Saturday, December 18, 2010

Comb Honey

This is honey in it's natural state, still in the comb. The last thing to touch that honey was BEES. It hasn't been pasteurized, filtered, or adulterated with corn syrup.

Before the days of food and drug laws, before mechanical extraction equipment, this is what people meant when they said "honey".

The wax is edible. Some people even say it helps with allergies, because there's a lot of pollen embedded in it. Just spread a chunk of comb on a hot buttered biscuit and eat it all. Some people chew the comb like gum, then spit it out and save enough to make candles. If you drop a chunk of comb honey in your hot tea, the melted wax will float to the surface and you can skim it off with a spoon and save it. It adds up quickly.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cholera in Haiti

Cholera is a bacterial infection of the intestine, transmitted via contaminated water. In a nutshell, it's diarrhea so severe that death from dehydration can occur within hours. According to Wikipedia, "an untreated person may produce 10 to 20 liters of diarrhea per day." What a way to go.

My company has stopped travel to Haiti until the present epidemic subsides, but even once it does the illness will likely have become endemic. Figured it couldn't hurt to gather some knowledge before my next visit.

I was surprised to learn how widespread Cholera is in the third world, and how common it was in the US and Europe before the development of modern sanitation practices. The outcomes of battles and even wars were decided by "General Cholera".

Fortunately, treatment for Cholera or any other form of Montezuma's Revenge is simple and safe: Replace fluids and electrolytes with a mixture of water, sugar, salt and potassium in the proper ratios. Commercial "oral rehydration solutions" are available and a good idea for your home's medical kit. If you get caught unprepared, here's a homemade recipe:

1 teaspoon of salt
8 teaspoons of sugar
4 ounces of orange juice or mashed banana
1 quart of water

Monday, November 8, 2010

"Gee, thanks, mom"

This kid's mom posted a rant on her blog titled "My Son is Gay", along with this pic of her five-year-old in drag for Halloween. She turned it into a media circus, and it's gone viral. Now she's making the talk show rounds, very obviously enjoying her fifteen minutes of fame. Reactions to her have been almost overwhelmingly positive. As usual, I'm going to take the dissenting view.

"Though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-speaking villain."
-William Shakespeare

This isn't about a little kid's choice of a Halloween costume. It's about his mom using him as a foil to aggressively push a personal agenda.

If the kid is gay, his own mother just outed him on the internet.

If the kid is not gay, his own mother just outed him on the internet.

He'll never have another classmate who isn't aware of this.

She should sign him up for karate lessons next, because junior high is cruel and the internet is forever.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Gear that Works: Uninsulated Metal Canteens

For warm-weather canteens, I use clear PETE soda-pop bottles. Light, tough, recyclable and free. They can be used to purify drinking water, too. Set them in the sun for a day, and UV radiation will kill biological pathogens. Simpler and better tasting than bleach, iodine or boiling.

For winter, though, I like uninsulated metal canteens that can be set near a fire to warm water or melt snow*. (*Make sure the cap is loosened so steam can escape.) I came across these Italian military surplus six-liter olive oil containers that are perfect for the job. Heavy-duty aluminum with a two-piece spout. A large opening for filling and a small one for pouring. Both caps are attached with chains so you won't lose them in the snow. (I've lost a lot of things in the snow, up to and including a tent...) There's a bale for carrying, and one side is concave so they don't bump into your legs like round buckets do. The opposite convex side has a couple welded brackets that will facilitate strapping to a pack or sled.

They came with a button-on wool cover. I'm not sure what the cover's purpose is, other than to look cool and make handling more comfortable in freezing weather. Perhaps the insulation moderates temperature swings and helps olive oil store better. Or it's intended to be wetted for an evaporative cooling effect in hot weather. Or all of the above.

It occurs to me that when set around a fire, these tall cans would not only warm water, but also reflect heat. (Again, make sure the cap's not on tight, or you're building a bomb.) I'll test that theory in a couple weeks when deer season starts.

I may get a couple more to use for their design purpose, storing olive oil. I occasionally visit a shop that has first-cold-pressed extra-virgin in bulk. The proprietor tells me it stays fresh for about six months, we go through about a liter a month, and these are six-liter cans. If that isn't a sign from the gods, I don't know what is.

On the internet, these are available for $32 at Sportsman's Guide, and $79 at Deutsche Optik. Guess it pays to shop around.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

It's National Kick-Out-Your-Girlfriend-Day in France

I'm writing this from a sidewalk cafe near the Eiffel Tower. How cool is that?

There seems to be an epidemic of girls pulling their suitcases behind them all over the city. Many of them have excellent legs and long hair, and of course they all have that alluring accent, so I don't understand why they're being kicked out. Maybe it's not even really National Kick Out your Girlfriend Day, I may have leaped to that conclusion too quickly. That's what I do for exercise, leap to conclusions. Also push my luck.

Things I like about the French in addition to their adorable girlfriends:

1. They aren't afraid of responsible alcohol use. Okay, I'm not being particularly responsible right now, but even so, I'm not worried about being hassled. People are free to enjoy, say, a picnic in any public park with a bottle of wine. There is no need to sneak around to circumvent nanny-state laws. Yet I don't see any more drunks here than anywhere else. The people have learned to be responsible because they aren't treated like children.

2. They aren't afraid of dog germs, either. There are dogs on the subway and in the restaurants. Their dogs behave well enough to go everywhere because they're properly socialized, and they're properly socialized because they go everywhere. See how that works?

3. The French aren't legalistic. I rented a bicycle earlier, and there was no waiver to sign, no helmet to wear. People can sit on, say, the high stone walls along the Left Bank of the Seine if they feel like it, and no safety-Nazi will tell them to get off. And if they slip and fall, they won't hire an ambulance-chaser to help them sue somebody else.

4. They take food seriously. The bread, wine, butter and chocolate are as good as they get, and bargains to boot.

5. They walk or ride bicycles when it's appropriate. I have American neighbors who no kidding drive their cars to their mailboxes. And if you see an American adult riding a bicycle, and he's not dressed like Lance Armstrong winning the Tour de France, your first thought is that he lost his drivers license.

I overheard a couple other Americans here refer to the French as "surrender monkeys". Ironic, since America is in the process of surrendering in Iraq and Afghanistan right now. Declaring victory and retreating, more accurately, but same end-game. Just as we did in Korea, Vietnam, Somalia and Lebanon. I submit that we should not point fingers at the French.

Crazy JD the Barber

For a decade I've been going to JD's barber shop. I call him Crazy JD because he's always got some bizarre conspiracy theory or something equally entertaining. He thinks Allah is really Satan. I enjoy telling him that the Muslim and Christian gods are the same, that only the prophets are different. He comes unglued.

I went in yesterday for a haircut on my way to work. He started by spraying something on my head. I asked what it was, because he'd never done that before. He said it made cutting it easier. Whatever he was doing after that didn't feel right, either, but I was too stupid to ask more questions. When he turned me around to look in the mirror, the &@()?! Had given me a "flat top", a bizarre 1950's style.

Me: "Jesus Tapdancing Christ, JD, I look like the eraser end of a pencil."

Crazy JD: "Don't use the Lord's name in vain. You always get a flat top."

Me: "I've never had one. I'd rather be dead with my old haircut than alive with this one."

Crazy JD: "I must be thinking of someone else."

Me: "Jesus Christ and General Jackson, I can't go to work like this."

Crazy JD: "Doesn't your uniform have a hat? Stop using the Lord's name in vain."

Me: "You have to do something. "

Crazy JD: "There's not enough left. Maybe let it grow for a week and I can fix it a little."

He ended up buzzing my whole head except for a little tuft on the top front. It looks like the back of a merganser's head. No, I will not post pictures.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Squatting in Style

Knowing I'd have about a four-hour wait while my truck was being serviced, I took along my dog and a .22 pistol. There's a big patch of woods behind the dealership, and I figured I could spend the time squirrel hunting, plinking and foraging. Didn't get any squirrels. Only saw one, and it was too far away. In order for me to pot them with a handgun, they almost have to commit suicide. But gathered some puffballs and a bolete, ate some autumn olive berries, and filled a small backpack with exceptionally large red oak acorns. Came across some kind of fresh burrow. There were no tracks or bones outside, so I got down to sniff the entrance. Someone was home, and chattered at me. No idea what it was.

Came across a path with some odd wheel ruts, and followed it out of curiosity. It led to eight or ten tents scattered through a grove of white pines. No one seemed to be around, but they'd obviously been living there a long time. The ground was bare and packed hard. I was surprised by how tidy and organized it was. Shelves stocked with food, bags for trash, dedicated latrines. Bicycles, fishing gear, tables, clotheslines, charcoal grills, kid's toys, even two easy chairs. Most of the tents had tarps over the top of them for extra protection. There was a central fire ring with a radio in a tree nearby. They apparently drank a lot of beer, but credit where credit is due, they didn't toss the empties just anywhere. The only thing I saw that didn't impress me were a lot of shopping carts. Presumably they haul in supplies with them, and don't bother to return them.

I didn't stick around long, just snapped a couple pics and eased out of there.

Most homeless people seem to have drug and/or alcohol problems. Or they're just plain crazy. And there are supposedly meth labs here and there in the woods. But this didn't seem to fit those patterns. Every other "hobo camp" I've stumbled into was filthy and filled with trash.

I might go back again. It's the closest I'll ever get to making first contact with some jungle tribe.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Asian Cuisine: Autumn Olive and Bee Larvae

Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) is an ornamental introduced from China and Japan that's escaped cultivation and become invasive. The berries are good fresh and as jam, juice and fruit leather. Once you learn to recognize it, you'll see it everywhere this time of year.

Bee larvae might be a little more difficult to come by. Having read that bears prefer larvae to even honey, and that they're considered a delicacy in Thailand, we decided to try some from our hive. Picked them out of the comb with a toothpick and ate them raw. Can't describe the taste because there really wasn't any. Might try stir-frying some next time.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Another dissertation on shaving:

I have failed to make the leap of manliness required of shaving with a straight razor. I do alright on my cheeks, but if I use it under my nose or on my chin, I end up going to work with more cuts than an emo whose puppy just died.

My wife bought me one a few years ago, along with the basic accoutrements. I've made a sincere effort to master the art. I like the way it focuses my mind first thing in the morning - handling a straight razor near your eyes and throat will do that. I'm just not good with it.

But I have learned two things that have served me well since: How to sharpen stuff. Really sharpen stuff. And that an old fashioned brush and soap make a remarkable difference even with modern disposable cartridge razors. Now I actually enjoy scraping my face. It's still not something I'd do for fun in my spare time instead of canoeing or riding, but it's become a pleasant ritual rather than drudgery. It's taken me three-quarters of the average American male lifespan to break the code on shaving. Benefit from my experience:

Boys, you need - I don't use that word lightly - a good quality badger hair shaving brush. Not synthetic. Not the cheapest thing you can find on Ebay. You can pay a shocking amount for such a brush. Apparently badgers do not willingly part with their hair. But keep things in perspective, an eight-pack of disposable razor cartridges costs $20 these days. Buy quality and only cry once. You're going to use it every day, and it'll last for for a couple decades.

You also need a tub or puck of good quality shaving cream or soap. Again, not cheap, but they last a long time. Like approximately forever. Marketers couldn't have that, of course, which is why they convinced us we need aerosol cans of goo instead. Give traditional soaps a fair try, and you probably won't ever be happy again with canned gel.

Up until bottled water, multi-bladed disposable razors and canned gels were perhaps history's greatest marketing scam. King Gillette, the founder of the company that bears his name, didn't invent a razor, he invented a marketing philosophy: Make people think they need something, and make it disposable. Schick tried to beat Gillette at their own game, and the arms race was on. Now we have disposable cartridge razors with five blades and lubricating strips and vibrating handles with batteries, made of Krpytonite and blessed by the pope. I don't know how anyone can maneuver them, they cover half your face.

Old fashioned safety razors - the kind your grandfather used, with double-edged blades - are making a comeback. They're fun to use, the blades cost a tenth of what disposables cost, and there's no environmentally unfriendly plastic. Shaving with them is a bit of a lost art, but they're easier to master than straight razors. And you don't have to worry about sneezing and losing an ear. The blades are not "springy" and forgiving as are those in modern cartridges, nor do the heads swivel. So, slow down, use short strokes, remember that the angle is critical. And use NO pressure. None. Just think of it as wiping off the shaving cream. Don't expect to be baby-butt smooth after one pass. Splash more hot water on your face, lather up again - your brush will still have more than enough lathery goodness - and have a second go, and then a third. Think of each pass as whisker "reduction" rather than whisker "removal". The cumulative effect will be good.

Girls, your husbands/boyfriends/smolderingly sensual European lovers want these things. They just don't know it yet. Maybe let Santa know.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Daughters on a Rampage

My college-age feminist daughters, filled with college-age feminist moral outrage, have joined the crusade to end pornography. I would think it was cute, except that the movement seems to be gaining some traction.

Where does erotica end and porn begin?

Who should have the authority to tell you what you may and may not look at? The sort of government bureaucrats who brought us the IRS and the DMV? Sanctimonious hypocrites with a religious agenda? Feminists who majored in 'gender studies' and see oppression in every shadow?

Because those are the folks who will concern themselves with the issue while the rest of us are busy earning a living.

Even if it's desirable to limit what people may look at, is it possible?

Last but not least, do they not understand that if it weren't for porn, the internet would still be just a few pencil-necked geeks sending each other bad jokes in Klingon?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Shaving as Therapy

I've taken to "retro-shaving" outside on our deck, weather and time permitting. I use an old-fashioned badger-hair brush, a straight razor for the easy parts, and a WWII double-edged razor for the difficult parts. The outdoor lighting is perfect. The deck overlooks the beehives, I watch their comings and goings while I work up a lather. I bring along a suppressed .22 in order to pick off the chipmunks raiding our garden. (I usually get at least one, and the rifle's stock has become stained by repeated applications of shaving cream.) Ajax the Great Dane watches me intently. Liz brings me a cup of coffee and inspects.

If shaving outdoors with a straight razor and a wet badger, a big dog, bees, a rifle and a fancy redhead who anticipates your needs isn't manly, I don't know what is.

Politically Correct Insanity

Just returned from a week of Cub Scout camp with my stepson. Never again.

The camp director looked like Jabba the Hutt with huge bugger-grip sideburns. I figure he likes the job because the only respect he'll ever get is from little kids who don't know better.

Most of the counselors were pimply-faced nerds on power trips. About half of them still hadn't come to terms with being gay. Their primary job was shouting "NO RUNNING!" all day, every day. That's right, running was not allowed. I'd like to meet whoever it was that decided it was both advisable and possible to keep hundreds of adolescent boys from running for a week.

Adult leaders had to sign a paper acknowledging affiliation with some religion. Any religion. The Cub Scouts are non-denominational now, which is a step in the right direction, but leaders are still required to believe in some deity. Think about that for a minute. They don't care which invisible friend you have, but you're required to have one. I wrote down "Dogist", hoping someone would ask me what it was so I could say "If I can't eat it or hump it, I piss on it".

The boys were constantly preached to about being green and respecting the earth. Yet every meal was served on styrofoam plates with plastic utensils and glasses.

We weren't allowed to strike matches. We could get the campfires ready, but only the pimply-faced gay Hitler Youths had the authority to light them.

No touching was allowed unless you were administering first aid. Some bimbo screamed at me for picking up a little hoodlum who was kicking another. She told me to apologize to him. When I declined she began shrieking "I AM ALPHA! I AM ALPHA! YOU WILL APOLOGIZE! DO NOT CONDESCEND TO ME OR YOU WILL BE TALKING TO THE CAMP DIRECTOR IN HIS TENT!" I am not making this up. I just walked away. She later got into a no-kidding catfight with another den mother. The boys were upset and crying afterwards. I explained to them that chicks are crazy and they might as well learn it now.

I confidently predict that most of the twenty boys in our pack will eventually be staunch Democrats because there's no logic in them and they feel entitled to handouts. We certainly didn't do anything to encourage self-reliance. Five will someday weigh over 300 pounds. One will never make it past working at McDonald's. Three will end up in prison. Actual conversation with one of them:


Me: "This isn't a restaurant. Eat what's on your plate, or don't eat it."

Spoiled Little Bastard: "I WANT TO GO HOME!"

Me: "I want you to go home, too."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Gear that Works: Linen Buckets

I love these things. First encountered them in Zimbabwe years ago, where they were used because they kept water cool via evaporation. When they get wet, the linen swells and becomes stiff and watertight, and it's stronger than cotton. These particular ones are French army surplus. Bought them to keep in my car because they're better than plastic bags for picking fruit, mushrooms & etc. Today I noticed a bunch of ripe Staghorn Sumac seed heads. Stopped, gathered a bucketful, then steeped them in cold water in the same bucket. Strained through a cloth, added some honey, and had "Indian lemonade". I'll keep one in my daypack this hunting season and be able to bring a few pounds of acorns or hickory huts out of the woods every day.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Grub lists

Packing and Portaging, Dillon Wallace:

Two weeks for two men, canoeing:

Bacon, 6 pounds
Salt pork, 2 pounds
Canned ham or meats, 5 pounds
Egg powder, 1 lb (equals four dozen eggs)
Milk powder, 1 1/2 pounds
Grease, 3 pounds
Fresh bread, 2 pounds
Flour, 12 pounds
Corn meal, 1 pound
Rolled oats, 1 pound
Rice, 1 pound
Baking powder, 1/2 pound
Potatoes, dehydrated, 3 pounds (equals 21 pounds of fresh potatoes)
Carrots, dehydrated, 3/4 pound (equals 3 pounds fresh carrots)
Onions, dehydrated, 3/4 pound (equals 3 1/4 pounds fresh onions)
Cranberries, dehydrated, 1/4 pound (equals 2 1/2 quarts fresh fruit)
Beans, 2 pounds
Peas, dehydrated, 1/4 pound (equals 1 1/4 fresh peas)
Coffee, ground, 2 pounds
Tea, 1/2 pound
Cocoa, 1/2 pound
Sugar, 5 pounds
Preserves, 1 pound
Lemons, half dozen
Prunes, 1 pound
Raisins, 1 pound
Salt, 1 pound
Pepper, 3/4 ounce

Standard Hudson's Bay rations, per man per day:

2 pounds of flour and 1 pound of salt pork, or

1 pound of pemmican and 1/4 pound of hardtack

Book of the Forest, Stewart White:

Provisions per man, one week:

flour 7 lbs.
pork 5 lbs. pork
tea 1/5 lbs.
beans 2 lbs
rice 1 1/2 lbs.
prunes and raisins 1 1/2 lbs
lard 1 1/2 lbs
sugar 1 1/2 lbs
oatmeal 1 lb
baking powder

"This will last much longer if you get game and fish."

Paul Provencher (author of "The Last Courier du Bois)

fat (ghee)
sugar (honey)

Edna Calkins Price's (author of "Burro Bill and Me"):

two people for one month:

flour, 50 lbs
cornmeal, 10 lbs
beans, 20 lbs
honey, 10 lbs
coffee, 2 lbs
sugar, 2 lbs
oil, 1 gallon
dried apricots
salt pork
canned milk
canned bully beef

"When times were hard":


Friday, May 14, 2010

Meddling Neighbors

Our busy-body neighbors have been making anonymous complaints to the Department of Environmental Services and the Division of Lands and Forests, trying to stop us from cutting trees or building anything on our 52 acres. This bogus sign oughta give them something to talk about.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

In the News:

Former Marine Chris Everhart was attacked by a black bear while camping with his sons in Chattahoochee National Forest. He couldn't get to his pistol. He killed it with a chunk of firewood. The Forest Service fined him $75.

This is the baddest dude since another former Marine, 62-year-old Dale "I got scratched up pretty good" Rippy, strangled a rabid bobcat.

I want to be on whatever team those guys are on.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Turtle Love

The things you see when you don't have a camera:

It was too windy for open water today - whitecaps - so I decided to explore a swamp. The wind was perfect there, just enough to keep the blackflies to a minimum. While hauling a canoe over a beaver dam, something that initially looked like a large paper bag slowly fluttering in the wind caught my eye. As I got closer, I could tell that it was something alive, but I was within a couple yards before figuring out that I was looking at two huge snapping turtles in the throes of passion.

They were on their sides in mud, with their heads under water. First they were 'spooning', then there was a great deal of clawing and scrambling and they turned face-to-face. Probably trying out new things they just read in the turtle Kama Sutra. Eventually one of them - certainly the female - left in a huff. Maybe his elbow was on her hair. Maybe it was just that time of the month and she was crazy. Anyway, no snuggling, no post-coital turtle cigarette. He probably won't even call her. She probably gave him a bogus phone number anyway.

Heaved the cad into the canoe by the tail. Measured his shell with a dollar bill: 21". He was remarkably docile. Probably still basking in the afterglow. Let him go with a warning not to trifle with the affections of others.

It was amazing how quickly they could simply disappear in a couple inches of water by burrowing under the vegetation and soft bottom mud. On the way back a couple hours later there was no sign of them, but by probing in the same spot I found another, smaller one. I'm always slogging around in the mud foraging for things, I'm going to mind where I'm stepping a lot more from now on.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

I need more friends

Bought some 6" x 12" x 18' Hemlock beams for the cabin. Cut the notches to fit over the posts. Collected all the friends I could. We dragged them to the building site, but couldn't lift them into place.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

How to catch dinner with dental floss:

Been playing around with the "figure four deadfall" since Boy Scouts. However, they tend to be frustrating to set, and have a tendency to not trip when they should.

Have recently been experimenting with the "Paiute deadfall", and like it much better. It's easier to make, easier to set, and more likely to work. The trigger is more reliable, more sensitive, and faster.

There are some good videos online (some a lot better than others) and Google is your friend.

I made this one from some small serviceberry sticks and dental floss. It's on top of a rock frequented by the chipmunks that are raiding our garden. A smear of peanut butter on the long trigger stick is the bait. The lever stick is about six inches long, and the post stick about five. Seems just about the right size for chipmunks and red squirrels, and likely to work for anything from mice to gray squirrels.

Maybe a few of these belong in your pack on treks where you intend to supplement your diet by foraging, or when there is a significant risk of being stranded or lost. They're much lighter than Conibear 110's, and even lighter than snares. The posts and trigger sticks are so easy to fashion that you really only need to carry the lever/string/toggle assemblies. They don't get beat up the way snares do, so you can use them over and over.

I whittled a few on a rainy day, in front of the woodstove with good light, proper tools and warm hands. It was fun, and I'll have either them or the knowledge to duplicate them from now on.

Trapping laws tend to be strict, so be informed and careful. But don't wait until you're starving to figure out how to do all this stuff. You can practice without harming any animals if you use a weighted cardboard box instead of a rock. I went through a military survival school years ago and didn't catch anything for the first five days. If I'd known then what I know now, I would have been a lot more comfortable.

When you set traps, the more the better. Half a dozen minimum. Mark the location of each one somehow, AND draw a map. Otherwise you'll never find them all again.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A politician's promise:

I phoned my NH state representative, Kate Miller, about some pending legislation (HB1693.)

She assured me that she'd support it.

The next day, she voted against it.

Where do we find such leaders?

My latest hero:

In the late 1800's, an English-Cree halfbreed named Alexander Linkletter ran sixty miles in eleven and one half hours.


Why wasn't this front-page news?

All the news outlets are reporting this, but always somewhere below Tiger Wood's return to golf and Jesse James' affair with a tattoo model:

This year, the Social Security trust fund will pay out more than it receives. The Congressional Budget Office did not expect it to pass that threshold for six more years. (The phrase "trust fund" is a misleading accounting device; it's really just a giant I.O.U., as the money has already been spent and it's a "pay-as-you-go" system.) Whatever you call it, they now expect that it will be depleted by 2037.

The Medicare "trust fund" is in even worse shape. It's trustees are reporting that it will be insolvent by 2017.

Both TARP and Obamacare were underwater the day they were signed into law.

Our leaders are smart people. They know that this entitlement spending is unsustainable. They know that bureaucracies don't change without a crisis. Are they deliberately creating a crisis? What's the change they want?

What's in your car?

Gave my car a spring cleaning and reorganized the emergency equipment for the most likely exigent circumstances of the summer season.

This stuff will stay even while the weather is warm:

tow strap
jumper cables
fire extinquisher
quart of oil
paper towels
duct tape
fuel filter
tools to change fuel filter (for my car: pliers, screw driver, 10mm nut driver)
rain poncho
compresses, tape, gloves and scissors for first aid
wool hat, mittens, socks and sweater
sleeping bag
cell phone charger

This stuff will come out until fall:

traction mats
ice scraper
Nu-Wick brand candles
Nutella (tastier than peanut butter)
hard tack

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Inflation Primer

Condensed from the writings of John Silveira:

"Inflation isn't so much that prices go up—because that would imply that groceries and stuff like that have somehow become more valuable. Inflation is when money becomes less valuable so it takes more money to buy a sack of potatoes, a gallon of gas, or hire a babysitter. It's a distinction most people don't seem to get.

In fact, in cases where commodities become more valuable, it's usually a case of supply and demand. When there's increased demand for something, or the supply of something we typically use runs short, the price of it goes up. For example, if a bad winter wipes out much of the citrus crop, oranges become more expensive that year. When the crop returns to normal the next year, the price of oranges returns to where it usually is.

Inflation, on the other hand, is an increase in the money supply that exceeds the expansion of the goods and services available to buy.

Imagine a bunch of us are stranded on a desert island with a set of poker chips. We decide the poker chips are going to represent the total of goods and services on the island because we want to use them as money. Say some of us harvest coconuts and we decide each coconut should cost five chips. Next year there's a bumper harvest of coconuts. If there are too many coconuts, each one is going to be worth less than they were in the previous year because the people harvesting them are going to have a harder time dumping them all, so the price may fall to three chips apiece to encourage people to buy them. On the other hand, if there's a bad harvest, it's going to be harder to buy them, so if consumers want them they're going to be willing to pay more for them and the price will go up. Maybe they're going to be seven or eight chips each. But we expect the cost of a coconut to hover around the average price of five chips we pay for them in a normal year.

The cost of coconuts depends on supply and demand, surpluses and shortages.

A raft drifts in with another set of poker chips. So, we effectively double the money supply on the island. What happens to the value of everything?

The cost of each coconut is going to be doubled because there's now twice as much money—or poker chips—on the island.

Anyone who's been saving his poker chips for a rainy day is going to suddenly find his stash of chips have half the purchasing power they used to have. That's inflation: an increase in the money supply and a decrease in the value of each dollar.

If instead of more chips showing up, half the chips on the island suddenly fall into the ocean and are lost, each remaining chip would now have twice the purchasing power they previously had and coconuts would cost half as much, because we said the number of chips represent the value of all the goods and services on the island, including the coconuts. That's deflation; a decrease in the money supply makes each chip more valuable.

This may surprise you, but we've only had long-term inflation since the Federal Reserve was established in 1913 and they got control of our money supply. They have steadily increased the money supply faster than than the increase in the amount of goods and services that that money will buy. The result is that money has become worth less and less until, today, a dollar has about the same purchasing power as four cents had in 1913.

Governments like inflation. Governments like to tax us and inflation is a tax. Most people simply do not understand that.

Let's go back to the analogy of the island. As I said, if a second set of poker chips arrives, as they're introduced into the island's economy, the prices of everything on the island will begin to rise to reflect the number of chips. But before they do, the person who found the chips gets to spend them while the prices are still low. In effect, they're stealing the value out of everyone else's chips.

In the same way, when the government increases the money supply, without a corresponding increase in the amount of goods and services, they devalue everyone else's dollars—they're worth less and buy less as prices begin to go up. But government gets full value with this newly created money because they spend it first.

So, with inflation, they're stealing value out of every bill I have in my pocket.

Stealing is exactly what they're doing. Keep in mind that if introducing more money were harmless, the government wouldn't care about counterfeiters.

Inflation amounts to legalized counterfeiting. The same people who would scream at a tax hike or a new tax imposed on us, blithely ignore inflation because they don't understand that it's caused by the government and it's another tax. It's the ultimate withholding tax because it comes out of everyone's pocket even if you're in the underground economy. But the worst thing is that it discourages saving and investment.

We should try to invest our money somehow. But consider the effect inflation has on some types of savings, say a savings account, a certificate of deposit, or a U.S. Savings Bond. The interest paid on any of these is low. In fact, they're often lower than the rate of inflation. On that basis, the more you save the further you fall behind in purchasing power. But what makes it worse is that the interest paid is also taxed, that is, part of the imaginary gains you've made are taken away from you by the IRS. So, saving that way becomes a loser's game. The more you save, the further you fall behind.

Over the long run, even putting money into precious metals is a loser's game—that is, if you do it honestly. If you invest in gold or silver, it's a nonproductive investment; it doesn't even earn you interest. What gold and silver really do is respond to the value of the dollar and other currencies. The price of those metals will go up with the inflation rate so, over the long run, if you hold onto them you should theoretically break even in purchasing power. The problem is that when you sell your gold or silver the IRS sees your gain as a ‘real' gain and takes a chunk of it by taxing you. Thus, even precious metals are a losing position—unless you don't report the sale. As a hedge against inflation they're terrific, but they're not making you money in the way stocks, bonds, or savings accounts would in a stable and noninflationary economy.

Other countries have already experienced periods of hyperinflation. The German mark (after World War I) started losing value so fast that people were getting paid two and three times a day and they'd leave work each time so they could spend it before it lost even more value. If you didn't spend it right away, it was going to be worth a lot less in just a few hours. It got so bad that people not only spent their money as fast as they could, they often didn't bother taking their change.

Money was so worthless you couldn't buy heating fuel with it, so to keep warm many people took to burning the paper bills instead.

In Hungary, just after World War II, the Hungarian pengö lost its value even faster. Throughout July of 1946, prices tripled every day. What cost 1,000 pengö one morning cost 3,000 the next and 9,000 the morning after that.

Today, Zimbabwe is undergoing hyperinflation. Their hyperinflation started when the country's president, Robert Mugabe, took land away from the former white landowners to give to blacks who, unfortunately, were unfamiliar with agricultural practices. Crops failed and Zimbabwe began having problems feeding itself. As a result, food prices jumped and Mugabe started to run the presses to keep up with the price increases. Coupled with that was his decision to quadruple the pay of the police and the military (to keep their allegiances) without putting it in the budget, and the presses had to run even faster and longer to make up for these and other budget shortfalls.

There was a time when the Zimbabwean dollar was worth more than the American dollar. Today, it's possible to find 100 trillion dollar Zimbabwean notes, but no one wants them. You can't even bribe a Zimbabwean official with Zibabwean money.

Argentina, Brazil, and Bolivia experienced hyperinflation in the late part of the 20th century. All of it was the result of government overspending; when the bills came due, unable to pay them with taxes, the respective governments ran the printing presses and got caught in that same vicious circle.

Whenever governments have accumulated extreme debts that they are unable or unwilling to raise the money to pay off, either with the sale of bonds or the raising of taxes, they often resort to simply printing more money by running the presses, whether it's the paper presses or the virtual electronic presses of the computer age that create electronic credits.

Governments have streams of commitments, and more often than not they're political promises politicians make to voters to keep themselves in power.

Neither inflation nor hyperinflation can exist without the government having a hand in it. Government is the cause of both inflation and hyperinflation.

At some point, the politicians may try to blame it on the ‘greedy bankers,' speculators, and black marketeers, but none of them can run the presses.

Consider our unfunded debts. These include the costs of Social Security, Medicare, national healthcare if it passes, the trade deficit, and the bailouts—for which trillions were manufactured out of thin air in a way a Zimbabwean strongman could only dream. We owe trillions in loans to foreign governments, most notably China. The responsibility for paying all of this off is being thrown on the backs of the young and those yet unborn.

There's no way we can keep this up. In fact, when the younger generations of voters come of age and they realize what we and the other older generations of voters have voted ourselves, and that we've saddled them with the onerous task of trying to pay off these unpayable debts, they may just welcome hyperinflation and screw us the way we've been screwing them, for example, by making our savings and Social Security payments worthless.

But not only do we have all this debt, a lot of our currency is overseas. Foreigners have been willing to hold American dollars for decades because it's been universally recognized and it's been considered stable. But, if all those dollars were to come back here and were spent in a short time, it too might lead to hyperinflation. It would be like the raft with a duplicate set of poker chips suddenly showing up on the island.

There will be winners and losers. The prime winners may be future generations, including those not yet born, whom we've been trying to saddle with all these debts. The last few generations have been the most selfish in American history. We've voted ourselves all kinds of benefits that are going to have to be paid by the young. But there's going to come a time when the young realize it. We can't hide it forever. And when they see what's happened, they're going to do something about it at the polls. As a result, it's likely to be the older people who are going to be hurt.

In almost every country where inflation has gotten out of control, many who had spent their lives providing for themselves with investments and savings found the purchasing power of their retirement nest eggs wiped out by the hyperinflation, the value of their savings stolen by a government. And those who watched their retirement disappear overnight had to return to the workforce in their old age.

The young are resilient and have their whole lives ahead of them. They may be better off if hyperinflation manages to wipe out the debts we've been trying to saddle them with.

Might hyperinflation help a lot of homeowners because it would allow them to pay their mortgages off with inflated dollars? Keep in mind that the recent bailouts went through despite polls showing the public was against them. It's because Wall Street and the bankers have Washington's ear. So, for better or worse, Congress is likely to step in and make laws saying mortgages and other loans, such as car loans and credit card balances, would be inflation-adjusted. That would be tantamount to another bailout.

Is there a way to keep prices down despite inflation, like wage and price controls?

They don't work. At best they do nothing, at worst they destroy businesses and jobs. By instituting wage and price controls, policy makers force sellers, under penalty of law, to sell their goods and services for money that is worth less and less every day. They force workers to work for less and less of a living wage. The result is that sellers may wind up selling goods at a loss and may go out of business while workers struggle because they can't pay their bills. So we have scarcity of goods, lost jobs, and a burgeoning black market. Even if the prices stay down temporarily while the controls are in place and the government threatens penalties, once the controls are lifted, the prices shoot up to where they should be. This is what happened when Nixon tried to impose price controls in the early ‘70s.

Price controls also force businesses to either withhold their products from the market or they force them to sell on the black market in order to survive. Goods including food and clothing often disappear from the shelves, and people walk away from their jobs to work under the table. Politicians are against black markets because they expose political policies for what they are—shams—and they can't tax them.

What could we have done differently to have prevented this? We could have voted differently.

How were we to know what was coming? You should have turned off the sitcoms. The problem with the American electorate is that it doesn't want to inform itself of what's going on in the world, but it still wants the right to vote.

Is there anything we can do now? Go back to the Gold Standard—it kept our money stable for over a century—and start paying our debts and stop expecting the as-yet-unborn to pay them for us. That's unlikely to happen.

So what do we do to protect ourselves? If we're lucky, we'll watch our currency inflate slowly and we can get rid of our dollars and turn them into hard assets. But I'm already hedging my bets. I buy hard assets, everything from junk silver coins and ammo for the guns I own to food and wine. I have lots of food, lots of wine. It's also good if you can get your hands on some stable foreign currencies like the Euro."

John Silveira