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High Desert Barbecue paperback now on Amazon

This is all happening rather faster than I anticipated …

The paperback version of High Desert Barbecue is now available on Amazon, with free super saver shipping (you’ll have too add another purchase to your basket to reach the $25 minimum for free shipping since my novel is sold at the low, low price of $11.99!

Oh, and Claire Wolfe of Backwoods Home Magazine (and The Freedom Outlaw’s Handbook) has come in with an early rave for High Desert Barbecue:

“[A] rowdy, rollicking adventure in the best tradition of Edward Abbey (think The Monkey Wrench Gang but … well, turned on its head).”

High Desert Barbecue now in paperback

I spoke too soon when I said you’d have to wait for a paperback! Amazon may still be working the book into its listings, but High Desert Barbecue is now available at the CreateSpace bookstore.

High Desert Barbecue is now available!

The trade paperback version is still a few days away, but with ebook sales now outstripping dead-tree editions, I don’t feel premature in announcing that High Desert Barbecue is now available for sale. If you have a Kindle or a Nook, or have downloaded the free readers for those formats to the portable device of your choice, you can now have a copy of the novel for a screaming deal: $2.99. The trade paperback will be $11.99.

I’m extremely happy with the final story, though you will have to judge for yourselves, of course. Whatever your reaction, don’t be afraid to review the book at Amazon, B&N or the forum of your choice — hey, if I’m going to put myself out there, I have to be able to take the bad reviews with the good ones, right?

A tale of suspense, pyromania and sexual tension, coming to an Amazon near you!

For those of you wondering just what I’ve been up to (let’s count hands! That’s one, two, three of you!), the fact is … I’ve been writing a novel. Final revisions to the manuscript are pending, and the book will be published in paperback and Kindle (and probably Nook) format in November.

High Desert Barbecue

High Desert BarbecueLiving as a squatter on public land, Rollo has long waged a personal war against the Forest Service, so it’s little surprise when rangers burn him out of his latest shack. But when Rollo is subsequently blamed for a disastrous wildfire, he seeks help from his close friend, Scott, an anarchically minded outdoors enthusiast, and Scott’s girlfriend Lani, who dislikes Rollo but shares his distaste for authority. While investigating a suspicious new forest fire, the trio interrupts a bizarre but vicious gang of environmental terrorists. Chased through the canyon country of northern Arizona, Rollo, Scott and Lani must rely on their wit and skills to survive. Just steps behind, their pursuers compensate for incompetence and sexual eccentricity with fanaticism and official connections. Hanging in the balance is the fate of human habitation throughout the West — or maybe just peace and quiet in downtown Flagstaff.

This book is a bit of an experiment for me — and not just since it’s a venture into fiction for a writer established as a columnist and blogger. I was raised in an era when self-publishing — known as “vanity publishing” back then — was a sure sign of crappy writing by a self-indulgent author. That was sort of still the case a few years ago when I bounced early chapters of the book off of New York literary agents — only to receive enthusiastic responses for the writing, along with heartfelt assurances that the story was too regional to be picked up by publishers.

So I put the manuscript aside.

But recently — over the past year in particular — the do-it-yourself ethos has revolutionized the publishing industry. E-readers and print-on-demand have made it very attractive to bypass the traditional publishing houses. In fact, I no longer see a reason to go the traditional route at all. So, out of the drawer (well, an old folder on my laptop) the manuscript came, and I set to work revising and finishing the story. The biggest surprise may have been the extent to which technology has changed in just a few years, necessitating an important plot revision.

Then an old friend who works as an editor and knows my fiction from long-ago days in a Boston-based writers group offered to review the manuscript. And here we go. The Kindle version will be priced at $2.99. Paperback pricing has yet to be set.

I’ll post news of the novel, links for purchasing, and reactions thereto, here and on High Desert Barbecue‘s Facebook page.

If the upcoming book piques your interest at all, please feel free to pass along the information.

No free speech, for the children

You know the most annoying thing in poorly executed pro-freedom novels? It’s how the villains often overtly state their hostility to freedom and their intention to strip rights away from the populace in favor of government control. Real villains are more subtle than that. They couch their incursions into liberty in soft language, justifying it as– What’s that? You say …

Oh. Never mind. The bar has apparently been moved. Carry on.

This, from a New York State Senate Independent Democratic Conference report on “cyberbullying” (crazy person caps in the original), Cyberbullying: A Report on Bullying in a Digital Age (PDF):

THE CHALLENGE LIES IN PROTECTING TEENAGERS FROM CYBERBULLYING WITHOUT TRAMPLING ON THE FREE SPEECH PROTECTIONS AFFORDED BY THE FIRST AMENDMENT. THIS PROPOSED LEGISLATION ACCOMPLISHES THAT IN THE FOLLOWING WAY:

PROPONENTS OF FREE SPEECH HAVE LONG ARGUED THAT A SOCIETY THAT PUTS PEOPLE ON TRIAL FOR THINGS THEY HAVE WRITTEN OR SAID IS NO LONGER A TRULY DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY. THE POWER OF THE WORD HAS BEEN UNDISPUTABLE; IT HAS BEEN ESSENTIAL TO PRESERVING DEMOCRACY AND, IN FACT, ITS FOUNDING PREMISE WAS TO PRESERVE THE EXCHANGE OF IDEAS: A “MARKET PLACE” WHERE CITIZENS COULD SORT THROUGH BELIEFS AND IDEAS WHICH BEST RESONATED WITH THEM AND DISCARD THOSE THAT DID NOT,74 THEREBY ALLOWING FOR THE CREATION OF AN EVER-EVOLVING, OPEN SOCIETY. MOREOVER, THEY CONTEND THAT FREEDOM OF SPEECH IS RECOGNIZED AS A HUMAN RIGHT UNDER ARTICLE 19 OF THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS,75 SO IT CANNOT AND MUST NOT BE LIMITED.

AND YET, PROPONENTS OF A MORE REFINED FIRST AMENDMENT ARGUE THAT THIS FREEDOM SHOULD BE TREATED NOT AS A RIGHT BUT AS A PRIVILEGE – A SPECIAL ENTITLEMENT GRANTED BY THE STATE ON A CONDITIONAL BASIS THAT CAN BE REVOKED IF IT IS EVER ABUSED OR MALTREATED. BRITISH PHILOSOPHER JOHN STUART MILL LONG ARGUED THAT “THE ONLY PURPOSE FOR WHICH POWER CAN BE RIGHTFULLY EXERCISED OVER ANY MEMBER OF A CIVILIZED COMMUNITY, AGAINST HIS WILL, IS TO PREVENT HARM FROM OTHERS.”76 HIS “HARM PRINCIPLE” WAS ARTICULATED IN AN ANALOGY BY OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES, JR. (1841-1935), AND STILL HOLDS TRUE TODAY: “THE RIGHT TO SWING MY FIST ENDS WHERE THE OTHER MAN’S NOSE BEGINS,” OR, A PERSON’S RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH ENDS WHEN IT SEVERELY INFRINGES UPON THE SAFETY AND WELL-BEING OF ANOTHER.

IN THE CASE OF CYBERBULLYING, THE PERCEIVED PROTECTIONS OF FREE SPEECH ARE EXACTLY WHAT ENABLE HARMFUL SPEECH AND CRUEL BEHAVIOR ON THE INTERNET. IT IS THE NOTION THAT PEOPLE CAN POST ANYTHING THEY WANT, REGARDLESS OF THE HARM IT MIGHT CAUSE ANOTHER PERSON THAT HAS PERPETUATED, IF NOT CREATED, THIS CYBERBULLYING CULTURE. BUT “HATE SPEECH” THAT CAUSES MATERIAL HARM TO CHILDREN SHOULD HAVE CONSEQUENCES.

IN SUMMARY, ALTHOUGH SPEECH IS GENERALLY PROTECTED UNDER THE FIRST AMENDMENT, THERE ARE INSTANCES IN WHICH RESTRICTIONS ARE WARRANTED. …

Add ten more “bad novel” points for couching the proposal to redefine rights as privileges in “for the children” language.

Truly, the novel can not keep up with reality.

Power brokers must love the street theater

Sigh.

If nothing else, the Occupy Wall Street protests provide (yet another) reminder that the political “Left” can be just as incoherent, unrealistic and authoritarian as the political “Right.” Compare all of the snickering over tricorner hats and overheated verbiage at Tea Party gatherings to wacky signs and this prominent (unofficial) list of demands at the Occupy Wall Street website.

I think both groups have legitimate grievances — overgrown government on the one hand and corporatist cronyism on the other — but the fact is that grassroots political movements are messy. And, in reality, real people on the streets don’t always know what the fuck they’re talking about, even when expressing heart-felt outrage.

So you end up with movements that, at their fringes, compare elected officials to genocidal totalitarian dictators, and demand the destruction of industrial civilization.

Unfortunately, the net beneficiaries of grassroots lunacy are the powers-that-be, who can simply sit back, point at the street theater, and say: “Would you really prefer to put the crazies in charge?”

The real answer, of course, is that we shouldn’t want anybody “in charge”. Because, so long as somebody is in charge, they’ll inevitably accumulate ever-more power on behalf of themselves and their cronies — the root complaints of both the Tea Partiers and the Occupiers.

Could Europe end up more free-market than the U.S.?

The United States has its problems, but at least we can make a living here more easily, without going hat in hand to a bureaucrat and begging “mother may I,” than our cousins across the pond, right? Well … by and large, that has been the case over the course of our history. But the fact that something was true in the past is no guarantee that it will remain so in the future. The U.S. government, under the mis-rule of both major parties, has tried over the past decade(s) to spend the country into somebody’s disturbing fever-dream of a rule-bound “paradise.” Those efforts continue even as Europeans reach the end of that same dodgy path and discover that, with bank accounts barren and populations too smothered in red tape to fill them up again, they may have to free up their economies out of pure necessity.

There may be no more convincing evidence that the finances of the Greek government are a shambles than the insistent claims of the German chancellor (whose government constitutes Europe’s financial fire brigade) that the Greek books aren’t so bad after all — and so members of her own government should shut up already.

This comes as Italy’s latest attempt to borrow yet more money to pay its bills met with a less-than-enthusiastic response, leaving the already-strapped European Central Bank as pretty much the only serious customer. That is, unless China decides to unload some of that cash surplus on a risky investment in the Mediterranean.

And Ireland is under heavy pressure to address its own cash-strappedness by paring the welfare state and trimming compensation for government workers — advice being implemented elsewhere, amidst much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

All over Europe, governments are running out of money, and have all put the touch one time too many on flusher neighbors who no longer have much to spare for their domestic concerns, let alone to bail out spendthrifts across the border. Much of the speculation by observers watching Europe’s financial troubles is over whether or not the multi-nation euro currency can survive, but does it really matter whether the shrunken European governments of the future pay their reduced bills with the euro, or with revived versions of the drachma and the lira?

“Shrunken,” I say, because it’s pretty clear that European governments in the foreseeable future will spend less money, provide fewer services and intervene less in private economic matters. Governments from Dublin to Athens are cutting back on generous social programs, paying bureaucrats less than in the past, privatizing businesses and deregulating some important aspects of their economies. Ireland has reduced its minimum wage, Greece has eased the process of hiring and firing workers and other countries are doing much of the same — haltingly, it’s true. Taxes are rising in the process, unfortunately, but that may do limited damage among populations accustomed to treating tax rates as little more than suggested contributions, especially if markets really do enjoy reduced regulation.

And all of this as the United States moves closer to very-expensive welfare-state status with the imposition of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. And, while the Obama administration has backed off a bit on EPA regulations, and has ordered federal agencies to review regulations to make sure they’re not too burdensome, the White House has also engaged in high-profile enforcement of red-tape, including an armed raid, against companies such as Boeing and Gibson Guitars.

I can see a time not far in the future when Europeans, climbing their way back to prosperity, engage in their traditional entertainment of heaping scorn upon Americans — but now for clinging to outmoded statist economic policies and bloated government institutions. If it happens, it will be an historic turn-about — though not completely unprecedented.

Hmmm … It might be time to polish up your language skills. For what it’s worth, Spanish and Italian are pretty easy to pick up.

Steven Chu hates waste (at least when it comes to light bulbs)

Complete douchebag

Secretary Chu doesn't want you wasting your own money. Aren't you lucky?

Control freaks are rarely entirely open about their control freakery, but on Friday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu engaged in an unusual bit of complete honesty during a conference call with reporters. The subject was the ban on incandescent light bulbs, and current efforts in the House of Representatives to repeal that law. Said Secretary Chu in supporting the ban, “We are taking away a choice that continues to let people waste their own money.”

Well, maybe calling the ban on traditional incandescent light bulbs a “ban” is unfair. After all, despite actually boasting about taking away people’ choices, Chu claims on the DOE’s EnergyBlog that:

The standards do NOT ban incandescent bulbs. You’ll still be able to buy energy-saving halogen incandescent bulbs that look exactly the same as the ones you’re used to, and more than pay for themselves over the life of the 100 watt replacement bulb.

You see, even though the government has outlawed light bulbs that don’t meet standards that traditional incandescent light bulbs can’t meet, you can still purchase a much-more expensive product that looks the same, so shut up already.

Ummm … no. If you outlaw something, that really is a ban — as telegraphed to begin with by Chu’s “taking away a choice” admission.

As for the justification for taking away a choice … Isn’t it obvious to everybody that, when we accuse others of “wast[ing] their own money,” we’re really just saying we don’t approve of the way they spend their dough and they ought to change their priorities to be more like us? Your mom accuses you of wasting money on comic books, your husband objects to you wasting money on shoes, your in-laws insist your fun vacations are a waste (you should visit them more often) … It’s never a statement of an objective standard; it’s just a shorthand way to nag somebody to shift his spending preferences to brink them in line with those of the speaker.

I know people who really like the new CFLs — one even gives them away to her presumably less-enlightened friends. She’s sort of a Johnny Appleseed of the damned things. And good for her — if she wants to buy them with her own money, that’s her choice. But we don’t all have the same preferences. That some of us want to spend our money on different kinds of light bulbs than Steven Chu likes, doesn’t mean that we’re wasting a penny. We have the right to make our own choices and spend what Chu concedes is our own money.

Or maybe Steven Chu would like us to paw through the details of his expenditures to find a few examples of “waste” we might want to discourage.

Maybe the New Deal was a class war after all

In the piece of Arizona in which I live, there’s a distinct social divide between locally sourced business people and professionals, and those from elsewhere. While everybody mixes at community events and in the professional setting, on their own time, the locals go one way and the imports go another.

It’s not an economic divide — asset-wise, one tribe or the other may have the advantage, but that’s clearly not where the border lies. In fact, there’s a range of incomes on either side; the real common denominator — and source of the division — is culture. In broad terms, one group spends its cash on ATVs, steak and beer, and the other on mountain bikes, hummus and wine. Things are a bit fuzzier than that, of course, but it’s enough to make for two largely detached social networks.

This is on my mind because I’m currently reading Paul Fussell’s much-referenced and very biting Class: A guide through the American status system. Published originally in the early 1980s, the book may be dated a bit in some specific details, but it recalls to me (shudder) my high school years in WASPy Greenwich, Connecticut, and reminds me that economic divides and social divides are not the same thing. One of the great glories of the United States is that wealth really is within the reach of just about anybody with brains and drive — but social barriers are a hell of a lot harder to overcome. Despite his billions, Bill Gates will always be an upper middle-class guy — never mind that he could buy and sell whatever is left of the Roosevelts.

Of course, if sufficiently secure in his own skin, he need not give a shit about that social divide either — which is freedom in itself.

But, speaking of the Roosevelts, this long and somewhat strange introduction is my labored way of working around to an observation that occurred to me some time ago while I was reading Amity Shlaes’s Forgotten Man, about the Great Depression. It’s often remarked that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a “traitor to his class” — that his authoritarianism, corporatist economics and populist bloviating separated him from his natural allies and championed the little guy.

Except … That’s not true, is it?

FDR was fond of bashing “money changers” and plutocrats, and of challenging major figures in business and industry — which is indicative, since he himself was engaged in … nothing. Nothing, that is, aside from politics. Really, his official White House biography speaks of college, law school and political office. Other biographies refer to a brief legal clerkship. But really, his family had lived off of inherited money for generations, and he didn’t have to work at anything that didn’t interest him. The man was a landed aristocrat.

And what about his opponents?

Many of FDR’s opponents may have been wealthier than him, but they also worked at it in ways that the idle social elite have traditionally considered vulgar. Take Andrew Mellon, for example. Widely derided as a shadowy and powerful figure — “three presidents served under him” — Mellon was the son of a Scots-Irish immigrant who started off working in lumber and coal and later went into banking. Yes, he grew immensely rich and powerful, but he worked. By Roosevelt’s standards, Mellon was a social inferior.

In fact, the same could be said about all of those “plutocrats” whose businesses were affected, to one extent or another, by the New Deal. The simple fact that they engaged in commerce beyond managing an ancient estate would have made them a bit … icky … to the likes of FDR and the old elite.

As Fussell writes in Class, “[A]s a class indicator, the amount of money is less significant than the source. The main thing distinguishing the top three classes from each other is the amount of money inherited in relation to the amount currently earned. The top out-of-sight-class … lives on inherited capital entirely.”

By the standard set by Fussell (a liberal Democrat, by the way, who contrasts Ronald Reagan’s “Midwestern small-town meanness” with “Roosevelt’s politics of aristocratic magnanimity”), the likes of Mellon and Henry Ford (another son of an immigrant), who actually worked for the majority of their wealth, would have been one or two social classes below FDR, despite their vast assets.

It’s interesting … Transfer the same cast of characters to, say, fifteenth-century Flanders (not that I’m an expert) and grad students would be cranking out papers about the exploitation of the peasantry as a weapon by the landed aristocracy against the newly empowered merchant class, but clear judgment goes out the window when the scion of a long-established elite New York family takes advantage of an economic down-turn to stir up struggling Americans against newly risen business owners who are overshadowing his social set in the United States of the 1930s.

I’ve long since come to realize that I rarely have original ideas, so I’ll assume that this insight has been covered, to much greater depth, elsewhere. Please feel free to drop me a note telling me what I’ve overlooked, since the subject intrigues me.

Chuck Schumer, surprisingly, finds something else he wants to ban

Many, many years ago, when I was a young man and the Internet (which wasn’t even called that yet) was little more than a very awkward way for engineering grad students to exchange porn, one of my roommates returned to school after spending his post-freshman summer as an intern in the office of a young New York congressman. My roomie was excited because this second-termer openly described himself around the office — though not publicly, in the age of Reagan — as a “socialist.” That my roommate considered this a positive was no surprise — we attended a small, private college in New England, a region seemingly established as a haven for institutions where smart people can spend a lot of money to be taught how swell it is to boss other people around.

Anyway, the congressman in question was Chuck Schumer.

Can you tell that I'm pleasuring myself with a swatch of chainmail?

Chuck Schumer asks, "Can you tell that I'm pleasuring myself with a swatch of chainmail?"

In the years since, I don’t know if Schumer has retained his one-time affection for whatever brand of socialism he once favored. What I do know, however, is that he has established himself as the preeminent control freak in the Senate, having since moved to the upper house of Congress. From self-defense issues to undeclared wars and torture to, most recently, private virtual currencies and online drug markets, Schumer almost always picks the side that expands state power at the expense of the individual. Even when supposedly championing the little guy, it’s always on the way to handing more authority to some government agency.

That Schumer sometimes seems to pick his targets based on what would most benefit his friends in the financial industry demonstrates that he may have gone the way of most good socialists, and jettisoned the populist trappings in favor of the benefits to be had from wielding power.

Senator Charles Schumer’s recent fulminating over the alternative online currency, Bitcoin, and its use in the Silk Road online drug market, fits right into his unsavory role as a ferocious campaigner against grassroots-level stuff that he doesn’t really understand, beyond the fact that it clearly poses a challenge to government power. If history is any guide, he’ll propose some legislation that only peripherally impacts his intended target, somehow benefits a campaign donor — and probably gets shot down in this Congress, anyway.

Of course, Charles Schumer does represent the current generation in a fine New York tradition of politicians who govern as autocratic ideologues, while also finding a way to line their pockets. Yes, the Empire State has seemlessly conjoined fanatical authoritarianism with self-aggrandizing corruption to an extent that’s hard to imagine elsewhere, but would be exceeded in its sheer repulsiveness only by a business that made its money torturing kittens.

Repulsive elsewhere, that is, but not in New York. Back home, Charles Schumer is apparently just what people want in a Senator.

And people ask me why I left.