Archive for July, 2010

31
Jul
10

crank-off

We make our own entertainment out here.

While the less ambitious among us stage dung-beetle races and other pastimes which require little effort, others organize events. Tonight will be a potluck supper and ice cream “crank-off” at the Terlingua Ranch Lodge. Val surprised me by saying he would like us to attend it for a little while before doing another one of our movie nights.

Val has been surprising me quite a bit lately. He came by the house a couple times while our guests were here, joined us at the pool, and joined us for supper once when seven of us crowded around our small round table. I love the fact that Val has been spending so much time with us, and yet I am surprised because he is usually very shy and retiring. I had begun to flatter myself in thinking that maybe Val has been feeling more comfortable and trusting around us in particular, but now his suggestion that we attend the crank-off is telling me he’s becoming more open to being with people in general (and that we are the coincidental beneficiaries of this development).

Either way, Val is good company and is one of my best friends here, whyever or however it has come to pass.

This friendship extends to his family. A couple weeks ago, his mother Sigrid sent me The Wall, a 1962 novel by Austrian author Marlen Haushofer, a modern literary masterpiece few people know about that’s found its way onto lists of the “500 Greatest” novels written by women. Sigrid said the narrator of the story reminded her of me at Estrella Vista. Now that I have completed the book, I understand why Sigrid made the connection, and it is frankly rather flattering. If only I were up to the high standards of courage, resourcefulness, and perseverance modeled by the book’s narrator! (It is something to shoot for.)

The premise of The Wall is that some kind of catastrophe happens in the world which  kills almost everyone, and the narrator—a middle-aged woman—becomes trapped in the mountains behind an invisible wall with only a dog, a cat, and a cow for companions. The story suggests the devastation and violence people inflict on each other and the landscape, and it shows how a quiet simple life in the middle of nowhere can be filled with complexity and beauty.

I finished the book yesterday afternoon after my guests had departed, and I have a feeling its aftertaste will color my life experiences hereafter for many years to come. I recommend it highly—if you can find an affordable copy. I looked it up on the Internet and it is out-of-print and, judging from the prices used booksellers are asking for it, even a paperbound copy of The Wall now definitely falls into the “rare book” category.

I ran out of power last night and, not wanting to start up the gasoline generator, decided to move on to another novel sent to me as a gift from another friend and reader of the Diary. The book is The Overton Window, a political thriller by (OMG, am I really saying this?) Glenn Beck. The friend who sent the book withheld all information about the book and its author knowing that had I been given too much of a heads-up, my attitude may have hardened and I might not have even opened the package.

But hey, it’s entertainment and out here beggars can’t be choosers. Anyway, the friend who sent it is himself the best story-teller I know, and if he says a book is a gripping read, it is definitely so.

30
Jul
10

solitude again

As suddenly as the onslaught of visitors began, now it is ended.

Derek and Lisa left this morning, and Paul’s parents left yesterday morning and took Paul with them as far as Marathon. A week of constant activity, of flyswatters and kitchen utensils misplaced, of disconnected and competing conversations, of constantly seeing to the needs of visitors as well as the smooth functioning of the house—it has ended so suddenly and the silence is, as they say, ‘deafening.’

I have spent some time catching up with e-mails, feeding and watering the chickens, setting up power generation for our cloudy and windless conditions, washing a few stray dishes and coffee mugs—in general, switching gears back into normal and slipping into routines as comfortable as an old pair of shoes. The cats and dogs are all sleeping in their favorite places and I am now free to get some chores done I’d intended to have completed before the first guests arrived.

I’m still without transportation (Paul is returning with another part which might solve it), but I have plenty of gasoline, ice, and food leftovers to keep me comfortable for the next three days. But Paul does have new housing with refrigeration, air conditioning, an oven, and a bathroom/shower. These new assets represent a “great leap forward” for us, and will provide a wider range of options for our survivability here.

I have a lot to think about now that I’m alone.

Derek and I had some marathon discussions with lots of questions and answers flowing each way. We agreed and disagreed with one another’s views in significant ways which must (and will) be respected and accommodated. For example, even given everything he’s experienced in his life, Derek says the American justice system is “the best in the world.” I, on the other hand, have come to a radically different conclusion, in part because of what I observed happening to him. Both our views are valid. Yet which of us is more correct in understanding the objective truth of the situation, if objective truth does indeed exist? It will have to be worked out over many more hikes and late night discussions in the coming years.

29
Jul
10

jordan’s appeal

Late Tuesday Jordan’s attorneys received word from the Pennsylvania Superior Court that their petition for a hearing appealing Judge Motto’s decision to try 12-year-old Jordan Brown as an adult has been granted. The court docket has the hearing scheduled for Friday, August 13th in Pittsburgh.

Chris Brown contacted me yesterday and said, “Oddly as it may seem, this is two in a row for us. A glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel.” Jordan’s attorney Dennis Elisco said he was relieved by the court order. “I can uncross my fingers now, I guess.”

Predictably, Debbie Houk complained she is growing tired of delays.

In the March hearing which resulted in the judge’s outrageous ruling, the state argued that Jordan is not amenable to rehabilitation as long as he refuses to confess to a crime he did not commit, while the defense met all statutory requirements to show that Jordan is amenable to rehabilitation and should therefore be tried as the child he is.

If Jordan is convicted of first- or second-degree murder as an adult, he faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. If his case moves to juvenile court, the state could not hold him beyond his 21st birthday if he were convicted.

All of this is, of course, beside the main point that Jordan is innocent and being railroaded with tainted and misconstrued evidence.

I am not superstitious, but the Friday the 13th docket date is a reminder that the state appears determined to carry out this miscarriage of justice, and that plenty could still go wrong for Jordan.

We’re not out of the woods yet.

28
Jul
10

finally

Derek and Lisa arrived yesterday before noon while Mike and I were down at the Grub Shack picking up ice and home-made ice cream in take-out cups for everyone at Estrella Vista.

We passed Derek and Lisa on the road, but I hadn’t recognized them because I was watching for Lisa’s white Cadillac, and not the gray rental car she had rented to complete the trip after her Cadillac had suffered a mechanical breakdown in Kentucky. Lisa’s husband Mack had remained at home. He is in the building trade and, having work, decided it was best to make some hay while the sun still shined. “I’ll send Mack down here on his own when he can get away,” Lisa said. “He needs this place.”

Lisa was captivated by the spirit of the land. “You live in paradise,” she said.

No surprise, the first thing Derek wanted to do yesterday was to go to the swimming pool at the Lodge. It was a request I was happy to oblige because, because of last week’s transportation problems, we had been unable to do laundry at the Lodge and we were out of clean sheets and towels for our guests.

Lisa, Mike and I lay in the shade on recliners, talking and sipping on drinks, while Derek and Paul gave the pool a workout. Two things delighted me. The first was watching Paul and Derek interacting as affectionate brothers might, picking up their relationship after a year apart. The second was the role that Derek played as an attentive host, serving us drinks from the cooler and otherwise seeing that we elders were comfortable with our needs met. Paul had been filling this role with respect to his parents and now he had help. They were functioning as a hospitality tag-team.

The central idea of “hospitality” as we understand and practice it at Estrella Vista is recognizing the “god-ness” or spark of divinity in others and serving them as a means of serving God. It is a concept best taught by example, and Derek and Paul were thus teaching us through their examples.

As I observed Derek through the day, I saw that a change had come over him in the last year. There seems to be an inner glow about him, and an attitude of inner peacefulness which before were more nascent characteristics. The timing of his change is related to his participation in his church’s youth leadership program. “The old Derek died and a new Derek has taken his place,” he said.

I liked the “old” Derek just fine, yet I am so pleased to observe his present happiness.

Last night after everyone else had gone to sleep, we sat up talking until 1:00 a.m., mostly about religion. It was just like old times, so very frank and open and utterly comfortable. Our discussion affirmed that Derek knows what he wants from life and appears to be finding it through his spiritual life.

I’m glad Derek has finally returned. I’ve been waiting for this for a year.

27
Jul
10

money

Yesterday Paul’s dad and I were talking about the famous quote by Baron Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836), the London financier and one of the founders of the international Rothschild banking dynasty which is now worth over $100 trillion and is one of the six families that owns the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank: “I care not what puppet is placed on the throne of England to rule the Empire…The man that controls Britain’s money supply controls the British Empire. And I control the money supply.”

“It may sound overly simplistic,” I said, “but the only way we can regain our freedom is to stop using their fiat currency.”

“You mean Federal Reserve notes,” Mike said. “But how would that be possible?”

A trend which is emerging in the US and various other countries is the appearance of alternative monetary systems. Just as during the American Civil War, the Great Depression, and other times of severe financial crises, states and communities are beginning to print their own money. There are “greens” issued by the Lettuce Patch Bank at the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in rural Northeastern Missouri. Residents from the Milwaukee neighborhoods of Riverwest and East Side are considering printing their own money. Even the state of California is so broke it has been making some of its payments in IOUs.

In Western Massachusetts one finds BerkShares, which are convertible to U.S. dollars. Susan Witt, Executive Director of the E.F. Schumacher Society (the nonprofit behind the currency) was quoted last year by Time.com as saying that more than $2 million in BerkShares have been issued through the 12 branches of five local banks.

During the 1991 recession, “Ithaca Hours” were issued to sustain Ithaca, New York’s local economy and stem the loss of jobs. “Hours” circulated within the community, moving from local shop to local artisan and back, rather than leaking out into the wider monetary system. They kept people from literally going hungry. The slogan on the Hour read: “In Ithaca We Trust.”

Alternative currencies are generally used in conjunction with conventional money, as in using local currency at the farmer’s market and regular greenbacks at the supermarket. For this reason, their use is sometimes called a “Dual Currency System.” “It doesn’t try in any way to replace cash,” says Christoph Hensch, a Swiss national and former banker now living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Rather, it offers a way “for people to share and redeem value they have in the community.”

Hensch says alternative currencies are most useful in geographical areas or social sectors where money doesn’t flow sufficiently, citing for example New Zealand’s Golden Bay, which is so remote that it sometimes nearly functions as its own economy—the same phenomenon Paul and I are seeing here where barter is commonplace.

Homegrown currency doesn’t merely fortify the local economy, it builds community. According to Susan Witt, the use of BerkShares, for example, has helped to solidify local ties. “It’s cash, so you have to pay your bills by walking into the store or dentist’s office,” she says.

People out here similarly recognize they’ve got a stake in their neighbor’s well-being because our neighbor embody both market and supply chain. One can feel more secure doing business out here because knowing the person you’re dealing with (and his family and friends) provides a kind of social collateral.

Several years ago in Minneapolis, I helped my longtime friend Kevin Ryan research a dual currency service he was developing which involved the use of a debit-type card that is swiped by local merchants. Customers received a cash rebate from merchants in their accounts, local churches and nonprofits which enrolled the customers received a portion of the rebate, and the local economy was strengthened.

Characteristically, Kevin was years ahead of his time in developing this computer-mediated system to keep track of such transactions, and the successor company to his venture is now well positioned to make a lot of money by providing a much needed service for the hard times to come.

You can read so many dire predictions about the current crisis which, like a log rolling downhill, is unstoppable. Some experts are saying it will be worse than the Great Depression. I have heard more than one prediction that we will experience hyperinflation as severe as Germany’s in the 1920s or Argentina’s in 2000. It would be so easy to despair and begin thinking all is hopeless. Take heart and stock up on food, cash, and other things you will need to survive the inevitable shortages and hyperinflation.

I believe the recession, regardless of how long or severe it turns out to be, can be the re-making of America into something very positive. There is opportunity in even the direst circumstances, if only you look for it and are ready. History shows we are an innovative and resilient people, and the emergence of the alternative currency trend is a leading indicator of American resourcefulness.

Even after the darkest night, the sun always rises the next morning and will do so for eons to come.

26
Jul
10

arbeit macht frei

It disturbed me the other day when I learned from Alex’s Larry King Live interview that he is working on a clean-up crew for the BP oil spill. It is good image but bad science. He is literally killing himself in having chosen to do this work. Almost all the oil clean-up workers from the Exxon Valdez disaster are now, two decades later, dead.

I’ve read news reports that BP is so concerned with minimizing the public perception of toxicity it is inflicting on our coastlines, it will fire any clean-up workers seen to be using respirators and other protective gear.

As the above photo suggests, even wildlife is in the same dispersed and desperate state as Katrina survivors once were and Gulf fishermen are today.  

How many other people in this economy, driven by personal desperation of some kind, are doing work—perhaps for lower wages or mere subsistence pay—which risks their lives and compromises their physical health and family’s future happiness?

If you look at every sector of the economy, you can see evidence that the interlinked leadership of the central banks, big business, and government is forcing down domestic compensation including benefits. Whereas they should be focused on increasing innovation and productivity in the economy, they continue the relentless process begun in the 1980s of squeezing profitability out of labor through a process which reminds me essentially of how fat is rendered.

This morning Paul’s dad Mike commented about how, for the last three decades, US industrial capability and investment have been relentlessly and extensively outsourced to cheaper offshore labor markets. The first step, Mike said, was convincing Americans that it was a good thing that ours should become a service economy based on “intellectual capital.” Now that Americans are dependent on cheap foreign goods and unable to produce so many essentials for themselves, our leadership is applying another turn of the screw which is aimed at lowering the American standard of living and extracting more economic value for the ultra-rich at the expense of increasingly desperate, hard-working people.

Rendering, as I say.

Through this whole process, knowledge and talent—the so-called “intellectual capital” in the economy—count for nothing. In the “New World Order” people are expendable, whether they are oil spill cleanup workers, soldiers, miners, or even bank workers. They are as expendable as the gray columns of slaves who passed through the gates of Auschwitz and the Soviet gulag camps.

I spoke recently with an earnest young man who, despite his class-A academic credentials and first-tier job performance, is being held down and exploited in a job “rolling quarters” for The Bank of New York. He’s being denied an opportunity to apply his talents in ways that would increase not only his job satisfaction but his economic value to his employer. As I asked him questions and he answered them, it became clear to me that, whereas his company states that high-performance is a corporate value and claims it is part of their culture, at this young man’s level the organization does not measure, manage for, or reward performance. I concluded that their corporate “value” is essentially pro-forma, a fraud espoused for the benefit of credulous analysts, shareholders, and new hires.

More rendering.

“Even though you’re lucky just to have a job, you’re in the wrong industry,” I told him. Bankers do not understand the concept of value creation. They only understand transactions and confiscatory interest, commissions, and fees. Their ignorance will be buttressed and compounded as governments add “value-added” taxes to most transactions. This isn’t value creation, but parasitism.

(I will never forget an encounter I had twenty years ago with a bank president who, having just acquired a smaller bank, was in the process of packaging and selling off the acquired bank’s weakest loans. In a candid moment he explained his strategy in terms of unloading the bad loans onto a “greater fool.” I thought this man to be utterly despicable. He exuded an aura of smarminess you could cut with a knife. Someone who knew him socially told me he was unethical and to have nothing to do with him. Yet he was successful in his industry. I just heard a radio report the other day saying these will be boom times for predatory lenders.)

“Look into the cooperative credit unions,” I advised the young man. “You truly care about benefiting your customers. Co-ops are owned by their customers. There’s a different spirit in co-op credit unions, and maybe some real opportunities for creating a career you’ll feel good about.”

These will be tough times for talent unless people break their chains and discover new ways to shine through their work. Paul’s dad was saying this morning that his home-based machine shop is thriving—that these will be good times for cottage industries that can deliver better goods at a cheaper price and in shorter runs than larger organizations. We’ll see, but I think he’s right.

Work can set you free.

Breakthrough innovations and performance will not come out of dinosaur corporate cultures that only know how to exploit and not nurture. They will come out of little guys like him… and me.

Yes, me. I have recently decided that we will need more money coming in if the vision for the retreat at Estrella Vista is ever to be realized. The best way for me to contribute is to begin doing writing projects for hire again.

I won’t be looking for a job, only project work for business and nonprofit organizations that need public relations and marketing communications projects researched, strategized, and written. Executive speeches, strategy white papers, marketing brochures and sales training tools, press releases, websites and direct response letters, etc.—I have done it all and am prepared to do so again to help meet our long-range goals for Estrella Vista.

So I’m putting the word out that I “will work for food” again.

If you are a regular visitor to these postings, I assume you like how I write. If you or someone you know hires writers, would you please tell them about me suggest they contact me through a comment on the blog?

If necessary, I think it would be truthful to say that I, too, am (almost) an offshore worker. Please encourage them to outsource to the border.

Thanks!

25
Jul
10

first visitors

This is the beginning of what will be a busy week. Paul’s parents arrived from Ohio past midnight last night after an extremely long drive pulling a camper trailer that they will leave for Paul to live in. At long last his bus will be going away—it came with the purchase of the property, and for nearly two years it has served Paul as a dismal and uncomfortable “bedroom”—and has been an eyesore blighting the homestead. Hallelujah.

(Dan, tell me how you really feel about Paul’s bus!)

We are not as well prepared for this visit as I would like us to have been. Paul’s folks arrived a day earlier than I’d expected and, because our vehicle has not been working, we’re short of a few food items and supplies I would have preferred to have had on hand. Yet I am sure we will get by just fine.

This morning Paul and his dad are unpacking some of Paul’s firearms his parents brought from home (and discussing them in a language all their own) while Paul’s mom sleeps in.

I need to begin preparing a pork loin roast we will have for lunch in several hours, so I’ll be keeping this post short. I didn’t get as long a night’s sleep as I’m used to, so I’m dragging and not much in the mood to write.

Our primary focus this week is hospitality, anyway.