Monday, January 02, 2012

A Dismal Public Affair

This morning I was honored to participate in a panel discussion [transcript] on what the near future holds with an illustrious panel: Richard Heinberg, Nicole Foss, James Howard Kunstler and Noam Chomsky. And it turned out really dismal, if you ask me! The overall message seems to have been that it doesn't matter what any of us say, because so few people are able to take in such bad news without becoming despondent, so we might as well just let Chomsky ramble on like he always does, as a sort of case in point. And of course the moderator just had get up Kunstler's nose with the usual "so this is all doom and gloom, isn't it?" sort of comment. The one funny bit is around 51:26 where Chomsky calls Daniel Yergin "a very serious analyst" right after Kunstler calls him "the oil industry's chief public relations prostitute." Perhaps this will make Yergin an even better prostitute. And Chomsky is a very serious linguist. Think positive!

Do you want some good news? Here it is: Russia's GLONASS satellite navigation system is fully operational, finally, so we no longer have to rely solely on the Pentagon's GPS to tell us exactly where we are. In fact, the two systems work and play well together. 100% redundancy for 99% of us!


Bryce Hardy said...

So many of my favorite writers in one room! And yes I used to be into Chomsky as well. Thanks for the audio link and sorry you didn't enjoy yourself. Maybe try again soon, and if feasible with a video link.

Andy Brown said...

What's the joke the old man told me? That the Russian pessimist says, "Tch, oh, things couldn't be worse!" And the Russian optimist says, "Oh yes they could!"

Stanislav Datskovskiy said...

The Chinese GPS system "Beidou" was also completed last week.

TH in SoC said...

Chomsky lost my respect the moment he sided with Ron Paul, who to me seems to be like a werewolf pretending to sympathize with lambs. I wonder how much it took to buy off Chomsky - along with Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich?

Speaking of Mr. Paul, I think we'll hear a lot of his "sympathizing with the little guy" this year. He may even outdo George W. Bush in promoting the oxymoron of "compassionate conservative". But don't expect many people of color to vote for him.

Nebris said...

What I'd really like to see is a panel with Kunstler, John Micheal Greer and John Robb. It could be billed as "Doomerpalloza", a Catastrophe Porn Extravaganza!

Dr. Doom said...

The interview was going fine until Chomsky signed in with his rather off beat and plain wrong commentary. He seems to be living on a different planet than Earth.

Tony Mach said...

I fail to understand what Chomsky's appeal is. Most of the time it is pointless, monotonic, tedious, tiresome, boring, blank, defitistic rambling that leads nowhere, does not help one gain new insights, does not lead to actions one can take, and leaves one in a state of utter helplessness – and I have the feeling can actuallyreduce ones understanding of the world. It would be kind to call him a intellectual smoke bomb.

And as a side note: The guy is a linguist and is not able to use intonation to structure his talks? WTF? His lack of presentation skills seems to hide his lack of content very well, though, as can be seen in all the people that admire him.

DeVaul said...

I have not read Chomsky in years, but his great book, "For Reasons of State", opened my eyes for the first time to what my government was really up to. No matter that he rambles on about today, his past achievements in a hostile environment will always make his name famous. He could have turned away and just tinkered with linguistics his whole life and lived very comfortably. Think about that.

I view him as a person who logically dissects what is happening, but if you are squeamish to internal organs and such, it can be nauseating. I do not think he has put forth a solution because there is none at the moment. It's like analysing an incoming asteroid. Knowing all about it will not stop it.

But still, that is quite an illustrious panel. How did all of you get together in one place like that? Why were you all not arrested and tasered and taken to Gitmo? Be careful how many times you do this.

As for the spy satellites, maybe we can tinker with the circuit boards of our GPS locaters and then triangulate between the KGB's, the CIA's and China's to know exactly when they approach our house to kick down our door and drag us away in the night.

Shadowfax said...

Just checked out the Glonass website,
pretty cool(good english translation) use the system I think our gps would have to be Garmin allows for only USA or European systems.
I would like to not have to rely on the Empire for my location.

Dmitry Orlov said...

The market isn't very mature yet, but I think Garmin and others will start supporting GLONASS in more of their product line over time. Also, for chartplotters, it should become possible to do a minor upgrade by connecting a GPS+GLONASS receiver to the NMEA 2000 network and set the chartplotter to pay attention to its sentences.

Patrick said...

I've listened and watched a few of these sorts of interviews with various members of this one's panel. I find they are invariably rather disappointing: Raspy phone connections; a moderator fumbling with the controls (like leaving a busy signal on in the background after someone has unceremoniously hung up) or who has failed to do their homework (like not knowing Richard Heinberg's background); and lackluster questions that fail to drive a lively conversation. To be clear, I don't fault the guests, I think it is the (usually) amateurish hosts.

I've found it much more interesting to read the WRITINGS of people like Orlov, Kunstler, Heinberg, Stoneleigh, etc. and the ensuing dialogue among their readers.

Stoneleigh said...

I'm glad I did the panel yesterday, even though it was hard to keep from laughing when Chomsky said Yergin was a serious analyst. I wish we'd had more time though. It would have been nice if you'd had a chance to talk more about the Soviet Union, and if we could have addressed how close collapse really is. We didn't even get a chance to talk about a financial crash and the horrendous consequences that come from crashing our operating system.

Rob said...

Chomsky is ok, but obviously not an expert in everything, e.g. energy issues based on his comments. BUT, the problem with this interview was the panel moderator!, Geezus, couldn't he chime in and stop Chomsky from rambling at about the 2 minute mark? He also should have come to Kunstler's defense a little bit on the assessment of Yergin. I saw Yergin "interviewed" on Charlie Rose and anyone could see he was a slippery salesman, Charlie was his usual sleepy self and couldn't formulate any good follow-up questions.

Anonymous said...

Aside from Chomsky’s epic rambling it was an interesting talk, though Kunstler’s negativity threatens to come across as arrogance (not on purpose, I’m sure), even if his argument is reasonable. If I can make one suggestion about how to get the peak oil message across to more people: we can start by not being too smug or judgemental about it.

The notion that people who don’t worry about peak oil must be in denial smacks of self-righteousness, reminiscent of the old “either with us or against us” adage. To use the word 'denial' is simplistic and negative, not taking into account common ignorance and lack of education in society, as well as fear. Most people just want to fit in with the majority and enjoy the same benefits; they are afraid of losing out and falling behind in the rat race. There are also tens of millions of workers in developing countries who are just coming out of poverty and looking forward to enjoying new privileges, such as a disposable income. Are we going to turn to them and say they are wrong to do this and are in denial about peak oil? (If you do, don’t expect to convert anyone anytime soon!)

This is not to deny that peak oil (or peak everything) is occurring, it clearly is, but just because I know about it doesn’t mean that I should be a self-righteous git and shove it down other people’s throats. Like any taught subject, you have to give your listener a reason to listen or wait until they are ready, engage rather than lecture them, meet them halfway. For many people this will take time, while for many others they will just have to learn the hard way.

kleymo said...

To Stoneleigh,

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on how things are going right now in Milwaukee tomorrow.

On the discussion:
This is a difficult topic to digest. This format indeed does not seem to lend itself to doing the complex issue of collapse justice.

On why such discussions are important:
I just had a difficult discussion over New Years Eve like Mr. Heinburg did; educated persons who are successful will not entertain any thought of things being bad; it was quite something to watch Gospodin Orlov's interview on "Nation" right after that experience.

Anonymous said...

Ah, my dear Mr Orlov, so frank yet so true. I've read enough essays and heard enough lectures to fill a thousand lifetimes with dismality, but the same commentators keep turning out the same frail words that threaten the system not one jot. Hands up who's fed up with analysis and wants to start making things happen?

P.S. I think I may have a little job for you ;-)

Jeff said...

Did you just call Chomsky a cunning linguist?? epic lulz

forrest said...

Chomsky kept saying, basically, that the fix has been in a very long time, so it's going to be a real uphill battle to get any sort of reality-based awareness of energy problems, or an honest effort to deal with it, from our political owners. The historical behavior of this ongoing clown show is, after all, where Chomsky's expertise lies in these matters. Not in who's right about the geology, or whether a disagreement about that is necessarily a sign of partisanship...

A decade or so ago, we had David Bohm writing that we probably needed an economic crash, as a possible escape from environmental catastrophe; I don't think he ruled out the possibility that we could have both.

Can we get any of the various interlocking kleptocracies which currently run things-- to act in our human common interest? While presumably we don't have many of these people actively desiring the end of civilization, I don't think they gained their positions in the System via altruism, nor would trying to do something long-term useful be conductive to keeping in power.

You've got teams of people governing an ungovernable mess: Every leader from the smallest city councilman on up needs a staff of specialists to handle a thousand details he doesn't have time to actually know anything about-- It is truly amazing that these people have the time or energy to conspire against the public... yet this is, after all, what keeps them paid and reelected.


The kind of civilization that might survive... might be one in which very few physical goods get transported very far, most of these being very small, low-powered electronic devices for communications & data processing (a technology which does continue to progress) provided these can be manufactured without ruinous levels of energy use (?-- not my field, especially not the question of what materials/processes might work in lower-power devices. But they did keep up a steady doubling in computational power, speed, miniaturization for a pretty long time, including drastic changes in how it was done...)

Anyway... The moderator is supposed to make an entertaining show out of it all, scary enough to draw an audience, but not leaving them faced them with conclusions they don't want to accept. And the public are, necessarily, getting their information from people whose art form is that kind of entertainment. The priorities and understandings his panelists are laying before him in this tape... What can he possibly do with that?

Ric said...

I respect everyone on the panel, some to a great degree, but recognizing our efforts will not be understood by most is the predicament of anyone who attempts to communicate anything real. Those who recoginize energy, financial, and population limits are doing what self-reflective people have done throughout history--reflected on limits. A conflict occurs when we also encounter limitlessness and get confused, wondering where we ourselves fit into it all. We make of it what we will.

Lance M. Foster said...

It was indeed an illustrious panel. That might have been part of the problem. Most of the people on the panel are generally the main event ..or one of two main folks, like the Pat Buchanan- Ralph Nader show on C-SPAN, or the Kunstler-Greer podcast last week. All of these folks have so much to say.

And at this point, with THIS particular moderator (apparently not very familiar with a lot of the issues), there was just enough time to re-hash a few soundbytes, especially since Prof. Chomsky went on for so long. As an elder statesman in these kinds of things, I understand the deference he is due, but this was a live event and it was the moderator's duty to handle things tactfully and gracefully. I hope the moderator learned from this experience.

Too bad you guys couldn't just have a discussion in a closed room among yourselves. I bet you could cover your existing work pretty quickly, and move on to the next level as a brainstorming session "par excellence." Throw John Michael Greer in there too. I feel bad that Joe Bageant isn't around anymore to add his salt of the earth portion as well.

While I appreciate Stoneleigh and Collapsnik's respective approaches to preparations, I and my wife are one paycheck (at $841 a month) away from living under a bridge, so I have to take a different tack at preparation. For those of us who are extremely poor, with no money or property, we have to get over "laying in supplies" and creating a doomstead. That just freezes us into despair.

These are things we all can do, even if we are totally and irredeemably broke, old, and alone:

1. Get healthy as you can, but don't think you have to join a healthclub. Stop fastfood reliance, eat lots of vegetables, stay away from sugar. Cut down on smoking (or quit) as well as drinking. Walk as much as you can every day, even if it is only around a block. Walking also introduces you to neighbors.

2. Learn edible and medicinal weeds of your neighborhood. If nothing else, dandelions are a start.

3. Patch things up with friends and/or family if there is any hope of it. Be the first one to approach with an open handshake, and apologize, even if you think it was their fault.

4. On your walks, say hi to neighbors or people you meet. Smile. At worst, some might think you are a kook. At best, you might make a friend. And in the times ahead, you can't have too many friends. If you see someone weeding or moving stuff, offer to help, even for 5 minutes. For real. Chat for a few minutes, and shake people's hands, smile.

5. Read. Whatever you are good at or were interested in, whether it is "practical" or not. Sure, people will need machinists and gardeners. But people will also need musicians, storytellers, and artists in times of darkness and hopelessness. Sing, even if you can't play an instrument. The old folksongs are forgiving of ordinary voices.

6. Learn to bake bread, ferment beverages. Invite people over to partake of both. Help each other work. Visit when someone is sick. Leave people alone if they really want to be left alone, but be patient, sometimes we really don't know ourselves. Lots of pain in the world.

7. Above all, be yourself, do what you are good at. Lay low if you need to. Learn to become "invisible" when you need to. There's so much to learn about, pass on, and people to serve. Nobody lives forever anyways :-)

mossmoon said...

Noam Chomsky is often misunderstood. He often presents the "OK what if you're right" argument.

This isn't exactly Chomsky's point, but is it really unfathomable that in ten or twenty years the US is still invading countries and stealing their oil even if the debt doubles from here, printing money till the cows come home? Maybe it is, but given the reserve currency and the petrodollar standard, I think the US can kick the can down the road longer than most think.

I haven't seen Mr. Orlov address this point: The Soviet Union did not have the reserve currency, which is a huge advantage for the US in that it allows the country to export inflation and thereby continue the status quo for much longer. And the US doesn't really pay for its oil. It essentially hands out UST which can be monetized by the Fed. This petrodollar standard (scam) then recycles dollars back into the treasury market.The USSR did not have this "exorbitant privilege," to quote de Gaulle.

Furthermore Americans are absolutely clueless, and they will absorb all kinds of abuse for longer than any of us care to imagine. All the more reason to thank god for Dmitry's work.

This could allow for a protracted period of can kicking. All the more time to prepare, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

As much as I truly enjoy and appreciate the writings of JHK, his quasi-belligerent attitude toward those who question the official narrative about 9/11 is a little disconcerting. C'est la vie...

Jeff said...


You are quite wrong if you think oil producers just accept worthless dollars and hold them. Go back to the beginning of the oil leases in Saudi in the 30s. Those leases were paid for with gold, physical gold. Jump forward in time; from after WWII to 1971 the US gold stash declined from near 20 thousand tons to 8 thousand tons. Where do you think the gold went? In 71 the Saudis stopped getting official gold, and guess what...the price of oil began to rise. So did the gold price, as the saudis bought gold on the open market with their dollars. Then in the 80s they both dipped together. Can you see that a new deal was struck? Long story short, the gold/oil ratio is still in a tight range. They are still getting gold for their oil...but at very very high gold prices in the off market. That's the deal. Keep the dollar strong in gold and oil stays reasonably priced. If oil ever can't buy gold cheaply (in dollar terms), the deal is off! Then you will learn the real price of oil. And gold. Soon.

Jeff said...


If you owned a commodity in the ground that had to be sold for paper currency in order to realize value what would do? Yes, the oil in the ground may last another 50+ years but will the bonds and currencies of other governments last that long? One thing you don't do is buy gold outright, it would cause it to stop trading as a commodity and start trading as money! You learned that in the late 70s. There must be a way to convert the true wealth of oil into the outright wealth of gold. We know that oil is a consumed wealth of a momentary value that is lost in the heat of fire.

The Deal:

We ( an oil state ) now value gold in trade far higher than currencies. We are willing to use gold as a partial payment for the future use of "all oil" and value it at $xxxxx US. ( only a small amount of oil is in this deal ) And take a very small amount of gold out of circulation each month using it's present commodity price.

mossmoon said...

@ Jeff

Very interesting. So a failure to deliver and it's WWIII and the depleted uranium standard, eh?
Does the US even have any gold left?

Jeff said...


No world war. When a currency system comes to the end of its reserve use its domestic market will come to a point where it can no longer export "real price inflation" in the format of; "shipping its excess currency outside its borders". This happens because internal money inflation, that is super currency printing, is increased so much that it overwhelms even its export flow.

The U.S. dollar and gold will both be massively expanded to recapitalize the system, and life will go on. The difference being that the dollar will be expanded in volume while physical gold bullion will be expanded through value.

The US will hyperinflate its currency and then it will begin to learn to export something besides dollars in order to get oil. The oil sheiks will experience a massive, historic increase in the value of their gold. And so will anyone holding physical gold. Just a thought.

Lauren said...

I also found what Chomsky had to say a bit weird, as if he didn't really understand what the conversation was about. Out of step. I have read, heard other things from him that I found to be helpful, but not this time. BTW Dmitri, I listened to a talk given by Carl Dix at UofC Berkely today:
just wondering what you think from the perspective of having lived in Russia.

yvesT said...

Not read much of Chomsky but always been very ambivalent about him, I guess that clears the point ! :)

Typically seems to me that Chomsky is one of this sixties guys that had very high expectations on "social sciences" becoming true science, and can't come up to the fact that all this is all a huge failure, and lingusistics included. Although for linguistics of course knowing a language and its syntax and dictionnary is some knowledge, and doing comparison and studying evolution amongst languages, but the ambitions were much higher (like in the case of Chomsky some kind of common generative syntax or something forgot what he calls it), and they really have problems to come to terms on all this being a huge failure.
(a telling aspect is that for instance, the translation "software" used by google translate or other these days, isn't some kind of very "smart" thing analyzing a sentence deeply in source language towards some common form and then targetting the other language, but in fact based on having a huge corpus of already translated text from language A to B and then doing some simple string matching).
Anyway, then what is left for Chomsky is this kind of "the problem is politics" thing and not being able to get back to there are some realyy down to earth issues, seems to me.

Jeff said...

One final note for Mossmoon.

After the US hyperinflates its currency and gold finds its true value, the US will still be a major economic force. Remember the US holds more gold than any other nation.The USA has about 8,000 m/t out of around 165,000 m/t of aboveground stock. All of the gold whose location is known represents a fraction of that pool.

You see, after 71 the US stopped shipping gold. To control the price rise of gold the paper gold market was created. By managing the price of gold down in the 80s, private gold was dishoarded and bought at its 'commodity' (artificially low) paper price. All that is generally available now is the flow of mined gold and scrap. That flow is a low single digit percentage of the stock.

For oil to flow, gold must flow! And it will, at much higher prices. Once gold is revalued the US will have a choice again; export real goods or export real gold. Exporting the dollar in exchange for real goods is coming to an end.

mossmoon said...

A share your frustration with Noam Chomsky, Dmitry. He doesn't seem to see the seriousness of this. And I cannot understand why.

@ Jeff

Your scenario is an optimistic one.

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

Noam is in his eighties, tired and heartsick (his wife of half a century died recently); so give him a bit of leeway. He's still one of the most informed and ferocious intellects around - just - and, what's much more, he's one of the mahatmas of our time.

But all the others are damned impressive too. Pity Dmitry only had limited time.

I'd say that for all my surfing of the net I know no other small handful of clearseers who understand what's really happening so well (you have to throw John Michael into the mix as well, of course).

Leaving aside Noam, who really needs to retire from the struggle now (he won't of course; die in harness) it's impossible to grade these clearseers. First-equals, the lot.

Heartfelt thanks for your freely distributed insights.

LLongyfarchiadau ac diolch yn fawr i bawb! RhG

Shadowfax said...

I was thinking of my Garmin handheld gps...but you're Simrad NSE's with nmea2000 can take any gps input....I think I will have to experiment with this as it would be very interesting to compare the 2 systems.

sfnate said...

As Kunstler never tires of saying, a significant contributor to our inertial decline is this "psychology of previous investment," that is, the inability or reluctance to give up an attitude or idea or way of living simply because it's been purchased at a cost of [fill in the blank]. To the extent that these our esteemed panelists are heavily invested in a particular world view, it's no wonder they should have some disagreement regarding the real value of some ideas, or attitudes, or strategies for dealing with the massive white elephant that is in the room with us all, but has nothing to offer except its size and potential menace. In other words, the problem itself cannot articulate its own solution, and really, there may not even be a solution, because once you've let something grow to a size that outstrips its accomodations, you're left in a kind of double-bind: ignore it at your peril; confront it and suffer some very real destruction to the comfortable room for which you invested so much. Kunstler, Orlov, Chomsky, Stoneleigh all have necessary blind spots that are the result of an analytic and intellectual focus on a narrow range of political and social issues that require precise measurements in order to be more fully understood. So the fact that they contradict or disagree with each other does not remove at all the validity of their separate assertions. It is possible to be a "serious prostitute" afterall. Why not? This White Elephant that taxes our comprehension in search of meaning is a kind of koan that cannot be solved with careful descriptions of its separate anatomical features. Probably our best hope is to stitch together the separate pieces of the debate and hope that somehow the result will describe a reality that favors evolution and refinement over dissolution and chaos. Unfortunately for us all, perhaps, is that nature appears to have no real investment in favoring either approach: each will do, according to the moment of its expression.

windward101 said...

I think a lot of the comments lack perspective on the station that ran this panel discussion program.

As a former WORT - Madison (WI) radio engineer, I'd just like to say that the station is a locally run volunteer organization, with a small local audience. So the host, Norm Stockwell is not paid to host the program, although he works at the station in another role (they have about 5 employees). There isn't a large production assistance staff for their programming, just volunteers. I.E., everyone on the station has another job.

Another point is that the vibe of the programming on WORT is let the guests have their say, without interrupting him or her. Maybe that's a mistake, but it's more interesting to listen to than most news programming in the US. As far as I could tell, everyone had their say, and Norm staid the hell out of their way, in my view that's good programming.

Kevin said...

@ Lance -

For those of us who are extremely poor, with no money or property, we have to get over "laying in supplies" and creating a doomstead. That just freezes us into despair.

That describes my situation too. Your advice strikes me as sound. I particularly need to bear in mind what you say about art, as it's easy to slip into the mindset that no one will find it useful, and hence give it up, which to an artist is pretty much the same as giving up on life as such.