Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A tribute to the Automatic Earth

and a wake the fuck up moment for the rest of us:

Monday, June 28, 2010

Pensacola beach

Brace yourself.

Read Kunslter

Say What?

Excerpt posted without his permission. I'm hoping he doesn't sue me.

By James Howard Kunstler
on June 28, 2010 8:43 AM

I think America missed something. It must be the time of year, what with inhaling all those fumes from the charcoal starter... and fueling up the Jet-skis so as to turn a perfectly good mountain lake into something like a Cuisinart on the guacamole setting... and the rousing evenings in the Nascar parking lots hitting palmetto bugs with your wiffle bat... and all that anxious waiting for a 10W-40 hard rain to fall on the Gulf Coast states - but President Obama made a very interesting remark when the financial regulation package passed in the senate the other day. He said the bill would make sure that "Main Street is never again held responsible for Wall Street's mistakes."
That was the sound of something going over America's head. Something about the size of Rodan the Flying Reptile. And frankly I don't think the president even meant to be coy or deceptive. It just means he doesn't get it either. Never again....
Never again?
What the fuck?
Why even this time? Why isn't there an army of federal attorneys out there, their teeth bristling with subpoenas, beating the bushes in every lane and skyscraper floor of lower Manhattan (and Fairfield County, Connecticut, not to mention a thousand office parks around the USA) to roust out the grifters and swindlers who took Main Street to the cleaners this time.
The audacity of cluelessness! And the hilarity of "next time."
Earth to President Obama: there isn't going to be a next time. This time was enough to git 'er done. Wall Street - in particular the biggest "banks" - packaged up and sold enough swindles to unwind 2500 years of western civilization. You simply cannot imagine the amount of bad financial paper out there right now in every vault and portfolio on the planet. Enough, really, to sink any company even pretending to trade in things more abstract than a mud brick or an hour of labor. What's more, the cross-collateralized obligations between them are so vast and intricate that all the standing timber in North America could not be fashioned into enough pick-up sticks to represent the hideous death-dealing tangle of frauds waiting for the wing-beat of a single black swan to come crashing down.
Go out and get a copy of Michael Lewis's recent book The Big Short for a close-up view on one micro-corner of the investment world. You will discover that the people fabricating things like synthetic collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) had no idea what the fuck they were doing - besides deliberately creating documents that nobody would ever understand, that would never be unraveled by teams of law clerks or secret words or magic incantations or prayers to some dark hirsute deity, and were guaranteed to place in jeopardy every operation of the world economy above the barter level. Sorry to invoke the hoary old metaphor about the horse being out of the barn - but the larger problem is what the horse left behind in a great steaming mound clear up to the rafters. There was nothing to understand in all this crap, except that betting against it was a good idea, and then only for those who placed the earliest bets - because everybody else is going to get just as screwed as those who stuffed their vaults and portfolios with Triple-A rated horseshit.
What banks and governments have been doing for the past eighteen months is a dumbshow meant to distract the public from the fact that the world financial system has been effectively destroyed. There isn't enough money left in the known reaches of the universe to pay off the outstanding claims. In fact, not even close. Everything that proceeds from this fiasco will be in service of impoverishing most of the population and, incidentally, probably bringing down governments and, with them, convenient social usufructs such as due process of law and civil order. What remains - what you're watching right now on CNN or Fox - is just a representation of the former structures of civilized life, what Joe Bageant refers to as "the hologram," a kind of 3-D picture you can see around, that looks like reality, but is actually immaterial, a collective hallucination. It's comfortable living in a hologram - until you discover that you're in one.
In the summertime, when there are weenies to grill and Jet-skis to commit suicide on, the public is usually having too much fun to pay attention to anything. Maybe this is how come summertime is also when lots of bad shit happens, or gets ready to happen. The guns of August... blitzkrieg... 9-11... the death of Lehman Brothers....

Taxing labor and producers of integral goods...

...while propping up the FIRE sector of the economy is socialism for the rich.

Michael Hudson spoke to Max Keiser over the weekend.

Well worth your time.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

By the way

If you haven't noticed by now, there's a hurricane forming in the lower Gulf of Mexico.

Most models have the thing coming ashore in Mexico. For some reason, I have this quesy feeling the storm might plow right through the oil slick. Let's hope I am wrong.

Joe Bageant

Joe Bageant resurfaced after a five month hiatus in Mexico with this:

Read and weep.

Joe is a lefty. I wouldn't necessarily agree with him when it comes to looking for solutions to our ills, but he has a unique way of recognizing the symptoms of our illness and putting them to words.

Obama and his goddamned bull shit crew are bad, horrible in fact, but the so-called opposition might even be worse. Truth is they aren't aren't the opposition at all but instead another face of the same goddamned coin.

We remain truly and royally fucked.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Work with your hands

Sabbath eve, June 25, 2010. Leah has gone to the lake for a week with her family, leaving me her chores as well as my own. June is always busy; this year is no exception. We’re cutting, baling and stacking hay as fast as we can. Hordes of grasshoppers will eat the grass if we don’t do something with it first.

I still have peppers, cream peas, okra and a few tomatoes hanging on in the garden but most of the spring crops have begun to fade. We picked cucumbers, watermelons and cantaloupes one last time before plowing them into the ground. We thrashed and winnowed dried pinto beans earlier this week. Six rows yielded a couple hundred pounds. I know damn well I spent ten times more money raising those beans than I could have bought them for at the store. My beans may be a bit better, but not ten times better.

The corn is ripening in our fields. This will wait for the combine, good Lord willing.

Cows, chickens, horses, goats and dogs spend most of their time in the shade avoiding the brutal summer sun. And we think ourselves smarter than they.

This morning I discovered a chest freezer full of food had stopped working. I removed freezer bags, one by one, and dumped the contents, filling six five-gallon buckets in the process, thinking all the while about how much work went into growing, processing and storing that food. At least it wasn’t the freezer full of meat. I fed the stuff to the chickens, so it wasn’t a total loss, but still....

I read that unemployment benefits are soon to end for many workers, something like a million beginning today, and hundreds of thousands each week from now on. From my perspective, this is inevitable. Some will say we still have money to spend on wars so we should have money to further extend benefits. Others might reply if it weren’t for the empire and its wars, there’d be no wealth to spend.

The argument is moot.

The wealth we have known is going away, piece by piece. Truth is, it's already gone. Were it not for massive new debt all of this would have come to a halt in July of 2007. The debt bailed out bankers and the ultra-rich. No working class jobs were created. Perhaps something could have been done, could still be done. It won’t be.

However, I am of the opinion that certain rules or laws of nature apply, some of which I found in the book of Proverbs. One goes something like this: Work with your hands, and you will eat.

Hard work won’t kill you; waiting around for a miracle might.

Do something.

Concerning the piety of the aged

Letters from the earth by Mark Twain. An excerpt:

"Thou shalt not commit adultery" is a command which makes no distinction between the following persons. They are all required to obey it:

Children at birth.

Children in the cradle.

School children.

Youths and maidens.

Fresh adults.

Older ones.

Men and women of 40.

Of 50.

Of 60.

Of 70.

Of 80.

Of 90.

Of 100.

The command does not distribute its burden equally, and cannot.

It is not hard upon the three sets of children.

It is hard -- harder -- still harder upon the next three sets -- cruelly hard.

It is blessedly softened to the next three sets.

It has now done all the damage it can, and might as well be put out of commission. Yet with comical imbecility it is continued, and the four remaining estates are put under its crushing ban. Poor old wrecks, they couldn't disobey if they tried. And think -- because they holily refrain from adulterating each other, they get praise for it! Which is nonsense; for even the Bible knows enough to know that if the oldest veteran there could get his lost heyday back again for an hour he would cast that commandment to the winds and ruin the first woman he came across, even though she were an entire stranger.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ain't Communism wonderful?

More woes from Venezuela.

Venezuelan government allows food to rot in warehouses and then confiscates food from private sources to make up the difference.

Read Animal Farm for the rest of the story.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Still selling grass and I ain't gonna quit

Sabbath eve, June 18, 2010.

After a number of fits and starts, we finally got some good square bales of hay made. For whatever reason, Old lake rat suffered a temporary fit of insanity and decided to join us in the fields this morning. But not to worry: he came to his senses after the first load and bid us farewell. I’m not good company when doing this kind of work. Between the heat, dehydration and the pain of extended physical exertion, my IQ falls into lower double digits. Even the simplest thoughts get lost in the ether. The only thing I can concentrate on is the next bale of hay and the sea of bales from which it came, all needing to be in the barn.

Somehow, despite the exhaustion, I feel like we got something accomplished, and the sense of despair I’ve been packing around has abated a bit. A barn full of hay is like money in the bank for those that raise livestock. Better than money in the bank.
I’m sore all over, not just from hauling hay, but also from a spill me and Cheap Speed took yesterday morning. Recent rains knocked out a water gap and some of our cattle got onto a neighbor’s place. Neither me nor my horse have gone riding for a while. Shortly after I got on Speed, he threw a fit. He ended up falling and landed on my right leg. I got back on and we made it through the rest of the ride. I didn’t feel much pain at first, but by the time I got off I had a sore ankle and by last night I discovered more tender places on my aged body. I knew there was a chance something would happen when I put a saddle on Speed, but I decided that if that it’s my fate to pass that way, then perhaps that’s not such a bad way to go. Speed also needed to work it out. Both of us aren’t much more than candidates for the glue factory if we don’t do what we’re born and bred to do.

Am I crazy? Hell, I embrace crazy.

Speaking of crazy: Mike Ruppert’s movie, Collapse is now available on DVD. Knowing what Mike knows is enough to make anyone crazy. I’m of the opinion it’s better to know, than not to know. For the record, Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four possible stars.

Dustin Welch’s Whiskey Priest has been stuck in my head today.

Lyrics, here:

Get me outta town before they run me off
Once we’re far enough I’ll get out and walk
Well now, you know the way they can lead you on
I don’t have a choice I got to take them all
Cause the system is fixed with eyes upon eyes
Dirty little secret white lie alibis
Even if you got nothing to hide
They don’t need to ask they just read your mind

I’m a whisky priest and it’s a blood soaked religion
I’m a whisky priest and it’s a blood soaked religion
I’m a whisky priest and it’s a blood soaked religion
I’m a whisky priest and it’s blood soaked, it’s blood soaked

I am a man of faith, I am a child of the crow
All my better angels, well they touch and they go
I get no self satisfaction from salvation when it’s sold
With a ten digit digital magnetic barcode
So, I kneel down on my knees to pray
And I whisper speculation holy rumor hearsay
God bless the poor and the feeble when they try to retain
A sense of faults repletion and a marker for their claim

I’m a whisky priest…

Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, drive that steel machine
Rich and poor man, beggar, thief, you better keep your pistol clean
Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, drive that steel machine
Rich and poor man, beggar, thief, you better keep your pistol clean
Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, drive that steel machine
Rich and poor man, beggar, thief, you better keep your pistol clean
C’mon can’t you hear those distant sirens ring
Junkie, drunk, you ruckus punk, believe me when I sing

I’m a whisky priest…

I love the smell of rain upon the answer to a prayer
The smell of fresh black powder when it’s hanging in the air
It must stand to reason as beyond compare
When every breath I take is another I am spared
Well I come a willing servant and I go an able culprit
If I had a chance in Hell I probably already took it
That bastard Satan’s bony ass, well I’ll do my best to whoop it
With a bible in my holster, and a shot glass in my pulpit

I’m a whisky priest…(wade in the water, children)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Afghan dope

I like this guy's tag line:

I run my own damn think tank.

At this link, learn how the dope gets out of Afghanistan. Your tax dollars, hard at work.

Pay no attention to the blood.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sabbath morn, June 12, 2010

I sat down to write last night and couldn’t find the words. I’ve thirty minutes before time to milk the cows, there are chickens in the pot, literally, produce needing picking and processed, and God only knows what lurks today. So it’s now or never and by necessity, this will be brief.

We had a flood this week. Most of the rain fell upstream from us, some 12 inches I am told, in a matter of hours. New Braunfels took the worst of it. We were warned that the river would spill from its banks, but I wasn’t convinced the rise would be life threatening by the time it reached us, and it wasn’t, at least on our particular stretch. Seems like whatever weather we get is of the extreme. Guess I should have moved back to Texas if I didn’t like the weather.

Reminds me of another current event: most white folks suddenly wanting to build a fence and get rid of the Mexicans in the Southwestern US. Did not someone tell you all of this was once Mexico? La reconquista has slowed as our own economy continues slowly but surely to erode, but I am telling you, these people are going nowhere, no sooner than white folks are going to pack up and go back where they came from. For many the border crossed them, not the other way around. They are part of the fabric of this place, whether you like it or not.

Our kitchen swells with produce in varying states of decay. The house is unkempt, not filthy, but dirty. I track mud in and out: taking off boots every time I carry something in or out the door is impractical when you do it as often as I must. Leah decided well when she picked dirt colored tile for the floor. There are four large ice chests full of rooster carcasses on that floor as well and a pot full of cooking carcasses in a large pot waiting to be canned. Takes a while to get rooster meat tender.

The roosters were killing our hens, literally fucking them to death. I hated that they had to die, but they had to die.

Sometimes I wonder if am insane. It’s cheaper and a hell of a lot easier to just go buy food from the store and I have the money to do so at the moment. We’re working our asses to a frazzle of late.

But the bottom line, right or wrong, is this. I think our current way of living, this thing we call civilization, will fail at some point—is failing—as I write, and I am trying to rediscover tried and tested ways of making it on this earth. Contrary to public opinion, it’s not all fun and games.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The oil spill: who's to blame

Here's what's apparent to me: No government regulation would have or is going to change what happened in the Gulf of Mexico. Drilling oil wells is an inherently dangerous activity. They blow out periodically on land but it's not the big deal that it is when they blow out under a mile of ocean.

It's ludicrous to politicize this thing. Either we drill the ocean or we dive headfirst off the cliff of peak oil. There is no political will in any viable party on the planet to jump off the cliff. Absent that, we're going to drill in challenging places and mistakes will be made.

Someone makes critical judgement calls in the drilling of a well in a matter of moments, even seconds, and this time, bad calls were made. Greed may have played a part in the disaster, but this can and will happen again as we test the limits of deep water drilling technology.

I've heard the difficulties in drilling a well off the coast of Brazil are similar to landing a ship on the moon. The wells will be drilled.

I am sick of hearing how BP is at fault. Or Obama. Or Salazar. If you're burning oil, you share the blame. (Which means I too share the blame.)

We tell these people to get us cheap oil and then crucify them when they fail. It's not unlike blaming a soldier for killing someone in a war he didn't start.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Cheese economics

Leah took four five pound wheels of cheese to a local horse show last week, along with some hand-made pottery and homemade jellies and jams. She sold all the cheese (please don’t put my wife in jail), and about 2 dozen jars of jam. She also sold a couple of nice pieces of pottery. She came home with almost $600.

So this morning while sitting under a cow, milking, I started doing some math to occupy my mind. It takes four gallons of Jersey milk to make a five pound block of cheese (more if you’re milking a Holstein). I’m also raising calves on my cow, so I only milk once a day. I get about two gallons per cow out of the deal.

A sack of feed costs just over $5: quite a bargain, absolutely dependent on cheap fossil fuel and mechanization to produce at this cost. The feed is nothing but ground Monsanto genetically modified corn, and cotton seed hulls produced from Monsanto genetically modified cotton seed, with a bit of cottonseed meal, salt and trace minerals. Two cows won’t consume a whole sack, so I’ll figure the cost at $4.

The cows get pasture, but that pasture doesn’t come free. There's fertizler, weed spray, etc. I also feed them a bale a day of hay grazer (sorghum type hay) that sells for about $5/bale, once again, totally dependent on fossil fuel powered machinery. It’d cost more if the work had to be done by hand. Much more. I raise my own hay, so I’ll be more than fair and say the cost of pasture and hay combined is $5.

I use a bit of fly spray on the cows, hot water and soap to disinfect the milk pails, funnels, etc, used in handling the milk. We buy cheese cloth to strain the milk and also to make the cheese. There’s the cost of culture and rennet. And there’s the energy cost of refrigeration, also totally dependent on electricity generated by fossil fuels. Being generous, let’s say all of this adds up to $3/day (it’s more, but by God, I've got to make this work, so I'm going with the low number).

So, I have $12 in direct expenses involved in the process, per day. Not including taxes or the cost of the land, of course, but who gives a shit about all of that.

The entire process of milking the cows, from prep work to straining of the milk takes me two hours. I have to catch the cows, spray them for flies, wash their udders, feed them and squeeze out the milk. Pour the milk for the milk pail into a larger milk can, carry the milk back to the house, strain the milk, clean the pail and the can, etc. Leah often takes over on the straining, but the time is spent, one way or the other.

While we drink raw milk, we discovered it’s better to pasteurize the milk before making cheese. We’ve made it from raw milk, but raw milk cheese must be consumed immediately or aged a minimum of 60 days to ensure that no bad bacteria survive the process. Leah has to heat the milk, then cool it rapidly. This takes about a half an hour; she spends a good portion of that time standing above a pot in a sink full of cool water stirring to cool the milk to exactly 90 degrees. Then she adds culture to the cheese and waits 45 minutes. She adds rennet and waits another 45 minutes. The milk must remain at 90 degrees for this entire period. Exactly 90 degrees. She cuts the curds, then she places the pot into a sink full of moderately hot water and gently stirs the curds. The process varies from this point forward, depending on the kind of cheese she’s making. For something like cheddar, there’s quite a bit of work left to do, but for fresh cheese like that she sold at the horse show, this takes about an hour and a half. The temperature of the curds and whey must gradually be raised to 100 degrees during this process. Go over 102 degrees and you’ll probably ruin the cheese.

Then she has to drain the whey from the curds and pack this into a cheese press. The cheese has to be turned a couple of times, removed from the press and refrigerated.

No way you’re doing this in less than 3 hours. Truth is, by the time all is said and done, it’s more like 4 hours, scattered over an entire day.

Leah quartered the cheese, meaning each block weighed a pound and a quarter. She sold each chunk for $6. So we grossed $24 for a day’s worth of cheese.

Less $12 in expenses, gives us a profit of $12.

We have 6 hours of labor invested. So we have earned $2/hour, assuming you drive out to our place to buy the cheese. Delivery to market cuts into that profit quite significantly but she was going to the horse show anyway.

Hell, we’re making a profit. Guess I ought to go spend another $1,400 on an additional cow….

For what it's worth, the pottery, the jelly and the produce I raise in our garden all have similar profit margins.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The economy is great; the recovery proceeding...

...aside from this list of 50 minor inconveniences (plus a hundred or more that failed to make the page.

Creative minds and schizophrenia

I can relate to this:

However, in a time when insanity is the rule....

Friday, June 4, 2010

Sabbath eve blues

Sabbath eve, June 4, 2010

Leah spent the afternoon helping set up for a horse show that is slated for tomorrow. Money from the show goes to support LOPE, an organization that finds homes for retired race horses here in Texas. Our house is full of various buckets of produce. Squash, black-eyed peas, potatoes, cucumbers, okra and tomatoes. I decided to help her out and can some of the tomatoes while she was gone.

A whole afternoon of hard work over a sink and a hot stove yielded 7 quarts and 11 pints. I don’t know what a quart of tomatoes sells for, but I can tell you it isn’t enough.

I have decided I am not going to grow any more wheat. Despite what futures quotes say, wheat is selling for slightly less than $4 a bushel where I live. That’s 60 pounds for $4. Sixty loaves of the cheapest bread probably sells for about $120 and the farmer gets $4. After eating all the expenses involved in raising the shit. This year, that means I earned nothing. Nada. Zero, ziltch. Not a fucking grunion. Truth is, I probably lost money raising the shit. Remember that when you bite into your next sandwich.

I tell myself that if I can’t make money selling food, at least I can eat the stuff or give it to friends to eat. But I have celiac disease and can’t eat goddamned wheat. Guess the fucking chickens can eat the fucking wheat and then I’ll eat them. One guy down the road baled his wheat instead. The bales are worth more than the grain would have been and harvesting costs were significantly less.

My corn looks pretty good, but the futures prices for corn are also bad.

At least I’m not a Louisiana fisherman.

Or a Mississippi, Alabama, or Florida fisherman.

Or someone dependent on the Florida energy plants that need clean sea water to operate and may soon have to shut down. Can you imagine what’ll happen to the tourist industry when oil from the blowout in the Gulf of Mexico finds its way to those clean white beaches? Or what happens to the real estate market in the Southeastern quarter of this nation when the full impact of this catastrophe becomes evident?

I noticed the stock market gave up gains it had made earlier in the week. Unemployment numbers continue to be bad, especially when you realize that nearly all recent recovery is related to government giveaway programs that will have to be paid for at some point in our future.

Economists seem sure that all these bad loans will someday cure themselves. Hugh Hendry says I recommend you panic.

I think Hendry is right. I expect a rash of sovereign defaults. It’s not just Greece. We can deal with this now, or deal with it over the next 20 years, but it’s not going away. There is simply too much bad debt within the system.

I watched Robin Hood last week. The show didn’t get great reviews, but I enjoyed it.

Despite all the woes, I am glad to be alive.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Back in the saddle

I’ve been AWOL since last Thursday. Daniel Pace and Caio Ribeiro joined Mathew Walker and me in West Texas. We went to Balmorhea and then to the Big Bend Park, from there back to Balmorhea, on to Fort Stockton, our old farm at Bakersfield and finally back to the ranch at Belmont where I now live. I enjoyed the trip but I’m glad to be home. Vast distances separate towns and locations in Texas and invariably I find trips to the Bend involve too much driving and not nearly enough sleep. Daniel and Caio were shooting footage for a companion documentary and or promotional material for Contrabando, the film. I detest being photographed and filmed; by the time they were done, I was all but snarling every time they raised a camera in my face. How do you like me now, motherfucker?

I notice that the efforts to kill the blowout in the gulf have failed. This comes as no surprise, but the news is a terrible blow, nonetheless. Basically, we’re fucked in more ways than most can or will imagine. Here’s the gist of it: the environment will be destroyed and someone will continue drilling.

On the home front, we harvested a meager wheat crop averaging about 35 bushels to the acre. Wheat prices are pathetic. Makes me want to stuff the shit up every available orifice of the bastards that control such matters. Grass continues growing; the second crop of hay is near ready to cut. The garden continues to produce more vegetables than we know what to do with. I’m irrigating corn where I can and warring with feral hogs determined to harvest our corn crop before we do.

Javi Garcia’s latest record continues to be the best new work I have heard this year.

And I don’t have much else to say at the moment.