Archive for October 30th, 2008

All the Crappy News That Is Fit To Print

Sharon October 30th, 2008

Ok, if you haven’t scrolled down and read my happy thought post (“The one thing…”), do it now.  Now’s a good time to hang on to your own happy thoughts too.  Put the liquor away and hide all the sharp objects.  Because just in case you haven’t noticed, the news kind of sucks.  I wouldn’t do this to you unless I thought it was really important that you know this stuff.

First there’s the stock market.  Isn’t that good news, you ask?  After all, it had a big rise, and as I write this, is up a little bit.  I think you want to take a look a Ilargi’s post from Wednesday over at the Automatic Earth, though. His case is that this isn’t good news at all:

Wherever I look this morning, Asia, Europe, Wall Street, I see journalists and analysts claim that bargain hunters are causing the rising stock prices. They’re not. There is something different going on.Prices these days fall when and because large investors need to sell assets in order to get cash. Prices rise when large investors need to cover their shorts.

The investors involved in both cases are largely identical, though not entirely. It’s important to understand that while, obviously, price drops cause loss of capital, price rises are now the result of the same. Everybody still tries to hide their losses, but it’s getting much harder. That’s what happens in casino’s: there comes a point where you have to show your hand. And when things get bad, sometimes you have to show both.”

Understanding that the rallies are as much a part of the disaster as the crashes is counter-intuitive, but I think it is also important.  In the same sense, my own case is that the bailout money (which is reaching banks this week) is actually bad for us - not just because it is our money and indentures our kids, but more importantly, in a very direct way.

 Then there’s Karl Denninger’s latest piece, which besides some probably intelligent advice, includes something I hadn’t realized - the fact that if you accept a deal to “save” your home by using a refinance, you probably will be signing up for permanent debt-slavery.  I think it is really important that this information get out, since almost no one I’ve talked to realizes this - that you could be on the hook for your house FOREVER - whether you get to live in it or not.    Please pass that information along to all of your friends and neighbors and anyone else who might get hooked from a bank’s “kindness.”

“See, a refinance, which this is, converts your mortgage into a recourse loan. That means if you take their “great deal” and then default later on (e.g. you lose your job in the upcoming Depression) your wages can be garnished forever and, if you earn more than the median income, you can’t even get rid of the debt in bankruptcy.”

Emo Phillips once joked that he was pretty sure the guy hammering on his roof was sending the message that he was a paranoid little weirdo in morse code to him.  Now I realize seeing bad guys everywhere makes you seem nuts, but quite honestly, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it really pretty much does seem to be the case that nearly everything the government or corporations say they will do to help you is just another way of raping and pillaging.  Better be paranoid than be screwed yet another way from Sunday.

Ok, all that is just a little bit bad.  The really bad news of the day isn’t about the economy at all. It is that levels of methane in the atmosphere rose dramatically in 2007 - and no one has any idea.  All the theories are pretty damned horrible though.  If this trend continues, we are in serious trouble - and the more so since the economy threatens to drive climate off the front burner altogether.  Finding out why right quick should be on the front agenda - but is unlikely to get there.

“Methane, the primary component of natural gas, has more than doubled in the atmosphere since pre-industrial times, but stayed largely stable over the last decade or so before rising in 2007, researchers said on Wednesday.

This stability led scientists to believe that the emissions of methane, from natural sources like cows, sheep and wetlands, as well as from human activities like coal and gas production, were balanced by the destruction of methane in the atmosphere.

But that balance was upset starting early last year, releasing millions of metric tonnes more methane into the air, the scientists wrote in the Geophysical Research Letters.”

Ok, all this sucks.  And there’s certainly plenty of lesser bad news out there - like the fact that farmers are having trouble getting credit to plant wheat, or the growth in joblessness.  And in a sense it doesn’t change anything - we still need to start working on our informal economy jobs, on growing food locally, or having a reserve.  We still need to consolidate with family and yell and scream at injustice.  But depressing as it is, knowing what is happening is valuable to - we can’t respond, we can’t even hope to respond, without knowing.  Maybe our response won’t be enough - but we can and must try.

Ok, that said, the pep talk does sound kinda stupid.  So instead of leaving you with hope, I leave you with Monty Python

“Whenever life gets you down, Mrs. Brown/And things seem hard or tough…

And people are stupid, obnoxious or daft/And you feel that you’ve had quite enough… 

Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving
And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour,
That’s orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it’s reckoned,
A sun that is the source of all our power.
The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see
Are moving at a million miles a day
In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour,
Of the galaxy we call the ‘Milky Way’.
Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars.
It’s a hundred thousand light years side to side.
It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick,
But out by us, it’s just three thousand light years wide.
We’re thirty thousand light years from galactic central point.
We go ’round every two hundred million years,
And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe.

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whizz
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
Twelve million miles a minute, and that’s the fastest speed there is.
So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space,
‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth.  - Monty Python, the Galaxy Song

There.  I’m sure you feel all better now.


Hurry, Hurry, Mary Dear!

Sharon October 30th, 2008


Hurry, hurry, Mary dear/fall is over, winter’s here.

Not a moment to be lost,/in a minute we get frost!

In an hour we get snow!/Drifts like houses! Ten below!

Pick the apples, dill the pickles,/chop down trees for wooden nickels.

Dig the turnips, split the peas,/cook molassses, curdle cheese/

Churn the butter, smoke the hams/can tomatoes, put up jams.

Stack the stove wood, string the beans/up the storms and down the screens.

Pull the curtains, close the shutters/ Dreadfully the wild wind mutters/

Oil the snowshoes, stoke the fires./Soon the roads are hopeless mires.

Mend the mittens, knit the sweaters,/bring my glasses, mail my letters.

Toast the muffins, brew the tea,/hot and sweet and good for me.

Bake me donuts, plain and frosted…./What, my dear?  You feel exhausted?

Yes, these winters are severe/Hurry, hurry -

Mary, dear.

- N.M. Bodecker

There’s a pattern to my autumns.  They start out with a burst of enthusiasm, as cooler days hit and I get ready for cold weather foods and activities.  I start splitting wood and stacking it with enthusiasm, canning fall foods, root cellaring.  And then, somewhere around mid-October, I get distracted by other things, and the preparations slow down.  Intellectually, I know there’s a lot to do before winter, but we’re usually having good weather, and there’s plenty to do, and usually a month and more of good weather coming. Then, in early November I usually have an “oh, crap…we’re almost there” moment, in which I take the last week or two of decently warm weather to catch up on all the things I’ve let go - gathering kindling, getting the quinces in, digging the late root crops, planting bulbs and garlic, getting the animals’ winter shelters set, etc…

Then there’s this year.  From Sunday to Tuesday lunchtime, it poured here.  But I was still in my mellow mode.  The rumor was that there might be a bit of snow in the higher elevations - technically that’s us, but usually that means the Adirondacks and high parts of the Berkshires, not the hilltowns. 

Then, on Tuesday afternoon, it started to snow.  It snowed and snowed.  By Wednesday morning there was 7 inches of heavy, wet snow over us.  Ok, we shrugged, but it won’t last - it was supposed to be 50 yesterday.  Ummm…nope, it finally broke 32 around noon, and then went back down to 27 by about 12:30.  Today’s supposed to be even colder.  So instead of the last weeks of autumn’s glow, we’ve got January outside (yes, I know this is too warm for January, but I haven’t gotten adapted to days in the 30s yet.)

So I’m a bit in panic mode here - here I’ve been lazing away my October days, doing a little desultory preparation here and there, and now I’ve got to pray for enough warm, dry days to not only melt the snow but dry up the ground from the 4 inches of rain we had before that.  Because I’ve still got bags of daffodils to plant, more garlic, wood to haul out of the woods (and I’d do it with a sled, but those four inches of rain and unfrozen ground make that a job I’d just as soon wait for dryer days to do), more splitting, stacking, banking, moving.  The angora bunnies came into the house during the snowstorm, because while their ultra-warm fur means they can handle the cold, their unprotected shelter was filled with wet snow (we usually move them over to the barn in early November).  The goat shelters are up, but not fully winterized - not a big deal, we could just move the girls back to the barn, but they’d rather be out and about.  Yesterday I frantically dug about in the closets finding boots and mittens and snowpants, something I normally don’t do until after the Halloween costumes are safely stowed away for Purim (this year the guys are Robin Hood and the Merry Men - Simon is Robin, Eli is Little John, Isaiah is Will Scarlet, and Asher is also Robin Hood, although his brothers keep telling him he has to be Alan a Dale - but he’s having none of it). 

I’m just praying that things dry up enough to get the garlic and bulbs in without rotting, not to mention enough to make digging the turnips and beets less disgusting (right now it wouldn’t be so much digging as mud-wrestling.)  My poor fig is outside with a blanket over its head and snow on top of that - I’m hoping it survives, because we haven’t wrapped it for winter yet.  It is safe to say that I’m feeling more than a little like Mary in the poem there, although without the annoying spouse (Eric is also working flat out).  Instead, it is the other man in my life - old man winter -  doing the pushing.

Next week has a lot of days in the 50s, so we’re probably fine.  But it is a good reminder of just how rapid the transition from season to season can be.  And as we enter not just a season of cold weather, but a winter of discontent and Depression, it becomes more and more urgent that live the seasons as they really are - not just cranking the heat and shifting to greens from California, but adapting to the realities of our climate.

That doesn’t have to be unpleasant.  In fact, except for the frustration of having been slacking, I’m enjoying my little snow days - there’s a fire in the cookstove, and stock bubbling away.  It is warm as toast next to the stove, and cool enough that my hot tea feels good in my hands while I type and read the news.  The thing is, I like stacking wood on the cold days of autumn - it warms me, it feels good to set my body to something useful.  I love gardening in fall, I like to dig in the cool moist soil, I like the warmth of the leaves I collect from along the street, and the smell of autumn earth.  I like to load hay, and my kids like to climb up in the hay barn in search of the nests the hens make.  I like to put the garden to sleep for the winter, tucking it under its mulch, and dreaming of next year. 

I look forward (not yet, but usually) to the first snow of the year, to the knowledge that it is time to turn inward, to concentrate on the things I’ve been ignoring while the outdoors summoned me so powerfully to it.  Now is the time to clean the messes I’ve been ignoring and work on indoor projects desperately needed.  And like everything in its season, it has a sense of rightness, of pleasure in the doing.  I don’t know how to explain it - you all know I’m no great housekeeper, nor is cleaning my favorite task - but somehow as winter begins, it feels right.  

The brussel sprouts will be sweet with frost when we dig them out from under the snow.  The fig will probably survive a couple of cold days and await our insulation.  The bunnies spent a pleasant night in my office bouncing around and driving the dogs crazy, and will be cozily ensconced in the barn shortly, with the cozy noises of chickens, ducks and goats around them.  We’ll bed the animals more thickly, seal the windows, put down the storms, get used to mittens drying on the top of the warming oven.  It’ll all happen - we just aren’t quite ready yet.  But it is a good reminder to hurry, hurry, Sharon dear.