Monday, July 31, 2017

"Marriage: Win-Win or Win-Lose?"

"Marriage: Win-Win or Win-Lose?"
by Bill Bonner

"This weekend, we celebrated the oldest win-win deal in human life: marriage. On Saturday afternoon, we drove 10 miles or so to Le Dorat. The medieval town sits on a hill in the green Limousin countryside, with the remnants of a defensive wall still along the western side. The town sits on the frontier between two regions, which were once distinctive - not only in the lay of the land, but also in the stone underneath and the people above.

East and north of Le Dorat are flattish regions of limestone, where people once spoke the ‘oil’ form of French. To the south and west, granite is the stone at hand, and the people used the ‘oc’ form of French (as in Languedoc). Both ‘oie’ and ‘oc’ mean yes, which today we hear in the ubiquitous ‘oui’.

Ancient bones: During the Hundred Years’ War between the English and the French, this area saw a lot of win-lose deals, as armies and brigands marauded over northern Aquitaine. But we were not going to Le Dorat to kill or plunder. No, it was not a win-lose deal that tempted us there, but a win-win deal of the most ancient variety. So we drove around the perimeter of the town and then turned onto one of the tiny, twisty streets to find a place to park.

The ‘collégiale’ is a massive church, down the hill slightly from the centre of town. Though a Catholic church, it is a monument to win-lose deals run wild. Burnt and looted in 866 by the Normans, it was rebuilt then burnt again by attackers from a neighboring town in 1013. Rebuilt again, it was burnt again in 1080. The present large, heavy, grey-granite Romanesque structure is the result of the rebuilding in the 12th century…and heavy fortification (to prevent more win-lose deals) in the 15th century.

In the middle ages, Le Dorat combined temporal and spiritual authority. Today, the town has little political importance. But the bones of two saints - Theobald and Israel - still rest in the crypt below. And every seven years, they are brought out and paraded through the streets.

All guns blazing: We took our places in the pews just as the organ began. Like the assault on Verdun, it opened up with all guns blazing. Stones shook. Plaster fell from the ceiling. The massive instrument looked as though it was installed about the same time as the bones below. As it gathered force, our inner organs vibrated in sympathy. The thunder probably would have awakened Theobald and Israel, too, had they not shared the deep, innocent slumber of the angels.

The ceremony began with the grandparents and the mother of the bride, led to their seats in front. Then came the crucifer leading the priest, who was in turn trailed by a small group of children, dressed in white, carrying candles. Finally, the bride and her father - each with an equal mixture of joy and solemnity on their faces and 600 eyes following them - slowly and inexorably made their way down the aisle like an incoming tide.

‘We are here today to celebrate the marriage of these young people,’ the priest began. ‘But we celebrate much more than that. We reaffirm our own vows, to each other, to the church, and to God.’ In all candor, we quickly lost track of what the presiding cleric had to say. So we take the liberty accorded to us - really, the only real lagniappe of our lowly trade - to tell you what we think he should have said…

Getting together: ‘Marriage is a sacrament in the church. But the church did not create marriage. Men and women have been getting together - for better or for worse - ever since Adam met Eve. No law requires it. No PhD in sociology invented it or manages it. There are no manuals on how to do it, either…at least as far as we know. And many of those who have done it more than once - that is to say, the experts - advise against it.

And yet, it happens. It’s been happening - though in many different forms and with many different rituals and myths attached - for thousands of years. And it happens now in almost every country, nation, tribe, culture, and community - and certainly the civilized ones - throughout the world.

It is not always easy. Marriages often fail. Even the best of them have their depressions and wars. And yet we keep at it. And most of the people at this wedding, too, have come here like the dumb beasts going up the gangway onto the Ark - two by two.

Of course, we don’t know why… All we know is that they do. We know, too, that men and women can do things together that neither can do on his or her own - things the government can’t do…the church can’t do…the army can’t do…even billionaires and TV entertainers can’t do…

Only men and women can do the one thing that we all depend on, providing the most common good of all: bear the fruit that is us. Together, in a mutually beneficial win-win deal - each bringing what the other lacks - they create something that is more than what they are. Alone, they are just two more or less happy people. Together, they may be miserable. But there may soon be more of them - three…or four…or more. And they may go forth and dominate the whole planet and, who knows, maybe eventually the universe.’

That’s the thing about win-win deals, we interject. You don’t know who will win. And sometimes - as in a failed marriage - both parties may feel like losers. But win-win deals - the joining of man and wife, the connecting of buyer with seller, the matching of investment with entrepreneur - are not only what make the world go round. They also push it forward.

Winningest deal ever: ‘There are those who will tell you,’ our imagined sermon continued, ‘that you no longer need two people to have children…that you no longer need marriage…and that love is not limited to something just between men and women. Yes, they are right. Certainly, you don’t have to be married to be happy. In my experience, happy people divide neatly into two camps - married women and single men. Or sometimes the opposite. Heck, I’m not even married myself, for Pete’s sake. So what do I know?

And maybe we have arrived at a new era when you don’t need men and women to work together to have children or to raise them. And maybe the division of labor has been forever altered by the new technology, so men no longer need to hunt and women no longer need to gather.

Statistically, married people live longer…and are wealthier. Whether it is worth it or not is a matter of opinion. But I’m talking about something more than happiness or opinion. I’m talking about more than what you want or what I want. I’m talking about something so sublime and so profound, it had to be conceived in the mind of God, not man. Man’s role may have changed. He may no longer be the hunter or breadwinner. But he is still a fool. Woman’s role may have changed, too. But she still has to let him know it. That division of labor is at the foundation of our species and our civilization. So I am here, like the many generations of priests before me, to join these two people in the winningest win-win deal ever: marriage. You may now kiss the bride.’

X22 Report, “The Economic Euphoria Has Reached New Heights, When It Crashes..."

X22 Report, “The Economic Euphoria Has Reached New Heights, When It Crashes..."
Related followup report:
X22 Report, “Why Is There So Much Chaos, It's To Keep The Bad Guys From...”

Musical Interlude: Yanni, “If I Could Tell You”

Yanni, “If I Could Tell You”

"A Look to the Heavens"

“Oh what a tangled web a planetary nebula can weave. The Red Spider Planetary Nebula shows the complex structure that can result when a normal star ejects its outer gases and becomes a white dwarf star. Officially tagged NGC 6537, this two-lobed symmetric planetary nebula houses one of the hottest white dwarfs ever observed, probably as part of a binary star system. 
Click image for larger size.
Internal winds emanating from the central stars, visible in the center, have been measured in excess of 1000 kilometers per second. These winds expand the nebula, flow along the nebula's walls, and cause waves of hot gas and dust to collide. Atoms caught in these colliding shocks radiate light shown in the above representative-color picture by the Hubble Space Telescope. The Red Spider Nebula lies toward the constellation of the Archer (Sagittarius). Its distance is not well known but has been estimated by some to be about 4,000 light-years.”

Chet Raymo, “Holy Ignorance”

“Holy Ignorance” 
by Chet Raymo

“At a press conference in 2002, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously explained foreign policy: “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know." The same can be said of science.

The textbooks are full of known knowns. We are quite confident affirming the circulation of the blood, the distance to the Sun, the common descent of animals and plants. I sit here in the college library within a few steps of shelf after shelf of known knowns, the accumulated body of reliable knowledge - the Qs, in our Library of Congress classification system - upon which is based modern "civilization"- the Rs, Ss, Ts, Us and Vs, medicine, agriculture, technology, and military and naval science.

To be sure, it is a characteristic of science that the known knowns are not etched in stone. Even the most confidently affirmed paradigms are written in pencil, ready to be erased or edited if necessity requires. That doesn't happen often. By and large, the known knowns accumulate at an ever-increasing rate. It is impossible for even the most accomplished scientist to keep up, except, perhaps, within a narrow specialty.

Then there are known unknowns. The nature of dark energy, for example. The mechanisms of memory and consciousness. The origin of life on Earth. Questions like these attract the curiosity of the most talented researchers. Faced with such questions, we say "I don't know yet, but I'd like to find out."

I have often used here the metaphor of knowledge as an island in a sea of mystery. The island is the known knowns. The shoreline is where we encounter the known unknowns. And then there is whatever is over the far horizon - the unknown unknowns.

The known knowns are - or should be - a source of pride for our species. The known unknowns spark our curiosity. The unknown unknowns keep us undogmatic. Or should keep us undogmatic. On the floor below me here in the college library are shelf after shelf of books - the Bs, theology and religion - that drag the unknown unknowns kicking and screaming into what is purported to be the known knowns. Much of sectarian violence was and is caused by dressing up unknowns unknowns as known knowns.

Are there unknown unknowns that are unknowable? Who knows? My guess is yes. We are finite creatures living (even as a species) for a finite time in a universe that may be infinite and eternal. Which should be reason enough to live lives of quiet, tolerant, agnostic reverence.”

"Thus Were We Created"

"Thus Were We Created"

"Our Creator put us on this wide, rich land, and told us we were free to go where the game was, where the soil was good for planting. That was our state of true happiness. We did not have to beg for anything. Our Creator had taught us how to find and make everything we needed, from trees and plants and animals and stone. We lived in bark, and we wore only the skins of animals. Our Creator taught us how to use fire, in living, and in sacred ceremonies. He taught us how to heal with barks and roots, and how to make sweet foods with berries and fruits, with papaws and the water of the maple tree. Our Creator gave us tobacco, and said, Send your prayers up to me on its fragrant smoke. Our Creator taught us how to enjoy loving our mates, and gave us laws to live by, so that we would not bother each other, but help each other. Our Creator sang to us in the wind and the running water, in the bird songs, in children's laughter, and taught us music. And we listened, and our stomachs were never dirty and never troubled us. Thus were we created. Thus we lived for a long time, proud and happy. We had never eaten pig meat, nor tasted the poison called whiskey, nor worn wool from sheep, nor struck fire or dug earth with steel, nor cooked in iron, nor hunted and fought with loud guns, nor ever had diseases which soured our blood or rotted our organs. We were pure, so we were strong and happy."
- Tenskwatawa, Shawnee Nation
"Before our white brothers arrived to make us civilized men, we didn't have any kind of prison. Because of this, we had no delinquents. Without a prison, there can be no delinquents. We had no locks nor keys and therefore among us there were no thieves. When someone was so poor that he couldn't afford a horse, a tent or a blanket, he would, in that case, receive it all as a gift. We were too uncivilized to give great importance to private property. We didn't know any kind of money and consequently, the value of a human being was not determined by his wealth. We had no written laws laid down, no lawyers, no politicians, therefore we were not able to cheat and swindle one another. We were really in bad shape before the white men arrived and I don't know how to explain how we were able to manage without these fundamental  things that (so they tell us) are so necessary for a civilized society."
- John (Fire) Lame Deer, Sioux Lakota - 1903-1976

"The Truth..."

“Paranoia is just another mask for ignorance. The truth, when you finally
 chase it down, is almost always worse than your darkest visions and fears.” 
- Hunter S. Thompson

"Sierra Club's Outrageous Pro-Nuke Lies"

Folks, this is an absolute disgrace, simply pure lying! No linked source citations at all, merely so and so said. That's not good enough! I left 2 comments with a link to the latest Fukushima update on this blog, both deleted of course, but please do read the other comments. We've covered Fukushima since day one here, hundreds of articles posted, every single one actively linked for your own research/verification. "Mr. Green gets out the geiger counter"? A good thing for him it's not a lie detector! Do your own research and, as always decide for yourself what the truth is... - CP
"Fukushima Update: 14,964.4 Hiroshima Bombs Today, More Tomorrow"
"Your Radiation This Week" by Bob Nichols

Attention Sierra Club: Don't even think of trying to intimidate or silence me. 
Note this well:


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The Daily "Near You?"

Beckenham, Bromley, United Kingdom. Thanks for stopping by!

"Meanwhile, Somewhere in the Pentagon..."

Click image for larger size.
"Meanwhile, Somewhere in the Pentagon..."
by Charles Hugh Smith

"As North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un declares that "The Entire US Territory Is Now Within Our ICBM Range", somewhere in the Pentagon, operational plans to neutralize North Korean nuclear and long-range missile capabilities are being refined. There are undoubtedly two sets of operational plans: one deploying conventional weapons, and the second for deployment of nuclear weapons.

Nothing personal, Mr. Kim Jong Un, it's just business. A core duty of planners in the Pentagon is to ask "What if" and draw up a range of scenarios and operational plans to carry out the civilian leadership's policies and decisions. One such scenario is "what if North Korea launches a ballistic missile that is tracking to strike U.S. territory?" One response option in this scenario would be to wait and see if the North Korean missile hits the U.S. and if it is armed with a nuclear weapon, and if so, if the warhead detonates. Another option is to respond immediately with a nuclear strike that neutralizes North Korea's ability to launch any more nuclear-armed missiles.

The U.S. Armed Forces does not declare war or make the decision to launch a nuclear strike - that is the prerogative and responsibility of the nation's civilian elected leadership. The duty of the U.S. Armed Forces is to be prepared to execute the decisions and policies of the elected civilian leadership.

The ethical considerations of such a decision are not the Pentagon's purview - those considerations rest with the elected civilian leadership. If North Korea is poised to kill 2 million Americans, South Koreans, Japanese, etc., then isn't erasing North Korea's capability to kill millions at the cost of 50,000 North Korean lives in a limited nuclear strike the more ethical choice?

Those considerations are not part of operational plans. The purpose of operational plans is to get the assigned job done. Limiting civilian casualties might well be part of the assigned mission. But it's not the Pentagon planners' job to make those mission decisions.

There are no small nuclear explosions, but there are smaller explosions and variations that have profoundly different consequences. Ground-burst detonations carve out craters and send shock waves through the earth that crumple tunnels, bunkers, elevator shafts, etc. Ground-burst detonations generate vast quantities of radioactive particles. Since it's well known that North Korea has buried its most precious nuclear resources deep underground, ground-burst detonations would be the only way to disrupt the access routes to bunkers deep underground.

Air-burst nuclear detonations generate field effects, i.e. electromagnetic pulses across the spectrum. These can be "tuned" to some degree. Thus a neutron-type weapon is designed to sicken and kill enemy soldiers while leaving buildings and equipment intact. This might be the weapon of choice to neutralize any attempt by the North Korean Army to launch a devastating artillery attack on South Korea in retaliation for the destruction of North Korea's missile and nuclear capabilities.

Air-burst field effects often include massive disruption of electronic equipment. This might limit the operational plans for air-burst nuclear detonations near the DMZ, as technologically advanced South Korea might well suffer significant economic losses from an air burst near the border with North Korea. By the same token, an air-burst nuclear detonation over North Korean military communications headquarters might be considered essential to disrupt the North Koreans' command and control capabilities.

My point here is that operational plans to decapitate North Korean nuclear and ICBM capabilities exist and are constantly being revised and refined in light of new intelligence. It's not the planners' job to make the geopolitical or ethical calculations that inform such a drastic decision. It's the planners' job to make sure a strike ordered by the elected civilian leadership of the nation achieves its goal, i.e. eliminates North Korea's nuclear and missile delivery capabilities completely.

It's easy to say nuclear weapons should never be used, but what if conventional weapons can't do the job, or create greater risks? Would you consider it a good ethical trade-off to wait for millions to die before killing thousands? That's a political choice, and one that will always be second-guessed or disputed. But making such decisions is the purpose of elected civilian government.

The planners job is much more direct. If the elected civilian government orders the neutralization of North Korea's ability to kill millions of civilians in South Korea, Japan or the U.S., then the job boils down to aligning existing resources and reckoning how many resources will be needed to get the job done in the most effective way available. A conventional-weapons strike would likely require hundreds (and possibly thousands) of aircraft sorties, and all that such a monumental effort entails. It would also requires a significant amount of time to execute. A nuclear strike requires far fewer resources but has consequences far beyond those of conventional weapons.

There have been no nuclear weapons detonated with the express intention of destroying civilians since 1945. The stakes are high, and nobody wants to launch a nuclear attack unless it is in retaliation for a nuclear attack. But by then it's too late to save the millions killed by the initial attack.

We all hope deterrence works. But deterrence very nearly failed a number of times in the Cold War between the USSR and the US. Given the possibility that deterrence might fail - over-ridden by a commander with launch authority, or a dozen other possibilities of miscalculation or impulse - plans must be made for a first-strike designed to neutralize a nuclear missile capability. The decision to launch nuclear weapons is political, not military - but achieving the goal is the duty of the military. It's nothing personal, folks - it's just a peculiar business." 

"If We Have No Idea..."

"If we have no idea what we believe in, we'll go along with anything. Truth takes courage. Courage to stand up for what we believe in. Not necessarily in a confrontational way, but in a gentle yet firm way. Like an oak tree, able to sway gently in the wind, but strongly rooted to the ground."
- A.C. Ping

“The Parable of the Frogs: ‘Hell is Truth Seen Too Late’"

 “The Parable of the Frogs: ‘Hell is Truth Seen Too Late’"
by Morris Berman

    "One who knows “enough is enough” always has enough."
    –Tao Te Ching

“What does it take to produce large-scale social change? Most historians, if you catch them in an honest moment, will admit that the popular levers of social change, such as education or legislation, are bogus; they don’t really amount to very much. What does make a difference - and then only potentially - is massive systemic breakdown, such as occurred in the United States in the fall of 2008. It was the greatest market crash since 1929, leading to widespread unemployment (something like 18% of the population, in real- as opposed to- official–statistics*) and the loss of billions of dollars in retirement savings. In fact, the crash wiped out $11.1 trillion in household wealth, and this is not counting the several trillion lost in stock market investments. It had been many decades since the middle class found itself in soup kitchens, and yet there they were. In the face of all this, however, very little seems to have changed. Americans are still committed to the dream of unlimited abundance as a “reasonable” goal, when in reality it is (and always has been) the dream of an addict. President Obama’s upwards of $23 trillion bailout and stimulus plan funneled money into the very banking establishment that gave us the disaster; it rescued the wealthy, not those who really needed the money. And while he could have appointed economic advisers such as Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz (both Nobel laureates), who would have attempted to put the nation on a different economic path, he chose instead two traditional neoliberal ideologues, Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers, who believe in the very policies that led to the crash. “Change we can believe in” never sounded more hollow.

The metaphor of addiction is extremely relevant to situations such as these, because addicts always seek to maximize their intake (or behavior) rather than optimize it, even though the former leads to self-destruction. In the face of what seems to be biologically driven activity, reason doesn’t have much of a chance. An experiment with frogs some years ago demonstrated this quite clearly. They were wired up with electrodes in the pleasure center of the brain, and could stimulate that center -  i.e., create a “rush” - by pressing a metal bar. Not only did the frogs keep pressing the bar over and over again, but they didn’t stop even when their legs were cut off with a pair of shears! And if you are going to object that human beings are not frogs, then you probably haven’t been reading the daily newspapers, or observing the behavior of the people around you.

There are, of course, a few intelligent frogs around, ones who struggle to point out the difference between optima and maxima. One such was the anthropologist Gregory Bateson, perhaps most famous for having been married to Margaret Mead. For Bateson, the issue was an ethical one. As he himself put it, “the ethics of optima and the ethics of maxima are totally different ethical systems.” The ethics of maxima knows only one rule: more. More is better, in this scheme of things; words such as “limits” or “enough” are either foolish or meaningless. Clearly, the “American Dream” is a system of maxima, of indefinite expansion.

But what if the reality of all social systems is that they are homeostatic, which is to say, designed to stay in balance? In that case, said Bateson, the attempt to maximize any single variable (for example, wealth) will eventually push the system into runaway, such that it will destroy itself. To take a physiological analogy, we recognize that the human body needs only so much calcium per day. We do not say, “The more calcium I ingest, the better off I’ll be,” because we recognize that past a certain point any chemical element becomes toxic to an organism. Yet we seem to be unable to extend this insight to the social or economic realm. We do not say, for example, “That company is making too much profit,” or “That individual (Bill Gates, Carlos Slim) has too much money for one person,” or “The Gross Domestic Product is spinning out of control.” Rather than being interested in balance, in stability, we are fascinated by asymptotes -  frogs at the bar of pleasure, even while our legs are being cut off. We don’t get it, that if you fight the ecology of a system, you lose, especially when you “win.”

Maximizing a single variable, wrote Bateson, can seem like an ingenious adaptation, but over time it typically turns into pathology. The saber teeth of a tiger may have had short-range survival value, but this development weakened its flexibility in other situations that proved to be crucial. The “favored” species became so “favored” that it destroyed its own ecological niche, and disappeared. A gain at one level became a calamity at another.

A few years ago, two American scholars of the intelligent frog variety began to understand this line of reasoning and to conclude from it that Adam Smith, with his theory of the “invisible hand,” was wrong. An early (much milder) version of Gordon Gekko, with his eulogy of greed (in Oliver Stone’s 1987 film, "Wall Street"), Smith argued that the collective result of individual self-interest was the prosperity of the whole. But the economist Robert Frank, writing in the New York Times (12 July 2009), argued that “traits that help individuals are harmful to larger groups. "For instance,” he went on, "a mutation for larger antlers served the reproductive interests of an individual male elk, because it helped him prevail in battles with other males for access to mates. But as this mutation spread, it started an arms race that made life more hazardous for male elk over all. The antlers of male elk can now span five feet or more. And despite their utility in battle, they often become a fatal handicap when predators pursue males into dense woods."

In the case of the market, said Frank, individual reward structures undermine the invisible hand. “To make their funds more attractive to investors,” he wrote, “money managers create complex securities that impose serious, if often well-camouflaged, risks on society.  But when all managers take such steps, they are mutually offsetting. No one benefits, yet the risk of financial crises rises sharply.”

Similarly, U.S. Appeals Court Judge Richard Posner, in "A Failure of Capitalism," pointed out that the crash of 2008 was brought about by individual actions that were actually quite rational: bankers and investors pursuing their own interests. Reckless behavior was quite consistent, he said, with being well informed about the risks involved in the context of an economic bubble, and so a great many money managers took those risks. The problem is that what was rational on the individual level was irrational on the collective level, thus leading to a systemic collapse.

We are thus led, quite naturally, from a consideration of optima vs. maxima to the question of individual vs. collective behavior. Which brings me to one of the twentieth century’s most intelligent frogs, the biologist Garrett Hardin, who posed the dilemma in a famous essay entitled “The Tragedy of the Commons” (1968). Consider, said Hardin, the example of a pasture shared by local herders. They all understand that the commons belongs to no one in particular, but supports the well-being of all and is the responsibility of all. One day, however, one of the herders puts an additional animal out to graze, with the result that he increases his yield. As a result, the pasture is slightly degraded. Meanwhile, other herders come to the same conclusion, and as each makes the rational decision to take advantage of the situation for personal gain, the net result is the overgrazing, and ultimately the destruction, of the common area. In a word, the system favors selfish individuals over those with greater foresight and restraint. Or as Hardin put it, “Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.” Frogs, in a word, are not to be trusted.

How, then, can excess be curbed in a free democratic system? For we can be sure that the intelligent frogs, who are really quite exceptional, are not going to be listened to, and certainly have no power to enforce their insights. True, there are certain countries - the Scandinavian nations come to mind - where for some reason the concentration of intelligent frogs is unusually high, resulting in decisions designed to protect the commons. But on a world scale, this is not very typical. More typical, and (sad to say) a model for many other countries, is the United States, where proposed “changes” are in fact cosmetic, and where the reality is business as usual. In the context of 323 million highly addicted frogs, the voices of the smart ones - Bateson, Frank, Posner, Hardin, et al. -  aren’t going to have much impact or, truth be told, even get heard.

Of course, authoritarian systems don’t have these problems, which is a good indicator of how things will probably develop. Under the name of “harmony,” for example, China regulates its citizens for what it perceives to be the common good. Hence the famous one-child policy, introduced in 1979, supposedly prevented more than 300 million births over the next twenty-nine years in a country that was threatened by its own population density. In the case of the United States, the imposition of rules and limits on individual behavior to protect the commons is not, at present, a realistic prospect; the population is simply not having it. But how much longer before this freedom of choice is regarded as an impossible luxury?  In fact, no crystal ball is required to predict the future here. The tragedy of the commons -  what Hardin called “the remorseless working of things” - is that a society such as that of the United States won’t undertake serious changes even when it is sitting on the edge of an abyss. It has to actually be in the abyss before it will entertain such changes; i.e., it has to be faced with no choice at all.  It seems unlikely now, but things are probably moving faster than we realize. In terms of population, energy, food, resources, water, social inequality, public health, and environmental degradation, a crunch of the type I am referring to may be only years away. (Or sooner... much sooner. - CP)

In Shakespeare’s "Two Gentlemen of Verona," the character Valentine is confronted by an outlaw, who asks him if he is content “To make a virtue of necessity/And live, as we do, in this wilderness?”  That may prove to be the only “choice” we have.  As Thomas Hobbes put it a few decades after Shakespeare, “Hell is truth seen too late.”
*These data are easily manipulated by the government to make things look better than they actually are.  For example, individuals collecting unemployment insurance for a few months are officially unemployed, but once that support dries up they are no longer among the statistics of the unemployed even though they are still out of work.  In addition, the millions of Americans who are underemployed, who work only a few hours per week, are included in the ranks of the employed. Between 2006 and 2009, 20% of American workers were laid off; 50 million live in real poverty, and many more in a category called “near poverty.” Joseph Stiglitz has a good discussion of this in "Freefall" (New York: W.W. Norton, 2010).
Morris Berman’s latest book is "Why America Failed."

"Narratives Are Not Truths"

"Narratives Are Not Truths"
by James Howard Kunstler

"The polity is a social organism, of course, meaning that it adds up to more than the sum of its parts, a body of politics, if you will, just as each of us adds up to more than just our bodies. It’s alive as we are alive. We have needs. We have intentions in the service of those needs. Those intentions animate us and turn us in one direction or another to stay alive, and even more than that, to thrive.

The American polity is not thriving. It has been incrementally failing to meet its needs for quite a while now, playing games with itself to pretend that it is okay while its institutional organs and economic operations decay. It turns this way and that way ever more desperately, over-steering like a drunk on the highway. It is drunk on the untruths it tells itself in the service of playing games to avoid meeting its real needs. Narratives are not truths.

Here is a primary question we might ask ourselves: do we want to live in a healthy society? Do we want to thrive? If so, what are the narratives standing in the way of turning us in the direction?

Let’s start with health care, so called, since the failure to do anything about the current disastrous system is so fresh. What’s the narrative there? That “providers” (doctors and hospitals) can team up with banking operations called “insurance companies” to fairly allocate “services” to the broad population with a little help from the government. No, that’s actually not how it works. The three “players” actually engage in a massive racketeering matrix - that is, they extract enormous sums of money dishonestly from the public they pretend to serve and they do it twice: once by extortionary fees and again by taxes paid to subsidize mitigating the effects of the racketeering.

The public has its own narrative, which is that there is no connection between their medical problems and the way they live. The fact is that they eat too much poisonous food because it’s tasty and fun, and they do that because the habits-of-life that they have complicitly allowed to evolve in this country offers them paltry rewards otherwise. They dwell in ugly, punishing surroundings, spend too much time and waste too much money driving cars around it in isolation, and have gone along with every effort to dismantle the armatures of common social exchange that afford what might be called a human dimension of everyday living.

So, the medical racket ends up being nearly 20 percent of the economy, while the public gets fatter, sicker, and more anxiously depressed. And there is no sign that we want to disrupt the narratives.

A related narrative: the US economy is “recovering” - supposedly from a mysterious speed-bump that made it swerve off the road in 2008. No, that’s not it. The US economy has entered a permanent state of contraction because we can’t afford the fossil fuel energy it takes to continue expanding our techno-industrial activities (and there are no plausible adequate substitutes for the fossil fuels). We tried to cover up this state of affairs by borrowing money from the future, issuing bonds to “create money,” and now we’ve reached the end of that racket because it’s clear we can’t pay back the old bonded debt and have no prospect for “making good” on issuing new bonded debt. Recently, we have been issuing new debt mainly to pay back the old, and any twelve-year-old can see where that leads.

Reality wants us to manage the contraction of that failing economy, and because that is difficult and requires changing familiar, comfortable arrangements, we just pretend that we can keep expanding the old system. Of course, all the work-arounds and games only increase the fragility of the system and set us up for a kind of sudden failure that could literally destroy civilized society.

Another popular narrative of the moment - a dominant preoccupation among the “educated” elites these days - is that we can change human nature, especially human sexuality and all the social behaviors that derive from mammals existing in two sexes. This set of narratives is deeply entwined with fashion and status-seeking, with the greatest status currently being conferred upon those opting out from being either one sex or the other, along with the biological imperatives associated with one or the other. This has been identified by the essayist Hugo Salinas Price as an updated form of Gnosticism and is now the official reigning ideology of the college campuses. Some call it “cultural Marxism,” but it is really a form of religion. It offers colorful distraction from the more difficult adult tasks of managing contraction and rebuilding the political economy with its social armatures.

So, these conditions might prompt us to ask the more general question: how much longer do we, as a polity, want to pretend that narratives are the same as the truth? As I’ve averred previously, I think reality itself has to force the issue by delivering circumstances so compelling that it is no longer possible to keep telling yourself the same old stories. And that reckoning is not far off."

"How It Really Is"

"The Truth..."

“The truth is hard, the truth is awkward, and very often the truth hurts. I mean, people say they want the truth but do they really? The truth is painful. Deep down nobody wants to hear it. Especially when it hits close to home. Sometimes we tell the truth because the truth is all we have to give. Sometimes we tell the truth because we need to say it out loud to really hear it for ourselves. Sometimes we tell the truth because we just can’t help ourselves. And sometimes we tell them because we owe them at least that much.”
- “Meredith Grey”, “Grey’s Anatomy” 

Musical Interlude: Little River Band, "Help Is On It's Way"

Little River Band, "Help Is On It's Way"

“The Turn to ‘Effective, but we don’t like it.’”

“The Turn to ‘Effective, but we don’t like it.’”
by Scott Adams

“Prior to President Trump’s inauguration, I predicted a coming story arc in three acts. Act one involved mass protests in the streets because Hillary Clinton’s campaign had successfully branded Trump as the next Hitler. Sure enough, we saw mass protests by anti-Trumpers who legitimately and honestly believed the country had just elected the next Hitler. I predicted that the Hitler phase would evaporate by summer for lack of supporting evidence. That happened.

I also predicted the anti-Trumpers would modify their attack from “Hitler” to “incompetent,” and that phase would last the summer. That happened too. The president’s critics called him incompetent and said the White House was in “chaos.” There were plenty of leaks, fake news, and even true stories to support that narrative, as I expected. Every anti-Trump news outlet, and even some that supported him started using “chaos” to describe the situation.

Now comes the fun part. I predicted that the end of this three-part story would involve President Trump’s critics complaining that indeed he was “effective, but we don’t like it.” Or words to that effect. I based that prediction on the assumption he would get some big wins by the end of the year and it would no longer make sense to question his effectiveness, only his policy choices.

How does the anti-Trump media gracefully pivot from “chaos and incompetence” to a story of “effective, but we don’t like it”? They need an external event to justify the turn. They need a visible sign of the White House moving from rookie status to professional status. They need General John Kelly to replace Reince Priebus as Chief of Staff. Done.

Watch in awe as the anti-Trump coverage grudgingly admits things are starting to look more professional and “disciplined” at the White House. And as the president’s accomplishments start to mount up, you will see his critics’ grudging acceptance of his effectiveness, but not his policy choices. We’re entering that phase now with the help of a new Chief of Staff that even the mainstream media can’t hate. Generals command respect from both sides of the government because they have fought for both sides. No one forgets that.

Expect to see lots of stories about General Kelly bringing efficiency and effectiveness to the White House. Reporters and pundits don’t want to criticize a four-star general who fought for them. At best, expect the anti-Trumpers to say the Chief of Staff is calling the shots, not the President. That’s the predictable fake news attack. But I don’t think it will stick through the end of the year. By year-end, expect “Effective, but we don’t like it.”

Now for some related fun. I have often said Trump supporters and anti-Trumpers are in the same movie theater but watching different movies on the same screen. You’ve seen lots of evidence of that, but I’m going to give you an experiment you can try at home. It might blow your mind.

1. Identify your most lefty, Trump-hating friend or family member.

2. Share this link of President Trump’s accomplishments while you are in the same room so you can watch them read it.

3. Watch as your lefty friend turns “cognitively blind” to the list of accomplishments as if it is not really there. Your subject will KNOW President has accomplished nothing, and all of his or her friends know it, and the television channels they watch know it. So how-the-hell could there be in existence an extensive list of legitimate accomplishments that make perfect sense and can easily be verified?

The only way that list of accomplishments can exist in your anti-Trumper’s world is if the anti-Trumper has been in a hallucination for months, duped by the media and everyone they love. The existence of the list of accomplishments will form a crack in their reality. It simply can’t exist. That’s the trigger for cognitive blindness. The list will simply be “invisible,” but not in the literal sense, only the mental sense. If you check back in two days, your anti-Trumper will claim once again no such list exists. Watch their eyes when they say it. It will be freaky.

Some anti-Trumpers will pick any one or two items from the list, argue that they are not good for the country, and use it as an excuse to see the rest of the list as nonsense. Some will simply tell you Trump has shepherded no “major legislation” through Congress, which is true. It is also true that he intentionally waited for Congress (and Obamacare) to fail hard before he got serious. The harder they fail, and the more dire the situation, the more power the president will have to push creative solutions on a weakened Congress. Keep in mind that President Trump is a predator when it comes to deal-making. He would have been an idiot to enter the fight hard and early when Congress was at full credibility and strength. That gets you nothing but a committee-made crap-law that may or may not have your name on it. By waiting, he accumulates leverage and widens his options. That’s how I would have played it. I would wait for the lobbyists, Congress, and my critics to punch themselves out before I involved the public and put together a plan to shove down Congress’ useless throats with the help of social media. 

I think the President would have been modestly happy with some kind of “skinny” win on healthcare. It would have been good for momentum. But he’ll be much happier with a real health care solution that takes advantage of innovation. (Our constipated Congress ignored innovative solutions, as far as I can tell.)

Frankly, I don’t know how much the world really needs tax reform or infrastructure spending. The stock market doesn’t seem to move on the news of either thing becoming more or less likely as we go. My prediction is that President Trump’s reelection chances (should he run again) will depend mostly on what happens with health care. If President Trump gets that right, on top of the things already going well, Mt. Rushmore could get crowded.”

"Killing Them is Killing Us"

"Killing Them is Killing Us"
The murdered cannot forgive. Their blood won’t be washed.
by Robert Gore

"There is something eerily fascinating about cold-blooded murderers - a staple of Hollywood thrillers and crime dramas - killing without emotion or remorse. Ordinary humans, afflicted with guilt for minor, not even criminal transgressions, can’t conceive of pulling the trigger and then sitting down for dinner. In real life, the number of people who can is glancingly small. Even for those few, actions have consequences. The blood never washes away.

“Live and let live,” is, in American mythology, a benevolent and almost uniquely American attitude. We destroyed Japan and Germany in World War II and then helped rebuild them. Live and let live goes down well with the living, the winners. However, it’s often nothing more than balm for an uneasy conscious, hand sanitizer for bloodstained hands. A century and a half later, many Southerners lack this “unique” American attitude towards their conquerers in the War of Northern Aggression.

The war on terror has laid waste to large swaths of the Middle East and Northern Africa. Cities, towns, and villages have been reduced to smoking, bombed-out rubble, chaos reigns, the carnage is ubiquitous. The US military keeps count of its own personnel wounded and killed, a number in the thousands. Civilian casualties - or collateral damage as the military calls it - across Chaostan (Richard Maybury’s apt coinage) are in the millions, as are the number of people displaced (an estimated 11 million in Syria alone). Imagine the American fury and media sensationalism if a small US town was carpet-bombed by a foreign power. YouTube’s servers would melt from the overflow of viewers watching videos of parents pulling their dead children from collapsed homes.

The war on terror’s refugee flows threaten to upend civic order and submerge the cultures of the countries receiving them. It’s a vicious act of intellectual corruption to maintain that the war on terror does not create terrorists, that those killed, wounded, or displaced have no friends or family who will exact what they consider justified vengeance. The terrorism we see now is lava trickling from a volcano of hatred that has boiled, bubbled, and occasionally erupted for centuries, and will continue to do so. There will be no live and let live. Blood will have blood, not banalities.

Macbeth was a dramatic psychological study of two murderers. They screwed their courage to the sticking place, but they couldn’t turn themselves into killers without conscience. In Mafioso parlance, “button men” are hit men. Figuratively they “push a button,” literally they murder. With the US government, the figurative and literal have merged. Someone pushes a button on a drone, missile, or bomb control and murder is done in furtherance of never-ending American war. It’s as disassociated, remote, and cold-blooded as murder gets. Nevertheless, neither the murderers nor the public from which they try to hide reality will have any more success eluding the psychological turmoil and toll than the Thane of Cawdor and his lady.

During the entirety of President Obama’s terms and most of President Bush’s, the US has been fighting one or more wars. Odds are there will be no peace during Trump’s tenure either. What does it do to a government, and the people in it, when collateral damage, a bloodless term that now applies to millions of bloody deaths, wounds, and lives upended, prompts no remorse or reappraisal, and only occasionally half-hearted apologies to meet the exigencies of diplomacy and public relations?

How does evil become banal? Practice, practice, practice. Killing becomes the routine, what the government does. Like many bloodthirsty, tyrannical regimes the US government has warmed up on foreigners. However, the functionaries and politicians who now push the Kill the Enemy button also push the Domestic Surveillance button. They will not hesitate to push the Enemies of the State, Mass Detention, Concentration Camp, and Execution buttons when the time is right. Rotten government, like rotten fruit, gets more rotten, until it’s finally tossed in the trash.

Try as it might, the government cannot entirely shield it’s constituents from the knowledge and consequences of its murderous ways. Having learned its lesson in Vietnam, it can keep its media puppies docilely distant from much of the killing, but the Internet has proven not entirely controllable. And although most people don’t make the connection, institutionalized murder is responsible for an appreciable part of the government’s $20 trillion debt and $200 trillion in unfunded promises, as well as its cronyism and corruption, loads under which the economy now strains and will finally collapse.

Any American who travels abroad is liable to run into a forthright foreigner who will tell them that the US government is the most hated institution on the planet. That sentiment is increasingly directed at the US population at large, who’ve tolerated these homicidal megalomaniacs for so long. Aside from its fellow travelers in other governments, multilateral fronts for world government, useless NGOs, universities, corporations, and the media, the world’s peoples would little mourn the overthrow of the US government by an enraged citizenry. But that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

"Executioners have a short ‘life’. They get tired of the work. The soul sickens of it. After ten, twenty, a hundred death-rattles, the human being, however sub-human he may be, acquires, perhaps by a process of osmosis with death itself, a germ of death which enters his body and eats into him like a canker. Melancholy and drink take him, and a dreadful lassitude which brings a glaze to the eyes and slows up the movements and destroys accuracy. When the employer sees these signs he has no alternative but to execute the executioner and find another one." - "From Russia With Love", Ian Fleming

Killing them is killing us. Does any phrase more aptly characterize the US population than “dreadful lassitude”? The US government murders in their name. They accept its rationalizations, bread, and circuses, avert their eyes, and sink into technological and pharmacological oblivion. Despite these dubious efforts the knowledge seeps in, drop by drop, like rainwater under leaky sills during a hard storm. The government has its buttons for those few who protest and resist, but even the most oppressive regimes can’t seal off their people entirely.

Red, white, and blue are no more; it’s bureaucratic gray and charnel-rubble carmine. Americans grow “tired of the work” and soul sickness spreads. Birnam Wood advances and the empire crumbles. A somnambulant Lady can’t wash away the blood; her Thane can’t sleep. America cannot wash its hands…or know an innocent’s slumber.”