into a new year-2013

Sunday 2013.03.03

So here we are again. The year 2012 has ended, and as we’re now almost two months into the new year of 2013, I find myself getting to doing some sort of review and look forward for the year change.

I’ve occasionally heard people refer to what’s said to be an ancient Chinese curse, saying “may you live in interesting times”. We are in interesting times.

In the rolling “News Feed” on Facebook a few weeks ago, something popped up. The image was a shot of text on a phone screen. The question was posed: “If someone from the 1950s suddenly appeared today, what would be the most difficult thing to explain to them about life today?“. The answer came back: “I possess a device, in my pocket, that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get in arguments with strangers“.

The thing that strikes me most about the course of events of 2012 might just simply be called a pandemic of misdirected attention.

I read an article on the CNN site that I thought was interesting, about the importance of a “stop day”. The idea of a “stop day” is an ancient one, set in cultural tradition as the day of sabbath. The word “sabbath” comes from an origin of meaning of “rest”, or “to cease”. Just knock it off for a day, just stop, and maybe notice what’s happening, take things in and reflect.

Watching the year 2012 go by was an exercise in observing people who seem to have completely lost the plot in doing these things. People who can never quite seem to stop twitching and thrashing around and babbling, to shut up, turn off the televison, put away the mobile phone, be still a while, pay attention, and reflect.

The results are evident, but who notices that is another question. The people who do notice have a hell of a hard time getting the attention of the rest. We have an increasing level of cognitive dissonance here in the United States, that certainly appeared to me to get worse over the course of 2012.

“When societies get badly stressed, delusional thinking increases. We are now in that situation.” – James Howard Kunstler

Unfortunately, in reflecting on the year 2012, and looking forward to the year we’re now in, that’s kind of an unavoidable theme. That doesn’t stop people from avoiding it.

In a note online from John Michael Greer, a particular sentence struck me, where he was talking about how we truly don’t need any more of “vague generalities, wishful thinking, or another round of apocalyptic fantasies“. That covers quite a lot pretty quickly.

Greer concisely summarized a collection of ways that too many people are avoiding and evading actually consciously getting to grips with the difficulties and problems of the time. Some people, just putting on a happy smiling façade, a sort of “hey, it’s all good!” façade of simplistic platitudes.

A much darker element reacts in some kind of catalcysm mode, that seems to give them some simplistic sense of resolution, and telling themselves that if they just build themselves some secret isolated armed bunker compound stocked with canned food, guns, and ammo, they’ll be all set when the big day of doom arrives.

Circling around all that, you can find maybe find some people who at least understand, and maybe even acknowledge, that we have some serious problems, but then just go off into some vague platitudes and wishes and demands for “solutions”. The snag here being that usually what people seem to really expect are some neat and simple “solutions” that cost them nothing, require them to change nothing, and we’ll all carry on everything as usual, status quo, with some sort of “fix” or simple substitution.

None of that is very realistic, and it’s way worse than just not useful.

Added to the avoidance that compounds the difficulties, is all the madness that fogs up the works, in the realm of present American politics, where too many people are drawn into this weird and thoroughly dysfunctional kind of bipolar madness of anything and everything pushed and bent and squeezed into terms of being either “Left/Liberal/Democratic” or “Right/Conservative/Republican”. The result of all that is people who are so sucked into that bipolar opposition game of dodgeball that nobody stuck in that game can see anything outside of it.

 

It’s almost a cliché to talk about the effects of television, but there has been something very noticeable over the past year. Sampling TV over this past year or so showed a continuing trend of deterioration of cable networks, tossing aside large chunks of what used to be interesting and unique in favor of loads of garbage programming, a lot of it euphemistically labelled “reality” programs, and gradually all becoming networks that are indistinguishable from each other. They’re all showing more or less the same sorts of random crap.

This matters when you take a look around and realize how much of the American population spends absurd amounts of time with their ass parked in front of a television screen, filling their heads with garbage, like something comparable to living on a diet of bologna and Cheez Whiz.

This isn’t even getting into the obsessive fetishes people have with their latest shiny mobile phones and whatever stupid tricks they can do, or the barrage of noise via Twitter feeds from people coughing out random brain fart gibberish, adding to the general mass of noise.

 

We’re in a period when ignorance and confusion are the last things we need, and we have some serious problems in that realm.

Unfortunately, one of the tragic lessons we learn from history is that too many people don’t learn anything from history.

The larger perspective overall lesson from the history of what happened in Germany through the period of around 1925 to 1945 was the almost incomprehensible awful consequences of a whole nation of people gradually choosing to detach themselves from reality in favor of what they believed were easy answers and circumstances, and just going batshit crazy.

I came across a recent article online, Stop Validating Ignorance, by a man named Lawrence Krauss. The point is simple enough. It really should not even need to be said, that it’s not a good thing to have obnoxiously assertive people influencing things in some perverse desire to regress to some kind of medieval era lack of understanding of the universe. The annoying thing is found at the end of that article, that seems to be a frequent kind of occurance, suggesting that education and an understanding of the world needs somehow to be justified in terms of “what it means for our economic future” and “enabling us to be competitive in a global economy”.

It’s almost as if you’re not even supposed to think that there might be reasons for learning and understanding that are much more broad and important than just vague notions about “job training”.

Consider a recent report saying that the “Millennials” generation, defined as presently in the age range of 18 to 34 years old, are “the most stressed generation”. That’s no surprise. The linked article talking about this mentions the fairly obvious things; high unemployment, and the bonus problem of college graduates finishing their degree, finding themselves with massive debt in student loans, and a remarkable void where they thought a “career’ was going to appear.

There’s a hell of a lot more than that going on. They are, I can say, living in “interesting times“, and they are going to get much more interesting.

One item that I mentioned during the last year was coming across an interview segment on CNN with Microsoft wizard Bill Gates. He offered assorted platitudes, such as ideas he seems to promote often about how the general state of education will just be vastly improved my more and more of more advanced shiny new digital gizmos in classrooms and the hands of students everywhere.

This is something that I find interesting in contrast to something I’ve read more than once (and can find supported by history within my own family history), which is that back around the early 20th century, the general level and quantity and quality of education of students finishing 8th grade was better than the quantity and quality of education of many Americans today with a high school diploma, or sometimes even an associates or bachelors degree.

It sounds much more appealing to many people to suggest that more elaborate and complex magic stuff will improve education, rather than maybe treating teachers with respect and the resources they need, and letting the teachers and students get on with it.

For many of the Millennials, they find themselves constantly being sold (or were already sold) ideas about “career training”, more than education, the idea of broad general learning equipping them to be fully finctional human beings, with much of the recent and current fashion being in “career” areas that mostly train them to be corporate cubicle serfs of some type. This sets up a large host of problems way beyond the scope of a little blog post.

Lately, in the occasional times I turn on a television, I’ve been seeing these ads from yet another “technical institute” of the school-as-business type of operation kind that have popped up around the United States over the past few decades.

You know the places, the kind that exists solely as a “profit center” operation gathering money from people by selling promises of lucrative careers, possibly with their own in-house (or closely associated) student loan financing department to “aid” students by loading them up with large loans with a pile of interest, to be paid back regardless of whatever “career” might or might not appear for them.

The ad shows a group of young people, walking around, looking very pleased, even smug, while a young female voice talks about how she and her fellow graduates are in high demand for lucrative employment in “the jobs of the new economy”, whatever the fuck that is.

 

All that takes us to one of the giant feature dramas of circumstances of the present. The subject of “The Economy”, and a whole herd of pink elephants in the room most people are desperately trying to avoid.

Unfortunately, this is where the delusions run wild and deep, which prompts a pointer back to Kunstler’s quote about delusional thinking in stressed societies, or Greer’s bit about vague generalities, wishful thinking, and apocalyptic fantasies.

I sometimes refer to the classic old children’s story by Hans Christian Andersen, The Emperor’s New Clothes. It’s a wonderful simple kind of morality tale for children teaching them about the potential problems of group consensus acceptance of a large difference between reality and some shared pretense, and choosing the pretense, accepted because people become convinced that this is easier than dealing with actual reality they see before them.

It amazes me how serious, educated people can manage to avoid a simple realization, that endless exponential increase of anything is not possible. This is something that’s a big basic conceptual problem, this avoidance.

 

We’re still very much in the middle of the wreckage of the situation in banking and finance that we’ve been dealing with for several years in a major way, that was all building up for years, decades, really. I’ve written about this before, but, now, in early 2013, we’re still there.

We’re in circumstances with virtually everybody enmeshed in the idea of economic growth as a perpetual state, and a necessity. The people locked into this stuff can’t grasp the idea of any limits to growth, understanding that endless exponential growth is not possible. People are so bonded to the idea of economic growth as the basis of everything that they can’t seem to grasp the difference between economic growth and economic activity.

We’ve been in this situation for a long time, where people got used to the phenomenon of perpetual economic growth, especially here in the US in the years following World War II, when a recovering United States found itself in the world with most of the rest of the industrialized nations of the world in disarray and wreckage, and with what Americans seemed to think were limitless natural resources.

In shortest form, the general consensus of the general public and of public figures in business, finance, and government, is, still, that economic growth was not an anomalous period of human history, but our natural permanent state of being. Where history can help us once more, if we pay attention, is to note that similar attitudes were in full frenzy in the decade of the Roaring Twenties. Then October 1929 arrived, and people were very unpleasantly surprised and their delusions burst quickly.

In more recent times, when the state of economic growth started being less than satisfying to some people, we began seeing different behavior in corporate business management, banking and finance, and all the different forms of trading people collectively refer to as “The Market”. This has caused a biblical great and mighty host of problems, that have gotten worse and worse. We’re now suffering the consequences and dysfunction these things caused ever since, worse than ever.

An awful lot can be fairly simply described as people taking the approach that basically says, if we don’t have the kind of “growth” we want, then we’ll just institute more and more complex and ephemeral systems of pretending to have growth, which I’ve seen described pretty aptly as “the financialization of everything”. This includes everything in the forms of various insanity and swindles that the people doing them like to emphemistically call “financial innovation” or “new financial products”.

There, essentially, many different practices involve imagining supposed new “wealth” into existence, by some agreement of creating new debt, then treating that debt not as debt, but as “assets” or “new wealth“, then going into frenzies of transactions trading that debt back and forth. In that thrash, the players involved do all they can to derive profits from the transactions (and regarding this as “economic activity”), and figuring out how to then leave somebody else stuck with the debt.

With all of that involving “wealth” that is really debt, in some kind of phatasmagoria more and more separated from what I would call the real economy, that is, an economy of actual useful productive work and material goods of value, eventually it’s like a game of musical chairs, with the players acting as if the music will never stop.

If we carry on further with this metaphor of a game of musical chairs, it got even worse, in this whole crazy contrived world we saw come into being with “securitized” mortgage bundles, and then all the crazy assorted contortions of financial derivatives. In all that, if we carry on with this metaphor, it was like people decided the actual chairs in the game of musical chairs didn’t matter, and, in fact, if that were so, then why not just sell the chairs off, and make more money.

Even worse than that, when you look at all the still somewhat obscured events and practices of financial derivatives that were a kind of insurance policy for all this crazy trading in hallucinations, it was like people were thinking themselves extra clever, by pretty much saying, hey, if the music will never stop, not only can we sell off our own chairs, but we can make loads more money if we sell the same chairs to multiple buyers, many many times, because if the music never stops, nobody will notice or even care that a whole bunch of players have a claim to the same chair.

Then, the music stopped, and all this imploded.

It was a strangely similar course of events to the Roaring Twenties followed by the crash of 1929, kind of an example of the idea that history doesn’t repeat, but sometimes it rhymes.

After the crash of 1929, political leadership more willing to face reality than today’s bunch instituted serious action to get ahold of the problems, including the Glass-Steagall Banking Act of 1933.

In 1999, Republican party politicians in the US Congress and their banking masters pushed through a repeal of the Glass-Steagall act, in a time when people were in a similar frenzy, thinking everybody will just get richer and richer, perpetually, no problems here, so why have this banking regulation in the way? They got their way, signed by President Clinton, everybody all smiles, what could possibly go wrong?

Only 9 years later, as Autumn 2008 came around, the banking and financial system of the United States crashed again because of a repeat of lunacy and hubris remarkably similar to the Twenties.

We’re still there, and at this point we have mountains of astronomical debt numbers, of debt that, in reality, can never be paid, with the fundamental part of the story being that the reason it cannot ever be repaid is that huge chunks of it were sheer accounting fraud, a hallucinated phantasm of imagined pretend wealth, that never actally existed except as accounting figures, an entire gigantic mess of what can only be regarded as massive accounting fraud.

There’s a lot of talk about lost wealth, and capital leaving the system, and so on, in talk about this stuff. The thing that’s often lost or ignored is that what it all seems to come down to is that, in a very real way, a lot of “wealth” was lost, a lot of “capital” evaporated, because in all the crazy and flat out fraudulent machinations of banking and finance we’ve experienced, it never really existed in the first place. But, yet, the debts representing it still hang over everybody and everything, and there are a whole batch of people who managed to get away from it all with very large numbers entered into their business and personal accounts that they can claim and use as real money.

What’s almost funny, if not for the fact that it’s nearly tragic, is finding an old blog post from the summer of 2008, when things were coming unglued in the phantasmagoric real estate bubble, The Unofficial List of Pundits/Experts Who Were Wrong on the Housing Bubble. It’s a real roll of hubris and delusion.

Soak all that in, and notice the people who were saying the things said. That includes two CNBC talking heads on television every evening making pronouncements about the economy now, and #26 on the list, the economic adviser to career plutocrat and former Republican party presidential candidate Willard Romney during his election campaign, and possibly the man who would have been Secretary of the Treasury had Romney been elected, Glenn Hubbard.

Those guys are exactly the kind of people I was talking about earlier. Evidently many people still take them seriously. You can see and hear people like this in action every day if you turn on a television, especially in the daily mind-warp phantasm of programming on CNBC. They really do seem to live in their own little isolated and insular world.

Among all the other problems caused by the chain of disaster of “securitized mortgages” and all the derivatives and churning madness that followed, we still, as far as I can tell, have one severely problematic consequence of all that. The selling off of mortgage notes by the original lender, packaging into mysterious bundled securities, and churn of transactions following, has left us an extraordinary clusterfuck of chaos. We have a situation of piles of houses and attached mortgages with mortgage liens on titles, and problems arising with the mortgage repayments, where it’s very uncertain who actually holds legal claim to the title on a piece of real estate.

There was a very recent bit of news that came to my attention via a story in Britain’s Financial Times. It was about people in the financial and trading markets world, conceiving a new magic item to shuffle around in the casino games, creating bonds of some kind connected in some way to “cash flows” related to solar electrical power generation. The story is Bankers turn sunshine into bonds, and you will need to create a user login (free) to read, but it’s worthwhile to be able to read this and other FT stories.

It’s just staggering, completely astonishing. It’s like people have learned nothing. I read that, and I seriously thought “this has got to be a fucking joke“. It was like a parody from The Onion.

Behold an excerpt:

Sliced and diced assets are about to get their moment in the sun. Bankers say they are close to turning sunshine into bonds for the first time, highlighting how exotic securities are shedding the toxic image they gained in the financial crisis amid fresh innovation.

The bonds would be backed by cash flows generated from leasing solar panels to businesses and homeowners. Companies such as SolarCity and SunRun are offering panel installations to their customers, who can then claim tax breaks.

Russ Burns, head of esoteric asset finance at Credit Suisse, said sunshine was a natural candidate for this procedure, known as securitisation. “Solar assets and related cash flows are very similar to various consumer and commercial assets that we have securitised in different venues.”

Looking at the circumstances of recent history up to the present, it’s like we had the lunatics taking over the asylum. Then they burned the place down. We then left them in charge, and put them in charge of the reconstruction. Now, several years later, the place is still a disaster area, and now the lunatics have submitted a request for reconstruction supplies requisitioning a convoy of tanker trucks full of gasoline and a few hundred cases of matches.

All the above is a dominant part of the picture, here in early 2013; the severe problems of the real economy being paralysed and obfuscated beyond almost anyone’s comprehension by the hallucinated delusional world of Wall Street. People have profoundly lost the plot of the idea of “the economy” being about getting work done that needs to be done, and people getting paid for their work, so they can pay other people for their work, and for things of usefulness and real value, and generally sustaining life and making life worth living.

Address any of that, and in the foggy and polluted atmosphere of the political idiocy and insanity dominating American politics and governance, some obnoxious fool will start calling you a “left-wing radical” or “Marxist” or something.

I recently read something quoting CNBC talking head Rick Santelli as saying “in this day and age, being a trader is downright impossible”. It might be a little more accurate, and honest, to have said something to the effect that maybe it’s getting more difficult to continue activities aimed toward just shuffling transactions in order to get something for nothing.

I just flipped on a TV and the chatter on CNBC was reporting that the New York Stock Exchange closed for the day with the Dow Jones Industrial Average “at a 5 year high”. A day or two before, I checked the same medium and there was excited and anxious chatter because “the Dow” had, as they put it, plunged by 200. In the meantime, did any of us notice some big changes in anything?

A lot of people who might generally easily get all wound up and rant about “those Wall Street bastards!” have actually been tied up in a lot of things themselves, indirectly, and perhaps don’t even consciously understand their own involvement or complicity. There are a lot of people (maybe even you), who, being happy to “not know how the sausage is made”, you might say, were happy to just stand back and watch while the world of banking and finance and “The Markets” whirled around in all the mad games, as long as they got a nice share of the “growth”, or at least the pretend illusions of growth.

An awful lot of the American public have been very happy to ignore and pretend a lot of serious problems and things that were inherently headed for trouble, while they were in a position and circumstances where it seemed to work out nicely for themselves.

Sum up a lot of stuff pretty simply by imagining people saying “fix things!”… (short pause)… “but don’t go changing anything I like!”. An ugly partner to that is for a hell of a lot of people to turn to some manipulative characters (or whole casts of characters) who present themselves as offering “solutions” or guidance, some easy simple answers, maybe some convenient scapegoats, even, without actually offering any real understanding. That runs anywhere from political critters to things like the unintentional comedy of people anywhere from the barking from guys like Jim Cramer and Larry Kudlow to the ridiculous faux-professor carny act of Glenn Beck.

We have all the insane paralyzed and dysfunctional mess I just talked about in banking and finance, a giant tangled mess clogging up everything. We have all kinds of debris piles from a large array of different kinds of messes, all kinds of worthless theoretical wealth financial instruments and constructs that can never be all paid according to the plans involved.

We still haven’t figured out, for one thing, what Iceland figured out, and acted upon.

This whole situation drags on, into another year. The US government still avoids actually applying the rule of law to all the swindles that crashed the works. It appears that a lot of public attitudes and consensus hang on to ideas about how they think it’s all supposed to be, status quo, no matter how unsustainable some of that is, even when faced with parts of it that are already wrecked and collapsed.

 

There’s still something like that, some weird widespread shared delusion and state of denial, when it comes to the general subject of “energy”. I’ve been talking about that as a regular topic over the past year. None of what I’ve been talking about seems to have gotten any better at all over the course of 2012.

A commentary piece published on the Huffington Post addressed the problem we continue to have in reality evasion about energy supply and use matters, but, with the political idiocy running amok, many of the people who need to get the hint would dismiss it as “that left wing liberal media propaganda”.

We continue to have the same huge problems of hydrocarbon fuel resource gluttony, and all the ways people are avoiding comprehending the problem. It continues to amaze me that so many people buy into the continued ridiculous and profoundly misleading hype about things like the tight oil deposits in the shale rock of the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Montana, or the tar sands of western Canada, as some new wonders that are said to be a source of newfound “energy independence”, with some of this nonsense hailing things like that as “the new Saudi Arabia”.

These things are not new. They’re only in the picture now because of the depletion of everything else, and the high cost of crude oil now makes these workable in financial terms. They aren’t a new wonder, or a sign of new “energy independence”, it’s a sign of how deep we are into diminishing returns in petroleum, that we are now, in a very real, literal, sense, scraping for the dregs.

In the surreal and dysfunctional world of current politics, hyper-scaled corporate business management and finance, and the dog and pony show infortainment that forms most of what Americans are consuming as news, all that is getting lost, in a bombardment of distractions, delusions, fantasies, and some pretty serious confusion. In the early part of 2013, looking back over this past year and where we are now getting into this new year, we have a lot of major changes and adjustments and rearrangements of much of what we do and how we do it, but getting a clear grasp of things and getting to work on all of it is obscured by a serious case of public mutual shared pretense.

In this year’s State of the Union address, President Obama made a nice sounding declaration about addressing the problem of climate change caused by global warming, a subject which got some more attention after Hurricane Sandy morphed into an unprecedented storm that people labelled as Superstorm Sandy, and that blasted through the northeastern United States.

It was political theater that means little when a dominant portion of the population doesn’t even want to the think about changing anything seriously about anything they do. It’s a cheap applause line to an audience of people who don’t want to hear about anything inconvenient, and given the state of Congress, for a start, it seems apparent that nothing much will actually happen other than some bare token display that does nothing, and even that only after some marathon of endless yammering and squabbling.

Another item in the 2013 State of the Union address was Obama stating something that should have been obvious and a high priority of government at all levels in the United States a long time ago, about “infrastructure”. As the news swirls with all the noise about the current farce in US federal budget games, there isn’t a lot to indicate much in the way of honest rational thinking about reality among the political players.

In all the nonsensical chatter about “cuts”, nobody is facing up to how much the US government has been bankrupting itself in decades of obsession with notions of empire and militaristic jingoism, what Eisenhower described as “the Military-Industrial Complex”, and government at all levels has neglected simple maintenance of the public commons in all its forms. Look around, and you see things falling apart everywhere, while people bark about paying taxes as essentially being theft by communists, while actual tax levels are about as low as ever, and government at all levels is going broke or way past “broke”, and people boast and preen about being the mightiest and most prosperous nation on Earth.

Like I said, we’re stuck in a parade of mass pretense. It’s way past time to snap out of it. It’s like a whole nation where the majority is suffering some very real form of psychosis.

But most people don’t want to hear that. Dude, you bum us out!

And all this probably strikes a lot of people as some big lament that we’re all doomed or something, which doesn’t help anything. There’s also the ever popular critique of “long winded internet rant. There’s also always “conspiracy theory” (even when there’s nothing being discussed about any kind of conspiracy). Although, now that I think about it, an awful lot about the Wall Street games probably does fully qualify as criminal conspiracy, although much of it is probably more like levels of hubris approaching severe mental illness more than anything else.

One of the recent installments of James Kunstler’s weekly Monday blog Clusterfuck Nation was interesting and to the point, which is pretty usual, but the title was especially notable on its own. The title of that note was “Scale Implosion“. It was the kind of thing where the title really does get straight to the point, right to the essence of the subject matter. If you already understand what he was writing about, you almost didn’t even need the rest of the note, but, then, the point there isn’t preaching to the choir.

An unfortunate side note was that it was copied to another couple of websites (maybe more) and for some reason, it was retitled to something that perhaps somebody thought was a catchier and more descriptive title, that seems to have diverted people into thinking in a way where they actually managed to miss the overall point rather badly.

“Scale implosion” pretty neatly encapsulates the gist of a lot of the major problems we have coming at us, and really have already, and have had for some time.

It covers the phenomenon of big corporate retail chain commerce of the variety typified by Wal Mart, which was the main theme of Kunstler’s piece, and its fate.

It covers the subject of how the US federal government has bankrupted itself, with the general approval of US citizens (despite all the noisy protestations from so many people who only object to “government spending” that they think doesn’t benefit them directly), especially in the realm of massive “defense spending” that covers a lot that has little to maintaining a defense of the nation.

It covers the massive misallocation of resources and wealth over a half century and running since the end of the second world war in the explosive outward suburban expansion that has dissipated so much into a completely unsustainable arrangement.

It certainly covers the massive overextended phatansmagoria insanity of the banking and finance world and the way the determined quest for perpetual exponential growth, more and more detached from the real economy, has left things in astronomically huge piles of worthless debris and obligations that sieze up everything from functioning properly, yet still are not cleared away and reset.

All of these things and more need major work, and that’s going to take a large batch of serious attitude adjustments. That’s not even the right way to put it, on second thought. It’s more like; the start is just to get people snapped out a whole pile of delusions and ridiculous notions detached from reality. You can pick any of the example areas I just rattled off and make a collection of absurd ideas people have about them getting in the way of a good conscious grasp of what’s going on, with the twist that an incredible number of people think you’re weird or completely off the rails if you don’t think that nonsense. Why, how dare you say that, the Emperor’s new clothes are grand, made of the finest beautiful fabric!

And the extra twist of a whole added layer of complication comes if you encounter some soul whose mind has been grabbed by some babblings about “the real truth!” from some barking madman like Glenn Beck or Alex Jones or whoever the fuck it is. That gets us right back around to the topic of education, and the idea of education as actually learning about the world and laws of the universe and human culture and history, not just paying dues and collecting a career ticket pass. People who have actually had a general decent broad real education are less vulnerable to barking carny bullshit vendors, in anything from some characters selling political madness backed by some warped nonsense of what they’re selling as “the real history”, to selling some kind of fake-technological snake oil magic.

 

Speaking of technology, I think we all need to consider a large and broad subject that I already glanced at earlier here. When it comes to very real actual working current technology, a large chunk of what I’ve been seeing over the past year and rolling right on into this new year might be generally described as a huge variety of failures to really have a good handle on present technology, to get and keep it in perspective.

There’s a TV commercial that has been running lately that just knocks me right over, it’s such a perfect demonstration of one of the kinds of cognitive disconnects running wild. In this, there’s a scene that looks like a 19th century railway station platform. People are milling around, and in this scene sits a young woman who, incongruously, sits there with some current latest greatest flat plastic high tech slab of a touchscreen tablet computer. People gather around this and peer over her shoulder, marveling. One of the characters asks “is it powered by steam?”, and the woman answers “no, it’s powered by Intel!”, and the little four-note musical signature theme of Intel TV advertising chimes, and the ad closes.

That perfectly captures one of the fundamental conceptual problems we have all around us, that seems to completely disrupt any attempt to get people’s heads around our predicaments of energy resources and use. This magic gizmo tablet computer is not “powered by Intel”, the Intel processor and associated electronics are powered by electrical energy. That energy is provided by the electical charge of the internal battery pack of the device, and the question then is, where does that electrical charge come from, that actually powers this magical wizardry?

That’s the kind of problem we have in getting a serious public consensus about “energy” based on some realistic understanding and rational thinking in line with physical reality. In short form, raising all kinds of “energy issues” is often likely to get some response that says there’s no problem, because technological innovation will sort that out, whatever that might be. James Kunstler often refers to this kind of thing, talking about how he will give a live talk to a crowd somewhere, and in some discussion or audience question period, somebody will pipe up with a comment that can usually be paraphrased as “but, dude, we got technology!”.

What gets lost is that the entire subject of technology is about using some form of energy to be applied to some task, accomplishing some form of work, in the classic physics capital-W meaning of Work. Technology doesn’t give us energy, it uses energy, it needs energy to work.

But, then, this is probably a good time to go back to that Bill Gates appearance on CNN a while back. There, among the other things he said was some vague platitudes about how he’s confident that “the economy” and everything will be just great, because “innovation” will always come in and create some new wonder boom times. What that innovation might be wasn’t clear. It was just simply that some sort of “innovation” will always come along and create wonders.

 

Switching technology topic, one of the greatest practical benefits of the spaceflight program was demonstrated in spectacular form recently on the program Earth From Space on PBS Nova. It’s maybe of the greatest examples of the overall great consequences of the space program, which is to really give us a view of the Earth that is our only home that puts it all in perspective.

Somehow, we manage to have an epidemic of missing perspective, in every way imaginable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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