I’ve Got My Trabant

My older son was born in 1991.  That summer for the first (and last time) in a long while we found ourselves with enough money to visit Portugal.

It was very odd.  Kindly remember this is Portugal, no one’s idea of the great Western civilization dreamland.  Portugal is often sneered at as second world by other Europeans.  Portugal throughout the entire time I had lived there was a net exporter of people.  Labor is still very cheap, unemployment still high.  It always was.  People went from Portugal everywhere in the world and during my lifetime to Germany and France driven by the direst necessity and often illegally.

So it was jaw dropping to find Portugal flooded with Eastern immigrants, some seeking to find work, some trying to make it overseas or to England.  I swear it can’t have been that bad, but everywhere we drove that summer, by the side of every highway, under every underpass, in fields, abandoned in woods, there were cars I’d never seen or heard of, and some of which looked homemade from found materials.

A lot of them, my mom informed me, were Trabants.

As far as the people in Portugal understood the events, as soon as the wall went down and it was obvious they wouldn’t be shot leaving, citizens of the DDR, and those who could get to the DDR got in whatever makeshift vehicle they could find and started driving.

This is what happens when your country is a virtual prison.  At the first whiff of freedom people just want to get away – far far away.  So far away that, if you change your mind, if you manage to get hold of the reins of power again, they can’t get you back.  The destination isn’t so important and even a “second world” many-centuries senescent potentate will do, if it’s the farthest you can get from your prison.

I know it sounds melodramatic to outsiders when writers call the old state of affairs, the old way of doing business “a prison.”  But considering how difficult it was to get in, and how many factors were selected for that had nothing to do with your ability to, you know, write a good book, how opaque the marketing was, how little control you had over it, and how bizarre things could get if your agent/editor/anyone connected with the house took offense at anything you did or thought, it felt like a prison to many of us.  Don’t take my word for it.  Go to any blog of anyone who is successful self publishing and the substratum of all of it is “ah, ah, I’m free, I’m free.”

We saw colleagues fired for associating with the wrong public figure, for saying the wrong thing, for being rude to the wrong person, for trying to market a different work and even – yes, indeed, this made for happy friendships – for hanging around with the wrong (as in someone the editor disliked) friends at cons.

So we lived in constant fear and watching our step EVERY second, particularly when in public.  But you also didn’t know when an email might be forwarded.

We could have walked away from it all.  We could.  But we had this writing habit.  And let’s face it, most of us are incompetent at LIFE.  So we stayed.  And we tried to fit the mold, even if it meant filing our round shapes into sharp corners.

And for most of us the reward was ONLY “not dying.”

Among other things it was assumed that we would pay our own way, we’d expend our money for publicity, we’d give good work on time, even though we had a full time job, and anytime we got tired of being the one pony in town we got told to shut up and act like a professional.  (And yes, I’m excluding Baen from all of this.  They’re more like family.  I hear DAW is too.  Don’t know. The other houses I worked for weren’t.)  On top of that you had to go through agents.  Read this week’s Kris Rusch column for how fun that could get.

Was it a prison?  Well, we could pretend the bars weren’t there, but…

Now we have the possibility of indie.  For most of us it is an uncertain, unknowable thing, and we’re all thumbs.  My friend Amanda Green is great with the conversions and the pretty-pretty ebooks, but frankly, I’m still doing it by the rough, ready and ugly method.  This needs to change, of course, and it is, as I cram some learning into the spaces.  We have to find stock art (or have art done.)  We have to do covers.  What sells and what doesn’t is trial and error (mostly error) and the old models don’t always apply (hard to when you are selling something the size of a postage stamp. That lovely detailed art?  Invisible.  Going bold and clean seems to work best, but of course it’s also far more difficult.)  Then there’s pricing – do I price up, do I price down?  Do I paint it purple?

It’s a lot like being a teen again trying to learn the only game in town — Should the skirt be shorter?  A little off the bottom?  Should it be tighter on the butt?  Do you think guys like green skirts?  What do you mean no matter what I do it won’t work because he’s gay?  How can I tell if he’s gay? – and I never wanted to go through my teen years again, not for half the time and double the pay.

I keep thinking “D*MN it, I’m fifty, I’m too old to be doing this.”  Then I see people older than I thriving on it, and I shut up and try again.

But through it all there is this feeling “no matter how well or how badly it does, I’m in control, and I can try things that relate to the book, to the story, to the cover – not to my politics or whether some guy at a book show thought I was rude, not to what my agent thinks of my work, not to whether some big name thinks I’m a terrible terrible person because I was wittier than she was at a panel.  What people whisper behind my back doesn’t matter, not unless I engage in epic battles with my fans on the internet.  (Yes, of course I might.  But that’s why I have secret pen names.)

Am I making a ton of money?  Not yet.  I’m still working on putting stuff out.  And what I’m making so far is about what I made from one of my other houses.  But you know, day old bread tastes better in freedom.

This is me, in my Trabant, waving the old chains goodbye.

And this is what is fueling the “war in science fiction” – in the old days, we’d have shut up when the crazy wymen went hunting for Malzberg and Resnick.  What’s more, their nuts (nutsy – say it aloud, you’ll get there) behavior would have got them perks form publishers, “visibility” and “committed to equality” and such poppycock.  And when none of us spoke up, they’d think that “the entire community agrees.”  Not anymore.

What’s more, I’m looking around and seeing signs of the same everywhere.  Friends in Journalism were even more buttoned up than we were, but they now go “Oh, yeah?  Well, if you fire me, I can go on a blog.  I might starve, but I’ll be able to sleep nights.”  And stories break out.  Such as the fact that the NSA is spying on everyone, all the time.  Yes, even you.

Cracks are appearing in all the old fields.  The figures of the establishment in almost every field are saying and doing the things they always said and they can’t see that EVERYONE can see the truth and is laughing at them behind their backs, or behind our hands, because there are other ways of doing things.

The wall isn’t quite down yet, but there is a crack, and the crack is enough, push-pull for friends to get their buggy buggies over and start driving towards freedom.

We might not get very far.  We will be strangers in a strange land.  G-d knows we might starve.

But there’s no going back, and now the old ways seem like an iron jacket.

Get on your Trabant and ride!

219 thoughts on “I’ve Got My Trabant

  1. I’m standing here grinning because when I was at university in Germany (1994), Trabi’s were THE car for the cool student, after appropriate modification (better engine but still small, lace curtains, shag or leopard-print seat-covers, add German cartoon-characters in the back window, put new cardboard on the floorboards). Didn’t matter your political persuasion, the cool “kids” had a fancy Trabi.

  2. Heh. I have only seen one Trabant in the flesh, but I have driven a couple of Ladas. Are you familiar with the 70’s square model? They have something of a fan base here, and since that car is not a complete wreck – very, very basic, has only the absolute bare minimum a working car needs, but fairly reliable if kept in shape – if I had more money I might be tempted to buy and restore one (they are kind of funny), but the older ones are no longer an actually cheap car since it can be difficult, and time consuming, to find spare parts. Not to mention keeping them within the emission requirements.

    Your post does relate to one type of SF ‘if’ I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. This time it seems advances in technology are helping freedom, at least in some cases. But there is the 1984 nightmare scenario going on at the same time, more and more efficient surveillance – now they (government, mostly, but stores and such gather hell of a lot of information too) can know everything about you if they need to, including what you are talking with your friends. Back when I was a kid and we visited some friends of my parents in Soviet era Estonia they refused to talk in the same room where the telephone was because they were scared somebody might be eavesdropping through it, and now the same is quite a real possibility if you have almost any devices with a mic near, your cell, your computer… So they can go after you if they want, and while now in the West ending up in some Gulag seems unlikely unless things go really south harassment can (and looks like does) happen, and that can ruin your life too.

    In general it has seemed that better technology means more chances for freedom. But is that a given, or is there a risk there might be a point in which things start going the other way? Perhaps we should hope that as many people as possible go after that freedom now since that might start pushing things to the right direction, while if too many hesitate – or are too busy with other concerns to even notice their chance – this might fizzle out, at least for a while. I guess I’m a bit scared of the possibilities of government mandated regulations here. They are pretty eager to keep hate speech and whatever from polluting the public discourse. Amazon and such do self-regulate but now they seem to be keeping mostly only the actual criminal level nutjobs out, but what if that changes? And there are these constant efforts towards regulating internet speech.

    1. When my legions of flying monkeys take over the world, “hate speech” will return to “direct incitement to riot.” As in if you whip up a mob and sic them on someone, or if you publish a magazine or website that states in plain language “you should go forth and kill/harass/burn out” and it can be proven that people acted on those words, then you get in trouble for incitement to riot. That’s it. None of this “people with purple spots feel offended by what you wrote, so that’s hate speech and you are guilty of it” or “you said professor and that’s a code word and we know that you know it and so that’s hate speech.” [Note that the last should be said all in one breath, getting faster and louder as you go.]

      1. Do you suppose our President is ever troubled in retrospect by his own hate speech against small-government types, when he sees what his minions (at the IRS, the EPA, or wherever else) have done to them, in the well-founded belief that it’s what he would want them to do?

        1. I’m pretty sure our President still considers those to be “teachable moments” of truth-telling rather than hate speech. Unfortunately.

          And now I have an image in my head of President Obama in a Monarch costume from the Venture Bros. shouting “Minions, regulate!”

          1. He asked who would rid him of the turbulent priest, and the media wonders why we suspect him of having incited all of the murder of Thomas a Becket scandals.

            1. Especially when he timed his public complaints about the groups just as the IRS put in place the criteria.

        2. I don’t think he is. I think that he is happy with what he and his subordinates are doing.

          1. Henry IV quoted in Turnbull’s Tannenberg 1410

            “had replied casually that he too ruled a large country and what would happen, ‘if I were to lose it for every act of playfulness of my knights with someone’s wife’?”

        3. Troubled? That it gets harder for people who disagree with his vision of what’s best for the world?
          I doubt it so much as enters into his mind. After all, people who disagree with him are categorically wrong, misguided fools who want to subjugate others and feel like their culture is superior to others, when it was responsible for slavery and oppression… and the internal combustion engine.
          Seriously, it would require a level of self-reflection and logical thought that I haven’t seen in any other strong statist. Why would I expect it from that guy?

          1. Not sure if you intended it that way or not, but Obama and many of his minions seem to consider the internal combustion engine a greater evil than such minor things as slavery and oppression.

            1. That’s how I meant it. I keep hearing Pat Gray make fun of the sneering way a former VP of the US says “SUV’s”, and its funny, but at the same time a little disturbing because here’s this thing that to me (and to a lot of teenagers) symbolizes freedom – the ability to travel the country, to deliver goods, to increase productivity on farms, and they believe it to be a tool of the devil. The twisted perception of the Statists (because these people in both of the major US parties) is such that all they see is this perceived evil and AGW. We need a new direction-indicator for small-government, liberty minded folks vs. Big State Vile Progs. > >

              1. Usaians versus Statists. Chris Muir and I decided we’re tired of trying to thread the needle between libertarian-conservative-republican. If you believe in the principles of our founding, you’re a Usaian, and welcome brother.

                  1. The YMCA camp where my younger son is this week has some rather large Yurts that they bought when on of their bigger cabins burned down a few years ago. Will those do?

                    1. That’s what we need. An ideological yurt.

                      How does Isaiah say it?

                      Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thy habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes.

                      BIG YURTS.

                    2. Okay, one of my libertarian friends keeps saying we’re going to abandon civilization and live in a yurt. I’ve told him and I’m telling you: THOSE GET FLEAS.

                    3. That’s a design / materials problem. You should be able to create a yurt out of flea-resistant materials. Maybe some kind of ballistic cloth?

                      RAPID-DEPLOYMENT ASSAULT YURTS.

                      Also, showers.

                1. I believe in the principles of our founding, but I’m still going to call myself an American. A splinter off the USAians?

                  1. American is the source group. And I’d say has more to do with a state of mind / view of the world than physical location, hence Peter Schramm often saying that he is an American who was born in the wrong place.

                    1. Normally Emily, I agree. However, Sarah’s usage refers to the followers of the ideals of the USA. In her usage, a person could be an American but not an USAian and a person could be an USAian but not a citizen of America.

      2. You do NOT want flying monkeys, trust me. Near to done with a grown up, epic fantasy take on the Wizard of Oz trilogy tinged with a little hi tech . In my version they’re rhesus monkeys with an 8 foot wing span and the intellect of a 7 year old serial killer. They run in packs and like to ambush people, kill ’em with poison daggers, then laugh about it as they pick over the bodies

        Hmmm, sounds kind of like a Democratic presidential convention.

        I had a stroke back in Sept., and I know this sounds nuts, but I’m almost glad I did. It’s given me time to read all the horror stories about trying to get published the old fashioned way and decide it’s not for me. I have a real problem with authority, a nasty disposition, and an inability to hold my tongue when it comes to people who’ve ticked me off. Honestly, I’ve made grown men cry just with my insults.

        At this point I wouldn’t touch traditional publishing with a 10 foot cattle prod. I may not make any money, but luckily I’m already broke.

        1. Ah, but would you touch it with somebody else’s 20-foot cattle prod? Particularly if the dial went to 11?

        2. I’m rather partial to: “I wouldn’t touch ’em with a 10 foot pole, unless it had a nail in the end, then I’d touch ’em all over.”

    2. I was rather relieved to see Instapundit last night publishing commentary from readers who’d clearly had the same thought about the correlation of Google & FB* data miners in the Obama Reelection and the NSA surveillance data sweeping. And I have long mused over the tracking of purchases on my grocery “regular customer” cards and whether the discount was worth it. Living afraid is not worth it.

      I think I understand why my subconscious has been pulling the Nero Wolfe audiobooks for my in-car reading. Archie Goodwin’s cordial, respectful and deferential relationship with the authorities is a model of what it is to be an American and these days I need all the reminders I can get, since there are dang few modelling it in the MSM.

      *FB strikes me as an apt metaphor for the Obama Administration in ways I decline to expand upon. Leave us simply note that no matter how convenient it might seem, an intrusive, exploitative relationship is not healthy, either with software or the state.

      1. “And I have long mused over the tracking of purchases on my grocery “regular customer” cards and whether the discount was worth it.”

        Funny you mentioning that. I’ve started wondering whether it’s worth it … not so much for the surveillance aspect as just the basic concept of “special deals for special people” tends to disturb me. My favorite local grocery recently did a major remodel and reconfiguration of the store, and when the dust settled, all the prices went up too. Well, they did add a sushi bar, which DH and DD love. And a bulk food aisle, like are they trying to ape Whole Foods hippie section? Bleck. I have my issues with Walmart, but I’m seriously considering changing my grocery shopping habits. I know you didn’t ask, sorry, I thought I was getting a good deal ( and enjoyed my specialness) before this remodel thing came along and now I’m not sure and my consciousness is rising. And the “non-special-people” prices are just to rich for us … so there’s that “mark of the beast” aspect of it.

        1. “Loyalty Cards” do cost money and increase prices. They jack up the non-card prices so you can pretend you’re saving money over the card prices, which are STILL up.

          And remember just who it is that is telling you that Walmart is bad/evil/no good. Typically liberals.

            1. Yes, when they are all evil what do we do? I physically cannot farm and be entirely self-reliant and all that … sigh …

          1. I have no problem with the business concept or wealth of the owners, I just don’t like the “ambiance” at Walmart, and no I don’t mean the patrons, who are “my people” as much as anyone is here where I live, but the lesser selection, the lighting, and other subjective factors. I used to live near and shop at Meijer stores … same concept, better execution, in my opinion. I miss Meijer stores.

            1. I buy some things at Walmart because they have them in large packages than I can get elsewhere. Some things I can’t find elsewhere. But some thing I buy elsewhere to buy the large size.

          2. I’m sorry, but loyalty cards actually don’t increase prices. They give the company local demographic data so that they can target their tastes better and reduce the amount of expired merchandise. While the company is not likely to reduce prices because of starting the use of a loyalty card program, they will raise their prices more slowly, because of the general savings they see.

            If you’re worried about surveillance, there’s no law saying you have to be completely honest with the information you put on the card application.

            1. I used to have a link to a really good article on this. But the point is that data collection and analysis systems cost money to run, and that adds to store overhead, and thus to prices, as supermarkets have high competition and razor thin margins.
              I also have the example of the local Albertson’s chain that started up a card system. I used to buy a lot of Coke there, and I was very aware of the prices for a 12-pack. The month before the new card system went up, the “Regular low price” went up by about a dollar, and then the cardholder price that came along shortly thereafter was a whopping 50 cent savings.
              The systems discourage impulse buys at unfamiliar stores because of the premium you pay for not being a regular customer.
              And as for surveillance. They don’t NEED your name and address, they’ve already stamped their own ID number on you. You’re not Wayne Blackburn, you’re customer 8533709, and your needs are actually weighed against those customers who are more profitable. So the folks with babies will get served better than the singles.

              1. It’s those very razor-thin margins that validate what I said. I’m well aware of the cost of such a system; not only am i a Data Analyst working with similar (though not identical) large datasets, my brother was in the IT department of a moderately large grocery store chain, and was familiar with their system. They can’t arbitrarily raise prices just because they want to install a system like that, they have to weigh it against the loss of customers that raising those prices will cause. Your story of the prices of soft drinks was likely coincidental timing with the planned increase, and instead of raising all the prices $.75, they did the $!.00 increase/$.50 discount.

                You are, however, right about the impulse buys from non-regular customers, but that’s just another thing they have to figure in when deciding whether the system is worth the investment and maintenance.

                As for the surveillance angle – of course the store doesn’t care your specific address, the mention about not putting down your real name and address is for those who are worried that the Government is getting its hands on the data.

                1. I was talking with the local gas-station owner last week and he mentioned that his merchant fees on credit-card sales was around 3K a month, and he pays that out of his gross. He said he wished everyone bought with cash since with that extra money he could hire another employee. So, if you want to help your local store, use cash! They could use some help on their margins.

    3. I had a co-worker who had a Lada when she lived in Europe. She called it bullet-proof and had nothing but praise for it, but I would have been more receptive if she hadn’t pronounced it as “Lata”, which means tin can in Spanish.

      1. 😀

        Yep, they’re kind of that. Very noisy too. Slow. No comforts. But easy to maintain, and break down rarely, probably because there is less than can break down. Plus the big plus for northern climes, they usually start during the winter even when the temperatures go Siberian, and the heating is good (but air conditioning means opening a window).

        1. There used to be cars like that around here only not made of weird stuff, very reliable, very basic. But these days there are all these fuel regulations. Bah. And PFUI

          1. Yes, the way car making has been going lately it may not take that many years before they become a luxury item again, the newer ones are just too damn expensive to maintain so even buying very used may no longer be an option for those of us with lower incomes. Unless we get saved by Chinese or some other imports.

            1. I give it ten more years.* We’ll all be driving electric golf carts. Or cars with about that much zip.

              *And we’ll have fusion power to charge them.

                1. If you don’t have a car/suv/pickup truck, how are you going to pick up the kids from school? Also how are you going to get the groceries home from the supermarket? I’m car-less because I can’t drive. I’ve had to try and bring home groceries without a car, it ain’t pretty.

                  1. Without 18-wheelers transportation of items from the wholesaler/manufacturer to the retailer will be extremely difficult and expensive. You won’t have to worry about how to bring your groceries home, you won’t be able to able more than two bags of groceries.

                    1. You won’t have to worry about how to bring your groceries home, you won’t afford to buy more than two bags of groceries.

                      (I wish we had preview and edit functions here.)

                    2. Yes. There is a reason the supercenter shopping concept with its cost savings of scale only developed after the explosion of highway building beginning in the 1950s … massive trucking vs. rail transport …

                    3. Yep. And in Finland everybody has to move to Helsinki or one of the other bigger population centers because we do have rather long distances.

                      Well, that is actually about half done already. High gas prices, deteriorating roads, no post offices in smaller villages, no police either, since hauling the produce is expensive all the bigger employers have moved to the larger centers already so no jobs away from them… on the other hand we do have long distances. Some parts of the country get a bit more sparsely populated and you might be able to settle there and pretty much run your own private kingdom with none the wiser. Just hide all the illegal parts, like the arsenal and graveyard for any aspiring burglars, well enough that they are not instantly obvious if some police or the like wander there occasionally. 😉

                2. my truck is a 98 model. Hate it. I’d rather my old 73 model Dodge Colt (you might have had it as a Colt or a Mitsubishi Lancer/Galant depending on trim level) with its points ignition and after a starter issue convertion to 5 speed manual. Sadly a fool parked a Pick Up truck half way to the engine and bent it badly for me and I had to get rid of it.
                  I ride motorbikes most of the time (12 hour ride this past wednesday returning from Memphis which was a 10 hour trip from here) and I work on my stuff myself (if one is going to be poor and want things, you best learn to keep it going). Even my 78 model bike (on going project) has electronic ignition. Being a Honda, it tends not to have many issues, and a fellow in Michigan is making replacements, selling them on eBay, but one still has a few bits that if they go bad on the road, a set of simple tools are not going to get you home. Even lawn mowers are more and more going electronic. funny thing is, a well tuned old car can be made cleaner than a new car that has a small issue and is running in one of the “Get it to the technician” program loops. Plus, I’ve seen an old Volvo running points get home by using points from something else and a chevy condenser with wire added so it could be bolted somewhere outside the distributor.

                  Horses are big, dumb beasts and have horrible emissions.

                  1. I know practically nothing about what’s under the hood, but I have still managed to jury-rig a few temporary fixes in the older cars, like when the cable from the carburetor – as said, I knew nothing, but the the problem was pretty obvious, broken cable, thing that makes the engine sound noisier when you pull on that end of that cable, aha! – to the gas pedal broke and I tied a long piece of metal wire to the part still attached to the carburetor, threaded it through the hole to the inside and tied a piece of wood to that end, and then drove the rest of the way by pulling on that by hand.

                    Now, with some of the newer ones I have occasionally driven I wouldn’t probably even dare to look there.

                    1. And I like horses, but they require a lot of work and the vet bills can kill your budget (have known a few owners through the years). Plus they can be a bit nerve wracking to use considering their nerves and occasional reactions to any damn plastic bag or whatever suddenly moving in the wind.

                    2. A late friend of mine, who had horses, cautioned me, “Never take up a hobby that eats while you are sleeping.” I like horses, as long as I can give them back at the end of the lesson/show/trail ride. The up-front cost isn’t bad, but the parking, maintenance, and accessories! Yow! 🙂

      2. I’m sure you’re aware of it, but if you’re not… A Lada is a Fiat made by Communist slave labor. Yep, pretty basic. I have no idea what the gas mileage is, but I’m sure it’s “acceptable”. NO catalytic converter, no fuel injection, no computer-timed firing, etc. Personally, I’d really rather have my old 1950 Chevy again, except parts literally require a machine shop.

      3. Henry Ford was a grand old man,
        Had four wheels and an old tin can,
        Put ’em together and the darn thing ran,
        Henry Ford was a grand old man.

  3. transition from your metaphor to your subject was a little rough for me. Read it a couple of times to make sure I wasn’t missing something ….

    You made a brief mention of Journalism. As someone who was a small town journalist back in the 80s, I’m glad to see people breaking out of the media bias. I don’t know the number of people I had to tell to not paint us all with the same brush, and that you needed to realize the individual you were speaking with, to get the real news out. Mine was only the religion beat where I ran into it, but many people were very certain there was a bias against religion — and it took a lot of self-establishment to get many of them to trust me with their stories.

  4. Trabis are the worst car ever made:

    They represent everythiing that is wrong about Vile Progs and the cultures they create. Yet they make an ideal ecape vehicle given the chance. Though in my personal experience(I’ve been lucky in my career to work with a bunch of people who have escaped Progressive paradises) the most important thing is to have a lead foot and bewilling to break the barriar and drive through and out. The traditional houses have been failing their customers, the readers, their creatives, the authors, and ultimately themselves for a long time now. At one time the publishers cared. Now the readers are treated like widjets and works are supposed to be created by formula rather than imagination. Is it any wonder that tradional publishing is self destructing?

  5. I am not now nor have I ever been a secret pen name for Sarah Hoyt.

    Isn’t a “pen name” what your fellow inmates call you by?

      1. Any of them the guy who jilted Ms Sharpie? The only description I heard was that, while having a definite Flair about him, he was a Uniball.

          1. Best she chalk that up as another pointless experience, then, and stop crayon about his nib’s bluntness.

            1. Now you are beginning to understand the foundation of my war against the pun. Think of how we could improve the health of billions by its elimination.

              1. Err, you seem to have mis-typed the word “pen” in there, Roman.

                I agree with the smiting. Debating “bottle-fill vs. converter vs. cartridge” is nonsense. All true Pen Fundamentalists know that anything less than dipping your pure quill into the ink is an abysmal shortcut to the truly written word. Filling the body of the pen with ink is just icky and unnatural. When you write, remember: “If your pen ain’t dippin’, your yarn ain’t rippin’ ” is as true today as ever it was.

                1. You see, the reformation attitude is that the instrument must be the ink which is the word. Thus crayons and china markers are the instrument of true revisement in a world of errors, but that bubble jet printers, with ink being translated directly from the cartridge to the page without intermediary, are especially holy.

          1. Does bottle-fill vs. converter vs. cartridge count as theology?

            Of course it does! Where do you think the modern emacs vs. vi holy wars came from? It’s just the same song, second verse, little bit louder and a little bit worse.

  6. “I never wanted to go through my teen years again,”

    I remember my youth, and may God save me from a relapse!

    About the Surveillance State; I’m not happy with the government, and less so with private orgs mining data, spying, and otherwise acting like Little Tin Gods. But I have to ask; How reliable is the data all this is based on? How good are the conclusions drawn? If the State is always watching, how come cops bust down so many wrong doors? How come the State can’t find nitwits like the Boston Bombers.

    Is it possible, or even likely, that the State is taking in so much data that they have reduced the quality of the information they think they are extracting to the level of background noise? And how do we find out? Can we foil this trend by continuing to flood the spies with so much bullish*t that they figuratively drown?

    I’ve been turning this over in my mind ever since Reason magazine started writing about Facial Recognition in the 1990’s. My initial reaction was that I kept running into people who looked like other people I knew, and even if Facial Recognition tech could tell the difference in the hands of real experts I doubted it would do so when run by bored GS4s. I expected, and still expect, the advent of such systems to be attended by a lot of false arrests, and expensive lawsuits. And, maybe, by governments quietly dropping the idea as more trouble than it’s worth. Maybe.

    1. Hmmm … wouldn’t it be convenient for maternity wards to do DNA swabs on new borns, just as a matter of course? Far more practical than footprinting and if it prevents just one infant from being sent home with the wrong parent, or stolen from the creche, wouldn’t it be worth it?

      It would also provide invaluable data for long-term studies of all sorts of factors of questionable invaluable scientific worth.

      Plus, once we have a good idea of what sorts of genetic make-up indicate congenital illnesses and anti-social behaviours we can take corrective action before society (or, I guess, parents) have much invested in the little brats dears.

        1. No, do it for the poor disadvantaged minority children. ‘The children’ does include rich privileged white ones, who, of course, also need to be protected but their family can probably take care of that so it’s better to concentrate on the subgroup.

        1. That is already an option that some parents choose. Now schools are starting to use rfid student IDs. Slip slip slippity … mandatory infant chipping coming to a hospital near you, before you know it!

          1. When I read about some schools wanting to do retinal scans for student ID my thought was “WTF? They got money for that?”

            1. That and football. But Math Camp has to be funded by local tech business … sigh …

      1. I think that any concatenation of buttinskis that pushed for this would quickly find out why Planned Parenthood is so leery of having people bring up their founders fondness for eugenics bullish*t. I may be overrating my fellow citizens, but I don’t really think so. That’s a place where the Pro-Choice block is vulnerable too, as they are slowly discovering.

      2. Those foot-poke cards.

        Folks already tried it.

        Been smacked down in several states; Washington State has a law that they must be destroyed when the kid hits adulthood, or sooner if the parents request.

      3. Wait till the first rich guy discovers through this little trick that his darling first born is actually a changeling. And there’s a pre-nup. I’m considering starting a pool on how many accurate results it will take to scotch the whole notion.

        M

    2. May I? There is a point at which you have so much data your conclusions will be flaky particularly about Odds. I had the hardest time convincing the Obama campaign I wasn’t a fan. Answering the phone with “Hello, secret headquarters of the World Wide Zionist conspiracy” actually did the trick, finally. Weirdly enough.

      1. Oh, I remember. I lived for some years in or very near Wonderland On The Potomac , and that AUTOMATICALLY made me a Liberal, at least in the eyes of a lot of signature collectors. I finally got in the habit of simply being brutally rude to them; it save so much of everybody’s time.

        “Excuse me, Sir, could I get your signature on this petition about (insert trendy eco-weenie Cause here)?”

        “NO. I think that 90% of ecological “crises” could be solved by standing the board of directors of The Sierra Club up against a wall and shooting them.”

        “*gulp*”

        1. Yeah — I’m Latina, have a bit more than a Master’s degree (I’ve been coming to terms that going back to do the year and get my phd would probably result in a murder conviction, particularly since it would be in the humanities. So it will probably never happen) write for a living, have too many cats (no, trust me) and buy insufferably high brow books (mostly on Kit Marlowe. It’s an illness.) SO the other stuff I do must be an aberration, right?

          1. I’ve always wondered what the Usual Lefty Suspects on campus made of my Father. He was a Professor of the History of Science and Technology, and high enough up in his field that to advance, the guy at Harvard had to die. He was also the (adopted) son of a Methodist Minister (whom he loved), and by choice lived his intellectual life in the 18th century (he wrote a 2 volume biography of Joseph Priestly). He subscribed to The National Review, wore his hair in a modified crew cut, and had scant use for fools. I know that the Lefty academics were scared to death of him, but I can’t help but wonder how they saw him. I doubt their vision of him had much relation to reality.

        2. But that would cause lead contamination of the wall. You must get an EPA permint for that and considering the nature of the targets, it would probably be a Superfund site afterwords. I am afraid that it is just not on.

        3. Do you have a newsletter, and may I subscribe to it? Particularly if it has a section on “Fun with Liberals with Clipboards” with a contest for insult of the week.

          I keep wanting to point out to the Campaign for Children idiots that infest Seattle that a) children *here* don’t need as nearly as much protection as children in Somalia, so go *there* and raise consciousness you stupid git and b) if you really want to make a difference and feed the hungry chilluns, joining the military is a MUCH more effective way to short-circuit the juntas that steal the NGO food donations for their thugs killing said children. Gaaaah.

          1. You want to help the poor and feed the hungry? Support the system that has lifted more people out of hunger and poverty than every other combined*: Capitalism.

            *To be fair, it’s not terribly hard to beat a negative number.

              1. No system at all tends toward feudalism. Or, depending on the population density, tribalism.

                But I think that response would greatly decrease the number of clipboard-wielding idiots in your presence. Some days I wish I was in college.

      2. Kim du Toit’s book Prime Target is a good one for going into the ins and outs of this, though I suppose it could be a bit technical in some spots for those not familiar with Big Data.

        1. And, I should point out that, being a former expert consultant in the area, Kim knows whereof he speaks.

          M

    3. “Is it possible, or even likely, that the State is taking in so much data that they have reduced the quality of the information they think they are extracting to the level of background noise?”

      Yes. This is why you’re getting the massive Utah Data Center built, and others like it. They want to store the data until they figure out how to use it. There’s too much of it right now, but they don’t want to let it go. This is work for mathematicians and could take years.

        1. “The Lives of Others” is one of the best movies my wife ever made me watch. Definitely needs to be seen again, and soon.

          1. My friend Sean K. made me get it. I haven’t yet decided if he’s to the Libertarian side or the Republican side of me — it depends on the issues — but he’s the sort of friend with whom I tend to try to figure out how to privatize sidewalks. And yes, alcohol is USUALLY involved.

        2. They’ll never figure how to manage it efficiently. They already know how to use it to manufacture scapegoats based on parole-violating youtube filmmakers. Alinsky-doctrine for digital age: pick a target, freeze it, dump data shaded to properly blacken.

          1. We libertarians are hard to smear. No, seriously. I should do a post about that. What if it came out tomorrow that I’m writing porn involving sentient dogs? (I’m NOT.) “Dude, I’m a libertarian. My only objection to bestiality is that dogs can’t consent.” “You’ve posted in support of the legalization of drugs!” “Yes. I don’t actually do them. I think they’re a terrible idea. But I think the war on drugs allows unwarranted encroachments in individual freedom. And the heavier drug users is like the gene pool chlorinating itself.” “You’d remove laws against murder.” “Yes, not a good solution, but neither is what we have!”) Which is why always and forever they must resort to just shrieking “fascist” at the people who want to shrink the state.

            1. Children, always remember: “Fascist” is just the word the bigger kids use for “Doodoohead” — it has no semantic content anymore.

            2. Hah! I’ve decided my standard answer when someone asks what I write will be “Porn”. It’s not like they’d ever read what I write anyhow. And I get the enjoyment of watching their faces turn red and purple.
              (They WANT to say something, they NEED to say something; but they don’t know WHAT to say or How to say it)

              And I’m not even a Libertarian.

      1. Sort of like what happend to the East Germans? When the wall came down, they found miles and miles of tape recordings of conversations, but no one had been able to actually listen for anything. At least, I think I remember reading that somewhere. We talked about it sometimes when I was living in one of the Central Asian ‘stans and cell phone conversations would end after 23.5 minutes–every time. Must have been the length of the tapes they used to record the conversation. Not that they had the personnel to actually listen to it.

        1. Y’know… you don’t have to actually look at the data on hand until it might be useful. You just have to be able to FIND it.

          Some poor schmuck gets official attention, and the scribes go look to see what they’ve got on him; keeping track of marker information would be really easy with the right setup.

          1. THIS. Again, it’s Anarcho Tyranny: Legions of Laws selectively enforced. You live your life on the sufferance of bureaucrats.

    4. Is it possible, or even likely, that the State is taking in so much data that they have reduced the quality of the information they think they are extracting to the level of background noise? And how do we find out? Can we foil this trend by continuing to flood the spies with so much bullish*t that they figuratively drown?

      So basically you have 4 functions in most of the intelligence agencies, collection, analysis, reporting and manglement.

      Collections people focus on collection, and they get rated/promoted on their collection. Analysis folks on their analysis, reporting on their reports and manglement etc.

      There are two aspects to collection, quality and quantity. As some wit once said “quantity has a quality all it’s own”.

      This is to go on to say that the folks in collections would *like* to have good quality data, but that’s really not their problem as the Analysts can sort it out.

      The biggest problem is that “we” (meaning the squeaky wheels) keep insisting the the government have or develop the capacity to do something to prevent stuff like the Boston Bombing and 9/11. So our intelligence agencies collect more data and try to develop better analysis tools.

      You can’t put someone, or an organization in a position where they *have* to do something they aren’t allowed to.

    5. I once proposed that the United States should send the Russians everything we create, in several copies. The only way they would have been able to handle it would be to have every other Russian translating it. We create TONS of information on a daily basis. How many newspapers are published each day/week/month? How many magazines? How many blogs, and how many posts? How much “scientific” information, medical data, “literature”, letters and emails? Ninety percent of it has to be ignored, or we’d all drown in it. I can’t even keep up with this blog, Instapundit, a couple of online newspapers, and work on my writing, on a regular basis. Keywords help, but a word like “nuclear” can refer to weapons, cellular material, a concept (the nuclear family), and who knows what else, so they don’t help as much as one would believe.

      The way to “win” is to do as I suggested we do to the Russians — write more, publish more, correspond more, surf more, et cetera. Use your full vocabulary, and expand on it. In the end, you’ll be put on the “ignore” list, believe me.

    1. Wednesday, the trip from Nacogdoches to here in Alvarado was quite a nice escape and the route from Jonesboro Louisiana to Coushatta was a close second.

      1. I’ve actually driven from Jonesboro to Coushatta, and I can agree. The trip from Ruston to Alexandria on US167 is also usually a nice trip, regardless of season. Can’t compare to the drive from Empire to Grand Lake here in Colorado, or a couple of other places I like to drive. I grew up in Louisiana, but the mountains are in my blood.

        1. I plan to reverse the Nacodoches trip and add some roads up around Athens as a ride, perhaps this weekend (unless the owners club has a Rite To Eat) . My Sis and BIL have a cabin in Pagosa Springs. I’d like to get to the mountains for a bit eventually and possibly use it as a base, but they rent the thing out and it seems to have become rather popular (even they now have to reserve it just to do maintenance).

          Lived in the N.O. area for 20 years, some of that driving all over parts of cajun country (Houma, Thibodaux, Morgan city, Golden Meadow, Dulac, Galliano …)

  7. When I visited Prague shortly after the Velvet Revolution*, there was a joke making the rounds about the various (consumer) vehicles made in the Worker’s Paradise:

    Customer walks in to an auto parts store, and asks “Can I get a gas cap for a Trabant/Lada/[fill-in-WP-brand-here]?”

    Clerk behind the counter replies: “Sounds like a fair trade to me!”

    *Why *after* the Velvet Revolution? Setting aside the obvious reasons that apply to any Westerner… My great-grandfather was one of the organizers behind—and was a signer of—the “Pittsburgh Agreement”, which was the Czechoslovak Declaration of Independence. Western descendants of the signers were PNG’d by the communist government. Officially, even! Descendants who weren’t officially PNG’d enjoyed that lack of status only until the communist government figured out who they were, and added them to the list. Sigh.

    1. in West, TX (yes, where the explosion was) the bakery, I think, has a sign: “We accept out of town Czechs”.

      Top gear had a funny bit on who made the best Commie Car, the Iron Curtain or British Leyland.

  8. We had a friend in college, 70s timeframe, who was from Romania. He told us of the ordinary proles’ cars there that were made from Masonite-type fiberboard. Did you see cardboard cars among them?

    1. the Trabi was a cotton based composite (made for fun with fire), and I forget the beast the Rus had that used leather as a body part,

      1. oh, and someone was using Banana tree fibers for bodywork on a vehicle for Africa.

  9. I recall reading somewhere that the East German secret police had something called “The Room of Smells.” It was a hug warehouse full of mason jars, and in each jar were samples of fabric, hair, or other personal items belonging to… well, just about everyone. The reason for it was that if they needed to find someone on the run or in hiding they could let blood hounds sniff the item belonging to the person in question, so they could be tracked and found with the dogs.

    I remember thinking at the time that that was one of the creepiest things in the world, creepier than wire tapping the phones or infiltrating opposition groups. Now, with all this crap, I think the only reason we don’t have our own Room of Smells is that it’s to low tech. Our spy guys love them some computers.

    1. OMG. A magical world. An item from each citizen so they can be tracked down by sympathetic magic. CURSE you Chad Lynch. CURSE you. I didn’t need a new idea, and I already have it in my head. Very Farenheit 451

        1. Except that Bob tells us that hair is useless for tracking after the parts left behind grow and fall out of your scalp.

          1. We know magic changes, because the effect of magic on magicians changes; thus, in 21st century Chicago, a baby hair clipping doesn’t work. (Likewise, dry blood doesn’t work there– lucky for us.)

            In a more traditional culture where the symbolism of a lock of hair is stronger? Much different.

            1. Here you go: Take stem cells from cord blood. Use them to genetically modify a rat’s bone marrow. Now that rat will produce your victim’s blood. Keep the rats fed and perform the same procedure on subsequent generations and you’ll have a constant channel to your target. Better have spares, I imagine focusing too much energy on your target through a little rat would be unhealthy for the rodent.

                1. Hunks of bloody flesh need a more complex support system. You need to provide glucose, oxygen, the proper hormones, and keep everything sterile. Rats just need cages, a water supply, food dispensers, and a conveyor to take waste away.

                  And imagine the story possibilities if the rats got loose.

                  1. Imagine if the bad buy (guy being tracked) decides to culture himself his own rats as a as a method to fox any finding spell when he lights out on a run. It would be like duct-taping your cell phone to the underside of a Greyhound bus or sticking your socks in everyone else’s back pockets to confuse the bloodhounds.

                    1. Antibody labs harvest induced antibodies from chicken eggs. to do that they run it through columns filled with media that will grab on to the antibodies but let the rest flush through. Then they bathe the media that releases the antibodies. No trace of chicke remains. Then of course comes the concentration and testing.
                      I’m not sure how that would translate into magical-tech terms

                    2. I’m not sure it would; magic works on emotion-logic, a lot– like I mentioned on the “map is the place” thing, there’s got to be a major connection. If your road map says that there’s a road in a place, you feel like the place did something wrong when you get there and there isn’t.

                      Yes, DNA would be a big deal, but… it feels like the difference between your house, and going to visit the house you grew up in. Even if your folks still live there, it doesn’t feel the same.

                      Contrast with the way that mother’s blood has traces of every child she’s carried– that feels like it should work, and the genetic traces make it stronger. That bit of info got reported so fast BECAUSE it echoes what “feels” right.

                    3. I get what you’re saying. The nice thing about magic is that you can make the rules be whatever you need them to be.

                      I do like Bob’s idea about using the rats to spoof a tracking spell. And now Urban Fantasy has fallen into the ECM/ECCM (or should that be MCM/MCCM?) race.

              1. I just had a horrible thought vis a vis evil corporations. The company I worked for was creating a cord blood bank for stem cell research. What if there were more malevololent things going on?

              1. Sure. For proof look to statistics and climatology. The latter uses math to create stupidity before your very eyes.

                1. “Sure. For proof look to statistics and climatology. The latter uses math to create stupidity before your very eyes.”

                  So does the former. Every child should be exposed to HOW TO LIE WITH STATISTICS at an early age. It would put the brakes on SOOOOOO much epidemiological hogwash.

                  1. Yes. I don’t think you can call yourself truly educated until you’ve read that book.

                  2. It doesn’t.

                    My mom use to do what she called “Carrots are deadly poison” every time she substituted and they ran out of material to cover. She used standard lying with statistics claims– “100% of those who have eaten carrots have died, or will die”– and still the kids didn’t usually apply it.

              2. I believe that’s been touched on a couple of times, yeah…
                I can’t remember who said it here recently, but the theory of magic is basically that the map is the place, on some level.

                1. I know that Margaret Ball wrote MatheMagic. But the map ISN’T the place. I really really wouldn’t want to live in a world of magic. I prefer technology thanks!

                  1. Amen! The pagans dealt with a “magic” world– and it hobbled them, because the rules were always changing.

                    1. It has been argued that the very idea of “science” with it’s “natural laws” could not have developed in a world of multiple gods. Science (and natural laws) may require the idea a single law-giving god to develop.

                      Now I have heard arguments that science might have developed in a system of multiple gods if the “king of the gods” was said to limit actions by the lesser gods.

                      As for magic itself, its origins appear to be rituals to placate/influence gods/spirits.

                    2. In Poul Anderson’s “Delenda Est”, the Carthaginian victory in the Punic Wars meant no science, because the Romans were not around to back up the Maccabees.

                      I must observe, however, that polytheism and monotheism are in fact compatible because the many gods and the one god are not the same order of being. You can see how Plato and Aristotle philosophically worked out a single god and ruled the Olympians out of consideration. Or in India:

                      Perhaps the nearest we can come to striking the note, or giving the thing a name, is in something far away from all that civilization and more remote from Rome than the isolation of Israel. It is in a saying I once heard from some Hindu tradition; that gods as well as men are only the dreams of Brahma; and will perish when Brahma wakes. . . the symbol is very subtle and exact in one respect; that it does suggest the disproportion and even disruption between the very ideas of mythology and religion; the chasm between the two categories. It is really the collapse of comparative religion that there is no comparison. between God and the gods. There is no more comparison than there is between a man and the men who walked about in his dreams. . . But if anyone fancies the contrast of monotheism and polytheism is only a matter of some people having one god and others a few more, for him it will be far nearer the truth to plunge into the elephantine extravagance of Brahmin cosmology; that he may feel a shudder going through the veil of things, the many-handed creators, and the throned and haloed animals and all the network of entangled stars and rulers of the night, as the awful eyes of Brahma open like dawn upon the death of all.

                      Chesterton

                      Whether these monotheisms can sustain Science is another matter.

                    3. Head god with a bunch of lower level underlings; guess it would depend on how much power the lower level guys had– special situation or general situation, for example?

                    4. I don’t know much about Chinese mythology, but it sounds a little like the heavenly paper-pushers, too.

                      Which… yeah, hell covers it to me….

              3. I have a book which has math being the basis of magic. Unfortunately, the author has only completed two of what was to be a 6- or 8- book series.

            1. No, he’s a spirit of intellect. He’s trapped in a skull. He only reads romances because Harry never lets him meet actual women.

              1. I dislike being the one to break this news, guys, but … Bob is a fictional character.. The rules of magic he quotes are only valid in his fictional reality. Those rules are non-binding on other authors or other fictional realities from the same author.

                So long as your rules are consistent and (ideally) enable predictions you are free to violate the magical rules of Jim Butcher, Randall Garrett, Fritz Leiber, Piers Anthony, Chistopher Stasheff, Johnny Tolkein, Larry Correia and/or … any … other … author, including H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E Howard.

                    1. You’re much cooler than my mom. She never plugged anything I’ve put up for sale on Amazon. Of course, she’d say that was because I’ve never put anything up for sale on Amazon, but why waste time with trivialities?

          1. You and I know that because we’re Catholic geeks, but Christenings are important enough in mythology that the whole big production thing will slide into a crystal dragon Jesus religion pretty easily, without that detail. Or maybe have it as a plot twist?

              1. *nod*

                I suppose a work-around like “no baptismal record, no official anything“– and verify the samples you have at every official whatever.

                No marriage, no travel, no ownership of anything you can’t make and carry without getting caught, no record of paying taxes….

          1. As likely to point to the mother as the kid, symbolically; I’m not sure if it’s an absolute match in reality, or just a known compatible one.

      1. A government with a voodoo doll of every citizen? Largely eliminate prisons, use corporal punishment instead: leaves no permanent scarring.

        Every night for one year we will flog your doll for 5 minutes, Mr. Brown, at precisely 1900 hours. Please be sure to arrange your affairs so as not to be driving or operating heavy machinery at that time.

        Mr. Blue, you have been convicted of rape; we will be touching your doll’s willy with a red hot soldering gun at irregular intervals over the next six months. Consider yourself lucky the victim lived.

        Mr. Green, you have been found guilty of speaking out against the government. We will be giving your doll to my little bull terrier puppy as his new chew toy.

        1. That could turn out badly. There was a Fritz Leiber story where the owner of a company kept voodoo dolls of his employees to keep them productive, arrive, and go to lunch and break on time. The owner died unexpectedly and the son wound up with instructions on how to operate the staff. The story conluded with the son saying that he dropped the tray by accident and he hadn’t heard anything from the outer office in three hours and he was afraid to look.

  10. I know it sounds melodramatic to outsiders when writers call the old state of affairs, the old way of doing business “a prison.”

    I think it’s more a “people” thing– when you know something is bad (if your “knowing” is true or not) then you get the heck away from whatever is even associated with it.

    I’ve slowly been recognizing that a lot of what pisses me off about my public so-called “education” is based off of folks that are older than my parents deciding the way they were taught was bad, and round-filing everything including the good stuff.

  11. “…We have to find stock art (or have art done.)  We have to do covers.  What sells and what doesn’t is trial and error (mostly error) and the old models don’t always apply (hard to when you are selling something the size of a postage stamp. That lovely detailed art?  Invisible.  Going bold and clean seems to work best, but of course it’s also far more difficult.)”

    You know, I’ve wondered about the assertion that you have to have good cover art to sell indie e-books. I may be an odd one out here, but when I’m browsing for e-books, the covers just get in the way. I’m much more focused on the abstract/description (and how many reviews note typos and grammar errors) than on the covers. In fact, I tend to turn off cover view when looking for e-books.

    Grant that when you want to publish in physical, they’re important to attract attention on the shelf, but what role do they play, really, for e-books? I’m curious, really is all.

    1. I’m no author, but me, too. I look at the synopsis, then the review rating. Unless I’ve heard of it here or somewhere near, in which case, it just goes on my wish list. But there is so much out there in Kindle-land that I can’t browse blindly … it just overwhelms me, so I start with recommendations and muddle about from there. I know that covers were a big part of the process in brick-and-mortar days … influencing what I would pick up in the first place … but now, not so much. Do you get posters made of your covers, Sarah? I can imagine a wonderful brightly-colored writing room with all your cover posters on the walls … 🙂

  12. Great post Sarah. I don’t know why I suddenly want to put on a kilt, paint my face blue, and yell, “You can take our advances, but you can never take our freedom!” (for those of us selling via traditional publishing and getting advances 🙂 )

    1. Well, we are getting close to the anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath. (1320, for those planning ahead.)

  13. Don’t have time to read thru 150+ posts, so I apologize if someone has already brought this up. . .

    I remember learning in high school that there was a time (hundreds of years ago, granted) when Portugal was one of the great nations; Portugal and Spain basically divided the known world between them. How did Portugal fall on such hard times that it’s now considered “second world”?

    1. That time was actually by way of being a fluke. The other countries were having their 100 year war and this left Portugal to sail the world and discover new lands.
      What happened is a tail of woe. TONS of gold got brought in. But Portugal produced almost nothing, so it flowed out almost as fast. On the way it created massive inflation and changed the culture. Working became declasse (which is silly and has been reversed to an extent. Portuguese still work very hard abroad) and even beggars had slaves to beg for them. The gold pouring in didn’t last. Then there was the Napoleonic war. Until I read about it I didn’t realize how DEVASTATED Portugal was both by the invaders and the defenders. It’s a very small, heavily populated country. It couldn’t support (in agricultural terms) the troops of fighting men.

  14. Some days I need posts like this.

    Reading all the refuse that’s turning up now, it’s hard to see how things could turn out well in the end, and it is good to get some perspective on how these sorts of things have turned around in the past.

  15. Hi gang, just to let you know that if I don’t comment for the next few weeks, it’s not because I’m ill or anything along those lines. I’ll be overseas, away from the Internet except for business. Y’all have fun and keep your stick on the ice. 🙂

          1. Zachary, a word of warning: SPQR is a self-confessed lawyer. Please note that he does not specify where he wears those pants and consider this a can of wyrms best left unopened.

            I believe the recommended legal phrase is: “It’s a trap! Don’t TOUCH it!”

            1. Slightly off topic. (what are we talking about again?)

              A former co-worker of mine has a picture of the Black Guard the day that Hong Kong was returned to China. They were in kilts. It was windy. The shot was… revealing.

              So, in one fell swoop (gust?) we show that a) the rumors are true about kilt wearers and b) undead Roman Emperor vampires have a sense of priority that I, for one, appreciate.

      1. Given the high water in central Europe right now, kilts and Wellies are probably a better choice.

        1. The big problem is, TX, it happens almost every year. The Rhine flooded eight times during the ten years (between 1970 and 1989, not contiguous) I lived there. The Rhine Valley would flood, then the Rhur, then the Netherlands, in a wave. The flood would last three or four weeks in each place, then recede. What was interesting was that each time it flooded, it was greater than the previous time. Makes one ponder…

          1. I am told that the Green Party of Germany had made a declaration this Spring that this year was going to be a record drought, because of globalwarming, and that all emergency measures needed to be taken to conserve water — and now two of the regional party headquarters are under water.

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