Wednesday, December 31, 2008

End of Year Recap: The Cows Came Home


2008 was tumultuous. It was the year that the global debt bubble imploded, beginning with the crashing real estate market, and spreading through the massive $600 trillion derivatives market, leading to the destruction of (at least) $60 trillion in stocks, bonds, real estate, and other assets. World trade tottered, then collapsed. Early on, as US financial institutions wobbled and eventually sank, those in government and the MSM assured everyone that things were contained, that the economy was sound, and other rubbish. (You may note that some of these speakers are ostensibly in charge of the US Treasury and Federal Reserve, added to that the ridiculous cheerleaders on CNBC). These are the same people who are now exclaiming that "no one could have foreseen" the looming credit crunch and real estate implosion. The US Empire and the world got a first taste of reality, but are now poised to enter a global depression, perhaps lasting for many years. Perhaps the trigger this year for the implosion was the skyrocketing price of oil, which shot up to $146.00 US per barrel, engendering the usual stupidities, the more so since a ridiculous presidential campaign was in full swing. In the end, fecklessness carried the day, as both parties pandered furiously by embracing the "drill here, drill now" mantra, never mind the pure mendacity of it all. Thirty years of energy illiteracy and ignorance were not to be shoved aside for an electorate with the maturity of six year olds. At any rate, the price of oil soon subsided, then collapsed along with all other commodities, as global demand cratered, revealing the sheer unsustainability of the endless growth and consumption of ever-scarcer resources paradigm (well, it revealed it to some discerning readers, at any rate). After the first deluge, things were looking grim. Even the savior of the US economy, the monstrous orgy of consumerism known as the holiday season, could not salvage the wreckage, leading to early bankruptcies of several major retailers. The domestic automakers, vulnerable to begin with, were perfectly ill-positioned to take a broadside of weakening demand. Already reeling from the rejection of their ridiculous monster trucks and oversized SUVs caused by the price of $4.00 gasoline, softening demand and frozen credit proved to be the last straw. All three went hat in hand, to beg for "free" federal money. At this writing, Your Federal Reserve has figured out a way to use taxpayer money to lend to people with terrible credit to purchase these vehicles, the better to juice up the economy. As a symbol of the cluelessness regarding the economy exhibited by those in power, this is beyond peer. 2008 also saw the demise of the dinosaur SUVs, which, though still produced in limited quantities, will never again roam the planet in such numbers as years past. Again, as symbols, these silly vehicles had no equal, so we here at the Edge will miss them. As actual transportation vehicles, they were completely absurd, catering to the reptilian portion of the brain, which seems to be the dominant decision-maker in the case of the US public.

Top Stories of the Year:

1. Price of oil delivers yet another wake up call to US public; no one wakes up. SUV and monster truck sales turn upwards in December. Gas tax? What?

2. Real estate bubble pops completely, taking down the markets. The use of refinancing to go shopping is gone forever.

3. Paris Hilton produces a more coherent energy policy than the two presidential candidates.

4. Corn ethanol is revealed to be the total scam and boondoggle that it is, yet somehow can't be touched. Ethanol producers line up (along with everbody else) for a government bailout.

5. Endless mindless shopping comes to an end, not because anybody became enlightened enough to voluntarily stop it, but because everyone ran out of (borrowed) money.

6. The US is revealed to be bankrupt, deeply in debt, and has no prospects for growth for a long time. Nonetheless, all those in the MSM (Hi Paul Krugman!) and government officials advocate spending vast sums of future earnings to sustain the endless spending spree.

7. Credit started to disappear. Those used to financing their lifestyles with plastic were out of luck, now and forever.

8. A person who appears to have a brain was elected leader of the US, and was handed a poisoned chalice by the incumbent.

Well, there you have it, readers. 2008 proved to be a most interesting time to be alive and paying attention; Chaos hopes you were. Predictions and prospects for 2009 will be covered in tomorrow's post.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Fallout From the Economic Debacle: Jury Duty

This article is a fine example of the coming global depression and how it will impact local and state governments. In brief, some states are cutting judicial funding and taking months off from having jury trials (so far mostly applicable to "less important" civil cases). Look for all agencies of government to be affected in the coming months. Tomorrow: recap of 2008 and predictions for 2009.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Predatory US Culture

This article in today's paper of record is an excellent snapshot of the overentitled, delusional, financially illiterate and bankrupt US public, preyed upon for years by institutions that have grown ever more corrupt and carnivorous, with the silent acquiescence of its victims. From the unemployed gent who drifts off into a "fantasy" where in his "real" life, he's a millionaire (wonder where he got that one?), to the woman who ran up tens of thousands in student loans for a bogus "medical assistant" career (which now offers the commanding salary of $7.50/ hour) to the inevitable health problems postponed or ignored because of no insurance coverage, to the available jobs consisting of telephone collections of medical bills, this is an outstanding example of the descent of the country to Third World Nation status, mostly because of its own profligacy.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Annual Xmas Atheist Rant: Totalitarian Xmas

As is now traditional (or, as "traditional" as anything is these days...hey, let's just make up some!), one of our favorite atheists and bombthrowers, Christopher Hitchens, has come up with his usual outrageous diatribe against the religiousness of the holiday. Note Chaos' complete agreement, with the caveat that Hitchens loses a bit of entertainment value to the angry tone, but fine reading nonetheless.

As for another tradition, please listen to SOMAfm's (now two) Xmas-themed stations, and consider a donation for these underpaid and wildly creative internet people.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Deflation Explained

Since those of us who still reside in the Empire of Sorrows have this to look forward to, it's valuable to have a cogent, if not complete, explanation of how this deflation thingie is going to work (or, not actually work, but still...). Try this piece from a fellow blogger, who was apparently buying the silly inflation argument to begin with, before being convinced that the massive destruction of the trillions of fantasy assets will lead to reduced employment, consumption, growth, and suffering everywhere. For sentient beings who, like Chaos, still inhabit places where the local economy has not even begun to suffer, this new way of living is going to look very different indeed.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Super Doomer Porn II: Predictions

The great and growing disparity between those who consider the torrent of economic bad news merely another manifestation of business as usual, and a "temporary downturn," and those who have been sounding an alarm for quite some time, is the subject of today's post. On the one hand, we have the financial columnist Scott Burns, who has in the past been quite prescient in predicting deficit spending and totaling up the coming entitlements of Social Security and Medicare for the Greediest Generation. Alas, the current situation seems to have induced the gentleman to sink into a comatose state. Today's advice column has Scott recommending that buying stocks right now is a good idea, because, well, Warren Buffet's doing it (or, he says he is). Hmmm....

On the other hand, we have esteemed future forecaster Gerald Celente, of Trends Research Institute, whose track record of predictions is...impressive (google it, if you care). This gentleman, at least, predicted the current global economic meltdown. Here's what he's saying about the next couple of years:

...by 2012 America will become an undeveloped nation, that there will be a revolution marked by food riots, squatter rebellions, tax revolts and job marches, and that holidays will be more about obtaining food, not gifts.

"We're going to see the end of the retail Christmas....we're going to see a fundamental shift take place....putting food on the table is going to be more important that putting gifts under the Christmas tree," said Celente, adding that the situation would be "worse than the great depression".

Well, there you have it: buy stocks now, or get ready for food riots and tent cities (wait, we already have some of those...). Happy holidays, readers, and have fun trying to figure out who's right (longtime readers will not have any trouble divining where Chaos stands...).

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Surviving in a Collapsing Economy: The Buffet

Here's a fine and funny piece on how to master the ubiquitous all-American all-you-can-eat buffet. An increasingly desperate population, beset by an impending economic collapse, looks to cheap bad food to sustain itself, while an increasingly desperate restaurant industry looks to maintain its unsustainable growth in a declining economic environment, with more voluminous promotions. American values are perfectly reflected in this piece.

Super Doomer Porn: The Coming Anarchy

Here's a great read for those who take interest in humanity's merry drive off the cliff: overpopulation, resource, species and habitat destruction, disease, famine, and just in general, all the aspects of industrial civilization that cause writers like Derrick Jensen to conclude that it all must come to an end. As an added bonus, the piece was composed in 1994 (it has since become a book) and is entertaining to contemplate how the world has changed (for the worse, naturally) since the projections were made. Those who are familiar with Mike Davis' Planet of Slums will find this old hat, but new initiates may find some insight.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Yearly Xmas Admonition, Updated


Yes yes, this is the time Chaos will launch into a rant on the materialism and commercialism of Xmas, the early start, the slavish devotion to the market's demands, and the ridiculousness of citizens putting themselves into debt. None of this seems necessary at this particular moment in time, seeing as how the economy is collapsing faster than can be recorded, jobs are being shed at a breakneck pace, and companies (particularly retail) are busily filing for bankruptcy, or at least preparing for a very chilly January. At the risk of being redundant, then, here's the latest: the world is entering a global deflationary depression. Prices for assets will drop, because people will have no money to buy. Jobs will shrink, governments will go bust, promised pension benefits will not be paid, people will starve. Those with debt will be destitute, those with cash will make out somewhat better. In light of this, the celebration of the holidays should not be marked by increased consumption of anything, except perhaps food and beverages. Take Chaos' advice, get an early start on living with less, spend nothing on cheap trinkets this year.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Endless, Mindless Population Growth

One inevitable consequence (there are many others, all of them bad) of human overpopulation is species extinction, both from habitat destruction and for human stomachs, in the case of some species deemed edible by the killer apes. Nowhere is this phenomenon more heartbreaking than in the case of the world's fish. A potent reminder appears in today's paper of record. Also included are reasons that farmed fish, by and large, are vastly inferior nutritionally and ridiculously expensive in terms of calories, to produce, but oh well. Humanity clearly will adapt to its own systematic and progressive destruction of the planet and all life, long before it voluntarily limits its growth.

The Price of Health Care: Going On Vacation

Long ago, Chaos wrote on the growing prevalence of medical tourism, in which Americans, who lack health insurance or funds to pay for wildly expensive medical procedures, have begun traveling abroad to find the care they needed at prices they can afford (read: 1/10th of US prices). Chaos has not read much about it in the interim, but it is still alive and well...here's an example, wherein South Korea is getting in on some of the action. (India, Thailand, and South Africa are primary participants). Notable is the projection that 6 million people may be doing this by 2010. Ponder for a moment, readers, about the spectacle of a country which sends its residents abroad for medical necessities. Declining empire, indeed.

Friday, November 14, 2008

How We Got Here: A Wall Street Tale

This is probably one of the better explanations (yes, it's a little long) of how the US and the rest of the world suffered the recent economic calamity. Hint: it's the excess, it's the greed, it's just...Wall Street Business As Usual, combined with the willing suspension of disbelief and the All-American desire for Something for Nothing. Should put the lie to the phrase, "no one could have anticipated..." because these guys did. Really good stuff, by someone who knows.

Monday, November 10, 2008

On The Lack Of Manners, And What To Do About It

Taking a break from the most severe economic news, have a look at this very short but funny piece in the nation's paper of record concerning the lack of civility (well, it is set in New York City, after all) and the author's attempts to remedy the situation. Nice.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Wealth and Power Video

To understand more than you did about the economic tsunami which has only begun to appear, watch this hour long video featuring economist Joseph Stiglitz and author Naomi Klein (The Shock Doctrine, mentioned here often), along with Third World economist Hernando de Soto. Fascinating and scary stuff, particularly when de Soto explains, in property rights terms, exactly where we are today (hint: nobody knows).

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Election Aftermath

“Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” Albert Einstein



Chaos has just this to say, beyond noting the dissonance between the national backslapping at having elected a member of the Establishment who happens to have a slightly darker skin tone and the constraint upon real action now being manifested by the chatter of the cognoscenti...not only problems and thinking at the same level, but more importantly, the same people who had hands in creating this economic crisis are now being mentioned as having roles in the new administration. Chaos cannot help but note with concern that the world seems poised to enter a catastrophic global economic shutdown (google Baltic Dry Shipping index, if you doubt), and efforts made by those who created and enabled the carnage have so far proved to be wildly ineffective and (worse) expensive. If you are not reading The Automatic Earth daily, Chaos' words may strike you as unduly alarmist, but there you go.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Funny Symbol of the Gilded Age

Try this hilarious article on how to survive a friend's expensive birthday dinner, when there are multiple guests with wildly differing financial abilities. As an amusing piece of fluff, it is quite successful, but a sobering step back is also possible if one ruminates on the excesses of a society in which events like this take place. If you need concrete contrast, have a look at this account of a couple attempting to live on $1.00 per day, the better to imagine how 1 billion humans on the earth survive.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Ridiculously Good Explanation of the "Bailout"

From one of the best writers on the planet, channeling the spirit of Hunter S. Thompson, but with populist overtones and an unerring eye for the follies of the Empire in decline, our friend Joe Bageant just outdoes himself in this post. If you've been paying attention to current events, you won't read this account in your local fishwrap, or the MSM, or anywhere else. The man set up shop in Belize; he has serious cred as well as the gift of expression. Read it at your peril...

Funny Stuff: To Prevent Inebriated Email...

As a measure of the ubiquity of the internet and the resultant interaction with the monkeys who use it, comes this most excellent example of a solution to a problem of which you may not have been previously aware: drunken typing, and the subsequent sending of a message, later to be regretted in the harsh light of the dawn. In brief, this program requires users to solve a series of math problems in 60 seconds between the crucial hours of 10:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m., or be locked out of the email program. That there is a need for such stuff is hilarious...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Some Ideas About Food: Changing The System

Chaos has previously remarked upon the food writer Michael Pollan, and his books and occasional articles in the nations paper of record. This new piece is excellent in summarizing the state of the industrial food system, how dysfunctional it is in accomplishing its intended purpose, and what might be done about it, in a nation where enormous corporations do not control the votes of "elected" representatives, regulatory agencies are not captives of the industries they purport to oversee, and the public (outside of a small percentage) actually gave a damn about what they put in their bodies. In other words, some other country besides the US. Read it anyway.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

New Economy Post: The Mother Of All Garage Sales

Chaos urges you, in this new financial reality in which the world has stepped, to refrain from needless purchases of tangible goods, save for those directly related to vital needs. The reason is that, over the next few years, the destruction of money (deflation) will relentlessly depress prices of many assets (think houses, vehicles, rvs, motorcraft of every kind, and much more) to the point that those with cash will be able to avail themselves of some very cheap bargains. Chaos has very little knowledge of economics and finance (that has been amply shown in the past few weeks...to much chagrin), but this is a no-brainer.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Is Your Bank Solvent?

In the old economy (i.e., that existing prior to a couple of months ago), inquiries as to a bank's financial standing were regarded as needless and paranoid. In the new reality residents of the US now find themselves, where one's cash deposits reside has assumed critical importance. If you have questions about your bank's health, you may find this FDIC site useful. Another new feature of the financial debacle, of course, is that you are entirely on your own, government having proven beyond all doubt that it is entirely incompetent to even identify the problems, much less issue solutions that don't make the situation worse.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Motorcycle Instruction

Not much of a surprise that one practical response to Peak Oil and the inevitable rising gas prices is increased reliance on motorcycles. Chaos has ridden for many many years, so has no need of instruction, but for novices, this site is quite good. Doing some of the recommended exercises might even alleviate the need to take an actual course (although if its required by your state, you'll need to take it anyway to obtain motorcycle license). Lots of other good info on riding gear, maintenance, and other subjects.

The Good News Filter (The Pollyanna Post)

If for some reason, you just can't stand to read any more bad news, you might try running your internet stories through this site; it'll just block any upsetting language in the article, so you'll only read the positive stuff. Works for other subjects besides the recession. Recommended for ostriches everywhere...

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Unflinching Gaze: Automatic Earth

Chaos rarely finds new sites compelling enough to recommend wholeheartedly to readers, but the brilliance and unvarnished truth of this one begs attention. If you are able to stomach the frightening implications of the usual subjects of this blog, you should be getting your daily dose of economic reality (along with Mish, of course) from The Automatic Earth. Written by two Canadian contributors to The Oil Drum, the analysis is unique, chilling, and insightful. Economics having temporarily eclipsed Peak Oil, it is and will be on most everyone's mind, at least those who are paying attention. (Chaos could remark on the cognitive dissonance of immersion in the vast business as usual local economy, which is still building homes and developing commercial properties at an astounding rate, but this is perhaps the subject of another post...)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Another Alternative: The Defazio Plan

In case you needed more ideas to that evil Shock Doctrine bailout plan which was recently killed (but is trying to rise from the dead), here's a nice one from, of all people, a Congressman. It's simple, it's easy, it's cheap, and it might work, which, of course, is why it won't be implemented (actually, it won't bail out the extreme capitalists who got the country into this mess, is the real reason why it's a nonstarter). But hey, if the spirit moves you, go ahead and write/phone/fax your Congress rep (or someone else's, or both, or better yet, all of them).

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Majority Not Only Believe in 'Guardian Angels'...

They think they've been helped by them...Chaos wishes that more eloquence would ensue on the subject of a delusional people believing in ridiculous fantasies, but, alas, none is forthcoming. If you have any "faith" in the US public, Chaos advises you to discard it forthwith.

A New Locale For Consideration

The country of Ecuador has just this day come to Chaos' attention, having passed an amendment to its constitution that allows civil rights to....Nature. Chaos can see that this particular country, having been exploited for years by rapacious oil companies, might rightly consider the environment a precious resource. Those who are geographically flexible may want to reconsider their list of candidates, after contemplating what such an action might say about the local culture.

Alternatives to Throwing $$ Down the Rat Hole (With Apologies to Rats)

"Ripley: You know, Burke, I don't know which species is worse. You don't see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage."
--Aliens, 1986.

If you, like Chaos, have been viewing recent economic events with alarm, (perhaps you may have even contacted your "elected" representatives with your views) here's some alternatives to consider, simply because it's easy to engage in "either-or" thinking about this stuff, when government officials engage in the same business as usual chicanery, seeking maximum resources and unaccountable power by wielding weapons of mass panic. First, here's five not very compelling actions the US might take to stave off what looks to be a massive dose of deflation and frozen credit markets. Here's one that sounds a little better (ignore the somewhat hysterical tone). There are more out there; very thoughtful people, apparently, are not included in the political debate. What's clear is that this is an unprecedented situation, and that no one, NO ONE, really knows what will happen, and what to do about it. Indiscriminate throwing of taxpayer dollars is unlikely to make a difference. (Witness the fact that the $700 billion figure was apparently pulled out of someones butt...). One more axiom, and then Chaos will cease: the people who got the US into this mess (or stood idly by, or encouraged it) are unlikely to be the ones to get us out. Oh, and here's a nice video of at least one Congressperson who gets it...

Another Fine Synopsis of Where We Are

Directed at Montana residents in particular, but quite finely written and blunt, this piece makes for compelling reading about the energy predicament humans find themselves in at this very moment.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Presidential Debate Scored (If You Think The Election Matters, Part II)

If you don't peruse Mish's Global Economic Analysis on a daily basis, Chaos thinks you're missing out. Since the burning question after a Presidential debate is "who won?" (and since Chaos was not about to watch it, under any circumstances), we turn to that astute gentleman for this analysis. (Hint: you lost). Enjoy, readers.

Bicycle Issue

A couple of interesting pieces for those who are interested in being able to get around on two wheels. First, from the nation's capital, comes an astute analysis of how far behind the US is in encouraging bicycles. One might assume that, because it is not done here, that it would not be possible; a look abroad disabuses us of this kind of thinking. Second, here's a guide to "safe" biking. (However, Chaos would have to add that here in the World Capital of Ignorance, taking the whole lane as the guide recommends would cause even more resentment and is considered hazardous behavior, in a population which views bicyclists as obstructions in the roadway).

Friday, September 26, 2008

Nice Summary

Here's a pretty fair approximation of where we (the humans on this planet) are at the present moment, and why our "business as usual" approach will not avail us. By the sometime Oil Drum contributor Paul Chefurka, of Canada.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Lifeboat...

Chaos bets you've never considered the implications of having a boat, as a way of responding to the peaking of global oil supplies, but someone has, and here it is, in an interesting article sponsored by our friend Dmitry Orlov (Chaos regrets that time has not permitted the perusing of his latest, Reinventing Collapse). A good one to expand your mind, and your alternatives.

Monday, September 01, 2008

If You Think Elections Matter...

This piece, from an "unnamed political consultant" quoted on our friend Joe Bageant's site, encapsulates better than anything Chaos has read recently (or in memory, for that matter) why elections in the Empire have ceased to signify anything but the most superficial choices between like-minded elites. For full effect, it must be quoted in its entirety:

"Over the last many weeks we have all been subjected to endless news stories about Senator Obama's campaign "Move to the Center". Leaving aside the political illiteracy which underlines this phrase, the use of it reveals important clues about the rhetoric of electoral campaigns, whom they target and what they are trying to communicate.

Put simply, what "Moving to the Center," means is: moving towards power and money.

"Moving to the Center" is not a move to where the center of public opinion is, but it is a move to the center of where elite consensus is. Once the boundaries of that elite consensus are understood, then we can comprehend the limits of our public choices and more importantly what will be allowed within the confines of our electoral system.

It is important to understand that elite consensus itself is not static and can shift in moderate degrees, but it has definitive boundaries of which you can not cross and still be a viable player within the electoral system. These boundaries exist to the left and right within that consensus, but the institutional bias of the system is much harsher towards any moves to the left. This is because in its essence elite opinion is anti-populist and primarily concerned with protecting the fundamentals of the established economic order.

Every national campaign is in fact a dual conversation, one targeting voters while the other is directed towards the political, media, and economic elites. The purpose of the message targeting the first group is to win votes. The messages to the latter group is designed to form elite consensus, first for it not to correlate against you and secondly to have it help you win and eventually govern.

Surviving the contradictions of these dual dialogues is the primary element that makes a successful national campaign.

Let's examine the primary public policy issues and areas of discussion, and examine what the boundaries of elite opinion are on how they contradict or mirror public opinion.

Economics Trade and Globalization

The elite consensus on these issues is solidly to the right of public opinion. This is especially the case on the issues of trade and globalization. Support for supposed free markets, free trade and globalization are almost universal and unquestioned within elite circles.

This is the establishment issue, all else can be argued and debated but to question the system of privatized profit and socialized cost is the fastest road to political oblivion for any candidate for national office.

Within the confines of elite consensus no cost is ever too exorbitant in "reassuring" Wall Street and "calming the financial markets". No better example of this than the prompt and generous response of the Federal Reserve and the Congress to the recent financial crisis in the housing markets. With hardly any opposition the United States Government nationalized the losses which resulted from the bursting of the housing bubble. There where no calls of prosecution, lectures on personal responsibility, fears of creeping socialism or demands for conditional structural adjustments from bankers and investment houses. The scandal in fact is not the crime in this case, which is to be expected, but in the silence of the public and the political class to this public thievery.

It is precisely because of the iron grip of this consensus, that even if we have a new Democratic President and an enhanced Democratic majorities in the Congress, there will be no legislation signed into law to make it easier to organize workers, provide universal health care or deal with our ever widening class and income divide in the United States.

Social Issues

Elite consensus on the issues of race, sex and role of faith in public life are to the left of public opinion, the only area in which this is the case. Elite opinion is overwhelmingly secular, pro-choice, supportive of gay rights and hostile to overt displays of racism.

Tolerance and liberalism on this front is a very useful tool, since it buys political space to be more conservative on the more important money issues. It also enjoys the advantage of making the right enemies, after all who wants to be on Pat Robertson's side during weekend dinner parties at the Hamptons.

When social conservative complain about the "Liberal Media" they are not wrong, but only in regard to their issues. The contempt of the American elite for the religious right is quite real. What social conservatives misunderstand is that the hostility against them is not because the threat their ideas represent but only a display of the traditional contempt that the merciless strong have for people they consider to be the feeble minded weak.

The significance of the religious right in our politics is only in the wonderful diversions their issues create. Issues that feed a war between urban educated middle classes against the more numerous, the ever more frustrated lower income fundamentalists on issues that are unsolvable in nature.

Foreign Policy

Elite consensus on this issue is center to right, discussion are allowed on the mechanics of running the empire and the management of the military industrial complex, but never regarding the reality of its existence, its necessity or usefulness to most Americans.

Within this narrow context there are always code words and phrases used to differentiate one candidate from another. Words and phrases like "all options are on the table", "realism", "toughness" and "experience" are simply a sliding scale on the willingness to kill in order to defend the interests of our ownership and governing class. This is an especially critical issue for Senator Obama, considering that most victims of our killing are non-whites. His vulnerability to the charges of dual loyalty on this issue, almost certainly means no end to wars, expansions of foreign military bases and occupations of third world countries under his watch.

The made up charges of having a radical minister, or being a Muslim, a Palestinian sympathizer or being married to a black nationalist was meant to limit his room to maneuver on these issues even if there was never any indication he was ever serious about moving in a bold progressive direction.

With his "weakness" defined as his associations with progressive movements, ideas or individuals, he can do nothing but run to the other direction for the next four years if he ascends to the office of President. This is the genius of McCarthyism at work, fifty years after its namesake split hell wide open.

The politics of Personal Responsibility

Personal responsibility is a legitimate issue when discussed in the context of family and personal lives. When dragged into the political arena it is an issue that is entirely an elite construct. The actual positions of the elite are not particularly relevant. What is important is that the issues get discussed not what results from that discussion. The relevance of this issue is not in what it illuminates but in what it hides.

The recent enthusiastic embrace of Senator Obama of the call for "responsibility" from inner city black fathers is a prime example of this issue. What he is really saying is, "I will never blame the owners of the country for the social problems caused by their economic policies." Senator Obama knows better than anyone that you can eliminate most of the problems of inner city fathers in a generation with a decent educational system and living wage jobs.

But all systems of power need a convincing and unlikable enemy, which can bury the contradictions of the system. In our case incoherent, undereducated black urban males fit the bill perfectly. They are being attacked not because they are a threat to the power structure, but precisely because they are not.

What voters are expected to believe is that after a 30-year class war against the bottom 90% of income earners, the source of their troubles are black rappers and inner city fathers and not criminality on Wall Street or a corrupt political system. The road to the White House over the past 30 years has been paved by pretending to believe the absurdity that the individuals who pull the levers of power over people's lives are named Willie Horton, Sister Souljah and Ludicrous, and not Robert Rubin, Phil Gramm and Hank Paulson.

If as a society we are prepared to believe this, then we have lost the stuff that makes free men."

Chaos has nothing to add here...

A Look Back (Or Forward)

This astounding article from The Onion offers a review of the last eight years of the Emperor's presidency. What will amaze you, however, is the date of the article: January 17, 2001. Concocting a satiric article by imagining the worst possible outcomes actually produces something very close to the truth.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Silly Stories About Oil

It is an indication of the depths of the US public's denial (as well as their lack of intelligence) that a series of ridiculous falsehoods concerning energy has permeated the zeitgeist, to the extent that many of these are accepted by many many members of the voting (and for sure the nonvoting) public. (No fake: an insurance agent repeated the one about China drilling in offshore Cuban waters to Chaos last week). One has not the time or inclination to spend mowing these down (most especially, when they appear with regularity in one's hometown newspaper), but here's a nicely written article debunking some of the dumber ones. Enjoy...

Surveillance Issue

From the Empire's never-ending quest to monitor and observe the most intimate details of its citizens (read "potential terrorists"), to the ridiculous humiliations now de riguer at the nation's airports, it all keeps spiraling downward. A democratic Congress hasn't been able to stop much of anything, and it is completely clear that the election of an Emperor not the worst President in US history will be a futile exercise. To our theme, then, here are a couple of pieces to sink your teeth into: in the first, we find that the US government will be montoring your border crossings and retaining this information for 15 years or so. For more laughs, read this wonderful column about an airline pilot prevented from taking his airline-issued butter knife through airport security. Don't fail to peruse the comments at the end: alternately funny, scary and outrageous.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Peak OIl Overview: Dissonance

Here's a fine article on the basics of Peak Oil, and along the way, some excellent thoughts on the dissonance one finds upon fully recognizing the implications. One does not exaggerate in stating that the revelation that the world is at or near peak in oil production completely changes the way one looks at the world. Also notable is the appearance of this article in a somewhat mainstream US glossy magazine (alongside the article is something called The Upgrader: A life-altering guide to the world's best stuff...). Rare indeed is a piece in the MSM that gets its facts right, which this one does (hint: tar sands from Canada won't save us).

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Merger of Entertainment and Politics

You've seen this already...no words necessary. Just another day in Idiot America.

The Political Discourse: Stupidity Works!

Paul Krugman, op-ed writer in nations paper of record, bemoans the stupidity of the political discourse in the Empire today. Being just a tad one-sided (Krugman might be accurately labeled a "flaming liberal"), he excoriates the Republican Party for appealing to the lowest common denominator (the current "drill drill drill" mantra) in the energy "debate." Krugman, of course, doesn't mention that the other side's positions are equally devoid of reason, but the primary reason for our attention to this item is what Krugman cannot say: the reason such silly positions are likely to work is that the American public is stupid. So the title of the column should be "Know-Nothing Public" rather than "Know-Nothing Politics."

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Why Blaming Our "Leaders" Doesn't Work

From time to time, Chaos has noticed an interesting phenomenon: commentators attempting to shift the blame for the current predicament in which the US finds itself onto the political leadership, exemplified by a current editorial in the nation's paper of record. In light of candidate Barack Obama's latest ridiculous proposal (to send everyone $1000, paid for by windfall profits taxes on oil companies), let's check in with this pernicious idea:

"Americans would be using far less gas — and consumers and the automobile industry would be much better off — if Congress had summoned the wisdom and political courage 20, 10, even five years ago to impose tough fuel economy standards on the nation’s transportation fleet." (emphasis Chaos')

Let's think for a moment as to why "wisdom and...courage" would be required of our elected officials. Could it be, perhaps, that taking these actions would result in said officials being turned out of office? (Chaos hopes you know the answer to this question...) Is it possible, do you think, that these same leaders are well aware of this particular dynamic? In light of the extreme differences in fuel economy seen between the US and the rest of the Western nations, Chaos would suggest the following framework for analysis whenever you hear some version of this silly editorial:

1. Elected officials are still elected in the Empire, election manipulation and fraud notwithstanding. An elected officials' first priority is retaining the position; all else is secondary, and the "public interest" likely comes last, or not at all.
2. No leader will remain in the post for very long if viewpoints taken (regarding energy) are at odds with that of the character of the electing public. (Chaos is well aware of such anomalies as Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, but such is the exception which proves the rule)
3. If the character of the public is insane, stupid, delusional, greedy, short-sighted, etc., the elected leaders will reflect this, just as surely as if it were sane, intelligent, clear-thinking, prudent, etc. Such populations exist in the world; just look around (hint: Norway). One potent symbol of this principle is the nature of the political "conversation," i.e., is it intelligent, relevant, sober, or is it silly, lacking in substance, verging on ridiculous, and panders to voters' most base instincts? (Again, Chaos hopes you've been paying attention...)

In light of the above, it is simply unrealistic to excoriate so-called "leaders" for failing to do what the public clearly does not believe in. For the same reasons, changing the current crop of officials will not produce any better results. This also explains the incoherence of the political discussion, whereby gas prices must be reduced, and at the same time, the nation's thirst for energy needs to be curbed (if you think these two propositions aren't inconsistent, please read some more....). Best hopes for less delusional thinking...

The Road Not Taken: How Consumerism Destroys Leisure Time

In the spirit of expanding one's consciousness, or looking at life at this moment in a different way, try this thoughtful history of working hours and leisure time in America. If you've ever wondered why our material wealth doesn't translate into a better life (and if you think it does, do some more thinking), this piece will give you some ideas. In Chaos' view, it is simply tragic that the demands of industrialization have reduced the public to mere "consumers." There's also some interesting stuff regarding the "marketing" of political decisions...an extreme abomination, in Chaos' opinion.

Friday, August 01, 2008

A Fond Farewell To The Dinosaurs...

It's pretty much a given that the monstrous vehicles preferred by many in the Empire have now fallen out of fashion, not because the populace has awakened and found its previous behaviors worthy of scorn, ridicule and shame, but because gas prices have gone up somewhat (although quite a bit less than they need to). Sales figures for large trucks and SUVs are astoundingly poor, and waiting lists for well-made small cars have appeared. Who better to deliver the eulogy for this symbol of peak oil than San Francisco's Mark Morford, who rivals Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi in virtuosity. Enjoy, readers, and have an interesting end of week.

The Power of Human Energy...A Funny Parody

If you, like Chaos, are massively disgusted and offended by corporate greenwashing, try this nicely done parody of one of those ridiculous "energy is everywhere-our cleverness will save us-brighter future with oil companies" bovine excrement.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bike Lanes To Nowhere

Here again, for the umpteenth time, we present further evidence that Chaos' hometown was, is, and will forever remain The World Capital of Ignorance. This week's subject: bike lanes. The Capital, unsurprisingly, has fewer bike lanes than any city in Texas, itself not a bastion of progressivity. The lanes that do exist, furthermore, start and end abruptly, resulting in a tiny disconnected patchwork. A bike lane master plan was ginned up way back in 1976 but promptly discarded and never revived. Retrofitting streets for extra space for lanes is exceedingly expensive. The "car culture" causes hostility and outright danger to cyclists from aggressively ignorant morons (read the commments at the end). Oh, and the final insult: this city of more than 1.5 million has a bike lane coordinator (who, incidentally, is resigning after years of futile efforts) whose budget is...$60,000 per year. Chaos can only sigh as this benighted area continues to display the most astounding lack of understanding of reality. Meanwhile, the endless growth of strip malls, ugly tract housing, fast food joints, and freeways, lots and lots of freeways, continues apace.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Viewpoints On The Brain

Try these two talks from prominent scientists on how the brain works. The first is an exploration of happiness; why we are and are not happy. The results are surprising and counterintuitive. The second is a powerful and moving account of one brain scientist's experience with her own stroke, but is actually so much more. You may wish to bookmark the site, Ted.com, for future reference, as it holds many other video presentations of equal interest.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Current State of The American Dream

Try this most amazingly comprehensive (and long too...) article on the demise of the American Dream. (It isn't a coincidence that it originates from one of the Brit newspapers...the tiny percentage of readers in the Empire can't hold their attention for such an extensive treatment). For those who haven't been paying attention, things have been coming apart for quite some time for quite a few people who happen to, as they say, be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and their particular slice of the (delusional) American Dream has been sold off, bartered or given away, or some such. At any rate, an excellent treatment, from the despair of declining Detroit to the "tent cities" of the West Coast. The last line is evocative, and true: there is nobody home. Don't miss this one...

American Stupidity...

You may have noticed that Chaos, in the extensive reading and writing that composes the underpinnings of this blog, has reached a two-headed conclusion of sorts: that the looming reality-based issues which confront the Empire, and the rest of humanity, are largely technically solvable, albeit with a great deal of time, effort, expense and (some) inconvenience, along with one other thing: a full awareness of the actual extent of the said issues. That such a consciousness is lacking, more in the Empire than anywhere else, now, later and at all times in the future, is the second observation. Ironic it is, in Chaos' eyes, that problems with physical, geological, climatological, and scientific components depend upon sociological factors. To the point then, the lack of awareness of the US public is the primary focus of this continuing study, made the more difficult by the lack of candid appraisal in the "Matrix" that comprises the mainstream media. This brings us to the value of the current column in the most esteemed anti-war website, TomDispatch, written by one Rick Shenkman, investigative reporter and associate professor at George Mason University, entitled, "How Ignorant Are We?" As noted, this is not a new subject discussed here, but it bears repeating, because you aren't likely to hear it in many places elsewhere: the infantile, delusional, and (dare we say it) stupid US public does not possess the mental acuity to effectively perceive, much less confront, the multiple emerging catastrophes now presenting themselves on the world stage. A bit of Shenkman's virtuosity, for readers benefit: the five varieties of stupidity...

"First, is sheer ignorance: Ignorance of critical facts about important events in the news, and ignorance of how our government functions and who's in charge. Second, is negligence: The disinclination to seek reliable sources of information about important news events. Third, is wooden-headedness, as the historian Barbara Tuchman defined it: The inclination to believe what we want to believe regardless of the facts. Fourth, is shortsightedness: The support of public policies that are mutually contradictory, or contrary to the country's long-term interests. Fifth, and finally, is a broad category I call bone-headedness, for want of a better name: The susceptibility to meaningless phrases, stereotypes, irrational biases, and simplistic diagnoses and solutions that play on our hopes and fears."

Highly interesting, in Chaos' view. Also, kindly note that this author has written a book on the same subject, which of course Chaos intends to peruse at the earliest opportunity. Interested readers can find more at the author's blog here.

For further viewing: Idiocracy

Thursday, July 03, 2008

American Culture, Revisited

Here's quite a nice piece by one Lorna Salzman, reproduced in full, on the favorite subject of this blog (since it drives all other issues...), the American "character." Enjoy, faithful readers:

"Some people are giving a lot of thought to how to build a movement around global warming. This is a tough challenge but given American know-how, can-do, ingenuity, cojones, knee-jerk patriotic hubris, suspicion of foreigners, a staggeringly high 50% literacy rate, reliance on conspiracy theories, faith in one god or another, and unflagging belief in progress in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I am sure it can be done. This is a helluva country. Here's why.

1. A commitment to representative democracy conditioned only on the necessity of belonging to one of two parties, Republican or Democrat. Republicans have the upper hand given that their 24th pair of chromosomes codes for Greed. Democrats' 24th chromosome codes for Deceit. It's Win-Win for either of them.

2. An abiding love for gambling, monster theme parks, shopping in giant malls, riding in huge vans, and family values that use churches and TV sets to bring everyone together. These shared values give a remarkable cohesion to American society even in the face of ecological collapse. No one wants to be a nattering nabob of negativity as the world crumbles around us. Stiff upper lips are enough for the British but not for Americans, who need overstuffed credit cards to reassure themselves that they are the salvation of the world and if you don't like it you can go back where you came from.

3. A fervent belief in the right to cheap gas. After decades of paying under a dollar per gallon for gasoline -- 35 cents in the 1960s -- Americans are now getting really pissed off at the chutzpah of royal monarchs, royal leftist pains-in-the-ass and Royal Dutch Shell executives who think they have as much a right to make money as Americans do. What gives foreigners these privileges? Don't they know we can send in the troops anytime we want for any reason?

4. An indissoluble adhesion to religion in one form or another. It is undeniable that the existence of dissent, protest and freedom of expression causes discomfort to many Americans, sending them into the arms and shelter of various religious cults and institutions, who will, on their behalf, fight against these basic freedoms and rights so as to make them feel better. Generally speaking, they are cheaper than psychoanalysts depending on how much of your meagre salary you turn over to these delightful snake oil salesmen. (Nothing wrong with snake oil; lots of it, under different names, is sold in "Health food" stores to the conspiracy theorists on the left and right who think all doctors and medicine are poisoning them).

5. There is nothing like conspiracy theories, except maybe some stand-up comedians, to keep people amused and connected. We can thank the internet for making this political networking possible, since it ties up people who might be making serious mischief elsewhere.

6. An unprecedented web of multiculturalism, ranging from extreme Political Correctness which bans words like "beggars" and "midget," to Rambo Limbaughs, to posturing paleoliberals like Eric Alterman and The Nation, to New Age gurus like Deepak Chopra, to street-theater rabblerousers like Al Sharpton, not to mention the mammalian diversity in the halls of Congress, where the promise of equal opportunity is fulfilled in the election of liars, louts and lechers every two years. This country can be rightly proud of its tolerance for dissent, where blacks think all whites are racists and whites think all blacks are Arabs.

7. Only in America could the conundrum of disdain for government and politicians be so perfectly illustrated by the election-year digestion of the whole cloth of candidates' promises.

8. An adherence to the time-tested practice of misogyny, whether in the corporate glass ceiling, skewed pay scales, domestic violence, or the female slavery in Mormon religious brothels that condemns generations of girls and women to illiteracy, inequality and isolation. Let no one accuse Americans of forsaking the prejudices and practices of their pioneer ancestors.

9. A obeisant compliant media industry that, unlike its brethren in congress, is willing and eager to feed the demands, biases and fears of its readers and listeners. It cannot be accused of elitism or pandering to the select few; on the contrary, it faithfully brings, every hour of the day and night, the promise of prosperity and material success to tens of millions of people even as the country's political and economic leaders strive to deprive them of these things. Truly, it is a balm for troubled Americans who are tired of being bombarded with the bad news about global warming, epidemics, food shortages and the prospect of parking their RV in their backyard indefinitely.

Given these conditions, who should be leading our country? The only people qualified to lead our country fall into at least one of these categories: atheists/secularists; women; libertarians; homeless. Atheists and secularists are independent rational thinkers and resistant to cult thinking and behavior. Women are obviously the more compassionate, stable and social justice-oriented gender. Libertarians, though they have some peculiar ideas about guns, taxes and the environment, are highly tolerant of dissent and defenders of civil liberties. And the homeless need to replace the corporate lobbyists and executives and be allowed to pursue their own self interest: getting a roof over their heads and a hot meal. (Note: I have left out gays and lesbians because basically they are really no different from the rest of society).

Here is my proposed list for the top positions in Washington:

President: Dennis Kucinich. A little guy with a big brain and heart.

Vice president: Weird Al Yankovich. Because we need another VP named Al.

Secretary of State: Christopher Hitchens. A gutsy smartass atheist with no ax to grind, who is hated by the left and the religious community...testimony to his value.

Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare: Ayaan Hirsi Ali. A reward for her moral witness and courage in facing down islamist extremism and PC.

Secretary of Commerce: Rev. Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping.

Secretary for the Environment: James Gustave Speth. For being a non-leftist fingering capitalism as the root of the world's problems. (If he declines, I nominate Dave Foreman).

Secretary of Labor: Ralph Nader."

* * * * *

Lorna Salzman started her forty-year career as environmental activist saving wetlands on eastern Long Island and got her big boost and inspiration when Dave Brower hired her as regional representative of Friends of the Earth in New York. After serving over ten years with FOE, mostly fighting nuclear power and fending off the Army Corps of Engineers, she had brief stints at National Audubon Society's American Birds magazine, at Food & Water fighting food irradiation, and in the 1990s served three years as natural resource specialist at the NY City Dept.of Environmental Protection. In between she founded the NY Green Party, ran as a green for congress in 2002, and sought the party's presidential nomination in 2004.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Poisonous Food Problem (Kids Edition)

Continuing on the food theme, here is one very fine example of how the MSM muffles the obesity issue, to the point that the poison that passes for the industrial food diet, as applied to children, is successfully and completely leached out of an otherwise informative and alarming article. Briefly, a study of 2.8 million Texas school children found that few (very few) can pass basic physical fitness tests. The percentage of failure grows ever larger as the children move through the years, culminating in an astounding 10% pass rate for high school seniors. The link between diabetes, obesity and sedentary lifestyles is mentioned (a reductionist would say that video games are blamed for obesity) but nowhere in this article is the issue of what kids eat explored or even mentioned. Apparently, the logic goes like this: diabetes is caused by inactivity and obesity, and obesity is caused by inactivity, so hey presto! get the kids moving, and you've solved the problem. Chaos hopes readers can see the obvious omission here, which is an illustration of how deeply in denial the current culture is regarding food (and most other things too, but we digress...).

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Life and Times of the Banana

Continuing on the recent food theme, we find this interesting history of the banana, and (of course!) the suggestion that the universal availability of this tropical fruit may soon come to an end. The history being somewhat less benign than you would think, encompassing as it does the exploitation and manipulation of Latin American peoples and their governments by US multinationals (think United Fruit) and the shameful and embarassing record of US meddling in the Western Hemisphere for its own ends. Another interesting factoid reveals that the variety of banana currently eaten (yet another instance of monoculture) was previously considered a less desirable one than that eaten by people in the past, but that variety succumbed to a fungus, and an ominous hint that our current banana consumption may be merely a small point in time.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Monoculture of Food, Explained

Chaos has, over the past couple of years, begun to realize just how toxic the American diet actually is, and why. In brief, the vast overproduction (caused in part by subsidies to agribusiness) of corn, soy, and other grains has resulted in a monoculture of food, wherein the same substances are introduced into the ingredients of food items or as feed for industrially farmed animals (chickens are referred to as "crops," for example in the referenced article), such that there is in fact, little variety in the highly refined carbohydrate/inferior meat diet foisted upon the unsuspecting public. For more reading on this most important subject, we fly, figuratively, across the Pond to read this excerpt from an upcoming book (nice title for the article: "Our Diet of Destruction"). If it's a surprise to you that a tiny number of gargantuan corporations control most of the food production, you need to do a bit more reading...start with Michael Pollan.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Why The Capitol Remains Ignorant

Checking in on a seemingly innocuous local story, we find good reasons why the truth about peak oil remains hidden in plain sight. Ostensibly about the now becoming widespread practice of US motorists close to the border obtaining their liquid fuel from the "other side," thereby taking advantage of the lower (somewhat subsidized) price of our southern neighbor, the article delves a little deeper and even interviews some semi-local experts to give some context (emphasis is Chaos'):

"But [Mexico's] proven oil reserves are shrinking, and it lacks refining capacity, particularly for low-sulfur diesel being phased in under the North American Free Trade Agreement. (This mysterious phrase enables the author to dance around the fact that Mexico oil production has peaked and is in rapid, irreversible decline.)

"So even while the nation still exports crude oil, it imports about 40 percent of its fuel"

Further:

"Pemex has been having difficulties. According to the U.S. government's Energy Information Administration, Mexico's net oil exports dropped from 1.7 million barrels a day in 2006 to 1.46 million per day in 2007. A 28-year graph of proven reserves shows a sharp downslide." (Yeah, a 13% yearly decline in productions of one's largest oil field tends to produce a few "difficulties." And again with the proven reserves language. Did the author pick that up from some expert or what? Keep tapdancing...)

Concluding with some nods to the impact of higher oil prices on the poorer citizens of Mexico, the article ends on a slightly confused note, i.e., was the point the cheap Mexican gas, so attractive to American motorists close to the border, the declining production (although this word appears nowhere in the piece), the impact (and potential riots) on the poor, or something else?

Well. Chaos has many thoughts for such an article, most strikingly that it somehow left out some rather important facts about Mexico, one of the top 5 sources of oil for the US. How an article concerning itself with this subject could somehow fail to mention Cantarell, one of the largest oil fields in the world and source of a majority of Mexico's oil production. The field has peaked and entered a rapid decline such that Mexico is on track to move from an oil exporter to an oil importer in the next five years. New discoveries may slow the decline but will not affect the end result. Be assured, readers, that these facts are not unknown, or obscure in any way; a few seconds of "googling" will call them up. In Chaos' humble opinion, when the one of the top ten oil producers peaks and begins a catastrophic decline, it should in fact be a front page headline for pretty much the entire nation. The fact that it is not, and further, that this muffling by the so-called media "watchdogs" continues, serves to reinforce Chaos' view that, for whatever reason, the facts will not be faced in the US until they are so blatantly obvious that they can no longer be ignored, even by the most somnolent of the public. Want more proof? Check out this ridiculously irresponsible opinion (by a "business columnist") as to why $200 oil just won't happen. Really. It just won't. Look for the Faux News "kill the messenger" fallacies, the Las Vegas-style gambling that apparently constitutes the current corporate culture, the ad hominem attacks, and (get ready) even a reference to the viability of shale oil. Yikes! This columnist's solution for the public? "At a minimum, we'll buy a more fuel-efficient car or even go the extra step and car pool!" (Chaos cannot help but be stunned at this person's energy illiteracy, but then again, it's quite obvious that most folk in the Empire are equally delusional).


Monday, June 09, 2008

Morons, Marching Firmly Back To The Future...

Yes, another jaw-dropping, coffee-spewing moment arrived recently, when Chaos beheld the account in the local fishwrap of the approval, without comment or discussion of any kind, for an additional $34 million, give or take, to continue the expansion of the local airport. Amazingly enough, this is only a tiny part of the story, and like many items in the media, the most important part comes at the end, wherein we find that the World Capitol of Ignorance's entire aviation plans through 2015 comes to $635 million devalued US dollars. Chaos by now is used to the persistent demonstration of aggressive stupidity on the part of the local population and their leaders, but in light of current events, easily discerned from reading a newspaper article or two, and an acceptance that we live on a finite planet, and oil use is going the way of the buffalo, this latest example is just too ridiculous for words. Chaos just has to wonder what in the world these so-called "leaders" are smoking, if they believe that air travel is just going to continue, along with endless growth of everything else. The mindless clinging to business as usual will make the eventual pain of realization worse. In the meantime, such items are certain to increase, thus increasing Chaos' entertainment.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Yellow Journalism At It's Finest

Rare is the day, these days, when a piece causes Chaos to bolt upright, shocked and amazed that the nation's paper of record would endorse such wrong-headed drivel, and yet, that is exactly the situation recently. An editorial in The Times displayed such a contemptible lack of historical understanding, rationality, or a grasp of any sort of reality whatsoever, that Chaos believed for a moment that the Dallas Morning News, Washington Times, or Fox News was being displayed in the browser. Let's tune in for a few memorable lines from "Mexico at the Brink":

"The War on Drugs may be fading from memory north of the Rio Grande, but south of the river, bloody battles are threatening to overwhelm Mexico’s democratically elected government." (Seems like we've heard this story somewhere before...oh yeah, I remember now: Colombia....and I guess it's "fading from memory" because we have an actual war going on or something?)

"The timid assistance package proposed by the Bush administration and pared down by Congress suggests that Washington doesn’t grasp either the scale of the danger or its own responsibilities." (And what responsibilities would those be? Wait, it's coming...)

"The United States has a clear interest and a clear obligation to help. This country is the main market for the methamphetamine cooked in Mexican labs and the cocaine moving through Mexico from the Andes. It is also the source of the traffickers’ weapons. And no fence will stop the gun battles from moving across the border." (Hmmm...'help' with the Drug War....let's think about that one. Seems like the US has been having a 'drug war' for quite awhile, and what have we to show for it? More people imprisoned for consuming natural substances which are less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, but not much else, besides the enormous amounts of money being spent.)

"The Bush administration is right to acknowledge the shared threat and the common responsibility. But the three-year, $1.4 billion aid package it proposed doesn’t do the job. It is too small, notably so when compared with the billions the cartels earn in the United States. And far too much of the aid is military hardware when Mexico has other more urgent needs."(Well, how much would it take, you know, to actually win? Do we have a ballpark figure? No? Maybe because that would be money down a rathole, to use a colloquialism...)

"Above all, Mexico needs help rooting out corruption and creating a well-equipped, well-trained and respected civilian police force. The Mexican police need help improving their skills in forensic investigations, prison security and witness protection. And Mexico needs a transparent, fair and competent judiciary to prosecute traffickers as well as officials and members of the police who have been bought by the traffickers or are guilty of human rights abuses."(Mexico may indeed have problems with corruption, which may or may not be related to the drug trade, but offering to 'help' with those is kinda, oh, hypocritical, when you think about the corruption that seems to be endemic in the Empire these days. The monies spawned by the prohibition on drugs know no boundaries in inducing law enforcement corruption; witness the number of public officials in South Texas indicted for accepting bribes from drug traffickers. But let's let the patronizing attitude slide, and consider again what metrics this amazing editorial would like to use to consider this 'aid' a success.)

"Washington’s role does not end there. Mexico has no hope of defeating the traffickers unless this country is also willing to do more to fight the drug war at home — starting with a clear commitment to stop the weapons smugglers and to do more to take on the narcotics networks on the American side of the border." (Actually, nobody should hope, after all this time, money and effort, that defeating drug traffickers has even the remotest possibility, short of legalization. The violence which so scares the Times is the direct result of the illegality, and hence the markup, of the substances. Let us say it one more time: the 'War On Drugs' is a stupid concept. It cannot be 'won'. Resistance to this concept, as they say in a memorable Star Trek film, is futile. It does, however, divert one's attention from more serious matters, which lurk on the edge of the Matrix, and for that, perhaps the piece has actually served its purpose. Sleep now, children.)

Air Travel Update

We do so enjoy remarking upon the gradual but inevitable demise of the automobile and airline industries, exacerbated by the ridiculous, bone-headed decisions made by their respective managements. To the point then, are the latest developments in air travel. As chronicled by the McPaper ("Fliers in for pain as airlines pack it in") the industry is cutting cheap flights to vacation destinations (after all, who can afford to go anyway, with the price of gas and food?), smaller cities are losing their service, and the cost of flying will inevitably increase quite a bit. Those who have become used to moving about the country with little regard for cost will just have to stop. Vacations will become more local.

Water, Water, Everywhere?

Taking a short break from observations of the current high and higher oil prices and their effects, we find our friend Lester Brown of the Earth Institute with this interesting article on how we are drawing down the world's supply of "fossil water" (that which has accumulated underground over oh, say, several million years). Anyway, a brief pondering of the implications will suffice to make one realize that goofy stuff about humanity's "footprint" is probably understated, and things are tending more towards the dieoff than you probably realized.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

If I Ran The Circus...

Since people, upon hearing doomer talk like that discussed here at the Edge, tend to devolve to the question, "what shall we do?" it occurred to Chaos recently that a list of solutions might be in order. (Chaos has deliberately left out those who, upon hearing that their cherished way of life might be unsustainable, simply throw up their hands and decline to read, listen, or take action of any kind, much like the deer trapped in the proverbial headlights...) So, herewith, is Chaos' prescription for local (and somewhat national) change, for a peak oil-aware population:
1. Stop building roads. Period. Existing roads will be maintained, but no new roads of any kind will ever be built again, save bicycle trails.
2. Existing roads will have at least one full lane devoted to bicycles, scooters, and small motorcycles. Said lane will be physically separated from the motor vehicle lane.
3. Any personal motor vehicle with mileage rating of less than 20 mpg highway will be taxed at a 35% rate. This tax is not deductible from federal income tax.
4. 55 mph speed limit for highways is mandatory. 35 mph speed limit for all other roadways.
5. .50/gallon gas tax imposed immediately, rises by .25/gallon every 6 months until it reaches the average of OECD nations. Proceeds of said tax will be devoted exclusively to building rail/light rail.

If the above solutions seem improbable to you, perhaps it's time to ask why that is...which, of course, leads us back to the issue of national character. What is it, in fact, of the US character which prevents even the discussion of rational response to inevitable depletion of finite resources?

A Couple Of Visuals To Keep The Mood Going...


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Peak Oil Roundup, Redux

Since the concept is now on everybody's mind (well, maybe not quite yet, but soon), it's worthwhile to pick through the various outlets and see what's been happening. First off, if you, like Chaos, have become annoyed (or maybe just puzzled) by the constant chantings of Faux News types that the only thing standing in the way of the US becoming oil-independent and driving down those pesky gas prices is the "wacko-environmentalists" who prevent Alaska and off-shore drilling, read this to clarify the fact that there just isn't oil out there in sufficient quantities to make any difference (long and somewhat technical article, but has the virtue of being true).

Next off, in an interesting development, our friend James Howard Kunstler, fresh off completion of his newest (an entertaining work of fiction, entitled World Made By Hand), is featured in an editorial in, of all place, the Washington Post. The point here is not the content of the piece, since Kunstler repeats what most of us have read weekly on his blog, but the fact that it appears in a national newspaper in its unvarnished bluntness. Is the US public finally ready to hear some unpleasant facts? Doubtful, but interesting nonetheless to watch the tone of the discourse change so quickly.

In more doomer news, truckers are going out of business at an alarming rate, and car loans are not much available anymore, adding to the auto industry's woes (which are already considerable). This in addition to the continual downward spiral of the airline industry, which last week decided to add yet another level of annoying surcharges and inconvenience to the passenger experience, clearly aimed at driving more and more people to forsake air travel completely. Chaos should probably have listed more examples of this trend, but it seems too obvious and common to belabor.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Bit of Dietary Advice

You may already know this, but having recently finished Good Calories, Bad Calories, Chaos has just this to say: high fructose corn syrup, ubiquitous in the US diet, is scandalously harmful and addicting. Avoid it, if you can. It, along with hydrogentated oil, is most likely the major cause of obesity and diabetes in this benighted country, and you consume it at your peril...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Just One More Example...

Chaos came across this pair of astounding articles recently, from the nation's premier papers of record (NYTimes, WaPo), concerning the treatment of foreign travelers/illegal immigrants, which, to Chaos' eyes, pretty much settles things as far as remaining a resident of the Empire is concerned (ok, if you absolutely insist on playing this out...how they treat the vulnerable is a preview of how they will treat everybody, or at least, those who have no power...). Hats off the intrepid reporters for the Washington Post, who compiled an outstanding chronicle of how the Department of Homeland Security (or, if you will, Border Guards), when deporting those here without documentation, arbitrarily decides to use anti-psychotic drugs in massive doses to induce docility. The bookend to that article occurs in the New York Times, wherein we find that a completely innocent long distance romance is cut short when the lovely woman's intended is detained at the Empire's border for no other reason than he visits a little too often for the comfort of the agents. After massive intervention by political figures and embarrassing publicity, said gentleman is released back to his own country (a false allegation that the person requested asylum--from Italy!!--is the real topper), while his intended now makes plans to exit the Empire for good, and really, who could blame her? Readers, ask yourselves if you can read of these things and remain the good unconcious consumer (and resident) that the Empire demands.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Devil Weed Update: Geography Changes Perspective

Chaos has, in the last couple of years (ok, maybe one) become interested in the determined efforts of the Empire to prevent its citizens from the beneficial (or not) effects of the cannabis plant. Seems that the government is not above a certain "tunnel vision" when it comes to the real effects on the human body (given the government's track record on other issues, a skeptical attitude might be appropos...), but at any rate, Chaos this morning was struck by the geographical differences between the most benighted state in the Union, where Chaos resides, and California, which can easily be seen in this article. Simply put, it's no big deal to obtain the devil weed quite legally in the most overpopulated but enlightened state. Another read and ponder...

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Vision of What Might Have Been

Admittedly, this is a doomer blog...optimism is viewed as unrealistic here, but every so often, one wonders what the Empire and the rest of the world could have done if another direction had been taken. An excerpt from a visionary book, Seven Tomorrows, by Paul Hawken, et al, provides in interesting vision. Try it, it's fun.

The Inevitable Devolution of Air Travel Continues...

Why yes, yes it does...air travel is going the way of the buffalo. If you want some real disorientation, check out some old film from the 40s or 50s where a character walks through the airport and just gets on the plane, without security lines, checkpoints, having to remove heavy parts of luggage and transfer it to a backpack, multiple showings of identification, etc. It's positively astounding to contemporary beings. Well, anyway, here's an article to document these outlandish claims...

Collapse Update: Dmitry Orlov

Our friend, mentioned often here, has a new book on the verge of publication, entitled Reinventing Collapse. A brief excerpt reveals just why our friend is so sought after as a speaker: his wry wit and invaluable insights on the subject of the Empire's imminent collapse are without peer (ok, Kunstler is a close competitor...). Since the book is not yet available, the author has kindly published an excerpt online here. For your enjoyment, and enlightenment....

Reflections On The American "Character"

As regular readers are aware, Chaos believes that there are many and varied technical "solutions" to the current set of converging catastrophes that confront citizens of the planet Earth, but the will to accomplish these is lacking. Further, different geographic regions evince different levels of awareness regarding the said catastrophes; hence, one may reasonably forecast that those who are most aware of the problems and have taken steps to mitigate the same will be the most comfortable in the years ahead. To that end, the continuing study of the character of the citizens of the US has become the primary focus of this blog. The current presidential election provides here a most salient example: two of the three "candidates" for US Emperor have endorsed, enthusiastically, the idea of suspending the miniscule 18 cents/gallon federal gas tax for the summer. It is most essential to note that the success or failure of any such initiative is not at issue here; what is salient is the fact that the majority of those running for the most important office in the nation believe that taking this (completely bogus and counterproductive) position has a reasonable chance of earning votes, which in turn speaks volumes of the American character, which is to say, infantile, ignorant, and completely self-indulgent. Need more? More than several states have taken up the issue; the quote which rings in Chaos' mind is this one from Florida governor Charlie Crist, who, in response to a NY Times reporter's question, answered thus: “I’m supposed to respond to the people and try to make them happy.”

Indeed. Chaos has not much to add, save that it is and will continue to be, quite interesting at the twilight of the Empire...

Friday, April 25, 2008

Peak Oil News

It should not be a surprise to a reader of this blog to note signs of the arrival of global Peak Oil; nonetheless, today's news is particularly significant. First, our friend and seminal author Matthew Simmons has a new powerpoint-type presentation on the current situation. New and notable is Simmons' emphasis on the aging infrastructure of oil well equipment: apparently, it's all made of steel, and steel rusts. Go figure. Needs lots of money spent to rehabilitate said equipment...will it get done? Doubtful. Also interesting is Simmons' (almost obligatory) expressions of hope at the end. Chaos can find no reason or evidence that justifies such beliefs, but at any rate, this is a nice presentation (if you wonder about certain points, by all means search for expansion among the literature). Secondly, news of the day indicates that the Grangemouth refinery in Scotland, which supplies approximately 10% of the UK's oil needs, is closing as of now due to workers striking over pension benefits. The event is having major impacts, including lines for fuel, and hoarding behavior. A harbinger of things to come, in Chaos' view, and soon enough. Look for gasoline prices to head higher, and don't neglect converting the projected UK gas price of 5 pounds per gallon...makes gas in the US seem cheap, doesn't it?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What's Underneath: Noam Chomsky On The Air We Breathe

Interesting piece examining the hidden assumptions of those trapped within the Empire's "bubble" comes to us from the notorious "linguist and social critic" (translation: we're not sure what he is) Noam Chomsky. Organizing principle which helps make the terms of "debate" understandable to bewildered souls of other nations who marvel at the insularity and arrogance of Americans: we own the world. Another variation on a theme: trying to control the uncontrollable. Try it, you might like it, or it might disturb you for some reason.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Economics: Synchronicity

Chaos, having had no training or experience, rarely comments upon economic issues or trends. A couple of days ago, however, articles appeared simultaneously in different publications, essentially pointing to the same concept...the Empire's free ride at the expense of the rest of the world is now coming to an end. Specifically, the decline of the currency, combined with dramatic inflation in Asian countries, means that cheap goods imported from the rest of the world is going extinct. Here's the link in the nation's paper of record, while in this online magazine (owned by the Post Companies) was this analysis. Not the last word, certainly, and readers interested in alternative points of view might want to journey over to Mish's Global Economic Analysis, but interesting, as synchronicity usually is.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Obscenities

Worst obscenities in the english language: "exclusive gated community" "planned golf resort" "new shopping center--pad space available"

Read This Book! Really!

Readers may have noticed that Chaos rarely recommends books anymore. Somewhat depressingly, there are apparently few works being produced that significantly advance those mentioned in the Edge's bibliography, and anyway, Chaos is well aware that book reading is becoming more rare with each passing day. However (knew this was coming, didn't you?) Chaos has recently completed a surpassingly profound piece that begs to be read, for those wishing to understand the developments in globalization, the CIA's role in developing torture techniques, the war in Iraq, the 2004 tsunami, and other disasters. The book is The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein, and Chaos cannot recommend it more. If reading a book is too much, there is also a short film here, but Chaos cannot recommend it, since the simplification to film robs the relatively complex metaphor which forms the core of the book of most of its power.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

To The People Of Costa Rica, Regarding CAFTA

Chaos is aware that your country has been struggling with a dilemma, specifically, whether or not to become the last signatory of the Central American "Free" Trade Agreement. Chaos, in vast admiration for the national character, values and good judgment of the people of Costa Rica, would nonetheless humbly offer the following advice:
Reject this agreement. There is no mystery as to its consequences, no matter how rosy the promises being made to you. The purpose of this agreement is to enrich the few at the expense of the many ("few" refers in this context to multinational corporations). Even better, for the price of a plane ticket or the few clicks of a mouse, you can see the future of your country under this odious treaty in the country of Mexico today. Ever wanted to be forced to leave your homeland and illegally cross the US border to find work? This agreement will ensure it. Care to give up your family farm and move to the city, there to reside in a vast shantytown, and eke out a living performing degrading labor in a sweatshop factory, or beg on the streets for subsistence? Vote yes on CAFTA. We have a saying in Estados Unidos de Tejas, where Chaos currently and temporarily resides: "you got to dance with what them that brung ya." Costa Rica, what brought you to this dance was your strong history of real democracy, your rejection of militaristic jingoism, your commitment to education, and your ecological awareness. Cede not your sovereignty in these things in exchange for false promises of economic benefit. Perhaps other parties to this agreement think they will gain economic development, but they are not you. Look around the world today and try to find examples of the shining promises of benefits to all that proponents of this scabrous document would have you swallow without question. Chaos begs you to read the scandalous history of free trade imposed on the Second and Third World, and recall the murderous behavior of the US multinationals (United Fruit, ITT, and many others) in Latin America. Proponents of this fraud are counting on you to forget the lessons of the past. Do not permit this. It is no accident that the US has made this a priority. Think well upon these things and do whatever it takes to resist.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Quote of the Day

Only after the last tree has been cut down,
Only after the last river has been poisoned
Only after the last fish has been caught,
Only then will we realise that money cannot be eaten.

- Cree Indian saying

Next: an open letter to Costa Rica...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Regarding The Latest Gasoline Price Increase...

The Empire is the most wasteful nation on earth, without any doubt. Moreover, the people herein are the grasshoppers of the world...partying incessantly for the last 30 years of so, drunk on cheap energy, while the ants of the world (we mean in this context, Europe and other more sober nations) stored food for the winter. With the latest price increases, the people of the Empire are receiving exactly what they deserve, no more and no less, for their profligacy, as colder weather approaches. No sympathy will be given, and no attention will paid, to their whining and moaning. The economy, constructed of papier-mache and delusional thinking, has begun a swirling motion reminiscent of toilet water circling the bowl. Alas! No more bubbles exist to be blown to keep the illusion alive. What follows is pain, and all the worse since so very few actually understand what different directions a people not so obsessed with material gain and grandiose stories could have gone.

Oh, and here's a nice piece by Michael Klare on why gas prices won't be coming down again. Ever. In case you didn't want to just take Chaos' word for it...

Friday, March 14, 2008

New Oil Drum Video On Olduvai Gorge

For those who are new or not conversant with the oft-mentioned theory...try this

Friday, February 29, 2008

American Values #5: Prison Nation

It is not new, but nonetheless of interest, that the Empire has the largest prison population on the planet (#2 is China). The rate of incarceration is staggering (1 in 100 overall; 1 in 35 adult male Hispanics, 1 in 9 black males 20 to 35), especially when compared to other OECD nations (Germany: 1 in 100,000). Besides being big believers in the death penalty (an honor the nation shares with certain benighted Third World nations, and no others), American values apparently encompass imprisonment as the first resort in corrections. Needless to say, the cost of this ruinous policy is equally unsustainable, and so, some states are "discovering" that rehabilitation is preferable to expensive housing of prisoners. Alas, Chaos' experience in the state which has the largest prison population in the Empire leads to the conclusion that choosing rehab over incarceration to save expenses inevitably results in underfunded programs, or the costs simply transferred to oversight departments ("probation"). The current article is enlightening, although not particularly helpful (what % of people are imprisoned for the ridiculous "war on drugs?" doesn't say...).

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The State of the Oceans: Bad, And Getting Worse

Thanks to humanity's ever-increasing heavy "footprint" on the planet, the state of the oceans has never been poorer. Having killed off most of the larger fish in the oceans (by overfishing), unsurprisingly researchers are discovering that these predators are responsible for the health of the coral reefs. Comes now a couple of articles (here, and here) confirming what Chaos has recently read in a book (specifically, The World Without Us, highly recommended), to the effect that most of the oceans have suffered greatly from the human population explosion. It requires very little prognostication skill to see that the planet in the future will be terribly degraded, and no, humanity will not "wake up just in time" to mitigate its tremendously negative impact. It's not news (at least here it's not) that humanity has overshot the carrying capacity of the planet, and not by just a little. Just a few thoughts on what actually matters, as opposed to the ridiculous gladiatorial contests sweeping the national and local news media.