Archive for May, 2014

Review: Age of Limits 2014


I got back to the boat late last night, after an intense three days of presentations and discussions. This was my third year presenting at this conference, and I am at this point quite heavily invested in this annual event and have started to take on roles I didn\’t even know existed when I first showed up there three years ago not knowing what to expect.

For those who haven\’t heard of this conference before, here is a synopsis. The venue is unusual for a conference: it is a large campground that occupies a bit of high ground surrounded by a fast-flowing creek nestled in the Allegheny mountains, a few miles from the Maryland border, but quite accessible because it is just a few miles from Interstate 68 and a fast two-hour drive from Baltimore. For those flying via BWI airport, there are usually enough locals driving by BWI on the way to the conference that rides can be arranged. If flying with camping gear is problematic, there is a dormitory with bunk beds and some semi-private rooms. The accommodations are basic, but there are flush toilets, hot showers, free tea and coffee available virtually around the clock, bonfires for when it gets chilly, and two satisfying and plentiful meals a day. A visit to the sweat lodge, optionally followed by a dip in the creek, rounds out the non-intellectual part of the experience.

The intellectual part of the experience is a sort of Epicurean feast for the connoisseurs of collapse. (There are plenty of conferences at which the topic of collapse has been banned; consequently, I am no longer invited to them—to my relief, because life is short, and speaking at these conferences makes it that much shorter.) Virtually all of the attendees without exception have successfully navigated their way through the grieving stage of denial prior to showing up, and there is almost no discussion of whether financial, economic, social or civilizational collapses are possible and/or likely, or whether this is something that beautiful people shouldn\’t even worry their pretty little heads about. If you show up while still grappling with denial, then, in all likelihood, your head will explode, and while there will be helpful people on hand to help you find scattered pieces of your cranium in the tall grass, you will spend most of the conference gluing the pieces back together, and will miss out on all the fun. So, if you are new to the topic of collapse but curious about it, please acquaint yourself with the Kübler-Ross model and do whatever you have to, prior to showing up, to get past Stage 1. For maximum effectiveness, try to make it all the way to Stage 5 (acceptance).

In addition to the usual suspects (Gail Tverberg, Albert Bates, John-Michael Greer and me) this year featured a couple of star speakers: Dennis Meadows and Mark Cochrane.

Dennis is Emeritus Professor of Systems Management, former Director of the Institute for Policy and Social Science Research at the University of New Hampshire, and Lead Researcher and co-author of the Club of Rome’s 1972 publication, The Limits to Growth. He successfully predicted the collapse of industrial civilization four decades ago—successfully in that the model he presented back in 1972 has been in remarkable agreement with observations ever since. Since then, he has collected several large boxes of articles attempting to disprove his claims, and a slender stack of articles pointing out that he was right. Even in science, getting it right is not the path to recognition if the truth contradicts the dominant paradigm (of infinite economic growth on a finite planet).

Dennis had agreed to present at this conference reluctantly. He has retired from Club of Rome discussions, and has found more cheerful uses for his time. But he seemed happy with the outcome, saying that this is the first time he faced an audience that did not need convincing. Instead, he took the time to add some details that I think are crucially important, among them the fact that his WORLD3 model is only accurate until the peaks are reached. Once the peaks occur (between 2015 and 2020) all bets are off: past that point, the model\’s predictive ability is not to be relied on because the assumptions on which it relies will no longer be valid. Thus, the author of this particular plot, claiming that peak population will occur in 2030, committed the exact error that Dennis warned us against: of looking too far to the right. Once the initial peaks come and go, we will be in a different world than the one he modeled in 1972—a world in which, I foresee, accurate population statistics will no longer be available. We know that the dynamics of global growth are very different from the dynamics of global die-off, but perhaps that is all that we will ever know, because there won\’t be anyone left to model or measure the die-off.

Mark Cochrane is Senior Scientist and Professor with the Geospatial Sciences Center of South Dakota State University who specializes in the use of remote sensing to study the impacts of climate change. Mark\’s talk was a very thorough demolition job on the various shibboleths that haunt what passes for discourse on climate change in certain intellectually stunted corners of the world. He demolished the denialist claims, and then proceeded to demolish the techno-utopian “solutions,” such as seeding the oceans, seeding the clouds, space mirrors and so on. In doing so, he did not use climate models, explaining that models are quite complicated and open to dispute. Instead, he relied on climate theories which are not in dispute because they agree with observations, and on historical measurements of climate change—its known causes and its apparent effects.

Mark\’s conclusions included some tongue-in-cheek “good news”—“We\’re all gonna die!”—which I took to be a nod in the general direction of Guy McPherson, who presented at this conference last year, and who predicts near-term human extinction—whereas he clearly feels that “nature bats” (vespertilio naturalis?) do last. But Mark also gave a much more nuanced summation: that while global effects of climate change can be predicted to some extent, the local effects are unpredictable but are certain to be sufficiently dramatic to make life very difficult and perhaps impossible for the vast majority of us. Apparently, there is no place on Earth where you can hide from climate change. Be it the boreal forests of Siberia or the tropics of Borneo, the local destructive effects of climate change on ecosystems are unpredictable. Most of the species alive today have evolved long after the last time such conditions occurred anywhere on Earth, plus the rate of climate change is now very fast, giving them insufficient time to adapt. Consequently, no historical data exists on which such predictions could be based. We do know some things: fish, corals and shellfish will do badly; sea grass and jellyfish will do well. (I hope that there is a sea-grass-and-jellyfish soup recipe out there that results in something palatable!) Overall, his presentation reinforced my feeling that it will be essential to remain mobile, because no one place can be expected to continue to reliably produce food.

This year, each talk was followed by an ample period of moderated discussion. Most of these Q&A sessions quite well, with people queueing up at one of two microphones to ask questions, with plenty of follow-up and group discussion. As always, there were some people who simply craved attention and hogged the microphone in spite of having little to say. But overall this format worked amazingly well: after my talk, one fellow voiced an opinion that home-schooled kids were badly socialized. There followed a spontaneous barrage of commentary on the subject of home schooling (many of the attendees have home-schooled their kids) pretty much blowing his little boat out of the water. After the talk, the discussion continued, with several professional educators providing a lot of detail on how exactly the educational system in the US is broken beyond repair. I walked away with a depth of understanding that I don\’t think I would have achieved just by reading books and articles. This is a question that comes up a lot: How do we teach our kids given that the schools (both public and private) are now largely useless (if not harmful)? And the answer seems to be: home-school, or leave the country.

One of the previous presenters who unfortunately did not attend this year was Carolyn Baker. Her presentations had been unique in that they were not all in the head but attempted to get at the emotional side of collapse, and had been found to be helpful by approximately a third of the attendees in overcoming the feelings of shock and grief that naturally arise when delving into the deeply distressing subject matter of this conference. But many other people chose to cope by blocking their emotions and considering collapse as a strictly intellectual challenge, while a small minority compensated for their emotional discomfort by becoming disruptive. An age-old technique for drawing people out of their heads is through drumming and chanting, but certain people chose to ridicule Carolyn\’s quite effective use of this technique as “Kumbaya and bongos.” Thus, Carolyn\’s work was to some extent polarizing—but in good way, because these people didn\’t show up this year. Last year\’s attendees included one particularly odious 1%er whose name I forgot, together with her entourage, and they did their best to disrupt things. Needless to say, their absence this year was not missed by anyone.

The nature of the human ape being what it is, once in a while some borderline personalities always find their way into every group, resulting in some amount of drama. But a bigger problem is that the helpful, healthy kind of drama was also almost entirely missing. Most of the attendees seemed to be able to process the intellectual content of the conference, but collapse as an intellectual pursuit seems almost worthless to me. It cannot be reduced to problems and solutions. The universe, and life on earth (jellyfish, cockroaches and all) will go on with or without you, and so the only real problem is you, and how you may need to change in order to adapt. And this is not an entirely intellectual transformation, but also an emotional and a physiological one. To be sure, some of the adaptations are intellectual, and not everyone can surmount even this hurdle. There was one white-haired gentleman in attendance who complimented me on my talk on long-lasting communities by saying that it was interesting to hear “even though we find their business plan distasteful.” He gets an award for the most distasteful use of the phrase “business plan.”

But for those who did manage to grok the content of the conference on an intellectual level, there was nowhere to go further. This problem came up repeatedly in a number of conversations. I hope that these conversations continue, and I hope that next year\’s conference does address the questions of personal transformation. Among the questions I would like to see the conference to address are:

1. How can we communicate the reality of collapse to family and friends in ways that are constructive rather than destructive and find helpful ways to reflect our “endarkenment” in our everyday behavior?

2. How can we form personal relationships with people that can survive the disappearance of official life support systems based on finance, commerce and centralized authority?

3. How can we transform our physical selves into ones that will stand a chance, by eliminating lifestyle diseases, bad habits, luxuries and comforts, and by finding maximally independent and resilient ways to provide the necessities?

4. How can we make use of ritual and spiritual practice to transform a group of individuals into a community?

If you have insights that you would like to contribute on any of these questions, please email me directly, and we\’ll take it from there. Amazingly, it turns out that there is even some money to throw behind the effort of coming up with good answers to these questions. Don\’t worry too much about the mechanics of writing: ClubOrlov\’s crack team of editors and proofreaders will transform your writing into publication-quality content. Also, it\’s not exactly a rush job: there are twelve months before next year\’s conference. But we might as well get started now.

Death by Political Correctness


Later this week I am traveling to Artemas, Pennsylvania, to attend the third annual Age of Limits Conference at the Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary. I am scheduled to present on the same subject as last year: Communities that Abide, the subject a collection of articles I just published with the help of four illustrious co-authors. Although the subject is the same, I hope that the substance of this year\’s discussion will be different. I hope to move beyond principles, which I explained last year, and which I have since spelled out in the book, and on to practice. I hope that this year we will be able to focus the discussion on the physical, organizational, cultural and psychological problems that must be solved in order for resilient, self-sustaining communities to form.

Last year\’s conference was the second venue at which I gave that talk. The first one was at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota, on the shore of Lake Superior, an hour\’s drive from the Canadian border. There, the talk was very warmly received, by the students and the community elders alike, and resulted in very purposeful discussion. You see, this school is very popular and very successful at teaching a wide range of traditional skills. Many of these skills are directly applicable to creating independent, resilient lifestyles within the setting of a small community. But forming such a community is a problem: real estate is expensive, transportation costs are high, jobs are few and far between and pay less and less, and there is a great deal of financial and regulatory overhead that stands in the way community self-sufficiency. After some brainstorming, a potential solution was hit upon: the school would create a colony for its graduates, allowing successful graduates to become part of it. Since, in turn, the colony would embody the principles taught by the school, it would help strengthen the overall effort.

When I gave the same talk a month later at last year\’s Age of Limits conference, the reaction was rather different. There was almost no discussion of impediments to implementation or ideas for overcoming them. Instead, the conversation veered off into gender politics, with some amount of booing and hissing from the female members of the audience. You see, the examples I picked, which included, among others, traditional, religious communities with patriarchal gender roles, were said to be ill-suited as models for such a “progressive” group. (By the way, I never proposed that they be used as models, only as examples from which general principles can be uncovered.) Then there followed some harsh (and, to my mind, ridiculous) criticisms of the Amish, who were said to abuse their wives and children. Compared to the focused and productive discussion at Grand Marais, this one turned out to be a complete waste of time. I was flabbergasted by this reaction, only later realizing that I had blundered into an American cultural war zone. I later realized that none of the criticisms raised had the slightest bit of relevance to the topic under discussion. Here, I want to draw a line behind all of that, and establish a basis for moving forward. I hope that this year\’s conference will be on target.

Discussions of social policy, especially with regard to such things as the rights of women and sexual and racial minorities, play a very special role in American politics. As I\’ve explained recently, it has recently been shown that the US is not a democracy, in which public policy is influenced by public opinion, but an oligarchy, where public policy is driven by the wishes of moneyed interests. On major issues, such as whether to provide public health care or whether to go to war, public opinion matters not a whit. But it is vitally important to maintain the appearance of a vibrant democracy, and here social policy provides a good opportunity for encouraging social divisions: split the country up into red states and blue states, and keep them in balance by carefully measured infusions of money into politics, so as to maintain the illusion of electoral choice. Throw a bit of money at a religious fundamentalist candidate, and plenty of feminists, gays and lesbians will vote for the opposing kleptocrat who will, once elected, help Wall Street confiscate the rest of their retirement savings, in return for a seat on the board; throw another bit of money at a rainbow-colored lesbian, and plenty of bible-thumping traditionalists will vote for the opposing kleptocrat who, once elected, will funnel tax money to his pet defense contractor in return for some juicy kickbacks. This part of the American political system works extremely well. On the other hand, if some matter comes before the politicians that requires helping the people rather than helping themselves and their wealthy masters, the result is a solid wall of partisan deadlock. This part works very well too—for the politicians, and for the moneybags who prop them up, but not for the people.

While it is the entire country that is being victimized by this system of governance based on the principle of social divide and conquer, it is women and minorities that are the pawns in this game, and the biggest losers, with some of the worst outcomes out of all of the developed countries. The US has the largest number of children born into poverty and leads the world in teenage pregnancy and the rate of sexually transmitted disease infection among teenage girls. In spite of what\’s been called “progress,” the effect of women working outside the home has been to halve family incomes. American women never got equal rights: the Equal Rights Amendment died a painful death in 1982, when the final deadline for its ratification expired. (Compare that to the Russia, where the equal rights of women, including equal pay for equal work, was enshrined in Article 122 of the Constitution of the USSR in 1936, and has been a fixture of the political landscape ever since.) As for minority rights, there are more black slaves in America today than there were before the Civil War—they used to work on plantations, but now they work in prisons, many of which are privately owned, where they make money for their politically connected owners. With regard to the rights of sexual minorities, it needs to be noted that not only does the US lead the developed world in rape, but that here rape is evenly distributed between men and women, male rape being most prevalent, again, among the prison population.

This vast landscape of societal failure is obscured behind a verbal veil of political correctness. Never mind the fact that the nirvana of progressive race and gender politics only exists on television (where it is faked) and among a few of the continuously shrinking remnants of the middle class—we are still required to pay lip service to it. Elite universities have evolved an entire gender-neutral, racially bland system of circumlocution, which is now mandatory for everyone to learn and use: say “he” instead of “she,” and suddenly you are a sexist. Calling a spade a spade is forbidden: idiots no longer exist—now every one of them is “mentally challenged,” nor do senile old fools—who are now “Alzheimer\’s sufferers.” Scores of people are required to undergo mandatory sensitivity training, where they are brainwashed until they are no longer capable of telling other people exactly what they think of them. Thus, hypocrisy has been promoted from a character flaw to a national requirement. (By the way, this inability to communicate effectively takes a terrible toll on national productivity, but that\’s a side matter.) The important point is that those who insist on acting as willing pawns in this game are choosing a specific path for themselves. I like to call it the path of voluntary extinction—the guaranteed end result of endlessly plastering societal failure over with bullshit.

The Age of Limits conference is based on a certain view of the future, which was first articulated in the Club of Rome study of 1972, and, in spite of a storm of criticism, has been vindicated because its predictions have turned out to be exactly on target. One of the presenters at this year\’s conference will be Dennis Meadows, the co-author of the study. This study predicts that global industrial civilization will have largely run its course in as little as two decades. Those who accept the predictions of this study (the purpose of this conference is to discuss their implications and ramifications) also accept a rather austere view of the future.

In this context, the path of communities that abide is not the path of voluntary extinction. It is the path of survival, the path of individual sacrifice for the benefit of the community and its future generations. The tasks of giving birth to, bring up and educating the next generation while keeping everyone housed, fed, clothed, healthy and entertained will leave scarce time for pursuing higher education or a career outside of home, exploring alternative lifestyle choices, or discussing gender politics. The two most important occupations will be Mother and Father. Small communities have little room for specialization, but a basic level of specialization based on whether you are a boy or a girl has been found to be universally advantageous. This is what I would like to take as the point of departure for this year\’s conversation.

Interview on Signs of the Times Radio

New Current Events Internet Radio with SOTT Talk Radio on BlogTalkRadio

A wide-ranging discussion with some particularly well-informed and thoughtful commentators.

Sold out!

Sorry, all the paper copies are spoken for, but an Amazon Kindle e-book version (with bonus chapters) will be available shortly. Please stay tuned.

Resilience in the face of genocide


[Wednesday morning update: only 45 copies left! Clarification: I am NOT shipping paper books outside the US. I tried it last time and didn\’t like it. The longer e-book version, to be published in June, will be available globally.]

The book is at the printer\’s and approved the final proofs this morning. Also as if this moment there are exactly 72 copies yet to be claimed, so please place your order if you haven\’t done so already.

This week we showcase an article by Jason Heppenstall, a travel writer. He wrote about his experiences in a small riverside village in the world\’s poorest and most heavily bombed country on earth, showing us how its people survived and recovered, with their traditional culture intact.

“The Secret War on Laos remains one of the most shameful episodes of the 20th century. New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis called it ‘…the most appalling episode of lawless cruelty in American history.’ For six years there was a news blackout that kept Americans from knowing that their government, both Republicans and Democrats, were dropping bombs on civilian targets in Laos. When the news eventually did leak out, many Americans were outraged over what was being done in their name. But by then it was too late and 2.1 million tons of high explosives had been dropped on the villages, farms, temples and schools of this neutral Buddhist country. Laos had been declared neutral in Geneva, and although the U.S. wanted to pursue Vietnamese fighters inside the country, it was unable to do so without breaking international law. The way around it was to use bomber planes whose pilots, code-named ‘Ravens’ took off from bases in neighboring countries.

“This new way of warfare was dubbed ‘automatic warfare’ in that it relied solely on technology and might, with minimal risk to service personnel. It would become a model for future warfare, most recently using drones, and was termed the ‘Laos Model.’ Villages were bombed since they were the only targets visible to the pilots, and local people were forced to flee into the forests, emerging at night to farm their fields. Because the bombing was secret, there was no need for restraint, with whole areas being reduced to ashes. Once the villages had been destroyed, the buffalos, horses and other livestock became the new targets, and farmers were strafed by machine gun fire as they fled their fields. Because the villagers hid in the forests, the planes came and sprayed defoliant to kill the trees. The only place left to hide was the caves that riddled the limestone karst landscape of Laos, but these too were targeted with laser-guided missiles by the hotshot pilots. Once all of these options had been exhausted, there was nothing that the surviving villagers could do other than begin the trek south and become refugees in the camps set up around the capital, where they awaited the end of the war and a return to their fields and forests.”

So many bombs had been dropped on Laos that unexploded shells (with their explosive payload extracted), being the most common type of metal scrap available in this undeveloped, non-industrial nation, became part of the landscape.

“Huge steel casings were used to prop up houses or as walkways over gutters, or as troughs for pigs. … Other bombs were used as pots and had flowers growing out of them. But these were the safe bombs—the ones that had been successfully defused and turned into useful scrap. Most shops and noodle houses in the village contained, on a wall somewhere, a set of three or four posters that indi- cated in cartoon form what to do upon finding an unexploded bomb. The figures on the posters were shown tilling fields with buffalo, hoeing earth, planting rice, washing in streams and digging up plants. In each environment a piece of unexploded ordnance (UXO) was in evidence. One picture showed a farmer trying to defuse one, and the next frame depicted a spectacular explosion which had one of the man\’s arms flying off and a gory eyeball, complete with stalk, shooting skywards from his head. All the village children knew what to do with UXO, in the same way that children in England are made to learn the Green Cross Code for safely crossing roads. Walking off the trails in the surrounding hills is strictly forbidden, to falangs (foreigners) at least. Unfortunately for the people of Laos, UXO continues to be a daily menace, and some 20,000 have been killed since they returned to their villages after the bombing. Many of these are children, and even in the course of writing this article in April 2014, I saw news reports of two boys being killed by unexploded muni- tions. Bombing records indicate that 8,470 square kilometers were car- pet-bombed, and that around 280 million cluster munitions, designed to maim rather than kill, were dropped. … The bombs were everywhere. For several years the warplanes carpet-bombed the area around Muang Ngoi. Many of the bombs they dropped were huge and the scars on the faces of some of the surrounding limestone peaks were still visible, although they were now partially filled in by scrub vegetation and trees.”

“If a community could make kitchen units out of bombs sent to kill them, I began to wonder what else the villagers of the hilly regions of Laos could be capable of that has allowed them and their culture to thrive more or less intact despite everything that has been hurled at them. Apart from the aforementioned geographical barriers (a not inconsiderable advantage if one wants to survive a cultural onslaught) the people of Laos also enjoy one other benefit conferred on them by circumstance: relative poverty. With their terrain too hilly and difficult for building golf courses and luxury hotels, and far enough away from the tax inspectors and other bureaucrats who would want to impose top-down reforms on them, the locals are more or less left to themselves to carry on with life as they have done for centuries. To do so, of course, they have to ask very little of the external system—which they want to avoid at all costs—and here they are lucky too because they can rely on their cultural wealth, the majority of which remains intact. Medicine men and women know which plants to gather in the forests, which herbs to grow in the hollowed-out bomb shells that serve as plant pots (the four stabilizer fins are excellent at keeping the “pot” upright), and, if things get really bad, village shamans know a range of elaborate ceremonies to aid with prolonging life. Agriculture continues to provide sustenance in much the same way it has for centuries, with rice paddies, water buffalos and wandering pigs and fowl.”

“During my time there I began to develop the idea that perhaps the peoples of upper and middle Laos were an example of humanity living in balance with the environment. The subject of human ecology has dropped out of favor in recent years as the age of cheap oil continued to run its course, but here surely was an example of a population living as a dynamic part of its environment without destroying it. Rivers were kept clean, forests were left mostly intact. Disease, natural disasters and small-scale war kept the population within the region’s carrying capacity. And the people loved the land. Fred Branfman conducted interviews with refugees fleeing the bombing, published in his book Voices From the Plain of Jars, and time and again the one recurrent theme among the survivors was that they had left what for them was paradise and could not wait to return. None wanted to live in the city or to become wealthy; all they desired was the chance to farm their fields, be back in their villages and live among their families.”

“…I never met anyone in Laos who seemed to harbor resentment or anger. Perhaps this was a way of staying sane, by choosing not to dwell on negative emotions and instead letting go of the past. Indeed, perhaps this offered a glimpse into the deep inner strength of these people: surely an invaluable strategy in the face of overwhelming odds. Here is another: Laotians in general seemed disenamored with our idea of working any more than absolutely necessary. Traditionally, Lao farmers grew only one rice crop a year, although two are possible even without chemical fertilizers, and spent the rest of the year relaxing.”

“This ambivalence towards participating in a system that promises much but delivers little might prove to be a saving grace for the traditional subsistence farmers of Laos. At a point in human history where the modern paradigm—of putting the economic growth horse before the environmental integrity cart—is dying a messy death, the Laotian subsistence farmer is surely further ahead of the game than the most devout Western permaculturist. Cultural integrity surely plays its part. Traditional dress is still worn in many villages and there are distinct art forms, such as forms of embroidery or batik, that help identify the uniqueness and individuality of each tribe or region.”

As I read through the descriptions of these diverse tribes which Jason provides, I was able to tick off many of the essential traits of communities that abide—absence of money, finance and land as property, refusal to work for wages, informal systems of governance, unwritten codes of conduct, lack of artificial divisions between work, play and education, and many others. These cultural traits allowed them to survive as societies and to return to their native ways after the American carpet-bombing campaign; but will they survive the Chinese economic juggernaut? For their sake, all we can hope for is that it chokes on its own fumes and shudders to a halt in a timely manner.

“The Laotians have a big advantage over their neighbors in, say, Thailand, which went all-in for turbo capitalism a few decades back. A certain amount of resilience still exists in Laos, and because the Laotians can still manage to survive with- out air conditioning, refrigerated food and eight-lane highways crammed with SUVs, they may have a key advantage over others for whom these things have become necessities. The vast majority of investment money pouring into Laos comes from China, and it’s not hard to foresee that China’s gargantuan credit bubble—put at $23 trillion in 2014—will burst messily and cause untold misery for its citizens and those of the other Asian “tigers.” When it does so, and the brave new world that economists and politicians have promised is stood on its head, would you rather be living on the 20th floor of a tower block in a Chinese city, or in a bamboo village hut in the Laotian forests?”

“The people of Laos have suffered more than most at the hands of ag- gressors, and yet they have managed, for the most part, to persist with their ways of doing things. Some people who regard themselves as liber- als in the Western world are appalled by the “backward” practices of some of the more remote tribal communities. But that is just noise; what surely matters most is the fact that the Laotians have managed to survive for so long and over such a tumultuous period of modern history. Whether or not they will be able to do so over the coming years and decades is very much a matter for debate, and it pains those who have allowed themselves to be charmed by this softly-spoken collection of long-suffering peoples to see them lined up for assimilation and fed into the gaping maw of 21st century capitalism. Perhaps all we can do is observe this diverse collection of cultures with respect, gain wisdom as we do so, and hope that they may continue to abide long into the future.”

Moneybag logic


In case you missed it, the US is not a democracy. A Princeton University study by Gilens and Page performed a regression analysis on over a thousand public policy decisions, and determined that the effect of public opinion on public policy is nil. That\’s right, nil. It doesn\’t matter how you vote, it doesn\’t affect the outcome in any measurable way. By extension, that also goes for protesting, organizing, dousing yourself with gasoline and setting yourself on fire on the steps of the US Senate, or whatever else you may get up to. It won\’t influence those in power worth a damn.

Here\’s the plot that shows the relationship: public support for any given issue may vary from 0% to 100%; the probability that public policy will follow remains stuck at 30%. It doesn\’t matter whether or not you vote, you are throwing your vote away regardless. Or, if it makes you feel better, it is thrown away for you.

And who are those in power? They are the oligarchs, of course, the people who own just about everything, your good person included. Gilens and Page determined that the opinions of the economic elite and of business groups do have a profound effect on public policy. If this group is dead-set against a bit of policy, it will not be adopted: 0% support by this group means no chance of the policy being adopted. If, on the other hand, this group is 100% behind something, the chances of it being adopted skyrockets up to 70%. In short, while voting for or against an issue matters not a whit, throwing lots money at one or the other side of an issue does matter a great deal. The political parties, the campaigning, the electioneering and all that nonsense is just for show. The real power resides elsewhere. Here is the plot that shows the relationship:

So, what is it that you do when, on election day, you proudly march into the voting booth and pull a lever, or touch the touchscreen of a voting machine? You are certainly not making a decision; that\’s been proven already. But you are still doing something: you are voting in support of your owners—the ones who make public policy decisions on your behalf. If you vote, then it must be because you approve of what they are doing.

And what is it that they are doing? Well, job one for them seems to be to make sure that the rich continue to get richer while the poor get poorer and the middle class is… well… class dismissed. If this sort of public policy seems self-destructive to you, that\’s probably because it is. Whenever it is allowed to run its course, the results are abysmal—especially for the rich who continued to get richer, whose corpses end up festooning lampposts and whose arterial spray adds a touch of color to city squares.

Now, you\’d think that at least a few rich people here and there might realize this and do something about it; after all, they can\’t all be completely stupid. Well, I think that it\’s not a question of intelligence; it\’s a question of sentience. These people are not people, they are moneybags. And moneybags have a logic of their own: I call it “moneybag logic.” This logic says that having more money is always good, having less money is always bad, and that therefore everyone should do everything possible to make sure that there is always more money. If that requires turning the Earth into a polluted, radioactive, lifeless desert, so be it.

As the author Victor Pelevin once observed, “Everything has deadlocked on money, and money has deadlocked on itself.” Truer words have rarely been spoken. After all, you can\’t get anything done without spending money. And to spend money you have to make it first. And you have to have money in order to make money. This is what we teach to our children, along with “There is no free lunch” and other such homilies. “Don\’t quit your day job,” we tell them if they take up music or the arts, and “How do you suppose you\’ll make a living with that?” It is little wonder that they then march into the voting booth and cast a vote for the moneybags.

Let\’s face it, the moneybags can\’t help acting like moneybags, in accordance with moneybag logic. But a lot of them are getting spooked, thinking that this will end badly for them. A lot of them are realizing that this money that they are made of is just so much soiled paper and numbers inside computers, and to make any of it mean anything they need to control everything. But what if that control slips through their fingers? How much will this mountain of nothing be worth then? Luckily, there are some professionals on hand to help them. I call them moneybag-whisperers. Like people who can soothe nervous horses, these professionals excel at talking down moneybags. Even financial Armageddon is survivable, you see. You just need a lot of gold, and weapons, and a few warlords on your side. Your private jet that\’s ready to evacuate you to your private island paradise. Little things like that. It\’s all under control, you see. Thanks to the efforts of the moneybag-whisperers, it may turn out that some of the shrewder moneybags won\’t have a problem no matter what happens.

But everyone else will have a problem, and here moneybag logic isn\’t going to help. Moneybag logic works for the big moneybags, but it is seductive even to the tiniest little baggie full of nickels. After all, even the tiniest baggie full of nickles could win the lottery one day… If that\’s how you think, then you should go and vote for some moneybags; either way, your chances of winning are exactly the same.

Resilient Health Care


When I asked people to contribute content to the book on Communities that Abide, which is now nearing publication (with two chapters already at the proofreading stage), I didn\’t know quite to expect. The results went far beyond my expectations. This week I will highlight the chapter by James Truong, MD, who practices emergency and family medicine in rural Canada. His chapter, “Appropriate Health Care for a World In Flux: A Strategy,” is a must-read for anyone thinking about founding or joining a resilient community. It is an in-depth guide to health care in a world where the Health Care System that currently exists in the developed nations of the world is inaccessible, unaffordable, or nonexistent. His subtitle reads: “Monday: feed the family. Tuesday: don\’t get sick.” But what if you do? Dr. Truong explains the options.

Dr. Truong carefully teases apart the overwhelmingly complex subject of “health care” into elements that anyone can, and should, understand. First, he teaches us to think about health conditions, by putting them into categories: each condition is either acute or chronic, and either benign or dangerous. Each combination of these requires a different approach: acute-benign better get treated at home, acute-dangerous may require expert intervention from the community\’s designated health care provider(s) (whoever they may be), but with no guarantee of a positive outcome. Chronic-benign conditions (lifestyle diseases, boutique diseases such as cosmetics or gender identity) are, in this context, not handled as medical issues at all. Chronic-dangerous conditions (obesity, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes) will, to make a long story short, result in shorter lives.

Next, Dr. Truong focuses on the three aspects of medical preparedness at the community level: Toolset, Skillset and Mindset. In explaining the Toolset, he lists the different categories of drugs and supplies, and describes a general strategy for deciding what to stock. Under Skillset, he describes which skills can and should be practiced at the community level (dressings and stitches), which require expert intervention, and which need not exist at all (surprise: CPR isn\’t on any of the lists). But the most important section is on Mindset. Here all the mental clutter caused by two or three generations of medical “miracles” is cleared away, and replaced with an appreciation for the value of good health and an unsentimental understanding of one\’s mortality:

“It is sometimes said that past a certain point when you’re climbing Mount Everest, your body is busy dying and the race is just to get to the top and get back down before it finishes the job. There can come a point of literal no-return, where, if the weather changes, or equipment fails, or you can’t descend fast enough, a return to base camp becomes impossible. Yet summit attempts continued despite a tacit understanding that some people are never coming back. I’m not suggesting that climbing tall mountains is appropriate for everyone, but in a sense we all do it anyway, and the mindset when thinking about our own health should be analogous. There’s no point in worrying about the fact that we can’t walk backwards in time, as a society or individually. It\’s enough to keep gazing ahead while choosing our footsteps with care, all the while recognizing that we’re climbing the only mountain we’ll ever climb, and that the air is getting thinner.”

In the end, Dr. Truong reminds us, your health care begins with you and ends with your friends:

“Take care of yourself first. This is known as the “airline oxygen mask doctrine”: In case of cabin depressurization, put your own mask on first, then help those beside you. This seems counterintuitive to prospective lay healers, but it holds true. If everyone adopted this policy, we would all be more self-reliant and resilient and more able to pass on a surplus of caring.”

“We need to get away from some of the taboos and hangups of our current medical model. One of them is the prohibition against treating people you know socially, friends and family. In a small town like mine, this is already difficult. In an even smaller community, it would be impossible. I would propose that it is undesirable in the first place. Some of the proudest care I’ve ever given, I’ve given to people close to me.”

“I would remind people to cherish community and the help of others, as they are the cornerstone of a resilient health care system. Other people are the best, most effective tool in your first aid kit. In Emergency Medicine terms, everyone knows (I hope) that the proper response to profuse bleeding is constant, direct pressure. You may know that but if you are alone it’s just that sometimes, you just… can’t… reach. I’ve sutured myself up twice (once without anaesthetic)—both times out of necessity. I’m an excellent surgeon normally. But both times, the result was suboptimal and I would have done better with the help of my seven-year-old daughter.”

Please pre-order your copy of the book by clicking the “Buy Now” button on the right. Just one printing is planned, based on demand, and so this is the only way you can be sure of getting a copy. This is not a book that you will read just once. I promise you: if you are serious about community, it will stay on your bookshelf forever.

Statecraft or Witchcraft?

What has the US State Department been doing in Ukraine? It has been busy, and has succeeded in pushing the hapless nation, left destitute by 22 years of freedom and democracy oligarchy, to the brink of civil war. (Keep in mind, Russia came close to collapsing altogether after just nine years of freedom and democracy oligarchy.

Instead of offering you a rational and reasoned (and boring) geopolitical analysis, allow me to temporarily leave the modern world behind and retreat into the mindset of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth rock. Why don\’t we have us a good old-fasioned witch-hunt! After all, the people who have been pushing Ukraine in the direction of civil war while risking a nuclear confrontation with Russia are clearly doing the Devil\’s work, and so that makes them witches, correct? To find out who these witches are, we have to become expert witch-sniffers. (It\’s easy; you\’ll see.) Then we can make effigies of them and burn them at the stake. (No actual witches will be harmed in the process, of course.)

There are three witches, the story goes, three weird sisters. “Fair is foul, and foul is fair,” the weird sisters croak in unison, as they hover through the fog and filthy air. Eventually they settle down around the steaming cauldron:

First Witch  

Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison\’d entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter\’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i\’ the charmed pot.


Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Second Witch  

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder\’s fork and blind-worm\’s sting,
Lizard\’s leg and owlet\’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.


Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Third Witch

Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches\’ mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin\’d salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg\’d i\’ the dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Silver\’d in the moon\’s eclipse,
Nose of Turk and Tartar\’s lips,
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver\’d by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger\’s chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron.


Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Second Witch  

Cool it with a baboon\’s blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.

And then the three witches reach into the bubbling cauldron, and out of the rancid muck they mould a figure.

They hold it up, cristen it “Yatsenyuk,” place a crown on its head, and pronounce it Prime Minister of Ukraine.

And here is Yatsenyuk in real life; see the uncanny resemblance?

Who might these three witches in real life. The first, of course, is Victoria Nuland of the US State Department.

She is the one who, in a now famous leaked telephone conversation, dictated that Yatsenyuk should head up the Kiev junta. She also dropped an f-bomb on the EU. She bragged publicly about the $5 billion of taxpayer money she dumped into the steaming cauldron of Ukrainian politics, from which Yatsenyuk and the rest of the junta eventually emerged.

The second witch is Hillary Clinton, who appointed Nuland. I hope that this choice is uncontroversial. By the way, she compared Putin to Hitler, and this alone tells us that her mind has snapped.

And the third witch? Samantha Power, the US Ambassador to the UN, perhaps?

She once called Clinton a “monster,” but later apologized, perhaps realizing that she herself is a monster. She certainly behaves like one. One one recent occasion she accosted Russia\’s UN Ambassador, spraying him with saliva while screeching like a woman possessed. One of the funnier things she spewed forth: she is insulted by Russia\’s nuclear deterrent. (What else might she find insulting? The tilt of the Earth\’s axis, maybe?) She had to be taken by the elbow and escorted to her seat.

Witch-sniffing is easy, you see. Witches are hard to spot while they are casting their spell, but as soon as they realize that their spell is broken they begin to look very, very ugly. All of that demonic energy rises to the surface for all to see. A witch whose spell has been broken is invariably a hissing, screeching, spitting witch.

Mind you, not everyone involved is a witch. President Obama, for instance, is just a claymation figure that reads from a teleprompter, while the Secretary of State John Kerry was at some point replaced with a cardboard cut-out of himself, and, sadly, nobody even noticed. Nor are all the witches female; it\’s a gender-neutral pursuit.

There are even some Russian witches: Gary Kasparov, for instance. He is in the Putin=Hitler camp, but, paradoxically, also a poster-child for Russian freedoms, being able to come to the US, openly talk about overthrowing the Russian government, and then fly back to Russia without any problems. If an American were to do the same, he would be charged with terrorism and left to rot in indefinite detention. There is also the wannabe politician Alexei Navalny, who recently committed political suicide by doing the Putin=Hitler thing—on Ukrainian state television, no less.

How was the spell broken? Nothing stings quite as well as a resounding defeat on the international stage. Those who thought they were in control have just suffered a major defeat. On Ukraine so far, it\’s Russia 1, US Oligarchy 0: Crimea is once again Russian, the transfer of sovereignty happened peacefully and in accordance with the internationally recognized principle of self-determination, and this defeat is so embarrassing that nobody even wants to talk about Crimea any more. It\’s a done deal.

More defeats follow, as the boomerang effect of sanctions imposed on Russia. The US will not be able to withdraw from Afghanistan via the safe northern route that runs through Russia; instead, the endless convoys will have to run the gauntlet through Pakistan where the locals, incensed by endless drone attacks on their weddings and funerals, will do their best to blow them up. The US will not be able to launch military satellites, because the Atlas V rockets won\’t fly without the Russian-built RD-180 engines, for which there is no replacement. Nor is it likely that, as things escalate, US astronauts will still be able to get up to the International Space Station, since that requires a trip on the Russian Soyuz.

Not that the Russians have a lot of time for this nonsense. They are busy negotiating deals, like the oil barter deal with Iran which neatly circumvents the sanctions; like the long-term natural gas supply deal with China; and quite a few others. For example, Russia and China agreed to build a canal through Nicaragua, which will supplant the Pentagon-controlled Panama canal. Nicaragua will also get a GLONASS ground station (Russian-Indian replacement for the Pentagon-controlled GPS system), plus a Russian military base, to make sure that the US doesn\’t decide that it can do something about any of this. Nearby, Russia forgave $90 billion of Soviet-era Cuban debt, reestablishing close relations between Russia and Cuba and opening up Cuba to large-scale Russian investment. Russian companies will be developing Cuba\’s offshore oil and gas fields.

No doubt, the US would love to counter these moves, but it can\’t because it doesn\’t have the talent. Most of the experienced, professional diplomats quit in disgust during Bush Jr.\’s reign, when they were forced to continually lie to the whole world about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now the diplomatic corps is loaded with incompetents whose only credentials are that they raised lots of money for Obama\’s election campaigns. At the next changing of the guard they will be replaced with the next crop of amateurs. It is little wonder that they are losing.

But these people are unaccustomed to being defeated, and defeat makes them livid and hysterical, and then they go and wax apoplectic in public, yelling and screeching and spraying saliva. You can tell that their minds have snapped when they start comparing everyone to Adolf Hitler. And you can see it all right on television. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the population in the US is perplexed. Except for the Lost Plane Channel formerly known as CNN, commentators on all the major news channels, even the super-blockheaded Fox News, are wondering aloud: “What the hell are we doing in Ukraine?” Well, we are trying to safeguard the interests of the Rockefellers and the Rothchilds, to be sure, but how does knowing that help you?

“How well is that going?” you might ask. Well by now all of eastern and southern Ukraine is in open revolt against the US-appointed junta in Kiev. The neo-Nazi “Right Sector” initially supported the junta and helped with the putsch that overthrew the democratically elected government. But then one of the “Right Sector” leaders, Sashko Bily got shot, most likely for opposing a plan to import a trainload of nuclear waste from the EU and dump it on the ground near Chernobyl. That train is still stuck on the Ukrainian border. Now the junta leaders are shaking in their boots because the “Right Sector” could stage another coup, this time against them.

How does the US react? It sends CIA Director Brennan to Kiev. Brenner orders the junta to attack their own citizens in the east, in an “anti-terrorist” operation.

“Kill them! Kill them all!” says Brenner, but Ukrainian soldiers refuse to fire on their own people and defect in droves.

Next, the US sends in their secret weapon, VP Joe Biden.

“Kill them! Kill them all!” says Biden, with similar results. What is the US to do? I think that only one choice remains: send in Senator John McCain.

If there is anyone who can scare the Ukrainians into fighting a fratricidal war, it\’s McCain. But what if that too fails?

Well, then the people in eastern and southern Ukraine may get their way. They are just some Russians—millions of them—who got stuck on the wrong side of the Russian border for over two decades. They aren\’t sure about everything—such as whether they want to join Russia. (They probably do simply because the pay is so much better on the Russian side.) But they are sure about one thing: they don\’t want to live under a foreign occupation run by a US-appointed junta for the benefit of a bunch of oligarchs.

And I bet neither would you. Maybe you can\’t help yourselves, the US not being a democracy and all, but maybe you can still do something to help the Ukrainians, by subjecting these warmongering witches to public ridicule. This ought to degrade their effectiveness by a notch or two. As I said, witch-hunting is easy. All you have to do is turn on the TV and see who else today is hissing, screeching, pounding the table, spewing vitriole and dropping the name “Hitler” gratuitously. Then you can go, get a bonfire permit, and burn them in effigy. That automatically makes for good visuals. All you have to do is add some interviews and commentary, and next thing you know you got yourself your own very popular witch-hunting Youtube channel!