Friday, December 31, 2010

China in a Real Estate Bubble Similar to Ours

I know I probably don't have much company, but I don't think China is as powerful as a growing number of people seem to think that they are.  Yes, they are, for all intents and purposes, our banker.  We also are very dependent on their many exported goods, as our manufacturing sector is dead and buried.  But at the same time, they also share a few of our problems in adjusting to this new economic world.  A big one is that they must import a great deal of their oil for domestic consumption, as we also do.  So, they are just as vulnerable to the peak oil bug as the United States.  Another problem we have in common is the subject of real estate.  Many contend that a main reason for our economic collapse in 2008 was the ponzi scheme model of our real estate bubble, in that mortgage companies and banks signed off on home loans for people who simply could not afford them.  This raised prices into the stratosphere and we all know what happened. 

As this article states, China is in the same bubble that we were as it pertains to real estate.  There is an oversupply of real estate, and many people simply cannot afford them.  One couple mentioned in the article says that they'd need to save their entire salaries for 15 years just to make a down payment on a 3-bedroom house.  Over 40 percent of recently built real estate is standing empty, either in the hands of the developer or rich people who just want to flip them in hopes of making a profit. 

It's a matter of when, not if, this bubble pops.  And when China hurts, there's no question we will be too, as they wouldn't be as willing to keep buying our debt. 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Flu

The death rate in Britain has increased by over 20 percent from a week ago, and it's felt that the flu, specifically the H1N1 virus, is to blame.  It is also said to have spread to other parts of the world, like Ukraine and India.  It's funny, because just this morning, I was mulling over whether to get a flu shot.  This was only due to being able to shave some money off my insurance premiums for the upcoming year.  In the end, I decided against it, as I have read too much stuff on the questionable effectiveness of these vaccines. 

I'm no scientist or doctor, so all I can do is give my opinions and the reader can judge them accordingly.  The day I decide to get a flu shot will probably be the day when people in peak physical condition start dropping dead from the flu.  Not to say that I'm Superman, but I try to keep in shape and watch what I eat.  I'm also only a few months shy of my 32nd birthday.  Which, I guess, isn't that old.  I think a lot of flu avoidance is just common sense; on top of what I mentioned (taking care of yourself), things like washing your hands frequently and avoiding people who look ill will probably be effective as well. 

I don't mean to minimize the potential dangers of these numerous visues that keep cropping up.  History is rich with them, and I suspect that we are past due for some kind of a major outbreak.  I guess my gripe is that the news media is rich in the business of selling fear, and it seems to always emphasize the things we shouldn't fear (a lot) while deemphasizing what we should fear. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Song of the Day

While I'm here, I might as well put up a Song of the Day.  I was thinking of this song, and happened to find it on Youtube.  It plays over the end credits of one of my favorite movies, "Do The Right Thing".  It's "Never Explain Love" by Al Jarreau.  While I'm not a big Al Jarreau fan, it's a great song, and fits the ending like a glove. 

The Cost of Food

I know I haven't been blogging too much lately, sorry about that.  Just too much going on, not to mention the holidays.  I will try to post more after the new year, if not sooner.  Just wanted to remind you all that I'm still here.  Anyways, this is a noteworthy post to Jim Kunstler's blog Clusterfuck Nation, from two weeks ago, in which the writer, C.Cruz, ruminates on America's relationship with food.  I'm hoping that he (or she) doesn't mind that I'm lifting this.  I hate it by the way, it makes me feel very lazy.  Speaking of food, if you want to build on what you read here, I highly recommend the documentary Food Inc. 

It is a commonly accepted fact that people today actually spend much less income on food than people did in the past eras. Historically, the economists tell us that the percent of our incomes spent on foodstuffs has been consistently falling throughout the twentieth century. Economists tell us that this is due to much more efficient agriculture. This is code for kicking all the farmers and land workers out of their jobs and replacing them with fossil fuels. This was good news to economists, since the money that we weren't spending on foodstuffs we could spend on other stuff, which was mainly cars, houses, electronic doodads from the Pacific Rim, and cheap plastic crud imported from China. Economists proclaimed we were all getting richer by this development, and out economy was expanding. What was also expanding was our waistlines.

This is extremely deceptive, however, as what they bought before World War 2 was food, whereas what we buy is "food". People used to buy free-range chicken and eggs, grass-fed beef, fresh, seasonal vegetables, artisan cheese, fruits, milk, whole wheat bakery-produced bread etc. Before the Interstate highway system went in , most of these were relatively local. Today we buy waxy fruits and vegetables grown especially not to decay, thus devoid of flavor and nutrients, genetically modified crops, mass-produced loaves of processed white bread, antibiotic laden corn-fed CFO meat, pasteurized BGH processed milk, chicken and eggs from overcrowded dungeons, cheez, and of course massive amounts of corn-syrup drenched "processed" foods. To an economist there is no distinction however, eggs are eggs, beef is beef, and a head of lettuce is a head of lettuce. My guess is if you actually made an apples-to-apples comparison between the quality of food then, and food of comparable quality today which can be purchased at local co-ops and high-end groceries like Whole Foods you find the cost of food (not "food") to be as high as it has ever been, if not much higher. I'm amazed when people complain that healthy food costs too much while they have plenty to spend on cable television and World of Warcraft subscriptions.

The "cheapness" of food thanks to oil has masked and legitimized the thirty-plus years of falling actual wages. Food is cheap, so why pay extra? After all, no one in America is starving - the poor are even overweight! What a great country! Sadly, even the cheap food is getting unaffordable due to unemployment and falling incomes. People are turning to food banks to make ends meet in unprecedented numbers, but what food banks sell are mainly donated "nonperishable" items, meaning processed to the point of unrecognizability. This "food" is guaranteed to lead to all sorts of health problems and morbidity, leading to an increasingly unhealthy population. With healthcare already unaffordable, however, the new poor have no other option but a lifetime of ill-health, drug dependence, and hospital debt, that is, if they're not dying on the streets. The next time you hear about the cost of food, ponder that.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

U.S. Military Prepares for Economic Collapse

Do you think we're really in an "economic recovery?"  I don't either, and neither, apprently, does the U.S. military.  The Pentagon is planning simulated "war games" that are centered on a potential collapse of the U.S. economy, due to a variety of factors.  I was reminded of this Tom Clancy book I read not too long ago, "Debt of Honor", in which a powerful Japanese busiessman, seeking revenge for the deaths of his family during WWII, comes very close to sinking the U.S. economy through various forms of corporate and stock market manuipulation.  Although, from what I've been reading, this wounded U.S. economy seems more like a self-inflicted gunshot wound than anything. 

Also, in the past few years, the U.S. government has been the leading buyer of freeze-dried foods.  In addition, Russia is building thousands of underground bunkers, and the EU's seed depository (which is also known as the Doomsday Vault) is fully stocked, only years after coming into formation.  As this collapse becomes more pronounced, it won't only be individuals hoarding whatever they can, but entire governments as well. 

In addition, notice the price of gas going up?  This is to be expected, but for this time of year, it's interesting.  I wonder how this is going to affect the holiday shopping season, which is the most important time of year for retailers, big and small.  There was a front-page story about it yesterday in my local fish rag, Newsday, in which the usual suspects were mentioned ("speculation", falling dollar) but no mention of peak oil or anything related to it.  Just portrayed as being a temporary hassle for the sheeple. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Global Oil Demand Seen Rising...How Soon to $100 a Barrel, or Beyond?

The International Energy Agency has released new data, showing an anticipated growth in demand for oil, due to stronger-than-expected economic growth in developed countries.  I have already seen this first-hand at the pump; as of yesterday, the two neighboring gas stations in my town were at $2.96 a gallon, which is a 30-cent increase from just a few weeks ago.  If prices are to rise again, I think we will see another round of what is called "demand destruction", and prices will crash back down, albeit temporarily.  I do not believe oil prices will climb continously upward, for that one reason.  The economy will not be able to absorb them, so we'll see crashes, and with each crash, the fallout and damage will span further and further.  But on the other hand, another reason why we could see climbing oil prices could be due to the falling value of the dollar.  This would be a "hyperinflation" scenario, and if that's the case, well, then all bets are off. 

I do think the timing of this announcement is very interesting.  Imagine if oil prices continue to spike in the coming months, leading into the holiday season?  The tough economic times are going to make this a difficult season for retailers, as things are, but if you were to add climbing gas prices into the mix?  A possible recipe for catastrophe.  A lot of people believe that the climbing oil prices in 2008 (the price of a barrel of oil peaked at $146) were a key determinant in pushing our economy to the brink.  With the economy of 2010 in the weakened condition that it is, I don't think that oil prices would have to climb nearly that far for an even worse collapse this time. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

"Lucky Louie" and the Decline of Programming for Ordinary Americans

As I've said previously, I probably watch more TV than I should.  A show that I talked about recently on the blog was the comedy "Louie" that just finished its first season on FX.  "Louie" stars the comedian Louis C.K; he plays a divorced father raising his two kids in New York City.  I liked the show very much, and so rented a series that he'd done a few years before that, called "Lucky Louie". 

The two shows are very different.  While "Louie" is an atypically loose comedy, with a couple of short stories and stand-up vignettes taking up most of its 30 minutes, "Lucky Louie" is more of a traditional sitcom.  It's hard for me to say which is better.  I did enjoy "Lucky Louie" because of its similarity to another sitcom I enjoyed while growing up, "Married with Children".  This is even more cruder than "MWC" since it was on HBO.  A very odd thing to note about "Lucky Louie" is that HBO only gave it one season, which is not normal for them.  I assumed it was pulled due to low ratings, but then read elsewhere that ratings actually grew each week, outranking much more expensive shows like "Deadwood" (which I loved) and "Flight of the Conchords" (which I've never seen).  "Lucky Louie" even got an order for additional scripts for the next season, which in most cases would ensure a renewal.  But unfortunately, it's believed by some (including, reportedly, Louis C.K. himself) that the show did not fit in with HBO's programming.  Which is a really stupid rationale, and to clarify, watch the show.  Even if the show was a ratings loser, it would still have made some sense to renew it, because the show was freaking dirt cheap to produce.  The sets were simple to the extreme; every other HBO show either has elaborate sets or are filmed on location, and so cost a shitload of money to produce.  Forgive me, I'm just a little upset that a potentially great show had its life cut off prematurely because it was on a network who wanted to make programming for the affluent east and west coast "liberal" types rather than ordinary Americans. 

Which brings me to my point.  "Lucky Louie" was the first show of its kind that I've seen in awhile, and it was aired in 2006.  By "its kind", I mean a show that ordinary, working-class Americans can relate to.  "Lucky Louie" was about a part-time mechanic (C.K.) and his wife who works as a nurse, and they raise their 4 to 5-year old daughter.  They live in a seedy apartment, and struggle to pay their bills.  Sound familar to anyone?  I remember there were a lot more shows like that out there, like "Married with Children", "All in the Family", and all the way back to "The Honeymooners".  All very funny shows, and shows that people can relate to, even today.  So what happened?  Somewhere along the way, they were replaced by "reality shows" (and by reality, I don't mean the reality that most people face.  The "reality" in "reality television" is often total fantasy), or sitcoms about roommates living in some high-rise in New York City who just hang out and crack jokes all day, with nary a worry of paying bills or rent.  I think that this is Corporate America's way of phasing out voices from Middle America.  You have shows about rich people living in high-rises for the affluent viewers (and those of us who want to be affluent), and reality shows about, for example, a black tranny looking for love for the clueless masses.  Nothing for working people who are just trying to get by, and who have a clue about what is happening to this country.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

RIP Stephen J. Cannell

The famous writer/producer Stephen J. Cannell died yesterday, at the age of 69.  I remember a lot of the shows I used to watch as a kid, and Mr. Cannell was behind many of them.  The A-Team, The Rockford Files, The Commish, 21 Jump Street, Renegade, and many others.  Sure, not exactly Masterpiece Theatre material, but very enjoyable nonetheless.  In his later years, he became a novelist.  I read his debut novel, "The Plan", many years ago (probably when it first came out, in 1996) and remember enjoying it very much; I will try to make a note to read more of his stuff.  It's a real shame to lose him; I saw him on something not too long ago and he looked as vibrant as ever. 

I know anyone who's watched television has to remember the logo and theme of his production company that would come up at the end of one of his shows; very memorable, I remember it even being parodied in a "Family Guy" episode.  Here's a cool montage on Youtube of his logos over the years.  As the years progress, you see the awards and plaques becoming more numerous on his wall.  A real standup guy, may you rest in peace, Mr. Cannell.  You will be missed. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Plants Vs. Zombies: A Zombie Experience for the Whole Family

For all of you who visit this blog, I don't want you to think that I spend much of my time surfing the web for the most depressing stories that I can find.  I have been meaning to make posts of a lighter nature, which is kind of hard to do, since I look at life so much differently than I did just a few short years ago.  Nonetheless, I do things for fun.  I have been a gamer for many years, and will most likely continue to be one until I die or the grid goes down. 

Anyway, I wanted to let you know of a game that I am currently playing.  Upon first glance, I was cynical.  I am a huge fan of the subgenre of horror called, I guess, zombie.  I love the Romero films (save his last one, "Survival of the Dead", which sucked; sorry, George), the "Resident Evil" series and the works of Max Brooks (he wrote the books "The Zombie Survival Guide" and "World War Z").  I love the zombie genre due to the utter terror presented in the various works, and the social commentary that is often present in them (particularly the works of Romero and Max Brooks).  "Plants Vs. Zombies" has neither of these things.  Upon first glance, it is a family-accessible game, and that's why I was cynical.  I couldn't see zombies in a kid-friendly light.  Imagine my surprise when I began to play the game (via a trial download on XBox Live) and was fully immersed in it.  "Plants Vs. Zombies" is what is known as a "tower defense" game, in which you must defend some piece of territory from an invading menace.  In this case, the "territory" is your suburban house and the "invading menace", of course, are the undead.  You must use sunflowers (and the sun itself) to grow zombie-killing plants and seeds.  How you use the sun, and which plants you plant, are instrumental in how you will fare against the zombies. 

There is lots of cartoon-type violence, rather than the intense, bloody kind that often pervades other works in the zombie genre, but that was okay with me.  The game is very addicting, and I've often lost track of time while playing it.  There are also various modes of play (in addition to Adventure, there is also Survival, Minigames and one other mode).  If there is one quirk with the game, I find it to be pretty easy.  I am currently at Stage 4 (each stage has 10 levels), and have never really had a serious problem getting through the game.  But after the last game I played (Jak II for the Playstation 2, which can be insanely difficult), I can't really complain.  The game is available for many platforms (PC, Xbox, PS3, and also the iPod/Droid if you want to game on the go).  I got it for the PC; Steam (an online game service) has it for $10.  I highly recommend it, and again, it's really family-friendly. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Time Magazine

This brief article is more interesting for the picture.  Apparently, four editions of Time Magazine are distributed around the world (in addition to the U.S., there are also European, Asian, and South Pacific editions).  Recently, the cover story of Time Magazine was the massive flood in Pakistan.  Well, in 3 out of the 4 editions, anyway.  One edition has the cover story of "What Makes a School Great?" As you can probably guess (since you'd have to be pretty cynical to be a regular reader here), this was the U.S. edition of Time.  It is shameful, as an obviously important story has been pushed aside here in favor of a puff piece. 

There is some talk around the Internet of this being some kind of right-wing agenda, or an active avoidance in having to humanize Muslims, but I think it's simpler than that.  I think this has less to do with any insidious plan to minimize the news of suffering to those whom we perceive to be our enemies, and more to do with the result of plummeting magazine sales in general.  I'm sure that Time is no different, and so is dumbing down to the lowest common denominator in order to move more copies and survive.  Months ago, Time had an issue with the "100 Most Influential People in the World" or some such thing.  Among the luminaries?  Sandra Bullock, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, etc.  Time is moving to the category of People or Us Weekly because it is a business and they have to sell magazines. 

Friday, September 17, 2010

Interview with Robert Hirsch

This is an interview with Dr. Robert Hirsch that's well worth reading.  Dr. Hirsch was the author of the first official government report that sounded the alarm on peak oil in 2005.  He has written a new book, "The Impending World Energy Mess".  A lot of this you should have heard before, but there are a few juicy morsels.  After his initial 2005 report, he and his colleagues were told by their superiors in the Department of Energy to stop talking about peak oil.  It's particularly striking how the DOE quashes discussion of PO and is headed by people who tackle the issue from an academic perspective (like the Secretary of Energy, Stephen Chu), while the U.S. military has stated clearlly in several reports and statements, how much trouble we are in due to the energy crisis. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

IMF Fears "Social Explosion" From World Jobs Crisis

This is a good article from the UK Telegraph, but pay really good attention to the graph within.  It shows the duration of unemployment in the U.S. from 1970 to 2010.  It zigzags, rising a little more than usual during a recession (which is signified by grey bars) but downright soars by the end of it (present-day); note that the grey bar is pretty huge too.  According to the report, the world must create 45 million jobs a year just to keep up.  The report does sidestep around some things, like "labor arbitrage" (outsourcing jobs to low-wage countries to ship products back to us).

The only solution that the IMF's chief economist calls for is an extra monetary stimulus.  Now, I'm no economist, but printing more and more money does not seem to be working.  As the old saying goes, "hard times call for hard solutions", but the only solution the government is calling for is "spend, spend, spend".  It's not working, and amidst all this political hoopla with the primary elections last Tuesday, a lot of people seem to be under the illusion that this problem can be solved politically.  We'll just vote the Democrats out.  Well, two years ago, it was the Republicans that needed to go, because we wanted "hope and change".  And, assuming we still have a functioning government in 2014 or 2016, it'll be the Republicans who will be in disfavor and we'll turn back to some purported "savior" in the Democratic Party.  Some people I talk to feel that we won't see an actual "recovery" for five or ten years, and a lot of people would probably look at them as being pessimists.  If anything, I feel they're being optimistic; I don't think that things will ever return to what they were.  In order for there to be any recovery, we need not merely jobs, but the right kinds of jobs, that emphasize production of goods.  But that won't happen due to the already mentioned "labor arbitrage".  So the jobs that will be created will be more along the lines of "Walmart Greeter" or "suntan parlor clerk" or "restaurant cashier", and you cannot have a real recovery (that of job creation) on the backs of jobs like that. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Our Rising Level of Debt Considered a National Security Problem

The United States Joint Forces Command released a study stating that the U.S. government will add 9 trillion dollars of debt to its balance sheets in the next decade, outpacing the most optimistic, best-case scenario for economic growth.  Payments will increase just for servicing the debt, which will cut into government spending, possibly defense. 

In a related story, a blue-ribbon panel met with Obama early in the year and told him the same thing.  Only, they wrote up a report that used the three major U.S. government so-called "entitlement programs" (Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) as a model, and strongly implied that taxes would need to be raised or growth in these programs would need to be strictly curtailed.  I've always had trouble with that term, "entitlement program", at least as the first two are concerned.  I define being "entitled" as feeling that you deserve things that you really haven't earned; if you pay into a program your whole life, it's not an entitlement because you've earned it.  Anyway, I'm digressing again.  I just find it unsettling how neither group seems to think that our maintenance of "empire" is at least partly responsible for our spiraling levels of debt.  The blue-ribbon panel that consulted with Obama says we should hit the "entitlement programs", while the USJOC worries about the debt cutting into our defense spending, never factoring in that the defense spending (in other words, "empire") could have a big part to play in why we are so in hock in the first place. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

One Second After

I am currently reading an excellent novel called "One Second After" by William Forstchen.  The story deals with the impact and effects of an EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) bomb on the United States, particularly a small town in North Carolina, where the novel is based in.  There is a foreword and an afterword in the book (the former by Newt Gingrich, the latter by a naval captain) that stresses the threat that EMPs pose to us.  It's pretty scary stuff, it can be transmissible through a nuclear bomb, but rather than it being launched directly at us, it can be launched a couple of hundred miles above the surface, frying all satellites and electronic devices.  IMO, using a nuclear weapon in this way could hit us even harder than if one were used against a major city. 

Anyway, the EMP bomb is just a narrative device; the story itself deals with how people in one town cope with life after a fast-collapse scenario.  As you know, the subject of collapse fascinates me a great deal, being as I feel that we're in one currently, albeit the slow kind.  But the author is apparently familar with the subject, and details in the narrative the many ways that we are vulnerable and are totally dependent on the mechanisms that make our modern life possible.  In a lot of ways, electricity is like modern civilization's central nervous system.  A "lights out" on a prolonged basis will lead to mayhem and chaos, like what is described in the book.  I really don't want to give the various examples the author gives in telling his story, so I will let you read it for yourself, but I did want to recount one thing I read this morning that did haunt me.  There are some light spoilers ahead, so if you want to read it and come in fresh, you might want to skip this part.

Six weeks into the attack, Black Mountain is struggling to survive, with dwindling food reserves and the less healthy dying off.  But the inhabitants of the town are the lucky ones.  Refugees from other towns are passing through, under the watchful eyes of the town militia.  Those refugees with valuable skills (e.g., medical, carpentry, building, etc.) are picked out and invited to stay.  One of the refugees is a professional businesswoman, who was a public relations consultant with a tobacco company before the attack.  Her business clothing is tattered and her hair is dirty from the walk.  She makes eye contact with the main character and strikes up conversation.  After telling him that she is a PR specialist, she gives him a "sales pitch" in how she can help the town in having a "better interface with the public".  As these "skills" are pretty much useless in a post-industrial age, he apologizes and politely sends her along.  Her professional demeanor quickly collapses, and she begs and pleads with him, offering to spend the night with him if he'll let her stay. 

It reminded me of the views that I now hold on higher education.  Many college students are preparing themselves for careers that simply are not going to exist, or in fields where jobs just aren't going to be plentiful.  I really want to try to steer myself towards something that could be useful and that could help me survive. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Great Overview of Peak Oil: A "Heads Up" for Humanity

This is a very good webpage, written and developed by a science professor for his students, but which is a very good primer for the many who don't know of peak oil at all.  It can also be used as a great refresher for those of us who do know; it never hurts to read through some of these things again and strengthen one's knowledge.  I especially liked how he tackled it from a somewhat different perspective of population dynamics (the warmup consists of a lot of examples surrounding "overshoot:", when a population exceeds the carrying capacity of its environment), rather than approaching it from an environmental or economic perspective as most PO-aware often do.  Warning:  it is quite long, and contains many video links, so this will take awhile. 

So this joins the short list of PO materials and media that I'd recommend to the PO beginner.  Others include Kunstler's book "The Long Emergency" and the documentaries "The End of Suburbia" and "Collapse".  I'd say that this is the most gentle and least doomerish of the lot, so it's recommended for the especially squeamish. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Forget About Law as a Career

If you are reading this, about to graduate college and are eyeing law school, I'd suggest that you think again after reading these articles.  Job offers are dwindling for newly minted attorneys, and Marin County, CA, one of the most wealthiest enclaves in the state, are seeking prosecutors to work for free

I had considered law school, and ended up taking a one-year paralegal program at my community college.  I have yet to get an interview for a job in this field, let alone said job, and at this point highly doubt that I will ever work in law.  As down as I might get about this, reading articles like this also makes me thankful.  My paralegal certification only cost a few thousand dollars, and a lot of that was paid out of my pocket.  So if I can't get a job with it, it isn't the end of the world.  Imagine being a law school graduate, who has just passed the bar, filed for membership with the ABA, has at least a hundred thousand dollars in student loan debt, and having no means of paying it back due to the dry job market.  Ouch. 

Anyway, here is a series of articles pertaining to what I just talked about:

USA Today:  Prosecutors Foregoing Pay for Experience
Sacramento Bee:  Job Offers Dwindle for MBA and Law School Graduates
Wall Street Journal: Bar Raised for Law Grad Jobs

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Video of the "Bully" Episode from Louie

As promised, here is a copy of the "Bully" episode of the show "Louie" that I talked about in my blog a few days ago.  The only thing is, you might have to sign up for Hulu, since it's a Mature-rated video and it required me to give my email and password.  Hopefully, that won't be a problem for you.  Enjoy. 

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Personal Experience (and a Probable Scenario for Anyone) as Depicted on Television

I watch TV, certainly more than I should.  I do not mindlessly channel surf, I have a DVR to record the things that I want to watch; there's probably not much of a distinction between the two.  Anyway, a show I watch is a half-hour comedy called "Louie", on FX.  It's based on the life and experiences of a comedian (played by real-life comic Louis C.K.).  I would call it a rougher variant of shows like "Seinfeld" and "Curb Your Enthasium".  What's very good about these kinds of shows, is that in addition to being very funny, they depict realistic situations that many of us can relate to, and in fact, at least a few of us have experienced ourselves first-hand. 

Such a situation for me occurred in last week's episode, entitled "Bully".  "Louie" is also shown on the online service Hulu, although episodes don't appear until 8 days after they premiere on TV (I'll try to remember to post a link when this episode comes up).  In the episode, Louie is on a date and he takes her to a donut shop, where they have a donut and coffee.  Upon talking, a group of high-school punks come in the store and are being very rowdy.  Louie is not able to converse with his date due to the noise that these guys are making.  He tells them to keep it down, and one of the kids comes up to him.  The kid says to him, "when was the last time you got your ass kicked?"  After a minute or two of back-and-forth, the kid says that if Louie tells him "please don't kick my ass", then he won't.  With great reluctance, Louie does tell the kid to not kick his ass, please, and the kids walk out, mocking him.  His date is very turned off by this, and tells him, "my mind is telling me that you're a great guy, but the chemistry is telling me that you're a loser".  That is not the end of the story, but that is pretty much the gist of it. 

I could relate very much to this particular situation, as a similar (but at the same time, different) scanario happened to me around 6 months ago.  I haven't blogged on it because it took place at my job, but enough time has passed, and this episode struck such a chord in me, that now seems the appropriate time to recollect.  I work with a man who is extremely irritable and always grumpy.  From the day I started there, his interactions with me have been all attitude.  I have a thick skin and a tendency to turn the other cheek (which, with this man, I have learned can be a vital weakness as well as a strength and virtue).  One day, he pushed me too far by making a comment about how I do my job, which I take very sensitively, as I feel I do at least a better-than-average job, as my employers and fellow employees have told me.  I finally spoke up, quite loudly, and he of course, gave no quarter and was very hostile.  He then told me to pipe down before he'd put "a foot in my ass".  I then told him to go fuck himself, and he stepped closer and said "I'll kick your ass".  All the time my boss is shouting my name, understandly worried that a fight would break out.  I really did not want to walk away from this geriatric thug (this guy is at least 65 and very out-of-shape, so I certainly am not physically intimidated by him), but at the same time, fighting him could have very well cost me my job, even if he did start it.  So I reluctantly did so, and reported the incident; as it was not the first time I'd had a run-in with this guy, I was somewhat hopeful that they'd discipline him in a meaningful and substantive fashion. 

Which, of course, they did not.  After repeated inquiries (my job insists on doing these types of things privately, so I had no knowledge of any disciplinary measure or warning that took place), I was merely told that he was "talked to".  So that encounter is something I still think about a lot.  I question whether walking away was the right thing to do.  Although there's really no telling what would have happened had worse come to worse and we slugged it out, I had felt that walking away was the very worst thing that I could do, even though it really is supposed to be the right thing.  I think of how weak I must have looked to him and those who witnessed it. 

So this episode of "Louie", again, did strike something in me.  When someone comes up to you and threatens you, what really is the right thing to do?  Sure, if you're merely a bystander (or a viewer), you unleash your inner Steven Seagal and think "what's the matter with this guy?  Kick his ass!"  But in reality, I feel that most of us would have probably frozen up like Louie did, even if the end result is for us to lose face in front of our dates or friends.  I do feel that I did do the right thing in my situation, but also felt that I lost some of my dignity in the process. 

As an aside, that scene also showed that the widespread claim that a woman prefers a man who is gentle and thoughtful is typically full of shit.  It is a woman's most basic instinct to prefer the alpha male; I only look at all the situations I've seen or have heard about to know that this is the case. 

So, I'm just wondering, if you are reading this, what would you have done in Louie's case, or in mine?

"Bully" is not up on Hulu yet, but when it is (probably on Wednesday), I'll post a link. 

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Passage From "Empire of Illusion"

I am reading an excellent and exceptional book right now called "Empire of Illusion", by Chris Hedges.  This is a nonfiction book that covers our descent as a culture into a state of illusion.  Hedges shows us some of the mechanisms and devices that are used to distract us from the collapse that is occuring all around us.  I really want to talk about this book more once I finish it (I'm around two-thirds through it now, and I've only been reading it since yesterday).  Anyway, I just wanted to provide a passage from the book that I found especially compelling and that which I find myself thinking about, and discussing on the blog often.  It's in the chapter "The Illusion of Wisdom".  In advance, my apologies to Mr. Hedges if I am giving out more than what is appropriate. 

"Obama is a product of this elitist system.  So are his degree-laden cabinet members.  They come out of Harvard, Yale, Wellesley, and Princeton.  Their friends and classmates made huge fortunes on Wall Street and in powerful law firms.  They go to the same class reunions.  They belong to the same clubs.  They speak the same easy language of privilege, comfort, and entitlement.  The education they have obtained has served to rigidify and perpetuate social stratification.  These elite schools prevent...the 'best selves' in the various strata in our culture from communicating across class lines.  Our power elite has a blind belief in a decaying political and financial system that has nurtured, enriched, and empowered it.  But the elite cannot solve our problems.  It has been trained only to find solutions, such as paying out trillions of dollars of taxpayer money to bail out banks and financial firms, to sustain a dead system.  The elite, and those who work for them, were never taught how to question the assumptions of their age.  The socially important knowledge and cultural ideas embodied in history, literature, philosophy, and religion, which are at their core subversive and threatening to authority, have been banished from public discourse."

This last paragraph of the chapter particularly rings true. 

"Ironically, the universities have trained hundreds of thousands of graduates for jobs that soon will not exist.  They have trained people to maintain a structure that cannot be maintained.  The elite as well as those equipped with narrow, specialized vocational skills, know only how to feed the beast until it dies.  Once it is dead, they will be helpless.  Don't expect them to save us.  They don't know how.  They do not even know how to ask the questions.  And when it all collapses, when our rotten financial system with its trillions in worthless assets implodes and our imperial wars end in humiliation and defeat, the power elite will be exposed as being as helpless, and as self-deluded, as the rest of us." 

Copyright 2009 by Chris Hedges.  Published by Nation Books.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Welcome to Your Future

McDonald's recently had a one-day hiring event in northern California and Nevada, and more than 100 applicants came to one location alone.  Among the people was a 63 year old man with 25 years in the local television business, and a 23 year old man going to college.  The former struck out to me immediately, but the latter one did as well.  Experience, be it 25 years or novice level (going to school, for example) does not count for anything in what is left of this nation.  Well-paying jobs with a future, which we had at one point, are now in China, India, and other countries, mostly Asian.  So whether you're a recently laid-off worker with experience that doesn't count for anything and no retirement savings, or a college graduate just starting out with suffocating student loans and a worthless piece of paper called a "Bachelor of Arts", welcome to your future of fighting for the McJobs that are out there. 

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Year America Dissolved

I have just been having a feast of "doom" this week.  This is a good article by Paul Craig Roberts, depicting a possible (but for now, fictional) account of the near future, in which America breaks apart into clans due to the collapse of the dollar.  I don't have much to add, it's a brief but informative account of how quickly things could fall apart, and how various factors can converge to form what is called a "positive feedback" loop.  Roberts also explains how, due to these factors, the American empire can collapse quite quickly, while the collapse of Rome took centuries.  In short, when Rome began its expansion, the underlying economic and political structures were fairly strong, with an endless bounty of troops.  When America's empire really came to full tilt, many of American jobs disappeared overseas, and with it came the subsequent (but very predictable) dwindling coffers of our government.  Of course, there are other reasons, but this one sums up well our comparative idiocy to the Romans. 

Friday, August 13, 2010

Operation Blackjack

I stumbled upon this purely by accident on Youtube, and it's a really cool slide show/comic of a fictional scenario in which the U.S. is struck by multiple nuclear bombs, setting the stage for a takeover of what remains of the federal government by people who may not have our best interests at heart. It reminded me a lot of the show "Jericho". Very doomer-ish, well worth the 8 minutes.

Generation Fucked

(Sorry if an expletive in the title header offends any of you.  I could have censored or "bleeped" it, but chose not to.  One of my great pet peeves is reading an account of something in the paper, of someone saying an expletive or several of them, and the paper will print it as "f---k" or "s--t" or something like that.  I mean, you already gave us half of the letters, virtually everyone can probably make it out for themselves, so really, wby not just print the whole word?)

This is a good article from MSNBC on the ongoing economic crisis facing "the Milliennials", those born in the 1980s and the 1990s.  I don't much believe in generational labels, but in any case, I just missed it, having been born in 1979, but I'm in the same boat as they are.  I have talked about this enough, and the article does a decent job of summing up this quite significant problem, but I just wanted to make a few observations. 

When I was coming of age, society had several ingrained so-called "truths", and it looks like that things haven't really changed that much in 10 or 15 years.  One of them is this expectation that everyone must go to college, "or else".  This is probably a bad example, but I recently was watching this television show in which the mother is telling her 17 or 18 year old daughter that "you better go to college", or something along those lines.  I could see this conversation taking place all across America, so it probably is appropriate.  Another of these "truths" is that having a college degree is essential, since "studies" show that the average college graduate earns roughly a million dollars more over their lifetimes than someone with a high school degree. 

This might have made sense at one point; in a prior post, I talked about the ratio of high school students attending college having increased from something like 1 in 5 (due to the fact that we still made things in this country and had a manufacturing industry, college was not as "essential" then) to 4 in 5.  When 1 in 5 HS graduates attended college, that theory probably held water.  But it'd be a pretty educated guess that things would have to change when nearly everyone graduating high school these days has to do the "paper chase".  How can a college grad earn a million dollars more than a high school graduate when the job market is faced with a tidal glut of college graduates, and a growing amount of white-collar jobs (which many college grads want) are being outsourced to India and other countries?  On top of that, these days, a bachelor's degree does not seem to open a lot of doors, so maybe just a high school diploma is not such a bad thing.  Also, it's free, at least the high school graduate is starting whatever career he has with a clean slate, and not choking on student loan debt that will take half of his life to pay off. 

The sad part, to me, is that it doesn't exactly take a genius to see where this was going.  How can one with a degree expect to be worth so much more than one who doesn't when virtually anyone who wants to can apply to college, as long as they are willing to shoulder a significant debt load (on average, $23,000).  The worst thing our government did in this area was providing loans and grants for students to pursue secondary education.  I know that their intentions might have been good, but the unintended consequence was that as a result of making it easier for kids to attend college, the cost of tuition and every other thing skyrocketed at most every college and university.  I'm sorry for being lazy, but you can easily Google all of this stuff.  I know that the cost of a college education is well above inflation. 

Another interesting thing I got from the article is that many graduates, upon seeing the dismal job market, decide to go back into college and go for their Master's.  Of course, the article points out how foolish this is, as a Master's Degree costs even more than a B.A. and there is still no guarantee that their job prospects will be significantly better with the higher degree.  However, I do see that being a growing trend, at least until the whole house of cards falls; higher education is a bubble, like real estate before it.  It'll be like the military, when someone "re-ups" for a few more years. 

Finally, it's hard to see how the general economy won't be a casualty, partly because of this.  Sure, there are other factors behind this which I have discussed before.  But the U.S. economy is largely dependent on "consumer spending."  How much room will "the Millienials" have for discretionary purchases when they're busy servicing their student loan debts, while working at Mcjobs?  Say bye-bye to the real estate market too. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sign of the End Times: Library Closings

(My apologies for the long break in between posts; I was on vacation.  Well, from my job anyway.  I was around, but my brother was off from his job too, so we actually got to go to some places.  E.G., the Bronz Zoo, which I haven't visited since I was a kid, and Coopertown, NY, the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.  The drive is a pain, 4 to 5 hours each way, but the scenery is absolutely breathtaking, and Cooperstown is a beautiful small town.  It was also nice to have a break from my regular habit of surfing the web for "doom" articles.  But now, I am back). 

I view the future with a heavy sense of foreboding, for reasons that I've talked about many times on here.  The consequences of peak oil and the runaway train that we call the finance system, our economy, globzalization, take your pick, are countless and will doubtless afflict us in every which way possible.  But I no longer believe that it will happen tomorrow or very soon.  I suspect that it will take quite awhile to fully play out, not unlike seeing a car crash played back in slo-motion, and we are still at the beginning stages.  Nonetheless, this is already playing out in other countries (Greece being just one) and in some places here in the U.S., including places very close to our backyards. 

This article talks about the possible closure of the Camden, N.J. library system, and also that the Queens library system has stopped weekend service in many of its branches.  Previously, I have read other accounts of limits being imposed on library services due to budget shortfalls.  Thankfully, the library system in my community has been relatively untouched, at least for now. 

My library is almost magical.  I use it for many things.  For example, I'm a big movie buff.  I always try to keep up on the latest DVD releases, whether major theatrical releases or small, art-house indie films.  When I see a movie on the horizon that I'd like to see, I look it up on the library catalog, and it'll usually be on order.  I'll put in a request for it.  Since I'm often one of the first people to do this, I usually am able to check it out on the day of release, or at the latest, a week or so after.  It's much better than the video store or Netflix, both of which services I had used in the past.  I check my library record, and when it says that it's ready, I go there, present my library card, and it is in my hands.  Not just movies though, I regularly take out books, music, TV series DVDs, lectures, etc.  And if my library doesn't have it, another library in the Suffolk County system usually will.  All free of charge (not counting the property taxes levied, of course). 

The library budget vote is the only one that I try not to miss every year.  And it has always passed for as long as I can remember.  I am very grateful for that, and hope that things can stay relatively stable, at least for the time being.  The article also interviews people who talk about the positive effect that the library has for the poor, the unemployed looking for work, basically everyone living in a community.  My mom thinks that libraries might become obselute someday due to the e-book phenomenon; I don't agree, if libraries do become obselute, it won't be for that reason.  If the effects of resource depletion and our casino economy hit our state and local governments as hard as I think they will (in fact, it's already happening), libraries will probably be one of the first things to go, and that makes my blood chill.  We all pay a lot of taxes, one way or the other, for many government services, many of which we often don't witness the benefits of firsthand, or take for granted, since they're hidden in plain sight.  But the library is one of the few things that offers a positive impact that everyone walking through its doors can witness and attest to.  The sickening thing is that I'm sure a lot of things can be cut from the budget that are relatively useless to many of us, but due to a mix of government inefficiency and pandering to elites, our libraries would come under attack first. 

Just to give you one example, lest I be accused of being a blowhard just shooting off his mouth, I read on the NY budget crisis when it was first happening.  I read of some of the waste that occurs in our state government, including a $25,000 Chinese handmade rug in the governor's office.  Now, this by itself would be outrageous, but in the case of our current governor, it's even more so, since the man is fucking blind! 

Far be it for me to act as any kind of expert on civilization, but when our libraries start closing, you can see our civilization in the beginning of its death throes.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Creative Solution to Two Pressing Problems

This is a comment to a blog that is updated once a week, Clusterfuck Nation, by James Howard Kunstler.  This blog (from last Monday, the 5th of July) was about what Mr.Kunstler's "tea party" would look like.  I'd be aboard his tea party, which is more in tune with reality than the current tea party movement.  Anyway, among other things, it covered two problems in our American society today, the lack of reliable public transportation in this country (especially rail) and the continuing influx of illegal immigrants.  One poster to the blog, "Diogen", has a creative solution for both problems, that could be beneficial to the nation.  Of course, it being a "creative solution", it'd be a loser right out of the gate, as our leaders are hell-bent on sustaining the unsustainable for as long as they possibly can.  Anyway, I was impressed by it. 

OK, I'm switching my attention to the problems of Mexican immigrants. Two problems:

1. Securing the border
2. What to do with the illegals currently here

#1 is easy, bring home the Iraq and Afghanistan contingents, close down most of the military bases and reallocate their budgets to the border protection. Done. Deficit neutral.

#2 is trickier. Amnesty? Ship 'em back? Each choice is problematic, either politically or logistically. Amnesty is rewarding people for breaking our laws, and providing an incentive for more illegals (no apologies for the word illegals, this is what they are). Deportation is even more problematic, because of:

a: Humanitarian disaster
b: Politically not feasable
c: Economic disaster for our neighbor Mexico (this is bad for us)
d: Economic disaster for the U.S. Let's say there are 10 million illegals. If we deport all of them, this will remove 10 mill people from the economy: millions of abandoned apartments, homes, loss of revenue for thousands of businesses, removal of millions of workers from farms and factories, etc.

This would drastically depress housing prices, drive whole apartment complexes out of business, create new slums, etc.

But wait, perhaps the illegals aren't a problem, but an opportunity! Here's my idea: in the spirit of the good ole CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) create a new organization: CTC (Civilian Transportation Core). Here's how it works. The illegals will be given a choice: go back to Mexico, or join the CTC and serve for 3 years, after which you will be granted a legal permanent residency. CTC will use the low-cost labor to build a public transport infrastructure across the U.S. -- sidewalks in all cities and towns, light rail lines, bus/tram shelters and benches, subway lines in cities, and so on. Also, they will provide a low-cost labor pool for General Electric and others to build most advanced electric locomotives, hybrid buses, trans and trolleys. As a part of the CTC service, they will be required to take classes in English and pass the proficiency tests prior to the perm. res. eligibility.

We can't have the modern public transport system in the U.S. because we're broke, we can't pay for it. But if the cost of labor were to be drastically reduced by employing the 10 million illegals who would be glad to serve their chosen nation, this hurdle would be overcome. Perhaps we can't afford subways if we have to employ labor at $20/hr, but we could afford it at $5/hr??? Or $3/hr plus food stamps and rent vouchers? Many of them are getting the foodstamps and section 8 vouchers anyway... Wage would probably say "EXPLOITATION". Well, they are exploited now anyway, but with my idea they will be earning the future for themselves and their children...

I know, there are many practical problems with this idea, but there are problems anyway with the status quo as well. At least the CTC idea will offer a way to solve the biggest problem of them all, PO (Peak Oil) and it's impact on transportation.

If this isn't done, the 10 million illegals will stay here anyway, burden our social services, never learn English, etc. etc. etc.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

American Dream is Elusive for New Generation

This is an article from the Times that I have a lot of opinions about.  I am always interested in articles like this, and I'm pretty sure that I've posted a few in the past.  The article illustrates the trials and tribulations of the new generation of college graduates in the worst job market since the Great Depression.  I am a little older than these people, but am in the same boat, and have been for awhile.  I have issues with the choices of the individual who was chosen to put a face on this generation, but I'll get to him in a moment. 

The article talks about Scott Nicholson, who is a graduate of Colgate University.  His father is a general manager of a manufacturing company, and his grandfather is a retired stock broker.  Mr. Nicholson has been struggling to find employment.  I think that it's long since past time that this new generation needs to seriously open their eyes and realize that their path is not going to be the same easy, cushioned one that their parents and grandparents were able to take.  The loss of our industrial sector to third-world nations has resulted in a chain reaction in which one of the fatalties have been productive careers of virtually all stripes.  Another culprit, in my opinion, has been the migration of our young people into colleges. 

I can't remember where I read this, but back in our manufacturing heyday, the ratio of high school graduates moving on to secondary education was roughly 1 in 5.  I'm presuming that the other 4 would have probably sought work in a factory or even in a white-collar job, where a degere wasn't as much a requirement back them.  Today, the opposite is largely true, with 4 in 5 high school graduates going on to college.  This has created a large glut of newly minted B.A. recipients entering a job market that simply cannot support them.  I am one of those people.  Even with a secondary one-year certificate (in paralegal studies) on top of my B.A, I have not had a job interview in two years.

What makes this problem exponentially worse is that years of experience or advanced degrees seem to be a requirement for employment in this economy, putting the new generation of graduates and job seekers at a monumental disadvantage.  Years ago, I read in a book that in the near-future (which is now), that the bar for success would be set so high that only a relative few would be able to live that "American Dream" that we grew up believing in so much.  I have decided to give up looking for employment in the legal sector (which I spent a year training for in school, not to mention the money that I spent), due to the only jobs being available requiring ridculous amounts of experience (and even experience won't help you, if you spent 5 years working in say, personal injury law, and a job you're looking at requires that experience to be in matrimonial law) or being internships, in which case, you work for no pay.

Okay, I think I'm off my soapbox now.  As to the article in question, out of all the young graduates struggling to find meaningful employment, I don't think the Times could have picked a worse candidate for a cover story than this guy, Scott Nicholson.  He is a case study in how no one can feel sorry for themselves like rich white people can.  He has applied for roughly five jobs a week without much success, he hasn't been able to find the jobs he wanted.  Okay, so far, so good.  But then it's revealed that he was offered a job, for $40,000 a year, as an associate claims adjuster for an insurance company.  And he turned it down because he felt that he was too good for the position and deserved better.  As someone who is in similar shoes (and being seven years older, which makes my situation more dire than his), if I had gotten a similar job offer, I would have jumped at it, as I imagine most people would.  What makes it even worse is this:

 “I’m sitting with the manager, and he asked me how I had gotten interested in insurance. I mentioned Dave’s job in reinsurance (Dave is his brother--ed.), and the manager’s response was, ‘Oh, that is about 15 steps above the position you are interviewing for,’ ” Scott said, his eyes widening and his voice emotional.

So, he turns down the job, rather than taking it and working hard to take those "15 steps" to get the position in reinsurance that he did want.  That's bad enough.  Then, later in the article, it's written about how he was to become a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.  Then, a Marine Corps doctor noticed that he had childhood asthma and he wasn't able to enlist.  However, he was told that he could reapply if he wanted to.  But by that point, according to Scott, "the sheen was gone".  What a classic case of just being a whiner with an overly inflated sense of entitlement.

The Times may have come up with this article using the best of intentions, hoping to showcase one young person's struggles in this job market as something that we can all sympathize and relate to, but it turned out as something else entirely.  I found it very out of touch, to showcase this guy who thinks that being offered a $40,000 job (something that I can apparently only dream about) is a "dead end" and beneath him.  His father and grandfather seem to have good intentions and are offering good advice, but are also enabling him.   

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Awkward wording in article about BP

This is an interesting article on how the fallout from Deepwater Horizon can adversely affect BP, and how a possible bankruptcy of BP can also have a tremendous effect on the financial markets.  I did not know this, but according to the article, BP is deeply involved in the derivatives markets, just like Lehman Brothers and AIG were.  A bankruptcy of BP would unleash the same financial tsunami that occured with these other two corporations. 

Anyway, that isn't why I posted.  I found the opening sentence very telling:

As horrific as the gulf environmental catastrophe is, an even more intractable and cataclysmic disaster may be looming. The yet unknowable costs associated with clean-up, litigation and compensation damages due to arguably the world’s worst environmental tragedy, may be in the process of triggering a credit event by British Petroleum (BP) that will be equally devastating to global over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives.

So, although millions of gallons have spewed into the Gulf, causing ecological disaster not merely to the Gulf, but the entire surrounding region, and entire industries centering on the region (such as tourism and fishing) are at great risk of being eradicated, the possible bankruptcy of BP (and the ecomomic turmoil that would result) would be the real tragedy.  Sorry to be blunt, but "WTF"?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Still a Pedestrian, but No Longer Unruly?

Sorry for not blogging for awhile, I was ill last week and I have also been busy with other things.  Anyway, I also came to a realization; well, I came to it quite awhile ago, but now I am willing to finally confront it and attempt to do something about it. 

I decided to name my blog "The Unruly Pedestrian" because I am that rarest of breeds, a suburbanite with no vehicle.  Anyone who has been in that situation knows how difficult it can be.  It limits the jobs that you can apply to, there might be activities going on that you can't take part in, you're dependent on family and what there is of public transportation (there is public transit here, but it isn't very good; I couldn't possibly depend on it to get to a job, for example).  I do have family who does help a lot, but unfortunately, anything short of having a 24/7 chauffeur in suburbia just does not work. 

Again, this isn't an epithany that I just came up with; I came to this realization some time ago.  I hate to bring up PO again, but reading books like "The Long Emergency" and seeing a documentary like "The End of Suburbia" showed me how insane this lifestyle is.  For various reasons, I am not willing to buy a vehicle.  Factoring in all the costs (taking out a loan, buying insurance, filling up the car with gas prices changing all the time), it would probably make more sense just to move out.  I also consider PO and think that fully embracing the car-dependent, sprawl lifestyle would be crazy.

So, I think about the late comic Sam Kinison and his famous routine about the Ethopians.  He would decry the Ethopians for living in a very arid climate and starving as a result.  "Why don't they move to where the fuckin' water is?  They live in fucking sand!!!"  I've concluded that that's a little similar to my situation, in that I am in a situation where getting a career job (if such a thing exists anymore) is virtually impossible as long as I stay where I am.  It also helped in that I recently read about people in Detroit whose auto industry jobs were outsourced, and rather than migrate to locations where employment was more probable, they stayed behind and were never able to get back on their feet.

So, I am starting to look for employment in the NYC area.  I know that there is more competition there, but there are also more openings.  What I am yearning for is a position at a business where I will want to climb up the ladder.  Virtually every job I've had up to this point, has been no more than a paycheck, a way to live week by week.  It has either been impossible to advance at these jobs, or I've had no desire to.  My plan is to hopefully find something, commute for awhile, and if it works out, look for a place to live.  I don't care if I have to live out of my backpack, or room with 5 or 6 other guys.  I just want to live in a place where I don't have to stress on getting to work, or if I want to do something, I can just walk or take a train without worrying with all the logistical crap that comes with not having a vehicle.

Collapse is also on my mind too, but honestly, not too much so.  I don't know, I know that a city won't be an ideal place to live in a crash scenario, but what really would be?  Maybe a rural setting, and even then, you'd need to know how to grow food.  I've read plenty of predictions that things were going to fall apart, and I have no doubt that they will, but I just don't think that it'll happen tomorrow.  Unfortunately, as far as my career path goes, I have to live under the assumption that things are going to continue as they have been.

(I'm sorry about the personal post.  My next posts will be more in the usual format of relating to issues that are hot in the news.) 

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Greed Preventor

I will be back soon.  In the meantime, I wanted to share this excellent post from Jim Kunstler's blog, Clusterfuck Nation, with you.  This is not by Kunstler; rather, it's one of the many comments left as a response to the prior week's blog.  This particularly noteworthy one was by Goat1080 (I hope I have his permission).  

It's all about exploitation - exploitation of natural resources to the extreme, exploitation of slave labor, exploitation of banana republics and "cheap" labor wherever it can be found and at whatever cost.

The Deepwater Horizon was operating beyond the event horizon - the event horizon being that point in time where the oil economy gives way to the post-oil economy. The blowout preventer failed indeed and the result is not pretty. That is part of the high stakes in the post peak world and the risks and costs only go up from here.

America is experiencing its own version of Chernobyl along with the accompanying “Dead Zone” that will soon encompass the whole Gulf of Mexico and much of the Atlantic. However, the blame does not ultimately fall on the blowout preventer or even the oilrig itself or its workers - it falls on the Greed Preventer.
This country, the USA and much of the developed world - but especially the USA - is operating so far beyond its budget in every sense of the word that it is mind numbing and stir crazy beyond one's wildest imaginings. Every budget item is deep, deep in the red – finance, trade, health care, environment, energy, air, water and sanity. Speak of living beyond your means: Bridges to nowhere, corrupt banks, seas of cars and trucks – most with only the driver present, living arrangements and road networks that assure the highest possible consumption of oil and gas and natural resources in general, genetically modified plants and trees, scant passenger rail service and public transit, industrial farming and massive corporations manipulating the government for their own greedy ends. Everything going full tilt at maximum possible cost toward the approaching cliff.

It’s all about greed and having more stuff: and more stuff and more stuff and more stuff and more stuff and more stuff. The Greed Preventer has failed and the ship of "recovery" is loaded with too much stuff and she’s sinking fast.

Change is possible at any time. We could substantially lower our expectations, tighten our belts and live within our means (what a concept!) and continue as a peaceful nation for the indefinite future. Or continue on the present business as usual paradigm and go crashing over the cliff in the most spectacular nation-wreck in history. Yes, the indicators on the panel of reality are flashing red but whose paying attention? The greed preventer has blown out. Speaking of recovery – isn’t that what they do after the rescue operation has failed? That’s the recovery nobody is talking about.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Limits of Leadership

"It is natural for us to na├»vely expect our leaders—be they corporate executives or their increasingly decorative and superfluous adjuncts in government—to be our betters, having been picked for leadership positions by their ability to lead us through difficult and unfamiliar terrain. We expect them to have the mental agility and flexibility to be able to revise their mental maps as the circumstances dictate. We don't expect them to be stupid, and are surprised to find that indeed they are."--Dmitry Orlov

That is some of what Dmitry Orlov has to say about TPTB in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  He likens the response of BP and our government to the response of the Russian government in the wake of Chernobyl., which is a response of ineptitude many times over.  The whole piece is worth reading; he also wrote one of my favorite books, "Reinventing Collapse", please check that out as well.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Another Point About Bullying

I guess that I lied when I said "one more thing" towards the end of my last post; sorry about that.  Anyway, another point that I wanted to make, and it's unique enough to merit its own (hopefully brief) post.  If you read this blog, you probably know what my vision of the future is.  It isn't a hopeful one.  For the kids in school today, it's going to be even worse, and worse still for those who follow them.  I think that it is more essential today than ever for our young people to form that necessary resilience to see them through difficult times and situations.  Because sooner or later, nature and the reality of physics and science are going to have their way with us, and they are not going to care about our feelings. 

Stupid and Scary E-Mail I got from the NYCLU

I signed up a long time ago to be on the e-mail list of the ACLU, and their New York chapter, the NYCLU.  I'm usually a supporter of their agenda, which is civil liberties of course.  However, I took issue with this e-mail:

“Go back to your country, we don’t want you here.”
Imagine hearing this every day as you walk through your school’s doors. Verbal abuse, physical abuse and fear are a way of life for too many of New York's students.
Bullying has reached crisis proportions in our schools yet we are one of only eight states without a law to protect students from bullying and harassment.
You have a chance to change that - but time is running out!
The Dignity for All Students Act is an essential first step to stopping bullying and building a culture of respect and understanding in our schools. The bill provides training and tools for educators and students, mandates reporting of bias incidents and holds schools accountable, while respecting students’ rights.
The end of the legislative session is just days away yet the Senate still hasn't passed the Dignity for All Students Act.
Raise your voice and tell your senator to vote YES on this important civil rights legislation. Our kids cannot wait another year for the Dignity for All Students Act to pass.

Maybe I could do a little research on this law that we're proposing, maybe it isn't as bad as I think it is.  But I will give myself the benefit of the doubt and assume that, yes, it is as bad as I think it is.  For a couple of years now, I have been hearing a lot about this epidemic of bullying in our schools, as well as this new thing, "cyberbullying", in which students take to social networks like Facebook to talk shit about other students.  Tragically, several children have gone as far as taking their own lives as a result of being bullied, including some girl right here in Suffolk County. 

But the more I think about it, the more this seems like a misguided effort by parents and politicians to "protect" our kids.  I don't know about y'all, but I was bullied quite a bit when I was a student, especially in my early years.  You see, I was considered a "special needs" student.  I started out in special programs with other disabled students.  It wasn't until I was around 7 or 8 that the right people in the system concluded that I was too "advanced" to be taking these kinds of classes, and so I was switched to the local elementary school.  I was still in a "special ed" class, but got to roam the halls with the "regular" kids.  (sorry for all the quotes by the way, that was just the educational jargon of the day, it probably still is.)  Anyway, kids have got a nose for sniffing out someone who doesn't quite belong, and I got made fun of a lot.  I even got shoved a couple of times. 

And yeah, it bothered me a lot.  But that was just part of being different.  I always had negative feelings about these things, but they receded.  I was never popular, but a lot of kids aren't, and they're still able to keep their head above water and graduate.  I guess that what I'm trying to say, is that bullying has been around as long as children have been around; that is, since mankind existed, pretty much.  And it probably increased once the social entity known as "schooling" came into being, and kids were congregated with other kids.  And, as we probably all know, kids can be cruel, usually due to how they're raised and the fact that they're too young and inexperienced in the ways of the world to know better. 

I don't see how passing some law is going to change that.  I think that any law will actually make it worse.  Are we going to send kids to Juvie for calling some kid a "fatso?"  I think that the average school administration is probably too heavyhanded as it is already; I graduated from high school in 1998, a year or so before Columbine, and we already had security guards, draconian policies, "zero tolerance", etc.  I imagine it's only gotten worse since then.  This is just another exercise in pointlessness by "touchy-feely" liberals who just want to make themselves feel better by enforcing a vision of the world that will never exist.  Kids have been bullied since the beginning of time, and will continue to be bullied. 

One last thing:  I think this is a syndrome of our "feel good" culture.  We have a habit of making our kids feel like they succeed even when they haven't really done that, or of replacing words that have negative associations with euphemisms (for example, calling the mentally retarded "exceptional", or prostitutes "sex workers").  To give an example of the former, when I was a kid, I was in the local Little League.  I wasn't that good; okay, I sucked, but every year at the annual dinner, every member of our team (and every team) received a trophy for "participation".  I never thought of this when I was a kid, but was that really sending the right message to me and my peers?  That you can get a trophy just for showing up? 

I think that many kids today get a similar message, if not more forced.  And one of the unintended consequences of every kid being told that they're "exceptional" and "special", or teachers and parents making excuses for their kids failing at school or in other areas of life, is that many of them don't possess that quality of resilience.  They simply do not have the backbone or the toughness to tolerate being bullied, let alone actually standing up to a bully, and they end up doing things like trying to kill themselves.  I don't want to sound like I'm letting bullies off the hook; I used to be bullied, I know that it sucks, but it's an unfortunate part of life for many young people, and I don't see how any law is going to change that.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Link to Interview

I tried pasting a link onto the last post, but it wouldn't take for some reason.  Anyway, here it is for anyone who's interested:

Interview With Yours Truly for a Blogging Website

I received an email around a month ago from some website called Blog Interviewer.  It's a pretty cool idea, actually; it pretty much consists of interviews with bloggers from all around the world, with links to their blog.  It asks some basic questions, like "why did you start the blog", "do you make any income off it", etc.  Anyway, an anonymous fan recommended my blog to the website, and then I got the email, so I thank whoever it was for that. 

My blog typically deals with issues surrounding our foundering economy; in my opinion, the state of our economy, and its continuous decline, is a result of misallocations of capital, especially energy. As I feel that our society will continue to unravel as a result of a lack of energy inputs (to simplify this, universal terms for this include “peak oil” and “energy descent”), and I will be hopefully be around to blog about it.

I am hoping to get a job in a law firm, as I have a B.A. and also a certification in paralegal studies, but I feel that my chances of realizing this are slight, again, due to the state of the U.S. economy. Jobs in non-essential, non-productive industries like law will be hard to come by in the future, IMO.
But, for now, I am working overnights in a box store. Blogging is a hobby, one that I wish I had more time to take part in. It’s one of a series of hobbies competing for my time (among others, I work out, I’m a big movie buff, I read, etc.)

It started with a book that I read in the summer of 2008, when Americans were paying over 4 dollars for a gallon of gas. It is called “The Long Emergency” by James Howard Kunstler, published in 2005, and it foresaw a future of numerous hardships and disasters caused by several factors, including the sheninigans of the banking and finance industries, a peak in energy production, climate change, among others. It has been remarkably accurate, and it really opened my eyes as to the true nature of what we were facing. Upon much further research, I am more compelled than ever by what is going on, and that is a major part of my blog.

I started the blog in late 2006, originally to promote something else that I was working on at the time. I then realized the potential to use it as a personal sounding board, since even then, there was a lot going on that I wanted to speak or vent about.

I have only been able to get results from the past week, but according to that, I get an average of 25 visits a day. It’s a very modest blog, but if one person gets something out of it, it’s well worth my time and effort. I have had problems with spammers (I get comments, most of which promote other blogs or are in Chinese), but I also heard from someone in Indonesia who really likes the blog.

To be honest, I did not start the blog to make money. I never had an expectation of making any money off the blog, but if it were possible, I would love to. Unfortunately, I think there are so many out there (I heard a billion according to some source), that you would have to have some real skills, and bring something special to the table, in order to have any chance of using a blog for a money-making venture. Also, there are many other blogs and websites out there that are covering the same terrain as I am. However, I feel I offer a slight difference, in that I am giving more of a “man on the street” perspective. I am not a scientist, an engineer, or an economist. I am just a regular guy. Well, not quite. I don’t own a car, and I live in a heavily sprawled area where a car is pretty much mandatory. Hence the title of my blog. I have to walk a lot of times through an ugly landscape, and it pisses me off.

Someone who is interested in hearing some of what’s really going on, even if it isn’t all roses. If you’re looking for lighthearted posts, or celebrity gossip, this blog probably isn’t for you. But if you are cynical and worried about things, and wish to make sense of what’s going on, I think you could do worse than visiting my blog and browsing through some of my posts.

It’s hard to say. Sometimes I spend up to a half hour or an hour, and sometimes, I go days without blogging. Again, I have a lot of activities competing for my time, as well as work. I do very much regret that I don’t have a lot of time to blog. It’s not so much just the act of blogging, it’s the challenge and the excitement of finding something that I can blog about. This can be time-consuming, as I like adding my own personal input into things, rather than just copying and pasting someone else’s work.

You should give me a try because I try to make my posts as substantive and well thought out as possible. I also try to be fun; what I write about is usually depressing enough, so it doesn’t pay to take myself too seriously. You also might learn something that you did not know. There are so many layers to what’s going on that even I learn new things every time I venture out to see what’s going on.

Perhaps the only advice I can offer is to stick with it. Again, what has been a challenge for me is that I was hoping to form a modest blog with some loyal visitors and a few comments, and I don’t even get that at times. There are so many blogs out there that it is very difficult to carve out a niche and gather your own loyal readership. But I find that I love blogging because it serves as a kind of personal diary. There are times when I’ll just cycle through my old posts, and I’ll be like, “I wrote that?” So it can be very fulfilling on a personal level.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

How Exxon Valdez Destroyed the Economy

This is a good article; its general thesis is that when Exxon faced the possibility of a $5 billion fine after the Exxon Valdez incident, it went to J.P. Morgan Co. to secure a line of credit against that judgment.  Wary of the judgment occurring (it didn't; the fine against Exxon was whittled down to $500 million), J.P. Morgan invented something called a "credit default swap".  And then, to package the debt as a security, in which it can be pooled in with many other debts, they invented something else called the "collateralized debt obligation".  J.P. Morgan and other financial firms then decided to make these offers on a regular basis, and the rest is history. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Must-Read Article on Peak Oil

I'm not usually big on articles that appear in publications dealing with policy or professional journals; while much of the substance is of importance, the writing is often very dry and non-accessible unless you're in the same field as the author.  This article, from the current issue of Energy Policy, is a notable exception and is well worth reading.  It's also fairly short (at 8 pages).  The article deals with three possible responses, by various nations, to Peak Oil.  BTW, the author is a professor of political science (rather than a scientist or an economist).  The three responses are linked to prior events in recent history by nations that were faced with a situation in which they suddenly found themselves with limited resources of fossil fuels.  Jorg Friedrichs predicts that nations will either follow the path of Japan before and during the Pacific Theater in WWII (Predatory Militarism, in which oil supplies are obtained through force), North Korea post-Soviet Union (Totalitarian Retrenchment, in which the elite tell the rest of the populace to "screw off" and hoard the remaining oil for themselves, leading to widespread famine), or Cuba post-Soviet Union (Socioeconomic Adaptation, in which Cubans relied on social networks and organic methods of food production in order to survive). 

As to America, Friedrichs predicts that we'll engage in Predatory Militarism, which is pretty obvious.  Of course, Socioeconomic Adaptation is the most ideal of the three, but developing countries who haven't fully industrialized themselves stand the best chance of realizing this.  It probably won't be possible here due to the erasure of our past agricultural knowledge, our full embrace of industrial methods to grow food, and our widespread isolation from our neighbors.  

Here is an interview with Friedrichs discussing the article. 

Monday, June 7, 2010

Peak Oil Goes Mainstream and Gets an Article in the New York Times

I will be much more impressed when this issue gets the full-court treatment that it deserves, and gets an article more in the vein of the fine introduction on the LATOC homepage, but for now, this is progress.  An article about peak oil and some of its adherents was in the New York Times on Saturday.  There were even links to the LATOC forum, and some great books by James Kunstler (The Long Emergency, which is how I found out about PO) and Richard Heinberg (The Party's Over, which I read right after TLE).  This article may not have appeared were it not for the ongoing BP debacle off the Gulf, but again, it is something. 

Friday, June 4, 2010

Oh, I wish I could live in Vienna...

...Or Zurich, or Geneva, or Munich, or Frankfort, or Bern, or any of the other cities that made up the top 25 cities to live in the world, according to Mercer

In what is indeed a sad commentary, no U.S. city is to be found in the top 25.  You have to go down to 31 (Honolulu).  I have never lived in a city, so I don't wish to come across as an authority on what constitutes living in a good city.  However, I would venture to say that easy access into and out of the city, and transit around the city that is as less dependent as possible on cars, would probably be a strong personal factor for me into living in any city.  The U.S. is particularly lacking in these categories, so it doesn't surprise me that not one placed in the top 25. 

Saturday, May 29, 2010

28 of the Worst Money Saving Ideas Ever

This is a pretty funny article from The Consumerist.  You ever get a brainstorm on a way to save money, and it ends up blowing up in your face?  Yeah, me too.  This is a small list of some of the best examples sent out by people.  My favorites:

22. "Dollar store trashbags when I was fresh out of college. I could put like, a paper cup in the bag before it tore."  (Although I always try to be frugal, I shun the dollar stores.  Rule of thumb: you almost always get what you pay for.)

20. "My elderly neighbor used to rinse out used paper towels then dry them. Over her gas stove."

18. "We have a 5-cent tax on disposable shopping bags here in DC. A few people, in protest of the tax, go to Maryland or Virginia to get their groceries. So instead of either paying $1 one for a reusable bag or 5 cents each for disposable bags, you pay for gas to go to Maryland or Virginia. Plus, Virginia has sales tax on food, which DC doesn't."  (Although deeply amusing, I can't say that I'm surprised.  Americans can be real Polacks at times.  This one reminds me of when we weren't able to get France to support our Iraq invasion, and to "retaliate", Americans did things like buy French wine and dump it into the nearest sewer or drain.)

10. "Generic Oreos. NEVER AGAIN."  (I made this mistake once too, buying store's-own Oreos.  Although most store's-own stuff is nearly identical to the real thing, Oreos are a notable exception.)


5. "Letting my auto insurance lapse was a bad, bad idea, which I learned when I got into an accident... and then my wife got into an accident, three days later, with the same car.  (Letting the auto insurance lapse...sounds like someone I know.)

Friday, May 28, 2010

2010 Hurricane Season May be Worst on Record

An article from Yahoo, in which the NOAA is claiming that 8 to 14 hurricanes will hit this summer.  Also according to the NOAA, sea surface temperature in the Atlantic is up 4 degrees above average (and in the age of climate change, who really knows what the "average" actually is?)  And as everyone knows, warmer surface temperatures means stronger hurricanes. 

What is new this time around, of course, is the Gulf oil disaster.  All we would need is for a category 5, Katrina-style hurricane to come blasting through BP's ground zero, and everything within distance of the Gulf Coast would be treated to a massive shower of shit.  You'll need disaster teams just to scrape the oil from the Home Depot parking lot.  

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico

I'd been meaning to post about this, but hadn't been able to.  To sum up my feelings on it, I do think that it's a grave disaster.  I'd go so far as to deem it our Chernobyl.  I also don't think that anybody really knows how bad the damage will end up being.  Initially, BP said that a daily total of, what, 5,000 barrels was being distilled into the Gulf?  Now, it turns out that this is probably not true, and it can be as much as 75,000 barrels a day.  That could end up doing a lot of damage to our oceans, especially if the Gulf Loop ends up circulating some of that oil to the Atlantic.  The worst-case scenario can be, literally, an end-of-the-world type scenario, since our oceans are pivotal to maintaining the proper oxygen level in the atmosphere that we breathe.

Even if it doesn't come to that, the consequences can still be pretty dire, and those are just the ones that I can envision.  Just one is the supply of seafood.  I read that roughly half of the fish that are used for the world's seafood are found in the Gulf of Mexico.  If a lot of fish die, or are unsafe to eat due to toxicity from the oil, common everyday staples like shrimp may just become rare delicacies.  Another is the certain backlash to deepwater oil drilling.  This is a little more unpredictable.  As far as I see it, we are in a "damned if we do, damned if we don't" situation.  We can't afford to continue, but can't afford to stop either.  More ecological disasters like this are bound to happen as a result of deepwater drilling, but stopping now will only bring our day of reckoning (by this, I mean PO of course) that much closer.  To those who think we have all this easily available oil, I ask this:  If that is true, why are oil companies building these rigs in remote, hostile environments where oil is so much harder to get, and where presumably, it also takes more energy to access?  And where, also, spills like this are harder to contain, due to the water pressure in the Gulf?

Anyway, here is a good article on the effects of a hurricane on the spill.  And hurricane season is just around the corner.

Update:  This is an image from NASA of the spill:

2nd Update:  The National Geographic Channel (NatGeo) is airing a special documentary on the oil spill tonight (Thursday, May 27) at 10 PM ET. Check your local listings for the station.