Friday, October 31, 2008

A Perfect Day for Rain

Today is the perfect day for gray clouds, cold temperatures, and steady drizzle.

It's the last day of the dying season -- Halloween in these latitudes, and El Dia de los Muertos a little further south. Gone are the bright, sunshiny afternoons and relatively mild temps of our beautiful, departed October. The winter now sets in, and suddenly we find ourselves with a fire in the fireplace, large and continuous cups of coffee or tea, the extra blanket on the bed, and the light jacket replaced by the coat which has spent the past six months at the back of the closet.

Today it has come home to me, after my first week relocated in the Pacific Northwest, that I'm home for good, and will no longer see 85- and 90-degree days in November. That's fine with me.

I've also assumed a new role and a new life, as a full-time caregiver, as opposed to a full-time I-don't-know-what. And that's also fine with me. It's always better to have a purpose, a mission, and a reason for living, which contrasts favorably to having no purpose at all.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Leftist Libertarian Troublemaker and Malcontent

Here's an interesting series of questions relating to policial/economic/social issues. After you answer them, your responses will be analyzed and calibrated, and the result will theoretically enable you to locate your exact position on the political spectrum.

Actually, your political "spot" is not in a spectrum or on a graph line the way the authors of this analysis visualize it, but somewhere within a quadrant, which would have, say, Heinrich Himmler in the upper right-hand corner and someone like Socrates opposite him, in the lower left extremity.

I'll take Socrates as my role model (as opposed to Himmler, Ted Stevens, Attila the Hun, Pope Pius XII, etc.), even though he was made to drink poison by the Athenian city fathers because he held views which they deemed dangerous and socially disruptive.

I answered all the questions and ended up here.

Thanks to Sator Arepo at the Reciprocal Crap Exchange, who re-acquainted me with this device, which I first discovered a year or so ago, then forgot about.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Red Tree

"A fool sees not the same tree a wise man sees."
--William Blake

"Better to travel on alone than with a fool for a companion."
--Gotama, the Buddha

A found object of some pathological interest, posted on an internet political discussion board, reads as follows:

I think if enough people get the message that Barack is a Stalinist who wants to collectivize our farms, and that Democrats are seriously listening to people who want to do same with 401ks and also want to redistribute wealth from people who have some to people who haven't worked for it. Then yeah, McCain has a chance.

Wait, I didn't mean Barack was a Stalinist. Stalin at least had the decency to wait about 10 years before he started messing with people who put food on the table.

Just look up what Barack has said in his farm policy. I can't believe this moron actually gets away with it.

This is apparently a transmissions from a parallel universe, where not only is Obama a Stalinist, but Richard B. Cheney is a civil liberties lawyer, George W. Bush is consumed by his passion for the classics and his study of Latin and Greek, and Richard Nixon not only lives, but is an honest man.

I suspect it's the parallel universe of Michael Savage, a place where the denizens draw conclusions on the basis of no evidence. That's because, as Homer Simpson famously observed, "Facts are stupid things."

As rhetorical blunt instruments, facts can't hold a candle to rage and fear, that's for sure.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Whatcha Got in the Bag, Joe?

After their escape from Egypt, the priesthood of the wandering, theocratic confederation of tribes collectively known as the Hebrews or the Jews decided to build a cedarwood box.

Building such a container is not that big a deal, but this one had a gold lid, and the best Hebrew artisans were contracted to fabricate two golden angels to sit facing each other on top of the vessel. The priests put out that the box contained the stone tablets God had handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai. The singular provenance of this petroglyphic code of behavior, sent direct from God's finger to the Jews' eyes, as it were, was the primary instrument of social coercion the priesthood used to control the behavior of their subject population, and anchored their authority. The rabbis carried the Ark of the Covenant with them as the tribes wandered, and it was later placed in the center of the temple at Jerusalem.

The religion of the Hebrews was singular in the ancient world in that it was a monotheism, but otherwise it was like all the rest: a theocratic priestly class ruled through intimidation, and were able to do so because they convinced those under them that their authority proceeded from the deity himself. You can't argue with God, or the gods in the cases of the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Indus River civilizations which were similarly construed.

Of course, nobody but the highest among the priests knew what was actually in the box, and no one but them was allowed to look. For all we know, it may have been empty. But the aura of fear of The Lord which surrounded the Ark would be fatal to any lay person who got too close.

"Don't go any closer, Schlomo; you'll catch fire."

The Ark of the Covenant eventually disappeared, both from the world of tangible, verifiable objects and from Old Testament scripture. Following the Babylonian King Nebudchadnezzar's destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in the sixth century BCE, the Ark was never mentioned by Jewish historians again. Speculation as to its fate is endless. I've wondered if the Jews themselves destroyed it, rather than see it fall into Nebudchadnezzar's hands.

As I idly watched a documentary about the Ark last night on the Learning Channel or Discovery or one of those veshches, I was for some reason reminded of Joe McCarthy's briefcase. In 1950, the new, junior senator from Wisconsin made a speech in Huntington, West Virginia which gained him national attention, when he held up a briefcase and thundered, "This case contains the names of 149 communists who are at this very moment in the employ of the U.S. State Department."

The exact number of "communists" has been forgotten and is disputed (I just pulled 149 out of the hat), and there is no record of any reporters present asking to actually have a look inside the briefcase, which was destined to become the Ark of the Covenant of anti-communism. I suspect it contained nothing more than a bottle of supermarket gin.

You know, the human race could save itself a lot of problems by asking simple questions, and making simple, reasonable requests.

"Whatcha got in the bag, Joe?"

"Could I have a look inside that box, Rabbi?"

Monday, October 27, 2008

Port Ludlow, WA

I arrived home yesterday. At last.

The weather was great all the way from Desert Hot Springs to here, and it still is. It's about 40 degrees this morning, with the sun just starting to come out.

During the drive north, once out of the desert the traveler can't help but be struck by the beauty of the trees this time of year. The evergreens are as green as ever, of course, but the deciduous trees, from Sacramento, all the way through Northern California's mountains, Oregon, and Washington are brilliant gold, flaming red, or Halloween orange. They contrast dramatically with and punctuate the more sedate firs and pines among which they are interspersed.

I stopped in Northern Oregon to see my old guitar-playing buddy, David H., whom I had not seen in over 35 years. He's a family man now, and grown quite conservative in his habits, but is still an outstanding guitar player, and I took advantage of the renewed association to spend about six hours playing guitar and singing with him night before last.

Dave and I actually struck the first notes of a new life, for I haven't played guitar or sung for more than ten minutes at a time, about once a month, for the last three years.

I'll spend today doing pretty much what I'll be doing from now on: driving errands, food shopping, cooking, and whatever else needs to be done around the house. Life is sweet, slow, and easy.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

What's That Name Again?

Who'd have ever thought we'd have a president named Barack?

I thought we'd have somebody named Gary or Larry before we had somebody like Wadi, or Jehosaphat, or Jerzy, or N'gambo.

Earlier presidents didn't have names like Mike or Gary.

Gary Washington

Mike Fillmore

Larry Lincoln

In fact, I thought we'd probably have a Larry or a Gary before we had a Susan. And I thought we'd have a Susan before we had a Barack.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Is California Burning?

I feel almost as if I'm escaping from a burning ship.

Tonight I'm in Yreka, just a few minutes from the Oregon state line. Seven hundred miles behind me, Southern California is either on fire or on the verge of catching fire. This is like one of those disaster movies in which the protagonist couple walks out onto a high plain as the city they were living in is incinerated as a backdrop to their escape.

A state forestry official interviewed on NPR this morning described this situation as "permanent" due to the chronic prevalence of high winds in this heavily-populated region. He speculated that these conditions are the result of global climate change.

Two days ago, the Associated Press reported that Hot, dry Santa Ana winds — and a high risk of wildfires — returned to Southern California on Wednesday, but firefighters quickly jumped on the small brush blazes that erupted.

A 250-acre fire in foothills 60 miles east of Los Angeles gave an early morning scare to residents, but 30 mph winds pushed the flames away from homes and into mountains and canyons of Rancho Cucamonga.

Flames were out by midafternoon but the fire was technically only 60 percent contained because crews had not completely dug a line around it, San Bernardino County fire spokeswoman Tracey Martinez said.

Firefighters watched for signs of rekindling. "We can't let our guards down with the wind blowing like it is," Martinez said.

It's time to get out of SoCal, while the gettin's good.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Today's Route

Eight in the morning, and I'm sitting at Starbucks about three-quarters of a mile from Paradise Volkswagen in Indio, where the Insecto Amarillo is getting new tie rods for the trip north.

Closed up my house in the desert this morning and left the keys on the table. The new owner will be moving in within the next couple hours. I drove through the security gate of that trailer park without a backward glance and no regrets, and now I'm homeless for a few days. At a time like this, as the song says, Ya gotta have friends, and fortunately I have a few.

I don't have far to go today; it's about four hours to Bakersfield, but I might be a little longer than that because I'm taking all the back roads and alternate routes I can think of, so as to avoid the fires that now rage perpetually in the LA basin during Santa Ana season.

That means I'll bypass the 10 and 210 freeways and instead take the box canyon highway up through Yucca Valley, stopping one last time at the Water Canyon Cafe, then go left on Old Woman Springs Road (California 18) heading toward the small but impossibly sprawled town of Apple Valley. After negotiating that mess, at Adelanto I'll turn right onto CA 395, a tedious two-lane stretch that connects with CA 58 about 30 miles on. Then it's westward to Bakersfield and a pleasant evening enjoying the hospitality of my friend Reuben and his wife Emma.

Friday morning we -- the Insecto and I -- will belatedly hook up with that inevitable and relentless artery, Interstate 5 and the magic carpet ride to Northern California.

I'm not saying I'll never come back to California again. I almost certainly will, when and if Rachel comes back from Australia, either to re-settle in San Francisco or close up her apartment there in preparation for emigrating. But I doubt I'll ever again see the southern part of California, which is where my life turned upside down and which I've never liked anyway, even before it acquired the aspect of ecological, economic, and cultural doom.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Re: The New York Post's recent Page Six item about Michelle Obama ordering lobster and caviar from room service during her stay at the Waldorf while New York's workers and peasants fainted from hunger in the streets outside.

This story has now been exposed as a hoax, and the Post's editors as callow idiots who believe anything they wish was true, and think it's true if they believe it. Their embarrassed retraction, which blames the error on their source rather than their own gullibility, reads:

The source who told us last week about Michelle Obama getting lobster and caviar delivered to her room at the Waldorf-Astoria must have been under the influence of a mind-altering drug. She was not even staying at the Waldorf. We regret the mistake, and our former source is going to regret it, too. Bread and water would be too good for such disinformation.

Vanity Fair's inimitable James Wolcott says of this incident: "To believe something this transparently fanciful and maliciously designed, you'd have to be an open-mouthed receptacle and regurgitater of every cockamamie rumor that comes down the pike, an adult version of Linda Blair spewing pea-green bile."

That's a great characterization which applies equally well to anyone who's ever said the Obamas are some sort of elitists, or that Barack Obama is a socialist, a Muslim, or a terrorist. One of these days, and it won't be long, such mouth-breathers as these will dine on their own words, and they won't have to call room service to do it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Northern Lights

In an alien clan I trusted,
And in the Great Mojave I busted.

So now I turn the nose of my aged but trusty chariot toward the top of the compass, and the night-lit skies of home. How wonderful it will be, on a cold, clear night in January, to see the sky god's watercolors poured out and spreading across the inverted sable bowl which encloses the still, mirror-like waters of Puget Sound, that tranquil jewel of a small, sequestered, modest, and unassuming antechamber to the overwhelming infinitude of the roaring, relentless sea.

Stops along the way: Bakersfield, the southern door of California's Great Central Valley, whose pesticide-laden, stagnant air has become unfit for humans or animals or even plants; a way station in Northern California, perhaps Redding, perhaps Yreka, anyplace with a clean bed, a hot shower, and a wireless internet router; Woodburn, Oregon, where I'll reminisce with an old acquaintance I've not seen for 35 years or thereabouts. Then home, where the world is bright green, the air is damp and cool, and Neptune's devotees chase and sometimes catch the elusive salmon.

And there is peace; and there is a deep, deep quiet. And there I'll rest at last, in the bosom of family and longtime friends, and will be lost in the desert no more ever again.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Ruins

The foundations of the American Imperium which now lies in ruined heaps all over the globe (although its commandants and commandoes don't realize it yet) go back almost to the nation's beginning. Starting with the unlikely imperialist Thomas Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase, for its first 110 years the Empire was strictly a continental affair. Lewis and Clarke were the shock troops who presaged the annexation of Texas, the desert southwest, and the Northwest Territory, completed under the presidency of James K. Polk just before the middle of the Nineteenth Century. The internal dispute over slavery in the newly-acquired territories slowed the drive toward empire for a few decades, but it resumed, this time on a global scale, with the Spanish-American War. Our imperial ambition reached its apogee and absolute limit in the years following World War II, when the country's permanent war footing, demanded by the weapons industries born during the Great War and granted them by the U.S. government, reached into every corner of the world.

But now the Empire has come to grief, not because of its recent military setbacks in Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan, but because of the collapse of the sources of American wealth.

Jon Schwarz points out that this has happened to other empires before, and quotes a 2002 article by William Greider which explains that British power was fundamentally eclipsed in 1914, but the United States provided the financial nurture to keep it upright, as a kind of dummy leader in world affairs, until after World War II. Washington decisively pulled the plug in 1956, when Britain (along with France and Israel) invaded Egypt to capture the nationalized Suez Canal. It was the last gasp of British colonialism, and Washington disapproved. By withholding an IMF loan to London, the United States crashed the pound, forced Britain to withdraw from war and its prime minister to resign in disgrace. The Brits were finally relieved of their delusions.

And now we have been relieved of ours, by a new report from the stodgy, conservative, and ultra-establishment Council on Foreign Relations whose authors cite the same historical parallels as Greider did six years ago. The CFR report, "Sovereign Wealth and Sovereign Power," says in part:

The lesson of Suez for the United States today is clear: political might is often linked to financial might, and a debtor’s capacity to project military power hinges on the support of its creditors...[I]n some ways the United States’ current financial position is more precarious than Britain’s position in the 1950s...The United States’ main sources of financing are not allies. Without financing from China, Russia, and the Gulf states, the dollar would fall sharply, U.S. interest rates would rise, and the U.S. government would find it far more difficult to sustain its global role at an acceptable domestic cost.

Schwarz drily concludes that "...if the news has reached even them that the building is on fire, we can be certain the entire structure is about to collapse." I encourage reading his concise analysis in its entirety.

The way to our survival as a nation, and a return to national coherence and viability is now clear, even if President-elect Obama has not yet fully comprehended it. We will divest ourselves of this Empire and the war machine which demanded it, for they have sucked the life's blood out of this country. We will limit and strictly regulate the activities of banks and do away with the exotic forms of finance manipulation which have sprung up in the last 30 years. We will evolve quickly, impelled by some urgency, into a society less dependent on petroleum for its energy, relying instead on electricity produced by clean generation such as is provided by wind and solar technology. We absolutely must return to the making of things of permanent value, which won't be easy because the startup capital for large-scale enterprise is no longer available. Finally, there is no avoiding a return to the economic primacy of the agriculture of an earlier era, stripped of its petroleum "inputs," as the mainstay of American wealth.

All these things are dictated by circumstances, and by the unchanging laws of cause and effect, rather than by any deliberate policies our leaders might promulgate, since they have no control over the dimensions of the corner we have painted ourselves into. The American Empire is history, and with it the parallel universe of Republican economic and social fantasy, from Reagan to Bush II.

Good riddance to both, and now let's get ready for the hard transition ahead.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Major changes in our lives are frequently painful but usually unavoidable. Some are more painful than others, such as the economic transformation our country and its people are undergoing right now as the government and civil society slide into the rigors of semi-starvation, following hard upon years of ease, affluence, and overweight arrogance.

My own life is undergoing immense changes at the same time larger, earth-shaking events yell from the headlines every day. Struggling with a drug addiction, for example, and deciding you're going to win, entails serious and challenging levels of pain. Saying good-bye for the last time to one who has been your closest friend and lover for over 25 years is painful almost beyond describing. And resolving to care for an aging parent, while less painful than kicking a drug habit or a love habit, involves a certain degree of personal sacrifice.

All these changes involve paybacks of specific kinds, in which a toll is required of us for what we heedlessly enjoyed and usually took for granted in earlier times and earlier incarnations. Now the bill is fallen due, and it's unexpectedly high, as is reflected in the faces of the men who steer our stunned governments, and the glazed-over expressions of stock traders and investment bankers. The frivolity and chattering have changed now to the cold, sober light of dawn and the desperately whispered prayer entreating divine mercy, as the goddess Fortuna croaks harshly, demanding her fare.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Last Laugh

Cuba has oil, and they have a lot of it. More than was previously thought -- about 20 billion barrels, all in offshore deposits.

This puts them in the big leagues and changes their economic picture, which has been woeful since the revolution, especially after the Soviet Union fell and Cuba's only reliable source of hard cash along with it.

As Atrios says, "We'd better invade them before they attack Israel."

But there will be no invading of Cuba nor anybody else, not even for fun. There's no more money for that kind of thing.

For poor old Fidel, what's happening must be the last laugh. Cuba is suddenly wealthy, and the U.S. Empire is falling because there's no money for Uncle Sam to continue trying to rule the world. Maybe Fidel will even find the strength to rise up out of his deathbed and make one last five-hour speech about these things.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I Wish I'd Said That

Jonathan Schwarz is always saying stuff I wish I'd said instead of him. I guess that's called envy, which, like greed, is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Is anyone surprised and shocked by the moral vacuum at the center of our banks and corporations? At least one of our highest-paid and best-reputed pundits is. Jon comments.

Illustration: "Greed" by Nate B., Vancouver, B.C.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cottage Grove

I drove a long way today, all the way from Central California to the middle of the Willamette Valley, and the pleasant town of Cottage Grove.

Or maybe I should say the towns of Cottage Groves, because there really are two of them, as is the case with so many small towns in our unconscious and dysfunctional land today. The old Cottage Grove sits athwart the old north-south highway that used to connect Canada and Mexico via the left coast states -- old 99. The new Cottage Grove initially spread itself between the old town and the road that replaced 99, Interstate 5, and in the last decade slopped over that boundary and expanded eastward, where its momentum was finally exhausted after the bust of 2007.

I'm staying in a motel in the new part of town, near the intersection of Row River and No Name Street, whose stop light appears to be the nexus of the new town, a wasteland consisting of fry pits, strip malls, gas stations, motels, and anchored by the inevitable Wal-Mart. Fully 80 percent of the businesses in this part of town operate out of plastic buildings and have familiar corporate names.

The barn advertising Dr. Pierce's Pleasant Pellets is just north of the old town, on Highway 99, and its condition is very much like that of most of old Cottage Grove's downtown and main street. Old town is dilapidated and seedy, but not dead, unlike the majority of small towns in the western U.S., whose original downtown districts are ruins consisting mostly of boarded-up storefronts, with the monotony of desolation broken only by the occasional "antiques" store or run-down rooms-by-the-week-or-month motel.

But there's still traffic, people on the streets, and a lively atmosphere in old Cottage Grove, despite its having obviously seen better days, and there's even more potential for this town of slightly under 10,000 to become a vital and important local center, because it sits in the middle of prime agricultural land. As our futureless civilization or anti-civilization or whatever you want to call it disintegrates over the next 20 years or so...well, I'll let Jim Kunstler tell it like it is:

...(W)e might become something other than an industrial "consumer" society. My narrative includes the conviction that we will have trouble producing food for ourselves as petro-agriculture fails, and since society can't go on without food production, I see this activity coming back much closer to the center of our daily lives. We're not ready to think about that. The downside of our unreadiness may be that a lot of Americans will go hungry in the decade ahead.
None of this is an argument for despair, by the way, but it certainly invokes the need for steeply revised expectations and serious attention to a national "to-do" list. We're on our way to becoming another nation, whether we like it or not.

In the years to come, as places like Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Los Angeles empty out for environmental and economic reasons, places like Cottage Grove, Oregon, Springfield, Illinois, and thousands of small, rural towns like them will grow in significance and influence, out of necessity. People have to eat, after all. And I hope when that happens, people will revivify their old downtowns and residential neighborhoods, and bulldoze the strip mall cancers that now surround them, killing them like malignant tumors.

So now I suppose you're asking why I'm staying in the new, ugly Cottage Grove, if it's so yucky and carcinogenic, instead of in old town, which after all is cool and organic and where the future lies and all that good stuff. The simple answer is because the motels in old town don't have wireless internet, plus their only outstanding quality is that they're cheap to stay in. Bill and Sally's Shady Rest really is not anywhere near as nicely appointed as the Comfort Inn, sad to say. But maybe someday it will be, again. It does look to have seen better days.

Also, I can't vouch for the pleasantness or lack thereof of Dr. Pierce's pellets, celebrated with such conservative calligraphic rectitude on the facade of that old barn. I just hope the doctor doesn't keep rabbits in his or her back yard.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Postcard from Santa Nella

This is a truck stop south of Stockton on I-5. Anderson's famous pea soup restaurant is here.

Only drove about seven hours today. After picking the van up and packing it this morning, I wilted fairly quickly. But I'll do better tomorrow.

I hate road food.

Lost two wheel covers off that van, but I don't know how or where.

So, the Dow Jones shot up a gazillion points today. We're in the bipolar phase of the meltdown now.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Road

Tomorrow morning I'll pick up a rented van, load as many of my possessions into it as will fit, and start driving up the road from desert SoCal to the Pacific Northwest. I'll drop my cargo in a storage bin up in the rainy country and head back to the desert to close the deal on my house, then turn my face north again, and head out slowly in my aged but trusty Insecto Amarillo (that's "yellow VW bug" to any monolingualists here).

I doubt I'll ever return to this place.

I have a long way to go this week and much to do in a very short time, so posting will be light or nonexistent.

Once arrived permanently I'll be moving in with my mother. She's reached that age where she needs help, and I'm grateful I have the chance to give it to her.

Until then, Vaya con Dios.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

None Dare Call It Groovy

I keep hearing people say Obama is a socialist. Well, not saying it, but writing it in postings at BeliefNet and on the right-wing blogs I click on by accident or read about in the real world. And I've heard that the talking android heads on the teevee are saying it.

I always say to myself when I hear that, "Yeah. I wish."

Some who see the world in nice, neat categories, stowed away in little boxes, may find this hard to believe, but Karl Marx and Adam Smith are not irreconcilable.

Free enterprise can exist and thrive alongside Social Security and Medicare. In fact, free enterprise and socialism can co-exist and both be better because of the association.

And make no mistake; Social Security and Medicare are socialist programs. It's silly to pretend they're not.

Just because we have Social Security doesn't mean we're going to end up a communist dictatorship. That's a right-wing fallacy known in logic as the slippery slope argument.

Whatever best serves the people is the constitutional ideal. The government exists to serve us. All of us, not just the privileged few. If it doesn't serve us, it needs to be abolished.

"Oppostion is true friendship" said William Blake. And the world is neither black nor white.

Seeing the world in Ideological terms of any kind abstracts reality, and is ridiculous. The real world is not an abstraction or a computer model.

We need small-scale free enterprise, and a return to family-owned businesses and small farms, where people compete to do a better job and, if successful, make a lot of money. Such people used to inhabit all the small towns of this country, where they owned a home and a business building, were integral parts of their communities, served on the library boards and chambers of commerce and school boards and PTA's, and were citizens in the truest sense. They tended to be conservative. And I mean that in a good way.

That was before the corporatocracy moved in on small communities with their Wal-Mart and their Burger Kings and their Midas Mufflers. And now most of those towns are ruins, with shabby looking but frequently busy strip malls on their peripheries.

And we need Social Security and Medicare for all.

Down with the corporatocracy. Down with the ruling class.

Power to the people. Viva Carlos Marx.

Friday, October 10, 2008



Only an Idiot

A question asked by a correspondent on my favorite discussion group this morning: "Who Are the Idiots Messing Up the Market?"

The "idiots messing up the market" did their work in 2002 -2006.

That's when the housing bubble waxed hot. People sold mortgages to everybody and anybody. "Everybody and anybody can own his or her own home," they said. They believed this could happen because they believed the prices of real estate would just keep going up forever, and only an idiot could believe such a thing.

Then those mortgages sold by companies like Ditech were "bundled" and cut into pieces, and the pieces were sold as "derivatives" (because they were derived from real estate mortgages). This was done in highly complex, secret ceremonies performed by the witch doctors who worked in the sanctuaries of the innermost heart of the finance "industry." They figured they could get away with these strange practices because the prices of real estate would keep going up forever. And only an idiot could believe such a thing.

These "derivatives" in turn were bought to the tune of billions and trillions by banks, by municipalities, by investment companies, by pension funds, all of whom believed they would be profitable because the price of real estate would keep going up forever. And only an idiot could believe such a thing.

There used to be a rule that banks had to have a real, cash dollar in reserve for every twelve dollars it invested (spent) on securities, etc. But in 2004, major banks wanted that rule lifted. In a secret meeting with the SEC commissioners, Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson convinced them to waive that rule, and henceforth the reserve requirement could be as high as one dollar in reserves for every 40 dollars invested. Paulson said the banks needed to be free to "make more efficient use of capital."

In reality, after this waiver was put into effect, there was no reserve requirement at all. It was obvious the SEC would let the banks do whatever the hell they wanted. The banks could invest ALL their depositors' money in "derivatives" if they felt like it. Paulson believed they could get away with this because there was no risk, because the price of real estate would keep going up forever, and only an idiot could believe such a thing.

In 2007 the prices of real estate peaked, then began to decline rapidly.

All the institutions which had bought "derivatives" suddenly realized they had spent billions and trillions on pieces of paper which were now worthless.

This is an exact replica of the fever of speculation followed by a massive collapse that occurred in the 1920's. The only difference -- the ONLY difference -- is that back then, it was the prices on the stock market that were going to continue to go up forever. In the 2000's, it was real estate that was going to go up forever.

But only an idiot would believe such a thing, because what goes up must come down.

The capitalist cycle never changes. It starts with recovery from the last collapse. Then it progresses through recovery, to an economic boom. The boom becomes a mania and a frenzy. The frenzy ends in a price fall, a panic, and a collapse. Only idiots participate in the mania and frenzy, telling themselves it will be "different this time," but it never is.

There is currently deep resentment and anger about where we have been led by those who rule us, and a fundamental distrust of the ruling elites who brought us to this point. Many people would like to overthrow this ruling class. That was the sentiment in the 1930's too, but people lost their focus and failed to follow through.

This time we need to follow through. We can no longer live under the rule of these idiot bastards who ruin our lives because of their idiotic greed and hysteria, and "when, in the course of human events..."

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Uncle Comrade Sam's Bank

Over the past couple days, Commissar Paulson has been coming around to the position that if we're going to give hundreds of billions to banks, the government is going to have to get something for our money -- ownership. That means the people, or us, through the agency of the government which (theoretically) represents us, will be part owners of these institutions.

From the NYT this morning:

Having tried without success to unlock frozen credit markets, the Treasury Department is considering taking ownership stakes in many United States banks to try to restore confidence in the financial system, according to government officials.

Treasury officials say the just-passed $700 billion bailout bill gives them the authority to inject cash directly into banks that request it. Such a move would quickly strengthen banks’ balance sheets and, officials hope, persuade them to resume lending. In return, the law gives the Treasury the right to take ownership positions in banks, including healthy ones.

Have you been to our bank this morning, comrade?

As Atrios comments, "Only Nixon could go to China. Only Bush can finally bring the Marxist Revolution home!"

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Alas, Babylon

Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. 3 For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.
--Revelation, 18:1

Fallen: the stock markets, the housing market, the credit market;

Fallen: the Almighty Dollar;

Fallen: the dream of perpetual growth;

Fallen: the endless frivolity of shopping and mindless entertainment;

Fallen: the hysterical projected lies shrieked by blood-sated fascist ideologues;

Fallen: the infinity of suburban sprawl and perpetual happy motoring.

Babylon has fallen. Moloch has fallen.

Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies!
Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs!

--Alan Ginsberg
"Howl" Part II

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


This is what a major market crash looks like. It signals that we are in a second great depression. reports that this is the worst year for market losses since 1937.

The Dow will stabilize at some point, but where? 5200? 2000?

Life is going to be different now. People will travel less, and have less money for luxuries and frivolity. Many will struggle to put food on the table and gas in the one family vehicle. Gardening will become the universal hobby that's more than a pastime. Prices will fall as they did in 1930-31, but most of our shopping malls will become archaeological remains just the same.

We'll probably still have television and internet, as cable companies are forced to provide service at a price people can afford.

This will last a long time.

I don't envy Obama, who can now be considered the presumptive winner of the presidential election.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Sikspak's Memorables

I, Joe Sikspak, take pen in hand once more to fire off another mouthful to all you geeks and nerds who read this dumb website. But there are some good people here too probably, don't get me wrong. The ones with values, like hating queers, loving Jesus, and wanting to bomb Iran.

I should tell you that I'm writing this very slowly because I know most of you don't read that fast. And you know, when I gassed up at Chevron today I noticed the price of gas is not as bad as last week. Maybe those towelheads finally got wise. But I'll tell you one thing, if they don't give us our oil we'll show them who's boss.

My friend Vern at work is always talking about women. He's a real sex fiend, that Vern. He says the perfect woman would be three feet tall and have a flat head so you could set your beer down on it. Now I usually agree with Vern about just about everything, but for my money there's no woman hotter than Sarah, that girl from Alaska who McCain just took on to be his number two at the White House. Watch out Cindy! Cindy is the name of his wife, for those of you not very well informed people out there.

I don't know why Presidents didn't get that idea sooner. Get a number two who's good for more than one thing.
And Sarah is definitely one hot mama!! Check out the fuselage on that baby, and she knows how to handle an AK too, which is also short for Alaska. I think I'll write her a letter and say I'll help her butcher her moose any time, just make sure the hubby's not around. Heh heh.

The only thing I don't like about her is she's too smart. I wouldn't want a woman I have to compete with, if you know what I mean.

Well, in conclusion, to make a long story short, in a nutshell I have to go feed Captain Crunch now. Dogs are stupid, but loyal and dependable, sort of like our dear President Bush. I will take pen in hand and write to you another day. In the mean time, remember, you live in either a red state or a blue state. If you're in a red state, love it, and if you're in a blue state, especially one like San Francisco or Boston, leave it.

Yours Turly,

Worse Than 1930. Much Worse.

The dominos are falling fast now.

Dude! Do you seriously want to know what's happening? Read Jim Kunstler this morning. He's the only person I know of who saw the tsunami coming before the earthquake even struck.

Best possible outcome: the dollar will retain some of its value. Pension funds and Social Security will continue to disburse a small portion of what they've promised. Gold and silver will return as media of exchange. Some food and some gas will be available, but will be delivered strictly on a C.O.D. basis. There will be few jobs and very little money available, but people will tough it out somehow.

Worst possible outcome? Kunstler again:

Will millions stop receiving paychecks due to the turmoil in banking? It's certainly possible, starting with the poor drones in Mr. Schwarzenegger's motor vehicle bureau and eventually ranging to every payroll office in the land. Will Sarah Palin's fellow Six-packers line up around the parking lagoons of the suburban banks trying desperately to withdraw the last seventy bucks in their checking accounts? (And will their thoughts in the event be: this economy is fundamentally sound....) Will the supermarket shelves of chipoltle-flavored crunchy snacks and power drinks go empty as truckers refuse to deliver their loads without up-front payment? And how long does it take a hungry public to turn mean?

We could see a parallel problem in the motor fuel supply sector. So far, gasoline shortages have only appeared in parts of the Southeast USA, due to interruptions caused by two hurricanes. If the oil tankers quit offloading now for lack of credible payment, then the whole nation will get an interesting lesson in the shortcomings of the suburban development pattern.

I'm not in very good health, but I hope to stay alive a few more years so I can watch this. The pink swine of buccaneer capital and the lords of global finance are finally going to get theirs -- doubled down and redoubled. I sincerely wish my grandfather Sam Brice, the oldest pinko in Spokane, Washington, had lived to see this day.

I, Joe Sikspak

Item: VP candidate Sarah Palin says "It's time that normal Joe Six-pack American is finally represented in the position of vice presidency."

I, Joe "Catboxer" Sikspak, take pen in hand to write to you effete snobs reading those commie blogs on the internet to let you know I'm voting for Nixon this year. I'm doing so on the advice of my friend Vern at work. He's a real nut, that Vern, but he's also an expert on politics. I won't even tell you some of the things he says about Hussein El Obama, or whatever his name is.

That Nixon is a real man. And that's more than I can say for whatshisface.

And hey, don't go putting your greasy fingers on my truck. Don't even think about it. I keep a loaded Smith and Wesson in the glove compartment, so don't try anything liberal. Yeah, I know it's a big truck. It's my money and I'll waste as much gas as I want.

And even though I'm a cat, I drive this big truck, and I have a dog that goes everywhere with me -- a pit bulldog named Captain Crunch.

Put that in your bongs and smoke it. And if you know what's good for you, those Birk-in-stocks on your feet better be made for walkin'.

Now excuse me, while I pop this top.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Beautiful Wasilla

At my favorite discussion board, posters are making fun of Sarah Palin because she used to be mayor of a town with a population of 6,000 and 42 meth labs. But having been there, I can tell you there's no shame in being chief executive of Wasilla.

I know Wasilla pretty well. Back in the '80's I used to play music there, at a lodge-restaurant-bar on the shore of lovely Lake Wasilla. I was drumming with a top-40 covers band, and the locals were very good to us. We had that three-nights-a-week job for a long time. Sometimes in deep winter we'd shortcut across the frozen surface of the lake itself to pick up the highway that took us back to Anchorage, an hour away.

There was a gigantic moosehead mounted a few feet above my head on that bandstand, and I prayed there would be no earthquake while we were playing. The owner was a roaring alcoholic and a Nazi -- literally. He had a Nazi flag on a flagstand behind the desk in his small office, and a framed picture of Hitler. He didn't like our music -- Roy Acuff was his idea of top-notch stuff -- but we brought in the customers, so he was OK to work for.

Later, after I left the state, I heard he torched that wonderful place for the insurance money.

I liked Wasilla a lot. You have to keep in mind that Alaskan politics is characterized by nuttiness, and tends toward the bizarre and outrageous. You know, secessionists, anti-tax crazies, UFO theorists -- it's the faraway corner of the country all the nuts roll into. But it's a great place to live despite that, and sometimes I wish I was still there.

And I must say, the politicians were more accessible than anyplace else I've ever been. I saw the governor talking one-on-one with voters in the airport more than once, and Alaska's only Congressional representative, Don Young (still in office), used to be a regular at the bars we played in.

In Wasilla, you see bald eagles sitting in the trees on any given day, and in the winter moose wander through the streets. It's great.

Friday, October 03, 2008

No Exceptions

Essential to the ideology of American Exceptionalism is the myth that the founding fathers were visionaries so intellectually and morally perfect that the Constitution they produced could could never be surpassed or improved upon. The founders themselves could not have believed this or they wouldn't have included a provision for amending their work. Besides that, a critical and unsentimental judicial analysis easily proves Madison, et. al to be as susceptible to hypocrisy and misjudgment as any other group of humans.

Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court justice and the only competent one so far, pulled the covers off our *perfect* Constitution in 1987, the year of its bicentennial celebration, calling it "a flawed document."

A New York Times editorial that year reacted to Marshall's criticisms saying: "Give Justice Thurgood Marshall a rap on the knuckles for violating the tradition inhibiting political remarks by members of the Supreme Court. But also give him a round of applause for helping, in this bicentennial year of the Constitution, to remind America that the document was not immaculately conceived."

Marshall's main criticism of the Constituion centered on the three-fifths clause, the fact of slavery, and the disenfranchisment of women, all of which he saw as betrayals of the principle set out in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal" (For obvious reasons having to do with customary diction of the period, he skipped over the sexism inherent in Jefferson's language), and in a speech before the San Francisco Patent and Trademark Law Association in May, 1987, said:

I (do not) find the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today. When contemporary Americans cite "The Constitution," they invoke a concept that is vastly different from what the Framers barely began to construct two centuries ago.

For a sense of the evolving nature of the Constitution we need look no further than the first three words of the document's preamble: "We the People." When the Founding Fathers used this phrase in 1787, they did not have in mind the majority of America's citizens. "We the People" included, in the words of the Framers, "the whole Number of free Persons." On a matter so basic as the right to vote, for example, Negro slaves were excluded, although they were counted for representational purposes at threefifths each. Women did not gain the right to vote for over a hundred and thirty years.

These omissions were intentional. The record of the Framers' debates on the slave question is especially clear: The Southern States acceded to the demands of the New England States for giving Congress broad power to regulate commerce, in exchange for the right to continue the slave trade. The economic interests of the regions coalesced: New Englanders engaged in the "carrying trade" would profit from transporting slaves from Africa as well as goods produced in America by slave labor. The perpetuation of slavery ensured the primary source of wealth in the Southern States.

Despite this clear understanding of the role slavery would play in the new republic, use of the words "slaves" and "slavery" was carefully avoided in the original document. Political representation in the lower House of Congress was to be based on the population of "free Persons" in each State, plus threefifths of all "other Persons." Moral principles against slavery, for those who had them, were compromised, with no explanation of the conflicting principles for which the American Revolutionary War had ostensibly been fought: the selfevident truths "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

The classical scholar turned political commentator Garry Wills echoed Marshall's conclusions some years later in his book "Lincoln at Gettybsburg." In it Wills argues convincingly that the Gettysburg address, with its acknowledgment of the blood sacrifice of the Civil War, was actually a "second foundation" of the United States, which Lincoln by 1863 saw as necessarily abolishing slavery and fulfilling the promise of the principle of equality set forth in the Declaration of Independence.

Thurgood Marshall, one of the last of the great Americans, was pilloried from all sides for daring to suggest that the U.S. Constitution and those who framed it were less than perfect. But time has vindicated him, and as we now enter the jaws of a second great depression, it's appropriate to ask whether it's not time for a "third foundation," one which takes into account the ungoverned power of global capital and its pet howler monkey, the electronic mass media. Extirpating inequality in this country, insuring that all are indeed "created equal," required four amendments to the Constitution (13, 14, 15, and 19), plus some legislative fine tuning in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the yet-to-be-passed Equal Rights Amendment.

I wish Marshall was still around to advise us what we need to do to get the ravenous beast of runamuck capitalism, with its awesome capacities for both creation and destruction, under control. We need good advice in this crisis, because, after all, the United States is just another imperfect country consisting of imperfect human beings. I hope that doesn't offend anybody; it's merely a simple observation of an obvious fact of life to which there are no exceptions.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Freedom Capsized

I strongly recommend reading Dennis Perrin's blogpost from yesterday, Halluci Nation.

Ordinarily I can only take so much of this internet Jeremiah because his relentless pessemism gives me heart palpitations. But I can't often argue with him. He strips away all the pretensions and puffed-up self-importance of politicians and the political system, and nurses a righteous resentment of the kitsch that passes for culture in our emotionally crippled society.

Of our current troubles and the possibility of popular revolt against the powers that be, Perrin says: (T)he great mass of Americans have no desire to bring down the system or change it in ways that would require radical actions. The majority want to be left alone with their toys and what money they have stashed away. They want to consume and be entertained as always, pretending that they're not connected to the wider world, or that their choices have real consequences. The proposed $700 billion bailout was simply too much, and this was reflected in Congress' rejection of Bush's plan.


What will be (a popular revolt's) ultimate destination? There's no real alternative support network for such a thing. No opposition party which this energy and anger can animate and empower.


Frankly, Americans haven't lost enough for a united tear-it-down response. For a great number, there's still a ways to drop. And even then, when they have nothing left to lose, a significant portion will refrain from direct action and place their concerns with demagogues who thrive in moments of despair. Many people don't want to confront it, but our consumer paradise covers all manner of ugly, bigoted, violent sentiments. The reaction to the 9/11 attacks should remind you of that.

This is harsh and discouraging stuff. But I find nothing here with which I can disagree. You might want to put on your shinpads and read the whole thing.

Who Would Yeshua Ben Yusuf Beat Up?

Culled this from an out-of-the-way little blog called Incertus (Are we full of win yet?) via the Reciprocal Crap Exchange (see left sidebar).

Actually, the analogy is a little stretched. Jesus drove the money changers out of God's house, but I don't think God has ever visited Wall Street, much less considered living there.

However, the main I reason I wanted to post this picture was to see if any anybody can tell me who the artist is. Caravaggio? Rembrandt? Pasolini? I can't seem to find it.

My guess is Rembrandt, and I'll keep digging.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Big Shitpile

On a discussion board I frequent, a disarmingly honest correspondent wrote:

I work in a technical scientific discipline, but economics kind of baffles me (McCain admitted the same, but he still thinks he is qualified to provide leadership in this area).

I am SO naive that I think that when money got unhooked from its metal backing, the only thing backing it is trust, faith, confidence. When the trust goes, nothing is left. I literally cannot understand WHERE all the wealth that was piling up has suddenly gone -- and so, in my naive way, I think that maybe there never was anything but numbers in an electronic database. Wiping out wealth then just became a matter of pressing the Delete button on those data.

I'm not saying that we should go back to a pure specie-based monetary system, but there has to be SOMETHING more than blind trust going on, else our entire economy has no more rational basis than an enormous chain letter.

One other thing: catboxer worries about explosive inflation, and I agree: an economic depression is very stressful and difficult, because people don't have enough money or means of earning money -- but the money still has value. When money itself has no value, it doesn't matter whether you have a job or not. Working vs non working is then just the difference between having or not having a pile of worthless paper at the end of the day.

I replied: You pose a good question. I'll see if I can answer it briefly without distorting reality too much.

The value of the now worthless derivatives the banks bought and are now stuck with was originally backed by the constantly rising prices of real estate. The thinking was that you could sell a crappy loan to a home buyer, and even if he or she couldn't make the payments, he or she could always sell the place for a profit (because prices were only going up, never down), pay off the loan, and still pocket a profit. Everybody won.

That's what lent value to the securities that were created by slicing and dicing the loans themselves and selling them to banks, pension funds, etc., as collateralized debt obligations, etc. That's also what created the bubble -- the hysteria which expressed itself as "What me worry? Because I'm selling crappy loans to unqualified people? It doesn't matter, because from now on prices will only go up -- never down. So even losers can't lose."

And the people who were making the loans, and creating derivative securities out of those loans, and buying the derivatives are the biggest fools in the universe, because they invariably believed their own B.S. Well, they did and they didn't. It was doublethink, actually.

But what goes up must come down, and when the bubble burst and house prices began their inevitable downward slide, buyers found themselves holding property worth less than what they owed on it. Large numbers of them stopped paying their mortgages, and the situation was universal -- "countrywide" meltdown of the real estate market and of many of the loans. Banks suddenly realized that the paper securities they had bought that were derived from those now-unravelling mortgages were worthless, since they had only been backed by the assumption that real estate prices would continue to increase forever. They had foolishly acquired a big shitpile of worthless paper because they were stupid enough to believe that prices would never reverse direction and start coming down.

The big shitpile is what Paulson proposes we now buy. That's what the 700 billion is for -- to buy worthless paper and bail out people stupid enough to believe their own lies.