Saturday, May 31, 2008


from Murph

Looking at today’s political climate, I become dismayed by the seemingly harsh boundary of seemingly insolvable differences between the self proclaimed liberals and conservatives. I come upon written material over and over purporting one stance or the other. I engage in conversations that are much the same. There simply seems to be no meeting grounds between the two extremes.

As all of you steady readers at this site should be aware by now, I call myself a conservative, not a republican, not a neocon, not a liberal, not a democrat, not a libertarian. When I sit down and seriously try and define exactly what that means I get all bogged down in the devils details and what this would look like in our society. No easy answers there as far as I can see.

Whatever the two major parties originally stood for in the past sure doesn’t seem to be what they have morphed into today. Both parties today are heavy into social engineering, promoting fear of a variety of threats and promoting the great concept of never ending expansion, growth and protection of primarily big corporations. Of course, protection of big corporations is a direct result of the big corporations controlling the elections process and the seeming willingness of the population to be led around by their nose rings (the media). Without support from the corporations and big money boyz, you can’t get elected, you wouldn’t stand a chance. Witness Ron Paul’s attempt. Despite his grass roots support, he can’t garner anything like 20% of the vote to this point. So both parties are beholding to the big money people, and opposing them today is a good way to become politically marginalized and even killed.

We have talked endlessly about the agenda of the big money people, that is, global control. They sure seem to be well on their way to realizing that goal and there seems to be no controlling influence to this end in sight.

Another political term that comes up frequently is ‘progressive’. If you Google ‘progressive politics’ and go to the Wikipedia discussion of it, you will get a fairly good idea of what this term refers to. I will admit that it has a good feel to it, but---. The same applies to “conservative politics’, ‘democratic politics’, ‘republican’ and ‘democrat’. Essentially, there does not seem to be universal agreement at all concerning what these terms stand for nor how they actually are applied to governance. What we are left with is personal interpretation and looking at what will provide the greatest advantage to us individually and for society as a whole, if the individual is even concerned with society as a whole. Even the terms of ‘justice’, ‘equity’ and ‘fairness’ have no consensus.

Culturally, the American people have prided themselves on such ambiguous terms as fairness, friendliness, compassion and justice, conveniently forgetting the destruction and killing that has been the deliberate policies of our government with the popular support from the very beginning of this country. More often than not, these terms have traditionally been liberally applied internally, but only sporadically applied externally at a cultural level.

The term most often misused throughout out the total political spectrum is ‘freedom’, which I find raises far more question in its application than it answers. Our pact with the governing body in this country attempted to define it, and in some ways rather explicitly via the Bill of Rights. Obviously, this was not written in stone, and has been violated more or less throughout our history. We are always confronted with the question; freedom to do what and what are the legitimate restrictions on freedom? It seems to me that those questions are always answered in the context of what one has to gain and the particular value system individually and culturally we hold at the time. Political parties are constantly morphing their definition of freedom, and because power rests within the structure of government and political parties, the definition is always to the benefit of those in power. You might also observe that whatever definitions of freedom are used, that it is applied unequally across society. If you are already wealthy and powerful, you have the freedom to do all kinds of activities that are injurious to others with little to no consequences. The same activities by those further down the social ladder are heavily punished.

So here is where I make my assertions. All of the above reinforces my conviction that the whole of 19th and 20th century political parties have been for naught in this country, and applies to other countries as well. Due to the large societies involved, there never was and never will be agreement about how to organize society and having a consistent view about what that will look like in actuality. The only way I can see to have a consistent and workable and sustainable society is to make it small and have unanimous agreement on how to run it. That means a lot of small autonomous groups from which the general population chooses to live with based on individual value systems. There could be a larger overseeing group involved with a very strictly defined activity of general protection of these autonomous groups. In some ways, I think that our constitution originally envisioned something more along that line to begin with. Instead, what we have developed into is a very homogenous, relatively non diversified society. Despite our regional differences, a Wal Mart is a Wal Mart and a Dunkin Donuts is a Dunkin Donuts no matter where you go. For the most part, housing is boringly similar no matter where you go in this country. All this is due to corporate intrusion into this social organization. Mass marketing of sameness makes money and we are constantly bombarded with advertisement encouraging this sameness that we call consumerism.

I will assume that the people that frequent this site are all aware of the apparent direction our country is going, that is, greater and greater social control, every decreasing rights and choices, greater homogenization of the society and an every widening disparity of living standards wherein the very few have much and the rest have little. Our political parties advocate nothing nor pursue no policies to reverse this. This all points to a rather dismal future for most of society.

No political party wants to really address a concept of ‘social responsibility’ in this country. Instead, when the term is used at all, it seems to be more a platitude than anything substantive. The society at large can’t agree on it either so I guess we can’t expect the political parties to carefully define it either. No one really wants to start addressing whether ‘social responsibility’ should be the concern of government. We bat around such terms as universal health care, universal education, universal housing and a bunch of other terms that imply government concern in these areas. Isn’t it amazing that humans have survived so long without these concerns ever being totally addressed? Yes, there are countries that have attempted to address these concerns, with some varying results. It is my observation that without exception, the results of government intrusion in these areas has spurred widespread corruption within the government and widespread homogenization of the society despite whatever benefit may be perceived. It has been presented to me that this is entirely natural and to be accepted as a means to a general benefit to the population. My idealism on this subject says bull shit. I have been accused of being totally impractical and not accepting the reality of organized societies. I would rather say that I would much prefer to live in a society where freedoms are maximized, for the most part government stays out of society’s endeavors, we punish the abusers of this separation with a vengeance and end this concept of a corporation being the same as a person. I also advocate that it is absolutely forbidden, with extreme penalties, the obstruction of anyone else’s freedoms. That includes the freedom to breath unpolluted air, eat unpolluted food and clean water.

I think that to a large extent people fail to realize that almost any system of governance in its idealistic form works pretty well. It is when the corruption of the system occurs that people do not get their needs met. Even the dreaded S (socialism) word works fairly well at times and in some locations. Sweden and Norway are some examples. In any case, when population overshoots, or becomes complacent about their government, it seems to always become corrupted and damaging to the greater society. At the basis of this corruption it seems that idealization of the wealthy and powerful is the first step to that corruption. Of course, egalitarianism is an anathema to rugged individualism and is a necessity for sustainability for the long haul. Regard the largely egalitarian groups like the Amish.

If indeed the American empire collapses and western civilization goes down, we definitely will need to have a new means of social organization and governance. What that will look like makes good science fiction.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


by Murph

I am reasonably sure that everyone that comes to this site is aware of the concept of peak oil, that is, the maximum production of crude oil world wide, and it infers that from that point on, there will be less oil extracted from the ground.

Lately, I have been running into information about peak oil that is casting some question about its validity. I recently had this site sent to me;

It is a long movie, around 75 minutes, of a lecture by Lindsy Williams who allegedly spent a number of years at the Alaska oil operations and wrote a book debunking peak oil. This lecture was delivered to The Granada Forum. Williams is a Baptist preacher that spent much of his time as a missionary. I gathered that he was figuring to take the word of God to those poor men working in the oil fields and add their souls to the list of saved. In the lecture, he didn’t mention how successful he was at this. The lecture was concerned with what he learned from the few years he was there. He says that he learned that there is enough oil in Alaska to supply the U.S. for 200 years at our present rate of usage. He says that the oil find has been squelched by the government because if they started pumping oil that the price would drop dramatically and cause the immediate collapse of the American economy. He further maintains that the cost of extraction alone domestically is $3 per barrel and the cost of extraction alone in Arab oil fields is $5 per barrel. He also maintains that the high price of oil enabled the World Bank and the IMF to forgive the 3rd world countries their debt by having us pay for it through this high price. He also says that the World Bank owns the entire Amazon basin, where they have oil. Williams quotes a lot of other statistics but the whole emphasis was that there is a whole lot more oil available for domestic production than the government will admit to, namely that the oil available in Alaska exceed the size of the Arab oil fields.

Williams delivers his lecture in the style of a Baptist preacher and the whole thing could have been condensed down to 30 minutes. If you sit down and think about what he said and hopefully took some notes on it, there are a bunch of questions he never talks about. Give it a listen and see what you think. He claims that he was taken into the confidence of the big oil executives and they told him all of this stuff. Does that make sense to you?

Richard Heinberg has a post up concerning abiotic oil that is interesting.

In this article he contends that the abiotic oil people simply have not proven their case, and sites a lot of data to warrant his attack.

I also found an interesting article on the genesis of oil.

Here is another article concerning abiotic oil

Here is an article by John Hofmeister oil executive who says Matt Simmons is dead wrong about peak oil.

Among the problems facing this tired old world, I for one have no desire to spend time being concerned with something that is not true. But, this whole peak oil controversy is a mute point in my view. Even if there is 500 years of oil available, so what? The PTB seemingly are restricting the availability of the stuff and it might as well be peak oil in fact. I presume you are aware of the current prices for gas and the downward statitics for extraction and the loss of refineries in this country. Down from over 300 in the 80’s to less than 150 today. Another point; unless abiotic oil is for real, it is still a finite resource and to continue the escalating usage of it to build an empire means that when we do run out of extractable oil, it will just be that much worse in the future.

I have the view that the worst thing that could happen for this world is the finding of large quantities of crude oil that could be extracted easily. Do we really want to continue destroying the environment and peoples lives with the stuff? It most assuredly appears to me that as long as oil is plentiful that is exactly what will happen and the world’s population will just keep on increasing. Of course, this is not even beginning to talk about peak everything else either. 500 years of oil will not provide fresh water for agriculture. So many of the world’s populations seem to think that humans can live in an entirely self contained sterile world and the environment and all it contains be damned. But oh what the hell, two alternatives here. Use up everything on this earth trying to raise everybody to the same living standards of the U.S. and Europe or depress everybody to third world living standards or below with the elites in charge of it all.

You will notice that none of the presidential candidates seem willing to address these kinds of problems. It’s still business as usual for all of them. We are doomed either way I tell you, doomed!!

Saturday, May 10, 2008


By Murph

If you haven’t read Kunstler’s book “A WORLD MADE BY HAND” you might want to get hold of a copy. It has managed to stir up some interesting debates.

Freeacre’s instant criticism was the demeaning and non dimensional role of women in a post apocalyptic age, for which I must agree. There are numerous web sites that have been critical of the novel, and for much the same reason. Here is one of the better analysis of that book that I have come across. The comments on the article and the book are also interesting. On Kunstler’s web site, he answers some of those criticisms which, frankly, I find to be fatuous.

The problem with criticisms of novels (an authors speculation about a non historical event or future events) is that the criticisms often revolve around what was said or not said, not the story or the skill of the writer. It is not history, nor even necessarily a valid prediction about the future. It is a particular author’s ability to tell a fictional story and keep you reading it, and if you like his style, to buy his books and make money for his living. We also have authors that write novels that center around historical events, that use data from those events to create a story about those events, but it is still fiction.

I know people that will not read what they consider to be fiction. Of course, we know that a lot of “non fiction” is very fictional. If you have any doubts about this, dive into a bunch of the early anthropological “non fiction” reports on indigenous people. Among those that will not read fiction are those that only read technical manuals and research reports. Know quite a few of them also. Again, much of their reading, although touted as real world data, is in fact fiction, especially when the conclusions are realized to be a non-secuitur (a conclusion that does not follow from the inference).

So why read novels at all? Right off the top, if they are engaging and well done, they are entertaining. But at a deeper level, often they contain insights about human behavior and motivations. This is also true of movies, novels with pictures. I am sure all of us have had experiences with movies that did not hold our interest or were soon forgotten, and the same can be said for the book forms also.

One form of the novel that I am familiar with in the extreme and enjoy immensely is the Science Fiction (SF) genera. These are novels that explore life into the future and sometimes into the mystical, magical and absurd. The newer SF that has been out in the last number of years I often don’t bother to finish. My impression is that the authors are being paid by the word instead of content, and often the content is totally absent or so weak and disjointed that it is a waste of time to finish the book. Not even good entertainment value.

However, well done fiction contains ideas and insights that can be valuable to the reader. Often they contain an analysis of human motivations that can be useful. In regards to “A WORLD MADE BY HAND” (WMBH) we might criticize Kunstler for making many of his characters shallow, particularly women, but looking about our society today, can’t we say that now? On this blog site we tend to be highly critical of the shallowness and self serving behavior exhibited by citizens and leaders alike. Should we expect a different perspective from our stories in movie and book form? For me, books and movies that depict all of the characters as either shallow or overly complex personalities do not hold my interest. Even in documentaries that are supposedly snapshots of real life contain extremes one way or another and are expressions of the writer’s prejudices and agendas.

We have been watching a number of European made films lately. Some have actually been based on American life. It is interesting to me to see how these film writers perceive us and the generalized writing difference. Generally, in my view, European films seem to be divided into slapstick comedy or deep introspection and psychological examinations into behavior. This introspection is largely absent in much of American Hollywood films that instead focus on action and complex plots. There are exceptions of course in both cases. It is also interesting to me to see Asian movies and how they emphasize a completely different perspective, honor, loyalty and single track objectives in a social dynamic that is very foreign to us.

A friend recently brought over for our examination a couple of issues of “Nexus” magazine. There is also a web site by the same name ( that has a few articles that were in the magazine you can read without registration. But the magazine is much more interesting because of ads and some of the really far out articles in it. This publication has what I would call ‘wing nut’ stuff in proliferation. Obviously, if you had sufficient interest, you could look for other sources for verification of the information, but off the top, it is a whole lot of short fiction novels written as if it was a documentary or fact. Our bookstores, news stands and the internet have quite a bit of this kind of writing for you to look at. The problem is the verification. Most of this kind of information content simply cannot be checked out, for a variety of reasons. Of more importance to me are the questions; If it is true, what can I do about it, or what impact will it have on my life and those around me and how should I prepare for whatever it is? I tend to look at such information from the standpoint of being an interesting novel concerning the future that may or may not turn out to be true.

A number of years back, there were numerous writings talking about peak oil. To a large extent, these writing were considered to be fictional novels by the mainstream news and population. As it has turned out, it appears to be more of an accurate predictive data presentation. Many writings from years back have been treated the same and many were accurately viewed as novels. Remember all the writings about Y2K?

But, back to WMBH. This novel falls into the classification of ‘apocalyptic novels’. A huge catastrophe has happened and killed off a large percentage of the population and the novel revolves around how the people that are left organize themselves to keep going. In many respects, it has the appearance of being rather realistic, despite the author’s treatment of women. Different enclaves of survivors may very well do it different under their particular circumstances. Looking at how humans deal with emergencies throughout history, I would say it is quite realistic. Greedy and power hungry people still work at being greedy and powerful. How humans deal with that in a future scenario is what I am interested in. In WMBH, Kunstler has a set of answers. We shall see if we live long enough to experience it.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


Are You Poor, or Just Stubborn?

from Freeacre

OK, I watched a lamestream media news report the other night. I swear I’m not ever going to watch network news again, but then I can’t help myself. Peering at the fuzzy picture brought to us by an antenna fastened to the back fence, I watched a local broadcast during dinner. CBS was attempting to enlighten us about how tough it is for the people on “fixed incomes” now that inflation and the falling dollar has taken about a third of our purchasing power away in the last several years. This old lady only had eight dollars left in her check book.

Oh, gee…. The poor lady and the millions like her who live in their several bedroom homes all alone and have to share the cat food…. WAIT A MINUTE! She’s living in a home with extra bedrooms all alone…. Why isn’t she renting rooms? Why aren’t elderly people ( or single parents, or anyone trying to save money and get out of debt, or pay off the mortgage), encouraged to share their homes with each other?

One little old lady on Social Security might only bring in $700 a month. Trying to live on that is miserable, especially when you figure in medical costs, etc. But, you take four or five little old ladies pooling their $700 checks – that’s $2,800 to $3,500 a month for a household! And, if some of those ladies owned homes of their own that they rented out to others, it could add even more income – a lot more. Add several hundred dollars per month to your social security check from renting your home out, and cut costs by reducing your expenses to a fraction of what they were in rent and utilities.

“Oh, I could never stand to live with other people!” they protest.

Well, why the hell not?

Why live isolated and broke when you could be surrounded by friends, doing things together, helping each other with chores, sitting down to eat together, and having some laughs? It would also take a load off that over-worked grown up kid of yours who is sacrificing her sanity trying to keep you intact all the time.

I was first introduced to communal living in 1968 or so at the SDS commune in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was a nice, big old house with great woodwork. They had three or four big tables set up in the dining room. I was a guest and was assigned the job of setting the tables and bringing the food out to set on side boards. I remember there was the biggest bowl of butterscotch pudding I ever saw – and we were welcome to have as much of it as we wanted. I loved it.

Later, I spent much of my 20’s living in homes shared with friends while we went to school, worked at entry-level jobs, and hoped to meet the loves of our lives.

Once we did, and the nuclear family was established, we no longer “had” to share homes with anyone other than the captive audience of our spouses and children. Unfortunately, for a lot of us, that meant we could be as rude and dysfunctional as we wanted to be until the children grew up and left. For most, it meant that we faced the challenge of raising a family and keeping a roof over our heads on our own, with very little help. We worked our butts off doing the best that we could. It wasn’t easy.

Living those nuclear family centered lives, mostly separated from the greater community, except for associates at work or church members, people may never develop the social skills needed to function well, living with others that they haven’t raised to think like them. When the kids grow up and the spouse dies, there’s nobody left who thinks your way of doing things is “normal” or the way it “ought to be.” They may not fill the toilet paper rack the same way you do. They may eat with less or more utensils. They may watch different T.V. shows. They may prepare unfamiliar food, or keep different hours. They may not be convinced by your vast knowledge of politics or your religious point of view.

All of which may be annoying. Ergo, “I can’t live with anyone else.” But, that can change.

When my husband died in 1999, I had just turned 50. I was working for a newspaper in Tahoe for ten dollars per hour. I had a son who had just started junior college. I had seven thousand dollars in credit card debt, and my husband died with no life insurance. And, I had a mortgage on our home for $149,000, the payments of which equaled my take-home pay. Yikes!

Renting out rooms kept a roof over our heads and led to the life Murph and I live today. I’ve written about it before. So, I won’t go over it again.

But, with that experience, I think both Murph and I would do it again, if and when we lose the other one, or we can’t handle this place by ourselves. We have all these active Senior Centers. Why couldn’t they have programs teaching the in’s and out’s of communal living? Support groups for living with others where you can share strategies and stories of what works and what doesn’t would be great. Group processes like using talking sticks and campfire councils could easily be introduced to help with group dynamics. How to ask for what you need, give feedback or criticism without rancor, or resolve hurt feelings aren’t so hard to do, especially if the people are motivated.

So, just maybe someday the lamestream might be able to offer some better advice than taking out a second reverse mortgage for some lonely, desperate lady trying to make ends meet all by herself.

Here are some pointers that I have found helpful over the years:

If you rent a room to someone, make sure that you have their name, previous address and phone number, nearest relative, doctor’s name and phone number, and driver’s license number in a folder handy in case you need it. This makes life easier if something happens, they move away and you have to forward mail or someone comes along looking for them, or they owe you money.

Put away the silver or any real treasures that you don’t want broken or lost when living with others (including step-children). Anything that would be really hard to forgive if damaged, put away or let go of. Buy your glasses and eating utensils at the Goodwill, so when they break (and, they will) it’s no biggie.

Figure out how people want to do food. Everyone takes one night a week to cook for everyone? One or two people are the cooks and the rest do the dishes? Each person cooks for herself, with one communal meal per week? There are no right answers – adjust as needed for the mix that you have.

How about chores? Everybody keeps up their own room, and common areas are cleaned together on Saturdays? Or, rotating chore lists. Or, individual talents – like John is the Handiman, Gracie is the Driver, Mandy is the Nurse, Sue and Bob keep track of the finances and vacuum. Whatever works.

Rules of engagement need to be spelled out. No wandering into other people’s private spaces unless invited. No nudity in common areas. Keep the bathrooms neat for the next guy. Quiet times and policy on having friends or grandchildren over to visit need to be set. Stuff like that can be decided upon during the weekly house meeting held after eating a meal together on a certain evening or day.

Usually, there are one or two people who are the leaders (or parent figures), and the rest fall in like brothers and sisters. That just seems to be the natural order of things in my experience. The leaders need to set the tone of friendliness, respect, tolerance of differing opinions, good humor, and limit-setting. At the very least, everyone needs to feel safe. Thievery or threats or intimidation must not be tolerated. This is especially true if younger children are involved or there are older ones who may be physically vulnerable.

Once healthy and empowering norms are established, affordable homes can be created that provide safety nets for each other, a tribe of friends, and some peace and dignity in times of the god-knows-what that are to come. Personally, many of the people that I have lived with over the years are friends of mine to this day. We still visit, call or write to each other, even though we may not have lived with each other since we were in our 20’s or since we lived in Tahoe. They were an enrichment to my life, I am grateful for each and every one of them, and I don’t know how I would have gotten along without them.