Sunday, July 19, 2020


The horses insist upon staying in the barn during the day, as the July heat and humidity put the horse and deerflies into overdrive. It was 80 degrees (this is the "cool" part of the day), with 80% humidity when I made it out the house this morning .  The cows stay in a dark corner of the barn as well, against the cooler stone foundation and away from the biting flies.  Evenings offer some relief, but the mosquitoes come out then.  They're less annoying to the animals than the big 1" long horseflies, apparently.

Our second cutting of hay should be ready, but was stunted by weeks of 90 degree heat, a lack of rain, and a good infestation of leaf-hoppers such that it hardly looks to be worth cutting.  Now we're getting some decent rain, but I can't cut it until the forecast clears up for a few days so it can dry.  I'm not looking forward to working the horses in this heat -- hopefully that will subside as well.

As is now an annual summer tradition, I'm again fantasizing about someplace cooler than SW Michigan.  This year it's the NE corner of Minnesota, up between the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and the north shore of Lake Superior.  There are lots of little cabins along the "Gunflint Trail" (Hwy 12) that runs from Grand Marais up to the boundary waters.  Looks like a neat area, at least so long as I ignore the many photos of people there wearing face-coverings to keep the clouds of mosquitoes and blackflies at bay.  I've always felt that it's much easier to deal with cold weather than it is with heat, but maybe living at -30 F would change my mind about that.  I do like the idea of snow sticking around for most of the winter and accumulating more than a few inches at a time.

I also like the idea of using a canoe for transporting things.  Unlike horses, there's no need to shoe or feed them, and I've never heard of a canoe freaking out and running off for any of the reasons that horses seem to find in abundance.  Better yet, they don't kick!

Now that I'm among the many covid-unemployed, it feels like we've done the right thing in remaining debt free and living where we can produce our own food and fuel.  Aside from summer, it's even a nice place weather-wise.

I had a job interview last week which seemed to go well, but haven't heard anything back on it yet.  I think the competition is pretty fierce these days.  I'm by no means convinced that the "normal" economy is ever going to return, but I've been thinking that for many years now while it's been sputtering along to my amazement.

Despite an initial failed planting and lots of deer damage, our one acre field of open-pollinated corn (Krugs 90-day) seems to be doing alright.  My two cultivations with the horses went very well, and with a couple passes of the hoe, the rows look pretty good now.   The deer (despite soaking the seeds briefly in kerosene -- an old practice that was apparently common in the days before commercial seed) and birds like to pull up the young shoots to pluck the seed off.  Lately, the deer have been breaking the stalks in half to eat the tender meristem, so I've been making evening visits to scare them off.  There are definitely parts of the field which are more or less failed, but the majority is now head-high and thick enough to keep the weeds at bay.

I find myself stuck (particularly on the really hot days) in a state of flux; not quite sure where I should be focusing my efforts, so I continue as I've been doing, working a bit until the heat becomes too much, at which point I find myself retreating indoors to sit with a popsicle and a laptop checking out cooler places to live.  Then when I get disgusted with myself for spending too much time online, I go back outside to tackle another project.  Rinse and repeat...

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

About face

A campfire lunch in our woods overlooking the muskrat pond.
After a dozen years of forking manure, weeding, putting up hay and firewood, squeezing teats, enduring mid-west heat and humidity, picking off lyme carrying ticks, killing cute animals, and having spooked horses run off to destroy yet another expensive piece of equipment... I was ready to give it a rest.

I was done waiting for Godot; peak oil, impending economic collapse... you name it.  Come what may, I was ready to again assume the simple life of dependency that the vast majority have chosen. I was ready to fall into the arms of industrial civilization, sell my remaining life for an inflated west-coast mortgage, and endure insane Washington traffic.

On the plus side, we would again be near the mountains and ocean, so Henry would get to experience the wilderness that was so important to me for most of my life. We could go backpacking, skiing, sailing, kayaking, crabbing... all good things. More fun, less work -- at least on weekends anyway.

We put the farm up for sale late last year, and found an Amish family who wanted to buy it -- complete with all equipment and much of the livestock.  A great situation for us, as we knew they appreciated what we've cobbled together, and also great because we didn't need to worry ourselves with selling off everything separately.  Nobody would be bulldozing the barns and building a McMansion.

With this in mind, in January we placed an offer on an old Lopez Island farm house -- imho the nicest of the ferry-serviced islands in the San Juan archipelago at the north end of Puget Sound. As it turns out, the home inspection did not go well. When the sellers refused to make any concessions, we walked. Just about that time covid-19 started to make a few headlines.

Still looking for homes, I began to wonder if moving might not be such a good idea anymore. As the coronavirus spread continued, it soon became readily apparent that it wasn't. Though we hadn't seen much of interest come on the housing market, a "good" house came up a few weeks ago, but I simply couldn't see making an offer on it. I feel better about that now, because it just sold for $65k above the asking price. Yes, the Puget Sound region is still going insane. I'm hoping that things may calm down a bit once this virus has taken its toll.  Prices here in Michigan will fall as well, but they don't have as much room to drop.

In the meantime, I'm awfully happy to be sitting where we are, on a farm where we can produce our own food, fuel, and hay. The current "lock-down" simply provides justification for all the things we've been doing for these many years.  Rachel and Henry are both home now that schools are closed, though I'm still working for the time being.  Michigan just announced lockdown yesterday, as the state reported 1300 cases. Being forced to "self-isolate" actually sounds pretty nice here.

As I suggested in February, I think there will be significant economic repercussions from the virus, well beyond the shortage of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. I've seen modeling which suggests that the virus will be problematic for another 18-24 months. As a perennial pessimist (or realist, as I like to think), I see the economic mayhem lasting well beyond that, but I have a fantastic record of being wildly wrong on a lot of things. On the other hand, just like a stopped clock, I'm bound to be right, eventually.

So the window of opportunity for living as if it's still the 20th century may be riding off into the sunset. Buying a house on credit, or loading our possessions on a semi to haul them 2500 miles across the country may very well be a thing of the past. If so, we're about as well situated as we could ask to be. If I'm wrong (yet again!) and "Saudi America" rides in to rescue us all from a return to civilizational sanity, I wouldn't mind sailing out to Patos Island one more time.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The best description of the Democratic party I've ever read...

"Progressives assume that they have negotiating power because they assume, wrongly, that the Democratic Party exists to win elections. It doesn’t. The Democratic Party exists, first and foremost, to sabotage the left." -- Caitlin Johnstone's blog update from 3/18/20

Now that the DNC has annointed Biden and altered primary results to ensure that their candidate is a dementia-addled do-nothing who is *guaranteed* to lose to Trump, I hope everyone can see them for who they are.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Don't fret - we're in GOOD hands!

Our fine reality-TV president tRump has returned to the saddle after working hard to get the CDC defunded, and is ready to make sure that covid-19 is brought under control.  He's organized a new dream-team of clueless corruption to restore American confidence. Strangely enough, not one of them has any medical background whatsoever, unless we count Pence's proven ability to create epidemics.

Leading this valiant effort is the frat-boy turned evangelical lunatic and talk-show host -- Mike Pence.  As the unfortunate governor of Indiana, he defunded the only clinic in the state which performed HIV testing, eliminated programs meant to restrict the spread of disease among drug addicts, and presided over the resulting HIV outbreak whereupon he bravely determined that "prayer" was the appropriate response.

Supporting him is Steve Mnuchin -- a morally bankrupt uber-nerd whose primary qualifications seem to be doing "God's Work" for Goldman Sachs and using the proceeds to bribe an equally vapid and vain super-model to pose as his wife.

Rounding out the team is Larry Kudlow -- a hard partying Wall-Street financial analyst with a fondness for cocaine who has already declared corona virus to be contained within the US.

If I didn't know any better, I'd be inclined to think that someone views this virus as a golden opportunity.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Covid-19 - Prepare Yourself!

Chances are, if you get the majority of your information from mainstream news sources, you're being told that the novel coronavirus (now dubbed covid-19) is basically "a bad flu" and not a big deal.  Just wash your hands, or maybe buy some antiviral masks, right?  Maybe you'll have to keep the kids home from school for a couple weeks.  After all, we're much more knowledgeable about disease than we were in 1918 when the Spanish Flu broke out.  We've successfully contained Ebola and Zika, so it's safe to assume that we can contain this virus as well... or so we're being told.

With a 90% mortality rate, Ebola is truly terrifying.  SARS has a mortality rate of about 15% -- still scary, but certainly more survivable.  If we're to believe the official numbers from the Chinese communist government (I don't), the death rate for covid-19 is about 2.5% -- certainly scary, but not the end of the world.  If you get it, you have a 1 in 40 chance of dying from it.  Not something I'd like to gamble my family's health on, but not apocalyptic in the way that Ebola's mortality rate is.

So what's the big deal then?  The problem is that we cannot and will not be able to control the spread of this disease, but we will try, just as China is doing.  It's the attempts being made to control the disease that are doing the most damage, and which will soon affect us all in a big way.

We can't control this disease for a number of reasons.  First of all is that people have been shown to be contagious for weeks before displaying any symptoms -- and some people never develop any symptoms.  That means that perfectly healthy people will be circulating and infecting people without knowing it.  People are even contagious for a couple weeks *after* their symptoms have abated.

In addition to that, the virus appears to be transmissible over long distances through the air, as was evidenced on the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship.  Despite passengers being confined to their rooms and the staff taking great precautions, the infection rapidly spread throughout the ship.   Apartment blocks in China appear to have suffered similar fates, as the virus spread through ventilation systems.   Not only does it travel very well, but the virus can remain active on various surfaces for weeks.

Unlike the flu, getting sick with this virus doesn't necessarily make you immune to getting it again, as China is now documenting people who have been infected by it multiple times, with second infections often resulting in heart failure.  The fact that we do not produce sufficient antibodies to ward off recurring infections with this virus also suggests that developing a vaccine for it (which normally takes about a year) will be very difficult.

Another serious problem is that of testing.  Test kits are not widely distributed and available.  The entire state of Hawaii -- which is known to have been visited by people who later tested positive for the virus -- still does not have any test kits -- and won't until at least March.  A reader comment in one article on the NY times website noted that she had recently returned from China, and that her husband soon fell ill as did their son.  Despite this history, she claimed that the hospital they visited refused to test them for the virus.  Even when the test kits are available and used, it appears as if false-negatives are very common.  One doctor in China noted a patient who had been tested six times, with only the last test coming back positive.

Even when the best protective measures are followed, infection is still a regular occurrence.  I cannot find the article now (I believe I came across it a week or two ago), but there were already 2000 medical staff infected with the virus in China. The director of Wuhan's main hospital has already died from it, as did this doctor whom the Chinese government punished for warning of the virus early on.

So even if we can't control the spread, the mortality rate is still pretty low.  Yes, some people will die, and that's terrible, but unavoidable for now.  Those deaths are not what concerns me nearly as much as the effects of our attempts to limit the spread of the virus.

As we can see now, the majority of China is in lock down.  A figure I remember from a week ago (and now undoubtedly outdated) is that 710 million people are now on lockdown -- being confined to their homes by the military and police.  Factories are largely shut down, and travel has been reduced to an absolute bare minimum (though still probably not reduced enough).  Despite these apparently draconian measures, the virus is still spreading rapidly.   In communist China, they're probably expected and thus easier to enforce.   How will people react to them in the US?

So China appears to be coming to the realization that locking everyone in their homes is having a serious effect on their economy, and in some areas has authorized factories to reopen.  In one such case, 210 employees reported to work.  One of them was tested for the virus and found to be positive.  The result?   All 210 employees were moved to a quarantine camp, where they will likely be infected if they weren't already.  New quarantine recommendations are that it should last for at least 24 days. So that factory will be down for a long time, unless they can replace and train an entirely new workforce who will likely suffer the same fate.

The Chinese government has also threatened citizens with jail time if they stay home after being ordered to return to work.  Apparently, many are refusing to return to work despite this threat.  I would not be surprised in the least if governments around the world give up on trying to control the virus, realizing that the cure is worse than the disease, and attempt to restart economic activity for better or worse.

So what happens when factories and businesses shut down for an extended period of time?  All appearances are that this virus will be with us for months at the very least.   Certainly some shut downs will not have a serious effect.  In fact, we would probably benefit from fewer plastic toys and electronic gadgets. The shut-down of factories that manufacture or distribute medical supplies, however, could be a problem.  What about food production?  Will your local utility be able to keep natural gas flowing so you can heat your home?  What about electricity to power the well pumps that feed your city or home water supply?  What if an essential part breaks down and cannot be replaced because the factory that makes it is shut down?  The wonderful efficiency of our modern economy is rife with inter-dependencies, each of which pose great risks in this situation. These direct effects of the virus could be very serious, but they will -- hopefully -- not be long term.

My primary concern with the corona virus is not the direct effect of the disease nor the direct effect of the required industry shut-downs, but the long term effect upon our highly intertwined economies.

There are serious concerns that global debt levels have grown dramatically in recent years, (especially since the 2008 financial crisis) making the global economy extremely vulnerable to shocks.  Covid-19 appears to not just be a potential "pin" that could prick this debt bubble, but rather a machine gun.

Globally, peak oil occurred just before the big financial crisis of 2008 (big surprise there!).  Our central bank has patched the problem over by making sure that credit is available to many businesses, but especially to oil companies.  That was key to the massive growth of the "Saudi America" fracking revolution that dramatically improved oil production in the US , which had previously peaked in 1971 and been in decline ever since.  The problem is that fracked oil is too expensive to produce at a profit, and fracking companies have never made a penny -- even according to our own Energy Information Administration.  Fracking now accounts for 60% of US oil production.  With oil prices already well below their cost of production and heading lower as business and travel restrictions take effect for the corona virus -- how will these companies pay their debts?   They won't.  They'll go bankrupt -- or be bailed out by you and I.  If our money printing can continue indefinitely without destroying the US Dollar, that is.  If our fracking scheme does finally fall flat (and I should note that even our conventional oil production is now in a precarious financial state), US oil production will fall by 60%.  Will they be able to rebuild it after such an economic shock?   Would you invest in it?  How do you think a sudden drop in 60% of our oil production will effect you?  Will your local grocery store still be receiving food?  Will your job survive?

So what's the take-away?  I would prepare yourself to stay at home for at least one month (longer is better, as we have no idea how long this will last).  Store up as much food and water as you can, and make contingencies for the potential loss of utility services. Better yet, start a garden or set up an alternate source of water if you can.  If you require medications, make sure to fill your prescriptions asap and build up a longer term supply if possible.  It may not happen, but I think it's safe to assume that supply chains -- even for essential goods -- will likely fail.

If the virus does strike your family, it would also be useful to have antiviral medications.   Medicines containing elderberry have clinically proven antiviral effects, showing both a significant reduction in both duration and severity of symptoms.  It might not be a bad idea to stock up on books as well. Prepare before the rush, if at all possible, because at some point soon it will become impossible.  Italy went from having a small number of cases to putting entire regions in lockdown, complete with numerous medical staff infected, in just 3 days.  With the Dow flirting with a 1,000 point drop today as the latest headlines slowly sink in, that point may come even sooner than I think.

Here is a page that explains much of what I've said here but is a bit more condensed and probably more readable.

Chris Martenson, (who has a PhD in pathology and understands the disease dynamics very well) has been producing daily videos which summarize the situation as it develops.  He's also exceptionally energy-aware and puts the big picture together much better than most.  Here's his youtube page.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Morning Walks

I think it's been a little more than a year now, maybe two, since the dogs and I started taking regular morning walks the half mile down to the end of our road and back.  Life without cows is different, and a bit more leisurely.

Sometimes we're walking in the dark, either with or without a headlamp if the moon is out. We regularly spook deer and turkeys from the adjacent field and woods, but it's been a while since I've seen them now, as they hunker down for the season.

I love looking over our homestead on the return leg. We've done a lot here, and it shows. The orchard, the garden, the new barn, tool shed, greenhouse, wood shed, the smithing shed... they all speak to what goes on here. It's a nice place to walk home to, guided by the familiar and comforting scent of wood smoke.

With the winter snow, we get to see a lot of tracks if not always their makers. There's always deer tracks. Coyote, squirrel, opossum, raccoon, fox, mouse... there's a lot happening here. Judging by the dogs' excitement, the smells tell quite a story.

Earlier in the week, in the pitch dark, I could smell a skunk.  The dogs were too far ahead to tell if they'd just been visited by the "stinky kitty".  Fortunately, they had not. The next morning (in the daylight), Bilbo "woofed!" out into the field, where I could see a black and white creature ambling out from the trees. Best not to encourage the dogs or get too close I thought. But then again, that's a boring way to live, so I walked out to investigate. Just a cat, this time.

The dogs know that the walks happen after morning chores. Clover loves the chores, since she gets to spend time watching horse or piggy TV, and that never gets old. If it's not too cold to come outside for chore-time, Bilbo likes to follow me into the horse barn (aka the "International House of Dumplings"), where he selects a frozen green treat or stinky hoof trimming to enjoy while nesting in the loose hay as I work.

If it is too cold, Bilbo waits in the house until chores are done.  I don't dare go on the walk without him though.

The woods across the street have quite a bit more diversity than our own, as they've been established much longer. One morning I noticed an unfamiliar flower. Google Lens said it was "Bellwort", which appears to be correct. Google may have had to dispense with their "Don't be evil" motto now that they work closely with the US government, but helping me identify flowers makes it all better.

The walks aren't all full of wildlife and flowers though. The locals don't seem to have a problem with using our road as their personal dumpster.  I've filled quite a few garbage cans worth -- initially enough to make it worth my while to drive down with the truck to pick it all up.

I regularly scheme about what I'd like to do if I were to catch someone throwing their trash on our road. I came up with an idea for a sign, reading Free Rocks!  (delivered through the windshield of anyone caught littering here).  Life would be so much more fun without self restraint!

One morning I was especially excited to find a debit card amongst a pile of household garbage. I googled the name on it and found a nearby address, dreaming of how I'd like to confront the bastard.  Should I return the garbage to his front doorstep?  My anger subsided a bit when I finally drove past the address -- a microscopic house sided in disintegrating OSB, now vacant and for sale.  I conceded that the person who lived there probably tossed their trash on our road simply because they couldn't afford garbage pickup. There's always more to the story, eh?

Another bag I found was filled with empty blister packs -- both for lithium batteries and Sudafed.  Yup, the local meth cooker tosses their garbage here too. Maybe the same person whose debit card I found.

On one walk, Rachel noticed a shotgun tossed to the side of the road.  Apparently a burglar decided that the additional sentencing for having a firearm wasn't worth it.

After a few months I had the road pretty well cleaned out, such that I know when something new arrives. This last summer there was a pile of clothing next to an empty suitcase sporting a greyhound bus tag from Chicago. Looked to be the clothing of a young woman (complete with lacy panties) and a young girl. I can only guess as to how their clothes ended up on the side of our road, but imagine the story is not a pleasant one.

When I'm lucky, our neighbor's cow is up at the fence, and I get to pick a little lush grass from the roadside (the cow only gets hay).  He gets a treat, and I get to pet a cow again.  Life is good.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

The DNC -- preparing to enable the re-election of Trump, just like 2016

Whether or not you're a Sanders supporter as I am, you have to admit that the subversion of democracy is again underway in the US, courtesy of the Democratic National Committee (aka Democracy Neutralization and Corruption).  In Black Hawk county, they posted their results to facebook in order to ensure transparency.  When the DNC reported their numbers for Black Hawk, they were significantly different.  When genuine mistakes are made, they don't favor or disfavor any particular candidate, but that's not what's happening here. Caitlin covers the details you didn't hear about on NBC, CBS, or CNN...

And from the NY Time's (a DNC aligned organization, no less) own Iowa primary tracking website, another interesting point over in Polk County:

Which leads me to the (still probably questionable) numbers for Polk County.   Hmmm....

We live in a country that is openly persecuting (or simply killing, as with numerous Wikileaks staffers) the bravest among us who've chosen to reveal the actual truth that our elites have been hiding from us (Manning, Assange, Snowden, etc).  Yet, a number of people still choose the comfort of denial, and continue to pretend that our government is both believable and truthful.

Fortunately for us, when someone lies, they have a *really* difficult time keeping their story straight and consistent.  The evidence is there for anyone willing to look, but the knowledge you'll gain will not allow you to remain comfortably complacent.