Monday, February 14, 2011

Where To Be or Not To Be

Bill Bonner from the Daily Reckoning speculates on Black Swans and bad places to be during the revolution -- that would be anywhere in the general vicinity.

What strikes me about what he says is the unpredictability of it all. We never really see it coming, and even if we do, it never falls as we would expect it to. The very nature of these events make them nearly impossible to forecast. This tells me that we are neither as smart as we think we are nor are we nearly as much in control as we'd like to believe. Conspiracy theories will abound in times like these for people want somebody to be in control. They want to believe that all of the chaos is not random or mindless.

Unfortunately much of the time it mindless. Want to know a secret? The experts have no idea what they are doing or what the consequences of their actions may be beyond next week. Not only is it true that There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, there ain't no such thing as a sure thing (TANSTAAST) -- which is actually a better looking acronym anyway.

Are the financiers of the world bleeding us dry and trying to profit at our expense? Probably. That's what they do for a living. They have stockholders -- including many of us, to satisfy. If their derivative schemes collapse the civilization, which is possible, their money is going to do them no good. If the big ball does fall, I'd rather be on a scrubby Ozark farm with a few chickens and a garden than to be the CEO of Goldman Sachs.

Good New/Bad News Parabola

I guess I'll give you the bad news first: which is displayed in a lovely parabola on Zero Hedge. Prices in the real world have risen dramatically since Christmas 2010, a short eight weeks ago. Precious metals are back on the upswing today. My guess is that fuel prices spike as soon as the remnants of the last winter storm begin to clear and people are driving more again.

I know, the government and the Federal Reserve are telling us that inflation is restrained, and we can believe them because they've never lied to us before. And, some will say, it's not hyperinflation, which as we have discussed before is more political and psychological than monetary.

It's still inflation; it's rapid, and it's accelerating.

Are we all going to die? Is it TEOTWAWKI? No, I don't think so. However, sometime in the last day or so in Bolivia, miners were rioting over food prices. So we see riots in the Middle East that are really bread riots, now the same thing in South America. Folks get excited when they're hungry. They get dangerous fast.

I almost forgot the good news: all those people worried about deflation can relax.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Feed Yourself

Check out this FPR post called "Agriculture vs. Agribusiness".

You hear about the small number of farmers in America, but I can tell you that the number is even smaller than reported. A good many of the "farmers" are agribusiness people, engaging in huge operations financed by bank lines of credits, funded by taxpayer subsidies, and often heavily connected -- one might say "chained" -- to Monsanto, Cargill, or ADM.

Not all big dairy, hog, beef, or poultry operations are that way, but I would guess that almost all really big corn and soybean operators do water at the corporate trough. Without Big Corn -- and relatively cheap corn -- the big livestock operations will run into problems.

There's a poignant line from Winter's Bone that sticks in my head. The heroine, speaking of her younger siblings, says, "I got two at home that can't feed theirselves", meaning they are too young to provide for themselves.

Apart from the excesses of corporate farming underwritten by cheap, plentiful fossil fuels and petroleum-based fertilizers, I'd say we have about 100 to 150 million Americans that can't feed themselves.

Don't be one of them.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Related Links on the Dangers of U.S. Debt

Boston University economist Laurence Kotlikoff tells us that our nation is bankrupt, and we don't know it.

Chuck Bentley from Crown Financial comments on the Kotlikoff article from a Christian perspective. You can download Bentley podcast. It's worth a listen.

The late Larry Burkett, the founder of Crown, was predicting this kind of disaster back in the early '90's. I'm glad I didn't take all of Larry's advice at the time. I've made a little money -- or perhaps at least conserved my savings to some degree through mutual funds. The difference now is that the debt load is clearly unsustainable outside of massive tax increases or very high inflation. The only reason Larry was wrong at the time is that he could not foresee the buffer that increased productive gave us via exponential growth in computing power and the internet.

Conceivably there is, just over the time horizon, some marvelous advancement in nano-tech or a breakthrough in energy sources that will again buffer our collapse or even bail us out

And the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes van is on its way to your house.

Monday, February 7, 2011


Check out the Front Porch view on Egypt.

Note the author's assertion that there is plenty of food available. He says that Goldman Sachs is busy creating CCO's similar to the bubble-inflating CDO's of our most recent financial crisis. In other words, having had the bubble of housing burst, the financiers are blowing a food bubble to drive up commodity prices.

I have immediate doubts about this scheme going very far. People do trade in commodities, but commodities, for the most part, are subject to many more natural fluctuation than real estate. A person can think of investing in a house. Only a fool soon to be parted from his money invests in pork bellies. There is only so much land. Pigs just keep on coming. This is more akin to the infamous Dutch Tulip Bubble of 1637.

In any case, being able to feed one's self independent of the corn crop in Iowa continues to be a highly recommended course of action.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Saturday Night Specials

Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded a song called "Saturday Night Special" back in the early '70's when that term was first coming to prominence as an excuse for banning tools.  A derogatory term, Saturday Night Special was used much the way that "assault rifle" or "high capacity magazine" is used today.  The idea being that the gun itself was cheap, possibly dangerous and prone to accidental discharge, or that it was something used by the folks out on Saturday nights — drunks and partiers.  It came to be applied to any easily concealed, easily accessed handgun that was just powerful enough to kill a person at close range.  Most handguns labeled as SNS were probably .38 Specials, anemic .32's, or common .22LR's.  It was something a man could drop in his pocket or a woman could carry in her purse without much fuss.  As in most cases the propaganda was misleading.  Like rich people, poor people have a right to self-defense.  If they cannot afford expensive weapons, they should be able to buy cheap ones.

My understanding is that Ronnie Van Zant had no problem with guns in general — he was a southern boy who loved all things to do with the outdoors such as fishing, hunting, and trapping.  He appears to have been a victim of the hippie spirit of the times.  The most memorable line of the song, "Handguns were made for killin'/they ain't no good for nothin' else", always struck me as silly and self-canceling.  Of course they were made for killing.  That's why I carry one.  The one part of the song I could not sing along with said, "Why don't we dump 'em, people/ to the bottom of the sea/ Before somebody comes around here/ and wants to shoot either you or me".  As much as I loved Skynyrd, the logic was seriously flawed.  All guns were not going to be dumped, first of all, and I would be at a disadvantage giving up mine.  Second, I like my guns.  Some people like to play golf.  I like to shoot.  I shoot at paper targets, at empty cans, or at rocks.  Nothing is hurt; nothing suffers.  I enjoy it.  Why should I give up my enjoyment because there are evil people in the world?  In all the ammunition I've expended from firearms, I have never killed a single human being. 

Despite the lead-in, my point today is not about small handguns.  I'm going to talk about the Saturday Night Special of knives.  In this case, Skynyrd's assertion that "they ain't no good for nothin' else" applies pretty well, but, again, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

I don't believe in "fighting knives" or "knife fighting".  Anybody who pulls a knife and flashes it at you is 1) an idiot, and 2) trying to intimidate you.  The best thing to do is flee the area even if you have to run right over the top of the knife-flasher.  If someone is actually seeking to do you bodily harm with a knife, and if that person has so much as a single functioning brain cell, 99 times of a 100 you can be cut before you even see the knife.  To get into a "duel" — which is what most knife training teaches — is stupid.  An edged weapon has limited reach.  If you have room to maneuver, you have room to escape.  Do that. 

So a knife is useless for self-defense, right?  No, the blade does have a use, but you must carefully consider the situations in which would resort to a knife.  An edged weapon, these days, is a weapon of last resort.  You use it when all your other options are closed.  

The fact is that if you are threatened and are able to deploy a firearm, the odds are pretty decent that you won't have to use it.  Even the most determined attacker will think twice when looking down the barrel of a gun.  Shootouts are actually rare occurrences and are limited geographically as well as demographically.  

Knives on the other hand, even Crocodile Dundee knives, are not necessarily fight stoppers.  I would back off if someone pulled a knife, but, of course, I wouldn't be an aggressor in the first place.  My problem is how to stop an attack and defend myself or an innocent loved one against aggression.  A previous post concerned a Gurkha who used his khukuri to defeat a group of 40 bandits robbing a train.  You and I are not Gurkhas and a khukuri is a seriously large knife.  It is practically a small sword.  So if you are carrying a small sword, and Gurkhas think you are a badass, you don't have to read any further.  This does not apply to you.

For the rest of us, I present the edged Saturday Night Special — the push dagger.  If you don't know what this is, go google "Cold Steel Safemaker II".  That's a good quality example.  A push dagger is a dual-edged blade — hence the dagger designation — with the handle in the shape of a T. You grip the hilt so that the narrow shaft of the knife passes between two of your fingers, and the blade, the vertical part of the "T", extends forward.  To use the knife against an opponent, you throw a punch.  Jab, that's it.  Not much training is required.  The main thing to think about is getting to the knife and keeping it out of sight until it has to be used.   

A push dagger is in the "boot knife" category.  That doesn't mean you have to carry it clipped to the top of your boot, it means that it is compact, stays close to your body and is well-concealed.  There are boot knives that are not push daggers, like the A.G. Russell "Sting".  They are good knives and have somewhat more utility for general knife applications than a push dagger.  About all a push dagger does at all well is stab.  But it does a really good job at that — possibly better than any other knife that you can carry on your person. 

These are, by the way, illegal in California, Massachussetts, and probably numerous other places.  If you are stopped by law enforcement anywhere, and they find a push dagger under your shirt, you may well need a lawyer.  I am not a lawyer nor am I a law enforcement officer nor do I have any specific legal expertise.  This is a disclaimer.  You carry one of these, and you are on your own.  You've been warned. 

At the very least, whatever you do, don't forget you're wearing it and try to go through a metal detector at the airport or down at the courthouse.  You'll be in a heap of trouble.

I can tell you for sure that if you ever actually stick another human with a push dagger, it had better be life-and-death or you are going to jail.  You might go to jail even if it is life-and-death and clearly self-defense.  These things look wicked when the prosecutor holds them up in front of a jury.  The same is true for most knives. 

All that said, if I am backed in a corner and my wife or my daughter or my granddaughter is about to be raped and the best weapon I have is a push dagger, I'm more than likely going to use it.  They can send me to prison if they want to.  Odds are I will have saved the state the cost of the would-be rapist's trial — so there's that.  Everybody has to make their decision on their own. 

Laws prohibiting the carry of double-edged knives or auto-opening knives are as nonsensical as laws banning rifles with flash suppressors and bayonet lugs.  Still, a push dagger is effective, and it doesn't require any specific training to use effectively.  It is possible to slash with a dagger, even a push dagger, but they are primarily thrusting weapons. 

This is the bottom line.  In an extreme and desperate situation where a person must prevail against stronger, better armed, and/or more numerous antagonists, the push dagger should be kept out of sight until the last possible moment then used as soon as it is drawn.  It should not even be drawn from the sheath unless the intent is to do great bodily harm to and quite possibly kill the opponent. 

If all they want is your wallet or your car or your money, forget it.  Give it to them.  None of that justifies killing even the lowest form of human life.  If I'm by myself, I'll take a beating before I kill anybody.  I don't mean I'll take a beating without fighting back, but I won't use deadly force.  That's a personal choice as well.  No one has a right to beat another person down.  You have to decide for yourself if you can live with the aftermath of a serious beating better than you can live with blood on your hands.  If I were older, weaker, and more physically frail, or a female, then I could possibly think using deadly force against an attacker might be justified. 

In any case, when the threat ceases, your defense must cease.     

Most of what I've said about the push dagger applies to any knife that a person will carry, especially the now-ubiquitous tactical folder.  If your life depends on a knife, use it with stealth and speed and without hesitancy.  Use it only to stop the threat or to create enough distance to escape.  If you use a knife of any kind, fully expect to answer for what you have done.  If possible use a Taser or pepper spray or even a collapsible baton instead of an edged weapon. 

One excellent way to use a knife such as a SAK or a stockman folder is to use it closed as a fistload to protect your fist when striking.  It might not be as good as a roll of quarters, but you're more likely to have it with you.  As Malcolm Reynolds says, "They say you should never hit a man with your closed fist.  But sometimes it is just hilarious." 

"Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves." 

Fly when you can. 

Be aware of your surroundings.

Think ahead of time about the consequences of possible actions.

Be not indecisive in the pinch.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Building Community Individually

I love guns and knives and tools of all kinds, and those things can be important to survival and prospering in difficult times.  Good water, food, warmth, and proper sanitation are also essential.  These physical aspects of survival are what we usually discuss because they are obviously central issues.  However, survival might be viewed as simply a very short-term aspect of living — an acute condition versus a chronic condition, one might say.

To live we are going to have to feed our minds and our spirits as well as our bodies.  One critical element is belonging.  I am about as much of a loner as anyone I've ever met.  I love my wife, my family and friends, but I have always preferred them in limited amounts.  When we lived far away from all of our immediate family, and it was just my wife and I, I was perfectly happy with that arrangement.  Of course, we weren't living in some remote cabin in the mountains or deep in the jungle.  I was going to work every day, surrounded by colleagues and people that I knew.  We attended church and had many friends and acquaintances there.  The fact is that humans, even lone-wolves like me, are social creatures.  I think the alpha-male and pack analogies are bogus, or at least deeply flawed.  We are not canines.  Still, unless a person is two or three standard deviations outside the tall part of the bell, belonging to a group or a family or a clan contributes to our well-being and long-term survival.

It's one of the nice things about the internet, that we are able to communicate and interact with like-minded people from many different places.  We can, if we choose, become better people and grow through these interactions.  There are negative paths we can take as well, but we don't have to.  The same is true in our communities, our neighborhoods, our churches, and our places of work.  Building solid, positive relationships with the people around us is probably far more beneficial than having the latest high-tech gear in terms of prospering in the coming economic chaos.

Do I think we are still facing economic collapse?  Absolutely.  The stock market is up a little — the sole positive result from Bernanke's QE2 intervention.  The fundamentals have not changed.  Food prices are rising, steadily at the moment, likely much more sharply in a month or two.  Gold prices have been fairly stable for the last few months in the $1350 range +/- $25,  but that still indicates an expected loss of 50-60% in the dollar's purchasing power in the last five years. 

Our debt is not going down at all.  There is no certainty that, despite Mr. Obama's shout-out to Reality during his State of the Union address, there is going to be any significant tax and/or budget reform this year.  The only thing that can save our economy is to allow the bubble to burst, to allow the big banks to go under, to allow large corporations like GM to go into bankruptcy.  Unions must be brought in line with economic conditions.  Wages — and more to the point, pensions and benefits must be realistically competitive against the global economy.  Housing prices must collapse.  With the current far-left media dominating the airwaves, such a path is political suicide, and no one — Republican or Democrat, and certainly not a sniveling academic air-head like Barack Obama, is going to take it, because all those changes means deflation which the overly-in-debt Federal Government cannot afford — unless there are painful cuts in entitlement programs.  Not very likely.

At the moment, we are still managing to export most of our inflation to China where many more dollars are going to chase a much more slowly increasing supply of goods.  Also, I'm not sure we can trust the numbers on the Chinese economy that their government is foisting on the world.  Shoot, I'm pretty sure we can't really trust the numbers on our economy the American government puts forth.     

So, we continue to work on building and maintaining our stocks of food and supplies.  We continue to practice with our sidearms and get used to carrying them everywhere we possibly can.  We make plans to grow as much of our own food as possible.  We look for alternative ways to assure our supply of water.  We plan for alternative modes of transportation and communication. 

Perhaps this would be a good time to encourage the men's and women's ministries at your local church to begin stockpiling basic, long-term storeable food items, like wheat.  Maybe in lieu of next week's men's "prayer" breakfast, which are usually more gravy than intercession, everyone could head out to the local shooting range, and definitely bring the ladies along.  Personally, I'm much more thankful for a twenty-five yard, one-inch group from my XDM than for a plateful of store-bought biscuits.  Say, Hallelujah!

But even if we can't convince our friends that there is a coming tribulation from which we may not escape via Rapture, we can always work on deepening and strengthening those friendships.  We can be better neighbors, better employees, better church members, and better family members.  We can be better Christians, and we can be closer to God than we are now.  You and I can do that individually.  If enough individuals do the right thing, it won't matter, in the long-run, what the government decides to do. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Imperial Presidency?

Read Denninger's take on the Obama Administration's flaunting of the Judge Vinson's ruling.
So now we have a White House that has declared its intent to ignore a declaratory judgment.

The Administration has no right to do this.

Obama's White House has exactly two options:

* Comply with the ruling. This means that any and all activity authorized or mandated by the Statute cease now.

* File an appeal and ask for a stay pending its hearing. If said stay is granted, then the ruling is held pending consideration.
Denninger includes a link to Mark Levin's similar opinion.

Obama called Mubarak today to urge him to declare he is not running for re-election, which he was apparently planning to do anyway and has now done. I suspect Obama had been made aware of Mubarak's intentions before the Administration issued its statement.

Nevertheless, in the spirit of peace, love, and unicorns, I offer the same advice to Obama.

If the Executive Branch of the Federal Government thinks it can ignore a Federal Court order to cease and desist, exactly where does that leave the rule of law? Where is the balance of power? Where are the checks and balances? Where is the respect for due process?

If the issue is Judge Vinson's having been appointed by Reagan, liberals shop judges all the time looking for favorable rulings and injunctions against things like gay marriage bans or tougher laws against illegal immigrants. Can we ignore those rulings, or does the sword of justice cut only one way?

The fact is that a legitimate member of the Judicial Branch has flatly stated why the individual mandate is unconstitutional and has said the law cannot be implemented or enforced. The Administration says, "We're going to do it anyway."

Can you imagine the uproar if a Republican administration tried to pull this? Remember Watergate? Remember Iran-Contra? Just because he "won", a president does not get to do whatever he wants. Hugo Chavez is not an appropriate role model.

To use one of those car analogy Obama (aside:  has anybody ever seen this guy drive a car?) loves so much, the Administration has been stopped for doing 75 in a 45. The officer has written them a ticket, and Obama has ripped it up and thrown in the officer's face. If I did this, I would be maced, tasered, and face down on the ground with my hands cuffed behind my back. And justifiably so. See, you can fight it in court; you can claim it was a speed trap. You can claim that the guy's radar gun was improperly calibrated. What you can't do is ignore the rule of law and drive on your merry way.

Perhaps we need to show the Egyptians how it's done.

Seven Lean Years

David Goldman as Spengler at the Asia Times or if you prefer, via his Inner Workings blog, discusses the root of political unrest in Egypt as hunger.

This may apply to the recent Tunisian upheaval as well as to today's shuffling of the deck chair in Jordan.

"All things work together for the good" indeed, but the qualifier in Romans 8:28 is "of those who love God; those called according to His purpose". For the rest, it can be ugly clean to the bone.

Stocking up on quality food buffers us from inflation in the short-term and gives us time to reset our priorities.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem -- both the old city in physical Israel and the Church.