Thursday, January 23, 2020

Peak Free Oil

Back in my halcyon days of youth I went to some anti-war demonstrations, not to protest against the first Gulf War, since I could already see that such protest would turn out to be futile, but to pick up women. Sure, I shouted “No war for oil!” as loud as I could, but that was just my mating call. Even in those salad days of yore I was already smart enough to know that “No war for oil!” was a spectacularly stupid thing for us to be shouting. “We want to die!” would have been equally dumb. What would North Americans, with their own reserves badly depleted, but with their car-dependent suburban sprawl still sprawling, do without oil stolen from some unlucky country? Crawl slowly toward the nearest gas station and expire from exhaustion along the way? But we aren’t dead just yet, so let’s crawl back down the memory lane and see how this situation came about, then crawl back to see where we are today.

Once upon a time the USA was a remarkably oily nation, with prolific oil wells such as the renowned Spindletop in East Texas. Juvenile USAnians competed against each other on who could burn the most rubber while getting the shittiest gas mileage. I caught the tail end of that failed experiment: my first car was a monstrous, hulking land yacht: a ’68 Chevrolet Caprice. In 1970 a phenomenon called Peak Oil arrived in the US, oil production fell and drastic steps became necessary. One of them was to convert from a “take our dollars or our gold” scheme to a “take our dollars or else” scheme: if you don’t like dollars, we also have bombs. Another was to start going directly after the oil wherever in the world it is found and trying to take it without paying for it. But all things, good and bad, must come to an end eventually, and free oil is no exception. In fact, what we may be witnessing at the moment is a phenomenon I wish to call Peak Free Oil.

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Friday, January 17, 2020

Life After Putin

Two days ago Vladimir Putin delivered his annual address before the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, and since then I have received a flurry of emails and comments from people asking me to explain what he meant. I don’t want to make assumptions about the depth of your interest in Russian affairs, and so, to save you time, let me start by providing a very short executive summary: Putin will step down as president after his current term, which will end in 2024 unless an early election is held, but the system he has put in place will stay in place. Essentially, life after Putin will be more Putin under a different name. If that’s all you care about, you can stop reading now.

To delve deeper, we need to draw a distinction between Putin the man and the system of governance he has built over the past 20 years. There is always plenty to complain about, but overall it has been quite effective. During Putin’s period in power, Russia has solved the problems of separatism and domestic terrorism, reigned in the predatory oligarchy, paid off virtually all of its foreign debts including ones it inherited from the USSR, grew its economy by a factor of six (vs. China’s five and USA’s one), regained Crimea (which had been part of Russia since 1783), rebuilt its armed forces to a point where international security is no longer a major concern, and achieved an overall level of societal well-being that is unparalleled in all of Russian history.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

New Decade, New Rules

Decadal boundaries are arbitrary things untethered to any physical phenomena other than the usual boring changing of the seasons. But just two weeks into the new decade the atmosphere seems different from the past decade, and it has been difficult for me just to keep up with the sweeping changes that are taking place, never mind analyze them. Yet write I must, because not only is the mass media completely useless at best and harmful at worst, but also even the more enlightened and independent-minded commentators seem mired in paradigms that are out of date and reliant on invalidated political and economic assumptions. This prompts me to step into the breach and try to set things straight.

Here is a quick list of what’s new so far this decade:

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Donnie Walks off the Reservation

Until now, Donnie Trump, Putin’s man in Washington, has been more or less doing as he has been told. Since he is due to be reelected later this year, now is a good time to evaluate his performance so far, and I am sure that his Kremlin report card shows his overall grade as “acceptable.” Here are some of his most notable achievements, listed in no particular order:

• He has steered trade negotiations with China into a cul de sac where the Chinese basically do whatever they want while the US pays them ever more for the privilege of importing their products. So far, his “art of the deal” has only driven up Chinese imports, along with the trade deficit, and there is no reason to think that this will change.

• He has pushed the already wobbly Federal Reserve into another cul de sac: it can’t raise interest rates without bankrupting lots of US companies and crashing the stock market, and it can’t lower them without triggering a bond crisis and crashing the US dollar.

• His erratic pronouncements on the uselessness of NATO have turned them into a self-fulfilling prophesy, to a point where Turkey is now a NATO member in name only while the Ukraine, which has stupidly written the goal of NATO membership directly into its constitution, is now reduced to crying over spilled ink.

• He has cleverly used the Syrian Kurds to demonstrate to the world the value of US friendship by throwing them under Syrian tanks at a moment’s notice while giving them the option to surrender to the dread Syrian dictator Bashar Assad (which they did).

• He has cleverly subverted his own slogan “Make America Great Again,” reinterpreting “America” to just mean “the stock market”—which is indeed great, at the moment, but can become not at all great moments after somebody somewhere flips the wrong switch.

• He has masterfully played to the ancient horrors that haunt the US constitution, driving a wedge between the liberal and populous Blue states and the mostly empty conservative Red ones, where the Reds get the Senate, the Executive and the Supreme Court, the popular vote be damned, while the Blues get the consolation prize of a madhouse House of Representatives.

• And throughout, Donnie has been able to maintain plausible deniability, like a good Russian agent should, causing his political enemies to make fools of themselves and develop aneurisms while passing toothless impeachment resolutions.

Given this legacy of success, Donnie can easily coast to reelection, then sit pretty for another four years, watching the country burn, tweeting sporadically to clean up on insider trading (legal if you are Prezz) and playing plenty of golf.

But lately there has been trouble in paradise.

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Friday, January 03, 2020

Predictions for the 2020s

While many commentators see it fit to publish their predictions for the year ahead, I find a single year to be too fine-grained for any meaningful forecast. For me, plus or minus five years is about the right size of the error bars to place on any prediction with regard to timing, making it possible to time any major change to within a couple of decades. And it just so happens that another decade has gone by since I published my last set of predictions for the United States in the 2010s and it is therefore time to come up with a new set, for the 2020s.

My last set of predictions worked out moderately well. Although in some cases the process has not run its course, the trends are all unmistakable and the processes I outlined should be expected to continue and in some cases to run to completion within the new decade. But this time around I will attempt to make more specific predictions.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The Final Act

In processing the flow of information about the goings on in the US, it is impossible to get rid of a most unsettling sense of unreality—of a population trapped in a dark cave filled with little glowing screens, all displaying different images yet all broadcasting essentially the same message. That message is that everything is fine, same as ever, and can go on and on. But whatever it is that’s going on can’t go on forever, and therefore it won’t. More specifically, a certain coal mine canary has recently died, and I want to tell you about it.

It’s easy to see why that particular message is stuck on replay even as the situation changes irrevocably. As of 2019, 90% of the media in the United States is controlled by four media conglomerates: Comcast (via NBCUniversal), Disney, ViacomCBS (controlled by National Amusements), and AT&T (via WarnerMedia). Together they have formed a corporate media monoculture designed to most effectively maximize shareholder value.

As I wrote in Reinventing Collapse in 2008, “...In a consumer society, anything that puts people off their shopping is dangerously disruptive, and all consumers sense this. Any expression of the truth about our lack of prospects for continued existence as a highly developed, prosperous industrial society is disruptive to the consumerist collective unconscious. There is a herd instinct to reject it, and therefore it fails, not through any overt action, but by failing to turn a profit because it is unpopular.”

Two years earlier, in a slideshow optimistically titled “Closing the Collapse Gap” (between the USSR and the USA), I wrote: “...It seems that there is a fair chance that the US economy will collapse sometime within the foreseeable future. It also would seem that we won’t be particularly well-prepared for it. As things stand, the US economy is poised to perform something like a disappearing act.” And now, 12 years later, I believe I am finally watching what amounts to preparations for that act’s final rehearsal; the ballet troupe is doing stretching exercises and the fat lady is singing arpeggios to warm up…

Friday, December 06, 2019

Super-Double-High Standards

Newscasters around the world are facing a new challenge: reporting the news about the United States with a straight face. Take the unfolding impeachment comedy in the United States which is part of the daily fare on Russian television, which I monitor for this and that. Here, after years of reporting on the “Russian meddling” narrative, it has gradually turned into the stuff of comedy—a sort of Commedia dell’Arte. In a typical skit, “our man in Washington” Donny begs Putin to bring him in from the cold, but Putin tells him, “Hang in there, Donny, we need to line up Tulsi for the presidency first.” The beauty of this comedic paradigm is that the Americans do all the script-writing; the Russians, along with much of the rest of the world, can just sit back and laugh.


The real story behind the fake “Russian meddling” narrative has by now shifted to the Obama administration’s illegal spying on the Trump campaign, justified using concocted evidence, but this is too subtle for most of the audience. It also begs the questions, When did American officials stop lying and doing illegal things, and, When will anything be done about it? And since the answers to these questions seem to be, Never, and, Never, it’s just more of the same tawdry nonsense and therefore not too amusing. More importantly, far more amusing developments are now afoot…

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Thursday, November 28, 2019

Avoiding the Coming Ice Age

Most people like predictability in their lives. Some like a modicum of excitement and wild things, but even then they tend to prefer the outcome to be predictable; eventually, they want to come home and go back to work rather than end up marooned on a desert island or eaten by a polar bear. Public cravings for predictability create a market niche for people who make predictions. Oddly enough, it doesn’t matter much whether the predictions are accurate or not. Weather is chaotic, and therefore not particularly predictable beyond a few days, but people like to complain, and weather forecasts give them something to complain about. Stock markets are chaotic too, but there are analysts to suit every mood, from very bullish to very bearish.

Cyclical phenomena are the easiest to predict accurately. The prediction industry got its start many thousands of years ago, when priests and shamans started gazing up at the stars and the planets and lining up rocks to sight them in. They used the information they gained through their stargazing to accurately predict the best times to plant crops or go fishing. People were duly impressed by such feats and thought that this was some sort of magic. Sometimes they stayed impressed for thousands of years. In Ancient Egypt, for instance, they believed that the Nile wouldn’t flood and irrigate their fields unless the Pharaoh performed his rituals and mated with his sister to produce the next Pharaoh. That, by the way, is called “magical thinking,” and in some ways it continues to this day. In the United States, for instance, people believe that if the Federal Reserve chairman continues to perform his rituals their country won’t default on its debt and the money will flow forever.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

My Response to "Russia Russia Russia!" Panel at Politicon 2019

What a wondrous sight are the American Russophobes fluffing their plumage and in full cry! Be sure to shed a tear for them when they go extinct.

Friday, November 15, 2019

New Book, Just Published: The Meat Generation



Another year has passed, and the time has come to publish another book of essays. This year’s offering has turned out to be a rather weighty tome, at 1.5 lbs. (0,68 kg) and 352 pages. As usual, it includes both the public blog posts and the ones that remain hidden behind a paywall. Also as usual, those who have been supporting me at the $10/month level (and have provided a shipping address) will receive a free copy. The book is available for order only through Amazon, which offers direct shipping in all of the following: US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Japan. Others will need to pay for international shipping. (Pick the nearest country that's on the list.)

I can think of quite a few reasons why someone might want to buy this book:

• Those of my readers who haven’t splurged on $1/month to get past the paywall will get a chance to catch up on everything I’ve written over the past year.

• Writings published on the internet are ephemeral but a paper book is a physical object that will persist over time and will remain perfectly legible after the lights go out. You will be able to rely on it as a sort of time capsule of ideas, to look back and see what 2019 was all about.

• Perhaps you have family members, friends, acquaintances and neighbors who spend money on personal trainers, psychologists, booze and recreational drugs, all in an effort to stay sane in an increasingly insane world. If they start railing against the injustices of the world, please hand them a copy of my book and tell them it’s what Dr. Orlov ordered. It offers a much cheaper alternative for building up the independence of thought and the mental fortitude to make it through life with their sanity intact.

• You can check whether someone is mentally stable and capable of simultaneously entertaining several mutually contradictory notions without suffering cognitive dissonance simply by handing them a copy of my book. If all goes well, it will give you plenty to talk about. But if it “triggers” them, run away!

Contents:
The Meat Generation
The Flight of the Headless Chicken
Bush41 was an Excremental Planetoid roiled by Wriggling Worms
The Self-Destruct Sequence
The Future of Energy is Bright, Part I
RIP European Union, 1973-2019
A Seasonal Homily: Gratitude and Joy!
The Year the Planet Flipped Over
National Bankruptcy as a Board Game
Is The US Still A Superpower?
The Five Stages of Collapse, 2019 Update
The Future of Energy is Bright, Part II
Shut it all down!
Why must Venezuela be destroyed?
RIP INF Treaty: Russia’s Victory, America’s Waterloo
The Future of Energy is Bright, Part III: Radiophobia
Death of Free Speech leads to Fascism
Putin now thinks Western Elites are Swine
How Bad Can Things Possibly Get?
Why do Capitalists hate Socialism?
Is the USS Ship of Fools Taking on Water?
Introduction to the Ethnosphere of the Earth
Respecting the Other
The Martyrdom of St. Julian
Ukrainian Election Redux
America, You Are Fired!
How Mutants Make History
A Hegemon Checkmated
Ethnogenesis: The Map and the Data
The Limits of American Destructiveness
Party Semantics
World’s Biggest Problems Solved
Nuclear Meltdown at HBO
The Eye-Rolls of Summer
Failure of Complementarity: from Multiculturalism to Devil- Worship
You Are Being Trolled
The Death of the Liberal Idea
The Silk Road and Lice
War Profiteers and the Demise of the US Military-Industrial Complex
Highly Unlikely Conspiracies
How to Fake a Mission Mass Media Delusions
The Technological Revolution Devours its Children
The Color Revolution Post-Mortem
Resurrecting the American Economy
The Bolsheviks Are Coming!
Bolt-on, Bolt-off! Who Blew Up The Oil Market?
Greta and the Deep Green State
Ayatollahs Jump for Joy
On Systemic Corruption