accommodate NYT space requirements:

"To the Editor:

It's heartening to see that Nicholas Kristof has found a fresh humanitarian cause: starving children in Nigeria, and indeed, it is and will continue to be an ongoing tragedy. Kristof would be better advised, however, to inform readers of the larger problem Nigeria will face in the coming years, chiefly that, because of its high fertility rate (5.32, more than twice the replacement rate), the U.N. projects its population to double between now and 2050. In light of this, it is clear that the country's inability to feed itself today is an indication of population overshoot and a distant early warning of worsening conditions in the future. Simply put, there are too many people in Nigeria now; there will be many more later and teaching them Western agriculture is insufficient to address the underlying population explosion. We would do better to marshal our limited resources to provide Nigerian women access to contraceptive education."

The twin dilemmas of overpopulation and declining population are going to become more salient in the next 30 years, in Chaos' opinion. Curiously, some nations will be extremely overpopulated, while others will have declining (and aging) populations. Look for future posts on the details of this issue. By the way, readers irritated with the Times' pay-to-read policy may wish to visit this site.

Gimme That Old-Time Religion, Vol. 33

Once, and again...pervert priests hit the headlines. As a private correspondent noted to Chaos recently, there's not much use beating a dead horse, and indeed, this is a variation on a familiar scenario (with a typically California twist: "counseling" was thought to be adequate to remedy the problem). Chaos could make larger points about large institutions and how they marshal forces to protect themselves, the Catholic Church's neverending obessession with sex, and how religion often does more harm than good, but Nicholas Kristof is at it again, and Chaos is compelled to offer a rebuttal...

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Another Reason Not to Live in Texas

Chaos usually isn't much interested in local or regional issues, but an exception can always be found...
This discusses the human face of "tort reform," the artificial setting of limits to recovering damages in civil cases. As it applies to nursing homes, expected effects are fewer, less trained staff (to save money) and no incentives to provide adequate care. If it does nothing else, the civil justice system punishes negligent or intentional misbehavior of large entities who cut corners to enhance profits. As the largest generation in the history of America prepares to retire, it warms Chaos' heart to know Texas is at the head of the line in encouraging poorly run nursing homes.

Reason #25 Why the US Can't Win in Iraq; Imperial Nation Yawns

The proposition that the US approves of/stands for/will reserve the right to/cannot be constrained from torturing anyone and everyone on the planet is not exactly news, but the latest development lends clarity to the issue. The US Senate, perhaps a weak beacon of light in the declining days of the Empire, and in response to brave and foolish Captain Ian Fishback, has decided that enough is enough. Led by John McCain, a bill setting clear limits on our Imperial Storm Troopers to torture/abuse/make uncomfortable captives wherever we may find them was passed 90-9 (the dissenters were unsurprisingly from red states only, including John Cornyn of Texas--go Lone Star State!). Although nobody thinks this would actually fly in the House, the Boy King's minions were quick to threaten a veto from the guy who has never vetoed a bill in his life (does he even know how? can he be taught?). Aside from a few editorials, the collective response from a somnolent, apathetic public was...nothing. Been there, done that, Chaos guesses. Internet-savvy Iraqis have additional reasons to foam with rage at their occupiers. Chaos predicts an embarrassing, tail-between-the-legs-retreat in 2006 or so, a great bow to the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Global Warming: The Carbon-based Life Forms Fiddle While Rome Ignites (The Tectonic Plates Begin to Speed Up)

Were Chaos to truly delight in the self-immolation (this image comes to mind) of the human race, he would need look no further than the melting polar ice cap, projected to be completely ice-free in summertime by the end of the century. The first hurricane in the Southern Hemisphere has appeared and droughts in Colorado have caused a massive die-off of pinyon pines. Alas, examples like these are now ridiculously easy to track and depressingly common. Sadly, no one is seriously attempting to do much (governmental-level intervention is widely acknowledged to be the only avenue to halt or reverse such a massive planetary phenomenon, and even then it may be too late to accomplish anything--thanks, Mike Davis) and in fact, the Fatherland, Canada, Russia, Norway and various entrepreneurs are now maneuvering, squabbling, and generally falling all over themselves to establish exclusive oil, gas and mineral rights, fisheries, trade routes and newly "expanded territories." Chaos observes that once the polar ice caps melt , the Gulf Stream is subsumed, and the Capitol of Ignorance becomes a coastal city (look, Mom! the beach is coming!) conflicts over who gets what at the North Pole may become sort of, well, irrelevant. Oh, and Chaos does admit to a teensy bit of glee over the coming demise of the SUV and its devoted following.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Unintended Consequences Poleaxes the Xenophobes or, Why LULAC Should Support More Border Guards

More immigration, in honor of Columbus Day...

As noted yesterday, "illegal" immigration (we speak here primarily of Mexican immigration into the US) has become quite the divisive issue of late. Mexican immigrants are on the rise after a few years of decline, and are spreading out all over the country. Increasing the number of Border Guards, building walls, fences and the like are the traditional Xenophobic methods of combatting the phenomenon (along with calls to "enforce the law," forgetting perhaps in our Wal-Mart economy, we likey our meat packed cheap, our houses built cheaper, and our fruit picked cheapest of all, pesticides or no). At the other end are analyses such are this indicating that Mexican immigrants tend to be high school dropouts; their children also drop out of high school in greater numbers than either the general population or other(almost always more educated) immigrant groups. Recently, the law of unintended consequences has intruded on Chaos' conciousness...seems that immigrants, while not discouraged from coming over here, are going back in fewer numbers because of increased border enforcement. Is it Hotel California (you can check in, but not ever leave...) revisited? If the concerns of the Xenophobes ( lack of assimilation of Mexicans in contrast with previous generations of immigrants who came from overseas) are correct, increased border enforcement may actually lead to more assimilated and successful (economically, anyway) Mexican immigrants.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Question of the Day: Will Immigration Split the Republican Party in Half?

There is, apparently, a large and growing segment of the goosesteppers who are "incandescent with anger" over illegal immigration and our Fatherland's apparent inability to stop it. (Let's gloss over the inconvenient reality that: 1. this phenomenon is too deep and powerful to stop with more INS agents, fences and nightvision goggles, and 2. we sorta/kinda depend on these energetic people to build our houses, pack our meat, pick our fruits and vegetables, and clean our houses). There are also some moderate (or more "reality-based," if you will) party members who want not to offend a large and growing voting bloc. Chaos believes that the force of entropy will eventually split the party in half on this issue. Dems, bereft of ideas, should embrace the Second Law of Thermodynamics...

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Capital of Ignorance

This really should speak for itself; perhaps a comment or two later...well, to summarize, San Antonio leads the nation in military recruiting. Yes, yes, it is a military town, with four military bases, but reading between the lines in the Times story makes it obvious the jawdropping amazement of the reporters as they discover how much collaboration exists between the recruiters and school administrators, teachers, counselors, and churches. Well, Texas is the reddest of the red states. Chaos finds the ignorance of the interviewed adolescents hanging out at the mall and spouting Bushisms profoundly depressing...don't these kids watch Over There?

Is the US becoming a failed state?

Recently, Foreign Policy published an index of some 60 countries at risk of failure and collapse. Notably, several of them are responsible for supplying us with oil--Venezuela, Nigeria, Russia, and (surprise!) Saudi Arabia. What Chaos finds interesting, however, was some of the criteria used to describe these basket cases:

"Uneven development is high in almost all the states in the index, suggesting that inequality within states—and not merely poverty—increases instability. Criminalization or delegitimization of the state, which occurs when state institutions are regarded as corrupt, illegal, or ineffective, also figured prominently. Facing this condition, people often shift their allegiances to other leaders—opposition parties, warlords, ethnic nationalists, clergy, or rebel forces. Demographic factors, especially population pressures stemming from refugees, internally displaced populations, and environmental degradation, are also found in most at-risk countries, as are consistent human rights violations."

Let's see, inequality of economic development, ineffective state institutions (FEMA? Iraq? Hello?), rise of religious leaders, population pressures (from south of the border, you think?) and environmental degradation...hmmm, sounds a lot more like the US than Chaos is comfortable with right now.

First (and most likely last) Letter to the NY Times

Chaos was bothered by Nicholas Kristof's recent column in the Times, and after a few glasses of wine, this reply emerged:


Nicholas Kristof ("Order in the Court, NYTimes, October 5) makes an attempt at evenhandedness, as is his habit, in chastising both liberals and conservatives for relying on the Supreme Court to engage in judicial activism for their own particular causes. His efforts, however well-intentioned, fail to persuade. First, the "liberal"examples he cites, without exception are decisions which ocurred well in the past and now reflect mainstream thought (desegregation, Roe, private discrimination, various freedom of speech issues). He then follows these "examples" of judicial activism with a disclaimer (these were "manifestly right"and "fine justice," but achieved through the"torturing" of the Constitution). Next, Kristof postulates that these decisions were not well-received by the man in the street (or "ordinary Americans in the heartland," as he puts it--could this possibly be code for redstaters? fundamentalist Christians?). I suppose that really is the heart of the problem, when a majority (or vocal minority, perhaps) simply refuse to believe in the racial desegregation of schools, that accused persons without financial means ought to be provided free legal counsel, or that perennial issue before Congress, that the burning of the flag does not constitute free speech. I suspect Kristof is afraid to openly state what this column tapdances around: that it is in fact the Court's role to step in when all other branches of government have simply refused to address the "inalienable rights" guaranteed by the Constitution. When the will of the people, as expressed through the legislative and executive branches, is simply wrong, it falls upon the Court as a last resort to provide redress. There is no requirement that the decisions rendered from such a state of affairs need be popular, and indeed it may be a perverse measure of a decision's "rightness" that it is unpopular. Further, it is significant that Kristof cannot cite any specific examples of "conservative" judicial activism, much less any of the stature of Brown, Roe, Gideon, or Miranda. The reason for this is most likely that conservative judicial activism consists simply of striking down laws that conservatives do not like. Kristof's evenhandedness, far from illuminating these issues, serve merely to obscure the obvious truth: conservatives have used the "judicial activism" label as code for judges who decide the issues before them contrary to conservative orthodoxy, whatever that may be.

Don't look for this letter to be published (alas, it exceeds the 150 word limit, and Chaos was not inclined to edit). Chaos cares nothing for recognition....