Archive for December, 2018

A Seasonal Homily: Gratitude and Joy!


Merry Christmas!—but, if you don’t like the idea of celebrating the 2019th birthday of an infant born of a chaste union between a virgin and the Holy Spirit who went on to die for your sins to save you from an eternity in hell, then Happy New Year! Be grateful that the Earth—our one and only planet—managed to make it around the sun one more time without getting struck by a giant rock or sterilized by a burst of interstellar radiation. You can be grateful most efficaciously if your gratitude is directed toward a deity and/or deities of your choice who you feel have provided you with such benign conditions. Doing so may help you feel a measure of joy. Failing that, you can be grateful to me personally, for providing you with things to read and to listen to designed to keep you sane in the midst of an increasingly insane world. If so, you can click here and send me a present. And then I will feel joy too.

Gratitude is important. It is the way of the world that the grateful and contented thrive while the ungrateful and disgruntled languish and perish. No matter how bad things are, you can still be grateful for something. Each person’s situation is different with respect to gratitude, but zooming out a bit and looking around the world around this year’s end we can easily spot a number of things for which we can all be grateful.

First and foremost, we should be grateful for being able to witness the final death throes of the evilest evil imperialism ever: Western imperialism. Its final reincarnation—the United States—is pulling out of Syria and is attempting to make peace with the Taliban in Afghanistan. It will probably pull out of Afghanistan too after failing to defeat the Taliban for the past 17 years. Iraq—as undemocratic as ever but now aligned with Iran—is next. After that comes the useless NATO, whose schizophrenic leadership simultaneously thinks that Russia is so weak that it is about to collapse, yet so strong and “aggressive” that it could invade Europe any moment, and are in fact ineffectually preparing to attack Russia in some sort of ridiculous suicide mission.

Also, it is very important that the Pentagon dismantles all of its overseas military bases and repatriates all of the troops before the money runs out—which it will. The troops will be needed to defend US borders and to keep separatist movements in check. At its height empires are able to control other countries, and other countries’ borders, but once they are brought low by failure and defeat they lose the ability to control even their own borders. Currently the imperial government in Washington is in partial shutdown over its inability to allocate funds toward building a Great Wall of America along the southern border. (By the way, how did that Great Wall work out for the Chinese? Answer: they ended up being ruled by the Mongols for 89 years. ¿Hablan mongol, gringos?) Meanwhile, the empire’s overseas possession known as the European Union is facing internal rebellion over its own inability to control its borders. Perhaps Brussels needs a shutdown too… before the money runs out.

Because the next thing we can be grateful for is that the ridiculous pyramid scheme which the empire erected after the financial collapse of 2008, and which destroyed many people’s livelihoods and retirements while further enriching a small group of ultra-rich psychopaths, is pancaking before our eyes. The US Federal Reserve, which, if you know your financial history, was a very bad idea from its inception, is now cornered. It is left with three bad options: raise interest rates, lower them, or keep them the same. This must be a frustrating choice, and Donald Trump, who frustrates easily, might fire the Federal Reserve chairman and start setting the rates himself, using Twitter. That would be a fourth bad option—significantly worse than the other three, but more fun to watch. Remember to be grateful for the free entertainment!

Next on the list of things to be grateful for is Peak Oil: it’s back on the menu and will prevent us from burning the entire planet to a crisp. Peak conventional oil happened way back in 2005, but then unconventional oil, in the form of US shale oil and some other dirty muck, took over and gave the world a reprieve. But shale oil is now failing. Three-quarters of the energy companies that produce shale oil are losing money, some of them never made any money at all, and all of them are heavily in debt and would need to take on ever more debt in order to continue drilling. And unless they continue drilling their production will every month decline by well over half a million barrels per day out of total production somewhere around five million barrels per day. If the currently increasing financial turmoil makes taking on more debt problematic, then we are looking at less than a year left for US shale oil. After that the US will either have to go back to importing much of its oil—which is bound to get expensive—or shut down much of its industry. The plan to Make America Great Again by repatriating industrial production from China and beyond will need to be put on hold—forever.

The other two major oil producers (and, unlike the US, net oil exporters) are Russia and Saudi Arabia. Their situations couldn’t be more different. Saudi Arabia needs oil export revenues in order to exist. It also needs the oil price to be high—over $87/barrel—in order to balance its budget, but Brent today is trading at $50.49/bbl. Saudi Arabia exports 7 million barrels per day, and the price difference results in a budget shortfall of over $250 million per day or close to $100 billion a year. Its total budget for 2019 is $266.5 billion, and a 40% budget deficit can’t be sustained for long. In fact, according to Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Saudi Arabia is pretty much bankrupt already. Of course, if they manage to hold out until US shale oil production crashes—which could happen as soon as this coming year—then they may be able to hold out for a while longer.

Russia’s situation is dramatically different yet. Russia is a major oil and gas producer and exporter, but what it prefers is to use the energy itself for production and to export value-added products rather than energy. Thus, the Russians drive Mercedes and BMWs, but they are all made right there in Russia. Russia also exports lots of stuff other than oil and gas: grain, weapons systems and high-tech products such as rocket engines, nuclear reactors, nuclear fuel, cars and trucks, etc. In fact, if Russia were to completely stop exporting oil and gas, it would still run a trade surplus of around $20 billion a year. Thus, for Russia, energy exports are a loss leader: they keep Russia’s trading partners from collapsing economically due to a lack of affordable energy, making it possible to continue exporting other stuff that Russia actually wants to sell while importing stuff that the Russians like to consume—French perfumes, say, or Italian wines; lacy panties; IKEA furniture… If you are thinking that this situation must give Russia incredible international leverage, you are absolutely right. And this fills certain within-the-Beltway types with a certain feeling of dread called “Russophobia”.

Russophobia is another thing that we should be grateful for. Now, people often write to me to tell me how sick and tired they are of all the ridiculous and unfair accusations being lobbed at Russia, all of the ridiculous and counterproductive sanctions, the efforts to goad the Ukrainians into a suicidal military confrontation with Russia, the idiotic NATO preening and posturing on Russia’s borders and so on. And I tell them not to worry about Russophobia, because it is basically a tax on stupidity. It is a tax on the Russophobes that causes them to pay more for energy: the Russophobic Ukrainians now buy their Russian natural gas from the Europeans at marked-up prices; the Russophobic Poles, in an attempt to avoid having to buy Russian gas, just signed a disastrous contract to buy expensive and soon-to-be-nonexistent liquified shale gas from the US (and, unbelievably, to take delivery of it in the US and to ship it all the way to Poland at their own expense!). Russophobia also causes the Russophobes to pay more for their defense: instead of buying cheap and effective Russian-made weapons systems they end up paying much more for expensive and flawed US hardware. But this is only fair; call it the wages of stupidity. We don’t have to fix Russophobia—Darwin will.

Stupidity, in general, is yet another thing that we should all be grateful for. It has been over 500 years since Desiderius Erasmus published his international bestseller Stultitiæ Laus (In Praise of Folly). It is a brilliant classic that deserves a spot alongside Moore’s Utopia (Erasmus and Moore were great friends) and Macchiavelli’s The Prince. In a sense, all three books are about stupidity, or folly, of one sort or another. To paraphrase Macchiavelli, it is better to fear than to love stupidity—but we should be grateful for it just the same. Stupidity is precious, for without we would be unable to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were, and the most precious form of stupidity is the non-self-aware, self-celebratory kind. It is easy for the non-stupid to spot, and they know what to do about it. Russophobes who think that Russia is simultaneously about to collapse and to conquer them are just one example. There are many others as well.

For example, one precious sort of folly is exhibited by free market fundamentalists who think that all would prosper if only the government stopped meddling in free markets. They do not realize that a free market is a regulated market—regulated by a government—and that without government controls free markets automatically degenerate into local monopolies controlled by mafias and warlords. Gold bugs who think that “sound money” should be backed by precious metals are similar; they miss the point that in an industrial economy money derives its value from its ability to command future resources, labor and energy especially. Peak Oil denialists, who miss the point that peak conventional oil was back in 2005 and who start gushing with sarcasm whenever the oil price goes down a bit, are another example.

Climate change denialists exhibit another valuable type of folly that makes them easy to spot: a sort of verbal diarrhea. You can always spot a denialist because they employ a rhetorical device called a Gish Gallop that involves spewing lies and half-truths in a never-ending stream: “Climate has changed before!”; “It\’s the sunspots, stupid!”; “There is no scientific consensus!”; “Climate models are unreliable!”; “The temperature record is unreliable!”; “It hasn\’t warmed since 1998!”; “Antarctica is gaining ice!”; “We\’re heading into an ice age!”; “Al Gore is a fossil-fuel-wasting hypocrite!”; “Baby, it\’s cold outside!”; “Sea level rise is exaggerated!”; “Arctic ice melt is part of a natural cycle!”; and, finally, “Climate scientists are in it for the fantastic sums of money they earn by hanging around universities as post-graduate fellows!” Russophobes often resort to the Gish Gallop too, but it is the climate change denialists that are the most programmed for it.

Such non-self-aware, self-celebratory kind of stupidity is valuable in that it allows us to effectively triage all of humanity by quickly and easily determining who gets to do what. You see, some people are worth debating while others only need to be told what time it is (time for them to go away). Some people get to plot the course and steer the ship while others get to swab the deck, sanitize and pump out the heads and scrape the seafood off the hull. Stupidity that is shy and retiring is of no use at all because to uncover it you have to interview people and give them tests while stupidity that bursts forth like a naked lady from a cake is indeed laudable because it can be marched out the door forthwith, no questions asked. Let us therefore be grateful for it.

If displays of individual folly are laudable because they save us work, then group displays are even more so. Displays of folly by entire countries and ethnic groups may seem excessive, but then perhaps it is the destiny of certain countries to serve as a warning unto others. The Kurds would make an interesting case study in ethnic folly, but the country that comes to mind first and foremost as a particularly extreme display of folly is the Ukraine. The Ukrainians say that they want to join Europe, where fascism is against the law, but then they march around with torches and Nazi insignia, pass racist laws, shout Nazi slogans and lionize Nazi collaborators who have perpetuated acts of genocide against Ukrainian Jews and Poles, renaming streets and erecting statues to them. The Ukrainians say that they want to join NATO but then provoke open rebellion in some of their regions and lose control of them, thereby disqualifying themselves from being accepted into NATO. They say that they are at war with Russia, but then they quietly sign a five-year deal with TVEL, a division of Russia’s Rosatom, to provide fuel for most of the Ukraine’s remaining nuclear reactors which in turn produce well over half of the Ukraine’s electricity. They say that they want to have their own, independent Orthodox Church and then prepare to hand control of it over to the fake Patriarchate of Constantinople (Istanbul, that is; Constantinople ceased to exist 565 years ago). They blockaded their own coal-producing regions and attempted to import coal from the United States, but couldn’t import enough and are now freezing. Big countries can seat misbehaving little countries on their knees and give them a stern talking to: Don’t be like the Ukraine! See what happens if you do!

We should be particularly grateful to the Ukraine for its willingness to step up and make itself look ridiculous because a lot of misbehaving little countries do need to have it before their eyes as a negative example. Various democratic countries in the European Union are facing a problem: democracy works very well when there is loot to divvy up—spoils, booty, etc.—but when the bonanza runs out bad things tend to happen to democracies. People are no longer willing to vote for the one imperialist party or the other imperialist party, where each maintains a competitive advantage by being somewhat unlike the other one in trivial ways. Instead, people start voting for the New Arsonists, the Eat the Rich Party, Troglodyte Liberation Front or some other group with which the old imperialist parties can’t possibly find common cause and form a governing coalition. The result is an impasse, and as conditions degenerate people start clamoring for order to be restored, using authoritarian, even fascist means if need be. And this is where the Ukraine becomes invaluable as an object lesson in the failures of modern fascism. Let’s be grateful to it, and hope that its negative example does the trick for preventing outbreaks of fascism within the crumbling, disintegrating European Union.

I could continue this list of things to be grateful for virtually ad infinitum, but I will end it here for the sake of brevity. Be grateful for all these things and more, and feel and share joy! And if you want to show me some gratitude for doing everything I can to keep you sane in an insane world, don’t be shy and click this link. Thank you, and Happy New Year!

RIP European Union, 1973-2019


In 2019 the European Union, will, in a sense, cease to exist: the no-longer-so-great Britain will no longer be part of it. True, it will still include such priceless gems as Latvia and Moldova, but of the three core Western European nations only two will be left, and of the remaining two one is in the grip of popular protests, with exit from the European Union featured prominently among the protestors’ demands.

If the European Union proceeds to shed members until it dissolves, such a development should be regarded as perfectly normal. Europe has never been unified for long, and the EU, which one may consider the Fourth Reich, will have only lasted 46 years (as measured by the duration of Britain’s membership). That is significantly longer than the 12 years that was the lifetime of the Third Reich, but still rather modest when compared to other Eurasian unions: 279 years for the Golden Horde; 298+ years for the multinational, multi-ethnic Russian Empire/Soviet Union/Russian Federation.

The Europeans have typically unified on a temporary basis, in order to attack and exploit other regions, such as Bysantium and Palestine during the Crusades—with mixed results—or Russia, under Napoleon and then again under Hitler—both times unsuccessfully. NATO was and still is really just an American occupation of Europe and doesn’t count. The unprecedented and currently failing effort to unify in order to take full advantage of the Soviet collapse was, briefly, somewhat more successful.

The European Union is said to consist of nations, which have surrendered much of their sovereignty to some unelected bureaucrats in Brussels, but in general the term “nation” is so ambiguous that it is nearly meaningless. Is Catalonia a nation? Is Scotland? Is the dissolution of the EU just the first step toward smaller-scale separatism, followed by regional reintegration along different lines?


The Future of Energy is Bright, Part I


There are numerous disagreements on the topic of energy with substantial, and well substantiated differences of opinion between knowledgeable people. People tend to be blindsided by these, because this topic is at once visceral (you very well know when you are too cold or too hot, and in the dark), political (you very well know when utility bills leave you broke) and technical (you don’t necessary know the difference between a kilowatt and a kilowatt-hour, or that a terawatt is a million megawatts). But it is very important not to be blindsided by these disagreements, because if you end up on the wrong side of this argument, your lack of access to affordable energy is guaranteed to seriously crimp your style.

But there does seem to be one point of near-universal agreement: concentrated forms of energy, and especially electricity, are an essential ingredient of modern civilization. Fuel shortages and price increases are a major cause of social upheaval and mayhem. Power cuts are disruptive, especially to industrial production facilities that require steady state conditions. In hospitals and medical centers they can be lethal. Extended power outages often result in riots and looting. Without refrigeration food stockpiles go to waste; without heat or air conditioning urban centers become unlivable. Commerce, increasingly reliant on distributed information networks for payment processing and inventory control, grinds to a halt. Without elevators high-rise buildings become inaccessible.

If frequent though temporary power cuts are a major nuisance, stable electricity but high electricity prices are even worse because they make entire economic sectors—any that involve running electrically powered industrial machinery—globally noncompetitive. Sometimes all it takes is one bad decision. A case in point: some time ago Lithuania decided to shut down its only nuclear reactor, because it was an old Soviet design—RBMK, the same type as had blown up in Chernobyl, although with numerous safety upgrades, and so dumb politics rather than safety were the real issue. Now the Lithuanians have some of the highest electricity rates in Europe, there is no more industry in Lithuania, and instead they have to look for work in Germany.

A lot of people seem to think that energy is all about fossil fuels, which are bad because burning fossil fuels causes global warming. True, much of our energy, and virtually all transportation energy, comes from fossil fuels. But they are also not as plentiful as we would like, and the world as a whole is depleting the resource base of fossil fuels much faster than it is finding new resources. It is also generally conceded that there are enough of these resources left in the ground to completely wreck the climate—if they are ever going to be produced. Thus, fossil fuel resource depletion, and the fact that most of the remaining resources may turn out to be too difficult and expensive to produce, is actually a sort of blessing in disguise.

Furthermore, most of the fossil fuel resources, as far as quantities of usable products, are past their peaks. China has powered its transformation into an industrial powerhouse using cheap and abundant coal (causing much environmental devastation) but now China’s coal production is declining. Gasoline production, worldwide, peaked around 2006. Heavy oil, and diesel production with it, appears to have peaked in 2018. Natural gas production is still growing, but mostly thanks to new Russian liquefied natural gas production, and to shale gas production in the US, but the latter suffers from very high depletion rates and an overall lack profitability. Though everyone involved in the fossil fuel industry is compelled to paint a rosy picture (lest the investment money dry up) and we are being constantly barraged with optimistic projections, these often turn out to be exaggerated when reexamined in the rear view mirror. In short, we may be more blessed than we know.

But the blessing is also a curse, since a lack of stable, reliable, affordable energy pretty much spells the end of the world as we know it. Perhaps it will make you feel better knowing that you are no longer destroying our home planet as you wander up and down a stretch of abandoned highway collecting dry tree branches for your campfire, on which to cook some rodents you caught with a forked stick, but wouldn’t it make you feel even better if there were a way to keep the lights on without destroying the planet?

It is at this point that many people go off the rails, shoot off into the green energy weeds, and get stuck there. The most heavily hyped forms of green energy are wind, solar and biomass, followed by tidal energy, run-of-the-river micro-hydro and other exotics. I am certainly no enemy to any of these, having spent months living off-grid using various such devices. I have installed and maintained wind generators and solar panels, and will probably do so again if the situation calls for them. I am particularly fond of biomass and have an entire woodshed stacked with seasoned split alder logs to prove it. Stoking a wood fire is pure joy. I am less fond of the chores of going through battery banks, topping off electrolyte and looking for shorted cells to bypass, climbing masts to service wind generators or going over solar panels with a spray bottle and a squeegee.

But I have also looked at the economics of it, and have discovered that there is only one situation where wind generators and solar panels make sense: where the need for power is very modest and there is no electric grid to connect to. They are also pointless as far as replacing fossil fuel energy, because they cannot be manufactured, transported and maintained using anything other than energy and materials from petrochemical sources. Add up all the numbers, and what you end up with is this: wind and solar provide reasonably good ways of storing and transporting small amounts of fossil fuel energy using wind and sunlight as an assist.

Wind and solar alone cannot be used to power the electric grid because the power they produce is intermittent and is either too much or too little. And since the electric grid has no way of storing energy (supply and demand must remain in balance at all times) both surpluses and shortfalls are bad. Therefore, other, stable generating capacity (based on fossil fuels, of course) must also be provided. How much additional generating capacity is needed? Rather unsurprisingly, pretty much all of it. That is, you have to build and maintain the same generating capacity as you would have to otherwise, except that you will now also have to pay for wind generators and solar panels. You will save some on fossil fuels, but then you will squander most of these savings on efficiency losses because, you see, rapidly throttling down your generating capacity to compensate for wind storms and sunny spells will waste a lot of energy (in the form of precious compressed steam loudly, stupidly vented to the atmosphere).

As a side note, one point about wind and solar that seems to confuse everyone is the difference between rated power and actual power. I installed a 400W wind generator on two separate boats. It generated, on average, around 30W. A large part of the time it generated 0W and a smaller part of the time it was too windy for it and it screamed like a banshee, then went into self-braking mode and also generated 0W. I also installed 200W of solar panels. These generated somewhere near 150W around mid-day when the sky was cloudless and their angle to the sun was close to perfect and much less—again, averaging out to around 30W—the rest of the time. If there was tree pollen in the air and I hadn’t bothered to squeegee off the dust and the pollen, they produced significantly less.

Now let’s do the math. A 1.5kW (that’s 1500 Watts) gasoline-powered generator on Alibaba is $250 US (and you know you’ll need one for those windless, sunless days). A 200W solar panel kit is also around $250. And a 400W wind generator is $300. Suppose you need to be able to count on having 1kW of power, generated “renewably” to the greatest extent possible, if you please. Well then, based on my numbers, you will need 33 wind generators and 33 solar panels, for a total outlay of $15,000 US. Batteries, cables, masts, solar panel frames, battery racks, charge controllers, inverters, etc., are not included, but they will add up to almost as much. Labor for installation and maintenance is also not included, and it is likely to be again as much. You are then looking at an outlay of $45,000 for 1kW. If you are in California, with its outrageous electricity rates ($0.1523/kWh), this will pay for itself in about 300000 hours, or 33 years.

Or you could just spend $250 on a 1.5kW gasoline-powered generator and be done with it. The $45,000 you save would buy you more than 10,000 gallons of gasoline (in California, which has the highest gas prices in the US). The generator consumes somewhere around gallon every 4 hours, giving you around 45,000 hours (or 5 years) of continuous operation at full power. You will need to replace the generator sooner than that, cutting into your savings somewhat, but on the other hand you are unlikely to have to run the generator flat out 24/7.

I am quite sure that you could scale up this calculation to any size and the results would be similar, and the economic results bear this out: nobody has ever managed to keep electricity rates internationally competitive by going this route. And if you make yourself noncompetitive, then you will no longer have to solve this problem because your companies and your workers will either relocate to a place that has competitive electricity rates, or they will just sit around and get drunk all the time like many of the Lithuanians are currently doing, consuming very little electricity in the process. All of this seems rather straightforward to me, but I am sure that I will fail to convince certain people, probably because they think that wind generators and solar panels are ecological and can save the planet, generators are noisy and redneck, and doing the math is for nerds.

Be that as it may. If you are not convinced, then please do some research on your own and convince yourself. I understand that for many people “green tech” is a matter of faith, and I do not wish to hurt the feelings of the faithful. I submit to you that there are major problems with fossil fuels in terms of their above-ground availability and affordability, rosy pictures drawn by certain petroleum geologists and energy information agencies notwithstanding (they have to feign optimism in order to continue to get paid). I also submit to you that wind, solar, biomass and other such “green” technologies do not offer a solution (but do offer a way to squander even more natural resources and to waste people’s money while making them feel green and virtuous). Add to this the fact that the burning of fossil fuels is causing major environmental problems. To top it off, take on board the fact that affordable, reliable electricity is the sine qua non of civilized existence.

Does this problem have a solution. Well, yes it does, which is why I believe that the future of energy is in fact so bright that you’ll need specialized protective gear just to look at it. It is also very complicated, full of scientific, technical and political challenges, and fraught with great dangers. I will explain how that can be next.

Geopolitics & Empire Podcast: How the Technosphere Threatens the Biosphere and our Freedoms


The Self-Destruct Sequence


We approach the end of 2018 to a quickening drumbeat of news articles and analyses heralding the demise of the US as a global superpower, its huge and mounting political economic and social problems and its ever-expanding list of strategic and geopolitical failures far too obvious to ignore. There can be many possible views on what comes next, from a gradual or stepwise descent into depression, dysfunction and insignificance all the way to global catastrophe by way of nuclear annihilation, and there are about as many ways of reasoning about such views, based on macroeconomic models, risk assessment methodologies, ardent belief in Christ’s second coming or on good old-fashioned crystal ball juggling. I would like to propose a different method: of reasoning by analogy. It has stood me in good stead before.

Continue reading…

Bush41 was an Excremental Planetoid roiled by Wriggling Worms


I believe that it is bad form to speak badly of the recently deceased. Doing so may hurt the feelings of the loved ones they left behind and create animosities among the living. Death should be handled with dignity and decorum. Dead people should be forgiven their transgressions, for even the truly evil ones could be said to have done the right thing in the end—which is to have died, thereby ridding the world of their foul presence, their very death an act of atonement.

But is this way of thinking relevant to the timely demise of American political festering orbs, be they democratic suppurating spherical bags of pus or republican excremental planetoids roiled by wriggling worms? Would it not be profoundly disingenuous of you to do anything other than cry out joyfully at their final consignment to the nether regions of Hell? Did you not feel a tiny spasm of exaltation upon hearing that Richard Nixon had died? Did you not feel the urge to do a little happy dance when John McCain bought the farm? And will you not have to restrain yourself from pumping your tiny fists in the air and shouting “Yesss!” when you hear that Henry Kissinger has finally kicked the bucket?

Well then, don’t hold back now either! Rejoice, ye nation, for a festering orb has been loosed from your firmament and has been harmlessly sucked into a black hole where it belongs. Feel the joy! Should you feel pangs of conscience at rejoicing over someone’s death, please consider that these festering orbs are not exactly human. Some people consider them to be reptiloids from outer space, but I believe this is fanciful.

I believe them to be humans who have had the extreme conceit of thinking themselves to be pagan deities; hence, thinking of them as heavenly orbs, most of which have been named after pagan gods, seems most apt. Their standards are high—so high that they are, in fact, double standards: one for them, another for everyone else. Their modus operandi seems to be the old Latin phrase Quod licet Iovi, non licet Bovi: what is permissible to Jove is not permissible to a bull. To wit, every US president has been a war criminal guilty of multiple war crimes, crimes against humanity and countless atrocities up to and including acts of genocide. For them, this is allowed; for the leaders of other nations—not so much, unless they happen to be allies, of course.

Jimmy Carter can dine with Indonesia’s dictator Suharto and sign weapons deals with him even has his troops carry out acts of genocide in East Timor. Reagan/Bush41, then Bush43, can flip-flop between considering the same bunch of vile miscreants as valiant, freedom-fighting mujahedeen, then as dastardly terrorist al Qaeda operatives, and first arming and equipping them, then battling them inconclusively for 17-odd years. For the festering orbs, the battle for all that is good and against all that is evil is made easy by the fact that the two are interchangeable on a whim: one moment Noriega is a CIA asset, his efforts in running Panama and in enhancing CIA’s cocaine trade much valued by the CIA director George Bush, and the next moment he is a criminal to be apprehended by staging a military invasion and imprisoned for life.

Humanitarian atrocities—in Kosovo, Libya or Syria—can be concocted on a whim, to justify humanitarian interventions that then involve real humanitarian atrocities (which are studiously ignored). The list of examples can be extended virtually ad infinitum, but the pattern remains the same: everything that the festering orbs do is by definition for the good of the country and the world, and if you disagree than you are by definition evil. Such logic takes us beyond any conception of morality and is therefore perfectly evil. Therefore, the festering orbs are incarnations and emanations of evil, and their deaths reduce the amount of evil in the world and are to be celebrated, not mourned.

Over my years spent living in the US, I have become quite entrenched in my view of American national politicians as a blight upon the heavenly firmament: festering orbs hanging low over the horizon. I fancifully imagine the democratic orbs, such as the Clintons and the Obamas, as suppurating spherical bags of pus, while the republican ones—the Bushes, mostly—as excremental planetoids roiled by wriggling worms. This exaggerates the differences between them somewhat, which are mostly cosmetic. It might have been possible for me to learn to ignore them altogether if only people would have stopped pointing at them and talking about them, but they never did, there being so little them to discuss beyond the choice between the two types of festering orbs.

Which is not to say that this topic is worthy of too much discussion either; rather, it is simply irritating, like an itch that wants to be scratched, because no matter what sort of orb happens to be in command, their responsibilities remain the same. These include:

1. Making sure that the dollar-based wealth pump, which drains countries around the world of their savings and keeps them in perpetual debt peonage, keeps running

2. Attending to the care and feeding of the military-industrial complex, which always needs terrorist dictatorships to arm and new, undefended targets to bomb back to the stone age

3. Perpetuating a sham democracy which grants the wishes of business lobbies and oligarchs while doing its best to ignore everyone else

4. Catering to the needs of certain privileged ethnic groups—the Anglos and the Jews, essentially.

These, along with keeping the prisons full and making sure that the rich keep getting richer while the poor stay poor, are bipartisan concerns. Non-privileged Americans can vote, jump in a lake, stave in each others’ heads with 20-pound sledgehammers, or just sit there Buddha-like, arms and legs folded—politically, the effect will be exactly the same.

One particular excremental planetoid roiled by worms stands out in my memory. When I was being granted US citizenship, the stuffed shirt administering the procedure asked me (to make absolutely sure that I was fit to be an American) who the vice president was. I was of an age at which young men aren’t too concerned with retaining such useless bits of information, and so I just shrugged. I was granted the citizenship anyway. The correct response would have been “What is George Bush.” But it was definitely the wrong question. The right questions would have been:

1. Do you understand that once you accept US citizenship you will be made to pay US taxes no matter where in the world you decide to live? (The US is one of two tax-slave states; the other is Eritrea.)

2. Do you understand that, once you accept US citizenship, no matter in the world you live, all of your children, even if they never set foot in the US, may be forced to pay US taxes too?

3. Do you understand that should you ever decide to relinquish your US citizenship, you will have to pay $2,350, pass an IRS audit and will probably be forced to part with a large share of your savings?

4. Do you understand that your children will not be allowed to relinquish their US citizenship under any circumstances until they turn 18?

5. Do you understand that while the US is the prime money-laundering spot for the world’s oligarchs, you as a US national will be made toxic to foreign banking institutions because of onerous and excessive US financial regulations?

6. Do you understand that, unlike many other countries, the US doesn’t grant its citizens any particular rights beyond the vaporous and abstract “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness”? Specifically, you will not have the right to a living wage, to affordable housing, to medical care, to merit-based education or to a dignified retirement, and that all you can ever count on as a US citizen is your own luck and a bit of charity.

These are all very useful and helpful questions to ask anyone about to accept US citizenship, as a fair warning. But instead I was expected to mouth the words “George Bush,” and when I didn’t, that was fine too. Apparently, they’ll take you as long as you have a heartbeat. As long as you have a heartbeat, you can be all that you can be—cannon fodder, a debt surf or a drug addict living on the street. You can even dream of becoming a festering orb yourself one day!

Well, George Bush no longer has a heartbeat: he is finally dead. Hallelujah! Let the heavens rejoice!