Blog Archive

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Amount of Death and Destruction is Inconcievable

A story yesterday

I'm not really sure what my reaction to this is supposed to be. Part of me wants to tear my hair out and run screaming into the streets... I think it's a pretty significant part. Another part just stares at the words and the pictures in disbelief. And a third part is totally numb and unsurprised. I suppose ever since the Jenin "incursion" in 2002 any atrocity Israel wants to unleash upon Palestinians just seems kind of "normal", and expected to me.

There are two sides in that conflict. But to say it is completely mis-characterized in the western media is a grave understatement. There is not a 'cycle of violence' in that conflict. There is not a "centuries old conflict" in Palestine. There is a conflict just over 100 years old between a people who were living in a certain historic area of the middle east, and a few million European colonialists who used British and American guns and bombs and barbed wire to drive civilians from their homes, destroy their villages, bulldoze their orchards, drain their aquifers, and then at last to construct elaborate fences around these areas to prevent a people of a darker skin and a different tongue from ever returning to them.

There is a persecuted and occupied people that the entire world has turned its back on who are not allowed to import food or medicine into the most densely population area of globe, where just last year the occupying force bombed the only power plant. There are kidney stones, with no medicine, because the water is contaminated and water filters are scarce. There are kids with arms and legs and eyes and noses, blown over sidewalks, into open windows, onto roofs, and into potted plants. And there is no United Nations "humanitarian mission" capable of making sure the correct pieces may ever find the right families in time for a "proper" burial.

Yes... "fighting terrorism".

Until yesterday, no one in Israel was killed since the ceasefire ended on Dec 19th from the dozens of homemade rockets desperately shot out across barbed wire fences and over concrete walls. In the past 24 hours over 200 Palestinians were killed by the bombs falling from US built F-16 fighter jets.

Would you please show me, where is this terror you speak so strongly of fighting? Where are these "weapons of mass destruction" you assert? And what of this race of men, who apparently value human life less that we do?

Because I need to know, how is it possible anyone could value human life any less than we do?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Gaza Massacres Must Spur us to Action

This is a little less funny than the stuff I usually like to share...

You Look Like Uncle Fester

Start Your engines...

terror ebm band

the pope

Bay area neo nazi Nigel Fovargue

Amy Winehouse

Boy George

Dick Cheney

Swimmer Katie Hoff

Mark Spoor


Steve Balmer

And... my personal favorite... the Emperor

Disillusionment with the Democratic Party

The cabinet appointments? The saber rattling against Iran and Pakistan? The continued support of Israel's occupation and blockade of gaza and the west bank? The manifestation of "change" as the re-animation of clinton era free market ideologues?

Usually presidents get inaugurated first, and then start to disappoint the people who voted for them. At least here, Obama seems to be blazing a trail of "change".

So someone on a forum said this:

No one really listens to what hes saying, and no one remembers that idol worship is dangerous, i saw the looks on those peoples faces after he won, they looked like they saw god himself drop from heaven. Also Joe Biden is one of the biggest crooks in Washington and a member of the CFR. Obamas whole cabinet is full of former Bush and Clinton people, including the female Mao Zedong herself Hillary Clinton.

Change indeed... :roll:

People talk about how great everything was during the Clinton years in terms of economics, well the fact is that we are living the results of those years today. All the excessive borrowing started under Clinton, the mounting debt we see is the combination of the Bush and Clinton years. Remember we went through a mild recession right after Clinton left office in 2001. In any case the president isnt supposed to be fucking with the economy in the first place.

And I may add:

Those are really good points. There was economic growth under Clinton, but there were also 40 million people without health care. Most of the new jobs from the 90s were low wage service jobs with few benefits and little security. Most of the 'hi tech' jobs they said we'd get in exchange for exporting our manufacturing sector were themselves exported. Bush accelerated this, but it started before him. Banking deregulation also happened under Clinton (1999)... and he killed over half a million Iraqi children with economic sanctions that caused two directors of the UN humanitarian mission in Baghdad to resign in protest.... Madelin Albright said this was "worth it" on 60 minutes... Oh, and let's not forget Clinton signing the "defense of marriage" act, or "don't ask, don't tell"...

I'm not saying clinton = bush = obama, because they are all clearly different. clinton and obama are more liberal here and there. But they believe in free market capitalism, they're reluctant to confront bigotry in any meaningful way if they think it will cost them votes, and they believe it's ok to use wars to keep the US the #1 power...

I think the point of trying to transform hillary and obama into these icons based on their gender and racial identities was to depoliticize their campaigns. People voted for whatever they wanted to think when they looked at either of these two people's faces.... people didn't vote for their actual politics.

and YES.... making Obama out to be the new che gueverra with this ridiculous iconography is nuts:

It's authoritarian.... I'm not saying Obama himself has bonapartist aspirations, but when you expect ONE MAN to "rise above everything" and fix it all for you, while everyone else in society shuts up and isn't doing anything... that's not what a democracy is.

Well... that's enough of me going off... but as a political friend of mine has said, "voting democratic and expecting it to end the war is like drinking lite beer and expecting to loose weight".


The French Revolution had pamphlets. We have blogs. They're not a revolution but they are a place to start.

In related news... Mark Steel talks well about the French Revolution:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Ponzai Paradigm

"...the idea of paying interest out of new deposit inflows rather than actual earnings..."

Talks about who the origional Ponzi was... this is very helpful I feel to understanding the recent economic collapse...

Exponential growth is can never be sustained over the long term. There is always a crash. Deer on a grassy island with no predators will simply overpopulate until all the food is gone and there's a mass die off... A great economic model, apparently...


December 23, 2008
And God Created Bernie...
The Ponzi Paradigm


Last week the Good Lord evidently realized that not enough people had been reading Hyman Minsky’s explanation of how financial cycles end in Ponzi schemes – the stage in which banks keep the boom going by lending their customers the money to pay interest and thus avoid default. So He sent Bernie Madoff to dominate the news for a week and give the mass media an opportunity to familiarize newspaper readers and TV watchers with just how Ponzi schemes work. What Mr. Madoff did was, in a nutshell, what the economy as a whole has been doing under the moniker “wealth creation.”

If the media were able to wait until as late in the financial collapse as last week to provide helpful diagrams about how Ponzi schemes need to keep on growing exponentially, it is simply because bad foreign financial news is not deemed newsworthy in North America. But Europe has been having its own run-throughs, headed by Spain – which by no coincidence is now experiencing the biggest real estate bust outside of the post-Soviet economies.

The best case study occurred two years ago. On May 9, 2006, Spanish police raided 21 homes and offices of Afinsa Fienes Tangibles SA, the world’s largest postage-stamp dealer, and rival firm, Forum Filatélico. They charged eleven men with running a $6.4 billion pyramid scheme that (and Afinsa)took in some 343,000 investors – 1 per cent of Spain’s entire population, making the fraud one of the largest in Spanish history.

An economy either is in trouble or has lost its sense of balance when investors shy away from tangible capital formation in favor of buying postage stamps and similar collectibles. Unlike machinery and technology, stamps do not produce real goods and services. They have long since been printed and sold by the government, and will never be used actually to mail letters. However, stamps have shown themselves to be a great vehicle to attract savers who think that buying them can produce an exponential earnings growth – or more technically, “capital” gains, if we can stretch economic terminology far enough to call a stamp collection “capital.”

If value resulted merely from scarcity, then postage stamps, coins and master paintings all would seem to increase almost automatically over time, just like most land does. But these trophies of wealth do not promote rising production, consumption or living standards. As stamps do not earn money by employing labor to produce goods and services, their price gains are neither profit nor capital gains as classically understood. They are what economists call a windfall.

The Spanish postage-stamp scheme seems to have taken off in 2003, the year in which Spain’s free-market conservative government deregulated public insurance and oversight for non-financial investment funds. Afinsa Group bought two-thirds control of the New Jersey stamp and coin auction house Greg Manning and merged it with the Spanish auctioneer Auctentia to create Escala as the world’s third largest auction house (after Sotheby’s and Christie’s). Escala moved its operations to New York City and listed its stock on the Nasdaq over-the-counter market. Despite the stock market’s lethargic trend, the company’s earnings showed such rapid growth that in just three years its share price soared from under $5 to $35, tripling in 2005 alone.

Afinsa’s purchases accounted for 70 per cent of Escala’s profits, thanks largely to the fact that as its Spanish parent’s sole supplier, Escala marked up its stamps by a reported 1,150 per cent, out of all proportion to the usual 25 per cent. Afinsa thus was carrying stamps for which it paid 58 million euros on its books at €723 million, over ten times their catalog values – which are fictitiously high in any case, being published mainly for the benefit of stamp dealers to give their customers the idea that they are getting a good buy. But as Forum Filatélico’s chairman, Francisco Briones, explained to a reporter from London’s Financial Times: “It was ‘normal’ to charge clients such inflated prices because of the services provided . . . including the custody and conservation of stamps.”

Afinsa paid its stamp investors an annual rate of 6 to 10 per cent interest, beating most competing yields as the global financial bubble was pushing interest rates steadily downward. (Spanish government bonds paid only 3.5 per cent.) To build up trust, Afinsa gave its clients post-dated checks for the gains that were promised. It also promised to buy back the stamps it sold, at the original price. This gave an appearance of liquidity to the normally illiquid market in stamps, fine arts and other collectibles, where 25 per cent commissions to auction houses are normal. These ploys convinced the majority to simply re-invest the money to buy yet more stamps, which the company held in its offices ostensibly for safekeeping and preservation.

Money poured in, giving stock-market investors in Escala much higher returns than the stamp-buying customers nominally were receiving. As one news report remarked, why buy stamps and coins when you can invest in companies dealing in them? But within a week of the arrests, Escala’s stock plunged below $4 a share.

The denouement came shortly after Lloyd’s of London withdrew from a €1.2 billion policy to insure Afinsa’s stamps. One of its experts noticed that if $6 billion really had been invested, it would have bought up all the investment-grade stamps in the world many times over. The fact that stamp prices did not reflect any such extraordinary buying implied that few bona fide stamp transactions occurred at all, and there had been a massive over-billing.

As matters turned out, most of Afinsa’s stamps had no investment value. This explained why there were no receipts for transactions with Escala. The police found €10 million in €500 banknotes (worth about $650 each at the exchange rate of $1.30 per euro) by breaking open a newly plastered wall at the Madrid home of Afinsa’s main stamp supplier, Francisco Guijarro. What they could not find were any receipts for the stamps that he allegedly bought. And despite the remarkably high markups charged for curating the stamp collection, it was rife with phonies, as Lloyd’s had suspected. Concluding that the bills Senor Guijarro had sent to Afinsa were just a cover for a money laundering operation, the prosecutors charged the family members and officers who controlled Afinsa with embezzlement, money laundering, tax evasion, fraudulent bankruptcy, breach of trust and forgery.

The arrests recalled memories of a more famous U.S. fraud involving postage stamps some 86 years earlier, in 1920, by Charles Ponzi – the man who bequeathed his name to history in the form of Ponzi pyramid scheme. He is reported to have arrived in Boston in 1903 with only $2.50. Not speaking much English, he took menial jobs. Fired as a waiter for shortchanging customers, he moved up to Montreal and became an assistant teller in an Italian immigrant bank. It grew rapidly by paying double the normal 3 per cent rate of interest on savings accounts, but failed when its real estate loans began to go bad. The bank’s attempt to give the impression of solvency seems to have given Ponzi the idea of paying interest out of new deposit inflows rather than actual earnings. As long as clients felt they were receiving interest regularly, they tended to be calm about the principal balance.

Ponzi was sent to a Canadian prison for forgery, and then was jailed in Atlanta for trying to smuggle Italian immigrants into the United States. After his release he moved back to Boston and got a job selling business catalogs. A Spanish customer sent him a postal reply coupon, which allowed its holder to buy stamps in foreign countries for return mail rather than using domestic currency to buy a stamp.

Prices for these coupons were long out of date, having been set in 1907 by the International Postal Union. World War I drastically shifted exchange rates, enabling buyers to pay a small amount in Britain – or even less in Germany with its depreciated currency – and obtain a return stamp order that was good in the United States.

The markup on these tiny postal orders was large. An American penny could buy foreign stamp orders that could be converted into six cents in U.S. stamps, for a 500 per cent profit. The problem was that it would take a truckload of such postal orders to make serious money. A million-dollar investment would involve a hundred million penny coupons – which then would have to be converted into stamps and sold in competition with the U.S. Post Office, presumably at a discount, mainly in immigrant neighborhoods.

Focusing on the principle of arbitrage rather than such laborious implementation, Ponzi explained that he could make a 400 per cent gain after expenses. He promised that investors could double their money in 90 days, pretending to take due account of the costs and shipping time from Europe to America. When his Securities Exchange Company paid early investors the high returns he had described, they spread the word to others. Ponzi’s inflow of funds rose from $5,000 in February 1920 to $30,000 in March, and $420,000 by May. By July an estimated $250,000 a day was flowing into his firm, mainly from small investors who let their book credits build up rather than taking out their money. Some people put their life savings into the plan, and even borrowed against their homes.

Ponzi spent most of the money on himself, buying a mansion and bringing his mother over from Italy. The financial reporter Clarence Barron (publisher of Barron’s) noted that if he really had invested the money as he told his investors he had done, Ponzi would have had to purchase 160 million postal reply coupons. Yet the post office reported that few were being bought at home or abroad, and only 27,000 were circulating in the United States.

Federal agents raided Ponzi’s offices in August, and did not find any postal reply coupons, just as Spanish police did not find investment-grade postage stamps in the scheme’s 2006 replay. Ponzi was sentenced to prison yet again, but jumped bail and tried to make some quick money selling Florida real estate. He soon was recaptured, and was deported back to Italy upon his release in 1934.

What Ponzi sold was hope, pandering to peoples’ unrealistic desire to believe that a new way to make easy gains had been discovered, with no visible upper limit as to how long gains can persist in excess of the economy’s own rate of growth. It is a measure of how much harder it is to make returns in today’s world – and hence, how little hope needs to be excited – that whereas Ponzi promised to double his investors’ money every three months, the Spanish stamp scheme paid only a 6 to 10 per cent annual return. Neither fraud actually made any trading gains or profits, but simply paid investors out of new money coming in from fresh players. New inflows were treated as earnings. That’s how pyramid schemes work.

It was almost as if the Spanish operators had read one of the biographies of Ponzi that began to appear as observers noticed the common denominators between the global financial bubble of the 1990s and earlier bubbles. These bubbles provide a classic contrast between the real wealth of nations and what the business press these days calls “wealth creation” that simply takes the form of rising asset prices – “capital gains,” most of which are land-price gains.

No doubt stamp collectors would have viewed the bidding up of stamp prices as wealth creation if it actually had occurred. But all it would have achieved was to inflate the price of old stamps, much as the world’s growing ranks of billionaires were bidding up prices for master paintings and modern art, designer furniture and beachfront homes. If all the economy’s savings went into Rembrandts and Picassos, their price obviously would soar, just as putting $6 billion into postage stamps would have established higher plateau levels for stamp prices.

The flow of funds into any category of assets bid up their prices. This is true most of all for land, one of the most universal economic needs and conspicuous-consumption status measures. But does this really “create wealth”? Do market prices reflect use values, living standards and the progress of civilization?

The requisite characteristic for such price gains is indeed scarcity, but not so much that there is not enough for large numbers of buyers to make a market. If psychological utility is the key, “scarcity” has value only as a compulsive acquisitive character – wealth addiction. It means having what other people lack, with connotations of denial. Most money in search of mere scarcity is not going into trophies of the nouveau riches, but into the world’s most abundant yet also most universal scarce resource: land. Nature is not making any more of it. Yet everyone needs land to live on, making it the object of personal and business saving par excellence. Even in today’s postindustrial economies, land and its subsoil wealth represent the largest components of national balance sheets.

But inasmuch as land cannot be manufactured, savings cannot increase its supply by active investment. This poses a traumatizing problem for economists. National income statistics count any money spent that is not consumed as saving. Following John Maynard Keynes, they define saving as equal to investment. This sows the seeds of confusion with regard to the character and preconditions of economic growth. Can we really call it “wealth creation” when society directs its savings merely into speculation rather than into building up productive powers or living standards?

Classical economists vacillated over treating land as a factor of production or as a legal property right to extract a tollbooth around a given site and levy an access charge much like a user-tax. A factor of production contributes to production and income as more income is invested in it. A rent-yielding property reduces the economy’s flow of income. In the latter case land is part of the institutional property system, not the technologically based production sector of the economy.

What is beyond dispute is that real estate is highly political at the local level. Urban development tends to be shaped by insider dealing and public infrastructure spending to increase local property prices and lobbying to obtain low tax appraisals. It is axiomatic that the more economically powerful a source of wealth becomes, the greater its political power to lobby for special tax advantages. At the national level, real estate uses part of its revenue to back politicians who give it a widening wedge of special income-tax favoritism.

In the financial sphere, every bubble has been led by governments. Bubbles need to be orchestrated by opinion makers, topped by public officials giving a patina of confidence. The “madness of crowds” is a euphemism designed to divert blame away from governments onto the public. In the United States, Alan Greenspan played the role of public bubblemeister similar to that which Walpole had played in England’s South Sea bubble and John Law in France’s Mississippi bubble nearly three centuries ago, in the 1710s.

Today’s balance sheets confuse bubble wealth with real capital formation. “Investment” has become whatever accountants say they are. So have asset and debt values, given today’s leeway for financial fiction. The practice of “marking to market” permits accountants to project hypothetical gains at astronomical rates of interest, or trivializing by discounting, applying purely mathematical functions that have lost all connection to realistic rates of growth. The result is that the financial sector itself has become decoupled from the “real” economy.

The tragedy of our time is that saving today is being diverted in ways that are decoupled from real capital formation, but merely add to the economy’s debt and property overhead.

Suppose that Ponzi actually had bought International Postal Orders, and that the Spanish stamp companies actually had invested $6 billion in rare philatelic items and coins, driving up their price to create paper gains for the investors. To whom would they sell, in order to take their gains? (This is the proverbial “greater fool” problem.) More to the point, how positive would have been the broad economic effect of such asset-price inflation?

The recent stock market and real estate bubbles are much like pyramid schemes in the sense that what is bidding up stock and property prices is an exponential inflow of new money from pension plans and mutual funds (for shares) and bank credit (for real estate). Venture capitalists are “cashing out” while corporate managers exercise their stock options.

Suppose that mortgage-packaging companies are honest in their appraisals of current price trends. The real estate bubble is nonetheless speculative and postindustrial. The analogy is found when financial managers endorse government policies that encourage the inflation of price for stocks and bonds, stamps and coins, Rembrandts and modern art by claiming that this creates wealth and hence, by definition, pulls living standards and culture onward and upward.

What is wrong with this picture? For starters, it fails to define value as distinct from price, windfall and capital gains as distinct from earned income. It also neglects the fact that market prices rise and fall, but the debts remain in place. And when debts cannot be paid, savings are wiped out.

On May 9, 2006, the price of Escala shares fell by half as news of the police raids spread. By Friday its stock was down almost 90 per cent. On Monday it jumped by 50 per cent, from $4.34 at Thursday’s close to $9.45 a share. Hedge funds were making and losing money hand over fist, dwarfing the gains and losses made from stamp trading. A veritable market in crime, punishment and beating the rap was in play.

What does this have to do with true capital formation? Individuals are getting rich while the economy is polarizing between creditors and debtors, property owners and rent-payers. Unproductive investment occurs when it takes the form of windfall “capital” gains, and when it involves going into debt for real estate, stocks or bonds, or “collectibles.” Unproductive credit occurs when commercial banks make loans that merely finance the purchase of property, companies or financial securities already in place.

Two centuries ago, French followers of Count Henry St. Simon outlined an industrial system that was to be based mainly on equity financing (stocks) rather than debt (bonds and bank loans). Their idea was to make industrial banking a kind of mutual fund, so that claims for payment (and hence, the value of savings) would rise and fall to reflect the economy’s earning power. The industrial banking that developed largely in Germany and central Europe differed from the short-term Anglo-American collateral-based trade credit and mortgage lending. But since World War I, global financial practices have been more extractive than productive.

The consequence has been that debts on the economy-wide level have grown more rapidly than the ability to pay. Instead of reducing this debt overhead by earning their way out of debt, economies have sought to inflate their way out of debt. However, the mode of inflation is not the familiar rise in consumer prices, much less wage inflation. Rather, it is asset-price inflation, emanating largely from the United States. Since the gold-exchange standard gave way to the paper dollar standard in 1971, the U.S. economy has become unique in being able to create credit – and foreign debt – without constraint. The result has been an unparalleled growth in debt relative to income, production and wages. This “debt pollution” has been likened to environmental pollution.

We have entered an era in which financial markets resemble the stamp-buying funds. Governments have replaced industrial growth with purely financial wealth creation in the form of a real estate and stock market bubble. This has turned the economic universe upside-down relative to what the classical writers expected to result from the technological progress unleashed by the Industrial Revolution and its parallel agricultural, commercial and financial revolutions. Property and credit have become costs instead of a benefit, institutional forms of rent- and interest-extracting overhead rather than helpful inputs.

Michael Hudson is a former Wall Street economist. A Distinguished Research Professor at University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC), he is the author of many books, including Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (new ed., Pluto Press, 2002) He can be reached via his website,

See Wikipedia, “Charles Ponzi,” based mainly on Mitchell Zuckoff, Ponzi's Scheme: The True Story of a Financial Legend (Random House: New York, 2005).

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sleepwalking Through the Days of Cotton

You were attached to time
But as little more than an illusion
You feel pain with folktales and religion
That you do not know
For the Sweet, Long-Ago
Is most often described
In really beautiful optimism
To correlate the Nation's

The reality should be arrested
It's a story you may not remember
There's villains more of a problem than you know
And corruption spread
Through the police and government
So throughly with growing mechanism
You could be shocked
The product of the preindustrial era was
The risk of death

Sleep walking through the days of cotton
Is dangerous work.
It's a story
That's not ever
Going to stop.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How to be a Ghost Town Explorer

I've really dug the desert for a while, and lately I've become big into ghost towns. I've taken advantage of some recent free time by engaging in an extensive ghost town and desert reseach project...

The point of this is that while there is a lot of desert, desert mountains, and 'ghost towns' on maps and websites like, there are many different kinds of desert, many different kinds of mountains, and MANY fake ghost towns. These include towns with old buildings where people are living in newer buildings nearby (Belmont, NV, Apex, CO), ghost towns with active mining where industry and other ghost tourist might make you feel less comfortable (Chloride, AZ and Manhattan, NV), and ghost town "sites" with nothing left at all. I suspect has several such enteries just to generate traffic and thus get better ranking in google searches (for ex, check out their listing for Roosevelt County, NM. There's a rediculous number of enteries, and almost all of them have no information at all).

There are ghost towns like Rhyolite, NV, where many buildings are fenced off and signs tell you not to picnic after dark. Others like Henson, CO, have decently trafficked forest roads going right through them and "no tresspassing" signs all around- not exactly the most comfortable place to lounge around.

Also, there are ghost towns in more inaccessible places, and some just off major interstates. Some have good conditioned roads going to them and others may require a hike over mountains or a desert. Choosing either to visit may be important if your car likes to break down a lot, is only 2 WD, or you don't have lots of extra water with you...

So the point is to find the ghost town that is right for you. Here is a method.

You need:

1) a computer with fast internet and tabbed browsing

2) the websites,, and is helpful too.

3) maps. If you have two different atlases, ideally made in different years and/or by different companies, that's the best. If you have an atlas and also a state specific map that's good too. Also, the satellite imagery on is helpful to find starting points if you like different terrian (Ex: the new mexican forested mountains of the Sangre de Christos are a way different environment than the desert badlands of the Northwest poriton of that state)


I start with the name of an alleged ghost town. Today I click on a county on ghost and I open a new tab for all the ghost towns listed in that state. A lot of the entries on that site are essentially blank and I soon close those. For the places that look real, have pictures, and say there's no one living there, I do another search on to learn more about it. I also check the location on my map. If it looks interesting I make a note of it in the wordpad document that's on my computer. If it looks super interesting and I may actually try to go there I'll mark the spot with a pen in my atlas.

A lot of ghost town themed websites have incorrect or contradictory directions. Open up mapquest and google maps in their own tabs and type in the name of the town and state. Even though the towns maybe abandoned, those sites still have data on them and you can find good directions that way.

Also, looking at your atlas you will notice a lot of very small roads, and perhaps unpaved roads, that seeming lead to nowhere or have a lot of empty space between their begining and end. On Atlases I have it's rather interesting that some of the "towns" marked on there are actually ghost towns (ex: Rhyolite, NV, Midas, NV, Cisco, UT, and Ancho, NM all appear on my atlas but are actually ghost towns). This kind of research is also rather practical, as for instance, it's over a hundred miles on I-70 without a single gas station between Grand Junction, CO, and Green River, UT. If you were planning on gassing up half way in between at Cisco, you'd be in for quite a shock when you found it was a ghost town!

Now that you have a few interesting places marked down, you can plan a more rewarding trip. It can sure be a drag to drive rather far only to find a place is not quite what you thought it would be- so being this methodical helps eliminate that margin of error.

To keep things organized I started a word document for each western state I'm interested in visiting. Then I divide it into NW, NE, SE, SW sections, and list the towns by county, and add any useful data there.

Lastly, it's cool to share your stories and photos about where you've been.... but I'm almost starting to think it's best to leave the names of places out of your stories... I'd hate for my favorite middle of nowhere spots to become too popular or get vandalized or looted. Except maybe for Cisco (not the looting part though), because Cisco is totally awesome, and everyone should go there.

Have fun!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Of What Standards Fall Short?

Two cut and paste poems from this past month. They're nice, on canvas, with some old cloth border and paint + pastel backgrounds.

Of What Standards Fall Short?

Poor white folklore
In a frayed stereotype.
The debilitating conditions of

The twists and turns of the
Past and Future
Being blended into the
National monotone
of 20th-century culture.

The boll weevil
Stuck in its habits
Of Suspicion

Edging toward forgetting
That there
Red clay path
To the Deep South

Happiness Levels

Happiness levels don't
In shock
As you might expect...

Stomping through the mud,
Not sleeping soundly through the night,
Shifting careers on the run
Has become a way of life.

But don't despair
Opiates bring a
economically viable alternative
to Corporate America

Saturday, December 13, 2008

GLÖGG ! A Swedish traditional Christmas drink

(from Mercy Sandberg's cookbook)

How to make:


(pronounced "glug")

a Swedish traditional Christmas drink

2 bottles of red wine
10 peeled whole cardamom seeds
10 whole cloves
1 piece fresh peeled ginger
2 cinnamon sticks
1 1/2 cup sugar (or to taste)

For serving:
1 1/2 cup blanched almonds (white)
2 cups raisins

Mix everything in thick-bottomed pot. In good time, so spices can do their job.
Warm the glögg slowly. don't let it cook, just simmer, and serve it hot from small containers with holding ears.

Each person adds almonds and raisins. so small spoons ought tp be available to.



Some tips from my own research:

You can fortifying the glögg by using Port Wine as part of the wine, and adding liquors such as aquavit, cognac, brandy, or (not spicy) vodka. If you add too much sugar you can un-sweeten it by adding more wine or spirits, though spirits can be left out all together if you want a drink that won't be so strong.

Also, white heating (and according to wikipedia), "The temperature should not rise above 78.4° Celsius (173.12° Fahrenheit) in order to avoid boiling off the alcohol." Alternately, "Glögg can also be made alcohol-free by replacing the wine with juices (usually blackcurrant) or by boiling the glögg for a few minutes to evaporate the alcohol."

After making the glögg, you can store it in a bottle for a week or so, and reheat and serve. The best way to serve is to have it in one of those plug in, hot water dispensers with a spout that people use for tea or coffee at conferences.

Here's a nice picture of a table complete with glögg, ginger breads, and saffron breads!


I've always been a big fan of hot drink cocktails. A lot of people know about Hot Toddies, but there is a lot more you can do. Even good ol "whisky water" (bourbon + hot water) is good on a cold evening. Likewise, adding a splash of bourbon to a hot black tea can both lightly sweeten and spike it up for you. Here's a drink of this type I invented that's based on glögg, and in a shorter time with fewer ingredients attempts to replicate it's basic character.

Glögg (Cowboy style)

This isn't really technically glögg, but it is very similar. It's advantages are that it's quick to make. I call it Cowboy style after the way they call just throwing a water- flour mix in a pinch into soup "cowboy style", when there isn't time or energy or fat enough lying around to make a proper roux. This method of thickening soups doesn't taste quite as good (it tastes more floury) but it sort of works... Anyways...

-Take a shot of brandy in a mug. Fill it with hot water. Top off with a good dash of port wine. Throw in a few cloves (3 is good) and a dash of powdered cinamon. If you happen to have fresh ginger lying around, cut some up (small pieces or thin is best because there is more surface area for the flavor to get out quickly) and throw it in.

-Stir good, and drink. If you take longer to drink it can taste better because the cloves have more time to give off their flavor. That's another reason to use a larger, well insulated mug, because the extra volume of hot water helps keep the heat longer. I also used cheaper spirits (Christian Brothers' Brandy and Taylor Port), because you're diluting and altering the flavor anyhow so it doesn't make sense to use the good stuff.

This works because Port is a reduced wine. It was designed that way to be transported easier and when arriving at its destination water would be added to make it 'wine' again. Well people liked it how it was so it stayed as port. But when you use it this way to add to hot water you're basically diluting it into a more wine like consisantly again, and the sweetness of port makes it so you don't have to add sugar. You can also refill the same cup with the spices in it more than once to give them more life (powdered cinamon settles to the bottom), or you can just make a bunch real quick in a coffee percolator and keep it near the campfire. Just don't let it get too hot or the alcohol will be gone.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Musician Notes Bad Things Myspace Does to Music

Myspace replicates a lot of the worst features of the crumbling fake economy

It creates a web of fake identities, particularly among musicians, whose tiny bit of exposure allows them to delude themselves into thinking they might actually become "rock stars", rather than waiters, refrigerator repairmen, sandwich makers, and IT-workers, for the rest of their lives. Through the illusion guitar center and Ebay become as much of a predatory lender as was Citibank, or any casino. Getting kids to spend all their money on music gear trying to replicate at home the quality of a real studio is about as big a hustle as the sub prime mortgage was in getting people who couldn't afford homes the illusion (for a while) of having one finally.

People can delete all the bad comments they get, creating a false impression of only positive praise for themselves or their bands.

Everyone can have an rock band's ego now, even if they have never played a show or even released a full album. Everyone becomes more pretentious and stand offish from one another. The friendliness and welcoming nature of a scene is eroded.

Bands seem to be less special. People used to have to work a lot harder on their sound and proving their ability in live shows in order to be part of your life and get talked about by you and your friends. They were a lot more special, and knowing about them, and being able to wear a t shirt or a patch of theirs felt really special. Now everyone's in a band, and instead of your first experiance with them being one of getting blown away by a great live show, it's seeing their desperate self promotion and listening to their songs in a highly compressed, low quality format with bad laptop speakers or itunes headphones that don't even convey most of the song's actual sound (its low end in particular). Music becomes less special, and has less value, for all involved.

Band websites all look the same. This is efficient and "easy" for you the consumer in the same way that soft serve ice cream and drive through fast food restaurants are "easy". In both cases convenience brings with it monotony, boredom, and a predictable degradation of quality (myspace audio compression is the sonic equivalent of McDonald's mass production foods' unhealthiness). When a band designs its own website, on their own server, THAT shows of the band's own creativity. Each page or frame is a new layer to explore and be impressed with. Very little of this exists on MS. Actually visiting a band's own self designed website today is about as rare, exciting and carries with it as much novelty as does eating at a non-chain restaurant for once!

The principle of myspace is that through repetition, and people seeing your name over and over ( you uploaded a picture, you have a new song, you have a bulletin, etc...) they have the name of your band implanted in their heads more firmly, and thus people are supposed to be more likely to see your concert play or buy your album when you announce it. The problem is that this rewards people with nothing better to do than hang around the internet all day with greater "status". Thus the geekier you are, the more well known you'll be. If you spend more of your time actually having a "life", or- heaven forbid, playing shows, or writing music, you get less MS exposure.

Friends quantities and profile views and song plays are generally poor indicators of how "big" your band is. It's really quite sad how many of those friends are directly solicited by bands' themselves. There are bands that have toured twice or more times a year for more than 6 years who have loyal followings in different cities and put on fantastic live shows, who have less "friends" than people who've never played a concert but who sit at home on a computer and "friend whore" all day. DO YOU ever talk to or listen to most of the bands that YOU are "friends with"? I almost never do. There are maybe 7 or 8 different band profiles I've visited more than once and actually interacted with in the past 6 months. Two of those are bands I'm in.

All bands are now sellouts. We sell Batman films, Coca Cola,, Will Smith's new movie, and whatever else advertisers want to put on there. Rupert Murdock gets a lot of money in his bank account from you unsuccessfully trying to fill your bands SNOCAP account when you generate more online traffic.

MS can help artists get exposure, and it can help local scenes to get the word out about their events. But it also reshapes the way we perceive music and bands, and the way bands perceive themselves and their fans. In my opinion has a detrimental effect on the demeanor of most aspiring musicians that use it.


It's being snowing, snow is nice...

I made some snowshoes because I was curious whether or not I could make snow shoes. The hardest part was bending the frame around, because you want to use strong, thick enough wood, but if you bend them too hard and fast where they are thicker they snap easy. I found aspen saplings work better than pine... I think tomorrow I will try and hike up to the continental divide around Rollin's Pass and see if they work.

I've also discovered that it sucks to not have waterproof hiking boots while hiking in the snow, but if you duck tape 30 gallon garbage bags around your shoes, leaving only the treaded bottoms exposed, and up your legs (tie em tight so they don't slip down), it keeps you water proof.

Of course the only problem with this is that it makes it hard to change in and out of layers on your legs if you're hotter or colder. If, say, you want to put another pair of pjs or long johns on under your jeans then you gotta take everything off and you'll probably have to destroy the garbage bag to take it off.

There are a few things you can do here to help, like have baggier pants or cutoff shorts that hang somewhat long to slip over if you get a little colder. Also if I have an errand to run somewhere around town I'm walking to it rather than biking or driving, while taking note of the temperature, so that I can get a general sense of how many layers are good for what temperatures under what wind conditions. I'm not systematic enough to be writing this down yet but I have a general idea in my head.

to be continued...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Terror EBM is Dead

Suddenly it hits you... like, the perfect constellation you've never seen before but on a clear night suddenly aligns in full view before you in the cloudless sky of the late arrivial camping area in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Let's see....

Number 1: I get a friend req from this band because I'm on the friends' list of another band they also like but sound nothing like

Number 2: sounds like: "Terror EBM/ Harsh Industrial"

Number 2: This band has three songs on their MS, they are all clips, and not full songs

Number 3: This band has only one blog and it is letting the world know they are ready to get signed by someone

Number 4: The only picture on their site is some generic dark spooky album cover that isn't really scary or anything. No live or promo photos or anything.

Number 5: Background is spooky bloody splatter, and white and black colors... yup.

Number 6: So this band isn't signed, doesn't do live shows, their sound has zero originality, is randomly friend whoring people off more well known band's sites, they haven't got any new or interesting ideas, stories, blogs, or theories about anything... yet I can buy their album with a credit card.

What's worse, the fact that this band exists, or the fact that I could probably be describing any of a couple hundred bands?

Terror EBM is fucking dead.

There are no terror ebm bands with any originality... or at least there haven't been any for as long as I can remember. Mindstrip was a pretty cool album for me as 16 year old to find out about but that came out in 2000! Since then it's only been downhill... and that's really not saying much considering how repetitive and vocally uncreative suicide commando is.

T-EBM vocals all sound exactly the same (distortion + pitchshifter + reverb), and you can't even make out any lyrics, which sadly is usually a blessing because they generally would only suck worse clean... drums are repetitive and uninspired, synth lines are boring and repetitive, synth sounds are un-interesting (at least suicide commando had interesting sounds, though they were repetitive as hell). Oh, but there are some scary sounding movie samples about violence.... OOOOOHHH I'M REALLY SCARED! THAT'S SO SCARY!

Image? Nothing new. Art? Played out imitations of concepts that were beaten to death (better) 10 years ago. The songs? You can predict exactly how it will sound half way through, mostly done, and at the end, within 15 seconds of listening. Fashion? Give me a fucking break... your suburban surplus BDUs and fake blood scare no one in a world where every day real soldiers, refugees, terrorists, and civilians are covered in real blood, victims of real war, and actually traumatized and driven insane by it all to the point of suicide, domestic violence, or whatever else you want to read about in the newspaper every day.

As a consumer of music and an industrial music fan that sucks to see and I am disappointed. As a human I'm saddened, that someone's musical ambitions, and financial aspirations, are so thoroughly mediocre.

Yet they are "available" to get signed! Even worse is that they probably will be. I've seen worse...

Show me ONE terror ebm band to come out in the last four years that is in any way origional, genuinely creepy, or fresh sounding, and is actually enjoyable to listen to in a car or at home. I dare you. I'll buy any of you a can of Dr. Pepper if you can.

Vote First, Ask Questions Later

Piece by william blum, a very smart and well informed person. Are you all keen on the cabinet appointments yet? Is it too early to be saying this?


December 3, 2008
The Obama Bummer
Vote First, Ask Questions Later


Okay, let's get the obvious out of the way. It was historic. I choked up a number of times, tears came to my eyes, even though I didn't vote for him. I voted for Ralph Nader for the fourth time in a row.

During the past eight years when I've listened to news programs on the radio each day I've made sure to be within a few feet of the radio so I could quickly change the station when that preposterous man or one of his disciples came on; I'm not a masochist, I suffer fools very poorly, and I get bored easily. Sad to say, I'm already turning the radio off sometimes when Obama comes on. He doesn't say anything, or not enough, or not often enough. Platitudes, clichés, promises without substance, "hope and change", almost everything without sufficient substance, "change and hope", without specifics, designed not to offend. What exactly are the man's principles? He never questions the premises of the empire. Never questions the premises of the "War on Terror". I'm glad he won for two reasons only: John McCain and Sarah Palin, and I deeply resent the fact that the American system forces me to squeeze out a drop of pleasure from something so far removed from my ideals. Obama's votes came at least as much from people desperate for relief from neo-conservative suffocation as from people who genuinely believed in him. It's a form of extortion – Vote for Obama or you get more of the same. Those are your only choices.

Is there reason to be happy that the insufferably religious George W. is soon to be history? "I believe that Christ died for my sins and I am redeemed through him. That is a source of strength and sustenance on a daily basis." That was said by someone named Barack Obama. The United States turns out religious fanatics like the Japanese turn out cars. Let's pray for an end to this.

If you're one of those who would like to believe that Obama has to present center-right foreign policy views to be elected, but once he's in the White House we can forget that he misled us repeatedly and the true, progressive man of peace and international law and human rights will emerge ... keep in mind that as a US Senate candidate in 2004 he threatened missile strikes against Iran, and winning that election apparently did not put him in touch with his inner peacenik. He's been threatening Iran ever since.

The world is in terrible shape. I don't think I have to elucidate on that remark. How nice, how marvelously nice it would be to have an American president who was infused with progressive values and political courage. Just imagine what could be done. Like a quick and complete exit from Iraq. You can paint the picture as well as I can. With his popularity Obama could get away with almost anything, but he'll probably continue to play it safe. Or what may be more precise, he'll continue to be himself; which, apparently, is a committed centrist. He's not really against the war. Not like you and I are. During Obama's first four years in the White House, the United States will not leave Iraq. I doubt that he'd allow a complete withdrawal even in a second term. Has he ever unequivocally called the war illegal and immoral? A crime against humanity? Why is he so close to Colin Powell? Does he not know of Powell's despicable role in the war? And retaining George W. Bush's Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, a man against whom it would not be difficult to draw up charges of war crimes? Will he also find a place for Rumsfeld? And Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, a supporter of the war, to run the Homeland Security department? And General James Jones, a former NATO commander (sic), who wants to "win" in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who backed John McCain, as his National Security Adviser? Jones is on the Board of Directors of the Boeing Corporation and Chevron Oil. Out of what dark corner of Obama's soul does all this come?

As Noam Chomsky recently pointed out, the election of an indigenous person (Evo Morales) in Bolivia and a progressive person (Jean-Bertrand Aristide) in Haiti were more historic than the election of Barack Obama.

He's not really against torture either. Not like you and I are. No one will be punished for using or ordering torture. No one will be impeached because of torture. Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, says that prosecuting Bush officials is necessary to set future anti-torture policy. "The only way to prevent this from happening again is to make sure that those who were responsible for the torture program pay the price for it. I don't see how we regain our moral stature by allowing those who were intimately involved in the torture programs to simply walk off the stage and lead lives where they are not held accountable."

As president, Obama cannot remain silent and do nothing; otherwise he will inherit the war crimes of Bush and Cheney and become a war criminal himself. Closing the Guantanamo hell-hole means nothing at all if the prisoners are simply moved to other torture dungeons. If Obama is truly against torture, why does he not declare that after closing Guantanamo the inmates will be tried in civilian courts in the US or resettled in countries where they clearly face no risk of torture? And simply affirm that his administration will faithfully abide by the 1984 Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, of which the United States is a signatory, and which states: "The term 'torture' means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining information or a confession ... inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or any other person acting in an official capacity."

The convention affirms that: "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political stability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."

Instead, Obama has appointed former CIA official John O. Brennan as an adviser on intelligence matters and co-leader of his intelligence transition team. Brennan has called "rendition" – the kidnap-and-torture program carried out under the Clinton and Bush administrations – a "vital tool", and praised the CIA's interrogation techniques for providing "lifesaving" intelligence.

Obama may prove to be as big a disappointment as Nelson Mandela, who did painfully little to improve the lot of the masses of South Africa while turning the country over to the international forces of globalization. I make this comparison not because both men are black, but because both produced such great expectations in their home country and throughout the world. Mandela was freed from prison on the assumption of the Apartheid leaders that he would become president and pacify the restless black population while ruling as a non-radical, free-market centrist without undue threat to white privilege. It's perhaps significant that in his autobiography he declines to blame the CIA for his capture in 1962 even though the evidence to support this is compelling. It appears that Barack Obama made a similar impression upon the American power elite who vetted him in many fundraising and other meetings and smoothed the way for his highly unlikely ascendancy from obscure state senator to the presidency in four years. The financial support from the corporate world to sell "Brand Obama" was extraordinary.

Another comparison might be with Tony Blair. The Tories could never have brought in university fees or endless brutal wars, but New Labour did. The Republicans would have had a very difficult time bringing back the draft, but I can see Obama reinstating it, accompanied by a suitable slogan, some variation of "Yes, we can!"

I do hope I'm wrong, about his past and about how he'll rule as president. I hope I'm very wrong.

Many people are calling for progressives to intensely lobby the Obama administration, to exert pressure to bring out the "good Obama", force him to commit himself, hold him accountable. The bold reforms of Roosevelt's New Deal were spurred by widespread labor strikes and other militant actions soon after the honeymoon period was over. At the moment I have nothing better to offer than that. God help us.

William Blum is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Rogue State: a guide to the World's Only Super Power. and West-Bloc Dissident: a Cold War Political Memoir.

He can be reached at: