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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, 2011

Claire Wolfe

Cheap vs frugal

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

I’m going to be busy the next couple of days and might not have much for you. So I thought I’d throw out a question — or rather, repeat a question thrown out some time ago at the Balancing Beauty and Bedlam blog (love that name): Cheap vs frugal? Which is which?

It’s an old question, but ever-relevant — and not just because so many freedomistas are also frugalistas, bent on getting value for their FRNs and avoiding messy money entanglements.

It’s relevant to me in part because I grew up around somebody who believed himself to be frugal but who was in fact not just cheap but the classic “penny wise and pound foolish” — a person obsessed with price who never developed the slightest concept of value. The financial and emotional repercussions of that mindset can still make my head spin.

I would almost make a general rule: Being frugal helps you be free; being cheap makes you a slave to your own small mind.

Anyhow, Beauty and Bedlam takes a look at some actions: frugal or cheap — and how do you tell the difference?

Claire Wolfe

Emergency water purification:
Which would YOU take?

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Okay, preparedness pals. Another question for you.

Digging through my emergency supplies for just the right water filtration/purification gear for my revamped bug-out bag, I discover I’ve been excessively paranoid about clean water over the years. I have on hand six different tools for water treatment. Some will stay here among my bug-in supplies, but two will go with the grab-n-go kit.

Six portable water treatment/filtration options

I’ve tested all these on tap water (including the undrinkable tap water down at the Desert Hermitage). I’ve been too paranoid to risk my health for the sake of experiment by applying any of these to mountain streams, mud puddles or stagnant ponds. Still, I know which ones I’m most inclined to put in the emergency kit.

But just asking: which of the six would you take if these six were your only choices? Pick one or two and tell the world why.

From left to right:

1. Coughlan’s Water Tablets. Cheap, small, ultra-portable. Not tasty.

2. Potable Aqua Plus two-step system. Does what the Coughlan’s does, then neutralizes the icky taste.

3. Seychelle Pure Water Straw with advanced filter. Technically, this probably does the best filtration job — capable of handling not only giardia and cryptosporidium but viruses. Light. Portable. But has only one filter, no backup. Amazon link.

4. Aquamira Frontier Pro. Functions as a water straw so you can drink from any source. Also screws onto various standard water bottles. Light. Portable. Has multiple filters. But the filters aren’t as good as on the two Seychelle products. Amazon link.

5. Seychelle stainless steel filtering sports bottle. Has carry strap and lanyard. Lets me start off with a supply of water. Has only the regular filter (no virus protection). Amazon sells one with the advanced filter, but polypropylene, not stainless steel.

6. SteriPen Classic. The one I trust the most. Also has the greatest capacity. Uses ultraviolet light to sterilize. (Requires water to be reasonably clear, but I’ll carry coffee filters in any case.) Requires batteries. Pricy lithium batteries, to boot. But inspires confidence. Amazon carries the whole line of SteriPens and accessories.

So which would YOU put into the bug-out bag? And guys … no fair suggesting some super-whiz-whacker water filter that’s not listed above. I ain’t buyin’ another filtering/purification doodad, and that’s that!

Claire Wolfe

Lessons from fury

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

The other day I mentioned in passing that “official” maps of the danger zones around Mt. St. Helens were so misleading that they probably got people killed.

Indeed, I’ve learned since that they did. In fact, almost everybody killed in the 1980 eruption was in an area that government agencies had officially designated as “safe” — despite evidence to the contrary.

My comment came in a post about tsunami preparedness and “official” maps that I’ve chosen not to trust. First off, I want to say that I think “official” map makers usually do their honest best. But at best there’s a lot of guesswork involved. And before the map makers ever get their hands on the information, there can be a hell of a lot of politics in the decision-making about what’s safe and unsafe.

St. Helens, though it blew 31 years ago, offers an object lesson.

I went looking for the map I remembered. It showed a “red zone” immediately around the mountain — evacuation of residents, no admittance except by special permit) and a “blue zone” that stretched farther out (no admittance for tourists, hunters, etc. but residents could remain). The boundaries were moved several times, but they were fixed on April 25, more than three weeks before the fatal blast, and were made official by Governor Dixy Lee Ray on April 30.

I had seen that map only once before — years ago — in a Time-Life book. Expecting to find 100 copies of it online, I was surprised to find not one after half an hour’s search. I finally found it in another book. I’ve scanned and reproduced it below.

The oddness of the boundaries would immediately have struck anybody watching the pre-eruption developments on St. Helens with a critical eye. The “red zone” is strangely attenuated, hugging the mountain’s base on the northwest side. The “blue zone” is even stranger. It’s absolutely bassackwards. It stretches hugely toward the south and east and literally doesn’t exist on the northwest.

Yet where was the 400-foot bulge developing on St. Helens? The north side. And where did the famous 1978 report that first called attention to St. Helens say the worst damage from past eruptions had been? To the northwest.

And sure enough, the mountain, when it blew, aimed its worst straight into the zone “officially” defined as safe. The area of those oddly gerrymandered boundaries.

Mt. St. Helens map showing pre-eruption danger zones and actual effected areas

(Click to enlarge. Click again if you get only a thumbnail.)

The book where I re-found the map is an excellent, sometimes heartbreaking, 2005 retrospective on Mt. St. Helens by Frank Parchman. It’s called Echoes of Fury, and it traces the activities of survivors, scientists, a journalist, and a St. Helens trespasser from the days before the eruption through years afterward.

It also discloses why the map went straight from “danger!” to “safety” so abruptly on the most dangerous side.

The land there belonged to Weyerhaeuser, which lobbied hard against having its property declared off-limits. For reasons that may be in the eye of the beholder — politics, property rights, refusal to understand the danger, or sheer carelessness — government agencies obliged.

The “red zone” and “blue zone” boundaries were set by Washington state Department of Emergency Services bureaucrats and made official by Governor Ray after a series of U.S. Forest Service meetings. Both government and corporate interests participated in the discussions. We know that the north and northwest boundaries followed Weyerhaeuser property lines. We know that, in setting the boundaries, state officials ignored a threat assessment made by one of the authors of the 1978 report. But nobody will ever know exactly how the decision was made — because every record of those meetings disappeared within two days after the eruption. The Forest Service official in charge even denied records had ever been kept.

Nearly everybody who died in the St. Helens blast was on that “safe” Weyerhaeuser land.

I hesitate to fault Weyerhaeuser (though Parchman does, and vigorously) because I know the company and think pretty highly of it. In early 1980, nobody really knew how bad the danger was (a lateral blast, which ended up killing most victims, was possible and explicitly mentioned in the threat assessment, but it wasn’t predictable). And what company would want to lose millions of dollars on what might turn out to be a mere scare? And too, neither the state nor federal governments had any defined authority to shut off Weyerhaeuser lands.* Yes, in retrospect, Weyerhaeuser itself should have closed its roads to the public for the duration and posted about the dangers. The company should have been more upfront with its loggers, should have offered them the option to stay out of the area or receive hazardous-duty pay for working within it.

Still. Whether the land was open or closed, and no matter who owned it, government agencies claimed the responsibility, and had the ability, to warn that the greatest danger lay to the north and northwest. Instead, the state of Washington, with the compliance of several federal agencies, deliberately led the public to believe that area was “safe.” They left the roads open, posted no warnings, and … well, I’ll turn to Parchman for the insults that were added to the injuries.

Parchman tells a lot of sad, terrifying, and inspiring stories (and even some funny ones) in his book. But a few give a special glimpse into the cynical contempt of governments toward mere citizens:

  • Within two days of the eruption, both Washington governor Dixy Lee Ray and President Jimmy Carter had blamed the deaths on the victims: Both politicians said that’s what people could expect if they failed to heed warnings and were stupid enough to go into the danger zone. (Remember, virtually none of the victims were in the “official” danger zone. Of the three who died in the “red zone,” two were geologists, authorized to be there, and one, Harry Truman, was ironically not criticized for being foolish, but elevated to folk hero status and even got a song written about him.)
  • Long after the eruption, major publications continued to publish erroneous information, blaming the victims for being where they were. Books were published and are still on library shelves claiming that most of the dead not only disregarded vigorous government warnings but sneaked around barricades to put themselves and their children in danger. Clear into the 21st century families of the victims continued to have to fight for their loved ones’ reputations.
  • And why the persistent belief that the victims caused their own deaths? Because, both before and after the eruption, multiple government agencies repeatedly told the media that the red and blue danger zones completely encircled the mountain on all sides. “Twenty-mile red zone” encircling the mountain was the standard phrase. It was a lie. A Big Lie that officials went on telling for years.
  • Turns out the map I’ve remembered that showed the actual red and blue zones wasn’t published until after the fact. Those who could have analyzed the real boundaries (rather than the government’s deception) with skeptical or expert eyes — people who could have taken one look and sounded the warning — never got a chance to. Naturally millions went on assuming that the government had drawn a vast circle around the mountain, said, “Stay out!” and only fools rushed in.
  • The saddest fools, unfortunately, were those who trusted the government. Parchman relates one account of a family of four — parents and young children — merrily making their way on a weekend trip to St. Helens. Along the way, they chatted about how they really hoped to see the volcano erupt. When the children asked if it might be dangerous, the parents said oh no, they were only staying in the safe zone, not to worry. We know about this conversation because it was recorded on a cassette tape found in the car with their four dead bodies.
  • A filmmaking crew went into the blast zone a few days after the eruption. They got lost in the wasteland of ash. A sheriff’s deputy in a department helicopter spotted them. The chopper descended. The deputy stepped out. He gave them a citation for being in the “red zone.” Then he refused to give any help to find their way — and flew off. The filmmakers thought they were going to die. Fortunately, they were rescued two days later. And no, they were not in the “red zone” at all.

There were, of course, heroic efforts by both government and private rescuers. Helicopter pilots risked their lives. Sheriff’s deputies worked exhausting hours. Log truck drivers led lost motorists out of danger. Before and after the eruption, government scientists risked their lives (and some died) to study the volcano. But government-qua-government — government in its “official” bureaucratic and law-enforcement capacity — was a bitch. A heartless bitch with an utterly cynical attitude toward ordinary people — willing to let them die while washing its own filthy hands of any guilt. There’s no reason to expect anything better in a future disaster.

One more of the sad stories from Parchman’s book has nothing to do with government but has to do with the way preparedness plans can go fatally awry. Long after the eruption, a woman who had gone to the mountain with friends looking for the site of her brother’s death stumbled upon an extensive field of wrecked vehicles and machinery that had nothing to do with him — a truck ripped into four pieces, logging equipment mangled and tossed downhill. She connected with a logging contractor who had been searching for two of his workers. The equipment was his, the quartered truck theirs. When they all went back to the site together he ruefully told the woman they’d been aware of the danger. But they weren’t too worried because they had a plan. He pointed to one of the mangled machines and told her that if the mountain erupted, they’d planned to get “under there.”

Good book. I highly recommend it.


* “Private” forest roads are partly financed by the federal government, which requires timber companies to keep them open to the public (with certain restrictions) but also absolves the companies from legal liability for recreational use. In a freer country, all those “interests” who contributed to setting the zone boundaries might have left Weyerhaeuser lands open, but held the company responsible if it allowed the public into an area known to be dangerous; that option wasn’t available. But in any case nothing — but politics or neglect — could ever have stopped the government agencies in charge from designating those lands as a danger zone and publishing advisories.

Claire Wolfe

Monday morning data dump

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Stuff I’ve been saving up …

  • Thomas Jefferson’s bible. I used to have a copy of that. Might still be in the bookcase of my ex-Significant Sweetie.
  • Mmmmm. Pickled carrots. Another of my favorite things, but usually too expensive to buy at a store. Must try that recipe.
  • A so-far neglected discussion thread started by Rarick over at The Mental Militia forums has some definitely odd links “for the bored prepper.” Or non prepper. Definitely for gearheads. This one is supposed to repel dogs. But I think at least one of mine would think it was a dandy playtoy. And this one? Urk! But if you’re recently divorced and have money to spare, it might be for you.
  • Been meaning to blog the latest from the Gunowners’ Friend Chuckie Schumer. But Oliver beat me to it.
  • Still, it’s fun thinking how much stuff like this must upset poor, petulant little Chuckie.
  • And speaking of authoritarians … Geraldine Ferraro bites the dust. The MSM wants us to remember her for two related things: being a pioneering woman in politics and being the first woman ever to get an electoral college vote. The latter claim — even though it appears in some textbooks — ain’t so. That honor (if such it is) belongs to Libertarian Party VP candidate Tonie Nathan, a full 12 years before Ferraro’s run. My memory of Ferraro is something different. While listening to her giving her acceptance speech I realized the Dem party had moved away from its last vestiges of classic liberality. She was a plain old law-n-order control freaking authoritarian (the lawnorder part occurs in the last minute, and listen to the crowd roar in approval). Philosophical auntie to HRH Hillary. And the party ate it up — and still does.
  • Just in case you need even more news about how your cellphone might be tracking you. (NY Times free subscription link.)
  • Signs say cops keep out. Bit complicated, though.
  • The Honey Comb. Extremely cool personal grooming-and-security product. (Tip o’ hat to T.)

Claire Wolfe

Garage sales shall provide

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not exactly an optimist or a believer in positive thinking. But there is one area of my life where all I have to do is set something in my mind and I can be amazingly sure that serendipity will provide. I’m talking about garage sales.

I cannot believe the number of times I’ve fixed some item in my brain only to have it turn up at a garage sale within a few weeks — even if it’s an item I’ve never seen at a garage sale before. Really tough items might take six months or more. But If I need something and need to get it inexpensively … there it’ll be.

Case in point. This week I was working on my grab-n-go kit, and several people had made suggestions I wouldn’t otherwise have considered. Friday I spotted a SALE! sign, followed it and got:

Bug-out bag items from a garage sale

  • Wool blanket — $0.25
  • Rain suit — $0.50
  • Six bicycle hooks — $0.50 (for hanging the kit for earthquake stability)
  • Bag of candles — $0.50 (mostly for home prep, but some for the kit)
  • Rolling cart — $2.00 (not as good as the golf push-cart that was suggested; but hey, two bucks, and it’ll do to strap all my stuff together and make it mobile until some fabulous yuppie backpack turns up)
  • 14 assorted bungee cords — $1.00
  • Knee pads — $1.00 (not for the Bug-out bag, but I’ve wanted a set for household construction work)

I also scored this old sewing machine for $10, complete with all original accessories and case.

Vintage Pfaff sewing machine from garage sale

If you hunt garage sales you know that old sewing machines are plentiful and hard to move. Nobody’s much interested in them these days unless they’re really new, full-featured and dirt cheap. Or maybe antique, beautifully decorated Singers or something else with collector value. Even those often go for shamefully low prices. (I passed up a mint-condition beauty, complete with cabinet, for $75 a few months ago; had it been a treadle type I’d have bought it.)

But this is a Pfaff. And in my NSHO (that is, the opinion of somebody who rarely sews these days but who used to design and make all her own clothes), old metal Pfaffs and Whites (yes, made by the same people who built the big trucks, later made by Huskvarna) are the best electric sewing machines ever. (Here’s an eBay seller trying to get $300 for one, not in as good a condition or as complete as mine. Not likely to get anywhere near that.)

I brought it home, gave it a drink of oil, plugged it in, hit the foot control, and it purred like a satisfied tiger. Take a look inside. Is that a beautiful machine, or what? I think you can safely say, “They don’t make ‘em like that any more.”

Old Pfaff sewing machine with top off -- 2

Old Pfaff sewing machine with top off

Claire Wolfe

A different view on pink guns

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Though I groused about pink guns yesterday, Joel — who disagrees — has a point.

In fact, his view of guns as (gasp) fashion accessories in some less hoplophobic and less legislated future evoked an image of the cheerfully armed denizens of L. Neil Smith’s North American Confederacy. Now, I can easily see the ladies of The Probability Broach wearing sidearms in pink or purple or paisley or anything else they wanted. Very large, very scary-looking girly guns, but nevertheless, girly. (WolfSong makes a point about the virtue of girly guns, too.)

Still, in this world I’m not yet ready to change my mind. It’s not the pink guns I object to. Or glittery guns. Or guns with Hello Kitty emblems on them. As commentors pointed out, in a sense “girly guns” are no different than guy guns with fancy engraving or staghorn grips. And they’re definitely not as gross as these. Or these. Of course, people ought to be able to decorate their guns to their tastes, however good or bad anybody else might judge them.

It’s the marketing to women as if we were all brainless bimbos that bothers me. In that sense, pushing pink guns at us is a definite step up from the days when marketers expected us to believe our friends would sneer at us because our dishwashers left spots on our stemware. Or that only the right toothpaste could give us sex appeal. And a woman without either “sex appeal” or a good shirtwaist dress, pearl necklace, and high-heeled shoes to do her vacuuming and cooking in was a woman whose existence had no point.

Yes, it’s a step up from all that. But not big step. Not really.

Claire Wolfe

An actually useful use for “Color”

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

The ‘Net’s been abuzz the last few days over a new iPhone and Android app named Color. Mostly, people have been asking why some of the nation’s hottest venture capitalists would already have dropped $41 million into an app whose only purpose is the random sharing of photos with people who also have the app and happen to be taking pictures nearby. (This article says within 100 feet; I think it’s actually 150.) The thing is reportedly a bit clunky to use, too.

It works like this (from what I’ve read and seen so far; correct me if I’m wrong). If you’re within the specified distance of another photographer — anybody — complete stranger — and you both have Color and take pictures, they’re shared. (I’m not clear on whether photos are shared only among those who are actively taking photos, or whether anybody who has Color will receive the photos of others, whether taking his own pix or not.) My first thought was that the major investment in such a pointless (and potentially dangerous) app is a sure sign that the 2011 version of the bubble is about to pop. And maybe it is.

But aside from the possibilities for drunken partiers, industrial spies, and performance artists, I just realized there’s a brilliant possibility for Color, albeit probably not one that will make its backers the money they’re aiming for.

Where are dozens of people likely to be taking photos at the same time? Yeah, you got it. Someplace where police have decided to kick the cr*p out of some poor sucker or do something else violent and/or illegal. If Color catches on, their old trick of confiscating cameras and erasing the images won’t do them as much good. Because somebody at the edge of the crowd will have photos from the confiscated devices and will dash away with the evidence.

Now … if Color could do video instead of mere stills … OTOH, the effect of multiple people snapping stills at once could be as effective as video in showing what happened. Velly intellesting …

Claire Wolfe

Bug-out backpack recommendations, vacuum sealers

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

In the comments section on bug-out bag contents, several posters insisted that a backpack — not a suitcase or a rolling cart or a plastic tub — was absolutely essential equipment. While I’m not 1000 percent persuaded that absolutely everybody must have a backpack (and I don’t think anybody should allow lack of a backpack to stop them from assembling a kit), I can definitely see the point.

Commenter Adam Selene posed a question: “For those of you who advocate for backpacks, can you suggest any actual brands and models?”

I think it’s worth bringing that question up more visibly. And if you have a recommendation I’ll add: WHY would you choose that particular backpack? Price? Features? Capacity? Suitability for particular weather or terrain conditions? Suitability for use by people of different abilities or physiques? Make your best case for the backpack of your choice.


In that same comment section, Woody noted, “My first aid kit, clothing, blanket and other items that I’d like to remain dry are vacuum packed in food storage bags, using my kitchen vacuum packer. This keeps them dry and also compresses them to save space.”

I thought that was a brilliant solution both for dryness and compression. But those vacuum sealers are expensive! I was beginning to wonder whose I might be able to borrow when a local friend who read that comment emailed to say that her husband was so taken with the idea that he was headed out to buy a sealer — and I was welcome to use it. Is that cool, or what?

My friend and her family plan to use theirs to create “homemade MREs,” also. They live seriously in the local tsunami zone — in a spot considerably more troubling than mine — and like a lot of others after the quake in Japan, they’re taking a renewed and more serious look at their preps.



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