Fire or Ice

Some say the world will end in fire; 
Some say in ice. 
From what I’ve tasted of desire 
I hold with those who favor fire. 
But if it had to perish twice, 
I think I know enough of hate 
To know that for destruction ice 
Is also great 
And would suffice.

– “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost

Cat, an old friend and new reader, recently posted this comment:

Hi Preston,

I read yesterday that Bush was moving into Preston Hollow in Dallas. Suddenly, I wondered, “What happened to Preston Poulter?” I was pleasantly surprised to see that you had a blog and had even run as a Libertarian for Texas Rep.

I enjoy this blog and the Libertarian perspective. You write plainly and with great focus. You write without much malice. It’s nice to find a blog that is about a person’s passion for betterment rather than an attention grab or a vehicle for invective.

I hope your find the Argentinian’s words interesting. He’s living the best he can in a world that went from prosperous to dangerous gradually. So that’s a mild blessing — economic collapses don’t often happen to an entire population overnight. You can kind of see them coming if you’re looking. This gives you time to spread your message about how to prepare for a period of increased self-reliance.

Aside from economic collapse, I am concerned about infrastructure collapse for various reasons. Avian influenza (H5N1) is probably on a collision course with mankind. It’s endemic in bird populations now. Every farmed chicken/duck/turkey that is raised and consumed is a living flu laboratory that is gradually mutating the virus into something that can potentially be transmitted to humans. Once that happens, we will likely see a global pandemic that cripples our import markets and results in critical supply shortages as people become reluctant to leave their homes.

This is a decent book to read about bird flu: Take note of his personal affiliations with animal rights groups as a potential conflict of interest. The science and history of pandemic influenza as he describes them are still sound (if a bit simplified). I found it to be a good primer. Everyone’s obsessed about the economy while this monster slumbers somewhere in the world.

Either way — economic collapse or influenza like in Stephen King’s The Stand, people have much to gain by preparation for harder times.

Thank you for the kind wishes. I hope my chatter isn’t clogging up your blog. I enjoy having intelligent people to talk to.

– Cat


I did not know Bush was planning on moving to the Preston Hollow division of Dallas, Texas but apparently it is so. As for my running for Libertarian State Representative in the last election, you can read about my experience here. As for the Argentinean’s experience with hyperinflation, it’s interesting to hear that gold jewelry became a currency and that all gold was treated as scrap gold on the black market.

In my book, “What Do You Mean My Money’s Worthless?”  I recommend that people purchase and keep a fair number of Silver Eagle’s on hand. They are each verified to become ounce of 99.9% pure silver which makes them a known quantity should we have to deal with a black market scenario and, as they have roughly comparable value to a $20 bill, they represent the right amount of wealth to go shopping.

As for your concern regarding Avian Flu, you aren’t the only one to be worried about that. In James Howard Kuntsler’s book, The Long Emergency he discusses the likelihood of a epidemic that wipes out a large portion of the population as well as the famines that he feels are inevitable given how expensive energy is going to be. Kuntsler’s hypothesis is that we have exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet and that we are going to start see the human population forced to shrink by various means in the next few decades. 

I don’t spend any time worrying about scenario’s like that. I feel that being a being a Wall Street bear takes up enough of my time, so I really don’t have time to worry about other scenarios such as disease wiping everyone out. And the real problem with that kind of thinking is that it seems there’s not much that can really be done about it. If the “Spanish Flu” really does make a come back, there’s not much that can be done about it. Being a Wall Street bear, on the other hand, means you can take steps to protect yourself and profit from market declines. Then you can make fun of permabulls like Ben Stein and Jeremy Sigel. 

Speaking of, the Dow finished down today 2.72% while the stock of Barrick Gold (ticker symbol=ABX) went up a good 1.83%. That’s what I like to see as a bear market investor: stocks down, gold up. That’s a trend I’d like to see continue. I talk about the ratio of the Dow Jones Industrial Average to the price of an ounce of gold in my book and how certain I am that that ratio is going to decline in the near future. When I wrote that book, the ratio was at 17. Today it’s roughly 11.3. In the next couple of years, we should see it decline all the way to three or lower, and that’s a lot of profit to be had. And making money off of economic downturns if far better than making them off of market upswings because it means you’ve got money when everyone else is broke, which is what we bears fantasize about.

4 thoughts on “Fire or Ice”

  1. Preston said:
    “And the real problem with that kind of thinking is that it seems there’s not much that can really be done about it. If the “Spanish Flu” really does make a come back, there’s not much that can be done about it. Being a Wall Street bear, on the other hand, means you can take steps to protect yourself and profit from market declines. Then you can make fun of permabulls like Ben Stein and Jeremy Sigel.”

    Okay, just in case there was a misunderstanding… I am very concerned about the economy. I don’t have enough money to be an investor, so the measures I must take to protect myself from hardship are a bit more mundane: stockpile needed supplies, get used to the idea of living with less, hold down the fort, and keep putting one foot in front of the other. I’ve begun to take an interest in sewing and gardening and other self-reliance skills.

    Nice poem, by the way. Very appropriate.

    I wasn’t trying to imply that worrying about the economy was mere piffle in the face of a global pandemic. The economy is melting down now, whereas influenza is an unknown. Since I was building a “hold the fort” disaster kit anyway, adding in a few items to help me survive a quarantine seemed like a good idea. While some disasters (fires, hurricanes, toxic spills) require evacuation and a duffel bag you can grab in a hurry, many disasters (breakdown of law and order, pandemics, economic collapse, loss of basic services, shortages) are best weathered strategically at home.

    As far as preparing for a pandemic goes, there *are* a few little things you can do. All you really have to do is keep the flu germs out of your body. If they can’t get into your eyes, nose, or mouth they won’t kill you. Latex gloves, face masks, goggles, hand sanitizer, bleach, alcohol, and regular handwashing will help make sure you’re not included in the body count when it all blows over. While most of these things are not included in your typical disaster kit, unscented bleach is always good to have handy in case you need to purify some drinking water. Most people have alcohol at home, be it the rubbing kind or the 80 proof kind. Cheap ear-loop face masks will prevent you from touching your mouth and nose, while the more expensive germ-filtering masks (N95 or better) will aid your survival if you have to leave your home to get supplies. A cheap pair of fitted safety goggles with the airholes sealed (duct tape is good for this) will help prevent influenza from getting into your eyes. You will look like an idiot with all this stuff on, but you will probably live.

    Pandemics tend to come in waves, so being able to hunker down in your home (refusing mail delivery and human contact) for a few weeks until a wave passes will give you better chances than most. Pandemic influenza eventually becomes the boring old yearly flu. After the pandemic of 1918, that strain of flu was the dominant strain until the next pandemic in 1957. I guess everyone left alive eventually gains a partial immunity that makes the strain less deadly. Pandemic flu seems to kill its victims by hyper-activating the immune system. Google “cytokine storm” if you’re interested. Your body, in essence, burns down the village in order to save it. Strange but true.

    A handy skill that can be learned right away is the habit of coughing/sneezing into your elbow instead of your hand. This helps prevent you from leaving germs on everything you touch. Your loved ones and coworkers may not know, but they would thank you if they did.

    I’m glad your investments are turning out well for you! Thanks for the chat. I like hearing other points of view when the conversation is more cerebral than heated. (In this regard, I have changed a lot.)

  2. Cat,

    I had to jump in for a second, as there are some questions developing regarding all of this now, and you seem fairly knowledgeable on the subject.

    First, while the cytokine storm does sound truly terrifying, it seems misleading to claim that such is the result of any flu that’s reached pandemic levels. Here, it seems that H1N1 (the 1918 outbreak) and the avian, H5N1 share the same protein tag which blocks interferon production, resulting in the phenomenon. Really, it holds the entire body hostage, rather than tossing the baby with the bathwater. The lack of IFNs in response to the attack is what causes the cytokine storm, (named as such, since they themselves belong to the same class of glycoproteins.) In the instance of H5N1 producing such violent reaction in the immune system, you would be correct. It does seem you were mistaken regarding its initial origin, however. (For more on that, check out what Celtic Pharma is doing regarding the molecule OX40 IG; long story short, it reduces the T-cell response (immunity overreaction) therefore preventing a cytokine storm, in the event that it gets that far. Encouraging, though somewhat hush-hush at present.)

    Secondly, the WHO reports that avian flu is only in Phase 3 — possibly cusping 4, but all-in-all, remaining localised, and not well-enough adapted to consistently infect humans, or begin spreading through human-to-human transmission.

    There have been many false starts in the past regarding outbreaks of an ‘imminently pandemic’ proportion. The 1918 case is significant since it proved to be true. However, the one in ’76 ended in the early phases. The predominance of pandemics seem to’ve been prior to medical and hygienic progress. The most recent, in fact, was in ’69, but short-lived.

    Of course, adequate preparation is a good habit for anyone regarding just about anything. But for now, I think some hand-sanitiser, regular hand-washing, and polite behaviour among others will more than suffice. I’ll leave the gas masks, goggles, and heavy gear at the supply shoppes until if / when a threat reaches phase 5, and the bleach for cleaning purposes, personally-speaking.

    Very interesting, though. I agree; it’s always useful to hear other points of view.

  3. Hi Auby,

    You’re right. Now is not the time for panic or excessive concern. Now is the time for preparation.

    I learned recently that the companies worldwide that produce N95-grade masks (the ones you can buy at Home Depot or Walgreens) are at or near max production. If avian flu ever jumps to man, even in a limited area in Asia, I’m willing to bet that stocks of masks will run out worldwide in days. (These are not gas masks, just better masks than your standard ear-loop “surgeon’s” mask.) That’s why I stocked up. Even when the flu had almost no transmissibility in Asia, all the masks sold out and you saw people trying to make their own with bras and cloth. I’d rather have these supplies right now than fight for them later. They don’t spoil or take up much room and there’s not enough to go around if everyone in your town suddenly wants some. Stores don’t keep massive amounts of products on-hand anymore. They count on regular deliveries to replenish stocks and they only order as much as they figure they’ll sell between deliveries. I imagine if the avian flu hit “phase 5”, supply chains would break down as everyone chose to stay home.

    You already can’t get Tamiflu anywhere, which is one of our crucial antiviral drugs. When it was freely available, those in the know (virologists and politicians, for example) discreetly stocked up on enough for their families. If you have a prescription, most pharmacies have run out of Tamiflu. The single supplier for Tamiflu (Roche) is currently booked solid processing requests for governments. I like to think of that as a marker for how serious governments think this threat is, even while they assure us it’s a flu limited to people who handle birds a lot. They’re buying all the Tamiflu they can get their hands on. Tamiflu has a relatively short shelf-life, too — just five years. That tells me they feel it might become necessary to use the Tamiflu before it goes bad.

    Intensive factory farming is possibly the culprit here. Reportedly, we didn’t have influenza at all in humans until we started domesticating fowl. Cramming a million chickens into a dirty shed and feeding them antivirals in their feed is just speeding up the process. In some parts of Asia, they use a method of farming that has three levels. At the top level are chickens. Their feces drop down to the second level, where there are pigs. The pigs eat the bird feces (gross, but nutritious) along with regular food. The pigs then relieve themselves directly into the bottom level, which is a body of water. Ducks who live on the body of water then get the flu, which has been passed through both chickens and pigs. Then they carry it far and wide.

    We used to think that avian flu had to come to humans via pigs, because pigs have lungs that are similar to ours. We’ve recently discovered that flu viruses can jump straight from chickens into our lungs, making us part of the great mixing pot: chickens, pigs, humans. Flu viruses are constantly mutating and even mixing with other virus strains. A chicken virus can mingle with a pig virus can mingle with a human virus. It’s really not very far-fetched to figure that intensive factory farming of pigs and fowl have put us at greater danger than ever for The One Virus to appear.

    I am glad to hear that Celtic Pharma is trying to do something about those runaway cytokines. That will make survivability better if they get something to market in time. Other countries are researching potential vaccinations based on the current strains of H5N1. These might give us just enough immunity to fend off the virus before it can take hold in our systems. Beyond that, only Tamiflu seems to show any promise when it comes to helping people survive a highly pathogenic flu strain. Some flu pandemics have been much less pathogenic, this is true. The highly-pathogenic H5N1 is continuing to astonish researchers who are amazed at how fatal this virus is not just to birds but to humans and animals who have never shown any susceptibility to flu — like cats.

    So no, don’t panic. But do think about what would happen in your neighborhood if H5N1 suddenly broke out into humans and started spreading rapidly. Would you be able to get what you needed once the nightly news made its report?

    Thanks for the discussion and further information. I shall be doing more research on the things you suggested.

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