Taking Score

This week, let’s take a quick look at where the world stands in its long descent…

War:

  • In Ukraine, at least a civil war (although decidedly uncivil). There was the shootdown of the airliner, and subsequent blocking of investigators, which is still going on.  Sanctions against the Russians, who are backing the rebels.  The rhetoric on all sides is fairly heated.
  • In Israel.  Israel seems to be considering genocide as an option–how’s that for irony?  Both sides are damaging their credibility by endangering neutral observers; the whole thing still seems more like a playground fight than anything: “They started it!” “No, they did!” “Nuh-uh!” “Yuh-huh!” “Nuh-uh!” etc.
  • In Libya. The Embassies have largely closed up shop, and mostly it’s just warlords fighting over turf.
  • In Syria.  Still.
  • In Iraq, still/again. Now with ISIL/ISIS/whatever their acronym of the week is.  They’ve also finally managed to tick off the locals by destroying lots of local shrines.

Disease:

  • Ebola in West Africa.  Over 700 dead as of this morning, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better; this seems to be a particularly lethal strain. I like to think we’d clamp things down pretty hard if it hopped the pond to America, but the political climate has me wondering how many would oppose any quarantines, not believing the warnings from “the Gubmint”.
  • Brain-eating amoebas.  Flesh-eating bacteria.  And lots of interesting drug-resistant things, to boot.

Finance:

  • The aforementioned sanctions. These are probably going to be really slow-motion, in global terms, but the ripples are going to spread.
  • Argentina at least partially defaulting.  Not a good start, and again–slow-motion ripples.
  • Elsewhere, things seem to be a mixed bag.

Peak resources:

  • Well, we’re still burning the oil.  More interesting at present, though:
  • Water, at least in the Western states.  Apparently, the groundwater reserves have dropped by a significant amount, just in the last decade.  There’s more than a little wry humor in the water main bursting in LA, sending a flood of water onto Sunset Boulevard, into underground parking, and 8″ of water into UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.  The LA Times is quoting 20 million gallons overall.  (They’re also saying that would be water for 155,000 people for a day.  What are they doing with 130 gallons per day?!)

And all of that isn’t getting into politics, or immigration, or infrastructure, or the food chain…

As for us, we’re picking and preserving, keeping our heads down and working hard.  My next big prepping project will be figuring out better water storage than we’ve got, and also getting some solar power to a barn.  How are things in your neck of the woods?

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Garden Explosion

First, as I was going to work on Wednesday, on NPR I caught a smidgen of Mr. David Perdue’s speech, after winning the Georgia Republican Senate primary.  He wants to go to Washington, and (among other things) try to help “save this country!”

From what, I wonder?

In more sane news (relatively–which isn’t hard, to be honest), the garden has exploded, as predicted.  We’re picking easily one to two quarts of green beans a day.  I’ve lost track of the cucumbers. More squash and zucchini than you can shake a stick at–and there’s still the “winter” (hard-skin) varieties to go.  Carrots, watermelons, cantaloupe, and pumpkins (which have somehow become mixed in with the other squash) are all coming along nicely. I really need to weed the bed with the onions and garlic… The tomatoes, once they start turning red, will probably come along too fast to deal with. Sunflower seeds have been scattered by the birds, so we’ve got six or eight “rogue” ones all heading out.  (They’re not the huge, tall ones, so there’s that.)

What to do with it all?  Well, canning, and pickling, and preserving; jams and jellies for things that warrant it (did I mention the volunteer rhubarb plants?).  And lots of glorious, fresh veggies, for nearly every meal.

For pickles, I like the fermented variety.  They’re quite easy to do; if you’ve got enough cukes, you can do them up in large batches.  I’ve got a pair of food-grade, 5-gallon plastic buckets from the hardware store.  (Make sure they’re food grade–they’re often in a white plastic; they’ll say “food grade” somewhere on or near them.)  They’re both full right now with fermenting pickles.  There are lots of good recipes out there on the interwebs; you’ll have to shop around and try ones you like.  (Some of my favorite recipes for just about anything come from Alton Brown; the Fannie Farmer Cookbook is a good hard-copy source for lots, too.) I tend to mistrust any “fermented pickle” recipe that calls for added vinegar.  I know, you want some acidity to help fend off the “bad” bugs; for the most part, if things are clean, it’s generally not a problem.  Right now, to help speed the acidity, I’m debating adding a pinch of mother-of-vinegar.

How does one get said mother?  Well, my favorite way is to make some vinegar.  Yes–make.  Try it, it’s easy.  You’ll need a large-ish jar–I’m actually using a cleaned-up gallon pickle jar, but just about anything will do, as long as you can get your hand into and out of the mouth. The second ingredient is just about any sort of mild alcohol. I’m partial to beer, but wine works just as well, as does cider.  Put the liquid in the jar, filling it no more than about halfway. Cover it, but not to seal–I’ve got the lid just resting on the top (not screwed down), and further covered with a kitchen towel.  Now, put it someplace out of direct sunlight, and wait.

After a few weeks to maybe a month, you should be able to see a layer of mother forming.  It will look like a rubbery slime forming on the top of the liquid.  That is a “raft”, created by the vinegar-producing lactic acid bacteria, and since they’re pretty much everywhere, it’s pretty much guaranteed that they’ll get in there. (If you absolutely must give them a helping hand, there are lots of ways. You can get some raw grain from the health-food store, and drop a handful in.  Or, you can get some organic, live-culture cider vinegar, and pour in a dollop.)

To harvest the mother, wash your hands, reach in, and grab it. If you start another batch, add a piece of the mother (or the whole thing!) to the liquid, and it’ll go to vinegar much more quickly.  To ‘harvest’ the vinegar, you’ll need to figure out your favorite way to get it separated from the mother.  A few interesting points: after you take the liquid from the mother, if you just leave it in the jar, go ahead and pour more beer (or wine, or cider) over the top of it; there’s your next batch.  Or, if you’re not using it quickly enough, or you just want to make lots & lots more, you can add more of your base liquid to the original liquid, without draining any off.  The original mother will sink to the bottom, and a new one will form.

(I once had a jar with six mothers stacked up on the bottom. Not so bad, except I had been foolish and used a small-mouth gallon demijohn.  Absolutely no way of getting the stuff out!)

I’m debating whether to add a bit of mother to the pickles–that would certainly kick up the acidity, and it’d be as “naturally” as it comes–just faster.  Anyone out there have experience with this?

 

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A Short List

So, the nice folks over at Transition Voice have put up a list of 5 factors that cause collapse.  They’re quoting from Jared Diamond, a fairly well-known author and scientist who’s done his share of study about these sorts of things; he uses the Greenland Norse (Vikings) as illustrative of the factors. In kind of a change of pace from my “usual” list-critiquing practice, I’m just going to give you the list, with their (Jared’s?) commentary, then editorialize a bit afterwards.

  1. Human impacts on the environment. The Vikings unintentionally caused erosion and deforestation by reckless farming and logging. This deprived them of both food and charcoal, the latter leaving them as an Iron Age culture with no freakin’ way to make iron.
  2. Climate change. Yup, they had it too, though as climate skeptics like to point out, it went the other way that time – things got colder starting in the 1300s. Yet, more cold and ice wasn’t fatal to the Vikings’ neighbors, the Inuit, who weren’t such babies about a few more blizzards every season.
  3. Friendly neighbors going. The Greenlanders always relied on trade with the motherland. But when the seas started to ice up more, ships from Norway became fewer and farther between. Not that they were ever hot and heavy to start with. But still.
  4. Hostile neighbors coming. That would be the Inuit again. They killed the Vikings (doing which makes you pretty darn butch in the warfare world) and may have also blocked Norse access to fjords, sending the price of seals, which the Vikings thought were finger lickin’ good, through the roof.
  5.  Dysfunctional political and cultural practices. As devout Christians, when times got tough, the Norse glorified God by cutting the food and defense budgets to fund the cathedral-building budget. And since they had nothing but scorn for the tribal Inuit, they refused to learn from them how to adapt to colder weather and dwindling resources.

So, we’ve got climate change, environmental damage, ticking off the neighbors, losing erstwhile allies, and using the wrong wrench to pound in those screws.  Setting aside my quibbles with some of the details (I’m not sure Greenland has been “forested” since before human occupation, etc.), it’s actually pretty easy to draw analogies with current events.

We’ve done ourselves no favors in environmental terms–the West Virginia chemical spill is only one of the more recent ones that come to mind. Forest mismanagement isn’t helping any of the wildfires out west. It’s really a lengthy list, and we seem to be in no hurry to shorten it.  And climate change I’m not even going to go into–my opinions there I hope are easily guessed.

Ticking off the neighbors?  Losing allies?  Well, we’re not exactly at the top of Canada’s list, these days.  And Germany isn’t as happy with us as they once were, pre-Snowden.

Then there’s that last bit–which smacks of oligarchy, and the hyper-religiosity that has, in my opinion, poisoned our national discourse these last ten (twenty? thirty?) years.

No, overall I’d call this a pretty good list.  Knowing that there are lots of buttons to be pushed here, what say you all?

 

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Us? Them?

There’ve been quite a few accusations flying about, each “side” accusing the other of various shortcomings, failures, and sins.  The left is calling the right hypocritical, short-sighted, amoral, and a host of other things.  The right is calling the left hypocritical, unconstitutional, unpatriotic, and a host of other things.

Part of the problem is that we’re speaking two different languages.  On the face of it, it’s all American English, but when you dig down into it, each side has assigned different meanings to the words.  We’re talking past each other.

Case in point: the “unpatriotic” charge.  There was apparently a study done showing that progressives are less apt to identify as “patriotic;” a right-wing pundit (I don’t recall who, and it’s not all that important) pointed to the notion that we on the left think “government” when we think “patriotic.”  Frankly, I disagree.  I feel as if I have a little room to speak on this subject, having served my 20 years in defense of the country (and still working for the Department of Defense, however indirectly).

I feel quite patriotic, in the original, truer sense of the word.  Not the rabid flag-waving patriotic that has become so in vogue after 9/11.  Not the Chinese-made “Support Our Troops” car sticker patriotism.  Certainly not the open-carry-a-gun-in-the-Target unthinking 2nd Amendment patriotism.  No, I feel a sense of pride in having been born where I was, and in having done my part to make it a better place, in however small a way.  I’ve been to a rather silly number of third world countries, quite a few of them for months at a time; I feel we have things we can learn from them, just as much as we can learn from the other “first world” and “second world” countries.

Similarly, I believe in American exceptionalism.  Not capital-“E”-Exceptionalism, in which we can do no wrong, or are better than everyone else.  No, plain old exceptionalism, where we’ve done something not seen since Rome, and built a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic democratic Republic, and made it last for more than a generation.  (How many more generations it’ll go, that’s the question–and I fear the answer may be shorter than I’d like.)

Now, if we can just get the two sides to sit down and shut up, take deep breaths, and talk to each other–actually take the time to define what each side means when they say something–we can probably stretch this thing out another couple hundred years.  (Long enough, certainly, to get blindsided by something else–water shortages are looking like a good candidate in parts of the country lately.)

In local news, I’m proud to say that my local community has come through, and I’ve found a serviceable rototiller, for an acceptable price.  That means I can prep a field!…Right after I finish re-insulating parts of the house, to make this winter more comfortable than the last.  And we’re swimming in squash and cucmbers!  How are your things growing?

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Right Where We Left Off…

See what I did there?

So, a few changes have happened around the country and around the world in the last month, to say nothing of what’s been going on here on the homestead.

Russia is still being belligerent, hasn’t given Ukraine back yet, and is showing every sign of wanting to get the old USSR band back together.  Iraq has blown up–simply blown up–and we’re slowly sending more and more troops back in.  Japan is making noises about re-militarizing. North Korea is as loopy as ever.  Syria is still in a million pieces.  Iran is, oddly, thawing, it seems.  China is still a near complete mystery.

Domestically, we’ve seen the Tea Party oust one establishment Senator in an upset, while more than a few others have been quashed.  Interestingly, one of them was beaten when the incumbent reached out to the Democratic demographic.  The implications are deep.  Then you have the Supreme Court making a complete mess of more than a few things; that’ll require some thinking and discussion later, I believe.

Summer has started, with the attendant heatwaves and evening thunderstorms.  The garden seems to want to grow all at once, but at least it’s growing.  Apart from some mild predation by (I believe) chipmunks eating several of the tomato plants, things appear to be doing fairly well.  I think we’ll actually have some fruit to harvest this fall; the pears are doing quite well, and the apples appear to be getting over their rust rather well.

Substance here will begin next week; how are things in your neck of the woods?

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June off

In light of the surprising number of things going on this month–many of which will be taking me out-of-state–I’ll be taking the month of June off.

Tomorrow (the 6th), remember to thank a WWII Veteran.  I don’t have relatives who were in the Normandy invasion, to the extent of my knowledge, but both of my biological grandfathers, as well as my adoptive one, served.  We don’t have much time to get their stories, and we need the stories to remind us that sometimes it isn’t about left or right, or Republican or Democrat: it’s about right vs. wrong, and what is objectively so.

See everybody in July!

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Sometimes It’s What You Know

It’s always a little fascinating seeing the lists of skills it would be “good to know after the collapse.”  I’m struck that it seems to always have the same handful of skills–all very useful, of course, but I don’t think they go far enough: sure, you’ve got advanced medical skills, but you may not have the antibiotics to go with said skills.  And for “barterable skills,” they always (always) list “brewing beer.”  Which is fine, but…

As a homebrewer (since before I became a prepper), let me assure you that lots of people out there brew beer.  Lots.  More than a few of them even brew pretty good beer.  Even setting aside the notion that after a “Mad Max” collapse, any beer is better than none, your best bet for all those cans of malt extract, unless you’re a really avid homebrewer, would be to skip the beer and barter the cans.

No; where I think people would be better off focusing their time and efforts would be learning some of the earlier steps in the supply chain.  If you’ve got a garden bigger than an apartment balcony, you probably have enough room to grow a little grain.  Even if you don’t have enough for what they somewhat quaintly call a “pancake patch” (about 100 square feet), you can grow up a planter-full (about two square feet), save the seeds, and repeat until you have a bit of land to use.  (The USDA will send US citizens 5 grams of seed of any variety, for free; 5g of wheat or barley will plant about 2 square feet.  Check out their website for details.)

You could even go further back the chain:  Blacksmithing would be useful to make a hoe to work the ground; basic smelting to get the metal to make the hoe.  Colliery (yes, it’s a thing) to make the charcoal to smelt the metal/provide to the blacksmith to work it.  Or further down the chain:  You’ve got the grain, but you can’t brew with that–at least, not well.  You’ve got to get it malted, or learn to do that yourself.  Or milled, for bread flour.  (I’ve seen plans for making a cast-concrete large-ish mill wheel; being able to save others from the drudgery of hand-cranking their grain mills for 5 minutes every time they want a loaf of bread might be worth a bit, in trade.  Folks made their livings doing that until quite recently, after all.)

What other things come to mind?  Paper making.  Ink making.  Leather tanning.  Woodcutting.  Sawyery/lumber-cutting.  Fiber spinning, dyeing, and weaving–either plant or animal; things branch out tremendously just there.  Any sort of construction or repair work.  Making the tools, and knowing how to use the tools once they’re made.  And let’s not forget the purely artistic–just because TSHTF doesn’t mean the world suddenly goes all grayscale, like movies from the 1920’s.  Even if the item is functional, it can still look good.  (Eastern European museums are full of such things; the Russians, among others, had little to do over their long winters–aside from keeping warm–so they spent their time intricately decorating even the simplest implements with some incredible carving.)

Those are just a few ideas, and I’m sitting here pretty much spitballing.  There are so many different things you can learn to do.  Get with your community, see who knows what, see what skills you’re lacking, and do a little research–learn the skills now, while you have the time.  If nothing else, you’ve got yourself a pleasant little hobby.

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