Sunday, August 29, 2010

Zero Hedge Explains How Hyperinflation Could Happen

Zero Hedge: How Hyperinflation Will Happen.

Notice my title says "could", the actual article says "will". They are smarter than I am, but I still hedge my predictions. The point of the article is pretty scary, because it draws a distinction between "inflation" and "hyperinflation". Hyperinflation is not simply inflation gone wild. Here are the key quotes:
Inflation is when the economy overheats: It’s when an economy’s consumables (labor and commodities) are so in-demand because of economic growth, coupled with an expansionist credit environment, that the consumables rise in price. This forces all goods and services to rise in price as well, so that producers can keep up with costs. It is essentially a demand-driven phenomena.

Hyperinflation is the loss of faith in the currency. Prices rise in a hyperinflationary environment just like in an inflationary environment, but they rise not because people want more money for their labor or for commodities, but because people are trying to get out of the currency. It’s not that they want more money—they want less of the currency: So they will pay anything for a good which is not the currency.

(Author's italics emphasis. Bold is my emphasis.)

So, you know that nagging feeling you have that this is not going to end well? This is why.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

It's Just a Tool

Part 1 -- Pyramids in Argentina
Part 2 -- Bricks without straw
Part 3 -- Still Thinking
Part 4 -- Health
Part 5 -- Food for Thought
Part 6 - Alternatives
Part 7 - Hard Times

I like guns almost as much as I like knives. I think everyone should have some sort of firearm to defend hearth and home and to perhaps supplement the food supply. Personally, I’m set up to do more fishing than hunting. I’m not big on the taste of most game meat, except wild turkeys, but I’ll eat it if I have to. Fishing takes less effort, and you can catch only what you need for a meal. If you don’t have a fishing opportunity, consider the possibility of setting snares for small game, or building a rabbit gum. I’ll bet an inverted plastic storage box, some string, sticks and a piece of scrap 1x6 could be fashioned into a pretty decent gum in short order.

On firearms, I’m going to differ from your average survivalist/militia-type. I do not expect the U.S. military to come after us, and if they do, we are pretty well screwed. We are not going to have to fight against organized groups - government-sponsored or otherwise. I do not expect it; I do not see that happening; I could well be wrong. Still, I think it is highly unlikely that a person will ever have any reasonable excuse for opening fire on another human at any great distance. We are generally talking about defending yourself and your “stash” from the self-entitled and the opportunistic. The bad guys are not going to be wearing uniforms, colors, or specific tattoos. The dumb criminals won’t be around long. The smart ones will study their victims and figure out a way to approach closely before they strike. They will not likely come roaring up to the gate on outlaw Harleys and engage you in a long-distance firefight.

A heavy, high-capacity battle rifle is not my first choice for dealing with economic collapse. If a person has one, that’s fine. I just would not go out of my way to acquire one. On the other hand, if I didn’t have a centerfire handgun, I’d get one soon. Like TODAY. If I couldn’t get or couldn’t handle anything heavier, I’d get a .22LR autoloading handgun like the Ruger Mark I-III, the Browning Buckmark, or the newer Smith&Wesson. A .22LR handgun is not my first choice. For a centerfire, I would not worry too much about whether it’s a DA revolver or an autoloader, the caliber or the capacity. I’d get what I liked. I'd also get a good holster for it. Then I’d carry it and shoot it every chance I got until I was able to operate it in the dark without thinking and to consistently hit the middle of a 12-inch square at 15 feet in a hurry.

Some people want to argue about 9mm versus .45, double-action revolver versus autoloader. To me, it's like Chevy versus Ford — at least until GM became Government Motors. Any gun is better than no gun, and the only gun that is of any use is the one you have with you when you need it. There is nothing magical about the killing power of a .357 magnum or a .44 magnum or a .45 ACP. A mammal dies because its blood pressure drops. That may be caused by the heart stopping or excessive blood loss. The heart can be stopped by trauma to the central nervous system. Or, CNS trauma can incapacitate the creature until death occurs from blood loss or whatever. Outside of blowing your target up real good, no firearm you can carry will guarantee an immediate stop every time.

I've never shot a human, and I hope and pray I never have to. I have been on the receiving end of a gunshot wound, but my experience there is very limited and not necessarily typical. I have killed several animals with firearms, the largest being whitetail deer. I have also been informed by the experience of others with regard to the effectiveness of various weapons. I'll share a summary of my understanding, but I claim no special expertise. Most of the so-called experts don't have much real experience either. For handguns, the key seems to be penetration. The more flesh that a bullet goes through, all other things being equal, the more effective it is in dropping blood pressure. Also, obviously, the bigger the hole a projectile makes as it goes through the flesh, the more blood it is likely to let out. The weight of a bullet combined with velocity equals momentum. More momentum, more penetration. Speed itself does not kill when it comes to ballistics, but it certainly helps because it encourages, you might say, the bullets to expand (if they are the expanding kind), plus it aids in getting the projectile to the vital organs and through more blood vessels. Again, all other things being equal, the wider, heavier and faster a bullet is, the more damage it will do upon impact. None of that matters if you miss. Don't count on head shots. Choose wisely and practice religiously.

I’m a hillbilly. The shotgun is my weapon of choice. It’s just the way we’re wired. It isn’t always the best choice. It’s rarely the worst choice - unless the baby-eating cannibal commies do start shooting at you from 300 yards. As far as the gauge goes, I’m a 12-gauge man but I started shooting a 12 when the gun was taller that I was. A 20-gauge is easier for some people to handle. Don’t think that it is recoil-free, however. Back in the ‘60’s, my non-shooting brother-in-law bought a brand-new 20 to go bird hunting with my dad. He came back complaining of a bruised shoulder. Also, I am biased toward the Remington 870. There are many great autoloading shotguns out there like the Benelli that are good choices. Mossberg shotguns are as good as the 870, and, like the Remington, have plenty of aftermarket accessories available. In fact, if a person is only interested in the shotgun as a defensive arm, the Mossberg 590 might be the way to go.

There are things about a standard sporting shotgun that I don’t like for defensive purposes. For example, the recoil pad on my 870 is too tacky. It wants to hang up on my shirt rather than slide smoothly and swiftly into position. The sights on a typical shotgun aren’t sights. They are a reference point to help the shooter align the weapon until he is accustomed to the fit of the shotgun. When shooting at small moving targets like clay pigeons, doves or quail, the experienced shotgunner never “aims” the shotgun the way a rifle is aimed. A shotgunner is going on feel, view, and instinct - summed up in the now overused term muscle memory. You know where the end of the barrel should be in relation to your intended target.

Things have changed over the years. You can get shotguns with rifle sights or mount scopes or red dot sights or ghost ring sights. A lot of turkey hunters these days use red dots, scopes, or fiber optic sights because laying a very tight pattern precisely onto a tom’s head is the best way to bring him down and not have to pick shot out of your Thanksgiving dinner.

If a person is going to shoot slugs in a shotgun, precision sights are a necessity. I shoot rifled slugs in my 870 by screwing in the Improved Cylinder choke. I can get reasonable accuracy out to 100 yards - and by reasonable, I can keep 3 shots inside a 5-inch diameter circle. Shooting even 2-¾” 12-gauge off a bench or from a sitting position is a little tiring. The sights make all the difference. I mounted a fiber optic rear sight on my shotgun’s vent rib. After some experimentation with a matching fiber optic front sight, I decided to remove the front sight and use the standard bead in combination with the rear sight. This gives me sufficient fineness in alignment that I would feel quite confident on deer within 100 yards, maybe a little farther in good light.

For home defense, an even better approach would be to buy a shorter, rifled-sighted Improved Cylinder barrel on the 870. The 30-inch barrel that came on the shotgun is a little awkward in tight spots. A 20” barrel would be significantly more maneuverable.

If you really want handiness in a shotgun, get a “coach gun” - that is, a perfectly legal and traditional-looking double-barrel shotgun with a barrel length of 18-½ or 20 inches. The break-open action of a double shortens the overall shotgun length. Make sure you get a shotgun with ejectors rather than extractors, so that when you open the action, it ejects the spent hull or hulls completely. Don’t ever “give ‘em both barrels” - it’s unnecessary, but there is no faster follow-up shot than the second shot from a double. If you think that you might need more than two shots, it’s fairly easy to practice carrying one to three rounds between the fingers of your weak hand (i.e., the left for right-handers), opening the action and dropping a shell in to replace the ejected one. I learned to do something similar hunting quail with a break-open single-barrel. The other nice thing about a double is that it is rather intimidating when viewed from the business end.

Now, as to why I like shotguns despite their short range: I have seen them work. They do not blow creatures to bits. A shotgun will not necessarily knock an animal or a human off its feet. There is a scene in Open Range where Boss (Robert Duvall) is inside a building and shoots a bad guy through the wall with his double-barrel shotgun. I'm assuming he used both barrels because the blast took out about a 12-inch diameter section of the board siding and hurled the bad guy ten feet across the alley. He landed in a limp, lifeless heap. Down home we have a word for that, but since I'm G-Rated, I will say it is "fiction". Pure fiction. I've rolled rabbits backend over frontend with a shotgun. Don't expect it on anything bigger.

The effectiveness of a shotgun is in the amount of blood it lets out. Within its range on soft targets, a shotgun loaded with something like #2 shot has almost no equal in causing blood loss. The shot does not have to penetrate as deeply as single projectiles because of the large number that strike and the large area over which they strike. I have some 00 buckshot loads, but the range for them is still quite limited. They will penetrate better than smaller shot, but to be most effective they need to still be in a "bunch" when they impact. That means, if the shotgun has an open choke, fifteen yards is probably optimum. A full or extra-full choke like I normally use might get you another ten yards. Twenty-five yards is all I'd count on with any shotgun and any shot. (Slugs are not shot.)

Another limitation of the shotgun is its inability to penetrate cover, such as car doors, or a ballistic vest. Bad guys may well start wearing body armor, which is pretty effective against pistol rounds and shotguns. I've heard that regular slugs will not penetrate even the body armor that can be worn under clothes. That may be the case. I'm sure shot won't. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind, aside from the obvious head shot: a) what I said earlier about shotguns not knocking a person off their feet does not apply if a shotgun slug hits body armor that it cannot penetrate — it's going to hurt — keep shooting; and, b) there are a lot of blood vessels, big ones, in the leg of a human and gravity is your friend. Shoot low, Sheriff, she's ridin' a Shetland.

On the so-called assault rifles, especially the AR and its clones - I don’t have one. I don’t have a particular use for one. I’ve qualified with them. They have a lot of advantages such as weight, capacity, aftermarket accessories, picatinny rails and attachments. Most of the AR variants are quite accurate and easy to shoot, and they are apparently much more reliable than the first generation. They are durable, easy to field strip, clean, and repair, if you have the parts. Because they are well-designed ergonomically and designed to be carried, a person is more likely to have one with him/her when he/she needs it. I have nothing bad to say about AR’s. If you like them, get one.

For foraging, I would be far more likely to use a traditional bolt-action, lever-action, or even a single-shot rifle. I’d be far more likely to use a nice, quiet .22LR or a long-barreled .22WMR rifle for most of my hunting locally. Selection of a centerfire caliber varies by location - varies greatly. If I lived in the Plains or the Mountain West, I’d make sure I had something with a reasonably flat trajectory, like a .270. If I thought I’d run into a grizzly bear, I’d probably think about at least one of the .300 magnums or larger. Around here, the .223 is perfectly legal for deer, and within its limits, with a good bullet, it works well as long as it doesn’t have to penetrate too much mass to get to the vitals. I like to use rounds that are powder-efficient, as are many of the smaller cases. It’s interesting. For a long time, the “official” deer rifle was, of course, the .30-30, then the .30-06. During the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, everyone seemed to have a .243 or 6mm. Lately, all my rowdy friends have gone to .22 centerfires - less recoil, less muzzle blast, less powder, same result.

Frankly, if I weren’t concerned about legality, I could get by just fine with a .22WMR. Remington still makes their 597 Magnum autoloader. My research indicates that extraction and feeding problems are not that common, and the rifle is fairly accurate. It probably runs around $400 these days. For considerably less you could also pick up a Savage or Marlin bolt-action. A Henry lever-action .22 mag might also be less expensive. Seems like the CZ bolt-action I was looking at a while back was around $400, but it was a thing of beauty with a full Mannlicher stock and all steel components. The nice thing about a .22 magnum is that it will do nearly what a .223 does for the first 100 yards. Fifty rounds of .22WMR will fit in a pocket without weighing you down and cost you in the neighborhood of 18 cents to 25 cents a shot. I can reload a .223 for maybe a little less than that, depending on the bullets I use, if I don’t count my time. To each his own, but I would prefer at least a 22-inch barrel on a .22 magnum. My favorite is my old Mossberg 640KB with a 24-inch barrel. It’s quieter than most regular .22’s. With barrels less than 22 inches, the magnum has considerable muzzle-blast. From my Single-Six, it is more painful on my unplugged ears than a .44 magnum from my Super Blackhawk.

I know there will be some who dispute my comparison of the .22WMR to the .223, and I understand from an external ballistic point-of-view, the .223 seems far superior - more than 1000 fps faster than the fastest .22 magnum with a slightly heavier bullet. Even the .22 Hornet leaves the WMR in the dust. However, in terms of performance on game, the .22 magnum holds its own quite well.

While, as I said earlier, the shotgun is our weapon of choice, a reasonable case could be made for a .22LR rifle, especially an accurate, compact, reliable autoloader like the Ruger 10/22 or the Marlin 60/70 as the best single weapon a person could own. Don’t ask me how I know this, but a .22 is adequate for a humane kill on an Ozark whitetail. I wouldn’t say it’s the best choice but it is adequate, especially in the hands of a decent shot. As a defensive round, the .22LR, even with premium ammunition like the CCI Stinger, is less than perfect. It lacks penetration. Nevertheless, I’m sure two, three, or more center-of-mass or central nervous system hits from a .22 rifle would be extremely discouraging to anyone attempting mayhem on your person or property. A rifle like the Ruger 10/22, with some very economical practice, makes that pretty easy. Even peripheral wounds from a .22 would most likely encourage a predator to look for a less troublesome victim. Again, we’re talking about a potential Second Great Depression rather than a complete breakdown of society.

If you are not going to practice, at least dry-firing, and familiarize yourself with a firearm, I’d almost say you’re better off without one -- maybe consider an aluminum baseball bat instead. Almost. On the local news, just a couple of weeks ago as I write, they reported that a double homicide had been committed by a repeat offender. They flashed the murderer’s mugshot up on the screen. He is covered in tattoos. He has spent most of his 30 years in prison or on parole. His rap sheet isn’t a sheet, it’s a book several inches thick. He was in the house in a rural area when the owners returned home. There is no indication that the victims threatened the perpetrator or offered any resistance. He could have just taken the stuff he wanted and left. He didn’t. The couple he murdered had just celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary. Mr. Wilson was 82 and a veteran. His wife was 76. The animal - no, animals aren’t capable of such evil - the sick asshole raped the woman before shooting both victims in the back of the head.

Get a firearm, practice with it, carry it, and be prepared to use it. Don’t do anything illegal. If you need a permit to carry concealed, get one.

This brings up another point. Living in a more rural area is not a guarantee of safety. People in rural areas are more isolated and farther from law enforcement. They may also be assumed to be “richer” or to have a stash of cash or values. This view is likely to become more prevalent rather than less in an economic collapse. I don’t know the sequence of events in the situation just described, but some alertness on the part of the victims might have saved them. Their house appears to have been old. They may have been used to leaving their doors unlocked or possibly just minimally secured. I doubt they even had deadbolts. Only one door on my dad’s house had a deadbolt. The other two exterior doors could be carded. It is important to be alert and aware, especially of things that don’t “look right”, that are out of place or not the way you remember leaving them. Most of the time it will turn out to be nothing. The one time it isn’t could save your life or the life of a loved one.

No firearm will save you if you are stupid. In fact, if you are stupid, I have only one thing to say: Get off my blog!

Hard Times

Part 1 -- Pyramids in Argentina
Part 2 -- Bricks without straw
Part 3 -- Still Thinking
Part 4 -- Health
Part 5 -- Food for Thought
Part 6 — Alternatives

If hard times are on the horizon, and you have the time and resources to prepare now, it would be prudent to do so. One simple step is to make a list of the things you use every day from soap to toilet paper, pens and paper to socks and shoes. Every time you pick up something this week, think about where it came from and how it came into your hand. Think about whether it would be easy or difficult to get by without it. It is not a question of whether you like or enjoy the thing, but how essential it is to helping you and your family get through the day.

After you have a list of frequently used and important items, consider how hard it would be to make those things or to make alternatives to those things. Let's take shoes for example. Can you make a decent pair of shoes? I'm pretty sure I can't. I could possibly tan a deer hide and make some passable mocassins if I had to, but they are not as usable as Redwing boots or New Balance running shoes. I would be wise to make sure I had sufficient footwear available to get me through difficult or lean times. Now is the time to buy and accumulate sturdy, comfortable boots and shoes, as well as any similar items. If the lack of boots would cause a hardship, buy boots. Of course, where you live, boots may not be necessary. You may need five-gallon buckets of mosquito repellant and sunscreen, or a parka, or bicycle tires or eyeglasses, nails, or glue. Everybody's list will be different. You have to make it yourself and not depend on somebody else. I have stacks of disposable BIC butane lighters, mostly the small ones, still in the blister packs, because I live in the country and I often need to start fires and I hate matches.

While you are accumulating these necessities, study your list of frequently used items for things that might be useful for barter — things that you could acquire in surplus and that are easy to store long-term. What you want are supplies you can trade for something you might run out of or just not have when you need it. Add to the barter list some things you rarely or never use yourself or that might be luxuries in hard times. For example, I might consider buying a few half-pints or pints of hard liquor which will store indefinitely in the odd corner — especially since I no longer drink. Tobacco products might be good as well for those of us who are non-tobacco users. Get extra needles, thread, buttons, pencils, paper, nails, screws, wire, cordage, fishing tackle, and ammunition, all of which can be stacked up somewhere dry and secure for use by yourself or in trade. Next time you are in your favorite discount store consider picking up a couple of cheap hammers, cutting tools, or other small handy tools to use in barter.

Consider alternative uses for items you now throw away such as junk mail, telephone books, coffee cans, cardboard and other packaging materials.

For preserving food in difficult times, freezing is great but nothing beats canning. It's not hard to learn. There are lots of resources on the Web or in the bookstores to get you started. If you garden or have access to substantial quantities of vegetables, fruits, or even meat, you cannot afford not to can. I recommend a pressure cooker as the safest, most reliable method. For a small initial investment you will be able to fill your pantry with your own jars of home-canned tomatoes, beans, peaches, or other foods. All you have to do is replace your flats. Buy lots and lots of flats, which take up next to no room, store indefinitely and are worth their weight in gold if you are trying to avoid going hungry. My mother would occasionally re-use flats, but I think that's a little risky if you have to depend on your stash. I suppose, though, if you sterilize them well, and if they seal, they are just as good as new ones.

My view is that you just can't have too many good knives and good big knives no matter what — and there are other tools that you might think about acquiring for your own specific location, situation, and environment. I have a little, light chainsaw, several axes, cultivators, shovels, hoes, forks, and mattocks, as well as the means to keep them sharp and well-maintained. If you have wooden handles on your tools, get some kind of preservative such as boiled linseed oil to keep them from splintering or rotting. I am kind of partial to Johnson's Paste Wax which I also use on my traditional firearms — the ones with blue steel and wood. Have a selection of files and whetstones, lubricants and preservatives to go with the tools you will need.

I suggest making sure you have a Bible or two. In fact, I recommend acquiring a good supply of books of various kinds, including ones containing practical information, books of religion and philosophy, history, and fiction. E-books are fine, but I have my favorites and my most useful ones in hardcopy. The power may go out or my harddrive might crash or I might drop my smartphone in the toilet. Hardcopy books need only the usual wireless optic connection to provide us with information, entertainment, insight, and inspiration.

Along with books, it is a good idea to have a supply of games, music, and DVD's. As I said earlier, I don't expect the world to go completely Mad Max, Eli, or Postman on us. We are in a period of financial turmoil and potential monetary collapse, not a total breakdown of civilization.

Let me digress a moment, when I say "I expect" this or that, I don't mean I think something will necessarily happen, especially in detail. Rather I think it has a reasonable probability of occurring such that it would be wise to prepare for it. I'm not making predictions. People who look at the current situation and extrapolate — which is what I am doing — are frequently wrong because unforeseen events take place. New technologies do emerge, often almost overnight, or so it seems. The Yellowstone Caldera may blow, and I won't have to worry about anything. Still, I think my overall expectations are moderately probable.

I expect things to get tight.
I expect the dollar to fall and prices to go very high.
I expect to stay home. A lot.
I expect fuel to become expensive.
I expect electricity to be mostly available, though the grid may become less reliable, but I also expect electric power to become much more costly.

Give those expectations, cable and satellite services may become luxuries some of us will give up. I've already given them up. I still watch broadcast television for the local news and weather — though not every day. I might total an hour a week in the summer, a little more in the winter. National news is mostly propaganda or misdirection. Most of the crap on television is, well, crap — there being occasional exceptions on the Discovery Channel or the History Channel.

In the coming hard times, we will need to feed our bodies, but we should not neglect our souls. I can watch Ride the High Country, The Magnificent Seven, True Grit, Last of the Mohicans, or LOTR repeatedly for years and enjoy them every time, and have it cost only a small amount of juice to a TV, portable DVD player, or laptop. Make sure you have music in an MP3 player or CD's or something. Have a musical instrument or two, even if you don't play. You may have time to finally learn a few guitar chords or to blow the blues harp.

What’s the point in surviving if it’s no fun?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Alternative Lifestyles

Part 1 -- Pyramids in Argentina
Part 2 -- Bricks without straw
Part 3 -- Still Thinking
Part 4 -- Health
Part 5 -- Food for Thought

Make this word part of your vocabulary: alternatives. We need to have alternatives for all the things we consider a normal part of life here in the United States.

The REA had finally gotten electric lines to our part of the sticks a couple of years before I was born. Reliable delivery of electrical power was still a few years in the future at that point. I remember many times using kerosene lamps — the big glass ones that Mom and Dad had used before they got electricity — because the power would go out. Being in the dark is a drag. Keep plenty of batteries on hand. I know some have the expiration dates printed on them so you have an easier time keeping the older ones on top. I am amazed at the amount of light we can get from LED flashlights and lamps. They are very easy on batteries, and it would be wise to have several LED devices in various configurations. I am also a big fan of Maglites because they are so tough. I have a 3 D-cell Maglite that would floor a pachyderm. Rechargeable flashlights are good, but most of the ones I've had tend to lose their ability to hold a charge over time. Everybody should probably have at least one handcrank light.

Handcrank appliances like lights and radios that will also charge cellphones and other devices via USB connection or whatever could be really handy. I am not sure how they will hold up long term, but they are certainly worth having in an emergency. Solar chargers are another possibility.

Of course, the traditional low-tech light and heat sources such as candles and oil lamps and lanterns should be stocked along with some fuel.

In a short-term emergency, generators are valuable. I use a propane generator, but I'm not sure of the availability of propane. If I can't get propane, I probably can't get diesel or gasoline, either, and propane stores so much better. As I've said, I don't expect a complete collapse of civilization, just hard times. I think fuels will be available, albeit perhaps in more limited quantities and/or decreasing quality. If I can run a generator even briefly to power my water pump, it will make life much easier.

Clean water is essential. If the grid goes down, in many cases, a municipal water supply will keep going, at least for a time. It will still be clean and safe. Your basic indoor plumbing will also continue to function, even without electricity in many cases. That is not so for those of us out in the country who have our own wells. We have to be able to run power the water pump, have a store of water, or, possibly, have access to a spring or ground water of some sort. It's probably a good idea to have a few gallons of water at all times. Farm supply stores will often have fairly inexpensive 40 or 55 gallon plastic barrels with screw-on lids and spigots. Filling a couple of those barrels with water and adding the appropriate amount of chlorine will make for a decent emergency water supply. Setting them up on blocks or whatever will give you room to get a bucket under the little spout. I've even attached hoses to the spigot and elevated them on my tractor for watering plants that the hoses from the house won't reach. Remember a gallon of water weighes about 8 pounds. Forty gallons equals 320 pounds. Put the barrel where you want it before you fill it.

What about alternative means of transportation? I think gasoline and other fuels will be available, but more expensive and more difficult to acquire. What do you do if you can't get gas, or you can't get much gas? Can you ride your bicycle? How much can you haul on it? An old cruiser is probably better than a dedicated racer. Some mountain bikes are probably all right, depending on how they are set up. Is a bike trailer a possibility for increasing your hauling capacity? What about horses, mules, or other beasts of burden? If you have room, a horse or mule may be a feasibility. But they are not without their own needs, and, while they may consume alternative fuel, their care and feeding must be planned for in advance. They may not need tires, but they will need shoes. Be realistic about your ability to feed and care for animals in tough times.

Another option might be to use a motorcycle or motor scooter. These machines give you speed and range while requiring far less gasoline to keep them going. As the old folks said, walking ain't all been took up yet. You really can cover a considerable distance on foot if you are in moderately good shape. I recently did about ten miles in three hours while the heat index was over 100, and I was wearing black dress clothes and a pair of too-tight Noconas with Spanish riding heels. It's a long story, but the adrenaline only helped for the first three or four miles.

Rickshaws and sedan cars will probably work only if you are a good-looking female. But do use your imagination and consider the advantages and disadvantages of your personal situation. A rickshaw-type human-powered trailer will allow you to haul much heavier and bulkier loads. Forget the assault wheelbarrows. If you have a medium to large dog, you might use it to pull a cart or wagon. Maybe you could build a still and power your flex-fuel Silverado with moonshine. The important thing is to do what you can right now.

Start thinking of alternative ways to provide the essentials you will need. Do not think that the government is going to come along to bail us out. They are the cause of the problem. Government produces nothing and only has what it takes from others. If the "others" either have nothing or are part of the "ruling class" along with the politicians and bureaucrats, those of us out here in flyover country will be left to twist in the wind or take care of it ourselves.

I try not to worry about any of this stuff. I trust God. Prudence is not a lack of trust in God's power. There is such a thing as a gift of wisdom, which God will give to those who ask. Wisdom prepares for difficulties to the extent possible. It is simply the opposite of sloth and laziness. Wisdom says do what you can when you can. But wisdom never says to worry, fret, or fear, and the last thing I would want to do is cause a person to worry or to fear the future. Do what you can, fear not, and trust in the Lord.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Food for Thought Updated

Part 1 -- Pyramids in Argentina
Part 2 -- Bricks without straw
Part 3 -- Still Thinking
Part 4 -- Health

If I were a real prepper, I'd probably talk about air next. So, you can only live about three minutes without air. Breathe deep. And whatever you do, don't stop breathing — unless you are under water or possibly buried alive in the old mine you knew you shouldn't have entered and Lassie stood at the entrance and tried to block your way but you were going to show the dumb dog so now your only hope is that she can convince June Lockhart to ring up Big John or Mr. Edwards on that funky wind up telephone to come and dig you out. Or you could just avoid getting into places where you can't breathe, which is my recommendation.

Next I should talk about water. Everybody needs water. I need water to make coffee. I will actually discuss water a little more in a later post.

That brings us to food. One of the perniciously persistent ideas people cling to is that of "living off the land". There is a deep-seated belief that if we just had the skills, as Napoleon Dynamite might say, we could survive like our ancestors as hunter-gatherers. First, let me point out that there are over 300 million people in the United States. Without the advantages of modern agriculture, a significant portion of that 300 million would get mighty hungry. Second, my grandmother taught me to skin squirrels. She thought two or three squirrels could make a decent meal, but she usually made the tree-rat equivalent of chicken-and-dumplings. Straight fried squirrel does not go very far. Even if you eat squirrel brains, there just isn't much there to start. Rabbit is the same way. They might be a good, if limited source, of protein, but you are going to get little necessary fat from them. The same is true of most game, except for bears, opossums, and raccoons — or so I hear. Grandma also thought groundhogs, aka woodchucks, were good eating. Groundhogs carry quite a bit of fat by the end of summer. But that is only the beginning of the problem.

If a large portion of the human population were to start seriously foraging, wild game would get even wilder, as well as more scarce. In Texas and Oklahoma, and increasingly in southern Missouri, we use armadillos for speed bumps. In Ohio, they apparently use whitetail deer. I remember driving through a park in Cleveland thick with deer that hardly had sense enough to get out of the way of the car. If people get hungry, the dumb deer won't last long and the smart will quickly learn to avoid humans altogether. If poaching and jacklighting were to become widely practiced, we could see whitetails pushed, if not to extinction, at least to the point of scarcity. That may sound unbelievable to a generation accustomed to urban deer and other wildlife, but many of us remember when wildlife was much less common.

In short, I would not plan on living off wild game except in emergency situations. It is not sustainable for a large human population. The same is true of foraging for other wild edibles such as berries, nuts, and roots. Hickory nuts aren't bad. Blackberries are hard to beat. I wouldn't count on them getting me through the winter.

Humans started agriculture for a reason — so they would not starve. Raising food — grains, vegetables, livestock, poultry, etc., allows for a positive ROI — not in money but in calories, as well as time. It is much more efficient to have a domestic milk cow, despite the trouble and routine work involved, than to hunt down and attempt to milk a buffalo, for example. That's just not prudent.

I love to hunt. I like to get out in the woods and get away from everything. I like sitting somewhere, being both relaxed and alert, enjoying the wild world and being a part of it as a predator. But I'm not so naive as to mistake enjoyment for efficiency. Hunting is inefficient in terms of time and often the energy invested. Trapping and snaring are a little better, but it's still not as efficient as being able to walk out in the garden or the field and harvest what you have grown and tended. Keeping a few animals along with growing some grain and vegetables is the best way to get the necessary energy to live — aside from going to the store and buying it off the shelf.

I think everybody should have at least a little experience growing their own food. If a person has a yard, they should have a garden. I also see more community gardens and places where apartment dwellers can rent a small plot. It's a good investment of both time and money. If you are going to try gardening, I suggest using heirloom seeds — that is, non-hybrids that pollinate and germinate true to the parent plant. A couple of sources that I can recommend from personal experience are the folks at Sustainable Seeds and Baker Creek Seeds. Baker Creek has a nice catalog that you can get to help nurture your gardening impulses.

A small backyard garden can be a substantial, even vital supplement if the soil is built up and maintained. There are lots of sites that will give you guidance on composting for soil enrichment. I have nothing against commercial fertilizers, but they can be expensive. They can also be hard to get. Plus, their composition is limited. Compost and manure add trace elements and a certain je ne sais que — an aroma of the life-force for want of a better phrase. Good soil is living soil.

Given adequate space, I think it's possible to raise much if not most of your own food. When I was a kid, our garden was probably about an acre, plus we had a separate plot — usually about a quarter acre, just for potatoes. We always grew enough potatoes to get us through the winter. Mom canned tomatoes, beans, corn, pickles, beets, and jelly in copious amounts. We bought a big chest-type freezer and froze even more food. We raised our own chickens for eggs and meat, and we butchered a hog or two every year. We had a smokehouse for the hams and bacon.

We never lacked food, but it was a lot of work, and it required a certain level of skill and experience. My parents and their parents and their parents' parents had known how to sustain themselves by agriculture. I know a lot of stuff they didn't know. I know some of what they knew, but not nearly all of it. Life was getting easier for us, and I was on the tail-end of those generations of subsistence farmers. I saw it done. I know how to do a lot of it, but that's not the same as being able to do it. Overconfidence is the opposite of prudence. Thinking that I know it all can be fatal. We need to learn, develop, and hone our skills before things get too critical, while there is a little room yet to fall back and survive a failed attempt.

To summarize:
Learn to grow at least some of your own food, preferably with seeds that can be harvested and saved for the next season.
Learn to preserve your own food by canning, dehydrating, freezing, smoking, etc.
Start developing your skills now. Don't wait until it really is life and death.

Though people should learn to grow and preserve at least some of their own food, it is also important to have a good store of food right now. To recap my view of the way things are going, I think we are facing a breakdown in our economic system. Our current situation is unsustainable in terms of government debt, and the government's ultimate solution will be to devalue the dollar even further. Food, fuel, and utilities will become more expensive and possibly decrease in quantity and quality. I think things will become difficult for a lot of people. Therefore, it is important to prepare as much as possible while you have the resources to do so.

If you want to buy hard red winter wheat in bulk and store it in nitrogen-sealed food-grade containers, please do so. Personally, I'm buying canned chili. Seriously. Forget, for a moment, economic collapse, and consider something as simple as an ice storm. A few years ago, a nearby city was hit with a huge ice storm. Not just tree limbs but trees were toppled. Power lines were down everywhere. The city crews were busy fixing the lines, but much of the damage was done to weatherheads on homes, which were the homeowners' responsibility. Imagine thousands of people needing the services of electricians at the same time. People sat for days with no power. Initially ice made ground travel hazardous. When travel was possible, every generator within a fifty mile radius was gone in about fifteen minutes. Store shelves were cleared of food and bottled water.

There is a place for MRE's. If you have to head out with just what you can carry, a supply of MRE's will be lighter and take up less space than anything else. If you think you might have to evacuate your home for whatever reason, MRE's should go in your bug-out bag or your boogie box or whatever you have. Meanwhile, if you are playing at home, you can eat tuna right out of the can, no heat or water needed. Are those Vikings? What’s that they’re saying? Spam? Think of it as pemmican in a can. But let's not limit the selection to Starkist and Spam, there are all kinds of foods that a person can get off the grocery store shelves right now that will keep body and soul together for an extended period of time. They require little to no preparation aside from the use of a can opener, and you can even use your Swiss Army Knife or P-38 if you want to feel manly. The main thing is to stock stuff that requires little or no water or fire to prepare. The less resources used the better in any kind of challenging situation. Always store food you like and will eat in any case, rotate and replenish. I've heard Dinty Moore Beef Stew is still good after ten years. I think I'll let someone be the test case for that.

Keep a good supply of staple items that you normally use such as salt, sugar, flour, cornmeal, oil, tea, COFFEE, beans, etc.  Don't forget spices.  If, in the course of dealing with economic difficulties, you find yourself getting by with some of the less prime cuts of meat, foraging for small game or whatever, a good supply and variety of spices will make those items much more palatable.  You can buy salt or sugar cure mixture for preserving meat, but kosher salt works.  I prefer it to "table salt" in canning as well.

It the event of power failures or interruptions, a full freezer will last longer than a half full one.  Invest in some plastic ice packs and use them to take up the empty space as you use up the food.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

I Always Hated Health Class

Part 1 -- Pyramids in Argentina
Part 2 -- Bricks without straw
Part 3 -- Still Thinking

As far as dealing with an economic collapse, having gold or any of the other commonly recommended resources is not nearly as important as having good health.  The first thing I think everyone should consider is health.  If a person is in need of an elective medical procedure, now would be a really good time to get that done.  Not only will medical treatment get more expensive, but the rationing of health care is an impending reality, as is the deterioration of medical care.  Besides, why suffer with something when it can be corrected. 

Aside from medical procedures, if a person is not in reasonably good physical condition, now would be a good time to begin exercising and eating better.  I used to joke that I carried a six-month supply of food with me at all times.  It's not so funny when you can't move quickly or you find yourself puffing climbing up the basement steps.  A little excess body fat isn't a problem.  If you can count your ribs in the mirror, you're probably too skinny.  If you think, 'I know I've got ribs under here somewhere', or, 'Umm, ribs!', you might need to lose weight. 

Exercise doesn't have to be a big expensive process.  There's no need to join a gym unless a person feels that would be motivational for him or her.  The important thing is to develop endurance, general strength, and coordination.  A good start on this can be obtained with a decent pair of shoes and no more equipment than perhaps a jump rope.  If you can't "pull your own weight", consider calisthenics and body weight exercises which require little or no equipment.  Weightlifting to improve or maintain your strength is not a bad idea, and, again, it doesn't have to be excessively expensive.  A person is never going to wear out even moderately priced weights.  In my opinion the best real-world weight lifting exercises are the Olympic-style power clean and jerk and the squat — especially the front squat.  With all strength training, first concentrate on form rather than repetitions or weight.

Also on the topic of health, I recommend stockpiling vitamins and supplements that one thinks might be beneficial.  If a person needs presciptions medications, some provision for building a reasonable reserve of those medications would be prudent.  All of us should have bandages — adhesive and gauze, and topical antibiotics.  A magnifying glass on a stand comes in very handy for such things as removing splinters.  OTC medications for treating pain, insect bites, blisters, rashes, allergies, etc. are useful.  Use your imagination with regard to things you might need if you were isolated and could not get to a doctor, an emergency room, or a pharmacy — or if there were no supplies to be had at the pharmacy or Wal-Mart.  From cuts to dog bites to colds to diarrhea, it is wise to have basic treatments on hand.  Watch the expiration dates and the storage environment.  Rotate and replenish.   

On the subject of antibiotics drugs, I am conflicted.  Obviously, these drugs can be life-savers.  It's my opinion that the various antibiotics have been a major contributing factor to extending life expectancy both in the United States and around the world.  It's very easy, though, to misuse and overuse antibiotics.  Antibiotics can kill off intestinal flora and cause digestive problems.  I suspect they contribute to the development of allergies.  Sloppily prescribing antibiotics and being even sloppier in following the directions for their use have helped create resistant strains of superbugs.  Nevertheless, having an emergency supply of antibiotics could mean the difference between recovering from a relatively minor injury and death by sepsis.

I'm not sure it's wise or legal, and it's not something I would normally do or ever encourage, but I have known farmers who kept a supply of antibiotics for their livestock.  Some of those farmers have used the drugs on themselves without apparent ill effects.  Again, I'm not recommending it.  I'm relating what I've heard. 

A extraordinarily gifted orthopedic surgeon once told me that he was not a healer.  He considered himself more or less a carpenter.  He put things in order so that healing could take place.  Maintaining health is usually  a mostly thoughtless process of not doing damage.  Regaining health is usually a matter of not doing further damage and avoiding secondary infections in the case of wounds.  I've heard missionaries talk about hospitals in third-world countries.  Being hospitalized in many areas of Africa was considered a virtual death sentence.  Even in the United States we have problems with nosocomial infections.  With the influx of illegals we are seeing a return of tuberculois.  Dengue fever has been seen in the southern United States. 

My personal approach to medicine is to avoid doctors, clinics, and hospitals as much as possible.  While it's worked pretty well for me, it's not a recommendation for anyone else.  No one is immune to illness or accident.  All it takes is a moment of inattention on the road, a misstep, or a few wild cells, and I or anyone can be laid low.  People with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, are always going to be more dependent on medical facilities.  All of us, however, need to learn to take responsibility for our health and to take care of ourselves as much as possible.      

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Meanwhile I Was Still Thinking

Part 1 -- Pyramids in Argentina
Part 2 -- Bricks without straw

If we really are in a deflationary cycle, then the best thing a person can do is get out of debt and stockpile cash. If we are facing inflation or hyperinflation, then cash is going to become increasingly worthless. Debt will be more or less wiped out. People on a fixed income or who are functional creditors will suffer significantly.

What should the wise and the prudent do? Bug out to the country? Go live with the Amish? Move to Belize? There is no easy answer, but we can consider some things as catalysts for thinking about our specific, personal situations.

Unless a person lives in a really bad neighborhood or bad situation, staying put and "fortifying" the position is usually going to be the best long-term approach. If you live where you can reasonably expect to be flooded, hit by a hurricane or earthquake, or get caught up in rioting, then having a plan and provisions to hurriedly leave the area is clearly the wise thing to do. All of us should, in any case, have a grab-and-go bag with some essentials in the event we have to evacuate quickly in the face of fire, threatening weather, or other issues.

I'll cover various preparations I think it wise to make, mostly to help me think through all of it myself. I'm not advocating "survivalism" or any kind of paramilitary "militia" preparation. I don't think those things are necessary. I do not believe we are facing a total collapse of civilization. I think we are about to face significant economic hardship such as has not been seen in America at least since the Great Depression. Indeed, I suspect it could be even more difficult than those times.

And if I'm wrong? None of the things I suggest will really make anyone look foolish. Nor am I selling anything. I am certainly not encouraging people to spend money they don't have on things they don't need. I just want to think through it myself and perhaps help others to do the same.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Part 2 -- Bricks Without Straw? Or, More Straw Chasing Fewer Bricks?

See Part 1 -- "Pyramids in Argentina"

Currently America is in the midst of a downward economic spiral.  Some compare it to Japan’s Lost Decade of the ‘90’s.  Japan did not, during that time, descend into unrest and violence.  Yet Japan’s unemployment rate never rose above 5.5%, although that was from an average well under 3%, so unemployment doubled, much as the United State’s rate has done.  The question is, will Americans quietly endure a slow recovery as the Japanese did, or will we become more like Argentina? 

The United States could have a relatively rapid recovery if the Federal government were wise enough to cut spending drastically, free up private capital through tax cuts, and get government debt under control.  Unfortunately our government is being run by academics and theorists or thugs and con artists most of whom never had a real job or worked in the private sector.  They consider themselves the elite, the braintrust.  They believe they are a protected class, entitled to make decisions in our "best interests" despite majority opposition to their approach.  They lack the understanding to do the right thing, and, even if they understood, they lack the political will. 

November 2010 will not save us.  Even if Republicans take over the House (likely, but hardly a given) and the Senate (less likely), they will not be able to make much progress against the mass of the existing bureaucracy and the expanding power of the Executive branch.  The media will side with the President, the government unions, teachers’ unions, and the bureaucrats to quash every effort of Congress that goes in the direction of reducing the size and scope of government.  The propaganda arm of the collectivist elite will become a media air force, carpet bombing the populace with “terror on every side”.   The blame for every evil will be shifted to the opposition.  Republican politicians are still politicians.  They will try to compromise and get along so as not to be completely vilified.  While an opposition party in control of the House of Representatives would be able to slow the urban elite agenda, for the most part they will find themselves outmaneuvered by the President and his media allies.  Momentum will be lost and the debt will continue to mount.     

The reason for my pessimism is this lack of political will.  In this respect, we are very like Argentina.  Rather than freeing up the economy to reward creativity, hard work, and innovation, politicians seek a sort of economic "peace in our time" — surrendering principle for some temporary bump or gain in popularity while setting us up for devastation. 

Which is more likely — deflation or inflation?  I have thought for the last two years that it would be inflation, that our temporary, alleged deflation is just a function of recessionary pull-back in consumer spending.  Far wiser and better-informed people than I, believe than an aging American population with an increasing need to save for retirement will increase its savings rate — which is deflationary.  As is, currently, the Federal Reserves policy with regard to most banks.  Banks are not loaning money to the private sector, despite the zero interest policy of the Fed.  Financial institutions can avoid risk and make money by putting their assets into Treasuries, that is, loaning money to the Federal government.  Thus they are not loaning to businesses and the private citizens.  The money created by Federal Reserve fiat is not going out into the private sector to be the proverbial “more dollars chasing fewer goods” that creates the classic inflation scenario.  The situation currently might be described as “disinflation” rather than deflation. 

Nevertheless, inflation/hyperinflation still scares me.  We are tottering on the brink.  If there is any growth or hint of growth in the economy, things will change rapidly.  Right now, the flood of inflationary dollars is held behind a temporary dam of high unemployment and risk-averse banking institutions.  For the moment, the velocity of money has slowed almost to a standstill.  The housing and equity markets have "deflated" but the costs of many goods — especially food — is showing signs of inflating.

Stagnation or depression?  I don't know.  Economic hardship is almost a given no matter what.  Even if our governments started doing the right thing today, we would be some time in getting our economy back on a track of healthy, legitimate growth. 

Instead of listening to Barack Obama when he is reading the teleprompter, it might be helpful to see what he says in less structured moments.  Prior to the massive, “health care reform” bill’s passage, Obama made a statement saying that we were on the “precipice” of reforming health care.  The definition of precipice is a) a high cliff or crag, or b) a dangerous state or dangerous situation.  This is Obama’s unconscious talking.  Now he could have meant that it was dangerous because it seemed the bill might not pass at the time, but that wasn’t at all how it sounded.  Perhaps at a subconscious level, he knows that the destruction of the finest health care system in the world is impending. 

More recently I heard Obama speak from his subconscious again when he was talking about the slow economic “recovery”.  He said that it would take some time to “dig ourselves out of the hole we’re in”.  Generally, one does not dig out of a hole.  I could cut Barack some slack, since I doubt he’s ever had a shovel in his never-callused hand.  Still, I think it’s his unconscious admitting that everything he is doing is putting America deeper in the hole.  That is certainly the case.  Government debt is crushing the possibility of growth in the private sector.  The only expansion that has taken place in the last two years is an expansion of government.  Only the government is hiring, and the government produces nothing.  All government is parasitic rather than productive.  

Limited government, sensible government is, or can be symbiotic with regard to business and capitalism.  As government grows, however, it forces a change in the nature of capitalism.  The capitalists can either bail out - go Galt, or they can become statist partners with government.  People like George Soros, corporations like IBM and GE, and many of the Wall Street elite have taken the latter approach.  They have learned that it is relatively easy to control the economy when it is heavily regulated from a central location.  Government is used to regulate the competition out of existence. 

Individuals are much harder to control than herds.  "Corporatist" as opposed to "capitalist" business leaders prefer a centrally controlled economy.  There are not nearly so many variables, and not nearly so many bribes to pay out.