Monthly Archives: December 2008

links for 2008-12-31

  • NYTimes: "People picked up on suspicion of immigration violations are held in a patchwork of detention centers. Most of the largest are privately run… The fastest-growing, least-examined type of incarceration in America, an industry that detains half a million people a year, up from a few thousand just 15 years ago…" …map with mouseover detail

Harvesting Zeitgeist

Starting from the question

name a piece of culture (book, movie, album, TV show, etc.) that “exemplifies what it was like to be alive in the age of George W. Bush”

Phil Ford notes that

Historical epochs do have deep structures of sensibility…

So we can all see how the torture apologetics of 24 play into the Bush II zeitgeist. I’m not going to argue against that — any future study of American culture in the Bush II era will doubtless (and correctly) point to 24 as Exhibit A of an America scared shitless and consoling itself with the spectacle of tough guys torturing bad guys.

I resolve to keep an eye peeled for others. Not irrelevant: my own posting from January of James McMurtry’s “We Can’t Make It Here”

Harsh words and grim prospects

from Mike “Mish” Shedlock, a “registered investment advisor” with what look to me like Libertarian predilections:

In total, the Treasury has now committed to squander $700 billion and that is before Obama squanders anywhere from $750 billion to $1 trillion trying to prop up a dying consumer-based economy that really can’t be propped up.

More or less the same analysis of the overall plight as Jim Kunstler, though I’m not sure on which points the two would disagree. Kunstler (in his Forecast for 2009) is focused on the upshots of what he summarizes as the Happy Motoring fallacy, which is of course not just about cars:

Happy Motoring is at the core of our unsustainability trap. The car system is going to fail in manifold ways whether we like it or not, and it will fail due to circumstances already underway…

Another voice with some of the same tidings is NYU economist Nouriel Roubini:

But the worst is still ahead of us. In the next few months, the macroeconomic news and earnings/profits reports from around the world will be much worse than expected, putting further downward pressure on prices of risky assets, because equity analysts are still deluding themselves that the economic contraction will be mild and short… The credit crunch will get worse; deleveraging will continue, as hedge funds and other leveraged players are forced to sell assets into illiquid and distressed markets, thus causing more price falls and driving more insolvent financial institutions out of business. A few emerging-market economies will certainly enter a full-blown financial crisis.

Kunstler calls it

Here’s what Jim Kunstler said in his Forecast for 2008 (Jan 1 2008):

Has there ever been a society so exquisitely rigged for implosion? The whole listing, creaking, reeking edifice stands like one of those obsolete Las Vegas pleasure palaces awaiting a mere pulse of electrons to ignite a thousand explosive charges perfectly placed to blow away the structural supports.

Sorta makes you curious what he predicts for 2009, dunnit? Look here for that, in this overall context:

I have long maintained that life is essentially tragic in the sense that history won’t care if we succeed or fail at carrying on the project of civilization.

You don’t have to believe every word, but here and there are bits of astute observation and palpable truth (palp it yourself, you’ll see):

The tragic part of all this, of course, is that the temporary plunge in oil prices has prompted an incurious American public to assume, once again, that the global oil predicament is some kind of a fraud. Given the flood tide of fraud they have been subject to in banking and investment matters, I suppose you can’t blame them from thinking that everything is some kind of a scam…

The over-arching geopolitical theme of 2009 will be the end of robust globalism as we’ve known it for some time. Reduced trade, competition for energy resources, sore feelings over debts and currencies will drive the nations inward or, at least, direct their energies toward their own regions.

So read it and file it where you can find it next year end…

Berrian addendum

About halfway through Berry’s essay one comes upon this perhaps-puzzling sentence:

The present scientific quest for odourless hog manure should give us sufficient proof that the specialist is no longer with us.

I reckon that this is an allusion to Chic Sale’s Lem Putt, introduced to the world in The Specialist (1929), a classic that should be better known. If it’s new to you, the whole text (including William Kermode’s illustrations) is available, and it won’t take you 10 minutes to read her. The first paragraph may convince you that you should:

YOU’VE heard a lot of pratin’ and prattlin’ about this bein’ the age of specialization. I’m a carpenter by trade. At one time I could of built a house, barn, church, or chicken coop. But I seen the need of a specialist in my line, so I studied her. I got her, she’s mine. Gentlemen, you are face to face with the champion privy builder of Sangamon County.

The book is full of Berryesque advice, grounded in good rural precedent and practice:

No, sir, I sez, put her in a straight line with the house and, if it’s all the same to you have her go past the woodpile. I’ll tell you why.

Take a woman, fer instance — out she goes. On the way she’ll gather five sticks of wood, and the average woman will make four or five trips a day. There’s twenty sticks in the wood box without any trouble. On the other hand, take a timid woman: if she sees any men folks around, she’s too bashful to go direct out so she’ll go to the woodpile, pick up the wood, go back to the house and watch her chance. The average timid woman — especially a new hired girl — I’ve knowed to make as many as ten trips to the woodpile before she goes in, regardless. On a good day you’ll have the wood box filled by noon, and right there is a savin’ of time.

“Now, about the diggin’ of her. You can’t be too careful about that,” I sez; “dig her deep and dig her wide. It’s a mighty sight better to have a little privy over a big hole than a big privy over a little hole. Another thing; when you dig her deep you’ve got ‘er dug; and you ain’t got that disconcertin’ thought stealin’ over you that sooner or later you’ll have to dig again.

“And when it comes to construction,” I sez, “I can give you joists or beams. Joists make a good job. Beams cost a bit more, but they’re worth it. Beams, you might say, will last forever. ‘Course I could give you joists, but take your Aunt Emmy: she ain’t gettin’ a mite lighter. Some day she might be out there when them joists give way and there she’d be — catched. Another thing you’ve go to figger on, Elmer,” I sez, “is that Odd Fellows picnic in the fall. Them boys is goin’ to get in there in four and sixes, singin’ and drinkin’ and the like, and I want to tell you there’s nothin’ breaks up an Odd Fellows picnic quicker than a diggin’ party. Beams, I say, every time, and rest secure.

See? Classic, like I said. And I’ll bet that Wendell Berry knows all about Lem Putt –see the Humanure page.

Today’s hortatory fanfare

Wendell Berry’s writing surely exemplifies the phrase “clarion call”, though I’ve often felt that it’s just not possible to live up to his level of ecological and economic rectitude. Still, there’s often a shiver of Right On! as I read his commentaries on what we’re missing through inattention. Today Tim O’Reilly links to Berry’s essay In Distrust of Movements (2000) and I’ll quote my favorite bits:

…I must declare my dissatisfaction with movements to promote soil conservation or clean water or clean air or wilderness preservation or sustainable agriculture or community health or the welfare of children. Worthy as these and other goals may be, they cannot be achieved alone. I am dissatisfied with such efforts because they are too specialized, they are not comprehensive enough, they are not radical enough, they virtually predict their own failure by implying that we can remedy or control effects while leaving causes in place. Ultimately, I think, they are insincere; they propose that the trouble is caused by other people; they would like to change policy but not behaviour

We are involved now in a profound failure of imagination. Most of us cannot imagine the wheat beyond the bread, or the farmer beyond the wheat, or the farm beyond the farmer, or the history beyond the farm. Most people cannot imagine the forest and the forest economy that produced their houses and furniture and paper; or the landscapes, the streams and the weather that fill their pitchers and bathtubs and swimming pools with water. Most people appear to assume that when they have paid their money for these things they have entirely met their obligations.

and another

These things seem to keep happening, this time as I thought about where to begin in laying out a landscape of African musics that I’ve been accumulating in mp3 form since the spring.

Start anywhere
It all connects
and the trick is to choose
among branching paths
or perhaps it’s to
unwind the thread
as you sally forth
so as to be able
to reconstruct
your wanderings

That reconstruction is a tale
a narrative of Tolkien proportions
though without the necessity
of any end to the hero’s quest
and indeed with no heroes
or deus ex machina
just the progress of discovery

And what does the Argonaut seek?
Not fleeces or immured maidens
gloriously slain foes
or vanquished enemies

It’s the link, the nexus,
the skein of allusion
the journey and not
the destination
the joys of finding and telling