Eddie

How My Family Was Affected ByThe US Civil War: War and Collapse in American History – Chapter 3

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on FebruRY 1, 2017

 

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III. There will be no general train of supplies, but each corps will have its ammunition-train and provision-train, distributed habitually as follows: Behind each regiment should follow one wagon and one ambulance; behind each brigade should follow a due proportion of ammunition – wagons, provision-wagons, and ambulances. In case of danger, each corps commander should change this order of march, by having his advance and rear brigades unencumbered by wheels. The separate columns will start habitually at 7 a.m., and make about fifteen miles per day, unless otherwise fixed in orders.

IV. The army will forage liberally on the country during the march. To this end, each brigade commander will organize a good and sufficient foraging party, under the command of one or more discreet officers, who will gather, near the route traveled, corn or forage of any kind, meat of any kind, vegetables, corn-meal, or whatever is needed by the command, aiming at all times to keep in the wagons at least ten day's provisions for the command and three days' forage. Soldiers must not enter the dwellings of the inhabitants, or commit any trespass, but during a halt or a camp they may be permitted to gather turnips, potatoes, and other vegetables, and to drive in stock of their camp. To regular foraging parties must be instructed the gathering of provisions and forage at any distance from the road traveled.

V. To army corps commanders alone is intrusted the power to destroy mills, houses, cotton-gins, &c., and for them this general principle is laid down: In districts and neighborhoods where the army is unmolested no destruction of such property should be permitted; but should guerrillas or bushwhackers molest our march, or should the inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless according to the measure of such hostility.

VI. As for horses, mules, wagons, &c., belonging to the inhabitants, the cavalry and artillery may appropriate freely and without limit, discriminating, however, between the rich, who are usually hostile, and the poor or industrious, usually neutral or friendly. Foraging parties may also take mules or horses to replace the jaded animals of their trains, or to serve as pack-mules for the regiments or bridges. In all foraging, of whatever kind, the parties engaged will refrain from abusive or threatening language, and may, where the officer in command thinks proper, give written certificates of the facts, but no receipts, and they will endeavor to leave with each family a reasonable portion for their maintenance.

VII. Negroes who are able-bodied and can be of service to the several columns may be taken along, but each army commander will bear in mind that the question of supplies is a very important one and that his first duty is to see to them who bear arms.

— William T. Sherman, Military Division of the Mississippi Special Field Order 120, November 9, 1864[1]

If there is one Civil War campaign that really became etched into our American collective long term memories, it is what is commonly referred to as "Sherman's March to the Sea". 

Based on ideas formulated by Grant, and enthusiastically and successfully carried out by William Tecumseh Sherman, it was based on the concept that the only way to bring the war to a close was to destroy the economy and the morale of the Confederate states by targeting industry, government buildings, and especially infrastructure like railroads and bridges. And civilian targets.

At the start of the war the armies on both sides traveled with long supply lines stretched out behind them that brought up food and supplies over hundreds of miles. As the war dragged on for years, and the engagements took place over a war zone that encompassed thousands of miles, Grant and Sherman eventually tweaked and perfected a new style of warfare. A campaign would be initiated with only enough supplies to last the army for three weeks. After that, food and necessities were to be obtained by foraging on civilian farms and confiscating anything they could use from homes, stores, warehouses and factories in their path. Moreover, Sherman believed that the civilian population needed to be completely demoralized  and punished to the point that they would no longer support their military.

As I said, the fall of Atlanta was the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. It allowed Lincoln, whose popularity was at a low ebb, to win the 1864 election. It also was the precursor and staging ground for Sherman's Savannah campaign, now remembered as the march to the sea.

The burning of Atlanta was carried out by a very capable engineer in Sherman's command named Orlando Metcalfe Poe. After the war he built a number of what would become historic lighthouses on the coast, and locks on the Great Lakes.  People of my generation will remember the burning of Atlanta from the dramatic fictional version made famous by the epic movie Gone With The Wind.

After Atlanta, Sherman regrouped…and then in one month, from mid-November  to just before Christmas of 1864, he cut a swathe across Georgia to Savannah, destroying everything in his path and leaving many of the already hurting southern civilians literally starving and homeless. This brutal and successful campaign is what finally broke the back of the Confederacy.

What most people don't know is what happened next, which is key to our little story.

After Sherman took Savannah, Grant wanted him to put his army on ships and sail to Virginia, where he had Lee under a long and grinding siege in Petersburg. Sherman argued that it would be better to travel to Virginia overland through South Carolina, carrying out the same kind of scorched earth attacks that he carried out in the Savannah campaign. He particularly wanted to punish SC, which had been the first state to secede from the Union.

Grant relented, and so Sherman marched his army all the way through the state, which was already only left with scattered and greatly reduced defensive forces. He deliberately avoided engaging those and used a proven of trick of his designed to confuse the other side, which was to march different parts of his army in different directions simultaneously to confuse the enemy forces and disguise his true targets.

Along the way he torched a lot of towns. Barnwell, Orangeberg, McPhersonville, Camden, and others. Written descriptions describe witness accounts of "a dozen cities burning at the same time." Civilian homes were not spared. Everything of value was taken or destroyed.

Modern scholars debate whether Sherman's South Carolina campaign, which culminated in the burning of Columbia, the state capitol (where our two young soldiers joined the Confederacy exactly four years before) should be considered a war crime. Without a doubt it was one of the most brutal and punishing parts of the war on a civilian population, and it left most people destitute, hungry, and without any organized government at all. One of Sherman's favorite things to do was to stable his horses in the biggest and finest local churches.

Lancaster and Kershaw counties, which is where my ancestors lived, were directly in Sherman's path as he marched toward his next big target, which was Charlotte, just across the border in North Carolina.

Most history books note Lee's surrender at Appomattox as the real end of the war. In reality, the last big battle, the one that finally spelled the finish for the Confederacy was the Battle of Bentonville, in North Carolina, in late March, 1865, a few weeks before  Lee surrendered.

Sherman was a very good general on the battlefield. Once again, he used his advantage in troop strength and his excellent understanding of tactics to successfully confuse and misdirect his opponents. As a result of the battle, the last large contingent of the Confederate army under General Joseph Johnston was forced to surrender on April 26th, 1865.

Of our two young soldiers who went to war together, It's hard to say which one suffered most. I don't know if it was my great great grandfather, who fell so early as the war was beginning, or whether it was my great great uncle, who had to endure three more years,  marching thousands of miles, fighting in dozens of battles, and then had to return to a home that had been completely devastated by four long years of hardship and Sherman's scorched earth warfare.

I have no real knowledge of what happened to my family in the immediate aftermath of the war. I can imagine that they probably nearly starved to death in 1865, as most of their crops were no doubt destroyed. My great grandfather, the son of the soldier who died at South Mountain, would had been due to celebrate his sixth birthday in February 1865 as Sherman passed through his area.

Being the son of a younger son, he had no inheritance to the family land. His mother, the young widow, never remarried. Perhaps not surprising since more than 90% of the local men in her age group died in the war. The son, my great grandfather, eventually married a woman from his mother's extended family, so I actually have more of the Major's family blood in my veins than that of the dead soldier's.

All I really know is that a few years later, toward the end of Reconstruction, in the 1870's, the whole family apparently boarded a train and took the newly rebuilt railroad to East Texas. The mother, the son, their families. They are all buried not too far from where I grew up.

The dead soldier's son, my great grandfather, lived until 1939, the year my mother graduated from high school. I think they were close. Her own father, my grandfather, died in 1930 in a hunting accident, and her mother never remarried ether. My mother knew her grandfather well, at least.

The only thing I ever remember my Mom telling me about him was that no matter how much they asked him, he would never talk about his past or his early life in South Carolina.

They had a family joke, she said. They always kidded each other that they suspected  he had killed a man up there, and had "gone to Texas", as they used to say in the movies. Knowing what I know now, I suspect the story was a little different. I suspect his childhood was pretty difficult.

Well, thanks for reading. That's the story….of how the US Civil War impacted one branch of my family and eventually resulted in their migration to Texas.

The Major came to Texas on the train too. I don't know for sure, but I suspect he came first, and then sent for the rest.  He lived until 1906, and was much loved, apparently. He is also buried in East Texas, about fifty miles away from the war widow and her descendants, who are my mother's family.  I have one photo of him and a copy of his obituary.

Lancaster News 17 March 1906
Maj. Miel Hilton Dead

The Gallant Old Veteran of Two Wars Passes Away at his Home in Texas, the
State of his Adoption.

His old war comrades and many friends in Lancaster county will be pained to
learn of the death of Major Miel Hilton, which occurred at his home in Texas,
in the Tennessee Colony, on the 22nd day of last month. He moved from Flat
Creek township, this county, to Texas about twenty years ago. It will be
recalled that he was back here on a visit a few years ago.

As is well known, Maj. Hilton was a vetran of two wars – the Mexican and the
Civil, in both of which he was distinguished for gallantry and fidelity to
duty. He accompanied Capt. Amos McManus and other Lancaster veterans to

Mexico in 1846, serving in the famous Palmetto regiment.

At the outbreak of the Civil war Maj. Hilton organized a company and carried
it to the front, his command becoming a part of the 22nd S.C. Regiment. He
was afterwards promoted from the rank of Captain to that of Major. He made a
brave and daring officer and was idolized by his men.

Maj. Hilton was a son of the late Zadock Hilton of Lancaster county and was 81
years old. He was the last of several sons, all of whom were prominent and
useful citizens. He has one sister living, Mrs. Mary Clyburn, of Rockingham,
N.C. His wife who was a Miss Sowell, died in Texas some years ago. He leaves
the following children: Mrs. Wm. B. Cook and Mrs. Lemuel Blackwell of this
county; W.A.J. Hilton and Kirby Hilton of Texas; and another son and daughter
in Texas whose names we have been unable to learn.

How My Family Was Affected By The US Civil War: War and Collapse in American History – Chapter 2

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on January 23, 2018

 

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This is really the story of two young guys, and how they joined the army and went to war together. One of them died young in battle, probably on his very first day of combat. The other made it through the war and lived to great old age. Both these men had families, and I am a descendant of both of those families. The one who died in battle was my great-great grandfather. He was in his early thirties, and left a widow and four very young children behind. The other was his wife's brother.

Original Plantation House

This story is not in any history book. I have pieced it together from a few odd remnants of the past. Obituaries, tombstones, a couple of military reports, some history books and some Civil War websites. I never knew these guys and nobody who did know them is left to tell us anything about what happened to them. What I'm telling you is completely true to the best of my knowledge, but a lot of it can only be inferred, and not known with absolute certainty.

I'm not going to write a book about the US Civil War. I'm not a real history scholar, and even if I were, the events of that conflict have been more than adequately documented by hundreds of good writers. For the few people who might have missed it, I'll mention the Ken Burns documentary "The Civil War", the best piece of film about the war, and one of the best shows ever aired on TV. I could listen to those interviews he did with the late Shelby Foote, who WAS a great scholar, for hours. My wife fell in love with Dr. Foote, thanks to Mr. Burns. Foote wrote a lot of books, and some of them are on audio if you can find them.  His soft Georgia drawl was epic, and he even looked a little like he might have been a reincarnated Confederate general. I'm sorry he's gone.

I do think a little bit of context is helpful in understanding the story of these two guys, and what happened to their country and how we were plunged into war, and the way things worked out for regular people. Bear with me, I'll get back to the real story, I promise.

Wars are never started by regular people, but by powerful elites who usually think they have something big to lose if they don't go into battle. The simplified version of history that says the US Civil War was started over slavery is only partially correct. It's more correct in my view to say that the war was fomented primarily by a few angry, arrogant, rich southern men who wanted to see their slave-based economy  continue to be sanctioned and allowed to spread into the West, where more and more new states were being added to the Union. Ironically, it was the American and the French Revolutions, with their flowery promises of liberty and equality for all men, that changed conventional thinking world-wide and swung public opinion against human bondage. The point of view of these angry southern men was perhaps best articulated by Edmund Ruffin of Virginia. Historians would call these rapid secessionists the Fire Eaters. They wanted a war and they got what they wanted, and dragged the entire South into a war that would affect generations to come.

In the first half of the 19th Century, the intellectual capitol of the world wasn't any American city. It was Paris. In those days, young men from affluent US families flocked there to study medicine and art. There were no rock stars, but the best American writers, like the highly successful James Fenimore Cooper, moved to Paris to live. One of Cooper's best friends, a very good artist named Samuel Morse, spent years in the Louvre, often on self-constructed elaborate scaffolds, carefully copying the works of the European masters, which was deemed the best way to learn art. Although Morse was a far better painter than most of his contemporaries, real success eluded him, and he eventually turned his attention more to one of his hobbies, which was the perfection of a device to transmit written messages over great distances using electricity and wires. In 1840 he patented the telegraph, which would make him very rich, and in the process, unleash a round of disruptive technology that would make the world a much smaller place.

Now….I took American History in college like everybody else, and I had a good professor. We read a few of those Catton books that were so good. But that was over forty years ago, and I remember very little of it now, frankly. When I realized my ancestor actually died in the war, and that the date of his death was recorded, I went to whatever online archives I could find, to find out what I could about his military service.  When I was visiting my son in Chicago, I stopped in at one of my favorite bookstores, Myopic Books, and picked up a good used paperback about Lee's first Maryland campaign, and I began to re-educate myself.

One important thing to remember is that when wars begin, soldiers with experience from the last war are always in great demand. I learned that in the US Civil War, many if not most of the military officers called into service on both sides, had seen service in the land grab we call the Mexican-American War, which was fought in 1846-1848. That war was staged primarily from the brand new State of Texas, under general Zachary Taylor, and so many Civil War soldiers had been to Texas. One of our young soldiers, the older of the two, served in that conflict, and that's where the Texas connection begins in our story.

http://cdn.stateuniversity.com/assets/logos/images/4622/large_OLDLIB1.gif The generals in the war were mostly graduates of America's fairly new elite military college, West Point. In the 1850's there was a technological revolution going on. Across the West, everywhere, railroads were being built, and telegraphs. Most of the generals who served in the Civil War had been participating in that boom, working as civil engineers.

At the beginning of the war, southern volunteers rushed to sign up for a military campaign many thought would last less than three months. In contrast, by the end of the war the Confederacy was conscripting boys and old men and those who were formerly deemed unfit. This is why nobody in Texas got off light, even though not that much actual shooting occurred on Texas soil. It was hard to escape conscription, although you could buy your way out of it. There were also forms of alternative service, which I had never heard of, but it comes up much later, at the end of this story. That impacted my Dad's great grandfather, and I'll talk about what happened to him too, in a short footnote at the end of the main story. I still don't know much about what really happened to him.

So, my direct ancestor went to the war with his brother-in-law, who had been in the Mexican war, and who was mustered into the Confederate Army as a Captain. He eventually rose to the rank of Major. The older man was responsible for writing reports during the war, and a couple of them do endure as a part of the real record of the war.

One of the most interesting campaigns of the war was Lee's first raid into West Virginia and Maryland. He knew he was vastly outnumbered by the Army of the Potomac led by a stodgy old military academician, General McClellan, who was thought before the war to be a fine administrator and an expert trainer of soldiers.

As it transpired McClellan always stayed far from the front lines in a position of relative safety while his subordinates fought battles under heavy fire Lincoln soon sacked him and replaced him with Grant. Afterward, McClellan became extremely active in politics, and he came very close to defeating Lincoln in the election of 1864. The election was only saved because Sherman delivered the city of Atlanta by defeating the legendary Hood's Texas Brigade in July of 1864. This was a major turning point in the war. Had Hood been able to hold Atlanta, the war might have ended in a negotiated peace under President McClellan. That day, July 22nd, the current course of today's American Empire was set, and
the course has never really shifted.

But Lee went to war against McClellan. He knew he was greatly outnumbered, and he wanted to pick the spot where he could best defeat McClellan. It appears he decided that it be in the difficult terrain of some mountainous country in northern Maryland.

I found out that my two guys mustered into the army together in the late winter of 1861, in Columbia South Carolina. They were among the very first volunteers. The older of the two, the army veteran, is said to have formed up a company from his local area. Their regiment numbered about eleven hundred men. They would go on to fight in major battles in virtually every theater of the war. They were with Lee when he surrendered at Appomattox . That is, the 11 officers and 77 enlisted men who were left. The rest perished.

So….my great great grandfather went to war under his commanding officer, his brother-in-law. The date of his death is exactly three days before the battle of Antietam. The battle that day was a skirmish action, an attempt to wear down the Union troops marching west from Washington DC as they tried to get through three narrow Appalachian passes. It is known as the Battle of South Mountain. Lee had just successfully carried out his bold attack on the Union Armory at Harper's Ferry West Virginia. He had split his troops, sending some of them ahead toward Antietam ahead of his main contingent. Lee had all  his men on a forced march north for a week, and many of them were ill-equipped. Some were barefoot. The only thing they had to eat was green corn they picked out of the fields. Most of them had diarrhea.

 

http://cdn.history.com/sites/2/2013/12/dunker-church-antitetam-P.jpeg

 

There is a great debate to be made about this strategy of Lee's. History says that the Union Army found a "lost dispatch" in a hastily abandoned Confederate encampment, detailing the Confederate plan, which allowed McClellan to anticipate Lee, leading to his subsequent defeat at Antietam. It might be more likely, and some modern scholars now think, that Lee deliberately leaked his plan to encourage McClellan to approach the Antietam battlefield through the mountain gaps, which would give him a good place to winnow down the Union Army's twenty-five thousand man advantage. No one really knows for sure. Lee never said.

On September 14th, 1862, three pitched battles took place between the Army of the Potomac, led by McClellan, and Lee's forces, under the command of General James Longstreet. On that day Longstreet and most of his command had traveled further north to reconnoiter and when the Union army was sighted, he had to hurry back toward the encampment to provide reinforcements.

McClellan knew Lee had split his forces to go after Harper's Ferry, and  he desperately needed to breach the Confederate defending positions in the three  strategic mountain passes near Boonesboro. If he could rapidly push through with his 75,000 man strong army, he could beat Lee to northern Maryland and take on the two much smaller Confederate forces one at a time. If it had worked according to plan, Lee's army might have been destroyed then, in late 1862.

My ancestor died in the action at Turner's Gap, I believe. This was the center of the three mountain passes, and it was attacked frontally by a strong force commanded by two of the Union's best generals, Ambrose Burnside of sideburns fame, and "Fighting Joe" Hooker.  Turners Gap was defended by Confederate General D.H. Hill, who was Stonewall Jackson's brother-in-law. At the start of the battle, the Confederates only had one division of five brigades in place…about five thousand men, which Hill had to spread over two miles. The southerners fought bravely, and the South Carolina regiment was brought up to re-inforce Hill. It would have been a rout but for the terrain, but darkness fell before the Union force could completely break through the Confederate line.

One of our two soldiers, the young Captain, made a report to his commanding officer that day. No mention was made of his fallen brother-in-law. Maybe he thought his friend was among the missing and might still turn up. More likely, it just wouldn't have been appropriate, since the other man was only a private. Here is his dispatch:

[On September 14] the regiment marched from Hagerstown, Md. (Lieutenant Colonel Thomas C. Watkins in command), to South Mountain; reached there about 4 p. m. Found General D. H. Hill's division on the right of the road, engaging the enemy. This regiment was ordered to the left of the road, and marched around the mountain, then filed by left across the mountain, then by right flank forward, when we came in contact with the enemy and immediately opened on them, the enemy occupying a very favorable position against us. After engaging them for about half an hour, we were ordered to fall back, which we did some 30 yards, through in some confusion, Lieutenant Colonel T. C. Watkins calling to the men to rally to their colors and fall into line. While thus exposing himself, and, having succeeded in forming the regiment in line of battle, he fell, struck by a musket-ball in the head. Thus fell a brave and skillful officer at the head of his command, encouraging and rallying his men with the last breath of life. This misfortune caused the regiment to fall into confusion. I then assumed the command, rallying the regiment three times, but the pressure from the enemy was such that it was impossible to hold our positions, and finally fell back to the main road leading to Boonsborough, and there formed under the cover of a fence, where we remained until ordered to fall back on Sharpsburg, it now being night.

History says 325 men were killed outright that day, and a lot more were never accounted for. About 1100 men killed or MIA in all, and my ancestor was one of them. According to reports, a local farmer was paid a dollar apiece to bury some of the dead troops, and that as many as 60 were dumped into an old well. No marker exists to mark the grave of my forefather, as far as I know

Had McClellan hit the gaps again the next day it might have been a quick and decisive defeat for Lee. Instead McClellan inexplicably paused, allowing  Lee to get his troops in place on a nearby village called Antietam. On the 17th, under heavy artillery bombardment from both sides, the single bloodiest battle in all of human history took place, resulting in over 23 thousand dead or missing. I have never been to the Antietam battleground, but I'm told it is the least changed of all the old battleground sites, and looks today not that much different than it did in the fall of 1862. I hope to visit up there someday.

Antietam

The ghost of Bill Kettchel still sits glumly on the bluff
Not but a few paces from where he  was fell
He has risen majestic at night from the well.

Still screaming out loud, Hey give em hell boys, give em hell

Dropped in head a foremost by the heel of his boot
Give em hell goes the echo, by god give em all  hell

The fields glistened  brightly with crimson and gore
The fighting was grisly like none seen before.
All stacked up  like cord-wood a good  ten foot high, they smote grey and  smote blue
by  the hip and by the thigh.

Give em hell boys by god, came the echoing cry.

Now musket ball splatter, now cannon grape rain.
March through the death gauntlet and line up again.
As the dying lie crying Under shade tree spread wide.

I'm a Yankee doodle dandy. Yankee doodle do or die.
A real live nephew of my uncle Sam born on the fourth of July.
Look away ,look away look away.

Dumped in head a  foremost  by foot and by heel. My self, Andy, Caleb 
Rest daily in the well. By day we lie peacefull, at night we rebell.
Especially those nights when the moon is aglow
We rise to the mouth and we holler and shout.

Give em hell boys  by god, just send them all straight to hell.

Geno Cattouse

How My Family Was Affected ByThe US Civil War: War and Collapse in American History – Chapter 1

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on January 14, 2017

 

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Like a lot of southern poor people, I grew up without knowing too much about my family history. We are a long generation family anyway, and when I was born I only had one grandparent left alive. He passed away when I was 12, and although I knew him fairly well, he never regaled me with any stories. He was, as my mother would have said, an old coot. A widower who raised five kids as a single dad on a subsistence farm. Never held a job other than farming. And oh, yeah. He was a cripple who limped badly and walked with a cane, the result of a venomous snake bite he got as a boy.

 What I knew, I got from my Mom and Dad, who were kids who grew up during the Great Depression. Then their lives were forever altered by World War II which was the defining event of their entire lifetime. They were good country people who came up the hard way, and then lived in a relatively affluent post-war era that made the rest of their lives seem pretty easy. They lived their lives a day at a time, and never dwelled on the past. All I ever got was a few bits and pieces.

I never even cared that much about my family history until I was much older, and by then there was nobody left to ask. About twenty-five years ago I went to the State Library here in Austin, and found that my Dad's family first paid taxes on land around where I grew up in 1856. I wondered then if I had any Confederates in my attic, so to speak, but a quick search showed no evidence of any Civil War pensions paid to anyone with my last name, which is not a common one. I guessed that maybe my family lived so deep in the backwoods on the frontier that the war passed them by.

I know better now. Eventually I learned that the Civil War touched not only both sides of my family, but the families of everyone in the entire country who was alive at that time. No one was unaffected, and most had their lives deeply changed by that bloody conflict. But that's skipping ahead. At that point, I put my inquires aside and conducted no further research. I had hit a dead end. End of story.

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/94/62/70/94627080e01ff1a6a9b45b9dd8bcd9e1.jpg Fast forward to two years ago. For Christmas, one of my grown daughters gave me a DNA test. You know, "23andme". It took me a few months, but eventually I did the swab and sent it off….and after several more months I got the report. I had always figured I was a mutt. I knew from my prior research I was a fifth generation Texan whose ancestors were pioneer farmers. I was surprised to find that genetically I'm about as Anglo as you can get. As Anglo as most people who are born in the UK. 75% British DNA, 10% French/German, and the rest mostly unspecified Northern European. More Neanderthal variants than 94% of the people who have catalogued their DNA on the 23andme site. 1% Finn. Maybe a Viking in the woodpile? No Native American at all. No southern European. No African. No Asian. Hard for me to believe, really. I knew I was a white guy, but I never figured I was THAT white. So much for the Great Melting Pot. Live and learn.

 When you do the 23and me thing, you can put your DNA report online publicly and maybe make touch with some relatives you didn't know you had. I was eventually contacted by a distant cousin I'd never met, who was connected to me through one of my mother's great aunts. Super nice guy who was trying to find family photos and piece together his own family history. We talked a bit, and I found out he'd just retired…from practicing dentistry in Houston, for about 40 years. Go figure.

But I digress. This story really begins with a free family tree app that some 23andme affiliate offers on the site. A freebie. I didn't know much, but I knew my grandparents and some of my great grandparents names. I filled in boxes. I soon discovered that in very recent years that the internet has burgeoned with a variety of formerly difficult-to-find records, particularly cemetery records. Thanks to a lot of dedicated local folks who put their community cemetery records onto national databases. Voila! One name led to another. I began to figure things out.

One thing my Mom had told me as a kid was that her family came from South Carolina, and that they had a plantation before the Civil War Right! I thought she was tripping. It wasn't that I didn't believe she was sincere, but Mom was one of those sweet southern women who are not quite as connected to reality as the rest of us. Sort of like Zelda Fitzgerald, but from a far less affluent family.

But in my search, I found that my Mom's grandfather, who is buried in East Texas, was indeed from South Carolina. One day I decided to look to see if there were any records of South Carolina plantations once owned by her family of origin. Her maiden name was not a common one either. It took me only minutes. Not only was there once such a place, it still existed, in Kershaw, SC. I found it on a site that catalogues antebellum historical properties and landmarks. It was still owned by some distant cousins. I managed to find an e-mall address for them and shot them a short note. They got back to me. Coincidentally, I had already planned a visit to SC to visit some other friends. Would it be possible for me to visit? Yes?
 
 A few months later I found myself standing on the front porch of a house built by one of my long dead cousins in the 1870's. For a few seconds I felt extremely nervous and wondered if I should have even come. But the door was opened and my wife and I were invited in and treated to all the southern hospitality that folks in that part of the world are known for.

It was the second house built on the property, the original log plantation house having been disassembled and used to repair barns in the mid 20th century. My cousin, who is in his early eighties, helped tear it down when he was a boy. I met his wife, his son (the last heir) and another cousin who used to run the local historical society up there. They served us a fine southern lunch, which could have been Sunday dinner. I will never forget their kindness and generosity. The house was full of historical photos of my distant relatives, two of which had served in the state legislature. As my cousins laughingly pointed out, I look a great deal like them.

My youngest cousin, the son, will inherit what is left of the original farm. There's about a thousand acres left….of the original twenty thousand. I had read that there was a family cemetery, and I wondered if it might be the final resting place of my great-great grandfather? As it turned out, the answer to that was no. But his older brother, the patriarch, is buried there, along with several other family members whose markers have not endured. We walked down a path in the woods through a big grove of tall oak trees to the family plot. Nearby is a slave cemetery, which has also been fenced and preserved, although no markers remain there either. We also visited the cemetery at a very old local church where many other relatives are interred. The headstones there remain, but acid rain has mostly obliterated the names. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. All forgotten in 150 years time.

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The Potfolio 1

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on January 15, 2017

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A few take-aways for anyone considering buying into pot stocks. These are the things you won't read anywhere else.

1. All twenty stocks in the Potfolio, every one of them, is trading at a new, higher level than last summer, before the sector got so hot in the couple of months leading up to the election. Not even the sketchiest companies have fallen back anywhere near their previous levels. This is different action from the past (like 2014, when there was a huge run-up that subsequently fizzled completely). To me, this signifies that pot stocks are in a new, real bull market. I am down on some stocks I bought near the pre-election highs, but I am calling those timing mistakes. Bull markets always correct timing mistakes.

2.Looking at momentum, and looking at charts in general, I cannot see much difference between the action in the most profitable stocks in the Potfolio, with the best fundamentals, and those that have problems, fundamentally speaking. A couple of stocks with good fundamentals are doing very well, but those with fundamentals that stink don't look bad from a price action standpoint either. Not looking at a one year chart.


Not really at a new higher level, not like the rest, but doing okay.Look at the volume spike.

3.Half the Potfolio stocks have reasonable fundamentals, considering the nature of this market. Half do not. Of the ones that do have good fundies (sales, earning, good financials, low float) there is a wide range. I rated them all on fundamentals, from +++  to –. I'll publish those results, but you can look for yourself too. Here's MJNA, for example. This is the site I'm using to evaluate them. MJNA gets a ++ by my rough estimate, in spite of a huge float.

https://research.tradeking.com/research/quotes/fundamentals.asp?mcsymbol=MJNA

4. Here's my own personal quick and dirty assessment of fundamentals of the 20 stocks now held by yours truly in the Potfolio. The symbols I use here are the ones Ameritrade uses. On the Canadian exchanges the ticker symbols are different, fwiw.

Stock                                 Fundamentals

ACBFF                                         +

AGTK                                           –

AMMJ                                          +

APHQF                                       +++

CANN                                           –

CBDS                                          —

CBIS                                           —

CGRW                                          –

CNAB                                           +

CNBX                                           +

ERBB                                            –

GRNH                                           –

MCOA                                           —

MJNA                                           ++

MNTR                                           +

MQTRF                                         ++

MSRT                                            –

OGRMF                                         ++

TRTC                                            +

TWMJF                                          ++

*Once again, these are off-the-cuff, rough estimates. Many people consider Canopy Growth to be the best pot stock of all, but I had to rate Aphria higher on fundamentals, as of last weekend, when I ran the numbers here.

5 .Canadian pot stocks are a safer buy than American companies, due to the legal issues still hanging around due to stupid bureaucratic bungling by our government. Also, the fundamentals of Canadian pot stocks, on the whole, are better. The strongest four stocks are all Canadian. I don't think that means you should write off American companies, but the crystal ball is cloudy for them, at the  moment. I noticed one MSM article yesterday that had all kinds of negative headlines about the medical use of pot, and possible negative effects, like causing schizophrenia. If you read the whole article, you learned that the headlines were mostly bullshit. Still, we see this stuff, and I think it's part of a still-powerful anti-pot lobby that is able to persuade media to smear the industry. Who would do such a thing? (I mean, besides the private prison owners, the DEA, the FBI, and the billionaires that profit off alcohol sales (Sheldon Adelson)).

6. We live in troubled times, and there is about 100% odds of a major stock market correction on the horizon.This will drive down all stock prices, and could temporarily decimate pot stocks just like everything else. If that happens, it's a gift from God. I'll be adding to the better performers. Pot is not going away. I view it as the best contrarian play in recent history.

7. So as not to appear to be baiting anyone to follow some link to a pay site, I'll list the four best Canadian stocks in the Potfolio (my opinion). I'll also add a fifth, which might arguably be on the list. They are in order of best first (overall, not just fundies): TWMJF, APHQF,OGRMF, MQTRF, and ACBFF. My rating is based on fundamentals and recent price action. Of these five, since November 2016, TWMJF has outperformed the rest handily, as far as gains.

8. Of the American companies, the best overall stocks in the Potfolio are, in order: MJNA, MNTR, and MSRT. Of these, MJNA is off-the-charts ahead in gains. It might be worth mentioning that MNTR and MSRT are not actually pot growing companies. MNTR is a financial company that specializes in raising capital for pot companies, and MSRT is a social media platform for people interested in buying and discussing pot. Many of the American pot growing companies that came highly recommended are underwater (for me) at the moment.

9. Just to cover a couple of possible questions you might have, let me say that all the selections in the Potfolio were made by me, and I deliberately avoided a few highly rated stocks. I don't like breathalyzers, so I won't buy stocks of companies looking to sell them, and I avoid pot stocks that might be considered high-flying biotechs, ones that have already shot up to $50/share and beyond. I also didn't buy ECIG because it has a dismal looking chart. FYI.

Super Moon

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on November 16, 2016

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Tonight is supposed to be the night of the super moon. I don't much like that term. We supersize way too many things in our culture.

Anyhow, the moon is at the perigee of its orbit, and it's the closest it's been to Earth since seven years before I was born. I heard on the radio that the next one, which will be even closer, won't be until November 25th of 2034, which, if I'm still around, would just happen to be on my 79th birthday.

It made me remember a time when I was a kid, when I realized that in the year 2000 that I would be 45 years old. At the time I was maybe 10 or 12, and it seemed like it might be some kind of big milestone. I could look around and say. "Yeah, I made it to 2000, and I'm not dead yet!"….or something like that. It seemed an awful long time in the future.

As I recall it turned out not to seem like a big deal at all after it arrived. Looking back now I can see it was a time of some change in my life. It was the year my kids started graduating high school and moving out, a process that took a few years, since I have 4 of them. I was finally, that year, free of all my debts, with the exception of the mortgage on my house, and the one on the one rental property we owned at the time. Practice loan paid. Student loans paid. IRS paid. It felt pretty good. It was the start of a wave of easier living than what I'd been used to up until then….but I only see that now, in hind sight. At the time I didn't really appreciate it for what it was.

Last night the moon wasn't quite full yet, but it was rising as I left the stead to head back to town, and I watched it rise for half an hour, looking out my driver's side window as I drove south on 183 through the countryside northwest of Austin. It was spectacular. I imagined what it must have looked like to cowboys out there on horseback, back in the day. There was a nice super moon in 1912, and lots of people still rode horses here then.

I try to allow myself to be a little superstitious about the moon. It's easy for me to understand how primitive people thought of the moon as supernatural, some kind of benevolent goddess. Pagans used to worship their gods and goddesses under the full moon, engaging in rituals that we today might consider to be at odds with our Puritanical Christian roots, as guilted to us by our uptight forefathers.

Bonfires and drinking and a night time party…..a chance to make sure the gene pool got some new blood occasionally. Going skyclad under the moonlight….good fun if it isn't too cold.

I am partial to full moons that rise before sunset and therefore shine down on the deck that adjoins my living room with it's western view. I have danced with my partner there on many nights, both fully dressed and occasionally skyclad, and even in my bathrobe, the one that makes me look Lebowksi-esque to some people. (They know who they are.)

The moon goddess has been my ally when it comes to getting lucky, but its more than that. There is something truly magic about moonlight, and the way it lights up the clouds and makes them take on a surreal dimension. It nourishes me at some basic level that doesn't make sense to my intellect.

I wonder if I'll live to see November 25th, 2034. And I wonder how I'll feel then. I'm 61 now, but I don't feel like an old man. Will I feel older then, or will my physical decline be slow enough that I won't notice? I don't have a clue. I would have to realize at that point that nearly all of my life will be in the rearview mirror. What will it be like to have a whole life as a memory, and a future measured in days or months instead of years?

Maybe it'll be much like what I felt in 2000. No big deal.

I do think that if I'm alive and able to get out of bed, I'll try to get outside and feel the moonlight again on that landmark day. Maybe dance skyclad with my partner, if I should be so lucky.

Amerikan Brexit: Coalitions of the Ignorant

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on November 10, 2016

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The election of 2016 is over, and the mood in the country is that the People Have Spoken. A majority of voters have soundly rejected Business As Usual, as personified by Hillary Clinton, and voted for what they perceive as Change, with a Capital T, as in Trump.

The truth is that there was never a better poster child for crony capitalism and corruption than Clinton. The thousands of leaked emails and the revelations about shady deals with foreign despots funneling money to her through her non-profit front disgusted anybody who took the trouble to read during the election cycle….and for those (most Americans) who don't bother to read, Mr. Trump was happy to Tweet about it and call her a criminal day after day on the campaign trail.

I expected Ms. Clinton to win, not because she was a good candidate, but because she was a very savvy politician with a well-established constituency among the black and brown urban poor and the educated liberal elites, and because the Big Money was behind her. She knew how to play the game, as it has always been played.

But this election threw a monkey wrench into the gears of electoral politics. For the first time in history we have seen an election shaped by social media. Mr. Trump, himself a TV personality with lots of name recognition, was able to shape the election by saying things that most political observers would have called political suicide, and he made it work to deliver the Presidency of the United States.

For the past several years, Republican candidates had courted the same people who turned out to vote Mr. Trump into office, with some success. But they never delivered on their promises, and this time that group, the high school educated working class whites, showed their dissatisfaction by abandoning the Republican Establishment in the primary, and further demonstrating their anger and frustration with BAU by sweeping Trump into the White House.

I don't think Trump will deliver the goods either, because declining energy resources dictate that the pie will keep getting smaller, and because the ship carrying the US industrial economy set sail for China long ago now, and it won't be coming back. Never mind the widespread effects of global climate change, which Mr. Trump and most of his base don't believe is even real.

Mr. Trump will have to depend on his bombast and charisma to keep his support. The figure he most reminds me of in recent history, is Hugo Chavez. Poor Venezuelans still love Chavez, even though he threw their country into total economic chaos. I'm sure Trump will be able to keep some of his base behind him for the next four years, or longer. But it won't be because he was able to make America great again.

I think it would be good to examine Mr.Trump's coalition of support, and Ms. Clinton's, because even though she lost the election, her base still exists, and  it is outgrowing Mr. Trump's support base over the long haul. In other words, they will be back with a new candidate, who might appear in four years to completely dismantle whatever Mr. Trump creates. They might even come back with a vengeance. Time is on their side, as long as the country can rock along without a complete systemic collapse.

It's easy to understand Clinton's support. At the bottom are the extremely entrenched have-nots in our society. They can't get along without a SNAP card and Medicaid. There is a very large group of Blacks and Hispanics (and a even a few whites) who have, for nearly three generations, benefited from free food and free medical insurance and subsidized rent. They are motivated to AVOID making much money in the mainstream economy, and they are motivated to AVOID being legally married,  to qualify for the benefits they depend on. These benefits are almost always restricted to being doled out to single mothers with children. Families have to avoid the appearance of being a family when social workers come around, and any significant income has to come from the black market economy.

The black and brown Americans who pull themselves up above poverty still identify politically with this group, and largely vote with them, although some of the most successful do abandon ship and turn conservative. The black working class remains firmly behind the Democratic Party, which always gives lip service to taking care of "the unfortunate". The Hispanic component favors open borders and free immigration, because a large number of them are from immigrant families, many of whom arrived here illegally.

To that bloc (which is growing by leaps and bounds because of the Hispanic component with their Catholic religion and large family size), the Democrats add a much different demographic group,which are the liberal whites, who have been brought up to believe in policies of racial and gender equality, and who feel sorry for those at the bottom. These whites are not all rich, but they are,as a group, well educated, and they have jobs in government, education, and technology that allow them to achieve a measure of financial success. Enough to keep them from being angry, and make them in favor of a diverse society, which they've been taught to value anyway.

The Trump constituency, examined in hindsight of the election, appears to be a coalition too. The base is the white working class, the people who once constituted the bedrock of American society, not college educated, but who managed to make decent livings in our industrial manufacturing sector. Union workers and unskilled and semi-skilled laborers. At one time a man could make a reasonable living in this country if he was just willing to get up in the morning and go to work and give a reasonable effort. Jobs were plentiful, and if one didn't work out you could always get another one.

These people are now strongly  anti-immigration, because they perceive that new arrivals take away employment that is their birthright. It is a little more complicated than that, but they don't see the fine detail of how technology just eliminates the need for so many working stiffs.

They  accuse the Democratic party of bringing in more and more immigrants in order to build the liberal welfare state political base, and that makes them angry too. They happen to be right about that one.

The other part of the coalition, which includes some of the above group, and some other, better educated white people, is the Religious Right, the very same people who brought you the likes of Ted Cruz and even Marco Rubio  (who wasted no time last night in giving all the credit for his re-election to Jesus Christ his personal savior. I don't know if Jesus was listening, but the Evangelicals were, and gave Rubio a huge round of applause when he said it. Little Marco knows which side his bread is buttered on.)

This group is motivated by their shared agenda of ending abortion in any form for any reason, making birth control difficult, and bringing public prayer (Christian prayer, that is) back to public schools.  Ending sex education is another issue. They want kids raised like mushrooms, kept in the dark, and fed on a diet of horse shit. They are people who have been conditioned to believe that our society's decline is due to moral decay, and who see nothing wrong with making America into a Conservative Christian theocracy.

The working white poor, as a demographic group, are in decline, but the Religious Right keeps growing. Their churches have turned into huge mega-arenas that put thousands under one roof on Sunday morning, where preachers skilled in hypnosis techniques drive home the message. The Religious Right doesn't love Trump, but they were willing to hold their noses and vote for him in droves, because he comes from a Catholic family background and has been careful to (at least in recent years) give lip service to the Christian Conservative agenda.

Both the Democratic base and the Republican base are motivated primarily by emotion, and neither one is willing to understand that the decline of our country and Western Civilization has to do resource depletion, overpopulation, and climate change.

They cling to their own particular emotional lifeboats, and have no interest in hearing that all of us are going to be living on less energy, less money, and less complexity in the near future, and that many of us will simply not be living at all, as our ability to use technology to produce more and more food and labor from less and less effort, goes away forever.

They deny climate change, because they don't live on waterfront property. Or if they do, they'd like to flip their house before it becomes worthless. The city just needs to build more storm drains and do a little more backfill. All those storms are just normal climate variation. Floods and droughts have always happened. Watch your step, there, don't get your feet wet.

That's my view. Pardon me if I'm not excited by the wave of change sweeping the country. I see another kind of wave coming, one that will give both of these groups of willfully ignorant Americans a reality check they aren't looking for.

Dammit, It Should Be Bernie Running Against Trump

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on November 4, 2016

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If there is a place this election got stolen, it was in the Democratic primary.

Wikileaks has revealed a whole slew of dirty tricks the Clinton campaign played on Sanders during the primary campaign. I won't bother to try to list them all, but the evidence is there, for anybody who wants to look.

Maybe it was nothing illegal, but it certainly reinforced what I already thought, which was that the Sanders campaign was squashed using the muscle of a well-oiled party machine run by professional electioneering sharks, using the cooperation of a willing media, who were always willing to do what it took to discredit the honest socialist.

If Bernie had gotten the Democratic nomination, we'd be having an election with a clear choice, and one that would allow most ordinary Americans to find a comfortable position in one camp or the other, because Sanders and Trump were the real peoples choices, for sure. Many Republicans don't like Trump, but he IS the conservative people's choice. And much to Paul Ryan's chagrin, the Republican Party was not as good as the Democratic Party in preventing the people from getting the candidate they wanted.

A few clueless Democrats are as happy as a clam about Hillary. She's a woman, after all, and we haven't had a woman President, so obviously we should have one. Because diversity. It's the Correct choice. And she likes black people…at least in public. Those people are unaffected by Wikileaks. You can probably spot them out and about this week. They are the ones with their fingers in their ears, chanting La-la-la-la-la-la and smiling a nice Prozac smile. Most of them voted early, out of sheer joy.

But there are a whole bunch of really disappointed younger Americans, and a few older ones too, who were really happy to see a man with integrity and decent principles take a shot at it, and so what if he was a self-proclaimed Socialist. America is a socialist country already, just an extremely perverted version that can't own it's real feelings.

The younger generation embraces the idea of a social welfare state, for better or worse. The older generation is in denial, like that old queen Senator Lindsey Graham, who can't admit he's gay, even to himself. Don't try to take our Medicare, or our Social Security benefits. But we hate Obamacare. Did you hear about those Death Panels? Shocking.

The biggest gripe most people have about Obamacare is that somebody forced them to assume responsibility for a premium toward their medical bills. They had to pay money. I heard some Trump supporter on the radio the other day crowing that he'd have an extra $200 in his pocket every month if it weren't for Obamacare. The same guy, if he went in the hospital, would be happy to stick the rest of us for his million dollar hospital bill. That's socialism too, of a slightly different variety.

Me? I'm stuck between a rock and hard place on election day.  I see one candidate whose picture should be in the dictionary next to the definition of sociopath…whose track record is one of decades of slimy graft and corruption. Not to mention a history of poorly considered meddling in the affairs of other sovereign countries. The kind that end up with missiles and drones and bullets and human misery on a global scale. I see another candidate who knows how to pander to the lowest common denominator in our society. A clever bullshit artist who couldn't possibly deliver the goods on his promises. One whose one and only recommendation is that he isn't a part of the party machine.

I read today that Trump, if elected, intends to put his campaign money man in as Treasury Secretary. A money man whose credentials include a stint at…you guessed it. Goldman Sachs. And he used to work for the Soros fund.

Something tells me that six months after the election, Trump and Clinton will be pals again, just like they used to be, before The Donald decided to run for President.  Maybe sitting down together at some charity event, sharing a nice bottle of Pinot noir.

I miss Bernie.

Collapsing in Paradise 2015

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on September 5, 2015

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This is the third year in a row I've spent the last week of August in St. John.  In the last year there have been a number of small tangible signs of collapse in the USVI, although nothing like Puerto Rico, so far.

In St. Thomas, a newly appointed Attorney General has filed criminal charges against the former governor for misappropriating government funds.  Meanwhile the new governor who appointed him is taking some criticism for spending $14000 a month in government funds for an extra house in St. Thomas, the center of government. (He's from St. Croix.)

The US Virgin Islands lost a huge chunk of their tax base with the closure of the Hosvena refinery on St. Croix in 2014. That leaves tourism as the only pony in the  revenue show there, and that is exacerbating the usual tug of war on St. John between those who would keep the island unchanged and fairly pristine, versus the real estate greedheads who would love to develop it into the likes of Grand Bahama.

In 2014 a rag-tag consortium of local politicians and failed general contractors from the States with shady credentials, successfully managed to get a million dollar grant from the US government (Fish and Wildlife Dept.) to dream up a monster development for Coral Bay, the last of the old school sailing anchorages in US waters.

Local outrage over the ecological disaster in-the-making and the imminent destruction of the local community led to a successful protest that ended with Fish and Wildlife taking their money back.

Not the end of the story, unfortunately. Enter the Army Corps of Engineers, who, in their infinite wisdom, decided to allow the developers another chance. There were "unanswered questions" and the developers were allowed to submit a new plan, which appears to be the old plan, xeroxed. There has been a period during which public comments were solicited. This is now over and it will be seen if deal goes forward in some form.

Coral Bay Now

Artist Rendering of Proposed Development

It's a potent combination of government pork, local insiders positioning for maximum benefit, and small time real estate developers with stars in their eyes. I'm guessing the VI government's declining finances will mean that the way will be paved politically to pave Coral Bay, literally.

It doesn't look good.

We knew we were rolling the dice with the weather this year. By the time we left home, Tropical Storm Danny had been upgraded to hurricane status. After the first night at Cinnamon Bay, the US Park Service kicked us out of our shelter unceremoniously on the pretext of safety concerns.

That was on Sunday. By Monday it was clear that Danny wasn't a threat to St. John or any other place. Hot, dry air in the Northern Caribbean sucked the energy completely out of it and it simply went away. No storm in St. John at all. Not more than a light rain for maybe an hour. Welcome to Climate Change, Caribbean Style.

At the new digs, we had to stay indoors in a stick built studio, the eco-tents we'd booked also being off-limits due to "the storm". By the time it was obvious that Danny was a dud, the focus had shifted to Tropical Storm Erika, which did appear to be more of a threat.

Early Wednesday it dropped 12 inches of rain on the island of Dominica, 500 km to the southeast of us, killing about twenty people in storm related incidents and mudslides. All day long on Thursday St. John waited indoors as it stalled out over the ocean. Nothing was open, not even the bars. We finally risked going to South Haulover Bay and went snorkeling, which turned out to be the highlight of the trip.

Finally, around 8 pm, the outer bands of Erika hit the island. From our vantage point at Concordia we were front row center to see it blow in from the east. But it went south of us, bypassing the USVI and hitting Puerto Rico. We got a few hours of 25knot wind and about enough rain to fill a tea cup, although it was enough to hatch a billion misquitos by the next day.


Concordia, looking down on Drunk's Bay and Nanny Point

There was one old derelict steel sailboat washed up on the beach in front of the Dolphin Market in Coral Bay, about a 40 footer. I understand it's the property of some old hippie who sailed it down from Florida years ago and who occasionally comes and uses it for his floating condo. Somebody was working to try to float it off the lee shore. It looked very neglected, but the damage was negligible. It'll probably sail again.


Sailing Vessel African Queen, on the rocks in Coral Bay, with another derelict nearby

For years I've been trying to see if I could state objectively that the marine environment is declining on St. John. I'll go on record this year with a yes, at least at Cinnamon Bay. It's hard to be absolutely sure, because I'm never there for very long, but I swear the coral there just doesn't look the way it used to 20 years ago. And maybe it was because of the storm, but the only other life I saw there when I went snorkeling around Cinnamon Cay on Monday was a single big turtle and an ugly little stingray, and a few of the typical reef fish.

Haulover Bay, on the East End and more in the boonies, had lots of beautiful young-looking coral heads and abundant fish, although I didn't take my camera, so you'll have to take my word for it.

Concordia Eco-Resort, the place we ended up staying for most of the trip, also has the look of a place in decline. Concordia is the brainchild of one Stanley Selengut, who started Maho Bay Campground in 1976 during one of my many sophomore years of college, and stayed to make it a life's work. Concordia is a very cool concept for the island. The accommodations there are mixed, but the best ones are these canvas cabins built on wooden decks. They're completely self-contained with a composting toilet, a non-grid connected solar PV set-up similar to the one I built, and solar heated showers.


One of Stanley's Excellent Eco-Tents

Stanley bought the land, 400 acres above Nanny Point and Rams head, back in the 1980's and spent a good part of his life building this dream of an environmentally friendly beach resort. Now he's in his eighties, losing his sight, from what I understand, and trying to find somebody to buy him out and continue the dream.


Looking Up at Concordia from Salt Pond bay

Unfortunately, the place doesn't turn much of a profit. It'll probably get bought out after Stanley takes the dirt nap, by some corporate entity that will turn it into a Westin or some similar hideous abomination. Too bad. Maho Bay Campground, Stanley's first venture, has been sold already to someone or something who plans to use the whole 114 tent campground for some kind of private or corporate retreat.

Even the campground we were thrown out of, Cinnamon Bay, seems  likely to be undergoing changes, the kind I hate to see coming. The Park Service has just completed a process of soliciting bids for a new "vendor" for Cinnamon, which hasn't changed much since Larry Rockefeller "donated" it in a tax workout deal in  the 50's. Seems the main requirement is a promise to bring the Park Service a 4 million dollar a year cut. This from a campground with thirty screened shelters and some tent platforms and a shitty little restaurant and camp store.


Cinnamon Bay Screened Shelters

I read a couple of good books by long time St. John resident Peter Muilenberg, someone who managed to live a cruising life in the islands while I was working and taking kids to soccer practice. One was his first book, Adrift on a Sea of Light, and the second his more recently published A SeaDogs Tale, that recounts his family's long love affair with their sailing dog Santos.

I really enjoyed both of them…I guess because i feel a rapport with Peter, with his love of sailing, his commitment to his wife and family, his insights into how dogs touch our lives and teach us important lessons…and his love of St. John. I hope I get to meet him someday.

So anyway, that's the news from paradise. A crummy week in St. John beats a week at work. I have no regrets about enlarging my carbon footprint enough to get there. I'll return, if and when I get another opportunity.

Come Sail Away

Off the keyboard of Eddie

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on June 15, 2015

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"There is nothing- absolutely nothing-
half so much worth doing
as simply messing about in boats."

The Wind in the Willows

Sail-RhodesLately I've been puttering about with the boats, and I finally got out sailing yesterday, for the second time of the season. Last weekend I finally got the running lights replaced on my old Rhodes 19 centerboard, and the plan was to go for a night sail on Saturday night…but exhaustion won out over adventure, and we sat out on the dock until eleven and then climbed up the stairs to bed.

I'd left everything rigged at the dock, and even though rain wasn't out of the question, we set out after a very late breakfast, for a reconnaissance of the lake.

My place is on a cove, behind a biggish island, on the last large part of the body of the lake, and to the north and west the lake funnels down into a 200 yard wide course that follows the old river bed north into Kingsland, some four miles up the lake.

With the prevailing winds almost always from the south, the sail up that narrow stretch is a broad reach or a run, and yesterday it made a fine sail, smoother than trying to beat upwind toward the dam.

I knew we were going to have to motor back, but we had a full charge  on the battery for the electric outboard kicker. As we coasted north, wing and wing, the weather continued to threaten, with some distant thunder off to the east, and the wind coming up a bit behind us.

As we approached Kingsland it was obvious it was time to turn for home. The wind was kicking up a few whitecaps and raindrops were starting to fall.We turned into the wind and dropped the sails and started to motor back.

The wind was blowing into our face, and the eV strained to push the big scow hull into the rising weather. After a mile and a half it was obvious that our battery was being depleted far too quickly for us to ever make it home under power. After another half mile it was almost dead, and I cursed myself for putting us in a situation that  looked to put us on a lee shore. A lee shore on a lakeside ranch with private roads and locked gates, far from any boat ramp.

sail-rhodes-2So, with trepidation, I raised the sails in the rising blow, and we began to tack across the narrow channel. The main on the old Rhodes is big, and I had made no provision for putting in a reef.

So we tacked. And tacked. Under tight jib and luffing the main most of the time…pulling in the main when the wind lightened up, bringing us up to weather as best I could…and then dumping the main when the gusts came and threatened to roll us. My partner (wo)manning the jib sheet and both of us up on the deck.

Did I mention I've cut down the cockpit coaming to allow a more comfortable seat on the topside? Easier on the butt, but also less seaworthy when the rail is in the water.

But we were making progress, and I knew after fifteen minutes we would be able to get home eventually. But we weren't making much progress on some of our tacks. It might take hours.

We were trying to get as close to shore as we could to extend our tacks, and eventually I ran aground as I rounded into the wind. Abrupt stop. Raised the centerboard and blew back down wind…recovered…tacked again.

The river finally began to turn west a bit and the wind shifted just a hair..and suddenly our tacks were taking us two or three times further upwind. Two more long tacks and we were into the body of the lake. another twenty minutes and we were home…I pointed us dead into the wind and drifted up to the dock.

It was only 6 pm, but it seemed like we'd been out for ten hours instead of five.

With three hours of daylight left, I finished up my going home chores and headed out for the hour drive back to the city.

My heart suddenly filled, and I remembered why I love to sail. Every little daysail is an adventure when you make your own power with the wind. Nothing is guaranteed. Actions have consequences.

And on this day, Sunday June 14, 2015, we truly lived.

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Eddie’s New Year’s Resolution

Off the keyboard of Dr. Eddie

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Published Inside the Diner on January 3, 2014

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Post-Collapse Jobs & Small Biz Ideas

All of us who regularly come to the Diner Forum to read, discuss, cuss and rant, can see that the years ahead are going to be ones of repeated crushing negative impacts for those of us who aren’t part of the power elite. Disagree? Well, we can talk about it,  but I think that’s the trend.

So, with that in mind, how would it be best to gird one’s loins to avoid taking the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in one’s gluteus maximus? I’ve been giving that a lot of thought in the last couple of years.

One thing I’m certain about, is that I don’t intend to increase my exposure to bonds, equities, insurance annuities, or commercial real estate. I’d be lying if I said I have no exposure in those areas, because I started trying to build for my golden years a long time back, before I really saw the Big Picture. But no more will I play the Wall Street shell games. I’m done with it.

I’ve actually spent time online just googling “assets that hold their value no matter what”, and I’ve read some interesting comments as to what people think is worth stockpiling.

Boots, blue jeans, quality firearms, ammunition, and good tools. Farm land. Gold and silver coins, even copper and nickel get recommended, and I think none of those is a bad “buy and hold”. But I don’t think that’s the way to thrive and prosper, just buying and holding on to things. It costs you…storage, flood, fire, and theft are always a threat. Land can be and is taxed.

What I really believe is that the best way to prosper in the coming crisis years is to create small streams of income through micro-business models that intentionally try to manipulate the existing system for advantage.

What I mean by that is this: You have to be coming from a place where you understand that the government wants to bleed you dry. To tax you, to regulate you, to place various intermediaries in your way to bleed off the treasure acquired through your work and financial discipline.They want to be your silent partner, with you doing all the work and all the bookkeeping besides. You have to be proactive. You have to look at the system and see the chinks in the armor of the empire, and do your business there.

Am I recommending trading in the Black Market? Yes I am, if you have little to lose, and if you can get away with it. In fact I think the Black Market is keeping a lot of Americans afloat right now. Why do you think that now, after forty years of Drug Wars, that pot is suddenly becoming legal in more places every year?  I’d say the number one reason is that TPTB have suddenly realized they can’t afford not to tax it anymore.

But I don’t intend to play in the Black Market. It’s risky for anyone who has assets to lose, because it’s illegal, and if I did that, I’d be risking what I’ve worked hard to build. All of it. These days the government can confiscate your wealth so easily. It’s not worth it.

What I recommend for anyone who can, is to build a micro-business that is structured to minimize intermediaries and taxes, and regulations.

Is there an area of commerce where this is possible? How would you go about it? I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I have some ideas.

I’m a small businessman already. A healthcare provider. I can tell you that that’s NOT the way to go, for many good reasons. The insurance companies own the game now, lock stock and barrel, and my very existence is at their whim. Every year, they take more and give less. Every year the people I call my patients have less disposable income to pay their way. Every year my costs go up, and I can’t raise fees enough in the current milieu to compensate. More regulations, more training requirements. Also, the rapidly changing technology impacts my practice the same way it might impact a farmer. In order to compete, I am constantly pressured to take on debt to buy high tech equipment. If I don’t I’ll be left behind by my younger colleagues, who have already been completely sucked into that trap, and who likely will never escape.

And, of course, I have employees. As the cost of living goes up for them, they either get raises or they quit. The thought of living within ones means is not part of the American paradigm. And each employee means more taxes for the business to pay. The employer pays half of employee’s Social Security on every paycheck. And having employees means providing insurance. Not just health insurance premiums, which are continuing to spiral, in spite of our pathetic attempts to provide universal coverage. Workman’s comp keeps going up even if there are no claims, and Heaven forbid if one of my employees decides I need to support them forever because they got carpal tunnel typing FB comments on their iPhone at work, or that working at my place gave them back trouble.

So…there has to be a better way.

I already started one micro-business. It’s a boat storage warehouse that I run myself from a single laptop. No employees, and in Texas, no sales tax to collect. Easy book keeping, using Quick Books and a cheap proprietary mini-warehouse software. But it does require some stoop labor from time to time. And a few repairs. And I have some deadbeat tenants I’m going to have a to evict eventually. I have to carry slip-and fall insurance, and fire protection. But it meets my number one requirement, which is “No Employees”. This is my first  and most important recommendation for you, should you choose to venture into the world of micro-business. Do it yourself. Don’t hire anyone.

The second rule, which I already alluded to, is to minimize or eliminate any taxes on the business. You could do something like trade firearms at a gun show, and deal in cash. You could buy a self-service carwash, and pay your mortgage and taxes in undeclared quarters. But once again, I’m trying to create a model which is 100% legal, so that I reduce my risk of the government busting me and taking everything I have.

But you need to understand that people do these kinds of things.  Most of them get away with it, and they sleep just fine at night. Some sheeple who attend American public schools have qualms about the moral hazards, but  I’ve noticed that this seldom bothers immigrants, who negotiate the system with a much better eye to the main chance. Why do think there are so many ethnic restaurants?

But internet commerce is where I think the future is, for micro-business. Hands down, it offers the most opportunity for the least risk. It minimizes taxation on retail sales. It also  helps eliminate the  middle-man which is my third rule for you. Never let anybody get between you and your customer unless you have to. Of course, something like an Amazon webstore does put a middle-man in the picture, but the bite, for now, is quite small. $80 of 100% deductible business expense each month, and a 2% transaction fee. State sales tax, where applicable. For me, it’s damn sure applicable if I sell something online to a Texas resident. Don’t try to ignore that rule. They’ll eat you alive.

And internet businesses don’t need to pay rent for a brick and mortar storefront, which is the greatest obstacle of all, perhaps, to making it as a retail start-up business. That’s another criteria of mine. Low or no rent for the business.

And one other requirement. NO BUSINESS DEBT. Period. QED.

So I want to sell something on the internet. What to sell? To whom?

There’s more than one way to skin a cat here, obviously. The really smart people sell something cheap, that everybody wants, all the time. Like an online Birthday Card or something like that. Intangible, costs nearly nothing, and has a mass market. That doesn’t appeal to me, because I’m not enough of a true Capitalist Pig, but you might consider something along those lines.

If you have a a fair-trade hang-up, like I do, consider something like this: Buy assets that you believe will appreciate in value over time anyway. Choose something that somebody with real money to spend might want to buy, and make it something that you personally are interested in. Avoid really expensive assets that tie up too much money in one item, or a few items.

Firearms might be one possibility, but there is way too much regulation there, and it’s always subject to change. Ammunition, on the other hand, is surprisingly easy to buy and sell. There is already a burgeoning micro-industry going on in this area, unsurprisingly. Don’t believe me? Check out sites like gunbrokerdotcom.

So what have I decided to sell? I don’t mind telling you, because almost everyone who reads this will think it’s dumb, and an area with too many players already, and a niche market that only appeals to rich old men. To that I’d say, maybe, but maybe not.

I intend to start an online rare book business.

It’s a saturated market, you say, with a bazillion Amazon stores already out there? Well, there’s lots of good reason for that. It’s a business that meets every one of my criteria.

NO EMPLOYEES

MINIMAL TAXATION on the business.

MINIMIZES BLOOD-SUCKING INTERMEDIARIES  between me and my customer

NO RENT

NO MORTGAGE

NO BANK LOAN

Inventory is comprised of items that are not prohibitively expensive to acquire, and are assets likely to hold value or increase in value over time, EVEN IF THEY GO UNSOLD IN THE SHORT TERM.

A “product” that I myself find interesting.

Something likely to appeal to elites looking to buy value themselves.

And last if not least, it’s something I could do even if I’m no longer physically capable of doing my regular day job, long into my so-called “retirement years.”

Now, I plan to start small, and not bet the farm on this. At the worst, I’ll be building my own valuable book collection, which I could pass on to my heirs. At best, I’ll build another small stream of income that carries into retirement. As with all my business ventures, the guiding principle is CASH FLOW. If cash flow is not positive after a year or so, I’ll go a different direction. Any new micro-business business venture needs to pay its own way fairly quickly. If not, it just becomes an expensive hobby.

I’m not advocating that anyone do what I’m doing, nor do I think the niche I’ve chosen is necessarily the only one, or even the best one. It simply meets what I consider to be some important criteria for success.

I do encourage each and every one of you to figure out SOMETHING that will flow income to you, so that you can continue to prosper in times that will no doubt be hard for most people. I encourage you to think about the principles I’ve laid down here and apply them to your own ideas and opportunities.

And if you have other principles you think could be added to my list, please share them with me. I’m interested.

Powering Down

Off the keyboard of Eddie

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on April 16, 2014

PowerDown_FYI2I’ve been reading about collapse topics voraciously for about three years. I’ve read all the major bloggers, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about ways to prepare for the most likely scenarios that I can envision.  I’ve trained myself fairly relentlessly by taking the most appropriate workshops and training I could find, and I’ve watched a ton of good videos on topics like rocket stoves, solar PV tech, intensive gardening, and permaculture topics. I’ve read a lot of books.

I’ve networked with individuals from a lot of diverse places and different walks of life, and tried to work toward community building.

Some conclusions are forthcoming.

Number one is that there is no shortage of reasonable steps that we can take as individuals and families to increase our resilience, food security, and to prepare for a lower energy lifestyle.

Number two is that we could live fairly comfortably using energy resources that would represent a tiny fraction of our current consumption. For most of us it would be fairly easy to cut 80% or more of our fossil fuel and electricity use, if we moved closer to where we work and only used electricity for our real needs, and stopped wasting so much.

Number three, perhaps not as obvious, but true, is that most of us could grow our own food if we applied ourselves assiduously. Using whole systems approaches like aquaponics appears to hold the key. And on a large scale, indoor farming using lights and grow wheels holds great promise, if we could repurpose some of our remaining energy resources in a more sensible direction. Even the daunting specter of climate run amok might be manageable, and we might be able to feed billions of people well into the future…if we took the proper steps.

The problem, as I see it, is mostly one of denial, selfishness, mental inertia, and a lack of will.

Politicians aren’t going to fix anything. Complaining isn’t going to fix anything.  Inflating various asset bubbles in an attempt to kickstart what we refer to as “The Economy” won’t fix anything, and in fact takes us down the hill toward collapse faster by wasting resources that we could better use for more important things.

Transition towns are an interesting aberration. They represent the best model of living we have, imho, but there isn’t much interest in actually building them, except among people with no means to do so. I hope that changes, but as of now, I don’t see them popping up all over.

Last week, we had a gathering of like-minded folks here in Texas.  Nine people, including children. We came together, had a party, worked a little on some of my current projects, and then five of us took a workshop at Monolithic Domes. As meetings go, it wasn’t anything earth shattering. But it was a start, and it did show that an internet forum can bring people together. It showed that we can make some positive steps toward building communities.

I don’t necessarily think that the nine of us are going to build a single community. What I do think is that all the people who came here are going to go home and build their own communities, and that all of us will remain connected. I believe we will be able to help each other in various ways, and that our far-flung network will persist. This is because all of us are willing to do more than talk about the state of our world. We’re actually taking steps to be the change we want to see.

Domesteading at Monolithic: Day One

Off the keyboard of Eddie

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Published on SUN4Living on April 8, 2014

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SAMSUNG CSCToday was our first day of what looks to be five pretty full days here at Monolithic Domes. Today we heard from a couple of speakers, including Monolithic’s founder and CEO, David South. It was probably worth the price of admission to listen to David, who is one of those visionary geniuses who has managed to combine his passion with a business that builds exactly the kind of structures that he once dreamed of.

Regardless of whether I ever build a single dome, it’s been good to meet and pick the brain of someone like this guy. He is way ahead of us Diners in many ways, not only having already figured out how to build these extremely functional buildings of his, but also how they can fit into  the paradigm of energy descent as affordable housing for working poor people and retirees with limited means.

He actually already has a community of tiny rental domes here on the company land (where many of his family members and employees also have dome homes), as well as a couple of others in nearby towns. It is a working, functional model that does not depend on government assistance. They operate as residence inns that rent (currently for $125 per week).  It’s an interesting model to me, because it seems like one of the only landlord/tenant arrangements I’ve ever seen that works out to a win/win for both owner and tenants.

Another vision at Monolithic is their Grow Domes, which allow intensive indoor gardening indoors, requiring minimal energy inputs.

It makes me dream of an affordable community of tiny domes and dome fourplexes with access to onsite grow domes where residents can grow their own food in an environment protected from the vicissitudes of climate change. In my view, such a community would have the potential to free people up from the hamster wheel of low wage work and allow them to live with a great deal more resilience and dignity.

The only thing I’ve seen that I can criticize is that domes are constructed using a lot of closed cell polyurethane foam, which requires specialized equipment and chemicals that are noxious during construction, although it appears to be safe enough after it dries and is covered with sprayed on concrete plaster. Of all the building designs I’ve studied, only the Global Earthship rivals the Monolithic dome as a dwelling.

The 1st Diner Convocation III

Off the keyboard of Eddie

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on March 25, 2014

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How long has it been since I showed up on the DD forum? A year? A year and a half, maybe? When I arrived the discussion about forming an intentional community of some sort was already in full swing. But there were some obvious hurdles to be overcome.

Younger people were more willing and able to make quantum changes in their lives to pursue an experiment in sustainable living, but lacked the funds to buy land. Older folks. like me, were already dug in and making our preps around whatever piece of dirt we’d managed to latch on to. Some of us were willing to take on partners, but not to the extent of granting ownership rights to the land we’d mortgaged our lives to get. Younger people wanted to participate in something with some kind of ownership stake. They weren’t interested in arrangements that left them unvested after possibly putting some years of their life into building systems that they didn’t own.

It seemed like a bit of an impasse, but we kept talking. Among the half dozen or so regular participants in our discussions, there was a lot of knowledge about the “how’ and ‘why”, and even the “where” for some kind of eco-village project, and a stubborn willingness to keep trying to dream something into existence.

Various schemes for making money to support the project were discussed. Eventually RE took the step of pursuing a  501(c)3 non-profit corporation to manage any funds we managed to raise. The name chosen for our dream of sustainable living was the SUN Project. A website was launched, and articles were written and posted.

JD started working on a website designed to teach permaculture online. I dedicated ten weekends in the fall of 2013 to get my own Permaculture Design Certificate. LD made the decision to drop out of nursing school to pursue his own dream of working in the business of permaculture. WHD continued to turn his suburban home in Minneapolis into a food forest.

I also spent a good bit of time this last year pursuing education in alternative power, which was already high on my list of useful tech to get schooled on and implement on my own place. I took a good seminar on alternative power in May, and started getting the gear together to put up a wind generator. I had already gathered about 4.5kW of solar PV panels with the idea of eventually building a large PV array on the ‘stead. I decided that while I was continuing to acquire the nuts and bolts for that, that I would build what came to be known as “The Bug-Out PV Kit.”. The idea was that it might be nice to have a portable PV array, one powerful enough to provide adequate electricity to meet the basics of modern life, including lights, refrigeration and the ability to charge the myriad of battery operated devices we now consider part of our daily lives. A PV system for nomadic living, if nomadic living turns out to be necessary.

After some months, I’m  happy to say the Bug-OUt PV Kit is built, and ready for testing. I also built what is known as a “quick-charge alternator” which is a small, high ouput fossil fuel generator that sips gas, but produces enough power to back up the PV system..and it doubles as a 150 amp welder.

In our online discussions, we often spoke about the desirability of having some kind of meeting in the real world. We had read each others blogs, and we had discussed every subject remotely related to collapse, so we felt we knew each other. But it was generally agreed that at some point it would be important to get together somewhere. We came to call this meeting “The Convocation”. We wanted to have it. But when? And where?

One of our number, Haniel, expressed a strong desire to study shotcrete dome building in Texas with the acknowledged experts at Monolithic Domes. My existing plan was to eventually build a passively cooled house on the ‘stead, and I had already started studying both domes and Earthships with another mentor. I told Haniel I’d join him this spring (yikes, it’s only two more weeks now) for a five day seminar at Monolithic’s headquarters, which is only about three hours from my house, in Italy, Texas.

From there, some encouragement and cajoling  persuaded RE and Lucid Dreams to sign on for the dome course, and WHD is coming down to at least join us for….The Convocation, which is being held on the ‘stead the weekend prior to the domes course. LD and his lovely bride Gypsy Mama, will be be binging their two young boys.

I’ve been working hard (sometimes) for the last couple of months making preparation to guest my fellow SUNsteaders. Right now I’m working daily to complete building a new bathroom in the cabin at the ‘stead.  The old facility works but requires training to operate, and is being made redundant as soon as the new one (complete with grey water recycling) is online, hopefully this week.

I have a nice new deck built on the cabin, which I think will be a fine place to sleep outdoors during the convocation, barring any April showers that weekend, which is a good bet given the drought. But I still need to haul the big smoker out there, and figure out provisioning.

I’m also now working on an outdoor solar shower (designed back during the winter and  based on the solar showers I saw at the Concordia Eco-Resort in St. John)  which would nice to have working for the convocation. Currently I’m racing against the clock. In case you’re wondering, I do work full time at my day job, which is practicing dentistry in my little one-horse office. Tempus fugits, baby, and Carped diem, every damn diem now.

We will, in addition to drinking beer, be working together at the convocation to build a refractory core for my future Rocket Mass Heater to be installed in the cabin. I plan to demo the Bug-Out PV Kit and my quick charge alternator. If the solar shower is finished and the sun shines, there will be that to experiment with, too. I have more projects in the wings, so more fun building projects may be added, time allowing.

Why am I neglecting my garden to do all this? Because it is important to seek community in these changing times. It is important for like-minded people, people who are aware of the multiple challenges facing us from climate change, economic instability, Peak Oil and all the other Black Swans swimming around in the pool as the water drains out to…talk, to figure out better plans, to make connections in the real world.

We of the SUN Project are just one tiny group. But we are hoping to inspire and teach others. We collectively believe that EVERYONE needs to be planning and preparing for a future with lots of challenges. We hope to see dozens more, hundreds more similar groups emerge over the next few years, as more and more people seek a new, more sustainable, resilient way of living that stresses cooperation and local community.

We have room for a few more campers, if anything here strikes a chord with you, and you’d like to break bread and drink a few beers with us, starting Friday afternoon, April 4th, and continuing through Monday the 7th. Contact me at the diner Forum for details.

Why I Support the SUN Project

Off the keyboard of Eddie

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Published on SUN4Living on November 6, 2013

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Back in the beginning, the promise of the internet was to allow the building of virtual networks to connect people with people, across broad reaches of real-world distance, to engage in mutually beneficial activities, communication and sharing.

Although those early dreams of connectivity seem to have devolved into something less than what many of us had hoped, it has allowed certain like-minded folks to find each other.

The SUN Project is an initiative that has arisen out of a world-wide discussion between people who read and write about subjects related to issues of permaculture, sustainable living, peak oil, climate change, population overshoot, alternative energy, and other related topics.

My own involvement with SUN is a continuation of my online friendship and connection with a number of courageous individuals from the blogosphere who write on the subjects I mentioned.

A few years ago now, soon after the economic near-collapse of 2008, I came to the web to search for the real truth about subjects that I felt were glossed over and avoided by major media outlets. I also began to read a variety of authors who were predicting imminent collapse of our modern world due to climate change and peak oil.

The truth is that the more I learned about the realities of our polluted and strip-mined planet, the more concerned I became about the very likely consequences that would soon impact me and my big family, as well as the rest of the humans on this Spaceship Earth. Indeed, the more educated I have become, the more concerned I have gotten.

I began, in small ways, to try to do things to increase my family’s resilience. I began to accumulate small stockpiles of food, water, and medical supplies. I began to experiment with food gardening in my suburban backyard.

At the same time, I was talking to like-minded folks who visited the same sites and read the same books I was reading, and getting valuable insights and suggestions, and making some acquaintances that would turn out to be more lasting than I might have thought.

I also became aware of the world-wide Transition movement , which influenced my thinking a great deal. That, along with the advice of many writers whom I respected, convinced me that in order to achieve any real, lasting, truly sustainable way of life, it would be necessary to form sustainable, local communities.

To make a very long story short, I eventually ended up in a dialog with several extremely well informed individuals who had already been trying to kick-start an intentional community. The SUN Project is the culmination of those discussions, brought into being by the hard work and dogged persistence of long-time collapse blogger Reverse Engineer (RE) and a small cadre of people who sincerely wanted to establish a community that could build working systems and show the way to a better, more sustainable future.

It became apparent to all of us that most younger people lacked the funds to do things like buy land or expensive tools. They were already barely treading water financially, most of them, in a hostile economic climate that made them wage slaves to the existing extractive economic system.

The first task of the SUN Project is to raise funds to empower the people who want to show the way by building a working intentional community, based on permaculture principles. If we can do that, then the ongoing task of SUN will be to educate, raise awareness of the need for such communities, and to share the knowledge that we’ve gained.

I can’t think of a better cause to support, and I urge each of you who reads this message to join me and send whatever donation you can in support of SUN.

Although my own expertise is as a dental professional, I do write occasional pieces about small scale off-grid alternative power topics and about my own ongoing education in permaculture. I continue to apply the knowledge I’ve gained toward improving my own rural property in Central Texas, and building local, sustainable communities. More of my story can be found on the Doomstead Diner forum pages, where I usually post about my current projects under the heading of Doomsteading.

I’d love to hear from you, either by contacting me at SUN4Living or at the DoomsteadDiner.

Counterpoint: Obamacare and Free Market Solutions

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Published inside the Doomstead Diner on October 7, 2013

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The Affordable Healthcare Act really doesn’t represent a government takeover of healthcare, nor does it represent what the John Lounsbury claims in Obamacare and Free Market Solutions, that it is ” a step toward eliminating major sources of waste in health care.”

What it represents is possibly the nail  in the coffin of healthcare as we know it, at least as far as healthcare delivered at the level of service we have been led to believe we deserve. It really represents an almost  complete corporate takeover of healthcare by the insurance industry.

They (insurance corporations) now have the best of both worlds. The government has mandated that ALL citizens will pay them a premium (albeit a subsidized one for the poor), and the government has handed them the reins with regards to determining HOW to allocate the money.

The expected result is that (a) the insurance companies will make out like bandits and (b) the actual providers of care (doctors) will get screwed, and (c) the patient will be taught to accept a lower level of care.

It’s a David vs. Goliath fight, and it’s already all over but the crying. Goliaths always win in the real world.

http://americanvision.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Obamacare-cartoon.jpgThe truth is that single payer would be a far more efficient system than the one we are about to receive. So-called “managed care” is really a shell game perpetuated by insurance companies, one in which the rules for getting paid are constantly changing, fees are constantly being downgraded in an arbitrary manner, and under which systems that work are abandoned and replaced by ones that funnel more money to the middle man.

Don’t get me wrong. I greatly favor a healthcare system in which the patient is the “economic arbiter of his own healthcare”. I just think the author is naive about the chances of that happening.

In my opinion, if patients were paying for their own care, they would demand a lot less of it than what they are getting now. Nobody would sit quietly and let the doctors do a coronary bypass on their aging parent if they had to pay a hundred thousand dollar deposit up front instead of Medicare being billed.

It’s true that significant waste exists in a system that charges 100K for a bypass, but the fact is that “managed care” is the way it works already for most people. Medicare and Medicaid are already administered under this type of system, although
the real payer is the government, paying for it with money BORROWED from  future generations. Under this type of “management” doctors have already seen their payments drop, private insurance premiums are exorbitant and getting worse, and the insurance companies….are making RECORD PROFITS.

The real coup of Affordable Care is the expected extraction of a premium from young healthy individuals who don’t need much healthcare. This will (supposedly) help cover the old folks. The system already represents an unaffordable burden for the taxpayer, and is projected to increase in cost  logarithmically over the next several years. Forcing young people in this country to pay insurance premiums really amounts to increased taxation, and on the demographic group that can least afford it, and who are already on the hook to pay far more than their fair share in the years to come.

Deficit spending is paying for Medicare/Medicaid now, and those deficits will increase substantially under Affordable Care. The premiums collected from those not now in the system won’t cover the shortfall.

Whatever care gets delivered, somebody has to pay for it. Although inefficiencies do exist, putting the insurance corporations in charge of healthcare does only one thing. It creates a very big, expensive middle layer of management, that does little to contribute to patient care, but skims much of the premium dollar.

Insurance companies have a tried and true way of making money. They take the premium, give the patient the lowest level of service he will accept, and then  try to screw the doctor completely out of getting paid. The insurance companies already own the hospitals. They would like to own the doctors too. They are pretty close, because they set the fees. And they are the final arbiters on whether or not to pay. Sweet deal, for them.

Any doctor who has been around the block would greatly prefer a single payer system. We had that with Medicare/Medicaid for a long time, and it more or less worked. At least claims usually got paid, albeit at a reduced fee compared to private pay. Now it’s a total crap shoot. Doctors are forced to deal with as many as 50 or more corporate entities when they bill for services. Each company has it’s own arbitrary rules designed to delay and obfuscate payment, and some are known to NEVER pay a clean claim without a fight. Yeah, that creates efficiency…NOT!

elephant-in-the-roomThe elephant in the room really is Peak Oil. The real problem is that we no longer have the abundance that cheap oil provided, and no system of healthcare can possibly be conjured that will be sustainable…without greatly limiting certain services that are now deemed sacrosanct.

Eventually all this top-down “efficiency” will pass away. Healthcare will be 100% local and will vary according to local abundance and the ability of people to actually pay for the service. I don’t know how long that will take, but it will happen.

In the meantime, don’t look for the new system to reduce your taxes, raise your level of care, or empower you to change anything.

Prepare to be assimilated.

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Collapsing in Paradise

Off the keyboard of Eddie

Published inside the Diner on September 3, 2013

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I spent the past week in St. John, USVI, camping on the beach in the National Park and snorkeling. I first visited that general area of the world about twenty years ago, and for the last 10 or 12 years I’ve been returning there every year or two. They have some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and bays.


The cottages at Cinnamon Bay campground


Cinnamon Bay and Cinnamon Cay

But St. John is a place with a dark history of human suffering, ecological disaster and economic collapse.

The native Caribs never had any permanent settlements on St. John. It was largely ignored by the Spanish and English who were the main European settlers of the region, because there were lots of better island alternatives for agriculture, which in the late 17th and early 18th centuries meant sugar farming and making rum. St. John was only 20 square miles and all mountains and forests. It was finally claimed by the Danes in 1718. Both the English and the Spanish ordered them to leave, but  never cared enough to back up their rhetoric with cannons and muskets.

The Danes brought slave labor to clear the land and plant sugar. They were either unlucky in their choice of Africans or the harsh life hacking down the jungle and planting and harvesting sugar cane was more than the slaves could bear. (It is said that among the original slave contingent were some proud tribal leaders who never fully took on the yoke.) By 1733 there was a bloody slave revolt. Several of the slaves were caught and subsequently brutally tortured, and the rest took their own lives to escape recapture.


Rams Head, where legend has it the slaves of the 1733 Slave Revolt took their own lives.

By 1800 the sugar boom days were over, but it would take another 120 years for the Danes to give up and go home for good, leaving behind the descendants of their slaves, freed in 1848, but given no property nor any means of making a living. The land continued to pass to the descendants of the planters, finally ending up mostly in the hands of about 12 families.

A semi-feudal peasant culture eventually evolved that allowed informal land use by the ex-slaves, who supported themselves by fishing, farming, and small animal husbandry. More on this later.

The slash and burn agriculture techniques of the white settlers resulted in a 50% deforestation of the island. This caused a fairly immediate, precipitous, permanent drop in the water table. Natural fresh water springs and streams dried up forever.  Today the  former creek beds are called “guts” and only run when it rains heavily on the island. Virtually all the water used on St. John today is from catchment, with the exception of a couple of big resorts that have their own desalination plants.

The beaches of St. John are gorgeous, but the jungle (now mostly park land) is filled with ruins of plantation houses and sugar mills, and the hillsides are dotted with crypts containing the remains of the people who came to build them, many of whom succumbed rapidly to various tropical diseases. The bones of the slaves lie in unmarked graves. Much of the jungle is comprised of invasive species, second growth forest that contains non-native mangoes and tamarinds, and a host of less welcome plants. The old growth Lignum vitae trees were all cut down, with only a few left on the always wild and ragged East End.


Jungle ruins, Reef Bay (I think)

The most interesting part of this story is what happened to the island after the collapse of the sugar industry. Although the last sugar mill closed in 1917 or so, most of the plantations fell into disuse around 1850, and almost all of the white settlers left for greener pastures.

The population stabilized at around a thousand people and hovered around that number for the next hundred years. The black inhabitants managed to buy little scraps of land, enough to build houses (there was also eventually a small homestead provision passed into law), and the land was held in common by families, for the most part. A local gift economy emerged, with men forming “clubs” to assist in large endeavors, like home building, which is a never ending job in a place visited regularly by hurricanes and the occasional earthquake. The old sugar plantations were used by new absentee owners to run cattle, and the “natives” took care of them.

Fishing and subsistence agriculture proved adequate. Nobody got rich, and nobody starved. Christian churches, started by Moravian missionaries, were attended by the ex-slaves and their descendants, Life revolved around family and church and work. For a time there was a balance.

Enter the white men, version 2.0.

Always known for its raw beauty, St. John began to attract vacation visitors of the off-the-beaten-path variety. A couple of hardy souls even started extremely small time resorts, by the 1930’s and ’40’s. By the ’50’s, Caneel Bay was a popular destination for certain American and European 1%’ers.

Lawrence Rockefeller, who was an avid sailor, acting surreptitiously, bought about half the island from the descendants of the original settlers and various newer land owners. What happened next is still debated in some circles. The official version is that Larry R. generously donated almost all his land to form a National Park, which was then approved by Congress and signed into law by President Eisenhower. Stories have always persisted among long time VI residents, that tell a slightly different story, one in which Rockefeller owed a lot of taxes to the Treasury that were inconvenient for him to pay when demanded, and that the Park was part of a work-out deal. I don’t really know, but I didn’t start the rumor.

In any case, he managed to hang on to Caneel Bay, which he by then had purchased, and which became (and still is) a playground for the rich and famous. Oppenheimer Beach, a mile or so west of where we camped, is a lasting reminder that the man who supervised the Manhattan Project had a beach house where he spent a lot of time in his declining years.


Robert Oppenheimer as an old man, at home on the beach that now bears his name

Most white islanders and American tourists think of the Park as a win/win. So did the black inhabitants…at least at first. But then they found out that their long time informal claims to the “commons” land ended the day the Park Service took over, and that they couldn’t farm or run a few cattle and goats there anymore. The fragile economic stability of their local economy was broken. Eventually, some of them would find work building the infrastructure of the new St. John. Others, not so lucky, would emigrate to the States (which bought out the Danish government’s stake in 1917, for 25 million dollars).

Today, most of the reef fish can’t be eaten for food, without risking Ciguatera poisoning, a bacterial toxin disease somewhat similar to Botulism. (this is blamed by some on climate change, but I suspect sewage contamination of the bays is a factor too). Native St. Johnians still do fish and garden, but it isn’t enough to live on. They either work for the government, the Park, or live on welfare and food stamps, like all the other poverty victims in the FS of A. Many of the more menial jobs now go to even poorer “down island” blacks who come there for the work. The population is maybe 4500 people (or more by now, my sources are not current). The old work clubs still do function on a lesser level, since no one can afford a mortgage, and most native houses are still self-built.

But the balance has been lost.

I spent my week carefully looking…trying to see…is the ocean level rising? Is the coral dying, or is it hanging in there? Are there more fish, or less than I remember from years past?

Apparently coral is affected by bleaching “events” during which water temperatures rise, perhaps quite subtly, but to a point where “bleaching” occurs very rapidly, within days or weeks. A couple of these events were documented in some of the St. John bays in 2005 and 2006.

Me? I had to admit that I couldn’t tell. To be honest, I don’t think the coral has been doing that fabulous for the last twenty years or so, which is the duration of my informal observation. It certainly has always been less spectacular than the Caribbean reefs I’ve visited in Mexico. But there is  still an abundance of fish.

Last week I saw plenty of big Tarpon.  Sea Turtles, under protection, are making a come-back. Lots of colorful reef fish like Sgt. Majors and Parrotfish.  Big clouds of Silversides by the million being herded around like cattle by Bar Jacks. And I saw lots of Stingrays, more than I remember.  But I’ve never been there quite this late in the summer before. The best thing was the distinct lack of tourists encountered in the last week of August, the middle of hurricane season, which so far this year is a big miss.


A 3 to 4 ft Tarpon feeding in a cloud of Silversides

I wonder what will happen when travel gets really expensive. No more full occupancy at the big resorts…or even my beloved Cinnamon Bay campground, with it’s little cottages, most of which were unoccupied last week. The Park will still be the Park, of course. As long as the tax money is there to pay the higher echelons, which have been and continue to be U.S. trained, and who typically stay there a few years before moving up and moving on, the way bureaucrats do in bureaucracies.

I don’t see the black population returning to subsistence living. Too many skills lost. Too many toxic fish. Not enough non-park land to farm. When the supermarkets close they will be in the same boat with all the other inhabitants of the modern world who live at the mercy of  JIT delivery. And if climate change does destroy the life of the oceans, they will be among the first and most profoundly affected.

I will continue to observe…and wait. But I’m just not sure that I will be able to see the changes. They happen slowly, and in a few more years I’ll be joining Larry R. and Robert O. in the Great Beyond. For me, that’s one of the hardest things to accept..that collapse is happening here and now…and I just lack the right kind of perceptive abilities to see it or feel it.

I suppose that could change someday soon, in a heartbeat. I should just count myself lucky.

And I do.

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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