Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What a Morning

Today, I am using my new netbook for the first time. It's pretty wild; I've been a desktop guy my entire life (I still have one, a new one I bought along with this thing), and this is my first real experience with a small computer. And it is very small, at the moment, I am holding it in my lap. I first went to Starbucks, and their system is horrendous. You need a Starbucks card to get on (which I do) and it didn't regognize mine, despite that I had just bought a latte. So, after some frustration, I gave up, and I am now in a little alley/park in Port Jefferson. I am at a bench, with this on my lap, since there don't appear to be any tables. I am also shivering since it is a little cold, and I'm in a position that I'm not familar with. But it's actually pretty groovy. It's very quiet, no sounds or visual stimuli of any kind, just me with my netbook in my lap. I just typed up my resume, and am hoping to apply for a few jobs, all with this in my lap, and sitting in an empty alley.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

U.S. Debt Crisis May Cause "Fall of Rome" Scenario

I am far from an economist, but this has made sense to me for awhile. Now, a leading expert says that our budget deficits will continue to increase, until they reach a level that will result in an economic collapse. It's like there's a race going on between our drunken sailor level of spending, and our equally foolish misallocation of natural resources that will soon reach a reckoning (otherwise known as peak oil). No matter which one comes first, we are apparently screwed.

Friday, September 18, 2009


Hi, I just got my new desktop and I love it so far. I'm especially impressed with the widescreen monitor. I'm gonna check out the HD features. Will be back to posting soon.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The 2000 European Fuel Protest and How It Relates to Our Future

This is a really good piece from LATOC (Life After the Oil Crash) about the fuel shortages that occurred in Great Britain nine years ago (as a result of protests over high fuel prices) and how it can be a pending sneak preview of our future, in America as well as the rest of the industrialized world.

I don't have much time, as I'm about to leave the library (the only place I can post these days, until my new computers arrive). But I am trying to figure out what to do next, as far as PO goes. The "meeting" of the PO Society last week, was a disaster. I was expecting a total of 5 people, including myself, but only 2 showed up. The man who showed up really knew his stuff on PO, and I learned a few things, but the fact that so many people just no-showed really deflated my enthasium. It shouldn't really surprise me. The concept of PO requires such a radical paradigm shift that I think even the most consciousally (SP) active people, including Greens, are in a kind of denial about it. Which is tragic, since I feel the Greens need people who are aware and passionate about mitigating PO, and those were the people who no-showed. So I'm trying to figure out what to do next. I really doubt I'm going to do anything more with it, which saddens me, but it does remind me why I left activism to begin with. Well, time will tell.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Trial of Computers

I might not be posting as much for the next few weeks, only because my computer of five years has finally croaked. Well, not fully. I am still able to access the Internet, but that's literally all that I am able to do. When I started it last night, upon installing iTunes 9 (not sure if that had anything to do with it) all that came up was the wallpaper. No shortcuts, no tabs, nothing. I tried starting "Explorer" (basically the Windows OS) but a tab came up stating that I wasn't allowed access, so it was likely a virus. It wouldn't have been the first time. But like I said, I could access the 'net. I also have my iPod Touch and my PSP, both of which have web browsers.

But the good news is that I just bought a new desktop and a netbook, both off Dell. This last computer was a Dell, and it's lasted longer than any other desktop I had previously owned. What is even better, is that I paid for my netbook using my Paypal account, which had nearly 400 dollars on it from my selling things on Ebay. So it wasn't that bad. This will be my first notebook computer. I think I will always own a desktop (this one I ordered is HD, with a 21" monitor) but one of the things I don't like about owning just a desktop is that I feel chained to my desk. There is a beautiful park in my town that even has free wi-fi, so I am really looking forward to taking my netbook there and doing things. Right now, updating my resume and job hunting are my top priorities, although blogging and a possible sojourn into story writing are also near the top of my list.

So, I will try to post often, but I might not be able to. I swore I wouldn't make any major purchases this year, but best laid plans...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Insurance Companies: The Real Death Panels

Sarah Palin coined a term, "death panels", that refers to some fictional body that, under Obamacare, would determine if old people get the care that they need under nationalized health care, of if they would die. But the real "death panels" are the HMOs. In California, more than one in every five patients are rejected for treatment by their insurance company. This has resulted in a very lucrative business, in $15.9 billion in profits reported in 2008 alone. This is a press release that describes, in addition to the denial rates of the individual insurance companies, several tragic stories in which people were initially denied for care by the insurance company, then in the wake of protest, the insurance company would reverse the decision, but by then it was too late.

This speech by Obama tonight is a joke. The media is talking about what he has to say in order to gain lost ground, but the ground should never have been lost to begin with. As a President with a wide margin of victory, and control of both houses of Congress (with a filibuster-proof Senate, no less), this debate should have been contained from the beginning. But as the Democrats always tend to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, they let the wingnuts set the agenda and the tone, and it might well be impossible to take back the reins now.

Once Upon a Time...

I am spending some time reading previous blog posts by James Howard Kunstler, the suburban sprawl critic who I have mentioned many times on this blog. Kunstler does a great job in tying our lifestyle to the depletion of energy that is going to be a major predicament for us in the future, if it isn't already here (I could definitely see the ripple effects). It isn't only a treat to read his past blogs (these are from 2005), but the quality of the comments left behind are truly outstanding, and a far cry from the comments being left there today.

I am posting one of those comments. Mind you, it's from 2005, but it's still fresh and the person who left the comment (a fellow named Mike Harrington, might not be his real name) really nails it dead-on on how tragic our lifestyle really is, and how it wasn't always this way:

It's okay to talk about better vehicle mileage, but until the need to drive everywhere is reduced, meaningful energy savings are going to be elusive.

How many times have you heard, "you have to have a car to survive?" Or something to that effect. Well, sixty years ago, that wasn't true. In 1945, there were over 5 people for every auto in the US. Now there are about 1.5 people for every car. Sixty years is a long time in an individual's life, but it's a pretty short time even in US history.

Here's a typical example of how screwed up the US has become. In 1945, if your kids wanted to go to the movies, they either walked to the neighborhood theater or paid a nickel for the streetcar or bus to take them downtown. Now, since we no longer have mixed-use development and public transit has practically disappeared, you have to load them up in your Ford Explorer, drive 5 miles to the nearest freeway, drive another 10 miles on the freeway, and dump them off at the cineplex. And when the movie's over, repeat the whole process. Or take them to sports events, or concerts, or shopping, or to visit friends and family members. People were able to do these things less than a human lifetime ago without using anywhere close to 25 barrels of oil a year per person in the process.

Letting the urban cores and mass transit systems go down the tubes was a pretty dumb thing to do. It was done intentionally to sell more cars, more gas, more tires, more concrete, etc. It's just a scam. The quality of life isn't any better, nor is intellectual achievement. Because we're slaves to our cars (Read: Elephant in the Bedroom), our quality of life has deteriorated. Now we have to work harder just to be able to do the same things that people just three generations ago were able to do for practically nothing by today's standards.

The second largest expenditure of households in the US is for their automobiles. The largest is for housing, which has always been the highest cost for people. But people pay more to keep their cars running than they do for food, clothing, education, and entertainment. Here in the Houston area the tab for the family cars came $9,996 per year in 2000. Middle and lower class people are already so overextended by this drive-everywhere lifestyle that household budgets simply can't tolerate much increase in the cost of driving.

And this is a "social and intellectual advance?" It sounds more like just a scheme to get people to pay a lot more for something they already had. Kunstler's absolutely correct when he says it is the greatest misallocation of resources in history.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

NFL Attendance Down (Or Yet Another Reason why the Economy is not in Recovery)

As the NFL approaches this season in the midst of an economic downturn, teams are failing to sell out their games. So as a result, television blackouts are looming. A blackout, in NFL terms, happens when a home team fails to sell out their game 72 hours beforehand. As a result, their own hometown fans cannot see the game unless they are actually in the stadium.

This in no way affects me, as I have never followed football (and haven't followed any professional sport in general for many years), but do find it interesting in that football is one of those American institutions that the average person just goes nuts over. It says something when a lot of people are unable or unwilling to fork over their diminished reserves of money to attend a game.

Here is an interesting discussion from the LATOC forum on the future of professional sports after PO. I think the major organizations (MLB, NFL, etc.) will probably survive, but not in the same form. You will have much smaller stadiums, the players will be making much less, games might have to be played in the daytime, etc. In other words, a contraction back to how sports was at the beginning of the past century, which is not entirely a bad thing. If that were to happen, I'd gladly go back into the fold.

Meeting on Thursday & Observation on life post-peak oil

Just a reminder, that the inaugrual Meetup of the Peak Oil Society will be taking place on this Thursday, 6 PM, at the Medford Starbucks on Route 112. So if, by chance, anyone who reads this blog lives in the local area, you are more than welcome to come out.

I read an obversation on the post peak oil world that was very interesting, and thought that I would share it. I forgot where I read it, it was probably Kunstler's blog. Anyway, what the poster said was that our younger generations (especially born in the 1980s and later; I was born in '79, so it's close enough) especially, throughout their lives, have been exposed to constant, continous visual stimuli. By that, he meant the television, cell phone, iPod, the video game console, the computer, etc. He then wondered, what would happen post-peak oil, where presumably, there would be a lot less visual stimuli, as modern techonology would be greatly compromised, that is, if it were operational at all. The reaction, this person and others chimed in, would be the relative equal of a drug addict denied his or her fix. There'd be anger, rage, depression, even acts of psychosis. I found this very interesting. In a PO world, fundamental elements of survival, such as food, heat, shelter, would be front and center in our minds, but at least initially, many of us would be dealing with the withdrawal of not having the visual stimuli that we are used to experiencing daily.

A few days before I read this debate, my cable modem was down for 6 to 7 hours. Although I found other things to do, I still kept looking at the modem to see if it got back online. So the non-presence of the Internet, even if only for a few hours, was still at the back of my mind. What kinds of effects would I experience if it were longer than that? A good remedy that was suggested, was for a period of time, say once a week for a day or so, try to go without technology. Go to a park or a place of nature and spend some time alone with your mind. You might be surprised at what you find in there.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Republicans decrying "socialized medicine" go to govt. hospital for surgeries

Yet more of the "it's good for us, but not for you" hypocrisy from the right-wing on the health care issue. Many Republican politicians who insist that a government-run health care system is bad for Americans, themselves go to government-run hospitals in Bethesda and the Walter Reed Army Hospital for surgeries and checkups. They often receive top-of-the-line care in comfortable, private settings. This contrasts greatly with the majority of Americans, who have to persevere in waiting room limbo and hope that their treatments are approved by their HMOs, assuming that they have one.

Personally, as far as health care reform goes, I think it's a goner. It'll be like the "credit card reform" that was passed a few months ago. Yeah, you'll have little remnants of the original proposal, and minor fixes, but no significant changes, let alone an overhaul, to the system. Obama just let the Republicans and the fruitcakes set the aganda, and dictate the terms. This is further proof that if you were looking for "change" in the past election, you're going to be very disappointed by the time O runs for re-election. Here the Democrats are, Democratic president, full control of both houses of Congress, and they let the losers dictate to them that there won't be any reform. Many will say, as Bill Moyers did on Real Time last week, that it's a case of the Democrats needing to find their spines, but people have been saying that forever. I just think it's a matter of Democrats being controlled by Big Money, and as a result, they're not able to drift too far off the reservation, as much as they would like to. This means that they will always fight with one hand behind their back, and that they will always lose.

A Reluctance to Retire Means Fewer Openings

This article in the Times highlights one of the problems in the economy that isn't getting much attention: that on top of the primary reasons companies just aren't hiring (tight credit, drops in consumer spending, financial losses for businesses), people also aren't retiring. In many cases, this is due to the losses incurred by hopeful retirees in the stock market over the past few years. The story gives a brief but informative reason behind why this is: mainly, that 401(k)s have replaced the traditional corporate pension as the main retirement vehicle of workers. As the 401(k) is more closely tied to the fortunes (or misfortunes) of the stock market, this is a much more riskier proposition for working-class Americans. The Times contrasts our system with that of other societies, like Denmark, where workers are able to retire with a much more genorous package. Not to say that these systems don't come with their own sets of risk, but on the whole, they're much more idealized to people who don't want to work their entire lives. But the article ends with the American penchant of self-reliance remaining strong, even if a growing number of retirees end up losing everything. They'd rather work till they drop, then look to their community (including the big, bad "gubmint") for a hand. How sad.

Well, I forgot the point of my post. That is, that more of the potential retirees staying put in their jobs means fewer job opportunities for the emerging generation of Americans who are entering the workforce, many with freshly minted degrees. Part of the reason why I decided to forego a lengthier, more expensive education was that I'd read a really good book, "Generation Debt", and one of the stories was about a man with a Master's in Library Science (a field I came close to going into) who could not find a job because the older librarians were staying around longer, presumably to either make up for 401k losses or to add more to their nest eggs (I think it was the latter, since libraries are state jobs). This is yet another layer of this emerging story on how a growing number of educated young people with degrees (or "generation debt") cannot find work.