February 10, 2008

11th Book Excerpts

Another Day on the Farm:

Another cold windy day. The wind is from the south, indicating that it may warm up a bit. The driveway and yard trails need to be plowed out again. Luckily the snow blower doesn’t leave ridges alongside the plowed lanes or the drifts would be too deep to handle by now. Don’t like to use the Dozer because a good part of the gravel either ends up on the lawn or in the ditches. Have mixed feelings about snow: It’s pretty and provides spring moisture but it’s a pain in the butt otherwise.

Our little dozer

Current Rant:

The Blogsphere is filled with posts espousing all sorts of back-to-the-land schemes and surviving in the post peak-oil era but very few of them seem to understand the lead-time requirements for such undertakings. Assuming that a Back-To-The-Lander (BTTL) actually has some rudimentary understanding of gardening and animal husbandry, to actually reach the point of independence and self sufficiency can take several years.

Let’s assume that the BTTL is a city dweller (most people are) and that they have purchased a parcel of farm land in the country. First of all, it’s highly unlikely that the land will have a suitable set of buildings, fences and other structures for small scale farming. So, before any livestock can be kept there will have to be some facilities built for them. Then there is the question of the BTTL’s experience and competence with farm animals. Learning on the job will take time and mistakes can be costly.

But, the biggest problem may be the fact that Mother Nature has her own time schedule. It takes time for an orchard to mature. It takes 9 months for a cow to produce a calf. Takes time for a garden to grow. Takes time to train a horse. Takes time to acquire farming tools and equipment. Takes time to learn new skills and it takes time to recover from mistakes.

The point is: If you have aspirations to go back to the land, you had better get to it and at it, because time is not on your side.

11th Excerpt from “Farmageddon”:
(My latest unfinished book)

More About Gold

Gold is a unique commodity because it is the only one that I can think of that is produced primarily for stockpiling or hoarding. All other commodities are produced to be consumed. Although gold is a rare element, almost all of the gold that has been mined throughout history is still in existence.

The worlds entire stockpile of mined gold totals about 155,000 metric tonnes, or about 8,000 cubic meters. To put that into perspective, in one day, twenty-times more steel is smeltered than the total weight of gold mined throughout history.

The price of gold is determined by the laws of supply and demand, the same as all other commodities, but the comparatively small amount of new gold that is mined each year, less than a two percent increase in the total stockpile, has very little effect on price fluctuations. A gram of gold mined today is exactly the same as a gram of gold mined during the Roman empire.

As money, gold is the only currency that does not depend upon some one’s promise to exchange it for some other form of currency. Gold is hoarded because its greatest usefulness arises from those features that make it a sound form of money. It is money that cannot be devalued by creating more of it by government fiat, nor from some other element by alchemists.

The U.S. dollar is in trouble because it is being devalued, inflated, by the government printing new dollars to fund the growing federal government budget deficits and other public and private debt. As this insidious inflation erodes the purchasing power of the dollar month after month, I expect more and more people to turn to gold for their security.

It used to be that the dollar was “as good as gold”. The dollar achieved that distinction because it was formally defined as a weight of gold under the system known as the gold standard. Under that system, which ended in August 1971, gold and dollars were interchangeable, and essentially the same. But that is no the case anymore. By some estimates, the dollar has lost more than ninty percent of its purchasing power since it was taken off the gold standard.

Despite the deterioration the dollar has suffered, it continues to circulate as currency. The Federal Reserve’s pro-dollar, anti-gold stance is aimed at maintaining the illusion that the dollar is reliable money. Consequently, in contrast to their interdependent and complimentary role under the gold standard, gold and the dollar have become competitors. In fact, gold is the dollar’s only serious competitor. It is competitive demand that determines their relative rates of exchange, or what we call the “price” of gold.

The relative demand for gold and dollars also explains the importance of dollar interest rates. High dollar interest rates are needed to seduce people into accepting the risk of holding dollars, instead of buying gold. But it is only “inflation adjusted” interest rates that matter. Nominal interest rates are not important. That is to say; if dollar interest rates are 10% and the inflation rate is 10%, then real interest rates are nil, making gold more attractive than dollars.

In order to get a better understanding of confusing problems, sometimes it’s helpful to look at them from a different perspective. Rather than viewing gold’s price as rising, think instead that the purchasing power of the dollar is falling. This can be seen clearly by looking at the prices of goods and services in terms of dollars as well as gold and then determining which medium will buy the most goods.

Gold’s value comes from its usefulness, not from manipulations by central banks. It is the world market that gives gold its value, though central banks would have you believe otherwise. Central banks would like us to think that they control gold’s price, since that perception makes it easier for them to bolster the demand for the dollar. The reality is that the market determines gold’s price, just like every other commodity.

By keeping the price of gold low, central banks make the dollar look better — make the dollar look worthy of being the world’s reserve currency, when in fact it is not. The gold price is a kind of barometer that measures whether national currencies are being well managed.

Central banks have some influence on the price of gold but their influence has been diminishing since they started divesting themselves of gold holdings. They now hold a relatively small part of the total gold stock. Right after WWII, about sixty eight percent of the worlds gold stock was in the vaults of central banks. Now it has fallen to about ten percent.

Having less gold means that they have less influence on its price, which is one of the reasons central banks have lost much of their former manipulative powers.

Gold has been rising since 2001, and the many problems national currencies are suffering mean that it will likely continue to rise. Some predict that it may hit as much as eight thousand dollars per ounce within ten or twelve years.

Today it takes about ten dollars to purchase what one dollar would purchase back in the 1970’s. From the 1980’s until the turn of the twenty first century, the price of gold rose from thirty five dollars to over three hundred and fifty dollars. If history should repeat itself, the same mathematical ratio of gain in gold’s dollar price could theoretically reach eight hundred dollars within the next decade.

If the dollar’s purchasing power continues to decline at its present rate, then it is not unreasonable that the purchasing power of gold could climb to the equivalent of eight thousand dollars within the next decade. But, to repeat myself, the reality is that gold is not rising in price, the dollar is loosing value — inflated

Now, before you sell the farm and rush out to buy gold, you should first count the “if’s” in that last statement. Nobody can predict, with any degree of certainty, what will happen to the price of gold, myself in particular. But, neither can anyone buy gold retroactively if it’s value should skyrocket.

Rather than viewing the value of gold in terms of dollars, it is interesting to evaluate it in terms of the amount of oil it will purchase. Sixty years ago, an ounce of gold would buy a barrel of crude oil. Currently, it will buy sixty barrels of crude oil. But, the big question is how much crude oil will it buy as the global oil reserves are depleted.

While discussing the progress of this book with my wife, she asked me what I would invest in if I had “lots of money.” Without hesitation I replied, “Gold!”.

But, I don’t have lots of money so it’s easy to make such a statement. Nevertheless, I think it would be a prudent thing to do because of the alarming problems the dollar and other national curriencies are currently facing.

For those who do have money to invest, gold offers a means to diversify and hedge the risks inherent in national currencies. But don’t make the mistake of buying gold certificates. Make sure you buy only physical metal, not paper. There is a world of difference between owning metal and a paper promise to pay metal to you at some future time.

Physical gold can be purchased in the form of coins, bars and jewelry. Paper “gold” can be purchased as gold certificates issued by banks and mints, futures accounts, etc. By investing in these products you will own a piece of paper rather than gold itself. There is a risk of default attached to the paper products, meaning that you may not be able to get your metal when you need it sometime in the future. That, obviously, is not a problem with physical gold.

After reading my rants on both oil and dollars, hopefully the link that I’ve tried to make between these two factors, as potential contributors to an economic collapse, has been made clear. Although these two factors may turn out to be rather insignifant when compared to the devastating effects of global warming, I chose to focus this book on something that there may still time to do something about.

To be continued next time…

11th Excerpt from “Defying the Odds”:
(The book is available from http://www.publishamerica.com)

I Have a Dream…

My dream was to enlist in the Air Corps and become a fighter pilot. From my sixteenth birthday on, I tried to convince my parents to give their consent to my enlistment. It must have been very difficult for them. No one knew how much longer the war would last. Mom and dad knew that they would be unable to stop me when I became eighteen, but undoubtedly they were hoping the war would end before then. As more and more of my friends enlisted, and came home with all their exciting stories, the more I pled for permission to join up. Dad, of course, was more sympathetic than mom. He had served in the Army in WWI and understood my position, but he also knew the obvious risks.

Reluctantly, my folks finally agreed to sign the consent papers if and when I passed the examinations for the Navy Pilot program. I immediately made an appointment to take the tests on the next scheduled examination day. On the appointed day, my sister, Lois, and I took a Greyhound bus to Portland, where I was to take preliminary qualification tests at the US Navy enlistment building.

It was a very impressive place. Everyone was in uniform and it was very military. Right from the time we entered the door I was treated as someone special. In their eyes, I was a man and they made it clear that good men were scarce.

One of the female navy personnel escorted Lois to a waiting room and I was taken to a testing area. I was first given a very comprehensive written examination. There were also about a dozen other 'men' of my age taking the test. We were seated at widely spaced intervals in a large room. An officer handed out the test packets and informed us of the rules. It would be a timed test and there was to be no talking or leaving the room once the test started. The military atmosphere was intoxicating. The test proved to be very tough—I believe we had an hour and a half to complete it. The pressure was intense.

After completing the written exams, we were given very thorough physical examinations and then escorted to a room where Lois and parents or friends of the other 'men' were waiting. The atmosphere was quiet, but tense, and there was already a sense of camaraderie among the group of strangers who had just gone through their first trial together.

After what seemed a very long wait, an enlisted man came into the room and called my name. I answered, and he instructed me to come with him. He led me back to the medical section, where I was instructed to lie down on a cot. After a few minutes, a nurse came in and took my blood pressure again. As soon as I saw what she was going to do, I became worried. After taking the reading, she told me to try to relax and she would be back in a few minutes. After she returned and took another reading, I was taken to another room where I was told that I had failed to pass the medical exam because of high blood pressure. I could not believe it. The disappointment was unbearable but I managed to fight back the tears because I was a 'man'.

When I got back to the waiting room, I saw that my sisters eyes were red. We left immediately. We had some time to kill before catching the bus back home, so we just walked until we came to a park bench. Lois told me that she had been informed more than an hour before that there was a problem with my blood pressure. They also told her that they were holding up a bus that was to take us directly to Seattle, where we would be sworn in to the Navy. The reason the bus had been held up for more than an hour, while trying to get an acceptable blood pressure reading, was because I had passed the written exam with one of the highest scores they had seen. That made me feel both better and worse—I could no longer hold back the tears.

By this time I was beginning to fear that even the army wouldn't want me. The draft board had several different categories, or classifications, that were assigned to individuals according to the results of their physical and mental examinations. The highest classification was 1A and the lowest was 4F. Men who were classed 1A were subject to immediate induction. Those in 4F would never be called because they were physically unfit for the armed forces. In between the two extremes were various classifications that indicated exemption for a number of reasons, ranging from working in a job that was essential to the war effort, to student exemptions for those enrolled in universities. Anybody with a 4F classification was considered to be either a draft evader, who had purposely failed the exams, or he was physically useless to the army. My worst nightmare was to be classified 4F.

I eventually gave up trying for special programs and resigned myself to finishing high school and working at the shipyards. My grades fell considerably in my last year, mainly from lack of interest in school. I was afraid I would miss out on the war altogether.

To be continued next time…

11th Excerpt from “But…What About Tomorrow?”:
(The book is available from http://www.publishamerica.com)


The natural world should be viewed holistically … agriculture is an integral part of nature and must be thought of as such. The wildlife endemic to a particular farming locality must be taken into account in farm management plans. In our region there is an abundance of wild animals … moose, deer, elk, coyotes, black bear, beaver, etc. … which are looked upon with varying degrees of favor or disfavor. The moose and black bears are nuisances—the moose for their destruction of fences and the bears for their destruction of bee hives—while the coyotes and beavers are beneficial. Coyotes are scavengers and clean up dead carcasses, both wild and domestic, and the busy beaver can be a farmer's best wild friend.

Beavers have been damming creeks and streams for eons and they are directly responsible for the creation of the rich bottom land on many farms. Their dams not only slow the velocity of water and help prevent erosion but they also store water that would otherwise drain off to the nearest river or lake … water which is vital to cattle farmers.

Under ordinary circumstances, wild animals are not a major problem to farmers. If left to natural regulation, control by normal attrition and predation, wildlife populations seldom get out of hand. It's generally when man imposes his will on the regulation of wildlife that problems arise.

One of my pet peeves is interference from people who don't know what they're doing. It really rankles me when some Hollywood starlet or cute little air-headed celebrity suddenly becomes an expert on wildlife preservation and uses their celebrity status to influence public opinion. The damage they can do, and have done, far exceeds their good intentions. Take the issue of seal pup killing for example. The net result of the animal rites advocates—including some well known television and movie celebrities who lacked any real understanding of the net effects of their actions—was the devastation of the entire fur business. Not only did the price of just about every kind of animal fur drop to the point that it is no longer profitable for trappers and hunters to harvest these pelts, but the populations of many of these animals has grown to the extent that many of these animals are now threats to the ecology.

Seal populations have expanded to the point where they are decimating the already endangered cod fish populations. Beavers have proliferated to the point where they are causing damage by excessive tree killing and farmland flooding. As a result it has become necessary to destroy many of their dams, which often results in them starving to death over the winter, or systematically killing them and letting them rot. I cannot understand how this is preferable to controlling their populations by harvesting their pelts and allowing trappers to make a decent living. I only wish some of those well meaning Hollywood starlets could see the rotting beaver carcasses that are the direct result of their interference in something they knew little about.

But this is the sort of thing that is bound to happen when a group's influence surpasses their intelligence. It is even more problematic when the uninformed make the rules. Unfortunately in a society where the ninety eight percent of the population who are not farmers control the ballot boxes, they, in effect, make the rules and determine agricultural policy.

By the way, for what it's worth, if local changes in wildlife numbers and species are an indication of global warming it seems to me that there might be a good bit of evidence to that effect on our farm. The populations of endemic species of birds and animals normally fluctuate from year to year but there appears to be an extraordinary change taking place lately. Although the number of deer is abnormally high this fall, changes in bird species is especially noticeable … Canada Geese in particular. Until about five years ago very few, if any, wild geese nested on the streams and beaver ponds of our farm. About that time the first pair of Canada Geese, that I'm aware of, made their nest on top of a beaver house within sight of our farmhouse. As I recall, they hatched six goslings.

The following year, two or three more pairs nested in the same area … possibly members of the original family. Every year since then more and more geese have chosen this area for nesting. This year there were a hundred or more hatched here.

It is the tail end of September as I write this. Looking out of my window I can see upwards of a thousand Canada Geese in the oat field across the way. They have been gathering here, fattening up on our oats in preparation for their migratory flight south, for the last week or so. This would not be unusual, except for the extraordinarily large number of the critters. Probably it's just a blip … things may return to normal next year. Hopefully that is the case because if the goose population continues to escalate as it has for the past five years, we'll soon be up to our knees in their calling cards.

To be continued next time…

I would like to hear from you! You may send your comments by clicking either the Comments or the Letter icon below. Thank you…

Have a warm day…


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