Thursday, February 25, 2010

tar: Efficiency, and economic decline

John Michael Greer writes the Archdruid Report. Last week Mr. Greer wrote on a continuing topic, descent of the United States and the rest of the world to "Third World" economy and lifestyle, Why Factories Aren't Efficient. Only his picture isn't bleak for the citizenry, only the industrial magnates.

After describing "efficiency" as defined by putting more (or less) money in someone's pocket, I smiled when I read the setup for Imaginaria. "You are the president of the newly independent Republic of Imaginaria. You’ve got a population that’s not particularly well fed, clothed, and housed, and a fairly high unemployment rate.

Unemployment, huh? I like Sharon Astyk's terms of formal and informal economy. The formal economy is the economist playground, the Gross National Product kind of thing - someone making a monetary profit.

I think the term "unemployment" has been perverted to mean "not contributing to the formal economy; not putting profit in someone's pocket." I would think that description especially pertinent when talking about re-localizing crafts and production.

There is a difference between those unemployed as in not being employed, not producing anything or serving anyone, and those not employed at putting profit in someone's pocket. Many of the unemployed are still serving, at household tasks and parenting tasks, some at day work and unreported income efforts.

What you apparently propose is to permanently remove the bulk of people currently working to put profit into someone's pocket from the industrial workforce, to serve their community and family in efforts with meaning, directly, only at the local level. Huh. I bet that does irritate some Organized union leaders, political fund raisers, and transcontinental trucking operations.

I kind of like the way Leo Frankowski reinvented technology in his sf "Cross Time Engineer" novels - including horse and mule-drawn rail, reliance on steam power and wind, and even working within a feudal political system.

My own notion of perpetual motion is a hydroelectric generator that requires 2 feet of water head. Installed every hundred yards in minor rivers, requiring no major damming or ponding, in sizes down to seasonal farm creeks.

Reading about your concerns over ethanol - has anyone worked toward solar-heated steam or water sources of mechanical or electric - or even compressed air or gas - energy options? Or hydro-mechanical (like the quaint songs about "the old mill stream"). It worked once, after all. The wood to build the wheel and races, that can be hacked out. With tools and skill.

I can see where the current "fad" in heritage seeds and seed saving contribute to Schumacher style utilization of resources. Also the victory garden approach to diversifying reliance on transcontinental food production and distribution.

ar: Economic Decline, security - the rise of Imperialism?

Sharon Astyk at Casaubon's Book mentioned an astute gentleman, John Michael Greer, who writes the Archdruid Report. Today Mr. Greer writes on a continuing topic, descent of the United States and the rest of the world to "Third World" economy and lifestyle. Only his picture isn't bleak for the citizenry, only the industrial magnates.

One issue that flows, for me, from Greer's reference to Gandhi's economics and Schumachers, is national security.

One aspect of declining fortunes of the GNP type bothers me. National security. Larger nations are attacked relatively less often, because they field bigger armies. When the Gandhi plan, though, the reduction in centralizing monetary resources implies more difficulty in maintaining a national defense. We have the Interstate Highway system with a defense shield for a symbol, because in his Army days Dwight Eisenhower formulated a response to the need for moving people and material to meet security needs.

Militaries are energy profligate. Energy, and especially oil, was a central strategic barrier and goal of all parties in WWII. I expect no less, militarily, as supplies of oil dwindle. Hungry people are ripe for exploitation by unscrupulous wealth. I might posit that the decline of the British Empire was brougth about by the rise of cheap energy. It follows then - what prevents the decline of cheap energy from reverting to an imperial form, merely to control security by taking direct control over distance threats? Today's industrial concentration of wealth provides monetary levers to collectively manage adventurers and despots. But what happens as those levers fail?

Wars are fought to put money in someone's pockets. Today, cheap energy fuels potent militaries that make battle inefficient, even among relatively smaller antagonists. When expensive energy again makes war profitable, what means, other than assimilation - empire - will provide security from external threat?

Monday, February 22, 2010

cb: Life with Food Stamps

Sharon writes about "Life with Food Stamps as your only income," on Casaubon's Book.

Sharon shares part of a story of Eva, struggling in Harford, Conn. The comments vastly exceed the story in trite and thoughtful responses. One issue that came up was fat-cat bailouts, vs. social support programs.

I don't see fat-cat bailouts as solving problems. A business either succeeds, or someone else should have a chance. But we *have* to have the wealthy, the successful, and those that have proven by their own efforts that their investments result in assets being produced and jobs created and preserved.

Right now, the US seems embedded in a belief in "being your own rich man". Own or rent your own home, have all your luxuries from private bath to private kitchen and laundry, from private car to private entertainment - or you aren't keeping up with the Joneses. Conspicuous consumption is the real failing that Eva suffers. And trying to compete with her community in conspicuous consumption isn't finding her a way out of her dilemma.

In 1974 the US Navy was putting up an experimental barracks design, at Great Lakes Naval Station in North Chicago. Four shared bedrooms shared a common area and kitchen area. I don't see Hartford or other communities looking to reduce the cost of housing for people by creating variations on shared facilities, on the old time boarding house, etc. And I don't see that happening any time soon. Subsidies for housing and living, today, reward the "single family dwelling" myth investors - landlords and builders. People are reluctant to consider multi-generational or extended family dwellings.

Changing building codes, to enable and support multi-family dwellings, would be an important start.

Maybe certify neighborhood educators, to enable teaching neighbors for their GED, outside the formal economy. Learning doesn't take place in schools because the school has a license; learning takes place because a teacher and student come together.

Eva wants nothing to do with her daugther's father. The community began failing Eva, when children are raised in the community, that aren't suitable to be parents and mates. Every unsuitable adult is a weakness and threat to the community.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Found - place to dump US nuclear waste. Not.

OK, so the NRN cartoon is funny - B. Hussein Obama closes the Yucca Mt. dump for the nation's nuclear waste - building for what, 20, 30 years?

The cartoonist laments a need for a useless place that no one will care if the stuff gets dumped there - a worker is in place to use the US Capital building, implying the less than useful halls of government might as well be put to constructive use.

Ha, ha.

The reality is that there is heat - energy - left in "spent" nuclear reactor fuel. Plus, the by-products and such might make B. Hussein some real good friends. Like in Iran and Venezuela. Today, it isn't commercially viable to recover useful material - why recycle, after all? - it costs more than it will produce. Much like recycling plastic and aluminum, and paper. And regulations might be prohibitive, too.

But that isn't to say that B. Hussein might not see the advantage of getting all of that nuclear material to someone that would appreciate it. He has to be thinking of his retirement nest egg, after all.

Friday, February 12, 2010

ar: Why Americans don't contribute to communities

John Michael Greer writes about "This Presupposition of Passivity" in his Archdruid's Report.

Greer argues that community isn't being taken from Americans, that Americans walked away from the concept of a cooperative, supportive community. He gives that as the reason Americans talk about organizing communities to prepare for an economic upheaval as the forces of history - dissolution of the stuctures keep an elite minority in power - and peak oil combine to move America down the road to becomeing a Third World nation, not even necessarily a Third World Power.

Some thoughts on what happened, to take people out of community. The same pressures and events also took farm kids and rural town children away from their homes, their families, and communities.

I think that forming a family, that is adults coming together to share lives and fortunes, is an act of culture, an atom of culture. The determination of what is right and expected, the selection of traditions and rituals, are unique to the family. If the family members respect their parent families, they will draw on and honor those cultures. Likewise, if they respect and honor their community, they will incorporate from there as well. If they respect their parent cultures, they will also be drawn to procreate, to express their respect and honor by passing their culture, their ethics, traditions, and rituals, onto the next generation.

It is the culture of the families that come together, to make up the culture of the community, and of the extended family. I don’t think you can have real community without the generational span of family as an atomic, key parameter. Without adding members, no community is sustained for long. The community must manage assimilating new members, whether raising children or indoctrinating adoptees.

The challenge of community in America stems from consumerism in marketing and governance, and liberalism/indoctrination in the schools. Americans didn’t just walk away from communities. For generations we have been giving our children away.

You cannot give your child to the state or the nation to learn ethics, and expect to get them back to build family and community. It won't happen.

I have seen children engaged in Transition projects, but not a direct description of taking charge of their children's education. This simple fact, incorporating community into education of the young, I think, is a big part of the durability of Quaker and Amish communities. The information given isn't the biggest part of the problem, the problem is the filters that either denigrate all family and community ethics in favor of government agendas, as against the private school's opportunity to indoctrinate children in the community culture.

After WWII, veterans were greeted with a variety of opportunities. Industry had expanded, and new openings were easy to develop for the returning GI. Communities still demanded adults marry. Communities understood and acted on a need to assimilate those within its bounds. Thus, GIs found jobs, and wives, and families, and community strengths were maintained.

Vietnam saw a general turmoil, where distrust of the government at all levels from community draft boards to the office of the President of the United States (When LBJ admitted not knowing what to do about Vietnam). Vietnam vets were *blamed* for serving a war they were drafted to fight – and ostracized. The nation was taught a strict lesson by those hating, spitting, flower-wielding long-haired hippies on TV - that serving the community or nation was hateful, something only cowards did. And communities were less active, in assimilating and accommodating returning vets.

Honoring service in the military hasn't been a national priority since. Many communities never recovered from the antagonism to local draft boards. Not to mention lingering antipathy from the friends and children of those hippies.

There were many pressures created since the 1950's to focus Americans on individual aspirations, to the exclusion of the community. One was the nationalization of education that now included desegregation and affirmative action in race relations - and a whole host of other individualist, liberal agenda items. Another was marketing, the whole "keeping up with the Joneses" thing introduced an element of actively striving against members of the community. Businesses hired individuals, often from across the nation. This pulled people from their community, then plunked them down in new-built "housing developments" without the resources to *be* a community, just a collection of houses.

At one time, communities invested heavily in families and, probably, Christian, behavior. That has been coming unraveled since the 1950's explosion of "Everyone to college, for fun and (bed) games" to all classes of Americans. Even before the "summer of love" (there seemed to be a lot more sex than love) and women's liberation challenged the notion of family, let alone community.

Any attempt to plan for the future is going to have to take the children away from the Federal Government, as a first step. Whatever else is planned, stopping the indoctrination of our children to be ambition-drive drones, irreverent of their parent's faith and culture - that has to come first, or there will be no one to come after the "community".

Thursday, February 11, 2010

w: I am cynical about fixing Haiti has an article on fixing Haiti, including redefining their social structure - single class of people - and taking everyone's needs into account.

The idiots.

It sounds good on paper. Just like "fixing" Iraq sounded good - get the horrible Saddam Hussein out of the road, tear down that awful oppressive government, and everyone will grow daisies and live peacefully and happily.

Haiti has lived nearly lawless. Drugs move through Haiti, the government runs on flows of money, official and otherwise, and not on equality or service to citizens. Protection and serving the needs of the privileged and powerful is the rule of government down there. The religion lends itself to random violence, not peaceful coexistence.

The US and other helping providers have stirred a *lot* of resentment. Hungry people, people without shelter, people that listened to loved ones die because no one got there to dig out their crushed building in time. Just the sight and thought of the vast amounts of wealth pouring into Haiti now - has to anger a *lot* of people, that there was so much wealth in the world that *could* have been shared before the earthquake, but was held onto by richer folk than they.

The cynic in me thinks that what Haiti really needs right now is a strong hand. A vested interest to take charge, grab the rescue goods and kick the do-gooders the hell out. Assign work and tasks to everyone and their dog, enforce their commands, and *do* something. One of the old time Railroad robber barons comes to mind. A Monsanto, an Archer Daniels-Midland. A Chavez or Castro would get more people sheltered, fed, and moving on faster than waiting for the UN and some coalition of charity organizations to get around to getting the people of Haiti involved with living the next weeks and months and years.

Perhaps it is as simple as stepping back and letting the oppressive military and gang organizations have a free hand for a while. Because frankly, I don't see the anger that survived the rubble turning to civilization for very much, any time soon.

One report suggests organizing a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) to institute a training center or three, to train 25 to 35 Haitians and others from around the world to raise food in a permaculture manner. The outsiders would pay a hefty fee to join the training and internship to finance the operation, so a few Haitians could learn to raise food in a non-Monsanto chemical based form of agriculture. Permaculture, as I understand it, emphasizes continuous fertility and increased food production without relying on outside chemicals and soil amendments, much.

The thought is nice, for the long term, and seems like a great idea somewhere down the road. But growing food in the back yard? When you don't have physical security, the expectation that gangs and neighbors don't raid each other, that seems a "generous" kind of donation to the neighborhood, and not a way to feed yourself and your family.

Some few Haitians are probably organizing and trying to get back to life as they knew it. Convincing them that they should instead do something different, that foreigners tell them, "trust us", that won't pay off for six weeks or four months, and they will be subject to gangs - or the army - swiping everything of value, again, all that time.

I am just cynical. I want to see Haitians, or some other strong vested interest, rebuild Haiti.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

w: BAS at 100 years - a matter of National Security

Call me ignorant. I believe the versions I learned in school before the recent decades of history revisionism (rewriting what is known about what happened in the past, usually to suit someone's purpose today. You know, like Al Gore's "I invented the Internet.")

That public schools were created in the first place to achieve a universal, necessary minimum ability to participate in a Democratically organized government. Basic citizenship skills were all that schools were tasked with - until graduation from eighth grade, or age sixteen (16), whichever happened first. Sixteen (16) was the age of majority - adult responsibility under the law - and age of consent (for marriage and other sexual acts).

That school competitive sports were organized, team sports, that is, to prepare young men for the battlefield. The concept of team organization, of captains on the field being coached by someone responsible for game strategy. Huh, who would have thought this would prepare young people for basic training, with a Sargeant or Petty Officer guiding and working the group, under the orders of officers?

And that the Boy Scouts were organized for the same purpose. The need of the military for mentally agile, prepared people familiar with living outside the usual society, has not diminished. GeekDads writer Dave Banks writes about "After 100 Years, Are Boy Scouts Still Relevant?".

Banks covers the usual, the camping, the guidance, the criticisms over national policy - strict Judeo-Christian beliefs (although not strictly enforced at the local level), strict bias against gays (although not strictly envforced outside the national staff) - and using public facilities at reduced or no cost, from church meeting rooms to recruiting in public schools to extraordinary (though proven useful to all) access to national parks. He talks about friendships and relationships with family, and the prominence of past Boy Scouts.

But he overlooked something important.

The way Boy Scouts prepare citizens for military service. Banks quotes several numbers and statistics - but not how many enlisting service people have been in the Scouting program, nor how they fare in the military. If I recall correctly - Scouts tend to do well, for themselves and for our nation.

In times of emergency, having a core number of people thinking about community resources, about group tactics and looking ahead to the next step in survival - whether after storm, or flood, riot or other forms of unrest - can help a lot of people survive the experience, and recover their lives faster.

In short, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and other programs that prepare young people for service to community and country. If we care to pay for public education, for military defense of the nation, and a salary for the President, it only makes sense that we continue to encourage and support scouting programs.

Scouting, after all, takes its name from the military task of investigating the near or extended area for surprises, in advance of movement of a unit. It has become a synonym for people that customarily do tough and thankless jobs. There was a time that "Scout" was a common, and revered, dog's name. Scout is a nickname always bestowed as a term of respect.

I think Dave Banks wrote a sorry piece of article, leaving out measurements of the health of communities where Boy Scouts are active, vs. places that have banned or no longer enjoy a significant Scout presence - and what the profile of the community looks like five (5), ten (10), and twenty (20) years after Boy Scouts wither in their community.

Businesses grow by the accumulation of wealth. Communities grow with children and newcomers, as they assimilate and acculturate each other. Scouts get short shrift on an economic scale. For getting to know, honor, and promote the community and its citizens, I know which I think promotes stability, resilience, and strength.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

w, nrdc: Idiots think mass transit wards off mortgage foreclosures. is carrying a story put out by the National Resource Defense Council (golly, that recalls the fictitional "Global Defense Council" eco group from the movie "An American President"), finding that there were fewer mortgage foreclosures in (.pdf file) "compact" neighborhoods with mass transit nearby. The conclusion - living where you depend on your car makes foreclosure more likely, and mass transit wards off foreclosure.

What idiots.

Foreclosures happen because people have been convinced to live in debt. Expect a 25 or 30 year mortgage - anything else and you are wasting your money. Hah.

Where do you find mass transit - mass transit that works, that serves the community, that doesn't exist solely on subsidies? Mass transit works when there are a lot of places to go, right next to the station. Travel from high rise apartments to high rise offices? Check. Travel from massive suburban parking lots to high rise offices? Check.

Now look at new housing developments. They build out in the boonies, often dismantling regular gridded street patterns (at least they did, regularly, in Arizona. I lost home owner insurance, because the response time from the nearest fire station changed when they remade a 50 MPH section line road into 25 MPH, curved, inside-the-development-fence, narrow residential cul-de-sac lined capillary road system.) Housing developments that it may take residents 10-15 minutes to go from one side to the other (about 1-2 miles). Housing developments selling to people barely able to afford the mortgage, then sold on "upgrades".

I bet the damned study didn't take into account whether the mortgage foreclosures had anything to do with first mortgages or houses bought from developers. I bet the study didn't compare ratio of mortgaged residences to non-mortgaged residences (as in, it might make a difference if the community was stable, and actually had enough amenities to make living there worth while).

I bet the study didn't take into account the amount of time it took the average wage earner to commute to work each day, or the distance involved.

I bet the study didn't take into account the percentage of the mortgage to the selling price, in an effect on foreclosures. Or whether the community was "distressed".

People interested in Suburbia or housing developments - or buying a house deliberately away from mass transit for less traffic and exposure to undesirables - are often fascinated by status symbols. Including forming a family with someone on the basis of their status symbol value, rather than discipline, integrity, and an aptitude and drive to form a family and interact with the community as a family (housing developments seldom develop much of a real community, in the sense of regular, daily personal interactions as in RFD Mayberry).

Mass transit doesn't ward off mortgage foreclosures.

People interested in being part of a community, picking an intimate partner to be a life-mate and co-parent, people connected to extended family and neighbors - that kind of people won't often put themselves in high-risk situations like the dreamers and Upwardly Mobile crowd.

The difference between high rates of foreclosure and mass transit neighborhoods is nothing less than leveraged consumerism. The foreclosure neighborhoods have it, the mass transit neighborhoods have learned to live (better) without it.