Thursday, September 27, 2007

Who Is Most Subversive?

"The American Way of Life is not negotiable."
Dick Cheney


Imagine that you have x-ray vision and you are at the airport watching people go through security. Unfortunately none of the women featured on Winter's blog are there. Before you leave to find greener pastures you notice five individuals and decide to rate their threat to "The American Way of Life."

Person #1 "The Terrorist"
Middle-eastern male in his 20s. Under his shirt is a belt of explosives, reading material - The Islamic Cave

Person #2 "The Socialite"
Fake'n Baked female, mid 30s. Has 3 cell phones, one against her ear, another ringing in her purse, and the other 'on vibrate', reading material - Fashion in the Bathroom

Person #3 "The Non-Conformist"
Male, late teens. Wears all black. Wearing an Ipod and passing the time with a handheld gameplayer. No reading material

Person #4 "The Professor"
Female, late 40s. Sweater, long skirt made of natural fibers. Reading material - 100 Puzzles

Person #5 "The Grandma"
Female, 70s. You didn't at her clothing long enough. Reading material - Reader's Digest

In the comments rank each of these individuals according to their threat to the US Government, the organization responsible for providing "The American Way of Life". A future post will list my picks and explanations.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sunshine and Sauerkraut

Another Sunny Day
C'mon get out
Abandoned Pools

Sunshine and Sauerkraut

The human condition has been defined by our diet. Our primate cousins ate cellulose (gorillas) and fruit (chimpanzees). Chimpanzees hunt cooperatively; and, capture the occasional monkey, which they give to the females in exchange for sex. Not much has changed over the eons; yet, humans are fundamentally different than even animals whose DNA is 99% similar. It’s the culture… in the food.

The traditional diets of non-human primates are problematic for us. Our digestive system cannot digest wood and as gorillas do. Even though we can digest fruit quite readily, the high sugar content causes insulin resistance, diabetes and a shorter lifespan. In addition, fruit lacks the energy density necessary for human development. One of the homo erectus variants ate mostly nuts and legumes; but, this subspecies did not survive. The consumption of meat appears to be a vital element in the advancement of human society – complex vocal communication may have originated with the hunt. Meat consumption brings its own problems. The human digestive tract does not process meat quickly enough to prevent it from going rancid, leaching toxins into the bloodstream. Also, meat is a seasonal food. Herbivores follow the rain, requiring predators to expend extra energy to stay close to their food.

For the past 2 million years, an ice age has oscillated in the Northern Hemisphere. Until 10,000 years ago, human population had been stable even during the warm intervals. This stability was unlikely the result of an intentional birth control program; but, through periodic ‘die-offs’ of groups from starvation and possibly disease.

Due to the universality of cultured foods, it is likely that the survivors who walked into agriculture had mastered food preservation through lactic acid fermentation. This is not about beer and wine – they are produced through yeast alcohol fermentation. Lactic acid fermentation does produce trace amounts of alcohol; but, not enough for one to become intoxicated. LAF has been a part of human evolution such that this method of food preservation increases the nutritional value and digestibility of foods.

Modern society has removed naturally fermented foods from our plate. The sauerkraut preserved with benzoic acid bears little resemblance to sauerkraut allowed to ferment in a crock pot for six weeks. Anti-dairy zealots claim that cow’s milk is not a part of traditional human diets. This is a half-truth. Raw milk is far too valuable to be consumed unprocessed. Milk can be processed into butter, cheese, yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, and whey. All of these fermented products expand the nutritional capacity of milk and have an extended shelf life without refrigeration. No wonder the older textbooks put dairy into its own food group.

Eating LAF foods also repopulates the digestive tract, enabling resistance to pathogenic/opportunistic bacteria. The sterilized and antibiotic enriched food provided by the corporate factory farms causes digestive and food allergy problem; and, makes the body more susceptible to disease. No one finds this a problem as our taste buds have been fooled by additives and industry advertises a pharmaceutical cure for every aliment.
In 2005 researchers in South Korea fed chickens with avian influenza kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage). 11 of 12 birds fully recovered. The pharmaceutical industry downplayed the results, realizing that it would be impossible to patent a food that has been consumed for thousands of years.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4347443.stm

Even though industry provides vitamin D in the liquid that they label as milk, it is widely known that this form of vitamin is not biologically active. Vitamin D is quite rare in food, even LAF cannot change that; it must be obtained from exposure to sunlight. Most people believe that the only function of vitamin D is calcium absorption. Research suggests that vitamin D serves an important function in immune function, mediating cytokine action. One of the mysteries of the 1918 Spanish Flu was that it affected nominally healthy individuals far more than the vulnerable. It is possible that the H5N1 serotype causes the immune system to 'go into overdrive' and kill the host. Sufficient amounts of vitamin D and proper function of its receptor may prevent this from happening.


For this year's upcoming flu season, I'm going to make my own sauerkraut, forgo the flu shot and spend at least 2 hours/day outside. I've always felt better after a long walk anyway.

Monday, September 10, 2007

War Against Iran?

"War is the continuation of policy (politics) by other means."
Karl von Clausewitz

"Not gold, but steel redeems the native land,"
Camillus

Six months ago, the Main Stream Media reported that housing would be sluggish through 2007; but rebound in 2008. Three months ago, the MSM stated that, in select areas, the large amount of ARM resets would hamper housing regionally. One month ago it was disclosed the no one knew the true value of the various CDOs that previously held a AAA rating. This last week, while the Federal Reserve’s beige book stated that the housing slump would have only a limited effect on the general economy, the payroll report spooked the Dow into a 250 point drop. Oil settled above $76/barrel. Now, prominent economists are calling on the Fed to abandon its inflation targets and cut the Federal Funds Rate by 50 or even 100 basis points. The US Dollar sits at 35 year support (since the end of Bretton Woods).

Wages in the US have been stagnant for the past seven years despite rising per-capita GDP. Where has this extra "economic growth" come from? Rising home values have allowed American households to recognize extra income. If the housing market sinks back to the secondary activity it held before the suburban expansion, the world will be plunged into World Depression II.

The Federal Reserve sits at a crossroads. To save the economy it must cut its key interest rate - disemboweling the bond market in the process. In the old days, bonds were held by the upper classes as a source of additional rental income. TPTB would have been hard pressed to sell out the market in that situation. Today most US bonds are held by institutional investors (pension plans, 401(k)s, and mutual funds) and foreigners. Yes, the wealthy hold bonds in hedge fund accounts; but, those are in the tank already.

The big variable is the Chinese Central Bank. They have previously indicated that they will not tolerate a US Dollar devaluation. What if they had no choice? The Chinese have been increasing their oil imports faster than their economy has been expanding. To maintain civil order they must have oil, which they get from Iran.

The Casus Belli against Iran has been building for years. First they were part of the Axis of Evil, then they refused to stop their nuclear program, and now they are accused of providing material support to Iraq's insurgency. At recent town hall meeting even Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who voted against military action in 2002, stated that Iran was responsible for killing US soldiers. The US Naval flotilla in the Arabian Sea includes 3 Nimitz class aircraft carriers and 1,200 cruise missiles.

17 million barrels of oil transit the Strait of Hormuz everyday. If the Chinese make an unfavorable response to a interest rate cut on Sept 18, news may leak out that 'Iran attacked US forces' and the Casus Belli would be complete. Iran has little capability to be victorious in a pitched battle against US forces. However, they can easily close the Strait of Hormuz and launch their Silkworm missiles against Saudi Arabian oil facilities. Some may be shot down or diverted but enough would reach their mark to halve Saudi oil production.

All remaining oil leaving the Persian Gulf would have to do so under the protection of the US Navy, holding the bill of lading for much of the world's oil. In this event the Chinese would have little choice but to continue their purchases of US Treasuries.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Relocalization

Movin to the country, Gonna eat a lot of peaches
Presidents Of The United States Of America

Or at least millions of blackberries, millions of blackberries for free. Relocalization brings up images of a large scale migration into the rural regions of the country. While this may occur to some extent, relocalization does not require such a dramatic effort. The average meal in the United States travels 1,500 miles from farm/ranch/fishery to plate. Relocalization is either people moving closer to their food production; or, bringing their food production closer to them. Given that Peak Oil is an energy crisis, it would follow that people would make adjustments that would conserve the most energy. Generally that would entail people staying in their current location.

The most important attribute of any location would be the presence of a supportive community. A good community could make almost any region sustainable; the lack of one, no area would be sufficiently sustainable. This is due to the exponential increase of human capital present in a community. There is no way an individual homo economicus can navigate Peak Oil by himself. There is too much to learn, and unlearn. Only in a group can anyone of us survive.

If there is no community in one’s current location, then it may be a good idea to relocate. While it would be beneficial to puruse growing season and rainfall maps to find the best areas, many other factors enter into play. As a rule the suburbs would not fare well in a post Peak Oil world. This isn’t due to any physical attribute, but their psychology. The allure of the suburbs is that everyone can be a sovereign with their fiefdom. This has created a sense of hyperindividualism in American culture and will be difficult to undo without a lot of discord. It will be very difficult to find a community in the suburbs.

There is a notable exception. The Rust Belt has been hemmoraging wealth and population for a generation; and, an enterprising group could recolonize a subdivision at little expense. Some of the homes can be retrofitted for multi-family occupancy; and, the others used as a source of raw materials (glass for greenhouses, pipes for wells, etc.). The local authorities would be more willing to rescind many regulations that have contributed to the uniformity of the suburbs. Gardens can replace front lawns. Herbivores instead of lawnmowers, and free-roaming chickens instead of Roundup. The Rust Belt has two big advantages: The Great Lakes and associated rivers/canals, and a dormant rail network. Both of these will permit inexpensive (non-oil based) transportation and increase commerce in the region.

Though it would be easier to maintain a community in an urban region, virtually all urban areas with a population greater than 250,000 will be shedding population. Rooftop gardens with chicken coops and rain barrels will be standard fare. The size of the city will be determined by the quality of its agricultural hinterlands; and, its residents will have to produce something of value in exchange for food and raw materials - no longer will canned entertainment and finance serve as primary industries.

It may appear that relocation to rural regions would be the easiest; however, there are obstacles. The first is not obvious. Communities in rural regions are already established and are not overly friendly to newcomers. Also land prices are escalating rapidly due to the ethanol scam and rising food prices. The best way to acquire land is to rent it from an aging farmer (the average age is 60+) and then swap labor for equity. This would require most of us to abandon our city jobs and their inflated paychecks, so eliminating debt is critical for this tactic to work.

There is a gradient of relocalization activities to perform. Some of the simplest, such as starting a backyard or balcony garden can be done concurrently with an energy intensive lifestyle. Composting and vermiculture requires more commitment – the TV might not be on as frequently. Once complete relocalization has been achieved, one may have little desire to interract with the legacy economy denominated in soulless paper money.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Comfort or Efficiency

Devil and the deep blue sea behind me
Vanish in the air you'll never find me
I will turn your flesh to alabaster
Then you will find your servant is your master
The Police

Many people aware of the impending energy crisis believe that all they have to do is buy a hybrid, use CFLs, convince everyone else to do the same; and, the party can go on until technology bails us out. This will not occur. Technology gives a false impression of higher efficiency. In the case of hybrids, the cost of production offsets years of fossil fuel savings. A 1968 Malibu will consume less energy than a Prius on an assembly line. It doesn't stop there. A Prius owner is likely some goody two shoe environmentalist who will embark on weekly 500 mile road trips to show off the vehicle. The owner of the Malibu probably spent his meager paycheck on Keystone Light and back issues of Guns and Ammo, resulting in an inability to fill his car's gas tank. There is a downside to CFLs. They contain mercury and should be handled as hazardous waste should they break or burn out. What is the most carbon neutral source of lighting? Candles made from beeswax or animal fat. The CO2 they release had been previously taken out of today's atmosphere, not some atmosphere from the Jurassic.

If convenience and comfort is the goal of product of technology it is almost always less energy efficient than its predecessor. And anything for sale today is marketed emphasizing convenience and comfort. A clothesline is far more efficient than any gas or electric dryer. It may not be convenient or comfortable; but, it requires only the minimum of energy in having the wet clothing hung. A notable exception to this is the Franklin Stove. This was a true miracle of 18th century technology. A homestead at the time burned 70 cords of wood in the winter. The Franklin Stove reduced wood consumption by 90%. A rare example of efficiency, convenience and comfort increasing at the same time. Perhaps it was due to Benjamin Franklin's motivations. He wasn't as interested in making money as he was in impressing the ladies.

Hybrids, electric lighting options, and wood stoves together don't make a significant impact on our lifestyles; but, our food does. And nowhere else has technology performed a greater 'switcheroo' than how our food is produced. From the endless ads on public television, one would think that Cargill, ADM, and ConAgra have increased the efficiency of agriculture to make farm labor a thing of the past, or something that Amish people do. All they have done is dump oil and natural gas on the fields of the world. Every calorie of food that we obtain through normal channels requires ten calories of energy to get it to your plate. Economically, food is not very elastic. Yes, we can switch from chicken to Ramen noodles (chicken flavored oil); but, the math is the same. This is the basis of the ethanol gimmick. The energy distilled from corn is less than that required to produce it, without considering the loss of land devoted to food production.
As Peak Oil exerts itself, food will become increasingly expensive and lower in quality. Without fossil fuels, the U.S. (with 300 million people) can feed itself using 50 million farm workers. Despite the obvious social ramifications of this, we should count ourselves blessed. The 2.5 billion Chinese and Indians are 'up the creek.' Because of our blind obsession with comfort and convenience, technology has ceased being our servant and has become our master.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Train Wreck Ahead

You don't wonder where we're going
Or remember where we've been
We've got to keep this traffic Flowing
and accept a little spin
So this long line of cars will never have an end
Cake

The once brisk highway traffic is slowing. It isn’t rush hour; nor, are there any obvious obstructions. There must be a lane closure ahead, out of sight. It could be the result of an accident, construction work, or – worst case – a complete closure due to a chemical spill or other disaster. At this point most of us would look for one of those highway condition signs or submit to listening to a commercial radio station for some information. Though these mainstream sources are generally inaccurate, they provide assurance if the congestion is short-lived.

If the traffic reaches a virtual standstill, we are confronted with a choice – to stay on the highway or seek an alternate route. The advantage to staying on the highway is that the amount of future delay would be less than the inherent delay of the alternate route. If the delay is longer than expected, then taking a known alternate route is the better choice. Due to the higher carrying capacity of the highway, once a small number of motorists decide to take the alternate route, both routes become congested. Because of this, if there is any significant uncertainty to the length of a traffic delay, it is better to take the alternate route in lieu of waiting for additional information.

The bumpy plateau of Peak Oil is not unlike the traffic situation described above. No one knows the extent of the delay, whether it is temporary (technology saves us) or permanent (the laws of thermodynamics remain in effect); and, official information appears to downplay its significance. Most people are conditioned to stay on the highway. In any case their roadmaps provide little information about any alternate travel routes. They are stuck.

Eventually everyone will know that the highway is blocked and will make a collective rush for the alternate routes. It would be too late for anyone ‘still on the highway’ to make effective lifestyle changes, even if they had correct information.

Each of us considering preparing for Peak Oil must evaluate the information available, consider its bias, and make a decision. Considering our collective dependence on the current system, preparing for Peak Oil involves a considerable leap of faith. While some preparations may be expensive (buying land); most actually save money (getting out of debt, growing and/or processing food). The problem is that as more people view Peak Oil as imminent (or as a past event), preparations become more difficult to undertake. Arable land becomes more expensive, inflation reduces income used to pay debts, Monsanto patents all of the heirloom seeds and pulls them off the market, etc.

The most realistic preparations that most of us can make are those that allow us to continue in the present economy. This may relegate many preps to hobby status. The earlier that we learn skills valuable in the post oil age, the greater the allowance for mistakes. Another item to consider – given the inevitability of inflation, virtually everything available in the market today will only get more expensive as time progresses.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Incredible Journey of Oil

There are a number of Peak Oil documentaries available; however, they cost money. This link brings a free 3 part series produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. It is a total of 1 1/2 hours of high quality reporting.

http://abc.net.au/science/crude/