Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Link

A little bit lighter on the posting this week. I started a full-time temp. job, and am only just now getting used to the jolt to my regular routine.

I did find the time to read this fabulous synopsis of the current market meltdown, how we got to this point and where it all might be heading & why. Much better than what you're liable to find in most newspapers. It's a bit long, but very worth your time. Surprisingly, even a good many of the comments are worth reading.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Lighter Side

I realize I've been a little shrill and alarmist as of late. So, I thought I'd step back from the brink of annihilation. If only for a bit.

Two music-related notes. (1) I recently downloaded D'Angelo's now-rather-old Brown Sugar CD, and I've fallen in love with him all over again. Fortunately, K. doesn't like him AT ALL. All the more for me! For D'Angelo fans, he has a new CD coming out this month, I think. (2) If anybody out there should have a copy of Herbie Nichols' Love, Gloom, Cash, Love, and you're not opposed to making me a copy, I'd be forever grateful. This is a ridiculously hard CD to find in CD shops.

Two links. First, the likely NSFW link -- it's a short piece on one man's sex education in the "Second Life" virtual world. It's not a flawless piece of writing, but if you can't at least giggle at lines like "Within seconds Justyn Jewell was balls deep in Tony's avatar," then you're beyond hope.

Second, it's been while since I've linked to Mark Morford, several years in fact, but last week's column about America's obsession with free shit is spot-on and terrific.

Free plane ticket! Free iPod! Free colonoscopy! Free tank of gas! Free extra set of cheap useless knives when you buy the two other sets of cheap useless knives! Free supersizing of your Coke! Free upgrade to premium membership when you commit to a 10-year contract! Pay no money whatsoever! Seriously! No money at all! All we ask in return: countless, endless chunks of your time, your brain, your intelligence, your health, your soul, your respect for nature, just a little bit of your ability to think and feel and care about the world. Come on now, is that too much to ask?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Problem With Blame

I was responding to Gabe's comment to the previous post, and realized it might be fitting just to publish it here instead -- if only to keep up my streak of daily posting this week.

Re: I think the bottom line is what James Kunstler and you have been harping on: we cannot continue to live as we have been living... but we are surrounded by fucking idiots.

What's worse, in my opinion, is that I don't think we can so easily look around and blame the "fucking idiots" for this mess. Consumption, be it the kind that rapes the environment or the kind that ignores reality (i.e., via credit & debt), is now fully engrained & inseparable from our contemporary culture. Which to say, it is almost impossible for most people to do live truly alternative lifestyles, let alone imagine something differently.

For example. One of the things observed about the decrease in gas consumption in California is that it is mostly because of California's wealth. I.e., in a very real sense, they simply can afford to conserve, either by living in urban areas, or buying cars w/ better fuel consumption, etc. For the vast majority of Americans, however, this is almost impossible. They have, for example, accumulated so much shit in their houses that to move to a smaller, urban area would mean they'd have to leave as trash a lot of the things they've picked up along the way -- enormous couches, a tv p/room, rugs fit more for the Tajj Mahal than Maple Avenue, dust-covered treadmills, pool tables, etc.

(And this is to say nothing at all of the neglected urban cores themselves, where we are asking people to move in order to consume less. They have become inhospitable places, due to a generation of poor maintenance, decayed family and doomed communities. Which is to say, it takes more to bring people to an urban area than opening a couple of bars. What's worse, the problems of urban living are mostly correctable for those who can afford it. The moment an urban area is "cleaned up," look around, and you'll likely find it has been "cleaned" of those who are blamed for making it dirty -- the poor, the homeless, the drug addicts. They are blamed for their irresponsible maintenance of their neighborhoods and the the poor stewardship of their exorbitant "government handouts," despite the fact far and away more government money (tax breaks, etc.) were extended toward the suburbanization of American cities than was extended to its core. Ah, but where there is suburban crime & decay, the blame is on video games and violent tv, not irresponsibility.)

There is also, and perhaps more fundamentally, the simple fact that most people shop at Wal-Fart or Shitkea because their budget forces them to do so. We know that we should buy a more expensive toaster or coffee table, or whatever, knowing full well the cheaper good will break down, forcing us to spend more on a litany of replacements every few years than we would on a one-time investment in something of quality craftsmanship, something that lasts. And yet, (a) most of us don't have the money on hand to make that one-time investment, so to buy the nice table means to put it in on the credit card, and thus to pay even more for it because of interest; and (b) if everybody stopped buying the cheap replacement-goods, this country's economy would shrivel & dry up faster than Betty White's vagina. When taken together, it is a powerful one-two punch that keeps us stalled, our imagination racing for an alternative we cannot conceive.

I write all this, hell, I think all this, I know that it comes off as defeatist. But I don't think so. Seeing our world as itself calling for -- groaning out for (as Saint Paul puts it) -- a fundamental change, not a "makeover" fit for ABC and that spikey-haired twat with the megaphone -- is the stuff of religion. The fact that those who consumed by this call, those who groan so often that they are finally ignored, are not always explicitly religious, and that most of those who are explicitly religious do not do so, is an indictment fit for another post.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Under $3

Yesterday I noticed that for the first time since I've been living west of the Rocky Mountains (only since May, for those of you not keeping score at home), gas dipped below $3 p/gallon. In fact, this is the cheapest gas has been out here since March. And, of course, everybody is thrilled. Especially the analysts, who you very easily beaming with the good news, "Don't worry, people. The worst is over. Our refineries are working at full strength, without problems. The price of gas is no longer related to the price of oil. And besides, even the the price of oil is tumbling after its quick ascent to $78 p/barrel week."

I hate to be so damn depressing, and I know I have been, but don't believe it. Or, if you do believe it, don't sell that Hybrid in your driveway for a new Expedition. A few things to keep in mind: (a) investors stopped their profit-taking, and thus stopping the price plummet, the very moment ConocoPhillips shut down two refineries on the East Coast (it should be recalled, US refineries are held together with spit and paper, and there is no major investment to create any new ones); (b) the price of oil skyrocketed last week even though there was no major disruption like a hurriance in the Gulf or flare-up in the Middle East; (c) the infrastructure of the oil industry, not to mention our levels of consumption, are such that it will not take much of a disruption to diminish the glut of gasoline that is causing gas to be cheaper than oil; (d) those people our newspapers quote as experts in forecasting the future cost of oil & gas have, for the most part, consistently & grossly underestimated their price; and lastly (and most importantly), (e) the price of gas has everything to do with a temporary supply glut -- with maybe a very little related to a slight uptick in conservation (esp. in California) -- NOT because we are producing more oil than we are consuming -- because, quite simply, we're not.


TI've not seen the British show Manstrokewoman, but by all accounts from friends, and given clips like this, it looks funny as hell:

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

On A Personal Note

Most people who read Silentio already know my friends Julia & Pat, and already know about the recent birth of their second child, Conrad. If so, you also probably know about the (hopefully small) drama brewing around this new little one. Whether you do or you don't know them, I would be a very poor friend indeed if I didn't inch out a paragraph of space on my own blog to say to two of my closest friends, Congratulations and Stay Strong.

K. says she might even hold this one. Oh dear, I don't know what that might mean for me.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Who Knew?

Wow... who could've guessed that an economic boom based on the denial of economic reality and propped up by hallucinogenic induced visions of dancing dollar signs was ripe for a jolt.

Relatedly, this has been making the rounds around the internet since Friday, but I can't help but link to the meltdown of CNBC's market cheerleader, Jim Cramer.

UPDATE: James Kunstler is one of the better popular voices in the growing chorus of people concerned about the present economy and where it is headed -- to what he calls "the long emergency." So, it is only natural that he has a nice bit up today about Kramer's tirade.

Cramer's histrionics were only a few clicks above his normal antics on the "Mad Money" show, but even so, they made a remarkable impression of someone in real, not mock, despair. He mentioned more than once during the tirade that he'd been on the phone all week with other interested parties who were begging him to do something about the rising bloodbath on Wall Street. And by "do something," they clearly meant that Cramer should go on his TV show and make an appeal to Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke to drop the prime interest rate at the Fed's meeting this coming Tuesday -- the purpose of which would be to make cheaper loan money available to the Wall Street players whose investment houses suddenly found themselves underwater in the churning straits off Hedge Fund Island, weighed down by bagfuls of worthless securitized non-performing mortgages.

Personally, I don't quite get how a financial industry based on bad loans would be helped by borrowing more money to bail out a hopelessly unwinding Ponzi loan racket of the type the industry had engineered for itself -- but maybe I'm lacking the gene for financial creativity that the Bear Stearns bonus babies were all born with.

In any case, apropos of Cramer's telephone marathon, one can only imagine the number of cell phone minutes racked up this weekend out in the Hamptons by players trying desperately to finagle their way out of the brutal fact that their firms and funds suddenly lay exposed to the cruel ravages of reality. A lot of catered crab tidbits and mini-quiches must have gone uneaten out along the dunes as weeping men in blazers realized that "marked to market" had come to mean the same thing as "holding a bundle of shit."