The Darth Vader Of Fridays


[ Hanjin container ships unloading at Terminal 46 in Seattle ]

Even Adbustsers couldn’t have come up with a better name for today’s national frenzy of consumerism.  Last I checked, the common connotation of the word “black” hasn’t changed since the dawn of human consciousness.

The term Black Friday originated with Philadelphia police in reference to the crowds and traffic that they had to deal with on that day.  More recently, its usage has morphed to indicate how retailers’ balance sheets often shift from red to black during the Christmas shopping season.  Isn’t that cute?  A large fraction of our country’s retailers survive the year only because we all buy lots of stuff to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

And don’t worry Black Friday bargain hunters, cause even though volumes have plunged during the current recession, the  international container shipping industry has still got you covered.   Apparently somebody still wants what ever is filling up all the neatly stacked metal boxes on the decks of those Hanjin ships at Seattle’s Terminal 46. Each of those ships has capacity for something like 1 million 29-inch TVs, just like the ones people were scrambling for at Walmarts across the country in the wee hours this morning.

In Seattle, our shipping terminals are venerated because they bring diversity to our economy and provide well-paying blue-collar jobs.  But how much does this system of  international trade contribute long-term sustainability?

For starters, we know that our trade deficits with China and other Asian manufacturing countries are unsustainable.  And we also know that international trade can undermine the autonomy and cohesion of local communities on both ends of the transaction.  And we also know that much of what comes in on those container ships is throw-away consumer products.

Container ships are highly energy-efficient at moving goods.  But energy prices and the climate impacts of burning fossil fuels will inevitably shift the equation in favor of local production.  Especially since end distribution from a small number of centralized ports requires significant transport via modes that are less energy-efficient than ships.

The ghost fleet of idle container ships waiting off the coast of Singapore is a preview of the likely eventual fate of international shipping.   And by then hopefully the deranged tradition of Black Friday will be relegated to the dustbin of history.

23 Responses to “The Darth Vader Of Fridays”

  1. David Sucher

    “And we also know that international trade can undermine the autonomy and cohesion of local communities on both ends of the transaction.”

    Before I comment, what does that even mean?

    It sounds like what in the 1960s we used to refer to as “rhetoric.”

    But maybe you have something specific and concrete to illustrate your point.

  2. Wells

    Autonomy: the right or power of self government.
    Cohesion: a sticking together.

    On the contrary, Mr Sucher, your comment is rhetoric, ‘empty’ rhetoric. What you fill the void with is up to you, or up to whoever pays you for an opinion they feel should be heard.

  3. Sivalingo Galilei

    “Hide the decline” LOL

  4. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    Glad you mentioned Buy Nothing Day but what about the local Buy More Stuff celebration. Starting now, at Westlake Park.

  5. Brian K.

    You imply here that the 21st century will see international trade replaced by local production (right?), but almost every economic indicator implies that countries are becoming more integrated (unless we’re talking about Somalia, and even they get their AK-47s from somewhere).

    Global trade has existed since at least the 13th century (see Abu-Lughard) and likely before. Are you saying that Washington State should start producing its own flat screen tvs or that people should simply stop consuming them altogether? Both are unrealistic (do we ignore comparative advantage?), and the former is borderline autocratic.

    Normally, I really enjoy the posts here, but this one raised a red flag for me. I’d be interested to hear more though if there is actual evidence that eliminating our shipping terminals would be anything but destructive.

  6. dan bertolet

    Brian @5: I should have been more careful with the wording: I’m not saying that international trade will disappear by some given time, only that trade is destined to become more localized, and in that case the value of our shipping terminals will decline accordingly. Maybe at some point they’ll be better used as local manufacturing sites, for instance.

    As for competitive advantage, the only competitive advantage China has for electronics is cheap labor. And the process of globalization will eventually eliminate that advantage.

    I also believe that the consumption of expensive luxury products like large flat screen TVs is likely to decline as the increasing cost of energy reduces our standard of living. Call me a pessimist.

  7. David Sucher

    Dan, You are a pessimist.

  8. Wells

    Globalization as we know it is unsustainable and unwise. It only works profitably for manufacturers, transport companies and distributors. Soon enough we’ll need to restore local manufacturing and relearn forgotten skills. There is no replacement for petroleum despite frantic claims otherwise.

  9. Sivalinga, Solo

    What about ‘blackberries’, you cherry-picking, Malthusian Terminators? ANSWER ME THAT!

    (Full disclosure: my new Epson printer is black, and my ‘human consciousness’ dawns and dusks twice a day, at LEAST)…

    Also, not to turn around and play the ‘Connotation Cop’ card myself, but didn’t Darth Vader eventually save the entire galaxy and redeem everyone and overthrow the Imperial Order, in a circumstantial dilemma which was intended (and designed, thereby, to express) (and in somewhat childish forms, admittedly) the fundamentally epic unwrenchability of lights from darknesses, and vice versa? Check that again, maybe.

    Without Vader, the Jedi wouldn’t have ‘returned’. But then again, without Yoda, the galaxy-murdering, Cloned, Stormtrooper Army would never have been employed as a tool of realpolitik by ‘The Good Guys’ in the first place — thus otherwise ergo depriving the shadowy, self-proclaimed ‘evil, dark’, (false-flag) Senator/Emperor of ever achieving his aim of (among other things), like, USING that Clone Army to his own foul purpose: that of wresting full control of the galaxy and its citizenry and biota (and ‘droids’, which were a kind of free-willed artificial species of beings, or a kind of ‘robotic’ population if you will, which nevertheless were always totally enslaved by both the Good guys and the Bad guys, throughout, which was kinda weird, if you think about it too much), and then self-proclaiming himself ‘Emperor’, to begin with!

    Remember? There, at the end? (i.e. ‘at the end’ of the third EPISODE… which was nevertheless the sixth and final installment in the sequential series of movies as they were filmed and released, in our own time-stream, etc etc etc).

    So… what then, in your analysis, is ‘The Well-Intentioned but Ultimately Harmfully Short-sighted Yoda of Fridays’, for us, now, and when and where does it annually take place?

    Discuss.

  10. dave

    Speaking of Darth Vader, he had some great thanksgiving tweets this past weekend.

    http://twitter.com/Darthvader

  11. Matt the Engineer

    I think this is a good place to post this. As oil becomes more scarce commerce will reverse its trend and become more local. But only to a point. Port cities formed before the internal combustion engine, and will continue after them. We’ll just see higher prices for shipping, giving us incentive to produce goods locally that can be produced locally. We’ll still sail our flat screen TVs (or the future equivallent) in from far off countries, but not our tomatoes.

  12. MJH

    Daly and Cobb wax on this topic very thoroughly in their tome “For the Common Good”

    On the other hand, shippers seem to be developing some pretty efficient cargo ships, complete with kite sails http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/0403/p13s01-sten.html

    and the opening of artic shipping channels will create shorter shipping routes.

    as a side note: the widening of the Panama Canal, to be complete in 2013, is going to cut Long Beach, Seattle, and other west coast ports out of a significant portion of eastbound containers…

  13. Sivalinga ("Nobody Knows I'm OctoPop")

    My ‘reductio ad astra’ aside, (since no one will touch it with a 10-foot lightsabre), I still have some grousing to do. Apparently.

    So.

    So. Let me see if I am getting this. What makes the friday ‘black’ is ‘global trade of items some of us think are luxury items (because we don’t want them ourselves)’… at rates that ’seem consumerist’ to ‘us’ because we consume at a ‘different rate’… while we go on, still consuming at rates that are not to be mentioned or ever otherwise ‘compared’ to theirs, or even to ‘a theoretical potential amount of consumerism’ that ‘is’ or ‘would be’ necessarily sketched in as, ‘the appropriate level’ of ‘actual consumerism’. Or even, ‘AN appropriate level’. Science!

    Surely there must be a way to school me in what should come next (hey, you know I want to Save The World, too) besides forcing me to need your guys to decide for me (on my behalf, and on behalf of All Those Weary Hands That Manufacture This Junk All Across the Remaining Slabs of Non-Western and Incompletely-as-Globalized-or-as-Globalizing-as-We-Are World; thus, for ‘us all’, of course) how much is ‘actually enough’? This is not a rhetorical question. Sadly.

    Dig it. Different people from us (the Zombies Who We Aren’t, Careening With Gaia-Poisoning TV Greed Down at Coldwater Creek, because they are, wait, what? Okay! Jesus Freaks, and many of them ON FOOT LOL) need to act different than they do… because ‘they aren’t like us’, (since – hey – we all know WE’RE not zombies)… because it is a ‘false needs economy trend’ (I bet it’s THESE losers who took out those junk mortgages, too, right?) and besides, because all of this Crapstravanganza hurts other OTHER people — that aren’t like ‘us’, either (the Poor Oppressed, The East Timorese, the Future Generations, etc etc etc) — some OBVIOUS wasteful icky bad really actually obviously bad degree more hurtfully and greedily than ‘how we must be actually hurting them’, or ‘benefitting assymetrically from their labor’(“Fair Trade Coffee”… why, it says so, right here on the package!) — ‘us’ being the Good Us who is ‘not as bad’ as The Bad, ‘TV, Greedy Us’ who are, meanwhile, ‘Those Black Friday Zombies, in the first place…

    It’s the Politics of the Middle Sibling.

    Where is the science in this, again? How do you really see this being rigorized, beyond blogging about it with irritation? Don’t stop at TVs, take me with you on a thrill ride to Copenhagen itself. Let’s Roll!

    Even if I submit, how do you see hundreds (thousands, millions) more people ’submitting’, when they are simply being asked to, or expected to; and yet why? “Because ‘we’ want them to”. ‘We’ being:’some of us, who ‘get it’, and have ‘The New Vision Thing’? ‘Them’ still being: the duped US THAT SUCKS.

    “Actually”? Actually, is it? Hmmm. Okay. The people WE actually want to be? Remind me, again?

    Crickets.

    I am appealing to you science people and sustainability people WITH SCIENTIFIC QUESTIONS (full disclosure #2: I am NOT a Jesus Freak or a William F. Buckely Zombie): where is a line drawn? What happens when some freak (of whatever stripe) — who is (mercifully) NOT a Sarah Palin Soccer Pop — inquires what your ACTUAL threshold of ‘consumerism, itself’ is? (Or will it again depend on what ‘is’ is? Or worse: on what the MEANING of ‘is’ is?). Thorny. Thorny.

    “It’s the Global Warming, stupid!” And of course: even if it isn’t, totally, for super-certain, well… gosh! Like all good, pious, sensible-shoe, already-invested apologists and believers: ‘we can’t be sure, Pascal’s Wager, wot? let’s be on the safe side, leave it to us, etc etc, cuz hey, it MIGHT BE…’

    The mind boggles! The boon doggles.

    What happens, say, when one of these OTHER maverick ‘mavericks’ (who isn’t ‘denying’ anything, is just wanting some Open Source Methodology Disclosure and Frame Control Participation) asks, ‘hey, what is the framework of this “sustainability”, itself? What is the metric, beyond spin control crisis management, besides The Newer Kids On The Developing Block, besides {B} being {Not-A}?’

    HOW BIG SHOULD THE BIGGEST TV SCREEN BE?

    Crickets.

    {A} is not {B}. True, true. {B}, in a sense, is “a kind of” {‘Not-A’}. Or can be. Sure! There are lots of logical games to play with {A’s} and {B’s}. These processes can be modelled and tossed around, and heaps of specific things rhyme with them somewhat, or fit into these schematics. (“MORE GRANTS PLEEZE!”) Beyond a pendulum, beyond ‘Blue States are not Red’ (at an inverse proportion to how ‘Red States Are Not Blue’, et al), there should be a transparent rigor to these eco-synergies, if eco-synergies they be.

    But who decides? “We do”. Okay, who are ‘we’ if some us us are still being identified explicitly as your ‘them’?

    {C}? What I mean.

    Crickets.

  14. Matt the Engineer

    If anyone spends the effort to read [Siva]’s comment, if you find substance can you summarize? Thanks.

  15. Sivalinga, Agonistes

    Yeah, can someone help Matt the Engineer? He lacks the effort-energy to read and respond to a few paragraphs of text. He only has spare energy and ’surplus time’ to jump to a different categorical level of meta-conversation in his effort to contextually cast doubt on even the ‘potential energetic content’ of any of my points, thus deftly evading his establishing their actual ‘necessity’ or their net ‘wastefulness’ — LOL! — at a presumed level of assumed superiority that still doesn’t disclose or satisfy explicitly which contextual LEVEL of conversation ‘we’re’ on, or should or shouldn’t ‘be on’, and when or how we ’stop’ and ’start’ or go ‘up’ or ‘down’ — in an assumed state of his being a part of an ‘us’ I still even more can’t feel part of.

    Which is really cool because I AM ASKING QUESTIONS.

    (You New Guys ‘don’t do quagmires’, either, I guess. Nice!)

    Here, isomorphically, holographically, my deeper concerns are evidenced even in the rarefied and twee ‘free speech zone’ of a blog ‘conversation comment space’. My questions are still unanswered.

    (Bumper sticker idea: “HONK IF YOU’RE WAY AHEAD OF ME!”)

    We may consider such tactics (and they are everywhere being employed, in every sense of the word, and we well know this) to be examples, I think, of another, parallel dilemma: The Sullen Politics of the Youngest Child. This discursive or conceptual process (which is a strategy of scorn, eye-rolling, evasion, sneering, and a host of other hip fun remote detached unscientific opinionated stuff, but is not actually discourse per se), this deferment of engagement under false cover of presumed bulletproofness (because We All Know What We All Know, If We ARE a Homogenous Enough Us, With Numbers), upon more methodical study or reflection, may even eventually be visible as a phenomenon to Matt.

    My claim is that it’s a pandemic doublethink raging loudly in ‘our’ own coterie. And forms a primary ‘pollutant’ that is far, far more potentially algebraically dangerous than mere ‘barges full of TV screens’. So there.

    “I SEE GREEN PEOPLE!”

    Here, let me switch to the ‘rhetorical’ strategy of directly addressing a subjectivity instead of appealing to an invisible ‘group’, (which — as a style of communication — nonetheless ultimately obviously formally works quite against the cool collectivism that is being promoted on this thread and others as ‘the Grail of Our Brave New Eco-Urbanism — participation and commitment on the part of all of ‘us’, not just ’some’ — by instead snarkily appealing to ‘other parts of the whole that aren’t the Sour Note Nail That’s Trying to Stick Out’ in this transparent attempt to banish any messy paradoxes or difficulties — or me in sum — and to ‘get back on with it’):

    “Thanks Matt! Keep on Engineering!”

    Crickets.

  16. wes kirkman

    Matt,
    Taking the all capped portions only, as that is obviously the most important part:

    “On foot lol; we’re these other obvious us that sucks. We with scientific questions, not actual meaning, might be other. How big should the biggest tv screen be? More grants please!
    Lol level, I am asking questions. Honk if you are way ahead of me! Are ‘I see green people!’?”

    I added some punctuation for translation purposes.

  17. Dean Ruffner

    I think it would be a lot easier to hear this stuff than read it. I have a headache now.

  18. Sivalinga, Agonistes

    Wes! Nice to see you in here! To catch you up, we’re in here saving the world and trying to get people to think and act like we want them to.

    You seem well equipped to join in the fray!
    So yeah. Awesome. Points well taken. (Mine, pruned into truncated form, to mar my intent).

    Sure, “erase some of my data” (LOL! As timely as today’s headlines!) so you can look at your ‘concluded formatting and restatement of those muted and changed statements’ — and then it surely will make the sense, or in this case the ‘nonsense’, you want it to make. (I have it on authority that this is the premise behind becoming and being the High Priests who manage “the value-added, quality controlled and homogenised data” in any data set or sample set… SWEET!)

    Bend my intention. Warp and twist whatever I ‘might’ be asking, to feel ’strong’ and ‘right’. SCIENCE RULES! SILENCE DEBATE ITSELF!

    That should help make your case better. At least to each other. But three can play at that game: “Hey Dean, tell Colleen and Keith to text me if Matt feels bolstered by Wes chiming in all smug and chummy with more snarky, conversation-silencing gambits, none of which are germane — still! — to any of the questions posed by the original post and its pre-homogenized and value-added logical thrust…”

    You agree with each other, sure. That, at the very least, is ‘obvious’. Maybe everyone agrees with you in here but me, irrespective of a method or of actual madness. Hawks, handsaws, Denmark, Copenhagen, etc etc etc. “Discuss”.

    You feel good, and smart, proportional to thinking I’m ‘not even saying anything’, even though I keep getting more bombastic and shrill, hemorrhaging this prose, to pose an inevitable question, which isn’t actually even ‘my own question’, but lies there, fallow perhaps, latent in the entire problem posed by any task of attempting novel and corrective ’sustainability efforts’… just as any new fruit of any invariant Knowledge Tree inevitably results in more trouble and hassle and work to-be-done; in any static Paradise, real or imaginal. Or certainly in any paradigm that needs ‘changing’. (You guys want to ‘change the paradigm’, don’t you?)

    Look around you in your offices, homes, families, bands, clubs, bowling leagues, platoons, malls, cities, meetings, cafes, second third fourth and even fifth places, for this corrosive ’social value’ of ‘duh, we all know already what we all know!’… with it’s ‘value added premise grid’. As it refuses to engage the missing part, the Excluded Middle, the actual hassle. As it silences more and more inquiry, strips itself nude at airports, allows satellites and laser eyes to come into our homes, police and fine us by robot proxy from Broadway and John…

    Can you spend the same calories making fun of me it would take to sincerely answer the questions? Can you ‘try’?

    And yet, isn’t this the assignment you guys pose to ‘everyone else’: ‘change!, hope!, “take a sad song”, and existing fucked up carbon purgatories, and “make it better”! Get austere! Do what you should! Want what you SHOULD want! Go green!’ Is it just me, or is that not the New New Deal you guys are in here ‘concerned about promoting’?

    Wes, you are with Matt. And that’s all that matters, surely. Even Shell and BP are telling me to ‘Go Green’. Because Shell and BP are secretly supporting the ‘deniers’ in the meantime, to keep us all slaves to peteroleum… wait, what?

    Crickets.

    (You have to admit, a bumper sticker on a car in front of another car that read ‘HONK IF YOU ARE WAY AHEAD OF ME’ would be ‘funny’ if you saw it on the Onion or on a Hulu clip of a ‘Mr.Show’ show, or in some Pixar cartoon, instead of in some rant by a pesky Outlier who seems to be sour in some tabu way, contrary and chafing and shrill, to your ‘way of thinking’…)

    Crickets.

    Any other takers? Anyone who actually cares enough about the postures we make of ‘caring’ who ergo wants to get underneath our shiny facile Seattleish gloss of transcendence and INSPI[RED] goodness and who therefore (even if only on the Internet, and ‘in words’) wants to look at this Global Machinery’s ACTUAL conceptual and caloric engine with me?

    As David Byrne would say (and remember, he ‘gets it’; see earlier posts about ‘bike racks’): “STILL WAITING…”

    COMPUTER CRICKETS.

  19. Chris

    @ 12MJH – Great point about the Panama Canal expansion, that will cut out many lines now bound for west coast ports. The intermodal transfer costs will render east – west import shipping non-competitive, but may still work for destinations in central U.S.

    Dan, I agree that economic impact of shipping containers (importing) is grossly overrated. Probably account for a couple hundred longshoremen jobs and some rail jobs but, relative to other industrial users like manufacturing, is very low-density employment. Outbound port capacity, on the other hand, is a major need for washington’s ag businesses and manufacturers.

    Connecting the two thoughts, inbound traffic accounts for about 2/3 of the traffic at Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, so a dramatic drop off in imports caused by some combination of a weaker dollar and canal expansion is highly probable in the future. At that point, Seattle could probably make due with just Terminal 5 and Terminal 30 and let Terminal 46 redevelop into other uses. I’m personally very defensive when it comes to protecting industrials lands, but that piece of property is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to create a brand new, close in neighborhood from the ground up (well, maybe two of a kind depending on ho one views Yesler Terrace).

  20. Sivalinga, Contrite

    And I meant to type ‘petroleum’, above; not ‘peteroleum’. Natch.

  21. wes kirkman

    Siva! Thanks for the reply. This time I scanned your response for my name because it seemed like you were talking to me.

    I am not sure what I am with Matt on ’cause, honestly and not insultingly, I can’t understand what you are talking about. Maybe it’s that I quickly read these blogs during my lunch break or before I leave work, but my attention starts to die way up at the top of your comments. Sorry…try consolidating your discussion.

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