Sunday, November 30, 2008

Credit where credit is due.

Some of you will note I have an eye for finance. Mostly that's due to the fact that I'm not a child of privilege and have had to scratch hard for every nickle I've ever earned. I pay a lot of attention to this stuff in the same way as a sailor on an engineless sailboat I watched the weather. . .

I've always said--If you believe the world is a meritocracy, ask yourself this: Why is it that a brokerage house like Meryl Lynch or elsewise can hire SHITHEADS from fancy families with fancy degrees to run funds with payrolls in the 6 plus figures and they will fuck it all up--not turning rates of returns that a meth addict monkey throwing shit at a wall could produce--ie., pin up the Journal--and where the shit sticks, BUY. Imagine that they, like Imperical China a thousand years ago or the NFL today, actually looked for talent--and rewarded it when they found it. It would be so easy for Vanguard funds to search their records, and you're going to find some couple in S. Dakota than have outpaced Buffet for 30 years. . .jeez, if that isn't a 10 second 100 I don't know what to tell you.

Look, and of course you will figure it out. The NFL makes money by being a meritocracy. You actually have to win games in football to achieve, and that requires real measurable above the mean performance. The financial world makes money by anti-competitive practices, and protecting the interests of those who already have money. Do they need to perform? Do they care about you? Fuck, no. It is as simple as that.

Anyhow, the point of all that is this. Here's another, and one I've read a fair bit. Sorry, will miss you, Tanta. That commentary you gave was pretty damn astute.

Note, in this world, at this moment, your ideas actually CAN matter, mostly. To some of us, at least.

Savor the moment.

You must be friggin' kidding.

It's worth sitting down and taking a look at this. If you don't get it, well, you don't get it.

If you'd like to check the good Dr. Gono's figures, here's the means.

Lots of stuff out there for each of us to think about--after a good time with friends up at N. Kohala for a couple of days, I'm going to head to Punalu'u and do just that. Monday, it's back to work in earnest.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Green Building.

I live in a house of under 200 square feet. I don't find it confining in the slightest. Of course I've lived for years on sailboats, and even the largest most opulent yacht is still a relatively small space. Most would think a 50 foot sailboat to be a very expensive and luxurious residence. Well, I guess. My last sailboat had about 120 square feet of living space--a big boat. The one before had about 30, and only one place I could stand up to put my pants on. I lived quite comfortably on that one for most of a decade. Space and the sense of it is relative, and the need for it is a matter of skill, and nothing else.

Today, I get asked a lot about building small homes. We boat building types know how to do it better than any, because we know how to stretch precious volume to its utmost. People are interested in small structures today because they believe they are cheaper to build, naturally, and as the economy is in the toilet and will be for a while--suddenly everyone is a compulsive minimalist.

Well, while small structures are cheaper to built, naturally, they aren't, legally. In fact, there is a full on assault on building such things--exactly the kind of homes that we need as we move into a future of resource scarcity, global warming, and population growth.

In some places it's simply prohibited to build structures of under 1000 square feet or less. No explanation as to why--that's just the rules. Elsewise, in more eco-sensitive places like Hawaii, it's prohibited in a much more passive aggressive sort of manner. While they can't tell you not to do it, as that would look bad, they simply make it utterly impossible. The best way to do this is to make the building of a 16 by 16 cabin every bit as complicated as a 3500 square foot McMansion, and make the cabin bear all of the same costs. You will need all the same permits, fees, inspections, etc. etc. and all else--including accessory costs to build the small structure as you would the large one. Of course, the point, and I will say intent, is to discourage it. If you want to comply the catchment tank you'll be required to have will be larger than your house. I'm not kidding. Really, I'm not. Of course you can just forgo insurance and all the rest, but you'll still be building a structure that costs radically more per square foot than the most obnoxious spec build, and you'll bear all that cost personally.

So of course you'll ask yourself why? If you're sensible, you'll say forget it. If you're the kind of person that's more interested in doing the morally right thing and the best thing for humanity and the planet, you'll just say fuck it and go ahead and build it and deal with the consquences. On my street to my knowledge there isn't a single permitted structure, at least any in any sort of compliance. In Hawaii that is pretty typical, but there is a big push to change all that. For what reason, I can only guess. Of course that guess is to favor development, and turn the Big Island into the worlds largest gated community.

Most people know nothing about building houses. This is why, locally, the Puna Community(har!) Development Plan and stuff like that goes mostly unchallanged. There is a heavy odor of "best for Hawaii" sprayed all over that document, and it stinks of it, like a size XXXXXX Muumuu. Conduct for yourself a thought experiment. Let's say you owned a piece of property in Hawaii that was beautiful virgin forest. Let's say your goal was to build a very small cabin in a natural clearing with the utmost of care for the land and the least disturbance. How will you go about this? Well, what you would do--pre-PCDP--is that you'd go hack/tromp a trail back into the trees, and you put down a pier someplace that was clear. You'd push a little brush back here and there, up and down, and you'd build a cabin that flows naturally around the lay of the land and the existing trees. This would be the best for the world, Hawaii, and humankind's future. Today, that's impossible, legally. You will need to stamp plans, engineered structures, tanks, and all the rest--finally you'll throw up your hands and just bring in a D-9. I promise. All this at a cost of twice of what the better option would be. And the point of all this?

I built my place and didn't clear a single living native tree. Not one. Not FUCKING one. There are more native trees on this property now than there were a year ago, and by hundreds. Is this the kind of "development" and am I the kind of "person" that we want to discourage? Apparently so. I could really go on a tirade about that, but I'll just give it a rest.

We as a culture drive our cars way too damn much. We know that, and we know it's killing the planet. In spite of the fact, we do very little to encourage others to ride their bicycles. Fortunately others do, and I thank them, as it's an amazing act of courage to do so. There is great personal risk in riding a bike, but it works for a better world. In building--and homes are a larger footprint by some measure than transportation--we need similar attitudes. Imagine policy that would require licensing and comprehensive insurance for bicyclists. Don't scoff, I can see it, and some of it has already been tried. Would this discourage bike riding? Of course it would! Hell! It's dangerous! People get killed! And of course, this will benefit car dealers, who will foot the bill for this "progressive reform." Much the same sort of crap that is tossed out about building and zoning and all the rest. I think most people at this moment would understand the issue of scale as a primary determinant in the issue of bicycles. They would say--leave them alone, they aren't hurting a thing. The same attitude should be extended to small building. At the moment however, we are running hard in the other direction. Why? To protect property values. While safety, sanitation, and elsewise is trumped out--it's all about one thing--money. If it was about sanitation--there would be some goon once a year who would come out and take a soil sample near your septic tank's drain field. And you would fail the test. It rains too much. But it's all about that magic 5000 dollar sticker, and that's all anyone give a damn about. Once you paid for the sticker, you're done. Bugger you if it's too expensive.

I at this moment could deliver a small house to a young couple that would be rude, but safe, warm, and sanitary if I wasn't impeded by all sorts of other crap for under 20000 bucks. Delivered. This isn't a building zoning issue--this is a human rights issue. Why compel people to purchase more than they can afford? Why force people to then live lives of a wage slave to pay for something they didn't want? Why force consumption down people's throat--especially in the context of safety and making the world a better place--when the net result will be to denude and destroy the eco-sphere? Why?

It ain't green if it ain't small.

It ain't progressive if it ain't small.

It ain't sustainable if it ain't small.


It ain't legal either, likely. Since the goal of the system is to keep you a slave to it, don't be surprised.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The next year. . .

Seems like the birthday party isn't over yet, going on most of a month now, having just seen Mike and Eric home yesterday and Perry coming in on the plane next week. Well, we'll be back to work soon.

Hardly like things have been unproductive, being very fortunate to have astute, insightful friends it's always worthwhile to indulge in fruitful conversation even if a little boozy at times.

Of course topics centered around the state of the world and the economy--as it must for any sensible person at the moment. It's very hard to find good news out there on the macro scale. About the only positive thing I can find to say, and it isn't trivial, is that there is a good possibility that this forthcoming and protracted shock may engender a real turning point in human history, exposing the bankrupcy(ha!) of popular value systems, and for the first time in quite a while, the masses may actually think a little bit. We aren't there yet, but it's closer all the time.

I'd at this point call--

The major indexes in the US have about another 10 percent to shed, and will be volatile but stable in that range for the foreseeable future, which means years.

Real estate values will be mixed. One will see disporportionality high values of ag land and small homes, and large pointless homes and commercial real estate will be near worthless.

A real unemployment rate of around 15 percent.

A major collapse in the dollar by mid spring, shedding perhaps 25 percent of current valuations. Say hello again to high oil prices in the 100 dollar a barrel range, but I'd doubt much higher.

Gold may see 1800 dollars an ounce, but I wouldn't touch it personally.

It will take till near summer before the effects of this "financial crisis/swindle" actually start hitting everyday people, but it will hit much much harder than many think.

My strategy is unchanged--full on hunkerdown mode. I see no personal cause for panic, but I do see a not far off that inspires me in the same manner that the prospect of lugging a unit of 5/8's x 12 sheetrock up two flights of stairs might. Take a deep breath. I plant a dozen sweet potato plants a day, with an eye to semi commercial production, and expand the taro patch as the keikis produce themselves. Thanks to Jerry's advice all is booming ahead.

Handyman work as always is a staple, and I expect more so all the time as big builds will simply dry up, and people need stuff repaired rather than remodeled. I'd like to get another book written, but it's still fermenting at the moment. The message, however, is clear--we're going to be on our own, technology and government isn't going to save us, we're in a bigger pickle every moment--and we desperately need people willing to lead into a new way of living. This new way of living will be minimalist at its core, the values will be utterly different, and very little of what we take for granted today will be very applicable. Dumping 50 thousand dollars on a PV system and feeling good about oneself is hardly an option, nor constructive--and one will need to very shrewdly cherry pick both new and old techniques with an eye towards maximum effeciency in all things. We must do much more with less. At the moment, it's something to dable in. A year from now, I expect, it will be a survival skill.

Hopefully get the boat finished in the mean time.

Koa of course, and it's planting season for that, and hope to get another hundred or so trees in the ground.

So, more or less proceed as am and as planned. Live simple, frugal, and more or less forget about the rest.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ecoforming, Symbism, and a heroic quest for a new future for mankind.

This long drawn out and scatterbrained post crammed full of ideas has its origin in a peculiar experience. . .

. . .Back in the days I was first getting involved in Seasteading on "RENEGADE" of course I had no idea what I was doing, and wasn't much of a sailor either. But, I was getting my wings and had made the step to the full on live-aboard lifestyle living on a mooring I had set in a mostly isolated bay in the South Sound. I was into fishing, but very very bad at it. I would sit as the boat would swing at the mooring and jig the bottom, only occasionally catching a miserable flat fish. I did this for weeks one summer, and had very little success, until, one day, I simply started catching fish like crazy.

While happy with my new found success, I was more than a little puzzled at the reason for it. I wasn't doing anything different at all, or at least that I could detect. Same jigs, same gear, same technique, but I simply couldn't miss--seriously, it was one fish a cast. Finally I thought I ought to put on the dive gear and head down there to find out what was going on with the fish and just how many there were as it seemed the population had simply exploded. In fact, so much so there was an osprey quite frequently in the rig in the morning(and I learned to keep the forward hatch closed after one really bad "fishshit" in the face experience, ha, had forgot about that!) and the occasional otter would climb aboard and chew something nasty in the cockpit. It seemed that karma had simply come to my little boat and my little anchorage. . .and I was surpised in a Hawaiian Hawk sort of way and a little mystified as my boat was the only one in the little anchorage of a dozen that recieved this sort of blessing.

Well, I went for a dive, and found the explanation. The explanation was the astounding level of growth of anenomes, barnacles, goose mussels, and kelp growing on the circular artifical reef of beer bottles that surrounded my mooring. I'm not kidding. . .

The thing to be learned from this is that there will come a day in which a man that calls himself a "fisherman" will be known not as one who hunts with hook and line or net but one who builds habitat for fish.

Two ideas for me were engendered in this experience. First is the idea of active Ecoforming. Ecoforming, as I define it, is the technology of creating, preserving and improving ecological systems. The second is a philosopical system I've been thinking on and off for a while, which I call, somewhat awkwardly, Symbism. Symbism is a philosophical framework of values and judgments assuming as a first principle that one's actions create both the moral and physical environment for the analysis of those actions. Philosophically Symbism is a means of looking at the relationship between oneself, one's society, and one's environment with the tacit and implicit assumption--in fact first principle, that while one lives within the given larger system, one also creates it. As such, it is a reflection at its core of the most modern scientific ideas and philosophical precepts. It finds itself very comfortable with Gaian climate theory, with particle physics, with analytical psychology, with reflexive economic theory and most other cutting edge thoretical research-- which has in common a very important central observation: There is no way to empirically separate the experimenter from the experiment. The failure to acknowledge--or emphasize the importance of--this reality has been a major failing of philosophical, religious, and ethical systems. It has been a major failure within "ecological" circles too, with a few notable exceptions. James Lovelock, certainly, would only reply "of course."

Would it not be marvelous to live in a world of such verdant plentitude that to exist and prosper one only needed to live as an enlightened hunter/gatherer? I would suggest rather than a "return" to an agrarian ideal--perhaps this is the return we need to make.

Here is a whole list of ramifications of this sort of thinking:

It is philosophically impossible to shake the responsibility of the inevitable chain of influences one's actions cause as they cascade through society and the environment. The sole defense against the burden one's personal responsibility is to simply not care about it. People have become very talented at maintaining this evasion, but it's more difficult all the time, and only really possible for those who I call the "deliberately ill-informed."

When one makes a judgment of a particular action, one does so form a perspective of incomplete information, and from a position created by a series of actions chosen from perspectives of incomplete information.

The self that forms the judgement is a self formed from the reinforcement, positive and negative, from such past actions, and carries with it a bias, which is necessarily more or less personally indeterminable to that self.

Suppose then this model, suggested by a Symbitic perspective: Rather than what agriculture, or permaculture, or architecture has done in the past--although there is much to learn there--what if the Ecoformer's goal was to create, in essence, a natural environment so bountiful and verdant that on could simply live within it, in the same manner that the birds live in the trees or the bison live on the prarie?

Birds create forests, and bison create prairies--there is no reason why humans cannot actively create ecosystems for themselves that are equally as bountiful and viable. At the moment we actively create bad ones. The issue is one of consciousness. Consciousness gave us the power to recognize and exploit, and now we will be forced to consciously strive with the even greater energy to preserve.

Evolutionary pressure at this moment seems to be less concerned with our physical form as our ideas. And rightly so, because humanity, once we gained the level of consciousness of modern man, is far more a concept than a species--in that the knowledge we hold is vastly more powerful and energetic and creative than our DNA.

In order to ask whether or not an idea is important we need to ask: Important to whom? An idea is important not it what it suggests but in what it effects. There are plenty of potentially important ideas in the world, but it is important to focus on those that are immediately effectual.

Obviously, from the symbitic point of view, it is impossible to separate man from nature. When man builds a city or a nuclear plant, it is every bit as much a natural event as the evolution of an orchid in a tropical rain forest. Both are responses to primal urges toward growth and responses to environmental pressures. The sole difference is that the building of a city has some conscious influence to it. Both may be short lived and ill-fated responses due to erroneous interpretations of sensory input--both may be beautiful. Beauty and falsehood are certainly not mutually exclusive. Many of the most beautiful things ever crafted by the hand of man were the products of delusion.

Especially cute and fuzzy species are far less likely to face extinction. This is because they have evolved to fill symbitic niches.

And so we see the influence of consciousness of man in his creation of his religions and gods from the proto religions. Man who is symbiotic with nature creates god in his image--and declares god IS nature. God IS the cosmos. Conscious man who creates ideals through consciousness that himself apart from nature, erroneously, declares--God Created the World, God is Above and Rules the Cosmos.

To suggest that "All is One" or to refer to a "Great Connectedness" is no article of faith: is is a mere self-evident matter of fact. Religion and spirituality are wholly accessory to this fact, and some might go so far as to say irrelevant in light of it.

Sometimes this connectedness is a source of joy--sometimes it is a source of abject terror. The fact, of course, and its repercussions, when pondered upon with due deliberation, cannot help but be awe inspiring.

Symbism is manifest in efficiency and simplicity.

Thoughts? Critiques?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

One Year:

Hard to believe that it's been all of one year, and only one year that I stepped off the plane at the Hilo airport with a bag of cordless tools and a machete.

As well it's been a big week with turning the 40 and with the elections coming through. An awful lot of big gears swung through a few degrees of arc. Where that ends everything up is less than clear at the moment, but at least in my little patch of the planet all seems well.

It has been on my mind a good deal lately, as the issues that we face as a world and a society are looming larger by the moment, and if anything over the last year or so I've seemed to observe even a larger degree of deer in the headlights paralysis--even among those who proclaim to care. It's not too surprising. There has been a lot of fetishist semi-snarky talk in "counter-culture" circles for quite a while at how the ecology was going to go to hell and the economic system was going to collapse. Few understood, it seems, that this was more than mere talk. And now, I'm afraid many are caught in the same pants down position that those who paid no attention whatsoever are. I can understand why the debate would tend to remain in the realm of "talk" and not action. It's a pretty damn scary issue. To respond with sensible meaningful actions will require profound changes in attitude and lifestyles. Those of us who "got it" have been doing this for years, and it's not really such a big deal except in an existentialist sense, at least at the moment. For those who didn't pay attention and those who only payed attention as a social dillitante, again, they're simply standing in the middle of the freeway with a panic. Those who paid next to no attention until fully lately, but have money and time on their hands, and have now found religion seem to be compelled to get into politics, with an attempt to fix what they don't understand with laws that would pertain perhaps to a world as it existed 20 years ago. Utterly irrelevant. Our "leaders" are utterly at the back of the pack. At this point their policy is more often a hinderance than an aid.

So I have thought about this sort of thing a great deal and especially yesterday morning over a cup of tea, on the exact day to a year near to an hour in fact, from the first time I saw this little 3 acre patch of land. My concern in the project was great--I wanted a zero impact home--in fact I wanted to do better than that: I wanted to be able to say with postive confidence that this little piece of Hawaii was actually in better shape for my being here. That is a high bar, for sure, but in the context of Hawaiian Bulldozer Building and the new PCDP that is proud as punch that it has something to offer about how the new Burger King and KFC will be located--My God?!? This is cutting edge community vision?!?--in a neighbor hood where local identity seems to be measured in how many wrecked car one has crammed out in the brush over the years. . .not one of my "local" neighbors have ever taken the 8 mile trip up the road to the volcano. Not one. . .in that context, in spite of it all--well, I had some stuff on my mind.

So I was sitting here looking out at the garden and the Uala growing thinking I needed to plant a bit more, wondering if all this was a pretty damn pointless exercise in a manner that a guy who just turned 40 might, and a Hawaiian hawk comes down, lands on this pot, not even 6 feet from where I'm sitting, takes a lazy drink, and after giving me a hard reptilian eyeball flies off back into the jungle. Damn, Hi Hawk, I think.

It's not too often that one gets a personal visitation from the divine aumatua, I guess, and I'm too much of an athiest to get too carried away with the whole deal, but certainly from any analysis this little bit was certainly confirmation in a very real sense that, yes, actually, this does matter. Certainly as a metric if one finds that the place one lives is safe and sane enough that rare endangered creatures are drawn to it as a place of refuge and safety--it's a pretty good indication that you're doing the right thing. It may be more rare than one might think, that a bird can find a safe place to land for a quick sip without threat of cats or dogs, within safe harbor of natural mature trees--it may be that the bar to give life a chance is pretty low, you've just got to back off and give it a fair shake. That is much how I see it, anyhow. If we thought a great deal about what we were doing and did very little of it in general, I expect the world would be a better shape.

So, planting a couple dozen koa trees this morning. The several of the ones I planted a year ago are as tall as I am now, and doing very well. I imagine I'll stick with the same program. . .seems to be working out.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

So, sanity again:

This pertaining to the previous post--and the interesting comments. Allow me to ask a semi-rhetorical question:

Is it possible to achieve and maintain sanity without simplicity?

I don't believe so. Between Jill and a stroke and Eckhert or whatever his name is with absolutely ultra indulgent destructively delusional naval gazing--which probably does more damage to your head--we see two people who have claimed to see another type of "ultimate" reality by withdrawing utterly from it, in a very real sense.

But, there is a grain of truth in the whole issue to that "living in the moment" business. Of course, we would all desire to be able to live lives of compassion and with our senses wide open to the world around us. The problem, however, is that we're utterly shell shocked by bad karma at every corner that it takes near death experiences to get at it.

So I think there really is a place for as much as possible removing the toxic stimuli in every way imaginable--if at least for the short term to try to lose the "twitch" endemic in modern society.

The problem is that we treat the issue as neurotic modern people might. We take pills, drink, lie to ourselves or fantasize about the divine light to obscure the fact that our lives are far too full of anxiety inducing encounters. This gets in the way of one's dharma. What we need to do is treat our lives not with the attitude of a therapist, but as a technician--assuming from the start one can fix the problem, identifying the issues, and moving ahead to solve them.

Once we look at the issue from a technical perspective--as in all engineering, the fast track to reliable performance is indeed simplification. It is not impossible to create complex and reliable machines, it is just very very difficult, and within the time frame of an adult life there simply aren't enough allocatable man hours to get the job done. . .