Ever since Pamela Jones shut down Groklaw and announced she was not only abandoning the site but quitting the Internet entirely in light of the Edward Snowden revelations, I’ve been thinking about this.
At the time, though I found her reasons poignant and pertinent, I thought she was overreacting. Now, I don’t know.
Personally, I’m not on the verge of quitting. A big part of my life is here. And all of my career (such as it is) is here. That’s been true since 1986 when a client bought me my first 300-baud modem and set it up so I could electronically submit stories to him. It was certainly true in 1993 when I met my Significant Sweetie (now ex, but still friend) on a FIDOnet gun-rights bulletin board. It’s definitely true now when I’d likely starve to death and blow away without the ‘Net.
Still, I think most of us (and most notably a lot of tech types hereabouts) feel the temptation.
We’ve always been independent sorts around here. We avoid being messed with by power trippers. If we can’t avoid, we “mess back.” But right now, there’s nothing we can do to counter the electronic offenses being committed against us and against freedom by the UberGoverment whose all-probing eye peers out from Mordor on the Potomac.
Oh, sure, we can play the old “keyword” game with our emails. (There’s even a new Firefox/Chrome browser add-on to let us do the same thing with URLs and HTTP headers now.) That’s fun. And it’s always true that irritating and misdirecting the bastards is worthwile, even (or perhaps especially) as tyranny grows. We can also use GPG, dump Windows for Linux, use TOR, etc. etc. etc. And eventually heroic tech wizards may save us — and the Internet — from NSAuron.
But now …? Now …? Now we seem to be faced with using dodges that may or may not help or simply shrugging and going on because, realistically, there’s not much else to do. So …
Would you quit the Internet? If so, what would you do instead? If not, how do you adapt to knowing that everything you do online (or on the phone) is probably recorded and analyzed, even if it then disappears into the maw of a datacenter’s godzillabyte storage capacity, never to be seen again?
Now, that said, I’m “quitting the Internet” for the next three days. I may pop in to post some cute dog pictures tomorrow, and I’ll check in to moderate comments at least once a day. Otherwise, I’m away for a bit from the Bad News Net.
Besides describing in good and useful detail how to build an ad hoc solar power system (Joel created his for just $350), it describes how not to do it (e.g. don’t do it like Joel did with the first system he scrounged together). It also shows larger, more professional systems created by five of his desert-rat neighbors.
As you may know, Joel and I were desert neighbors for a while. During that time, I helped redesign one badly built power system (with tons of help from people smarter and more experienced than I) and I accompanied Joel through the beginnings of his own first experiments in solar power.
So I know that this book is accurate and lucid in what it describes. If you have a weekend place, a retreat-on-a-budget location, an RV that you want to retrofit for solar — or anything else that might use a small, DIY solar power setup — Joel’s little book could help.
Joel is careful not to call himself any sort of expert. But he’s definitely been there and done that.
Better yet, the book is well-written, well-organized — and often very funny. If you like the pithy, irreverent way Joel writes on his blog, you’ll enjoy the book even if (like me now) you live in a place where people have to look “sun” up on Wikipedia to remind ourselves that it’s that big yellow blob that other lucky people have in their sky.
This was a week for getting reminded of unconventional freedoms — and unconventional Outlawry (though some might call it just plain criminality).
First, we got fascinated with Christopher Knight (aka the Maine Hermit), whose solitary life some found irresistible. Imagine speaking only one word to another human in 27 years and sleeping outdoors through 27 northern winters. Imagine doing that, yet remaining so un-resourceful that you think stealing from a camp for handicapped kids is a legitimate way to survive.
Then yesterday afternoon, NPR interviewed Mike Brodie — not their usual sort of book author. At 27, Brodie is a freelance auto mechanic who disdains any claim to thinking of himself as a writer or photographer. But at 17, he started hopping freight trains, taking along a Polaroid camera. Now he’s published A Period of Juvenile Prosperity, a photo memoir of that Outlaw life.
Most of us are more respectful of property than the Maine Hermit and more settled than Mike Brodie’s friends. But tell the truth: Do you envy them a bit? Do you sometimes wish you could just walk away from the life of earning and spending and getting, the life of being responsible, filling out paperwork and carrying credit cards and IDs? Do you sometimes long even to give up some of your comforts? Do you think you could do it in the future? Or have you done something like that in your past?
I’m not asking if you’re ready to chuck it all, or if you approve of train-hopping hoboes or thieving hermits. Just wondering if you ever feel the urge, ever acted on it — or ever might.
The first rule of living on the edge is this: You’re in charge. You’re responsible. If something goes wrong, nobody’s going to come and fix it for you. There’s no point grumbling and waiting for the guy with the wrench, because the guy with the wrench is you.
That brings things to a very basic and vital level. I used to be consumed with worry over things like who was undermining me at the office, or how badly a customer was going to screw me on draft revisions, or how to deal with the next-door neighbor who played his piano at 3 AM and drove my wife crazy. Seriously, I used to brood over things like that. Now I wonder if the chickens will lay enough eggs tomorrow. I worry about the state of my stovepipe. Will the water freeze? Will coyotes take my kitten? Will I have enough firewood?
There are two major differences between the old worries and the new ones. First, the new set of worries are worth worrying about. Those are things that can actually do harm to me and mine. Second, they’re all things I can do something about. I can get more chickens, or kill or separate the one that’s upsetting the others. I can clean the damn stovepipe more often, insulate the pipes more heavily, go out and cut more firewood. Zoe’s pretty much on her own – though she’s napping happily right next to me as I write this.
Those old quotidian worries used to make me very unhappy, because I was always dependent on other people for their solution and I felt helpless against them. Now I’ve got worries about things that can actually hurt me, but they don’t make my unhappy because I can get off my ass and do something about them any time I need to.
Joel over at The Ultimate Answer to Kings (now at its own domain name, joelsgulch.com) is in dire need of a new prosthetic leg — which the good old U.S. health-care system has priced way, way out of his reach.
I know Joel. I know how long he’s suffered with his old leg, despite benefactors having bought a much better foot for him a few years back. I’ve seen the sores on his stump with my own eyes. I know how the manual labor that brings in his small living is hurting the hell out of him and probably going to damage him even worse in the long run. In desperation, he’s thinking about breaking down and turning to the state for a new prosthesis. His friends — freedomistas all — understand.
But Joel has to face himself. He’s also got the small problem of being so far out of the system that he doesn’t even have an address, let alone 1099s or 1040s to prove his almost non-existent income. He does, however, have landlady, who sometimes receives money for him.
Though I expect to be in town for quite a while, I gave in to temptation this morning and called about some small country acreages with owner financing. The spot is beautiful, the price pretty high (especially considering development costs), but the seller turned out to be a cool guy very much worth talking with.
At the time, nobody was really sure why thuggish “code enforcement” teams were rampaging across the Antelope Valley, evicting homeowners and demanding that people tear down their homes.
But we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that it turns out to be yet another post-Kelo landgrab by a government on behalf of government cronies. (H/T to S for the update.)
This time it’s the so-called green energy industry. And how can you blame them? After they get billions in subsidies from the fedgov and customized regulations from the state, they naturally assume it’s their right to have local governments steal the land for them.
In the wake of Kelo, 40 states changed their “takings” laws to be more favorable to private property owners. That was supposed to halt “public” land grabs for private use. But governments, being the gangster mobs they are, simply came up with an even more profitable form of robbery.
Instead of paying homeowners before giving their homes to crony businesses, cities and counties now declare the homes to be so substandard, so hazardous, and in violation of so many bureaucratic regulations that they have to be torn down. At the owners’ expense. The people are kicked out and all that’s left is the value of the empty lot.
Such a racket, eh? Mafia dons must be green with envy.
In sending the new link, S (who knows about as much as anybody about the energy industry) wrote:
[T]his episode illustrates the personal savagery and barbarism that energy policy at gunpoint requires. Desert rats were the victims this time, but make no mistake, these thugs will rob and kill anyone who gets in their way.
The “Nuisance Abatement Teams” almost certainly never knew what master they served. That’s how our society works. To quote Father Zebelka, these grotesque acts of depravity “are carried out by a long chain of individuals, each doing his or her job meticulously while simultaneously refusing to look at the end results of his or her work.”
Subsidies to solar and wind power are incredibly destructive on both large impersonal scales and to selected individuals. No intelligent person working within these “industries” dares contemplate the totality of the system. The immorality would drive them insane in short order. Instead, they do their little part, and avert their eyes as people’s homes and lives are destroyed.
I have about two more days of deadlining before I can get back to serious posting. In the meantime, here are some pix from the Montana ranch where L. and I stayed over the weekend.
Here’s our cabin:
The cabin featured solar power, a composting toilet, a claw-foot bathtub, on-demand hot water, and despite the satellite dishes, a blessed absence of all electronic media.
It was a short walk from our hosts’ house, but our nearest neighbors weren’t human. This is Ben, a rescued Belgian draft horse, and one of his buddies.
In the same pasture were Highland cattle. They’re a hardy breed that can endure a brutal climate. Because they keep warm with their heavy, almost bison-like coats, they produce lean meat, closer to game than to grocery-store beef.
Here’s the father of the late (but absolutely not lamented) steer who now occupies several freezers, including L’s and mine.
Despite their fierce looks and long horns, Highlands are known for being gentle. One morning the family’s two teenage girls (who are responsible for the livestock) took us into the pasture. We were surrounded by horses, cows, calves, steers, and Papa Bull, many of the animals crowding in for attention, others just watching while hanging back cautiously, but nobody (including Papa there) minding the intruders. I was more concerned about where Ben might accidentally put his dinner-plate hooves than what Papa Bull might do.
The ranch was beautiful and serene. In the mornings we went outside with cups of tea or chocolate and watched deer watch us then calmly return to their browsing.
Our hosts were great people — and what amazingly nice, mature children. It was good to be back in rural Montana, even though it was even better to arrive back home Monday night.