working the problem

Wednesday 2012.10.03

During the flight of Apollo 13, a problem with a stuck switch contact, a failure that itself occurred through a complex series of circumstances, led to a chain of events which eventually caused an explosion in an oxygen tank that blew a whole side off the spacecraft’s Service Module. The NASA Flight Director at the helm at the time of the mishap, the man in charge of everything concerning the mission while on duty, was Gene Krantz.

The story of this mission is fairly well known, and at the time, a nation and world that had become less interested in manned flights to the moon, once Apollo 11 had achieved the goal set out by President Kennedy, was suddenly riveted to television sets, following this crisis with bated breath. The news quickly spread worldwide, and everyone knew, the flight crew of three men were, indeed, in very deep shit.

As the event occurred, and in the period immediately following what was clearly a significant event, but a puzzling unknown, Flight Director Krantz made a statement to his team on watch, who were all scrambling to figure out what had happened. As was immortalized in accounts of this drama, including the dramatic adaptation of the movie “Apollo 13” (and his memoir, “Failure Is Not An Option”), Krantz got on the communications loops to bring a little order to the confusion and chaos by telling everyone “alright, people, let’s work the problem… let’s not make it worse by guessing“.

And, there, we have something to serve as a point of reference and a provide some pretty stark contrast.

Get ready, I’ve said it before, and here it comes again. Here in America in autumn of 2012, we have a batch of big and crucial problems, and the biggest problem of all hangs over nearly all of it. We can’t seem to recognize and acknowledge as a society, in at least a general consensus of most people, what the problems are, and define them, never mind solving them.

This is a running theme here for me, to the point where I just sit and think that it’s to the point of being ridiculous. It’s just impossible to ignore after a while, without feeling that I’m neglecting something, a pressing sense of being obligated as a citizen and human being to say something about this shit, even while there are other things I would find more interesting to write about.

This was a continuing theme in the last piece I posted, circling around. In that particular item, it was specifically about the current circus of the 2012 presidential election campaign saga, which seems now as if it has been going forever, ever since the beginnings of the surrealistic freakshow of the Republican party primary contest to choose a nominee.

As I wrote that, I was acutely self conscious about trying very hard to limit the scope of what I was writing about, lest somebody read it and accuse me of being “long-winded” because it took more than two minutes to read. There is much more than the main themes I skimmed, in the general subject areas of “energy” and the economic problems featuring the extraordinary misbehavior and sheer lunacy in the realms of banking and financial games.

Thinking about this now, I’m not sure that I even want to make this a continuation of the last installment, and continue on into all the other problem areas. One item I will quickly point out is Matt Taibbi’s piece A Rare Look at Why The Government Won’t Fight Wall Street, a stark look at a fundamental problem in any expectation that our elected public officials will deal properly with the Wall Street games. Maybe a shortest form summary is, Barack Obama as president being more or less held hostage by the plutocrats, as opposed to challenging candidate Willard Romney simply and completely being one of them.

Chattering about the yearly budget deficits and accumulating debt of the US federal government is endless and ubiquitous in American national politics, but, putting aside the matter of even considering the tax situation, we have the continuing absurdity of reality evasion in the subject of “defense” expenditures, and what that actually covers.

When you add up everything that’s stuck under the heading of “national security”, it’s astronomical amounts of money, year after year, decade after decade, with serious questions about how much of that actually has any relevance to the matter of keeping the nation protected.

For all of the yapping about “The Founding Fathers” these days, it seems to be completely lost on people that the last thing those guys wanted was to become a military empire trying to dominate the world, and bankrupting the nation in the process.

Speaking to the Republican national convention in Tampa, candidate Romney said, “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans, and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”.

Sit back and ponder the logic of that for a while.


In a recent email conversation, my correspondent said something to the effect that he thought I seem to talk an awful lot about the petroleum situation, and he thought it was just too much to think about too often, too negative. He thought thinking too much about this stuff could be “mind-killing”. Myself, I think avoiding the issue is mind-killing, and I see loads of evidence of that.


On a different note, I sometimes check in and watch a bit of the daily financial shows on CNBC for a while, just to see what the daily madness is there, or at least as much of it as I can stand. That stuff is “mind-killing”. It’s amazing, to see these people chattering away, with so much “information”, and yet so little clue of what the fuck is happening outside their particular kind of insular bubble world.

When I see and hear these people, and this scene, I usually find myself nudged into various thoughts, usually, or at least often, unrelated to the specific items they’re all chattering about frenetically. Especially as, how could I put this, my mind’s eye begins to sort of glaze over from the stuff.

With all the scrolling electronic price tickers rolling past on the screen and a half dozen different areas of stuff on the screen all the time, I often find myself thinking about the idea of sheer mental overload for anybody immersed in all of it. There definitely seems to be a severe problem of perspective.

I sometimes think about the story of the group of blind men feelingup different parts of an elephant and each making their own declarations of conclusions about identifying the beast, all of them differing widely.

Sometimes the old aphorism comes to mind about how if the only tool you have and know is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

There really seems to be something of a mad scientist character to many of the people in that world, in that, in this insular world, there are many people who were surely among The Smart Kids in Class, complete with educations and loads of knowledge in their specialties, but so locked within their own little specialized realm that they have no broader perspective.

You can get a good sense of this kind of thing from studies like Scott Patterson’s book The Quants, examining the hyper-specialized world of quantitative analysts, and how people with extreme levels of intelligence and advanced knowledge created hypercomplex systems and devised “financial innovations” that certainly gathered massive amounts of money for some people, and in the process managed to blow up the finances and economics of the whole world.

It’s like some dramatic narrative of some hyper-clever fellow of highest level advanced intelligence with the scientific knowledge and engineering cleverness to build a doomsday machine, extremely proud of their achievement, never having enough sense of broader perspective to step back for a few moments of conscious reflection and realize “my God, what have I done? I’ve built a doomsday machine!“.

There’s the infamous story of the time in 19th century France when things were getting severely troubled, dysfunctional, and ugly, and when informed of large numbers of severely unhappy and hungry peasants, Marie Antoinette was reported to have said “let them eat cake”. Generally this story is referred to with the idea of the lady of the highest rarified and most isolated top class viewing the troubles and suffering of the lower classes of France with some kind of sarcastic contempt, but as I understand the story, it wasn’t exactly that, it was that Marie Antoinette apparently seriously thought that the matter of the starving people was some sort of market problem.

She thought that all that trouble was some sort of problem with supply of baked goods, and seriously thought that offering them an alternate solution that was nicer, actually being kind, in her mind, and completely failing to grasp that there was bread for sustenance, the problem was that nobody to afford to buy it and keep themselves nourished at the most basic minimal level.


I could rattle off an assortment of stories of personal experience that would seem awfully familiar to readers, because they’ve had plenty of their own vaguely similar episodes. I’m talking about dealing with some form of retail commerce dealings, or some sort of business matters dealing with somebody of the “customer service rep” kind.

In this kind of story, you find yourself trying to take care of some matter and you need somebody you’re dealing with to address the business at hand and take care of the business at hand in simple, purposeful, and straightforward manner. Instead, you find that you’re dealing with somebody bound by some ridiculous scripted spiels and programmed routines, and to simply take care of the business at hand turns into some time wasting and frustrating absurdity.

This isn’t just random bitching or some form of narcissistic whining of “I’m not satisfied! Why aren’t these people making me happy!”. Just to be clear, there’s plenty of that around (there’s another whole subject in itself), and I’m not talking about some nothing is good enough petulance. There’s a serious point here.

I’m talking about just really basic kinds of malfunction, and more to the point, failures in dealing with them, and not just that, but failures to even acknowledge problems.

Instead of getting attention on the matter and hand, and taking care of business in whatever the matter might be, you find people ignoring the things that matter in some situation, and instead, making some ridiculous show of appearing to care about the matter, or devoting time and attention and energy and resources to some pointless and irrelevant diversions and distractions.

Personally, I think one of the grossest examples is the kind of extended TV advertising campaign from BP (you know the critters, The Massive Multinational Corporation Formerly Known as British Petroleum) of the “we care a lot” variety, about the staggering damage done to the Gulf of Mexico region by the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig disaster.

That whole running saga of corporate management evasion and ducking and PR maneuvering is a case where I’m certainly not privy to all the hidden maneuvering and strategies, but it doesn’t take too much imagination to get some idea of all the conference room chattering sessions and executive communications scrambling and scheming to find the right “tone” and “hit the right notes” or however the hell people put it. You can just focus your attention on the TV ad spots to watch the manifestations of all that, as smiling people tell you the Gulf region is bouncing back and everything is looking peachy and normal, but it’s not, and gosh, we know we still have a lot to do, and we won’t rest until we make it right again.

Looking back at this whole extended disaster saga, the general publicly available picture became evident a long time ago. BP hires a contractor to do the project, there’s a running drama of BP management pushing them to basically do it faster, do it cheaper, get it going, and we don’t want to hear about problems and complications and difficulties, and then, when taking shortcuts and “hurry up!” pressures caused a disaster of incomprehensibly massive consequences and repercussions happened, BP management go into feigned shocked innocence; oh, we hired these people and trusted them, golly, we told them to be careful, we can’t help it if these people were careless and irresponsible!.

As that ugly devious dance continues, the main thought when I happen to see one of these BP television spiels is how much money went into the production of these ad spots (there have been many different ones) and the ad spot broadcast network time, and how much that money might have done to deal with the actual real problems, rather than addressing the “problem” of BP public image. The added irony is that even if all the management of BP cares about is their image, their public perception, these advertising campaigns are adding salt to wounds by the insult to intelligence. In a way, it’s kind of a “let them eat cake” moment for those assholes.

With all the complex circumstances and events of the time we’re living in, the running freakshow continues of political games constantly maintaining some kind of bizarre force field of reality distortion.

On the local cable TV service, CNN and ESPN are on adjacent channels, and at times, when the subject of the moment on CNN is politics, and the ESPN programming is not actually showing a sporting event in progress, flipping back and forth between them and kind of letting your mind go into some sort of soft-focus semi-consciousness can almost make the two seem indistiguishable.


In the news of the past few days, after four years or so since the consequences of a batch of things crashed the US economy, some tiny surface scratching effort came forth in the form of a new civil suit from the Attorney General of the state of New York filed against JP Morgan, regarding the grotesque mess of securitized mortgages and all the madness that came from them. Catching a few minutes of the Larry Kudlow show on CNBC, always good for a glimpse into a mad deluded bubble-world, I heard Kudlow mention this in the most brief passing remark (I suspect there was more later after I left), saying that (my emphasis added) the “leftist attorney general of New York” was going after JP Morgan as some sort of political strategy move to “make Obama look good”.

That is what Larry Kudlow thinks. This is what the TV audience hears when finally, after several years, there’s some little bit of some kind of effort to return the rule of law to the world of banking and finance and address severe misbehavior and just raw outright frauds. It’s completely and easily predictable to forecast that in the near future, you’ll be hearing all kinds of indignant posing and chattering from some factions calling this “an attack on success and American free enterprise” and variations of bullshit to that effect.

What’s even more bizarre is that kind of absurdity will almost certainly find itself lodging in receptive audience minds that will then take up the the role of angry mob chattering “look at those leftist radicals and their socialist agenda attacking the job creators!” or some such idiocy.


In other new “news”, turn to Fox News, and other propaganda operations, for a real gem. This one is really classic. In this, there’s a new main theme on Fox about what’s reported as “the controversial new video” of Barack Obama giving a speech five and a half years ago in 2007. In the warped world of Sean Hannity, for example, this is supposed to be more damning new evidence of “the Real Obama revealed!”.

I turned on the TV last night and doing one of my regular samplings of what’s coming from Sean Hannity, that was the Big Story. Earlier today, maybe a couple of hours ago, I flipped on Fox News to take a peek, and this was the Big Story they were chattering about. Just now, I flipped on Fox News for a minute and… can you see it coming? This was the Big Story they were chattering about. And the funniest thing is that it’s about nothing, really.

For a start, this isn’t new. This isn’t some sudden revelation of some dark hidden secret. But, now, suddenly, this is supposed to be some great news flash uncovering something dark and sinister. I caught the Hannity TV funhouse as they played part of this recorded speech, several minutes of it. I guess this was supposed to be a presentation intended to reveal “Obama, in his very own words! see? caught red-handed!”.

One item was then-senator Obama acknowledging the presence in the audience of his former church pastor Jeremiah Wright. Didn’t we go over all this pointless shit years ago?

The next item was Obama speaking for a couple of minutes or so about differences between federal government disaster relief aid to New Orleans, after being devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and other disasters needing assistance from the federal government. In short form, New Orleans didn’t get the help it needed, and couldn’t get a break from the federal government in this that was granted to other areas in other disaster situations.

As far as I know, and from what I can recall, all that was correct, and made a significant point. Obama called it right on the mark, the best I can tell. This would be a matter of fact, and if there was something factually wrong in what Obama said on the matter, there’s no way I can possibly believe that Sean Hannity, in particular, would not be all over it if there was. There was nothing from Hannity or anybody else saying that what Obama said wasn’t true. Apparently they just didn’t like him daring to talk about it.

Another item in the video portions was more a matter of opinion, and what they showed was some comment from Obama saying, paraphrased from memory here, something to the effect that we don’t need to be building more suburban highways, and instead, we needed to be rebuilding our cities in America. I think that’s absolutely right on the mark, and our political leaders need to be not just saying this, but hammering on it.

I sat there watching and listening to the video thinking “what exactly is the controversy here?”. What was supposed to be wrong here?

But then Hannity started yapping, soon joined by former bow-tie lover Tucker Carlson. You might remember him. He used to have a show on CNN, which, one evening years ago, featured a famous appearance by Jon Stewart as a guest, who tore into Carlson (and his co-host, who I now forget) when he seemed disappointed that Stewart was not being a funny wisecracking guy, basically telling these guys to stop being assholes generating pointless adversarial noise and get to serious conversations about things that matter. But I digress.

As Hannity and Carlson chattered, on the bottom of the screen in text banner graphics, the audience saw bits flashed up, paraphrasing from memory, stuff like “new video revealed of racially-charged speech from Obama in 2007”, or “Obama revealed in controversial new video”, or, the real classic I do remember, “Obama calls for class warfare“.

Those screen texts, coupled with the idiotic nonsense coming from both Hannity and Carlson, all added up to a truly surreal episode, especially considering that what they were saying was supposed to be about snippets of this old speech from Obama, where we had just heard what he actually said. It was about as stark an example of cognitive dissonance as you’re going to find. Those two went on for a while, they were still going when I had enough of that and bailed. The basic gist was taking turns yammering about how this was stunning new revelations of uncovered footage hidden from America by the liberal bias mainstream media showing the hidden secret racist Obama who hates white people, which is always hilarious, considering, if nothing else, Obama’s ancestry that is fully half European, with the man being raised by his mother and mother’s family, all of entirely European ancestry.

This stuff is hysterical, until you stop and realize that these people have an audience who actually take this farce seriously.


So, while Larry Kudlow tells you that success and free enterprise is in danger from the scourge of “leftist” attorney general persons because they’re barely making a gesture to possibly restore the rule of law and sanity to banking and finance, and his problem with it is not that not nearly enough is happening to restore the rule of law and sanity to banking and finance, it’s that somebody is doing that, at all. Sean Hannity and other similar idiots and tools tell you that they’re fighting the good fight of righteousness to protect America from the racisist leftist radical agenda of President Barack Obama to destroy America (white people first).

The Earth faces dire problems approaching quickly, on top of all the other problems the Earth and its natural systems has, and on top of all the other problems we have, collectively, all of us in the same boat, as Americans, as living beings on planet Earth in general.

Mention this urgency, and you’ll get hit with noise from all directions from people who just don’t like that information, so, therefore, it must be all wrong.


All around us, we have an endless variety of examples of malfunction and ineptitude and avoidance and misdirected attention. In the endless array of clusterfuck malfunctions, instead of getting our shit together, defining what’s wrong, or could at least be a lot better, figuring out the problem, and working it, we’ve developed some sort of massive culture of delusion to pretend that there’s no problem, no, it’s just grand. Either that, or diverting attention to something else.


We could borrow from what was said by Gene Krantz, and modify it slightly to fit the reality of the present, to “alright, people, let’s work the problems… let’s not make it worse by pretending“.




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