Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I Dream of a Recession

This week, the Internet was abuzz with a BBC interview that took place with a man named Alessio Rastani, a market trader who was brutally candid on the state of the current market, and what you should do next.  It's the kind of stuff you'd read on sites like Zero Hedge and on the doomer forums that I visit.  There has lately been some news stories on how qualified Mr. Rastani is (like this piece in the Telegraph), but I don't think that many people can argue with the underlying premise of what he's saying.  There is an epic shitstorm coming, and it is possible to make money from that.  And people exist, in Wall Street and in other inner corridors of power, who do not give a shit about people, governments, nations, the world.  All they care about is making profit.  And Mr. Rastani gives a very skillful lecture on this, in a mere three minutes.  And kudos to the BBC for having this; you'd never see this on CNBC.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cash Sales of Precious Metals Banned in France

Soon after discovering the news of our imminent collapse, I was looking to become what they call a "goldbug" (someone who procures and collects gold, or other precious metals, like silver).  This was when I still had some money and gold was relatively cheap compared to where it's at now.  Alas, things happened, I wasn't able to capitalize on the opportunity, and now it's too late.  I have some practical questions as to what the value of gold really is, but that is for another post, if ever. 

But I'd say that this is further evidence that the collapse is real and that governments are becoming increasingly concerned and looking to make it more difficult for the average Joe to procure PM's.  France has just enacted a law mandating that any purchase of metal (including gold and silver) over 450 Euros ($600 USD) must be paid via credit card or bank wire transfer.  It is no longer legal to pay over that amount, in cash.  

I know that in tenuous times, the holding of gold becomes increasingly viewed upon by the proper authorities, like in the Great Depression, when FDR signed an Executive Order forbidding the hoarding of gold.  This appears to be in the same pattern, although in a more clandestine and preemptive way (the French's primary motivation in passing this law, at least officially, was a result of increased thefts of metals like copper and steel, from phone poles and places of business).  As the article closes, "How long before the US Congress, as a result of the rise in metals thefts here in the United States, uses this same excuse as a pretext to follow in the footsteps of the French?" 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The End of One of the Best Bands Ever

As you've probably all heard, the other day, REM broke up after 31 years.  Such a great band.  I had the pleasure of seeing them live in concert back in '99, when they were playing Jones Beach.  I'll never forget it.  I sat six rows from the front, and rocked out to every song.  I waved a bunch of times, and Michael Stipe always waved back to me, or maybe that's how I liked to have viewed it.  Either way, it was an incredible experience, and will rank as the best concert I'd went to. 

I can't really say that I'm surprised that they broke up.  Creatively and commercially, I'd say that they peaked with "Automatic for the People".  Although many of their albums were very good after that, they just weren't able to match that or their earlier offerings.  Also, I think Bill Berry's departure was a blow that they were never able to recover from.  Above all, I hold the commercialization of music responsible.  It has led to acts that appeal to the lowest common denominator (I'm talking to you, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Maroon 5, the list goes on and on) while leaving pioneering rock bands like REM in the dust.  I read that their last album only sold around 50,000 copies.

I wanted to close this post out with "Find the River", from "Automatic for the People".  I hear it's the last song that Kurt Cobain listened to before he took his life.  BTW, "Nevermind" just had its 20 anniversary.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Striking Photographs from Japan, Six Months After the Disaster

The Atlantic has some great photos of Japan, from shortly after the double whammy of a tsunami & earthquake, and six months later.  Did you know that this past Sunday was not only the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, but also the six month anniversary of what happened in Japan?  Neither did I.  But the Japanese probably did not oversee that day.  I am no expert, but I was impressed by how much the Japanese were able to accomplish, judging on the before/after photos.  While it's still obvious that a major calamity occurred, this was met with major cleanup efforts, and a lot of the mess and the debris in the "before" photos is not present in the "after" photos.  I wonder how these same locales in the pictures will look, say, 10 years from now.  It will be interesting to contrast a "10 years after" compilation of photos from northeastern Japan with photos from the WTC site (which still has not been replaced) or photos from post-Katrina New Orleans. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Let the Uninsured Die

As I've expressed, 2008 was my last election.  I have no plans to vote in next year's election, or any beyond that, unless the state of our politics takes a radical paradigm shift (or I may not be able to vote at all, since it's easy to visualize the shit hitting the fan with such force that it won't be possible to have elections, or for them to simply not be allowed).  However, let me tell you a brief story behind my reasoning in the last election.  I registered to vote in 2000, right before the presidential election of that year.  Nader had engaged me on such a level, that it was easy to vote for him.  I also voted for him in 2004, as well.  But by 2008, it was obvious that our country was undergoing pretty significant changes, and not for the better.  I had still planned to vote for Ralph, partly based on what many people simply cannot seem to grasp or think through.  I not only believed in his message, but I also live in New York, which is not a so-called "battleground" state.  It is a safe Democratic bastion, and so it's easier to vote for a third-party candidate, even if the general election is slated to be close. 

I had written off Obama as a corporate-backed bullshit artist, who was admittedly very good at communicating with the masses and saying all the right things.  However, I did not realize how radical and bat-shit crazy the Republican Right really were, until I saw a clip of them at a McCain rally.  They were saying that if Obama was elected, "they (black people) would take over".  Another said that "he looks down on us like we're trash".  Several were calling him a "nigger".  I was pretty fearful on seeing these people, and really did not want to see them, or anyone like them, near the levers of power.  Well, there was also the matter of this election being an especially historical one since it could end up with our first black president.  So I caved and voted for Obama.  I lived to regret it.  I wasn't expecting anything special, but if he was a tad better than Bush, I'd have been partially satisfied.  But since then, I've learned about peak oil and economic contraction, and have come to look upon politics and elections as irrelevant.  These guys probably couldn't do shit about our problems even if they actually wanted to.

Anyway, I do think it's important to pay scant attention to politics, if only because it offers us a glimpse into the state of things, and how people respond, as we continue our long slide downward.  This latest incident also gave me a valuable insight into why I reneged on my political beliefs last time and voted for Obama.  It's an easy thing to do when you see how bad the other guys are, at least in comparison.

At the last debate, Wolf Blitzer spoke with Ron Paul about a hypothetical healthy person who suddenly falls ill and is not insured.  Blitzer asks Paul, "should that person die", and some in the audience resoundingly shout "YES", with laughter and cheers soon following.  A big part of the collapse that is in progress will be more and more moments like this, that show how nasty and vicious people can be.  In better times, this behavior would be expressed behind closed doors, or in whispers.  But now, this behavior is being expressed more openly.  The motto of these people, the Tea Partiers, should be, "I've got mine.  Fuck you".  That's basically their philosophy, in a nutshell. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Pipeline Expolosion Rocks Kenya

At least 120 people have burned to death in Kenya, as a result of a fuel pipeline exploding.  At the time, the pipeline was leaking fuel, and people were gathering to collect it when the pipeline burst into flames and engulfed at least some of those people, as well as the tin-shack houses in the surrounding area. 

What makes this story significant for me is that I often think of peak oil as a calamity that is going to visit the western world.  But what I don't often think through is that in many parts of the world, it has long since passed.  If anything, there was never any matter of "peak energy" for countries like Kenya, because they have always been poor nations.  So scrounging for things that we just take for granted, and buy at a store, or a gas station in the case of fuel, is nothing new to them, unfortunately.  Scooping fuel from a leaky pipe is a very dangerous thing to do, but these people were likely going to use any recovered fuel for buying essentials like food and medicine.  In any case, in the long run, addiction to oil and other fossil fuels is a global problem, not merely an American or western one, and that tide is not longer to change.  

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Prince Charles Warns of Extinction Event

It's always eye-opening when a public figure comes out and speaks of the dire consequences of climate change and other man-made activities and its effects on biodiversity.  The latest is Prince Charles.  As much as I liked what he had to say, I was about to dismiss him as being in the vein of Al Gore, who has raised a lot of attention to climate change but hasn't seemed to walk the walk in his own life (by using private jets and owning large homes).  But I'd read that Charles has done a lot of work in making his palaces and other properties "ecofriendly", and a lot of them are used for farming. 

I especially liked this: 

“History will not judge us by how much economic growth we achieve in the immediate years ahead, nor by how much we expand material consumption, but by the legacy for our grandchildren and their grandchildren.  We are consuming what is rightfully theirs by sacrificing long-term progress on the altar of immediate satisfaction. That is hardly responsible behavior."

Friday, September 9, 2011

When There is No Dentist

This is a good article from a very good site I didn't know existed called Armageddon Medicine (it deals with solutions to diseases and medical aliments when care is scarce), about the lessons learned from the experiences of POWs during the Vietnam War in terms of dental care (hint: there wasn't any).  The results are actually mixed, or, not totally awful.  On the one hand, for most of the men afflicted by teeth problems, the tragedy was that they were often able to get excellent dental care, but neglected the importance of it until it was too late (being shot down behind enemy lines and captured).  Being in solitary conditions, against their will, and adding a bad toothache into the mix was a sure recipe for psychological distress, that would last until their freedom was reclaimed.  But on the other, for those whose teeth were relatively healthy upon capture, they overcompensated and took above-average care of their teeth.  In addition to the cheap toothbrushes they received, they fashioned toothpicks and floss out of bamboo and bone.  Toothpaste was made from charcoal, soap and salt. 

This article provided a fascinating glimpse at human ingenuity when people's backs are against the wall.  But I shudder to think of a future without ready access to dental care.  I knock on wood that I haven't had any serious dental problems, but I have been slacking; my last dental visit was almost a year.  I also have no willpower when it comes to staying away from sweets.  Anyway, I'd better brush my teeth. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Iraqi Children Shot in Head by U.S. Troops

First, I've never talked about this, but had been wanting to say, bless Wikileaks.  Julian Assange and the others behind this organization have gotten into the sights of very powerful governments and corporations, not the least of which being the U.S. government.  And their crime?  Releasing information deemed to be "highly classified" by governments and entities everywhere, into the hands of everyday people around the world.  If we live here and pay taxes, shouldn't we have the right to know as much as possible about what goes on in our government?  I think it's obvious what my answer is. 

One of the cables made public by Wikileaks shows evidence that around 10 Iraqi civilians were shot, execution-style, by U.S. troops, then an airstrike was called in to destroy the evidence.  This occurred back in 2006, when a civil war was brewing between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.  One of the reasons why we should all be thankful for Wikileaks, is that stories like these used to be the domain of the media.  Now, the media was never perfect, but during Vietnam, there was some reporting of atrocities committed by our military.  The story of the war in general received more coverage than the Gulf War and our current occupation of Iraq.  The kind of coverage has also changed, to the point where our media serve as cheerleaders.  This was during the initial phase of the invasion, nowadays, it seems like the war/occupation is rarely covered at all, especially in the television news media.  The government learned from Vietnam to keep a lid on the media in future conflicts, and that strategy has worked spectacularly well.  Hence the need for individuals, such as the ones behind Wikileaks, to endanger their freedoms and lives to access and release the truth behind what's going on for the rest of us.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Quitting Facebook

I don't remember the day I created my Facebook account, but it was awhile ago, probably shortly after it became a household name.  Before that, I had a Myspace account (which is still active, I believe, I just haven't bothered to log in for a very long time, and rightly so, as it's irrelevant at this stage).  And somewhere along the line, I came to the realization that social networking just wasn't for me.  However, I will say, it is addictive.  That's what made me rationalize keeping Facebook for as long as I did, even after I realized that it was counterproductive to stay active in it.  Today, I finally gathered the strength to "deactivate" my account (even this is a half-measure, short of deleting it.  My account is still there, but it's currently in a deactivated state). 

I will try to explain this, and make it sound meaningful, considering I have not slept since getting home from work.  Anyway, probably a big part of it was that I had 68 friends, and by the time I deactivated, I had hidden most of their posts from view.  I did not "unfriend" them, but this is the next best thing, as I can decide that I don't want to read drivel without hurting other people's feelings.  All most of these people talked about were what their kids did or said today, or where they were eating, or their plans to get drunk and party tonight.  Worse yet, these posts would get animated reponses, along with "likes".  Many of my posts there were similar to the ones I make on this blog, of a "current events" and commentary nature, although much, much shorter, obviously.  Due to my newfound interest in cooking, I would share what I made as well.  Further down the line, I will admit, I was not above the trivial and largely pointless status update myself (for example, shortly before quitting, I said that I could not sleep and would watch "Curb Your Enthasium" and "Entourage").  But I tried to make my posts thoughtful, with proper grammar.  And in response, what I would see is the cyber-version of tumblin' tumbleweeds.  Usually zilch in the way of responses, and the only people who might respond half the time would be one of my two sisters. 

I don't want to make it seem like I'm a needy person who seeks verification or approval of everything that he says or does, but, I guess that's what it seems like, and that's probably what it is.  I've always been socially awkward, and when I have tried to break out of that shell, it's always met with astounding failure.  So most of my life has been spent in, for lack of a better term, a kind of obscurity.  And when I say or do something and it's met with indifference, yeah, it hurts.  It's something that you'd think that I would get used to somewhere along the way, but there are some things you never get used to, and that's probably one of them.

I remember a long time ago, I posted on this blog about taking a break from posting for the same reasons, that no one was commenting back and that I felt like I was in a virtual echo chamber, basically talking to myself.  A really cool guy from Indonesia, Adel (I hope you're still reading, Adel), responded and pointed out that just because no one is commenting doesn't mean that they're not reading.  So I kept at it, and while I don't have the numbers of eyes that I want starting at my blog (which I have come to realize is next to impossible, considering the numbers of blogs in existence), I get a comment now and then, showing me that people do come by and read it, and feel compelled to respond to what I have to say.  I hope that continues.  

Anyway, another big reason why I decided to leave Facebook, and this probably hits closer to the heart than my other reason, is that a significant portion of my "friends" are people I went to high school with.  Now, I was not what you would call a "popular" kid in high school.  Hell, I wasn't even on, what would be called in Hollywood, the C or the D list.  Yeah, I socialized and ate lunch with people, I wasn't one of those people who always sat by himself, but that's pretty much where it ended.  I didn't have any close relationships.  And yet, a lot of people who "friended" me were people I went to high school with, and who, I don't remember us exchanging two sentences.  I also wonder how many of these "friends" would recognize me if I walked down the street, or I, them.  If I was in a really bad jam, for example, looking for some place to crash, how many of these "friends" would step up to the plate and actually offer a hand?  Not one, I'd wager.  I remember a co-worker at an old job, this was back when Myspace was the big thing, telling me that the only thing that counted was how many "friends" I had.  So their value as people, or their willingness to help you (and you, them) did not really count, it was just being able to say "I have XXXX" number of friends on Myspace/Facebook/Friendster" that counted, and could make the difference between acceptance and failure in whatever social circle, virtual or actual.

What I find very, very depressing, is that a lot of these people (friends on Facebook) have wives (or husbands), families, what seem to be steady positions, some kind of career, they probably own their own houses.   I have been stuck in neutral since graduating high school.  Yeah, I went to college and got my B.A., but who cares, it didn't translate to any kind of career.  I still live at home, I've long given up on meeting someone and starting a family (not that I'm really looking to do these things, especially have kids, but just the fact that it isn't even an option, that pisses me off) and I open boxes for a living.  So logging on to Facebook, and seeing how great things are seemingly going for a lot of people, that just got very depressing.  I remember one day, this guy I went to school with (he's actually a great guy, we chatted a few times and exchanged emails), posted that he was now a "homeowner".  I got into bed and stayed there for almost 2 hours.  We went to the same school, I don't think he even went to college, so I ask myself, "where did I go wrong, and these people went right?" 

I post a lot of stuff on this blog about the collapse of America, about peak oil and the crumbling economy.  So I spend a lot of time frequenting "doomer" websites and forums.  I'm convinced that my misfortunes have very little to do with the decisions I made, and are just a product of circumstances in general, like how companies are slashing people left and right, and how we have the worst job market since the Great Depression, things of that nature.  On the other hand, I see these "friends" on Facebook, living seemingly normal lives, with the things that I covet.  Hard times apparently have not touched them at all.  So, I'm wondering, should I trust the former option, in which exterior events are affecting my life in decidedly negative ways, or are things really not as bad as they seem, and the "doom" is just helping me rationalize why I've come up short where it matters?  I don't know, and I hope I figure it out.  In that respect, I hope that quitting Facebook serves as a start. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Wild Animals in the Long Emergency

When thinking about the times we live in, and the road that I believe we are heading down on, one of the things I think about most are the fate of my pets.  My family has a dog, but I'm really not too attached to him.  Not that I don't care for him or love dogs, his personality is just totally at odds with mine.  He is very loud, and easily ruffled.  But I love my cats though, especially Lucky, who is an American Shorthair.  It would kill me if we were faced with not having enough food for them; I couldn't imagine setting them loose, especially since they are declawed and would be defenseless in the outdoors. 

Here is a good pair of articles from someone who is a trapper and lives off the land.  He believes that when the proverbial shit hits the fan, people in the cities (and I presume the suburbs as well, although he only mentions cities), will let their animals go.  These animals will meet up with other animals and form packs of anywhere between 6 to 100.  He offers an elaborate and detailed synopsis of animal psychology and pack mentality that is really quite fascinating.  His general point, and one that the most squeamish or those who love animals will probably want to avoid, is that these animals will number in the tens of millions and must be dealt with in a collapse scenario.

In this case, a worry of mine would be that a significant portion of these animals would carry rabies.  Obviously, vaccinations would be limited or completely unavailable, so rabies would be easy to spread among other animals and humans, until each eventual carrier would die.  It's kind of a zombie-lite scenario, although it would be very fitting in an economic/social upheaval.  

Friday, September 2, 2011

House Majority Leader Kicks Jobless Out of Town Hall

These days, I usually do not pay much attention to our political system or its representatives, although otherwise, I do follow current events rather closely.  I've decided that 2008 was the last election I will take part in (the only election that I care about at this point is the annual library budget), and that any political activism is futile.  However, I do think it's key to pay some attention to our political system, however scant, because its response to events, both in terms of individual representatives and the collective, can give important clues as to how far we are in our path to collapse. 

A few nights ago, something called an "Advisory Council Meeting" was called by Eric Cantor, who is the House Majority Leader.  A counter-rally was held in the same building by Cantor's constituents, who were not invited to the Council Meeting.  This rally was already scheduled with the Holiday Inn.  However, due to some bullshit reasoning of there being "conflicting events", the activists holding the counter-rally were asked to leave, and they were forced to rally in the parking lot of a Toys R Us across the street.

The article concerning this is very good, so I'll keep it short today.  But I'll say one thing.  After the counter-rally was effectively crushed, police officers were summoned to the hotel to check cars and ask if the person was a part of the "advisory committee" or the counter-rally.  I find it outrageous that police officers were used in this way, in a purely political endeavor, to "vet" people for this scumbag's committee.

Oh, and here's a clip of him speaking.  He comes off as unbearably smug and arrogant.  See the shit-eating grin coming out of the side of his mouth as he speaks?  

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Tale of Two Hurricanes

This is a funny article from Forbes about the different reactions to Hurricane Irene in the Bahamas, from people living in the Bahamas and from tourists hailing from the United States.  The Bahamas natives were playing it cool, just getting their precautionary measures in order, while Americans were bailing for the taxis to get to the airport.  Of course, not every Bahamas native was calm, nor was every American panicky over Irene, but I feel that the author's account is likely accurate.  As he also points out, our media certainly does not help matters.  They never pass up an opportunity to stir up mass panic and hysteria, or an opportunity to get people to spend money, as the Weather Channel was urging people to get "survival kits" (available for both humans and pets). 

Now, I come down on the side of people who are prepared for any disaster; my puzzlement is when people scramble during every event like this for essentials that they should already have (like flashlights, just to give one example).  But I think it has become pretty obvious that the media exaggerates the severity of these events, at least just a tad, to get people to panic spend, and thereby help make money for their advertisers.  I imagine that Home Depot, Walmart and all the other big-box stores received a nice shot in the arm for the escalated business in their stores in the days preceding Irene. 

The ancedotes closing the article, of what some of the news reporters were saying, is also telling.  One reporter slipped by referring to the weakening of Irene as a "setback".  Another said that if "you have family, friends in the Bahamas, you must tell them this is a very dangerous situation!"  The gall and chutzpah of such a statement!  That's like me somehow being able to contact a random U.S. soldier serving in Iraq or Afghanistan and telling them, "hey, be careful, an insurgent might be aiming for your head!"