"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up."

Arthur Koestler 

Entries in Survival (8)


What Rough Beast Slouches Towards Bethlehem to Be Born?

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

This is one of Yeats’ most well-known poems. The purpose of a poem is not to predict the future but to capture a moment. Bible Prophecy can work that way too. 

We are in a transition period. But a transition to what? That transition certainly was evident to Yeats in 1921 when this poem was published. The Second Coming, the title of this poem, is not referring to the return of Jesus. It is insisting that something else is coming. We hold our breath as it comes. I think we can all feel it—with dread. 

That is why we have so much fear. I have written against the survivalist mentality here on the blog, but I too share that dread. Something is coming that will shatter our shared culture, our shared lies. I too see the event that the "preppers" see. I just do not think one can prepare for the Apocalypse

That does not mean one should not have some food stored. Nor does it mean one should not reduce debt. These are the things we should do anyway. 

I am not worried about a zombie attack. Or its actual real equivalent. But I am concerned that we are headed toward a decades-long period of decline like the Great Depression in the 30's. Are you ready? Get ready. You can prepare for this scenario. 

Herb Stein once said that if something cannot continue it won't. Our current economic situation cannot continue, so it won't. We are reaching the end of our culture, and its dominance in the world. As Leviathan heads toward Bethlehem to be born the most we can hope for is that we are somewhere else when it happens. 

Here is what Spark Notes, I suppose the internet equivalent of Cliff's Notes, has to say about the poem:

... the next age will take its character not from the gyre of science, democracy, and speed, but from the contrary inner gyre—which, presumably, opposes mysticism, primal power, and slowness to the science and democracy of the outer gyre. The “rough beast” slouching toward Bethlehem is the symbol of this new age; the speaker’s vision of the rising sphinx is his vision of the character of the new world.

The reason so many people are afraid is that they see Leviathan coming and see destruction. They may be right. I suggest that instead you look for the opportunities that this time might bring—for in crisis comes opportunity. 


Havenville, a City for the Fearful

A lot of people are afraid of the future. They have reason to be. Many people want to prepare by moving to a small town. This is not a bad idea based on many reasons independent of the chance of the apocalypse occurring next week. 

But you do not need to buy this house. Here is the pitch:

  • An overnight seize-up of the international banking system has shut down U.S. banks, thus halting the just-in-time food and fuel deliveries to your area? Or,
  • Upon turning on the news, you learned of the simultaneous release of biological agents by terrorists in 8 major U.S. cities with threats of more to come? Or,
  • A huge solar flare impacted the upper atmosphere over North America, knocking out communications and the entire power grid across the continent for an indeterminable period of time.

And this: 

  • An ever-widening pandemic from a previously unknown virulent flu strain. Or,
  • The constant erosion of domestic economic conditions due to simultaneous high inflation, high interest rates, and high unemployment. Or,
  • A protracted weather phenomenon, such as the “Dust Bowl” drought of the 1930′s.

Here is the house. Zombies would have easy access. The house is just a normal house in a small community. Where? They will not tell you. Can you go see it? Yes, but you must give them $1,500 for the privilege of looking. Does it have an orchard? 

There has been an orchard of 21 semi-dwarf fruit trees (cherry, apricot, plum, peach, pear, and apple) on the property that can be re-planted. There is plenty of room to plant a basketball court-sized vegetable garden (about the size a family of four needs to be self-sufficient) and/or construct stables on the property

In other words, no. While the house can run on wood heating, somewhat, as is probably common in the area, at 4 acres there is not a woodlot. In fact the house is in a normal subdivision of large lots, nothing special. I own lots in such a subdivision. I would be glad to sell you one. You can plant an orchard on this land too. You can also build a stable on mine! You can also plant a garden. 

So if you want to waste $1500 to see this fine example of 1970's building technology in an unnamed location go ahead. I think I will pass. 


US in Worse Shape than Greece

Laurence Kotlikoff, respected U.S. economist, makes the claim that the US is in worse shape than Ireland or Greece in this RT (Russia Today) interview. The issue is the off-the-books promises made to seniors. Kotlikoff's estimate of 200 trillion seems a little high. Most of the estimates I have read are about 100 trillion. But even if it is 50 trillion, this is more than can be paid. I am guardedly pessimistic so I expect that these obligations will be repudiated, saving the country the specter of default. This is not good news for the soon-to-be seniors. Wait, I am 58 ... This news is catastrophic.

Kotlikoff is quite polite in pointing out that most people have their heads in the sand like the clichéd ostrich. I would say he is polite as our leaders, and I am bipartisan in this, have their heads stuck in a different place.

I know I post a lot of videos, but this one is only 14 minutes. You need to watch this in order to understand the mess we are in.

I am hoping that the beloved editor of this blog, Pam Dewey, does not watch the interview, as her way of coping with depression over world circumstances is to post cute animal pictures on Facebook. This interview is accurate, dire, and depressing enough that we might have cat pictures for weeks.


Be Happy: Reduce Your Expectations

There were two ways to be happy: improve your reality, or lower your expectations ― Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes.

We are headed toward a period where we all need to lower our expectations. A long, slow, steady decline is the best we can expect. There are several reasons for this.

The main reason I think we are due for a drop in our standard of living is our dependence on oil. Oil has served the US well over the last century. It has provided the US with an unprecedented freedom in mobility. Most of the great human advances have settled around better transportation. Something as basic as the stirrup had a great effect on history. The sociological implications of the car on American mating rituals has been huge. 

But we have been using up oil faster than new oil is being discovered—even if the Russian theory is correct and oil is seeping up from the depths and oil is not dead dinosaurs. I have been reading books about what is called "peak oil." In particular I read Kunstler's book, The Long Emergency. While I accept the basic premise of peak oil, I was not impressed with peak oil advocates’ reasoning, especially Kunstler's. What they overlook is that other sources on energy can be used to make fuel. The process to make liquid coal has been known for a century and was used extensively by Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa. The US can do the same. 

However, there are big drawbacks. It will be a lot more expensive than it has been in the past. Tyler Cowen describes this process in his book, The Great Stagflation. It is only natural that the first things that are harvested are the easiest, the "low hanging fruit" as Cowen calls it. That fruit is long gone. In additional it will be less environmental clean than oil.

What does this mean for you and me? 

Two car families will become one-car families. One-car families will become public transportation users. Since the US is built around the car this will be difficult. In the future the first question in looking at a house will not be "How are the schools?" It will be, "Where are the bus lines?" 

The US must live within its means, and that means more busses and fewer cars. But this does not mean the dystopian future predicted in various bad novels, and a few good ones, and by "peak oil" advocates will occur. The US is headed for declining standards of living as the price of fuel goes up, as it must, but not  Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome.

So if you are looking for a house to buy, look for a house that has a space for a garden and is a short walking distance to a bus line or shopping. Right now few buyers are looking for this combination. This will change. 

There was an old English proverb I read years ago: income £ 20, expenses £ 19 6p, happiness; income £ 20, expenses £ 20 6p, unhappiness. 

Lower your expectations.

Live within your means. 


Pig Feces? 

I think a lot of people are convinced our future is like a movie script from the Mad Max series.

Wikipedia describes Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome:

The film opens as Max (Mel Gibson) is riding a camel-drawn wagon across the Australian desert when he is attacked by a pilot flying a Transavia PL-12 Airtruk, who steals his belongings and vehicle. Max continues on foot and stumbles upon the only nearby human outpost in the wasteland—the seedy community of Bartertown, founded and run by the ruthless Aunty Entity (Tina Turner). In Bartertown, electricity, vehicles, functioning technology are made possible by a crude methane refinery, fueled by pigs' feces.

Or maybe it is the Panic in the Year Zero movie they have in mind. Also from Wikipedia:

Soon after Harry Baldwin (Ray Milland), his wife Ann (Jean Hagen), their son Rick (Frankie Avalon), and daughter Karen (Mary Mitchell) leave suburban Los Angeles on a camping trip, the Baldwins note unusually bright light flashes coming from a great distance. Sporadic news reports on CONELRAD broadcasts hint at the start of a World War - which is confirmed as the Baldwins see a large mushroom cloud over what was Los Angeles. The family initially attempts to return to rescue Ann's mother near Los Angeles, but soon abandons these plans as panicked refugees from Los Angeles climb over one another to escape the fallout from the multiple nuclear explosions. Witnessing the very threads of society breaking down in front of them, Harry makes the decision that the family must make it to their secluded vacation spot in search of an isolated refuge. Along the way, they stop off to buy supplies — or, in the case of hardware store owner Ed Johnson (Richard Garland), take them by force when he won't accept a check — and extra gasoline. They also encounter three threatening young hoodlums, Carl (Richard Bakalyan), Mickey (Rex Holman), and Andy (Neil Nephew), on the road, but manage to drive them off.

You may remember Ray Milland from the campy cult classic The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. At the end of that movie Ray ripped out his eyes because he saw a great evil light years away. After reading a lot of these apocalyptic types and their "financial" newsletters, I can sympathize with the Milland character. I do not want to see anymore. Do not misunderstand, these kinds of scenarios are not impossible. The destruction of Atlanta by Sherman in 1865, or the announcement by the governor general of New Orleans in that same year that rapists would not be punished, are examples of deep troubles right here is America.  Yes it can happen here. But how can one prepare for this possibility? If a good man like the Ray Milland character in Year Zero is willing to steal from the hardware store owner to help his family, how much worse would the three hoodlums from that movie act? As a hardware store owner, I do not approve of the stealing shown in the movie.

Why did I move from relatively "safe" Missouri to near Los Angeles? If things get that bad it is not going to matter where you live. There is no place in Missouri that is not one gas tank away from large cities with millions of potential Ray Millands. While you might fight off the first attackers, what about the second, the third, and so on. If there is a trouble you cannot plan for, do not plan for it. If things are going to get that bad, you need to immigrate. (And there are financial newsletters advocating that too.)

Here in California I am a part of a small community in the mountains. I have a small business my family has owned since the 60's. I am becoming a part of the community. We sponsor a local baseball and volleyball team. If the troubling times I am expecting to occur happen, there are few better places for me and my family.

But will armed citizens break in and loot my hardware store? Will we power our vehicles with pig feces? I do not think so.