The Scariest News Story of 2016

Arab Spring Yemen

This is what the Arab Spring looked like in Yemen, four years ago, when its people lost all hope. This is what Saudi Arabia, with diminishing prospects of success, is trying desperately to avoid. (Wikipedia Photo)

Correct. The scariest news story of 2016 is already in. Saudi Arabia is starting to come apart, and when its unscheduled rapid disassembly is a little farther along, the Industrial Age will come to an end.

[TROLL: “Don’t you ever get tired of making predictions that never come true? You said exactly the same thing a year ago. And the year before that.” Actually, dear trolls, what you find here are not exactly predictions, rather they are analyses of trends and the likely outcomes of those trends. But even if you insist they are predictions, the fact is that virtually all of them are in the process of “coming true” — it’s just that people who have the historical horizons of a fruit fly assume that anything that doesn’t happen while they’re looking at it is never going to happen, and never happened before. In medicine that’s called amnesia.]

But back to Saudi Arabia, where the forces of disassembly have been in play for decades.   Continue reading

2015: The Year of Lying Dangerously

Pinnochio

No, we don’t think his nose is deformed. Looks perfectly normal to us. And we’re going to vote for him. Photo by Tristan Schmurr/ Flickr

The crash of the industrial age proceeded apace in 2015. One reason that is not well understood is that a different, parallel trend — the onset of moral bankruptcy accompanying the collapse of American Empire — also accelerated this year, often obscuring the economic news, often by design. Whether one is causing the other, or both are caused by something else, is something for the historians to sort out, if there are any historians. Right now, both are happening too fast to analyze. But let’s focus for a moment on the moral decline.

The ethical glue that once held our culture together — the unquestioned mutual commitment to freedom and decency and fair dealings — is liquefying at a terrifying rate. This is what happens at the end of empires, when the energy of their high ideals is spent, the ecstasy of their ascent is in the past, and the agony of decline causes them — their leaders and their people — to abandon everything they once believed in. Continue reading

Billions of Barrels of US Oil Set to Disappear. Poof.

oil fire

An oil refinery in Puerto Rico burns in 2009. That’s one way to make a bunch of oil disappear, but accountants can do it faster. And they’re going to. (Wikipedia Photo)

In a few weeks, several billion barrels of American oil will vanish in an instant. (I am not making this stuff up: the headline is right there on Bloomberg Business, hardly a chicken-little medium.) This is — shortly to be was — the oil that just a few months ago (Remember? When we were young, and happy?) was to return us to energy independence, to make us the number one oil producer in the world, to bring the happy days here again for good.

Okay, there were weasel words salted into those assurances all along, words that we didn’t realize were there until too late. The new American oil revolution was going to put us on the road back in the general direction of North American energy independence (as long as you counted Mexican and Canadian oil, too); and we would be the number one oil producer if you included in your definition of “oil” such things as biofuels, refinery gains from heat expansion, spillage and, if necessary, drippings from leaky transmissions in shopping mall parking lots. Continue reading

The Search for the Crash of 2015

Plane-Crash The later it gets in the year, the more pointed become the questions: “So. Where’s your Crash of 2015, eh?” (Some of the questioners are Canadian.) Reminds me of a story. I was in a strange city, to meet a person very important to my future, and had been given directions to, let’s call it the Metropolis Building. “Huge building, right on Main Street, you can’t miss it.” I followed the directions, but could not find the building. Increasingly frantic as the appointed time drew near, I gave myself a time out, letting a granite wall alongside the sidewalk support me as I gathered my wits. I decided desperate measures were called for. “Excuse me, sir,” I asked a passerby, “Can you direct me to the Metropolis Building?” The reply was accompanied by a withering look. “You’re leaning on it.”

And that, dear interlocutor, is my answer to you. Look no further for the Crash of 2015; you’re standing in the rubble. And if you are going to disagree with me, based on the fact that CNBC and the Wall Street Journal have not yet described what you’re standing in as rubble, then let’s just agree that we reside on different planets, rely on different sources of information and part company. Continue reading

Debunking the Defamers of Religion

Bible

When you read what this text requires practitioners of an ancient religion to do, you will be horrified. (Wikipedia Photo)

It has been disturbing of late to hear politicians and pundits maligning one of the world’s great religions, reasoning (if that’s the right word to describe the process) that the actions of fundamentalists reveal the nature of the religion as one that counsels brutality, slavery, murder and death. It is perhaps not surprising — given that these fundamentalists have been responsible for virtually every violent act of terrorism in the United States since 9/11/2001 — that they have drawn so much invective down upon their whole belief system. I resolved to put the matter to rest by doing what none of the commenters seem to have done; by reading closely what the unfamiliar scriptures actually have to say.

Sadly, I must report that instead of debunking the defamers, I found confirmation of what many of us thought were reprehensible slanders. Continue reading

Charades in Paris

sea level rise

“A rising sea today submerged the hall in which COP21 negotiators were debating what to do about sea level rise.” You think that’s fantasy? Take a look at what COP21 is actually, really doing.

Charades: an absurd pretense intended to create a pleasant or respectable appearance. Paris: site of the 2015 conference of COP21 (or, if you insist: Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 21st Session). Yes, it’s the 21st time the participants have gathered to congratulate themselves for finally getting serious about climate change, with the promise that this time they will not only be serious about it, they will actually do something about it.

Of course they haven’t been; and of course they won’t. The only principle to which they have been committed, leaders of the industrialized and developing nations alike, is the first principle of industrialized politics: always appear to be doing something, but never do anything.  To do something about climate change would negatively affect one or more of the Leaders’ industrial patrons on whom most of them depend to stay in office; but a Leader must always appear to be doing something about something lest the starving, choking, drowning peasants rise up and ruin the business plan. Continue reading

Beware the Tides of March

Blue Sky Flooding

US Highway 80, only access to Tybee Island, Georgia, underwater on October 27. It was the worst flood since a Category 2 hurricane in 1935. No rain, no wind, just an implacably rising sea.

When I first published Brace for Impact, six years ago, I did not give climate change its own chapter. I thought it was a slow-moving threat multiplier, that would exacerbate the effects of more immediate damage done by by polluters, industrial agriculture, peak oil and the like. Boy, has that changed. The onslaughts of drought, heat, savage storms and sea level rise have accelerated beyond the expectations of scientists just a few years ago, and as we come around the turn to the home stretch, climate change is neck and neck with the various other existential threats to the industrial age. The finish line, of course, being the place where we are all finished. Continue reading

Trapped in a Millennial’s Daydream

millennials

The meaning of life in one easy chart! It’s easy when you’re a Millennial. (Photo by ITU Pictures)

Culture — the shared sense of who we are, and how we act — is now transmitted, in the main, by television. Once, our culture was preserved, protected and passed along by wise elders — heads of families and clans, priests, scholars and the like, whose motivation was to remind us of our shared history and values, and to summon us to a life of service to those values. Today, our culture consists of titillation, entertainment, distraction and falsehoods choreographed by 20-somethings who think history is something that happened last week, character is a part in a movie and wisdom is the name of a tooth. Continue reading

Death Watch in the Oil Patch

Pumpjack

Oil pumpjacks starting to suck oil instead of money. (You and I know, of course, that grasshopper pumps are not used in fracking, but have become a universal symbol for the oil bidness in the Mainstream Media, so there you go. And here you are.).

In the same sense that brave individuals are said to “fight” stage four cancer, the American oil industry has spent a harrowing year fighting reality. Since oil prices tanked last summer, the industry has drawn down its strategic reserves of whitewash, pig lipstick, shinola and embalming fluid to keep things looking good even as they were decomposing. They did a pretty good job, but then they’ve had a lot of practice.Their theory, apparently; when you’re kicking the can down the road, a myth is as good as a mile. Consider a brief compendium of the lies, damned lies and statistics the oil guys have sold the country in the past few years. Continue reading

The War on Cash

dollar decimated

I’m sorry, sir, your cash has expired and we are obliged to confiscate it. (Photo by photosteve101/Flickr)

For a couple of years now the Masters of the Universe have been massing their armored laptops on the borders of insanity to conduct a blitzkrieg against physical cash, to wipe every vestige of paper money and coinage from the face of the earth. Mutterings about the offensive began, as far as I know, six months or so ago on the financial-conspiracy and -contrarian websites. And now Lo! and Behold! the Plastic Curtain is on the verge of falling over two whole countries, Sweden and Denmark. And the softening-up process, the preliminary bombardments of explosive factoids,  and the eruption of fifth columns, is well under way around the world. Continue reading