How About Them Redskins? No offense.

redskins helmet

A gladiator of the Washington DC cult whose name may not be spoken. We’re here to help. (Photo by Kieth Allison/Flickr)

[WARNING: The following essay contains irony. If you are allergic or immune to irony, do not read it. Your head could explode.]

The population of the civilized world, by which of course I mean most of the original 48 states (I won’t say which are not included, you know who I mean) is divided into 32 cults, each organized around a team of gladiators who compete regularly in giant arenas. The  gladiators’ ferocious combats are attended by tens of thousands of acolytes (they call themselves “fans”) and are watched on television by hundreds of thousands more. They involve the maneuvering of a small oval ball on a field, and frequently feature combatants being carried off with broken bones and scrambled brains.  The sect members wear the colors and symbols of their team, venerate its mascot, organize their lives around its combats, bet heavily on the outcomes, and devote their lives to adulation. The high priests of this culture become enormously rich.

But all is not well in this paradise. Continue reading

The “Worst News of 2015” Just Got Worse

Just a garden-variety protest in some Middle Eastern county, you say, nothing to be afraid of here? Wait till you find out where these people are. (BBC Photo by Safa Al-Ahmad)

Just a garden-variety protest in some Middle Eastern county, you say, nothing to be afraid of here? Wait till you find out where these people are. (BBC Photo by Safa Al-Ahmad)

The news photo I labeled the scariest of 2014, back in August, and the news story I called the worst of 2015 a few weeks ago, just got scarier, and worse. The photo was of demonstrators who have managed to keep an insurgency alive in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia for three years despite everything a boundlessly wealthy state can do to snuff it out. Bad for us, because the Eastern Province is where the Saudi oil is. The worst news of the year for us was that the Saudi king was in hospital with a terminal illness. Now the king is dead, and the difficulties faced by his successor just became worse by at least an order of magnitude. Continue reading

The Crash of 2015: Day 21 [Update: Day 22]

Hold on a second, we’ve changed our minds. Can you just hold it right there, please? We’ve decided we like it the way it is…..

The economy of the United States and the world is on fire, and with the flames and smoke visible in any direction one cared to look, the President of the United States declared last night that the worst is over, “the shadow of crisis has passed,” and happy days are here again. In reality (a state that presidents and candidates for president never seem to visit) 2015 is shaping up to be one of the worst any of us have ever seen.

It’s a potent mix of flammable situations, from an unhinged stock market to a drought-ravaged West to the fiscal convulsions of China, Russia and Europe. But for us in America, the collapse of the bogus New American Oil Revolution is the fire that’s burning hottest and spreading fastest. This is how it’s likely to go: Continue reading

A Way Back to Eden

food forest

The bounty of Permaculture: Could it be the source of life after the death of the industrial age? (Photo by hardworkinghippy/Flickr)

The second story the Bible tells us, right after recounting how God created Heaven and Earth, and set humans up in a bountiful garden, is the story of how we got kicked out of the garden. Historians believe that the story of the Fall has been told for 10,000 years, which is about how long we’ve had agriculture. (Coincidence? I don’t think so.) For ten millennia we have lamented the exchange of a life of ease and plenty for our hardscrabble existence marked by loss and pain.

When I contemplate the coming crash of the Industrial Age, when I visualize its massive wreckage, I have come to believe that I can see, in all the smoke and horror, a path leading back to the Garden that was once our birthright, and could be again. Continue reading

Scientists to Earth: Prepare to Abandon Planet

Earth First! Now we’ll trash the other planets. There are other planets, right? (Photo by Gideon Wright/Flickr)

Earth First! Now we’ll trash the other planets. There are other planets, right? (Photo by Gideon Wright/Flickr)

Two major scientific studies out this week agree that it may well be time to include other planets in your future relocation plans. Because we have just about finished trashing this one. One study says that of nine “planetary boundaries,” which is to say boundaries between inhabitable and uninhabitable, human activity has already wrecked four. The other finds an implacable rise in the number of mass dyings of animals, of such magnitude that they “can reshape the ecological and evolutionary trajectories of life on Earth.” And, need we specify, not in a good way. Let’s see what these studies say, and then consider what we should make of what they say. Continue reading

Living the Dream. No, Really, You’re Dreaming. Wake Up.

If American consumers would just consume more, the American economy would be all right. Whether you think they are, or are not, doing their part depends on who you read. Amd whether you’re awake or dreaming. (Wikipedia Photo)

If American consumers would just consume more, the American economy would be all right. Whether you think they are, or are not, doing their part depends on who you read. Amd whether you’re awake or dreaming. (Wikipedia Photo)

Fortune Magazine, the journal of the Masters of the Universe, posted the following headline at 11:33 yesterday morning: “U.S. shoppers finally shed funk: Retailers post strong holiday season gains.” At the same time the experts at NASDAQ.com. writing for the same audience of one-percenters, headlined: “Retail Sales Drop .9% as Consumers Pull Back.” Wait, what? Did we Americans shed our funk, as Fortune insisted (“retail sales for November and December rose 4%…the industry’s best showing in three years.”) or pull back, as NASDAQ saw it (“Sales at retailers and restaurants decreased a seasonally adjusted 0.9% in December from a month earlier…the largest monthly decline since January 2014.”)

So to summarize: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… Continue reading

Living the American Dream is a Nightmare

plato-cave

In Plato’s little-recognized prediction of the Age of Television, slaves chained to their couches watch reflections of events, while philosophers struggle up to the sunlight to see what’s really going on.

Plato asked us to imagine a group of people chained to a wall in a cave in such a way that they could not see what was going on around them, only reflections cast on the cave wall opposite them by firelight. He invited us to consider how skewed the prisoners’ understanding of the world would become over time, and to value the contributions of philosophers who go out into the sunlight and see things as they really are. It’s easy for us Americans of 2015 to grasp the first part of his allegory, because it’s a perfect description of us watching TV (remarkable that he nailed that prediction 2,000 years ago, don’t you think?). It’s the second part that mystifies: what would a philosopher, stumbling out of the cave of shadows on the wall, make of our realities? Continue reading

The Crash of 2015: Day 9

You have this perfectly good structure, and then you kick out a few of the supporting pillars, and the next thin you know the SEC is on the phone.

You have this perfectly good structure, and then you kick out a few of the supporting pillars, and the next thing you know the SEC is on the phone.

With oil prices at about half what they were six months ago, the most vulnerable players in the oil business, the frackers who brought about the new American Oil Revolution, are imploding. If you think that’s just their end of the boat sinking, no worries here, think again. They are, or were, the last best hope of continuing the oil bonanza, and they’re done. As soon as that fact is so obvious that even Faux News has to admit it (this may take a few months), it will dawn on us all that the very same thing is happening to the deep water drillers, the Arctic drillers and the tar sands wringers.

It would have happened at any oil price. The slump has merely brought it on sooner, and will force us to face — this year! — the reality that we will never again have quite enough cheap oil. That’s the meaning of the Crash of 2015. Now, about the schedule: Here’s what’s happened, what’s happening and what’s about to happen. Continue reading

Attention in the Crowded Theater: Fire!

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Firefighters try to snuff an oil well fire in Iraq in 2003. What is happening to the oil business today, especially in the United States, is akin to a thousand such fires. (Wikipedia Photo)

The flames of the next financial crash are leaping up everywhere you look (if you look without wearing the rose-colored glasses): in the Bakken fracking fields of North Dakota, the Eagle Ford in Texas, the tar sands of Alberta, the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. They are lighting up the night sky in all directions, and in the daytime the smoke is sickening the light and smelling up the air in the skyscraper offices of the Masters of the Universe where they shuffle decks of junk bonds, subprime loans and derivatives. Along with the smoke, you can smell the fear. This is going to be bad. Continue reading

The Worst News Story of 2015

And the (early) award for the worst news story -- not the worst story, the worst news --  goes to......

And the (early) award for the worst news story — not the worst story, the worst news — of 2015 goes to……

What? Too soon? Maybe not.

This story had precursors in 2014, just a few hints about what it could become. In the spring, a courageous BBC journalist smuggled out pictures and reports of a three-year-old uprising where no uprising can be permitted. Shortly afterward the host country sentenced to death two leaders of the uprising (presumably by the country’s favored method of public beheading followed by crucifixion). Whereupon the uprising managed a murderous bombing attack. In the Middle East they have a name for this: Tuesday.

These events did not take on the gravitas of portents because they took place in the Middle East, but because they took place in Saudi Arabia. There they posed a threat not merely to another brutal Arab dictatorship, but to the entire industrial world, which cannot function without Saudi oil. Continue reading