Saturday, January 30, 2016

The true definition of 'rights'

Here's my WND column for this weekend entitled The True Definition of 'Rights.'

In response to the column, I got the loveliest email from a reader named Ray, who gave permission to reprint it here:
I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading your weekly article.

I get up on Saturday morning and it is the first page that I read. Upon completion, I smile and then I ponder on how I can use it this week. This weeks article gave a different insight that I can share. I usually call it stealing, but now have a different frame of reference.

Thanks and if you start a daily article, you know I will be reading it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Situational awareness, rural style

Over many years of various outdoor work (field biologist, farmer, general animal-watcher) I've come to appreciate the sensitive responses animals have to their environment. A case in point: watch those tell-tale ears.

This morning, for example, I went out to feed the beasties. No one seemed alarmed or agitated (thus, no predators in the area) but I did notice these two calves with their ears twitched forward, watching something.

Sparky also had her ears tipped forward.

Notice everyone's posture: alert but not alarmed. I suspected a deer, though I couldn't see anything.

I stood quietly for awhile and just watched, and finally saw the deer. Can you see it?

Even though I knew where it was, I had a hard time spotting it until it moved, since it blended so well. (It's right smack in the middle of the photo enlargement below.)

This is just a small example of situational awareness in the wild. Animals have keen senses, and it behooves us to pay attention to the posture, attitudes, and ear positions of critters, both wild and domestic.

This hearkens back to last July when I released the chickens from their coop one morning, and they stood stock still because they saw a great blue heron up a pine tree. I'll copy over the same conclusion from that post, because it bears repeating:

These short and seemingly trivial incidents (cows watching deer, or chickens watching a heron) actually have some deeper implications for people.

Modern humans living in modern society with modern conveniences have learned to ignore the internal red flags that all creatures possess by instinct. In the kill-or-be-killed crucible of nature, to ignore a potential threat may be the last thing an animal ever does.

Yet people will do it all the time. In fact, most modern Americans have cultivated an amazing ability to disregard warning signs, both internal and external. We still have the instincts, but we're often too "civilized" to pay attention to them. But I figure instinct is there for a reason, and that reason might be very important.

This is some of the advice I gave Older Daughter as she prepared to leave the nest: to listen to that still, small voice inside you saying something is wrong. It may be saying something important. God gives us those little red flags now so we can avoid big problems later.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Amazing chainsaw art

I don't normally go for chainsaw art. While I recognize the skill behind the hewn-out bears and such that often characterizes western-style d├ęcor, it's just never been my "thing."

But this is amazing. A reader sent me this short YouTube clip showing a tree stump carving from start to finish.

Here's the "before" stump:

Here's the "after" product.

Pretty amazing, all right. The artist's webpage is here.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A doozy of a blizzard

I've been watching the news coverage of the blizzard of "historic" proportions approaching the east coast. Since Older Daughter is likely to be strongly affected, I've been emailing her various apocryphal warnings.

Washington D.C. had traffic snarled last night in a particularly nasty way due to an inch of snow over icy roads. Traffic was in gridlock for hours and there were hundreds of crashes; and yet they're expecting another 18 to 24 inches of snow over the next couple of days. Yikes.

"Both the weight of the snow and the heavy winds could lead to power outages. If you haven't started already, you should begin preparing for the storm," warned the article.

Drudge posted an article about chaos in stores.

While Older Daughter isn't quite in the heart of the predicted storm path -- that's apparently reserved for the D.C. area -- she's likely to be snowed in for awhile. I can only hope the family for whom she's nannying has heating and lighting backup options.

To all my dear readers in the path of this storm -- please stay warm and safe!

UPDATE: Here's a wild little video showing a grocery store with insanely long lines which wrap and wrap and wrap again around aisles. (On the upside, notice how polite and patient everyone appears to be.)

Monday, January 18, 2016

That inner panic button....

The closing of Frank and Fern's blog, it seems, is causing a ripple effect. I've received several emails (not to mention numerous blog post comments) in which people are confessing -- well, concerns.

I received permission to anonymously post one reader's email to me:
I was really surprised to see Frank and Fern pull the plug. I have always enjoyed their blog and have several side conversations regarding goats with them also. I just finished re reading the Patriots by james w rawles and I must say the reality of that book becoming real came crashing down on my head. I guess it was overload from this week’s dismal economic state, the Patriots, and Frank and Fern pulling the plug to finish projects and such. I felt the 1st tendrils of fear, which I do not like, and spent quite some time discussing the situation with God. I guess I should mellow out by week’s end, hopefully. I hope we are all worrying for nothing but I trust my inner panic button, which is signaling trouble.
Along these lines, let me show you what I've been doing this past week. I made two enormous batches of chili...

...which I then canned.

I've also been canning pinto beans, which I use to make quick refried beans.

I've noticed something about myself: I can when I'm nervous. I've been very nervous this week. Stock markets all over the world are tanking, oil is plunging, and, well, it makes me nervous.

Frank and Fern's parting advice included the following: "We encourage you to apply the final touches to your preparations. The events unfolding in the world appear to be creating the perfect storm. How that storm will come crashing down around us, we do not know, but it is no longer way out there on the horizon, it is at the door. The wind is blowing in our faces, bringing with it the still small voice of warning which gets louder everyday. Time is short, get everything accomplished that is in your power."

They're right, folks. Time to get busy.

Friday, January 15, 2016

A post I hate to put up

It's hard to say goodbye to people, but this is one of those times.

Frank and Fern, writers of the excellent Thoughts From Frank & Fern blog, have put up their final post.

I have a special spot in my heart for this hard-working inspiring couple, though we've never met in person. They wrote to me a few years ago, wanting advice for starting a blog, and I sent them the standard information I send to anyone who asks. Frank and Fern took the advice and ran with it -- and created one of the best durn homesteading blogs on the internet, a blog which recently surpassed a million views.

But they see some ominous clouds on the horizon -- as do all of us who are vigilant -- and have decided to redirect their time, energy, and resources toward finalizing their preps. I can't argue with their decision; I'll just miss the heck out of them.

I can only wish them Godspeed and good luck. Thanks for the wonderful memories, guys.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The passing of Colonel Brandon

Holy cow, it seems I'm not the only one shocked and saddened to hear of Alan Rickman's passing. Apparently the famous actor was secretly battling cancer, and he lost that battle this morning, sending reverberations around the world at the unexpected news.

I loved his quiet, classy portrayal of Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility...

...and his hilarious rendition of Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest.

From all accounts, he was as gracious off-screen as he was on.

Rest in peace, Mr. Rickman.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

If the service is free, you’re the product

I've been noticing a trend lately: the number of people who are getting sick and tired of technology.

Consider this article in the Washington Post in December entitled Techno-skeptics’ objection growing louder. Apparently the new "counterculture" movement involves tuning out, literally. The article profiled a woman named Astra Taylor who "objects to the planned obsolescence of today’s gadgetry, and to the way the big tech companies pressure customers to upgrade." She joins a growing group of "tech dissenters" who don't like what high technology is turning into: a surveillance state and government-corporate partnerships.

"Of the myriad critiques of the computer culture," notes the article, "one of the most common is that companies are getting rich off our personal data. Our thoughts, friendships and basic urges are processed by computer algorithms and sold to advertisers. The machines may soon know more about us than we know about ourselves. That information is valuable. A frequent gibe is that on Facebook, we’re not the customers, we’re the merchandise. Or to put it another way: If the service is free, you’re the product."

Of course I'm keenly aware that I, too, am caught up in this techno-world. And since Blogger (the platform which hosts Rural Revolution) is free, that makes me the product. Wheee.

"Our technology today is so new that we haven’t had time to understand how to use it wisely," notes the article. Young people are especially susceptible, and some Asian countries are offering de-tox centers for people who are so addicted to electronic devices that they forget how to live.

Of course, I resist in my own little way. My family chuckles at my refusal to learn how to text. (And seriously, I haven't the faintest idea how.) Smart phones leave me clueless.

True story: Last summer, before Older Daughter went to nanny school, we had to find her some specialized slacks as part of a casual "uniform" the school required. Since we were unable to find these slacks in thrift stores, we did an internet search (ack! technology!) and found they were available at Old Navy. There's an Old Navy store in Spokane, so off we went.

It was the first time we've bought clothes at a retail store (vs. a thrift store) in years. The sales personnel were charming and helpful. Older Daughter is very slim and didn't fit the regular sizes, so we ended up having to special order the slacks she needed.

To place the special order, right there by the dressing rooms the saleswoman whipped out her store-issued smart phone and began inputting the information. Then she handed me the phone and asked me to fill in our shipping address and contact info.

I stared helplessly at the device, absolutely clueless how to do it. "Oh for heaven's sake," said Older Daughter in mock exasperation. She took the phone and tapped in the necessary information.

When it came time to pre-pay for the slacks, I committed another unpardonable sin: I took out my wallet and handed the sales rep actual cash. (If you remember, we've transitioned, as much as possible, to an all-cash lifestyle.) The saleswoman was literally baffled for a few moments. "This will require a different type of transaction," she said, and led us to the cash register to complete the sale.

And this, my friends, is what my day-to-day resistance is like.

But I'm not alone. Here's a British fellow who now runs a Silicon Valley tech startup company who is entirely (shocking!) cellphone-free. He calls cell phones "digital jails." He says:
There are some practical issues of course. Without a phone, I can’t check things. People with phones seem to spend their life checking things: messages, email, the news, the weather, some random celebrity’s Instagram -- I don’t know what it is exactly, but you all seem to be checking things the whole time. And I can’t do that, obviously. Tragically. Somehow, though, I cope.

But just in terms of our basic humanity, I find the idea that we should all be connected and contactable all the time not just bizarre but menacing. We used to think of electronic tags as a way of restricting criminals’ liberty -- we can keep them out of jail but still keep track of them. It seems that now, everyone is acquiescent, through their phone, in electronically tagging themselves; incarcerating themselves in a digital jail where there is no such thing as true freedom or independence or solitude or privacy."
With regards to cash, my resistance may not last much longer since the world, apparently, is on the march toward a cashless society:
"Did you know that 95 percent of all retail sales in Sweden are cashless? And did you know that the government of Denmark has a stated goal of 'eradicating cash' by the year 2030? All over the world, we are seeing a relentless march toward a cashless society, and nowhere is this more true than in northern Europe. In Sweden, hundreds of bank branches no longer accept or dispense cash, and thousands of ATM machines have been permanently removed. At this point, bills and coins only account for just 2 percent of the Swedish economy, and many stores no longer take cash at all. The notion of a truly 'cashless society' was once considered to be science fiction, but now we are being told that it is 'inevitable,' and authorities insist that it will enable them to thwart criminals, terrorists, drug runners, money launderers and tax evaders. But what will we give up in the process?"
What we give up, of course, is privacy. Cashless transactions allow micro-monitoring of everyone, because we all leave little cyber-trails wherever we go. Doesn't this just strike everyone as plain spooky?

Along these lines, here's an opinion piece entitled The Internet of Things and malicious refrigerators. The author writes about gadgets like "smart" refrigerators which "will come complete with sensors, cameras, smart capabilities and a huge touch screen display. It also takes a picture of what’s inside your fridge every time you close the door -- meaning you’ll always be up to date on how much milk and bread you have left. ... You can remotely access the fridge’s cameras in real time from any location through your smartphone, and also use the Family Hub to order groceries online through the new 'Groceries by MasterCard' smart fridge app. The 21.5-inch, 1080p display can also display family pictures and messages -- bringing the age-old custom of magnetized photos into the future. And if the fridge didn’t do enough already -- it also comes equipped with technology to help track and monitor your family’s eating habits."

But at what price? The author continues: "Internet-enabled appliances, which run operating systems like Windows or Android, can be co-opted by hackers’ malicious code in the same way your computer or phone can be hijacked. Once taken over by the hacker software, the appliance is used to send spam or to mount denial-of-service attacks. A hacker who had co-opted multiple Internet-equipped refrigerators and garage door openers could use their combined power to inundate an Internet target with email or other malicious activity."

We're talking refrigerators, folks. Spooky.

Which is I find myself straining for glimpses of the inside of the Bennett family's house (particularly the kitchen) in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice.

Here's a "behind the scenes" view (notice the fire extinguishers).

I think this kitchen is absolutely beautiful. Why? Because it has nothing modern. No fridge, no microwave, no range. It was probably awful to cook in; but it sure looked great, right?

The more high-tech the world becomes, the more low-tech my interest grows. What can I say. I'm a subversive rebel.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Awww (sniff)

This photo of a young couple reuniting in the hospital after a horrific car crash is understandably going viral.

Here's the story. I'm glad they're all right.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Icicles and snow shelves

With our wintry weather ranging from dips to 0F to highs of 35F, we have icicles galore.

A red-shafted flicker.




Growing together.

Yesterday the temp rose above freezing and the snow loads started sliding down the metal roof, making us wonder -- how long before these shelves of snow and icicles snap off?

This morning I saw this curl of snow from the back side of the barn, dangling ominously.

It was like this the whole length of the barn.

Here it is, coming off the chicken coop roof.

Sure enough, the snow shelf on the barn finally dumped, blocking a door open...

...which I had to dig out.

Usually an enormous load would suddenly whoosh off the roof with a rumble like thunder, setting Lydia barking furiously and leaving us with mounds of snow to pick our way over and create new paths. Here it buried the water tank and faucet...

...and blocked a walk-through gate.

Don used the tractor to remove the mounds of snow that slid off the roof in front of the door.

Oh well. It makes life interesting.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The-opposite-of-affluenza parents

Doubtless most of you have heard of Ethan Couch, the rich teenage "affluenza boy" who killed four innocent people while driving in a drunken stupor. Nine more were injured, one of whom suffered a horrific (and presumably permanent) brain injury.

The brat's scuzzy defense is best summed up on the Wikipedia page: "G. Dick Miller, a psychologist hired as an expert by the defense, testified in court that the teen was a product of 'affluenza' and was unable to link his bad behavior with consequences because of his parents teaching him that wealth buys privilege."

This was the defense, you understand, after murdering four people and injuring nine more. Affluenza. Puh-lease. I don't know how that psychologist sleeps at night.

To make things worse, a few weeks ago Ethan was seen on video violating his probation by drinking, so his mother let him miss a court-mandated meeting with his probation officer. Then mother and son skipped the country and went to Mexico. They were apprehended and returned to the U.S. Both are now in custody, and both are now in deep, deep doo-doo.

It's a sordid tale. Touching on the issue of young people in general and Couch in particular, the New York Post had a superb and blistering commentary regarding how kids are being raised these days, particularly the hothouse flowers who get attacks of the vapors whenever they witness something that offends their delicate sensibilities. Parts of the article are worth highlighting:
We can lament the poor decision of the judge who let Ethan off scot-free, but this is less a story about our judicial system than it is about modern parenting. Ethan is a symbol of an era when parents lost their backbone.

If it were ever going to be clear what spineless helicopter parenting has wrought, this year should do it. The college-campus protests have comprised people who are supposed to be young adults — people old enough to serve in the military — withering over Halloween costumes, running to safe rooms when a dissident speaker appears on campus, demanding the purging of professors, books and even dining-hall food that irritates their sensibilities.

What’s particularly galling, though, is that their parents, those wild-and crazy Gen-Xers, are so intent on protecting their children’s delicate sensibilities that they are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars while their children protest the free exchange of ideas. That these kids are ill-prepared for the real world is obvious to anyone with eyes to see.

I started interviewing homeschooled kids about 15 years ago. Back then the assumption was that these boys and girls would be socially stunted because of their lack of exposure to their peers. It turned out to be the opposite. They were better able to interact with adults and quickly found themselves leaders among their peers.

What these kids have in common, along with others I have met in religious communities, are parents who don’t care what the rest of the world thinks. They are completely unconcerned with the broader messages of the culture. They aren’t interested in whether other kids have iPhones or boyfriends or watch some television show.
Parents who don't care what the rest of the world thinks...

To an extent, this statement is both right and wrong when it comes to how we (and I hope, you) have raised kids. I never cared what the rest of the world thought about the clothes we wore, the vehicles we drove, or the (lack of) personal electronics we (didn't) possess.

But we DO care about how our children, now young adults, handle themselves in the world. We care that they present themselves as clean-living and wholesome. We care that they look others directly in the eye and speak clearly and intelligently. We care that they're honest and hard-working. We care that they have the self-control to make smart decisions as they enter adulthood.

I'm guessing these qualities are harder to acquire with (cough) "parents" like Mr. and Mrs. Couch.