Thursday, September 27, 2012

Don’t forget this weekend is Oktoberfest in McKinney, including a large charity street labyrinth made of cleaning products titled “Walk a Mile” to benefit The Samaritan Inn.
Please consider making a donation towards the labyrinth at Laura Moore Fine Art Studio…and by all means come out and have a good time!!…

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lake Lavon at sunset...

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Gulch in infrared...


I drove the eight miles from Cambridge to Greenwich, New York, around eight o'clock and the night was bell-jar clear. A scrim of deepest blue sky backlit the landscape of tender hills and valleys while on the ground I wended the twisting two-lane state highway 372 with my brights amplifying the yellow road signs and the iridescent lines on the pavement, alert for deer, who can kill you. The Talking Heads spastically warbled one of their triumphant electronic anthems of post-modernity over the radio. It happened that I had been playing fiddle at a contra dance.
     What a strange privilege it is to live in these perilous times. I don't mean privilege in the sense of the college humanities departments, with all their crybaby overtones of grievance and resentment. I mean in the sense of having lived through a thrilling turbo-powered climactic chapter of the human melodrama. Until a few decades ago nobody ever swooshed through these ancient hills in a motor car, on a magnificently engineered minor country highway, and in perhaps less than a decade no one ever will again, and at the collective level of a culture or a nation we have no sense of this whatsoever.
     We have no sense of anything except the junk-cluttered moment, including our junk politics and the junk ceremony of the present election. When today is a long time ago we will wonder at the feckless cravens that modernity made of us, in particular the absence of any sense of duty to the project of being the only self-aware organisms (as far as anyone knows) in the universe. In this country, anything goes and nothing matters, and that's the simple sad truth of where we are right now.
     In all the monumental yammer of the media sages surrounding the candidates they follow, and among the freighted legions of meticulously trained economists who try so hard to fit their equations and models over the spilled chicken guts of daily events, there is no sense of the transience of things. Tom Friedman over at The New York Times still thinks that the petroleum-saturated present he calls "the global economy" is a permanent condition of human life, and so does virtually every elected and appointed official in Washington, not to mention every broadcaster in Manhattan.
     We're not paying attention, of course. Someone told all these clowns about fourteen months ago that we will be able to keep running WalMart on shale oil and shale gas virtually forever, and they swallowed the story whole, and then force-fed it down the distracted public's throat. In reality - that alternative universe to flat-screen America - all the mechanisms that allow us to keep running this wondrous show teeter on a razor's age of extreme fragility.  We're one bomb-vest or HFT keystroke away from a possible dark age, or at least a world made by hand. The true sense of entitlement extends light-years beyond the peevish carpings of the tea-bags-for-brains bunch.
     The only issue in this election contest between Pee Wee Herman and Captain Kangaroo is how to do nothing to disturb the fantasy that we can keep living the way we do. I am coming to detest Mr. Obama for the unforgivable feats of doing absolutely nothing to oppose, resist, or remedy the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, and doing absolutely nothing to restore the rule-of-law in banking. Mr. Romney, at this point, can only be pitied as some kind of thought-experiment gone awry in an evil consumer product testing lab on a planet of oafs. His fecklessness has no modern analog. Next to Romney, Bob Dole looks Lincolnesque.
     Which brings me in a very roundabout way to my point: Lincoln emerged out of a political age as mendacious as ours, after decades of gaming the issue of slavery. Out of that morass of lying connected to immense human suffering somebody had to bring the clarity of real moral duty to broad consciousness and Lincoln was selected by the same hand of Providence that would lodge a bullet in his brain-pan five years later -- so it is not that hard to understand the awe of Providence that attended the terrible convulsion of the 1860s and all its long-resounding ramifications. It took most of the 20th century and then some for us to un-learn that life is tragic.
     In the history that doesn't repeat but only rhymes, we're in the 1856 equivalent of the cycle now, short of the moment when mere clowning turns to savagery. I can barely stand to watch the antics, dogged by visions of where this is all tending. We have achieved something that few cultures ever have before: made ourselves unworthy even of our own low standards. There is no center left to hold, only ragged edges around a core of darkness.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Up on Caddo Lake...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Urban Sherman...

Monday, September 17, 2012

In Lucas...

What Does It Mean?

       In the word-cloud of current events, the phrase "parasitic financial system" billows up to a degree that suggests even so-called thinking persons begin to understand what's happening: that banking shenanigans are sucking the life out of advanced societies. That's why Matt Taibbi's metaphor of Goldman Sachs as "a Vampire Squid jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money" remains so potent years after it was minted.
     Of course the pervasive accounting fraud and routine swindling that drive the banking "industry" are abetted by the phantom government "policy" of the Federal Reserve, an institution that 99.999 percent of the American public could not explain under threat of water-boarding. The bottom line is political and economic leadership that can only pretend the economy works, and the destiny of such pretense is the death of legitimacy - meaning the public's faith in the system. Sooner or later either the public will revolt against such a system, or the system will just implode and leave the public floundering in a period of dreadful chaos.
     Nobody capable of thinking through these rather abstruse matters believes Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke anymore, and his demeanor in public is of a depressed person who has lost belief in himself and what he does. He announced last week's policy salvo - the long-awaited QE-3 - with absolutely no conviction. The Fed will spend $40 billion a month in money created out of thin air to buy non-performing mortgages from banks eager to dump them and interest rates on new mortgages will fall to record low levels. This will supposedly "stimulate" the housing market.
     Virtually nobody else out there in blog-and-pundit land will tell you what this so-called "housing market" is, so I will. It basically refers to suburban sprawl, which I have previously defined in two ways: 1) the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world, and 2) a living arrangement with no future. The first proposition is obviously a function of the second. Interestingly, one of the first effects of Ben Bernanke's QE3 salvo was the inflation of oil prices to nearly $100-a-barrel, with a flow-through effect of gasoline above $4 at the pump, which only shortens the horizon of the suburban sprawl paradigm. Like the zombie banks choking on bad mortgages, sprawl is dead but doesn't know it.
     Unfortunately, the suburban sprawl system was interchangeable with the wormy old political chestnut known as the American Dream. Consider that the hysterical extremism ruling Republican politics derives from terror over the death of that flimsy dream - a home of our own, behind the strip mall! They can't believe it's over, that it's lost its value, that they're stuck with the losses, and they're looking for someone to blame for it. All the rest of their blather is just the noise of dissociated anxiety - the religious idiocy, the exceptionalism fairy tale, the family values touted by closet cases, the military chauvinism.
     Among the many tragic ramifications of the dynamic is that the final blowout of sprawl-building which ran roughly from the early 1990s to 2007 - and peaked, you may notice, with the final blowout of cheap oil ($11 a barrel in 1999) - became one of two intertwined activities that propped up the US economy. The other was, of course, the expansion of the financial "industry" to about 40 percent of all economic activity, largely based on fraud in mortgage issuance and the repackaging of that debt in booby-trapped bundles of MBS, CDOs, and other instruments that have been destroying banks, governments, retirement funds, and individual investment accounts like a long-running hemorrhagic fever. The results of that orgy  can be seen now an over-supply of suburban buildings of all kinds (houses, strip malls, box stores) that will continue to lose value, and a banking system disabled by ruined balance sheets.
     There's no remedy for this except acknowledging losses on the grand scale, writing them off, making the necessary lifestyle adjustments to the write-offs, and making a fresh start with an economy based on something other than suburban sprawl building and banking fraud. American politics can't accept this. Neither party understands the contraction underway throughout the industrial world and the very different future it portends.
     Despite the pervasive fraud and incessant central bank interventions, there are routine operations of money that must go on for societies to remain stable. Checks or transactions have to be cleared, payments must be made, letters of credit must be issued to permit the exchange of goods and commodities between nations, bonds must be rolled over, markets must allow truthful asset price and interest rate discovery, currencies must hold their value. The terrible stresses being applied by central banks to avoid acknowledging systemic losses threaten to paralyze these routine operations of money. Too many things can go wrong now.
      The fault lines for the moment are crackling along the margins, in foreign lands such as Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen. There is not a whole lot keeping this infection from spreading into Saudi Arabia. The Saud royal family leadership has passed from one king over eighty years old to another. Nobody knows what will shake out between Israel and Iran. One way or another, an awful lot of the world's oil supply is at stake in that part of the world, and if that gets stoppered or blown up all the central bank machinations ever dreamed up will not avail to save Europe, North America, China, and Japan.
     My guess is that the euphoria over QE3 has already passed. The Fed actions of last week will mean nothing except the steady erosion of dollar value, higher food and fuel costs for all us muppets, and increased mistrust between crippled banks, further crippling bank activity, including the routine operations that make civilized life possible.
     Therefore, uncivilized life is not out of the question. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

The world is coming apart at the seams...things are not as they seem!

Sudanese demonstrators stand in front of the burning German embassy in Khartoum after Friday prayers September 14, 2012. Sudanese demonstrators broke into the U.S. and German embassy compounds in Khartoum and raised Islamic flags on Friday in state-backed protests against a film that insults the Prophet Mohammad, witnesses said. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah 


All this because of a movie?  I don't think so!


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Kendal and Roxie dog, up close and personal...

Zeitgeist Failure

     In an age of gross zeitgeist dysfunction -- when untruth, delusion, and deception rule - politics is mere advertising, which is to say surface shimmer playing on the public's wish-fulfillment fantasies. The trouble at this moment in history is that the American public's wishful fantasies are inconsistent with the circumstances that reality offers to us and the choices for action that they present.
     President Obama's historical role will be seen as a wish-fulfillment totem for late 20th century progressive liberalism - the first black president. The Democratic Party apotheosized the genial young lawyer with his appealing family in order to demonstrate the triumph of social justice, which was their great struggle of the era. Evidence of that is the striking divergence from the get-go between Mr. Obama's Hope and Change advertising and his sedulous defense of pervasive racketeering at the highest levels of polity once in office. Otherwise, you must decide whether he was a tool of the giant banks, or a dupe-made-hostage to them, or simply too clueless to understand what was required in 2009 - namely the break-up and reorganization of the banks plus hearty prosecution of their executives for massive swindling (along with reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act). I voted for him in 2008, by the way, since the wish-fulfillment motif moved me, and also because of the horrifying McCain-Palin opposition. 
     In office, then, Mr. Obama quickly proved to be a different breed of porpoise than the voters bargained for. He let the Wall Street privateers run amuck another four years, aided with colossal infusions of conjured-out-of-nothing "money" from the Federal Reserve. He let loose the demons of a high-tech totalitarian "security" state with every sort of electronic surveillance, citizen data-mining, and drone spying that innovation allowed. He stood silent like a Banana Republic store mannequin after the supreme court decided that corporations could buy elections (he could have pushed  loudly for legislation or even a constitutional amendment to redefine corporate "personhood"). And of course, he continued to prosecute the absurd war in Afghanistan where, after nine years, US forces are unable to accomplish the only aims of being there: to control the terrain and to moderate the behavior of the people who live there.
     Hence, the appalling spectacle of the Democratic convention last week, with its odor of ideological bankruptcy, stale rhetoric, and empty promises. The party seeks only validation of its cherished fantasy: the social justice of reelecting the first black president. And all it really has to offer is cheerleading to that end - with some social justice table-scraps tossed to the lesser totems of social justice politics: women, assorted ethnic minorities, and gays. 
     Meanwhile, the "advanced nations" of industrial civilization all spiral into coordinated disintegration, especially in the realm where economy meets finance. Economy is about what we actually do to stay alive: make things, trade things, grow things, run things. Finance is supposed to be about maintaining the flows of accumulated wealth to support these things we do - with a modest service charge for the financiers who do the work. But in the great divorce of truth from reality in our time, finance is only about pretending to maintain these "capital" flows. In fact, it has degenerated into a set of looting operations, swindles, frauds, and political dodges, and it is on the verge of blowing up.
     There's a fair chance that global finance (and trade) will blow up this season leading to the US elections. The nations of Europe are stuck in an intractable predicament. The European Union can't control the fiscal operations (taxing and spending) of its sovereign members, and it only pretends to be able to lend them the money to cover the interest payments on their previous loans. That shuck-and-jive is now headed for a climax. But the situation is not materially different in the USA and Japan. In one way or another, they are bankrupt, too, as are probably most of their commercial banks. China's banks are certainly a fiasco, since they are government-run, with no independent accounting oversight whatsoever. China does have a big cushion of US Treasury holdings, huge stockpiles of industrial metals and cement, and many new tons of recently-acquired gold. But they are also hostage to the bankrupt West's lost appetite for "consumer" goods, and tens of millions of laid-off Chinese factory workers could foment political upheaval in a delicate time of regime transition coming later this year.
     The antics of the ECB, the US Federal Reserve, and all the other central banks in conjuring ever more money-out-of-nothing draws us toward that event horizon where faith is lost in a faith-based money system. The only question really is whether wealth destruction (deleveraging, debt default) out-paces currency destruction (inflation). My own guess continues to be that wealth destruction wins that contest, with massive unpayable debt sucked into a black hole, and then all the advanced industrial nations waking up one oddly warm morning to find their standards of living destroyed.
     As a political matter in the face of all this, the big question is how we will reorganize daily life - the activities of a whole culture - to comport with the reality of a compressive contraction in economic reality. It also includes the shape and content of the consensus we construct to explain to ourselves what is happening. The obvious epic failure of the two major parties in the USA to even begin this necessary work may propel this country into an historic political convulsion to attend the financial implosion. Imagine, for instance, if the failure of international banks leads to the rapid paralysis of trade supply lines and then to empty shelves in American supermarkets.
     People complain about "the size and burden of government," but our problems extend to the size and burden of everything, beginning with the number of human beings now vying to occupy the planet and moving to the size and scale of every activity supporting them. Truthful political leadership would engage in preparing the public for a long "to do" list of necessary tasks - from the return to Main Street economies that will follow the inevitable collapse of WalMart to the reorganization of food production when agri-biz style farming fails from scarcities of cheap oil, phosphates, and capital for revolving loans. Include also the rebuilding of transportation networks not based on cars and airplanes and the painful reconstruction of a monetary and banking system based on the rule of law.
      This is the true work of the future: the rebuilding of these systems. All the blather about "jobs" from the presidential convoys is based on looking backward to a way of life that is ending: the age of giant everything, especially corporations. The days of cubicle serfdom are numbered. Useful, gainful work in the decades ahead will be much more about how you fit into your local community.  The word "job" may even become obsolete - a curious artifact of the industrial past. Which party is preparing young people for local agriculture and all the value-added activities around it? Which party understands that the national chain-store model of trade is doomed and Main Streets all over America will have to be re-activated? Which party understands that we're in the twilight of mass motoring and commercial aviation? And what are they doing to prepare for the implications of that?
     The two doddering parties want to promise more of what we've already got in a world that doesn't have anymore of that to give. The result is likely to be that we will go through all the noisy motions of the 2012 elections only to find ourselves plunged into a political crisis possibly worse than the Civil War.

Sidebar on  How "Smart" We Think We Are

      TV commercial seen during the Women's finals of the US Tennis Open:
      Cadillac is bragging that they have replaced the old dashboard knobs and toggles with a "smart" iPad-type control system. Has a car company ever done something so fucking stupid? The whole point of knobs and toggles is that you can keep your eyes on the road while adjusting things by feel. An iPad you actually have to look at to see what you're tapping on. Expect a colossal death toll from buyers of the latest Cadillacs in the next couple of years. I suppose there's poetic justice in the automobile age winding down on a note of such supernatural idiocy.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Tropical Storm Leslie...

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Join Up!

     Meet the new third party in national politics: Reality.
     Reality is the only party with an agenda consistent with what is actually happening in the world. Reality doesn't need to drum up dollar donations from anyone. Reality doesn't have to pander to any interest group or subscribe to any inane belief system. Reality doesn't even need your vote. Reality will be the winner of the 2012 election no matter what the ballot returns appear to say about the bids of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to lead the executive branch of the government.
     In the vicious vacuum that national party politics has become, the Republicans and Democrats are already dead. They choked to death on the toxic fumes of their own excreta. They are empty, hollow institutions animated only by the parasites that feed on and squirm over the residue of decomposing tissue within the dissolving membranes of their legitimacy. Think of the fabled Koch brothers as botfly larvae and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association PAC (SIFMA PAC) as a mass of writhing maggots.
     These are desperate days in the republic. Between the two empty spectacles of the official party nominating conventions, a terrible nausea rises in the collective gorge of the swindled body politic. The putative contest of ideas is a dumbshow in a hall of mirrors. None of it avails to reduce, mitigate, or even acknowledge, the tensions that may tear this country apart, in particular the web of fraud that shrouds all the operations of money and banking - which is to say: the fate of everything the nation thinks it has invested in itself and its future. In the USA of 2012, anything goes and nothing matters. Reality has a different view of where this all ends and how it will work out.
     Compare and contrast the platforms of the Republicans and Democrats with the Reality Party:
     The two major parties both propose that the colossal machine of everyday life in America can not only run indefinitely, but continue expanding, and include ever more member people who trade ever more schwag. All that is required, they say, is twiddling the settings of the machine, to get it back to running smoothly as it did in the good old days before the mystifying crash of 2008. They disagree slightly on which dials to twiddle. Reality knows we have entered along-term compressive economic contraction; that there is no way we can persist in the current living arrangement; and that the necessary outcome to avoid immense human suffering can be described as the downscaling and re-localizing of everything we do.
     The two major parties regard the rule of law as optional, especially in money matters. Neither party has any will to interfere with a broad array of financial rackets that range from the blatant manipulation of markets, interest rates, and currencies to computerized front-running thievery, traffic in booby-trapped derivatives and counterfeit shorts, pervasive accounting fraud, channel stuffing, irregularities in central bank bullion leasing, flagrant confiscation of private accounts, municipal bond-rigging flimflams, "private equity" looting operations, offshore banking dodges, and untold other scams, rip-offs, and cons that have crippled the basic functions of finance, namely: price discovery, currency as a reliable store of value, and the allocation of surplus wealth for productive purpose. Reality knows that the absence of the rule of law is suicidal. Reality is incapable of pretending that it doesn't matter. Reality provides work-arounds for intractably dishonest political arrangements: civil war and revolution. Both are invoked out of extreme desperation and have unpredictable outcomes. Like Reality itself, they are what they are.
     The two major parties pretend that so-called "entitlement" programs can be simultaneously reformed, improved, and abolished - that is, you can have your cake and eat it (with ice cream) at the same time you throw it in the garbage. Reality rejects this incoherent juggling act and proposes that Americans better just make other arrangements for old age, routine medical care, and daily bread. This implies cultural as much as economic transformation and it will occur emergently no matter what empty promises anyone makes. People who want to get food at regular intervals will have to find some way to make themselves useful to others. Medicine will return to the local clinic model and doctors will have to find another motivation for practice besides the acquisition of German automobiles. Old people will have to prevail upon their offspring for care and protection, and they will be expected to play a useful role in the household or community in return if they are able-bodied.
     The two major parties both proclaim that the USA is verging on "energy independence." Both parties are lying. Reality knows that the shale oil "game changer" is a mirage. By 2014, the "sweet spots" of the Bakken will deplete faster than new wells can be drilled, and the impairments of banking will constrict the supply of capital investment for that hypothetical future drilling. All the deregulation in the world will not alter the fact that future oil is expensive, exists in places where it is hard to work, and entails unappetizing geopolitical contingencies. Reality favors letting go of automobile-based living and the adoption of walkable communities connected by inland waterways and railroads. 
      The two major parties believe that the foreign wars are good for business as long as you can minimize the casualties on our side and keep war news off the TV. Reality knows that war as currently practiced by the US Military is a failure if 1.) you can't control the terrain in the foreign theater of operations, and 2.) you can't control the behavior of the foreign population. Notice that we can't do either of those things in Afghanistan or the sundry other places where the US military might be found today. The two major parties also favor the application of war-time "security" operations on the US public inside our borders - i.e. spying, data harvesting, monitoring of cell phone and bank records., et cetera - contrary to what US law and the constitution says. Reality believes that, if the rule of law remains optional, the time will come when American government officials who authorized these activities may be dragged from their command centers and hanged from traffic signals by a citizenry pushed too far. 
     Mitt Romney and Barack Obama would label Reality a "terrorist movement" if they could and seek to blow it up with predator drones. But Reality is harder to stamp out than truth, which can be shouted down, papered over, fudged, outlawed, etch-a-sketched, exiled, and reviled. Reality is everywhere. It lurks inside and outside the doors of the phony-baloney convention vaudeville shows in its cloak of invisibility, ready to work its hoodoo on the feckless, the fatuous, and the wicked. Reality is America's last best hope. Join the Reality Party.