It’s Too Late to Brace for Impact

14 12 2018

Here, in the 18th year of the New Millennium, the 28th Year of Our Internet (delivering unlimited information to all), and the 30th year of the Great Harangue over Climate Change (dating it from James Hansen’s testimony to the Senate), this is where we are:

  • The world’s emissions of greenhouse gases — the kinds of pollution that trap solar radiation like greenhouse windows and heat the climate — not only increased in 2018, but increased faster, setting a new all time record — despite the wildly hyped growth of “renewable” energy sources — according to two new studies published last week. Scientists said the emissions’ growth and the resulting acceleration of climate change, resembles a “speeding freight train.”  
  • The world’s people bought more cars, and drove them farther, in 2018 than in any year in history, driving oil consumption up for the fifth consecutive year despite the advent of hybrid and electric vehicles.
  • In November the Trump White House published findings by 13 Federal agencies and hundreds of scientists concluding that climate change is well under way and will cost the economy hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century. Never mind the millions of deaths, the migrations, the homelessness, the dislocations — we have to put a dollar value on it to pay any attention to it. Asked what he thought of the report, President Trump said “I don’t believe it.”
  • In October the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued an alarming report warning that greenhouse gas emissions are rising so fast that they will cause widespread food shortages, wildfires, coastal flooding and population displacement, not by the end of the century, but by 2040. One of the latest studies — the “speeding freight train” one — says all those effects may be seen by 2030. That would be just over 11 years from now
  • Last week, the Climate Change Conference meeting in Poland — this is among other things the conference of 200 nations that agreed to and is trying to implement the Paris Agreement on how to combat climate change — refused to adopt the October IPCC report on objections by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait. Thus what one major international UN organization had concluded about the facts of climate change were deliberately ignored by another major international UN organization working on climate change.
  • Last week, France cancelled a planned increase in taxation of fossil fuels, part of a four year effort to reduce carbon emissions and slow global warming. Carbon taxes have long been advocated as one of the few effective things government could to to reduce emissions. The prospect of this tax ignited violent protests by thousands of so-called “yellow vest” demonstrators who threatened to destabilize the country, and continue to do so after the cancellation of the fuel tax.  

The secretary general of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, told the climate change conference in Poland now in session, “We are in trouble. We are in deep trouble with climate change.” He went on to say, as hundreds of scientists and bureaucrats before him have said, that we are not doing enough. But he’s dead wrong about that. We are not doing anything. We are making it worse, faster. In part by jetting hundreds and thousands of people hither and yon around the world to conduct endless air-conditioned meetings on what we might think about doing, if we were ever going to do anything.  

Here’s how I would put it: forget Brace for Impact, it’s way too late for that. What we need to do now, collectively, is bend over, take a firm grip on our knees, and …. well, you know the rest.

From Tom Lewis’ Brace for Impact website….

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EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW ABOUT WESTERN CIVILIZATION IS WRONG

30 11 2018

Over the years, I’ve written a fair bit about debt and how the only way out is a Jubilee…. well, Michael Hudson, someone whose podcasts I now listen to religiously, has written a whole book about this subject. Here’s a review of the book I must buy myself……

A Review of Michael Hudson’s new book
…. and Forgive Them Their Debts

As published on Naked Capitalism

by John Siman

To say that Michael Hudson’s new book And Forgive Them Their Debts: Lending, Foreclosure, and Redemption from Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year (ISLET 2018) is profound is an understatement on the order of saying that the Mariana Trench is deep. To grasp his central argument is so alien to our modern way of thinking about civilization and barbarism that Hudson quite matter-of-factly agreed with me that the book is, to the extent that it will be understood, “earth-shattering” in both intent and effect. Over the past three decades, gleaned (under the auspices of H

MichaelHudson.jpg

arvard’s Peabody Museum) and then synthesized the scholarship of American and British and French and German and Soviet assyriologists (spelled with a lower-case a to denote collectively all who study the various civilizations of ancient Mesopotamia, which include Sumer, the Akkadian Empire, Ebla, Babylonia, et al., as well as Assyria with a capital A). Hudson demonstrates that we, twenty-first century globalists, have been morally blinded by a dark legacy of some twenty-eight centuries of decontextualized history. This has left us, for all practical purposes, utterly ignorant of the corrective civilizational model that is needed to save ourselves from tottering into bleak neo-feudal barbarism.

This corrective model actually existed and flourished in the economic functioning of Mesopotamian societies during the third and second millennia B.C. It can be termed Clean Slate amnesty, a term Hudson uses to embrace the essential function of what was called amargi and níg-si-sá in Sumerian, andurārum and mīšarum in Akkadian (the language of Babylonia), šudūtu and kirenzi in Hurrian, para tarnumar in Hittite, and deror (דְּרוֹר) in Hebrew: It is the necessary and periodic erasure of the debts of small farmers — necessary because such farmers are, in any society in which interest on loans is calculated, inevitably subject to being impoverished, then stripped of their property, and finally reduced to servitude (including the sexual servitude of daughters and wives) by their creditors, creditors. The latter inevitably seek to effect the terminal polarization of society into an oligarchy of predatory creditors cannibalizing a sinking underclass mired in irreversible debt peonage. Hudson writes: “That is what creditors really wanted: Not merely the interest as such, but the collateral — whatever economic assets debtors possessed, from their labor to their property, ending up with their lives” (p. 50).

And such polarization is, by Hudson’s definition, barbarism. For what is the most basic condition of civilization, Hudson asks, other than societal organization that effects lasting “balance” by keeping “everybody above the break-even level”?

“Mesopotamian societies were not interested in equality,” he told me, “but they were civilized. And they possessed the financial sophistication to understand that, since interest on loans increases exponentially, while economic growth at best follows an S-curve. This means that debtors will, if not protected by a central authority, end up becoming permanent bondservants to their creditors. So Mesopotamian kings regularly rescued debtors who were getting crushed by their debts. They knew that they needed to do this. Again and again, century after century, they proclaimed Clean Slate Amnesties.”

Hudson also writes:

“By liberating distressed individuals who had fallen into debt bondage, and returning to cultivators the lands they had forfeited for debt or sold under economic duress, these royal acts maintained a free peasantry willing to fight for its land and work on public building projects and canals…. By clearing away the buildup of personal debts, rulers saved society from the social chaos that would have resulted from personal insolvency, debt bondage, and military defection” (p. 3).

Marx and Engels never made such an argument (nor did Adam Smith for that matter). Hudson points out that they knew nothing of these ancient Mesopotamian societies. No one did back then. Almost all of the various kinds of assyriologists completed their archaeological excavations and philological analyses during the twentieth century. In other words, this book could not have been written until someone digested the relevant parts of the vast body of this recent scholarship. And this someone is Michael Hudson.

So let us reconsider Hudson’s fundamental insight in more vivid terms. In ancient Mesopotamian societies it was understood that freedom was preserved by protecting debtors. In what we call Western Civilization, that is, in the plethora of societies that have followed the flowering of the Greek poleis beginning in the eighth century B.C., just the opposite, with only one major exception (Hudson describes the tenth-century A.D. Byzantine Empire of Romanos Lecapenus), has been the case: For us freedom has been understood to sanction the ability of creditors to demand payment from debtors without restraint or oversight. This is the freedom to cannibalize society. This is the freedom to enslave. This is, in the end, the freedom proclaimed by the Chicago School and the mainstream of American economists. And so Hudson emphasizes that our Western notion of freedom has been, for some twenty-eight centuries now, Orwellian in the most literal sense of the word: War is Peace • Freedom is Slavery • Ignorance is Strength. He writes:

“A constant dynamic of history has been the drive by financial elites to centralize control in their own hands and manage the economy in predatory, extractive ways. Their ostensible freedom is at the expense of the governing authority and the economy at large. As such, it is the opposite of liberty as conceived in Sumerian times” (p. 266).

And our Orwellian, our neoliberal notion of unrestricted freedom for the creditor dooms us at the very outset of any quest we undertake for a just economic order. Any and every revolution that we wage, no matter how righteous in its conception, is destined to fail.

And we are so doomed, Hudson says, because we have been morally blinded by twenty-eight centuries of deracinated, or as he says, decontextualized history. The true roots of Western Civilization lie not in the Greek poleis that lacked royal oversight to cancel debts, but in the Bronze Age Mesopotamian societies that understood how life, liberty and land would be cyclically restored to debtors again and again. But, in the eighth century B.C., along with the alphabet coming from the Near East to the Greeks, so came the concept of calculating interest on loans. This concept of exponentially-increasing interest was adopted by the Greeks — and subsequently by the Romans — without the balancing concept of Clean Slate amnesty.

So it was inevitable that, over the centuries of Greek and Roman history, increasing numbers of small farmers became irredeemably indebted and lost their land. It likewise was inevitable that their creditors amassed huge land holdings and established themselves in parasitic oligarchies. This innate tendency to social polarization arising from debt unforgiveness is the original and incurable curse on our post-eighth-century-B.C. Western Civilization, the lurid birthmark that cannot be washed away or excised. In this context Hudson quotes the classicist Moses Finley to great effect: “…. debt was a deliberate device on the part of the creditor to obtain more dependent labor rather than a device for enrichment through interest.” Likewise he quotes Tim Cornell: “The purpose of the ‘loan,’ which was secured on the person of the debtor, was precisely to create a state of bondage” (p. 52 — Hudson earlier made this point in two colloquium volumes he edited as part of his Harvard project: Debt and Economic Renewal in the Ancient Near East, and Labor in the Ancient World).

Hudson is able to explain that the long decline and fall of Rome begins not, as Gibbon had it, with the death of Marcus Aurelius, the last of the five good emperors, in A.D. 180, but four centuries earlier, following Hannibal’s devastation of the Italian countryside during the Second Punic War (218-201 B.C.). After that war the small farmers of Italy never recovered their land, which was systematically swallowed up by the prædia (note the etymological connection with predatory), the latifundia, the great oligarchic estates: latifundia perdidere Italiam (“the great estates destroyed Italy”), as Pliny the Elder observed. But among modern scholars, as Hudson points out, “Arnold Toynbee is almost alone in emphasizing the role of debt in concentrating Roman wealth and property ownership” (p. xviii) — and thus in explaining the decline of the Roman Empire.

“Arnold Toynbee,” Hudson writes, “described Rome’s patrician idea of ‘freedom’ or ‘liberty’ as limited to oligarchic freedom from kings or civic bodies powerful enough to check creditor power to indebt and impoverish the citizenry at large. ‘The patrician  aristocracy’s monopoly of office after the eclipse of the monarchy [Hudson quotes from Toynbee’s book Hannibal’s Legacy] had been used by the patricians as a weapon for maintaining their hold on the lion’s share of the country’s economic assets; and the plebeian majority of the Roman citizen-body had striven to gain access to public office as a means to securing more equitable distribution of property and a restraint on the oppression of debtors by creditors.’ The latter attempt failed,” Hudson observes, “and European and Western civilization is still living with the aftermath” (p. 262).

Because Hudson brings into focus the big picture, the pulsing sweep of Western history over millennia, he is able to describe the economic chasm between ancient Mesopotamian civilization and the later Western societies that begins with Greece and Rome: “Early in this century [i.e. the scholarly consensus until the 1970s] Mesopotamia’s debt cancellations were understood to be like Solon’s seisachtheia of 594 B.C. freeing the Athenian citizens from debt bondage. But Near Eastern royal proclamations were grounded in a different social-philosophical context from Greek reforms aiming to replace landed creditor aristocracies with democracy. The demands of the Greek and Roman populace for debt cancellation can rightly be called revolutionary [italics mine], but Sumerian and Babylonian demands were based on a conservative tradition grounded in rituals of renewing the calendrical cosmos and its periodicities in good order. The Mesopotamian idea of reform had ‘no notion [Hudson is quoting Dominique Charpin’s book Hammurabi of Babylon here] of what we would call social progress. Instead, the measures the king instituted under his mīšarum were measures to bring back the original order [italics mine]. The rules of the game had not been changed, but everyone had been dealt a new hand of cards’” (p. 133).

Contrast the Greeks and Romans: “Classical Antiquity,” Hudson writes, “replaced the cyclical idea of time and social renewal with that of linear time. Economic polarization became irreversible, not merely temporary” (p. xxv). In other words: “The idea of linear progress, in the form of irreversible debt and property transfers, has replaced the Bronze Age tradition of cyclical renewal” (p. 7).

After all these centuries, we remain ignorant of the fact that deep in the roots of our civilization is contained the corrective model of cyclical return – what Dominique Charpin calls the “restoration of order” (p. xix). We continue to inundate ourselves with a billion variations of the sales pitch to borrow and borrow, the exhortation to put more and more on credit, because, you know, the future’s so bright I gotta wear shades.

Nowhere, Hudson shows, is it more evident that we are blinded by a deracinated, by a decontextualized understanding of our history than in our ignorance of the career of Jesus. Hence the title of the book: And Forgive Them Their Debts and the cover illustration of Jesus flogging the moneylenders — the creditors who do not forgive debts — in the Temple. For centuries English-speakers have recited the Lord’s Prayer with the assumption that they were merely asking for the forgiveness of their trespasses, their theological sins: “… and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us….” is the translation presented in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. What is lost in translation is the fact that Jesus came “to preach the gospel to the poor … to preach the acceptable Year of the Lord”: He came, that is, to proclaim a Jubilee Year, a restoration of deror for debtors: He came to institute a Clean Slate Amnesty (which is what Hebrew דְּרוֹר connotes in this context).

So consider the passage from the Lord’s Prayer literally: … καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν: “… and send away (ἄφες) for us our debts (ὀφειλήματα).” The Latin translation is not only grammatically identical to the Greek, but also shows the Greek word ὀφειλήματα revealingly translated as debita: … et dimitte nobis debita nostra: “… and discharge (dimitte) for us our debts (debita).” There was consequently, on the part of the creditor class, a most pressing and practical reason to have Jesus put to death: He was demanding that they restore the property they had rapaciously taken from their debtors. And after His death there was likewise a most pressing and practical reason to have His Jubilee proclamation of a Clean Slate Amnesty made toothless, that is to say, made merely theological: So the rich could continue to oppress the poor, forever and ever. Amen.

Just as this is a profound book, it is so densely written that it is profoundly difficult to read. I took six days, which included six or so hours of delightful and enlightening conversation with the author himself, to get through it. I often availed myself of David Graeber’s book Debt: The First 5,000 Years when I struggled to follow some of Hudson’s arguments. (Graeber and Hudson have been friends, Hudson told me, for ten years, and Graeber, when writing Debt; The First 5,000 Years, relied on Hudson’s scholarship for his account of ancient Mesopotamian economics, cf. p. xxiii). I have written this review as synopsis of the book in order to provide some help to other readers: I cannot emphasize too much that this book is indeed earth-shattering, but much intellectual labor is required to digest it.

ADDENDUM: Moral Hazard
When I sent a draft of my review to a friend last night, he emailed me back with this question:
— Wouldn’t debt cancellations just take away any incentive for people to pay back loans and, thus, take away the incentive to give loans? People who haven’t heard the argument before and then read your review will probably be skeptical at first.

Here is Michael Hudson’s response:
— Creditors argue that if you forgive debts for a class of debtors – say, student loans – that there will be some “free riders,” and that people will expect to have bad loans written off. This is called a “moral hazard,” as if debt writedowns are a hazard to the economy, and hence, immoral.

This is a typical example of Orwellian doublespeak engineered by public relations factotums for bondholders and banks. The real hazard to every economy is the tendency for debts to grow beyond the ability of debtors to pay. The first defaulters are victims of junk mortgages and student debtors, but by far the largest victims are countries borrowing from the IMF in currency “stabilization” (that is economic destabilization) programs.

It is moral for creditors to have to bear the risk (“hazard”) of making bad loans, defined as those that the debtor cannot pay without losing property, status or becoming insolvent. A bad international loan to a government is one that the government cannot pay except by imposing austerity on the economy to a degree that output falls, labor is obliged to emigrate to find employment, capital investment declines, and governments are forced to pay creditors by privatizing and selling off the public domain to monopolists.

The analogy in Bronze Age Babylonia was a flight of debtors from the land. Today from Greece to Ukraine, it is a flight of skilled labor and young labor to find work abroad.

No debtor – whether a class of debtors such as students or victims of predatory junk mortgages, or an entire government and national economy – should be obliged to go on the road to and economic suicide and self-destruction in order to pay creditors. The definition of statehood – and hence, international law – should be to put one’s national solvency and self-determination above foreign financial attacks. Ceding financial control should be viewed as a form of warfare, which countries have a legal right to resist as “odious debt” under moral international law.

The basic moral financial principal should be that creditors should bear the hazard for making bad loans that the debtor couldn’t pay — like the IMF loans to Argentina and Greece. The moral hazard is their putting creditor demands over the economy’s survival.





Peak Oil & Drastic Oil Shortages Imminent: IEA

24 11 2018

While the IEA got a lot of coverage for its World Energy Outlook 2018 (WEO 18), there might be a little snippet that got way underappreciated. (from Cleantechnica)

On page 159 of its Outlook, accessible only behind a payment barrier, the following graph can be found:

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It is clear to see that Peak Oil will be hit well before 2020, while demand keeps on rising, unless the world’s Oil Majors and State Owned Oil Companies would massively invest in new exploration, according to the IEA.

However, the Oil Majors did already heavily spend on new oil exploration in the years after 2000, where a fossil fuel hype with an accompanying coal boom lead up to an oil price of over $150 in 2008. While this oil price proved unsustainable for a crashing world economy, this oil exploration boom lead to very little new findings in the big scheme of things:

So what does that mean?

It means that a collapse of oil supply to half of its current size within only six years simply cannot be compensated by new oil findings and certainly not by unconventional oil sources like oil sands and fracking. That the Oil Majors did not pick up with new oil exploration after the oil price rose again to $100 per barrel in the years after 2008 is another sign that the world is already “overexplored,” as geologists put it. Instead the Oil Majors concentrated on a stock buyback, knowing full well that further exploration would be a waste of money while they are sitting on oil that will become very valuable even though the amount of oil they will extract will decline significantly.

In summary, the Oil Majors and State Owned Oil Companies (in this field notably the Initial Public Offering (IPO) of Saudi-Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company, has been scrubbed) are waiting for an oil price bonanza to happen, while the IEA is very concerned about future oil supply.

While the IEA has no credibility left when it comes to renewables (see following graph), because its forecasts historically have all been absurdly wrong, the IEA should possess some knowledge in the oil business and especially concerning the decline rates of existing conventional fields, which have been studied in depths for decades.

Notably the Peak Oil graph from the IEA (first graph in this article) has been unearthed by the Association of Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO), which as an organization has itself published multiple studies on Peak Oil. While ASPO has put Peak Oil sooner than the IEA, in its latest study already at 2011 for conventional crude, it is remarkable that the IEA refuted this claim back then with the statement that Peak Oil would not be reached before 2020. Well, it surely looks like they corrected that statement for themselves now.

So what does that mean for investors in oil and the world economy?

Surely there could a handsome profit be made by riding the coming oil shortages, but one has to keep in mind that while the oil price may go through the roof, the barrels that can be sold also shrink fast and drastically. So there remains the question of how high the profits of the Oil Majors will rise and how much will this be appreciated by the stock price for these clearly dying companies. Furthermore, with these rapid stock swings, you compete with banking supercomputers that act in a millisecond timeframe, so you would have to be alert night and day for the point when the crash will come because of the world economy not being able to take the oil price anymore. As a conservative long term investor, this can only mean to get out of these stocks as soon as possible, while risk-loving investors can try to make a quick buck on the coming stock volatility, with the world economy crashing a couple of times due to ongoing undersupply in oil.

For the climate, this is excellent news, because the adoption of electric vehicles and clean transport in general will get a major boost and surely blow all current predictions out of the water. As an investor this is imho, where your money should be.

About the author: Dr. Harry Brinkmann got a Ph. D. in Physics in the working group “Applied Physics” from the Justus-Liebig-University in Gießen. In his free time he is contributing to working groups of Bündnis90/Die Grünen such as Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft Energie (Federal working group energy) and likes arguing with people online over energy solutions and a sustainable future. Based in Berlin, he also writes and publishes German novels. 





Musings on motoring……

21 11 2018

It’s been pouring rain here in the last 24 hours, and the quagmire is making it rather difficult to do much around the place, especially grass cutting, which I have been doing almost non stop for two weeks now…. I need a day off, and so I’m writing…

The trip down in Glenda’s Little Suzi had me thinking about just how much cars have improved since I was a boy. My first memory of any car in the family was when my father got a job as a rep selling something or other, and his ‘company car’ was a Renault 4CV. I just cannot imagine anyone today being given anything remotely as small as that as a ‘company car’!

4CVI remember my dad raving about how good this car was with petrol and how enthusiastically he used to drive it around, even rolling it on its side once on icy roads in Haute Savoie…..  it was so light, he and his companion simply lifted it back on its wheels and drove off, with hardly any damage. No one got hurt either, even though seat belts hadn’t even been thought of back in ~1957, let alone air bags……..

To cut to the chase, when I was 16, my grandmother bought me one of these cars – I was too young to even get a learner’s permit, but back then you could get away with murder!

It cost the grand sum of $90. I learned to drive in this car, covering untold miles before eventually getting my licence.

My only memories of this little car was just how crude it was. Three speed gearbox, no heater, terrible handling, no power whatsoever, with a top speed that doesn’t allow it to even get a nought to sixty time! By today’s motoring standards, it was a total piece of crap, especially compared to the Suzuki Alto.

So out of interest, I thought I’d look up just how well this car did regarding fuel consumption, and to my amazement, they average 5.7L/100km. There was only one other car that could better that back then, Citroen’s 2CV which was even smaller and cruder, sporting a 360cc air cooled flat twin engine. They had a top speed of 80km/h (down a mine shaft) and returned 4.6L/100km…… The Suzi easily returns 4 to 4.5, even with a full load! I remember the Renault was so light (650kg), I could stand in front of it, grab the bumper with both hands, and lift the front wheels right off the ground!  Of course, the engine’s in the back, but still….

Compare with the Suzi, which weighs 800kg, has a bigger engine (1000cc vs 750) way more power (67BHP vs 19~21 depending on model) a top speed of 150km/h vs 98km/h, aircon, airbags, really comfortable seats you can sit in all day long without compromise, etc etc……. the Suzi would go faster in its third gear, with two more to go.

The Renault engine is OHV with a carburettor, the Suzi is DOHC with 4 valves per cylinder and fuel injected…… none of those things were remotely on the drawing boards of Renault car designers of course.

ALL these technological improvements, sadly, have gone into building bigger and heavier cars that, for their size, are of course much more economical than say a 1960’s Holden that would consume more fuel than a ot too big SUV.

Imagine if everyone drove Little Suzis instead…..

 





Musings on a wedding, a funeral, and another road trip….

13 11 2018

About a month ago, I was woken up at the crack of dawn by my mobile phone ringing…. this can’t be good news I figured. It was my darling wife who informed me I had to be at Hobart airport by mid-day, she’d booked me on a flight to Brisbane that was scheduled to leave at 1PM…. her mother, she informed me, was probably going to die that day, or some time very soon, and I was needed for moral support, among other things…….

Obviously, I staggered out of bed, packed my bags, forced breakfast down, and cleaned up my mess at the building site.

I had originally been booked a week or more later to attend a wedding, and everything was now up in the air – literally – as I sat in one of those amazing aluminium tubes that can fly you thousands of kilometres in the blink of an eye lid, thanks to those irreplaceable fossil fuels…..

It was warm and sunny when I left Tassie, and pouring rain and cold when I arived in Brisbane. I had planned for this, carrying a raincoat on board. My son picked me up in Brisbane and drove me through peak hour traffic to Caloundra where my mother in law Bettywas going to spend her last three days before calmly passing away, unconscious, I think. It was a lot like turning the ignition off a very old and tired motorcar that had simply reached the end of the road…..

At 94, darling old Betty, who has been the kindest and most generous mother in law one could have wished for simply stopped breathing as her heart finally gave up. Without Glenda’s unflinching care, she would most likely have left us five years ago, at least. Because her death came as no surprise, and everyone had prepared for the inevitable, the whole episode, while sad, didn’t cause cascades of grief and tears such as I have experienced in previous such events……. virtually everyone was relieved she’d had a painless and stress free death, the type I could only wish for myself.

In reality, organising the funeral with all of Glenda’s siblings having different ideas on how it should be held, was the hardest part for me, trying to keep the peace between them all……  there was a really funny moment while going through the ordeal of choosing a coffin when, a product called ‘eco-board’ was offered. Everyone turned to me, as if it was my decision to make, with eyes wide open obviously asking did I think it was a good idea? I thought it was, but it was quickly dismissed…….

At the wake, everyone stayed civil, a real bonus if you ask me….. the real upside to all of this of course is that Glenda will finally join me in Tassie, for good. Now we are both staring down the barrel of end of life too, we’re going to make the most of it, let me tell you!

The wedding, fortunately, was about a week later, giving everyone in the family time to recover. In a previous life, I photographed hundreds of weddings, and I suddenly realised I hadn’t been to one in a good  20 years. It was amazing how the photography side of things has completely changed since I gave up real photography, with film in the camera! Back then, every shot had to count. If I screwed one up, I would know, and got upset with myself……. but not today. There were four photographers (one was video) who were dressed rather informally in shorts and sandals! I would never have dreamed of turning up without a tie, but there you go…… and they were firing those cameras at unbelievable rates, I’m sure they took thousands of photos…..

It took all my self control when the usual guff about what a lovely future they were going to have together, with lots of children, to not groan out loud…… ignorance truly is bliss.

The best bit about weddings is that you usually end up having your photo taken looking rather better than in building or gardening gear…..!

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I scrub up pretty good for an old fart……

Me being me of course, I could not help thinking of the environmental cost of this whole thing, with the groom’s family all coming up from Sydney by aluminium tube (to the Gold Coast Hinterland where it was held), and all the driving, not least the antique bridal limo that came up from Brisbane, overheating up the hill on a scorcher of a day…. even we ended up doing 560km in Little Suzi, which at least was returning 4.4L/100km with the aircon going flat out…..  How long before love miles become impossible?

I had planned on flying back to Tassie to get stuck into some serious work before I put on too much weight, but having got quotes to truck Glenda’s Little Suzi to at least Melbourne, it was decided I should drive it to Tassie myself……… trucking to Melbourne was at least $600, to Geeveston, double that. And I would have had to pay for an air fare to boot…

So, we packed Little Suzi with as much stuff as would fit in it with the seats folded down, which I estimate at about one cubic metre, and around 250kg. Little Suzi is no ute, but she only consumed $240 worth of 98 octane for the entire trip!

Glenda and I drove to Brisbane where we had a farewell dinner with our kids. I woke up Little Suzi at 5:30AM and drove straight to Warwick for breakfast. I wish there had been some place to stop on the climb up Cunningham’s Gap to take some photos, because I had never seen it like this early in the morning light, with clouds half way up the mountains….

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Little Suzi did about 1000km that day, a scorcher at that with 35 degrees most of the way down from Goondiwindi to Farm Hill where I stopped for the night in this quaint old hotel that only cost me $40 for the night….  mind you, at 5AM the pub was all shut up, and I had to climb over a fence to get back to the main road where the car was parked overnight!

As I had made a sizeable dent in the trip to Melbourne to catch the ferry, the next day was a leisurely drive to Wagga where I caught up with my mate Dave. Off the main drag now, I was able to slow down and take my time, saving fuel in the process. I made it all IMG_20181105_080751the way to Wodonga in Victoria on a single tank – bear in mind she only holds 35L – for an average consumption of 4.5L/100km…… and as I drove further and further South, and it got cooler and I was able to sit on 90 in the left lane of the Hume Highway, consumption got better and better…

I eventually made Melbourne, guided by my GPS that took me places I didn’t know existed, arriving at the Spirit of Tasmania terminal with several hours to kill. I found Frankie’s cafe in Port Melbourne where I had a delicious vegetarian lunch and great coffee……  speaking of which I stocked up at an ALDI store with their great organic and fair trade variety before queuing up to get on board.

The Spirit people have improved their computer systems, as I was greeted with “HelloIMG_20181105_165459 Mike” and not needing to show ID or my pension card! Little Suzi was eventually driven into the bowels of the ship – I’m sure it was below the waterline – parked behind a classic BMW 635 Csi, an entirely different car! It was very amusing next morning seeing drivers trying to exit the ferry, obviously having no idea how to unpark a car in tight conditions, even when guided by the staff….

I was home just after lunch, having filled up in Huonville….. I had driven Little Suzi right through Victoria and Tasmania on just 28.8L of petrol for a fuel consumption of 4.24L/100km! If anyone tells you you must have a big car to travel long distances, tell ’em they’re dreaming……

I’ve now spent a week cutting grass….. nearly a metre tall. Can’t believe how it all went berserk in just four weeks…….





We are doomed….

12 10 2018

You might have noticed the level of bad language rising in this blog…….  sorry if you’re offended, I put it down to rising levels of frustration and utter stupidity. But if we ever needed a laugh, even if it’s inspired by four letter words, then it must surely be now….. This post was stolen from FB, hat tip to my mate Trev….. I categorised this post as ‘Philosophy’, I hope you agree…..

John Birmingham reckons we’re doomed too, and his reasons are more amusing than mine; remember, JB, not me.

The passcode of our doom is 00000

Because I am writing this column, we are fucked. And I am writing this column because we are are fucked.

As I write, Kanye West is trending on Twitter.

He’s also trending across the old media, surfing the front pages of The Sydney Morning Herald (‘Kanye West Drops F-Bomb with President Trump), Fox News (‘Candace Owens on the Smearing of Kanye’), and the tech media.

‘Kanye West’s iPhone passcode is 00000’ – The Verge.

The artist formerly known as Taylor Swift’s arch-nemesis isn’t trending everywhere because he ‘dropped an F-Bomb with President Trump’. He’s trending because we of the media, and you, our enabling audience, have been so intellectually handicapped by the endumbening of politics and discourse into a Skinner Box feedback loop of dopamine addiction and lab rat lever-pushing that we’re too fucking stupid to live.

Like, literally.

The International Panel on Climate Change this week released a funeral plan for the human race, detailing the minimum necessary precautions needed to avoid almost inevitable catastrophe—almost none of which we will take because we’re all too busy riffing on Kanye West’s bizarre visit to the White House.

It’s not actual news.

It was a curiosity, a freak show, or at the very least a surfing dog story, the sort of weird, WTF item that once-upon-a-time would have run in the thirty second slot at the end of the six o’clock bulletin.

In actual news this week, the Saudi regime despatched to Turkey a 15 man wetwork team, including the head of the forensic medicine department of the Kingdom’s interior ministry. Why? Because somebody had to use the bone saw they brought with them to dismember the body of Washington Post contributor Jamal Kashoggi, whom they had just murdered in the Saudi consulate at Istanbul, for the high crime of irritating a crown prince.

Why did these medieval beard strokers think they could get away with such brazen fuckery?

Because brazen fuckery has been standard procedure for Riyadh since they let the cheeto-dusted chimpenfuhrer play with their magic orb and he let them go to war in Yemen.

Once upon a time a stern glance from a US president was enough to prevent such things. It still could, but the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is not in the stern glance business, unless he’s telling Taylor Swift he likes her music 25% less now that she’s decided to get into the voter registration game.

Other things in the news this week, that might have been more worthy of our attention than Kanye’s passcode and disintegrating mental health? Another super-hurricane slamming into Florida with enough force to make even a few coal-fired Republicans wonder whether there might be something to all this climate change bullshit. In a normal week, in a world that wasn’t accelerating towards a self-inflicted apocalypse of super storms, mega-droughts, biblical floods, dead oceans, spreading famine and quite serious implications for the long term valuations of beach front property, we might have simply scratched our heads in bemusement at Kanye somehow grabbing the attention of the leader of the free world when said leader should have been too fucking busy to scratch his gigantic orange arse.

But no.

And so we’re fucking doomed.





On future proof building……

9 10 2018

I’m quite a fan of the English TV show Grand Designs, and Kevin McCloud in kevin.jpgparticular. The key word in the show’s title is of course ‘grand’, and many – if not most – of the projects irritate me no end, but as an owner builder from way back, not only do I relate to these people, the show has taught me a trick or two…… my gripe remains, why oh why do they all feel the need to build such ginormous houses, often for just two people to rattle around in?

The Australian version, now showing on ABC TV some 8 or 9 years after screening on pay TV which I refuse to pay for, is not as good as the pommy version, the presenter I find lacking in Kevin’s unique personality….. but I digress.

My reason for this introduction is that the last episode was about an earth covered house in Victoria built by a couple whose home was destroyed in the 2010 bushfires. Never wanting to go through that again – surprise surprise – they decided to move to the only place that didn’t burn to the ground and where the few livestock that survived had escaped to…. right next to their big dam!

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By that stage, the similarities between this project and ours was starting to amaze me, but it gets even better, because they too experienced stuff ups with concrete deliveries, bad weather, and lo and behold, they even have an AGA in the kitchen….

Weirdly, the presenter whose name I haven’t bothered to store in my memory banks expresses disbelief that anyone would make safety their top priority in building their new home. Is he for real? Yes I am biased, but clearly this construction method is the only way to go – even if needing to go a lot smaller in this case – and as climate change unravels, it’s getting more and more important to consider future conditions. As the show unwinds and the weather throws everything at these poor owner builders, the lady half of the couple even says that as time goes by, she gets more convinced than ever that their decision is the best they can do…. If you are that way inclined, the 48 minute show can be viewed here for free…..

IMG_20180914_133934Since Caleb assisted me with raising the central post and beams, I am pleased to announce that I have been making quite amazing progress on my own, and it’s all going up much faster than I had anticipated.

The ridge beam that will support the hip roof over what I call the pointy bit had to go in first to brace the central post and allow me to remove all precautionary (and probably un-necessary) ropes attached to the fourbie ute; my first attempt at trimming the post to the required height turned out a bit hairy, as it was windier than I had realised, and a 50km/h gust required me to brace myself on the 5kg Makita saw which it didn’t like, kicking back and nearly throwing me off the plank onto the concrete 3 metres below……. I might be exaggerating, but that’s how it felt at the time! The job was eventually done on a nice windless day…..

The stud wall frame at the front of the house had to go up before any roofing members could be added on, and it all involved doing lots of preparatory work like anchoring rafter bearers to the top course of blocks, and cutting checks in the beams and a mortise in the post.IMG_20181001_121230

I’m using time-consuming traditional methods that few builders, if any, would use today, or that could be afforded by your average owner if they could not do it themselves.

I’ve now learned to sharpen my chisel so well I could shave with it if I was that way inclined…… and just as well, because it’s getting a lot of use. That central mortise was very important, because every other rafter has to be an exact 1200mm from it so that the plywood sheets that will eventually make the ceiling can go up without needing any cutting whatsoever.

IMG_20180924_133517Some of those sheets will join up atop the internal block walls, which I found to be almost perfectly aligned with what’s on the drawings; quite a task because getting concrete exactly right is a bit of an art form; I learned all the mistakes when I built my last house in Queensland, and I was not going to repeat them if it was at all possible……

The other important reason for correctly aligned walls is that the mostly cosmetic short rafters joining the back wall to them had to also be in the right place. The end blocks had been left empty for the top 200mm or so, and I cut a slot wide enough for the rafter to go in, and once in place the void was filled with concrete, anchoring the mini rafter in place.

It’s really cool coming up with all these concepts in one’s head, and finally seeing them come to fruition in reality……

The next step will be putting the roof on, giving me a nice big platform to work from to build the hip roof frame.

It’s even really starting to look like a house……

The only things holding me back right now are a wedding in Queensland, and the almost certain funeral for my mother in law that will occur within days or weeks…. such is life I’m afraid, we just have to steer down that road without falling in ditches…. eventually, we all reach the end of the road.

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Panoramic picture window in the kitchen

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The large gap at right will be filled with five bi-fold doors

The other momentous event this week was that the sawmill was finally taken away. After two and a half years in residency here, it almost came as a shock. But it finally allowed me to install a gate where the entrance to the milling area was so that I can finally get my own cattle to rotate through the four one acre paddocks that constitute the far east of the Fanny Farm. I’m practicing with Matt and Coreen’s cows at the moment.

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Bye bye sawmill……..

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….hello moo cows!