Here we are getting into the middle part of the first month of 2014, and the weather has provided us with an extra rough start to the year. I won’t bore readers with all my own stories right now, but I will just say that, like many people over a huge area of the United States, I have had some problems to deal with in this.
At some point I remembered what I was thinking years ago, in a road trip that took me through the Mohave desert in a period when the entire southwestern US was in the middle of a heat wave that made things even more severe than normal. As I was travelling along, probably prompted a little by thoughts about the car I was driving, a poorly maintained piece of shit belonging to a friend of mine that seemed likely to die at any moment, I had the thought, if you’re stupid in this place, it might kill you. This blast of severe winter weather brought thoughts of a similar kind, in opposite circumstances.
One thing about this kind of circumstance is that it’s a real smack in the head that will force people to get serious, stop fooling around, and deal with things as they really are, and get your head around what’s important, right now. Things like this force a certain focus and sense of what’s important, and maybe what’s not so important, and what’s not important at all, and might be simple petty idiocy. Get serious. Help each other out. We’re all in this together, and we have to deal with this, correctly, sensibly, and right now. Don’t be a dick.
Maybe it might not be the dumbest idea ever for a blog note starting off the new year looking forward, to give it a title like “2014: the year of digging out?”.
The circumstances so far have been fairly dramatic, with some big problems I’ve had to deal with, with more still to sort out and work out, dependent on conditions. This has provided plenty to think about, and some of this I already wrote about in my last note.
The character I was talking about in that last note, with the obnoxious idiocy about the gas company people, was featured there for the simple reason that he was such a standout example of something far too common now in 2014 America. In virtually everything I’ve been writing about, the “three E” subjects of Earth, energy, economy, the crazed and delusional and dishonest dysfunctions of current politics, this problem undermines everything, just literally disables and sabotages our ability to simply understand what the fuck is happening, and what we might need to do, and how.
People continue to go around and around making all sorts of noise about how economic growth or “growing our economy” is everything, rather than making things work, people making a living, making a life. In the current state of lunacy and pretense, the general pretense presented is that “economic growth” will happen (or that it is happening, supposedly), from some ugly toxic magical brew of combination of increasing levels of debt, usury, and “consuming”.
As we start the year, I see the obvious need that’s been staring us all in the face for a long stretch of time now. We have, hammering us hard over the head, the need to realize that we have a lot to do to get things sorted out in terms of what I keep calling the real economy, as opposed to the set of delusional and fraudulent phantasms we have going (or not going, should I say?). The real economy means getting work done that needs to be done, and getting it done right, to sustain life and make it life worth living, about things and work of actual value and usefulness and quality, about making things work and function properly, in a way that can be sustained. A healthy economy.
Suggest what I said above, and people might react strangely. What is this? Deal with necessity, do things that are good, get the work done, do it right, pay people decently to do the work? Exchange value for value? What strangeness is this, you crazy mad fool?
Turning to the grim matter of the circus of Congress swirling around the extended unemployment insurance program, you can expect, and find, the same nonsense and raw lunacy and stupidity. One aspect of this is the theme of Republican party members chattering about “how to pay for it”, which, obviously, on the face of it, is entirely a proper correct question. That is part of what congressional representatives are supposed to do, it’s part of the job, working this stuff out. So “how to pay for…” item X should be an entirely correct and reasonable and normal question in the ongoing business of the Congress. Unfortunately, the reality of the present is that what follows that kind of question is almost guaranteed to be a clown act of mendacity and nonsense.
The biggest obvious item is to turn to everything that gets stuck under headings of “Defense” and “National Security”, which, depending on what gets counted, runs somewhere bewteen 600 billion dollars to over a trillion dollars a year, every year, these days. I think I might have mentioned it before, but a quick bit of research turned up information on the web breaking down just part of that, showing that for the past 13 years, the combined costs of the military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan have averaged out to about $238.5 billion per year over those 13 years.
Since so many political creatures like to include babbling about the Constitution, let’s remember one of the core essence parts of that document, right off the top, the very beginning of the thing:
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
I would suggest that people in positions of power might do well to reflect on the words about “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity“.
In the realm of American national politics now it’s impossible to have any serious discussion of the glaring fact that for decades, what’s classified as “defense” and “national security” has consumed astronomical amounts of the wealth of the nation and has had little to no relevance to actually providing for the common defense of the nation. Meanwhile promoting the general welfare of the citizenry appears to be irrelevant, and the present state of affairs, which became more unavoidably evident than ever from revelations in 2013, is that the idea of insuring domestic tranquility has been replaced to quite a disturbing degree by intentions to keep the peasants in line by coercion and intimidation and repression. This is all happening while people in positions of power, and a host of sycophants supporting the show, continue all kinds of theatrical posing and pretense about “our freedom”.
I wonder if 2014 might be a year when reality forces more people to snap out of all kinds of different nonsense and bad attitude and behavior, and blows away assorted delusions and presumptions that are keeping us from even getting a proper grip on the issues and problems at hand, never mind finding “solutions”.
We’re in a period when what pretends to be “news” television is often simply some group argument where nobody can get more than ten words out of their mouth without another participant starting to shout and babble right over them. With that as a background for people’s understanding of what’s happening, we have got ourselves some weird syndrome, a strange public attention deficit as a continuing problem.
This comes into play in the circus of politics. I’ll steer myself away from as much of that as I can avoid, by simply saying that heading into 2014, I think we can figure on the exact same games and dysfunction in that domain.
Despite there being no such thing as a “two-party system” in the foundational structure of our government, or anything about political parties at all, we’re suffering the problems of all the absurd games that stem from the idea that our government is a “two party system”, which, naturally, we’re always hearing from the members of the two dominant political parties. Between the absurdities about everything revolving around the entrenched notion that American government is, the games that come from that, it’s probably an easy guess to suggest that 2014 will feature yet another year of noisy games and chattering bullshit in the olitical sports arena, that do nothing to even address and further any serious understanding of the circumstances we have on our hands, never mind anything like a real effort to work on them. We can figure on the usual superficial showbiz that says vote for me and my party, we’ll make everything better, unlike those other guys who make everything worse.
Man, do I get a feeling of déjà vu writing about all this.
As I think about what to say in that department, my general thinking is tending more and more toward the conclusion that it’s a waste of time to spend much time on it. Having said that, I will probably end up saying much more about it as I proceed here, as it might occasionally turn up as unavoidable, to itemize some topics and say here’s what the politicians are doing, and here’s what they’re not doing.
It might be that this year will be a time when more Americans, perhaps a critical-mass consensus, will finally realize that both of the two dominant American political parties have become worse than stupid, oblivious, and dysfunctional self-serving clubs with no interest in serving the people of the nation. I could launch into a long essay about the tragically corrupt dysfunction of the two dominant political parties, but, again, it’s almost not even worth the time and attention and space.
It’s also disturbing stuff to watch things and find that there are some people who have some notions in their minds about the very real need to change things massively in that realm, and yet manage to simply be off in some different kind of warped headspace that isn’t looking very good, to put it gently. For one example, I don’t know how many times I’ve read some online proclamation from people who proudly describe themselves as being part of a supposed “liberty movement”, talking big about how they’re standing up against tyrrany, who proceed to go off barking about their opposition to what they imagine to be “growing tyranny of worldwide collectivist socialism”, or words very close to that. About all I can say is that if somebody seriously, honestly, thinks that the course of recent and current events is some growing worldwide collectivist socialism, their basic grasp of reality has completely failed, and this is nobody to follow, or even have any association with them, because they are beyond flawed thinking and possibly into the domain of just fucking nuts.
We are in a period of human history when mental malfunction is guaranteed to be more trouble than usual.
The bad news is we’ve seen this before. The good news is, we’ve seen this before, and we can learn from it. History of the not too terribly distant past, in the long term of human civilization, shows us the period between the two world wars of the 20th century (not a random coincidence), when troubled and distressing times had many people running into what they saw as some kind of easy answer refuge, joining “movements” turning to either fascism or communism as opposite conflicting ideologies, that were simply two battling camps of different kinds of destructive lunacy.
Getting into more unfortunately repetitive territory, what passes for news now in America is not much help, although we can be more well informed than ever if people can bother to dig carefully and do their own homework research, and have enough knowledge and general intelligence and sense to sort things out. The sorting part is a challenge, though, and frankly, even while saying this is enough to get some people barking that you’re arrogant, or condenscending, a large portion of people can’t seem to manage this, and find themselves misled by fools and manipulative bad actors.
Right now, one huge story is the ugly drama in West Virginia, as some sort of malfunction at the facility of a company in the area has leaked some quantity of a toxic chemical into the water supply of the area, leading to emergency announcements to the people of the region that their water is unsafe to use for pretty much anything except flushing toilets. One thing that got my attention was that Friday evening, I caught a bit about this on CNN, and in a segment of somewhere around 10 to 12 minutes of chattering about it, including the usual routine of having “reporting” that only consisted of various remote guests yapping, after this whole segment, I still did not know what the chemical was. They never identified the actual chemical, except referring to it with the word “chemical”. This is the state of televised “news” in America now, flashy and empty infotainment that tells you little to nothing in the way of actual true accurate relevant information, that often seems as if it’s crafted to address viewers (or “news consumers”) at the level of 4th-grade children.
A couple of evenings ago I flipped through channels and stopped for a minute or two on Fox News, and there was another burst of a classic problem. Fox News Boy Sean Hannity was holding his nightly hour of televised bullshit. As I tuned in, he was spouting off saying something about how, supposedly, the US has so much shale oil that it’s an amount of oil more than, in his words, all the oil in Middle East combined. Like virtually everything that comes out of the mouth of Hannity, a brief simplistic declaration has so much wrong with it that it takes much more time to sort out the problems than it took for him to belch it out.
Some of this is old news, for anybody paying serious attention to the oil situation, and I’ve addressed this, but it’s important to review for everybody else. The meaning of the terminology matters, and if you look up “shale oil”, you find that it isn’t oil. Actually, for that matter, it’s more of a misnomer as it isn’t actually shale. The stuff is kerogen. That can be turned into a kind of synthetic crude, but that is a complicated subject, that involves not just getting at the raw kerogen, but whatever process is used involves massive amounts of water and inputs of enormous amounts of heat energy, that must come from some other energy source, used up to process the kerogen. In this, it has problems and complications broadly similar to the issues of tar sands (bitumen), another substance that some people like to talk about as if it’s some massive problem solving source of “oil”.
On top of that, from what I gather, while some wishful thinking proclaims astronomically huge numbers about the quantity of “shale oil” kerogen existing within the US, the practical matter of how much is practically accessable and usable is another matter, and as far as I can tell, some of the impressive sounding numbers that you hear from some people are seriously doubtful, either wishful thinking, serious confusion, or simple dishonesty. That doesn’t stop people from pumping out propaganda about this stuff supposedly being a source of oil for hundreds or thousands of years and the United States becoming “the new Saudi Arabia” and so on.
Hannity then sped onward into chattering about how the unemployment figure for North Dakota is so much lower than the national numbers, and went on about how this grand “oil boom” in North Dakota made things so. I suspect with some confidence that in the mind of Sean Hannity, “shale oil” gets confused and conflated with other things. In other words, it seems likely that continued listening to Hannity babbling would reveal that in his mind, the North Dakota story is also about “shale oil”. What is happening in North Dakota is about the Bakken formation, which is an area of geological formation of dense shale rock holding scattered pockets of what’s known as “tight oil” in the lingo of oil, which actually is petroleum crude as we’ve known it for so long, but trapped and locked in scattered pockets and a sort of hard porous rock. It’s there, but requires complex and expensive drilling techniques including hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and the reality is that not only does the nature of it all mean high expense and energy inputs, but the nature of the circumstances means fast depletion of wells. Furthermore, it appears from available evidence that even that is limited, as the actual useful “sweet spots” are limited, and there appears to be a good argument that things are already into serious diminishing returns”.
Back in the confused world of Hannity, he then went on chattering about this notion that “the oil boom” in North Dakota was a wonderful example of economic prosperity and jobs creation, and, in an example of something both comical and tragic in its confusion, that we should be drilling and fracking in every state, leaving off there with the obvious inference being that if there was oil drilling and fracking in every state of the country just like in North Dakota, then every state would have loads of “jobs and prosperity” in the business of oil extraction, and furthermore, this imagined “oil boom” would also bring us into a condition of “energy independence” for the United States.
I won’t go on about this, because I’ve covered all this before, but this was a good example of what passes for sources of information for many people in America today. I hate to even take the time and space and waste in on something like the story above of the profoundly confused world of Hannity (and others much like him), but the sad fact is, the kinds of delusion and mangled facts found in media like that have a serious effect on the populace.
The importance of a well informed populace is fundamental, yet we have some serious problems in this area. I just saw an indication that this is becoming a disturbing problem to the north. The CBC television news documentary series The Fifth Estate just ran an episode they titled The Silence of The Labs. They covered a lot, and the common theme to all the various stories was scientific research and institutions in Canada being stifled, shut down, or sabotaged and undermined in some way by the Canadian government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. It is not a happy story. The bottom line of the whole story is that the Candian government under Harper evidently has a determined program underway to do all it can to stop or silence any scientific research and knowledge that it finds politically inconvenient in any way or even simply fails to somehow advance the government’s policy agenda.
Reading a new note online from George Mobus in his Question Everything blog addressing the new year, I find him beginning by saying:
It’s that time of year again for reflections on the past year, assessment of our current situation, and projections into the new year.
The truth is I’ve grown weary of writing the same thing over and over again.
I certainly understand the feeling.
In another note from Mobus, I would say he’s on to another key factor that is worth a good long stretch of serious consideration. He talks about an idea of “Peak Complexity”, and articulates very well why this is an issue that might be reaching some critical point. What he talks about there relates directly to so much of what I’ve been talking about in the paragraphs above. As things get more complex, too many people seem to think that the answer to problems stemming from over-complexity is more complexity, and even worse, as things get more complex, people become less able to deal with the complexity, and are overwhelmed. They simple block out, shut down, or, arguably even worse, turn to sources of complete nonsense that pretend to offer simple easy answers. (Perfect example, a character on Fox News chattering about oil boom jobs and prosperity and “energy independence”, when it’s all based on a combination of ignorance, confusion, and one hell of a lot of baseless presumptions.)
Maybe one key theme of 2014 could be a wider recognition of the fact that we need to simplify in many things. The hazard to watch out for is to avoid that turning into being simplistic.
Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but usually manages to pick himself up, walk over or around it, and carry on. – Benjamin Franklin
The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts – Bertrand Russell