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The Joke

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Published on Convivial Economy on January 19, 2017

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It is a great joke, that the deepest commons have been passed on in daylight, unnoticed by thought police, secret police and dragoons.

No disguise, samizdat, remembered whisperings; no underground… These commons are bequeathed in a code that anyone can read – elegance of architectural design, fine lines of a boat, laughter and tears extracted by good verse and prose…

Ancestors speak and are heard, in spite of ephemeral yet despotic newspeak of a particular time. The soul of culture – liquid notes of blackbird, the blue bell wood in sight and scent, stitchwort and campion guide a lane to unspoken tenderness of generations, settled in one ecological space… – generational echoes – once heard, become rites of passage to adulthood and personal mortality. Become the echo, and we may claim a birth right – to be human, despite the coercion of power. A spade, chisel, needle, shuttle… well-sent, are enough.

Subjects of tyranny have called to the echo; to natal soil; to the vivacity of it; unseen by defilers and so undefiled. Yet it is not esoteric – the code is egalitarian – and simple – a pub chorus – hop gardens and barley fields apparent in a pint glass – touched shoulders imply Mesolithic ancestors brushed past too – a nod and a wink from Orwell’s Moon Over Water, or Falstaff, babbling of green fields, or from the curled sliver of oak from the careful and quieter stroke of the plane… expressed in the wood. And as Orwell also noted – subjugate a people and you must first remove their history. (That was the cue for Mr Rupert Murdoch and his tamed politicians)

All this is ordinary – the mysteries of nature are perennial to all times and so the mystery is an ordinary mystery. The mystery of skill is ordinary and perennial too. What is marvellous is ordinary.

Belonging – longing – of course we are dispossessed, commons are enclosed, means to livelihood removed; that stroke of the plane denied; responsible contributions denied…. Nevertheless, inherited human senses remain. The social impulse remains. Our companion – the mouse in the prison cell, is beauty – a shaft of moonlight through the bars. I don’t much like that last, but let it stay for an ancestor, while detention centres close steel doors and torture my ridiculous and fallible imagination for a while…

Everyone is sometimes the butt of the joke.

And the deepest part of every established religion is also inherited – it is where ancestral voices – the holy blissful matyr for to seeke – that had them holpen when they were weake – evoke the common. Older shrines and springs gain Christian names and chapels are built where people would have gathered, in any case.

If we reverently list the names – Dowland, Monteverdi, Bach, Haydon, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert… or similarly of painters, poets, or philosophers, then we should understand the impulses that built those earlier passage tombs, where ancestral bones were displayed. Ancestral commons over-rule the temporal imposition of personally-convenient rule. Will any music exceed the extra-ordinary expression of both beauty and truth in Monteverdi madrigals, or those late, Beethoven quartets? Of course, not. Some music may match them and join the chamber tomb of ancestral pleasures. Why should tombs be solemn memorials, and not archives of pleasure? Chamber tomb music – submerge to emerge to what’s perennial, resilient, common, sad, funny and deep.

And devotion to – and gratitude for – place and for an ancestral cultivation of it – a fitting and elegant arrangement of fields or houses, is not nationalism. If we think of commons, then nationalism evaporates. Nation states have come with violence of enclosure. Such violence is always ephemeral, insensitive and – stupid. Property and borders are ephemeral and stupid.

These times house an epic drama. Ancestral commons are ineffective in today’s political conversation, though they remain effective to guide our own good behaviour. We’ll not bring good sense to Theresa May by performance of Beethoven’s op. 135. Even the old balance of church and state was long ago sacked at the Reformation. Theresa’s high heels; Boris Johnson’s tossed locks fit neither a chamber tomb, or church. They click and strut polished corridors of tax-haven UK towards… – a balance of political influences – who is in? Who’s out? How will Mr Rupert Murdoch respond?

Earth’s atmosphere is unbalancing, natural resources vanish, a casino of usury and rent expands at precisely the rate that real economic assets are stripped and real people suffer – but that is only partially at the hands of administrative and corporate power.

Those things are by what we ordinary people do, one by one. We commute from an impossible suburbia, in an impossible family car, for a wage to pay rent, or mortgage in a property casino, which so exhausts our self-respect that we must holiday by impossibly profligate jet aeroplane (using idly-accumulated property value)– all – and it is in plain view – to remove a civilised future from our children. That is what we do.

We consume too much for the future to withstand. We know we do it. We say that we are coerced to do it and are trapped. So, we lobby the coercers, we donate a subscription to Friends of The Earth, or Greenpeace and sign petitions to governments and corporations. Yet, we exist. We cause climate change, while governments and corporations do not – they are abstractions. They have not the physics to cause climate change. They are voices in our heads, coercing us to behave badly.

For most of human culturing, people have behaved more or less properly by the guidance of ancestors – by proper use of the gift of inheritance. I propose that until about 1500BC (late Bronze Age), ancestors would have a larger influence than kings. Since then, and until the Reformation, they’ve probably had an equal voice. Today, where influence rides, they are unheard. It is time that we listened again. It is probable that the first impulse towards property enclosure was to silence ancestral voices – that is, the power of social commons.

As I began, the joke is that the voices remain in past trials and errors that produced the near perfect shape of a tool; the lovely balanced arch of a simple river bridge and there, in a shock of surprise, we may come upon evidence of a living ancestral representative in skilfully-pruned rows of orchard trees.

There’s currently a publishing production-line of affected footpaths into dialects of nature. They win literary prizes. Happen, there’s now’t awry fossicking in the liminal – but people drop such code words, twitch an eyebrow, pause, as if to say – I have the code, though I’ve not the tweed, or stout brogues. I’ve mooched in the Edge Lands – the good lands before climate change. Enough! Culture is what we do. That is the joke. Those books scoot the surface meniscus among other enclosures and prizes. There is no eclectic society of the commons. Ordinary is best – it is also, the deepest.

Of course, when we square up to our tormentors it can only be on the shallowest ground. The words, or bombs which pass, though often devastating, do not have meaning, because the powers live in an ephemeral world of personal advancement, where points scored, points lost, bombs restrained, or bombs dropped have become the meaning. Actually, only powerful ancestral commons can properly restrain a tormentor. Violence to answer violence has been temporarily effective, but is always improper – and is generally followed by further violence.

The tormentors are the voices in our heads. If we listen, then we’ve ourselves to blame. The ancestors endure – they are in our souls – the voice of our hearts. Even so, the tormentors of these islands have also endured – Bronze Age Brutus (of legend), Iron Age Caesar, early medieval William, reformation Henry VIII… then, Tony Blair, Theresa May… Here’s the thing, ancestry apparent in a terraced hillside, or a folk melody, lie in too deep a strata to encounter those on the surface. Of course, Teresa could sink though the accumulated layers of herself to find that common humanity. It is probable that she does – outside politics, but unlikely within.

Without, or forgetting those deeper strata, we are incomplete – and so liberated to misbehave. We can consume without guilt, while suggesting that a cast vote in the ballot is a good enough substitute for personally-proper behaviour.

That deeper moral is neither masculine nor feminine, yet it can be fierce. If we attend to it, we attend to our pre-enclosure inheritance – the inheritance to act – to shoulder, in our passage of time the duty to maintain the good life. We have what we need – that is ourselves. It is very ordinary – we need experience and judgement. No-one else can supply those things – not the latest research paper – nor dignified press releases by authorities in their fields… With regards to crashing casinos and climate change we know what we have to do without advice – we must live within our ecological means. Only I can know precisely how I live.

The continuation of culture is expressed in us as we come to adulthood. First – Is how I live replicable in the lives of my children? Second – Is how I live, similarly possible for my neighbours?

The first considers how an economy settles its ecology. The second, social justice. The difficulty is that as soon as we consider those very simple questions – the answers to which are no and almost certainly no – we enter the complexity of our life lived with others. At the depth of our being, we become less an individual of the species and more the species itself.

Some decisions are easy – Should I cancel the holiday flight? – Yes.

Should I stop shopping in super markets and instead, look for proper shops and trades’ people? -Yes.

Should I farm/garden organically? – Yes.

Should I buy electricity generated by wind, hydro and solar power? -Yes.

There are no (or very few) obstacles to deciding yes in those four cases. Remember, that failure to various degrees is pre-written in all adventures. All those yeses also lead to happiness.

If we have surplus money, then happy decisions should become easy – shares in, or donations to an energy scheme, sail-trade venture, land for allotments, or corner shop, pub, library, post office…

Should I instead, hoard my wealth in the rising value of property and rent? – No. That decision is easy.

Should I buy organically-grown food? – Yes, but I may find none nearby and my current wage may be insufficient.

Should I ditch the family car? Yes. But I may have no public transport to my distant work-place and can find no work nearer to home.

Should I cancel my business flight? – Yes, but that means, I may be sacked.

Such yeses remain true. They are also imperative. We should choose to be sacked. We’ve not the resources to power suburbia, the family car, aviation, profligate agriculture and so on. Those things not only contribute to climate change, they will also lead the current monetary casino to an impossible fantasy land and so collapse and with that collapse – economic and social collapse. We could argue that hastening collapse will reduce its eventual magnitude, but I think we should be urgently building a community network which is disconnected from that casino – one formed enough (by our contribution) to emerge alive from beneath the rubble. Collapse will come. We must also divest our lives from the causes of climate change.

Much can only be achieved in cooperation with others and so personally simple decisions mingle with the highly complex. But social systems are always complex, and so in finding complexity, we are at the entrance to a road to finding our way.

The ancestral joke is that we have inherited an understanding of right and wrong. That is intrinsic. By that inheritance, we form social systems. It is the bond.

How do we form a whole social system – its economy settling nicely inside its ecology? We don’t. Everyone does. Where economy meets ecology, is precisely where a tool meets its materials – that is by the fingertips and grasp of one pair of hands – that is – one’s own intelligent hands. My work is the most critical work, because it is mine. Everyone else must think the same. I listen, learn from others and so on, but the application is mine. All the other goings on of culture are in trust – about which we can put in a pennyworth – in gossip, admiration, even disapproval. But the complexity is beyond us – or should be, if we trust. The trust is inherited, accepted and then, in turn, bequeathed. Culture flows through the metabolic and nervous systems of ourselves. There is no one else. At adulthood, we take the trust. Our species has evolved, less by advantageous individuals, and more by advantageous groups. We are hard-wired to altruism.

Flocks packs and herds have leaders and so we’d be foolish to think that we can avoid human leaders. The thing about human leaders is that they are not supposed to hold tools, or to undermine the success of those who do. It is a perversity of our time that they do hold tools and undermine the success of tools. (oil monopoly, land monopoly, information monopoly) They are supposed to oversee the order of a social system, in which all the rest maintain the culture.

I caught a small voice through a chink in time.

Take back your tools – as quietly as is possible, remove them from the incompetence of parliaments and boardrooms. You are adult. If you live well enough to claim it, then the rows of skulls in my chamber tomb have space for your own. But it is your children, faced with a future that you have made, who may, or may not, place you there.

We Need Peace

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on March 8, 2017

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I am deeply saddened by mans ability and desire to harm his fellow man in more heart wrenching and cruel ways. I personally have seen nothing but the best of times relative to much of  humanity, having lived in a free, safe, peaceful and prosperous society, and yet I fear the worst of times lay ahead for all mankind. We have indeed seen some of the best of humanity and a lot of the the worst of humanity on display this week.

It is already hard enough as a parent to come to the rational conclusion that your children will inherit a much worse future than I inherited from my parent, let alone think of the possibility of seeing one of then reduced to a shattered bloody pulp by the meat grinder of war we all too often embrace.

I am not a religious person; I am an atheist who sees no evidence of a gods; yet I daily wish for intervention from any source either natural or supernatural to this most horrendous self inflicted malady of man, and indeed all life on earth. Were I a believer  I would pray for peace. I am not, so I sit here late at night at my computer and it hope for sanity instead.

On the eve of another deadly day I ask all of the people who read this to tell me what I can do to help untie the knots of war we seem to be tying. Every day I see the politicians pulling on the rope making the knots tighter, urged on by the ignorant, injured or profiteers of such wars.

It is not right.
It is not just.
It is not fair.
It is unethical and immoral to condone, encourage or ignore.

War is planned by the old, directed by the middle aged and paid for by the young with their lives.
Anyone who has seen first hand the demonic vision that is modern warfare would do all in their power to to extinguish the mere spark of a conflict before it could ignite the tinder and kindle the flames of war.

Mankind needs to find a way to peace. I am an ex-soldier who is lucky enough to not ever have to put my military training in to practice. Please believe me, we do no want war.

We need peace.

Edwin said it better than I ever could.

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again, y'all
War, huh, good God
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me
Ohhh, war, I despise
Because it means destruction
Of innocent lives
War means tears
To thousands of mothers eyes
When their sons go to fight
And lose their lives
I said, war, huh
Good God, y'all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again
War, whoa, Lord
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me
War, it ain't nothing
But a heartbreaker
War, friend only to the undertaker
Ooooh, war
It's an enemy to all mankind
The point of war blows my mind
War has caused unrest
Within the younger generation
Induction then destruction
Who wants to die
Aaaaah, war-huh
Good God y'all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it, say it, say it
War, huh
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again y'all
War, huh, good God
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me
War, it ain't nothing but a heartbreaker
War, it's got one friend
That's the undertaker
Ooooh, war, has shattered
Many a young mans dreams
Made him disabled, bitter and mean
Life is much to short and precious
To spend fighting wars these days
War can't give life
It can only take it away
Ooooh, war, huh
Good God y'all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again
War, whoa, Lord
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me
War, it ain't nothing but a heartbreaker
War, friend only to the undertaker
Peace, love and understanding
Tell me, is there no place for them today
They say we must fight to keep our freedom
But Lord knows there's got to be a better way
Ooooooh, war, huh
Good God y'all
What is it good for
You tell me
Say it, say it, say it, say it
War, huh
Good God y'all
What is it good for
Stand up and shout it

The Dysfunction of Civilization

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Published on R/COLLAPSE on March 21, 2017

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The collapse of civilization quite frankly isn't half as interesting to me as the dysfunction of civilization is. The main elephant in the room is that this drastic increase in our standard of living might have led to material wealth, but it has merely lead to an epidemic of miserable dysfunctional people, kept alive by a government that's expected to use technology to fill the gaps created by a society that has started to fall apart. I think rather than staring ourselves blind at oil decline rates and sea ice statistics, we have to consider the possibility that civilization may fall apart simply because it manages to make people so miserable that they refuse to participate.

You can look at the suicide and drug overdose rates to see that our society is not functioning well. The terrorism and mass shooting epidemics we face are simply subsets of the suicide epidemic, expressed in a different cultural framework. In some subcultures you post on 4chan before you go out and kill yourself, in some you write a manifesto, in others you imagine yourself to act out on a religious obligation.

It used to be the case that when you got sick, you got better again, or you died. Today people get sick and spend the rest of their life in a state of impairment. They might have missing organs, they might be stuck in a wheelchair or they might be in chronic pain. A cynic might say that the solution we found to the technological unemployment crisis was to make people so sick that they can't work, thereby creating jobs for the rest of us who need to take care of them.

In the old days, you found a boyfriend or a girlfriend, someone got pregnant, a shotgun wedding resulted and you spent the next sixty or seventy years together. That's how my grandparents were married, the marriage might not have been perfect, but I can't say that I'm under the impression they were worse off as a result. If the relationship really wasn't satisfying, you'd keep it up for the outside world and you'd secretly agree to have an extramarital affair.

If you had some very unfortunate health condition you might spend the rest of your life alone, but most people managed to get their shit together. Even my grandfather who lost his leg as a kid in an accident simply managed to get married, had a bunch of shitty jobs that required zero education and could afford a nice house with a garden where he raised three children and lived out the last sixty-five years or so of his life. Try doing that now.

Look at today's society and you'll see young people have sex with the same person for a few months, anxiously making sure that no pregnancy results with state of the art contraceptive methods, move on to the next partner because the previous one didn't work out, then eventually find themselves unable to genuinely fall in love again and spend their days alone. Others are for whatever reason unable to enter a relationship. Many grow up staring at smartphones and other screens and as a result never learn to interact with others.

If you read Michel Houellebecq's book "Whatever", you'll notice his thesis that our society is saturated with sex because we're secretly tired of it. I'm friends with good looking girls in their twenties who spend their weekends poledancing. You'd imagine these would be loose girls perhaps, but nope, I had one of them admit recently that she's never even had a relationship and fills that gaping hole in her heart with this girl-power clique of superficial hypersexuality. I'd love to say this is a joke, but it's not. Go to Japan and you'll find record numbers of people in their thirties who have simply resigned themselves to lifelong celibacy. These are people who would have been married with children fifty years ago.

We think of pole-dancers and girls in thongs, covered in tattoos and piercings as hypersexual beings, but they're the opposite. People puff up their emptiness. Even if they still have sex, they separated sex from the consequences and unequal power dynamics imposed upon us by nature and as a result it can no longer be called sex, it becomes something entirely different. It has as much to do with sex as a plastic Christmas tree has to do with photosynthesis. The new image of hypersexuality is not Miley Cyrus, it's Michelle Duggar. Women like her live lives drenched in a kind of sexuality that permeates throughout their lives rather than being confined to the bedroom, whereas the women I date are forced to dress like men due to hygiene requirements in their workplace.

Birth rates are falling because young people today are completely unable to enter functional relationships with each other and develop a sense of financial stability. In the world of upper-middle class young white people, you spend until your late twenties "studying", with a year or two in between where you travel around the world or visit Africa to help out the orphans there because you need something on your resume. Then eventually, you just dedicate yourself to your career. Children? You get a Chihuahua to fill that vacuum and you tell yourself some convenient story you read on some hip online magazine about how children are bad for the environment.

The future was supposed to be exciting, but I can't reach any other conclusion than that most people I see are thoroughly bored with the world they live in. They tell themselves that they're "busy", whereas in reality they spend five or six hours a day watching TV/Netflix/some other screen because they're emotionally exhausted from profoundly boring jobs. Your grandparents had to keep themselves entertained through social activities. They might visit the local pub, they would go fishing, they would play card games with each other, they didn't have a TV to keep themselves entertained with. In the 90's young people still went to clubs, but most discotheques in my country are now struggling to survive.

You remember your grandparents with the aura of respectability they had when they were old, but they lived wild lives when they were young too. Wilder than yours, I'm willing to guess. That's another thing worth noting. In every aspect, Millennials like me seem extremely well-behaved compared to generation X and the Babyboomers. Teenage pregnancies are at record lows, alcohol use by teens has gone down, crimes committed by young teenagers have gone down tremendously too.

How did that happen? Well, in reality, we just had the life spirit drained from us. That primal will to live and thrive that leads us to violate social conventions is gone. The friends I talk to are depressed and will claim that they don't want relationships with others, that they're happier single than they ever were in a relationship. The girls I talk to are frightened by the prospect of going out to a club to dance, because they envision the girls there will be better looking than them. They'd rather sit at home and stare at cat-pictures on the Internet than act like young people.

Generation Y is doing pretty terrible, but generation Z seems to have hit rock bottom. You can read the news about eating disorders, self-mutilation and all these other problems, but I'd like for people in their sixties or seventies today to simply tell me if this is how young people were back when you were young. These problems are not a normal part of youth, they're new. The studies we have show that mental disorders like anxiety and depression are far more common than they were in the thirties to fifties, when we still had a functional civilization. Look at teenagers today and you'll see how they seem to think it's hilarious to send me_irl memes back and forth about how they think of themselves as pathetic losers who would rather be dead. Again, that's not normal.

Today's young people spend until their mid-twenties jumping through hoops, with the message in the back of their head that if they miss any of them, they're fucked. Bad grade in high school? You're fucked. Dropped out of high school? You're fucked. No extracurricular activities to put on your CV? You're fucked. It continues all the way as they try to get into the most prestigious unpaid internship. Meritocracy has turned your life into a never-ending rat race. Regular normal children today suffer more anxiety than psychiatric patients did in the 1950's. If you think it's bad now, wait until the next step follows, where we start genetically testing children to figure out where their skills lie, like they do in China.

In the old days, you could accept that you're born as white trash and that you'll live an average existence similar to that of your parents. If you were born wealthy, nepotism would ensure you wouldn't be publicly humiliated if you failed to get your shit together, you'd have an uncle in management somewhere or your father would know someone who can set you up with something. Today everyone can theoretically accomplish anything and as a result nobody can ever be content with anything. In the words of Sylvia Plath: "Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously close to wanting nothing."



Another Roaming Rant

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on December 9, 2016


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Even a flippantly lala land observer of the news such as myself must cede that the precarious balance of globalism has tipped as the balance of net benefit gains for core industrialised countries goes negative for the average citizen.  Countries are reacting (Brexit, Trump, Italy, Finnland ect) accordingly and concern mounts that the far swing right towards nationalism could upset global trade, economic growth and social orders.   

Most in the doomer crowd point to resource constraints to growth to explain the observable fracturing.  They need to explain why US and total industrial GDP hasn’t faltered, why we have an oil surplus, and have yet to witness anything like a food shortage.

I’d like to argue that real issue revolves around not properly distributing and integrating the information that made the 3rd and now 4th industrial revolution possible.  That information is obviously the science and math.  But its not more science or math classes that we need or needed, its an accessible mythos that embodies science.  Failure to do this has left science fractured and owned by industry.  It has become an elite priesthood like the roman catholic church and obeys its master. 

Carl Sagan was probably the prophet of this line of thinking,

“I have a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…

The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance”

We are well on our into his feared nightmare.  People truly do not know how to even distinguish obvious fictions from fact and the results are growing disastorous case in point

We are deep into science fiction dystopia territory.  We uncovered the power of a stars and we lacked the will as people and as a democracy to understand.  We choose to be passive consumers instead.  This is the reason we can not negotiate for real wages, we no longer make essential contributions to the industrial operating system and so can not bargain effectively.

And at root of this all are disoriented people imprinted with lies, stone age mythologies and cold standardized tests.  All of this may not be an accident…but I digress.

Every age prior had its mythos by which everyday people can view the world through the new lens enabled by that technology.  That we broadly do not is the obvious and massive issue of our time.

The advances of technology are made by an increasingly consolidated few and outpace perhaps at an accelerating rate what the population can absorb .  A science mythos would have broadly distributed these shifts and people could have reacted.

Doomer mythos are but one of countless mythos that arise in the vaccum of a mythos that contains the actual information pertaining to the system we are dependent on.  They may come in many flavors but almost all contain some sort of nostalgic longing for simpler times past, be it the agrarian/hunter gather cross found in perma”cult” ism , or the christian survival revival lot, or even perhaps the now ultra popular revival of Trumps empty MAGA cult with whsipers of restoring the 1950’s era of mass industrialism.

This is all rather ironic, that the central issue of our time in the information age is potential death by misinformation.  The core battle IMO for the 21st century will not be fought over, energy, water or food but over perceptional control.  Those blinded by greed and power will use the tool of misinformation in unfathomable ways to play our ignorance and subsequent fears and desires like a fine tuned fiddle.  The antidotes will be facts and deep scientific understanding of the underlying systems which seek to program those unwilling to program themselves.

The war is of course well underway, and the first rounds do not look good at all for humanity. …

A Long History of Mass Extinctions

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on December 3, 2016


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Peter D. Ward is a paleontologist who has authored a number of books for the general reader, often on the subject of mass extinction. His most successful book was Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe (with Donald Brownlee, 2001). His latest is, A New History of Life: The Radical New Discoveries about the Origins and Evolution of Life on Earth (2016). For this book, Ward’s co-author is Joe Kirschvink, a prominent geobiologist. Through three hundred and fifty-six pages, they survey the three and a half billion years of Evolution, drawing largely from recent scientific papers. Rare Earth and A New History of Life serve as bookends to a very pessimistic conclusion: Fermi’s Question (aka his Paradox) is not paradoxical at all. That our species even exists is the non-supernatural definition of a miracle.

The ‘radical thesis’ of A New History of Life consists of three interconnected themes:

-Planetary catastrophe has been the principal driver of Evolution.

-Radical changes in the concentrations of three simple gases, oxygen, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide in the atmosphere or the oceans, dictate the fate of Life.

-Ecosystems perish and novel ones emerge because of these events.

Now to our story, thus far:

4.567 billion years ago (now that is a neat mnemonic!), two rocky planets in nascent orbits around our Sun crossed paths into collision. Their dense cores of iron and nickel melded together within what became our Earth, while a halo of vaporized rock condensed into our companion Moon. Rare Earth contains a list of vital consequences that result from this single astronomical accident. Some that I recall from it:

-The Earth received a disproportionately large metallic core, one that provides a very strong magnetic field that shields us from cosmic radiation and breaks the solar wind.

-With that core the Earth acquired an extra dose of uranium and thorium, and the internal heat from that boosted radioactivity has intensified and prolonged its geological transformations. In contrast, the Moon received very little of this fissionable material and has long been geologically dead. Moreover, the mass of the Moon formed largely from ejected silicate rock, and the loss of this lighter material from Earth has made its crust relatively thin, which permits plate tectonics and continuous volcanic emissions.

-The collision knocked Earth onto a tilted axis, which creates the seasons of each year and influences longer cycles of climate.

-Planets can wobble, and the relative large size of the Moon stabilizes Earth’s orbital axis.

-The Moon has progressively slowed Earth’s rotation to lengthen its day. It stirs the ocean’s tides, and gives illumination to the night.
In the absence of these phenomena, Life on Earth would be very different.

A recent paper offers another significant hypothesis

Earth's carbon points to planetary smashup

"Research by Rice University Earth scientists suggests that virtually all of Earth's life-giving carbon could have come from a collision about 4.4 billion years ago between Earth and an embryonic planet similar to Mercury."

"… a new answer to a long-debated geological question: How did carbon-based life develop on Earth, given that most of the planet's carbon should have either boiled away in the planet's earliest days or become locked in Earth's core?"

In the beginning, The Big Bang created the Heavens. Eight billion or so years later, a colossal accident created the Earth, and it was good. Catastrophe appears to be the Mother of Us All.

From astro- and geophysics, we move to biophysics, and the actual Creation of Life. This pathway of biochemical synthesis may always remain unresolved, but in A New History of Life Ward and Kirschvink find favor with Life’s possible origin on the planet Mars. In this scenario, ancient Mars provided the right environmental conditions to jumpstart primitive cells, which then traveled to sister Earth as ejecta from asteroid collisions. If true, this would be another addition to the Rare Earth hypothesis – the fortuitous proximity of a seedbed planet.

Whatever Life’s origins, it found an Earth little like ours. The most critical difference was the atmosphere. Currently, it is primarily nitrogen and oxygen, with ‘trace amounts’ of water vapor, carbon dioxide and argon. The primordial atmosphere was nitrogen, methane, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and water vapor, with near total absence of oxygen. It is important to note that the intense greenhouse effect of this ancient atmosphere existed with a much fainter solar output. As the Sun ages, its output of energy grows, and will eventually boil Life on Earth away.

In the absence of free, molecular oxygen, the metabolism of the original life forms used sulfur. There is speculation that the first microbes were chemoautotrophs that consumed the hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide that spewed from thermal vents in the ocean floor, with the clear irony being that those gases are extremely toxic for much of present Life. Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a gas released by volcanic activity, and the original photosynthetic pathway used it instead of water (H2O) as the requisite donor of electrons. Photosynthetic sulfur bacteria still exist and they remain very consequential.

A billion years might have elapsed before an alternative a photosynthetic pathway evolved, one that substituted water for hydrogen sulfide. These emergent cyanobacteria then had a twin advantage for evolutionary success. First, while hydrogen sulfide is relatively scarce, there were vast oceans of water, the feedstock of their oxygen-based metabolism. Second, the free oxygen that their new model of photosynthesis produced as its by-product would directly kill their sulfur-using, anaerobic competition. That free oxygen is highly toxic to hydrogen sulfide using organisms, and vice versa, is a key part of the second major theme of Ward and Kirschvink.

With the appearance of oxygenated photosynthesis came the first, and perhaps greatest, of Earth’s Mass Extinction Events — the Great Oxygen Event, or Catastrophe. Not only did the oxygen makers drive the original, sulfur-using microbial ecosystem to near extinction, their exuberant growth drew down (in as little as a million years) the high carbon dioxide content of the Earth’s atmosphere, converting it to a layer of organic detritus on the ocean floor. The free oxygen also reacted with methane, scrubbing this more potent greenhouse gas from the atmosphere as well. In those times of a cooler Sun, the greatly diminished greenhouse effect allowed the oceans to freeze, almost completely solid. Co-author Kirschvink was the first to formulate and name this second phase of mass extinction. He called it Snowball Earth.

There followed a pulse of such Cryogenic Extinctions. Each time the planet froze up, so did the cyanobacteria, which permitted the carbon dioxide from volcanoes to accumulate and increase the greenhouse effect. But with each thaw, the cyanobacteria bloomed again, plunging the planet back to Snowball. The authors think it took 200 million years to establish a more stable carbon cycle, where microbial scavengers metabolized the dead material from the ocean bottoms and respired it as carbon dioxide to sustain a warmer planet.

However, in that shallow, warming ocean, the usurped sulfur-based organisms then resurged and retook Earth from their oxygenated rivals, by turning the oceans and atmosphere toxic with rising concentrations of hydrogen sulfide [search Canfield Oceans]. For a period stretching from two to one billion years ago, oxygenated life remained suppressed. Green and purple sulfur bacteria dominated the warm oceans; their hydrogen sulfide wafted high into the atmosphere and reacted with the ozone layer; high levels of ultraviolet radiation beamed through and sterilized the Earth’s surface. Throughout this time, the level of atmospheric oxygen was below ten percent, a threshold necessary for animal life. After searching its strata in vain for complex life, paleontologists dubbed this period as ‘The Boring Billion’. More pointedly, Ward and Kirschvink describe this long reign of the sulfur bacteria as the ‘Evil Empire’.

What brought the ended the Boring Billion? Perhaps it was the rise of the continents. Iron eroding from them and reacting with H2S in the oceans, precipitated out the sulfur as iron pyrite. Starved of their feedstock, the sulfur bacteria declined and the oxygen-lovers bloomed again. Two more Snowball episodes followed, but as a more stable carbon cycle became established, the level of atmospheric oxygen continued to rise, and the sulfur bacteria retreated into marginal niches, such as the bottom of the current Black Sea, where they remain today.

However, fabled Planet Gaia still failed to emerge.

The evolution of Life on Earth would continue from careen from one Mass Extinction Event to another. 635 billion years ago, the oxygen level rose high enough for multicellular animals to make their belated appearance. And it appears that these motile and hungry organisms caused the late Vendian-Endiacaran Extinction, by grazing away the former placid ecosystem.

New fossil evidence supports theory that first mass extinction engineered by early animals

The late Cambrian Extinction followed next, where most species of trilobites and many unique animal body plans were lost forever. An anomalous shifting of the Earth’s crust and mantle around its core and spin axis may have brought about this one, a theory called True Polar Wander.

Planet Earth may have 'tilted' to keep its balance, say scientists

Next came the Ordovician Mass Extinction, the first of the so-called ‘Big Five’ events. Mainly, this wiped out tropical species, by a combination of planetary cooling and great changes of sea level. The cause might have again been geological, another episode of True Polar Wander, but recently has come an alternative explanation: Complex plants were moving onto dry land.

Weathering of rocks by mosses may explain climate effects during the Late Ordovician

"During the Ordovician period, the concentration of CO2 in the earth's atmosphere was about eight times higher than today. It has been hard to explain why the climate cooled and why the Ordovician glaciations took place. A new study, published in Nature Communications, shows that the weathering of rock caused by early non-vascular plants had the potential to cause such a global cooling effect.

"Although they do not have real roots, they affect the surfaces on which they grow: the release of various organic acids dissolves underlying rock minerals. This process of dissolution and chemical transformation of rock minerals is called chemical weathering. Non-vascular plants and lichens may considerably increase weathering rates of the rock surfaces on which they grow. This has important implications for the climate system, since chemical weathering of silicate rocks such as granite results in a drawdown of atmospheric CO2 and may therefore lead to global cooling."

According to Ward and Kirschvink, a more general mechanism for mass extinction now emerges.

"They [green and purple sulfur bacteria] can be thought of as the evil empire. And in the Devonian, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic and Middle Cretaceous, this empire stuck back…"

The Devonian Mass Extinction took three quarters of Earth’s species, in particular the marine animals. The authors speculate this is the first of what Ward has termed Greenhouse Mass Extinctions. The killing mechanism: increased volcanic activity strengthens the greenhouse effect, bringing planetary warming. As the difference in temperature between the poles and tropics diminishes, the prevailing winds and ocean currents stall. Unstirred, the oceans stratify, and at their bottoms, oxygen declines. There, the absence of free oxygen permits the sulfur bacteria to bloom, and the Evil Empire makes its toxic return.

The Permian Mass Extinction shows clear evidence of this scenario. This is the worst of the extinction events, with maybe 96% of species perishing – paleontologists refer to it as ‘the Great Dying’. Beneath a greenhouse atmosphere, ocean temperatures spiked to 40C (104F) and on land, reached 60C (140F). As the oceans turned purple with sulfur bacteria, the hydrogen sulfide erased the ozone layer and tinted the sky to a toxic shade of green. In both air and water, the hydrogen sulfide reached levels that were lethal to most animal life. In addition, oxygen levels plummeted to between ten and fifteen percent and stayed there for five million years. At sea level, that oxygen content was the equivalent to what we find on high mountain peaks, so that most land elevations above a thousand meters would not support complex organisms at all. The ‘Great Dying’ might have occurred over a mere fifty thousand years but it took ten to twenty million years for biodiversity to recover.

The next Greenhouse Mass Extinction was protracted, with two or three phases of killing spread over millions of years. This one ended the Triassic and extended into the Jurassic. The authors propose (as does a stubborn clique of paleontologists) that the dinosaurs were already dying out from this Greenhouse mechanism, when the Chicxulub asteroid struck its coup de grace and ended the Cretaceous.

In all, Ward and Kirschvink offer a list of Ten Major Extinction Events. We currently experiencing Number Ten, titled as the Late Pleistocene-Holocene Mass Extinction. They cite its duration and cause:

"From 2.5 million years ago to today – climate change and human activities."

Ten major extinctions and the inadvertent, destructive properties of Life itself appear as the principal cause of seven or eight of them. To James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis of a self-regulating Biosphere that maintains an Earth fit for life, Ward counters with his ‘Medea Hypothesis’:

"…multicellular life, understood as a superorganism, is suicidal; in this view, microbial-triggered mass extinctions are attempts to return the Earth to the microbial-dominated state it has been for most of its history. It is named after the mythological Medea, who killed her own children."

To characterize Life on Earth as a ‘super-organism’ with intentions is a stretch, but what is evident is that the Earth System is chaotic over long periods and its Biosphere frequently crashes, via the Greenhouse mechanism, to a more microbial ground state. In the fossil record, Ward and Kirschvink find evidence for more than ten such extinction events, of varying intensity. The last one came with the Paleo-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) of 50 to 55 million years ago. They surmise the causative mechanism was a ‘new assassin’—the catastrophic release of methane clathrates – which accumulate from the activity of methanogenic bacteria. Their colleague Francesca McInerney helped them to provide a description:

"…this event is highly relevant to us humans, as the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere, about 12,000 to 15,000 gigatons, is roughly equivalent to what we humans are releasing over time by our industries and energy use. The temperature change caused [by] elevated greenhouse during the PETM made the world 5 to 9 centigrade warmer than it is now. The actual event lasted on order of 10,000 years. The plants that were present in her field area [now western North America]… were mainly plants that until the PETM lived in lower latitudes and thus at higher temperatures. After the event the old plants came back, as did the insects that were present prior to 10,000 years of literal hell on Earth. But not so the mammals. This event caused a wholesale change in the North American mammalian fauna."

If our Civilization proceeds on its current path, then several millennia in Hell may be the minimum we can expect. By the way, I myself am a North American mammal, as are most of the beings that I most cherish.

As much as the first animals, we know not what we do with our newfound powers:

"Although Darroch is studying events that took place 540 million years ago, he believes there is a message relevant for today. "There is a powerful analogy between the Earth's first mass extinction and what is happening today," he said. "The end-Ediacaran extinction shows that the evolution of new behaviors can fundamentally change the entire planet, and today we humans are the most powerful 'ecosystems engineers' ever known." [From ‘First Mass Extinction Engineered by Animals”]

That brings us to the third theme of A New History of Life: Ecosystems perish wholesale and different ones arise in their place. The mammal-like reptiles predominated before the Permian Mass Extinction Event. Afterward, Dinosaurs ruled the Earth, and the book details how they were better adapted than mammals to that hot world with lower levels of oxygen. In very ancient times, species of clams were the builders of the great marine reefs; long after these mollusks went extinct in hot, toxic seas, corals filled their empty niche. What is to build the next Great Barrier Reef? What is to replace us? The final chapter, under the sub-heading ‘The End of History’ contains a hint:

"A final prediction of Ward’s Medea hypothesis is that it should pertain to every planet with life, and that there is only one way out of this suicidal box that life creates simply through existing: intelligence. The intelligence to see the future. One such future is that our species expands its habitat first to Mars, then to the asteroid belts, and finally to other stars. Another future is that the carbon dioxide we are pumping into the atmosphere causes all the ice on Earth to melt, raising sea levels, slowing the thermohaline circulation patterns, bringing stagnation followed by anoxia to the ocean bottoms, and then into ever-shallower waters, at the same time liberating toxic levels of hydrogen sulfide to percolate out of every single ocean. In that future, only animals with very good gas masks will survive.

"History is an early warning system."

It is my opinion that humans are much too fragile, dull-witted and uncooperative to ever journey to other stars or even to settle Mars. I suppose the only intelligence that can replace us will be that of our machines – aluminum and titanium resist hydrogen sulfide better than flesh, electric motors run without oxygen, and silicon bonds are stable at much higher temperatures than those of carbon. Deus ex Machina, indeed.

To all of which, you may retort to me, as have others, “So what? That’s life. The dinosaurs were not missed, and neither will we be.”
The difference is that no other being has entered extinction fully aware of that finality; nor did it suffer the guilt of being complacent and complicit in the tragedy, no, in the crime and the sin of it all. So fuck all of you ‘minimizers’ and your shallow nihilism. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. once gave such an attitude to one of his most cynical characters:

"I realized," said Trout, "that God wasn't any conservationist, so for anybody else to be one was sacrilegious and a waste of time. You ever see one of His volcanoes or tornadoes or tidal waves? Anybody ever tell you about the lce Ages he arranges for every half-million years? How about Dutch Elm disease? There's a nice conservation measure for you. That's God, not man. Just about the time we got our rivers cleaned up, he'd probably have the whole galaxy go up like a celluloid collar. That's what the Star of Bethlehem was, you know.”

"What was the Star of Bethlehem?" said the driver.

"A whole galaxy going up like a celluloid collar," said Trout.

Breakfast of Champions, pg73

This essay began with the proposition that our existence is so improbable as to meet the definition of a miracle. Humans have fought and continue to fight bloody crusades over worthless holy places. What are we willing to do to preserve this Rare Earth and the miracle of our existence? If you think it is already too late, I must confess that you may be right. My hopes now depend on whether this Civilization, this Evil Empire, will quickly meet with Collapse and that will open a narrow space, a pathway to survival. The theme of A New History of Life, taken up by this pretentious essay, is that we are the very children of Catastrophe. So here is my prayer:

O Mother Catastrophe, please hear us now, and grant your children a merciful intervention.

Fake Newz

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on December 1, 2016


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Fake News is news that has been made up and is completely untrue.  It is a waste of everybody's time, made worse by the mindless idiots on Facebook and Twitter, who spread it without thinking.

So some professor from a US university posted a list of "Fake News" websites on Facebook, but those on the list were mostly just anti-establishment websites, giving alternative viewpoints, not fake news. Prominent among the mistakes was RT , (formerly Russia Today), which is financed by the Russian State, and a genuine news site.  RT is comparable to the British BBC and Australian ABC news outlets, except that the latter wouldn't say "Boo" to their Prime Ministers, let alone the US President or Rupert Murdoch.

It has to be admitted that RT likes to publish all the things that the US Government would be embarrassed about, but that is what the US media ought to be doing as part of their job too, but don't.  RT also publishes what President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov are saying about world affairs, including the context and background of their statements, which is important to know if you want to express an informed opinion on world affairs.

Thus if you want to get a balanced outlook on current events, and only have time for 2 sites, then CNN and RT should be your first two choices.  They won't be the same, obviously, because they represent the two sides of the argument.

So naturally some of the genuine, but anti-establishment news sites also the on the list, objected.  The financial news site ZeroHedge was one of them.  They follow the Austrian School viewpoint on finance, as opposed to the Keynesian viewpoint, and are hence always anti-Federal Reserve, and pro-"a huge economic collapse is coming"and pro-Gold Standard. You don't have to be an Austrian economist to read ZeroHedge (I'm not one) because they do manage to dig up amazing facts and charts from official sources.  ZH heaped scorn and derision on the list, which presumably caused a twitter-storm amongst the shouting classes.

And thus a new meme was born – "Fake News" is no longer fake news, but anything that doesn't follow the US establishment line.

The list was quickly taken up by the Washington Post, that cheer-leader for the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.  Remember the WMDs in Iraq, which were ever found ?  Who grilled Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Powell over that big lie, either before or after the invasion? – not WaPo, that's for sure.


WaPo cites the origin of the list as the website called, which has been hosted by GoDaddy since 21 August, and uses free BlogSpot blogging software, and doesn't give the names of any of the people involved.  You will find this on their Home Page:

We call on Congressional leadership, and the Obama administration, to:

    Immediately begin investigations to determine whether any U.S. government action or inaction has allowed Russia to manipulate the US domestic political process, and interfere in the 2016 election, through online propaganda.

    Immediately begin investigations to determine whether, by action or inaction, the American public has been deprived of related information that they need to vote in an informed manner.

    Work with our European allies to disconnect Russia from the SWIFT financial transaction system, effective immediately and lasting for at least one year, as an appropriate response to Russian manipulation of the election.


The first two points are silly, but understandable – "begin investigations" into blah blah blah, OK.  But the third is an immediate punishment for a guilty Russia.  Huh?  Aren't we going to await the outcome of the investigation before proceeding to punishment?  You know, "Innocent until proven guilty" and all that?  That's a bit like President Obama saying Osama bin Laden got "justice", when in fact he was simply assassinated and his body disappeared, which WaPO reported on but didn't question.


If you haven't heard of it before, SWIFT is an internet system which allows banks in different countries to exchange the necessary paperwork before and after the actual transfer of big sums of money, over secure channels.  The threat of being excluded from SWIFT, and hence being internationally isolated, is a very big stick indeed, and would likely lead to the instant start of WW3. 

At least, it would have if the Russians hadn't already written and implemented their own version of SWIFT, known as RosSwift.  It has been up and running for over a year, catering for Russian-to-Russian bank transactions, hence relieving Russia from having to worry about having their national inter-bank transactions being monitored by the US.  All it would take for it to become internationally operational would be the issuing of log-in credentials for RosSwift to foreign banks.  Presumably the Russians have decided, for now, not to split the world into 2 competing financial blocs, but they ready for it.

A moment's consideration should be enough for you to realise that the rest of the BRICS group, China, India, Brazil and South Africa would immediately join RosSwift, as would the CSO countries, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, and other assorted hangers on like Syria, Iran, Philippines, Cuba, Venezuela – well over half the world's population.  The US couldn't sanction them all, so it would have to live with it.

Then you've got the problem of how the EU countries and Turkey are going to pay for their Russian oil and gas imports, unless they join RosSwift too.  And very soon you will see that cutting Russia off from SWIFT would be a HUGE mistake with endless blowback for the US, and that PropOrNot must be a complete bunch of idiots.

How do PropOrNot identify "Russian propaganda"?

There is a long list of ways that PropOrNot says it can tell if a website is a Russian propaganda site.  This one is quite instructive:


16. Appear to be effectively influencing public opinion in significant and very problematic ways, by promoting:
    Conspiracy theories about and protests against US military exercises,
    Isolationism/anti-interventionism generally,
    Support for policies like Brexit, and the breakup of the EU and Eurozone,
    Opposition to Ukrainian resistance to Russia and Syrian resistance to Assad,
    Support for the anti-vax, anti-Zika spraying, anti-GMO, 9/11-”truther”, gold-standard, and other related movements


Yes, if you believe in a peaceful non-interventionist US foreign policy, or supported Brexit like a majority of British voters did, or support a return to the gold standard, or are against Genetically Modified Organisms, you are a Russian propagandist !

The question is …

Getting back to WaPo, why 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. 

The implications of all this is that if a site regularly publishes articles which question US policy on its interventionist stance towards countries it doesn't like, or on going back to the gold standard, or on Brexit and the break-up of the EU, (all of which are common themes here on Doomstead Diner), then it could be branded a Russian propaganda outlet and some kind of sanctions applied against it.  This could involve lowering its ranking or removing it altogether from Google search results, and Facebook/Twitter news feed rankings, to outright closure.  Facebook has already announced that it is looking at modifying its news filters to try harder to eliminate fake news.

This is a very serious development for all people with alternative views to the US establishment.

The List

And finally, here is the list.  How many of these sites do you want to hear from as part of your political discussion?


Syria: it’s all about pipelines

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on November 19, 2016


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I've just spent some time watching videos raving about how the war in Syria is all about pipelines – a Young Turks specialty as well as ZeroHedge.  Their idea is that the South Pars gasfield in the Persian Gulf (shared by Iran and Qatar) needs to get gas to Europe, and to do that it has to cross Syria, which has refused permission, hence Assad has to go. 

I also did the research on actual pipelines built and being built.  Pipelines are expensive things, and of course they get designed to have a certain capacity and no more, because it's more expensive – there is never any spare capacity just lying around waiting for more gas.

OK, so first we need the map, with South Pars to the Austrian gas hub on it:


The red line is the shortest possible route and takes no notice of mountain ranges in Turkey, Greece, Albania and the Alps in Italy-Austria.  It is 6,200 Km, and probably a lot more in practice.  The most efficient route from Turkey to Europe has been in planning for over 14 years.  First there was the Nabucco route, then that was dropped in favour of Nabucco West, then that was dropped in favour of Trans Adriatic Pipeline.  Work finally started on that last year, and although the project website hasn't been updated for 10 months, is presumably still going, with an estimated start date of 2021.

Although the Qatar pipeline would probably follow the same route after leaving Turkey, NONE of it has been designed and financed yet, let alone built.  The Syrian war isn't even over yet, and its outcome is far from certain.  But even if it results in a Russian-controlled West Syria and a US/Turkey-controlled East Syria, and peace breaks out soon (a very unlikely scenario), there are still 8 other countries to get on-board and the EU Commission too.  As a price for going along with all this, those countries will/may want a spur off the main line to use themselves.

An additional complexity is that both Russia and Iran want to send more gas to Turkey too, and the Russian South Stream project to Turkey via the Black Sea is quite advanced.  What happens next with the EU Commission is still very much up in the air.  No doubt Russia wants to sell gas to Europe just as much as Qatar does, but Russia has the added incentive of getting more energy control over Europe, which Qatar doesn't have.  This could be used as lever to ensure peace between Russia and Europe (the aggressive bastards ! ).  At the same time, Europe (and Big Brother) doesn't want to get even more dependent on Russian gas if it can help it, making Qatar's non-existent pipeline more attractive.

So would the US be fighting ISIS in Syria (and Iraq) when ISIS is already fighting Assad, if the main game was to get the Qatari pipeline through Syria as quickly as possible?  I just can't see it somehow.

Trump: on the way to “Scenario 3” and the end of globalization

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on Noveber 16, 2016


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Margarita Mediavilla and her coworkers have performed extensive simulations of the future using system dynamics models, (see here). One of their scenarios, called "Scenario 3," is based on the hypothesis of a return to national competition, protectionism, deglobalization, and the like. In comparison to other scenarios, Scenario 3 is the least expensive in terms of the energy required, but also the most environmentally damaging. And, with Trump's election, it seems that we are heading exactly in that direction. What else would you have expected? (UB)
 By Margarita Mediavilla
The victory of Donald Trump, as well as so many things that have been happening in recent years (the rise of the extreme right wing in Europe, the fall of Asian trade, the Brexit, the war in Syria and Yemen), shows that we are following the path of what we called Scenario 3. It could not be in a different way since our “scenarios” were narratives that we used to glimpse the future, and the energy told us that Scenario 3 was the most realistic one.





Scenarios are a quite common tool used by the United Nations and other international agencies to look at the future of humanity, they are used to group their reflections around coherent visions. We call Scenario 3 one of these archetypal visions that create the international agencies1 and we used in our studies that compare the available fossil fuels subject to peak oil with the expected demand of energy2.

Scenario 3 describes a future of regional competition and return to national sovereignty. It assumes that regions will focus more on their self-reliance, national sovereignty, and regional identity, leading to tensions between regions and/or cultures. Countries will be concerned with security and protection, emphasizing primarily regional markets (protectionism, deglobalization) and paying little attention to common goods, international environmental agreements, and cooperation for development. Scenario 3 describes a future of deglobalization and conflict, it and is, to a large extent, Trump's conservative discourse.

Other scenarios, such as Scenario 1, talk about economic optimism and high growth. The humanity is focused on achieving competitive markets and free trade that would, eventually, benefit everyone by correcting social inequalities and environmental problems. Scenario 1 is the scenario of globalization. There is also a Scenario 2, the one of green capitalism, a friendly version of Scenario 1, which gives priority to protecting the environment and reducing inequality, using technological advances, dematerialization, and the economy of services and information.

There is a fourth scenario at stake,Scenario 4, which consists of a friendly version of Scenario 3. In Scenario 4 there is a major change in values: society reacts against nonsense consumerism and disrespect for life. Citizens and countries decide to assume their responsibilities by being a green example for the rest. Although barriers to trade of goods are rebuilt, barriers to information tend to be eliminated. The emphasis is on finding regional solutions to social and environmental problems, usually by combining drastic changes in lifestyles with decentralized governance styles. Scenario 4 is the ecologist scenario, the one of local autonomy, cooperation and open-source, the closest to the utopias of the Degrowth movement.

The problem is that Scenarios 1 and 2 require a lot of energy, while Scenario is the one that needs less energy because it has less trade and less economic growth. Scenario 4 is also a low energy one. The bad news is that Scenario 3 is blind to environmental problems and leads to the war for resources because there is no lifestyle change towards an austere society based on renewable energy. Only Scenario 4 could be a minimally sustainable one because is the only one that invests in the energy of the future and does not grow a lot.

Trump's victory, like so many other things, shows us that the business as usual options are no longer what we used to call business as usual. We can no longer choose between neoliberal globalization or a slightly more social globalization of sustainable development. In a world where the energy is getting more and more difficult to obtain those scenarios that minimize energy consumption are the ones that have more probabilities of becoming true. Now the only possible options are Scenario 3 (neocons, right-wing) or those that could arise from Scenario 4 (anti-consumerist movements and ecosocialism).

The traditional political left parties should wake up and stop pursuing futures that resemble Scenario 2 and seek a slightly more friendly or greener globalization. Only the political options that are well aware of the planet's ecological limits can be a solid discourse against neoconservatives. In this moment we need to develop a political alternative based on anti-consumerist values, on the defense of the land and on the values of cooperation. Only this alternative can compensate self-destructive neoconservative tendencies that lead us to a dangerous competition for the resources in a planet that is going on a trend of constant ecological degradation.

Margarita Mediavilla teaches at  the School of Industrial Engineering of the University of Valladolid and belongs to the research group of Energy, Economy and System Dynamics (GEEDS) She is also engaged in the EU research project MEDEAS dedicated to modeling the energy transition in Europe.


1 Van Vuuren, D.P., Kok, M.T.J., Girod, B., Lucas, P.L., de Vries, B., 2012. Scenarios in Global Environmental Assessments: Key characteristics and lessons for future use. Global Environmental Change 22, 884–895. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2012.06.001
2 Capellán-Pérez I, Mediavilla M, de Castro C, et al (2014a) Fossil fuel depletion and socio-economic scenarios: An integrated approach. Energy 77:641–666. doi: 10.1016/

How the Nazis Won WWII

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Published on Reddit r/collapse on October 15, 2016


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Recently my sleep patterns have been a little messed up. This led to me waking up in the middle of the night last night and just lying in bed for three hours thinking about various things. Here are some of my thoughts. They are somewhat collapse related, so bear with me.

In the 1920s Adolph Hitler was a failing Austrian artist. In order to fix his life, he decided to embark on his greatest artistic project to date – he reinvented himself, spending many hours in front of the mirror in order to perfect a completely new image to the outside world. He turned this new man into the leader of a political movement that came close to complete global domination. In doing so, he associated with other like-minded individuals. In particular, Joseph Goebbels, who perfected the technique known as "The Big Lie", which he described as follows:

It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas and disguise.

Naziism took a few very simple ideas – "Ubermensch", "The Jewish Problem", "Lebensraum", and molded them into an enormously powerful movement. If we view Naziism not as politics, with the goal of actualising these ideas, but instead as an artistic movement, a project that demonstrated how to motivate and control mass-movements in the media age, then I believe it was enormously successful.

Fast forward 70 years, and this new artistic movement, which we can perhaps call "Art-politics" is triumphant. Back in the 1930s, only the Naziis had the big lie, but now everyone is doing it. We have multiple different groups following this artistic movement and each creating there own artistic project with their own variations on the big lie. The Naziism didn't triumph politically, or militarily, but artistically. Their new creation, art-politics, has conquered the world.

Politics as it was once practiced, as an intellectual movement intent on finding the best form of governance, is dead. It has already collapsed. The days of Burke, or Marx, or Keynes, are long gone, and nowadays intellectuals are kept well away from the general public. Instead each party is an artistic statement, with no solid intellectual apparatus apparent.

None of these movements make the slightest sense under any cursory analysis. Where is the conservative answer to global warming and resource depletion? Where is the socialist answer to modern captialist globalisation? Where is the green answer for how 9 billion people can possibly live sustainably, or, if fewer people can be supported, how we can get from here to there without enormous suffering and conflict?

I am writing this from the UK, where we have recently had the Brexit referendum, a supreme demonstration of art-politics. The lie wasn't the yes campaign, or the no campaign. The big lie was the idea that the answer to a single yes/no question could possibly, either way, lead us to a coherent future path.

And yet we are almost all young enough that we have been brought up with these paradigms. We may go through a stage of flitting between them. They are all tremendously powerful pieces of art, which appeal to us on an emotional level. On a forum such as this, where most of us recognise that politics has failed, we still keep coming back to these movements, because we have nothing else. We echo their ideas even when we know they are wrong.

In a sense this represents a failure of democracy. In many intellectual movements, such as mathematics or the sciences, it can take many years of study in order to familiarise onself with current knowledge and actively contribute, but democratic politics isn't like that, in that any idea that cannot be explained over a short conversation with a guy in a bar, or summed up in a single short reddit post, is worthless. It cannot possibly present a single set of coherent answers, because to do so would make it far too complex to compete in a democratic space with the various art-politics movements.

So that leads me to where I am now, wanting to reject all the crap that dominates our modern intellectual discourse, and start anew, which is essentially a nihilist exercise. And yet nihilism isn't an answer, but merely a starting point from which answers can come. Arguably earlier political movements, such as communism, grew out of such a nihilist exercise. I feel a need to reach out and connect to people who think in the same way as me, but to do so seems essentially useless. It doesn't make any more sense for nihilists to group and work together than it makes sense for most atheists to attend an atheist church. The commonality simply isn't there.

For the time being, I feel that all I can do is study and learn more. Not necessarily about collapse, because in our current condition, collapse is inevitable, but about the human condition. Or something. I'm not sure. I just need to learn.



I Admit to Being Afraid of World War Four

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Published on Reddit r/collapse on October 14, 2016


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Most of you are too young to remember World War Three. They commonly refer to this as the Cold War, even though millions of Third World Peasants and tens of thousands of Americans and Soviets perished fighting it. I am old enough to have a vague recollection of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember my poor single mother piling canned goods, jugs of tap water and blankets on the back floorboards of an old Pontiac (I assume the trunk was full of other possessions), so that she and her five children could flee Houston for a West Texas farmstead. Someone talked her out of it, arguing that could be no escape from nuclear warfare. Looking back, I think her calculation was the better one. Anyway, I was almost five years old, and that is the first historical event I can recall.

In 1973, the USA went to DefCon 3, nuclear high alert, to bluff the Soviets from intervening in the Yom Kippur War. (In one version, the National Security Council did this without a direct order from President Nixon, the official Commander-in-Chief, as he was asleep.) That day, my high school was treating us to a showing of Dr. Strangelove. I had read about the high alert in the morning newspaper, and told a cute girl about it. She found the dark irony of that to be ‘cool’. I went on to learn about MAD, MIRVs and the nuclear triad. I gained enough understanding of it to be terrified of Ronald Reagan. We know now that he terrified the Soviets too, enough that they almost pulled the nuclear trigger – twice in 1983.

This morning, Microsoft fed me a version of this sensational news item.

Putin orders Russian officials' relatives studying abroad to return home, reports claim

Russia is ordering all of its officials to fly home any relatives living abroad amid rising tensions over the prospect of a new world war, it’s been claimed.

Politicians and high-ranking figures are said to have received a high-level warning from tough guy president Vladimir Putin, according to local media.

The reported call to return to the Motherland – which comes after Putin suddenly cancelled a visit to France – applies to all state employees.

Later that morning, I found this propaganda item:

7 Ways Russia Is Telling People to Prepare for War

With tensions between Russia and the United States at the highest since the Cold War, there have been some alarming signals coming out of Moscow intended to suggest the country is ready for war.

For the past few years, there has been a rising drumbeat of this war hysteria. The last Presidential ‘Debate’ shocked me by the constant invocation of Satanic Triad of Putin, Assad and Trump by Mrs. Clinton, and the moderators as well. At her age, she should have substantial memories of these brushes with Armageddon and of the related danger of McCarthyism too, but apparently, Mrs. Clinton is willing to risk nuclear war for sake of Aleppo and the hacking of some embarrassing e-mails. Age alone does not bring wisdom.

I am real tired of this shit.



Inman couple seeks backing for eco-village

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Published on GOUPstate on October 1, 2016


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Wendy and Aaron McCarty of Inman believe the lifestyle many of us enjoy today could be completely upended if a major disruption ever occurred in the energy grid.

They dream of building a self-sustaining eco-village, complete with energy-efficient geodome structures, vegetable gardens and bamboo stands, and self-made clothing and goods.

They hope to partner with local schools to teach students the dying trades of blacksmithing, candlemaking, looming and more, she said.

“We’re hoping this will bring in tourism — breathe new life into the community, and jobs,” said Wendy McCarty, an artist and photographer.

The couple has sought the support of local leaders, and needs about $1 million and a 100-acre property with a running stream to get the sustainability park project off the ground.

They’ve gotten moral support. Now comes the hard part — raising the funds and finding the right piece of property.

“It would be great to have this in Inman,” said Tom Plemmons of the Inman Area Chamber of Commerce. “I am proud they have tentatively selected Inman as a host site. I hope to help them turn this into a reality. The hard thing is turning from paper to reality. It takes a lot of hard work.”

The McCartys hosted a barbecue last week in Saluda, N.C., which was attended by local officials as well as the president of SUN (Sustaining Universal Needs) Foundation, the nonprofit that is working with the McCartys.

SUN’s mission is “to assist people and the society in general in transitioning off the fossil-fuel based economy that currently is winding down around us,” according to John Litter, president.

Wendy and Aaron McCarty of Inman believe the lifestyle many of us enjoy today could be completely upended if a major disruption ever occurred in the energy grid.

They dream of building a self-sustaining eco-village, complete with energy-efficient geodome structures, vegetable gardens and bamboo stands, and self-made clothing and goods.They hope to partner with local schools to teach students the dying trades of blacksmithing, candlemaking, looming and more, she said.

“We’re hoping this will bring in tourism — breathe new life into the community, and jobs,” said Wendy McCarty, an artist and photographer.

The couple has sought the support of local leaders, and needs about $1 million and a 100-acre property with a running stream to get the sustainability park project off the ground.

They’ve gotten moral support. Now comes the hard part — raising the funds and finding the right piece of property.

“It would be great to have this in Inman,” said Tom Plemmons of the Inman Area Chamber of Commerce. “I am proud they have tentatively selected Inman as a host site. I hope to help them turn this into a reality. The hard thing is turning from paper to reality. It takes a lot of hard work.”

The McCartys hosted a barbecue last week in Saluda, N.C., which was attended by local officials as well as the president of SUN (Sustaining Universal Needs) Foundation, the nonprofit that is working with the McCartys.

SUN’s mission is “to assist people and the society in general in transitioning off the fossil-fuel based economy that currently is winding down around us,” according to John Litter, president.

The gathering was attended by Inman council members Ray Rogers and Ginger Morrow McGuire and chamber members Plemmons, Bessie Fisher and Cliff Newmark. Also attending was Missy House, a representative with U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg.

Litter estimated it will cost $1 million to get the eco-village up and running, with more funding needed later as it grows.

Fisher, an experienced grant writer for Inman, said she could help by exploring grant funds.

Rogers said he was impressed by the proposal Wendy McCarty delivered to council earlier this summer, and he’s found a real estate agent to help her look for available land.

“I’m amazed they selected Inman as a prototype,” he said. “I’m glad she selected Inman to do it.”

Newmark said he believes the McCartys could succeed in drawing more business and tourism to Inman. “I’m certainly open to ideas,” said Newmark. “I’m excited because Wendy is so excited. Her enthusiasm is so infectious. I want to learn more.”

The McCartys think communities should start becoming self-sufficient — free of fossil fuels and powered by the sun, wind and water, and able to grow their own food and make their own goods.

“We aren’t preppers,” said Aaron, a professional landscaper, referring to doomsday survivalists who build underground shelters stocked with canned food and guns. “And we’re not hippies.”

Residents would produce their own food, including meat and vegetables, cider, bread, cheese and butter. They could even generate income by producing enough to sell.

“It will be as self-sustaining as possible,” he said.

The farm would not be totally devoid of modern conveniences. It will have electricity — generated by sun, wind and water — and plumbing.

In fact, the inside of a geodome home can be built with all the amenities found in any other new house.

“Even the Amish are dependent on many industrially produced farm implements and tools, as well as industrially produced milled lumber,” Wendy McCarty said.

Plemmons said the idea of a self-sufficient community isn’t new to Inman. In the years before automobiles, residents had to be self-sufficient, he said.




Peak oil by any other name is still peak oil

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on September 8, 2016


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One of the most compelling charts I have ever seen is the “Growing Gap” chart that used to appear in every ASPO Newsletter. This is the one from the last ASPO Newsletter, written by Colin Campbell and published in April 2009.
Since then, more than seven years have passed, and peak oil has disappeared from the mainstream press headlines–almost. On August 29, Bloomberg published a story alerting to the fact that conventional oil discovery has reached a 70-year low. It published a very interesting chart, using data provided by Wood Mackenzie, the oil consulting firm, to show that fact. Unlike the ASPO chart, Bloomberg's chart only goes back to 1947, the year before Ghawar was discovered.




I thought I would reproduce the “Growing Gap” chart using Wood Mackenzie's data.


Neither Wood Mackenzie nor Bloomberg make public the data behind the chart, but I used a digitization program, WebPlotDigitizer, to extract data from the chart. The results are not perfect, of course, but give a good enough estimate. One must keep in mind that discovery data are not precise and may have a significant margin of error.


In order to obtain conventional oil production, I subtracted US tight oil production and Canadian tar sands production from the EIA's global crude plus condensate number. I know I must also subtract the extra-heavy production from the Orinoco Belt, but it is hard to find data for it. In any case, this is a very good estimate. According to data gathered by Jean Laherrère, the Orinoco extra-heavy production is only around 1 Mb/d today.
The following chart shows the digitized Wood Mackenzie conventional discovery data and the production data described above. According to the data, since 1980, when the gap between production and discovery began to appear, humanity has extracted about 47 percent more conventional oil than it has discovered.
And the following chart shows a three-year moving average of discovery, to replicate the ASPO chart. Notice that discovered volumes are generally larger than Campbell's data, but the drop since 2011 is more precipitous than he anticipated.
According to the Bloomberg story, this shortfall in discovery will be felt 10 years from now, when it begins to “hinder production.”

Peak oil by any other name is still peak oil.

Reflections on the Twilight of the Age of Oil (Part II)

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on July 15, 2016


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Part 2 – Enquiring into the appropriateness of the question

Let’s acknowledge it, the situation we are in, as depicted summarily in Part 1, is complex.  As many commentators like to state, there is still plenty of oil, coal, and gas left "in the ground".  Since 2014, debates have been raging, concerning the assumed “oil glut”, concerning how low oil prices may go down, how high prices may rebound as demand possibly picks up and the “glut” vanishes, and, in the face of all this, what may or may not happen regarding “renewables”.  However, in my view, the situation is not impossible to analyse rigorously, away from what may appear as common sense but that may not withstand scrutiny.  For example, Part 1 data have indicated,that most of what’s left in terms of fossil fuels is likely to stay where it is, underground, without this requiring the implementation of  difficult to agree upon resource management policies, simply because this is what thermodynamics dictates.
We can now venture a little bit further if we keep firmly in mind that the globalised industrial world (GIW), and by extension all of us, do not “live” on fossil resources but on net energy delivered by the global energy system; and if we also keep in mind that, in this matter, oil-derived transport fuels are the key since, without them, none of the other fossil and nuclear resources can be mobilised and the GIW itself can’t function.
In my experience, most often, when faced with such a broad spectrum of conflicting views, especially involving matters pertaining to physics and the social sciences, the lack of agreement is indicative that the core questions are not well formulated.  Physicist David Bohm liked to stress: “In scientific enquiries, a crucial step is to ask the right question.  Indeed each question contains presuppositions, largely implicit.  If these presuppositions are wrong or confused, the question itself is wrong, in the sense that to try to answer it has no meaning.  One has thus to enquire into the appropriateness of the question.”
Here it is important, in terms of system analysis, to differentiate between the global energy industry (say, GEI) and the GIW. The GEI bears the brunt of thermodynamics directly, and within the GEI, the oil industry (OI) is key since, as seen in Part 1, it is the first to reach the thermodynamics limit of resource extraction and, since it conditions the viability of the GEI’s other components – in their present state and within the remaining timeframe, they can’t survive the OI’s eventual collapse.  On the other hand, the GIW is impacted by thermodynamic decline with a lag, in the main because it is buffered by debt – so that by the time the impact of the thermodynamic collapse of the OI becomes undeniable it’s too late to do much about it.
At the micro level, debt can be "good" – e.g. a company borrows to expand and then reimburses its debt, etc…  At the macro level, it can be, and has now become, lethal, as the global debt can no longer be reimbursed (I estimate the energy equivalent of current global debt, from states, businesses, and households to be in the order of some 10,700EJ, while current world energy use is in the order of 554EJ; it is no longer doable to “mind the gap”).

Crude oil prices are dropping to the floor

Figure 4 – The radar signal for an Oil Pearl Harbor
In brief, the GIW has been living on ever growing total debt since around the time net energy from oil per head peaked in the early 1970s.  The 2007-08 crisis was a warning shot.  Since 2012, we have entered the last stage of this sad saga – when the OI began to use more energy (one should talk in fact of exergy) within its own productions chains than what it delivers to the GIW.  From this point onwards retrieving the present financial fiat system is no longer doable.
This 2012 point marked a radical shift in price drivers.[1]  Figure 4 combines the analyses of TGH (The Hills Group) and mine. In late 2014 I saw the beginning of the oil price crash as a signal of a radar screen.  Being well aware that EROIs for oil and gas combined had already passed below the minimum threshold of 10:1, I understood that this crash was different from previous ones: prices were on their way right down to the floor.  I then realised what TGH had anticipated this trend months earlier, that their analysis was robust and was being corroborated by the market there and then.
Until 2012, the determining price driver was the total energy cost incurred by the OI.  Until then the GIW could more or less happily sustain the translation of these costs into high oil prices, around or above $100/bbl.  This is no longer the case.  Since 2012, the determining oil price driver is what the GIW can afford to pay in order to still be able to generate residual GDP growth (on borrowed time) under the sway of a Red Queen that is running out of thermodynamic “breath”.  I call the process we are in an “Oil Pearl Harbour", taking place in a kind of eerie slow motion. This is no longer retrievable.  Within roughly ten years the oil industry as we know it will have disintegrated.  The GIW is presently defenceless in the face of this threat.

The Oil Fizzle Dragon-King

Figure 5 – The “Energy Hand”
To illustrate how the GEI works I often compare its energy flows to the five fingers of the one hand: all are necessary and all are linked (Figure 5). Under the Red Queen, the GEI is progressively loosing its “knuckles” one by one like a kind of unseen leprosy – unseen yet because of the debt “veil” that hides the progressive losses and more fundamentally because of what I refer to at the bottom of Figure 5, namely were are in what I call Oil Fizzle Dragon-King. 
A Dragon-King (DK) is a statistical concept developed by Didier Sornette of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, and a few others to differentiate high probability and high impact processes and events from Black Swans, i.e. events that are of low probability and high impact.  I call it the Oil Fizzle because what is triggering it is the very rapid fizzling out of net energy per barrel.  It is a DK, i.e. a high probability, high impact unexpected process, purely because almost none of the decision-making elites is familiar with the thermodynamics of complex systems operating far from equilibrium; nor are they familiar with the actual social workings of the societies they live in.  Researchers have been warning about the high likelihood of something like this at least since the works of the Meadows in the early 1970s.[2] 
The Oil Fizzle DK is the result of the interaction between this net energy fizzling out, climate change, debt and the full spectrum of ecological and social issues that have been mounting since the early 1970s – as I noted on Figure 1, the Oil Fizzle DK is in the process of whipping up a “Perfect Storm” strong enough to bring the GIW to its knees.  The Oil Pearl Harbour marks the Oil Fizzle DK getting into full swing. 
To explain this further, with reference to Figure 5, oil represents some 33% of global primary energy use (BP data). Fossil fuels represented some 86% of total primary energy in 2014.  However, coal, oil, and gas are not like three boxes neatly set side by side from which energy is supplied magically, as most economists would have it.
In the real world (i.e. outside the world economists live in), energy supply chains form networks, rather complex ones.  For example, it takes electricity to produce many products derived from oil, coal, and gas, while electricity is generated substantially from coal and gas, and so on.  More to the point, as noted earlier, because 94% of all transport is oil-based, oil stands at the root of the entire, complex, globalised set of energy networks.  Coal mining, transport, processing, and use depend substantially on oil-derived transport fuels; ditto for gas.[3]   The same applies to nuclear plants.  So the thermodynamic collapse of the oil industry, that is now underway, not only is likely to be completed within some 10 years but is also in the process of triggering a falling domino effect (aka an avalanche, or in systemic terms, a self-organising criticality, a SOC). 
Presently, and for the foreseeable future, we do not have substitutes for oil derived transport fuels that can be deployed within the required time frame and that would be affordable to the GIW.  In other words, the GIW is falling into a thermodynamic trap, right now. As B. W. Hill recently noted, “The world is now spending $2.3 trillion per year more to produce oil than what is received when it is sold. The world is now losing a great deal of money to maintain its dependence on oil.”

The Tooth Fairy Syndrome

To come back to David Bohm’s “question about the question”, in my view, we are in this situation fundamentally because of what I call the “Tooth Fairy Syndrome”, after a pointed remark by B.W. Hill in an Internet debate early last year: “It is interesting that not one analyst has yet come to the very obvious conclusion that it requires oil to produce oil.  Perhaps they think it is delivered by the Tooth Fairy?”  This remark vividly characterised for me the prevalence of a fair amount of magical thinking at the heart of decision-making within both the GEI and the GIW, aka economics as a perpetual motion machine fantasy.  Unquestioned delusional beliefs lead to wrong conclusions.
This is not new.  Here are a few words of explanation.  In 1981, I met US anthropologist Laura Nader at the Australia New Zealand Association of the Advancement of Science (ANZAAS) Congress held that year at University of Queensland in Brisbane.  We were both guest speakers at seminars focusing on Energy and Equity, and in particular on how societies actually deal with energy matters, energy crises and decide about courses of action.  The title of her paper was “Energy and Equity, Magic, Science, and Religion Revisited”.
In recent years, Nader had become part of US bodies overseeing responses to the first and second oil shocks and the US nuclear energy industry (she was a member of the National Academy of Science's Committee on Nuclear and Alternative Energy Systems, CONAES). As an anthropologist, she was initially taken aback by what she observed and proceeded to apply her anthropological skills to try and understand the weird “tribes” she had landed into.  The title of her paper was a wink at Malinowski’s famous work on the Trobriands in 1925.  
Malinowski had pointed out that: “There are no people, however primitive without religion or magic.  Nor are there… any savage races [sic] lacking either in the scientific attitude or in science though this lack has been frequently attributed to them.”  
Nader had observed that prevailing decision-making in the industrialised world she was living in was also the outcome of a weird mix of “Magic, Science, and Religion” with magical and mythical, quasi religious, thinking predominating among people who were viewed and who viewed themselves as rational and making scientifically grounded decisions.  At the time I was engaged in very similar research, had observed exactly the same kind of phenomena in my own Australasian fieldwork and had reached similar conclusions.
In my observations, since the 1970s the prevalence of this syndrome has considerably worsened. This is what I seek to encapsulate as the Tooth Fairy Syndrome.  With the Oil Peal harbour, the unquestioned sway of the Tooth Fairy is coming to an end.  However, the imprint of Tooth Fairy thinking remains so strong that most discussions and analyses remain highly confused, even within scientific circles still taking economic notions for granted. 
In the longer run, the end effect of the Oil Fizzle DK is likely to be an abrupt decline of GHG emissions.  However, the danger I see is that meanwhile the GEI, and most notably the OI, is not going to just “curl up and die”.  I think we are in a “die hard” situation.  Since 2012, we are already seeing what I call a Big Mad Scramble (BMS) by a wide range of GEI actors that try to keep going while they still can, flying blind into the ground.  The eventual outcome is hard to avoid with a GEI operating with only about 12% energy efficiency, i.e. some 88% wasteful current primary energy use.  The GIW’s agony is likely to result in a big burst of GHG emissions while net energy fizzles out.  The high danger is that the old quip will eventuate on a planetary scale: “the operation was successful but the patient died”…  Hence my call for “enquiring into the appropriateness of the question” and for systemic thinking.  We are in deep trouble.  We can’t afford to get this wrong.
Next: Part 3 – Standing slightly past the edge of the cliff




Bio: Dr Louis Arnoux is a scientist, engineer, and entrepreneur committed to the development of sustainable ways of living and doing business.  His profile is available on Google+  at:






[1] As THG have conclusively clarified, see



[2] The Meadows’ original work has been amply corroborated over the ensuing decades.  See for example, Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows, 2004, A Synopsis: Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update, The Donella Meadows Institute; Turner, Graham, 2008, A Comparison of the Limits to Growth with Thirty Years of Reality, Socio-Economics and the Environment in Discussion, CSIRO Working Paper Series 2008-09; Hall, Charles A. S. and Day, John W, Jr, 2009, “Revisiting the Limits to Growth After Peak Oil” in American Scientist, May-June; Vuuren, D.P. van and Faber, Albert, 2009, Growing within Limits, A Report to the Global Assembly 2009 of the Club of Rome, Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency; and Turner, Graham, M., 2014, Is Global Collapse Imminent? An Updated Comparison of The Limits to Growth with Historical Data, MSSI Research Paper No. 4, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, The University of Melbourne.



[3] Although there is a drive to use more and more liquefied natural gas for gas tankers and ordinary ship fuel bunkering



Reflections on the Twilight of the Age of Oil – part I

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on July 12, 2016


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This three-part post was inspired by Ugo’s recent post concerning Will Renewables Ever ReplaceFossils? and recent discussions within Ugo’s discussion group on how is it that “Economists still don't get it”?  It integrates also numerous discussion and exchanges I have had with colleagues and business partners over the last three years.


Since at least the end of 2014 there has been increasing confusions about oil prices, whether so-called “Peal Oil” has already happened, or will happen in the future and when, matters of EROI (or EROEI) values for current energy sources and for alternatives, climate change and the phantasmatic 2oC warming limit, and concerning the feasibility of shifting rapidly to renewables or sustainable sources of energy supply.  Overall, it matters a great deal whether a reasonable time horizon to act is say 50 years, i.e. in the main the troubles that we are contemplating are taking place way past 2050, or if we are already in deep trouble and the timeframe to try and extricate ourselves is some 10 years. Answering this kind of question requires paying close attention to system boundary definitions and scrutinising all matters taken for granted.


It took over 50 years for climatologists to be heard and for politicians to reach the Paris Agreement re climate change (CC) at the close of the COP21, late last year.  As you no doubt can gather from the title, I am of the view that we do not have 50 years to agonise about oil.  In the three sections of this post I will first briefly take stock of where we are oil wise; I will then consider how this situation calls upon us to do our utter best to extricate ourselves from the current prevailing confusion and think straight about our predicament; and in the third part I will offer a few considerations concerning the near term, the next ten years – how to approach it, what cannot work and what may work, and the urgency to act, without delay.

Part 1 – Alice looking down the end of the barrel

In his recent post, Ugo contrasted the views of the Doomstead Diner's readers  with that of energy experts regarding the feasibility of replacing fossil fuels within a reasonable timeframe.  In my view, the Doomstead’s guests had a much better sense of the situation than the “experts” in Ugo’s survey.  To be blunt, along current prevailing lines we are not going to make it.  I am not just referring here to “business-as-usual” (BAU) parties holding for dear life onto fossil fuels and nukes.  I also include all current efforts at implementing alternatives and combating CC.  Here is why.   

The energy cost of system replacement

What a great number of energy technology specialists miss are the challenges of whole system replacement – moving from fossil-based to 100% sustainable over a given period of time.  Of course, the prior question concerns the necessity or otherwise of whole system replacement.  For those of us who have already concluded that this is an urgent necessity, if only due to CC, no need to discuss this matter here.  For those who maybe are not yet clear on this point, hopefully, the matter will become a lot clearer a few paragraphs down.
So coming back for now to whole system replacement, the first challenge most remain blind to is the huge energy cost of whole system replacement in terms of both the 1st principle of thermodynamics (i.e. how much net energy is required to develop and deploy a whole alternative system, while the old one has to be kept going and be progressively replaced) and also concerning the 2nd principle (i.e. the waste heat involved in the whole system substitution process).  The implied issues are to figure out first how much total fossil primary energy is required by such a shift, in addition to what is required for ongoing BAU business and until such a time when any sustainable alternative has managed to become self-sustaining, and second to ascertain where this additional fossil energy may come from. 

The end of the Oil Age is now

If we had a whole century ahead of us to transition, it would be comparatively easy.  Unfortunately, we no longer have that leisure since the second key challenge is the remaining timeframe for whole system replacement.  What most people miss is that the rapid end of the Oil Age began in 2012 and will be over within some 10 years.  To the best of my knowledge, the most advanced material in this matter is the thermodynamic analysis of the oil industry taken as a whole system (OI) produced by The Hill's Group (THG) over the last two years or so ( 
THG are seasoned US oil industry engineers led by B.W. Hill.  I find its analysis elegant and rock hard.  For example, one of its outputs concerns oil prices.  Over a 56 year time period, its correlation factor with historical data is 0.995.  In consequence, they began to warn in 2013 about the oil price crash that began late 2014 (see:  In what follows I rely on THG’s report and my own work.
Three figures summarise the situation we are in rather well, in my view.
Figure 1 – End Game
For purely thermodynamic reasons net energy delivered to the globalised industrial world (GIW) per barrel by the oil industry (OI) is rapidly trending to zero.  By net energy we mean here what the OI delivers to the GIW, essentially in the form of transport fuels, after the energy used by the OI for exploration, production, transport, refining and end products delivery have been deducted. 
However, things break down well before reaching “ground zero”; i.e. within 10 years the OI as we know it will have disintegrated. Actually, a number of analysts from entities like Deloitte or Chatham House, reading financial tealeaves, are progressively reaching the same kind of conclusions.[1]
The Oil Age is finishing now, not in a slow, smooth, long slide down from “Peak Oil”, but in a rapid fizzling out of net energy.  This is now combining with things like climate change and the global debt issues to generate what I call a “Perfect Storm” big enough to bring the GIW to its knees.

In an Alice world

At present, under the prevailing paradigm, there is no known way to exit from the Perfect Storm within the emerging time constraint (available time has shrunk by one order of magnitude, from 100 to 10 years).  This is where I think that Doomstead Diner's readers are guessing right.  Many readers are no doubt familiar with the so-called “Read Queen” effect illustrated in Figure 2 – to have to run fast to stay put, and even faster to be able to move forward.  The OI is fully caught in it.
Figure 2 – Stuck on a one track to nowhere
The top part of Figure 2 highlights that, due to declining net energy per barrel, the OI has to keep running faster and faster (i.e. pumping oil) to keep supplying the GIW with the net energy it requires.  What most people miss is that due to that same rapid decline of net energy/barrel towards nil, the OI can't keep “running” for much more than a few years – e.g. B.W. Hill considers that within 10 years the number of petrol stations in the US will have shrunk by 75%…  
What people also neglect, depicted in the bottom part of Figure 2, is what I call the inverse Red Queen effect (1/RQ).  Building an alternative whole system takes energy that to a large extent initially has to come from the present fossil-fuelled system.  If the shift takes place too rapidly, the net energy drain literally kills the existing BAU system.[2] The shorter the transition time the harder is the 1/RQ.  





I estimate the limit growth rate for the alternative whole system at 7% growth per year.  

In other words, current growth rates for solar and wind, well above 20% and in some cases over 60%, are not viable globally.  However, the kind of growth rates, in the order of 35%, that are required for a very short transition under the Perfect Storm time frame are even less viable – if “we” stick to the prevailing paradigm, that is.  As the last part of Figure 2 suggests, there is a way out by focusing on current huge energy waste, but presently this is the road not taken.

On the way to Olduvai

In my view, given that nearly everything within the GIW requires transport and that said transport is still about 94% dependent on oil-derived fuels, the rapid fizzling out of net energy from oil must be considered as the defining event of the 21st century – it governs the operation of all other energy sources, as well as that of the entire GIW.  In this respect, the critical parameter to consider is not that absolute amount of oil mined (as even “peakoilers” do), such as Million barrels produced per year, but net energy from oil per head of global population, since when this gets too close to nil we must expect complete social breakdown, globally. 
The overall picture, as depicted ion Figure 3, is that of the “Mother of all Senecas” (to use Ugo’s expression).   It presents net energy from oil per head of global population.[3]  The Olduvai Gorge as a backdrop is a wink to Dr. Richard Duncan’s scenario (he used barrels of oil equivalent which was a mistake) and to stress the dire consequences if we do reach the “bottom of the Gorge” – a kind of “postmodern hunter-gatherer” fate.
Oil has been in use for thousands of year, in limited fashion at locations where it seeped naturally or where small well could be dug out by hand.  Oil sands began to be mined industrially in 1745 at Merkwiller-Pechelbronn in north east France (the birthplace of Schlumberger).  From such very modest beginnings to a peak in the early 1970s, the climb took over 220 years.  The fall back to nil will have taken about 50 years.
The amazing economic growth in the three post WWII decades was actually fuelled by a 321% growth in net energy/head.  The peak of 18GJ/head in around 1973, was actually in the order of some 40GJ/head for those who actually has access to oil at the time, i.e. the industrialised fraction of the global population.
Figure 3 – The “Mother of all Senecas”

In 2012 the OI began to use more energy per barrel in its own processes (from oil exploration to transport fuel deliveries at the petrol stations) than what it delivers net to the GIW.  We are now down below 4GJ/head and dropping fast.
This is what is now actually driving the oil prices: since 2014, through millions of trade transactions (functioning as the “invisible hand” of the markets), the reality is progressively filtering that the GIW can only afford oil prices in proportion to the amount of GDP growth that can be generated by a rapidly shrinking net energy delivered per barrel, which is no longer much.  Soon it will be nil. So oil prices are actually on a downtrend towards nil. 
To cope, the OI has been cannibalising itself since 2012.  This trend is accelerating but cannot continue for very long.  Even mainstream analysts have begun to recognise that the OI is no longer replenishing its reserves.  We have entered fire-sale times (as shown by the recent announcements by Saudi Arabia (whose main field, Ghawar, is probably over 90% depleted) to sell part of Aramco and make a rapid shift out of a near 100% dependence on oil and towards “solar”.
Given what Figure 1 to 3 depict, it should be obvious that resuming growth along BAU lines is no longer doable, that addressing CC as envisaged at the COP21 in Paris last year is not doable either, and that incurring ever more debt that can never be reimbursed is no longer a solution, not even short-term.  
Time to “pull up” and this requires a paradigm change capable of avoiding both the RQ and 1/RQ constraints.  After some 45 years of research, my colleagues and I think this is still doable.  Short of this, no, we are not going to make it, in terms of replacing fossil resources with renewable ones within the remaining timeframe, or in terms of the GIW’s survival.

Part 2 – Enquiring into the appropriateness of the question

Part 3 – Standing slightly past the edge of the cliff











[1] See for example, Stevens, Paul, 2016, International Oil Companies: The Death of the Old Business Model, Energy, Research Paper, Energy, Environment and Resources, Chatham House; England, John W., 2016, Short of capital? Risk of underinvestment in oil and gas is amplified by competing cash priorities, Deloitte Center for Energy Solutions, Deloitte LLP.  The Bank of England recently commented: “The embattled crude oil and natural gas industry worldwide has slashed capital spending to a point below the minimum required levels to replace reserves — replacement of proved reserves in the past constituted about 80 percent of the industry’s spending; however, the industry has slashed its capital spending by a total of about 50 percent in 2015 and 2016. According to Deloitte’s new study {referred to above], this underinvestment will quickly deplete the future availability of reserves and production.”





[2] This effect is also referred to as “cannibalising”.  See for example, J. M. Pearce, 2009, Optimising Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Strategies to Suppress Energy Cannibalism, 2nd Climate Change Technology Conference, May 12-15, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.  However, in the oil industry and more generally the mining industry, cannibalism usually refers to what companies do when there are reaching the end of exploitable reserves and cut down on maintenance, sell assets at a discount or acquires some from companies gone bankrupt, in order to try and survive a bit longer.  Presently there is much asset disposal going on in the Shale Oil and Gas patches, ditto among majors, Lukoil, BP, Shell, Chevron, etc….  Between spending cuts and assets disposal amounts involved are in the $1 to $2 trillions.





[3] This graph is based on THG’s net energy data, BP oil production data and UN demographic data.





Against Liberal (democratic) Capitalism: The Revolt of the Ignored

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Published on r/collapse on June 26, 2016

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Liberalism is the social system that makes Capitalism possible. Markets and private property have been intrinsic to nearly every form of Civilization (see the Incas as an outlier), but it was the creation of Liberal institutions that allowed full-blown Capitalism to proceed. Without guarantees of personal liberty, actual barons would have continued to rob the puny Capitalists, or some sovereign social consciousness might have prohibited their rapacious extractions altogether. The mark of true Liberal society is that no person of wealth need ever fear injustice.

Democracy was the final element of the complex and its addition came reluctantly. A simple mind, such as that of Ayn Rand, fails to understand the vital function of Democracy – that it diffuses away political power. Personal liberty is in jeopardy from any great concentration of power – political, religious or ironically, even economic, so Capitalism needs Democracy. But Democracy also holds that terrible potential – they call it ‘the tyranny of the majority’ – and so, Capitalists must diminish and constrain it as (democracy).

Reading this again, I do think it reflects the actual history of social development. For example, throughout East Asia and Latin America, authoritarian regimes were the vehicles for nascent Capitalist development. Liberal rights were slowly extended to an expanding Ownership while the masses were kept in brutal suppression. But while pacified workers are a necessity, a much higher value is found for them as a herd of avid consumers. That is the function of (democracy).

I am not anti-Capitalist for any ethical reason. It does offer greater freedom and a higher standard of living. But all of that will be irrelevant if Earth is returned to a condition that supports little else than microbial life.

Some theorists claim this system is an emergent property of human nature

In that regard, I think foremost of the neo-conservative Francis Fukuyama, who wrote a screed that was lengthened into a best-selling book. From Wiki:

…his book The End of History and the Last Man (1992), which argued that the worldwide spread of liberal democracies and free market capitalism of the West and its lifestyle may signal the end point of humanity's sociocultural evolution and become the final form of human government.

It was triumphant shout for the Fall of Communism. It was also a tedious read for its reliance of Hegelian philosophy, though it was interesting that at his conclusion, he feared Nietzsche might be right, and that liberal democracy (and Capitalism) might breed nihilism. It has, but more than that is its physical properties, as it can only accelerate the destruction of the Biosphere. I now see the bitter irony in his pompous title: This can be the end of history and the last of humanity.

I feel someone should do something to stop that.



A specter is haunting Europe – the specter of Nationalism.

Historians and pundits have touted the Fall of the Berlin Wall as the birth pang of a new Global Civilization, one organized as a supra-national system of Liberal (democratic) Capitalism. Some theorists claim this system is an emergent property of human nature and will be the inevitable culmination of history. This view ignores all of that aerial bombardment of great cities and Third World villages, and the threat of ever-greater bombs, that were the expedient means used to bring the opposition to Capitalism into submission. That aside, is it not wonderful that we all now enjoy the freedom to be Capitalists? Drive well for Uber and prosper.

However, there is a dilemma: This Global Civilization will quickly destroy Life on a Small Planet. A few entrepreneurs understand this and are planning a departure for Mars and the asteroid belt, but the rest of Our Ownership are in varying states of denial of this scientific certainty. Let us build summer camps for them atop the Arctic Sea Ice, where they might receive reeducation, with an emphasis on the laws of thermodynamics.

The only chance we have of slowing this ongoing Eco-Catastrophe is to disrupt this Global System, and while the farthest fringes of the Left understand this, the rest them have become worse than useless for that cause. As an example, Jill Stein, the current head of the Green Party of the USA, was a participant in a must-see documentary on the looming threat of human extinction, The Cross of the Moment. In the US elections of 2012, she and her Green Party received fewer than half a million votes, about a quarter of a percent of the electorate. I will be voting for her this November – nothing to gain, what else to lose.

If our democracies are useless, that is by design. To protect themselves against ‘the tyranny of the majority’, Our Ownership builds in safeguards against the popular will, an intricate complex of restraints and ruses. Sheldon Wolin has termed this as a ‘managed democracy’, even as ‘inverted totalitarianism’. This is a system to transform citizens with rights into consumers with needs.

In the Science of Civilizations, Brexit Is the European Union’s Reckoning

“One of the biggest problems is even though the EU seems democratic, the government is not democratically elected by the people of Europe, and therefore not directly responsive to the population,” says Turchin.

Recently, the Management of Democracy has suffered a series of notable failures, the latest coming when the (barely) United Kingdom voted in favor of leaving the European Union. The horror, the horror – live on television, as the vote totals mounted, most of the talking heads bore the expressions that they repress when reporting acts of mass terrorism. Was it a dread of financial turmoil? No, they must know that the Global Economy is already ‘struggling’, with investments so overvalued that most any shock could prompt a precipitous collapse, with derivatives tumbling like dominoes. No, what truly terrified them was the revolt of the English working class – those uneducated, xenophobic, economic losers that they have been able to manipulate or ignore for decades. Nationalism rears its head and Our Ownership screams.

Cue a notable Harvard and IMF economist:

Britain’s Democratic Failure

The idea that somehow any decision reached anytime by majority rule is necessarily “democratic” is a perversion of the term. Modern democracies have evolved systems of checks and balances to protect the interests of minorities and to avoid making uninformed decisions with catastrophic consequences. The greater and more lasting the decision, the higher the hurdles.

The other great failure in democratic management has been Donald Trump’s attainment of the Republican nomination for Presidency of the USA. As in the UK, the centrist conservative establishment greatly misjudged their ability to manage Democracy. The twin political pillar of American Capitalism, the Democratic Party, has better appraised the threat of revolt from the masses, and constructed a bulwark of unelected ‘super-delegates’ to block the nomination of any populist insurgent. Elsewhere in Europe, strange political collaborations in elections (the French Conservatives and Socialists against the National Front) or in parliamentary rule (the German Christian Democrats plus Social Democrats) are to allow no path for right-wing populists. Such movements have electoral success only in former Soviet Bloc nations where Liberal (democratic) Capitalism still has shallow roots.

All of this begs the question: Whatever happened to the former champions of the working class, the traditional Left?

In the USA, the Democratic Party made it a policy to ignore its largely white working class and created a new coalition of ‘enlightened professionals’ and assorted minorities. This chimera has enabled Clinton to prevail over Sanders and his following of ‘people-without-color’. How this coalition was built is recounted in Listen Liberal: Or, Whatever Happened to the Party of the People, the latest book by the bona fide progressive author Thomas Frank. Do listen to his CSPAN Book Television presentation and discussion of the book. This bit of transcription comes from his conclusion, starting around minute 37.

…by abandoning them [the white working class] the Democrats made inevitable the economic desolation we now see out in the countryside of this nation…

…that leaves us with a choice this November… intolerance [Trump] versus inequality forever [Clinton]. Look folks, there has got to be a different way.

This book caps Frank’s lengthy attempt to understand why his white working class has consistently voted against its own economic interests. He now understands they do so because their concerns are irrelevant to the American political center, where neoconservative Tweedledum and neoliberal Tweedledee link arms to defend the Global Empire of Liberal (and democratic) Capitalism.

The opposition to Brexit was a very similar coalition: educated professionals, Scotland and Ulster, and the descendants of Imperial immigrants. Versus them were English traditionalists and a nativist working class. It was the forces of Globalization against English Nationalism. In the absence of ‘high hurdles’, English Nationalism won the vote. The British bookmakers had offered eighty to one odds against them.

Meanwhile, back in the USA, the Truly Privileged and the Minorities are closing ranks to guarantee the election of the neoconservative, neoliberal Madame Secretary Clinton. Be then prepared for new military adventures and increasing inequality, if not forever, then for four to eight more years.

The American white working class now has a declining life expectancy, a historical privilege once suffered by the true Native Americans. Instead of sympathy, the pundits write sarcasm:

The incredible crushing despair of the white working class [OP user/triggerexpert]

If you're a working-class white American, in other words, it may seem as though you are stuck with a losing hand in a bleak zero-sum game: Minorities are getting richer. The rich are getting richer. They're all doing so at your expense, and it's difficult to imagine things being any different in the future.

That writer might have given some attribution to Mitt Romney, who said it first and better in this recent speech:

Demagogues on the right and the left draw upon our darker angels,” he said, “scapegoating immigrants and Muslims or bankers and business people.”

Yes, pity and protect the poor bankers. Finally, there comes this opinion piece, which was the provocation for me to write this essay. This crap comes from a ‘resident philosopher’ at the Brookings Institute, a Democratic ‘think tank’, who bravely sallies forth against the white working class and in favor of a more manageable democracy.

How voters’ personal suffering overtook reason — and brought us Donald Trump

The economic foundations of their way of life were destroyed by the unforgiving logic of globalization, and then by the recession and its scandalously uneven recovery. The blandishments of the digital economy passed them by. Their current rates of alcoholism, life expectancy and suicide are now notorious.

[Pause your reading while he snuffles back his crocodile tears.]

Republicans have been indifferent to them because Republicans revere winners and they are losers. Democrats have been indifferent to them because they are culturally embarrassing (and because many Democrats, too, have had little time for losers). Now they finally command the attention of the country — they have been discovered — which is itself a victory for fairness in America; but a large portion of them have gained this recognition by debasing American politics with a desperate preference for a strongman. It is one of the lowest ironies of this low time.

[But you are not ignoring them now, are you?]

All the way at the other end of the political spectrum from the black aggrieved are the white aggrieved, and they are the ones playing with a terrifying fire. The people who support the white working class have been voting for Bernie Sanders, but the white working class has been voting for Donald Trump. He would be nowhere, and we would not be facing a grave historical crisis, without the enthusiasm of these despairing and deluded millions. It was inevitable that we would not escape the political consequences of our economic dislocations, but those consequences now include the darkest forces of reaction. These downtrodden demand sympathy, and they deserve sympathy, but they do not give sympathy. They kindle, in the myopia of their pain, to racism and nativism and xenophobia and misogyny and homophobia and anti-Semitism.

The accidental candidacy of the clownish Donald Trump ranks as a grave historical crisis? Screw you Leon Wieseltier, you have seen nothing yet. Three cheers for Brexit! Hip-hip-hurrah! On with the Collapse of this cynical and corrupt system! Or as Peter Turchin noted in the lead article:

“All large scale societies go through complex cycles,” says Turchin. “These usually end up in civil war or outside conquest, but sometimes the ruling class can manage to get their act together using the reform route.”

Our Ownership is incapable of reform. The cupboard is fiscally bankrupt and depleted of resources, so there are no bones to toss to the snarling dogs. Listen Leftists! If you lament this outcome, then you must do as Thomas Frank suggests and find another way. Seek some means of reconciliation with that once dear proletariat. Human survival depends on that.




Enjoying the Collapse

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Published on Reddit on May 29, 2016


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Abandoned Malls & Vaporwave

If I wanted to limit myself to posting profoundly insightful things, I'd have to post once a month perhaps. So, today I want to discuss something that simply happens to entertain me. I'm part of an age cohort that happens to remember the nineties, but only very vaguely so. We're the echo-boomers, born from around 1989 until 1992. During that period there was a small but significant spike in birth rates around the Western world. If you were to ask your parents however, they'd insist that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin wall had nothing to do whatsoever with your birth. So for us, our experience of the late nineties and its culture consist of vague unreliable memories and an abundance of toys. My girlfriend insists that she remembers how it was, despite being two years younger than me, but I struggle to believe her. I think she remembers hearing the echo of that culture in the early '00's, although it could be argued that's what I heard myself as well. Still, I have some memories, particularly, I remember an atmosphere of exuberance.

I personally think that I got an odd version of the 90's and turned into a rather odd person, because of the fact that my father got laid off from the government somewhere in the late 90's. At the time, if you lost your government job, the government would continue paying you a monthly severance package practically equivalent to the salary you used to earn, until you found a new job. The state traditionally takes care of its own people very well here in Europe. My father's job would probably put us in the upper-middle class bracket (if my mom would have a job too, but she didn't), but he hated the job and most of his colleagues. As a result, my father didn't really want to find a new job at first. My parents would earn some money on the side by selling scrap metal or participating in surveys, which was more than enough to get by. Then, after years of unemployment when it did become useful to find some extra money, it proved to be somewhat difficult.

I think this environmental upbringing plays a role in the fact that I'm not very interested in participating in the economy. I was quite proud of the fact that my parents didn't have to work and made no secret of it to the preppy kids I went to junior high school with who'd ask me what my father does, because they grew up with parents that based their self-image on their petty jobs and taught their children to do the same. Personally, I believe I got the best of both world. I have vague memories of economic excesses and did not have to suffer poverty as a result. When I became mature and began to think about the world, civilization began to horrify me, almost driving me into insanity. Now that I am an adult, I woke up from my slumber to realize that civilization has already started to fall apart. The signs are everywhere and even regular people are starting to notice them.

Ted Kaczynski claims in his manifesto that the atmosphere of the nineties was rather critical of progress. That's not what I remember. I remember corporate guru's, paid hundreds of euros an hour to give pep talks based on buzz-words to cubicle-concubines. I remember stock markets that were going to keep growing forever. I remember the end of history, as neoliberal democracy was going to conquer the whole world. I remember sitcom television series, where the main characters suddenly had more money than they knew what to do with and decided to invest it in ridiculous ventures. I remember good television shows and arty farty computer games. I even remember people thinking that diversity would make our nations stronger and allow us to enjoy experiencing exotic cultures. People thought that they had won, that the good times would last forever.

If I was born a few years later, I'd be a rather ignorant person, with no idea of what went wrong and how things used to be and what made people take the poor decisions they took. If I was born a few years earlier, I think I'd be a rather miserable person. I would have grown up in economic growth and become psychologically dependent on it. I'd be stuck somewhere with a petty job and I'd probably be in the prime of my life now and suffering the effects of the economic downturn, watching my hopes for the future fall apart. Never having hope or goals for the future meant I never had to suffer disappointment. Being an echo boomer means that I've never had any experience with the economy as anything other than a beast of burden that has broken its leg and struggled to pull the plow ever since. I don't remember how things used to be before temp-contracts and waiters with Phd's, all that I remember is tasting the fruits we used to harvest in those earlier days. Instead, I've somehow always known that I would have to live through the collapse and that regardless of what I do, I won't be prepared for it.

I can't deny that I'm surprised by how long they have managed to drag the process out. It's something that used to bother me, but I'm beginning to come to terms with it. I used to hope that I would be a teenager during the collapse, one day waking up to a catastrophe of Venezuelan proportions and living as a permanent nomad from that point on. I still think a fast collapse may be better, for a variety of reasons, but for me this situation works too. It's the difference between watching someone paint a landscape and wandering into an art gallery. I will learn to better appreciate things that future generations will take for granted. And believe me, there is plenty to appreciate out here.

Let us start for example, with the fact that you and me get to watch everyone's utopian dreams end in profound humiliation. We get to watch the babyboomers be confronted with the reality that they won't get to live like modern day aristocrats after retiring. We get to watch every technology that was supposed to protect us from the consequences of our own greed fail to deliver. And perhaps most importantly, we get to dance on the corpses of our predecessors. It's fun to watch how the shopping malls are gradually deserted and once busy streets now house only money laundering jewelers and second hand stores kept alive with government subsidies. For future generations, abandoned shopping malls with flickering lights overgrown by vines and mosses are a self-evident part of the landscape. For me, they're orgasmic.

The advertisements once meant to seduce us into consuming now serve as a source of hilarity, as we don't have money left to consume with. This led to perhaps the most beautiful thing of this decade, vaporwave. Vaporwave was made for a generation of people for whom prosperity is an unreliable childhood memory. It's the international anthem of every abandoned mall around the world. Nobody invented vaporwave, it simply emerged spontaneously as a collective hallucination of dementing patients who struggle to remember their childhood. It seems inevitable that capitalism will now aim to mass market this anthem of its own decay, like a cancer patient selling tickets to his own funeral. Some people feel upset about this, but I don't see why you should. It seems that we struggle to understand that there can be life after the peak. The Russians and the Japanese had to learn to accept this, now it's our turn. In America and Western Europe, the post-peak world began in the year 2001, when it became clear that we still had problems. The level of wealth we reached in 1999 will never be experienced again and we should be glad about it. What lies ahead now is a long descent, with bumpy plateaus that prove to be unsustainable and tend to be followed by rapid collapses. As of speaking, the bumpy plateau we've been on since 2009 is rapidly coming to an end.

My recommendation to all of you is to learn how to enjoy the decline. Abandoned buildings are a treasure trove of mysteries and sometimes even wealth. Do not become too physically attached to any place, as everything you see will disappear. Abandoned buildings will be destroyed, even as beautiful wastelands will be filled with new offices and shopping malls as a product of wealthy people's inability to accept that their way of life is coming to an end. When you find yourself mourning the ruins of today that are demolished to hide the decline, remember that the ruins of tomorrow are built today. If you ever doubt whether God loves us, remember that rising CO2 concentrations lower the light compensation point: The amount of sunlight needed for a plant to gain more carbon than it loses. As a result, plants of all kinds will be able to grow in places that would have been barren under our previous climate due to insufficient sunlight. An overpriced McMansion built today will come to house trees growing through its roof, their lives made possible by the abandoned SUV rusting away in the garage. After years of suffering through this mediocrity, what lies ahead for us is more beautiful than what we can begin to imagine.










Closed loop agriculture for environmental enhancement

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Published on FEASTA on April 26, 2016


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Returning biomass nutrients from humanure and urine to agriculture

Download full report (pdf document, 2.1 MB)


Closed loop agriculture is farming practice that recycles all nutrients and organic matter material back to the soil that it grew in. This forms part of an agricultural practice that preserves the nutrient and carbon levels within the soil and allows farming to be carried out on a sustainable basis.

Current farming practice (as shown in Figure 1) relies heavily on imported nutrients to sustain high production. We eat the food; and then the nutrients and biomass from faeces and urine are flushed away via our toilets. The sewage is treated, to a greater or lesser extent, to limit its potential to cause water pollution, and then discarded to groundwater, rivers or the sea. This practice requires high fossil energy inputs for fertiliser manufacture, causes pollution to our waterways, and strips organic matter from the soil which in turn reduces productivity, overall soil health and structure.

Most of the sludge arising in the EU is of agricultural rather than human origin, and this is returned to the soil as part of standard farming practice. Biosolids (treated sewage sludge) are also increasingly returned to the land. However, the process of sewage treatment reduces the potential biomass and nutrient resource available for recycling, so current practice still essentially wastes these resources, while adding to the pollution of our waterways. By capturing the nutrients that currently make their way into sewage, we can feasibly eliminate water pollution from this source. By composting humanure (and farmyard manures) and converting it to humus before application to the fields, the soil can hold more moisture and withstand erosion more effectively than when artificial nutrients or even uncomposted slurry or manure are used. Also, by incorporating humus into the fields the filtering capacity of the soil is maximised. Thus we can dramatically reduce our water pollution from agriculture as well as from sewage.

Note that manures from animals comprise roughly nine times the quantity of potential humanure (human manure) in Ireland. The management of this farmyard manure and slurry can be improved for energy generation through anaerobic digestion or can be composted for greater carbon sequestration. Other regenerative agriculture techniques may also be used for greater soil building and sustainability. However for the purposes of this report, the focus is upon returning the biomass and nutrients from humanure and urine to agriculture.

From a climate change perspective, agriculture is the greatest single source of greenhouse gasses in Ireland. In order to meet our international greenhouse gas reduction targets we need to explore every angle possible, and adopt every measure that works to lower Irish greenhouse gas emissions. Closed loop agriculture not only stops the waste of nutrients to watercourses as pollution, it can also reduce the high energy inputs needed for artificial nitrogen production and could go a significant way towards reducing overall agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

Figure 1. Conventional farming practice

Figure 2. Closed loop farming practice.

Closed loop agriculture has direct benefits for biodiversity also, within the soil itself, in the aquatic environment, and within the context of climate change:

1. Soil ecosystems are amongst the most diverse on earth, hosting c.25% of all of the species on the planet1. A single gram of grassland soil may contain over one billion organisms with as many as ten thousand different species of bacteria and fungi2. Healthy soils are vital for biodiversity, human health and climate regulation. Our own species derives 95% of our food from the soil3, whether directly or indirectly. Closed loop agriculture can build a healthy soil ecology by reducing artificial nitrogen inputs and by returning soil organic matter.

2. The health of the aquatic environment and aquatic biodiversity in Ireland is directly related to protection from water pollution. Key indicator species such as the freshwater pearl mussel live only in high quality rivers and streams. High status water bodies have fallen in number from almost a third of all monitoring sites in the mid 1980s to under one fifth4. Clean water, free of pathogens and the chemicals added to kill them, is also vital for our own health and wellbeing. Closed loop agriculture can protect and enhance water quality by eliminating pollution from sewage and by returning agricultural nutrients to the land in a way that is bound up in humus, and thus more stable and resistant to erosion in field runoff.

3. Climate change has already had a significant impact on biodiversity. Many animal species on land, in rivers, lakes and seas have moved geographical ranges, changed seasonal activities and migration patterns and have altered abundances and species interactions5. The long term impacts on biodiversity may be devastating as temperature range movement outstrips the ability of plant species, small mammals and freshwater molluscs, for example, to migrate; as oceans face dropping oxygen levels and greater acidification; and as coastal and low-lying areas are lost to sea level rises (IPCC, 2014). Closed loop agriculture can help to reduce the degree of climate change by cutting back on energy intensive artificial nitrogen production as well as by sequestering carbon in the soil. It can also reduce the impact of climatic extremes by building healthy, humic rich soils which provide greater resilience to drought and flood conditions, both within the field scale for food production, and within the wider catchment scale for ameliorating flooding.

This report is set out in three sections, as follows:

Part 1 Nitrogen:
The impacts of artificial nitrogen manufacture on the climate, the impacts of its use on the soil, and the potential for closing the loop and reusing nutrients from human excreta to grow our food.
Part 2 Carbon:
The impacts of excess atmospheric carbon on the environment, the potential for sequestering carbon in our farms as soil organic matter, and the opportunities for adopting soil-building farm management practices.
Part 3 Implementation and Policy:
The methods of humanure and urine separation and recovery, overview of international best practice, current Irish policy and proposed policy amendments to facilitate closed loop agriculture in Ireland.

This project was facilitated with the financial support of the Irish Environmental Network under the Biodiversity Policy Funding package from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.

Footnotes for introduction

1. European Commission (2010) The factory of life – why soil biodiversity is so important. European Commission, Luxembourg.
2. Richter A, R Cramer, D O’hUallacháin, E Doyle and N Clipson (2014) Soil microbial diversity: Does location matter? In: Teagasc Research, Vol. 9; No. 3, Autumn 2014
3 FAO (2015) Healthy soils are the basis for healthy food production. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rome, Italy.
4 Department of Environment, Community and Local Government (2015) Public Consultation Document – Significant Water Management Issues in Ireland. DECLG, Dublin.
5 IPCC (2014) Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Geneva, Switzerland.

Download full report (pdf, 2.1 MB)

Featured image: Running water. Author: Lynn Haas. Source:



We are Bacteria in a Petri Dish

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on April 21, 2016

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The world industrial system as bacteria in a Petri dish

In a previous post, I speculated that a thermodynamic system such our industrial economy is completely dependent from its “outside”. As it grows and incorporates this “outside”, it is obliged to store high entropy inside itself. Possibly, the epidemic diffusion of riots in the very heart of the global system is an indicator of this predicament. Here, I will try to discuss another aspect of the same topic: the fact that, apparently, we are unable to do anything to avoid global collapse despite our deep knowledge of Natural laws and our incredibly powerful technical means.





40 years after the publication of “Limits to Growth”, we discover that we have been just following the trajectory of the "base case scenario" of the book; business as usual, and with a disturbing accuracy level. In fact, in the intentions of the authors, the BAU scenario was not a forecast, but just one scenario among others, useful to analyse how the system works and changes. But the real world itself has turned this scenario among others into an authentic prophecy (image source)


How was this possible?


It could be that we have done nothing to change our policy and economy, but this is hard to believe. In the past 40 years, we have seen a number of major changes and all of them were completely unpredictable at the beginning of the Seventies. For instance, the partial collapse of the Soviet Union, the rise of China to the level of the second planetary power, the globalisation and financialization of the economy, the Internet, the Euro and so on. The Meadows and their staff could not have incorporated all this into their model, simply because they could not imagine anything like that. So we are forced to think that such epochal happenings have been marginal accidents in the evolution of the global socio-economic system.





To get a better understanding of this issue, I think it is best to start by considering World3 itself. In a post of some time ago, Ugo Bardi showed that, behind its complexity, World3 has a very basic thermodynamic architecture. It is a system that builds up and stocks information, with a positive retroaction to the inside flow. The larger the system is, the more it is able to extract low entropy from the wells and throw out entropy to the sinks.

In other words, the BAU scenario more or less describes the activity of bacteria inside a Petri box. First of all, it starts to exploit the very best resources (for instance: sugar) and so it grows. As it grows, it needs more resources and so it starts to digest everything available and, at the same time, it evolves as fast as possible in order to implement its efficiency in the exploitation of increasingly rare and poor resources. This until, at the end, it digests itself and dies.

Now the question is: how is it possible that with all our intelligence, science, and technology we act just like bacteria inside a Petri box? And what about our freedom of choice?

Regarding the first question, I suggest that, in 1970, at a global level, the socioeconomic system had already overshot the Earth's carrying capacity. My idea is that a system may have a certain degree of freedom, which declines exponentially as it reaches its limits. This means that, far from the limits, systems can change their trajectory and, the farther the limits, the more choices are possible. Bu, when the system impacts against its limits, simple and brutal physic changes become the only possible evolution and nothing can change that.

For example, a boy can choose his job. Sure, there are always severe limits depending on his geographical location, economic and social status, culture and so on. But the degrees of freedom are anyway more numerous than zero. For instance, he can choose to be a soldier, a taxi driver, or an employee. But, if a 50-year-old man loses his job, the only thing he can do is to slice his bread as thin as possible. If he was an employee, he will never have a taxi licence or he will never be enrolled as a military contractor in Libya.

I presume that my hypothesis is consistent with physics and also with historical data. Many, if not all, extinct civilisations have disappeared because of foreign invasions or collapsing in a typical “Seneca Cliff” trajectory. Many historians have investigated this astonishing phenomenon: Vico, Toynbee, Spengler, Tainter, to mention only the more prominent scholars. Each one of them proposed a different set of causes for the collapse of civilizations and all of them analyzed some important aspects of the process. Possibly, the effect of dissipative structures dynamics is the underlying physics of this historically recurrent event.

To me, this hypothesis is consistent with ancient wisdom too. Mythology and epic are full of examples in which the hero has the possibility to change an adverse fate, but only until he (or she) is far from the accomplishment of such a fate. To cite an example, Hector had three times the opportunity to put an end to the Trojan war, but each time he refused to do so because he was winning and wanted total victory. He was sure that the destruction of the Achaean fleet would mean the end of the hostilities, but we know the story went differently. He eventually understood his miscalculation, but by that time it was too late: Achilles was standing in front of him.

Possibly, at a socio-economical level we have a similar situation: as long we are growing, we can choose to halt the growth. But once the overshoot arrives, we can only follow the intrinsic thermodynamic path generated by the system. Usually, this means an extra growth dragged by system inertia, followed by a more or less troubled downsize. And that may be our unavoidable destiny.






The shape of a typical Secular Cycle, based on the work of Peter Turchin and Sergey Nefedov in Secular Cycles. ( ) Chart by Gail Tverberg

Legacy of John of Wallan

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on January 8, 2016

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Wake up!  Or our legacy along this dead end road is not going to be pretty.


True prophecy lies in the music, you just need to stop and read the lyrics…


Suicide is painless. Johnny Mandel

It is now more than 20 years since Kurt Cobain died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Those of you who are not Nirvana fans might not think much of this fact, but myself, like a lot of other 40 something fans have fond memories of the whole Nirvana episode on the road to our final destination. Done too soon indeed! While listening to Nirvana and reading an article about the anniversary of their last Album “In Utero”, I decided to take the time to ponder what our legacy will be when we finally smoke our last cigars. I use the collective “our”, rather than the personal “I”, to make sure that whoever reads this knows I am not getting all melancholy and suicidal like poor Kurt. No, I am getting all judgemental on our collective 21st century asses. Nothing sentimental or defeatist here. Let’s face the facts; we have just about screwed everything up we can along the road less travelled in the pursuit of instant gratification, you included sunshine, and it’s about time we tried to fix it.


Gimme Shelter. The Rolling Stones

The news is full of the governments trying to distract us from the bad moon rising by kick starting another war in Iraq, Syria, Venezuela, Ukraine, the South China Sea, and in half a dozen other places just far enough away to be able to change channels and ignore. All the while the religious are urging them on in order to bring on Armageddon due to some obscure reference to the fall of Damascus, or the 7 headed hydra, or the fall of the temple, in the middle ages interpretation of a Bronze Age myth from sheep herding desert dwellers they take as the word of their important imaginary friend. We have the central banks printing money and screwing the middle classes even more than their usual lower class targets, poverty, environmental catastrophes, crime, sex and drugs. Not a lot has changed since Woodstock, except the hippies all gave up. Too much THC probably made the true flower children all pacifist, fatalists, while the rest, just along for the sex and drugs, woke up and screwed the rest on their way to living in a gated communities of fat, greedy “entrepreneurs” with selfish children and silicon spouses. I am sure in 100 years the dictionary will have “entrepreneur” and “psychopath” interchangeable.


Down to Earth. Peter Gabriel

From birth we are told to work hard and get ahead. We are not told tread softly and leave this place better off than when we arrived; that would be too radical… While Gordon Geckos “Greed is good” may be taking it too far, we are certainly told we deserve to have it all, whatever that means, and that if we work hard we can have it. I am sorry to burst your bubble Cinderella, but you going to the ball has too high a price. We are currently consuming 5 earth's worth of resources according to thinking people, as opposed to the “Real Experts”: the religious bigots, psychopaths/ entrepreneurs or employees of such. Many seem to think this over consumption is Ok. Science will work out a fix, or more commonly, if I make enough money I can buy my way out of trouble… Sustainability is an interesting concept. When something is unsustainable, it will end. Get it? Apparently not.


Party like its 1999. Prince

I am the first to say we are here for a good time not a long time. Many take this comment out of context. Our lifetimes are but blinks of an eye compared to the lifespan of trees, let alone whole forests and ecosystem. Usually…. We seem to think it is Ok to chop down the trees today for gadgets tomorrow, but fuck next week; it’s too far away. That thinking has lasted hundreds of years, spurred on by the strong tribes with plenty of resources and armies with their gods on their side. It’s now next week, and we seem to be approaching the limits of diminishing returns to mix a few mathematical metaphors, as well as paint a reality few understand. More importantly, few want to understand. Ignorance is indeed bliss… In the short term anyway.


Stupid Girl. Pink

Sound like bull wank to you rocket surgeons? Look around. Take your eyes away from your thousand inch flat screen TVs, showing ever increasing banal escapism of titillation and fake reality, made from non- renewable oil and rare earth minerals, and have a look at the real reality show that is life. We are running out of oil, phosphate, water, functioning antibiotics and arable land to name but a few. The biggest deficiencies seem to be empathy for our fellow man and intelligence, and they are both diminishing despite the fact they should be renewable resources. Instead we have a return to ignorance and superstitions and the reliance on faith to get us through these supposedly hard times. There is a Russian sailor’s proverb which goes something like this: Pray all you like, but keep rowing. I have some news for you sunshine: These are not bad times, these are the new normal. Shortages means high prices. High prices means lower living standards.


Street fighting man. The Rolling Stones

I for one am not taking this lying down, but as the song says “But what can a poor boy do?” Speak up would be a start. (I don't sing in a rock and roll band) We are told the meek are to inherit the earth. They will inherit a sewer just before they die from drowning. Better to die standing than live on your knees is a better option Shania Twain gave us. I am trying to make somewhat of a stand against the biggest destroyers of life, happiness and humanity, namely the 4 great horseman of the thinking man’s apocalypse:

  1. Consumerism

  2. Globalisation

  3. Religion

  4. Nationalism



#1: Consumerism.

Oh lord can’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benze. Janis Joplin

Never have I seen a more wasteful pathetic notion than the competing we do to obtain the latest plastic gadget to impress our plastic friends because if we don’t we can’t possibly be happy. Talk about getting no satisfaction! I drive old 2nd hand cars, not because I am cheap, (though I probably fit that definition), but because it consumes the least resources across its lifetime. It may consume slightly more fuel than the latest vehicles, but it has a longer time to amortise the inherent energy and materials used in its manufacture, which are significant, and hence is actually better for the environment than buying the latest and greatest and scrapping the old ones. I have had plenty of questions as to why I drive an old car. Few can understand that it is a choice I make. Everyone seems to think it is a mental illness that I prefer to drive an old car than go out and get a loan for a shiny new penis extension on wheels….


Big Yellow Taxi. Joni Mitchell

Remember the first word in the “Reuse, reduce, recycle” mantra is reuse. We seem to jump straight to the last: recycle in order to give us a clear conscience while we throw out the half kilo of plastic wrapping our latest i-gadget came wrapped in, shipped half way around the world. We then get doubly chuffed with ourselves when we donate our old gadget to those poor unfortunate people overseas who are kept in slave labour making the i-gadgets for us in the first place. Having worked in recycling, and specifically electronic recycling I have become even more cynical. Green wash is the best way to describe it. The ability to make those of us in the first world destroying the planet feel comfortable while doing it by allowing us to give back a small amount of what we took, usually from the third world at gun point. Instead of lying awake at night we sleep soundly having completely laundered all our guilt. If that does not work 100% we can always pray for them. That always makes us feel better, and requires much less effort.


#2: Globalisation.

Is this the world we created? Queen

Consumerism and Globalisation go hand in hand, much like religion and war. Globalisation means cheap goods but low wages too. It means you compete with people in Bangladesh on $1 a day, or people in West Africa on $0.50 a day, or those on death row in China who are slave labour until they are despatched and have their organs harvested for those that can pay for them, usually people not from their area. It means low paid labour intensive jobs go to where people are working slaves. Think I am getting carried away? Go check where your last pair of sneakers came from, and see if you can find out how much the obscenely profitable multi-national paid for them. Slavery is alive and well in the 21st century, we just have a clear conscience because we pay a token fee to the slave and they are far enough away in the plantations that we don't hear the cries when they are whipped. Real slaves were at least fed and housed as they had a worth to their owners. Globalisation also means we can pay others to die for us. My first job in the recycling industry entailed me loading containers full of waste plastic which we sent to china for “Recycling”. About 40% of what we sent was recycled. The rest got burned, buried or thrown in their local river. Their local river is a long way away from where I lived, but it gave us all a warm glow that our discarded widget was being sent to kiddies in “Overthereistan” to sort in slave conditions and stay alive long enough to breed in order to get the next generation of cheap labour.


Globalization Is Good For. David Rovics

As manufacturing in Australia dies, just as it has in most first world countries, we are starting to see the reality. Those of us with jobs can buy cheap goods. Those without go without. Advertising pushes us to consume more and more we can afford less and less. More and more is produced overseas at low cost. More and more is produced with local ecological destruction. More and more is shipped around the world in polluting forms of transport. More and more is thrown out after its short lifespan with built in obsolescence


#3: Religion.

Imagine. John Lennon

Any and all religion is truly a crime against humanity. All religion is evil. Religions are a collection of non- living self-replicating entities, like viruses, which ironically exhibit all the natural selection traits so many of its followers rally against. Through natural selection the ones with the favourable traits come to dominate and survive/ kill off the others. This occurs over hundreds of years, with random mutations, (schisms), throwing up new branches along the evolutionary tree. Some branches die out, particularly those who don't reproduce in enough numbers, while others that capture the mojo of the moment thrive. Of course the truly successful ones are the ones that get to a dominant position and then forbid any variance through amalgamating with local authorities/ governments and make religious doctrine official law of the land, tying in cultural identity along the way. Think of Judaism in Jerusalem, Catholicism in Italy, Islam in Saudi Arabia or the Hinduism in India. They cement their position by official doctrine of ignorance and denial, for science and knowledge is indeed the opposite of religion. A fact is still a fact no matter how many deny it. Religious apologists always attack my contempt for religion, sighting what they call moderates to counter my supposed fanatics. Most view themselves as moderates. I view them as ignorant apologists. There are no moderates in religion, just those blissfully unaware of what crime is being committed in their name, with their financial assistance. Many Christians don't believe half of their official church doctrine on topics such as women’s rights, homosexuality, marriage, slavery, birth control, climate change, exorcisms and miracles, but are blissfully ignorant to the fact that their mere patronage fuels the bigotry of the dogmatic few who spew this bile and spread disease, death and misery through their ideology of hate. Yes you read that right: the followers of the teachings of the long haired hippy Nazarene seem to me the most destructive of all. Oh the irony. The 3 Abrahamic religions in particular are very similar in their bigotry, yet seem to have the most to fight about. They can't all be god’s chosen people.


#4: Nationalism.

Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert. Pink Floyd

I am a patriot. I love this country and I love the freedoms and lifestyle we possess. I am not a nationalist. I have no desire to burn flags or point out differences between me and the “others”, nor am I likely to get upset if someone burns a flag. I am not a wimp. I have jumped in the ring and gone 3 rounds with a heavy weight. (I lost on points). I have faced up to many challenges and difficult moments and believe I am a man, whatever that means. I am also not afraid to voice my opinion nor am I afraid to stand up to injustice, even if I stand alone. I am also an ex-soldier, and I am lucky enough to not have to “Represent the Country” but still bear the scars of this foolish childhood folly, and I don't mean just the physical scars. I once contemplating killing in my country's name. How futile. In reality I would have been killing in the interest of some large multi-national corporation whose dominance was being tested, and find it cheaper to lobby governments than to compete. I have been blessed with the experiences of travelling the world, mainly through work, and I have come to the realisation that we are all the same. We may look a little different, and even sound a little different, but we are all the same people, with the same dreams, aspirations and hopes. Every war has been, and will be a war for money, they are just wrapped in a flag to get the cannon fodder to support it. They are also often dipped in a baptismal fount to ensure you have a god on your side.


The times are a changing. Bob Dylan

There you have it. Get rid of ignorance and religion by education, buy quality locally, lead by example not by force, go back to local communities with simple lifestyles and empathy for others and we may survive. Pigs might fly. The battle is trying to get others to see the folly of their ways. People have too much invested in their bigotry, nationalism and greed to want to stop. It is impossible to convince someone who thinks they have a god given right to something to give it up, particularly if they person who wants it has another god, or worse still no god at all! Won’t stop me from fighting the good fight, even if it is a losing battle. I sure as shit won't sit around and pray for deliverance.


The end. The Doors


John of Wallan.

Life Saving Privacy

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on December 21, 2015

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When the English Magna Carter was written in the year 1215 by a group of the first robber-barons it was because of perceived abuses by King John. Nearly eight hundred years later, in September 2014, Tim Berners-Lee makes a repeated request for an Internet version of the Magna Carter. His concerns relate to the abuses of governments and corporations regarding the privacy of Internet users.

Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks”.

The United States Bill of Rights, written in 1791 has freedom of speech in the first amendment and that people have the right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures”in the fourth amendment.

The first amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”. Within the context of 1791, speech, newspapers, assembly and petitioning the government, are all, at their heart, about communication.

Clearly, freedom of speech, privacy and personal security are closely related, some might argue that privacy is the foundation upon which free-thought, free-speech, democracy and freedom from tyranny rests.

PrivacyInternational.Org writes “Privacy is a fundamental right, essential to autonomy and the protection of human dignity, serving as the foundation upon which many other human rights are built.”

It should be simple to understand, it ought to be obvious – if we want any kind of freedom then we have to ensure our privacy.

In this modern era, more than at any other time, we need to make the effort to understand and achieve privacy. To not do so, is an abdication. There can be little doubt that many people have died, either because they lacked the means to achieve privacy or their protests were too bold – for example, dissidents in China, Saudi Arabia, Quatar, North Korea, various countries in South America, etc.

Perhaps you think “I am not a dissident” therefore I do not need to overly concern myself with privacy. Do you think you are free to advocate or make a payment to any organization, without someone else deciding that you are a dissident? The news you read or listen to, did not magically pop into a journalist's head, communication was involved, often from normal everyday folks. When visiting an attorney, why rely only on client-attorney privilege? If you forgot to mention something in a meeting with your attorney, would you phone it in or send an email? Do attorneys know the attendant risks associated with cell phones, both theirs and yours? How many attorneys actually insist on secure communications, secure meetings, have secure drop-boxes, etc?

If we wait until we actually really need secure communication – the stress of the moment will likely preclude clear thinking, and it might not be on the mind of an attorney, journalist, other dissident, etc. There is a really good reason why airline pilots use flight simulators to go through emergency scenarios over and over until desired correct actions become routine. We have the additional challenge of not currently being able to anticipate exactly why or when, privacy will be paramount.


The article that follows is actually a byproduct of work that has been ongoing for more than two years. As much as possible, the technical jargon and acronyms have been avoided.

We live in a Catch-22 world. The need to perform due-diligence increases at the same time that the facility to do so decreases. As Preppers we know that the future is going to be harder than the present, that infrastructure will deteriorate and the ability to get spare parts and perform repairs will become increasingly difficult. As an example, if we were to buy a freezer, we want one that is going to last as long as possible, be easy to repair and run for a month on a car battery, reality provides us with the opposite – low quality Chinese plastic crap with bushes instead of roller bearings and built-in obsolescence.

In order to perform due-diligence we need to become experts in every field that our lives expose us to. We dread needing the services of an attorney, doctor, car mechanic, plumber, electrician and perhaps worst of all a banker – for example, how many of us (with mortgages) know when a recast is better than refinance? If you refinance and cash-out, what are the implications in your jurisdiction for maintaining a loan as non-recourse? Or, if you are getting married, what are the implications if you are in a common-law state, or a community-law state (hint: are you also marrying your new partner's debts?).

So in the area of digital-privacy, how are we to determine what we should be doing and why? We collectively rely (primarily) on our parents, friends, education system and on-the-job training to address our ignorance and the risks such ignorance introduces. Alas, our parents were educated in a system not much better than our own and for them (at the time) it was a much simpler world. Our friends are likely to be as ignorant as ourselves, if only for the sake of simple conformity. That leaves the work place, minimal training, annual performance reviews seeking eternal improvements without equivalent increased rewards and colleagues that every day look more like deer in headlights.

Digital privacy and data security are synonyms. There is no difference between locking our doors, drawing our curtains at night, keeping valuables out of sight in our cars, being careful taking cash out at the automatic-teller-machine (ATM), developing situational awareness, defensive driving and maintaining digital privacy.

It should be an absolute given, that you already:

  • Regularly use an (up to date) anti-virus scan on your computer.
  • Use your Web Browser's Privacy features.
  • When Browsing, block advertising (AdBlock Plus) and trackers (Ghostery), both links are HTTPS.
  • Use a privacy oriented Internet search engine e.g. DuckDuckGo.Com , make it the default in your Browser, so that when you select-text it appears in your mouse right-click menu.
  • Use secure email on a non-five-eyes platform i.e. non : US, UK, Canadian, Australian or New Zealand e.g. RiseUp.Net (a U.S. exception), ProtonMail.Ch, sigaintevyh2rzvw.onion (if you are using the FireFox Tor Bundle).
  • Keep all your critical applications up to date with security patches and updates.

The icing on the cake is if you already understand encryption and have your own public key that you make readily accessible to anyone that wants to communicate with you securely. To not do so is lamentable. The Doomstead Diner has already promulgated both encryption and secure email. The current preferred tool for encryption/decryption is GPG4USB here is the download page. Palloy, here on the Diner has created some excellent support documentation and how-to instructions (part one and part two and part three).

If you also use a Password Manager (e.g. KeePass), encrypt your computer's hard drive (and external drives and USB sticks, etc.) and use Linux, then you are a demigod!

The likely problem for almost all of us, is that even if we do all of the above – we become islands. Our friends and family are Luddites, mindlessly repeating the mantra of “I have nothing to hide and therefore nothing to fear”. That hackneyed cliché might be true if government offices were populated with law-unmakers. They are called law-makers, because every year they introduce more and more laws. More than can currently be counted. Exercise your rights or see them gradually eroded. Insist on using private and secure systems today, rather than trying to overturn a burdensome law tomorrow.

Australia already has onerous laws. According to Australian Broadcasting Corporation News (March 2015) “Contentious data retention laws have passed Federal Parliament, with both major parties voting for the legislation in the Senate”.

Every day there is more new content added to the Internet than any of us could consume in a lifetime. So we cherry-pick the forums we frequent, the news sites we visit, the stories we read, the videos we watch, the podcasts and music we listen to, the channels we subscribe to, the tweets we re-tweet and so on.

Unfortunately being obliged to be selective, introduces significant risk that we will miss something important and we hope that other people sharing our virtual presence can diminish those risks by bringing things to our attention.

Activities associated with everyday living, getting and keeping a job, managing household budgets, social, family, church, parenting and other obligations, dealing with the happenstance of the crap that life throws at us, keep us all very busy and oftentimes very stressed. Too much advertising, too much noise, too many distractions. Never enough hours in the day, never enough money.

There are many websites related to Prepping, Surviving, Collapse, Resilience and Doom in general. RE here at the Doomstead Diner manages quite few of his own.

One of the generally accepted themes on all of the sites, by both writers, readers and those making comments – is the need for various kinds of security; Operational, Communication, Food, Water, First Aid, etc.

Digressing: You need to already be practising “security” – this is a 'process' not a 'product'. Waiting until a shit-hit-the-fan event will be too late. The challenge is to do so today in a manner that is not obsequious. i.e. Please avoid public displays of affection over your security “equipment”.




With regard to Security of Communication, many seem to focus on having alternative communication that will work after the grid goes down, which usually means having good battery operated two-way-radios and knowing how to use them. Or perhaps it means a scouting group can communicate in code, in the dark, to reduce the chances of friendly-fire incidents. Or people approaching a check point need to know a secret pass phrase. Or when calling home people are expected to use a special word that indicates they have been compromised and so on.

What rarely gets much discussion, is the need for secure communication here today before the shit-hits-the-fan. Some of the benefits are obvious – increased privacy and negating the need for self censorship – alas, those benefits on their own do not seem to be adequate motivators. Perhaps the lack of real anonymity, or the hassle of creating new accounts on difficult to access services, or the hassle of exchanging a public-key and copying and pasting obscure text is too much for most of us.

There are those that will argue that the Internet might not be around for long after a big event – bear in mind that the majority of the Internet's backbone uses fiber-optic cables that are unaffected by electro-magnetic pulses, waves or surges. The Internet was also designed to be resilient and route data packets around failed connections. So it could well be that the Internet will be around much longer than we would guess.

An Internet based communication facility with real security that can actually be trusted, can offer much more than privacy and the absence of self-censorship.

From a service-provider's perspective, offering complete anonymity is a significant challenge. If users can be completely anonymous, then how do you prevent people creating multiple sock-puppet accounts?

Across the websites that we regularly visit are many writers and prognosticators, for example; James Kunstler, John Greer, Nicole Foss, Gail Tverberg, Ugo Bardi (Club of Rome, author of Extracted), Guy McPherson, James Hansen, Albert Bartlett, Jay Hanson, Derrick Jensen (author of Endgame), Joseph Tainter, John Ward (a.k.a The Slog), many of the former writers at www.TheOilDrum.Com, Ferfal (Argentine monetary collapse 1998-2002), Selco (Bosnian Conflict from 1992-95), the late Michael Ruppert and so on.

Unfortunately few of us also have the inclination to wade through the heavier reading provided by the likes of:

  • Kill the password: A string of characters won't protect you (see here).
  • Dice Ware – a much more secure password phrase – for really good mathematical reasons (see here).
  • Traffic Analyses of HTTPS from University of California Berkeley (see here).
  • Nvidea graphics cards, what is GPU computing (see here).
  • Storing Passwords Securely (for multiple users) in a Server Database. (see here).

With regard to password storage (for all Users on a web server) its worth reading a short post by Krebs On Security, he points out a web site that names-and-shames web sites that store passwords as plain text (or using reversible encryption, which is just as bad). The site is, the Archive is worth a look, it contains nearly 2,500 entries, only 5 of which are off-topic and an additional 5 are duplicates – it is riddled with household names.

Digressing: If you ever decide to share a NetFlix, Amazon or other password with a family member or friend, there is an article just for you on How to Securely Share a Password





We read Doomer fiction, Lights Out, One Second After, et. al. and fret over how we might get home if the shit-hits-the-fan when we are away on a business trip or vacation.

We read about how best to survive off-grid or how to be a gray-man and pass unnoticed through a crowd. We ruminate about “Conflicted-Tuesday”, the optimum bug-out vehicle, what to put in a bug-out bag, or whether it is better to bug-in.

We visit as many news sites as possible, hoping to keep a handle on the big picture. The refugees flooding into Europe. Iran getting nuclear weapons. Saudi Arabia running out of oil. The conflicts in the Middle-East escalating into a broader war. Nuclear reactors melting down (Fukushima). Nuclear bombs, electromagnetic-pulse, Solar flares, Ebola, earthquakes, tsunami, meteors, volcanoes, super volcanoes (Yellowstone), mega-droughts, climate change and the Methane-Clathrate gun hypothesis.

Even something as simple as weather could be the start of the next slippery slope, a bigger hurricane Katrina followed by a bigger hurricane Sandy, a winter storm in the north-east U.S.A that goes on for day after day, dumping foot after foot of snow and ice. Our deferred-maintenance fragile infrastructure and just-in-time supply lines can barely tolerate a week of disruption.

The important thing to remember about one of the “big” events, is that it is usually not the event that gets you, it is the consequences when the Golden Hoard arrives in your neighborhood, or the supermarkets are no longer being supplied.

The majority of us probably accept that the next step down in our “Long Emergency” will likely be much like 2008 and primarily be economic in nature. Resulting in more unemployment that goes unrecorded in official statistics. Then we wonder which bubbles burst next, health, education, sub-prime automobile loans, etc. Loss of jobs results in demand-destruction that ironically lowers the price of oil and other commodities, putting more energy companies and their suppliers out of business and more people out of jobs, leading to yet more demand-destruction.

The correct answer to the question “how much can you afford to pay for gasoline”, is not “depends on the cost of gasoline and my personal budget”, no, the correct answer is “do I have a job”.

Digressing: You should think of oil prices as having both a ceiling and a floor. This actually applies to all natural resources, for example Coal and Natural Gas.

In a rudimentary sense, the oil price floor is a function of the cost of finding, extracting and refining crude oil. Below a certain price it is uneconomic to produce the oil and it will simply stay in the ground. Gone are the days of easy to find, cheap to extract, light sweet crude oil. These days it requires either billion dollar, deep water, offshore rigs, toxic hydraulic fracturing or cooking tar sand in Canada to extract heavy sour bitumen with enormously expensive pipe lines that (would) span a large portion of North America.

The oil price ceiling is dictated by people's ability to pay for the finished product. That ability falls a little, each time the economy contracts and more people are forced from high paying jobs to lower paying jobs, or in the case of outsourcing, gone altogether. The reduction in disposable income is paralleled by a reduction in vehicle-miles-traveled ( VMT).

The floor rises, the ceiling lowers and the economy lies between being squeezed to death.




Then there is the true Black-Swan. Something completely unanticipated, with various national governments keen not to waste a good crisis and quickly stripping us of even more liberties, supposedly for our own safety. Increased militarization and thuggery from the police. Central and local governments looking for ever more ways to tax us and corporations inventing new ways to bend us over a table or lie to us (most recently Volkswagon).

Lets add some of the companies and organizations that have demonstrated a complete inability to keep data about us secure – in the U.S.A this includes Sony Entertainment, Chase Manhattan bank, Regency Bluecross Blueshield Health Provider, retailers TJ-Max and The Home Depot, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Microsoft, the Apple iCloud, The Whitehouse, the Federal Government's human resources department the Office of Personnel Management, the U.S. Postal Service, Ashley Madison (the adultery web site) and the list seems to grow every week.

The U.S.A does not have a monopoly on the fiasco that is data-security, in the U.K. we have; Nationwide Building Society (2006), Her Majesties Revenue and Customs (2007), T-Mobile (2009), The National Health Service's Brighton and Sussex University Hospital Trust (2010), Sony Playstation Network (2011), Morrison's Supermarket (2014), Staffordshire University (2014), Mumsnet (2014), Think W3 Ltd. (2014), Moonpig (2015), Talk Talk Mobile Communications (2014, 2015), the U.K. division of Experian credit reporting agency (2015).

There is no shortage of catastrophic examples of data-security failures. More will continue to occur as we desensitize.


You would think that Journalists would know better and would be able to properly protect their sources.

Summer 2013, Audrey Hudson a veteran Washington Times investigative reporter and currently freelance, reported to the Daily Caller that her home was subjected to a predawn raid by the Department of Homeland Security and Maryland State Police. The search warrant indicated that the raid allowed law enforcement to search for firearms inside her home. But without Hudson’s knowledge, the agents also confiscated a batch of documents that contained information about her sources. (see here).

2014 in New Zealand, prominent journalist and author Nicky Hager had his home ransacked by agents from the national police force. Hagar wrote “It is disruptive to anyone’s work to suddenly not have their computers and especially an investigative journalist’s work. There is now also the legal battle to get my equipment and files back untouched. There is no choice about fighting it. I have to protect this and other sources for life or why should anyone ever trust me again?”.(see here).

In Australia, journalist Philip Dorling had his home and car searched by the Federal Police accompanied by computer experts. Dorling's employer Fairfax Media issued a statement that said in part “A Federal police raid on the home of a journalist cuts to the heart of the operation of a free press, and is unacceptable ”. This was not the first such raid in Australia and will not be the last. It is unlikely that Dorling used encryption to protect his work or his sources. (see here).

Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are names that have entered the contemporary lexicon of the cognoscenti. These men are bellwethers, showing the metaphorical lengths that we too may be forced to go. Snowden having to defect to Russia, Assange taking refuge in Ecuador's London embassy and under the equivalent of permanent house arrest by U.K. authorities at massive tax payer expense, because the U.S.A has it's panties in a bunch.

In an article about the NSA's mass surveillance, the journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote ; “In the immediate aftermath of the first Snowden reports, I was contacted by countless leading national security reporters in the U.S., who work with the largest media outlets, seeking an interview with Snowden. But there was a critical problem: despite working every day on highly sensitive matters, none of them knew anything about basic encryption methods, nor did their IT departments ”. (see here).

What Greenwald does not readily admit to, was the fact that he himself knew nothing about secure communication prior to Snowden's leak. Greenwald was brought on-board by Laura Poitras.

Digressing for a moment. Glenn Greenwald is obviously (now) passionate about privacy and has an excellent 15 minute monologue on TED followed by 5 minutes to answer a couple of questions. If you have not seen it, you should. Another excellent talk on TED is by Mikko Hypponen: How the NSA betrayed the world's trust – time to act

Also there are two must-see documentaries and a biography. The following are all online streams that do not require creating accounts (links verified December 16 2015):

  • Citizen Four 1 hour 53 minutes – Eye opening documentary about the Edward Snowden whistleblowing (or espionage if you are challenged).

  • Deep Web 1 hour 30 minutes – 2015 documentary about the prosecution of Ross Ulbricht (Silk Road).

  • The Fifth Estate 2 hours 8 minutes – Assange & WikiLeaks Biography, stars Benedict Cumberbatch.

All three are easily found as torrents, are worth downloading and copying to a USB stick. A TV with a USB port should be able to play them directly from the USB stick.




Snowden's initial communication with Laura Poitras was itself a challenge because Poitras herself had been remiss in ensuring her 'public' encryption key was easy to obtain. Snowden had to first use a common third party (Mr Micah Lee) to obtain Poitras' public key and initiate secure communication. (see here).

Having secure communication and encrypting computer files, is by itself not enough. This is especially the case in the U.K. and some other countries, where people can be jailed if they fail to hand over the 'private' keys used to decrypt their communications and files. See the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act of 2000, or RIPA 2000. (See Key Disclosure Laws and RIPA). These U.K. laws are currently being updated, it is unlikely that the result will be greater privacy or liberty for U.K. Subjects.

Even BBC reporters are not immune. Jane Wakefield (January 2015) wrote an article asking “Can the Government ban encryption”? (see here). A sideline near the end of the article attempted to answer the question “What is encryption”?

Wakefield wrote: “Symmetric encryption systems involve two keys that are shared between two people communicating” This is plainly wrong! In Symmetric encryption there is only a single key that is common to both the parties communicating, the key is used for both encryption and decryption (this is the symmetry) and this type of encryption and decryption is computationally very fast.

Wakefield went on to add: “Asymmetric encryption – also known as public key encryption – is made up of both a public and private key”. This is incomplete; there are two pairs of public/private keys, so four keys in total. The public keys, which are sent to the other party are used for encryption, the private keys, which are kept secret, are used for decryption. This different path for encryption vs. decryption is the asymmetric characteristic and requires far more computation than symmetrical encryption.

When you visit an https web site, a symmetric key is created that is good for the life of the session, it is exchanged at the start of the session using a public key asymmetric hand shake.

Revelations from Snowden, Assange, Manning, etc. should have been enough to wake up even those in a coma and yet we all have family members that “just don't get it”.

Even John Brennan, the head of the CIA in the United States had his personal email account hacked. The security on the Apple iPhone 6 has already been broken. Time Magazine reported (June 2015) a “Massive Security Flaw in the iPhone and Mac” (Apple Security Blown) this was followed more recently (November 2015) with news from Digital Trends that the company Zerodium has accepted a claim for it's million dollar prize to anyone that can prove a hack of Apple's IOS 9 (see here). Perversely, Zerodium is most likely to forward-sell the hack to the United State's NSA.

Finally, there is one more journalist that really needs to be mentioned; Barrett Brown. “In January 2015, Brown was sentenced to 5.25 years in federal prison and fined nearly a million dollars, for the crimes of accessory after the fact, obstruction of justice, and threatening a federal officer stemming from the FBI's investigation into the 2012 Stratfor email leak”. This case looks a lot like a political prosecution. Journalists need to protect themselves just as much as their sources.

It is also worth mentioning that few newspapers take security seriously, only The Guardian in the U.K. offers easy access to journalist's public keys and also a secure drop-box, that last link goes to page with a (visible) link to that actually goes to In the USA newspapers appear to not give a damn.


The BBC recently reported (December 2015) about the alleged creator of BitCoin (a crypto-currency). If Dr. Wright really is the creator of BitCoin and an academic expert in cryptography, then one has to wonder why everything was not encrypted and/or subject to client-attorney-privilege. Apparently “[Sydney, Australia, police] investigations were based on leaked emails, documents and web archives, including what was said to be a transcript of a meeting between Wright (a 44-year-old academic) and Australian tax officials”.


The majority of us have probably become accustomed to seeing HTTP or HTTPS in the address bar of our Web Browsers and at a rudimentary level know that one is not secure (HTTP) and the other is secure (HTTPS).

In the context of contemporary web browsers, that term 'secure' for HTTPS, means two things:

  • The data moving in both directions between your web browser and the remote web server is 99% encrypted. The 1% that is not encrypted is the name of the web site you are connecting to e.g. DoomSteadDiner.Net
  • You can be sure that the encryption key being used is actually from the site that you wish to connect to. This second part is usually referred to as being secure about “who you are connecting to”, even though it is actually an inference.


These two aspects of 'secure' are equally important. There is no point having the data encrypted between you and a remote web server, if the remote web server is actually that of an interloper.

There are two ways of achieving number-two; “being sure who you are connecting to”. It can be done manually, typically once per web site for the life of the encryption key (a.k.a. Certificate), which can be multiple years. Or it can be done automatically by relying on a third party to verify the bona fides of the web server's owner and digitally signing the web site's encryption key. These third parties are usually referred to as Certificate Authorities (CA's).

We almost all rely totally on the automated version of number-two; The web browser receives a web site's encryption key (Certificate) and verifies the digital signature using the Certificate Authority's so called Root-Certificate that comes with your web browser.

Digressing: There can be as many as a hundred root certificates managed by your web browser. In the case of FireFox, these are stored in a hidden folder, in a file called cert8.db




The manual way of verifying a web site's encryption key (Certificate) would be by visual inspection of it's fingerprint, a long number, written in base 16 (as opposed to base 10 or decimal). Ideally you would obtain the fingerprint by some method independent of the Internet, for example through regular mail or in-person.

Digressing: The DoomSteadDiner's resident security guru is Palloy. His (or her) web site has an example of fingerprint verification here. Unfortunately you are unlikely to get the fingerprint in-person, so you have a Catch-22 situation.




What follows are three instances that demonstrate relying on Certificate Authorities is not necessarily a best practice. Alas, many web sites are forcing the use of CA's by using HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS).

Back in April 1992 IBM introduced the first ThinkPad laptop computer. Over the following years it won 300 awards for design and quality, becoming immensely popular with businesses. In 2005 IBM sold it's Personal Computer business including the ThinkPad brand to the Chinese company Lenovo. Nearly a decade later in 2014 things at Lenovo had obviously gone awry. The company had decided to include a so called man-in-the-middle attack in it's vendor specific version of Microsoft Windows. Called SuperFish, the software (AdWare) intercepted web-browser data from the Internet and injected advertising into the web pages.

From PCWorld.Com : “The biggest problem with Superfish isn’t the adware itself so much as the way it hijacks legitimate SSL traffic [that’s HTTPS to you and me]. It does so by installing a self-generated root certificate in the Windows certificate store—a hallowed area usually reserved for trusted certificates from major companies like Microsoft and VeriSign—and then resigns all SSL certificates presented by HTTPS sites with its own certificate”.

November 2015, Dell Computers has been found doing almost the exact same thing. From “After Dell confirmed that one of its support tools installed a dangerous self-signed root certificate and private key on computers, users discovered a similar certificate deployed by a different Dell tool.


“The second certificate is called DSDTestProvider and is installed by an application called Dell System Detect (DSD). Users are prompted to download and install this tool when they visit the Dell support website and click the “Detect Product” button”.

The Lenovo actions are shameful. Dell's actions appear to be inadvertent. But it's not just computer manufacturers that represent risk, so do governments. Back in March 2010, the Electronic Frontier Foundation published an article describing how Security Researchers had presented “evidence that certificate authorities (CAs) may be cooperating with government agencies to help them spy undetected on “secure” encrypted communications”.

HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS), prevents removing Root Certificates and manually allowing Site Certificates on an exception basis. In fact the way web browsers “allow” manual verification of a site's certificate, is up there with the idea of performing surgery on oneself. Self-Certifying sites are treated as “Errors” and “Invalid” and supposed extreme risks, none of which is necessarily true.

So far only one Prepper related web site uses HTTPS (UsCrow.Org).This site bills itself as a premium high quality site with plans to encrypt its database. Updates are infrequent, with no changes in over a month.

It is (currently) not free to secure a web site by using HTTPS. Though some entities are trying to address this, for example LetsEncrypt.Org.

HTTPS does make sense on banking, financial and health web sites of large coporate bodies where privacy is critical and the resources are available to ensure that certificates are kept up to date and all content is encrypted. It also makes sense on forums where private messages can be exchanged between registered users, but only if messages remain encrypted when stored on the server and the private keys are not stored on the server's permanent storage.

Finally, there is a false sense of security. Take the Prepper web site mentioned earlier. When you are surfing the web, there are typically a small number of so called data-packets being sent by you – via your Internet Service Provider (ISP) – to the remote web server you are interacting with (typically by clicking on a link).On the other hand, the response from the remote web server, is typically an enormous number of data-packets – containing text, photographs, music, video, the mark-up language that formats the page, etc. The encrypted content of the data-packets coming back to your browser are almost completely private. The only information available to your ISP is:

  • Where the data appears to come from.
  • The amount of (encrypted) data.
  • The time of day and time taken to transfer the data.

You might think that is not much, but it is enough to work out which page you visited on a site, with a high degree of accuracy. The potential achilles heel appears, when a link on a web page, typically an advertisement, is to a non-https site. The standard that web browsers are meant to adhere to, states that a Referrer-URL should not be sent when the link is from an HTTPS page to an HTTP page. The implication being, that a Referrer-URL is ok to send when the transfer is from a secure page to another (different) site's secure page. The issue here is not eavesdropping by your ISP, it is that you might click on a link for hiking-boots from a bomb-making page and your boot supplier would know.


Digressing: The Referrer-URL is everything that appears in your browser's address bar, which might include session specific items.




There are a large number of web browsers (Microsoft IE, Apple Safari, Mozilla FireFox, Opera, etc.) running on an even larger number of Platforms : dozens of versions of Microsoft Windows (both 32 and 64 bit), multiple Apple Operating Systems, numerous Linux versions, masses of Google Android versions (KitKat, MarshMallow, JellyBean, Lollipop, etc.). Trusting a standard has been properly implemented and also works on your particular combination of Browser and Platform might be risky.

Would you want to take a chance on the following page:


The-Onion-Router (TOR) is a network of computers on the Internet used to anonymize and encrypt connections. The so called Dark-Web is a collection of TOR Hidden Services (dot-onion web sites) that are only accessible using a special TOR configured Browser. In theory almost any browser can be configured (by the user) to access the Internet through TOR.

Digressing: Using a TOR configured web browser to access your conventional email, or any site (that does not also use HTTPS) where you are identified is a self-defeating proposition.




Silk Road and it's heir apparent Silk Road 2.0 were probably the most notorious dark web sites.

Silk Road founder Ross William Ulbricht has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole and ordered to forfeit $184 million. The following bullet points are all quotes from a variety of on-line sources.

  • Richard Bates, a computer programmer, frowning and reluctant, testified against Ulbricht at trial as part of an agreement to avoid prosecution.

  • Judge Forrest also read excerpts from Ulbricht's e-mails, citing them as examples of his disregard for others.

  • The story of five murder-for-hire attempts came out through a remarkable 33-page transcript of private messages that prosecutors harvested from the Silk Road server after it was captured by the government.

  • The payments for the hits came from Ulbricht's own bitcoin wallet, one more piece of damning evidence that his defense lawyers couldn't explain away to the jury.

  • “For those considering stepping into your shoes…they need to understand without equivocation that there will be severe consequences,” Judge Forrest said.

  • reports; FBI seized ‘Silk Road' black market domain, arrests owner.

  • On the Bitcoin Talk Forums under the user name 'Altoid' Ulbricht posted a request for an Information Technology professional in the Bitcoin community, using a reply-to email address containing his own name “rossulbricht at gmail dot com”. This same user name was used days earlier to promote the Silk Road dark website on a mushroom web site – one of the first known on-line references to the Silk Road dot-onion web address.

Brian Krebs, a security researcher, unearthed the sealed complaint requesting a warrant for Ulbrict's arrest. It can be read in its entirety at:

What becomes readily apparent when researching the Ulbricht case, is that he:

  • Used his real name and email address in several places.

  • Attempted to have forged identity documents with his actual photograph shipped to his home address, from Canada into the USA.

  • Did not encrypt copies of communications and other user data on his servers.

  • Did not keep his passwords, private keys and bitcoin wallets adequately secure.

  • Spoke way too much when interacting with investigators (watch the 48 minute YouTube video; Don't talk to police).

  • Did not have any of his millions set-aside, so that he could mount a proper defense.

In short, Ulbricht brought himself down. The situation for Silk Road 2.0 is not that different, with a moderator turning informant and inadequate security procedures resulting in another, albeit, shorter prison sentence.

The following paragraph is one of the most important in this whole piece, so it's all in bold.

The Dark Web sites were able to be seized because, in both cases, the site's private key was stored on the server, with no protective measures. A well built system does not need to have any passwords, keys, or TOR critical files, stored on the server or hard coded into the software.

In Ulbricht's case, Richard Bates faced the prospect of prosecution and was pressured into testifying against Ulbricht. In the Boston marathon bomber case, two college roommates were prosecuted for allegedly hampering the investigation and were sentenced to 3.5 years. In Martha Stewart's case, they got her for perjury.


  • I2P. Very similar to Tor, I2P is also an anonymizing and encrypting proxy. The developers of I2P have used different nomenclature (terminology), but as the table at shows there is considerable similarity. The author of this document is currently using Tor and providing a hidden service and intends to investigate providing, in parallel, the same hidden service on I2P. This document will be updated in the future to include details stemming from the investigation.

  • Proxies. There are many free proxies on the Internet. When using a Proxy you would ordinarily do so inside your web browser on a per-site basis. For example open proxy-free-web and type (or paste) DoomsteadDiner.Net into the only textbox and then click "Go". If you have an account on the Diner, do not sign-in. Judging by the quality of the English on the proxy site, it would probably be unwise to trust them. Indirecting like this is slower than a direct connection (via your ISP).

    When you access the Internet through your Internet Service Provider (ISP), the ISP is effectively acting as a proxy. If the site you are visiting is HTTP, then your ISP can see (and understand) all of the traffic that passes through it (in both directions). By visiting a Proxy web site (specifically an HTTPS site), your ISP can see that you visited a Proxy web site but nothing else. The site that you indirect to will think that you have come from the country that is providing the proxy service. When you use a proxy service like this, you have effectivly moved your trust from your ISP to the provider of the Proxy service.

  • VPN. (Virtual private network) These are similar to Proxies but do not work inside your browser and are usually intended for all Internet traffic (HTTP, SMTP (mail), FTP (File Transfers), VOIP, etc.). Generaly speaking, VPN's are more sophisticated, more capable and more trustworthy than Proxies. For example, if you wanted to use your smart-phone or laptop to remotely access a computer at your home or office (for file access or remote control), then a VPN is the obvious solution.

    A VPN allows you to simulate the security and functionality afforded by a Local Area Network (LAN), over an Internet connection.

    Digressing: has reported (December 2015) that Juniper Systems, a rival to Cisco, has since 2008 been providing VPN management software that has been compromised.





The purpose of this article is not to provide step-by-step instructions on how to achieve privacy, or to critique the many tools that are available. But for the sake of completeness the following is worth adding. There are plenty of options for improving your privacy. Starting with the absolute basics, you should always use your web browser's Private mode. In Mozilla FireFox this is set under Options, Privacy. For other browsers, privacy can be made the default by adding a command line argument in your desktop (or menu) shortcut. For (Windows) step-by-step instructions see: How to start any browser in private mode.

  • Google Chrome uses …\Chrome\Application\Chrome.exe -incognito
  • Microsoft IE uses “C:\Program Files\Internet Explorer\iexplore.exe” -private
  • Opera uses “C\Program Files (x86)\Opera\Opera.exe” -newprivatetab

The web site does an excellent job of covering most common computer privacy issues (on desktops, smart phones and routers) including VPN's and a brief explanation of what a Warrant-Canary is.


It is a significant challenge be to be part of modern society and not to have already had our privacy compromised by someone else's data breach.

If you are on Facebook or Twitter and it is not for business reasons, then shut that nonsense down as soon as possible. Sotto voce conversations are not private.






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I am afraid that even the community level is not really great enough for survival. We do not have th [...]

At this point in time, to call the system a debt system gives it more legitimacy than it deserves. [...]

The general direction we need to be moving in, is people living more compactly--more multi generatio [...]

BAU will be at an end when the dollar fails and oil becomes just one of many sources of energy in us [...]

If it's still supporting the bloated populations that were grown during the oil age, then yes y [...]

Ellen; I can not find the ETP model price chart for the next five years. It predicts a maximum price [...]

The media tells me that ExxonMobil's profit is up 100%, so the crisis has passed: https://www.y [...]

Credit Bubble Bulletin: April 21 – Reuters (Vikram Subhedar): “The $1 trillion of financial assets t [...]

Sorry there is a fourth component, namely the affordability curve. This is probably the weakest part [...]

Creedon, The Hills Group ETP model seems to me to be very good, but I lack the understanding of ther [...]

RE Economics

Going Cashless

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Simplifying the Final Countdown

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Bond Market Collapse and the Banning of Cash

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Do Central Bankers Recognize there is NO GROWTH?

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Singularity of the Dollar

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Kurrency Kollapse: To Print or Not To Print?

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Of Heat Sinks & Debt Sinks: A Thermodynamic View of Money

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Merry Doomy Christmas

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Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

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Technical Journals

This paper highlights the results of bioclimatic-envelope modeling of whiptail lizards belonging to [...]

Extreme weather, by definition, is any unexpected, unusual, unpredictable, severe or unseasonal weat [...]

Cities generally adopt territorial- or production-based rather than consumption-based emissions acco [...]