The Flight of the Titanic

This is your captain speaking. Everything is proceeding normally, and we expect to arrive at our destination in about 30 seconds. Thank you for flying with us, and have a nice day.

The pilot of our great metaphorical economic airplane has just been on the PA system — again — to assure us that everything is going great. But it’s getting harder and harder to believe him. He says we’re making a slow and careful ascent to cruising altitude but it’s been hours since takeoff and we’re only 50 feet above ground. Is that normal? Should there be flames erupting from all the engines? With the turbulence, and the violent maneuvers to fly around tall buildings, concentrating on watching the movie and eating our peanuts is almost impossible. And we just heard the captain mutter, unaware that his mic was on, “What the hell does this button do?”

The state of the industrial economy, 2017. Continue reading

The Great Recovery of America’s Infrastructure: Cancelled

Wondering what happens when you don’t maintain the Interstate Highway system? Wondering if we can get along without it? Minneapolis, 2007. (Wikipedia Photo)

Watch closely any group involved in dealing with a disaster — let’s say, a fire company battling a structure fire — and you may catch the moment when they share a glance that says, “You know what, we’re not going to win this one.” Their conduct changes almost imperceptibly from “balls to the wall, we can do this,” to “watch where you step, and back away from the walls, she’s gonna burn to the ground.”

Such a moment may well have come this week for the people who still believe — or have believed since Donald Trump was elected president — that we are going to experience a Great Recovery of this country’s rotting roads and decrepit bridges, which will in turn create millions of jobs, restore the middle class, eliminate poverty, homelessness and cancer, save the economy and make it 1958 in America once more. And Mexico is going to pay for it. (Actually, candidate Trump promised $50 billion for the purpose, double Hillary Clinton’s proposed spending. But neither of them explained where they were going to get the money.) Continue reading

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.)

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

Sand Wars

sand mining

A sand mafia — that’s what they call them — in Sierra Leone in the process of stealing a beach. With just a little more finesse, they do it in Miami, too.

The human industrial complex requires enormous inputs of natural resources to build and extend itself. If you rank these raw materials by volume used, number one will be water. Number two will be sand.

Hard to accept? Go anywhere in the world and look around. If you’re in a city looking at a high-rise building, it’s probably mostly concrete (sand), just like the streets, sidewalks, bridges, and the freeways with their interchanges and ramps. The windows in the skyscrapers and storefronts are glass (sand). Some buildings are made of brick (sand) or block (sand). And some of the highways are asphalt (sand). Out in the country most houses may be framed with wood, but they rest on foundations and basements of  concrete and block, and many of them are roofed with asphalt shingles. I’m finding this out, and telling you about it, using computer chips made of sand. Continue reading

Bayer and Monsanto: A Match Made in Hell

08 Übersicht Buna + Montan

The I.G. Farben/Bayer complex near Auschwitz, where enslaved Jews worked on products including the nerve gas used to execute them. (Wikipedia Photo)

What could be a more fitting ceremony for our entertainment during these last days of the industrial age than the joining in unholy patrimony of two of the most evil corporations in the history of humankind? And what could be more symptomatic of the state of knowledge during our present Twilight of the Mind than the fact that the nature of their evil is not only not mentioned in the reporting of their union, but is relatively difficult to discover even if you Google it. I refer of course to the announced intention of Bayer, the aspirin company, to buy Monsanto, the Roundup company.

Monsanto’s crimes are familiar, especially to those who have been hanging around these pages. See, for example;

Bayer has been far more successful in sanitizing its record, which is far longer and far worse. It was a founding member of the German chemical giant I.G. Farben, not in 1925 as Wikipedia and other sources say in some places, but in 1893. The significance of that laundering of the historical record will soon become apparent. Continue reading

They’re Parking the Trains. And the Ships and Planes and Trucks…

(Image from Google Earth)

The train to nowhere. (Image from Google Earth)


It’s a picture that’s worth a thousand choruses of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Here in the Seventh Straight Successful Year of the Recovery from the Great Recession, tucked into a corner of the Arizona Desert, is a line of parked Union Pacific locomotives. It was discovered on Google Earth, so it is, as they say, visible from space. There are 292 of them, baking in the sun like so many dinosaur skeletons, in a line stretching almost five miles. They, and the people who used to run them, are now “excess capacity” for one of the country’s largest freight haulers. In this, the Seventh Straight Successful Year of the Great Recovery. Continue reading

World Trade is Coming to a Halt [UPDATED]

ship scrapyard

This is where more and more of the world’s cargo fleet are headed — the scrapyard, like this one in Bangladesh. (Photo by Christoph Hein)

On Friday, for the first time in recorded history (according to, there may not have been a single cargo ship in transit across the North Atlantic between Europe and North America. If true, this would have roughly the same implications for the industrial world as does a flatline on a heart monitor, for a patient in ICU. Somebody had better call a Code Blue.

Since Friday, the stock market — after the worst beginning of a year since the last Ice Age — has been creeping upward. Guess they didn’t get the memo about the Code Blue. Continue reading

Global Recession Accelerating toward Depression

storm clouds

The weather forecast says sunny and mild. Let’s go shopping. (Wikipedia Photo)

With the mainstream media devoting 80% of their time covering the contest to see what color uniform the captain of the USS Titanic will be wearing in 2017; with the Tea Party Taliban — 40 fundamentalist members of the House of Representatives — bringing the federal government to its knees; the storm clouds of a great global depression are building into our skies from all directions, largely unacknowledged even as they begin to blot out the sun.

Any economy is a pyramid whose broad base is comprised of the middle class — people who have enough money to provide a decent life for themselves. They do this by spending their money on the necessities of life, thus giving life to businesses organized to provide them with those necessities. This activity is called trade, and where there is no trade, there is no economic life. Continue reading