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Making Better Choices in the Future | Peak Prosperity

Making Better Choices in the Future | Peak Prosperity.

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(Un)Paving Our Way To Nirvana

Making better choices in the future
by James H. Kunstler
Monday, November 25, 2013, 7:10 PM
You can’t overstate the baleful effects for Americans of living in the tortured landscapes and townscapes we created for ourselves in the past century. This fiasco of cartoon suburbia, overgrown metroplexes, trashed small cities and abandoned small towns, and the gruesome connective tissue of roadways, commercial smarm, and free parking is the toxic medium of everyday life in this country. Its corrosive omnipresence induces a general failure of conscious awareness that it works implacably at every moment to diminish our lives. It is both the expression of our collapsed values and a self-reinforcing malady collapsing our values further. The worse it gets, the worse we become.

The citizens who do recognize their own discomfort in this geography of nowhere generally articulate it as a response to “ugliness.” This is only part of the story. The effects actually run much deeper. The aggressive and immersive ugliness of the built landscape is entropy made visible. It is composed of elements that move us in the direction of death, and the apprehension of this dynamic is what really makes people uncomfortable. It spreads a vacuum of lost meaning and purpose wherever it reaches. It is worse than nothing, worse than if it had never existed. As such, it qualifies under St. Augustine’s conception of “evil” in the sense that it represents antagonism to the forces of life.

We find ourselves now in a strange slough of history. Circumstances gathering in the home economics of mankind ought to inform us that we can’t keep living this way and need to make plans for living differently. But our sunk costs in this infrastructure for daily life with no future prevent us from making better choices. At least for the moment. In large part this is because the “development” of all this ghastly crap — the vinyl-and-strandboard housing subdivisions, the highway strips, malls, and “lifestyle centers,” the “Darth Vader” office parks, the infinity of asphalt pavements — became, for a while, our replacement for an economy of ecological sanity. The housing bubble was all about building more stuff with no future, and that is why the attempt to re-start it is evil.

Sooner rather than later we’ll have to make better choices. We’ll have to redesign the human habitat in America because our current environs will become uninhabitable. The means and modes for doing this are already understood. They do not require heroic “innovation” or great leaps of “new technology.” Mostly they require a decent respect for easily referenced history and a readjustment of our values in the general direction of promoting life over death. This means for accomplishing this will be the subject of Part II of this essay, but it is necessary to review a pathology report of the damage done.

Launching Nirvana

I have a new theory of history: things happen in human affairs because they seem like a good idea at the time. This helps explain events that otherwise defy understanding, for example the causes of the First World War. England, France, Russia, Germany, and Italy joined that war because it seemed like a good idea at the time, namely August of 1914. There hadn’t been a real good dust-up on the continent since Waterloo in 1814. Old grievances were stewing. Empires were both rising and falling, contracting and reaching out. The “players” seemed to go into the war thinking it would be a short,  redemptive, and rather glorious adventure, complete with cavalry charges and evenings in ballrooms. The “deciders” failed to take into account the effects of newly mechanized warfare. The result was the staggering industrial slaughter of the trenches. Poison gas attacks did not inspire picturesque heroism. And what started the whole thing? Ostensibly the assassination of an unpopular Hapsburg prince in Serbia. Was Franz Ferdinand an important figure? Not really. Was Austria a threat to France and England? It was in steep decline, a sclerotic empire held together with whipped cream and waltz music. Did Russia really care about little Serbia? Was Germany insane to attack on two fronts? Starting the fight seemed like a good idea at the time — and then, of course, the unintended consequences bit back like a mad dog from hell.

Likewise America’s war against its own landscape, which got underway in earnest just as the First World War ended (1918). The preceding years had seen Henry Ford perfect, first, the Model T (1908), and then the assembly line method of production (1915), and when WW I was out of the way, America embarked on its romance with democratic motoring. First, the cities were retrofitted for cars. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but the streets were soon overwhelmed by them. By the mid-1920s the temptation to motorize the countryside beyond the cities was irresistible, as were the potential profits to be reaped. What’s more, automobilizing the cities made them more unpleasant places to live, and reinforced the established American animus against city life in general, while supporting and enabling the fantasy that everyone ought to live in some approximation to a country squire, preferably in some kind of frontier.

The urban hinterlands presented just such a simulacrum of a frontier. It wasn’t a true frontier anymore in the sense of civilization meeting wilderness, but it was a real estate frontier and that was good enough for the moment. Developing it with houses seemed like a good idea. Indeed, it proved to be an excellent way to make money. The first iteration of 1920s car suburbs bloomed in the rural ring around every city in the land. An expanding middle class could “move to the country” but still have easy access to the city, with all its business and cultural amenities. What a wonderful thing! And so suburban real estate development became embedded in the national economic psychology as a pillar of “progress” and “growth.”

This activity contributed hugely to the fabled boom of the 1920s.  Alas, the financial shenanigans arising out of all this new wealth, along with other disorders of capital, such as the saturation of markets, blew up the banking system and the Great Depression was on. The construction industry was hardest it. Very little private real estate development happened in the 1930s. And as that decade segued right into the Second World War, the dearth continued.

When the soldiers came home, the economic climate had shifted. America was the only industrial economy left standing, with all the advantages implied by that, plus military control over the loser lands. We already possessed the world’s biggest oil industry. But after two decades of depression, war, and neglect, American cities were less appealing than ever. The dominant image of city life in 1952 was Ralph Kramden’s apartment inThe Honeymooners TV show. Yccchhh. America was a large nation, with a lot of agricultural land just beyond the city limits. Hence, the mushrooming middle class, including now well-paid factory workers, could easily be sold on “country living.” The suburban project, languishing since 1930, resumed with a vengeance. The interstate highway program accelerated it.

The Broken Promises of Suburbia

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Country life for everybody in the world’s savior democracy! Fresh air! Light! Play space for the little ones! Nothing in world history had been easier to sell. Interestingly, in a nation newly-addicted to television viewing, the suburban expansion of the 1950s took on a cartoon flavor. It was soon apparent that the emergent “product” was not “country living” but rather a cartoon of a country house in a cartoon of the country. Yet it still sold. Americans were quite satisfied to live in a cartoon environment. It was uncomplicated. It could be purchased on installment loans. We had plenty of cheap energy to run it.

It took decades of accreting suburbia for its more insidious deficiencies to become apparent. Most noticeable was the disappearance of the rural edge as the subdivisions quickly fanned outward, dissolving the adjacent pastures, cornfields, and forests that served as reminder of the original promise of “country living.” Next was the parallel problem of accreting car traffic. Soon, that negated the promise of spacious country living in other ways. The hated urban “congestion” of living among too many people became an even more obnoxious congestion of cars. That problem was aggravated by the idiocies of single-use zoning, which mandated the strictest possible separation of activities and forced every denizen of the suburbs into driving for every little task. Under those codes (no mixed use!), the corner store was outlawed, as well as the café, the bistro, indeed any sort of gathering place within a short walk that is normal in one form or another in virtually every other culture.

This lack of public amenity drove the movement to make every household a self-contained, hermetically-sealed social unit. Instead of mixing with other people outside the family on a regular basis, Americans had TV and developed more meaningful relations with the characters on it than with the real people around them. Television was also the perfect medium for selling redundant “consumer” products: every house had to have its own lawnmower, washing machine, and pretty soon a separate TV for each family member.  The result of all that was the corrosion of civic life (a.k.a “community”) until just about every civic association except for school oversight (the fabled PTA) dwindled and faded. And the net effect of all that was the stupendous loneliness, monotony, atomization, superficiality, and boredom of suburbia’s social vacuum. It was especially hard on the supposed greatest beneficiaries, children, who, having outgrown the play space of the yard by age eight, could not easily navigate the matrix of freeways and highways outside the subdivision without the aid of the “family chauffeur,” (i.e. Mom).

Cutting Our Losses & Moving On

A couple of  points about the current situation in suburbia ought to be self-evident. One is that our predicament vis-à-vis oil, along with cratering middle class incomes, suggests that we won’t be able to run this arrangement of things on the landscape a whole lot longer. The circulatory system of suburbia depends on cars which run on liquid hydrocarbon fuels. Despite the current propaganda (“drill, baby drill”), we have poor prospects of continuing an affordable supply of those things, and poorer prospects of running the US motor vehicle fleet by other means, despite the share price of Tesla, Inc. The second point is how poorly all suburbia’s components are aging — the vinyl-clad houses, the tilt-up strip malls, the countless chicken shacks, burger stands, and muffler shops, all the generic accessories and furnishings that litter the terrain from sea to shining sea. There are a lot of reasons these things now look bad (and lose value) but the chief one is that most of them are things nobody really cares about.

In Part II: A Better Human Habitat for the Next Economy, we explore the necessary behaviors we’ll need to adopt if we hope to have any prosperity in the years ahead. What seemed like a good idea at the time — through the 20th century and a little beyond — is looking more like an experiment that failed. Our sunk costs in it promote a tendency to agonize over it. I propose that we just give up the hand-wringing and prepare to cut our losses and move on. The reality of the situation is that the response to all this will arise emergently as circumstances compel us to change our behavior and make different (and we should hope) better choices. That is to say, don’t expect programmatic political action to change this, especially from remote authorities like federal or state governments. We will reorganize life on the ground because we will have to.

Click here to read Part II of this report (free executive summary; enrollment required for full access).

 

U.S. Border’s Canadian Health Records Access Of ‘Great Concern’ To Privacy Watchdog

U.S. Border’s Canadian Health Records Access Of ‘Great Concern’ To Privacy Watchdog.

us border health records

TORONTO – Ontario’s privacy watchdog is probing reports that private health information is being shared with U.S. border services, saying it’s a matter “of grave concern” to her.

Her office “will investigate the matter and ensure that the personal health information of Ontarians is not being compromised by any organizations under my jurisdiction,” Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian said in an email to Ontario’s New Democrats, who requested her help.

Cavoukian added that she’s already contacted the Health Ministry to confirm that no personal health details are being provided to U.S. border services.

NDP provincial health critic France Gelinas said she’s been contacted by three people who have been denied entry to the U.S. based on their personal health history.

One woman she spoke to, Ellen Richardson, has gone public with her story, saying she was turned away Monday at Toronto’s Pearson airport by a U.S. customs agent because she was hospitalized in June 2012 for clinical depression.

Richardson attempted suicide in 2001 by jumping off a bridge, which left her a paraplegic. But her mental health has improved with medication and professional help from a psychiatrist, she said.

She said she travelled through the United States several times in recent years and never had a problem.

This time, the agent cited the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, which denies entry to people who have had a physical or mental disorder that may pose a “threat to the property, safety or welfare” of themselves or others, she said.

“It’s ridiculous. It’s utterly ridiculous,” she said.

“I was never a threat to others. I would never harm anyone.”

Richardson, who takes medication to combat depression, said she provided the U.S. agent with the name and phone number of her psychiatrist, but it wasn’t enough.

She was told she would have to get “medical clearance” and be examined by one of only three doctors in Toronto whose assessments are accepted by Homeland Security, she said.

Richardson, who has a website and wrote a book about her struggle with depression, said she has no recollection of police being involved in her 2012 hospitalization.

She said she had become suicidal, wrote a suicide note and called her mother, who came over and called 911.

“I wasn’t a threat to anyone, other than myself,” Richardson said.

Gelinas said another person she spoke to told her that they had been turned away at the border over a physical ailment that had nothing to do with mental health.

She wouldn’t provide any details to protect the person’s privacy, but Gelinas said she was told that the U.S. agent in that case also mentioned a fairly recent, specific medical episode that happened in an Ontario hospital.

Gelinas said at first she tried to find some explanation for why U.S. authorities might have the information, such as police records. She asked many questions, but nothing seemed to explain how the Department of Homeland Security got the information.

“The amount of their personal information that is spit back at them is astonishing,” she said.

“I have no idea how this could happen, but it did. I believe those people. They have given me physical, tangible proof that this happened.”

A person’s medical history must remain confidential, she said. To hear that specific details of a person’s medical history is being shared with a foreign government is “extremely alarming.”

Health Minister Deb Matthews owes Ontarians an explanation, Gelinas added.

U.S. authorities don’t have access to medical or other health records for Ontarians travelling to the United States, said Samantha Grant, a spokeswoman for Matthews.

Government officials referred all other questions to police services, saying it was an operational matter.

Federal law allows personal information to be transferred outside Canada, even without the consent of the individual to whom the information relates. Once the information is in foreign hands, the laws of that country will apply.

Canada’s privacy commissioner has called for the federal government to re-examine the circumstances under which it allows personal information about Canadians to be processed outside Canada.

Mike Sullivan, the New Democrat MP who represents the Toronto riding where Richardson lives, says he has sent a letter to the federal privacy commissioner’s office asking for an investigation into the matter.

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  • We Speak English And French, Not Canadian

     

  • But We Don’t All Speak French

     

  • Or English

     

  • We Didn’t Make Celine Dion, Nickelback And Justin Bieber Famous. You Did

     

  • We Don’t Know Your Cousin Mike From Vancouver

     

  • British Columbia Is Not In Britain. Or South America. (Google it)

     

  • We Know More About America Than You Do About Canada

     

  • Sofa, Not Couch

     

  • Pop, Not Soda

     

  • Bathroom, Not Washroom

     

  • We Don’t All Know How To Ski/Skate/Dogsled

     

  • It’s Pronounced ‘ZED’

     

  • Not All Of Us Like Hockey

     

  • We Don’t All Want To Move To America

     

  • Our Mayors, For The Most Part, Don’t (Allegedly) Smoke Crack

     

  • We’re Sick Of Emailing Fox News About This, So For The Last Bloody Time, The 9/11 Bombers Did NOT Cross Over From Canada!

     

  • Next: The Most Canadian Words

     

  • Toonie

    WHAT IT MEANS: A toonie is a $2 Canadian coin, which followed the cue of the loonie (named after the image of the aquatic bird that graces the $1 coin). IN A SENTENCE: “Hey buddy, can I borrow a toonie? I need to get a Double Double (see the next slide).”

  • Double Double

    WHAT IT MEANS: A Double Double refers to a coffee (often from Tim Hortons) with two creams and two sugars. IN A SENTENCE: “Yes, hi, I’d like to order a Double Double.”

  • Gut-Foundered

    WHAT IT MEANS: When food, however unappealing it is, is all you crave at the end of the day. Or, you’re just very hungry. IN A SENTENCE: “Your mind wanders when it’s gut-foundered. Is it going to be take-out? Is it going to be pizza?”

  • Shit-Kickers

    <strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong>Shit-Kickers are nicknames for cowboy boots. Hee Haw! <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> “I can’t go to the Calgary Stampede without my shit-kickers.”

  • Kitty-Corner

    <strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> Something that is in a diagonal direction from something else. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> “The grocery store is kitty-corner to the school.”

  • Chinook

    <strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> A warm wind that blows east over the Canadian Rockies, warming up Calgary in the winter. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> “This chinook is giving me a headache.”

  • Darts

    <strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> A slang term for cigarettes <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> “Get your darts out.”

  • Stagette

    WHAT IT MEANS: Stagette is another name for bachelorette party. IN A SENTENCE: “Are you heading out to that stagette this weekend? There’s going to be a stripper.”

  • Cowtown

    <strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> Cowtown is a nickname for Calgary. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> “I’ve been living in Cowtown my entire life.”

  • Gitch/Gotch

    WHAT IT MEANS: Another name for underwear used mainly in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and often referring to men’s or boys’ briefs. A gotch refers to women’s underwear. IN A SENTENCE: “Pull your pants up, I can see your gitch.”

  • Bedlamer

    WHAT IT MEANS: According to the Dictionary of Newfoundland, a bedlamer is a seal that is not yet mature. IN A SENTENCE: “This harp seal is giving me a hard time, it’s such a bedlamer.”

  • Toque

    <strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> A toque is a hat most people wear during winter months. And sometimes, you will see this hat reappear in the summer. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> “Listen son, don’t go out into this weather without your toque.”

  • Matrimonial Cake

    <strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> No, no one is getting married. In Western Canada, a matrimonial cake is another term for a date square or tart. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> “I wish this coffee shop had matrimonial cakes.”

  • Rink Rat

    <strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> Someone who loves spending time on an ice rink. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> “I can’t get any ice time, I have to deal with all these rink rats.”

  • Homo Milk

    <strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> Slang for homogenized whole milk, but shockingly, this term is actually used on milk packaging. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> “When you go to the grocery store, don’t forget to pick up the homo milk.”

  • Two-Four

    WHAT IT MEANS: Common slang for a case of 24 beers. IN A SENTENCE: “Are you heading to the beer store? Pick me up a 2-4 of Molson.”

  • Pencil Crayon

    WHAT IT MEANS: The Canadian way of saying coloured pencil. IN A SENTENCE: “Do you have a pencil crayon in that pencil case?”

  • Pop

    <strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> Another word for soda. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> “That can of pop has 200 calories.”

  • Washroom

    <strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> Another word for bathroom or restroom. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> “This washroom doesn’t have any toilet paper.”

  • Whaddya At

    WHAT IT MEANS: Slang for “what are you doing” in Newfoundland. IN A SENTENCE: “Did you just get in? Whaddya at?”

  • Mickey

    <strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> For the most part, a mickey is a flask-sized (or 375 ml) bottle of hard liqueur, but on the East Coast, a mickey is an airplane-sized bottle. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> “We’re going out tonight, can someone grab a mickey.”

  • Zed

    <strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> Not a slang term, but this is how Canadians pronounce the letter “Z”. Not zee.

  • Deke

    WHAT IT MEANS: A hockey (surprise, surprise) technique when a player gets past their opponent by “faking it.” It can also be used to replace the world detour. IN A SENTENCE: “I am going to deke into the store after work.”

  • Hydro

    <strong>WHAT IT MEANS:</strong> Hydro refers to electricity, particularly on your energy bill. <strong>IN A SENTENCE:</strong> “My hydro bill went up $10 this month.”

  • Mountie

    WHAT IT MEANS: A mountie is a nickname for a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. IN A SENTENCE: “Stop speeding, a mountie will catch you.”

  • NEXT: 50 Of the Best Canadian Foods

     

  • Poutine

    Poutine — French fries generously slathered in gravy and cheese curds — is a classic Canadian treat that is said to have originated in Quebec in the 1950s. Since then, it has been adapted in many weird and wonderful ways from gourmet versions with lobster and foie gras to —believe it or not — a doughnut version. It’s also inspired a crop of trendy “poutineries” and a “poutition” to make it Canada’s official national dish.

  • Ketchup Chips

    There are some snacks that define a nation, but not many that taste good to only those who live there. What do we love? The fact they leave our fingers dyed red after we’ve had a whole bag. Ketchup has never tasted so salty, non-tomatoey and outright good. Our U.S. friends may go nutty over Doritos, but we love our ketchup chips. Did you know that Lay’s dill pickle and Munchies snack mix are also exclusively Canadian?

  • Maple Syrup

    What could be more Canadian than syrup that comes from the maple tree, whose iconic leaf has come to symbolize Canada and its national pride? Quebec is the largest producer of maple syrup in the world, accounting for about 75 to 80 percent of the supply. Maple syrup — superfood.html” target=”_blank”>recently elevated to “superfood” status — is a classic sweet topping on pancakes and waffles. Still, that hasn’t stopped some people from thinking of surprising savoury pairings such as maple-bacon doughnuts.

  • Bacon

    It’s no secret that Canadians are obsessed with bacon. The delicious cured pork product can be made oh so many ways, including ever popular strip bacon and peameal bacon, often referred to as “Canadian bacon” abroad. In fact, Canadians are so passionate about their favourite food that many would probably choose it over sex.

  • Butter Tarts

    A butter tart is a classic Canadian dessert made with butter, sugar, syrup and eggs — filled in a buttery (yes, more grease) pastry shell, and often includes either raisins or nuts. They can be runny or firm — so it’s hard to mess them up when you’re baking. Also, they never seem to go out of style.

  • BeaverTail

    BeaverTails, or Queues de Castor in French, is a famous trademarked treat made by a Canadian-based chain of pastry stands. The fried-dough treats are shaped to resemble real beaver tails and are often topped with chocolate, candy, and fruit. These Canadian delicacies go hand in hand with skiing, and even gained White House recognition during U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2009 trip to Ottawa.

  • Nanaimo Bars

    These legendary Canadian no-bake treats originated in (surprise!) <a href=”http://www.nanaimo.ca/EN/main/visitors/NanaimoBars.html&#8221; target=”_blank”>Nanaimo, B.C.,</a> and are typically made with graham-cracker crumbs, coconut, walnuts, vanilla custard and chocolate. Need we say more? Common variations include peanut butter and mint chocolate.

  • Game Meat

    No one likes to think of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as dinner, but game meat is abundant in Canada and can be found in butchers, restaurants and homes across the country. Among other popular Canadian game is boar, bison, venison, caribou and rabbit.

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Egyptians on streets to defy new protest law – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

Egyptians on streets to defy new protest law – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.

Since he was toppled in July, Morsi’s supporters have been staging near-daily protests [AP]
Hundreds of protesters have taken to the streets in cities across Egypt and clashes erupted when police tried to break up some of the demonstrations, days after a hotly-disputed protest law was adopted.

At least 86 people were arrested across the country on Friday, according to the interior ministry, which added that clashes raged in several areas.

Protesters in the city of Giza threw Molotov cocktails at one police station where clashes raged for hours, the interior ministry told Al Jazeera.

Violence between police and protesters also broke out in the country’s second largest city, Alexandria, after Muslim prayers, with security forces firing tear gas to disperse hundreds of people.

The Mediterranean city has been tense since a court handed down heavy sentences of 11 years in prison to 21 female supporters of the deposed president Mohamed Morsi, many of them juveniles, for holding a peaceful protest.

The office of the president on Friday, however, said the women and girls would be granted a full pardon by the interim president once their cases had gone through the appeal and cessation courts.

They have been held for weeks after being arrested during a protest demanding the reinstatement of Morsi, who was ousted by the military on July 3. The youngest girl is 15-years-old.

One person was killed and several injured on Thursday during a crackdown on students protesting the harsh sentences – which have infuriated many Egyptians – in the capital Cairo.

On Friday, hundreds of mourners joined the funeral procession for the dead man, Mohamed Rewda, who studied at Cairo University.

Near-daily protests

Since July, Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters have been staging near-daily protests calling for his reinstatement, with Friday’s weekly Muslim prayers a key time for mobilising their largest numbers.

The rallies have often descended into street clashes with security forces or anti-Brotherhood protesters.

In an effort to quash the rallies, authorities adopted the controversial law restricting the right to protest.

Among other rules, it requires organisers to notify the Interior Ministry three days before holding a demonstration, while also setting prison terms and high fines for violators.

 

The Hunger Games and the Moral Imagination – Ludwig von Mises Institute Canada

The Hunger Games and the Moral Imagination – Ludwig von Mises Institute Canada.

This past weekend I caught The Hunger Games: Catching Fire at my local theater. The movie is based on the second part of a dystopian trilogy written by Suzanne Collins. In Collins’s fictional world known as Panem, a despotic government rules over all with a violent iron fist. There is a strict separation between the political class and the rest of the populace, with the latter working in slave-like conditions to support the former. The story focuses on protagonist Katniss Everdeen and her struggle to protect her loved ones while surviving the tyranny of her brutal overlords.

Throughout Catching Fire, the subject of revolution is paramount. Since the first instalment of the series when Katniss bested her oppressive dictators in the highly-publicized, annual fight-to-the-death tournament, she has become a symbol of agitation to the people. They look to her as a chink in the government’s armor – a sign that tyranny is not immortal but can be damaged. The plebs and their desire for freedom results in riots in the streets with vicious crackdowns from Orwellian-named “peacekeepers” who maintain tranquility with the bloodied end of truncheons. At one point during Katniss’s victory tour, an older gentleman raises his hand in defiance of the regime and whistles the popularized tune of revolution. He is summarily executed on the spot while the crowd that attempts to protect him is beaten handily.

The act of violence drew a startled and winced response from the movie audience. It was a demonstration of the horribly destructive nature of tyranny. There was no question as to the evilness of Panem’s dictatorial government. The line between enemy and hero was straight and untainted.

Stories such as the Hunger Games are wonderful things because they spark what conservative statesman Edmund Burke called the “moral imagination.” In his famedReflections on the Revolution in France, Burke chided the Jacobin revolutionaries for endeavoring to paint “the decent drapery of life” and the “moral imagination” as “ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated.” Russell Kirk expanded on this phrase and defined it as the “power of ethical perception which strides beyond the barriers of private experience and momentary events.”

Whether viewers know it or not, the basic plot of the Hunger Games series is an appeal to the moral imagination that men should be free from working as servants to others. It’s not exactly a new theme when compared to other modern movies. There are a multitude of storylines where a strong-willed protagonist finds the courage within themselves to fight off an authoritarian power, not alone, but with the help of others. The narrative follows a familiar pattern: while outgunned and outmanned, good ultimately triumphs over evil not so much because of one person but rather the hope for a better life embodied within a symbol.

The engrossing message of liberty over tyranny in the Hunger Games is thought to be why the franchise is so popular. In some ways, that is correct. People tend to have the urge of rooting for the underdog. When the abuser receives his just deserts, it’s seen as a representation of justice fulfilled.

But as great as the moral imagination is, it ultimately means nothing if it does not translate into real-life behavior modification. It’s one thing to cheer on a character on screen who is risking their life for a freer world. It’s another to embody that risk yourself in a reality that is slipping towards despotism.

Anyone who claims the post-apocalyptic setting in Hunger Games bears an uncanny resemblance to state control in our time is liable to be marked as a black helicopter-type. The ridicule is the same that was aimed, and still is aimed, at Friedrich Hayek after his great work The Road to Serfdom was released. “No,” the critics say, “the existence of the large welfare-warfare state has not translated itself to one world authoritarianism.” That is certainly true for now. Still, the general public finds it fun to mock the government as an over-bearing and inefficient behemoth while relying on the beast for a bi-weekly allotment of tax subsidies.

We may not be living hand-to-mouth while being forced to labor for thuggish overlords but the modern trend is clear: the political class is consuming more and more wealth-generating capital for themselves. It can be seen in highly-unionized European countries and within the bubble of richness known as the District of Columbia. The police state is ratcheting up its already untamed authority. Economic regulation is becoming more varied and intrusive. In the West, the state as an institution has been growing by leaps and bounds for over a century. Only an imbecile would deny this mass centralization in government power.

Yet most viewers of the Hunger Games will not let that message sink into their consciousness. They will not make the connection between a story and their own lives. It’s far too discomforting. At the same time, they will revere characters in a tale who come off as heroes. These fictional thought constructs are viewed as perfectly noble persons who sacrifice for the greater good. One would think the same reverence would be shown to those individuals who engage in the same art of defiance against what is generally deemed an unjust situation. If characters in fiction can be seen as courageous, why not real-life persons who display the same type of behavior?

Edward Snowden, the now-infamous whistleblower of the National Security Agency, is still seen as a dirty, rotten traitor by much of the public. It’s a strange cognitive dissonance that while a majority are irate over their government’s spying, they see the man who clued them in as some type of mendacious plotter who hates Uncle Sam. It’s equally as strange that the same folks who hardly bat an eye when calling Snowden a scumbag will just as quickly latch on to the fighter of injustice in a movie.

Stories provide valuable insight into the limits of mankind and what constitutes good. But they are not reality in the end. There is little risk in admiring a character in fiction who stands up for the right thing. Doing so in real-life is apt to bring ridicule, and thus has a social stigma attached to it.

It takes no spine to be a warrior on paper. It also requires little brain power to bend your will with that of an author’s. The science of critical thinking demands a logical and coherent approach to viewing issues. Criticizing someone for doing the very same action that you praise in make-believe land is inconsistent and a sign of poor judgment. The borderline between the real and the imagination does not render ethics and morality capricious. A proper way to live is to be transcendent of observable examination alone.

Hunger Games contains a pertinent message to those living under big government. The heroes and villains of the story should not be unfamiliar to current events. Edward Snowden is a real life Katniss Everdeen. He defied the powers-that-be in order to do what he believed was right. But instead of receiving praise, he got condemnation from voices normally wary of statism. The irony remains that the same men and women who call Snowden a traitor should be cheering for the tyrannical government of Panem to squash the rebellion and restore its oppressive hold on society. Of course, that suggestion sounds crazy, but then so does the person who pays lip-service to freedom while cheering for the death of someone who risks their life for greater liberty. Their moral imagination is in great need of fine-tuning.

James E. Miller is editor-in-chief of the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada. Send him mail

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Japan Dispatches F-15s, E-767s And P-3 Into China’s Air Defense Zone, China Scrambles Su-30 In Response | Zero Hedge

Japan Dispatches F-15s, E-767s And P-3 Into China’s Air Defense Zone, China Scrambles Su-30 In Response | Zero Hedge.

China’s escalation and re-escalation described in detail yesterday, has just been met with a corresponding re-re-escalation by Japan.

  • China’s Ministry of Defense reports that the nation identified Japanese military planes that entered into Chinese air defense identification zone today.
  • 7 batches of 10 Japanese planes consisting of E-767, P-3 and F-15 entered into the zone: statement
  • China has also identified 2 batches of 2 U.S. surveillance planes consisting of P-3 and EP-3, without specifying whether the planes entered into the zone: statement
  • China scrambled Su-30, J-11 and other aircraft in response.

And now it’s China’s turn to, once again, respond. And then Japan and the US again, and so on, until someone gets hurt.

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Keystone XL pipeline threatened by U.S. oil boom – Business – CBC News

Keystone XL pipeline threatened by U.S. oil boom – Business – CBC News.

The Keystone XL pipeline would ship Canadian oilsands oil across 1,800 kilometres to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast. (Eric Hylden/Associated Press)

A sudden surge in U.S. oil output could derail plans to build the massive Keystone XL pipeline to ship Canadian oil from Alberta to refineries on the American Gulf Coast, Canada’s U.S. ambassador was warned in internal emails.

In a series of emails unearthed by an access to information request from energy think tank Pembina Institute and provided to CBC News, Canadian energy counsellor Paul Connors warned ambassador Gary Doer in the summer that America’s current oil boom could alter the viability of cross-border pipeline plans.

Many options

Keystone XL is a proposed 1,900-kilometre pipeline being pitched by Calgary-based TransCanada that aims to bring Canadian oilsands oil from Hardisty, Alta., south through five U.S. states to oil refineries on the Gulf Coast in Texas.

The plan is an ambitious one, coming with a price tag of more than $7 billion, and has faced numerous regulatory hurdles over several years while various governments and companies try to negotiate the final details.

Broadly, Canada lacks the refining capacity to adequately process the billions of barrels of oil that are contained in the Athabasca oilsands. America, meanwhile, has more than enough refineries operating at less than full capacity, so the plan has been pitched as an economic bonanza for both sides.

‘Our customers remain extremely supportive of Keystone XL.’– TransCanada statement

But recent events may have changed those economics somewhat. A series of oil discoveries in the Bakken, Eagle Ford and Permianbasins scattered across the continental U.S. have increased America’s possible oil output to a far higher level than previously believed.

The U.S. now has so much recoverable oil that it’s now expected to surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer at some point in the next 10 to 20 years.

Refineries are configured to process different types of crude — heavy crude goes to heavy refineries, light crude to light ones. Currently, heavy oilsands oil from Alberta goes to heavy oil refineries predominantly on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

“The significant increase in U.S. domestic production in recent years is light sweet crude which has lower [greenhouse gases] than heavy crude,” Connors wrote in an email to Doer in June.

The best way for America to profit from its current oil boom could be to export its new sources of light crude, because that’s what’s most in demand internationally and that’s what fetches the higher prices.

“However, if reducing U.S. [greenhouse gas] emissions is the goal, the U.S. could decline to export its light sweet crude surplus [and] domestic light sweet crude would begin to [replace] heavy oil imports.”

Environmental concerns

U.S. President Barack Obama has repeatedly said that his government would only approve the Keystone XL project if it would not materially alter America’s greenhouse gas emissions. So a suddenly plentiful energy alternative with a smaller environmental footprint could change the lay of the land.

For its part, TransCanada says it remains fully committed to the plan — as are its customers.

“TransCanada does not build pipeline projects and then hope we can fill them. Our Keystone XL customers have signed 20-year, binding commercial agreements because they needed to connect oil supplies in Canada and the U.S. to refineries,” the company said in an email to CBC News.

“Our customers remain extremely supportive of Keystone XL, and the markets understand that you need to have the right infrastructure in place to move product at the right time.”

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver agrees with that statement, telling CBC News that even with the conventional oil boom, “the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that the U.S. will need to import 7.4 million barrels of oil per day in 2035.”

“Therefore, Keystone XL will displace an unstable source of heavy oil from Venezuela, with the same or higher greenhouse gas emissions, with a friendly, stable and reliable source of Canadian oil,” Oliver’s statement reads.

Indeed, if the project doesn’t go ahead, the U.S. State Department acknowledges that alternative modes of oil transport (such as rail) that emit as much as eight per cent more greenhouse gases will likely deliver the oil that Keystone XL would have.

Ottawa backs plan

 

“Our government supports the Keystone XL pipeline because it would enhance national security, create tens of thousands of jobs and generate billions of dollars in economic activity in both Canada and the U.S.,” the spokesperson said.

Still, any indication that the Americans have less of an appetite for Keystone could be bad economic news for Canada, which mainly produces heavy oil, almost all of which currently goes to the U.S.

If America chooses to use more of its own lighter oil domestically and needs less heavy Canadian oil, there is little Canadian oil producers could do in the short term to maintain a market for their product.

Canadian oil, known as Western Canada Select, already trades at a discount of about $30 compared to the American benchmark, West Texas Intermediate or WTI, mainly because it’s heavier and therefore more expensive to refine, which limits the number of refineries willing to take it.

“While this is economically sub-optimal for the heavy oil refineries, it would make the mix of U.S. crude oil lighter and less [greenhouse gas] intensive,” Connors wrote.

 

 

 

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Turkey and Iraqi Kurds seal ‘secret oil deal’ – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

Turkey and Iraqi Kurds seal ‘secret oil deal’ – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.

Iraqi Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani, left, held a meeting with Erdogan this week [Reuters]
Oil and gas from Iraqi Kurdistan will soon be exported via pipelines through Turkey, after a tranch of contracts were signed in secret this week, Reuters news agency reports.

The deals were reportedly completed on Wednesday during a three-hour meeting between Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish prime minister.

The agreement is likely to anger officials in Baghdad, who claim dominion over all of Iraq’s oil resources.

An official told Reuters on Thursday that such an energy deal would be “an encroachment on the sovereignty of Iraq”.

The state-backed Turkish Energy Company (TEC), which Turkey set up to operate in northern Iraq, has also signed a contract to operate in 13 exploration areas.

In about half of those, it is teaming up with ExxonMobil, the US oil company.

The contracts also envisage the building of a new oil pipeline and a gas pipeline, aimed to help the region’s oil exports to climb to one million barrels per day by 2015.

The gas flow is likely to start by early 2017.

 

US Government Busted For Using Pirated Software To Manage Army Troop Movements | Zero Hedge

US Government Busted For Using Pirated Software To Manage Army Troop Movements | Zero Hedge.

When the US government said the sequester would cripple its ability to single-handedly rule over the world, it wasn’t kidding. Either that, or Joe Biden’s Joint Strategic Plan to “curb” copyright infringement was just a case of very confused humor by the vice president gone badly wrong, and he meant to “encourage.” Whatever the reason, the fact that the Obama administration was just busted with a $50 million case of software piracy involving none other than the US Army, is indicative that while the Bureau of Labor Statistics was adopting all the best features of the Chinese Department of Truth, the US government was busy copycatting China’s respectful approach toward intellectual property. Yet what is even worse, is that the software that was pirated managed the US army’s troop and supply movements: in other words, the US government relied on pirated software to prepare for and engage in eventual war.

Specifically, the army “used Apptricity’s integrated transportation logistics and asset management software across the Middle East and other theaters of operation. The Army has also used the software to coordinate emergency management initiatives, including efforts following the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti.”

Here’s what happened, as reported by RT: in 2004, Apptricity agreed with the US Army to license the troop-movement software, allowing the government to use it on five servers and 150 standalone devices. What happened instead is that the Army proceeded to use the softward around the world.  “The improper installation of thousands of unlicensed copies of software was discovered incidentally, when the US Army Program Director said during Strategic Capabilities Planning 2009 that thousands of devices had Apptricity software.”

Ultimately, 93 servers and over 9,000 standalone devices of the Army had the unlicensed software. Apptricity figured it was owed US$224 million based on usual fees of US$1.35 million per server and US$5,000 per device.

Upon discovering just how vast the US government piracy stretched Apptricity sued the government, accusing the US military of willful copyright infringement. It won, and the government went on to admit the illegal use and entered into lengthy negotiations with Apptricity to settle. The cost to the Obama administration from being caught in the act: $50 million in damages.

RT does a great summary of yet another instance of remarkable hypocrisy by the “most transparent administration ever.”

While the Obama administration’s has launched efforts against intellectual property theft – including the Joint Strategic Plan run by Vice President Joe Biden that aims to curb copyright infringement – the US Army was concurrently using pirated Apptricity enterprise software that manages troop and supply movements.

The Administration has yet to comment on the settlement. But Biden’s words upon announcing the federal anti-copyright-infringement plan ring clear.

“Piracy is theft, clean and simple.”

Even when it was your subordinates that engaged in theft? Surely someone’s hand will be slapped, right? But one can be absolutely certain: neither Biden nor Obama “had any idea”…

What was not mentioned anywhere, however, is just how the US government spent the hundreds of millions in appropriated funds, because it is guaranteed that the Army was allotted the full mandated amount by Congress to purchase every single piece of Apptricity software it would ever need. And still somehow $200 million disappeared. Of course in any non-banana republic, a legal system might inquire in whose pockets this excess cash ended up. Which of course means that in the US nobody will even consider this eventuality, especially since Ben Bernanke prints that amount in roughly 5 minutes every day.

Finally, one wonders: what would happen if in the middle of a Syrian (or any other) war suddenly the US army was halted dead in its tracks when HQ got a flashing red “Your 30 Day trial period has expired. Please insert activation code now” notification. We can only hope US drone command didn’t get its copy of “Blow Up Innocent Women And Children From 10,000 Miles Away Ver 1.0” on the Moscow black market.

 

China Declares “Willing To Engage In A Protracted Confrontation” With Japan As “Prime Target” | Zero Hedge

China Declares “Willing To Engage In A Protracted Confrontation” With Japan As “Prime Target” | Zero Hedge.

Following the to-ing and fro-ing of the last 2 days with US and Japan “testing” China’s new Air Defense Zone (ADIZ), China has not only escalated (as we noted earlier) but as the day begins in Asia is stepping up the rhetoric significantly. Official media said that Japan is the “prime target” and it is an “urgent task for China to further train its air force to make full preparation for potential conflicts.” Japanese lawmakers, meanwhile, are pushing for a bill “demanding an immediate withdrawal of China’s ADIZ.” While the Western world goes on its merry way buying S&P futures, China’s concluding message rings its most defint so far, “We are willing to engage in a protracted confrontation with Japan. Our ultimate goal is to beat its willpower and ambition to instigate strategic confrontation against China.”

The Chinese just stepped up the rhetoric notably,

Via Yonhap,

China’s official media pointedly said Friday that Japan is the “prime target” of Beijing’s newly declared air control zone over the East China Sea, warning that China is willing to engage in “a protracted confrontation with Japan.”

 

China’s declaration of its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), announced last week, has sparked strong resistance from Japan, the United States, South Korea and other neighboring Asian nations. The new zone partly overlaps those of South Korea and Japan.

 

The U.S. flew two B-52 bombers through the Chinese zone without informing China this week. South Korea and Japan followed suit. In response, China sent several fighter jets and an early warning aircraft on patrol Thursday into the disputed air space.

 

In an editorial titled “Japan prime target of ADIZ tussle,” the official Global Times newspaper said, “We should carry out timely countermeasures without hesitation against Japan when it challenges China’s newly declared ADIZ.”

 

If Tokyo flies its aircraft over the zone, we will be bound to send our planes to its ADIZ,” the editorial said.

 

“If the trend continues, there will likely be friction and confrontations and even tension in the air like in the Cold War era between the U.S. and the Soviet Union,” it said.

 

“It is therefore an urgent task for China to further train its air force to make full preparation for potential conflicts,” the editorial said.

 

“We are willing to engage in a protracted confrontation with Japan. Our ultimate goal is to beat its willpower and ambition to instigate strategic confrontation against China,” it said.

 

Analysts said the Chinese declaration of air control zone is mainly aimed at bolstering its claims to a group of islets in the East China Sea at the center of a bitter territorial dispute with Japan, which are known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.

 

The Japanese are not backing down…

Via Kyodo News,

An official of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is considering asking lawmakers to adopt a bill demanding an immediate withdrawal of China’s air defense zone in East China Sea

 

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