Saturday, June 15, 2013
In the movie series "The Terminator", a futuristic military computer network designed with the ability to learn, does exactly that. The rate of learning grows exponentially to the point that it scares the human operators, who attempt to shut it down. Sensing this as an attack, and humans as a primary threat, it launches a nuclear attack at Russia with the knowledge that this (and the imminent response) will alleviate the human threat. Next, they unleash the shiny smiling robots to deal with the survivors...
I haven't noticed any mushroom clouds, nor have I been chased by any homicidal amalgam alloy robots masquerading as police officers (well... not lately anyway), but I think we're now at the mercy of an entity which very much resembles Skynet.
As is often the case, the most insidious enemies aren't always the most obvious or the easiest to attack. In our case, they've fostered a dependence upon themselves which is at its worst in the "first world" industrialized countries. Nobody wants to "bite the hand that feeds you", right? Never mind the fact that we've lived just fine without them for 99.999% of our time on the planet.
Perhaps even worse is the fact that they've developed the ability to control our thoughts while making most of us think that we've arrived at our opinions independently. In what amounts to a global case of stockholm syndrome, we actually like our captors.
We're all much more sheep-like than we like to admit. Most of our opinions are arrived at through careful observation of our peers (actual or perceived) rather than through individual thinking. This enemy tells us who our peers are and what "they" think. Have you ever noticed the regular use of the term "some people say..."? Advertising-supported media is their mouthpiece. Look at the advertisers, and you'll see who controls your television programming and "news".
Just like Skynet, our invisible nemesis is attempting to exterminate us, as McKibben succinctly points out. We'd be able to fight back if we could identify this fact, but most of us can't. Our enemy is far too clever to allow that -- and takes great pains to make sure we remain unaware.
Unlike Skynet, however, our enemy isn't really self aware. Though comprised of actual humans, it more closely resembles a dumb robot. At any given time, this Franken-monster is singularly focused on the maximization of shareholder returns for the next 90 day period, to the point that it engages in activities which are ultimately detrimental to its continued existence. That would be a comforting flaw if it weren't going to take us out first.
What's the best way to fight back, assuming you've successfully identified this enemy? The first and most obvious (and most difficult) answer is to stop purchasing their products. That means just about any manufactured good. Gasoline. Travel. Cheap plastic crap from China. Clothes made in places like this. The best answer is often to go without. Short of that, grow or make your own. And if that's not possible, buy the expensive stuff made locally, or by the smallest company you can find. As I said -- doing the right thing is never easy. This will take more time and money than any of us have. There will be compromise.
The next step? Stop investing in your enemy. Most folks I know are heavily invested in their own demise, whether through direct stock ownership or hidden in mutual funds in a 401k or IRA. I know -- some of us are completely dependent upon investments for personal income, but at the very least, try to avoid investing in fossil fuel companies. Not in control of your own pension fund investments? Write them a letter. They won't listen, but might if yours is one of thousands. Get your city or university to divest, as many are now doing.
Friday, June 7, 2013
Nowadays the majority of our food at most meals is home grown. "Farm food", as we call it, is not something to look forward to in Henry's mind. However, there are exceptions. These popcorn balls are entirely home-grown -- the popcorn, maple syrup, and butter. Popped on homegrown fuel. We even harvested our own salt, scraping it from the horses after a hard and sweaty day's work. Okay -- maybe not the last part.
Making our own junk food is fun.
Saturday, March 23, 2013
The first book I chose is a NY Times bestseller -- Confessions of an Economic Hitman. The author worked as an economic forecaster working for the Chas T. Main company - a defunct consulting and engineering firm on the order of Halliburton or Bechtel (made famous for their excellent support of our soldiers in Iraq or their excellent service to the citizens of Paraguay).
The author details his marching orders -- to provide wildly optimistic economic forecasts for various countries which would only come to pass if Main's engineering projects (typically financed by entities such as the World Bank or the IMF) were put into motion. The leaders of whichever country they were working in were invariably sold on the projects with threats, bribery, or the knowledge of what happened to peers who refused such deals.
The country receiving the loans for these projects invariably defaults, while the engineering firms waddle home with pockets full of cash. I don't know how they manage to get such projects financed so often, but I suspect they have good lobbyists.
Leaders who refused the terms of such projects invariably met with untimely deaths after being vilified as communist dictators or defamed in some way. Panama's Omar Torrijos knew full well what the consequences of his refusal would be, and accurately predicted the means of his own assasination. Ecuador's Jaime Roldós Aguilera met a similar fate, despite maintaining a second decoy aircraft whenever he traveled. Between that, and our similar involvement in installing Augusto Pinochet in Chile (what's not to like about dismembering people in a soccer stadium?), or installing the Shah in Iran, our government has been up to quite a few things over the last few decades which some of us might not approve of.
Have you ever wondered why it is that as 5% of the world's population, we're able to consume roughly 25% of the world's energy resources? This sort of activity on our behalf is exactly what has enabled it. Well... either that or the fact that Americans are infinitely better than the people of other countries. As the keepers of the world's reserve currency, we don't even need to worry about countries that go delinquent on their loans. We just print a little more, while strong-arming the countries and getting favors like votes in the UN. Sounds like the mafia, eh?
So does this make Americans evil? Much of the world seems to think so, because they see our actions in their countries rather than the propaganda you and I see on TV about places we've never been. I guess it all depends on your definition of evil. As Americans, we all know full well that evil people are driven by diabolical motives, perhaps with a touch of insanity. You know... like Lex Luthor or Batman's Joker. We're not like that, so we're not evil, right?
I'd suggest that the evil as it's presented to us by Hollywood doesn't really exist. I've never met anyone even remotely resembling the Hollywood definition of evil.
True evil, as I see it, is comprised mostly of two traits. Greed and indifference. Greed is a pretty natural trait. We've all felt it at one time or another. Most of the time, however, our greed is tempered by social pressures, or simply the knowledge that acting on impulses of greed tends to have negative consequences that exceed any benefits. Indifference is the key enabler to greed. As a country, few are more indifferent than the US. Our knowledge of foreign geography, cultures, and languages is among the worst of any country. It's much easier to be indifferent towards people you don't know or understand.
Are Americans evil? My ancestors kept slaves in North Carolina. Though I'm sure they never considered themselves evil, many would consider slavery an evil pursuit. I regularly indulge in exorbitant quantities of energy (by historical if not by contemporary American standards), which I know full well leaves a world like this or this to future generations, including my own family. I don't like to think of myself as evil though. Would my descendants agree?
Friday, January 25, 2013
The problem is that the issues we're now encountering are global in scope, and are fundamental risks to the very life support systems we require to survive. We can't just move away from them until they're dealt with. As they grow worse, our ability to deal with them decreases as we become more concerned with surviving the day instead of the decade or century.
While this is disconcerting enough on its own, there's an even bigger problem. Our use of fossil fuels has doubled approximately every 20 years. Roughly 75% of all the fossil fuel ever burned has been burned within the last 40 years. It takes a minimum of 40 years for our carbon emissions to take effect, as a result of the biosphere's thermal inertia (oceans in particular). This means that we need to react 40 years before the changes take place if they are to be avoided!
Another complicating factor is the fact that the changes we make are not linear in nature. Early on, most of our emissions were absorbed by the oceans or by plant life, but we've long since exceeded the absorptive capacity of the biosphere, as evidenced by the recent dramatic climbs in atmospheric carbon. We've now triggered some massive feedback loops which will exacerbate our emissions even further. Climate change has turned the Amazon rainforest -- a massive carbon sink -- into a carbon emitter, as drought and wildfire sweep through the formerly lush forest. Changing climate zones mean that the forest outside your home will most likely be gone within 20 years (forests can handle slow change -- which isn't what we've triggered). Carbon stored in the arctic refrigerator as soil organic matter in the permafrost, or as clathrates in the arctic ocean is now venting into the atmosphere at explosive rates. Should we wait to see what happens?
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
We've thus far been using AI for our breeding. That's AI as in Artificial Insemination -- we won't be using the other type of AI here (our farm is robot-free!). Initially I had outsourced it, but finally took a course and have been doing it myself for a little over a year now. Aside from the initial elation associated with sticking my arm up a cow's butt, I can't say I've been all that impressed with it. We've had some successes, but not nearly what I'd hoped for. So, when our cow Gertie gave birth to a bull calf, I decided that we might try something different. If a bull isn't castrated, there is a window of perhaps 6 months during which he will be capable of breeding but not yet aggressive.
Jersey bulls have a reputation as the worst of the worst, though I've seen a few which were fairly docile. I'm a little apprehensive of taking this route, but we're going to give it a try. Chances are we'll butcher him as we would a steer at around two years of age, but hopefully will get some cows bred as part of the deal. It's just like getting to "have your cake and eat it too", only a bull isn't typically covered in rich and creamy frosting.
Before I started kindergarten, two of my favorite books were Dr. Doolittle and Where the Wild Things Are. I loved the idea of working together with animals, especially big ones. Even if they were monsters. Perhaps there's some epigenetic memory embedded in the recesses of my brain, of experiences had by my father or his parents back on my great-grandparent's farm. Judging by my last name (Veale), the fascination with cows has spanned quite a few generations.
Though I would've at one time been horrified by the very thought of being tied to the daily dairy chores without end, there is a certain enjoyment that comes from a daily routine with these gentle beasts. They're affectionate, playful (seen this video of our first cow?) creatures, with loads of personality. It's easy to grow attached, and think of the cows as friends.
The downside to all this is that the primary purpose of a dairy is to produce milk. When a cow doesn't respond to breeding, (as appears to be the case with two of my favorites), she ceases to produce milk. She then becomes an enormously expensive pet, whose best use is to become hamburger. It's tough to turn your friends into hamburger, but such is the life of a dairy farmer, I suppose. I'm still holding out hope though... both Maggie and Josie skipped their last heat cycle. Maybe they read my thoughts and decided they'd better get pregnant if they didn't want to visit freezerland. I've got my fingers crossed!
|Morning in the barn|
Friday, December 7, 2012
If you're like me, you probably had some vague recollection of seeing one at a museum somewhere, and logged the shave horse into the "useless relic from the past that I'll never need" portion of your brain's memory banks. In our high-tech industrialized world overflowing with manufactured goods, where none of us needs to know how to manufacture *anything*, that's exactly where it belongs. Well... that's where it would belong if such a world were worth perpetuating, or had anything more than an ice cube's chance in hell.
Whether food, clothing, housing, buckets, baskets, or anything else we might find useful, I see a lot of value in making things which could otherwise be purchased for a fraction of the cost in both time and money. Most of us will soon have much more of the former and less of the latter.
The shave horse is essentially a foot-operated vise designed for use with draw-knives and spoke shaves -- two amazingly useful tools which seem to be nearly forgotten as we near the end of the power-tool era. They lend themselves well to making wooden basket materials, tool handles, bows (of the archery persuasion), coopering, and just about any other good which can be made from wood. As I understand it, many of the early farms in this country had these in lieu of a bench vise for woodworking, and I'm now starting to see why.
Speaking of having more time and less money... I found myself with exactly that, as I was laid off this week from my position as a programmer with a software company I'd been with for several years. Even though I'd been more or less preparing for this eventuality over the last several years, it still felt like a bucket of cold water in the face. Anxiety kicked in. Would my next job involve a commute that would consume all the time I've been able to devote to the farm and family? Would I even be able to find something in this corner of Michigan? Would I be forced to return to some suburban hellhole, spending half my day traversing through the land of stoplights, uptight motorists, strip-malls, fast food, and big-box stores? What about the loss of healthcare coverage? Would it be possible to make more income off of the farm, particularly if last summer's drought is the start of a new normal? Do I really want to cut costs (maybe sell one of our vehicles) enough to live on a farm-based income?
I've decided to view this as a gift of time. I'm getting all sorts of projects wrapped up. Doing a little blacksmithing. A little woodworking. Catching up on our firewood supply. A little hunting. Taking the buggy out for a spin. Eventually the bank account will wane, and the anxiety will resurface. For the time being, however, I'm enjoying my new-found wealth.
In other news, our cow Gertie had a new calf yesterday morning, a little bull calf we've named Gomer. Each of our cows have distinctive excrement which I take great pleasure in identifying and naming (Gertie Goobers, Josie Juice, Maggie Mounds, Junie-Fruits, and Blossom Bombs), as it becomes a focus of mine at chore time each morning and evening in the winter. I giggle to myself each time I think of the name I've already given to Gomer's fecal contribution -- "Gomer Piles". The joke was lost on Henry... so I had to take it upon myself to visit youtube and find an old episode of "Gomer Pyle, USMC". Now his education in cultural icons is complete.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Starting in 2010, arctic methane emissions from subsea methane hydrates exploded, as noted by the study cited in this blog. Their conclusion?
Developed (and some developing) countries must cut back their carbon dioxide emissions by a very large percentage (50% to 90%) by 2020 to immediately precipitate a cooling of the Earth and its crust. If this is not done the earthquake frequency and methane emissions in the Arctic will continue to grow exponentially leading to our inexorable demise between 2031 to 2051.Though I'm no expert on atmospheric methane, this is disturbing to say the least, and likely explains the wild jump in temperatures we experienced over much of the northern hemisphere last winter, this summer, and in what is materializing this winter as well. Going agrarian, or rewilding isn't really an option when the planet no longer supports human life, as now appears to be likely within a matter of a couple decades.
The methane concentrations being cited are likely to lead to a "Permian Extinction" type event by mid-century, occuring first within the northern hemisphere.
Meanwhile, here in the Michigan, people are up in arms over a recent failed state initiative to require a 25% renewables mix in our electricity generation by 2025. In light of this information, that goal sounds laughable. We shouldn't be focusing on how much renewable energy we're generating, because much of it is not zero-carbon once the infrastructure and maintenance is figured in. We should simply focus on reducing our fossil fuel use. A 90% reduction in carbon emissions is likely far too conservative.