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Kunstler: Yesterday’s Tomorrowland


America takes pause on a big holiday weekend requiring little in the way of real devotions beyond the barbeque deck with two profoundly stupid movie entertainments that epitomize our estrangement from the troubles of the present day.

First there’s Mad Max: Fury Road, which depicts the collapse of civilization as a monster car rally. They managed to get it exactly wrong. The present is the monster car show. Houston. Los Angeles. New Jersey, Beijing, Mumbai, etc. In the future, there will be no cars, gasoline-powered, electric, driverless, or otherwise. Mad Max: Fury Road is actually a perverse exercise in nostalgia, as if we’re going to miss being a nation of savages in the driver’s seat, acting out an endless and pointless competition for our little place on the highway.

The other holiday blockbuster is Disney’s Tomorrowland, another exercise in nostalgia for the present, where the idealized human life is a matrix of phone apps, robots, and holograms. Of course, anybody who had been to Disneyland back in the day remembers the old Tomorrowland installation, which eventually had to be dismantled because its vision of the future had become such a joke — starting with the idea that the human project’s most pressing task was space travel. Now, at this late date, the monster Disney corporation — a truly evil empire — sees that more money can be winkled out of the sore-beset public by persuading them that techno-utopia is at hand, if only we click our heels hard enough.

Another theme running through both films is the idea that girls can be what boys used to be, that it’s “their turn” to be masters-of-the-universe, that men are past their sell-by date and only exist to defile and humiliate females. That this message is really only a mendacious effort to rake in more money by enlarging the teen “audience share” for the reigning wishful fantasy du jour is surely lost on the culture commentators, who are so busy these days celebrating the triumph and wonder of transgender life.

The reviewers are weighing these two movies on the popular pessimism / optimism scale. These are the only choices for the masses: whether to be a “doomer” or a “wisher.” Both positions are cartoon world-views that don’t provide much guidance for continuing the project of civilization, in case anyone is actually interested in that. It’s either rampaging id or the illusion of supernatural control, take your pick. I find both stances revolting.

Anyway, it’s interesting that the real Fury Road of the rightnow runs from Syria into Iraq starring ISIS. There is a growing sentiment in the news media (including the web, of course) of a sickening déjà vu with these developments. The old familiar talk of air strikes and ground troops infects the wifi transmissions. Maybe we should think about sending Charlize Theron over there with a few vestigial male sidekicks to load her assault rifle. How else to git’er done? Nobody knows.

Memorial Day is a dreary moment to have to face this onrushing calamity of rocket-propelled medievalism rampant — all those poor American soldiers blown up and mangled the past twelve years.  It’s also interesting that the news media is totally out-of-touch with the biggest prize on the great gameboard: Saudi Arabia. You think ISIS overrunning Iraq is bad news? Wait until the ordnance starts flying around Riyadh. Notice, too, that there’s no news coming out of Yemen on the base of the Arabian peninsula, a failed state with a population nearly equal to its neighbor. If we have any idea what’s going on there — and surely the Pentagon and NSA do — then it’s not for popular consumption.

This is ironic because if the trouble happens to spread into Saudi Arabia — and I don’t see how it will not — then we’ll find out in a New York minute how America’s future is not about monster trucks, cars, dirt bikes, holograms, phone apps, and all the other ridiculous preoccupations of the moment.


12 Comments on "Kunstler: Yesterday’s Tomorrowland"

  1. J-Gav on Mon, 25th May 2015 1:02 pm 

    Good one, JHK. It never ceases to amaze me either how so many people celebrate meaningless sideshows as major victories for this or that. All the while, the entire planet is already into at least its second swirl on the way down the toilet.

    The vast majority are Neros – and they’ll no doubt keep on a’fiddling as the flames rise in Rome or elsewhere.

  2. BobInget on Mon, 25th May 2015 1:07 pm 

    Have I got great news for all Nuclear disaster fans.

    A drug long-used to counter the negative effects of chemotherapy has won US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for use in treating the nasty effects of exposure to radiation following a nuclear disaster. Known commercially as Neupogen, the drug has been shown to work by shielding the body’s white blood cells to heighten a patient’s chances of survival.

    Neupogen, or filgrastim as it is otherwise known, is a synthetic protein that boosts the growth of infection-fighting white blood cells. Where the production of these cells is hampered in cancer patients by chemotherapy and radiation therapy, Neupogen can be used to stimulate the growth, maturation and release of white cells from the bone marrow. This better equips the sufferer to ward off infections and bleeding problems that can result from the therapy.

    Neupogen was first approved for helping to treat those undergoing chemotherapy in 1991, and has since been one of a number of multi-purpose drugs investigated for potential use in the aftermath of nuclear disasters. But research conducted at the University of Maryland has now uncovered evidence worthy of the FDA’s nod, making Neupogen the first drug to be approved as a countermeasure for Hematopoietic Acute Radiation Syndrome (H-ARS).

    The scientists carried out their study in a non-human clinical model of high-dose radiation, with the FDA saying that, in the absence of ethical human studies, these animal studies were adequate and well enough controlled to suggest Neupogen is reasonably likely to be of benefit to humans suffering from H-ARS. This condition pertains to injuries to the bone marrow that slow the production of blood cells as a result of radiation exposure, and carries the risk of death from infection and haemorrhaging. But the FDA says that Neupogen can effectively minimize the severity and recovery time of such conditions.

    “Our research shows that this drug works to increase survival by protecting blood cells,” says Dr Thomas MacVittie, professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine. “That is a significant advancement, because the drug can now be used as a safe and effective treatment for the blood cell effects of severe radiation poisoning.”

    Sources: University of Maryland, FDA

  3. BobInget on Mon, 25th May 2015 1:13 pm 

    As for Yemen, there’s loads of new, depending where a person looks.

    “War News Yemen” a google request yielded:
    seven hours ago, Aljazeera

    A UN conference designed to end the violence in Yemen has been postponed after the exiled government refused to participate, officials said, handing a huge blow to efforts to end the fighting.
    Sultan al-Atwani, an aide to exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, said the UN-brokered talks scheduled for May 28 had been “indefinitely postponed” after the Houthis refused to indicate their commitment to implement a Security Council resolution.
    “The attacks on Aden, Taiz, Ad-Dali’ and Shabwa make it difficult to go to Geneva,” Atwani told the Reuters news agency, naming southern provinces that have become war zones.
    Other Yemeni politicians and a UN official speaking to to news agencies on condition of anonymity confirmed that the talks had been postponed.
    Yemen’s government, which has fled to neighbouring Saudi Arabia, has demanded the Houthis recognise its authority and withdraw from the country’s main cities – two points demanded by a UN resolution last month.
    UN Security Council resolution 2216 calls on the Houthis to relinquish territory they seized and surrender weapons they took from the army and other state institutions.
    The Houthis southward push forced Hadi to flee his southern stronghold, the port city of Aden to Riyadh and prompted an Arab coalition to launch air strikes against the rebels on March 26.
    According to the UN, nearly 2,000 people have been killed in the bombing campaign and fighting between the Houthis and Hadi loyalists.
    Despite nearly two months of air raids and street battles, the rebels still maintain control over much of the country.
    Aid trickles in
    More than 545,000 people have been displaced and although some aid trickled in last week during a five-day ceasefire, people still lack basic needs, including water, electricity and fuel.

  4. Perk Earl on Mon, 25th May 2015 1:16 pm 

    People go to the movies for fantasy, not reality, but Kunstler’s point about post peak oil not being about the car culture is accurate. However, it will be violent because once people have lost their BAU, their Apps, their fantasy movies, their PHONES, their dream vehicles, they will be in a feisty mood looking for someone, anyone to blame and take it out on. Have mercy on the innocent one’s that get targeted because they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  5. hiruitnguyse on Mon, 25th May 2015 1:19 pm 

    Another incredible misallocation of resources, and potential Eyesore of the Month….

  6. Northwest Resident on Mon, 25th May 2015 1:34 pm 

    I saw Mad Max yesterday. Great action, good acting, total fantasy. My suspension of disbelief was interrupted a few times when I wondered where they got all their gasoline and diesel to power the many cool road warrior vehicles. Then I saw a single oil pump off on the horizon in one of the scenes, and all my questions were answered.

    Like so many other movies, go to be entertained and leave it like that. It is supposed to be entertainment, not an accurate commentary on the likely future. Not many people would have the stomach for seeing the reality that is in our near term future, so fantasy must suffice.

  7. penury on Mon, 25th May 2015 1:40 pm 

    “A drug long-used to counter the negative effects of chemotherapy has won US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for use in treating the nasty effects of exposure to radiation following a nuclear disaster.” IMHO another cure available to the 1% in the event of war. If you stop and think about it “What will this cost us, the taxpayers over the next few years while everyone hopes that it will never be tested or used. However, millions of doses must be created and stored in case the need arises.” Can anyone say-show me the survivors from the treatment after they worked at Fukushima? Documentation necessary.

  8. tahoe1780 on Mon, 25th May 2015 2:42 pm 

    and don’t forget

  9. Plantagenet on Mon, 25th May 2015 2:44 pm 

    I’m not surprised that Nordent would say that “all ..questions were answered” about the plausibility of Mad Max at the image of “a single oil pump” off in distance.

    Like most folks, Nordent evidently believes gasoline comes straight of oil wells, without any need for pipelines and oil refineries, not to mention all those Ph.d. chemists and chemical engineers who actually run the refineries and turn the crude into gasoline and other refined products.

    NOPE, Kunstler is right as usual—-Mad Max is completely unbelievable and the exact OPPOSITE of what the post-peak oil world will be like.

  10. Apneaman on Mon, 25th May 2015 3:16 pm 

    Northwest Resident, looking forward to it. I am, after all, just another story loving ape. If you have not seen it, the British series (12 part) Utopia is very well done. Quite doomy, but of course no mention of the C word. Apparently that’s the one story almost no one is willing to touch. Or fund?


  11. BobInget on Mon, 25th May 2015 3:49 pm 

    About the Author
    Ibrahim Al-Marashi
    Ibrahim al-Marashi is an assistant professor at the Department of History, California State University, San Marcos. He is the co-author of “Iraq’s Armed Forces: An Analytical History.”


    ISIL scored a string of victories within the span of a few days, from Ramadi in Iraq to Palmyra, in Syria, demonstrating it can wage simultaneous offensives on two distant fronts. The fall of Ramadi in Anbar province this week will further increase the Iraqi state’s dependency on the al-Hashd al-Shaabi, the Popular Mobilisation Forces, the formal term for the body that includes most of Iraq’s Shia militias. These events are part of the growing strength in Iraq and the greater Middle East of paramilitary forces supplementing, even supplanting the regular military during intra-state conflicts.

    The new frontline between Iraq and ISIL is Habbaniya military base outside of Ramadi. This base now finds itself in the crosshairs of advancing forces for the second time in its history. During World War II, Habbaniya was a Royal Air Force base, besieged by Iraqi army units loyal to a pro-German government in Baghdad. From there, British military forces launched a counterattack in 1941 resulting in the eventual fall of Baghdad. Now 3,000 members of the Shia militias have deployed there to deter further ISIL advances, and plan for the second counterattack in the base’s history.

    Iraqi troops and Shia allies mobilise amid ISIL advance
    Unlike the fall of Mosul in 2014, the fall of Ramadi was not a surprise attack, but rather a drawn-out ISIL campaign, lasting 16 months. So why did the city fall if the Iraqi state had warning of an impending attack? After all, the advantage is supposed to go to the defender ensconced in an urban centre.

    Failure to invest in defence

    The Iraqi government simply failed to invest in the defence of the city, either with larger numbers of the conventional military forces or the more battle-hardened militias. The Shia-dominated state did not view Ramadi like the city of Samarra, which possessed the sacred Shia Al-Askari shrine, the destruction of which in 2006 set off Iraq’s civil war, nor does Ramadi have a Shia population.

    Retaking Tikrit on the other hand was both symbolic and tactical, as it avenged ISIL’s massacre of mostly Shia army forces in nearby Camp Speicher, and it put the Iraqi forces closer geographically to retaking Mosul. Finally during the attacks on Ramadi, the Iraqi state was more concerned with repulsing ISIL’s advance on the town of Beiji, which is adjacent to a valuable oil refining facility.

    Evidently, while Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abbadi had deployed the Shia militias successfully in the fight for Tikrit, he was hesitant in mobilising them in the defence of Ramadi out of deference to a predominantly Arab Sunni city, which would have objected to the presence of these Shia forces on its streets. Ali al-Hatim, a sheikh in the large Arab Sunni Dulaymi tribe, described the possible deployment of the Shia militias there as akin to an “Iranian occupation”.

    If he had deployed the Shia militias beforehand, it would have served as fodder for Abbadi’s critics of his sectarian bias.

    However, now that the city has fallen to ISIL, one Arab sheikh said of the Shia militias, “at this stage, we welcome any force that will come and liberate us from the chokehold” of ISIL. Such comments now provide Abbadi with the political cover he needs to deploy the Shia militias.

    If he had deployed the Shia militias beforehand, it would have served as fodder for Abbadi’s critics of his sectarian bias. If Arab Sunni tribal leaders are themselves requesting the militias’ support, Abbadi can deflect both US and local criticism of overreliance on these forces.

    Sunni tribal fighters

    Second, the fall of Ramadi also allows Abbadi to incorporate Arab Sunni tribal fighters into the Shia militias, rather than giving them their own autonomous force. Some Arab Sunnis have already joined the Popular Mobilisation Forces in the fight for Ramadi, fighting alongside Shia militias, as some had done in Tikrit.

    This cooperation provides deflection from critics that the militias are sectarian, and removes the onus on Abbadi to reconstitute the Reawakening (Sahwa) Forces. This autonomous Arab Sunni tribal force was financed by the US to combat al-Qaeda in Iraq (the precursor to ISIL), forcing the bulk of these terrorists to leave Iraq by 2008.

    If Abbadi were to reconstitute the Reawakening Forces, it would have given Iraq three separate paramilitary forces; the Kurdish Peshmerga (the military of the Kurdistan Regional Government), the Shia militias, which are themselves divided into numerous factions, and a third autonomous Arab Sunni force.

    While Abbadi has made efforts to arm the Arab Sunni tribes in Anbar, the central government can now have more control of the Arab Sunni tribal fighters combating ISIL, who will have to embed with the Shia Popular Mobilisation Forces to gain access to the militias’ arsenal to combat a heavily armed ISIL. Given that the Popular Mobilisation Forces are controlled by the office of the prime minister, the state can claim that the militias are a national, rather than a sectarian institution.

    Displaced civilians from Ramadi in a camp in a town west of Baghdad [AP]
    The dynamics playing out in the fight for Ramadi are indicative of a transformation of the role between the military and the state in the Middle East. On one spectrum is Libya, whose military has all but collapsed into rival militias; to Egypt, where a large military is not just embedded in the economy, but has morphed into the state.

    Iraq has fallen into the in-between category of states that have developed hybrid military and paramilitary forces during an intra-state conflict. Examples would include Lebanon, where Hezbollah exists alongside the Lebanese military; Syria, where the conventional military and the paramilitary Shabiha (now the National Defence Forces) maintain the Assad regime; and Yemen, where Houthi militias and the regular army forces loyal to ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh have gained control over most of northern Yemen. In all four of these cases, Iran had a role in either creating, training, or providing arms to these forces, enhancing its regional influence by developing institutions in all four of these weak states.

    Fighting capability

    The fighting capability of these forces, however, differ from the traditional conscript armies of the Middle East. The conventional Iraqi Security Forces have demonstrated that they cannot combat ISIL without tandem operations with the Shia militias.

    However, estimates indicate that there are a total of 60,000 to 120,000 fighters in these militias, and Arab Sunni volunteers are unlikely going to swell their numbers significantly. Militias are not standing armies. This estimated number does not mean they will all will be mobilised at the same time for a battle.

    These low numbers mean the militia forces cannot be garrisoned at a base for long periods to control the surrounding area. They are in reality shock troops, used for assaults on cities, and then move onto the next battle.

    Therefore their strength does not come from their numbers. Their strength comes from their political value, in that the Shia militias have demonstrated that the Iraqi state cannot hold against ISIL without them.

    Before the rise of ISIL, some, not all, of the Shia militias enjoyed a parallel political presence in the institutions of the Iraqi state. Militias are generally loyal to either a leader or narrow agenda, which means that if ISIL is defeated in Iraq, the state will not just be indebted to the leaders of the militias, but also the militias, not the national military, will have become the very backbone of the Iraqi state.

    Ibrahim al-Marashi is an assistant professor at the Department of History, California State University, San Marcos. He is the co-author of “Iraq’s Armed Forces: An Analytical History.”

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

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