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Viral collapse

Sun, Feb 14, 2010

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According to economists, the beauty of globalization is worldwide access to materials and cheap (or free) labor to bring the materials to powerful countries. We provide garbage, pollution, and low wages — or, in the “best” cases we enslave workers — and we obtain materials and finished goods. This is the rising economic tide that floats all boats.

We are witnessing the economic down side of globalization. When the tide goes out on one part of the empire, it drags the rest of the empire down, too. In fact, when a lifeguard swims out to save a drowning man, the drowning man’s first reaction is to grab the lifeguard by the head and push down. This allows the drowning man to rise up and gobble a few breaths of water-free air, but it threatens to drown him and his savior.

At this juncture in the industrial age, we have two tired, one-armed lifeguards and a handful of victims. All eyes are on Greece — fittingly, the birthplace of western civilization — but Greece, which naturally turned to Goldman Sachs to try to hide its debt, is one tiny canary in a coal mine the size of Earth. Even as hope builds for some combination of Germany and France to save Greece, the entire Euro zone is going up in flames. Here in the homeland, seven states are drowning in financial waters deeper and choppier than the Mediterranean Sea. And the squeaks from those seven states cannot be heard over the din from every other state in the country, much less every country in the industrialized world. Seems a Greek crisis is coming to America. In the words of Chris Hedges, we’ve reached the zero point of systemic collapse. Along with Mickey Z, Hedges offers a few ways to resist the omnicidal dominant culture and save what’s left of our humanity.

Meanwhile, it has become generally known that it is mathematically impossible to pay off the U.S. debt, as I reported several months ago (more figures are available here, and the U.S. Debt Clock is always worth a look). And, lest you think there is help on the way, the sovereign debt crisis is just getting started, along with the collapse in commercial real estate.

The U.S. reflects mortgage holders, hopelessly underwater. The mortgage holders should be walking away, according to at least one professor of law. Unlike the mortgage holders, the U.S. cannot walk away, even though an economic recovery is hopeless at this point. And the U.S. is merely one of many countries hopelessly underwater. The global debt time bomb goes off soon, as even Europe and the U.S. will default. Even MarketWatch has begun, finally, to call this event the economic apocalypse. It’s too late for economic salvation, even as Business Insider understates the economic news, writing we’re somewhere between dire and disastrous.

Even as the greatest economic implosion in world history accelerates, the underlying cause — peak oil — remains chronically under-reported. Nonetheless, Sir Richard Branson finally is warning that the peak-oil crunch will be worse than the credit crunch (thereby failing to recognize the importance of the former in creating the latter), the Wall Street Journal is warning us to prepare for peak oil, and British oil companies and CEOs are sounding the alarm. These numbskulls have failed to notice we’re passed peak, and that it’s too late for societal-level preparations. The U.K. Telegraph is making fun of people who make personal preparations for peak oil and its economic consequences, but their laughter seems a little nervous to me. Even with the vaunted war machine, the ability of the U.S. to import oil is dwindling: Saudi Arabia has slipped from our number two supplier to number four while the new number two provider, Mexico, is in oil-supply free-fall.

Apparently failing to notice where empires go to die, the U.S. military has powered up the surge in Afghanistan even as the Pentagon admits U.S. taxpayers are forking over $400 for each gallon of gasoline used there. And most Americans think five bucks a gallon is an outrage when they pay it directly.

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23 Responses to “Viral collapse”

  1. vera Says:

    You know, I’ve grown numb about all this. One question I have… just because the Fed hands over some paper, and the gov’t says, ok, let’s pretend we now owe the Fed a billion…. and must pay interest on that debt… this is all a scam, nah? There is no debt. If the whole thing got canceled tomorrow, what’s the problem? Everybody could heave a sigh of relief, and the govt could print its own paper. Right?

    And a related question is… even with other kinds of debt… why not just cancel it all? Now I am not much in debt myself, and am staggered by how irresponsible everybody and their brother has been, but more and more it looks to me like a giant house of cards. Debt is only valid if people agree to it. What would happen if that agreement went away?

    More I read anthro, the more I see how the very concept of debt was used way back to indenture and tie up people. Perhaps, we can just “say no”? Any ideas would be appreciated.

  2. matt Says:

    Guy, nice summary of the weeks events,

    Vera

    ‘debt makes a free man a slave’

    debt/money creation/inflation is what drives the economic system

    - Without interest/reward/risk the financial system would close down
    as would international trade and investment. The industrialised
    world is built on these principles, no one could begin to imagine
    what the consequences would be if governments decided not
    honour their debts. Yes gold would spike, so would food.
    Currently 1oz of gold is = to 1 tonne of rice. To my mind
    gold is over valued or rice under. It would be nice if we
    could ‘hedge’ (lock in the price now) food and ‘buy’ 20 years worth,
    to be redeemed anytime in the future. Ah, nice fantasy…

    Without ‘money creation’ (debt = money that is loaned into existence)
    you would not borrow money. You would simply save (silver/gold/oxen/rice) the principal and pay ‘cash’. The point is ‘indebtedness’ is a condition where the system is rigged against the individual. The real estate game is essentially a ponzi scheme, when the music stops, the last person standing is going to get f*cked over.

    With regards to credit cards – if you NEED one, then you cannot afford
    to use one. The rates here are 20%pa.

    Money creation (literally) allows debt holders (USA) to inflate their way out of their debt predicament. As long as they do it very slowly,
    they can get away with it, governments have done this throughout history. Again this is essentially what inflation is. We all borrow on this principle knowing that our house will be worth more than the initial purchase price. Inflation will erode the value of the debt over time. However the value of the real estate is relative – your neighbours house has also increased in value.

    After couple decades of mortgage payments, you realise you have been
    running to stand still – mortgage slave!

    I guess the thing about the debt is that it is ultimately self limiting.

    What enslavement have we created for ourselves?
    And in the process we are shitting where we eat.

    Just engaged in some ‘opium for the masses’ – Avatar,
    (I might add the internet/blogs also provides a similar ‘kick’,
    keeping us ‘entertained’, while the world turns outside)

    Avatar – nice fanatsy, that alien chick is hot!
    A blue ‘Jane Eyre’ – independent, strong, supportive and feminine.

    James Cameron’s leads are always tough stoic/feminine women.

    anyway…

    nice posts Guy, I have not been able to keep up with all the
    comments, too busy racing the bike!

    DD, happy birthday you old bastard :)

  3. Stan Moore Says:

    And, here in the homeland, where corporations rule the roost, the final trend at the end of the fiscal games is the laying off of full-time employees with benefits and the hiring of temporary workers with low wages and no benefits. The Obama health care scam will be particularly bad for those who increasingly will not be able to afford any health care and who no longer receive it through their jobs. The corporations have already downsized manufacturing and industry and outsourced skilled white collar jobs to India and elsewhere and even veteran white collar and all blue collar workers are beginning to realize that prosperity is a thing of the past for the working people. The only money to be made is in the realm of financial speculaation by the investor class, who comprise entities judged “too big to fail” and worthy of taxpayer bailouts regardless of incompetence, malfeasance, or outright corruption.

    The American public bought into capitalism as long as they received tasty crumbs, but now the tastiest crumbs are being kept for corporate profits and the “little people” are subject to debt peonage. Michael Hudson the very astute political economist, has explained all of this repeatedly but the mainstream press serves as stenographers to power and not illuminators for the sake of democracy.

    If people were to wake up and smell the b.s., revolution would be in the air, but Obama is the expert at bamboozling and creating the illusion of “change you can believe in”, “yes we can”, “the audacity of hope”, the “return to economic growth” and all the other jibberish people are so eager to believe.

    Amazingly, Obama does the work of the conservatives while being elected by the misguided liberals, and “What is the Matter with Kansas!” is duplicated in Oakland, Arkansas, Boston and all points in between. One really has to hand it to the manipulators for their skills in keeping people underfoot and willingly kept there in the hopes of getting more something for nothing.

    This has all been accomplished with manipulation rather then with totalitarian fascism to date, but there is always room for that at the end when the feces hit the blower.

    Just think how powerful Russia would be if Stalin had been tutored by Milton Friedman and had the cunning of Bill Clinton. He could have spread the crumbs instead of killing his intellectuals and workers and Russia could be a co-superpower instead of witnessing 8% annual decline in gross national product with a demographically fading population to boot.

    But human evolution favors the predator/parasite class over the exploited workers and this is engineered and cleverly executed for decades now.

    Stan Moore

  4. Daymon J. Hartley Says:

    Our present capitalist economic, social and political system is a victim of its own success. With the robotic and electronic revolution well under way we are replacing manual labor as we know it. And that is not a bad thing. If we can get machines to do the back breaking work in the factories, mines etc. then that should be a plus for humanity. But unfortunately they haven’t figured out how to get the robots to buy back what they produce. And with a system still based on the premise that you have to have a job to earn a wage to buy the necessaries of life and there are no jobs….you have an irreconcilable contradiction. The profits and market system can no longer function to meet the needs of the majority of society. With Globalization there is an evening up process with the spread of the technology. And rather then bringing the rest of the worlds workers up to the living standard we have enjoyed…our standard of living is being driven down to theirs. I used to think it was a big conspiracy by the elite but now I believe that every economic system has its own objective motion and laws. They think that if they just throw more of our taxpayer money at the problem it will go away. Democracy in this country has been reduced to merely casting a vote. Every 4 years they let us decide which of their leaders is going to mislead us for another 4 years. To enjoy the fruits of democracy the average person would have to have access to the tools of democracy. Television, print, radio. The only folks who have that access are the millionaires and billionaires. Michael Moore is right in demanding economic democracy. The democratic right to a job, house, food, healthcare and that elusive right to human happiness. You can call it socialism, communism, or a duck. Bring it on!

  5. Frank Mezek Says:

    matt,

    Please fly up here for my birthday bash–I’ll put you up.

    You too Stan.

    ProfEmGuy:Same

    The rest of you:I like to know who I’m blogging with,so you’re all invited–NO EXCUSES.

    Double D a/k/a Frank Mezek

  6. Greg Breneman Says:

    Stan Moore thats the best post you ever made. Right on the money. I have a question since I know you like raptors. I was in florida visiting my father at christmas and the number of hawks down there always amazes me. Saw 50 in one thermal over naples beach one day and many more elsewhere. I never see them eat anything and wonder what they do consume to sustain themselves since ground rodents are not that visible.

  7. bubbleboy Says:

    And what about extinctions?

    The only polar bear I have met lives in an awful zoo enclosure. However, I have begun to think that if all the neighbors are losing their homes, I have only won a lonely prize.

    To enjoy security is to lose it. Then, to not act is to accept.

    Alas dear Frank, I will inhabit my locality and find a suitable substitute for the importation of your birthday cake.

  8. Brutus Says:

    Vera’s comment above gave me spasms. Much as many of us would like, our economic problems won’t go away by pretending they don’t exist. There are no do-overs. I’d like to take Vera to task for being so economically illiterate, but she has a lot of company, and strangely, the economists who safeguard the system are scarcely better. Similarly, the general public’s understanding of our civic institutions is functionally nonexistent, and the politicians meant to work within those institutions are just as bad, or worse when you consider they’re professionals.

    So it’s now a mathematical impossibility to extricate ourselves from debt? Most folks can’t balance of checkbook or make change at the cash register. Asking them to recognize the severity of our distress is just tilting at windmills.

  9. vera Says:

    Heh. I hope you enjoyed them spasms. It woulda been nice if you actually cared to explain something, anything, I was asking about. Easier to get all fluffed up and scoff, eh, Brutus?

    I hear that Solon’s canceling debt in Athens led to prosperity…?

  10. Stan Moore Says:

    regarding Greg’s question about raptors –

    Raptors can congregate in large numbers, usually during the non-nesting season if food is abundant. Some of the colonial raptors can feed on insects or other invertebrates. But major predators can form large concentrations, too, as when Alaskan bald eagles congregate in large numbers at salmon runs, etc.

    In my area, the largest numbers of wintering raptors occur when voles are at their peak. Voles tend to run on 4 year cycles up and down, and during the peak of vole irruptions it is common to see large numbers of redtail hawks and other rodentivores. Fossorial animals also attract some raptors, as ground squirrels in California often attract ferruginous hawks and other buteos and even prairie falcons in the wintertime. One bird watcher I know found a communal roost of over 50 ferruginous hawks in Monterrey County; the birds roosted together in a few sparse trees before separating in the morning to hunt adjacent grasslands. White-tailed kites and other kites often roost in large numbers, sometimes into the hundreds and forage in commuting range during the daytime. Sometimes they even roost in the presence of other roosting species; I know of biologists who have seen kites roosting with harriers and Bill Clark even found kites roosting with a merlin in the sugar cane fields of South Texas.

    And, of course, raptors like to migrate on thermals or soar on thermals, sometimes in nice groups.

    If you were to head south down to Panama or to Veracruz, Mexico in the autumn, you could find kettles of literally thousands of hawks, such as broadwings and Swainso’s Hawks and turkey vultures at a given moment. The birds are so abundant that they have to be counted in clusters and not by individuals.

    The Florida Keys is the location for a very impressive migration of arctic peregrine falcons and other raptors. As many as 300+ peregrines were counted on the all-time record day, but usually they pour through individually or in small numbers. Often their passage precedes frontal weather activity on western winds.

    So, it is not that unusual to see 50 hawks in some locations, and especially in the wintertime when young birds of the year are still alive and competing and wintering birds move to their quarters after the breeding season ends. Rodents can be a major prey, but sometimes other sorts of prey can be the attractants. I thoroughly enjoy watching the birds, trying to identify them by species, and I trap and band them in good numbers. The past few weeks have been constantly rainy and now I have broken my leg, so I am laid up for a while, even as the sun has begun to shine again and the birds are singing.

    It will not be long now before the breeding impulses begin to stir with local raptors and the territorial adults will begin to evict their visiting guests from elsewhere. Northbound migration will occur and the cycles of life will continue in their endless repetition.

    And the masses of humanity will be oblivious to the whole thing :)

    Take care,

    Stan Moore

  11. matt Says:

    clarification – somewhat fortunately for the environment the debt based
    economic system is ‘ultimately self limiting’. One would hope, however
    quantitative easing has the capacity to keep the illusion of BAU chugging along for perhaps quite some time.

    DD, thanks for the invite, the wife wants me to take a trip somewhere
    this year – its my turn, so she can go trekking in Nepal next year.
    Hiking in Japan is probably on the cards this year. It would be
    great to meet you blokes at some stage. I am much more pleasant and easier to get along with in real life. :)

    All politicians are meat puppets, they sold their souls are long time ago. Dont expect too much from them, they are not gods. It is somewhat
    meaningless assigning a name to them – call them John Doe – a nameless corpse. Obama sullied his good name upon his inauguration.

    With regards to your Health care system, you all should watch Mike Moores – Sicko. Our system is very similar to the healthcare system
    in the UK. Yes, you guys may spend more per capita on healthcare
    than any other nation, but your kpis indicate that the average Joe
    (tax payer) is not getting value for money. Your HMOs are a big problem.
    Corporate kleptocracy. In France the government fear the people,
    in the US the people fear the government.

    Blame Nixon, your healthcare costs have sky rocketed since the 70s
    compared to other OECD nations.

  12. Stan Moore Says:

    I would recommend reading the ongoing writings of economist Michael Hudson with his analysis of the financial crisis worldwide. He consults with governments and institutions, advises tax policies, and is brutally honest.

    One of the most interesting, and very simple points he has made is the utterly devastating effect of compound interest levied on debt. If simple interest was levied, debts would be much more fair, since usually income cannot be garnished or wages obtained at compound rates. Banks and financiers guaranteed unfair permanent advantage and prospects of eventual untold wealth simply by persuading governments to allow them to charge compound interest to the public and even to the governments themselves and to each other.

    Also, the illusion of prosperity is tantalizing, but eventually catastrophic. Americans built the nation from a base of massive raw materials as well as stolen raw materials and cheap labor from abroad. They became prosperous and accustomed to prosperous lifestyles. The wealthy elite started reducing wages and incomes and benefits decades ago, but to mask the losses in real prosperity, they engineered the ability of the masses to accululate massive personal and family and national debt loads, usually based on the payment of compound interest. Thus everyone could borrow and feel rich and then the real estate bubbles and other bubbles were engineered to allow fraudulent valuation of residential housing so as to allow yet more borrowing and debt-based spending. Homes were like cash registers because homeowners could get ridiculously inappropriate mortgages and then cash out the value of those inflated mortgages into large SUV’s, vacations, college for kids, and a seemingly prosperous lifestyle that was bubble-bound and inevetably had to crash. Bubbles are made to pop, but bubble makers engineer safety for themselves at the expense of those inside the bubbles.

    And the citizenry absolutely loved the game until the score began to go in the opposite direction. It is like having a casino operator hand you a big stack of chips while you sign a binding IOU and enjoy playing (and usually losing) with each hand until the stack is gone and the bill is staring you in the face.

    Welcome to 2010 and years beyond! A major problem is that even the basic incomes used to borrow those early sums are being diminished and so debt holders are increasingly exposed to debt peonage and now Greece has forbidden cash transactions above 1500 euros. Soon Big Brother will be watching all of us to make us pay back those debts…

    Stan Moore

  13. Frank Mezek Says:

    matt:

    I understand your plight.I’m also forced to behave myself in face to face meetings and when taken out in public.

    So we’ll get along just fine.

    DD

  14. Michael Irving Says:

    Guy,

    I was thinking about your essay as I read an article discussing the themes of the movie Avatar by Anthony Gregory titled “Avatar and Just War Theory.” I found it at http://www.independent.org/blog/?p=5036&cpage=1#comment-79276 .

    In it he notes, “It is a real theme in history and an established one in myth that criminal gangs, bands of aggressors, states and quasi-governmental corporations will conquer indigenous peoples and rob them of their land and resources.” That got me thinking on a new path. If the collapse we have been discussing comes to pass and if the descent from peak-everything is precipitous, then the groups Gregory mentions are likely to be scouring the countryside seeking food and other resources; the zombie hoard scenario. In addition, to control anarchy, governments try to take charge of resources and control their distribution during catastrophes. So, farmers, gardeners, and others who are growing food or planning for an uncertain future are likely to become a new class of “indigenous people” to be robbed “of their land and resources.” This new class of indigenous people likely will have to adopt a militant approach or just roll over and die. Violence against groups or individuals bent on liberating your resources or seeking to redistribute them equitably could be seen as an individual skirmish in a “just war.” Picture a heroic message spray-painted on an abandoned barn, “Na’vis-R-US.”

    Michael Irving

  15. Guy McPherson Says:

    Michael Irving, I’ve thought a lot about zombies, and I read the review to which you linked. Also, I saw Avatar — my first trip to a theater in a decade or so — and it’s a classic root-for-the-oppressed-underdog film. I wrote about the zombies about 14 months ago under the title, “Marauding hordes require organization.” My thoughts haven’t changed much since then: I think few if any organized efforts will reach this far because federal, state, and local governments will become ineffective quite rapidly, as will any other attempts to organize, in the event of a crash that comes rapidly enough to salvage what remains of the living planet. Maybe this is wishful thinking on my part — it’s tough to tell at this point.

  16. vertalio Says:

    Well, maybe that’s something to discuss…not just how to eat and meet basic needs, but what sort of organization can protect those. How large a tribe. What the infrastructure might need. How not to recreate the scenario that got us here in the first place.

    Of course, we don’t know what the situation will be, how collapsed things get, how quickly, how large the wandering hordes of the starving and where they wander. I’d guess that the drop in numbers will be swift at some early point; lack of nutrition, foul water, poor medical attention, increase in disease suggest a crescendo effect, and thus the bottleneck.

    Dinner calls.

  17. vera Says:

    Sharon Astyk has posted her thoughts on collapse today

    http://scienceblogs.com/casaubonsbook/2010/02/what_does_collapse_mean_and_wh.php

    and she makes a good point… there are a lot of different ways to collapse and not all result in roaming zombies.

    In ancient Rome, there were roaming Germanic tribes once the tentacles of Rome shrank, but they mostly sacked the cities, and stayed away from the outlying countryside settlements. I think it is far more practical to think in terms of what will happen when your part of the world collapses… and for America and Europe, I pretty much think somewhere between Iceland and Red China when Mao’s designs unraveled badly… mostly people survive at a lot lower level, and zombies are not that much of an issue. Severe food shortages will be much more of an issue, but locals will organize to bar plunder, and to share amongst themselves.

    Eh… I am starting to get impatient to get off the apocalypse treadmill and get going. I see the need to create communities far more important than anything else, apart from access to food.

  18. Stan Moore Says:

    A Country of Serfs Ruled by Oligarchs

    http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article24704.htm

    Not the words of an extremist “doomer”, but of former Reagan treasury official Paul Craig Roberts.

    A real doomer would see additional areas to worry about…

  19. vertalio Says:

    Yum. Tastes like Canadian.

    In spite of America’s traditional yearn for libertarian living, not many live that way, or ever did. We’re still Cro-Magnons, more or less, needing tribes of a certain density for strength of numbers and for social standing. If future travel is limited by the distance walkable or by bicycle or horse, future density is limited by food available. And that is limited by fertility and water and the ability to produce. Unless wildlife numbers rebound, hunting and gathering will be sketchy…as if much of anyone knows what to eat , how to slay it, how to prepare it. Who has a year’s worth of viable seed adapted to their microclimate? Suitable storage for those seeds, or the harvest?

    There’s one big bottleneck; knowledge. Books are disappearing, replaced and digitized: dependent on electricity, the grid, satellites. And if the grid becomes undependable it’s not like there’s a wealth of shamans or gatherers ready to pass on how and when to dig cattails, for those who have cattails. The knowledge hunter-gatherers use is staggering in depth and complexity, absorbed over lifetimes in the presence of a full array of the wild Others who once taught us everything. Those Others are mostly vanished now. We’re going to be on our own for some time to come, growing and herding our food. And defending it.

    One place to look for inspiration that comes to mind is one of Ben Franklin’s favorites, the Five Nations. Democratic, non-hierarchic, equal rights for all, advanced agriculturally…deeply ironic that we may find ourselves re-inventing a way of life on this continent that was so thoroughly scorned and destroyed not so long ago.

  20. Stan Moore Says:

    on the (downward) evolution of democracy in the age of viral collapse

    first please take note of the followign essay:

    http://dissidentvoice.org/2010/02/the-economic-elite-vs-the-people-of-the-united-states-of-america-part-i/

    And some comments by me –

    The recent Supreme Court decision reaffirming the personhood of corporations and their expanded role in the political arena signals an accelerated decline in American democracy. How many persons (human individuals) are mandated by law to NOT consider public interest and ONLY consider fiduciary duties in their deliberations, strategies, and actions. Corporations cannot legally advocate the public interest when it interferes with profit-making. And how often does it not, really?

    Corporations already set the government agenda, author legislation and regulations, fund candidates, and enrich themselves endlessly and shamelessly from the public trough.

    How much worse can it get?

    Don’t underestimate the power of greed. It can ONLY get worse and it will. The changes seem subtle now, but will become ever more profound and destructive and irreversible by past processes. Democracy has been purchased by the highest bidders and they want a healthy return on their investment.

    Stan Moore

  21. Guy McPherson Says:

    vera, I couldn’t agree more: “I see the need to create communities far more important than anything else ….”

  22. Michael Irving Says:

    Vera,

    I have three thoughts about the Germanic tribes and Rome as a guide to looking at today. Note first that my information is feeble at best.

    First, they sacked the cities because that’s where the wealth was. If you’re from a poor, barbaric, backwoods village with no gold and are looking for treasure you don’t look for it in other poor outlying villages.

    Second, as they were moving from point A to point B they needed to eat. That’s where sacking the outlying villages comes in.

    Third, the Germanic tribes were moving from an area with nothing to an area with lots of stuff (reverse entropy Brutus?), which is the exact opposite direction from what the current dislocation might entail, with the exception of food. The Germanic tribes probably had enough food or took it in their travels but they had their sights set on material goods.

    Other than that I agree that community is likely the answer. It is unlikely that country folks will give up their place any time soon and move into town. Why would anyone give up the work they’ve done toward self sufficiency to join the homeless seeking refuge in a village? I won’t. How would these wandering country folks be any different than wandering ex-city dwellers? So I think that when we talk about community we have think in terms of more than just a group of people in one physical place. I’m just trying to think the thing through and luckily I’m finding lots of help in this blog space.

    Michael Irving

  23. vera Says:

    Yes, Michael, that is how I see the Vandals moving too. Those villages in the path from city to city were of course devastated too. Those who were out in the hills were not, or not likely. That’s how I remember my history anyways.

    Thanks for pointing this out: those Goths knew how to live with little, and how to rough it. Today’s Vandals, town-bred, do not, and will not do well roaming the countryside. That is at least my prediction and my hope.

    What do you mean “we have think in terms of more than just a group of people in one physical place”? I would love to hear more.