The Oil Factor Part 1 of 4

Part 2 >>


How to Vote

I do not typically write about politics. I have found that politics as a conversation topic falls in line with religion and food as being the three most utterly useless things to try and discuss with people. Everyone has already made up their mind, and has absolutely no interest in what you think except to turn around and tell you how you are so wrong you have actually become sub-human in the process. This is why I am not writing about politics. I am writing about voting.

During this election, just like every election since I’ve been paying attention, a segment of society says they are going to make a stand by not voting. I wanted to say to these people “congratulations, you have struck on the single most pointless protest imaginable.” You, by refusing to vote, have indistinguishably joined the other forty percent of Americans too apathetic to vote. Your grand gesture of defiance is no more noticeable than a grain of sand on a beach. A grain of sand three feet under the surface of a beach no one goes to because of toxic waste and frequent shark attacks.

If you want to protest the system I suggest doing something with a little more imagination and pizazz than you brought to your last English midterm. Here are some possibilities I officially do not suggest due to potential legal consequences:

  • Pick up a paper ballot and eat it in front of the staff before walking out.
  • Pick up a paper ballot, go in to the bathroom and shout out “I need another!”
  • Pick up a paper ballot, tear it up, and throw it on the floor.
  • Spit in front of the voting booth (not on the voting booth, that may spread disease, but the floor is already disgusting).
  • Go into the voting booth and refuse to leave. Say you can’t figure out difference.
  • There are usually people outside trying to get last minute votes for their candidates. Host an impromptu oral exam. Ask them questions about the differences between the candidates. Ask real questions about the candidates’ policies. Bring the answers with you. Vote for whoever knows the most about the candidate they are supporting. Make it a big spectacle if you want.

That is how you vote for a new system. Simply not voting is apathetic and ignorable. Doing any of the above or anything else you can think of is a vote for a new system. A protest of the way things are. If you simply do not vote, at least do not kid yourself. You voted alright. You voted “yes, I’m fine with the system the way it is.” If this is not how you want to vote, it is your responsibility to act up. To make a scene. And to vote against the status quo. If you are shy, you could even just do a write-in vote for “none of the above.” If enough people vote that way it will get attention.

Voting is not limited to election day either. Your every action is a vote. And being mindful of this is enough to make real changes in our personal lives, potentially changes in the lives of those around us, and even national or international changes.

Voting starts with what you buy. Every dollar you spend is a vote. If you spend a dollar at Walmart you have told Walmart you approve of them. You approve of their business practices, the way they produce their products, the way they treat their employees, and all the rest. Not only did you vote for it, you directly paid for it to continue. You voiced your support and they listened. If you protested Walmart coming to town, do not hand over your money because they came in anyway. Doing so tells Walmart they actually are wanted, and those who protested were just confused. They wanted Amway products or something.

It is not just Walmart. If you do not want to support OPEC, Exxon, etc, then do not buy gas. If you do not agree with DuPont Chemical, or Monsanto, or Weyerhaeuser, or whatever…do not buy their products. Your purchase of gas, of non-locally produced food, of paper made from rainforest, etc voices your support for the system and all it entails. You voted in favor of unsustainable agricultural practices doomed to leave the human race in famine. You voted in favor of the rich versus the poor. You voted in favor of imperialism. You voted in favor of the destruction of ecosystems so complicated no human technology or society has even come close. An ecosystem so unique that in 3.5 billion years of life and nearly 200 million square miles of planet (510 million square kilometers) it has only ever appeared once. And you voted to destroy it so you could eat oranges in January? Because the t-shirt was three dollars less?

If you buy a t-shirt made in Bangladesh you voted in support of the slave labor used to produce it. In support of the toxic chemicals leached into the ecosystem. In support of the corporations that profit from it. Without your support none of it would be possible.

Every action you take is a vote. Most people are voting in favor the status quo. Why? Because its easy. Why you do it is understandable. Its hard to vote against the status quo in this way. It requires planning, foresight, talking to people who live near you. Imagine it! Actually knowing the person who grows the food you eat. Who knitted the sweater that keeps you warm. Imagine the insolence of it all. Telling the status quo to take a hike, and embarrassing a different way all in one fell sweep.

You cannot help but vote. So vote with your convictions. Vote with courage. And remember to vote on November 4th.

The Struggle of Lyme

It was at Primitive Technology Weekend this May that the discussion was brought up.  Many of us would probably contract Lyme Disease at some point, especially considering our lifestyle.  Ben and I shrugged it off, however.  We didn’t think it was that serious.  Lyme just seemed to be something that you take medicine for and then it goes away.  No one seems to talk about it much.  Unfortunately, it is much more serious than all of us are led to believe.

As it happens, it is likely that at that event, one of us did end up with a tick bite and did contract Lyme.  And that person was me.  I’m one of the lucky ones to have had it figured out so quickly.

It started with panic attacks roughly two weeks later.  I’d never had one before, but I knew what they were.  What I didn’t know is that they aren’t supposed to last an entire day.  Following the panic attacks came the depersonalization, or feeling like you aren’t attached to yourself.  For me, I felt like parts of my body were disappearing, or were not attached to me anymore.  It also felt like I was watching a movie instead of living my life.  It was during the worst of these symptoms this years MAPS Meet occurred.  By this time I was in therapy regularly and taking medication for the anxiety.  I struggled to enjoy it.  I don’t regret going, I only wish I could remember more about it.  By the time we returned from MAPS, I had a whole slew of symptoms, from being excessively tired, having crying fits, head numbness, pressure in my head, twitching of body parts, double vision, hallucinations, loss of appetite, neck pain, muscle weakness, less exercise tolerance, night sweats, dizziness and so much more.  I was sent to a Neurologist who told me I was having migraines due to my anxiety.  I took medication for migraines, but that just made the panic attacks worse.  I had my blood work done 4 different times.  Everything came up normal beyond the fact that I was becoming anemic over time.  

I do not remember when Lyme came into my head.  I suppose I grasped onto it like a lifeline.  A faint possibility that I was not going crazy.  I was seeking out support groups online for some of my different symptoms, particularly the depersonalization.  It was on one of these sites that someone suggested that anyone with feelings of depersonalization get checked out for Lyme.  

Over time I became more convinced that I wasn’t crazy the more the doctor’s told me I was. One day I came across a list of Lyme symptoms and found that every single symptom I had happened to be on that list.  Then came the struggle to actually get tested.  

It was by this time that I had stopped mentioning new symptoms, though I would have a new one every few days.  It felt like everyone around me was thinking I was making up my pain, or thinking I should just get over it.  So I stopped talking about it and struggled through my life.  

The quest to get tested was a hard one.  I was told repeatedly that I just needed to see a psychiatrist, and since I didn’t have arthritis, I didn’t have Lyme.  I devoured any reading material I could find on the subject of Lyme and found that almost everyone who suspected Lyme were told to seek psychiatric help.  It apparently is so common, that those who are told that should count it as a diagnoses for Lyme.

I eventually did get tested, and unlike so many others (the testing for Lyme is horribly inaccurate), mine came back positive on the first try.  I have just started a two month course of Doxycycline and I have to see a doctor once a month to check out my progress.  If this doesn’t work, I will be given antibiotics through an IV over the course of a few months.  Here’s to hoping that wont be needed!   We will be trying some herbal remedies as well, but I wont list them here until I have tried them myself.  

I’d write more about the controversy surrounding Lyme, and perhaps someday I will, but for now I just want all of you out there reading to know how serious it actually is.  Lyme can turn your life upside down.  It can make living a struggle.  And the bug that causes it is typically no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence.

I believe that most reading this probably spend a great deal of time outdoors.  I urge you to be careful.  Do tick checks, twice a day if need be. You dont have to give up what you love, just be aware.  If you get bit, don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because you didn’t end up with a rash, you don’t have Lyme.  The rash occurs in less than 50% of the victims and it is rarely in the shape of a bulls eye.

 I was told by some fellows lymies that I was crazy for wanting to continue on spending my time in the woods, working on primitive skills, whenever possible.  Not crazy.  Just wanting to live.   

– Miranda Vivian

Losing the Battle of Words

This may come as a surprise to some of our readers. But I’m coming out against “going green.” That’s right, I think every single person should turn to the governments and corporations with green initiatives and go :-P. Being Green once meant something, it involved a concern for the environment, an awareness, and a choice to do no harm. Now its a clever marketing campaign. So, fellow concerned humans, we have lost the word Green.

Am I over reacting? Aren’t these initiatives a good thing? Yes and no. They’re a good thing in the sense that its something. At the same time they are the most damaging attack on the environmental movement in history, because it leaves the uninformed believing something productive is being done. But since these changes are little more than a bandaid on a broken leg. What these so-called “Green” companies are really doing is soothing a finally somewhat-riled populace back into complacency. A complacency that essentially gives these corporations and governments a green light to go ahead and do whatever they want, so long as they bill it as being environmentally responsible.

Frostburg State University recently began its Green initiative. I’d give you a link and the name of initiative but it has had seven names in as many months as they endeavor to come up with something clever. They ordered fancy plastic recycling bins, and overruled an suggestion the school simply put stickers on the trash cans they already have. They are buying a increasing percentage of their electricity from so-called renewable sources. They brag amount how much it is, because it shows how serious they are. Too bad they aren’t serious enough to turn the computers off on the weekends.

Organic food producers are generally viewed as being a highlight of our generation’s burgeoning awareness. Unfortunately, Organic(TM) is owned by the government, not by the movement. So organically grown food has to meet certain standards, but the reality is many times the animals and plants live no better or more sustainably than the industrially produced versions. When there are local, family farms treating their animals well who cannot legally claim their food is organic. “Free-range” chickens often live in a barn their whole lives. They’re “free-range” because during the last week of their lives a little door in the back opens up on to a 2 by 2 foot pen most of them never find and couldn’t fit more than a couple chickens. In the mean time, birds kept in a chicken tractor do not qualify.

The next time we have a phrase, we need to trademark it. That way it can’t be twisted out of our grasp and made to serve consumerism.

– Benjamin Shender

The Mountain Top Quarterly

The Mountain Top School has announced the creation of a quarterly magazine to host articles from any writer taking any perspective on the concept of creating a new future for humanity. The magazine will be available for free in PDF form, or available in bound copy at for the price of printing. This could potentially be a wonderful contribution to the general movement, allowing all of these disparate voices to be heard in one place. Or it could be absolutely nothing. So spread the word! All articles meeting the criteria will be published, even if you are a completely new voice. See the details here.

– Benjamin Shender

Paleo: Staying on the Wagon

I will be the first to admit that changing your diet is hard.  Cookies, chips, candy, ice cream…they all scream, “Eat Me!”  That is a little creepy if you think about it.  Typically it takes at least 14 days for a new habit to form.  Once the habit is formed, will power is much stronger against anything keeping you from that habit. Once, when Ben and I hit an all time low on money, we decided to go off of Paleo.  What we found is that we actually spent more money than we typically did on Paleo.  We found that we were hungry more often, and so we ate more often.  We “satisfied” our hunger by eating cereal as a snack, eating pasta for almost every meal, and having sandwhiches to satiate us.  We never stayed satisfied for long.  Beyond the hunger issue, we also found our energy levels were way down.  Needless to say, but I will say it anyway, we went back on Paleo. What I am going to share with you are some tips and recipes to at least remain paleo-style. 

Always eat breakfast!  Have leftover dinner if you have to.  Have a piece of fruit.  Just make sure you’re eating something, and not a doughnut as you walk out the door.   

Snacks are good!  Snack on veggie sticks.  Snack on fruit.  Snack on meat.   

I personally enjoy a good salad for my lunches.  Not just a few pieces of lettuce, but a substantial salad with a lot of vegetables.   

Have someone around you that is on Paleo as well.  At the very least, have someone around you that will support you.  It is much easier in pairs. 

Don’t skip meals.  Unless you are fasting, which actually is healthy on occasion, skipping meals “just because” is never a good idea. 

For dinner have a meat and a vegetable.  Have a salad if you are still hungry.  Still hungry after that?  Have fruit. 

You can have as much meat, vegetables, and fruit as you want!  There is no limit on these. 

We have found that a package of strawberries costs rougly the same amount as a bag of chips.  Do yourself a favor…buy the strawberries and snack on them.  Don’t feel guilty about eating all of them at a sitting either.  

Drink throughout the day.  If you like juice, good!  But try to limit it to one glass of juice a day.  Water and tea are your friends.   

Exercise.  You’ll be amazed at how much energy Paleo gives you. 

Stock up on meat when it is on sale!  In the long run it will save you a bundle.  Do the same with frozen vegetables.  They are not as good as fresh, but you’ll feel better having eaten them.  

There are several meals we do that have become regular meals for us. 

Honey Chicken – We like to do this one for camping especially.  Just cut up pieces of chicken, pour honey over the chicken, and cook!  Add fruit in there if you like.  I personally like putting pieces of pineapple in with this dish. 

Sausage, Mushroom, and Onions – This is a favorite when we have little time to cook.  Grab sausage (I know, it is a fatty meat, but it is paleo-style), cut up onions, cut up mushrooms, and broil. 

Spiced Chicken – You may notice that chicken is frequent in our diets.  Well, it is cheap and it is paleo.  Just grab chicken legs, chicken wings, chicken thighs, or any other kind of chicken and spice them with whatever spices you like!  If it is white meat you can pour eggs over top of them before spicing and you will have a very juicy meat.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes.  Serve with a vegetable or salad (or both!)  

Orange Chicken – I typically use chicken legs for this recipe.  Spice up the legs with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger.  Pour orange juice over the legs and bake, same as above.  

Crab Soup – One day I would like to make my own base for this, but for now I use golden mushroom soup for my base.  Add as many kinds of vegetables as I want, typically onions, tomatoes, carrots, celery, and mushrooms.  Add crab, from a can would probably be cheapest but if you can afford it, by all means go out and buy some crabs!  Spice it up, cook, then eat!   

Stew – Soups and stews are pretty easy.  Whatever kind of vegetables you like and whatever kind of meat you like, just throw it in the pot.  Use a tomato sauce or use a soup base.  It doesn’t really matter here.  Spice to your taste and you have an all inclusive meal!  I love having stews and soups for dinner. 

Stir Fry – The same as with soups and stews, this is a very “to your own personal taste” kind of thing.  Try to avoid the soy sauce though!  If you have a wok, that’s great!  If you don’t, a large skillet will do just fine. Recently we had a shrimp stir fry with zucchini.  That is certainly something we will do again in the future!  

We like to vary up our vegetables.  Some of the more common vegetables in our diet include asparagus, broccoli, carrots, and spinach.  When we want to be “bad” or want to watch a movie with something snacky, we make artichokes with a mayonnaise dip. Artichokes are quite tasty and very fun and involved to eat.     

Fruit happens to be my salvation on Paleo.  We typically keep bananas, pears, apples, and oranges in the house.  When on sale we buy grapes and strawberries, though we actually do have a strawberry plant that bears fruit. Occasionally we’ll get a pineapple to slice up and eat, which I enjoy immensely.  We’ll do the same with watermelon in the summer. Infrequently, though it does happen, we get more exotic fruit, such as the star fruit.  On hikes during the spring and summer, we will pick blackberries when we see them.   

As long as you have enough willpower, paleo isn’t hard to stick to.  You just have to try. 

Anyhow, I hope that I’ve helped someone out there at least a little bit. Happy eating!

– Miranda Vivian  

Governmental Predictions

When arguing the potentials of things like peak oil, over-population, and global warming I often have official government projections thrown at me. I have problems with most of these projections. Sometimes because I do not think they are making reasonable assumptions, like with UN population projections. Other times because I am not sure their data is adequate, like with social issues. Occasionally I just distrust the agency’s motives, like when the US government keeps claiming the US economy is “doin’ fine.” This is a new favorite of mine. They are pretty much telling everyone to go along with their business, ignore the lack of a manufacturing base, high unemployment and inadequate employment, and utterly astronomical public and private debts.

Just to offer an example as to the inadequacy of many of these projections below you can check on the progress of the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) oil price projections from 2006. The EIA is a part of the US Department of Energy and below offers a low, reference (or likely), and high projections for the future of oil prices until 2030. Enjoy!


– Benjamin Shender

Peak Oil – Reading OPEC

This past few months oil prices have continued to increase to the point of regularly closing above 100 US dollars per barrel. The United States is entering a recession, which will likely affect the whole world. And earlier this week OPEC has once again refused to increase their production of oil.

Most legal analysts are decrying this as a bad choice on OPEC’s part that will likely cause an economic backlash. After all, OPEC nations are a part of the world and a global economic recession would necessarily effect them. Especially when you consider the reduced oil sales caused by just such a recession.

Historically, OPEC has agreed with these analysts. Whenever the world economy has seemed to be flagging, OPEC has increased production, thereby reducing oil prices, allowing cheaper energy to reinvigorate the global economy. But not this time, which has caused surprise and condemnation.

What is missing from this discourse is a basic understanding of geology. OPEC nations have peaked. They can’t increase their production. By refusing to try, rather than trying and failing, they are successfully obfuscating the issue. And as long as there is any doubt about the future of oil we will continue to rely on it, base our economy on it, and most fundamentally, we will continue to eat it.

Once the oil geologists have proof clenching enough that the economists and politicians can no longer invent reasons to continue in the oil economy, it will be time to make some tough choices. We will be called upon as a global society to examine ourselves and discover who and what we really are. Tough questions and difficult choices, and no political or economic leader has any interest in presiding over such an intensive change as would be required. After all, change will upset the current balance of power, and unless we are already in a crisis “rocking the boat” is frowned upon.

Ultimately, by not attempting to increase oil production, OPEC might be improving our economic condition by allowing us to remain blissfully ignorant of the extent of our problem, at least for now. Once the problem is fully realized, we will have no choice but to make tough decisions, unpopular choices, and ultimately change the foundation of our society. History will judge, but for now we wait.

– Benjamin Shender

Announcing the Mountain Top School

It is February the First, Two Thousand Eight in the Common Era. A few weeks ago I mentioned Miranda and I would be announcing a venture soon. As promised, we are prepared to go public.

The Mountain Top School is the first step in a venture to create a model of luxurious, sustainable living. Luxurious in the sense that, taken as a whole, the way of life will be preferable to what modern civilization can offer. Sustainable in the sense that, unless our environment changes dramatically, we could continue on forever, in obvious contrast to modern civilization. The Mountain Top School will function as a way to train others in necessary skills, earn the money necessary to push the venture further, and to recruit new members. As the Mountain Top School develops the skills and knowledge our new, post-industrial society will base its livelihood on, the school will be increasingly overshadowed by the larger development of a new way of life. One that will provide for its membership all of the necessities of life, a level of luxury, social support, freedom, education, security, and more.

Currently our modern society is ill-equipped to handle the problems leading up to the Collapse. Indeed, this is why modern civilization will collapse. If such a society cannot handle the problems that caused it to collapse, it certainly cannot handle the aftermath of that collapse. In order to survive the collapse of modern civilization, and also to go beyond it in a favorable way, we need not only a new set of skills but a new kind of society. And in the final analysis, the only way to create a new society is to create it with a group of dedicated, like-minded people. Until you reach that point all the planning, figuring, and thinking in the world is only so much intellectual masturbation. And so, here begins the great project of our time. Our revolution. Our hope. Our future. Mountain Top School.

– Benjamin Shender

What They Don’t Want You To Know

In the middle of the eighteenth century, Europeans went to war with a tribal group called the Ohio. This war was a part of the larger Seven Year’s War (French and Indian War). The whole affair was fairly typical of the time. The Europeans lied to the Ohio, and then tried to steal what they wanted. When the Ohio fought back they became the target of genocide. The fact you have probably never heard of it is also not atypical. To most people the American expansion west came with the Natives simply vanishing off the face of Earth. The fact this is nonsense rarely registers. The truth is the Natives were slaughtered both purposefully by acts of war and aggression, and accidentally by disease and cultural contamination.

The war was not a small one. More people died on each side than during the whole of the Spanish-American war, even though most people who never heard of the Ohio can at least dredge up a vague recollection of the Spanish-American war (“yeah, one of my teachers talked about that. I don’t remember much about it.”). The Natives offered a number of possible alternatives to the war, including the complete acculturation of the Ohio. The Europeans rejected them all and pursued the extermination of the Ohio, who naturally took exception to the European plan.

This was also typical, the more civilized a society becomes the more warlike it tends to be. Until the Europeans made contact in 1492, the Natives of the Americas had no experience with the concept of total war, and they never really embraced it like the Europeans did. And in this not unusual war, the Ohio lost, which was abouquet_captives.jpglso not unusual. At the end of the war each side agreed to return their captives to the others. The freed Natives ran with joy back to their people. The whites had to be bound and dragged back to white society. The children were especially unhappy about it. Although this instance was one of the most dramatic, it was also not uncommon. Indeed, it became so problematic several colonies and later states, made defecting to the Natives punishable by death.

Miranda and I have agreed to write this article because we have both heard people asking, “why would people forsake modern civilization willingly?” The answer we give here is simple: because they always have. Given a simple and straightforward comparison, civilized people the world over give up everything they have been socialized to want at the drop of a hat. Why? Because they want something better, and when they see they can have it they grab for it. The only reason modern civilization still exists at all is a combination of carefully told lies. First, we are better off today, civilization is a story of constant progress from then to now. Second, it would be impossible to change anyway. And third, any attempt at something better is doomed because either “they won’t let you” or because “people are too stupid.”

To the first, this has been disproven so many times over I can no longer even seriously write a rebuttal. Read any scholarly work on native peoples in comparison to modern civilization published in the past fifty years. Seriously, any one at all. They had little illness, better health, more free time, and at least as much art, music, dance, religion, and philosophy as most modern people do.

Second, of course it is impossible. Why is it impossible? Because no one will do it because everyone knows its impossible. Its a very clever lie, no one can come up with a really successful counter example of success because few ever try. And few ever try because it is “impossible.” Except, there are examples of success to varying degrees. Everything from the circus (dead in most countries) to Dancing Rabbit (still going strong) is a success to one degree or another. What actually seems to be impossible is learning how to do better from mistakes, rather than learning from failure not to try.

To the third: if they will not let me, that is fine. I was not actually planning on asking for permission anyway. “They” can either keep up or be left behind, but I for one will not be stopped by a faceless “they” who are apparently only interested in money and power. I am not even convinced “they” exist. As far as too stupid goes, we seem to have reached a place where the rest of the human race (excepting us and those we are complaining with) are so stupid and incompetent that it really is a wonder the government is not handing out pamphlets entitled “How to Breathe and Make Fart Jokes.” Believe it or not, almost all of us are quite capable of making decisions and living a lifestyle we spent the better part of 3 million years evolving.

Beyond the examples we have at the edge of expanding civilization, we even have historical examples of people within civilization embracing nomadism and collectivism. No, I am not talking about communism, which was neither nomadic nor terribly collective.vasnetsov_acrobats.jpg

Throughout the Middle Ages, there were caravans of traders and tinkerers who moved through Europe. Sometimes these people were genuine Gypsies, other times they were not. While generally valued as traders and tinkerers, these people were never welcome for long. Because if they stayed in one place for too long, people would begin to disappear. It did not take long for towns to figure it was the nomad’s fault. What took a while to become clear was the people who disappeared willingly left their lives to join the caravans, which they obviously saw some appeal in.

Another very common example of this same phenomena is the circus. People actually did run away to join the circus. No one runs away to join corporate America, in fact, joining corporate American is what happens if you do not run away. Of course, the circus as such is almost completely dead in the United States now. CirPhoto by, Harvey Henkelmancus performances are a corporate business like any other. You can even buy stock in Barnum and Bailey. There are some circuses as such still running around the world though, and they still strike people every year as a better way of life than the one being offered to them by modern society at large.

We wrote this in response to several people who have asked why we thought people would choose to abandon civilization given the chance. Our response is simple: because whenever given the choice, we always have.

– Benjamin Shender and Miranda Vivian

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