This Week In Doom, April 8, 2018

That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on April 8, 2018

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

 ― Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  

It was a week much like any other week in the Age of Trump. We've been desensitized by the antics of the Tantrumish Manbaby in the White House, and the chaos comes so hard and so fast there is barely time to make sense of it. We saw the full-bore co-optation of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the 50th anniversary of his murder…  the full-bore breakdown and digestion of the retail sector as the Trump Economy takes hold, the end products of digestion to eventually fill those MAGA hats…an on-again, off gain Trade War depending on who you talk to… Trumptantrums re Amazon… dark turns in AI including Killer Robots… and we're drowning in our own crap. Another perfect week.

White Martin

This week saw the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Sarah Huckabee Sanders commemorated the occasion by by profaning the memory of the murdered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by reading at few paragraphs of his “mountaintop” speech on Wednesday.

It should be noted that Dr. MLK Jr. was a socialist and a real radical, although his legacy has been sufficiently stripped, sanitized and dry-cleaned for consumption by white America as to be unrecognizable. It is sufficient to remember that even his sharp criticism of the War in Vietnam, which alienated and frightened many of his supporters, was not enough to get him killed.

The estimable Charlie Pierce has it best:

Watching SHS, functioning as the official voice of a president* who started his road to the White House by spreading lies and slander about the first African-American president, reading those words in her dead-eyed Weekend-Anchor-in-Fort-Smith voice was enough to make me feel radically non-non-violent, which really is not the proper way to feel on this solemn occasion.

When King started talking economic issues and organizing Poor People, he moved into that column of those that had to be silenced and removed. The income inequality King decried today operates at crisis levels, unleavened by morality or human decency. One can criticize war with impunity, but risk not one word against Profits. Let's give Pierce the last word:

(King's) whole philosophy was based on breaking unjust laws. His whole career was made up of acts of lawbreaking. That’s who he was. That was his job. That was his mission, and that should be his memory. Non-violence is not the opposite of anger. It never has been. It is the repurposing of anger to constructive purpose, and that constructive purpose was the destruction of systems of oppression. If that’s a profound contradiction then, dammit, this country came into being as a profound contradiction. "How is it," sniped Samuel Johnson, "that we hear the loudest yelps for liberties from the drivers of negroes?" We are a people of contradictions. So was Martin Luther King, Jr. We should make the most of that.

Brick & Mortar Retail Meltdown, March Update

More bad news this week from the retail sector of the American economy, where bricks-and-mortar stores and chains that own them endure economic peristalsis as they are digested by the inexorable forces of automation. The mom and pop stores of youth have been gone ever since they built the mall in the 80s. We're now seeing the medium sized fish that ate the smaller fish turn up in the nets. Wolf Richter reports:

March was a busy month for the brick-and-mortar retail meltdown which kicked off in 2015 and has since picked up speed. We’ve followed this progression from the early days. This year, there was a brutal January, an even more brutal February, and here’s March.

Southeastern Grocers, parent of Winn-Dixie, filed for bankruptcy on March 28. It’s buckling under its debts…Michaels Companies, largest US crafts retailer with about 1,300 stores in the US and Canada, announced on March 22 that it would shutter all its 94 Aaron Brothers framing and art supplies stores… Claire’s Stores filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 19, suffocating under $1.9 billion in debt… Toys “R” Us filed for liquidation… Bon Ton stores faces liquidation if it cannot find a buyer… Guitar Center is buckling under its debts… Signet Jewelers, whose brands include Kay Jewelers, Zales, and Jared, announced on March 14 that it would close 200 Stores over the next 12 months… Foot Locker, with over 3,300 stores globally, announced on March 2 that it plans to close about 110 stores this year…

And in the centerpiece of hedge-fund vulture capitalism, Eddie Lampert, the billionaire majority shareholder of Sears and Kmart who married the two brands together in 2003, ostensibly to run them but now seemingly stripping them for parts. Under Lampert's management the number of Sears and Kmart stores nationwide has shrunk to 1,207 from high of 5,670, and at least 200,000 Sears and Kmart employees have lost their jobs. He's sold off signature brands like Kenmore, Craftsman, and DieHard, as well as Lands’ End, Sears Hometown & Outlet Stores, Sears Canada, and Orchard Supply. The sales have generate cash, which Lampert has generously returned to the shareholders.

Guess who owns 60 percent of Sear Holdings stock?

Of course, if you a a wretch who works in the hell-on-earth that is retail sales, you deserve your ignoble fate, unlike those Favored by God, the investor class. How are they doing? The Sears Holdings stock price has slumped to $2 a share, down from a high of $134 per share 11 years ago.  Wolf Richter:

Sears Holdings is reporting ever more horrid quarters. On March 14, it reported results for Q4, ended February 3, which covered the crucial holiday sales period. Revenues plunged 28% year-over-year to 4.4 billion. According to my projections and my beautiful chart, at the rate of declines over the past four years, revenues will drop below zero in 2020, even as CEO and hedge-fund owner Eddie Lampert is still touting “progress” in SEC filings. This thing is cooked and waiting to be carved up.

Some observers think that Sears Holdings is “a total shit show” that is in “secret liquidation” mode. For more, see the Vanity Fair article and profile of Eddie Lambert. Good stuff.

The demise of retail dovetails with the demise of the middle class into poverty as we increasingly struggle to pay for the necessities of life with salaries and savings are eroded by inflation and debasement of the money via debt. It is one sign that collapse is already in progress, and that we are frogs being slowly cooked. It will remain imperceptible to most for a long time until it's not, and then it's going to get ugly.

Trade War? Is there is or is there ain't?

Trump: Trade Wars Are Easy to Win. Also Trump: We Lost the Trade War with China.

Remember who said how easy trade wars are to win? It was the same guy who said we already lost. We're getting killed by Mexico,  We're getting "raped" by China. And recall when he told Justin Trudeau the US was running a trade deficit even though he knew otherwise? Oh, what a great kidder. On Tuesday Trump announced tariffs on Chinese products to the tune of $50 billion that include "robotics, information technology, communication technology and aerospace." China responded  the next day with $50 billion in tariffs on 106 different U.S. products, including cars, chemicals, and ag products including soy. China's selections seemed precisely calibrated to affect Trump country.

Not surprisingly, the market was off 500 points the next day, and another 600 the day after tht, before a rally to close higher as Trump's smoothers and handlers were our whispering sweet nothings in the ears of Real Money about how this was a "negotiation." They woke Wilbur Ross and wheeled him out to defend the moves, saying Trump is a lifelong deal maker" and China's tariffs are not the "first controversy he's gone into," Ross said. "This is not World War III."

We are to be reassured because human beings are not dying. Yet.

But not to worry– Mr. He Alone Can Fix It is on the case, and you should remember he had a book written for him entitled "The Art of the Deal." Just remember that everyone who came before Trump was a moron, but he is a business genius. And a stable genius at that.

Take Bezos, Give the Points

In a series of tweets, The Stable Genius picked a fight with Amazon owner Jeff Bezos because he could. Yes, the guy who bragged that he was "smart" for not paying taxes during a presidential debate and who refuses to release his tax returns, as every major-party candidate since Watergate has done, accused Amazon of somehow gaming the US Postal Service. From all accounts, the Amazon contract is profitable for the USPS, and has to be by law. In most Tweets, Trump refers to the "Amazon Washington Post," although Bezos owns The Washington Post outright.

Trump's contempt is is rooted in the fact that the Post has driven Trump to impotent rage with its persistent reporting of facts about him and his administration. 

Trump took to Twitter Wednesday to attack America’s most trusted brand: “Amazon is doing great damage to tax paying retailers. Towns, cities and states throughout the U.S. are being hurt – many jobs being lost!” And, 

Most of the financial sites agree: Donald Trump Will Not Get the Best of Jeff Bezos. Through canny marketing and making the services easy to use,  Bezos has managed to integrate Amazon so thoroughly into the lives of customers that many can’t imagine living without its affordability and convenience. Oh, and lobbying. Virginia Postrel from BloombergView:

In fact, Trump’s irritation isn’t really with Amazon. Rather, he is obsessed with Jeff Bezos, whom he keeps denouncing by name. The guy clearly gets under his skin.

The obvious reason is that Bezos — not Amazon, Mr. President — owns the Washington Post. But Trump’s obsession seems a little too personal to be about the Post alone…

Rather, the very existence of Bezos seems to drive Trump crazy. Trump’s image, to himself and his fans, is that of alpha male — the dominant primate in the room. Simply by going about his business (and largely ignoring Trump), Bezos refutes that claim. He is a far more admired and influential businessman than Trump and, of course, immeasurably richer.

Start with appearance. Trump, who likes his staff to have the right “look,” would never cast a wiry guy who doesn’t hide his lack of hair as a big-time businessman. How can someone only five-foot-nine intimidate people into submission? In Trumpworld, intimidation, not value-creation, is what business is all about.

Bezos also has a sense of humor, often at his own expense, and a famously raucous laugh. Trump is humorless. He certainly doesn’t laugh at himself.

We'll leave consideration of the fine points, such as the probity of a sitting president* using the bully pulpit to damage a private company for pure political gain, as well as direct attacks on the free press and the independent judiciary, to the judgments of history. Which is apparently Bezos' attitude as well. The response from Amazon HQ has been silence. Which will prove to be golden. Amazon shares initially fell but are now trading higher. 

AI: Threat or Menace, Redux

Last week I waxed rhapsodic about Artifical Intelligence. I cited that fact that some Smart People have warned us about the implications. Some scoff and say that macines can never truly be "intelligent" because creativity. To which I reply tht the creativity of artificial intelligence can potentially look very different from that of humans. This week, there's this interview with Sophia, the AI robot that's now a citizen of Saudi Arabia:

Thanks to reader Kim Lambert for this one. And then there's the malign intelligence named "Norman." Meet 'Norman,' the Darkest, Most Disturbed AI the World Has Ever Seen

Housed at MIT Media Lab, a research laboratory that investigates AI and machine learning, Norman's computer brain was allegedly warped by exposure to "the darkest corners of Reddit" during its early training, leaving the AI with "chronic hallucinatory disorder," according to a description published April 1 (yes, April Fools' Day) on the project's website.

MIT Media Lab representatives described the presence of "something fundamentally evil in Norman's architecture that makes his re-training impossible…"

Time to open up another big can of "nothing-to-see-here-citizen," right? And in another light-hearted frolic this week, Elon Musk warns that creation of 'god-like' AI could doom mankind to an eternity of robot dictatorship:

If one company or small group of people manage to develop god-like super intelligence, they could take over the world," Musk said in the film.

He continued: "At least when there is an evil dictator, that human is going to die. But for AI there will be no death, it would live forever and then you would have an immortal dictator from which we could never escape….

We are rapidly heading towards digital superintelligence that far exceeds any human. I think it's very obvious. We have five years. I think digital superintelligence will happen in our lifetime, 100%," Musk said.

And such concerns have informed the consciences of at least some scientists.

'Killer Robot' Lab Faces Boycott from Artificial Intelligence Experts

Nearly 60 AI and robotics experts from almost 30 countries have signed an open letter calling for a boycott against KAIST, a public university in Daejeon, South Korea, that has been reported to be "develop[ing] artificial intelligence technologies to be applied to military weapons, joining the global competition to develop autonomous arms," the open letter said.

To strongly discourage KAIST's new mission, the researchers are boycotting the university until its president makes clear that the center will not develop "autonomous weapons lacking meaningful human control," the letter writers said.

But nothing to worry about since AI is "not creative."

Who's crap? Our crap.

And now we're drowning in our own crap as China has decided that they are going to treat our recycled waste like they treat the US Dollar: "We don't want it."

For decades, China has used recyclables from around the world to supply its manufacturing boom. But this summer it declared that this "foreign waste" includes too many other nonrecyclable materials that are "dirty," even "hazardous." In a filing with the World Trade Organization the country listed 24 kinds of solid wastes it would ban "to protect China's environmental interests and people's health."

The complete ban takes effect Jan. 1, but already some Chinese importers have not had their licenses renewed. That is leaving U.S. recycling companies scrambling to adapt…

For decades, China has sorted through all this and used the recycled goods to propel its manufacturing boom. Now it no longer wants to, so the materials sits here with no place to go.

There is no choice for affected Oregon recyclers but to take all of the recycling to the local landfill. Over a dozen Oregon companies have asked regulators whether they can send recyclable materials to landfills, and that number may grow if they can't find eager buyers elsewhere for our recycled products. So as we slowly cook, we can also enjoy drowning in our own garbage. Just another week in Doom.

banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere, and was active in the Occupy movement. He lives in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary and fully expects to be prominently featured on an enemies list compiled by the current administration.'s Department of Homeland Security.

Free ain’t worth the trouble. Pass the pesticides, they make me comfortable.

Off the keyboard of Gypsy Mama

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
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Published on The Butterchurn on August 26, 2013


Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

LD recently took a trip to the main county landfill to purge some of our waste (chairs that were broken and unrepairable, recyclables, etc).  At his visit, he struck up a conversation with an employee of the joint about the free mulch that the county has been offering its residents.

Apparently people have stopped taking the ground mulch home.  The “mulch mountain” mound has grown to the point where the county has decided that they are going to cease the mulching operation, and let the $250,000 mulching machine sit and rust.

This has caused LD and I to ask ourselves… are people just too busy to pitchfork some of this free mulch into their truck beds?  Are people lazy and upset that the landfill no longer offers a Bobcat’s assistance for loading the mulch into your truck for $5 a load?

I have discovered, through my interaction with Facebook, that the issue is much bigger than we may have imagined.  People are AFRAID of it.

That’s right…people are afraid of FREE organic material.  Lawn waste that others have gathered and brought to the dump so that it could be both disposed of and recycled.  Tree limbs, the tops of trimmed bushes, landscaping prunage…all things that would be thrown into the vast wasteland of dirty diapers, soda bottles and pizza boxes if it weren’t for the city’s mulching operation.

And that is just where this organic material will end up if residents of Spartanburg County don’t speak up and do something about the county office’s decision to shut down the mulching machine for good.

I recently posted this cry for help to the little community page I’m trying to get rolling over in Facebookland:

“TRUTH: According to a Spartanburg County Employee, our main landfill, Welford, has a $250,000 wood chipper/mulcher that will ROT unless Spartanburg County Residents DO SOMETHING about it. We need your support!

FREE MULCH is currently available, but “Mulch Mountain” is going away SOON. People who care about the Earth have begun to cultivate what will be the LAST pile of mulch created by the landfill unless residents contact their local media to let them know they are AGAINST the discontinuation of collecting Landscaping waste, leaves that you leave on your curb, bushes you’ve trimmed…all of the things the county has picked up from your curbside…will go in with the dirty diapers and other regular waste unless someone says something about this! Help us spread the word!!!!”

I was shocked at the  immediate, negative responses…such as:

“Have to be careful… A lot of that free mulch contains parasites that can be harmful to your plants. Aside from that, organic material aids the landfill in breaking down garbage.”

“We used to get the mulch, now our yard is full of poison ivy, and we have to use ivy killer, which we don’t really like to do. But with the gkids we have to”

“… Unintentional seeding”

“We had an infestation of ticks one year from some of that “free” mulch..and it has huge chunks in it…free isn’t always worth the trouble…”

I asked, “What makes the trees that are chopped up and processed into mulch that you purchase different from this free mulch (which is also mostly chopped up tree limbs)?
Where do the landscaping companies get their mulch? What makes it different than the free mulch?  Does anyone know?”

The one and only response so far to that question:  “Isn’t the stuff you purchase treated for insects and such?? I think it is also double it is much finer without all the large chunks.”

There you have it… it seems that people blame the free mulch for unwanted, naturally occurring plants and insects.  They’re flat out afraid of it and see it as poisonous….yet they’re cool with purchasing mulch that has been “treated for insects”, thus, loaded with pesticides.  Does this make the purchased mulch any cleaner???

I’m really at a loss here.  I’m upset for my generation and our way of thinking.  Free organic material is bad, apparently.  We can only trust the integrity of organic material that has been zapped with pesticides and “treatments.”

I hang my head in shame for our species.  How have we separated ourselves from nature, from the Earth to this extent???

This was the only Facebook friendly response I could come up with:

“I have never heard of mulch being treated for insects, but that is a stirring thought. I’ll do a little internet research and see what I can come up with. On that thought, however, if they do treat the mulch for insects (via an insecticide) is that worse for gardening than taking the chance of unintentional seeding, poison ivy, ticks…which are all naturally occurring?”

You can’t change everyone’s way of thinking, but you can save as many as you can, as slowly as is needed…but with how much effort?  Trying to deter people away from the plague of programmed thinking is exhausting.  All I can do is keep putting the idea out there that…natural is always better when it comes to gardening.  It has to be, right?

Looks like Earth to me!

Looks like Earth to me!



LD's creative tie down.

LD’s creative tie down.

Gypsy Mulch Mountain.

Gypsy Mulch Mountain.

Waste Based Society

Discuss this article inside the Diner

I love Olives, most any kind really although Kalamatta Olives are my favorite. They are pretty expensive though, the Spanish Manzanilla Olives are generally more affordable.

I also really like BEER. My favorite these days is Sam Adams Boston Lager, but I had many other favorites over the years,including Heineken, Dos Equis, Foster’s (my Aussie years of underage drinking ) and for a while also Grolsch.

Now, what do both Olives and Grolsch Beer have in common here, besides the fact I like both of them? In both cases displayed here, they come Packaged in Glass Jars or Bottles. Both products do come in Cans also of course, but I always liked the Glass packaged ones better.  Glass Olive Jars are often quite distinctive in their shapes, and Grolsch bottles are not only distinctive, they have a neat type of Resealable Cap on them.

Perhaps my first recollection of becoming aware that we were running a wasteful and unsustainble paradigm came from the original Coke Bottles, also made of Glass and also quite distinctive in shape. I was probably only 5 years old most when I couldn’t understand WHY we were throwing out these very nice Bottles which clearly could be reused many times over.

Eventually “recycling” became the word of the day, and you were supposed to separate your Trash into separate Bins, one for Glass, one for Aluminum Cans, one for Plastics of various kinds, one for Paper and one for Organic Waste, aka food leftovers mainly in the typical Suburban Household of the 1970s. Of course, having 5 different trash receptacles in the Kitchen never really gained all that much traction and eventually this worked down to 2, “recyclables” and non-recyclables. Somewhere, some Unidentified person sifted through the Recyclables trash on a conveyer belt separating out the Glass, Plastic, Paper and Aluminum.

Just looking at the Glass though, how was it “recycled”? The Bottles were not sent back to Coke Plants whole for rinsing and re-using, they were Crushed, melted down and Molded again into a new Coke bottle, or some other kind of bottle or Jar or maybe automotive windshield. How much Energy was saved by recycling a Glass bottle? Not much if any, and probably actually was net waste when you consider the transport issues.

Now, if you have ever seen Glassblowers in action or melted some glass yourself in a laboratory over a Bunsen Burner, you should have some idea how much energy you need to melt glass hot enough to mold into shapes. Now contemplate on how many Glass Bottles or Jars you have used through the course of your lifetime and thrown away after the product inside was consumed. For me, I know it is MANY, pretty much incalculable.

Anyhow, this problem always bugged me, and bugs me to this day. I have this real PROBLEM of Hoarding Glass Jars and Bottles. The reason I drank Grolsch mainly besides the fact the beer is pretty good was to collect up and Save the Bottles! I figured someday I would Brew my OWN Beer and these would be great to Bottle it in. The collection of Grolsch Bottles currently sits thousands of miles from where I live right now, in a Storage Unit in the Ozarks.

Since moving up to the Last Great Frontier, every time I go and buy a Jar of Olives, I can’t bring myself to THROW AWAY the Jar. Fortunately I have not become overwhelmed by Olive Jars because Fred Myers has an Olive Bar where you can scoop up what you like from the Buffet and drop it into a Plastic Container, which I don’t have too much trouble with throwing away.

Upon returning from Brazil in the late 60s, where I tagged along with the Cook to the Open markets where she bought the food, I became quickly AMAZED at how all the Dishware and Eating Utensils has become Disposable items also. In Brasil when we ate our meals, it was all off of Fine China and we had two sets of Eating utensils, the base metal Flatware we used every day and then the Fine Silver stuff we pulled out when the Rockefellers showed up and we had a big fancy Dinner.

Coming back to the FSofA after my parent’s divorce, we ate off paper plates with plastic forks and knives that got thrown out after each meal was done. I ate at GREAT Pizzeria’s in NY Shity, buying by the Slice at 25 Cents each, and each slice was served to me on a Paper Plate, along with a Paper cup for my Soft Drink, which I also threw away after the drink was consumed. No more Glassware, no more Plates to wash, MARVELOUS! Not really of course, because this was just more MOUNTAINS of endless WASTE, and Recycling never worked at all on an economic level.

The Frozen TV Dinners now morphed into Microwaveable Meals are yet another example here. I don’t remember the manufacturer, but at one point one of these Frozen Food companies put out a meal that was packaged on top of a Bakelite type plate that was REALLY sturdy and you could wash and use over and over. I started buying those early Microwaveable meals and SAVING the dishes! LOL. They were just too GOOD to throw away! Even today, there are some microwaveables packaged on plastic dishware you can easily reuse many times if you wash them after use. I do force myself to throw these away though, because keeping mountains of endless Plastic Dishware I will never need is ridiculous.

Anyhow, while the ungodly waste of energy involved in the Carz paradigm of running willy nilly around in SUVs is a great current source of Waste, the entire economic system here has been based on Waste through many areas, and probably started with the Glass Bottles. From recent stuff I have read, the Dutch apparently burned through their Peat Bogs making Glassware for export in the 1600s. Eventually the English started pulling up more Coal with the Steam Engine, but once the Dutch had to buy coal instead of use energy from the Peat Bogs to make the Glassware, it lost its economic advantage.

Just about everything we use depends on vast amounts of energy to produce, the refined Metals, the Glass, the Bricks and Mortar etc. We can’t keep making new stuff, using it once and throwing it away. This was clear to me as a 5 Year Old drinking Coke out of Glass Bottles. Exactly why it never became clear to everyone else remains a mystery to me to this day.


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

Top Commentariats

  • Our Finite World
  • Economic Undertow

Michael Hudson: "So Trump’s view is a fantasy. It’s like saying, “If we had some ham, we could [...]

"Yes, $1000 of expiring money will be spent very quickly when a loaf of bread is $500" Wel [...]

Yeah, magicians at conning us into thinking we should vote them into powerful positions where they c [...]

The story this report gives is not really true, however. [...]

Hi Steve. I recently found what I believe is a little gem, and I'm quite confident you'd a [...]

The Federal Reserve is thinking about capping yields? I don't know how long TPTB can keep this [...]

As some one who has spent years trying to figure out what the limits to growth are. let me say that [...]

Peak oil definitely happened for gods sake. Just because it isn't mad max right now is no indic [...]

@Volvo - KMO says he made some life choices he regrets. Not sure what they were. And I don't th [...]

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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Collapse Fiction

Useful Links

Technical Journals

The Himalayas are highly susceptible to the impacts of climate change, as it consequently increases [...]

Spatial hydroclimatic variability of Eastern North America’s Allegheny Mountain System (AMS) i [...]

Climate change mitigation targets have put pressure to reduce the carbon footprint of cultural herit [...]