Damn It Feels Good To Be An Author

So Wolverines:  Reflections on Red Dawn isn’t going to go down as the most important and highly acclaimed book in the Western canon or anything, but I had a lot of fun writing it and overall, I’m pretty proud of it.   Two things struck me over the past week that put it back into my mind.   First I filed my taxes and had a 1099 misc form for royalties to claim.   Royalties.   It hasn’t made me rich or anything and in the big picture the amount I made this year wasn’t much, but it was exactly that amount more than I’d ever imagined I’d make in book sales if you would’ve asked a few years ago.    Oh yeah, I also had a small amount to claim on foreign book sales, which was kind of cool too.   Again, the total amount wasn’t enough to quit my day job but it was very inspiring to see that.

The second thing is that every now and then I get an email from someone who read the book saying that they enjoyed it and usually they’ll share their thoughts on a certain topic relating to the film and/or ask me my thoughts about it.   I absolutely love this and I’ve had some good discussions with other fans of Red Dawn about some subjects that weren’t in the book.   I got one of these emails this week and it made my night.   This is more inspiring than a 1099 Misc form.

I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again – we’re very fortunate to live in a time where average people are able to create things and get it out to the world.   You can write a book and self publish it, make youtube videos about whatever, podcast, spread your band’s music via a ton of different channels, sell things on a bunch of different sites, write about whatever on a blog, etc.    It’s really not that hard.     Hell, it only winds up being about $120 a year, a (very) limited amount of technical know-how and a bit of time for me to have this site.     The fact that the traditional gatekeepers are no longer an excuse for anyone to do pretty much anything is pretty inspiring too.     If you want to do something, do it.

Xochimilco, Permaculture and Chinampas

Last month I went to Mexico City and Guadalajara.   Great trip, maybe I’ll write about it later.    One of Mexico City’s attractions is the floating gardens of Xochimilco, which is on the southern edge of the giant metroplex.    It’s an interesting place at face value, but what put it on my radar was that it’s kind of considered the textbook example of chinampa farming, or at least what’s easily accessible for a traveler to see.

Chinampas are a method of agriculture developed in pre-Columbian Mexico where they would create artificial floating peninsulas with sediment and woven reeds along the banks of a body of fresh water.   These small areas were intensely cultivated and highly productive, because they could sustain so much life.    This system is probably the most pound-for-pound productive system we know of in agriculture.  The good folks at Midwest Permaculture do a great job of explaining the concept and showing pictures here.

There’s some key permaculture concepts at play in chinampas.     There’s the edge effect; there’s more productivity where two ecosystems meet.   Due to the narrow layout of chinampas, just about the whole thing is land interacting with water.   The deep root system creates another edge for aquatic life and usually there are trees which create another ecosystem above.    This means that there’s a lot more potential for interaction between species than in one clearly defined ecosystem (i.e. in the middle of the water, a field, etc.).   On a practical level this diversity keeps pests in check.   If one species gets out of hand, there’s always going to be something there to prey on it, unlike a field of corn or something where there’s not much diversity.    The plant mix was diverse as well, so a potential pest would only have so much to feed on anyways.    Oh, being surrounded by water created a microclimate that had a moderating effect on temperatures too – it’s a little warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

Building a chinampa would’ve been a little labor intensive, at least more so than digging up the ground, but it saved labor in the long run.   There were no irrigation requirements as the surrounding water soaking in pretty much took care of that.   Once they were established it was just a matter of planting and picking.    On some chinampas they would build trellises between them where they would grow vines (squash, beans, whatever) over the water and harvest by boat.

So that’s the mile high view of chinampas.   A lot has been written about them and there’s a lot more that could be said about them.   On to Xochimilco…

Xochimilco is a town, I suppose a far-flung suburb of Mexico City even though as the crow flies it’s really not THAT far from the city center.    It takes about an hour and a half to get there from the city center – you take one subway line to the end of the line and link up with the above-ground train line that goes through the southern suburbs and Xochimilco is at the end of that line.   It’s not too difficult to get there, it just takes a little time.

The train station of Xochimilco is about a half mile from the boat docks (embarcaderos) and there’s signs guiding the tourist to these docks.   There are bicycle taxis that will take you there, but I decided to walk.    The town itself reminded me so much of Iraq to the point where it was almost kind of creepy.    The layout, the earthy colors of the buildings, narrow sidewalks, the kinds of businesses and the smell with almost exactly identical to the town that I was in there.   Even though it’s kind of a touristy place, it really didn’t look like it walking down the main drag.   I made it there late in the afternoon and figured that if I were out past nightfall, it would probably be a better idea to take one of those bicycle taxis to the station rather than walk through “real Mexico”.     To be fair, it did seem peaceful though.

I think I fell for one of their tricks.   When I got close to the docks, I turned and followed a sign.   An old man that was hanging out on the corner stopped me and pointed me down another block, which led to the first or second series of docks.   I guess these ones are the more expensive ones and they get a little cheaper the further you go down.   Oh well.   It cost about $25 US for some guy to spend an hour pushing my ass around some canals in a gondola.  Not a bad deal.

The canal system is lined by people’s homes, which was kind of cool.  People had little chinampas in their backyards and the gondoleer (?) pointed out a few different fruit trees.   I’m not fluent in Spanish, but good enough to have some very basic conversations so we didn’t talk too much about things.  I just asked about a few plants and he’d describe the fruits or whatever to me.

I only did a one hour tour, but if you pay more they will take you further out and show you more things of agricultural/botanical interest.    If I ever go back (and I’d like to), maybe I’d do that.     Although the parts I saw aren’t really used for agriculture, you could still feel how full of the life the place was an the effect on the microclimate from the trees and water.   There were a ton of ducks, fish and birds and everything was lush.   Oh, and floating mariachi bands.

The first time I read about this place was probably six years ago and I remember really being intrigued by it and put Mexico City on my “Hmm, maybe sometime” list of places to go and I’m glad I got to see the “Venice of the Americas”.   Although Xochimilco is more about floating around in a nice environment than showing permaculture in action, the permaculture background gave me a different perspective to see the place than the average tourist.   Anyways, here are a few photos:

A few other gondolas

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Someone’s backyard.   See the geese and the vines.

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Barking dogs

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Selfie

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I told you there were floating mariachi bands

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All of the boats have names and look kinda like this

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Prepper Pete Prepares by Kermit Jones, Jr.


 

 

I received this book for review several months ago and I’m long overdue on the review, sorry.    I heard an interview with the author Kermit Jones, Jr. on The Survival Podcast recently and was reminded about it.    It’s a children’s book about survivalism and preparedness loosely based on the ant and the grasshopper parable.

First, I think this book could be subtitled “Why Dad is So Weird”.   Although it’s a brief book (as children’s books tend to be, of course), it covers a lot of ground and introduces a lot of preparedness subjects.    At first glance I thought the mile wide, inch deep approach to just about every issue within the preparedness world was a weakness but the more I think about it, the more the book’s vagueness seems like a strength.   Kids are naturally inquisitive and a lot of ideas in the book probably wouldn’t be understood at first by young children, which would lead to questions and discussion between the parent and the kid(s).

I really think this is one that’s best read with the child as opposed to throwing them the book and expecting a child to figure it out.    When I try to think back to what I was like when I was a young child, I’m sure a lot of the material would be hard to completely grasp and I’m sure I’d have a lot of questions – which would be a good way for a parent to open up discussion on some of these things.   I don’t have kids so what do I know, but I figure that getting a kid to ask their own questions probably goes over better than trying to sit little Jimmy down and tell him about EMPs, economic collapses and shit.      Hell, when it came in the mail I opened it and read it with my then-new girlfriend and it led to a discussion about some of my preparedness measures.   We had talked about these things before, but I suppose it’s a pretty big step to show a girl your hoard of #10 cans of Mountain House, 5 gallon buckets of beans and grains and other things while explaining your theories on America’s gradual economic decline.   For those of you playing at home, she didn’t run off and agreed that it’s a good idea to store food and such.

I also think that if I saw this book when I was a kid, I’d think the pictures and the format was pretty cool.    I can see the value of a coherent story with preparedness themes (i.e. the ant and the grasshopper), but the pictures and descriptions of brass tacks things like gear and action would probably stimulate thought and imagination in a child more than abstract concepts.   For example, I remember watching the scene in Red Dawn where they load up on supplies before heading out to the mountains and thinking through in my head what I would want to take with me and why.   I think this book would have a similar effect.

This book has a few downsides for me.   First, I think some of the subject matter might be a little overwhelming, like bringing up solar flares, EMPs and plagues.   That just seems like a can of worms that is probably best saved for a little later on in life.   I also think that this is a book that should probably stay in the house – I can see a teacher freaking out if little Johnny brought this one to school.    Prepper Pete himself advises being discreet with prepping and I think a kid bringing this book to school would definitely raise some eyebrows and draw some unwanted attention.     I’ll say it again that I don’t have children so I’m a little out of the loop with children’s books, but my impression is that the style and format of the book appeals to a younger child (like early elementary) while the material seems geared towards older children (maybe late elementary).    I really don’t know if that’s a fair assessment of the book or if an older kid would write it off because it seems geared towards younger kids – I remember being touchy about that and my girlfriend’s seven year old daughter always likes to point out that she’s reading “chapter books” now.

I’m not sure if this was the author’s intention, but the book would have a lot of “kitsch” value for adult preppers.    I mean come on, it’s an ant that buys gold and keeps guns around to fend off looters.    I think anyone involved in this world with the ability to laugh at themselves would get a kick out of thumbing through it.   I know I did.

Fuck. Yes.

Fuck. Yes.

I guess there’s a series of Prepper Pete books, including one about gun safety.   If I can get my hands on them, I’ll review them too.

Catalonia Secession Updates

About a year ago I wrote something about the prospect of Catalonian Independence and a growing trend towards secession and political devolution in the world.   The regional parliament of Catalonia (in Spain – think Barcelona) has decided on putting out a referendum on November 9, 2014 where they ask two questions:   “Do you want Catalonia to be a state?” and “Should that state be independent?”.    A vote of yes and yes doesn’t mean that Catalonia would split away over night, but it would probably really get the ball rolling.

For what it’s worth, the government in Madrid has pretty much dismissed the motion by calling it unconstitutional and saying that the vote won’t be held…but some Catalonians are asking how can they stop it?   Send in the police or military?

Spain ‘won’t have enough tanks’: Catalonia to vote on independence , defy Madrid  

The article above briefly tackles that question by bringing up the fact that the Spanish military has been so scaled down that they don’t have the teeth in Madrid to put them down if they wanted to.    The poor economic climate and ineffective government that leads to weak institutions plays a large part in bringing about these kind of secessionist sentiments, so that’s kind of a double whammy.    We’ll see what happens between now and then.   As of right now, it sounds like la gente in Catalonia are about evenly split on the issue.

…and in another update   Separatist Spirit:   Catalonia Ditches Spanish King’s Christmas Speech

Catalonian public television decided to not air the King’s Christmas speech this year.   They say it was a brief worker’s strike to protest budget cuts and outsourcing and there’s probably truth to that.   The station said it was unrelated to the independence movement but it sounds like too much of a coincidence to not have anti-central government sentiments too it.    I can’t think of a direct apples-to-apples comparison, but this situation would be kind of similar to major TV networks in Texas (or any state) deciding to not play Obama’s State of the Union Address or something in response to something from Washington.   Kind of a bold statement, really.

Again, we’ll see what happens.    I don’t think Spain as we know is going to unravel this year or next or anything, but it’s interesting to watch the developments as things stay rough over there.   I recently met a guy that moved to Spain from Argentina after Argentina’s economic collapse and just moved from Spain to the US due to economic reasons, I should talk to him a little bit about the situation in Spain and his experiences.

It’s Getting Darker in Detroit – Half Of All Streetlights Out

Bankruptcy Casts Shadow over Detroit’s Plan to Fix Streetlights

I don’t think anyone is surprised that things are bad in Detroit, but after hearing this segment I got to thinking about a lot of the small things we take for granted in modern civilization…like street lighting.   Have you ever been in an urban environment without them?   It’s pretty fucking eerie.   The town in Iraq I was in didn’t have them and it was very unnerving until you got used to it.    People had fires sometimes outside their homes, lights from their houses or in some areas they’d string lights up on their own if it was a place of business.    I remember one section of street with North American-style street lighting for about half of a block on the edge of town and it was even more unnerving to see that.   I still have no idea what was special about that 100 feet or so.  It made me feel like I was walking down my parent’s cul-de-sac or something.

Detroit’s municipal government has been having financial issues for quite some time and I’ve seen a lot of stories of examples of how these issues have been surfacing there over the past few years.    I think the situation in Detroit is interesting because it’s a scenario of what happens when a large American city can’t kick the can down the road anymore.    The City of Detroit has lost out on a ton of tax revenues due to people jumping ship and a declining local economy.   Not a lot of people are falling all over themselves to pick up Detroit’s municipal bonds either, so they can’t just get a loan and figure it out later anymore….and there will probably come a day when the rest of the country can’t just get a loan and figure it out later anymore too.

Another thing that’s unfortunate for Detroit is that it’s not just that they can’t afford the light bill, it’s that a lot of the street lamps aren’t working because they’re old and in dire need of updates.    Neglect of course makes these things worse.   It’s easier and cheaper to maintain something than to completely replace it…but if you don’t have the money for maintenance and repairs, what can you do?

The True Spirit of Halloween

I came across this photo series the other day when someone posted it on Facebook:

Halloween was so much WEIRDer back then

It’s a series of vintage Halloween photos from presumably the Depression-era (or thereabouts).   All of the costumes are home-spun and pretty damn creepy looking.  The folky and agrarian settings of the pictures really make me think of the “true meaning” of Halloween.    Sometimes it’s hard to think about the holiday’s deeper roots amidst the plastic Chinese-made costumes of mass-marketed superheroes and fun-sized Snickers bars, but I try to at least take note of the significance of the day one way or another.   Too many of our holidays have been watered down to the point where they don’t really mean much besides what you consume that day.  Come on,  “Turkey Day”, for fuck’s sake???

Anyways, in the British Isles Halloween (All Hallow’s Eve, Samhain, whatever) more or less marked the end of the growing season and about the midpoint between the autumn equinox and winter solstice, so roughly the beginning of the point of the year where nights are longer than the day.     It was like a day that straddles both life and death and a lot of folklore and traditions sprung up around this idea.    We could go on and on about the roots of the holiday, but I won’t.   It is very interesting though.

I always like to take note of the  seasonal significance of the day to our ancestors, even if these things don’t really matter as much to us today as they did then.  It’s nice to live in a place where you can observe the changes of the season and how life seems to hit a lull about now.   Birds migrate, leaves fall, plants die back, animals hibernate, etc.

Culturally, as someone of almost entirely descended from the British Isles as well as mostly rural America, I really think of the day as part of my personal cultural legacy as the holiday began across the pond and really caught on in America when it was brought over.   It’s distinctly British/Celtic, yet very American.     I think the Americana/Celtic aspect of Halloween is very cool and something that deserves a closer look.

I always try to make a point to eat some of the foods that (in my head) would’ve been consumed hundreds of years ago during a seasonal feast.   Usually that’s something like lamb, roasted root vegetables or a Welsh cawl stew (which is lamb and root vegetables) and since I’m a sucker for pumpkin stuff, maybe pumpkin pie.    This year I’m thinking it’s going to be roasted goat leg, braised leeks and potatoes.

I have to work on Halloween, but I’ll probably celebrate tonight by taking the time to sit down and watch a good horror movie after I take my dogs out for the midnight stroll.  I don’t make enough time to sit still and watch TV much anymore, so that is a special treat sometimes.   I’m not sure what yet, but I really like the classics….

So yeah, I enjoy fun-sized candy bars and girls in revealing costumes as much as anyone, but I also like the traditional folky aspect of the holiday too.    I had a pretty good time with all the Halloween-related festivities this weekend:   A Descendents cover band, a band doing Misfits karaoke on Friday and then a band doing a Ramones set in costumes and one doing the Misfits on Saturday.     I never really got into the Misfits, but I’ll definitely agree that they’re a great Halloween band.   Oh yeah, and the girl I’ve been seeing in the cheerleader outfit was pretty nice too.

 

Russia To Build North Korean Rail Line

Putin Builds North Korea Rail To Circumvent Suez Canal

I thought this was kind of interesting.   Russia is working on developing rail through North Korea in order to have a decent rail line between the Far East and Europe (which passes through Russia, of course).   There’s also something buried in there about Russian gas and oil being piped into Korea and the story of Russian gas and oil is another interesting geopolitical one.

The article makes it clear that this rail line isn’t going to replace oversea shipping, but in some cases it will be a better option than shipping via the sea, such as specialty orders.   While it may not be THAT significant, it’s definitely an example of the focus of the world economy shifting a little eastward bit-by-bit.    Russia has already written off anything beyond phoned-in cooperation with the West and is beginning to focus more on Central Asia and China as far as military, political and economic cooperation.     Kind of an interesting development considering they spent several decades hating each other in one of the world’s more bizarre rivalries.   I never completely understood the USSR vs. PRC stand-off, there has to be more to it beyond each side thinking the other was doing Communism wrong.     Anyways, sometime in the future I want to write/podcast about the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (involving Russia and China) because I think it’s a big story that pretty much got overlooked by the hoi polloi here.

There’s also a quote in the article about Russia believing that getting North Korea involved in the world one way or another will be a good step towards peace.    They’re probably right.    I don’t think anyone is 100% sure on how to handle North Korea though.    In a recent article I wrote about American exceptionalism I said that I thought Putin & Russia saved the day on Syria and it would be kind of interesting if they ended up being the ones to crack North Korea too.    I’m not suggesting that this act will do that, but it’s something.

I also think it’s interesting that we don’t really think about things like trade routes, oil pipelines and other supply chains in our day-to-day lives,  but they’re a huge deal in the world.    We just count on what we need being there and usually that’s what happens, one way or another.   When you start looking into these things a lot of the world’s conflicts start to make a little more sense.

 

 

The Russia Left Behind

The Russia Left Behind

I stumbled on this article today about life in some of the rural areas in the 400ish mile stretch between Moscow and St. Petersburg.    I’ve heard horror stories from a friend that lives in St. Petersburg about what life is like in some of Russia’s rural villages and this article seems to confirm it.    I think it’s kind of interesting to see what things look like in an industrialized country when fuel and capital is scarce and there’s little to no government assistance.    My friend told me that one of the big problems in the countryside is that when something breaks, it often doesn’t get fixed.   You can’t just run down to Home Depot and get whatever it is you need, even if you have the Rubles.  Apparently there’s still destruction from World War II that hasn’t been dealt with in some parts of Russia.

It’s kind of an interesting article.   With Uncle Sugar shut down right now, it got me thinking about what life would look like in some parts of the country if medicaid, disability checks, social security and agricultural subsidies stopped flowing.    Would it start to resemble some of the places in this article?

The Destruction of the Domestic Meth Industry

Today on my way home from work I heard NPR say something about 90% of meth in the US comes from Mexico, which blew my mind.   I’m really not sure what to make of that, but I’m going to shoot from the hip with some of my thoughts.

Meth has been a big problem in Iowa for a long time to the point where I thought I lived near the Napa Valley of meth production.   About a decade or more ago I remember low-rent gas stations selling “first aid kits”, which were basically all of the over the counter ingredients to make meth.   I also remember that when you were walking around in certain neighborhoods, occasionally you’d come across a funny smelling garage.    Farmers had to lock up their liquid fertilizers and law enforcement would take the helicopters out to see if they could find meth labs out in the country.   My grandmother had the authorities come to check out some junk she had in the back of her property because they thought it could be a meth lab (it wasn’t).      A lot of lives have been ruined by it and the meth head archetype is pretty well burned into our local psyche at this point – we see them everywhere.

The fact that the domestic meth industry is against the ropes but the Mexican meth producers are filling the void is another example of how the war on drugs is a failed endeavor and we’re probably worse off having Mexican drug cartels involved than a few “rednecks” out in the woods.    I’m not saying that meth should be legal or that it’s more desirable when it’s locally sourced I just think it makes a bad situation worse when you have Mexican drug cartels involved.

I also think that meth related problems don’t get a lot of national attention, probably because it seems to be more of a flyover country problem than anything.  It’s interesting that it’s not in pop culture the same way crack was in the early 90’s (i.e. lots of rappers mentioned it, a few mainstream movies about it, etc.).   There’s been a few B movies about it (like Iowa, a shitty film about making meth in rural Iowa) but you never hear about say, some nu-metal band singing about it.

I think if you look deeper at this, there’s shades of a rural-urban, red state – blue state, etc. divide here.    I feel like when we have discussions about poverty and social issues at the national level, they mainly focus on major urban centers.   No one really cares about little Jimmy in a place like Southern Iowa and his dead end $7.50 an hour job and meth addiction or the slew of small towns/lower-class neighborhoods that have been ruined by meth.

Just a few random thoughts on a rainy fall night spent thinking about meth.    I’d like to write more about this later.

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