Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Corn Shortfall

Here's a weird thing. Farmers in the Dakotas and across much of the mid west are losing out in the propane supply line. Apparently they are too far from the pipe lines to make it worthwhile to ship fuel all the way out to their farms so food crops are at risk. There is a report in the 27th November Daily Kos reporting crops are likely to fall short in 2009. Apparently the crops being harvested this fall are wetter than usual and propane isn't being delivered and there is a good chance crops may go bad in storage unless they are dried out. If they aren't fertilized they lose protein value- which is anew one on me! Furthermore crops left in the ground will retain snow cover and delay planting the soy crop which needs dry land. All of which means exports will be down and people around the world dependant on cheap abundant US food will go short.
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All of which seems bad enough but it gets worse. Crop insurance is failing too as one of the larger insurers is mysteriously not paying claims- possibly as a prelude to going bankrupt. The lack of insurance is prompting banks to stop advancing money on an unsecured projected crop. The vicious circle gets ever more tight and nasty as farmers now find themselves without insurance and without financing as banks won't lend if there isn't any insurance. Family farms may end up being done in, not by Monsanto, but by the credit crisis. Larger farms may also be at risk from this combination of insurance/credit/fuel shortfall.
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What I find extraordinary about our spiralling economic situation is how interrelated everything is. And I understand intellectually that globalisation and modernization have joined everything together at the hip. However seeing the effects of this unravelling web gives me a sense of foreboding and helplessness that is decidedly unpleasant. So far the commentators keep talking about shortages and unrest in the rest of the planet as though these phenomena are not part of our world, here in the US. Our problems translate into hardship elsewhere. Egypt was mentioned as one location in the Kos article. Which is reassuring in a rather selfish sort of way. However I wonder how long before a failing corn crop in large parts of the US doesn't do bad things to our own food supply? What then?

Thinking and Riding

On the one hand I find it tedious to point out how pleasant the weather is in the Keys this time of year. On the other hand I am constantly reminded that if the weather weren't what it is the Keys wouldn't be what they are. Which is to say we thought about living in the San Juan islands when we decided to leave California, but a visit in February, though pleasant, proved the point. The San Juan's, across the water from Canada's Gulf Islands, are real islands, with no land bridges to the mainland and they are isolated. Being part of Washington State they are eminently civilized, neat, tidy, eco-conscious polite and self effacing. Aside from the weather factor they are polar opposites to the Keys. But one cannot avoid weather issues if frost is not enjoyable.The San Juans are astonishing lumps of land filled with a continent's worth of geography, forests, mountains, bodies of water, winding roads that stretch further in the imagination than they do on the ground. Their residents are of the woolly hatted variety, hardy and unfazed by drizzle and gray skies. And there's the rub: gray skies. Washington State gets bad press for having too much rain. I have found in my visits that Seattle is too frequently gray and overcast, not wet necessarily. The Keys offer what is not on tap elsewhere, and that is milder temperatures and more sunshine surrounded by accessible salt water. One wouldn't put up with the lack of topographic variety if the sun weren't shining. The absence of lakes, rivers, hills, forests or even deserts would make the islands highly undesirable were it not for the climate. Perennial sun, always around the corner if not actually shining, makes it easy to forgive the fabulous Florida Keys their monotony.That perceived monotony attracts people of a certain ilk. Explorers need not apply for residence. Travelers come and live and take off and travel, but not many people live in the islands to explore the islands. I find it astonishing how many people say there is nothing to do in the Keys. They lack money or the will to own a boat and remain land bound. They live in Key West to avoid the dreaded commute. They walk or cycle and circle the rock, rarely leaving and only driving up the Keys under pressure.I suppose it makes little sense to be a hiker and to choose to live where it's flat and the best views are snatched from the tops of bridges. Mountain bikers need not apply. Walkers will see endless miles of identical shrubbery, bush after spindly bush of mangroves, mostly impassable. Anglers will rejoice, fans of downhill skiing would cringe.I like wandering the Keys, I enjoy getting to know the islands outside Key West, a city that offers plenty especially in relation to it's size but it is neither the be-all nor the end-all of life in the Keys. Perhaps for me the Keys retain value as destinations in and of themselves as I have washed up after spending decades in endless pursuit of the horizon. Seeking out the minor variants provides a more durable satisfaction when one knows there is nothing left to prove. I take pleasure in being if not doing all the time.It was about a year ago, in the heart of the dread "holiday season" that I met a visiting long distance motorcyclist regaling a Christmas party with tales of derring-do on the road with his huge long distance motorcycle. He remarked that on his last visit he had rented a scooter for a week's stay and barely managed to put 60 miles on the machine. "There was nowhere to go!" he laughed, contemptuous of someone who could live restricted within these narrow boundaries. I could put 60 miles on in a day because there is everywhere to go.Island living requires some adjustments and living in the Lower Keys is much closer to being on a true island than one might at first imagine. When it takes two hours to reach a fork in the highway one has to think twice before taking off for the mainland. Effectively it takes as long, if not longer than getting ashore from Friday Harbor in the San Juan's. It was especially true in the brief period of four-and-a-half dollar gas that the mainland seemed so far away, separated not only by time and distance (100 miles from my house) but also suddenly we were separated by the dollar cost of the trip to Homestead. I roll out my bicycle most days for a ride and each trip is a reminder of some place in a prior life, rolling silently through neighborhoods or past mangrove mazes my mind is free to wander, to fix the problems of the world, to contemplate why this or why that. A ride through Key West can be a pleasure too but suburbia is serenity of a different order of magnitude. I found an empty television box by the side of the road on the Torch Keys and it made me think of the decrepitude of civilization that the prophets of gloom offer up constantly. We'll be television-less and pedalling for our lives, and they tell us happier for it, which seems dubious to me:One of my small town pleasure sis checking the Citizen of the Day photograph in the Citizen newspaper. They don't seem to pick wildly articulate or thought provoking citizens but perhaps if they did it would ruin the artless flavor of the daily photo. Invariably (almost invariably!) they remark on the weather as the primary reason they came to the Keys, and continue living in the Keys. Conchs cite family as their primary reason. Fishing or boating come close seconds. Exploring is never on the list though using a bicycle as primary transportation does come up from time to time.I recall a comment from Sal in New York remarking how his Bonneville is better off than mine because he gets to ride in it's natural habitat, curvy mountain roads whereas my poor thing grinds long straight miles day after day. He is right, but in my head I am riding all the curves I've ever ridden, yesterday Corsica, today Umbria, tomorrow the Atlas mountains or perhaps the Sierra Nevada. It's all in the mind.The Bonneville may look like its parked in Key West, but in my head as I sit smiling and sipping coffee at the White Street Deli, La Poderosa may be getting ready for a ride to Ushuaia. Or to Fort Zachary Taylor to stare out at the turquoise waters. And the weather really is great, no matter how little land or curiosity or variety there may appear to be in the southernmost peninsula islands.