Archive for the ‘Blogroll’ Category

I pause periodically to contemplate deep time, ancient history, and other subjects that lie beyond most human conceptual abilities. Sure, we sorta get the idea of a very long ago past out there in the recesses or on the margins, just like we get the idea of U.S. sovereign debt now approaching $20 trillion. Problem is, numbers lose coherence when they mount up too high. Scales differ widely with respect to time and currency. Thus, we can still think reasonably about human history back to roughly 6,000 years ago, but 20,000 years ago or more draws a blank. We can also think about how $1 million might have utility, but $1 billion and $1 trillion are phantoms that appear only on ledgers and contracts and in the news (typically mergers and acquisitions). If deep time or deep debt feel like they don’t exist except as conceptual categories, try wrapping your head around the deep state , which in the U.S. is understood to be a surprisingly large rogue’s gallery of plutocrats, kleptocrats, and oligarchs drawn from the military-industrial-corporate complex, the intelligence community, and Wall Street. It exists but does so far enough outside the frame of reference most of us share that it effectively functions in the shadow of daylight where it can’t be seen for all the glare. Players are plain enough to the eye as they board their private jets to attend annual meetings of the World Economic Forum in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, or two years ago the Jackson Hole [Economic] Summit in Jackson Hole, WY, in connection with the American Principles Project, whatever that is. They also enjoy plausible deniability precisely because most of us don’t really believe self-appointed masters of the universe can or should exist.

Another example of a really bad trip down the rabbit hole, what I might call deep cynicism (and a place I rarely allow myself to go), appeared earlier this month at Gin and Tacos (on my blogroll):

The way they [conservatives] see it, half the kids coming out of public schools today are basically illiterate. To them, this is fine. We have enough competition for the kinds of jobs a college degree is supposed to qualify one for as it is. Our options are to pump a ton of money into public schools and maybe see some incremental improvement in outcomes, or we can just create a system that selects out the half-decent students for a real education and future and then warehouse the rest until they’re no longer minors and they’re ready for the prison-poverty-violence cycle [add military] to Hoover them up. Vouchers and Charter Schools are not, to the conservative mind, a better way to educate kids well. They are a cheaper way to educate them poorly. What matters is that it costs less to people like six-figure income earners and home owners. Those people can afford to send their kids to a decent school anyway. Public education, to their way of thinking, used to be about educating people just enough that they could provide blue collar or service industry labor. Now that we have too much of that, a public high school is just a waiting room for prison. So why throw money into it? They don’t think education “works” anyway; people are born Good or Bad, Talented or Useless. So it only makes sense to find the cheapest possible way to process the students who were written off before they reached middle school. If charter schools manage to save 1% of them, great. If not, well, then they’re no worse than public schools. And they’re cheaper! Did I mention that they’re cheaper?

There’s more. I provided only the main paragraph. I wish I could reveal that the author is being arch or ironic, but there is no evidence of that. I also wish I could refute him, but there is similarly no useful evidence for that. Rather, the explanation he provides is a reality check that fits the experience of wide swaths of the American public, namely, that “public high school is just a waiting room for prison” (soon and again, debtor’s prison) and that it’s designed to be just that because it’s cheaper than actually educating people. Those truly interesting in being educated will take care of it themselves. Plus, there’s additional money to be made operating prisons.

Deep cynicism is a sort of radical awareness that stares balefully at the truth and refuses to blink or pretend. A psychologist might call it the reality principle; a scientist might aver that it relies unflinchingly on objective evidence; a philosopher might call it strict epistemology. To get through life, however, most of us deny abundant evidence presented to us daily in favor of dreams and fantasies that assemble into the dominant paradigm. That paradigm includes the notions that evil doesn’t really exist, that we’re basically good people who care about each other, and that our opportunities and fates are not, on the whole, established long before we begin the journey.

Stray links build up over time without my being able to handle them adequately, so I have for some time wanted a way of purging them. I am aware of other bloggers who curate and aggregate links with short commentaries quite well, but I have difficulty making my remarks pithy and punchy. That said, here are a few that I’m ready to purge in this first attempt to dispose of a few links from by backlog.

Skyfarm Fantasies

Futurists have offered myriad visions of technologies that have no hope of being implemented, from flying cars to 5-hour workweeks to space elevators. The newest pipe dream is the Urban Skyfarm, a roughly 30-story tree-like structure with 24 acres of space using solar panels and hydroponics to grow food close to the point of consumption. Utopian engineering such as this crops up frequently (pun intended) and may be fun to contemplate, but in the U.S. at least, we can’t even build high-speed rail, and that technology is already well established elsewhere. I suppose that’s why cities such as Seoul and Singapore, straining to make everything vertical for lack of horizontal space, are the logical test sites.

Leaving Nashville

The City of Nashville is using public funds to buy homeless people bus tickets to leave town and go be poor somewhere else. Media spin is that the city is “helping people in need,” but it’s obviously a NIMBY response to a social problem city officials and residents (not everyone, but enough) would rather not have to address more humanely. How long before cities begin completing with each other in numbers of people they can ship off to other cities? Call it the circle of life when the homeless start gaming the programs, revisiting multiple cities in an endless circuit.


Over at Rough Type, Nick Carr points to an article in The Nation entitled “Instagram and the Fantasy of of Mastery,” which argues that a variety of technologies now give “artists” the illusion of skill, merit, and vision by enabling work to be easily executed using prefab templates and stylistic filters. For instance, in pop music, the industry standard is to auto-tune everyone’s singing to hide imperfections. Carr’s summary probably is better than the article itself and shows us the logical endpoint of production art in various media undertaken without the difficult work necessary to develop true mastery.

Too Poor to Shop

The NY Post reported over the summer that many Americans are too poor to shop except for necessities. Here are the first two paragraphs:

Retailers have blamed the weather, slow job growth and millennials for their poor results this past year, but a new study claims that more than 20 percent of Americans are simply too poor to shop.

These 26 million Americans are juggling two to three jobs, earning just around $27,000 a year and supporting two to four children — and exist largely under the radar, according to America’s Research Group, which has been tracking consumer shopping trends since 1979.

Current population in the U.S. is around 325 million. Twenty percent of that number is 65 million; twenty-six million is 8 percent. Pretty basic math, but I guess NY Post is not to be trusted to report even simple things accurately. Maybe it’s 20% of U.S. households. I dunno and can’t be bothered to check. Either way, that’s a pretty damning statistic considering the U.S. stock market continues to set new all-time highs — an economic recovery not shared with average Americans. Indeed, here are a few additional newsbits and links stolen ruthlessly from

  • The number of Americans that are living in concentrated areas of high poverty has doubled since the year 2000.
  • In 2007, about one out of every eight children in America was on food stamps. Today, that number is one out of every five.
  • 46 million Americans use food banks each year, and lines start forming at some U.S. food banks as early as 6:30 in the morning because people want to get something before the food supplies run out.
  • The number of homeless children in the U.S. has increased by 60 percent over the past six years.
  • According to Poverty USA, 1.6 million American children slept in a homeless shelter or some other form of emergency housing last year.

For further context, theeconomiccollapseblog also points to “The Secret Shame of Middle Class Americans” in The Atlantic, which reports, among other things, that fully 47% of Americans would struggle to scrape together a mere $400 in an emergency.

How do such folks respond to the national shopping frenzy kicking off in a few days with Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Charitable Sunday, and Cyber Monday? I suggest everyone stay home.

See this exchange where Neil deGrasse Tyson chides Sam Harris for failing to speak to his audience in terms it understands:

The upshot is that lay audiences simply don’t subscribe to or possess the logical, rational, abstract style of discourse favored by Harris. Thus, Harris stands accused of talking past his audience — at least somewhat — especially if his audience is understood to be the general public rather than other well-educated professionals. Subject matter is less important than style but revolves around politics, and worse, identity politics. Everyone has abundant opinions about those, whether informed by rational analysis or merely fed by emotion and personal resonance.

The lesson deGrasse Tyson delivers is both instructive and accurate yet also demands that the level of discourse be lowered to a common denominator (like the reputed 9th-grade speech adopted by the evening news) that regrettably forestalls useful discussion. For his part (briefly, at the end), Harris takes the lesson and does not resort to academic elitism, which would be obvious and easy. Kudos to both, I guess, though I struggle (being somewhat an elitist); the style-over-substance argument really goes against the grain for me. Enhancements to style obviously work, and great communicators use them and are convincing as a result. (I distinctly recall Al Gore looking too much like a rock star in An Inconvenient Truth. Maybe it backfired. I tend to think that style could not overcome other blocks to substance on that particular issue.) Slick style also allows those with nefarious agendas to hoodwink the public into believing nonsense.


After some delay, I picked up Nick Carr’s latest book The Glass Cage to read (see link to Carr’s blog Rough Type on my blogroll at left). Carr is an exceptionally clear thinker and lays out his arguments both for and against technology very well. Like my blog about Michael Crawford’s book, I won’t get too involved blogging about The Glass Cage, which discusses deskilling among other things. However, my reading of his discussion of self-driving cars (and autopilot on airplanes) and the attendant loss of the driver’s and pilot’s skill and focus coincided with something I read elsewhere, namely, that while self-driving cars may free the driver of some attentional burdens (not really burdens upon closer inspection), they are likely to cause increased congestion precisely because self-driving cars would no longer require passengers. Thus, an owner could potentially instruct the car to drive back home from work in the morning and then to come back and pick him or her up in the evening, handily doubling the time and distance the car is on the road. Similarly, a driver could avoid paying parking fees in pricey downtown precincts by instructing the vehicle to circle the block while the owner is out of the car shopping or dining. These are workarounds that can be fully anticipated and perhaps limited, but there will undoubtedly be others not so easily anticipated.

Carr argues that technology has enabled some (e.g., for those who designed their own software) to profit disproportionately from their effort. This is especially true of wikis and social media sites that run on user-generated content. It’s impossible to establish whether that’s laudable innovation, a questionable workaround, or simply gaming the system. Either way, redesigning workflows and and information flows carries the unintended consequence of creating perverse incentives, and one can be certain than in a hustling society such as ours, many someones are going to discover ways to exploits loopholes. This is already the case with the legal system, the financial system, social media, and journalism, and it seems ubiquitous with education and sports, where cheating is only a problem if one gets caught.

Perverse incentives don’t arise solely from rapid, destabilizing technological change, though that’s frequently a trigger. What’s worse, perhaps, is when such perversity is normalized. For instance, politics now operates under a perverse funding regime that awards disproportionate influence to deep pockets while creating no incentive for participants (politicians or deep pockets) to seek reform. Similarly, pooling wealth, and with it political power, within an extremely small segment of society carries no incentive for the ultrarich to plow their riches back into society at large. A few newly philanthropic individuals don’t convince me that, in the current day and age, any high-minded idealism is at work. Rather, it’s more plausible that the work of figuring out things to do with one’s money is more interesting, to a few at least, than merely hoarding it. A better incentive, such as shame, does not yet exist. So the ultrarich are effectively circling the block, clogging things up for no better reason than that they can.

Updates to my blogroll are infrequent. I only add blogs that present interesting ideas (with which I don’t always agree) and/or admirable writing. Deletions are typically the result of a change of focus at the linked blog, or regrettably, the result of a blogger becoming abusive or self-absorbed. This time, it’s latter. So alas, another one bites the dust. Dropping off my blogroll — no loss since almost no one reads my blog — is On an Overgrown Path (no link), which is about classical music.

My indignation isn’t about disagreements (we’ve had a few); it’s about inviting discussion in bad faith. I’m very interested in contributing to discussion and don’t mind moderated comments to contend with trolls. However, my comments drive at ideas, not authors, and I’m scarcely a troll. Here’s the disingenuously titled blog post, “Let’s Start a Conversation about Concert Hall Sound,” where the blogger declined to publish my comment, handily blocking conversation. So for maybe the second time in the nearly 10-year history of this blog, I am reproducing the entirety of another’s blog post (minus the profusion of links, since that blogger tends to create link mazes, defying readers to actually explore) followed by my unpublished comment, and then I’ll expound and perhaps rant a bit. Apologies for the uncharacteristic length. (more…)

A few weeks ago, I added Gin and Tacos to my blogroll. Lots of interesting content, though not necessarily accurate or admirable. Shortly thereafter, I learned that the blogger active there finds it distinctly not worthwhile to interact with those who make comment, this despite the fact that he attracts very good commentary. (I’ve yet to see a troll appear). That’s his choice, but it’s nonetheless a loss for someone (like me) seeking discussion rather than subscription to yet another broadcast. So I decided to comment here, at length, rather than there. (In this, I’m probably sending traffic his way but won’t attempt to divert his traffic here.)

Today’s post poses the question (and then provides several potential answers), “What’s the next big thing?” The comments provide several additional possibilities we might hope or expect from the future. Naturally, he begs numerous questions while soliciting a wide range of responses. Is the thing a technology, an idea, or merely a money-making scheme? How much overlap is allowed? Must the thing be entirely new (and unanticipated) or can it be an improvement, a refinement, or something that finally gains traction? I’m inclined to answer the question in terms of what creates a fundamental shift, discontinuity, or transformation, and I recognize that ideas do it more handily but technological shifts are far easier to recognize, introducing obvious bias.

My candidate is statelessness, which is not a new idea, but it’s gaining traction. My reasons spring partly from my pessimism that the world is not in fact progressing toward more/better but is in the initial phase of unwinding toward less/worse. Accordingly, the future will be about conservation, holding on, and hoarding rather than frivolous entertainments and distractions, which tend to be more captivating to contemplate. Furthermore, the expectation of new energy and information delivery systems is IMO foolhardy. Statelessness has already made its appearance in the forms of multinational corporations and supranational individuals, at least those who possess the wealth and wherewithal to refuse meaningful participation in any social system or context, including paying taxes, in favor of standing alone and employing goons (lawyers, politicians, and mercenaries) to insulate them from the rabble. Statelessness has also appeared in the form of terrorist, revolutionary, and secessionist groups that seek to disassociate from and/or overthrow existing states. Whereas we’re programmed by the mainstream media to believe such groups are enemies of the state (which is quite literally true), that does not make them existential threats to the people. For instance, ISIS is being trotted out as the newest ultimate evil in the world, following the Taliban and Al-Qaeda (and before them the North Koreans, the Red Chinese, the godless Soviets, and quelle horreur the Nazis), but ISIS may instead be an emerging Arab state, arising with all the attendant violence out of the destabilized, delegitimized ruins of the West’s client states in the region.

The concept of statelessness is gradually filtering down to ever-smaller groups and even individuals, but in the interregnum before full-on collapse, and in a bit of fitting irony, the conservative impulse inspires misguided attempts to reintegrate just as the world begins to disintegrate. Anarchy experienced in the wake of a failed state is nothing to be relished, but it will be the next big thing.

I’m way overdue with my next blog but wanted to put up something quick. As usual, I’ve got more than a couple ideas percolating but no time to research and write them. Since the inception of this blog, I’ve gotten away from my self-imposed limit of 3-4 paragraphs and have grown prolix. Makes each post into an obstacle to be overcome. Perhaps I can rein myself in and got more done.

Some while back, my most-viewed post was Living Among Refuse. That has since been surpassed by Scheler’s Hierarchy, which now has over 4,500 hits. Curiously, most are from the Phillippines. No one coments, though, so as with most of my blog posts, there is scant to nonexistent discussion and dialogue. Active commentary is found at other blogs I frequent.

In the middle of last year, I began blogging at The Collapse of Industrial Civilization (see blogroll). The traffic and commentary there is quite robust, and frankly, I can’t keep up. I gave up reading, commenting, and guest-blogging at Nature Bats Last (see blogroll) for the same reason. Both blogs chronicle the ongoing collapse with no shortage of news articles about the demise of this or that species or ecosystem. I require no further convincing that we’re digging the pit of our own despair. (I stole that phrase, as I warned I would.) Awareness and individual response are both picking up intensity, with some flailing for solutions, others mining the emotional depths for profit or self-aggrandizement, and others so plainly gobsmacked trying to get their heads around it that hardly anything makes sense or indeed matters anymore. Corporate and government response is all theater as far as I can tell. I’ve got lots of content about all this in my blog backlog (backblog?) and at Collapse.

My two book blogging projects are still underway, with a final entry on The Master and His Emissary by Iain McGilchrist yet to be written (been waiting for months already) and additional progress through The Decline of the West by Otto Spengler already underway. As time allows, I will develop new posts on each.

My blogroll is curated, meaning that I link only to what I can recommend according to my own standards and values. Links have changed over the nearly eight years I’ve been blogging, the same as my blogging focus. I started out wanting to write a culture blog and unexpectedly careened toward writing more about doom once I became more fully awake and aware of just how horrific the future will be. There is no bigger story out there, and many people like me are telling it. Most adopt perspectives based on science or news (chronicling), transition and/or survival (prepping), or merely facing down what’s left of the future (coping). A few write dystopian fiction or conjecture about what will unfold (prediction). I try to explore some of the cultural story, which aims at understanding but arguably fits just as well under coping.

What really bums me out, though, is the number of writers who begin by telling and then end up selling, typically books or memberships. Maybe the intention behind writing books is to share what one has worked out and learned. A simple statement to that effect would calm me down, as I recognize books don’t get written and produced without some costs involved. But when a writer (best intentions not always assumed) shoves his or her book(s) in everyone’s face and implores them to buy multiple copies for family and friends (like, say, Morris Berman), well, let me just say I won’t be doing any holiday shopping that way.

Dave Pollard’s website has never been on my blogroll, though I’ve quoted him numerous times. Carolyn Baker’s website only recently came to my attention. They appear together in a conversation hosted by Peak Moment TV, which appears to be earnest in its reports on “people creating resilient communities for a more sustainable, lower-energy future in the face of energy, climate and economic uncertainty.” Content is offered for free, but there are the ubiquitous donate and support buttons if one wishes to contribute.

At the end, Baker’s desperation to position her book cover inside the video frame is appalling in its tackiness and clumsiness. I was so put off by her obvious selling that I couldn’t attend to whatever it was she said. Actually, I gave up listening to her long before then, but not because her message is poor (it’s okay, just not especially helpful). Pollard, on the other hand, doesn’t push his books. He tells that he’s already quite over his former objectives (the subjects of his books I suspect) because nothing worked or ever will work. Instead, he’s trying to help others cope, in part by preparing and positioning himself for when others have achieved readiness to face the truth. So, too, is Baker. Both seem to believe a remnant will manage somehow to survive. I’m less optimistic.

I don’t want to fall into the trap of the intentional fallacy: guessing the minds of others by their actions, words, and behaviors. But I’m a little weirded out by the notion that despite having missed the moving target repeatedly and revised his objectives (speaking here of Pollard — I lack familiarity with Baker to know her trajectory), he can now offer consolation and wisdom as we race toward the end. There is no lack of self-appointed gurus out there who attract followings, though I can’t imagine why anyone would seek that sort of prison except maybe for the self-aggrandizement factor. Even short of that, punditry makes most people look like fools. Someone stop me if ever I veer too close to believing that whatever I’m sharing here in this public venue and elsewhere will amount to more than one small voice calling out feebly into the cavern.

Updates to Blogroll 02

Posted: January 2, 2013 in Blogosphere, Blogroll

Lots of things happen right around the start of a new year, what with resolutions, tax-year lines of demarcation, and calendrical switches. My blogroll has taken a big hit, with the end of either additional posts or my own participation in the commentary. Blogs come and go, and focuses change, so that’s no big deal. But my blogroll is curated, not just a link exchange, and if I can’t recommend a site anymore, well, away it goes.

The first disappeared earlier this fall when the blog when into hibernation: I Blame the Patriarchy. The author has had a couple updates since, as events drew her back to point the bony finger of blame yet again. She is one of the best writers I read, but I guess I don’t really want to read humorous anecdotes at her new blog, Dreadful Acres.

The second was never on my blogroll, as its setup discouraged discussion in favor of broadcasting: the eponymous Ran Prieur. He just announced semi-retirement from his blog. One of the best curators of content out there, he says he will continue to post and point to others’ content but doesn’t want to address via follow-up and revision feedback that comes his way any longer.

The third is disappointing to me as the author provides valuable content but behaves miserably. Dark Ages America, kept by Morris Berman after his book of the same title, has chronicled the collapse of American empire from a cultural-historical perspective. His books are meticulously researched and documented, and he is interested in the deeper culture behind the periodic noise. However, the blog has become equal parts self-promotion (not just getting his ideas out there but repeated whining that he’s overlooked and under-regarded) and intellectual bullying. His latest gambit is to cast about for fools to insult. He thinks it’s humorous; I don’t. He declined to publish my comment that (in part) called him out as trolling for trolls, which obviously makes him a troll, too. So I’m done there, not that I will be missed, and I can’t recommend Prof. Berman anymore for his blog, though his books are still well worth the time to read and consider.

The fourth, kulturCritic, also frustrates me because the author (Sandy Krolick) and I agree on so much, but he, too, has taken to insulting those who offer comment. He has actively deleted my comments after publication, banished me from further comment (his word was actually excommunicated, but I’ll leave that alone), delivered a swift kick on my way out the door, and even threw it back in my face when I parted ways saying “good luck nevertheless.” Like Prof. Berman, Sandy Krolick produces worthy content but then insulates himself from dissent. Indeed, his focus has shifted away from the cultural analysis I valued most to riffing on news items for his fans, who never fail to pronounce every post “brilliant.” As it happens, my participation in the discussions he hosted had already been waning.

Aside: Thank goodness I remain effectively undiscovered. I want discussion in the comments and would probably appreciate being appreciated, but woe to me if anyone ever started praising my posts as “brilliant” or a coterie of devoted followers otherwise stroked my ego. I would probably be as vulnerable as the next to self-aggrandizement and then adopt the gonzo style (pale, cheap imitations of Joe Bageant, methinks) others have tried in order to drive traffic.

The fifth and last is an addition: Winged Elm Farm. The author, Brian Miller, writes lyrically about the rural pastoral life but does not appear to be nearly as far off the grid or at the fringes as the authors of Leaving Babylon, Nature Bats Last, and perhaps Mythodrome. His commentary at kulturCritic (where I found him) is uniformly good and balanced.

No, not this. Rather, this. I’m entirely used to folks falling prey to the homophone problem, confusing loose with lose, and a host of other abuses of the English language. Errors are too ubiquitous to get too twisted in knots. But considering how this blog is all about finger wagging, mostly complaining about things that are wrong with the culture but on rare occasion praising something worthwhile, I feel compelled to observe that misused reflexive structures in English are among the worst lightweight offenses (if such an oxymoron can be said to exist) against my particular sensibilities, all the more so when made by people who ought to know better. It grates up there with saying or writing something as moronic as “it don’t ….”

The simple rule with reflexive pronouns (which end with the suffix -self) is that the subject must be the pronoun’s referent. You can hurt yourself (you and yourself match) but I cannot admire yourself (I is the subject and doesn’t match the object yourself). See how simple that is? In a more idiomatic use, one might reply to the question “How are you doing?” with “Very well, and yourself?” This is merely shorthand for “Very well, thank you, and how are you doing yourself?” The reflexive pronoun is arguably superfluous in this example, but it’s idiom, so don’t puzzle too long over it. Throwing the question back at the questioner is a little like another irritating and unnecessary reiteration often heard: “to return something back” (the word back being redundant).

Now, I’m not really a major grammar Nazi. I make mistakes, too, and am generally happy to forgive and forget after itching inwardly a little. However, a new blogger (Lou Tafisk — his nom de plume — of Necrotic Hijinks, now added to my blogroll) appeared a couple of months ago who, like me, is all about the finger wagging, or in his words, putting “everyone’s stupidity on display.” His targets tend to be college students as a class. By all accounts, he quit his teaching job rather than continue to handhold the cretins. He includes within the scope of his vitriol other bloggers, who happily offer themselves up for demolition. I’ve yet to see him really demolish anyone’s blog; he really just uses them as launchpads to crack wise. I threw my own hat in the ring.

Just to give dear ole Lou something to ponder, since I doubt he will take the time to familiarize himself with over six years of blogging on my part if he chooses this blog for public humiliation (doubtful, since I’m not a humorist), I thought I’d return the favor preemptively. I don’t crack wise nearly so well as he, but I’m good at finger wagging. Just look at this:

I couldn’t care about the coarse sexual repartee, which others have been quick to join, but what gives with a college professor, albeit an out-of-work one, and self-proclaimed holder of a Ph.D. using the reflexive pronoun yourself when you is not the subject of the sentence but the object? The blurb above the big Become a Victim button uses yourself correctly, though the subject is only implied with the imperative (one of the three moods in English, though the Wikipedia article lists another five from other languages just for completeness and perhaps unnecessary obfuscation), so I know he can use them properly. Yeah, sure, it’s just a brief reply lost the comments, but do we really want to entrust the minds of students, or for that matter the comic tearing down of others’ blogs, to someone who distinguishes himself with crimes against grammar?