Still Out There

Warning: I’m ranting.  I caught sight of a few newspaper articles today that lowered my (already low) opinion of right-wing opinion pundits. Straw men? Check. Ad hominem arguments? Check. Unrelated issues conflated? Check.

The first was in the Washington Post, and trots out a version of the “War on Christians” trope.  “Oh, woe is us,” it all but cries; the ‘lefties, academics, and proud atheists’ treat us badly, especially in election years.  It lauds the Supreme Court decisions for the Little Sisters of the Poor, and for Hobby Lobby.  The part–actually, the first part–that I found particularly offensive is when the author hand-waves any issues with the outcomes, claiming that “the state should always go to extra lengths to protect religious liberty whenever possible.”

Sorry, I’ve got to draw a line here.  Religious liberty extends only so far as it doesn’t trod on the next guy’s religious liberty. You can practice your religion right up until it interferes with me, or with my decisions. This penchant for people to claim “religious freedom” when persecuting others I find utterly despicable, repugnant, and–to borrow a term–evil.

The next part that bothered me was in discussion of a speech by Hillary Clinton. She was addressing the “Women in the World Summit,” and made the following statement: “Deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed” so that women can have free access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth.  It then supposed that she would reframe her comments had she been speaking to a Christian audience.

Um.  Who’s to say she wasn’t?  Why is it so un-Christian to want people to have access to reproductive health care?  To safe childbirth?  To (gasp) contraception–or (double gasp) abortion, even?  I understand the moral arguments (“It’s murder!”), but disagree with them on an intellectual, non-emotional level–which is where these decisions (and, indeed, most decisions, IMO) ought to be made. (Note: I’m not advocating abortion–I’m advocating for the choice to be available…)

I won’t even get into the fawning lavished on Jeb Bush or Mike Huckabee, for their “elevated” discussion of Christianity.

The second article that raised my hackles was in the Wall Street Journal, already a bastion of conservatism. It presents itself as an open letter to the graduating class of 2015, and paints a horrible picture of the world–mostly undeserved, I believe.

Apparently, everything is the fault of bad schoolteachers, backed by unions.

Your education was poor, you see, because the teachers were poorly qualified. And since they “can’t be fired,” they’re taking jobs you might otherwise fill. If only we could fire the bottom 5% of public-school teachers, things would be much better (citing a Harvard economist, claiming a $9k increase in lifetime earnings per student, per teacher fired, giving the class of 2015 about $31 billion over their lifetime). Granted, that would put over 160,000 teachers out of a job, which would negate a large chunk of that gain…

Oh, and your student loans will be with you for years.

And Gods forbid that the states establish licensing requirements for some jobs–and that they don’t coordinate across state lines.  And that unpaid internships are all but banned. And then, when you do find a job, you’ll have to start paying taxes, mostly to support benefits for older Americans, who have jobs and assets. And let’s not forget your “higher premiums” under the ACA.

Grrr.  Yep, you’ll be paying into Social Security.  Which, particularly if Congress would get its hands out of that cookie jar, would be doing just fine and able to support you back. And while some individual premiums might be higher, overall I believe the record is showing that they’re significantly lower… And as a young person, they’ll be lower than that old guy who’s a significantly higher risk.

I know, arguing with them won’t help–they’ve got their worldview, and their preferred version of things, and if your reality doesn’t fit their version, they’re happy to dismiss it and use their own.  I just get tired of it.

More survival stuff next time–let’s talk unconventional education, and learning new skills.  Sound good?

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Commentary, and a List

This week was going to “just” be a list, as I mentioned in my last post…  Then reality intervened.  I’ll get to the list in a moment, but first these thoughts.

Another young man recently died, under somewhat mysterious circumstances, while in police custody. Had he done something to warrant some rough handling? Possibly, but the degree of ‘rough’ was pretty extreme. Was it, whatever it was, something worth his paying the ultimate capital punishment? Probably not. Regardless, the police force should be up front, transparent, and forthcoming with as much information as possible about the event; they’re not, and yet another city in our Empire burned.  Even so far as to close a major league baseball game to the public, for the first time in ever. It makes one ashamed, in a number of ways…

Thought the second:  Washington, D.C., just activated a dozen or two new speed-cameras and red light cameras. They already earn a healthy chunk of money from the ones they have. In a news report announcing the new cameras, they spoke with a representative from the AAA. His response? “I’m all for it. Anything we can do to maybe get folks to slow down or stop, to maybe save the life of a pedestrian or bicyclist or two is a good thing.” Picture anything of a similar vein coming from a representative of the NRA…

Now, from the good folks at Survival Life, a list of “6 Things You’re Not Doing That Will Bite You In The Ass.” Without further ado:

  1. You’re not incorporating solar electricity in your daily life.  I like this one, just on general principle.  Anything we can do to lessen reliance on the grid–ours, a neighbor’s, our parents’–lessens the strain on the grid overall, and diminishes the amount of pollution emitted by the big factories that are out there.  The original author mentions using small, portable panels to power electronics and such; this is also a good idea.  Overall, I like this one.
  2. You’re not cooking one meal a week with your bug out kit.  Again, generally not a bad idea. It gets you practice with your kit, enforces some supply rotation, and helps you identify the “bug-out meal” items that you do & don’t like. I’m not sure I’d necessarily go with one-a-week, but every other is probably good enough. (Once a month, at minimum, I’d say–and, in full disclosure, this is something my family and I need to start doing more often, as well…) Good idea, number two.
  3. You’re not incorporating your prepping food into your routine meals.  This guy is starting to sound like me… This rolls right along with #2, above: you need to know how to use your stored supplies. You need to know whether you like what you’ve got stored. You need to know what you’ve got. You need to rotate your supplies. Using the stuff on a regular basis helps with all of this. So far, 3 for 3.
  4. You’re not taking one day a week to be free from all electronics.  Can you say, Electricity-Free Fridays, anyone? A practice which, again, we have (sadly) let slide over the winter. (We’ll have to see about that, this spring and summer…) In addition to the basic personal physiological and psychological benefits, just unplugging now and again helps you re-connect with lots of things, like nature. Or your neighbors. Or your family…
  5. You’re not buying knowledge preps, you’re buying gear preps.  Still a winning list! Having all the stuff in the world doesn’t help, if you don’t know how to use it. Not having the stuff, if you can’t make it or fake it–which requires a bit of knowledge, in and of itself–you’re up the proverbial creek. A quick survey of my skills, and I could probably go from absolutely unprepared (just my clothes, away from civilization) up through at least the early Bronze Age without horrible difficulty, within several days…
  6. You’re not embracing the suck.  Yep. You have to practice doing things the hard way. Chop a cord of firewood by hand, with a maul. (Or, if you’re adventurous, try it without a splitting maul…) Do your “normal” daily jog–but make it a cross-country run. Take the occasional cold shower. Practice doing “outside chores” when it’s pouring down rain. In an emergency situation, things won’t always be laboratory clean, or as straightforward as in a learning environment–and this is part of learning.

I’ve got to say, this list was really quite nice.  I’m almost sad that it was so short…  So what things do *you* think folks are doing, prep-wise, that just isn’t right?  I’d love to hear!

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From another planet

There were a couple of articles last week in the Washington Post that, in my opinion, perfectly summed up much of what I think is going on in the minds of the far right.  They are, as my title suggests, “not from around here.”  Not by a long shot.

The articles in particular, here and here, discuss the continuing influence of Arthur Laffer, the creator of the Laffer Curve–and (alongside Grover Norquist) architect of much of the Republicans’ fiscal strategy.  (Put simply, he believes–among other things–that cutting tax rates will increase tax revenue, since fewer people would be so unwilling to pay.  Then there’s the whole supply-side economics…)

Now, he’s claiming that minimum wage laws are “a crime against black men,” and that liberal economists have consistently been wrong about the economy, and he’s been right.  He describes the current economy as “almost exactly like 1978.”  Furthermore, in his view, Kansas (under Governor Brownback–who cut taxes steeply, on Laffer’s advice) is “doing fine.”  Now, I’m not certain where, exactly, he’s looking.  Kansas seems to be barely able to continue–and certainly not to make ends meet.

His notion that “taxes discourage work,” one of the underpinnings of his entire theory (the Laffer curve), has a fundamental flaw.  In a word, it’s wrong.  Taxes are unpleasant, but nobody with more than a couple of brain cells is going to quit their job just because they have to pay taxes.  Why?  Well, primarily because they still have to earn a living somehow.  (And the truly deep thinkers out there understand that taxes are how the government earns a living, and pays for lots of things that we really like–things like roads, and firemen, and the police, and the military…)

One thing all of the folks on the right seem to forget when they tout the “Greatest Generation,” the ones who built the American middle class: they did it with a top marginal tax rate of 94%.  (Compared with today’s 39.6%.)  Yes, times were different.  Just like times are different now than they were in 1978.  (The top tax rate then was significantly higher, for one thing.)

But read the articles for yourself.  Make up your own mind.  And think–really hard–about what actually happened in the places where his policies were tried.

I’m hoping that my next post will be much more fun–maybe a list (I’ve got a couple hiding in the wings) or the like.  I’d like to do a review or two, as well, in upcoming posts.  And, of course, the weather is turning, and plants are in the ground–there’s always something to talk about there!

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What fresh hell…

What, exactly, was Governor Pence of Indiana thinking, when he signed this bill?  He certainly wasn’t listening to the scores of businesses, large and small, that told him what a problem it would be. He wasn’t listening to any of the political analysts–from all ends of the spectrum–who told him what a problem it would be. Obviously, to my eye, he was listening to a group of the bill’s backers, who told him just what he wanted to hear: that it would be a good thing for business, and not a problem at all. (See all of my previous rants about only listening to what you want to hear…)

Now, what exactly is the fuss about this law?  Well, I’m not a lawyer.  Yes, I have read it, and compared it to the Federal law that it supposedly mimics.  For in-depth analysis, let me point you to some professionals, here and here. Basically, it reaches much farther than the Federal version. One place that particularly caught my eye was in that the government doesn’t need to be a party to the proceeding–in other words, it’s not about whether the government is burdening someone’s exercise of freedom of religion.  An individual, under this law, can burden another individual’s exercise of that right.  This strikes me as patently absurd–barring some quite particular actions, most of which are covered under other laws (kidnapping? extortion? other similar ones, I’m sure), you can’t burden my freedom of religion, nor I yours.  Can I do things offensive to you/yours? Yes, and vice versa. But this isn’t impeding anyone’s free exercise of religion. There are other points, but they’re largely made in the articles linked above.

No, what I see here is, in fact, a version of what the Governor claims he was signing.  Pence said it was not about giving a “right to discriminate.”  What it really is, is about giving a right to discriminate against people not like him.

Then there are the reactions in other states.  Not Washington, or Connecticut, both of which placed a moratorium on state-funded travel to Indiana.  Not even Arkansas, whose governor saw a little of the light, and sent his state’s version back to the legislature to be reworked.

No, I’m talking Maryland, whose governor only compounded things.  A member of the Maryland state legislature–the only openly gay one, at that–sent a letter, requesting that a moratorium similar to that of Washington and Connecticut. He added a justification, explaining that since Governor Hogan’s wife was previously divorced, a restaurant owner may feel justified in not serving them. [Matthew 19:9, for the curious.]  Hogan’s response? He didn’t finish reading the letter, beyond the point where (in his words) his spouse was insulted…

Um.  What?

She’s previously divorced.  He’s her second husband.  This is fact.  Nothing insulting–and it wasn’t even said in a mean way.  Shouldn’t be a problem.  Have we really gotten this thin-skinned?  (Some have later clarified that the faux pas was bringing the spouse into it. Let’s talk about bringing Hillary Clinton into the arguments, or-gods forbid-Michelle Obama…)

No, again and still, I’m largely baffled that anybody thought they could pull this one off without any problems. The fact that it’s the far right, and the religious right at that, doesn’t particularly surprise…

How are you folks out in the dry, dry West holding up, with California’s water problems?  Pressuring your lawmakers to allow rainwater catchment, where they don’t currently?  Or planning to move somewhere a little wetter?  (Or, contrariwise, trying to take some cues from the Hopi, Zuni, and Anasazi, and learn how to do more with less water?) I don’t think the public at large is ready for the food-price shocks that are likely coming…

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Early Springtime Thoughts

Springtime “officially” comes tomorrow, and given the weather this winter, it couldn’t come soon enough.  I’m eager to get things in the ground–just as soon as I can actually see the ground, after all the snow has melted.  Of course, it’ll be a little while before things dry out enough to work, but at least the temperatures will be starting to climb.

Whoever it was that mentioned chickens being a gateway drug–well, you were right.  Of our original flock of six, we now have five.  One of the Orpingtons was getting broody, and the others started pecking, to “nudge” her out of their “favorite” nesting box.  We got her into the house before things got too bad, gave her some recuperation time, then got some chicks to try and “break” the broodiness.  Long story even longer, she was a horrible mama; so, she’s now in witness relocation, with a friend’s flock in another state.  By all accounts, she’s doing well… And so we have six more chicks.  Well, they’re about a month and change old, now, and are at that awkward “teenage” stage, where they look more like lizards than any sort of bird.  But, we’re averaging four eggs or so a day from the “adults,” and once these girls kick into production in the fall, we’ll be up to our eyeballs in eggs.  Fortunately, the folks at work are happy to buy them off me…

What is it with this sudden increase in the “tribal” us-vs-them thing?  It seems to have invaded into all levels of everything–from the Federal Government, down through state and local levels; pretty much all religions (but that’s normal); even overseas–Israel vs. Palestine (and the rest of the Arab world), Russia vs. Ukraine (and the rest of the Western world)…  I don’t know if I’m just more sensitized to it, for some reason, or if it’s really ratcheted up–but it feels like the latter.  Still mulling this one, trying to figure it out; that’ll be a post for a later day.

I like salt.  Not so much in the “putting it on my food” thing–although judicious amounts of that are fine–but more in the “rubbing it all over meat and letting it cure” thing.  I’ve got a number of duck breasts right now, contentedly turning into a quasi-prosciutto; it’s really the simplest curing process I’ve seen.  Rinse the duck breast, put it on a layer of kosher salt in a pan, cover it with more, stick it in the fridge for a day.  Pull it out, rinse the salt, dust it with white pepper (or other spices to your taste), wrap it in cheesecloth, and let it air-dry, somewhere cool (~50 degrees F) and humid (~50% humidity is ideal) for about a week to ten days.  Slice it thin, and it just melts on the tongue.  I need to save up a few pennies and snag a pork belly or two, and try to find a beef navel…  With those, I can crank up the smoke!

We finally decided to get bees.  Not this year–we made the decision a bit late, and would only have had a week or so to get things ready before they were delivered.  Instead, we’ll gather the equipment over the year, and order the bees for next year.  Yes, I’m interested in the honey, although I understand that a “harvestable” amount wouldn’t happen until the second year; I’m much more interested in the pollination, though.  I’m fairly certain that a lack of pollinators was to blame for the mediocre showing of our garden, last year; if this year’s take is similar, I’ll be convinced.

I’m fairly pleased that I accurately estimated our wood usage for the summer.  Barring another long cold snap, we’ll be able to “shut down” the wood stoves, with just enough wood left to allow for an outdoor fire-pit adventure or two.  Part of the plan, this year, is to get a little more wood each month, now that I know of a landscape place locally that sells it year-round.  I’ll have to get down into our woods and start clearing things in the not-too-distant future, too, but for now, I’ll just enjoy the fact that the trees are beginning to bud out…

How are things going in your area?  What do you have going on that’s new and exciting?  I’d love to hear about it.

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Small can be useful

So, among the lists of things that I run across from time to time are lists of Altoids tin modifications.  They’re small, stackable, readily available, inexpensive, and full of tasty candy–what more could you want?

The most recent one that I’ve seen is “12 Useful DIY Altoid Tin Upcycle Kits“. Ten of these are certainly reasonable, if not necessarily for the listed purpose.  (And, of course, the things are small enough that having one or two “for fun” wouldn’t take up much space.)

Here’s the list:

  1. An “outdoor survival kit”, from Field and Stream. It’s got fire starting, water holding and purification, a fishing kit, signaling and navigation, extremely basic first-aid, and some variations.  I certainly like this one.
  2. A portable s’mores kit (Instructables).  Frivolous, but again–very small; maybe “emergency rations” for a camping trip?  Although a tin full of peanut butter would probably have a better quality of calories…
  3. A portable grill, as part of #2 above. At the least, this would be a good kit to start a larger fire in an emergency.
  4. A mini first-aid kit (more Instructables). The “basic kit” listed is actually fairly comprehensive, for as small as it is. Certainly worth exploring.
  5. An “urban survival kit.”  I can’t find the original photo on Flickr, but scanning the photo provided in the top link there are a few interesting selections. A bit of cash–both the folding and the clinking kind–is a good idea. I might not have thought to put an LED with some coin batteries, but that’s a very basic signal device. Chapstick, lighter, a bit of cotton wadding, and you’ve got fire, not to mention the intended uses for them. Micro multi-tool, check. Wire, rubber bands, string, tin foil.  Certainly some food for thought here.
  6. Pocket watercolor set, again from Instructables. Maybe it’s just not my thing; if it’s yours, go for it.
  7. A portable tackle box. If you’re anywhere near where you can fish for food, this is pretty ingenious…
  8. Another Flickr entry has a portable game chest, with cards, dice, a piece of paper with a chess/checker board, thin game pieces (more paper/card stock?), plus what looks like instructions for something I’ve not seen before. A folded piece of notepaper and a pencil rounds things out. If there are more than one of you, this is pretty convenient, for the rare “down moments” in survival situations, or to occupy you while you’re waiting for rescue…
  9. A mini martini kit. Very James Bond–something Q would probably come up with. (Well, something he should have come up with.) Not exactly a survival thing, unless you count it towards morale.
  10. A DIY mini LED flashlight. This is actually small enough to fit in a “normal” Altoids tin.  Pretty simple to make, and inexpensive–and if you’re unsure about electronics, it’s not a bad entry-level project.
  11. A portable mini barbecue. Well, yes… Or, you can use it (as with #3 above) to start a bigger fire, for something slightly more useful.
  12. An emergency candle. This one I’m actually going to have to make, and stash a few dozen of them in various places–in my BoB, my GHB, a couple in the cars, several in a few spots around the house… This one makes the list worthwhile, even if you don’t look at the others, in my opinion.

There you have it!  There are many, many lists out there similar to this one, and dozens-if not hundreds-of other things those ubiquitous little tins can be used for.  Do you have something really creative?  Let everybody know, down in the comments!

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Well, you were warned…

As mentioned, the illustrious ex-Governor of Alaska gets a bit of attention this week.  Well, at least indirectly…

The Iowa Freedom Summit (now there’s a name) was held in late January, and it featured a number of conservative Big Names giving speeches.  The event was widely seen as one of the stepping-off points for folks looking for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination.  The aforementioned governor was one of them…  Supposedly, here teleprompter broke, which would be a lovely bit of irony, considering her disdain for such things during the 2008 campaign. She apparently forgot to jot emergency notes down on her hand, this time, and what came out was some rather amazing word salad.  This latter turn of events probably could have been predicted by just about anybody, but the reaction from the right has me scratching my head:

Charles C.W. Cooke of the National Review called it “…not an aberration or a blip, but the foreordained culmination of a slow and unseemly descent into farce…”.

Columnist Matt Lewis of the Daily Beast wonders “Is it possible that Kathleen Parker saw something I didn’t when she attacked Palin?”

Even her erstwhile Fox News supporters abandoned her.

The part that has me confused is why it took them this long to realize what a train wreck the former candidate was.  I mean, I don’t think that I’m a great judge of character, probably right around average; even so, my second thought after she was nominated was, “this is some sort of sick joke, right?”  (My first thought was, “Sarah who?“)

It’s enough to make you question–oh, I don’t know.  Lots of things; their taste, or their opinion of what would make a good VP (or, gods forbid, POTUS).

In slightly more down-to-earth news, given the unexpected day off for much of the eastern seaboard due to recent snows, my wife suggested we play a bit with some recipes.  She found a crockpot bread recipe that looked interesting, so we gave it a whirl…  No pictures, but it turned out quite nicely.  Some notes:

  • If you’ve got an older crockpot, your temperature settings might be a little off. “High” for ours is a little higher than a newer crockpot; we pulled our bread early to compensate.  Let your nose be your guide; the “thump test” works well, too (you’re looking for a hollow sound).
  • Not having any fresh rosemary on hand (well, it is winter, after all), we used dry.  Cut back on the amount: maybe 3/4 of a tablespoon for the dough, a similar amount for the topping should be okay (your tastes may vary).
  • To get the topping to adhere better, try a light coating of EVOO before you add it.
  • Watch it very carefully if you oven-brown it to finish.  (It really doesn’t need it, except maybe for aesthetics.)

Ours was lovely, and we’ll be doing it again!  (We’ll likely try it straight in the oven, too–or maybe in the dutch oven…)  If you give it a go, let us know how it went!  (Other recipes, or links, are welcome, too!)

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