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Summer in Antarctica


Tom of the North

The following article has been contributed by Tom of the North. Visit Tom’s web sites at Outside the Cardboard Box and the Looming Doom.

Readers of my blogs probably know I write political/economic & apocalyptic satire strictly for my own entertainment. That’s really my only excuse for the amateurish slapdash drivel I periodically spew forth. For the last several months however I’ve lacked any desire to write. I’m just not seeing the humor I used to find so readily. I’m reasonably certain some humor could still be mined, I just no longer find these situations funny or ironic, and neither can I muster even sarcasm. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve still got plenty on my mind. It’s just that there is no shortage of writers out there who do the serious shtick much better than me. I would rather read what they have to say than go thru the exercise of organizing my thoughts – not a core competency – and putting pen to paper (so to speak). Well that’s all changed today. It’s been an interesting couple days at the OTCB Global Headquarters Shed and I would like to share a few of my thoughts with you. Fair warning: the downtime has not abated my predisposition towards inane drivel.

Like a lot of places in the northern hemisphere, it’s been a heckuva winter here in TheNorth. We have over 4 feet of snow on the ground and are expecting a low of minus 30F tonight. Nothing terribly unusual by itself but this winter has been unrelenting – seems like it snows every other day and the spells of bitter cold arrive at least every other week. I’m not complaining. I truly enjoy winter. I snowshoe, X-C ski, ice skate, all sorts of stuff. But winter poses additional challenges not encountered in more temperate regions. For example, my 14hp beast of a snow blower – a critical piece of machinery for my location – has required several repairs so far this winter. When the snow blower is running, it takes me a couple of hours to clear a minor snowfall (4-6 inches). My toil goes up perhaps 30% for each additional 4 inches of snow in a given storm. I also have some areas that require shoveling by hand, which takes another hour or so. That’s not to say I clear my entire driveway. Nope. So far all I’ve described is opening walkways to the driveway, the garage and the OTCB Global Headquarters Shed, clearing a bit of patio and providing some space for guest parking. My driveway is a half mile from my house to my mailbox at the road and I have a contract with the County to plow that. They roll-in with a large truck bearing a wing plow and, swoosh swoosh, the entire half mile is cleared in a jiffy.

Therefore you can imagine my alarm when word came that the local Snow Plow Drivers Union had voted to strike. This definitely counts as a Black Swan Event in these parts. I mean, who knew that there was such a Union or that they would strike over winter during a Great Depression. Unthinkable! And it was snowing again. I almost sent a note to Mish decrying public employee unions and to publicize my plight but instead just resigned myself to the facts – I was screwed. As I attempted to psyche myself up for what could prove to be weeks or even months of snow removal misery, a friend dropped by the Shed for a visit. I broke out some potato juice refreshment (as is our custom for social visits here) and proceeded to vent my frustration at having to snow blow a freaking half mile plus of driveway, parking and paths. Sometime later, considerably reduced of potato juice inventory and with the upcoming driveway challenges reduced to a mere trifle, I informed my buddy it was time for me to start clearing the full half mile before it became too dark. He departed and I commenced my task. I was perhaps a quarter mile down on my first pass when he surprisingly returned in a pick-up truck with a plow. Barely 30 minutes later he had cleared the driveway & parking areas and I had most of the walkways done. A celebratory refreshment was certainly in order….

When my friend had again departed and it was now quite dark & chilly outside, I had an inexplicable urge to go camping. I assembled my gear: 4 season tent, winter sleeping bag, snowshoes w/poles, flashlight, matches and some newspaper for campfire tinder. The tent & sleeping bag went into my external frame backpack. For rations I included more potato juice plus some seasonal cranberry flavoring. I donned appropriate outerwear, strapped on my snowshoes and I was off on a subzero moonlit adventure.

Did I mention there is over 4 feet of snow here? Even with snowshoes I was laboring after only a few hundred feet, not yet even at the trailhead. On the trail I discovered trees pushed down by the weight of snow. Not impassable but requiring me to stoop for tens of yards at a time, difficult with a backpack, wearing snowshoes and in deep powder. And the top of the pack frame kept snagging the now-low branches, which would repeatedly dump the overhead snow down my neck & back. By the time I hit the quarter mile mark I was pausing to rest every 20 feet or so. Wheezing does not fully convey the sounds emanating from my exertions. At this point, every movement elicited some form of grunt, groan or moan. All of which makes it that more surprising that I finally made it to my destination. While only a mile out in the woods it was still a noteworthy accomplishment for me. I was drenched in sweat and gasping for air but I had arrived! Another celebratory refreshment seemed called for….

I trampled down an area of snow for my tent, put down a ground tarp and had the tent up in short order. The fire was more problematic. The wind had come up and was blowing a considerable amount of snow down onto what I envisioned would become my warming & cheerful campfire. The newsprint tinder was rapidly consumed and unable to dry & ignite the deadfall fuel I had collected from around my campsite. Quite damp from my earlier exertions and lacking a campfire, I began to chill. Clearly more refreshment was called for lest I become dehydrated.

Decision time: My clothes are wet, temps are below zero, the wind is kicking up and, perhaps more importantly, I’m out of refreshments. Decision made: I saddle up and trudge back to a warm Shed, dry PJs and a comfy bed, completely unenamored (if only temporarily) of snowshoeing in general and winter camping in particular.

So today, all caught up on machinery repairs & snow removal and with word that the snow plow drivers strike has been settled, I decided to break out my snowmobile for a little motorized recreation on the back 40. I generally prefer the more quiet outdoor pursuits but on occasion it’s still fun to make a little noise & tear-ass down a trail thru the woods. A couple of test runs up & down the plowed driveway assured me the machine was performing properly so I made a run towards the snow bank separating my plowed driveway from the deep snow of my yard and the woodland trails beyond.

As I hit the snow bank, the snowmobile climbed up & over and I was moving steadily thru untrodden powder. Woohoo! This was more like it. I was about 200 feet further along when I hit a somewhat larger snow drift and the snowmobile bogged down and got stuck. Shit. Didn’t even make it to the trail – stuck in my yard. I waded thru the deep snow for a shovel. Returning to the stranded sled I excavated a circle with a radius the length of the snowmobile. One could be forgiven for not realizing a snowmobile can become stuck multiple times even when you remove most of the surrounding snow. Six times in fact. I finally got the snowmobile pointing back from whence it came, and subsequently buried it a couple more times but was finally making steady progress towards the plowed driveway. I buried it one last time right on the edge of the initial snow bank. At this point I was once again drenched in sweat and gasping for air but now enjoying the additional benefit of having wrenched my back trying to lift 600 lbs out of a freaking crevasse in my yard multiple times. I’d had enough. Sufficiently close to the driveway, I hooked up a tow strap to my truck and dragged the stupid machine back to the garage where it will likely remain….forever.

Back in the Shed with my lower back throbbing in portent of the complete incapacitation soon at hand, I popped several Aleve and determined to share with you what’s been on my mind. That’s right; all of this other crap was just a prologue. Per my usual interests, I’ve got the economy & politics on my mind, and maybe a little of the Apocalypse is in the mix too. You see, recently The Bernank effectively declared the Antarctic summer holiday season in full swing, exhorting us to buy beachfront property on the shores of Lake Vostok , lest prices go up and we all miss out:

“More recently, however, we have seen increased evidence that a self-sustaining recovery in consumer and business spending may be taking hold.”Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben S. Bernanke from The Economic Outlook and Monetary and Fiscal Policy before the Committee on the Budget, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C. on January 7, 2011.

Bear with me; it’s an economic climate analogy thing (Or is it a metaphor? I can never keep them straight). I’m sure you know it’s widely accepted that economies & markets have seasons too (sometimes called cycles). In this instance The Bernank is telling us our economic spring has sprung. Or at least it’s just around the corner. Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow. Halleluiah! We’re saved! Wouldn’t that be swell? I would love to see some economic warm & sunny days with signs of new growth busting out all over. Except it seems to me he qualifies his analysis so thoroughly as to negate it. He flaccidly says that all manner of good economic shit “may be taking hold”. He reminds me of a shady salesman – in his case errors of omission are more germane than what he actually says. Example: I’m spending all my money today because 1) I may win the Powerball jackpot tonight and; 2) I may hook-up with a Victoria Secrets lingerie model in Duluth, MN this weekend and; 3) I may invent a teleportation machine next Wednesday. Thus was I reminded by The Bernank’s comments that while it may now be summer in Antarctica it’s still a lot colder there than most of us can tolerate and in fact the days are getting shorter & colder as you read this from the Northern hemisphere in January. So, is The Bernank an omniscient economic genius, a deluded crackpot or more simply someone akin to Shipmaster Jeffrey Hazelwood , asleep in his cabin as the ship he’s tasked with piloting runs aground in a monumental disaster? An interesting question given recent revelations that FOMC minutes from 2005 indicate the participants were aware of impending bubbles. And a question for which I have no answer lest I stoop to similar qualifiers. Example: 1) The Bernank may be an idiot and; 2) Turbo Tim may be extraordinarily creepy and; 3) Larry Summers may be a fat POS. I would argue however we can unequivocally state The Bernank lies, any good intentions notwithstanding. I probably shouldn’t single-out The Bernank & his minions at the Fed, although their role as prime enablers in our economic winter is indisputable. Certainly Treasury, Congress, numerous regulatory agencies, and successive Presidential Administrations all have & continue to lie to us and played their respective parts in the unfolding maelstrom. And let’s not forget to mention those pervasive, greedy fraudsters populating our Financial Services industry. Co-conspirators all.

So let’s gather all of this together and get a little apocalyptic. What if spring does not get sprung? Winter is a dangerous time to be caught outside. My abortive subzero camping trip, while not catastrophic, could certainly have led to considerably greater discomfort and peril if I were further afield. The same can be said for my unfortunate snowmobiling experience and its crippling aftermath. So the economic question for me isn’t if TPTB are all lying to us – we know they are. Nor do I really need to hear if they know what they’re doing and/or if it’s an appropriate course of action – I have my doubts but that doesn’t matter as outcomes are never guaranteed regardless. What I really need to know is how far afield we’ve wandered and with exactitude in what direction. Unfortunately TPTB aren’t going to be forthcoming on that either. I have my suspicions but the unknowns (seen any reliable government data recently?) strike me as too numerous to draw any substantial conclusions, beyond identifying the season as still winter and knowing we definitely aint in Kansas anymore. So at a minimum I suggest you continue to gird yourself for a lot more winter and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, hope we’re not heading into the next ice age. Because that will really suck…..


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