Saturday, November 27, 2010

Let it be

Sabbath morn, November 27, 2010

It’s 5 am and I am awake. 26 degrees or thereabouts outside my door, the first hard freeze of the year for us. The last of the volunteer watermelon crop freezes as I write, as do two rows of pepper plants. I suppose I could go out and salvage a few specimens, but it hardly seems worth the effort. I’ve almost a hundred pounds of peppers sacked up not ten feet from where I sit and we’ve gotten past watermelon season it seems. I pick them, place them on the shelf where they sit uneaten. So the freeze will kill the melons and the yard chickens and goats will reap the reward.

I rescued the remnants of the latest batch of broilers—the five and a half week old runts left behind by the mega-company for which we work (yes, I’m one of those evil bastards, too): my own, poor-as-it-may-be version of Schindler’s list. Some of them will die; our dogs and cats will feast on their bodies. Perhaps some will live also and get to grow to be chickens, to run and play and eat all sorts of tasty and nasty morsels and perhaps they’ll get eaten too, but not before having lived a more normal chicken’s life. Some will lay eggs, good Lord willing. Some will grow to be roosters and crow a new day to life. Some will live to a ripe old age by chicken’s standards. All will experience things most of their siblings around the land never knew and I get a bit of satisfaction by watching this unfold.

I did Thanksgiving dinner not once but twice, first with my parents and a sister on Thursday and then yesterday with my wife’s family. At yesterday’s meal we had sweet potatoes grown in my garden. I felt good about the couple hundred pounds we harvested. Then I happened to go by the grocery store in Luling to pick up a few items. There I spied a sign: Sweet potatoes: 6 lbs. for a dollar. On one hand I think it’s good that people can buy food so cheap in these troubling times, but then I think of the farmer that grew those potatoes and I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that he or she got fucked. By the store’s standards, my entire crop would be worth only $30. It took me a half a day on the end of a grubbing hoe, a sore back and a handful of blisters to harvest those two hundred pounds, not to mention all the rest of the work that went into growing the plants those potatoes formed under.

A sign on the way back from the store proclaims: Diesel $3.09 cash, $3.14 credit. I consider how much it cost to ship sweet potatoes to the central distribution center in San Antonio, probably from East Texas or Louisiana, and then, to ship them once again to the various stores from which they are sold on semi-trucks burning this $3 diesel. I recall that sweet potatoes plants grow from vines, vines that must be cut and propagated by hand, even in this day of mechanization. The ground had to be plowed, entailing the use of a tractor and more of that expensive diesel fuel. There were probably a few expensive parts that had to be bought to make that tractor run: engine oil, transmission fluid and antifreeze, fan belts and filters to be sure. The rows had to be weeded and the ground cultivated at least once, if not more than once. Most of the people that grow sweet potatoes are not typical mega-farmers, but instead small farmers, many of which happen to be black for whatever reason. Make no mistake about it. They got fucked out of their crop and you’re eating the product of stolen labor when you buy sweet potatoes six pounds for a dollar.

Having said that, if you’ve such a bargain at your disposal, it might not be a bad idea to go and buy all you can and set them aside in your house. Sweet potatoes have a long shelf life and make a good staple food. I not only eat them baked, boiled, mashed, or bathed in syrup and covered with toasted marshmallows, but also fried.

Thanksgiving gave me the opportunity to catch up on the latest family gossip: who’s doing what and who’s not doing anything and who’s fucking who and all the other complicated arrangements we seem to migrate into in this day and time. Politics always gets discussed and inevitably I have family members on all sides of political issues. Democrats verses Republicans. We’ve queers, lesbians and homophobes, in the closet, out of the closet, those that marry and those that don't, Christians verses Atheists verses Agnostics, Communists verses Capitalists, omnivores vs. vegetarians, border defenders verses migrants fleeing poverty, those that hate Mexicans, those that love them, a few of which love at least one Mexican enough to marry and have kids with. There’s all the rest of those people we love to hate—the Muslims and Chinese and Indians and Latin American drug lords, some of which probably love hating us just as much as we love hating them. Fuck me to tears.

The truth is, most of us are just trying to survive in a crowded, noisy and confusing world.

A Beetle’s song comes to mind: Let it be.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Peak oil, not just for breakfast anymore

Chris Martenson via Zerohedge.

Must read, if you or someone in your family expects to live another twenty years. Ignore at your own peril.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Fed now largest holder of US debt

Ruminate on this a while. The Fed surpassed China as the largest holder of US debt Novemeber 22 of this year.

Max Keiser and others are encouraging people to buy an ounce of physical silver as an attack of sorts on JP Morgan. This guy says the plan won't work. JP Morgan is the government. Along with his sister, Goldman Sachs, that is.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hold on a goddamned minute

"Food safety", my ass.

Another terrorist?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Carved to pieces and fed to dogs

Sabbath Morn, November 20, 2010

Cows bawl from the pasture below my house in search of calves that are no longer where they lost them. The air is cool and damp outside. We finished harvesting improved varieties of pecans and are now gathering natives from the river bottoms. As harvest season draws to a close, I breathe a muted sigh of relief. We have plenty of hay stored for the winter. On one place, oats are up and growing, nearing the stage when they will provide grazing for cattle, good Lord willing. Our pantry is well stocked, as are our grain bins, freezers and what passes for a root cellar in my house. I’ve a bit of money put aside. But all is not well.

I read that congress failed to pass another round of extensions to unemployed American workers. I am told 2 million will lose benefits by December 1, and the number will grow to 4 million by February.

Last week, ABC broadcast their evening news from China and I managed to catch two episodes. I saw houses with gardens in their yards instead of lawns: serious gardens, from which families are fed. I saw the apartment of a young woman that works in a tent factory, earning $14/day, a paltry sum by American standards, yet she is able to live off of this and even save one quarter of what she earns. As I pick up pecans, I consider the fact that one out of four of these nuts will be consumed by someone in China and I am glad they are able to enjoy them. I have nothing against Chinese workers. They work hard for their money, just like I do. We benefit from the products of their labor; they should also benefit from ours. But I can’t help but wonder how we arrived at a place that so many people in my own country can’t afford to eat the pecans I gather.

I think back to the New York Gubernatorial race. One candidate stood and told the truth and got laughed at: Jimmy McMillan from the rent is too damn high party. His words echo those of Michael Hudson a relatively sane renegade economist (I know, economist and sanity tend to be mutually exclusive words when used in the same sentence). Rent is too damn high and debts are unsustainable. But, our government, on both sides of the aisle, continues to work damned hard to ensure that those with a stranglehold on the American public maintain their grip and places of advantage.

I could waste your time and mine with ideas on how some of this could be fixed, but why bother? My plan would fail, even if it was tried, and the plans of others making public policy will fail as well.

Collapse is not the problem; it’s the inevitable solution to twenty-plus years of fraud, graft, lies and deceptions, and while not something to be desired, it’s coming, whether you like it or not. We’d best spend our time preparing for that reality, rather than ruminating over what could have been or walking around saying I told you so.

Two hours later:

Cows broke into the compound near my house, trying to find lost calves, calves that woke up in a new world of chutes and gates and the noise and confusion of a livestock auction some 12 miles from here. So I stopped writing, chased them back into the pasture where they belong and fixed a gate they'd busted.

Yesterday two newly born calves of first calf heifers were too weak to make the journey to the working pens. We carried them to the pens in the back of my pickup. After working the cows, we laid them out under shade trees to see if they’d reunite with their mothers. One of the calves got up and is gone, hopefully with his mother; the other died overnight. I did what I could to save the calves and felt sorry for them as I looked into their eyes and carried their tiny bodies. Oddly enough, they seemed resigned to their fate and unafraid.

This morning I carved the body of the calf that died into pieces without remorse and fed it to our dogs; the soul and spirit of the animal were gone; what remained provided good food for another. I noticed his stomach was full of clabbered milk but he died, nonetheless.

I wonder how long it will be until our nation suffers a similar fate?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Lonestar music magazine

Here's a link to the online version of last month's Lonestar Music Magazine, to which I contributed an article.

I'm hoping I don't get disinvited as a contributor as a result.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

Keep hacking

Sabbath eve, October 12, 2010

Another week has come and gone. Despite the implied unwritten rule that farmers must drop what they’re doing and work dawn to dusk during harvest season, I spent the last couple of days planting my winter garden while paying someone else to take my place in the pecan bottom. I know this is forbidden. But it’s not like I didn’t work dawn to dusk anyway. And I did look in on my hired hands a couple of times a day. It’s just that pursuit of the almighty dollar has to take a back seat to other endeavors once in a while or I find myself looking and acting just like all the rest of the industrial agriculturalists out there.

So I set out 2,000 onion plants, and planted 1,000 garlic cloves, made up rows with a garden hoe, planted seed and watered dry ground. I had to replant turnips and beets between tattered remains of plants that rose from seed planted a couple of weeks ago, now decimated by grasshoppers. Spinach and carrots are next on the replant list. Anyone got an organic solution to hoards of Texas grasshoppers? I didn’t think so.

I dug borders around cabbage and broccoli plants and watered them. They’re within a month of producing food. We also have green onions and shallots ready to eat.

The freeze I anticipated last week did not materialize and we still have lots of hot peppers to harvest. Some of the little bastards are so hot, one pepper transforms a dish into a near deadly concoction. (Does anyone actually eat habanero peppers?)

I pulled remaining sweet potato vines up and fed them to the goats. I shredded down a patch of black-eyed peas grown primarily to fertilize the ground. That plot of ground won’t get another crop until spring. I discovered that the sweet potato vines had rooted between rows and I found quite a few small potatoes in the middles that might suffice for a start next year when I ran the tiller through the ground.

A number of volunteer watermelons came up. I let some of them go for it when tilling the ground a couple of months ago, and for some reason they produced more and better melons than the initial crop. We eat all we can stand and give the rest away.

Eulit Miller caught about 20 catfish out of the Guadalupe River yesterday and traded me one good five pounder, already cleaned and gutted for a five gallon bucket of hot peppers. Good trade, considering he picked the peppers himself. Some say we shouldn’t eat fish from the river. You take your chances at the grocery store; I’ll take mine on the local fish and fauna.

Leah continues making some of the best fresh cheddar cheese can be had in these parts and we’re still working at perfecting aged varieties as well. I honestly don’t know what we’ll do with all of this considering our goddamned government likes to arrest folks for selling such dangerous stuff. Don’t want a swat team showing up at my door.

One good thing to report. Last week I loaned $300 to a man so he could keep his girlfriend out of jail. Today, he repaid $250 of the loan, a minor miracle in these times. The guy in question has a job drilling Eagle Ford shale wells, but also a family full of unemployed folks with serious needs. Now if I can get through this week without having to loan him back the money…

The good folks out in California decided not to legalize marijuana. So I guess we can continue to expect the war on drugs to keep people employed both sides of the fence. Henry David Thoreau once pointed out the ridiculous notion that the majority has to decide something’s right before it can be right. Wake the fuck up, people.

While it barely made a peep on the radar screen, last Friday there was one hell of a shoot out in Matamoros, just a half a mile or so from the bridge at Brownsville, Texas. At least 58 bodies lay in the street when it was over. A glance at the reports posted at this blog leaves no doubt that Mexico is coming apart at the seams.

I fear for the life of my friends in Mexico trying to make a go as legitimate farmers, even though they live in a remote part of the country long abandoned as a drug route. There seems no rhyme or reason to the violence down there. No one is immune.

Years ago, my friend Chuck Bowden wrote a book called, Juarez: the laboratory of our future.

I don’t think even Chuck Bowden understood how prophetic those words might turn out.

Keep hacking.

Shopping trip to Matamoros, anyone?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Where's my machete?

Yes, he's loud. It's theater. Based on conspiracy theory.

The game is rigged. You're (we're) the mark.

Part 1 of 4

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Friday, November 5, 2010

Steel yourselves

Sabbath eve, November 5, 2010

We got our first and second frost this week and anticipate another freeze tonight. That will probably put an end to what’s left of summer grass. It also will mean the end of any unprotected warm season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, etc in local gardens.

I’d never before grown sweet potatoes, but after harvesting 100 pounds off of a 50 foot row, I hope to try again on a larger scale in the future. They seem well suited to our area, although I am told some sort of weevil can be problematic.

Pecan harvest continues, but with disappointing yields, somewhere on the order of 20% of maximum yields when compared to previous years. The price of pecans is historically high, but not enough to make up for the deficiency in yield.

It’s as though the law of diminishing returns exerts its power everywhere I look.

Central banks, on behalf of our government continue to create and throw new money at the economy, but regardless of the amount, no new real wealth results. While commodity prices rise, higher prices don’t translate into larger crops or profits to producers, nor do higher oil prices increase local or worldwide daily oil production numbers.

We hear of high corn prices, but much of the Texas crop was afflicted with aphlatoxin this year. Some of the crop had to be destroyed and much of the rest has or will be sold at discounts for feedlot cattle only. I continue to sit on my corn. Maybe the price goes up some more, or maybe it goes down, but I can virtually guarantee that in either case, the corn will be more expensive when compared to buying power of the average consumer.

I’ve spent horrible amounts of money, running, maintaining and fixing trucks and machinery on the farm this year. I know it’s the same in the oil patch. It’s as though we have a moving goal post; no matter what the price of a commodity, it always lags behind the cost of production.

Wages of those lucky enough to still have a job always seem a bit less than necessary to keep the vultures away; poorer citizens face a gauntlet of bill collectors and predatory entities from traffic cops to utility companies, to hospitals and banks with their myriad service fees and penalties, all delivered with a friendly smile that feels a whole lot more like fuck you than howdy do.

I’ve watched many an animal spiral toward death and the signs our empire exhibits are similar. Ailments arise, treatments bring temporary relief, but wave after wave of further complications reassert themselves and eventually have their way. Death brings relief, but oftentimes the journey between life and death can be ugly and painful.

I wish I could offer a better prognosis, but to do so would be to lie.

Steel yourselves. Rough times are here and it ain’t gonna get any easier.

Fed to surpass China as top holder of US debt this month


This doesn't end well.