Expatriates: A Novel of the Coming Collapse by James Wesley Rawles

Total CEO Calls for Bigger Euro Role in Oil Payments

Total CEO Calls for Bigger Euro Role in Oil Payments

I’m a couple weeks behind on this one.   It’s been a busy month.  Recently French-owned Total CEO Christophe de Margerie made public statements about his desire to use Euros in oil transactions instead of/in addition to US dollars.   At the face it sounds unassuming enough, but if Total and others begin moving away from using the US dollar in trade it means a lower demand for the dollar.   That means our dollars will be worth less in the world.   There will be a lower demand for our debt abroad, which means borrowing at higher rates and the potential for government debt held to come back home and cause inflation.     While this one situation doesn’t exactly spell doom and gloom, there are a handful of other things going on in the world right now that are a threat to the US dollar’s hegemony in the world and the petrodollar system….and this could be one.

For as important as the petrodollar system is the US economy and as much understanding it explains things about the world economy and US foreign policy, I’m surprised we don’t hear much about it.     Jerry Robinson at Follow The Money (ftmdaily.com) put out a great write-up about the petrodollar system and overall does a great job keeping up on current events that relate to the petrodollar system.     Find the report here



GMO Corn and The Effect on Tires

 Where Ag Tires Fear to Tread

The debate/discussion about the effects of genetically modified crops on human health and on the environment is well-worn territory, but last night I heard about an effect of GMO corn and soy that’s new to me – it’s causing a lot of damage to tractor tires.

Corn and bean stalks have been genetically altered to be sturdier to withstand wind and insect damage.   Machinery has also been cutting stalks closer to the ground (perhaps to get a little bit more for the ethanol industry???) which means that the tires are usually going over the stubble rather than knocking it down.   The article describes the short and hard stalks as like pieces of rebar in the ground that will occasionally chip and even puncture a tractor tire.

If you’ve never seen a tractor tire up close they are very, very dense and it’s not easy to puncture one.    Corn stalks are normally fairly hard and when you have a short piece sitting in the ground stabilized by the root system for a 6′ stalk, yeah, that can be pretty formidable.

The ag tire industry is kicking around ways to strengthen tires, such as kevlar, new synthetic rubber compounds and steel belts.   People will pay for quality, but these things will add a lot of extra costs to the tire.  Remember we’re talking about something that weighs 300lbs and up, so there’s a lot of raw material costs plus labor – the process of making one of these tires is probably a little more involved that most people would imagine.  I suppose if it works it beats buying more tires that don’t last as long.

I’m not sure what the economic impact of damage to agricultural tires actually is, but it should be taken into consideration when looking at the pro’s and con’s of GMO’s.      Not only are we creating “super bugs” and “super weeds” by the widespread use of GMO’s, looks like we need to create “super tires” too.

Solving The World’s Food Dilemma in Five Steps

Solving The World’s Food Dilemma in Five Steps

No shit!

Ok, so this article is a summary of five points and I’m sure that a lot of the meat & potatoes (or, uh, whatever the efficient foods going forward will be) of the original author’s papers have been omitted for the sake of brevity.    My first reaction was that it reminded me of one of those “10 steps to save money” articles full of no-brainers like “pack your lunch”, “stop going to Starbuck’s” and “cancel cable”, but I know that’s an unfair assessment and a lot of people might not understand these ideas at first, even if they seem obvious.

A little more brief:

1.   Freeze agriculture’s footprint

2.  Grow more on what we have

3.   Use resources more efficiently

4.   Shift diets

5.  Reduce waste

All valid points and they tie in with each other.

#1.    The solution isn’t plowing up more land and keep on the same track.   There’s not a lot of land left (in general) and when we destroy wilderness areas we lose the biodiversity that’s necessary to life and can even affect climate patterns (see:  desertification).   Doing more of the same isn’t the answer.

#2.   Grow more on what we have.   My backyard garden has much more food value than a similar patch of corn or soybeans.   A LOT can be done with a little.  It just takes a bit of creativity.   Although industrial agriculture is based on maximum efficiency, it really isn’t.  If we hit a situation where we can’t rely as heavily on the mechanization of agriculture, we’ll find that out quickly.    Check out a permaculture food forest, Native American “three sisters” gardening, square foot/biointensive gardening for examples of making the best use of space and human energy.

3.  Use resources more efficiently.   The demand for food is rising as the world’s population rises, but we’re not seeing a corresponding increase in energy production, mineral mining needed for fertilizers and water availability (see: aquifer depletion and again, desertification).   It seems like there’s a good case for just about every resource that we’re hitting a peak.   Peak everything.   We’re going to have to learn to do more with less.   I’d really recommend the documentary “The Power of Community:  How Cuba Survived Peak Oil” to understand this challenge.

4.  Shift diets.   California lettuce and Chilean grapes in the winter aren’t sustainable due to #3.   We should be eating closer to home and with the seasons.   Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy coffee, chocolate, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, cotton, bananas, oranges, rubber and all kinds of other things can’t grow in Iowa as much as the next guy but we could do a much better job of producing things locally if we as consumers opened ourselves up to these things.   In the realm of fruit there’s enough variety that could be grown here that would cover basically the whole growing season.    Most people only have a few vegetables they’ll eat and are unaware/uninterested in things that do well around them.   In the world of meat, most Americans would turn up their noses at eating goat, although that’s extremely efficient (and quite tasty, might I add).   To steal a thought from Joel Salatin, the idea that you can get a chicken breast sandwich with lettuce and tomato on it on almost any busy intersection in the country at any time of the year should be a little troubling.

5.   Reduce waste.   Yeah, we throw away a lot of stuff that we shouldn’t.   Right now food is so cheap, plentiful and easy to procure that we really don’t think twice about throwing something out.   As the world’s food dilemma starts to become more visible in the good ol’ US of A for the above-mentioned reasons, we might start having to consider making the best use of what we have.   This starts in the kitchen and a curse of the world being so damn convenient for us is that we’ve lost these skills.  Milk is about to go sour?  Turn it into yogurt.  Have some chicken bones left over?   Soup tomorrow night.   Stale bread?  Bread pudding.  The list goes on.    This will also take a huge effort from institutional food providers and restaurants as well as a paradigm shift from the patron/diner.   There’s a fly in your soup?  The waiter will fish it out for you.   Watching the amount of food that gets thrown away at a restaurant, cafeteria, etc. at every meal is staggering.   I always think of things in terms of resource inputs, so this really blows my mind sometimes.

So let’s hope that these five steps that seem like they should be obvious become obvious to everyone.   After writing this it looks like a lot of the changes that need to be made really start with the consumer and the household in our eating habits and our attitudes towards food.   It’s easier to make the transition now than to be forced into something worse later.



Recounting The Horrific Last Days of My Bees

So the other weekend I spent a few hours scraping comb out of my hives, washing them and sitting them out in the sun.   It’s a job I’ve put off for a few weeks because well, it’s not a very rewarding one.   Maybe it’s the “walk of shame” for a beekeeper.

As I mentioned earlier, there’s estimates that 70% of the state of Iowa’s commercial beehives (and who knows about the wild bees) would die off this spring due to the harsh winter and all the complications that brings.   I figured that 70% was about right when one hive died and the other one looked like it was hit hard, but still alive.   After a week or two, that other hive died.   I was hoping it would pull through so I could build back up both hives over time.

Anyways, it looks like the final days for both hives were pretty grim.   They had a disease called nosema which is basically like dysentery for bees and would be pretty common in a year like this.   A healthy hive can get over it, but it can take down a weak hive.    Kind of like how diarrhea is a big deal in parts of the third world but not so much here.

Last year wasn’t exactly a banner year for collecting nectar, so I don’t think the hives grew as much as they should’ve.   I did some supplemental feeding, but I probably should’ve done more during the year.   It looks like starvation was also a problem.   Both hives had honey stores left over at the end of the year, but I read that the weather was causing the bees to break their cluster during the winter and get separated from the food supplies.   I imagine this took a toll on both hives.  I found dead bees inside empty combs, which is usually a sign of them trying to get the last bit from the comb.

I’m sure mites added to the misery too.  Kind of like with nosema, it’s not as big of a deal when everything else is going fine but in the weakened state, they can really wreak havoc in a hive.

Right now I’m saying I want to try again next year, but we’ll see how things pan out.   They were fun to have around and having bees is a hell of a conversation piece.

On the subject of bees dying, I’m still not seeing anywhere near as many bees as I used to and right now my garden looks like a pollinator’s paradise.   I should take some pictures, I love when it looks like it does now.   I’m curious to see how things are going to turn out (squashes, tomatoes, etc.) with so few pollinators out right now.

On another note of declining insect populations, I have a bunch of family in town from Nevada right now.    The last time a cousin (or whatever she is) was in Iowa was probably in the late 80’s and one of the memories we both have from her visit was catching lightening bugs….and there were a shit load of them lighting up the sky back then.  They don’t have them in Nevada, so it was quite the novelty.   She brought her 6 year old daughter with her this time and told her about the lightening bugs.   They actually had to look hard for them where they used to be impossible to miss whenever you’d step outside around dusk.  I’m not seeing anywhere near as many of them as I used to.   I’m not sure exactly what niche they fill in nature, but I imagine some of the same factors that are taking a toll on the bees are working on them too.   Kind of a scary situation when you look at what’s going on in the insect kingdom.

Growing Kiwis in Iowa

photo(1) photo(3)

Most people think that kiwis are a tropical fruit, but really they come from the temperate part of Siberia (think North Korea and the northern part of Japan).   New Zealand, famous for kiwis, isn’t even a very tropical place.    There are varieties that are better in warmer climates, but also a few that thrive in cooler climates down to USDA Zone 3, like Arctic Beauty (which are what mine are).     I’m in the middle of Zone 5.

I believe this is their fourth season.   Under ideal conditions they would have produced fruit a year or two earlier and have more growth but we had some late frost the past couple of years that stunted them.   This year they’re going nuts with growth.   So far it’s been a good spring as far as rainfall and temperatures go, so pretty much everything is doing fine.

There’s only a handful of kiwis on the plant.  I suppose I should say that the kiwi on the left is male and the right is female.  Only the females  produce fruit, but you need a male for pollination….and I suppose I should say it’s been a really bad year for pollination because both of my beehives died and I’m not seeing anywhere near as many bees as I normally do.   The male is a little bushier in its growth habit, but part of that is the fact there’s a raspberry plant that decided to grow there and it makes it look like it’s bushier.   That raspberry is a volunteer from the guy across the fence’s plants – they’re really good black raspberries.   I planted another female Arctic Beauty kiwi on another leg of that pergola a month ago.

I think growing stuff like this is fun to grow because not everyone has kiwis in their backyard and I’ve been playing around more lately with things that are suited for this climate but not widely grown (aronia, seaberry, gojis, etc.).   Really it’s kind of sad that most people usually only eat a handful of different fruits that usually come in from thousands of miles away when there’s a ton of things that can be grown locally if we A. grow them and B. open up to the idea of consuming them.    Don’t get me wrong, I like bananas and other things that come from the other side of the world, but I think we would all be better off in a lot of ways if we would open up to some of the things we can grow close to home.



That Bowe Bergdahl Guy

So the story of “Sergeant” Bowe Bergdahl has been all over the past week or two and it’s one of the more bizarre ones to come out of the Global War on Terrorism experience.    No need to rehash the details.    I would actually think about this guy every so often and I’m surprised that the bullshit flag never really went up for me on this story.    You’d think that if this guy was really legitimately captured and held by the Taliban, they would turn it into a bigger deal a la the Jessica Lynch deal during the invasion instead of just mentioning him in passing once every year or so.

Anyways, a few random thoughts on the situation

–  Yeah, the guy sounded like a weirdo.

–   I doubt that Obama had much to do with it other than saying “uhh, yeah, ok” and I’m sure motives were more political than anything, but I think the this-guy-for-five-Taliban-guys swap reflects well on the US Armed Forces.   It sucks that this is how they had to do it, but at the end of the day they got him back, even if he was a shithead.   Instead of saying “fuck him, he’s a deserter/traitor”, they’re upholding their end of the bargain and not leaving him behind and reviewing the case instead of just taking it at face value and leaving him with the wolves.    If it turns out his conduct was correct (which I doubt), on with life.   If not, administer justice.    Sometimes all the little things that we would say make us exceptional as Americans (in this case, due process, innocent til proven guilty, value of the individual, etc.) aren’t comfortable but that’s when these things matter the most.

– There’s something out there about how this guy was teaching the Taliban bomb making and infantry tactics.   Bullshit.   There’s nothing this boot knew that they didn’t.

–  Part of what apparently made him snap was the treatment of Afghani nationals by American/Allied personnel.    Yeah, I can definitely empathize with that one.    Sadism runs rampant in these situations and I’ll just leave that one there.


1,418 Days in Hell: Soviet Union’s Great Patriotic War in Pictures

1,418 Days in Hell:   Soviet Union’s Great Patriotic War in Pictures

The Russian world just celebrated Victory Day on May 9, commemorating the surrender of Nazi Germany in World War II.   A friend of mine who lives in Russia now describes World War II as “Russia’s state religion”.    This is a big deal over there and a huge part of the national psyche.

I thought this was a cool series of photos about the Soviet war experience.   One of the reoccuring themes in my Wolverines:  Reflections on Red Dawn book is that during the Cold War we were face to face with a society that had a strong collective history of suffering and endurance through some of the most adverse conditions imaginable.   Not just in World War II, but pretty much intertwined throughout Russian history.     Things got rough sometimes for our military during the World Wars, but American civilians were largely immune from the horrors of war (and still are).    All things considered, we had a very comfortable 20th Century and Russia had anything but.

During the height of the Cold War (and today), the average Russian would have had grown up hearing stories from relatives on suffering and could still see the damage from war around them.   The kinds of things they would’ve heard would make grandma’s stories about only being able to buy a couple tin cans of peas a week during the war seem pretty trivial.   Would the American public have the mettle to make the kinds of sacrifices needed to win a total war?    As we continue to poke the Russian bear and others around the world today, would we have the mettle as a society to stomach the kinds of burdens that a major conflict would bring about?    Death, resource scarcity, cyber attacks, economic warfare, etc?     I don’t know…

Colony Collapse Disorder Hits Close To Home

Ok, I don’t know if it’s exactly “colony collapse disorder” but one of my two beehives died last week and the other one took a beating and is way down.    The state apiarist estimates (tongue twister?) that 70% of the hives in the state will die this year due to the stressful winter…and it was a brutal one.   Not only was the winter rough, the past couple of years have been hard on bee colonies due to drought.

I’m watching my other hive to see how they’re doing.   I’ll probably crack into it again next week and see if they’re reproducing and do whatever I can do to make things a little more comfortable for them.  I didn’t do much supplemental feeding last year, but I’ll probably give them some sugar water to help out.   Hopefully the hive will be able to build itself back up and I’ll be able to split off and rebuild the other one.

It seems like colony collapse disorder and the general plight of the pollinating insects has gotten a lot of mileage on social media and such over the past year or two.   It is good that people are starting to care, but I think sometimes the focus is a little off target.  Yeah, reposting something about how evil Monsanto and pesticides are isn’t a bad thing and there should be discussions about these things, but in the meantime please plant something that benefits pollinators.    Seedum, sage, mints, clover, whatever.

Since seeing my bees die, realizing I have a ton of plants that need pollinators, having a girlfriend into prairie plants and talking with a guy who’s raison d’etre is planting milkweed for the dwindling monarch butterfly populations, the idea of creating better environments for bees (and other important insects) has been on my mind.   I know there’s all kinds of doomsday scenarios thrown around about the demise of the bees (and yeah, they really are that important) but it just feels a little more real as I’m pulling handfuls of dead bees out of my hives.

Also, I have to say it was really cool this winter to look outside on sunny days above freezing and seeing the bees getting out of the hive.   It was good to know that they’re still there.    It sucks that they had to suffer through a colder-than-usual Iowa winter stuffed up inside a wood box in my backyard just to die once everything started the flower and the good times were ready to roll.    See you in Valhalla, little bees.



Brushing Your Teeth With Sewer Water in Texas

Brushing Teeth With Sewer Water Next Step as Texas Faces Drought

So the hydrologic cycle in Wichita Falls, Texas just got a little shorter and they’re treating sewage water directly and putting it back into the municipal water system.   Honestly, it’s probably a little less disturbing than it sounds and someone interviewed in the article makes a good point that all of the water we use was someone else’s toilet water at some point (see:  water cycle).   At the end of the day every drop of water was probably brontosaurus piss at some point.   Still, the important thing here is that the city of Wichita Falls (pop. around 100,000 so it’s good-sized) is at the point where they have to make these uncomfortable decisions to get water.

Wichita Falls is in the Texas panhandle and situated on top of the Ogallala Aquifer, a giant underground sea below the American Great Plains.   This vast reserve of water has made commercial agriculture possible in this arid region.   I’m not sure exactly how to word this, but it’s also made civilization possible in the region.   I struggle with how to word this because of course there were bands of American Indian tribes there before we came and as of now it’s the most sparsely populated region of the Continental 48 but I think you know what I mean.    If you look at a map of the US at night, notice how once you get past Lincoln, Nebraska and Dallas, TX you don’t really see much besides a string of lights along interstates and a few little dots here and there:



Anyways, the water in this ancient aquifer is being used up at a rate that far surpasses the rate it replenishes.  Most of this water is used for ranching and row crops and there’s big problems on the horizon for the region (and perhaps the country/world) when it gets to the point where they can’t use the water anymore.   There’s already towns on the fringes of the aquifer that have basically “dried-up” as the shoreline (?) has shrank and left them high & dry.

When I was in Iraq there was a guy in my platoon who was from Western Nebraska.   Really smart guy, he had a degree in aeronautical engineering and a great analytical mind.   He told me about some of the problems of the region and I remember one of the more PG conversations we all had was “what should Western Nebraska do? (or really anywhere in the high plains)”.   That’s a tough question and one I still think about from time to time with no good answer besides pack up shop and let the bison come back.   Although that’s probably the best solution I can come up with, that’s one of the most difficult ones to swallow in our growth-orientated culture.     I’d like to tackle the issue of the aquifer deeper sometime.

The past couple of years have been rough on that part of Texas and really the whole Great Plains/Midwest area due to drought.   The thing about drought is that the misery can compound itself by affecting vegetation and soil quality the next year and continue to make things worse.    If water tables are lower and vegetation and soil quality are down from last year’s drought, this effects of this year’s drought is only going to be worse.    This of course makes the region’s agricultural products (grain, cattle, cotton, etc.) a little more dear.   The situation gets worse when you consider a few other major grain producing regions have been in a drought too.     I know phrases along the lines of “if you don’t believe there’s inflation, go to the grocery store” have been thrown around a lot in alt-media circles, but I’ve REALLY started to notice food prices climbing this year.

While the particular situation of Wichita Falls using sewage water is probably more disturbing than truly alarming,  it does seem like something where mother nature is kicking back a bit after people living on the wrong side of the land’s true carrying capacity for too long.     Even if this part of the world has a good rainy season this year, it still doesn’t solve some of the long term problems associated with the overuse of water for commercial agriculture and human settlement in this arid regions.

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