Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

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

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

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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

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

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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!

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

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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

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

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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

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

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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]

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

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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]

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

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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]

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

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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]

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

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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]

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

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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]

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on March 4, 2017

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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

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

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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

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on February 13, 2017

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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.

Melbourne’s Donald Trump Protest: Harbinger of the Rise of Pauline Hanson?

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on February 3, 2017

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(photos by Gage Skidmore and Velovotee)

Feeling in a bit of a masochistic mood a couple of Saturdays ago I decided to take a stroll over to the Donald Trump protest outside of Melbourne's State Library, the place to be if you had the need of getting the wax cleared out of your ear drums. I managed to listen to the first couple of speakers, but the inanity of it all became way too overwhelming and I realized I had to get my apparently not-quite-masochistic-enough arse out of there before I did something stupid like turn around to the lady behind me and tell her "I hope you're hurting your voice as much as you're hurting my ears."

Not that I needed the protest to confirm things for myself, but there still doesn't seem to be all that many people in the United States – nor Australia for that matter – that appear to have much of a grasp of why it is that so many people managed to have voted for Trump, some pundits even dismissing the very reasons when they're staring them right in the face – that this was essentially the result of class warfare, not racism. Just before leaving office Barack Obama himself stated that had of he run for a third term he would have defeated Trump. If he's correct – and I think he is – then how is it that Trump won the election thanks to racism? Put a bit differently, how is it that Obama was able to win two elections in a nation that's supposedly so racist that it was able to put Trump into office? Answer: That's not why Trump got elected.

Fact of the matter is that out of the two most detested candidates in US election history, voters were more disgusted with the tried-and-tested corruption, and so rather than vote for the devil they knew who wouldn't release her Wall Street speeches and possibly would have started a war with Russia, they voted for the devil they didn't know who wouldn't release his taxes and might possibly start a war with China. As a result, and with many would-be Democrat voters deciding to sit this one out, Hillary Clinton received 3.5 million fewer votes than Obama did in 2008, and could very well have been the one person in the United States most unlikely to beat Trump.

Anyway, while Trump protesters couldn't be doing a better job of doing exactly what is needed to get Trump re-elected in four years' time, Australians might be doing exactly what is needed to get Pauline Hanson – dissenter of "multiculturalism" and leader of Australia's right-wing One Nation party – eventually elected as well, albeit with a bit of "catch up" required first. Because if Hanson can bide her time, it's only to her benefit that Australia happens to be a country populated by a significant enough amount of bigots which may one day be enough to tip the scales in her favour. And no, what I'm talking about isn't Australia's storied preponderance of racial bigots, but the astounding amount of classicist bigots it has. All one needs to look at for evidence of this is the tragic event that unfolded in Melbourne's CBD just two weeks ago to the day.

Deciding to delay my lunch by half an hour so I could get my latest blog post up, while walking up Elizabeth Street to the Queen Vic Market I happened to be cut off at Bourke Street by police tape that was just going up, about half an hour after a crazed individual had indiscriminately plowed through pedestrians on one of Melbourne's busiest streets, killing six and injuring scores of others.

Without knowing what had happened I pulled up Reddit on my phone-number-deficient smart phone to get the low-down, and going through the first round of comments on the relevant post it wasn't too surprising to see a stream of people surmising it was an ISIS hit and that Muslims were ultimately behind it all. These were the racial bigots, and they were summarily responded to with derision by their fellow Redditors.

An hour or so later it was revealed however that not only was the crazed individual not affiliated with ISIS in the slightest, but that he wasn't Muslim either – he was a born-and-bred Australian of European background who had been involved in a stabbing just a few hours earlier. While this shut up the racial bigots, a whole new wave of comments came in denouncing the individual as a "bogan meth-head". These commenters are what I'd call the less sophisticated portion of Australia's classicist bigots, and as is about the standard fare here the derision on Reddit was nowhere to be seen this time around. (I have noticed exceptions before, but they're comparably rare.)

For those who don't know the local lingo, "bogan" is Aussie for the more American and Canadian epithet of "redneck". Spend enough time here, and with Australia being one of the most urbanized countries in the world (one can never actually overtake the kollapsnik's wet-dream of Singapore of course), if you have an eye or an ear for such things you might soon notice that Australia should perhaps be more known for its classicist bigotry rather than its racial bigotry.


Gold diggers out to get their hands on the Trump family jewels

While it's often stated that racial bigots are "uneducated" (which I think is a gross over-simplification), I've come to notice, in Australia at least, that most classicist bigots stem from the educated classes. And while there is undoubtedly Australians who like to "punch up", I can't help but get the impression that there is a vastly greater amount of Australians who like to "punch down", down upon those who they themselves are intent on not becoming. And although this can only be chalked up to personal, anecdotal experiences, the majority of Australian classicist bigots that I've come across have been of the female persuasion, and a majority of those have been of non-European backgrounds (some born in Australia, some not). Coincidences? For the most part, yes, I think so (I certainly hope so!). Nonetheless, I think it speaks volumes when the part of the population (and I'm not just talking about women with non-European backgrounds) that prides itself over its supposed inclusiveness via "multiculturalism" – a system that is supposedly free of prejudice against other people – readily, and most often without derision sent back its way, partakes in "punching down" – the quasi national sport for the recently vindicated and their European brethren of the more privileged classes.

As recently stated by Tim Soutphommasane, Australia's race discrimination commissioner and author of the book Don't Go Back to Where You Came From: Why Multiculturalism Works, "Too often people can forget that the burden of racial tolerance isn't something that weighs upon everyone evenly." Very true. But what isn't also mentioned is that people – possibly even Soutphommasane – can forget that the burden of socio-economic tolerance isn't something that weighs upon everyone evenly either. And if there's one person out there that understands and took advantage of this, that would be Donald Trump.

To Trump's advantage, the candidate he was up against in the recent United States general election happened to be a classicist bigot, one that wasn't quite adept as he was at BSing certain portions of the populace. Perhaps it was a bit unfair when Clinton was called out for wearing a $12,000 Armani jacket while giving a speech on income inequality, because it should be no surprise that billionaire Trump routinely wears $7,000 Brioni suits. But while Clinton could nonchalantly state to the "LGBT for Hillary Gala" crowd that "you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables", Trump was in Las Vegas (absurdly) stating that "I love the poorly educated!" One of these people was better than the other at hiding that they're full of it – as well as at pandering to the poor, the racial bigots, and the Bernie Sanders supporters disgusted with the sabotage-extraordinaires Hillary Clinton, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and the Democratic National Committee – and it was that person who won the election.


The voluntary inmates protesting Trump, escorted and proceeding
in an orderly fashion (those are police vehicles in the top-left)

In the meantime, the one candidate that wasn't full of it (albeit seemingly daft when it came to peak oil and the collapse of industrial civilization) had his campaign sabotaged by Clinton, Schultz and the DNC, and had of he fairly won the Democratic primary it's quite likely that he would have trounced Trump at the polls. That being so, who then is ultimately more responsible for Trump's election? Trump's backers, or Clinton/Schultz/the DNC and all those who voted for Clinton in the Democratic primaries, in effect preventing Sanders from being the rightful president of the United States, a president who by no means would have required a Woman's March?

On top of that, is firing away at Trump really going to be any more productive now than it's been over the past year, or is it not possible that it's the very thing that will further galvanize his supporters (and win him new ones) on his way to re-election in 2020? Trump's strategy has essentially been to (falsely) frame himself as the victim of a rigged system and then pander to millions of people who are victims of a rigged system, rigged for people like, well, him. Not only that, but Trump is still playing the victim, and people are still falling for it – most recently with his comment in front of the CIA's Memorial Wall where he claimed to have had more inauguration attendees than Obama in 2009. (I've expounded on this strategy of Trump's earlier, one where he's playing the "heel" of which he's drawn upon from his time in World Wrestling Entertainment.)

What Trump is essentially doing is running the "eternal campaign" (as South American populist presidents have been doing for decades), because not only has he not errantly forgotten to get out of campaign mode, but rather is already campaigning for 2020 – "Keep America Great!" is the campaign slogan he's already registered – although he doesn't seem to have gotten the domain name in time. The only thing left to wonder is, once the United States is inevitably in a (by no means Trump-induced) appreciably worse economic and social condition in three years' time, whether Trump will place the blame on Obama or some other scapegoat, or whether he'll claim against all evidence that things are doing much better than before and that any media outlet and pundit who says otherwise is lying.

This is where we return to the situation in Australia, the place where the operator of Hanson's social media strategy, Saraya Beric, seems to have at least an inkling of what's going on. As The Guardian reported,

The more party figures attacked Hanson – who routinely attracts withering derision from members of the broader public opposed to her right-leaning agenda – the more supporters rallied around her, Beric says.


Isn't it a bit ironic that by voting for the corrupt vagina-clad
candidate in the Democratic primaries that we're now having
Vagina Marches to stop the vagina grabber? Particularly
when there were women much more worthy than Clinton,
and who don't playing the gender card?

If Hanson's as sharp as I'm not so sure she is, I imagine she'd be well served by having her followers going around places like Melbourne and Sydney and rather than have them tear down Donald Trump protest posters, have them take just one down, photocopy it a few hundred times, then plaster said cities in hopes of riling up the vitriolic, earwax-clearing anti-Trump sentiment. And if she could figure out her own way to bait her opposition into denouncing her the way Trump did with all his Tweeting and "straight talk", then she may be able to create an aura around her of somebody who's on the receiving end of the classicist bigot's condescension, thus gaining sympathy with what is bound to be Australia's increasing population of "bogans" (more on that in a moment).

Because while Trump does have some valid platforms (he did after all back out of the TPP, as Sanders would have done), Hanson does as well (One Nation is provisionally against coal seam gas, AKA hydraulic fracturing, AKA fracking). And the more Trump has gotten vilified, and the more his economically downtrodden supporters have been dismissed as nothing but deplorable, irredeemable, sexist, racists, the more his voters – some of whom fall under none of those categories/stereotypes – have gotten galvanized. Even worse, these marginalized portions of the world's first-world countries are quite likely to increase in the next few years when the next economic bubble bursts (the fracking bubble?), enlarging the proportion of those who see people like Trump as the "human molotov cocktail" to be thrown upon the "punching down" portion of the upper crust, and possibly as the means to burn down the village to save burn down the village.

Returning to Australia again, if there's one thing though that Hanson doesn't have going for her it's that Australia is nowhere close to being the socio-economic basket case that the United States is. While Australia's minimum wage of AUD $17.25 is almost double that of the United States' USD $7.25 per hour, it also has a pretty decent universal health care system (although not as good as Canada's if I'm not mistaken), a decent unemployment system, a decent retirement system, and on and on. However.

This can't, and won't, last forever – and probably for not too much longer either, for the simple reason that the onset of peak oil and other energy shortages imply the protracted collapse of industrial civilization in Australia, just like everywhere else. While Australia came out of the recent recession virtually unscathed for the simple reason that China was its largest trading partner, the United States and the worldwide economic slowdown has finally been catching up with China, which has thus had its desire for Australian coal, iron, and other mining products – the biggest, but shrinking, sector of Australia's economy – wither away. On top of that, and with Australia having reached its peak of oil supplies in 2000 (increasingly supplanting them with imports from Middle Eastern countries, which themselves are on their way to peaking), the party is really on its way to being over.

Taking all this into account, one need only look at the creeping situation in Australia: while the mining industry is slowly collapsing, Australia has willingly jettisoned its entire car manufacturing industry and now must import every last vehicle. It should go without saying that losing and disposing of a growing amount of predominantly blue-collar jobs bodes no better for Australia than it has for the United States, and Melbourne and the rest of Australia has another thing coming to it if it really thinks it can sustain its way of life via imports of Chinese tourists, imports of Chinese students paying inflated student fees, and imports of latté-sipping Europeans.

In the meantime, Hanson's One Nation secured 4.3% of Australia's vote in 2016's federal election, including 9% of the vote in Queensland. Is Queensland therefore a "backwards" den of "bogans" – as educated, female visible minorities proud of their "multiculturalism" have told me – or might it actually be an early warning system providing a closer ear to the ground? Taking a look at the election results in the northern beach suburbs of Queensland, it is seen that One Nation actually scored as high as 24.7% of the vote in some regions; could something be in the drinking water that's making Alice River, Deeragun, Northern Beaches, and Bluewater more racist than other places? Not quite.

Lo and behold, and mimicking what's been going on in the United States' rust belt areas that voted for Trump (after, I'll repeat, they had Sanders stolen from them by Clinton/Schultz/the DNC), these suburbs surround the now-defunct Yabulu nickel plant. So while there may very well be a higher than average amount of people who hold racial prejudices in certain parts of Queensland than other parts of the country, it's quite possible that a fair amount of these people who are being economically marginalized are vulnerable and/or susceptible to falling for racial scapegoating (which in Australia may unfortunately not be very tough to pull off), or that for whatever reason they've felt that they've had little other option that to hold their noses while voting for One Nation.

In regards to the former, while Australia is a nation pretty much founded on racism (which, to be fair, so is the United States – a country founded by slave owners who wanted their freedom from the oh-so oppressive Brits) and which only four decades ago got rid of its White Australia policy, there's also the fact that 49% of Australians recently polled as being in support of One Nation's ban on Muslim immigration, including 34% of Green Party respondents. And just a few days ago Scott Morrison – Australia's current treasurer, former immigration minister, and the guy who some see as the country's next back-stabbing successor to the prime minister's office – refused to denounce Trump's recent travel ban and instead stated that "Really, the rest of the world is catching up to Australia." And that's all during a time when the Australian economy is still doing quite well. One can only imagine how such situations are going to escalate once things actually start to get hairy (and by hairy I mean hairy – hairier than all the front-mullets of Melbourne's hipsters combined).


"When [fill in the blank], we fight back!" Alright, sure

While mentioning all this to an acquaintance of mine – a card-carrying member of Victoria's Green Party and former political science student nonetheless – I was assuredly told that because of Australia's parliamentary system where politicians – not the people – pick the party leader, Hanson will never be able to come to power in a major party. And because of preferential voting, I was again assured, One Nation will never be able to win an election. Roughly translated, this suggests that better-off Australians can screw over the lower classes and the otherwise economically marginalized all they want and not suffer any blowback nor rendezvous with pitchforks, thanks to governmental firewalls. "It can't possibly happen here!"

Right.

Not only is this nonsense (and bound to backfire), but this was said to me after said individual informed me over and over again that were he American he would have voted for Trump in order to rid the country of Clinton corruption. In other words, the cognitive dissonance in Australia can be just as astounding as anywhere else.

This all being so, is attacking Hanson and One Nation head-on the wisest thing to be doing if the idea is to avoid a White Australia Redux? We've already seen – and still see, but generally still aren't cluing in – that this hasn't, isn't, and won't ever work with Trump. But having also attended a Hanson/One Nation protest a few months ago (out of curiosity – and masochism) where the modus operandi seemed to be that "we" win if we can yell louder than they can (and which gave me the impression that rabies does in fact exist in Australia), the approach seems to be the exact same as to what got Trump elected in the first place. Namely, the dismissal of the concerns of the marginalized, and the over-simplifying idea that voters of right-wing populists are nothing but backwards, racist "bogans", thus missing out on the valid concerns that right-wing leaders – sometimes far right-wing leaders – are tapping into: economic marginalization.

Is there anything that can be done to counter this? Well, having read Soutphommasane's book a few years ago, it's quite apparent that he has absolutely no comprehension of what multiculturalism authentically is. In short, since the term "culture" comes from the Latin cultura (to cultivate plants and/or animals), an authentic multiculturalism would, at its base, thus entail multiple methods of cultivation – the implication being local cultures adapted to their places, irrespective of skin colour or any other differences. For as I wrote in a previous post (in part 1/4, listed below),

It's often said that 'we are what we eat.' But since the majority of the food that the majority of us eat is grown in monocultures, would that not then make us monoculturalist rather than multiculturalist?

With everything I've written in this post in mind, I'm starting to get the impression that the only way to stop this far-right insurgence is to outflank them, similar to how Trump snagged the disaffected would-be-Democrat-voters who watched as Clinton and company sabotaged Bernie Sanders' campaign. How to do that? Well, as absurd as it sounds, and having nothing to do with that identitarian BS, the best way to assure that Australia never sees Hanson and One Nation (or some other equiavalent) rise to power might very well be to rescind Australia's Multicultural Policy, the same as it got rid of its White Australia Policy some fourty years ago.

I won't start elaborating on that for another few months, but in the meantime, and for those who are a bit curious and want a head start in understanding what an "authentic multiculturalism" actually is, I'll leave you with the following (which I'll be re-posting before I start elaborating):

Culture and the Land (part 1/4)

The Art and Culture of Authentic Multiculturalism (part 2/4)

The Multicultural Diversitywash (part 3/4)

Multiculturalism of the Land (part 4/4)

Paging Tim Soutphommasane!

Movie Un-Review: Wendell Berry, the Not-Quite Rock Star Seer

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on January 20th, 2017

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Vandalised with permission of Two Birds Film,
which I suppose means it's not quite vandalised

Three years ago I had the pleasure to attend a talk between Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson at Cooper Union in New York City (my first time in New York City as an adult, which was a story in itself), moderated by New York Times columnist Mark Bittman. Wanting to quote a particular exchange between Berry and Jackson for a recent post here on From Filmers to Farmers I listened to the audio recording of the event to transcribe what I was after. While I was able to locate the sought after passage, I was aghast to find out that my favourite portion of the entire event was absent from the publicly available recording, something that was relevant to this post you're currently reading. So not only do I unfortunately not remember the lead-up to the particular exchange between Berry and Bittman, but I'm also forced to quote from memory. As I recall:

Bittman: You're a rock star.

Berry [quietly and sombrely]: No.

That got a bit of a giggle out of me. But as my sense of humour's fortune would have it, Bittman wasn't about to give up so easily.

Bittman: Yes, yes! You're a rock star, you're a rock star!

Eschewing an elaborate retort or explanation, and even more quietly and sombrely the second time around, Berry lowered his head, ever so slightly shook it, and once again simply said –

Berry: No.

Well that was just too much for me, and as I kid you not that that was one of the funniest things I'd ever seen and heard in my life, I couldn't help but instantly burst out with an appropriately over-the-top boisterous laugh. Thing is, and as I just as quickly noticed, not a single other person in the entire audience was laughing as well – not even a peep. So just as fast as I started laughing I somehow managed to contain my convulsions, kind of clearing my throat and sheepishly hoping that my tiny outburst could somehow be disguised and confused for a weird sounding cough.


Berry and his son (photo courtesy of Two Birds Film)

While I of course wondered to myself why nobody in the entire audience seemed to have even snickered (Cooper Union – and the rest of New York City – was full of rock stars?), and more recently have wondered why said portion was edited out (I wanted to see if I could hear my "cough" and what it sounded like!), the more pertinent question is, Why did Berry disagree with being called – appropriated as? – a "rock star"? The best explanation I can give comes courtesy of a woman I've recently read about, Laura Dunn. As Dunn put it in a recent interview,

[Berry] said to me once "I am nothing but for the people on the land, the people who are my neighbours and my family and my place." He is his place. He doesn't like the idolatry of famous figures. It's not about the person, it's about the community and the membership.

On top of that, Dunn is quite possibly more familiar than anyone else with Berry's reluctance to having certain titles placed upon him, seeing how she's the director of the Wendell Berry documentary Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry, screening tonight at the Sundance Film Festival and which was recently screening under the title The Seer. For as Dunn also put it,

[Berry] did not like "The Seer." He felt it intimated him as a kind of profit [sic], and he didn't want that kind of attention. He wanted it to be more about the place and the community, so we changed the name out of respect for him.

Appropriately enough, you won't be finding any "Rock Star Seers" in Look & See. Otherwise, although the new title initially seemed a bit strange to me, it all made sense once I read a quote by Mary Berry, Wendell's daughter, about something she was taught as a child while out on walks with her parents.

We were told to look and see. What is that tree? What is this grass? That field was plowed incorrectly. Why is that? What should have been done? That man is a great farmer. See what he does? That is beautiful. Look and see that it's beautiful. And that's ugly – that's a scar. Look and see that.


Tanya and Wendell Berry working their
plot of land (photo courtesy of Two Birds Film)

Although Wendell Berry is without a doubt the author whose writings have been the most instrumental in guiding me away from an industrial mind-set and into an agrarian one, one does get the impression that Look & See is a rather well-made film. So far it's won the grand jury prize for best documentary at the Nashville Film Festival, its director of photography (Lee Daniel) won an award at its SXSW world premiere for its cinematography, and nearly all the reviews I've read are along the lines of "Dunn does a tremendous job assembling a creative, visually appealing film."

Somewhat ironically, while Berry takes issue with being called a "rock star", and having returned to Kentucky upon having abandoned his promising New York City literary career and the "prestige and urban splendor" that that would have bestowed (as another review of Look & See put it), it's been pointed out that "the film boasts an all-star cast of producers". As another then described it,

Berry, who lives life without a television or a computer, is about as un-Hollywood as he can be. Yet, the executive producers for Dunn’s labor of love were heavyweights Robert Redford and Terrence Malick, with names like Nick Offerman, Zach Galifianakis, Megan Mullally, and Robert Smigel also appearing in the credits.

On top of that, it was even then stated that "There is a good chance that [Look & See] will get a nomination come Oscar time just as Food, Inc. did a few years back", which we'll actually find out in just four days' time when the nominations are announced.

So while the film itself seems to be of an excellent (Hollywood?) standard, its subject is no less so (minus the Hollywood). As was stated in a review of Look & See, "[Berry] is the kind of writer who can change what you eat for breakfast, and maybe even the work you go to afterward." I don't disagree with that one bit, although for me it wasn't Berry who changed what I eat for breakfast, but rather Michael Pollan. (After reading Pollan's excellent book The Omnivore's Dilemma nine years ago I decided to quit eating corn, including all of its bastardized manifestations which appear on virtually every product's ingredient list at the supermarket – but I'll probably be writing about that in late-March.)


Berry and his two draft horses (photo courtesy of Two Birds Film)

Similarly, another review of Look & See stated that "Berry is a rare-breed; a person who actually practices what he preaches." That was one of the first things that stood out to me when I initially began reading Berry (and which I've specifically written on before), which didn't so much change anything I was doing but rather strengthened my resolve for what I had done. That is, reading Berry affirmed the decision I'd finally made a year or two earlier to give up the life and career of a filmmaker and to also stop watching film and television altogether. And that, I'll point out, is why I have not watched, and will not be watching, Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry.

Like Berry's late friend Gene Logsdon (who I recently quoted as being wary of the "real epidemic on our hands… Televisionitis"), Berry also isn't much of a fan of film and television. As Dunn pointed out, "Film is not his medium, and he doesn't have a great deal of respect for it." (Touché!) Or as Berry expounded in his book The Gift of Good Land,

TV and other media have learned to suggest with increasing subtlety and callousness – especially, and most wickedly, to children – that it is better to consume than to produce, to buy than to grow or to make, to "go out" than to stay home. If you have a TV, your children will be subjected almost from the cradle to an overwhelming insinuation that all worth experiencing is somewhere else and that all worth having must be bought. The purpose is blatantly to supplant the joy and beauty of health with cosmetics, clothes, cars, and ready-made desserts.

Furthermore,

We can get rid of the television set. As soon as we see that the TV cord is a vacuum line, pumping life and meaning out of the household, we can unplug it. What a grand and neglected privilege it is to be shed of glibness, the gleeful idiocy, the idiotic gravity, the unctuous or lubricious greed of those public faces and voices!

As if that weren't enough,

And we can try to make our homes centers of attention and interest. Getting rid of the TV, we understand, is not just a practical act, but also a symbolical one: we thus turn our back on the invitation to consume; we shut out the racket of consumption. The ensuing silence is an invitation to our homes, to our own places and lives, to come into being. And we begin to recognize a truth disguised or denied by TV and all that it speaks and stands for: no life and no place is destitute; all have possibilities of productivity and pleasure, rest and work, solitude and conviviality that belong particularly to themselves. These possibilities exist everywhere, in the country or in the city, it makes no difference. All that is necessary is the time and the inner quietness to look for them, the sense to recognize them, and the grace to welcome them.

Being somebody who "practices what he preaches", it should come as little surprise then that although Berry agreed to participate with the making of Look & See, he did so with the condition that he wouldn't appear on camera. That comes as little surprise to me, considering that Berry lives without a television or computer, and as I recall reading, has never sent out an email in his entire life. Likewise, when Nick Offerman wrote to Berry in 1995 asking if he could adapt his story "Fidelity" into a film, he was summarily turned down.

Continuing along these lines, and as other reviews of Look & See have stated,

Berry, an old-fashioned man to his core, believes that experiencing the world through computer or movie screens diminishes literacy and deadens the imagination.

Likewise,

Part of the reason for this decision not to show Berry is, as I suspected, due to the fact that he himself did not want to be filmed. Berry's work is very cognizant of the damages that machines – be they automobile and tractor, or television and computer – have had on human relationships. While this may not be the reason he asked not to be filmed, it fits his personality and body of work to hide his face from the camera.

However, not all reviewers of Look & See see eye-to-eye with Berry's way of thinking (and doing). For as one review put it,

The film ignores the tremendous benefits of new farming techniques, not to mention technology all around. Yes, it's cute that Berry types his manuscripts on an old manual typewriter with a worn-out ribbon, but I bet his publishers and typesetters think differently. Further, the aesthetic beauty of the film itself results from new technologies that allow digital shooting, sound recording, graphics, and editing. Anyone who recalls the old method of film-splicing with razor blades and tape certainly can relate to the benefits of advancing technologies in contemporary editing booths. Shame this irony was lost on Dunn and her fellow filmmakers.

Now, I don't make a habit out of coming to the defence of filmmakers, but it just so happens that not only am I someone familiar with "the benefits of advancing technologies in contemporary editing booths", but I also happen to be someone who quite intimately "recalls the old method of film-splicing with razor blades and tape", thanks to the fact that I was schooled in both methods while I attended the film studies program at Ryerson University in Toronto. Being quite familiar with both methods, I should for starters point out that I don't ascribe to the romantic notion that actual film stock is more "pure" than the digital video of today, but nor do I subscribe to the equally foolish notion that filmmakers of today (except for those with deep pockets) actually have much of a choice between the two. The only reason I was able to work with "the old method" was because my university happened to be the only educational institution in all of North America that had its own on-premises processing facilities for black and white 16mm film, providing my fellow students and I with an unheard-of kind of access and an uncanny way to learn our – my now abandoned – craft.


A young Berry, working away with pen, paper
and sunlight (photo courtesy of Two Birds Film)

Furthermore, it should be stated that the limitations that working with 16mm film imposed upon me (as opposed to what I've often heard referred to as the "limitless possibilities" of digital video) forced me to think in a way that "infinite possibilities" never could, and resulted in me wracking my mind to figure out how I could manipulate the medium in order to pull off some rather eye-popping, nifty little tricks. Moreover, the best videos I ever made were the ones where I placed limits on myself and shot as if I were using 16mm film, and as should go without saying, upon taking the initial tour of Ryerson's Image Arts building as a high school student we were specifically told that the latest equipment and biggest budget does not inherently make for a good film.

Likewise, the main body of my favourite filmmaker (back in the days when I bothered with film) was made between 1920 and 1928, and there's absolutely no way a filmmaker today could make a film anywhere near as good as he did, partially because he grew up acting in Vaudeville with his family, but more precisely because he was forced to work under the confines of actual film that forced him to butt up against and play around with the very limits placed upon him. In other words, there's a huge difference between trying to figure out what you can make 16mm film stock do – or rather, what it will allow you to do – and the "freedom" of getting to let your imagination "run wild" with 1920 x 1200 pixels.

The same goes with farming. A 1,000 acre farm with "the tremendous benefits of new farming techniques, not to mention technology all around" can never be as good towards the land, as productive by the acre, or as beautiful as a 10 acre farm can be. This is precisely because said technologies deaden the imagination and allow the farm to expand beyond the practical scales of a single human mind (or two), and without any limitations (so to speak) the farmer is without the context of boundaries that would enable him and/or her to enliven their mind and elicit the proper response to their place that would then result in their ability to put together a healthy, productive, and beautiful farm.

While this seems to be lost on the latter-most reviewer (a champion of industrial farming), these facts aren't lost on all industrial farmers. As another review of Look & See describes a group of industrial farmers interviewed in the film by Dunn, "They're not dumb nor are they evil; they understand exactly how the system works, but they don't know how to beat it."

Just like black and white 16mm film versus digital video, the costs of entry and maintenance of good, small farming are now so high due to a system rigged towards the high-finance practice of getting bigger and bigger (with external inputs) that the opportunities for such ways of farming are presently extremely hard to come by. (Although now that the Limits to Growth are being met the ruse is starting to look flimsier and flimsier.)

Moreover, I don't think that any kind of "irony was lost on Dunn". Granted, I specifically decided against starting work on a Wendell Berry documentary ten years or so ago, as well as on a film critical about the film medium – which seemed rather navel-gazing, incestuous and not very much along the lines of "practicing what I preach", and so was the last idea I had before I quit once and for all. Regardless, not only did Dunn choose to make a film about what I think is the single most important person who has never had a film made about them (number two would be a film about Nikolai Vavilov in English, Lawrence of Arabia styles), but she also had the most admirable motivation – to "honor his work and his spirit and draw more attention to his work."

But along with Look & See being about Berry, Look & See was more so about what Berry stands for. As one review put it, while quoting Dunn,

This, if any, is the transformative message that Dunn brings to her film. It's a piece that she hopes might urge watchers "to turn away from the film, and turn into their own lives… to turn the television off and go outside."

To me, that's the big question when it comes to film. Is such a thing possible, or does making a film – even one about Berry – not have a net effect of legitimizing film even more, spurring the making and watching of even more films (eco-type films in this case), rather than inspiring viewers and filmmakers themselves to "turn the television [and camera] off and go outside"? I obviously lean towards the highly sceptical side, which I've written a bit about already.

Nonetheless, Dunn states that

I'm this giant arrow using the medium that so many people immerse themselves in now and saying "is there a way within that medium to point people away from the medium?" That's part of the experiment. I don’t know yet if it worked.

That's a big ask of course, and while I'm wary of such a possibility (when I returned from my one-year New Zealand WWOOF trip and on my birthday surprised my family by having them sit down and watch the peak oil documentary The End of Suburbia, my cousin told me that it was the first time her child was watching television – whoops), I do wish Dunn the best with her experiment. For as she continues,

If you see the film, will it make people want to turn away from the screen and toward a book of Wendell Berry's or to the natural world? That's what Wendell would want and he was my standard.

With that in mind, while there's no doubt that the film will be watched by many people in the coming weeks and months (and possibly years), I do wonder if people already familiar with Berry's work have any legitimate need to watch the film. As yet another review stated, "People who like Berry will find their understanding of his work deepened, and those who don't will be intrigued." But how "deep" must one get into Berry's work before one turns away from the screen(s)? And is it really necessary to achieve this "deepness" from a screen rather than from a book?

For those new to Berry I can only hope that Look & See does in fact "intrigue" them and inspire them to read some of his books – and to even turn away from the screen(s), as far-fetched as I think that might be. But for those already familiar with Berry's work, and aware of Dunn's partial intention conveyed in these latter quotes of hers, well, why watch the film if part of the purpose is to instil the idea to not watch film and television?

Regardless, while I may one day listen to the "film", and like I said, here's to wishing the best for Dunn and her experiment of Look & See, the possible poison pill for the film and television industries.

 

Note: Although I was given permission to use and manipulate the Seer movie poster by Two Birds Film, and although I was given permission by Look & See's PR agency to use the photos of Berry, neither of them were in any way cognizant of what I was intending to write and so are not to be held responsible for anything herein, nor are they to be confused with having endorsed any of it in any way. "Cough."

 


Quite possibly the most boring "rock star" in the entire geological record (photo by Festival of Faiths)

Make America Peeable Again: The Great Urinal Debate That Wasn’t

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

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One must always remember not to play with their food – or their or
anybody else's pee – lest they want Putin to play them like a fiddle
(photos by Gage Skidmore and Igor Dolgov)

The Dr. Pooper Papers, Issue #6:

As readers of this blog may recall, nearly six months ago to the day I posted the fifth instalment of the ongoing Dr. Pooper Papers series, Make America Poopable Again: The Great Toilet Debate That Wasn't. That piece worked off of the lacklustre transgender toilet debate that had been going on in the United States at the time, pointing out that the debate that wasn't going on was one over the usage of the modern, industrial flush toilet versus the ecological practice of using compost toilets. That post, unfortunately (albeit rather unsurprisingly), didn't quite catch on.

Nonetheless, American politics seems to have progressed from its ill coverage of doodoo to having its president-elect recently take the piss out of the entire nation, which in this topsy-turvy world of the fakery of faked "fake news" may or may not actually be true. That all being so, I realize that Mr. Shit Face's Dr. Pooper's depiction with Donald Trump and Barack Obama in the first "Great Debate" post six months ago didn't quite stir up the conversation about our human waste fiasco as I'd hoped, so here's to hoping that Mr. Please Don't Pee On My Face Dr. Peeper might have a different effect.

As chance would have it, the day before the headlines became covered with urine I happened to have forced myself to take a walk through the Bansky exhibit here in Melbourne (review coming "soon"), and upon taking a leak in the adjacent Atrium at Fed Square I was greeted with a congratulatory "Well done! You've saved 4 litres of water by using this waterless urinal." I'll put aside the notion that I never knew I was supposed to feel so good about taking a leak, because while doing my thing with my thing I couldn't help but think to myself, "Save 4 litres? What kind of nonsense is that? I 'save' 4 litres all the time."

By saying that I've previously "saved" 4 litres I'm of course not referring to something like the propensity for drunken late-night Torontonian clubbers to use the flushless walls of underground parking lots as their personal urinals (no urinating in enclosed spaces where the urine won't be absorbed by soil or washed away by the rain – festering sulphurous smells aren't pleasant!), but to the fact that the various compost toilets I've used over the years require absolutely no water in their operation at all.

How is it then that urinals in Melbourne's core can have misleading and nonsensical congratulatory messages placed above its urinals? From what I can tell, I'd say it's partly due to the sheer ignorance of the true believers of modern, progressive industrial civilization that aren't aware of compost toilets, and when they are, nonetheless truly believe that the perpetual addition of more technology will solve all our problems. On top of all that I'd also say that it's partly due to our political correctness and polite reluctance to get with it and slap little placards above all urinals – and all flush toilets for that matter – stating that "The industrial sewage system is #$@*!&% suicidal!" Because not only would we not want to offend anybody, "but c'mon, human wastes? We solved that problem long time ago, right? Right?"

Well, thanks to peaking energy supplies and thus industrial civilization having begun its merry way along its collapse (which will see the modern sewage system go bye-bye with it), if we don't want our cities to start smelling even worse than underground Torontonian parking lots thanks to a lack of action taken upon the methodology of dealing with our wastes, then this is a conversation we need to start having pronto.


No doubt Donald Trump's favourite book,
next to the Bible of course

Moreover, what we need to start recognizing when it comes to urine, and as Carol Steinfeld explains in her book Liquid Gold: The Lore and Logic of Using Urine to Grow Plants, is that the 90 million + gallons of urine that Americans alone flush away everyday contains roughly 7 million pounds of nitrogen, an astounding amount of fertilizer that goes through deceivingly pleasant-sounding "treatment plants", their products discharged into bodies of water which then contribute to algal blooms and "dead zones". And rather than using that nitrogen in a closed cycle to grow our food with, we instead use the natural gas-dependant Haber-Bosch process to extract nitrogen from the air. It should go without saying then that peak natural gas does not bode well for the Haber-Bosch process, nor for the half of humanity whose food supply depends upon it.

That's of course not to say that we need to start campaigns promoting the installation of "waterless" urinals everywhere, as not only would I not be surprised to hear that the things have a CPU or something inside them, but that "waterless" urinals obfuscate the general problem of flush toilets for number twos (and number ones for women), regardless of whether or not said toilets are of the green-washing low-flush persuasion or not.

But while none of the major candidates for the American presidency took up the challenge in 2016 to Make America Poopable Again, the United States – in fact, the world – may finally have the politician it's been waiting for, someone with an uncanny familiarity with human waste as none other before. Could this be our golden opportunity, allowing us to somehow finally Make America Poopable as well as Peeable Again? And in the process, could this not only supply an example for Melbourne to follow, but also provide an ecological outlet for those leaving Bansky exhibits and having little else on their minds but the thought of having to relieve themselves?

Well, I wouldn't hold my breath – or bowels – on that one, but who knows? The New Year has only just begun, and while 2016's headlines were full of shit, 2017's are already also full of urine. Anything can happen!

Gene Logsdon, 1932 – 2016

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on January 4th, 2017

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There's an art to that (photo courtesy of The Contrary Farmer)

Yes, I've read the headlines, and once again – although perhaps a bit more so than previous iterations – the previous year (2016) was one for fawning over many-a-departed pop stars. David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, and many others. Pop stars aren't really my thing, but if that stuff floats your dinghy, well, all the best with that. In the meantime, 2016 was also the year that several luminaries with a more agrarian bent also bade their farewell, beginning with the co-founder of Permaculture, Bill Mollison. Just a couple of weeks ago one of Permaculture's most respected and more recent practitioners and teachers, Toby Hemenway, also made an all-too-early departure. But along with these, 2016 also saw us lose an agrarian outside the world of Permaculture, that somebody being the aptly named Contrary Farmer, Gene Logsdon.

I'll admit that I'm nowhere near as familiar with Logsdon's writing as I am with others of the American Agrarian Crew (as I call them) – Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, Gary Paul Nabhan, etc. – or what Logsdon referred to as "the five musketeers, a quintet of somewhat radical thinkers and doers coming together in opposition to the steady consolidation of farming into an international mega-agribusiness monopoly" – Berry, Jackson, Maurice Telleen, David Kline, and himself. Having gone through a heavy and prolonged dose of the aforementioned and other agrarian authors a few years ago, I'd somewhat overdosed on said writing and had to take a break from it all, just as I was getting to Logsdon. I did however read just enough – to go along with a bit of a recent nudge – that I've been able to realize that Logsdon left us all with a rich treasure trove of writing to discover.

The first of Logsdon's writings that I (unsurprisingly?) read – and thoroughly enjoyed – was his book Good Spirits: A New Look at Ol' Demon Alcohol, but it was then with (misplaced) disappointment that I soon thereafter discovered his book Gene Logsdon's Practical Skills: A Revival of Forgotten Crafts, Techniques and Traditions in a thrift shop. "Seriously?", I asked myself. "Did Logsdon actually write one of those hokey '101 Ingenious Ways to Using Baking Soda' type books?" I of course bought it anyways (I probably paid $2.50 for it), and after languishing on my book shelf for a couple of years I one day found myself with nothing to read and so pulled it out.

"Holy Shit", I exclaimed to myself (and as Logsdon titled one of his books). Speaking as a suburban-raised boy (who has at least done his fair share of WWOOFing and, yeah, has [merely?] read several agricultural books of various persuasions), what Logsdon pulled off with Practical Skills is a fantastic little window into the nitty-gritty practicalities of farming and homesteading ways of life like no other book I've come across.

But while being extremely practical, Logsdon was certainly well aware that man does not simply live from bread alone. As just one example, it's no secret that many of those in learned and sophisticated circles would be – and are – often averse to giving much weight to the words of a "mere" farmer when it comes to such things as art (or even to farming actually), but it kind of seems to me as if there's nobody like a good farmer to elucidate the ultimate purpose of art. As Logsdon wrote in his book The Mother of All Arts: Agrarianism and the Creative Impulse,

As a working definition of art, I lean towards Tolstoy's: "Art is a human activity having for its purpose the transmission to others of the highest and best feelings to which mankind has risen." It seems to me that, regarding agrarian art, the farther it moves away from the natural world, especially when the main goal is money profits, the more difficult it becomes for it to reflect "the highest and best feelings" of humanity. The same is true, of course, of agriculture itself.

But of course, in this late stage of industrial civilization of ours, money overwhelmingly is the main goal – be it for (industrial) farmers, (art for art's sake) artists, or people in any other line of work really, many of whom gleefully pander to the money conjurers in hopes of securing for themselves a (bigger) piece of the "rotting pie" (as Martin Luther King Jr. put it). Logsdon though was of a different ilk than the conventional when it came to his various endeavours – he didn't go by the name of The Contrary Farmer for nothing. As he understood it, and as so very few do today (again from The Mother of All Arts),

Throughout history, agrarian societies have opposed or restricted the collection of interest on money. The pastoral agriculture of Islam still does not permit money interest, at least theoretically. In agrarian economics, interest on money is seen as a threat to cultural and agricultural stability.

Why might it be that Logsdon – and agrarian societies – understood this so much clearer than others? From what I can tell, there's probably nobody more so than a good farmer that intimately understands that there's no such thing as a free lunch or getting something from nothing. That being said, having scruples of these sorts doesn't make life easy. As one of the characters put it in Logsdon's novel The Last of the Husbandmen: A Novel of Farming Life (where one can hear Logsdon coming through, I suspect),

Why the double hell did he care so much about farming? Farmers were the looniest, stupidest idiots in society, willing to live in constant tension from the unpredictable whims of the weather and conniving, self-serving politicians.

Put that together with just one of the hilarious ditties that I've come across on my very brief sojourn on Logsdon's blog The Contrary Farmer – "I don't know if the defenders of the pasteurized milk monopoly will ever give up their crusade, but I sort of hope they don't. Milk tastes so much better to me when it's bootlegged than when it's legal" – and you just about get the impression that Logsdon sometimes had a hankering for expressly going against the grain, topped off with a sly desire for showing that in even our current economic paradigm the long odds in a rigged system can somehow be defied.

And defiant he was, having an all-too-rare disdain (as I've noticed others in the American Agrarian Crew having as well) of the "real epidemic on our hands… Televisionitis." Yes, although such a usage didn't show up in Practical Skills, Logsdon sure knew how to warm the hearts of those of us keen to make an extra special use out of the blunt end of our axes.

It was also in The Last of the Husbandmen that we see, as I presume, Logsdon at his most touching, particularly at the passing of one his hardscrabbling, odds-defying farmers. With a poem about to be recited at his funeral, it was of little (but pleasant) surprise to discover that it was one – or at least portions of one – by Wendell Berry ("At a Country Funeral"), which I imagine might be fitting to reproduce here:

Now the old ways that have brought us
farther than we remember sink out of sight
as under the treading of many strangers
ignorant of landmarks. Only once in a while
they are cast clear again upon the mind
as at a country funeral…
Friends and kinsmen come and stand and speak,
knowing the extremity they have come to,
one of their own bearing to the earth the last
of his light…
…And so as the old die and the young
depart, where shall a man go who keeps
the memories of the dead, except home
again, as one would go back after a burial,
faithful to the fields, lest the dead die
a second and more final death.

"The end."

Having Dissed Edward Snowden, Should Barack Obama Pardon Bernie Madoff?

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on December 23, 2016

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(photo by Mike K.)

Tis the season for presidential pardons, and all throughout the land the peasants are calling for their Caesar to release not Barabbas this time but the other guy. The "other guy" isn't exactly Jesus of course, but he is nonetheless rather well known for staunchly "speaking truth to power". I'll avoid a re-cap of the shenanigans at play, instead summing it all up by pointing out that yes, the "other guy" – Edward Snowden – did most certainly break the law. However, is breaking the law always such a bad thing? As Martin Luther King Jr. put it,

To accept passively an unjust system is to cooperate with that system; thereby the oppressed become as evil as the oppressor. Non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. The oppressed must never allow the conscience of the oppressor to slumber.


(photo by flash gordon md)

King's and Snowden's country, the United States, has a bit of a history when it comes to preferring freedom from obtrusive government authority as well as of noncompliance when it comes to unjust laws. This began of course with the Boston Tea Party, which was not only an illegal act of disobedience but eventually led to revolution and freedom (of sorts) from Great Britain. Proceeding this were abolitionists who refused to bow down to Fugitive Slave laws, followed by the Civil Rights Movement, and more. On the other hand, what Adolf Hitler did to Jews, political dissidents and other "miscreants" was perfectly legal. In other words, there's lawful and unlawful, but there's also right and wrong.

The question then is: Should Barack Obama pardon Edward Snowden? When recently asked this by German media outlet Der Speigel, this is what Obama had to say in reply:

I can't pardon somebody who hasn't gone before a court and presented themselves, so that's not something that I would comment on at this point. I think that Mr. Snowden raised some legitimate concerns. How he did it was something that did not follow the procedures and practices of our intelligence community. If everybody took the approach that I make my own decisions about these issues, then it would be very hard to have an organized government or any kind of national security system.

At the point at which Mr. Snowden wants to present himself before the legal authorities and make his arguments or have his lawyers make his arguments, then I think those issues come into play. Until that time, what I've tried to suggest – both to the American people, but also to the world – is that we do have to balance this issue of privacy and security. Those who pretend that there's no balance that has to be struck and think we can take a 100-percent absolutist approach to protecting privacy don't recognize that governments are going to be under an enormous burden to prevent the kinds of terrorist acts that not only harm individuals, but also can distort our society and our politics in very dangerous ways.

And those who think that security is the only thing and don't care about privacy also have it wrong.

Come again? Did Obama just say that the very second Snowden "goes before a court and presents himself" that he'd have him pardoned? Am I missing something here?

Of course I am, because that's undoubtedly not what Obama was saying in the slightest with his faux addressing of the issue, made obvious when we realize that Obama's statement is incorrect several times over (made all the more curious since Obama was a constitutional lawyer prior to becoming president). Because if we go back just a few decades we see that Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon before he had been indicted, and if we go back just a few months (we're talking January of 2016) we see that Obama himself pardoned three dual U.S.-Iranian citizens who had yet to be charged. That Snowden can't be pardoned is therefore factually untrue, something that Obama must very well know.

To then suggest that Snowden would actually have a chance to "make his arguments" is also patently false, and which is hard to imagine Obama not being aware of either. Since Snowden is charged under the draconian WWI Espionage Act (meant for punishing foreign spies), this means that he'd be given zero opportunity to make his case before his peers – something that happened to Daniel Ellsberg when he was on trial.


Another leisurely round of golf with the bankers
(in this case, investment banker Robert Wolf)

Could this all be evidence of Obama hitting senility a bit early? Although one might somewhat hope so, it's probably more likely the case that Obama's interests simply lie elsewhere. Because the fact of the matter is that over the span of two national elections Obama raised millions of dollars from Wall Street donors, a faction that in return got exactly what it paid for. As Ron Suskind pointed out in his book Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President, Obama's appointment of Larry Summers and Tim Geithner rendered any reformation of Wall Street moot from the get-go. In describing Obama's first meeting with the "golden thirteen" (which included JP Morgan's Jamie Dimon and Goldman Sachs' Lloyd Blankfein), and after Obama had just pointed out that "My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks", Suskind conveys that

After a moment, the tension in the room seemed to lift: the bankers realized he [Obama] was talking about voluntary limits on compensation until the storm of public anger passed. It would be for show.

Following that, there was

Nothing to worry about. Whereas Roosevelt had pushed for tough, viciously opposed reforms of Wall Street and famously said, "I welcome their hate," Obama was saying, "How can I help?" With palpable relief, the CEOs carried the discussion, talking, easily now, about credit conditions and how loan demand was soft because it should be: businesses were already overleveraged.

It should be no surprise then that not only have the banks gotten bigger under Obama's administration, but that none of the bankers – whose fraudulent behaviour collapsed the United States' housing market and then its economy (and then many of the world's other economies) – saw any criminal prosecution. Was Obama hindered from taking action on this due to an "obstructionist Republican Congress that undermined Obama's presidency"? Hardly, particularly when "hope and change" was essentially a well-marketed cover for a protection racket.

Having therefore let the Band of Barabbas' go hog-wild, and having no intention of pardoning Snowden, I can't help but wonder why Obama doesn't just do what his heart must truly desire – to pardon the boldest Band of Barabbas member of all, Bernie Madoff.


A tickertape parade rehearsal on Wall Street for the return of New
York City's prodigal son – and bestowal upon him of the key to the city!

And I'm hardly joking here. Nearly eight years ago when the manure was hitting the fan I couldn't help but go around asking others (with tongue firmly planted in cheek), "Hey wait a second. If the big banks are getting bailed out, why isn't Bernie Madoff getting his fair share as well? Doesn't he just need some stimulation? Could bailing out Madoff not get things rolling again and save the economy?" That obviously got people thinking I was a crack-baby or something, but that doesn't negate the fact that the Bank of Madoff hit a snag for essentially the same reason that the big banks got thrown off kilter: they're all Ponzi schemes. As Wes Jackson put it during his speech at The Land Institute's 2010 Prairie Festival, "Bernard Madoff deserves a ticker tape parade for showing a small part of a much larger Ponzi scheme."

But while Madoff's Ponzi scheme is easy enough to understand – he required continual inputs of new money from investors so that he'd be able to make payouts to previous investors, in effect enabling his "bank" to maintain the appearance of solvency – the greater Ponzi schemes we live amongst aren't as easy to see. As economist John Kenneth Galbraith famously stated, "The process by which money is created is so simple that the mind is repelled."

Perhaps the best way to pull back the veil on this is via explaining the "magic" that goldsmiths performed some 400 years or so ago. Back when gold was the monetary standard people often kept their "money" in the goldsmiths' vaults for safekeeping. In return they were given notes of credit, notes which many people decided to trade amongst themselves rather than worrying about the bothersome and repetitive tasks of continually withdrawing and depositing their gold. Many goldsmiths then realized that hardly any of the gold ever left their vaults – about 90% just sat there – and so got the unscrupulous idea to not only conjure a few extra credit notes out of thin air, but to lend out those notes with interest (otherwise known as usury, which used to be a big no-no in the Bible and the Quran until its definition [in the bible] got watered down to mean charging too much interest rather than charging any interest at all).


Poor Madoff, he only wanted people to Feel the Bern
(photo by thierry ehrmann)

In effect, due to the goldsmiths' finagling there ended up being more notes in circulation than there was gold which the credit notes could be redeemed for. (This is now practiced by banks in a more modern fashion under the moniker of fractional-reserve banking, backed up by paltry Federal Deposit Insurance's and such.) On top of that, the added charge of interest meant that not only did the divide between credit notes and redeemable gold increase even further, but that people – and the economic system as a whole – were thus placed on a treadmill whereby they had to keep running faster and faster lest the monetary system collapse in on itself. How's that so?

Take this analogy: Imagine a blank slate where money doesn't yet exist. A bank is then started up and proceeds to create $1,000 out of thin air (which is exactly what banks do today and is how roughly 95% of our money is conjured into existence). It lends out $100 to each of 10 farmers to facilitate their trading amongst one another, tacking on top of that an annual interest rate of 10%. The bank therefore expects back a total of $1,100 at the end of the year, but it only created $1,000. In other words, there is an inherent shortfall of money in the system – by $100 – from the get-go. While at the end of the stipulated year some of the ten farmers may have earned enough from their peers to pay back their loans plus interest, there will not only be inevitable losers due to the inherent $100 shortfall in the system, but any farmer who not only made enough money to pay back the $110 but also earned some extra cash which they stuck under their mattress for safekeeping effectively took money out of the system and left even less for the "losers" at the other end – "losers" who effectively have even less possibility for securing the needed money to pay back their loans, never mind the added interest.

So while the charging of interest means that a perpetual widening of the gap between the rich and the poor is baked into the system, it also means that the system is inherently bankrupt and would implode in on itself were it not for the banks continually conjuring more and more money into existence in order to try and pay off (more like cover up) the inherent shortfall. New and increasing supplies of conjured money are therefore continually lent out (all with added charges of interest of course) so that said "suckers" can service at least the interest on their previous loans by going into even more debt, in the process bestowing upon the bankers' Ponzi scheme(s) the appearance of solvency.


The SEC??? The entire monetary system is a Ponzi scheme!
(photo by nrv75)

If you're starting to scratch your head and say to yourself, "Hold on a second, this kinda sounds like what's going on with Greece," then congratulations! You now understand how the monetary system works! (You can read my two posts on the Greece story here and here.) That being said, unscrupulous goldsmiths/bankers/Ponzi schemers weren't always given the free pass as they are today.

For starters, it wasn't as if people never caught on to what the goldsmiths were doing way back when. The first people to catch on to the goldsmith's fraudulent creation of extra notes unsurprisingly rushed to the goldsmith's to exchange their credit notes for gold before supplies ran out and their notes were thus deemed worthless. This was (and still is) called a "run on the bank". Initially it was the goldsmiths who pointed the finger at the person/people who started the bank run(s) and got them strung up on the gallows. This eventually got straightened out and the pitchfork wielding masses made sure that it was not them but the goldsmiths who got hung by their necks.

We're currently stuck back in stage one where "the losers" get blamed for the bankers' bamboozling. It isn't the bankers' or the monetary system's fault – it's those damn Greeks who are too lazy to work, those damn Greeks who are so corrupt that they don't pay their taxes, those damn Greeks who spend all their time Greeking one another.


Obama: "Yo Berns – to me you'll always be the real Bernie, not that
other loser"; Madoff: "Peace. And to me you'll always be the real
Bush the Third, not that low-energy loser Jeb"; Obama: "Word";
Madoff: "Word" (image by marvelous_blue)

So while Obama has done nothing but play along with the bankers' scam(s), not only did he not even slap the bankers' wrists, but he instead slapped the bankers' salamis while watching them get bigger and bigger. And the only mistake that Madoff made that rendered his salami not worthy of being slapped was that rather than being too-big-to-fail he was too-impotent-to-bail. Sure, Madoff is said to have run the largest Ponzi scheme in history with his Bernard L. Madoff Securities LLC, but this is categorically untrue since the banks' Ponzi schemes are infinitely larger than Madoff's bush league-worthy $64 billion scheme.

That all being said, and although I'm definitely on side with Snowden rather than those who would see him jailed (or worse), I sometimes fail to see the point behind his leaks, and not just because his exposure of the privacy violations partaken by the United States government should be taken as common sense in the first place. No; why I sometimes fail to see the point behind Snowden's leaks parallels something else that Martin Luther King Jr. stated, paraphrased and expanded upon by Morris Berman:

Martin Luther King… apparently said to Harry Belafonte, just before he (i.e., King) was assassinated, that he thought he might have been making a big mistake; that he sometimes felt like he was herding people into a burning church. This is a very different insight, quite obviously, than the notion that black people should be getting a larger share of the pie. After all, who wants a larger share of a rotten pie, or to live in a church that is burning down?

Fact is, while Snowden has a lot of worthwhile things to say about digital rights, he doesn't seem to have anything to say about the bigger picture in which those digital rights exist amongst. That, namely, would be the burning church of fossil-fueled industrial civilization, a civilization whose best-before-date has now been reached due to the emergence of peak oil. The reason for the aforementioned statement is that the Ponzi scheme(s) we live amongst require perpetual growth in order that an increasing amount of loans are progressively taken out so that the system is able to keep from imploding in on itself, and since peak oil means there will no longer be an increasing amount of fossil fuels to power growing growth, well… well awww shit!

While economies will inevitably collapse within collapsing industrial civilization, and since even benevolent governments have been doing little to nothing to address the quandary of peak oil, it's not hard to imagine our peril(s) being blamed on scapegoat after scapegoat, paralleled with reactionary governments clamping down on dissent, leakers of classified information being no exception of course.

With that in mind, Snowden recently pointed out that

Perhaps the best-known case in recent history here is Gen Petraeus – who shared information that was far more highly classified than I ever did with journalists. And he shared this information not with the public for their benefit, but with his biographer and lover for personal benefit – conversations that had information, detailed information, about military special-access programs, that's classified above top secret, conversations with the president and so on.

When the government came after him, they charged him with a misdemeanor. He never spent a single day in jail, despite the type of classified information he exposed.

We have a two-tiered system of justice in the United States, where people who are either well-connected to government or they have access to an incredible amount of resources get very light punishments.

I'm not so sure about Snowden's assessment of this though. Because the only thing that Petraeus did was expose information (albeit highly classified information). What Snowden did was expose a system. Yes, Petraeus may very well have merely had his salami wrist slapped for what he did because of who he is. But were he to have exposed what Snowden did there's no way he would have gotten off as lightly, and is why there's a slim-to-none chance that Snowden is going to see the light of (American) day anytime soon.

None of that is to say though that Barabbas should be released and that the "other guy" shouldn't be – he should be (as should Chelsea Manning). As a recent CNN article even put it, "President Obama should suck it up and pardon both leakers before the incoming administration makes two ugly situations uglier." Touché.


Free Bernie! (photo by carnagenyc)

But regardless of whether or not the "other guy" gets released, there's one thing I can guarantee you, and that's that he holds no super powers that would enable him to forgive us of our sins of having built up a civilization dependent on extremely large amounts of concentrated energy and of having done virtually nothing to wean ourselves off of them after decades of warnings. For when it comes time to pay the piper, cries of privacy violations won't be standing in the Four Horsemen's way, we can be sure of that.

Controlling the Collapse Argument With the Fakery of “Fake News”

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on December 8, 2016

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Or  More Like a Case of Plain Old (Unuseful) Idiocy?

 

As you may have read a couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post published an article entitled "Russian Propaganda Effort Helped Spread 'Fake News' During Election, Experts Say", in which it cited a report by a group calling itself PropOrNot. According to the Post,

PropOrNot’s monitoring report… identifies more than 200 websites as routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season.

In one way or another I'm familiar with about a quarter of the sites listed, perhaps one or two of which I occasionally visit. Two of them have actually published From Filmers to Farmers (FF2F) posts in the past (Truthout and OpEdNews) and a third called an FF2F post hyperbolic (!) while providing a link in its daily list of to-read articles (Naked Capitalism). That aside, what I was interested to see was whether or not there were any blogs or sites in PropOrNot's list that had a history of writing about peak oil and/or the collapse of industrial civilization. After a quick scan I didn't notice anything, but after doing a more thorough look while checking the Alexa rankings of some of PropOrNot's listed sites I did a double-take – "Oil Geopolitics? Say What!?" Scrolling back over to the Js, yup, (Journal of the) New Eastern Outlook was there as well. For those who don't know what I might be getting at, I'll try and explain.

New Eastern Outlook is a site publishing various writers on mostly Eastern issues, is headquartered in Moscow, and has as its leading author F. William Engdahl. Engdahl runs the site Oil Geopolitics, or at least did, as he hasn't posted there since mid-2013 and now regularly posts at another site of his, William Engdahl. But as the Washington Post stated, PropOrNot identified sites that were "peddlers of Russian Propaganda during the election" (emphasis mine), something that Oil Geopolitics hasn't done in over three years, but which William Engdahl has done steadily for the past year, much of whose content would certainly land it in PropOrNot's naughty books. That being so, why the discrepancy? I emailed PropOrNot asking for some clarification regarding this, but as I not very surprisingly didn't get a reply I was left to draw my own conclusions.

For starters, PropOrNot is an anonymous (not Anonymous) group of individuals whom the Washington Post describes as "a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds", and whose identity the kind folks at the Post have agreed to keep secret so that the group can "avoid being targeted by Russia's legions of skilled hackers." Okay.

After a Doomstead Diner article pointed out the idiocy behind PropOrNot's suggestion that Russia be excluded from SWIFT, its author, Palloy, then asked:

[W]hy would a news organisation with such an impeccable reputation for good journalism, choose to pick up this story from an anonymous bunch of idiots with a $10 web-site? Perhaps because they are not a bunch of idiots at all, but a secretive cabal of war-crazed neo-cons, and WaPo have been given the establishment nod of approval to promote them.

Which, if you ask me, makes complete sense, but still doesn't explain the Engdahl discrepancy.

Backtracking a bit, the closest that PropOrNot's list comes to covering the collapse of industrial civilization is The Economic Collapse Blog (TECB), a site that has nothing to do with the collapse of industrial civilization, but rather calls out every little vagary in the news as a sign that disaster is once again just around the corner. (No really, this time it really really is! So quick, like, buy something!) No doubt TECB sells a lot of trinkets thanks to its incessant innuendo, but like the saying goes, "a broken clock is right twice a day", and no doubt TECB will be proclaiming from the top of the rafters "I told you so!" when the inevitable economic downturn once again occurs.


Perpetually creamy on the inside (photo by Neal Fowler)

In regards to peak oil, the closest that PropOrNot's list comes in this respect is Oil Geopolitics, and this is where things get even more awry. While pretty much all of the sites on PropOrNot's list are out on the fringes of things, the fringes are by nature where not only the cutting edge can be found but also those out to lunch. Although I didn't so much mind Engdahl's first three books (although with a fair amount of reservations), his fourth book, A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, is where he started to lose the plot in my eyes, culminating in Myths, Lies and Oil Wars, where things really went over the deep end. In case you didn't know, one of Engdahl's stakeouts on the fringes is as a strong proponent of the abiotic theory of oil, the (cornucopian) notion that oil is not an organic substance and instead supposedly originates from deep carbon deposits present since Earth's formation. As the theory goes (which comes courtesy of a bunch of Russian scientists actually), given enough time oil fields refill themselves with black gold.

With that in mind, and as is stated on the back cover of Myths, Lies and Oil Wars,

As Henry Kissinger said, "If you control the oil you control entire nations." The converse is also true – If oil cannot be controlled the controlling powers lose their control over other nations and the wars that go with it. This is an entirely different account of the world's most important and most political commodity – oil.

In other words, since oil is such a plentiful resource the powers-that-be have little recourse but to maintain a false sense of scarcity in order that they can maintain control over the masses – masses that would otherwise be able to enjoy lives of abiotic cornucopian bliss.

With TECB and Oil Geopolitics in mind, and while there certainly is a McCarthyite tinge to PropOrNot and its list, one could also see the list as a bit of an exercise in controlling the peak oil / collapse of industrial civilization argument, baiting the anti-establishment types to hone in on these broken clock, out to lunch, not-quite peak oil / collapse of industrial civilization sites, which in effect diverts their attention from more worthwhile ones.

Sure, there's a few worthwhile sites on PropOrNot's list, but even though much of the criteria laid out by PropOrNot for inclusion on its list "are common themes here on Doomstead Diner" (as Palloy put it), and even though John Michael Greer was a bit cheekily "disappointed to find that The Archdruid Report didn't make the cut" – and then expressed in the comments to said post that he was surprised that (Russian-born) Dmitry Orlov's site (Club Orlov) wasn't included either – I wasn't too surprised to notice their exclusion from the list of malcontents (even as mere “useful idiots”).

Supposing said (worthwhile) sites have large enough readerships to attract PropOrNot's attention in the first place, to include any of them in the list would have given them legitimacy and drawn attention to them. Might there then be a conspiracy abrew to bring attention to – and thus give quasi-legitimacy to – sites like TECB and Oil Geopolitics while ignoring sites like The Doomstead Diner, The Archdruid Report, Club Orlov, and (ahem) From Filmers to Farmers? Could such sites have been blacklisted from being blacklisted?

Well, I may have entertained such notions in the past, but after the recent U.S. elections I think it was quite clearly shown that this may not be so much of a conspiracy as opposed to idiocy reigning supreme. As just one example, and in case you hadn't heard, in the debate on climate and energy policy Trump's energy advisor did after all state that

It is complicated when you talk about the movement of electricity. You know, neurons go where neurons want to go once they're on the line, right?

Uhhh….

Anyway, according to Ben Norton and Glenn Greenwald in The Intercept,

As is so often the case, those who mostly loudly warn of "fake news" from others are themselves the most aggressive disseminators of it.


The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming –
and the Iranians too! (image courtesy of Wayne Vermeire)

Quite true. But it should probably also be added that for those concerned about energy and collapse issues, the fake newsers have little to no grasp of the big picture here, never mind having much cognizance of our perch on what is essentially a fake monetary system.

So no, no conspiracy here. More like the blind leading the blind, the fakers leading the fakees, and another case of just plain old (unuseful) idiocy.

Having Said Nothing About Smashing the Glass Floor, it’s the Democrats that are Ultimately Responsible for Trump’s Win (part 3/3)

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on November 28th, 2016

Discuss this article at the Geopolitics Table inside the Diner

 


All people are equal, but some people are more equal than others
(with apologies to George Orwell) (photo by Gage Skidmore)

According to a well known actress by the name of Amy Schumer (second cousin to Chuck Schumer, the Democratic apparatchik disliked by some for his alleged ties to Wall Street), "People who voted for [Trump] are weak" and a bunch of "kicking and screaming babies". Which is a bit rich coming from a liberal, a person who is supposedly against monolithically generalizing groups of people – Muslims, immigrants, gays, etc. – but has no problem monolithically labelling voters of the opposition as what might as well be deemed a bunch of degenerates (or "irredeemable" "deplorables", as Hillary Clinton described "half" of them). Putting things a bit more diplomatically, former British prime minister David Cameron stated while still in office that proposals of Trump's were "divisive, stupid and wrong", to which Trump, in pure Trumpian Aikido-styles, twisted around and replied with "I'm not stupid, OK?"

So let me ask you this: Who's the more stupiderist here? The stupid ones that pulled the levers and voted in I'm not stupid, or the stupid ones who should have known that the stupid were actually stupid enough to vote in I'm not stupid and so stupidly put in their stupidest candidate who was bound to lose against the only (I'm not) stupid candidate as stupidly stupid as their stupidest?

Confused? No worries. Because if you want to know who's truly the stupiderist of them all, then you need look no further than yours truly. That's because I spent the past year and a half telling everybody I could "Nuh uh, you just watch, Trump – the future triager-in-chief – is gonna win this thing." And then, having never heard Trump utter anything else besides "you're fired!" in my entire life, I decided to listen to the three presidential debates. After the first and then the second I was telling everybody – including died-in-the-wool and died-in-denial Clinton supporters – that Trump had obliterated Clinton.

However, after listening to the third debate in which I laughed even harder than at the first two, and after continually hearing Clinton tell Trump (in what could only come off as condescending to anybody but the true-believers) that he lives in an "alternate reality", I couldn't help but start getting the impression that Clinton was practically handing Trump the election on a silver platter. Was Clinton really that daft that she'd overtly ostracize a significant chunk of the electorate who are living in an alternate reality (more on that in a moment), effectively throwing away the election? "Naw, she can't be." But if she wasn't that daft (which is where I ultimately went wrong), then what was going on? Well, it was at that point that I proceeded to envision some mumbo-jumbo, cockamamie, highfalutin nonsense that supposed that seeing how Clinton knew she was going to win the election (because, as I began considering, it was rigged), she was purposefully being condescending and antagonizing towards a significant portion of the electorate with the specific purpose of driving a wedge between the left and the right, something that Trump – the fall-guy also supposedly in on the rigging – would milk to no end, in effect providing a perpetual distraction in the face of peak oil and the collapse of industrial civilization. However, and as we all now know, that didn't quite happen. What did happen is that Trump played up the outsider, populist role and left plenty of space – if not traps – for Clinton to expose herself as the status quo elitist candidate.

Anyway, and as I think was obvious enough from the start, Trump's promises of looking out for the little guy, going after the "establishment", etc., are quickly turning out to be a rather unsurprising sham. Trump has already pointed out that prosecuting Clinton over her email debacle is not a priority, and having told his supporters (albeit mildly) to stop harassing minorities, it's possible – possible – that the worst of his rhetoric was simply made to cater to a particular segment of the population in order to help garner a few extra votes. For as he replied when asked whether he'd gone too far with the tone of his campaign, "No. I won." Part of the act? Let's hope so. (In case I'm being too dismissive I'll point out that Nafeez Ahmed doesn't think it's an act at all and should be taken very seriously.) Nonetheless, and when the time comes, it can be expected that tax cuts are going to go to the rich, corporate tax rates will be lowered, regulation on banks will continue to be reduced, infrastructure will continue to decay, and it's going to become even harder to be poor in the United States. Or in other words, more of the status quo.


The requisite tractor shot, necessary for the Big Ag vote

In effect, and much like the outgoing and fraud-of-a-president Barack Obama – who appointed Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner to key positions in his administration, propped up a fraudulent banking system, and didn't jail a single banker – Donald Trump should be taking home Advertising Age's Marketer of the year award for 2016. As Noam Chomsky put it,

Right after the [2008] election, President Obama won an award from the advertising industry for the best marketing campaign [edging out the shysters at Apple] and the International Business Press executives were euphoric… They said, We’ve been marketing candidates like toothpaste since Reagan. This is the greatest achievement we have.

To which Chomsky then added

I don’t usually agree with Sarah Palin… But when she mocks the ‘hope-y, change-y stuff,’ she’s right.


Henry Kissinger, Barack Obama… since the award now goes
to incoming US presidents who have yet to, but are about to,
bomb the living daylights out of the Middle East
even more than their predecessor, in all fairness it's now
Donald Trump's turn to take home the Nobel Peace Prize
(photo by Utenriksdepartementet UD)

In other words, the United States may very well be going from the empty words of a president who promised to help minorities to the empty words of a president who promised to screw over minorities. From the BS marketing-parlance of "Change We Can Believe In" to the BS marketing-parlance of "Make America Great Again", both worthy of the glowing approval of the grifters sashaying down Wall Street and Madison Avenue.

For while Trump and company are putting together what appears to be the ho-hum corporate plutocracy one would expect from your run-of-the-mill Republican hack, Trump advisors have reportedly floated JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon as a possible Treasury secretary. That likely won't come to fruition, but it will allow Trump to appoint his preferred choice of Goldman Sachs partner, hedge-fund manager, and Hollywood producer Steve Mnuchin, followed by a "hey, at least we didn't appoint Jamie Dimon!"

Anyway, while Republicans may be a bunch of "kicking and screaming babies", it's worth noting that although they certainly did kick and scream throughout the primaries, they nonetheless had the temerity to let democracy take its course and give Trump his fair shot at winning their party's leadership, a lot more than can be said for the Democrats who undemocratically sabotaged Bernie Sanders' primary campaign. Because yes, if Bernie Sanders hadn't been conspired against by the DNC, chances are he would have won the Democratic primary, and having done so, would have very likely trounced Trump in the general elections. So if there's anybody that's kicking and screaming now, as well as showing no self-critique or introspection, that would be none other than Democrats (except for Zach) who are blaming anybody and everybody else for their own sordid elitism and corruption: Vladimir Putin, (the missing) Julian Assange, James Comey, Facebook, "fake news", Jill Stein, Bernie Sanders, millennials, insubordinate voters, and the Electoral College.


Look, would-be smashers of "glass ceilings"
do not sit on tractors, alright?

Electoral College? Right. Because as memory serves, when Sanders began winning what went on to be 23 states in the Democratic primaries, a majority of super-delegates refused to cast their votes in parallel to the popular vote, making Sanders' candidacy look like a lost cause in the eyes of the media and potential future voters. Where, one might ask, were the Clinton-ite "popular vote" complainers then? Watching re-runs of The Apprentice?

Possibly even worse is the blame put upon sexism and an impenetrable "glass ceiling" – for let's not forget that one of the two comments that helped tank Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign was "binders full of women". In other words, and although Trump did spew an unending array of inexcusable sexist remarks, sexism doesn't quite play the ultimate deciding role in federal elections that some would like us to believe it does. Nonetheless, it was stated in Time Magazine that

It turns out the glass ceiling is reinforced with steel beams… [T]he stench of sexism engulfed Clinton's quixotic bid for the presidency, magnifying her flaws and minimizing her considerable strengths. It's possible that a male candidate with Clinton's political baggage would have been able to transcend his mistakes. It's possible that a male candidate would not have faced the same scrutiny and suspicion, or have been held to the same impossible standards. It's possible a male candidate would not have had such trouble connecting with voters.


For crying out loud there could have been a manicured blue hand
getting sworn in on that Bible next year! (photo by Rachel Docherty)

Now let's get one thing straight. Had of virtually any other female been the Democratic party's candidate, then like Sanders, they too would have likely trounced Trump. White Elizabeth Warren, black Nina Turner – heck, even a woman dolled up in Smurfet blue-face who spent the entire election doing nothing but giggling would have likely also stamped Trump's return ticket to the boob tube. Why, then, was Clinton quite possibly the likeliest woman – person – in all of the United States to lose against Trump?

First off, this was what many have called a "change" election – a time to ditch the status quo. And nobody, it should hardly need explaining, represented the status quo more than Clinton. Although the liberal media did their best to play down and dismiss it, no candidate was deeper in the bankers' pockets than Clinton. Furthermore, Trump readily recognized the position of powerlessness that millions of Americans were, and are, stuck in (the "alternate reality" I mentioned earlier) due to the neoliberal regime which most certainly is rigged against them. When said people then heard Trump repeatedly proclaim that the system was "rigged" against him, they nodded their heads in unison with a "shit yeah this thing's rigged!" This was only exacerbated when the DNC rigged their primaries against Sanders, which not only gave Trump's message more ammo but left those on the left who were themselves already frustrated with the status quo with little recourse but to vote for the racist, sexist, xenophobic guy who at least spoke (or at least appeared to speak) a modicum of truth.

Moreover, we can forget this diversionary nonsense about Clinton's email server and the FBI's on-again off-again investigation. Because what millions of Americans (including neocons) realized was that Clinton had the much more hawkish stance (and history, as Secretary of State), and if anybody was going to get the United States into a shooting match with Russia it sure didn't seem like it was going to be Trump.


Granted, it's easy for me to say since I'm a white male, but I none-
theless much prefer this side of the glass ceiling thank you very much
(photo courtesy of Alison Lyons)

Much how the rural Canada that I've briefly been through is littered with military recruitment offices, I'm quite sure that the (economically decimated) rural areas in the United States are little different and that a career in the military is often the only option for a decent income. So when it came time for many women in the fly-over states to choose between being grabbed in the hoo-ha or the possibility of seeing a family member of theirs return in a body bag, many women chose to take one for the team rather than assist their upwardly mobile "sisters" with their "glass ceiling"-smashing self-aggrandizement. Duh. So no, contrary to how those such as Brooklynite and Salon writer Amanda Marcotte put it, (many) females who voted for Trump are by no means misogynists but were rather principled enough to stand up for their families against predatory politicians who see no problem in sending off the loved ones of the disenfranchised, possibly to their death, for no other reason than their own self-aggrandizement. As John Michael Greer put it,

While affluent feminists swooned over the prospect of a woman taking on another traditionally masculine role, and didn't seem to care in the least that the role in question was "warmonger".

In effect, it was hardly right-wingers that won Trump the election; for years many liberals, with an air of smug and sophisticated superiority, have voted for the kleptocrats of the Democratic party while giddily taking the payoffs tossed their way to appease their upward mobility, their flavour of identity politics, and so forth. Having allowed their hope-y change-y kleptocrats to not only flatten the Middle East after it was deemed not okay for the previous kleptocrats to do so, but to also give them a pass as they exacerbated the divide between the rich and the poor, well, like clockwork the time to pay the piper once again swung back in their direction. This came courtesy of a candidate who exposed Democratic apparatchiks for the elitists they are and who was sly enough to convince people that he wasn't nearly the exact same thing. In just one example, and as Jonathan Cook put it, "He is a climate denier, she is a climate evader." (I am however quite keen to see if Trump does actually pull out of the TPP – and/or if Republican apparatchiks find the desire and means to oust him first.)

Returning to the present, and keeping up with the "momentum" of the anti-Trump brigade, Sanders hasn't ruled out another run in 2020 ("Hindsight is 2020"!), Michael Moore has stated that it's time to "Take over the Democratic party and return it to the people", troops are rallying around a Keith Ellison as the progressive pick for head of the DNC, and on and on and on. Things are going to be different this time! But along with how different the landscape is going to be after a few years of Political Apprentice, one thing that will in all likelihood be vastly different in four years' time is the situation with energy.


The equitable kegger

To get it out of the way, yes, were I American and saw any point in voting in the United States' federal election I would have voted for Sanders in the primaries and probably written him in in the general election as well. That, however, doesn't mean to say that Sanders' campaign ever made much sense, because what Sanders and company are essentially calling for is the equitable kegger. Although I had heard of Sanders prior to 2015 (via the forward he wrote for John Nichols and Robert W McChesney's book Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America, which was quite good until its techno-utopian concluding chapter), I proceeded to do an Internet search for "Bernie Sanders peak oil" just before he announced his campaign. That got me nothing but a single measly result, a comment left on Sanders' official Facebook page: "Would somebody please tell Bernie about Peak Oil!"


To infinity, and beyond!

Ultimately, and although he's an equitable one unlike Trump and Clinton, Sanders too is a cornucopian. His plan for free education was based on a tax on Wall Street speculation – on a Ponzi scheme – which on top of being completely absurd is one wonky lesson to be teaching prospective students. And although he was of course being facetious, Sanders recently told USA Today that "I’m going to make Mars a progressive planet. I’ll be there first, planting the flag. People don’t think big enough!" As far as I can tell, Sanders is just as blind to the limits to growth as the rest of them and may very well be deemed the progressive colonialist.

That being so, one can almost already hear the non-acknowledgement-of-limits-to-growth partisan gibberish that will start up again in two and a half years' time once the Democratic primaries get underway, and whose template has already been stamped by The Simpsons creators via their recent comment about their 16-year-old Trump-as-president episode:


In all fairness there could actually be a rake dragging along
behind that thing, which would kind of make it a tractor

The important thing is that Lisa comes into the presidency when America is on the ropes, and that is the condition left by the Trump presidency. What we needed was for Lisa to have problems that were beyond her fixing, that everything went as bad as it possibly could, and that's why we had Trump be president before her.

In other words, Trump is the big bad bogeyman. Yes, the United States' economy is quite possibly going to tank in the next few years, but contrary to what liberals watching The Simpsons on Fox think it'll have nothing to do with Trump – or at least won't need the extra push. Having followed the housing bubble shenanigans to a T, four years is ample time for the overdue fracking bubble to finally burst, once again sending the United States' economy (along with much of the rest of the world's economies) into a tailspin.

But for argument's sake, might it actually be possible that Sanders is aware of the looming fracking bubble burstage, and of peak oil, and of limits to growth, and that although he appears to be supporting the equitable kegger and to be hitting the pedal to the medal so that his John Deere can also hit the precipice at top speed, is it possible that he and company are secretly planning for the equitable spin-down of the United States' economy as the collapse of industrial civilization makes its way from the peripheries (the fly-over states) to the center (the bi-coastal haunts of the affluent chattering classes)? It's possible. But like I showed myself in my previous post, it's probably best to take these federal politicians at face value and presume that they take our energy dilemma as seriously as Democrat apparatchiks value democracy.


Jump up and down in anger as much as you want, but simply voting
for Trump – or even Sanders – isn't going to smash the "glass floor"
(photo by candycanedisco)

Where does that leave us? Well, as I alluded to at the end of my Donald Trump / Anthony Bourdain post several months ago, what this all ultimately comes down to is the smashing of "glass ceilings" versus the smashing of "glass floors". The "glass ceiling" is what Clinton is concerned with – the practice of excluding women of privilege from the pinnacles of power and wealth. Smashing the "glass ceiling" can only benefit the few women at the upper limits of the class structure though, and besides vicarious, vacuous thrills are able to do nothing for the vastly greater amount of women of the wage class and lower reaches of the salary class that Clinton's policies over the years have brought impoverishment to.

Because by an order of several magnitudes there is a vastly greater amount of people in the United States and worldwide who are not only losing their jobs to globalization and automation but who lack adequate access to basic necessities such as food. As if that weren't enough, the amount of people without access to such basics is set to increase even more once the effects of climate change really start to kick in and once industrial agriculture starts to fall apart due to shortages of various inputs – and which neither Republicans nor Democrats (including Sanders) have anything to say about. And although handouts from would-be "glass ceiling" smashers and others can be useful in the short-term, the best solution to getting people fed is via access to land – to smash the "glass floor" – be it via reclaiming the commons, getting young (and astonishingly willing) farmers land to farm on, etc. None of which is easily accomplished.

A few years ago I was privy to attend an event with Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson in conversation, one of the questions they were asked being "What can be done to encourage young people to farm, and what can be done to make it easier for those young people who are willing and eager to farm to get started?" As Jackson started it off,


Two guys that are certifiably nuts – Wes Jackson, winner of the
Right Livelihood Award (the "alternative Nobel Prize"), and
Wendell Berry (speaking as the Mad Farmer): "To be sane in a
mad time is bad for the brain, worse for the heart"
(photo courtesy of Dennis Dimick)

Wes Jackson: Next question. [Laughter] I’ll let Wendell go first and then I’ll second it. [Laughter]

Wendell Berry: I'll go first and he can correct me. [Laughter] Well I remember my grandmother saying to me "Honey, don't ever farm." And she was speaking from fourty years of hard times in the fifty or so years that she had been married to my grandfather. And that advice is still going on. And it's because in the agricultural system that we've got, and have always had, the farmer is the last considered and the lowest paid in the whole structure. This is going to make it very hard to keep the farm-raised young people on the farm… There are in spite of all the difficulties some people who – young people – who are attracted to farming. And that is to say they have a vocation. And something does need to be done to help them to get land, and there are efforts of that kind going on. But chances are that it won't be going on fast enough. But nevertheless young people without farming experience are committing themselves to farming, are getting a hold of land – that's marginal, often – but doing well at farming. Their situation still is pretty dire because they're not making enough money from it. This raises another issue, the cheap food policy, that has been a mistake. Food's under-priced, people aren't paid well enough for producing it and so on, which brings up another problem, which is that even cheap food is too expensive for a lot of poor people. So… so Wes take care of that. [Laughter]

As we've just seen over the past year and a half, when people are driven to the wall by globalization, automation and other disenfranchising practices, they can unfortunately become so desperate that they'll vote for the candidate offering a glimmer of hope, even if said candidate is running on a disagreed-with platform of sexism, racism, xenophobia, etc. And while the club of the disenfranchised is bound to enlarge its membership even further (and faster) under a Trump administration than under Obama's, we can best believe that Trump, if he even makes it that far, will be masterminding his plan to ward off the equitable cornucopians once the reactionary (and radical?) Left organizes itself, perhaps even laying the groundwork so that four years after that the host of The New Celebrity Apprentice will be able to Constitutionally take his shot at the presidency (although he'll be 77-years-old by then). Who knows?


No, nobody is coming to save New York City
(image by DonkeyHotey)

Don't ask me, but if there's one thing we do know I'd say it's this: barring democracy having the chance for a more equitable spin-down, whoever's got the more shrewdly effective marketing campaign will continue to occupy the captain's seat on the oh-so magnificent looking Titanic, while its crew and patrons alike argue over the arrangement of the deck chairs. For while Democrats vehemently complained about Trump's prior-to-the-election reluctance to concede if he lost, it's now Democrats who are desperately seeking any means by which they can have the election flipped to Clinton. Following discovery of irregularities in vote tallies where voting machines were used (but which has been dismissed by Nate Silver and 538 as no irregularity), Jill Stein has now

– ah stuff it, enough of these theatrics, I'm out. If you're sticking around, enjoy the cruise. I hear dodo bird is quite tasty this time of year.

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