Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Real State of the Empire, or The People In It

Here's a couple of stories that point to what is really going on in this most prosperous of nations. The first is not really news but is a nice reminder that most people here live "on the edge." Any sort of misfortune or downturn in an individual's personal situation will result in disaster, simply because there are no emergency funds set aside. Too many cell phones, too many tv channels, too many widescreen computer monitors, too many SUVs, not enough savings, Chaos guesses. The second article discusses just how many people here live in severe poverty (hint: there are many, and their numbers are growing steadily). A more interesting aside in the middle of the piece reveals that

"Over the last two decades, America has had the highest or near-highest poverty rates for children, individual adults and families among 31 developed countries, according to the Luxembourg Income Study, a 23-year project that compares poverty and income data from 31 industrial nations.

"It's shameful," said Timothy Smeeding, the former director of the study and the current head of the Center for Policy Research at Syracuse University. "We've been the worst performer every year since we've been doing this study."

With the exception of Mexico and Russia, the U.S. devotes the smallest portion of its gross domestic product to federal anti-poverty programs, and those programs are among the least effective at reducing poverty, the study found. Again, only Russia and Mexico do worse jobs."

Fascinating international perspective, no?

Quote of the Day: A Poem

"Don't speak to me of shortage.
My world is vast
And has more than enough
for no more than enough
There is a shortage of nothing,
save will and wisdom;
But there is a longage of people."

Garrett Hardin

An Expat Speaks

This post was unabashedly lifted by Chaos, who thanks the poster on The Oil Drum for relating his experience in another country (you can bet this one will appear in Part II):

"We left the US 2 1/2 years ago. Being an expat was always in the back of my mind but the Iraq war, the rise of W, and peak oil awareness forced it to the forefront, and we finally acted. We were typical lower middle class cube drones; spouse was a mechanical engineer for a NASA subcontractor, and I was a tech writer for a software company. We just quit, sold off everything for pennies on the dollar, liquidated all our assets, and moved, never looking back.

One of the benefits to this is our two daughters (7th and 11th grades) are already fully bilingual because we put them in the public schools. Another benefit is that we were at home for them, and we got to spend these critical years with them. We also have a wonderful bus system here so we have not needed or used a car for all that time.

We will be opening a small vegetarian restaurant next week. It is based in our house, a typical 1000 square foot home on a small lot. We are buying everything we can locally, from people we know. We get 8L of fresh milk delivered three times a week for about $3.50, we pasteurize it ourselves and make simple cheeses (mozzarella, ricotta, cottage, and queso blanco), yogurt, butter, and drink the rest. The guy across the street has organic eggs (and chickens). We buy fruits and vegetables from several sources. Some delivered to the house, some are organic, and all are fresh. Coffee is organically grown from a local source. None of our produce comes from further than 50 miles away. We even have a source for organically grown cocoa and dark chocolates.

The biggest things we can't get locally are flour and soy beans (though they are grown here somewhere). I make my own tofu and tempeh so we need to find a local source for beans, and we will be baking a lot for the restaurant. We make bagels, English muffins, breads, cookies, desserts, etc., already for some customers.

We grow most of our herbs as well as some of the vegies that are hard to find here like hot peppers and tomatillos. So we make our own salsas and things like Italian sauces.

When we make lasagna, we buy the noodles. Everything else, except for the sprinkle of parmesean, is fresh and homemade, so y'all come down, that's our Friday special.

FYI: When I make tofu, I take five cups of beans that I buy for about $1.60. My yield is about four pounds of very firm tofu. I use the okara, the pulp left after straining the soy milk, to make vegie burgers, soysage (fake sausage), and fake meat balls. So for $1.60, I get:

4-5 lbs firm tofu
24-36 vegie burgers
3-4 lbs of soysage
60 meatballs

Any unused okara, I give to our milkman for his cows.

The same amount of beans makes about 5-6 pounds of tempeh.

The place we live is in a valley but at 1051 meters. The temps stay between the 60s and 80s, so we have to do no heating or cooling. Electricity here is 90% green, mostly wind and hydro. Water is plentiful and clean where we are. We have a year round growing season, and we are surrounded by coffee, small scale vegetable farmers, and fruit orchards. We are 4-5 hrs by bus from either coast.

We are a family of four currently living on about $1000/month, and that includes complete health care. That's care, not insurance, and I am an insulin dependent diabetic. I feel good about our choices, and I don't know how we could have a much smaller carbon footprint."

If You Eat, You Are This Company

Today's post features this article on Sysco, a stealthy giant which has gradually and completely taken over the majority of food distribution in the US. Along with the astounding facts and figures on the ubiquity of this corporation's reach (hospitals, sports stadiums, military bases, restaurants--from fast food to five star), what interests us is the "prepackaged" foods that are subsequently reheated (or thawed) and served up masquerading as freshly made in fine restaurants (think that Imperial Towering Chocolate Cake was concocted in the kitchen? think again). Not for the first time has Chaos advised readers to start a garden, learn to cook, and eat at home, but this just makes the admonitions more imperative. Down with industrial food!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Ha Ha Ha America: Video Pleasure

Here is a funny, biting and insightful presentation on the decline of the American Empire and the rise of China. Really hits on all cylinders. Enjoy and have a nice weekend.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

An Enlightened Citizenry Offers Solutions to the Mountain of Shame

Well, here they are,published in the local rag (really), in all their ignorant glory, for your amusement (Chaos has just about run out of laughs, between this and all the coverage in the MSM of a certain celebrity's death and her fatal refrigerator...):

Solution One:

"Instead of spraying more of our precious drinking aquifer water, why not spray the whole accursed mountain of burning mulch with concrete?

It would be wise to put to use several concrete conveyers and long-armed track spraying machines so they will spew wet concrete instead of water.

Once the concrete dries and settles with its own heavy weight, such an undertaking will both smother and extinguish the whole mess of burning mulch for good. Then, the Helotes mulch fire will be history."

Oh, concrete just takes so long to dry, and we have to get back to our shopping! Oh, wait, this guy has a better idea:

"What's this? Millions of dollars ... millions of gallons of water ... contaminating the aquifer ... weeks and months to get rid of the smoldering mulch pile?

I've got a very simple, fast and low-cost solution. Blow it up! They do it to buildings, casinos and mountains with a few well-placed high-explosive charges in a split second.

Level it with explosives, sprinkle water on anything burning, then plow it under or haul it off. Shouldn't be more than an inch or so layer of mulch over the area after the explosion, which would be easily and quickly contained if there is any combustion.

A good Army demolition unit and a bunch of C4 explosive should do the job just right!"

Yes, nothing like good oldfashioned American ingenuity. Thank goodness for the astute citizens of this community.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Magnum Opus, Part 1:The Sun Begins to Set

A recent comment here, however ineptly phrased, has started Chaos musing about the direction the Edge has taken since the beginning of its short life. Because Chaos is of a certain, well, age, potential for life changes has inevitably diminished, although there are still opportunities for movement. Younger sentient beings, however, may face a future quite different from the present conditions. How to identify and react to certain forces which may determine the conditions in that future is the subject of this post. To consider the conclusion first, Chaos would offer the following advice to those of fewer years: consider a geographic change; leave the Empire. The reasons for this stark admonition are many and deserve thoughtful exploration. In so doing, Chaos recognizes the fallacy of reaching a conclusion based upon insufficient evidence or tunnel thinking; we therefore look for many indications rather than just a singularity. Chaos also realizes that predictions of the future are invariably wrong in some or many respects; hence, the further desirability of considering multiple factors and being as conservative as possible. At the outset, on the other hand, it is necessary to realize that simply because certain conditions have been present for long periods of time does not mean that they will always continue, e.g., empires eventually collapse, (all of them have to date) and with great suddenness upon occasion. Dmitry Orlov makes for good reading in this regard.

The Peak Oil Thesis: Location Matters

As Orlov notes, the fact of peak oil is not really in dispute anymore. The timing is, for sure, and its effects and potential “solutions” are endlessly argued (Chaos sometimes likens this to mental masturbation…). Ones’ biases and prejudices seem to be reflected in the solutions one advocates or the vision of the future one finds most compelling. To remind readers, then, of Chaos’ somewhat obvious (and hopefully noncontroversial) theses on the subject: first, societies and regions can and do vary with respect to their awareness of and attempts at mitigation of peak oil. For example, Sweden aspires to be oil-free by 2020, while the Empire’s politicians avoid the truth about the causes of recent oil price gyrations, and the Empire’s citizens blame the oil companies. Large portions of African and Asia may not lose much at all, for these regions use very little oil presently (although what little they use is vital to their survival, a grim prognosis). Germany and Japan lead Western nations in alternatives such as solar and conservation. (These examples represent the very ends of the spectrum). Second, the most oil-addicted places which have done the least mitigation will suffer the most, when oil begins its long decline. This does not seem to require an unreasonable leap of logic or predictive ability. To the extent that it proves true, ones’ location will be important. (Chaos’ reference to “awareness” above is a shorthand way of referring to the culture of a location’s inhabitants; one then might rephrase the theses as “a nation’s culture determines its response to peak oil, or other major catastrophe; the US response to Hurricane Katrina is instructive in this regard). It is also beyond debate that the Empire uses by far the most energy per capita on the planet. In response, optimists would say there is quite a bit of room for conservation (undeniably true), to which the pessimistic (Kunstler, et al) would point out that the way the Empire is structured is entirely based upon cheap energy, i.e., beyond a certain point, there is a limit to demand destruction, after which will come a hard and long visit to the House of Pain. A look at any sprawling suburban development in the US through the prism of limited energy is an eye opening experience (for more, see Kunstler’s opus, The Long Emergency). At any rate, it is clear that if one uses the above as a guide, one is compelled to look beyond the borders of the Empire. Not enough? Let’s now explore other reasons for emigration, beginning with

The Decline of the Empire

Not for nothing does Chaos refer to the mighty USA as an empire. From the 750+ military bases worldwide to the heavy-handed way it throws its weight around, the nation still dominates and influences the rest of the planet. (For excellent reading on the subject, check out the month of January, 2007 at TomDispatch and any book by Chalmers Johnson). It is apparent, however, that the chinks in the armor have become ever larger cracks as the country flails impotently at foreign adventures designed in part to “project” American strength and intimidate those who might oppose its thirst for cheap energy. Alas, all the recent “war” has done is to expose the weaknesses and limitations of American power, while painting a target on the backs of its citizens. It should go without saying that the costs of these forays are borne directly by the taxpayer, and they are disastrously high now and likely to rise higher (see Economics, below). Far from securing the country, America’s imperial adventures have made it much more likely to attract the attentions of terrorists, although Chaos would be the first to say that the odds of such are currently still exceedingly low for any one individual living here (and certainly do not justify the ridiculous rationales and justifications given for the loss of civil rights, see below). However, “low” does not equate to zero, and it is reasonable to assume that a smaller, more peaceable nation may have much less chance of being victimized by destruction and chaos (sorry). In some ways, all this and that which follows are inevitable, and the US started down this road a long time ago, with the more obvious signs only visible recently, not that anyone should succumb to it any more readily. The care and feeding of the most expensive military machine on the planet may contribute to the eventual collapse of the Empire, caused by


Again to quote Orlov, the United States at this moment is essentially bankrupt, having engaged in ruinously expensive military adventures, refused to live within its means and continued to run record-setting trade deficits with the rest of the world. The price of oil has a good deal to do with the latter, which is to say that the higher oil goes, the larger the trade deficit. The country has also become the chief and unwitting victim of globalization, trading its former world-leading industrial capacity for service jobs and importing large quantities of cheap goods made in third world nations. Some of this is inevitable, and is perhaps a further signature of a declining empire, but the vulnerability it poses is quite real. Some recent signs of a potential global “rebalancing” of the scales include the tendency of some trading partners (China) or energy exporters (Russia) and others to diversify away from the dollar, which has historically been the “currency of record” worldwide. Income and wealth disparities between the very rich and most other citizens are becoming more pronounced, to the detriment of the nation’s economic health (and social stability). Chaos notes that the phrase “shrinking middle class” has become quite prevalent of late, and indeed, average real wages have remained stagnant for perhaps 20 years or so. The savings rate among citizens has declined to zero in the last few years, reflecting both cheap and easy credit and a “something for nothing” mentality. Trade and budget deficits, income stagnation, inequality and lack of savings, while alarming, pale in comparison to the looming Medicare/Social Security crisis, which features a projected shortfall of 74 trillion dollars. There are only two solutions to this particular problem: 1. (much) higher taxes on working (younger) people, and 2. fewer benefits for the recipients (older folks). The first is more likely, considering the voting demographics in the Empire, but there may be a combination of these two imposed, and at any rate, a younger citizen of the Empire might prudently consider there to be no pension protection waiting upon retirement. In this instance, many other Western nations (and other pension systems within the Empire) are subject to similar mechanisms, due to similar demographics of the retiring Baby Boom Generation, but the version in the United States will be particularly severe, due in part to the

Health Care Crisis

Kindly recall that Chaos has had personal experience (recently repeated) with the hugely wasteful and dysfunctional US healthcare system. It is also worth noting that the costs of this leviathan have outpaced inflation as a whole for quite some time, and there is no realistic prospect for much slowing. The Medicare/Social Security crisis referred to above is in fact primarily caused by Medicare expenses. In fact, it is becoming clear that the costs of the healthcare system are mutating into distortions (or disincentives if you like) of economic behavior (e.g., CEO of Starbucks indicates that the price of healthcare for employees surpasses the cost of the coffee beans the chain sells, employees taking or remaining at jobs solely for the health insurance, the rise of “medical tourism”). These are classic indicators of diminishing marginal returns, a la Tainter (in other words, spending more resources to get less return, and participants beginning to opt out of the system). The results of the US system are equally eye-opening: the nation spends more money on healthcare than any Western nation, and US residents have higher infant mortality rates and lower life expectancies than most Western countries and some third world ones, including Costa Rica and Cuba. The medical profession (hospital infections, doctor errors) is the cause of more deaths than any other. Once again, it is not a leap of intuitive logic, predictive ability or rank speculation to project that things will continue to get worse, and an imagining of the system in 20 years or so is simply to say that there may only be a working apparatus for the wealthy. As with income and wealth, there exists now a vast gulf between the haves and have nots in the US regarding healthcare, and this will most probably continue to widen. It may surprise residents of the US to know that some countries consider health care to be an actual right, rather than something whose availablility depends on one’s financial and employment status. In other places, health care, while not a formal right, is simply more reasonably priced and affordable for most people.


As has been noted, the US has one of the worst population problems on the planet, because its energy use per capita far surpasses any other nations. The country is anomalous vis a vis other Western nations in that its population rate is projected to increase by another 100 million or so by 2050. Whatever the problems that now exist due to numerous people (and there are many), another 100 million will make the country a vastly more uncomfortable place in which to reside. Overcrowding, overuse of resources, loss of civility, pollution, crime, and various other negatives are all associated with overpopulation. (For an interesting exercise, consider the issues discussed in the local or national news and realize how many are caused by simply too many people). On a basic level, a large country teeming with people, most of whom live from one paycheck to another and possess little survival skills (and a notable lack of affinity for reality, see discussion of a nation’s culture, above), is not the place one would want to be when one or more crises erupt. Perhaps Dr. Bartlett’s most startling insight relating to population is that more population is correlated with less freedom; the usefulness of this concept as an organizing principle is without peer. As we can deduce, the country is already on a path towards

Less Civil Rights, More Military Might

From the events of the last five years, it has become depressingly clear that the American public will gladly trade its civil rights away (or, more correctly, not protest when these are stolen by power-hungry officials) for the illusion of “security.” One has only to imagine what draconian restrictions might be imposed the next time a terrorist attack occurs within the country’s boundaries to see where it might end. As it stands now, the Emperor and his minions have willingly engaged in flagrant violations of the Constitution, the Geneva Conventions, and the like, to the point where the US has now become known around the world as an advocate of kidnapping, torture, and imprisonment without charges, rights or trial. The increasing militarization of the country is positively associated with this trend. For example, the Bush administration used its astounding failure in New Orleans as an excuse to authorize the military to respond to the next domestic catastrophe, a historic and profound change (until now, the military never operated domestically). Halliburton has been engaged to construct “enclosures” for unnamed populations of undocumented persons or refugees (or perhaps your friends and neighbors) under vaguely underdescribed scenarios. The NSA and other agencies are right now engaged in spying on American citizens at home, on the telephone, emails, and snail mail, apparently simply because they can. A national identification card (in fact, if not in name) may be instituted soon. The use of video cameras are on the rise. In fact, examples are endless, and the direction of the trend can be easily discerned: less freedom, not more. Here, we again adopt the principle that past conditions (America as the beacon of freedom for the world) are simply no longer true.


Chaos suggested at the beginning of this screed that a nation’s culture determines its destiny. To that end, study closely the cultural values of the United States of America at this particular moment in time. Chaos would suggest that some of these are the belief that it is possible to get something for nothing, that trivia and celebrity trump issues of substance, that magical beliefs in supernatural beings are more valid than science, bigger is better, that the nation somehow has the right to more than its share of the world’s resources for its own benefit, that savings are passé and all these things will continue. It is also important to note that the timing of all the events discussed here is quite unpredictable, but it would be reasonable to assume that once certain events begin, the time for considering relocation will be short or nonexistent. Chaos, then, is advocating advance planning for an uncertain future. The decision to relocate not a trivial one, and should not be undertaken without a thorough understanding of the consequences, not the least of which might be the disapproval or bewilderment of family and friends. One is, in effect, voting with one’s feet and rejecting the country of one’s birth, which requires a certain intellectual flexibility to even consider, which most beings are simply unable to contemplate. One should also analyze in detail the potential cultural differences and other factors between the US and other locations before taking a hasty plunge. On the other hand, close attention should always be paid to the surroundings (or the landscape, if you will), and such scrutiny compels a sober hint that the future of and in the United States may be quite different, in some or many negative respects, than today. Some or all of the issues discussed here may not play out in the future in a linear fashion, making predictions difficult or simply wrong. Nonetheless, a flawed or incomplete analysis of the future is still better than nothing, and Chaos believes the value in attempting to synthesize many trends at once may partially mitigate the hazards of prognosticating. In Part II of this series, Chaos will outline some criteria for locations and offer some suggestions for consideration of individual countries.

A Wistful Morning: Tahiti

Humanity's accelerating "footprint" on the planet is the subject of today's article in the nation's paper of record. Oh, you won't see anything in the piece dealing with the underlying causes of the ruination of the islands once called "Paradise on Earth," but the article is a fine one in that it encapsulates humanity's current problems (perhaps intensified on this small string of Pacific islands). To whit: the main islands of French Polynesia no longer resemble utopia, what with the degradation caused by (oh yes) too many people and their resulting waste. Instead, to get the full experience, it is necessary to move to the outer islands, whose future is very much in doubt due to global heating. There are many sights in this world that will soon be gone forever, so Chaos recommends readers to see as many of them as possible.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Quotes of the Day

Yes yes, not every day, and not many days either. Nevertheless:

"Here is a chimera, a new and very odd species come shambling into our universe, a mix of Stone Age emotion, medieval self image, and godlike technology. The combination makes the species unresponsive to the forces that count most for its own long term survival."--Edward O. Wilson, The Creation

To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures."--Flannery O'Connor

Oh, and here's another (original) one:

"You're never too old to make a fool of yourself"--Chaos

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Power and Glory of the Internet: Militarization of the Empire

Here's a nice opportunity to view the excellent documentary Why We Fight if, like Chaos, you didn't catch it at the premiere. Isn't the internet amazing? This is quite an interesting film, in particular the roots of the military-industrial complex and how it has in effect taken over much of the Empire, as well as the gullibility of some of the citizens featured. Will send a chill down your spine if you've not encountered some of these ideas before.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Fire On The Mountain (of Shame)

Well, Chaos supposes this is just an excuse to post another dramatic picture of the symbol of why Derrick Jensen calls developers "killers," but the news today is that the firefighting efforts have slowed while the use of 300,000 gallons of water per day is investigated to make sure the region's sole source of water is not contaminated. A more fitting example of the local development scene cannot be imagined. (Note that the title of this monument appeal to Chaos' sense of the ironic, since it can only be shameful to those who are aware enough to realize what it symbolizes....)

Friday, February 09, 2007

You Know You're Empire's Crumbling When...

Oh, this is just the funniest and truest thing Chaos has read in a long long time. Check out these "Thirty-six Signs Your Empire is Crumbling" and howl, both to yourself and at the moon, in vast despair of what this nation has accomplished. A perfect roundup of the last few years of empire, written by David Michael Green, political science professor of Hofstra University in New York. Have an excellent end of week, faithful readers.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Orbiting Space Junk Threatens Your TV Reception!

No, you can't make this stuff up (if you can, seek employment at The Onion). Not content with fouling the entire planet with detritus, human-produced debris orbiting the Earth has grown so common that a "chain reaction" of collisions is now projected to occur, endangering the various devices people have come to rely upon for communications and the like. The proximate cause of the cloud of crap? Launching experimental missiles into the upper atmosphere (readers of Tomdispatch will recognize the plans for military domination of space). As the article notes, solutions are currently too "expensive," leaving yet another problem for future generations. If you are concerned about this, better switch to cable.

The Mountain of Shame, Continued

"You cannot do only one thing"---Garrett Hardin (Hardin's First Law of Ecology)

The perfect symbol of overshoot, environmental destruction, overpopulation, unrestrained exponential growth, and utter cluelessness of the local citizenry continues to burn, stymieing efforts to quench the flames. The first attempts to put out the fire with water resulted in pollution of several aquifer wells nearby (for the unitiated, the Edwards Aquifer is the primary source of fresh water for the region, and is the most vulnerable to spoilage from humans). A more elaborate (and expensive) scheme is now planned, with officials promising to have the thing out by the end of the month. Chaos wonders what other environmental dangers this project might expose; the law of unintended consequences certainly applies. For those in the immediate area, it certainly is worth a short drive to view this monstrous and terrible monument.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Definitive Edge Bibliography

Recently it occurred to Chaos that, what with new readers appearing every now and then, it might be useful to spotlight a "reading list" for those unfamiliar with the underpinnings of the tacky comments put forth on the site. (Veteran visitors might want to pick up and read a few of these, too; Chaos can summarize all day long but the value lies in actually reading the work itself). Here, then, is the seminal list:

Arithmetic, Population and Energy: Video Presentation by Dr. Albert Bartlett
Note by Chaos: this is the most important piece of any on this site. If you do nothing else, watch this video in its entirety.

Peak Oil (technical):
Twilight in the Desert, Matthew Simmons
Beyond Oil: The View From Hubbert's Peak, Kenneth Deffeyes
The Oil Drum(Website)

Peak Oil (sociological):
The Long Emergency, James Howard Kunstler
Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World, Richard Heinberg

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond
The Collapse of Complex Societies, Joseph Tainter
Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Evolutionary Change, William Catton
How Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collapse, John Michael Greer (web essay)
Energy and Human Evolution, David Price (web essay)

Ecological Destruction:
When the Rivers Run Dry, Fred Pearce
Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble,
Lester R. Brown (also available as a free download--search)
Beyond the Limits, Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jorgen Randers
A Language Older Than Words, Derrick Jensen

American Character/Empire:
Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire, Morris Berman
American Theocracy, Kevin Phillips
Empire of Debt: The Rise of an Epic Financial Crisis, William Bonner, Addison Wiggin
The Sorrows of Empire, Chalmers Johnson
(Kunstler has quite a bit to say on this subject; Joe Bageant is also brilliant and insightful)

Religious Delusions/Atheism:
The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins
Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris
The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason, Sam Harris

Well that is quite a reading list; perhaps Chaos should teach a class or something. Synthesizing these is what has been taking up Chaos' time recently, to culminate in quite a long upcoming post (soon now). Happy reading, readers (and Chaos uses that in the most complimentary sense).