In the background of last week's reassuring torpor, one ominous little signal flashed perhaps dimly in all that sunshine: the price of oil broke above $81-a-barrel. Of course in that range it becomes impossible for the staggering monster of our so-called "consumer" economy to enter the much-wished-for nirvana of "recovery" -- where the orgies of spending on houses and cars and electronic entertainment machines will resume like the force of nature it is presumed to be. Over $80-a-barrel and we're in the zone where what's left of this economy cracks and crumbles a little bit more each day, lurching forward to that moment when something life-changing occurs all at once.
Everything we know about it seems to indicate that human beings happily go along with the program -- whatever the program is -- until all of a sudden they can't, and then they don't. It's like the quote oft-repeated these days (because it's so apt for these times) by surly old Ernest Hemingway about how the man in a story went broke: slowly, and then all at once.