In the last entry, I pointed to Jim Kunstler’s Monday blog entry Coasting Toward Zero, since he summarized a broad problem pretty well. Going to that page and reading the extensive reader comments can be interesting, some in a good way, and some not so good. Some of the reader commentary is thoughtful and sometimes informative, some is an awful waste of time, occasionally even profoundly disturbing stuff.
One of those comments, of the latter kind, was some character referring to the Apollo moon landing flights. Guess what? The comment was, paraphrased, that some people still think they happened, obviously implying, well never actually saying so, that they never happened, as you can find occasionally from some character insisting that the Apollo flights to the moon never really happened, and it was all some giant conspiracy of committing a grand hoax. I don’t think I need to tell readers that there are a few of those characters around, and they seem to be dead serious.
The irony is that this follows the essay by Kunstler where one of the main points, and part of his closing statement, was: we don’t need any more confusion.
As last week wound up, on Wall Street we saw more new record highs of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the phantasms of Wall Street as intense as ever, with the people chattering about it on CNBC seemingly as separate from the reality of the world outside as ever.
As anybody reading past notes here will be aware, I occasionally hold my nose, grit my teeth, and subject myself to a dose of the chattering buzzing insane frenzy of the daily programming on CNBC. As the Dow Jones Industrial Average magic summary number floated around new high levels, as did other magic numbers in the market statistics, there were some slight glimmers of signs that at least a few people are letting a little bit of reality maintain a place in the back of their mind. Every now and then, as this recently recurring story of new record highs played out, somebody would at least tentatively raise the question about whether all this was a giant bubble about to burst, if a major “correction” was coming, and if so, when.
Watching bits of CNBC as the market high frenzy played out, at least a couple of people being interviewed as part of the usual parade of guests had enough grasp of reality and honesty to point out something.
Out here in the real world economy, it is very definitely not a good thing, if only for “the economy”, to have so many people in circumstances where things are a struggle just to live and pay their bills and have a life. It seems to be a general pattern that if anybody does say anything about that, something about consumer demand and statistics about corporate retail commerce comes up. Never mind people’s lives and well being and a functioning world. But, then, any of that, people, a functioning healthy society, even the laws of physics and physical reality in general, all get tucked in a little box labeled “externalities” in that insular little world.
That brings up what seems to be a weird regular pattern you can watch on CNBC if you spend just a little time. You don’t have to do some sort of marathon monitoring project to catch this in action.
You can find some cluster of talking heads chattering about some large corporation with publicly traded stock taking some thousands of people working for them and tossing them overboard, with these kinds of actions cheered on as “cost cutting initiatives” and “efficiencies”, regardless of how it cuts the life out of the ability of a business to actually function well to do what it supposedly does.
Then, some short time later, the same batch of chattering characters might turn to “the retail sector” and wondering why consumers just aren’t consuming enough to meet targets of growth in the retail trade.
Many of these people seem genuinely baffled, seemingly completely unable to link things together.
By the way, speaking of what I just said about corporate executive management cutting the functioning life out of their own business, thinking it’s all good because all they seem to know is that it reduces the expenses side of the accounting, it just serves as a reminder of what I pointed to a few days ago. It was summed up so well by Charles Hugh Smith, talking about the “make it look good” mode of dysfunction. Actually making it good is a much different thing, with real actual value.
The posing and pretense in this whole broad territory, of all we refer to by the collective label of “Wall Street”, giant corporate business, and megalithic banking and finance, is just out of control, and more and more dysfunctional. What’s worse is what it’s all doing to people doing business in terms of doing actual good work of value, dealing with things of value, with a firm rational connection to reality.
I mention what I encounter on CNBC television taking occasional glances at what’s happening there, in maybe 10 or 15 minute chunks, as I have a few minutes here and there, sometimes only as long as I can actually stand it. Doing this is a strange mix of being completely useless and very useful at the same time. It’s only useful in the sense of revealing how useless that whole realm of chatter and noise really is.
As I type this paragraph, it’s midday of Monday, June 9, and I just flipped on a TV to glance at this stuff. A CNBC talking head delivered a blurb telling viewers to stay tuned for an upcoming segment.
The teaser for that was to play a few seconds of a clip of an interview with Tesla and SpaceX head honcho Elon Musk, saying something about Warren Buffet saying that dealing with “The Market” nowadays is like dealing with a manic depressive. That cut back to the talking head who did the segue into another batch of commercials, and after they delivered that, in the few seconds before the commercials kicked in, they turned away from the camera and proceeded to have a good laugh at some inaudible comment made by somebody off camera. I don’t know what the joke was, but I see nothing funny there. If you think about “The Markets” in some sort of metaphorical imaginary sense of “The Markets” as some sort of entity of collective consciousness, despite the kind of thing you’ll hear now and then from assorted economic experts about “the rational market“, the ongoing evidence of reality these days presents a picture of something that really is, no joking here, like some kind of deranged mass mental illness.
Along with that little scene, the more general news is that at that point, the magic number of the Dow Jones Industrial Average was, again, going up, into more new record highs, the number getting awfully near the threshold of 17,000, which, if that’s reached, will certainly get this crowd all excited. Meanwhile, many of us are viewing this ongoing circus and thinking, well, so what? What does this actually mean? The simplest answer might be, for the people in that little Wall Street and Wall Street TV bubble world, it’s all, it’s everything, and for everybody else, it’s nothing. Even that, the latter, isn’t really right, of course, because it does have real effects and consequences and repercussions.
Now, brace yourself for this next one, covered on a couple different pages-
Now there’s a story for you. I understand if you had to read the story told by the last couple of links there to be sure you got that right. Yes, it’s no joke. Real live actual persons of government authority issued notices declaring a bunch of people as a potential terrorist threat, the “threat” being that the group threatened to convince “consumers” to not buy stuff.
I repeat. This is not a joke. I know it sounds so completely bizarre that a natural reaction would be to think it’s some sort of satirical item, a news parody piece, but it apparently is not.
I mean, what next? People rounded up and prosecuted for Crimes Against Consumption?
Think about this the next time you hear people chattering about “consumers” when the operative word should be people, for example, or even citizens, in some contexts, or whatever might be appropriate. This might seem like an incredibly petty and trivial thing to some people, even talking about the use of the word “consumers”, but it isn’t. I’m not the first person to take a look at this ongoing, growing, and insidious practice of referring to people, more and more, as not people, but rather “consumers”, with the idea of consumers consuming, and then consumers consuming more, and then more, as some kind of primary imperative, and becoming more and more wary and concerned about it.
As I talked about earlier, it’s even more warped and problematic when the same people being told “get out there and consumer more, consumer!” are likely being told that they can’t be actually paid for anything, or at least not paid more than a pathetic pittance, because, supposedly, that would be bad for the economy.
Moving on, as so much continues to happen…
I caught a bit of Sunday radio listening on the local public radio station, which included hearing part of the TED Talks radio show as I shuffled around doing things and catching bits of programming during the day. One segment that stopped me and got my attention was hearing Ford family heir and current Ford Motor Company executive Bill Ford as the TED Talks speaker.
Reflecting on it now, I can see how many people would find a lot of appeal in what was being said. It had the kind of futuristic progress character that appeal to be as a young boy decades ago in the kind of stuff that was popular in TV and magazine features now and then. Unfortunately, it ends up being the kind of thing James Kunstler examines and criticizes in his book Too Much Magic, a kind of warped techno-narcissism (one of Kunstler’s terms that works nicely), a weird sort of fetishism, about technology for technology’s sake or something, a kind of thing where people essentially are going “ooh! shiny object!” instead of thinking about the thing at hand sensibly. And the thing about technology, if I might state the obvious, is that not thinking sensibly about technology invariably leads to something that isn’t going to go well.
If I may boil it down to a simple summary, it was almost comically clichéd. Mr. Ford went on about the future of transportation, about it being all about “smart” cars and other smart vehicles all with their arrays of sensors and their computers talking to each other, communicating to each other about traffic conditions and moment by moment information about position and movement and all that. It’s not a new batch of thinking, of course, a kind of thing that, for me, personally, prompts vague memory flashbacks of what I just mentioned, like something you would have read about, complete with artist renderings, as some “The Future of Automobiles” article in Popular Science in 1965 or something.
It’s the kind of thing that does have a certain appeal to many people. As a practical matter, it gets a little silly, and what’s more important, more to the point that matters here, this kind of superficial fantasy mode completely avoids more important and basic issues about transportation and the future.
The basic theme, apparently, was Bill Ford in some rhapsody about how smart cars and other smart vehicles coupled with systems of smart roads will sort out our problems of traffic and traffic gridlock. It has a certain kind of appeal to many people who likely listen to this kind of thing and just smile and glow about the sheer clever awesomeness of it all. I wonder how many think about more sensible questions beyond what I suspect many people think is the big question, that being “can we do this?”. A lot of people lost in techno-reveries just think about it as a challenge, about how clever we can be to figure it out and do it, just to prove that you can. (And beyond the technical minded crowd, other people will then only look at it in terms of the question “what can we sell people of this stuff?”.)
What tends to go missing is a question like “why?“. What will this actually do? What is the purpose? What’s the point?
This is enough of a subject that I think I need to move on, and get back to it as a subject of its own later. I will throw this in. Aside from the most basic “why?” questions, one obvious gigantic bit of reality staring us in the face is looking around, in some places, and looking at roads that look like they’ve been bombed with artillery, following a hellish winter and all that did to pavement all over in the latitudes where this is a problem.
Just dealing with the pavement to keep basic paved roads passable is a huge issue. Aside from all else to consider about the whole “smart-stuff” transportation idea, right there is a basic fundamental item. Tell us, Bill, how are we going to fund all this stuff?
I like a certain amount of science fiction ideas and thinking myself, as it can be great for imaginative and creative thinking, a great way of breaking out of ruts and thinking about things in a different perspective and thinking things through. At some point, though, it’s not so good if people leave reality completely. For example, none of it is good if you just declare the laws of physics null and void. That’s still another subject, though.
In the assortment of different items I wanted to mention here today, this leads to the topic of what I’ll just label government lunacy.
Starting off with the topic of science fiction fantasy to segue into this, I saw something posted online. It pointed to a webpage with a story about the Chinese space program, with comments to the effect that the Chinese spaceflight program was charging ahead full speed, leaving the US NASA spaceflight program behind. In the commentary about that, there were words about people’s ideas that the Chinese were all enthusiastic and charging forward, with notions that they’re looking to space and will get ahead of us in this old idea that we humans are overpopulating the planet more and more, furiously stripping the planet bare like locusts and depleting every material resource, and turning the whole place into a toxic wasteland dump of waste garbage and pollution, but, hey, we’ll just get that whole space travel act together, load up billions of us, and head off into the universe to colonize other planets.
More than a few people like to indulge in other kinds of science fiction fantasy thinking, too, such as Ray Kurzweil Singularity ideas, but, at some point, you have to put things aside in the department of fantasy and thought exercises and say dude… get real!
I took a look at a Wikipedia page for quick reference to check the history of NASA budgets. In “nominal dollars”, it was reported there that, as of around 2011-2012, the sum total of all NASA budgets since the agency’s formation in mid-1958 added up to roughly 526 billion dollars. This is less than what the US government is spending annually now under the heading of “defense spending”. There’s food for thought any time somebody starts going on about Big Government spending, and that thinking should include the question “how is all that vast amount of money needed to maintain a defense of the nation?”, although the quick answer is very simple… it isn’t, which should lead to more serious questions.
Staying with NASA and the US space program, one bit of recent history is, of course, that the Space Shuttle program (STS, Space Transportation System) came to a close.
[That probably requires a quick note to remind people that this plan was set years before Barack Obama became president, the plan made around 2005 if I remember right, under President George W. Bush. This is a somewhat trivial side item, but it feels necessary to point this out for the simple reason that there are plenty of people who point to the end of the shuttle program during Obama’s term in office as yet another example of the terrible awfulness of Obama as president, complete with idiot chatter about how “Obama has destroyed America’s leadership and supremacy in space” as another item of how they think Obama has destroyed America’s Greatness”.]
One consequence of this is that the NASA has no spacecraft to use to fly to the International Space Station, a joint project that includes Russia, and now the way to the ISS and back is to hitch a ride and use Russian spacecraft. That’s a noteworthy item in light of recent international affairs.
Now, we have the ridiculous set of circumstances where one part of the United States government is scolding and lecturing Russia about its alleged bad behavior, complete with “sanctions”, even while another part of the government, NASA, an agency largely unconcerned with the pompous idiocy of politicians, is needing the cooperation of the Russian space agency to get into orbit and back for the ISS program. Unsurprisingly, apparently some people in the Russian government and spaceflight program are, shall we say, somewhat bemused about this.
That whole situation is a side item to the “Ukraine Crisis” circus of insanity. I see that this note is already longer than I intended, so I’ll start to wrap this up. The Ukraine situation has been quietly shuffled aside a bit in the US news infotainment, certainly not currently, for example, the One Thing Happening In The World in the now standard operating mode of CNN.
If nothing else, go and read this:
There is one of the best summaries of the truth of the whole circus. What’s told to us here in the US by our own government, and obediently repeated and propagated by most of the infotainment pseudo-news media, has buried most people in bullshit successfully enough that if you ask most people, you’ll probably find that they have the memes of “Russian aggression in Ukraine” and maybe vague ideas about Russian expansionism and Russia threatening the security of Europe, planted in their heads. Never mind that the picture you find from all sorts of other places, where people still do their best to honestly practice the craft of journalism, is very different. It should be very clear, but isn’t, that in the events of the past half year or so in Ukraine, there has been, and still isn’t, Russian aggression, or Russia expansionism. What there has been, when viewed realistically, is Russia reacting to an overthrow of an elected government in a country next door, that has had a long history and relationship with them, where much of the territory has actually been Russia, not so terribly long ago. That includes Crimea, which was an autonomous region within Ukraine even after Crimea was passed from Russia to become part of Ukraine during the Soviet Union era. Part of that story was that after the US-supported coup in Kiev, I read different reports saying that one of the first moves of the “interim government” was to declare that Crimea was no longer autonomous. The parliament of Crimea, and then the people there, in a referendum vote, ignored that, and voted to part ways with the new coup/putsch/junta government in Kiev, and ask to rejoin Russia, which was immediately pronounced to be illegal and invalid by the US government, because that didn’t fit their plans, even among all the righteous chatter from the US government about things like people’s right to self-determination.
Part of the story, clearly a key item, was that Russia was simply not going to allow anybody to come in and force them out of their naval base on the Black Sea on the coast of Crimea, where the Russia (or Soviet) navy has been based as long as there has been a Russian navy.
The general question among the American public should be, what, exactly, is our government trying to do there?
That’s a subject I’ve looked at before, and other people have scrutinized that at length, as I’ve been pointing out in loads of links. Let’s consider one part of it, sneaking out into public view where it’s easy to see, for anybody paying attention. Part of what we have seen kind of boils down to the US government essentially turning to European governments and saying “oh no! look at that Russian aggression! the Russian bad guys are coming to get you! don’t worry, Europe, do exactly what we want, and we’ll protect you! perhaps you might like to buy a few billion dollars in war machines from us to help you out?“.
Let’s just call this interesting, especially in a period where problems in Europe have been leading more and more Europeans to reconsider the wisdom of being part of the whole European Union experiment, and questioning the point and purpose of NATO over twenty years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the whole Eastern Bloc that was supposed to be the dire threat to Europe that was the entire basis of the existence of NATO, complete with American military domination of NATO.
All of this, all the dissonance between reality and reason and what’s thrown around as common knowledge and public consensus, forms a large set of serious problems, that are not only problems in themselves, but are worsening some sort of widespread epidemic of cognitive dissonance that forms a large problem of its own, on top of worsening neglected problems. More about this another day.