Goal!

There was a piece on the internet yesterday about having a goal in life. I think I found it on the iOS News app. It was one of those aggressively cheerful screeds that swans insouciantly from assumption to panacea via gross generalisation. Apparently the thing that separates the lost sheep of this world from its forward-moving goats is having a purpose to one’s life. Presumably, the kind of goal is important. Wishing to belittle or injure someone every day is, after all a goal. The piece wasn’t very helpful in that respect. It seemed to assume that anyone going for a goal will automatically pick one that is self-improving or outer-directed in a good way.

I don’t have a goal. There is nothing I want to change. At least, nothing that I have the remotest hope of changing. I’d like to change me, perhaps. But into who, or what, I don’t know. A more loving parent. A more reliable supplier. But is wishing to address character ‘defects’, if that is what they are, the same thing as having a goal in life? As a reductio ad absurdum, I could refine my two goals in life to ‘breathe in’ and and ‘breathe out’. As long as I stayed true to both of them and followed them in a strictly alternating sequence, I’d be all right. Hungry, smelly and homeless, but all right.

As humans, we are cursed with a sense of meaning. People talk of seeking a ‘higher meaning’ in life. No, I can’t analyse that in a minute’s thought. Higher than what, exactly? Higher than shopping? Surfing Twitter? Achieving Level Eleven, gold-plated, fur-lined, ocean going enlightenment? Don’t I vaguely remember from Buddhist primers that enlightenment is a process of letting go?

Somehow, clinging tenaciously to a goal doesn’t sound the right way to get there.

Self-driving cars – hope springs eternal

 

Idly listening to KMO on the C-Realm Vault while doing the washing-up, his conversation turned to self-driving cars (SDCs). Like a lot of us, KMO is somewhat on the rebound from what you might call ‘Stage One’ peak oil so he’s inclined to give SDCs a free pass. You know the idea: people won’t own cars – instead they’ll hail an SDC when they need to get somewhere, and it’ll first drive itself to them and then drive them to their destination.

KMO is clearly frustrated with some other members of the Mark One Peak Oil Clan, particularly JHK, who decry SDCs as just another example of grandiose techno-narcissism. He said that if SDCs and/or advanced car sharing helps shift people away from ownership towards ‘usership’ or ‘ridership’, then that’s one way to make people more discerning and sustainable about the travel choices they make. He suggested that rides could be priced lower if you booked in advance. For example, if you book a ride to get to a routine doctor’s appointment several days in advance, it’d be cheaper than deciding to go on a spur-of-the-moment trip to see Auntie Mabel in Hertford or Hartford (you say tomato).

Well, that’s a pricing model you already find in train and airline fares as well as some taxis I dare say. It’s not really an argument for SDCs though. SDCs still boil down to an attempt to perpetuate ‘one-user-at-a-time’ vehicle use (‘one’ in this case meaning a single passenger or a bunch of people making a trip together). You’ll still have cars spending a lot of time empty, only they’ll be moving while empty (to get to the next user). From the oil industry’s perspective (as Dmitry Orlov suggests, cars’ first duty is to burn petroleum), SDCs are a brilliant idea. Unlike human-piloted cars, which waste the oil industry’s time when parked, SDCs can be burning oil round the clock.

There is already a more-efficient model for this version of perpetual motion: the Israeli sherut. These are minibuses or minivans that are a cross between a bus and a taxi. They don’t run on set routes but pick up passengers as they go, setting them down more or less in order depending on how the passengers’ destinations pan out. Doubtless the engineers could come up with a self-driving sherut capable of recognising when someone wanted to get in, and then computing and recomputing routes as passengers got on and off. But you need to weight up the differences between a human driver, who does that in their head and can run on tea and falafels, and the vast, energy-hungry techno-complex of servers, satellites, cell towers, programmers, etc., needed to operate SDCs. Makes SDCs look even more like a 500-tonne press looking for a sparrow’s egg to crush.

But to get back to the real function of cars, which is to turn fossil goo into industrial civilisation, multi-user SDCs run completely counter to purpose. Granted, an SDC will potentially use 85%-95% more fuel than an ICE because it will operate round the clock if the demand is there (in KMO’s variable pricing model, poor people would travel between midnight and 6am when demand was light enough for them to be able to afford to ride). Trouble is, once the imperative to possess personal cars is removed, the scale of the car industry goes with it.

And what’s in that for the oil industry? There are around 30 million passenger cars in the UK. Say each one has 10 litres of fuel on board. That’s about £360 million, including taxes, paid up front to the industry and government just to have petrol and diesel sitting around doing nothing 95% of the time. Ker-ching. Year in, year out. Kill off the need to own cars and you kill off the oil business, which for Western economies will feel like cutting off an arm and a leg and removing the liver.

Eventually, car ownership will disappear anyway because oil is a finite resource but as every good student of history knows, the way to bow to the inevitable is to do so very, very slowly. You certainly don’t want to hand the inevitable your head on a plate. Sigh. But techno narcissism (© James Howard Kunstler) is a fierce fire in the human breast. Look at the investors throwing away billions on Uber year after year.

SDCs are as logical and promising as lead balloons but, as long as the likes of even KMO see them as a twinkly hope for a better future, the saga will keep on running.

Reach for the skyr

A few things to tackle today. Firstly, there was a story doing the rounds a couple of days ago that Trump and Putin were making secret arrangements for a tête-à-tête in Reykjavik pretty soon after The Donald assumed the gilded throne of the Murcans.

Fox News, I think, was the purveyor of the canard. Along the lines of The Donald was going off to get his instructions from his KGB handler, etc. This story seemed to come out of the “Any shit we can make up against Trump is good enough to print” pile. And funnily enough, to show how easy this type of thing is, I’d written up the very same scenario for my daily ‘morning pages’ piece only a week ago.

My thoughts were that Donald and Vladimir might hole up in some glam volcanic spa for a day. Then there’d be a smiley photo op while a portentous official communique is distributed. D&P give the punditry an hour or so to work up some froth before the pair of them start putting out ‘OK, this is the real enchilada’-style tweets, outlining the likely direction of hegemonic shifts over the next few years. Ideally tweeted in French or Portuguese just to unsettle and annoy Anglophones.

Charles Hugh Smith has a good piece today on the US power elites’ germophobic response to outsiders getting into power. Trump follows in the footsteps of Nixon and Carter as someone whose unintended election, in place of the elites’ anointed candidate, was plainly some kind of operational glitch. So while the East coast mandariniat hunt down and torture the clumsy fool who left the door to the White House open to the neighbours’ cat, the media will obediently attack the foreign body in the Oval Office.

The difference between Trump and earlier outsiders is that in Nixon and Carter’s time the net fossil energy gravy train was in still full flow. Even when the insiders’ had sated their appetites over and over, there was plenty left over for Joe 99%. Not so in 2017. We appear to be five or so years away from slipping over the edge of the net energy cliff.

That means we’re three to five years away from the shine starting to seriously come off modern industrial civilisation. And 10-15 years before very deep cracks show up even here in cosy old, ‘what could go wrong in a country like this?’ Blighty. Think more-frequent brown outs, internet outages and off-the-scale motoring costs for most people.

Plenty to talk about over a bowl of skyr at the end of a long day’s summiteering in Reykjavik, then.

The mind-shields fall away from the City on a Hill

flash-city

 

What do you get when you fall in love build a self-referential neoliberal bubble? A guy with a pin to prick it.

The only ‘stunning upset’ about Trump’s election was that it left a lot of people stunningly upset. If they’d pulled their heads out of each other’s backsides they could easily have seen it coming.

One fears for America’s corvidae family. It looks like turkey will be out, and crow in, on many Thanksgiving tables on the 24th of November.

Take this example of groupthink from December 2015:

Firstly, he [Trump] will not be the next President of the United States and secondly, he will not get even close to securing the Republican nomination. By spring, he will have packed his bags and said goodbye to the circus. There are forces with more power, wealth, intelligence, guile and all encompassing self-interest that will not allow this showboating huckster anywhere near 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC. The GOP would never in a million years adopt an erratic train wreck like Trump to go head-to-head against Hillary Clinton for fear of electoral collapse and decades of obscurity.

Alas for the dump-Trumpsters, it was the Democrats who used their “power, wealth, intelligence, guile and all encompassing self-interest” to flirt with oblivion by crowbarring Lady Blood Diamond into the candidacy over Bernie, the membership’s choice.

Trump would probably still have beaten Bernie in the electoral college. Americans in general are resolutely misled over the difference between socialism and totalitarianism. But I’d wager that Bernie would have picked up a bigger margin in the popular vote than Clinton.

As one of those not in the least surprised by Brexit or the Trumpster (even though I’m instinctively Remain/Bernie/Corbyn), it was refreshing to see a stale, corrupt political elite successfully challenged for the first time I can think of in my lifetime.

Con-job city

Remember that Bliar and Hopey-Changey were both absolute con-jobs whose actions completely belied their rhetoric. Trump, Brexit, Sanders and Corbyn are all focal points of popular frustration with a paradigm that looks like nothing so much as the elites withdrawing into a shining city on a hill and preparing to pull up the drawbridge.

Ordinary – or better still ‘ordinary hard-working’ – people have no place in the city. They just get to pay for the elites’ pleasures while listening to mainstream media propaganda telling them they’ve never had it so good.

Since the 1960s, the elites have worked hard at ‘perfecting’ – as they saw it – the democratic process. In essence that means ensuring that the government always gets in, whoever the people vote for. In terms of the quote above, idea is that the elites use their ‘power and wealth’ to co-opt bright young men and women as politicos and pundits. These charming flacks employ their ‘intelligence and guile’ to maintain what Joe Bageant characterised as a “hologram” in which every citizen props up an iniquitous structure in order to protect a redundant dream of personal wealth and self-actualisation.

Drink the Kool-Aid

Going back to the Abe Lincoln-attributed quote in the last post, when you’re trying to fool all of the people all of the time, you have to be very careful not to fool yourself too. Abe wouldn’t know what Flavor Aid is but he’d recognise the expression ‘drinking the Kool-Aid’ meaning to believe your own peer group’s propaganda at whatever cost to society and yourself.

Even my very thinly-populated social media stream was full of apocalyptic wails on Wednesday morning. They came from people who are white, middle class and, generally, close enough to the shelter of the city on the hill not to need to worry about immediate fallout from President Trump or Article 50. Yet you’d have thought black vans were already en route to their homes, loaded with government-sanctioned redneck lynch mobs.

In many cases, these reactions came from people seeing their pensions eroded, local services shut down and their children priced out of home ownership and forced into massive debt in return for an often second-rate higher education.

Not that the problems underlying those problems are fixable in the sense that real growth will come back for decades or centuries (it’s to do with net energy available to industrial civilisation). The point is that the world went through an inflection point not when American electors chose Trump this week but when it rolled over into The Long Descent somewhere between 1995 and 2005.

The folks in the city on the hill realise that the cake will slowly but steadily shrink from now on. Moreover they’ve understood why for around 20 years. Did they start a grown-up, “liberal-progressive” debate about how society might get together to find ways to mitigate the effects of its predicament?

Did they fuck. They went to war over the last remaining decent-sized stocks of oil and natural gas (high-quality energy) in the Middle East. All the while spinning out pipe dreams about self-driving cars and Elon Musk’s frankly bonkers man-on-Mars plan. The game is to prevent thinking people from thinking too hard about what’s actually happening in their own lives. And also engaging people in endless debates about which flavour of Kool-Aid ‘matters’ most – black lives, LGBT rights, Disabled Access, First Nation land rights or whatever.

Well, durrr. They all matter. But they are also being used as a smokescreen to distract everyone in the 99% from the scale of the ongoing theft of real wealth and its substitution with IOUs that the elites know they cannot honour in a resource-constrained future.

Now it seems that even the best bread and circuses that technology can provide aren’t enough. Trump and Brexit were moments when ‘ordinary hard-working’ people turned round and bit the hand that was feeding them a diet of mass media bullshit.

The shame on all of us is that we’ve gone along with it for so long that the only way for Americans to register their disgust with a democratic process systematic rigged against them was to elect a showboating huckster.

Abe never said it

As a postscript, there’s no record anywhere of Abraham Lincoln uttering the famous quip about fooling people all the time. It’s very likely the phrase was invented, long after Abe was assassinated, as an adversing gimmick to sell false teeth, tobacco and booze among many other things.

Like they say, believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see.

 

Good morning America, how are ya?

 

 

Yeah well, that’s a headline for tomorrow, 9th November, but everyone will be using it then.

Today a presidential candidate with a disapproval rating of 79% goes to the polls against a candidate with an 81% disapproval rating.

As Steve from Virginia said today on his blog, Economic Undertow:

“Both candidates are the products of big business. It is revealing this is the best leadership that gigantic money can buy.”

Like its rise, America’s decline is a process not an event. America peaked somewhere between the candidacies of Reagan and Trump. Who, let’s face it, have much more in common than the millions of Americans who go all dewy-eyed at the mention of Ronnie are prepared to admit.

The one a religious fantasist, the other a narcissistic fantasist. Both claiming they will make America great .… and then that “again”. Both having acquired their veneer of popular recognition via the mass media.

That’s not to say they have, or had, similar characters. Reagan was a nice enough guy who was happy enough to act as a popular frontman for the financial-media-military-industrial complex. The peaking of net energy available to industrial civilisation was coming into view and Reagan was chosen as the smiley-face puppet by the forces who believed it was “America’s” (i.e. their) Manifest Destiny to hog what was left for themselves and damn the rest of the world and the electorate’s grandkids.

Now the tide of industrial civilisation has moved into its long and difficult – well, one hopes it won’t be short and nasty – ebb phase. More people, more vehicles, more stuff and ever-higher expectations vs. less and less net energy left over to power our lifestyles once one subtracts the costs of extracting oil from sand or shale, and conducting interminable wars for access to the dwindling supply of “good stuff.”

Trump is the downslope’s black mirror of what Reagan represented on the upslope. Whereas Reagan was a genial guy with a cupboard-full of goodies to squander on a grateful electorate (albeit goodies his backers were effectively stealing from future generations), Trump is the embodiment of the 99%’s anger over their own steadily-worsening situation.

What would be funny if it wasn’t so sad/disgusting is the utter shock and surprise inside the liberal elites’ media at the spectacle of Trump giving ‘their’ candidate a run for her money (ha ha: it’s our money and she represents the people who shamelessly help themselves to it). “B-b-b-but he’s ghastly”, they stammer. “He appeals to the lowest elements in human nature, etc. etc.”

What scares the elite media is the apparent incoherence of the electors’ anger. Don’t the media work ceaselessly to reassure the people that everything is rosy; that, if readers just wish hard enough and take on enough debt, they too can have the lifestyle and aspirations peddled day in and day out by the papers?

Well to quote a quote that was wry on the way up but a hard punch in the face on the way down: “You can fool all of the people some of the time and fool some of the people all of the time but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

Trump is coming within a whisker of the White House on the back of votes from people who aren’t fooled any more. They don’t think much of Trump but they think even less of Hillary and what she represents, which is a continuation of the bullshit charade that began with Reagan, was cemented in the Clinton-Bush era and got its final insulting flourish with the crushed expectations and broken promises of that ultimate liberal elite smiley puppet, Hopey Dopey.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no conservative. I’m a card-carrying liberal of the airy-fairy Green type. Except that I’m under no illusions about the possibility of maintaining industrial civilisation on renewable energy (or that airy-fairy Green types ever get to form governments). The future is not about whether more people will be better off: it’s about how we manage with less.

The US electorate doesn’t buy the story it’s been fed by the media. The one that tells it that things are still getting better. People know the pie is shrinking and that 99% of them are paying for the elites and their media to carve a bigger slice so they don’t have to share the losses.

While the elite media staggers around in shock, however, I’m pretty sure the Deep State is already over it. DS actors have already written-off Election 2016 as a patch of bad turbulence they should have seen coming but, for whatever reason, they weren’t ready for. The DS is regrouping and realigning for Election 2020 (if not sooner), which will be very different.

I also surmise that the DS is quite divided at the moment. The status quo crowd is being dragged kicking and screaming to acceptance of the thermodynamic realities facing America. It doesn’t want to accept that it can no longer foist any old candidate ..… say a corrupt, self-serving dynastic throwback .… on the people and expect they’ll be elected with the help of the tame media.

The smart crowd is positioning for the transition to what James Howard Kunstler calls The Long Emergency:.

Whoever wins tomorrow, the next presidency will be a flailing mess that’ll make the attack of the blue meanies in Yellow Submarine look like a yoga class. The thing to watch out for will be the clean, slick, fresh-faced but hard-nosed, politician who’ll emerge with the backing of the new popular media and make the idea that it’s evening in America as palatable as Reagan made the claim that it was morning.

What new popular media? I don’t know. I guess its foundations are already being laid. It’ll look like the current popular media, but shorn of clueless idiots who don’t already understand that Trump vs. Clinton spells the end of their world as they know it.

You wouldn’t think there would be any of those left but looking at today’s agonised beatings from all corners of the UK media, a lot of pundits haven’t realised that US 2016, and Brexit for that matter, may be merely a bumpy patch as far as the Deep State goes but it’s life or death for their jobs.

So whether they find themselves cheering for Hillary tomorrow, or booing Donald, they’ll be playing a losing game. Especially if Clinton gets in, there’ll be a rump still championing the corrupt and discredited process that put her in the White House, backed by the unimaginative wing of the Deep State.

If Donald gets in then its hard to imagine what it will be like. “Berlusconi” is the only word that comes immediately to mind. A mess of a different kind to Hillary but not an existential disaster either. And crucially, a mess that will be much easier for the “progressive” wing of the Deep State to exploit.

Good evening America, how are ya?

Whatever happened to the driverless car?

 

Is that a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a flying car.

Doubtless egged-on by the hype lavished on driverless cars, wild promises of levitating family autos are all the rage again.

Yup, the prospect of flying to meetings in your own car instead of a helicopter is right back on the agenda.

Terrafugia Flying Car Prototype on Road

See – here is the TF-X, Terrafugia’s bid for aero-motoring immortality. A deeply unsexy prototype that could become a sleek, er, road-legal helicopter-cum-plane.

fly-car-rendering

Call me a bit skeptical but to my untrained eye the TF-X visualised in the pics displays all the aerodynamic qualities of a Corgi toy attached to a lolly stick. Those skinny wings might lift a super-flyweight body – but not something that would conceivably get an NCAP collision rating for a family vehicle.

Since the first object you encounter on the project’s web page is a button labelled “$ Invest”, it’s a safe bet that there’s a long way to go and a lot of cash to burn before ‘une brique volante’ lands in a back garden near you. Ad astra per pecunia you could say.

(And by the way, what’s with the utterly crapola and mega-depressing, round-the-back-of-in-industrial-unit-next-to-the-dumpsters destination of the TF-X in the promo? Failure of imagination or a teeny hint that flying cars won’t fit in normal workplace parking bays?)

But each to his own, I say. It’s your money. If you’re excited enough to invest, be my guest. Really, if you think that road-legal helicopters have a future, I think someone might have a Moller M400 Skycar to sell you.

With driverless cars, at least there are a few potential benefits – like having multi-user vehicles that deliver themselves to drivers. The reason flying cars have remained a pipe dream since the 1950s is they’re basically a solution looking for a problem.

On wait! Silly me. Of course, we’ll soon have self-driving flying cars. Where else could today’s utterly fabulous technology lead us?

The title of this article? Oh, that’s just irony.

Don’t cry for me Fukushima

The race to rehabilitate radiation continues apace at everyone’s favourite Deep State mouthpiece, the BBC.

After Tuesday’s inept attempt on the Today programme to push the case for cutting-down safety levels at the forthcoming (possibly) Hinckley Point C nuke, the PM Programme yesterday ran a slicker piece from – where else? – Fukushima, basically saying that everyone has overreacted to the 2011 post-tsunami radiation escape there.

This time, though, the expert on hand was actually a qualified scientist with a track record in studying the effects of radiation on people.

Professor Geraldine Thomas, of Imperial College, crunched through the wreckage of a home abandoned in the Fukushima exclusion zone in the company of its owner and the BBC’s Tokyo reporter, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes.

Her verdict: although the average radiation level in the zone is 50% higher than the normal background dose you get everywhere, that’s not enough to harm anyone. Implication: don’t worry, rebuild, go home.

From a propaganda point of view, the only bum note was struck by Rupert W-H as he signed off saying: “If the danger from radiation is being exaggerated then it is making the human tragedy at Fukushima much worse than it should be.”

Should be? It’s so BBC to inadvertently imply that there’s a scale of how tragic, costly and terrifying a nuclear accident can be before it’s considered de trop by the powers that be.

Keywords

As the Absorb-a-Millisievert-with-a-Smile campaign develops, keen observers should watch out for certain keywords including ‘death’, ‘radiation’ and ‘on-site’. On Tuesday I though it was a mistake for the pro-nuke person to mention Fukushima but I was wrong.

The idea seems to be to turn ‘Fukushima’ into a shorthand for a situation where the public danger from radiation can be spun as turning out to be less bad than first feared (or, in spin talk, ‘was grossly exaggerated’). Where no-one died from radiation exposure, at least off-site. And where evacuating can be portrayed as causing far more death, misery and destruction than radiation – never mind that reactor buildings are burning and exploding at the time, or that no-one on the site can get at them or to the spent fuel pools.

If the debate over Hinckley Point C’s safety levels can be framed in this way, they can marginalise awareness of many other real issues such as the idiotic cost of the project and the potential scale of non-fatal health impacts from a future accident.

For those, you have to look back past Fukushima to Chernobyl, whose 30th anniversary on 26th April must now seem uncomfortably close to the pro-nuclear lobby. It’s surprisingly hard to get a handle on the scale and geographical spread of issues such as birth defects and genetic disorders arising from the Chernobyl accident. The World Health Organisation has put the potential toll of premature deaths as 4,000 although many believe the WHO’s estimate to be much too low.

Time will tell. But when someone rocks up on Today in year or two, saying a corners-cut version of Fukushima is good enough for Hinckley C if it saves a billion, just nod along with them and say “What could go wrong with that?”