My friends, I suspended my blog retirement so that I could see us through this crisis. But it seems that not everyone in the world agrees with me that the $700 quintillion bailout-to-nowhere had to die. And sure, for everyone who has anything in the stock market, like a college fund or a retirement plan or a few bucks, a 778-point drop in the Dow is a bad thing. This includes me, of course: after Nick graduated from college this summer, and we stopped paying for Nick’s college tuition, we decided to start a little retirement fund. With, you know, stocks. There’s brilliant timing for you! Last night, Nick called to ask whether we were OK. Sweet kid. “Don’t worry, Nick,” Janet replied, “we’ll be fine . . . as long as you can support us.” And, of course, we don’t really need to retire at 70 or 80. We can keep goin’ at it—just as long as we still have jobs then. But I think we’ll be in the clear on that front. Because when the world is wracked by profound, systemic financial crises, the one thing everybody agrees on is that you need lots and lots of literary critics on hand. So we’ll be essential personnel, for sure. The people I worry about on the savings-and-investment front are the people who were planning to retire in the next couple of years. They, my friends, are well and truly screwed. It’s truly a shame that Hussein al-Obama couldn’t put aside his rabid me-first partisanship for just a few days and help John McCain save these people.
Anyway, why am I hoping for a better plan instead of mourning the dead one? It’s not like I know anything about economics. But I do have an Internet, and I read things like this (though I worry that this reply is all too plausible). And like everybody else with an Internet, I’ve been reading Nouriel Roubini, so when he tells me the plan is “a disgrace and rip-off benefitting only the shareholders and unsecured creditors of banks,” I pay attention. Then again, when he follows this by saying “the risk of a total systemic meltdown is now as high as ever,” I crawl back into bed and dream of post-apocalyptic scenarios involving feral roving bands of survivalists and transhuman bloggers.
Which reminds me. During a trip to Arizona State last spring, Eric Wertheimer introduced me to a cheery fellow named Jim Kunstler, who had somehow escaped my notice all this time. For those few of you who might not have had the pleasure, here’s a snippet on the bailout from his most recent post:
The process of negotiating the package has given off an odor something like medieval scholasticism—a method much like the creation of Ponzi finance itself, in which layers of tortured interpolation rendered theological concepts so abstruse that all the prayer of all the monks and nuns ever conceived within the walls of the Vatican would not avail to reveal their mysteries. The object, of course, was to reinforce the essential mystery of religion, just as the object in Ponzi finance was to reinforce the mystery of engineered securities.
See? I told you we would need literary critics when the meltdown comes. Who else can come up with the necessary anagogical interpretations? OK, you call them Biblical hermeneuts if you want. I call them literary critics. Hey, remember what Erich Auerbach said about figura? Sure you do. It’s right there in Mimesis:
Figural interpretation establishes a connection between two events or persons in such a way that the first signifies not only itself but also the second, while the second involves or fulfills the first. The two poles of a figure are separated in time, but both, being real events or persons, are within temporality.
And they’re connected by the divine plan, you see, such that the sacrifice of Isaac (for example) prefigures and is fulfilled by the sacrifice of Christ. Feel free to offer figural interpretations of the present crisis in comments! Let’s show the world what interpretive skills can do.
Of course, Auerbach didn’t invent figura; he was merely explaining it. But mister, we could use a man like Erich Auerbach again.
But finance isn’t really Kunstler’s thing. Like Dick Cheney, he’s all about the oil. Indeed, his very next sentence is
What the mainstream is truly missing here en masse is that another tsunami is building right behind the finance fiasco, and that it will render moot the whole reeking cargo of schemes and wishes that comprises the Great Bail-out. I am speaking of the global oil problem.
Oh, just read the whole thing. The whole blog, I mean. Just one word of caution—don’t make it the last thing you read before you go to sleep.
Besides, looming behind the global oil problem, we have the global water problem. I think this little-noticed passage in The Daily Show’s 2004 book, America (The Book), puts it best:
When alien races visit our planet thousands of years from now,
certain utilitarian philosophers will greet them warmlytheir Earth Rover probes will discover that this barren, windswept dust bowl was at one time “wet” and capable of supporting life.
Estimated sources of fluid, 2100.
As I’ve been saying to Nick (when we’re not talking about other epic fails like the bailout and the Mets), I’m sorry we used up all the world’s resources before you got here. The 21st century is shaping up to be interesting—permanent war, financial system tottering, oil drying up, fresh water on the way out. But then again, as Nick and I decided earlier this year, if the new Wiis and HDTVs and personal sound systems are any indication, the electronic devices of 2100 are gonna rock.
Ah, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The NYSE opening bell is at hand! Surely some revelation is at hand. Let freedom ring!
Hattie referred me here.
I got some chuckles reading your post, the content wasn’t funny, of course, that part is scary, it was the writing which tweaked my funny bone.
The truth is there is plenty of oil/fossil fuel and plenty of water. The problem is that we, the human race, have decided to use these resources in such a way that we are pillagin and murdering our planet.Posted by gerry rosser on 09/30 at 08:59 AM
Welcome back. I just knew if I held on to my bookmarks for Bérubé and Fafblog, they’d eventually be worth something someday. I’m still keeping the Billmon bookmark (in it’s original packaging!) as a hedge.Posted by John I on 09/30 at 09:11 AM
Oh, great. Bookmark hedges. What’s next, blog comment derivatives?
No, really, thanks—and welcome, Gerry. We’re all about the tweaking here.Posted by on 09/30 at 09:38 AM
Crisis schmisis, I’ve got like 30 goddamn shopping carts stashed away.Posted by on 09/30 at 10:19 AM
Glad you’re back.
The scariest thing about the bailout plan for me personally (as opposed to financially or philosophically) is that I find myself on the same side of the debate (for different reasons, of course) as Marsha Blackburn. Hades is currently shopping for a fur coat.Posted by on 09/30 at 10:21 AM
While Apocalypting, I take comfort in the return of the dulcet prose of Berube.
Word verification: “defense”Posted by Theriomorph on 09/30 at 10:29 AM
I told you all he wasn’t dead, but in suspended animation on a Caribbean island, so he could come back in our hour of greatest need. The Once and Future King!
Captcha: things, as in, “these are some of my favorite.”Posted by John Protevi on 09/30 at 10:36 AM
I have been clicking on my link for this place for months and all I ever got was a chance to look again upon your great disembodied head. Glad you are back to writing things, no matter how depressing yet funny they are. Just give me some warning if you plan to suspend the campaign again. (Security word: “french”—I keep typing “freedom” but the system is a stickler on this one apparently...)Posted by on 09/30 at 10:54 AM
>> It’s truly a shame that Hussein al-Obama couldn’t put aside his rabid me-first partisanship for just a few days and help John McCain save these people.
The truth is, the markets are scared of H. a-O. winning and without him there would not even be a crisis!Posted by on 09/30 at 10:59 AM
I was quite disheartened last night watching Charlie Rose on the bailout (with Al Hunt and Floyd Norris). Near the end of the segment Charlie was lamenting how f***ed up everything was, But then said something along the lines of “but this is what everyone says to do, and who else is there to talk to?” Who indeed?
The willful poverty of imagination displayed during this debate has been impressive.Posted by on 09/30 at 12:00 PM
It’s good to see you. Bitch Ph.D. announced you were back blogging-- that alone gives me hope that we’ll reach some better solution to the financial crisis than the bill that died. Panicked people make lousy decisions.
Word verification: history.Posted by on 09/30 at 01:19 PM
The willful poverty of imagination displayed during this debate has been impressive.
JP, It’s sad to me that the notion of nationalizing the financial sector, which should have been the first phrase off the lips of respectable socialists, got such a feeble shout out in the days immediately following the announcement of the Paulsen plan. Oh, a lot of ire was expended on the plan’s ludicrous provision of unbounded authority for the Treasury Secretary, but that just represented an argument over negotiable details of the overall plan when what was needed was an outright rejection of it and instead immediate talk of socialism’s best answer:
expropriatingtaking equity shares in the holdings of everyone involved in the affected markets.
On September 26, Brad DeLong mentioned that a similar crisis had indeed been handled with some measure of success by Sweden in the early ‘90’s by nationalizing stuff, so we already know it works. I’m not sure how this would play out in the US, though I suppose it would require Moody’s to institute a new ABBA grade investment rating to cover the creditworthiness of these extensive new government-backed obligations.
And any plan is epic fail if it does not soak the rich.Posted by peter ramus on 09/30 at 01:32 PM
I suppose it would require Moody’s to institute a new ABBA grade investment rating to cover the creditworthiness of these extensive new government-backed obligations.
Waterloo. They’re finally facing their Waterloo.Posted by Michael on 09/30 at 01:51 PM
3Tops just gave me the latest on message traffic picked up from McCaine HQ. McCain said “Let them eat Swedish meatballs” and Palin’s agreed to shoot a moose and some wolves and donate the meat to the Banker’s Swedish Meatball Fund.
captcha: policePosted by Bill Benzon on 09/30 at 01:58 PM
I’m going to write a few words—well, maybe a lot of words—about Kunstler. First of all, in a transparent appeal to authority (but hey, this is a comment box) I should say that I’ve been working professionally as an enviro of sorts since 1991, so I actually know something about these issues.
Kunstler’s impact is complicated, but on the whole, I don’t think that he’s a good spokesperson for these ideas. I first started reading him when he was doing his “Eyesore of the Month” critique of contemporary cheap buildings, which was excellent. He was also very good on urban planning and the design of livable, walkable spaces, living city centers, and so on.
The problem is, though, that he apparently enjoys being a doomsayer, and he’s not really very selective about it. Keep reading Kunstler and you’ll have an “Oh no” moment where he starts blaming the Mexicans or the gays for something. Then you’ll be going back over your appreciative words for him, wondering how much you endorsed.
And it’s not just a problem of the messenger. He’s written about peak oil a good deal, and peak oil is a real phenomenon—although, you know, geologists know more about it—but he’s extended it into a whole analysis that says that “entropic” American suburban design is doomed, that there’s going to be a big collapse and we’ll have to start all over, etc. Well, no. One does not necessarily lead to the other. If Republicans manage the whole thing, sure they can ruin anything, but peak oil is not peak energy. If you want to keep the same lousy infrastructure (though why would you?) you could make oil from coal once oil gets expensive enough to make it worth it. And we’re unlikely to ever get as local as Kunstler thinks we will. As Bruce Sterling wrote about a Kunstler essay: “Even the rail infrastructure of the 19th century was enough to maintain flourishing, nation-wide mail-order consumer catalogs.”
Kunstler leaves people with the feeling that we’re doomed, and it’s really not true. One problem with inconvenient truths that are ignored by the mainstream is that when the mainstream is finally forced to pick up on them, the people who’ve been propounding them are suited to a whole different environment.Posted by on 09/30 at 02:26 PM
Yeah, it’s an hour but this is a long-form blog.
Rich is right re Kunstler.
captcha: “when,” as in don’t know.Posted by on 09/30 at 02:35 PM
So glad you’re back, Michael. It was lonely without you on the Internet. And cold. Very, very cold.Posted by on 09/30 at 02:59 PM
Hi, Rich! Yes, I’ve read enough Kunstler to know that he’s a wee bit too fond of the “the end is near!!! we are doomed, doomed I tell ye!” mode, and I actually don’t agree that oil is at the bottom of the current crisis (except in an obvious, “among-the-contributing-factors” sense). But I haven’t yet seen him go off about teh gay or teh Mexicans.
But back to the most important point. Over at LGM they’re having a discussion about whether we will need political scientists in post-apocalypse America. Fortunately, apocalypse specialist Robert Farley has the good sense to reply, “No. They don’t need political scientists now, and certainly won’t need them after the apocalypse. I suggest you find a new profession, such as trapper, tanner, mercenary, or apocalypse specialist.” But now’s the time to show everyone how badly we will need interpretive theorists, people! Let’s get going with those figural interpretations already!! The American people are waiting!!Posted by Michael Bérubé on 09/30 at 03:13 PM
Congratulations. You’ve been Pharyngulated. Professor Myers has admiringly mentioned your blog on his, which will undoubtedly bring enormous traffic from many who are unfamiliar with your writing.Posted by on 09/30 at 03:18 PM
Out here in my new temporary digs in the Ivanpah Valley we drink water that fell as rain 12,000 years ago, which would pose an unsustainable resource extraction issue if “town” comprised more than 30 people including feral cats.
12KBP was a very good year, incidentally, with a bouquet that stands up well in our local Jamie-melting triple-digit nighttime temperatures (not Celsius, thankfully.)Posted by Chris Clarke on 09/30 at 03:21 PM
Oil? Credit Derivatives? Why is nobody talking about the Literary Theory Bubble, which has been bubbling for years (so many responsible conservatives tried to warn us), and now that it has finally burst will take the entire economy down with it. To think I bought so many Althusser Options…
How about this image for a figura?
Or is the irony anti-figura? (Sorry, not my field.)Posted by on 09/30 at 03:38 PM
The ascension of Dana Perino to White House Press Secretary foreshadows the naming of Governor Sarah Palin as the running mate of maverick Senator John S McCain. Press Babe, followed by a block of time wherein the wheels don’t fall off of government, Fourth Branch Babe.
Captcha: soviet. Interesting idea, auto-moderator, but even in the abstract, “babe” doesn’t stretch to Condi Rice.Posted by black dog barking on 09/30 at 03:41 PM
Professor Myers has admiringly mentioned your blog on his, which will undoubtedly bring enormous traffic from many who are unfamiliar with your writing.
Oh, that’s just great! Would this be a good time for me to start talking about crackers? Because I love me some Stoned Wheat Things.Posted by Michael on 09/30 at 03:55 PM
Let’s get going with those figural interpretations already!!
I’m trying to figure out a way to force this crisis into an analogy with the scene in Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood when Enoch Emery runs into the forest while wearing a gorilla suit, but the only part that makes sense so far is the gorilla suit.
Like a kidney stone or a financial crisis.Posted by Jason B on 09/30 at 04:10 PM
If this figural interpretation thing is a gambit to get yourself implicated in Econocalypse, I think I won’t bite.
I will note, however, that it was four years ago yesterday that the asteroid 4179 Toutatis passed within four lunar distances of Earth. (Five weeks later, Bush was re-elected.)
Three years ago yesterday, John Roberts was confirmed as Chief Justice.
Two years ago yesterday, Mark Foley resigned in disgrace.
And then yesterday, of course, a bill failed to pass in the House, and, well, the result of that is perfectly obvious to everyone.
So, if I’m reading all this correctly, the asteroid delivered some strain of alien insanity that will manifest once a year on September 29, and which will ultimately carry out the asteroid’s mission to destroy the planet.Posted by on 09/30 at 04:31 PM
Let’s be clear on our post-apocalyptic intellectual needs. There will be no need for Political Scientists. But there will be enormous need for Political Theorists. There will also be a need to know how to start a fire without a lighter, how to defend yourself against insane cannibals (see, Octavia Butler and Cormac McCarthy), how to construct a shelter and make your own clothes, and how to go out and get a meal without becoming one. Stock up on duct tape and sunblock. Learn how to cast entertaining shadow puppets on the back of cave walls. Do not get sick. Have I forgotten anything?Posted by on 09/30 at 05:03 PM
<There will be no need for Political Scientists. But there will be enormous need for Political Theorists.
They always taste the same to me.Posted by Chris Clarke on 09/30 at 05:06 PM
Let’s be clear on our post-apocalyptic intellectual needs.Posted by on 09/30 at 05:26 PM
I found your blog for the first time the other day and was like, gees. Seemed like a cool blog, too bad he had to stop blogging because it made him think about blogging too much.
Glad you’re back to represent the literary critics.Posted by sdc on 09/30 at 05:34 PM
the asteroid delivered some strain of alien insanity that will manifest once a year on September 29, and which will ultimately carry out the asteroid’s mission to destroy the planet
Interesting pattern! Good thing it doesn’t interfere with hockey season. Just one thing—will there be zombies?
too bad he had to stop blogging because it made him think about blogging too much
Dang! I’d forgotten all about that. Thanks for reminding me!
Have I forgotten anything?
Just the cases of Hydresta water-flavored liquid beverage gel.Posted by Michael on 09/30 at 06:20 PM
I just checked the RSSer and found the great nuclear fireball has contracted or gone in reverse or something. In short, it’s a frabjous day!
For a roving band of survivalists composed of one, see the guy currently featured at the Poor Man Institute.
John I in comment #2: Billmon is now posting at his Daily Kos diary.Posted by on 09/30 at 06:56 PM
Are literary critics representable?Posted by on 09/30 at 07:43 PM
A rephrase might be: thanks for being a literary critic. Represent!Posted by sdc on 09/30 at 08:58 PM
Cases of Hydresta water-flavored liquid beverage gel?
Sounds really great and all but I think I may have a product that could really compete with that.
I’m currently looking for venture capital to launch a revolutionary new product.
I plan on marketing packets of instant freeze dried potable dihydrogen monoxide. I’m thinking of calling this revolutionary concept, Solar Aqua. The product will be produced in Florida using a newly patented Solar distillation process. It will completely evaporate 100% pure natural dihydrogen monoxide using natural solar energy and leaving absolutely no residue whatsoever. The product will then be freeze dried and packaged in special space age vacuum paks.These paks when repressurized to 1 atm of pressure will have the capacity to hold exactly one liter of water. All that has to be done by the end end user is add 33.81 fluid ounces of pure distilled water to produce exactly one liter of pure potable water.
Note: if distilled water is not available, ordinary good quality spring water may be used as a substitute. However it should be noted that adding exactly 33.81 fluid ounces of pure water is of paramount importance if you wish to reconstitute an exact liter’s worth of drinking water. Note: we also plan on marketing a 33.81 fluid ounce measuring container to make the entire process fool proof.
I believe I can be justly proud in claiming that my revolutiuonary product will go a long ways toward solving the coming global water crisis.
If you wish to invest in this venture please contact me direct.Posted by on 09/30 at 09:48 PM
I just watched Billy Elliott again, so I’m thinking that the best post-apocalyptic career is ballet dancer.
<sniff>All the old gang, back on the old homestead.</wipe>Posted by Amanda French on 09/30 at 11:12 PM
I would recommend not reading Kunstler on a plane when you’re en route to a wedding. It makes it pretty impossible to sincerely congratulate the bride and groom.Posted by on 09/30 at 11:14 PM
Amanda, <sniff> and </wipe> are not acceptable html tags on this blog. But it’s good to see you here, just the same.Posted by on 09/30 at 11:31 PM
Oh, Michael, one of the things you missed during your suspension was the extensive blogospheric holding-forth on The Dark Knight. I’m dying to know: are those some men who want to watch the world burn a forward-thinking avant-garde or undesirable as neighbors? Does Batman=Bush? And how did the Joker get those scars really?Posted by on 10/01 at 12:01 AM
I look at it this way: the effects of this will not be to transform the U.S. into a complete disaster, it will just be more like Latin America.
You’ll - that is to say we’ll - still have electricity but be careful to use much less of it. We’ll make sure not to waste food. We’ll consider giving up hot water / heat / a/c, and possibly give up at least some of these things some days. We’ll have fewer cars. We won’t go to Europe, San Francisco, or New York. Will will get roommates. We will get second jobs. But we won’t stop having decent food, clothing, and housing, or books and movies. We will still have computers and CDs.
See? It won’t be so bad. And it’s better than the alternative of bailing these people out and letting it all go on. I say bail out the homeowners instead.Posted by Professor Zero on 10/01 at 12:07 AM
So glad you are back; don’t ever go away again!!Posted by on 10/01 at 01:18 AM
The pessimistic and cynical good neighbor will go to the closest COSTCO and purchase whole pallets of water filters and replacement filters. Then they will make sure all their friends use them, and barter them with their neighbors for all sorts of other necessary resources. A garage full of water filters goes a long, long way towards a healthy retirement fund.Posted by on 10/01 at 01:38 AM
oh, okay, one morePosted by on 10/01 at 01:52 AM
Having spent some time recently living pre-meltdown in pretty much the fashion Professor Zero describes for the post-meltdown US, I have thereby earned a certain number of Personal Economic Adjustment Credits.
I would like to offer these for sale to those fortunate US residents for whom foregoing AC and trips to Europe constitutes a new and frighteningly austere lifestyle, so that their trauma might thereby be cushioned somewhat.
Further, as I suspect a significant number of Americans might also have Personal Economic Adjustment Credits in amounts sufficient to sell at a reasonable profit under a sort of Cap And Trade setup, I am gauging the feasibility of launching an investment institution that will trade in PEAC derivatives. I will keep y’all informed of my progress.Posted by Chris Clarke on 10/01 at 02:19 AM
are those men who want to watch the world burn a forward-thinking avant-garde or undesirable as neighbors?
It think it all depends on their makeup.
I don’t think Batman = Bush, no. But I do think that people who overreacted to that reading are missing something obvious in “Batman Begins,” namely, that some shadowy Central Asian group is gonna destroy Gotham City for its decadence and corruption. Hmmmm? And yes, the question in both films is always what Gotham deserves and why.Posted by Michael on 10/01 at 07:52 AM
But there will be enormous need for Political Theorists. There will also be a need to know how to start a fire without a lighter, how to defend yourself against insane cannibals (see, Octavia Butler and Cormac McCarthy)
How exactly does one use a political theorist and a lit fire to defend oneself against Insane Cannibal Octavia Butler?Posted by on 10/01 at 10:14 AM
other epic fails like the bailout and the Mets
At least we Mets fans know whom to blame. If only we could just buy the whole financial sector a new bullpen and be done with it.Posted by on 10/01 at 12:23 PM
And, of course, we don’t really need to retire at 70 or 80. We can keep goin’ at it
Chicka-Wow Chicka-Wow Wow!
Waterloo. They’re finally facing their Waterloo.
This is why Professor Bérubé makes the big money.
The problem is, though, that he apparently enjoys being a doomsayer, and he’s not really very selective about it.
What Mr. Puchalsky said. Among other things, Kunstler is a master of pooh-pooh’ing possible technological mitigation of his beloved apocalypse, since no one has explained to him that wearing a bowtie does not automatically impart scientific expertise. Now, I’m no optimist (stop laughing), but even I can see some virtue to investing in some candle-lighting in addition to cursing the darkness.
On the other hand, it might be useful to have Kunstler on an urban planning and zoning board. Well, except that he lives in Saratoga Springs, capital of self-sustainability.
Are literary critics representable?
Only if you make them put on a clean shirt.
Amanda, <sniff> and </wipe> are not acceptable html tags on this blog.
<spliff> and </wabe> are good to go, however. Everyone hold on to their sundials.
I am gauging the feasibility of launching an investment institution that will trade in PEAC derivatives.
I am intrigued by your ideas and wish to subscribe to your newsletter.Posted by on 10/01 at 12:49 PM
Everybody relax, we are melting the polar ice cap at great speed. No need to worry about water supply.
yay global warming.Posted by on 10/02 at 02:58 PM
ah, mds. Bogarting the <spliff> tags again. Typical.
Also, my phone’s spel corecter suggests “mrs” for “mds” and I am resolutely not reading any deeper meaning into that at all.Posted by Chris Clarke on 10/02 at 03:08 PM
Let us be clear, with the shitpile marked to market there is zero credit available for things like buying cars, appliances, credit cards and more. Which means if the buyout fails the economy goes into depression mode in about a month as all the auto makers, department stores and banks fail. It also means your credit line for the credit card gets cut below what you owe and you lose your job.
So cry me a storm. Given Bush and the Republicans in the Senate, the only thing to do now is hold our nose and buy the shitpile, wait until January and start renegotiating mortgages in the shitpile so they can perform and then sell them back into the market over time.
Being grown up sucks
Oh yeah, first things second, raise the marginal rate on those who earned more than 250 K retroactively a whole lot.Posted by Eli Rabett on 10/02 at 03:51 PM
Also, my phone’s spel corecter suggests “mrs” for “mds” and I am resolutely not reading any deeper meaning into that at all.
Oh, read away, Chris. All life is a footnote to [REDACTED] anyway.
...he himself typed, morosely.Posted by on 10/02 at 04:28 PM
Water is used to protect skin.Dry skin needs plenty of thorough but gentle cleansing, regular stimulation with massage and generous quantities of oil and moisture. It also needs extra careful protection. Washing dry skin with soap and water not only removes grime but also the natural oils protecting the skin. A moisturizer increases the water content of the outer layers of the skin and gives it a soft, moist look.Posted by Actinic Keratosis on 08/26 at 02:59 AM
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