Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The United States: A Paradox of Freedom and Tyranny

A guest editorial by my friend Mike Veldman.

Here's a quiz: Which country is the freest country on earth? The answer's easy, It's the United States, Ask anyone. Why then are we the freest? Not because we're the richest, Long before we became the world's richest nation we still regarded ourselves as the freest, and millions flocked to our shores to enjoy that freedom. The reasons we claim to be free are: First, because of the philosophical basis upon which this country was founded. It is assumed that individuals have rights, e.g., free speech, the right to bear arms, the right of a jury trial before our peers should the government try to imprison us, seize our property, or deprive us of our lives, etc. Second, we have a Constitution that limits the powers of a central government to intrude into our lives.

Third, our rights have been enshrined in the First 10 Amendments to our Constitution.

Many other countries, like England and Canada, also have a Bill of Rights, but those rights are at the pleasure of the government. It states such right in their laws. Making theirs not so "unalienable" as our rights. Only our country, the good ole US of A, in all of history, was founded on the assumption that the individual has rights that exist apart from the government and not at the governments pleasure. Then, in 1868, the Constitution was amended to say that even the individual states cannot violate our unalienable rights. Pretty powerful stuff. These things form the basis of our freedom and are the reasons why the United States is the freest country on earth.

So if we can identify the freest country, can we also identify that which is the least free? I've tried to find a qualitative way to make that determination, but it's difficult, because no country has a constitution that guarantees governmental tyranny. Even the constitutions of the old Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China read as if those countries were free. You'd never have guessed that, looking at the records of the atrocities that occurred under Stalin and Mao. (Of course, you'd never have guessed we once enslaved a huge portion of our own citizens or screwed the Indians out of a large portion of a continent by reading our Constitution. But then, that is another story.)

What I'm getting to, is that it's difficult to determine qualitatively which is the least free country on earth. So I decided to see if there is a quantitative way to measure it. I found two. First, the country with the most laws would be a candidate for that which is least free. Laws regulate people, so the country which is the least free would surely regulate its people the most. Second, the country with the greatest percentage of its population in jail would also be a candidate for the least free, for obvious reasons. So then, if by chance, some country not only had the most laws but also had the largest percentage of its own population behind bars, we'd at least have a candidate for the least free country on the planet.

So which country has the most laws regulating its citizenry? After looking high and low I discovered that the country with the most laws, not just today, but in all of history is, geez Louise, the United States. Not only do we have the more laws than any country in all of history, we also turn out more new laws and regulations to manage our people every single year than most countries turn out in decades.

How can this be that the world's freest country needs more laws to tell its people what to do than the Soviet Union, Red China, Nazi Germany, or any two-bit banana republic dictatorship? It's not like we've always had so many laws. Most of them are new. In 1814, when President Madison and the sitting Congress fled Washington, DC, ahead of the invading English troops bent on arson, they took the papers of the federal government with them. It was easy. They loaded all the laws and regulations into a few boxes and left. This was all the federal government had generated to regulate us in the first 38 years of our existence. Today, Congress and anonymous bureaucrats generate more laws and regulations than that in minutes.

Maybe we should consider the other criterion. Which country imprisons the highest percentage of its own citizens? Let's see, Russia's up there, and so is the Union of South Africa, then there are some little potentates as we see in Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. Hmm, but who leads the list. Oh, no! Folks, you're not going to like this. It''s...the United States, again, heading the list of least free countries. The prime reason is the War on Drugs, the war waged against our country's own citizens, "for their own good."

When I presented my results to others, some said if you obey the laws, you have nothing to worry about and you'll still be free. I pointed out that this is the case in every country, toe the line and you won't get in trouble. If the women in Afghanistan wore their burkas and didn't drive or get an education, then by that definition they could still be free. Right? I also pointed out that Jews, Gypsies, and others in Nazi Germany, blacks in the antebellum South, and many American Indians did toe the line and tried to be good citizens but they were still imprisoned or worse. So obeying of the laws doesn't guarantee you freedom.

Another said, despite all our laws, we have safeguards, we have a jury system and that those laws are filtered through juries. I pointed out that more and more agencies regulate us without juries. E.g., the IRS, family courts, OSHA, the EPA, etc. don't allow trial by jury. Plus often in trials where juries are allowed the courts exclude people who realize they can nullify bad laws. This is hardly a recipe for freedom.

So, somehow, I have arrived at a paradox. What, on paper, would appear to be the freest society in the world appears, in practice, to be among the most oppressive. Does this bother anyone besides me?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Preparedness Menu Tonight: MRE Menu #18, Beef Patty

Ol' Backwoods has been buying and trying MRE's lately.  "Kook!"  Now, hold on.  I carry MRE's in my Bug-Out Bag that I keep in my truck cab (it's a big truck) for a good reason.   I am going to be traveling about 9 hours from my home for business quite a lot in the next year, and I do NOT want to get stranded by a hurricane, or ice storm, or other nasty business without some high-calorie, decently-tasting food with me.

If I am stuck far from home, or God forbid, having to hoof it home, I want to be able to have enough calories to keep going and be thinking straight, and have enough of it for at least 3 days.  MRE's, or Meals, Ready-to-Eat (as my military buddies say, "3 lies for the price of one), are ideal for this use.  If you keep them fairly cool, and the inside of a car is most of the time (for the occupants' sake), they are fairly palatable, and high in calories.

To help you fill out your bug-out bag with MRE's, I'm going to make a series of blog posts about the different menus.  I'm using the Army-spec MRE's from The Warnick Company of Cincinatti, OH, but others are similar.

On tonight's menu: MENU 18 - BEEF PATTY:

$5.50 from local military surplus store
MRE MENU 18: Beef Patty

  • Beef Patty (kinda like a flat meatloaf)
  • BBQ Sauce Packet
  • Mexican Macaroni & Cheese
  • Cheddar Cheese Crackers (like Combos brand)
  • Cheddar Cheese Sauce
  • (2) Wheat Snack Bread
  • Lemon-Lime Beverage Mix
  • Misc Pack (Lemon Iced Tea Mix, moist towellette, mints, salt, toilet paper/napkin)
  • MRE Flame-free Chemical Heater
  • Plastic spoon (sturdy)


FOOD TASTE: Good (7/10)
FOOD TEXTURE: Nothing objectionable
DRINK TASTE: Good (8/10)
REGULARITY: Could eat every other day, probably.


I heated the MRE main and side dishes at the same time, using the chemical heater provided.  When they were hot, I put the two into my camping plate, which I keep in my bug-out bag, and ate with the provided plastic spoon.  I do carry an Eat'n'Tool (well, a cheap Chinese equivalent), but I wanted to see if the MRE spoon was adequate.  It was.

I ate the Cheddar Cheese Crackers and Cheese Sauce while I was waiting.  The "Combos"-style crackers were fantastic, I thought, for an MRE snack.   The cheese sauce helped them not to be so dry, and generally improved the taste overall.

The Beef Patty itself wasn't too bad, once it was covered in the BBQ sauce (which is Texas/Memphis style, not North Carolina or Northeast style).  The Mexican Macaroni and Cheese was not too bad, until it began to cool.  It becomes a little plasticky then :-)  My advice is to keep it in the MRE heater, sealed in its pouch, until you finish the Beef Patty.

I did not find the Wheat Snack Bread to be incredibly palatable, because it was so bland, and so dense.  If I was in the field, I would save that for when I had some savory sauce to dip it in.  Or maybe, I should have used the Cheddar Cheese Sauce for that.  Heated in the leftover MRE heater water, that would have been good on the Wheat Snack Bread.

Overall, I think I will go ahead and get another MENU #18 and stash it in my Bug-Out Bag.  I think that would be a fine meal for a refugee from some kind of disaster.

To Hell with Freedom?

A guest essay by my good friend and RF engineering mentor, Mike Veldman.

To Hell with Freedom.

So here I sit, thinking about trying to give readers practical ideas for how to live free. I’m supposed to engage enthusiasm. Concoct creative concepts. Inspire glorious disobedience to all that’s stultifying, bureaucratically burdensome, and contrary to the way good, contrary Americans like to live.

But you know what? I just don’t feel like it.

To heck with it. Freedom’s too difficult, as readers have been informing me for years. Hey, 285 million Americans can‘t all be wrong. So I’m going to go write romance novels instead. TV scripts. Yeah, that’s the ticket, sitcom episodes.

I mean, take a look at it. What’s the big deal about freedom that makes it worth all that effort?

Freedom’s a nice luxury, of course. If you were free you wouldn’t be a dependent, a collaborator, or victim of an aggressive government. You’d be able to live and think as you saw fit, as long as you respected others right to do the same. Your life wouldn’t be dedicated to “compliance” (or else) with any old random order written by any old random bureaucrat. You’d support the causes and people you value, not the causes and people some interest group wants to force you to support with your money, your labor, and your life.

Wow, what a rush that would be.

But you can‘t do that, these days. They won‘t let you. So why even try? Look at all the reasons there are not to try!

Freedom is dull. If you want to be free you have to understand the principles of freedom. You have to read boring old documents like the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, The Federalist Papers, The Anti-Federalist Papers, Common Sense, and intellectual tomes that are thick with old-fashioned words by Locke, Montesquiue, de Tocqueville, Bastiat, von Mises, and other people like that.

If you don’t, then your grasp of freedom will never go beyond some insubstantial thing like “freedom is whatever feels good” or worse, “freedom is what the politicians tell us we have in America.” That’ll get you exactly nowhere.

So you gotta study. But face it, none of those dead philosophers could hold a candle to Danielle Steele when it comes to prose. Very Dull!

You’ll also have to keep track of laws and regulations even if (maybe especially if) you don’t plan to obey them. You have to know what’s coming at you so you can fight it or dodge it or run from it.

This means having to spot in advance when “health-care privacy regulations” are actually going to create a giant federal database with information about your hemorrhoids, nose-picking, flatulence, vaginal infections, depression, or drug abuse. Or when some teeny clause in some “moderate, common-sense” bill to “close the gun-show loophole” might end up creating a federal record of everybody who even sets foot in the door of a gun show.

Even when some politician hits your particular happy buttons – like “curbing illegal immigration” (Yeah, we gotta stop those people from stealing all those good American jobs!) – you have to be on the lookout for all for those the inevitable consequences. Consequences like national ID cards, asset forfeiture, random checkpoints, and pilot programs to keep you, Mr. or Ms. Whole-Wheat America -- not just those brown-skinned job stealing guys -- from getting a job without prior federal permission. Politicians bury that stuff deep, deep, deep down where the friendly news reporters don’t look. (And why should you go to all the bother of finding out, if people who are paid to keep watch on government don‘t? If you thought reading Tocqueville was dull, wait till you read Feinstein, Hatch, Schumer, McCain, or Feingold.)

In your private life, freedom means taking full responsibility for your own actions. I hardly need to mention what a drag that is. In a free country you’d have to pay the consequences of your screw-up's unless someone voluntarily bailed you out. (And I mean voluntarily in the old sense, not in the Newspeak sense of “Do it voluntarily or we’ll hurt you.”)

That is just not the modern American way. Playing video games is far more entertaining.

Freedom is risky, besides, and the risks are everywhere. Try exercising even itty-bitty freedoms and the jackboots can come marching right into your most private life.

If you think it’s more dangerous than helpful to vaccinate your children, the government might just take your kids away. They certainly won’t let them into school (schools you paid for with your tax dollars by the way).

Drive within a thousand feet of a school with a gun in your vehicle and you can get five years in the federal lockup – even if you don’t know the school or the gun is there. (And if great champions of liberty like the NRA, G.W. Bush, and John Ashcroft actually want the feds to crack down harder on that kind of “gun crime,” well, maybe we‘re just wrong to get so upset about it. Maybe, like our congressmen keep telling us, we really don‘t understand how things are done in Washington.)

Don’t wear a seat belt and you might go to jail. Heck, be a bad enough seat-belt scofflaw and you could get shot dead, like Timothy Thomas, that kid in Cincinnati whose shooting by a police officer was the trigger for all those riots a while back. Thomas had warrants for a variety of traffic infractions, including several seat-belt violations. Oh, sure, it’s not nice to run from a cop, which Thomas did. It’s dumb to the tenth power. But when did we end up in the kind of country where failure to wear a seat belt, coupled with a fast sprint, merits the death penalty?

Okay, bad example. Thomas was a black scofflaw in the inner city. He was “them,” not “us,” and I can just hear some law and order reader snorting, “He made the cop shoot him. He asked for it.”

Middle class white folks are somewhat safer when they try to exercise the occasional random freedom.

We can “merely” go to jail for refusing to landscape our property exactly as the Zoning Nazis demand, as golf-course owner John Thoburn did this year in Virginia. We can lose our home to – believe it or not – a provision of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, as Dianna Luppi did after she dared fight the U.S. Forest Service, which tried to make her pay for a right-of-way that had been free for more than 100 years. We can be hit with huge fines, as race-car driver and sports commentator Bobby Unser was, merely because he might have crossed into a federal wilderness on his snowmobile while trying to save himself and a friend in a blizzard.

But as long as we don’t ignore any really weird religions or express unpopular ideas, our rulers probably won’t send people to shoot us in the back for doing stuff like that. We should be very grateful to them, don’t you think?

Still, the safest thing is to comply with their rules. Assuming you can figure what the rules are this week.

Freedom is a money-losing proposition. People who truly value freedom don’t merely read about it or grouse about the lack of it. They do their utmost best to live it. And this, I must tell you from observation, isn’t an “economically viable” proposition.

For example, if you really oppose tyranny, you won’t pay to support it. That might mean working in the underground economy – which, unless you’re a major drug dealer or can catch the next big illegal trend (cigarette smuggling, maybe?), means living narrowly. For other people, it might mean choosing an Atlas Shrugged life, staying legal, but earning very little money and giving the smallest possible portion of your efforts to the state. In either case, you and your family do without while others prosper.

The people who really believe in freedom also avoid tax-funded goodies – grants, low-interest loans, housing subsidies, farm subsidies, Medicare, Medicaid, government jobs, Social Security, and all the rest.

But man, that means you lose and everybody else indulges. So, like the cynics say, why not “just get back your own”? Don’t worry about the principle of the thing. Pay up, then suck up. Big Mama DC‘s tit is there for you, too. Grabbing on is much less work, and much more lucrative, than standing on impractical principles in this crazy, old world. Get with the program, people.

Freedom makes you a freak. Us freedom-loving’ fools – and fools we certainly are – used to think that if we could just alert people to the dangers of government everybody would stand up and fight. If we could just show them the evil that lies at the end of all the claims of “for your own good,” “for the children.” “for standardization of records,” and “for public health and safety,” they’d wake up and bite and claw like tigers for freedom.

Well, the joke is on us. Turns out all that ordinary middle- and working-class Americans really want is – guess what? -- entitlements of their own. As long as they get cheap pharmaceuticals, scholarships for little Brittanie and Joshua, government contracts, grants, subsidized energy, and pork delivered to their district by willing, vote-buying politicians, they could care less about some nebulous abstraction like “freedom.”

They’ll even barter the kiddies for government perks. If you want tax deductions and credits, submit your kiddies to a federal citizen-tracking number at birth, the feds say. Here‘s my firstborn son, American‘s reply, and take my daughter, too, while you‘re at it. (When conscience-stricken parents, concerned about the life they might be condemning their child to, ask how high the tax deduction should be before it’s “worth” it to tattoo infants with a tracking number, I tell them the standard fee for that transaction is 30 pieces of silver.) You earned the money in the first place! Why should you have to sell your children to get it back? Ah, but there goes that dumb freedom fighter talking again …

If people are willing to trade freedom for goodie-filled baskets of tyranny, they positively crave tyranny when they hope it’ll hurt someone else. Sure, let’s have “sentence enhancements” for rag-head terrorists, dopers, and inner-city gang-bangers. Never mind that those “enhancements” might one day hit their own kids. That’s all just theoretical, paranoid nonsense. Only alarmists talk like that. (Who'd think that when the original “drug czar,” Harry Anslinger, was telling tales to Congress back in the 1930s about the “100,000 … Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers” in the U.S. whose marijuana smoking “causes white women to seek sexual relations” with them that someday Anslinger’s laws would be used to lock up the grandkids of all those middle-class white folks who drooled gleefully over Anslinger’s salacious horror stories”?)

Sure, let’s have all the government in the world -- as long as it’s to our momentary benefit.

Those of us folks who actually desire less government? Bunch of right-wing extremist whackos, throwbacks, gun-nut, mean-spirited, reactionary, religious-nut, hate-filled bigots.

Yep, that’s us all over. And who wants to be perceived like that? Better to go with the flow. Forget those unfashionably goofy principles. Go along to get along.

Freedom’s a hopeless cause. You know it. I know it. Every time you turn around, they’ve got some new surveillance device. Some new regulation. Some new database. Some new punishment. Geez, these days, thanks to Deadbeat Dad tracking you can’t even get a fishing license without a federal government ID number.

Try to resist these things and … well, heck, you can’t drive, can’t get a job, can’t open a bank account, can’t get a credit card (and of course you‘ve just gotta have credit cards). You‘ll end up on some enforcement agencies‘ list -- and that‘s something nobody but a fool would welcome.

We hardly need to make things worse for ourselves by fighting some big, noble loser of a battle. Right?

Anyway, how can anybody expect one person, one ordinary little citizen, to fight anything so big? It’s unreasonable. Yes, indeed. Nobody can be expected to take on an adversary as big as the federal government (not to mention all those other governments, state, county, city, regional, global, public-private partnerships and that new thing they’ve imported from Europe, the “quasi-governmental organization”). And who are we to go against what the majority wants? How can we be arrogant enough to imagine that our pathetic little efforts might actually make a difference?

Tom Paine and Patrick Henry and guys like that … well, they lived in a different time. It was probably easier for them back then.

We’ll just have to adjust. Learn to live with it. It won’t be so bad. After all, it’s all for our own good.

Okay, maybe there’s one reason to bother with freedom. Just one.

Because if you don’t free yourself you’ll be a nice, comfortable, happy slave. If you don’t fight for freedom your children will be slightly less comfortable slaves, wearing their little ID-number tattoos under their skin as they walk past the retina-scanners and body x-rays to go to work, submitting numbly as robots armed with pain rays arrest them after computers diagnose their “suspicious“ behavior patterns, stumbling through their therapeutically controlled lives. Your dependency, your collaboration, your tacit agreement with the goals of tyrants will have made it inevitable.

And your grandchildren will …

But hey, that’s their problem, right? Let the little bastards take care of themselves. As long as you get what’s coming to you, make a few bucks, don’t make waves, and lead a nice, comfortable life, who cares?

Hey, has anybody seen my copy of TV Guide?

Saturday, June 1, 2013


The Backwoods Engineer is rebooting, hopefully back to normal operation!

Sorry, friends, for being gone for so long.  The logistics of getting ready for my new job meant something had to give, and the blog got the short stick.

The short version of new job story: I'm going to have to be traveling some, but I will escape the cubicle farm at least 50% of the time, and be able to work in my home lab overlooking my garden.  Eventually, we will have to relocate, but I suspect there will be an economic collapse before that happens, and different plans will have to be made.  For now, I have more freedom, and more money in the bank to prepare with, and don't have to deal with the bull at my previous job, and that suits me fine.

I have a really interesting post on preparedness, about making hot water when there is an interruption in natural gas supply, coming up.  I've got some more pictures to take for it, but I hope to get it up before the weekend is out.  I hope I can get some of the survivalist sites to pick up the post.

For now, I'll leave you with this awesome cartoon sent by my friend Matt Bracken.