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.