With Visions of Sugar-Plums Dancing in My Head

I’m feeling pretty darn good about 2013.  Economic crash be damned.

Just had a barely awake chat with KMO over at the C-Realm Podcast’s special programming called “The Vault.”  I was sleepy, as it was the day after Christmas, and DH and I did a crazy stint of driving, after we put our dino-dog-puppies to bed, then shot over to see my sister and extended family.

It was a great holiday.

The Shopping Gene?

My sister, who has an incredible talent for picking out clothes for me, chose a fantastic hat as my gift.  For those of you who know hats, it is impossible to pick out a hat for someone.  Not for my sister, though.  It looks smashing, if I do say so myself.

Biology did not evenly distribute the shopping gene in my family.  DH was proud of me, as I made my yearly sociological research into the wild mall during the holiday season a week ago.  I didn’t freak out, as I normally do, after an hour and say, panicked “I gutta get out of here.”  Instead, I walked diligently up and down, on both levels, people watching, store merchandise examining, and taking in the mood of the sales clerks.  Ya, folks, we’re in collapse.  At least where I live.

My sister, on the other hand, is an avid shopper, and really could make her living as a professional shopper, if she didn’t have this pesky nursing degree she uses quite well.  She loves the stores, the lights, the colors, the merchandise.  And she can pick out clothes for me I couldn’t imagine wearing.  She leaves me in the dressing room, and brings things into me where I can’t refuse to try it on.  The results always surprise me.  I never would have chosen that.  My daughter, by the way, inherited her shopping gene…

The MS Scare

And shortly before we went to my families for the holidays, I weighed myself for poops and giggles.  I’m not one for “dieting,” but I am invested in my health, and had a scare this past summer that my doctor thought could be MS (it wasn’t).  So thanks to this website, a dear-reader-friend send me this video, and something in me clicked.  I had been researching nutrition a lot this past 6 months anyway, and learning just how hard it is to get all of your nourishment without a lot of careful focus on what you eat.   The biggest problem is the volume you have to eat to get all of the nutrients.  And the variety of foods you have to eat.  And the cooking.

George Mateljan

This guy is a friggin genius.  His website is really fabulous.  I know quite a bit about nutrition, having studied it, and read Nutrition Action Newsletter by the Center for Science in the Public Interests magazine for decades, so I know that Mr. Mateljan has really combined practicality with rigid scientific standards…and of course I just agree with his food philosophy, which helps.  Another nutritionally knowledgeable gal I love to read is Nicole Foss from the Automatic Earth, in her private writings on Facebook.

What’s you ‘food philosophy’?

Do you know what I mean about ‘food philosophy?’

Take eggs.  There was a time when everyone said “Eggs are bad for you.”  I never bought that crappola.  Eggs?  You mean those things that cave people picked up and ate walking along in the springtime?  Those eggs?  Rubbish.  And, of course, after consolidating the egg industry into a few players, the word went out that eggs are excellent for you, now.  A great food.  And all the good stuff is in the yolk.  So to have a deep and complete understanding of food is very complex.  Knowing a little bit can make you dangerous to yourself.

But then, I took Mr. Mateljan’s website, and the simple idea of 9 cups of fruits/veggies a day, kefir grains and raw milk, and a LOT of a secret ingredient I’ll wait to reveal at the end of this post, and, well, I’m a new person.  After a month, the clothes just fit better, so I weighed myself.  I lost 20 lbs.  Now, being a big gal, you may not say “Holy Mackerel  Peak Shrink, you are THIN!” (unless you are delusional), but that’s not the point, or even the best news.

Not only did I lose that weight without trying, I just stopped the meds I take for S.A.D., because, heck, I just felt great.

Not good.  Not okay.  Not “well, it is winter and I have “Seasonal Affective Disorder,”  kind of “okay.” No.

I … FELT… GREAT.

I still do.

So okay, I’ve read how you should eat well.  Who on this green Earth hasn’t?  And I ate pretty well, considering the stuff the average American consumes.  But 9 cups of veggies/fruit?  Nah, I didn’t eat that good.  Or at least, not until now.

And I just cut out the only sugar I had straight up daily, which was in my coffee or tea, and put cinnamon in it instead.  It tastes sweet.

But I’ve noticed a lot of other differences too, like what I’m craving.  I’m doing all the cooking in the house, because while DH is a great cook, he can’t imagine how to cram in 9 cups of veggies a day.  And what I’m craving are the veggies.  I’m really craving them.  You might think I’d get sick of them, but maybe I’m missing some basic nutrient that veggies are meeting.  I could care less about the meat, but give me the extra greens.

But as I said before, you can’t really eat all that food and still have a ton of meat, or grains, or sweets for that matter.  There is literally no room in one’s stomach for it.

Farewell to Wet Cats and Hello to Song and Dance Numbers12344073_s

Now, DH will also tell  you that S.A.D. is a sucky thing for a spouse to have. Imagine  an angry wet cat that you half towel-dried, and you have me most winters.  The meds were the towel.  You could tell when S.A.D. was settling in, because I stopped singing.  No made-up songs, sung passionately to the dogs, no spontaneous lyric- switching tunes.  No quick fast ‘song and dance number,’ while calling the dogs in from outside.  Only, perhaps, an occasional Johnny Cash song that would bring me to tears, that even I knew was silly to cry about.

Now the song and dance numbers are part of my everyday life again.  And the dogs love it.  (DH loves it, too.)

Belly Laughs

But what is really striking is to hear myself on the radio belly-laughing with KMO.  Nothing fake about it.  I was really laughing, having a great time with KMO, and  you can hear it on that show.  And we started a “pre-interview” conversation about sex and sexually explicit videos, which was also interesting, and ended up talking about nutrition and my new diet.  Turns out KMO has a new diet too.  That talk he and I had was BEFORE the interview, but he obviously liked it enough to use it as is, and put the “real” interview on at a later time.

Now how this all relates to Peak Oil, is this:  There is no way I’m going to put up enough kale and spinach and broccoli and cauliflower, never mind strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, etc to keep even one person in 9 cups a day.  Not where I live, and not with my farming skills.  I take a giant bag of kale or spinach and DH and I eat half of it in one sitting.  Half!  Ya, I could eat the frozen stuff, and will, but could I put up enough for an entire winter?  Perhaps veggie glama-gals Sharon Astyk or Kathy Harrison can, but not me.  And there is talk of a winter CSA in my town, but I don’t know that it’s happening yet.

Kefir

In San Francisco, when I lived there, we pronounced  it “Kee-fur,” but that is so not hip now.  You pronounce it like this. (Can you get over a Youtube video to pronounce a word?)

However you say it, I hate buying yogurt because I resent the plastic it comes in.  So I discovered the Kefir Lady, and she sent me out this huge grain of kefir.  Making kefir is so, OMIGOD…simple.  I can’t believe they have so much literature on it, but, after all, people like to do things “right.”

Here are the Directions:

(1) Put kefir in a glass jar with milk and cover it with cloth to keep the bugs out.  Leave it on your counter.

(2) Taste it the next day and see if you like it.  If you do, drain out the grain, put fruit in it, or just drink it plain. (I happen to know for a fact that DH sneaks Odo’s Oil in my smoothies, to keep the Omega-3’s up…)  If you don’t like the taste, leave it on the counter another 6 hours then taste it again.  OR make a second batch and taste it earlier.

(3) Put the grain in milk and repeat the process.

Okay, you can’t put it in dead milk, which is “ultra-pasteurized.” But it still will grow in pretty crappy milk, just not so fast.  My kefir is fed the best milk, and soon we’ll have people bragging about the milk they feed their kefir, like they do about what they feed their dog.

Real milk, when it “turns,” still is good for you.  Dead milk is putrid and should be tossed.  So kefir is alive, and according to Wiki  is “bacteria and yeasts in a matrix of proteinslipids, and sugars, and this symbiotic matrix forms “grains” that resemble cauliflower.”  If you can’t drink cows milk, it grows in sheep or goats milk, and if you can’t drink milk, you can probably still drink kefir, because the grain eats all the stuff that probably gives you cramps.  (I’m not a medical doctor, so read up on it…)  But if you don’t want to drink milk there is water kefir too.  Or soy milkrice milk, or coconut milk.  And when you just can’t stand the thought of kefir anymore, put it in the refrigerator or freezer, and it will stop growing, or slow down dramatically.

Homemade Kefir is Best (of course)

As I have learned, after falling pretty far down the Rabbit Hole, is that almost anything you make yourself is better for you than the stuff you buy, and “homemade” kefir is no exception.  I can’t give you the numbers, but the homemade stuff has a ton more bacterial and yeast than the store bought stuff, which is, by the way, very expensive considering the three steps to making it I detailed above, and the fact that the kefir grain keeps growing, so you can give it to your friends.  Or sell it back to the Kefir Lady.  Apparently the store kefir has to count how many critters they put in there to be sure there is a respectable amount.  While on your kitchen counter, the critters just grow, not caring whether you measure them or not.

Are they GOOD Critters?

Now for the squeamish reader, these are GOOD critters, that once they hit your intestines, actually work to drive the BAD critters out of your intestines.  I’ve also read they are helpful to those who have ADHD, because apparently leaky gut is common in those with ADHD.  Kefir slows the digestion, so you are actually digesting more of your food.  Again, don’t quote me.

Dystopian Visions Brought on by Happiness

But all of this leads me to horrible visions of a nation or world who has turned to psychotropic drugs when our kids–who are eating school pizza, soda and hot pockets and calling it food– can’t concentrate, are allergic to everything, are sick constantly, and can’t pay attention.  And are grouchy and irritable, like wet cats.  So we throw a towel on them and call it “science.”  Believe me, in that state, I was grateful for the towel.

But to me, my friends, this is the dystopian world we live in, more frightening than zombies.  And instead of family meals, prepared with real food, 67% of us don’t eat together, and half of the rest have the TV on when we do.  That leaves 17% of a nation eating together in conversation.  I’m ranting now, so I’ll stop.

Final Secret

So, count me happy.  A happy, kefir eating, 9 cups a day-er, with one more secret to share:

Herring.

Okay, I probably pushed you too far, but ya, herring.  It is that little fish that is really plentiful, because all the big fish stocks that used to eat it are depleted. Herring is very high in the long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, and if you ask me, it also induces a hypomanic high, which is psychologist talk for it makes you really happy.

Of course you also want to eat small herring and kippers, to keep your level of toxins to a minimum.  But even if you take 3-4 times the recreational dose of herring, rest assured you’ll have the Omega 3’s fighting the cancerous processes you’ll be digesting.  Some think, like breast milk, the benefits outweigh the risks.  So I eat it almost every day.  For breakfast.

So if you are wondering whether a change in diet might do you some good, as you slug away at your larder all winter, my vote is YES!  Hit the sauerkraut hard,  harvest the kale and Brussels sprouts as late as possible, and freeze those berries.  And if all else fails, go to the market and stock up.

You might be happier you did.

Post Peak Career? Forget Law, Consider Geology

In 2007, Byron King was chatting with Mr. Wang, a marine geologist from China, and what he learned knocked his socks off:

“[T]here are about 40,000 or 50,000 students studying geology in China today at the university level. Maybe more, but I do not want to give you a number that is too high.”

That’s about 25 times the students studying in the US (and about half the US graduates are foreign nationals).

For every geologist in the US, we have about 50-100 lawyers, King estimates.

What about the population difference?  China has 4 times our population, but 50 times the number of geologists.

First year salaries:

Lawyers: $38,118 – $91,256

Petroleum Geologists: $44,385 – $106,4367857167_s

(payscale.com)

Benefits

And geologists get longer vacation times and better bonuses, too.

Educational Requirements

Sixty-three percent of geologist have B.A degrees.

Match that to a doctoral degree you’d need for law.

Demand

The US Bureau of labor statistics predicts a 21% increase in need for geologists, vs 10% for lawyers by 2020.  We have a lot of retiring petroleum geologists with an average number of years in the biz averaging 19.  And their pay went up 13% last year.  Faster salary increases were seen for women.

It’s also a great profession for single women looking for men.  It’s a field that’s 90% men.

Supervision

And hate your boss?  According to Oil on My Shoes,

“Good geologists need virtually no supervision, once they are told what the objectives of the company are.”

Job Satisfaction

And the same site reports 0ne poll that found that geologists ranked #2 in job satisfaction out of all professions.

After meeting hundreds of geologists over the years, I can say that people who fall into geology naturally (as most do) are extremely satisfied with their profession.”

So what’s the education?

B.S. in Geology OR make up the following course load:  Physical Geology (4 hours), Historical Geology (4 hours), Mineralogy (4 hours), Optical Mineralogy (4 hours), Petrology (3 hours), Stratigraphy/Sedimentation (3 hours), Structural Geology (3 hours), Geology Field Camp (6-8 hours), General Chemistry (8 hours), Physics (8 hours), Computer Science or Statistics (3 hours), Calculus (6 hours), and a possible foreign language requirement.

Summary

In the future scramble for understanding our world, and locating the last remaining resources available to exploit, or impacting how companies approach this exploration, we’ll need those who understand geology.

 

See more here

 

Saying Goodbye to Tomorrow.

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Today is the last day on Earth, according to some New Age interpretation of the Mayan calendar.

This belief has caused endless suffering and useless expensive purchases by people trying to “beat the clock” and find somewhere safe to spend their last few hours.  Cheap places have suddenly become outrageously expensive, because someone said “Hang out there!” during your final hours.

This story caused one young woman to take her life.

However, saying “Goodbye to Tomorrow” has a long history that goes beyond this moment in time.  Humans are famous for planning the end of not only their own anticipated deaths, but because that is just too commonplace, they have to anticipate the death of everyone and everything around them.

The End of the World.  Or more modestly put, The End Of The World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI).

One psychologist got interested in one “Say Goodbye to Tomorrow” group, and actually hung out with them during their “final moments.”  He wanted to know how they cognitively justified it, when the end of the world failed to materialize.

He reported that great anticipation happened during the moments ticking up to “the end.”  Five minutes “after doomsday,” the euphoria of the group changed to anxiety.  After several hours, when the followers began to look doubtfully at their leader, he enthusiastically announced “We’ve done it!

In a twist of mental gymnastics, he proclaimed that given his followers’ prayers and preparations, they had successfully “stopped” the end!  But now he was in a bit of a dilemma:  If the whole raison d’etre of the group was the “end,” he needed another “end,” or what’s the point?

What I’m noticing is a disturbing trend that mimics this same pattern.  Saying “We’re screwed!” is a good start when you are trying to build enthusiasm, but not quite as good as “We’re screwed next Tuesday!”  When next Tuesday comes, and the “screwing” didn’t happen on cue, what do you do to maintain your credibility?

Again and again over the years, I’ve noticed that people have taken dramatic actions in anticipation of this or that “end.”  For some, it is the end of civilization.  For others, it is “goodbye to the global economic system.”  For still others, it is the end of the Earth as a livable planet.  For these intelligent, sincere individuals, their goal, despite their critics, isn’t making a fast buck.  Most of them make no or little money on their predictions.  They really believe in what they are predicting.  So, to live in congruency, they pack up, sell off, and move to some more “sustainable” or “safe” location, and try in earnest to live in keeping with their anticipated tomorrow.  They “do it anyway” as a friend of Sharon Astyk says.

But it causes some of them tremendous social hardship.

Nostalgia for the Present

For some, they start to miss their “old life,” that “yesterday” that they abandoned with conviction.  For most living in this “yesterday,” they weren’t nearly as wastefully as others.  They were already living lean, using a fraction of resources compared to the average person in Western Civilization.  And they, themselves, are products of this Civilization they’ve come to critique.  They are writers, intellectuals, scientists, and professionals. They often leave culturally rich environs to move to remote locations known for, well, known for nothing in particular that most people care very much about.  Let’s call that location “Rural Nowhere.”

Then they wait.  And wait.  And wait.

Rural Nowhere is not noted for great employment opportunities. They’ve often given up their jobs and their incomes as a matter of conviction and necessity.  No matter how long they anticipated their resources to last, as the months and years tick on, they see the bank accounts dwindling.  Some have sold their homes, bought an RV, and drove around believing the “end of oil” is upon us.  (Yes, I know…)

Plus, if they left an intellectually alive place for Rural Nowhere, they get lonely.  They get resentful.  They start to look back at all of their colleagues and neighbors, the “Sheeple,” that continue to rake in decent salaries and take in decent cinema, without driving a few hours.  They feel increasing disdain  and then increasing hostility.

If they confidently provided a timeline, their families begin to stare at them with their own impatient brand of “Sooooo?”  Few of us would move on the promise that “the end of tomorrow” will happen in 50 years.  Most of us drag our feet at dramatic lifestyle change if doom is expected in over 5 years.  So many are stuck with an accelerating Doomline, and a stubbornly “Todaylike” tomorrow.

What happens to your marriage, when you took her out to Rural Nowhere, and you have day after day of Todaylike tomorrows?  What happens when Tomorrow stubbornly refuses to leave?

The pressure is enormous.

As the clock continues to build, not only must Tomorrow be something that is going, it starts to mutate.  Despite the hardship, Today has got to go.

Evil Believers

It is one thing to be a Panglossian, who believes that nothing in the world could possibly go wrong.  Now, however, what about those who continue to believe in Tomorrow?  They are viewed in the worst possible light.  You want children? You’re pregnant?  Those bearing children become “breeders” who should be shunned.  You bought a new car, or iphone?  You are killing off the ecosystem.

3-E Hair Shirts

But caution is in order, because it is really very difficult to live purely, even in Rural Nowhere.  To resolve the hypocrisy, some proclaim “I won’t change, it is the corporations that need to change!” They say their contribution to Demise is hardly significant. So they go on living like they did yesterday, while predicting the end of tomorrow. The rest of us us still secretly driving to buy take-out, and are ashamed of ourselves or embarrassed when we’re “caught.”

We find ourselves lusting for that “really cool” gadget, then hating ourselves.  In an attempt to purify ourselves, no different than the saints who wore hair shirts or whipped themselves into trances to rid themselves of impure thoughts, these modern day Doomers also look for relief.

As if I haven’t created enough enemies in our community at this point, allow me to push forward.

 You either support our movement, or you take your place of shame with the Sheeple and be shunned…

Nudging Along the End of Today

If civilization is going to fall, and isn’t falling fast enough, it should now be nudged along.

The solution is also an old one.

A movement is gaining popularity whereby this nudging has taken on violent overtones.  The narrative is outlined in the starkest terms:  If you love the planet, there is only one recourse to those who are killing it.  You are either with us, or against us.  You either support our movement, or you take your place of shame with the Sheeple and be shunned.

Most often, of course, history has taught us that within these movements, there appears to be two classes of people:  The Leaders and the Followers.  The Leaders are often most valuable for continuing to do what they have been doing all along:  Thinking.  Writing.  Lecturing.  Pontificating.  They are justified in any eco-transgressions because, after all, they are the Leaders, and are attempting to gather more Followers to speed up The End of Tomorrow.

The Followers

The Followers also appear to be remarkably similar over the years.  They are usually much younger than the Leaders.  They have far fewer resources and often live lives much closer to “The End of Tomorrow” than the Leaders do.  They are often directly impacted by the worst parts of today, whether this is the crappy jobs during the rise of the industrial empire, or crippling student loans today.  But whether we are talking about the turn of the century or today, the role of the Followers are the same:  they are the handmaidens, the expendables.   They read the call to action and are ready to act.  They will engage in behaviors that cause them to either die or be put in cages for a very, very long time.

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Sometimes we’ve learned, decades later, that the provocateurs were actually agents of the government who were seeking to discredit a popular movement that was gaining power.  They were “plants” who said: “We have to do this!” and yet, when everyone was imprisoned or dead, these “Leaders” safely vanished.  Popular movements become “unpopular” when associated with “senseless” acts violence.

Anyone who carefully studies human history will notice this trend.  And they will notice another mantra:  “Things have never been as bad as they are today.”  And usually they are right.  And dramatic actions are called for when we are talking about the End of the World.

They will also notice how slow the progress of change is, and how unpopular ideas seem to almost overnight, become popular ideas.  And despite how dire things are, no matter how bad today is, compared to all the badness of yesterday, remarkably, “today” continued to seamlessly flow into “tomorrow,” against all the odds.  And those who wrote the Doomline re-write the predictions, and no one seems particularly interested in the miscalculation.

Now I hate to have to be the one to write any of this.  What I’m saying is hardly revolutionary or new.  In fact, what I’m saying is easily what the most conservative endorsers of Today would say in response to social critics.  I’ve hardly been a cheerleader of Today, and don’t imagine Tomorrow will be swell, either.

But I care about young people, and I care about their passion and their enthusiasm.  And while I’m terrified of the future, too, I can’t imagine how violence that will mostly impact the poor and working classes will lead to a healthier planet.  I don’t see how spending decades of your life behind bars (“in a cage”) will somehow make the world a safer place for dying species.

And while most of these Thought Leaders proclaim how delighted they’d be to give their own lives for the future of a healthy planet, they live on.

They prep on.

They pontificate on.

And they tell us over and over that if we don’t “do something,” something increasingly dramatic as their Doomlines creep forward, we won’t have Tomorrow.

So for those who believe that Today is the last day on Earth I say:

”So long, it’s been good to know you.”

For the rest of us, let’s continue to work for change, with the utmost of care, and always anticipate that Tomorrow MIGHT come.

Alternate Energy – It may be closer than you think

It is obvious reading all the MSM articles on energy that they still are counting on technology to ride to the rescue of the declining oil age in the form of alternate energy on a white horse.  I wish I shared their optimism, but the facts don’t seem to support that rosy outlook.  I do believe we are closer to the alternate energy that no one wishes to think about.  It is time proven, inexpensive to implement, useful for growing crops, building or repairing houses, transporting you 10-20 miles, but nowhere as efficient as what we use today.  Where is this miraculous alternate energy?  Why it is in your very house.  Get up and go to the bathroom. Take a look in the mirror.  You are looking at the alternate energy of the future that you, your family, and neighbors will have to depend on—-you.

That’s right, you, that miraculous machine that takes in food energy and converts it into useful work.  Wait a minute you say, I am a pencil pushing paper shuffling e-mail dynamo, how is that going to be useful alternate energy in the world unfolding before us?  Well, in a few words, it won’t.  One of the mantras we have heard repeated during this economic downturn, is that to stay employed you have to constantly re-invent yourself.  Welcome to the biggest re-invention you will ever experience, the world’s newest (and oldest!) alternate energy source.  This alternate energy source already runs on bio-fuels without any need to convert its inner workings.  It will work in extreme heat or cold, just not as well as in moderate temperatures.

Uh oh, I think I hear the term physical conditioning coming.  Is this some kind of New Year’s resolution thing?  I don’t do well with those.  Well, those of us who have been to a Dr. in the last 10 years have already heard the speech, so I will dispense with it here.  What I would like to focus on is how we can make better use of this age old form of alternate energy in the future.  If one looks at a copy of an old Sears catalog from the late 1800’s, you will find all sorts of tools to multiply one’s ability to accomplish work.  Some are simple and still in use today, the crowbar and the pulley being two such items.  Others are a little more complex, such as the bicycle.  In order for these to be useful to you, two things must be in place.  First, you must understand how to use these tools in a manner for which they were designed, and their limitations.  Secondly, you must possess or have access to these tools when they are needed.

There is a second way to multiply this alternate energy when needed, recruit other alternate energy supplies to assist you with your task at hand.  This may be the biggest challenge to the new alternate energy.  We have lived several decades, at least one full generation, with the notion that to ask for help is a sign of weakness.  Our pride can be our undoing.  In order for this alternate energy of the future (and the past) to be effective, it will have to be a collective effort in many cases.  Unless you live in a very small community, calling your friend on the other side of town to assist may not be your best idea.  Instead, you will need to start cultivating the fields of neighbors right around you.  The sooner the better.   Not only can you acquire different skill sets by doing so, but you can come up with a way to multiply your tool access in the process.  It will usually be sufficient for there to be only one or two sets of certain tools among your group to accomplish most tasks.  It is very inefficient for everyone to have a copy of the same tool set, if it isn’t used very often.  Part of the process to break the ice, is to have an inventory of your own tools and skills  which you pass to each neighbor with the understanding that they are available if needed, and ask them to add anything to the list they might be able to make available if needed.  This is an early step in making “community” right where you live.

Up to now, this seems to be a “me and mine” or “you and yours” type of arrangement.  There is another group you need to realize your alternate energy will have to be used for.  In your “community of neighbors” will be those whose alternate energy has decreased to a barely functioning level, either by age or physical infirmities, who will have to depend on you and your neighbors to assist with, or in some cases completely take on a task of theirs which is beyond their capability.  In the future, giving them a phone number of a United Way agency or telling them to call an out of town relative for assistance will probably not be an option, and will not discharge your obligations to the “community”.

All of this prepping for the new alternate energy takes something all of us try to hoard, TIME.  Some of your neighbors today will see no reason to invest any of their time in any endeavor of this sort, because they don’t see a problem they can’t solve themselves or with a phone call……..yet.  I’m reminded of times when a strong hurricane is approaching shore, and the population has been put under a mandatory evacuation order, there are still those who want to do it all themselves and stay put, their pride won’t allow them to be anything but completely independent.  Unfortunately, they put others at grave risk trying to rescue them later.  You probably won’t be able to convince a large portion of your neighbor community to work at mutual assistance initially, but seeing it in action can be a powerful incentive.  Somebody from the city or the state is not going to come in to set up the kind of “community” you need, it will have to originate with YOU.  Will you start using your alternate energy productively today?  Let’s hope so.  It may be all we have available in a few years.

 

Chuck Willis

written by Chuck Willis on 1/9/11

 

Psychological Self-Defense for the Newly Unemployed

Got a pink-slip?  Are you one of the unlucky ones who had to face the chopping block?  Here are a psychologist’s ten best suggestions for managing emotionally when economic bad times hit your family.

(1) Make a pact that hard times come and go, but your relationship, your family, is here to stay.
Financial pressures destroy bonds between people, if you let them.  When the wolf is at the door, it’s no time to argue about who invited him.  Regularly sit down together for the sole purpose of sharing feelings-frustration, hopelessness, anger, sadness, shame, futility, irritation-without ‘blaming’ another family member.  And don’t forget to look at the moments of happiness and positive feelings, too.  Pull together to fight the circumstances, or you might pull apart.  Say “I love you,” more often and “We’ll pull through this,” even though you have your doubts at the moment.
(2) Find alternatives that can be used to vent frustrations.
Then take a walk or do some other form of exercise.  Keep a daily journal.  Start a blog. Recognize that there are better ways to express your anger than targeting your family members.  Conduct a personal inventory to identify character traits that make undisciplined spending possible, including low self-esteem, need to impress others, loneliness, or depression.
(3) Look squarely at gender roles.
You may say “I’m fine with my wife earning the money,” but take a closer look. Quite often when both people are working, there is a balance of power.  When men become unemployed, it is important to look at not only how the shift in domestic duties may (and should) shift, but also the impact of doing so. The couple’s idea of what “clean” is or what constitutes a “dinner,” or what is a productive way for the unemployed person to spend his/her day, (and whether the other partner should have a say,) can all bring about increased tensions in the relationship.
(4) Don’t dodge the emotional issue of spending cuts.
The loss of a needed job means spending less money or going into (or deeper into) debt. Those are your two options. Getting another job soon may be a goal, a desirable wish, but right now these are your options.  Too often the blow of losing a job is so damaging to one’s sense of self, that trying to maintain the rest of your life “like normal” is tempting. But it is a mistake. Sit down with all of the bills in front of you, and make a list of the ones you are going to pay, the ones you will pay later, and the monthly expenses you are going to stop spending money on.  Each of you take a turn adding a bills to the “spend” column until your income stops. This is a “values clarification” exercise.
(5) This is no time to rehash “perpetual problems”
You may notice that a conversation about cutting expenses can easily turn into an argument about who leaves the lights on, who never used the gym membership, or whether you really need a smart phone with those many minutes to talk to your Aunt Helen.  Put those issues on a separate piece of paper to discuss later. For now, if one thing has to be paid first, which is it?  The rent/mortgage?  Weekly food bill? Heat for the winter? Health Insurance? Yes, I know, they all have to be paid, but what is the most essential right now?  Draw a line where the “buck stops” in terms of steady available income. Then ask yourself if anything below that line is really worth going into debt for.Elizabeth Warren did a fantastic job explaining why families today, living on two incomes and losing one, are more vulnerable than families in the 70’s who had one- earner families. It’s not because they’ve been spending all of their money on clothing, electronics, or gadgets.  They’ve been spending it on fixed costs like mortgage and health insurance.  And while income has gone up 75% over the last 30 years, fixed costs have gone up 400-600%.
(6) Explore what it “means” to your partner that he or she is unemployed.
I was shocked when my husband told me, once things had stabilized for us, that as he was losing his business, he was certain I would leave him.  Had I explored with him what it meant to him to have the business fold, I might have saved him months of fear and insecurity.  What does it emotionally “mean” to you when you lose your job?  What does it mean to your family to not be able to (a) spend on the things you used to; (b) have to rethink the ‘typical’ holiday season; (c) eat differently to cut costs; (d) reduce the amount you spend on your children. Who are you, now that you aren’t working?  What dreams, expectations of what tomorrow will bring, have been violated?  When you are able to explore these questions in a safe environment, they are often accompanied by a lot of deep emotion.  Let it out.  Talk it out.  Then move on.
(7) Find different ways to spend your time.
Everyone in the family may have to find alternative ways to enjoy themselves or relate as a family together.  A teenager might be able to find a job, and he or she could contribute some income to the household budget, or help pay for essential expenses.  The stimulation of a shopping mall or movie theatre is sometimes a tough thing to go without for many people.  What can substitute, that will bring that same level stimulation or one that is equally satisfying?  A hike in the woods?  A pot luck with friends?
(8) Give Back.
Studies show that helping others is more rewarding than being helped.  Now that you are unemployed, use some of that time to volunteer.  A soup kitchen, food pantry, animal shelter, or your child’s school, gets active in community projects are all suggestions.  Work with other unemployed people to set up community labor exchanges.  Damage to self-esteem and depression are common side-effect of being unemployed.  Social engagement is an effective way to combat it.
(9) Talk directly about damaging behaviors
Suicide is a serious risk to the long-term unemployed. So is depression, which isn’t the same as being sad. So are increases in drug and alcohol use.  Talking about suicidal intention doesn’t give someone the thought, if they don’t already have it.  Be direct, and proactive if you hear from a loved one that they want to hurt themselves, or are doing behaviors that are self-destructive.  Get professional help, call a suicide hotline, or talk to a trusted friend or religious leader.  Don’t ignore these feelings.
(10) Be proactive in seeing alternatives
So much of the problem in losing a job for the middle class is their reluctance to be proactive about seeking alternative sources of income or assistance.  Talk to a tax accountant or financial planner.  Speak pro-actively to a bankruptcy attorney while you still have options. Investigate social services that can help you, including your religious institutions.  Accept these actions as potentially humbling experiences, and allow yourself to see the positive side of becoming humbled. You may be out of money, but you are not poor.  You can use your wits to figure out how to find every stop-gap measure to keep your family “boat” afloat.Your period of unemployment will make you more sensitive to others who experience the same thing.  If it has happened to you, and you know of someone else it is currently happening to, reach out. Go out with them and have a heart-to-heart. Share your own experience, and invite them to do the same.  You’ll deepen your friendship with that person, in all likelihood, and lessen their pain.

“Brother, Can You Spare the Time?”: Psychotherapists Don’t Reach out to the Unemployed

Our families, friends, and true companionship are thus among consumerism’s principal casualties…We are hollowing out whole areas of life, of individual and social autonomy, of community, and of nature, and, if we don’t soon wake up, we will lose the chance to return, to reclaim ourselves, our neglected society, our battered world, because there will be nothing left to reclaim, nothing left to return to.   -Gus Speth – America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).

Psychotherapists of all disciplines have long thought of themselves as social advocates.  We’ve been taught that individuals are embedded in families, and in extended families.  These families are embedded in neighborhoods, cities, regions and countries.  Ultimately, climate decimation is teaching us that countries are embedded in a shrinking planet that is seriously hurting.

So I began a research project to answer the questions “How responsive are psychotherapists today to the needs of their local communities?” “How do they reach out to those who are in economic as well as psychological pain?” “To what extent does their advertising suggest that they are well aware that the western world is in the worst economic crisis since the last Great Depression?

I made the task easy for myself.  I chose seven cities that have the worst rates of unemployment and related social problems, then did a Google search.  I had written previously about how unresponsive psychologists were during the last Great Depression, actually appearing to find the topic of world economic hardship  unworthy of study.  Surely in an age of global networking, instantaneous news, and easy mobility, we would see psychotherapists announcing their willingness to help the unemployed, not just those still prosperous “worried well.”  At least acknowledge that these are hard times.

Alas, little has changed.

My research found scant evidence in advertising profiles that psychotherapists in private or group private practices are aware or responsive to the economic crisis that is overwhelming their cities. While they may identify specific stressors that are the result of joblessness, they virtually ignore acknowledging the social, economic, and environmental issues that are dominant worries for many urban Americans today.

Seven Worst-Hit Cities

Below are the seven cities having both high unemployment and related social issues. In the parenthesis are the “official” unemployment statistics for that population:

  • El Centro, CA   (30.3%)
  • Yuma, AZ (28.7%)
  • Rockford, IL (15.7%)
  • Riverside, CA  (15.2%)
  • Detroit, MI  (14.3%)
  • Los Angeles  (12.5%)
  • Cleveland, OH (9.3%)

Those of you who read John Williams’ “Shadow Statistics” knows that you have to add at least 9 points (he says 14 points based on governments own stats) on to those numbers, if you were to take into account discouraged workers, involuntarily part-time workers, and the like.  So counting the truly under- or unemployed we learn that El Centro, CA  as a city with 4-5 of every 10 people without a job, could have twice as many workers unemployed than during the last Great Depression.

In Search for a Listening Ear for the ‘Lost-My-Jobbers’

I put myself in the mindset of an average person who has been laid off.  I want to find someone to talk about it.

I go to the internet, and read through the descriptions found on the first two pages of a Google search – keyword:  “therapist” and then individually add each of the worst hit cities listed above—(e.g. “Therapist” and “Cleveland, OH”).

Here is what I found:

There were hundreds of listings. Most describe themselves as “compassionate and kind.”  Some offered koans like:  “Each person is different, and we are all alike; or nautical themes like “helping you navigate your way through life’s difficulties…” They promised to help me “reach [my] full potential.”  Some asked the reader probing questions like:  “Are you falling apart?”

None of them mentioned that the planet  is falling apart.

Most talk about “meaningful change” that will help me to discover my “true self.” Does this include economic change that has caused chaos in the lives of so many people?

And when I’m asked whether my “productivity at work”  is off, I imagine I might blame myself if I were unemployed, asking:  “Is that the reason I’m not working?  Was I unproductive?”  Why don’t they mention the massive lay-offs that are happening in their cities?  Why don’t they mention the emotional hardship unemployment brings?

Some agencies clearly state their preference for seeing only the remaining “high- functioning clients” “seeking more fulfillment…and joy in their lives.” They also consult with employers to “uncover ways to reduce cost, [and] enhance employee morale.”

“Employee Morale” is a big problems when you let go a significant portions of your work force.  Often larger corporations hire “motivational speakers” days after the layoffs are announced, to promote a “positive attitude” as the “key to success” for their remaining work staff.  I wrote about this phenomenon in 2010:

In 1994, the same day that AT&T announced it would lay off fifteen thousand workers, it sent its San Francisco staff to a big-tent motivational lecture by Zig Ziglar who told the crowd:

“It’s your own fault, don’t blame the system; don’t blame the boss—work harder and pray more” p. 115.

No one in Los Angeles, CA mentioned that residence live in one of the most expensive housing market in the country, with a sharp rise in the crime rate.  Nobody in Riverdale, CA mentioned increasing poverty rates or a rising level of pollution that is impacting the children.

In Cleveland, OH, a city with more robberies per 100,000, than any other city in the USA, a psychotherapist proclaims: “Clients deserve to get what they want.

Okay,” I mused, “I have a list for you: I want my job back; and a planet with half the population, a city that is safe and neighborly, and cheap gasoline.”

Sometimes the listing shocked me with the insensitivity shown–like the therapist who worked with parents who argued:  “The cost of services is less than the cost of a child’s funeral…

I Get It.  Times are Hard.”

I wasn’t looking for much.  I just wanted some acknowledgement that the person clients were going to open up to, to reveal their deepest fears to, actually recognized larger scary concerns.

In Detroit, it is great to “shine my light,” but I wanted some indication that the psychotherapist knew that the city’s lights were being shut off.

I found one:

Hello, we live in a very stressful time and things are becoming more difficult for couples, families and children every day. I have over 7 years of clinical experience and I understand many of the societal, family, and interpersonal factors that contribute to the challenges we face today.” Gerald Mc Gee, MSW, LICSW.

Thank you, Mr. Mc Gee.

In Rockford, Il, a city as hard hit as during the Great Depression, David Heuser, a minister, wrote:

Lack of insurance should not be an obstacle to receiving help. If you do not have insurance, if money is tight, I am willing to discuss with you how to deal with the financial arrangements of receiving counseling while dealing with the real issues that are important to you.”  Mr. David Heuser,  Counselor , LCPC , CADC , MSEd, MDiv

Bless you, Reverend.

Of perhaps hundreds of profiles I read in the seven worst cities in the US for unemployment, pollution, or crime, only these two profiles gave any hint that clinicians knew that bad things were happening to good people.

Many of the therapists claimed to be “practical” or “down to earth,” but none had anything to say about the deteriorating condition of  the Earth or the fact that you had to be “practically blind” to not see the obvious: the cities they practiced in were financial war zones.

A Significant Source of Stress

As professions, we know the impact of terrible economic times. Information is out there. Seventy-eight percent of Americans report money as a “significant source of stress” (APA, 2009).  Economists Daniel Sullivan and Till von Wachter estimated “a 50 to 100 percent increase in death rates for older male workers in the years immediately following a job loss, if they previously had been consistently employed,” as well as a higher risk of suicide, disease and divorce.

And yet, only two psychotherapists gave any indication of the impact of job loss or community degradation in their profiles?

Position Mergers not Work Sharing

Countries like Germany are well aware of the emotional damage caused by unemployment, and have instituted ‘workshares,’ to keeps workers from being laid off.  The German government helps companies keep employees on their payrolls by subsidizing their wages with the money saved on unemployment benefits.  All work fewer hours, but all still work.  In contrast, in the US, managers are merging  two jobs, and increasing  the unemployment rolls.

The Stress of Being Unemployed

food lines in El Centro, CA

Food lines in El Centro, CA.
Modern-Day “Bread Lines”

Not doing productive work does terrible things to a person. According to the APA, the chances of depression, anxiety, psychosomatic symptoms, low subjective well-being and poor self-esteem double with unemployment. And those still working often end up with a heavier work load and the constant fear and anxiety that they’ll be next. Parental job loss even increases the incidents of punitive and arbitrary punishment of children.

And unemployment doesn’t only impact individuals, it impacts entire communities.

More from the APA:

Widespread unemployment in neighborhoods reduces resources, which may result in inadequate and low-quality housing, underfunded schools, restricted access to services and public transportation, and limited opportunities for employment, making it more difficult for people to return to work (Brisson, Roll, & East, 2009). Unemployed persons also report less neighborhood belonging than their employed counterparts, a finding with implications for neighborhood safety and community well-being (Steward et al., 2009).

While APA does call for extending the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, it continues to advocate for more research on the psychological impacts of unemployment, and pushes job re-training.  I argue that we know plenty about these impacts, and retraining only works if there are actual jobs to train for.  Often these programs provide good jobs only for the workers who run them.  Those who entered the computer programming field after being “retrained” can attest to the impact of repeated job displacement.

A Call to Action:

In the worst-hit cities, and indeed all over the USA, grass root action is happening, and I would like to invite my colleagues to join it or initiate it in their own communities.  We need to radically transform the way we provide mental health in this country, one psychotherapist at a time.

Our profession has become so tethered to health insurance companies, that we’ve stopped considering those without insurance coverage as “client eligible.”  The unemployed fall into this category.

It is clear that economic and psychological insecurity due to employment displacement is a real psychological issue.  How do you ignore 40% unemployment or underemployment?  How does that not get mentioned as a “specialty” under “problems treated”?  It is not enough to call it a “loss” or “life transition.”

And the silence about the context of psychological suffering in these profiles sends another message implicit:  Silence says that economic hardship, rising crime, deteriorating environmental conditions, and sky-rocketing energy costs aren’t appropriate issues to discuss in psychotherapists’ “safe offices.”  The message is “your pain is not connected to your deteriorating world.”

Reimbursed

Some will argue that those in financial need are served by public mental health clinics, and don’t belong in private psychotherapy offices.  This argument is spurious, at a time when funding to pay for public services are dwindling. The mental health clinic I worked at that served the poor exclusively had a six-month waiting list.

If psychotherapy is truly a ‘calling’ where empathy reigns, I urge my colleagues to find psychologically sound methods of providing these services to those in need, regardless of their financial situation.

And because productive work enhances mental health, “Sliding scales” and hand-outs aren’t the best solutions.

Community Exchange Systems

One way to provide mental health services to the un- or underemployed, a strategy used successfully during the first Great Depression, is Community Exchange Systems (CES).  To again quote my former article:

When the Great Depression fell upon the American public, Self-Help organizations sprang up as a “spontaneous mass movement” and became a part of daily life for many people. By the end of 1932, there were self-help organizations in over 37 states with 300,000 members (equivalent to 2.1 million people today). Their work involved direct exchanges of goods and services (partially in cash), cooperative production for sale or trade. The largest group, in Seattle, WA, the Unemployed Citizens League (UCL) had twenty-two local commissaries around the city where food and firewood was available for exchange for every type of service and commodity from home repairs to doctors’ bills. Local farmers gave unmarketable fruits and vegetables over to their members to pick and people gained the right to cut firewood on scrub timberland.

Bartering?

These systems are not direct bartering. “Bartering” poses ethical dilemmas for therapists and can, for example, muddy the therapeutic relationship.  Instead, trading system “clients” are in no way obligated to the therapist directly.  They instead are obligated to the community, “paying back” their psychotherapy by delivering/selling something to another trader in the community.  It is, in the true sense of the word, a “favor bank.”

Giving to the War Effort

Today, as during World War I, psychotherapists have rallied to help returning veterans and the US Military, and this effort demonstrates how effective Community Exchanges are as applied to psychotherapy. CES organizations like Give An Hour , ask clinical volunteer professionals to give an hour of their time to provide critical mental health services to U.S. troops and their families who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq. This organization is proof that such a system can work well for our profession.

Surely the economic ‘War on Workers’ deserves our attention no less.

The Dangers of Psychological Terrorism

I’ve developed a deep respect for how powerfully psychology frames reality. Misuse this power, and we pathologize a person’s emotional reactions, attributing psychological symptoms, such as anxiety and depression to past traumas, when these reactions are perfectly appropriate given the current situation or potential threat that presents itself. The sorrow over the death of a parent, for example, is not a mental illness, it is an appropriate emotional response to what has happened to you.  Unemployment and the resulting social and economic damage is no different.

When we pathologize predictable responses to life’s difficulties, and disconnect  actual events from common emotion reactions to it, we inflict what I call “Psychological Terrorism.”

When, as a group, we psychotherapists don’t acknowledge economic hardship, energy depletion, or environmental degradation as legitimate concerns for exploration in therapy, we send a powerful message to people implying that these aren’t “real” concerns, or that these are “personal” as opposed to “collective” issues, that require only personal help.  Referring the un- or under employed to movements like UCubed allows them to see themselves as part of the 31 million Americans without work.  It contextualizes their pain.  It promotes collective action.  It enhances mental health.

While mentioning “I know these are hard times” or “I’m sensitive to environmental concerns’ in their advertising will hardly be a revolutionary act, it is an initial step in first and foremost labeling this severe economic depression as “real.”  Imagine if physicians, dentists…all health and allied mental health professionals included in their advertising the phrase “We know you are hurting from this bad economy.  Let us know how we can help you get the help you need.”

This type of advertising says “It’s real.  It is happening to all of us, not just you.” It labels these concerns as legitimate stressors that intensify the need for treatment, as well as being a legitimate topic for treatment.

Community Spirit Lives

Community Exchange Systems (CES), Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS), Mutual Credit trading systems or Time Banks are trading systems that are truly workable in communities decimated by a crumbling economy. When psychotherapists join them, participate in them, it tells our communities that we are aware of what is happening, and we are active participants in healing the suffering.  We put our own labor on par with that of other community workers and we are willing to exchange that labor to those who are willing to work for others.  Our very participation in such CES organizations are bolstering the care we provide, by providing the opportunity to work.

We Live in Historically Significant Times

My colleagues, let us not be judged harshly by history yet again. Eighty years ago, we responded, as a group, to the war effort, while ignoring the unemployed:

“When the United States entered the First World War, psychologists,

We are used to these pictures. Women and children weren’t allowed in these lines. They were taken around back, when they showed up for food.

as an associated group, volunteered their professional services. Their contribution was considerable, both to the conduct of the War and to psychology.

When the United States entered the big world depression, psychologists did nothing and, as a group, have so far done nothing.

For nearly 10 years we have suffered through a national social and economic crisis; yet, from an examination of our professional journals and the programs of our professional meetings, one might conclude that psychologists were oblivious of the fact that our social institutions are rattling about our ears.

In fact, the world at large is as ignorant of the possible contributions of psychologists as psychologists appear to be about the world.”

From:  The psychologist’s understanding of social issues. Gundlach, R. H.; Vol 37(8), Oct, 1940. pp. 613-620

Will history repeat itself?

Unemployment Line in Missouri

We can take action, as a profession, developing psychologically savvy and effective ways to empower those now ravaged by the second Greater Depression.  We can add our voices to the growing choirs that say “growth is a dead end on a finite planet” and that a “debt-based economy harms people.”  We can tell our clients “It isn’t you.  You are living in a time of great social upheaval. Don’t blame yourself.”

We can refuse to participate in Psychological Terrorism.

We know and teach that relationships, not material possessions bring us happiness.  Now we must model that conviction in our work, by interweaving our efforts into our wounded communities, giving and receiving services, not only money.

By our actions, we demonstrate our motivation to change our world for the better and earn the label “healers.”

 ********

Dr. Kathy McMahon, “The Peak Shrink,” is a clinical psychologist who chides herself, as well as her colleagues, for not pushing harder to find better ways to reach the un- and under-employed in her community.  She’s learned something about unemployment when her husband lost his business and was un- or under employed for 18 months. She’s learned about “job merging” when her “promotion” was withdrawn and “combined into” another existing higher-up position.  You can critique her own professional profile by entering in “Psychologist” and “Cummington, MA,” or just Google Kathy McMahon.

She welcomes your comments.

 

 

 

 

When Mental Health Becomes an Economic Issue (and what to do about it…)

Crazy for Comfort  

During the last Great Depression, financially desperate people ended up entering convents, seminaries, prisons and mental hospitals, when homeless shelters had no room for them. If the goal was three “hots and a cot,” being admitted to an insane asylum allowed you to eat well, sleep off the streets, and get free medical care. And most of those admitted didn’t have to feign their afflictions…being homeless remains an extremely stressful life circumstance.

Pushed Off the Tightrope, but Ignoring the Net              

Social security “safety nets,” put in place by F.D.R., have changed some of the options available when facing difficult economic times, especially for those with psychological disorders. We now have Social Security Insurance, (SSI) for the truly impoverished and disabled among us, and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), an economic survival option for the previously employed working- or middle-classes.

The challenge today is to learn how to identify the need for and to accept help with emotional problems quickly, and to recognize that not doing so could mean taking an economic as well as psychological hit.

You do not need a long history of hospitalizations to qualify for SSDI, and this fact surprises many.  “Extreme” impairment is not a requirement, either.

Mental distress impacts earning potential, and getting help in a timely way is economically as well as emotionally smart. A colleague of mine said she expected most of her clients to improve their earning capacity as a logical outcome of working with her.

Disability Payments You’ve Been Paying For All Your Working Life

But if despite your best efforts, your emotional well-being deteriorates, you need a licensed provider to help you document the type of help you’ve been getting, and the “functional impairment” that requires you to tap into the existing economic insurance policy you’ve been paying 8.4% of your income, (perhaps as much as $9000. a year for…) all of your working life.  That insurance policy is SSDI.

And time is of the essence, because you’ll need financial resources to wait it out.  SSDI payments often kick in 2-4 years after you’ve apply, but the payments back-date from the time of the initial application.  For many, this means getting a check for between $15,000-$20,000, even after all expenses are paid.  That can truly ease the pain of mental distress.  And your benefits will continue until your retirement, as long as your impairment continues to be documented, typically every 3-5 years.

Knowing Your Options

This post is about knowing your options. My readership is a group that by and large values financial independence, and has a deep distrust for all things governmental.  But they also plan for the worst, and are deeply pragmatic.  The “sin qua non” of mental health is often the capacity to sort out reality from illusion, figure out who to trust and who to be suspicious of, and determine ahead of time actions that will help you, from those that can prove more damaging.

So here is information to tuck away in case you ever need it.

Overview

I’ll begin by discussing the differences between SSI and SSDI, and the related increase in both unemployment and disability claims.  I’ll go on to describe the professional players (lawyers & psychologists) who usually assist people in filing these mental health insurance claims, and provide an overview the required steps to document a “functional mental impairment.”  Next, I’ll looks at different social and economic attitudes of those applying for SSDI vs. SSI, and the impact it has on their overall financial well-being.  My work in the inner city over the last three years helping clients get SSI will inform this discussion.

I will end by arguing that those in the working- and middle-classes are often the most reluctant to seek psychological care when they develop functional emotional problems that impact their working life.  This is unwise, not only from a social and emotional perspective, but also from a financial one. No one with a work history and financial assets should impoverish themselves before seeking government assistance, because you have directly paid into these funds through FICA contributions, and these funds are designed to buffer you from this very situation.

Unlike the urban poor, who use government monies as a baseline income, the middle classes errs in the opposite direction.  They refuse available resources, and instead spend down their savings and retirement.  Their invisible illness often negatively impacts their professional relationships. Only in desperation, when all other resources are exhausted, do they consider what has been available to them all along.

Had they been more pro-active, and known their options, they might have prevented the catastrophic hit.  I provide a story of one entrepreneurial  family who prevented financial ruin as an example of how this can be done.

What is SSI and SSDI?

Social Security is a federal insurance plan that pays for someone’s “total disability” including mental health impairment. “Disability” under Social Security, is based on your inability to engage in consistent productive work. The difference between SSI and SSDI, is in who pays for it, and whether the applicant has “resources” (e.g. cash, a home, cars, or investment accounts) or not.

Resources and Who Pays

Think of SSDI as ‘Worker’s Disability.’ Paid out of the Social Security trust fund, it is available to those who have worked and paid 4.2%  (or 8.4% for the self-employed) included in FICA taxes, for a required minimum number of years. The amount of SSDI payout, is linked to your employment history, is paid out of workers’ tax contributions. Eligibility does not take into account one’s assets. Owning assets does not affect your eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

SSI, on the other hand, is a need-based program for people with low income and few resources. Individuals can apply for SSI if they aren’t insured for SSDI, or are insured for SSDI but are only eligible to receive a fairly small SSDI monthly benefit. A person may potentially be eligible to receive both SSDI and SSI. This is known as a “concurrent disability claim.”  Currently, the cap on assets for SSI is set at $2,000 (or $3,000 for a couple). But some assets, like the house you live in and the car you drive for basic transportation, aren’t counted toward the cap on assets.

Substantial Gainful Activity
Being “disabled” means being financially, as well as physically or mentally disabled.  “Substantial Gainful Activity” is work that monthly brings in over a certain amount of income.  The amount changes year to year. Make more than that amount per month, and SSA says you “are able to engage in competitive employment in the national economy.”

Disability Rises with Unemployment

Here is a chart that shows REAL unemployment statistics, courtesy of Shadow Statistics:

Now let’s look at the rise in disability:

Rise Seen in Social Security SSID Benefit Lawsuits

Appeals Tell the Tale

According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (27 Jul 2012):

“…the latest available data from the federal courts show that in June of this year there were 860 new SSID (not a typo) Title XVI lawsuits filed, most under US Code Title 45 Section 405 which allows for judicial review when Social Security supplemental security income (SSI) benefits are denied. The number of filings for each of the last four months (March through June 2012) is higher than for any other month in the past five years. Overall, the data show these filings are up 19.4 percent from a year ago and up 62.6 percent from levels reported in June 2007.” (emphasis added)

These are tough times.  And how does that compare to pre-2007 numbers?

Social Security claims that “the share of the U.S. population receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) benefits has risen rapidly over the past two decades, from 2.2 percent of adults age 25 to 64 in 1985 to 4.1 percent in 2005.”  

Three in 10 workers between the ages of 18-64 will be disabled, according to SSA.

Why Are Lawyers Involved?

Disability is a steady stream of income for lawyers, who are able to collect up to 25% of all back-payments owed to the filer, starting from the date of first filing, should they win the claim, with a cap of $6000.  That adds up to considerable money, as lawyers can handle quite a few claims at one time.  The lawyer charges nothing up front to the disabled person, so the cost of entry is low.  And attorneys who do nothing but disability cases know how to approach the claim, to maximize the odds that their clients win these claims.  They will usually aim for winning 80-95% of the cases they take, so if they take your case, you probably have a solid chance of getting disability.

Therefore, charting SSID, or law suits arguing for disability clients (SSI), is a quick and accurate feedback mechanism for charting the rise of SSI filings.

What Do Psychologists and Other Mental Health Professionals Do?

In the case of those who are filing for mental impairment, they typically fall into those qualifying for SSI, and those qualifying for SSDI.  In the agency I worked for, we only took SSI cases, because we only accepted publicly funded insurance.

Those aiming for SSDI will typically want to hire a private diagnostician, rather than go to a public mental health clinic (although many public health clinics take all types of insurance).  You want to ask them “How many workman’s comp and SSDI/SSI assessments do you do a year, and do you measure your success rate?”  In my agency, we seldom had a client who was ultimately found ineligible (but that may also be due to the multi-problem families we worked with.)  I believe there was one in the three years I was there, and that case was currently on appeal.

What to Expect from the Psychologist

Psychologists conduct an interview, and perform a diagnostic assessment. This provides the Social Security Administration (SSA) with psychological testing, such as IQ tests, Projective or neuropsychological  instruments, to document the nature and extent of the functional impairment. It is best if the psychologist conducting the evaluation is not the same professional who is treating you on an ongoing basis.  Many psychologists do nothing but these types of assessments to be used in disability cases. They know how to write an effective report that meets SSA requirements.  A comprehensive psychological report, which clarifies the current diagnosis, and documents functional impairment is required to make a clear case determination.

There are nine diagnostic categories that qualify a person for disability because of mental impairment: Organic mental disorders (12.02); schizophrenic, paranoid and other psychotic disorders (12.03); affective disorders (12.04); mental retardation (12.05); anxiety-related disorders (12.06); somatoform disorders (12.07); personality disorders (12.08); substance addiction disorders (12.09); and autistic disorder and other pervasive developmental disorders (12.10). Each of these, with the exception of mental retardation and substance addiction disorders, requires both a statement describing the disorder(s), including a set of medical findings such as those diagnostic tests given by the psychologist, and a set of impairment-related functional limitations.

SSI Recipients in ‘Deep Poverty’

The case I’m presenting below isn’t an actual person, but it is a composite description of hundreds of families very similar to Ms. James’, that I supervised over my three years working in the inner city with those in deep poverty.  We classify families as living in “deep poverty” if they have three elements: (a) severe poverty – an income less than half the median income for poor families; (b) long term poverty – being poor for 5 years or longer; and (c) concentrated poverty – living in a neighborhood in which 30% of families are poor (Wilson, 2005):

Ruby James, (26 years old), has been out of work for 6 years.  She is intelligent, but functionally illiterate and probably has an undiagnosed learning disability. Her children, ages 2, 5 and 7, are all on social security disability (SSI) for various reasons including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Autism, and physical disability. Each child has a different father. The oldest child’s father, Mr. Clarke is drug addicted, and there is a restraining order against him by Ms. James for domestic violence. The whereabouts of her second child’s father is unknown.  The youngest child’s father is in prison.  

Ms. James is currently fighting with her mother over custody of her three children.  Her mother, Ms. Thompson, has charged that her daughter is an “unfit parent,” as she alleges that there is no food in the house, and that her daughter is once again living with her former partner and father of her oldest child, Mr. Clarke.  She further alleges that her daughter sometimes leave the children home at night alone, “to party with friends,” claiming that the 7 year old is left to “babysit.”

Ms. James denies living with Mr. Clarke. She admits that she is clinically depressed, (the basis of her own current disability claim).  She is, according to her own report “a caring and devoted mother.”  Ms. James counter-alleges that her mother is fighting for custody of her children “only to get their benefits.”

Ms. James’ children’s benefits, in addition to her aid to dependent children, food stamps, public health care, and subsidized housing costs, are her only sources of income.

All-Out War on Black and Hispanic Men

Her boyfriend, Mr. Clarke, is not working, and if he is living with her, he is another drain on an otherwise overtaxed family system.  I was left convinced after my three years working in the inner city, that there is an all-out war against Black and Hispanic men in this country.  The education they get in this city is abysmal, and the pressure to stay safe by joining gangs is enormous.  The availability of decent jobs is negligible. When they could be found, they were often secured by others through nepotism or outright prejudice.  Often, the inner-city applicant lacked even the most basic of job skills.  As a result, the intact family, where the father is present, caring, and not abusive, is exceptionally rare in this clinic population.  Fathers are essentially absent, abusive, or imprisoned.  That is the norm.  And it convinced me that families need two loving parents.

Domestic Violence a “Bad Reason” to Land in Prison

Ongoing domestic violence is also quite possible, as her mother alleges, and witnessing that violence puts her children, as well as Ms. James, at risk.  Women in these communities expect adult men to spend at least some time in prison. Children visit family members in prisons from a young age. Domestic violence, however, is considered a ‘bad reason’ to be there, although it is often tolerated in the relationship. Children also witness violent murders commonly, and attend funerals of loved ones they’ve lost.

It is the traumatic norm.

Ms. James may also be correct that her mother could indeed have complicated reasons, including financial motives, for wanting custody.  She’s raising several other grandchildren, is herself on SSI, and feels she “has the time”  and greater “skill” to raise her daughters’ children.

A Seriously Broken System Turns Children into Economic Assets 

Conservatives rail against this type of social benefit payout, and it has become “politically incorrect” to paint such a dreary portrait of the lives of those living in “deep poverty.”  There is no question in my mind that the system is seriously broken, and serves no one well, including the infrastructure of service providers and state workers that now do home-based services.  It is a multi-generational problem that needs multi-generational intervention. In a down-turning economy, this help is unlikely to be forthcoming. What we see in this “Culture of SSI” is that this insurance becomes seen as a sole avenue for financial stability, and given how meager this allotment is, families fight over children who have SSI, as valuable economic resources.

Be that as it may, in a time of increasing economic turmoil, and rising costs of living, the inner city is becoming a nastier place to live, and a tough place to work for those charged with helping families like the James’.  In my last year at this agency, I saw many more incidents of violence or threats of violence toward clinicians than in any other previous year.

Middle-Class Disability

Regularly, I was asked to review psychological testing reports and co-sign paperwork for those being evaluated for mental health disability.

I have come to realize that in contrast to the “Culture of SSI” as a foundation of economic security among the urban poor, many working-class and middle-class families in trouble have no idea how SSDI works, or that they might be eligible for it. There is larger stigma about seeking out mental health services among the working and middle classes than among those in ‘deep poverty.’  This could be a financial mistake.

Those who actively seek treatment when in distress, even if only periodically, create a ‘paper trail,’ which enables them to easily accumulate all of the necessary documentation, should a ‘marked’ impairment in cognitive or psychological functioning arise.  Those who are more economically successful, better educated, or have a prior history of unbroken prosperity often wait before they get help.

Take this hypothetical case example:

Ralph Albertson, and his wife, have run a small business from their home successfully for many years.  However, during the economic downturn, they were unable to sustain it at a viable level.  The couple began first to live off their savings, and finally their retirement income, hoping the economy would “turn around.”   The impact to his suffering business took a severe toll on Ralph.  He became clinically depressed, and at the urging of his wife, was treated by a psychologist, and referred to a psychiatrist for medication.  Despite these interventions, Ralph never fully recovered his capacity to work.

He filed for SSDI.

In order to qualify, he was referred by his treating psychologist to a colleague, who gave Ralph six common psychological tests. His psychologist helped Ralph get his paperwork in order, and contact a disability attorney.  Ralph  was referred to an attorney, because he was self-employed, and these cases can sometimes be difficult to win.  Ralph was granted SSDI, after a long waiting period, and two appeals.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) denies 65 percent of the initial claims filed, and appeals are the norm. It also can take a long time to go through the system, on average two to four years.

This application and income, although not a large amount to the Albertsons, cleared the way to other benefits, such as state offered health insurance, food stamps (SNAP) and fuel assistance, that the Albertsons might not otherwise have been aware they were eligible for.

What does “residual impairment” mean to Ralph, who works in his own business from home?

While Ralph is able to continue working in his business, even after receiving SSDI, and the couple continues to receive monthly income from it, Ralph is no longer as effective as he used to be.  Once a capable trouble-shooter of customer complaints, for example, Ralph no longer has the “patience” to cope with these calls.  He has had to hire part-time help.  

While he has “good periods” where he is feeling hopeful and effective, these are punctuated  by deeply depressed mood, where he “talks incessantly about economic, environmental, and energy declines that are”, in his words “sweeping the country,” according to his wife.  When he’s better, he’s a tireless worker in his community in the Transition Town movement.  When he’s not doing well, he barely functions. During these dark periods, he works actively to manage suicidal thoughts, with the help of his therapist.

How Long Does SSDI or SSI Last?

Ralph is 47.  At this age, if he continues to be eligible, he will receive SSDI benefits until his retirement.  The Albertsons would prefer to be off of SSDI payments, and have a successful business once again.  But Ralph and his wife have found out what many poor recipients have discovered:  the jump in their income must be quite substantial, if they are to maintain their current ‘subsidized’ lifestyle.  This is no easy task in this economy.

Simple, Sustainable Living

The Albertson’s lifestyle is by no means a lavish one.  Most would not even call it a “comfortable” income, but the Albertsons have paid off their modest  home many years ago, insulated it well in preparation for tough times, cook from scratch, and for environmental reasons, are not avid consumers or intentional tourists. They even have a wood stove,  and harvest their own firewood.

Vacillating Functioning

This modest, lower-stress existence has helped Ralph enormously.  When his mood, concentration, and attention improves, he is able to work effectively at his desk, and accomplish his work.  He will engage easily in meal preparation and housekeeping during these times.

Consistency of Functioning a Key Consideration

These periods of better functioning are not a problem for SSDI, however, because these improvements are not consistent.  Consistency in “residual functional capacity” (RFC) is important, to prevent his depression from impacting his ability to do “substantial gainful activity” (SGA).  Without his wife and part-time help as back-up, the business would not continue to function, and this has been made clear to SSA.

He demonstrates that need for continued assistance by faithfully attending his therapy appointments, despite these emotional ups and downs.  His psychologist is able to give accurate and competent documentation that attests to his need for continued disability payments, when his review comes up every 3-5 years.

“Marked” vs “Extreme” Impairment

Ralph is not a severely impaired individual who is regularly hospitalized for his condition.  Social Security Adminstration is clear that this is not a requirement:

“Where we use “marked” as a standard for measuring the degree of limitation, it means more than moderate but less than extreme. A marked limitation may arise when several activities or functions are impaired, or even when only one is impaired, as long as the degree of limitation is such as to interfere seriously with your ability to function independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a sustained basis. See §§ 404.1520a and 416.920a.”

They continue:

“We do not define “marked” by a specific number of different behaviors in which social functioning is impaired, but by the nature and overall degree of interference with function. For example, if you are highly antagonistic, uncooperative, or hostile but are tolerated by local storekeepers, we may nevertheless find that you have a marked limitation in social functioning because that behavior is not acceptable in other social contexts.”

Stopping the Downward Economic and Psychological Slide

If Ralph’s situation doesn’t sound serious to you, if you feel he is “bilking the system” for benefits, it is likely that your own idea of living in hard economic times is accompanied by an elevated tolerance for depressive symptoms as an “acceptable reality of modern life.”  Clearly there is a correlation between depression and stress, as there is between unemployment and increased alcohol consumption. But clinical depression is not the same as feeling “bummed out” or “blue” about a loss of income.

Stop-Gap Answer for an Ongoing, Deteriorating Economic Climate

The question remains how many of us would be as pro-active as the Albertsons and take the steps necessary to contact a professional and seek help in a similar situation?  And how many psychotherapists would be familiar enough with the SSDI process, or integrate the necessity of economic help, as part of their treatment plan?  In Ralph’s case, that help was not totally successful in alleviating his symptoms, to enable him to return to his previous high-level functioning.  If it did, he might have found other ways to generate income for his family, even in these financially challenging times.

However, his lingering depressive symptoms, which impact his capacity to function in this present hostile economic environment, prompted his psychologist to encourage Ralph to consider SSDI, as a stop-gap measure to alleviate his family’s ongoing and deteriorating economic condition.  And SSDI was successful in helping Ralph to keep his home, as well as his sanity, intact.

The Shame of Reaching Out

Ralph had steadily paid into FICA, 8.4% of his income, once he became self-employed.  Still, it took supportive counseling before Ralph could see that it was the economy, not his entrepreneurial skills, that were failing, and to accept depression as a diagnosable mental disorder, not a personal weakness.

SSDI now serves as a financial support, partially restoring the steady income that both the economy and Ralph’s depression has taken away from him.

Unwillingness to Accept Crippling Emotional Distress

In fact, one might argue that the Albertsons have actually adjusted quite well to their circumstances, by being unwilling to accept Ralph’s depressive symptoms as a “normal” reaction to economic hard times.  And there are many indications of this intelligent adjustment to difficult circumstances:

  • Ralph is still happily married;
  • He’s resisted the lure of abusing drugs or alcohol to cope with his depression, and;
  • He has maintained his community contacts.

He should be applauded for being pro-active.

If we were to ask him what he thought of this experience, he might say something like this:

I wouldn’t recommend depression to anyone.  I felt so terrible, I wanted to die to stop it.  I can’t see anything positive in my life, past or present, including my wife, when I’m depressed, and I used to take it out on her, but I’ve learned how not to.  

She was the one that insisted that I get help. I was resistant because it was the worst possible time to shell out money for something I’d always considered a waste of time and money  I was also ashamed of what I considered a personal failure, and the last thing I wanted to do was talk to someone about it. But now I’m glad I did.  If I hadn’t, I would have continued like that for… I don’t know how long, and eventually our savings would be gone and we’d have to sell our house.  And I’d keep telling myself to “snap out of it,” but I never would.  I couldn’t on my own.

I know it sounds bad, but I have more freedom now to live my life in a more normal way.  I can respond to the pressures more realistically now, and take a break when I need it.  There are some days I sit in the sun or take a long walk, rather than sit in the office, because I that’s all I can do, and I don’t beat myself up over it anymore.  And the chunk of money, over $18,000 when it finally came through, after the lawyer was paid, really came in handy.”

Forward Into the Past

There is a time, and many say it is coming soon, when families like the Albertson’s will have no other recourse but to sell their house and remain as destitute as any family once found roaming the country during the 1930’s in search of work, with their possessions loaded onto their station wagon.

But that time is not now.

If you, or someone you know is suffering… is just not getting through the day without enormous effort, encourage them to get them help, and keep careful records, when they do.  If their functioning is impacted in a marked and prolonged way, consider disability as a financial, as well as a therapeutic option.

The financial life you save might be your own.

 

 

In the Garden of Your Mind…

Scientists have a particular kind of limitation that’s used when applying imagination.

The whole question of imagination in science is often misunderstood by people in other disciplines. They try to test our imagination in the following way. They say, “Here is a picture of some people in a situation. What do you imagine will happen next”. When we say, “I can’t imagine,” they may think we have a weak imagination. They overlook the fact that whatever we are allowed to imagine in science must be consistent with everything else we know; that the electric fields and the waves we talk about are not just some happy thoughts which we are free to make as we wish, but ideas which must be consistent with all the laws of physics we know.

“We can’t allow ourselves to seriously imagine things which are obviously in contradiction to the known laws of nature. And so our kind of imagination is quite a difficult game. One has to have the imagination to think of something that has never been seen before, never been heard of before. At the same time the thoughts are restricted in a straitjacket, so to speak, limited by the conditions that come from our knowledge of the way nature really is

The problem of creating something which is new, but which is consistent with everything which has been seen before, is one of extreme difficulty.”

The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Vol. II, 1964, p. 20-10. (thanks to Michael   A. Gottlieb   from www.feynmanlectures.info for the original  citation)

Sometimes, however, the unconscious, as in sleep, can assist in this imaginative endeavor:

Elias Howe was one of many people who worked independently to invent a sewing machine. Exhausted, after working intensely on the invention, he fell asleep and had the following dream:

He dreamed that the natives, in a jungle, threw him into a large stew-pot. He was trying frantically to get out while the natives poked at him with their spears.

Later the next day, he recalled his dream, and with a start realized that the spears poking at him in the dream had holes at the point. This unconscious realization shook up his operating paradigm, which framed a needle as a hand-held instrument with the hole at the top. Through reflecting on his dream, he realized this needed to be reversed in the invention, the “sewing machine.”

Another story I’ve heard involves James Watson, one of two men who won the Nobel Prize for conceiving of the DNA double helix. According to the tale, Watson also fell asleep, this time napping, after being stymied about this problem, and dreamed of two snakes intertwining in an ascending helix, biting their tales.  He now had the visual design.

Good ideas, like the one my friend, Robert Beartsch has been working on, require creative imagination combined with scientific know-how. Watch this video and imagine a rail system that’s cheap, sleek, and solar powered:

With a little more imagination, we can remove the roadways and autos altogether, and envision bike paths instead.

When scientists dream, they also need the general public to dream along with them.  We need to be able to imagine putting ourselves in the dream.  These Skytran allow no more than one or two passengers, which enables them to float as they do.  Can you imagine no more traffic jams?  No more smog?

Learn More.

Where Will the Grandkids Live?

For several months I have pondered the above question. As we age we become more reflective than when we were young, and the hustle and bustle of life filled every waking minute. No, I am not talking about the geographic location of their future life, but the time period in which they will live, and what their way of life may be.

My study and research over the past 6 years have led myself and many others to believe that we are about to embark upon a very unique time in the history of mankind on this planet. I believe we are about to witness time running backward with the decline of the oil age. I’m not talking about the hands of your clock moving in reverse, but the achievements that we have come to embrace and depend upon gradually ceasing to exist in a useable form, for those living at that time. It will be living as if we were at the back of the history book, and reading forward to the front as the passage of time moves ahead.

Skills, materials, processes, and techniques crucial to our lives today will gradually be replaced by less sophisticated and less efficient skills, materials, processes, and techniques similar to those of a bygone era. James Kuntsler has written extensively about this process in several of his books. Many have read his works and pushed them aside as being a very imaginative work of fiction that surely never could happen. After all, the great works of fiction written in the past, such as those of Jules Verne, have suggested forward growth to the time period we are familiar with today. Not so fast though. Has there been a historical precedent when the very process of regression actually did occur?

Because of the diligent work of historians and archeologists in the last several decades, we have a view of a significant period of time in which such a regression indeed has occurred. Many techniques and technologies from this prior period were lost to humanity, for hundreds or even thousands of years, only to be “re-discovered” in the last two centuries. That period of time existed from around the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD forward. With its demise, many skills and technologies were lost. Hydraulic setting cement, which is an extensive component used to build our modern seaports, bridges, navigation channels, and dams, was lost with the fall of the Roman Empire, and not re-discovered until 1300 years later.

Modern brain surgery dating from around 1935, actually had its origins as far back as 7000 BC, but that skill also disappeared during the fall of the Roman Empire, only to be re-discovered 78 years ago.

The Antikythera Mechanism, a very sophisticated analog scientific computer, comprised of many intricate gears and dials, was in use during the first century BC, but its use was lost around the fall of Roman Empire, only to be re-discovered in the mid 1800’s. Not until the late 1800’s could precise gears be made to replicate some of the functions found in the earlier device from 1900 years previous.

History reveals that we have had massive society regression on a large scale in the past. To think ourselves immune to that today is faulty societal thinking. My belief is that we will begin to experience this process at a gradually accelerating pace sometime within the next five years. The decline of the oil age, and depletion of other natural resources will begin to remove the familiar from our lives at an ever increasing pace. All are now familiar with the predicted demise of the fossil fueled private transportation, and commercial air travel. What other goods and services also will begin a slow disappearing act? Just about anything depending on a supply of fossil fuel in its manufacture, transportation or content can be expected to decline in availability. Modern medicine, modern electronics, abundant affordable food, clothing, plastics, glues, building materials, school supplies, sports equipment, and just about anything your else your eyes see today.

So where do I think my grandchildren will live when they are 40 (ages today 10, 14, and 21)? I think they will live in a world very similar to the first decade of the last century. There will be some electricity available, mostly in the cities I think, but it will be intermittent. Those who are lucky enough still to have a land line will maintain some communication ability. There will be limited use of airplanes, but not for air travel. Medicine and medical supplies will be limited and not available in the variety that we have today. Anything plastic will be a curiosity, and not currently available. Radio, TV and Internet will become “things of the past” . Media, and the internet to some extent, exist only for one purpose, to advertise goods and services for you to buy. At some point the amount and variety of available goods will decline to a level that will no longer sustain the operational expense of any of those venues.

We seem to be building a better mouse trap for ourselves worldwide. The written word and pictures are now converting to an all electronic format. Book store closings abound. What will result when the lack of energy and fossil fuel chemicals make the devices displaying that media unavailable? A great amount of collective and personal history, along with “how to” will vanish. We will still have libraries with “hands on” physical books, but new material will be slow to obtain.

The hardest reality that my grandchildren will experience, will be the memory of a time when many more conveniences and goods were commonplace and available. If you were able to go back and ask people living at the beginning of the last century about the quality of their lives, they would likely tell you that life was pretty good for them. Quality of life would appear to them to be far better than that experienced by their ancestors.

I think that many generations may pass before the world, its people, and its resources will regain some form of sustainable equilibrium.

Where do you think your grandchildren will live?

Chuck

The Limits of Technology

Last week we watched an unusual early spring outbreak of tornados from Kansas through Virginia. Some 39 people lost their lives in these violent storms. Having viewed the destruction on nightly TV news programs, it is amazing the fatalities weren’t even higher. During that outbreak, one community, Harveyville, Kansas, was hit without warning, with the loss of a resident. What made this particular incident so unnerving was the fact that the community was close to a powerful weather radar facility and experienced weather bureau staff. The storm had produced a tornado in an adjacent county prompting a warning for that county. But the radar seemed to show the storm falling apart quickly, and the weather bureau staff chose not to extend the warning to the next county, and the sirens didn’t sound.

It was not the fault of the radar or the radar operator in the interpretation of all those green, red and yellow displays. It was simply the fact that technology can do only so much in the detection and analysis of impending natural weather events. After many decades as a trained storm spotter, I have come to accept the limitations of technology in “Tornado Alley”, where there is no substitute for eyes on the ground. It may come as a shock to some that radar does not see a large percentage of tornados on the ground or funnel clouds aloft. We have become complacent in expecting that the colorful displays we see on TV are the final word on the threats before us. We have trusted that technology has reached a point where we no longer have to worry about a surprise attack from Mother Nature. Nothing could be further from the truth.

What surprised the weather bureau after the 2011 tornado outbreaks in Alabama and the Joplin tornado was the loss of life, some 500 plus individuals, the greatest loss since 1936, long before radar had been invented. Clearly, from the devastation observed, early warnings kept that loss from being many times greater. It demonstrated that technology was a significant contributor to preserving lives, but it was not a total solution to their living safely with Mother Nature on the rampage.

So what does all this rambling have to do with Peak Oil Blues? Over the past several days I have received several e-mails from friends about “new” technology in the oil and gas fields making us energy independent in a few short years. First of all, the “new” technology is some 60+ years old; it is only since oil and gas have reached higher prices allowing newer technologies to be employed.

Secondly, we have collectively come to expect that technology will triumph over any obstacle, even if it is the total lack of an available resource. As a nation we have allowed ourselves to become lulled into complacency, assuming that the wizards of technology will somehow allow us to extract the proverbial blood from a turnip, and therefore, we as a population have to do nothing but sit back, and continue our customary driving and consuming, while waiting. We much prefer to accept hype over facts, which can be uncomfortable.

But what happens when the population runs directly into the limits of technology? I think that like the storms of weather, we will face the storms of economics and energy. There will be many consequences where people and these storms collide. The consequences will be physical, economic, emotional, mental, and intellectual. Many will ask “Why didn’t the sirens sound?” so that we could take precautions and make preparations. The result will be very troubling times. There are no guidelines to follow. As a population we will have to write the “book” on how to deal with the decline of the energy age from Chapter 1 forward, since this has not occurred before. Many authors and websites have written the Preface; we will have to build upon their work.

Technology is a wonderful thing, but we must understand its limits in supplying solutions for our daily needs. Some of that supply will have to come from the work of our own hands and those immediately around us (community).

From all appearances, the economics and energy storm in reality is not diminishing, but the technology is not really detecting that, either from an omission or commission in reading its displays. Our technology is nearing its limits, but public awareness is almost “nil” that a storm indeed is approaching.

The sirens should be wailing now for you to take precautions, but they remain silent.

This is the time for you to have eyes to the sky.

Chuck