Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What the cameras don’t see

I’m curious to see how the storm Sandy areas are going to be weeks and months from now. Once the first excitement is over, the cameras go away. The damage doesn’t.

Bodies were being discovered in New Orleans long after the news crews had moved on.

One thing to remember is that we are only seeing the damage because someone has been able to take photos and video. Some areas won’t get any coverage, even though they were affected.

Friends who live in Florida told me stories of an illegal migrant camp that hurricane Andrew wiped out. Few knew they were there and no one reported them missing. The officials weren’t too interested in finding out what happened to them.

Vermont was still repairing damage from last year’s hurricane Irene. Next time I’m over there I’ll have to see what the new storm has done to the recovery efforts. Irene was last year’s news, but some people are still living it every day. Recovering from a disaster that totally upsets your life takes time. Some wounds never heal.

I thought I’d spend the day doing post storm clean up. Through a combination of good planning and luck, there’s nothing to clean up. Anything that could have become airborne had either been taken inside or tied down.

This is a good time to review disaster preparations and to critique our performance. About the only major hole in my planning has been for the dog. I though I had a lot more dog food at the house than I did. Of course, she would have been very happy to eat table scraps indefinitely. That pup is spoiled as it is.

I’ve traveled most of the hurricane Sandy impact area over the years. I’ve photos and my memories on how things used to be. There are a lot of places that must be different now. Already some of those places have shown up on news sites. Others will never be on the National news. Those I’ll like to check out for myself.

For preppers, the story has just begun. How will people deal with the aftermath? When the cameras have moved on to cover the next celebrity, some of us will want to know how regular people are coping.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

We’re back

We weathered the storm in good shape. The grid and Internet went down around 9 p. m. Monday night, but soon came back up. There’s no obvious damage around the house. Later, when the rain slacks off, I’ll walk the property and check the tree damage.

While we got some strong wind gusts, it wasn’t all that bad. The hills protected us. During the night, the wind sounded like a freight train in the distance, but we were shielded from the worse. Luck and location were on our side. At least 200,000 other New Hampshire residents lost power.

Thanks for all the prayers and positive thoughts sent our way.


There are jobs and then there are jobs

A number of large restaurant chains are requiring their staff to come in. It doesn’t matter that Sandy is a huge life threatening storm. It doesn’t matter that public transportation systems have been shut down. It doesn’t matter that all the smart people have left town. What matters is that maybe someone might want a bacon cheeseburger to go with their storm.

Any company that requires their workers to risk their lives to come to work does not deserve worker loyalty. It’s obvious those companies care nothing for their workers. They just proved it. People have to make their own decisions, but why risk your life for a company that has regard for your safety?

People who work in emergency services like Police, Fire and EMS -this is exactly what you signed up for. This is your job. When I was a Firefighter I lived for things like this. Of course, I had training, equipment and was part of an experienced team. Even so, there were things even we would not do.

Some of the people we rescued were just plain unlucky. Most, however, were stupid, drunks, or drug addicts. There’s plenty of people who can barely function during the best of times. Disasters quickly overwhelm them.

Emergency services will be busy enough with those people. Don’t become a problem just because your boss wants you to come to a job that can wait until later.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Calm before the storm

Sunday, some of my friends and family pulled together to split and deliver another 2 cords of firewood to my house. There’s one last cord of wood at my friend’s house for me. Half of that one’s been split. We could have pushed and finished up, but I decided to wait. When everyone’s getting tired, that’s when accidents happen.

It’s been great processing wood at my friend’s house. He’s got a lot more room, a 10 hp woodsplitter, and a dump truck. It’s good to have friends. Added to my previous deliveries, I should be have more than enough wood for the winter.

All day I kept an eye on the sky, watching the clouds, feeling the wind, and getting some idea what the early effects of a monster storm looks like.

On the way home I stopped at a big box store to round out the home supplies. Sure, I’ve plenty of stored foods, but it was time for the regular weekly order anyway. Thought I’d get some fresh foods and comfort snacks. The store was busy, but not crazy busy. Apparently Saturday was the insane busy day. The girl working checkout said people have been buying lots of canned goods. That actually makes sense as most canned foods are edible right out of the can; no cooking required.

While this wasn’t a stock up for long range prep trip, I did buy another 20 pounds of rice for the pantry. It’s a pretty good habit to add at least one thing for storage when shopping. That way it doesn’t shock the budget and over the weeks and months it adds up. Today it was rice. Last week, some lentils and canned chicken. The van is getting stocked up the same way. If nothing else, it cuts down on restaurant stops while out and about. Right now there’s quite a bit of survival gear and supplies that we travel with at all times.

To be honest, I’m looking forward to staying home, keeping the woodstove going, and reading good books.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

The phone rang and for once the automated message was not from a politician. Public Service Company of New Hampshire (electric company) called about the approaching storm. They gave out some basic prep info and contact numbers for outages. This is the first time that has ever happened.

For me, the grid serves the same function as a back up generator. Most of our day to day power usage is from solar. In fact, I’m going to use the grid to top off my battery bank before the storm. After that about my only other storm prep will be going around the house looking for anything that can blow or wash away. Being a prepper, this is the sort of thing I’m always prepared for. Of course, that doesn’t mean the wind couldn’t blow a tree through my living room, so I’m not taking this one likely.

I think back to Hurricane Irene. After the big cities weathered it pretty well, the news people were saying how much of a non-event it was. Then the remains of the storm blew into Vermont causing horrific flooding damage. They still haven’t fully recovered.

Hurricane Sandy is exactly the sort of storm that causes the computer models to fall apart. The conditions that cause such a storm don’t happen often. The models are based on what’s happened in the past. With little data to draw on, they are really just making informed guesses. The weather people do well with tropical weather storms. They do a pretty good job with northern storms. When the two meet, they aren’t quite sure how to handle it.

That being said, power outage maps show that I’m in a high risk for power outage area. If my area does go down, it will most likely be out for a long time. Those of us in the far flung rural areas get power restored last. That’s just a fact of life out here.

If my blog disappears for a bit, it’s probably because my Internet is down. My lovely wife and I will most likely be fine. The biggest danger in our area would be flooding and wind damage. Fortunately, the leaves have already dropped out of the tress, so they are less likely to get toppled. My home is on the side of a mountain 1300 feel above sea level, so flooding is not a major issue. What sometimes happens is that the rains flood all the roads out, but as long as we stay put we’ll be fine.

When Hurricane Irene hit our area, is appeared to be just another moderately rainy day. We suffered no damage at all. Areas just forty miles to the south and 40 miles to the west had roads, bridges and power poles washed away. We were lucky then and I hope we are lucky again.

If you live in a low lying coastal area or anyplace prone to flooding, I hope you are reading this from your bug out location.


Saturday, October 27, 2012


Recently I was reading an article on the potential for a major cyber attack. The financial system goes down, then the power grid and communications. Of course, the financial system can do that without any outside help. Same for the grid. Complex systems are prone to failure.

The tendency is to try and fix complex systems by adding more complexity. It might even work for a while. Eventually the band aids can’t be applied fast enough. These things are well known.

The fixes are possible, but unpopular. Decentralize and simplify.

Let’s take the grid. Instead of a few big grids running the country, break it up. Concentrate on using power where it’s made. In some places that might mean solar panels on every house. Other places might benefit from wind or hydro. Rather than run high tension power lines to a factory, locate the factory next to the power source it needs. Cyber attacks can’t take everything down because they aren’t connected. When one system has problems, it will stay a local problem and not spread across the network. It might seem inefficient, but there are huge efficiency gains by eliminating high tension lines.

Food should be relocalized. Once again, it’s inefficient, but much less prone to failure. It won’t happen overnight, but a general transition to the local would increase food security. Even urban farming helps. Landscaping can incorporate more edibles. It’s not necessary to provide all your food locally, but there no reason to not provide a significant part of our calories near where we live.

Our computer communications could be made more robust with an ad hoc wireless mesh network. Something like Project Byzantium. It looks more complicated than it is. The idea is that local computers can communicate with each other -independent of the regular Internet. (and free from Internet controls!)

One of the big ones is political power. Problems are often more efficiently solved at the local level. We’ve learned that in a natural disaster whatever resources the locals have on the ground is what you’ll have. Rather than plowing more and more money into FEMA, why not allocate more for the people on the ground who actually know what’s going on?

Getting the President’s ear is almost impossible. My local Selectman or State Legislature are easy to get hold of. These people are neighbors, friends and relatives. What those guys do or don’t do affects my life as much or more than what the President does. The further down the hierarchy a problem is solved, the cheaper and better the solutions.

Cheap energy, high speed communication, fast transportation and computers have made it possible to centralize. It’s efficient, but not very robust. It guarantees that when problems happen, they are huge problems. Disturb any one of the pillars that centralization stands on, and the whole house of cards comes down.

Things cannot become infinitely more complex. Sooner or later there is a reset. It can be done voluntarily, or by collapse. The choice is ours.

Okay, the choice really isn’t ours. It’s in the hands of the very people who’ve benefited from centralized control. They have no incentive to change. Don’t look there for solutions. Start at your own household. Decentralization begins with you.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Insulation trick

What do you do if you can’t afford to change your inefficient windows? Maybe you are in an apartment and are stuck with the heating bill. It’s a shame to have your precious heating dollars fly out single pane drafty windows.

The older part of my house has old fashioned single pane windows that lose a lot of heat. The cheap and easy solution was to cover most of the windows with several layers of bubble wrap. A local store had piles of the stuff to get rid of. They were happy someone was going to use it.

While it blocks your ability to see outside, it does let a lot of light in the house. Bubble wrap has surprisingly good insulation properties. It works well at stopping drafts too. A few windows were not covered so I could see outside. Of course, I chose the better windows for that. The bubble wrap got me through the winter.

Since them I salvaged some wooden framed windows from a construction project. After cleaning, painting and repair, they were turned into old fashioned type storm windows. They were slightly bigger than my house widows, so all I had to do was screw them on the outside of the house. Of course, they have caulking and gasket material for tight seals. Unlike the bubble wrap, I can see out of them.

Two of my tall narrow “storm windows” are repurposed glass doors from a store cooler. Every few years the cooler doors are changed and just thrown away. A friend of mine salvaged enough of them to solar heat his chicken coop. The chickens loved it.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Heating triage

Parts of my house can be cut off from the heat sources. There’s a lot of flexibility on how much of the house gets heated and how warm.

The kitchen is the warm heart of the house. Right next to the kitchen woodstove, people can be as warm as they like. On really cold nights, my lovely wife and I will bring our work or entertainment to the kitchen table. It’s cozy and comfortable. We’ll even watch movies on a laptop computer rather than upstairs in the cooler living room.

In past years we’ve tended to keep the upstairs around 50. That’s where the bedrooms, a second bath, and a large living room are. I like sleeping in a cool room. That’s what blankets are for.

The conventional oil heating system uses forced hot air. It’s easy to shut down the air ducts in unused bedrooms. Hot water systems are harder to deal with. In one apartment I lived in, the hot water radiator pipe burst from freezing. It was too far from the part of the house heated by a woodstove. Hot air systems, on the other hand, can be safely shut down and not suffer damage.

A large air duct and the stairway direct air from the kitchen woodstove to the upstairs. The air duct can be shut and the stairway blocked by a heavy curtain, keeping heat downstairs.

Most houses don’t have insulation between the first and second floor. Mine does. The original house was one floor, with an insulated attic. When I removed the roof and replaced it with a dome, I left the insulation intact. There are now six rooms where once there was only a tiny attic. Those new rooms can be thermally isolated from the rest of the house.

If the winter should turn bitterly cold, firewood in short supply, or both, the upstairs could be kept even colder. One concern is that the upstairs bathroom plumbing would freeze. With that in mind, I put in shut offs and drain valves down in the basement where the feed lines are. All the upstairs plumbing can be drained and winterized.

Once the hot and cold water lines are shut down and drained, I have deal with the sewer lines. The easiest thing is add RV non-toxic antifreeze to the shower, sink and toilet drains.

It is possible to drain the sink trap and completely emptying out the water of the toilet using a sponge or a water vac. The shower drain can be accessed by removing the screen. The problem with that method is that nasty sewer gases can enter the house. It’s not a major issue if the whole house is going to be shut down for the winter. Just make sure to ventilate the house well before reopening it for the season. Another method is to tape and seal any gas source with duct tape and plastic.

My preferred method is to use antifreeze as it’s easier and safe. The other method could be used if antifreeze became unavailable.

The basement of my house can get quite cold. All the plumbing and even the water pressure tank, is mounted high to benefit from the warm first floor. The water enters the house through a heavily insulated pipe. The insulation reaches a couple feet below the basement floor.

The basement can be heated either with the oil furnace or a very large and capable woodstove. If we have a period of subzero (Fahrenheit) weather, it’s a good idea to warm up the basement to protect the plumbing. It’s also nice to heat the basement if I’m doing a project down there and want glue and paint to dry.

That’s how we deal with heating our house in northern New Hampshire.

Of course, we also like to shut the place down completely and go sailing in Florida, but that’s not always an option.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Failure points and other things

My friends came back from a 3 week trip only to discover their solar electric system had malfunctioned while they were gone. The charge controller failed -again. I think he’s had at least 4 of them fail.

Why keep using the same controller? They all failed while under warranty so the replacements were free. Until they stopped working, the controllers did what they were supposed to do. Also, they were cheap.

Still, enough is enough. They went to a solar electric dealer in Vermont and bought a better controller. The said that while his old controller was rated for the use we put them to, in reality they weren’t. The company only rates them at a higher amperage so they will sell. At half their rated power they should last a long time.

I helped my buddy wire in his new controller. It had a few more bells and whistles than he was used to and the instruction manual was minimal. Having a bit more experience with these things, it didn’t take me long to figure it out. We even got it installed in time to capture a few hours of good sunshine.

The other annoying problem solved today was on the van. Occasionally, there would be a small puddle of antifreeze under the engine. All the hoses and the radiator looked good. The problem would come and go. I even parked it with the hood up and waited to see where it would leak. Of course, it didn’t until a few days later -when I wasn’t watching.

Finally it hit me: radiator cap. A replacement cost all of $5. The gasket on the replacement cap is more robust that the original equipment. That seems to have done the job. It’s the little things sometimes.

People have asked how my new wood fired cookstove is working out. So far, we are very happy with it. It’s our only cook stove so we use it every day. The oven has much more even heat than the old stove and the temperature gage appears spot on. We’ve baked muffins, brownies, potatoes, meatloaf, and a whole chicken in it. No problems.

As a source of heat, it’s doing the job. While it hasn’t been super cold yet, we’ve have nights in the low 20s. In the morning the house is still warm. There are enough hot coals left in the morning to get full sized logs going. I’m splitting a lot less kindling these days. The new stove puts out more heat and uses less wood than the old fashioned wood cookstove. Less wood is less work for me.

Not much else going on. There are times I’d like to make some comments about the Presidential race, but why bother? Nobody is talking about the real problems and issues and I don’t want to get caught up in their fantasy.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Walking out

There’s a big subculture in the prepper community that just loves to talk about bug out vehicles. Preppers debate about the pros and cons of different vehicles. We talk about trucks, vans, cars, motorcycles, ATVs, bicycles, boats, planes -you name it.

We talk about different fuels, gas, diesel, propane, natural gas, wood gas, electric, bio-diesel -just about any fuel imaginable. There’s fuel storage, mutifuel vehicles, and even home brewed fuel.

Many of us study maps and charts plotting possible bug out routes. We plan for alternative routes -secondary roads, logging roads, rail beds, and even power and gas line right of ways. These are all useful things and often fun and interesting to figure out.

What we don’t like to think about is how we might really have to bug out. We might have to walk. That’s no fun at all. All that cool gear in our bug out vehicle gets reduced to what we can carry on our back. Don’t plan on being able to carry a 80 pound pack. Maybe if you are young, fit, and an avid hiker it could be done. Then again, most experienced hikers carry much lighter packs than that.

Figure on carrying a 20 pound pack. See what essentials you can get into that. Maybe check out the hiking forums instead of the prepper forums for a change. You do have decent packs for all members of your party, right?

How about good hiking boots and socks? Are the boots broken in? Do you want to start a bug out situation with painful and possibly dangerous foot blisters?

Even if you can start out in some kind of bug out vehicle, have your waking gear with you. You never know. People used to laugh at all the stuff I’d take with me when snowmobiling. There was a complete change of clothes as a snowmobile suite isn’t that great for walking in. I had a hat instead of just my helmet. I’d bring food, water and a flashlight. There were a pair of snowshoes strapped to my machine. Even a half hour’s snowmobile trip into the woods can take all day to walk back.

On wilderness canoe trips my day to day footwear was a good pair of sandals. They are great for hopping in and out of canoes, but not so great for a long walk though the woods. At the very minimum I’d carry a rugged pair of lightweight hiking sneakers. You never know.

When you do plan your bug out route, see what a walking escape looks like. Is there enough drinking water along the way? Water is heavy so there are limits on how much can reasonably be carried. A good hiker’s water filter might save the day. How safe will the route be? Will a million other people be walking the same road?

Walking isn’t all disadvantages. It’s possible to go cross country where vehicles cannot go. Maybe it might be prudent to bushwhack through the woods to avoid other people. Looking at bug out routes with walking in mind should suggest some interesting alternatives.

One last hint about walking. Bring or make a good walking stick. It’s like getting a third leg. You can go further without lest fatigue. You are more stable and less likely to fall and get hurt. The walking stick is good basic protection against dogs and other animals -some on two legs.

Being prepared for a long walk makes all the difference in the world.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Alternative electric and non-electric

Over 20 years ago I installed my first version of my solar electric house system. Even back then it was big enough to run the water pump, lights and other major house functions. Living out in the woods, the grid goes down here first and is repaired last. It only makes sense that the major population centers get repaired first. Over the years it’s more than paid for itself. Some our power outages were pretty bad but the system functioned well.

If I was starting from scratch today, I’d might go about things differently. A relatively small solar electric system can power a lot of LED lights. Cell phones don’t take much power but can connect people to the world. Internet connected phones weren’t even a dream back in my early solar electric days.

One of my worries was having enough power to run my well pump. Pumps draw a lot of power. Water is heavy and it takes energy to move it. Instead of worrying about the electric pump, I’d have more water storage in the house. Fortunately, my well is less than 100 feet from the house and overflows all year. Too bad it’s downhill from the house as gravity fed water systems are wonderful. My folks used to have a summer cottage with a gravity fed well and there was very little to go wrong with it.

With my good well, and a woodstove, some of my major basic needs can be met without any electricity at all. There’s water to drink, the woodstove for heat, cooking and even some light from the glass door of the firebox.

My big complicated solar electric system weathers most problems well. Should the grid go down for days, weeks, or even months, it will probably keep working. It won’t go forever. Sooner or later an inverter or a charge controller will fail. The type of batteries I use are only good for about 10 years.

That never used to be a concern, but that’s before I learned of nuclear EMPs and coronal mass ejections from the sun. They could take down the grid over large sections of the planet. The New England grid has some major transformers that are sensitive to those disturbances. It’s possible that something could take down the grid yet leave my home system intact. I do have some spare parts and redundancy. Theoretically, the grid could be repaired before my home system failed.

There’s also the scenario where the electrical disturbance is so big it fries my home system beyond repair. Then it’s back to the pioneer days. Just like them, I’d have water from the well, heat and cooking from wood, food from the garden, forest, and rivers. For entertainment it would be books, cards, and whatever tune I could play on the guitar.

I used to worry about having a big enough off-grid system to live a modern life without interruption. While that’s nice, I feel good about being able to live at a more primitive level if necessary.


Sunday, October 21, 2012


When I was a little kid my grandfather would sometimes get child care duties. He was a great grandfather, from a kid’s point of view. He always had time to play games or whittle whistles from tree branches.

My grandfather had suffered a horrible industrial accident. His head was crushed and he lost an eye. Considering the state of medical science of the day, he should have died. His recovery was slow and he’d suffered brain damage. He lost his native language and could only speak English. There were personality changes. I’m told that after the accident he tended to be a lot more irresponsible than before. He was still a great guy, but started drinking and would occasionally fail to come home for an extra day or so.

Of course, he should have been dead so nobody really complained all that much. Eventually he was fitted with a glass eye and went back to work.

Granddad would still take his afternoon nap when he was supposed to be watching me. He told me that he’d learned to sleep with one eye open so don’t get into any trouble. As a little kid, I didn’t know he had a glass eye. When he slept that eye would stay about half open. It kinda freaked me out and I made sure to behave. I also wasted a lot of time trying to learn to sleep with one eye open.

My grandfather never learned to drive, so he walked everywhere to do his errands, with me in tow. We went to the most interesting places like smoke shops and bars. Every neighborhood had their little mom and pop stores. Many of them also had back rooms where men would drink and play cards. Now as a little kid, all I knew about these places is that there were not the sort of places mom took me to. There were the sort of places war vets with a hook for a hand, or a eye patch or wooden leg hung out. Rough men with interesting tales to tell -that I usually was too young to understand.

One of the fun places was the hobo village down by the railroad tracks. We couldn’t tell grandma where we’d been, so that was special too. A bunch of old hobos sort of retired and build shacks to live in, located next to the tracks and the dump. My granddad would often stop to visit one of his hobo friends there and share a glass of cheap whiskey. For me, it was cool that someone could live in a shack and find neat stuff in the dump. It all looked like fun.

Eventually his injuries caught up with him and he died at the young age of 75. That really was a young age in his family. Many of the relatives at his funeral were well up in the 90s. They just shook their heads and said it was sad that he’d died just when life started to get good.

Maybe he wasn’t the most responsible adult in the world, but he always had time for me. For a kid, that’s pretty special.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Vehicle inspection tricks

New Hampshire, like many states, requires an annual vehicle inspection. It doesn’t take much for a car to fail. All the safety equipment can be fine, but too much body rust or a “check engine” light and the car doesn’t pass.

It’s no secret that people around here don’t have a lot of money to spend on cars. Getting an old junker up to state specs can be just too expensive. Who wants to spend $1000 in repair on a car worth $200? Then again, who can afford the fines for driving an uninspected vehicle?

One of my rusty cars once passed inspection because I waited until after after an ice storm. The vehicle had a good coating of ice, but I even packed more snow into the rust holes. When I pulled into the garage, the guy didn’t want all that snow and ice melting into his shop. He did a really quick inspection -so quick that the snow and ice never melted. When the weather warmed up a couple months later, I patched the holes.

The NH inspection sticker goes right in the middle of the windshield just under the rear view mirror. It’s large enough that cops can spot it easily. One guy I know in the next town over hid his expired sticker by carrying a canoe on his old station wagon at all times. He drove that car that way for years without ever getting caught. It looked a little funny in the middle of the winter, but not weird enough to get stopped.

The “check engine light” indicator caused my daughter’s car to fail inspection. It was a 4 cylinder gas economy car. On a whim, I added a good dose of commercial grade diesel injector cleaner to the fuel tank. Within 15 minutes the light went out. My guess is that the additive cleaned up a dirty sensor. She had no problem passing inspection after that.

I’m not advocating driving unsafe vehicles, but perfectly safe vehicles can fail the inspection. Sometimes we do what little tricks we have to do to survive.


Friday, October 19, 2012

US travel

One of the wonderful things about living in the US is the freedom to travel. There’s more distance between states than Europe has between countries. The country spans the continent and has a wide variety of climates and terrain. Maybe that’s one reason US citizens tend not to have passports; there’s so much to see without leaving the country.

Travel used to be free and open in the US, but that’s changing fast. The TSA has made air and other forms of public transportation a nightmare. It would take a lot for me to fly again. All my will power would be needed to not punch those TSA goons in the nose. How some people put up with the violations of personal space and privacy is beyond me.

I’ve been stopped by the border patrol, many miles away from the border. They were checking to see if I was a US citizen. They were polite enough, but had about a half dozen men in combat gear as backup. The world has seen this sort of thing before: Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, and Communist China.

Then there are all the cameras on the road. You can be all alone on an empty road and get a ticket in the mail because you didn’t come to quite a full stop at a stop sign. It happened to my dad in Florida just before he came to New Hampshire for a visit. When he got back, there was the ticket in the mail. On the ticket was a warning that if not paid on time a warrant would be issued for his arrest. What if he’d stayed in New Hampshire another few weeks? He’s have been a wanted criminal.

Infrastructure is falling apart. Roads go bad. Bridge failure once rerouted me many miles out of my way. There are tunnels my wife won’t let me drive through. I thought she was overly concerned, but then someone died in one of those tunnels from parts of the roof collapsing.

Travel services are going away. It’s not too noticeable on the major roads yet. It’s really bad on the secondary roads. Restaurants and gas stations are gone. Over and over again my lovely wife and I have tried to go back to places we once stopped at, only to find they’ve been closed. Businesses come and go, but there was nothing nearby to replace them. The area had just given up on travelers. Even on the major highways, rest areas have been closed.

So far it’s been a slow gradual decline. My concern is that it wouldn’t take all that much to eliminate free and easy travel in the United States. These things feed on each other. Put in more checkpoints. Raise the price of fuel. People travel less so less road tax is paid. The roads stop getting maintained. Bridges fail. Eventually, long distance travel becomes rare because it’s not worth the hassle, expense, and danger.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sailing on my mind . . . again . . . some more

It was time. We pulled the sailboat out of the lake, but not without sailing it around a few times. I’ve seen ice fishing shacks on the lake as early as Thanksgiving week. Last year we sailed well into November, but so far it has been colder this year.

Remember a while back I almost had my wife convinced to sail the Intra Coastal Waterway this year? (The 72 hour escape plan) My charts for the ICW came in. You never know. Right now we hope to do that trip during the fall of 2013. I think by the time we actually go, I’ll have the charts and guidebook almost memorized.

My lovely wife and I have tentative plans to trailer the boat south come January. We’d have to be back by March as we have another grandchild due then. I’m informed we have to be home for that by she who must be obeyed.

Normally we wouldn’t come home until the middle of April or so. I don’t expect any sympathy for cutting my trip down to just two months. Still, what do I do with that extra month and half? March in Northern NH is still very much a winter month. Zero degree temperatures are not unheard of. March can break your heart. There may be a few warm days when people run around without jackets and bicycles are in the streets -followed by 2 feet of snow.

March might be a perfect time to build a small sailboat in my basement. One side of my basement is at ground level and has big double doors. It would take some rearranging to find room for even a small boat project, but it’s doable. I’ve plans for a Ooze Goose. That would be a fun boat to sail. With any luck, it should be finished before the ice goes out on the lake.

I don’t know where the summer sailing season went. There are places we’d hoped to go, but never fit into our schedule. Such is life. At least there’s a fair chance of wetting the hull in January.


Some problems you don’t solve

Some problems are solved, others you have to live with.

It’s like getting a flat tire on your car in the middle of nowhere, far from cell phone coverage. If you have a spare tire, a jack and a tire iron, the problem can be solved. If you have no spare, then the problem can’t be solved. You are not going to drive home any time soon. Then it comes down to other options. Should you try and walk back? Would staying with the car be better? Is there a third way to live with it?

Most of us have grown up in a world where problems are solved. No water in the desert? Well then water is brought to the dessert, either from aqueducts or very deep wells. Insects attacking your crops: poison them. That stops working, then genetically alter the crops. Oil shortage? Drill more, use alternative fuels, and increase efficiency. Define a problem, then find a solution.

Sometimes the problems get too big to fix. The deep wells dry up. The supply for the aqueduct stops flowing. Insects adapt to your farming techniques faster than they can be defeated. Oil wells come up dry, alternatives fall short, and efficiency can’t be increased infinitely.

That’s on the macro scale. An individual have almost no influence at that level. Occasionally large groups of individuals working in common can do something, but even they can’t make something out of nothing. If there is no spare tire, there is no spare tire. At the individual level, macro problems can’t be solved, only lived with.

For example, your income drops and you can no longer afford house payments. To solve the problem, income could be increased or maybe smaller payments could be negotiated. If the problem can’t be solved, then what? Then it’s time to figure out a new living arrangement. The situation changes from “how can I make this payment?” to “how do I stay out of the rain?”

The sooner a person recognizes the problem can’t be solved, the more time there is to find a way to live with it. Having the sheriff at your door with an eviction order limits your options. Finding a rent at the last minute isn’t easy. A little lead time and thought on the problem and better ways of living with it might be found. Maybe the house could be sold and a more affordable one bought. Living in your car isn’t all that bad if your car is a motorhome. Just about any kind of shelter beats living on the streets.

We have a lot of potential problems beyond our ability to solve, but we with some forethought and flexibility, we could increase our ability to live with them. It could be something financial, but it could be food, electricity, transportation -just about anything we rely on day to day.

Then there are interpersonal issues. Many of those can’t be solved, only lived with. One person may help or assist another person, but they can never “fix” them. We can only fix ourselves, and even that is a challenge.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Not too mature

So picture this. I go to the big box store and see some older guy fetching stray grocery carts. He’s wearing the little company vest and a big frown. Recognizing the guy, I realize he’s a man who once snubbed me back when I was going through hard times.

Now a mature person wouldn’t gloat over another’s misfortune. Lucky for me, I’m not that mature and can gloat. In fact, I rather enjoyed myself. So I’m not perfect.

Maybe it runs in the family. My favorite uncle once backed out of a business deal because he thought it was too shady. The guy told my uncle he had no guts. Weeks later my uncle saw the guy being led away in hand cuffs. “So long guts!” my uncle shouted at the guy as the cops hauled him away.

We’d all like to think the universe is fair: the good are rewarded and the bad are punished. That’s one theory. Another theory is that the universe has a twisted sense of humor. Some days that’s the second theory fits the facts better.

A buddy of mine was fired from a job. A few years later he was at a company interviewing people to be his assistant. The guy who fired him had applied for the job. Imagine the guy’s face when he discovered who he had to interview with.

There’s a saying that you should be careful how you treat people on your way to the top. You’ll meet them on the way down.

Once in a while life gives you these little presents. Hope you aren’t so mature that you don’t enjoy them.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Postal service

Recently the Postal Service sent the residents of my town a questionnaire. They will be cutting back our service and wanted some input. The best case scenario still leaves us with a significant reduction in office hours. Delivery times will also be affected. In a rural community, that’s a bit of a hardship.

People like me who live out in the woods rely on postal delivery. UPS still delivers, but some other parcel services no longer service my area. It wasn’t cost effective. I’m sure it’s not cost effective for the US Postal Service either, but that’s not the point. It’s one of the services that the government is supposed to provide. There’s nothing wrong with greater efficiency, but when it comes at the cost of service, that’s a problem.

For many people it’s a lifeline to the world. When you live far from town, having medications delivered right to your home mailbox is a godsend. I get everything from books to machine parts. Not only that, I’m one of those old fashioned guys who like to pay his bills by check. You’d be amazed at what gets delivered to rural post offices -everything from live chicks to honeybees.

The Postal Service has been around a long long time. Before text messages, cell phones, e-mail and every other electronic form of communication, there was the mail. It’s not instant, but it’s fast enough for many things. Should the grid get sketchy or the Internet go down, the mail should be able to get through. It’s old fashioned, but has the potential to be resilient. Gutting a reliable system is a mistake. Mail delivery tied us together when there was nothing else and it’s still important today.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

In my travels

Saturday, I drove almost 100 miles one way to have lunch with friends in Maine. Yes, I took the waste veggie powered van for the trip. If I had to pay regular fuel prices, I’d hardly go anywhere.

Lunch was good. My friends were very keen to go antique shopping, so I followed along. I’m not all that big into antiques. There’s a narrow range of antiques that interest me, and only for the right price. I didn’t buy anything this time, but I did get to make a few observations.

There used to be an awful lot of stuff made in the United States, unlike now.

Not everything made was of the highest quality. It’s the good stuff that survived the years.

One of the antique shops gave a 30% discount for using cash instead of a credit card. That’s a huge discount. I’m guessing the tax man won’t get to see those transactions. How else can such a price difference be justified?

I did hear an interesting tale about how someone preserved wealth during the depression. People sometimes use bricks or other heavy items to hold doors open or closed. This guy had two solid silver bars cast and painted to look like common bricks. They were out in the open being used as door stops for years, hidden in plain sight.

On the way home I stopped in at a grocery store to buy some items not carried by my smaller local store. It had been over a year since I’d shopped there. The first thing I noticed is that there is a lot less stock in the store. Isles are wider. Some of the rows have been broken up into little squares, giving even less shelving space. While a few of the items I wanted were still carried, others are no longer stocked. Someone shopping there every week might not have noticed the gradual changes, but for me it was obvious.

It was a long day, but a pretty good one. Glad to be home once more.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

New woodstove installed!

I’d like to thank John, Adam, Tracy and Leane for the help moving and installing the new woodstove. The dealer would have moved it for me, but their moving crew is booked until the middle of next month.

The stove lists for $4000, but it was on sale for $3700. After looking at many stoves both on-line and in stores, I went with a local dealer. He’s been in business for years so he’ll probably not disappear tomorrow. Another advantage of dealing local is that NH has no sales tax. On this pricey an item, it makes a difference.

Still, $3700 is a lot of money, at least for me. Then again, it’s doing the work of both a furnace and a kitchen stove. Like much of New England, my old furnace runs on heating oil. The price has taken a big jump. Even with the money I’m spending on wood, the woodstove will pay for itself in less than 3 years.

I’ll do a full performance review on the woodstove after the winter. So far it’s running the way it’s supposed to. The house was toasty warm this morning. Outside it was windy and 33 degrees. The firebox still had plenty of hot coals left from the evening’s wood. I’ve cooked a couple meals on it and perked coffee. The oven easily gets plenty hot enough for baking.

The best thing about a woodstove is that I live in the woods. There’s no long supply line from Venezuela or the Middle East. My heating fuel grows on trees.


Friday, October 12, 2012


Is is a virtue? The military makes a big deal out of it. Business pays lip service to it. Politicians talk about having it. What’s it really all about? Getting people to do things that they would not normally do.

In the military it’s convincing people that it’s a good idea to charge a machine gun nest -and other things against their personal best interest. In business, it’s about getting more productivity out of people. That might be fine for the bosses and owners, but how does working harder benefit the peons? It only is of value to them if it helps them get into a management position where they can “lead” those below them.

Leadership is about getting people to set aside their own self interest for something else. Leaders can sacrifice their followers for the good of politicians, generals and CEOs. Religious leaders get people to give up wealth and pleasure for some supposed greater reward.

We are used to thinking of leadership as a good quality, but it all depends on the circumstances. A leader can send people to their deaths, or a leader may guide people out of a burning building. Leadership can be used for good, but it can be used for evil. Hitler was a very effective leader, but so was Gandhi.

I’m more of a fan of fellowship -everyone working together as equals, but with different abilities.

Picture it this way. A leader breaks trail with his band of followers behind him. In a fellowship, they take turns breaking trail so no one carries the full burden. The leader makes decisions on where to go and what to do. The fellowship makes joint decisions based on their differing knowledge and experience.

A fellowship shares knowledge and experience. It’s only natural that some people will have greater abilities in some areas than others. However, that knowledge is not kept secret but shared for the good of all. We don’t keep secrets to keep our leadership position as leadership has no great value for us in the first place. A fellowship is more resilient as the loss of one person does not fatally cripple the group.

Leadership has it’s place, especially in emergency situations where there isn’t time for a conference. Most of the time I’m all for fellowship and being neither a leader nor a follower.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Peace Season

In Afghanistan they have the Fighting Season. That’s when the snow melts out of the mountain passes and people can easily travel to the neighboring valleys -so they can slit their neighbors’ throats. Any place that gets too cold and too snowy can bring fighting to a halt. It used to be that way in Scotland -before they decided to all get together and hate the English more than each other.

Winter campaigns are risky at best. Just ask the ghost of Napoleon about his attack on Russia. If Napoleon, a certified military genius, couldn’t do it, it’s not a good idea for mere mortals.

So if the warm months are the Fighting Season, the cold months must be the Peace Season. Thank goodness places like Scotland and Afghanistan have cold winters, or there probably wouldn’t be anybody left there. Winter is a time to hunker down, nurse your wounds, sharpen knives, and make a new generation of warriors.

What does this mean to the prepper? Winter cold and snow might be allies. Being snowed in at a well provisioned cabin is no big hardship. Travel is very limited, but that works two ways. Mutant Zombie Bikers won’t be making an appearance for months. Of course, isolation and cabin fever are no joke, but much easier to deal with than marauders.

If there was a big EMP type event in the winter, isolated snow country places would be even more isolated. When the snowplows stop, the roads soon disappear. Nobody is going to walk very far in deep snow. Snowshoes and cross country skis help, but only the very fit and experienced are going to travel any distance on them.

It doesn’t even need to be something as drastic as an EMP. Disrupt fuel supplies badly enough and the rural roads would soon be abandoned. Resources would be concentrated in the cities.

My dad used to own a small one room hunting cabin and the of 9 miles of dirt roads. Some years the main road would be plowed, so it was only a 1/4 mile hike to the cabin. Other years it was open for snowmobiles, so that worked too. A couple years the road was both unplowed and snowmobiles were banned. One of those winters I hiked into the cabin alone. There was no cell phone service and I didn’t even bring a radio. I didn’t see anyone until I hiked out a week later. Good thing I had a few books to read. It was the most isolated I’d ever been, and I liked it. It was . . . peaceful.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Small town lesson

There are some lessons one learns pretty quick in a small town.

Don’t tailgate the manure spreader. It’ doesn’t matter how slow the tractor is going -wait. Give ‘em room.

Once there were these annoying folks from out of town -in a small convertible and with the top down. They got right up to the back of the spreader and honked their horn incessantly. Now that farmer is usually a pretty laid back fellow, but everyone has a limit. He turned the manure spreader on and slimed the heck out of that little car.

For pretty much the same reason, I try and keep my distance from politicians. You never know what might rub off on you.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The 72 hour escape plan

I mentioned to my lovely wife I could have us sailing to mile marker one on the ICW (Intra Coastal Waterway) in 72 hours.

“I’ll pack, she said.”

I figured I only really needed 48 hours, but put in an extra day for unforeseen delays. One day to pack, shut down the house, load up the boat, and a second day to drive down to Virgina to launch the boat. The 72 hour window also had a bit more sleep in the mix.

In the end, we decided to stick to our original plans -for now. We’ll most likely hang around in New Hampshire until after the holidays, then haul the boat down to Florida for some sailing. The ICW will have to wait until fall of 2013.

We have been known to head out on the spur of the moment in the past. We timed it once. For a weekend camping trip, we were out of the house in 20 minutes. All the camping gear was piled together in the same room. My lovely wife packed our clothes while I loaded up the gear and the canoe. With the camper van, there’s even less stuff to pack as the van is ready to go.

Today was only a drill. It did highlight a few deficiencies. I don’t have all the charts I need. We’d either have to pick some up on the way, or make do with guide books -not the best plan. I really should have those ready to go. It’s actually better for me to shop for those from on-line sources. Much easier to compare and contrast.

Our finances aren’t running on autopilot. They take a bit more hands-on than they used to. At one time we could disappear down the road and do our business with the occasional phone call. Lately I’ve gotten too used to using my dad’s Florida home as a base of operations. I knew we’d be there every few weeks or so. The easiest thing in the world was to just forward all the mail there. Things have gotten a bit more complicated than I like. Compared to most people, it’s nothing. However, most people don’t expect to leave suddenly for half the year. That’s the goal.

Today was only a drill, but it did highlight where we could do better.

Nothing prepares a family for bugging out like bugging out.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Technology buffet

Picture three generations of the Sixbears clan sitting around the campfire on a cool October night. The mode of dress has changed, but gathering around the campfire is older than civilization.

Then my lovely wife brings out her laptop computer and we video Skype with my oldest daughter and her family in Massachusetts. Okay, that’s something new. Not long ago that would have been Science Fiction.

We pick and choose our technology: woodstoves and solar electric panels. 100 year old hand tools and lithium battery powered tools. Canoes and a sailboat, but made out of modern plastics.
On my key chain I keep a metal match (Ferrocerium ) for starting fires. People who smoke would just carry a lighter or matches, but I don’t smoke. I like the metal match because it’s simple -scrape a piece of steel along it and 3000 degree sparks fly off it. There’s not much there to malfunction. It can even work when wet, which is very handy for a survival item.

It can start things like Coleman fuel stoves, propane stoves and lanterns, and charcoal lighter fluid. It’s mostly used for my camp stove and lantern. However, I can start a campfire with it. For a campfire I put together a little tinder bundle to catch the sparks. Using a tinder bundle is good practice for more primitive fire starting methods like flint and steel, or a bow drill. Being able to coax the tiniest spark into open flame is a good primitive skill to have.

A GPS is nice, but I still use a compass, maps, charts, stars, and the sun to navigate. I would feel silly if something as stupid as a dead battery was the reason I was lost. Still, when sailing on a dark night in the fog, heading to a fixed GPS waypoint is a comfort. It’s a useful tool, sometimes the best for the job -but not the only tool.

I’ve semiautomatic rifles -plus bows and even a Medieval style crossbow. Once again, I have a variety of technologies to choose from. Even my bows range from simple recurve bows with wooden arrows, to a more modern wheel bow with metal alloy arrows.

The human race has thousands of years of technological development at our disposal. We don’t have to always use the most recent technology. It might be better, but it might not. There may be costs associated with a more modern technology that we don’t want to pay. Sometimes the new stuff fails. A person with a knowledge of earlier ways of doing things has backup plans. We can mix and match good new stuff with good old stuff. (classic boat lines done in more durable modern materials.) Don’t be blinded by the glitter of the new nor so tied to tradition that better tools are ignored.

It’s an interesting time we live in -part caveman and part spaceman.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

From small beginnings are world wars started

Turkey and Syria are exchanging fire across their border. In the big scheme of things, it really shouldn’t amount to much. At worse, it should only escalate into a limited border war between second string players.

However, there’s the issue of treaties. Turkey is a NATO member. An attack on one member is considered an attack on all. Syria and Russia also have agreements. What should only be a small regional conflict has all the potential for turning into a much wider war.

Nobody learns the lessons of history. This situation reminds me of the years leading up to WWI. For years the great powers avoided major wars. Over time all of them developed a series of agreements and treaties. Once the spark was lit, things escalated quickly. Yes, things are different this time. They always are, but it’s close enough to cause concern.

Normally the big players are wise enough to back away from the abyss -normally. There are enough miscalculations, accidents, ambition, and nut job leaders to push countries over the edge. For example, the US could pressure Turkey to call for NATO help, thus toppling the Syrian government. Russia, feeling stronger than it has in the recent past, yet beset by domestic issues, might feel it advantageous to draw the line at Syria. Then there’s China off to the side, holding a few trump cards of their own.

George Washington, when the US was young, warned against foreign entanglements. He was a wise and prescient man. Of course, nobody listened.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Worse outcome

What would be worse than Romney or Obama being elected president? Neither of them being elected. Picture Bush Vs Gore II, the sequel, this time played by Mittster and Barry.

The nation’s deeply divided. Polls consistently show them evenly matched. The country has never gotten around to doing away with the horrible Electoral College system. With new voter laws there are plenty of questions about voter disenfranchisement. The stew of potential problems is simmering.

No matter who got the job, they’d be under a cloud of illegitimacy. The losing side would feel cheated and the winning side uneasy. The Bush/Gore fiasco is still in living memory. A second round of electoral turmoil would not be good for the nation.


Adult behavior

For once we got a beautiful day: sunny, warm and just enough wind for good sailing. Unfortunately, I decided to act like an adult and got some pressing projects done.

Instead of sailing, I climbed up my roof and cleaned the chimney. Turns out the chimney wasn’t very dirty, but now I know it’s clean. Over the years my investment in good ladders and chimney brushes have paid for themselves many times over.

Since I was up there anyway, I inspected the roof to see if it needed any repairs. All in all, I was very pleased with the roof’s condition. There was one small divot where I’d once braced a ladder but that was easily fixed.

My lovely wife worried for years about the ice build up around the power entrance lines. With any luck, the assorted bits of flashing and aluminum shielding installed today should solve the problem. Speaking of problems solved, my buddy’s who’s roof I worked on a while back has had no more leaks. Not bad for a couple amateurs with donated materials.

By the time all the ladders and tools were put away, it was too late in the day for sailing. Actually, the day would have been a toss up between sailing and bird hunting. When the sun comes out after days of rain, they like to bask in the sun too. It would have been a good day to chase the birds around.

The weather is supposed to turn cool and wet again. In fact, by next Thursday, snow is in the forecast. Remember last year’s Snowtober? The October snowstorm took down many trees and power lines. Ironically, those of us in the cold north fared better than points south. Most of our leaves had already fallen off the trees. South of us, the leaves were still firmly attached. Snow stuck to the leaves and added more weight than the trees could handle. Down they came, taking power lines with them.

While I was pretending to be an adult, my lovely wife busied herself outside picking up things and putting them away. It’s possible to get a snowstorm in October and all your stuff gets buried until late spring. Few things benefit from being buried in snow for the winter.

So all in all it was a productive day, but a lot less than fun than it could have been.


Friday, October 5, 2012

Common ground

To communicate well we have to have some cultural background in common. At one time everyone had at least good working knowledge of the Bible. It didn’t matter if a person was actually religious, everyone knew the bible. So if someone said, “It’s raining like Noah was lied to.” they’d know the reference was about God’s promise to Noah that the world would never be destroyed by flood again.

Not everyone has that point of reference today. Instead, they are more likely to make references to things in popular culture: movies, TV, video games and to a much lesser extent, books. Communication works pretty good for people in the same subculture. Every Science Fiction geek will get a Star Trek reference. Outside of the subculture, those references make little sense.

Jon Stewart made a reference to a book, Flowers for Algernon. Then he teased the audience because it was a reference to a book and they’d have to read something to understand it. It is a well known book, but people don’t know books.

On the other hand, since I don’t watch TV, I’ve less in common with people who do. I overheard someone say something like, “That girl is a smart as Snooki.” I had to look her up.

As our cultural backgrounds become more fractured we have fewer references in common. Our communication becomes less complex and nuanced. Does it matter? I think it does. We think in language. A large vocabulary and deep knowledge of cultural works allows for deeper and better thinking.

Imagine two people trying to communicate. One is a native English speaker with a rudimentary knowledge of French. The other is a Spanish speaker who also has some limited ability in French. With so little vocabulary in common they can only convey rudimentary ideas. They might manage: where is the bathroom? They won’t even try examining Existential angst.

It’s a shame when two native speakers of the same language lack the cultural depth to really communicate big ideas. We live in a time when we are led by small thinking men and woman, when what we really need are good ideas. Of course, big ideas are wasted if your only cultural reference is this year’s sitcom.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Quest for fire

Over 100 miles of driving, hours of on-line research, and my lovely wife and I still haven’t found a replacement for our wood cookstove. The old one still, works. I replaced the firebricks and patched it up, but it won’t last forever.

It’s an old one, back in the days before air tight woodstoves extended burn times. At best, a load of wood lasts 3 - 4 hours. While it’s enough to keep the house warm during milder weather, it doesn’t keep up when true winter blows in. For those bitterly cold winter nights, there’s a massive woodstove in the basement or the oil furnace kicks in. A good kitchen stove of modern design should be able to handle almost all of our heating needs. Rarely would we need the other heating methods.

If heating was all we were looking for, our search would be simple, but we want to be able to cook. The old stove is a pretty decent cookstove. In fact, it handles most of our cooking needs. The problem has been to find a good stove for heating and cooking. Everything is a compromise, but some are better than others.

The local stove dealer had a Deva cookstove by Hearthstone on the display floor. At just under $4000 it’s at the absolute upper end of what I’m willing to pay for. The stove looks well built and has a good sized firebox. The only major downside, (besides price) is that the cook top is glass. The manual warns against using rough pans that could scratch it. Sure, the cook top could be replaced with a piece of steel, but that’s an added expense.

Another stove that caught my fancy is The Vermont Bun Baker. The plain metal one without soapstones sides is more in my budget. Unfortunately, there is nobody nearby who has any on display. It does appear to cook well. There is a water jacket option for heating up household hot water, so that’s a plus. On the downside, the firebox is on the small side.

Those are just two of the dozens of stoves we’ve looked at, both in stores and on-line. Decisions, decisions. It is tempting to ignore the problem one more year. My fear is that the old stove will be like the Wonderful One Horse Shay and completely fall apart one day. That’s not something to take lightly with something full of burning logs.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Into the hills

The weather cleared so I headed off into the hills. It’s partridge season so I took the old shotgun for a walk in the woods. A couple birds broke cover, but never presented a shot. That’s why it’s called hunting instead of getting. No matter. The day was mild and the scenery fantastic. My wandering took me much further up in the hills than the pursuit of birds would justify.

Sometimes it’s just worth it for the view.

This shot is take from the Kilkenny National Forest in New Hampshire. In the far distance is the Mahoosuc Mountain Range in western Maine. Pretty country to disappear in.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Job promises

Anyone else sick and tired of politicians promising jobs, jobs, jobs?

Democrats and Republicans have both worked to send all the good jobs to other countries. Labor has been a race to the bottom. Even China has to do currency tricks to keep costs low enough to attract the bottom feeders. “Free Trade” isn’t free. It’s not just for the low wages. Companies love being able to treat workers like slaves. Health, safety and the environment are ignored.

The jobs that are left are the ones that cannot be shipped away. Most are McJobs -poorly paid service work. Even local government and state jobs are being whacked. With fewer people earning decent wages, the tax base suffers. No tax base, no city and state services. Unlike the Federal government, city and state governments cannot print money.

Pandora’s box has been opened, and woes of the world are loose. There is no stuffing the genie back in the lamp. It’s never going back the way it was. Until our leaders can admit that, they can’t move forward on real solutions. We aren’t going to grow the economy -not the real economy where fields are harvested and things are made. Growing the financial services market only grows the make pretend economy -the one not tied down to real world limits.

No, we don’t want jobs. We want a living. People want to know they are contributing to a better world, if even in a small way. They want to take care of their families. Workers want more than work. Life is so full of great and interesting things that it would be a shame not to be able to enjoy at least some of them. Imagine a life where you can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning to experience the day. Some people have livings. More of us could. There are plenty of worthwhile things that need doing. Sure beats the heck out of having a job.

Of course, what do politicians know about jobs? Few have actually had to work at a job. They’ve had careers, positions, appointments, and situations. They’ve sat on corporate boards. Money flows to them from investments, rents, trust funds, and lobbyists. If they thought jobs were so wonderful, they’d be flipping burgers for the pure joy of it.

How about we vote against every politician who promises us jobs. Maybe that way he can leave the sheltered halls of government and find a job his own self.


Monday, October 1, 2012

All that glitters

There are a lot of people who think putting the US and the world on the gold standard would solve our economic woes. Looking to history, we see that when we were actually on the gold standard, it wasn’t all love and roses. In fact, William Jennings Bryan’s, “Cross of Gold,” speech (1896) against the gold standard propelled him his party’s presidential candidacy. The basic argument was there was not enough gold in circulation for a healthy economy.

There are those who are strong proponents of physical possession of precious metals. Governments in the past have outlawed their possession. It’s happened in the past and it can happen again. I’ve no quarrel with those who point out that gold has been a traditional store of wealth for thousands of years. That’s assuming that governments or other criminals don’t take it away from you.

For day to day transactions, silver has a better track record. The average person could usually get his hands on some. It was useful for day to day transactions for ordinary goods. During the Argentine economic crisis of 1999 -2002, silver was commonly used to buy things. Silver is less valuable than gold, but valuable enough to be a good portable store of wealth.

Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future returns. Governments have called in all silver in the past too. For it to have value as a medium of exchange, there has to be enough of it around. There’s no sense in taking silver coin as payment when few other people have a use for it.

Other metals have done duty as mediums of exchange: copper, nickel, platinum, and whatnot. Then there are diamonds and other precious stones. Diamonds are the biggest joke. The only reason they are worth more than road gravel is because of the efforts put into making them artificially scarce. They have less intrinsic value than a dollar bill. At least you could use a dollar bill to blow your nose.

There’s some thought that future currencies will be based on food calories. At least you can eat food. The Samurai during Japan’s Edo period were paid in rice. Roman Legions were paid in salt. It worked in the past. At least with food there are physical limits on inflation. Calorie based economic systems actually work pretty well because food doesn’t store forever, unlike precious metals. The food has to be put back into the system and used to do work, generating economic activity.

There’s rumors going around that many of the rat bastards who’ve crashed our economy are now heavily invested in gold. They plan on having wealth long after they’ve destroyed everyone else’s. Of course, that’ll only work if we accept gold in payment for real things.

“I’m sorry Mr. Bankster Bastard, we are only accepting payment in potatoes today. Oh, you don’t have any potatoes? No problem, I’ll trade you a bushel of potatoes for your yacht. Don’t want to deal? No problem, come back when you are really hungry and we’ll see what kind of deal we can make.”

I’m not telling people not to buy precious metals. Do what you want. However, make sure you are squared away on real physical things first: land, water, food, tools, clothes -real things of real value. In fact, you probably are better off with good personal connections with friends and family. If people love and respect you, the’ll work with you and help you -unlike Mr. Bankster Bastard.