things that roll

Already we find ourselves living in interesting times of the type from the famous Chinese curse, with the strong possibility that things could get even more interesting. The analogies we use to name things are .. somewhat instructive.

We are all familiar with things that roll. Some of the most basic childrens’ toys feature balls or wheels or cylinders or other smoothed round things capable of rolling. Some of you, from the era back when we got snows worthy of the name, may even be familiar with the “snowballing” type of roll that is often used to describe certain kinds of disasters: you need good heavy pack snow from around the middle of the range of its heaviness; you need a fairly steep hill; and you need a “seed” snowball maybe 9”~14” in diameter to start with at the top. The common theory for these is that they roll downhill, getting larger and larger, until they dissipate the energy on flat level ground or a rising slope, or they smack into some obstacle. Another common one is the runaway Mack truck, or the runaway freight train rolling downhill toward a trestle that’s been washed out.

It was known a few years ago by some, and with some certainty, that our expanding credit bubble was inflating far too rapidly to have any kind of stability, and that a crash phase would follow. For these things the descriptive memes are like the madly-breeding bacteria in a petri dish who, after being given a while new resource base (sugar) breed madly until their growth has exhausted the resource, then their populations crash most spectacularly. Where we conjured credit out of thin air, and where the bacteria were given sugar by the researchers, Spain once plundered whole shiploads of gold from the New World, and it too suffered the same fate. You would think all that gold would make Spain rich, but no, like a person given $50million in lottery winnings, the money actually brought more of a curse than a blessing specifically because it enabled spending patterns dependent on unsustainable earnings. Not only do un-worked-for riches carry a substantial karmic curse, but they enable the same sort of wild & unsustainable growth seen here in recent years, when every fool in the phone book could pick up a McMansion, a pair of matching his & her Hummers, 60” flatscreens for every room, etc, all on zero-down EZ-credit terms. And then when those unsustainable earnings run out (or suffer a little bump in the road) those unsustainable expenditures crash most spectacularly.

We are all familiar with the phrase “rolling blackouts”, the kind that happen on hot summer afternoons when people are home early and when the collective demands of air conditioning usage are stressing the power grid to the max. In one area, something happens to a local grid running flat-out at 100% capacity; when it starts to go under, it borrows power from another local grid that’s also flat-out, and thus starts a chain reaction that takes down much of the regional grid.

What’s interesting now is that we’re evolving types of layoffs faster than we’re evolving the common memes in which to describe them. It’s easy to adapt the “rolling blackout” terminology to “rolling layoffs”, but that doesn’t quite say it right. It would be more accurate to call this “cascading layoffs”, where the effects reach backwards from retail (where customers stopped buying) to distributors to wholesalers to shippers to manufacturers etc.

Four or five years back, it was not widely anticipated just how quickly this stuff would progress; you need a certain amount of steep downslope for any of these rolling things to build up the terrible energies for which they are used as disaster memes. Even Kunstler’s description of the coming credit/housing crash in his 2004 book TLE doesn’t quite touch on the speed and severity of the change phase we’re in.

Beyond just the “cascading layoffs”, we are now seeing “pre-emptive layoffs”, in which companies that are doing fine (for the moment) shed employees well before they feel the economic necessity to do so. (nods to Rummy & Cheney for popularizing pre-emptive illegal invasions)

We are also seeing layoffs in many more sectors of the economy than anyone would have suspected; truck & rail transit volume is down by double-digit percentages year-over-year. (go read up on the Baltic Dry Shipping index if you want a heart attack, or if doom gets you off) Some of the things you would think are safest (teaching, medical work, hospitals, government services like the USPS) are seeing all kinds of thoroughly unexpected layoffs & closures too. The question “What jobs are safest?” has become something of a rhetorical question as we learn for ourselves that there’s no such thing as a safe job.

The one clear thing you can tell from the proliferation of all these new & unexpected types of layoffs, and from the way the more negative elements are evolving into worse shapes (see Europe 1910~1945), is that this sucker is totally out of control at this point.

(sorry this was not a nice lite cheery post featuring fluffy clouds and ponies for everyone! maybe some other time?)


Resources for watching the ongoing mess:


(JR: I’m crossposting this time)

43 Replies to “things that roll”

  1. Rolling thunder.

    In New York State we are broke and borrowing from the feds to pay jobless benefits. The fund was exhausted as of Jan 1. Jobless claims have tripled from last year.

    “Despite paying lower benefits to its jobless residents than other Northeastern states, the state’s unemployment fund has been borrowing about $90 million a week from the federal unemployment trust fund, state officials said. The deficit has already reached $212 million and is expected to exceed $2.5 billion by the end of 2010, they said.”

  2. WTF is crossposting?

    Posting with out any diiferances on another blog

    Seems Nudge is two timing you.

    Probably posted on that blog with the balding grey haired man who only bans you from posting there.

  3. The Baltic indexes. All the action from Riga to Helsinki.

    You do know Nudge has her own blog, right?

  4. Nudge has her own blog?

    Explains the cross posting thing.

    I think Jim’s disciples’ blog has a color photo of him.

    But I am always the last to know about these things. The world will end and I will show up at work and the only other person there will be Will Smith. That is a scary thought

  5. Oh and two timing is some one doing one person and not telling the person they are doing that there is another in their love life.

    I though you were 40? Thats an 80s term.

  6. Thanks guys .. was beginning to worry I hadn’t saved this post correctly, and that it was invisible to all.

    SB, the rolling thunder (of unemployment) is damn scary. There does not seem to be anything in play that will slow it down unless it runs out of jobs to lose. What level of real unemployment can we afford if only cops, farmers, soldiers, politicians, hospitals, and grocery stores are running?

  7. Uggh, the stuff I wanted to post is not appropriate for Baldilock’s board anyway. That stupid frelling TypoKey doesn’t allow threaded comments anyhow.

    Like he would even notice a reader comment making a point? You probably have to waylay him at ASPO (or show up in shorts, like Kris Can) to get his attention.

    Not sure if he has SMS or not.

  8. Another useful feature of Chrome is hitting Ctrl + (as many times as you need to) to increase the size of displayed text to something that’s readable. Ctrl – decreases the size. Ctrl 0 brings text size back to normal. My days of begging Nudge to increase her font size are officially over!

    I have other things to do this weekend, so I’ll come back later to read everyone’s stuff. I see there’s a lot of it.

  9. SMS… d’ya mean texting Jim to tell him that you’ll be the one wearing the clear raincoat at ASPO and that he should feel free to push through the throng of swarming dudes and bring you a glass of wine, or something like that?

  10. SMS… d’ya mean texting Jim to tell him that you’ll be the one wearing the clear raincoat at ASPO and that he should feel free to push through the throng of swarming dudes and bring you a glass of wine, or something like that?

    i don’t understand this…but i’m laughing anyway. wtf is sms?

    i think nudge drinks shmirnoff, straight up. but i don’t know for sure.

  11. SMS is Short Man Syndrome. I haven’t seen any good full-figure shots of him standing up, but he looks to be in the 5’8”~5’10” range. Anyway if he’s got that, I should send someone else to interview him .. like Kris, but with a different set of questions. Then again, some guys like that sort of thing .. I’m definitely taller than the guy I usually go places with in Boston, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

    Stoly is the best, but I still don’t drink frigging gasoline. Bleh :(

  12. Nudge

    How ’bout Britney serving drinks in a see through smock?

    Liked the Baldilocks – good belly laugh for Sunday afternoon.

  13. Nice post Nudge, but how about a picture of two? How about a snowball, or an avalanche? Some recent lines at the unemployment office?

    Where is this country headed? Is it possible for small countries like Iceland and Latvia to default, but perhaps not so the entire UK? How does a default the size of the UK affect the US economy?

  14. I’ve figured out what is really going on. Here it is.

    While things are caving in, the Obama’s are the perfect distraction to help offset a revolution, at least for now.

    “Pay no attention to the speed of the imploding economy as it rolls (bow to Nudged) over the landscape. Look! It’s Obama and Michele dancing on stage! How stylish she is in her Ivory dress. Just like Jackie used to be. See how in love they are? See what a nice family they have?”

    Better than the Huxtables, he’s THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT– The ultimate in reality T.V. Entertainment. Watch as our new superhero president takes on Congress (oh dear) Osama (oh my) and the biggest crises of all… The economy. Totally interactive too. Go visit his website, tell us what you have to say. Vote on the important questions he should address next. Slicker than Willie ever dreamed of being in his wettest of wet dreams. He is product, he is president.

    They polled us. They reached inside us to tap into our most primal images of a good king and a good president. They combed the history books and did a content analysis of what did and what didn’t work. They know the story we crave and they have produced it for us. He is pure, mainlined, MARKETING, injected straight into the jugular.

  15. Nudged,

    We all roll like that now, don’t we? I was on that Layoff blog just last night.

    The new handle is noted and appreciated (though you have been running it a bit, I only just really noted it).


    My hubby and I just finished Generation Kill which we got from netflix. Awesome. Rolling Stone Reporter embedded at the start of Iraqi invasion. The truth telling in that thing blew my socks off.

  16. Way to go, Nudge! I’m surprised you didn’t do this years ago.

    Most vodka drinkers I know prefer Stoli as their “daily drinker”. Just sayin’.

    JR, she knows damn well about HTML. It’s purely an act of defiance. ;-)

  17. What JR meant to say is that WordPress’s retarded-assed editing window assumes that /any/ text placed into it has got to be formatted. So, if you compose the stuff in a word processor merely to have use of spelling tools, you can’t paste straight to WordPress. Oh no. You’d need to open a Notepad window, paste into there (downshifting it to plain text), then copy from there to WordPress. Un-fricking-believable.

    OTOH, that blogspot thingie doesn’t seem to render URL’s correctly in user comments. Huh, maybe there’s a switch for it somewhere.

    Doom, thanks, I’ve actually made use of the media-posting capabilities in other places. See adventures in sewing #1 if you’re bored. I should do a “how jeans are made” post someday, except my design is different because I put the zipper on the side instead of at the inseam. It makes two steps easier at the expense of making one step harder, and the forces at the side seam are more tension than shear anyhow. (yeah, I do clothing fatigue studies too)

    MOU: the layoffs are spectacular .. and they are still gaining momentum now, more than a year after the credit markets first tanked. Have you looked at that Credit Suisse mortgage reset chart lately? We are due this year for an even bigger spike of resets than what came before.

    As for the circus show, folks were getting tired of the Bush show. Now they’ve got something new in the Obama show. Pass the gruel, comrade.

    Holmes, thanks. I actually owe JR a debt of gratitude for getting me out of that cesspit called CFN, where I go now only for sorry amusement. But then he also did me the favor of bracketing every serious thing I’ve ever tried to write here with a pair of YouTube-link-laden posts variously named “What the fuck??” and “Do zombies vote?” (or some such) and it seemed like nothing more than an encouragement to go find someplace with different-looking wallpaper if that’s what I liked .. and it’s not as if ZK is like the one-size-fits-all olive-drab thong of the internet anyway.

    Oh dear. That metaphor didn’t quite come out right. I need to go make coffee.

  18. Oh so you ARE awake after all. I had to mention olive drab thongs to get your attention, right? That’s so Dharma Initiative anyway.

    We can debate the fooking software some other time. Is it another “things that suck” product by m-m-m-Microsoft?

    I will crosspost like this once in awhile, but the truth is that I write more often than you recommended, and it made sense to find a place to put it all. And their media uploading method sucks way less too. OTOH I haven’t found the “recent user comments” applet or a few other choice ones.

    Besides, I can’t see you wanting to host my clothing-design posts anyway. I spent most of yesterday (when not writing) trying to work out a powered jacquard loom design that can be built at home. Why? My favorite fabric shop closed recently, so now I am down to hunting for stuff in Chinatown (Boston) or taking a big trip down to the City to hunt in the scrap piles in the garment district, then maybe buy a grand worth of stuff and have it all shipped home. I have already spent more hours hunting through fabric stores, trying to find the right stuff, than it would have taken to build a loom from scratch.

    Here is a video of a simple computer-controlled dobby loom powered by some yahoo pushing pedals and pulling cords:

    Can you believe they want almost $10K for a machine like that? And you still have to pedal it to make it work? (And it has serial interfaces on it for the computer dobby control?)

    This might be designed to appeal to the SAHM quilting crowd, you know, the ones who try to look/act/dress like ‘Desperate Housewives’ extras and who drop $4K on a Bernina sewing machine that mostly sits there and collects dust in their “day room”. It doesn’t seem designed for serious clothiers.

  19. “and it’s not as if ZK is like the one-size-fits-all olive-drab thong of the internet anyway.”

    If the thong fits, wear it? Dunno.

  20. Doom .. that’s a visual I could do without, thanks. ;)

    Saw this witty and oh-so-true comment on the HBB:
    “US currency has evolved from gold to paper to plastic to hope.”

  21. I bid three thongs (3 UST) for that comment.

    Doom, that is not really olive drab, it is more of a grey/blue or midnight blue.

    Here is Olive Drab

  22. Nudge,

    Mish is using the avalanche metaphor over at his site:

    Here is a practical application: There is no money to pay back loans. What cannot be paid back will be defaulted on and the default avalanche has been triggered. Once an avalanche starts, it is impossible to stop.

    That avalanche of defaults amounts to deflation if it exceeds the expansion of money supply.

    Banks are attempting to hide the avalanche by not marking their books to market. Citigroup alone is sitting on over $800 billion in SIVs of dubious value. However pretending credit will be paid back does not make it so, just as ignoring an avalanche does not stop it.

  23. “(sorry this was not a nice lite cheery post featuring fluffy clouds and ponies for everyone! maybe some other time?)”

    Wah!Wah!Wah! I want my pony. You can keep the effing clouds, Nudge.

    FYI: Years ago, when they were first gaining in popularity, a woman of my acquaintance blurted out her definition of thongs: butt floss. MOU is onto something.

  24. Thank you, Bif! I especially like the Fishnet Pony–reminds me of my days as a “Little Fox” at the Top of the Holiday Inn in Syracuse.

    Hey, what do you think of your new Senator? Sounds like she’s the “mid-state” version of Sarah Palin.

  25. EE, this woman isn’t the trailer trash Palin type. More like upstate/Albany power elite class, political family, money, Dartmouth/UCLA, attorney, probably groomed for this sort of thing since birth.

  26. SB, thanks for the pony links. I feel better already :)

    EeoDC, you have my condolences too for being another refugee from upstate NY.

    MOU, thanks for posting the link to that rant. The wigger language was entertaining, the webcam he used (along with that “lovely” curtain in the background, the computer, and the chair he was sitting on) probably all came from China, etc, but no doubt he was right-on with some of that stuff.

    Should we feel grateful that his weed-addled mind will never never achieve its full potential when it comes to his attempts to organize his posse enough to achieve some of the goals he mentioned (ie, revenge on BoA officials) or should we worry what might happen when the weed runs out?

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