Friday, January 30, 2009

Hope and Change, Pt. 4

Continued from here.

Begins here.

It's All About Power. It might be the power of mass destruction; the power to send gigantic naval battle groups around the world to rain death on nations. Or it might be petty power: the power to prevent franchise hamburger restaurants in some tiny rural burg. Money can be involved, of course, but money is also power. It's all about power. Personal power. The feeling of power.

I don't give a damn whether you're a petty clerk behind a DMV counter, a county councilman, a small-town cop, or a mighty senator with a seat so secure you can bequeath it to your least distinguished niece. It is all about silly little men and women gaining and keeping themselves in positions where they can feel powerful. That is what government is for.

But power is expensive. The more power you gain, the more it costs. Take military power alone...well, they say a boat is a hole in the water into which one throws money, right? Ever try to keep an aircraft carrier supplied with jet fuel, gray paint and cherry pie? Do you have any idea what an F-18 costs? Or an Abrams battle tank? Sheesh! Then there's all the trappings of power, that our masters can't do without; the big shiny buildings, the tinted-window Suburbans, the submachineguns for the guards. Even if they settle for suits from Armani, none of this stuff comes cheap. Somebody's got to pay for it, or our masters won't be able to have it. Now, who can we get to foot the bill? Hmm...

Though it isn't sexy enough for some rulers to worry their little heads over, governments endure or fall on their budgets. If the eighteenth-century French royals hadn't overspent so ludicrously, they'd be living in Versailles to this day. In the fall of one major government after another, we see the same pattern: By the time the people resort to arms, if they ever do, the government has already fallen in all but name. A sure sign that the rulers in a particular government have lost all sense of their own legitimacy is a reliance on a permanent state of crisis. We could call it the "Look! Over there!" theory of governance. And that, of course, is where we find ourselves today in this country. The question is, what do we do about it?

To be concluded...

Hope and Change, Pt. 3

Continued from Here.

Begins Here.

Perhaps a better question is, Que Bono? Who benefits?

Freedomistas, myself included, are often guilty of the fault of thinking of government as this great monolithic leviathan, intent on kicking sand in our faces and stealing our lunch money. In effect there's probably some truth to this. But in detail, there isn't. "Government," said the fictional Shepherd Book, "is a collection of individuals, notably ungoverned." From the highest elected office in the land to the lowest department clerk they're just people. Those people have separate, though usually compatible, agendas. When we see the things for which they battle among themselves, we can perceive the purpose of the whole. That is power. Turf. Status. Government is the quest for the corner office, writ large in letters of blood.

If you're like me, raised in the typical middle-class way, you grew up believing that our rulers were qualified to make the big decisions for us by virtue of their superior knowledge. But this turns out to be untrue: Look at the lessons we've learned about how often congressmen actually read the weighty laws on which they so wisely vote, or about the abstracted and often highly biased 'intelligence briefs' on the basis of which the president makes decisions that can bring death to hundreds of thousands. Where is this superior knowledge?

Nowhere, that's where. Government - at whatever level we care to examine it - is just a bunch of schmoes exactly like us in every way save one: They sought and obtained some measure of power over their fellow men. Each one of them will of course phrase this differently. They're not rulers; what a thought! No, they're public servants. They only seek to serve the public good. The public good, of course, demands that they personally be in a position of power. And they must have the resources they need to do the good they envision. Which brings us back to those trillions.

To be continued...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Again, a good day

Temperature this morning on rising was what you expect when there's not a cloud in the sky; colder than a witch's cliche'. But it rose, as it always does as long as the wind is mild, and today was another 'send a photo home to mama' perfect high desert day.

Lord, for once my lazy ass accomplished everything I set out to do and a few things besides. Laundry's done and folded, the dogs are happy with me, there's nice fresh bread cooling in the kitchen, almost all those 2X12s I've been ducking are de-nailed and stacked, and I've got rocks lined on the latest patch where Magnus pulled Gitmo's fence apart. If I got this much done every day - hell, every other day - I'd almost consider myself a productive human being. I've been sitting around most of the winter getting even lazier than usual and feeling more and more worthless; gad, it's good to see some progress.

And of course I've got to get over my sitonmyassitis, because there's a cabin to build and nobody's going to do it for me. Tomorrow, unless the generator pickup gets in the way (it still hasn't shown up, but I have now been assured that tomorrow's the day) I'm going to haul the footer boards to the site and start digging out the mud that's got my trench filled halfway back in. In the fall a neighbor had a well put in on the ridge my cabin site snuggles up to, and when they pumped it out they gave me a terrible surprise. The mud flowed down a little gully but instead of turning left toward the wash like the channel said it should, about half of it jumped the channel and went right into my trench. Clearly I misread the signs there, which means there's a lot more digging in my future; I have to convince that gully not to give me any more presents.

Much to do, much to do. A few more good days like this, and I'll start feeling capable of doing it.

Hope and Change, Pt. 2

Continued from here.

This won't be a blinding flash of insight to a Freedomista, but the rest of humanity doesn't seem to get it: Governments Don't Create Anything.

They don't create wealth. They don't create jobs. They don't create safety, or security, or freedom, or liberty or truth or justice and if what this government has been creating lately is the American way you can keep my share.

Governments don't create anything. All they can do is take. Everything they hand out with one hand they took from someone with the other because governments can't create wealth. It's no wonder so many politicians really seem to believe wealth is a zero-sum equation because for them it is. The only thing politicians have to give away is what they've taken by force or threat of force. Our new philosopher-king has been making an endless array of absolutely incredible promises of all the things he's going to give us. Never mind if a word of it is true, assume for a moment that it all is: Where's it all coming from? The man's never held a productive job in his life: Does anybody think all this largess is coming from his pocket? Oh, hell no. 'The rich will pay their fair share.' We could parse this chilling sentence all day long, but many do and I'm trying to keep it short and I'm more interested in a question that doesn't get beaten to death: Pay whom? For what?

If we were truly talking about wealth redistribution here, then Warren Buffett et al would be forced at gunpoint to write checks to poor families all across the nation. That would also be theft, which is immoral, but what's really happening is even worse. That would actually do a little short-term good, and the victims would be limited in number and well defined. But wealth redistribution is not what's happening; that's just the mask for what's happening.

When the government takes money out of your pocket and out of the economy in general, through all its multifarious means, where does that money go? Some, of course, goes to state and federal programs that keep the flock quiet and give the impression that the various forms of government are really essential. That's absolutely necessary, of course, because governments have been brought down before this with torches and pitchforks and our masters know it. I doubt there's a person in Washington DC or any state capitol who holds Louis XVI or Benito Mussolini or Nicolae Ceau┼čescu as role models, simply because of the way they ended up. If history teaches anything, it's that a ruler can't let the Misery Index climb too high, or all the armed guards in the world won't protect him. At some point in that index it becomes clear to the meanest intelligence who's really been spreading the misery. So yeah, some of it goes to goodies for the masses. Considering all the promises, and all the people the promises have been made to, I'm sure it's not a small sum.

But it's nowhere near the total. Where does the rest of it go? What's it all for?

To Be Continued...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hope and Change



Well...Not so fast. Maybe something can.

What if millions of people said, "Screw you guys, I'm going home"?

Okay, "millions" is grandiose. Too much to hope for. What if hundreds of thousands did? What if a whole bunch of people became more interested in how their chickens were doing than what-all the Obamanation was up to? What if a sizable percentage of those people who wish they could tune out, actually did so?

Ridiculous, I know. Yeah, it's a really stupid thought. Except, maybe not. I keep coming back to those trillions. It's a wonderful word, trillion. Kinda rolls off the tongue. And when the foreign governments who've been buying this government's debt all these years get the notion that maybe it wasn't such a great investment after all, when the reserve currency of the world stops being the Dollar and becomes the Euro or the Ruble or the Dirham or the Yuan; when the value behind all those newly-minted trillions isn't even the hopes and prayers of foreign investers, but nothing - where's the change gonna come from then?

This is supposed to be a really terrifying thought. And if your whole life is invested in this political and economic system, I suppose it should be. Hey, if the system goes down you're going with it. Too late to worry then. The foolish little men on top will do anything, anything, whatever it takes to keep themselves afloat - to keep themselves in positions where they can feel powerful. And they're going to do it to you. You're the only real resource they have. They will milk you like Bossy the Cow. And do you know what happens to Bossy when the milk dries out and knocking her up doesn't get it running again? Can you say "Cheeseburger"?

To be continued...

Oh, what a beautiful morning...

Sun, sun, sun. Not a cloud in the sky. Temperature down to a little over 10 degrees and ice on all the windows, but that's okay; it'll warm up fast now. I'm gonna get back on those 2X12s and see how many I can knock out. I can dream that the wind will behave itself.

It got so cold last night even Fritz wanted under the covers with me, a physical impossibility. He and Ghost couldn't figure out just what they wanted, but it sure wasn't sleep; at 2:30 they started agitating to go outside and we had a little argument which, I'm ashamed to say, they eventually won. They've got more staying power than I do but that doesn't make them unusual; it's always been a problem. I finally just wanted to get it over so I could go back to sleep, but by the time they came back in I was so pissed I couldn't. Grr.

Oh, whatever; it's still a gorgeous day. The generator was due in town yesterday but never made it; I've got a ride lined up to get it but need to confirm its presence first. I've been putting off buying propane, expecting to go to town for the generator last week, and now I'm on short rations but there's enough to squeak by.

On the subject of dogs - I don't know if this is a common trait with old dogs, but Magnus' ability to sleep through anything, for incredible lengths of time, is just eerie to me. He sleeps so deeply I keep checking to see if he's still breathing. By the time he stirred this morning (While I was slicing bread for my breakfast; that will get him up) I calculated that he hadn't moved but once in over fifteen hours. That one time was when I got him to move over so Fritz could share the bed, and as usual it was a fight; he really, really doesn't like to be disturbed once he's comfortable and sleeping.

While I was typing the above paragraph I heard him barking outside the scriptorium. None of the other dogs were alerted to anything, so I went outside to see what his problem was. He was upset because some jays were stealing dog food out of the bowl, which they do constantly. Food is pretty much the only thing he gets excited about these days. Well, we all need our passions. :-)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Just when I was relaxing...

...winter showed up again.

Woke up this morning to snow and heavy clouds as well as the wind that's been howling for the past two days. Bummer.

Usually I don't have any problem staying here alone, with the dogs for company. But sometimes for no reason I get cabin fever really bad. Poor Ghost wanted to go for his walk in the worst way, but I just wasn't in the mood to freeze my ass in the wind and he was really getting under my skin about it. At last I gave them all a treat and locked them in Gitmo so I could go visit some neighbors, just for a change of scene. Of course they were out tending their animals and it was just as freeking cold there, so I may as well have done my duty by the dogs. Hopefully it'll warm up marginally before long because while the big boys don't really mind giving it a miss, Ghost is reproaching me something terrible. I've asked him if he'd like a shovel to help him pile on the guilt; he seems fine using his resources, though.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Bush's Farewell Song

I don't care who you are or what your politics are, this is funny right here!

Oh, Bother!

We took our walk early today; I wanted to get it out of the way and get to chores. But it was such a beautiful morning that, when we reached the point on the nearby ridge where we normally turn right and work our way home, I decided to keep going toward the next loop in the wash.

In a meadow on the other side of the ridge Ghost found a couple of peacefully grazing cattle and decided that just wouldn't do, so he went charging down the hill toward them. The dynamics of this maneuver have changed a bit over the past year, and I'm afraid Ghost's tactics haven't caught up with them. Used to be he could count on the whole pack charging after him, but the other younger dog got placed with another family and Fritz and Magnus have gotten to the age where it just doesn't seem like a lot of fun anymore. So we're always faced with the sad spectacle of Ghost barking furiously at a bunch of cattle who are clearly torn between the options of kicking him in the head or ignoring him completely, but who don't seem terribly tempted to run away in panic. Ghost isn't a small dog by any means, but neither is he intimidatingly large to something as massive as a full-grown bovine. Sometimes, to get it done right, you just need the whole pack. Ah, well - by the time we caught up with him, Ghost just looked disgusted and stalked off after us as we turned into the wash.

I always forget how long and winding this branch of the wash is, so it's always more of a walk than I anticipated. No sooner did it begin to look like this was going to be an appallingly long slog but the wind came up again, still cold, and my pleasant walk started to become an ordeal. Not what I'd had in mind. So we walked until the cliffs became a slope, and climbed back up the ridge. With our backs to the wind and firmer ground under us, things were much more pleasant. We finally made it back home and collapsed in a heap.

The original objective was to tire out the dogs so I could work in the yard without having to endure their complaints that I was ignoring them, and I sure accomplished that. Trouble is, now all I want to do is take a nap. And of course the wind is howling outside the scriptorium, and spending a few hours outside is not as attractive a prospect as it was earlier.

Tough shit, Joel. Duty calls.

Weird Weather

Virtually everywhere I've lived (except Southern California, where there's an entirely different joke) people told the same tired joke: If you don't like the weather in (fill in the state), just wait a minute. Usually it isn't all that true.

Yesterday, around here, it was totally true. Went to bed Saturday night to clouds and gloom, expecting it to not get very cold. Woke to clear skies and thick frost; I was still shivering in my coat at 9 AM. By 10 the sun had the temperature in the high fifties and I was shedding layers as fast as I could peel them off. Then around two in the afternoon (right after I lit a trash fire, of course) the wind came up harder than it's blown in months. The temperature held for a while, but then crashed before sundown and once again I was shivering in my bed. Sheesh.

Got a lot of work done while it was nice, though. I'm a little less than a third of the way through that big stack of 2X12s and making progress. So a good day, all in all. Here's hoping today's as good because my landlady's due and a lot of little things I wanted to get done are scattered around half-done. The weather, while springtime weird, is still cooperating more than it was a few weeks ago and I need to get more organized. As soon as I do, I'll get a foot of snow.

Yes, I'm blaming it on the weather. Otherwise, what's it for?

Oh, that Socal joke, yeah. 'Southern California doesn't really have weather, as such; just the occasional natural disaster.' Well, I didn't promise it was funny...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Quote of the MONTH

"In the Heller decision, the majority of the justices ruled that you have an individual right to have your individual right infringed. The minority decided you have a collective right to have your right infringed.

Outstanding jurisprudence. Just outstanding. 4 traitors and 5 morons."

- Anonymous

More on the "I Pledge" Video...

From the estimable Karen De Coster:


After several emails from people regarding this post, I watched the Hollywood "I Pledge" video again, and it was even more chilling the 2nd time around. Some spots were especially eerie.

- One guy says, "I pledge to represent my country with pride, dignity, and honesty." [You mean like the power brokers and politicians do?]

- At 1:21: "I pledge allegiance to the funk, the united funk of funkadelica." [The intelligence displayed by this 85-IQ, tattooed animal has overwhelmed me.]

- 2:09: The pledge is to use less plastic by using less bottled water. [To the people who live in Malibu - surely you jest???]

- 2:12: To plant more trees (and explain why?], be more green [can we define that?], and use less plastic bags from the grocery store.

- 2:20: Perhaps the best one of all is "to consume less." [Do we really want to compare the consumption of wealthy, Hollywood celebrities to the middle class?]

- 2:24: "Flush only after a deuce, never a single." [Imagine people who worry about other peoples' shit habits.]

- At 1:52 point: [We are told to meet strangers, find out their names, give them a smile, and ask how we can be of service to them. Well, I know plenty of unemployed Detroiters who could use assistance from a wealthy celebrity; oops, the promo is mere pc, fuzzy-and-warm, and, of course, there's only an empty shell to back it all up.]

- The tattooed freak, at the 3:18 point, says "I pledge to be in service of Barack Obama," as he kisses his biceps. [Does this mean you are going to offer your personal wealth as a solution to all the problems of the world this video describes?]

The last 20 seconds of this comes off like a Sovietized Ad Council propaganda piece. It's more chilling than anything the government could put together.


Toward the end the celebs repeatedly demand, "What's your pledge?" On the first viewing I couldn't think of a thing I'd care to add to their horrifying drivel. But on further thought, I do have a pledge to offer them.

I pledge to keep thinking for myself.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

"A Servant To Our President"

I've got to stop eating lunch in front of the 'pooter. Not only does it expose me to the tripe to which I'm about to expose you, but it tests my spit-take reflexes to the absolute limit.

I suppose it says something about how far from the top my pop-culture elevator really goes that I don't recognize a single one of the 'celebrities' in this video. I didn't care what they believed or wanted me to do before I watched it, but if it brings them any comfort that's no longer true. I care. Oh, I care.

MySpace Celebrity and Katalyst present The Presidential Pledge


My answer is, "Not only no, but HELL no." That's for the record.

News About the Generator!

Shortly after I wrote that I'd had no news about the incoming new generator, I got the news. Seems it only shipped on Wednesday, and won't be in until the middle of next week earliest. That's good, anyway - I was getting worried.

Updates to follow.

Conflict in the Lair?

Woke this morning to raindrops on the roof. Fritz and Ghost agitated to get out about quarter to four, but then came back in and let me sleep for another couple of hours. When I finally stirred about the sun was lighting the sky on the far side of the ridge and the clouds were breaking up. Maybe it won't be such a dreary day after all.

Fritz seems to have something going on with Butch lately. Neither will talk to me about it, of course: It's not the sort of thing they'd voluntarily bring to Uncle Joel. But several times I've found Fritz taking an unusual interest in Butch's doings, and not in a friendly way. Butch has been picking on Click again, and the dogs consider that out of bounds. But the other day I was sitting at my table when Butch came by and wanted to play. He started wrestling with my hand where I dangled it toward the floor; it's a tomcat thing and we've done it since he was a kitten. I wasn't even paying that much attention, but suddenly Butch took a great heave off to one side, quite unlike his normal movement. I looked down and found that Fritz had quietly risen from where he'd been napping on the floor, placed the top of his muzzle against Butch and shoved him away from my hand. Then he stood over my hand, staring at Butch, his body language distinctly saying 'do you feel lucky?' Judging from his actions - he stared insolently for a moment and then left the lair - Butch did not, in fact, feel particularly lucky just then.

Butch has never gotten on very well with any of the other animals. But until now it's only with Click that it's come to blows, and she can take care of herself. Oh, he's thumped the dogs from time to time, but before they never paid much mind. I'd hate to think the boys are losing patience with him; that would not go well for him.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Yeah, still not working.

Lunching. But you know, I've had days like this. Seriously, this is why I don't work in the city any more. This right here.

Seriously.


The Great Office War from Runawaybox on Vimeo.

Gotta Get My Ass In Gear!

Winters here are very mild compared to where I grew up, and quite variable. A month ago I was huddled in the lair worried about whether my fuel supply would outlast the cold snap. Now it's late January and looking like spring, and I'm getting antsy about all the work I need to do to get ready for construction of La Casa Del Joel. Hell, if I'd played my cards right I could have had the shell up last year; if I don't get going on it now I'll never live it down.

Which brings me back to this ginormous stack of 2X12 lumber sitting under the barn's porch. It's been there so long it's become part of the scenery, and that's always a bad sign. When I got a big load of previously-owned 2X4s and 2X6s, I had them all de-nailed and stored within two weeks. These have been sitting here since early summer, and I need to get'em done; they're my concrete forms and my floor at least. There's a boatload of lumber here. But getting the nails out is a bitch - I don't know if the wood's really hard or if the previous builders just used cheap-ass nails, but I keep pulling the heads off. Wouldn't be so bad if I didn't need these boards first, but then I guess we'll just call it incentive. Gotta get back in the swing of things, that's for sure.

No News Yet...

...on the new Cummins/Onan generator, because it hasn't arrived yet. I've promised a product review for those interested in consumer-grade portable generators, but I can't review what I haven't seen. Hope it didn't get lost in shipping, I'm getting a bit concerned.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

On Using Dogs For Security

I have an on-going dispute with the boys. I keep asking them to stop treating cattle in the meadow as if they're a horde of mutant zombie bikers climbing the slope with knives in their teeth. They keep explaining, 'But cattle are really, really important, Uncle Joel...'

Then there was the time Ghost was off visiting the neighbors, and Magnus and Fritz slept right through a couple of people walking right up to the door of the lair...we had words about that one. They've both got to the point where unless Ghost is there to alert them they don't smell or hear visitors till they're actually in the driveway, which isn't exactly the level of security I'm looking for.

I'm thinking about it this morning because I'm in the barn's scriptorium and Ghost is very, very excited about something in or on the other side of the wash. He's had me out three times, and it's raining. It's starting to piss me off. I've told him it had better be a hit team of Randian extremists here to punish me for selfless thought, and he'd better be able to point them out next time. Don't even get me started on how he behaves when he gets a whiff of horse.

Fact is, what dogs think is important and what I think is important doesn't often seem to mesh. I've been thinking I'm going to need to start depending on technology instead.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Lastest One is Always the Worstest

I'm reading a lot of angst from my freedomista friends about the coronation of The Anointed One. You know the line - he's a socialist, he's an uber-gungrabber. Basically, the consensus is that he's the antichrist. Off my intended topic a bit, it's a sure bet that Obama-skeptics will be labeled racists, but his race never comes up; it's his record and his stated philosophy that scares hell out of people in my social circles.

I was thinking about this while out with the dogs this morning. It's funny that the one single president freedom-seekers haven't greeted with dread in the past twenty years turned out to be the one who did the most substantial damage to American liberty. I mean think about it - Bush the First was this awful Yalie millionaire Skill & Bones Washington insider; he'd been around since Eisenhower. He was in Congress, the UN, the CIA, the CFR. He was in bed with the oil companies. We hated him. As a president he wasn't exactly our dream date, but neither was he FDR. No, that's what we expected of...

Bill Clinton, the Hillbilly from Hope, whom we regarded as a veritable marionette of the evil Hillary! - of whose nicknames in those days none whatsoever were printable. And at first they gave it the old college try - I remember all the sturm und drang over socialized medicine, to be ushered in by "the smartest woman in America." After that, though, they settled down to two terms of a constant battle to save themselves from political oblivion. It's amusing that the thing that came closest to bringing Slick Willy down was the one thing I could never bring myself to hate him for. I mean, c'mon. Blowjobs? Wacky fun! I remember, though, how absolutely outraged I was at that man for dropping cruise missiles on innocent people, just to get his damned hearings out of a single day's news cycle. That was murder, pure and simple, and didn't even have a fig leaf of justification. But he was never called on it.

When Bush the Younger came around, though - admit it, the only thing we cared about Bush II was that he wasn't Clinton and he wasn't Gore. I know lots of otherwise perfectly rational people who voted for him, just because he wasn't Gore. The damage that man has done is too recent and too painful to need recital here. Hell, the only good thing about him was that the man himself was so easy to laugh at. But nobody laughed at his deeds: The "Patriot" act, prophylactic war, the War on a tactic, an infinity of signing statements, open torture, TSA, DHS, pissing on Habeas Corpus and Posse Comitatus, ... if he'd only held televised virgin sacrifices to Cthulu his record would be perfect.

No freedom-loving person could ever really welcome an incoming president. But Bush was the one we weren't very worried about - not really, not back in 2000. He was such a nonentity. And look how it turned out.

So you know, I just can't get worked up about The Anointed One. I don't know how it's going to go. And to be truthful I don't even really care any more. The idiots who voted for this guy deserve whatever fate he and his minions heap on them. I just wish it weren't going to hurt the rest of us as well. Seriously, except for snarking from afar I refuse to get involved. I'm gonna sit right here, keep my head down, work on my preps and my fitness, and keep this place ready for the day when the gulchers who know where it is need it. That day's coming, I'm more sure of it than ever. But if Obama manages to bring it about, he's standing on the shoulders of giants. Twisted, twisted giants.

Chipping Away at That Canyon...

Yesterday the boys and I went substantially farther into the big canyon we've been exploring than ever before. I got sidetracked for a while by interest in a tributary, but this time I wanted to know what's really around that elusive corner.

There's a ledge of rock, as even as a manmade wall, that marked my furthest point of entry. I went there on a whim almost a year ago, poorly equipped and - as it turned out - coming down with the flu. Then my landlord died and what with one thing or another the whole year went to hell. The boys and I have only fairly recently started exploring the canyons again, and a desire to avoid news of Coronation Day seemed a perfect opportunity to take a really, really long walk.

We went what seemed like a helluva long way into it and discovered some interesting things, but that sucka clearly goes on for miles and miles and I'm just a broken-down, one-legged old hermit. I can only walk for a couple of hours before getting so sore that my energy level just plummets, so an expedition to find the end of this thing could take me days and I think the big dogs are probably too old and wild to ever put up with carrying their own supplies. I spent yesterday afternoon nursing my poor abraded stump and thinking of ways to do it, but the truth is I don't know if I'm ever gonna get much further in than I did yesterday. Which is kind of a bummer because now I want to know.

I've got a copy of Google Earth and think I can find the right canyon - a little work with a GPS will confirm or deny that later. But the resolution is so poor that it doesn't show me anything but a vague, squiggly line. I already know the damned thing's squiggly; I don't need the Deathstar to tell me that.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Now that I've got THAT out of my system...

The dogs have been very patient with me so far this morning, but I can tell by the way they twitch every time I engage in an act of pandiculation (:-) word of the day!) that my quiet time is coming to an end. I promised them something good, and I'd better deliver.

Yesterday evening, in one of those serendipitous accidents that can happen when you turn right instead of left, I found a way around a big obstacle in one of the little rock canyons I love to poke around in. I promised we'd go back in this morning when we'd time for a proper bash, and we're going to right after I finish this.

I woke this morning to utter calm; the dogs were snoring all around me and Butch had spent the whole night snuggling against my chest under the blankets. The moon has waned until the scene outside my lair was almost completely dark. Ice laced my windows as I lit the stove for another morning. I spent two blessed hours with coffee and Harry Potter, and then...

And then I went into the barn where I keep the 'pooter, and the very first fricking thing it wanted to talk about was Coronation Day. I'd honestly forgotten.

Well, you know what? I'm going to keep right on forgetting. I'm going to turn this thing off right now, fill a canteen, put on my gloves and my pistol, and the boys and I are going for the mother of all rock-crawls.

Your choice, of course, but personally I suggest you do something similar.

Illegitimi non carborundum
, dudes and dudettes.

Today's Your Big Day, Isn't It?

Are you ready?



Are we ready?

Monday, January 19, 2009

State of Emergency Declared in DC!

Missed it last week, but I'm totally not making this up.

The President today declared an emergency exists in the District of Columbia and ordered Federal aid to supplement the District's response efforts in support of the 56th Presidential Inauguration.
I've just gotta stop reading this Internet thing. It's starting to damage my calm. Glad I don't live anywhere near the disaster area, that's for damned sure.

I got wind of the apparent predicted disaster this morning while reading J D Tuccille's unbelievably good blog (which, if you don't read it, go! What the hell are you doing on this dinky POS?) where he goes on to gleefully report:

Even members of Congress are being told what they can and can't carry on their persons on the big day. The list of items forbidden to lawmakers includes pocket knives, backpacks, alcoholic beverages, signs, posters and thermoses.

Those are the restrictions on politically powerful people.

As for the rest of us ... After decades of increasingly tight security, the crowning of a new emperor ... errr ... president is getting tighter still. Thousands of active-duty military troops supplemented by National Guard personnel will join the ranks of the D.C's 4,000 police. Another 4,000 police are coming in from around the country. Streets will be blocked, bridges sealed, and people hoping for a distant glimpse of Obama will have to pass through security checkpoints.
Boy, if they're that worried about what-all members of Congress might be carrying in their briefcases (or do congresscritters have people carry those for them?) it's a good thing all my friends are staying away. One look at the way some of them go around heeled would melt the Ray-bans right off the Secret Service golems...

I wanted to show you this graphic, which is either heartbreaking or hilarious depending on whether you're a partisan of an enemy nation. But seriously; whoever heard of a 5 meg .pdf? Be warned; you need a fast connection or lots of time on your hands. Whoever's responsible for this - I can recommend a really good web designer. Discretion guaranteed.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Requiem for Serenity

Once upon a time, boys and girls, there was a family. It was a perfectly nice family; husband, wife, teenage son - but this was a family with a peculiarity. This family had a dream of a desert retreat, all their own. A place where they could go to ride out any severe difficulties that might beset them and their contemporaries in the city where they lived: A place where they might retire one day, to live in the quiet of the desert.

Now, having this dream is not in itself such a very peculiar thing. Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if half the cubicle rats in the business world have a very similar dream. What made this family so peculiar is that they acted on their dream. The dream became a plan, and the plan became...well, forgive me. I may not speak its name in front of strangers. Let's just say they made their dream a reality.

The beginnings of their work, as such beginnings always are unless you're rich, were quite humble. They acquired a parcel of unremarkable desert land. Looking at it as it was then, unimproved, I've often imagined that they must have experienced quite a "WTF are we doing?" moment. You can't live out here, not for any real length of time. Not without putting in a hell of a lot of work and treasure beforehand. But they were determined to do just that.

If they were going to put in the work, it would be one weekend at a time and they'd need a place to shelter while they were doing it. So they bought a travel trailer; not a great large shiny thing, for that would take money best spent elsewhere. No, it was a tiny thing, and old. You've seen them, listing to starboard in somebody's back yard, clearly reluctant to ever roll again. You've seen them, and your eyes skipped right over them for they were nothing to look at at all. That was what they bought, and that was what they transferred to their property. Piece of junk, really. But it was a start, the very first structure to rise on what became...the place whose name I will not speak.

I'm pretty sure it was the lady who named the trailer Serenity. I may never know her exact reasoning behind that, but it isn't hard to figure out in general. She is, or was back then at least, a huge Firefly fan. Huge, and quite an evangelist on the subject. She's probably directly responsible for more sales of the DVD box set than Joss Whedon. She certainly was among our group, none of whom ever met Joss Whedon. Either way, Serenity was its name.

And there it sat, moldering slowly on its jackstands long after other, grander structures rose all around it. It served various purposes after its primary mission was complete, and there was all sorts of talk about what we should do with it when it finally had to go. I even spoke of buying for myself, but...well, it was too small, and really was a piece of junk. Everybody knew that sooner or later we'd haul it off to some ignominious fate. Nobody seemed in a big hurry.

Then a couple of months ago my landlady came for her regular visit, and declared that it was time. She began pulling out bits of useful stuff we could use elsewhere; the stove, the fridge, this and that. It became my job to administer the coup de grace. I put off the job for quite a while; for me it had always been a part of the landscape, and I really didn't want to be the one to tow it to the junkyard where it belonged.

But yesterday was the day. I aired up the tires, pulled out the jackstands and coupled Serenity to the landlady's Jeep. There's a very steep hill not far away, and since I wasn't entirely sure we were going to make it up that hill a neighbor stood by at the top with a tow strap, just in case we needed more horsepower. But Serenity gave no trouble; up the hill we went and the little trailer left the property forever.

I walked out this morning and stared at the spot where she had been. Once I get it cleaned up, I can't deny it really will be an improvement. But right now there's a hole in the world, where Serenity lived.



Farewell.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Anodyne

So I spent most of yesterday stomping around in a really bad mood. Didn't accomplish a damned useful thing; trying to pull out an inconvenient fence rail, the rope broke and dumped me on my ass. Freekin' improvised wifi got all wimpy on me. Ruined the bread through sheer stoopid inattention. Yelled at the boys - who could give my ex lessons on guilt-tripping.

Come evening, I just wanted some comfort food for the brain. So naturally I reached for...



Now, lest you think me a complete girly-man, there's a perfectly plausible I mean, reasonable explanation here. Many years ago one of the pleasures I used to share with my wife, when she was my wife and when we used to share pleasures, was to read aloud to her. And one of her favorite books for this activity was William Goldman's The Princess Bride. Often I'd just read scenes, like the duel on the Cliffs of Insanity or the battle of wits. She got to pick. When the movie came out, in '85 as I recall, of course we had to go see it and to my shock the movie is every bit as good as the book. For reasons that probably don't need to be explained I'm not a huge Rob Reiner fan, but give credit where it's due; he really nailed this movie. There's not a false moment in it.

When my daughter was reaching toddlerhood my days of reading to the lady in bed next to me were coming to an end, but that was sort of all right because my days of reading to my child were just beginning. Next to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, daughter's very favorite book was...The Princess Bride. When she discovered the video, she damned near drove me to distraction with it but it never quite paled. So the book, and the movie, hold a lot of pleasant memories.

See? So it's not because I like romances or anything. Besides, how many movies leave themselves open to jokes like this:

Thursday, January 15, 2009

...But it just makes me so damned angry...

I promised myself I wasn't going to do this. I'm done with all this political bullshit, I said: Let them do whatever they want, because they will anyway and I'm off to find my own little piece of freedom. This latest (proposed) outrage won't go anywhere in any case, and there's absolutely no reason for me to get any portion of my undergarments in a wad over it. Forget it. Go for a nice walk with the dogs. Seriously, just walk away.

Yet here I am again, obsessing over what-all some tapeworm of a politician - whose name I will not utter here - is up to. And Sisyphus thought he was cursed.

I refer to the latest hoplophobic idiocy to bubble forth from Mordor By The Potomac, H.R.45. Blair Holt's Firearm Licensing and Record of Sale Act of 2009. Hell, it isn't even new. Once upon a time there was an H.R.2666 Blair Holt's Firearm Licensing and Record of Sale Act of 2007. It went nowhere, and probably this one will go to the same place. If you're bothering to read this blog, you probably know all about it already.

So who was Blair Holt, and why should we care? Blair Holt was a junior at Julian High School in Chicago. On May 12, 2007 he was a passenger on a CTA bus along with a number of other students. It was 3:15 in the afternoon. A young man named Michael Pace entered the bus and began firing a handgun at the passengers, apparently in hope of hitting a rival gang member he wasn't even sure was on the bus. Three girls and two boys were wounded by the gunfire; Blair Holt died of his injuries. The story goes that Blair Holt died a hero in the only way a person could legally be a hero under those circumstances in the city of Chicago; by shielding a classmate with his body while he took the bullet.

I don't know if that part of the story is true. I first heard it from the politician spewing forth the bill that bears Holt's name. I assume the politician's lips were moving while he told the story, so it's entirely possible it is a lie. But let's assume for the sake of discussion every word is true. That only makes this more reprehensible. It means that, in addition to violating every conceivable canon of logic in the name of further enhancing government power and neutering the American people, this politician is dancing in a hero's blood to do it.

Logic. The murderous outrage of May 12, 2007 occurred in the city of Chicago, a city with the distinction of having - and strictly enforcing - some of the most draconian laws against possession of the tools of self-defense in the nation. Chicago has the parallel distinction of always posting some of the worst annual murder rates in the nation. The experience of other cities indicates that these two distinctions are not unrelated. When Blair Holt was thrown into the situation that killed him, the only options open to him were to pray the bullets would strike someone else, or failing that to use his own body as a shield to keep them from strking someone else. Effective self-defense was not an option - not for anyone on the bus. The shooter was completely free to commit his sick act with impunity and he knew it. So did everyone else there.

The sense of utter helplessness those young people must have experienced on that day - I wish I couldn't imagine it. Disarmed by legal fiat, trained from infancy to believe and accept that the only role they could conceivably play in such circumstances was that of helpless victim - What vile, callous guardians they had! Guardians that very specifically include the monster who now wishes to use this young man's name in the promulgation of national legislation that would bring Chicago's murderously benighted rule to the nation as a whole.

Logic. Every single action Michael Pace committed in the killing of Blair Holt and the wounding of the other students was against multiple laws. It was illegal for him to possess the handgun. It was illegal for him to carry the handgun. It was illegal for him to board the bus with the handgun. It was illegal for him to brandish the handgun, to assault others with the handgun, to commit murder with the handgun. There are completely separate laws against all these things, and he knew it. And he didn't care. He had already chosen to opt out of the system that helped him kill Blair Holt, the system that ensured Blair Holt and every other law-abiding person on that bus was completely helpless against him, the system that this pig, this parasite, this foul excrescence of a politician wishes to impose by force on every one of us. Because it works so well in Chicago.

Gah. I keep promising myself I won't do this any more.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Really Good Day

When I sally forth to seek my prey
I help myself in a royal way.
I sink a few more ships, it’s true,
Than a well-bred monarch ought to do;
But many a king on a first-class throne,
If he wants to call his crown his own,
Must manage somehow to get through
More dirty work than ever I do,

For I am a Pirate King!
And it is, it is a glorious thing
To be a Pirate King!



Gad, what a beautiful day. In fact, it’s been a beautiful week and the (lying, often as not) forecast says it’s gonna go right on being beautiful. The temperature was up in the high forties by mid-morning, and I vowed that today I’d get my exercise finishing that trench project that’s been hanging over my head for (mumble mumble).

But I needed some tunes to keep me company, and that was an issue. I found my landlord’s old boombox in the barn, but alas no power cord. Then I remembered my old CD player/alarm clock that hasn’t been plugged in since before I moved here. I ran an extension cord around to the side of the barn, plugged in the player, and...it didn’t work. Drat!

Actually some poking and prodding showed it worked just fine, except the track stuck a little sometimes. But the neato electric door wouldn’t open any more. That’s what I get for buying my electronics from Target, I guess. Anyway, perusing the CD wallet I hardly ever use any more, I decided such a glorious day required something upbeat yet weird so out came the Pirates of Penzance, a long-ago gift from my daughter. By the second time through I was singing along. And I can now (at last) report to my landlady that yes, I have not merely finished that damned trench, but I have really quite sincerely finished it. It is a thing of beauty, its sides straighter than those of the barn and its width and depth more than required. I’ll hate myself when it’s time to fill it back in, but I couldn’t leave till the show was over.

Afterward, as a reward for being good and letting me work (and because I was too pooped to take them for a proper walk) I loaded the dogs up and gave them a Jeep ride all the way down the wash to where it’s fenced off. Now I’m sitting down to fried Spam on fresh, homemade bread. Wanna watch a dog drool all over himself? Slowly slice Spam six inches from his nose.

Yup. Good day.

Sitemeter and Vanity

Ever since installing a freebie version of Sitemeter, it has become a minor daily hobby to see how I'm doing in terms of readership. Hardly a matter of world-shaking importance, but it's still kind of a kick to see whether we're gaining readers - or at least page hits - and if so how fast. Sitemeter charts it all out. Pretty slick.

Yesterday was looking like a record day; when I shut the 'pooter down and picked up a book for the evening, I was only two or three hits from an all-time best. So this morning I was interested to learn what the final figure turned out to be.

Three.

Three? Three? WTF? I was actually upset at this apparent glitch. I was offended. My top score in the game, just wiped out? How dare they?

Then, as I often have to, I stopped and looked at my own reaction. Joel, you wanna explain why this number, which has meaning only to your vanity, is getting you so wound up? It's not like there's a prize. If you want to look better in your own eyes, take a bath and a haircut. Put on a better looking pair of britches. Or even - I don't know - improve yourself. Geez, nobody else can even see the damned daily number. And I guarantee nobody gives a damn. Get over yourself.

I got an email from Sitemeter, apologizing for a server problem they'd had and promising to restore the log, which they later (and quite promptly) did. Yesterday was a record day - thanks. But I think I need a better hobby.

Well, I'll Be Damned...

I read this morning that Johannes Mehserle, the BART cop who shot an unarmed and immobilized man in the back in full view of half the camera phones in Oakland, was actually arrested. In Nevada, where he'd allegedly fled to escape death threats from half the people in Oakland.

This really surprises me; I was interested to see how his department would handle the mother of all whitewashes. Guess he shouldn't have resigned.

"You Big Baby!"

Magnus has a habit I really wish he'd lose. Not likely.

There are two couches in the lair, and one of them is my bed. Fritz and Magnus just barely share the other between them. Every evening before I can retire I have to sort out the big argument and arrange things so they can both fit, otherwise nobody sleeps. Magnus is an old fart; I suppose his joints get to hurting him and at some point during the night he has to get up and stretch. As soon as he does, Fritz spreads out and takes his half out of the middle. When Magnus tries to go back to bed...he can't.

Clearly, in Magnus' mind, this is a job for Uncle Joel. UJ, alas, is sawing logs. Well, too bad for him. So at some point, at least once during the night, I can expect a head the size of a medium dog to invade my space, whining piteously. And nobody sleeps again till I get up and rearrange dogs.

The captain, they say, is on watch 24/7. :-(

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Trillion. Hm. Trillion.

Do you know how much a trillion is?

Neither do I, really. I mean, I know it's a million million, which is a lot. But I can't picture it.

A million million. It's impossible to wrap your mind around a number like that. Trillion. It's not even a number, really - just a sound. But people throw it around all the time anyway, like they know what they're talking about.

If Carl Sagan were alive, this would kill him.

"Nothing less than a declaration of war..."

Up to now I haven't had a thing to say about who-all got elected to this or that shiny office in the national government. This is because I don't care which of those idiotic would-be rulers you chose as the lesser evil. I just wish you'd stop choosing evil. (I'm speaking to voters and other dupes here - you know who you are.)

But there's one development several gun-rights activists loudly and confidently predicted, despite all the assurances by the Anointed One and his apostles that it wasn't so. And as David Codrea of the Gun Rights Examiner (one of the loudest predictors, it must be said) reports today, here we go...

If passed, [H.R.45] would require that anyone wishing to purchase, own, or possess a "qualifying firearm" - that's any handgun, and any long gun capable of accepting a detachable magazine - would have to be licensed by the state or the federal government in a licensing program managed by the Attorney General. To get a license you would have to prove you're you, provide a passport-style photo, a thumbprint, and take a written exam which includes questions about firearms safety, safe storage, the risks of firearms ownership, and anything else the Attorney General deems appropriate. All transfers would be required to go through a licensed dealer with the exception of occasional gifts or bequests between parents, children (18 or over), and grandparents, or loans of not more than 30 days between "persons who are personally known to one another." (It actually says that. I'm not making this up.) And all transfers would have to be recorded in a "Transfer Record" established and maintained by the Attorney General.

The bill also makes it a crime for a dealer to have shoddy records or fail to appropriately cooperate with any inspectors. It makes failure to report the loss or theft of a firearm within 72 hours a felony punishable by up to 2 years in prison. Failure to keep a firearm locked up in such a way as to keep it inaccessible to anyone under 18 becomes a federal felony too.

Yeah. I gotcher thumb print right here, guys. Come and get it.

Low-tech Cold Remedies

No, not for curing the common cold. For keeping the cold out of your stuff. I was reminded of this while poking around this morning. The boys and I went for an early walk - I've finally got feeling back in the tips of all ten fingers - and I went about doing this and that around the property. One of the morning chores I usually forget to do is to blow out the candle in the valve house. The pipe that comes out of the ground from the pressure tank for connection to the various lairs on the property is surrounded by a heavily-insulated little frame building, nicely stuccoed a few years ago by my landlady. Of course all the insulation in the world won't help you if there's no heat to hold in, so somebody came up with the idea of keeping a supply of those tall religious candles in the glass jars. It's possible this is a regional thing; I don't remember ever seeing them in the Midwest but I wasn't looking. Also, I genuinely hope this won't offend any Catholic readers - such is not my intent. But yeah, in the supermarket you can buy these tall candles-in-a-jar for a buck and a half. I guess they're intended as votive candles, because they've all got pictures of saints I never heard of. But they'll burn for four or five days straight - a lot longer if you remember to blow the damned er, blessed things out during the day. Perfect for keeping the pipes in the valve and well houses from freezing - it actually stays quite toasty in there - and they don't take any electricity or propane. Saints be praised!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Sitemeter and Privacy

A little over a week ago I installed Sitemeter here, because the other freebie hit meter I'd tried didn't work for crap. Sitemeter worked a bit too well; it gave me the information I was interested in and a whole lot I wasn't. I figured I could just ignore that crap; I don't care about your IP address, much less the resolution of your monitor. :-)

What I didn't realize was that I should have adjusted the privacy level when I did the install, because the default setting makes that info available to everybody. Yow, not good. This morning I received the following eye-opening email...

Good morning Joel,

I was on your blog yesterday, (which I check often as I find it enjoyable) while there I was wondering about your traffic, I didn't see the usual place that just had a number so I pressed the sitemeter bar.

OMGoodness what an eye opener: At first I didn't think too much about the info there, just very generic numbers, then I noticed an option to see the world map, again curious as I had seen this on other blogs displayed on main pages, I viewed it.

Did you know that if you put your courser over the dots/click you can get a poop load of info on a viewer? Right down to the Coordinates of the viewer? Did you know that that sort of information was available to just anyone who looks at your blog? (I only tried to look at what was obviously mine.) I had no idea... I was actually shocked...

I'm sure you do know, I was both fascinated and repelled by that little excursion...While I believe I conduct my self in a well-mannered way on the web it will give me pause on where I comment in future....

Is there a way for you to secure that info so it is not available for public consumption? Just asking.


I apologize for this oversight. I don't like it when people look over information on me I'd rather be private, and I assume you feel the same way. It was an ignorant error, which (I now hope) has been fixed.

You should know, though, that such information is easily available to anyone who cares and knows how to look, pretty much anywhere you go on the web. Keep it in mind.

The Qualities of a Free Man

This is sort of a continuation of the previous post, so if you just got here, scroll down and read that one first.

There's a writer I've encountered, who goes by the name of Claire Wolfe. If you're not familiar with her name I suggest you look her up because she has given all this business of living free a lot of thought - more coherent thought than I have. You may or may not have heard her name, but if you're reading this you've probably read the one quote of hers that gets a lot of repetition: "America is at that awkward stage. It's too late to work within the system, and too early to shoot the bastards."

She has come to the same conclusion I have concerning how you go about finding freedom in your own life. In fact she may have (almost certainly has) guided my thinking along these lines. It boils down to this: Nobody is going to give you freedom. There's no party, no church, no group or philosophy that will give you freedom. You're either free or you're not, because the only place you can truly claim freedom is within yourself. That's the only place freedom can be fostered and cherished. Within yourself. Outside yourself, not so much - the lawdogs of this world will continue to try to impose themselves on you regardless of anything at all. But you remain free if you are free. So...what does it mean to be free?

A few years ago she wrote a series of articles in Backwoods Home Magazine on the topic of "Sustainable Freedom." I just re-read it, as I do from time to time. You won't find a single political word in these articles. I think that's why Claire never caught on with a larger audience; she stubbornly refused to offer political nostrums that would allow the credulous and the lazy among us to believe the world can be changed to suit our desire for freedom. The problem is that there's no lazy way out - the only way the world could ever become a healthy place for freedomistas is if enough individuals become self-sustaining freedomistas themselves. I suggest that if you're going to hold your breath until that happens, you make it a good, long, deep one.

Anyway, she began the series with an article on The Qualities of a Free Man. You can follow the links at the end of each article, if you want to read the whole series. They're still on line.

She found twelve virtues that help us be free within ourselves, dividing them into Outward-Looking, Interior and Foundation virtues. Not one of these virtues involves joining some group, committing to some cause, or writing some congressman. She said, "Freedom comes from free individuals, not the other way around. Seek Libertopia without first seeking within and the horse stumbles over the cart in her path and breaks her leg. Every time."

She's right. If her list of virtues comes across as about as specific and prescriptive as the Boy Scout Law, that's kind of the point. There's no lazy way out. There's no guru who's going to tell you what to do; nobody can give you a list of things to think and believe, and then you'll be free. If you meet one who promises to, run. But her list, and her ruminations about Sustainable Freedom, are a pretty good starting place for doing it yourself.

Of Blogs and Profiles and Labels

A while back somebody suggested that I revise my blog profile, which currently is just a continuation of the mission statement. He said it would warm things up a bit if new viewers knew something more about me.

I thought about doing that for quite a while, and decided to leave things as they are. Who I am, what I believe: Anyone who reads will figure that out soon enough if they care. Where I came from, all the things that drove me out here, all that backstory shit: In the end, who cares? What difference does it make, really? I'm nobody special. I'm just that guy you met once, in that place. I don't have any big, impressive credentials. Maybe you've fallen into a time warp or something and I'm you, twenty or thirty years from now. Probably not.

But you can picture that if you want. I'm just this going-on-old beardo who lives alone in the boonies. I've got my share of scars and neuroses. If you want to put a political label on me, you can call me an anarchist. But beyond that I can't be much help because every time I try to nail down what that means it comes out as a thick stack of negatives. Those Starbucks-trashing hooligans in the Northwest call themselves anarchists, but I just see a bunch of vague soupy-socialists who like to break things. I don't begin to identify with them, and they wouldn't have much use for me, which is just fine. I can get along with some of the more intellectual types I meet; the Agorists and such. But every time I try to wrap my head around whatever they're selling it just comes out as a utopian mish-mash, though I'm sure that's not the way they see it. Randians just make me sad; their glorious leader came up with one good idea - not half as original as she thought or claimed, but good - and they tried to wrap their whole lives around it and hid themselves away from all its implications. Now the only thing her "intellectual heirs" seem sure of is that they really hate religion. Me, I don't hate religion. I even tried it on once, but it didn't fit. Be as religious as you like, if it comforts you. I prefer bourbon.

But you know, as I sit here and think about it there is something I could offer as a workable creed worth following, if you're looking for such a thing. I'm going to go get it and come back to talk about it in another post.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cats in the Boonies

On the ridge where we live, there are currently three dogs and two cats. I've written extensively about the dogs and have hardly said a thing about the cats. I suppose this is probably because the cats have their own world. They occasionally come share ours for a few minutes, but we're never invited to share theirs.

I was warned, upon coming here and telling some acquaintances that I like cats, that cats in the desert usually have a short life. They're only about halfway up the food chain and tend to disappear mysteriously in the dead of night. One fellow I know claims to have lost over forty cats in twelve years. He keeps getting more not from a neurotic desire to feed the coyotes, but because a motivated cat can be terribly useful for keeping the rodent population more polite. Raised in cities myself, I'm more used to thinking of them as pets and it was off-putting to think that by getting a cat for myself I'd just be contributing to the local cuisine.

But my friends on the property had a pair of cats, sisters, who had been around for years. They were very enthusiastic ratcatchers, and apparently quite accomplished at avoiding that "down the throat" fate other acquaintances considered inevitable. I wondered how they did it, and decided to study their habits for a while.

First, they never left the ridge. The dogs have long since established a deal with the surrounding coyotes: The dogs get this ridge with all its slopes, and the coyotes get everything else. Stick to that, and they can leave each other alone except for the occasional shouting match. Second, unless we or the dogs were right there, the cats never paused for long on open ground. They seemed comfortable under the cover of a juniper or vehicle, but rarely crossed the yard at less than a run. This indicated some problem with birds that I had not yet seen. Kind of ironic, the thought of a bird hunting a cat, huh? Well, this is the desert. Everything that isn't a predator, is prey. Sometimes they're both.

About a year and a half ago, while I was still working in town, a lady came into the shop with a box full of kittens. I chose for my new companion a tiny gray tom with green eyes, who reminded me of one of my all-time favorite cats from many years ago. He settled into life in the lair very quickly, and became my little buddy Butch. As he got older and began exploring the world outside the lair, it became clear that he had more immediate problems than the predators: The girls despised him. Since they were skilled hunters and very experienced with violence, I worried that they might take an unacceptably direct approach to expressing their displeasure. But they limited themselves to laying down an iron law: The kitten could frolic all he wanted in the yard immediately surrounding the lair, but if he set a single paw in their yard there would be hell to pay. Of course Butch violated this law regularly, and it became fairly routine for him to come streaking to his little door with an outraged cat hot on his heels. Later this turned out to be life-saving practice for him.

Butch grew quickly, as kittens do. As tomcats do, once he started getting some size on him he developed his own blasphemous ideas about territory. He grew tired of being picked on by mere females, but these were no ordinary housecats. If he wanted to establish himself here he was going to have to fight for it, and the fights would be no mere rituals. "Show me your scars, big boy. Don't have any? Here: I can help you with that." And they did.

One sunny afternoon Butch came running into the yard with the biggest sister right behind him. But instead of disappearing into the lair, he turned at the door and issued a challenge. She was fine with that, and they rolled and slashed and screamed at each other for quite a long time. They'd fought before, but this was getting serious; he just wouldn't let it go. Most of the fur in the air was his; he was clearly getting the worst of it. But this time he wouldn't submit; he kept coming back for more. At last the fight reached the stage where the cats face off like statues, trying to decide who just won. Sometimes the battle resumes, but usually this is the end; whoever slinks off first is the loser. And that's when the female made the second biggest mistake of her life; she turned and slunk off home.

Butch the kitten was a feisty little SOB, but Butch Triumphant was a holy terror. For some reason this one fight changed the entire dynamic between the three cats and from then on he did the chasing. He even made the mistake of going into their home and stealing their food - at which point he learned that there was a fourth cat - a huge, ancient Himalayan male who did not care what went on outside but promptly explained some hard, cold facts about who ruled the inside. Butch didn't try that again for quite a while.

Then one night, while I slept, Butch met one of the local predators. Every night of his life since he came to live with me, Butch spent part of the time on my bed. What he did the rest of the night, of course, was his business. I'd grown used to him being there when I woke, and as soon as I stirred he'd always walk up my body, curl up by my chin and purr. But that morning I woke, felt him lying behind my knees, and though I called him he didn't move. This was so unusual I knew right away something was wrong. I got up and checked him out, and there was a bloody tear on his left side. There was another one on his ass, just behind his leg. Butch was in pain; dull-eyed, reluctant to move at all. He got worse all that day and the next; hydraulic pressure had to force him outside, and he walked slowly and stiffly when he walked at all. In just a few days he lost all his kittenish plumpness and became rangy and thin. But by the third day, having avoided infection, he started to mend. In less than a week he'd resumed his life as if nothing had happened.

We speculated about just what had happened. His wounds didn't look like the marks of teeth, more like something had hooked a talon on either side of his hind leg and tried to pick him up that way. So we decided that he'd run afoul of one of the huge owls we see from time to time. Of course that's really not the way to pick up a scared cat, and I've often wondered what the other guy came away looking like. Either way, though he now had a brace of very manly scars, Butch had passed the only test that mattered. He got away, and he survived.

Meanwhile two of the other cats did not. Shortly after the death of my best friend and landlord, the Himalayan was killed in a bizarre accident the details of which I hesitate to relate lest you call me a liar. The Himalayan was my friend's special cat friend, and those who suggested that he committed suicide weren't entirely joking. Last summer my landlady rented a house in town for a few months and brought the girls with her. The girls had survived more than four years in the desert, but less than six weeks after moving to town the biggest and most adventurous of the two disappeared and we never learned what became of her. It's very unlikely she chose a new home; she just never learned how to live with the dangers of a town.

My landlady moved to the city and Click, the last of the sisters, moved in with me and the dogs. For a while after her return Butch was inclined to chase her away every time he saw her, but the dogs put a stop to that. The dogs love and protect the cats; as puppies they were literally raised by the Himalayan, each in their turn, and he ruled them with a paw of iron. Though they grew to be many times his size, they never lost the habit. They don't like it when somebody pushes one of their cats around; even another cat. They put up with Butch's antics for a few days, and then stepped in. Every time he would corner Click, the dogs would get up and surround him. They never offered violence to him; they just made it clear that this was unacceptable behavior. Once inside the lair I watched Fritz the Shepherd put his nose between the cats where they were facing off over the food bowl and gently shove Butch away from Click. Then the big dog walked the tomcat the length of the lair till the cats were on opposite sides, and then he went and lay back down. He never growled or showed a tooth. He just said, That's enough of that. I thought I was going to laugh myself sick.

And that's where things stand now. Of course the only constant is change, and that's never more true than around here. But for now, our little family is secure and - relatively - peaceful.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Strays and Ferals

You want to piss me off righteous and proper? Let me catch you dumping a dog.

Considering how much I talk about the boys, you'd be justified in assuming that I'm a "dog person." Not so much, really - I always used to joke that I like other people's dogs, because dogs are needy. I like to visit them, spoil them like grandchildren, and then go home. My current situation started as simple circumstance, but I've been around these fellows long enough that they've become my family no matter what my original inclination. But I'm not, temperamentally, a dog person.

Even so, though I'm not always simpatico with them, I understand enough about a typical dog's psychology that I know the greatest crime you can commit against a dog is to take it out and dump it. Dogs are pack creatures; they tend to find their whole identity in their family. Dumping is the ultimate rejection; the ultimate betrayal. It's no wonder that so many dumped dogs simply die, even in a food-rich environment. It's no wonder that so many that live, turn mean. Dogs understand devotion: Hell, they embody it. And so they understand its flip-side; betrayal, sorrow, fear, and anger. Or maybe they don't understand such things, I don't know. But they can surely express them.

I'm thinking about these things this morning because of two incidents that happened yesterday. My neighbors, D&L, are attempting to adopt a dog that strayed onto their property. I forget just what breed he told me it was; some sort of short-haired terrier. I caught a ride to town with him yesterday to arrange for the delivery of the new generator, and visited the dog at his property. It wanted nothing to do with me; it still will barely tolerate him, but it accepts attention from his wife L. The poor little thing is a mess; skinny, tick and flea-infested, worm-ridden. It's got a couple of broken teeth, is afraid of men generally, and has certainly been abused terribly. But it still had enough desire to live to give joining a new family one last try, and for that I wish it well. That little terrier will never know how very lucky it is. It will probably stay with D&L, and so it will probably live. Someday it might even recover some small measure of happiness. I hope so.

While in town D and I visited the local vet, and the conversation naturally turned to strays in general. The area has had quite an infestation of them, and they've been forming feral gangs that have the cattle ranchers (literally) up in arms. The local cattle operations are shoestring affairs. They depend on open range and can't put up with much predation.

The most common predators around here are coyotes, but even in packs coyotes aren't much danger to adult cattle. They'll cheerfully eat a dead or dying cow, but don't hunt healthy ones. The only time coyotes get interested in cattle is when they're calving, but cows with calves stay together and do not tolerate coyotes. Coyotes are not animals that like to take a lot of chances, and they don't have to; there are plenty of other things to eat that they're fast enough to catch.

Dogs are not usually fast enough to live on rabbits, and the ones that survive long enough to become a problem are too big to live on mice and rats. So those that form packs often go after slow, delicious cattle. They're not terribly professional about it: They rarely kill a cow outright, but rather tear off enough chunks for a meal and leave animals so badly damaged the rancher has no choice but to put it down. So you can imagine the ranchers' joy and delight in their company. They'll shoot any cattle-chasing dog on sight, which is one reason I try to chase cattle out of our meadow myself.

The thing that makes feral dog packs more dangerous to people than any truly wild animal is that they don't share wild animals' instinctive fear of humans; that's been bred out of them. Some of them have an absolute animosity toward humans. Given their individual history I don't blame them for that, but the fact remains. Like any other creature that wants to live, I'm inclined to kill what I fear and I fear feral dogs. So a stray dog I encounter in the desert has a limited window of opportunity to prove that it's not feral; otherwise it's going to get a bullet in the head. This ain't no city park.

I'd like to tell you a story about a time when that almost happened, but this post has already grown too long. Sometime I'll tell you the story of The Noob. Not right now.

But know this: Most such stories do not end as happily as The Noob's did, or as that of my neighbor's new visitor is likely to. Most such stories end very badly.

Now I speak to those inclined to dump unwanted dogs. I speak, unbidden, on behalf of the desert people, the ranchers and the townie commuters and the cedar rats, the people who live here - the people forced to defend their children and livestock and pets from the results of your irresponsibility and immaturity.

When you dump a dog, the very best thing it can reasonably expect is that it will go down with one of our bullets in its brain, with a little dignity, like a warrior. Far more likely it will die a slow, agonizing death of disease and starvation and dehydration and sorrow brought on by your callous betrayal. The chances that it will find a new home before it's too far gone to save are negligible. If you're the sort to dump a trusting but troublesome dog, you can lie to yourself about it all you want. You can pretend you believe that it will find a new family, or live a free, wild and happy life. But it knows what you've done. And so do we.

And while we're shooting the dog you betrayed, or burying its pitiful remains, we're cursing you.

Just so you know.

Friday, January 9, 2009

New Generator!

Well, it's official. After a couple of days of emails flashing back and forth, my landlady has ordered a new generator for her hacienda in the hills. It's a bit embarrassing for a fellow who used to fix these things for a living to have to say, but though of course I've heard of the manufacturers I didn't know they got together to make this class of unit. The engine is a Cummins 4-stroke, and the genset is made by Onan which as far as I know is the finest name in RV generators.

Since it needs to end up in the boonies, the shipper doesn't deliver outside town, I (officially at least) have no wheels, and the whole thing weighs 185 pounds in the crate, the logistics are a bit complex. But it's all been worked out. Really!

Updates to follow...

What is a barrel shroud, and why should it be banned?

Here to explain the vital nature of this legislation is some self-important broad...



:-) Yeah, I mostly just wanted to see if I could embed a video. But it's still highlarious.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Assault on the North Face

Here and there in the more rugged parts of the desert, there are dark, deep places where water gathers and stays long after everything else has dried up. There is precipitation here, after all; snow in the winter and monsoon rains in the late summer. At least a few times a year the dry washes are dry no more: It's possible to get caught in flash floods, though it takes a special kind of foolish. I've awakened to the sound of pounding water and found a torrent rushing by at the foot of the ridge where I live. These floods can carve out whole new channels in minutes, push boulders before them, cause cliffs to calve and crumble like glaciers.

Mostly, of course, it isn't that dramatic, though I could show you places where the drama must have cataclysmic at the time. Still, water does flow. And when it stops flowing, it leaves its remnants in these dark, deep places.

I wouldn't presume to believe that I know them all, but I know four or five of them. One in particular always intrigued me. I discovered it quite by accident almost a year ago. It was higher than any I'd seen before, and more exposed to the sun, but full of water when others had already gone dry. In fact it was quite a climb to get to it; if I hadn't happened to see a bird drinking where I didn't think there could possibly be water, I'd never have suspected it was there. It was deep and apparently floored with rock, which also made it unusual. I wondered if it might not actually be a spring, though no spring had any business being there. I meant to go back and check it out during the dry time, but last year went bad and I didn't do a lot of hiking for quite a while.

Still, since we've been getting back into the canyons a lot more lately, I thought the boys and I should go pay it a visit. This would be an expedition of a few hours. You have to go deep into the big canyon and then climb a steep tributary. Once you've arrived, the most practical way to get back down is to climb the rest of the way to the plateau and hike about halfway back, then there's a reasonable slope that dumps you into the canyon.

We started out early. Since I had to bring water and was going to need my hands, I left the carbine home and wore my gunbelt. The boys were excited about the whole thing, because I loaded them into the landlady's jeep (they love that) and drove up the wash to where it ends and the canyons begin. I knew from experience that this indulgence would prove very welcome on the way back. It's a helluva walk.

So when we got to the canyons the boys spilled out and thrashed around for a while before settling down for the slog up the canyon. At first it's mostly easy sand, but then you pass between two almost identical boulders I call the gateway, and the fun begins. Rock is tumbled everywhere here; at one point there's a trio of standing stones the size of Winnebagos that mark the point where you stop hiking and start rock climbing. Then it settles down a bit, but there's always something that needs to be scrambled over. A few miles inside the canyon proper, you come to a steep, narrow tributary with nothing in particular to recommend it as a tourist attraction. That's where the hole is, and it's a climb. The boys and I mostly stuck to the canyon wall here; the going's easier that way. We finally got to the water hole, which to my disappointment really was as dry as all the others. As I figured, there was no spring here. But at least I got to confirm its configuration. It was just a really deep hole in the rock, with no underlying sand for the water to soak into.

Now the real fun started. From here it was fifty or sixty steep feet up the north wall, by no means all vertical, and neither the dogs nor I had any trouble making the climb. The plateau is the highest point around, and the view is amazing. In places it's virtually paved with flat, fractured rock, as if you'd discovered some huge, ancient highway. We'd been walking and climbing for maybe an hour and a half by now: The cold was immaterial since I was soaked in sweat. I'd only been here once before, but remembered the way well enough. Turn west and keep walking until you find the slope back down to the big canyon. I guess I was starting to get really tired - I'll blame it on the altitude, and not that I'm a decrepit old man - because even Magnus was pretty much bounding down the rocky, snowy slope and I was just trying to keep from getting killed. "Yeah, easy for you guys," I muttered. "You've got four legs and a lower center of gravity." The potatoes and toast I'd had for breakfast had pretty much run out.

By the time we got back down, I was running out of steam fast with a mile or more of rocks to climb down. But when we got to the gateway stones I figured I had it beat. Here the walls are vertical and very tall, and the snow is deep on the floor of the canyon. My carbon fiber foot slipped on an unseen rock. Tired and off-balance, I just fell right over. Naturally another rock under the snow was perfectly placed to smash into the one meat shin I've got left. I just lay there and said "ow" for a while, but I wasn't really hurt; just very tired. Magnus, bless him, trotted back and whined in my face; I braced myself on his shoulders till I could get back to my feet.

It was still a few hundred yards, and around a couple of bends, until the Jeep came into view. "Oh, ye beautiful piece of Chrysler-bred perfection," I breathed. We don't usually go that far, or that high. Magnus had come back for me before, and I hadn't even wondered where Fritz might be at the time. Addicted to 'going for a ride,' he was standing vigil by the door. As always, he was afraid he might miss his chance if he turned his back on the Jeep. I just sighed. "Dude, I've got the keys. It can't leave without me."

So now the boys are sacked out like they'll never move again, and I smell like a goat and have a lump on my shin the size of a chicken's egg. I think this evening we'll just stick to walking up and down the road.

Meditation on a Free Market

There's no ban or edict that any government can stuff down its subjects throats that some people will not resent and defy.” J.D. Tuccille

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the “underground economy,” “black market,” “parallel economy,” or whatever you want to call it – let’s call it the free market. Not really knowing what to say about it, I started surfing to learn more of what has been written. About ten pages into Google, I finally realized that not a hell of a lot has been written – at least not about the free market in these united States. Among a lot of writing-type folks, the assumption seems to be that in this country the market is indeed “black”, is contrasted with the “legitimate” market, and is concerned entirely with selling dope or dodging taxes. More recent tracts – and I couldn’t find a lot that’s recent – fixate on “illegal aliens.”

As far as I can tell, dope and taxes do have a lot to do with it, at least as far as free market goods are concerned. The market for such things has proven pretty damned conclusively that if people want to smoke weed or snort cocaine, they’re gonna do it. Pass all the laws you want against it and be damned to you, it’s still going to happen. I found an amusing article here - well, I found it amusing - about what happened to New York State’s revenues from cigarette taxes when the powers that be decided that levying the highest such taxes in the country was a good thing to do.

I’m more interested in the ramifications of free market labor, though. Here again, I’ve no doubt that taxes and immigration have a lot to do with it. If you live on minimum wage or less, the bite withholding takes from your check is not insignificant. If, as is increasingly the case, you can’t get direct employment at all but only work as a 1099 contractor, you’re supposed to save up and send in your income taxes without that “painless” cushion that withholding provides. In such case the temptation to just give that part a miss must be pretty damned strong.

And then there’s all those “illegal aliens” the conservatives like to emote about. Now, of course I would never, ever advocate or even condone anyone doing anything the slightest bit illegal. Therefore, on its face of course illegal immigration is a great, great evil. It is, after all, illegal. For shame! And I’ve heard for years about hordes of swarthy ne’er-do-wells comin’ over here, suckin’ up welfare and joinin’ them dangerous gangs. I’ve no doubt that there are such people, but it’s funny – I’ve lived in those cities and never met one. I have met hundreds of Hispanics who clearly weren’t born here, who worked for cash only, many of whom spoke no English at all. I’ve no doubt, though I haven’t asked, that some of them are as illegal as freebasing. And yet … don’t ask me how I know, but I do know that nearly every one that I’ve ever met gave a damned good day’s work for his pay. And I’ve always kind of admired the chutzpa it takes to cross a border illegally, with all the difficulties and dangers that entails, into a country where you don’t even speak the language, and take whatever job you can get from day to day. I’ve also wondered at the home conditions that would drive a person to do that. Seems to me only a certain sort of person would go to the trouble – probably the best sort. Not, of course, that I would ever condone such reprehensible behavior.

Complaints about welfare whores, I understand and share. I’d have no business with any such person under any circumstances, no matter how much or how little melanin he exhibits and no matter the legal status of his residency. Of course the cure for such people is fairly obvious – ask any libertarian or anarchist, and he’ll tell you all about it. But the shrillest complaints about immigrants aren’t about welfare, they’re about people having the gall to sell free market labor. “They’re not paying taxes!” – actually a lot of them do, they just don’t hang around for their refunds. “They use stolen social security numbers!” – often true, but who the hell’s fault is that? I’m old enough to remember when an American would be offended at the notion that he had to prove a damned thing before he was “entitled” to a job, except that he could do the job. When I spent my teenage summers picking corn and squash, I didn’t need no steenking number. I just had to prove I’d show up and do the work.

Thing is, it seems very strange to me even now that anybody but me and my employer would ever presume to decide whether I was entitled to work, or that anybody but me and a seller of a good would presume to decide whether I was allowed to buy that good. These days, in the afternoon of my life, I find I have no patience for such presumptuousness. I make my modest living in a – well, informal – manner, and it suits me just fine. Sorry if it offends anyone else. I’m gathering materials for a more permanent lair. And if quite a lot of it comes from barter for services, whose business is that? How did it come that so many other people, people we don’t even know, people of no earthly benefit to us, believe that they get any say at all in such things? These are the things I wonder about.

Sometimes, in darker moments, I wonder what should be done with such people.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Of Star Trek Sets and Roller Coasters

This morning broke gorgeous. I mean, Oscar the Grouch couldn't be unhappy with a day like this. No way I was going to spend this day stuck in the lair, where I've mostly cocooned since mid-December. So the boys and I set out early to give that canyon another try.

Halfway up the wash to the canyon entrance, Ghost disappeared. I expected to meet him in the canyon; he's almighty good about knowing where I'm going before I do. The big fellas and I slogged through the wash and up the canyon till we got to the water hole.

Here I had a question to answer. I knew I could climb the rocks around the water hole, but I'd been worried that the big dogs wouldn't be able to follow. It turned out to be a non-issue; Magnus clambered over the rocks in front of me, and Fritz wasn't far behind. First hurdle cleared. Now we were in the canyon proper, where (I like to imagine) few people had ever been.

Think back to all those minimalist sets on the old Star Trek series, decorated with three foam rocks and an upside-down tree. That's what these places always remind me of, except that there are more rocks and no red shirted extra who won't be going home with us. The canyon walls are close on two sides, and there are generally some big boulders that must be scaled if you want to keep moving forward. Up the canyon, after all, is literally Up. There's always something to climb.

I still hadn't seen Ghost, but didn't worry too much about him. By now he knew exactly where we were, if he hadn't all along, and was just off having his own fun.

We came to some short rock faces that must be beautiful waterfalls during the monsoon. Snow melt had already filled several crevices, though this early most of them were still frozen over. In the deeper, shadier parts of the canyon the snow was thick and fluffy. It began to look as though this canyon might go on for miles like the other, larger branch does but I couldn't be sure of that because in spots it was quite a bit steeper. At some point it had to peter out and just become part of the plateau. Unless it didn't, of course.

But we didn't make it for miles. Probably less than half a mile in, we came to another rock face. To the left of the face was a cave, whose mouth was mostly covered with yucca. To the right, a narrow passage led to another water hole. This one was pretty deep, because it was filled (when the water was flowing) by a vertical fall higher than my head. I could probably have climbed out one side of that hole, but it would be quite an adventure and there was no way the big dogs were coming with me. This was the end of the road for now.

I looked around, just to see what there was to see before turning back. And at the top of the canyon I saw a sleek brown head looking down at me. Ghost had never come into the canyon at all; he'd been playing around on the plateau all this time. He made a move as if he intended to come down. Where he was, there was a vertical drop of maybe five feet and then some very steep talus. I didn't want to watch him try that. "No!" I yelled up at him. I pointed back down the canyon. "Go back!" I matched deed to word by calling the other dogs, scrambling out of the hole and heading back down myself. Hopefully he'd have sense enough to meet us further down.

Instead, a few minutes later I heard something running behind me. Ghost had, indeed, made it down that face without breaking his neck. And he apparently had quite a lot of fun doing it because he ran right past me, disappeared down the gorge, and a few minutes later appeared behind me again. Ghost had discovered the desert hills' version of a roller coaster, and he got to ride it for free.