Published on From Filmers to Farmers on March 21st, 2017
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):
"Collapse of industrial civilization? Who are you kidding? This is paradise!"
We got easily adapt to the new climate zone. Looking forward to rock WOMAD New Zealand on Saturday!!! pic.twitter.com/DUc6NiMTeZ
— Fanfare Ciocarlia (@FCiocarlia) March 12, 2015
"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!"
The Australien climate turns everything upside down. See all of you tomorrow the right way round at WOMADelaide. pic.twitter.com/TfVLHrLGzZ
— Fanfare Ciocarlia (@FCiocarlia) March 5, 2015
"Okay, okay. How about we trade a bottle of wine – Fanfare Ciocărlia wine! – for a barrel of oil? Two bottles? A case? Please?"
— Fanfare Ciocarlia (@FCiocarlia) September 13, 2014
Reality starts to sink in for a few initial members of Fanfare Ciocărlia…
Goodbye Medellin – Farewell Colombia! Hope to see you all again in 2016! pic.twitter.com/b2lYM7MryJ
— Fanfare Ciocarlia (@FCiocarlia) November 17, 2015
…eventually spreading to the entire fanfare.
It's done! We finish our latest tour around the world and say with watering eyes GOODBYE to all our fans! pic.twitter.com/EtRVnww20O
— Fanfare Ciocarlia (@FCiocarlia) April 15, 2015
"Okay, fine. So it's back to the prajini and playing music for local weddings again. We can live with that. Sayonara!"
Flying back home from Japan! pic.twitter.com/ZwQeiRB1Sj
— Fanfare Ciocarlia (@FCiocarlia) July 29, 2014
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.
(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.)
Colombia – here we are! First show tomorrow in Medellin… pic.twitter.com/0h5IAoslDM
— Fanfare Ciocarlia (@FCiocarlia) November 13, 2015
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.
Published on From Filmers to Farmers on March 15th, 2017
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.
Published on From Filmers to Farmers on March 8th, 2017
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.
"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.
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.
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.
Published on From Filmers to Farmers on March 4, 2017
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 , 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)
Published on From Filmers to Farmers on February 22nd, 2017
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.
Published on From Filmers to Farmers on February 13, 2017
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.
Published on From Filmers to Farmers on February 3, 2017
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!"
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):
Paging Tim Soutphommasane!
Published on From Filmers to Farmers on January 20th, 2017
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 –
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.
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.
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)
Published on From Filmers to Farmers on January 13th, 2017
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!
Published on From Filmers to Farmers on January 4th, 2017
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.
Published on From Filmers to Farmers on December 23, 2016
(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.
Published on From Filmers to Farmers on December 8, 2016
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?
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)
Published on From Filmers to Farmers on November 28th, 2016
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  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.
Divide and Distract: If Donald Trump Wins the Election He Loses, But if He Loses the Election He Wins (part 2/3)
Published on From Filmers to Farmers on November 7th, 2016
Try it and I'll bop you over the head with a metal chair!
(photo by Gage Skidmore)
For some time now I've been toying with the idea of Donald Trump as future triager-in-chief – instead of "you're fired!", "you're triaged!" I nonetheless couldn't help but think that said interpretation was likely the result of seeing the world through triage-coloured glasses and that I was perhaps missing out on some other underlying story. So I decided to err on the side of caution and avoided writing a post for a post's sake.
While then listening to the third debate, and upon hearing Trump's reply to Hillary Clinton's accusation of his making light of a physically disabled reporter – "Wrong!" – for the umpteenth time I couldn't help but burst out laughing at the inanity of it all. (Not to say that I'm some insensitive clod – the audience itself laughed [and was rebuked] upon Trump's declaration that "Nobody has more respect for women than I do. Nobody.") In fact, I laughed so hard and in such a way that it reminded me of how I used to laugh at the behaviour of an old friend of mine of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) notoriety, which then reminded me of Donald Trump's involvement with the WWE over the years. As I then mulled over (and explained in part 1 via my conception of World Electioneering Entertainment [WEE]), could it be possible that Trump's antics are actually a big act? Or more specifically, and to really go down the rabbit hole with this one, could it be possible that Trump already knows he's going to lose the election, and not simply so that the presidency can be handed to Clinton but to create a grandiose distraction? Yes, that's pretty far-fetched, but what's more zany – thinking this has all been real, or to think that a fair amount of what's been going on has been contrived?
Débutante Melania Trump is introduced to the WEE
(photo by Disney | ABC Television Group)
Anyway, for quite some time things have seemed slightly fishy to me about WEE 2016. Although I'd yet to make my WWE/WEE analogy, upon hearing that portions of Melania Trump's speech at the GOP convention lifted from a previous speech by Michelle Obama I immediately smelled the whiff of fishy #1 and called BS, recalling WWE-owner Vince McMahon's assertion: any attention is good attention. And while some journalists pondered the following:
Did Hillary Clinton's team point out the glaring similarities of the two speeches? I'd suppose so. It would be the smart thing to do, to call reporters and make the case.
I again screamed to myself "BS!" If it was Trump that concocted it all then it would make sense that it was Trump's team that called it in (or tipped someone off), not Clinton's. Wanting a way to make a spectacle out of the entrance of Trump's wife, discovery of the parallels in speeches certainly wouldn't have been left up to chance. For let's not forget Trump's assertion, motive, and uncanny ability:
I'm going to get in and all the polls are going to go crazy. I'm going to suck all the oxygen out of the room. I know how to work the media in a way that they will never take the lights off of me.
And suck he did. For following revelation of the parallels in speeches, the Trump campaign actually turned the tables and tried to shame the Democrats (much as how Trump actually demanded an apology from the New York Times for condemning his impersonation of its physically disabled reporter). Trump's campaign manager stated that
Once again, this is an example of when a woman threatens Hillary Clinton, she seeks to demean her and take her down,
while his spokeswoman stated that
This concept that Michelle Obama invented the English language is absurd.
Granted, I did realize that even just thinking that Trump and company manufactured the plagiarism drama was quite the stretch to make, and not just because the eventual fall-person would have to be sacrificially fired over it all and then secretly paid off, right? Right? Well as it turns out, not quite. As the junior aide who apparently inadvertently lifted part of Michelle Obama's speech put it,
Yesterday, I offered my resignation to Mr. Trump and the Trump family, but they rejected it. Mr. Trump told me that people make innocent mistakes and that we learn and grow from these experiences… I am honored to work for such a great family.
(image by Cass Anaya)
I mean really, who knew Trump had such a mushy-gushy heart? ("There's nobody that has a mushier-gushier heart than me. Nobody.")
Anyway, and much like the aforementioned retort given to Clinton, it doesn't need to be pointed out that Trump has been spewing out a ridiculous amount of completely obvious fabrications and absurdities this entire election. ("You know what my favorite [book] is? The Bible!", "I have the world's greatest memory", [which he then (hilariously!) stated half a year later that he couldn't recall having said that], etc.) This hasn't seemed to matter in the slightest though to legions of Trump supporters, people whose prolonged dismissal by the establishment as being expendable has resulted in their complete willingness to brush off all of Trump's fabrications if – and I'm now thinking that that's a dubious "if" – the purpose of those lies have been to bully government predators who have been bullying them for years on end. And Trump surely knows this.
Moreover, and not that I think that Trump likes to spend lazy Sunday afternoons reading up on semiotics any more than I do, but if we take a look at the late French philosopher Roland Barthes' 1957 essay on wrestling, "In the Ring", one can just about see a blueprint for this entire election.
As Barthes states in his first sentence, "The virtue of wrestling is to be a spectacle of excess." Hello! Or as Trump put it in The Art of the Deal,
The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people's fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That's why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It's an innocent form of exaggeration – and a very effective form of promotion.
In his comparison between pro wrestling and boxing (neither of which he sees as morally superior to the other), Barthes then points out that
[The] public… is quite aware of the distinction between wrestling and boxing; it knows that boxing is a Jansenist sport, based on a demonstration of excellence; one can bet on the outcome of a boxing match; in wrestling, that would make no sense. The boxing match is a story constructed under the spectator's eyes; in wrestling, just the contrary, it is each moment which is intelligible, not their sum… The rational future of the combat does not interest the fan of wrestling, whereas on the contrary a boxing match always implies a science of the future. In other words, wrestling is a sum of spectacles, none of which is a function: each moment imposes the total knowledge of a passion which suddenly rises straight up on its own, without ever extending toward the consummation of an outcome.
(photo by Ted Eytan)
I admit that I'm not the sharpest when it comes to this semiotics stuff (I'm getting flashbacks from film school / university of the futility behind trying to not get bored out of my skull while being taught about all that signs and symbols stuff), but from what I gather, the gist is that for the pro wrestler it's all about energy. In other words, the wrestling fan isn't so much concerned with what is going on – a logical progression of events – so much as they're interested in the fact that something is going on. While Trump's opponents have been vainly attempting to fight a prim and proper boxing match, Trump is the pro wrestler who has been running circles around his opponents, bopping them over their heads with metal chairs. And the more passion he shows the more the audience eats it up.
As Barthes explains further,
Wrestlers are good at flattering the crowd's powers of outrage, going to the very limit of the concept of Justice, this farthest zone of confrontation, where it takes only a trifle to open the gates of a frenzied world. For the fan of wrestling, nothing is finer than the vengeful rage of a betrayed combatant who passionately attacks not a successful adversary but the stinging image of foul play.
Otherwise put, Trump generates the passion the audience seeks via crusading against, and serving justice upon, the evil forces – "crooked Hillary" and her email scandal, et. al.
Although correlation certainly doesn't imply causation, sometimes the comparisons even get cut and paste. Barthes explains that in boxing "the most conventional sign of propriety [is] shaking hands." In pro wrestling however, "foul play exists here only by its excessive signs:… refusing to shake hands with a partner before or after a match" – and yes, the media dutifully lit up the Twitterverse upon Clinton and Trump's refusal to exchange the accustomed pleasantries before the third debate. (This media of ours really has no shame.)
Not to belabour this all too much, but two more quotes of Barthes' provide a bit more food for thought. Firstly,
at this pitch, it no longer matters whether or not the passion being expressed is authentic. There is no more a problem of truth in wrestling than in theater.
That is, it doesn't matter whether what's going on is real or not. Imagine what might happen if somebody ran into the middle of a Wrestlemania ring and yelled out "it's all fake!" Similarly, what's happened when Trump has been called out for being an "entertainer" and/or host of a TV show? As every single one of Trump's opponents have found out, absolutely nothing. And more importantly, the audience loves it.
(photo by torbakhopper)
Finally, Barthes points out that "the wrestler's function is not to win but to perform exactly the gestures expected of him." By this Barthes means the two wrestlers in a match, but in this particular match there is one wrestler and one boxer, and they're both supplying their respective audiences with exactly what they want. Clinton's backers have observed the election from the point of view of a boxing match and so have seen her meticulous denunciations of Trump's antics as crowning her the clear winner. Conversely, Trump's supporters have been seeing it all through the prism of a wrestling match and so inevitably see his non-stop rambunctiousness as crowning him the clear winner.
Having conveyed all that, I don't necessarily mean to suggest that Trump has donned the wrestling persona with the impression that it'll win him the election. For starters, and to go along with all the rest of Trump's fabrications, might it be possible that Trump isn't as racist as he's lead us to believe (as others have questioned as well)? Might it be possible that Trump is "simply" an amoral sociopath that doesn't care either way, one who says whatever is expedient to rile up the audience?
Continuing with the hypotheticals, and as Michael Moore has suggested, might it be possible that Trump entered this election simply because he wanted a raise from NBC for hosting The Apprentice, and that he's been trying to find a way out after being immediately fired by NBC thanks to his incendiary remarks about Mexicans? I'm not so sure about that. Not only has Trump already lost plenty of business (and thus money) in the Middle East and other parts of the world, but he even stated himself that
If I lose some businesses overseas, it doesn't have any impact on me whatsoever. What I'm doing right now… is far more important than any single business that I own.
Which is, of course, hard to interpret as being anything else but another fabrication. But it's also hard to take somebody's ambitions for the presidency seriously after hearing them state that
I've given up a tremendous amount to run for president. I gave up two more seasons of Celebrity Apprentice.
(image courtesy of Derek Chatwood – All Rights Reserved)
If this is all mere nonsense, could it then be possible – as Jeb Bush and other Republicans have stated, and as even some Democrats have stated – that Trump is a plant by the Clintons in order to guarantee a GOP loss? I suppose so, but as we've readily seen, Trump's absurdities and insults have only worked to make his candidacy stronger and stronger. (Until, that is, the revelation of his comment made to Jeb and George Bush's little cousin that one should "Grab them by the hoo-ha". [Jeb: “Hey Billy, know of anything that could tank Trump’s campaign?” Billy: “Nope, nope, nothing at all.”])
Nonetheless, and supposing things are on the up and up, Trump could conceivably pull off an upset win in less than two days' time, and not simply because of diehard supporters and the FBI's recent reopening of the investigation into Clinton's email saga (which I'll get to in a moment), but due to the amount of closet Trump supporters (from gay Muslim students to countless others) and legions of ex-Sanders supporters who would "prefer chaos to stagnation." That is to say, if the fix is in and Trump's supposed to be blowing this election, he's not doing a very good job of it.
But what if it were a different kind of fix? To return to Michael Moore, his first film, Roger & Me, was based around the premise of attempting to score an interview with Roger Smith (CEO of General Motors at the time), an interview which Moore didn't get. But kind of did get. As Moore was forced to admit years later, yes, he did actually interview Smith, but that was apparently before work had started on Roger & Me. Which, I suppose, is plausibly possible. And as Moore then stated in response,
If I'd gotten an interview with him, why wouldn't I put it in the film?
(photo by Josh Jensen)
Why? Because – and as I'm sure Moore the entertainer and showman is well aware – if the "bad guy" gets caught then the chase – the spectacle – is over. And if the chase is over then the audience can't be strung along anymore. Trump, the student-excellente of the WWE and now media savvy performer in the WEE, is well aware of this. Unless you have explicit plans for there to be no further sequels, or you want to end the franchise, or you do not want to start a television show and career as a professional rabble rouser, then you certainly don't want to "win" (or catch the CEO).
It's for this reason that I'm not so sure about Moore's statement that
[Trump] cannot and WILL NOT suffer through being officially and legally declared a loser – LOSER! – on the night of November 8th. Trust me, I’ve met the guy. Spent an afternoon with him. He would rather invite the Clintons AND the Obamas to his next wedding than have that scarlet letter ("L") branded on his forehead seconds after the last polls have closed on that night, the evening of the final episode of the permanently cancelled Donald Trump Shit-Show.
This is possibly seriously underestimating Trump, presuming that he's nothing but a small-time, small-picture thinker whose mind doesn't go beyond that of money and winning or losing. Because what's been recently going through my mind is, What if Trump is a plant – not to simply lose the election, but to provide a distraction?
For starters, not only do we know that Trump adores attention, but we also know that he's going nowhere after this election, win or lose. First off, and as he stated in the third debate in response to whether or not he'd concede the election were he to lose,
What I'm saying is that I will tell you at the time. I'll keep you in suspense, okay?
Secondly, by making repeated claims that "millions of people… are registered [to vote] that shouldn't be," Trump is effectively laying the groundwork to contest a "stolen" election. As put by Salon, all he has to do is "get close enough to Clinton that he can plausibly claim that someone hacked a few voting machines or stuffed a few ballot boxes." Whether or not he then files lawsuits alleging voter fraud, the adoring crowds will eat it up, and who knows how long it can be drawn out for, even if just in unofficial manners (like all the birther stuff but at a whole different level).
To be more specific, this email scandal is likely to supply a perpetual amount of fodder for Trump, and it's here that I smelled fishy #2. Much like I said "oh come on!" to myself after the Melania Trump speech "scandal", I once again couldn't help but think the same thing after reading that Bill Clinton had chatted with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on an airport tarmac just before the FBI released its findings on the Hillary Clinton email investigation. Because really, in this day and age when a cell phone call would do just fine, why would you do such a thing – in broad daylight for all to see – unless your purpose was to either laugh in people's faces at how little you care about their recognition of your corruption, or, that you wanted to antagonize the opposition and supply them with more fodder, knowing full well that your (wife's) supporters will automatically give you all a free pass? Mentioning this to a friend I then said, "you know, now that I think about it, I wouldn't be surprised if this email scandal thing wasn't somewhat pre-planned and manufactured from the get-go." A minute after he said "but why would anyone actually do that?", I of course couldn't help but think "because Trump advised them to!" That is, Trump and company were going to need a never-ending story that could never actually get Clinton in trouble (like Obama and the birther thing) but which could provide a limitless supply of ammunition. And now FBI director James Comey re-opens the email investigation 11 days before the election, which said nothing and which nothing then came from? For real?
Suffice to say, and I don't know about you, but I can't help but now think that Trump is absolutely brilliant, and that somewhere out there Vince McMahon is laughing his arse off while occasionally shedding a few tears that only a proud father could.
(image by James Gill)
Anyway, and supposing there's plausibility to any of that, what is it that Trump could provide a distraction for? Well, like (not too many) others, for some time now I've wondered how cognizant the United States government, or at least certain parts of the United States government, are of peak oil and the collapse of industrial civilization (or in this specific case the decline and fall of the United States). For example, the German military released a report back in 2010 pointing out that social chaos could emerge once peak oil is reached. Surely other governments, including the United States government, are aware of this possibility as well. Having said that, I don't mean to suggest that we should hold our breaths in anticipation of federal governments (as opposed to local governments) engaging the public on these issues. If, as I've written on earlier, the bail-in in Cyprus and the triaging in Greece are to be taken as any kind of indication, then obfuscation is going to be the name of the game. Could it be possible then that Trump has moved up from the WWE and The Apprentice to provide a prolonged (and perpetual?) distraction from the underlying factors causing industrialism's collapse, thus morphing the notion of divide and conquer into divide and distract?
Because make no mistake about it, although Trump is (knowingly?) advocating what are essentially false hopes, he is nonetheless giving voice to many legitimate concerns of the marginalized, none of which can be dismissed due to Trump's repeated racist comments (be they genuine or not). How is that? Well put it this way: The Trump family sells a wine whose label shares their name (of course). Meanwhile, I don't doubt many Trump supporters like to imbibe every now and then. However, to then say that the only reason why anybody would support Trump is because they're a drunkard would be utterly ridiculous. Regardless, this is exactly the logic used when people dismiss all of Trump's supporters as being driven by little else than racial prejudice. (While questioning the sincerity of Trump's racist comments, I'll point out that while the Trump family may sell wine, Donald Trump is actually a teetotaller himself.)
So when Amanda Marcotte, a white affluent female liberal writer at Salon states in her article "The Mystery of Republican Women Backing Sexist Trump: They're Female Misogynists Who've Grown to Accept Oppression" that
Women are judged more by their sexuality or their submissiveness than their actual character. So someone gets more points for being a virgin or being a doting housewife than they do for being smart and talented at their job
– and then states in her article "Donald Trump’s No Leader — He’s Just the Voice that the Ugliest Americans Have Been Dying For" that
Trump is a big, orangey object that’s fun to look at… He’s the end result of years of conservatives growing angrier and angrier… about the diversification of America
– on top of being abhorrently condescending and falling directly into Trump's trap with "ugliest Americans" and "orangey object that's fun to look at" (thereby fortifying his appeal to the portion of the public he's reaching out to), what she is partaking in are dog whistles no better than the ones Trump has partaken in. And the code that Marcotte's dog whistles stand for is "wage class American". Firstly, it's a massive generalization to state that (doting and non-doting) housewives – particularly those that haven't kept up with the Joneses and all their progress – don't do their work smartly or aren't performing a job, any more than husbands (be they doting or not, and whose Norse origin of their namesake means house-bound) who don't work in offices and such aren't to be valued either. Secondly, let's not presume that some journalists (like some of those writing for Salon) aren't submissive to the status affluent quo of performing their progress-laden duty of pulling in decent enough salaries to help keep the economy growing in order to support the Ponzi scheming predation of the fractional-reserve and interest-bearing-debt banking system.
The steep increase over the past decade is due to fracking. Unlike
other sources of oil, fracked supplies increase quickly, but then crash
hard — coming soon to a country possibly near you (data: EIA)
In other words, what Marcotte and other writers of her ilk (read: strong Clinton supporters) often partake in is classist bigotry. In John Michael Greer's excellent interpretation, the American public can be generally understood as belonging to one of four groups: the investment class, the salary class, the wage class, and the welfare class. The investment and welfare classes have pretty much stayed where they are for decades now, although not so for the salary and wage classes, the former only maintaining its way of life at the expense of the latter. Reason being, in the period following the United States' peak of oil production in 1970, foreign markets were increasingly able to out-compete American production, putting a crimp into those middle and upper-middle class lifestyles. As Greer then puts it,
The only way for the salary class to maintain its lifestyle in the teeth of those transformations was to force down the cost of goods and services relative to the average buying power of the salary class. Because the salary class exercised (and still exercises) a degree of economic and political influence disproportionate to its size, this became the order of the day in the 1970s, and it remains the locked-in political consensus in American public life to this day. The destruction of the wage class was only one consequence of that project…
Specifically, the only way that the salary class could maintain their accustomed to ways of life was via measures such as the offshoring of wage class jobs, which then allowed for overseas slave labour conditions to keep the prices of their consumer products low. In effect, the wage class ("the ugliest Americans" and "doting housewives") has been progressively triaged from the economy by the salary class, and when Trump talks about Making America Great Again, this is what the naïve portion of his supporters believe is actually possible – that the United States can be returned to some former state where one full-time working class job was enough to pay for the upkeep of an entire family, something that even two working class adults going full-time today find hard to accomplish.
However – and here's the kicker – there's no way that the United States can be returned to its pre-1970 way of life. The majority of the oil supplies that once enabled America to be Great are gone forever and aren't coming back – unless Trump and the naïve portion of his supporters have plans to wait a few million years or so for some new oil wells to appear, a fossil fuel supply which would allow for another quick binge. Similarly, many of those getting university and college degrees are finding out that a lack of available jobs means that their graduating papers are about as valuable as one-ply toilet paper, and that the loans required for their education have saddled them with one-way tickets to debt serfdom. (If you don't believe me, just check out the subreddit r/lostgeneration.)
And it's precisely all that that makes me wonder. Are those such as the Clintons and Trump(s) and whomever else truly that daft regarding all this? Is it really a case of the blind leading the blind, or might those "in charge" actually have a grasp on the implications of peak oil and the limits to growth – namely, the protracted collapse of industrial civilization? Could keeping the people stupefied be their attempt to maintain some kind of (futile) grasp on control as things unwind?
For if it's not mere blindness at work here, then the shrewd play would be to drive a wedge between the boxing Amanda Marcotte's of the world and the wrestling Joe six-packs, all of which could keep them thoroughly clueless via incessant bickering (and even worse) with one another. Or in short, divide and distract.
Rob Ford arm wrestling Hulk Hogan… Eat your heart out internet pic.twitter.com/qxoj45dawg
— William J. Upton (@wupton) November 8, 2013
Therefore, were Trump to win the election he (or whomever he assigned) would have to preside over the country, and the wrestling/boxing feud – the distraction – would be largely nullified. However, were he to lose (I don't trust voting machines one iota), then the distraction could go on for who knows how long. Because much like Toronto's late-mayor and wannabe-wrestler Rob Ford, Trump likely isn't going anywhere unless he too is pushing up daisies. This is why, obfuscation-wise, a loss for Trump is quite possibly a win for the status quo of ignorance regarding collapse.
Regardless of whether any of my far-fetched musings are true or not, millions of working class Americans who have had no political outlet for over half a century currently have the (false) impression that they've finally been given a voice. But when Clinton wins this election in less than two days' time, the group in the United States that has been hit harder by globalization and automation than any other – the white working class in the Rust Belt and the South – will be faced with the fact that the utopian visions and populist aims that they've been clinging to throughout WEE 2016 aren't going to happen. And whether the failure of the delivery of those (false) promises results in some of the aggrieved taking matters into their own hands remains to be seen.
That's been the second third of this story. I'll finish this off next week with a clarification on the obfuscation that Hillary Clinton is about to make regarding a ceiling that's about to have its glass shattered.
World Electioneering Entertainment 2016: 1,000 Years of Energy Independence and the Greatest Con Ever? (part 1/3)
Published on From Filmers to Farmers on October 28th, 2016
Let's get ready to rumble!!!!
As probably anyone will attest, the greatest spectacle of the past year – if not of the past eon – has been none other than the United States presidential election, something that I now like to refer to as World Electioneering Entertainment (WEE). Because to properly understand this election (and its nascent title) requires, I believe, an understanding of the WWE – World Wrestling Entertainment. I've personally never had a liking for any of that wrestling stuff, but I am nonetheless intimately familiar with it all thanks to an old high school friend of mine – who goes by the nom de plume of Jason Sensation, but whom I knew as Jay – who has been a wrestler and impersonator in the WWE and other wrestling federations for nearly 20 years now. Follow along with this and the next two posts and – partially in thanks to my exposure to my old friend's antics and the mechanics of the WWE that he often explained to me – you'll see why I've come to the conclusion that this United States presidential election – WEE 2016 – might very well be the greatest con that any of us have ever beared witness to.
But before I get to the significance of the WWE to the WEE, a partial recap of the three presidential debates – and in particular their mention of energy – is required in order to provide some backdrop for understanding their correlation. I didn't actually watch the debates myself but rather listened to them (because I gave up making and watching film and television 10 years or so ago), which in a strange twist of events actually made a significant difference.
While moderator Chris Wallace stated in the third debate that "there is almost no issue that separates the two of you more than the issue of immigration", there is on the other hand probably no issue that more strongly bridges the two candidates – to go along with Bernie Sanders, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein – than the issue of energy. The first debate didn't cover much ground here, Hillary Clinton stating that
We can deploy a half a billion more solar panels. We can have enough clean energy to power every home. We can build a new modern electric grid.
Skipping over my doubts regarding the possibility of all that (which I've already repeatedly written of), Donald Trump then stated that "I'm a great believer in all forms of energy".
(photo by Brendan Loy)
Jumping over to the third debate, it was stated by Clinton that "I do want us to have an electric grid, energy system that crosses borders." Although I won't examine this in detail, it's worth remembering that it was a highly integrated energy grid that in 2003 enabled a software bug and some unpruned foliage to allow for a two-day (for some a seven-day) blackout on the eastern seaboard that left 55 million people in a mad scramble over what to do with all of their melting ice cream. (If you think I'm being a bit unfair, it's worth remembering what was broadly learned from the blackout: absolutely nothing.)
Switching over to the second debate, it was here that a question directly related to energy was (surprisingly?) asked by a fellow named Ken Bone.
What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs, while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?
Roughly translated, his question was "How can we have it all?" Or rather, How can we have an increasing energy supply that doesn't pollute and which won't cause much job loss in the fossil fuel power plants that emit pollution?
1,000 years of energy independence for everybody!
(photo by Gage Skidmore)
In response, and in short, it was stated by Trump that "There is a thing called clean coal. Coal will last for 1,000 years in this country". Clinton then stated that "we are now for the first time ever energy-independent". Both statements are patently incorrect, but since neither candidate disagreed with the other's statements on this I figure that we might as well lump both replies together and presume that what both Trump and Clinton believe in is 1,000 years of energy independence. Bi-partisan consensus!
For the record, and as Alice Friedmann relayed in her book When Trucks Stop Running, global coal supplies may have hit their energetic peak back in 2011, while the United States' peak in tonnage of coal will probably occur sometime between now and 2050. In regards to Clinton's statement about "energy independence", up until WWII or so the United States was in fact the world's overwhelming swing producer when it came to oil supplies and actually produced more oil than the entire world combined (why do you think the allies won WWII?). That was energy independence. But seeing how the United States currently produces about 9 million barrels of oil a day and consumes about 20 million barrels a day, perhaps it's believed somewhere in the back of Clinton's mind that Canada and Saudi Arabia are the 51st and 52nd states (which sometimes wouldn't be hard to believe).
Having cleared that up, did the media call out either candidate on their highly erroneous statements? Well…
In an interview with the New York Times, the questioner (sacrificial lamb?) that made the query on energy, Ken Bone, did turn out to be rather proud of himself: "I’m just glad I was able to spark the energy debate a little bit". Yes, well, so much debate occurred that Bone appeared on various news programs, talk shows, and even did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on the website Reddit. In an interview with CNN,
CNN's Carol Costello read him a tweet arguing that he had become a meme because of a combination of "33% confidence, 33% calming demeanor, 33% hugability, 1% power stache."
So thanks to Bone's power stache the United States now has enough energy to – wait, what? Power stache? Meme? Those aren't even anagrams for energy. What's going on here?
Alright, well, it turns out that had of I watched the second debate and not merely listened to it I would have noticed that Bone was wearing a bright red sweater, a sweater which caused a sensation across the Internet and got Bone booked on various television programs. Along with
Kenneth Bone quickly bec[oming] a shorthand for all that is right about American democracy: mutual respect, caring about the issues, and the truly unifying power of a pun on the word "bone"
a Halloween costume was crafted in Bone's likeness, Bone was, of course, offered a porn contract, to go along with all the rest that comes with that 15 minutes of fame thing. Following that, and upon doing the AMA on Reddit in which he used his regular user account and not a throwaway account, much of Bone's dirty laundry was laid bare for all to see via his comment history. I won't dignify any of that gossip by rehashing it here, but it did seem important enough that rather than call out Trump and Clinton on their "misstatements" about energy supplies, the media dutifully relayed the fact that the "Bonezone" had had a vasectomy some years ago. Gripping stuff I tell you.
Anyway, this is where we get back to the macro spectacle of the WEE.
Donald Trump shaves the head of WWE Chairman Vince McMahon, held by Stone Cold & assisted by Bobby Lashley, WM 2007. pic.twitter.com/W6oQW7Zlvf
— phases pictures (@picturephase) September 29, 2016
As was explained to me many years ago by my old friend of WWE notoriety, there are essentially two characters in wrestling: the hero/heroine, known as the "babyface" (or "face" for short), and the villain, known as the "heel". The "face" persona is the empathic figure that aims to garner the respect and sympathy of the audience; they are likeable and honest and are determined to overcome the overwhelming odds placed before them. The "heel" on the other hand is the unethical figure that will lie and cheat and do whatever it takes to win the match (and/or the money, the girl/guy, the power, etc.); they readily antagonize the fans and even their peers, and have a habitual streak of playing the victim. Furthermore, the "heel" never accepts the loss of a match due to an ingrained perception that a grandiose conspiracy is relentlessly working against them. On top of all that, and regardless if you're the "face" or the "heel", what matters the most in the WWE is that you get attention, and any attention is good attention (meaning it doesn't matter if the audience loves you or hates you, but that you garner a strong reaction).
In other words, and in case it isn't obvious enough, Trump's behaviour couldn't possibly fit any closer to the script and blueprint laid out for a WWE "heel": insult and deny, feign conspiracy, rinse and repeat. But while there is probably no greater student of World Wrestling Entertainment, and no person that has more shrewdly adapted it to politics than the incomparable and indomitable Donald Trump, I don't mean to imply that Trump is merely using the WWE playbook to run his campaign and ultimately win the election. No. What I mean to suggest is that Donald Trump may very well be playing out the part of a character, just as much as any run-of-the-mill wrestler does in the WWE and just as my old (wrestling) friend repeatedly did in public, the only ones in on Jay's gags and the characters he constantly acted out being his friends and the random person that recognized Jay from television and the various public events he partook in.
"Battle of the Billionaires" Donald Trump shaves the head of WWE owner and billionaire Vince McMahon April 1, 2007 pic.twitter.com/tix2qPw7Na
— Gary Lee (@garyibe007) September 6, 2016
For starters, Trump's history with the WWE goes back to at least the late-1980s (when the WWE was known as the WWF – the World Wrestling Federation) when a casino of his in Atlantic City hosted two of the greatest events in WWE's history – Wrestlemanias IV and V. Along with being a business associate and friend of WWE's owner Vince McMahon, Trump performed in Wrestlemania 23 in a match dubbed "The Battle of the Billionaires" (otherwise known as the "hair versus hair" match) where he ended up shaving the head of a subdued McMahon. Six years later Trump was inducted into the WWE hall of fame.
Donald Trump being inducted into the WWE Hall of
Fame in 2013 (photo by Rick Foster)
I won't delve too much into Trump's antics in this post (as I'll save that for the Trump post coming up next week), but suffice to say that Trump is a media savvy political performance artist like none other and is quite possibly playing out one of the greatest roles any of us have ever seen.
Here's something relevant that Jay mentioned to me and other friends way back when and which I was able to find quoted on a website:
There was a couple of times I was doing some home shopping gigs in Canada with WWE – and this was prior to my parody as Owen [Hart] – and Triple H was at one of the shows and he came up and asked me to dress up like Bret [Hart] and make fun of him. I really didn't wanna do it, he was my favorite guy and everything. Triple H had to sit down and explain the business to me, telling me, "You can be a fan, you're not offending him, this is a job. You're getting an opportunity, you can still impersonate him for us and it can be in dedication to him even though you're making fun of him, it's just part of the gimmick."
— LeMar McLean (@MarzMediaUS) July 29, 2016
If we can parallel that with Donald Trump, should we be so naïve as to believe that when Trump shaved off Vince McMahon's hair that he did so out of spite, or might it make more sense to realize that "it's just part of the gimmick"? Likewise, might it not be just as naïve to believe that Trump has been sincere when he's called Clinton "crooked Hillary" or even a "nasty woman" in the third debate? And how about "Little Rubio", "Lyin' Ted", "low energy" Jeb Bush, "Miss Piggie", and on and on and on? Are any of those to be taken seriously, or might it be possible that they're part of a ruse where they're also "just part of the gimmick", one where the "feud" between Trump and Clinton is entirely made up? And if it is just part of some "gimmick" (the purpose of which I'll touch on in a moment), might it then be possible that by lashing out at and/or incessantly commenting on and intellectualizing Trump's antics that our entire media, journalists, and all the rest of us observers have taken the place of the ravenous WWE audience member, giving not just Trump, but also the WEE, the attention and legitimacy sought after?
Because it's not just the WWE that follows the matrix of "any attention is good attention", but also the media in general. As Les Moonves, CEO and executive chairman of CBS, put it last year,
It [Trump’s campaign] may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS… Man, who would have expected the ride we're all having right now?… The money's rolling in and this is fun. I've never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It's a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.
There's no doubt that Trump is well aware of this and doesn't need one bit of reminding. As he put it himself two years before he even announced his candidacy,
I’m going to get in and all the polls are going to go crazy. I’m going to suck all the oxygen out of the room. I know how to work the media in a way that they will never take the lights off of me.
And that's not the bombast of some mere pretender. It's the truth being parlayed by possibly the greatest student of the WWE, one who has taken the WWE's mechanics and applied them to the biggest arena in the entire world – the ring of the United States federal election.
The Hollywood Walk of Shame
Jumping on the bandwagon, such things as the television show The Simpsons like to portray themselves as having warned us of a Trump presidency years ago. But on top of that being a bunch of self-indulgent nonsense, the only thing that mini-spectacles like The Simpsons have done is lay down some very useful groundwork for enabling the showmanship of Donald Trumps, thanks to its contribution to the creation of a complacent and apathetic people that is highly malleable to this "age of irony" of ours.
As was put by one of the several apologists over at Salon,
Humor is one of the primary ways that oppressed, weak, and marginalized people speak back to Power. The serf mocks the king. The worker laughs at the boss or factory owner. The slave derides and makes fun of the master. The child goofs on the adult.
Oddly enough, Jay played the character "McDonald Dump"
last week at a wrestling event in Toronto. I don't think
for a second that Jay's a fan of Trump's, but much like
the media and the chattering classes – and whether
he realizes it or not – Jay's playing right into the hands
of what I see as being the Trump and WEE ploy
True enough. As I hope this blog shows, I rather like humor (as well as humour). But while making light of the foibles of life is one thing, mockery is something else entirely – one where politics turns into theatre. While the various clowns and clownettes of late-night television pride themselves for eviscerating Trump, and while their audiences gleefully lap it all up, said clowns have accomplished absolutely nothing save for supplying Trump and the WEE with the attention and reaction they seek and require in order to legitimize what I believe to be the charade of WEE 2016.
As Barack Obama's former chief speechwriter Tweeted back in February, "if Trump is the nominee, I actually think we should fund a SuperPAC that hires professional comedians to take him down with funny ads." But as the late media-theorist Marshall McLuhan put it several years ago, "The clown is really the emperor's PR man". Otherwise put, the very modus operandi of the mocking satirist is to feed into and legitimize the roasted.
— Wrestling Central (@wrestlingcent) August 16, 2016
Think I'm exaggerating? Then take a look at the greatest eviscerating clown currently alive, Jon Stewart, "the most trusted name in fake news". While Stewart likes to play the role of the responsible observer that uses his razor-sharp with to take down those on high, in an infamous interview on CNN's Crosstalk he fired back at – cut off – criticism of of his actions by pointing out that "The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls! What is wrong with you?" Or in other words, we're supposed to take Stewart seriously while not, well, taking him serisouly at all.
As if all that weren't enough, while it's well known that Stewart recently gave up the helm of his critically acclaimed 16-year stint as host of The Daily Show, it's not quite as well known who one of his recent employers has been. In case you need me to spell it out for you, yes, Jon Stewart has in fact been working for none other than the WWE, hosting and even wrestling in its RAW and Summer Slam events for the past couple of years. Still no word though on when Stewart and his foil will be meeting in the ring so that Stewart the clown can shave off the mane of his fellow showman, Donald Trump the emperor.
Jon Stewart and Mick Foley (of the WWE) at the
Rally to Perpetuate Insanity (photo by Cliff)
As I recently read, it's not possible to name the greatest con ever pulled off because the greatest con that ever existed was the one that nobody ever realized was actually a con. With that in mind, might it be possible that Trump is actually playing out the role of the greatest "heel" that the WWE, and now the WEE, has ever seen? If so, what I can't help but ponder over is whether or not the purpose of "the gimmick" is to create a fog of distraction over the most important issue of the day that in a strange twist of events got superseded by a red sweater, talk of a vasectomy, and, shall we say, something that the "Bonezone" "liked". In other words, inane gossip took center stage over the topic of energy supplies. Or more specifically, peaking energy supplies.
— WrestleNewz.com (@wrestlenewz) August 26, 2015
Moreover, I don't think we should expect this "feud" – this distraction – to end anytime soon. As Trump stated at the end of the third debate in response to whether he'd concede the election were he to lose, "What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I'll keep you in suspense, okay?" As I'll explain further in the next post, were Trump to win the election the "feud" would essentially come to an end. But were he to lose the election, what I see as being a faux feud would be allowed to continue, thus allowing for the citizenry-cum-audience to remain properly distracted from slightly more important things like the collapse of industrial civilization.
None of this is to say though that real people won't be affected in real ways by Trump's antics. Although what's going on in the ring of the WEE may be roughly staged – I imagine that Trump is taking the lead while Clinton has the simple job of playing herself in return – at many points in the future many real people in the stands of the WEE may be incited to riot, and many real people may, to say the least, get hurt.
Alongside that, it's been postulated by John Michael Greer that upon the protracted collapse of industrial civilization the United States may see the rise of a Fred Halliot (that is an anagram). Which is, I'd say, entirely possible. But as stated by another late media-theorist, Neil Postman, in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business,
[Aldous Huxley] believed that it is far more likely that the Western democracies will dance and dream themselves into oblivion than march into it, single file and manacled. Huxley grasped, as Orwell did not, that it is not necessary to conceal anything from a public insensible to contradiction and narcoticized by technological diversions. Although Huxley did not specify that television would be our main line to the drug, he would have no difficulty accepting Robert MacNeil's observation that "Television is the soma of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World." Big Brother turns out to be Howdy Doody.
In other words, so long as the citizenry is kept placated and gullible with its soma, what reason is there for how, or why, a Fred Halliot might emerge? However, once the lights start to go out – meaning once the televisions and movie theatres start going dark, and people start losing access to their soma – then all bets are summarily off.
Furthermore, although I think Greer is spot on with his explanation of why so many voters are gravitating towards Trump, I'm not so sure about his interpretation regarding Trump's motivations. I'll hash out those motivations a bit more in the next two posts, starting with one on Donald Trump, followed by one on the candidate who I think wasn't so much bound to be the winner of the WEE so much as she wasn't bound to be the loser – Hillary Clinton.
Having made a comparison between Donald Trump and my old friend Jay, out of fairness I'd like to add that besides being students of the WWE they are nothing alike. While Trump slurs virtually everybody he comes across, and whether they are part of a character or not, his words are given as his honest opinion of which there is no excuse for. On the other hand, the only slurs Jay ever doled out (that wasn't behind closed doors) were either upon himself or some light ribbing upon close friends.
Naomi Klein & the Letdown of the Leap Manifesto: It’s Time We Divest From the Pipelines – the Pipelines of Film & Television (part 4/4)
Off the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen
Published on From Filmers to Farmers on October 14th, 2016
Avi Lewis & Naomi Klein (photo by Sheila Steele)
You don't need to tell me that some people out there take film rather seriously. Sometimes ridiculously seriously – "film for film's sake, art for art's sake!" Fortunately, and as far as I'm aware, Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis only fall into the former category. Nonetheless, in a conversation with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now! that followed the release of the Leap Manifesto and the documentary This Changes Everything, Klein, Lewis and Gonzalez pretty much trip over each other while extolling the amazing things that film can (supposedly) do:
Klein: I think the thing that a film can do so much better than a book, frankly, is really bring us into the heart of the social movements… And, you know, it's one thing to read about it – "Oh, these movements are rising up" – but it's something very different to be immersed in the energy of social movements.
Lewis: There's another… thing that film can do that books just can't: The look on Naomi's face in the cutaway in the climate deniers' conference is pretty unforgettable. That alone was worth the experience.
Gonzalez: Well, the other thing a film can do, obviously, is capture, in a way that a book really can't, the actual beauty of the planet that is being violated by this rampant industrialization.
I'm obviously not going to touch Lewis' comment. But regarding Klein's and Gonzalez' comments, what they could have also mentioned is that with enough computing power and technological advancement, virtual reality (VR) could far outshine film when it comes to "bring[ing] us into the heart of… social movements” and “captur[ing]… the actual [actual?] beauty of the planet." Would VR be an acceptable tool in the arsenal of progressives and activists? And would it matter that an extra dose of fossil fuels would be needed for it all? Because the one thing that the medium of film does much better than books is burn through climate change-causing fossil fuels. Sure, a film, in the singular, can enlighten, possibly even end up carbon neutral, but that point of view misses the forest for the trees. Because when we take a systemic, full-accounting look at the medium of film (which means including an analysis of its knock-on effects) – the advertising needed to cover its costs, the fossil fuels required to power all the induced consumption, and so on – it's plainly obvious that film in its totality is heavy in the carbon spewing red. That's something books can't accomplish, or at least nowhere near as effectively. That being so, I can't help but wonder if the aforementioned praise lavished upon film is just another round of (unintentional) prostration before the altar of techno-gimmickry. (In case you didn't know, the telegraph was supposed to erase all boundaries and usher in peace between all nations. So was the radio. The destructive potential of dynamite was to forever-more ward off the possibility of war. Television was supposed to enlighten the masses. And on and on and on. Now it's "film can… really bring us into the heart of the social movements". Sure, okay.)
What I also can't help but wonder about is the net result between the amount of activism that film inspires versus the amount of pacification it induces in viewers. For on top of much else, does "captur[ing]… the actual beauty of the planet" actually result in a benefit, or does it mostly make us into a bunch of passive voyeurs content with accepting things the way they are, partially in thanks to the many things – like "beauty" – that we can readily access and consume thanks to screens? If it's the latter, might it not be possible then that that pacification is contributing to a people who are less and less capable of doing things for themselves, who become more and more dependent upon the products and services of corporations, which all then feeds into the growing divide between the haves and have nots? Just because industrial agriculture feeds many of us – including activists – that doesn't mean it should be championed. Similarly, just because film (industrial communication?) can be used to inform activists (or just your average concerned person), is that enough of a reason to sing its praises?
Director of The Take and This Changes Everything
(photo by Jordi Motlló)
Supposing there's mirth to any of that, none of it seems to be of issue with Klein or the Leap Manifesto in the slightest. On the contrary, while showing indirect support for the film industry via the making of This Changes Everything (whose production team included Seth MacFarlane, Danny Glover, and Pamela Anderson), they do also show a direct support for the film and television industries. Because included amongst the Leap Manifesto's initial supporters is a who's who of some of the luminaries of Hollywood North (otherwise known as Toronto) and the rest of Canada: Leonard Cohen, Ellen Page, Arcade Fire, Feist, Rachel McAdams, Donald Sutherland, Neil Young, Alanis Morissette, everyone's favourite futurist William Gibson, Sarah Polley, Pamela Anderson, and so forth.
As the Globe and Mail put it,
the Leap Manifesto [was] signed by prominent NDP supporters, native-rights activists, movie stars and pop musicians, and endorsed by public-service unions with strong NDP links.
Which makes me think of holding aloft three apples and a banana and noticing "hmm, one of these is different from the rest." Because while we know what prominent NDP supporters, native-rights activists, and public-service unions stand for (and that Klein supports their social justice aspirations), what are "movie stars and pop musicians" doing in this bushel? That is, it's obvious enough that what native-rights activists stand for is native-rights. By extension, I think we ought to know that the underlying thing that movie stars and movie directors stand for is movie industry-rights. And what movie industry-rights have to do with social justice (the goals of the other three mentioned) is beyond me. And why you would want to be giving legitimacy to movie industry-rights when talking about climate change is really beyond me.
As Klein described the reason for having celebrity backers,
they're people, and they're really freaked out about climate change and really grateful to be able to do something about it.
But every one of us counts as a "people", and to try and justify somebody and/or their actions because, well, "they're people" can quite easily be interpreted as whitewashing. For as Klein told Rob Hopkins,
if we pretend that our political differences don't exist and that we're all friends in every arena, then we erase very real systems of oppression.
But aren't those with political differences also "people"? Don't they also get some kind of pass? And if not, why does one set of "people" get excused but not another bunch of "people"? I'll substitute a few words of my own (in italics) into Klein's latter quote to make my point clear.
[I]f we pretend that our differences in the way we make our livings don't exist and that we're all friends in every arena then we erase very real systems of climate destruction.
To add a bit more clarity to this, here are a few words David Suzuki gave just before Klein commented about "people".
It's an entry point in for people who pay a lot of attention to celebrities that you otherwise might not have… [Because] what they do is offer their ability to attract press to let people like Naomi talk to the wide world.
And herein lies, I believe, one of our biggest problems with our current approach to climate change. By depending on celebrities to attract attention to "people like Naomi" – and by extension climate change – what we are essentially endorsing is what you might call "ethical narcissism." And the problem with "ethical narcissism" can be seen with Klein's statement that celebrities are "really grateful to be able to do something about [climate change]". Reason being, the only "something" that these celebrities are doing is voicing a few words (and perhaps adding in a signature). And I don't think it's too far-fetched to suggest that perhaps those "people who pay a lot of attention to celebrities" might not be getting their cue from the latest what's-her/his-face that celebrities are supposedly bringing attention to, but rather from the celebrities themselves. And if that's the case, then what we're teaching ourselves is that what we do with our lives – how much we consume, if we actually produce anything of worth, how our chosen line of work effects the greater good (or bad) – doesn't really matter. Because what really matters is that we get up on stage to voice our opinions and say those five oh-so-important words – "I disagree with climate change." Otherwise put, words speak louder than actions.
I'm sure I could go on and on with examples here, but having mentioned Tommy Douglas in part 1, let's go with the Leap Manifesto backer that happened to marry Douglas' daughter (and sire two children with her, one named Kiefer), Donald Sutherland. While Sutherland makes his living in highly costly industries (film and television) that can only pay for themselves with massive amounts of consumption-inducing advertising, he doesn't stop there. For as was burned into the audible portion of my memory many years ago, Sutherland apparently needs the extra $200,000 – $400,000 that celebrities can get for doing an hour's worth of voice-over work. And whose commercials might Sutherland be shilling for? That would be none other than the automobile manufacturer Volvo. Or perhaps "formerly shilling for" would be a better way of putting it. Because as I just learned, Sutherland has moved up – way up – in the world. That's right, no longer content with shilling for land-based CO2 spewers, for several years now Sutherland has been the spokesman for… wait for it… Delta Airlines! (And while we're at it, Sutherland's son, Kiefer, has shilled for Ponzi-scheming Bank of America – which I suppose means that he's oh-so-against economic growth or something.)
The climate lesson here, I think, is very clear: please be "really freaked out [enough] about climate change" that you put aside any scruples that may get in your way. Do whatever you need to make a buck (or several hundred thousand of them – or millions of them) and to move up in the world. Because once you've gotten high enough, only then will you be in a position that matters and which people will take seriously enough to listen to. That's how one makes a difference. (And please don't forget – fly Delta!)
This oh-so-concerned celebrity way of life is then effectively excused by Klein and the Leap Manifesto when it's said that we can supply 100+% of our current energy usage with renewables. Because if so, then there really isn't any reason why we shouldn't look up to the lifestyles of the rich and famous, and there isn't any reason to think that we can't – shouldn't – be as consumptive as we want.
The secret cabal behind the 100+% renewable energy
push: The Mickey Mouse Club (currently on display at
Australia's premier institution of higher learning,
Melbourne University, Baillieu Library:
"TeeVee at Sixty" – yippee!)
Perhaps I should point out that I say this as somebody for whom one-third of the reason he passed up on the opportunity for a lucrative film career was because he took climate change seriously enough that he decided to not go through with it (which was two years before he learned about peak oil), and who also hasn't watched a minute of film, television or online video in more than ten years either. That being the case – and I'll put this lightly – I can no longer help but find this whole climate change movement of ours as being little more than a complete joke. As far as I see it, climate change isn't taken anywhere nearly as serious as it should be, and is why I long ago wrote off all the blather one hears about climate change for a greater emphasis on the issues of peak oil and collapse.
In retrospect, I was initially put off by an assertion made by Steve Hallett in his book The Efficiency Trap (pp. 156-57):
Conserve energy for what, exactly?… Save [fossil fuels] for what, exactly? To answer this question we need to think about how much of the world's endowment of fossil fuels humankind will actually consume, and the answer to this question is simple: we will consume all the coal, oil, and natural gas that we can… Fossil fuels saved are not really saved at all. They are just saved to be burned another way on another day.
But after giving some thought to Hallett's assertion over the next several months I realized that what I didn't like about it was that it was "negative". That, however, doesn't mean that he wasn't right, and so far as things like the Leap Manifesto keep showing me, I think he is right (while not being nihilistic, I should add). Because beyond the non-impactful-upon-our-lives actions of replacing our cars and driving more fuel efficient light bulbs, it's blatantly obvious that we've so far been unwilling to make any (significant) sacrifices in our lives. Moreover, and thanks to the green light provided by such things as the Leap Manifesto, it now seems even more likely that we're going to continue consuming the movies and other products hawked by ethical narcissists, all fine and dandy thanks to 100+% renewable energy (be it a fairy tale or not).
In no way do I mean this as a veiled jab at Klein who, as the Guardian puts it, "is set to rock up air miles that would make her, by her own admission, 'a climate criminal'." And just like Klein doesn't want to be trapped in "gotcha games", I similarly don't want to get dragged into pointing fingers at Klein. Sure, I too have read people make far-fetched yet strangely arguable observations that, now with Al Gore mostly out of the picture, it can seem that the fossil fuel industry has planted Klein there in order to discredit the opposition. But as I was told by Mike Nickerson (author of the book Life, Money and Illusion), "I was asked by my publisher at New Society Publishers, 'are you willing to burn up a bunch of fossil fuels to drive all across Canada talking about your book and about using less fossil fuels?'" That is, burning up some fossil fuels is unavoidable if one wants to speak up beyond the confines of one's neighbourhood (I think this is what Wendell Berry was referring to when he said "this is original sin, round two"), and it's ultimately up to us and the person in the mirror to decide what degree of CO2 spewage that should be.
What I do want to single out though is the over-emphasis on the vicarious supply-side approach of trying to stop oil pipelines, divesting ourselves – not really ourselves, but institutions – from fossil fuel companies, unloading virtually all responsibility for fixing things onto governments, and so forth. Says Mashable:
Australians overwhelmingly believe in climate change, according to a new poll, and they are more than ready for the government to do something about it.
There is of course nothing wrong with trying to stop a pipeline going through your land that will destroy your farm, way of life, surrounding ecosystem, etc. (Andrew Nikiforuk's updated version of Saboteurs: Wiebo Ludwig's War Against Big Oil is on my reading list). But while some of us vicariously support initiatives on the supply side, virtually nothing is being done on the demand side. For contrary to Klein's opinion (the Guardian: "[Klein] argues there is little scope for individuals on their own to accomplish much"), major differences could very easily be implemented on the personal, demand side.
I once (stupidly) forked over 5,000 smackeroos for one of those
things. But it fortunately ended up getting in the way of
the blunt end of an axe (photo by Jordi Motlló)
That is, while supporting work to halt pipelines that transport crude, there's no reason why we shouldn't also start working on stopping the pipelines made out of coaxial cables (and such) that transport industrial communication. Or in other words, it's time we start the work of shutting down the film and television industries.
Here's some reasoning: while the advertising industry is of course the greatest instigator of our consumptive ways of life, the most powerful and effective means of advertising come to us via the film and television industries, since no form of advertising is as effective and entrancing as moving pictures accompanied by sound.
Next: Klein has stated that
Moving to a far more localized and ecologically based agricultural system would reduce reliance on fossil fuels, capture carbon in the soil and absorb sudden shocks in the global supply – as well as produce healthier and more affordable food for everyone.
Which is absolutely correct. What Klein doesn't mention though is the one thing needed if we don't want a bunch of California-esque organic monocultures replete with (dismally low EROEI) biofuel-powered tractors. And that one thing, namely, is people. But as "Wes Jackson, the visionary founder of the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas" (Klein's words, not mine, although they might as well have been) has described it in one of his most prescient observations, we lack an adequate "eyes-to-acres ratio." Or otherwise put, we don't have enough people to properly take care of and work the land. And how, may I ask, are we ever going to improve upon our eyes-to-acres ratio when we have such a massive eyes-to-TVs-and-movie-screens ratio, encouraged by such valued voices as Naomi Klein and David Suzuki, as well as such things as the Leap Manifesto? How are we ever going to make the agrarian shift we need for "moving to a far more localized and ecologically based agricultural system" if while decrying business-as-usual we nonetheless continue to support life-as-usual?
For lack of a better analogy, forget killing two birds with one stone. Because by getting rid of film and television we could kill an entire flock with one stone. Not only could we free up the eyes needed to improve Jackson's eyes-to-acres ratio, but we could also rid ourselves of the need for all the fossil fuels to power the production and consumption of those films and television shows, we could make a major dent in the Cult of Narcissism that plagues us like virtually no other cult, we could throw a decent-sized spanner in the consumption-inducing hold that the advertising industry has on us, and on and on and on. An entire flock!
When I started telling people that I hadn't watched any film and television in over two years (which is now over ten years), the question I got asked the most was "but what about eco-films?" Never mind that to some that will sound kind of elitist – watching eco-films is okay, but watching Game of Kardashian Thrones is not? – but if ditching film and television was actually a serious goal of ours, then that could never be accomplished without a proper example given by those at the "top", those who claimed to be the most concerned about eco-oriented issues. (It's worth noting though that perhaps the only arguable reason for watching film and [particularly] television is because after coming home from your unrewarding and soul-destroying wage-slave job [or second wage-slave job or third wage-slave job or –] that you're so completely spent that you barely have the psychological capacity to function anymore, save for microwaving something for the little ones and crashing in front of the TV. It's hard to blame that person for "indulging".)
Coming soon (soonish?) to a civilization near you
Another problem with "eco-films" is the idea that we absolutely need film and television to talk about things like climate change with one another. For if we don't think that we can accomplish conversing effectively with one another without film and television then I'd say we've got a problem much bigger than climate change of which perhaps needs to be dealt with first. Secondly, are we so enraptured with film and television that we can't consider doing away with it? Is cutting back on – ridding ourselves of – film and television off limits when it comes to addressing limits? Because the fact of the matter is there is no single extremely viable change we could make in our lives to combat fossil fuel consumption – and by extension climate change – than ditching film and television. We can't instantaneously stop driving cars, we can't instantaneously stop eating industrial food, we can't instantaneously start defecating in compost toilets, etc. However, we most certainly can stop watching film and television at the snap of a finger, which would also go far in cutting down on our exposure to and complacency when it comes to narcissism, vapid advertising, and so forth. The knock-on effects would be enormous. An entire flock!
As Michael Klare has asked,
How [do we] explain the world's tenacious reliance on fossil fuels, despite all that we know about their role in global warming and those lofty promises made in Paris?
He then points out that
approaches [that] helped reduce tobacco consumption around the world… can be adapted to the anti-carbon struggle… [A]dvertising can be made to incorporate warning signs saying something like, "Notice: Consumption of this product increases your exposure to asthma, heat waves, sea level rise, and other threats to public health." Once such an approach began to be seriously considered, there would undoubtedly be a host of other ideas for how to begin to put limits on our fossil-fuel addiction.
Similarly, Klein has stated that
After years of recycling, carbon offsetting and light bulb changing, it is obvious that individual action will never be an adequate response to the climate crisis. Climate change is a collective problem, and it demands collective action. One of the key areas in which this collective action must take place is big-ticket investments designed to reduce our emissions on a mass scale.
Yes film, we're talkin' to you – it's time to vamoose!
This is most certainly true. By no means can we expect many people out there to be as much of an idiot as myself that they actually pass up on a lucrative career as a filmmaker (and who have watched no film, television or online video in over ten years) because they take climate change to be of serious importance. That's not going to happen. That being the case, what we need, as Klein stated, is concerted "collective action". That is, collective action to begin the dissolution of the film and television industries.
Although how to go about dismantling the film and television industries will require much more thought than a few paragraphs in a mere blog post, some off the cuff (and a bit over the top) general ideas for a future Endarkenment Manifesto are as follows:
- Film festivals such as the Toronto International Film Festival must start reducing the amount of films they play by 10% a year. No loopholes – films have a maximum length of 100 minutes, credits included
- No permits for new television stations/channels are to be given out. Furthermore, the amount of television stations/channels should be reduced by a predetermined percentage every year
- Television broadcasting is to be restricted in the wee hours of the night, starting off with a no-broadcasting window between the hours of 12am and 7am
- All televisions and projectors must be removed from schools
- All film schools should be phased out and shut down within four years
- A buy-back system is to be put in place to take in existing televisions, which are to be dismantled
- Movie theatres, like film festivals, are to cut down the amount of movies they play by 10% a year
- Netflix and similar operations are to be heavily taxed
- The sale of video cameras is to be phased out
- Video cameras on smart phones are to be phased out
- Cameras on the top of computer screens are to be phased out
- As per Klare's suggestion, "advertising… incorporat[ing] warning signs" are to precede every movie and television show. They are to depict various outcomes of climate change and the inevitable collapse of industrial civilization due to peak oil and other limits to growth, with warning signs of increased severity due to sustained film and television viewing. (I'd direct the ads myself, but I don't think there's enough bailing twine and tuct tape in the entire world to put my video camera back together again.)
- And YouTube? While commercials are to be restricted from usage by YouTube, YouTube videos are to be limited to a resolution of, say, 100 by 100 pixels
Since the collapse of the film and television industries is inevitable in the long run due to energy constraints and the collapse of industrial civilization itself, there's no good reason why we shouldn't start dismantling them ourselves now and save ourselves some even greater pain down the road. And for those who get a bit too antsy waiting for things like collective action, then there's always the option to, as John Michael Greer has suggested, "collapse now, avoid the rush". (Or perhaps "endarken now, pre-empt the blackout".)
Because while climate change says we should start dissolving the film and television industries for the future's sake, peak oil says we should do so for the present's sake. For if we expect to have the time and the mind frame to deal with the kind of effects that energy constraints are already having in countries like Greece (see my previous posts on that here and here), then there's no way we can keep up with the film and television way of life.
Furthermore, the inevitable protracted collapse of industrial civilization will imply the need for people to grow more of their own food – less of being couch potatoes and more of cultivating potatoes. Similarly, we will ultimately need more farmers – good farmers – which means men and women who are observant of the many variables involved – soil nutrient levels, hydrology, precipitation, erosion, weather patterns, plant health, interaction between (mixed) crops and insects, seed vigour and preservation, animal health, upkeep of barns, animal shelters and sheds, maintenance of tools, capture of carbon from the air and its sequestration into the soil, and on and on and on. In other words, a good farmer is someone who is acutely aware of their surroundings and many variables. But unfortunately, and as Joel Salatin put it to Michael Pollan in the latter's book The Omnivore's Dilemma, Wall Street has sucked all the A students from the farms and left all the D students (which is mostly correct except for the fact that it was actually Wall Street and Sunset Boulevard). That's been somewhat viable for the time being thanks to industrial farming and all its inputs, but won't work with the ecological agriculture we're going to need in the future – or rather, which we need now.
Melbourne gets it! In a few weeks the ACMI (Australian
Centre for the Moving Image) is to be shut down forever
due to inclement weather!
While thus needing a lot of sharp people to get into farming, it is inherent that these people be acutely observant of many variables. And who else is more fitting to be the poster-child of the future observant-farmer than the occupier of (one of) the profession(s) that we need to get rid of – filmmakers! Filmmakers – and most specifically, directors – must be similarly attentive of a wide array of details which are then brought together into a whole – script, lighting, acting, costume, set, camera work, editing, etc. In other words, while needing less couch potatoes and more potato cultivators, what we also need is less observant "filmers" and more observant farmers. (What, did you think I named this blog From Filmers to Farmers: From Couch Potatoes to Potato Cultivators because it sounded cute?)
Of course, I don't expect the rough proposal I've laid out here to be taken seriously in the slightest. (Aussies, as per Mashable: "C'mon government! Do something about clima – ho woah woah, you want to do what!? Easy now, we weren't being that serious. Let's not be rash about this. Look, I'll skip my latte today. That should be okay, right?") But if Avi Lewis was serious when he stated (as quoted in part 2) that "winning has replaced change as the goal… and that's wrong", well believe you me, you ain't gonna be winnin' much a' nuthin' by ditching a film career to put an end to film careerism.
All aboard the From Filmers to Farmers express –
Losers 'R Us!
Naomi Klein & the Letdown of the Leap Manifesto: Live by the Camera & TV Screen, Die by the Camera & Movie Screen (part 3/4)
Off the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen
Published on From Filmers to Farmers on October 6th, 2016
(photo courtesy of Haewon Kye)
Ask around and you'll eventually come across somebody that will tell you that (in certain respects) film schools are a waste of time and money. Frankly, you can count me as one of those people, although I don't say that as somebody who attended the Film Studies program at Ryerson University in Toronto for four years (which last I heard was the most competitive of all university programs in Canada to get into, although perhaps that was just an urban rumour). I say that as somebody who prior to attending university figured that although practice is generally a very useful thing to partake in, there are some things that to a large degree you've either got or you don't, and which practice can only help iron out a few kinks. As far as I've always seen it, and much like being a top-notch 100-meter dash sprinter (which most of us can never be), filmmaking – directing in particular – is one of those things. That being said, as far as I've noticed there is actually one "film school" out there that truly is above and beyond the rest, and which I inadvertently had the "fortunate privilege" of "attending."
That started at the age of 4-years-old or so when I was bought another one of those random toys that parents purchase for their children, this gift consisting of the Fisher Price Movie Viewer and Movie Viewer Theater, as well as several cartridges. To my "benefit" my parents never paid much attention to my utter fascination with them, probably because they were just glad that they'd found something that could reliably get their kid to sit down and avoid landing himself in the hospital for the umpteenth time. (When I was 6-years old and my family moved houses my mother chose the town that had the hospital in it.)
(photo courtesy of Haewon Kye)
The special thing about the Fisher Price Movie Viewer and Movie Viewer Theater is that while they worked with cartridges that looped a few minutes of 8mm film, they had to be manually cranked. And not only that, but while you could crank forwards and backwards, you could also crank frame by frame by frame… by frame… by frame… by frame. Back one frame, forward one frame. Back one frame, forward one frame. And while doing that you could dissect and play over and over again every little zoom, every pan, every tilt, every truck, every cut, every little effect (like when in Pinocchio the Blue Fairy appeared in a flash of light – or disappeared in an un-flash of light when you cranked backwards). Have a (visually inclined) child play around doing that for dozens – hundreds – of hours between the impressionable ages of four and six and you've possibly just created a filmmaking "monster" who naturally observes the world as if he were permanently looking through the lens of a motion picture camera where everything is a "shot" or an "angle."
So forget university or whatever, because no film school, no watching however many movies by the "greats" can ever match the inadvertent learning and training by repetitive, unintentional, osmosis.
My apologies for the personal conveyance there, which I'll follow up by avoiding a detailed account of my accidental discovery of video class in my second year of high school, my eventual reference by schoolmates as being the "Steven Spielberg" of our school, my award for being the "best" photographer in my graduating year, etc. Just to be sure, I'm not mentioning any of that (in passing) for the purposes of bragging (I'll also avoid recounting my early successes in my first year of university, because then I'd really be bragging), but I do so in order to point out that while not planning it in the slightest, I'd come to live and breathe film(making). In other words, and if anything, filmmaking is my forte, not writing.
(photos by Super 8 Man)
I will however convey one (relevant) story from back in my first year of university. While travelling on the subway one day with a classmate, it hit me that rather than running a strip of 16mm film (which we shot with in university) past a projector, a subway could act in the opposite manner. That is, instead of running the film past the shutter system, you could run the shutter system past the film. Supposing you could set up a bunch of sequential "frames" in the tunnels, then rig up some kind of a shutter system in the window(s) of the subway train(s), when the train(s) whipped through the tunnels each frame could trip the shutter system(s), resulting in the same illusion of movement one gets with film.
Although at the time I was (I'm somewhat embarrassed to say) working at a high-end advertising agency in Toronto and could have brought my idea past the rather well-off owner whom I personally knew, I saw two main problems with my idea. For starters, its requirement of many moving parts interacting at very high speeds would have made it costly enough, but then add on top of that the constant need to laboriously change long strips of several hundred images every time one wanted to switch up the sequence(s) and the whole thing quickly becomes extremely cost prohibitive. As well, and although this was the year 2000, it didn't take a dummy to foresee that flat screens would be arriving in the very near future and make the idea essentially redundant.
But my even bigger issue with the idea was that its primary application was bound to be for advertising, and seeing how I hated advertising I had no desire to add even more visual pollution to all the wretchedness already all around us. (Yes, I know. Why was I working at an ad agency if I hated advertising? Well, it turns out that a family member of mine was a childhood friend of one of the co-owners, and I ended up getting the job on a silver platter. But even though I was good enough at what I did that I ended up getting told that I had "reaffirmed our [their] faith in today’s youth” [I was 22-23 at the time], I didn’t like trying to convince 15-year-old kids to buy shitty corporate booze and to get people in general to buy mounds of junk they didn’t need, and so after a couple of summers left that [ridiculously perk-filled] job for a dish-washing job at an oyster bar and a job painting houses.)
Mentioning my idea years later to an old friend I was told "but you could have used it to get your message out!" Which is, of course, a bunch of Dr. Pooper. Supposing there was the occasional PSA included in the subway sequences ("Polar bears are cute! Save the polar bears! Please don't pet the polar bears"), 95% or so of its content would have undoubtedly been vapid advertising which would have negated any socially conscious message(s). In other words, any token PSAs would have essentially served as diversionary whitewashes to the medium's overwhelming content of which would have been necessary to pay for its high costs.
[As a side-note, about four years after I got my subway-as-shutter-system idea I saw a segment on a TV program ("The New Media" on City TV?) and read an article in the Toronto Star relaying that my very same idea was being tested in New York City and Toronto subways. I never heard about it again after that, and doubt it got very far at all.]
Anyway. Soon after entering the Film Studies program at Ryerson University a rather uncomfortable issue began nagging away in my head. Or rather, three of them. While I of course had my favourite filmmakers, I was also the kind of guy that watched movies like Manufacturing Consent and The Corporation (with Naomi Klein!). And although I excelled academically and especially filmmaking-wise in my first year, for the most part I plummeted afterwards. Reason being, and for starters, one of the things nagging away at me was, If I had a problem with the centralization of power (and in this particular case into corporate hands), then how was it that I could justify film and videomaking with its unavoidable dependence on arrays of high-tech cameras, monitors, (high-powered) lights, digital editing systems, all the TVs necessary for the public consumption of the final product(s), movie screens, projectors, and on and on and on, all of which fed into the coffers of those corporations I wasn't very fond of? Regardless of whether or not I one day ended up making any activist-type films along the lines of The Corporation, was filmmaking itself, as a whole, a net benefit or a net loss? Or like my non-foray into the subway-as-shutter-system idea, would any benefit be essentially negated by the overwhelming vapidity?
[As another side-note, I did actually have a tiny bit of (relevant?) activist-type history as well. Back in April of 2001, and with video camera in tow, I made the trip over to the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) protest in Quebec City. In the morning of one of my first days there I was walking down some street whose name I forget (but which was far from the police and tear gas shenanigans) when about fifteen meters in front of me a few plain-clothed men with batons quickly identified themselves as police and screamed at the dozen or two of us within striking distance to back away, proceeded to grab one guy from the crowd, threw him into a white van, and squealed away. "What country are we in?" I said to those I was with as we all stood there stunned. I never heard about that event ever again (and didn't get it on video as it happened way too fast to have had a chance to react), until about ten years later when I read Naomi Klein's book of essays Fences and Windows. As she put it (pp. 141-43), a well-known activist friend of hers was nabbed off the street and held on trumped up charges in order to keep him from the weekend's events. Klein wrote that it was a beige van, I remember a white van. Do one of us have our colours wrong, or was there two separate snatchings? I don't know. But I do know that I have an uncanny knack for crossing paths and stories with Klein and Lewis in various parts of the world.]
(photo from proxibid)
Anyway, once again. Second nagging issue: film and video production (as well as their consumption) are massive consumers of electricity – or better yet, of climate change-causing fossil fuels. Need to change a bulb on one of those lights? Well then slap on a pair of gloves first, because there's a good chance that when you switch on that light after having touched the bulb with your (naturally) greasy fingers that the grease coupled with the astronomical temperature that that bulb is going to rise to (implying a massive amount of energy usage – and loss, via heat) might very well cause that bulb to explode in somebody's face. No joke. Add to that all the other electricity-guzzling equipment required, plus all the advertising needed to make it all profitable, plus all the (conspicuous) consumption that that then induces, and film and television are a climate change nightmare.
So to make a long – very long – story short, after sitting on the fence regarding film for four years or so, and after somehow managing to avoid classes and assignments that would have required me to make a film of substance, in what ended up being my final year before I left university once and for all I got placed in a film production class where I had no choice but to either direct or produce a short film (of substance). While I could go on and on with various side-stories that went on during this time (my run-in with three Kodak executives from Toronto, Manhattan and Hollywood is a story for the ages), that film I directed – the first I ever made with the overt intention of entering it into a film festival – was, shall we say, rather warmly received.
Fast forward Jump ahead a few months and, hot on the heels of a former classmate who had a film of his accepted a couple of years earlier into the Short Cuts program of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), it was finally my turn to make a go at it. I had my film transferred from 16mm to the requisite video format, bought the proper envelope, paid for the postage, and had it all addressed and ready to go (which had some of my ex-crew members rather excited, since they wouldn't exactly mind seeing their name in the credits of a film in TIFF).
However, those nagging issues that I'd swept under the rug in order to get on with making my assigned film still hadn't gotten their answers: When it comes to centralization of power, and even more-so to climate change (I was still about two years away from learning about peak oil for the first time), is film as a whole a net benefit or a net loss? Due to my placement in a production class I literally had no choice but to make a film – and make one I did – resulting in me having to jump off the fence to the "film is a net benefit" side (or perhaps the "who gives a rat's ass" side, "I's like the bling"). However, having been "forced" to put together a (well-received) film of which was now in the can, an even creepier question found its way into my head: "Should I be sending away my film for consideration into the Short Cuts portion of TIFF?"
(photo by Pranceatron Toys)
And what the hell kind of a thought was that? I mean, I'd spent about a decade from around 4-years-of-age (particularly the earlier ones) inadvertently learning my craft by osmosis, then another decade or so overtly honing my craft. And here I was, with that film which, although not exactly stupendous, was the one to finally get the "juggernaut" started. And I was considering not submitting it?
In another strange set of circumstances, and contrary to every other film made in that production class, that film I directed was the only film bankrolled by a single person – me (that's another story). In effect, I had complete control over what was to happen with the film, and nobody but I had a say on which film festival(s) it would or wouldn't be entered into.
And so with the film having to be postmarked by a stipulated day, and the clock ticking away, the deadline for submission drew closer and closer.
Five days away.
What should I do?
Net benefit or net loss?
Yes or no?
Time's up. No more thinking. Make up your mind!
So with twenty years of "work" invested, all I now had to do was walk over to the post office and drop off the film so it could be postmarked. And really, throwing a bit of caution to the wind was the rational thing to do. Everybody was doing it, right? So even though I still didn't have the concrete answer I'd been looking for all those years, and still had no idea what I was doing, I of course wasn't going to take the chance of screwing things up for myself.
Thinking about it that way, submitting the film actually turned to be much easier than I'd expected, because rather than having to walk all the way to the post office to make sure the package got properly postmarked, all I had to do was walk over to the kitchen. And submit the film to the garbage can.
It was accepted!
Adios film career
We all know what happens when you take a fish out of water, but what happens when you take a filmmaker out of film? Well, for starters they hit the methadone, and so with whatever student loan money they've got left they lounge around and spend upwards of 12 hours a day watching TV (sometimes even seven episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond seven times in a row on seven separate TV channels – methadone can be baaaaaaaaaaad).
One random day, about a month after I'd decided to leave my film with Oscar the Grouch, I made my way up north and visited my parents' suburban place. When I got there I happened to find my brother and father in the backyard, the two of them – now three of us – staring at the exposed soil which was about to be sown with grass seed. Looking it all over a strange thought from absolutely nowhere that I could discern mysteriously passed through my head: "Why don't we build a garden back here?"
Not three seconds later, what does my father then say – out loud – word for word? "Why don't we build a garden back here?"
Long story short, I of course built a garden back there. I grew a bunch of things. I fought off the meth. But I still wasn't sure about having ditched film, never mind what might come of it all, if anything.
A few months later, and still aimless, I was in Toronto with a Tupperware container packed full of cherry tomatoes I'd grown. I bumped into some friends on the street.
(photo by Dwight Sipler)
Want some cherry tomatoes?
"Sure. Hey, these are great!"
I grew them myself.
"Really! I had a friend who did stuff like that. She went WWOOFing."
WWOOFing? Never heard of that before.
As it turned out, while randomly flipping through the Toronto Star the following Saturday, what else do I come across but a rather fortuitously-timed article about – WWOOFing! So after four gruelling years (I really should have gone with my gut and dropped out after that first year), and having climbed back up that fence and blindly jumped over to the other side, I was finally starting to see what exactly it was that was even over on that other side. Which in short was the soil, in desperate need of hands to cultivate it.
You can then imagine my astonishment upon discovering the writing of Wendell Berry while WWOOFing in New Zealand less than a year later. And not only that, but with my discovery that because Berry didn't want to support the very coal industry he wrote against, not only did he write strictly with a pen/pencil and paper, but that he wrote solely under the light of the sun to avoid using the coal industry's products. "Holy Dr. Pooper, this guy's the real deal!" (A year or so later when I unintentionally got into writing I actually tried out the Berry method, but after a day of seeing how slow and shoddy of a writer I was/am I realized that were I to walk in Berry's footsteps that I was going to have to move to the North Pole for half the year and then South Pole for the other half, and so reluctantly gave that up.)
So after all this blathering on of mine about ditching film and growing a bunch of cherry tomatoes, What, you might be asking, has been the point of me recounting all this drama? Only the notion that if we're really all that concerned about all the carbon we're spewing into the atmosphere, that it might be time that we start to divest ourselves from the pipelines that I believe are making the greatest societal contribution to climate change of all – the pipelines of film & television. I'll explain that, & finish this off, in part 4.
The encore has been cancelled – indefinitely! (background image by Farrin N. Abbott)
p.s. As it then turned out, about a year after I didn't enter my film into the Short Cuts portion of TIFF, and during my second week in New Zealand, I ended up getting an email from one of my ex-crew members telling me that my film, being a Ryerson short, had by default been submitted into a film festival of sorts and had been accepted. According to our email exchange – which is one of the handful of email exchanges I kept from back in the day – I immediately ordered that it be yanked. "I beg you to reconsider," one of the replies actually pleaded with me. Yank it! It was yanked, and as far as I know it never did appear in any film festival.
p.p.s. Okay fine. Technically I hadn't quit film just yet. What I'd so far quit was fictional filmmaking, as I was still holding out for the more productive (and less narcissistic – which was nagging issue #3) idea of documentary filmmaking. During the time that I was initially trying to decide which country to WWOOF in I also started doing research for a documentary on Zero Waste, and it was a Zero Waste conference in the coastal town of Kaikoura that made me choose New Zealand – an initial three days for the conference, the other 362 for WWOOFing. I met many people at the conference, one of those being a professor of sorts from up at Massey University. Long story short, they were putting together a Zero Waste program for New Zealand universities and needed a videographer to put that portion of it together for them. The job was mine. I'd be flown all across the country, and following that probably flown all across England to put together a similar package over there. The pay wasn't amazing, but hey, it was eco-film! Problem was, if I accepted – and the contract was literally right in front of me, pen in my hand – I'd have to ditch my remaining eight months of WWOOFing. "Hmm, should I do it?" (Massey University dude was giving me one very unpleasant look for even considering not doing it.) "Ah stuff it! I didn't come to New Zealand to make movies, I came to New Zealand to shovel shit!" And having stuck with the shit-shovelling, when house-sitting for a WWOOF host about a month later, what do I pull off their book shelf and read about for the very first time? Peak oil! Or in other words, I believe that it was because I took climate change so seriously – and drastically acted upon that seriousness – that I came to learn about peak oil and its dire implications. One must act on both of them, and neither negate the other.
Naomi Klein & the Letdown of the Leap Manifesto: Politics Doesn’t Trump Physics, Nor the Economics of Collapse (part 2/4)
Off the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen
Published on From Filmers to Farmers on September 26th, 2016
Avi Lewis, Stephen Lewis, Michele Landsberg & Naomi Klein
at the "This Changes Everything" premiere at the
Ryerson Theatre / Toronto International Film Festival
Much as it came as a surprise to me, it's probably not very well known that Naomi Klein comes from a rather politically active family, and that she ended up marrying into a very politically active family. While Klein had a "very public feminist mother" who was notable for her anti-pornography work, her husband Avi Lewis' mother, Michele Landsberg, was not only a well-known feminist columnist for the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail for many years, but also managed to write three bestselling books. Moreover, Lewis' father, Stephen Lewis, was the leader of Ontario's (socialist) New Democratic Party (NDP) for several years in the 1970s (to go along with later stints with the United Nations), which coincided with the period when his father, David Lewis, was leader of Canada's federal NDP. (For those who aren't aware, the NDP is one of Canada's three major political parties, and whose leader that preceded David Lewis, Tommy Douglas, helped usher in Canada's health care system.) But although Avi Lewis shares many of his father's and grandfather's leanings, he chose not to follow in their footsteps. As he put it many years ago,
As far as making the arena of politics the main stage, I could do it, but I don't feel a compulsion to. As far as I'm concerned, winning has replaced change as the goal of the party and that's wrong.
So not to shirk Klein's own accomplishments in the slightest, but she most certainly has some rather accomplished families to draw upon. Having said that, I do kind of wonder if having such a strong political background and leaning can somewhat muddy one's perceptions a bit when it comes to interpreting the effects and implications of fossil fuel depletion. As Klein put it a few days ago,
It has been one year and one week since a coalition of dozens of organizations and artists launched The Leap Manifesto, a short vision statement about how to transition to a post-carbon economy while battling social and economic injustice. A lot has changed: a new federal government, a new international reputation, a new tone… But when it comes to concrete action on lowering emissions… much remains the same. Our new government has adopted the utterly inadequate targets of the last government.
In other words, one year on and the issue is that (the) government – a new government at that! – is still the problem. But to look at this a bit differently, and to quote George Mobus (author of the book Principles of Systems Science) from his blog Question Everything,
People have gotten used to thinking that solutions come from politics – having the right officials in place means that they will solve the problems.
Sure, having "the right officials in place" when the pie is growing – when going up Hubbert's Curve – has definitely been a good thing to have when we've wanted to make sure that everybody gets a fair share of the ancient sunlight (and all its proceeds) going around. Like health care. However, while this has been useful when making sure that everybody gets more of more, it's a bit different when we start going down Hubbert's Curve, particularly when since birth it's been ingrained in the head of virtually all involved that more is a right and that progress is a given. That's bad enough. But it's possibly even worse when the egalitarian politicians doing the doling out also get the impression that more of more is normal, and that it's their inherent duty to fight back against the greedy cretins calling for austerity.
As far as I can tell, and as I explained in part 1, it seems to me that Klein subscribes pretty heavily to this left versus right, Keynesianism (of whatever stripe) versus austerity logic. Or perhaps "of whatever stripe" isn't quite correct, since one of The Leap Manifesto's 15 pillars was the call for the implementation of the all-of-a-sudden reputable notion of a basic income. (I don't inherently disagree with the notion of a basic income, although my post questioning a bit of its underpinnings will be forthcoming.)
Having said that, over the past week or so it has crossed my mind several times that perhaps I was being a bit too harsh and/or critical of Klein, and some comments garnered on a re-posting of part 1 on another website made me question myself yet again. So I went digging in some boxes of mine and found that copy of Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present and Future of Rationing by Stan Cox (plant geneticist at the Land Institute), and checked out that blurb of Klein's I remember being on the back cover. This is part of what she writes:
In this richly informative and deeply courageous book, [Cox] tackles one of the greatest taboos of our high-consumer culture: the need to consume less and to fairly share what's left.
In other words, and perhaps contrary to what I was saying in part 1, Klein does readily recognize that there's going to be less to go around and that we all need to consume less. However…
I got to thinking about the Leap Manifesto again, and the notion that there's going to be less to go around isn't exactly what it says (particularly when it comes to energy). For as The Leap Manifesto claimed, and as per "the latest research," we (specifically Canada) can apparently replace 100% of our electricity usage with renewable sources within two decades, and 100% of everything else by 2050. This then begs the question: If we can get 100% of all of our energy from renewables, where does this need "to consume less and to fairly share what's left" come from?
On top of that, and at risk of being called nit-picky, did it just so happen that "the latest research" discovered that we can get exactly 100% of our current energetic usage from renewables, or was it somewhere around there? It certainly wouldn't have been less than 100% because then the researchers involved would have been misleading the public (and I doubt that that was their intention), and they also would have been setting themselves up for some major scorn once their fraud was discovered. In other words, it's quite likely then that according to "the latest research" we can (supposedly) get more than 100% of our current energy usage from renewables. Which kind of makes me wonder how much that would actually be. 102%? 110%? 150%? And depending on how much higher than 100% that figure is, how many other problems and resource shortages of ours might actually be fixable by these "technological breakthroughs"? Can we use all that extra renewable energy to desalinate all the freshwater we need? Can we power inner-city vertical farms to provide ourselves with uber-local food? How about power all the carbon capture and storage that our hearts desire? Thanks to 100+% energy, might it be possible that we can do it all? Because that's what 100+% means to me, and I can't see how your average Josephine, upon hearing the news that 100% renewable energy is possible, is going to think that we actually need to change anything about the way we go about our lives.
Do these mean that besides politics we don't really
have to change anything? Or rather, ourselves?
In other words, and regardless of what that 100+% number supposedly is, it seems to me that working off of what the Leap Manifesto and "the latest research" is telling us, we don't actually have much of a climate change problem anymore. Besides some issues with Bessie the Belcher and such, the causes of climate change have essentially been solved by a bunch of engineers and their "technological breakthroughs." As a result, all that really remains is the political problem of not having the right policies in place to make 100+% happen.
But that's all based on the idea that it's even possible that we can get 100% (or 100+%) of our current energy usage from renewables. Although I'm by no means a scientist or an engineer, and although I recognize that there are those much more learned than I on these issues who say that this is in fact possible (such as Ugo Bardi), I'm nonetheless still very sceptical about this – there seems to be just too many things that must go right in order to make it work – and wonder how wise it is to be throwing the precautionary principle to the wind as we put 100% of our eggs in the 100% renewable energy basket.
As a bit of a counter-example, it wasn't too long ago that corn-derived ethanol was widely touted as a replacement for gasoline thanks in part to an inflated EROEI level provided by insufficient research, and whose inclusion in gasoline was then mandated by governments (E85 and such). But with an EROEI that turned out to be barely higher than 1:1, the most significant accomplishments of corn-derived ethanol have been an increase in natural gas consumption in order to create nitrogenous fertilizers to douse corn fields and hypoxicate (no, that's not actually a word) the Gulf of Mexico with, and the winning over of farm lobbies by a few shrewd politicians.
In a different example, a study by Charles A.S. Hall and Pedro A. Prieto (Spain’s Photovoltaic Revolution: The Energy Return on Investment) showed that photovoltaics actually only get an EROEI of 2.45:1, which with the boondoggles of various biofuels makes me wonder if windmills and the rest of the renewable gamut are all they're cracked up to be and if the two studies The Leap Manifesto reference – "the latest research" – are as accurate as some may assume. For as Hall recently stated, "There are at least three reasons that EROI estimates appear much wider than they probably really are," the first two being that "They are often done by advocates one way or another" and that "a common protocol is not followed." Which is enough to stoke my scepticism, although Klein appears to be fully convinced. As she put it herself,
The time for this great transition is short. Climate scientists have told us this is the decade to take decisive action to prevent catastrophic global warming. That means small steps will no longer suffice. So we need to leap.
For posterity's sake, let's put aside the amount of times I've heard "this is the decade [or year] to take decisive action" or Now or Never or whatever (and all their bygone expiry dates). For as Alice Friedmann uncannily stated in her book When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation (which is more recent than the two studies that The Leap Manifesto and Klein reference, if "the latest" is what we're going by), "We need to look before we leap":
There has been considerable discussion about whether the EROI of wind and solar are sufficient to support modern society, especially if backup systems are included. Charles Hall and other scientists believe this issue is not resolved yet, especially if the high costs of batteries or other backups are factored in (p. 88).
And as she concludes,
Even if we continue building wind and solar at the current record rates, it would take centuries to reach half of our total power generation from wind and solar (p. 94).
But for argument's sake, let's also put aside all the "doomer" talk about intermittency, low EROEI levels, scarcity and depletion of rare earth metals, the longevity and replacement requirements of renewable systems and their batteries and inverters, transmission losses, the fact that renewables aren't liquid fuels, and so forth. Let's give the benefit of the doubt and suppose that deriving the equivalent of 100% of our current energy usage from renewables is in fact technically feasible (never mind desirable).
But even if we assume that, there's still another problem besides technical feasibility, and that's the viability of implementing such systems under times of economic duress. For starters, over the past couple of years or so we've seen the loss of over 350,000 (high-paying) jobs in the energy sector alone due to the crash in oil prices, which itself was brought on by demand destruction: consumers and businesses unable to afford (for too long) the new high prices that energy companies now need to charge in order to pay for the expensive unconventional supplies of oil they're increasingly forced to tap into now that the cheaper to extract and refine conventional oil supplies peaked back in 2006.
Latest values up to 2008 (image courtesy of Charles A.S. Hall)
While noting that correlation does not imply causation, Hall and Kent A. Klitgaard astutely noted in their book Energy and the Wealth of Nations that when the expenditure of oil as a percentage of GDP has been above 5.5% or so for long enough, economies have gone into recession. With that being the case, since energy companies are continually having to extract more and more of the poor quality, costly (energetically-wise) to extract and refine stuff, what this is all pointing towards is a future of energy-induced economic breakdowns brought on by a system that has troubles maintaining the economic growth that its Ponzionomic setup of fractional-reserve banking and interest bearing debt require.
As far as I understand it, none of that, or the fact that money is but a proxy for energy, is taken into account when Klein states that "The money we need to pay for this great transformation is available – we just need the right policies to release it." As I put it earlier, all we (supposedly) have is a political problem.
Sure, Klein can decry things like growth, but in place of her or the Leap Manifesto mentioning how our monetary/banking system requires growth – which to me is a political issue if there ever was one – what we hear instead is the call for the egalitarian method of essentially maintaining growth – the basic income. (It could have been different if at least the basic-income-as-usual's dependence on steady energy supplies was mentioned, or the possibility that nationalizing the currency [not the banks] could get us off the Ponzionomic growth habit, but they weren't.)
If economic contraction turns out to be the case – and for some people on the poorer end of the scale it already is the case – how motivated (and financially capable) are even the most altruistic of governments going to be about installing massively-scaled renewable energy systems, and how concerned is your average person going to be with being 100% renewable three decades or so down the road, when in the present time it's getting harder for people to fill up their cars, pay their rent, or even put food on their tables? And just because it isn't currently happening to you (or me), doesn't mean that it isn't currently happening to others.
Sure, these might be the rantings of some random blogger who doesn't realize that he's not living in unique times and that things like the recent Hanjin Shipping bankruptcy (which incited the Los Angeles Times to print an article titled "Hanjin bankruptcy is the tip of the iceberg for flailing shippers") is just a classic case of boom and bust.
But maybe not.
And "lucky" us if not, because then what we're due for is another recession (or even depression) which will induce another all-too-rare reprieve of greenhouse gas production, a boon for an already ravaged climate. But once again, this economic contraction is guaranteed to induce another round of calls for how to get growth going again in order to spur recovery (from a reduction in greenhouse gas production?), particularly when the constituents that most current politicians tend to be primarily concerned with start to get testy when they're increasingly forced to cut back on how many overseas vacations they can take every year.
And when did Syria's problems really begin? (data: EIA)
But none of this is to suggest, as some have mused, that I'm dismissing concerns for climate change with concerns for peak oil. As Nafeez Ahmed has noted, Syria is a textbook case of a country that is being ravaged from both ends – climate change-induced drought for one, and an economy hit by oil production that peaked back in 1996. As Ahmed put it in what's been the best article I've read on both climate change and peak oil,
from 2010 to 2011, the price of wheat doubled – fueled by a combination of extreme weather events linked to climate change, oil price spikes and intensified speculation on food commodities – impacting on Syrian wheat imports. Assad's inability to maintain subsidies due to rapidly declining oil revenues worsened the situation.
Sure, many of the things that we need to do to deal with the effects of climate change are the exact same as those we need to do to deal with the onset of peak oil (and resource depletion in general) – in (very) short, localize our economies. However, and as far as I see it, if Naomi Klein and movements like The Leap Manifesto fail to take fossil fuel depletion as seriously as they do climate change (which is rather scant I think), the attendant lack of understanding of the economic effects that peak oil will imply – is implying – will continue to result in missing out on many of the underlying causes of current economic problems, and while progressives or lefties or whatever continue to point the (political) finger at the boogeyman of austerity, the disaster profiteers that Klein spoke of so forcefully in The Shock Doctrine – some of whom may very well be shrewdly clued into the effects that fossil fuel shortages are already having – may very well be given carte blanche to work their magic. In effect, and without some kind of a Redux, the original Leap Manifesto comes across like little more than a bunch of socialist-flavoured techno-evangelism in climate change clothing.
Perhaps the popcorn went over better?
Regardless, none of these issues I write of are anything new, and I'm 99.979% sure that at least some of those on the left have been aware of the looming collapse of industrial civilization – or at least of its warnings – for more than a decade now. For although I didn't plan it that way, the last movie I ever saw in a theatre, in mid-2006, just so happened to be the peak oil documentary A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash. And although I didn't plan it that way either, while waiting in line outside of the Bloor Street Theatre it just so happened that I spent about half an hour standing right next to none other than the working-on-his-first-feature-film movie director himself, Avi Lewis. (I suppose there's a 0.021% chance that he didn't see the movie and was actually in line to get some of that tasty movie theatre popcorn, but I kind of doubt it.)
We didn't say anything to one another, partly because I was just some stranger that Lewis had no reason to randomly start chatting with, partly because there was plenty of other people in other parts of the line that Lewis kept going to speak to, and partly because I didn't exactly want to make an ass out of myself:
Hi, I'm Allan. I dropped out of Ryerson University / film school and went WWOOFing in New Zealand for a year. [Awkward silence.] I think peak oil is cool!
I'll try and not make too much of an ass out of myself in
part 3 part 4.
Naomi Klein & the Letdown of the Leap Manifesto: Energy Depletion Dismissal is Just as Bad as Climate Change Denial (part 1/3)
Off the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen
Published on From Filmers to Farmers on September 15th, 2016
(photo by Adolfo Lujan)
Over the years I've had the pleasure of chatting with Naomi Klein on a few different occasions; there was that first Prairie Festival at the Land Institute in Kansas that we both happened to attend in 2010, that second Prairie Festival which she spoke at in 2011, and the opening night talk she gave at the Toronto Reference Library the day before her latest book (This Changes Everything) was released – not to mention all those other times I've seen her speaking in Toronto (where we both used to live for several years). And although I've only very briefly spoken once to Klein's filmmaker-husband Avi Lewis (at that second Prairie Festival), there was that time in Toronto that Lewis and I stood next to each other for about half an hour and managed to say not a single word to each other. But I'll get to that in part 2.
While Lewis is known for his work hosting various television programs on MuchMusic, CityTV, CBC, and Al Jazeera English, as well as for directing a few documentaries, it is Klein that is the more well known of the two, mostly due to her books No Logo, The Shock Doctrine, and This Changes Everything. That being said, one year ago this week – and at last year's Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) – the Lewis-directed documentary This Changes Everything had its world-premiere, an event that coincided with the release of the Leap Manifesto.
The Leap Manifesto, which received much media coverage upon its release, is a 15-point plan for tackling the climate change dilemma we're currently faced with, particularly in respect to Canada. However, with the Leap Manifesto's one-year anniversary being today, and with it now appearing that there isn't going to be some kind of Leap Manifesto Redux in association with this year's TIFF, I'd say it's time to declare that the Leap Manifesto was in fact a colossal letdown. To explain, I'll start by conveying a little chat I had with a fellow attendee at the 2014 Age of Limits (AoL) conference.
I was standing around the campfire talking about peak oil and collapse with Mark Robinowitz (of the website Peak Choice), and for a reason that eludes my memory I brought up Klein's book The Shock Doctrine – one of three books that absolutely floored me upon first reading them. Although I was singing the praises of Klein's book, Robinowitz was having none of it, pointing out that not once did Klein mention resource shortages as the underlying issue behind any of the crises mentioned, and moreover, not once was peak oil mentioned in the book's index. True. Very true. But –
– nope, no buts allowed was what I took from Robinowitz's response: "Tell you what. You ask Klein about limits to growth and see what she has to say."
Brave enough to also point out the collapse- and
energy depletion-related issues we're already facing!
I don't think either of us took that as a literal challenge, but lo and behold, six months later I was near the front of the audience at Klein's launch and talk for This Changes Everything, with the Q&A period soon upon us. I quickly got in the Q&A line as the talk finished, and was fortunate enough to be able to ask the third and final question of the night. Although I really wanted to query Klein about peak oil, it was an extremely polite looking crowd that night at the Toronto Public Library, resulting in me chickening out and asking her this instead:
How does what you write in your new book relate to limits to growth, if at all?
As a friend who I bumped into a few minutes later said to me, "That was you that asked that question? That was the only good question asked!" And then in hushed tones, "But Naomi's response was awful." Unfortunately I couldn't have agreed more. Although I don't remember Klein's entire response, this gist, and which she stated word for word before some talk about windmills and solar panels and such, was "That's why we need green growth!"
Rather than conveying my personal revulsion to the notion of "green growth," let me just relay a couple of critical quotes about this sordid affair:
This growth imperative is why conventional economists reliably approach the climate crisis by asking the question, How can we reduce emissions while maintaining robust GDP growth? The usual answer is "decoupling" – the idea that renewable energy and greater efficiencies will allow us to sever economic growth from its environmental impact. And "green growth" advocates like Thomas Friedman tell us that the process of developing new green technologies and installing green infrastructure can provide a huge economic boost, sending GDP soaring and generating the wealth needed to "make America healthier, richer, more innovative, more productive, and more secure."
We're just going, "Green jobs, green capitalism, change your light bulbs, this isn't as scary as you think."
From Klein's apt blurb on the back cover:
"The climate crisis is far too urgent to
squander another decade on false solutions"
And who was it, you might ask, that made those statements? That would actually be none other than Klein herself (see here and here). While I think it's safe to say that Klein isn't a Friedman-ite, the response Klein gave to me can certainly still give the impression that her belief is that rather than changing our light bulbs we should instead be changing what powers those light bulbs (c'mon, this isn't as scary as you think!). Moreover, upon reading in one sitting the dozen or so articles by Klein and about the Leap Manifesto that I'd saved over the past year, I was rather startled to realize that not only does Klein readily dismiss energy depletion issues, but that her writings are rife with inconsistencies. So much so that they seem to imply not just energy depletion dismissal, but possibly even energy depletion denial.
For starters, it doesn't seem to be easy to come across mention of peak oil by Klein. Although I think he was mistaken, peak oil seems to be such a non-issue with Klein that Erik Curren of Transition Voice could actually title one of his posts "Naomi Klein Now Officially a Peak Oiler." Nonetheless, one of those articles I'd saved did have Klein stating that
We will attempt to transcend peak oil and gas by using increasingly risky technologies to extract the last drops, turning ever larger swaths of our globe into sacrifice zones.
Too true. But in what is perhaps a more telling quote, Klein tells Rob Hopkins that
It seems to me that the premise you’re working from here is that change is going to be forced upon us by peak oil and my fear is that we have too much oil – too much unconventional fuel of various sources; not just oil but natural gas, coal.
Klein has a problem with the premise that "change is going to be forced upon us by peak oil"? Alright. But here's her speaking about climate change during promotion of the Leap Manifesto:
So here’s the big question: What if global warming isn’t only a crisis? What if it’s the best chance we are ever going to get to build a better world? Change or be changed.
I dare say, but how is it okay to say that we will "change or be changed" by global warming, but it's deemed questionable to act on the premise that "change is going to be forced upon us by peak oil"? Is that latter quote of Klein's not allowable if the words "global warming" are replaced with "peak oil"?
To give Klein the benefit of the doubt, let's suppose that her gripe with peak oil is that even if there's roughly half of the all-time supply of oil left (to be burned up), that that's still plenty enough to mess up the climate a whole lot more. Let me state then that I, and I'd guess most others concerned with peak oil, don't doubt that "[t]here is enough oil in the ground to deep-fry the lot of us" (as George Monbiot put it in 2012). But just because some people (like Jeff Rubin) think that peaking oil supplies will imply a respite for CO2-induced climate change, this doesn't mean that everybody thinks this way. That's a bit like saying that just because cherry-picking-Guy-McPherson envisions climate-induced near term human extinction (NTHE) within a few years that all advocates for climate change-awareness and -action have gone off the deep end and we should just stick to social justice issues.
Because the fact of the matter is that change is going to be – and is already being – forced upon us by both peak oil and climate change, and that neither of them should be dismissed at the expense of the other. That being said, with the launch of the Leap Manifesto Klein said that
My crisis isn't bigger than your crisis. They're interconnected, they're overlapping and we can come up with solutions that solve multiple problems at once.
Except, that is, when it comes to peak oil. For as Klein also stated to Hopkins,
In some ways I think it would be a blessing if we were in a more precarious energy situation, because it would force that change… I don’t feel that we have the luxury to wait for change to be imposed from the outside and just have to decide whether we’re going to manage it or not.
First off, only the naïve and lazy say that we should wait around for peak oil to change us, and to single out that point of view is to create a straw-man argument out of concern with energy supplies. And secondly, "I think it would be a blessing if we were in a more precarious energy situation"!? Seriously!? Either Klein is a masochist, or she obviously doesn't understand the role that energy shortages are already imposing around the world. I'm quite sure it's the latter, understandable when we notice Klein's apparent lack of comprehension of the motives behind recent pushes for austerity. As Klein puts it (and which is one of the Leap Manifesto's 15 pillars),
We declare that "austerity" – which has systematically attacked low-carbon sectors such as education and health care, while starving public transit and forcing reckless energy privatizations – is a fossilized form of thinking that has become a threat to life on Earth.
I think Klein has inadvertently made a rather astute observation here, because austerity is a "fossilized form of thinking." That is, it's a form of thinking that emanates from an economic system and a modern way of life made possible by copious supplies of fossilized energy sources, something that neither of those are able to give up without offing themselves in the process.
Greece's ability to import supplies of oil in order to sustain its
accustomed-to industrial way of life started to falter after 2008,
right when its economic problems began. Coincidence? I think not
As I've explained at length earlier by way of Greece's ongoing situation (see here and here), austerity is a mechanism used to try to preserve the status quo for a perpetually shrinking centre. With worldwide per capita energy supplies likely peaking soon, and the demand for energy by the billion or so people at the top increasing unabatedly, this ultimately means fewer energy supplies to go around for the other six billion or so – and in this case for the Greek who isn't part of the upper percentile. But Klein seems to have a limited-enough grasp of energy depletion issues that she can actually say with a straight face that
the austerity being imposed on Greece… is being used as an excuse to open up all these new dirty projects. They're talking about drilling for oil in the Aegean and Ionian seas, some of the most storied oceans in history.
Well of course they are! What seems to have gone right over George Monbiot's head when he wrote his article "We were wrong on peak oil. There's enough to fry us all" back in 2012 is that the peak extraction rate of conventional oil was reached back in 2006, and it's only the desperate scraping of the bottom of the barrel for unconventionals – fracking, tar sands, deep sea, etc. – that has kept overall levels from peaking. But unconventionals are believed to be quickly reaching their peak as well (possibly even this year), so for a myriad of reasons it's no wonder that there's talk of tapping Greece's seas for a last desperate hit.
In effect, dealing with energy depletion essentially comes down to three options:
1) You start reducing the amount of energy usage by everybody across the board – rich and poor, centre and peripheries. This way there's an equitable reduction in energy usage by all involved (if not a greater reduction by those at the top since they're already using so much more). This is so far not happening in the slightest.
2) You triage the poor/peripheries by way of cutting back on health care, retirement benefits, welfare, schooling, etc. Since money is but a proxy for energy, by freeing up the money for all those services and activities you free up the energy that they would have utilized, which is then salvageable by those closer to the centre. This is the very least that creditors (like Germany) demand in order for further loans to be made, loans that are essentially used to pay off the interest on the previous loans as well as import some energy supplies to that stuff can be made to be sold to the creditors. Creditors (such as Germany) have no interest in causing a Greek default and having to deal with the resultant loss on their books, but they also don't want to give debtors so many new loans that they end up angering their own voters (who essentially want that money/proxy for themselves so that they can purchase the products that peaking energy supplies still make possible). As a result, new loans are made with the effective stipulation that the borrowing nation's poor get cut off – aka triaged, aka austerity-ized. If a nation involved in this Ponzi scheme is in need of further loans in order to make interest payments on its previous loans, but isn't willing to play along and triage their poor for the sake of briefly propping up their (diminishing) centre, then creditors threaten to triage/austerity-ize the entire country. This is what nearly happened to Greece, resulting in its president Alexis Tsipras implementing austerity measures rather than going down in history as the guy that forced the Troika's hand to pre-emptively triage a grossly unprepared Greece for a return to a pre-industrial way of life. (Greece's expulsion from the Euro would have meant reversion to a highly devalued drachma and thus paltry purchasing power for imports of oil to keep the lights on and all the rest of it.)
3) You adhere to the belief and promises of 100% renewable energy and blame politicians for not implementing the right policies.
From what I can tell, Klein favours option #3, with some (somewhat token) words given to option #1. Sure, Klein can state that
a just climate response would see the US and other rich countries having less so that others could have more.
But she also states that
The fact that we’re investing so heavily in military and border control at the same time we're cutting infrastructure – it's a choice about how we are going to deal with climate change. It says, "we're going to try and fortress ourselves and protect what we've got".
But economically/energetically speaking this isn't something we're going to do, it's something we are doing, right now, in response to energy shortages. And if the fewer and fewer of the West – or the Global North or whatever you want to call it – want to continue living high off the hog of industrial civilization's plunders for as long as they can – as the overwhelming evidence seems to be showing – then austerity – "fortress ourselves and protect what we've got" – is the name of the game.
Yes, Klein can say many great things (I'm being 100% serious), but it nonetheless seems that she's often-enough unable to take heed of her own words. Sure, she'll say that
there is something going on where a world view is saying that there will always be more, that there are no limits, there's a new frontier around the corner, technology will come and save us.
Yet the core of the Leap Manifesto is based on that very way of thinking. For as Klein also put it when promoting the Leap Manifesto,
Technological breakthroughs have brought this dream [of 100% renewable energy] within reach.
Perhaps Canada should also be concerned about peak oil
"Technological breakthroughs"? As in those ones that are part of the "world view" of which we shouldn't expect "technology [to] come and save us"? Those "technological breakthroughs"? Why yes. For as Klein stated in an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, again for the Leap Manifesto's release,
we can transition away from fossil fuels very rapidly in line with what… engineers are telling us we now can do because of these breakthroughs in technology.
And what do we want from these "breakthroughs in technology"?
[W]e want energy sources that will last for time immemorial and never run out or poison the land.
Never mind that we've already got one of those (it's called the sun), but what exactly are the energy sources that these "breakthroughs in technology" can now give us?
The latest research shows it is feasible to get 100 per cent of our electricity from renewable resources within two decades. We demand that this shift begin now.
And not only that, but working off of "the latest research" the Leap Manifesto also demands the (supposedly feasible) complete shift from all fossil fuels to renewables by 2050.
"The latest research," however, is of course a colloquialism often used by adherents to the religion of progress in place of "techno mumbo-jumbo." For in a similar manner, and as Michael Pollan put it in his excellent book In Defence of Food,
Several studies have found that when industry funds nutrition research, the conclusions are more likely to produce findings favorable to that industry's products.
That doesn't automatically dismiss the studies that Klein and the Leap Manifesto refer to, but when one places too strong of an importance on politics, and not on physics, it's bound to muddy one's perceptions. I'll get to that, and more, in part 2.
The Ongoing Collapse of Turkey’s Secular Democracy and… the West’s Abetment of an Islamic State in Turkey? (part 3/3)
Off the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen
Published on From Filmers to Farmers on August 29th, 2016
The enemy of my enemy is my friend? (montage by DonkeyHotey)
Things continue to be heating up in Turkey as you may have heard (Turkey has now entered the Syrian war for the first time), and much of it, I think, is explainable by way of the recent one-day meeting that Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had with Russia's president Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg on August 9th, the first foreign visit Erdoğan had made since the failed Turkish coup on July 15th. The stated purpose of the talks was to return to pre-crisis relations, that being before Turkey had one of Russia's fighter jets shot down in November of 2015. This rapprochement included all the niceties of Russia allowing charter flights and tourists to resume their trips to Turkey, Russia allowing Turkish construction companies access to Russia, and Turkey lifting its firewall against Russia's online news portal Sputnik. But those were by no means cover for the meat of the meeting, of which Putin and Erdoğan made no efforts of hiding from. According to Putin, "The most important point here will be our joint energy projects." And according to Erdoğan, "I must say at the beginning that Turkey will grant a strategic investment status to the Akkuyu nuclear power plant."
Said nuclear power plant in Akkuyu was planned as the first of four 1,200 MW reactors under a $20 billion agreement made between the parties in May of 2010, but whose construction was shelved by Russia after last year's jet crisis. However, it should go without saying that Turkey needs its "juice" if it wants to extend its ultimately futile grasp on industrial civilization just a little bit longer, and if doing so means it has to reluctantly capitulate (apologize) to mother Russia (for downing its fighter jet), it capitulates.
But while nuclear power plants can do a good job of firing up Turkish boob tubes, the even bigger source of "juice" here is the Turkish Stream pipeline which was originally announced in December of 2014 and meant to deliver natural gas to Turkey and the rest of Europe, but which was also shelved by Russia after the recent jet crisis. Russian natural gas is certainly no small matter for Turkey, seeing how after Germany Turkey is the second largest consumer of Russian natural gas, and whose imports account for 55% of its supplies. But with the recent capitulation-cum-rapprochement, Erdoğan can now give a sigh of relief and proudly claim that "The Turkish Stream project with Russia will be realized swiftly following a thorough review."
Meetings between Erdoğan and Putin weren't the only talks going on though, as a Turkish delegation was also in Russia to chat about coordinating actions on Syria. As Turkey's foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu put it, "Let's fight against the terrorist group [ISIS] together, so that we can clear it out as soon as possible." Or as the yahoos at Yahoo conveyed, "Turkey on Thursday [August 11th] called on Russia to carry out joint operations against Islamic State (IS)." That, however, is rather cute.
But if you want daft, then look no further than Foreign Policy. While Turkey has now directly entered the Syrian war for the first time, Foreign Policy has stated that United States aircraft that backed Turkey's offensive provided "a crucial indication that the Turkish intervention has received Washington's acceptance."
Acceptance? Sure, just like somebody would actually care about the opinions of their sociopathic ex in regards to the new life they're building – without them. To explain this a bit, let me do so by relaying my final thoughts on the recently attempted Turkish coup. For starters, and to reiterate something I stated in part 1,
[S]ince I tend to think that getting to the heart of many of these matters generally involves following the energy rather than following the money, this, I think, is where the underlying motives and reasons for the recent attempted coup – real or not – can be found.
Nonetheless, and even with that point of view, I still couldn't initially see enough corroborating evidence that would give me more than a hunch about the coup's possible legitimacy, or of its supposed staging. Fortunately though, a post-coup article by Turkish writer Efe Aydal again shed some light that none of the 100+ articles I'd previously read from the mainstream media came close to even touching on, or that any of the non-mainstream conspiracy-minded ones explained without being out to lunch. As Aydal sees it,
If a Turkish government becomes too strong and turns against USA, they get overthrown. The only difference is, this time they [the US] failed. I believe it was because Erdoğan saw what we saw [that his new much-too-uppity way of doing things and his infighting with Gülen implied the expiry of his shelf-life in the eyes of the United States]. He gave the names of Gülen followers to the military, so that they can be purged [before he was]. Gülen followers in the military panicked and tried to stage a pre-mature coup, and screwed up.
Yes, it's been said many times that the coup was so sloppy that it just couldn't have been real, but there's just too many off-the-cuff theories that could counter such assertions: What if one or several coup plotters got cold feet and backed out at the last minute, spoiling the operation? What if some of the coup plotters were double agents who then tipped off Erdoğan? What if some other double agent(s) sabotaged the coup by feeding false information to coup leaders in Istanbul and Ankara, telling them that Erdoğan had been successfully captured, which then lead to their much-too-early emergence, errant claim of victory, and thus their exposure and eventual arrest? Either way, who really knows?
"See to it that my new BFF-FAW is made aware"
(photo by Vasily Smirnov)
As if all that weren't enough, Nafeez Ahmed and a few others have relayed the rumour that Russian intelligence, which is said to have a significant presence in Turkey, tipped off Erdoğan of the imminent coup and so allowed for his ultimate escape. (For the record, Erdoğan says his brother-in-law tipped him off – what are brothers for after all?)
But regardless of who did or didn't tip off Erdoğan (supposing that the attempted coup was real), there's essentially four main theories to explain the attempt to overthrow Turkey's government:
- it was a botched CIA-led coup
- it was a botched Gülen-led coup
- it was a botched joint CIA-Gülen coup
- it was an autocoup, purposefully failed – and thus staged – by Erdoğan
Taking into account all that I've already written in parts 1 and 2, if one were to go by the logic of cui bono – who had the most to gain out of a real or fake coup – the most obvious culprit would of course be the United States. Although it can be a bit too fashionable to point the finger at the United States for all the world's ills, there's no denying the fact that the United States' utmost and dire existential concern is to maintain its control of the oil flows, and by extension its most important export of all – US dollars (the world's reserve currency). So my guess, and that's really the best any of us but a few can offer, is that the attempted coup was in fact real, and that it was orchestrated by the United States – be it with or without the assistance of Fethullah Gülen himself and/or other Gülenists (FETO), of which seems to be a strong likelihood. The United States' purpose was to replace Erdoğan with a spineless stooge who would nix the Turkish Stream pipeline in favour of the Southern Gas corridor pipeline in order that, via the petrodollar system, the United States could maintain its position as arbiter of the stuff that makes industrial civilization go, maintain demand for US funny money, and lastly, preserve its hegemonic position as the lone king of the dung hill.
To maintain all this ultimately required a compliant stooge-in-command, regardless of whether or not he was aiding and abetting the rise of a terrorist group that has been brutally killing hundreds of people and wreaking havoc across the world, and regardless of whether or not he was trying to transform Turkey back into an Islamic state.
Yes, following a recent statement made by Turkey's parliament speaker that overwhelmingly-Muslim-Turkey should have a religious constitution, Erdoğan did opine that "the state should have an equal distance from all religious faiths." But if his "mob rules" approach (mentioned in part 1) of responding to the people's desire for reinstatement of the death penalty is any indication of his application of "democracy," it's not hard to imagine some point in the future where Erdoğan might come around to a possible people's "democratic" desire for an Islamic state.
As if all of that weren't convincing enough, Nafeez Ahmed conveyed some words purportedly given in early 2016 by King Abdullah of Jordan to a group of senior congressional representatives in Washington DC: "The fact that terrorists are going to Europe is part of Turkish policy and Turkey keeps on getting a slap on the hand, but they are let off the hook." And as the King is also said to have stated, this is all part of Erdoğan's ultimate plan to bring forth a "radical Islamic solution to the region."
In other words, if the United States didn't mind abetting the transformation of Turkey into an Islamic state, it wouldn't really matter which of the two – Erdoğan or Gülen – was in control (Güdoğan?), and pretty much came down to which one of them was the most willing to do the United States' bidding. And as the quote by Erdoğan relayed in part 2 makes obvious, that is most certainly not Erdoğan.
But backing up for a moment, if the creation of an Islamic state was the ultimate motive of both Erdoğan and Gülen, for the United States to support either of them would of course seem incomprehensible since common sense has it that the United States wouldn't be interested in supporting anybody that wanted to introduce a religiously-oriented government, be it in Turkey or elsewhere. Aydal has some opinions on that one as well:
"USA is against radical Islam"? That’s bullshit. USA and its ally countries love radical Islam. Because radical Islam means you can control the whole country by controlling a few clerics.
That is, by way of controlling a few clerics (and/or religiously-oriented politicians), and thus the people, and thus the nation, the United States is better able to maintain its geopolitical position in the area, is better able to control energy supplies, and is better able to maintain its world reserve currency status and demand for US dollars. And rather than the other side, it gets to nominate its accredited cheerleader – who wields a pen(-pen) instead of a pom-pom – to write the book The End of History.
But to the dismay of American keepers-of-the-dung, history can have an ugly way of rearing its head. For make no mistake about it, Turkey had little to zero concern with whether or not the United States "accepted" its incursion into the Syrian war against ISIS. On the other hand, and while not forgetting who it was that Erdoğan and a cadre of Turkish diplomats met with three weeks ago, retired senior Turkish diplomat Ünal Çeviköz is said to have stated that, "Turkey would not have launched 'Operation Euphrates Shield' on Wednesday without a green light from Russia."
Señor Anglo #2: "$1 bills for everybody!"
(Turkish Presidential Press Office photo handout)
That being said, the United States' vice-president Joe Biden did in fact finally get a chance to take a break from his hectic schedule of practicing his golf swing to actually pay a visit to Turkey a few days ago. His visit to "convince Turkey that the United States had no role in, and did not condone, [the] July 15 coup attempt" didn't go over so well, what with Turkey sending low-ranking officials – like Ankara's deputy mayor – to greet him at the airport, and seeing how "[a]s the vice president spoke, the Turkish leader sat back in his chair, stone-faced." Likewise, whatever bribes Biden put on the table undoubtedly fell on deaf ears, particularly if what he was trying to offer was suitcases full of $1 American bills.
And while Biden was arriving in Turkey, Turkey's military was begining its siege in Syria, whose story probably goes a little something like this: Working off of Nafeez Ahmed's assertions mentioned in part 1, head-honchos in the United States and NATO probably aren't all that interested in putting an end to ISIS, and are rather fine with the headache it poses for Russia's ally Bashar al-Assad. At the same time, ISIS-backed and/or inspired shenanigans in Western countries provide a welcome excuse for authoritarians in those countries to curtail freedoms and foment fearful, malleable, and obedient populaces.
In the meantime, Russia does has a slightly more genuine dislike for ISIS, but only so long as it's not bothering its allies and kicking around a mess in its sandbox. In all likelihood then the quote by Çavuşoğlu mentioned at the beginning of this post was just for show, and it's quite likely that Erdoğan is simply being put through his inition rites by mother Russia.
And the recent spate of attacks in Turkey by ISIS? Nothing new about those actually, besides an increase in frequency. Most likely, ISIS leaders realized that with those to its north now shifting their alignment from the United States to Russia, it was about to get its goose cooked by Turkey. As put by the Independent, Turkish "[o]perations hope to cut off ISIS supply lines and smuggling channels for its lucrative trade in oil," a marked difference from Turkey's previous role of assisting ISIS smuggle its oil through the port in Ceyhan. So rather than wait around until it got flattened by Erdoğan and company, ISIS leaders in vulnerable areas decided to send out a few expendables in hopes that they could go out with a bit of a bang.
And those United States aircraft that backed Turkey's offensive? Well, put in the awkward position of being exposed for sitting on its laurels regarding ISIS, the United States probably had little choice but to try and save face by tagging along – and in effect do Russia's work for it.
But anyway, having said all that, and having learned that there's more to Turkey than awesome falafels, I don't think it really matters whether the coup was fake or not, who's for or against ISIS, or whether capitalism or communism is the superior system for burning through the fossil fuels as fast as possible. What matters is that Atatürk's Turkey is deteriorating further and further, that millions of secular Turks could very well see their country descend into a neo-Ottoman Islamic state, and that the atrocities that have been recently taking place in France and Germany may just be dress-rehearsals for the carnage and blowback that can be expected in the future, be it in Europe, the United States, or elsewhere. Aided and abetted by the West, all so that its elites can look a little more exalted than the "adversary," and so that its plebs can slum it for just a little bit longer than the other side's plebs in the last days of the black-excrement-powered world we call industrial civilization.
With all that in mind, it should of course still be asked: What option(s) do us "lowly" ones – Turks and the rest of us – ultimately have? Not that it would miraculously solve all our problems, but getting off of fossil fuels and adapting ourselves to the ecologies of our places as much as we can is probably the best that we can do. For although the reforms that Atatürk put in place are certainly worthy of being championed, the modern (generally capitalist) states we were brought up with – and which secular Turks have generally been working toward like most of the rest of us – aren't going to be able to function in the same accustomed-to-way without the copious supplies of fossil fuels that have somewhat seen their day due to the onset of peak oil (Turkish translation here) and declining EROEI levels (Turkish translation coming soon – see the Turkish translation page for updates).
But not only is that easier said than done, but it's easier to say for those of us not in Turkey. Because if the collapse of industrial civilization weren't enough to digest and deal with, throw on top of that a possible Islamic state breathing down your neck and the collapse-related problems that the rest of us in the West have seem like a walk in the park.
Which then begs refinement of the previous question: For those of us non-Turks (who already have more on our plates that we even realize), what help is there that we can offer? To be honest, I haven't a clue; clamour for our politicians to open our doors to those few lucky/unlucky Turks that might start applying for asylum and hope we don't inadvertently let in a few jihadi-wannabes while we're at it?
NOTE: Upon completion of the last part of this Turkish trilogy a few changes were made to parts 1 and 2 to better clarify things and improve the overall structure. Those changes are explained at the bottom of those two posts. But as for part 3, the lead image for part 3 was switched back to its originally intended position of lead image for part 1 (where Señor Anglo #1 can be found), and the image that lead part 1 for two weeks was switched back to its originally intended spot as lead of part 3.