Refrigerator Rights

Thanks to The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Joel Salatin has been able to combine superb farming practices, celebrity status and capitalism, enabling him to turn his Polyface Farm into an ever-expanding, very profitable operation, beyond the wildest dreams of most sustainable farmers.  Good for him.  Why should the corporate factory farmers be the only ones able to make a decent living?

Recently I read an article that discussed the Polyface intern program.   Internships at Polyface require a twelve month commitment.  The interns are given room and board and a $100 per month stipend.  There is a huge demand for these interships and the waiting list is years long.  So who wants to pluck chickens and muck stalls at Polyface for $100 per month for a year?  Ivy League grads who take leaves of absence from great jobs, among others.

The article included quotes from one young Ivy leaguer who left his high powered corporate job to spend a year working at Polyface.  I can’t find the piece to check the quote I have in mind, but it was something like this, “Two things in particular made the experience well worth it:  having the experience of saying grace before meals, and waving at neighbors when we passed them on the road.”

Wow.

What powerful evidence of how disconnected our society has become.  The idea of praying before eating, or being friendly to neighbors, is now so utterly alien to our culture that to brilliant Ivy Leaguers they’re just quaint aspects of a life on Polyface Farm.

To take a few moments to give thanks for the food we’re about to eat, or to wave at a neighbor we pass on the road, doesn’t require that one sign on to be an indentured servant on a Virginia farm for a year. 

I recently read a book that mentioned something called “refrigerator rights.”  I’d never heard the expression before.  Those who have “refrigerator rights” are folks who could walk into a house other than their own, go to the refrigerator, and start making a sandwich.  “Refrigerator rights” require a degree of community, familiarity and connectedness that is very rare these days. 

What this Polyface intern yearns for, in my opinion, is refrigerator rights.  He’ll return to his high-powered corporate job, remembering the year of his life when he sat down three times a day with other hard-working people for a meal, and said a prayer before eating it.  He’ll remember the days when he had become accustomed to reflexively smiling and lifting his hand to wave, whenever he met someone on a country road, whether he knew them or not.  He’ll regret that back in “the real world” he’d be considered weird if he said a prayer before eating, or maybe if he even acknowledged the existence of God.  He’ll regret that on the jam-packed streets of the city it’s impossible to smile and wave at everyone he sees, and that if he did he might get shot.  He’ll miss refrigerator rights.

A pity.

By the way, if anyone is interested in working on White Flint Farm for $100/month, just let me know.  In Keeling everyone waves when they pass another vehicle.  And you’ll have the special privilege of asking a blessing before meals.  Refrigerator rights will be included at no extra charge. 

Love Wins.

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The Age of Empire

“If we don’t stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, then we’re going to have a serious problem.” — George W. Bush, Jan. 2001.

As the United States of America sinks daily into a deeper swamp of debt, mortgaging itself to any lender willing to finance its profligate ways, one might expect its government to look closely for ways to cut expenses.  Indeed, should a third party auditor look at our national books, one area of expense would be particularly striking.

The USA is the world’s only “superpower.”  Despite all the political rhetoric, fearmongering and hyperbole to the contrary, there is no nation on the planet that poses any serious military threat to the United States.

Nevertheless, the USA spends hundreds of billions of dollars every year to maintain armed forces and a web of bases that stretch literally across the globe. 

Consider these facts.  The U.S. has over 2.2 million men and women in uniform in all branches of the military.   The U.S. maintains over 5,000 military bases, including 832 overseas bases in over 120 different countries.  There are over 250,000 US troops stationed at overseas bases (exclusive of “war” zones in Iraq and Afghanistan).  Additionally many of these troops are on “accompanied tours” meaning their dependents are living on the bases as well.  Further, there are hundreds of thousands of DOD civilians, private contractors and miscellaneous parasites also attached to these bases.  Over 60 years after the end of WWII, there are still over 65,000 US troops stationed in Germany and over 35,000 stationed in Japan. 

Perhaps nothing illustrates the waste and extravagance of our military establishment more than the disaster that is referred to as “the Iraq War.”  The cost of the “war” in Iraq is now well over $600 billion, and has been estimated to be as high as $3 trillion.  The US taxpayer becomes obligated to repay a hemorrhage of federal spending in Iraq that now exceeds $435 million per day.  Because all the funds used to pay for this governmental boondoggle have been borrowed, largely from foreign countries, the interest expense will continue to plague us and our descendants in perpetuity.  The amount spent by the U.S. in Iraq in FY 2007 came to $4,988/Iraqi. That amount is triple Iraq’s per person GDP.  That is equivalent to spending $121,000 per person per year in the U.S.  That doesn’t include, of course, whatever the socialist Iraqi government, installed courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer, spends.  And I won’t even go into the human costs of this “war.”  They are unconscionable.

This insanity is unsustainable.   There is no sound reason for the United States of America to maintain 832 overseas military bases, and no money to pay for them even if there is.  There is no sound reason for the citizens of this country to be bled white with taxes, and to be strapped with a mountain of perpetual federal debt, to keep over two million soldiers on the public payroll, many of whom will never leave it. 

I look forward to the day when national defense returns to being just that–national defense.

As a wise man has said, we will bring our troops home eventually and we will close our overseas bases.  The question is merely whether we do it now, because we want to, or later, because we have to.

I vote for now.

Love Wins.

Community

Last weekend I attended the annual awards banquet for our local volunteer fire department.

During my corporate life I’ve been to my fair share of charity awards banquets.  From my cynical point of view, lots of money that should have been going to the charity itself was being wasted on a fancy soiree, so folks could get dressed up and give out awards to one another, congratulate themselves on their own philantrophy, and desperately try to impress each another.

No doubt my city peers would have found our country function amusing.  The event was in a block building next to the Baptist church that is itself next to the fire station.  The department consists of about a dozen folks from the community who volunteer their time, and sometimes risk their lives, to respond to fires, medical emergencies and wrecks.  They are our local first-responders, for whom the community is very grateful.

The banquet was attended by about 100 folks, who sat on folding chairs at folding tables.  There were no tuxedos, no suits, and no evening gowns.  Our catered meal was fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, macaroni and cheese, iced tea and chocolate pie.

After an opening prayer, a local gospel bluegrass group played a few songs (unpaid volunteers of course, although we did take up a love offering).  Following that the chief of the department gave out awards, recognizing the firefighters who had earned special recognition that year for their service.  He also gave out awards to members of the community who had assisted in fundraisers (particularly pointing out the woman whose fried pies are always the biggest hit at the bake sale).

Our community is blessed to have its volunteer fire department, and is blessed to be a real “community.”

When someone needs help, the person who shows up to answer the call will not be a stranger.  That is how it should be.

And if any of y’all happen to be in Keeling on Saturday, stop by the fire department.  The volunteer firefighters will be up all night Friday, in the cold, preparing Brunswick stew to sell in a fundraiser.  And if you’re lucky, there might be some fried pies left at the bake sale.

Love Wins

 

 

 

Peter Schiff was right

 

Lots of folks are now saying “Peter Schiff was right.”  That’s what a few of us have been loudly proclaiming for years, while we and Mr. Schiff were being ridiculed by commentators and so-called mainstream economists.  Unfortunately, despite the fact that Mr. Schiff was spot-on correct when he insisted that our unrestrained borrowing and spending had created unsustainable bubbles in real estate and stocks that would soon collapse and devastate the phony economy that had been created around an illusion of wealth, we are carrying on as before–setting ourselves up for a collapse that will make our current troubles look trivial.

I’ll say a lot more about these issues later, but for now, check out this collection of video snippets of Mr. Schiff over the last few years, followed by a recent interview.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2I0QN-FYkpw  (you absolutely have to watch this)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9h2x7R8pxUs (the video synch is poor, but it’s worth a listen.  Let’s hope he’s not right this time)

Love Wins

Storage Buildings

On my drive from Raleigh to Keeling I pass a least a dozen places selling storage buildings.  It seems that we’ve accumulated so much stuff in this country, that we can’t fit it all in our homes.  So these prefab buildings are selling like hotcakes.  Well, sort of.  In fact, it seems that the country is broke from buying so much useless junk (you know, the stuff that we have to put in the storage buildings).  So the signs advertising these buildings proclaim “Financing available” and “Rent to own.” 

Think about it.  Folks have bought so much junk that it won’t fit in their houses.  With stuff overflowing from their homes, they still can’t afford to buy a $1,500 storage building unless it’s financed (at 18% probably).  And if plain old usury is just too generous, then they have the option to “rent to own” the storage building, which permits them to be ripped off even worse.

I passed a big house recently that had FIVE of these storage buildings in the back yard.  Good grief.

I find it sad that so many people would be going into debt to buy storage buildings in which to put the useless junk that they went into debt to buy.  This country is sinking under the weight of a mountain of consumer debt.  It seems that the whole country has just lost its collective mind, as we careen towards national bankruptcy.

Sigh.

Now let me confess that I do own a storage building.  That’s a picture of it at the top of this post.  Because I have zero carpentry skills, and because it was much cheaper to buy a prefab structure than to hire someone to build a custom one for me, I bought it to be our henhouse.  For that, it’s perfect.   We have about 50 chickens who lay there and roost there.  I clean it throughly once a year and apply the litter to my gardens.  It’s great.

The way these buildings are marketed is hilarious.  Often they’re advertised as “Amish buildings” or “built by Amish,” or words to that effect.  In fact, when I bought mine, I could hear the sound of the Amish skilsaws and nailguns coming from the shop where they were being built.  Now there are a lot of Mennonite families in the community where I bought mine, and it’s certainly possible that one of them owned this operation.  If so, I suppose that they figured that “Mennonite buildings” or “built by Mennonites” just didn’t have the same marketing ring.

I reckon our chickenhouse could comfortably hold another 30-40 birds, so we won’t be needing any new storage buildings any time soon.  But if we ever do, it’s comforting to know that the Amish will sell me one on credit.

Love Wins.

 

 

Rob Bell

For those who haven’t heard of him, Rob Bell is a pastor in Grand Rapids, Michigan.   His book Velvet Elvis is a refreshing, modern take on the Christian faith, that speaks relevantly, without dumbing it all down.  Highly recommended.

And try to find a copy of the DVD Everything is Spiritual.  It’s from a lecture tour he gave a couple of years ago.  It will blow your mind.

Here are two snippets from it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cksKWREnDiw&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Poi3imQkQsQ

Through his company NOOMA, he’s made a series of short films that are amazingly good.  They are only about 15 minutes long each.  Here are a couple of snippets, to give you the idea:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3bwlMOZNDo

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZFFxDcSfeA&feature=related

Oh, and he coined the expression “Love Wins.”