Who Owns What? – Alma Boykin

Who Owns What? – Alma Boykin


I had never given much thought to the question of “who owns what for how long?” Growing up in the US, I learned that if you pay for it, and keep up with any taxes, it is yours, be it a car, house, farm, or work of art. You can sell it to whomever, bequeath it to your children, or dog, or favorite charity or museum. You can set up a trust and have your money doled out to worthy causes long after your death. After all, you earned it and it was yours to give away. People might challenge you and question your judgment (Dickens’s Bleak House, anyone?), but no one questions your right to dispose of property even after your death.

The first time I came across something different was in the book Holding the Stirrup by Elizabeth von und zu Gutenberg, the daughter of a Bavarian nobleman. After her father died, the men of his extended family gathered to redistribute his property, giving his castle and country house to other relatives that needed the space more than Elizabeth’s mother did (Elizabeth had just married). The real goods of the family belonged to the family as a whole, not to Elizabeth’s father. The clan provided her mother with an apartment in Munich and an income, so she wasn’t homeless or destitute by any means, but the needs of the clan overrode whatever her father’s wishes and mother’s desires might have been. That was how it had always been in the great families of Bavaria and Austro-Hungary. The practice made survival sense in many ways, and Elizabeth von und zu Gutenberg didn’t question the division.

The next thing to catch my attention came while I was in the Czech Republic, when learned about the Lex Schwarzenberg and the difference between legal and illegal property confiscation. Let’s just say that you really don’t want to have a law named for your family. To greatly oversimplify a complicated (and still litigated) story, after WWI and the creation of Czechoslovakia, the duly elected government decided that foreign property holders and some noble families (the two categories overlapped because of the new borders) owned too much land and their holdings potentially endangered the security of the new republic. So the government confiscated all agricultural holdings over 150 hectares (370 acres) and all non-agricultural land over 250 ha (617 a) from foreign owners, and did similar to the magnates’ estates. No one family could own more than 500 ha. The government paid some recompense, but in a new currency at old prices. One unspoken but understood justification for the new government’s actions was that the state i.e. the Habsburg monarchy, had given the land and so the current state had the right to redistribute it, just like the Habsburgs had. Another was the warning posed by the total expropriation of all Habsburg family property. After WWII, another law, the Lex Schwarzenberg, specifically stripped one branch of one old family of its holdings. Then came 1948 and everyone lost everything.

After the Velvet Revolution, the Czech government decided to allow people whose property had been illegally confiscated (by the Nazis or Communists) to redeem it from the state. If you had the proper paperwork, had maintained Czech citizenship, and could show proof of the seizure, you were entitled to your property back, in as-is condition. BUT, and this is what raised my eyebrows, if it had been legally expropriated by a democratic government between 1919-1938 and 1945-1948, too bad. Your family name might get put back on the castle, country house, or what have you, but you had no claim on the property. You could buy it back, however, at fair market value, if you met certain conditions and the government decided it didn’t need the property.

Hungary followed a similar pattern, but did not allow families to reclaim land taken by the Communists. The government paid people in land bonds, a good number of which quickly ended up on the market and were sold to speculators and investors for half their value.

OK, you are reading this and thinking, “Well, that’s Central Europe. The Habsburg Empire was an anomaly and yeah, the government shouldn’t have just taken all that property if without fair compensation but the Schwarzenbergs and Eszterhazys and everyone were feudal lords and should have seen what was coming, and they got their property by conquest and marriage, didn’t really earn it,” and so on.

But in almost every country in Europe, the state can cap how much of your private property, especially real estate, you are allowed to dispose of and in what manner, because at bottom all real property belongs to the state. You might not be allowed to disinherit your slacker, sleezeball brother. Your estranged husband still gets a chunk of your estate. You cannot leave the farm to the one child who really wants it. In fact, the total value of your estate may be capped so that only 30 percent is assigned by you in your will. The State parcels out the rest, what it doesn’t claim in the form of taxes. And this is as it has been for centuries, because the good of the clan, or tribe, or nation, is more important than the desires of a dead individual. The good of the group, now the state, is the primary consideration. Everything is on long-term loan to you from the state. You don’t own that.

Only in Britain, and Canada, the US, Australia, and New Zealand do the ideas of truly private property hold sway, and even here the Progressives and their Euro-fan siblings are eroding it, giving the state more and more power over private property and how it is dispersed and used. The English were the first to develop the idea of truly private property, something that went back to the 13th century and perhaps farther. The sources get mighty scarce before the 1300s, but even then the English had a brisk land market. You didn’t have European-style peasants tied to the land, endlessly shrinking plots of farmland, or people unable to acquire real property because it all belonged to independent nobles. Instead you had yeomen farmers, freeholders, and small businessmen as well as nobles, and the government had to respect their property rights (at least in theory).

We in North America are so used to the idea of truly owning land and goods that we don’t recognize how Odd our system is in the grand scheme of things. I’d never really thought about it until this summer, and it was reinforced by reading Daniel Hannan’s book How We Invented Freedom and Why it Matters, a history of the underpinnings of the Anglophone world’s ideas about the individual and individual rights.

If the purpose of government is to protect life, liberty, and property, as Locke originally wrote, then why is the state permitted to determine who gets to own what, and if someone has too much? Europeans, Chinese, Indians, and others would say that the needs of the state (which is the first and final owner of the land) or the clan or village come before the individual, especially after death. We Anglophones are strange, even heartless and selfish, to believe that property is ours to dispose of.

Now, the question of ownership can add a whole messy plot or subplot if you are writing about a feudal society or historical fiction set outside the Anglosphere. Katherine Kurtz has used it well in several of the Dyreni books, and I mentioned Holding the Stirrup, which is a fascinating autobiography. I’m going to have to deal with it in A Carpathian Campaign and the sequel, and I suspect it will come up in a later Cat book, although only as a minor point, since Rada Ni Drako and Joschka von Hohen-Drachenburg are so steeped in the culture of the Houses that they wouldn’t blink at property divisions and redistributions. Who owns your property: the living, the dead, or the state? It’s an idea with implications for our imagined worlds as well as for real world society.




It’s Time The Gloves Came Off


So yesterday Jason Mattera went off after IRS crap… oh, sorry, ex-IRS crapweasel with questions on her front lawn. Instead of standing and facing the music – and yes, I know you’re surprised to hear the woman who took the fifth with her nose in the air, the woman who miraculously lost two hard drives to avoid proof of her malfeasance surfacing – she ran and with her usual respect for other’s property tried to barge into someone else’s house to escape mattera.

Glenn Reynolds posted the link with the question, “Is it right for him to do this?”

I will own myself surprised. I’ve been in the US for thirty years, just about, and I’ve haunted the forums of the libertarian right since there have been forums to haunt, starting with Reason magazine back in the day.

The proportion of those saying that no, no one should do this, that it’s bad when we descend to the same depths as the liberals, that we have to be better than that was lower than I’ve ever seen it on a forum “of the right” EVER.

But of course it was still there.

There were people still telling us we ought to be ashamed of ourselves; that the video was cringeworthy; that no one honorable would do that; that no true journalist would thus confront a defenseless crapweasel woman.

I tell you three times, they are not only wrong, they are very, very wrong.

I will repeat again: I came to the US thirty years ago. (Actually thirty years next summer, but close enough.) This was, in case some of you are barely older than that, at the height of the cold war.

When I came to the states as an exchange student (for a year) four years before that, I went to the consulate to get my Visa I was carrying music CDs by a French anarchist (my brother had just given them to me, and I was carrying them in hand.) My brother tried to convince me to hide them, lest I should be denied a visa.

Of course I wasn’t. In fact one of the gentlemen I talked to told me he liked the singer.

However, I’ll confess in the Ohio of my exchange student year I met with very little of what I will call “left wing snobbery”. While some of the left’s pet causes were half-heartedly endorsed, no one was breaking themselves in two to decry the evils of patriarchy, and certainly no one was endorsing communism. Not openly.

In fact, in the last year of Carter’s presidency, many people who I’m sure were otherwise democrat had about had it with appeasement of communism.

Four years later, when I returned and got married, the tide had changed. Not just among the people I met in North Carolina, but even our old friends back in Ohio. What we heard (just before the wall came down) was that you know, both the US system and the USSR had problems.

In fact, the more educated the person, the trendier his/her profession, the more likely that there would be some sideways defense of socialism at least in the “soft” socialist version practiced in Scandinavia. The proponents of the third way were out in full force.

To support Reagan, to quote him, to say anything in defense of a strong stand in the Cold War was more gauche (socially) here than in openly socialist Portugal.

What had happened was that leftism had become a positional good. They had, through continual repeating, through command of the media and entertainment (books, movies, tv, etc.) somehow managed to get across the message that to believe in American exceptionalism; to think communism was wrong; to believe socialism a soft slide down to the hell of communism; to believe that the US shouldn’t unilaterally disarm – all of this was to demonstrate a low IQ and a lack of cosmopolitan understanding of the world.

Oh, yeah, the left had tightly secured another center of opinion-creation: universities. And I guess having educated idiots with a string of letters after their names pronounce on something they didn’t understand and claiming the left was better made it the “smart” position.

It didn’t take me long to understand that. As a stranger in a strange land and, further more, one who aspired to break into one of the fields tightly under control of the left, I tried to smile at all the right places, I tried to make noises of agreement to the most stupid of points, and I tried to sound “smart.”

Apparently I didn’t do it very well. I have stories from the time, and it doesn’t take an expert to see how bad I was at hiding. Also, my face is apparently glass fronted when it comes to my thoughts. But I did my best to fit in with the “left is smart” status quo.

In my defense, I didn’t take them seriously. You see, I’d seen them in action in Europe. I’d seen how transparently evil and… well… stupid they were.

I thought that this was just a cultural phase and then, once the USSR fell…

I never saw that by then they’d be so culturally entrenched, so established in people’s minds as “the thing to be, if you’re upper class” that after the fall of the USSR they’d only become louder and redouble their assaults people who disagreed with them or pointed out how wrong they were.

I never anticipated they’d persist in the face of the collapse of the fields they held, from the teaching of humanities to the sales of fiction books.

By the time I realized that, I’d “broken in” and was holding on tight to a precarious mid-list career and I knew with gut-certainty, that if I spoke up it would be the end of my career. I wasn’t making much. My income was, however, the difference between being absolutely tight and having a little extra for emergencies and/or a little extra: books for the kids; that music cd that we wouldn’t otherwise get; the museum memberships.

I wasn’t willing to sacrifice it. I wasn’t willing to give up a career (such as it was) sixteen years in the making.

And yet—

I should have done it.

You see, my unwillingness to speak was the reason we’d come this far in four years and then so far in the last twenty nine that some people get upset at you if you run down communism – a system responsible for the death of over a hundred million people. No, I’m not saying my personal unwillingness to speak. I mean my unwillingness and those of others like me.

By staying quiet, by making aping sounds when we could, we enforced the silence of others like us; we reinforced the power of the leftist thought police; we made it possible for them to control entire fields.

This was helped by the fact that the left has never apologized much less felt bad for hiring according to politics; promoting according to politics; firing according to politics.

That is in fact how they’ve managed 98% prevalence in journalism, entertainment, teaching, and all the fields they control.

For the last ten years or so, they’ve stepped up their game too. Say anything – anything – they disagree with and you’ll be slandered and attacked in ways that boggle the mind. It started in politics, but right now it is at every level they control or would like to control, including even sf fandom and (they wish) gaming journalism.

Say something they disagree with; castigate one of their crazier pronouncements (“the future is queer,” said the man who doesn’t seem to understand how reproduction works) and you’ll be called the worst things they can think of: racist, sexist, a Nazi. (No, it doesn’t need to make any sense, though I’ll go to my grave cherishing the fact I was called a Nazi by a chick in East Germany. It beggars the mind. If they were not utterly without self-reflection, they couldn’t do this stuff.) Say something they disagree with and Larry Correia, the man who has built three successful careers by starting from very humble working class beginnings, gets called a creature of privilege by white, pampered female college professors who never SWEATED except while tanning.

They can do this because they have taken over entire fields. And because many of the fields they have taken over are those that inform the public about movements and public concerns.

They can act like bullies and they can scare people, and who is going to report on this, or on their seriously unfair hiring/firing practices? No one, that’s who. Because they are the establishment. And they control everything.

Or they did. The new media allows those of us who weren’t fully aboard with their program to have a voice. It’s a small (relatively) but growing voice. And what’s more, it’s way cooler than the old media. And they know that. And it annoys them beyond belief.

So they’ve redoubled the insanity and tried to shut down all the niches from which the new media comes. (Hence their attack on gamers. Oh, and science fiction.)

They can’t win, of course. The whole thing about slipping between their fingers like sand was never as true, as obviously true as it is with the dispersed, distributed new media.

But they hold on, to a great extent through two things: the power to hire and fire in the fields they control, and their now hysterical assertion that all the smart/honorable/idealistic people agree with them.

They need to be exposed for what they are, because, as everywhere where the left gets power, they’re a weird, misshapen assemblage of overreaching bureaucrats, twisted control freaks and lamentable human beings.

Illegal mistreatment of their political “enemies” and hatred of western civilization is what they DO. And the bizarre politeness of those who disagree with them is what allows them to do it.

People criticize Mitt Romney for saying that Obama was a good man. How could he have said otherwise. If he’d called the man the rabid crapweasel he is, half the right or more would have risen to dissociate themselves from him, because they’ve been trained to think it’s somehow not fair or impolite to expose the left.

This is not belief. This is social conditioning, through all the years when it was accepted the “smart” and “nice” were on the left.

Even I was shocked reading a biography of Carter – did you know he tried to sell us to the Russians in return for help with his second election? – because I too had been sold on the idea he was only ineffective because he was so nice.

They’re not your friends. They’re not nice. They’re no idealistic. No idealistic left survived the combined blows of Stalinism and the fall of the USSR. There’s only, now, cynical left pretending to be idealistic to hide their grossly swollen appetite for power.

They’ve lost even their power of self deception.

All they have now is the naked will to power and you – you who dare stand in their way.

This is not a gentlemanly fight. You are NOT to use the Marquess of Queensbury rules. The other guy is holding a broken bottle.

No one is asking you to make yourself into a mirror image of the crapweasels.

But you should not be ashamed to expose them, make them uncomfortable, scream at them or point their vapid intellectual contradictions and contortions. Breitbart wasn’t afraid, and look at the difference he made.

Stop trying to be nice. They aren’t.

Expose, mock and shame.

Being nice is a poor substitute for being good. And you’re called upon to be good. If you’re merely nice, evil wins.

Remembering the Republic – Patrick Richardson

*This is Sarah, and sorry guys, I have the stomach flu.  As usual I spent the day in denial and trying to write.  It didn’t work, and though I’m feeling better, I couldn’t write a blog.  So Pat sent me this (thank you.)  I had a post scriptum to his post, though “fortunately we remember.  Never in history has been such a literate populace, as illiterate as we are, nor one who remembered.  We must remind the people in power that this is a government of the people, for the people.  And I think we will.*

Remembering the Republic – Patrick Richardson

According to Aristotle, there are basically three forms of government which at least have the potential to be good forms of government — Monarchy, Aristocracy and Republic.

In Aristotle’s view, each of those three forms worked well so long as the people in charge remembered they had a duty to those whom they rule. That the reason they had the power they have is in order to administer their nation for the best interests of the people of the nation and the future thereof.

Aristotle also felt there were three evil forms of government — into which all of the three good forms would inevitably slide.

Monarchies tend to become Tyrannies where the Monarch rules only for himself, Aristocracies tend to become Oligarchies in which the Aristocrats work only to benefit themselves and the people of their class, and — a Democracy in which we have the tyranny of the masses.

What!?! You say, Democracy is an evil form of government? Don’t we have a Democracy in the United States? Well, no actually, we’re not supposed to. We’re supposed to have a Republic. There’s a reason for that. The founders were all classically educated men. They’d read Plato and Plutarch and, aye, Aristotle. They were aware that direct democracy simply does not work. The people “vote themselves largess from the public coffers,” and eventually everything collapses.

They created a representative republic precisely so that there would be a check on the passions of the masses, just as they created the the three branches of government to be a check on each other.

In essence they took all three “good” forms of government and folded them into the United States of America. The president is, in essence, an elected monarch. Such have not been unknown in history, the pre-Norman English (Saxon really) monarchy was one example. Congress and the Supreme Court amount to an elective and appointed aristocracy. Because they are elected for fixed terms, the U.S. is putatively, a republic.

We’re also watching all three “evil” forms of government emerge within our own country today. In California, for instance, the public initiative system allows the direct passage of laws without reference to the elected legislature — and there have been some truly silly laws passed because of it. The current holder of the White House is using executive orders, and his own influence to jam through legislation and regulation without regard to constitutionality or legality — how is this not Tyranny? Congress, both houses, and the courts have become nothing but self-perpetuating oligarchies in which we find it is not unusual at all to have members of the same family serving in seats that are almost handed down. Witness the Carnahan “dynasty” in Missouri. That’s on the Democrat side. The Blunt family on the Republican side has sent many members to Congress and the governor’s mansion as well. Congress makes laws which in general seem to benefit only those of the political class.

So in America today we see not only the three “good” forms of government at work, but also all three “evil” forms.

What it comes down to, is that those who rule, have forgotten their duty. They now work only for themselves and not in the best interests of those whom they rule.

The solution? I’m not sure. If history is any indication the whole mess will come down in blood, there will be a dictatorship, and a series of revolutions until something resembling a nation comes out on top once again. I hope this isn’t the route we follow. If we can get back to Constitutional principles we might have a chance. The problem is, for those in power, it’s not in their best interest to do so.

Of Laws and Magic Words

Yesterday, in a moment of lightness I posted a facebook meme that said “Post this if you rode unsecured in the back of a pickup and survived.”

I’ll note that part of the reason I posted is that the only time I did that was when I was camping with my host family during my exchange student year. If we wanted to go to the grocery store with dad, my teen host sister and I rode in the back. It was fun and slow along country lanes.

I remember the warm summer afternoons, and riding in the back of the truck amid the corn fields.

The other part was of course more complex. I think we have been wrapping kids/teens and sometimes adults in bubblewrap. I have theories on why, but that was sort of a general “yeah, there was a risk, but it wasn’t a huge risk, and yeah.”

Even so it surprised me when I started getting comments from people who said they knew people who’d died by falling from the backs of pickups and lecturing me on the fact that those who didn’t survive couldn’t post the meme. (DUH.)

I’ll note at least in one case the person who didn’t survive had been standing in the back of the pickup and shooting out the back (rats, I think) which of course is much more dangerous than sitting in the back leaning against the cab, with the gate part closed.

Yes, if my host dad had hit something full on at sixty, we’d have been thrown. Probably. But he wasn’t doing sixty, he was doing 25 and the chances of his hitting anything head on on those roads was close to zero.

So, should it have been illegal, or should it have been left to his discretion?

Look, in theory I’m all for cracking down on people who have little kids unsecured in the back of the pickup. I don’t even like seeing dogs unsecured back there, not on the highway at least.

In practice, things are a great deal more complex.

Take spanking.

I’m going to confess right here that I spanked my kids. The older son more than the younger. Spanking consisted of open hand on behind, and most of it while behind was still wearing diapers. After that there were more effective methods of punishment because he was conscious/sentient enough to know what it meant when I said “the computer cord goes away for a day.”

Before that, sometimes you needed to swat him just to get his attention. (Ideally to get his attention we should have used a two by four. Still should. But we didn’t want to HURT him and the swat was enough to stop him.)

Time outs didn’t work on him. He would come out of them and resume whatever had got him put in time out.

Until he was conscious of time and consequences, the smack on the butt was the best way to get whatever it was to stop. (Whatever it was included stuff like running naked into a downtown area in the middle of the night; melting crayons on the radiator; trying to turn the gas stove on/playing with gas knobs; wanting to remove the cat’s eye with a screw driver [the cat was okay. He remembers the incident. He thought the cat was a robot]) I.e. we took no joy in it – I truly learned the principle of “it hurts me more than it hurts you” – and we only did it when we were unsuccessful by other means at stopping behavior that would endanger him or others.

Younger son I THINK got swatted twice in his entire childhood (Pretend-smacks on the back of the head don’t count. That’s now, and he’s bigger than I. Also they’re pretend.) because he responded to time outs, distractions, and taking away something he was playing with instead of spanking. His biggest sins were the sin of the younger child: scream like a banshee to get the adult’s attention. He didn’t ever throw chairs at us, bean us with toy trains or lock us out of the house. … or take off running naked through the middle of downtown. He did take off running through the middle of Orly airport but when he was too young to even think of smacking on the behind (a year old) and just bored.

Recently, over the thing with the football player beating his kid I became aware of two things: first, there are people who think that spanking is somehow always sexual and therefore think smacking a kid on the behind is kinky. (These people need therapy.) And second, people think the swat to the behind (more noise than anything else) should be illegal because they think normal, sane parents if they smack the kid once are at risk for beating the kid into the ground.

Or to turn that around: they think if they make it illegal to swat your son on his diapered behind then children won’t get beaten to the ground; burned with cigarettes; locked in closets, or whatever the extreme forms of child abuse they call to mind.

This is the same form of insanity we see with gun control.

Look, just because in extreme cases, to protect him and others I swatted the kid’s behind, it didn’t mean I was going to start beating him till he died. I didn’t want to beat him. And it was already illegal. Heck, it was illegal when I was young and when it was normal to beat kids with switches, wooden spoons and wooden rulers.

There is a vast amount of difference between a singular smack that surprises and stops and beating. There is even a difference between smacking a kid’s hand with a ruler (no, I never did it, but it was the accepted form of punishment in the school I attended. For some reason the smack was called a bolo which means cake in Portuguese. I rarely got it, though I did if asked to recite the multiplication tables aloud, because I knew if you missed three you got smacked, and suddenly I couldn’t remember anything. I don’t recommend beating with a ruler as an aid to learning, but it didn’t permanently damage me, either.)

(And no, you’re not teaching the kid violence. Kids know violence without learning it. Arguably they know more violence if they were never spanked, because they’re not aware of what it does. All mammals physically disciple their cubs. And while I agree we’re not animals, and we stopped as soon as other methods worked, sometimes it was the only thing that stopped a careening little boy.)

And here is the key: the people who would BEAT a child would do it whether it was illegal or not.

The people who buy guns to kill people, don’t care if buying the gun is illegal.

And the people who stand and shoot rats from the back of a moving pickup don’t care if it’s illegal.

Almost anything you can think of, making it illegal has a cost. In the case of older son, I REALLY don’t know if we’d have got through his childhood without major incident without the occasional smack. (I could tell you stories.) Curiously, once he got to be around five, and you could threaten/reward and he understood, he was one of the best kids to deal with. Before that… (And despite the “teach them violence” thing he still is one of the gentlest young men with the weak and defenseless.)

In the case of guns, when you make them illegal, you make it easier for those who don’t care it’s illegal to prey on a disarmed citizenry.

In the case of seat belt laws, etc, you have smaller trade offs, but trade offs, nonetheless. Oh, okay, so on a long camping weekend, I might have had to do without gum. Or pads, which was at least one reason for one of the trips. Not the end of the world. But there are all sorts of issues. For instance in Portugal the seat belt law discommodes my mother. (Mind you I have nightmares at the idea of riding there, on those roads, with those drivers WITHOUT a seat belt, even if I did it all the time as a kid.) You see, she’s very short and it goes right in front of her neck. I know in the US there are adapters for that, but not in Portugal.

My brother in law died in a motorcycle accident from a tire blow out because he wasn’t wearing a helmet. (He’d just removed it.) OTOH other motorcyclists hate the helmet laws because it cuts out on visibility or whatever. I don’t know. I don’t ride, and it’s not my life. The choice should be theirs.

What I mean is, yes, he died (mind you he would be liked to survive with severe impairment if he’d been wearing the helmet) but other people think they have valid reasons not to wear helmets. And, well, he might have been in a region when a helmet was required, but he’d removed it for a few minutes because he was hot.

To be fair, given the chance, he’d probably rather have died than be incapacitated. (He’d talked about it in the past.) I’d disagree with that choice, but it was HIS choice to make.

The point I’m trying to get at beyond the rightness of any of the actions mentioned is this: laws are not magical formulas. There are trade offs to every human action. Sane people know those trade offs and make a judgment on them without the need of a law to distort them. People who are either insane or outlaws will not care if you have a law.

I’m not going to discuss spanking, for instance. We did it briefly, in a mild form, in limited circumstances, with a child who didn’t respond to other methods of discipline. It might not have been the best thing ever, but at the time it was the trade off we felt we had to make, as rational and informed human beings to both keep our son safe and keep him from hurting others. We never had any wish to beat our child into the ground, and if we’d had it, the law would not have deterred us, because that was already illegal.

We don’t have any intention to go around shooting people, and if we did laws against gun ownership wouldn’t deter us. It’s already illegal to shoot people.

We don’t ride in the backs of pickups, but if we had to because it was the only way to get somewhere, then we’d probably ride with our back to the cab and the back closed and not on the highway. Because we’re willing to risk lower safety, but we’re not crazy. And if we HAD to we’d do it despite the law. If there was a way around we would rather be inconvenienced than break the law. But in either case, we’d not be seriously endangering ourselves.

OTOH the people who want to stand up and shoot rats from the back of a moving pickup aren’t going to be deterred by laws. They’d do it anyway.

Laws are not magical words of power. Passing a law doesn’t mean the extreme form of evil/mean/careless action is going to stop magically.

You might stop/inconvenience the responsible people from doing a mostly safe form of whatever you want to stop. I’m sure if it were today my host father would say “you can’t ride on the back of the pickup, the police might stop us.”

But if he were the kind of person who encouraged his kids to stand and hold on as he sped down the highway? Well, why would the law deter him if potential loss of the kids didn’t?

The law isn’t magic words of power. Saying them will not keep people who don’t care about the law anyway from doing the harsher forms of whatever you’re banning. They’re already doing things that risk life and limb of themselves and others. What is a little legal trouble on top of that?

Teach people the risks and let them make their own decisions.

Before passing a law remember that even the best laws have drawbacks. And that laws only stop the law-abiding.



When All Else Fails — David Pascoe

When All Else Fails — David Pascoe

The door slams open of its own accord, drawing eyes from the assembled Huns, Hoydens and Dinerites. After an incomprehensible series of grunts between the figure outside it and the draconic door warden, the former staggers in. A long coat of deep green with a matching mantle broadens the figure into almost dwarven proportions. The brim of his chocolate brown hat covers most of his face, but for the reddish beard failing to hide his grimace of concentration. He weaves his way toward the bar and collapses – if one can collapse upward – onto a stool. Somehow he ends up half-reclined with his elbows on the bar. One hand tips the hat upward and you see the surprisingly grim visage of the Kilted Coffee Maker. His pale skin is even more so than usual, and there are dark circles under his eyes – eyes that stare through the wall.

A hush falls over the madhouse, an especially unnatural one as this place is never quiet. But, speaking of “unnatural,” nobody has ever seen the Kilted One out from behind the enormous (and enormously complicated) Espresso Device taking up one end of the bar. Taking up one end, and growing into the floor, through the wall, and extending what seem to be some kind of techno-organic tendrils up toward the ceiling. Mostly, you just don’t question it, as the coffee’s better than anywhere else in the multiverse.

“So that thing you’re told about parenthood? The one about the so-called Mommy Brain? How you can’t focus, and every sense seems tuned ” Even his voice is just a bit hoarse, as though he’d wandered in at the end of a five-day con. “I figured it was a matter of hormones, but it seems to be something a bit more metaphysical: turns out it’s not limited to mothers. This has been a hell of an experience, and I don’t recommend it for the faint of heart.”

He reaches into a pocket of his coat and pulls out a dark bottle with no label. He stares at it for a long moment, as though he doesn’t really recognize it. A man in the uniform of a Gunnery Sergeant of Marines slides a church-key down the bar. Without seeming to see it, the barista snatches it up as it bounces down the length of scarred, polished wood and pops the top off the bottle.

“Thanks, Gunny,” he tips the bottle in salute, a salute the Gunnery Sergeant mirrors, lifting his Dr. Pepper in reply. “So, yeah, focus has been … lacking. You may notice the recent automation in the Stuff of Life department down at the far end of the bar. I think the pipeline for the Black Blood of the Earth is flowing. The percolator and its feral offspring were finally corralled sometime last night. Those’ll be put out to pasture, as I won’t have that kind of coffee abuse here. You want to burn coffee, do it at home. Otherwise, the inter-dimensional drip – y’know, the one that crosses the eighth – should be solid for the foreseeable future. The Kilted Coon’s supply is guaranteed. Unless somebody lets the Cthulumari loose again. I won’t be held responsible for that kind of twisting of reality, nor the consequences thereof.”

He lifts his hand and stares at the bottle as though he’d forgotten he was holding it. He takes a long pull, and keeps pulling. When he’s finished it off, he kind of relaxes, muscles unknotting. He looks to melt into a puddle right there on the bar.

“Where was I? Right, parentdom, that glorious state of responsibility for something unable to care for itself. Y’know, I’ve been on call 24/7 before. I’ve spent hours and hours doing nothing but waiting for things of little interest to happen. What I haven’t done – until the last-” his eyes lose focus and the fingers of his free hand beat a rapid tattoo on the bar, “-is try to hold down more than one job at a time while making sure something small, weak, and unutterably adorable doesn’t bring my world crashing down around my ears.”

He absently pulls another bottle from his coat pocket and you know this one couldn’t have been there unless the pocket is as ankle-length as the coat itself. He retrieves the church-key and attempts to open the bottle. Upon repeated failure, he finally looks at it and you see his face shift from puzzled to complete befuddlement as he realizes he was trying to open single-malt as though it was a beer bottle. He closes his eyes.

“Right. Forgot I’m not supposed to do that. She’s gonna have my guts for garters if this is one of hers.” He opens his eyes and addresses the you and the rest of the rapt audience. “Let this be a lesson to you: don’t go traveling through Faerie and into any of the purely literary inspired splinter ‘verses. You never know what kind of ability you’ll come back with, and Herself can be murder on exposing our cozy, little arrangement here-” A roar briefly deafens the assembled and the barista grimaces as dust drifts down from the ceiling. “Yeah, she’s still working on Through Fire, so I might be safe, but don’t bet on it. Worse comes to worst, I’ll toss Wee Dave at her and jump into the Catacombs. The ‘Mari down there run wild until we need ‘em. Strangely enough, crating ‘em like veal just toughens them up. If the Grandsquirm and the ‘Mari aren’t enough distraction, I’ll just have to take my medicine, I suppose. Unless the EE Quantum Whatsit is actually working as designed. Usually it just spews really, really low energy particles, which is why we use it to chill the beer. No, I don’t understand how it works, and no, it shouldn’t be able to do what it does. EE products are … better than things designed by B.S. Johnson, that way.”

He flicks the cork out of the bottle with his thumb and takes a pull. Another grimace.

“Not how one treats a good single malt, but needs must. Where was I? Oh, right, parenthood. That question is Exhibit A. I can’t seem to focus on anything anymore. Not for longer than about a minute and a half. The writing has suffered. Herself suggested that she may or may not have experienced something similar with the Heinlein’s namesake. I’m just praying it doesn’t take me the same time to get back around to productive. Well, to get around to productive, as I remain unconvinced I’ve even seen that one from the right side.”

He scowls into the glass tumbler the gentlebeast down the bar has thoughtfully deposited near his right elbow.

“High intelligence is as often a curse as a blessing, and while I can see what needs to be done – in those rare moments of quasi-clarity – I have been as yet unable to affect such change. My Pint-Sized Tyrant’s needs come before mine, and after She Who Must Be Obeyed’s duty has been seen to. As I intimated, the writing is the worse. The writing and the perspective. Those are the worst. No, the writing, the perspective, and the lack of exercise. I’ll just come in again, shall I? It’s those days where I stare at the screen, write a sentence, stare at it, stare at it some more, write another sentence, repeat, then look up and realize I’ve written a matter of sixty or seventy words and it’s time to go wake the Boy-Creature, after which my time is not my own. Those days are dark, and most days are those days.”

His smile is weary, and he raises his now half-full glass to Foxfier.

“I salute you, Lady, for I don’t know how you do it. We’re discussing the timing for Working Title the Second, and a not minuscule portion of my soul cringes, I tell no lie. If I didn’t, already,” he jiggles the glass of amber liquid, “it could drive me to drink. I’ve thought about quitting, I’m willing to admit. Just give it up for a while. My lovely wife would call some of you for help moving my cooling corpse, as I’d become completely unlivable in near-record time, however. I’d really rather not push her that far. It would complicate so many of her plans, you see. Also, I expect my head might explode.”

He drains the glass and fills it halfway, muttering about optimists, pessimists and scientists. From his other pocket he draws a small brown bottle. Unscrewing the cap, he draws an eyedropper from the bottle and empties it into his glass. A sniff, a sip, and one corner of his mouth quirks upward.

“At the other end of the spectrum lies the suicide of the spirit, quick or slow. Doing all the things I used to enjoy doing, but which produce nothing, and eventually I’ll be just a shell of a man.” He finishes the glass, again. His words aren’t slurring, and he’s not weaving any more than he was when he staggered in the door, but his face has lost a little of the haggard look.

“For me – and for most of us, I’d posit – it’s going to come down to a third option. The one where we keep on as we intend. Compromises may be made, but they’ll be internal. For me, I may lose sleep. I understand that’s normal for parents. I may cut out large chunks of what I used to do for fun. I’m not really even sure how that word applies to my life right now, anyway. I’ll trade the wall in for a nice, heavy anvil. The wall has too many head-shaped holes, you understand. And the anvil can be used to make things, too. Or just prop one’s feet on. I’ll continue writing, as I can’t do otherwise. My father told me once of a shirt he saw, the caption of which said, “When all else fails, lower your expectations.” At the time, I found it vulgar. Now, I think I’m starting to see the wisdom in it. I’d like to maintain what little claim to sanity I can legitimately own, after all. Keeping the Heir Apparent alive at the end of the day is a hefty accomplishment. Perhaps everything else is just gravy. Or at least gravy for today.”

Going Down Easy — A blast from the past post March 2013

(Yes, I’m still in the dungeon with the fish for my company as I destroy Liberte seacity [oh, shut up, it deserves it] so I was thinking of the whole SHTF is never as complete as people think.  So… this.)

I really wanted to title this “How to pack for Armageddon” but that is not right, and not something I can do anyway.  There are tons of sites on that.  What to pack in the scaredy bag, what to have for “shelter in place.”

I’m not saying those won’t be needed.  As I said before, I don’t think anyone has taken into account – well, maybe someone has, but that’s not a comforting thought – that while this crew in power is playing at being “more sensitive than you” they’re giving signals to a lot of very bad actors.  The crew in power might be ill-intentioned (mostly I think they’re power-greedy and trying to cover it up by doing the things they’ve been told are “good”) but I suspect they honestly believe that if we unilaterally disarm we’ll be safe.  Don’t laugh.  A lot of my colleagues believed that all through the eighties.  It has nothing to do with intelligence, but with having lived quiet, sheltered prosperous lives where the wildest environment they knew was their kindergarten class.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen other sides of life, and I’ve studied history.

If we can do things like let all the sequester cuts fall on defense, and eventually start reducing our nuclear arsenal (more flexibility, remember?) and NOT get hit, we should just assume the USA is the Almighty’s favorite child and my made up USAians were right.  If we don’t lose a city or more to enemy attack in the next five/six years, I’ll assume this country is G-d’s personal project and that He’s zealously guarding us.

But alas, I think we’re human like other humans and our project of liberty and individual freedom is ours.

So, some regions of the country almost for sure will have to deal with Armageddon conditions to an extent or another.  Which depends who hits us and whether it’s a missile or a backpack nuke.

Yes, I feel crazy just typing that – it’s like ebooks, you know.  We expected ebooks to hit any minute now, and they didn’t, for almost twenty years.  I attended conferences in ninety four where they were talking about how ebooks were the coming thing.  But most people don’t like reading on the computer, and therefore it didn’t happen.  And then suddenly there was the second model of kindle (the first was too green and computer-like) and by that time anyone who’d been immersed in the business was SO convinced ebooks would amount to nothing, that they never, really, got their heads around the reverse.  They still haven’t.

To an extent we have the same relationship with nuclear attacks.  We expected them all through the cold war, which means most of our lives.  It never happened.  Now we tend to roll our eyes as we think of them.

But they are a heavy possibility.  There is a huge difference between attacking the US when you’re the USSR and you know you’ll get hit back, and attacking the US when you know it’s weakened and infighting, and you’re a small back water country and know if the US retaliates the world community will complain they’re picking on you.  (My brother after the Axis of Evil speech “Why is Bush picking on tiny, mad North Korea?” is what I expect to see.)

So, if you live in or near one of our major cities (unless it goes completely astray, which is possible since this is mostly “Russian Technology”, I expect it will be in one of the cities that everyone hears about on TV and shows: DC, NYC, Chicago, LA, San Francisco – with an outside chance of cities that have had TV shows set in them – Cincinnati, Dallas.  While it’s possible there will be one in Denver, for instance, that is an extremely outside chance unless there’s a sudden upswell of  documentaries about “Denver, the power of the west” that makes it abroad.) have a get away bag, just in case, and DO for the love of G-d know some funky, back-road route out of the city.  Make it a weekend project to scout those.  If you live in NYC and don’t have a car – Yes, you DO know who you are – make sure a friend-with-car includes you in his evacuation plans.

For what to put in the bag, and what to put in your basement/crawl space/armoire if you have to sit tight, there are survival blogs all over the net, and if you don’t know any, someone in this blog will link it on request.

My post – taking this long to get to the point is the hallmark of the fact I have had only one cup of tea – is about not the apocalypse, but the gentle slide into chaos and a (much) lower but still civilized lifestyle.

I’ve never been convinced by the “apocalypse” stories simply because American authors, never having experienced it, seem to think of something like a nuclear hit, or even several, crippling all our major cities and making our daily life a negotiated mess (and I want to stress that last one is – I think – highly unlikely in the situation right now.  We’re more likely to get the equivalent to “terrorism with nukes” than to get a planned, carefully carried out attack.  OTOH the attack might well unleash our own tensions and release Civil Unrest with a capital Mess – in which case, it won’t be much different from most cities taken out.)  will immediately send us back to some past age, ranging from the stone age to the nineteenth century.

Of course, most of those stories were written to convince us to unilaterally disarm, which, of course, meant exaggerating the awfulness.

Here is what is not going to happen:

Most people are not going to become looters overnight.  Yes, it will happen in some places, but let me remind you of when the lights went out in NYC for most of a day, and people just quietly walked home.  Whether you’ll have to shoot looters and keep vandals away depends on what region of the country you live in and how dangerous it is now.

You’re not going to need to grow your own wheat and mill your own flour overnight.  Yes, I know “on demand” supply, etc.  So, the local groceries will run out of ice-cream, Hersheys and the other stuff like that.  They might also – always depending on where you live.  We’re in the Khaki for vegetables out here, unless it’s summer, and even then – run out of steaks, or onions, or even (but unlikely.  I think the stuff spontaneously generates) cabbage.  BUT it’s unlikely to run completely out of flour or beans or rice.  (Of course, if you’re low carb you should be making your own preparations.)  Nor will it prevent local farmers from putting stalls by the side of the highway selling local produce ¾ of the year.

You’re not going to have to make your own clothes.  Look, I’m a writer, which means our income fluctuates, which is a polite term for “sometimes it’s non-existent.”  It always hits rock bottom at the most inconvenient times, too, like, when my husband is unemployed, (knock on wood, only happened twice in our entire married life.)  We’ve had to cut back on food, by going to the essentials and having me cook from scratch (but I do that, anyway, by preference) BUT we’ve never really had to cut back on clothes.  In fact, I think I have more than fit in my closet, and one of these days the hanging apparatus will crash.  (Partly because I treat them as disposable, since I hate aprons and all confining clothing, and so I tend to stain clothes while cleaning or cooking.)  — first, the clothes in your closet will not evaporate into the ether.  Second, and VERY important, society as a whole probably has a larger supply of clothes than we could consume (without throwing away) in a century.  I know this because we shop for our clothes at an ARC thrift store nearby.  A LOT of the clothes are brand new still with tags, usually because a store donated surplus.  And I have a rule never to pay more than $5 for a piece of clothing unless it’s designer. Then I’ll go up to $7.  If I go to $10 I get the frown of doom from my husband…

You’re not going to have to make your own furniture – see above.  We’ve gotten used to changing furniture at the drop of a hat because we stopped liking something, but if things get rough we stop throwing it away, and I bet you that what we have will last generations.  (Here I do have advice on what to choose. And what to have.)

This is not saying that things will be either comfortable or wonderful.

So – what do you watch for, and how do you prepare?

This post comes from the fact I was talking to my husband and said “the first thing is usually the post office going unreliable.”

Right now you’re looking at me like I’m a lunatic.  “But our post awful was always—”

No. There are differences.  Yes, in most countries the post office jobs are a sinecure for a politically favored majority (Or minority.  I might be wrong in this, but I have a vague idea most postal carriers in South Africa were Afrikaans speaking.)  and that they are a union shop in most countries, and that jokes about mis-delivered mail exist everywhere. That’s not what I mean.

Part of this is tricky when it comes to the post office, btw – because ours is suffering from catastrophic technological change, as well as everything else.  HOWEVER:

The slide goes like this – it begins with mail distribution twice a day six days a week, and the mail fairly reliable in the sense that yes, you do get human error and things delayed a bit.  Then it goes to once daily.  (I don’t know if the US started with twice daily.  By the time I came here, it was once daily. Part of this was tech change.  Used to be that before the telephone letters in-town were used to say “I’ll drop by tomorrow afternoon.”  Read a mystery of the early twentieth century for that.)

Then slowly the mail becomes more unreliable.  Then one day is cut out.  Then delivery is every other day.

BUT the most important thing is how unreliable it gets.  We’re already pretty unreliable, the reason they’re mostly used for spam.  (Though their tendency to misplace stuff doesn’t help.)

But along that slide comes the time when the mail is COMPLETELY unreliable.  Anything you entrust to them has a fifty/fifty chance of arriving, and anything even vaguely useful/valuable WILL get stolen, unless you’re very, very crafty.

This is a sign post on the way down.  When you start seeing outright unabashed theft by postal employees, and no attempt to track down your registered package, it’s time to have your preparations for the rest of the slide made.

Because that type of theft is a “societal strictures have broken down.”  It’s not “the neighbors will rape and pillage” but it is the “people will pilfer from strangers as a matter of course.”  A package, entrusted to strangers to carry across the country is, of course, at high risk.

This is highly unlikely and there are already signs we’re headed in that direction.  Whether and how much it will affect the private carrier companies, I don’t know.  Whether there will be Amazon Delivery vans that are more reliable, I don’t know.  I do know that the break down in trust needed to efficiently run mail in a continental-sized country is already well underway and getting markedly worse by the day.

The way to deal with the post office is to disguise the contents of whatever you’re sending.  Put an old coat over the new dress you’re sending aunt Emily.  Learn to make false bottoms on boxes.  Encase you check in several pages of blather.

Or, more likely, in this country, in the 21st century, find ways to send ecash, email and different carriers (thank heavens.)

But even if we have more options – that break down in trust is a telling sign.

The other slide is what used to be called in Portugal “a zeal strike” which I understand is the opposite of what the words mean in OZ where they mean “be over-picky over everything and delay everything.”  In Portugal it means “show up for work, but do whatever.”

This, not as a strike but as a way of life ensues.

What I mean is, you don’t realize how much we, Americans, are used to getting what we want, when we want it.

This is likely to go by the way side.  People won’t be breaking their backs to get stuff done and also, sorry, but all businesses are likely to be understaffed for the foreseeable future, because it’s right now almost impossible to keep your margins up in this country unless you’re GE and the government is feeding you dough by the bucketful.

So, things to have:

Any staple you can’t do without, even if it’s not a “survival essential” thing.  Say you’re mighty fond of a brand of coffee, have three or four bags put by in your freezer.  Before you run through them, it will be on the shelves.  Restock when it’s on the shelves and you can afford it.  That way interruptions in supply don’t affect you.

In the same vein, this coming spring, can, pickle and dehydrate veggies.  I don’t think they’ll vanish forever, but supply can/might/almost certainly will (depending on where you live) get mighty irregular.

Any parts you need to keep your car and house running, and which you know are likely to breakdown or need replacing – have by.  And either know how to replace it yourself, or establish a relationship with someone who does.  Knowing how to rewire something in the house and/or how to deal with plumbing is important.  (My husband is okay with it.  But getting one of those comprehensive books from the hardware stores, you know “how to fix anything in the house” is NOT a bad idea.)

Also not a bad idea: if you have to buy furniture and CAN afford it, buy real wood and the best construction you can.  “Furniture you can will to your grandchildren” should be your goal.  Mostly because you might have to.

Also, if you have a young family, buy the biggest house you can afford.  Look, I’ll be blunt, the one slide I saw up close and personal ended up with three and four nuclear families per house.  I.e. kids married and had grandkids, but they were still living with the parents/grandparents.  This did not change till the economy got better.  (And yes, it SORTA is cultural in Portugal, but it was not the norm since the forties, and in fact, as soon as people could afford it, they went their own way, even if children normally live NEAR parents.)

For those people with three kids in a one bedroom apartment it could get tough.

If you’re renting, try to get in a place where the rent won’t go crazy and where you can hunker down if you need to.  Establish a good relationship with your landlord.

Have a deep freezer, so you can buy meat when it’s available/relatively cheap.  (This is a good idea at any time, but it might be vital in a slide down.)

Acquire some knowledge of folk medicine and lay some supplies by.  I’ve recently found that Manuka wound honey (available from Amazon) is the awesome, and will definitely stock it.)  This is obviously part of the slide down at least for this country.  Finding a doctor might become an issue.  DO try to make friends with a doctor or a trained nurse.  It might save your life.

Other things that are probably sort of kind of less vital but that you REALLY don’t want to do without.  One thing I’ve never seen in a slide down is a country sliding into the gutter without significant, pervasive disruptions in the electrical supply.  I don’t mean electricity goes bye bye and never comes back. I don’t even mean LONG black outs.  For those you should have a generator/whole house battery (we can’t afford either) but I expect most of the time you won’t get that.  I mean brown outs and black outs become a fact of life to the point they affect your daily life/ability to work. Not enough to get you to crisis point, not even enough to spoil food in freezer, if you keep it closed.  But enough to annoy you and make things a daily slog.

First – have something you can use for light.  I used to love candles when I was a kid, but of course there are better options.  If you are using flashlights, keep your battery supply up.  I’ve also laid by some of those solar garden lights.  The light is not wonderful, but it is enough to read by.

Speaking of which, since it’s almost impossible to have extra batteries for the kindle (I don’t know about other e-readers) have a car charger, so that if your electrical crashes, you can charge the kindle enough to finish reading that novel.  Also, keep the vital stuff like “how to” manuals in paper.

In the same vein, if you get your living by using the computer, have extra batteries for your laptop.  Keep three of them or so by.

And have an alternate means of cooking, if you rely on electrical.  A grill will do, though I have an entirely coal fired hibachi as well, but that’s because I’m a nut.

Have an alternate means of heating (IF we’re going to stay in this house, I want a soapstone stove.  Sigh.  Maybe Witchfinder will buy me one.)

These things will seem frivolous.  They’re not “how to survive apocalypse” – but having lived through the slide-down, trust me, it makes your life immeasurably better to know that you can still finish that chapter, or write that report, or whatever, even if electricity just went down, and/or you can cook that dish even if the store is out of peppers.

One disruption or interruption is piddly stuff.  An unpredictable succession of them saps the soul and kills the spirit.

Now, the thing is, in the low slide down and counterintuitively, things can do very well you’d never think about.

Look, let me put it bluntly: babies are still born, birthdays still happen, girls still want to buy something pretty for a pick me up.

The people who did well in my brother’s generation (the most affected in Portugal by the slide-down) learned to do something crafty to sell.  Usually bead jewelry, which they sold (literally) on street corners, but also stuffed animals which you could sell to friends of friends of friends.  Paintings, if you were good.  That sort of thing.

Yes, we have walmart and jewelry for a song.  How long it will be cheap is something else, with the dollar plummeting, BUT

But people will pay the same/a little more for something that’s unique/looks better.  And people will still buy toys, baby clothes, (giving stuff to babies is a deeply-rooted tradition.) pretty things that make them smile, unique bits of apparel/accessories that make a tired outfit look new.

Cultivate some crafty skill – first it will keep you from going nuts while you’re worrying about jobs or what not.  Second, it might bring in enough money to survive between jobs/if permanently sidelined by this atrocious economy

Crafts to pick, if you don’t have a favorite should be things that are useful/don’t need proprietary materials.  Scrapbooking would be right out on the first count, and stamped cross-stitch on the second.

But say learning to make clothes out of scraps of material might be in, ditto with braiding rugs.  (Clue zero, but I know people in the village did it.  They bought/got rags off other people and made these gorgeous rugs.)  In a cold climate quilting is a good one.  Altering clothes is too.  Even with the surplus we have, people will grow up, grow wider, or lose weight.  If you know how to alter clothes to make them look GOOD you have something you can trade on/get money for.

I’m decent at refinishing furniture, and I’ve picked up on fillet crochet again.  I used to do this obsessively, then I hit my head and lost the ability to keep track of where I was on the pattern (wonder if that affected writing too?) which is slowly coming back.  Right now – by way of warm up – I’m working on a massive (bedspread size) curtain for our outsized front window.  But I’ve recently come across normal sized patterns for pillows and hangings (and maybe clothes inserts) from the turn of the century, which I think fall under “beautiful and unique” and would probably sell well at SF cons.  And the little ones I can do in an evening, the bigger ones in a week of evenings.

Though I expect ebooks will continue to sell and I even expect Baen to survive.  (The other houses… They’re houses of the living dead right now.  They look alive, but…)  It’s just that you might have to time your publishing/buying for the times the net is up.  And yep, I expect those will actually sell better, because if the net is down there’s less gaming, etc. available.

In that vein, don’t get rid of ALL your obsolete stuff.  Keep DVDs by, even if you have Amazon streaming.  Keep CDs by, even if you buy a lot of music electronic.  I’m clueless about game systems because I don’t use them, but if there’s a way to keep games by, and have power for the systems, do so.

CDs, DVDs and other forms of entertainment not depending on connectivity (if the electricity goes down in your area, so will the net service, most of the time) might make good trade-goods, as well.  So if you see them at the thrift store, buy and store, just in case.  Don’t spend an enormous amount and don’t fill your house with them, but having a few around to trade for others you want is not a bad idea.  Burn you MP3 to CD as backup and keep one of the old stereos around.

Also, because in the long slide down things like the over-restrictive “must cook this in a sterilized kitchen with no one else in the house” health laws tend to slide, even baking and cooking might not be a bad thing, particularly because I suspect a lot of people can’t cook beyond pre-prepared and will be looking for alternatives.  Having the house where the working couple can pick up the pot of pot roast and give you something in return because they’re that kind, might not be a bad idea if the stores are having trouble stocking tv dinners.  (In Portugal it was bread.  Very few people knew how to make bread, but the bakers’ union got bumptious and started not delivering when expected.  Suddenly the people who could bake bread were very popular.)

These are not survival skills, but they’re “keep the world spinning” skills and “make people feel they’re not living in the end times” skills.  They will stand you in good stead.

Most of them are a matter of degree from the Armagedon skills.  So if you believe Armageddon is more likely, by all means, learn to make soap.  BUT learn to make scented, interestingly shaped soap, and you have a skill in case it’s a slide-down.  Learn to make beer, but if you make it micro-brewery specialty beer you can also do well in the slide-down.  Learn to make clothes – but also learn to fix/alter clothes.  That way you’re okay either way.

The only difference is stuff like laptop batteries which are vital in a slide-down and useless in the end of the world.  BUT having them won’t cost you too much.

And it might save your sanity… and allow you to make money off ebooks or whatever it is you do.  If it’s just a slide down.

We’re already in a slide-down, even if not critical yet.  There’s a good chance of a crash, but there’s a chance, also, the slide-down will continue.

In your packing for the crash, don’t neglect preparation for the tumble down the stairs.  It’s usually just a little more effort/expense.  But it can make all the difference.


My eyes on twitter, yesterday, pinged me with an interesting retweet from one of the usual suspects. You know, those people in science fiction who have been so oppressed and downtrodden and kept at arms length because we don’t like their ancestors or their color or their orientation or yes, that they’ve been living hand-to-mouth existences, oppressed by white male privilege and barely able to scrape up a few crumbs of stale bread for their dinner.

This was retweeted in fact by one of those people who continuously try to stop discussion with “Check your privilege.”

I’m just going to quote this magnificent retweet and let you stand back, take a deep breath and admire it splendid madness.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the point of education wasn’t to make a more useful workforce, but to make happy, imaginative and empathetic humans?

Stop – drop and roll – and take a deep breath.

Does anyone here remember why education was instituted among humans? I mean, I know some of you are that ancient, old enough to have fallen from the trees back in the glory days when we went from shrew to ape.


Me neither, but I’ve observed training and education among all mammal species for most of my life. I was raised on what could not be considered a farm except by fiat, but we did grow most of our own food, and what we didn’t grow the neighbors did. And at least some mammals (and birds) I paid attention to because they were cute. I’ve seen mother cats train kittens to hunt, I’ve seen mother rabbits teach bunnies what is best to eat. I’ve seen chickens keep watch on their broods.

“Education” at that level has two basic functions: how to survive as an adult animal and how not to get killed (which is also survival, of course, but less proactive.)

If you go back as far as we can go on first hand accounts, human education had the same purpose, be it learning to hunt, or keep animals, or even pull your forelock to the lord, depending on where you were in the time and place.

For humans it was a little more complex, of course. One of the funniest things is to hear modern people deplore the fact that even most medieval noblemen were illiterate. But the fact is in their own complex world they had much to learn: How to manage places with almost no extra income so you could have enough to support you and not inspire assassination, for instance. Also hunting. Also a complex set of social cues that would make modern heads explode. Writing was no part of their métier. They didn’t need it to survive.

It wasn’t, in fact, until noblemen became a little richer and there was a little more disposable capital in their domains that they felt a need to read and write so they could keep an eye on the churchmen doing the accounting for them.

Nowadays reading is considered an important skill for everyone, not because we’re more enlightened or brighter or better, but simply because navigating the modern world is often a function of being able to quickly read and absorb information.

Note this might be easily superseded in the future by virtual targeted spoken messages, something that in fact already happens at some levels and probably why people at that level in society (mostly supported) have very little interest in learning to read.

The learning to read might have brought with it the ability to read for fun and happiness and to improve your morals, but that (unless you were studying to be a churchmen the later) was not the purpose.

So mostly the purpose of education in humans is to make useful and well adjusted adult humans.

It is, of course, failing at both across a vast spectrum. In the later especially, the part of the quote that goes on about:

to make happy, imaginative and empathetic humans?

The progressive comrades of the lady retweeting this piece of cluelessness have stopped us doing that. Because we can’t teach any type of morals, not even “do onto others” which is what creates empathetic humans. And we certainly can’t teach humans to be happy. “Happy” by definition is “fits well within the structures of society and follows accepted modes and morals.” Or at least that’s as close as a public institution can come to making anyone happy. (To make you INTERNALLY happy would involve a lot of soma, if you’re not disposed that way. We’re trying to do that too, of course, but apparently the chemical happy is not the same as happy-happy.) As for making humans more imaginative, we have no idea if that can be done at all, but if it could it would probably counter the “happy” and it would certainly counter most politically correct strictures on our schools. Imaginative humans can think of anything. Even the unthinkable. They might not do it, but they can think it.

The person who originated this quote (who I presume was not our SJW) seems to think of imaginative in the childish sense of “imagination is a wonderful and sunny place” but an imaginative person can think of anything. When it’s Kate’s turn maybe she’ll grace us with a post on how sometimes your imagination definitely goes where you don’t want it, and how to cope with it.

But let’s leave aside for a moment the internal contradictions in that quote. It’s difficult to do, because there are rifts between its well-meaning prescriptions that are broad enough to let entire civilizations slip through unnoticed.

Let’s instead concentrate on the beginning:

Wouldn’t it be nice if the point of education wasn’t to make a more useful workforce

Oh, yes, of course. Other things that would be nice: if ice cream grew on trees. If designer dresses grew on wild bushes. If we all had a perfect body. If there were no disease and suffering and we studied war no more.

I mean, what exactly is the point of wishing for something like that?

People, in this work-a-day (eh) world still have to make a living, right? Last I checked, just looking around, this desk I’m sitting at did not sprout fully formed from a particularly blessed acorn. The computer I’m typing at was not only designed, not only ideated but built by human beings who devoted considerable time to bringing it into existence and were paid for it, enough money to live in turn.

My fridge is full of food I did not grow, but I’m not under the impression it is created by blessed pixies. I know there’s a lot of unrelenting, unpleasant, often uninteresting work behind that food. Trust me, I know this: I grew up in a rural village.

The world and all it contains is not a sort of fairy bauble where the things we want and need just appear and where even making us pay for them is an injustice, much less making us work for them.

The world is REAL – an unforgiving place that doesn’t care anymore about your imagination and empathy and happiness than it cares about whether that storm just destroyed your crops; that hurricane just leveled your house; or that sparrow just fell.

Those of us who are religious believe there is someone behind the scenes who does care, but even He does not violate the rules of the reality He created just to be mawkish at you, much less to spoil you. (At least the He I believe in doesn’t. I realize some religious people believe in a sort of rub-the-lamp G-d which is a survival from primitive religious mentality (if you sacrifice to the tree spirit, she’ll give you oranges) and which is epitomized in an episode of my childhood which my son describes as “the miracle of the socks.” A friend I was vacationing with, who was a ah vending machine religious person was trying to go to church of a Sunday and couldn’t find her socks. She immediately became convinced the devil had hidden them. So she said the requisite prayer and the socks showed up. Perhaps, for all I know, the world really works like that. I doubt it though. And it would distract me from thinking about real cause and effect trying to figure out which lamp to rub.)

It is a characteristic of reality that it tends to smack you in the face like a three-day-old dead fish whether you want it to or not, and whether you’ve told yourself some just-so story about how it would be so much better if it didn’t.

This is why the left’s just-so story that once you stop capitalism or patriarchy or whatever their bugaboo is, humans will be perfect and loving and innocent never comes about. And also why they thereby deduce we’re still steeped in unfettered capitalism (I wish!) and patriarchy and racism and sexism and the heartbreak of psoriasis. (Okay, okay, I made up the last one. It’s actually psoriasitism.) They do this because their black and white view of the world requires they believe in a pseudo-secular version of the miracle of the socks.

Reality doesn’t care any more for their delusions than it did for my friend’s (who, should the miracle of the socks have failed to materialize would then have come up with some reason, like that she’d forgotten to say the requisite prayer before sleep or for all I knew had forgotten to bless her shoes.)

So for an adult human being (my friend, in her defense wasn’t) to believe that it would not just be lovely, but that it’s somehow possible and DESIRABLE if the point of education wasn’t to make a more useful workforce betrays where this human being stands.

This person is so unimaginably comfortable and cossetted that she believes that work is an icky necessity and that learning the skills of workaday laboring is not just unnecessary but somehow undesirable. She believes it would be best instead if schools tried to fix all sorts of metaphysical things that as far as I can tell have always been wrong with humans.

She believes, in fact, that paradise has arrived – whatever she says – and that we no longer need to spin nor sow.

She’s so far removed from every day necessities, that she thinks that learning a profession is a strange twisting of the purpose of education.

The mind boggles. There are legends of mandarins in towers, long ago, who were as insulated as this. I always assumed they were just legends, but perhaps I was wrong.

No wonder this person goes around worrying obsessively about what happened to ancestors with whom she has almost no genetic and certainly no cultural connection. (Sorry, the idea that you understand your ancestors even a century ago, even without conquest by an alien culture, is … well, an indication you haven’t read many autobiographies more than fifty years old. The idea you understand cultures that were rightly or wrongly subsumed is… a fairy dream.) No wonder she sees all sorts of micro-aggressions due to her skin tone and the fact she possesses a vagina.

Humans must, after all, worry about something. It’s an evolutionary necessity built into us. And in her mandarin-tower there is nothing else to worry about.

Downtrodden? Oppressed? Mistreated?

Is this the statement of a person who is any of those?

Wouldn’t it be nice if the point of education wasn’t to make a more useful workforce, but to make happy, imaginative and empathetic humans?

Oh, honey, check your privilege.



UPDATE: WELCOME INSTAPUNDIT READERS! And thank you to Glenn Reynolds for the link!

Durance Vile

It’s an alley or perhaps a broad street, or perhaps a docking station in the middle of trackless space.

Where ever it is, if you’re one of this crowd, you know where to find it.

You knock.  The door opens a fraction of an inch.  “Hun, Hoyden or Dinerite?”

“I er… don’t know?”

The person — you presume it’s a person, though all you can see is one enormous eye peering out at you — sighs with a gust like the wind of a thousand bellows.  “His Grace Seraphim Ainsling, Duke of Darkwater is?”

“The King’s Witchfinder?”

“I see.  Athena Hera Sinistra, just another cuddle bunny, right?”

“OMG, no.”

“I see.  And if you’re a Usaian you have…?”

“A fanatical devotion to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness?”

“Yes, but that applies to the Huns and Hoydens too. What else do you have?”

“My scrap of flag!”

“Right.  Come on in.”

The door opens wide, allowing you into a space that’s a medieval tavern, unless it’s a space bar.  Two things you can’t avoid noting.  The person — it’s a person, right? — who let you in is a huge dragon wearing a t-shirt that says Drak.  And over the bar/counter/serving table, a board/electronic board/blackboard says “Try our Cthulhu- Mari.  It’s to die for.”

As you edge further in, an orange cat rubs around your ankles, and you wonder if he’s a pet or a guest.

The dragon catches up with you and puts a friendly claw around your shoulders, “Okay, this is all self-explanatory.  If the floor looks shaky, wait till it solidifies to step — we’re between dimmensions.  That guy over there is Statist Josh.  Don’t get in a government discussion with him.  He gets odd.  Other than that he’s perfectly fine.”

“Oh, I see.  He’s a big government fan?”

The dragon looks at you with an immense eye.  “Oh, very no.  Why would you think so?  And that,” Points at the nice lady in the corner with a laptop.  “Is Celia Hayes.  Don’t interrupt her.  We like her writing.   That,” he points at a young woman surrounded by kids, “Is Foxfier and the royal family of elvenland.  Don’t ask.  It was a merger deal.  That,” He points at a wallaby sipping something that foams and bubbles and occasionally tries to crawl out of the glass.  “Is RES, which, it will not have escaped you, is Latin for thing.  Don’t have a punning contest with him when life is on the line.”

“But what about that guy sitting across from him?  Who–  He looks…”

“Oh, yes, that’s SPQR.  He’s a vampire and sometimes a wear feline.  He denies that he’s in fact undead Julius Caesar.”

“Denies it?  How can–“

“Well, he’s had a lot of practice as a politician, right?”

At that moment, the entire place shakes and a roar echoes.

You ask, “Transdimmensional earthquake?”

Drak looks unconcerned.  “That?  Oh, no.  THAT is just herself.  We locked her in the basement until she finishes Through Fire.”

“Yeah,” an athletic man says, as he walks up wiping sweat from his brow.  “She almost got loose that time.  She tried to turn into a hedgehog and cute her way out.  When that didn’t work, she tried to become a dragon and bite her way through the door.  I don’t know how much longer we can keep her locked up.”  He extends a hand to you, “I’m William O’Blivion, btw.”  He turns back to Drak.  “Knighton and Jeff Gauch and Garsys and I really need something to drink, if we’re going to keep holding the fort.  She keeps demanding to see the political news now.  And poor Dr. Mauser was flamed in the fracas.  He’s trying to recover, but you know what it’s like.”

Drak sighs.  “Yeah, I hope she finishes Through Fire soon, or we’re going to have to get reinforcements.  Also, thorazine.”

Why Juggle?

Yesterday I forgot to tell you that Tom Simon’s post on being Superversive is up at Jagi’s blog.

Also, this year my family and I have somehow forgotten to book panels at milehi, which means, ultimately, there’s not much point in going. If any of the huns and/or our friends up there want to make it a breakfast or dinner during the weekend of Milehicon I’m up for that.

We decided we had to go to the Tennessee Valley Interstellar workshop. Part of it is the seminars on terraforming and propulsion. I have so many novels upcoming that must be science fiction that I thought I’d best bolster my week remembrance of my studies of the matter. For one things have changed. When I last dwelled on the subject, everyone thought Ganymede would be an easy terraforming project, but it turns out to have too much radiation for such things. So, under professional development, I need to go there, and before I go I need to get two books delivered to Baen.

Through Fire is clearly one of those stumbling block books that almost break one to write. I think I know why, psychologically, as well as circumstances, but it means that since it’s a series, it must be done. If it were a stand alone, I’ll confess I’d probably have passed on it and gone on to something else.

Anyway, Through Fire, because it requires unusual concentration is part of the reason that I’m forgetting and losing everything, but the other part of it is that…

Well, I listed all the titles I’m working on (as in started/actively outlined/being written) in the diner on FB and scared myself. And that’s not listing things like the Magical British Empire which will take extensive line by line.

Again, I’m more convinced than ever that Ayn Rand was wrong. Atlas didn’t shrug. He juggles.

But this ties in with the whole idea of superversive again.

The word is good, but we’re not the only ones to come up with the concept. There is a time for tearing down and a time for rebuilding. Part of the ah… conformity of mid-century needed tearing down.

What people who moon over the America of FDR and how safe, clean, etc it was miss is that well… it might have been all that, but it was also more uniform. There is a dark side to chaos and a light side too, and the light side is where it allows creation.

(Perhaps my experience is not representative, but I know that I can’t work if put into a too clean, too ordered environment.

I like to be comfortable, which means there’s a little mat on my desk, for my tea cup. There’s piles of projects and notes that make sense only to me, and right now there’s the planner I still haven’t figured out how to use.)

It’s hard to know what was the real late forties and early fifties because more and more as I read an historical or watch a recreation I think “How much of this is true and how much is informed by Marxist narratives?” Like… watching a show about a hospital in Victorian London where in the very first episode of course there is someone who botched a self-abortion. (Did it happen? Sure. But if the village is any example, abortion was a skilled trade, practiced in open secret by an “angel maker”. And women trying to abort themselves were more likely to use irrigation and/or herbal or other semi-poisoning. Knitting needles? Perhaps, but I have trouble believing anywhere where there isn’t mental or other impairment involved, in which case, it could have been anything else she was trying to do.) Packed in the same episode there is also, (of course) an anarchist under arrest and also, (of course) a woman who chooses a glorious career in nursing over marriage.

Did all these things happen? Oh, sure. Just like legitimately repressive religious families happen (we know a couple) and just like legitimately abusive husbands happen (I know a couple, too.) BUT they don’t happen with nowhere near the frequency we see in our fiction, and I’ve started wondering if the frequency we see these things in historical fiction is the same type of “narrative” we’re inflicted upon our own times.

I know that anything touching on Victorian England attributes all its ills not just to poverty but to the disparity between rich and poor, as though that very inequality were such a sin that it caused all these ills.

In real fact, the disparity came from the fact that for the first time in human history at least a portion of the population had disposable wealth. Which allowed it to invest. Which allowed more prosperity that raised all boats.

The idea that the disparity would remain and increase, with us all turning into morlocks and eloi was the idea of Marx, who, as we’ve pointed out before never really created any wealth. (Or ideas. He stole broadly from all and sundry. His was the wrapping it up in an envy-justifying package, which I suppose makes perfect sense for an “intellectual” who thought himself superior and proved again and again that he failed at real life.

In fact the only place disparities increase to that point is in communist/socialist countries, where the confiscation of created wealth brings the engine of creation to a halt and leaves an effective finite pie, of which the kommissars , being human, take the best slice.

Anyway, I’ve recently started to wonder about all shows and books depicting the Victorian age. So many of the writers who became classics had a leftist agenda. And that too makes you wonder, and makes me want to go trolling Gutenberg for forgotten writers of the Victorian age to see whether we, indeed, preserved the best, or whether the same selection bias is in effect as for contemporary “push” on books.

Okay, that was a long digression, but in the same way even as close as the forties and fifties, it’s hard to know what was really true. One reads biographies (particularly the candid self-published biographies of people of no importance) and the picture is quite different.

But to an extent, we do know the fifties had more… ah… bonding between company and employee and that in theory at least, one was supposed to work for the same company for decades and retire with thanks, etc.

In fact, I grew up in a system very much like that.

I had to explain to my kids a pervasive feature of the fifties/sixties sitcoms, where “the boss is coming for dinner.”

The idea completely baffles them, and I had to explain that when women stayed home, the career really involved both and that scoping out an employee’s spouse was normal before a promotion, to see if she was up to her support role, etc.

At least that’s the world I grew up in. When I moved here, in the eighties, I was suddenly catapulted into a less “personal” world when it came to employment. In fact, many people here experienced that, in the eighties for the first time, too.

The rise of temporary labor, at which my entire generation seemed to be working, was particularly baffling for older generations.

But in my case, because I came from elsewhere, I could see both the wrenching instability and the benefits.

The old way of doing things had to be torn down, to give new flexibility to do things. And in a world in which computers were revolutionizing the way of doing business, it was important to have the ability to “try” an employee on before offering a more permanent contract, and also, even, to try positions on you weren’t sure of needing. (It was 90 before the interviews stopped holding it against me that I didn’t know short hand, even when I could demonstrate that I could take down text at normal speaking speeds, something I’d had to learn to do in college. And it was 90 the first time I was allowed to take a typing test on a computer keyboard.)

In the same way, I suppose, the rigidity of mind of a world of “company men” and “support women” had to be torn down, to allow new forms to even be thought about.

No, that’s not why they did it, of course. By and large, the authors who were “subversive’ were tearing down assumptions, norms and values as held by society in the hope that as it all came crashing down, socialism would emerge. (That too has never happened. Anarchy, sure. Strong man rule, sure. Socialism is something else.)

But it could be argued that some norms and values need to be torn down or at least pointed at and have duck noises made at them.

Societies like people get in habits of mind that must be poked, now and then, to see if they are functional or just, you know, things we fell into. Like my putting the tea cup on the right instead of the left of my desk. Maybe it would be better on the left, except there are a bunch of electrical cords there, and if we put it there, it will be a problem. So that habit has been examined and found to have a reason. Also I’m right handed, and it’s easier to lift my mammoth tea cup with my right hand.

OTOH my habit of leaving books that scare me and finding much more pressing stuff to do, like iron clothes, must be torn down and something better erected.

What I mean is that there is/was a place for “subversive” particularly as society was changing relatively fast. But subversive like everything else, has become ossified.

There might have been a point to Heinlein wondering if, in a society that controls the genome, and in which we live practically forever, incest taboos will persist.

There is hardly a point to most stories where such norms are violated simply because they’re norms, and then everyone dies and wallows in misery.

I see superversive as a society-wide movement, not just literary. Human Wave is more specifically literary, a “life affirming” and “Human affirming” movement. Superversive, on the other hand would encompass everything.

It would be a search for the paradigms that work, for history that is real, beyond the narrative, for ways of living that fit both our changed technology and our immutable human needs. It would not seek to break man to mold him to a dream, but to create human dreams, within which humans can exist the best way possible.

I’m putting it very badly, because this post is sort of a catch all for thoughts that will be developed (hopefully) at length over the next few weeks.

But it is part of the reason that Atlas isn’t shrugging or going off to Galt’s Gulch. In our connected, linked world, in our changed technology, that was never very likely.

Instead, Atlas has turned superversive.

Building up is always much more work than tearing down, and there are very few workers, yet, in this vineyard. And it’s not a simple thing. We can’t simply “restore” a time as depicted in literature or movies, because those are tainted. Besides, even the real historical times wouldn’t fit, since our technology is so different.

So we have to research, retool, adapt, cast out the poisonous bits of Marx’s barbed illusions, and forge on.

There is an immense work to do, and I doubt our generation will finish it. Like Moses, we’ll probably die before we see more than the outlines of the new “land.”

But it must be done. So Atlas juggles.

And this particular Atlas is, clearly, going in about 100 directions at once this morning, and must stop babbling and go write fiction.

I have a city to burn, executions to arrange, a Good Man to kill, a redemption to arrange, a character to humble.

I’m swamped.

You too go forth and erect those scaffolds. It is becoming clear that you can’t tear down a civilization and have some parts miraculously standing. And at any rate, the parts they want to stand involve paternalism and telling other people what to do, and truly those are parts that need to go.

So we need to start from the bottom and build up. And we need to make sure we have good foundations, because they will be tested.

Roll up your sleeves. Go to work.

In the end we win, they lose – but it’s going to take will and work to get there.

More and more organized posts anon.

The Naming of Places – Alma Boykin

                       The Naming of Places -Alma Boykin

(With profound apologies to T. S. Elliott)

The Naming of places is a difficult matter

It isn’t just one of your holiday games.

And you may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter

When I tell you a place may have three different names (or four, or five, or six, or eight).


We humans often mark our turf with names. Descriptive, possessive, mysterious, religious, rude, or yes (Killpecker Creek in Wyoming), place names and the stories that associate with them often show traces of the people who lived there before, either in the etymology or the language, and of the intentions of the people who renamed them. Central Europe provides interesting examples of the problem of place names, especially for the span of 1850-2000. Names changed, rechanged, reverted, were left, and vanished off the map with nary a trace. This greatly oversimplified little list barely scratches the surface of a touchy and tricky subject, one I suspect politicians, nationalists, and others will be fighting over until [deity] or [legendary king] comes/returns or the sun burns out.

Take Galicia, for example. The region arced along the northeastern rim of the Carpathian Mountains and, among other things, held most of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s oil in the 1800s-1918. The largest city, Lemburg (Lviv or Lvov), had a thriving Jewish community, while Polish nobles held most of the rural areas on estates inhabited by Ruthenian peasants. Today it is part of Poland and Ukraine, and Galicia (and Ruthenia, and Lemberg) are artifacts of a past some wish others would forget.

Karlstejn, (Karlstein) in the Czech Republic, remains Karlstejn even though the name is quite obviously not Slavic in origin. Tucked into the forest about eighteen miles from Prague, the castle came into being as a “small” hunting retreat for Emperor Charles IV (of the House of Luxemburg) between 1348 and 1357. Charles’s reign is recalled fondly by Czechs as part of Bohemia’s golden era, when the region’s mineral wealth and culture, and the power of the Holy Roman Emperor, gave it great international respect and prestige. The castle, perched on a cliff above a steep, tree-covered ravine, includes the Chapel of the Holy Cross where the crown and regalia of Bohemia were kept, and still forms one of the spiritual hearts of Bohemia today (Rip Hill is the other.) Although Hussites renamed the small town nearby, the fortress retained its original German-based name to this day, in part because of the positive “national memories” associated with it. Every five years, during the national elections, the crown makes a pilgrimage from Prague to the castle and back. An interesting ritual for a democratic nation, yes?

Karlsbad, however, became Karlovy Vary after WWI. The names have the same meaning, Charles’s springs, and derive from the thermal springs that occur there. Karlsbad was one of the places to go to take the waters for medical (or social) reasons in the 18th and 19th century. After the creation of Czechoslovakia, and even more after the promulgation of the Potsdam Accords and the erasure of the Suddetenland, the Czechs wanted to sever the region’s linguistic connection to German. During the Communist era Karlovy Vary remained a place to go soak off your ills, although as a member of a trades union and not of the gentry.

Pannonhalma is another location that gained a new, more national name, this time in the Nineteenth Century. The Benedictine monastery, founded by Prince Geza of Hungary in 996, perches on a prominent hill above the floodplains of a branch of the Danube and its tributary, the Rab. You can see the creamy yellow mass of the monastery for several kilometers around, including from the edge of the regional center of Györ (German Raab, Slovak Ráb, Celtic Arrabona), one of the hotspots in the Turkish wars. The monastery itself suffered attacks from the Mongols in the 1220s and later the Turks, as well as burning down by accident in between, but was rebuilt each time, returned to life in 1802 as a center for teaching after Joseph II’s dissolution of the monasteries in the 1700s, and endured the Communist era. However, its name changed. Originally it was the Benedictine Abby of the Hill of St. Martin. As part of the Magyarization and language reforms that went along with the growing Hungarian nationalism in the late 1800s, the area was rechristened Pannonhalma, from the Roman name Pannonia. Pannonia referred to the area west of the Danube limes and in turn derived from an earlier tribal name based on Indo-European roots meaning “swampy area.” The town at the foot of the abbey’s hill changed to Pannonhalma as well in 1965, although the 252 meter tall hill remains St. Martin’s Hill. The new name was thought to be more patriotic and Magyar.

Other name changes came from the desire to erase the past entirely, leaving no trace of unwanted history. When the first member of the Eszterházy family attained fame, fortune, and good position in the court of the Habsburg emperors in the 1700s, he promptly went out and began building an estate. He renamed the village and lands around it Eszterháza. After the revolution in 1948, the Communists erased the name and the village became Fertöd, after small lake. Why leave any trace of the feudal parasites that had gained wealth by exploiting the peasants and supporting foreign overlords (and paying for some of the greatest classical music written [if you like Hayden])? The glorious workers’ future demands the removal of the dead past. After the next revolution, the residents later voted to keep Fertöd for the town but the estate is once more Eszterháza.

Now, Central Europe does not hold a monopoly on renaming. Istanbul is no longer “Constantine’s city,” London has long ago lost the name the Bronze Age residents gave to the area, and Leningrad is St. Petersburg once more. North America has dozens of formerly Spanish or Indian locations, and New Amsterdam long ago vanished under the streets of New York City.

Interestingly, I have yet to read many science fiction or many fantasy stories that use this idea. Lost civilizations, yes, conquests, but not names and renaming. I’ve considered it for the Colplatschki stories, because the Turkowi renamed places as the captured and resettled them, but on the other hand, my characters look on the Turkowi conquests as temporary disasters to be undone as soon as possible, and refuse to acknowledge the changes. Fantasy in particular might be a place to use the ideas of names and their power: if a location’s name provides access to magic, and the newcomers shun such things, then what does it mean if someone insists on recording the old, abandoned toponym? Or if rebels against an evil king suddenly adopt the place names from the long-vanished earlier kingdom?