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Living Freedom by Claire Wolfe. Musings about personal freedom and finding it within ourselves.

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.

Archive for March, 2010

Claire Wolfe

Money matters: Credit Karma

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Things have happened in the last few years that have prompted me to make life changes. No details right now. It’s not the business of the whole, wide world. Just say there’s room for ghosts, agitators, and moles, and more in freedom.

One change, though, is that after years of having a house but no money, I sold Cabin Sweet Cabin last summer and moved into a friend’s trailer. So now there’s a little money but no house. That’s how I was able to go to Panama.

Anyhow, after a long sometimes-painful, often blissful, non-relationship with money, its on my consciousness again. (It’s always been on my consciousness in the sense of believing that unproductive debt is unproductive for freedom seekers.)

Bored last weekend, I poked around websites having to do with credit, budgeting, etc. And I found this cool one. Credit Karma. Maybe you knew about it; I didn’t. But in any case, here’s how it works.

You already know that you can get free annual copies of all three of your credit reports from the Big Boy agencies, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Only about 1/3 of credit-using Americans do. And even if more did … well, once a year isn’t enough. Credit can get screwed up in an instant and can take months of constant monitoring to unscrew.

Also, those reports don’t give you your credit score. The score is not only a big deal to lenders; it’s a tool that can give you a shorthand guide to improving your own credit management. Do the “right” things and up it goes — though often slowly. Mess up and it plummets. You can also make strategic decisions that might push your score down temporarily but boost your status in the eyes of lenders, employers, and such in the long run. But scoring is complex and quirky; what pushes one person’s credit upward might drive another’s down.

The score can change day-to-day. Usually, if you want to monitor it, you have to buy access via some subscription plan that’ll cost you $100 or more a year.

Credit Karma is a free site that works with TransUnion to let you access an updated score as often as you like and track it through the months. At no cost. Not only that, but with its “Credit Report Card” feature, you get enough info to deduce what’s in your TransUnion credit report, even though you don’t see the actual report. Again, you can update that as often as you like. For free.

Okay, out with the negatives: You have to input serious personal data to use Credit Karma. Also, the credit score you get isn’t the “official” and all-holy FICO score; it’s TransUnion’s own TransRisk score. (Companies wanting to use the genuine FICO score must buy the rights from Fair Isaac, the score’s originator. So what they do instead is create their own scoring systems based on similar algorithms. All three credit bureaus have their own algorithms and data. Or they buy the FICO system but market the resulting score under their own brand name. Their numbers will deviate a bit from from each other.) So keep in mind that the other two big bureaus could have different info on you and yield different results.

And here’s something that may be negative or positive, depending on your mindset: Credit Karma will then offer you credit cards, insurance, and other products based on your score. Lousy credit? You’ll see offers for secured cards. Great credit? You’ll see offers for the best products in the business. These offers aren’t intrusive. They aren’t pushed at you against your will. You have to click if you want to look at them. (Be sure to uncheck the box that wants to email “savings” at you.) But they’re part of the reason Credit Karma can operate for free.

This site certainly isn’t for the “ghosts” of the world. Or for people who are completely debt free and plan to stay that way (which, come to think of it, makes you largely a financial ghost even if that was never your intention). But for anybody who possesses so much as one credit card or one car loan, frequent free monitoring of your profile could be useful.

Yes, the idea that your entire financial self should be summed up in a single number is stupid. Insulting, even. And not always so useful, as many mortgage lenders have discovered to their chagrin. But Credit Karma could help you deal with the stupid, unuseful reality. Think of it as a game that you can play and win.

Claire Wolfe

The times they are a changin’

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Yep. Times are a changin’. And the Times it is a changin’ — even if only slightly.

Ten years ago, the New York Times published a snarky piece about that tiny group of loons and wackos who objected to census snoopery. Among other things, the author, Gail Collins, quoted my pal Jim Bovard. Here’s a portion of her snarkfest:

How many of you out there have strong reservations about the United States Census? May I see a show of hands?

I thought so. Everybody’s cool. Once again, the radio talk-show circuit has plunged us into a violent debate about an issue that stirs the passions of average Americans slightly less than the cancellation of “Beverly Hills 90210.” …

The answers are going to remain confidential for the next 72 years; at that point a Ph.D. candidate may grant you immortality by writing a dissertation on your indoor plumbing.

Census opponents appear to be mainly opponents of government, period. (James Bovard, the author of “Freedom in Chains,” called the census “a scheme for generating grist for the expansion of the welfare state.”) …

The census is actually a noble public enterprise. It represents the founding fathers’ breakthrough concept that people should have power not because of their property or titles, but simply because they’re there. If we cannot expect election-fevered politicians to be reasonable about, say, Elian Gonzalez, does seem they could muster up the grit to tell folks that they should regard filling out census forms like voting, and pretend to appreciate the opportunity.

Ah, but in this week’s article, while the Times is still fretting about those right-wing anti-census types, the tone is much more respectful. And this time, they’ve apparently decided Jim isn’t just another garden-variety wacko. A sample:

The census has been subject to boycott efforts before, but officials fear that participation rates will be particularly low this year, as a wave of sentiment against the establishment has been stoked by Tea Party groups and politicians who court them.

“The census has become a lightning rod, and it’s drawing people’s attention to the danger of federal surveillance,” said James Bovard, a Libertarian author and one-time census taker who is calling for a “partial boycott,” in which people divulge only the number of people in their household.

Boycott backers argue that the Constitution mandated only a head count of the population, and that questions about things like family arrangements violate the document’s privacy protections.

Okay, it ain’t much. But these days, we’ll take all the improvements we can get.

But that’s not all!

Despite the hundreds of millions of your dollars the Census Bureau has spent on propaganda, look at the headlines:

Census caught in anger toward Washington

U.S. Census Bureau officials alarmed by low response from N.J. residents

2010 Census Mail Participation Rates in Parts of Connecticut Behind Rest of the Nation

Low response in 6 states concerns Census Bureau

For census officials, count-us-out attitude hard to overcome in rural Texas

(And it’s not just rural Texas)

Census forms not being returned in timely manner (in parts of Alabama)

Claire Wolfe

Monday Miscellany

Monday, March 29th, 2010

A collection of stuff that’s accumulated in my, “Gee, isn’t that interesting!” file over the last week or two. Well, actually some of it is from the, “Gee, isn’t that scary?” file:

Claire Wolfe

Linux: This time, it really IS time

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Every once in a while, I beat the drum for Linux. I swear it’s not just for geeks any more. After all, I’m no geek and I’ve been using Linux — and watching it get better and better — for 12 years.

Windows users usually ignore me when I bang my Linux drum. Ah well; so it goes.

But a couple of things happened recently that convinced me Linux has finally, truly, really, no-kidding gone beyond being a contender against Windows for the average desktop user. It has become clearly superior to Windows for the average desktop user.

So, you who are using (or being used by) Windows, bear with me once more as I offer:

Two evidences that Linux is ready for the rest of us
10 specific reasons to try Linux
Three reasons not to try Linux
One great Linux for newbies
Five other n00b-compatible Linuxes and
How to get ‘em — free, cheap, and easy

Here goes …

Two evidences that Linux is ready for the rest of us

1. A couple months ago, I loaded Linux onto the computer of a technophobic friend. He wasn’t eager to try Linux, but he was beyond fed up with Windows — with its nagging popups, blue screens of death, chronic slowdowns, daily application crashes, and Big Brother in Redmond watching.

He hasn’t has a single problem since. Aside from little things like getting used to buttons being in different places, he’s been happily browsing the web, sending email, playing music, editing photos, and watching DVDs since Linux Day One.

2. More recently, I had to perform a routine configuration task on several computers. It took me five minutes on Linux. After five hours on Windows I still couldn’t get it done. But I did manage to crash the brand, shiny new operating system. Twice. Without even trying. Later, I succeeded in performing the job — but only after giving in to some Microsoftian nannying.

Yes. We’ve now reached the point where Linux can be easier than Windows.

10 specific reasons to try Linux

1. Money. You can download many versions of Linux free or buy them on CD for as little as $1.75.

2. Money. Most applications for Linux are free, including full-featured equivalents of apps like PhotoShop (the GIMP) and Microsoft Office (OpenOffice).

3. You can try without committing. Most Linuxes are now available on “live” CDs that let you test drive the operating system before installing. Have fun. Check it out. Then, when you feel comfortable — install off the same CD. You have nothing to lose!

4. No nannying popups.

5. No spyware.

6. Freedom from viruses and trojans, nearly all of which are specially designed around flaws in Windows.

7. Linux is by independent people, for independent people.

8. Stability. Applications may occasionally crash. But Linux itself? Like the Rock of Gibralter.

9. Property rights. When you buy a copy of Linux, you own it. No begging permissions to re-install. No having to prove to Bill Gates that yours is a “legitimate” copy.

10. The most popular Linuxes for newbies feature “package managers” that automate installation of software and fulfill all dependencies at the same time.

10a. Seriously. I mean it. Linux can be easier to use than Windows.

Three reasons not to try Linux

1. Because you’re married to Windows by some professional requirement (e.g. you need software made only for Windows; your work network is Windows-only, etc.)

2. Inertia (or as my formerly Linux-phobic friend said less charitably of himself this morning, “fear and ignorance”)

3. “Because I’m just not interested, Claire. So shut up and quit bothering me!”

Okay. But if it’s reasons 1 or 2, you could still drag that old, spare computer out of a closet and give Linux a try. Or just boot up a “live” Linux CD on the very machine you’re using now and poke around a little without obligating yourself to anything.

If you do decide to install a Linux, you can still keep Windows and do a dual boot.

One great Linux for newbies

I’m going to make this super-simple.

There are hundreds of “flavors” of Linux — different looks, feels, features, and functionality built on the same core operating system. Some are strictly for geeks. Slackware, for instance. Newbies don’t go there. Others are astonishingly specialized. There’s a Linux especially for multimedia artists. And one customized for Christians. There are Linuxes solely in Portuguese or Chinese.

But you can bypass all that confusion.

The best, all-round, totally newbie friendly, impressively full-featured Linux is this one. Mint.

Mint came out of nowhere about three years ago. But it isn’t exactly new. It’s built on a wildly popular Linux distro called Ubuntu, which is in turn built on one of the big pioneering distros called Debian.

Ub-what? Deb-who? Never mind. What that means to newbies is that Mint has a solid history, plenty of stability, and hoards of available application packages.

What sets Mint apart, though, is that it’s designed to give you everything the everyday user wants right out of the box.

It not only comes with all the big apps (e.g. Firefox browser, Thunderbird mail reader, the GIMP photo manipulation program, OpenOffice). Many Linux distros have all those. But the standard download or CD edition comes complete with media codecs. Yep. Crank up Linux Mint (which takes only about 1/2 hour to install) and you’ll be playing DVDs with no further fuss or expense.

It’s clean, simple, & pretty, too.

Try it; you’ll like it. My technophobic friend did.

Five other n00b-compatible Linuxes

If you decide you don’t want Mint … or if you want to try five or six Linuxes at once (and why not? It’s cheap!) here are other major, newbie-friendly Linux distros:

1. Mandriva. My long-time personal favorite, Mandriva was the very first Linux designed (back in 1998) specifically for ease of use. Unlike Mint, it also has sophisticated system administration tools built into the GUI. (Newbie version to choose: MandrivaOne)

2. Puppy. Puppy’s claim to fame is that it’s both friendly and very, very, very small. Hey! Just like a puppy. The entire operating system loads into RAM, so you can carry it around with you on a USB stick or a flash card and use it on any computer equipped with the proper ports. Despite being so small, it’s got lots of applications (though not always the big standard ones) and its very fast.

3. Ubuntu. Ubuntu could be called “the people’s Linux.” It’s built on a philosophy that everybody in the world should be able to use, customize, and alter free software, regardless of their native language or disabilities. It’s hugely popular. But since you can get all the good things of Ubuntu and more via Mint, I’d go with Mint.

4. KNOPPIX. It’s been a few years since I tried KNOPPIX, but I remember it as an unfancy type of Linux, easy to use and definitely not a memory hog. (In fact, if memory serves, it was one of the first to use the “live” CD concept that lets you try without committing.) Like Mint and Ubuntu, KNOPPIX is based on Debian, which gives you a solid base of applications and proven technology.

5. Mepis. Another Debian-based, elegant, nice-and-easy Linux. Last time I tried this one (about a year ago), it irritated me by asking for a password before I could use its live CD. That’s silly! But I think the password it wanted was just “demo” and if you have the patience to type that in, you’ll see a very nice, sleek OS.

5a. Fedora. Fedora is based on Red Hat — another of the old-line, very stable, very respectable Linuxes. As with the Debian-based Linuxes, it has its own package manager that makes software installation a dream and it has tons of software in its repositories. Some people might say Fedora isn’t ideal for n00bs because it tends to be bleeding edge. Red Hat uses it as a testing ground for new apps and new code. So yes, occasionally it might produce frustration. But it’s a nice, slick operating system and its basics are very sound. So let’s say this one is for newbies who are also willing to be bold explorers now and then.

How to get ‘em — free, cheap, and easy

There are lots of ways to get every Linux. But the easiest place to begin — Linux Central, so to speak — is DistroWatch. DistroWatch has a page for every Linux. Type in the name of the Linux you want or choose from the drop-down menu at the top of the page and click GO.

Or, if you want to keep it simple, click on my recommendations above. All those links go to DistroWatch listings.

On the individual distro’s page, you’ll find links to download sites and reviews.

If you want to buy your copy on CD, DVD, or USB, DistroWatch has links to two vendor sites, and You can buy a “live” CD for as little as $1.75, an installation DVD for as little as $4.95, or a USB stick pre-loaded with a distro for $15 and up. Both sites offer various shipping discounts, return customer discounts, etc.

TIP: Microsoft assumes that every user should interact with the operating system in exactly the same way (via one standardized graphical user interface, aka windows manager, aka the thing that makes Windows look like Windows). Linux users get to choose among many interfaces. It can be a little confusing at first. Don’t worry about it. Most distros come with an interface called Gnome (pronounced G’nome) or one called KDE; they’re the two Big Boys among windows managers. If you’re given a choice, Gnome’s a little simpler. But either will serve you just fine.

So, Windows users … what’s holding you back?

Questions? You still have questions? I’m no geek or Linux guru, but if you’re serious about giving Linux a try and want the benefit of my ordinary user experience, I’ll do my best to answer in the comments section. And what I can’t answer, the more serious Linuxians among the blog readers probably will.

EDIT: One more thing. My ex-Significant-Sweetie (the serious Linux guru from whom I long ago caught the Linux bug) suggested I add a link to Goodbye Microsoft. If you frequent Wendy McElroy’s blog you’ll have seen links to GM. It’s the brainchild of her husband and co-blogger, Brad.

Claire Wolfe

A Pict Song

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Still need some bucking up after Sunday’s ObamaCare disaster? Well, here’s one small reminder that even we ignored and “powerless” individuals can — and will prevail.

Okay. Maybe not exactly in our most idealized way …

Claire Wolfe

Thinking today …

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

I’m thinking today about the next “big” piece I want to write (either for this blog or for the print edition of Backwoods Home). So I won’t have too much to say until my brain works that out.

The piece will be based on Albert Jay Nock’s concept of freedom lovers as something like the biblical “remnant,” expounded in his essay “Isaiah’s Job.”

If you follow that link, you’ll see that the copy of “Isaiah’s Job” I chose (there are copies all over the ‘Net) is on the site of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons — a damnfine group.

Nock’s classic is a good antidote to the “I’m losin’ my freedom blues,” so it seems appropriate today to find it on a freedom-loving doctors’ website. If things are soon to get terrible for the rest of us, doctors who care about freedom and their patients are going to suffer the most.

Anyhow, just a few links today, then I’m off to mull and ponder:

  • A doctor describes one of the most potentially dire provisions of Obamacare — one that’s never mentioned in all those mainstream articles on the “benefits” of the new insurance regime.
  • James Bovard, who just happens to be one of the nicest human beings on the planet, as well as a sharp & witty writer, has a census commentary today in the Christian Science Monitor. Jim used to be in the mainstream media a lot. But in the last decade or so, many mainstreamers have lacked the guts to publish him. Good to see you in one of the really big ones again, Jim.
  • Finally, thank you to G.W.F., who posted this very informative comment about Belize (and about guns in Central America) in a thread where I hoped, and still hope, to generate discussion about offshore options. I realize that going offshore isn’t for most people & I know some consider it merely running away. (I’m on the fence, myself). But you can bet our physicians, our entrepreneurs, and our upper-middle classes will be headed offshore in record numbers. So this is an important topic to keep on the agenda.
Claire Wolfe

Tuesday miscellany

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010
  • Declan McCullagh reveals everything we need to know — with links upon links upon links — about the alleged privacy of the census.
  • Heck, and I thought my zip-lining experience was spectacular! Okay, so this is how these kids get to school. Now, how do they get back?
  • Will wonders never cease? An on-duty cop is caught driving drunk — and gets treated like you or I would!
  • And, if you can stomach it, the Wall Street Journal sums up the political deals Pelosi and the Obamistas made in the last few days before the health care vote. So much for open government and no more backroom chicanery, eh?

But now, it’s back to real life. No matter what Our Glorious Leaders do to us, we go on living. Yeah, they make it harder every day, but it’s still our main job. So I’m going to get back to the main job of this blog, which is putting the emphasis on living free despite the bastards.

Still, it’s nice to know the occasional rock is being thrown …

Claire Wolfe


Sunday, March 21st, 2010

“Tonight’s vote is not a victory for any one party [Obama said] … It’s a victory for the American people, and it’s a victory for common sense.”

In a reference to his 2008 campaign slogan, Obama added, “This is what change looks like.”



In addition:

The magnificently astute Glenn Greenwald has a spot-on take on the new power of special-interest groups in the Obama establishment.

Why the largest health-care labor union so desperately lobbied for the Dreaded Law. (Hint: It had nothing to do with health. Or care.)

Finally, here’s the former director of the Congressional Budget Office looking beyond the budgetary jiggery-pokery to the real (short-term) cost of the health-care law.

Yeah. Like I said. Scary. But then, you knew that, didn’t you?



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