Monday, December 27, 2010

The furkid...
Anyone who knows our furkid knows for her to keep still long enough to shoot this is an enormous feat!
Having said that she's a gem!

The Moment of Convulsion

     A little ways off the curb on the Boulevard Henry IV here in Paris, you can see the memory of the Bastille outlined by a course of masonry in the pavement, in particular one of the bulbous towers of the old fortress-prison. It marks one of those threshold moments in history when things got out-of-hand - in the late afternoon of July 14, 1789 - and by the time a mob had detached the head of Warden Bernard-René de Launey from his shoulders and paraded it around on a pike, everyone in the city knew that they had crossed into the politically unknown frontier of Revolution.
     Seeing this residue of history put me in mind of a riddle that one of my college professors presented to us one day years ago: why did Achilles drag Hector around the city of Troy three times? We came up with dozens of reasons ranging from conjectures out of the text of The Iliad to lame bits of Hippie numerology, but nobody could furnish the answer that the prof was looking for, which was eventually revealed: Because he [Achilles] was just that pissed off
     This was the idea that dogged me in the winter twilight of Paris late on Christmas Day as I pondered the fate of my own country back across the cold cold sea. A lot of Americans are beaten down and discouraged these days. They've lost not only jobs, incomes, and houses, but also a sense of purpose, and perhaps faith in the essential fairness of the American venture - as the propane runs out, and families try to subsist on Froot Loops, and the re-po squad turns up to haul away the Ford F-150 Raptor. Meanwhile, in their last remaining refuge from harsh reality, TV, they glimpse the likes of Jamie Dimon, Chloe Kardashian, and Jay-Z emerging from limousines looking hopelessly bored with wealth beyond imagination. When will the folks out there move from shame and despondency to being really pissed off about the disposition of things?
     Isn't that a question, though?
     The French Revolution arose first from a financial crisis that turned into a political crisis. The rule of law had been vested in a class of pampered imbeciles while the price of bread doubled, and sometimes there was no bread at all for the growing masses, or functioning law to govern the country. This was where the rising middle-class of the dawning industrial-commercial age stepped in to straighten things out - people such as Jean Paul Marat the itinerant physician (ahem), thief, sewer rat, and newspaper columnist, and Maxmilien Robespierre, lawyer. They had the example ten years earlier of the successful American Revolution, which Louis XVI had helped finance, and which helped bankrupt the French Treasury. But the new French political class botched the crucial part: a constitution that actually worked. The whole enterprise sank into a morass of absurd utopianism and, finally, paranoia. The guillotine turned out to be the perfect machine for that dark moment: efficient, elegant, and terrifying. The bloodthirsty competed with the incompetent for the soul of the nation until finally a twenty-eight-year-old artillery officer said (in effect), "Look here, fuckers! This will be quite enough of your shenanigans." After Monsieur General Bonaparte entered the scene, that was all she wrote for the revolution....
     Which brings me to the subject of our own financial crisis, soon to mutate into a political crisis. There really is no "solution" to our problem of debt except to become a less affluent society. You can get there via the path of compressive deflationary depression (no money), or hyperinflation (plenty of worthless money), but the destination is the same. In the meantime we're stuck with the extremely uneven distribution of hardship and luxury. Whole classes of formerly working people face the prospect of genuine ruin while an ultra-pampered class of celebrity clowns and professional swindlers fob off with whatever's left on the national buffet table. The real politics of all this are so far from being sorted out that sheer contemplation of what lies ahead leaves the mind harrowed and feeble.
     The Jacobins of 1793 France were basically the Left. It took only five hundred or so of them to bully a nation of 30 million. The Jacobins of the USA in 2011 are basically the Right Wing, followers of Senator Jim DeMint, the mind-slaves of Rush Limbaugh and "students" of Prof Glenn Beck, and, of course, the worshippers of Sarah Palin.  Their brand of politics might be labeled Nostalgic Sentimental Paranoid Know-Nothingism. They're proud and loud, pious and ignorant, so deeply insecure that they depend on flag lapel pins to remind them to care about their country, full of righteous anger about their own sexual impulses, the religious notions (or not) of other people, and the possible introduction of the rule of law in banking matters. They pretend to represent the folks freezing in their mobile homes who subsist on Froot Loops, but they're really protecting the country clubbers, the corporate poobahs, the fraudsters on Wall Street, and every other racketeer in the land - including their own class of political grifters.
     The Obama Democrats, the putative Left Wing, are analogous to the pro-monarchy center of revolutionary France. Their ethical sanctimony is fake while they do everything possible to keep the rule of law out of money matters. They are most of all ineffectual and impotent, capable only of grandstanding hyped up Great Compromises that accomplish nothing, and probably doom the party to be chewed up by the machinations of their bloodthirsty adversaries on the right. It's hard to shed a tear for them, their performance has been so purblind and wimpish.
      History has its own momentum and it is carrying the psychotic Right Wing into power. Fear not. After they stomp the moderates and the Left, they will themselves end up in an orgy of political cannibalism before somebody as yet unknown - perhaps some field brigadier just now in Afghanistan - steps up to say, "Look here, fuckers...." Meanwhile, America may have its own Bastille moment when something goes too far, some poor functionary at the Treasury Department gets scalped by a gang of 99ers, or a distressed physician goes after Glenn Beck in the student union of a Bible college, or... Gawd knows what.
     Meanwhile, you are sleeping and it's morning here in Paris. I get the feeling that we're at the end of the great era of tourism. Europe has been the world's premiere tourist theme park for half a century. Given Europe's bloody, riotous history, it's been a remarkable period of peace and affluence. Since the 1960s, everything here in Paris got buffed up to perfection. Notre Dame's white stone façade gleams in the winter sunlight. The Louvre, the Opera, the Conciergerie, the Tomb of Napoleon are all fixed, re-pointed, re-gilded. The café and restaurant scene operates like one great gastronomic machine, effortless and masterful. I'm already nostalgic for it.
     In the background, Europe's money situation is disintegrating, and with it probably the easy order that has reigned in this period. They are going broke, too, just as surely as America is, and they are responding in pretty much the same way: a game of extend and pretend (with some prayer as the cherry-on-top). Meanwhile, the price of oil has breached the $91 dollar line. If it goes just a little bit higher, and the winter weather stays harsh, you can bet that some airlines will be going down the drain. Combine that with the vanishing disposable incomes of the middle class and you get an ill-fated recipe for the tourism business - with perhaps some home-grown mob action waiting in the wings around Europe, not to mention friction between age-old enemies.
     I was fortunate to see Europe at its best in my time, and now we are entering a new time of great uncertainty and travail. I'll be back home next week with the usual gruesome forecast for the new year. And yes, I am aware that the Dow Jones Industrial Average did not settle around 4000 points, as I predicted a year ago. Obviously 2010 was a year of fabulous prosperity in the USA - just ask the people running out of propane with their bowls full of Froot Loops.
Waste of time...waste of money...IMHO...

US Mobilized for the Possibility of War on Korean Peninsula 

The United States government made preparations for the possibility of war on the Korean peninsula amid North Korea's continued provocations.
Columnist David Ignatius wrote in the Washington Post on Sunday that the Obama administration's recent foreign policy moves included "contingency plans for North Korea."
Ignatius reported that just three weeks ago US President Barack Obama warned Chinese President Hu Jintao over the phone that North Korea is a "nuclear nation" whose recklessness threatens the US.
Meanwhile, White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs said on Sunday that major changes with Obama's cabinet are not likely but that it is very likely that President Obama will seek re-election in 2012.
Gibbs added that the job market has improved since President Obama took office which the American President wants to continue.

DEC 27, 2010
Reporter :      

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Posted for fair use and discussion.

How a freak diversion of the jet stream is paralysing the globe with freezing conditions

By Niall Firth
Last updated at 12:53 PM on 22nd December 2010

* It's snowing in Australia and California yet 'warm' in Greenland

The freezing conditions that have blasted Britain are being blamed on a series of weather patterns that are bringing Arctic temperatures to much of western Europe, California and even Australia.

One of the main factors is a change in the position of the jet stream - the fast-moving current of air that moves from west to east, high in the atmosphere.

Changes in the jet stream's path can cause massive changes in weather conditions across the globe and may be why Australians are now shivering their way through summer and the current freezing conditions in California.

In a normal British winter - when conditions are mild and soggy - the jet stream lies over northern Europe, at an altitude of between 35,000 to 50,000 feet.
Daily mean temperature anomalies around the world between 1st December and 20th December

Daily mean temperature anomalies around the world between 1st December and 20th December compared with the 30 year long term average between 1961 and 1990

During these grey winters, Britain's prevailing winds come from the west and south west, and bring with them warm and moist air from the sub-tropical Atlantic.

This year a high-pressure weather system over the Atlantic is blocking the jet stream’s normal path and forcing it to the north and south of Europe.

The areas of high pressure act like stones in a stream - blocking the normal flow of milder air from the west and instead forcing colder air from the north down across the UK.

In California more than 12 inches of rain has fallen in parts of the Santa Monica Mountains in the south and 13 feet of snow has accumulated at Mammoth Mountain ski resort.

And Australians expecting to bask in early summer sun this Christmas are instead shivering as icy gusts sweeping up from the Southern Ocean have blanketed parts of east coast states New South Wales and Victoria with up to four inches of snow.

When the jet-stream is blocked by high pressure it dips southwards and lets freezing air flood in from the Arctic regions.

Other weather patterns are also causing havoc across the may also be affecting the weather, such as the current in the tropical Pacific Ocean, called La Nina, which is disturbing the jetstream over the north Pacific and North America.

A combination of our usual wet Atlantic weather systems striking these freezing cold fronts results in huge amounts of snowfall – and brings Britain grinding to a halt.

A Met Office spokesman: ‘The problem is we are not getting the warmer Atlantic air that normally keeps our winters mild.’

‘We can see that it is unseasonably warm over Canada and Greenland, this is where warm air has been diverted.’

He said that any change in the pressure over the Atlantic would need to last for several days before we would notice any change in the weather in Europe.

Freezing-cold winters and milder winters tend to cluster in groups, as the jet stream changes its path.

Experts are still unsure why this is but suspect it may be related to the EL Nino weather system as well as changes in sea temperatures and solar activity.

Read more:

Saturday, December 25, 2010

So how often do you see new barbed wire on a fence that looks to be a gazillion years old???

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Egress from town!!...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lookin like Christmas downtown these days!...

Monday, December 20, 2010

...somewhere between Detroit and Blossum TX...

And To All a Good Night

     At this time of year, who can fail to understand the wish to forget all the woes and fiascos of our time, and to retreat into the cozy firelit nooks of Christmas, where a pint or so of grog, or egg-nog, or even seven fingers of Williams 'Lectric Shave in an empty jam jar might avail to wash away the frightening specters of debts, and banks, and, trade imbalances, and countries with economies composed mostly of losses?
     For now, America is a rug stretching from Maine to California, under which we've swept the filthy detritus of money matters and governance. It worked most of the year, though the rug has grown as lumpy as a landfill. Nothing is more important for the moment than provoking millions of people with no means for carrying their current obligations to ply the malls in search of Christmas merchandise, so the little ones will not be disappointed on the Great Day. Who could fail to understand this, too, since the sorrows of children only magnify the failures of the adults who love and fear for them.
     President Obama's tax deal with the corn-and-pork-fed mental defectives of the Red States has been spun into an historic act of political ju-jitsu - a sharp trade to great advantage for the slick city operator against the avaricious rubes - but to me it was just another act of Santa Claus Theater. You have to love the conceit that all this fuss about money is finally settled.  So we can settle back in the raptures of flat screen high-def 3-D TV and imagine that we're like the characters in Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life - which, by the way, in case you never noticed, is a story about a banker who gets into big trouble financing the first larval manifestations of suburban sprawl. If only Frank Capra had lived to see the Federal Reserve's Maiden Lane portfolio, a sack of shit so monumental it would make the fabled swag-bag of Kris Kringle himself look like the descending colon of a pygmy marmoset.
     Anyway, both parties are vying for a place in the graveyard of politics, and this is how it should be. Life is tragic, nothing lasts forever, and these two hoary old orgs are so far gone in corruption and cupidity that it would be hazardous to not bury them as fast as possible. If the USA is as resilient and resourceful as it pretends to be, then we can confidently come up with something better. In fact, I hasten to make a positive proposal: calling Howard Dean (former Vermont governor and head of the Democratic National Committee) to take the helm of a new Progressive Party (or whatever you want to call it) in opposition to the morbid histrionics of the Tea Baggers. It's not written on the wind that this country must be governed by morons and sell-outs. Governor Dean is the only character I see out there with more than half a brain who won't bend over for Weepy John Boehner and the minions of Goldman Sachs. I'm sorry that the cable networks juked him back in 2004, with the ridiculous charge that he had somehow lost his mind by raising his voice at his Iowa Caucus victory party.
     As I have averred more than once before, this period of US history resembles the 1850s, when the established political parties could not wrap their minds around the salient issue of the day, slavery, and so went out of business. Anyway, when Abraham Lincoln came along rather late in the day, nobody knew, fer gawdsake, that he was going to turn into Abraham Lincoln.  We kind of forget that the Civil War, which began almost the instant he took office, was a prolonged fiasco that looked fatal for the nation until very near the end - at which point Lincoln, who had been mocked more harshly than any president to that time, was transformed into a monument by 240 grains of lead.
     In this previous historic convulsion the issue was slavery; today the issue is the rule of law - the absence of which from banking is destroying the USA as effectively as a foreign invasion. Poor President Obama looks more like Millard Fillmore reincarnated every day, an empty figurehead servling of less-than-benevolent interests hiding in plain sight. What will become of this Republic when he puts his Santa suit away for the year, nobody knows (and many people dread).
     I'll be writing from Paris, France, next week - if the next ice age doesn't close down the airports, and if no trouble-maker manages to get on-board my plane with a Semtex suppository hidden in his vitals. I sincerely wonder if the European banks will implode before the holiday runs its course, but I suppose the folks in charge will be too drunk all week to even play Grand Theft Auto on their cell phones. I've got a sad, nagging feeling that this may be Europe's last year as the world's tourist theme park. They've gone through that before, too, by the way - history does repeat in patterns, if not in exact story-line - in the roughly century-long lull between Waterloo and the Guns of August, 1914. The memory of the Long Peace is why the First World War was so demoralizing to Western Civ. God knows what mischief awaits when the current game of Bank Back-stop Hot Potato comes to its certain end in Euroland.
      All that said, I take a certain consolation in the fact that Julian Assange is at large!
     Merry Christmas everyone, and to all a jolly week of schmoozing, boozing, gifting, grifting, and joy to the world! (Oh, and don't rob the house.)

Friday, December 17, 2010

More from the run thru east Texas yesterday...
Detroit itself is not worth the drive...not an epic fail by any stretch, but if you are looking for massive amounts of decay like that found in Honey Grove/Paris you will be disappointed...but there are some nice little things to be found wandering around going and returning that made the day...little oddities like the "Git Ur Done" gas station and store - brings whole new meaning to the word redneck...LOL...and then there's the Chapman Aircraft recovery business...hehehehehehe...its all good!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Found some fun stuff between Detroit and Paris TX this afternoon...


Monday, December 13, 2010

Somewhere in Sherman town...

The Revolutionary Moment

     I overheard a conversation between two employees over at the Price Chopper supermarket last week. (The Price Chopper logo is a picture of a Mercury dime with an ax cleaving into Mercury's head; in other words, an ax murder.) The supermarket employees were both middle-aged women.
     First: "I'm going home to a cold house."
     Second: "Why don't you turn up the heat?"
     First: "I don't have no money for fuel."
     Meanwhile, 175 miles south in Manhattan somewhere, Lloyd Blankfein's personal shopper is trying to figure out whether to buy Lloyd's favorite niece a Fabergé egg themed Memories of Azov or a Jaguar XK convertible. 
     Maybe the catch here is that the anonymous supermarket workers are only freezing this Christmas season. If they were freezing and hungry, it might be a different story. But, working in a supermarket, a person might find a way to cadge a few tidbits here and there (whoops, we broke a bag of Cheetos on the loading dock) - the catch there being you could get fired for stealing the merchandise. O sorry nation!
     But don't fear! The president and congress are looking out for you, O nation of freezing supermarket employees (and flummoxed personal shoppers, and wily mega-bank CEOs)! They have fashioned a deal that we might call Stim-u-rama. Everybody gets a tax cut! Everybody! Not just Lloyd B but all you toiling and moiling shelf-stockers and check-out cashiers. Plus, you will get a reduction of several percentage points in your payroll deductions - a redoo in the dedoo! -  which must be good for at least one Justin Bieber action figure (if there are any left!) in these waning days of the Yuletide consumer frenzy.
     Meanwhile moreover, CBS 60-Minutes showed a segment Sunday night on the rip-roaring economic miracle of Brazil - "a little bit bigger than the USA geographically and loaded with natural resources" - as if to rub it in that we have become a sorry nation of losers to a bunch of no-account beach layabouts. As usual, the 60-Minutes reportage was full of lies and misrepresentations, for instance, that Brazil's offshore oil discoveries are so huge and so easy to extract that they will save industrial civilization.
      The sights and smells of Christmas usually put me in a mellow frame of mind. But this year there's an acid edge in the mulled wine, an off-taste in the plum pudding, a disconcerting odor of rot in the piped-in holiday potpourri.
     Obviously, the government tax deal along with the Federal Reserve's recent QE announcements represent a mighty effort to stuff some spendable lucre into this shuddering, doddering beast of  the American economy. The people running things don't know what else to do. We find ourselves in a decelerating system, hopelessly over-complex (and scheming, even, to add additional layers of complexity!), with money-making activity shifted from producing things of value into a runaway Wall Street machine dedicated to something-for-nothing rentier exploitation of interest rate differentials, arbitrages, short-sales, outright swindles, and other activities based on no creation of value whatsoever. While capital piles up in the salons of Central Park West and the cigar cellars of the Hamptons, social capital hemorrhages every day as masses of formerly-working Americans forego the acquisition of any useful skills, or forget old ones, or opt to lose themselves in the transports of methadrine, "reality" TV, and tattoo art. To put it perhaps a bit indelicately, our shit is falling apart.
     It's fascinating that in the background of all this the price of oil is fibrillating around $90-a-barrel - and nobody is paying any attention to that. We seem to have forgotten the lesson from back in 2008 that when oil gets above the $80 mark, things in this land of Happy Motoring and the Warehouse-on-wheels don't work so well. No wonder President Obama and congress are trying to stuff the country full of sugar plums just to get past the horror of a Christmas holiday when not a few working people will be freezing in their homes, if they have homes.
     And in not too many days ahead we'll get a peek at those Christmas bonuses landing in the laps of Lloyd Blankfein's minions at Goldman Sachs and the rest of the geniuses in the engine room of prosperity.
     When I was already a grown-up young newspaper reporter thirty-odd years ago, I never dreamed I'd see a revolutionary moment here in the USA - even with old Nixie pulling one fast one after another, before heading off to that helicopter for his last wave to the people who elected him. Now, I'm not so sure.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gone Exploring!!!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Not exactly what I was expecting to see at a Christmas Parade in downtown McKinney...

This is closer to my expectations, but to each their own I guess...

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Jobs Picture

      The clarion cries of "recovery" cut painfully through the crisp pre-Christmas air while the now-perpetually unemployed huddle in their tents around the Sacramento delta, and the state AGs slug it out with the foreclosure goons, and not a few mortgage payment drop-outs enjoy luxury living in McMansions with no monthly carrying costs, and the minions of Goldman Sachs (with fellow squids) groom their beaks waiting for the massive chum slick of bonus checks to be dropped by helicopters in this the third holiday season since Wall Street committed suicide by an overdose of Ponzi. 
     It's pathetic to hear the wan cry of "recovery" issued by the high priests and tribunes of this land. Do the president and his train of wizards really suppose that all the necessary pieces are in place to re-start the economic dynamics of, say, 2003? A million busboys and lawn service lackeys lining up for half-million dollar liar loans at the Countrywide office? BCA, Citi, and all the other big banks pawning off bundles upon bundles of these worthless obligations to insurance companies, pension funds, foolish endowment fund managers and any other reckless entity desperate for yield? A hyperbolic consumer economy pyramid resting on a base of empty promises to repay?
     Sorry. There's no way the USA can ever "recover" to that lush breeding ground of swindling, fraud, and childish irresponsibility. The hardships of today do not represent a dip in some regular cycle of financial push-me-pull-you. This is a systemic, structural change in the socio-economic ecology of human life. Those who have been shuffling from one office to another with their dog-eared resumes, and clothing pressed under the mattress while sleeping, are bound to be disappointed. The very idea of a "job" may be obsolete, in the sense of bureaucratically organized endeavors complete with a "human resources" department that can just plug in human components like diodes in an engineered system.
      Among the surprises I've suggested over the years is the idea that people used to spending long hours in cubicles staring at video screens may, at some point ahead, begin to spend their days in the fresh air, cultivating food crops. I'm sure this sounds outlandish. But we begin to see the new dynamic of this world resolving in the nexus between a crisis of capital, climate change, and peak oil. 
     Food is getting scarce. Worldwide grain reserves stand at unprecedented lows. Droughts in Russia and Australia mean that basic foods will be in short supply on the margins - that is, the impoverished countries we used to call "third world" that depend on grain imports. The American supermarket aisles still groan with every conceivable staple and delicacy, but note the prices of things. A buck and a half for four little onions. $1.18 for one apple. $4 for a jar of jam. Compare these numbers with the wages that have not gone up effectively since around 1970.
      As I write this morning, oil is 11 cents short of $90 a barrel. That's well into the price range that destroys economic activity in the USA. Why is the price of oil creeping up relentlessly in a structurally impaired economy? My guess is the beginning of hoarding on the grand scale, as nations slowly wake to the reality of the world production peak, and scramble to max out their tank-farm capacity. By the way, the price of oil could easily crash again - and, I believe the period just ahead will be marked by extreme volatility in oil prices - but if it goes back down to $20 a barrel we'll probably be in a situation where nobody has any money to buy it even at bargain basement prices.That was exactly the situation 70-odd years ago during the Great Depression: plenty of everything; but no money.
     The crisis of capital still has many acts to play out. The current installment taking place in Europe is a game of musical chairs played by nations who cannot pay their debts or the regular bills. The Euro was on its way sliding into oblivion a week or so ago when the European Central Bank and the IMF came up with a few billion to cover bond interest for deadbeat countries through the Christmas season - at the same time that Ben Bernanke's Fed offered up a $75-billion-a-month bid for US Treasury bonds (and god-knows-really what other sort of dodgy paper, based on the Fed's track record of hosing up every distressed instrument on the landscape, including the notes on cheap chain hotels). The Euro bounced back, at least in relation to the US dollar. The same darn skit will have to be replayed in the first quarter of 2011 and my guess is that German voters will pull the IV-line of financial support out of its terminally ailing neighbors. The net effect will be stupendous economic confusion and a lot of bad feeling. This is the year that Europe ceases to be a theme park and reverts to a continent of dangerous squabbles and beefs.
     America has appeared to be a bystander to that spectacle - apart from all the European banks and insurance operations that Ben Bernanke dropped TARP money on, it was revealed last week - but the US financial situation is every bit as sketchy as Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and Italy, and we have no idea how we're going to cover our obligations after Christmas.
     This idea of "recovery" promulgated by authority figures who ought to know better is the cruelest swindle of them all, and perhaps the final one. If you want something like gainful employment in the years ahead, don't rely on the corporations, the government, or anyone with a work station equipped cubicle. Start reading up on gardening and harness repair. Learn how to fix a pair of shoes. Volunteer for EMT duty if you're already out of a paycheck, and learn how to comfort people in medical distress. Jobs of the future will be hands-on and direct. I have no idea what medium of exchange you'll get paid with, but a chicken is a good start.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

From the Christmas parade in downtown tonight...more to come later...


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dickens on the Square has come and gone...
Seemed to be a success!... 

So I guess the Christmas season is officially started...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Taken while walking the Square during Dickens on the Square celebration...

It speaks to me of peace and security...

Its that time of year again...

Downtown McKinney's premier festival, the 30th Annual Dickens
of a Christmas...Home for the Holidays is this weekend.

...Festival Hours:
Friday, November 26, 2010: 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Saturday, November 27, 2010: 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Sunday, November 28, 2010: 12 p.m. - 6 p.m.

Festival Location:
Historic Downtown McKinney

Monday, November 22, 2010

Grandkids were by for a short visit...
Always good to see them...
They are growing like weeds...
Major Cuteness!!...

Gross All Over

     I was kind of relieved to be leaving the country again this week with Thursday's Feast of Football looming, followed by the "consumer" buffoonery of Black Friday. Distance affords reflection and this is a good week to ask ourselves what, exactly, lies on the other side of this massive wall of suspense we have constructed around the fate of our money system?
       What a scary season! This is what it feels like to hit the wall of limits to everything the earth provides us. Our oil problems are for real and urgent, despite the arrant nonsense ("There Will Be Fuel") published last week in The New York Times - a news organization that runs a direct hose-line of smoke up its own ass from the oil industry's chief PR shop, IHS-CERA, The Times's sole source on the energy beat. Meanwhile, Europe is back to imploding financially again (with Ireland as the rotting head of the dead fish in the current rotation). The US housing sector has flat-lined, the banks are so lost in the "mortgage-gate" morass of lost and robo-forged documents that the ghost of Roy Cohen couldn't get them out of it alive - though Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon must pray to tiny gilded statuettes of old Roy in their late night sweats. Ben Bernanke is set to shovel huge transaction fees to the "primary dealers" (i.e. Lloyd's and Jamie's banks, et al) in his scheme to buy treasuries through them monthly at a whopping premium instead of directly from the source - with the side effect of making it an act of futility for ordinary Americans to save money the old-fashioned way, at interest. The fetid remains of decomposing CDOs line the vaults and stain the books of financial institutions everywhere. Accounting fraud is still the order-of-the-day in everything from Fannie and Freddie to your neighborhood HMO. Government at all levels is dead broke. Did I leave out endless war at endless cost (of money we don't have)?
     There's a lot to feel uncomfortable about. But the question remains: what will be there when we break on through to the other side (as The Doors used to say... remember them? Probably not). 
     You can bet there will be a "workout" of all the imbalances, distortions, perversities, rackets, obligations and other financial dead weight paralyzing this country. America will be dragged kicking and screaming through it - like a 14-year-old video gamer through the Okefenokee Swamp - and it all amounts to one thing eventually: a society with much less money, and perhaps with a lot of things in disarray. After being crybabies for a while - and if we don't blow up the planet - we'll face the task of reconstructing a society that has some kind of future. It probably won't look like the way we live now. Are you ready to imagine what that might mean?  Readers are incessantly twanging on me to lay out some kind of agenda, some "positive vision" - or, resorting to the phrase I so disdain for its sad-sack sanctimony, to "offer some solutions." Since it is Thanksgiving week, a time of gratitude and humility, I'll try to oblige. I have stated a lot of this before, but readers seem to forget.
        Basically, we're looking at a re-set to a lower-scale type of economy and smaller, more local, autonomous units of governance. We have to move from unmanageable levels and layers of complexity to more direct, local modes of activity. We would necessarily have to let go of a lot of things that have provided comfort, convenience, and incessant diversion from reality. I'm not altogether confident, for instance, that we can even keep local telephone systems operating - let alone cellular networks that can download porn movies, if that gives you any idea of how things might shake out. And forget about getting "back on track" with the so-called consumer economy. The struggle to hang onto all this crap may steal all our attention from the really necessary tasks.
     Will there be money?  And what will it be? A lot of idealists promote what they call "local currency." Presumably this is some kind of paper medium-of-exchange representing claims for future work or goods. Their models are Berkshire Bucks and the scrip issued in Ithaca, New York. I do not believe this for a moment, anymore than I believe we'll be driving psychedelic Volkswagon buses to rock festivals twenty years from now. I believe money will be silver and / or gold. If any paper is involved it would be something like a promissory note from a person with a lot of silver and gold, perhaps even one affecting to act like a bank, as the Medici did. There may be other miscellaneous kinds of tradable paper - bills of lading, letters of credit - but nothing like the abstract nonsense we're swapping around today. I doubt that corporations as we know them will survive the end of the age of fossil fuel driven hyper-complexity, and by then their paper will be in utter disrepute anyway. There's no reason that barter would not be a common feature of daily life, even if gold and / or silver are circulating. This is certainly how I imagined the future in the Witch of Hebron and World Made By Hand.
      The human race (North American division) had better reinvent small-scale farming or there will be no Homo sapiens around these parts. Plenty of knowledge and skill is still out there, though not widely distributed. There are people who still know how to breed working animals, train mules, oxen, and dogs. We can grow edible plants without dumping oil-and-gas byproducts all over the ground. Our soils are pretty played out, but we know how to improve them. A much greater percentage of people will have to take up this line of work. I see agriculture coming back to the center of economic life. It doesn't have to be like the 13th century, but I rather think the social relations around farming could be starkly different than the model we know today, if only to keep the wandering riff-raff at bay. I don't know if the countryside will be orderly enough, otherwise.
      We have no idea how we're going to make useful products when the conveyer belt from China to WalMart grinds to a halt, as it surely will. I would not bet on nanotechnology or carbon ladders-to-the-stars or related techno-grandiose horseshit so popular these days at the corporate-sponsored conferences, where venture capitalists dressed in black like the old Viet-Cong spin their fantasies between plates of basil-infused duck with quinoa farfalle, sets by Vampire Weekend, and other blandishments of the dead-end techno-wankery life. My guess is we'll be making a lot less stuff, and there will be little plastic involved (except what can be scrounged up), and it will be more like cottage industry than Henry Ford's River Rouge assembly plant. Surely water power will have something to do with it, perhaps hydro-electric, if we're lucky.
     It may be too late to improve the railroad system. There's quite a bit left, though too many places have been cut off from it, especially small towns - which will regain importance as farm trading towns with or without the railroads. But our continued investments in new freeways and airport expansions have been about the dumbest choices we've made in recent years. And now that we're heading into a vortex of capital scarcity - that is, lack of money for any kind of project - we may be out of luck on fixing the railroads. Especially as political mischief mounts and Sarah Palin huddles with Glenn Beck to put the final polish on her inaugural address. Need I mention that our fantasies about running the Happy Motoring matrix on alt.fuels is one of the most corrosive delusions plaguing our culture now, especially among people who ought to know better.
      There's no guarantee that the USA will hold together as a continent-sized federal republic, and if history is any guide the fact is that political boundaries constantly shift over time. Manifest destiny is looking less manifest these days. If anything, the federal government can only become more broke, more ineffective, and finally irrelevant. If there is any Big Brother, he will show up in your county courthouse in a cheap suit. Or perhaps we're in for more interesting costumes. Personally I could go for something other than Land's End casuals. But please, check the "no" box on ruffed collars and Star Trek outfits. I stray from my theme....
     Anyway, I'm convinced that a sore beset public, broke, hungry, idle, and hopeless, will beg somebody to push them around, or at least tell them what to do.  Our new "leaders" will range in style and disposition just like the honchos of yore, from Otto the Illustrious, to Charlemagne to Ethelred the Unready. Who knows what residue of Anglo-American law will persist. My guess is that some of these characters will act more in dispatch than in the interests of what used to be known as justice. 
    I do think the next ten days or so might be pivotal ones in the global banking system. Europe is not doing a very good job of sweeping its sovereign bankruptcy problems under a rug the size of Belgium. Faith is withering away in currencies and tradable paper of all kinds. Any sort of gross instability from any player in the global money game can blow up the equity, bond, commodity, and currency markets. And things are getting gross all over....
   Posted from the departure lounge, Sydney airport, en route to Perth....

Friday, November 19, 2010

more from Turner Falls area...
More from Turner Falls area...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

An interview with James Howard Kunstler...

1. When will the average US citizen wake up to the perils of peak oil?
JHK:  When a crisis comparable to the 1973 OPEC embargo -- with lines at the filling stations and hefty price-hikes --  whaps them upside the head. For now, what I call the psychology of previous investment is a massive impediment to the public's ability to think clearly. By this I mean mainly our sunk costs in suburbia, including all its furnishings and accessories. That's where we put so much of our "wealth" over the past sixty years. I regard these as tragic mis-investments, of course, because the wealth has gone into a living arrangement that has no future. The housing bubble crash is greatly aggravating the problem, because it is de-valuing the whole kit-and-kaboodle. But the net effect for now is only to generate more anxiety among the public, which leads to more confusion, more cognitive dissonance, more static in the collective imagination, and more political noise -- in short, more obstacles to clear thinking. 
2. There seems to be no political will to tackle the reality of peak oil. What might tip that balance (before we hit the proverbial wall)?
JHK:  Leadership in America has been abysmal on these issues -- and not just in politics, but in business, media, education, the enviro community, even the clergy. For the politicians, I have to suppose that the implications of peak oil are just too painful to face. They simply do not compute into any winning formula. They won't go near it.
I'm quite convinced that Dick Cheney and George Bush were informed about the oil situation, in particular its relation to the national defense. After all, Robert Hirsch arrived on the scene loudly in 2005 with his report, commissioned by the US Department of Energy, which was quickly suppressed because its conclusions were so stark. Bush made occasional remarks about our "dependence on foreign oil" but he didn't have the guts to spell it out further, and he was a tool of Big Oil, after all, which has run a PR campaign for ten years denying the peak oil story. Anyway, he didn't want to interrupt the fabulous credit-driven boom of the years leading to his final months in office, when things really did go south.
Obama is another story, of course. He couldn't be so poorly informed as to not know about peak oil in most of its contours and implications, especially vis-a-vis the military, which has issued more than one report while he's been in office. So I conclude that he is a kind of charming bounder. I'm not necessarily sorry I voted for him, because I think McCain would have been worse, entwined as he is with the lunatic right-wing and its toxic aura of paranoid unreality. 
It's unclear whether the media is too dumb to get the complexities of our oil predicament, or if they are just bought-off lackeys of the various corporate interests. Probably a combo on that. It is rather hard to understand, for instance, the vapidity of The New York Times -- in particular its op-ed pundits, Krugman, Friedman, Brooks. The Times's straight reporting on the oil scene has been scant and fatuous. The Wall Street Journal, ditto. TV news operates in its own special sewage canal of idiocy, so one might not expect much from there.
Since business in America has resolved more and more into a set of rackets, one can't expect plain-dealing from that sector these days.
I've seen the failure of the environmental community up close. Two years in a row at the Aspen Environmental Forum, I listened to the cream of the Green movement rhapsodize over all the cool new "green" ways you can run cars other than on gasoline. You see, their base assumption -- like everyone else in this society -- is that driving cars incessantly is a God-given entitlement. They were in a techno-rapture over electric cars, bio-diesel, and so on. They didn't once mention walkable communities or public transit. They're just not into it. I consider their position utterly disgraceful. 
The clergy is an interesting case. Notice especially how the Sunbelt born-again crowd are perhaps the staunchest defenders of suburbia -- and everything that goes with it, including car dependency and and huge volumes of oil imports from unreliable foreign nations. They conflate suburbia with the constitution and Jesus and, really, their belief system is so incoherent and ridiculous that it must really frighten the educated folk of other nations who see how we carry on. 
3. If you were President and had free reign, what would be your energy plan?
  • I would commence a public debate on whether we go forward with a nuclear power program, to weigh the hazards involved -- but, frankly, there may be no other ways to keep the lights on in a decade or so. It may turn out that we are too short of capital to carry out such a program, or our society may be too disorderly in the years ahead to run it, or we may decide the hazards are not worth it, but the discussion must start now.
  • I would direct major capital resources to repairing the conventional passenger railroads in the US, because commercial aviation as we know it will not continue another ten years, and ditto Happy Motoring, and this is a big continent-sized nation. If we don't get regular rail running, we may not be able to go anywhere. We should just put aside our fantasies about high-speed rail or mag-lev. We're too broke for that, and we need to temper our techno-grandiosity. But, believe me, Americans will be deliriously happy ten years from now if they can go from Des Moines to Chicago at 80mph on-time. During the Obama years, we've stupidly poured our dwindling capital resources into building more highways. This foolishness has got to stop. I would promote public transit at the smaller municipal scale as well, to go with regular rail.
  • I'd begin the task of rehabilitating our inland waterways so we can move more goods around the nation by boat -- and in particular the port facilities that have been mostly removed in places like St. Louis and Cincinnati and around the Great Lakes.
  • I would put an emphasis on walkable communities. I would prepare the nation for the possibility of gasoline rationing, since events could shove us into criticality at any time.
  • I would begin closing down scores of unnecessary overseas military bases and I would terminate the nation-building project in Afghanistan since there is no possibility that we can control the terrain or the population there for anything more than the shortest run.
  • I would direct the Attorney General of the US to mount investigations of the Bank of America, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and other big banks in connection with the massive swindles and frauds in house lending and the securitization of mortgages -- because the rule of law requires that somebody be held accountable for the demolition of the banking system.
4. Now take out your crystal ball. What is the most likely scenario you see playing out in global energy supplies over the next few decades?
JHK:  I see the USA getting blind-sided by events. We import nearly three-quarters of the oil we use and much of it comes from very dodgy places. The ideas derived from Jeff Brown's Export Land Theory tell us that oil export rates are certain to go down very steeply and soon. Before long, exporting nations will have to ask themselves whether they ought to keep some of their oil around for their own people.
In the meantime, China is very busy spending its foreign exchange reserves on "favored customer" oil contracts, more or less cornering a lot of the market. I think that will lead to conflict between them and us. We may even invoke the Monroe Doctrine over Chinese oil purchases out of Canada.
Also meanwhile, we'll see the feedback loop of demand destruction leading to supply destruction as the oil industry becomes starved of capital to get at new production to offset worldwide depletions, and that will result in wildly gyrating oil prices -- all of which will shove the global oil industry -- production and markets -- into fatal instability. Nicole Foss's rap on this dynamic is an excellent reference.
The prospects for gross geopolitical mischief around this are huge, of course, meaning war in some shape or form -- and it will clearly be a war over dwindling resources. Also, of course, you can't overstate the potential for disorder in the Middle East. The king of Saudi Arabia is well over 80 years old now and his successor is also old and ill. I'd suggest we may see a Shia uprising on the western rim of the Persian Gulf (that is, the Arabian side) that would bring down the Saud royal family and ignite a major struggle all over the region. 
There is currently a lot of hoopla over shale gas in the USA, but I think that will disappoint us, since it requires gigantic ongoing capital investment, and capital will be in ever-shorter supply. And this is not to mention the other problems and hazards associated with shale gas "fracking," such as the extreme forms of groundwater pollution and cancer clusters.
Bottom line: in ten years or fewer the USA will be starved for energy resources and probably on its ass in one way or another.
5. The economy's a mess.  What's the best possible outcome to this and how does it come about?
JHK:  The best possible outcome would be a peaceful re-set to a lower scale of activity -- the whole downscaling and re-localization package. It's hard to see that happening smoothy.
It will be very painful because we're talking about liquidation and de-leveraging beyond even Great Depression levels. We have to allow a clearing of mis-investment. Unfortunately, this means not just the "toxic" paper from the colossal frauds and swindles of Wall Street but much of the infrastructure of suburbia itself, which is losing value now even despite massive government efforts to prop up house prices and pretend that losses in commercial real estate haven't occurred. That clearing process is so tremendous that it is hard to imagine a way that it could occur without leading to gross political disorder -- including the possible breakup of the USA into smaller autonomous regions. We're looking at institutional failure at never-before-imagined levels: pensions and social security lost, insurance companies and banks collapsing, the medical system in disarray, really the whole social safety net and beyond just dissolving. This is a comprehensive economic collapse beyond the scale even of the Soviet collapse which, Dmitry Orlov tells us, at least allowed people to stay in their homes and get around on public transit when all else failed.
One much-fretted-over outcome is authoritarian government in the USA. We can see the larval stage of that now with the tea baggers and the theocratic right-wing and a Republican Party that has made itself hostage to the John Birch Society -- but I maintain, as I wrote in The Long Emergency, that it's more likely the federal government will become impotent and ineffectual, and therefore unable to carry out a "corn-pone Nazi" program, even if such characters got a hold of the offices.
In any case, America will be faced with rebuilding all the major pieces of its economy at a lower scale: farming, commerce, transportation, education, banking, you name it. This re-set will occur naturally -- if we don't blow ourselves to Kingdom Come -- but there's no telling how long the process might take. We do know that following the collapse of Rome, Western Europe endured nearly a thousand years of relative hardship. I'd add that societies are essentially emergent organisms and that this economic re-set would therefore be an emergent phenomenon -- not something that required centralized planning or anything like it.
One notable side effect of all this will be a "time out" from technological innovation, which is destroying the ecosystem of the planet Earth, our only home. The human race needs a time out from all this techno-magic-mischief, a period to reflect on what we've done and how we ought to behave with this stuff. I don't even know for sure whether it's a time out or a game-over for technology, and I'm not convinced that we need to know at this point.
6. What steps are you currently taking in preparations for the upcoming “post-peak” years? What do you advise to those simply looking to protect the purchasing power of their current wealth?
JHK:  Well, at 62 I've already outlived Babe Ruth, Mozart, Abe Lincoln, and George Gershwin,  so however long I go from here is "gravy."  But I do all I can to maintain good health. I eat mostly plants, as Michael Pollan would say. I get a lot of exercise. I lead a purposeful daily life. I stay current with the dentist. I made the formative decision of where-to-live over thirty years ago when I settled in a "main street" small town in upstate New York. My surplus wealth is invested for the moment in hard gold, the Sprott Physical fund, Australian and Canadian short term bond funds (cash equivalent), and Potash mining. I am renting my dwelling, sitting out the housing collapse. I acquired the NY State handgun permit (not so easy). I have some tubs of brown rice, lentils, and curry powder, etc., stashed away. Alas, I didn't have the capital twenty years ago to get hold of forty acres and a mule -- but that's not a bad idea for other people.
7. Are you able to tell (either based on your website viewership or book sales, or from any other source) in which parts of the country/population your teachings are gaining the most traction?
JHK:  My only index of that is the size and mood of audiences where I speak around the country. The Pacific Northwest is always a lively spot. The people who show up are intelligent, informed, and interested. In Southern California I seem to be utterly unknown. Parts of the Midwest, such as Wisconsin and Minnesota, seem to be organizing for a different economy, but other parts (rural Illinois, Indiana, Ohio) are sheer zombie-land. New York City and Washington exist in bubble-fantasylands of their own. Rural New England is pretty peak oil aware, though the Boston-Cambridge hub is locked into transports of techno-rapture, probably due to the techno-grandiose culture of MIT. The baleful influence of Harvard shows up in the urban design and architecture field, where they are preoccupied with narcissistic careerism rather than repairing the human habitat. Dixieland is hopeless, what with their thrall to the born-agains and the misfortunes of their demographic (namely, "Cracker Culture" which celebrates ignorance and violence). I don't follow my book sales, frankly, and my website manager knows more about the activity on my site than I do.
8. You speak to a lot of audiences and groups.  What has shifted over the years and what, if anything, gives you hope in those trends?
JHK:  I must tell you that I think almost nothing has shifted among the body politic except perhaps the levels of angst and desperation for individual citizens brought on by personal calamity involving job losses, debt, house repossession, family breakup, and related effects of our economic collapse. Meanwhile the distractions from all this pain and stress are ever more moronic -- Dancing with the Stars starring Bristol Palin -- can it get any worse?
Mr. Obama, who I voted for, has done almost nothing to address our energy predicament, and the 2200-page financial regulation bill he signed does little to reform the problems in capital finance -- so, here we are eight months after Fin-Reg entering another stage of the banking crisis. We are still absolutely sleepwalking into the future.
9. It seems inevitable that the suburbs (with 60-mile commutes) and places like LA will suffer badly in a peak oil future.  Do you still hold the view that some regions are going to fare substantially better than others?
JHK:  It ought to be self-evident. I mean, compare Phoenix and Portland, Oregon. Phoenix is utterly toast in a few years. They can't grow any food there without expensive and heroic irrigation. They have water problems. They're slaves to their cars. They're in a place where even the hamburger flippers need air-conditioning to survive. It's quite hopeless there. Portland, on the other hand, has turned itself into one of the finest walkable cities in the USA and the Willamette River Valley is one of the most productive farming micro-regions in the world. Human beings will continue to live and thrive to some extent there. Similarly, I think the Great Lakes region is undervalued these days. It is whole lot of good ag land surrounded by the world's most extensive inland sea -- kind of a Mediterranean of fresh water. I remain pessimistic about Dixieland, which I think will be prone to violence and political disorder. In the longer run I believe it will become what it was before World War 2: an agricultural backwater. But, really, everybody in every region of the country will be touched by the problems of the long emergency.
10. What question didn’t we ask, but should have? What’s your answer?
JHK:  Will China dominate the world further into the 21st Century?  
A lot of people think so. I'm not so sure about that. They have problems that are orders of magnitude greater than ours with population overshoot, dwindling fresh water, industrial pollution, relatively little oil of their own, and legitimacy of governance. They've become net food importers.
We look at them and their recent accomplishments in awe -- and they've come a long way from the point thirty years ago when most Chinese lived like it was the twelfth century. But they came to the industrial fiesta very late. They are making some rather dumb choices -- like, trying to get their whole new middle class in cars on freeways, putting up thousands of skyscrapers. Their banking system is possibly more corrupt and dysfunctional than ours -- since it's run by the state, with very poor accountability for lending. As a Baby Boomer, I well remember China's psychotic break of the 1960s, when the country went cuckoo under the elderly, ailing, paranoid Mao Tse-Tung -- which is to say, they're capable of flipping out on the grand scale under stress. They are reaching out these days in a resource grab using their accumulated foreign exchange reserves. At some future time -- say, if the global banking system implodes, and their forex reserves lose value -- I wonder if they will reach out militarily for resources, and how the world might react.
In any case, I take issue with the Tom Friedman notion that the world has become permanently flat. The world is going to get rounder and bigger again. We'll discover -- surprise! -- that the global economy was a set of transient economic relations that obtained only because of a half century of cheap energy and relative peace between the big nations. Ahead now, I think you'll see the big nations shrink back into their own corners of the world. I'm not saying we'll see no international trade, but it will be nothing like the  conveyer belt from China to WalMart that we've known the last few decades. And the prospects for conflict are very very high.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sixty Lame Minutes

    So, last night CBS hauled Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy, on board their flagship Sunday infotainment vehicle, 60 Minutes, to blow a mighty wind up America's ass (as they say in professional PR circles). America is lately addicted to lying to itself, and 60 Minutes has become the "go-to" patsy for funneling disinformation into an already hopelessly confused, wishful, delusional, US public.
     McClendon told the credulous Leslie Stahl and the huge viewing audience that America "has two Saudi Arabia's of gas." Now, you know immediately that at least half the viewers misconstrued this statement to mean that we have two Saudi Arabia's of gasoline. Translation: don't worry none about driving anywhere you like, or having to get some tiny little pansy-ass hybrid whatchamacallit car to do it in, and especially don't pay no attention to them "green" sumbitches on the sidelines trying to sell you some kind of peak oil story.... It also prepared the public to support whatever Mr. McClendon's company wants to do, because he says his company will free America from its slavery to OPEC. By the way, CBS never clarified these parts of the story by the end of the show.
     First of all, they are talking about methane gas, not liquid gasoline or oil. There are large deposits of methane gas locked into shale deposits roughly following the Appalachian mountain chain from New York State through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, into Ohio, but also hot spots out west. It's hard to get at. You have to basically blow up the shale rock deep underground with high pressure water that is loaded up with chemicals and sand particles to keep the rock fragments separated once they are blown apart. Chesapeake Energy specializes in this rock fracturing (or "fracking") method for drilling. You can get gas out of the ground this way. The question is how much, over what time period, at what cost.
     At the present time, with America anxious about any kind of future energy, shale gas sounds like a dream-come-true. Mostly what the public saw on 60 Minutes last night was a sell-job for Chesapeake Energy to boost its stock price. Here are some facts:

Over a 50 year period ahead, all the shale gas drilling of the Marcellus fields in New York State will produce the equivalent of three years US consumption at 2008 levels.

A price of $8 per unit is required to make shale gas fracking economically viable in theory even for a short time. Gas is currently around $4. Expect to pay at least twice as much for gas.

Even at higher costs, shale gas fracking is arguably uneconomical. It requires huge numbers of rigs, generally 8 wells per "pad," meaning very high capital investments. The wells produce nicely for a year, average, and then deplete very steeply - meaning you get a lot of money up front and very soon all that capital investment is a wash. Translation: Chesapeake can make a lot quick money over the next few years of intense drilling and they don't care what happens after that.

Chesapeake itself estimates that 5.5 million gallons of fresh water are needed per well, often delivered in trucks, which require fuel.

It takes three years, average to prepare a drilling "pad" and the up to 12 wells on it, working 24/7 in rural areas with significant noise and electric lighting

The fracking fluid is a secret proprietary cocktail formula amounting to 5 percent of the liquid injected into the earth. It's composed of: sand; a jelling agent to suspend the sand because water is not "thick" enough; biocides to kill bacteria that thrive in jelling agent; "breakers" to thin out jell-thickened water after fracking to get the fluid out of the way of released gas and improve "flowback;" fluid-loss additives to decrease "leak-off" of fracking fluid into rock; anti-corrosives to protect metal in wells; and friction reducers to promote high pressures and high flow rates. Of the 5.5 million gallons of fluid injected into each well, 27,500 gallons is the chemical cocktail.

Mr. McClendon said on 60 Minutes that it couldn't possibly harm the public's water supply because they were drilling so far below the 1000-foot-deep maximum of most water wells. He left out the fact that they have to drill through those drinking water layers to get down to the shale gas, and pump the fracking fluid through it, and then get the gas up through it. He also left out the fact that the concrete casings of drill holes sometimes crack and leak at any depth.

The fracking fluid cannot be re-used. You have to mix new cocktail fluid for each injection.

"Flowback" fluid inevitably comes back up with the gas, sometimes spilling over the ground. In any case, the stuff that does come back up is stored on the surface in lagoons. Often it contains heavy metals, salts, and radioactive material from drilling through strata of radon-bearing granite and other layers. Liners of flowback fluid lagoons have been known to fail.

Gas well failures in Pennsylvania, where production was ramped up quickest in recent years, have ended up polluting well water to the degree that residents can no longer use their wells.

Little is known about the migration of fracking fluids underground.

     It seems to me that the chief mass delusion associated with this touted "bonanza" is that Americans would supposedly be able to shift to driving cars that run on natural gas. I believe they will be hugely disappointed. Between the cost of fracking production (and its poor economics), gearing up the manufacture of a new type universal car engine, and installing the infrastructure for methane gas fill-ups - not to mention the supply operation by either new pipelines or trucks carrying liquefied methane gas, we will discover that a.) America lacks the capital, and b.) that households will be too broke to change out the entire US car fleet.
     What this disgusting episode really shows is how eager the USA is to mount a campaign to sustain the unsustainable at all costs, including massive collective self-deception. The lying starts at the very top, not just in Aubrey McClendon's office at Chespeake, but in every executive suite throughout the land - including the Oval Office - where any lie is automatically swallowed and then upchucked for public consumption in the interest of keeping a nation based on addictive rackets stumbling on without having to change our behavior.