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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, 2011

Claire Wolfe

That damned Joel

Monday, November 21st, 2011

That damned Joel. He’s done it again. He beat me to reviewing J.D. Tuccille’s new novel High Desert Barbecue.

He has a habit of doing things like that.

Years ago, when The Mental Militia forums were still The Claire Files, I started noticing this person.

He went by the handle “John DeWitt” then (an obscure literary reference, I gather). And the thing I noticed about him was this: Every time I felt the urge to make some particularly incisive and witty response to somebody else on the forum, I would scan further down the thread and discover that this “DeWitt” person had already said exactly what I was going to say. Only better.

I knew I just had to meet this guy who had the seeming ability to extract thoughts from my brain and apply good editing skills to them. Eventually we did meet at a gathering in the desert. Turned out we had almost nothing in common. He had not a word to say when I was around. I got the impression he basically couldn’t stand me, and I considered him a cipher.

Eventually, that worked out and we became trailer-neighbors for a time in the high desert. Good neighbors. But we remain very different people. He’s a crotchety, socially maladept hermit who lives alone by choice with dogs and a cat and I’m … Oh. Yeah. Um. Well, I’m female.

Still, as writers, we tend to think alike. So go read Joel’s review of High Desert Barbecue. Because he says very much what I was about to say (good book, flawed but still one to buy and have fun with). And — as usual — he says it with the incisiveness and wit with which he has always had that annoying habit of pre-empting me.

I’ll have more on the book tomorrow or Wednesday. Because I really do have a few more thoughts on the subject that Joel hasn’t already sneakily extracted from my brain.

Claire Wolfe

Catching up

Monday, November 21st, 2011

I apologize. Between being busy and having computer troubles, I’ve been among the missing. Both the busy-ness and the estrangenesss are likely to continue for a week or so, but I’ll try to be better about the blogging.

In the meantime …


The thing I’m most busy with right now is an assignment from Backwoods Home. Not writing, but art. I’ve been doing small article illustrations for them for a few months. I knew that someday — probably a few years down the road — they’d ask me to try doing a cover, a much bigger deal.

Don Childers, who’s been their artist since the ‘zine started in 1989, is still the main guy for covers, so I figured I had lots of time to practice painting meadows and cabins and cows.

Then they gave me the assignment. Very suddenly. And guess the topic.

The end of the world.

Yep. End of the world. And not a cow in sight.


Still, I’m grateful for the opportunity. And this being the week to stress gratitude, we can all be extremely grateful that we are not this woman and have had no dealings with her.

We can be grateful that this woman hasn’t been arrested. Yet. (Though we can be sure the local cops are trying to find some crime in her usurpation of their Authoritah.)

We can be grateful that the mainstream media is sometimes as amusing as The Onion.


But seriously. About gratitude. On the road to personal secession and becoming becoming our most interesting selves, we witness so much pain and sometimes feel so much hopeless rage that it’s hard to remember that one part of being free is to be damn glad of what we’ve got (even if it’s only clear vision and principles) and of who we’re becoming.

I mean, really, what is the point of our hard-won individual freedom if all we do with it is struggle, fret, and bitch? So PT sends a pair of timely links that make good reading this week: A grateful heart is good for the soul, and here’s how to grow a grinch-heart to proper size.


Finally, I’ve been saving up these links intending to write a blog on why failure can be a great and welcome thing. But since I’m slow getting around to that, here they are:

J.K. Rowling’s 2008 Harvard commencement address on the fringe benefits of failure and the value of imagination. It’s marvelous.

Which means, of course, that it didn’t have enough gravitas for some.

Claire Wolfe

One from Jake

Friday, November 18th, 2011

One from Jake this week.


And sorry there hasn’t been more from me! It felt good to take a couple of days off for house projects and artwork. But when I went to return to the real world, my computer had gone all wonky. While I was dealing with that, the main email servers I use went down.

Email is back up now. New used ThinkPad is on its way from eBay. And the brain is cranking. More soon …

Claire Wolfe

Freedom tomorrow

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Sometimes when I write about freeing ourselves rather than joining mass movements or flinging ourselves into political campaigns, somebody will accuse me of being nihilistic or advocating me-me-me values.

If you’ve been around long enough, you know that’s not the point. The point is, of course, that true freedom can only arise from within the individual and spread from there. All “political” solutions are just band-aids on a wound if we’re not prepared to live free, to accord equal rights of freedom to our neighbors, and to personally oppose tyranny.

Still, it’s understandable that people who’ve always thought of freedom only in terms of mass action miss that point. After the recent blog, “Occupy Your Ownself,” that notion came up again.

I hate repeating myself, though after 15 years of doing what I do, I understand it’s a necessity. In this case, though, I stumbled upon an old Backwoods Home article that says some things that bear repeating.

I found it in one of the ancient issues of BHM that came with the house I bought last year. It wasn’t online and I had long ago lost any e-copy on my computer. Fortunately, webmaster Oliver keeps everything. And he kindly put it online for me a couple of days ago. He even took the initiative to add a good collection of links (thank you, Oliver).

So here is the first article I wrote for BHM after 9-11: “Freedom Tomorrow.”

It’s dated now, of course. But it’s still a pretty good statement on how the act of living free can build freedom in the broader sense.


I’m going to take the next day or two off from work-work and blogging. I’ll be doing some projects around the house and hopefully also finishing J.D. Tuccille’s new novel High Desert Barbecue, which he was kind enough to send me in a really beautiful trade paperback form. It’s a terrific read so far and I’ll have more to say once I can finally make time to finish it.

Claire Wolfe

Monday miscellany

Monday, November 14th, 2011
Claire Wolfe

Anybody want a website?

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

Early this year I used a wonderful Christmas gift to buy a lively, colorful template and a domain name, and I set about building what I hoped would be a freedomista portal — sort of a daily starting place for all things to do with living free.

I was going great guns on the project until I ran into a couple of tiny coding issues. The young man I hired to help took nearly two months to do the hour or so’s worth of work (couldn’t fire him; he was a friend’s son; and to his credit when it was all over he refused to charge me). Anyhow, by the time I could get back to the site … fizzle. I had run out of steam.

All year I’ve promised myself I’d finish the project and get the site online. But now the hosting company tells me my free year is running out and this morning I had to face the reality: I am never going to do this on my own.

In addition to the fizzlement, the fact is that any such site these days has to include a social networking component, and I’m about as interested in social networking as I am in running for president.

I had hoped that the site would be a fun place to gather — both for experienced freedomistas and for newbies seeking resources. I had also hoped it could generate a few hundred dollars a month from advertising, Amazon links, and various other vendor deals. But with me alone, it’s not going to do any of that.

So … would anybody be interested in “adopting” a freedomista site? I’m open to various arrangements, from ones that kick me clean out the door to ones in which I play a subsidiary role.

If you’re interested and have either coding skills or marketing skills (or, amazing thing, both), let’s talk. And you have the enthusiasm to make it happen, of course. You can drop an email to me here: freedomsite at hermit dot cotse dot net. I can show you the work in progress (it’s online, just not publicly accessible) and tell you more about what I had in mind. If you’re still interested and I think you can bring to the site what it needs, we can talk business.

Claire Wolfe

Three from Jake

Friday, November 11th, 2011

Chapter 47, 48, and 49 of The Advisor.

Claire Wolfe

Eating out of the gutter

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

but in the healthiest way.

That story about an innovative gardener comes from Alaska. Which reminds me … has anybody heard from Kevin Wilmeth lately? They had that beast of a storm up there and I wonder how he and any other more-or-less coastal Alaska readers are doing.

Claire Wolfe

Christmas trees — the response

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

I received a response this morning from Betty Malone, one of the tree farmers behind the petition for the new federal Christmas tree board. I promised you guys I’d post anything substantive I received from the NCTA and I promised Betty that I would post her email without edits or editorial comment.

It goes without saying that most folks here will agree to disagree with the NCTA and Betty, but she gives a great presentation for her point of view and I expect disagreements will be expressed in the usual thoughtful style.

Everything that follows is from Betty Malone:

Dear Clair,

Rick Dungey from the National Christmas Tree Association asked me to respond to your questions. We are a small Christmas tree farm in the foothills of the Oregon Coast Range. We are primarily wholesalers, but have been retailers and now also have a small choose and cut operation. Our soils are suited to growing Christmas trees and not much else. My husband and I have been in Christmas tress since 1972.

A check-off is a program where commodity groups can help themselves to better their industry. A couple of the longest running ones are cotton and beef. They formed because there were incredible challenges in their industries that no one state or company could answer. When I was in high school, Sunday nights were spent ironing clothes for the next week at school. The cotton check-off paid for the research that made permanent press cotton fabric possible. Do you remember how cotton clothes used to fade? The Cotton Check-off paid for the research that paid for that, too. The cotton check-off was formed because their industry was being overwhelmed by polyester fabric that didn’t fade and didn’t wrinkle.

But by working together, the industries such as cotton, could pool their resources and speak with one voice. The assessment that is made is self-imposed funding by the industry itself to help itself. The monies are collected, the program designed and run by an industry board. Taxes are monies collected by the government for use by the government. Monies collected by check-offs go directly to the check-off to be used for research and promotion for that industry alone.

We petitioned the USDA as is our right under the First Amendment to the Constitution. We asked them to allow us to create a program that they would then provide the oversight, that the industry pays for. It is revenue neutral to the government. The government doesn’t get any of the money, but the industry has to pay for the oversight.

We did not do this lightly. It is a serious thing we were asking. The oversight is a good thing. A check-off is audited annually. The check-off boards must set goals to be met by the program. Every 5 or so years an econometric study must be done that tells whether or not those goals are met. If those goals are not met, the program folds. The USDA makes sure that money is used for what it is supposed to be used for.

A group of us growers and importers started 3.5 years ago in April of 2008 to study other commodities that have tried these programs. We focused on commodities that were similar in size: blueberries, mangoes, watermelons, sorghum and several others. We conducted facilitated sessions in the four top growing areas of the country. By now there have been at least 100 meetings across the country at state and national Christmas tree meetings discussing the check-off.

You asked how we can guarantee that the assessment would not be passed on to the consumer. We can’t guarantee that. Each grower will make that decision. We are primarily wholesalers. In 2008 I contacted all our buyers, mostly retailers, and asked them how would they feel about this kind of promotion program and the assessment. They were all supportive and excited to get the kind of help in the market place that the check-off could supply. Some offered to pay the whole thing, some offered to split the cost, should it come into being.

Farmers know dirt. We know how to grow things. But in this changing world is it not enough to grow a great product. We have to let people know about our product. That takes time, coordination and money.

Nothing prevents farmers from pooling their resources without the USDA. In the last 20 years there have two very strong voluntary programs initiated by the industry that raised nearly a million dollars each. We have found, as every industry we studied found, that voluntary programs have a life of about 3 years. The volunteers running the program and paying into the program burn out. Everyone in the industry benefits, but only a few carry the burden. These two programs had great impact on our industry’s ability to promote our product. We know promotion and research work. We have to do it as an industry to survive. A check-off is fair, equitable and can supply sustainable monies.

Clair, thanks for your questions. Please let me know if you have others.

Betty Malone
Sunrise Tree Farm

ADDED: Silver gives a point-by-point response to Ms. Malone on his blog at the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Claire Wolfe

Merry Christmas, George Orwell

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

I’m not sure why yesterday’s Christmas tree tax story struck such a chord (with me and everybody else in the blogosphere, apparently). I mean, it’s a $0.15 tax on something you buy once a year. What’s the big deal?*

A new USDA program would be set up and the secretary of agriculture would appoint a board to oversee promotion of live Christmas trees. That’s a PITA. But hey, what’s one more government program and 18 more pages of regulation among so many? “Got Milk?,” “Pork: The Other White Meat,” and “Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner” (among others) are already imposed via government regulations and taxes and we’re not exactly dying or going bankrupt or being sent to labor camps because of them.

In part I’m sure the fascination just came from the colossal ham-handedness of the Obama administration. Seriously, people. Putting a tax on Christmas when we’re in the fourth year of the Great Recession? Then going OOPSIE! and un-putting the tax until January? Does this administration never consider how its decisions are going to look to the rest of us? Does it never think things out in advance?

Still, when you consider everything from ObamaCare to assassinations of American citizens without a hint of due process, paying a nickel and a dime more for a tree … well, it pales.

Nevertheless, the whole business had a peculiarly bad smell about it — and it’s a stench that a certain Mr. Orwell would have sniffed out in an instant.

I’m far from being an investigative reporter, but when I learned that there is actually an organization called the National Christmas Tree Association and that some of its members initiated this idea of getting the government to force their members to pay for advertising, I just had to ask some questions.

I was surprised to get a response — and a fairly fast one — from the NCTA’s PR guy. I have to say kudos for his responsiveness; yesterday must not have been the easiest day for anybody associated with that tax-on-Christmas fiasco. He sent along an industry statement and even cc’d my email to one of the growers who most vigorously promoted the plan in case she wanted to answer my question about why — if this is something the tree farmers themselves want, they don’t just band together, raise the money and promote away. I haven’t heard from that lady yet and don’t know whether I will.

In my email, I called the new, mandatory fee a tax. The PR man responded (caps and punctuation his): “It is NOT A TAX Claire. It is a checkoff program like many other crops have. It is simply an effort by farmers to pool their dollars to promote their crop and fund research. IT HAS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with taxes.”

I’ve heard the term “checkoff” in these contexts before. But I never gave two seconds’ thought to what it meant. Sounds voluntary, though, doesn’t it?

And sure enough, when I went to the National Agricultural Law Center, here’s what they had to say:

Checkoff programs, also referred to as research and promotion programs, promote and provide research and information for a particular agricultural commodity without reference to specific producers or brands. The term “checkoff” is derived from programs that were not mandatory; producers marked a checkoff box if they wished to contribute to the program. Mandatory programs do not have such forms, but the name has remained.

So there you have it. A voluntary act was turned into a mandatory one, but the name was kept. Sounded better, apparently.

Just like it’s supposed to sound better when the IRS tells you that paying income tax is voluntary, even though they’ll hurt you if you don’t do it. Just like it’s supposed to sound better to be detained than arrested, even though these days being “detained” can put you in durance vile for years without charges.

But that’s getting off the topic. The point is: everything is okay because it’s a checkoff and not a tax!

The .pdf position statement the PR guy sent along also states, in bold, “The program is not expected to have any impact on the final price consumers pay for their Christmas tree.”

Yeah, I know it’s only $0.15. But has there ever been an instance in the course of all human history when the costs of taxes and regulations have not eventually been passed along to the customer? Why lie about it?

Then there’s the matter of the new government-appointed board-to-be. The position statement refers to them as “… an independent 12-member board of small business owners who grow and sell farm-grown Christmas trees.” Well, since we’re talking Christmas trees, not huge industrial operations, maybe they really will be small business people — before they’re appointed to the board. But as The Ethicurian points out, it’s typical for the biggest producers, the ones who “contribute” the most money to the programs, to have an outsized say.

Opportunities to use this position of power to screw over smaller competitors are rife. And even though the Christmas tree board will at first be administering “only” about $2 million of government-channeled money (infinitely smaller than some of the other big ag boards), they’ll still have reason to be more loyal to government, the All-Provider, than to their much smaller and less powerful fellows in the tree farming business.

The one question I keep asking still hasn’t been answered: If this is really something the farmers themselves want, then why don’t they just band together and do it? Why involve the government?

Of course, the answer to that is obvious. Some growers don’t want to be taxed for promotion. They wouldn’t “checkoff” the checkoff box if they were given a chance. As the recession has affected us all, genuinely voluntary efforts to promote real Christmas trees have fallen in recent years. So all this is is an attempt by some growers to force the rest to promote their products.

For now, the whole business has been put on hold. And who knows? Maybe the Christmas tree tax will actually die the ignoble death it deserves. It would be nice if all the other government-regulated, government-sponsored, and yes, government-taxed industry promotions die with it.

But here it stands as a perfect example of how Big Government, big regulation, and big power accumulate out of small lies for the small benefit of small people.

Yes, Mr. Orwell would recognize involuntary “checkoffs” that have “ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with taxes.” And he’d recognize all the rest of the sleazy — and oh-so-typical — baubles hanging off this particular Christmas tree.

They are what makes the governmental, crony-capitalistic world go round.

* ADDED: Here is Silver with his usual astute analysis of the real, hidden costs. He also quotes and links to many angry comments about this program from Christmas tree growers.


I do thank the NCTA for responding. If anyone from the organization gets back to me with anything more that’s real and informative, I’ll post it.

Claire Wolfe

Didn’t go so well

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Remember that big Emergency alert system demonstration? Today at 2:00 p.m. EST. Or, you know … whenever. Maybe.

BWG. It’s nice to know that “they” aren’t quite up to taking over the world yet.

Claire Wolfe

Wednesday data dump

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Doing some tab clearing here …

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