File under corporate delusions

SUBHEAD: Talk about corporate lunacy. Kellogg's thinks it owns Mayan culture because of its Froot Loops logo.  

By AP Staff on 22 August 2011 in Huffington Post - 

Image above: Logo developed for Maya Archaeology Initiative. From original article.

Kellogg Coroporation is asking a group working to defend Mayan culture to reconsider its logo, saying consumers can confuse it with Toucan Sam, the mascot of its Froot Loops cereal.

An attorney for the world's largest cereal maker has sent a letter to the nonprofit Maya Archaeology Initiative saying Kellogg opposes the group's bid to trademark its logo. The attorney suggests a settlement that would limit the group's use of the image.

The Maya Archaeology Initiative, based in San Ramon, says there is little similarity. It says its logo is based upon a realistic toucan native to Mesoamerica, while Toucan Sam is a cartoon character with the coloring of Froot Loops.

The organization says that it hopes can resolve the matter with Kellogg, which is based in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Image above: Toucan Sam on front of Froot Loops box of genetically modified, corn fructose sweetened refined cereal. Not to be confused with conservation of natural habitat. From (

The Journey Ahead

SUBHEAD: How might humanity survive a radically changing world?  

By George Mobus on 21 August 2011 for Question Everything -  
Image above: Human evolution to the computer age. From (

Every journey starts with the destination. You need to know where you are going before you start working out the trip to get there. Even if the goal is simply to have new experiences you still have something in mind when you set out. This is as true for a journey of the mind as for the body. And it is just as true for the journey of humanity through evolution. Where are we going?

This will be the first in a series of blogs on the consequences of our rapidly changing world with regard to the future of humanity. We are entering a period of dramatic change. Our relation with the environment, the climate, and our access to high-powered fuels is undergoing radical reorganization. Everything about our current civilization is going to radically change as a result. This series is aimed at first establishing a vision of a sustainable future situation for some form of humanity and then providing some travel tips for how to get to that future. It will be an arduous journey for mankind. We will be facing terra incognita. No one has ever been in this environment before. So the uncertainties are legion. All we can do is keep a destination in mind and look for the signs along the way that suggest we are getting to where we want to go.

In this post I want to outline some ideas on where that destination might be. I base these ideas on several factors that are observable about our species today and the emerging clarity we have regarding the environment that is evolving around us.

In fact this is the point. The environment is evolving, to a large extent due to our activities over the last ten to twenty thousand years. A changing environment means that we have to evolve in order to remain fit to exist in whatever that environment turns into.

Given the kinds of environments which have existed in the distant past we know that however radical the near future environment will be (e.g. higher sea levels, warmer average temperatures, biodiversity destruction, etc.) life itself will endure in some forms. These will be the seed for distant future speciation and a new efflorescence of the tree of life. That some form of future hominid, derived from genus Homo will exist I take as a given. But it also depends on how the current species of sapiens manages to survive the transition. It is to that issue that I turn.

My starting point is the end point. My inquiry begins with the question about what kind of life should humans expect to have even in a radically changed world. One early vision of the state of humankind subsequent to the depletion of fossil fuels was the Olduvai Theory of Richard C. Duncan, in the early to mid 1990s. Duncan envisioned a reversal of civilization and reversion of humans to the status of primitive humans whose remains are found in Olduvai Gorge in Africa.

Aside from being a catchy title, the theory suggests that humanity will regress, possibly even evolutionarily, to a form that can succeed in the more primitive environment with only real-time solar energy to support it.

In other words, our civilization and the species we have become, are mere flashes in geological time. And now, as Richard Heinberg puts it, “The Party Is Over”.

In spite of agreeing with the Malthusian analysis inherent in peak fossil energy, population overshoot, and Homo sapiens' minimal average sapience, and all that those entail for the future of civilization, I am not inclined to think humanity is destined for the Hobbesian view of the human condition as “...nasty, brutish, and short.”ere are two basic reasons for my perverse long-term optimism in spite of my short-term pessimism (of course I would call it realism, but others disagree!) First, we humans have learned one hell of a lot about how things in the world work. Granted we are not good at learning how we ourselves work (mentally). But we have amassed a tremendous amount of knowledge in the sciences and engineering and much of it might be applicable even in a low-power energy future.

Our knowledge of systems science and systems ecology alone may make living feasible regardless of what the future world is like (within reason of course, we probably couldn't survive in a runaway warming that would lead to a Venusian climate!).

There can be a technological civilization in the future but one that is not driven by frenetic needs to run as fast as we can run. Second, and most basic of all, is evolution. Along with our knowledge of how the world works we also understand the process of change itself. Of course devolution is possible, I don't deny that, but I also don't see it as inevitable. Our understanding of evolution, genetics, and especially the emerging field of Evo-Devo provides us with the potential to become intentional actors in the evolutionary process itself.

We are already unintentional actors. We shaped the environment we live in and set in motion the forces that will shape the future environment. We have been embedded in a process of co-evolution, us and our cultures, that has continued to modify our genetics right up to the present. Indeed there is some evidence that our co-evolutionary process is accelerating, not abating. The Homo sapiens sapiens of today is not really the exact same species it was even 10,000 years ago.

Humans can abide as the Earth abides. But it will only be with understanding and intention. The very first question we have to ask has to address what a future human living condition will be like. Will we devolve to Olduvai status, or become something more than we are now?

What Does It Mean To Be Human?
The field of positive psychology is relatively young, focusing on what it means for humans to thrive, be happy, or feel fulfilled. One popular concept in this arena is self actualization, especially as developed in Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs theory. Maslow posited that humans are motivated by a set of needs that arc from the most basic biological (food, warmth) to social (love, esteem), to a higher self fulfillment or actualization, which includes mental states that permit higher thoughts and concepts, such as love of humanity as opposed to love of self.

Several psychologists have considered versions of this sort of needs/drives architecture and a very full literature on subjects like creativity and success (e.g. ‘Flow’ in psychology). The general understanding in Maslow's theory is that as lower level needs are met and remain unthreatened (one has enough food and feels loved) the individual naturally moves into the mental space of actualization where they can be creative and develop positive attitudes toward others and themselves.

What this set of theories tell us about human beings is that they have the mental capacity to be marvelous beings given that their basic needs are being met. My own reading suggests that the happiest people are actually those who are actively participating in meeting their own needs. They are not necessarily individualists, but more generally are being productive members of a group effort that collectively provides for every one's needs in the group (and presumably for the few misfortunates who cannot directly contribute, and for children not yet ready to contribute).

In the modern industrialized/informationalized civilization where one would think all of our basic needs are being taken care of, it is hard to understand why so many people are unhappy and why we have become so unsapient. But the problem is that our materialistic views of what civilization should mean has done a pretty good job of taking care of needs at the lowest levels of the hierarchy (food, shelter, etc.) but has actually been contrary to the middle needs (sexually suggestive advertising and explicit sex scenes in movies are not substitutions for love).

Our education and enterprise processes, designed to maximally take care of those material needs, does not address our self esteem needs. We try to compensate by telling our young kids what a great job they did on that drawing, or that they are special, or through grade inflation (don't get me started!) But we run people through the education mill in order that they have the requisite job skills to keep the machinery of commerce going. In my view this is the antithesis of self actualization. The only real higher needs we are supporting is the need for the psychopathic rich to get richer. I take solace in knowing that many of them are still not happy, really.

The bottom line is that humans, in general, really don't need the kind of materialistic world that our high powered energy and lack of wisdom has created to be happy or have the opportunity to self actualize. I think I understand how we got here. 
Once agriculture was swinging into full gear our societies became focused on managing everything to ensure maximum yield, usually against a very uncertain climate. We worked so hard at producing the basics that we sort of forgot that there is more to life than making a buck. Some so-called primitive tribes, the few left in this world, haven't forgotten, those that have been lucky enough to live in climates that provide the rich biological and hydrological resources they need. But we modern humans have forgotten. In fact, we perversely think that our McMansions and smart phones are the very definition of happiness.

The vast majority of people in the modern world do not seem to be able to grasp the essential difference between being glad to have the latest iPad and being self actualized. The former lets you get the latest updates on gossip, the latter lets you create something of value (even if you do it on an iPad!) I think one of the reasons that we have gotten to this point is that, as I mentioned above, evolution hasn't stopped. As a population we have been co-evolving with our materialistic cultures. We have created those cultures (but recognize that the actual acts of creation are done by very, very few people!)

And in turn those cultures have selected for those who only want what those cultures offer - more materialism. And, as I have written before, this latter effect is what has helped select against higher sapience. One does not succeed in this world (either in monetary terms or in procreation) by being wise, only aggressive or lazy. Smarts help some to succeed monetarily, but it really doesn't take smarts to operate a refrigerator (to see a darkly humorous logical extreme watch the movie: “Ideocracy”)

The selection pressure of high powered industrial civilization has, unfortunately, tended to favor lower sapience. I think this also means it has disfavored the drive to self actualization. At the same time, paradoxically, it has provided a platform for the few bright people to discover new knowledge and produce amazing technologies. This was possible because the non-actualized masses provided a demand (as long as energy was available) and an impetus for novelty. It is ironic that, to paraphrase Dickens, ‘the best of times (knowledge) was made possible by the worst of times (unthinking consumption)’.

But there you have it. The question is, now that the world is changing and the loss of energy will completely alter the consumption side of the equation, where do we go from here? Can we focus on the fact that some human beings, and especially those that seem to be more sapient than most, do self actualize in spite of the culture we live in? Can we use this knowledge to address the question of what would we like a future to look like given that we will not have the high powered energy sources of today? I think we can.

The Destination

 If we start from the premise that what it means to be human is that each individual has the capacity and the opportunity to achieve higher states of awareness and understanding of the world, to become self actualized, then our destination has to be some kind of living condition in which that is made possible. I started writing about a ‘feasible’ living situation starting in Feb. of 2010. The series can be found here:
  1. What is a feasible living situation for future humans?
  2. A feasible living situation continued.
  3. What should we fight to save?
  4. More on aesthetics and humanity
  5. Toward a better understanding of a feasible living situation
In this series I explored what kind of social structure and physical infrastructure would be necessary to provide a group of highly sapient individuals with a reasonable means of living sustainably and that would allow all members of that society to achieve some level of self actualization. I provided some basic ideas about what kind of land might be required under reasonable assumptions about the climate situation several hundred years from now. I have not seen any evidence that would alter my conclusions from that analysis, which are unhappy for the current population.

The projected carrying capacity of the planet under extremely modest assumptions about consumption patterns of a sapient society is radically smaller than seven to ten billion people as currently projected by the UN through 2100. Given the reduced biodiversity of the near-term future (say the next 100,000 years or more) that carrying capacity will be greatly reduced even from what we currently project based on, say, ecological footprint analysis. It could be in the low tens of millions world wide.

Thus we are looking at a picture in which a few climatically stable pockets support a few villages containing a psychologically optimal number of individuals each. These might be in communication, even have trade with each other, but nothing like the inter-community commerce we see today. Life will revolve around the education and food growing systems, with construction and its support services on an as needed basis.

People will basically do those things that satisfy the spirit. They will, of course, primarily be concerned with raising food. If done right they will have ample time for enjoyable times with family and friends. They will pursue their education, both in how to improve their living skills and how to better understand the world around them and their past. These need not and should not be peasants living just at subsistence. If that were the only option then would it really be worth there being a human species?

Humans are capable of growing mentally long after they finish growing physically. A society, careful to control its population size, can still grow in knowledge even though it is not growing economically (in the way we think of it now). The destination is self actualization for all. If we cannot find a pathway from where we are now to that destination then I'm not sure it is worth even stepping outside to start the journey. On the other hand, I strongly feel there is enough sapience in some members of the current species to find the path.

I have always had an adventurous spirit. And I think that it is likely that humanity will come out of the transition as a better species, that is wiser in the ways to live in balance with the Ecos. With that belief I'm game to explore some possible paths. I hope I don't have to go alone, because then, again, it isn't worth the effort. The future success of humanity will be based, as it always was in the past, on a collective effort of a group. We shall see what develops.

The First Step - Sacrifice in the Now

It is hard to contemplate doing something so radically different tomorrow, given that today things in the world seem almost normal. It is very difficult for anyone, even a very sapient person, to consider going and learning to live off the land with only real-time solar energy inputs while it is still possible to get in your car and run to the grocery store for a loaf of bread and gallon of milk. The question is, do we start now to learn to live more balanced lives, or do we wait until the fan is on high and the fecal pellets are flying to make the move?

The problem with the latter is that we are in a relatively slow transition at present. The fan isn't blowing at maximum and the fecal matter is in such small quantities as to be nearly indiscernible. The danger with waiting is that we have been in an exponential growth mode for so long. The problem with exponential growth is that you can feel like everything is just fine until the crash comes. It is like walking toward a cliff in a pea soup dense fog. You're OK until you step off the edge. And then it is too late. It does no good to wish you had turned right or left instead of going straight while you are hurling toward the bottom.

We are in completely unknown territory now. We know with fairly high certainty that our energy flow is going to be diminished. And unless someone very quickly pulls a massive energy replacement rabbit out of the thermodynamic hat, nothing else we have on the shelf right now can scale up quickly and broadly enough to keep there from being a catastrophic loss when, for example, the oil stops flowing because the producers can no longer make profits, and then the coal stops flowing because it takes a lot of diesel fuel to get coal.

Natural gas is still a big question as to the volume we might have to work with, but even with NG there are infrastructure conversion issues that will keep it from being an immediate substitute. The whole problem revolves around the fact that we just do not know how much net energy we have to work with from fossil fuels, but especially oil. If we are, as I have suggested based on my computer modelling, past the peak of net energy production, then we are already screwed.

And here is the main point. We don't know where we are relative to net energy. We can only make educated guesses, but they are still just guesses. If we are past the point of no return, how would be know it?

As one of my favorite Brandi Carlile songs says “...there are no warnings, only signs.”

Since I advocate that only the highly sapient need apply, perhaps this provides a means for testing sapience potential without some of the genetic testing I've written about. Only the really sapient will see the practicality of sacrificing a few more years of the comfortable consumer lifestyle to start preparing now.

I admit it is a sacrifice. It means finding a location with all the right attributes (you can't just start a permaculture farm nearby where you happen to live if the climate is unstable). It means cashing out your assets to trade for land and off-the-grid capabilities. And, by the way, this does not mean buying solar panels that you will be stuck with in twenty years, not able to get replacements or repairs! It means giving up what you are used to having now without really knowing for certain that this is the best thing to do.

Nor can you do anything like this alone. It will take a community. So not only do you have to make the decision to self-sacrifice now, but you have to convince others that they should do the same. Again this is a test of sapience. If any of your friends balk it probably means they wouldn't be great contributors to the situation anyway.

I see this process as one of self-organization rather than engineering a social group. The sufficiently sapient will recognize the signs and begin to take action, not waiting for warnings (at least from the official powers that be). They will find ways to find one another, especially in these days of social networking media. No one could orchestrate a successful transition. No one could dictate it or ‘run’ the community. It will have to come from a democratic and egalitarian process. It will necessarily be at the only scale in which such a process could ever succeed, a face-to-face community.

Other sacrifices are in the wings. Even if sapient communities become established they will need to be prepared for what will transpire in the rest of civilization. I will save this for another time, however. In the near future I will return to the physical aspects of a feasible living situation and try to explain better why so much land per individual is needed to establish a truly sustainable life.

And then we can talk about how to establish it (like financing) and protect it once things start to come unglued. In the mean time it would be nice to know if any of this is helping anyone. I have received a few nice e-mails from folk saying that they get what I am talking about and would like more ideas put out there. This blog is a response to those. But I don't know if my thoughts are really helping.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Embracing Voluntary Poverty 6/29/11


Smart Meter Concerns

SUBHEAD: Utilities will recover from ratepayers all costs of the smart grid, including a profit. Your health be damned.
KIUC will begin in 2012 to swap out Smart Meters for all of the island’s 33,000 commercial and residential electric meters and install related communications infrastructure. It will take two years to complete the installations. - The Garden Island 8/16/11 (
By Marti Oakley 15 August 2011 in the PPJ Gazette - ( Image above: Mother and daughter protest PG&E installation of Smart Meters in La Mesa, California 7/12/11. From (

There is no federal security mandate for Smart Meters, according to George W. Arnold the national coordinator for smart-grid interoperability at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. This agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce is said not to be involved in regulations but is only tasked with promoting standards among industries.

While both the 2005 and 2007 faux energy bills were codified into public laws, NO part of them creates a federal law pertaining to individual consumers or dictating that the public must be forced to comply with provisions of SMART Grid.

Contrary to the bleating of manufacturers and utility talking heads, who claim there is no “opt out”, the fact is you, the consumer must be offered the meter, or request a meter and “OPT IN”. No one can be forced to comply with an unrevealed contract between private corporations, and to which you were never a party and had no knowledge of.

Energy Tax Package 
  An Energy Tax Package was under development in Congress for several years prior to 2008. In September 2008, the package was finally enacted into law via its inclusion in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. This tax package shifted tax liabilities from corporations who were already posting massive record profits, onto the public.

Section 1307 State Consideration of Smart Grid Energy 2007, Page 6 : This Section amends PURPA to create two additional PURPA Standards. (Note: Two new PURPA Standards are also created in Section 532.)

These standards are in the form of requirements on parties such as utilities to undertake certain actions. The standards are not directly prescriptive on these parties, however; it is up to state utility regulatory commissions, or the bodies that govern other types of utilities, to decide that the standards should be actually adopted by utilities subject to their jurisdiction.

The only direct mandate with PURPA standards is for the state or other jurisdictional body TO CONSIDER whether the new Standard should be implemented and to demonstrate that it has undertaken such consideration.

The first new Standard would require utilities—prior to undertaking investments in non-advanced grid technologies— to demonstrate that they have considered investments in “qualified smart grid systems” based on a list of factors (on page 301) in the section that include total costs, cost-effectiveness, etc.

This Standard would also allow utilities to recover from ratepayers any capital, operating expenditures, or other costs of the smart grid investment, including a reasonable rate-of-return.
Furthermore, this Standard would allow utilities to recover remaining book value of any equipment rendered obsolete by the deployment of such smart grid systems. There is no description or list relative to what “qualified smart grid systems” would be. ( end Page 6 ) (all emphasis, mine)

This is a Tax Bill
“Ratepayers” are actually taxpayers. This is a new TAX forcing the public to finance SMART METERS/GRID at the rate of 100% of costs plus a profit margin written into it. We are being forced to finance a system sold as energy conservation, efficiency, carbon reduction, and at the same time being subjected to unwarranted surveillance, data mining, and extreme health hazards not to mention the invasion of our homes and businesses. Taxes for this system are applied to your energy bill under several categories and not one part of this bill or the SMART GRID system will reduce consumption or make energy sources more secure or efficient.

The Energy bills of 2005 and 2007 were Energy TAX bills and had nothing to do with conservation, security or efficiency.Reading through the 2005-2007 tax provisions is a laundry list of non-related tax breaks, subsidies, tax credits and other loopholes for gas and oil cartels and other so-called energy producing corporations. All taxes for financing this loss of revenue will be applied to and paid by ….you, the general public.

Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA) Through PURPA, two standards were established: “The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA 2007) contains two sections (secs. 532 and 1307), that also add additional “States-must-consider standards to the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA).”

The “states must consider” does not mean the states must comply as there is no law to force compliance of the states. 
DOE itself is NOT involved in the implementation of PURPA–States (or local governing boards) are–and so DOE is not in a position to offer guidance or advice on these new PURPA provisions.”
This is where the Department of Energy excused itself because it has no lawful authority.

How They Got in Your State
Demand Response and SMART METERING Policy Actions since the Energy Policy Act of 2005. A summary for State Officials.

This summary is the guide document instructing state officials on how to implement this business plan in their respective states.
Follow the Money!
In late October 2009, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced the recipients of the $3.4 billion in stimulus grants under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Award selections were announced for 100 smart grid projects that are intended to lead to the rollout of approximately 18 million smart meters, 1 million in-home energy management displays, and 170,000 smart thermostats, as well as numerous advanced transformers and load management devices. The award selections were organized by category: 1) Advanced Metering Infrastructure; 2) Customer Systems; 3) Electric Distribution Systems; 4) Electric Transmission Systems; 5) Equipment Manufacturing; and 6) Integrated and/or Crosscutting Systems. In its announcement, the DOE said the $3.4 billion represented the largest amount of ARRA funding ever made in a single day. 

But smart-grid projects that are competing for the $800 million in federal grants under the stimulus program would have to meet strict cybersecurity guidelines. The standards institute and other groups are working on a set of recommendations for state utility boards and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. This is in addition to the 3.4 Billion the DoE handed out under the stimulus package and does not include the staggering number of other quickly devised “grant” programs which were nothing more than federal subsidizing of private corporations identified as “stakeholders” in this assault on the public, amounting to billions more.

ABSOLUTEY no testing was ever done on the SMART METERS to substantiate the claims by government and manufacturers that the meters are safe. Independent testing however, exposes the danger of these meters to the overall public health. ‘Smart’ meter radiation is a Class 2B carcinogen according to the World Health Organization (pdf) (from

'Smart' meter radiation is at least 100x the exposure from a cell phone, say UC Nuclear experts. Equivalent to living within 500 feet of a major cell tower, according to independent EMF expert Cindy Sage. Thousands are reporting adverse health effects to the PUC, and yet installations continue as if nothing is wrong.

And this is just the tip of the SMART METER iceberg. No one knows what the affects of meshed systems will have on communities and neighborhoods as they are bombarded with massive amounts of radio frequency radiation thousands of times a day.

So How Did They Do It?
It is an assault on the senses that as the country foundered on the edge of near total economic collapse due to the corruption on Wall Street and in banking, that our congresses and presidents for the last ten years used this crisis to finance a massive assault on the public meant to further cement a police state while pandering to corporations to enrich them and by extension and as a repayment of favors owed, enriched themselves.

Congress flooded the Department of Energy and the Commerce Department with billions of dollars loaded into the Economic Stabilization Act 2008 and the Stimulus 2009 package to buy access to individual states. Considering the abhorrent state of our economy, you might be wondering where these billions came from.

First came the “economic stabilization act of 2008, then the “stimulus” package of 2009 where billions and billions were funneled to federal corporate agencies. Then came a meeting with the ”council of governors” to determine how to access the states, flood them with cash during severe economic distress that they allowed to happen, and gain access inside the geographical boundaries of the states.

Of course, the “council of governors” jumped right on the wagon and every governor in every state followed them with their hands out for the free cash…..that came from borrowing against the full faith and credit of the United States (Inc) which turns out to be ….you, the taxpayer.

This allowed the DoE and various other unlawfully created corporate federal agencies to disperse massive wads of cash to those “stakeholders” they cherish so much.

Paying For it Twice
In short, the public is being forced to subsidize the capital investment and expansion of privately owned utilities in addition to being forced to pay a second time as these same parasitic corporations recoup these same investments that were funded by the stimulus package to begin with.
Reading through the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the subsequent EISA 2007 energy bill, it is absolutely clear that what did pass pertaining to SMART Metering pertained only to Federal buildings and [federal] housing. This is in adherence to the Constitution which gives the federal government power only over needful buildings, insular possessions and territories. In every other instance the word “voluntary” precedes any item.

The SMART GRID system is nothing more than a system of accelerated energy costs with accompanying tax increases. The system cannot and does not deliver more efficient use of energy and isn’t meant to. The intent of the GRID and the meters is to pin energy rates to the ever fluctuating markets enabling the energy provider to charge the highest rate possible in any given period of time. Higher rates mean higher taxes. This isn’t about energy conservation or any of the other nonsense put out as propaganda to foist these deadly meters upon an unsuspecting public: This is simply a business plan meant to unlawfully spy on private citizens while extorting the public for corporate profits.
And if you get sick from these meters blasting you 24 hours a day with radio frequency radiation………tough crunchies. There’s money to be made.

Notice of refusal of SMART Meter from Stop Smart Meters

Print off the notice of refusal and send it along with this article as documented proof that there is NO MANDATE for SMART meters and that it was YOUR choice to opt in, not their choice to claim you could not “opt-out”. 

See also: Ea O Ka Aina: KIUC Smart Grid Plan 4/8/11 
Ea O Ka Aina: KIUC Smart Grid is Funded 12/14/09 


In a van - Down by the river

SUBHEAD: Tell them what you're going to say. Say it. Then tell them what you said. "Go for it!"

 By Juan Wilson on 23 August 2011 for Island Breath -  

Image above: Chris Farley as Matt Foley in a scene from Saturday Night Live in 1993. Still from video clip below.

 All right! How's everybody?
Most people over 30 remember the Saturday Night Live character Matt Foley that was created by the late Chris Farley. Matt was the motivational speaker who lived in a van - down by the river. The gist of the bit was that Foley was giving advice to suburban teenagers on how to get their lives together while his own life was in ruins.

He was middle aged, unemployed, overweight, divorced, and homeless. The joke was that he was the last person who should be giving advice to normal middle class youngsters on their choices in life. The odd thing was that although Matt's presentations usually backfired, in the end they produced their desired result. That was almost twenty years ago. Then there were few suburban families watching SNL who knew someone in Matt Foley's situation. But this is now.

Matt's character is not such an anomaly today. In fact there are a lot of people in his position since the Great Recession began... and there are more to come. And who better to tell kids about their future if they don't change their ways than Foley. I thought it might make sense to channel a bit of Matt Foley to get your attention.  

Well la-di-fricken-da!
It's been about seven years since Island Breath began posting articles on what's coming and how one might prepare oneself. See (

How far have you gotten in your preparations? I know that we have been chipping away at being more self reliant for years and are still not there yet. For those of you who have not been reading Island Breath or similar sources and have relied instead on cable TV and the Garden Island News for "the truth" the natural reaction might be;
Q: "Prepare for what?"
A: "The end of the world as we know it."
That does not mean change like the believers in the Rapture or Comet Elenin talk about. My personal opinion is that those that choose an otherworldly apocalypse are taking the lazy way out. Why should one lift a finger if the Rapture or Planet X is about to land on us? "The end of the world as we know it" means living life without our current dependence on:
  • Always ready to use of a private automobile.
  • Universal acceptance of bank credit (or even cash).
  • A multi-room home for the exclusive use of your family.
  • Availability of refrigerated, frozen food or mainland supplied food.
  • Any government agency at any level to provide you a service you need.
  • A job (or jobs) that pay sufficiently that no other labor is needed for survival.
  • Always "on" utilities like electricity, natural gas, telephone service and potable water.
If you are working your way around those old prerequisites for a normal life you're on the right track. I say this because there is plenty of evidence that another bubble is about to blow. It appears that all the efforts to dig us out of the hole created by the last bubble explosion (the US banking and housing collapse) have only dug is in deeper (by undocumented trillions of dollars). Remember when you thought the $700 billion TARP was a big deal? Throwing electrons representing dollars at the problem is dead on arrival. The real problem is - Growth is dead! It has been the defining feature of our worldwide economy and it is over. If we practice continued growth the Earth dies... if we don't we will have to make big change. Either way - it won't be the world as we know it.  

A de-industrialization process is under way. Population demand, resource depletion and Peak Energy are having compounding effects. It will soon not be profitable manufacture many things we now take for granted because we won't be able to pay their real cost... real costs to ourselves and the environment. Forget about saving civilization with wind generators or nuclear plants. "Full use of wind power could raise temperature equivalent to 720 ppm of atmospheric CO2." See Natural Limits to Wind Energy (

The best chance you have of you reading at night by lamplight ten years from now is for you to put a solar PV panel on your roof and carefully maintain some deep cycle marine batteries. Forget about nuclear energy coming to the rescue. Another 500 plants will be needed and we won't have the where-with-all to build them and even the 400+ we operate today are unmaintainable in a Post Peak Oil world. They need; connection to a 24/7/365 robust energy grid; copious amounts of cooling water and ways to process it; on demand delivery from a heavy duty transportation system; and an industrial base capable of replacing all crucial nuclear hardware. See Time for a Cold Shutdown (

No combination of alternative energy sources - whether green (solar, hydro, wind) or dirty (shale oil, fracked gas, clean coal) - will save the day for the consumer or the planet. Demand destruction will pave the way forward.  

Go for it!
But time is getting short. Many things you could be doing to sustain yourself take time to master. That includes:
  • Keeping chickens, goats or rabbits.
  • Growing food without fertilizers, pesticides or fossil fuels.
  • Developing a home based craft/avocation worth bartering with.
  • Gathering the tools/skill you will need to maintain your home and family.
  • Securing you own power, water, heat and sanitation.
  • Building working relations with nearby family and neighbors.
Each item on this list requires practice mastering complex actions. Each might take a year or more of effort to attain some level of self-reliance. We've said it before, we are saying now, and will say it again. "Go for it!" Otherwise, you might end up in a van - down by the river.

Video above: Be advised - there is an ad before the video clip. In clip Chris Farley premier perofromance of motivational speaker Matt Foley 0n 5/8/93. A man who lived in a van, down by the river and spoke to suburban teens about getting their lives together. In this case played by David Spade and Christina Applegate. From (

 See also:
Island Breath: Our impending journey nears 8/24/2007
Ea O Ka Aina: Here's the deal 7/5/09
Ea O Ka Aina: History is not your therapist 8/22/11


History is not your therapist

SUBHEAD: We're in permanent contraction now. There are no technological rescue remedies that will restore the old economic regime.

 By James Kunstler on 22 August 2011 for - 

Image above: A homeless resident of a tent city in Sacramento, California wears an American flag jacket on 3/10/09. This tent city of the homeless is seeing an increase in population as the economy worsens. From (

 I suppose we'll know in a few hours whether Colonel Muammar Gaddafi gets hung out to dry, Mussolini-style, from a lamp-post, or is mercifully handed a one way ticket to Palookaville, a.k.a. The Hague, where old despots go to eat French fries with mayonnaise and be judged. The rebels celebrating in Tripoli's main square looked a tad ticked off about all the trouble it took to pry the old rascal off his throne.

Over in Syria, Bashar al-Assad, the ophthalmologist who rules the place, must be following developments with a keen interest. (Perhaps he will hastily decide to re-open his medical practice in, say, Iraq.) Despite the bubbling of CNN news-readers, I suggest that we Westerners hold our applause until the world gets a clue as to who or what will govern Libya (or Syria, in the event).

Besides, we have a sort of Man-Who-Would-Be-Gaddafi fresh out of the woodwork right here in the USA. I speak of Texas Governor Rick Perry, the Bush-Without-a-Brain clone who pulled off a kind of "hat-trick" of cretinism last week by
1.) announcing his disbelief in climate change science; 2.) announcing his disbelief in evolution science; and 3.) more or less threatening to lynch the Fed's Ben Bernanke.
The nation has not seen such a puffed up rogue take the stage since the days of Huey Long, but the rural idiocy that saturated Louisiana in the 1930s has finally seeped all over the country so that even people in once-literate Minnesota are represented by reality-averse evangelical maniacs. Candidates like Perry and Bachmann make a plain vanilla narcissist like Sarah Palin look at least capable of running a student council. What a low moment in America's history. Don't lose sight of the fact that there's room for the bar to go further down.

Otherwise, the weekend was notable for the complete and utter retreat from public view of European leaders charged with figuring out some way around the EU's banking woes. The dirty secret is that there isn't any way around these Alp-size heaps of broken promises, worthless certificates, overdrawn accounts, shiftless governments, and booby-trapped counter-party contracts.

The people in charge are trying like hell to make it through the vacation season before the entire continent tips over, but then what? I'll tell you: the chain-lightning of ruin will crackle across the Sargasso Sea and strike deep in the heart of JP Morgan, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Citi, and all the other citadels of grift until blood runs out the bronze nostrils of George Washington's statue on the portico of Federal Hall.

 I don't begrudge poor Barack Obama's attempt to eat a few ice cream cones at the seashore with his wife and two girls. Some presidents are just one-termers. History is cruel that way. But it also rhymes. Rick Perry may be as dumb as Ronald Reagan.

Nobody can believe what's happening. Nobody knows what to do. Well, here's some straight dope: do you want to have an economy? Then prepare to cut your losses and move on. There's so much to do "out there" in America, but the catch is it's not the same as what we've been doing. Do you want to eat a few years from now? Get serious about reorganizing agriculture on a smaller, finer, more local scale. Believe me, there will be plenty of jobs.

Only they won't be like sitting in a cubicle writing a marketing plan for a video-game about the slaughter of gym rats from another planet. Do you want to be able to travel around this big country in a few years? Start working on the nearest reconstructable railroad line - and get over your techno-grandiose fantasies about running all the cars on algae, corn, or the plug in the wall. Do you want have some household goods in the future without sending an order halfway around the world? Figure out a way to make stuff in some North American place where there is running water for electric power.

There isn't a politician out there, including the Paul duo, who can really articulate the direction in which history is propelling us. This "recession-depression" narrative doesn't even adequately capture it. This is the end of a certain way of doing things - the industrial growth-spurt fiesta. We're in permanent contraction now. There are no technological rescue remedies that will restore the old economic regime.

The banks are not working anymore because we can't create more real wealth, and the wealth we pretended to create for thirty-odd years in the form of IOUs can't be paid back into existence. We can't fund any more senior golfing careers and a lot of people will have to just stop eating fried pork rinds, guzzling Pepsi Cola, and then waddling into the emergency room for consolation.

Does this sound a little harsh? Surprise: history is not your therapist. This is the New Age you never expected. Crybabies need not apply.


The Known Universe

SUBHEAD: A video animation tour from Earth through the known universe to its time horizon.  

Directed by Carter Emmart 15 December 2009 for Museum of Natural History- (
Image above: The Milky Way. White dot near center left is location of our solar system. From video below.

The Known Universe takes viewers from the Himalayas through our atmosphere and the inky black of space to the afterglow of the Big Bang. Every star, planet, and quasar seen in the film is possible because of the world's most complete four-dimensional map of the universe, the Digital Universe Atlas that is maintained and updated by astrophysicists at the American Museum of Natural History. The new film, created by the Museum, is part of an exhibition, Visions of the Cosmos: From the Milky Ocean to an Evolving Universe, at the Rubin Museum of Art in Manhattan through May 2010. Data: Digital Universe, American Museum of Natural History

Video above: A tour through the known universe. From (

BP Macondo Well still leaking

SUBHEAD: BP admits to “Investigating” new sheen in the Gulf as boats lay boom near Deepwater Horizon site.  

By Stuart Smith on 17 August 2011 for StuartSmithBlog - 

Image above: Painting of oil sheen by unknown artist. From (

Oil from the Macondo Well site is fouling the Gulf anew – and BP is scrambling to contain both the crude and the PR nightmare that waits in the wings. Reliable sources tell us that BP has hired 40 boats from Venice to Grand Isle to lay boom around the Deepwater Horizon site – located just 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. The fleet rushed to the scene late last week and worked through the weekend to contain what was becoming a massive slick at the site of the Macondo wellhead, which was officially “killed” back in September 2010.

The truly frightening part of this development, as reported in a previous post (see below), is the oil may be coming from cracks and fissures in the seafloor caused by the work BP did during its failed attempts to cap the runaway Macondo Well – and that type of leakage can’t be stopped, ever.
Catch up on how this could possibly be happening – again – by reading or re-reading my July 25 post below. Stay tuned as we will be all over this story as it continues to develop.

Is BP’s Macondo Well Site Still Leaking? Fresh Oil on the Gulf Raises Concerns and Haunting Memories 

Fresh oil is surfacing all over the northern quadrant of the Gulf of Mexico. Reports of slicks that meander for miles and huge expanses of oil sheen that look like phantom islands are becoming common, again. Fresh oil, only slightly weathered, is washing ashore in areas hit hardest by last year’s massive spill, like Breton Island, Ship Island, the Chandeleurs and northern Barataria Bay. BP has reactivated its Vessels of Opportunity (VoO) program to handle cleanup. It’s a sickeningly familiar scene that has fishermen, researchers and public officials searching for answers, as haunting memories of last year’s calamity come roaring back.

The fifty-thousand-dollar question, of course, is where is all the new oil coming from?
One theory: The Macondo Well site, located just 40 miles off the Louisiana coast, is still leaking untold amounts of oil into the Gulf. Some argue that the casing on the capped well itself is leaking. Others believe oil is seeping through cracks and fissures in the seafloor caused by months of high-impact work on the site, including a range of recovery activities (some disclosed, some not) as well as the abortive “top kill” effort.

In January 2011, a prominent “geohazards specialist” wrote an urgent letter to two members of Congress – U.S. Reps. Fred Upton, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and John Shimkus, chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment and Economy – suggesting that the Macondo site is leaking oil like a sieve. Here’s an excerpt from that letter (see it in its entirety at link below):

There is no question that the oil seepages, gas columns, fissures and blowout craters in the seafloor around the Macondo wellhead… have been the direct result of indiscriminate drilling, grouting, injection of dispersant and other undisclosed recover activities. As the rogue well had not been successfully cemented and plugged at the base of the well by the relief wells, unknown quantities of hydrocarbons are still leaking out from the reservoir at high pressure and are seeping through multiple fault lines to the seabed. It is not possible to cap this oil leakage.
BK Lim, the letter’s author, has more than 30 years of experience working inside the oil and gas industry for companies like Shell, Petronas and Pearl Oil.
More from Mr. Lim’s letter:

The continuing hydrocarbon seepage would have long term, irreversible and potentially dire consequences in the GOM (Gulf of Mexico)…
The letter is dated Jan. 14, 2011 – and we’ve been seeing more and more evidence that the scenario Mr. Lim describes is indeed taking place deep below the Gulf’s surface.

For example, on March 28, 2011, Paul Orr and his team from the Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper – an organization I’ve worked with frequently over the course of the last year – conducted a 50-mile boat patrol and sampling tour of Breton Sound, which lies just off the southeast coast of Louisiana. The excursion was prompted by multiple, increasingly frantic, reports of oil in the area by fishermen and others, including On Wings of Care pilot Bonny Schumaker, who has dozens of Gulf flyovers under her belt.

Mr. Orr took a sample from the southern end of Breton Island National Park – and sure enough, lab-certified tests results established a fingerprint match to BP’s Macondo Well (see link to my previous post and test results below).

The most alarming part of the finding was not simply that the Breton Island sample had BP’s fingerprint on it, but that the test results were nearly identical to those from the fresh oil seen in the early days of the BP spill – instead of the heavily weathered and degraded oil we’ve come to expect in recent weeks and months.

Those test results seem to disprove the other theory surrounding this spate of recent “fresh oil” reports. That is: All the oil BP strategically sunk to the seafloor with nearly 2 million gallons of toxic dispersant is beginning to break free and rise to the surface en masse, and in turn, blacken the coastline with fresh oil. According to civil engineer and petroleum expert, Marco Kaltofen, oil that has been lying on the seafloor for several months would be much significantly more weathered than the fresh oil we’re seeing more and more of.

As you’ll notice from the histograms, the Breton Island sample mirrors the submerged oil sampled from Pensacola Bay on Nov. 5, 2010 (see link to original post with histograms below) and a sample taken from Panama City Beach on July 14, 2010. You don’t have to be a marine biologist to see that this is the same oil with nearly identical weathering.

So we had fresh oil with BP’s signature on it coming ashore in March – more than eight months after the Macondo Well was capped. And since then, members of my team and other researchers have reported fresh oil, of the “only slightly weathered” variety from Grand Isle to Pensacola. One charter boat fishing captain, who frequents the waters around Louisiana’s barrier islands, is describing the current, hauntingly familiar situation on the Gulf as the “second wave” of the BP disaster.
Read my entire July 25 post (with referenced documents) here:


DC Tar Sand Action Arrests

SUBHEAD: It begins. Seventy arrested at White House on Day 1 of Tar Sands Action.  

By Chris Tackett on 20 August 2011 for Tree Hugger -   

Image above: Tar sand pipeline protestors at White House. From original article.
In Day 1 of what is expected to be a two-week protest against the development of the Keystone XL pipeline, dozens of people were arrested today at the White House, including founder and action leader, Bill McKibben. Twitter is the place for up-to-the-minute information. Follow @TarSandsAction , @350 , @BillMcKibben and hashtags: #noKXL & #tarsandsaction for tweets about the protest and issue.

More on tar sands after the jump...

We recently spoke with Bill McKibben on the TreeHugger Podcast about these protests and the tar sands pipeline issue. Listen to that interview Bill McKibben versus the Terrifying Tar Sands

See Photos of Tar Sands destruction here: Tar Sands Versus Nature (Slideshow)

Follow @TreeHugger for more on this issue and tweets from the rest of our team.

I'm @ChrisTackett.UPDATE 1: Sunday, August 21, Noon - Day 2 of the Tar Sands Action is underway with another round of protesters sitting-in at the White House to demand that President Obama use his power to stop the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. We're following the news on Twitter and according to Co-Founder and Communications Director, Jamie Henn writing as @Agent350 on Twitter, as of this writing there are reportedly another 50 arrested, joining the 70 that were arrested Saturday.

McKibben vs Terrifying Tar Sands  

By Jacob Gordon on 20 August 2011 for Tree Hugger - 

Image above: Greenpeace anti-tar sand action in 2008. From (

When renowned NASA climatologist James Hansen came on the podcast recently, he said some chilling words:
If we burn the oil in the Canadian tar sands it's essentially game over for the climate.
The murky oil sands of Canada are the largest known deposit of carbon on Earth, second only to Saudi Arabia. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would funnel the stuff all the way from Alberta to Texas. Bill McKibben, a scholar, author, and founder of, knows that President Obama can singlehandedly deny the pipeline's permit, and he's rallying thousands of people in Washington this month, many of who plan to get arrested, to try and slay the project.

Listen to the podcast of this interview via iTunes, or just click here to listen, right-click to download.
Scientist risks arrest at White House 

By Brian Merchant on 19 August 2011 for Tree Hugger -  
The Guardian has a nice profile on Colorado climate scientist Jason Box, who plans on heading to the White House to protest the construction of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline -- despite the fact that he's never been arrested, is highly respected in his field, and has a wife at home who's eight months pregnant ...

To Box, stopping the pipeline from linking the U.S. to the world's largest carbon bomb is a moral imperative. Here's the Guardian:
"I couldn't maintain my self-respect if I didn't go," Box said Tuesday in a telephone interview about his decision to wade into the murky territory of activism where most scientists fear to tread. "This isn't about me, this is about the future. Just voting doesn't seem to be enough in this case. I need to be a citizen also, because this is a democracy after all, isn't it?"
It's pretty inspiring stuff.

Of course, Box won't be alone. Some of the nation's most highly regarded environmental leaders and scientists will be there too. Writer Bill McKibben, the actor Danny Glover, and the world-renowned climate scientist James Hansen are all expected to risk arrest to send a message to the Obama administration.

So far, nearly 2,000 participants have confirmed participation in the event. There could be hundreds, even thousands more. Yours truly is planning on attending to cover the event and give TreeHugger readers the scoop from the front lines. This makes it, by some counts, the largest action in the North American climate movement yet.

Obama is obligated to make a decision on whether or not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would connect Canada's Alberta tar sands with refineries around the Gulf of Mexico. The tar sands are considered one of the dirtiest, most destructive projects on the planet, and committing the nation to rely on them for fuel would be a dire sign in context of the ongoing climate crisis.

Get more information on the protest at Tar Sands Action.


Radioactive Plume Update

SOURCE: Elaine Dunbar (
SUBHEAD: Simulation of plume of radioactive seawater from Fukushima between March 11th to Auguat 11th 2011.  

By Dutch Sinse on 20 August 2011 for -

Image above: 8/11/11 simulation of radioactive seawater dispersed from Fukushima nears Hawaii. From ( 
Note - The video below is no longer available when tested  1/21/14.

Video above: Radioactive seawater plume simulation from Fukushima. From (

IB Publisher's note: This accompanied simulation - ASR ( uses a Lagrangian particles dispersal method to track where free floating material (fish larvae, algae, phytoplankton, zooplankton...) is present in the sea water near the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station plant could have gone since the earthquake on March 11th. THIS IS NOT A REPRESENTATION OF THE RADIOACTIVE PLUME CONCENTRATION. Since we do not know how much contaminated water and at what concentration was released into the ocean, it is impossible to estimate the extent and dilution of the plume.

However, field monitoring by TEPCO and modelling by the Sirrocco group in University of Toulouse, France both show high concentration in the surrounding water (highest rate at 80 Bq/L and 24 Bq/L for respectively I-131 and C-137. Assuming that a part of the passive biomass could have been contaminated in the area, we are trying to track where the radionuclides are spreading as it will eventually climb up the food chain.

The dispersal model is ASR's Pol3DD. The model is forced by hydrodynamic data from the HYCOM/NCODA system which provides on a weekly basis, daily oceanic current in the world ocean. The resolution in this part of the Pacific Ocean is around 8km x 8km cells. We are treating only the sea surface currents. Particles in the model are continuously released near the Fukushima Daiichi power plant since March 11th.

The dispersal model keeps a trace of their visits in the model cells. The results here are expressed in number of visit per surface area of material which has been in contact at least once with the highly concentrated radioactive water. .

The Twilight of Meaning

SUBHEAD: Libraries are tossing old books while chances of watching a Care Bears videotape or DVD 50 years hence are pretty close to nil.  

By John Michael Greer on 17 August 2011 for the Archdruid Report - (

Image above: Detail from "Care Bears Movie II" VHS video sleeve. From (

This is not going to be an easy post to write, and I’m not at all sure it will be any easier to understand; I trust my readers will bear with me. I could begin it in any number of places, but the one that seems most important just now is the vestibule of the little public library six blocks away from my house. It’s a solid if unimaginative brick rectangle of Eighties vintage, one room not quite so full of books as it ought to be, another room in back for the librarians to work, a meeting space, restrooms, and a vestibule where books that are being discarded from the collection are shelved for sale. That’s standard practice in most public libraries these days. If a book hasn’t been checked out for three years, or if it needs repairs and there isn’t a huge demand for it, it goes onto the sale shelf. Prices range from cheap to absurdly cheap; the sale doesn’t bring in a huge amount, but at a time of sparse and faltering budgets, every bit helps.

The exception is children’s books, which aren’t for sale at all. They’re in a cart marked FREE, and if they don’t get taken in a month or so, they go into the trash, because there simply isn’t any demand for them. That was where, a few months ago, I spotted a copy of Kate Seredy’s 1938 Newberry Award winner The White Stag. The vast majority of my readers will no doubt find the reference opaque. Still, back when I was a child—no, dinosaurs didn’t quite walk the earth back then, though it sometimes feels that way—winners of the Newberry Award, one of the two most prestigious US awards for children’s literature, still counted for quite a bit. Most libraries with a children’s collection of any size had the whole set, and most children’s librarians were enthusiastic about getting them into the hands of young readers.

That’s not how I found The White Stag—I needed nobody’s encouragement to read, and Seredy’s compelling illustrations of galloping horsemen and magical beasts were well aimed to catch my eye—but find it I did, and that’s how medieval Hungarian legends about the coming of Attila the Hun wove their way permanently into the crawlspaces of my imagination. So that was the book, one among dozens, that was awaiting its fate in the free cart at the South Cumberland Public Library. I already have a copy, and I decided to take the risk that somebody would find the one in the cart before it got tossed in the trash. As it happens, it was the right choice; the next week it was gone.

I’ll never know whether some grandparent recognized it from his or her own childhood and took it as a gift, or whether some child caught sight of the cover, pulled it from the cart, and was caught by the magic of a tale that makes today’s canned children’s fantasies look like the pasty commercial product they are, but at least I can hope that it was something like that. The White Stag was written the year my father was born. In my youth you could find books that old and much older, plenty of them, in small town public libraries all over the country. Nowadays, increasingly, you can’t.

What you get instead are shelf upon shelf of whatever’s new, glossy, popular and uncontroversial, massaged into innocuousness by marketing specialists and oozing a fetid layer of movie, toy, and video game tie-ins from all orifices, all part of the feedback loop that endlessly recycles the clich├ęs of current popular culture into minds that, in many cases, have never encountered anything else. In the process, the threads of our collective memory are coming silently apart.

 I don’t think it’s going too far to describe the result as a kind of cultural senility. That concept certainly goes a long way to explain the blank and babbling incoherence with which America in particular stares vacantly at its onrushing fate. Without a sense of the past and its meaning, without narratives that weave the events of our daily lives into patterns that touch the principles that matter, we lack the essential raw materials of thought, and so our collective reasoning processes, such as they are, spit out the same rehashed nonsolutions over and over again. It will doubtless be objected that we have the internet, and thus all the information we could possibly need. We do indeed have the internet, where sites discussing the current color of Lady Gaga’s pubic hair probably outnumber sites discussing Newberry Award books by a thousand to one.

We have an effectively limitless supply of information, but then it’s not information that I got from reading The White Stag at age eight, and it’s not a lack of information that’s dragging us down to a sorry end. The problem—for it is a problem, and thus at least in theory capable of solution, rather than a predicament, which simply has to be put up with—is the collapse of the framework of collective meanings that gives individual facts their relevance. That framework of meanings consists, in our culture and every other, of shared narratives inherited from the past that form the armature on which our minds place data as it comes in.

A couple of years ago, in a discussion on this blog that touched on this same point, I made the mistake of referring to those narratives by their proper name, which is myth. Those of you who know how Americans think know exactly what happened next: plenty of readers flatly insisted on taking the word in its debased modern sense of “a story that isn’t true,” and insisted in tones ranging from bafflement to injured pride that they didn’t believe in any myths, and what was I talking about? The myths you really believe in, of course, are the ones you don’t notice that you believe. The myth of progress is still like that for most people.

Even those who insist that they no longer believe in progress very often claim that we can have a better world for everybody if we do whatever they think we ought to do. In the same way, quite a few of the people who claim that they’ve renounced religion and all its works still believe, as devoutly as any other fundamentalist, that it’s essential to save everybody else in the world from false beliefs; the central myth of evangelical religion, which centers on salvation through having the right opinions, remains welded into place even among those who most angrily reject the original religious context of that myth.

But there’s a further dimension to the dynamics of—well, let’s just call them cultural narratives, shall we?—unfolding in America today. When the shared narratives from the past break apart, and all you’ve got is popular culture spinning feedback loops in the void, what happens then? What happens is the incoherence that’s become a massive political fact in America today. That incoherence takes at least three forms. The first is the rise of subcultures that can’t communicate with one another at all.

We had a display of that not long ago in the clash over raising the deficit limit. To judge by the more thoughtful comments in the blogosphere, I was far from the only person who noticed that the two sides were talking straight past each other. It wasn’t simply that the two sides had differing ideas about government finance, though of course that’s also true; it’s that there’s no longer any shared narrative about government that’s held in common between the two sides. The common context is gone; it’s hard to think of a single political concept that has the same connotations and meanings to a New England liberal that it has to an Oklahoma conservative.

 It’s crucial to recognize, though, that these subcultures are themselves riddled with the same sort of incoherence that pervades society as a whole; this is the second form of incoherence I want to address. I wonder how many of the devout Christians who back the Republican Party, for example, realize that the current GOP approach to social welfare issues is identical to the one presented by Anton Szandor LaVey in The Satanic Bible. (Check it out sometime; the parallels are remarkable.)

It may seem odd that believers in a faith whose founder told his followers to give all they had to the poor now by and large support a party that’s telling America to give all it has to the rich, but that’s what you get when a culture’s central narratives dissolve; of course it’s also been my experience that most people who claim they believe in the Bible have never actually read more than a verse here and there. Mind you, the Democratic Party is no more coherent than the GOP. Since the ascendancy of Reagan, the basic Democrat strategy has been to mouth whatever slogans you think will get you elected and then, if you do land in the White House, chuck the slogans, copy the policies of the last successful Republican president, and hope for the best.

Clinton did that with some success, copying to the letter Reagan’s borrow-and-spend policies at home and mostly toothless bluster abroad; of course he had the luck to ride a monstrous speculative bubble through his two terms, and then hand it over to the GOP right as it started to pop. Obama, in turn, has copied the younger Bush’s foreign and domestic policies with equal assiduity but less success; partly that’s because the two Middle Eastern wars he’s pursued with such enthusiasm were a bad idea from the start, and partly because his attempts to repeat Bush’s trick of countering the collapse of one speculative bubble by inflating another haven’t worked so far.

 I’ve discussed more than once before in these posts the multiple ironies of living at a time when the liberals have forgotten how to liberate and the conservatives have never learned how to conserve. Still, there’s a third dimension to the incoherence of contemporary America, and it appears most clearly in the behavior of people whose actions are quite literally cutting their own throats. The kleptocratic frenzy under way at the top of the economic pyramid is the best example I can think of.

 Back in the 1930s, a substantial majority of the American rich realized that the only way to stop the rising spiral of depressions that threatened to end here, as in much of Europe, in fascist takeovers was to allow a much larger share of the national wealth to go to the working classes. They were quite correct, because it’s wages rather than investments that are the real drivers of economic prosperity. The logic here is as simple as it is irrefutable. When people below the rentier class have money, by and large, they spend it, and those expenditures provide income for businesses. Rising wages thus drive rising business income, increased employment, and all the other factors that make for prosperity.

 On the other hand, when more money shifts to the rentier class – the people who live on investments – a smaller fraction goes to consumer expenditures, and the higher up the ladder you go, the smaller the fraction becomes. Close to the summit, nearly all income gets turned into investments of a more or less speculative nature, which take it out of the productive economy altogether. (How many people are employed to manufacture a derivative?)

This recognition was the basis for the American compromise of the 1930s, a compromise brokered by the very rich Franklin Roosevelt and backed by a solid majority of financiers and industrialists at the time, who recognized that pursuing their own short-term profit at the expense of economic prosperity and national survival was not exactly a bright idea. Yet this not very bright idea is now standard practice across the board on the upper end of the American economy.

 The absurd bonuses “earned” by bankers in recent years are only the most visible end of a pervasive culture of executive profiteering, aided and abetted by both parties and shrugged off by boards of directors who have by and large misplaced their fiduciary duty to the stockholders.

This and other equally bad habits have drawn a pre-1930s share of the national wealth to the upper end of the economic spectrum, and accordingly produced a classic pre-1930s sequence of bubbles and crashes. None of this takes rocket science to understand; nor does it demand exceptional thinking capacity to realize that pushed too far, a set of habits that prioritizes short-term personal profits over the survival of the system that makes those profits possible could very well leave top executives dangling from lampposts—or, as was the case in the very late 19th and early 20th centuries, so common a target for homegrown terrorists that people throwing bombs through the windows of magnates’ cars was a theme for music-hall ditties.

What it takes, rather, is the sense of context that comes from shared narratives deriving from the past—in this case, the recognition that today’s economic problems derive from the policies that caused the same problems most of a century ago would probably be enough. Still, that recognition—more broadly, the awareness that the lessons of the past have something to teach the present—requires a kind of awareness that’s become very uncommon in America these days, and I’ve come to think that the main culprit at all levels of society is precisely the feedback loop mentioned earlier, the transformation of culture into marketing that exists for no other purpose than to sell more copies of itself.

The replacement of The White Stag and its peers with the Care Bears and theirs is only one small part of that transformation, though it’s a telling one. There’s no tragedy in the Care Bears universe, no history, and no change, just a series of interchangeable episodes in which one-dimensional figures lurch mechanically through their routines and end exactly where they started, just in time for the closing flurry of ads. The popular culture on offer to adults is by and large more complex, but no less subject to the pressures of manufactured popular culture. (The public library in Seattle, to my horror, once put up splashy ads asking, “What if everyone in Seattle read the same book?”

Why, then we’d have even more of a mental monoculture than we’ve got already.) There the interchangeable unit is less often the episode than the movie, the novel, or the series. Whether the protagonist finds true love, catches the murderer, gets bitten by the vampire, saves the world from destruction, or whatever other generic gimmick drives the plot, you know perfectly well that when you finish this one there are hundreds more just like it ready to go through the same mechanical motions.

Their sole originality is the effort to ring as many changes on a standard formula as possible—hey, let’s do another pirate zombie romantic mystery, but this time with Jane Austen! The result is like taking a loaf of Wonder Bread and spreading something different on every slice, starting with Marmite and ending with motor oil; there are plenty of surface variations, but underneath it’s always the same bland paste.

Business executives, you may be interested to know, read very little other than mystery novels and pop business books. I don’t know that anybody’s done a survey on what politicians read, but I doubt it’s anything more edifying. It’s really a closed loop; from the top to the bottom of the social pyramid, one or another form of mass-market popular culture makes up most of the mental input of Americans, and I trust most of my readers know the meaning of the acronym GIGO. Then we look baffled when things don’t work out, because we don’t know how to deal with tragedy or history or change, and trying to impose some form of Care Bear logic on the real world simply doesn’t work. I mentioned earlier that this is a problem, not a predicament, and that it therefore has a solution.

As it happens, I have no reason to think that more than a handful of people will be willing to embrace the solution, but it’s still worth mentioning for their sake, and for another reason I’ll get to in a bit. The solution? It’s got two steps, which are as follows.

 1. Pull the plug on current popular culture in your own life.

Cutting back a little doesn’t count, and no, you don’t get any points for feeling guilty about wallowing in the muck. Face it, your television will do you more good at the bottom of a dumpster than it will sitting in your living room, and the latest pirate zombie romantic mystery, with or without Jane Austen, is better off gathering cobwebs in a warehouse; you don’t need any of it, and it may well be wrecking your capacity to think clearly.

 2. Replace it with something worth reading, watching, hearing, or doing.

You may well have your own ideas about what goes in this category, but in case you don’t, I have a suggetion: go looking among things that are older than you are. Yes, I’m quite serious, and for more than one reason.

First, one of the advantages of time is that the most forgettable things get forgotten; there was a huge amount of vapid popular culture in the 19th century, for example, but only the most erudite specialists know much about it now. Your chances of finding something worth reading or watching or hearing or doing goes up as time has more of a chance to run its filter on the results.

 Second, even if what you find is pablum, it’s the pablum of a different time, and will clash with mental habits tuned to the pablum of this time, with useful results. When the visual conventions of a Humphrey Bogart movie strike you as staged and hokey, stop and ask yourself how current popular culture will look fifty years from now—if anybody’s looking at them at all, that is.

That, of course, is the third reason, the one I hinted at a few paragraphs back: current popular culture, like so much else of contemporary American society, is almost uniquely vulnerable to the multiple impacts of an industrial civilization in decline.

Fifty years from now, the way things are going just now, the chances that anybody will be able to watch a Care Bears video are pretty close to nil; most of today’s media don’t age well, and all of them depend directly and indirectly on energy inputs that our society can scarcely maintain now and almost certainly won’t be able to maintain for most Americans for more than a decade or two longer. Beyond that, you’re going to need something more durable, and a great deal of what was in circulation before the era of mass culture will still be viable after that era is over once and for all.

There’s more to it, too, but to get there we’re going to have to take a detour through a conversation that almost nobody in America wants to have just now. We’ll get into that next week.