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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 April, 2011

Claire Wolfe

Ya gotta be contrary

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Well, no. You don’t gotta be contrary. You could declare your undying intent to be absolutely normal and conformist, adhering to whatever the dictates of popular opinion, government schools, or Parade Sunday supplement … er, dictate. But around here, even that would be a form of being contrary. So maybe ya gotta be contrary, after all.

And in a second, I’ll get to some wherefores. But here’s what sparked my thinking about this.

This comment by Roxy came up in Oliver Del Signore’s blog about Obama’s new birth certificate:

I am sorry to see Backwoods Home getting into political commentary. I used to love you, but I will no longer be subscribing.

I thought that the purpose of your magazine was to get great information about homesteading and other like topics.

Sorry, but I get enough political opinions on venues where they belong.

I’m surprised somebody hasn’t said something like it on this blog, too. The dead-tree edition of BHM occasionally prints Roxy-like letters, which is kind of ironic, since BHM is actually a bit less political than it was a decade ago. Back then I nearly got my sorry butt canned when I wrote a print article opining that George W. Bush was worse than Clinton — and the article appeared in the print ‘zine just as the neocons had everybody pumped up in patriotic war fervor. I forget exactly which war Our Boys were Heroically Marching Into at the time. Iraq 2, I think. (Getting hard to keep track; so many wars, so little difference.) Some readers hotly objected to my disloyal article and Dave decided it was time to dial the political slant of BHM way back.

I feel lucky and sometimes amazed that Dave later invited me onto this blog and gave me free rein to opinionize. The Duffys and their staff have been terrific to me. I even agree with the decision to keep politics as a quiet background feature in the print ‘zine (not that my opinion matters one way or another), and I think Dave and John Silveira do an excellent job with their “kinder, gentler” articles and opinion columns.

But whether I’m the one expressing it or not, I’m damn glad the political viewpoint is there. And is now also (and sometimes more vehemently) in Oliver’s and my blogs.

While one part of me understands people who believe a publication about backwoods living should just stick to the howtos and forget the politics, I think — no, I know — that political awareness (and the skepticism and contempt for Authority that goes with it) is as crucial to self-reliant/backwoods living as a good well or a reliable 4WD vehicle.

Obviously, if you’ve been reading my stuff for a while, you know at some point I’m going to assert: “It’s all about capital-A Attitude.” So yes, it is. And let’s get that out of the way first thing.

If you’re going to “go back to the land” you’ll be headed in a contrarian direction, and either you already have Attitude or you’re going to need to develop it.

Attitude of persistence.

Attitude that says, “Screw what everybody else thinks; I’m going my own way.”

Attitude of creativity. Of frugality (probably). Attitude of … well, of many things.

One part of that Attitude is simply bound to be anti-authoritarian. Doesn’t matter if you come from “right” or “left” or libertarian or elsewhere on the vast and multidimensional political spectrum. Or if you have no politics at all. To do well in an independent life, you’ll either be or become contrarian. Which means you’ll learn that “established Authority” is 1) usually wrong, 2) unhelpful at best, and 3) downright likely to put roadblocks in your path.

We’re best prepared to deal with all that when we’re politically aware. And Attitudinal enough to push Authority aside.

Of course, it’s not just about Attitude. It’s also about information.

Pity the poor novice backwoodsperson who traipses blissfully off to Walden having no idea of things like this: that they can be raided by a SWAT team for selling raw milk; that they can go to federal prison for picking an eagle feather off the ground and using it for decoration; that ordinary activities around the homestead could be violations of the Environmental Protection Act; that they could be sued and ruined by a mega-agri-corp if patented seed from somebody else’s field cross-pollinates with their crops. And on and on and on.

Roxy’s comment was on a post about Barak Obama’s birth certificate. She might rightly object that that specific thing bears no direct relationship to a self-reliant backwoods life. (As I say, I’m not knocking Roxy or anybody else who’d rather not have the politics; I’m just disagreeing.) But the politics matter — as I suspect most readers here know — far beyond the specifics.

True, if you avoid politics in general, you might still pick up information about backwoods issues that directly affect you. A newsletter from the Farm Bureau might run a feature on the problems of selling raw milk, for instance. A speaker at the local Grange might alert you to Monsanto’s sue-happiness. But if you don’t look at politics in general, you’re not seeing the whole picture. It’s the blind men and the elephant again.

If all you hear is what directly affects you, it’s so easy to think of some terrible law or enforcement practice as an aberration. “My congressman must have made a mistake. Surely he didn’t mean to vote for something like that!” “Oh, it’s just a regulatory agency’s problem. Nobody really meant for things to turn out that way.”

Only when you see the pattern do you … well see the pattern. See the web, that is, that’s being politically woven to ensnare us all.

To live and think independently, it’s vital — absolutely essential — to perceive the pattern. To know the reality that surrounds you. To grok that “one bad law” isn’t just one bad law, isn’t just a mistake that can be corrected. You need to know that it is, on the contrary, part of an age-old pattern of Authority extending control — Authority invading every aspect of independent life like a noxious weed invades an untended field and chokes the life out of it.

You can’t fight weeds unless you understand their nature. You can’t build a house without knowing the structural properties of your materials. You can’t accurately shoot a marauding predator if you don’t know where its vital organs are. And you can’t be independent without perceiving and being prepared to deal with the kind of people and institutions who aim to control you.

So that’s why politics — IMNSHO — belongs in the BHM world and always will.

Once you’ve perceived the pattern, of course, the next challenge is how not to get overwhelmed by it — how to avoid giving up in hopeless despair — how not to get so fixated on political BS like Obama’s birth certificate or faux partisan arguments over which deck chairs would look best where on the Titanic that you forget to build a life. But we’ve addressed that here over and over and no doubt will do so again.

The main thing is that, only with the right combo of Attitude and information are you set to be effectively contrary. And ya gotta be contrary these days to live the backwoods life.

Claire Wolfe

Coming soon to an airport, border crossing, or government building near you

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Male and female x-ray images from Canon SecurePass

Meet the next generation of police-state scanners. Guess we can’t call ‘em porno-scanners any more, because they don’t show our private parts as much as the present ones do. Nope. They just probe our bones and internal organs and our prosthetics if we have ‘em. With x-rays. But totally “safe” x-rays, of course. How could you imagine otherwise, you unpatriotic little weasel? That you could even think such a thing obviously proves you have something to hide.

Guess all those expensive machines the TSA just bought will soon have to be replaced with new expensive machines. From the friendly company (a subset of it) that brings us all those nice cameras and printers — Canon. Machines that can detect “contraband” in our body cavities. Poor Michael Chertoff. Wonder which competing lobbyist will snag the cash this time?

And these shiny new devices are designed especially for use in airports, border crossings, government buildings and prisons. Don’t suppose anybody from Homeland (Achtung!) Security will see the irony in that, do you?

Claire Wolfe

Wednesday miscellany

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

And thank you for intelligent, tolerant, and often darned funny comments on Monday’s Rapture post. Occasionally I feel compelled (really compelled) to write something that wisdom says I really shouldn’t post here — something that’s too personal or that might egregiously offend. I post such pieces with trepidation, figuring I’m bound to get barbecued in the comments. Then the responses always turn out to be among the best.

Claire Wolfe

The Rapture. Redux.

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Ohdamn. Did everybody in the world know about this except me? Chris D. casually mentions that The Rapture is scheduled for May 21. Yes, this May 21. And here I am, not ready once again.

I missed the ones in 1844, 1914,1918, 1925, and 1942. But for those, I had the excuse of not being born. I also completely blew past the Raptures of 1975, 1981, 1988, 1989, 1992 (both of them), 1993, 1994 (both of them), and 1995. I had far less excuse for missing all those, especially since they were coming at a pretty regular clip, there toward the (you’ll pardon the expression) end.

Now next month there’s another opportunity to watch all the chosen people float blissfully into the sky while we rejects get stuck here on Earth. I’ll probably end up forgetting to watch that one, too. Ah well, at least I won’t have long to regret. The same guy who says The Rapture’s due on May 21 says the world will be destroyed by fire on October 21. Hm. Maybe there’s really something to that global warming theory, after all.

But wait. Wasn’t there supposed to be a Tribulation first? Or does that come after? I get so confused, and rightly so according to Wikipedia’s Rapture entry. Turns out there are Raptures set for pretribulation, mid-tribulation, post-tribulation, and (gulp!) pre-wrath. Not to mention partial Raptures in which only certain Christians get to go while those who don’t make the cut have to stay here with us rascals. No wonder I can’t keep track!

—–

It’s a wonder I’ve become so cavalier about The Latest Rapture. I remember the first time I ever heard of the concept. It was just about the most horrifying Truth any adult had ever told me.

My mother made me go to Sunday School every week when I was a kid. Neither she nor my father were churchgoers. Once a year on Easter for her; only once in my memory for him. But they knew how to use their bible when it came to child-rearing. I heard The One Commandment — “Honor thy Father and thy Mother” — thousands of times. I was aware that God was watching every move I made and filling an enormous book with black marks that would eventually Seal My Doom. And Mom, like millions of other parents, thought it was comforting to lead me through an every-bedtime prayer predicting I would die in my sleep.

And every Sunday morning she sent me off to serve what (she made unintentionally clear) amounted to a sentence every child had to serve. (As if 12 years in public government school weren’t enough!) Mostly I’d just walk to whatever standard-brand Protestant church was nearby — Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, no matter. All were equally dull.

Then the year I was seven, the nice Beall family down the block offered to drive me every week to their church across town. And for the next two years, Sunday School and church ceased to be boring — and became terrifying.

If I was pretty sure I was Doomed By a Wrathful God before, between seven and nine it became A Fact. I won’t go into all that church taught. But that’s where I first learned that soon — very soon, could be any day now — all the good people would suddenly disappear, leaving only us rotters.

This was scarier than monsters in the closet. Scarier even than that book with all the black marks in it. People — including probably my own mother and father — were just going to disappear, leaving the rest of us not knowing what the heck was going on. There’s nothing more terrifying to a little kid than the thought of parents dying. Or so I thought. The notion of parents simply disappearing was way, way worse.

And God was going to do it. He couldn’t even wait until us bad people were dead before punishing us. He was going to start while we were still alive.

The day the Sunday School teacher gave us that cheery news, I felt desperate to get home. I was relieved to find my family still intact. But for years I kept expecting it to happen at any moment — whosh! — all the good ones gone. Me and the rest of the bad people left waiting for Wrath. (The concept of pre-Wrath would never have occurred to me, though; I assumed Wrath was God’s permanent state of being and he was just busy smiting elsewhere at any given moment.)

I’m sure I never told my mother what I was learning at that church or how it scared and confused me. She always thought I was “too imaginative” (as if I could simply slice my imagination out if it became inconvenient) and she usually laughed at my fears. So I just kept the constant assault of strange and scary “truths” to myself.

The torment finally ended one Sunday when the Bealls, without saying anything to my parents, decided to stay after church for a special speaker. So following Sunday School, I trooped into the sanctuary with them and sat through two hours of pure weirdness. I don’t recall the topic, but the speaker was a woman (from the mission field, I believe), and I do recall — vividly — that she ran up and down the aisles of the church screaming, screaming, screaming and literally tearing at her hair as I cowered in a pew. (I specifically remember the hair-tearing because it’s the only time in my life I ever saw anybody actually enact that old expression. And that broad did it with vigor.)

When the Bealls dropped me off at home, it was midafternoon. I had a terrible headache and an upset stomach. I don’t know whether Mom finally realized the church wasn’t quite what she imagined. Maybe she was just mad at the Bealls for not getting me home at the usual time. But after that I never had to go to the Bealls’ church again, and pretty soon Mom quit caring whether I went at all.

So that was to the good. But later I wondered, if there’s a God of Love as my more enlightened Christian friends claim, why is it perfectly okay with Him that His followers use Him to crush the spirits of little children? Well, considering some of the other things adults do to children, turning God into a boogyman is surely one of the lesser offenses — but it’s one that leaves the poor child with nowhere to turn for comfort. If adults are hostile and God a trillion times moreso, one has only the cold comfort of one’s own small self.

But that was a long time ago. Raptures now come and go without me even noticing. That’s a relief. And learning to trust myself and distrust even the Highest Authorities did turn out to be one of life’s most valuable lessons.

Claire Wolfe

Readers write

Sunday, April 24th, 2011

A few choice items mined from comments and emails from blog readers:

Pedophile TSA agent Thomas Gordon

And on a very different note … Oliver offers more reverance than I. Happy Easter and blessings to all.

Claire Wolfe

The strange phenomenon of deathbed confessions

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

One of the first things Jimmy Hoffa said to Frank Sheeran was, “I heard you paint houses.”

Sheeran replied, “I do my own carpentry, too.”

The exchange had nothing to do with paintbrushes or wood. According to a book-length confession from Sheeran at the end of his life, “painting houses” is mob-speak for murder (“painting” walls with victims’ blood) and “carpentry” is disposing of bodies (building coffins — although I presume that hit squads usually dispense with that nicety).

Hoffa apparently needed an occasional painting job, which, over the following years, Sheeran may have provided. Sheeran became a Hoffa loyalist and a key connection between unions and gangsters, as well as one of only two non-Italians identified by the FBI as being a top mob official.

So it’s ironic that, as he faded into wheelchair and nursing-home days, Sheeran gave a detailed confession to writer Charles Brandt about how he “painted” a house in Detroit with Hoffa’s blood and brains on orders from other mobsters.

In addition to confessing to a writer, Sheeran — raised devoutly Catholic — also unloaded his story on a priest.

—–

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I wanted to write about deathbed confessions. Just as I was reading about Sheeran, Connick v. Thompson hit the news. That case was moved along, in part, by a deathbed confession by a prosecutor, Gerry Deegan.

He told a DA-office colleague, Mike Riehlmann, that he had hidden evidence of Thompson’s innocence. Riehlmann didn’t come forward until years later, when Thompson’s own lawyers had begun to unravel the prosecution’s case.

Unfortunately, Connick v Thompson ended with the U.S. Supreme Court saying, “No problem. Hey, what’s a little official corruption between colleagues?” So after years of struggle (and 18 years in prison, 14 of it on death row, for the innocent Mr. Thompson), Deegan’s deathbed confession was not as much a blessing for Thompson as it should have been.

I don’t know whether Gerry Deegan also talked with a priest. But if he seriously regretted his corruption, you’ve got to wonder why he didn’t confess to, say, an investigative reporter. Or a representative from the ACLU or the Innocence Project. Mike Riehlmann might be a sterling fellow (though given his inaction, I doubt it). But surely Deegan knew Riehlmann, a colleague in a corrupt system, wasn’t motivated to take up a crusade on behalf of some poor black guy on death row against his own employer.

—–

Deegan and Sheeran, that pair of confessing Irishmen, got me on this subject. Having never been on my own deathbed and having never been at the scene of somebody else’s last-gasp confession, I don’t have any voice of experience. But I can think of only four reasons someone would make a deathbed confession:

  • To “get right” with God in an attempt to avoid hell *
  • To get the feeling of guilt off one’s own chest even when it’s impossible to right the old wrong
  • To have a last laugh (“Ha ha! Those smart cops never figured out that I killed Roger Rabbit!”)
  • To give information that the living can actually use to right a wrong

I don’t know Deegan’s motivation, but Frank Sheeran, after spending a lifetime casually murdering people, hoped for a “get out of hell free” pass from The Almighty. As (according to that bastion of journalistic integrity, The National Enquirer) did another Irish-American scoundrel. Ted Kennedy not only assumed an “in” with God, but if the report is true, he actually wanted to get up there and say, “Hey, Mary Jo, really sorry about leaving you to asphyxiate over agonizing hours in that air pocket while I concocted a cover story to save My Fabulous Kennedyness. Thanks for not having any hard feelings.”

One reason I put off writing on this subject is that I didn’t want to offend anybody’s religious sensibilities. I have never understood why God reputedly wants the company of the Kennedys and Sheerans of the world while cheerfully stewing the Gandhis, the Buddhas, and the ordinary skeptical Joes and Josephines for several quadrillion years in vats of political speeches.

I can only say that, on the extreme outside chance that I ever make it to heaven … um, please don’t put me on the same cloud with Teddy and Frank.

—–

The second and third reasons for death-bed confessions are personal and I really don’t have anything to say about them. To each his own. The fourth reason — to try to right a wrong — is the one that strikes me as being related to freedom (and that’s what this blog is supposed to be about, though you’ve probably noticed I’ve never let irrelevance stop me before).

While Teddy and Frank had no way of undoing the harms they committed, Deegan (whatever other motivation he might have had) actually did have the ability to mitigate the harm he did to John Thompson. Since Deegan was already dying and was a government actor walled in immunities, there’s not a chance he would ever have paid any earthly price for his role in sending Thompson to prison. So you have to wonder: Why did he choose the most obviously ineffective way to get the word out? Why didn’t he tell reporters or defenders?

I wasn’t there. I don’t know. But at a guess I’d have to say he didn’t really give a damn about poor, suffering Thompson — not even at the very end. He could have done something to right the wrong — something loud, clear, and public. He did just do something to make himself feel better without actually taking any responsibility. Sort of like Janet Reno after Waco.

—–

As I say, I have no personal experience of deathbed confessions. The closest I came was listening to my grandmother, who faded away when I was a child. As she lay in bed in her last weeks, that blameless soul who had never done anything but bear more children and more responsibility than any one woman should have, fretted and muttered about her life’s omissions. Urgently, she would grab the arm of her caretaking daughter and say, “Don’t forget to tell Mattie about the spring house.” Or, “Be sure to give that watch to Carol.” But Mattie was long dead and nobody could remember anybody named Carol and what watch and what spring house nobody ever knew.

So maybe there’s just something about reaching the end that does that to a person.

I understand the need to be able to rid ourselves of guilty acts whose consequences we can’t undo. Without some easy “out” we might just end up so burdened with past regrets that we can’t function. (Or worse, we might say, “To heck with it; I’m already doomed. Might as well go out with a nice, violent bang.”) But if we have the ability to right a wrong — or even partially undo it — I don’t understand why any person of integrity would wait until it’s too late to take real responsibility for it. Let alone why anybody would then “confess” in a way that guarantees the wrong will go on. And on.

Unless it’s just as George Bernard Shaw said.

—–

* Yes, I know the idea is actually not to confess out of fear, but to out of last-minute love of God and sincere repentance. But I don’t think many deathbed confessors manage that. Frank Sheeran, for one, seemed — at most! — to have mild regrets at killing his friend Hoffa (and many excuses about how it was really Hoffa’s fault and how he, Sheeran, didn’t have any choice). Even at the end, he seemed to take considerable pride in the efficiency of his other hits and suffer not a twinge of conscience.

—–

Sorry for the slow blogging and for what some of you might think is a pointless post. The lack of blogitude is house-related. I had to speed up some DIY work these last few days to get a project ready for its professional finishing touches. (Photos later, I hope.) If this post is pointless, well I guess that’s in the eye of the beholder. It was one of those things I had to write.

Claire Wolfe

iPhone, iPad, iSpy

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Are you one of the 100 million iPhone users? One of the 15 million iPad owners?

Might want to reconsider.

And if you read through to the second half of this FoxNews article — to the part about the handy-dandy police tool, Cellebrite UFED, which is designed to let cops suck up all your cellphone data in minutes, with or without warrant — you might just want to toss your iThing into a swamp and hope a gator swallows it.

Is there a technology company left on the planet that has one iota, one smidgen, one molecule of regard for its customers’ privacy?

Why, Apple? Why would you have done this to your paying customers for the last 10 months — and not only fail to ask their permission, but fail to inform them? Who’s your real customer, Apple? Who are you actually working for while the naive public pays the bill?

Claire Wolfe

Wednesday miscellany

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011
  • World ended yesterday. Hm. Didja notice? I didn’t.
  • Well then. Since we still appear to be here: ten everyday acts of resistance that changed the world.
  • Ten incredibly cool homemade toys you could really hurt yourself with.
  • The feds are moving Bradley Manning to Leavenworth. Where he might get slightly better conditions. We can hope. But notice the use of that word “detained.” Is it just me, or are the uses of “detained” getting creepier by the day? Didn’t there used to be a connotation of “slightly inconvenienced, momentarily delayed”? Now it’s getting closer to meaning “disappeared without a trace into some freaking dank, spider-filled dungeon out of an old movie with no more due process than Evil Prince John or Edward Longshanks would have given his worst enemy.”
  • P.J. O’Rourke didn’t like Atlas Shrugged, either. But at least he was witty about it.
 
 


 
 

 
 
 
 
 
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