Monthly Archives: February 2009

A Nice Surprise

Mystery PlantI was out on a walk this morning and discovered this beautiful patch of green along the ground. From a distance I thought it was moss but as I got closer I could see that it was too tall. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen this before. A really beautiful plant!

Edit: The mystery is solved, it is Fan Clubmoss (Lycopodium digitatum)!

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Abyss Indeed

Exactly. In his latest post, The Abyss Stares Back James Kunstler writes:

In the broad blogging margins of the web that orbit the mainstream media like the rings of Saturn, an awful lot of reasonable people have begun to ask whether President Obama is a stooge of whatever remains of Wall Street, with Citigroup and Goldman Sachs’s puppeteer, Robert Rubin, pulling strings behind an arras in the Oval Office. Personally, I doubt it, but it is still a little hard to understand what the President is up to. For one thing, the stimulus package, so-called, looks more and more like national sub-prime mortgage itself, a bad bargain made under less-than-realistic terms, with future obligations fobbed onto whoever inhabits this corner of the world for the next seven hundred years — and all to pay for a bunch of granite counter-tops and flat-screen TVs.

We’ve heard it over and over and over and over from those in power in reference to this coming depression: “We have to do something.” My thought? No, no actually you don’t HAVE to do something especially when doing something is the wrong thing to do. Action for the sake of action is stupidity. But they are not just doing something. They are doing the same thing that got us into this situation. Taking on more debt to fix debt for the sake of growth that is not even real growth. Well, the consumption was real and the growth for China was real, but the debt taken on in the U.S. was just that, debt. We got in the habit of telling ourselves, as a nation, that credit and debt were wealth but they are not even close to wealth. They may create the illusion of wealth but when it comes time to pay back what you don’t have the reality comes home.

There will be no getting out of this mess, no way to navigate around it. The hard truth is that we will have to slog through it day by day. This collapse was a very long time in coming and the going will be an equally long time. Unlike the first Great Depression though, when we begin to come out of this we will not find a ready, seemingly limitless supply of oil to tap into. We’ll discover that the production peaked sometime between 2005-2007. The good news though is that by that time we will have gotten used to a scaled back, lower income, lower energy way of life.

Again, to quote Kunstler:

Among the questions that disturb the sleep of many casual observers is how come Mr. O doesn’t get that the conventional process of economic growth — based, as it was, on industrial expansion via revolving credit in a cheap-energy-resource era — is over, and why does he keep invoking it at the podium? Dear Mr. President, you are presiding over an epochal contraction, not a pause in the growth epic. Your assignment is to manage that contraction in a way that does not lead to world war, civil disorder or both. Among other things, contraction means that all the activities of everyday life need to be downscaled including standards of living, ranges of commerce, and levels of governance. “Consumerism” is dead. Revolving credit is dead — at least at the scale that became normal the last thirty years. The wealth of several future generations has already been spent and there is no equity left there to re-finance.

It really is that bad and wishful thinking will not help.

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Getting through this

I thought I’d direct folks to this fantastic post at The Automatic Earth regarding the costs of homes in relation to personal income and the role of banks in removing wealth from our communities. Some interesting points there about the end of a functioning capitalist system as well as a sensible, community-based approach to dealing with foreclosures. The only thing I’ll add is that we have been far too focused on wishful thinking in this country and that has to end. The longer we try to hold back reality, the more energy we spend trying to go around this mess rather than through it, the more intense and longer lasting it will be.

Why is 3 times income a reasonable price for a home? Shouldn’t the prices perhaps be
exclusively set by the cost of building a home? If 3 times income were
“normal”, consider that prices have become easily 3 times the cost of building
the home. So most homes cost 1 time annual income to build. And that’s just
the start. A mortgage of the elevated value will cost 3-4 times its notional value
to be paid off in full. Thus instead of living in a home paid off at 1 time annual
income, buyers will need 10-12 times annual income to own a home free and
clear. All this is money that disappears from communities, and into the vaults of
big faceless banks. It’s little wonder that communities and individuals have an
ever harder time establishing a decent level of services and decent living
standards, health care, education, water treatment etc.

Why do we accept so easily that speculation is a good thing when it comes to
our basic needs? It will come back to haunt us in a very aggressive way. Now
that the speculators, banks and developers can no longer rely on housing for
their gambling incomes, they will turn to other basic necessities, none of which
are shielded from the so-called free market. Thus, as incomes drop and
deflation expands its rule over the earth, prices for food, water and energy will
be set by “free” markets.

If we would stop handing money to the banks, which are insolvent anyway,
take the troubled mortgages they hold or have sold to Fannie and Freddie, who
would also receive not one additional penny, and give them to the communities,
who can negotiate with the occupants about a reasonable rent that would allow
them to remain on the premises (perhaps the Obama 31%-38% of income?!),
providing the communities with income, we do away with the need for all these
bail-outs. In one fell swoop.

A situation such as the one I’m painting here will eventually and inevitably
come to fruition. But our political and societal structures will not let it, not
voluntarily. And that will unnecessarily raise the suffering to levels we do not
even dare to fear. Free market capitalism is dead, and I don’t say that because
I have communist sympathies. I just look around me and see that no society
can exist that allows too many of its citizens to fall into utter misery. What
killed our capitalist system is the inclusion of basic human needs in an economic
system based on speculative games. If you set up an economy that propagates
gambling with basic human necessities, you will of necessity end up gambling
away the lives of the people who depend for their survival on those necessities.
Our societies have played these games beyond our borders, in Africa and Asia,
for hundreds of years. And now, because the system dies of it cannot grow, it’s
our turn.

I cannot resist to also share this excellent quote about Obama’s $275 billion plans to halt foreclosures, also from a recent post at The Automatic Earth :

The fact of the matter, of course, is that the $275 billion will not, and are not
meant to, benefit the homeowners. They are provided for the benefit of the
lenders, the banks. They are meant to guarantee an ongoing flow of funds
towards the vaults replete with toxic debts based on the very homes the
government now showers with cash. They are meant to artificially continue to
prop up US real estate values, which, if they were allowed to simply follow the
course of the markets, would bankrupt not only the owners, for which
Washington cares preciously little, but also the banks, for which Washington will
bend over backwards any time of day. The main problem is that it’s way too
late. The banks will drown, and everybody knows it. So the only real purpose
served by these measures is to transfer ever more of the public’s funds to the
banking sector. It’ll go on until the nation itself is completely broke and broken.

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Beeeeees and other updates

Yes indeedy. The hive and various bits of equipment arrived yesterday. I’ll get that set-up and painted in the next week or two. The bees will arrive sometime mid April. Sweet!!

I’ve started flats of broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, lettuce, and kale. I’ve ordered four hardy kiwi vines which will arrive sometime in mid March to be planted at the base of the arbor which will be built on the west side of the food forest. Thanks to Roger who works for the local utility I’ll also be getting several loads of mulch delivered in the next few weeks, probably 3-5 loads which will be more than we can use.

My first experiment with fermentation went well! I successfully fermented a head of cabbage into sauerkraut which I’ve already eaten! I started eating it after about nine days. I’ll start another batch next week and will be using two heads instead of one. I was not sure how it would turn out or what I would even eat with it. What I discovered was that since it was pretty salty it was a great addition to vegetable soup. I just put a big spoonful on top of each bowl and stirred it in a bit but did not cook it as that would destroy some or all the good live bacteria culture. I could probably let it go longer since my cabin stays cooler the fermentation is slower. I imagine if I’d left it go another week before starting to eat the end of it would have been a bit more sour.

Oh. I almost forgot the chicken update. In addition to the five chicks Jake hatched two weeks ago they (Jake and Greg) bought another 10 chicks of different varieties. But it doesn’t stop there. Oh no. Another ten were ordered. Yes, they have lost their minds. So, we’ll have a larger flock of chickens than I expected but Greg and Jake are confident we can handle it. WE being the keyword there. If need be we could always sell a few as there always folks looking to buy a few hens. We’ll see how it goes.

Lots of little steps all adding up to a good bit of progress I think!

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A Life in Transition

My niece Emma wanted to contribute a story and I told her I’d happily post it.

I come down to the Lake about every other weekend. It is a great place to be. Sometimes I here my mom talk about the memories that she had at the Lake. In the summer my family and I go swimming in the Lake. My dog even went swimming (she didn’t like it). My great grandpa makes pigs in a blanket. They are tasty.

I live in Barnhart, with lots of chickens. We are thinking about moving to the Lake. I say It’s a rough life. Sometimes I even cry in my Bathroom. Any how, I have only been to Cowboy Coffee once and, when I took a sip of there coco I felt that I belonged in the Small Town. I’ve always wanted to go to the museum. I wonder what is in the museum. All the people that I saw were all very nice. Sometimes I think if we are going to get a sheep for the Lake. If we did, I would shave it and sell some of the wool at the Farmer’s Market. The first time I went to the Farmer’s Market I saw bunnies! I wanted to cuddle with one of them so bad.

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Good old days…

My good buddy Brandon recently sent me an mp3 of his work in progress audio documentary of Free Radio Memphis. Loved listening to it and thoroughly enjoyed the rush of memories. That was a fun time…. well, the getting arrested was not so fun but everything that came before that. Take the wayback machine to the website of the Constructive Interference Collective.

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A Boy and his Chickens

My 13 year old nephew is home from school today. He’s not sick, he’s observing his first batch of chicks as the hatch from their eggs. Actually the first one hatched late last night. The remaining four will probably hatch today. I adore my nephew. I mean, how do you not love a kid that not only has the most amazing and crazy blond hair, but one who defies the norm so naturally and with no effort. He just is. He is a gentle soul that not only loves animals but is truly curious about them and investigates to understand what’s going on. The animals that he takes under his care really do get cared for and get close attention many times a day.

The story about the chickens began 11 months ago and I’m happy to say it was actually my idea. While visiting a local farm supply store for bird food and clover seed I was, as expected, drawn to the cheerful chirpings of the spring chicks being sold. I called my sister up and asked her why the hell they did not have chickens. A week or so later they had chicks. It was so obvious that I think sooner or later they would have done it anyway. The entire family cared for the chicks as they matured into beautiful and entertaining hen laying chickens. One of the hens, ironically named Chip, turned out to be a rooster. The fun and adventure of raising chickens got even better in the late fall when, as expected, they started laying eggs.

As winter rolled on I began talking of getting my own coop and chickens set up here on at the permaculture homestead and before long Jake started talking about getting an incubator so that he could grow any new chicks we needed. To be honest I wasn’t sure it would happen but then they found an incubator on Craig’s List and within a week or so he’d done his research and had the eggs on the incubator. Twenty one days later and last night the first chick broke free.

Chickens are one of the easiest and most productive additions to any garden in any setting. Country, suburban, urban, having hens is usually legal. Only a small space is needed though of course a larger space is nicer and the greater diversity of forage food probably results in optimal health. But really, practically anyone with any kind of backyard can have chickens. For gardeners they will add manure while they till the ground looking for insects to eat which lessens the amount of store bought food needed. Not only will they eat your kitchen scraps but you can grow much of their food right in your garden. They’ll eat any damaged or rotting fruit or veggies in your garden as well. If you’re in a setting where your garden is very small you could supplement their food by asking neighbors for their kitchen wastes in exchange for a few eggs now and then.

Given the arrival of peak oil and economic depression I have little doubt that keeping chickens will become much more common place. Ask Jake and he’ll happily talk your ear off about just how much fun they are and just how well they integrate into any family.

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Antarctic ice shelf set to collapse

Ugh. Antarctic ice shelf set to collapse due to warming:

A huge Antarctic ice shelf is on the brink of collapse with just a sliver of ice holding it in place, the latest victim of global warming that is altering maps of the frozen continent.

‘We’ve come to the Wilkins Ice Shelf to see its final death throes,’ David Vaughan, a glaciologist at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), told Reuters after the first — and probably last — plane landed near the narrowest part of the ice.

The flat-topped shelf has an area of thousands of square kilometers, jutting 20 meters (65 ft) out of the sea off the Antarctic Peninsula.

But it is held together only by an ever-thinning 40-km (25-mile) strip of ice that has eroded to an hour-glass shape just 500 meters wide at its narrowest.

In 1950, the strip was almost 100 km wide.

‘It really could go at any minute,’ Vaughan said on slushy snow in bright sunshine beside a red Twin Otter plane that landed on skis. He added that the ice bridge could linger weeks or months.

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