Why is Freedom Important?

It is to safeguard our ability to choose and do that which is good.

To defend freedom in the name of freedom only – the right to do whatever we want because we want to – is to be morally bankrupt, destructive to the world God created for us and at odds with “natural law”.

If we commit unspeakable acts of violence and evil in the name of freedom, we have no moral basis for the defense of “freedom”. We fight not for freedom, but for personal greed and dominance.

The dirty little secret that The American people have bought into, the elephant in the room that we choose to ignore, is that the empire we support through endless wars of conquest disproportionately benefits us vs the rest of the world. As the empire crumbles and the benefits that trickle down from the elite to the masses wane, the masses will wake up, not out of righteous indignation, but out of a displaced sense of loss. The gravy train has been good. We have collectively turned a blind eye to our wars of aggression waged in the name of freedom, or as G.W. Bush euphemistically said it, “our way of life”. Is our way of life just an excuse for conquest and plunder?
These are my thoughts as I considered the following interview from The Real News.

I believe that the mission and message of our little community, the Village on Sewanee Creek, should be about freedom in its fullest and best sense – the freedom to do positive good. Not as “do-gooders”out to reform everyone else, but people quietly reforming our own lives in harmony with that which is good.
The American paradigm we live within has focused our thinking to be against or at war with almost everything. There are wars against poverty, drugs, inequality, injustice, terrorism, illegal immigration, and on and on. A war mentality breeds anger, dissension and more war.

What is the antidote for a world that is continuously at war at every level? Christ taught us to repent. Repent of your acceptance of all forms of war. Champion freedom for the sole purpose of thinking and doing positive good. Repent of your natural inclination to justify evil in the name of false, self-serving good. When we learn to focus all of our thoughts and actions on doing that which is good and productive and always rejecting that which is harmful or destructive, our lives will be full of light, joy and peace.

I write this with no personal sense of moral satisfaction, for I am as guilty as anyone of self-serving thoughts and behaviors that justify evil in the name of false good. When we stop focusing on the greed of others (Wall Street, corporations, politicians, etc.) we may begin to recognize our own complicity in a system, built from the ground up on self-interest, a nicer word for greed. Christ identified the problem in His mote/beam parable.

I desire to live among people who don’t see themselves as righteous or good, but humbly seek to become so through striving for that which is good – people who are continuously in an active process of repentance – or reaching upward for the light. I hope that being with such people, I will be inspired and strengthened to repent myself.

The world will become a better place not through conquest of others but by conquest of oneself.

Regardless of our circumstances or the political system we live within,  we are all, ALWAYS, free to do that.

Interesting People – Rich Life

From the outset, I have made it a point to target interesting people who will become not only Village neighbors, but the fabric of a lifestyle that makes life interesting and rewarding. There are many prepper communities emerging these days. They typically aim to fill their ranks with a comprehensive list of survival skills. Welder, blacksmith, gunsmith, military tactician, plumber, electrician, mechanic, hunter/trapper, tanner represent just a few of hundreds of basic skills. Important as these may be, they address only survival. For Villagers, life is about much more than survival.

I believe we have been successful in attracting a certain type of individual who is a cut above the mundane, normal, or average. So far, our small community boasts interesting people with distinguished accomplishments from diverse backgrounds.

  • Some have advanced degrees, like Tom who has a PhD in plant genetics or George who is a bio-chemist with deep experience in water quality systems management, mycology and toxic environmental clean-up.

But intellectual capacity doesn’t always require a high level degree or formal education. Street smarts are just as valuable and interesting.

  • Jeff J. humbly acknowledges a lack of formal training, while his accomplishments as a highly sought-after Hollywood film editor are impressive. Having worked on such famous films as Star Wars and Hunger Games among many others, his experiences, instincts and observations on life have brought great pleasure and growth to me and other Villagers. Knowing my interest in movies, a residual from my days at Blockbuster, he even contributed a huge library of DVD’s to the Village to enhance our movie nights, whether at our large screen home theater or the bigger one at the amphitheater.
  • Mike and Barb are accomplished singer/songwriters who infuse their art with the values we embrace as a community. Their music strengthens both the moral and social fabric of the Village.
  • Fred is our inventor / engineer / communications expert extraordinaire. I affectionately nicknamed him Mr. Inscrutable because his intellectual and scientific prowess often makes me stretch to grasp a point he is making. Those who attend a lecture he is giving at the University of the South on Open Source Ecology this Wednesday will likewise be stretched and enriched.
  • Jim has a deep, practical history with self-sufficient living. Now retired, he is an effective investor who loves tending his garden and chickens while experimenting with all kinds of projects from alternative energy to alternative construction. Jim donated many years of Mother Earth News to the online Village Library. His soft, engaging nature makes him a natural in group dynamics where he instantly puts people at ease.
  • Jeff P. and his three sons are all Eagle Scouts.  Jeff is CFO for his company and has been a scout leader for years.  His practical knowledge of outdoor life and appreciation for nature derived from scouting contribute to our mission in many ways.
  • Micah stopped just short of completing a PhD in philosophy, and deploys his prodigious intellect and work ethic in his highly successful internet business, helping America’s best and brightest choose colleges best suited to them. In his spare time, he raises goats, cattle and chickens for home consumption and has purchased several hundred acres nearby to build a cattle ranch with his brother.

The Women in the Village contribute to the richness of daily life just as much if not more than the men.

  • My dear wife, Becky, is known for her home-making skills that range from amazingly artistic quilts to the best home-made bread ever, made from home-ground flour, to fresh veggies and eggs from her greenhouse and mini-farm.
  • Judy cans, sprouts, sews, gardens, bakes and cooks some of the finest food you will find anywhere and tutors neighborhood children in math.
  • Stephanie brings her personal brand of wisdom to the Village. She is a counselor who listens attentively and serves up help to University students, meanwhile raising her two little boys with patience and love.
  • Linnette is an accomplished artist who excels with ceramics.  She created the beautiful tile work and fired the individual tiles in her large kiln for the sign at the entrance to the Village.  Her sons include a doctor, an architect and a business man.
  • Linda is a natural organizer-leader.  She runs the Meetup group, “Provident Living and Self Reliance” out of Nashville. She was instrumental in organizing Preparedness Fairs here in the Village and many other group meetings for Villagers as well as hundreds of other Self-Reliance oriented people throughout Middle and Eastern Tennessee.

I could go on. For the sake of brevity, I will limit the list, but you get the point. Beyond specific skills and accomplishments, most Villagers are well traveled, intellectually open and, as a result, qualify as interesting people who contribute at many levels. Because they are all focused on self-sufficient living, each one also contributes to the list of survival skills and the general resilience of the Village.

The work I do to attract and woo interesting people results in tangible value to people who move here. And the longer I do it the more valuable the Village becomes. That is why the value of the product Villagers buy into is less and less about the beautiful land and more and more about a rich lifestyle built on relationships with extraordinary people. For fans of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, you might recognize the Village as a kinder and gentler Galt’s Gulch.

It isn’t enough that we have many interesting people here. It is just as important that those interesting people each desire to share their knowledge, insights, skills and talents or we are just like any other upper-income neighborhood, filled with people who are busy, successful, and isolated in social silos. So we try to select people who love people. It’s implied in our motto, in harmony with nature AND PEOPLE. I believe we have also been successful in developing a culture of sharing.

And, while attracting interesting people who want to share is the essential foundation, it is only the beginning. As we continue to weave and expand this fabric of many colors and textures into a culture of interesting people with an interesting, rich life, I think it is not enough to simply have them here. We must continuously draw people out in interesting venues and situations where all can naturally benefit from such rich natural resources. We must enhance our natural human resources through activities, processes, customs and traditions that we all embrace.

  • Our weekly “Village Project” is one such tradition that puts talents and skills to practical work while creating an atmosphere for mutual, service, positive social interaction and sharing.
  • Our Monday “Family Home Evening” gatherings are a regular place for sharing on a more intimate, sometimes more intellectual level. We teach, share stories, play games, discuss world events, books, and movies, share treats, and plan together.
  • Our Monthly potluck is a time for reaching out to Village land owners who have not yet built and relocated here. It’s less frequent and allows them to travel from Nashville or sometimes more distant locations. It’s also a time to enjoy great food and casual conversation in an unstructured environment.
  • Since I have joined the staff at the University of the South, I am much more tuned in and do a better job of sharing the abundance of culturally enriching, and mostly free activities there. Lectures, discussions, plays, concerts are plentiful to overwhelming in their availability. We try to get Villagers together to share in many of these experiences too.
  • At less frequent intervals, we have made field trips to Nashville or other outlying towns, like the trip we made to see Les Miserable or recently to Athens to learn about earth-bermed housing.

As more interesting, sharing people join us, the opportunities grow exponentially along with the need for careful tending. I take seriously the responsibility of creating value for Villagers. But, I think everybody knows that it’s a group project, not wholly dependent on me.

Frankly, I’m not satisfied with the type and quality of activities we do now. We can do more and be more. I need all of your help.
Please share your ideas and your energy to bring them to life.

Walden Pond Updated – The modern “Good Life”

As a college student bout 40 years ago, I read Walden; or, Life in the Woods, by Henry David Thoreau. Like most people of my generation, I spent many years out of the woods, behind a desk, on planes, in endless meetings.  But, Thoreau’s message stuck.  From it, I learned ideas like

  • the importance of living deliberately
  • your stuff will own you, not the other way around
  • the true economics of Life
  • self-sufficiency is both possible and desirable.
  • the importance of living in and learning from nature.

After a career that paid well and exposed me to wealth and society, I have tried to live more simply and deliberately. In this excellent TED talk, Adam Baker does the best job that I’ve seen of recapturing Thoreau’s ideas for modern times. In the fragile, frenetic and uber-materialist world we live in, these ideas are more relevant than ever.

Inspiring experiences and memories are the rewards of a life well-lived. The stuff we accumulate gets in the way of real life.

If you are seeking to live “the Good Life” in the company of like-minded, well-informed, good and intelligent people, you might want to join us.  Inquire here

Most Important Lessons from Homesteading


This man tells the truth. I can’t say it any better or even as well, so here it is, unvarnished, intelligent, true.

These are the reasons I founded the Village on Sewanee Creek.  And, it’s not easy. But, as he explains, it’s worth it.  The real “safety-net” called family and community was dismantled and replaced by a false government welfare “safety net” as part of the system of broken promises he speaks of.  Working together with like-minded people makes it doable and more rewarding than going it alone.

The visuals may seem irrelevant to the words, but pay attention anyway. The video shows why it is worth it – to live “in harmony with nature and people”.

It is our mission in the Village, to make what is impossible, not only possible, but enjoyable and fulfilling, through community.

Saving the World one person at a time … starting with me

“Teach them Correct Principles and they Govern Themselves”.  This is the foundation for a sustainable world.  This is my message to the world.
I was asked to give a talk to the Economics club at Sewanee, the University of the South on our independent local currency initiative, the Sewanee Dollar.  But when the sponsor, a student representing the Economics Club read my BLOG, he decided there is more to the story.

He admitted to being a closet Libertarian, an unpopular position at liberal Sewanee U.  But, he said he was having a hard time reconciling “sustainability” with some of the libertarian views I had written of on this blog.  In his mind, these were polar opposites.  To which I responded,

“I can’t imagine anything sustainable unless founded on true principles, including the freedom to act on them”.  

That led to a broader discussion of sustainability.  Sustainable extends into eternity.  It’s not just about restraining ourselves from destroying natural Eco-systems, although that is part of it.  It includes spiritual, moral, physical and economic sustainability.   It’s about being wise, good stewards.  It’s about being the change we want to see.

In other words, Saving the World one person at a time. . . starting with me.

PS:  For a list of some of the community projects referred to in the above video, see my post, Socialism Fails as Free Markets Flourish In the Village.

Demographics Drive Change

Whether it’s population or economic growth, exponential growth inevitably ends with bust and collapse.
Here is a video that explains the impact of exponential growth. 
World news is fixated on the UN’s pronouncement that we are passing the 7 billion population mark.
Ironically, there are many countries where population collapse is the issue as chronicled in this op-ed from AlJazeera, “BABY BUST SPELLS TROUBLE FOR RICH NATIONS”
Japan is the poster child, but Russia, Europe and even the US are on the list of countries now or soon unable to support aging populations. For those interested in seeing what the future looks like for countries with aging populations, check out this blog on the rusting of Japan.   Written from the perspective of an affluent expat financial analyst who is fluent in the Japanese language and culture, I find it fascinating in an eerie-dreary sort of way.
While energy resource depletion (aka Peak Oil) is one of the fundamental tectonic plates shifting beneath our feet, population demographics is another one.
Demographics defined my thirty year career. Perhaps nothing is as sensitive to or exposes demographics so clearly as how people eat. I was at the forefront of exporting American food service and retail chains to emerging nations around the world. I successfully developed well-known brands like IHOP, Papa John’s, Pizza Inn, 7-Eleven, Dunkin’ Donuts, Baskin-Robbins and Blockbuster Videoin over fifty countries.

7-Eleven's could be found EVERYWHERE in Thaila...

Baskin-Robbins Korea 1 of thousands

In the 70’s, it was Japan. There was a massive demographic shift as young mothers entered the workforce (similar to what had occurred in the prior 15 years in the USA. Japan was becoming more affluent. Young families with growing incomes and less time wanted convenient food options. Japan was mimicking America’s infatuation with chain restaurants. Japan’s growth curve was steep and so was the decline.
None of the brands I represented had the marketing or financial clout of McDonald’s, so I had to be sensitive to targeting only countries that had youthful, aspiring populations, mostly in developing countries where success was assured. For me, that almost always meant youth in Asia. Our greatest successes were in places like Japan (in the early days), Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other middle Eastern countries and more recently Eastern Europe, China and India.  Developing Latin American Countries

I opened this shop in Pakistan

were OK for inexpensive products like Dunkin’ Donuts).  Western Europe was always a tough nut to crack. My career taught me to be intuitively sensitive to population and economic demographics. Lesson number one.

Lesson number two was equally grounded in fundamental tectonic fact as expressed in the phrases “watch where the feet point” and “follow the money”. In the politically charged, sometimes back-stabbing corporate world of a senior executive, it was often difficult to know what alliances would form to support or betray you. Even hero de jour, Steve Jobs, was thrown out of the company he founded.  Those things shift quickly in the winds of expediency and personal interests. But if you have your ear to the ground you can always sense the grinding at the tectonic level. That is where the truth is.

As world resources become increasingly strained and rich nations slide into poverty, I see a growing call coming for population control measures that will target the less productive members of society, the old and infirm. It will be justified as “scientific” and natural survival of the fittest. Alex Jones and commentators like him attribute that to the “New World Order” elites, rising fascism, communism and the “banksters”. The mass media counters by marginalizing that rhetoric as nut-case “conspiracy theory” or “fear mongering”. It is hard to forecast who will be the leaders, the movers and shakers in a radically changing world. But it is clear that the world is about to shake because at the tectonic level (demographics and resources) there are unmistakable clues to the inevitable. Leaders like Hitler are impotent by themselves. Their power derives from their ability to tap into the tectonic forces of the masses. Demographic tectonics tells me there will be a mass of people clamoring for solutions. History tells me that someone like Hitler will offer solutions. The solution to over-population and under supply of resources is inevitably eugenics.

Under the din of claims, counter-claims and fault-finding, the tectonic plates of the masses continue to shift. Regardless of where one hangs the blame, earthquakes, like nature in general, move without regard to our feeble attempts to explain them.   It seems an ironic twist of language that my early career was defined by the potential of youth in Asia, while in later life I am thinking more about the potential for euthanasia. My early analysis of the demographic potential of “youth-in-Asia” led me to respond correctly and productively to the needs of the masses by developing thousands of restaurants and retail outlets in emerging nations. Later analysis of demographic potential for euthanasia leads me to the conclusion that in a eugenic world where only the fit and productive survive, we had better get on with the job of being not only fit, but productive and self-sufficient.

My baby boomer generation has mortgaged future generations with debt that cannot be repaid.  Those generations will default on that debt just as surely as sub-prime mortgagees did.

Build a great house for under $10,000

I was needing to build a guest house. Inexpensive, but strong, well insulated, attractive and off-grid ready.  There is a series of YouTube videos featuring Bob Vila building houses with Steel Shipping Containers, sometimes called CONEX boxes.  When finished, they make attractive houses, indistinguishable from others in the tract.  But the cost per square foot is about on par with standard construction at $150 to $200 per square foot.  Other than the appeal to save-the-earth recyclers, I have a hard time seeing the point.  There has to be a better way.

Done, for less than one tenth the cost.

A little over a  year ago, I bought two CONEX boxes to build a guest house.  They cost $2k each, delivered in rural Tennessee from Atlanta.
I put them on six steel reinforced concrete piers next to the main house.   I purchased good quality used double pane windows and doors from a local salvage place for about half of a song.  It was handy to already have plenty of dry storage with the containers already in place.  The old saying “time is money” turns out applies not only to the cost of labor and capital, but to one’s ability to buy materials at a discount.  A dry, secure place to store materials while you take the time necessary to buy frugally and build is an important feature of CONEX boxes that saves lots of money.  Over months, that dry storage was put to good use to accumulate inexpensive surplus or used components like sinks, toilets, cabinets, counters, carpet, tile and a wood burning stove from CraigsList, eBay and other local salvage sources.

Immediately on delivery, the boxes are dry and secure.  But they aren’t insulated and that’s a big deal on a house.  Without it, these steel boxes become ice boxes in winter and ovens in summer.  We are fortunate to live in an area where Tyson has forced the closure of all the older chicken houses.  That’s good in several ways.  First, the toxic stench is gone.  Second, the neighboring chicken farmers are no longer subject to Tyson’s vassal labor conditions.  Third, the chicken houses are slowly being disassembled and sold for scrap metal and the 1 to 2 inch thick foam insulation panels are often discarded.  I acquired two kinds of insulation for less than a song (about the chorus of Yankee Doodle Dixie), almost nothing.  The spun glass type went over the container tops and under the low-pitch steel roof.   Because each container is built to handle the weight of ten or fifteen more containers stacked on it, each loaded with tons of cargo in hurricane force winds on a tossing ocean, there’s no worry about having a higher pitched roof to carry a snow load, especially in mild southern winters.

With a plasma cutter, a friend cut holes in the sides of the CONEX for doors and windows and a gaping hole between them to open up a large space for a living area.   It was a fairly simple task to frame the holes with standard 2X4’s and install doors and windows.  Using standard framing and drywall, it was easy to add interior walls for a storage room, bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, living/dining area and laundry room.  Needing more space in the main house, the laundry was immediately moved into the end of one of the CONEX boxes, installing plumbing and electrical in the process.  A huge chest freezer was added.   In short order, parts of the new house were functional even before it was insulated. The thick marine plywood floors could be easily drilled for plumbing.  Used cabinets and the electrical panel (also bought used) were easily mounted to the steel walls in the new laundry room and hooked up by a licensed electrician.

Then I installed more vertical studs on the exterior walls, screwing them flat, directly to the steel walls from the inside.  The two-inch depth of the studs is perfect to frame the 2 inch thick insulation panels.  Next, I ripped some treated deck boards and screwed them horizontally into the vertically oriented studs. I nestled another 1 inch layer of insulation panels between the deck boards and on top of the 2 inch ones.  That makes three inches of solid foam insulation on the walls, almost what you would have in a commercial walk-in freezer.   With the insulation in place the difference was immediately gratifying.  The space, while not yet aesthetically pleasing, was comfortable and livable.  People interested in sustainable housing often speak of the relative advantages of insulation vs. thermal mass.  With the container house, you get both!  By putting the insulation on the outside, tons of steel are on the interior where the mass absorbs, retains and radiates heat or cold from AC, wood burning stove or other heating system.  This thermal mass helps keep interior temperatures relatively even.  Meanwhile, the insulation on the exterior keeps the extreme temperatures outside.  Another benefit of putting the insulation on the outside is that it doesn’t eat up precious interior space.  Finally, top off the insulation with exterior siding, and Wa-La, it’s beginning to look pretty nice.  Eventually, as time permits, I am thinking of cladding the exterior with cord-wood harvested from the property to give it a rustic feel.

A trip to Dalton, Georgia, just across the Tennessee border was well worth it.  Dalton is the carpet and flooring capital of America.  I found a great deal on commercial quality carpet squares that stay in place without glue or tacking.  You can easily replace just the soiled or worn ones.  Granite tiles go under the wood stove and vinyl for the kitchen and bath.  I love the look of the corrugated steel walls.  Granted, they aren’t the smooth drywall look most people are accustomed to, but something a little different is nice.  So, keep the variation in the walls.  Simply paint them with some lively colors and accent the larger reinforcing members and doors with a contrasting color.  It wouldn’t be hard to overlay the steel walls with drywall or paneling, but if you enjoy a different look and like saving the time and money, paint works just fine.  I especially like the back-splash wall behind the kitchen sink.  Blending several vibrant colors, you can create a rainbow effect that gives life to the kitchen.  The deep corrugation in the steel is perfect for up or down lights that wash the wall and intensify the colors.  “Inexpensive”, “innovative” and “attractive”.

CONEX guest house kitchen

As you work with these big steel boxes, there are endless outlets for creative innovation to be discovered.  Once set on the level, you have already conquered the carpenter’s primary challenge – plumb, level and square.  After that, it’s just a matter of hanging stuff on them.  Rather than try to make the finished product look and act just like the surrounding cracker-box tract houses, it’s fun to  tease out the unique benefits of building with them.  From thermal mass/insulation qualities to the unique undulating aesthetics of corrugated walls, to very serious economic benefits, there is  a lot to be learned and achieved with steel shipping container construction.

This project is only the beginning.  The goal is to make this little house sustainable and off-grid with the same kinds of economic savings.   Use Solar PV (photo-voltaic), but spend $10k or less to do it.  Use hydro-electric from the 50′ waterfall nearby and wind.  Integrate and balance these complementary renewable power sources for both the house and transportation.  Use the battery pack on a golf cart to flexibly store and supply energy to the house, the cart and portable applications like running an electric chain saw or MIG welder somewhere out on the 750 acres that make up the Village.  Folks in the Village on Sewanee Creek are looking for the freedom that intelligent, frugal, debt-free design can afford.  We’re experimenting with these and other abundant lifestyle solutions.  Thankfully, we share and help one another in our common goals, so I don’t have to do it all myself.

If this appeals to you, contact me for more info or a tour here

More shots of the completed guest house are in my talk on sustainability at the University of the South.