Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Oh, Say What is Wealth

When you think that you have arrived, that you are rich, what will you base that on? Ownership of a Porche or Lexus? Buying a very nice house on the Benches, or another desireable location? Will you feel you have made it when the house decked out with hand carved furniture? A big screen plasma TV? How about a home movie theater? Swimming pool? Maid? Gardener? Big stock portfolio? Suitcase full of silver or gold bullion? Diamonds?

In the world that we have all grown up in and lived in, who ever owns these baubles and toys could be considered wealthy. I think that we all know each other well enough to know that we all would be in debt up to our eyes. But even if they were all paid for, they would not be the kind of wealth that was measured in ancient times because they are all about consumption, and anciently wealth was about production and about saving.

You all know how Grandpa AH grew up. He told the most stories about it, but Grandpa MH, Grandma LS and Grandma NW all grew up when times were tight as well. But since Al's story is maybe the most documented, I will use it as the example.

He was the oldest son of the oldest daughter of a family of 17 people. My Grandma had 14 brothers and sisters. Grandpa's dad died while he was young. His mom moved back with her parents off and on for some years.

Great-grandpa was an immigrant from Russia of German heritage. The fled from Russia before the revolution, but things were all ready getting bad. They got off the train from back East in North Dakota, and in a few years had moved south to Colorado. His family grew. His income didn't. World War 1 came and went. Times got a little better but when Grandpa was 7 the stock market crashed and the whole country went broke. Unemployment went up to 30%. Out of work men and boys rode the trains all over the country looking for work.

I am not sure how many kids Great Grandpa had in 1929, but I know that my dad was living with them and they were farming beets. That is what Great Grandpa did right then. He hired out his small army of kids to the fields. He would contract to do all the labor on 80 acres or more of sugar beets, and then everyone who could went to the fields and worked from April until November. That was the income, and it wasn't a lot. It bought cloth, keorsene, coal, sugar, white flour, horse shoes, tools, seed, salt, and some was given at Church to help to maintain the minister.

Food was something that you grew. All the Grandparents had large gardens that produced most of what they ate. Grandpa MH didn't much care for chicken as they ate it all the time while he was growing up and he had to feed the hens, help with the butchering, and clean the dusty and smelly chicken coop. They raised chickens, milked cows, hoed the garden, harvested and canned, and it didn't cost them a cent. Actually, many farm wives sold butter and eggs and earned a little steady money that way too.

I remember many times Grandpa leaning back in his chair and looking at the fire and asking me the same question..... just what is wealth? He would tell me the story that I just told you, and then he would say 'we didn't have much money, in fact we were really poor. But we never were hungry or cold.'

He would then almost always go on to tell about how they lived and worked, mostly the same stories, and how it wasn't until he was in the Navy that he learned that as poor as they were, that their experience in the Depression was not nearly so bad as it was for some of his shipmates that lived in the cities. I remember him telling of one boy that was happy to have lard or bacon grease sandwiches for lunch. He told me of a man that wouldn't eat with his workmates because he had given the potatoes to his kids and he only had the peels. Any of you that have watched 'Cinderella Man' or 'Seabiscuit' you can see how grim it was for some people.

We don't live on farms - that time is past. We have been counciled to store a years supply of food and fuel, or as close to that was we can come, and to produce as much of what we eat in our gardens and orchards as we can. We don't do this as much as we should because gardens cost money to water and don't always produce much, and then it isn't always what we want to eat..... and the stores are stuffed with food, and it is cheaper then we can grow it.

I imagine that you all get tired of my peak oil bedtime stories of coming hard times, financial chaos, social upheaval, etc. But just to keep you up to date, the guys who track oil depletion - and not the USGS or the EIA - are largely in agreement that the peak occured in 2005. Now we are seeing $90 oil, and when the price retreats a little it falls down to $87.50. Guys in the mainstream press are talking about $100 by 2008, and more in the coming year. So the day is well spent. Almost all of the ease and prosperity that we have now is due to the fact that we have been able to consume so much energy. As this becomes harder to get it is time to try to position our selves so that we are also producers.

We need to produce some of our food, and the more the better. Gardens and orchards don't grow like Jack's beanstalk. Neither do gardeners. Get seeds. Get tools. Hand tools work just fine and are easy to get and store. Sharpen them. Get files and whetstones. If you are in an appartment, check with friends to see if you can dig up their back yards. Garden with friends.

Strange as it sounds, we should also give thought to producing some of our own power, and ensuring that our homes have some kind of emergency heat in case of loss of outside services. There have been more than 22 coal fired powerplants that were to be built over the next five years that have been canceled nation wide. The engineers that I work with all feel that we will be having brown outs in the foreseeable future. I haven't done anything about this yet. We have our little insert stove that we like, but it is worthless almost without the fan. But it is a small fan, and I think that I can get a PV and a battery and an inverter and provide power at least for the fan. Maybe even for the furnace or hotwater heater. You don't need to provide power to live like you live now. Think of the least amount that you would need and size your system that way.

Most importantly, don't crawl under the coffee table. The clouds gather, but you can still put up the tent. Don't crawl under the coffee table. Bottle something. Plant something. Bake something. Fix something. You will feel much better. Go to the Under the Coffee Table Blog. I am going to tell how to bake bread. The time is far spent, but it isn't spent. Do your best, and you will be blessed.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Seeing Eye to Eye

There is a saying in business, and maybe in life - I just hear it a lot at work - that perception is reality.

I have always had kind of a problem with that, and I guess that I still do, but have recently had a weird and kind of eye opening experience that has made me realize that while we may be sitting in the same room, we might really be perceiving different worlds.

You see, our TV is on the blink. The color guns are shooting blanks in some colors and we need a new one. Also, for the record, I am red-green pattern colorblind. These two facts have come together in a bizarre way in that I can't see any red on the screen. Annie sees people with ghastly orange-red faces, but I see normal looking skin tones. But no red. I was watching 'The Replacements' and there is a scene in there where the quarterback gets sacked by kind of psycho kind of line backer in practice for about the third time, and the line backer says that when he sees red, it's just like a bull seeing red (which they don't do, having no cone cells, only rod cells - B&W) and the quarterback gestures to his jersey and says 'Red - like a stop light!!'.

But I see sunflower yellow. Moreover, when the quarterback is getting a ride back to his home by the girlfriend-to-be, her brake lights shine out bright yellow. Annie disputes these color realities vigorously and says she can't watch this TV anymore. Aside from the yellow thing, I don't have much of a problem. I do notice when the actors are supposed to be really cold that the edges of their ears are yellow. Not to normal in real life.

I feel a little like the guy in 'A Beautiful Mind' that sees all of these people that are totally real to him, and the only way he can tell that they are imaginary is that they never grow up. I know that brake lights are not bright yellow, so I know the TV is pretty pathetic, yet the skin tones and other colors that I see are fine.......

So then I wonder what does the Nurse taste when she eats pineapple? What does CuteGirl taste when she eats tomatoes, or Annie when she prefers chicken to beef. What does the Nurse like about fish that Pixie doesn't? What does Annie hear in so much of music that I don't?

Rhetorical questions to be sure, but it kind of makes you think about what the others in our life are really experiencing at any given time. Are they in a room filled with spiritual splendor, or all the people in the room breathing all the air to where you can hardly keep yourself from running out of the door because it is so stifling?

In the end, we all have to give and bend some so that we can have interactions, have jobs, marriages, callings, and lives. Life is a compromise, but it is good if everyone can be aware of these little quirks that we all have and we can all give a little ground.