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 images)

Everything was going great. Then there was a little spark… (Photo by 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

Technology is Now a Cancer. Stage Four. Metastasized.

internet of things

This is your brain on technology. Get help. (Image by techinfographics. com)

“New and improved” is now an oxymoron. Every single day my cell phone tells me that 10 or 20 apps have been “updated” and none of them ever work better. Instead, a phone that worked perfectly when I got it now tells me, 10 to 20 times a day, “Unfortunately, Moto has stopped.” The operating rule in technology for years now has been, if it isn’t broke, graft something onto it so we can advertise it as new and improved. Continue reading

Gag the Little Children — Forever

Coming soon to a yard near yours? A fracking well looms over a residence in the Eagle Ford shale region of Texas. (Photo by Earthworks Action/Flickr)

The Hallowich family will never forget what happened when the frackers moved in next door. But under court order, they must never speak of it.  (Photo, of a similar situation in North Dakota, by Earthworks Action/Flickr)

These two things happened in the summer of 2011:

  1. US EPA administrator Lisa Jackson told a Congressional committee, “I’m not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water,” echoing industry insistence that not a single water well had been affected by fracking [see “The Mother of All Fracking Lies,” The Daily Impact, 8/17/2011];
  2. A large fracking company, Range Resources Corp., agreed to pay a Pennsylvania family $750,000 to shut them up about how a fracking operation next to their 10-acre farm had polluted their water and air, seriously damaging their health.  

That frackers lie is not the headline. Here’s the headline: in approving the settlement agreement, the court imposed on the family’s two minor children, then 10 and seven years old, a lifetime ban on talking about fracking or the Marcellus Shale region. Continue reading

The Days After Tomorrow 6: They Voted With Their Feet

[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.]

de Crevecouer

This is a noble Frenchman who fought in the French and Indian War. He thought Indian culture was “far superior to anything to be boasted of among us.”

If you say anything complimentary about historic Native American life, you will be told that you are buying into the myth of the Noble Savage, you are mis-applying modern sensibilities to Stone Age history, and are thus constructing in your mind a Disney movie about a Mad Max era. It’s a hard criticism to answer. How, indeed, can we overweight, sedentary keyboard crunchers come to any valid conclusion about life as hunter-gatherers without iPhones?

Turns out, we have a few witnesses. Here’s one. “The American Indian should serve as a model for how to eradicate poverty and bring natural rights back into civilized life.” Can you hear the sneers? Obviously, this is some bleeding-heart academic New Age liberal with no knowledge of history, right? Wrong. That’s Thomas Paine, a founding father of the United States, writing in 1795 while the Indian Wars raged in the Midwest. Continue reading

Let the (Wile E. Coyote) Games Begin

wile e coyote

You don’t have to worry about gravity or reality or any of that stuff if you just don’t look down….

What will be the trigger that detonates the final implosion of the industrial age? The betting is always changing, and a new and unexpected candidate has just presented itself as a possibility. The traditional destructors — scarce and/or expensive fuel, shortages of food and/or water, rising sea levels, spreading drought, violent weather and the like — are lined up like dominoes and will eventually fall onto each other in a final wave goodbye. But who will go first? With such musings do we beguile the time as we wait. This is how to get Dallas, and New Orleans, and Nice off our minds, we’ll think about Rio de Janeiro and the Olympics.  Continue reading

Blacking Out: Struggles of the California Power Grid

electrical-power-linesThe operators of the California electric grid, under a state of emergency since June, made it through the year’s first fierce heat wave, but face a near-perfect storm of setbacks as they struggle to keep the lights on until fall brings cooler weather. Be glad you don’t work there. Here is a brief list of what they’re facing:

  • The endless drought has so depleted the state’s reservoirs that only 20% of the normal supply of hydro power is available. Hydro is one of the largest sources of California’s power.  
  • The largest source of electricity in the southern half of the state, natural gas, is not available at all due to the shutdown of the massive storage facilities in Aliso Canyon after they leaked massive quantities of natural gas into the atmosphere — for four months.
  • The summer heat, and the electricity needed to deal with it, are both seeking new record highs this year.
  • With the system thus stretched to its utmost, natural disasters also threaten. Wildfires, which are breaking out earlier in the year, getting bigger, and lasting longer than ever, not only damage the grid directly, but their smoke ionizes the air and bleeds power from transmission lines and force operators to reduce line voltages.
  • And then there’s the really big gorilla in the room, the Big One, earthquake that is, that will destroy much of the California grid, and that’s not all.

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

The Days After Tomorrow 5: None So Blind

Bill Gates

Think the days of arrogant white ignorance are over? Consider that just a few weeks ago, American Geek-in-chief Bill Gates grandly offered to give Bolivia, which he referred to as a poverty stricken country, 100,000 chickens. (Sort of a “Let them eat eggs” statement — or, with a little extra trouble, cake.) Bolivia, it turns out, has a thriving economy, exports 36 million chickens a year, produces nearly 200 million. But thanks anyway, Great White Father.

[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.]

One cannot answer a question that has not been asked (if you are a parent, you know exactly what I mean). And one cannot ask a question of which one cannot conceive. Thus does ignorance remain locked in place. Before we can learn anything useful from or about any other culture, we have to remove any blinders that prevent us from conceiving of questions: things like bigotry, racism, intolerance, delusions of superiority and exceptionalism, convictions of a special and exclusive relationship with God. Continue reading