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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 November, 2010

Claire Wolfe

Not to OD on the bad news …

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Read this shocker in a “Mike Rogers column this morning:

We wrapped the packages and took them to the post office to send to the USA this morning. Alas, while at the post office, we were told that the US Department of Homeland Security has stated that there can be no more mailing of packages that weigh over 1 pound unless we can provide the Social Security number of the recipient.

Mike was trying to mail gifts from Tokyo to Arizona. Unable to get a simple gift into the U.S., he compared our country to North Korea or Japan in its pre-Perry isolationist period.

There’s so much damnable news about our freedom in the U.S. — particularly our freedom to travel or have other doings with the world outside our borders. What Mike Rogers said would be alarming, if true.

Turns out it is true. But only sort of. Fortunately we dodge the biggest bullet for now. After Googling fruitlessly for half an hour and trying to send an email to USPS customer service using an online form that is (are you surprised?) cleverly designed not to allow you to actually, you know, send the message, I found no new rule or regulation, either from the USPS or the DHS.

Here’s what I did find, finally. In a Japan Times article:

Those who plan on sending Christmas gifts to the United States this holiday season may want to think twice now that parcel delivery companies are restricting U.S.-bound mail at the behest of airlines complying with new U.S. counterterrorism measures.

The extent of the restrictions varies with each company, but U.S. aviation authorities are expected to maintain them for the time being, throwing a kink into the gift-giving season as 2010 prepares to wrap itself up. …

Japan Post Services Co. stopped accepting U.S.-bound airmail weighing 453 grams (1 pound) or more on Nov. 17. The restriction applies to parcels sent to the U.S. or its territories, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, but will not apply to parcels shipped by sea or by regular customers who use a service that allows them to pay for delivery afterward.

A Japan Post representative said the carrier delivers an average of 16 million parcels a year to the U.S. and that about 2.5 million of them, or 200,000 parcels per month, are expected to be affected by the new weight limit.

So it’s a tiny bit less alarming than Mike Rogers (one of my favorite, of many favorite, LRC writers) saw it. It’s not the Department of Homeland (Achtung!) Security preventing packages from reaching the U.S. It’s not a blanket restriction imposed by terrorist fiat. It’s a Japan Post decision — but of course it’s inspired by the recent package-bomb threat, coupled with ongoing hysteria and over-reaction by U.S. businesses, driven by the DHS.

Is the U.S. slowly closing itself off from the rest of the world, in paranoia and xenophobia? Yep. The noose tightens. But it’s not that tight. Yet. Those of us who like to order from international sellers on eBay can still get our cheap electronic junk from Hong Kong for a while yet, and our pretty tapestries from India. Your friends and relatives abroad may still be able to send Care packages through the U.S. iron curtain, if they’re clever and patient. It’s just a question of how. It’s just getting a leeeetle bit more difficult every day. It’s not impossible. Yet. And given the millions and billions of import dollars at stake, it probably won’t become impossible. For a while.

I used to fly into high dudgeon over every new rule, regulation, or law that threatened to restrict freedom. But you know, you just can’t keep that up without your blood pressure eventually popping. Your head will explode. Your brains will exit your ears and splatter all over innocent bystanders.

It’s hard to find the proper balance between righteous indignation and freedomista combativeness and downright paranoia about every new bit of news.

But it’s necessary. For both sanity and freedom.

Meantime, shame on the cowardly airlines and courier services. And shame on the DHS for keeping them cowed. We’ve already lost “the land of the free.” And — laughable and tragically — we sure ain’t “the home of the brave” any more.

Claire Wolfe

Monday miscellany

Monday, November 29th, 2010
  • Talk about government by the people! (Well, if you don’t count the quotas. And a few other things.) But then, this is Iceland. Which has historically had some interestingly anarchic ideas about law and social organization. (Tip o’ hat to Pat.)
  • Boy, I wish U.S. politicians had the gumption to tell it as straight as this. But every time one even gets close, the media jumps all over him about “civility” and the dumb sap apologizes. Somehow, I don’t think this guy is in any mood to say, “Sorry.” (Short video.)
  • One chart that says so much about the way things are. “Recovery,” indeed.
  • If you or I treated a dog this way, we’d be arrested. If you or I treated a police dog this way, we’d be convicted felons. Or possibly shot dead. But you see, it’s perfectly okay — even normal! — to do this to a police dog if you’re a cop. (Via Radley Balko)
  • Airport Speedos. Pretty damn funny that The Snoop Authority kept trying to get the guy to put more clothes on. So they could … you know, better look at his naked body.
  • Common sense on preparedness. Especially for the overwhelmed. Or the over-focused.
  • Awwww … thank you, Joel.
  • Guns and Weed: The Movie. Co-starring our own MamaLiberty. Well, isn’t that cool?
  • And this, too. Backwoods Home was about to stop accepting multi-year subscriptions because of the threat of inflation. Then Esteemed Publisher Dave got a bright idea: Subscriptions for silver.

BTW, autographed book sales end tomorrow. I’m placing an order today with Paladin Press for as many copies of Bad Attitude as I think I’m going to need. (Yep, ran out again!) So if you’re still planning on ordering, particularly if your order might include multiple copies of BA, best do it now.

Any orders placed now that include The Bad Attitude Guide to Good Citizenship should go out by the end of this week. And thank you all again. This has been the best book sale ever.

Claire Wolfe

Good neighbor/bad neighbor and
Emergency preps, cont’d.

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

It’s weird living in a neighborhood for the first time in so many years.

In the desert, the nearest neighbor was at least 1/2 mile away. But you knew everybody in a five-mile radius. When I lived in Cabin Sweet Cabin, there were no neighbors in sight, yet I knew everybody who lived on my road.

Here? Although I’ve spotted my next-door neighbor twice in three months, I wouldn’t know her if I ran into her off the block (and I have reasons not to want to know her). I’ve exchanged hellos and compared notes with a couple of dog walkers. And that’s about it. Partly it’s a matter of cultural or language barriers. This is an immigrant neighborhood. Women mostly smile at me shyly as we pass on the street but say nothing; men, especially the young ones, often look away when I say hello, as if that were the polite thing to do.

But mostly, it’s that I’m not going out of my way to make friends in the neighborhood and nobody’s going out of their way to make friends with me. It’s not like in the country, where you need to know each other. I’m acquainted with plenty of people in the town: animal rescue volunteers, local artists, merchants & such. The guys at the hardware store and I got on a quick first-name basis with each other.

Anyhow, I had my first “helpful neighbor” encounter this morning. One of the women I often see pushing a stroller along the street stopped me and asked, “Were you in your car at 5:00 this morning? Because the overhead light was on, and it was off a few minutes later. The windows were so frosted I couldn’t tell if anybody was inside. But I thought I should say something.”

I thanked her for the heads up. Told her I was definitely not in the car then. But the Xterra’s been having weird electrical problems and maybe this is a new manifestation of them. Said I’d check, though, to see if anything had been stolen or damaged. (Nothing had; back to the autoshop next week.)

I was grateful for the lookout from a lady who has up to now been too shy to speak to me. So that’s one point in the good-neighbor column. OTOH, the reason she was on the street at 5:00 a.m. is that she had just noticed she was completely out of baby formula. How on earth would she handle an emergency? So good neighbor or potential liability? You tell me.

—–

Her lack of preparedness goosed me into doing some emergency preps I’ve been lollygagging about. In some ways, I’m starting from scratch after having to leave some of my supplies in the desert. I’m focusing right now on the short term — specifically on preparing the garret room upstairs as an emergency retreat.

I’m figuring that the most likely short-term emergency here (beyond your basic storm-with-power-outage) is a flood — thus the upstairs retreat. But that room also has a large closet with storage shelves, so it’s just a convenient spot for staging many things prep-related. And the room is a good size to be comfortably heated with my backup (propane) heaters if the electric power goes out.

I’m still leaving duplicate stocks of everything downstairs, just in case I can’t get upstairs or the emergency isn’t one that requires a retreat.

During the October canned-food sale one of the local grocery stores, I bought several cases of foods that can either be easily prepared or eaten straight out of the can if need be (refries, canned fruit, milk). I put that up there. Now I’m in the process of moving up things like can openers, spare plates and utensils, paper towels, water, dog food (and dog crates in case I need to crate the dogs for an evacuation), etc. I have cots, a sleeping bag, blankets, flashlights, and other comfort items up there already.

Two important things I still need to get and stash upstairs: an emergency toilet and a fire-escape ladder.

I used to have a little chemical porta-potty that would be good for a few days — the sort of thing you might find in an RV. But it’s one of the left-behind-in-the-desert items. Now I want something cheaper, but still well beyond a mere bucket that would quickly become unendurable in close quarters. I’ll start looking online, but suggestions and links are welcome. Particularly from anybody who has actually had to use an emergency potty and knows from experience what works and what doesn’t.

The fire-escape ladder is another tricky item. Never having had a second story, it’s not something I’ve dealt with. But I’ve always heard that you want an emergency ladder that has short legs attached to the rungs so the legs press against the side of the house. That way the floppy roll-up ladder doesn’t just wave in the air or the rungs don’t press tightly against the wall and try to eject you as you climb down.

But that won’t work here. Those are mostly for climbing out of a window and going straight down a wall.

If I had to exit the upstairs in an emergency, first I’d go out the dormer window. That would put me on a short, but very steep and often rain-slick, section of roof. Then I’d have to drop to the ground from a part of the roof that has such a broad eave that no emergency ladder would have a chance of bracing itself against the side of the house. (Is that making sense?)

Every option I’ve considered that would give me both safe passage across the roof and a not-too-perilous drop to the ground is very expensive and/or difficult to maneuver in an emergency. (E.g. a fancy third-story ladder, regular extension ladder, or one of those multi-folding 12-foot ladders.)

Sure, in a really dire emergency, I could just jump and hope for the best. (Most likely I’ll have to toss dogs and cats off the roof, and if they can handle it, I guess I can.) But really … I’d rather not.

Thoughts? Again, voices of experience or special technical knowledge especially welcome.

Claire Wolfe

Shopping/E.T.

Friday, November 26th, 2010

Shopping? Shopping? Did somebody say it’s time to go shopping?

Well, I’m all for frugality, and these days most of my splurges occur at thrift stores or garage sales. But I do love me some online shopping via eBay or Amazon.com.

I get the impression from the comments section that a lot of you are in the same mode. Going to shop at Amazon.com this season? If you’ll use one of these links: Living Free or ClaireWolfe … you’ll be doing me a favor while not costing yourself one dime extra. Either link is good.

—–

Did anybody else watch E.T. yesterday? It’s a Thanksgiving tradition in these parts, but I’m not sure how that came to be or whether it’s widespread. Anyhow, I watched. Blubbered like a baby when those five bikes lifted into the air. As I do every year.

Claire Wolfe

Gratitude attitude

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

The story of Thanksgiving. (And those reportedly communistic Pilgrims.)

Thanksgiving is one of the few holidays I celebrate. So many holidays just feel like manipulation (You vill honor veterans! You must love your father. You’re going to consider this the start of the new year, even if the day doesn’t have the slightest astronomical significance.)

You could say that about Thanksgiving, too. (You should be grateful, damnit, even if life is in the proverbial handbasket!) But as a born-and-made pessimist, I welcome the reminder to uplift my thoughts. I fix the big dinner every year and share it with my dogs — for whom I’m very grateful. I’m thankful for a week’s worth of delicious leftovers (and no cooking).

And it’s true. Even if we are in that handbasket, we always have something to rejoice in.

So even if you’re reading this after the holiday … what are you thankful for this year? The comments section awaits …

—–

For me:

Dogs
New-old house
Roaring fire in the pellet stove
Freedomistas kicking ass
Friends
Readers (all of ‘em, but esp. the ones who share bright ideas and experiences and the ones who’ve made this season brighter by buying my books)
Internet
California dried apricots
Logging roads
Terry Pratchett Discworld books
Worcestershire sauce
The upstairs cat
A good, honest auto mechanic within walking distance of home
Netflix and great movie makers
Backwoods Home and all connected with it
The great people of Paladin Press and S.W.A.T. magazine

I could go on …

Claire Wolfe

The Curse of the 1-800 Number

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Okay, maybe it’s not scary enough to make a great horror film. But is there anybody else around here who trembles and quakes as I do at the prospect of trying to solve a problem when the only contact a company will allow you is the Dreaded 800 Number?

I’m not against 800 numbers in general. Obviously, they can be handy for signing up for a service, checking a balance, or asking a minor question. I’d rather do all that online, if I have to do it at all. But the 800 number is a quick and easy alternative for simple stuff.

But when something goes wrong … OMG.

Right now I’m dealing with a small matter involving a Big Famous Company. Really not a big deal. But one of their phone reps misled me in a way that caused some definite strife. It also cost the BFC money and time. There are only three possibilities: the sales rep was misinformed about company policies; the sales rep lied; or the company has policies that are All Screwed Up and the rep was just following them. I sent a certified letter a few weeks back explaining the situation, attaching documentation, and asking them to look into the situation.

Got a form letter in response. You know what it said, don’t you? If you’ve ever tried to deal with a BFC, you’ve seen this letter before. It says, “We sincerely want to help you with your problem. Please call our helpful Customer Care Representatives at 1-800 …”

In other words: Go talk to the very people who caused the problem — the people who have neither the ability nor the authority to do Thing One about the situation. In other words: Get freaking lost. We don’t give a rip.

I’ll drop the matter if I don’t get an answer to my second certified letter (this one mailed to the exec who ostensibly signed the form letter). As I said, it’s not a big deal and I’m not going to bash my brains against a wall over it.

But years ago I had a super, super serious problem with another BFC. Many thousands of dollars were at stake. When it first occurred, I made two calls to their “Helpful Customer Care Representatives” — calls that didn’t make a dent in the problem but did make me realize that a) the reps didn’t know or care how to fix the situation, and b) if the dispute were to escalate, I would have no paper trail to prove that I’d been trying to solve the problem or to document anything the company rep said to me. If I kept calling, the company could just deny, deny, deny.

For the next six months I fired letters at them, explaining the situation over and over. I sent the letters certified. I sent them to managers and executives by name. I explained why I was absolutely not going to deal with their 1-800 reps again, but I assured them of my willingness, my eagerness, to work with them on the problem if only they would respond to my letters. In the end, I even took to doing things like writing portions of the letters in purple crayon (because I had read that such tactics sometimes got attention when nothing else could).

That particular BFC never once directly answered me, not even with a form letter. But about twice a month, I would receive other form letters from them saying, “We’re SO sorry you’ve NEVER contacted us about this matter. We sincerely want to help solve this problem. Please call our Helpful Customer Care Representatives at 1-800 …”

And I would hopefully take the name from the signature line of the newest form letter, write a certified letter to that person … and ’round and ’round the un-merry-go-round would go.

Ever since then … well, I’d rather meet Freddie Krueger, Jason, and Chuckie together in a dark alley than have to try to solve a problem with any BFC in the world. I truly sympathize with that poor man who let his house go into foreclosure because his bank wouldn’t deal with him human-to-human over a wrongful $25 charge. His principled stubbornness may be unusual, but his plight is not.

For the company he attempted to reason with, it was either 1-800 reps — who typically gave no help — or lawyers.

1-800 numbers were set up as a convenience for both company and customer. That’s all they should be. Whoever decided to make them the only avenue for problem solving between customers and corporations was either insane or insanely rapacious — so eager to save a buck for the company that they didn’t — and don’t — notice that the costs (in both money and goodwill) of alienating customers eventually surpass any savings the “convenience” of ill-paid, poorly-informed, and often uncaring 1-800 rep offers.

Nothing against the reps themselves. Well, most of them. They’re in an impossible position. But come the revolution, the guy who decided that customers would be allowed to deal with companies solely via 1-800 numbers should go up against the wall. Right after IRS agents, ATF entrappers, TSA gropers, and parents who bring screaming children to nice restaurants.

Claire Wolfe

Tuesday miscellany

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010
  • Thirty-nine percent of the polled U.S. public appear to be terribly misinformed.
  • Don’t know whether this is true. But would anybody really be surprised if it were?
  • The radiation may not be the only health hazard.
  • Heh. So much for trust, but verify. Maybe they shoulda seen the signs.
  • Want a free gun? Pretty cool one, too.
  • All the systemic corruption of the U.S. financial system … all the horrendous harm bankers and regulators and the fed conspired to do to us ordinary working folks and our country. And who does the fedgov decide to go after??? OMG. Insider trading. Next to smoking pot, that’s got to be the non-crime of the century.
  • Story of a short sale.
  • Coyotes on the streets of Chicago. Real ones.
  • One thing that always amazes me is the total degree of not-getting-it-ness in the world. I’m not just talking about politics or liberty or whatever — but about the way we humans can filter anything through our own very strange filters until good ideas come out distorted beyond recognition. And beyond belief. Take this statement: “I’ve always heard you can’t change the world until you change yourself and who you are.” Wisdom, right? Common sense. A great place to begin an examined life. Now take a gawk at who said that and how wildly she twisted it.
  • Ah well. Some people really do get it. Here’s one: Stewart Rhodes. (Tip o’ Hat to Sam.)
Claire Wolfe

Monday musings

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Snowed yesterday. And again today. Between snows, it veered around between rain, freezing rain, sleet and whatnot. You folks in Minnesota, Colorado, or even Oklahoma might wonder why that’s news in late November. But this is in the coastal lowlands of the dreary-but-ever-moderate NorthWET. Snow here usually comes in December or later, if at all. And though it may fall heavily at 8:00 a.m., it’s melted by noon. This snow looks set to stay.

The forecasters all said we’re headed into a wet, cold winter thanks to a La Nina pattern.

Global warming, where are you when we need you?

—–

4WD’d it this morning to the vet to take my bully-boy, Robbie, for teeth-cleaning. The roads, with their lumpy, melted-and-refrozen snow, sounded like cornflakes crunching under the tires of my Xterra. Robbie was thrilled by the car ride until he learned where he was going — to the Evil Place of needles and torture.

Last time he was in, Evil Doctor gave him the blue-gloved TSA treatment. When she probed his anal glands he shrieked like a defeated Democrat and clawed so desperately at my arm that I still bear the mark two months later. Today Evil Doctor (who’s actually one of the nicest people around) told me Robbie “screamed like a chihuahua” when she inserted his IV.

Robbie’s one of those low-slung, broad-chested, muscular mutts of obvious bully heritage, with a broad head, jaws that could crack cement, and a swaggering attitude that keeps my girl-dogs in constant submission. He’s quick to growl at strange canines and put them in their place. But OMG! Let Robbie get so much as a scratch, and the drama rises to operatic levels. A foster dog once nipped a patch of fur out of his side (while he was preoccupied beating up one of her friends) and he spent the next two days sitting in a corner, silent, hollow-eyed, and waiting to die.

I write this not just to blather about my dogs (although that, too). But because Robbie’s personality almost makes me sympathize a little with human bullies. He’s the classic “can dish it out but can’t take it” guy. The absolute, stereotypical image of the cowardly bully. Eddie Haskell in a dog suit. And since he’s such an otherwise-innocent soul (and a total creampuff to all human beings, cats, and other animals), I begin to wonder if that’s really just the way bullies are made.

Maybe a cop who thinks it’s okay to kick your face in, but throws a hissy fit at the prospect of having a soap bubble touch his skin is just born that way. Maybe cops’ terror of soap bubbles, old men’s walkers, or the tips of people’s fingers is … just genetic.

You could almost feel sorry for guys like that. Except, of course, that they should never be put in authority over anybody or anything. Robbie. Trolling the streets as a law-enforcer. Now that’s a scary thought. “Touch my kibble and I’ll tase you, bro.”

—–

When the flap over TSA nude-o-scopes and grope-downs started, I honest-to-god thought it was going to be just another libertarian lost cause — barely to be mentioned in the mainstream. Even when the Boycott Flying Facebook page took off, I still thought it was Just Us.

When a couple of pretty-well-known and gutsy activists started WeWon’tFly.com and supported National Opt-Out Day, I still figured it was too little, too late, and that it would be another invisible libertarian effort. Who would have dreamed that, a week or so later, the whole grope-a-thon business, including Opt-Out Day, screaming three-year-olds, molested nuns, broken urine bags, and prosthetic-breast probings would be in the national news and the subject of dinner-table conversations among the most non-political of people?

Sure, there is still a lot of not-getting-itness in the mainstream news coverage and a lot of parroting of the straight government line and missing of the real point even in articles that pretend to acknowledge the problem. (That second article would, amusingly, have us believe that the TSA’s problem is just like the one Obama claims to have. The problem isn’t that they’re sexually assaulting folks, you see, or treating every airline customer as a terrorist. It’s that … well, the poor dears just haven’t explained themselves to us well enough. If they could just articulate how good for us it is when they grab our crotches, we’d thank them.)

But there’s some genuine getting-it. And so much more, besides.

There’s even a song. By a Grammy winner, yet. (You can listen for free. But he’d like you to buy a download in a very good cause: since he can’t fly commercial any more, he has to save up to buy a private jet.) (H/T Rocket Scientist)

And the very fact that government spokesthings have felt the need (repeatedly) to defend the policy and/or promise weak, cosmetic reforms … well, doesn’t that just speak volumes?

Could it be? Could it really be that American travelers have finally reached their line in the sand? Is it possible this could force real change — finally — in U.S. “security” policy?

Oh okay. That’s just too optimistic, I know. And for now, the usual remains the usual (H/T AlanR). But this whole thing has been amazing to watch.

 
 


 
 

 
 
 
 
 
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