Thursday, March 11, 2010

The ethical omnivorean

Oh sure, we all jump through hoops to cook up the grains and greens when our vegetarian friends pop by, but when the shoe is on the other foot ...


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hüsker Dü -- Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely

Apropo of not a goddamned thing, Here's Hüsker Dü's "Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely." (The video is here, and if you can figure out how to embed that, let me know.)

A lot of Hüsker Dü fans dismiss Candy Apple Gray -- the album that featured "Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely." I disagree, finding the album mature, but still angry, and connected to real life. There's a reason I keep coming back to it, again and again. Warehouse, on the other hand ...

These guys, the Pogues and the Replacements largely defined my musical life in the '80s. Interestingly, they all continue to sound good to me and multiple albums by each band are loaded on my Sansa Clip. After listening to a lot of jazz and lounge singers recently, I've been turning back to punk, at least partially because my four-year-old has Sinatra on a continuous loop and refuses to listen to "that yelling music." Yeah, really. Maybe we can compromise with Sid Vicious's take on "My Way."


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pieces published elsewhere

In line with my recent post on the passing of British anarchist Colin Ward, I have a piece up at the interesting group blog, When Falls the Coliseum, on my increasingly black-flag-y sentiments (and I ain't just talking Greg Ginn).

At the same site, I have an unrelated piece on the changing nature of the writing biz (I can say "biz" can't I?).


Thursday, February 18, 2010

The late Colin Ward showed that liberty isn't a Left/Right issue

Reason magazine's Hit & Run blog has a post up noting the passing of Colin Ward, a British left-anarchist. I'm especially sorry that this is my first encounter with Ward, since he apparently was best known not for looking to some utopian future, but for examining the here and now, as well as the past, for examples of real-life voluntary, cooperative alternatives to state institutions. His aim was to not just argue that an authoritarian state is immoral, but to demonstrate that it is and has been unnecessary.

People like Ward interest me not only because of his practical interest in applied voluntarism, but also because he -- a man who was as critical of social democrats as he was of Margaret Thatcher -- was a living, breathing exemplar of the principle that the real political divide isn't between Left and Right, but between liberty and authority. This may be a tough sell in the simple-minded world of Team Blue/Team Red America, but it's apparent that there are believers in liberty on both the Left and the Right, and that these people have more in common with one another than they do with their supposed comrades who are more interested in top-down control than in freedom.

The connection is especially apparent among out-and-out anarchists like Ward and, say, David D. Friedman, the anarcho-capitalist (and son of Milton). When you remove the coercive power of the state from the equation, not only are their criticisms of authoritarianism largely complementary, but their hyphenations (left- and -capitalist) become little more than expressions of how they would like to arrange their personal affairs, not something they want to force on one another.

As you move away from anarchism, the introduction of some degree of state power complicates things by raising the likelihood that somebody will be coerced to do things they don't want to do. But it's notable that libertarian-socialist Nat Hentoff, after losing his Village Voice column, found a home at the libertarian Cato Institute, which is often accused of being "right-wing." It's also worth noting, on the other hand, that Senators Orrin Hatch and Dianne Feinstein, supposed cross-aisle rivals, so frequently seem to find common cause on odious, authoritarian legislation.

Whatever the details of their differences, advocates of liberty really do have more in common with one another, as do advocates of authority. The real connections cut across the artificial Left/Right divide.

The challenge for liberty advocates, whether of the supposed Left or Right, is to look beyond supposed allies who mouth their favorite platitudes while forever increasing the power of the state over their lives -- and to get past unfamiliar terminology to find allies they didn't know they had.

As the late Colin Ward demonstrated, Left and Right don't matter; liberty and authority do.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The end of helicopter parenting?

I hope it's true (but it's in Time, which is wrong about oh so much). Anyway, the aging, archaic newsweekly reports that helicopter parenting -- that freaky, overbearing, effort to program every kid like some kind of robo-child, customized for success -- is on its way out.
All great rebellions are born of private acts of civil disobedience that inspire rebel bands to plot together. And so there is now a new revolution under way, one aimed at rolling back the almost comical overprotectiveness and overinvestment of moms and dads. The insurgency goes by many names — slow parenting, simplicity parenting, free-range parenting — but the message is the same: Less is more; hovering is dangerous; failure is fruitful. You really want your children to succeed? Learn when to leave them alone. When you lighten up, they'll fly higher. We're often the ones who hold them down.

I never planned on overparenting my son -- unless you count training him early to mix the perfect manhattan as an exercise in excess (well ... maybe so) -- and my family lives in an area that's strongly resistant to the parenting school of thought that shuttles kids between Mandarin for Toddlers and lessons in playing musical instruments that mass twice as much as the budding musician. But I've never been terribly fond of what helicopter parents were doing to their kids and the culture around them. Millions of college freshmen unable to decide between fake-ID vendors without first making a cell phone call to mommy are just too depressing.

So maybe now more kids will get to be ... kids.

That's good news.

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Where do all good things come from?

Tired of endless pie-in-the-sky promises from Uncle Sugar? Bent out of shape that government largesse is little better than two dollars taken from your left hip pocket and one dollar stuffed into your right hip pocket (unless you're well-connected)? So is funny man Tim Hawkins. But he's a lot better at voicing his discontent -- and puncturing official posturing -- then most of us.

So look below for a musical interlude in which Hawkins sings and dances his way to an honest assessment of a government that wants to set itself up as ... well ... the candy man.

Never forget, though, that the smiling officials who promise the world and tax the sunrise have to build up a powerful state apparatus of tax collectors, enforcers and strong-arm men to even pretend to keep up with the IOUs they've issued. As tempting as it may be to accept an offer from the government, when you do so, you're not just mortgaging your kids' future, you're empowering the folks who will mug your grandkids.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hey control freaks, meet the DIY revolution!

From Fast Company:

Take a design for a simple product--an engine part, for example, or a piece of silverware, and feed it into a computer. Press "print." Out pops (for a sufficiently wide definition of "pops") a physical duplicate, made out of materials plastic, ceramic, metal -- even sugar. Press "print" again, and out comes another copy--or feed in a new design, for the next necessary object.

It may sound like a scene from a low-rent version of Star Trek, but it's real, and it's happening with increasing frequency.
I guess it says something about me that the first thing that occurred to me upon reading this piece was, "wow, gun control is really, and permanently, a completely dead issue, isn't it?" And, the second thing that occurred to me is, "actually, banning anything will become an impossible dream for frustrated control freaks as this technology evolves."

We'll all get desk-top "printers" that can knock off as many AK-47s, radar jammers and pounds of heroin as we want, so long as we feed in raw materials.

And yes, the government will try to come up with a software kludge that prevents knocking out verboten items. But those kludges will be hacked in about five minutes.

Oh, and since you're wondering, basic models of these 3D printers now cost less than $10,000.

Isn't that neat?

Hat tip to Hit and Run.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Best thing for everyone

For you Firefly fans.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

And now, a musical interlude

My beloved Sansa e280 digital music player fried recently, in a very special way. In a rare, but not unknown for e200-series-devices meltdown, the player rendered itself into a read-only device. Not only can't the music selection be altered, but the firmware can't be updated and the player can't even be reformatted. Trust, me, I've tried.

Yes that's weird.

It can still be played, though, so it's something of a museum exhibit of my tastes as of the last sync.

So I went looking for a replacement player that isn't quite such a time capsule. And I discovered a cool deal.

Wal-Mart is quietly selling 8GB Sansa Clip players for $49. Don't bother checking the Website, you have to go to a store. They list for $99.99, and are generally available for about 80 bucks. The Wal-Mart price is ... well ... a screaming deal.

I'm not an iPod fan -- they're overpriced and under-featured for my taste. And the Clip is well-reviewed in the geek press. CNet, among others, likes it better than the iPod Shuffle. Also, despite the weird e280 meltdown, I was really happy with my first Sansa purchase.

So far, I'm digging my new player. Great sound quality, a small screen for picking through music and you're not tied to one software package for loading the thing up. I never used video on the e280, so the smaller player suits me fine.

Oh, and I found protective silicone cases on Amazon for one penny plus shipping.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

And now, some helpful environmental tips ...

Don't just hug Mother Earth! Dig a small hole in the ground and ...


Monday, March 30, 2009

Hey all you gadget freaks! What do you know about netbooks?

When netbooks -- small, stripped-down laptop computers -- were first introduced, I was really intrigued by the idea. They were originally intended as cheap, reliable computers for the Third World, but quickly found a market in the developed world, too, among people who really don't need video-editing capability and heavy-duty gaming as default choices when they go shopping for laptops. So the market seemed to be moving toward giving people what they actually wanted, rather than just loading on the gee-whiz.

I wasn't impressed by the introductory price for some of these computers. Six-hundred bucks for something with a 7-inch screen? Really? But the price tags have come down to earth in recent months. Systems introduced at $500 or $600 six months ago are now going for $300 -- or less. And that's the way it should be.

So now I'm considering buying one of these widgets as a bang-around computer for when I'm on the road. Basically, I look at the things as rugged mobile devices that let me write, research and receive email when I'm on vacation or going to a meeting or bopping around town. I mean, my life is on my main laptop. I don't really want to carry that expensive piece of hardware every place. But if a netbook gets stolen or confiscated ... no big deal. Especially if I'm smart and store my documents online, so that nothing is actually lost except a few bucks.

Really, what a perfect device for journalists. Write from the scene on the hood of a car using Google Docs and a 3G modem. If the cops grab the device, you just head home and pick up the story where you left off, since it was never "on" the computer to begin with and didn't cost too much.

Along those lines, I've been looking at two specific models. I like the Acer Aspire One and the Asus Eee PC 901, which have 8.9-inch screens. In both cases, I'm looking at the versions with solid-state storage, not hard drives, because flash memory is much more rugged for a device you're sticking in your pocket and banging around. I'm also looking at the Linux versions since Linux runs faster than Windows XP on a solid-state drive (and is resistant to malware, which means less defensive software to load).

The Acer seems to get slightly better reviews, but it has a miserly battery life compared to the Asus. The Acer also includes only 8GB of storage, with the ability to slap in an SD card for another 8GB (at my cost). The Asus, on the other hand, includes 20GB of solid-state storage, with another 20GB online included in the price.

Both computers are widely available for $250 - $300, with occasional deals down to $200.

So, my question to you, oh dear geeky readers, is whether you have any experience, good or bad with one or the other of these devices? Or do you recommend a different widget entirely (keep in mind that I plan to tote this around in my pocket, so I'm looking for something rugged)?

Whaddya say?


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Tooch around the world

I was quoted in Komsomolskaya Pravda about the police beating of a 15-year-old girl in Seattle.

And a piece I wrote about the new boss's retention of "enemy combatant" status under an exciting new name has been translated into German and republished by an anti-war Website based in Austria.

This comes after that recent interview with Russian TV about NSA electronic spying.

If you're thinking, just about now, "Wow, I bet Tooch's FBI file is getting interesting," then you should know that I'm thinking pretty much the same thing.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Beware the fail whale -- it's Twitterific

What's the big deal about Twitter? See the following gripping documentary to find out.

Actually, I'm sure I win some kind of tech-loser award for mocking Twitter with a YouTube video posted on a blog.

Wait ... What's that scent? Is that ... Fresh air? From a window? Is the outdoors still there?

Don't forget to follow my gripping tweets on Twitter. (


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Don't screw with the teleprompter

What happens when a politician's best friend flexes its muscles ...


Monday, January 19, 2009

Mobile broadband is cool after all. Very cool.

The resolution to my mobile broadband woes, described so thrillingly last week, is something of an anticlimax. Sprint sent a replacement modem, the new modem... didn't work. It was a different error, but it didn't work.

Fuming, I went online, signed on to my account on the Sprint Website to see what I was being charged, and ... I was prompted for the new widget's serial number. I entered that, the network stopped recognizing the dud device, started recognizing the new one, and my laptop was connected.

I could have used two sentences of instruction with the new card, but it's working now, so fuggehdaboudit.

And it's worth the wait. Even in the absence of Sprint's EVDO network, the regular network gives me a perfectly usable connection. I wouldn't want to download movies using the regular Sprint network, but while I was waiting for new brake pads on my truck, I used the connection to write an Examiner piece today about Ed Rosenthal and to ... ummm ... order a pair of reading glasses.

Well, I'm over 40, goddamnit. The parts-and-service warranty is close to expiration. On me, that is -- the truck is way out of warranty.

So, anyway, I'm very happy with the non-broadband performance of my wireless connection. I look forward to testing performance once I'm in range of the EVDO network.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

In which I am foiled by a wireless modem

So we're talking the other day about a proposed family trip and how I'll need access to the Internet to keep current with my various projects. Do I hunt up WiFi hotspots? Track down an Internet cafe (do those still exist?)

Internet access is a constant concern. I've spent more money than I care to consider on hotel connections. In addition to my main connection at home, I pay a monthly fee for dial-up so I'm not cut off when a forest fire torches Commspeed's microwave antennas (seriously) or the pipeline squirrels are just in a bad mood.

Finally it occurs to me. Oh yeah, it's 2009. Why not get a wireless modem card and stop paying for all the other nonsense?

What a great idea. Sprint is even offering a couple of really well-reviewed models for free (except for that monthly charge, of course). Except ... have you ever tried installing one of these things?

My new don't-lose-this-in-your-change-pocket-sized Compass 597 arrived by overnight delivery. It loaded its software effortlessly. I then called Sprint for the activation code (required, presumably, so the UPS guy doesn't walk off with the widget and charge his porn surfing to my account), and ... nothing. The code doesn't work. Neither does the next one. Or the super-secret back-office codes after that. At the third level of customer service, the actual tech guy I reach concedes that the device they sent me is faulty and won't respond to the codes that are supposed to kick it into life.

"You'll have to go to a Sprint store to exchange it for a new device."

This is ... a bit of a challenge. We had a Sprint store in town, but it starved to death on the meager nourishment provided by the local economy.

"There are stores in Flagstaff and Prescott. They can take care of you at either one."

Oh joy. Flag is 50 miles up north, and Prescott is 50 miles over the mountains. Well, I have chores to run in Flag anyway. I'll go there.

So, I drive to Flagstaff, go to the Sprint store, and ...

"They sent you here? Why? We can't help you."

Ummm ... what?

"We're not a corporate store. We sell Sprint products, but we're a whole different company. We can't exchange something they sold you. Besides, we don't even stock wireless cards."

Let me digress a bit here ... The Sprint store in Flagstaff doesn't carry wireless modems? Why? Well, it's because there's not much demand. Sprint's EVDO broadband network isn't available up here (or by me, for that matter) so when you sign on using a wireless card, you get a connection no faster than dial-up service.

Oh woe is me, ya freakin' cry-babies. Unhappy because the fastest connection you can get to the Internet from the laptop in your tent in the middle of the forest is 56K?

Y'know, when I first got to northern Arizona just ten years ago, all that was available up here was dial-up, so I telecommuted over a 56K connection for a good, long time. Everybody did everything Internet-related over dial-up. But now that's not good enou--

Oh hell. Yes, I know how I sound. Now get off my lawn.

Anyway. So Sprint in Flagstaff sent me packing. I went home, called tech support, and explained just how pleased I was to be sent on a pointless 100-mile round-trip drive (I didn't dilute the message by mentioning that I had a nice lunch at the Beaver Street Brewery. Try the porter with a bowl of chipotle-ginger beef chili).

Sprint customer support has become much nicer since the last time I screamed at them, five years ago. The nice lady on the phone immediately apologized and promised to send me a new modem and compensate me for the time I've been paying for a high-tech paper weight.

The new widget is scheduled to arrive on Tuesday. I'll let you know if it's worth the hassle.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

The underpants gnomes take to the Internet

I've realized for a while that making a living by writing online is an awful lot like the business plan of South Park's underpants gnomes.
Phase 1: Collect Underpants
Phase 2: ???
Phase 3: Profit!
In my case, it's more like:
Phase 1: Accept invitations to write for online outlets for the sheer glory of it
Phase 2: ???
Phase 3: Profit!
OK. That exaggerates the situation a bit. I have a nice paid gig now for The Examiner and I have a book proposal a-brewing that I hope will lead to a credible deal. But I don't know how many very flattering invitations I've received in recent months to write, create vlog posts, do an online video talk show, and otherwise put my ideas and persona out there -- for free.

By and large, these have been invitations from sincere, talented people with really interesting projects. I've said "yes" to a couple, "no" to a lot more. If possible, I would have signed on for most of them -- really. There are an awful lot of interesting, well-executed online media projects out there. At least, the folks approaching me have cool ideas.

But I have enough on my plate to keep me occupied, and my wife insists that my son needs a little attention from me on occasion. And honestly, I need some play time, too.

So if you approach me with a carefully crafted plan for an online publication that you're convinced would be a great forum for my specific voice if only I'd be willing to put in some volunteer time up-front, and I say "no," please don't be insulted. It probably is a great idea, really.

But my column needs to be written, my proposal demands my attention, and my kid ... well ... he really needs to get potty trained now.

And those underpants gnomes are never satisfied.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Good boots will see us through bad times

With the grim economic news in the headlines, we're cutting back probably as much as anybody is. My family has never been extravagant with gifts, but we've all pulled in our horns even more this year. Aside from gifts, we're taking it easy on other purchases, canceling vacations, cutting my wine budget down to Yellowtail, and making things last just a little longer than we had planned.

Along those lines ...

With the winter weather this week, I threw on one of my foul weather outfits the other day, consisting of wool pants and shirt, and a sturdy pair of leather hiking boots. The shirt is only a few years old and promises to be indestructible. The boots date back a decade, accompanied me through the Grand Canyon and on trails in Alaska, and have years of life left in them, though they need new soles. And the pants are Australian army surplus dating to 1951. I bought them 15 years ago and they look good as new.

If you're willing to pay for it upfront, there are things that last and save money over time. That shirt and those boots weren't cheap, but the boots have outlasted several pairs of light hiking shoes, costing me less overall. I expect the same of the shirt, which replaced an earlier wool shirt which still does woodcutting duty.

Even if you're not willing to pay upfront, some things last and really save money. I paid $12 for those wool pants. What a bargain. I should have bought another pair. But I still see similar deals here and there. Stuff that's going to last.

A few years ago, I got fed up with the cost of razor blades. The last straw was when they started putting batteries in manual razors so they'd vibrate. Oh cool, another thing to buy. No thanks. So I bought a straight razor and the accompanying gear.

You know, there's a reason most men gave up on straight razors. Jesus, they take some effort to master. And thank you, whoever invented the styptic pencil. But I mastered the damned thing and began to enjoy the morning ritual. With replacement razor cartridge refills going for ten bucks a pop, the straight razor paid for itself in less than two years.

The clippers I bought for $15 in 1996 paid for themselves in haircut savings in about a month. Of course, I have fairly uncreative ideas about men's hair styles. So far, my son does too. I use those same clippers on him.

My leather bomber jacket is twenty years old. The fabric trim could use a little work, but the leather just has a great, distressed look. It'd look even better if I hadn't virtually lived in it for five years. I'll bet my son inherits the thing.

It's possible to fetishize all this, of course. You could live a pre-war life of brass, wool, leather and wood. Most of that stuff would last for quite a long time. But there are tradeoffs.

Backpackers and hikers don't usually wrap themselves in wool and leather anymore for good reason: the stuff weighs a ton. Seventy pounds on your back or thirty pounds on your back? Which do you prefer when you're climbing out of a canyon? And, frankly, nylon tents do a far better job than canvas tents (I've slept in them both).

Not everybody wants to Sweeny Todd themselves to save a few bucks down the road. Straight razors and hangovers really don't mix. Trust me on this.

And the savings in durable items are dependent on good care. Drop that razor and ding the blade and you're just out of luck.

Not everything has to be built for the ages. My wife likes fashionable clothing that changes from year to year. I'm really glad that it's inexpensively made and priced. Her handbag, on the other hand ... gulp. But it's a classic piece that should last for decades.

But fashion is for prosperous times. When times get tough, it's worth sticking with durable items that will last and see you through to the other side.

Good times will come around again and so will the ability to buy fashionable clothes and disposable toys. Until then, my wool pants will keep me warm.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Blasts from the past, or, the social media vortex sucks me in ...

Uh oh. Somebody created a Facebook group dedicated to The Beat, an infamous rock-n-roll bar once located in Port Chester, NY, at 34 Adee Street. Moby used to DJ there, among other minor claims to fame. The place apparently closed in the late '90s and is now a law office.

And I spent much of my time hanging out, hooking up, and drinking way too much at The Beat from ... oh ... I thought '86, but really sometime in '84, until maybe 1990. I broke in my fake ID at the place, so it had to be ... Could I have started going there in '83? My peak time was the summers while I was home from college, when I was a regular ornament at the place. The last time I dropped by was in '96 for a mid-day beer and a dose of nostalgia.

Jeez it's all a blur. And I used to drive home ...

The group has plenty of photos and info on folks I haven't talked to or heard about in years.

Anyway, I know you don't give a damn where I got drunk and laid 20 years ago. But it's just amazing how this sort of thing can suck you in, reestablishing contact with people, some of whom I only knew by nickname or face. It's weirder than pawing through an old box of photos, because the actual people are suddenly all in one place, sharing war stories.

Oh, this won't kill too much time.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Supreme Court justice who is worth a damn

Of course, he's on the Washington State Supreme Court, but you take what you can get. From the Seattle Times:

Richard Sanders, a justice on the Washington State Supreme Court, has never been one to shy from controversy or blunt language. And last week, as he sat at a Federalist Society dinner and listened to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Sanders reached his tipping point.

After listening to Mukasey defend the Bush administration's counterterrorism policies — its detainment practices at Guantánamo Bay, its interpretation of the Geneva Conventions' reach — Sanders stood and shouted "Tyrant! You are a tyrant!"

Can we get this libertarian jurist up to the big leagues?

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Make room for my ego

On his excellent eponymous blog, my friend Paul Fuhr, proprietor of Rain Farm Press and Paradigm, a literary journal, has an interview with yours truly. Note, I haven't actually been published by the New York Times, Wired or Salon; I've been quoted by those publications. But I've been published enough places that I don't feel slighted, and getting quoted isn't too shabby.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Private rocket makes it to space

From Wired:

SpaceX has made history. Its privately developed rocket has made it into space.

After three failed launches, the company founded by Elon Musk worked all of the bugs out of their Falcon 1 launch vehicles.

The entire spectacle was broadcast live from Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific. Cameras mounted on the spacecraft showed our planet shrinking in the distance and the empty first stage engine falling back to Earth.

As the rocket ascended, cheers rang out during every crucial step of the launch sequence, and at the final stage their headquarters in Hawthorne, California erupted in excitement. ( viewed the launch over the Internet on SpaceX's live webcast.)

The tensest moment came just before stage separation. At that critical juncture, the third launch attempt had failed. This time, it worked out perfectly.

Eight minutes after leaving the ground, Falcon 1 reached a speed of 5200 meters per second and passed above the International Space Station.

During a depressing political campaign, with a disastrous and government-fueling bailout bill pending in Congress, this a wonderfully encouraging bit of good news.

Even in dire times, people still do heroic things.