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Every Friday, I post a small insight into running Curio City and/or Blue Hills Editorial Services. My most recent posts are directly below. You can also start with the first post, or use the subject labels to the right to home in on particular topics. Feel free to comment on anything that interests you.
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Friday, June 24, 2011

Where Were You When the Empire Fell?

That’s not a question you’re going to hear every day. The Great Decline is gradual and uneven. Many of us still can’t see it. Will our ultimate Fall be a singular event like the fall of the Berlin Wall? Was the destruction of the World Trade Center our equivalent to the Visigoth sack of Rome? Or will it go down slowly like a tire with a rim leak? This story won’t be written for decades yet.

I can’t date the beginning of the end that hasn’t arrived yet. Some would name Sept. 11, 2001. Some would blame the election of George W Bush for turning a peaceful nation with a budget surplus into a bankrupt country losing two wars. Some might start it as late as the Great Recession in 2007, while others reach back to Clinton’s bubble economy and the rise of globalization. Some will go back even further, to the revival of conservatism and the empowerment of religious fundamentalists under Reagan. Still others will blame outside influences, such as the rise of China or space aliens.

The end of manned spaceflight was my “aha!” moment. I had hoped that Obama would be a renaissance president after Bush’s dark age, so I was surprised when this milestone came during his watch. After one last shuttle flight in just a few weeks, American astronauts will depend upon our old rival Russia to maintain a presence on a space station that has no purpose and no future. While cut off from low earth orbit indefinitely, NASA is supposed to develop deep-space capability for an undefined mission with no timetable; it might bear fruit in the 2030s if Obama’s successor doesn’t overturn this non-program and restart the development clock yet again. Abandoning this key American capability made it clear to me how far we have fallen, and how unlikely it is to turn around. A comeback is difficult after the talent disperses and the infrastructure decays.

Have you had your epiphany yet? Don’t feel bad if you haven’t. It’s hard to see until it suddenly snaps into focus one day. It’s like global warming: Theoretical until a moment of clarity makes it frightfully obvious. The Decline is not a one-way slide; short bursts of economic growth and military adventures will periodically divert our attention from the ruling class’s steady consolidation of wealth. (Don’t take the global warming analogy too far, btw: Climate change is a measurable and irreversible physical process, whereas nebulous and potentially reversible factors like politics, the economy, mass psychology, and sociology underlie the decline of empire.)

The decline of Western civilization is a little beyond the usual scope of my blog, so let’s take it down a level to economics.

Massive government intervention ended the recession for the rich. Huge deficits bought our current statistical recovery and keep it sputtering along. As both parties quibble over how to impose austerity befitting our declining circumstances, they condemn us to more economic contraction. It’s 1937 all over again. But Americans are ignorant of history, so what can you expect?

Heh. Do you get the impression that somebody’s not making his sales targets? Guilty. Sales this month are running 25% behind LY. Today’s meager paycheck – which I really couldn’t afford, but why else am I in business? – drove Curio City’s projected end-of-month checking balance down to (-$429). I have $379 in pending deposits against $1,233 in outstanding bills, with another $1,200 worth of orders that have been placed but not yet received. It’s looking grim as I prepare to shut down for a week’s vacation. 

Well, business can’t be an uninterrupted climb, can it? The year’s only half over; the top line’s probably a lost cause, but an unusually good xmas could still pull the bottom line out…and that’s the bottom line, isn’t it? This perpetually struggling economy makes me pessimistic, though. Curio City was founded in the halcyon days of 2005 on the assumption that Americans would always spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need. Who could have guessed that the party would end a scant two years later? Curio City is doomed unless consumers go back to instant material gratification. Would one more rhetorical question help?

It’s a small consolation that everybody else who isn’t upper class is circling the drain together.  

I had hoped that my speedier, more reliable web host might goose sales a little. So far, I don’t see it, but solving Mochahost’s chronic outages would have only a very long-term effect. Did downgrading from an interactive GoDaddy SSL seal to a static Comodo seal hurt my perceived security? Did my new IP address ruin my search engine rankings? Is the economy really sliding back into the crapper for everyone except the rich, as recent statistics indicate? Or are shoppers just on holiday for a few months?

You’d think that slow sales would reduce my cash demands, but I have to keep restocking the same few products. All of my money is going to Panther Vision, Jackite, Switchables, Cool Baseball Necklace, and golf ball reorders; struggling to stay on top of those bills freezes out everything else. It would be a great help if I could liberate some of the dollars locked up in merchandise that isn’t selling…but then it would be selling, wouldn’t it? Yesterday I marked down a couple dozen items by another buck or two; today I sold one and reclaimed $5. Well, at least it’s something.

On the bright side, June’s somniferous start gave me ample time to plant my vegetable garden. I’m going to have a bumper crop of tomatoes this year. Maybe I should sell those. At the $2.50/pound that Stop n Shop gets for inferior tomatoes, I could make thousands. 


Holy Hell, do I ever hate Blogger's new post editor! It's riddled with bugs and much harder to use than the old one. I don't see any improvement from week to week and their last Help blog post on the subject is months old. I would move my blog if I weren't trailing five years of history and 250+ posts.

Just another symptom of the collapse of civilization. They're everywhere when you open your eyes! ;)

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