Joe Bageant 1946-2011: Lost in the American Undertow


The following is the introduction to Joe Bageant’s newly released book, Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir

Did you ever stand and shiver, because you was lookin’ in a river …? ~ Folksinger Ramblin’ Jack Elliott

The United States has always maintained a white underclass — citizens whose role in the greater scheme of things has been to cushion national economic shocks through the disposability of their labor, with occasional time off to serve as bullet magnets in defense of the Empire. Until the post-World War II era, the existence of such an underclass was widely acknowledged. During the Civil War, for instance, many northern abolitionists also called for the liberation of “four million miserable white southerners held in bondage by the wealthy planter class”. Planter elites, who often held several large plantations which, together, constituted much or most of a county’s economy, saw to it that poor whites got no schooling, money, or political power. Poll taxes and

Transition Declaration of Independence and The 200 Artisan Skills Required to Make a Town Functional

Transition Culture

[By removing Corporate Personhood from Ukiah and Mendocino County, we will exercise more democratic control over our forests from which future value-added jobs can be generated and sustainable harvesting implemented. -DS]

Here is something rather wonderful that emerged in late 2008 from New Zealand, thanks for Dr. Susan Krundieck. It is an update of the US Declaration of Independence, brought up to date for a generation facing peak oil, climate change and economic contraction, and is attributed to the Representatives of the Transition Committee of Oamaru (a town in New Zealand).  I love the list of ‘the Growth Economy has for its own sake…’ accusations statements… there is a deep, forceful power to this, a clearly spoken and resonant declaration of intent.  Prepare yourself for a goosebumps moment.

10,000 Toothpicks and 37 Years Later Man Completes Incredible Model of San Francisco

Video and story here

For all you ping pong balls out there, get ready to take a tour of San Francisco that will blow your fictional minds. Since 1974 Scott Weaver has been working on his masterpiece, Rolling Through the Bay: an artistic recreation of his hometown that features four rolling tracks for ping pong balls, each taking you down a different path through the city. The Golden Gate Bridge, the Transamerica Pyramid, Haight-Ashbury, Coit Tower, etc. – all the major landmarks of San Francisco are represented. The most amazing part of this ping pong roller coaster isn’t the more than 3000 hours Weaver spent in its creation, nor the intense details shown in the 9 foot by 7 foot by 30 inch model. No, what is truly eye-popping is that Weaver built this moving sculpture entirely out of toothpicks, more than 100,000 in all, collected from nations all over the world. Don’t miss the amazing video demonstration of Rolling Through the Bay below,

The Problem with Rototillers

Chase Farm, Helena, Montana

We do have a roto-tiller attachment for our lawn tractor, which we used to use and will continue to use when preparing brand new ground for garden. But it turns out that roto-tilling every year is not optimal in several ways.

  • It ruins soil structure. It pulverizes the soils, breaks up soil aggregates, breaks up macropores (large spaces) in the soil and destroys all the tunnels your worms have worked so hard to build.  All this space in your soil improves drainage, facilitates movement of nutrients and water.
  • It causes compaction. Once those soils aggregates are broken up and the soil is reduced to its particles, the soil is nice and fluffy. But since there is no real structure, the soil will settle into a more compacted state.
  • And then there is the problem of tiller-pan. The weight and action of the tiller causes a compacted layer just below where the tines reach, further decreasing soil drainage and the ability of roots to penetrate the soil.
  • It inverts your soil. Tilling turns your soil right upside down. The delicate ecology of soil develops as it does for a reason. Certain helpful bacteria, fungi, and earthworms were at a certain depth in the soil because it had the right moisture and aeration conditions. Turn the soil upside down and you will disrupt this ecology for at least a while.
  • It plants weed seeds for you. Ugh.

Broadfork to the Rescue article here
Available locally – Ubar: Bountiful Gardens

Mendo Transition: How can we grow more food locally?


Pam Warhurst of Incredible Edible Todmorden speaks in Bath, England

Transition Bath recently posted this film of an excellent talk they hosted from an event called ‘How Can We Grow More Food Locally?’. The talk was part of a wider series of ‘Transition Talks’, the next one being called ‘Does money make the world go round?’ which features Mark Boyle (‘the Moneyless Man’)  and Molly Scott Cato.

Parts two through five here

Comment left by Robert Hopkins on website:

If every available small piece of land is filled with garden, instead of grassy lawns and asphalt parking spaces, it would be feasible to grow vastly larger quantities of food locally than in the current city context. It is true that I live in a small university city in Florida,

Todd Walton: Old Pot Folks


“How’s your back?” asks Marvin, handing me cash for pruning his fruit trees.

“Pretty good,” I say, lifting my ladder into the back of my pickup.

“Mine’s all fucked up,” he murmurs, looking away. “Can’t lift a damn thing.”

“You need something lifted? I’m good up to fifty pounds.”

“Well,” he says, fidgeting. “I…the thing is…” He frowns. “You want to earn a quick hundred?”

“How quick?” I say, looking at my watch. “I have a couple big apples to get done before dark.”

“Half an hour,” he says, nodding. “Hour at the most.”

“I charge forty an hour for pruning, so…”

“This isn’t pruning,” he says, taking a deep breath. “This is pot.”

“You have a prescription?”

“Two,” he says, beckoning me to follow him. “One for me and one for Candy. Need to empty the old mix and fill the pots with new stuff, but the bags…”

So I follow him to the house where Candy appears on the front porch and shields her eyes from what I don’t know since the sun is hidden behind dark clouds. Candy is seventy-two, petite, with shoulder-length gray hair

Most of us ought to be preparing for a life without electricity


A lot of us worry about extended power outages, and for good reason – they are incredibly disruptive to large areas. The more one knows about our extant outdated electric grid with its weak infrastructure, the more this sort of thing is worrisome. I certainly do think that there are some compelling reasons to worry about the ability of the existing grid to satisfy the needs of a society that, because of oil and gas depletion and carbon reduction, is moving more and more of its energy burden to electricity.

Many of the proposals to clean up carbon involve changing the source of energy away from oil to either nuclear energy or coal plants with scrubbers and sequestration (I will have more to say about the problems of carbon sequestration from coal plants in another post – I am less sanguine than many people that we can actually do this). In many proposals we would begin powering our transportation with electric cars, buses and trains, replacing oil with electricity, etc…

While I have my doubts about whether we will ever do all of these things, if we did, it would certainly place enormous pressure on the grid, and require enormous investments in infrastructure. It is no big deal to recharge a few thousand electric cars – if everyone had one, this would be something of an issue. But regardless, I think it is also possible that we could accomplish this, or that we could fail to convert our infrastructure quickly enough (this is an enormous economic undertaking) thus overburdening the grid and leading to widespread power disruptions. I officially take no strong position here.

But what I do have a strong opinion on (you knew there had to be something ) is this:

Mutual Aid: The Poorest Place In America, and None Richer

From NYT

The poorest place in the United States is not a dusty Texas border town, a hollow in Appalachia, a remote Indian reservation or a blighted urban neighborhood. It has no slums or homeless people. No one who lives there is shabbily dressed or has to go hungry. Crime is virtually nonexistent.

And, yet, officially, at least, none of the nation’s 3,700 villages, towns or cities with more than 10,000 people has a higher proportion of its population living in poverty than Kiryas Joel, N.Y., a community of mostly garden apartments and town houses 50 miles northwest of New York City in suburban Orange County.

About 70 percent of the village’s 21,000 residents live in households whose income falls below the federal poverty threshold, according to the Census Bureau. Median family income ($17,929) and per capita income ($4,494) rank lower than any other comparable place in the country. Nearly half of the village’s households reported less than $15,000 in annual income.

About half of the residents receive food stamps, and one-third receive Medicaid benefits and rely on federal vouchers to help pay their housing costs.

Kiryas Joel’s unlikely ranking results largely from religious and cultural factors. Ultra-Orthodox Satmar Hasidic Jews predominate in the village; many of them moved there from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, beginning in the 1970s to accommodate a population that was growing geometrically.

Women marry young, remain in the village to raise their families and, according to religious strictures, do not use birth control. As a result, the median age (under 12) is the lowest in the country and the household size (nearly six) is the highest. Mothers rarely work outside the home while their children are young.

Become your own expert; you can’t trust those who claim they are

Transition Voice

As I listened to videos of the “experts” speaking at what was billed as the Second Bretton Woods Conference held near my home in New Hampshire earlier this month, one thought crossed my mind.

Economists appear to be more interested in impressing their peers than in discussing issues with lay people. Thus, if you’re an average person attending a conference where economists are speaking, you’ll need a dictionary handy when they’re talking, and maybe a translator.

Aside from impressing their peers, the economists may also be trying to show that this stuff is too complicated for the average citizen. That implies we should leave it all to them. But the track record of economists over the past 30 years doesn’t justify that confidence.

Life is complicated, but you don’t need a PhD in economics to figure it out, nor do you need computer models or charts.

Instead, understanding a few basic facts will go a long way to explaining much of our economic life. Here are a few that I find most useful:

Fact #1 — You can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet. Only fools and economists think otherwise. As demand exceeds supply, resource shortages, especially oil shortages, start to appear. It’s time that the word “limits” becomes part of our vocabulary.

Fact #2 — Energy is the ability to do work. Thus, the more energy you have, the more work you can do. Growing economies need more energy, and when that energy becomes scarce or expensive, then economies stop growing.

Fact #3Future growth is the collateral for all today’s public and private debt. Yet, if fact #2 applies, there may not be