Sunday, March 25, 2018

Revelations in Cutting Edge Lighting Technology

One of our beeswax candles made with stearic acid, showing a typical amount of dripping. Double this for a beeswax/tallow candle, and triple it for pure beeswax.
A few years back, the book Lights Out opened my eyes to the side effects of ubiquitous electric lighting. Much like any other animal or plant, the human body is quite sensitive to photo-period, which in large part controls the hormones that run our bodies. The ability to sleep, control your appetite, and even your immune function (particularly with relation to cancer) are all dependent upon the amount and type of lighting your body detects. With abundant electric light, televisions, computer monitors, and smartphones, there's little wonder why so many Americans are overweight, sleep deprived, diabetic, riddled with cancer, or beset with depression. Other factors undoubtedly play a role, but light clearly influences us in ways most have never considered.

Electric everything relies upon a grid fueled by fracked gas, mountaintop-removal coal, uranium (ever wonder why Trump was so hot to get rid of Bear's Ears Monument?), and a host of other nasties. Suffice it to say that electricity production has contaminated much of the planet now to the point where the biosphere is crumbling before our eyes, and our best chance for survival depends on getting rid of it wherever we can.

As the book explains, it's not necessary to sleep for 12 hours a day because you can't have electric lights on all the time, but it is important to average at least 9.5 hours of very low or no light. It's quite possible to exist on dimmer light than we're used to, and it benefits us considerably when we do.

My own lighting goals are 1) can be fueled from a homestead without purchased inputs, 2) provides usable quantities of light, 3) doesn't stink up the home or significantly damage the indoor air quality.

A center-draft, round-wick Rayo lamp
Oil lamps work well in the absence of electricity, but require significant quantities of kerosene (a fossil fuel), and give off quite a bit of heat (not always a plus). Their indoor emissions are also pretty nasty, and the kerosene is constantly evaporating into the home even when they're not in use. Their flame has a tendency to grow as they warm up, requiring constant supervision to adjust the wick during this period unless you want a house filled with soot.

With that said, in a non-electric environment, oil lamps do have a place. They can give off quite a bit of light, particularly the Aladdin mantle lamps (which are equivalent to a 30 watt bulb). The downside to these is that the light can be quite harsh, and the mantles are slightly radioactive, as well as being fragile and short lived.

Oil lamps do have some benefits over electric lights. Their light is typically much dimmer, and thus provides the benefits noted above. An overlooked benefit is that they're fairly expensive to operate. The downside to greater efficiency (as noted in Jevon's Paradox) means there's an upside to lower efficiency, which is clearly the case with this lighting option. You'll find that you keep one oil lamp burning with you as you move from room to room, instead of leaving multiple lights going throughout the house, and may very well use less energy as a result.

My preference in oil lamps is for the standard round-wick center-draft lamps of the sort historically produced by Bradley and Hubbard or Rayo. These produce plenty of light, with a softer appearance than the mantle lamps, and are cheaper and easier to maintain and keep well tuned.

Candles, though now relegated to purely decorative or "mood" uses nowadays in
Aladdin lamp with the chimney removed. It uses a burner nearly identical to the Rayo but with the addition of a mantle for increased light
most homes, deserve a second look. Though it's a significant change for anyone accustomed to electric lighting, the 13 lumens from a single candle can sufficiently light a room (particularly if the walls are painted white). It's enough to read by when placed close to your book, and doesn't appear to be enough to delay your sleep or encourage a late night snack.

I'm not a fan of paraffin candles, as paraffin is a coal derivative and thus has little to recommend it over oil lamps. I have a similar opinion of soy candles, which are effectively a product of Monsanto and Exxon. A homestead with a few beehives, however, can supply a significant amount of beeswax.  It makes an excellent lighting fuel, smells great, and is also useful for everything from treating leather to lubricating black-powder rifle patches.

Pure beeswax candles, as we've discovered, do have some shortcomings. Beeswax has a relatively low melting point, which causes the candles to dribble and make a mess. This melting can be reduced through addition of tallow in a 50/50 mix, but there will still be significant dripping. The addition of a small amount of stearic acid (as used in commercial candles) considerably reduces the dripping. It's relatively inexpensive and not much is needed, but it must be purchased. So far as I can tell, it cannot be easily produced at home, and I haven't found any substitutes.

Though we have yet to make our own wicks, I do think it would be relatively simple with the use of flax (aka linen), which we've grown in our garden. I see some candles are now sold with a wooden wick, which would also be worth experimenting with.

Our tin candle mold
We make our own candles in a mold, which seems much easier and faster than dipping them. Old style tin molds are readily available, and work well with a little practice. You'll find people recommending various sprays for helping to release the candles from the mold, but we've found something much simpler and cheaper that works better. Just take hot water from your tea-kettle and pour it over the outside of the mold. The candles will all but fall right out on their own.

So candles can be messy, which is why I've found that antique candle-holders with a wide-dish base are perfect for collecting melted wax (which can be melted down into new candles). My favorite type has a knob on the side which makes removing the old candle stump a simple task. With these, you just wait until the candle has burned down far enough to warm the metal base (usually brass), at which point the candle stump slides up easily and is replaced with a fresh candle. These bases all seem to be antique, from the era when candles were standard equipment in any home.  They're all over Ebay.

Back in the day when I was an involuntary churchgoer, I remember seeing metal "caps" on the top of some of the candles. Just another way for the church to impress the peasants with fancy finery, I thought. I was wrong! These metal caps are called "candle followers", and do serve a useful purpose. They're quite effective at controlling drips, as it turns out. On our beeswax-stearic acid candles, they've completely eliminated dripping. I haven't tested it yet, but I suspect that they may even work with pure beeswax candles, or even beeswax/tallow candles, which would both eliminate the need for stearic acid as well as allow us to significantly extend our beeswax supplies (tallow is easy to produce if you have any sheep, deer, or cows to butcher).

The one shortcoming of candles which remained is that of snuffing. The typical user nowadays just blows out a candle, which leaves a smoldering wick that gives off smoke for a minute, filling a room with stinky partially burned hydrocarbons. Blow a little too hard and you'll spray wax all over too.

Bell style snuffer
Another thing I remember from church is the bell-type candle snuffer on a stick. I bought a small version of that, which eliminates the need to blow a candle out. It worked to put out the flame, but the candle still smoldered. I wasn't impressed.

Scissor style snuffer
Next in line was one of the scissor-type snuffers, often referred to as a wick trimmer.  This worked much better, and did in fact eliminate the smoldering. The downside was that it got waxy, and needs a place to be stored where it won't get wax on everything. Eventually, it needs to be cleaned up. These aren't sharpened as scissors are;  they merely squeeze the wick between the dull blades and push any crumbly end into the cavity atop one of the blades.

My favorite candle holder, with the cone-type snuffer that stores on the handle, also showing one of our candle followers.  Note the lack of drips!
Finally, I think I've found the best candle snuffer, which came with (not surprisingly) on a pair of antique push-up candle holders purchased on Ebay for $8 each. This little cone-type snuffer is similar to the bell-on-a-stick snuffer I tried earlier, but with one important difference -- you can leave it on top of the candle. This allows it to not only snuff the flame, but to contain the smoke from any smoldering wick. It's just as effective as the scissor type snuffer, but is less prone to wax-buildup and easier to store. When it does get a little wax built up on the inside, just hold it over the candle flame for a few seconds and it'll drip out into the candle.

For future experiments, we'll try making up some pure beeswax candles and see if the follower eliminates drips on those. Another thing I'd like to try is a "rush light". These are relatively fast burning (about 15 minutes), made by soaking the foamy-pith of a rush stem with tallow. While I suspect that a candle is still nicer, they seem as if they would be easier to make, particularly if you don't have beeswax.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Our Little Frankenstein Problem

I think we're all aware of tobacco companies such as RJ Reynolds, and their history of pretending that their product was perfectly harmless when anyone with an IQ above 50 could clearly see that it was not.  More recently, fossil fuel corporations have told us there's no such thing as climate change, that it isn't man-made, that we'll adapt to it, that the climate has always changed so we can't and shouldn't do a thing about it.

As was clearly demonstrated in the movie "The Corporation", large publicly owned corporate entities lack many human traits (such as empathy) which effectively cause them to function as a psychopath (and in fact, they meet the clinical definition of a psychopath). This is largely due to their legal design, which places maximization of shareholder return as the primary objective. The fact that we've given such entities legal personhood, and allowed them unlimited "free speech" through the supreme court Citizens United decision essentially sealed our fate at their hands.

The construct of public corporations invites socio and psychopaths (which together comprise about 5% of our population) into their executive ranks, as demonstrated below. In fact, criminal psychologist Robert Hare has said, you’re four times more likely to find a psychopath at the top of the corporate ladder than you are walking around the janitor’s office.”

This behavior can clearly be seen in the actions of both Turing and Mylan Pharmaceuticals, both of whom had recently decided to raise prices on very old but important drugs (by 5,500% in the case of Turing). Hey -- want to live? What's it worth to you? Neither you nor I would do that to someone in need, because we're not psychopaths. But a corporation would, and does exactly that on a regular basis.

As Ian Welsh points out, such actions do in fact kill people, but they're not illegal (in large part because corporations now write our laws).  One gentleman, who pleaded for donations to help him afford his required insulin, is now dead.  From 2003 to 2013, insulin prices tripled.

In what would seem to be a good thing, Martin Shkreli (the former head of Turing Pharmaceuticals) was recently indicted and will spend 7 years in prison. However -- his conviction isn't for his clearly deadly behavior -- but is instead for securities fraud. Screwing and killing regular people, as it turns out, is a-okay and perfectly legal. Screwing rich people out of their money is not.  Heather Bresch, the equally abhorrent head of Mylan, who only killed normal people, is not going to jail.

So sociopaths do bad things. Psychopaths do bad things. Is that really news? Probably not.

The problem is not that we have people with these serious and dangerous mental disorders.  The problem is that we've allowed them to rule us, in large part because of the greed that each and every one of us possess.  What's worse is that this will likely lead to our demise.

Corporations not only express a lack of empathy for others, but in fact display a lack of concern for their own well being, at least in the long term. I see this regularly in our mainstream media, where the demonization of much weaker "enemies" (Russia, Iran, North Korea, Eastasia, etc) seems to be at an ever increasing crescendo.  I find it ironic that we now accuse Russia of "election meddling" (of which I have yet to see any substantial evidence) when the US has been the poster boy of such activity for decades.  Mossadegh? PinochetEcuador? Hell, we even advertised the fact that we screwed with Russia's elections on the cover of TIME magazine! Yes, even supposedly independent, publicly owned NPR is in on the gig, and regularly refers to Russia's "meddling" as established fact.

Despite promising the Russians that we would not expand NATO to their borders, we've done exactly that. Not only that, but we're arming their border countries with loads of US weapons (hey, more shareholder return!). We even have an artillery division within range of Russia's 2nd largest city (St. Petersburg). Most any American who regularly watches television would think that they're the ones threatening us. It's so pathetic that it's laughable, only it's not a laughing matter.

This push for demonization of weaker countries is meant to increase fear, which increases the already unprecedented theft of cash from our wallets to those of military contractors (currently the majority of the federal budget, and nearly exceeding the military spending of every other country on the planet combined). (Ever wonder why American infrastructure is falling to pieces? I have an idea!) It also greases the skids to war, which seems a-okay to an America that no longer has a memory of what war is like. The latest corporate puppet to occupy our whitehouse even wants to make nuclear weapons more usable. Fantastic!

Because it drives shareholder return and stock prices, many corporations *love* war spending. They well remember what happened as we went in to Iraq under dubya, and did their best through media outlets to convince us of the merit of more war (GE -- one of the world's largest military contractors -- was the majority owner of NBC, where they beat the drums of war as loudly as possible). They've purchased our media and used it to make us hate other countries. They have no problem with such a war becoming nuclear, because corporations are not human.

Our little Frankenstein creation has run amok, and it's time to put it back where it belongs. Fortunately, it has an achilles heel - the stock market.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Tortoise and the Hare

Working off the winter fat:  Jake and Jasper pulling logs out of the woods
We can never do merely one thing. -- Garrett James Hardin

Here in the heart of the Church of Technology, it goes without saying that all (well... most, anyway) technology is a good thing.

Take, for instance, the tractor.  It is, in large part (along with Mexicans, that is), what has freed the majority of us to give up the horrid drudgery of farming. The tractor has given us the freedom to enjoy our modern industrial lifestyle, where we spend our days buzzing around in little metal boxes on wheels (cousin to the venerable tractor) so that we can stare at screens in climate conditioned comfort. Could our ancestors have imagined a more perfect existence?

And most importantly, the tractor allows us to grow more food.  It would be pure blasphemy to suggest otherwise, of course.

There's little doubt that I and my team of horses would soon lose out on a plowing competition, even if we were up against our own little 1952 Ferguson TO-30. Just imagine how poorly we'd fare against John Deere's biggest, baddest, six hundred and twenty horsepower behemoth.

The horses and I would be happy to get an acre plowed in a day. The John Deere...? I'm not really sure. Lesser tractors can handle 150 acres in a day. 200 acres? Maybe 250 acres?

Now, let's extend the competition out a bit. Not just a day, a week, or even a month. Let's run the competition for a thousand years (we'll have to pretend that plowing is beneficial, but bear with me).

Based upon current trends, we can safely assume that the tractor's fuel will last for perhaps one century. It will emit many tons of CO2, among other gasses and particulates which are less fun to breathe. The manufacturing process will spread mercury throughout the environment, and likely other chemicals as well. Some of these are likely to accumulate in the environment and operator, rendering him sterile, just as we're seeing happen throughout the industrialized world. The accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere ultimately renders the farmland sterile as well, as droughts, storms, and crop failure move from the exception to the norm. Soil heating and drying (from increased CO2) cause the remaining organic matter to oxidize into the atmosphere as well.

So, yes, the tractor makes a most impressive showing, for the short term. But it does not increase food production. Over the long term, in fact, it will result in significantly less food production than the lowly horse, or even a simple peasant with a digging stick.  Like most technology, it's a trade, and not necessarily a good one.

The tractor, of course, is just one example of many. The automobile will ultimately result in less human travel, for the same reasons that the tractor will ultimately result in less food production. The washing machine will result in fewer clothes washed. Computers (like the one I'm typing on), will result in less information shared between people.

How many other examples can you think of?  Are there technologies which provide a net benefit?

Thursday, February 22, 2018


Not that I was going out on much of a limb when 95% of school shooters are shown to be on psychoactive meds, but it's now confirmed that the Florida shooter was also taking them (like the shooter at Virginia Tech, the "Joker" shooter at the Colorado theater, the boys at Columbine High, and so on...). Ron Paul has noted this fact in his latest column, which is worth a read.

Yes, the presence of high capacity weapons enables such shooters to do more damage, but the fact that anyone *wants* to kill people at random is the root of the problem. Gun bans leave a populace unable to defend itself against criminals or over-reaching governments, which is why they are still unacceptable to most Americans. I also find it interesting that the media outlets who are currently focusing on gun-bans are the ones which are also most beholden to the interests of the 1%. Do they perhaps sense the possibility of a popular revolt, and want to preemptively disarm the common rabble? There are numerous historical precedents for this very thing.

I've had a co-worker who failed to show up one morning, and was found in her driveway with her throat slashed. One neighbor across the street from my old residence had another (drug addled) neighbor insist that they let him into their home to "use the phone", at which point the druggie smashed in their front door and came after them (this happened two houses away from a policeman's residence). They used a firearm to defend themselves, successfully. Another neighbor, upon finding an intruder in their garage, called 911. The state patrol took 45 minutes to respond. Yet another neighbor died after struggling with an intruder in his home. Another time, I noticed a car slowly creep down our road, turn off their headlights (at night) and pull into an elderly neighbor's driveway. Who knows what they were up to, but they fled when they noticed my approach. Yes the need may be a rarity, but the ability to protect those around you is important. Would you be okay with a ban on seat belts if they were also being used for nefarious purposes?

Anything short of a complete ban will not get rid of events like school shootings, and would undoubtedly encourage the use of other weaponry (explosives, swords, chemicals, etc) where the will exists -- and psychoactive meds are clearly generating the will or extreme indifference required. I don't remember it being widely reported, but this student managed to stab 20 people at his Pennsylvania high school with steak knives before being subdued. He was, of course, also on psychoactive meds.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Great Pharmaceutical Phucking

The great British Empire apparently lacked the tools for effective propaganda, as Americans revolted against them for far less than we're currently being subjected to at the hands of our corporate oligarchy.

Wherever you look these days, we're being SCREWED.

A fine example is the latest school shooting in Florida.  Guns, though regularly fingered in the mass media as the culprit (how many firearm advertisements do you see on TV vs pharmaceutical ads?), have been a part of American culture from the very beginning. Events such as this school shooting are relatively recent, however. Something changed, and that is the introduction of SSRI anti-depressants and the widespread medication of America which, strangely enough, corresponds with the introduction of mass shootings.

I'm going out on a limb here, as I have with other mass shootings before the actual medication details come out, but I'm usually proven right. Here's a website that maintains a running tally of SSRI related shootings, stabbings, suicides, and other wonderful side effects. You won't hear about them on TV, because all the pharmaceutical ads don't leave enough time for the "news" anchors to discuss this fact.  I suppose it's also possible that the television networks don't want to bite the hand that feeds them (a lot!).

The recent school shooter in Florida suffered the death of his mother in November.  A sad event for sure, but one worth medicating? I'm willing to bet that his physician (likely influenced by pharmaceutical cash) thought so. Perhaps the video above should end with "Ask your doctor if Zoloft is right for you!"

The figures I've seen suggest that these medications are implicated in 95% of all school shootings.  For those who weren't interested in clicking on the link, here's a (very) brief example of the events and their associated medication:

  • Eric Harris age 17 (first on Zoloft then Luvox) and Dylan Klebold aged 18 (Columbine school shooting in Littleton, Colorado), killed 12 students and 1 teacher, and wounded 23 others, before killing themselves. Klebold's medical records have never been made available to the public.
  • Jeff Weise, age 16, had been prescribed 60 mg/day of Prozac (three times the average starting dose for adults!) when he shot his grandfather, his grandfather's girlfriend and many fellow students at Red Lake, Minnesota. He then shot himself. 10 dead, 12 wounded.
  • Cory Baadsgaard, age 16, Wahluke (Washington state) High School, was on Paxil (which caused him to have hallucinations) when he took a rifle to his high school and held 23 classmates hostage. He has no memory of the event.
  • Chris Fetters, age 13, killed his favorite aunt while taking Prozac.
  • Christopher Pittman, age 12, murdered both his grandparents while taking Zoloft.
  • Mathew Miller, age 13, hung himself in his bedroom closet after taking Zoloft for 6 days.
  • Kip Kinkel, age 15, (on Prozac and Ritalin) shot his parents while they slept then went to school and opened fire killing 2 classmates and injuring 22 shortly after beginning Prozac treatment.
  • Luke Woodham, age 16 (Prozac) killed his mother and then killed two students, wounding six others.
  • A boy in Pocatello, ID (Zoloft) in 1998 had a Zoloft-induced seizure that caused an armed stand off at his school.
  • Michael Carneal (Ritalin), age 14, opened fire on students at a high school prayer meeting in West Paducah, Kentucky. Three teenagers were killed, five others were wounded..
  • A young man in Huntsville, Alabama (Ritalin) went psychotic chopping up his parents with an ax and also killing one sibling and almost murdering another.
  • Andrew Golden, age 11, (Ritalin) and Mitchell Johnson, aged 14, (Ritalin) shot 15 people, killing four students, one teacher, and wounding 10 others.
  • TJ Solomon, age 15, (Ritalin) high school student in Conyers, Georgia opened fire on and wounded six of his class mates.

I've had doctors prescribe medications for me ($400/month for a proton pump inhibitor) which I'm now certain were prescribed precisely because the doctor was receiving kickbacks. Friends in the medical field confirmed that the kickbacks are in fact real, enormous (often exceeding $100k/year per doctor), and unknown to most of the patients. Thus, your doctor has something in common with your congressional representatives.

When I later googled the doctor whom I'm speaking of, I found him as the featured speaker at numerous pharmaceutical promotion events.  Read this article, and you'll understand exactly why.  When I expressed concerns about the medication, he quickly dismissed them (they're now widely known and supported by numerous studies), and re-iterated his only concern was that I could afford the medication.

Yes, it's no secret that people with problems are being medicated, and such people would perhaps commit acts of violence with or without the medications. However, the frequency and magnitude of such acts is far greater since the introduction of these medications. There are specific side effects often noted in patients receiving SSRIs, such as a feeling of detachment from society, and the viewing of other people as objects. The Columbine shooters were noted as having drawn pictures of other students without faces -- which is apparently a common trait of people on these medications.

The great Pharmaceutical Phucking is quite real here at home. A family member recently went to fill a regular prescription. One refill is now $650! In other countries, where the government is not beholden to lobbyists, the same medication is about $25. Yes, America is truly the land of opportunity (if you're a corporate criminal or corrupt politician)!

Ever wonder why we simply can't seem to solve the "Opioid Crisis"

If your favorite politician has not sworn off all corporate cash (ala Bernie Sanders), they either are or will soon be corrupt, no matter how sweet and agreeable their words. Fred (corr)Upt(i)on, my own congressional representative, comes to mind, and appears to be a poster-child of pharmaceutical lobbying corruption. It should not be surprising to anyone that our government is now, demonstrably, not a democracy. Do you think that our schools are now teaching students that we're an oligarchy (which is precisely what we are, based upon scientific observation and fact)?

Pharmaceutical corporations are of course just the tip of the iceberg. Defense contractors have a long and sordid history of screwing taxpayers via our corrupt "elected" representatives. Did you ever wonder how Russia, a country with an economy the size of Spain's, has suddenly become a dire threat to the United States? Ditto for North Korea, who is clinging to their nuclear program in mortal fear. Perhaps Kim Jong Un watched the video of Ghadaffi after he decided to give up his WMD program at the US's urging.  My god -- just look at all the danger out there!  We need more F-35s, pronto!

With their trojan "populist" candidate Trump, the corporate coup is complete. Any law that keeps you healthy (environmental regulations) or safe (nuclear non-proliferation agreements), or keeps America beautiful (regulations on offshore drilling) is now being dismantled wherever it impacts the ability of corporations to rape and pillage our fellow citizens and the lands we all own.  This coup was in large part enabled by corporate democrats, who used their own illegal tactics to screw Sanders in the primary (if you voted in the open California primary, and aren't specifically registered as a democrat, your ballot was not counted!)

My ancestors revolted against the British government and their corporate accomplices over far less than you and I are now being subjected to. But then again, they didn't watch TV, which makes perfect sense.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Think Happy Thoughts

The new beaver lodge in one of our ponds
Those on the left side of the political spectrum have long made fun of those on the right, viewing them as stupid, uneducated, or simply brain-dead automatons. I've done it myself on a number of occasions, probably on this blog. It's a simplistic way of thinking, however, and does us no good.

"Climate Denier" is the term used to paint them with derision, because it's now de rigueur for right-leaning politicians to pretend that climate change doesn't exist, isn't man-made, or at least is something we can successfully adapt to. In a corporatocracy such as our own, espousing such views as a politician is also highly lucrative.

It occurred to me recently that the left is also full of climate deniers, though they would never refer to themselves as such. The first stage was "change your light bulbs and recycle!", followed by "buy a Prius!", and now seems to be mostly "we'll save the world with electric cars, solar panels, and wind power".

It's not the existence of climate change that the left denies; they're simply in denial of the speed and severity with which it is occurring. Thus, the left's denial is a failure to truly grasp the reality of our situation.

Anyone who points out this fact -- that the emperor truly has no clothes -- is viewed with suspicion, as mentally ill, suicidal, or a right-wing poser who just wants environmentalists to give up their campaigns. There's a commonly held belief that we should all have "glass half full" attitudes, that we should cover up unpleasant realities with a happy facade, think only happy thoughts, and live our lives as if all were well even when it isn't. Facing an unpleasant reality is decidedly unpopular, but I think it allows us to make the right decisions and live our lives in the best way possible.

The only way we make it out of this predicament is through a massive program to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and chemically convert it into a stable form (like coal!). Stop for a moment, and try to imagine all the energy we've derived from fossil fuels over the last few centuries. The laws of thermodynamics tell us it will require more energy to return this CO2 to a stable form. Where will we get that energy, which we would need to fully deploy within the next decade? We won't, because it simply doesn't exist. That's why I'm not optimistic when people tell me that humans are infinitely creative and can solve any problem we've created for ourselves. We can no more solve this problem than we can travel at light speed or create a perpetual motion machine.

So what's to be gained by embracing the reality of our predicament, and giving up (false) hope?  Quite a bit, I think. First of all, let's remind ourselves that we all received a terminal diagnosis on the day we were born, as death is the unavoidable side effect of life. So, our situation as individuals hasn't really changed. It's only our collective situation that's different now.

Allow me to use a friend of mine as an example that we might want to emulate. At eight years old, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He underwent surgery to remove a large tumor from his abdomen (courtesy of C. Everett Koop, who went on to become surgeon general), and his cancer treatment was successful.

He was in his late 20's when I met him, and related to me that the experience had changed his life. He knew that the cancer could return at any time, and lived his life not cowering in fear, but embracing life and seeking out adventures and experiences that most of us would put on our "someday" list.  He fully understood that his "someday" was no longer guaranteed. Our "someday" is, at this point, not a likely prospect either.  If you're not enjoying your life today, how would you change it?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The future ain't what it used to be

Yesterday evening, after dinner, I headed out into the dark to feed the horses. I was overwhelmed by a rush of love and sadness. Working with these magnificent beasts, and the associated feelings of mutual respect and symbiosis, has been one of my greatest joys. Yet, I feel like I no longer have reason to continue it.

The world I'd hoped to build with them is not to be. The farm I'd hoped might one day provide a meager income has proven itself not to be capable of such. Even in a post economic collapse world where basic necessities are of greater value, I don't see the farm working.

I've lost much of the purpose behind my homesteading endeavors of the last decade. Though I still see some value in everything we've done, I no longer feel compelled to grow or raise our own food, tan my own leather, construct my own outbuildings, farm with horses, or learn the various skills that we've lost as an increasingly industrially-dependent populace.

Jake sending some of his special air freshener my way.

You're thinking, "Aha - I told you so!  Nobody ever likes to do that much work!  We knew you'd come around sooner or later".

It is a *lot* of work, no doubt.  It's an overwhelming amount of work, if you consider that the "make it yourself" approach will typically require an effort easily an order of magnitude greater than the conventional sit in your cubicle for 40 hours a week and use your paycheck to buy it approach.

But that's not why I've given up.

"Well then... maybe you're just feeling your age."

While I am older, that's not it, either.

"Scared by the horse injury?"

No, it started well before that.

"Midlife crisis?"


Though there are multiple reasons, one stands out much larger than the rest. It's not belly up just yet, but our life support systems are failing, and will collapse much sooner than I'd anticipated. We've dumped so much CO2 into the atmosphere that the earth is now emitting half again as much as humans are, as various systems die (forests dry out and/or burn) or change state (permafrost melts and emits methane). This means that we're still on the same doomed track even if we were to eliminate all anthropogenic emissions (which is about as likely as Donald Trump suddenly becoming a genuinely good person).

The farm, the homesteading skills, and the life I was trying to build were in large part an attempt to survive or thrive in an economic collapse. Environmental collapse, on the other hand, is not something that can be prepared for.

Since about age eight, I've been obsessively fascinated by environmental issues. A decade ago, our environment looked like a plane slowly losing altitude. Now the wings have come off and it's spiraling downwards. If humans last beyond mid-century, I'd be surprised. Exxon's scientists have advised the company executives that they should expect 5 degrees C by mid-century, whereas scientists have long questioned whether 2 degrees is survivable. Some scientists now suggest our future will be less than a decade. While I like to think they're wrong, each day brings news that they're closer to the mark.

Wherever you look nowadays, you'll see a failure of stability. The jet-stream, which dictates weather patterns at our temperate latitudes, no longer runs perpetually to the east as it did when I was born. It now meanders north and south far more than ever before. This is why our idiot-in-chief tweeted that "We could use a little bit of that global warming" as the eastern US set record cold temperatures. Do you think anyone mentioned to him that Alaska was warmer than Florida at the time?

When a patient receives a terminal diagnosis from their doctor, it's never a good thing. It's a point at which some people simply wither away. Others, if they're able, take such a diagnosis as an impetus to do what they've always wanted to do, and not to put it off for the tomorrow that they know will never be.

Considering my diagnosis, I'm hoping to be one of the latter, as our world still has much to offer even in its diminished state. For me, that's the return of a dream I'd long held, but put off in favor of the homesteading endeavor when economic failure was the leading contender in our apocalyptic contest.

I'd like to sail again, and fill the remainder of my life with experiences (both good and bad, no doubt) worth remembering. Will I make it? Will I give it up again as economic malaise pulls ahead?  It's tough to make predictions -- especially about the future!

My last sail on our old boat -- photo taken by a passing sailboater who asked for my email address so he could send it to me.