Thursday, October 30, 2008

Keeping up

Look, I know, it's really hard for boring ol' me to compete with Tasty Chicken's "All Sex, -  All the Time!" blog; or " Sharon Prepper And The Lists of Doom" - but- seriously, I'd like you guys to pay attention here, and do a little screaming and hollering, for the good of us all.

Yes, we all know the financial bailouts are and always were a scam, and are not going to work in the long run.  If you don't believe it, read the last several months of posts over at The Automatic Earth.  Ilargi there is blunt and biting; Stoneleigh is patient and thorough; and they've both been RIGHT about what was going to happen next - like 98.7% of the time.  Nobody else comes close for explaining the financial debacle.

But- as much as I am in favor of always always looking to the long run- in this case, the "short term" consequences of some totally unnecessary chicanery (ie. "theft") are going to just make everything worse- hurt good people, and enrich bad ones.  

And we might, actually, be able to put a crimp in their thieving plans.

Yes, I know the elections are days away; and everybody is distracted... even so; there's been a little flurry of press; which is a large part of what the politicos pay attention to.

Now is the time.

Take a look at the previous post; and- actually READ the articles linked to there.

That article from the New York Times- has been the #1 Most Emailed story from the Business section of the Times for about 24 hours; it's still #3.  That means- a whole lot of people are thinking about it- and care about it.

Here, from The Financial Post, is a nice clear story about why this stuff matters; immediately.

The credit crisis is spilling over into the grain industry as international buyers find themselves unable to come up with payment, forcing sellers to shoulder often substantial losses.

Before cargoes can be loaded at port, buyers typically must produce proof they are good for the money. But more deals are falling through as sellers decide they don't trust the financial institution named in the buyer's letter of credit, analysts said.

"There's all kinds of stuff stacked up on docks right now that can't be shipped because people can't get letters of credit," said Bill Gary, president of Commodity Information Systems in Oklahoma City. "The problem is not demand, and it's not supply because we have plenty of supply. It's finding anyone who can come up with the credit to buy."

This whole "letter of credit" thing is a little obtuse if you're not a financial freak; but basically both ends of the shipping business are now refusing to trust each other - as they always have- that the money for the ship, and the money for the cargo, is actually there.  And behind that lack of trust is - the goddamn, greedy, lazy, stupid, incompetent, screw everybody banks.

Then, there's this; from the Washington Post: Banks keep paying dividends...

U.S. banks getting more than $163 billion from the Treasury Department for new lending are on pace to pay more than half of that sum to their shareholders, with government permission, over the next three years.

The government said it was giving banks more money so they could make more loans. Dollars paid to shareholders don't serve that purpose, but Treasury officials say that suspending quarterly dividend payments would have deterred banks from participating in the voluntary program.

Critics, including economists and members of Congress, question why banks should get government money if they already have enough money to pay dividends -- or conversely, why banks that need government money are still spending so much on dividends.
Gosh.  Really.

And, today, this from our friends in the oil industry: All Time Record Profit from Exxon.

The Irving, Texas-based company has now reported back-to-back record quarters, following its $11.68 billion in profits for the April-June period.
The end of the third quarter coincided with a dramatic plunge in crude oil prices, but Exxon Mobil's revenue still climbed 35 percent to $137.7 billion, slightly higher than the gross domestic product of Algeria. When the third quarter ended on Sept. 30, benchmark crude prices were still about $100 a barrel, down 30 percent from summer highs. By the close of trading Thursday, a barrel of oil cost $65.96.
"Our integrated business portfolio, strong operational performance and financial discipline continued to allow us to capture the benefits of the commodity price environment," Exxon Mobil investor relations chief David Rosenthal said on a call with analysts. "Despite recent volatility in the financial, commodity and credit markets, the fundamentals of Exxon Mobil's business remain strong."
I have ranted about oil profits here before.  Something I said then: 

Big Oil is stealing money as fast as they can, before someone in Congress wakes up.

"Ooh, we're SO sorry our profits are creating ALL TIME records! It's really not our fault! It's the markets! That 40 Billion dollars we siphoned out of your pockets last year? We really couldn't help it! We also couldn't help that we did it again, and again, and again." 

Liar liar, pants on fire.

(Incidentally, if I turn up dead tomorrow, you'll know why. You think $40 Billion/yr isn't adequate motivation for killing? Many times?)

So, Exxon (and everyone else in Big Oil) you're telling me that-

a) nobody in your company NOTICED you were making record high profits, repeatedly?

b) nobody in your company thought- "hm, if we take an extra $20 BILLION out of the economy, some of our customers, and their businesses, might be hurt."? (one lucid example: fishing license purchases, and boat license purchases, in Minnesota are down- substantially- which means a bunch of related businesses will have profits- down.)

c) nobody in your company has the AUTHORITY to say "let's cut our prices just a tad- take a little less profit this quarter."?

I really don't believe it; though I suppose it's possible you're all really that stupid. Your actions certainly suggest that.

So. They're still at it.  I know; everybody in Big Biz is Bizy stealing everything not nailed down; but the oil money thefts are worse.  Because they are stealing REAL money- out of the "real" economy.  They're taking your, and my, earned dollars, the ones we used to pay off our credit cards and mortgages with; and putting them into their fat pockets, leaving ours empty.

And as wonderful as it is to have $2.00 gas- wouldn't it be even MORE wonderful to have $1.00 gas?  (from the personal budget standpoint, right now)  And know that EXXON would STILL be profitable if they were charging $1 a gallon?

A basic principle that has slipped into utter obscurity here is that "Business" is allowed to operate- profits are allowed to be made - for the public good.

The people running the Wall Street Casino have totally lost sight of that- they've utterly forgotten, if they ever knew.

They must be removed.  All of them.  Fast.

It really is tar, feathers, pitchforks and torches time.

I don't give a rat's ass about the banks.  What I care about is my Aunt Martha.  And yours.  The people who never hurt a fly, and never would; who are being dragged under- literally killed- by this huge scam.  And the little businesses, that have been using plain credit to even out cash flow.  Except now; regardless of perfect records- the banks refuse, just to continue what they've already been doing- and making money on- for years.  Morons.
Congress DOES have the ability to put a stop to it, if they wake up.

Please- call your congress people, or email.  Use the letter I wrote yesterday; cite these articles- add your own forceful words.

I think we can make a difference.  Or I wouldn't ask.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Action time again-

I haven't been screaming for folks to call/email/write your congress people recently.  Because, there haven't been many points where we could make much difference- or any.  The great financial debacle is mostly beyond our control.

But.  Once again, I'm seriously ticked off- and just sent my congress-people this:

Here is yet another financial crisis issue that needs the IMMEDIATE attention of the US Congress.

Banks Cutting Credit Across The Board

Essentially, the very banks now being bailed out by the taxpayers, are daily responding by cutting credit to all their customers- including those with completely spotless records. They are raising interest rates, and canceling "inactive" accounts- ie. those the customer actually pays off, every month.

Blatantly- they are doing this with no concern whatsoever for the common good. The rescue was sold to us- we who are paying for it- as a way to stimulate the economy.

The US Congress needs to once again call these CEOs on the carpet- and, now that we are stockholders- FIRE THEM. Now.

And replace them with executives who actually give a damn about the United States, and those who live here.

More boiling anger folks- coming very fast-

Please feel free to copy that, and send it on.  The whole URL for that NYT article is


Here is another, from my neck of the woods, with personal stories: Banks pull squeeze play on credit cards.


Sigh.  I know.  It may not make a lot of difference in the long run.  But I have a lot of small business friends, who use their totally solid credit to manage their business flow.  Buy inventory, pay it off next month.  Easy with a good credit card- very hard without.  At least, if reasonable credit was maintained for reasonable customers- they could last longer.  For many, this kind of credit cut- and raise in interest rates- means instant ruin.  What a nice idea.

Who ARE these scumbags, and why do we tolerate them?

We - all of us- are now stockholders in those companies.  

Let's scream their house down.  Fast- to keep more people from going under, just because these scumbags are finally afraid of what they've done.  

Let me know what you do!  You know- I'm more than half convinced, even now, that our early screams here about food speculation did make some difference- and at the very least, got the subject up into the headlines.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

On the road

ok, knock off the Willie Nelson.

Lots of excuses for being pretty quiet here for a while- like, lack of sleep for a couple days while Delilah got used to being downstairs alone.  Wow, she was a howler for a while.

Harvest.  Still going on; still behind.

Sniffles.  Well, more than sniffles; Spice has been on antibiotics for hyper-sniffles for more than a week now; Smidgen has a gorgeous cough in the mornings, but the doctor says it's not the hyper-sniffles, just a yucky cold.

Then there's this trip I've got to go on; out of state for 4 days, and they want me to say something interesting and significant, at length.  Spice and Smidgen get to hold down the fort and milk the chickens, between coughs.

Kind of hard to focus on a new powerpoint while all the world's handbaskets are on greased, 60° inclined, straight railroad tracks to hell.

So, I've been preoccupied.  I'm out of time to ponder now; have to get on the plane in the morning.

ok, knock off the Mamas and Poppas thing.

Gon out, bisy, backson.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Ok, so maybe I'm a slow learner...

When I got engaged to Spice, I announced that to a friend here, and he (married with children) shot back with the speed of a spinal reflex "Slow learner, huh?"

Spice was not there at the time, but has heard the story repeated on occasion.  I think she's forgiven him.

I've taken on another dog that amounts to something of a genetic crapshoot.  Maybe; I hope; less of one than Bruce was.  (I really recommend people read the story of Wully I linked to before- it doesn't turn out the way you expect.)

The new puppy is 10 weeks old; female instead of male; and a cross between a Catahoula Leopard Dog female and a Boxer male.

I'd never heard of a Catahoula Leopard before- but it's a herding dog, bred first for performance and temperament, not color or form- and probably the deciding factor in my jumbled calculations, bred for working hogs.  And cattle.  We almost acquired some hogs this fall- with the specific intention of pasturing them under some of our tree crops.  Controlling them is going to be work, and the lack of a fully trained dog was part of the reason we didn't.

So, this is Delilah; and Smidgen, of course.  As far as I can tell, other crosses of Boxers with longer muzzled breeds wind up with a normal long muzzle, not the short bulldog face Boxers have.

Reports on the web about Boxer crosses, and Catahoula crosses, tend to be good; there's actually a small industry for "Boxadors" and "Bullboxers".  Both breed are "wonderful with children" - and protective.  And there are several stories about people who actually own both Catahoulas AND chickens.  yay.

The fact is, of course, even with purebreds, each dog is a genetic lotto ticket.  I confess to having a soft spot (in my head) for hybrids.  You can lose the bet, either way.  If this one doesn't work out, we may well try some of the purebreds that are used commercially for chickens.  Yeah, they exist!  So far as I can tell, the top choices are Maremmas, or Anatolian Shepherds.   Both really really pricey, and at least as much of a handful to train and keep, so far as I can tell.

Delilah so far looks very promising -(at 24 hours...).  She loves being with us, she sticks close when we're outside; she behaves well on a leash.  

2 problems.  She howls if you leave her alone.  Which I'm expecting her to get over in a day or so, once she learns she's really home, and safe, and not about to have her life turned inside out again.

And- she climbs.  No, really- Catahoulas climb trees- straight up, like 15 feet; using their sharp claws.  Didn't know that one before we found her climbing up into places no dog has ever gone in the house before.  Fun.  Just means dog-proofing places that weren't before- and as soon as possible, she's supposed to be a 95% outside dog, anyway.

Many thanks folks for all the good wishes - and good advice.  In fact, we'll be taking some of it; we're going to try using the muzzle process.  Getting an older dog, already trained, wasn't really an option- it would take too long for us to find an appropriate one where we are; we did look into it.

And we'll be doing one other thing differently; in another month, we will be looking to add a second puppy.  Once Delilah is really bonded to us humans; adding a canine playmate might well help burn off excess energy, looking for trouble.

That's the idea, anyway.  The lady at the shelter agrees.  We'll see.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Micro disasters

Somebody seems to have decided to run the world like a very fast paced bad TV advertisement.  

My attention keeps getting jerked from one desperately important perspective to another.

Iceland is bankrupt.  Pakistan may be next- with very unpleasant consequences.  Executives, and lawmakers, in the USA demonstrate conclusively that they are incapable of learning.  25% of all the mammals on earth are now considered to be at risk of- extinction.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...  (For you youngsters, that's supposed to be a humorous cliché segue phrase.)

We've had our own serious and distracting disasters this past week.  Tiny, in the grand scheme of things; not going to make headlines in the New York Times; but - disasters.

Maybe it was just one disaster.  But it has two parts.  And in the light of the world handbasket epidemics, all the more disastrous for us personally- we lost a lot of resources, and replacing them is not easy, nor guaranteed.

As readers here know, we've been working on establishing a flock of guinea fowl- for multiple reasons, none of them trivial.  And; since at this latitude the general consensus is guineas are not reliable parents, we added 30 chickens to the mix- chosen from breeds known to be good "setters"- to help us increase our flock next year.  And, we'd been working on training our new farm dog/watch dog, since March.

Here's Bruce, behaving himself beautifully.  I introduced him to the birds very carefully, very intentionally, and with plenty of guidance as to the expected behavior.  No chasing, no harassing allowed.  At the time the chickens were added to the outdoor pen, the guineas were being trained that this was home, and to come back for the night time.  This was done by turning an increasing proportion of the guineas outside to range free, but keeping a few in the pen all day.  All the chicks were kept in at this point- they were just awfully small to be on their own.

In early September, everything was going perfectly, and we started just opening the door to the pen in the morning.  All the birds, guineas and chickens, would explode out; clearly enjoying the freedom to fly up into the trees (guineas only) and eat all the grass and bugs they could get (more grass than I expected).  But- we only gave them new "feed" at sundown- and they would cheerfully be back, and waiting for it.  At first we had to herd them into the pen; they couldn't figure out where the door was, and would just endlessly try to walk through whatever side they were on.  But in a week or two, they learned to know where the door was; now they all pile in entirely by themselves (except for one or two persistent dolts).  

Bruce was performing his chores beautifully; on watch outside all night, and happy to do it.  The occasional bouts of barking at 3 AM got to be a comforting sound, not disturbing- he was busy keeping the raccoons out of the supplies of feed and groceries.  And away from the poultry pen.  When I went to feed the birds at sundown, he was always along, and would without prompting lie down at some distance from the guinea racket and chicken hustle, and just casually watch it all.

However.  One day as Spice and Smidgen were walking back from work in the greenhouse, with Bruce along- the guineas appeared on the path- and apparently in a spirit of play, Bruce charged- grabbed one- and shook it.  Dead.

This is how farm kids learn about life and death- it's right there, in front of you.  By this time Smidgen had already seen a few guinea keets and chicks die; so it certainly wasn't any kind of trauma for her; more excitement.  Sad- but mostly she was angry at Bruce.  "Damn dog!"  Yep, kids repeat everything.

So; onto the chain, for Bruce.  We tried a trick recommended to us by a professional dog obedience trainer- we tied the dead guinea around his neck, where he couldn't reach it.  Sometimes, he said, that will teach them to leave the poultry alone.  And I spent more time, working with him and the birds.  

He went back to being perfectly well behaved around them.  Perfectly.

The chicks were all out and free-range now, and thriving.  They're so different from the guineas in their behavior, it's a huge amount of fun watching them, and watching the two species interact.   The guineas started out being afraid of the tiny chicks; but have changed now to bullying them over food and space.  The chickens, however, are going to eventually be much bigger than the guineas- so it'll be interesting to see where it all ends up.  They actually share space and food with little real fuss; once the guineas are full, they don't bother the chickens at the feeder.

Little by little, guineas and chickens were ranging farther and farther from home base- foraging over quite a few acres, and still faithfully coming home to roost at night.  The first time I went out at midday and couldn't find a guinea, or a chick, anywhere, it was kinda scary.  But there they all were come evening; 9 white guineas, 17 dark; 11 Buff Orpingtons; 12 Dominiques, and 9 bantam Brahmans.   Day after day.

Then- we started to lose one now and then.  One guinea- all we found was a pile of widely scattered feathers, 1/4 mile from the pen.  Beelar and Spice thought it looked like an eagle strike.  Then a Dominique didn't show up one night.  Then a week later, an Orp failed to show.  Then two days later, another Orp was missing.  I was afraid.  I looked at Bruce, and asked- "Bruce- do you know anything about the missing chickens?" - and he looked quite sneaky, in reply- would not meet my eyes.  That's something I'd noticed in plenty of other situations; he normally had no trouble looking me right in the eyes, for quite a long time.  No threat in it, on either side; just both of us looking at the other; connecting.  He was fine with it.  But not this time.

No proof anywhere; and of course I know the legend of Gelert.  You really don't want to assume anything.  

Last Sunday was Spice's and my 6th anniversary.  So we combined a little shopping in the big city with a treat at our favorite Chinese buffet for lunch; intending to be back on the farm in time to put the birds to bed- at sunset.  They really seem hardwired about sunset- if you get there 15 minutes late, the guineas will be up in a tree; and not coming down tonight, not even for food.  The chickens will be inside their shelter- and not coming out for food, either.

We got back in time, to be met by a cheerful- obsequious even- Bruce- and - no chickens, anywhere.  Guineas up in a tree, which is common enough.  Then Spice started to find them-  dead chickens; scattered all over.

I started picking them up.  We found 15 corpses- scattered over 2 acres.  Some of them very cold and stiff; some still warm.

There was no question who was to blame.  Bitten and ripped at the neck.  A few partially eaten- over the whole day.  It could only be Bruce- he wouldn't have allowed any other predator to be there.  Indeed, all I had to do was hold up a dead chicken, and look at him- and he slunk off into the thick firs.  Betrayal.

At first it looked like 100% of the chickens were gone.  Then I found one banty hen, hiding in the pen house.  Then one Orp came carefully, slowly, out of the woods.  15 minutes later, a Dominick.  Over the next two days, we had 7 left; but two more died later.   2 Orpington cockerels, 1 Orp hen; 1 Dominick and one banty hen.  I think; the Dominick sometimes acts a bit roosterish.  Not a lot of mothering capability there.  The chicks had been totally terrorized; they refused to come out of the pen for 2 days.

As much as I enjoy working with, and watching, these animals, none of them are pets, or a hobby.  They are part of our plans for future enterprises- doing critical pest control for us in our crops, and perhaps providing eggs and some meat.  And they're not free- birds, and dogs, cost real dollars and real hours; both irreplaceable.

All the dog people I talked to agreed.  This is not fixable; not trainable.  Bruce was killing for fun, and kept at it, for hours.

A sad and miserable experience, all the way around.  We'd started naming the chickens- there was one Spice called "Houdini" - because he would always sneak out of the pen, at any opportunity.  He's gone, though we didn't find him.

There was one guinea missing, too.  But only one.  Looks like the idea I had that the guineas are fairly well able to take care of themselves is working out, anyway.  The chickens could all fly- I'd seen them all do it; but they never spent time in the trees the way the guineas do.

So, Bruce is gone.  No real options there; this is a farm.  Recriminations galore, of course.  Did I fail to train him properly?  I'll always wonder, of course.  The other dog people I talk to say no, I did it right.  It's just sometimes- the dog can't be trained.

I'm partly thinking of E.T. Seton's "Wully, the Story of a Yaller Dog".  A true story.  And there are some significant parallels- Bruce was a mix of 4 breeds; not exactly a pure mongrel, but he certainly had the extraordinary "common sense" Seton attributes to them.  And there were signs of some other "wild" traits.  (note: in Seton's day, it was generally agreed that the jackal had provided the starting material for domestic dogs; now we know it was the wolf.)

It's all probably easiest on Smidgen.  She sees the dead birds- which she has helped raised, helped feed, and understands; no, Bruce cannot come back.

Tomorrow, I'm picking up another puppy.  We need a dog- farm dog/watch dog.  Right now.  That temporary poultry pen is toast, if some night soon a big coon, or a couple coyotes decide to tear into it.  Smidgen is looking forward to it.  The adults are thinking of weeks of poopy papers, and chewed electric cords.  Bruce was introduced to the birds when he was big, and they were small; this puppy will be introduced when it is small, and the birds adult sized, and feisty.  Maybe that'll help.

Total cost, so far- about $1,000 cash in purchases,  vet fees, feed- not including the hours.

And a lot of heartache.  I loved that damned dog.  And trusted him.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A small dance

This morning brought a surprise; a version of the Last Dance I have not seen before.

This has been an odd year, weather-wise; extremely wet in the spring, then extremely dry in late summer and early fall; and cool, throughout.  The corn and beans are late and locally stunted by the summer drought; at least one neighbor had corn on shallow soil dry out and die with half-formed ears.

All the trees are showing responses to the year, too; mostly they are running late.  The crops we're harvesting are 2 weeks later than average, and still driving our days.  The forecasts yesterday were for real frost overnight; we've had a couple "radiation" frosts already, where the air temperature doesn't even hit freezing, but frost forms on grass under open sky anyway; with no real freezes.  So I was on alert this morning; up before the sun, not certain what to expect.

Coffee in hand- made on the woodstove this year, since we ran out of propane a month ago and it's been cool enough for the fire to be a comfort since early September, I watched the sun touch the treetops.  The walnut to the south of the Little House still has its leaves, and since the thermometer was showing an air temperature of 27°F, a good solid freeze, it really seemed likely they would begin sailing soon.

Nothing.  One hackberry leaf.

Eventually, I gave up and turned away from the walnut, wondering how all the various factors had combined this year to leave the leaves still attached- and found that in the little ravine north of the house- the sugar maples were providing a steady rain of bright yellow leaves.

Just the maples on the north slope, very specifically.  The sugar maples don't usually participate in the Dances I've watched, and the shower of leaves they were making now was not of the same intensity as a "true" Dance; still, it was noticeable, real, and charming.

Smidgen was up in time to see the last of it, from inside- she was a bit too slow in getting clothes on (she'd still prefer to be a nudist) to get outside while the little rain was going on, but she saw.  

Later today, we'll go down the hill, under those maples, and scuff the leaves.  She discovered the joys there all by herself, no instruction needed, and kicks the fallen leaves all up and down the paths now, generating lots of noise and mini-whirlwinds of leaves as she goes.

Not the full experience- but plenty, today.