Dystopia for the Rich and Famous

The reason there aren’t many people on the beach on Margarita Island is that it’s hard to enjoy the beach when you have no food or water. But welcome to Venezuela. (Wikipedia Photo)

The reason there aren’t many people on the beach on Margarita Island is that it’s hard to enjoy the beach when you have no food or water. But welcome to Venezuela. (Wikipedia Photo)

Every New Year’s Eve, there are people who travel to the easternmost promontory of whatever rock they live on, in order to be the first of their flock to experience the arrival of the New Year. I suspect a serious party deficiency in the upbringing of these people, but in every unmet need there is an opportunity for obscene profit. Thus: Now you can be among the first to experience  Armageddon, aka the collapse of the industrial age, up close and personal, from the vantage point of a five star resort hotel. Hurry, this opportunity is available for a limited time only — until the mobs burn down the hotels.

The place is Margarita Island — I swear I am not making this up — a sub-Caribbean island perch for jet-setters just off the northern coast of South America. It has a population of 600,000 people who have learned to take great care of a few thousand visiting, sun-bathing, hard-drinking  millionaires at a time. Its great misfortune is to be a part of Venezuela.

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Oil Company Carnage Continues


When an oil well like Deepwater Horizon explodes, the images are unforgettable. When the entire industry starts to collapse, it’s hard to see and to remember.

In a recent essay I proposed the existence of a new human subspecies – homo sapiens ephemera — that is smart (thus sapiens) but severely afflicted by attention deficit disorder and long-term memory loss. Thus ephemera may understand, for example, the connection between a burning fuse at his feet and an imminent explosion, but almost immediately forgets it, goes on to something else, and is surprised by the blast. Nowhere is this behavior more evident than in the U.S. oil patch, whose collapse, predicted here and elsewhere for years, is now described by none other than Moody’s Investors Service, quoted in Bloomberg News as “catastrophic” and perhaps “the worst bust of any industry this century.”

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World Trade Lost at Sea


Containers crammed with electronics, clothing and other potential Christmas presents are stranded at sea by the bankruptcy of one of the world’s largest shipping lines. Theres more to come. (Phot by NASA)

It’s hard to describe globalization to a mayfly in a manner that will hold his interest. It takes a gifted storyteller to interest a creature with a 24-hour lifespan in anything that’s out of sight, or takes longer than a couple of hours to play out. In this he is much like the modern American, who has little appetite for any story that takes more than 140 characters to tell, about an event that takes more than a few hours to unfold. (As to why the American consumer of news acts and thinks more like a mayfly (Ephemeroptera) than a homo sapiens, well, that’s another question, for another time.)

But the fact is that homo sapiens ephemera simply cannot grasp the fact that a long, slow-burning fuse, however boring it is to watch, almost always leads to a terrible explosion. By that time, ephemera has forgotten the fuse and is always surprised. (“Wow, no one could have seen that coming,” he says.)

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Let Them Eat Twinkies

let them eat twinkies

A change in food stamp benefits for up to a million people such as this one is affecting WalMart’s profits. Something must be done. (Photo by FaceMePLS/Flickr)

In this, the eighth successful year of our Glorious Recovery from the Great Recession, things are really looking up for the American Lower Class, formerly known as Middle. The unemployment rate as calculated by the U.S. Government (adjusted for inflation, seasonally adjusted, smoothed, combed and curried) is down to a piddling five per cent, which is regarded by the country-club set as better-than-full employment, because, they suspect, thousands of people are working against their will. Moreover, the number of able-bodied adults capable of working, but not working, classified as “not in the labor pool” and therefore not unemployed (and thus not included in the calculation of the unemployment rate) is only up to 95 million people.

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The Luxury Cruise to the End of the World

crystal serenity

This is how you watch the end of the world — aboard the Crystal Serenity, marinating in luxury.

Sorry, you missed it. But if you had known about it — I don’t know why you didn’t get the memo — and if you had $120,000 lying around ($22,000 for steerage) you could have joined 1,000-plus passengers served by 700 crew on the first luxury cruise from Seward, Alaska to New York City via the Northwest Passage through the Arctic Ocean. Once solid ice, the Northwest Passage became navigable in theory in 2007 because of climate change.

According to the brochure, the good ship Crystal Serenity is “an abomination—a massive, diesel-burning, waste-dumping, ice-destroying, golf-ball-smacking middle finger to what remains of the planet, courtesy of precisely 1,089 of its richest and most destructive inhabitants. And it’s all made possible by runaway climate change, the existential global crisis that these same people and their ilk have disproportionately helped to create.”

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The Last, Best Metaphor: Black Slime Covers All

“Blue slime cover’s girl’s hand.” This headline is true. And this is what slime looks like. “Black slime covers Washington Monuments” is not a true headline. And that’s not what slime looks like. (Photo by Kelly Taylor/Flickr)

“Blue slime cover’s girl’s hand.” This headline is true. And this is what slime looks like. “Black slime covers Washington Monuments” is not a true headline. And that’s not what slime looks like. (Photo by Kelly Taylor/Flickr)

The headline was arresting. Or to be more contemporary about it, it was excellent clickbait. “Black Slime Creeps Over Washington DC’s Most Famous Monuments.” What a fabulous metaphor for everything that’s wrong with Washington, with the Empire, with the Industrial Age (no doubt the source of the slime), hell, with everything! I couldn’t click fast enough. (Anticipation made me forget, momentarily, a hard-won and oft-won lesson: anytime a quote is so perfect for your purposes that you can’t believe it’s real — it isn’t real. No exceptions.)

“A mysterious black slime has been steadily oozing over Washington DC’s most famous monuments,” said the Daily Mail version of the story, one of hundreds to appear worldwide. How perfect! Whether your pet peeve is gridlock, or the campaigns, or inaction, or transgender marriage, this is what happens to the source of the evil! It gets slimed! The stuff writes itself! Continue reading

The Bonfire of the Banalities

You can watch the fires break out and spread only for so long before you, too, are involved.

You can watch the fires break out and spread only for so long before you, too, are involved.

There is, it seems, something of a disconnect between the world in which you and I live, and that inhabited by those who want to be our Great Leader for the next four years.

In our world, this will be the hottest year the earth has ever experienced. It will break the previous record, set last year. Which broke the previous record, set the year before. Arctic sea ice has shrunk to a smaller area than ever recorded, with massive, yet-to-be-calculated effect on the world’s weather and oceans. The glaciers of Greenland and Antarctica are disappearing at rates far exceeding the worst-case scientific scenarios of just a few years ago. All of this because of the air pollution from burning fossil fuels. Continue reading

The Mauling of the Malls

mall gone

Mall gone.The malls of America rose with the big-spending middle class, and are declining as the big spenders disappear. (Photo by Brett Levin/Flickr)

After announcing the closing of 40 stores in January, Macy’s said last week it will shutter 100 more in the face of declining sales and profits at its brick-and-mortar stores. After the company announced the closings, along with a 95% reduction in profits, and chronically declining sales, and the layoffs of 4,000 people that will follow them, Macy’s stock immediately shot up 18%. (If that fact, all by itself, does not motivate you to get everything you own out of the stock market and at least 20 miles away from it immediately, then good luck, God bless, and we’ll hope to see you on the other side.) In May, Aeropostale announced the closing of 154 stores in North America, and slithered into bankruptcy. Meanwhile Sears, J.C. Penney, Radioshack and other stores closed by the hundreds under previously announced plans. Continue reading

Airlines Stricken by Technology Cancer

You have a perfect plan. Then things begin to go south and before you know it, a day of reckoning. (Photo by motorkid.com/google images)

Everything was going great. Then there was a little spark… (Photo by motorkid.com/google images)

It was by all accounts a small problem, a little overheating last Monday in the electronic jungle that is the Technology Command Center for Delta Airlines at its Atlanta headquarters. This minor overheating event — okay, “fire” if you insist — caused a nearby voltage-control module to spasm and allow a surge to hit a transformer, which immediately shut down the power supply. No worries, there’s an app for that. It’s called a switchgear, and its job is to sense a power failure and immediately switch the circuit to a backup power source.

The switchgear didn’t work. Continue reading

The Days After Tomorrow 7: To Put Away Childish Things

Vision Quest

Initiation rites almost always began with a long period of solitude, deprivation, even pain. All the things a parent tries to keep from a child, imposed to teach life’s important lessons. (Photo by SacredLivingInstitute .com)

[This is one of a series of meditations on what we might have learned, and might still learn, from the history of Native Americans about how to live without modern technology and industry, which we may have to do in the near future.]

We modern white Europeans have discarded most of the ways humans have devised to preserve their societies over hundreds of thousands of years. Clans, extended families, true community, ceremonies and rituals promoting awareness of connections among the people, the natural world and the spirit world — all are pretty much gone. Disabling our own society, and destroying the natural world on which it depends, have become the things we do best. If we are to start over, after our ultimate group failure, we must learn again how societies — such as the Native Americans — successfully preserved themselves for thousands of years.

One of the most important — and most universal — of the preservation techniques was the initiation rite. Humans found out early that the span of one lifetime was not enough time to gain wisdom. Elders had to pass on hard-won life lessons to the young, sometimes with stories, sometimes by example, and sometimes with a good hard cuff upside the head. Or, in other words, an initiation rite. Continue reading