Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

New York City Has Become So Progressive it Plans to Bite the Hand that Feeds it – the Oil Companies

youtube-Logo-4
gc2
reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

Published on From Filmers to Farmers on January 26th, 2018

Discuss this article at the Energy Table inside the Diner
Lady Libertine (with no apologies to Emma Lazarus): "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled energy slaves yearning to exhale CO2 virtually for free, The wretched black gold of your teeming bowels. Send these, the unburned, tempest-tost to me, I fill my lamp beside the charlatan's door" (photos by David Saddler and Robert Byron)
Lady Libertine (with no apologies to Emma Lazarus): "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled energy slaves yearning to exhale CO2 virtually for free, The wretched black gold of your teeming bowels. Send these, the unburned, tempest-tost to me, I fill my lamp beside the charlatan's door" (photos by David Saddler and Robert Byron)

Who would've guessed it? New York City, the harmonious hometown of the chief litigator himself, Donald Trump, is planning to sue. By no means any more courteous or humble than its prodigal son, following divestiture of the $5bn in fossil fuel investments its $189bn pension fund holds, New York City plans to use what are possibly the only ridiculously deep-enough pockets in the entire world capable of ridiculously deepening themselves even further by actually suing five of the largest oil companies. That is, the very oil companies that over the years have enabled New York City to be so jacked up that it's earned the moniker of "the city that never sleeps".

A bit too harsh am I? Perhaps I've failed to realize how concerned New York City is with not simply climate change but also the effects it will have on the plight of others? Let's see about that.

What's first required here is a look at the justification for why New York City believes it deserves "billions of dollars in damages" from the five investor-owned fossil fuel companies it intends to sue: Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips, Shell, and Chevron. As New York City mayor Bill de Blasio described it in a piece he wrote for The Washington Post,

For decades, Big Oil ravaged our environment. They knew what they were peddling was lethal, but they didn't care. They used the classical [sic?] Big Tobacco playbook of denial, denial, denial, and all the while they did everything to hook society on their lethal product.

From this we get rationale #1 with which New York City is basing its case on, that being the act of equating fossil fuel companies with tobacco pushers. To do so requires a serious stretch of the imagination though, considering that although Big Oil (Exxon, to be exact) came to know about climate change in 1977 and then proceeded to promote climate misinformation, prior to 1977 Big Oil in general would have been your run-of-the-mill profit-driven capitalist enterprise that for at least half a century earlier had done nothing out of the ordinary to get New York City "hooked" on its "lethal product". It of course didn't actually need to, because for the most part New York City voluntarily and giddily did that on its own.

Furthermore, it's a bit rich to compare tobacco to fossil fuels when tobacco is but a frivolous stimulant while fossil fuels are the "life force" that makes industrial monstrosities like New York City "go". Take away a smoker's pack and you may have one seriously irritable, ticked-off, but nonetheless mostly-functionable person. Cut off fossil fuel supplies to New York City and you'll have guns being pulled out at supply-hampered gas stations, grocery store shelves empty in two or three days, inoperable water and sewage systems within two weeks, and yes, even shortages of cigarettes. Shortages of the latter would of course be the least of New York City's problems though, because without fossil fuels New York City would quickly break out into utter pandemonium and would probably wish it had of been nuked to smithereens instead.

Secondly, and although we can put aside the fact that Svante Arrhenius' was (rather obscurely) writing about CO2's contributions towards a greenhouse effect back in 1896, de Blasio's statement that "For decades, Big Oil… knew" is almost as egregious as his comparison to tobacco pushers, seeing how the first cover-to-cover book focusing specifically on climate change appeared back in 1989 (environmentalist Bill McKibben's The End of Nature: Humanity, Climate Change and the Natural World), a book that was undoubtedly sold in fine New York City bookstores.

Any occasion is a good occasion for a parade in New York City! And will you take a look at those colourful balloons full of hot air – adorbale! (photo by United Nations Photo)

Why, may I ask, did it then take 25 years – decades – before New York City decided to take things so seriously that it finally held its first climate change parade, and then four years after that finally decided to sue Big Oil? Might that be because it had to wait before the science had definitively come in, and/or because it was forced to bide its time while climate change's foot soldiers raised enough consciousness? Maybe. But maybe, just maybe, it was also because New York City finally saw its opportunity to undertake what might very well come to be known as the greatest swindle of the (industrial) civilisation. For as Don de Blasio also stated in The Washington Post,

Today, we are saying, "No more." The time is long past due for Big Oil to pay the bill and take full responsibility for the devastation they have wrought. That by itself will be a major step forward, but it isn't enough. We know we have more to do. We are going to stop investing in the fuel of yesterday, so we can have a better tomorrow.

With New York City being one of the largest consumers in the world of fossil fuels per sq/km, what de Blasio's rationale is showing is that New York City has a complete unwillingness to own up to its role in fossil fuel usage as well as a complete lack of contrition. Fully ensconced within the bargaining stage of the Kübler-Ross five stages of grief, what New York City's Don is telling us is not only that it's up to Big Oil to take complete responsibility for all the fossil fuels New York City has burned over the past century (which it used to build up and then maintain its profligate lifestyle), but that New York City bears absolutely no responsibility for eagerly suckling upon the hind front teat of Big Oil, a front teat that from my vantage point looks like it might not actually be much of a teat.

Rationale #2 that New York City intends to draw upon in order to secure its bargain is based upon the recent notion that "renewable" energy can replace fossil fuels, the implication being that at some point in the future New York City (and the rest of industrial civilisation) as we know it can not only be sustained, but righteously sustained. Taking this premise one step further, New York City intends to reap billions of dollars by trying to convince US federal courts that instead of using Big Oil's "fuels of yesterday" yesterday it could have been using what we might as well call Big Renewable's "fuels of tomorrow". Yesterday. Or as de Blasio might as well have put it, "We would have been using clean renewables for the past century, but Big Oil tricked us into using dirty fossil fuels. Shame!"

Whether or not New York City can actually pull off this swindle doesn't interest me in the slightest, while what does interest me is yet another example of New York City's outright skulduggery. Because while Don de Blasio also railed against "an economic system that is harmful to our people" in his Washington Post piece, he had absolutely nothing to say about the Ponzionomic, fractional-reserve banking system that New York City's Wall Street is currently the locus for, and which by being the greatest wealth pump the world has ever seen allows New York City to enjoy a "free ride" on the back(s) of the rest of the world.

I'll once again admit that I'm possibly being a bit too unaccommodating here, and that what I really should be doing is being a bit more patient before New York City and its Don redeem themselves by undertaking the much more than symbolic gesture (and the much more than baby-step divestiture) of kicking Big Oil off the New York Stock Exchange.

How does that saying go again? "When something-something fly"?

No, New York City's finest probably shouldn't try to fly (photo courtesy of Jeff Kyle)

Opportunistic politicians aren't the only skulduggerists getting in on this action though, next in line being the eminent economist Jeffrey Sachs who proclaimed that

There are alternatives to runaway climate change. North America has vast reserves of wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and other zero-carbon energy to power the United States, Canada, and Mexico. New York can go green and electric by midcentury through electric vehicles, electricity-powered public transit, and electric heat pumps for buildings, powered by electricity from wind, solar and hydroelectric power.

Never mind that the notion of wind as a "reserve" is about as ingenious and riveting as passing wind, but as I've pointed out earlier the notion that we can power industrial civilisation as we know it on "renewables" is based upon similar kinds of lies and deceptions that fossil fuel companies and their acolytes have used, and continue to use, in order to promote their fuel of choice. Nonetheless, Sachs also stated – and you're going to have to brace yourself for this one – that

New York hosts Wall Street, the UN and the US media, [and] it will now be the centre of climate action too.

Which, I'll admit, kind of leaves me at a loss for words. Do we all just shoot ourselves now?

If you somehow managed to stick with us, and to round out the triad of skulduggerists, the Third Amigo – the aforementioned environmentalist Bill McKibben – stated in his article "New York City Just Declared War on the Oil Industry", that

New York, for one, isn’t taking it any more.

New York isn't taking it anymore? Riiiiiight.

"I'm mad as hell and I'm – wait, what did you just say? You want to pay me how much? Umm… yeah, okay, on second thought I think I can take it a bit more. This much more!"

Although I have to give McKibben credit for his 2003 book Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age (which as far as I remember was rather excellent), I also can't help but think that McKibben probably should have called it enough after Enough, what with he being one of the most abhorrent examples of what passes off as an environmentalist, which in this case is someone who uses their stature to give legitimacy to obscenities like fossil-fuel-gorging New York City and thus – amongst much else – the very underpinnings of our environmental and climate change crises. To give just one example, McKibben also stated that

New York and most of the world's other great cities aren't viable if the sea keeps rising: they will be destroyed.

Which, if I'm not mistaken, should probably make one think about what exactly we're trying to preserve here: wilderness? Farmland? The "environment"? Humanity's place in it all? Or could it maybe be "great cities"? Because while I of course don't know about you, and although I'm vastly over-simplifying things here, I'm kind of the impression that rather than "New York and most of the world's other great cities [not being] viable if the sea keeps rising", it might actually be that "the seas will most certainly keep rising so long as we have New Yorks and other great cities". Don't try voicing "cynicisms" as such to McKibben though, what with he being of the reductive opinion that

Smart money has been pouring into renewables; dumb money has stuck with fossil fuel[s].

Bill McKibben and Amy Goodman (of Democracy Now!) at New York City's 2014 People's Climate Parade: "Okay, climate change. But do you also have any thoughts on the collapse of industrial civilisation and what it might imply for how we should approach the dilemma of climate change?"; "I wouldn't touch the topic with a 10-foot wind mill"; "Touché!" (photo courtesy of Eino Sierpe)

Because what we're actually dealing with here is by no means smart money vs. dumb money but rather dumb money vs. even dumber money, an equation of which you'll have to forgive me for not being sure if the common denominator is "dumbness" or "money". I'll leave you to try and figure out that one for yourself though, with perhaps a bit of assistance coming to you via our environmentalist Amigo's I-want-to-sound-even-more-ridiculous-than-the-economist-Amigo statement that

New York is different, and that's why its decision signals the start of a real rout. For one thing, of course, it's the center of world finance… [and] its money managers have a well-deserved reputation for excellence.

I tell you, I'm barely dodging these bullets here.

Anyhow, with it now cleared up for us that what the Three Amigos and all their amigoettes are concerned about isn't so much the general effects that climate change will have on us and the planet as a whole, but rather on how it will effect "great cities" and world finance, what the rest of us might find worthy of our time is to ponder over what New York City is going to try and do when it realizes that there's nobody and nothing that it can sue for the collapse of industrial civilisation. (Except God. Perhaps New York City has in fact built up high enough that it can in fact manage to sue God.)

"Roger that. Coincidentally enough we did in fact just learn how to fly, so if the commander in chief is sure we've got the bigger button then we're ready to unload on the Almighty. Awaiting your order" (photo by Iván Lara)

Because while de Blasio also stated that climate change is "perhaps the toughest challenge New York City will face in the coming decades" (I'm presuming one of the unspoken alternatives on the menu is New York City getting nuked to smithereens, something which even former president Barack Obama regarded as a possibility to be concerned about), one "non-perhaps" is that the collapse of industrial civilisation will make New York City increasingly nonviable, and with its influx of tributes perpetually dwindling it might be a good idea to think about what kind of austerity measures New York City will try and impose on the rest of the world in order to try and preserve its "greatness".

Oh yeah, and about that "greatness".

While de Blasio stated that it's his determination to "build a city that is more resilient in the face of rising waters and more powerful storms", what we find here is not only New York City's "great" synonym for resilience – opportunism – but also the delusional idea that New York City as we know it can ever come even close to what the pre-Madison Avenue word-bastardization of "resilience" actually is. Because to grasp the reality behind what New York City tries to pass off as resilience one need look no further than the idiotically described "bomb cyclone" that recently hit it, a storm that not only utterly crippled JFK International Airport and saw thousands of flights cancelled, but after a water main broke in its fourth terminal also saw the luggage of stranded passengers get deluged in a flood of water.

As tellingly described by Slate,

[I]t’s not surprising that the disruption was severe… [A]n airport like JFK… is a finely tuned and highly sensitive operation… There is no slack; its very efficiency makes it vulnerable to disruptions that are both predictable and, given the way the industry chooses to operate, unpreventable… Under pressure to run smoothly, the system overpromised its ability to do so at every turn, transforming one very snowy day into a chain of failures that would ensnare some travelers for an entire week.

Efficiency and a lack of slack are however the diametrical opposite of what "resilience" actually means. With New York City and its various facets similarly having virtually no resilience to speak of, and with it similarly having no more humility that its prodigal son cum commander in chief, it can only be expected that – supposing it doesn't get nuked first – when supplies of the "lethal product" it giddily "hooked" itself on start to dry up that it'll act little differently than a strung out junkie out to pilfer anything not tightly secured to the ground and/or locked away.

Count yourself warned.

In the meantime, and as Don de Blasio began to close off his Washington Post piece,

We know we're going to face opposition. We know powerful interests and cynical people will push back and hard. But we also know New York City has a special responsibility. We are a beacon to the world. People watch us. We didn't choose this battle, but we accept it willingly. We have to get it right and show what can be done.

I'm not sure if by "powerful interests" de Blasio was referring to the Almighty, but nonetheless, yes, New York City truly is a beacon to the world, a beacon of how much a parasite us humans can be on our fellow man.

Show us how one steals from the rich and gives to the rich New York City!

Yes, there's a second person in that photo (photo by Xu Kin)

The Coming Fall of the House of Saud: Austerity is in, and the Countdown to Saudi Arabia’s Fire Sale is On! [part 2/2]

youtube-Logo-4
gc2
reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

Published on From Filmers to Farmers on December 31st, 2017

Discuss this article at the Geopolitics Table inside the Diner
"Did somebody say they want to make a deal?" The greatest deal maker the world has ever seen, flanked by his wife on his right and the king of Saudi Arabia on his left, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and the princess of the United States playing mental footsie in the rear, and a guy between the latter two pretending to see nothing while he plans his adventurous and extended holiday with Edward Snowden (photo by The White House)

With austerity policies sweeping the globe it was really only a matter of time before they hit the more affluent parts of the Middle East, although one certainly wouldn't expect the oil-rich kingdom of Saudi Arabia to be so hot on the heels of the "lazy" Greeks. The word "austerity" has however earned a bit of a bad rap with some and so rendered itself rather unfashionable in certain circles, resulting in no astute leader being daft enough to explicitly impose "austerity" on his or her populace. Nevertheless, when your nation's time has come it doesn't matter what kind of language you prefer to use, because when push comes to shove you either do as you're told and send increasing portions of your nation's population down the river or – and as Alexis Tsipras nearly found out – your country earns itself an early ticket to the dark ages (edit 01/01/2018: or in the case of Saudi Arabia, its dark ages get exacerbated even further).

So when the goons from The Economist came a knockin' and asked Saudi Arabia's monarchy if it was ready to impose those-that-shall-not-be-named policies upon its kingdom –

This is a Thatcher revolution for Saudi Arabia?

– the monarchy's representative threw on the biggest smile he possibly could and obediently proclaimed (with the word "assets" standing in for "under-employed and over-subsidized subjects", and the word "grow" standing in for "be sold")

Most certainly. We have many great, unutilised assets. And we have also special sectors that can grow very quickly.

That's not me being facetious, what with said Q&A session coming courtesy of a 2016 interview The Economist had with the then-prince and now crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman (affectionately known as MbS). If you've never heard of MbS then you obviously haven't been keeping abreast with the headlines coming out of the supermarket checkout aisles, what with MbS having induced the greatest amount of upheaval Saudi Arabia has ever seen since MbS' grandfather founded the kingdom in 1932, much of which was covered in the New Yorker's aptly-titled article "Saudi Arabia’s Game of Thrones".

I'll leave you to your own devices though if you'd like to peruse through the tabloids for coverage of all the trashy palace intrigue, but suffice to say that following ongoing re-shuffling by MbS' frail 81-year-old father, king Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, MbS went from being a virtually unknown in the kingdom to next in line to the throne (ahead of all the king's brothers and six elder sons). With MbS having been given carte blanche from his father to do pretty much as he pleases, in April of 2016 the 32-year-old "long-awaited young reformer", who has been venerated by "a rising younger generation that feels its time has come", unveiled his ambitious social and economic agenda to remake the kingdom for the modern age via weaning it from its dependence on oil receipts to being based on mining, tourism (religious tourism) and banking activities.

The ostensible reason for all this can be seen as a page taken from George W. Bush's book, what with MbS having stated that "We have an addiction to oil. This is dangerous". Having also presumably missed out on the memo about which way one is supposed to go through the Kübler-Ross five stages of grief, MbS stated, with what was presumably a straight face, that "I think by 2020, if oil stops we can survive", backed up with "We need it, we need it, but I think in 2020 we can live without oil." Likewise,

Within 20 years, we will be an economy or state that doesn’t depend mainly on oil… We don’t care about oil prices – $30 or $70, they are all the same to us. This battle is not my battle.

With domestic energy consumption rising at 6% per year (double its rate of population growth) thanks to increasing affluence, Saudi Arabia would effectively be a net crude importer by 2030, no thanks to oil being used for half its electricity production of which contributes to a quarter of Saudi Arabia's domestic oil use. None of that bodes well for "we can live without oil"

MbS is quite possibly another case of the blind leading the blind, but what's more than just a possibility is that MbS is well versed in the dark arts of CTRL-C and CTRL-V, abilities that he used to lift a series of proposals put together by McKinsey & Company. I'll presume you've never heard of McKinsey & Company before, said outfit being the consulting firm that in December of 2015 put together a report entitled Saudi Arabia Without Oil: The Investment and Productivity Transformation. Coincidentally enough the neoliberal transformations outlined in the report parallel what MbS unveiled half a year later as Vision 2030 (formally recognized by the Saudi cabinet as the National Transformation Program), the fashions of the time dictating that MbS should avoid calling it Austerity for Soon-to-be, and Once-Again, Desert Nomads.

While the ostensible purpose of Vision 2030 Austerity for Soon-to-be, and Once-Again, Desert Nomads is the easier-said-than-done job of balancing Saudi Arabia's budget and transforming it from a petrocratic absolute monarchy to a pluralist, market-based diversified economy, its underlying purpose is to begin the process of cutting off a continually increasing amount of the kingdom's subjects from the teats that spurt blacken milk, teats which are in the process of starting to dry off.

Alongside cutting subsidies, transfer payments, study grants, public sector employment and interest free loans, selling government assets, and reducing if not eliminating low-wage foreign workers, MbS and Company's plan is to also try and convince the average Salam-six-pack that he doesn't want to live the oil-begotten "easy life" but would in fact prefer to be a worker in an insecure market environment. "Congratulations, you're no longer a subject but a citizen now. Freedom at last!"

With 70% of the kingdom consisting of under-30-year-olds who one can presume have recently started watching pirated copies of Dallas, Miami Vice, and Beverly Hills 90210, MbS – who according to one of the advisors appointed by the king is "speaking the language of the youth" – has not only curtailed the power of the police (the religious police, aka The Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prohibition of Vice) but has also established an entertainment authority with a whopping $2.7bn budget. As a senior Saudi royal figure put it, "This is about giving kids a social life. Entertainment needs to be an option for them."

To allow for this, Wahhabism (a puritanical interpretation of Islam) is apparently on its way out thanks to MbS having promised to curtail the powers of the Wahhabi clerics as well as promise to return the country to a more "moderate Islam".

Social restrictions that grate the young are also being loosened, but with their underlying premise being increased financial activity it is hoped that while people have more (top-down) fun that they do so at home rather than by traveling abroad. However, while a considerable portion of the one million Saudis that travelled to Dubai alone in 2017 likely did so because they'd be able to buy a beer in Dubai, this is something they still won't be able to in Saudi Arabia and which will likely result in continued travel abroad.

Suffice to say then that MbS and the entertainment authority still need to do a bit of homework into the notion of "entertainment", because although the kingdom will finally be allowing what were previously deemed "corrupting-to-the-soul" cinemas, comedy shows, pro wrestling, and even monster truck rallies, its first music concert not only restricted attendees from getting shit-faced, but was rather disappointingly only admissible by men.

It's okay. Although there was a massive oversupply the concession stands were only selling goat sausage (photo by Choo Yut Shing)

All those allowances (and cutbacks) do of course come with a slew of challenges though, not the least of which is the fact that Saudi Arabia is a society reared on the notion of government handouts as its right. As just one example, significant portions of the public sector don't actually exist to provide services to the public but rather to buy political loyalty from large swaths of the populace with salaries for what is often little more than notional work. The monarchy's attempt to push more people (including women!) into the private sector have been mostly in vain, what with very few of those already employed by the state having any compulsion to give up their free ride for doing actual work – for less pay – in the private sector, while most of everybody else tries to avoid the private sector if at all possible. Meanwhile, the monarchy is hesitant to proactively "trim the fat" lest it alienate those it had bought off, and although privatization could be an answer to this money-losing problem, who wants to buy an organization that pays loads of people to do essentially nothing?

Likewise, with 86% of Saudi Arabians wanting their water and electricity subsidies to remain intact the monarchy has had to tread carefully since it's certainly aware that hiking fuel prices anywhere in the world has always been a sure-fire way to incite civil unrest (which in this case would induce one of those so-called "Arab-Spring" things). And since Saudi Arabians don't pay taxes, the monarchy played it safe by introducing the income tax only upon foreigners, although Saudi subjects-cum-citizens will now be paying basic "sin taxes" upon such things as tobacco and sugary drinks. Although the head of Saudi Arabia's central bank talked the tough game and said that energy subsidies may be disappearing in toto (energy subsidies did, after all, account for a quarter of all government spending in 2011), when it came to petrol the monarchy bashfully increased its price by 40%, that still leaving gasoline at the below-cost price of $0.21 / litre ($0.79 / gallon), the monarchy therefore continuing to endure deficits in order to avoid its "Arab Spring" overthrow.

Alongside the limitations the Saudi monarchy has in regards to reigning in its populace, the monarchy has had equally dismal results in trying to cut back on its usage of low-wage foreign workers – who make up an absurd 9 million out of the 31 million that call Saudi Arabia home – thanks to the fact that Saudi Arabians themselves have little to no interest to work low-end jobs. That's not just innuendo, the passage from John Perkins' jaw dropping book The New Confessions of an Economic Hitman being just as relevant today as it was more than 40 years ago:

In 1974, a diplomat from Saudi Arabia showed me photos of Riyadh, the capital of his country. Included in these photos was a herd of goats rummaging around piles of refuse outside a government building. When I asked the diplomat about them, his response shocked me: He told me they were the city's main garbage disposal system.

"No self-respecting Saudi would ever collect trash," he said. "We leave it to the beasts."

So thanks to being unable to galvanize many of its subjects to work low-end jobs, lacking the trained populace to work the high-end jobs, and presumably unable to persuade its freeloading population of goats to chauffeur women around in wingless vehicles, the monarchy had little choice but to not only roll back several of its Austerity for Soon-to-be, and Once-Again, Desert Nomads platitudes in early-2017, but to throw Saudi Arabians and their "entrenched poor work ethic" (I wonder where they got that from?) another set of bones. These compensations included announcing in September 2017 that women would be permitted to drive themselves come June 2018 (so as to rid the kingdom of the 1.4 million money-draining foreign chauffeurs), and then a month later announcing the kingdom's plans for the (pie in the sky) $500bn futuristic city NEOM in which high-end workers would be compelled to flock to Saudi Arabia from overseas while the low-end jobs would be performed by robots.

Hello progress!

"Who's the king of this desert now, huh? Who's the king of this desert now! Ba-a-a-a-a-a-a!"

But with said facets of Austerity for Soon-to-be, and Once-Again, Desert Nomads already floundering, and oil still priced below Saudi Arabia's 2017 break-even point of roughly $74, where in the world is the monarchy supposed to find $500bn for a city that it hopes to not only pay for itself but to also cover its already-evident shortcomings? The answer to that, in short, is that the monarchy is planning to undertake what will ultimately be the greatest equity sale fire sale the world will ever see.

With the intentions of raising its Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) to $2tn from the $160bn it currently sits at, what the monarchy has in mind is to create the largest wealth fund in the world, a sizable nest-egg for its end-of-oil days. While this includes the usual humdrum privatizations of state assets like health care, education, and even parts of the military, it also means the erstwhile unfathomable notion of selling the goose that lays the blacken eggs itself, Saudi Aramco.

Heralded as the most valuable company in the world (according to Bloomberg more valuable that even Apple, Google's parent Alphabet, Microsoft, and Berkshire Hathaway combined), Saudi Aramco is not only inherently the world's largest oil company but by being wholly state-owned allows the monarchy to control the entirety of the country's oil development (and thus windfalls). Estimated by analysts to be valued somewhere between $1tn and $10tn ($2tn is the figure estimated by the monarchy itself), since Aramco and the kingdom's oil reserves are Saudi Arabia's lever for geopolitical and strategic power the monarchy of course isn't about to float and sell off the entirety of Aramco but rather offer up a 5% stake in the hopes of raising $100bn.

Your guess is as good as mine as to why they're doing this – be it to raise some needed cash, the first steps taken before much larger chunks of Aramco are sold off and the monarchy attempts to fleece the populace by making a run for it with the loot, or to simply add some transparency to the kingdom's operations so as to settle the nerves of those hesitant to invest in Saudi Arabia's incipient market economy (listing on the London or New York exchanges would require divulging data about its closely guarded reserve levels, less so if it listed on its own exchange in Riyadh, the Tadawul, and even less so if it just skipped the IPO altogether and took up China's offer to buy up the entire 5%). Regardless of where the truth lies, somebody with a keen sense of smell has noticed a potential deal:

The sought after $100bn from Aramco's partial sale are of course dependent on a $2tn valuation, that in itself being dependent on the price of oil. To guarantee it's able to garner as much from its IPO as possible – initially slated for 2018 but delayed for now until at least 2019, perhaps so that oil has a chance to appreciate in price a bit – the Saudi Arabian monarchy has not only undertaken such activities as joining the rest of OPEC (and Russia) to cut production levels by 1.8 million barrels through to the end of 2018 in hopes of raising oil's price, but it has also cut the amount of income tax Aramco pays from 85% to 50% in hopes of sweetening the deal for private investors.

"My kingdom for you throwing your son-in-law under the bus"; "Deal!" (photo by The White House)

On top of things like NEOM being a soon-to-be major letdown, the totality of this recent Saudi Arabian escapade can not only be taken as too little too late, but one in which MbS is simply the personification of the age-old pre-revolutionary scenario in which an expiring regime attempts to reform right before it all comes crashing down. The degree of desperation can be seen via November's absurdities in which MbS proceeded to cement his position as the most powerful prince Saudi Arabia has ever had.

Billed as a corruption purge, guests as Riyadh's Ritz-Carlton were given the boot just before midnight on November 4th in order to make way for the rather opulent detainment of 11 princes and about 200 businessmen. Some of the detainees at the Ritz-Carlton shakedown were indeed allowed to leave, but only after agreeing to sign over assets procured via what have been suddenly deemed corrupt practices. Others, however, still remain incarcerated, most notably prince Alaweed bin Talal, stakeholder in Twitter, Citigroup Inc., and more

It may very well be that the anti-corruption campaign was undertaken in order to rectify ill-begotten gains and so establish faith in Saudi Arabia's transition from a corrupt petrocratic absolute monarchy to a (corrupt oligarchic) market economy, implying that business dealings would no longer require payoffs ("the Dubai model [being] the template here", as put by a senior Saudi official). That being said, there's also the possibility that Saudi Arabia's coffers were deemed to be running a bit too dry and so in need of a top-up, while it is of course also possible that this was a coup of sorts undertaken by MbS in order to further consolidate his power and make sure that no possibility existed for an armada of armed guards to perform a coup of their own.

The latter-most is perhaps the most plausible case of all, what with MbS now in control of the four pillars of state power – the economy, the military and security, the religious establishment, and the media. Furthermore, there is in fact one other notable person besides prince Alaweed that has yet to relinquish any of his riches, that of course being MbS himself, owner of a €500m yacht and a $300m French chateau, the latter said to be the most (monetarily) valuable home house in the world.

United States secretary of state Rex Tillerson (former CEO of ExxonMobil), Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, and what is quite possibly a ghost whispering sweet nothings in T-Rex's ear in hopes that he and his posse be gentle when it comes time for the future king to assume the position (photo by The White House)

To add to all the fractious shenanigans in the upper echelons of Saudi society there's also the ongoing incursions from not only the exteriors (earlier this month Yemeni rebels launched a second ballistic missile towards Riyadh, this time aimed at a palace of king Salman) but also problems of dissent from the interior courtesy of its very own people. In the attempt to deal with the results of cutting off Saudi Arabians from their "addiction to oil" (MbS' words, not mine), it not only turns out that Saudi Arabia is one of the world's largest purchasers of Western weapons, but that after introducing the first stages of its austerity policies it also decided to allocate the largest part of next year's budget to what Bloomberg calls "defence and security". That rather unsurprisingly included a 10-year, $350bn deal in mid-2017 with its long-time Petrodollar partner, which was a follow up to purchases of Canadian-made military equipment, a country of which it can claim to be one of its largest customers.

Calls have been made for good-cop prime minister Justin Trudeau to nix the $142m Saudi Arabian arms deal due to reports that the monarchy has been using said equipment against its own people (military equipment is the coercive "stick" that internal security uses to placate those not fortunate enough to have received oil-fuelled payoffs from the monarchy), although Trudeau has stated that he will refrain from backing out of the deal that bad-cop (former prime minister) Stephen Harper signed with the Saudis:

People have to know that when you sign a deal with Canada, a change in governments won’t immediately scrap the jobs and benefits coming from it.

Nonetheless, it was stated by Canada's ministry of global affairs that

If it is found that Canadian exports have been used to commit serious violations of human rights, the minister will take action.

No word on what that action would be, so I'll just go ahead and presume it means that any of the planned and already built 100 Saudi Arabian Tim Hortons locations would be cancelled and shut down, forcing Saudi Arabians to find their caffeine fix elsewhere.

"First the pyromaniac Filipinos, then we deal with the uncooperative Canadians for taking away our Double Doubles™" (photo by Omar Chatriwala)

Anyhow, with the fattening of the SWF still a while's away, its corollary – the Public Investment Fund (PIF) – has already become active via the purchase of strategic financial and industrial assets abroad, including such acquisitions as a 38% stake in a South Korean construction company as well as a $10bn investment in a Russian investment fund.

In the meantime, and although he had to turn a blind eye to Saudi Arabia's slave-like migrant labour conditions, Richard Branson has become the first international investor to invest in a PIF-funded construction project. That project would be the one to develop 50 islands over a 34,000 sq/km portion of the Red Sea, the monarchy reciprocating with plans of its own to invest $1bn in Branson's Virgin Galactic. (Count that as two winners!)

But with the ultimate purpose of Vision 2030, the SWF, and the PIF being to completely wean the kingdom off of oil proceeds and have it instead rely on little more than foreign financial and industrial assets, I'm a bit stupefied as to how in the world those foreign and financial assets are supposed to operate without their foreign inputs, most notably the rather crucial "input" otherwise known as Saudi Arabian oil.

With this whole escapade therefore being little more than complete nonsense piled on top of complete nonsense, some of it has nonetheless seemed to have gotten even the more astute of us confused. For as Kurt Cobb stated on his blog Resource Insights following the mid-2016 Vision 2030 announcement,

The world's largest exporter of crude oil, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, recently announced a plan for its post-oil future. If a country almost synonymous with the oil economy can see the need for such a plan, how can the rest of the world, particularly the United States, the world's largest consumer of petroleum, not see the necessity of such foresight?

Really? Vision 2030 Austerity for Soon-to-be, and Once-Again, Desert Nomads counts as foresight as opposed to the plans of a faction within the kleptocratic monarchy to triage its subjects into oblivion as well as throw its fellow tribesmen under the bus?

The Saudi move toward a post-oil economy ought to be one of the strongest messages ever that the world is moving closer to a peak and decline in world oil production. The kingdom's actions are telling us that the world's largest crude oil exporter feels it must start today to plan and implement a post-oil economy.

Having put it that way, and if the whole shebang can be taken as a rule, what "the kingdom's actions are telling us" is that the big-wigs planning for a post-oil economy have nobody's interest in mind other than their own, and that the rest of us should seriously distrust any large-scale attempt to implement one.

Furthermore, what Vision 2030's greatest accomplishment will ultimately be is the creation of a grandiose scapegoat – in the form of MbS – to pin Saudi Arabia's collapse on. As The Economist put it in preparation of scapegoating MbS and exonerating itself, "If his ambitious plans falter, Saudis will know whom to blame."

(photo by The Saudi Press Agency)

The faltering of Vision 2030 will by no means be MbS' failt though. As I put it in my review of Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed's book Failing States, Collapsing Systems: Biophysical Triggers of Political Violence,

While Saudi Arabia went on a crash course several decades ago to increase its wheat production in order that food couldn't be used as a weapon against it in the same way that it withheld oil from the West (for a while Saudi Arabia, a desert country, was actually one of the world's largest exporters of wheat), its depleting aquifers have been recently putting an end to production that was also using up 18 percent of its oil revenue. While the state-sponsored Saudi Arabian wheat production is now kaput, Ahmed points out that 80% of Saudi Arabia's food is purchased through subsidies. Along with that, he states that 70% of Saudi Arabia's domestic water supplies are procured through desalination, an extremely energy-intensive process that estimates state burns through about half of its domestic oil consumption.

In other words, Saudi Arabia doesn't need any help from MbS or Vision 2030 in order to precipitate its collapse.

With a third of Saudi Arabia's youth already unemployed, hundreds of thousands of young Saudis entering the job market every year, and so things bound to get a whole lot worse, the House of Saud's days are numbered. And while the Saudi kingdom will undoubtedly fracture into an array of fragments, The Economist will nonetheless live to tell another obfuscation.

To somewhat remedy the present and future obfuscations I'll start off by extending the passage from the previously quoted senior Saudi royal figure:

This is about giving kids a social life. Entertainment needs to be an option for them. They are bored and resentful. A woman needs to be able to drive herself to work. Without that we are all doomed. Everyone knows that – except the people in small towns. But they will learn.

"The people in small towns"?

Well, I've never been to a small Saudi Arabian town, but it doesn't surprise me that some of them may be so "backwards" that they've yet to learn that the only worthwhile "entertainment options" are the top-down entertainments that one ultimately has to pay for. Moreover, I can't help but wonder whether or not they're so "backwards" that while having yet to latch on to the promises of what you might call the modern Dubai model that they've been stubborn enough to hold out for what you might call the classic Dubai model.

For as stated many years ago by the United Arab Emirates' first prime minister, Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum:

My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I drive a Mercedes, my son drives a Land Rover, his son will drive a Land Rover, but his son will ride a camel.

All the best to those small-town Saudi Arabians (or whatever they'll be called once the House of Saud falls). And to the NEOM-esque Saudi Arabians attracted to the bright lights of the big cities, a few words of advice. With all apologies to John Michael Greer –

Get your camel now, avoid the rush!


No, Not NEOM Nor Even Women Can Save Saudi Arabia and its Monarchy from Peak Oil and Collapse [part 1/2]

youtube-Logo-4
gc2
reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

Published on From Filmers to Farmers on December 8th, 2017

Discuss this article at the Energy Table inside the Diner

You know things have taken a turn for the desperate when women have started to drive. Or rather, when they're about to start driving in Saudi Arabia.

Although repeated efforts over the years to allow Saudi Arabian Miss Daisies to drive themselves haven't managed to budge things in the slightest, it's nonetheless a bit ironic that the sole country in the world that doesn't allow women to drive automobiles is also the country sitting on the greatest amount of (easily accessible) reserves of the stuff that makes those vehicles go vroom. Strangely enough though it's not as if women are completely repressed in the kingdom built upon sand, what with women allowed to become lawyers, doctors, engineers… and jet airplane pilots. That all being so, it's hard to imagine any other reason for why women shouldn't be allowed to drive wingless vehicles (in a time and place where they're nearly impossible to function without) than to provide a leash upon women's necks for the all-male monarchy, clerics and their acolytes.

Surprisingly enough though the "inconvenient" restriction from Happy Motoring beset upon women is soon to be lifted, what with a royal decree read live on TV in September stating that come June 2018 Saudi Arabia will be ushered into the 20th century via women's permission to join men and cows in the quest to equally belch our way towards an overheated climate. Fantastic this surely is for our soon-to-be Saudi Arabian sisters in bovinity, but is this fine example of equality inherently an occasion for celebration?

Yeah, maybe not.

"Strong enough for a man but made for a woman" (photo courtesy of The Internet)

While the expected crowd of cornucopian-minded activists – that fail to realize that the world doesn't revolve around the West but rather around energy – have denounced the decree as "cosmetic reforms" and "little more than a public relations stunt designed to cement this notion of the Saudi regime as the liberator of women", nothing could actually be further from the truth. Because in reality there's one reason and one reason only why the Saudi Arabian monarchy has decided to "mend its ways", that being nothing more than the fact that it's expensive to not let women drive.

Since women who are restricted from driving automobiles can't just wait around on their husbands/fathers/brothers/sons to drive them to and from work or to do a simple errand, the citizens subjects of Saudi Arabia are forced to employ nearly a million and a half foreign workers (60% of the kingdom's domestic workforce) to work as chauffers in order to drive around Miss Saudi Arabian Daisy.

With those million and a half or so chauffers requiring individual families to fork over $500 of their own money per month as well as food and accommodation, the cumulative $10bn or so in remittances (most of which are sent to the Philippines, where most chauffers hail from) are a huge drain on not only Saudi Arabian families but the Saudi Arabian economy as well.

Until recently this detriment to Saudi Arabia's coffers hadn't been much of a problem for the rulers of the oil-rich kingdom themselves, but thanks to the 2015 crash in oil prices black gold hasn't been bringing in anywhere near the amount of foreign currency as it used to, leaving Saudi Arabia in the mind-boggingly absurd position of tumbling towards bankruptcy (which according to a 2015 estimate by the International Monetary Fund would occur by 2020 if the situation didn't change).

With the price of oil having crashed from $114 in 2014 to a paltry $28 in 2016, the difference in price not only contributed to a loss of $390bn in anticipated profits for Saudi Arabia in 2015, but thanks to a 13% reduction in its GDP – and even though it burned through $115bn in foreign assets in order to minimize the damage – it still ended up with a deficit of $136bn in 2015 and then another deficit of $107bn in 2016. Even the "magic" of economists couldn't do much with the latter figure, only able to whitewash it down to a loss of $79bn when delayed payments and IOUs to contractors were excluded. Those exclusions would include such things as the 50,000 workers that the Binladin Construction Group terminated without having received their back-pay, and who upon having exit visas foisted upon them (necessary to leave the country thanks to the slave-like kafala system) decided to stick around and torch a fleet of company buses instead.

Just another day in paradise (photo of non-Binladin bus courtesy of Ulises Vizcardo)

With oil windfalls accounting for 90% of the treasury's revenue (it pumps one in nine barrels consumed worldwide everyday), Saudi Arabia's foreign assets not only proceeded to haemorrhage hundreds of billions of dollars from a high of $737bn in 2014 (for a while $6.5bn were being lost each month), but the kingdom's fragility was then made strikingly evident by the fact that for the first time since 1991 it was astoundingly forced to turn to the world of private finance in order to raise a 5-year $10bn loan from a consortium of global banks in order to finance its deficit.

How is it possible, you might ask, that a country with not just a bounteous supply of crude but a bounteous supply of sweet crude – that costs only $10 per barrel to extract – can be on the verge of insolvency? That would be partly due to the fact that Saudi Arabia isn't so much a country as much as it's a kingdom, a kingdom which in turn doesn't so much have a government as much as it has an absolute monarchy (or rather a theocratic dictatorship) which has to contend with the high upkeep costs of the society it's built.

Founded by king Abdulaziz Al Saud in 1932 (which is where the name Saudi Arabia is derived from), the discovery of oil some 80 years ago has allowed for a procession of kings (all sons of Al Saud) to take on the role of what is essentially CEO of the family business, a family business that happens to be an absolute monarchy, or better yet a petrocratic dictatorship. With countless scions of the royal clan expecting/requiring massive handouts (one of them is rumoured to have purchased the only privately held Leonardo da Vinci last month for $450.3mn), a population that pays no income tax, gasoline priced at a little higher than zero dollars per litre (which it has to import since it's a net gasoline importer), and so forth, prior to the recent crash of oil's price Saudi Arabia required a per barrel price of about $94.80 to break even due to its need to convert oil proceeds into payoffs to buy political loyalty, the quiescence of conservative clerics and the merchant class, as well as the subservience of its subjects.

To put it a bit crudely (no pun intended), what the aforementioned implies is that Saudi Arabia and its monarchy are screwed. Because if Ron Patterson's recent conveyance over at Peak Oil Barrel that "Saudi production peaked in 2016 at 10,338 kbpd and their average production for 2017 is down 443 kbpd so far" is an indication that Saudi Arabia has already reached its all-time peak, then that means that Saudi Arabia's prospects aren't about to get better anytime soon. Or rather, ever.

(image courtesy of Ron Patterson / Peak Oil Barrel)

Don't try and tell that to the Saudi Arabian monarchy though, what with it apparently not being too concerned with its peaking supplies of oil so much as it's leaning towards the much more palatable notion of "peak oil demand", a wishy-washy theory that has been recently espoused by the smartest men in the room over at The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Financial Times, and Bloomberg. Without delving into the notion of peak oil demand (I'll save that for another time), what the Saudi Arabian monarchy is effectively worried about isn't so much its supplies of oil peaking (and then decreasing), but rather the fabled renewable energy utopia where everybody's car is essentially powered by a strap-on of which causes demand for Saudi Arabia's oil to drop to nil.

Put a bit differently, the Saudi Arabian monarchy is worried that technology is going to make its crude energy supplies obsolete. And if you think I'm exaggerating, think again.

Courtesy of a glitzy conference held in Riyadh in late-October, it was announced by the kingdom's Crown Prince that plans were afoot to create a $500bn megacity called NEOM that – you guessed it – will be entirely powered by wind and solar energy and so will provide a "new blueprint for sustainable life". Eschewing the need for pyromaniac Filipinos and the like, NEOM will not only boast more robots than people (in a coinciding event a "female" android named Sophia was the first android in the world to be granted citizenship – in the country that has been unable to grant basic rights to women no less), but according to the Crown Prince "Everything will have a link with artificial intelligence, with the Internet of Things – everything."

Spanning an area encompassing 26,500 km and crossing into Egypt and Jordan, NEOM is "the future of Saudi Arabia", one in which will be found "digital air" for all (free Wi-Fi), driverless vehicles, a population fed by solar-panel-powered vertical farms growing hydroponic food, and so on and so forth.

With NEOM being independent of the kingdom's "existing governmental framework", and featuring cutting-edge technological innovation, environmental sustainability, and gender equality (a promotional video apparently showed women jogging while wearing croptops, although as I don't watch video I can't confirm whether or not cleavage was allowed as well), NEOM promises to be almost completely at odds with the values and image currently portrayed by the ultraconservative kingdom. As the Crown Prince elucidated himself,

We can do 98 percent of the standards applied in similar cities, but there is 2 percent we can't do, like, for example, alcohol. A foreigner, if they desire alcohol, can either go to Egypt or Jordan.

So although foreigners will have to venture elsewhere if they desire alcohol (and possibly cleavage), "Neom's duty is to be a world hub for everyone in the whole world" as the Crown Prince also explained.


Whether or not you think this phantasmagorical Jetsons-on-steroids-Bitcoin vision is even possible, there's still the issue of how the Saudi Arabian monarchy expects to be able to pay for it all, what with its forecasted 2017 break-even point of $74 dollars per barrel meaning it's still about $20 off the mark and so still going broke. Although I'll touch on this a lot more in part 2, this is, in part, where the Saudi Arabian monarchy expects its Wonder Women in shining armour to come to its rescue.

On top of the aforementioned $10bn hit that Saudi Arabian families must collectively take in order to employ foreign chauffers, there's also the fact that many women (who make up the majority of the kingdom's university graduates) find that after deducting the chauffer fees from their salaries there's pretty much no monetary point in working. And since the Saudi Arabian monarchy needs to quash those $10bn in remittances, and since it especially needs an increase in women's participation in the workforce so that it can boost its GDP (Norwegian housewives that moved into the workforce nearly doubled the tax base and are said to have contributed "more to Norwegian prosperity than the coincidental discovery of North Atlantic oil reserves"), the monarchy obviously felt it had no choice but to modernise itself by aiming to increase women's participation in the workforce from 22% to 30% by 2030, in part by giving them access to the aforementioned strap-ons.


But as much of a genuine improvement it would be for Saudi Arabian women to no longer have to be slaves to their men and so have the opportunity to join their men as wage slaves instead, they'll nonetheless still be slaves to their men. Because while come June 2018 women will not only be able to drive in Saudi Arabia but won't even need permission from a man to get behind the wheel or procure themselves a driver's license, this is by no means the most pressing demand of Saudi Arabian women and activists in general.

Because the fact of the matter is that Saudi Arabian women still live under what is known as the guardianship system, a system in which women aren't allowed to marry, work, study, open a bank account, travel abroad, nor even get certain kinds of medical treatment without the explicit permission of their guardian, this guardian of course being a male, a male who might be their husband, father, brother – even their son. That being so, newly-minted female drivers might want to take extra precautions and stick to the slow lanes, considering that upon arrival at car accidents some ambulance personnel have been known to refuse life-saving treatment to women until the woman's guardian had arrived and provided approval, nearly leading to death.

Although dissent towards the lifting of the driving prohibition was mostly muted due to the tight leash the monarchy has on the media and prominent voices, it wasn't too long ago that support for the prohibition was rather de rigueur

Nonetheless, with ten million women over twenty years-of-age (read: potential drivers and thus GDP-contributors), the monarchy seems to figure it can make even more converts via more decrees, the latest one unveiled in late-October and which is to provide women with equal access to bread and circuses (women are slowly being given permission to enter sports stadiums).

However. It wasn't a week after this latest decree that another first was achieved in the kingdom, this one being the first time in Saudi Arabia's history that the heart of Riyadh was attacked, courtesy of a group of Yemeni rebels who launched a ballistic missile towards the capital's airport.

Fortunately enough the missile was intercepted over north-east Riyadh thanks to the Patriot missile defence system that came courtesy of the decade-old deal between Saudi Arabia and the United States, the President of the United States not being able to contain his effusive glee by pointing out that

We make the best military equipment in the world… You saw the missile that went out? And our system knocked the missile out of the air. That's how good we are. Nobody makes what we make…

Perhaps. Because as a senior Yemeni air force official told CNN,

This is not the end. Saudi cities will be a continuous target. We are entering a new phase.

With this in mind, and to give the monarchy a bit of credit, could it be possible that the monarchy realizes that maybe, just maybe, those missile defence systems aren't going to be able to hold out forever, and that perhaps it might be a good idea to hedge its bets by, I don't know, testing the waters to see if it can cash out while it still can? Could it be that some factions within the monarchy have seen the writing on the wall and so have decided to make a deal?

I'll touch on that a bit more in this post's follow-up. In the meantime, and since there isn't a thing besides peeing while standing up that a man can do and that a woman shouldn't be allowed to do, let's all rejoice in the new-found privileges soon to be bestowed upon Saudi Arabian women and so stand back – way back – in awe as the next volleys of fireworks begin their ascent across the skies of Riyadh.

President Donald Trump and King Salman bin Abdulaziz, quite possibly paying their final respects to the Age of Oil and the Age of Saudi Arabia (photo by The White House)

Introducing From Filmers to Farmers on Ghost – Just a Collapse Blog on Just a Blogging Platform

youtube-Logo-4
gc2
reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

Published on From Filmers to Farmers on October 31st, 2017

Discuss this article at the Science & Technology Table inside the Diner

Greetings!

The 31st is finally here, so to all you Americans and Canadians out there, Happy Halloween!

And to all you Aussies and Kiwis who have only just started celebrating this joyous occasion imported from North America – will you please hold on to whatever vestige of culture you have (left) and quit it with this American/Canadian bastardization of yet another cultural marker, what in this case is actually the Celtic equivalent of New Year's Eve?

If I can try and satisfy the curious, it turns out that if we take a look at history rather than TV commercials it turns out that Halloween can be traced back to the Celtic festival of Samhain (meaning summer's end), a bisecting festival in which the completion of the harvest on one end and the approaching cold dark winter on the other was seen as a boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead. In response to that it was common practice for costumes of ghosts and such to be donned in order to disguise oneself as a harmful spirit, the idea being to ward off any harm from ghosts of the dead that might walk amongst the living.

Somewhat similar to this, with several other imported "celebrations" having quickly picked up speed down here in Australia and New Zealand over just the past couple of years – most noticeable of all Black Friday (do Aussies and Kiwis really want to have their own Black Friday Death Count websites tallying the amount of people that have been literally stampeded to death?) – I almost wouldn't be surprised if come July 4th and 1st of 2018 that I started seeing American and Canadian flags getting waved around in celebration (!). Now would I be surprised if come Halloween a few months later I didn't quite start seeing people donning ghost and goblin costumes but rather dressing the part as Uncle Sam and big beavers (we all know of the "spooky" reputation that Uncle Sam can have around the world, although being born and brought up in Canada I can tell you that some of those beavers are known to get downright vicious as well).

The things some beavers can to do pieces of wood is awe inspiring (photo by Theo Crazzolara)

Anyway, to keep up with the Celtic festivities of summer's end (even though summer is actually only just starting down here in Australia), From Filmers to Farmers (FF2F) is in fact going to don the garb of a ghost in order to ward off the evil spirits of the Medium blogging platform, what in this case is actually the garb of the Ghost blogging platform. I kid you not, because from here on in FF2F will in fact no longer be running on The World's Worst Blogging Platform™ but rather on a platform that derives its name from the idea that it be so unnoticeable that by getting out of the way it in turn allows writers to do the one thing they came to do – write. (That being said, I don't actually write on computers myself but instead write by hand, and following the type-up of a first draft I then make a printout and edit on top of that by hand, rinse and repeat several times over. But hey, it's the thought that counts, right?)

Because that is in fact all that Ghost is – it's "Just a blogging platform", which is literally a tagline it prides itself on. More precisely, it's not a platform out to be an ecommerce store or a social network or an RSS reader or whatever, its sole purpose being to do nothing but straight up blogging, this focus being precisely what allows it to be what is arguably the best blogging platform out there.

If you read my previous post covering the blogging "scene" then you would have read that quote by WordPress' former (2009 – 2011) Deputy Head of the User Interface Group, John O'Nolan. As he also stated in that same blog post (written in 2015),

Three years ago we sat down and tried to imagine what WordPress might look like if it was rebuilt from the ground up using modern technology – purely focused on publishing.

Because after a somewhat unassuming blog post in which O'Nolan fleshed out some ideas ended up going viral across certain swaths of the Internet, O'Nolan took that as a cue and continued with a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 that sought £25,000 in funding to construct the new blogging platform he had envisioned, only to then see the campaign reach nearly 800% of its goal with a whopping £196,362 in contributions.

Although the Kickstarter campaign still fell short of Medium's $174M in venture capital funding by about $173.7M, Ghost has nonetheless benefitted from what is a top-notch crack team that with less than a handful of people was not only able to get some semblance of a platform built so as to produce an income before its scant seed money ran out, but which with what eventually became not even two handfuls of people has continued to build out some astounding software which earlier this year reached its 1.0 milestone. The eight people that Ghost currently employs includes the founder and CEO O'Nolan himself, the co-founder and CTO Hannah Wolfe, three full-time developers (just three!), two people running ghost.org/Ghost(Pro) , and one on support – fortunately half of whom are still male I might add (watch out, those female tech workers are once again taking over!).

The eighth isn't present as she was apparently bursting at the seams at the time

That's not to say though that the Ghost team has built the entire platform themselves, what with there literally being hundreds of people who have voluntarily contributed their coding skills to construct the system. Why would anybody in their right mind volunteer their time to build a blogging platform other than to move up in the Silicon Valley world by perhaps being an unpaid intern for the likes of a Medium? If I had to guess I'd say it's probably got something to do with the fact that Ghost is an open source project built with a top-notch technology stack and which is administered by an interesting non-profit setup.

For starters, the platform can be freely downloaded and/or installed on a system of one's choosing, preferably done via its CLI (not too much skill is needed for the latter). Otherwise, if one would rather avoid the hassle of maintaining updates and such themselves they can always pay to have their blog(s) hosted on Ghost(Pro), the part of the Ghost Foundation setup that allows it to produce an income of which in turn is funnelled back into funding further development of the platform.

"We call this Sustainable Open Source"

As O'Nolan described it in a podcast,

Ghost is a non-profit. We'll make money from our premium hosted service, but we'll use 100% of the money to make Ghost better and pay people to work on it. We won't distribute any profits to shareholders, because there won't be any shareholders. A non-profit has trustees who don't own shares, they just oversee the company. We literally won't have anything for Yahoo! to buy.

What's not to like about that?

I imagine though that even if you're experienced with blogging that chances are you've never heard of Ghost before, something that would be partially due to the fact that the Ghost Foundation doesn't actually advertise and instead relies solely on such things as word of mouth (which includes having its users write blog posts about it out of their own volition).

While I fortuitously came across mention of Ghost back in 2014 due to a button on my then-cPanel interface (I say fortuitous since I've never come across any random mentions of Ghost in the three years since), and while I've also noticed the Ghost platform being used for blogging by such outfits as Elon Musk's Open AI Project, NASA, Bitcoin, and many others (yes, I know, that didn't just score me any points in the collapse blogosphere), the fact of the matter is that most of the Ghost blogs I've seen out there are run by coders or those in related tech fields. By no means though is that to say that Ghost requires a tech-oriented person to use it (on the contrary its user interface is so well designed that there's virtually no learning curve and one can just glide into writing), but perhaps goes to show that the grapevine has yet to extend too far beyond tech-related websites which know a well-built and well-designed platform when they see one.

Because one of Ghost's biggest selling points is its simplicity to use. By concentrating on being nothing but a blogging platform, the core elements one needs for blogging are built directly into the system (such as SEO, social media integration, email subscription functionality, RSS feeds, and more), negating the need for one to fiddle around with a bunch of extraneous plugins that can not only make the system vulnerable in a myriad of ways but can also make it a pain in the arse to use and manage. That's not to say though that Ghost is "blogging for dummies", since the Ghost team have in fact been creating a strong base for a very powerful blogging system, one that is increasingly being catered for a rather "upscale" set of users.

Because while an install of Ghost can be used by virtually anybody, it is however no longer catering itself to being used by the casual blogger but rather by professional journalists, which in light of this means that its Ghost(Pro) service can admittedly be a bit dear for some. While I myself don't use Ghost(Pro) that's not necessarily due to financial considerations but rather because of the added flexibility and freedom I can get by hosting the platform myself. (That and perhaps I'm a nice enough guy to not want to tarnish Ghost's good name by forcing them to host on their servers a blog on the collapse of industrial civilisation next to Elon Musk's Open AI blog.)

That's not to say though that I'm not appreciative of the hard work partaken by the Ghost team and am trying to weasel my way out of financially contributing to the platform's development, because as far as I see it if the capability for taking donations were built into the system in parallel to the subscription functionality currently being worked on then perhaps I (and others who also self-host) could by way of a donation button on their blog forward a portion of those funds to the Ghost Foundation.

I did in fact make an extremely meagre donation about a year ago, although to be honest I can't actually say that it even made it into the realm of the placeholder second to the right

Because no, although the possibility of setting up this blog with a subscription system (read: a paywall) will soon be possible thanks to an upcoming update to Ghost, there's absolutely no chance that that's ever going to happen as I'd sooner shut down this blog in its entirety than lock people out of what is just one of the few blogs out there talking about the rarely touched-upon topic of the collapse of industrial civilisation.

And while I certainly don't want to lock out those who may not have the disposable income for such things, I also don't want to shirk another group of people by avoiding to give credit where credit is due. Because although I had the full intention of once again building this blog from "scratch" (atop of Ghost, of course), when I actually started looking into building a theme a few months ago I quickly realized that there was absolutely no chance that I was going to be technically capable of doing so anytime soon, if ever. That being so, I fortuitously ended up discovering the meticulously designed and constructed (and supported!) Eston theme (which O'Nolan happens to have formerly used on his blog before he moved over to Ghost's stock Casper theme a few months ago), fortunate enough since there wasn't a single other theme out there that I could see as amenable to what I'd want to do with FF2F on Ghost, Eston providing not only an excellent coding base and an excellent layout but also a very versatile design that leaves much possibility for constructing around its core in order to highly customise the theme to one's liking.

Because yes, if you take a look at Eston's live preview and/or have seen FF2F in its hand-coded version (Internet Archive capture here) then you know that a fair amount of the design elements you currently see have been incorporated from FF2F's previous iteration and that significant additions have been made to the Eston theme.

But although I'd similarly put myself under the impression that with an excellent theme in hand that I'd then be easily able to adapt it to what you see before you, I once again couldn't possibly have been any more wrong. Because while the Ghost team and its legion of volunteers are responsible for the blogging platform and Mike Buttery is responsible for the Eston theme, it's Vikas Potluri via the non-profit organisation HexR that is responsible for such a wide range of what's behind FF2F's new iteration that it'd require an entire blog post to elaborate on it all, a contribution that has allowed this blog to be incomparably superior to the extremely drab and "shit-box"-esque version that I would have rather horrendously managed to cobble together.

Because while I certainly did what I'd say is a decent job of doing the grunt work of coding 99% of the HTML and CSS as well as pasting in a bit of other coding, 99.9% of the JavaScript (and Handlebars and JSON and what have you) was skilfully coded and assembled by Potluri, who is very much responsible for what I think is a not-too-shabby looking and functioning blog and who deserves a massive amount of thanks.

Thanks!

(That being said, I do have the reigns over FF2F's private theme repository on GitHub as well as have ownership and thus control over its hosting, so any mishaps you may come across are by no means due to Potluri but rather because of me playing around with things and screwing it all up.)

Otherwise, while I can once again say that all but one of the scripts used for FF2F are open source, in this case that "one" is none other than Eston itself. What this implies is that I can't in return open source what's been put together and instead have to keep it all behind a private repository on GitHub. That being said, I can nonetheless list all the scripts I've found across the Internets and which have been integrated into FF2F's usage of Eston:

With that final note in mind, if you scroll/swipe to the bottom of this page you'll see a photograph in the background of the box listing other posts matching this post's primary tag, that photograph by no means being a shot of some random plant roots but is actually a shot of none other than the roots of perennial sunflowers being bred at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. You might also see me using that photograph elsewhere (like on my Twitter account), to which I have Jim Richardson to thank for granting permission for its usage. With all that in mind, if you do in fact fancy the photograph yourself and would like to pick up a print of it then you're more than welcome to do so by following the (non-affiliate) link via the embed below:

A Cross Section Of A Sunflower Root

 

Finally, what FF2F will be using alongside Ghost for its commenting platform is the open source forum software Discourse, co-founded by the creator of Stack Overflow and is what even O'Nolan himself has called "the Ghost of forum software". I've unfortunately yet to have the chance to play around with it or to even configure it so that it could at least match FF2F's colour scheme, what with I not having the time to do anything more than integrate it into the blog. To a certain extent all I can say then is that supposing you sign up for an account on this FF2F-hosted Discourse commenting system and actually leave a comment then you'll be figuring out how to use it and what it's capable of at the same time that I end up doing so as well.

What I can say for now though is that while this blog and commenting system are both completely owned and controlled by FF2F and even utilise an SSL certificate (meaning https rather than the unsecure http) you can either sign up for an FF2F Discourse account with your email address (which is what I'd do) or you can alternatively use a variety of any social media logins to safely create an account (FF2F's self-hosted instance of Discourse of course never sees or stores your social media credentials but simply uses their systems for login purposes, as is the fare now).


With the entirety of what I've written above in mind, and supposing that you haven't noticed already, both Ghost and Discourse are some seriously powerful and functional pieces of software, and it might very well be construed that FF2F is punching way above its weight by assuming it deserves to be running on, and with, such software. Moreover, with Ghost becoming increasingly catered to professional journalism (it recently ran a $45,000 Ghost for Journalism development program, a program which I wasn't exactly granted one of the three positions but was awarded a participation ribbon of a free year on Ghost(Pro) instead), not only is yours truly not a professional journalist, but by no stretch of the imagination even qualifies as being categorized as a journalist in any way whatsoever. With that in mind, the current state of "news", and my credentials that continue to shrink with virtually every sentance I write, for better or for worse I've left myself with very few options.

So without any further ado, and with From Filmers to Farmers having donned the garb of the Ghost so that it may venture inconspicuously amongst the living and the dead (or what you might call the to-be-dead due to the coming die off), there's really only one thing that can be said.

Fake journalism, here we come!


p.s. Okay, okay. Elon Musk's Open AI Ghost blog isn't actually hosted on Ghost(Pro) but from what I can tell with Amazon Web Services, although I'm sure you get the point

p.p.s. And here's to hoping the Internet doesn't end tomorrow – this took a lot of work!

A Collapse Blogger’s Search For the Most Collapse-Proof Blogging Platform

youtube-Logo-4
gc2
reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

Published on From Filmers to Farmers on October 24th, 2017

Discuss this article at the Science & Technology Table inside the Diner

 


Desperate times call for desperate measures (Jeb Bush photo by Michael Vadon)

With just seven days left before this blog moves away from The World's Worst Blogging Platform™ I created and over to an actual blogging platform, I will nonetheless point out that I've been rather content for the past three years or so with this "platform" of mine, and not once have I been jealous or envious of the actual platforms used by the blogs I myself read.

Because while shortly after starting up this hand-coded blog of mine, in late-2014 I did actually take a look at the back-ends of several platforms out there to see what I might add to mine, but the more I delved into them the more I realized I had no interest in them in the slightest. That all changed however in October of 2016 when author John Michael Greer announced on The Archdruid Report his desire to move away from his current blogging platform and that he was open to suggestions. I in turn conducted an updated-by-two-years search, the results being mostly – mostly, but not quite – the same.

If you're at least vaguely familiar with the blogging "scene" then you're probably aware of the three main platforms out there – Blogger, WordPress and Medium – to which can be added the mostly forgotten Typepad, the convoluted-for-blogging Drupal and Joomla (the former being what The Oil Drum ran on), the teeny-bopper oriented Tumblr (purchased by Yahoo!), the Super bowl-advertising Weebly, Wix and Squarespace, not to mention the array of which are in some cases here-today gone-tomorrow platforms like Svbtle, Posthaven, Postach.io, Jux, Postagon, Wardrobe, Jekyll, Anchor, Bolt, Hexo, Silvrback, Roon, Scriptogram, Pen.io, Dropplets, and on and on and on.

Coming from the vantage point of a writer blogging on what can be broadly described as the collapse of industrial civilisation (and the renewal of culture) I am of course wary of using a platform that is itself prone to collapse. Not to say that I'm after something than could somehow survive industrial civilisation's collapse of course, but rather something that can survive its own shortcomings.

With Typepad and those mentioned afterwards being a write-off due to either their hokeyness and/or lack of dependability, that pretty much leaves the Big Three to choose from.

The oldest of these is Blogger (what Greer was looking to get away from, and which many collapse bloggers currently use), a platform launched back in 1999 and sold to Google in 2003 for an undisclosed sum of money. This platform is so archaic though that it's a complete joke. I'm by no means a technophile, but that doesn't mean I'm going to break out my very first computer (a VIC-20 which I was gifted at 4-years-old and somewhat learned to program on) to do my word processing on, any more than I'd want to use Blogger to do blogging on. Moreover, and putting aside Google's propensity for shutting down various services it offers, placing the entire edifice of one's Blogger blog at the mercy of Google is not something I'd be interested in partaking in.

Next up is pretty much the opposite of Blogger, that being WordPress (also used by many collapse bloggers). What we have here is an open source platform, one in which you can either have a certain branch of the WordPress organisation host your blog for you on their servers (that's a whole other story which I won't go into) or, being open sourced, you can freely download the software and host it yourself wherever you please. What this freedom implies is that you retain full ownership and control over your content, a boon for collapse-oriented writers who can tend to have a bit of a rugged individualist streak to them and don't like being too dependant on third-party services.

But upon giving WordPress a look back in late-2014 it didn't take a minute before I was turned off by the whole thing, what with it looking extremely clunky and representative of what I now understand to be "bloatware". Because although it did start off as a platform committed solely to blogging, it's since branched out to becoming more of a generalized application platform. As stated by WordPress' former (2009 – 2011) Deputy Head of the User Interface Group, John O'Nolan,

What is WordPress for? For years WordPress has flipped and flopped without consciously pivoting or focusing. At various points over the last 5 years it has tried directly and indirectly to compete with Drupal, Facebook, Tumblr, SquareSpace, Shopify, Wix and Medium. All without ever focusing for long enough to succeed at one before moving on to the next. The only constant has been following, rather than leading, at each stage…

We all know that WordPress could do just about anything but, maybe it’s time to stop and ask whether it actually should. What we can say with relative certainty is that WordPress cannot become the best publishing platform, website builder, ecommerce store, social network, rss reader and application platform – all at the same time. Stephen Covey once said: The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. So what is WordPress’ main thing?


What are the chances that one of WordPress' army of Auttomaticians (otherwise known as "employees") is named Waldo/Wally?

To give it credit, by not having a "main thing" WordPress has however managed to become the Internet's version of Spandex, a one-size-fits-all platform that astoundingly runs 28% of the Internet's websites (so it claims). Problem here though is that it can't possibly build everything into the system in order to please everybody at the same time lest it become a lumbering behemoth. In effect, users are required to install an array of plugins to accomplish what they're after.

Problem with plugins is that while there's literally tens of thousands of them out there allowing users to customize their Spandex, what this also means is that poorly constructed plugins, failed-to-be-updated plugins, and conflicting plugins can not only crash your entire WordPress system (as I witnessed happen to The Doomstead Diner a couple of years ago – Diner Hell Week: The Crash Story), but has led to WordPress being utterly vulnerable to hacking, one recent claim stating that WordPress sites account for 78% of the Internet's hacked sites.

But even with all those bloatware and vulnerability aspects taken into consideration, WordPress is nonetheless a more than half-decent platform, it is open source, and if in 2014 I had to choose a blogging platform to go with rather than The World's Worst Blogging Platform™, yes, I would have gone with WordPress. Because no, I wouldn't have gone with Medium.

Medium's the latest Big Kid on the Block (used only by Nafeez Ahmed as far as I know, a quasi-collapse blogger at that), it having been designed by Evan Williams, a co-founder of Twitter. Twitter however isn't the original source of funding from which Williams was able to start up Medium though, Williams actually being a co-creator of Blogger which was rumoured to have been sold for $20 million (to Google, as mentioned). That being said, Williams didn't just use his Blogger-cum-Twitter booty to start up Medium, relying on an array of venture capitalists that have thrown in more than $174 million of their own funding.

In other words, although Williams is supposedly "not that interested in revenue", but is interested in, as he claims, "building our understanding… deepening our understanding of the world", the fact of the matter is that Medium is at the mercy of "shareholders" whose foremost concern is to see the platform turn a profit, thus requiring it to come up with a business model that can be successfully shown to siphon money over to said shareholders, since running "a billionaire's vanity project" (as Medium was once described) can only last for so long. Needless to say, this can become quite problematic for users of the platform who think that it might provide some stability for them and their writing.

Another problem for writers using Medium is that they don't actually own or control the platform in any way whatsoever, and while Medium can sell, reproduce, or publish a writer's material in any way it wants, regardless of what writers think it can also tear up any agreement or system as it sees fit in order to introduce a whole new business model, relegating the whole thing to being a kind of digital sharecropping.

This isn't mere hyperbole though, since in early-2017 a third of Medium's staff (about 45 people) walked into work only to find out that their jobs no longer existed. Williams and company had decided to embark on yet another business model, this being Medium's third since it was founded in 2012. Because while it first started off with the idea of being a publication itself via hiring its own writers and editors, it then moved on to an ad-driven model whereby it would attract writers who would be given a portion of the dividends. What was this latest epiphany that Williams had in store?

Before I get to that, before Williams got to it himself, and after the recent election in the US, president of the United States Donald Trump stated (specifically in regards to Twitter) that "I doubt I would be here if it weren’t for social media, to be honest with you." Williams did state that

It's a very bad thing, Twitter's role in that. If it's true that he wouldn't be president if it weren't for Twitter, then yeah, I'm sorry.

Williams' shame may be a bit questionable though due to another statement of his where he pointed out that

I don't think Twitter is the worst case of this,

"this" being

a media ecosystem that… thrives on attention [and which is] making us dumber and not smarter.

Damage control? Maybe. Or maybe it's actually damage control + marketing spin. Because as Williams continued,

It is the ad-driven media that churns stuff out on a minute-by-minute basis and their only measure is whether or not someone clicks on it.

And what do you know, but it turns out that Medium's latest incarnation is one where it does away with ads. And how is it, you may ask, that Williams is spinning it now?

Ad-driven systems can only reward attention. They can’t reward the right answer. Consumer-paid systems can. They can reward value. The inevitable solution: People will have to pay for quality content.

In other words, Williams and Medium are going to be the gatekeepers of "quality content" now. And to get access to this "quality content" – which you'll want because you're so intelligent and don't settle for anything less than quality – you'll have to funnel money to Williams and on to his shareholders via the newly introduced subscription-based model, what used to be simply known as a paywall.

Williams may not be a fan of Trump, but if Williams' media brilliance has been to package and sell us the problem (attention-destroying Twitter) and then turn around and also sell us the "solution", then I can't help but think that despite Williams' aversion to Trump that Trump would nonetheless be proud – and a fan – of Williams.


Can Evan Williams save us from Evan Williams? (photo by Christopher Michel)

If that wasn't enough, the method by which Williams and Medium are going to operate this system is so ridiculous that one writer has even go so far as to call it "the gonorrhea of blogging".

That may be a bit of a harsh description, somewhat understandable though when one realizes that Williams' and Medium's new method to save its shareholders journalism is to do away with the "unsatisfying" heart button and replace it with "Claps". So instead of the oh-so-yesterday notion of the single-click recommend – clicking on the like/heart/upvote/favourite button – the idea now is to click – and keep clicking! – on the clap button to show your appreciation. And the more clap(s) you get, the more you get paid.


Oh, but the clap hurts, it hurts!

Anyway, it was once said by somebody that

The state of tech blogs is atrocious. It's utter crap. They create a culture that is superficial and fetishizing and rewarding the wrong things and reinforcing values that are self-destructive and unsustainable.

Yes, the person who said that – and who continued by pointing that he was "pessimistic about the state of media, and that's why I want to work on this problem" – was none other that Williams himself.

I will agree that the state of blogging is atrocious, but if the only option is the dickbar-waving Medium – with its enticing audience of 60 million unique visitors per month but which From Filmers to Farmers would certainly be at the bottom of the curating pile for – then I'd be more than happy to keep running From Filmers to Farmers on The World's Worst Blogging Platform™.

Fortunately though my John Michael Greer-induced late-2016 updated perusal of the blogging platforms out there revealed that one of those here-today gone-tomorrow platforms that I'd noticed back in late-2014 was not only still around, but had also progressed leaps and bounds since, so much so that it was now head and shoulders above the entire competition, and in every way imagineable (for a collapse blogger).

I'll fortunately be revealing what that blogging platform is on the last day of this month, because although I'm grateful for it having gotten me to where I am now, at long last I'll finally be putting this World's Worst Blogging Platform™ to rest while I relaunch From Filmers to Farmers on what may very well qualify as the world's greatest blogging platform.

See you on the 31st!

 

p.s. In order to accommodate the transition and make sure that the DNS records propagate throughout the Internets in time (good for you if you don't know what I'm talking about), starting on the 29th of this month you'll be seeing the front page of this blog switch over to what you see in the image below, followed by the password protection page being lifted as From Filmers to Farmers once again goes live on the 31st – but in its new incarnation.

p.p.s. Sneak peak for anybody who can guess what the password is, which will be revealed below once the blog switches over.

Update 31/10/2017: __________.

 

This Hand-Coded Collapse Blog – Built with Open Source Software and on The World’s Worst Blogging Platform™ – is Being Shut Down

youtube-Logo-4
gc2
reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

Published on From Filmers to Farmers on October 17th, 2017

Discuss this article at the Science & Technology Table inside the Diner

 


Are you a From Filmers to Farmers reader? Everybody's been doin' it!

So as stated at the beginning of my previous post, yes, I've decided to shut down this hand-coded From Filmers to Farmers blog of mine. I'm guessing you've never heard of the term "hand-coded blog" before (as opposed to just "blog") and might not even know what it means. If that's the case then you're about to find out what exactly it is that it means, because it's via hand-coding that I inadvertently ended up starting this haphazard blog in the first place.

For starters, and having a thoroughly incomplete 190,000+ word manuscript called From Filmers to Farmers: From Couch Potatoes to Potato Cultivators collecting dust on the shelf for about four years now, it was back in 2014 (as I came off of my 5-year hiatus from the Internet) that I decided to purchase the fromfilmerstofarmers.com domain for unknown future considerations, and/or to just ward of an enterprising individual from somehow overhearing the title of my manuscript, snatching up the domain, then either holding it for ransom and/or just plopping a porn site on it in order to get me to cough up some cash. Following my purchase of the domain I got the obtuse idea that I ought to put up a splash page on it, resulting in me teaching myself a bit of coding (HTML and CSS) so I could do so. The splash page was, however, rather ugly.

I of course didn't want a rather ugly splash page and so kept playing around with things and teaching myself more coding in order to improve upon it all. Problem was, no matter what I did the splash page just got uglier and uglier, and then got really ugly (you can see the progression go from here to here to here to here to here to here to here to here to here to here to here to here to here, then for really ugly you can see here). Fortunately that final step of ugliness was the last straw, resulting in me scrapping the whole thing and starting again from scratch (you can see the first version of the new iteration here). Somewhat happier with the results I stuck with it this time, fortunate enough to find out that things were getting better rather than worse (the progression goes from here to here to here to here). Having gotten the splash page to a point of being half-decent I then realized that it was rather bereft of content, and with one thing leading to another, and without having the slightest intentions of doing so in the first place, well, I then ended up starting a blog out of it all.

Whoops.

So as you should have clued in by now (if not before), I don't actually use a blogging platform as does every other sane human being that blogs, but have instead been using a "platform" whose coding I wrote from scratch and whose every new post I have to manually put together (you can see the checklist which I refer to every time I put up a new post), including the RSS feed.


I've got templates set up, but still – Every. Single. Time.

That's not to say that I coded the entire site, although besides the HTML and CSS I did manage to decipher things just enough so that when needed to I could ever so slightly manipulate the JavaScript, AJAX and PHP coding of the various scripts I incorporated into the blog. I won't linger on this much, and so will just quickly point out (to give credit where credit is due) that I incorporated into my hand-coded blog Commentics for commenting purposes (which allowed me to maintain control and "ownership" over all comments), the lightbox Magnific Popup, a jQuery treetable that mimics Blogger's history/archive functionality (but without the database of course), as well as a dropdown header bar which I lifted off of this site (whose excellent RSS app I purchased for the iPhone I was gifted). Alongside all that I also incorporated a form from Formbakery for collecting email sign-ups.

(I was however forced to deactivate the form recently after my Twitter account was for some reason followed – and then two days later unfollowed – by @collapseblogs, the Twitter account for a blog I avoid reading – The Economic Collapse Blog. Because what somehow resulted from that is an array of spambots discovered my site and flooded my sign-up list – and thus my email inbox – with thousands upon thousands of fake sign-ups.)

With that all set up, it was only after having seen From Filmers to Farmers on a smartphone for the first time about half a year after I started it up (on that free iPhone I was given) that I became aware of how awful it looked (imagine the website squished down to the size of your palm) and so realized I had to figure out how to create a mobile-adapted version of the blog. That I did, and in time integrated into it the Mega Dropdown menu for a secondary archive/history functionality, as well as the Auto-Hiding Navigation script for some added razz-ma-tazz.

Along with all that, rather than using Google Analytics I've integrated the open sourced program Piwik, which similar to Commentics has allowed me to maintain control and "ownership" over all of my analytics data rather than host it all with a third party which would use the collected information for data-mining. (You're welcome?)

So besides the Formbakery script of which I paid a few bucks for and the dropdown header bar which I lifted, the entirety of From Filmers to Farmers runs with open source software. Open source software, in case you aren't aware, is software whose "source code is made available with a license in which the copyright holder provides the rights to study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose".

Likewise, nearly all of the software I've used to build the hand-coded From Filmers to Farmers blog is also open sourced. Seeing how 2000 was the last year I purchased a computer (an Apple G4 for video editing, and which I got rid of in 2006 or so), I haven't actually owned a computer for about a decade now and as a result mostly built and maintained this blog using various library computers in various countries. Necessitating computers that allowed me to execute programs, this also meant I needed to install the open source program Portable Apps on a USB stick, a USB stick in which I installed a swath of other open source software which I in turn used as well.


Clockwise from top-left: Gimp, Commentics, Piwik, Firefox, LibreOffice Writer, FileZilla, elementary OS, Portable Apps, Brackets, Nextcloud

I again won't delve into this all that much, except to say that for browsing the Internet I use Firefox (whose long-awaited and much improved-upon version 57 will be available on November 14th), Gimp in place of Photoshop for image manipulation, LibreOffice in place of Microsoft Office, an install of Nextcloud instead of Dropbox (or whichever other option), FileZilla to connect via SFTP to my server, and finally the code editor Brackets to build and maintain this hand-coded blog.

At times I've salvaged not-exactly-fantastic laptops from friends and family who were dumping their "outdated" machines, computers which ran much better once I cleared whichever version of Windows they had on them and replaced said operating systems with the open source Linux distro elementary OS. Until, that is, said computers completely conked out. (The hand me down computer I currently use and run elementary OS on is a salvaged-from-the-trash-heap Dell laptop which is… well… pink.)


Every day's a test of how secure I am with my fragile manhood

Similar to all this, and in the spirit of all the open source software I use, all the writing on this blog is licensed under a Creative Commons agreement (you can see the CC logo at the bottom of this page), which in the license I chose means that

You are free to:

Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format

Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material

 

Under the following terms:

Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.

NonCommercial — You may not use the material for commercial purposes.

Moreover, and in case there's any masochists out there interested in giving it a whirl, I've gone ahead and open sourced this database-bereft From Filmers to Farmers "blogging platform" of mine, entitled it "The World's Worst Blogging Platform™", and made it freely available on GitHub (view at your own peril).

There is of course absolutely no reason for anyone to make use of the "blogging platform" I've created, if only for the reason that it's an absolute shit-box. In case you also don't know what "shit-box" means then I'll also relay the story of the spare car my parents owned during my teens and which I was given pretty much free reign to use (the closest I've come to owning a motorized vehicle), that vehicle being a dilapidated Hyundai Stellar that was so awful that I was pretty much the only one that could manage to drive it. It was so awful (yet awesome) that had of I left it running out front of a store and came back an hour later any thief wouldn't have been able to get further than five metres with it as it would have undoubtedly stalled the moment they touched it (never mind that they would have turned up their nose upon discovering it didn't have power steering). Likewise, The World's Worst Blogging Platform™ is likely to "stall" the moment anybody attempts to use it, and no, it doesn't come with customer support (except for a million bucks a year).

In other words, just like I wasn't likely to get very far with that vehicular shit-box I used to drive, one likely isn't to get very far with The World's Worst Blogging Platform™ shit-box that I put together either. And although both of them got me around just fine and I'm grateful for them while they lasted, I realize that there's no chance I was ever going to get very far with The World's Worst Blogging Platform™ in the same way that I wouldn't actually have attempted to make it from Toronto to Salina, Kansas with the vehicular shit-box in order to attend a Prairie Festival at The Land Institute.

If you're catching my drift here, that's not to say that I haven't had the desire to get very "far" with this From Filmers to Farmers blog. What it does say is that while I most certainly am shutting down this hand-coded version of From Filmers to Farmers, I am nonetheless very close to relaunching it all on not The World's Worst Blogging Platform™ but what might very well qualify as being the world's greatest blogging platform. (Which has come not a moment too soon, what with not only the spam-botted sign-up system but also the fact that for some reason I'm no longer getting email notifications about new comments.)

So yes, we can all breathe a sigh of relief, because this sputtering From Filmers to Farmers blog is in fact getting a new lease on life.

Olé?

Having said that, I should probably extend an apology to Heather after I inadvertently induced her to leave that rather kind comment on my previous post in belief that this From Filmers to Farmers blog was disappearing in its entirety. If I can offer a few words in defence, perhaps having spent two months researching Cary Fowler's way with words and half-truths has rubbed off on me a bit too much? On the other hand, the post's other commenter, Dean, probably already knows by now that he doesn't get apologies.

Anyway, while I've been busy for the past year or so learning many of the ins and outs of this new blogging platform that I'll soon be using, and while I've been extremely busy over the past couple of months building the theme for the relaunch of From Filmers to Farmers (you can see all the green squares of activity on my GitHub page), manually migrating over all the content, and also upgrading/optimizing all the images for the superior capabilities and layout, I'm happy to say that I've got just one post left to hand-code on The World's Worst Blogging Platform™ before I finally (!!) ditch this shit-box once and for all and relaunch From Filmers to Farmers on the last day of this month.

And that, dear readers, is when the ante gets upped.


My pink computer's elementary OS desktop

Will Sexist, Racist Robots and their Progressive Coders Oppress James Damore and the Rest of us White Males Even Further?

youtube-Logo-4
gc2
reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

Published on From Filmers to Farmers on October 13th, 2017

Discuss this article at the Psychology & Philosophy Table inside the Diner

 


Don't look now James, but that's not just a monkey on your back!
(unadulterated photo via James Damore's Twitter profile picture)

Due to my preoccupation with that excruciatingly long third Svalbard post I put up a couple of weeks ago I'm a bit late to the Google / James Damore ordeal, perhaps a bit of a blessing in disguise for Damore since this may very well be construed as giving him the luxury of a sixteenth minute of fame. If you missed all the hubbub, Damore's the guy that got fired from Google back in August for voicing his thoughts on why there are fewer women employed in tech industries than men. Selling himself as a brave truth teller, Damore followed up his dismissal from Google with an opinion piece that appeared in the Wall Street Journal in which he stated that

Echo chambers maintain themselves by creating a shared spirit and keeping discussion confined within certain limits. As Noam Chomsky once observed, "The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum."

Yes, this again, a story that can be fairly deemed as a follow-up to 2016's "debate" over transgendered toilets – which I wrote about, pointing out that gendered bathrooms are actually a modern creation brought about via sexist attitudes, and that going beyond "acceptable opinion" would not only be the eradication of gendered toilets but a transition to compost toilets rather than flush toilets. Come 2017, the updated "debate" is now about why it is that there are fewer women in tech industries than men. I've got no desire to waste my time on this drivel, although I will point out that if you want to read a valid refutation of Damore's claims then you can do so here.

What I do want to very briefly write about though, and seeing how the Damore-induced hubbub touched on the topics of racism and sexism, is a story that came out simultaneously to all this, this one about sexist, racist robots. No, that isn't another attempt at humour of mine, because since the "learning" that robots – artificial intelligence – do is all dependent on what gets inputted into them, this means that they inherently get programmed with the prejudices of their programmers (which has generally meant straight white males), an inevitability that puts a spanner into utopian notions of a morally pure digital future.

Examples of racist, sexist artificial intelligence range from a medical school that back in 1986 was found guilty of racial and sexual discrimination due to automated admissions processes working off of data collected in the 1970s, black American prisoners being mistakenly flagged as likely to reoffend by a computer program used by a US court, police departments whose crime-predicting software gets stuck in feedback loops and thus wrongly flags neighbourhoods with predominantly darker-skinned individuals, to even a Microsoft-created chatbot named Tay that within hours of its creation had pledged allegiance to Hitler.

With all that in mind, and taking Damore's concerns to their literal extreme, since Google and all the rest of these "diversity" champions are the ones at the forefront of artificial intelligence's creation, and since women are slowly making a return to the computer industry of which they actually used to predominate in, does this mean that Damore and his cohorts ought to be concerned about a world in which so-called progressive minorities of all sorts end up programming the artificial intelligence of the future, relegating Damore and company to a future where they'll have to remind their little boys to "never forget! Don't you even let a robot tell you you're not good enough just because you're a white male!"?

That is of course at least as ridiculous as all the claims that came from Damore, a purportedly victimized white male (who lied about his academic history) whose wording on the shirt he wore for his bio-pic compared Google to a gulag (a gulag which for Damore's services generally paid in the range of $162,000 per year). That being so, and to shed some light on all this, there is actually a smidgen of truth buried behind Damore's assertions, none of which Damore enunciated or is likely even aware of. That has to do with the fact that an increasing amount of places in the United States are rotting away – partially due to their factory jobs getting outsourced to other parts of the world – of which has resulted in their middle-aged, lighter-skinned inhabitants seeing an increase in suicide rates and a decrease in life-expectancy rates.

Paralleling this, it's been stated by Morris Berman, author of Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline, that

the liberal class abandoned their traditional working-class base… from the early 1970s… [and] became preoccupied with language, with political correctness – the sorts of things that not only could do nothing to improve the condition of the working class, but which were actually offensive to that class… All of this is quite ridiculous, and amounted to a callous neglect of the working class on the part of people who had traditionally fought for that class, for its survival. So while the working class and the middle class found itself confronted with real problems – no job, no home, no money, and no meaning in their lives – the chic liberal elite was preoccupied with who has the legal right to use transgender bathrooms. Well, I'd be angry too.


America isn't the only thing that's failed

The United States isn't the only country that has "failed" though, what with Australia following in a similar path courtesy of its current diversionary "debate" and postal vote on same-sex marriage, something that's occurring at the exact same time that the IMF declared Australia as having one of the fastest rising income inequality rates.

I could of course go on and on about all this and much more (like how far artificial intelligence will have a chance to advance before decreasing fossil fuels start to put an end to it all), but – and I hate to say this – it's become painfully obvious to me that after what's been mostly three years of writing on this hand-coded From Filmers to Farmers blog of mine that the "returns" just haven't appeared and that this hand-coded blog of mine can just as well be classified as having failed. In other words, what I'm trying to say is that I've come to the decision that it's probably best for all if I shut down this hand-coded From Filmers to Farmers blog of mine.

Nonetheless, I do have two final and explanatory posts that I intend to put up over each of the next two weeks on this hand-coded From Filmers to Farmers blog, and if you've enjoyed and/or appreciated these half-a-dozen dozen or so posts then I hope that you'll be willing to give the final two a look.

In the meantime, thanks for reading, while it lasted.

Svalbard Global Seed Vault: Seed Saving-Cum-Taxidermy (part 2/3)

youtube-Logo-4
gc2
reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

Published on From Filmers to Farmers on July 26th, 2017

Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

 


With a bit of ice on the floor depositers could almost ride the seeds right on in
(photo by Global Crop Diversity Trust)

As odd as it sounds, I can't help but think that it's so ridiculously easy to point fingers at the short-sightedness of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault that not only is it also all-too-easy to label it as the "Vault of Doom", but that this can lead one to miss out on the much more dire issue of what the Vault represents in the present.

If we look at the Vault's layout, it turns out that the access tunnel from its main door was designed and built to slope downwards, a rather questionable idea when you think about the effects that gravity tends to have on permafrost and snow when they get above 0℃. Why in the world was the Svalbard Global Seed Vault designed in such a way? As put by Hege Njaa Aschim of the Norwegian government (owner of the Vault),

The construction was planned like that because it was practical as a way to go inside…

In other words, the vault was designed with depositing seeds in mind, not withdrawing them. I'm venturing into the land of absurdity again, because if you know anything about seed saving then you know that it is in fact extremely beneficial to keep seeds stored in complete darkness, although it's also just as true that black holes can be a tad too dark.

Silliness aside, one of the two primary issues regarding the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is that of in-situ seed saving versus not simply ex-situ seed saving but extreme-sport ex-situ seed saving. In-situ seed saving is the practice of constantly growing seeds out every year or every few years, a practice which regenerates the seeds before they die out.

Ex-situ seed saving on the other hand is the process of storing away seeds for extended periods of time, done so in cold, dark conditions so that the seeds go dormant. This approach (sometimes getting rather hi-tech and more energy-intensive with things like stainless-steel liquid-nitrogen storage vats) enables the life span of the seeds to be theoretically extended to decades, possibly even centuries, which is much longer than the handful of years many seeds generally last for.

That all being so, one big problem with the ex-situ method is that the seeds are not only frozen in space but also frozen in time. Because by having their evolution – their continual adaptation – halted, there's the very real possibility that a packet of seeds brought out of their 100-year or so dormancy will lack the characteristics – the genetic capabilities – to fend off a blight or some other scourge that appeared during their "hibernation". As a result, the seeds could be left with virtually no in-built defence and therefore have virtually zero chance for survival.

Conversely, in-situ seed saving is the embodiment of adaptation to place. Try growing out a bunch of seeds from the same packet but in two different locations – locations which would inherently have varying conditions – and what you'll eventually get is a branching lineage whereby the seeds attain different characteristics. This is due to the unique adaptations that occur thanks to the seeds' opportunity to adapt to their locales, not to mention the characteristics that each generation of seeds get selected for by their stewards.

So while one might say that the seeds saved in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault are not only the epitome of ex-situ seed saving and the non-existence of adaptation (call it Globalized Seed Saving if you will), but one could also say that the Vault itself couldn't be a greater representation of the dismissal of place and adaptation. For as was explained by Arne Kristoffersen, a former Svalbard coal miner, most coal mines in the area weren't built like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault with their entrance tunnels sloping downwards, but with their entrance tunnels sloping upwards:

For me it is obvious to build an entrance tunnel upwards, so the water can run out. I am really surprised they made such a stupid construction.

Perhaps Kristoffersen has a flair for hyperbole to go along with what appears to be consternation for incompetence, for as he also put it,

[A]s it is today, the whole entrance will be filled up with water and this will freeze and it will be blocked after a few years, so it will not be possible to get into the seed vault. There will be a big iceberg in the tunnel.

Hyperbole aside, one might nonetheless think that the hard-earned knowledge and time-worn practices of the locals would have been given prime attention when designing and constructing the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. But don't forget: this is ex-situ seed saving, something in which conditions of the place are specifically dismissed as something that needn't be taken into account. For although Kristoffersen was in fact involved in an initial planning meeting for the vault, he unfortunately wasn't a part of the following development of the plans.

Downwards the tunnel goes!

In effect, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is not only the ex-situ saving of seeds, but the ex-situ saving of seeds in an ex-situ structure. Because while ex-situ seed saving inherently ignores changing conditions of climate and other variables, the designers behind the Svalbard Global Seed Vault are either huge fans of the brilliance of the eminent architect Frank Lloyd Wright, or, and as mentioned in part 1, astoundingly failed to take into consideration – or at least take very seriously – changing conditions due to climate change.

With all these mishaps and dismissals in mind, I think one seriously has to wonder about not only the efficacy of such extreme-sport ex-situ seed saving, but also the motivations behind this globalized approach to the saving of seeds. Because from what I've read there seems to be some rather surreptitious reasoning behind the supposed need for the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the first place, one example coming from a recent statement made by the lead partnership coordinator for the Global Crop Diversity Trust, Brian Lainoff. In what I can't help but see as, at best, another attempt at damage control, Lainoff recently stated that

Something as mundane as a poorly functioning freezer can ruin an entire collection, and the loss of a crop variety is as irreversible as the extinction of a dinosaur, animal or any form of life.

Let's put aside the fact that it was discovered on December 16th of 2014 that an electrical connection in the Vault's refrigeration unit had rusted away, got covered in chunks of ice, shut down the cooling system, that there was no back-up, that a technician had to fly in from nearly 1,000 km away the next day, that the part needed – sourced from Italy – wouldn't arrive until after Christmas, and that a temporary fix only managed to be put in place by borrowing a part off a freezer from a nearby supermarket.

Because if you didn't notice, it looks to me like there's a bit of sleight-of-hand that Lainoff is attempting to pull off by trying to equate a loss in a genebank to the complete extinction of a crop variety. This is, however, not what inherently happens at all. While genebanks do preserve the genetic material of such things as wild seeds meticulously gathered from the wild, they also serve as a backup for the seeds actively used by farmers and gardeners. That is, genebanks aren't simply "collections" of seeds for geneticists to work with but, like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, are backups themselves.

But if we take Lainoff at his surreptitious word, what might therefore be inferred is that seeds kept in genebanks are nothing but "collections", "collections" that if lost imply extinction. Moreover, since the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a backup to hundreds of genebanks, this would imply that it is but a "collection" of "collections". Meanwhile, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault's approach to the possible loss of these "collections" (extinction) is not to engender the dispersion of those "collections" amongst actual users of seeds who would provide a decentralized method of preservation, or to even engender a stronger network of backups between genebanks, but to make a centralized "collection" of "collections". Since the ultimate result of "collections" is "ruination" (as can be inferred by Lainoff's fearmongering), one could infer then that the purpose and destiny of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is to become the greatest one-off extinction event of the past 10,000 years. Because are we to believe that of the 1,700+ genebanks out there the only one that can't be decimated is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault? Might it not be even safer to have Elon Musk store a backup to the backup to the backups on Mars?


Can't say Lainoff doesn't have all the talking points down (photo by Global Crop Diversity Trust)

Because yes, disasters of all sorts have decimated, and will continue to decimate, collections of seeds held at genebanks. An earthquake pulverized Nicaragua's national seed bank in 1971, a hurricane flattened Honduras' national seed bank in 1998, a typhoon flooded a Filipino seed bank in 2006, and during the US-led invasion in 2003 it was the looting of Iraq's museums that garnered all the media's attention but the country's national seed bank that got destroyed. However, and using the latter case as an example, the most important seeds had previously been duplicated by Iraqi scientists and were stored away for safekeeping way over in another seed bank in Aleppo, Syria.

This idea then of backing up seeds held in genebanks is by no means a novel idea unique to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Furthermore, to think that the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is safe from refrigeration problems (known to not be true), exempt from the ravages of climate change (also known to not be true), or impervious to the ravages of Miss Murphy (who's your ideal blind date?) is not only foolhardy, but megalomaniacal.

But lo and behold, if like me you thought Lainoff could get rather surreptitious, it appears to me that Fowler himself can get downright slimy. For as he stated himself two years ago,

It is out in the real world – that makes it vulnerable because you have typhoons, hurricanes, natural disasters and pests that come along. If you've got a crop, an heirloom variety, a traditional variety, somewhere in Africa, and you say, that's great, it's going to adapt to climate change – well, maybe not. If it doesn't have the right traits, your farmer is going to starve or go out of business long before that crop will naturally adapt through mutation.

Fowler's got a problem with… "the real world"?

Regardless, natural disasters certainly do happen. Moreover, it is absolutely correct that in-situ seed saving by no means inherently implies the adaptation of seeds to the vagaries of climate change. Nonetheless, how is it that the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is supposed to ameliorate any of this? If seeds out in "the real world" aren't able to "naturally adapt through mutation", then what chance do seeds frozen away in stasis – which have zero opportunity for adaptation of any sort – have in comparison? And even if some seeds did exist in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault that could assist that oh-so-unfortunate starving-and-on-their-way-to-bankruptcy African farmer, and that such seeds could even be identified, and quickly enough, how are said seeds supposed to help said African farmer when seeds in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault are explicitly only allowed to be withdrawn by their depositors (genebanks)? On top of that, there isn't just one starving-and-on-their-way-to-bankruptcy African farmer but dozens, hundreds, thousands of them. Are they all going to get seeds from supplies withdrawn from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, sourced from a genebank which may very well be on a whole other continent?

In other words, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault provides no benefit or viable alternative to the condemnations that Fowler bestows upon in-situ seed saving, his words being more like framed arguments tossed forth in order to suit a particular point of view.

That being so, if it isn't necessarily seeds themselves and the stomachs that need them the most that Fowler and the Global Crop Diversity Trust are out to protect, then what exactly can the underlying motive of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault be?

We'll get to that in the final part of this series.

Svalbard Global Seed Vault 1

youtube-Logo-4
gc2
reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

Published on From Filmers to Farmers on July 21st, 2017

Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
 
Not the "Doomsday Seed Vault" But Rather the "Vault of Doom" (part 1/3)

 


Well, at least it was made sure that the Svalbard Global Seed Vault looks real pretty
(photo courtesy of Johann Fromont)

The sheer sensationalism of doom-laden Internet headlines doled out by journalists raised on Hollywood disaster movies (and now clickbait) recently reared their ugly head again, this time in regards to the venerated Svalbard Global Seed Vault. I'm no fan of what some have misleadingly nicknamed the "Doomsday Seed Vault", but with journalists narrowly clamouring on about some recent hiccoughs that the Vault experienced does the greater catastrophe that the Vault represents get obfuscated. Those recent hiccoughs are certainly nothing to scoff at (as I'll explain), but by missing out on the greater implications they imply does the fundamental problems of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault get missed, those being that not only is the Vault not a "Doomsday Seed Vault" but, and as I'll explain in part 2, that it transforms seed saving into something akin to the art of taxidermy.

To backtrack a bit, in 2003 Cary Fowler – scientist, conservationist, biodiversity activist, and co-author with Pat Mooney of the excellent 1990 book Shattering: Food, Politics, and the Loss of Genetic Diversity – had the idea of creating a storage facility that would provide a backup for the seeds currently stored in the world's 1,700 genebanks (and then some). While saving and preserving seeds is currently something that the "average" person tragically generally pays little to no mind to, if there's one thing more crucial and fundamental to our civilization than fossil fuels then that something would be seed saving, a practice which preceded industrial civilization by about 9,800 years or so. That being so, making backups of seeds, and even backups of backups of seeds, might very well be the most wise thing us humans cultivating away on this planet can do.

Unless, that is, one wants to be rather monolithic – perhaps even megalomaniacal – about it all.

While the Vault's construction tab of US$9 million was entirely covered by the Norwegian government (which in turn owns the Svalbard Global Seed Vault), storage of seeds in the vault is entirely free to users thanks to those costs being covered by the Norwegian government as well as an organization called the Global Crop Diversity Trust. The moniker "Doomsday Seed Vault" is an undeserved misnomer though, because as described on the Global Crop Diversity Trust's website, "The purpose of the Vault is to store duplicates (backups) of seed samples from the world’s crop collections". In other words, the purpose of the Vault is emphatically not to be a knight in shining armour that rescues humanity from some Hollywood-esque apocalypse, which in one sense renders the "Doomsday Seed Vault" nickname somewhat verbose.

To facilitate its publicly-stated mission, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located on the remote Norwegian island of Svalbard, and while the Vault itself is located 130 metres above sea level so as to be out of harm's way if even all of the world's icecaps melted, it's also tunnelled more than 100 metres into the side of a mountain, a mountain far from any active fault lines and whose surrounding permafrost can keep the seeds perpetually chilled. The idea, as put by Åsmund Asdal of the Nordic Genetic Resource Centre, is that "This is supposed to last for eternity".

That is, that's the idea.


So peaceful, so tranquil (photo by Mari Tefre / Svalbard Globale frøhvelv)

Because when what I presume was some of the world's greatest minds got together to see to it that the seeds of some of the world's most important food crops were saved for posterity, the one calamity that the designers apparently failed to take into account is so absurd that I don't think there's even a witty remark witty enough to describe it. So I'll just go ahead and say it: The one calamity that the designers of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault didn't take into account was… climate change?

Really?

From what I can tell I don't think I'm too far off the mark here. Because to backtrack again, here's what recently happened: First of all, and according to NASA and NOAA, the most recent year (in this case 2016) was once again the warmest on record. Secondly, and according to Ketil Isaksen of Norway's Meteorological Institute, "The Arctic and especially Svalbard warms up faster than the rest of the world" (due to what is known as polar amplification). Thirdly, while permafrost of course has an air of permanence to it, it can nonetheless be damaged and made vulnerable when dug into – like when you dig a 100 metre tunnel into it. Combine those three together and what you get is a lot of white stuff melting. To be a bit more specific, and as the New York Times put it just last week,

[W]ater – torrents of it, rush[ed] into the entrance tunnel of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault… [B]ecause the water had short-circuited the electrical system, the electric pumps on site were useless… Local firefighters helped pump out the tunnel until the temperature dropped and the water froze. Townspeople from the village at the mountain's base then brought their own shovels and axes and broke apart the ice sheet by hand.

How is it possible, you might ask, that such an event could happen to the facility meant to "store duplicates (backups) of seed samples from the world’s crop collections"? Well, as stated by Hege Njaa Aschim of the Norwegian government, it turns out that

It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that.

Come again? "Extreme weather" – climate change – didn't fit into the "plans" that the Svalbard Global Seed Vault designers and caretakers had in mind for how the permafrost was supposed to behave (as other statements by the Norwegian government have reiterated)?

A lot of water went into the start of the tunnel and then it froze to ice, so it was like a glacier when you went in.

Uhh… seriously?


Hey, where'd all the white stuff go? (photo by Ronald Woan)

So although the ice was subsequently "hacked out", this is only the beginning of the absurdity entailed in this story. Because as Aschim also stated – almost giving one the impression that these seed savers of seed savers are holding out for positions in the Donald Trump administration – "The question is whether this is just happening now, or will it escalate?"

Come again and again? The owners of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault are questioning whether or not climate change is going to "escalate"? For real?

Putting aside this absurdity beyond all absurdities, the fact remains that none of the seeds were actually lost in the "flood", a "flood" that supposedly wasn't really a flood. Because as Fowler put it himself,

Flooding is probably not quite the right word to use in this case. In my experience, there's been water intrusion at the front of the tunnel every single year.

Damage control? You can decide for yourself. Because as Fowler also stated,

The tunnel was never meant to be water tight at the front, because we didn’t think we would need that. What happens is, in the summer the permafrost melts, and some water comes in, and when it comes in, it freezes. It doesn't typically go very far.

So okay. Is that to say the designers of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault didn't actually mind too much water making its way in through the front door and freezing on the inside, or that they – Fowler included – didn't really anticipate that climate change might have an effect on all that cold white stuff surrounding the Vault? Whichever it actually is, US$1.6 million has now been earmarked for investigations on how to improve the access tunnel (I'll get to that in part 2), the conclusions due in early-2018. In the meantime, US$4.4 million is being spent on constructing such things as a waterproof wall and drainage ditches.

Anyhow, Fowler also stated that

If there was a worst case scenario where there was so much water, or the pumping systems failed, that it made its way uphill to the seed vault, then it would encounter minus 18 [degrees celsius] and freeze again. Then there’s another barrier [the ice] for entry into the seed vault.

In other words, Fowler appears to be stating that not only is he the open-minded kind of guy that likes to go on blind dates, but that he likes to be set up with those who have a penchant for S&M and who go by the name of Miss Murphy. There are of course a lot of Miss Murphys out there who are itching to lay down their unique interpretation of the Law, one of those Laws possibly emanating from Greenland via what is known as glacial isostatic adjustment.

Turns out that the sheer weight of all that ice on neighbouring Greenland has pushed its landmass down by what might be a thousand feet or so, and since the land is "bouncing" back up – and at increasing speeds – due to the melting ice, this could result in "reactivate[d] faults, increase[d] seismic activity, and [increased] pressure on magma chambers that feed volcanoes". In fact, "of particular concern is the continental shelf around Greenland, where a massive melting of the ice sheet might trigger earthquakes strong enough to trigger underwater landslides which in turn could generate tsunamis". Just last month a tsunami did in fact strike the coast of Greenland due to what was believed to be a magnitude four earthquake, and as was stated by a Danish news agency, "for such an earthquake to hit Greenland was 'not normal'". And so while none of this is "normal", it also turns out that "The same process is affecting the islands of Iceland and Svalbard, which also have ice caps", and that "crustal uplift in Greenland, Iceland and Svalbard is accelerating".

Might such a climate change-induced glacial isostatic adjustment cum underwater landslide cum tsunami not only emanate from just the right spot off of Greenland's coast but also make its way through the inlet leading to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault? To make a guess, I'd say probably not. Nonetheless, Miss Murphy's chock-full of interesting tricks up her sleeve, and you never know what her wild imagination will come up with as she goes about laying down the Law with what should probably be known as:

The Vault of Doom!


The location of the scene in the upcoming movie where everybody is gathered around the monitor next to the Vault's doors that won't open, their mouths agape as they watch – thanks to the video feed provided by the Destructo-Cam© – all the seeds getting destroyed (photo by Ralph Lee Hopkins)

Move Over Perpetual Motion Machines, There’s Now a Perpetual Data Machine – Big Data!

youtube-Logo-4
gc2
reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

Published on From Filmers to Farmers on May 26th, 2017

Discuss this article at the Science & Technology Table inside the Diner

 


Now it's data that makes the world go round?

It's comfortably accepted by many that what we in the first-world countries currently live in is a post-industrial era, an era in which a transition has been made from manufacturing-based economies to service sector-based economies. But to put truth to the lie, "post-industrialism" is polite speak for "a gutted manufacturing sector whose jobs were offshored to countries where wages were lower, enacted so that deep pockets could be deepened and so that those whose employment existed in higher echelons than the offshored could gain access to cheaper products." *

But if you giddily follow along with the rags and raggees extolling the idea of "post-industrialism" then you couldn't be blamed for then thinking that what we've now entered is no less than the post-energy era. Because according to the article "The World's Most Valuable Resource is No Longer Oil, But Data" via none other than The Economist, "data [is] the oil of the digital era". And not just any data, but Big Data.

As the argument goes, the ubiquity of Internet-connected devices – televisions, smartphones, self-driving-cars, smart… coffee makers… – is creating data in such enormous quantities that the five most valuable listed companies in the world – Alphabet (parent company of Google), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft – are all utilizing it in order to entrench their grip on the consumerism-indulgent masses. With even General Electric and Siemens now selling themselves as data firms, and estimates being made that self-driving cars will eventually generate 100 GB of data per second (!?), the assumption is that all this data will empower artificial intelligence (AI) and all its algorithms to "extract more value from data", allowing for such things as the ability to predict when a customer is ready to make a purchase.

The root of this data-as-oil correlation is of course the ECON 101 way of thinking which posits that oil and other energy sources are nothing but mere commodities like anything else. As The Economist also states, while "a century ago the resource in question was oil", the black goo has since been supplanted by "a new commodity" – data. Oil, in effect, is nothing but a resource – a commodity – that ultimately serves no different purpose than zeroes and ones. And with Big Data being the commodity du jour, it should be of little surprise then that the masters of the universe have decided to maximize their "earnings" by not creating a bubble out of it but rather a pyramid scheme:

Technology giants have always benefited from network effects: the more users Facebook signs up, the more attractive signing up becomes for others.

But while pyramid schemes on the scale of Facebook are nothing to scoff at, what the economist's economists at The Economist have also come up with is on par with what only the maddest of mad scientists are capable of: A perpetual data machine.

With data there are extra network effects. By collecting more data, a firm has more scope to improve its products, which attracts more users, generating even more data, and so on.

And so on!


Could the next generation of Elon Musk's Teslas no longer require energy for propulsion
but instead run on nothing but highly refined, pure data itself? (photo by Maurizio Pesce)

While nations used to judge themselves against such things as the size of their armies and the reach of their nuclear arsenal, the latest unit of measurement nations now seem to judge themselves against is, How big is your Big Data?

So as to not be outdone by the West's charlatan (The Economist again: "The more data Tesla gathers from its self-driving cars…"), the East has unleashed its own charlatan in the form of Jack Ma – Chief Thief of Alibaba, the online retailer which in 2014 became the record holder for the largest IPO in history. As stated by Ma at the Big Data Expo 2015 in Guiyang, China,

未来的制造业要的不是石油,未来的制造业它最大的能源是数据.

My Chinese is unfortunately a bit rusty, so as the translation by a Chinese friend of mine goes, "What the future manufacturing needs in order to go forward is not oil but data." (Although it doesn't provide a direct quote, if you don't trust my friend's translation then you can read a summary of Ma's statement in English here.)

This would be the same Jack Ma who was here in Melbourne back in February proclaiming to an audience at the opening of the first Australian and New Zealand branch of Alibaba that "Australia is a gold mine. The next gold mine". The big gold rushes of actual gold are of course over, as are the oil rushes, the fracking rushes, and so forth. And with the next big thing being Big Data, this implies that even something like a Bitcoin rush would be much too tangible for our sages of the digital era, because the new "gold mine" that Ma envisions is, quite literally, air: "[T]he air, this is what you have, the most unique asset."

The article conveying Ma's vision doesn't relay how exactly a… piece?… of air gets valued (New Zealand already uses Alibaba to sell air to China), but one would imagine it has something to do with the cost of the vessels that the air is… inserted into, or perhaps the labour costs associated with taping up what are still known amongst traditionalists as "empty boxes". For all we know Ma is ready to capitalize on the "empty" shipping containers returning to China after having dropped off all their sweatshop-labour junk in Australia, which on their return unload their "cargo" – "fresh Australian air".

That's not to belittle the tragic fact that China does in fact have serious problems with air pollution (its so-called "airpocalypse"), problems that to a certain extent are due to the previously mentioned "post-industrialism" of the West. Because not only were many of the Wests's manufacturing industries offshored, but so was the associated pollution. This is the underlying reason (or at least one of them) behind Ma's preoccupation with air, Ma stating that, "A lot of [Chinese] people see the product as a supplement to clean their lungs out with fresh Australian air". That beins so, there's so far been no word on whether or not Alibaba warms up the imported air before selling it.


The East's Jack Ma, in competition with the West's Elon Musk to see who can sell the most hot air

Returning to the issue of the perpetual data machine, The Economist ponders over whether those controlling Big Data are getting too… big…, bringing in the idea of "antitrust remedies". As it states,

The nature of data makes the antitrust remedies of the past less useful… A radical rethink is required — and as the outlines of a new approach start to become apparent, two ideas stand out. The first is that antitrust authorities need to move from the industrial era into the 21st century.

On and on it goes, but I think that perhaps a more pertinent thing to ponder over is, Since governments (rightly) no longer accept patents for perpetual motion machines, should governments be allowing for the existence of companies that are selling themselves on — and getting valuated upon — the size of what are effectively their perpetual data machines?

That, of course, isn't likely to be considered anytime soon, but what will likely continue to get bandied about are stories about the oh-so-nasty Chinese spying on Americans, and stories about the oh-so-nasty Americans spying on Chinese.

And while issues like Net Neutrality should certainly be taken seriously alongside the privacy issues surrounding all this (big) data collection, one should also be careful to realize that contrary to popular belief, the Internet, Big Data, and all the rest of it are but passing phenomena, implying that perhaps we shouldn't be getting too carried away by sniffing too much of Musk's and Ma's (hot) air.


(photo by Jeremy Keith)

* One result of all that is that those in the higher echelons who like stuff (or bigger bank accounts, more exotic vacations, etc.) are emboldened to vote for the offshorers, while the "downsized" and others gravitate towards the people promising to adjust policies in order to revive gutted communities. But when the "offshorer" steals the (undemocratic) Democratic primary from the "adjuster", the "downsized" then gravitate towards the fake "adjuster" for a slew of reasons. The fake "adjuster" then gets denigrated by the "offshorer" and its acolytes, said acolytes not realizing that the fake "adjuster" is not the core problem but rather a symptom. But that, of course, is another story altogether.

Book Review | When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation

youtube-Logo-4
gc2
reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

Published on From Filmers to Farmers on April 30th, 2017

Discuss this article at the Energy Table inside the Diner

 

I left off last week's post – "Money Doesn't Grow on Trees, Industrial-Scale Renewable Energy Does" – by mentioning the existence of a rather excellent resource. By that I didn't mean an energy resource, but rather a book – a book that nonetheless gives a rather fine breakdown of our various energy resources and their applicability to a world in the midst of peak oil and declining EROEI levels. That book would be When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation by systems analyst Alice J. Friedemann.

But before I get to the book, it's worth reiterating from said previous post the notion that just as the coal lobbies, nuclear lobbies, and all the other "dirty" fuel lobbies are wont to exaggerate and obfuscate the specifics of their energy resources, so too are lobbyists for the large-scale application of "renewable" energy sources more than willing to exaggerate, obfuscate, and even fudge the facts when it comes to conveying the benefits and advantages of their energy resources. And as I also pointed out, the latter is just as often the work of PR agencies and other marketeers, the goal effectively being anything but conveying a clear understanding of our current energy situation. Friedemann perfectly explains why this is (italics mine):

In business, …analysis is essential to prevent bankruptcy. Yet when scientists find oil, coal, and natural gas production likely to peak within decades, rather than centuries, or that ethanol, solar photovoltaic, tar sands, oil shale, and other alternative energy resources have a low or even negative energy return on the energy invested, they are ignored and called pessimists, no matter how solid their findings. For every one of their peer-reviewed papers, there are thousands of positive press releases with breakthroughs that never pan out, and economists promising perpetual growth and energy independence. Optimism is more important than facts. And, it's essential for attracting investors.

So don't let a title like When Trucks Stop Running give you the impression that Friedemann's book is simply one about the energetic options for the trucking industry, since what it actually does is use trucks as an interesting starting point for how to understand the viability of the various energy options available to our declining industrial way of life.

While it was coal-powered trains and railroads that, as described, allowed for extensive inland settlements distant from shipping ports, it was cheap oil supplies after WWII that allowed for the even more distant and scattered suburbs – "truck towns" – thanks to the proliferation of diesel-powered trucks (ten million trucks in the U.S. alone), the millions upon millions of miles of road (4.1 million miles in the U.S. alone), and the just-in-time transport enabled by it all. With our industrial civilization now largely built around the continued operation of these trucks, Friedemann then explains that if our current way of life is to be maintained – and since supplies of various fossil fuels are finite and have begun, or are to soon begin, peaking – this suggests a turn towards renewables to power those trucks. But as is pointed out, renewables themselves are just as dependent on trucks as the rest of our modern, industrial civilization is: trucks are needed to transport massive wind turbine blades and the rest of their thousands of components (more than 8,000 in all), they're necessary to transport the cement needed for windmill sites, they're necessary to build and maintain the very roads they themselves travel on, and so forth.


You don't see many Amish men and their horses hauling those things around on dirt roads

The underlying question then becomes: How can the trucking system be adapted to run on alternative fuels in order to remain viable in a world of depleting fossil fuels of which said trucks rely on? Because if the trucking system can't be adapted, then there wouldn't be much reason for building out the large-scale windmill, solar photovoltaic, and all the other fandangle electricity generating ideas being hyped.

For starters, diesel-engine trucks can last decades, this implying a decades-long replacement time due to the billions of dollars already sunk in said trucks of which isn't going to be thrown away. Simultaneously, a chicken-and-egg problem exists of an aversion to buying alternative-fuel trucks due to the non-existence of fuelling stations, buttressed by an aversion to the building of alternative-fuel stations since the alternative-fuel trucks don't exist either.

What is ideally called for then is a "drop in fuel" – a fuel that utilizes the existing infrastructure and so works with the engines and pipeline systems we've currently got. But as Friedemann explains, ethanol and biodiesel can't travel in oil pipelines for a variety of reasons, one of these being the resultant corrosion of said pipelines. (Instead, ethanol will continue to travel by trains and trucks powered by twice-as-energy-dense… diesel.) Furthermore, hydrogen isn't a drop in fuel for the simple reason that it can't be used in existing engines, never mind that it would ruin existing oil and/or natural gas pipelines anyway. And although natural gas already has pipelines to be transported through, it can't be used in existing engines either.

In short, a drop in fuel doesn't exist.

That being the case, Friedemann proceeds to break down the three most notable alternatives to diesel-powered, internal-combustion-engine trucks: battery-powered trucks, hydrogen-powered trucks, and trucks running on a catenary system (an overhead wire system as used by trolleys/trams/streetcars).

Battery-powered trucks:

While it might be possible to get a battery-powered remote-control Tonka truck with a cute little Tesla sticker on it, the battery-powered trucks that matter are the massive ones that can haul 30 tons of cargo or pour cement, generally weighing more than 40 times your average car. Problem is, the amount of batteries needed to allow a truck like this to travel an appreciable distance results in a significant dent in available cargo space, which is then made even worse by the decreased amount of payload a truck can carry due to the sheer weight of the batteries themselves. This doesn't make for economical transport, and nor does it help that the advancement of batteries is bumping up against physical and thermodynamic limits (as Friedemann has explained on her blog, Energy Skeptic). But supposing you've got the money to burn (and/or have made some key donations to people in the right government departments and/or positions) and wack it all together anyway, the inherent limitations to the energy density of batteries not only dictates the need for more frequent stops, but for prolonged stops of several hours in order to recharge the batteries. As if that weren't bad enough, battery-powered trucks have many performance issues, such as mediocre acceleration and problems driving up steep hills, shoddy performance in subzero temperatures, declining range as batteries degrade, and simply cost much more than a conventional diesel truck. As a result, the battery-powered trucks currently in use are heavily subsidized by governments and exist in the form of smaller-sized hybrids used for garbage pickup since this allows them to utilize all the stopping and starting to recharge their batteries. In other words, they aren't even the type of truck that hauls large loads and travels for long distances without stopping.


I stand corrected. Even Tonkas use diesel – turbo-diesel! (photo courtesy of Dana Martin)

Hydrogen-powered trucks:

As should go without saying, hydrogen isn't a fossil fuel we mine from the ground but rather an intermediary of sorts that other energies (such as from wind, solar, etc.) can be transferred over to for storage or other means of usage. In other words, hydrogen isn't an energy source but more like a battery, and since it takes an enormous amount of energy to split hydrogen from water (water which must be very pure), 96% of H2 is derived from natural gas. In effect, hydrogen has an abysmal efficiency rate due to the multiple stages where energy is lost – liquification, hydrogen re-forming, fuel cell efficiency, etc. On top of all this, hydrogen-powered trucks are so horrible at acceleration that they actually require a secondary propulsion system – batteries – which results in a single truck costing more than a million dollars each – in comparison to the $100,000 or so for a diesel truck.

Catenary system:

Problems quickly appear here due to the frequency of trucks travelling on the system – once every few seconds versus trolley/tram/streetcar systems in which passenger vehicles generally come once every ten minutes or so. This puts a significant strain on the system due to the enormously large loads of electricity that must pass through the overhead wires. Moreover, the tens of thousands of trucks that would travel on a single system each weigh twice as much as one of the few hundred trolleys/trams/streetcars on an urban transit system and so require much more energy to move. Then there's the massive overhead costs to install such a system over tens of thousands of kilometres (at several million dollars per kilometre) and the abhorrent amounts of electricity that tens of thousands of trucks would necessitate, compounded by the fact that catenary enabled trucks also require an added battery or fuel cell system for those times when trucks need to drive off the catenary system towards a delivery/pick-up point (or simply overtake another vehicle), or for those times that the power goes out and one doesn't want the highways to turn into McParking lots.

And that's all supposing that there's even enough energy in the first place to charge those batteries, or to be a feedstock for the hydrogen fuel cells, or to power the overhead catenary system. Because while being a slim and easy-to-read 131-page book, When Trucks Stop Running also gives a barrel-by-barrel, kilowatt-by-kilowatt account of why none of our fossil fuel energy sources – not oil, not coal-to-liquids, not natural gas, not even any of their combination – are capable of maintaining the trucking system and thus our current industrial way of life. Likewise, the book also conveys why no amount or combination of renewable energies are enough to maintain a trucking system which is needed to maintain a… renewable energy system. And sorry, Friedemann also explains why energy storage systems are a crapshoot as well.

In effect, you aren't going to find much in When Trucks Stop Running to help sell your favourite brand of snake oil in order to prop up your Madison Avenue lifestyle. Otherwise, it's an excellent read.


Without fossil fuels, how will the trucking industry be able to move around all the
components necessary to maintain the trucking industry? (photo by jeshua.nace)

That all being so, Friedemann suggests in summation that rather than waste the fossil fuels we've got left on attempting to build out systems that won't have much of a shelf life, we'd be much better off using that fossil energy to convert away from industrial agriculture, to build passive solar houses and buildings, maintain and upgrade domestic waterway transportation infrastructure as well as other low-energy systems.

Regardless, no PR agency, or energy lobbyist, or charlatan is going to be content with letting Friedemann get away with the last word here. For as was mentioned in the passage of hers I quoted earlier:

[W]hen scientists find [uncomfortable facts], they are ignored and called pessimists, no matter how solid their findings. For every one of their peer-reviewed papers, there are thousands of positive press releases with breakthroughs that never pan out…

And you know what that means, right?

Elon Musk just announced the unveiling of the Tesla Semi truck!! And it's "Seriously next level"!!

Okay, okay, I don't mean to say that the latest MuskMobile will "never pan out", just that Concordes generally necessitate too much energy to make them viable without significant subsidies of one sort or another. And that isn't to say that there's anything inherently wrong with subsidies either, just that while Friedemann also points out that "it is energy, not money, that fuels society", it is also energy, not money, that fuels subsidies (money is after all a proxy for energy, as I've previously written).

In other words, using energy to subsidize energy probably isn't much of a viable long-term plan, but it can certainly score you the starring role as the latest messiah in this age of optimism being valued over facts.


Sorry there Elon, but it looks like even the big boys realize their Tonkas have no
choice but to use diesel – mighty diesel! (photo courtesy of Wallace Shackleton)

Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees, Industrial-Scale Renewable Energy Does

youtube-Logo-4
gc2
reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

Published on From Filmers to Farmers on April 19th, 2017

Discuss this article at the Energy Table inside the Diner

 


When you wish upon a star the Blue Fairy sends Tinker Bell, who plants a magic seed, which grows into a giant beanstalk, which leads you to the goose that lays golden eggs, which can buy you all the renewable energy you could ever want. The End.

Follow the headlines and you can hardly be blamed for thinking that we're on the cusp of a monumental renaissance, one that'll usher us into a renewable energy paradise and allow us to maintain our profligate first-world standard of living for… well, forever!

My favourite recent headline indicative of this supposed renaissance came via the website Ecowatch (by no means a lowly-ranked website), which proclaimed in one of its article's titles that "California Generates Enough Solar Power to Meet Half its Energy Needs".

Half!

Half?

Well kinda half – "haaaalf." For as the article's second paragraph states,

Recent data shows California coming through. The state briefly generated enough solar power to meet nearly half of the state's electricity needs, according to data from the largest grid operator in the state, California ISO.

Let's break down this paragraph and the title of the article from which it came from:

1) Perhaps the most troublesome thing about this paragraph that should stick out more than any other is the slipshod way in which the article morphs into stating that it's not half the state's "energy needs" that were met (as the title stated) but half the state's "electricity needs" (as the second paragraph stated). This makes a huge difference, seeing how electricity is only one aspect of our energy usage – which also includes liquid and gaseous energies burned in internal combustion engines, central heating systems, etc., amongst much else. In fact, since electricity generally accounts for roughly 17% of overall energy usage, this means that it wasn't 50% of all energy needs that were supplied but 50% of 17% – otherwise known as 8.5%.

2) Perhaps the second most troublesome aspect of the situation isn't the article's clarification that the energy-cum-electricity generated wasn't even half but "nearly half" (so we're talking less than 8.5% then), but the revelation that this level was met only "briefly". That is, the most ideal data from the most ideal time of the day was cherry-picked, then inexplicitly substituted in place for… I don't know, the title didn't say – the entire day, week, month, year? Fortunately the article did in fact say, and it turns out that it was for the single day of March the 3rd. Or at least part of that day, because if one looks at the supplied graph for the 24-hour 15-hour period, one can confirm that the sun didn't in fact shine in the early morning, and that it looks like the appreciable levels of solar energy were generated for roughly eight hours between 8am and 4pm – which means about a third of the day, and so reduces the 50%-cum-(less than)8.5% to less than 3%.


Data was omitted from the evening hours in hopes that it'll encourage the sun to be less shy and so come out to play at night?

3) Last of all, it's stated that the data came from "the largest grid operator in the state", which is later in the article stated to not include urban places like Los Angeles or Sacramento. So while the inner cities undoubtedly have much less energy being generated by grotesque blobs of photovoltaics than rural California, this doesn't necessarily change the energy generation percentages in the slightest. Nonetheless, the wording and situation does still nonetheless seem a little fishy, which in my book justifies decreasing the less than 3% figure by another third, meaning that California, the stated state that "Generates Enough Solar Power to Meet Half its Energy Needs", possibly produces less than 1% of its energy needs from solar. Or in others words, jack shit. (Or in other other words, Jack ain't climbin' no stinkin' beanstalk to grift geese that lay golden eggs.)

My back of the envelope guess apparently wasn't even very far off, because after I realized that I'd better do some Internet sleuthing before I made an ever bigger arse out of myself, five seconds of research resulted in me finding an article explaining that in 2015 California ISO generated 15,591,694 megawatt-hours of solar electricity, out of the state's 231,965,326 total – that being 6.7%, along with 5.9% from hydro and 5.3% from wind. Multiply that 6.7% by 17% and, as I apparently wasn't very far off, we find that in 2015 California ISO produced 1.139% of the state's total energy usage via solar generation.

If that dismal number wasn't bad enough already, it also turns out that California has nearly half the entire country's solar electricity generation capacity. Jack and Jill really ain't gettin' Jack shit at the top of that hill.

Since the Ecowatch article gives nowhere near the kind of (cobbled) clarification that I just gave and instead resorts to conveying even more obfuscation and unwarranted hype, it's probably safe to say that this article's title is actually much worse than mere clickbait. One reason being, the misleading information that permeates these articles provides ample fodder for fossil fuel-backers to denounce renewables as full of BS, thus giving renewables in toto a bad name and giving many people the wrong impression of their complete futility. Secondly, while the article can not only be faulted for having a misleading title, but an ignorant-to-the-issues reader might very well come away feeling reassured that "well, the article didn't lie in the long run because it did ultimately straighten things out". In effect, a reader can consign themselves to believing that while things aren't as good as the title would have lead them to believe (if they even bothered going beyond the title, and if they even noticed some of the incongruities I pointed out), nor are things as bad as "industrial civilization is screwed". But the thing is

On top of all that, articles like the one from Ecowatch are by no means anomalies since our various forms of media are rife with this kind of claptrap.

Denmark is of course the poster-child for renewable energy Shangri-La, one example of the kind of stuff that gets bandied about being that "In the fall of 2015 Denmark generated 140% of its electricity demand with wind power". Which to me sounds like the entire three months of the season called "fall". However, not only did this stated 140% occur on what was "an unusually windy day" (as opposed to an entire windy season called "fall"), but the measurement occurred at the precise moment of – wait for it – 3am in the morning! To throw insult to injury, and as quoted in a Guardian article shoddily titled "Wind Power Generates 140% of Denmark's Electricity Demand", a representative of the European Wind Energy Association actually had the gall to then say that "It shows that a world powered 100% by renewable energy is no fantasy". No, no more fantasy than if we set our clocks to a permanent state of 3am, all went outside to blow really hard, and as a result found our energy woes to be solved.

Nor is it any more fantasy than setting our clocks to 11am, our calendars to Sunday, and similarly finding ourselves blissfully energized. Because at 11am on Sunday, May the 8th of last year, "95% of German electricity demand was being met by renewable energy". (The inclusion of the word "demand", as was used in both quotes about Denmark and its wind energy, gives me the impression that all this energy wasn't actually consumed [and certainly not stored] in Germany and for whatever reason had to be offloaded out of the country, but we'll let that one slide for now.) As said proclamation then continued, "In one of the most advanced manufacturing countries on the planet – this is an amazing feat of engineering."

Really? Is that such a feat? Because as another article described the very situation, "This demand is seen as pretty low, mostly a result of warm temperatures, the summer break and the weekend, when most commercial operations remained closed." Phew, sanity prevails. Or… or does it? Because as the paragraph then continues, "But exactly at such points of time, it can be proven how renewables are edging closer to be capable of covering 100% of the demanded energy."

!?!? Are renewable energy industry shills actually trying to sell the idea that cherry-picked data is proof of viability!? Does stealing candy from babies really mean we can have all the candy we want!? Is everybody involved in the energy industry smoking crack!?


Like that guy who walked on water it's as if you could walk on energy

Thankfully not, because as another article clarifies the similar notion that Germany now produces half of its energy using solar (of which was repeated in Popular Mechanics and Rickard Dawkins' website, and which both errantly used the word "energy" instead of "electricity"), "Last year only 4.5% of Germany’s gross electricity generation came from solar panels, far short of 50%." As it then states,

Germany's solar output varies massively during the year, and these variations can be made clear by a simple comparison. Daily output of Germany's solar panels peaked last year on 21st of July, when panels produced 20.9% of daily electricity demand. In contrast, the worst day of the year was 18th January when solar panels produced just over 0.1% of Germany's electricity demand. This second statistic has, unsurprisingly, failed to elicit any headlines.

Phew – and without any caveats!

Anyway, it's hard to not get the impression that what the wind energy lobbies, the solar energy lobbies, and whatever other renewable energy lobbies partake in is the same hype, wishful thinking, and arguably outright lies that the coal energy lobbies, the nuclear energy lobbies, and all the rest of the "dirty" energy lobbies partake in.

On top of all that, similar to how money lenders will lend to both sides in a war and ultimately not really care which side wins since they'll be coming out on top either way, PR agencies, advertising agencies, and the rest of the Madison Avenue types cumulatively couldn't care less if it's the coal industry that comes out as winners, or the fracking industry that comes out as winners, or the renewable energy racket that comes out as winners, or if Tinker Bell comes out as the supreme winner. Because whichever way it ends up, their industry is coming out on top.

And while getting paid and maintaining cush salaries is of the utmost importance here rather than clear assessments, it's probably not too far off the mark to surmise that – as Eric Janzen did back in 2008 and John Michael Greer did more recently – what's being created is a renewable energy bubble, possibly contributing to, or even causing, the next stock market crash. (The race is on frackers!)

None of this is to say though that "renewable" energies are all for naught, just that their large-scale application isn't going to work any better than "dirty" energies will at maintaining industrial civilization in light of the onset of peak oil and plummeting EROEI levels.

In the meantime, weeding through all the BS and delivering a straight assessment regarding all these energy sources is of course a massive undertaking, so next week I'll take a look at an excellent resource that has done just that.

Fanfare Ciocărlia, A Retrospective [part 6/6]

youtube-Logo-4
gc2
reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

Published on From Filmers to Farmers on March 31st, 2017

Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink inside the Diner

 


Wendell Berry: "What I stand for is what I stand on";
Fanfare Ciocărlia: "What we play is played upon sacks of potatoes"?
(photo © Arne Reinhardt)

As I stated in part 2, I'm all but certain that I discovered Taraf de Haïdouks by stealing their music in a shot-in-the-dark gesture on Hotline, something that led me to discovering Fanfare Ciocărlia in a rather roundabout way more than a decade later. For undescribed reasons I also questioned in part 2 whether I had aptly stolen Taraf de Haïdouks' music, which I'll now try and explain.

As recently stated by Costică “Cimai” Trifan, one of Fanfare Ciocărlia's four trumpet players and two lead vocalists, "we have a saying in Gypsy language: 'A good musician is stealing everywhere whatever is possible.'" If I understand this correctly, a good musician is someone who soaks up the array of different sounds they come across, eventually adapting and integrating those sounds into their repertoire. If I'm also not mistaken, there's probably no other musicians that have done this more effectively over the years than travelling Gypsies.

Somewhat similarly, it's been pointed out to me while writing this series that the practice of copyrighting music is a rather recent one, and that in times previous to when even sheet music was around the traditional way in which musicians made their money – i.e. living – was via giving performances. It was then suggested to me that since copyrighting music stems the traditional free flow of music ("stealing" music) and since by these traditional standards charging over and over again for the performance of a particular piece of recorded music is absurd, ripping music off of YouTube is therefore justified. Can the aforementioned Gypsy saying be interpreted to justify this theft of recorded music? As far as I can see it, absolutely not.

One issue with recorded music is that by unavoidably placing it in a physical format – be it on parchment, plastic, zeroes and ones, whatever – investment is required for the recording, mastering, the medium itself, etc. This costs money, and as opposed to performances, most of the proceeds from sales of recorded music is siphoned off by middle men. In effect, to a certain extent recorded music is little more than an advertisement for the performances of musicians since this is where their living is predominantly made.

So while the aforementioned Gypsy saying was inferring that one "steals" influences from far and wide – as opposed to stealing whatever one wants – the simple fact of the matter is that music is by no means a biological necessity like food (which in some cases can be justified stealing), and if one really has a problem with copyrights on recorded music or recorded music in general then rather than refusing to hand over one's money the simple thing to do would be to refuse to hand over one's ears; or, simply grab an instrument and play music on one's own or with friends and family – the "traditional way".

So having stolen several Taraf de Haïdouks albums more than a decade ago I knew without any doubt in my mind that I had no desire to start down that road again, since from what I can tell that approach tends to cheapen music. Because if you genuinely liked someone's music (and supposing they were still alive and active), wouldn't you feel compelled to somehow return their gift? And wouldn't stealing music essentially be a show of disrespect upon the musicians? And if so, why would you want to listen to the music of someone you disrespected? (Of course most musicians today don't actually deserve much – if any – respect, but that's a whole other story.)

Anyway, although I don't exactly have the funds to go throwing around at music albums, I knew that I was never again going to inundate myself by purchasing very many albums, and seeing how Taraf de Haïdouks don't seem to be using their earnings to live the high life, last year I went ahead and bought most of their albums (directly off their label's website), along with another few Kočani Orkestar albums (two off the aforementioned website and another two off of Google Play). Upon discovering Fanfare Ciocărlia shortly thereafter, and since MP3s of their albums weren't offered for sale on their label's website, I similarly bought their entire library off of Google Play. And besides one (live) album by a Colombian band that Fanfare Ciocărlia recorded a song with, that's all the albums I've since purchased and is all I expect to purchase for a long time – twenty in total, which I suppose isn't too bad.

I'm not sure how much Fanfare Ciocărlia and their label (started by their manager Henry Ernst) get from me buying their albums off of Google Play versus how much they get from CD/vinyl sales (or especially from performances), but seeing how I can't give them any baksheesh (such as via a donation button on their label's website) and how out of appreciation I'd like to give them a few bucks to cover their recording costs and/or possibly help fund a future album, then sure, I'll hand over a few bucks for their albums even though Google and whomever else will probably siphon off most of my money. It fortunately helps that I again don't get the impression that Fanfare Ciocărlia is made up of musicians living the high-life, what with the five of them still living in Zece Prajini (the five left-most in the above picture) continuing to involve themselves with agriculture in one way or another, while the others that moved to nearby towns and cities did so in order to accommodate their childrens' high school education.


Baksheesh: a tip given for service rendered, as demonstrated by Oprică Ivancea,
Costel "Gisniac" Ursu, Monel "Gutzel" Trifan and Crăciun Ivancea (photo © Arne Reinhardt)

So having said all that, and with not being a very big fan of Google/YouTube, it's with a bit of trepidation that I conclude this series on music and Fanfare Ciocărlia with not only mini-reviews of Fanfare Ciocărlia's albums but, and since such things are apparently pretty much necessary now-a-days, with a sample song from each of their albums. That'd be their eleven albums, which includes five "solo" albums, three collaborative albums, two greatest hits albums (on vinyl only), and a live album.

I'll also point out that I'm not even going to try and pretend that I can write about music in itself, so while giving a few words about each album, I'll just go ahead and cop out here by simply listing a range of musical styles from which Fanfare Ciocărlia is said to draw upon and sound like. We've got Turkish military brass / Turkish marching band, Romanian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Saxon, Macedonian, Serbian and Middle Eastern rhythms, Romanian dances, Oriental dances, deep Balkan blues, manic party music, eastern funk, and a heavy, heavy monster sound, all of which comes with a rip-roaring intensity that others can only dream of emulating.

And as I conclude all this, a final quote by Ernst, one which I think sums up Fanfare Ciocărlia better than anything else I've read or could possibly write:

And the repertoire, as a brass band – but this also holds true with Taraf [de Haïdouks] – was wedding music. They were wedding musicians. That's their reason for being. They aren't artists who suddenly decide, I'm going to be an artist and I'm going to embark on a career, and I have the feeling I can market myself real well, and I have the feeling I have to express myself. Not at all. There is talent backed up by training and a family, who pushes it, stands behind it, and says: hey, this is how you will earn your money; do it. That's how children grow up. They start when they are four. And when they are sixteen they start playing at weddings, and this is how they earn their money. And this is the philosophy of life.

While having never harboured any romantic notions about Gypsies or a roaming Gypsy lifestyle or whatever, why am I not surprised in the slightest to find out that the most wonderful music I've ever heard isn't played by a bunch of "artists" but by a bunch of guys that grew up on the land?

 

Radio Pașcani (1998)

Their absolutely stellar debut, this is Fanfare Ciocărlia in its most raw sounding form and is the album that instantly earned them the deserved reputation as being "the speed kings of Gypsy brass" and "the fastest in the blow biz". Overflowing with joy, humour and manic intensity, I for one was in awe – and remain in awe – that music could sound like this.

Hora cu Strigaturii: Really? Brass can not only be played this fast, but with the utmost finesse? As I wrote to a mate of mine describing this song, "I've got steroids in my ears. Beautiful, beautiful steroids."




 

Baro Biao – World Wide Wedding (1999)

Although the occasional attempt is again made to outplay the sound barrier, the tempo mostly slows down and is dominated by a more mellow and groovy Eastern sound.

Asfalt Tango: If the previous song had you transfixed with its sheer speed, then this one quickly shows Fanfare Ciocărlia's stylistic dexterity and what Eastern brass can sound like, at its best.




 

Iag Bari – The Gypsy Horns from the Mountains Beyond (2001)

More subtle than their first two, the trumpets are at their most piercing in this offering.

Hora Lautaresca: They do fast and manic, they do slow and groovy, but they also do soft and beautiful.




 

Gili Garabdi – Ancient Secrets of Gypsy Brass (2005)

With rampaging tubas on the loose this is easily their heaviest album yet – what I've seen described as "eastern funk". While the translation of Gili Garabdi fittingly means "mystic tune" in Fanfare Ciocărlia's Gypsy dialect "Ursarii", since I've yet to find another Balkan and/or Gypsy brass band that comes even close to consistently matching the sheer wonder of Fanfare Ciocărlia, "Ancient Secrets of Gypsy Brass" is a rather polite gesture when it should probably be titled "Ancient Secrets of Zece Prajini Brass". If I have one complaint about the album that would be in regards to the inclusion of the DJ re-mixed final track, which I solved by simply deleting the MP3. Nonetheless, while this was the first album I ever heard by Fanfare Ciocărlia, if you don't want to start at the beginning or with their most recent, this or Iag Bari might be their best introductory album.

Hora Evreiasca: Tubas that'll curl your upper lip and a menacingly serpentine clarinet of Oprică Ivancea that'll almost pacify you to Australia's most venomous.




 

Queens and Kings (2007)

Their first non-solo album, this is also their first that follows the passing of Ioan Ivancea and so features various Gypsy musicians from across the Balkans in homage to the late clarinetist, playing a variety of Gypsy songs. Its comparative lack of something (it sounds more like a compilation?) in comparison to their first four initially put me off this one, but it grew on me and is now on my regular playlist.

Duj Duj: Having to choose just one song from these albums is a bit tough, so while I'd really like to embed "Sandala" with vocals by Serbia's Šaban Bajramović, here instead is "Duj Duj" with vocals by Mitsou and Florentina Sandu, the latter being the granddaughter of Taraf de Haïdouks' late founder (and visionary violinist) Nicolae Neacșu.




 

Best of Gypsy Brass (2009) [available in vinyl only]

Their first best-of album, released in response to fans of Fanfare Ciocărlia wanting their music on vinyl. As good of a mix as any.

Born to Be Wild: Of all of Fanfare Ciocărlia's songs this is the likeliest one you've heard, what with it being commissioned by Sacha Baron Cohen to appear in the closing credits of his film Borat. As Ernst describes it, "The band had never heard the original. I played it to them and within one hour they'd picked it up – and within three hours we'd finished our own version." Almost makes you wish there was a program you could insert MP3s in one end and which come out Fanfare Ciocărlia-ized the other. Almost.




 

Live (2009)

A performance they gave back in 2004 and so inclusive of Ioan Ivancea. If you doubted their ability to play so fast yet so deftly without some kind of doctoring going on in the studio then this album will prove you wrong, while also displaying the playfulness to their music.

Ciocărlia: A song from their first album, the sheer joy washes over you.




 

Balkan Brass Battle (2011) with Boban & Marko Marković Orchestra

Their second non-solo album, this one being a playful "battle" between Fanfare Ciocărlia and Serbia's Boban & Marko Marković Orchestra, and my least favourite overall. That would be due to the inclusion of the Boban & Marko Marković Orchestra who can be rather pop-like with their sound and also rather… Western sounding? Likewise, Fanfare Ciocărlia's rendition of "Caravan" is much more tame than the version on Gili Garabdi and lacks that eerie Balkan sound that that first song I heard of theirs endeared me with. This is their only album I don't really listen to.

Devla: Of the five songs that Fanfare Ciocărlia and Boban & Marko Marković Orchestra duo on "Asfalt Tango" is probably the best, but as I've already embedded a version of that song here's "Devla".




 

Devil's Tale (2014) with Adrian Raso [also available in vinyl]

As soon as I heard Devil's Tale I instantly grabbed a copy on CD for a mate of mine who incidentally doesn't like brass music, expected not to like it, but found it to be utterly fantastic. Because if Balkan Brass Battle was rather lacklustre, then Fanfare Ciocărlia's third collaborative album – this time with Guelph, Ontario's, Adrian Raso – more than makes up for it. A relatively unknown guitarist with tarantella roots and a hankering for Gypsy jazz, Raso cold-called Fanfare Ciocărlia in the far-fetched hopes of getting them to guest play on a single song on an upcoming album of his. They liked his material so much that they agreed to not only guest on a single song but suggested an entire album instead. But while sharing an admiration for Gypsy jazz, what Fanfare Ciocărlia and Raso also share is that they derive from a place where horses and carts are still used: although none of Fanfare Ciocărlia's members use horses and carts anymore they're nonetheless still used by villagers in Zece Prajini; and although I don't imagine that Raso gets around in a horse and cart very often, the Mennonites in the area (some of whom I've brushed shoulders with while attending the Guelph Organic Conference) certainly do.

Swing Sagarese: A lot of the previous brass music I (painfully) listened to was hokey and contrived swing music, from back when that stuff was all the rage in the first few years of this century. This one redeems that schlock nicely.




 

Onwards to Mars (2016) [also available in vinyl]

While this album might have the most character of all, a couple of riveting covers/interpretations of songs written and/or performed by Maria Tanase (a Romanian singer from the mid-20th century) adds to the album a slightly haunting touch, perfect for the "apocaloptamist". Although I won't call this album (or any of them) my favourite, even though I avoided buying this album for several months after purchasing their first four because I misguidedly thought Fanfare Ciocărlia was now playing commercial garbage, in total I've probably now listened to it more than any other.

Hora Strengarilor: Although I'd like to embed one of the Tanase covers/interpretations or one of several other songs, I'm going to have to go with the Hora again (I tend to like the Horas – a Romanian dance – I've noticed). Of all of Fanfare Ciocărlia's songs this one definitely makes me smile/laugh the most, so much so that when I'm out and about in the city and knowingly looking like an idiot with a set of ear buds lodged in my head I don't want to look even stupider by having a big smirk on my face. So I hold in the smirk, which just makes my eyes well up with tears instead, making me look like an even bigger idiot that I was trying to avoid. If you can't crack even the slightest smile with this one then perhaps Guy McPherson's Nature Bats Last may be more suitable for you than FF2F.




 

20 (2016) [available in vinyl only]

Their second best-of album, this one released for their 20th anniversary and split up over four themed sides of two vinyls: "ROOTS captures them as a village brass band. ORIENT gathers their most Eastern recordings. JAMS features their funkiest sides that make clubs jump. AMIGOS demonstrates Fanfare’s wide ranging collaborations, from backing Macedonia’s Gypsy Queen Esma Redzepova to rocking with Canadian guitarist Adrian Raso."

Lume Lume: One of their signature songs, this is another Maria Tanase cover/interpretation, "Lume Lume" translating to "World, sister, world" or "Life, sister, life". This is their fourth rendition of the song actually, what with a different version appearing on each of their first four albums (I was rather surprised to not see another rendition on Onwards to Mars!).




 

If you'd like the opportunity of being able to pass on some baksheesh to Fanfare Ciocărlia in person, then as I mentioned at the end of part 5, you can see their tour schedule on their website or on their Facebook page, or, and as I've done, you can sign up with either Bands in Town or Song Kick to be notified if they plan on visiting your area.

Last of all, having relayed his previous message in part 3 about being "not so sure about that Șulo fellow", Dr. Pooper has asked me to relay not only another message but an apology, because along with discovering that all of Fanfare Ciocărlia's members still living in Zece Prajini continue to (modestly) involve themselves with agriculture, he also found out that Șulo is actually the most active of them all, what with his pigs, cows, chickens, sheep and few hectares of fields that he continues to cultivate. As the saying now goes…

Onwards to the prajini!


Fanfare Ciocărlia, beautifully bridging the gap between the village and the fields (the prajini) with music?
(photo of Constantin "Șulo" Călin © Arne Reinhardt)

From the Gutter of The Lounge Lizards’ Confidence Schmuzic to Fanfare Ciocărlia and the Peak of Music [part 5/6]

youtube-Logo-4
gc2
reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

Published on From Filmers to Farmers on March 27th, 2017

Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink inside the Diner

 


The sounds of the Romanian countryside, unleashed by Fanfare Ciocărlia for twenty years and counting (photo © Arne Reinhardt)

As put by Ioan Ivancea, the late patriarch of the Romanian Gypsy brass band Fanfare Ciocărlia,

Our ancestors were serfs for the local Boyar from Dagița [a neighbouring village] and were living on the steeps of the surrounding mountains. This was such a harsh experience, people struggled to carry water and firewood to the camp, so one day the tribe elder approached the Boyar and asked for a space in the valley. The Boyar was a good man and gifted them ten fields in the valley to live. Zece Prajini's name translates as Ten Fields. Since then all the families have farmed and played music. And always will.

Unless…

Unless the young generation of Gypsies turn to shit… The new music, it's bullshit.

As isn't particularly surprising in this culturally-diminished globalized world of ours, it turns out that to a certain degree the young generation of Gypsies have in fact been "turning to shit". While the members of Fanfare Ciocărlia (and Taraf de Haïdouks) have stuck to their traditional forms of music, the same unfortunately can't be said for Gypsy musicians at large, particularly the younger ones. While a new generation of brass musicians is unfortunately not emerging in Zece Prajini (a grandson of Ioan Ivancea's does however play clarinet on two tracks of Fanfare Ciocărlia's most recent album, to go along with three of Ioan's sons that remain in the band from day one), what's generally happened with the young generation of Gypsies is a turning away from their rich musical traditions for the pop sort of rubbish that many of us non-Romanians/non-Gypsies are familiar with in our own ways, and which in this particular case is known as "Gypsy Pop Music" or "Manele" in Romanian.

As Fanfare Ciocărlia's percussionist Nicolae Ionița pointed out more than ten years ago to a young Gypsy musician who played Manele, "It's shits like you that are killing off the traditional Gypsy music." Rather unsurprisingly, Ionița was told in return that "If I only make a copy of the old way, of Taraf, of Fanfare, I wouldn't go anywhere. I have to take the music forward." Without much surprise again, this Gypsy Pop Music has not only continued to progress "forward" in the ensuing ten years since the cited conversation, but has ventured out so far as to now even resemble "pure dadaism" as I've been told.

Although I've only heard a bit of this music (which was god-awful), it doesn't take too much of an imagination to associate said music with the equivalent commercial schlock our non-Romanian airwaves (and/or streaming services) get inundated with. But while it's easy to pick out the commercial and superficial "bullshit", it's sometimes not quite as easy to avoid getting duped by the more insidious and sophisticated bullshit – that being the bullshit of what I like to call the "talentocracy".

While I expect to expound on the definition of "talentocracy" at some later date, suffice to say that it's essentially the logical conclusion of a meritocracy within a Ponzionomic system, which essentially boils down to a grandiose serving of "art of the confidence schemers, by the confidence schemers, for the confidence schemers." And there is no person I am familiar with that better exemplifies the talentocracy and its confidence scheming than New York City's John Lurie – actor, painter, and former saxophonist and founder of the brass-ish band The Lounge Lizards. As Wikipedia describes the rather schmoozey name of Lurie's band,

The group's name was borrowed from American slang. A lounge lizard is typically depicted as a well-dressed man who frequents the establishments in which the rich gather with the intention of seducing a wealthy woman with his flattery and deceptive charm.


As per The New Yorker: "From 1984 to 1989, everyone in downtown New York wanted to be John Lurie [second from right]. Or sleep with him. Or punch him in the face."

Although he currently restricts himself to painting (for various reasons that don't need mentioning), what Lurie is probably most revered for is his music, to go along with a fair amount of movie acting and a hosting gig with the six-episode cable television show Fishing with John.

There's no doubt that Lurie and his former bandmates were extremely technically talented, and I did admittedly somewhat enjoy a few of their songs (particularly the first song off their first album). That being said, I also can't refrain from pointing out that a majority of their music – although extremely "creative" – often had me struggling with whether I actually liked it, or with whether I was forcing myself to try to like it because I should be liking it, be it due to its "originality" or what have you.

While The Lounge Lizards' music got labelled in a myriad of ways – punk-jazz, jazz-punk, avant-garde jazz, experimental rock, no wave, etc. – one of its more notable labels was "fake jazz", a label hastily uttered by Lurie himself and which he regretted saying due to the insinuations made afterwards by "lazy journalists". Although I'm not familiar with how the "fake jazz" utterance was misconstrued and only know that The Lounge Lizards donned thrift-store suits to satirize the iconography of jazz, I do however think that the "fake jazz" label tips us off to the possibility that the music of Lurie and The Lounge Lizards might deservedly be called fake music.


(photo by Jason Taellious)

Perhaps "fake music" is a bit off, much like how calling the money that banks create out of thin air "fake money" wouldn't be entirely correct since said money can very well be used to purchase goods with. So while "ponzionomic money" would probably fit the mold better, so too might "ponzionomic music". That's still a bit too off, but if we combine the words "confidence scheme", "schmooze", and "music", we get what I think is the much more apropos label of "confidence schmuzic" (which, granted, is probably little more than a sophisticated version of Ivancea's "bullshit" epithet).

While the term "confidence schmuzic" is limited to the musical field and so doesn't encapsulate the bullshit of Lurie's painting, the following description Lurie gave of a fellow painter of his can be used to sum up the analogous approach pretty well:

Perry's technique was so much better than mine, but I was always telling him, "Just try to put in a bit of weirdness." He's trying so hard not to be seen as crazy, his paintings look like the work of a skilled accountant.

And as Perry then retorted,

John saw a beautiful nude I'd painted and said, "Put a squiggle of red in there, and you'll make a million bucks."

Lurie was no doubt being somewhat facetious, but the underlying motivation and mechanics behind the whole thing was nonetheless quite evident: the entire edifice they work amongst is a grandiose confidence scheme – bullshit – necessarily propped up by well-placed individuals in the monetary confidence schemes who possess deep enough pockets to pay exorbitant amounts of money for artistic confidence schemes. Each side thus cynically takes advantage of the other's vanity and greed, in effect giving faux validity to themselves by propping up each other's respective facades. For Lurie and other artists who have the gift of being able to sell ice to Eskimos (the highest amount I've noticed a painting of Lurie's fetching was actually "only" $55,000), New York City is of course the world's greatest "art centre" to locate oneself in thanks to it being the heart of our monetary Ponzi system, implying a plethora of bankers and their acolytes with gobs of money sloshing around who need artists to give them "cultural" validity in the attempt of justifying their vapid lives.

One might of course excuse (read: be an apologist for) Lurie's various forms of art by calling it absurdist, but although he probably fits the mold of your run-of-the-mill narcissist, it might be more accurate to give him the somewhat contradictory label of being an ambitious nihilist since there isn't actually any point to his absurdism.


"My Name is Skinny, I am a Horse" by John Lurie

One way that Lurie's nihilism can be understood is via The Yak, one of the two Lounge Lizards' songs that include (spoken) vocals and in which Lurie talks about a farmer who accidentally kills himself with a rake. The unfortunate farmer thus leaves behind his wife, who is in turn claimed – along with the farm – by the raving and feverish yak on the hill. (You can read the complete lyrics to the song here.) Again, one can be an apologist for such patter by calling it absurdist, but regardless, while Lurie certainly wasn't being classicist by mocking farmers or farming, what he essentially was mocking with his thinly-veiled narcissism, nihilism, or whatever you want to call it, was life itself.

It's in these encompassing contexts that I think the "too cacophonous, too demanding, too ethereal, too… a hundred things" music of The Lounge Lizards (as described by Lurie's brother Evan, the band's piano player and organist) can be quite fairly summed up as being confidence schmuzic. And just as those suckling off the teats of our Ponzionomic system – as well as those pandering to said sucklers – either understand the mechanics behind their various confidence schemes or blindly go along with them because "that's the way things are" and "everybody else is doing it", I wouldn't be surprised if many, if not most, of those who claim(ed) to like The Lounge Lizards' music were under a similar spell of "liking" the music due to the weight and panache it carried in their chosen clique(s). That's of course not to say that nobody liked The Lounge Lizards' music. Just like there are psychopaths well-placed in the pecking order of our Ponzionomic system who very much like the accrued benefits they get to enjoy, I'm sure there are plenty of masochists who similarly like(d) the music of The Lounge Lizards.

In effect, although it would be a stretch to say that I went on my ten-plus-year musical abstention due to the confidence schmuzic of John Lurie and The Lounge Lizards, I can however say with certainty that if what music was all about was New Yorkers like said musicians, then I don't think I'd ever bother listening to music again.

Fortunately I did end my hiatus, because not only was I able to extricate myself from the gutter of music, but because I somehow also managed to find myself smack up against what may very well be, in a variety of ways, the peak of music.


The late Maria and Ioan Ivancea, husband and wife for 42 years: Not only do some farmers keep alive our agricultural seeds, but some of them even keep alive the seeds of the most wonderful music we're likely ever to hear – while making sure to reserve the bullshit for the fields, not our ears (photo © Arne Reinhardt)

Although I'm not the best judge of this, when it comes to raw instrumental talent it's possible that Fanfare Ciocărlia and The Lounge Lizards are each other's equal. That being said, while the members of Fanfare Ciocărlia aren't merely raw talent, what does differentiate them from the latter is that by starting off as the loose-knit wedding band for their village and surrounding area – playing the music people wanted to dance to while celebrating life – they are the antithesis of a confidence scheme.

That the musicians of Zece Prajini were able to build a reputation for themselves can partially be chalked up to the fact that they are descendants of – and are themselves – Gypsy musicians, musicians that have often been revered over the centuries as the finest musicians available – be it as entertainers for their fellow common folk or for the upper crusts. Their musical range was made possible by soaking up the musical traditions of the hosts they lived amongst during their travels, all of which enabled them to entertain their hosts in return (albeit with their added Gypsy flair). In the meantime they also made sure to pass on those collected musical traditions – and thus training – down from one generation to the next. As described by Fanfare Ciocărlia's manager, Henry Ernst,

[T]hat’s why Fanfare [Ciocărlia] was highly esteemed among wedding organizers. You give them a song – they have never heard the song before – and after an hour – they hear the song five times, the sixth time they begin to whistle the tune, the tenth time they know how it works harmonically, and the twentieth time they are making their own arrangement out of it. And by the thirtieth time you've got a song where you think, wow, they've been playing this song their whole lives. That's the way it goes. That, is Gypsy culture. Soak it up like a sponge, react very quickly, of course with their own improvised touch, which makes a real impression on the listener. So we say, musical culture created by the Gypsies is always a service industry. They offer up a huge treasure which is highly esteemed.

But while Fanfare Ciocărlia doesn't fit the dumbed-down stereotype of Gypsies roaming around in caravans and tents (their community of settled Gypsies in Zece Prajini actually continues to farm – for their own needs – to this very day), they have nonetheless inadvertently taken the notion of travelling Gypsy musicianship to the extreme, earning the moniker of "the hardest working band in the blow biz" thanks to the 2,000+ shows they've performed across the world in their twenty years together.

But seeing how we're now entering the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era, the time is coming when never again will the world be able to see such beautiful music and "natural" talent criss-cross the globe with such ease the way Fanfare Ciocărlia has, for the simple fact that never again will there be the oil, nor the energy in general, for so many people to travel the globe so expediently and willy-nilly.

In other words, while the physics and geology behind the end of the oil age means that never again will there be the opportunity for a group of musicians to so readily criss-cross the globe, since Fanfare Ciocărlia is a group of musicians that not only inherited a wide variety of musical styles that their forefathers picked up along their travels, but also one that uniquely soaked up even more during their travels in airplanes rather than caravans, Fanfare Ciocărlia may therefore not only be something that comes around once a decade, once a century, or even once a millennium, but are something that can only happen once an oil age. By somewhat showing the world to the world with the utmost ability, quality and beauty, the combination of all the aforementioned factors may very well qualify Fanfare Ciocărlia for being thought of as the peak of music.


Touring like this will no longer be possible in the near (nearish?) future, and never will be again (image courtesy of Asphalt Tango Records)

If there's one thing though that might invalidate Fanfare Ciocărlia as qualifying for the notion of peak music, that'd be that they don't actually write too much of the music they play. Because while they do compose many of their horas and sirbas (traditional Romanian dances), much of what they play is either covers/interpretations, or music that has been written for them. But on closer inspection, is that really such a bad thing? Or more specifically, isn't that exactly the problem with confidence schmuzic in the first place, and isn't the revered notion of "originality" exactly where much of the ridiculous cooler-than-thou aspect of the music scene comes from?

Having said that, it's nonetheless almost as if Fanfare Ciocărlia has turned originality on its head. Because while not being "originals" in the oh-so-risqué avant-garde sense, they've instead added their own unique developed-in-their-corner-of-the-world-flavour to various forms of music – the same way a vegetable seed will develop unique characteristics by adapting itself to the soil and climate conditions of a particular locale – while (necessarily?) being far away from, and ignored by, the "great art centres" of the world (which in their specific case particularly meant Bucharest).

How's that for art?

To think then, as that young Gypsy musician was quoted earlier, that Fanfare Ciocărlia and Taraf de Haïdouks are but a "copy of the old way" is completely missing the point, understood like this: If you think your mother/father/wife/husband is the greatest cook in the world, are you all of a sudden going to think any less of them (and their food) upon finding out that they learned (and likely adapted) their recipes from their mother or father? And can you really say that – in the opposite sense of "taking the music forward" – Fanfare Ciocărlia are stuck in the past when not only can they pull something like this off, but when it can be fairly stated that they now own a song such as this one?

Unfortunately most of the world's places have long lost their traditional forms of music to assist them in celebrating life (although wedding bands have been making a recent resurgence in the Balkans after a decades-long dearth), and in their place instead have downtown centres overwhelmingly loaded with the live music of confidence schmuzicians that instead celebrate hedonism and narcissism (if not nihilism) while parading their "originality".

With that in mind, and since the world will eventually lose Fanfare Ciocărlia to Zece Prajini and the rest of Moldova – be it due to the unavailability of cheap fossil fuels to move them around or due to the fanfare's retirement (Ernst said last year that he doesn't see them going beyond another ten years, which may very well be all that a world economy ravaged by peaking fossil fuel supplies and/or diminishing EROEI levels will allow for anyhow) – then I'd suggest that while at the peak of civilization one doesn't miss out on their chance to see what may very well be the peak of music.

For those interested you can see their tour schedule on their website or on their Facebook page, or, and as I've done, you can sign up with either Bands in Town or Song Kick to be notified if they plan on visiting your area.

In the meantime, while I'd unsurprisingly say there's no point bothering with New York City's Lounge Lizards, I would say that the rewards can be rather fruitful if you decide to go Out to Lounge with Fanfare Ciocărlia instead.

Bands of Gypsies, Assisting us in Achieving Harmony in the Face of Collapse [part 4/6]

youtube-Logo-4 gc2 reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

Published on From Filmers to Farmers on March 21st, 2017

Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink inside the Diner

 


Fanfare Ciocărlia's lead vocalists (and trumpet
players) Radulescu Lazar and Costică "Cimai"
Trifan, as well as the late Ioan Ivancea

Back before I'd discovered Fanfare Ciocărlia and was (almost contently) listening to nothing but Taraf de Haïdouks, Kočani Orkestar, and their Band of Gypsies combo act, I spent some time doing a bit of research on them all (if bouncing around the Internet counts as research) and came across a Romanian event called the Balkanik Festival which the Band of Gypsies was headlining the following month. As the festival's website stated, "Both bands will join their instruments and forces in a never-before-heard repertoire". I took that to mean an upcoming Band of Gypsies 3 album and tour, and although I was rather intrigued about such a possibility there was of course no way I was going to fly all the way to Europe to catch a sneak peek (I'll catch them in Australia if they return here).

But on top of that it was also stated that the Band of Gypsies' new music was "meant to demolish all prejudice, walls between people, countries, ethnicities and continents." That I couldn't help but roll my eyes at a bit, what with it essentially being the musical equivalent of the rather flaky lament of "I understand it now – all we have to do is love one another!" As if that weren't enough, having discovered Fanfare Ciocărlia a few months later I was quite surprised to find out that the Band of Gypsies weren't the only band of Gypsies associated with bringing peace and harmony to the world.

Turns out that not only was the European Union awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, but that the day after the EU received its award Fanfare Ciocărlia played the Nobel Peace Prize concert as the invited musical representatives of Eastern Europe. (I'd embed the audio clip of the performance, or provide a link to it, but all I could find was a dual audio-video feed. And since FF2F doesn't embed or even link to video feeds that means you'll have to seek it out yourself if interested.) As stated on the EU's website, "In 2012 the EU received the Nobel Peace Prize for advancing the causes of peace, reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe." It also points out that "When awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said its decision was based on the stabilising role the EU has played in transforming most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace." Which is, to a certain degree, rather misleading.


I can't vouch for many of the Nobel Peace Prize recipients (I tend to prefer those awarded the
"Alternate Nobel Prize" – the Right Livelihood Award), but at least they've got an impeccable taste in music

To explain why this is I'll address a question posed by Fanfare Ciocărlia's late patriarch, Ioan Ivancea, conveyed by Garth Cartwright in his book Princes Amongst Men: Journeys with Gypsy Musicians:

[Ivancea:] On tour I was watching a programme about the Third World, countries much poorer than Romania, and it gets me thinking why this fucking Bush and – what's that asshole's name?

[Unidentified person:] Blair?

[Ivancea:] Da. Blair. Bush and Blair, why are they invading Iraq and creating terror rather than helping the world's poor?

While it's arguable whether those such as "Bush and Blair" really care about the world's poor as much as they care about good optics, it shouldn't be arguable that not only were "Bush and Blair" invading Iraq in order to secure its crude in those precursor years to peaking oil supplies, but as William George Clark explains in his excellent book Petrodollar Warfare: Oil, Iraq and the Future of the Dollar, they were also doing so in order to stop Saddam Hussein from selling Iraq's oil in euros and thus threatening the free ride the United States enjoys thanks to its status as the bearer of the world's reserve currency.

In regards to the current situation in Europe, what it's now beginning to face due to peaking domestic and worldwide energy supplies (along with climate change and other resource shortages) is certainly not the blooming of democracy. As Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed explains in his latest book, Failing States, Collapsing Systems: Biophysical Triggers of Political Violence (which I reviewed a month ago),

[I]t is difficult to avoid the conclusion as we near 2045, the European and American projects will face escalating internal challenges to their international territorial integrity, increasing the risk of systemic state-failure.

On top of that is the rather uncomfortable fact that although democracy (which the EU was lauded for advancing via its Nobel Peace Prize) isn't strictly dependent on fossil fuels, our 21st century iterations of it certainly are. Put a bit differently, although Rome enjoyed a democracy long before the introduction of fossil fuels, this was democracy for the privileged few who had ample spare time for comfortable debate thanks to the "freedoms" that the harnessed energy of slaves allowed for, all of which was effectively a much smaller-scaled version of the "freedoms" that a much larger set of privileged are presently able to enjoy thanks to the harnessed energy of fossil fuels. Although the underlying implications of fossil fuels aren't generally recognized, what they've allowed for are such things as industrial agriculture, something that in itself has meant that no longer are many of us required to spend our time working in the fields to cultivate our sustenance, and so can instead spend endless hours with inconsequential political banter and/or playing video games (or possibly even playing political-bantering video games if such things exist – "Congratulations! You've fired everybody, you win!").

To think then that music can "demolish all prejudice, walls between people, countries, ethnicities and continents" is akin to adding insult to injury. Because the unfortunate fact is that peace isn't so much a state of mind or a state of shaking your booty so much as it's about access to resources and not having to fight over them. And it just so happens that there's never been anything in the history of humanity that could provide such a bounty for so many, and allow for so much "peace", as fossil fuels. (However, that "peace" can be quickly rescinded if you're inconveniently living on top of the deserts where "our" fossil fuels need liberating from.)

In other words, yes, a free kegger (fossil fuels are the closest we'll ever get to "free energy") can certainly bring people together for the time being and "advance the causes of peace, reconciliation, democracy and human rights", but once those taps start to go dry the festive moods can turn sour and scapegoats can start to be sought after (no matter how good the musicians are), particularly if the underlying problems aren't understood and – supposing they even can be – dealt with. As it so happens, the spigots are starting to go dry (or rather, are peaking), violence/terrorism is on the rise, and very little understanding exists in regards to what's going on.

That all being the case, what's required of us – as simply a starting point – is to come to grips with the realities of peak oil, declining EROEI levels and the fact that there won't be a replacement for fossil fuels, which in toto requires us to accept the onset of the collapse of industrial civilization. Coming to grips with all this often implies having to go through the Kübler-Ross five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – something that Fanfare Ciocărlia can in fact assist us with. Or at least, its hijacked Twitter feed can (hit reload if you don't see all six Tweets, along with the seventh which should appear a few paragraphs after the photograph of Ioan Ivancea):

 

 

Denial:

"Collapse of industrial civilization? Who are you kidding? This is paradise!"

 

 

Anger:

"Hold on a second. First communism collapsed, and now you say that the entirety of industrial civilization is going to collapse as well? That makes me so angry I could blow my top!"

 

 

Bargaining:

"Okay, okay. How about we trade a bottle of wine – Fanfare Ciocărlia wine! – for a barrel of oil? Two bottles? A case? Please?"

 

 

Depression:

Reality starts to sink in for a few initial members of Fanfare Ciocărlia…

 

 

…eventually spreading to the entire fanfare.

 

 

Acceptance:

"Okay, fine. So it's back to the prajini and playing music for local weddings again. We can live with that. Sayonara!"

Attempts at humour aside, the collapse of industrial civilization by no means implies a ho-hum return "back to the prajini and playing music for local weddings again". Nonetheless, what some musicians (such as Fanfare Ciocărlia) can perhaps do is help us understand the celebratory nature of traditional forms of music, something that most of Western civilization generally isn't familiar with.

Because what Fanfare Ciocărlia's home-village of Zece Prajini (which translates to "Ten Fields") managed to maintain all the way up to the end of the 20th century, and against all the odds, was not only a people (tenuously) rooted in the land, but a people who also simultaneously participated in the cultural passage of a community's musical traditions from one generation down to the next. Case in point, Ioan Ivancea was found playing his father's clarinet at the age of five and began to learn from his elders forthwith, Costică Trifan began learning the trumpet from his grandfather at the age of six or seven, to go along with the fact that many members of Fanfare Ciocărlia had played together as a brass gang since childhood, often disappearing after school into the hills around Zece Prajini where they would try to emulate the sounds they heard their fathers and uncles playing in their yards and at various festivities.

So while we have in-situ seed-saving whereby seeds are kept alive by actively replanting them year after year – a process that keeps the seeds continually relevant by maintaining their contact with the changing conditions of the soil and the climate at large – what Zece Prajini may very well have accomplished is the equivalent of in-situ music-saving, a situation in which cultural music traditions were kept alive via passage from one generation to the next, all the while remaining relevant ("modern", if you will) thanks to a not-too-excessive exposure to the outside world.

Ioan Ivancea, passing on the "Ancient Secrets of Gypsy Brass" (and woodwind) to the next generations of Gypsy musicians?
(photo © Arne Reinhardt)

However, like what has occurred to many Eastern European countries, cities, towns and villages after the fall of communism, Zece Prajini and its inhabitants became exposed to the greater world to a much larger degree that before, and by no means just musically. This can be a problem, as pointed out by Helena Norberg-Hodge in her book Ancient Futures: Lessons from Ladakh for a Globalizing World, in which she conveys what happened to the people of Ladakh and their music traditions once they were progressively opened up to the outside world.

The cultural centralization that occurs through the media is also contributing to a growing insecurity as well as passivity. Traditionally, there was lots of dancing, singing, and theater. People of all ages joined in. In a group sitting around the fire, even toddlers would dance, with the help of older siblings or friends. Everyone knew how to sing, to act, to play music. Now that the radio has come to Ladakh, you do not need to sing your own songs or tell your own stories. You can sit and listen to the best singer, the best storyteller. But the result is that people become inhibited and self-conscious. You are no longer comparing yourself to neighbors and friends, who are real people – some better than you at singing, but perhaps less good at dancing – and you are never as good as the stars on the radio. Community ties are also broken when people sit passively listening to the very best rather than making music or dancing together.

Yes, Fanfare Ciocărlia could very well count as "the stars on the radio", although they most certainly haven't abandoned the traditional Romanian music they grew up with, nor have they abandoned their traditional Gypsy flair in the slightest. Moreover, the fact of the matter is that if Fanfare Ciocărlia hadn't gone off sharing their talents to the world (talents which were no longer in demand in their homeland) then not only would their music have withered away as countless other forms have as well, but their village of Zece Prajini would likely have been devoured by the insatiable maw of industrialism and turned into yet another (proverbial) parking lot. As put by Maria Ivancea, Ioan's wife, "Where would we be without Henry [Ernst]? Without him this village would be dead." (Henry Ernst being the German who "discovered" the musicians in 1996 and who has been Fanfare Ciocărlia's manager ever since, as described in part 3.)

                                              The music lives on: The twelve members of the fanfare, plus the thirteenth Ciocărlia?

 

 

But although the village of Zece Prajini may not be dead, its finely cultivated music may in fact be dying.

Before I get to that though (in part 5), I've done some searching, and while it's been nice to find various musicians around the world trying to play the music of Fanfare Ciocărlia – in places like Toronto, Montreal, Los Angeles, Berlin, Switzerland, and more – not only does it generally lack Fanfare Ciocărlia's "very special gypsy touch, i.e. more warmth, more colour, and more shine" as Ioan Ivancea described the fanfare, but while at best being alright (and certainly not as fast nor as tight as Fanfare Ciocărlia), at worst it can sound like silly circus music or, at the other extreme, academic.

It's certainly not my intention though to discourage people from trying to play the music of Fanfare Ciocărlia (or whomever else), but having not had the cultural incubation that Zece Prajini provided its inhabitants, said music can't help but inherently lack that "in the blood" sort of "magic" that the members of Fanfare Ciocărlia enjoy thanks to the binding ties of their community and their upbringing. (And by "community" I mean community in its nitty-gritty sense of having to suffer those you live amongst, not its modern substitution for the word "club".)

Nonetheless, perhaps we can call those musicians playing the music of Fanfare Ciocărlia the attempt of finding said music some fertile ground in foreign lands in which new roots can be established, a situation in which music emerges not directly from a people's culture and its contact with the soil, but one in which it is making the attempt to adapt itself to conditions it's not "acclimatized" to. In other words, yes, the imitators may sound a bit… contrived… but what about the children of those musicians? And their children's children?

Again, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that a peaceful and equitable (re)localization of our cultures is not going to be an automatic result of the collapse of industrial civilization. With resource shortages having only just started to kick in, and whose effects are so far only being felt in the peripheries (unless you want to count the centres that are only just starting to receive an influx of fleeing migrants, vainly searching for a safe haven from the triaged peripheries), with very little realization currently existing as to what's going on there's not much indication that things are going to get any better before they get a whole lot worse.

Nonetheless, we should certainly do what we can manage to (re)localize our cultures in all the ways we can, of which should include not simply the preservation of locally adapted seeds and livestock, building methods, decentralized power systems, local currencies, and so forth. Because as important as those things are, man does not live from sustainability alone. In other words, with Fanfare Ciocărlia being the equivalent of the masterly cultivated heirloom seeds facing the threat of extinction, rather than simply stocking up our preps with iPhones or vinyls or whatever it be in order to retain some recorded music, an even better idea would be if through all the emerging commotion our villages could somehow manage to cultivate their prajini and sow the seeds of Fanfare Ciocărlia and other forms of traditional and folk music (such as Taraf de Haïdouks). Because if we managed to do so, then it would certainly be possible that our post-collapse world could truly become a beautiful place.

And so, by being seeds of music, that's how bands of Gypsies can help bring harmony and light to the world, particularly in what appears to be the coming years of darkness.

(photo courtesy of Asphalt Tango Records)

Onwards to Mars, or Onwards to the (Ten) Fields? [part 3/6]

youtube-Logo-4
gc2
reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

Published on From Filmers to Farmers on March 15th, 2017

Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink Table inside the Diner

 

When I finally made the first steps to end my abstention after more than ten years in the "musical wilderness" – where I of course overheard music on many occasions but didn't actually own any myself nor even so much as turn on a radio – there really wasn't any doubt as to which was the only group of musicians I'd heard in the past that I had any interest in listening to again: Taraf de Haïdouks. And in particular, their (2001) album Band of Gypsies.

The album isn't a play on Jimi Hendrix's ensemble but reflects the fact that Taraf de Haïdouks are in fact a bunch of Gypsies, from the Romanian village of Clejani. Consisting of several violins, accordions, cimbalom, double drum, upright bass, flute and clarinet, what made Band of Gypsies a bit different from Taraf de Haïdouks' other (excellent) albums was that three of the fourteen songs – three standout songs – had an additional brass accompaniment. As I belatedly found out upon re-listening to the album in 2016, this brass portion was not performed by Taraf de Haïdouks members but rather by a group of guest musicians, that being the Macedonian brass band Kočani Orkestar (from the town of Kočani), also a band of Gypsies and hence the album's title.

Abhorring the "music scene" and not quite willing to venture out from my "safe space", I spent three or so months in mid-2016 listening to nothing but that single album until I happened to find out that a Band of Gypsies 2 album had been released during my abstention (2011), one in which Kočani Orkestar play the album's entirety. I of course instantly snatched it up, and as I prefer the music I listen to to be rather overwhelming I wasn't disappointed.

After two months or so of then listening to nothing but Band of Gypsies 1 and 2 I was finally willing to venture out a bit further, and after finding three of Kočani Orkestar's albums to be rather good (and a few others, well, not so good), it was upon hearing their album Neat Veliov i Kočani Orkestar (Veliov being the lead trumpet player) that I was so blown away that I couldn't help but get the impression that all that American brass I'd heard over the years was little more than a confidence scheme (and that brass without a Turkish marching band percussion could never be adequate again). Getting the impression from the latter album that there was something rather extraordinary to this… Balkan Brass?… Gypsy Brass?… I finally decided to venture out even further to see if there was possibly something lurking out there waiting – needing – to be discovered. My search (yes, on YouTube) was more miss than hit, until, and therefore pretty much directly following my ten-plus years of musical abstinence, I somehow managed to go straight to hitting the mother lode.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. What in the world is THIS?

This, as I found out, was what happened to be yet another Gypsy band from Romania, this one by the name of Fanfare Ciocărlia, and they were apparently covering – no, owning – what I later found out to be a song by Duke Ellington. Not sure if these guys were just a one-hit wonder I listened to the album the song was from (their fourth), resulting in me hastily purchasing said album later that day, quickly followed by their third, then their second, and then after also purchasing their first album by the end of the week I could then say with confidence that I understood what it was like to be a (sleep deprived) pig in shit.

If you've never heard Fanfare Ciocărlia before then perhaps you shouldn't, because once you do there's a good chance that brass music – possibly even music itself – won't ever be able to sound the same again. Never mind that their ability to play their trumpets, horns, tubas, clarinets and percussion with such speed – yet deft precision – will make your jaw drop in complete disbelief at the seeming impossibility of it all, but the amount of joy and humour that explodes from their music – a veritable wall of sound – is so uncanny that it could very well be the elixir to cure Guy McPherson and his gang of nihilists. Not to describe Fanfare Ciocărlia's music too much just yet (I'll get to that later, with some samples), but how music can sound like this without being hokey or contrived or coming off like silly circus music is a wonder in itself.

To make a long story short, the members of Fanfare Ciocărlia all (except for one) hail from such a remote village in Romania's north-eastern province of Moldova that until recently it didn't even appear on any map, requiring those going to and fro by the train that didn't stop at the village to either jump on or off as it slowed down going around a bend. Several Gypsy families lived in the area for centuries, and in 1864 when slavery was outlawed the Gypsy serfs, freed from their feudal conditions, approached the Boyar for some land to farm and live upon. Being a kind man the Boyar did in fact give them ten fields down in the valley from which they could make their living, their village thus becoming known as Zece Prajini, which translates to Ten Fields.

Being hardworking peasant farmers they developed strong lung capacity but also hands that were inevitably too calloused for the intricacy required by the more traditional Gypsy instruments (such as violins), forcing them to gravitate towards the more amenable brass instruments. As the decades went by Zece Prajini became known amongst locals as the place to find the finest musicians, its farmers thus able to supplement their income as hired musicians by both Roma (Gypsies) and Romanians to play at their weddings, baptisms and other festivities – Gypsy weddings that could last for days and Romanian weddings where you'd better know the traditional songs as well as the latest hits, or else.

As the 20th century progressed atrocities such as communism (which collectivized Zece Prajini's farm land) and the Ceaușescu regime reared their ugly heads, although the men of Zece Prajini now also supplemented their subsistence farming with work at the local steel mill. It was here that Ioan Ivancea, who was to become the patriarch of what came to be known as Fanfare Ciocărlia, led the factory brass band who provided the service of being the ad hoc group of musicians on call for festivities of all sorts.

With the collapse of communism in 1989 came the return of Zece Prajini's collectivized land but also the closure of the steel mill, resulting in not only the villagers being out of their factory jobs but also in a declining demand for their musicianship since the out-of-work people in the area could generally no longer afford musicians that "extravagant" weddings called for. Making things even worse was the introduction of cheap (by all meanings of the word) DJs and keyboard samplers who increasingly took whatever meagre jobs for weddings and other festivities remained. Ivancea and his friends had little other recourse but to eke out a living with their farming.

The musicianship of Zece Prajini continued to fall into disarray until a fortuitous day in 1996 when a 26-year-old German trained in sound engineering, making his way through Romania, was tipped off by a local farmer about a village of talented musicians. The German, Henry Ernst, found his way to the village that didn't exist on any map, and upon pulling into a house looking for directions found himself at the home of Ioan Ivancea. Within minutes the village's inhabitants – all 400 of them, including 80 musicians – were out front to see the blue-eyed, long-blond-haired German, who upon hearing that he was searching for brass music ended up performing such a brass blast for him that he ended up staying not just a few hours but three months.

Determined to bring their unique sound to Germany Ernst convinced the musicians that such a thing was possible, even though he had no experience whatsoever with managing a band or organizing a tour. He returned to Germany and sold everything he had in order to raise the necessary funds, then returned to Zece Prajini to get the required visas and passports (of which none of them had, seeing how they weren't used to being even a few kilometres away from their village). Stunned that the crazy German was back and not kidding about it all, a dozen musicians were assembled and the name Fanfare Ciocărlia was forged – fanfare being a French term for brass band that had passed into Romanian, and ciocărlia being Romanian for a lark's song.


Fanfare Ciocărlia may not be going to Mars, but they certainly do belt out the greatest sounds this side of the universe
since… well, if you believe in those things since the sound of the Big Bang (circa 1997, photographer unknown)

The band played ten shows over fourty nights, and although the music was a resounding success and everybody got paid, Ernst was left with wonderful memories but massive debts. It was an amazing run, but the show was over.

A couple of months later Ernst got a phone call from a radio station that wanted Fanfare Ciocărlia for a world music festival, but Ernst had no choice but to say that they were no longer available since there was no money left to pay for transportation, hotels, visas, food, etc. He was asked how much it would cost, and so out of courtesy put together some numbers. To his disbelief they accepted, and that very day Ernst and a friend created Asphalt Tango to promote the band. And as they say, the rest is history.

That history includes the unfortunate fact that in October of 2006, and after criss-crossing the globe several times over, Fanfare Ciocărlia's patriarch Ioan Ivancea passed away at home, clutching his cherished clarinet. Ivancea apparently wasn't your run-of-the-mill musician, and I'm not merely referring to some kind of extraordinary musical talent but the fact that he was also a farmer. And by "farmer" I don't mean to imply a multi-million dollar musician who got featured in glossy metrosexual magazines where he could rant on about his adherence to the latest faddish diet and about his garden tucked away in his multi-million dollar estate that allowed him to "get away from it all". No, Ivancea worked an actual farm where he grew maize, potatoes, beetroot, wheat, and more, to go along with "a cow, a horse, five sheep, lots of chickens and turkeys". When touring with Fanfare Ciocărlia he hired men to work his fields.

Nor was Ivancea someone to let international notoriety get to his head (pun intended), as explained by a passage in the chapter on Fanfare Ciocărlia in Garth Cartwright's 2005 book Princes Amongst Men: Journeys with Gypsy Musicians (where I've gleaned a fair amount of information about Fanfare Ciocărlia from, although an entire book could [should!] be written about these guys):

Henry offers a wan smile and suggests we visit Șulo, the tenor horn player. Șulo's from one of the village's poorest families and to make up for this he's proved adept at spending money: his house was Zece Prajini's first to have a bathroom and indoor toilet, something which had the whole village gawping and raised Ioan's ire: who needs a sit-down indoor toilet when you've squatted outside your whole life?

(Having read the preceding, Dr. Pooper [of the Dr. Pooper papers] asks me to relay the message that "a man who knows where to shit is a man after my heart", and that while he's now a huge fan of Ioan's he's not so sure about that Șulo fellow [the guy holding the single vinyl in part 1].)


Ioan Ivancea, his cow… and his shitter in the background? (photo © Arne Reinhardt)

It was with all that in mind that upon then hearing what I deemed to be the somewhat lacklustre post-Ioan Ivancea album Balkan Brass Battle (which I'll elaborate on in part 6) that I got the impression that Fanfare Ciocărlia had unfortunately lost their "magic" following their patriarch's passing. Making things even worse was my discovery that their latest album (released just a few months earlier) was titled Onwards to Mars!, which if you read my not-exactly-scientific post from three weeks back you'll know I think that this colonization of Mars thing is a crock of Dr. Pooper. Giving the album a quick skim-through I somehow got the impression (thanks to my prejudices against the Red Planet?) that Fanfare Ciocărlia was now putting out pop-like commercial schlock like many other Balkan brass bands I'd come across during my initial search (I won't name any names), and was feeling thoroughly disappointed that I'd missed out on Fanfare Ciocărlia's heyday.

While a Turkish friend and I chatted about how many bands lose it after the demise of their leader and should have disbanded rather than dragging things on, I did nonetheless find it hard to comprehend how one member could exert that much "magic" upon eleven others. So out of deference to their outstanding first four albums I eventually acquiesced and purchased Onwards to Mars!, subsequently giving it a few courtesy listens.

"Okay, I suppose it's not exactly horrible."

A couple of more listens.

"In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's not too bad."

A couple of more listens.

"Actually, I'd almost even say it's as good as their first four."

A couple of more listens and, as I soon thereafter stated in a super-secret text to my aforementioned friend via the Edward Snowden-endorsed app Signal (as opposed to Facebook's Whatsapp),

"What kind of crack was I smoking? Onwards to Mars! is frikin' amazing!!"


If I had to guess I'd say that Ioan Ivancea isn't quite on Mars but is nonetheless enjoying Onwards to Mars! with a big
smile on his face (photo of Ioan Ivancea © Arne Reinhardt and adapted with permission of Asphalt Tango Records)

Yes, Onwards to Mars! does indeed at times have a dance music element to it that had been off-putting during my initial scan-through, but, and as I sheepishly realized, that does not equate to commercial schlock in the slightest. In fact, those first four albums of Fanfare Ciocărlia's which I found astounding all have that "dance element" to them as well, which should be of little surprise thanks to the unshameful facts that Fanfare Ciocărlia did after all hone their chops as a wedding band and that their music was, and is, associated with celebration. (Celebratory music, that is, that might result in you catching yourself with a "hey wait a second, my hips aren't supposed to be able to do that!" – unless your mother happens to be Colombian, then perhaps they actually are.)

In terms of associating Fanfare Ciocărlia with the colonization of Mars, well, that turned out to be a mix-up of mine, since upon later seeing one of the accompanying paintings inside Onwards to Mars! I noticed that you don't see a bunch of techno buildings on the Red Planet but rather a nice looking little village, much like the beautiful pictures of Zece Prajini that I've seen.

So while I subsequently got the impression that the title of Onwards to Mars! was a play on how much they tour around as Gypsy musicians, upon later coming across the back cover of their first album I discovered I wasn't too far off the mark. As it stated tongue-in-cheek some 20 years ago:

We used to play at weddings in Zece Prajini and all over Moldova. We've played in Germany and France and Belgium. Next year we're going to play America and Bulgaria and in a couple of years we'll be playing on Mars – just you wait!

As far as I now understand it, "Mars" is essentially Fanfare Ciocărlia's way of saying that they intend on sharing their music with anybody who wants to listen (and dance). Moreover, as I then read Ernst describing his first meeting with them all,

When they saw me so interested in their music, they thought I was from out of space, a crazy man – when I told them I would take them on tour in Germany, it was a like a trip to Mars.


The moral of the story? Don't judge an album by its planet

So no. Fanfare Ciocărlia hasn't lost its musical charm in the slightest, and nor are its members a bunch of techno-infatuated dupes under the spell of charlatans like Elon Musk – many of them still live in the same village of Zece Prajini (Ten Fields) where they grew up, some even continuing to grow crops and raise animals.

As I presume most if not all readers of this blog know, we're not going to be colonizing Mars. At best there's going to be a significant drop in the human population in the coming decades, and it most likely won't be by choice. Nonetheless, I'd still say there's much worthwhile that can be gleaned from Fanfare Ciocărlia, because while we certainly won't be going onwards to Mars, we most certainly will be going, in one way or another…

Onwards to the prajini!


The nineteen (and counting) members of Fanfare Ciocărlia (photo © Arne Reinhardt)

p.s. As an example of our rather sad state of affairs (and possibly indicative of the way in which many people actually think we're going to Mars), I've seen the above photo used by two online publications and both times the horse and other animals were (inexcusably) cropped out of the picture (see here and here). Art for art's sake? Music for music's sake? I think not.

Imposing Limits to Music in the Age of Limits to Growth [part 2/6]

youtube-Logo-4 gc2 reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

Published on From Filmers to Farmers on March 8th, 2017

Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink inside the Diner

 

All digital reproductions are equally made with zeroes and ones, although some zeroes and ones are more equal than others

So for a guy like me who's making somewhat of a return to the world of music but who's fully aware of the already underway protracted collapse of industrial civilization, it should be obvious that putting myself at the mercy of a streaming service might not be the best idea if I wanted to retain a bit of access to some recorded music once the ability for streaming disappears once and for all (which for whatever reason[s] I believe will certainly happen at some point in my lifetime). So supposing I'm connected to a community grid and/or have the solar panels or whatever it be to power some kind of setup, owning my music – be it on CD, vinyl, or MP3s – would most certainly be the way to go.

That being said, and without being excessive, I could always do both (supposing I even have the money for any of this) – sign up to a streaming service to discover new music, then purchase what I want to keep for the long term. As the record label CEO quoted in part 1 put it, this is exactly what many people today are doing:

It used to be music discovery was mainly limited to the radio, but now people are free to look and listen to all sorts of music, so people are hearing so much more new or different music than they were before. They are finding music through streaming and if they love it, they are going out and investing in it in a physical format.

According to those in the know it turns out that while Apple's streaming service has the larger catalogue, it's horrible when it comes to suggesting new music to you: "Enjoyed XYZ band? Well guess what, you might be interested in listening to The Beatles!" On the other hand, although Spotify apparently doesn't have as extensive of a catalogue as Apple does its algorithms are purportedly vastly superior when it comes to exposing customers to new sounds.

Nonetheless, none of that is enough to convince me to subscribe to a streaming service, and that's not because of any fears of impending doom overriding my thinking. No. Because having previously owned roughly 600 albums (okay, owned about 150 albums and stole another 450 or so), it's the very prospect of musical abundance itself that makes me shudder, horrified at the thought of being swamped and overwhelmed by the "infinite" catalogue of a streaming service. If anything I'd be more interested in imposing limits to music rather than testing the limits to my sanity.

Having spent a decade in the "musical wilderness" it became rather apparent to me that (conspicuous) consumption can be just as rampant and soul-destroying with oh-so-harmless music as with anything else. It's thanks to the constant barrage of the never-ending availability of new music, the ease by which one can listen to music at any moment thanks to a set of headphones and a playback system, the sounds leaking out of store fronts, elevators, etc., that our minds are becoming so overloaded with music that they're arguably becoming obese on the stuff. From the point of view of someone looking at things from the sidelines it was hard not to get the impression that to a certain extent we're inadvertently – and sometimes purposefully – blocking out the act of thinking, to the point of even numbing ourselves blissfully stupid (which is probably not a good thing to be afflicted with when your civilization is starting to collapse around you).

So forget the idea that "music has never been more popular" (as quoted in part 1), because it's more like "never before has the over-consumption of a product been so viable", thanks in part to its ramifications not being glaringly obvious – like a beer gut or a closet full of shoes.

(drawing by Khalil Bendib)

"Back in the day" when music could only be played live, the expenditure that was required for agriculture-based civilizations to maintain a class of professional musicians – meaning farmers had to produce enough of a surplus so that yet another subset of people could be spared from full-time field-work so as to allow them the opportunity to learn, practice, and then perform their craft – meant that music was quite often limited to such things as celebratory occasions and to helping make things easier for those toiling away in the fields (supposing that said toilers didn't just sing to themselves and/or just make their own music). Music wasn't something to binge and gorge on but something to make those special moments even more special as well as to make the tough periods a bit more bearable.

What we currently have though is the situation in which incessant streams of music and other sounds are routinely used for altering people's moods and desires, often times for nefarious purposes of advertising. That's not to say however that it's just advertising that partakes in this perverse mind-altering usage of music, seeing how it's just as commonly self-administered. With personal catalogues of several hundred albums commonplace, and now the "infinite" catalogue of streaming services, some of the questions that routinely get asked are along the lines of "What matches my mood?" or "How do I want to influence my mood?" or "What mood do I want to be in?" One can get relaxing music, invigorating music, happy music, sad music, edgy music, dinner music, local music, world music, even music that sounds like anything but music, the lot of it often times rendering us into little more than wilfully manipulated au(dio)tomatons who are then just as easily swayed and coerced by those clever enough to influence us with the right sounds and cues for their own selfish and greedy desires.

Likewise, with Spotify promising the perpetual discovery of new music, do we really want to make music into the equivalent of the one-night-stand via the musical version of Tinder? "Dislike, dislike, dislike, like!, dislike, dislike, no definitely not you." When mentioning this Spotify-as-Tinder analogy (Tindify?) to a friend of mine I was told "Yeah, I have 15,000 MP3s [roughly 1,500 albums] and I never know what to listen to." Been there, done that, no thanks. (If I'm not mistaken Hotline was actually my archaic version of Tindify as I can't even imagine how many albums I deleted shortly after downloading and listening to them.)

So with all that amounting to the fact that there certainly wasn't going to be any streaming music service for me I was thus left with three issues/questions to address, supposing I was even going to actively listen to recorded music again:

1) In which format(s) was I going to own my music, and through which method(s) would I purchase it if that were an issue?

2) How was I going to place limits to music?

3) What was I going to listen to, and how would I even find what to listen to?

Regarding the first question, my choice was between CDs, MP3s, and vinyl. First off, CDs would require me to invest in a CD player as well as a Discman (supposing the latter are even available anymore). CD players do however have an array of moving parts, and expecting to be able to find the spare parts for one of these built-to-be-obsolete gizmos at some point in the future – if not in the present – is a complete joke. On the other hand an iPhone's battery will eventually be rendered useless, but so long as you keep it plugged into your power source (as a CD player also requires) you should be okay. The iPhone may of course mysteriously conk out and render you SOL, but that's how these things (don't) work. So as both options are rather equal in their futility, the convenience and portability of the iPhone – and the fact that I got a free ("obsolete") one – makes it the way to go. (As an aside, I would never actually purchase a brand new Apple product.)

Does the iPhone beat out vinyl though? For my present purposes of portability it obviously does. But for the long-term (and by "long-term" I mean at least several decades after collapse really kicks in) it may be vinyl that takes the cake here. Fact is, my iPhone is going to become un-operational sometime sooner than later, its files are going to become corrupted or succumb to digital rot, or whatever. Vinyl, as long as you manage to take good care of it all, is going to last. Yes, record players also have moving parts, but find yourself a sturdy-enough model from the 70s or so (as well as a few extra needles and such) and if something goes wrong with it you'll pretty much be able to repair it with a bunch of bailing twine.

In summation, MP3s are the way to go for the present and, if available, their equivalent on vinyl for the longer term.

Already got it on MP3s, but I'm going to have to make sure my preps are stocked with a vinyl copy of that one

Next up, where to buy albums from? Apple's iTunes store is absolutely out of the question since its DRM (Digital Rights Management) means you can only play your purchases on your Apple hardware and/or with Apple software. Another option is the rarely mentioned Google Play service, which like iTunes has both downloading and streaming services but which comes with the added advantage that one's MP3 downloads/purchases can be played on any device. I of course hate giving Google even a penny of my money, so when possible I'd much rather purchase albums/MP3s directly from a music label or musician's website, even if for whatever reason said purchases cost a few bucks more (a few bucks which would go to the label and/or musicians anyway, not a bad prospect at all).

To play the music on my phone-plan-deficient iPhone would then require an extra app to listen to it all with since I don't want to use Apple's iTunes in any way. The best I've found is CloudBeats, an app that downloads (and/or streams) audio files from a cloud service that you've previously uploaded your music to. (While I find the iPhone version of the app to be great, I've read that the Android version isn't quite as good.)

But before I'd given thought to any of that, and before the thought of placing limits to music even crossed my mind, what went through my head was, Do I really want to enter into the world of music again (the dreaded "music scene"), what with all the cooler-than-thou aura that permeates and taints so much of it? Secondly, and supposing the whole thing wasn't completely wrapped in rampant narcissism, was there even anything I'd want to listen to?

I was quite sure that the latter issue wasn't going to entail something from my previous library since hearing many of those sounds generally made me feel like I was back in the narcissistic world of filmmaking, not something I cared to waste my brain cells on. On top of that, even "just" 600 albums would be too much to choose from – and we're talking music that was all over the gamut here, from Johann Strauss Jr. to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, The Beatles to Led Zeppelin, Robert Johnson to John Lee Hooker, Jimi Hendrix to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Miles Davis to Charles Mingus, Buena Vista Social Club to The Squirrel Nut Zippers, Tom Waits to The Lounge Lizards, and on and on and on. While I haven't minded overhearing some of that stuff while I've been out and about or at a friends' place, the thought of re-purchasing any of what I used to listen to and then consciously choosing to play it absolutely repulsed me. So anything from my previous library was out of the question.

Until, that is, a somewhat obscure group of musicians popped back into my head, one that I can't remember how I initially discovered them, meaning they were likely one of the shots-in-the-dark I (aptly?) stole via Hotline. That this was the only group of musicians that I was all that interested in listening to again shouldn't have come as all that surprising to me, considering my previous history.

Back in 2002 I was making a few stops in Europe to visit extended family, at one point departing a train at the Brussels train station where I was to call my father's cousin to get picked up. But before I was able to locate a phone I couldn't help but overhear a sound echoing throughout the tunnels with the most intense ferocity I'd ever heard in my life, leaving me with no choice but to let my ears lead the way. That eventually got me in front of a fellow playing at breakneck speed on an instrument I'd never seen before, rendering me unable to do anything but just stand there – in awe – for I don't know how long.

(photo courtesy of Iain R. West)

I ended up being extremely late for my rendezvous, but being completely jacked up on this guy's playing – I later learned he was playing a cimbalom – I decided to scrap the phone call, grab a map, and with luggage in tow make my way across Brussels to my destination. Well it turns out that had of I promptly called to be picked up I would have been joining my father's cousin and her husband for an evening before the Brussels Symphony Orchestra, something they had acquired tickets for ahead of time and which I would have likely found interesting. Whoops.

Nonetheless, I mentioned to my father's cousin's husband the musician I'd seen, the mesmerising player who I don't think even the entire Brussels Symphony Orchestra could have captivated me as much.

He was playing an instrument I'd never seen before, and if I understood what he said correctly, I think he said it was 'seeganee' music.

"Ah yes, Tzigane. Gypsy music."

What? Gypsy music? I don't think so. He said 'seeganee'.

While on the one hand I had zero belief that the musician was a Gypsy, I also had no idea what a Gypsy was supposed to look like or even was. As well, let's just say that I was staying in the richer part of Brussels, and I wasn't sure how advisable it was to go around making it known that I had liked what was supposedly Gypsy music. Fortunately my extended family wasn't prejudiced in the slightest.

"Yes, Tzigane. That's a French term for Gypsy."

On top of the fact that my father's cousin's husband was correct (let's just say that I should have known better than to question this guy's knowledge) and that I'd missed out on the Orchestra, it was nearly a decade and a half later – via one particular album by the only group of musicians that for some reason I was drawn to re-listen to – that I'd again, but unknowingly, laid ears on an Orkestar. And after those ten-plus years in the musical wilderness – and what are the chances of this? – it was the Orkestar that then led me directly to the most astounding sound I expect to ever lay ears on.

So while I was intent on trying to place some limits to music – a maximum amount of albums?, a maximum amount of musicians?, certain genres?, local only?, nothing electrified and so only acoustic? – I quickly found out that there's virtually no need for placing limits to music when you can hardly bring yourself to listen to anything else but a single group of out-of-this-world of-this-world musicians.

If you recognize these guys then you know they're not the kind of people you want to bump into in a dark alley and unwittingly find yourself in the middle of a brass battle with (photo © Arne Reinhardt)

The Music Industry: Aiming for the Singularity But Hitting Collapse Instead [part 1/6]

youtube-Logo-4 gc2 reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

Published on From Filmers to Farmers on March 4, 2017

Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink inside the Diner

 


The appearance of the music industry's various formats, plotted along
M. King Hubbert's 1956 projection of worldwide oil extraction rates

Although the world economy hasn't been booming lately this hasn't meant that the booming has been reduced to economizing, what with the boom booms having gone through such a transformation in the past decade that "streaming" – playing music on a digital device without actually storing it – has pulled the music industry out of the piracy-induced doldrums that saw its sales plunge by more than 70% since its peak in 1999. As put by Cary Sherman, chairman and CEO of the RIAA, "I'm confident that music's future is bright. The popularity of music is greater than ever. Like never before, it drives our culture and commerce." However, while the music industry is busy championing its new-found success thanks to digital nirvana, it's not exactly surprising that what it doesn't notice is that the next decade is likely to see not its resurgence but rather its collapse. I'll back up a few decades to explain.

Like any (former) suburban-boy born in the late-70s in an affluent-enough family in an affluent-enough region of southern Ontario (which for years was North America's fastest growing area), a paper route and then a decent-enough part-time job were enough to get me the disposable income needed to adorn myself with a rather decent CD collection, probably 120 or so of the things by the time I got to university.

A much-more-than-decent summer job given to me on a silver platter was then enough to get me a shiny new Apple computer for video editing, the soon-to-be-released iTunes program eventually used to transfer all my CDs to MP3s. This all happened during the time that the pirating of music was starting to do a number on the music industry, beginning with "services" such as Napster, Gnutella and Kazaa. Being a "poor" university student I of course tried them all out a few times, but it was obvious that Napster-and-company's rinky-dinky method of having to search for and then download individual song by individual song wasn't going to cut it for me. I liked listening to entire albums, not the latest top-ten, which meant I ended up using Hotline.

Never heard of Hotline? I didn't think so.

For the life of me I can't recall how I first heard of Hotline, a TCP/IP file transferring system which consisted of three programs: Hotline Server, Hotline Client, and Hotline Tracker. The Server portion was operated by somebody who had a computer with a high-speed Internet connection that could ideally be left on 24/7, to go along with a large enough hard drive for storing a significant amount of files – MP3s were what interested me, but you can imagine the kinds of things some people would store and share (I never checked).

The Client portion of Hotline was then used by somebody who wanted to connect to Servers in order to download files. You first had to locate Servers (which is what Hotline Tracker was for), and then follow the rules they individually laid down. The handful of Servers that I frequented had several hundred albums each, their rules generally along the lines of "upload one decent and relevant album for every five you download", although some requested (not demanded) donations of a few bucks to cover bandwidth costs.


Hotline Client (image courtesy of Macintosh Repository)

While I still continued to purchase the occasional CD here and there, those purchases paled in comparison to the amount of shot-in-the-dark albums I downloaded via Hotline. This was of course rampant theft, and is indicative of why the music industry began to tank at the dawn of the 21st century.

I wasn't – and am not – a big fan of theft, but being a "poor" university student I was gifted with the required mental gymnastics to justify to myself this particular grifting by thinking that when the time came I'd in return provide to others material I'd created au gratis. (As a bit of a consolation these posts on this blog are licensed under Creative Commons [see the logo/link at the bottom of this page], which means that anybody can re-post or re-work my material, for free, so long as they give attribution to me and/or FF2F as the original source. Of course none of this excuses my previous theft of material that certainly wasn't licensed under Creative Commons, but hey.)

With about 600 albums in total (roughly 25% of which were legally purchased, the rest coming from Hotline or ripped to MP3s from friends' CDs) all of my music was now played directly off the computer, and being the time before DVD-Rs I made sure to have it all backed up onto CD-Rs (about five albums fit per CD-R). In the process I somehow managed to give myself the impression that actual albums were materialistic, and having the only really important part on my hard drive and backed up to CD-Rs I slowly proceeded to get rid of all of my purchased albums.

But like the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Fully immersed amongst digital doo-dahs and steadily making my way towards ever more efficient usage of zeroes and ones, you might say I was unwittingly making my way towards some kind of singularity, a state where my mind could be uploaded to the Great Cloud and I could simultaneously listen to all 600 of my albums – heck, where I could simultaneously listen to all albums in existence – and live out eternity in a state of vegetative ecstasy.

Or something like that.

Anyway, being a bit too pragmatic when it came to the techno stuff I was of course mesmerized when the first iPod appeared on the market, but since I wasn't about to shell out $600 for one of the things – and for some reason was okay with stealing music but wasn't okay with trying to steal an MP3 player – I never did get one and just stuck with my Discman and CDs. Deep down inside I was kind of happy with the restriction of no iPod, somewhat aware that the musical orgy I'd immersed myself in was getting seriously excessive, even for a "music lover" like myself.

The nag of excessiveness stuck with me (as did the uncomfortable fact that about three-quarters of my music was stolen) to the point that upon having ditched university/film school a few years later – and trashed any evidence that I'd ever made a film or video in my life – I followed that all up with another "unthinkable". Having subsequently quit the Internet (which lasted five years), I then took my black CD binder of 120 or so CD-Rs with 600 or so albums on them, walked over to the thrift shop, and dropped it all in the donation bin.

The singularity could go to hell. (Or was it hell that could go to the singularity? I don't know, one of the two.)

For about ten years I owned absolutely no music and, although I certainly overheard music in various places, not once did I ever play an album on a friend's stereo or even throw on a radio. This resulted in several "blessings in disguise", one of them related to the fact that I was a former (budding) filmmaker with a hyperactive visual sense who while unavoidably perceiving the world through a lens couldn't help but also see/envisage images whenever hearing music. But having gone through my decade-long hiatus I'm happy to have noticed that my "affliction" has been inadvertently fully cured.

Having returned from my ten-plus years in the "musical wilderness" it's no secret that things have significantly changed during my absence. When I left the music industry was in free-fall, and as I return it's finally managed to stop the bleeding that lasted for – what do you know? – just over ten years. Has the quality of music suddenly gotten that much better?

Yeah, not quite.

When I left the biggest change going on was the transformation from CD sales to (meagre) download sales and (overwhelming) illegal downloads, Apple's iTunes store leading the pack when it came to the former but which was getting swamped by the latter. But with the proliferation of smartphones and other gizmos with high-speed Wi-Fi and/or cellular connections, streaming music has subsequently not only taken the industry by storm but even revitalized it. So much so that sales of digital downloads are cratering, going from a high of $3.9 billion in 2012 to a projected $600 million by 2019, many insiders even expecting the digital download to disappear within the next few years. On top of this, while 2016 saw vinyls have their strongest year of sales in a quarter century, 2016 was also the first year that spending on vinyls outstripped sales of downloads (!?). Is the singularity being defeated by Shangri-La?


This guy apparently likes vinyl for some reason (photo courtesy of Asphalt Tango Records)

Well, as one record label CEO put it,

People think millennials just stream and are just digital but actually I think we are going to see increasingly over this coming year that young people still want something tangible and real and that's where vinyl is taking on the role that the CD used to have.

That's all sideshow of course, because the writing on one of the walls is that "streaming music is the wave of the future". But check out the generally-ignored adjoining wall – this wall sponsored by the Limits to Growth – and you get the rest of the sentence: "for now."

For now the music industry is certainly doing great, 2016 also being the first year that digital revenues overtook revenues from physical sales. With 90 million people worldwide now signed up to streaming services – roughly 40 million with Spotify, 20 million with Apple, and the rest split up between Tidal, Pandora, Amazon Music, Google Plus and others – it's been stated by the former head of Universal Music's digital division that "music has never been more popular". With streaming services generally costing about $10 per month the price is so affordable and the service so convenient that for many people it's made illegal downloads not worth the time and effort. Indeed, streaming has become so prominent that Spotify's chairman/CEO and co-founder, Daniel Ek, was recently named by trade magazine Billboard as the most powerful person in the industry. Likewise, although they're not expected to reach their 1999 high of $40 billion in sales, an analysis by Macquarie Research expects sales to double from the current $15 billion to $30 billion over the next 10 years.


The hype is tripe – although to be fair tripe does go rather well in pho

Not everything's perfect in the streaming industry though – and I'm not talking about the fact that although Spotify is valued at about $8 billion it hasn't ever actually made a profit, that it "made a loss of $200m" in 2015 (I'm guessing studies have shown that "made a loss of" has a less drastic effect on markets than "lost"), nor that it may never make a profit in what may very well be the ten years it's got left. But before I get to explaining the reasons for the latter, there's also the uncomfortable fact (uncomfortable for the music industry) that while Spotify and Apple lead the pack in sales of streaming services, YouTube dominates all others combined when it comes to actual streaming – which is not only a thorn in the music industry's side because YouTube's services make "stream ripping" possible, but mostly because YouTube pays out much less than its competitors (its payments come out of its ad revenues rather than on a per-song basis).

As the RIAA's Cary Sherman also put it in 2016,

Last year [2015], 17 million vinyl albums, a legacy format enjoying a bit of a resurgence, generated more revenues than billions and billions of on-demand free streams [such as YouTube]: $416 million compared to $385 million for on-demand free streams.


I know the RIAA doesn't like people ripping off music, although I'm
not sure what their take is on people ripping images off their blog

But regardless of which convenience you want to go with, a caveat inherent to putting yourself at the mercy of a streaming service is that unless you only want to listen to music when you're in Wi-Fi range then you'll also need to put yourself at the mercy of a cellular plan. This can be a problem for those like me (which, granted, there aren't very many of) who while not having a phone plan for their gifted (and "obsolete") smart phone only have a "measly" $10, 1 GB per month data plan, a cap that can be eaten through relatively quickly by streaming music. That being so, some streaming services allow users to download a few tracks for offline listening.

However, if you read the fine print you'll see it stated that if you stop paying the monthly fees your downloads disappear. Even worse, if you read the even finer print you'll see it stated that if the streaming company goes bankrupt, or the centralized power grid in your area gives out once and for all, or the whole kit and caboodle backing industrial civilization in your neck of the woods finally goes bust, well, it's back to live music for you – if you're so fortunate to have not lost your access to food as your access to streaming music disappeared.

Because the fact of the matter is that with the protracted collapse of industrial civilization now upon us, more and more people are inevitably going to find themselves getting triaged from the industrial economy (under the nom de plume of "austerity" – as I've explained via Greece's situation here and here). In other words, Spotify and company are going to find their subscriber base getting pulled out from underneath them due to the economic effects of plummeting EROEI levels, most likely sometime within the next decade – the very same period when music sales are expected to (ahem) double. (Spotify will then likely get picked up by Google-cum-Alphabet or some other large congolmerate.)

Anyway, while I of course don't want to lose my access to food, if I can I also wouldn't mind holding onto the ability to listen to some recorded music for a few years or even decades (without being a totally spoilt first-worlder) as we progressively go over the far side of Hubbert's Curve. That effectively means I should perhaps impose some musical limits on myself by refraining from bowing down to a streaming service from the get go, and before the Limits to Growth – and by extension the limits to music – really start to kick in in my neck of the woods. How to position oneself for that part of the coming curve is what I'll get to in part 2.


This guy really likes vinyl (photo courtesy of adrianraso.net)

Mars (The Live Experience) Meets The Limits to Growth, E.T., and Chocolate Bacon

youtube-Logo-4
gc2
reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

Published on From Filmers to Farmers on February 22nd, 2017

Discuss this article at the Science & Technology Table inside the Diner

 


Intergalactic Geographic or The Limits to Mars?

Late-2016 I came across an article about Mars: The Live Experience, an event featuring Buzz Aldrin (second person to step foot on the moon) in a three-city tour of Australia, the intent being to drum up support for colonizing the Red Planet. As stated,

For the first time, National Geographic Live is bringing the world's leading authorities together for a unique major live event to discuss global space agency plans and the immense challenges awaiting humankind's next great space adventure.

If you've read even a single post of mine on this blog then you can probably guess that I think this notion that we're going to colonize Mars is a crock of Dr. Pooper. Nonetheless, I thought it'd be a hoot to attend at least the event here in Melbourne so I could write a blog post or two about it all, only to find out that the tickets were ridiculously expensive: about $100 each, with most of the event consisting of a video – and I don't even watch video. There was however the VIP event where one could hob-nob with – or in my case grill – "international speakers from global space agencies", but at $670 a pop there was absolutely no way I'd be paying for that. Unless… well, unless I could crowdfund it.


Both of these buzzers think we're going "to infinity and beyond", although one of them has the excuse of being a cartoon. The other?

So I put together an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, but just as I was about to launch it (and its accompanying blog post) I had to admit to myself how pointless and a waste of other people's money it would be. Sure, if I actually got to ask a question during a possible Q&A period I'd probably have asked something like this:

I'm not sure if any of you are familiar with such things, but there's a growing – yet still very small – group of people who think we're starting to go through the first stages of the collapse of industrial civilization, due to – in broad terms – the limits to growth. As just one example, we hit the peak of conventional oil supplies a decade ago and is why we're now being forced to scrape the bottom of the barrel with fracking, tar sands, deep sea oil, etc. That all being the case, what I'm wondering is, Where are you planning to get all the energy to travel back and forth to Mars with, energy that countries already hitting shortages here on Earth could probably use right about now?

While a question like that may very well have likely elicited some hushed snickering from the audience, I'll at least give the benefit of the doubt to the panel of "international speakers from global space agencies" and that their answer wouldn't have been as hokey as vacuum energy or some kind of equivalent. Nonetheless, it's quite likely that any response would have been couched in enough self-assured "scientific" theory and/or jargon that I would have been left tongue-tied and reduced to stammering out the equivalent of "But w-what about limits to growth? And those four l-laws of thermodynamics?" In other words, there was absolutely no way that I was going to not look like a total idiot, giving the true-believing audience members even more reason to double down on their extra-terrestrial fantasies.

Mind you, that's certainly not to say that all this Mars talk isn't a complete bunch of nonsense. I mean, are you aware that NASA scientists rather ridiculously declared a few years ago that Mars' "soil" is ideal for growing asparagus? Or that a few days ago NASA announced the winner of its Space Poop Challenge, aka how-to-shit-in-your-spacesuit-when-the-shit-hits-the-fan competition? (The latter is a Dr. Pooper Papers post just begging to be written.)


Terraforming the Red Planet into… Marsparagus: The Foodie's Final Frontier!

And please don't think I'm saying any of this out of bitterness and/or scorn for not having the cash flow to attend Mars: The Live Experience, because believe it or not I say all this with a unique insider's perspective into the inner workings of Mars. It just so happens that back in the day my father spent a few years working at Effem Foods in the town I grew up in, Effem Foods being the subsidiary of factories owned by Mars Inc. and which is used to make chocolate bars, M&Ms, etc. (M&Ms stands for Mars and Mars [brothers] in case you didn't know – and now that I think about it "Effem" is the phonetic way to say the initials of Mars' founder, Franklin Mars, the same way that "Esso" is the phonetic way to say the initials of Standard Oil.)

When I was about 13-years-old I even gained a first-hand understanding of Mars' operations when my father took my 10-year-old brother and I to the factory one day for a little tour (no, I never saw Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). They happened to be making Bounty Bars that day, although you may be disappointed to hear that my brother and I ate fewer of them off the conveyor belts than you'd imagine due to them being rather soft, overly moist, and not quite as good as the ones that had time to cool down and harden a bit. There were however barrels full of various unwrapped chocolate bars all along the conveyer belts, but upon sticking my hand in one of them to get a serving I was scolded by my father to not eat those as they were the rejects and/or drops that – believe it or not – got sold to (industrial) farmers to feed to their pigs. (Who knew that chocolate bacon was a non-thing thing, huh?)


I don't know if those M&Ms are raining down from the great Mars factory
in the sky or what, but the friends of that piggy bunk sure do look jealous!

Anyway, you might also recall – like I said, I'm an expert when it comes to Mars – that one of those movies about little-green-men-possibly-from-Mars, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, happened to have a tie-in with chocolate. M&Ms was the product placement initially sought after by movie director Steven Spielberg, but after Mars Inc. turned down the opportunity it was snatched up by Hershey who got Reece's Pieces placed in the movie instead. In other words, for all we know E.T.'s spaceship may have had engine trouble just after it left Earth's orbit and got itself stuck on Mars, meaning while E.T. might at this very moment be stranded on the Red Planet waiting for replacement parts, he'd be surviving not off of Mars&Mars' but Reece's Pieces – on Mars of all places. How tragic is that?

Here's to hoping then that with Buzz Lightyear's Aldrin's help, us humans can fulfil Steven Spielberg's vision of bringing Mars&Mars' to the little-green-men-from-Mars by way of those who actually think we're going ("home") to Mars.

So there you go. Mars: The #$@%ed Up Experience, no videos and no crowdfunding required.

Book Review | Failing States, Collapsing Systems: Biophysical Triggers of Political Violence

youtube-Logo-4
gc2
reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

Published on From Filmers to Farmers on February 13, 2017

Discuss this article at the Energy Table inside the Diner

 

While trying to get to the bottom of the underlying reasons for geopolitical events has always been enough of a challenge, an unfortunate side-effect of the explosion of information that the Internet has provided us with is the even further erosion of the signal-to-noise ratio. The mainstream media can pretty much be ignored altogether unless the intent is to understand the context and/or see how current events are getting framed and spun by the powers-that-be, which pretty much leaves one with having to seek out more independent sources of media – such as blogs – if what is sought after is insightful and revealing material.

Supposing you've actually managed to make your way through the morass and have found yourself a few good blogs that aren't just charlatans trying to pawn off guides to buying gold or some questionable vegetable seeds, there's also the unfortunate fact that information on the Internet tends to come out in staccato bursts, not as an encompassing whole. To coalesce all this information into a proper narrative requires time and effort of course, to go along with the fact that virtually no one wants to scroll through and actually read 100,000 – 200,000 words on an Internet page. So although books can't possibly be as up to date as a blog, they can give the much needed "big-picture" account that tends to be anathema to the Internet. And that "big-picture" regarding global events of the early-21st century has fortunately now been assembled by blogger (Insurge Intelligence) and author Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed – Failing States, Collapsing Systems: Biophysical Triggers of Political Violence.

At the core of Ahmed's argument is that we're not facing a "clash of civilizations" but rather a "crisis of civilization". And at the centre of this crisis, which is all but certainly going to beset us throughout the 21st century, is the triple whammy of energy, climate and food crises. As Ahmed returns to several times, a major roadblock hampering us from taking action in regards to this "crisis of civilization" is that we generally suffer from what he calls "whole system knowledge deficit", primarily thanks to the slipshod job of what he then refers to as the Global Media-Industrial Complex. As described in Failing States, Collapsing Systems,

Despite an abundance of information, there is a paucity of actionable knowledge which translates this information into a holistic understanding of the nature of the current global phase-shift and its terminal crisis trajectory for all relevant stakeholders. While much of the human population has been denied access to such information, and thus actionable knowledge, vested interests in the global fossil fuel and agribusiness system are actively attempting to control information flows to continue to deny full understanding in order to perpetuate their own power and privilege. The only conceivable pathway out of this impasse, however difficult or unlikely it may appear, is to break the stranglehold of information control by disseminating knowledge on both the causes and potential solutions to global crisis [pp. 91-92].

In his contribution towards rectifying our knowledge deficit, Ahmed draws early attention to the fact that oil's global EROEI levels have been declining since the 1960s. Coupled with a global oil production rate whose continued increase since the 1960s has been going on at a slower and slower rate, and what we're left with is the startling correlating fact that the global growth rate of GDP has been slowly dropping since the 1960s as well [p. 27]. Energy makes the world go round.

Added to this is the fact that while abundant fossil fuel supplies have allowed for the expansion of the monetary and financial system, decreasing EROEI levels have now implied an increasing need to rely on financialization (lest our Ponzionomic system implode in on itself). Or as Ahmed puts it, "the shift from the expansion of money, to the expansion of credit (debt-money) [p. 37]". This was most recently seen by the quantitative easing (AKA "printing money", AKA credit creation) to bail out insolvent banks after the rash of predatory lending-induced consumer defaults.

In the meantime, Ahmed points out that various forms of state-level violence have been intensifying since the 1970s and then accelerated in the late 1990s, the former corresponding with the period when oil's global EROEI level peaked, the latter with the year that the global EROEI level for all fossil fuels (not just oil) reached its overall peak (1999 to be exact), both of which have been steadily declining since.

What is probably Ahmed's most cogent example of this emerging "crisis of civilization" is the ongoing problems currently besieging Syria. The conventional argument given as explanation for Syria's plight is that of repression by its president, Bashar Al-Assad, an argument that is a grossly oversimplified explanation, in line with explaining away the "Arab Spring" as being due to a "deficit of democracy". As Ahmed points out, this misconception has resulted in "international policy [that] has focused on viewing the conflict through the lens of geopolitical interests and regional security [p. 49]". Fortunately, there are however those who recognize the role that climate change has played with Syria's misfortunes, others who recognize peak oil's role, and yet others who factor in the recent food price spikes. But as Ahmed sees it, all of these fail to recognize the systemic interconnections between these factors and so don't offer a systemic understanding.

For starters, Syrian oil production peaked in 1996, dipped by almost half by 2010, and then plummeted again by even more than half upon the outbreak of war. With a dwindling influx of currency due to shrinking exports of crude, the government was forced to slash fuel subsidies in May of 2008, tripling petrol prices overnight and significantly driving up the price of food (a serious problem when food makes up an overwhelming part of your budget, and when what you eat is virtually nothing but staples). Ongoing drought conditions have only exacerbated poor harvests in what used to be a country self-sufficient in wheat, and so coupled with spiking food prices and Assad's inability to maintain subsidies due to dwindling influxes of foreign currency, the situation has only gotten worse, and then worse, and then worse.

Using the situations in Syria and Yemen as base-points, Ahmed surmises that it takes about 15 years from when a country hits its peak in oil production before additional systemic pressures – such as drought, overpopulation, climate-induced water and food scarcity – contribute to outbreaks of systemic state failure. How's that bode for the rest of us?

To answer that, one must take another look at the situation in the Middle East, if not at its largest producer, Saudi Arabia. While Saudi Arabia's primary source of revenue is of course oil, according to Ahmed Saudi Arabia is expected to reach its peak of oil production by no later than 2028. But that isn't its only problem, because due to a significantly rising population which is adding to what are already rising internal consumption levels, Saudi Arabia has actually been exporting 1.4% less oil year upon year. While implying an earlier kind of peak, this of course doesn't bode well for those expecting Saudi Arabia to be their sweet-crude-daddy (which I'll get to in a moment), and will eventually impose upon Saudi Arabia a world of its own problems.

While Saudi Arabia went on a crash course several decades ago to increase its wheat production in order that food couldn't be used as a weapon against it in the same way that it withheld oil from the West (for a while Saudi Arabia, a desert country, was actually one of the world's largest exporters of wheat), its depleting aquifers have been recently putting an end to production that was also using up 18 percent of its oil revenue. While the state-sponsored Saudi Arabian wheat production is now kaput, Ahmed points out that 80% of Saudi Arabia's food is purchased through subsidies. Along with that, he states that 70% of Saudi Arabia's domestic water supplies are procured through desalination, an extremely energy-intensive process that estimates state burns through about half of its domestic oil consumption.

For the time being, and unlike Syria and Yemen, Saudi Arabia has been able to stave off its own "Arab Spring" thanks to bounteous subsidies for housing, food, water, oil, and other consumer items. But as Saudi Arabia's oil exports decline to zero in the next 15 years, and as the then-subsequent dwindling production for internal usage means less air conditioning, less water, less happy motoring (that is, supposing your gender is even allowed to drive in the first place), less everything, life in the desert is once again going to become like life in the desert. As the saying goes, and to put it lightly, "My father rode a camel. I drive a motor car. My son flies a jet plane. His son will ride a camel."

That's not to say though that Saudi Arabia is only Saudi Arabia's problem. As Ahmed points out, Saudi Arabia's and the Middle East's exports of oil will be significantly decreasing right when China and India will be expecting significant inputs in order to power their booming economies (not to mention their need for increasing imports of food). Since China's supplies of coal and conventional oil have in all likelihood just recently peaked (as stated by Crude Oil Peak, Peak Oil Barrel, and others) and its supplies of unconventional oil are expected to peak in another five years (as Ahmed relays), then like India China is in all likelihood going to be experiencing "outbreaks of domestic disorder [that] will become more organized, and will eventually undermine state territorial integrity before 2030 [p. 75]", all of which will render a shift of power to the East all but fantasy.

Might at least Europe be a safe haven? Well, while European oil producing countries have all passed their peaks (with only Denmark producing more than it consumes),

As crisis convergence unravels the global food system across the Middle East, Africa and Asia, geopolitical pressures and northern Europe's relative immunity from the immediate impacts will make the region a prime target for regional and international migration [p. 80].

In short, and to go along with Ahmed's expectation that Mexico will experience state failure sometime between 2020 and 2035 due to its peak of oil production in 2006,

it is difficult to avoid the conclusion as we near 2045, the European and American projects will face escalating internal challenges to their international territorial integrity, increasing the risk of systemic state-failure [p. 85].


Mexico is getting close to having no excess oil to sell for foreign
currency, which theoretically implies there being no crude to spare
for its volatile neighbour with the voracious appetite to the north –
unless (ahem) a certain dealmaker could swing a "you give us all
your remaining oil, we won't make you pay for the wall" kind of deal

With intractable border issues between Mexico and the United States an inevitability – wall or no wall – and with increasing instability in the Middle East and North Africa an eventuality even with mitigation efforts, Europe and the United States are likely due for an influx of migrants that will make the relatively mild-mannered amount of middle-class Syrians currently able to pay for the costly overtures look like a pleasant Sunday-afternoon jaunt on the ferry.

Alongside that, while 2011's Occupy and "Arab Spring" are but a taste of things to come, there's also the fact that while the situation in Syria has allowed for the emergence of ISIS and other jihadis, the coming state-level failures in the Middle East will only exacerbate this. Looking at intra-state conflict, civil unrest, Islamic terrorism, and far-right terrorism, Ahmed's studies show that

the escalation of Western military interventionism has provoked an increase in Islamist militancy, which has further fueled far-right extremism, both comprising the principal sources of escalation in PV [political violence] pandamics [sic?]. Both, of course, have further elicited further militarization in response to these different forms of rising militancy and terrorism [p. 43].

The problem here of course is that influxes of migrants will further fuel nationalist sentiments, which we are likely only just seeing the initial emergence of. Is there anything that can be done regarding all – or any – of this? Well, as Ahmed puts it,

The cases examined here thus point to a global process of civilizational transition. As a complex adaptive system, human civilization in the twenty-first century finds itself at the early stages of a systemic phase-shift which is already manifesting in local sub-system failures in every major region of the periphery of the global system. As these sub-system failures driven by local ESD-HSD [Earth System Disruption – Human System Disruption] amplifying feedbacks accelerate and converge in turn, they will coalesce and transmit ever more powerfully to the core of the global system. As this occurs and re-occurs, it will reach a system-wide threshold effect resulting in eventual maladaptive global system failure; or it will compel an adaptive response in the form of fundamental systemic transformation [p. 88].

Put a bit more succinctly,

The system must either adapt to these threshold effects by transforming its structure, adapting its overarching rules, norms and values, and thus transitioning to a new evolutionary state – or experiencing a protracted collapse process by failing to do so [p. 47].

With a bit of a positive note, Ahmed points out that

Human civilization is in the midst of a global transition to a completely new system which is being forged from the ashes of the old. Yet the contours of this new system remain very much subject to our choices today. If the forces of systemic failure overwhelm us, then the new systemic configuration is likely to represent a maladaptive collapse in civilizational complexity. Yet even within such a maladaptive response – which arguably is well-underway as these cases show – there remains a capacity for agents within the global system to generate adaptive responses that, through the power of transitional information flows, hold the potential to enhance collective consciousness. The very breakdown of the prevailing system heralds the potential for long-term post-breakdown systemic transformation [pp. 88-9].

As a side note, and having read a previous book of Ahmed's years ago, I'll add that Ahmed is one of the few writers I've come across that is cognizant of the conflict between our (Ponzionomic) money system and peaking energy supplies. For as he puts it, what we need is

democratic money creation processes, including community currencies, in place of debt-based fractional reserve banking; communities reclaiming the commons, especially in the sense of communal land stewardship systems; [p. 91]

Along with other suggestions, Ahmed then points out that

Such a vision may, in the current context, appear impossibly utopian. By 2030, and even more so by 2050 – as the manifestations of global capitalism's self-catabolic trajectory become more obvious – it will appear increasingly realistic [p. 91].

Although the book's first two introductory chapters may be a bit too theory-laden for some, the remainder of the book – a very accessible 94 pages in total – without a doubt gives the best "big-picture" explanation of why world events are currently playing out the way they are. If you're new to the notions of peak oil / EROEI / collapse of industrial civilization, and/or would like to try and enlighten a friend that might be receptive to these issues, I'd say that you can't go wrong by picking up a copy (a hardcopy!) of Failing States, Collapsing Systems.

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

https://image.freepik.com/free-icon/musical-notes-symbols_318-29778.jpg

Support the Diner

Search the Diner

Surveys & Podcasts

NEW SURVEY

Renewable Energy

VISIT AND FOLLOW US ON DINER SOUNDCLOUD

" As a daily reader of all of the doomsday blogs, e.g. the Diner, Nature Bats Last, Zerohedge, Scribbler, etc… I must say that I most look forward to your “off the microphone” rants. Your analysis, insights, and conclusions are always logical, well supported, and clearly articulated – a trifecta not frequently achieved."- Joe D

Archives

Global Diners

View Full Diner Stats

Global Population Stats

Enter a Country Name for full Population & Demographic Statistics

Lake Mead Watch

http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/NA-BX686_LakeMe_G_20130816175615.jpg

loading

Inside the Diner

Quote from: Eddie on Today at 07:16:14 PMDead man's boat. This one is probably bought already, at this price (6K). Looks fast and seaworth...

Dead man's boat. This one is probably bought already, at this price (6K). Looks fast and seaworthy, but neglected.https://houston.craigslist.org/boa/d/39-cc-northeast-sailboat/6565...

Today we're visiting the Fowl Family for Doomer Dinner, Pidgeons!    You can think of them like a really skinny Doom Chicken.The main thing I don't like with hunted birds is they are usually downed with a shotgun.  Makes for a very messy c...

Quote from: luciddreams on Today at 05:45:39 PMI'm with RE on this.  The main problem with respect to collapse is community. I'm working on a new article on this topic.RE

Quote from: luciddreams on Today at 05:45:39 PMWell I'm in Canton Mississippi, in my sleeper at a Loves after a 550 mile day which ended in the delivery of a 33,500 pound coil (which is light, the last one was 48,000). ...

Recent Facebook Posts

War Profiteers Vs. The People of the United States – Opening Statement

From David DeGraw: a new investigative series. The most important work he says he’s ever done! If you don’t know him, it may be time. War..

6 hours ago

Long-Lasting Civilization May Be a Pipe Dream

Long-Lasting Civilization May Be a Pipe Dream– Humanity’s cherished hope that we are building a long-lived civilization may be nothing more..

7 hours ago

Relax, The Day After Tomorrow isn’t going to happen, like, tomorrow

Bad Circulation: Relax, The Day After Tomorrow isn’t going to happen, like, tomorrow–

7 hours ago

Under Louisiana Bill, Peaceful Protesters Could Face 20 Years in Prison

Under Louisiana Bill, Peaceful Protesters Could Face 20 Years in Prison– The bill would impose severe penalties on peaceful protesters engaged..

7 hours ago

Since 2016, Half of All Coral in the Great Barrier Reef Has Died

Since 2016, Half of All Coral in the Great Barrier Reef Has Died– A new study warns it has become a “highly altered, degraded system.”

7 hours ago

Diner Twitter feed

Knarf’s Knewz

Quote from: Eddie on March 13, 2018, 05:21:10 PMAl [...]

Quote from: knarf on March 13, 2018, 03:33:01 PMAU [...]

Quote from: knarf on March 13, 2018, 03:25:04 PM [...]

A new study found that the Great Recession correla [...]

From 2003 to 2005, Gina Haspel was a senior offici [...]

Diner Newz Feeds

  • Surly
  • Agelbert
  • Knarf
  • Golden Oxen
  • Frostbite Falls

The Doomstead Diner Daily 4/19[/s... [...]

Maybe related to this other thread, maybe not... b [...]

The Doomstead Diner Daily 4/18[html] [...]

Quote from: jdwheeler42 on April 17, 2018, 03:55:1 [...]

Quote from: RE on April 17, 2018, 04:10:42 AMThe C [...]

Quote from: David B. on April 12, 2018, 04:20:53 P [...]

Quote from: David B. on April 12, 2018, 04:20:53 P [...]

Quote from: agelbert on April 12, 2018, 03:47:06 P [...]

Quote from: Eddie on March 13, 2018, 05:21:10 PMAl [...]

Quote from: knarf on March 13, 2018, 03:33:01 PMAU [...]

Quote from: knarf on March 13, 2018, 03:25:04 PM [...]

A new study found that the Great Recession correla [...]

From 2003 to 2005, Gina Haspel was a senior offici [...]

Dear Readers,  This is a must read and a view that [...]

I did study those instruments when I was younger, [...]

Quote from: Eddie on April 06, 2018, 11:51:13 AMUn [...]

Understood. However, I save a ton on taxes because [...]

I loved Harry's act which I first saw him on [...]

Why people do these climbs still mystifies me.  It [...]

Wow! Big Surprise there!  REhttp://time.com/522538 [...]

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-43610936 [...]

Alternate Perspectives

  • Two Ice Floes
  • Jumping Jack Flash
  • From Filmers to Farmers

A Duty to Know By Cognitive Dissonance   Conversations Mrs. Cog and I have often revolve around awar [...]

The Pendulum – Part Three Seeking Balance By High Desert   Missing in the mix of hundreds of bug-out [...]

The Pendulum – Part Two Hard Work, Bad Luck and Murphy’s Law By High Desert   Missing in the mix of [...]

The Pendulum - Part One Retreat to High Ground By High Desert     Missing in the mix of hundreds of [...]

The (Mind) Games People Play By Cognitive Dissonance     Fair warning! This is a long and dense read [...]

Event Update For 2018-04-17http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2018-04-16http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2018-04-15http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2018-04-14http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2018-04-13http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

NYC plans to undertake the swindle of the civilisation by suing the companies that have enabled it t [...]

MbS, the personification of the age-old pre-revolutionary scenario in which an expiring regime attem [...]

You know things have taken a turn for the desperate when women have started to drive. Or rather, whe [...]

From Filmers to Farmers is re-launched on the astounding open source blogging platform Ghost! [...]

The blogging scene is admittedly atrocious. Is there really no option for a collapse blogger to turn [...]

Daily Doom Photo

man-watching-tv

Sustainability

  • Peak Surfer
  • SUN
  • Transition Voice

How Many Trees Do We Need?"A city like New York (18.6 million people) should require 55.8 million trees to provide its ox [...]

First they locked up the Knowledge"If you were given the choice between continued life on earth and computerized devices and the [...]

Just One Word: Bioplastics"Any carbon that does not go back to the atmosphere can just chill. It can be a building or a b [...]

NTHE is a Four Letter Word"Collective neurosis can be attributed to a concatenation of causes — diet, electrosmog, epigen [...]

Symbiotic Recycling"Solutions that endure usually begin at the bottom. They build regenerative, circular economies [...]

The folks at Windward have been doing great work at living sustainably for many years now.  Part of [...]

 The Daily SUN☼ Building a Better Tomorrow by Sustaining Universal Needs April 3, 2017 Powering Down [...]

Off the keyboard of Bob Montgomery Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666 Friend us on Facebook Publishe [...]

Visit SUN on Facebook Here [...]

To fight climate change, you need to get the world off of fossil fuels. And to do that, you need to [...]

Americans are good on the "thoughts and prayers" thing. Also not so bad about digging in f [...]

In the echo-sphere of political punditry consensus forms rapidly, gels, and then, in short order…cal [...]

Discussions with figures from Noam Chomsky and Peter Senge to Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama off [...]

Lefty Greenies have some laudable ideas. Why is it then that they don't bother to really build [...]

Top Commentariats

  • Our Finite World
  • Economic Undertow

True. These people- and all before them- had a deep understanding of how a person is ground down by [...]

No doubt there was some good, old-fashioned simian status anxiety bound up with that enthusiasm for [...]

"Since modern society MUST have oil and other energy products to sustain and grow the financial [...]

Banks have been protected for quite a while because of the need to protect depositors, or there will [...]

I hear ya. We are often derided for even trying to understand but I for one will never stop. I find [...]

I don't know. More confused than anything else. :P [...]

Hey Steve - Your voice sounds a little different, every thing cool man? [...]

DOlf - Not what I wrote or at least meant. All I am saying is that markets can and are massively man [...]

Eeyores, I agree with you. Everything is now on a sort of automated auto-pilot. Everything continues [...]

RE Economics

Going Cashless

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Simplifying the Final Countdown

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Bond Market Collapse and the Banning of Cash

Off the microphone of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Do Central Bankers Recognize there is NO GROWTH?

Discuss this article @ the ECONOMICS TABLE inside the...

Singularity of the Dollar

Off the Keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Kurrency Kollapse: To Print or Not To Print?

Off the microphone of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

SWISSIE CAPITULATION!

Off the microphone of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Of Heat Sinks & Debt Sinks: A Thermodynamic View of Money

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Merry Doomy Christmas

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Collapse Fiction

Useful Links

Technical Journals

Mountain ecosystems are considered to be vulnerable to climate change, with potential detrimental ef [...]

Land surface temperature (LST) is one of the most important variables for applications relating to t [...]

Cool materials with higher solar reflectance compared with conventional materials of the same color [...]

Mesoscale Convective cloud Systems (MCSs) are frequent in the greater area of the Mediterranean basi [...]