December 13, 2014        U.S. Geological Survey - Public domain image
Lies told often enough do not become truth. Torture is still torture, no matter how many times we call it enhanced interrogation. War is still war, no matter how many times we call it bringing peace. Subjugation is still subjugation, no matter how many times we call it bringing freedom and democracy.

The least dangerous aspect of believing your own lies is that people just quit trusting you; the most dangerous aspect is that real truth has a way of coming out (usually when you’re most vulnerable) and knocking you on your behind.

We may not be quite that vulnerable yet, but we’re well on our way when so many of our governmental, corporate and financial elite believe their own lies – whether it’s that torture is only enhanced interrogation; that war is the only way to peace; that economic subjugation brings freedom and democracy. Or whether it’s that climate change isn’t real and ongoing and if it is, we have time to adapt to, or mitigate its effects through technology; that we can outlast the dangers of falling oil prices on our “100 years of oil and gas” in order to wreak economic havoc on our designated enemies; that our economy is strong enough to sail through a global slowdown with no effect; that our military could win a nuclear war or a third world war; that we are exceptional and indispensable enough to run roughshod over any country that we please without blow-back.

In a Gallop poll, taken early this year, 80% of Americans who were asked how often they trusted the government responded never/almost never. That doesn’t bode well for any country – or for its people – let alone, an empire in decline.

But, what our government has done to the trust of the rest of the world with its reprehensible policies and of the lies about what we do, versus what we say we do, can only increase our vulnerability and hasten our decline as those lies we’ve so pompously declared as truth come back to destroy us.

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Whole Lot of Whistling Going On

December 6, 2014    

After reading, this week, about how falling oil prices – and, thus, falling gasoline prices – will be such a boon to the global economy (and lord knows it could use a little boon, right now,) I’m trying to decide whether we’re being deliberately lied to or whether all this happy talk is just a form of whistling past the graveyard.

For example, this article from The Economist says¸ “Cheaper oil should act like a shot of adrenalin to global growth. A $40 price cut shifts some $1.3 trillion from producers to consumers. The typical American motorist, who spent $3,000 in 2013 at the pumps, might be $800 a year better off—equivalent to a 2% pay rise. Big importing countries such as the euro area, India, Japan and Turkey are enjoying especially big windfalls. Since this money is likely to be spent rather than stashed in a sovereign-wealth fund, global GDP should rise.

But, as others have pointed out, this isn’t necessarily true. If you have $100 and you spend five dollars less on gas and then, spend that five dollars on food, you haven’t added an extra five dollars to the overall economy. You’ve only shifted that five dollars from the oil (gasoline) part of the economy to the food part of the economy. The only way to add that five dollars (or that $1.3 trillion) to the overall economy is to turn at least part of it into debt (take out a new loan or open a new credit card). That part of it would count as new money and be counted as global growth. Undoubtedly, some businesses will, but I hope none of us low-wage earners are silly enough to do that.

The other problem with low oil prices, especially if they continue to drop or the  low prices continues for a while, is that we are mostly dependent on expensive-to-produce oil (shale oil, oil sands, deep-water oil) and, while many wells that are currently in production can continue to produce at low prices, future production projects may not. These projects are heavily dependent on debt, especially high yield (junk) bonds for financing, making up almost 20% of the junk bond market. Also, shale oil wells deplete rapidly and new wells must constantly be drilled. If low oil prices cause some of these companies to default on their loans, the loans may dry up. As current production dwindles, loans may dry up for new projects and so will much of the oil supply we count on.

In addition, we may be overestimating how much shale oil can be produced. This article from Nature is about natural gas, but many who follow oil production carefully feel the same can be said for the oil plays.

The other area where we seem to be whistling past the graveyard is in the economic news. All I heard on the network news was how great the jobs report was this week and how the economy is really taking off. Hmmm, maybe we might want to re-examine that. Several news sources say it might not be so great, after all.

So, my advice, for what it’s worth? Enjoy the break from high gasoline prices, but remember, all those silver linings have a cloud attached.  Just watch out for all that whistling going on.

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Being Thankful

November 29, 2014     flower_spring_flowers_purple

Thanksgiving was beautiful. The day was cloudless and sunny, with temperatures in the mid forties by afternoon. I went with friends to one of their parents’ home for dinner. The meal was delicious and the visit cordial. Afterward, loaded with leftovers, we stopped to visit a friend who had to work, leaving some of the bounty with her. Then, I went home for a very traditional after dinner nap on the divan – and damn the calories. I suspect I wasn’t the only one.

I cherish such days, such friendships, such experiences, tucking them away with as much care as I do extra canned goods and gardening tools. I’ve done this all my life. They are as important to me as the gardens I plant and as much a preparation against hard times to come as they have been against hard times past.

Though I must admit, I’ve squandered a few with pettiness or anger, walked right by others – distracted – and failed to appreciate some until I’d scrubbed off a little of the grime and realized the value of what I had. And I’m not so vain as to imagine that others haven’t had similar reactions toward me.

Nevertheless, we live in a declining Empire, well on its way to the next downward step in that decline. We can fear all the correct enemies of that empire, hate all the right people, shop ‘til we drop, go in debt up to our eyeballs. None of this will save the Empire. For most of us, life is going to get appreciably more difficult. We’re living at the end of an extraordinary and, frankly, aberrant period of abundant energy and resources – one that we’ve mostly squandered – and are going to have to live with the consequences as they grow scarce.

The government may have promised us something different, but life never has. We can tear ourselves and the world apart with anger and self pity or we can cherish the good days, the good friends, the good experiences, storing them away – food for the heart – with the same care we’d store away food for the body. And we can be thankful.

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Catching Up

November 22, 2014

Hi, everyone. Just wanted to let you know, I’m fine. My computer crashed a couple of weeks ago and I haven’t been able to get online until yesterday, when some friends gave me a little laptop for my birthday. (Many thanks, my dears.)

Since I’m still learning to use it, this post will be brief.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. I hope you are all safe, warm and well fed and that you will find a way to reach out to those who are not.

See you next week when I have hopefully learned to use my new computer.

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Delusions of Grandeur

November 8, 2014

The Republicans took control of both houses of Congress here in the US midterm elections this last week – to Republican cries of joy and Democratic moans of despair across the country.

President Obama ordered 1500 more troops to Iraq to “advise and retrain” the Iraqi troops already being advised and retrained by the first 1500 troops we sent when those Iraqi troops that we’d spent the last decade advising and training failed to make a proper showing as they came up against ISIS and threw one more monkey wrench in the Empires dreams of, well, more empire.

The fragile ceasefire between Kiev and the rebels in Ukraine’s eastern provinces has broken down – warming the hearts, no doubt, of Congressional hawks and members of the military-industrial-arms complex across the nation.

The remains of Typhoon Nuri will hit the Aleutian Islands this weekend, buckling the jet stream further east, later this week, and allowing arctic air to flood down and across the Midwest and eastern United States– to the despair of those of us who did not expect and will not delight in this too early taste of winter.

The IPCC, in its Fifth Assessment Synthesis Report, said, this week, that if we want a 66% chance of keeping global warming under two degrees centigrade, we must reduce fossil fuel use to zero by 2100 – no doubt leaving oil producers and oil dependent countries everywhere rejoicing in the belief that this means they can wait until 11:59 p.m. on December 31, 2099, to actually do something about it.

Thus, life proceeds apace in the dying American Empire and its hapless global suzerainty and there seems precious little that we or the Empire can or will do at this point, locked-in ideologically to our oil dependent model of constant growth, to change the course we are on.

The Empire is well on its way to the fate of countless empires before it; the civilization built around it will, in its turn, collapse as other civilizations have, long before ours arose.

There is no guarantee that enough of the web of life that birthed us remains for another civilization to rise out of the ashes of this one.

Nor is their any indication that we are special; that the universe is, somehow, bound to preserve several billion bits of cosmic detritus wrapped in flesh and full of their own self-important delusions – one species among millions of other species on a small planet in a solar system circling a medium sized sun, in the back waters of the arm of a spiral galaxy set among the births and deaths of billions of other galaxies and star systems spread across the vastness of cosmic space-time.

What we need is some perspective. We are not exceptional as a people; we are not indispensable as a nation; we are not even particularly smart as a species – having polluted our air, water and food sources, squandered our resources in pursuit of a belief system that enriches only a small percent of the planetary population while impoverishing the majority. And in destroying the habitats of millions of creatures with which we share the earth, we’ve destroyed more of our own habitat than we can ever recoup.

Sadly, I have no expectation that next week’s news will be much different that this week, or last week, or the week before that. I fully expect that our delusions of grandeur will continue on, until reality intrudes and they can’t, any more.

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First Hard Frost

November 1, 2014   bird_winter_snow_213718

Last night, our first hard frost arrived. Temperatures fell into the mid twenties as a cold front moved through. I was about as ready as I could be, knowing that warmer, more normal fall temperatures were on the way and I could proceed with the few outdoor garden activities I couldn’t finish last week.

All of this does make me mindful, however, that the time for such activities is slipping away and the time for winter preparations is moving in around here. The man who mows the lawn came last week and mowed the first layer of dead leaves into the last layer of mown grass. I’ll leave most of the next layer of leaves to overwinter, collect enough for a layer on the garden before I cover the beds with straw and throw an armful of the extra leaves into the compost bin to help it get a new start. And that will pretty much conclude my outdoor preparations – except for planting that garlic.

As for inside the house, I’ve found someone to shrink wrap the windows and, later this winter, put up some pegboard so I can hang my large and cumbersome collection of brooms, mops, gardening rakes, shovels and hoes that are currently propped against the wall in the various corners of the back room. And the few vegetables for the indoor garden that I’ll grow from transplants rather than seeds are started.
I’m sure other things will pop up along the way to winter, but I’m looking forward to a time of relative quiescence winter brings to my house – a time to catch up on reading, putter around with whatever may grow in the back room garden and keep a less hurried eye on what happens in the wider world.

Here at home, the mid-term elections will (thankfully) be over in a few more days, though (like an unsavory odor) the effects will undoubtedly linger on, no matter who wins in the various races.

Hopefully, with the races for Congress and various governorships settled one way or another, more rational minds in both parties will prevail and the ginned up Ebola scare, on which some rode to electoral victory, will tamp back down to more reasonable proportions as they realize that the most effective way the developed countries can prevent a genuine outbreak at home is still to ramp up the fight where the current epidemic actually is, in West Africa.

Sadly, I don’t expect rational minds here at home to prevail in the senseless war the Empire and its NATO allies have declared against Russia by way of our meddling in Ukraine. After Putin’s speech at the meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club, on October 24, it’s pretty clear that he and a number of other attendees knows what game is being played and have no intentions of sacrificing Russia’s, or their own, rational self-interests just to appease the declining Empire. Nor will the inflated egos of the Imperial neo-cons, who thought this a good move, allow them to see that more and more of the rest of the world is tired of being yanked around by the whims of a flailing has-been with delusions of past grandeur as they find ever more ways to defy those whims and the economic/military might it uses to enforce them.

Such appears to be the case in our fight with ISIS, as our bombing raids are insufficient without the ground troops and other support from our squabbling coalition of the, not only unwilling, but seemingly unable. The new, more “moderate” government in Iraq appears to be more afraid of letting go of the exclusionary policies of power than they are of ISIS. Turkey seems to be more afraid of its Kurdish minority than the swelling ranks of the disenfranchised dreamers of a new Caliphate joining ISIS daily from around the world. Sunni Saudi Arabia dances around the conundrum of fighting Sunni ISIS while possibly giving aid to the Alawite (a sect of Shi’a Islam), Bashar al-Assad of Syria, or to Shi’a Iran, who has its own reasons to offer aid in fighting ISIS. And, the list goes on.

Of course, by the time winter grants that less hurried eye, some other move in the grand game of Empire may have checkmated, or been checkmated by, those other players currently involved.  The slowing global economy may have tipped over on its side, kicking and struggling to upright itself, and rendered those moves moot.  By winter, the costs of ignoring climate change, the dangers of politicizing Ebola, the certainty that our fracking “bonanza” will give eternal life to the Empire, may have mortally blinded us to any number of black swans already seeking a landing site.

We never know, ahead of time, exactly what winter will bring, but that first hard frost always reminds us, the last days of autumn are a good time to make sure we’ve prepared as much as possible.

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Fall Stumbles In

October 25, 2014

Autumn around my neighborhood has just begun a full-tilt run toward changing colors. We still have had no hard frost and barely any hoar frost, though both are overdue. Today and tomorrow the temperature is supposed to hit eighty degrees, then gradually drop to a more seasonal normal over the rest of the week. We did have several days of showers/rain and temperatures in the fifties and low sixties a week or so ago.

The remains of both the backyard garden and side garden, along with the surrounding grass, have been turned into mulch for the gardens and they await a layer of compost from the compost barrel before their winter coat of straw, (next month’s “big ticket” item at my house.) I still need to get serious about the indoor garden and by mid November I’ll need to plant the garlic.

Halloween is next week. We don’t get trick-or-treaters around here. The churches and other local groups mostly handle that. I haven’t seen many notices for houses of horror, (honestly, I think some churches have sort of ruined that for a lot of people,) but area farmers still offer corn mazes – complete with ghouls and goblins, cider, homemade apple butter and something akin to old-fashioned hayrack rides. Mt. Vernon, a few miles from here, sponsors an apple butter festival this time of year, celebrating the event with demonstrations of traditional methods of making it in big copper pots that simmer for hours – along with selling the most delicious apple butter around.

All of this fairly screams, “Fall!” even when the weather doesn’t. So, with the scent of home made apple butter and the taste of home made cider lingering in my memory, I’m going to get this blog post up and take advantage of Mother Nature’s little weather prank to get some things done around the house and yard. Happy Halloween, everyone.

And if you can, send a donation to Doctors Without Borders or one of the other groups working in West Africa. The people of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are our fellow travelers in the journey.  Right now, they could use a helping hand.

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