Jun 302010

The Supreme Court has put guns back in the headlines.

If you read the survival or prepper web sites there’s lots of discussion about guns. To cut to the chase, the discussion isn’t whether to get one or not. The talk is about what kind of weapons and ammo to have on hand. The need for home defense in these circles is a given.

At a minimum, handguns, rifles, shotguns and ammo could turn out to be a good investment in an hyperinflationary economy. The prevailing view is that it’s better to have a gun and not need it, than to need a gun and not have it.

I am a reluctant gun person. We never had a gun in the house when I was a kid. I went from 1965 to 2009 without touching a gun of any kind. In ’65, on an Air Force base in Vietnam, even though protected by fierce South Korean marines, we were required to carry a side arm. The biggest danger was shooting myself or being shot by another jumpy airman. The boys were mostly overjoyed to be required to pack heat and had all manner of shoulder holsters, ankle holsters and personal sidearms. I still have my handmade buffalo hide holster as a souvenir.

A couple of years ago I started thinking that owning a gun might be prudent. I started to talk to people and was mildly surprised to find out how well-armed we are as a community. Folks from the right side of the political spectrum don’t have a monopoly on gun ownership. A surprising number of progressives have quietly amassed small arsenals. There are some very knowledgeable gun people available. Unfortunately, there is no authorized place to shoot closer than the Custer Sportsman Club which one can join for a modest annual fee.

The internet, of course, is an endless resource. For the last couple of years I’ve enjoyed and learned a lot by reading blogs written by “gun people.” Massad Ayoob is a long time cop who writes for Backwoods Home Magazine. There’s Xavier, The Nurse With A Gun and the always intersting Brigid a woman who combines recipes, guns, dogs, living alone in long “don’t mess with me”essays. Brigid is a trip. A very serious woman. There are hundreds of gun blogs and equal numbers of Youtube videos on everything from how to load a pump shotgun to how to field strip and clean a rifle.

Guns are hot. Even the History Channel has gotten into  the act with a new reality competition show called Top Shot my new secret pleasure TV show (well, not so secret after posting this). Top Shot gathers together sixteen top marksmen from various disciplines and has them compete as two teams. It’s a good way to get exposure to a variety of weapons and see that “experts” are more that gun nuts. (Of course, there are self-styled gun nuts). Full Episodes of Top Shot can be viewed on the internet. It’s a painless way to get introduced to shooting.


Jun 292010

The small house movement is gaining steam. Google “small house” and you’ll get a billion hits. It’s not a surprise with the economy crumbling that people are looking alternatives to McMansions with high monthly payments and adjustable rate mortgages.

Thoreau went to the woods to live small and is, perhaps, the literary inspiration for the small house movement and the many books which document modern attempts to live small and more sustainably. Thoreau exhorted us thusly: “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail.”

I have lived both small and large and will confess to a preference for more space. That said, circumstance requires that we all make better use of resources and space. And, living small can be comfortable, efficient, more sustainable, less wasteful.

The Small House Society has a ten minute video that give an overview of what’s going on in the small house movement.

Tiny House Living puts out an interesting weekly newsletter with lots of information on small houses.

This line of Italian furniture, no doubt very expensive, shows how it’s possible to make use of space.

I’ve always thought Thoreau was kind of a nag. He left the pond after two years and a couple months. He opted for “civilization.” But he left a legacy of living small that is gaining momentum once again.

Jun 282010

Some are aware that Lloyd’s (in my day known as Lloyd’s of London) is the ultimate source of insurance and risk management knowledge. At Lloyd’s there are hundreds of years of cumulative underwriting wisdom. The principles(investors) in the various underwriting syndicates pay for the misjudgements from their personal wealth.  Lloyd’s has gravitas. When they speak, business tends to listen. And now Lloyd’s has spoken about the energy situation with a white paper written jointly with a British think tank. The title is “Sustainable Energy Security.” The conclusions:

•    Businesses which prepare for and take advantage of the new energy reality will prosper – failure to do so could be catastrophic
•    Business can no longer rely on low cost traditional energy sources
•    Asian economies will play an increasingly important role in global energy security
•    We are heading towards a global oil supply crunch and price spike
•    Energy infrastructure will become increasingly vulnerable as a result of climate change and operations in harsher environments
•    Lack of global regulation on climate change is creating an environment of uncertainty for business, which is damaging investment plans
•    Businesses must reduce fossil fuel consumption
•    Business must address energy-related risks to supply chains and the increasing vulnerability of ‘just-in-time’ models
•    Investment in renewable energy and ‘intelligent’ infrastructure is booming. This revolution presents huge opportunities for new business partnerships


The white paper puts Peak Oil out into the future a bit (2020-2030) which disagrees with those who have been beating the drum for a long time and who argue we have already reached a peak, but they are clear that they believe business must begin to act now. Most important to individuals they suggest that oil could go to $200 a barrel which converts to around $10 a gallon ($160 to fill my tank and $25 to mow my grass).

Continue reading »

Jun 252010

I never watch horror movies. Don’t have to. Just read the news. A gusher in the Gulf, a true life Armageddon, whose impact is real and immediate. And even in face of oil company malfeasance BP is being allowed (via loopholes in the off shore drilling moratorium) to drill another risky deep well in the Arctic. They will drill two miles under the sea and six to eight miles horizontally.

Stanley McChrystal, a general with four stars, is brought to ground by Rolling Stone Magazine. Mr. Obama discovers he does, in fact, have a spine and fires the general who as part of his CV was responsible for the coverup in the death of football hero Pat Tillman.   Armchair warriors like Michael O’Hanlon think firing Stanley was wrong because we are now entering “the most crucial six months” of the Afgan war (which has been going on for eight and a half years!).

New single-family home sales collapsed by 32.7%  in May 2010 to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 300,000, the lowest recorded level of sales in the history of keeping these records. This, of course, means that house prices will continue to drop until someone can afford to buy one. Listings on Lummi Island are at sixty. Perhaps a record high.

Illinois, Connecticut, Indiana, New Jersey, Hawaii, Louisiana and Oklahoma will run out of money to pay pensions by 2020.

And it’s no fun to shop in Canada anymore with the Loonie nearly at par.

So, it’s not a surprise to me that people want to keep their heads down and not think about the horror story, hoping that something good will happen; that we’ll find a giant straw to suck up all that oil, that the Arctic snows won’t get blackened, that General Petraeus will win a war against the wily Afgans and perhaps march home to run for President,  that housing will come back and we can all have a Great Room to sit in, that the states will find a way, and that the Canadians will quit taking up all the parking spaces at the Bellingham Airport.

While the macro picture is bad we can, at least, work on the micro aspect of our group dilemma by moving toward an increasing self-sufficiency and self-reliance.

If I could only quit reading the news…

Jun 242010

All dirt is not created equal. One of the challenges of gardening is to try and build ideal soil, soil that will provide a healthy medium for growing food that has the highest possible nutritional value. Most gardeners get the idea that we have to feed our garden to enrich it with nutrients that the plants will incorporate into our food. We add manures or compost (or both) plus fertilizer and trust that we have the right mix. Hopefully, we know where our additives come from because a lot of what you buy at the home and garden center isn’t just manure—it’s crap. You’ll think you are improving your soil but you could be making it worse.

Part of what we are trying to accomplish is to build the soil/life web but this is only part of the goal. In the Pacific NW the rains leach nutrients from soil. Beds can be protected over the winter by heavy mulching or even covering them with black plastic. At some point, though, in our quest to improve the nutritional value of our produce we need to take a hard look at the mineral balance of our soil.

The details of soil science get a bit complicated for me but the gist of it is there are lots of chemical actions taking place in the garden and it’s important to have the right balance of minerals to get the best results from your efforts. Michael Astera is the go to guy these days for soil science and his self-published book The Ideal Soil now available from Amazon lays it all out in detail.

The nice thing is that you don’t have to understand the details. You just need to buy into the concept that soil system, not unlike the human system, has to have the proper balance of nutrients to function properly. It’s pretty simple and not cost prohibitive to have your soil tested. Even without a professional evaluation you will begin to see where your soil has deficiencies. You can get a soil test from outfits like Logan Labs . Black Lake Organics in Olympia is a source for all those hard to find minerals.

You can get someone, even Michael Astera, to evaluate your test a give you a prescription. The two parts, test and evaluation cost about $20 and $60 respectively which might not seem worth it for a small garden. On the other hand, it’s hard to put a price on top nutrition and a garden whose immune system is strong enough to fight off bugs and disease, which is only one of the benefits of balanced soil.

Jun 232010

There is the belief that technology will lead us out of the oil crisis. Some argue there are infinite pools of abiotic oil deep beneath the surface of the ground. Others expect the food to continue to appear on supermarket shelves, that pure water will always pour from the wells and faucets, that cash will have value forever, that this recession is just part of a downward cycle and will go back up, that the stock market will continue to climb, that there will be new places to work, that football season will resume each fall , the trains will run on time and the ferry will go back and forth every thirty minutes. We are a country of positive thinkers.

It wasn’t always this way. As Barbara Esenreich points out in a 2008 New York Times opinion piece titled the Power of Negative Thinking,  our country was founded in a stern Calvinism.

The Calvinists were harsh. They thought negatively. Newton’s Third Law of Motion mandated a reaction to this negativity and in the 19th Century positive thinking arose “…with its crowd-pleasing message that God, or the universe, is really on your side, that you can actually have whatever you want, if the wanting is focused enough.”

Generally, Americans think everything is going to be okay. But the reality is that, “We have nearly totally dismantled our once colossal manufacturing base, we have shipped millions upon millions of middle class jobs overseas, we have lived far beyond our means for decades and we have created the biggest debt bubble in the history of the world.”

As Mr. Kunstler points out in his weekly essay: “We’ve ramped up a living arrangement that has no future… We’re uncomfortable with the mandates of reality, which is trying to tell us we have to live differently. The American people don’t want to hear this. The president doesn’t want to tell them.”
We thought change was in the air during the Obama campaign, writes Kunstler. “It turns out that change was exactly the one thing not really in the air. America does not want change, except from the cash register at WalMart.”

Continue reading »

Jun 222010

You may not know what a rabbit gum is. I didn’t. Not until my cousin  from Virginia, who still owns the family farm, showed up and told me how our Grandpa got rid of pesky rabbits. I don’t like rabbits. If you have a garden you probably don’t like them either. Details here.

Jun 212010

In this documentary film Mike Ruppert, who I have mentioned before, sits alone in a room that looks like a cell and chain smokes while he schools an interviewer (the film’s director Chris Smith) as to why civilization will soon collapse. It’s all about the oil. And the oil is all about greed. And money is the root of all evil as we once learned but then forgot.

Oil makes the world go round and it appears that oil, especially with the Gulf in crisis and possibly ready to explode, will be the end of us. Ruppert points out as many have that oil is the lubricant of modern civilization, the real fabric of our lives. It takes oil to drill oil and oil is required to make alternatives to oil. Oil is ubiquitous. It is oil, in fact, that is responsible for the quantum leap in world population. When the oil declines, civilization will decline as well. We will go into a long period of transition. Populations will shrink. To prepare people will need to build lifeboats. That is, strong family and community groups for everything will be local. Government will be out of money.

Ruppert is optimistic to the point of offering that one doesn’t have to be completely prepared for the future apocalypse. He points out that if you are camping with a bunch of people and a bear comes into camp you don’t have to outrun the bear. You just have to run faster than the slowest camper.

When this film was made Ruppert was down and out, unable to pay his rent and facing eviction. Collapse has given him, at least, new life, a new look and possibly some walking around money for in the bonus features to the DVD released on Netflix 6-15-10 he’s almost giddy with the recognition he’s received. Probably boosted book sales as well and brought him investors for his new website collapsenet.com.

I’m happy for him. I also hope he’s wrong about everything. Unfortunately, I think he’s right.

The film is worth a look. 83% on Rottentomatoes.com.

Jun 182010

If you are in the habit of reading extensively about the economy you will have, inevitably, read about gold. This week gold hit record highs and is approaching $1300 per ounce. Discussions of gold (and silver) have hit the mainstream media as governments and individuals get on the gold bandwagon seeing it as a hedge against inflation or a safe haven in the event of currency failure.

Survivalists  believe that when TSHTF gold and silver bullion will be necessary for survival. They base their decision to buy gold on the fact that, historically, gold and silver have had value. Websites like Goldseek and Jim Sinclair provide a constant stream of articles and analysis on gold and silver.

Gold and silver bullion are easy to buy at coin and pawn shops, via the internet or at mints like Northwest Territorial Mint. Likewise, it’s easy to take your bullion to a coin shop and sell it for cash. But bullion is a hassle to store and protect and many people gravitate to funds like the Canadian Central Fund (CEF) or gold mining stocks.

Like any other subject the information about gold is often confusing and contradictory. Some predict it will go to $5000. Others believe it’s just another bubble. Clearly, gold is in the news and worth some study as it could be useful in a transition situation.

Jun 162010

I read Mr. Obama’s speech with great interest this morning curious to see if the word “sustainable” would show up anywhere. It did not. He pointed out that we have a problem with oil:

“For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we’ve talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked — not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.”

But his solution is the techno one of shifting from oil to wind and solar. His implied message was that “happy motoring” must continue some way or another. Continued growth is the only solution. That continued growth might be able to evolve from a new, clean, green, energy industry.

“Each of us has a part to play in a new future that will benefit all of us. As we recover from this recession, the transition to clean energy has the potential to grow our economy and create millions of jobs -– but only if we accelerate that transition.”

Unfortunately, wind turbines, solar panels and energy efficient windows will not power the fleet of cars and trucks we currently have in service; certainly not in the way that petroleum does.

We’ll have a commission and a study and a new manager for the Minerals Management Service and a battle and a challenge and we’ll “fight for the America we want for our children. Even if we’re unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don’t yet know precisely how we’re going to get there. We know we’ll get there.” This is pretty stern stuff, isn’t it?

Obama’s speech ends with a call to prayer—a faith-based solution. I’m starting to feel sorry for this guy.

But I guess we won’t talk about how to create a sustainable future because that probably wouldn’t be too good for business. Apparently, we’ll just wait for the oily deja vu that is certain to come again. Oh wait, this Gulf story is the deja vu.

Jun 152010

Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from the things she found in gift shops.
-–Kurt Vonnegut

James Kunstler makes the point in his weekly Monday essay that one result of the Gulf Oil disaster will inevitably be less drilling in the Gulf because of increased safety regulations, difficulties in getting insurance and higher costs. As he points out the drillers will just move to areas where people don’t care if you oil up the oceans. The problem is that the Gulf was supposed to increase our domestically produced supply of oil to offset the depletion of oil from Alaska. This means our reliance on foreign oil will have to increase rather than decrease. Yet, and this is Kunstler’s main point, there is no leadership from the White House on the necessity of reducing the amount of oil we use. Happy motoring must continue unabated.

This ties together with one of the main theses of Charles Hugh Smith’s book Survival +. He argues that “consumerism” is in effect the state religion of the United States and directly benefits the plutocracy that controls the nation’s financial wealth. Consumerism directly benefits them and you pretty much have to get in your car and drive around to be an effective consumer.

Meanwhile 15 major oil and gas line projects are under construction around the world detailed here . We want that oil. It’s like the spice in Dune, the pipelines like the giant worms who bring it.

The spice comes with a steep price, however: “it is addictive, and withdrawal is fatal.”