Thursday, September 30, 2010

Down by the river

Well, it ain't exactly the Rio Grande, but instead a piece of the Guadalupe as it runs by our place at Belmont. Paul Speir, publisher of my book, Ruminations from the garden, came by last weekend and interviewed me briefly. It's not the best of quality and I am what I am, flaws and all. For better or worse, here it be:

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Left/Right paradigm is over: it's you vs. corportations

An article worth your time


Every generation or so, a major secular shift takes place that shakes up the existing paradigm. It happens in industry, finance, literature, sports, manufacturing, technology, entertainment, travel, communication, etc.

I would like to discuss the paradigm shift that is occurring in politics.

For a long time, American politics has been defined by a Left/Right dynamic. It was Liberals versus Conservatives on a variety of issues. Pro-Life versus Pro-Choice, Tax Cuts vs. More Spending, Pro-War vs Peaceniks, Environmental Protections vs. Economic Growth, Pro-Union vs. Union-Free, Gay Marriage vs. Family Values, School Choice vs. Public Schools, Regulation vs. Free Markets.

The new dynamic, however, has moved past the old Left Right paradigm. We now live in an era defined by increasing Corporate influence and authority over the individual. These two “interest groups” – I can barely suppress snorting derisively over that phrase – have been on a headlong collision course for decades, which came to a head with the financial collapse and bailouts. Where there is massive concentrations of wealth and influence, there will be abuse of power. The Individual has been supplanted in the political process nearly entirely by corporate money, legislative influence, campaign contributions, even free speech rights.

This may not be a brilliant insight, but it is surely an overlooked one. It is now an Individual vs. Corporate debate – and the Humans are losing.

Wanna be a farmer?

My on air conversation with Mike Ruppert spawned additional thoughts. Particularly the last question he asked which caught me by surprise. What advice do you have for some 20 something out there….

I’ve often concerned myself with the fact that the average farmer/rancher is getting old and there are almost no replacements from the subsequent generation. I don’t fault the generation: it’s more a matter of the tide into which they were born that created the current condition. The trend was for one farmer to do more with less and that left no financial incentive for a young person to take up the trade.

However, times are changing. I believe opportunities abound for young people that haven’t already spent years investing in another occupation, studying and practicing the art of growing food. The master plan of the powers that be seems continued consolidation and mechanization of agriculture.

I am convinced the plan will fail.

Instead, out of sheer necessity, I think re-localization and diversification away from the big ag monoculture equation will become the new rule and the key to our survival.

I don’t envision a return to entirely antiquated methods of farming, but instead hybrid variations incorporating parts of the old and the new.

The elderly will soon pass away and with them, the knowledge passed from one generation to the next.

On the economic front, I believe we have entered an era when expensive mansions, fancy cars, resort properties and any other non-essentials will depreciate sharply in value. Essentials will become scarce and will maintain or increase in value regardless of the value of currency, be it dollars, yuan or gold, unless we have a government takeover of farms and farm products (it has been tried elsewhere and that too will fail).

Perhaps now is the time to consider becoming a farmer. Believe me when I tell you that it’s a challenging endeavor. And that the work can be quite rewarding.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Radio interview

I'm scheduled for an interview with Mike Ruppert Sunday at 9pm eastern on his new radio show, the lifeboat hour.

We'll be talking chicken, pigs, cows, vegetables, and diggin in the dirt. Maybe some other things as well. Also be taking calls from the public.

Listen here if so inclined.

Archive, here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Hope remains

Sabbath eve, September 24, 2010

I’ve been in a funk for a couple of days, low of energy and feeling somewhat light headed. I don’t know exactly what caused this condition to arise, but I know I compounded the equation by engaging in an Internet orgy of doom when I should have been out doing something instead. There’s a time for everything, including studying the condition of our condition, but I need breaks. Too much bad news incapacitates me.

So this afternoon I shut off the computer, went out to the garden, started a rototiller and began plowing soil. We’ve had abundant rain, way above normal for the year, and grass and weeds were in the process of taking over an area that I had plowed less than a month ago. As the machine chugged and churned through the earth and tender vegetative matter, my mood began to lift.

I’ve focused a lot of attention of late on the current industrial model of feeding ourselves and the fact that absent cheap and abundant fossil fuels we will not be able to continue living as we now do. In doing so, I have pushed aside other lessons learned not only from a study of history but also real experience.

We’ve all heard how many man hours of labor a gallon of gas contains. But statistics can be misleading. As I watched the tines of the tiller chug through the ground, I realized how terribly inefficient the machine I was operating actually is. A vast majority of the energy that machine produces is wasted when compared to the efficient way a man with a sharp hoe would move through the same ground. Likewise, when you consider a car, the weight of moving that much iron and the friction created by the speed at which we travel in an automobile makes the machine terribly inefficient. We can and will get by on less energy.

I know for a fact that a healthy man with access to fertile soil, seed, a supply of good water, and hand tools can grow more food that he and an average sized family can consume from a garden plot. Coupled with an array of animal products, that family can do much more than just survive, it can flourish. Cooperative efforts on larger plots of land can and will work as well, despite the opinions of naysayers.

I also know that oil is not going to run out entirely overnight, everywhere, at the same time. I do think the time will come when a dystopian society is formed, denying the benefits of the cheap energy oil provides to many of us, so I am considering ways to use less. But I also know that the ground where I live has some oil remaining below and will have for years to come. There will be those that figure out how to extract and use some of that oil outside government and corporate control of the resource.

Those that focus on the law of entropy without also studying the mechanisms of rebirth and reconfiguration on this planet miss valuable clues to our future. Plants take water in the presence of sunlight and chlorophyll and create glucose which forms the basis for simple sugars, complex carbohydrates and fats. Throw in nitrogen which certain plants can also extract from the air and store in their roots and you have the basis for all proteins. Herbivores consume grasses and redeposit nutrients into the soil. Put these equations to work in sensible and well thought out arrangements and you will eat.

We can’t save everybody be we can save ourselves if we choose to do so. Our biggest enemy will prove to be those that choose only to take from others and offer nothing in return. I know I will lose some of you with this, but so be it. While I believe certain prophecies of gloom and doom will be fulfilled, I do not live in fear of these events. I expect a dystopian society to emerge, perhaps a one world government. And I expect that society to fail catastrophically. In the same way natural disasters or occurrences plagued the ancient Egyptian empire of Moses’ day, today’s disasters may prove the only hope for those desiring freedom in the face of tyrannical government interference, subjugation and inequity.

It took great faith for Moses and his people to walk away from the comfort of homes and the food supplies they had become accustomed to into the uncertainties of an empty desert but they did what they had to do. I expect many of us will face similar challenges.

If the Jewish parable doesn’t work for you, consider the prophecies of aboriginals elsewhere. Just about any culture has its seers. And if that doesn’t work for you, then at least consider the past and the cyclical nature of the rise and fall of empires. We are headed for a fall. When we fall, we're taking the rest of the world with us.

I look forward to a time when local communities rise from the ashes and come together to find new and better ways to get along with this planet. I may not see that day, but I feel confident that someone will.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Breaking chains

Sabbath eve, September 17, 2010

Rain shortened my workday, once again, at least until the necessary evening chores came along which must be done regardless of weather conditions. Earlier, I saw one of our goats in labor. I moved closer to discover that a kid was already out and moving so I left the nanny alone. About thirty minutes later I saw the kid stand and nurse. I failed to notice another kid had been born and lay dead on the ground alongside the nanny.

Had I been there for the second birth, the kid might very well have been saved. Sometimes whether an animal lives or dies can be as simple a matter as removing a piece of the sack in which they are encased to allow the baby to get that first breath. Here’s what’s certain. I was not there. The animal died. Once dead, there is no bringing that dead animal back to life. At least one of the neighborhood coyotes will eat tonight.

Leah is out in the rain moving the nanny and the surviving kid to a stall so they won’t have to stand in a wet pen. Left out, even with the protection of our pack of livestock guard dogs, there’s a chance that one of literally thousands of coyotes in the immediate area might sneak in and snag dinner in the form of the surviving kid.

This morning I read a blog where a woman complained about having to go out and milk her goats. For her, buying and raising goats seemed a good idea until she realized that her spouse and her children would not drink the milk, nor are they interested in helping milk goats. If you have any kind of job at all or a government check, if not, it’s cheaper and easier to buy milk than it is to extract your own from an animal. Milk animals, be they cows or goats, must be tended to twice a day, even if milked just once. There are no sick days, bad weather days, weekends, holidays, or excuses unless you have someone to fill in, and apparently she doesn’t.

I’ve seen this scenario play out time and again. People leave the city for a homestead with some idyllic notion of their own little house on the prairie and soon find themselves in a hell of their own making. They plant seeds, hoping to grow things organically. Bugs eat the crops, if not, then weeds take over, if not that, some other impediment arises. If by some minor miracle they do manage to overcome all these obstacles and get food grown, they discover growing and harvesting food by hand is brutally hard work and the produce must be picked on time and immediately processed or it begins to overripen or rot in short order.

Then excess crops get harvested, more than can possibly be processed, given there are only 24 hours in a day, so the homesteader decides to try and sell some of their hard earned produce.

People say they want organically grown food but they don’t want to see a bug bite or any other blemish or imperfection and they want the food dirt cheap. In other words, they don’t really want organically grown, hand harvested food. They want something labeled organic that looks just like the shit sold in the grocery store and are willing to pay a few extra cents to get it. The vast majority, even if they buy “organic”, buy at some megastore that will not purchase raw food products from small scale producers. If you’re sitting at a farmer’s market selling stuff, you’re not at the farm taking care of the plants and animals in your charge. Most of those that do sit at farmer’s markets make their money fucking farmers out of their crops. Either you sell these middlemen stuff dirt cheap, less than the cost of production if your time is accounted for, or they go buy produce from the same place the big stores do, except they get the lower end stuff, repackage it and sell it as homegrown produce.

It takes time to do things by hand which, unless a person has a cache of money put aside, cuts into other money making endeavors which tend to be hard to come by anyhow if you live in what I would consider a favorable spot for a homestead. When raising food produced or gathered by hand, you’re competing with what amounts to foreign slave labor. By slave labor, I mean working your ass off for less than $10/day.

I could not do what I do if I didn’t have the family support of others that derive income from non-agricultural ventures. In my case, that help came in the form of a windfall that evaporates by the day. The vast majority of those that work on a farm, even of the mechanized and most modern variety, have similar arrangements. Either they inherited their land and/or someone in the family goes to town to earn money to pay bills.

When I pay someone to hand harvest crops, I lose money. Every time, without fail. And old saying, which is a whole lot less funny than it was the first time I heard it: If you want to make a small fortune farming, start out with a big fortune.

If I offered all the corn three field hands harvested today instead of the money I paid them for their efforts, to a man they would decline the offer. If that corn was all they got paid, they wouldn’t be back to work tomorrow. What they earned in wages is more money than the corn they picked can be sold for, if they could sell it at all (and that is highly unlikely). I’ve gone as far with this endeavor as I can. The rest of the unharvested corn the combine missed will be plowed into the ground.

Economic chains have forced farmers to mechanize, cut costs and grow Frankenfoods. We waste significant amounts of the food that we grow. Breaking these chains seems near impossible, but we had better figure out how.

Lives depend upon it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Do not pity the Democrats

Chris Hedges has written a good piece concerning the condition of our condition. Now if more of his liberal constituents would take notice...

An excerpt:

Investing emotional and intellectual energy in electoral politics is a waste of time. Resistance means a radical break with the formal structures of American society. We must cut as many ties with consumer society and corporations as possible. We must build a new political and economic consciousness centered on the tangible issues of sustainable agriculture, self-sufficiency and radical environmental reform. The democratic system, and the liberal institutions that once made piecemeal reform possible, is dead. It exists only in name. It is no longer a viable mechanism for change. And the longer we play our scripted and absurd role in this charade the worse it will get. Do not pity Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. They will get what they deserve. They sold the citizens out for cash and power. They lied. They manipulated and deceived the public, from the bailouts to the abandonment of universal health care, to serve corporate interests. They refused to halt the wanton corporate destruction of the ecosystem on which all life depends. They betrayed the most basic ideals of democracy. And they, as much as the Republicans, are the problem.

“It is like being in a pit,” Ralph Nader told me when we spoke on Saturday. “If you are four feet in the pit you have a chance to grab the top and hoist yourself up. If you are 30 feet in the pit you have to start on a different scale.”

All resistance will take place outside the arena of electoral politics. The more we expand community credit unions, community health clinics and food cooperatives and build alternative energy systems, the more empowered we will become.

More at the link.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Looking for a combine

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sabbath eve came around and I couldn’t find a word to write if my life depended on it. I didn’t work particularly hard this week; we had rain, even the threat of floods, so I did little more than the usual chores and a bit of work in the garden. However, I seem to be suffering from cumulative fatigue, not so much of the physical nature, although my fifty something year old body seems not to work as well as it once did, but instead from the general strain of life in a time of crisis.

As documented in past writings, getting the harvest in this year has been difficult. To add insult to injury, this week I got an invoice for crop insurance. OK. This is a self-inflicted wound. I signed up for the abuse. That doesn’t make the pain any less real. If there was any chance of a profit from the crop I raised, the goddamned insurance premium will get it. All of it.

Seems old Adam Smith’s invisible hand has been sharpening a pencil of late and the bastard knows how much it costs to raise a crop, to the penny. If you are a good old boy and play exactly as the government and its handlers dictate, they allow just enough profit to continue on in indefinite servitude and perpetual debt. And they do dictate how things are done.

An example: After suffering the abuse that hiring a combine to harvest my crops entails for the past couple of years, I decided to go online to see if I could find a small combine at a reasonable price so we could harvest our own row crops. I typed the words small combine into a search engine, only to discover those words have become mutually exclusive.

In the late 70’s and early 80’s we owned our own combine, a John Deere model 6600. A larger version had just come out, the largest to date: a 7700 model. That 6600 model got repossessed along with the rest of the equipment we had and the farm on which that equipment worked. It was about then I began smuggling marijuana for a living. That’s a long story, so I won’t bother you with the details other than to say I have not owned a combine since, nor have I kept up with the models that have been made in the interim years.

So, as I search though lists of used combines, I notice a trend. Each and every time a new model came out, it was larger, of higher capacity and significantly more expensive than its predecessor. There was no improved version of a similar sized machine to be had.

Consequently, if you wanted to continue farming, you had to farm more acres with larger equipment and use less people to do so. Either that or get good at fixing used worn out equipment with obsolete parts which, if found, proved cost prohibitive.

The trend applied not only to harvest equipment, but also to tractors, plows and planters. Monsanto’s Roundup-ready crops began to dominate the market, with them no-till planters and spray equipment necessary to grow that type of crop. Over the years, four-row equipment gave way to eight rows and now twenty rows, perhaps even more in real farm country. Around these parts, a single farmer might plant a few thousand acres instead of a couple of hundred. In Iowa or Nebraska, it’s not uncommon for a single farmer to work 20 thousand acres. His tractor is set up with global positioning satellite equipment. He drives to a field, pushes a button and sits back while the tractor steers on autopilot. You’d have to jog to keep up with a moving combine and it might be cutting and threshing the grain from a forty foot swath of ground while simultaneously dumping into a truck or a trailer as it moves through the field. And that farmer is probably harvesting better than 200 bushels to the acre where we once considered 100 bushels to the acre a record breaking event.

The truth is, modern farming techniques use less fuel than the older ways, which involved mechanical and or manual cultivation of crops instead of herbicides. Modern crops are cheaper to raise, per unit, and have higher yields per acre than ever achieved in the history of this planet.

I find myself in the unenviable position of advocating less efficient, more labor intensive methods, a losing argument for most.

Unless you consider the black swan.

Nassim Taleb once wrote, (and I paraphrase): the more complex a system, with the greater amount of redundancies and fail-safes, the less likely it is to fail. But, when it does fail, and it will fail, the more catastrophic that failure will be.

I don’t know what will trigger the event; endless possibilities exist, but I do know that our very complex and seemingly efficient and fail-safe way of feeding ourselves will fail, and when it does fail, the failure will be catastrophic, perhaps greater than any recorded failure in the history of the human race.

Call me crazy. In the meantime, I’m still looking for a small combine.

The idea of harvesting grain by hand on any scale other than for personal use is too much to consider at this point. Even for someone as crazy as I.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sugar and spice and everything nice?

Here's a video of my grandaughter beating some young boy in a Brazilian jiu-jistsu tournament in Houston a couple of weeks ago. Poor kid. One of my grandsons also won a gold medal at the event.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fidel comes clean

Soviet style Communism no longer works in Cuba.

Let's see: Communism (large scale Socialism with a gun pointed at your head) has failed. Capitalism (large scale corporatism with a gun pointed at your head) is failing. What other kind of authoritarian bull shit can we try?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Deflationist view on the economy

Delivered by Stoneleigh of the Automatic Earth.

Listen or read:


Friday, September 3, 2010

Post harvest economics

Sabbath eve, September 3, 2010.

I’m no accountant, but I can count. I am no economist either, but I do recognize the smell of bull shit when it comes along. More on that later.

To begin, an update on the corn harvest. I failed to mention last week that I had about 5 acres of yellow corn planted in an isolated field. It too is a non-hybrid, non-genetically modified variety, yellow trucker’s favorite, should you care to know. I had a hard time acquiring this seed and planted the field with hopes of making enough to plant on a larger scale next year.

Tie vines (Morning Glory) had formed hedge-like trellises on the stalks of yellow corn. Quentin made a couple of passes with his combine and decided not to harvest the rest, leaving some three acres un-harvested. He then moved to our Belmont farm and harvested the rest of the white corn which yielded 90 bushels to the acre, despite significant losses to feral hogs over the last month or so.

I sent a couple of men to pull ears of yellow corn and sack it. The men earn $60/day, plus housing and utilities. They picked for 4 days and still are not done. Yesterday, two men picked 30 bags of shucked corn still on the cobs. I’ll be generous and call their haul 30 bushels of shelled corn. To be fair, these men have other duties and did not spend the entire day picking corn, but their efforts would be considered a full day by city standards. Corn prices have jumped to $4.64/bushel, historically a high price. Last week, local feed mills offered me $3.50/bushel as if they were doing me a favor. So at today’s price the value of the corn they picked is $139.20, delivered to market. I have seed, fuel, fertilizer (chicken litter but that too costs money to haul and spread), labor, and machinery costs, not to mention the cost of land invested in the crop. So I paid $120 in harvesting costs to pick up $140 worth of corn.

My men are not getting rich earning $60/day. The work is brutal. For the record, earlier in the week another man thinking he wanted a job in our field lasted one hour before hitchhiking home without bothering to collect a check and yet another picked one sack and expects to be paid for a full day for his effort. So I’m really losing money on the deal without even accounting for other production costs.

The point I’m making is that the food you eat is ridiculously cheap, and the day fossil fuels become scarce or expensive is the day your food bill is going to skyrocket. If you’re lucky enough to be able to buy food, that is….

And now, to back of the envelope economics. Recently, oil field lease prices in our region have spiked. The target appears to be a formation called the Eagle Ford, a shale type zone that was not profitable to drill with vertical well technology. Land that could have been bought outright in southern Gonzales County for perhaps $1,200 an acre a few years back is now fetching $4,000 an acre for mineral rights alone. A friend I know tells me there’s a company, one of several, that has budgeted a billion dollars for acquisition and exploration in Gonzales County for the coming year. That’s one company, one county.

Now tell me, where in hell is all this money coming from?

Here’s what I suspect. It starts with the Fed and zero interest loans to major players, made from thin air. There’s a lot of money out there but most of it isn’t in circulation. With the recent woes in the Gulf of Mexico, and potential problems with foreign sources of imported oil, it takes no genius to figure out that domestic sources of oil will fetch premium prices.


As Bush learned during Katrina, throwing money at a problem doesn’t necessarily fix ills. Money doesn’t build houses, hands do. You need cement, bricks, mortar, steel, wood and nails. Fuel to power machines. And the sweat of workers.

Throwing money at oil fields doesn’t necessarily mean increased production either. To begin with the oil must be there. Then a hole has to be drilled with much greater precision than in days of old. Expensive fracking techniques have to be employed in shale type formations due to the lack of permeability. There is no such thing as a 100% success ratio when drilling wells.

I am of the opinion that this oil is going to be very costly to find and produce. We have lots of money chasing very little product.

I’ve read the deflationist’s arguments and I understand where they come from. I leaned more toward their models than the rest in months past, but as time goes on, it seems they fail to take into account the extraordinary efforts of the Fed and the Treasury Department to pump money into this economy by whatever means they can conjure.

The Bernanke hypothesis implies that if you pump enough money into the economy, eventually most bad loans on the books will be cured and people will go back to work. But the money is being hoarded and piled up in the accounts of a tiny segment of our population. Despite what they say, the Fed is buying stocks through the Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and the rest of the Wall Street insider crowd. And I’m guessing they’re also buying oil leases through major banks. That, despite the fact that leases are already reaching prohibitive values assuming the current price of oil.

I don’t know exactly how this ends, but I am relatively sure it won’t be like that the Great Depression of the 30’s. I expect a hyperinflationary collapse, at some point, at least for integral goods and services like food and energy. We have too much money chasing not near enough goods.

I could be wrong.

I do know this. The rest of the world is not going to sit back and let us continue to create money out of thin air, indefinitely, without paying a price.

James Kunstler that said the first Depression was best described as want in a time of plenty. And that the next event will be want in a time of scarcity.

I don’t know what that looks like, and I doubt you do either. But we are about to find out.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Lonestar music magazine

The most recent issue of Lonestar Music Magazine is available online. Check out the article I contributed on Javi Garcia as well as the rest of the magazine: