Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Embrace the Chaos

As I mentioned earlier, two gulch stakeholders have come to the property on at least a semi-permanent basis. While M waits for the building permit for HIS secret lair, he and W have helped build a fire under my ass (and provide much-needed capacity for heavier labor) which has gotten MY somewhat-more-secret lair out of the angst-and-gloom phase and into actual construction. This is good, and much appreciated.

Both M and W are familiar enough with the area here to know what they're getting into, but each had reactions ranging from amusement to mild horror at the way I've chosen to live for the past year. Their reactions, and the subsequent discussions, have got me to thinking about mental changes I've made in the past couple of years, particularly the past twelve months. I have basically been, and continue to be, engaged in an experiment of sorts. Some of the circumstances I'm in have been thrust upon me, but mostly it's something I've chosen to do, to learn the answer to a question: How minimal can you make your amenities and infrastructure, how small can you make your metaphorical footprint, and still retain some joy of life? The answer is: Compared to life on the west coast, quite a bit.

One example: I spent last winter balancing my need not to freeze to death with my desire to spend the absolute minimum on heating fuel. This isn't Minnesota, but winter nights here do routinely dip into the mid-teens and may or may not go above freezing during the day - it's cold. But still, with me and three dogs the temperature in the lair rarely fell below freezing, so actual death by hypothermia usually wasn't a worry. I gradually developed a determination that the only thing I really had to worry about keeping warm was my epidermis, and most times this could be accomplished more easily (and much cheaper) by adding a layer or two of clothing rather than cranking up the heat. I literally went days at a time without ever taking off my coat. I was usually quite comfortable, especially since there was no one present to smell me but myself and the dogs, but it did lead to embarrassing moments such as when my landlady came for her monthly visit dressed for a warmer climate, and it never occurred to me to politely start the furnace.

Another example, perhaps taken too far. A person can live more-or-less contentedly on stored beans, rice and flour. A person can take his diet so basic that canned vegetables - or any vegetables at all - start seeming like an unsupportable extravagance. A person can lose all his teeth to scurvy, too - it's really not the way to go long-term, but that's the way I did go for a while. And yes, for the most part I was quite contented with that diet. But it was probably not especially wise.

But someone will say, "Why would you ever want to do that? That would really suck." But that's actually the point: It did not suck. Well, mostly it didn't. And the reason it didn't is because I had embraced the chaos.

City life - that is, most people's lives - is really very rigidly controlled. Heat and cold can be softened and made comfortable with air conditioning and heating. Water runs limitless from the tap, clean and chlorine-scented. The lights always work. Everybody always knows what time it is. The days are divided rationally between week-days belonging to your employer, and weekends belonging to you. It's all very comforting, very controlled. Predators don't challenge your pets and threaten your livestock; rattlesnakes never show up in your yard.

Life in the boonies isn't like that. Life in the boonies can be routine, sure, but the next emergency is always waiting. You can go nuts trying to control everything, because nothing is ever really under control. At best, it's just handled for the moment. And although of course you always want to be ready to handle shit when it happens, there's really no point in worrying about it. In fact most of the time it's kinda fun.

But people who hope and dream of a life in the boonies sometimes have unrealistic expectations. Take, for example, that great mantra of preparedness types: "Off-The-Grid." You think of living off the grid and you think of no longer being dependent on a vast, impersonal utility infrastructure with its arbitrary billing rates, its brown-outs, its cozy relationships with foul government types. All good, right? Fine, but (assuming you actually do it) you're trading all that for dependence on a very, very personal individual infrastructure that's vulnerable to, prone to, certain to exhibit all sorts of failures from the simple to the maddeningly esoteric, and it's all expensive, and it's all happening to you alone, and there's no point in this world waiting for the guy with the wrench to show up and fix it because the guy with the wrench is you. Shit will happen, and it will happen to you, and how you cope with it will in large portion determine how well you do in that retreat you're dreaming of.

The trick is to prepare for shit to happen to the extent consistent with your resources and good sense, deal with it when it happens, be prepared to learn from your mistakes in failing to adequately deal with it, and not let it get you down. A sense of humor helps a lot.

Challenges occur, and the conventional ways of responding to those challenges don't always make a lot of sense under the circumstances. I give you, as example, this:
This is the foundation for my new cabin, and you'll notice right away that the ground it's on doesn't seem especially level, and that the piers the floor will sit on are all different lengths. The conventional means of dealing with an uneven build site is to even it out, to level it and compact it and make it conform to the needs of the building to be constructed there. And that's a very fine way to deal with it - if you happen to have access to heavy equipment and a construction crew. Or...you can embrace the chaos. If you're building on piers, the only important thing is that the tops of the piers be level with one another. The actual length of each pier is completely immaterial. So spend a summer leveling and compacting the ground with hand tools, or spend a couple of days setting and leveling the piers and be done with it. The result looks chaotic but it will work, and it can be done with hand tools and manual labor, and much more quickly, and it costs a lot less.

Next winter, with the Secret Lair habitable, the economics of staying warm should change dramatically. Last winter I was dependent on propane and kerosene, all of which had to be purchased with very scarce money and transported with a nonexistent truck. The Interim Lair has its charms, but it's very poorly insulated: Burning fuel just causes heat to pour out through the cracks. The Lair will be insulated like a refrigerator, and principally heated with wood. Junipers die standing up, and seasoned juniper wood is everywhere around me. It's a pain in the ass to collect because it's hard and full of dirt. But it burns sweet and long, and it's already here, and it's free.

The trick, as I said, is to make your plans consistent with your resources and good sense, that is to say consistent with the environment you're in; not the environment you imagine or want. Years ago when I lived in Southern California, I was involved with a preparedness group that wanted a plan for "bugging out" in the event that something might happen that would render life in Orange County even more problematic than it already was. Their approach up to that time had been a bit militaristic: They all had weapons and a thousand rounds of ammo and three days worth of portable food and water, and that was as far as they had taken it. Their plan, such as it was, was to use these resources to make it up past the San Gabriels and worry about it then. I studied the problem and decided that this plan was completely wrong-headed. The coastal plain west of the mountains is a trap: if you can't get out in a few hours by car, and you wouldn't be able to if the S hit the F, you wouldn't be able to get out in weeks. You wouldn't be able to get out at all. Therefore any attempt to "bug out" would only make your situation much, much worse. The rational choices, which I made the mistake of preaching to this group, were to either be gone before the disaster struck, or make plans to "bug in"; to concentrate their plans on surviving right where they were. This suggestion did not go over well with the group, and pretty much immediately ended my relationship with them. After all everyone knows that if you live in a city, survival preparedness involves bugging out, not in. Questions of impossibility don't enter into it: you simply force reality to conform to your desires. I thought this was rather silly, said so, and found myself in the outer dark where my weeping and wailing and the gnashing of my teeth would be after the apocalypse. 'Kay.

Of course my experience with preparedness groups is far from extensive and may not be representative. My friend M is affiliated with a group that does real-world feasibility exercises like: On the signal, throw your house's main breaker and spend the next 48 hours living on back-up power and emergency supplies. Take notes of successes and failures, then at the conclusion of the exercise get together on IM and discuss results. I quite like this idea: It will help you keep your planning more realistic and armor you against unpleasant surprises when/if it gets real. Two days isn't a true real-world experiment, but as a first exposure I'd imagine it could be quite eye-opening and I truly like the idea of a bunch of families doing it at the same time and then comparing notes.

Look, I'm not suggesting that anybody live in a dilapidated trailer, bum water from neighbors forever, and make a spectator sport of counting their remaining teeth. Of course you want to prepare ahead of time, and of course you should include what amenities are possible in your planning. If you really can transplant a bit of suburbia to the boondocks and live at your accustomed level of comfort and security, blessed be you. And it's not all one thing or the other; adopting my minimalist cedar-rat approach certainly isn't the only available alternative. There are lots of perfectly viable points along the gradient.

All I'm saying is that to keep it real, you need to understand that life outside the grid is going to have its daily dose of chaos. You can fight the chaos, resist it, rage against it - or you can relax and embrace it. You can, as the old A.A. cliche goes, have the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference. That way, in my experience, lies joy of life in the boondocks.

Real life unintended consequences

An interesting article here about Ron Paul's heavily-cosponsored but completely doomed HR1207, calling for an audit of the Fed:
But, a big spike in both Democrat and Republican co-sponsors came in response to the Fed's announcement that they were hiring a lobbyist.

Surely an organization as big as the Fed, whose Chairman testifies regularly before both the House and Senate, already has a small army of legislative liaisons. A lobbyist is something much different; lobbyists come armed with checkbooks.

When an organization that can conjure trillions of dollars out of thin air suddenly sends an emissary to capitol hill with their checkbook, it is wholly unsurprising that a bunch of politicians would suddenly discover their interest in the operations of the Federal Reserve. And, what better way to say, "I would like a big check, please," than by announcing your – for now – support of an audit?

H/T to MamaLiberty

Because it's my blog, and I can.


Hooya! On budget and on schedule, we poured the foundation piers for Joel's Secret Lair this morning. The three big floor joists are very square and level, and assuming nothing collapses before the concrete sets up we're good to go!

I had to choose between the danger of things collapsing under the weight of the very, very heavy lumber on the one hand, and the absolute certainty that the lumber clamps wouldn't line up right on the other. With considerable trepidation I went with Curtain 1, and so far that's showing itself the right decision.

Of course no proper foundation can ever be laid without a proper foundation sacrifice. I don't know the gods are out there - but I don't know they aren't, either, and why take a chance? So I deposited a pagan gift of my best .30-cal ammo into each of the cardinal points before we poured concrete.

And that's one of the hardest parts, now done. Tomorrow we work on water! Specifically, a means of removing water from a deep well that doesn't involve rope and a coffee can.

Monday, June 29, 2009

New water source!

er...if you call this water...

Screw technology, we hauled it up with a rope and a weighted coffee can. Well's drilled to something just less than 300 feet, but we found the surface at 110 which tells us there's lots of nice artesian pressure. Also lots of nice sediment, but we can deal with that if it's all that's wrong. Pitcher'o'water is now off to get analyzed for all the contaminants we can't deal with. Wish us luck.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Introducing Beauty

A new pack of three dogs has joined us at the gulch, and you're probably not going to hear very much about two of them. I cannot omit Beauty, though, because she's quite the little ambassador. She decided right away that she liked Ghost just fine, and could tolerate Little Bear. Ghost quickly decided that Beauty was the gal for him, and now it's a rare day that they don't entertain us with their tricks, because she's at least as fast as he is and just as acrobatic. She also loves to go Walky, and immediately started joining the boys during the morning go.

In fact just lately the boys have been getting two walkies for the price of one, because as often as not when we're getting back W is leaving with his dogs or vice versa, and any dogs who feel like it just peel off and go with the human who's going for the walk. This morning I tricked all the dogs except Little Bear (who got to ride) and Magnus (who told me to go to hell) into chasing the Jeep through the wash to the Lair build site. I'd barely got working when W passed through, and all the boys except Fritz (who will not pass up a chance at a Jeep ride) promptly dumped Uncle Joel and set off for another walk. And they discovered MUD!

Testing, testing...

Okay. Things are finally settling down a bit, I found my old copy of PhotoShop and loaded on this box so I can screw with pictures, and maybe now I can breath enough to update this sucker.

M, W and I have been making progress on the Secret Lair, and despite my fears of the past few months it's gonna happen. There will be warmth this winter!

We got the pads and rebar in for the piers, the level for the tops of the piers determined, and the pier forms cut to size. Since the ground is very far from level, each pier is a different length so we numbered them before removing them for cutting.

Next step: Build three 16' floor joists out of salvaged 2X12s.

These will be nailed to the hangers and mounted on the pier forms before we pour the piers, so that we can make sure things are quite square before they're set in concrete. That's an interesting concept, and one that might catch on in time.

Little Bear helped.

This morning I sliced off the rebar below the top of the pier forms, and we spent a few hours doing the actual layout for the interior: Something I frankly hadn't given a lot of thought until now. But it's kind of important to know where your drains are gonna be, because it's vitally important to trench for the drain plumbing before the floor goes in. I figured that out all by myself! Okay, actually M figured it out. But I agreed.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Sometimes the song in my head...

...gets kinda weird. Imagine going through all of a busy day with this in your head:

Pity me. Pity me lots.

All sorts of things going on, pictures and all, but it's been quite a day and I just got home and it's bedtime. So I leave you with the above disturbing image, and will try to do better tomorrow.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Day His Weirdness Died

And once again news items which have brought the world to its very knees passed me by without notice. Apparently yesterday Michael Jackson went to see for himself which afterlife myth is true.

Since everybody else on the tubez seems to be doing it, my favorite MJ memory - Mid-1970's: Driven to despair and existential angst at the sheer pointlessness of life in a world in which every other bleeping song on the radio is the bleeping Jackson Five, I pull the radio right bleeping out of my 1970 Ford Maverick. During subsequent body work to repair/cover terminal salt-related leprosy on the Mav, I prevail on the body guy to cover over the hole on the front fender that once housed the antenna.

I like to think this presaged MJ's later mania for compulsive body work of his own. I'm absolutely not to blame for the pedophilia. RIP, I guess, but you already gave me all the gift I wanted from you a few years ago when your alarming face stopped showing up every time I passed near a cathode ray tube. I confess to both my loyal readers: early, middle or late period, I have never been an MJ fan.

What if Government Ran Health Care?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pull up! Pull up! EJECT EJECT EJECT!!

Major computer crash last Friday morning; black screen of death, checksum errors all over the place, flames racing down the fuselage headed for the fuel, oil squirting on the windscreen! She's going down! And I don't think she's coming back.

And mostly too busy or too tired and/or frazzled to worry about it, to tell the truth. I just for the first time fired up a spare laptop borrowed from M the stakeholder, just to touch base. A quick update on gulchy-type projects: The landlady is here for the week, and so we've designated most of this week to organizing workspaces and getting a lot of potential things actually on-line. The barn's scriptorium has been transformed into an actual working apartment with toilet, hot&cold running everything, refrigerator, washing machine, microwave, sink, and a GENUINE TOWNIE SHOWER complete with roiling clouds of condensation and more hot water than any sane person could possibly think of expending. This was deeply cool: It took M and I (neither of whom knew what we were doing) the best part of three days to get the plumbing sorted out and the shower installed. White-knuckle moment when we finally worked up the nerve to open the valve and let water into the barn and the water heater. I raced back into the barn and found water pouring out of the heater, but it turned out to be only an open drain valve. Opened the hot water spigot where the washing machine was to go and let it vent air until the water flowed. Then lit the pilot, fired up the burner, and to my utter shock everything worked perfectly.

Meanwhile the landlady and W have torn out the random clumps and heaps of dusty tools and building materials that were the "workshop," and transformed that space to a lovely room where you can actually find things logically organized. W did the same thing with the pantry: All the bulk food has been pulled out of that rickety structure and is as I type this being organized into a new, hopefully more rat-resistant, pantry in the barn.

Things keep happening to interrupt the workflow, of course: We're merging two dog packs and while that goes more smoothly than everyone feared there are still moments where hilarity - or at least fangs, foam and occasional blood - ensues. Exactly at the worst possible moment while installing shower walls a long-haul trucker showed up towing the fifth-wheel trailer belonging to another set of stakeholders, and everything had to stop while we sorted that out. There are invariably four or five points during ever project where you're missing the one component or tool absolutely vital to further progress. There has been interpersonal friction here and there as a bunch of prickly hermits find the borders of their - sometimes minuscule - comfort zones. But you know - we all knew the job was dangerous when we took it.

This morning we're waiting for another 2000-gallon cistern to arrive, and M and I will need to drop what we're doing (I'm supposed to be servicing the generator at the moment) and run over to where it needs to get dropped. He's already got all the hardware for pulling water out of his new well, and once the cistern is in place there'll be a place to pump it to. Which is the kind of work project I can get into; one with an immediately useful payoff.

More later: I've got things to do and I've still got to figure out how to configure stuff on this computer. Having fun, but it's a busy time containing exactly four times as many people as I'm used to dealing with. Bear with me: TUAK will resume, for the adventure most definitely continues.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Yep. Goooood day.

Well, we didn't make a lot of progress on the shower today. I had a bit more energy than the previous two days, but my mind was mush this morning and I wasn't going to take on an unfamiliar plumbing job on an expensive piece of equipment. But we did get the trench dug for the drain pipe, and then we got to working on the composting toilet in the barn. My poor friend M has been without a working bathroom for nearly a week now, so since the toilet was a simpler project and we no longer have outside contractors poking around what-all we're doing, that seemed like a good thing to do. That toilet is now (hopefully - I've still got questions about how pleasant it will be to live with) on line. We have a date to hit the shower first thing in the morning.

Along about 3:30 we went to visit D&L to cut the 4X4 legs for the shower pedestal, and while there I asked to borrow D's water level so I can measure and cut the pier forms for The Secret Lair. Turns out they'd needed a much longer one for the big house they're building, and the pack rats had chewed little holes in their old one which they've sealed here and there with tape and RTV, so they just gave it to me.

This evening we three got together for a nice dinner (we've been sharing dinner duties day-to-day) and then sat out for an hour until it got too dark. Very pleasant. Ghost, I'm very happy to report, has made a friend. I've often noticed that Ghost has been getting kind of sour: I think he's bored. The older dogs don't want to play, and Little Bear is just too clumsy and clingy to provide Ghost's kind of fun. But Beauty, W's dog, is an excellent match for Ghost. They both love to run and chase rabbits, they're about equal in size and age, and they've really hit it off. When we're having dinner they play constantly, with Little Bear blundering between them like a stereotypical annoying little brother you tolerate but don't really encourage. Actually the two packs have been mingling much more this time than they did on previous visits, with much less friction. There have been a few scraps, but nothing serious or chronic. One that particularly amused me happened early on: W's aging pit bull Bruno took a dislike to something that Little Bear did and proceeded to teach him some manners. Magnus - who is not at all averse to knocking Little Bear for a loop when he deserves it - saw this and lumbered into action. There were teeth and snarls and flying slobber for a few seconds between Magnus and Bruno, Bruno backed off, and then Magnus knocked Little Bear down and disciplined him for he knew not what.

All in all we're settling in as well as can be expected and better than I feared. And now I'm going to bed.


This is actually a couple of days old, but I was too sick to care. Al the Propane Guy came and, apparently finding no objections to our system plausible enough to continue denying us propane, actually installed a propane tank. Yes, we have gas.

Since this is after the advent of our new residents, both of whom are possessed of a good deal more energy and initiative than I have plus access to transport, this was immediately celebrated by the appearance of a new shower! At this time of year that's substantially more exciting than a furnace in the barn, let me tell you.

As further celebration (?) this morning I received the below link from my landlady:

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

At long last, we're moving again!

Ah hab a code. Ids in by dose. Coodent sleep, cus I coodent breed. Dose all stobbed ub.

Yesterday was worse; yesterday I really felt like shit and couldn't have done anything strenuous if you put an RPG to my head and said get productive or die. Today was not quite as bad, but I definitely wasn't as gracious as I should have been when my new neighbors showed up on my porch at 6:30 and wanted to get moving at the build site. "You don't have to do any work," they assured me, "Just come and supervise." Uh huh. I sighed and grabbed my hat. We loaded up half a dozen bags of concrete and a full barrel of water in the trailer, and set out to fulfill my worst fears about whether the Jeep could pull a loaded-down trailer through the soft sand in the wash. It can't.

We dug out the tires twice, then started dumping weight and pushing in hopes of getting the Jeep to firmer ground. First the concrete went; that helped a little. Then half the water; that did the trick. We unhitched the trailer at the build site, then went back and loaded the concrete sacks into the Jeep. I'm very, very glad I didn't try that when I lived her by myself. It was one of the things I anticipated going wrong, and I had no clue how I'd get out of it alone.

After that it was just a matter of measuring and digging some holes, then mixing some concrete and pounding in some rebar. We got all the pier foundations done! I'm exhausted and surely good for nothing for the rest of the day, but it feels so good to be making progress at last.

Next step: The pier forms!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sweet. Mary. Jane. This is truly...

Uh...surreal. Yeah.

I've managed to catch the cold the stakeholders brought back, and it's untimely as hell. The very morning I hoped to make some serious progress on converting the secret lair from a series of holes in the ground to a series of concrete-filled holes, and instead I'm dragging myself around filling tissues with phlegm and feeling like I tried to swallow a large pincushion.

I'm a wuss about being sick, and I really hate being a wuss. So I'm blog-surfing and trying to forget my troubles, and one thing leads to another which leads to another which leads to...well, this:

And suddenly, on top of all my other problems, reality ceases to have any meaning at all. I can only speculate that they didn't actually know what a "toke" was.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Real ID is Dead? Yay!


Yes, our dear Safety Czar, Janet Napolitano, has saved the day. Napolitano actually signed Arizona's version of the Middle-Finger Law opting out of Real ID last year, but that was then. Now she's playing for the big leagues, and that changes all your convictions the rules.
The new proposal, called Pass ID, would be cheaper, less rigorous and partly funded by federal grants, according to draft legislation that Napolitano's Senate allies plan to introduce as early as tomorrow.

The rebranding effort follows months of talks with the National Governors Association and poses political risk for Obama as well as Napolitano, a former NGA chairwoman who wants to soothe strained relations with the states without appearing to retreat on a recommendation by the 9/11 Commission.
Since the new Real ID Light tastes great AND is less filling, no doubt a number of governors will drop their treasonous objections and we can get down to inventorying and tracking government property the way civilized totalitarian nation-states should.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sunday Cute,

Dovetailing nicely with the song in my head.

Wonderful baby, living on love
The sandman says maybe he'll take you above
Up where the girls fly on ribbons and bows
Where babies float by, just counting their toes...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Suggestion for Kydex sheath makers...

I recently took delivery on a sheath modification for a knife I've owned for a few years but never carried because the sheath drove me crazy. I wanted it to be more like the Kydex sheath on my everyday knife, which is inferior to this other knife but much easier and more comfortable to carry.

This is my everyday knife. You'll probably recognize it as an old Camillus Air Force knife. I love the design, except for the saw teeth, and the size is just perfect for everyday utility use. The only real problem I have with this knife is that it will not hold a useful edge. I'll bet I sharpen this thing every other evening. If you have to whittle points on more than two posts in a day, you're screwed. Not acceptable. I've had this knife for going on 30 years, and for going on 30 years the inferior steel has driven me nuts. But I keep digging it out of the drawer because in every other way it just fits perfectly. And the sheath is perfect: I had this one made by a guy in Georgia about six years ago, when the original sheath fell apart. I'd plug him here, but he seems to have gone out of business.

This is the knife I want to be my everyday knife. It's a Cold Steel UWK. It balances like it was made for me, and the steel is far superior to the Camillus. But I hated the sheath. It's like a high-quality but ill-fitting pair of jeans: Doesn't matter how good the denim is, you won't wear it if it chafes you. It's a little longer than I really like, but I can live with that; the sheath design was the problem.

So I sent the knife and sheath off to a guy via a friend, and got it back yesterday. He saved me some money by modifying the existing plastic part of the sheath, ditching the long, floppy nylon hanger and adding a loop just under the guard swelling. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

But look at the way it lays on the table in its sheath, compared to the way the older knife does. Guess where that hilt wants to go, when each is riding on your belt. The older one is very comfortable to wear; the newer one feels like it's stabbing you with the wrong end.

Here are details of the hanger for each sheath. If you make these sheaths, or know someone who does, or if you're specifying a sheath for yourself, please: Top one baaaaad. Bottom one, goooood.

A hefty dose of cute

The babies at nine days. So far no additions to the extended family, but any day now.

She really HATES haters!

Round Up Hate-Promoters Now, Before Any More Holocaust Museum Attacks
It's not enough to prosecute these murders as murders. They are hate-motivated crimes and each of these men had been under some sort of police surveillance prior to their actions. Isn't it time we started rounding up promoters of hate before they kill?
And who gets to decide who's a "promoter of hate", Bonnie? You? I dunno, you're a pretty public person, and it sounds as if you're promoting, er, you know. Might want to watch those glass houses and stones.

Truth is, prosecuting a murderer for his murder seems pretty fair and just to me. But then I and mine might be on your list of hate-promoters, so likely you won't figure my opinion means much.

Really? Ya Think?

Analysis: US must limit Afghan civilian deaths

You might think this is a no-brainer from every conceivable moral and ethical angle. This is, of course, not the reason the military brass is considering the possibility of not slaughtering innocent people limiting civilian deaths. No, indeedy. There's an important reason.
Gates emphasized the imperative of avoiding civilian casualties, calling the deaths "one of our greatest strategic vulnerabilities."
Yeah, it probably took Alexander the Great a while to figure it out, too: Dead Afghanis invariably have lots of live relatives. Heavily armed, vengeful, live relatives. Whose actions subsequently become indistinguishable from those of the people you say you're there to fight.

It probably didn't take him eight years to figure it out, but I'm sure it took time. Way to go, anyhow.

Friday, June 12, 2009

So...what, you've only got three rounds in your pistol?

That leaves one for the dogs to gnaw on, which will make them happy and provide healthsome exercise!

Woman narrowly survives harrowing encounter with ... coyotes? Yer shittin' me.
Mary Burke, 47, was out walking her four Labrador retrievers at around 7 a.m. Monday in an area off Groveland Road in the town of Groveland, which is adjacent to Haverhill, when she looked up and saw a coyote staring her down.

"I was talking on the phone to a friend when all of a sudden there was one, then there was four, and they surrounded me," Burke said today. As I turned around, I started crying, I said to my friend, 'Oh my God, I'm not going to make it out of here.' "
The police were able to locate Burke's exact position using their enhanced 911 system, which pinpointed Burke's cellphone, said Kirmelewicz.

"The GPS feature proved to be a great tool in this instance," Kirmelewicz said. "If we hadn't been able to locate her, who knows what could have happened?"

The dispatcher was able to guide Burke out of the woods as officers rushed to help, but the coyotes kept pursuing.
Okay, I admit I didn't even know there were coyotes in Massachusetts. I can see why they'd move there, though; the Labs, and apparently the people too, are all bred to be good little lapdogs. Lapdogs are food. Save me, Big Brother! Save me! Sounds like a target-rich environment to me.

Afraid of coyotes. That's just disgusting. You know, I really don't like the word "Sheeple" - it's such a cliche, and insulting to boot. But can you name a more accurately descriptive word? Because right now it really seems to fit. Fit this lady with an RFID chip, like the ones no doubt already in her dogs, and she'd not only feel safer; she'd arguably be safer. Clearly she needs the protection of her shepherd at all times.

I mean, what the hell kind of "woods" was she even in, if a police dispatcher could talk her out of them over the telephone?

New neighbors

The two stakeholders who are moving in arrived early yesterday afternoon after a long, slow but thankfully uneventful trip. There was food and other arrangements to work out, a big trailer to empty, a few tons of stuff to find places for; it's basically never going to end, I think. One of them has been gradually moving his stuff for a month or two, the other came all at once and is a little overwhelmed at the moment.

We left him to his work, getting his lair cleaned out and stocked with that small percentage of his belongings he can use right now. Meanwhile we unloaded the trailer, filled it with trash that's been needing to go to the local landfill (no point wasting a perfectly good trailer), then cleaned it out after the landfill and returned it to the rental place. One of them brought some long patch cords, so I could finally get the wi-fi router moved outside and located where it could get anyone who wanted online. And now I'm out of the scriptorium and back to tapping keys in my lair.

Naturally with all this work to do, it turned really hot early. So we all burned it through the morning, then finished up whatever projects we were working on and pretty much crashed. And that's where we are now; I've got to decide what I'm doing about dinner since nobody else is really up and on-line yet, kitchen-wise. A day or two of my very limited cooking will serve as incentive, I'm sure :-D

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

To. The. Moon. ALICE.

So we've got a little time on our hands. I got a call from one of the stakeholders, saying they wouldn't be in until sometime mid-day tomorrow. There's bread in the breadmaker, it unexpectedly rained like hell overnight, and I got to thinking 'let's take an afternoon walky, and see how our friends' new culverts are holding up; see if there's any new erosion. By the time we get back, the bread'll be done.'

So we bee-lined down the slope, across the wash, up the opposite ridge, and right across till we got to the cliff. This clif isn't exactly Everest, right? I mean technically it's a cliff, but there are lots of places even I can get up and down it. So I didn't think anything about it, just looked for a likely place to go down.

Ghost can pretty much sprint up and down any surface in the desert, no matter how vertical. Magnus does pretty good. Fritz, not so hot. Little Bear, of course, is still learning. Plus he's got those stumpy little legs.

So I wasn't very surprised when he got a few feet down in the rocks, got scared, and started yelling for help. (This post isn't about Little Bear.) I coaxed and called, and he refused to budge another inch. Crap, this was holding us up. I looked down to the meadow between the cliff and the wash: Ghost was already down there, of course. To my surprise, so was Fritz. I was stuck now; LB wasn't moving, so Magnus and I went back up and walked along the top to find an easier way for Little Bear. This post still isn't about Little Bear.

We find a spot he finds acceptable and head down. This is taking time - truth is that it's taking a lot of time, and this was supposed to be a quicky. I'm getting a little annoyed. Ghost joins us halfway down, and we all go to the meadow together.

Fritz is nowhere to be seen. I wait for him for a minute, and start to call. Wait some more. No Fritz. Fritz has disappeared like the earth swallowed him.

If Ghost pulled this, I wouldn't give it a thought. He does it all the time, and he always knows where we are even if I don't know where he is. I don't worry about Ghost. But Fritz has never, ever pulled this. He always stays pretty close to Magnus, and Magnus always stays close to me. But now he's just gone. I'm starting to worry. I search and call, search and call. No Fritz.

After maybe a half hour of this, I'm starting to freak. They're all my boys; I don't love one more than the other and it'd kill me to lose any of them. And Fritz can be such an idiot; he may have gotten himself into real trouble somehow. What the hell am I going to do? He just isn't here!

There's a dim possibility he took it into his head to go home. Either way I'm afraid of losing the puppy, who's getting pretty tired anyway. I'll go back home, lock the boys in Gitmo, lose the rifle, get some water, take the bread out of the maker, and go back myself. No way I'm calling it a day until I find Fritz.

Of course you know what happened next. We went back up the cliff, across the ridge, and I'm heading back down toward our loop of the wash. And who should I meet but...

And he's all like "What?" And I don't know whether to hug him or wring his neck. Y'know, this isn't the sort of thing you should do to a guy with an AK47.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

And the song in my head eludes me...

I've finally given up, after realizing with shock that I spent two hours looking for it. The only lyrics I remember are:
Life goes on, given the slightest chance
For the weak or the strong, life goes on
and it would have transformed your life in Ghandi-esque ways, but now I guess not so much.

Total waste of time, and I have no time to waste. Two stakeholders will be arriving tomorrow evening or maybe Thursday, and I've work to do to welcome them properly. Woke up this morning at 3:30ish, and all was well: Magnus taking up about a quarter of the total floor space, Fritz on the other couch, Little Bear in what has become his favorite space beside my bed, cuddled next to my plastic leg, Ghost under a juniper outside, guarding his domain, Click on her bed in the loft. Since Butch bought it some months ago I can't relax on waking until I've inventoried all the critters and assured myself that nobody's disappeared during the night. Little Bear always starts his nights asleep on the porch and then comes in sometime during the night; if I ever reach down on waking and not find his fuzzy hide under my hand, I'll probably panic right through the roof.

Little Bear is now a significant percentage of Magnus' size, but with his stumpy legs still can't jump onto my bed. He's worked out his own technique: getting his front paws on the bed, shoving his head under my arm and then lifting his head and picking himself up by the muscles in his neck until he tumbles onto the mattress. At maybe three months old. Gad, he's going to be a powerful creature. If I tried that I'd spend the rest of my life in traction. My technique for dealing with him at Snacky Time isn't going to work much longer; I've been putting him and his plate on a shelf so the other dogs won't bother him and he won't bother them but he's growing so fast he pretty much doesn't fit any more. He's going to have to take his chances. A couple of evenings ago he tried to dispute Ghost's leftover snacky with Magnus and got the fonging of his life, and I suspect he'll get a few more before he's done. It's startling to watch, but no harm ever comes of it: Magnus roars in outrage, Little Bear squeals in terror, fangs flash and spittle flies and you'd swear somebody (not Magnus) is being torn limb from limb. But the jaws never quite close on flesh so long as there's instant submission which there always is. One day within the next year Little Bear may not submit when Magnus tries that, after which somebody might need a trip to the vet and I'm not totally sure that when the time comes it'll be Little Bear. But that's karma. Nothing I can do about it.

This is a momentous week, and I admit I'm getting a bit nerved up. This time when the stakeholders come, at least two of them, they're not going away again. I've lived by myself here in the boonies for so long now that I'm going to have to learn how to deal with people every day all over again. No more, Joel the Hermit. I joked with S&L Sunday morning that after a few weeks of that I may be living in a tent out yonder. Most of the boys will enjoy having more people to interact with, but to be honest I'm not totally sure I will. But that's karma too: I knew the Master of Solitude phase would come to an end sometime. There'll be more dogs as well, and I'm very interested to see how the boys will react to that. Last time, it didn't go so well.

I should go to town and prepare food for a special welcome feast, but with unexpected expenses last month and this I don't have any money so I'm afraid they'll have to pretend to enjoy bread and fried rice. But everything's in good repair; all I need to do is dust some surfaces and shovel some dog poop, and the place will be as shipshape as I can make it.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Fear is the Mind Killer

Okay, Joel. No more putting it off. You drilled the holes in the ceiling and the roof yesterday. You've assembled the vent pipe. You've got all your tools together. You set up the ladder yesterday. Today - no, no, this morning, first thing - you will go up on the roof and install that fucking pipe. Any handyman can do it; you've seen guys skipping on roofs with a much steeper pitch than this in their stocking feet. Just do it: Ten minutes and it's done forever. Just do it: You know you're going to.

I've been in a traffic accident that tore a leg right off, broke two other limbs so that bones were sticking through the skin and broke my head, and I didn't disgrace myself. I've looked down the barrel of a pistol so close I could count the lands and grooves and though I thought shit was going to run down my leg I stayed calm enough to do what I had to. I've looked into the sharp, capable teeth of an animal that wanted to tear my throat out and waited calmly until my bullet could kill him cleanly, and felt nothing but sadness for him. I'm not a hero, but I'm not a coward.

So why does a simple thing like a solid roof paralyze me so?

This is my enemy. Going up the ladder isn't so bad. Transitioning from the ladder to the roof isn't so bad. Walking across the roof is pretty bad, but I know I can do that. Doing the actual work on the roof is nothing at all. It's the trip back down, moving from the roof to the ladder, that has made me sit trembling for hours. It's embarrassing as hell, but that's the way it is. I don't know why.

C'mon, you fucking oaf. You've readjusted the ladder's angle a dozen times. You've even braced it with concrete blocks, because you know that fear of it shifting will stop you on the way down. You've got a hundred times more safeguards than a sensible man would need. Just get it the hell over with.

Okay, you're near the top. Walking down the slope is harder; I don't know why. You walk confidently down much steeper slopes every single day when you walk the dogs. Why is a roof so much different?

*sigh* Because a roof isn't on the ground.

Okay, it's done. Yes, I know the vent isn't straight; it will be when the bottom is attached to the water heater. Now: Turn around and go to the ladder. You know you're going to eventually; you've never actually spent the rest of your life sitting on the roof staring at the ladder. Sooner or later you're going to do it, so this time let's make it sooner.

Walk slowly, carefully down the slope to the ladder. Take off your tool belt and lay it next to the ladder. Wiggle the ladder; yes, it's solid no matter what your fear tells you. Go to the left side of the ladder, hanging on tight, so that you can swing your meat foot (Oh, gods!) out over open (I'm gonna fall!) space and then bend (I can't do this!) your left knee, the one with no muscle at all and not nearly enough cartilage hang on to the ladder let your arms do the work (the ladder's shaking!) feel for the rung just under the eave you can do this (I can't!) yes you can feel the rung under your boot now lean forward move your plastic foot off the roof hang on the ladder now you're safe you're safe you're safe grab the tool belt down the ladder right foot on the ground left foot on the ground. Turn from the barn, pick up any random rock from the ground and kiss it like a lover.

God, I hate roofs. Half an hour and two cigarettes later, my hands have almost stopped shaking. But that's done.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Sometimes the right way is the wrong way.

Yup, that's a half-eaten sandwich. Peanut butter and jelly, to be precise. I eat peanut butter and jelly for lunch frequently. I get bulk deliveries of peanut butter and jelly every few months, courtesy of my landlady. Normally I bake all my own bread.

You might be wondering why I'm sharing pictures of my lunch with you. Well, this is a very unusual sandwich. See, things have been a little crazy around here lately. We had the Great (Continuing) Propane Guy Disaster of Wednesday, which made a lot of additional work. In the middle of filling the Perpetual Trench Next To The Barn, the first of J&H's pregnant goats decided to have twins while only J was home, causing J to - well, I don't think "freak out" is too strong. This had a dramatic effect on the way Thursday went, as compared to the way it was scheduled to go. Then yesterday the time came for one of the property stakeholders to arrive; he's moving in permanently but stayed only overnight because he really only came to pick up the Jeep so he could go get another stakeholder who's moving in permanently. The weather has been really cloudy and rainy for weeks, causing a chronic shortage of available electrical power from the solar system.

What, you ask in increasingly annoyed perplexity, does any of this have to do with my fricking sandwich? It all has to do with it. Basically, the last half of the week got so nuts I didn't take time to make bread, but I needed some on hand because I was having a visitor. So Thursday afternoon at the conclusion of the Goat Crisis, during my monthly-or-so trip to town, I did something I never, ever do: I bought a loaf of bread.

Didn't think anything of it at the time - need bread, buy bread. Right? That's the way most people do it; it's arguably the right way to do it. Turns out I didn't use any of it during the stakeholder's stay, but I opened the package a while ago to make a sandwich for lunch. I then:

Made the sandwich.

Bit into the sandwich.

Damned near spat my mouthful of the sandwich into the sink.

The peanut butter tasted like peanut butter. The jelly tasted like jelly. The bread tasted like cardboard. Unusually unpalatable cardboard. It's not Wonder Bread, or the crappy store-brand stuff; I wouldn't feed that to a guest. It's a perfectly good loaf of perfectly good middle-class-consumer-grade sandwich bread. And it tasted terrible to me. I may not finish the loaf.

See, I often get to patting myself on the back for the low-tech, no-frills back-to-nature lifestyle I've been adopting out here in the boonies. And I also often bitch about some of the inconveniences and discomforts of said lifestyle. It's actually pretty easy to forget that there are some downright luxurious advantages as well. Like fresh-baked wheat bread with rosemary fresh from the garden, hot out of the oven, dripping with real butter. Yeah, baby.

It's been well over a year since I bit down on a piece of grocery-store bread, and I don't suppose there's really anything wrong with it. It's just that in that time I'd actually forgotten how much better mine is.
Via the indispensable Iowahawk:
President Obama laid out his case yesterday for committing billions of dollars more to the rescue of General Motors, arguing that the nationalization of the industrial giant was necessary to bolster the foundering U.S. economy. [more]
What could go wrong?

Oh. I'm very sorry I asked.

Our Moment of...er...Zen. Yeah.

Feel safe, America.

Feel very safe.

That's an order.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Bring an Empty, Self-Defeating Gesture to Church Day

Via David Codrea's Gun Rights Examiner...

When I heard that some pastor in some church somewhere was getting a lot of ink (and flak) for setting up an event in which his church-goers should open-carry their handguns to church, I thought, "Well, that's weird. But an interesting approach." I didn't pay much attention, to be honest. Wasn't against it, just wasn't very interested.

But then I was directed to the article with the fine print...

People can come into the church wearing their gun as long as the weapon is unloaded and in a secure holster.
a local police officer will provide security at the open carry celebration
I'm guessing the cop's handgun will be loaded.

What, exactly, is the point of this? Because in my mind it suddenly went from mildly positive/uninteresting to WTF?

Edit: Oops, missed the quote about the cop. Fixed.

Quote of the Day

Build a politician a fire, and he will be warm for an hour.
Set a politician on fire, and he will be warm for the rest of his life.

So David Carradine hangs himself in Bangkok...

...and all anybody can remember of his entire body of work is Kung Fu.

Which is kinda...well...Okay, I remember one really good cowboy outlaw flick where he's a gang leader or something and they all get shot up at the end. And a bunch of really shitty movies. And a Kung Fu remake far, far more unwatchable than the original. And, er, nothing else. So yeah, Kung Fu.

My favorite Kung Fu moment:

Caine is faced with yet another bunch of racist hillbillies, bent on beating the shit out of him for no apparent reason. He responds, as always, by calmly going into a zenlike flashback.

My older brother shouts at the television, "Clobber him now, Homer! When he comes out of his nod, he's murder!"

Thursday, June 4, 2009

"I don't know nuthin' 'bout birthin' no babies!

Looks bucolic, doesn't it? Well, I suppose it is. I mean (snicker) everything came out all right. (snort - chortle - Joel made a funny!)

Yeah, we had our first babies here in the neighborhood this afternoon. Some kinda exciting shit; the only ones who didn't get worked up about it were the momma and the babies.

I was supposed to go into town today with my neighbor J. And when he called me on the phone, I thought he was telling me he was ready to go. But he said, "Can't do it right now, Joel, [Insert Goat's Name] is birthing and I'm here by myself." And then he hung up.

And I thought, "well gee, I'd like to get in on that, I've never seen it before. But he probably doesn't need me underfoot."

And then I thought, "How much significance is there to 'I'm here by myself'? As far as I know, J's never seen it before either."

And then I practically threw the dogs into Gitmo and drove the Jeep over to J&H's as fast as I could. Even so it was nearly over by the time I arrived. So except for moral support and an extra set of hands here and there, there wasn't a lot for me to do. But sometimes moral support is enough.

It was the goat's first litter, but she seemed to know more or less what to do. She got them cleaned up, everybody had a bit of a rest, and then they went to feeding, and then everybody fell asleep. There was a lot more drama when my daughter was born.

It was twenty years ago today...

A beautiful, doomed experiment came to an end...

Leaving images of hopeless, despairing courage...

And of horror.

And yet the still-evolving China that exists today is not the China of 20 years ago. To my surprise, looking back on the quiet despair I felt over the massacre, I find that those young people who died in Tienanmen Square didn't lose their battle, after all. They won. They didn't win in any glorious, immediate, startling way. But they did win, and they're still winning. Trends of 70 years, already in collapse before they began their protests, have continued to reverse themselves and have accelerated their reverse. It's possible none of what we see in China today would have happened, if not for Tienanmen Square.

China isn't Libertopia, and probably never will be. But it's not the same China in which Mao's "cultural revolution" was possible, either. And that's not nothing. The people of the April/May/June 1989 protests, which sprung up in hundreds of cities across China though we only remember one, won their fight. They didn't win it all, but they won a lot. Good for them.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Well, good news and bad news.

Good news: Al the Propane Guy actually showed up early. He installed all the propane line, and it's all pressure-tested and ready to go, and now I can cover up the frig gosh-darn trench beside the barn that's been an unwelcome element in my life for nearly a year.

Bad News: Al the Propane Guy actually showed up early. He then told me about yet another thing I have to do with the water heater before he'd agree to leave some actual fucking propane. GAAAAAARRRRRRR!!!

I'm no contractor, as you may have noticed. But I spent two decades - parts of three, actually - as Mr. Prosperous Suburban Man. In that time I've installed probably five or six water heaters, here and there; it's not rocket science. And in all that time I have never - not once - been required to vent the water heater to the outdoors.


Not once.

I really hate that guy. He could have mentioned it before; he seems to take perverse pleasure in coming all the way out here and then not delivering propane.

Good news: One of the stakeholders is due Friday afternoon, answered his phone on the first try, and agreed to buy and deliver the vent pipe and (yet another) hole saw I need for the installation. So I can have the venting done this weekend.

Bad News: Al the Propane Guy is going on vacation next week, so the earliest I can conceivably hope to finish this Project That Does Not End is the week after. What new legal requirement will I trip over then? Damned if I know: Stay tuned.

Looks like the rain went away...

Nobody could decide whether the Monsoon came early, or the April rain came late. I'm still not making any bets, but yesterday we didn't get anything but relatively light clouds and so far this morning it's gorgeous. Another week of this and we may have to start fighting off Californians.

For walky time we avoided the road entirely, crossed the wash and went up the side of the neighboring ridge where there's a shallow well and old windmill in the low ground. Seven AM and already getting warm, the boys had a good time hugging the shadows, digging in under junipers every time I paused.

On that note, LB needs to learn not to get quite so much into his work.

Stuff to do today; there's a pile of trash for the dump right where the big propane tank is supposed to go, feeding gas to the barn. I've been told that today the propane guy might show up; the chances of that actually happening are right up there with Al Gore becoming Field Marshal of the Montana Militia, but on the other hand it's guaranteed if I'm not ready for him. So I've got the trash trailer backed up and ready to load, and then I'll clean out the trench that's pretty much been weather-filled since I dug it lo these many months ago.

I knew it was going to be a good day, because

The song in my head ISN'T FROM THE SEVENTIES!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Best. Billboard. EVAR.

The expression "Cold Dead Hands" comes to mind.

So now it appears that the seventh circuit court has ruled in National Rifle Association Vs. City of Chicago that the second amendment provides no protection to the citizens of Chicago and Oak Park, Illinois from the diktats of their evil rulers. This agrees with January's second circuit court of appeals decision in Maloney v. Cuomo, and contradicts the April ninth circuit decision in Nordyke v. King which concludes exactly the opposite - in a lengthy, scholarly and interesting decision which then bizarrely ruled in favor of the county that wanted to restrict gun shows.

'Kay. So all I can say is, WTF?

Y'know what? I don't even care. All I ask is that the tapeworms who want to disarm the people who live here, when it comes my turn, not send otherwise innocent thugs to do their dirty work for them. I ask them to come to me themselves, and make their demands in person.

Monday, June 1, 2009

"Psst! Hey, Kid!"

So this morning's walky time was spent going up the wash toward the canyon, now that it's pretty much dried out from the flood of the weekend before last.

At one point Ghost disappeared into the brush, and Little Bear trotted after. I heard nothing. "They'll be fine," I thought, and kept walking up the wash.

Time passed. We continued up the wash. "Uh...they'll...be fine," I tried to convince myself. Ghost has never actually liked Little Bear. At all.

More time passed. An imaginary conversation occurred to me:

"Hey, kid! Wanna see something fun?"

"What is it, Uncle Ghost? Tell me! Tell me!"

"Well, you see right over there behind those rocks? Yeah, those rocks; the ones Uncle Joel - er, your daddy - can't see behind? Right over there's a whole bunch of really friendly dogs. They like chubby little puppies a lot, especially when they're nice and juic...I mean, cute. Yeah."

"Really? Friendly dogs? I've never met one of those! Whee! Let's go!"

"Yeah, you go right ahead, kid. I'm right behind you."

"Daddy! Daddy! Uncle Ghost showed me some friendly dogs! There were lots of them, and they smiled at me, (They've got really big teeth!) and they wanted me to stay for lunch, and ... Ooo! Butterfly! ... Daddy! Daddy!"

Look! I'm as big as you, Grampa Magnus! 'Course you're laying down and I'm standing up, but...Look! I'm as big as you, Grampa Magnus!

Oh, God. I'm doomed...

..for the song of the day seems to be:

Part of me wails, "Why, oh evil Kami? What sin did I or my ancestors commit against you?" Part of me seeks harmony, acceptance of my foul karma. Perhaps if I embrace it with extraordinary grace I may be reborn as something as exalted as a polyp or even - dare I to dream? - a ringworm.

It's okay, though. Really, don't worry about me. I'll be fine. I've...got the noose right here...