Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Funnies

This Sunday’s Dilbert cartoon shows Dilbert talking to Alice about he concerns about a potential financial meltdown. He’s stocked up on food, water, batteries, flashlights and gold coins. Alice’s preparations is knowing Dilbert’s address and noting his lack of defensive weaponry.

Two things stuck out from that comic. One is that the whole prepper culture has hit high enough common recognition that it’s possible to make a cartoon about it for main stream publication. The second is that if people know about your preps they’ll use force to come and get it.

Dilbert makes two common mistakes. The first is telling Alice, who’s known for using violence to solve her problems. “Must control fist of death!” The second is prepping for a single event: financial meltdown.

Having basic preps is just a good idea. Having the basics of life to sustain you and your family during an emergency is only prudent. It might be a financial meltdown, but is more likely to be a job loss in the family, or a hurricane, flood, or any other disaster, both natural and man made. If you prepare one event and the threat of that event fades, the preps are used up, given away, or sold. That’s why there was such great deals on generators when Y2K fizzled out. The same guy who sold that generator may have been sitting the dark later on during a blackout.

In the real world, most preppers have defensive weaponry. Raiding for supplies is a high risk game. An individual will sooner or later meet someone quicker on the draw. An organized group like a gang stands a better chance, but that only works as long as they can keep their followers supplied and happy. A group big enough and organized enough to do it long term tend to become the government. Where do you think all that Middle Ages royalty came from in the first place?

One of the best survival options may be living in the right community. For example, everyone around me is armed, but I’m not worried about it. They also tend to have more than 3 days of food stored up, and many have gardens. Extended families and good neighbors, make barter and gifts better options. In a community, being able to help each other increases comfort and survival chances for all.

A Mormon friend of mine had an unusual food storage idea. Their religion recommends at least one year’s food supply. His supply was in the form candy canes. After Christmas, candy canes can be had pretty cheap. He knew the rest of the community had stored up on plenty of staples, rice, wheat, and beans. After a few days on that diet, something sweet would be worth plenty in trade goods. He knew his community.

Goes to show you can learn something from the papers -if you read the comics.


Out of touch with the world

I must admit to being completely out of touch with the workings of the world today. I feel great.
My lovely wife and I were invited to a get together at a local park. I did some fishing. The canoes, kayaks and a small sailboat were launched, much to the delight of all the kids. We had live music, good food and drink, and great company.

Summer is so short in New Hampshire, but it’s glorious while it’s here. It’d be a darn shame to waste it.

Nothing better than getting together with family, friends, and neighbors. Even got to meet some new people and got to know others better. What more could a person ask for?

I’m calling it a mental health day.

Hope your summer has some great days too.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Storm Brewing

Financial storm, that is. This whole debt ceiling debate has always had elements of theater. It’s like a bunch of street toughs waving their guns in each other’s faces, with no one really wanting to pull the trigger. Unfortunately, occasionally a gun goes off and it’s carnage in the streets.

I still believe a goodly number of Congress Critters are playing the game. However, some members really want to pull the trigger. Odds are they’ll kick the can down the road and put off really dealing with things, but there’s a less than zero chance someone will pull the trigger. Should that happen, it’ll be political blood in the streets.

There’s not really much of anything I can do about it all. Plenty of people have written and called their Congress Critter, and that doesn’t seem to have done much good. All I can do is treat it like a real storm. Today I took a bit of cash out of the bank and did a few groceries.

I did stock up on beer. If this goes down badly, I’ll want to crack open a cold one while the show goes on.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Boat prep

The dog was pretty disgusted with me today. As soon as she saw me heading down the trail to the lake, she got all excited. She almost knocked me into the drink in her excitement to get on the boat. She ran up to the bow, then up on top of the cabin. Unfortunately for her, I didn’t take the sailboat out on the lake.

Today was a project day. I brought down my measuring tape and notebook. We are planning a trip out on Lake Champlain soon, and I’m doing some last minute projects. One of the more important ones is bug screens for the hatches. Nobody likes to get eaten alive when trying to sleep. Also wired up a small ventilation fan to keep the air moving.

The poor dog kept checking up on me: poking her head through the hatches and climbing into the cabin to see what I was doing. The dog really likes sailing and just couldn’t understand why the boat wasn’t moving. In the end, she poked her head in the cabin one last time, snorted, then hopped off the boat.

Tomorrow I’m taking the boat out on the lake for real. The dog will love me again.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Philosophies and ideas, not organizations

Oppressive governments have gotten very good at dealing with opposition organizations. They infiltrate, monitor, corrupt, and subvert. Technologically adept agencies follow all communications and electronically spy on people.

So why are controlling police states falling across the world? We see the Arab Awakening, but revolution is breaking out all over. How is that even possible? Didn’t they have the opposition groups sufficiently suppressed?

Yes, they can squash individuals and groups, but they are much less successful suppressing ideas. Once the ideas have spread through the population, the people are ripe for change. When enough people start thinking the same way, a small spark can move them to action. The secret police are unable to decapitate the movement, because it has no head or a million heads.

If want a successful revolution, don’t form groups or political parties. Spread ideas, techniques, and philosophies -the ways and means of resistance. Right now, the Internet makes it easy to do so, but ideas have easily spread since the invention of the printing press. When you get right down to it, word of mouth can do the job. Whispers can win.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Heavy Equipment

The basement of my wife’s church had been hand dug after the church was built. It was quite the undertaking in New Hampshire’s flinty soils. The men of the church got together and built the basement over the course of a summer. It wasn’t really all that long ago, as there are still living members who worked on the job.

A single operator of a piece of heavy equipment can dig a basement in a day or two. A few gallons of diesel fuel can replace weeks of back breaking labor. The equipment is a lot more expensive than picks and shovels, but it can dig an awful lot of basements before wearing out.

We’ve gotten used to our petroleum burning slaves. Few people today would do that kind of labor. No one would hire a crew with shovels to dig a basement. Even at minimum wage, it would be more expensive than the guy with the machine.

Fuel would have to get a lot more expensive than it is before human labor would make sense. However, what if there was no fuel? What if the country was cut off from oil imports? Fuel would be rationed for the most important uses. Digging your basement probably wouldn’t make the cut.

The men who dug the church basement knew it would strengthen the community. There would be a place for community meals and celebrations. Back in the day, a church was often the center of a small town. That hand dug basement still serves it’s purpose as a community meeting place, but now it’s welcome has been extended beyond church members.

Some projects are worth doing, even if you have no choice but to do them the hard way. Those were busy hard working men, mostly farmers. Hard physical labor was their day to day life, yet they volunteered for more hard labor.

My guess is that if petroleum was cut off, it would be a long time before similar labor intensive projects were attempted. It would take a while for our cubical raised work force to develop the muscles and callouses necessary to do the job. Of course, most of those cubical jobs would go away without cheap abundant petroleum, so they’d have to get used to a lot of physical things.

I’d like to think that we would rise to the challenge and pitch in for projects greater than our own personal needs -projects that help bind the community together.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Winter plans

Summer here in the North Country is the time to plan for winter. Sounds dreary, I know. That’s one big advantage of being a Snow Bird. Florida sun sounds a lot nicer than nicer than tromping through the snow to the wood pile.

Last winter we didn’t start heading south until February 6. After a couple weeks of nice weather, my raspy cough and backache went away. I could stop taking vitamin D pills. We got to Florida during a cold snap, but after New Hampshire, 50 degree weather seemed nice. I had my shirt off.

Snow Birds tend to follow a particular pattern. At first, they’ll stick around until January so as to have the holidays with family. A few years later, they leave after Thanksgiving. Then they head south at the first sign of frost and don’t return until the weather is nice. At some point, many decide to become year round southern residents. That was the old routine, when transportation was cheap, pensions were reliable, and the country was generally pretty stable. That can’t be counted on anymore. We all know it’s expensive to travel. Many private pensions have failed. Even Social Security doesn’t sound too secure anymore.

Florida is going to miss those people when they can’t head south anymore. As bad as their economy is, it’ll be much worse without the Snow Birds.

My lovely wife and I are planning on heading south next winter, after the holidays. Those plans are tentative, as there’s too much instability out there. Family and friends might need us here. We don’t know if we’ll be gone for 3 - 4 months, 4 - 5 weeks, or not at all.

I have to plan for a the long trip, be prepared to settle for the shorter one, and also plan for staying the whole winter. It’s enough to make my head spin. I’m trying to figure out how many sailing charts to buy while getting the firewood ready for the winter. There’s only so much time and money to go around. Heading madly off into all directions doesn’t work particularly well. The best I can do is set priorities and have fall back plans.

Last year we spent time with family, friends and in campgrounds. Only a small percentage of our nights was spent on the sailboat. It was a learn to sail winter for us. Now we plan on spending most of our time on the boat. Small as it is, it’s become another home to us. No matter where you go, you get to sleep in your own bed. We’ll have food, water, and clothes with us. If an area seems sketchy, we can raise sail and go somewhere else. Heck, in a pinch, we could sail all the way back to New Hampshire.

Winter is hard, but I’ll be prepared for it. All the same, I’m hoping for a break from the bitter cold and deep snow.


Monday, July 25, 2011

The New England Power Grid almost came down

We almost lost the grid. The Dig Safe program keeps track of all the buried power lines. Before digging, it’s only prudent to check with them first. Dig Safe alerted a construction company to buried lines, but missed the fact that some pieces of key equipment was buried a lot closer to the surface.

How close did we come to losing the grid? The excavator actually hit the equipment and put a dent in it. The operator was alert enough to notice something wasn’t quite right. He shut down the operation.

Had the equipment been destroyed, it would have become a Homeland Security issue. The National Guard would have cordoned off the construction site. All tools and equipment would have been left behind. The company responsible would have been shut down. That’s how these things are handled these days.

The thing that impressed me what how fragile the grid is. There’s very little slack in the system. Destroying a small key part can cause cascading failures that radiate out a good ways.

People take power for granted, with no idea how fragile the whole system is. The New England grid had a close call, and hardly anyone knows about it. The people involved don’t want the details to come out, and I can respect that. Jobs are on the line here.

People really should give some thought on how they’d get by without the grid. Sooner or later, odds are the power will go down, and maybe for a long time.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Gift exchange

Last night a young friend of mine came over to the house. His old Mercedes diesel was loaded up with high quality industrial firebrick. After we unloaded his car, we loaded up a dozen jugs of waste vegetable oil. He is another grease burner. The old Benz of his is converted to run on waste vegetable oil.

His gift of firebrick is saving me a lot of money on my rocket stove project. In fact, I would not be able to afford brick of this quality. My gift of waste veggie saves him a couple hundred dollars that won’t have to be spent on diesel fuel.

The bricks didn’t cost him anything and the oil didn’t cost me anything, but both of us saved a lot of money with the exchange.

When I first told him I had some waste veggie oil to spare, he offered to give me some money. I quickly refused money. It’s not how a gift economy works. Since I didn’t want any money from him he asked me if there was anything I was looking for. Eventually, I mentioned I’m building a rocket stove and will need some fire brick. He’s working a construction job that had some brick left over.

Here’s the thing, back when I was down in Florida looking for waste vegetable oil, this guy was able to put me in touch with a group of people who might have some to spare. I felt like I owned this guy a gift for good information.

Now that I’m back at my home base, I’ve got plenty of high quality waste veggie at my disposal. It’s no big deal to share some.

Funny thing is, I feel like I still owe the guy and he feels like he owes me. This isn’t like a barter arrangement where it’s a direct trade. If things don’t come out exactly even, no one will feel hurt. We both feel like helping each other out if we can. What is gained by giving? A warm feeling inside and status in the tribe.

Now we aren’t a real tribe, but there are worse things like operating in a tribal style gift economy.


Good Friends

I’ve got good friends -some go back to my boyhood. The thing with old friends is that they’ve been around you long enough to know all your faults, and still like you anyway. That’s worth something.

After high school, most of my friends left my home town to find work and pursue careers. It was harder to stay in contact those days. Long distance phone calls were pricey. I actually wrote letters -on paper, with ink. A bit later I got a portable manual typewriter and wrote my letters on that. Not many guys took typing class back in the 70s. Out of a class of 40, there were only 2 guys. I thought it’d be a useful skill to have. Since was handwriting wasn’t all that great, being able to type letters to friends was a huge time savings.

Now it’s easier than ever to keep in touch. Long distance is cheap. Skype is basically free, as is e-mail. It’s easier to keep in touch with your friends.

While modern communication is great, it’s still no replacement for physically getting together. That what’s often missing in today’s world. It takes a higher level of commitment to physically get together. You can’t just zip off a e-mail or a Facebook comment, or lord forbid, a tweet.

It takes effort to coordinate schedules. People have to travel. You’ve got to put your pants on before leaving the house. There are all kinds of hindrances to being in another person’s physical presence.

It’s worth it though. Once you’ve been around the block a few times, you know who your real friends are. Friendships that survive the ups and downs of life are true treasures. It’s one thing to have friends when you are up, but to still have friends when you are down and out is a rare and wonderful thing.


Friday, July 22, 2011


So this guy owns this little place on the island. Most of the year, it’s only possible to get there by boat. However, in the winter, if the ice conditions are right, it’s possible to drive there right on the ice. That’s how the trailer got there in the first place.

At the end of the winter, the owner guy goes on a heroic drunk. The ice is about to break up, but being drunk, he decides to drive out to his place on the lake. Somehow, he drives all the out there in the middle of the night, without falling through the ice.

When he sobered up all the ice was gone. A big wind had come up in the night and broken up the ice. He was stuck there until someone with a boat came looking for him.

Funny thing is, the car was stuck on this little island until the next winter.


Random Bits

The space shuttle is back, safely. So ends the United State’s manned space program. Now we are beggars hitching rides on Russian rockets that are essentially 1960s throwbacks. Who won the space race again?

The heat wave plods on, with rolling blackouts hitting parts of the nation.

The fires burn on, not only in the US, but also in huge parts of Canada. Normally northern NH’s branch of the US Forestry would send experienced and trained firefighters to help. However, they’ve cut back so far on personal that they can’t get a big enough crew together to justify a plane flight.

Health care in the US is a national disgrace. Attempts to fix it only seem to make it worse.

The empire is dying. Americans in many parts of the world are about as popular as Germans were after WWII.

France and German are patching together deals in an attempt to keep the EU a going concern. It’s like watching a juggling act where more and more items keep getting tossed to the juggler. You know it’s going to end badly, but not where all the pieces will fall.

Oil is up around $100/barrel again. That’s after tapping the strategic reserves. Peak oil proponents just nod their head. No one like to hear “I told you so.”

The politicians can’t seem to cut a budget deal. You’d think it wouldn’t be all that hard to figure out how to stab the little guy in the back. If big business could show how they’ve invested in the United States and added good paying jobs, I’d think that maybe they earned their massive tax breaks. I don’t see it.

The beast shuffles off to Babylon.

As for me, I’m going sailing. Ain’t much I can do about the above problems anyway.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Heat Wave

My house doesn’t have air conditioning. I don’t miss it. Occasionally there’s a day or two where it’s a bit uncomfortable. On those days, my strategy is to grab a cold beer and wade into the lake. It works for me.

The current heat wave isn’t hitting northern NH too badly. It’s not even supposed to get to 90 before cooling off early next week. It still gets down to the 50s and 60s at night, so it’s possible to have a comfortable night’s sleep.

Air conditioning is a wonderful invention. It’s made the south livable. Old southern architecture, in the days before AC: high ceilings, good cross ventilation, big shaded porches, but when it gets really hot, it’s hot. AC makes even a tin box mobile home comfortable. New houses aren’t designed to use natural cooling and without AC they are unlivable.

In northern NH we don’t worry so much about staying cool. Keeping from freezing to death half the year is the main concern. At least it’s possible to stay warm using fairly primitive methods. Pile on the clothes and blankets. Burn wood in a woodstove. In the old days, a serviceable fireplace could be built using rocks and clay.

There is no primitive AC. Sure, there are swamp coolers that work if the humidity is low enough, fans help, earth tubes and earth sheltered construction can be effective. That being said, there is no easy retrofit for a modern AC unit. Many homes in the north have added wood heat without too much trouble. There’s no plug in substitute for AC. Whether it’s heating or cooling, having one really comfortable room is a relief -necessary for people with health issues.

Heat waves currently cause a certain number of deaths. If the grid goes down at the same time, there’ll be a lot more. Plenty of people aren’t acclimated to hot temperatures. My sister-in-law in TX didn’t even know there was a heatwave one year. She went from AC house, to AC car to AC office.

Most people can adapt to warmer temperatures, but it takes some exposure to them. You can’t go from a constant 70 degree AC environment to 100 degree temps. When my wife and I go to the the south, we try and stay out of AC as much as possible to adapt. There’s no AC in our old truck, and we often camp in tents or on the sailboat. We drink plenty of water and take it easy until we adjust. For me, it takes about two weeks, but it’s worth it. After that, it’s fun in the sun.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bookstore no more

Borders books is gone. The mega chain failed to find a new owner and is being dismantled.

At one time readers feared the big chains would destroy the little bookstore. Quite a few of them did fail. Now that one of the giants has fallen, there may be space for a few more independents again. It’s unlikely the small guys, combined, will have any where near the same amount of shelf space.

This is a huge loss for publishers, writers and readers. That big a market can’t disappear with it rippling through the industry. On top of the jobs lost directly, expect losses to hit publishers, distributers and writers. Pity the writers. It’s tough enough to get into print and make a living. Now it just got tougher.

E-books are growing. Amazon seems to be doing well right now. That’s fine, but I’m going to miss brick and mortar bookstores if they all disappear. There is something special about wandering through a bookstore and checking out books at random. The on-line experience doesn’t come close to caputuring the same feeling.

There are more and more “books” that are only in electronic format. It’s a cheap and easy way to “print” and distribute the written word. My concern is that much of this writing will eventually be lost. Electronic records are dependent on storage devices and machines that can read them.

On a personal level, anyone have important data stored on 5.25 inch floppy disks? How about 3.5 inch floppies? They were very common only ten years ago. Personally, the only thing I’ve got left from the 5.25 disk days are a few stacks of paper printed with old dot matrix printers. A couple years ago I went through all old 3.5 disks and saved the information to newer formats.

Now everything is backed up on multiple computers, a removable hard drive, CDs, and jump drives. For some reason, my oldest CDs don’t always read very well. My guess is that they don’t last forever either.

To this day, the only reasonably priced way to save information long term is to print it out -preferably on acid free paper using archival inks.

Of course, then we are back to books, those things that used to sold at Borders.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Who gets paid first?

Usually I think of these debt level squabbles as political theater. However, I’m beginning to think that there is a possibility this time it might be for real. Odds are that some kind of deal will be cobbled together at the last minute, but there is a chance that nobody will blink and both parties will drive the nation over the cliff.

As a mental exercise, let’s assume that the no deal is struck and the debt level is not raised. Theoretically, that means someone isn’t going to get their money. I’m curious to see who gets paid and who gets the shaft.

We can assume that all the politicians will get theirs. Long history has shown us that they live under different rules than the rest of us. After that, it gets interesting. Will the military get paid? Oh I’ve no doubt the military contracts to the big defense companies will be honored. If anyone doesn’t get paid, it’ll be the grunts in uniform.

How about Social Security payments? The president threatened that those might not go out. That’s a huge political mistake. Lots of people depend on those checks, small as they are, to survive. It would be a huge breach in the social contract. If I had a job that took out Social Security taxes, I’d really wonder why they were still being taken out. Most people still hope to get at least some of those taxes back. I’d be pretty ticked off and would do everything I could to not pay them.

Will the big International creditors get theirs? How will the investor class fair? Foreign nations? If these interests get paid and grandma’s pension check is canceled, it’ll be a sure sign the government isn’t for the people. Oh I know it isn’t, but after that, everyone will know.

Who can the government afford to screw? It’s own people or the financial markets? Either way leads to trouble.

Iceland got away with screwing the big banks, but it’s economy is a fly speck compared to the US economy. The Banksters can write off an Iceland. They can’t do the same to the US.

The stakes are high, so there is plenty of incentive to paper over the current mess. However, there are enough politicians who believe their own rhetoric that it’s possible no one bends enough to settle things.

In the long run, odds are the economy is going to crash anyway, but I’ve been kinda expecting this since the late 70s. I’m just as happy we didn’t have blood in the streets back then, and don’t want to see it now. If they try to implement “austerity measures” like they did in Greece, it could get very ugly very quickly.

Interesting times.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Sailing developments

I still have mariner’s disease. Thinking about sailing a lot. It’s probably healthier than constantly watching the news.

I sail about 3 - 5 days a week. Most days it’s on our smallish lake, but it’s good practice. Yesterday it was all about sailing in light winds with power boats kicking up huge waves from all directions -while fishing. The day before, I was practicing shallow water sailing with the swing keel lifted and the rudder kicked up.

My readers gave me some decent input concerning GPS. Having a limited budget, I picked up a Garmin 72H. It’s cheap, basic, floats, and is similar to the GPS I borrowed last winter. Rather than spend all my money on a GPS with color charts, I’m spending my money on paper charts and guidebooks. There are times when a GPS is a huge help, like in darkness or fog, but mostly we navigate with charts and a compass. Electronics are nice, but I don’t want to lean too heavily on them. That being said, it is really handy to be able to get true speed from the GPS.

A solar panel would be a nice addition. The battery charges from the 6 hp outboard motor, but if there is any chance of sailing instead of using the motor, we sail. I want several ways of charging up the battery.

I’ve been doing minor things on the boat. Replaced some rivets, tightened up some hardware, improving the wiring, and have a new tiller on order. Working on bug screens and cup holders. When I haul it out in the fall, the plan is to repaint the bottom and inspect the pivot of the swing keel.

Last year for cooking I just threw an old propane stove I had on the boat. The little Oday 19 lacks a galley, but I’m working on a better way of cooking in the cockpit. I’m not a real big fan of propane on a boat. Slowly putting together some basic stores to keep on the boat at all times. Leaning towards one pot meals and one handed meals that can be eaten while actively sailing.

We are seriously thinking of doing the ICW from Virgina to Florida starting in January. Yes, VA is cold in January. However, compared to New Hampshire it’s not that bad. New Hampshirites take their shirts off to get some sun when the temperature gets to 50. The one thing we do have is cold weather gear. My ICW guide book just came in and I’ve been going over it mile by mile. I’ve a cousin in Virgina and I hope to be able to leave my truck and trailer at her place. We’d most like sail back to Virgina in middle to late April.

As much as I’m not a fan of burning gas, I’ll probably install a bigger gas tank on the boat. It might be necessary to motor in order to get through certain sections before dark. Tacking against the wind in narrow channels don’t work all that well. I will sail a narrow channel if the winds are at all favorable, but even I have limits.

Most people would be appalled at doing the ditch on such a small boat. It is small, but that can be an advantage. It can scoot under some bridges without waiting for them to be raised. With the keel up it only draws a foot, allowing for beaching and shallow anchorages. Marinas charge by the foot, and at 19 feet, we won’t mind staying at a few of them. There is no galley space, but my wife and I find it quite comfortable for sleeping. There is no substitute for a good night’s sleep.

Before then, we hope to sail Lake Champlain in Vermont. It’s the west coast of New England. I’ve friends and family in Vermont who we’d like to connect with. We’d call them when we are in their area and they could meet us at the water.

There are some big Maine lakes on our to do list and maybe the mid coast of Maine if we can squeeze it in. We had planned on going with some Maine friends, but right now I’ve begun to doubt they’ll have their boat ready in time. Those wooden hull guys spend way too much time doing maintenance.

Of course, any number of things could derail our plans. At least we have plans. It’s surprising how many of our adventures we’ve actually be able to accomplish over the years.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

What would Socrates do?

Socrates spent a lot of time criticizing Athenian society. His aim was to improve it. The guy was pretty annoying. Here they were, a great empire, doing all that they could to be even greater, and this philosopher guy kept pointing out all their faults.

Greece was the world’s first democracy, with all its glories and all its faults. One big problem with a democracy is the possibility of things degenerating to mob rule. Politicians pander to the the mob, playing to their prejudices and fears in an attempt to gain power.

After a disastrous war with Sparta, the Greeks were looking for a scapegoat. They zeroed in on Socrates. After all, wasn’t this the guy will all the negativity about Athens and the war effort? After a speedy trial, Socrates was condemned to death and forced to drink poisonous hemlock.

The lesson here is that if you warn your people about flaws in their society and things really do turn out badly, they’ll turn on you. The squeaky wheel does not get the grease. It gets discarded. I guess the lesson here is that I should shut up.

Then again, Socrates kinda pissed me off too. The Athenians just wanted him to go away. The old boy had plenty of opportunity to go into exile. That wasn’t acceptable to him. He’d rather go to his death. Now if he’d quietly gone off into exile, we’d probably heard a lot less about him over the years. His death might have immortalized him.

I’m no Socrates. I want to be immortalized by living forever. If exile will stretch out my days, then exile it is. Diogenes is more my type of philosopher anyway.


Saturday, July 16, 2011


Sometimes it’s all about how we get there. If you suddenly had to cut your electric power usage by 98%, you’d be pretty stressed. Now lets say your electric power is cut off completely. It could be a storm, or even the inability to pay rising bills.

After going without power for a while, any electricity would be welcome. Let’s say after a couple of weeks without power, you acquire a 60 watt solar panel, charge controller, battery, and a 200 watt inverter. Now you can have an electric light or two at night, play the radio, or even run a notebook computer for a bit. Sure beats the heck out of zero electricity.

Few appreciate living on a tiny bit of electricity when they’ve had all they needed at the flick of a switch. Going without any makes a person realize how amazing a bit of free power from the sun can be.

Americans use crazy amounts of water -drinking, bathing, washing clothes, dishes, cars, and watering lawns. Often it’s hundreds of gallons per person per day. After a day of having no water at all, one gallon of clean water per person per day is a mighty fine thing indeed.

Housing? Go from a McMansion to homeless and a one room yurt is excellent shelter. Heating? Most people keep their whole house comfortable all winter using fossil fuels. Make that fuel unavailable, and a small woodstove with a supply of wood is a blessing. Food? A phone call to the local eatery will bring hot food to your door. Go without for a few days, and a home garden with a few chickens or rabbits is hugely appreciated.

Sure, small and simple is beautiful. So what?

It’s about how you decide to transition to future conditions. If you’ve paid any attention to the world, you know the economy is in trouble. The price of fossil fuels is going up and availability is an issue. The world is running out of clean water. Crops are doing poorly in major agriculture regions. Trouble is brewing no matter where one looks.

Ignoring the problem puts a person in a situation where they go from 100% to zero. One day the power is shut off, the furnace goes cold, the pantry is bare and the faucets run dry. It’s possible all these things could happen together, but losing even one of these things puts a person in a bad situation.

The wise person knows trouble is coming and downsizes while it’s possible. Trading in a “typical” lifestyle for a simpler one voluntarily can be difficult. The spouse and kids might do some screaming. They may assume the good times will roll on forever and you suspect strongly they won’t. If the collapse happens slowly enough for people to ignore it, they won’t transition to a more sustainable life until it can’t be done. The homeless person with no resources has very limited options.

While nothing teaches as well as the school of hard knocks, the wise person learns in less painful ways. He can imagine going from 100% to zero with actually have to do so in real life. Because he can make that leap of imagination, he can experience the joys of enough.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Utilities are getting mean

I got a call from one of my cousins. She lives even further back in the woods that I do. Even the climate is harsher -colder and snowier winters. My cousin is trying to keep the lights on. In previous years, she’d fall behind on her electric bills during the winter, but catch up during the warm months when demand is lower. Her and her husband are on a fixed income. She’s on Social Security disability and he’s much older than her on a small pension. He’s also quite sickly and his only medical insurance is through the Veteran’s Administration.

This year the electric company isn’t willing to wait for its money. They notified my cousin that she had to pay up or get disconnected. Now that’s the sort of thing one can expect from private companies. The local heating oil companies have taken a hard line in recent years. The electric company is private, but is a public sanctioned monopoly. In exchange for their monopoly, they are supposed to be regulated by a Public Utilities Commission. Apparently, the PUC isn’t the defender of the little people it once was.

Rumor has it that the electric company is upset with the local opposition to a proposed new power line corridor. It would cut right through the heart of some pretty wind and scenic areas. None of the power would actually be used in the North Country, but would be transmitted south to the major population centers. It’s said that the new hard line on late payments is a way of punishing the low income people located near the proposed power lines who have been very vocal in their opposition.

If that’s true, the electric company is making a very bad decision. Don’t piss off the people who wouldn’t’t think twice about shooting the insulators off your pretty new power line. Folks have got to do something interesting when the power goes out and the TV don’t work no more.

If you happen to live in the cities of MA, CT, and NY, don’t be too surprised if the lights go out all of a sudden for you too.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Land of Diminishing Returns

Working harder and having and having less to show for it? Welcome to the land of diminishing returns. Remember when working harder allowed a person to get ahead? Now people are working harder and harder, yet still slipping backwards.

It’s not their fault. That’s important to realize. There’s no guilt of failure involved here. When the cards have been stacked against you, it’s no wonder you can’t win the game. The rich are getting richer, the middle class are becoming poor and the poor???? God help the poor.

My dad, back in the 60s, 70s and early 80s, worked blue collar jobs. My mother did not work outside the home. They owned their own home. Mom had a car and dad usually had some kind of Jeep or truck. Dad always took us for two weeks of camping in the summer. He took a couple weeks off during deer season to go hunting. He did a lot of recreational activities, canoe racing, fishing, and many other outdoor sports. Mom and dad would go out to dinner and dancing. Occasionally they’d do something like fly out to Vegas for a few days.

Dad would do some work on the side: house painting, carpentry, that sort of thing. His occasional work allowed him to buy a cottage on a lake, and a share in a hunting camp.

My folks weren’t particularly unusual. Most of the people who worked in the local mills made more money than they did.

Dad didn’t make a lot of money, but it cost a lot less to live. For one thing, his work completely paid for his medical insurance. Mine costs me $740/month. Energy was pretty cheap. It didn’t cost a lot to live a middle class lifestyle. One wage earner could easily handle it. Heck, the guy who worked the produce section at the corner grocery store had a middle class life.

Now a lot of things have changed, but the main villain is the loss of decent paying jobs. There are many reasons those jobs are gone, but a big reason is greed. I remember when there was a clothing factory in town. For a $75 item of clothing, there was $3.50 of materials and labor. The operation was shut down because it could be done in China for $0.50. All US manufacturing was shut down for that extra $3. Of course, the guy who made the decision got most of that extra $3, so he personally did great. I imagine that process was repeated many many times in this country.

The jobs that are left don’t pay what the old jobs did. My generation covered up the difference with credit cards and both spouses working. Later, we got a little spending money by refinancing our houses. Now the credit’s maxed, often one spouse or both are out of work, and the house is worth less than what’s owned on it. You can’t work enough hours to make up for wages not keeping up with inflation, the rise in medical costs, and the holes in the social safety net.

What will people do? Some will keep working, never taking vacations, ignoring their personal life, hoping it will end. They will have to be very lucky indeed for it not to end with them having a break down. Others will ignore the fact they are continuously losing ground until eventually things catch up with them. They live in a make pretend world.

A few will realize the game is rigged and stop playing. When enough people withdraw from the system, it crashes. It can get ugly -bankers and politicians hanging from the lampposts ugly. Those people who’ve been making the decisions that have screwed us peons fear too many will wake up and pull out of the game. You can’t be a chief without all the little Indians.

Most people didn’t mind that there were people richer and more powerful than them. What the do mind is their lives being turned into a living hell so those people can get even wealthier and more powerful.

You don’t even have to pull completely out of the system. That’s very hard to do. Don’t worry about being perfect. Just the fact that you are pulling back any support at all drives a stake in their hearts. To keep the system going needs ever increasing growth. Voluntary downsizing, even a little bit, by enough people, breaks the system.

The time to fix the system is quickly running out. However, that’s not my problem. I’m only marginally interested if the system survives or not. For me, it’s already past that point. Every day I look for ways to pull a little further out of the system. I think it’s most likely going to die anyway, so I’d best not get too invested in it. I’ll be darned if I’m going to be a wage slave when I could have a life instead.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Truck Tricks

Truck Tricks

It’s always something. I got my truck back from the garage over the weekend. The mechanic did a fine job fixing the brakes. Monday, it worked well to tow the sailboat to Lake Umbagog. Leaving the lake, the truck started a bit sluggishly. The next day it wouldn’t start at all.

After charging up the batteries, the truck fired right up. However, the alternator wasn’t generating any power. I certainly wasn’t going to take the truck back to the garage. An alternator isn’t that hard to change, and doesn’t require special tools. The local junk yard had a replacement for $45. I could afford the price of junk yard part, but not a dealership part, especially after paying for brake work.

Some people really get into working on cars. I’ve never been one of them. All I want from my vehicles is for them to work. They don’t have to impress people, confer status or look nice. Recently a lot of vehicles around here suffered hail damage. My truck might have too, but it’s too hard to tell with all the old nicks and dings. Let’s just say I don’t waste any money on car wax.

Today was a pretty decent day to be a shady tree mechanic. Beats the last time a friend and I changed the alternator. Temperatures were not too far about zero. Tools kept falling from frozen fingers into the snow. Even working alone, this job went much faster.

It is a real satisfying feeling to do a repair job, fire up the engine, and have everything work the first time.

Now all I have to do is figure out where to tow the sailboat to next.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Lake Umbagog

Lake Umbagog is a 9 mile long semi-wilderness lake that straddles the border between New Hampshire and Maine.

On Monday, my lovely wife and I launched the sailboat on the lake. My cousin joined us with his Scorpion sailboat. It’s similar to a sunfish. My wife and I were joined by my cousin’s girlfriend, my daughter and granddaughter. Of course, Brownie the sailor dog was also on board.
It was an absolutely beautiful day. Very few people out on the lake. We sailed the length of the lake and took a break on the far side. The wind was against us on the way back, so we tacked the whole length of the lake. We got back to the boat landing just before dark.


Dammed by the state

Some years back, the State of NH built a new dam on the south end of the lake. It’s the smallest damn the state manages. They messed it up. One thing they got right. It has a much larger spillway than the old dam so can better handle flooding. However, they screwed up and built the dam about 6 inches higher than the old one.

Six inches doesn’t sound like much, but the effects on my land have caused me all kinds of grief. In the summer, I used to have a bit of natural sand beach. That’s gone. Now the waves crash right up on the vegetation, putting the shoreline under stress. We turned an old rowboat into a giant sandbox so the little kids would have some sand to play in.

All my white birch trees in the swamp slowly died. That extra six inches made is so the tree roots never got above the water table. Basically, they drowned.

My trail down to the lake used to dry out. The occasional bucket of sand would fill in any wet spots. Now pretty much the whole trail is boggy. We are in the process of putting in a couple hundred feet of bog bridges.

Of course, the state denies that they changed the level of the lake. It doesn’t matter how many property owners have complained. The state can do no wrong. They do have all kinds of laws regulating the land around the lake. An individual better not get caught messing things up the way the state does.

On the bright side, friends and family have helped immensely with labor and materials to improve my property. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Summer neighbors

Summer is the busy time here on the lake. This weekend I actually have neighbors. They aren’t bad neighbors, as far as neighbors go. We aren’t feuding or arguing over things like boundary markers. It’s just that I hear people next door. Okay, their place is a good 350 feet away, but by local standards, they are close.

It took the dog some time to get used to the idea that people had a right to be next door. We got the pup in the fall. There was nobody around until late spring. She kept barking at them and trying to run them off. Pretty aggressive behavior for a 20 pound dog. It took a bit, but now the dog knows where our land ends and the neighbor’s begins.

My lovely wife and I took the sailboat out this afternoon. The lake was actually busy. There were big inboards on our little body of water and a couple large pontoon boats -what I call a booze and cruise. Plenty of smaller fishing boats boats were on the water too.

One couple in a good sized outboard came up along side. At first, I thought the guy was going to ram us, and I tried to give him some space. Yeah, a sailboat is supposed to have the right of way, but don’t count on it. The guy wanted me to explain to his wife why were zig zagging all over the lake. She didn’t understand that we couldn’t sail directly into the wind. He was unable to convince her so he pulled up along side so we could explain it to her. Go figure.

By Monday most of the crowd will be gone, including my neighbors. There will be less powerboats on the lake and more canoes, kayaks and sailboats. It’ll be a lot quieter.

The lake is only really busy about 10 weeks of the year. Even during those 10 weeks, it’s only the weekends that see a lot of activity. I’ve come to really enjoy the quiet times. Today the loons and osprey went somewhere else. I missed them more than I’ll miss my neighbors.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

If it wasn’t for water time

I think about the only thing keeping me semi-sane right now is all the time I’m spending on the water. There’s plenty to be disturbed about. The economy is great, if you are rich. If you work for a living, things are very tough indeed.

Sure, the unemployment numbers are up a bit, but that’s hardly the whole story. It doesn’t tell the story of my engineer friend who’s been out of work for over a year and has dropped off the official statistics. Then there’s all the people who are working, but for a lot fewer hours and at a lot less money. Of course, there’s the flip side, people working 80 hours in an attempt to maintain some semblance of a middle class life. As long as nothing breaks down or no one gets sick, everything will be fine.

One of the things that pains me is the number of really talented people who can’t do what they do best. Instead, they do what they can to get by. There’s the teacher who’s working as a janitor. There’s the extremely skilled artist who once did fine work on commission. I saw him the other day painting novelty signs on the sidewalk in an attempt to buy some gas. There are skilled tradespeople not practicing their trades. Most of them are doing some kind of work, so they aren’t listed as unemployed.

My lovely wife and I are doing fine, but that’s because we’ve worked for years to put ourselves in a position where we can live on very little money. We do need some however and what we get doesn’t go as far as it used to. It pains me to see friends and family suffering. Some had bought into the refinance your house to live well lifestyle, but many people did. No one listened to me when I warned it would all end in tears. They ignored me and why not? Wasn’t everyone saying that real estate could only go up?

I dread what will happen come winter. I know a lot of people who’ve been unable to pay last winter’s heating bill, so they’ve been cut off. Last winter, I showed one of my friends that he could use diesel fuel instead of heating oil in his furnace. While he couldn’t afford the 125 gallon cash up front delivery, he could afford to by diesel fuel 10 gallons at a time. The guy still has my diesel fuel cans and funnel. He needs them more than I do, I guess.

Medical insurance is another issue. Many of my friends have dropped it and are taking their chances. I saw one guy today who really should see a doctor. He’s in constant pain but he has no insurance. He can’t afford to miss a day of work to see a doctor either. Medical costs me $740/month, so I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to keep it my own self.

It’s not just my area. Compared to some places I’ve seen in my travels, my home town is an economic prosperity zone. Too many people are right on the ragitty edge. International news reports protests in the streets all over the world. I wonder how it’ll all play out in our country.

I cruise around in my little sailboat and it calms and relaxes me. My wife and I would really like to do some coastal cruising. On my bad days, I have this vision of sailing down the coast, watching cities burn in the distance. It’s a grim thought, but not impossible.


Friday, July 8, 2011

Terrible loss

My lovely wife and I went to a wake Thursday evening. The son of my former Fire Captain took his own life at the age of 41. All the Firefighters, both current duty and retired, went to the wake. We had to show our support.

It’s tough when anyone dies, but it’s even tougher when the death is self inflicted. I don’t even want to speculate on why he did what he did. No doubt plenty of people have their opinions. All I know is that those he left behind are suffering terribly.

I hadn’t kept in touch with the guy, but I remember when he was a kid hanging around the fire station. There’s no telling what twists and turns a life will take. Firefighters are a close bunch. It’s a brotherhood, (or sisterhood, as the case may be.) We are like one big family -a big dysfunctional family, but family none the less.

I pray for healing for those left behind.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Gadgets VS Frugality

My love of gadgets bumps against my sense of frugality.

The store my wife loves for clothes shopping has a pretty decent collection of hiking supplies. That’s why I don’t mind tagging along.

There were all kinds of nifty gadgets, many of which could work out just fine on a small cruising sailboat. Space is at a premium on the boat and hiking gear is pretty compact.

There was this really nifty little folding kitchen sink. My boat lacks a galley and the backpacker’s sink would work fine for washing dishes, but I did not buy it. You see, my boat already has a cheap plastic bucket on it. It’d work well enough for washing dishes, clothes, and even bailing. It’s not a nifty gadget, but I already own it and it can do several jobs.

There was this nice all in one weather gadget: altimeter, barometer, compass, chronometer, thermometer. and maybe one or two other things. It was all nicely packaged in a compact waterproof case. It was also about $70. Now I don’t really need an altimeter on the boat. I’ve got a good mounted marine compass plus a couple regular hand held models. I’ve a thermometer that I got for about a buck once used for cross country skiing. A chronometer is a fancy name for a clock. I’ve a waterproof pocket watch and the gps has the time too. Now a barometer would be nice, but I keep a pretty close eye on the sky and listen to my weather radio. None of my stuff comes in a compact all in one package, but it’s all on the boat.

They sold a compact little orange box with a first aid kit, knife, flashlight and whistle. It was a marvel of engineering. Everything nested together. However, the cheapo med kit I keep on the boat, while bulkier, has a lot more stuff in it. I’ve also added things like larger bandages, insect repellent, sunscreen, and Dramamine. There’s two knives on board in addition to my pocket knife. I keep at minimum of 3 flashlights on the boat at all times. I was given some whistles from a kayaker friend of mine and attached them to the life jackets.

Forget about the freeze dried hiking foods. While some of them actually have a passable taste, the price is crazy. I can do better in your average grocery store. Sure, my food might weigh an ounce or two more, but I think the boat can take the extra weight.

My sense of frugality completely trumped my love of gadgets. As an added bonus, since the store didn’t have exactly what my wife wanted, she didn’t buy anything either.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Built to fail

My weed whacker just died in an acrid cloud of smoke. I had to toss it in the trash, and it hurts me to throw stuff in the trash. Too much of our stuff is built in such a way as to be unrepairable. No doubt it was cheap to build, in some some nameless Chinese factory. Cheap labor, combined with lax environmental regulations, along with inexpensive shipping all add up to low priced consumer goods. Way too much of it is crap.

To be fair, that’s what society demands. How many people lack even basic tools, never mind the skills to use them? It only takes one generation of a disposable society and the skills become rare. There is little demand for products that can be fixed. If nobody is repairing things, then there is no market in spare parts. It’s a vicious circle.

The disposable society is a fluke -the combination of cheap energy low cost labor doesn’t happen all that often or for very long. Workers in China, like workers everywhere, want a decent wage. Energy isn’t at cheap as it once was. The end of this economic model is in sight.

Replacing something won’t be cheap and easy anymore. The fix it guy or gal, will be back in style. Too bad that they’ll be called upon to fix cheap stuff never meant to be fixed. A certain amount of cannibalization of parts can keep some stuff going. I’ll bet older stuff, gathering dust in attics and garages, will be pressed back into service. How often are things replaced because they go out of style? Maybe they work fine, but lack some new whiz bang feature. Better an old tool that does the basic work than a new snazzy device that breaks and can’t be fixed.

It’s possible that if there is any manufacturing going on in the future, it’ll be of tools and machines that can be repaired. Stuff will have to last again. Expensive energy and materials require the best use of both. There’s no sense in using limited resources to build throw away junk.

Since I feel this way, you are probably wondering how I ended up with a cheap Chinese weed whacker in the first place? It was given to me by someone who bought a better one and didn’t want to throw out something that still worked. At least all the useful work was gotten out of in. Now I’ll have to dig out my old human powered trimmers from out of the basement and sharpen them up.


Monday, July 4, 2011

Night Sail

The lovely wife and I went for our first night sail on Independence Day. We wondered if anyone would be lighting fireworks on the lake. After the spectacular display on the 3rd, we thought everyone might be out. That wasn’t the case. The day before it was the cottage on the south side of the lake doing the major display. On the 4th, the west and north side appeared to be in competition. Good show.

We shared the lake with a large pontoon boat, well lit, and dark green canoe with no lights. Fortunately, the canoe stayed close to shore and didn’t stay on the lake very long. Since we were not actually trying to get anywhere, we only bothered raising the main sail. There was only enough wind to move us at minimum headway speed. That was fast enough for watching fireworks.

On the way back to our beach, the wind slowly died completely. The shore was only a few hundred feet away, but we weren’t going to get there on sail alone. After watching the stars a while, we put the sail away and I fired up the engine for the short trip in.

It was a nice end to the holiday.


Happy Independence Day!

I never call the holiday the fourth of July. That’s just a date on the calendar. For me, it’s Independence Day, a time to remember when an oppressive government was overthrown by the people. Never forget.

Our annual Independence party celebration was held on Sunday this year. Many of our friends and family have to work today. Rain cut our expect crowd of 30+ people to about half that. They missed out on a fine time. Some of the guys rigged a large tarp over the outside bar, lit a roaring fire, and we were good to go.

After a couple hours, the rain stopped and the canoes, rowboats and sailboat hit the lake. There was swimming, good food, good drink and good company. Just before sunset, the sky cleared treating us to a spectacular sunset.

Once it got dark individuals launched fireworks out over the lake. Fireworks are legal in New Hampshire, and with all our recent rain lately, there was little danger of forest fire. Over the years there has developed an informal competition over who can put on the best display. Last night’s clear winner was the crew across the lake who put on a dramatic display for a good solid three hours.

Sometime today people who were driven home will wander back here to pick up their cars. I’ll have a strong pot of coffee going.

Hope everyone has a good Independence day and remembers those who fought for freedom and those who fight the good fight today.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

More truck troubles

I’m an easy does it driver. Normally I don’t drive all that fast and I come to gradual stops. That is, until a moose bolted out in front of my truck. Then I matted the brake pedal and tried to put my foot through the firewall. I missed the moose, but my brake pedal felt squishy after that, not a good sign.

I suspected two things. One, that my panic stop might had blown a brake line. (It had.) My second suspicion was that something else had to be wrong with the brakes. (There was.)

Now I’m looking at replacing a master cylinder and a vacuum pump. As if that wasn’t enough, while the truck was on the lift, the mechanic noted I’m going to need a new front axle soon. After the Independence Day holiday, I’ll go down to the garage and see what kind of an estimate they were able to work up for me.

On the plus side, I’ve a friend who may have a gently used axle and who’s willing to help me change it. As for the brake parts -I don’t like to mess around with used parts. It’s a safety issue.
The truck is old enough that I was debating if it was worth fixing one more time. My wife acquired a second hand Caviler from my daughter. The idea was that since it’s a gas burner, we’d only use it for short trips where it didn’t make sense to use the veggie powered diesel. On short trips, the truck doesn’t warm up enough to switch from diesel to veggie.

Now that we are using the car for every trip, I’m stuck buying gasoline, and I don’t like it. I’m used to buying 10 gallons of diesel for every 3000 miles of travel. The diesel runs just long enough to switch over to the free waste vegetable oil I normally burn. Buying gasoline on a regular basis just feels wrong.

Worse yet, until I get my truck back, I can’t haul my sailboat. Already I’ve had to postpone a major boat trip.

Now if I could only convince my wife to live on a sailboat, we wouldn’t need the truck or the car.


Friday, July 1, 2011

Differences in States matter more

As the United States moves in a more troubled future, the states won’t be quite so united. For years we’ve heard that Peak Oil will force everything to be more local. Travel will be restricted. Energy will be limited to what your local region can provide or that you can generate for yourself on your own land. Even entertainment will be more home grown.

Politics will be more local. The Federal government won’t have the reach it does today. There may be people sitting in D. C. making “national policy,” but that won’t affect people very directly in the hinterland. If the rules are followed at all, it’ll be because some local power wants it that way. If the locals don’t want to enforce a particular rule or law, it won’t be enforced.

Think about that when you pick a place to move to. Local norms will be what really matters. You’d better study an area well: it’s history, customs, and practices. What do most people believe? Does it matter which church you belong to? Will you never really fit in because your family hasn’t been in the area for three generations?

When the Soviet Union broke up, many countries regained their independence. They became nationalistic and much more concerned about their local affairs. Many things that predated the Soviet era came back. Much of that was positive, but there was one group that had a very hard time.

Many ethnic Russians settled in these satellite states. When the states became independent, these Russians were stranded. Now many were born in those regions and had never even been to Russia. However, most still spoke Russian and often they even looked markedly different than the people of the host country. Some managed to assimilate, but others have suffered. Many emigrated to Russia. Other found their world shrunk down to little Russian enclaves in hostile territory.

Now picture yourself stranded where you live today. Do you really fit in with the people around you? Is your well being dependent on Federal law trumping local prejudices? Picture your state or region as its own nation. Is it your nation, or will you be a stranger in a strange land? Better find your people while it’s still relatively easy to travel. Your options will only narrow in the future.


Last minute journalism

There I was, hanging out at the local farmer’s market, minding my own business. The reporter from the local rag approached me. She was about to interview Ron Paul (yes, that Ron Paul) and had almost no idea what he was about. The reporter asked the farmer’s market lady if she knew anyone who knew something about Congressman Ron Paul. The market lady spotted me and knew I was politically aware.

Off the top of my head, I gave the newspaper reporter a bit about his background, current legislation he was involved in and a few of his favorite causes and issues. Then she ran off to do the interview. I’m curious enough that I will pick up a local paper to see how it all turned out.

To the average person, that looks like pretty slap dash journalism. Unfortunately, that’s the way it’s done. I do have a journalism degree gathering dust around here somewhere, so I’ve seen a bit of it from the inside. There is very little time to get up to speed on a subject and deadlines aways loom. Some journalist call it “feeding the beast.” As soon as you finish a story, it’s on to the next thing, with no time to catch your breath.

Sometimes a journalist will do an in depth feature article. Days or even weeks may be spent on research and writing. That doesn’t happen as much as it used to. Media outlets run at a faster pace these days. Readers, with their Twitter attention spans, don’t help much either.

My old journalism professor left his normal D. C. beat to spend two weeks in the deep south. He wrote a series of articles about people and places most of the world knew little about. From that point onward, he was considered the “Southern Expert.” The title embarrassed him. “I only spent two weeks in the South, I know nothing about the South.” While that was true, he knew more than anyone else at his big D. C. newspaper.

There just isn’t time to know everything about everything. However, that doesn’t mean a journalist won’t have to do an interview or an article at a moment’s notice. Younger journalists at least know how to Google a subject or look up a Wikipedia entry. It gives them a place to start.

The dream of many journalists is to write books: long leisurely books that dig deep and examine an issue in detail. Some go out and do it. Often it ends badly as either the journalist, freed from space limitations, won’t shut up already, or doesn’t change his style to fit the new format. Either way, it’s tedious. Once in a great while a journalist gets it right, and when they do it’s a fine piece of work. They get to do the kind of quality writing that “feeding the beast” doesn’t allow.