Thursday, October 20, 2011

Greece Today

Photos of the conflict in Greece today.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Le plus ça change

From - Alfred Crozier, US Money vs. Corporate Currency, 1912

Monday, October 03, 2011

If It Be Your Will

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Titanic - or is it Spinning Straw Into Gold?

“In the United States neither paper currency nor deposits have value as commodities. Intrinsically, a dollar bill is just a piece of paper, deposits merely book entries. Coins do have some intrinsic value as metal, but generally far less than their face value. What, then, makes these instruments - checks, paper money, and coins - acceptable at face value in payment of all debts and for other monetary uses? Mainly, it is the confidence people have that they will be able to exchange such money for other financial assets and for real goods and services whenever they choose to do so."

- Federal Reserve Board - Chicago, 1961

As you know, dear reader, I have been banging the drum for a while about economic instability and also the potential for a coming problem of availability of cheap energy.

I am sorry if your eyes glaze over about some of this stuff, but I think we are living in a moment of history which could be as significant as the period of 1911-1920 where massive social change swept the world, regimes collapsed or were toppled, and new ways of living were introduced.

Of course, I could be wrong. But my purpose in discussing this is for us to seriously confront, as Christians, what happens when we may, for economic reasons and availability of resource reasons, no longer be able to jet-set around to air-conditioned conferences and different parishes flung far about (esp. the situation or Orthodoxy in the U.S. West), and we are forced to be closed to home, often without a parish anywhere near. And I think that in turn forces us to ask - what have we been about lately, anyway? And how should we, sojourners all, be passing through our societies, or local neighborhoods, our towns and environment?

This ship (the S.S. global economy) seems to have hit the iceberg already and while the band plays on the crew is frantically trying to calm those that can see there's a problem while trying to figure out what to do. Or are they simply organizing the limited lifeboats and who will be allowed to sit in them?

The quote of the last week:

"We need to find a mechanism where we can turn one euro in the EFSF into five, but there is no decision on how we could do that yet" the [EU] official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The means of that sort of leverage to get a 2 Trillion Euro facility seemed to be what some are calling the "CDO Squared" or the "Liesman rumor".

If you are confused, here is a somewhat succinct summary of the idea:

The complex deal would see the EFSF provide a loss-bearing "equity" tranche of any bail-out fund and the ECB the rest in protected "debt". If the EFSF bore the first 20% of any loss, the fund’s warchest would effectively be bolstered to €2 trillion. If the EFSF bore the first 40% of any loss, the fund would be able to deploy €1 trillion.

Using leverage in this way would allow governments substantially to increase the resources available to the EFSF without having to go back to national parliaments for approval, which in a number of eurozone countries would prove highly problematic.

As quid pro quo for an enhanced bail-out, the Germans are understood to be demanding a managed default by Greece but for the country to remain within the eurozone. Under the plan, private sector creditors would bear a loss of as much as 50% – more than double the 21% proposal currently on the table. A new bail-out programme would then be devised for Greece.


Spinning straw into gold? The only way to make 1 Euro into 5 legitimately is to devalue the currency, which some claim (with good evidence) to be the way of all fiat currencies and leading ultimately to their demise. We've had several such fiat currencies in North America prior to the current Federal Reserve Note. FRNs are only about 40 years old.

Fiat currencies work because of the faith of the users that the governments backing them will maintain value. So a massive devaluation of currency essentially risks the faith of the public. In the Euro zone these frantic maneuvers could lead to a destruction of that currency and possibly the economic union. Such a destruction could have large effects on the US and other nations as the Fed, using its monopoly powers, has committed to keep huge dollar swap lines open into Europe, essentially betting on the continued value of the foreign currency holding up, or risking the future labor of US taxpayers on the gambit (for if the currency were to fail . . .).

**A swap may be described thus: foreign central bank draws on its swap line with the Federal Reserve, the foreign central bank sells a specified amount of its currency to the Federal Reserve in exchange for dollars at the prevailing market exchange rate. The Federal Reserve holds the foreign currency in an account at the foreign central bank. The dollars that the Federal Reserve provides are deposited in an account that the foreign central bank maintains at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. At the same time, the Federal Reserve and the foreign central bank enter into a binding agreement for a second transaction that obligates the foreign central bank to buy back its currency on a specified future date at the same exchange rate. The second transaction unwinds the first. At the conclusion of the second transaction, the foreign central bank pays interest, at a market-based rate, to the Federal Reserve.

Europe has largely thumbed their noses at this extreme idea, but they are still hoping for half-measures in bumping up the firepower of the EFSF - so some form of money "printing" may happen, unless some of the member states fail to ratify the changes.

Alright. Now your eyes are really glazed over. But friends, this is important. If you watch the world news (CNN World Edition, BBC, Reuters - etc. - forget Fox News and CNN domestic, it's drivel) you will quickly see that the economic elite are making statements nearly every day about this and that measure to shore up below decks. This is not normal. They are panicked.

And again, why should we care, as Christians? Well, big events have a way of restructuring whole societies - sometimes sweeping across the globe. If you were enjoying the summer of 1912, telephones and electric lights were barely coming in, as were motor cars. Could you have predicted that by 1918 there would have been a cataclysm of war, that three great world empires (Ottoman, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian) would have collapsed and entirely new and radical social structures arisen in their place? What effect did that have on Christians in Russia? On peoples in Germany? On the social mores of peoples in England and France? What continuing effects has the legacy of that collapse, only 100 years in remove, had on us today?

1912. 100 years ago. The reasons for massive social change potentially facing us are different today, but the rumblings of change itself are all around - the Arab Spring, the economic crisis, the after effects of 9/11, the rise of China and India as potential great powers. We should be prepared to think that things will not remain as they were, although how they will be is not entirely knowable.

However, I think, in rough outline we might see these sorts of things:

1. A collapse of the European monetary union as we know it now - whether to new drachmas and Deutschmarks or to some other type of currency is unknown.

2. A strong possibility of a loss of faith in the Federal Reserve Note in this country to the erection of another type of currency.

* I think such changes in money faith are always painful economically and socially

3. A possibility that the US currency will no longer be the de facto world reserve currency in which key products (oil, other commodities) are priced and traded

4. A rise in harsh and autocratic regimes in places where we might not have thought it possible in years past

5. A general lowering of the standard of living for a lot of people living in the West.

6. On a not-too-distant horizon, a concentration of life to more local concerns and reduction in travel using cars as transportation fuels relative to available money/wages becomes more expensive (note - absolute $ cost not issue here - gas could be $2.50/gal but if I'm unemployed, it's still expensive).

In the end, our economic woes may only be addressed by use of a fairly old idea - the idea of Jubilee, or something similar - where creditors are forced to take haircuts on their claims and debtor's debts are released. As always the question becomes "who gets relief." If it's primarily the wealthy, businesses and banks, then such things may only exacerbate misery for millions.

Here is a prescription to address the economic crisis.
I doubt that any politico has the guts to try to get such plans put to consideration, and I doubt that creditors would be willing to accept it. The Hebrews and the Mesopotamians had the decree of the Divine to enforce such actions. Who could speak with such force now?


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

There you go, bringing class into it again!

There's a lot of talk about "class warfare" going 'round about these days among politicos, and among Christians of this or that sort.

While it is sometimes useful to speak in shorthand about "oligarchies" or "elites" or the "poor" or "the working class" or "middle class" some such, I think too much adherence to such classifications is dehumanizing in our speech and outlook.

Thus, hurling epithets that someone or some group is a "fascist" or "bourgeois" or "capitalist pig" or "commie" or "tea-partier" (or the more cruel and crass "tea-bagger") is to abstract humans, especially when applied to individuals and small groups of people.

This is the issue I have with many ideological arguments, such as Marxism. It takes humans and crams them into a classification system to an extreme and tries to explain all of human history through the lens of this system in rigid terms.

I am not denying the existence of class structures - and in times and places such structures were given force of law. But this ought not mean that we should use the language of such classifications in our daily discourse - for it dehumanizes our neighbor.

In my day-to-day life, I do not constantly evaluate the neighbor across the fence or the neighbor up the road as to whether he is a "prole" or a "liberal democrat," or a "toff" or some such. We talk and we look out for the other's animals. We may not agree on politics or religion or a whole host of other things. Our differences may be the result of the inculcation of mores and worldview that come about because of social norms and tendencies causing us to move in socio-economic groups which, however veiled, are class lines in our society. But a man is more than that, and is not so bound to his class (even if there is a law assigning him to a caste) that the entire tide of history is inexorably set but such classifications.

So I think we would do well to have care in our ease of use of classifications. Let us use them when we must, but always with recognition that, like a photo made of dots of color, when viewed up close such things lose meaning.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns

O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!

And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

+ + + + + + + + + + + +

So scientists in the ivory tower (well, tunnel, er . . .) have been launching neutrinos at a target deep underground and far away and have noticed an odd thing . . . neutrinos seem to be arriving faster than C, the speed of light (remember, E=MC^2?), that speed which is supposed to be, according to the Standard Model of physics, the immutable law of physics, and one that has held up quite well in its application to all sorts of things that now enrich our daily lives, from synthetic aperture radars to transistors to microchips and fiber optic lines.

The bright folks at CERN are now mulling these findings to see if there's a flaw in the research or an explanation that is due to some sort of statistical error or what not. If the findings hold up, people are going to really have to reconsider the foundation of physics, which can be exciting for a scientist.

Of course, such things (if the research holds up), remind us that a theory which is damn-near-held-as-fact sometimes turns out to be just a convenient shorthand that is not at all accurate at the margins and does not really explain things, however elegant the model. You know -- like that quaint orbital model of the atom we used to like to draw as kids in the 60s and early 70s with electrons orbiting the nucleus like some sort of miniature planetary system.

Kinda makes you wonder what other scientific theories are useful tools, but not quite right as to how things really work.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Village

Old man: People get too used to convenience. They think convenience is better. They throw out what's truly good.

Young man: But what about lights?

Old man: We've got candles and linseed oil.

Young man: But night's are so dark!

Old man: Yes, that's what night's supposed to be. Why should night be bright as day? I wouldn't like nights so bright you couldn't see the stars.

- An exchange between the young man and the old man in Kurosawa's Dreams

+ + +

In western lands beneath the Sun
the flowers may rise in Spring,
the trees may bud, the waters run,
the merry finches sing.
Or there maybe 'tis cloudless night
and swaying beeches bear
the Elven-stars as jewels white
amid their branching hair.

Though here at journey's end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars forever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done,
nor bid the Stars farewell.

- J.R.R. Tolkien, Return of the King


Friday, September 16, 2011

On Patience in a Troubled World

"Take your rest in the Lord, and wait for him; do not give way to anger when evil prospers, and seems to achieve its wicked ends." Psalm 37:7

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Efficacy of a Scythe for the Smallholder

Exercise, quiet, meditative work - and actually quite efficient up to a point, with proper equipment and technique.

This is essentially a modern European scythe - quite a bit better tool than the American scythes you see in the antique stores, and with high quality blades from Austria.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Shape of Things to Come

Well it's late in the hour and a few more grains of sand will fall.
On the colorful flowers grown upon the dust and moss.
Now I feel the worst is near,
I hold them close and count their years.
And pray a ray of light appears
To shine down on us here

Breakdown in the shape of things to come
But I'm moving on like a soldier.
And I say now when all is said and done:
It's not ours to break, the shape of things to come.

There's a crack in the clouds, but only for a moment now
Like an owl looking out, the blue sky spies the roads we will go down.
I wonder what they hold for us? I hold my family to my breast,
I feel the worst and hope the best will come to see us blessed.

Breakdown in the shape of things to come
But I'm moving on like a soldier.
And I say now when all is said and done:
It's not ours to break, the shape of things to come.
Hey! Hey!

Give me one more try in what I'll change.
I won't deny the thought is strange.
I've done my best and now will lay no blame myself.

Breakdown in the shape of things to come
But I'm moving on like a soldier.
And I say now when all is said and done:
It's not ours to break, the shape of things to come.

The shape of things to come.
The shape of things to come.

Lyrics to song by Audioslave - c. EMI Music - here for fair use.

Headlines from today

If you don't think things are going badly . . .

Headlines on the Reuters page

EU Warned of Credit Crunch Threat

Obama gets slight boost from jobs speech: poll

Chances of another recession increasing

Number of poor hits record 46 million in 2010

Kabul siege shows Taliban strength

Protect your portfolio from a baby boom bust

Tuberculosis spreads at an alarming rate in Europe

World Bank chief says world economy in danger zone


But, neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nevertheless, many people will be in fear in these coming days, I think - and fear drives people to do evil deeds sometimes. Take care out there.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

In Memoriam 9/11

Image from Times Mirror - credited to Rex Features - posted here for fair use only

That Tuesday morning, I was at Naval Air Station Pensacola receiving training as a recently commissioned officer as to a variety of duties and obligations, customs and traditions. One of my fellow officers came rushing back from the break room during our first class break of the morning to say something was going on in New York. The news spread quickly, as things are won't to do on a military base - the Nation was under some sort of attack. Without orders, spellbound, class was abandoned as we gathered at the breakroom television and watched in horror as one and then the other tower collapsed.

I returned to military service at a time of relative peace, in 2000. Certainly there was a possibility of future conflict, but only like distant clouds on the horizon that might or might not portend a squall overhead later in the day.

But on that Tuesday morning in 2001, all of that changed and events were set in motion that would find me in the Middle East 3 times and, one way or another, for the last decade involved in a global war on Al-Qa'ida and its associated movements.

I make no commentary on the unintended consequences to our world and to our nation of the response and counter-response to those events, except to say that we will look back and perhaps identify that time as a moment when the world shifted and a new age dawned on global society, and not particularly with regard to trans-national terrorism, but rather with the social, economic and political order.

But whatever history may show us in retrospect - many lost their lives and others were cast into the fear of the uncertainty of existence on that day. In the years to come, other lives were lost and wrecked in the rippling choices from that evil day.

One cannot but wonder at the souls, above the flames of those burning buildings, as they considered their options. No doubt some helped and comforted others who were scared and hurt; some said prayers; some, to our horror, fell to their deaths, whether to escape a more horrifying manner of death or because of they were blown out only God knows; perhaps some cursed God. Yet all of us, I think, in some secret place, wonder what would be our own actions when faced with such a turn - waiting perhaps in hope of a miracle rescue - or despairing of such and recognizing the awful truth . . . .

For those who suffered, and lost their lives on 9/11 - rest in peace, in a place of verdure, whence no sickness nor sighing comes.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

And so it goes . . .

"Stress Test" by Arthur Rosenstein - 1936 Failed Kansas Bank - presented here for fair use

And so the exalted ones do the predictable thing after much drama and play extend and pretend. But this cannot help the real systemic problem that there is no economic recovery - here or anywhere. The great Ponzi scheme continues to unravel, while the wolves continue to accumulate real productive assets with their monopoly money.

The next step in the dance will be to watch the inevitable market turmoil as the masses are allowed to see a glimpse of the reality of economic collapse in the West - enough so that they will beg the exalted ones to encourage the temple masters to adopt another round of easing, with some unique twist (it's different this time - we have new and improved tools!) to quickly incur the full measure of debt recently authorized to be placed on the American people and monetize it.

A few things seem apparent enough - one is that there is a transnational plutocracy of extraordinary proportions. Whether such always work together, they nevertheless tend to serve similar ravenous ends which do not help the great mass of people. They may spear one another in the great game, but they mostly do not care whose field is ridden over or burnt in the process of their virtual vying for more power.

Another is that we are likely seeing the end of the dollar's run as the global reserve currency. It may take a while. As others have said, the Anglo-American banking cartel will defend against that change for as long as possible, whilst hedging for its eventuality. But many forces are arrayed against the dollar fiat currency remaining in its privileged position.

Another is that, whatever the manipulation of the current economic and geopolitical crises to nefarious ends by the moneyed interests, the fact remains that there is a global economic problem - we are seeing some sort of powerful reset after decades of excess (which has been unbalanced and not at all evenly distributed - some have not enjoyed those excesses at all).

John Kenneth Galbraith once said that some sort of bankruptcy process (whatever it may be called and whatever its rules) is essential to a fiat-money fractional reserve banking system. You must have a mechanism to deal out who ends up taking the losses because the system requires some way to shake out the excess credit. It seems the exalted ones have figured out how to assign the losses to the masses through government debts - that is, bankers and other creditor nations holding creditor claims on the future labor the various populations of nations. The recent petulance exhibited by China's media machine (see Xinhua article and Financial Times article) is a prime example of the sort of demands one might see as a result of this. The sort of demands which could start wars and riots, if pushed too far.

So who cares? Can't we just go to church and enjoy our summer conferences? Well, when "official" employment numbers are suspect (how is it that unemployment is below 10% but food-stamp recipients are somewhere north of 13% in this country??). Shall we sit idly and ignorantly by as our neighbors quietly slide into misery while in a stupor brought on by the latest reality TV show? Pay attention, for this is no mere localized movement of petty kings and thugs, but a globalized leviathan seeking to and fro for power and profit that does not care about the bellies of children or the comfort of the aged, the widow, or orphan.

Look on Tuesday for everyone to be begging the Fed for some financial easing, just as they've begged the ECB to buy the bonds of Italy and Spain. And thus do the bankers gain claims over the future labor of nations, to the point where they may demand that governments take actions in despite of their own people.

My favorite commentator ("Jesse") on the financial malfeasance infesting the world, had this reminder this week:

"We did not create ourselves, and we do not sustain ourselves; no one of this world can withstand the approach of death by the power of a self-seeking will. Life is a gift from God. We cannot keep our life, unless we are willing to give it back to Him, in the way in which he asks for it. This is the secret to happiness and contentment, and the path to everlasting life. We rise by falling, emptying our hearts and saying, not my own, but thy will be done."


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Russian Beer and Other Ephemera from the Farm

I have often wondered why, under the Russian Orthodox tradition, as I understand it (and if I understand it), beer is not prohibited on fast days. I chalked that one up in mirth as a nod to needing to allow folks to "maintenance" a little and not have DTs in liturgy on a Sunday morning in a nation of prolific spirits drinkers.

Whatever the reason, I also note that Russia has only just reclassified beer (and other beverages less than 10% ABV) as alcoholic beverages. This suggests there has been a strong social inclination in Russia to view beer as a quite ordinary beverage, like water, to be consumed regularly.

Well - in any case, one wonders what, in a truly organic North American Orthodoxy, would be appropriate selections of allowed and disallowed items during fasting periods.


Speaking of beer, I've been brewing my own. I have gone the novice/lazy man's route of buying malt extract. I am just not up to cracking my own grains and malting the stuff, for now. I've made some pretty tolerable batches from the Woodforde's Ale kits.

I am looking forward, after a two-year hiatus, to making a sizeable crush for wine this year.


It's been a terribly cool summer - but the broccoli has been prolific as a result. Early lettuce did quite well. Not much else to report on the gardening front.


We expect to be able to sell 5 lambs for slaughter this year, with one kept back for home consumption.


Our chicken flock has now increased to over 20 hens, and one unexpected rooster. No one in the family except me has the heart to cull the rooster, so I guess he's staying to crow and manage his large harem.


One of the many nice birthday presents of the year: the Wondermill Junior Deluxe hand-powered grain mill. Looking forward to the first batch of a batter-style Entire Wheat Bread with freshly milled flour this week.


We bit the bullet this year, after having some roof leaks, and spent money on re-roofing the house, which included new gutters. God-willing this particular essential maintenance item will last us for a long-long time to come.


The Congress is at an impasse, with no good choices before them, having been maneuvered into a corner. While I tend to think the Icelandic approach to the banks and financiers of the world might be a good thing, perhaps it's different when your country has the reigns of the global reserve currency, and could risk losing that privileged status through missteps. This next week will be interesting, as the foreign exchange and Asian markets are already opening.

Debt-based-indentured-servitude abounds in the world; few of us are immune (I'm certainly not).



Friday, July 01, 2011

Large Protests in Syria and Economic Woes May Hit Close to Home Come August

In Syria there are massive protests against the regime. Note that there has long been a wary alliance between Alawis and various non-Sunni groups, including Christians, which has allowed a stifled, yet pluralistic country. The large majority in Syria are Sunni.

How all of this will play out for Christians is hard to say.

In other news, something like $400+ billion in US Treasuries are set to mature in August alone - meaning that the Treasury has to issue new debt which is then sold to generate $$ to pay off the maturing debt and interest. Oh, add to that the current account payments (Medicare, Social Security, VA, Pensions, Military pay, Federal Pay, contract payments, etc., etc.). Oh, but we're right up on the debt ceiling already at ~$14.5 trillion. Treasury can't issue new debt without some headroom.

Did you see that New Jersey avoided the normal public funding process and instead ran to JPMorgan for a ~$2.5 billion loan to cover their budget gap (bridge financing - heh). And the State of Minnesota is going into the holiday with a budget crisis and looming government shutdown.

Some will say - so what? We look to the Lord! Indeed. But I think we are watching a societal change as fundamental as that which happened in the years from about 1910-1920. I think that power structures, governmental structures, and economic structures are all in line for massive changes, and a lot of this may be very unpleasant - leading to potential totalitarian regimes, possibly hard line fascism or other oppressive ideologies, and misery for many. Sometimes it seems the Church is asleep through all of this, conducting its insular meetings and conventions and writing contests without giving much thought to what's on. I will class myself here too. We have 44.7M people on foodstamps in this country, an unprecedented figure. We have millions in foreclosure or having been foreclosed out of houses. We have high jobless rates and inflation - higher than the "official" and manipulated stats. Are we looking to help any of these folks?

For my part, I am changing my practice to focus more on foreclosure relief work. As one blogger writes:

When you socialize the losses and privatize the gains for a powerful few, when you reward the perpetrators and punish the innocent and unsophisticated victims of fraud, when you idolize greed, selfishness and deception and vilify simple hard work and honest decency, how can one really expect a healthy, vibrant economy? You are birthing a monster.

Austerity will not improve this picture, and will inflict intense misery on the growing number of unfortunates. They know this, but they don't care. When the oppressed react, there will be calls to put them down, to subdue them, savagely. Provoke and react. Never waste a crisis, and if you need it, create one.

This is the road to hell.

The Banks must be restrained, and the financial system reformed, with balance restored to the economy, before there can be any sustained recovery.

From Jesse's Café Américain


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Debtocracy - A Greek Documentary

Since some of those who stop by may have brethren in Greece, and we are all in the same pickle anyway - here is a documentary worth watching:


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Psalm 23 in Scots

I love language - here is the 23rd Psalm in Scots - a lowland dialect/language used in Scotland and not to be confused with Highland Gaelic (in the Renaissance period Scots would have been called Inglis and Highland Gaelic called Scottis or "Erse", I believe).

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

A Wee Drappie O't

A Wee Drappie O't
This life is a journey we a' hae to gang,
And care is the burden we carry alang;
Though heavy be the burden and poverty our lot,
We'll be happy a' thegither owre a wee drappie o't.

Owre a wee drappie o't, owre a wee drappie o't,
We'll be happy a' thegither owre a wee drappie o't.

View the birk in winter, a' leafless and bare,
Resemblin' a man in winter wi' a burden o' care,
But view the birk in summer, wi' its braw, leafy coat,
Rejoicin' like a man owre a wee drappie o't.


We're a' met thegither owre a glass and a sang,
We're a' met thegither by special command;
Free frae mean ambition and every evil thought,
We'll be happy while we may, owre a wee drappie o't.


When friendship and truth and good fellowship reign,
And fouk grown auld are made youthfu' again;
Where ilka heart is happy, and wardly cares forgot,
Is when we're met thegither owre a wee drappie o't.


Job in his lamentation said man was made tae mourn,
That there's nae such thing as pleasure frae the cradle to the urn;
But in his meditation Job surely had forgot,
The pleasure man derives owre a wee drappie o't.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Cold Spring

I really have nothing much to write about here. I have much on my mind of late, but none of it really of posting value here.

Spiritually I am in a cold Spring, much like our weather has been. That's all I will say about that.


Watching a recent "period drama" of BBC origin, as a military man I was reminded that things we do in service now (standing to attention when the CO enters the room, saluting) are essentially (with martial modification) just the courtesies that ordered society used to do as little as 75-100 years ago (and in some cases less) -

1. Stand when a superior enters the room (ahh . . . I suppose we have no superiors anymore, eh?), such as the head of household, or even just the eldest present;

2. Stand upon a lady entering or departing;

3. Greet others with a salute (tip of the hat, bow, curtsey, what have you)

What are now a military peculiarities were once just good manners exercised by most.


As a child I very much liked LeGuin's Earthsea Trilogy. While the fictional world she created had a cosmology which cannot be said to have any relationship to a Christian view of the world, she provides grist for strong questions to be explored (perhaps the best part of LeGuin's writing is her ability to create the contextual situation so as to get at questions that are in her mind, and ours).

In one scene near the end of The Farthest Shore, the Archmage Ged stands at the "dry river" in the land of the dead, speaking with Cob, a mage who has sought to save himself above all other things, out of fear of death, and has woven such great magic that men are drawn to his nothingness, the wells of wizardry have gone dry, and men have gone mad, being drawn to his same lust for avoidance of death:

"I was in Paln," he said to Ged, "after you, in your pride, thought you had humbled me and taught me a lesson. Oh, a lesson you taught me, indeed, but not the one you meant to teach! There I said to myself: I have seen death now, and I will not accept it. Let all stupid nature go its stupid course, but I am a man, better than nature, above nature. I will not go that way, I will not cease to be myself! And so determined, I took the Pelnish Lore again, but found only hints and smatterings of what I needed. So I rewove it and remade it, and made a spell- the greatest spell that has ever been made. The greatest and the last!" "In working that spell, you died." "Yes! I died. I had the courage to die, to find what you cowards could never find: the way back from death. I opened the door that had been shut since the beginning of time. And now I come freely to this place and freely return to the world of the living. Alone of all men in all time I am Lord of the Two Lands. And the door I opened is open not only here, but in the minds of the living, in the depths and unknown places of their being, where we are all one in the darkness. They know it, and they come to me. And the dead too must come to me, all of them, for I have not lost the magery of the living: they must climb over the wall of stones when I bid them, all the souls, the lords, the mages, the proud women; back and forth from life to death, at my command. All must come to me, the living and the dead, I who died and live!" "Where do they come to you, Cob? Where is it that you are?" "Between the worlds." "But that is neither life nor death. What is life, Cob?" "Power." "What is love?" "Power," the blind man repeated heavily, hunching up his shoulders. "What is light?" "Darkness!" "What is your name?" "I have none." "All in this land bear their true name." "Tell me yours, then!" "I am named Ged. And you?" The blind man hesitated, and said, "Cob." "That was your use-name, not your name. Where is your name? Where is the truth of you? Did you leave it in Paln where you died? You have forgotten much, O Lord of the Two Lands. You have forgotten light, and love, and your own name."

Earlier, Prince Arren, Ged's (known by his use-name, Sparrowhawk) young charge and companion, explains his fear of death and Ged discusses what seems to be wrong with the world:

"I betrayed-" he said, and stopped. "I betrayed your trust in me." "How so, Arren?. "There- at Obehol. When for once you needed me. You were hurt and needed my help. I did nothing. The boat drifted, and I let her drift. You were in pain, and I did nothing for you. I saw land- I saw land, and did not even try to turn the boat-" "Be still, lad," the mage said with such firmness that Arren obeyed. And presently, "Tell me what you thought at that time." "Nothing, my lord- nothing! I thought there was no use in doing anything. I thought your wizardry was gone- no, that it had never been. That you had tricked me." The sweat broke out on Arren's face and he had to force his voice, but he went on. "I was afraid of you. I was afraid of death. I was so afraid of it I would not look at you, because you might be dying. I could think of nothing, except that there was- there was a way of not dying for me, if I could find it. But all the time life was running out, as if there was a great wound and the blood running from it -such as you had. But this was in everything. And I did nothing, nothing, but try to hide from the horror of dying." He stopped, for saying the truth aloud was unendurable. It was not shame that stopped him, but fear, the same fear. He knew now why this tranquil life in sea and sunlight on the rafts seemed to him like an after-life or a dream, unreal. It was because he knew in his heart that reality was empty: without life or warmth or color or sound: without meaning. There were no heights or depths. All this lovely play of form and light and color on the sea and in the eyes of men, was no more than that: a playing of illusions on the shallow void. They passed, and there remained the shapelessness and the cold. Nothing else. Sparrowhawk was looking at him, and he had looked down to avoid that gaze. But there spoke in Arren unexpectedly a little voice of courage or of mockery: it was arrogant and pitiless, and it said, "Coward! Coward! Will you throw even this away?" So he looked up, with a great effort of his will, and met his companion's eyes. Sparrowhawk reached out and took his hand in a hard grasp, so that both by eye and by flesh they touched. He said Arren's true name, which he had never spoken: "Lebannen." Again he said it: "Lebannen, this is. And thou art. There is no safety, and there is no end. The word must be heard in silence; there must be darkness to see the stars. The dance is always danced above the hollow place, above the terrible abyss." Arren clenched his hands and bent his forehead down till it pressed against Sparrowhawk's hand. "I failed you," he said. "I will fail you again and fail myself. I have not strength enough!" "You have strength enough." The mage's voice was tender, but beneath tenderness was that same hardness that had risen in the depths of Arren's own shame, and mocked him. "What you love, you will love. What you undertake, you will complete. You are a fulfiller of hope; you are to be relied on. But seventeen years give little armor against despair... Consider, Arren. To refuse death is to refuse life." "But I sought death- yours and mine!" Arren lifted his head and stared at Sparrowhawk. "Like Sopli who drowned himself-" "Sopli was not seeking death. He sought to escape from it and from life. He sought safety: an end to fear- to the fear of death." "But there is- there is a way. There is a way beyond death. Back to life. To life beyond death, life without death. That is what they seek. Hare and Sopli, the ones who were wizards. That is what we seek. You -you above all must know- must know of that way-" The mage's strong hand was still on his. "I do not," Sparrowhawk said. "Aye, I know what they think they seek. But I know it to be a lie. Listen to me, Arren. You will die. You will not live forever. Nor will any man nor any thing. Nothing is immortal. But only to us is it given to know that we must die. And that is a great gift: the gift of selfhood. For we have only what we know we must lose, what we are willing to lose... That selfhood which is our torment, and our treasure, and our humanity, does not endure. It changes; it is gone, a wave on the sea. Would you have the sea grow still and the tides cease, to save one wave, to save yourself? Would you give up the craft of your hands, and the passion of your heart, and the light of sunrise and sunset, to buy safety for yourself - safety forever? That is what they seek to do on Wathort and Lorbanery and elsewhere. That is the message that those who know how to hear have heard: By denying life you may deny death and live forever! -And this message I do not hear, Arren, for I will not hear it. I will not take the counsel of despair. I am deaf; I am blind. You are my guide. You in your innocence and your courage, in your unwisdom and your loyalty, you are my guide- the child I send before me into the dark. It is your fear, your pain, I follow. You have thought me harsh to you, Arren; you never knew how harsh. I use your love as a man burns a candle, burns it away, to light his steps. And we must go on. We must go on. We must go all the way. We must come to the place where the sea runs dry and joy runs out, the place to which your mortal terror draws you." "Where is it, my lord?" "I do not know." "I cannot lead you there. But I will come with you."

For some reason I find a glimmer of great truth in this discussion - and an apt analogy to the sickness which seems to pervade our society today. We have, in so many ways, a culture which is so fearful of death that we wish to give up everything for prolongation of "life" or escape from death - the sort of Kurweil-like desire to live by any other means than to accept that we must die.

Now, again, I say 'glimmer' because I, of course, would not agree with this sort of cosmology - but I do think there is something that we must accept about the reality of this saying of Jesus: "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." As St. Paul says: "Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die." Sometimes I think our Christianity becomes more like Cob and his followers - escape from fear of death by denying death and living forever! A sort of fairy tale view of salvation. The recent debacle of the Harold Camping predictions were of this sort - the "true believers" would be raptured and escape the destruction to follow.

The Way of the Cross, and back from death to life is, like in the Earthsea story, over the Mountains of Pain, if it is any way.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Of Scythes and Sheep

So a snath and blade arrived a little over a week ago - together a "scythe." In order to get the hang of it I've mown the back lawn and a swath in the orchard. I have used the fresh cut to feed my rams - they seem happy enough with it as they have now little to forage on in the current enclosure they are in.

Yet another quite cold Spring - very wet with over 7 inches of rain last month alone and we continue to struggle to get even a couple of days in the upper 50s. As a result the grass in the pastures has been slow to come on, alas. I worry that we'll jump from that to an excessively hot summer - putting the grass into heat dormancy before we can get a good 3 months grazing out of it. We'll see.

The scythe is a good tool for the 2 acres or so of productive grass growing land we have. It can reach corners where even my small tractor can't get into, and rather than mulching the mown grass it lays it over into windrows and thus we can make hay rather simply and easily when desired. It requires little strength, is quiet, and needs no gasoline. I suspect you could manage easily 5 or more acres of pastureland/hayland with two good hands experienced with a scythe. With a little better management I could probably put up a fair amount of loose hay for the Fall period and only have to buy winter feed farther into November for the breeding stock, to last until about March 1.

This year I need to manage slaughter and sales so that I can do breeding a little earlier and push lambing into late Feb. This will reduce Fall feed purchasing and impact to the land and get the timing right for the new lambs in Spring for our usual grass production.

Friday, April 08, 2011

For Those Who are Far Off

I was much edified to be able to attend the reading of story of Abba Zosimas and St. Mary of Egypt, together with the service of the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete.

I was reminded of the publican, standing far off, casting his eyes to the ground - and of the words of St. Paul regarding those who were "far off" - the Gentiles - being drawn near to the Presence by the blood of Jesus Christ, and being made one body with those near, through the cross. See Eph. 2.

Tonight the Akathist will be sung in full.

Much is happening in the world - thievery and war; poisoning of earth, sky and water.

But there is only this One Truth.

- Pax

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Please pray for the people of North Africa, the Levant, and Arabian Peninsula

Revolution is sweeping the Arabic-speaking world in a ripple effect, and causing the collapse of governments.

This may be good in the long term generally. However, whether any of this change bodes well for Arabic-speaking Christians in the region is doubtful.

In the short term - chaos may ensue and we should keep people in our prayers. Some are hungry, many are hopeful, but also probably afraid of the unknowable future.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Would that our Fed Chief Were So Forthright

Plain talk from the Bank of England's chief.

Hang on to your hats - it's gonna get bumpy.

I am taking a hiatus from here for a bit. You can follow my other not so-well-tended blog here.

May He Who rose from the dead, Christ our True God, through the prayers of His mother, the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, keep you.

I'm sure I'll be back here posting some times, unless they turn out the lights at blogger.



Thursday, January 13, 2011

In Honor of St. Hilary's Day - 13 January

"Keep this piety of my faith undefiled, I beseech you, and let this be the utterance of my convictions even to the last breath of my spirit: that I may always hold fast to that which I profess in the creed of my regeneration when I was baptized in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, namely, that I may adore you, our Father, and your Son together with you, and that I may gain the favor of your Holy Spirit who is from you through the only-begotten. He is a suitable witness for my faith who says: 'Father, all things that are mine are thine, and thine are mine,' my Lord Jesus Christ, who always abides as God in you, from you and with you who is blessed forever and ever. Amen."

-- St. Hilary of Poitiers

Cheap Oil and the Orthodox Churches in North America

Excuse this rather odd post, but I've been thinking about these things quite a bit - right use of "energy slaves" as some call them, and how that affects the distribution and growth/health of the Orthodox Churches in North America.

The closest Orthodox Christian parish of any kind to me is about 15 miles away. A full day's journey or more by horse drawn wagon (there's a rather sizeable river in between). It happens to be an Old Believer community. I'm not probably welcome.

The next closest parish to me is approximately 16-17 miles. For various reasons for now I do not attend this parish, although I may in the future. My parish is approximately 35 miles away - meaning a round trip for each service of about 70 miles.

My friend/correspondent John over at Notes From a Commonplace Book used to drive, I believe, as much as two hours one way to his parish once upon a time. He can correct me if I'm wrong.

This is not unusual, especially in the West where the numbers and spacing of Orthodox parishes is spotty at best.

All of this is possible through the miracle of cheap oil - the wonder substance of the age.

While many have scoffed over the years at the idea of "peak oil" and the effects of a declining supply of oil and gas in the face of growing demand, one must sit up and pay attention when (1) the US Department of Energy commissioned an analysis, which resulted in some grim findings in 2005 (the Hirsch Report); (2) The International Energy Agency (Paris), long resistant to ever mentioning the words "peak oil," now report in their 2010 World Energy Outlook that crud oil production probably peaked, in fact, in 2006, while global oil production of all sorts will peak and start to fall somewhere between 2020 and 2035!; and finally, the US Joint Forces Command, a functional unified command (as opposed to geographical, such as CENTCOM or PACOM), issued it Joint Operating Environment 2010 estimate addressing future trends and risks of concern to joint force military commanders which highlighted the concerns of peak oil and growing energy demand.

Notably in the JFCOM JOE are these chilling statements:

"[P]etroleum must continue to satisfy most of the demand for energy out to 2030. Assuming the most optimistic scenario for improved petroleum production through enhanced recovery means, the development of non-conventional oils (such as oil shales or tar sands) and new discoveries, petroleum production will be hard pressed to meet the expected future demand of 118 million barrels per day.

. . .

A severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity. While it is difficult to predict precisely what economic, political, and strategic effects such a shortfall might produce, it surely would reduce the prospects for growth in both the developing and developed worlds. Such an economic slowdown would exacerbate other unresolved tensions, push fragile and failing states further down the path toward collapse, and perhaps have serious economic impact on both China and India. At best, it would lead to periods of harsh economic adjustment. To what extent conservation measures, investments in alternative energy production, and efforts to expand petroleum production from tar sands and shale would mitigate such a period of adjustment is difficult to predict. One should not forget that the Great Depression spawned a number of totalitarian regimes that sought economic prosperity for their nations by ruthless conquest."

I will leave to the reader to consider other sources regarding these matters, and the various data that such sources provide. It is enough to say here that all that you and I take for granted - our lights, our grocery-bought food, our lovely cell phones, our drive to our parish to sing praises to our Lord, have come in the last 60-70 years, at least, from the glory of cheap oil, for which there are questionable replacements, and none of which portend that life will go on as "business as usual."

So what? So what has this to do with Orthodox North America? Well, frankly, we go to church and have parishes based on this very model of the assumption of the availability of cheap oil, enabling us to afford the cars (each new tire takes about 22 gallons of oil to produce, a retread takes about 7 - not to mind the oil-based energy to build your car, to make the plastics in it, and the shipping energy costs to get it to the lot, maintenance it and run it) which allow us to whisk over and back to the parish.

So what happens if (some will say - when) in the not very distant future (some will say quite a bit sooner - perhaps this decade) the price to obtain the fuels and parts to provide these wonderful transportation options becomes so unrealistic that one cannot make these sorts of travels? While I don't believe cars will go away - they may become a decided luxury.

How should we order the establishment and growth of parishes to reflect these sorts of energy estimates. Or to put it another way, should we really start thinking about parishes serving a much smaller area and focusing on their local neighborhoods? What do we do for parishioners that are quite distant from their parishes - not uncommon in rural America. What resources can we start providing now to support them, and possibly help grow small Orthodox communities that may not be able to support a priest full time. Should priests start becoming circuit riders rather than parishioners converging in their cars on a central parish location?

On a personal level, I've though a lot about right use of resources in going to parish. While "conservation concerns" should not be used as an excuse for not attending church at this time, as fuels are still cheap - there is something to be said for the idea that whether or not we have abundant oil - we are quite wasteful in our culture as it relates to energy use and this does not seem to be the way in which we should be stewards of our resources. I have thought that perhaps, at minimum, I should be going to a closer parish for now and cutting half the miles traveled off, not to mention time. The other option, of course, is to move close to the parish simply to be close to the parish. This is not an option for a lot of people in some rural communities in America since, even to be "close" entails considerable distance.

Much like the local food movement and such, I think we need to really think about local parishes in future - or proto parishes. The density of Orthodox parishes, especially in the West, is so low that perhaps we need to address local small gatherings (readers services) that are supplemented perhaps by trips to the nearest parish for feast days and other opportunities. Looking to the history of the Church in Alaska may provide good instruction in how this has been done where there is low density and distant populations. Beyond that, however, is the need to have the Orthodox Church be "where you are at now" - two or more gathered and all that.

The Age of Cheap Oil is coming to an end. Whether, in decades to come, we have the sufficient investment that advances in fusion or other alternative electricity production comes along sufficient to divert fossil fuels more fully to transportation fuels and "hang on" for a while happens is unclear. But nevertheless, whatever that future, we need to sow seeds now for looking at our little local communities around us, not gathering parishioners by crossing "sea and land" for a single proselyte. The fields are close by.

There is a movement out and about, getting some air time with local governments, called the Transition Movement. I find their model interesting, but troubling and perhaps unrealistic in some respects. However, it does provide interesting food for thought insofar as we think about how we "do church" (sorry for the cliche!), especially in the Western US, and how we might do things differently.

In all things, I do not wish here to suggest that the reason for doing these things is primarily to conserve energy. Rather, I suggest that we may find ourselves, perforce, cut off from regularly getting to those rather distant parishes for spiritual food and forced to reconsider how we are evangelizing. Perhaps we should think now how we take care of our fellows and prepare them. Perhaps in doing so, we can build a more "resilient" church and "resilient" parishioners (to borrow a Transition Movement term that's bandied about) that ensures that our brethren have the tools and resources to address such situations. In the process, perhaps also we can be better stewards of our resources, and divert saved resources of time and money to our local community, spreading the seed of the Gospel locally.

To me such as task is challenging and frightening. But perhaps it will be thrust upon us nonetheless.


Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The use of land

I have read estimates along this order:

1. The average American requires about 24 acres worth of land productivity to produce all the food, textile, wood, and similar land products, produce energy, and manage the garbage that he or she consumes in life.

By comparison, the average available land on the planet per person is something less than 5.

You can run a "footprint" that meets some international ecological footprint standards on ""

*The model obviously has some biases, at least for North America - for example I suspect the presumption if I eat meat is that it's coming from some sort of factory/industrial-based production (with the resultant energy inputs) when, in fact, we each much of our own meat grown right on our little acreage. But, even so, the real consumption is in petro-based or supported things like cars, airplanes, and electricity (we have a lot of hyro-power here, but still the support, transmission, distribution, and access and parts to maintain those points is supported by fleets of trucks moving goods and services hither and thither).

2. Another estimate is that it takes about 9-10 acres of land to support the average New Yorker - even though they don't have the land and it's "out of sight" to them, it's still necessary. That's some "food for thought."

Time's a-comin' when this unsustainable life of luxury will finally bite us in the @ss. Some suggest the next 10 - 20 years.


Saturday, January 01, 2011

Misc. Ramblings - cont'd

originally started before Christmas, A.D. 2010

I haven't posted much in a while. I have been spiritually dry and frustrated by the reality of all our frail institutions, religious and otherwise. While knowing to put no trust in princes, one still remains disappointed, even if not surprised.

I had to make a trip to California recently. I picked up a book: World Made By Hand from the used book bin. In a sort of post-apocalyptic vein, the book recites the tale of a man and his community in Upstate New York after society has collapsed in the U.S. following several economic catastrophes, terrorist bombings, and loss of access to oil byproducts for most of the population.

It was a good enough tale for the flight - and while perhaps unrealistic insofar as people are probably better able to generate electricity than the book will admit (also it simply gets a bit odd in places), and to figure out radio/telegraph, and similar transmissions to keep in touch, it nevertheless was a good vehicle to think about how different life could be in short order in this country - on the whole more like Iraq or Yemen or Afghanistan or other places in the world. How would we do if stripped of our technologies and wealth that allow us to hop flights hither and yon?

The world is quite unsettled right now - North Korea, economic catastrophe still looming in the EU, terrorist threats - low level, but sensational - and the as-yet unintended and unknowable social consequences arising from the Wikileaks battles between governments, hackers, multinationals and their various proxies. In a striking reversal of business as usual, the International Energy Agency (Paris) now says peak oil probably occurred in 2006. The Executive Summary of the IEA's World Energy Outlook for 2010 is sober reading. In the meantime, most tune out and watch episodes of Palin's Alaska, or the Sing Off, or It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, or some such. We fiddle away madly.

For the Orthodox, we trouble ourselves with the shenanigans of ecclesiatical politics while not attending to the real troubles pressing the most unfortunate of the world: sickness, starvation, and spiritual malaise. I am guilty of this.

I am not sure what to make of it all. My thoughts on "agrarianism" are posted here. In the end I do not put my trust in human ingenuity, government bailouts. Our help comes from one Holy Source, in Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one in Essence and Undivided.

With that said, doubts trouble me - how shall an Orthodox Christian live in our times to come. I drive at least an hour each way to my parish now, at speeds which would astound our ancestors. What if energy costs "prohibit" that travel? Is it even good stewardship to make such trips now?

In the absence of making such trips to a parish, what does one do? Reader's services they say. But Orthodoxy is no Book of Common Prayer practice. In some ways I like the old BCP for it's ability have a great deal in one volume you can plunk in a satchel with a bible and off you go. But this does not reach to the level of Orthodox wisdom contained in the Church's services. Frankly one might need several such books in order to appropriately cover what richness a reader's service could give over times and seasons. Any suggestions from readers out there? What really is the basic library for a year's worth of reader's services?

I leave you with a couple of links for you to consider. I do not prophecy. But I think, whether our oil is going to run out or not, it's simply wise to think about what happens to us in the next 15 to 30 years if our Lord should tarry. What is our proper lifestyle, as Christians. We, in North America, live the life cheap oil has given us much like the next man. I know the irony of saying anything about this whilst typing on a machine built by the oil economy, hooked to an energy grid supported by the same. Nevertheless . . . for your consideration:

16 minutes of your time

60 minutes of your time

These are 'secular' concerns, indeed. But with food price riots in Algiers this week, one does have to what changes we should make as a matter of recognizing we are expending wealth constantly in this oil economy, to the detriment often of others in the world.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Behold a New and Wonderous Mystery

Homily on the Nativity of the Lord
By St. John Chrysostom

BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery.

My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed; He had the power; He descended; He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech.

For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see. For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature.

For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit that He may save me.

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ¡in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things arc nourished, may receive an infants food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and forever. Amen.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

MERS Debacle

I don't discuss economic issues much, but these last months have seen the development of some very significant issues. While the press and the various State's AG's talk about 'Robo-signers' (a problem to be sure), there is another quiet disaster going on.

This is an opinion piece of my own:

If you have not heard of the MERS crisis, do not be surprised - it is but one of the many quiet disasters going on in our economy.

It's gotten some airplay, but it's probably too bewilderingly technical for most to spend some time with.

Basically, MERS was established in approximately 1993 so that big banks could have Mortgage Brokers "lend money" and quickly transfer the mortgages around without further recording of various assignments so that this "mortgage paper" could be directed into certain mortgage-paper-backed investment certificate vehicles sold to investors.

Several courts are now questioning the whole house of cards as having blown traditional land law regarding transfer of mortgages and bringing into question the validity of a huge number of foreclosures, as well as transfers of mortgage-paper into these investment vehicles.

In many cases (one quoted from the Kansas Supreme Court at length below), the problem is that MERS seems to have gotten the promissory note separated from the mortgage

Here's the scenario background, as described by one court (sorry for the lengthy quote):

The mortgage instrument states that MERS functions "solely as nominee" for the lender and lender's successors and assigns. The word "nominee" is defined nowhere in the mortgage document, and the functional relationship between MERS and the lender is likewise not defined. In the absence of a contractual definition, the parties leave the definition to judicial interpretation.

What meaning is this court to attach to MERS's designation as nominee for Millennia? The parties appear to have defined the word in much the same way that the blind men of Indian legend described an elephant--their description depended on which part they were touching at any given time. Counsel for Sovereign stated to the trial court that MERS holds the mortgage "in street name, if you will, and our client the bank and other banks transfer these mortgages and rely on MERS to provide them with notice of foreclosures and what not." He later stated that the nominee "is the mortgagee and is holding that mortgage for somebody else." At another time he declared on the record that the nominee

"is more like a trustee or more like a corporation, a trustee that has multiple beneficiaries. Now a nominee's relationship is not a trust but if you have multiple beneficiaries you don't serve one of the beneficiaries you serve the trustee of the trust. You serve the agent of the corporation."

Counsel for the auction property purchasers stated that a nominee is "one designated to act for another as his representative in a rather limited sense." He later deemed a nominee to be "like a power of attorney."

Black's Law Dictionary defines a nominee as "[a] person designated to act in place of another, usu. in a very limited way" and as "[a] party who holds bare legal title for the benefit of others or who receives and distributes funds for the benefit of others." Black's Law Dictionary 1076 (8th ed. 2004). This definition suggests that a nominee possesses few or no legally enforceable rights beyond those of a principal whom the nominee serves.

In its opinion below, the Court of Appeals cited Thompson v. Meyers, 211 Kan. 26, 30, 505 P.2d 680 (1973), which provides the only discussion in Kansas of the legal significance of a nominee:

"In common parlance the word 'nominee' has more than one meaning. Much depends on the frame of reference in which it is used. In Webster's Third New International Dictionary, unabridged, one of the definitions given is 'a person named as the recipient in an annuity or grant.' We view a 'nominee', as the term was used by the parties here, not simply in the sense of a straw man or limited agent. . . , but in the larger sense of a person designated by them to purchase the real estate, who would possess all the rights given a buyer . . . ."

The legal status of a nominee, then, depends on the context of the relationship of the nominee to its principal. Various courts have interpreted the relationship of MERS and the lender as an agency relationship. See In re Sheridan, ___ B.R. ___, 2009 WL 631355, at *4 (Bankr. D. Idaho March 12, 2009) (MERS "acts not on its own account. Its capacity is representative."); Mortgage Elec. Registration System, Inc. v. Southwest, ___ Ark. ___, ___, ___ S.W.3d ___, 2009 WL 723182 (March 19, 2009) ("MERS, by the terms of the deed of trust, and its own stated purposes, was the lender's agent"); LaSalle Bank Nat. Ass'n v. Lamy, 2006 WL 2251721, at *2 (N.Y. Sup. 2006) (unpublished opinion) ("A nominee of the owner of a note and mortgage may not effectively assign the note and mortgage to another for want of an ownership interest in said note and mortgage by the nominee.")

The relationship that MERS has to Sovereign is more akin to that of a straw man than to a party possessing all the rights given a buyer. A mortgagee and a lender have intertwined rights that defy a clear separation of interests, especially when such a purported separation relies on ambiguous contractual language. The law generally understands that a mortgagee is not distinct from a lender: a mortgagee is "[o]ne to whom property is mortgaged: the mortgage creditor, or lender." Black's Law Dictionary 1034 (8th ed. 2004). By statute, assignment of the mortgage carries with it the assignment of the debt. K.S.A. 58-2323. Although MERS asserts that, under some situations, the mortgage document purports to give it the same rights as the lender, the document consistently refers only to rights of the lender, including rights to receive notice of litigation, to collect payments, and to enforce the debt obligation. The document consistently limits MERS to acting "solely" as the nominee of the lender.

Indeed, in the event that a mortgage loan somehow separates interests of the note and the deed of trust, with the deed of trust lying with some independent entity, the mortgage may become unenforceable.

"The practical effect of splitting the deed of trust from the promissory note is to make it impossible for the holder of the note to foreclose, unless the holder of the deed of trust is the agent of the holder of the note. [Citation omitted.] Without the agency relationship, the person holding only the note lacks the power to foreclose in the event of default. The person holding only the deed of trust will never experience default because only the holder of the note is entitled to payment of the underlying obligation. [Citation omitted.] The mortgage loan becomes ineffectual when the note holder did not also hold the deed of trust." Bellistri v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, 284 S.W.3d 619, 623 (Mo. App. 2009).

The Missouri court found that, because MERS was not the original holder of the promissory note and because the record contained no evidence that the original holder of the note authorized MERS to transfer the note, the language of the assignment purporting to transfer the promissory note was ineffective. "MERS never held the promissory note, thus its assignment of the deed of trust to Ocwen separate from the note had no force." 284 S.W.3d at 624; see also In re Wilhelm, 407 B.R. 392 (Bankr. D. Idaho 2009) (standard mortgage note language does not expressly or implicitly authorize MERS to transfer the note); In re Vargas, 396 B.R. 511, 517 (Bankr. C.D. Cal. 2008) ("[I]f FHM has transferred the note, MERS is no longer an authorized agent of the holder unless it has a separate agency contract with the new undisclosed principal. MERS presents no evidence as to who owns the note, or of any authorization to act on behalf of the present owner."); Saxon Mortgage Services, Inc. v. Hillery, 2008 WL 5170180 (N.D. Cal. 2008) (unpublished opinion) ("[F]or there to be a valid assignment, there must be more than just assignment of the deed alone; the note must also be assigned. . . . MERS purportedly assigned both the deed of trust and the promissory note. . . . However, there is no evidence of record that establishes that MERS either held the promissory note or was given the authority . . . to assign the note.").

What stake in the outcome of an independent action for foreclosure could MERS have? It did not lend the money to Kesler or to anyone else involved in this case. Neither Kesler nor anyone else involved in the case was required by statute or contract to pay money to MERS on the mortgage. See Sheridan, ___ B.R. at ___ ("MERS is not an economic 'beneficiary' under the Deed of Trust. It is owed and will collect no money from Debtors under the Note, nor will it realize the value of the Property through foreclosure of the Deed of Trust in the event the Note is not paid."). If MERS is only the mortgagee, without ownership of the mortgage instrument, it does not have an enforceable right. See Vargas, 396 B.R. 517 ("[w]hile the note is 'essential,' the mortgage is only 'an incident' to the note" [quoting Carpenter v. Longan, 16 Wall. 271, 83 U.S. 271, 275, 21 L. Ed 313 (1872)]).

When it found that MERS did not have an interest in the property that was impaired by the default judgment, the trial court properly considered four factors: (1) that the written pleadings and oral arguments by MERS and Sovereign identified MERS as acting only as a digital mortgage tracking service; (2) that counsel for MERS insisted that no evidence of a financial or property interest was necessary and its argument rested solely on its identity as the mortgagee on the mortgage document, when counsel was directly challenged to produce evidence of a financial or property interest; (3) that evidence showed that Sovereign was on notice that Landmark had leave of the bankruptcy court to proceed with foreclosure and that MERS did not attempt to intervene in the action until after its alleged principal, Sovereign, had already had its motion to intervene and to set aside judgment denied; and (4) that the case law submitted by the parties weighed more in favor of denying the motion. These factors were properly before the trial court and were consistent with the evidence and supported the court's legal reasoning.

Counsel for MERS explicitly declined to demonstrate to the trial court a tangible interest in the mortgage. Parties are bound by the formal admissions of their counsel in an action. Dick v. Drainage District No. 2, 187 Kan. 520, 525, 358 P.2d 744 (1961). Counsel for MERS made no attempt to show any injury to MERS resulting from the lack of service; in fact, counsel insisted that it did not have to show a financial or property interest.

MERS argued in another forum that it is not authorized to engage in the practices that would make it a party to either the enforcement of mortgages or the transfer of mortgages. In Mortgage Elec. Reg. Sys. v. Nebraska Dept. of Banking, 270 Neb. 529, 704 N.W.2d 784 (2005), MERS challenged an administrative finding that it was a mortgage banker subject to license and registration requirements.

The Nebraska Supreme Court found in favor of MERS, noting that "MERS has no independent right to collect on any debt because MERS itself has not extended credit, and none of the mortgage debtors owe MERS any money." 270 Neb. at 535. The Nebraska court reached this conclusion based on the submissions by counsel for MERS that

"MERS does not take applications, underwrite loans, make decisions on whether to extend credit, collect mortgage payments, hold escrows for taxes and insurance, or provide any loan servicing functions whatsoever. MERS merely tracks the ownership of the lien and is paid for its services through membership fees charged to its members. MERS does not receive compensation from consumers." 270 Neb. at 534.

Even if MERS was technically entitled to notice and service in the initial foreclosure action--an issue that we do not decide at this time--we are not compelled to conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the motions to vacate default judgment and require joinder of MERS and Sovereign. The record lacks evidence supporting a claim that MERS suffered prejudice and would have had a meritorious defense had it been joined as a defendant to the foreclosure action. We find that the trial court did not abuse its discretion and did not commit reversible error in ruling on the postdefault motions.

We note that various arguments were presented suggesting that economic policy provides independent grounds for reversing the trial court. MERS and the amicus curiae American Land Title Association argue that MERS provides a cost-efficient method of tracking mortgage transactions without the complications of county-by-county registration and title searches. The amicus suggests the statutory recording system is grounded in seventeenth-century property law that is entirely unsuited to twentieth-century financial transactions. While this may be true, the MERS system introduces its own problems and complications.

One such problem is that having a single front man, or nominee, for various financial institutions makes it difficult for mortgagors and other institutions to determine the identity of the current note holder.

"[I]t is not uncommon for notes and mortgages to be assigned, often more than once. When the role of a servicing agent acting on behalf of a mortgagee is thrown into the mix, it is no wonder that it is often difficult for unsophisticated borrowers to be certain of the identity of their lenders and mortgagees." In re Schwartz, 366 B.R. 265, 266 (Bankr. D. Mass. 2007).

"[T]he practices of the various MERS members, including both [the original lender] and [the mortgage purchaser], in obscuring from the public the actual ownership of a mortgage, thereby creating the opportunity for substantial abuses and prejudice to mortgagors . . . , should not be permitted to insulate [the mortgage purchaser] from the consequences of its actions in accepting a mortgage from [the original lender] that was already the subject of litigation in which [the original lender] erroneously represented that it had authority to act as mortgagee." Johnson, 2008 WL 4182397, at *4.

The amicus argues that "[a] critical function performed by MERS as the mortgagee is the receipt of service of all legal process related to the property." The amicus makes this argument despite the mortgage clause that specifically calls for notice to be given to the lender, not the putative mortgagee. In attempting to circumvent the statutory registration requirement for notice, MERS creates a system in which the public has no notice of who holds the obligation on a mortgage.

The Arkansas Supreme Court has noted:

"The only recorded document provides notice that [the original lender] is the lender and, therefore, MERS's principal. MERS asserts [the original lender] is not its principal. Yet no other lender recorded its interest as an assignee of [the original lender]. Permitting an agent such as MERS purports to be to step in and act without a recorded lender directing its action would wreak havoc on notice in this state." Southwest Homes, ___ Ark. at ___.

In any event, the legislature has established a registration requirement for parties that desire service of notice of litigation involving real property interests. It is not the duty of this court to criticize the legislature or to substitute its view on economic or social policy. Samsel v. Wheeler Transport Services, Inc., 246 Kan. 336, 348, 789 P.2d 541 (1990).

quoted from the aptly named Kansas Supreme Court Landmark case - slip op available here: Opinion

There estimated to be about 60 million mortgages with MERS as nominee in this country. Interestingly, I have seen evidence that MERS and the banks are acting to quickly rectify their errors and have actual recorded assignments done before they start a new foreclosure. I suppose that is good. However, the robotic behavior and strong desire to avoid doing the basic work of recording mortgages in the traditional way continues. I wouldn't be surprised to see some move to nationalize the mortgage recording system, at least for the big National Association type of lenders. There are already numerous laws that exempt such players from otherwise applicable State law requirements about mortgages and trust deeds.

The big problem is really with loans made in the (very roughly) 2004-2007 timeframe. And the problem isn't, sadly, as much with the poor borrowers who will ultimately get foreclosed. It's with the investors in the securitized investment vehicles who are waking up to realize that the trusts that are supposed to be holding certain mortgage paper may not be holding anything because transfers weren't done properly. This may give a right for the trust to "put back" the asset to the banks and demand the investors money back - something the banks simply can't swallow because it would mean yet another round of disaster.

Here is an article which covers most of the basics of the investor problem:

Businessweek Article

So is the economy going to rebound? My bet is, not yet. I think there's a lot of hot air to be let out yet.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Reprise - A Man's a man for a' that - or a reminder to those who chafe under foibles of those in power

For Owen