Thursday, July 19, 2012


Just a few quick tidbits, today.

I went to the mall yesterday to buy a couple of items. It's not a place I willingly spend time at, but when you need it, you need it. Inside, I was struck by the number of empty storefronts. Foot traffic was light, but given that it was the middle of the week in summer, not implausible. What I found funny was that there was a new mini-strip mall being put up right in front of the mall, on mall grounds. Wait a minute. Why not just use the existing space in the mall? But, really, this isn't much different from suburbanization. The city offers a greater diversity of social life and entertainment, yet people have been willing to abandon common sense to move to the suburbs into ticky-tacky houses, then trying to recreate the city living experience in the suburbs through all kinds of "shopping districts," parks, and whatnot. Even as the price of goods begins to shoot up as a logical consequence of energy scarcity, people are still holding onto these obsolete ideas.

Second is George Zimmerman. I don't know what branch of legal theory thinks that clients running off at the mouth is a good idea (Jerry Sandusky engaged in this particular sort of self-immolation at the beginning of the year, too), but I guess shooting Trayvon Martin is now part of "God's Plan." In truth, I hear this used more and more as an analytical tool. I'm not a particularly religious person, although I generally don't have a problem with religion as a worldview or ethical tool. However, I do have a problem with people who begin to ascribe things which are logically explainable as being the end result of some unseen divine process. This really points to nothing but mental laziness at a minimum, or delusion as a maximum. Either way, it points to a backsliding of people's willingness to use reason. And, I really have a problem with people who try to invoke God when they are on the hook for something. Look for this sort of thing more in the future, as people try to explain away events by suggesting they're part of "God's Plan" or optionally suggest that "God will save us." If anything, God gave us reason and memory, but people seem to have completely quit using those.

Next is the impending post office default. There are two ways of looking at this -- one is that the post office is a dinosaur and relic, in the face of email and package delivery services. The other is that this is an organization which is directly mandated by the Constitution to exist (I think the only other one is the Navy), yet is on life support. What does this really say about the stability of our government endeavors? If we can't salvage something that was one of the first things originally mandated by law, where does that leave the rest of the whole house of cards? Maybe this is the point where we can all feel a little like Simeon at the temple -- the sign that the prophecy of collapse is being fulfilled before our very eyes, whether we are ready for it or not, want it or not.

Last is the few news items that seem to be related to the acceleration of the collapse of the consumer class. Inflation is definitely here, one of the canaries in the coal mine. The price of meat, for example, is up around ten percent, and this was before the effects of the drought are really going to start to be felt. This is going to be part of the "death spiral" of consumerism -- people will start discarding the optionals and favor the essentials, something that has already shown up in the collapse of retail sales in June. I predict that you're going to start seeing a lot of things like "Five easy and delicious recipes using dried beans and rice" in the major media outlets. Of course, the feedback cycle of reduced consumer spending will hammer everything else in the economy, causing more people to be out of work, thus causing more businesses to go under and spending to go down, etc, etc. America has made a lifestyle and religion out of personal consumption, and built the entire social lifestyle around it. How readily are we going to go back to being satisfied with a game of checkers and wearing homespun?


  1. Absolutely. You can see this in Bangor, Maine (near my hometown) as well. They just built a new strip mall next to the giant retail box store, apparently it will house a restaurant and a couple of service businesses instead of retail. Regardless,we don't have that many malls and shopping outlets, certainly not more than a larger metropolitan area and yet we are seeing the same effects which indicates it's an across the board issue as opposed to one faced by larger population centers. Excellent observations...

    I'd make some disclaimer about Maine being full of wild game and therefore my family and I will be okay but it won't be once people start to go hungry...

    1. I think it's a symptom of people just living with their heads stuck completely in the past, or having some excess capital sitting around that they can't think of what to do with it, or something...I don't understand it. I haven't been to, but I'd guess they are not hurting for lack of content. I've always been into urban exploration -- the irony is that there's plenty of places to go now, some of them still nominally open for business.

      I've wondered off and on about the game issue. Most people are accustomed to hunting with high-tech gear these days, plus the average suburbanite is going to be SOL trying to find a deer, much less bag one. On the other hand, people are going to get desperate. Trees may become somewhat scarce in some areas, too.

  2. "Discarding the optionals" is definitely happening, whether because of over-indebtedness, loss of employment income, or caution.

    There's a boatyard & marina near here with more boats for sale than I have seen for 20 years. And increasingly more abandoned boats (the dream was hauled out and the owners have stopped paying yard fees).

    Funny thing is, living on a boat is even more economical than living in a car, and a lot more comfortable.

    The marina just saw its third tramps' boat arrive in two years. Three indigent men on a really scruffy sailboat, couldn't/wouldn't pay for dockage. Long unbelievable stories about missing credit cards and friends in high places and how they got given the boat for nothing (actually that part is believable).

    Two of the more hysterical women in the marina felt very uncomfortable with them around. They were finally told to leave, did so, and turned up at a town dock the other side of the lock ($25 each way). Then back again 2 days later...still couldn't/wouldn't pay and left again...

    It's not exactly the "Grapes of Wrath" but this is very unusual for Canada.

    1. This was one of the most interesting anecdotes I've read in a while. I wrote a while back on the possible rise in nomadism we would see, and I guess it's beginning in earnest. The "corner cases" we used to see as national headlines are at some point going to get pretty common to where we don't blink at them any longer. Twenty years ago, "homeless on a boat" would have been a major story... "Three men, unable to find work, have been forced to sail from town to town looking for a safe harbor." Now, it's like "move along."

      If I remember correctly, Argentina had issues with "road pirates." Maybe we'll see a return to real pirates if guys like this get desperate enough, except it won't be as cool as Johnny Depp, etc.

      Was also going to mention -- I have a friend who frequents a vacation spot in Michigan. He said that the property values have dropped like a rock and that a good number of lakefront houses are empty now. People can't afford to go, can't afford the upkeep, and don't want to be saddled with what is an essenitally useless piece of land that can't support them.

  3. "God's plan" for George Zimmerman could easily include death by lethal injection, and "God's plan" for us could easily include 99% of the world's population dying.

    "God's plan" is a great way to reconcile with what happened in the past, but an awful way to plan for the future, because we can't know the mind of God.

    1. I think George's personal plan is going to include 25 to life for second degree murder, and maybe a piece of glass wrapped with tape when he's not looking. Somehow, I don't think "quit talking" has ever crossed his mind.

  4. People are strange. Some people are charmed. In quantum reality, strange and charmed might just be a quark of fate - and an excellent pairing. Beware of launching ideas without taking responsibility for the thought - karma plays some mean tricks when she feels violated.

    Remember back when there was a cartoon called fractured fairy tales. They always ended with a bad pun. Life can seem like that sometimes - some of lemme's poetry really is way out there. Hugh, and only hugh, can prevent florist friars. Why is media so pale?

    1. In enough parallel universes, we might find Meaning to things we don't understand now. On the other hand, Meaning is a poor servant and a harsh master. We look for it every place we can, and are never satisfied when we find it. To some people, Meaning can be nothing more than a cold glass of water on a hot day or the belly laugh of a toddler.

  5. If you like anecdotes about the state of the country, here is another:

    I live in a rural area of PA, about an hour from Wilkes-Barre, a large city. I have trouble paying my electric bill, so I needed to make extra cash by selling my belongings. I loaded up the car and went to a flea market in W-B, one of many, which only charges $10 a space.

    The flea market consists of two large buildings that used to house a great many individual second-hand sellers, who pay $25 for an indoor space. Over time, as both sellers and buyers dwindle, now only one building is occupied.

    There were 12 outdoor sellers and I was there from 7:15 AM to 2:15 PM, during which time I earned a grand total of $55. My highest priced sale was $5. Other dealers told me that the entire Lehigh Valley has been going downhill for decades and that most people just don't have money to buy anything unless it's cheap.

    My effort for the day amounted to minimum wage, less $10 for the space, less $10 gas, less the breakfast I bought at Dunkin Donuts. I figure this is the average situation for most of the working poor.

    Other vendors told me I should go sell my stuff in the Poconos, near the New Jersey border, where the better-off have summer homes and presumably more money to spend. Of course we're talking a round trip of more than three hours and at least $20 in gas. Somehow this makes me think of the pundits who give advice about moving to where the jobs are, except my house and everything else is nowhere near those jobs. Do you think I'd have better luck in a parallel universe?