The Future Is Yours To Dream

The Portuguese are a very odd people  (you can stop guffawing now, it’s unbecoming).  I don’t know if there  is such a thing as a word devoted solely to nostalgia in other languages, but there is one in Portuguese.

They told us in translation class that this word – Saudade – can’t be literally translated to any one word in any other language.  Its definition would be something like “a near sick longing for days gone by/someone who is dead or far away/a condition you can’t be in again.”

The only time I can honestly say I’ve experienced it full force is in the middle of winter in Colorado.  I’m a person who doesn’t function well (or often at all) in cold weather, and sometimes I just long for warmth and know I can’t get it, and get all upset.

If I could recapture one day in the past – just one perfect day – it would be labor day when Marshall was three, and we discovered the decaying amusement park where I set Noah’s Boy.  The kids were young enough they never tired of the rides.  We went there I think at five, and stayed till long after ten pm.  Dan went on the rides with them, but I don’t do rides (I don’t pay money to be made uncomfortable.)  So I just took three mysteries, and walked around, and waited for them, and listened to their excited stories about the rides.  Then we went for a train ride around the park.  And, because all other restaurants were closed and we’d already eaten at our favorite diner that day, we ended up having late dinner at a Chinese restaurant downtown with a view of the city and introduced Marshall to Peking Duck.

If I could relive one perfect day, it would be that.  But it doesn’t rise to the level of saudade, because afterwards, I would want to be right back where I am.  (Though if we’re going to talk about knowing what I know now, this was right after I’d sold Ill Met By Moonlight, but it hadn’t come out, and if I’d known then what I know now, I’d not have bothered pursuing a career again, except for trying to get in at Baen.  Everything else would have gone in the drawer.  It would have saved me years – years – of stress.OTOH who knows if I’d be the person I’m now, and have the abilities I have now.  Yes, I know I might have better ones, but what if I didn’t.)

So, yesterday I was hanging out at Powerline, and saw their little thing on the pictures of the early twentieth century that Glenn put up.

John Hinderaker says this My reaction is, it isn’t just Detroit. The whole world looks better to me–less crowded, cleaner, more confident and hopeful. Better dressed, too.

So, I went and looked.  I can do saudade like nobody’s business, I was trained early.  But looking at those pictures, what came to mind was my childhood.

No, I didn’t grow up in that time.  Believe it or not, I was born in the middle of the twentieth century, plus twelve years.  However, looking at those pictures, they looked more familiar to me than I suspect they would for most of you.

I was told when I was little that Portugal was twenty years behind the rest of the western world.  Maybe so.  I’m sure the gap in medical science and other such things was no more than that.  Were it more, born premature and fragile, I wouldn’t be here.

However, it is a bad thing to think of civilizations and of history as moving along the same lines everywhere and in every respect.  It’s a human error, of course, and one that often shows up in science fiction books as “they have nineteenth century level technology.”

The thing is not scripted, and someone can be living at the nineteenth century level in transportation, say, and at the twenty first in medicine.  Or, as I understand applies in parts of Africa, at the medieval or before level in technology, but with ipods or cars.

In the area I was in, the pockets were more complex than that. Yeah, we mostly had “nineteenth century level” transportation tech, except that there were cars and buses and particularly vans and trucks aplenty.  The… a … domestic tech might have been pre-nineteenth century.  Most kitchens didn’t have running water, so it had to be got out of the well and carried in.  And our house had a – cold – shower, but most houses didn’t even have that.  (And the only person who used that was my dad.)

Looking at those pictures, I could feel the scratchy fabric on the skin, the sense you have in summer of grime all over you when you don’t bathe but once a week and just washing in parts from a basin is not the same.  I could smell those pictures too.  Yes, they’re beautiful, but I could smell the horse manure on the city streets and the tang of the smoke of those trains in the air.

And I could smell those children: unwashed hair and sweat.

I remember thirty years ago, even, getting on a train in Portugal – when it had come long distance from the mountains – was a noseful.  Not that people didn’t wash.  They did, once a week or so.  But we humans are stinky beasts.  And in winter you needed to add the smell of coal fires, which many people used to dry clothes and most people – outside the urban centers – used for heating and cooking.

And I knew that the beautiful shops and restaurants would be sweltering in summer, freezing in winter, and frankly, that as beautiful as they look, you couldn’t get the variety you get now at your local seven eleven.  Or frankly the quality.

As for “less crowded” – not really.  There were probably more people you were forced into close contact with.  There are statistics proving there was less footage per person in houses, and I attest to that in trains and buses and city streets.

As for ideas – brother, you think we’re badly off now – back then they really  — really – believed big government could solve everything and take us to the stars and make everyone’s life paradise.  And we won’t go into the thousand indignities that composed daily life, which were taken for granted.  And no, I’m not talking of “women and minorities.”  We have gotten more… civilized – for both good and ill – in the last hundred years.  If you don’t believe me, read books from that time.  (For Us The Living, but Rex Stout of the time, too.)  Men seemed to be as violent as adults as they now are in Middle School: a constant game of “I can knock off your block” which must have been hell for Odd males.

So, what causes the “saudade” in rational people, with no invested interest in returning us to the past?

I think it’s two things: there is a sense of confidence in the photos.  Yes, part of this is that it was a more masculine society and in contradiction to what I said above, maybe we need to go halfway there again.  Maybe society shouldn’t be as namby pamby and “mommy will hold you so you don’t fall.”

But the more important one is the aesthetic.  I’ve talked here before about how our aesthetics, our society and to an extent our morals were all shocked by World War One and what we have now is the equivalent of a child hiding in the closet and denying its childhood, because it all ended badly.

For the last almost a hundred years, we’ve been living with the stripped down function-over-form aesthetic, the aspiration to look proletarian, the undecorated, stripped down look that became fashionable post WWI as a reaction against the previous aesthetic.

The thing I want you to understand is this: There I no reason for it.  The reasons you’ve been given in school are not reasons, but someone’s guesses at why it had gone this way, or even someone’s bankrupt justification of why it “should” be that way.

Things like “there were fewer resources and we had to stretch them over more people” are patently not true.  The price of raw materials has gone down, not up.  Things like “Stripped down following of form is always more beautiful” is someone’s aesthetic OPINION and you don’t have to believe it.

Look, I can even see where in those days those clothes they wore were horribly uncomfortable, and the decorations in bridges and stuff were hard to make and expensive.  But now?  With our materials?

We can make the future look like anything we want and make it comfortable too.

And that goes double for societal confidence.  As long as we remember that things don’t need to be done by the state to be big or ambitious?

What I want to say to you is this: You like the look of the past?  Take the look of the past.  (I’d argue there’s a great hunger for this.  Look at Steampunk.)

You want the societal confidence of that time?  Have it.  Yes, we’re going through bad times, but we have the resources and the abilities to make things better.  Do we have the abilities to make things perfect for everyone?  No war, no disease, no crime?  Well, no. The infinitely perfectible humanity is a dream that has caused more death and devastation than any other dream of mankind.  Let it go.  Just concentrate on making things better, and, yes, prettier if you can.  Societal confidence will come with it, with improving things step by step.

Let others dream of the past.  You forget about saudade, okay?  You take what you like/love/admire about the past and bring it to the future, with all the improvements the future offers.

Be not afraid.  The future is wide open.  It is yours to shape.

289 responses to “The Future Is Yours To Dream

  1. Th e thing i noticed in those pictures was all the smoke. In the wide shots of cities, smoke from every building.

    • Yep. I grew up with smoke. It’s pretty to see, but not to live in. It gets on everything.

    • Rob Crawford

      And the lack of trees.

      Here’s a part of a panorama of Cincinnati from 1848:

      http://1848.cincinnatilibrary.org/showPlate.php?id=6&category=

      I can’t find a decent photo of the same location today, but it’s COVERED in trees. Can’t see the ground for all the trees. Yes, there are more buildings, too, but the buildings are hidden by the trees.

      • Not the same panorama, but enough to see that what you say is true. http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7338/8808741728_7c837a8c9f_z.jpg

        • Rob Crawford

          The same was true in the countryside. Harder to see, but: Serpent Mound as it is more-or-less today, and in 1890.

          When people heated and cooked with wood, wood was hard to come by; one reason people switched to coal! Now that we value shade and birds and deer and views more than we value wood for heating… trees, trees everywhere.

          • Plus Arbor Day. We’ve planted a lot of trees and let a lot of trees grow beyond their old range, even in places that used to be tallgrass prairies or rocky/gravelly/clayey/marshy soil where trees didn’t like to grow.

            • I blame tree huggers, with their peculiar focii of worship.

              It is important to remember that the US has had several recent mass tree extinction events which would render such pictures less indicative of the natural order. I do not expect to live so long as to witness restoration of the chestnut tree to its prior grandeur, nor the Elm tree’s recovery. Both should serve as reminders against drawing lines from too few data points.

              • Rob Crawford

                Except the Chestnut Blight and Dutch Elm disease POST DATE the rather sparsely tree’d pictures and PRE DATE the heavily wooded ones. So the reforestation (and that’s what it’s been, in some areas) took place DESPITE mass tree extinctions!

              • The cessation of burning played a major role in the aforestation of the Great Plains and High Plains. That and the Comanches, Cheyennes and other groups deforested parts of the Arkansas, Canadian and other rivers, with help from other passers-through. Cottonwood bark would keep horses alive in winter, and then there were the trees cut for fuel and timber. I’ve got pictures of ranches in the river valleys in 1895-1910 with nary a tree to be seen, aside from the ones the ranchers planted.

                • A few years ago, I ended up being present for a conversation with a lady who expressed the opinion that parts of the Mid-West needed to be re-burned, frequently, in order to bring back the “true” natural conditions (not sure what she planned to do about the farms, homes, and the vast numbers of wildlife that are on the land that was to be burned).

                  In both South Carolina and Virginia, I’ve read of plans and pleas to eradicate all the non-native species of trees/plants, etc., by burning if necessary. (I’m not exactly sure what sylvan era we’re supposed to be returning nature to, though — it seems to me that trees come and go, due to hurricanes, etc. and it is not always the same species that spring up in their place.)

                  • Here in North Carolina we tried burning to eradicate non-native species but the dang Yankees and Half-backs took root anyway.

                  • This underlies the fire issues in the west. Their “forest management” leaves kindling around, to induce burning, so that… yep. This is what they don’t tell you. Instead they scream “global warming” and — this is rich as this year has been on the cool side — “hottest year ever in the west.” BAH.

      • Wayne Blackburn

        Another thing that’s different – the water is MUCH higher today, due to the dam downstream. For those familiar with Cincinnati, it might interest you to know that when the Roebling Suspension Bridge was built, the piers were on dry land.

      • Birthday girl

        I read that the midwest US is far more forested today than it was 100 years ago, and the white-tail deer population is far higher today than when my ancestors were settling in … around 1770ish, even with all the development and agricultural acreage. ALso, they have blue herons where there were none 50 years ago, as I know from personal observation. We are far richer today.

        • Heck, the white tail population is higher than it was fifty years ago. I’ve lived in the same part of Cincinnati since ’63 and we NEVER saw deer in the city before the early ’90s that I can recall.

          Not sure the change is all for the better, though, mind.

          M

            • Birthday girl

              lol we call them woodland vermin … I swear, one of them hit my car, right into the side of the fender near the wheel. It warn’t my fault. Left tufts of hair sticking out of the fender joints and ran off.

              • Al Queda deer. They suicide into cars to kill humans. 100+ deaths a year. So far, we are winning the war against deer terror but we can’t reduce our efforts. Go hunting!

                • Faleen still owes me $2000 in body, radiator, and A/C work. I should have gone back and collected the hide, even if it was 0200 and 95 degrees out. D@mn deer. And I was lucky: the first blow was at an angle and buckled the hood, so the air-bag sensor went off line and I didn’t get a white sack in the face (or a deer in the windscreen).

                • Hunted one down with my Nissan. Does that count?

                  • Just don’t EVER hit a moose. If you don’t kill it with the initial blow, it will literally kick your car apart. Moose through the windshield is usually fatal. A very large whitetail will mass 300 pounds: a moose will easily top 1600 to 1700 pounds.

                    • Yep, I have known two people who hit moose (have seen quite a few dead on the road, but only two by people I know) one of them hit it with a Toyota pickup, he fixed it, but it was a lot of damage to fix! (he hit at 60 mph), the other was a Dodge 3/4 ton, and it went over the hood and got the cab, luckily the body was big enough it didn’t FIT through the windshield.

        • Human farming and ranching is really good for deer– especially those human enough (was going to say “small,” but big ones have folks who willingly look the other way in hard times) to feed herds of deer when winters are bad enough that before they would’ve starved.

          • The area I live in is essentially a man-made deer habitat — light woodland, some scrub, lots and lots of clearings and grazable meadows, low human population — your basic close-in-suburb (3 minutes from the city core). Add to that the fact that, in the ’60s, the government built these corridors — called interstates, sure, but they’re basically routes for migratory herd animals to — you know — migrate into better feeding grounds — more food, fewer predators…

            M

            • Yep, the deer population used to be much thinner, especially on the West Coast, because there simply wasn’t the food supplies available (the East Coast had acorns and other mast crops). The beeg evil, logging, introduced open areas that grow up in prime browse, which quickly grows into superior cover than large timber, between that and the clearing and food provided by agriculture the deer population exploded.

              • Wayne Blackburn

                … the deer population used to be much thinner …

                Yeah, you should see some of the fat deer around my house!

                Oh, you meant something else? Never mind, then.

                • The craziest thing I’ve seen with deer in Colorado Springs is a doe running down the street one block off the main drag — in the right lane, and obeying the traffic signals. They HAVE learned to live with us, even in very congested areas.

                  About six years ago, I was stopped on Academy Boulevard (one of the main streets in town) behind a line of cars. A large buck had left Palmer Park to graze on the grass lawns of an apartment complex on the other side of the street. When he wanted to go back to the park, he simply stood on the side of the road, on the sidewalk. All the cars stopped, the buck trotted across, and traffic resumed.

                  A couple of people around here have lost small pets to a bald eagle pair that live in Palmer Park. The area is about a mile north of my house.

                  This is a city of 300,000+ people, and who knows how much wildlife!

                  • Oh yes, on bucks crossing with the light. Seen that. My nephews, btw, flipped when they were here from Portugal one summer. They almost made me crash with almost continuous cries of “Stop, stop, a deer.”

                    • That ain’t nuthin’. I was coming home one night about midnight when I lived in Forks, and seen the local cop following two deer down mainstreet with lights and siren going, they turned off on my street and he followed them right past my house. I saw him at breakfast the next morning in the Coffee Shop and asked him if he really expected them to pull over. 🙂

      • Water is cheap to move, now.

      • Trees in cities are not necessarily a good thing. Don’t get me wrong, I like trees, I really like them. But I don’t have any within reach of my house, trees blow over, get root and simply fall over, have branches blow off in windstorms and go through windows, etc.
        Add to that that I like wood heat, there is absolutely nothing that compares to coming in and curling up by the fire after you have been cold and wet all day. The electric or gas furnace just don’t provide the same comfort, nor do they heat you to the core the same.
        Trees are a renewable resource, and I don’t think we really need the laws requiring replanting after clearcutting, (except possibly on public ground, because the public sector is notoriously averse to anything that might be considered profit-making) the timber companies are in business to make a profit, if they don’t replant it is much longer before they can log again, and when they do their will be less quality wood, because replanting is designed to maximize output. They would replant without the laws, because over time they have learned it is more profitable to replant.

  2. There is more hope for mass admiration of aesthetics in modern humanity than one might expect. Scratch a hipster and you will find a great appreciation about good things in the past. As much as we might snark (they are, after all, trying to be Odds without understanding) I think it’s even bigger than Steam Punk. But I should remind myself not to understand Steam Punk either. I mean, we were all saying it was a fad in the late 80’s early 90’s.

    • There were Victorian revivals in the Seventies and in the early Sixties, too.

      • Did they have much effect on the mainstream culture, outside of giving us some kick ass television cabinets?
        🙂 Despite the snark, I am frankly curious, and don’t remember much from then.

        • A lot of girls dressing up in frills and lace, and some guys dressing up in velvet and Oscar Wilde hair. “Teddy boy,” I think they called the Sixties bit? Jon Pertwee wore those kinds of clothes in real life before he was cast as the Third Doctor.

  3. I wish public buildings were made of brick again. Ugly concrete is ugly. If we can make a pretty polyester why can’t we/ won’t we make pretty architecture again? I have never looked back. I’m just sorry that our society isn’t looking out and forward. It seems to be decaying.

    • Stone can be hideous, worse than concrete. Nuremberg still has two of the NSDAP “monuments” and part of the parade route, in part because they are too big to tear down. (One is used for concerts and storage, and the other is being allowed to decay.) It was a lovely, crisp afternoon and the monstrosities gave me the cold chills. Talk about the raw, brutal power of the State expressed in architecture. The hair on my neck is rising as I type this.

      • And yet the Niederwald Monument is still beautiful today, though it’s also mostly stone, and HUGE. It celebrates the unification of Germany by Bismark in 1873. You can see it from the Rhine, a good five or six miles away.

      • Wayne Blackburn

        I don’t know about anywhere else, but there has been a trend around here in the past 10 years or so to cover buildings with fake rock that looks like it’s really badly put together. Thin rocks (they may even be real, but they’re not laid in place – they’re some sort of ugly siding) piled so that they look like a 10-year old with no artistic talent did it. Ugh, it’s hideous.

        • Yes, the “faux stone” exterior… it’s because stone-looking wood-frame ranches are “better”, according to the current aesthetic.

          My “favorite” offense is on a wall in Lake Geneva, WI, where some wag stuccoed the whole thing .. with a couple patches of faux-stone stuck on in the middle.

          It could have been brilliantly done, but .. they didn’t stick an extra sheet of plywood or concrete-board over the whole wall, then recess the faux-stone into it .. that’s all it would have taken (and poor Mrs. Cat had to listen to me rant about it for a good 30 miles..) …

          As it is, the faux-stones look like a boil or blister on an otherwise boring stucco wall. I give it about as long as faux-brick asphalt shingle siding. It was popular at one point, then most folks realized it looked awful and either painted it or pulled it down.

          Mew

          • Wayne Blackburn

            I actually like faux stone exteriors if they are don’t right, but these things I’m talking about look like the stones are ready to fall out of them at any minute, and possibly that a whole section will fall off if you’re not careful. They generally don’t look like they are mortared, and instead are just stacked, layer upon layer of 3/4″ – 1 1/2″ sandstone.

            • Ah, you mean “dry stacked stone veneers”. Seen it. Loathe it. Would rather live with metal lath with bits of mortar stuck on than have that garbage in a house.

              They’re cheap to manufacture and install, though .. it’s “fingers” (strips) of stone stuck to a mesh back that get applied similar to small form factor (1″ or less) tile .. but without the grout.

              Couple obvious problems .. the stuff is a dust magnet, and will rip the paint off any furniture that bumps against it.

              I wouldn’t worry about it… as trends go, it won’t have staying power. Too labor-intensive to maintain.

              Mew

    • Decay, retreat, lack of confidence is a choice.

    • William Newman

      emily61, ugly brick is ugly too. It’s not hard to find ugly brick around Pittsburgh PA, from my foggy memories (not all that long ago, but not paying particular attention to brick buildings). I think the bigger problem is not concrete materials but fashions and priorities such as “machines for living”. And even pretty buildings can be annoying: around Pittsburgh again, I have been to Fallingwater and, um, some other Frank Lloyd Wright building which is atop a hill. They are pretty but would not be so nice to use for their supposed purpose. I know something about the architecture of computer software, and how it can be tricky to make something pleasant to use; I know less about physical architecture, but it is clearly tricky too.

      • Part of what’s horrible is that “ugly brick” takes effort— I’ve been around industrial brick most of my life, and it has a lot of lovely possibly-utilitarian flourishes like arched doorways and precise, clean patterns.

        • Most of the non-ugly brick appears, to me, to follow fairly classical themes – the curved arches over the windows are for strength, the alternative stone lintels serve the same purpose.

          The ugly, in and around Chicago, anyway, are often where an old building has been badly updated – cutting away part of the arched windows and bricking the opening up with non-matching brick or glass block being a common crime against architecture.

          Mew

      • My alma mater tore down the ugly-but-functional brick building I went to school in [link].

        To replace it, they put up insane-ugly glass-and-steel [link]—and just about bankrupted the school. ☹

  4. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    “Nostalgia”, the dreaming of the time when you had no worries because Mommy & Daddy paid the bills. [Sad Smile]

    • courtesy of Steven Brust….

      “I miss the days I was nostalgic…”

    • Actually, in most cases it’s “dreaming of the time you presently imagine you’d have had no worries in, because you weren’t actually around to see it in the first place”.

      Had I a time machine, I might go back and tinker a bit with the history of my personal timeline (in particular, I’d browbeat the computer-store owner who knew — and wanted to hire, if only he’d been allowed to — both me and my future-wife when we were 13 into contriving to introduce us, so that we wouldn’t have to wait 10 more years to find each other), but the only periods which I’ve even vaguely fantasized about going back to _reside in_ are ones quite safely before I was born, in this timeline.

      And even then, only as an adult, thank you. If you offered me a choice between going back to being a kid, and immediate summary execution, I’d choose execution, without hesitation.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        Point. I thought of adding that to my earlier statement. What’s “shocking” to me was the time I got Nostalgic about High School (and it shocked Dad). High School was a “living hell” for me *but* at the time I got nostalgic Adult Live was giving me problems and those problems didn’t exist for me in HS.

        So yeah, we are nostalgic about a time/place where we can imagine the problems we’re now having don’t exist and we ignore (or know about) the problems of that other time/place.

        • The problem with nostalgia is you don’t really know what you’re missing.

          I recall thinking, as a kid, that I couldn’t wait to grow up and get lots of mail the way my folks did. Of course, back then such mail as I got was typically birthday and holiday cards, usually with a nice check enclosed. I have no idea what the mail received by my parents contained, but I’m guessing it was not checks.

          I also remember climbing into cars with seats so hot they scalded you and AM radios playing mindless pop music. I much prefer our modern times and daily thank the Lord for delivering me unto this Earth no sooner than He has.

          • Amen and amen. I can sift history for things I want and generally recreate them. Want a coal forge? Make one out of brick and cement in the backyard. Want a Napoleonic or Civil War outfit? The patterns, complete with historically accurate stitches are on teh interwebs. Want to run your home with a steam engine? I think you’re a little crazy, but the capabilities are there. I’ll keep my contemporary life with historically eclectic additions, thank you. I mean, you can – provided you can get the steel, and have a few basic tools – make a lorica segmentata in an afternoon. Which is on the list of things to accomplish sometime soonish.

            • Thought– we may be a bad group for this, because a lot of the stuff we like on consideration is information.

              • It’s true. As much as I enjoy the doing of things, ideas are better. Why, my family can live off of good idea for nearly a week before I need to go out and bring down another one.

        • Right now, I’m being a bit nostalgic about high school because our 50th Anniversary is coming up. Unfortunately for me (and for most of my classmates) the buildings where we attended school are all gone — all 13 or 14 of them, thanks to two young punks that set them afire about fifteen years ago. They get out of prison soon…

          • Someone should do to them what someone should do to the guys who set fire to the San Diego Aviation Museum. That is, wait until they’ve accumuulated a place to live, with their stuff in it, and set fire to it. Always assuming we don’t set fire to other peoples’ stuff. A taste of one’s own medicine, and all that. If they live in an apartment house, every coupla years we go into their place, haul all of their stuff out of there except the clothes on their backs, pour gasoline on it and set fire to it.

            Well, I’m willing to give a (slight) pass on burning down a public school, but no quarter for those who burn down aviation museums.

  5. Here’s another word for you – synchronicity.

    Just this weekend, I stumbled across a post on The Anchoress where she talked about acedia, and I found a name for what has plagued me for decades now.

    Before I found that word, I often used saudade to describe my condition – using a definition I had read somewhere in my joureny through bossa nova – “happiness comes and goes, but the sadness remains.”

    I know saudade is difficult to translate into English, but I had thought this weekend that I should send you a note asking if you were familiar with acedia, and how useful saudade might be as a companion word to desscribe the condition.

    • also known as sloth and the second of the seven deadly sin.

      then, sloth has undergone some semantic drift.

      • Gil Gilliam

        @Mary, as I understand it, Evagrius originally identifed sloth and acedia as two different “bad thoughts”, one physical, the other spiritual. St. Gregory later decided 8 was too many, and collapsed the two into one of the seven.

    • Hi Gil. *waves* Another Anchoress reader over here. Have you ever stumbled over “Acedia and Me” by Kathleen Norris? It’s about acedia, mental illness (severe depression in this case), and marriage.

      • I tend to mistake my long periods of inactivity for acedia and get mad at myself. Actually, 9 times out of 10 (long for me is a couple of days) unless there’s been a major trauma, like someone dying, in which case it’s psychological, my “acedia like” times have a physical origin, either in the “I’m coming down with something” or “I’m coming up from something and not quite myself yet.”

        • Gil Gilliam

          Sorry to take the post off-topic. Just found it interesting that after three days of pondering asking you about the possible affiliation between saudade and acedia, you would write a post with saudade as a major theme.

          For me, the state of mind is one of “why bother”, especially spiritually. I find that “whatever” is the deadliest word I can say. Depression is more acute, while acedia seems so modest, one can sometimes hardly notice it in action.

          The other component of the definition, mindless activity, and the desire for change is everpresent also. But that aspect is definitely not a saudade-type feeling.

          • I wouldn’t say they’re linked, btw — saudade is a more… active longing and might involve actions to remember the times gone by. Acedia is more of a passive “wasting away” thing.

      • Gil Gilliam

        @TXRed – Hi there. I found that book after starting to research the term this weekend and have been working my way through it. It’s funny how one can get so far in life without hearing a term, and then discover 1700 years or so of writing about it, especially when the term so aptly describes something one has been battling for so long.

  6. Kitteh-Dragon

    ❤ ❤ ❤ I agree 100 per cent. South Omaha in the 1950s and early 60s was much closer to still being in the 00s of the 1900s. Modern plumbing and air conditioning are blessings that I give thanks for nearly daily!

  7. How does that differ from nostalgia?

    • It’s the “sickly” aspect of it. The near-illness. Mind you, in common speech it can be translated as “I miss you” or “I miss the past” but it has another dimension. A Brazilian song has it as “Saudade is straightening out the room of your long-dead son.”

      • Jack Finney wrote a lot about saudade. Heinlein chose a really odd Finney saudade story for his one anthology, “I’m Scared.” Intense, almost universal sick nostalgia for the past was beginning to tear Earth’s space-time continuum apart.
        I sometimes dream about Gastonia, my home town. I’m my current age, but the Gastonia is an alternate-universe version of the town. There are still bookstores and newsstands, and the Science Fiction and Fantasy and Horror magazines are at least as wonderful as the first ones I saw there.
        Gastonia tried to rebuild Main Street into a walking mall the same way Hickory, NC did, successfully, but the Gastonia project got delayed by lawsuits and all the functional businesses moved out. I swear when I last saw the town in ’98, I think, there were more bailbondsmen than anything else. The first business to leave was the office supply store that had been there since the turn of the century; I started to worry about Colorado Springs when the office supply store downtown closed.

      • It’s the “sickly” aspect of it. The near-illness.

        From my man Fred:

        Into my heart on air that kills
        From yon far country blows:
        What are those blue remembered hills,
        What spires, what farms are those?

        That is the land of lost content,
        I see it shining plain,
        The happy highways where I went
        And cannot come again.

      • ….since a cousin of mine committed suicide in high school (manic depression, inherited from her mother, with her father’s gun) and her room is so “as it was” that there are still papers on the desk. Or at least there were, as of ten years after the death when I visited.

        That is freaky, that there’s a word for it.

    • Susan Shepherd

      It sure sounds as though nostalgia is the “gentler, sweeter” version. A fond memory, or “oh man, wasn’t that great? Pity we can’t re-live that time over anew.” While saudade is closer to “so wrapped up in a sense of longing that it interferes with or suppresses our enjoyment of good things in the present.”

      I’m thinking “Summer of ’69” compared with “En el muelle de San Blas.” The one is about occasionally remembering a good time and wishing things had gone differently. The other is getting permanently warped by a desire for something that might have been but now can never be. They are both somewhat nostalgic in tone and subject matter … but the person who inspired “En el muelle de San Blas” is known to have waited for her dead love for 41 years, and it would be longer except she died last September.

      Obviously I could be wrong here, but since I’ve encountered something similar when reading literature in Spanish, I’m guessing the concepts are related in some way.

    • Wayne Blackburn

      Just to put my own interpretation on it: It sounds like Saudade is to Nostalgia what Homesickness is to fond memories of home.

  8. Yes, I have often thought that if we had only had Smell-O-Vision the romance of the past would be drastically cut short. I love horses, but they generate smelly substances *from both ends* and in large quantities. (The horse I ride likes to show his affection by wiping his slobbery mouth on me.) Add to the sensory disaster old plumbing solutions. Having experienced the joys of both an outhouse AND a chamber pot, I have a complete tech-crush on plumbers. ( I suspect that in North America, at any rate, there is a subspecies of wasp that prefers to build its nests on the UNDERSIDE of the outhouse seat. Burn It With FIRE. Yes, I was traumatized.)

    And when you add warm, maybe weekly-washed humans together with “we can only afford two sets of clothes and wash them once a month if we are lucky”, a modern human would need a self-contained breathing apparatus to survive. Or a spray-tank of Febreze.

    • Yes– I have experienced an outhouse and chamber pot too— I actually crush on plumbing (taking it a step further) lol… Plus if I ever needed help in that area– the hubby is sure handy.

    • Ubiquity of transportation, hygiene and medicine. Odd’s bodkin, surgeons washing hands and implements isn’t that old. The simple percentage of income we tend to spend on food. There’s so much to appreciate about contemporary civilization.

    • From the time I was four until I turned either seven or eight (don’t really remember the last year that clearly, but I know the earlier date because I got told often enough when the house was bought) my family had only an outhouse. The one memory which has been etched in my mind is the time we went to have a nice family dinner in a local restaurant and all of us got diarrhea. Well, I was an only child so only three of us, an fortunately this was summer and not winter, but taking turns to run to that place was… well, not much fun. Started to smell quite a bit too, after a while. Warm summer day. 😀

    • Wayne Blackburn

      Strangely, I don’t find the various odors of horses to be particularly objectionable, though perhaps that comes from having spent quite a bit of time with them when I was very young. Going past a horse barn and smelling it gives me fond memories of my youth, when my biggest problems came from school.

      • My parents finally got around to putting in indoor plumbing when Jean and I got married. That was 1967. Yeah, I remember fondly (Hah!) taking a bath in a #3 washtub, heating water over the stove so it wouldn’t be icy cold.

        I don’t mind the smell of animals in small numbers, but every time I drive by the stockyards near Clayton, NM, I have to hold my nose. Man, that place reeks! I’m sure the people of the town are used to it…

        • Hereford, TX. “Drive west till you smell it and south till you see it.” Clayton’s close, but Hereford has the title thus far, IMHO.

          • Dorothy Grant

            Coming east from the badlands, I watched the haze rise to meet me as I got closer to Iowa. No matter how I climbed in my old plane, it still rose – and once I entered the haze, I was wrapped in humidity like a blanket and the reek of pig shit. At five thousand feet.

            I know, you get used to the smell, but ugh, what a change from the prairie.

            • There was a dairy in Draper, UT, until about 10 years ago. Newer residents (who were mostly responsible for getting it to move) complained about the smell, but the older residents always said it smelled like home.

            • For two years I lived across the dirt road from a dairy herd and cow-confinement (Iowan for feed-lot). At the other corner, the farmer would put out his manure in spring and then wait a day or two before plowing or spiking it in. I detested spring.

            • Horses don’t smell bad, and dairies aren’t even that bad, pigs are much worse, but for sheer nose burning odor nothing beats chicken manure. As a teen I used to go over to chicken farm every 6-8 weeks (when the fryers were matured and shipped out) and clean the barns, alternately the dust would plug up your nostrils, and the odor of chicken crap in an enclosed space would burn them back open. Makes great fertilizer too, but growing up I could tell when the farmer several miles down the road was spreading chicken manure on his fields, because I could smell it at the house.

    • Anti-deodorant is a fairly recent invention. I remember how my first hint of the onset of puberty was not the obvious (for a girl), but the fact that suddenly I generated an underarm odor. No one warned me about that. 🙂

      • Oh yes. My brother (ain’t older brothers fun?) complained I smelled. It was a shock.

      • Wayne Blackburn

        Older son developed some sort of horrible acrid smell while he was going through puberty. Thank goodness that was temporary.

      • When I was a kid the only time I took a bath on a regular basis was on a Saturday night, and that was because my aunt and uncle, on who’s farm I was spending the summer, insisted that I had to be clean to go to church. We all used the same bath water that my aunt had heated and poured into a cattle watering trough. I had never even heard of deodorant until I was aboard my first ship. I was really surprised when one of the guys in our berthing area put some on. I was 20 years old at the time, and had grown up in a fairly large Midwestern city. I didn’t use deodorant on a regular basis until after I got married (the first time) at 23.

    • There was this comic book, I forget which one, but an immortal goes to a renaissance fair and complains about it. He suggested that they spray fair goers with horseshit as they pass through the gates. He also wanted more visibly diseased people on the streets as these were very common.

    • The Japanese have the most awesome toilets everywhere. Totally over-engineered, but great. They play music to cover up the noises! I love plumbing.

  9. You mentioned form over function and aesthetic, and I think it deserves a deeper exploration.

    Our esthetic for design (outside of Apple’s products and a handful of other examples) tends to be utterly functional, with aesthetic bolted on instead of an integral part of the design process..

    Our social interactions though are swinging – victim mentality style – to form over anything, including truth or function. What you appear to be is more important than how you are, and other people get to decide what you look like, and choose to take offense. Appearances, keeping up with the joneses, etc. are everything, and if someone’s feelings are hurt, regardless if it’s because they don’t like mother nature’s cold impersonal decisions or someone told them to f**k off because the person who’s feelings were hurt was excercising a total lack of boundaries in childlike manner – it’s the other person at fault.

    A total lack of maturity, of being willing to let go of your kids, of the understanding that bad things happen – or even just things that are inconvenient to you – without anyone doing anything wrong.

    It also occurred to me in the paragraph shortly following where you mentioned “mommy will make it OK” is oddly reflected in the song “mother” from Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” – where a fatherless son (died in the war) is raised by a mommy who – herself very needy and not bing willing to let go, always needing to be happy, twists her son into a crutch to prove her life is OK – and he ends up a twisted wreck.

    I may be overgeneralizing, but this neediness to have everything be happy meshes both with your “WW1 broke everything” and my impression of many die-hard feminists

    Hush now baby, baby don’t you cry
    Mother’s gonna make all of your nightmares come true
    Mamma’s gonna put all of her fears into you
    Mamma’s gonna keep you right here under her wing

    She won’t let you fly but she might let you sing
    Mamma’s gonna keep baby cozy and warm
    Ooh babe, ooh baby, ooh babe
    Of course mother’s gonna help build the wall

    Momma, do you think she’s good enough, for me?
    Momma, do you think she’s dangerous, to me?
    Momma, will she tear your little boy apart?
    Mother, will she break my heart?

    Hush now baby, baby don’t you cry
    Mamma’s going to check out all your girlfriends for you
    And mamma won’t let anyone dirty get through
    Mamma’s gonna wait up until you come in

    And mamma will always find out where you’ve been
    Mamma’s gonna keep baby healthy and clean
    Ooh babe, ooh baby, ooh babe
    You’ll always be baby to me

    Imagine – an entire society growing up as mommys little boy, under mommys wing, with no societal daddy going “them’s the breaks. Go out, pick yourself up, dust off, get a thicker skin, and go have an adventure”

    • You know, maybe this is why I’m so odd. My dad was the “gentle” one, but he hated it when I cried, so he stopped it any way possible. So when I hurt myself and came running and screaming, the answer was “Hush, hush, legionaries don’t cry.” (He tried this on Robert, so I gave him the shocking news that the Roman legion disbanded long ago. He looked surprised. At my saying it, I guess. I do wonder how long dads in my family line have been saying that. That sort of thing — heard in early childhood — has an amazing survival rate.) Of course, he might buy me something or take me for a walk once I stopped crying, and there were always colored bandaids — but I had to act stoic first.

      • The Legions may have been disbanded but the legionaries will stand watch forever. Being a legionary is an attitude that predated the legion and will last as long as man.

      • Also – I’m a strong believer that form follows function – MUST follow function. Unfortunately, people forget that ergonomics, and how something is used is also part of its form. So it ends up being at least a partial feedback loop.

        Love ’em or hate ’em, the original iPods and iPhones – while very spartan in appearance – are nevertheless an example of form and function being included from the very beginning. The design, even the aesthetic – is a complete whole, rooted in what it needed to do, how you were supposed to get it to do that, and making the aspects that you interacted with part of the design from the very beginning and not just bolted on.

        They were also designed from the ground up to be a pleasing, integrated whole when you looked at them or used them. For look as well as feel.

        As much as I might rag on hipsters for post-modern deconstructionist irony instead of enjoying tradition / etc. for its own sake (unironically) – I think the comment elsewhere on this thread about scratch a hipster and you’ll find an aesthete is the root cause of the “hipsters use apple products” stereotype that is also a common slam against them (that Samsung uses in its android ads, among others).

        I find i an unfair insult to say they value form over function. They’re not as flexible as androids in some ways (ditto Windows or OSX vs. Linux) – but I carry a very beautiful, worn, simple, single-bladed buck knife in my pocket instead of fiddling with all the options of a fancy swiss army knife because 90-odd percent of the time I need a knife, I just need a (wicked) sharp knife, and if I need more tools, as a consultant, I likely need the proper tools – and have a whole bag of ’em. I may find room for a leatherman – maybe, but that would be more an “outdoors hiking, something -is-better-than-nothing” tool than something I carry everywhere or use for computer work.

        • Swiss army knife is a bad example; it can do a lot of things, but it does them poorly.

          The buck knife does only a few things, but does them very well, and they are the specific job of a knife, and some of the doing them well take skill with a knife.

          Both apple and PC can do specific things OK, and PC can do other stuff OK; mid-range skill, Apple has an edge in those things it can do, but high level skill, Apple won’t let you do the same as PC.

          I suppose if you limit the metaphor to “good but not geek level user” it works?

          • Yeah – the metaphor has its weak points. Computer-ish wise, iOS vs Android is a better fit for the comparison you’re making as iOS is focused almost to a fault to create an integrated, “walled garden” experience with a consistent esthetic, while android allows a LOT more flexibility of hardware (good and bad) and what the software can access (good and bad) – but tends to be – especially with all the custom manufacturer skins and near total lack of updates – a much less cohesive environment from device to device. Some very utilitarian, some very garish.

            As to Macs vs. PC’s – W7 (and with 8.1, even 8) have some real strengths, but I still prefer running MacOS vs my current Ubuntu build (which usually stays open as a VM) because a) I have almost all of the *nix command line utilities, and b) the degree of fuss that is (despite Ubuntu and Centos/Fedora having truly awesome package managers compared to what I’d seen in years past) still all too often required to get something installed and running under linux.

            The problem w/ MacOS for users is that it actually doesn’t serve the power user well in the upper half of the bell curve until you get waayyyy out to the right. People used to the flexibility of Windows (once they learn where they placed setting “X” _this_ time…) will often bump into places where features and settings are not available or not revealed through the UI, but won’t be dropping into the command line on a regular basis for things that can only be done that way in almost any OS.

      • I have heard that parents in the Middle East sometimes frighten misbehaving children by telling them that “King Richard” is going to get them, as in Richard Coeur de Lion.

        That’s not as distant in time as the Roman legions, but impressive nonetheless.

        • I have heard that said about Tamerlane,

          … places such as Baghdad, Damascus, Delhi and other Arab, Georgian, Persian and Indian cities were sacked and destroyed and their populations massacred. He was responsible for the effective destruction of the Christian Church in much of Asia. Thus, while Timur still retains a positive image in Muslim Central Asia, he is vilified by many in Arabia, Persia and India, where some of his greatest atrocities were carried out.
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timur

          The biography of him by Harold Lamb (like all biographies by Harold Lamb) is recommended.

          • There was a Tamurlane who recently blew up a bunch of people in Boston. I reckon his Mom and Dad thought that was a cool name. Why did we admit him to our country?

    • ” of being willing to let go of your kids, of the understanding that bad things happen”
      Not me. According to my son, the day my wife and I got a restraining order against him was the best thing that we ever did for him. He spent two years living on the streets, doing drugs, etc. Then he took a look at himself and changed. He stopped doing drugs, found someone to love, and got a place to live. Now that the restraining order has expired, he and his lady are living in our guest house while they work at getting their own house or condo. And I get rent every month on time, and a great deal of work I’m unable to do myself.

      • That’s wonderful! Not that your son went through all that, but that what you had taught eventually won out, and that he made the choice to be something better. Blessings on you all.

  10. The picture of the kitchen full of girls could have been taken at my Grand Parents house when I was small, just somebody photoshopped the wrong faces in. I do not have a longing for those days and things, well not most of the time. Something about remembering falling into a yellow jacket’s nest on my way back from the spring house with a bucket of water.

  11. Yep – American city and town streets were pretty damn disgusting, under horse-power, especially where they were unpaved, and it rained a lot. (IIRC, there was a famously muddy street in gold-rush era San Francisco, where a mule got bogged down and drowned in one of the deeper mud holes. Someone put up a sign – “This street impassible, not even jackassable.) Between horse manure and garbage thrown out the door into the street, and privies … urk! Early on, many towns allowed pigs to roam freely, as kind of free-range garbage disposal systems. And it took an incredible amount of work to keep a family clothed, clean, healthy, and fed in the mid-19th century. I tried to incorporate that in Daughter of Texas/ Deep in the Heart, where my heroine keeps a boarding house in frontier Texas. She simply has to have live-in and hard-working help to keep level with it – and in just about every scene in both books, she is working at something … sewing, cooking, spinning, digging for potatoes, hanging out laundry to dry, making preserves. You would never, ever get me to participate in one of those high-toned reality shows like 1900 House, or Frontier House. I refuse categorically to go back any earlier than about 1925 – I want indoor plumbing and electricity.

    • Rob Crawford

      “Between horse manure and garbage thrown out the door into the street, and privies … urk!”

      Why do you think Imperial-era Roman buildings are 20′ below modern street level?

      • When I was in high school I went to a magnet school in downtown Porto. The school mostly served what was known as the “Hollywood zone” (Big mansions, richer people, etc.) but the area we walked through from the train station was working middle class mostly apartments, many turn of the century apartment. You had to mind your feet, because those houses had no bathrooms and it was common to empty the slops out the window before the morning traffic started. (I.e. at around six am. I.e. they had learned not to empty them out of the window onto people, but that was it.) this was in the mid to late seventies.

  12. masgramondou

    It wasn’t just coal smoke of course. There was also the disgusting reek of tobacco. I have to say that the combination of coal smoke, tobacco and rank humanity makes me very glad I don’t live back there. I remember getting stuck on a BR train once in a smoking carriage and the argument about whether to open the window and exchaneg smoke for rain.

    But I do defintiely think that Prince Charles was right when 20 or 30 years ago he called some bit of modern architecture in London to a “monstrous carbuncle”. Some time around the 2nd world war architecture went mad and it has yet to recover. if you look at some of the 1920s skyscapers in NY or Chicago they are actually relatively attractive buildings while more modern ones generally aren’t.

    • If I could go back and kill ONE person, it wouldn’t be Hitler but Le Corbusier,

      • There is a certain garden serpent whose head I would crush.

        • Rob Crawford

          When I was a kid, my sister called me out of the shower to see a snake crossing our driveway. It’s head was on one side of the driveway, its tail on the other.

          This was in Ohio, BTW.

      • Say, Kim, how’s davideogamer doing these days? We exchanged a few comments on his blog when he had one, but I think we sort of mutually decided that we had no Special Interests in common (except, of course, for a fondness for Shiny Things) so we lost touch.

  13. That cheap apartment I lived in from the early 90’s to mid 00’s: the house had been built as a rental in the 30’s. Three stories, no underground cellar, storage and one apartment in the first floor, two one room + kitchen apartments in the second floor, two one room apartments (of which I had one) in the third floor. The third floor apartments had that one studio room, which served both as kitchen and living room, and a closet big enough that it could be used as a bedroom, which I did, and it might have been possible to fit two beds or a narrow double bed in that closet, if very barely. I had a toilet, which looked like it had been installed during the late 60’s or early 70’s, and cold running water. In the ground floor storage space was a toilet which seemed to date from the early 50’s and which had, from what I was told, at that time been the one all the renters had shared. Before that there had been an outhouse.

    My apartment was about 35 square meters in size. My landlord told me that the first renters had been a married couple, who had in time raised two children in it, up to the time the kids had moved from home sometime in the 60’s.

    I tolerated the place for close to fifteen years because the rent was dirt cheap, but boy was I happy when I finally moved. I can’t imagine trying to raise kids in that place. Or sharing it with a husband and two nearly grown kids. No privacy for anybody, and with that space they probably had to take turns when it came to things which needed moving around when everybody was home. Washing probably happened mostly just once a week in the sauna which was somewhere in the ground floor and had once been shared by all the renters (when I lived there the other door of that was permanently closed and only the ground floor apartment had access).

    • And at that they had the sauna. While most of the aims, rhetoric and general insanity of the neighborhood organizing association (think community organizing) drove me nuts one thing they did right. They had showers installed in the no longer needed after the boomers extra buildings next to the elementary school and opened those to people for hot showers on the weekend, women at one time, men at the other. It made a huge difference.

      • Nowadays that would be impractical, unreasonable and discriminatory. First thing is you need to have times for men, women, womyn, myn, gays, lesbians, transgendered and everybody but the chaste & shy. Laws would be enacted, suits would be brought, preferential treatment would be demanded/denounced and the competing interests would drive the management mad.

        That is why we can no longer have nice things.

        • That’s no fun. It’s a real education for the pre-pubescent girl the first time she joins the grownups in the pre-swimming showers at the YWCA or equivalent. I imagine the equivalent for boys is equally eye-opening.

          • Heh. Here most kids stop going to sauna with both parents around their early teens. Almost all of us have seen both our parents naked. And about half of the people are willing to go to a mixed sauna with co-workers or other half-strangers. But you also get people who are almost as shy about nudity as you Americans are here, so while mixed sauna bathing is not uncommon it’s not universal either. I have no problems with it, personally. In one of the older ferries between Finland and Sweden I once shared the sauna with a whole football team, the only pity was that I don’t see all that well without my glasses so I couldn’t enjoy all that maleness very well. 😀

            • Okay, kidding, a bit. I wouldn’t have stared even if I had been able to see well. That’s part of the etiquette. You should kind of behave as if you were having a cup of coffee with some older relatives unless you know the other people in the sauna very well. Polite, slightly formal, no staring and no talking about sex.

              • I don’t know — when I get older and forget most things, I’ll still remember the day I played tackle football with a bunch of Swedish males, in my first week “orientation” in the US. Mind you, nothing remotely improper happened, but there was inevitable contact. (Grins reminiscently.) G-d made men because he loves women and wants us to be happy.

              • It’s the same way in public baths in Japan – one maintains a kind of invisible wall, even though everyone around you is stark naked, soaking in the hot water.
                Which reminds me of the one place where this wasn’t observed – in the spa hot-spring heated baths in a certain hotel in Misawa City. We used to like to go there, especially in winter, because it was all done up and landscaped like a tropical scene, with rocks and waterfalls of hot water – and only a very thin screen between the women’s side and the mens’ side. A group of us from the barracks, men and women both would go on a Sunday afternoon – and of course we had to split into separate sides. But there were always Japanese teenage males who would see us American females going into the baths – and they would climb up on the rock landscaping and peep over – I guess to see if the carpet matched the drapes. The only way to stop them was to stand up, (fully nude) and wave at them, and yell ‘hello!’ Oh, they would be so humiliated at having been caught peeping! They wouldn’t dare do it again.

                • I remember that particular hot springs (went there a couple of times as well) in the early 90s.

                • When we moved to the house before this one, I was thirty four. Our bathroom faced a little cottage on the neighbor’s side, and the first week we had no window coverings. (I’ll say I thought the neighbor’s cottage was a storage building. It wasn’t. it was her studio. Also, she had teenage sons.
                  One day I come out of the shower and notice two kids — 15? 17? nearly falling out of the cottage window to get an eyefull.
                  I held the towel around me, threw open the window, leaned out and said “Bless you my children. It isn’t always that a woman old enough to your mother gets to feel sexy enough to have teenagers spy on her!”
                  They turned fire red, beat a retreat. NEVER a problem after that.

            • In high school, some sadist decided that we had to group change.

              I skipped showering the the jerks who’d been harassing me, as did half of them, and changed in the toilet instead of in the open.

              I see no flipping reason to expose myself to strangers when my own MOTHER sees no reason to intrude on me.

              Want to cross me, teacher-dude?

              Be prepared to face The Wrath Of The College Teacher Who Is Ten Times Tougher Than Your Worst NIghtmare.

            • Plenty of Americans have seen their parents naked. It just usually happened when they were really young. And plenty of Americans run around the house in their undies, especially if they have little kids and anticipate mutual messes, or if it’s hot, or if there’s any other reason for temporary informality of homelife behind the curtains. Likewise, we do not usually have nude beaches, but skinnydipping in the crick is still a fairly common experience for a lot of rural people, or for people who have a private enough lake or crick to visit in the summer. There’s a vast difference between public and private activities. (And the primary reason for skinnydipping is so you don’t have to mess around with a swimsuit
              and with all the paraphernalia, not so you can show off and not get tan lines.)

              But it’s not like we’re going to show realistic pictures on TV or in the movies of somebody’s mom who breastfed wandering around the house in her girdle and socks with her gazongas hanging down halfway to her waist, or wearing her support bra. Nor are we going to hang out with the neighbors and our friends and our non-immediate family members that way. Or unrelated foreign exchange students, unless you’re really really comfortable with them and of the same sex.

              So yup, we’re hiding things from you Europeans. Hiding our old undies with the elastics starting to go.

              • Yep 😉 I really like my stretchy undies…

                • Not me, when the elastic starts to go in the waistband, they hit the garbage. So do socks that lose the elastic in the top, I can wear them with holes in the heel, but if the top won’t stay up they are getting thrown away.

              • Leave my undies out of this! I just need to remember not to pack them when we go to Portugal — mom will SEW the elastics back on — on $5 a pack Walmart underwear. I can’t talk her out of it.

              • Your mom didn’t teach you to always wear nice new underwear, in the case you end up in an accident and the ER?

                BTW, happened to me when I was about 14. I hurt my knee skiing, and my parents took me there, and what I had on were old white undies, more grey by then from repeated washings, with the elastic peeking and a couple of small holes on one side. So I had to take off the trousers and the long johns and the doctor who examined my knee was a young man. Total embarrassment. 😀

              • Half of the fun of saunas is the fact that you’ll get to see the fact that most of the other people aren’t necessarily all that better looking than you. Maybe those perky tits aren’t quite so perky without the lift-up bra, or that fairly athletic looking guy has a really funny looking behind. Well, goes both ways, occasionally, when you find out that the quiet nerd who has no idea how to dress actually looks pretty impressive without those ill chosen clothes… The way we dress can color the impressions we give each other quite a bit, and affects also the way we act. People sometimes can seem pretty different when they lack that part of their armor.

        • William Newman

          RES wrote “That is why we can no longer have nice things.”

          Or as per physics.usf.edu/faculty/drabson/ from his grad student days at Cornell, “we no longer have the political technology to solve this problem.” (He attributed it to someone else, but I can’t remember who, and Google doesn’t seem to want to give me any plausible hints.)

          • Back in the Eighties (IIRC) NY City had a deal to install public “facilities” at pretty much every street corner. The chambers were small enough to allow only one occupant (presumably a parent & child could manage, but the reasons to limit occupancy ought be apparent), self-sanitized after every use and were paid for by advertising on their exteriors. Every tenth block (or something like that) would be a handicap accessible version. All of them were programmed to open periodically to prevent vagrants taking up residency.

            Well, you know what happened. Some people objected to the advertising, advocates for the handicapped demanded they all be the larger handicap-friendly versioin (which the advertising was insufficient to support) and by the time the dogs had all piled on the plan was cancelled.

            A perfectly good idea, but they lacked the political technology to say: sorry, you can’t always get what you want, but we try sometime to give what you need.

    • masgramondou

      One thing you quickly realize when you visit older houses and apartments is just how cramped they were. At least comparitvely so. I know all sorts of people whove taken a row of farmhand cottages in the UK or France (two or 3, sometimes 4) and turned them in to a single reasonable modern house (and yes of course they all had an outhouse across the garden). And much the same applies in cities, unless of course they just knock the old houses down and build a new one.

      But people had entire families in these cottages and were, as far as one can tell, grateful for them when they moved in to them. These days we find it entirely normal that a family will have a 300 m2 (3000 sq’) house and think that (say) the Japanese apartments where you have maybe 60-100 m2 for a family to be extremely cramped.

      • Most people here live in something the size of those Japanese apartments. Living here is somewhat expensive. One reason is, of course, heating costs, but other is the taxation which is high, in every part of the process – building, selling, living in, renting.

        Well, if you move into some of the parts of the country where there are no jobs and no services left then you may be able to find a (relatively) cheap home, but those tend to be smallish too since the same reasons existed when they were build.

        Okay, I just checked what places in the 300 m2 and bigger size are available right now where I live (the third biggest population center in the country). Three houses, one apartment, cheapest close to 700 000 euros, most expensive a bit under a million and a half. All pretty basic looking places, just bigger than average.

        • Okay, a second search on a different system: 11 places, about half apartments and half houses, from a bit under half a million to close to two millions. Changing the smallest size to 200 m2 gives 39 places. All available, no size restrictions, and you’ll get just under 1400 hits, starting from just a bit under that 60 m2 in size.

          • New York apartments are ridiculously tiny, though. Every time I started to feel sorry for myself in my old apartment, I just had to open up one of those decorator sites for New Yorkers and I felt much better. Some of them lived in apartments smaller than my bedroom at home, for ridiculous high rates, and lot of people shared those apartments. Yeek!

            • Wander through an Ikea at some point at look at the set-demos for complete smaller apartments. Like 600 square feet. And less. Yes, that includes the kitchen, bath, dining, and “living” spaces as well as (one) bedroom.

            • NY is revising codes to permit apartments in the 240 – 400 sq ft range. That is 12 X 20 up to 20 X 20!

              It would be simpler to eliminate rent control, but that would require admitting a mistake. Progressives are not as good at admitting they’ve made a mistake as they are at admitting you’ve made one.

              • Rob Crawford

                The 150-year-old farmhouse I grew up in — while it was being built, the Underground Railroad was running past its front door — had rooms bigger than that.

                And its brick apparently came from the ground beneath it… Have to give lots of credit to the folks that built it.

              • I was talking to a guy last winter, and he was telling me about his new house he just built and was moving into with his new bride, it was 300 sq’. Last week he told me his wife was pregnant, I hope he plans on adding on.

                On the other hand it is quite common here to build a large shop, and then build a studio apartment into it to live in. There seems to be a tremendous amount more room in a 300-400 sq’ apartment that way, because all the stuff you are not currently using is stored in the shop.

          • Then I shouldn’t mention that I have a 2000 sq foot house for myself should I?

            • Hmm… maybe not. Although I think cleaning my current 39 m2 takes less time. Or would if didn’t have as many books as I have. The bookshelves do make it a bit cramped. 🙂

              • If it was just me, I would’t give a toot if I was sleeping on book shelves (two levels each way is plenty wide enough), gaming on books (ditto) and cooking on books (what, like you need more than two hardbacks thick on a kitchen table?) if I could fulfill my needs, and before dear husband I didn’t have more-than-friends needs. Dreams, sure, but I dream of dragons too. I’ll take TrueBlue over dragons.

      • I grew up in a house that was under 1200 sq’, and never thought it small or cramped. Actually when I was born my parents were living in a 8’x35′ trailer, but they built half a house onto it before I was old enough to remember, then when I was about ten they pulled the trailer out and built the other half of the house. (I was old enough to help then) Now I live by myself in a house that is just over 1900 sq’ and it seems I never have enough room for everything 😉

    • One thing America in general has is space— there are some special exceptions, but it’s only slightly more expensive to build “apartments” that are four stories with two apartments per level unit than to build “townhouses” that are 2.5 with half an apartment per level unit. Given how much space was utterly wasted in our townhouse, probably more square ft, too. (By Washington State Law, stairs don’t count, and neither do patios or built in garages.)

  14. South Omaha in 1962, walking home from third grade along a winding lane set about with towering oaks. The dry scent of the fallen leaves. The sound of a single engined airplane flying overhead and dopplering away into the poignant distance of an autumn sky. A B58 Hustler taking off from Offut and, seeing a kid in his front yard, wagging its wings in greeting. Chlorinated pool water at the country club. BLT sandwiches from the snack bar. The promise of space inherent in a model kit of all the rockets of NASA.

    M

    • Bombers taking off from Wright-Patt every morning, louder than the loudest vacuum cleaner ever, and half the trees in my parents’ yard still saplings, and hardly any furniture in our living room, and my dad still wearing facial hair. And the climbing branch of the tree out front being still way too high for me to reach.

      • The (then-ancient) ash tree that grew out back of the house we lived in from ’64-’76-ish is still there. Doesn’t look like it’s aged a day. Of course, now with the emerald ash borer swarming these parts, it might not last much longer.

        Loved that old tree, though. When Mom chased me out of the house, I’d stick a book in my pocket and go climb up in the ash and sit on a bough about forty feet off the ground, hidden in the crown, and read until I ran out of spots.

        When I lived in Omaha, the sonic boom was a novelty in civilian spaces.(Or so it seemed to me. It was 15 years after Yeager’s flights.) As a space-happy kid, I was eager as all get-out to hear one. Seems that the jets out of Offutt took off nearly over my uncle’s house (thus the story about the Hustler, which may have been piloted by my uncle — I never got the chance to ask him before he died). Anyway, we got the chance more often than the neighbors might have liked.

        Sound of freedom.

        Down here, the planes from Wright-Patt show up more as contrails than as noise.

        M

        • We heard them over grandma’s house all the time… And when chased out of the house, at grandma’s, I’d go to the end of the garden. At my mom’s, I’d go to the top of the garage. If I lay down flat, no one knew I was there, and I could sit there while they looked for me… and read.

        • Mark, I was out on West Center backing up to Happy Hollow Golf Club and Pappio Creek. Used to watch the Looking Glass planes rotating in and out, and could hardly believe that anything big could stay in the air.

          • I only got out to Offutt once in the two years I lived with my uncle. And, of course, being that space-happy kid, it was sensory overload to me. “Look! There’s an Atlas Redstone! A Nike Ajax! Oo! Is that a B-47? And, of course it was infinitely cool that that one taxiway went over the road.

            I did get to see my first BUFF in the flesh on that trip. Never did understand that nickname. I’ve always thought the B-52 was a beautiful airplane. Must strike the designers at Boeing in the heart.

            M

            • Well, the designers got the last laugh, the B52 is a shining example of form follows function. Over sixty years later they are still being used, how many other military aircraft (or military anything) can say that?

              • When something is so well designed for function as the B-52, there is a real beauty to it. The problem with buildings designed to the principle of “form follows function” is that they neglect a necessary function—aesthetically appealing to human beings.

        • Sound of freedom.

          That’s what my dad says of the military jets using his mountain town as practice for mountain-dodging in the sandbox.

          Me, I just stop at how awesome it is to see a jet going low and fast over the local grocery store…..

          • Dorothy Grant

            Mmm, I miss the sound of freedom. Been too long since I heard that crack and rumble…

            Got to live near a spaceport, where I can hear the shuttles decelerating from LEO.

            • Fighters are the sound of freedom.
              Cargo planes are the sound of cool flying trucks.
              Stealth planes are the sound of “Did you see that?”
              Bombers are the sound of “WHAT DID YOU SAY?!”

              SAC moved out of Wright-Patt a zillion years ago, which probably reveals too much about my age. But you still get the occasional bunch of bombers flying for various reasons, and of course we are always getting the big cargo planes because Wright-Patt does so much logistics.

              • I actually think that what we see overhead, high altitude, morning and afternoon, are Ohio Air National Guard. And they might not be out of Wright-Patt. They could be out of the RIck or… ::snap-snap:: (not getting it) there’s another base near Columbus… Don’t recall the name.

                M

              • Naw. Bombers are the sound of “Can you hear me NOW?”

                M

          • I know, right? It is awesome as… just… awesome. I’m almost 60. I was … what? … eight at the time. That Hustler STILL sticks in my mind. Image: bright blue Nebraska sky. Flashing silver plane — the big delta wing, the slender fuselage. Couldn’t have been more than 500 feet off the ground. I can almost see the pilot’s face… And the damned thing rolls — oh… call it eight-to-ten degrees, right, then left… and goes overhead. When I’m old and demented, I’ll be saying something about that around my drool cup and people will puzzle about what I’m saying. “Hustle, man! Hustle!”

            That uncle one time was stationed in New Jersey (beginning of WWII). The family demesne was in Pompton Lakes. He flew over the house and dropped his laundry out of the plane. About 20 years ago, he admitted to me that he was — his words — “A punk-ass lieutenant.” God, I miss him!

            M

            • Dad was born in ’50.

              Has a similar story about when he was out on the forest with Cougar (his gelding) and a dude went over.

              ….

              God, I hope I can drag my folks over to a Freedom Fest some time. I cried, last time, they had an f16 from my old squad…..

          • Rob Crawford

            The middle of the summer sometime in the early ’80s, I was jolted out of a doze by two jets flying tree-top level over the house. By the time I got to the other side of the house, they were halfway across the farm, but I could still see where one of them had pulled up to go over a stand of trees.

            • I was hunting down in the Owyhees and got see fighters doing mock dogfights over me, complete with chaff, flares, and everything. My truck was probably the only thing in fifty miles (me being the only person dumb enough to wait until night and drive over frozen snow to get in there, trusting it would freeze up again when I wanted to head out) and one of them even did a strafing run on me.

          • I grew up out in the boondocks, and Army out of Fort Lewis used to do training flights over our house. So I was more used to choppers than planes. I recall playing in the field and hearing one coming, I stopped and looked around but couldn’t see it anywhere. Finally I saw the tree tops waving, and here it came, just barely over the tree tops (those trees were only about twenty years old at the time) both side doors wide open, and soldiers lined up sitting in the doorway with their legs swinging, they went by close enough I could see a couple of them grinning as they waved at me.

  15. I want the confidence and clothes of the Edwardians, the energy of the 1950s, and the technology of today. Perhaps without the ubiquitous Blue Teeth and plugged-in people who walk into me, lampposts, signs, and the occasional fountain.

    The only nostalgia I’ve ever felt was for the days in Nebraska, when the pack of neighborhood kids roamed wild and we could get into any trouble our little imaginations devised without fear of lawsuits, helicopter parents, or Social Services getting in the way.

  16. Ori Pomerantz

    They were more confident because they had an ideology to guide them, supposedly all the way to utopia. Just build the right government, and all will be well.

    It is a lot harder to be confident when you keep checking your beliefs against that pesky reality. It is like the difference between mathematics and engineering.

    • Rob Crawford

      I dunno. There was lots of confidence in the years between the Revolution and the Civil War, and they didn’t see government as the cure-all.

  17. I do miss the aesthetics of older times. It’s probably why I love Steampunk so much. But I have no illusions about living in a different age. In any other age, I would have died in childbirth with my son when I was 21. Even 10 years earlier they may not have been able to see him. I am profoundly grateful for modern medical practices.

    Mostly, I’m sick of ugly churches. I can handle other things being bare and utilitarian but I would really love to see a return to beautiful places of worship.

    • masgramondou

      Mostly, I’m sick of ugly churches. I can handle other things being bare and utilitarian but I would really love to see a return to beautiful places of worship.

      I’ll add that I’d like to see people build a church that they expect to last mroe than about 50 years. Most places in Europe (at least places where they could buid out of stone) you can find chutches that are 500 or even 1000 years old. In fact if you go to Trier you’ll find one that’s 2000 years old because it was an imperial Roman palace. And there are plenty of churches built in the 1800s and early 1900s that seem quite likely to last almost as long.

      And then there are all these ugly grey concrete and glass monstrosities built in the 1960s and after. The older ones typically have cracks, many of them have had a roof added becaus the flat roof turned out not to be such a good idea after all. And so on.

      Classic examples being the two Liverpool Cathedrals. There’s the Anglican one in neo Gothic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liverpool_Cathedral ) and there’s the Catholic one, known locally as “Paddy’s Wigwam”, built in the mid 1960s and with a leaky roof since day 1 ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liverpool_Metropolitan_Cathedral )

    • I guess we are opposites, I hate fanciful, ‘beautified churches, I believe places of worship should be functional and utilitarian first and foremost. This doesn’t mean they necessarily need to be ugly, but I don’t think the money donated to do the Lords work is well spent on useless aesthetics.

      • Simple, functional, and beautiful are not mutually exclusive. These days few architects I’ve seen make the effort to truly balance the three, though it may be the fact that their aesthetics just suck. I’m heartily tired of modernist and industrial chic design. As was pointed out elsewhere in talking about brick construction, there are many little things you can do to make a building attractive without making it elaborate or indulgent.

      • Well, and then I would argue define “useless aesthetics”. I think beauty can be very useful.

      • And how does a church function in a useful manner? By inspiring reverence and awe. That’s what we call useful aesthetics.

        One also notes that Jesus praised the widow’s mite, which was going to support the temple.

  18. What passes for architecture today sucks. Nothing is designed and built to out-last the generation that built it. Hate it.

    I have been thinking (not educated enough to ponder) a lot about “the decline”, and am wondering if anyone has written about the last generation of survivors? Who would it be?
    For 40,000 years, those who survived all that nature and man could throw at them, begat and fostered the next generation. Until about the middle of the 20th century. This is a heavy genetic load to overcome, but largesse is doing it handily.
    The Baby Boomers were the first generation in which the majority reached adulthood assured of having whipped or seriously curtailed the effects of anger, pregnancy, illnesses, injuries, diseases, famine, and war. The advances in medicine, for example, have made the specter of physical injury a fear of the past. Today, a child suffers injuries falling from an ATV and it is rushed to the ER. No money? Well, the Doc is bound by the oath, right? One hundred years ago, a child falls from a horse, and if gangrene doesn’t take a limb, it takes a life. Only the strong (and/or lucky) with money survived.
    The Rule of Law has been perverted into a cudgel used by the weak to beat the strong. The strong won’t push back, because, well, you don’t take advantage of the weak? Today, liability suits are settled for outrageous sums, because the sued party has means. Before suing for damages became a spectator sport, enterprising folks built all manner of flying machines. Since? Liability is a reason civil aviation flies around in aircraft 40, 50, 60 years old. The weak can beat up the strong in our courts, and it makes for good sport.
    I am concerned that every hero must be felled; that for every hero, we must find their kryptonite. We see it again and again. No sooner does a star rise in the sky, but someone is digging up the dirt on that star. Lance Armstrong is stripped of his titles, reviled, and kicked about. He cheated. So he is the whipping boy, he is in the stocks, he we throw the rotten eggs at. The Tour de France is going on now, but let us not dwell on how many of the field are guilty of the self-same thing. That “measure of excellence” has been lowered; we pat ourselves on the back, we done good. The leader at the top should always be under attack; it is a function of the testing. That is not what is going on today. Today, the “heros” must be shown to be no more than any one else. The weak will prevail.
    How long can these people hold Nature at bay?

    • Wasn’t that what Nietzsche was getting at with his idea of the übermensch? His argument was that religion was a tool used by the weak to control the strong (see “Beyond Good and Evil”). Of course, religious people (like me) see it from a different perspective…

      • That is a popular interpretation of Nietzsche’s position. A good recent exploration of his views appeared yesterday:
        http://www.pjtv.com/video/PJTV_Special/Klavan_%26_Whittle%3A_Is_God_Dead_and_Is_There_an_Absolute_Morality_or_Truth%3F__%28Members_Only%29_/8622/

        Of course, Klavan and Whittle remain one of America’s premier comedy duos.

        • Kim du Toit

          They’re not comedians, just reporters. No comedian could ever dream up a comedy-rich environment as created by today’s current events.

          • I think Mort Sahl used to say much the same thing, back in the Soxties and Seventies. Sahl was a pretty good caustic commentator, but his liberal bias (or perhaps it was his conservative animus) too often betrayed him.

      • Oh, yes. The fundamental problem with Nietzsche is that he viewed life as the Olympics. Which is to say something it was possible to cheat at. Just like biologists of his era sometimes talked about “devolution.” No, that’s evolution because it’s picking the fittest, not what you like best. And by the same token, it’s nonsense to complain that you’re strong and kept down by the weak. If they are able to overpower you, they’re the strong.

    • One hundred years ago, a child falls from a horse, and if gangrene doesn’t take a limb, it takes a life. Only the strong (and/or lucky) with money survived.

      Not really.

      Falling off a horse and being badly hurt, being born with a bad arm, losing digits– survivable. You could flourish, even, going off of my family stories. (Grandad’s foster father had a withered arm but was an awesome cowman)
      It’s the “bad luck” type infections that would get you, and those could come from stupidly simple injuries. (as they do now, actually; a family friend was killed by his family dog licking a scrape he got while jogging)

      A really good doctor improved your chances, but given the times you were as likely to get it from a folk-doctor who knew their stuff as a proper doctor. (Hell, ritual cleansing with hot water would put you ahead.)

      Liability lawsuits are flashy, but negligible beyond folks with money. Sadly, that means they do slow us down.

  19. To quote myself from the other thread, Portugal is obviously a special case among nation-states, and our hostess is obviously a special case among Portagees.

    Now that I’ve settled that question, could we talk about Finns? I think that they are even weirder and more interesting than Portagees.

    For instance, I’ve never heard a Portagee joke, but have heard plenty of Finn jokes.
    Example: Q. How do you identify an extravert Finn?
    A. He’s looking at _your_ shoes.

    • Arwen Riddle

      I’ve heard that joke but with physicists instead of Finns.

      • Birthday girl

        That’s not a joke for physicists …

        • Arwen Riddle

          About physicists. My uncle, a physics professor, told it to me.

          • Birthday girl

            🙂 My son wants to be a physicist. The eye contact thing … a problem.

            • My husband works for a science company. The Christmas parties …. now they know each other better, but I used to call those the “Let’s go be socially awkward” parties. I mean, they’re worse than writers, and I’ve been writers parties where thirty of us determinedly avoid making conversation.

              • Oh, you just have to toss in the right icebreaker. I went to a party in grad school. Lots of engineers, physicists, etc. standing around wondering what the algorithm for fun was.. until someone uttered the magic words “the keg tap isn’t working!”

                Instant FWOOOSH of movement and rapid discussion. We quickly diagnosed the problem (tap was missing the sealing o-ring at the base) and MacGyvered a solution. (It involved a condom. UNUSED, thankyouverymuch.) And then there was beer 😉

                • Half of Dan’s co-workers were/are mormons… 😉 Nothing wrong, but they don’t DRINK>

                • Sarah, I’m with Admiral Halsey, here. I have trouble trusting a man who doesn’t smoke or drink.
                  Wait! I was bitching about Finns, and y’all made it about physicists! I have never been afraid of a physicist getting drunk and stabbing me in the sauna. Or even in the liver.

                • During the Reign of Terror, there was a tradition…anyone condemned to the guillotine, who managed to escape death, was immediately pardoned, and set free.

                  One day, a priest, a lawyer, and an engineer were set to be executed. The priest was put on the guillotine, the executioner released the blade…and it stuck, about a foot above the point where the blade would have touched his neck. “It’s a miracle”, he cried, “God has spared me!”, and he ran off into the crowd.

                  Then it was the lawyer’s turn…same deal, although the blade got a bit closer in his case, and his response was more along the lines of “I _told_ you people I was innocent!”.

                  The crowd, at that point, was getting anxious. Why was the People’s Justice being thwarted? Was this indeed divine intervention? Had God rejected the Revolution? What was going on?

                  Then, it was the engineer’s turn. As he approached the guillotine, he examined the operation of the device, and just as he was about to be laid on it for the attempt at his execution, he shouted “Aha! I see the problem! The wood here has gotten a bit warped, and is causing the blade to jam. I can fix that for you right quick!”.

                  😉

    • My Scandie musician friends tell jokes along the lines of “A Norwegian, a Swede, and a Finn walked into a bar…” Amusingly enough, the Norwegian usually gets the rural bumpkin role, the Swede gets the boring modernist wimp role, and the Finn get the belligerent Irish role, quick to pull a knife.

      One Norwegian truck driver who had regular runs to Russia with dried fish would tell, with horror, stories of Finns eating at a truck stop, seeing someone trying to steal their truck, running out to the parking lot to lay the fellow on the ground and park the tires on each hand, so they could go back in to finish their dinner. Apocryphal, perhaps, but just goes to show you that that the goats departed Norway and Sweden for America (and Kiev and Constantinople) leaving the sheep behind.

  20. “And that goes double for societal confidence. As long as we remember that things don’t need to be done by the state to be big or ambitious?”

    How we were:

    “The political associations that exist in the United States are only a single feature in the midst of the immense assemblage of associations in that country. Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing companies, in which all take part, but associations of a thousand other kinds, religious, moral, serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive. The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they found hospitals, prisons, and schools. If it is proposed to inculcate some truth or to foster some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form a society. Wherever at the head of some new undertaking you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association.

    I met with several kinds of associations in America of which I confess I had no previous notion; and I have often admired the extreme skill with which the inhabitants of the United States succeed in proposing a common object for the exertions of a great many men and in inducing them voluntarily to pursue it.”
    — Alexis de Tocqueville

    How we are:

    “It is one of the greatest weaknesses of our time that we lack the patience and faith to build up voluntary organizations for purposes which we value highly, and immediately ask the government to bring about by coercion (or with means raised by coercion) anything that appears as desirable to large numbers. Yet nothing can have a more deadening effect on real participation by the citizens than if government, instead of merely providing the essential framework of spontaneous growth, becomes monolithic and takes charge of the provision for all needs, which can be provided for only by the common effort of many.”
    — Friedrich Hayek

    • It is one of the greatest weaknesses of our time that we lack the patience and faith to build up voluntary organizations

      Yeah, well, try to form up a neighborhood watch group so that you and your neighbors aren’t preyed upon by vandals, looters and rapists and see where you wind up.

      Like most organized crime, government doesn’t like competitors.

  21. About 10 years ago I noticed that the overpasses in Texas were beginning to sprout ornamentation. These are mostly just molded surfaces with some painting. However, it is a GIANT step from the absolutely plain concrete that we had seen in the past.

    Those in Corpus Christi have shapes of marine creatures on the surfaces of retaining walls and pillars or, on the road to the VA cemetery, the shields of the various branches of the armed forces. There is also a stylized American flag on a vertical retaining wall that is very colorful.

    This isn’t a return to the ornate Victorian style, but is a retreat from the stark interstate highway design of the ’50’s and 60’s.

  22. “Be not afraid. The future is wide open. It is yours to shape.”

    I read a lot of stuff on preparedness, in part because I believe that taking care of my family, no matter what the future may bring, is right and wise. I do not wish to be dependent on the government, which will never be there when I actually need help.

    That said, there is an amazing amount of bovine fertilizer being spread about possible future dangers.

    Think back to Y2K. Yes, the situations dreamed up by the alarmists _could_ have come true, but only if no one had tried to deal with the problems. In reality, programmers knew what the real problems were, devised fixes, and distributed them. Yes, there were minor glitches, but in the big picture Y2K wound up as a non-event.

    These days one of the big future horrors talked about is an EMP/Carrington event. One of the biggest things the alarmists ignore is that such an event will not have uniform effects world-wide. One reason is the “inverse square law” otherwise known as circular expansion. Energy radiated from a point in space expands spherically. Every time you double the distance from the source, the surface of the sphere gets four times larger. As a result the energy density on the surface of the sphere goes down by a factor of four every time the distance from the source doubles. We experience this every day with light and sound, and the RF from an EMP follows this same law of nature.

    So what is being preached as “fact”? Consider these quotes:

    “Imagine for a moment, all of your electronic conveniences such as lights, air conditioners, refrigerators, microwaves, cell phones, computers, ATM machines—anything that contained a microprocessor or required electricity to power it, suddenly stopped working—forever.

    Imagine for a moment, the most basic things we Americans have taken for granted such as running water, electricity or natural gas suddenly stopped flowing—forever.”

    Even _if_ the effects were uniform globally, and as dire as the alarmists believe, how can anyone seriously believe that humans are going to just throw up their hands and die, rather than trying to find ways to get back to what they had before, or better?

    I am part of a local amateur radio emergency services (ARES) group. Our group exercises with FEMA and other federal and state groups in preparation for possible emergency situations. Lately we have been involved with exercises where FEMA has specified that power has been “out” for a multi-state area for anything from 2 to 10 days. Even if you assume that FEMA estimates of the length of a possible power outage are too low, such an outage is far from “the end of the world as we know it” unless you have never thought about the possibility of an outage, and have not made any emergency provisions for your family.

    “Be not afraid. The future is wide open. It is yours to shape.”

    Yes it is.

    • A Carrington event is named after a specific solar flare storm that struck the Earth in 1859. At that time, the geomagnetic storms induced large currents in telegraph lines, throwing off sparks and shocking operators. Immense aurora were seen nearly to the equator for several days. There were no other electrical systems on Earth at that time obviously. So we have to guess that extent of damage today were a similar solar event to occur.

      The inverse square law does not actually apply, as the solar flare produced corona mass ejection is not an electro-magnetic phenomenon but rather a plasma of charged particles.

      Nonetheless, as inverse square laws go, the ratio of distance spanned by the diameter of the Earth, compared to the 93 million miles of orbital radius is pretty small. About 3%.

      • [A]s inverse square laws go, the ratio of distance spanned by the diameter of the Earth, compared to the 93 million miles of orbital radius is pretty small. About 3%.

        I was under the impression there would be no math.

      • Rob Crawford

        For a natural event, yeah. I’m less worried about an EMP strike.

      • Nonetheless, as inverse square laws go, the ratio of distance spanned by the diameter of the Earth, compared to the 93 million miles of orbital radius is pretty small. About 3%.

        3% feels too high by several powers of X. I think you plugged in the radius of the moon’s orbit, not the earth’s.

        • Its not impossible.

        • Ooops, you are right. Two orders of magnitude.

          I’m so embarrassed….

          • No big deal. I do that kind of thing too. Humanum est.

            • Its doing long division in roman numerals. Two millenia and I still can’t get it right.

              • Wayne Blackburn

                Heh. Reminds me of one I saw the other day:

                A Roman walks into a bar, holds up two fingers, and says, “Five beers please!”

                • A centurion walks into a bar and tells the bartender “Give me a martinus.”
                  “Don’t you mean a martini?” The confused barkeep inquires.
                  “If I wanted a double, I’d have asked for one!”

                • “*muwaahahaaa!*

                  Yell to my husband, five feet away: “A Roman walks into a bar!”
                  Him: “You don’t need to shout.”
                  Me: *ignores him for effect* “SAYS, ‘I WANT FIVE BEERS!” *holds up two fingers*
                  Him: *stares at me, then looks at the fingers, then gets the giggles*

                  • Father in law, telling a story from when he was first stationed in Germany.

                    To “get” this, you have to realize that, usually, here in the states, we hold up the index finger to indicate “one”, and in Germany, holding up the “thumb” is “one” – and with the index finger up, the thumb is sortof assumed to be up, because that means “two”. I mean, who’d hold their index/pointing finger up if they didn’t mean to have both that and the thumb up, right?

                    So anyway – he relates to his amazement how, when in a bar, and every time he orders “one beer” (complete with pointing finger up, which in german culture would normally be “two”) they bring him two beers. “For the longest time I thought they were so friendly! I kept ordering one beer, and they kept bringing me two!!”

    • Exactly correct about the EMP vs power outage effect. A certain place would have all their stuff fried forever, and a much larger area would suffer cascading failures when the first area went offline. But the second set wouldn’t be EMP-fried, it would just be normal (bad!) outage.

      An EMP would be bad news, but not the end of the world.

    • Wayne Blackburn

      A couple of quibbles:

      1) You really can’t use the inverse square law in relation to a Carrington Event, since the source (the Sun) is so far away that the reduction in energy density would be negligible.

      2) An EMP is distinct from a normal power outage in that it involves destruction of electronics due to induced currents, not merely a disruption of power to them.

      Now, those points made, do I think either one will be as bad as the alarmists say? No, I don’t. For one thing, much of the electronics we have are shielded well enough to be safe a whole lot closer to the origin of an EMP than the official danger radius. Second, because we have tons of spare parts available for tons of computers, so most people will be able to get back up and running in a short time, in areas that get the power back on quickly. It will be rough, and some bad things might happen, but overall I don’t think it will all fall apart like the doomsayers claim.

      • ” You really can’t use the inverse square law in relation to a Carrington Event, since the source (the Sun) is so far away that the reduction in energy density would be negligible.”

        True, which is one reason I suspect a major Carrington type event might be worse than projected EMP events.

        That said, I used the inverse square law as _one_ reason that the effects from such events would not be globally uniform. Another possible reason with regards Carrington type events is which part of the globe is hit first with the CME. We do have “space weather” folk these days to give early warnings of such events. Earlier this year they passed out a warning of a possible mini event and suggested disconnecting antennas and taking gear off-line for the duration (less than 24 hours). Turned out to be a non-event at least here in CO.

        “It will be rough, and some bad things might happen, but overall I don’t think it will all fall apart like the doomsayers claim.”

        Exactly.

        • Rob Crawford

          One problem with the space weather stuff is it rapidly gets to be crying wolf — and the odds of any solar event hitting Earth are tiny.

          Problem is, it only takes one.

          Anyone ever read Niven’s “Inconstant Moon”? I think that was the title…

          • “Anyone ever read Niven’s “Inconstant Moon”? I think that was the title…”

            Great story. Teaches some valuable lessons.

      • The inverse square law (greatly) expands the transverse size of a solar ejection by the time it reaches the earth. Hence, to a first cut, the disturbance is likely to be uniform across the earth’s cross section (given the size of the earth wrt sunspots or flares near the sun’s surface). If we’re hit at all, a uniform hit is more likely than a grazing hit.

    • Birthday girl

      Re Y2K, it mystified me. I was a programmer back in the middle ages, and we were actively doing “Y2K remediation” between 1990 and 1995 — every time a file was touched, it was remediated in addition to the other changes needed. What I always wondered was who was it who had been sitting on their butts and not getting the updates in, ’cause any programmer would see the issue without needing to be told … ?? Oh well, good riddance.

      • True story (a friend of mine was involved). There was a day in the 1980s when a very major bank was unable to reconcile its trades at the end of the day using its computer program. When that happens, it must borrow, on overnight lending terms, for the full long position, at the cost of millions of dollars.

        What had happened was that the field holding the value for maximum number of trades was only 2 bytes long, because “how would there ever be a bigger number of trades than that”, and the code was written when mainframe computer memory was very scarce and was minimized as much as possible in any program.

        No one expected code like that (written in the 70s) to last that long. Ditto for Y2K.

        • Birthday girl

          Sorry I wasn’t clear. I wasn’t mystified by the programmers from the stone age (aka the 60’s) using their super-efficient code. Totally understand that and admire it, even. What mystified me is why anyone writing code in the (New! Modern!) 90’s would sit out that time period without taking care of date issues, leading to a panic at the end of the decade …

          • Rob Crawford

            I’ve gotten some ribbing for the 30k year projected lifespan of my current project. I figure if it’s really a problem, they’ll be able to bring me back to fix it.

      • Oh, you should have been auditing the software used in the telecom industry … what a nightmare.

  23. Zaklog the Great

    Perfection (in this world) is a dangerous ideal. People will work hard, sweat and even sacrifice for a basically decent society, but for a dream of Utopia, people will kill, and if they’re in the right positions of power, they’ll kill by the 10s of millions.

  24. Kim du Toit

    Sarah, my old girlfriend Maria De Freitas taught me about saudade, but added, “Without saudade, there’d be no fado.”

  25. Sigh… Thank you for posting that link again. Now I will waste the next two hours looking at Google Earth.

  26. Birthday girl

    Would saudade be related to the Celtic “hiraedd” or however one would spell that, sorry been a long time since I’ve seen it … ?

  27. Birthday girl

    That photo of the old woman making soap … my great-grandmother. They were subsistence farmers, raising all their own food, and seed corn, eggs, and Angus cattle for cash. My mother was born in the house her grandfather built, which lacked indoor plumbing of any kind until Mom was in high school. I have the oil lamp my great-grands used for their kitchen table. Life really is better now.

  28. “They were subsistence farmers, raising all their own food, and seed corn, eggs, and Angus cattle for cash.”

    Today we have those in the preparedness movement who have embraced “homesteading” as a lifestyle. Many of those folk are fine people, and I fully support their right to follow the lifestyle they have chosen. However, for at least many such folk the life style is far too close to that of the old “subsistence farmers” with too few of the advantages of modern technology to make me wish to emulate them.

    “Life really is better now.”

    Amen!

  29. I remember thirty years ago, even, getting on a train in Portugal – when it had come long distance from the mountains – was a noseful. Not that people didn’t wash. They did, once a week or so. But we humans are stinky beasts. And in winter you needed to add the smell of coal fires, which many people used to dry clothes and most people – outside the urban centers – used for heating and cooking.

    Another way you’re a born American….
    I’ve been told that it’s a basic business thing to tell those from other countries visiting the US to make deals something to the effect of: “Look, Americans are psycho about bathing. If you do not bath every day as a matter of course, and after exercising, they’ll notice and think poorly of you. They probably won’t say anything because of the ‘dirty’ taboo, but they will notice.”

    • Oh yeah. One of the other students at the university I attended in Germany dropped by my apartment one day just after noon and asked why I had wet hair. I told her. She thought I was crazy for taking a shower after going for a walk on a hot, sticky day. We weren’t going to go anywhere fancy, just for ice cream, so why wash?

      • Hm, this may be even more regional– just remembered that I freaked folks out by showering twice a day when I was in Mississippi, because I was sweating and UGH!

        • Rob Crawford

          Keeping in mind that Mississippians are likely used to the weather, and that it’s one of the poorest regions…

      • I mind a story by an American who had been a paratrooper, who joined The Legion just for shits and giggles. One day he was standing inspection, the officer stopped, came back, and stared at his throat, yelling “What’s that?” while pointing at the t-shirt visible at his throat under his blouse. The guy gave the standard U.S. Army explanation, keeping body oils and bad smells off the uniform, clean underwear if yer wounded, etc. The Frog officer just shook his head and went off muttering about crazy clean-freak Americans.

  30. rawlenyanzi

    Most nostalgia seems to be nostalgia for aesthetics and manners, not necessarily for old technologies and political structures. I, for one, like having computers and the Internet, but do not like ugly buildings or ugly clothes.

    John C. Wright discusses this with regard to Steampunk here.

    • Yeah. It’s not like life has seen untrammeled Progress. There have been losses as well as gains even if you think them worth it.

      There are those who think otherwise — how Victorian of them.

      • rawlenyanzi

        Yes. It annoys me when someone tries to defend some cultural degeneracy by saying “it’s the 21st century.” They act like social systems are like technologies — that is, what comes later is always better than what came earlier.

        But for another perspective on social progress, see this post by The Social Pathologist. He states that simply resetting the clock to initial conditions won’t help because those are the very conditions that created the radicalism in the first place.

        • That’s why the line in Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty”, “But this is the 14th century!” struck me as being far funnier than it probably deserved.

          On Wed, Jul 17, 2013 at 5:12 AM, According To Hoyt wrote:

          > ** > rawlenyanzi commented: “Yes. It annoys me when someone tries to defend > some cultural degeneracy by saying “it’s the 21st century.” They act like > social systems are like technologies — that is, what comes later is always > better than what came earlier. But for another perspectiv” >

          • Rob Crawford

            “That’s why the line in Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty”, “But this is the 14th century!” struck me as being far funnier than it probably deserved.”

            That was intentional, of course. Walt was very much one of the Odds; he loved the future, but also the past.

          • Most people regard their current time as the most up-to-date and the best.

        • All social systems have problems. That is because they are made of human beings, and “out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.”

          Even if the flaws would necessarily lead back to our current conundrum — not necessarily since we could, for instance, keep more technology — that would call for more reforming, not throwing it in the junk heap.

          We have remarked that one reason offered for being a progressive is that things naturally tend to grow better. But the only real reason for being a progressive is that things naturally tend to grow worse. The corruption in things is not only the best argument for being progressive; it is also the only argument against being conservative. The conservative theory would really be quite sweeping and unanswerable if it were not for this one fact. But all conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution. Briefly, if you want the old white post you must have a new white post.

          • Change and renewal need to happen in measured tones, because nothing will ever remain exactly as it is. In that respect, social systems are like technology: they sometimes need repair and maintenance.

        • Or read “the Gods of The Copybook Headings.”

          • I don’t even like poetry, but I find Kipling’s stuff amazing.

            • I’m jaded on poetry, having had the “poetic” stylings of Mao Tse Dong and various other communists crammed down my throat in middle school. But good stuff is good stuff, and under that I want to recommend the poetry of our very own Cyn Bagley.

              • Thank you– Sarah… you made me blush (fire engine red with my complexion)

              • Harsh. What possessed your teachers to do that to you?

                But I can do you one better. I have an old Chinese-English dictionary that only goes one way (from Chinese to English) and many of its entries are propaganda.

                Here are a few sentences used as examples of words:

                “With an undaunted revolutionary will, the Chinese Red Army triumphed over countless hardships and dangers and successfully completed the Long March.”

                “The May 4th Movement marked the beginning of the Chinese New Democratic Revolution.”

                There are a bunch of others that sound just as overblown.

  31. It is good to have a word for what I kick in the teeth when it gets too close….

    I miss when then-boyfriend and I were stationed in Japan, WoW was fun, mom was healing, my sister was happily married and my brother was quickly rising up the Navy ranks– when we were in port, I’d take midnight walks around town listening to my mp3 player, safe as houses and no real worries.

    I make sure to utterly reject any more-than-fond longing for that time as a lie– TrueBlue was wonderful because I’d finally found love and it was growing into the more complicated, rich thing it is now; my sister only seemed to be happily married, my brother was desperately lonely for his mate, and my mom was healthy relative to “you have breast cancer.” Sure, I can look for a video game that has humor and relaxed skill, my mom will hopefully not have anything as serious as breast cancer prior to dying of old age (… no, not something I want to think about, and there’s a reason I don’t mention dad and health in the same area), but life wouldn’t be life if the joys didn’t mature into more complex things. The lows are there, but the highs are higher; nothing can compare to my kids and knowing that TrueBlue is mine.

    • That resonates. I found a couple of pictures last night of the Oyster Wife and me when we were first courting. Someone snapped a picture of the two of us cuddled up on the couch, huge grins plastered on our faces. Even on film you can see her face glow (though in retrospect that may just be the sunburn…). She was young, beautiful, energetic, optimistic about everything; she was amazing. I would never trade that iteration of her for who she is now, nor that bright, exciting romance for the trust and companionship we share today. Ten years of struggles, setbacks, kids, arguments, peacemaking, triumphs, failures… they’ve created something a little less exciting but so much more satisfying than giddy courtship.

      In São Paulo we used the word saudades more lightly than the continentals seem to (your português europeu is still strange to me, Dona Senhora), and as we used it, I have saudades for a few things. For Brasil, and the people I left behind there. For my days as a musician, which may never resume. For California, where I lived so many years and then had to flee. But I would not turn back for any of those. Like Lot and his wife, to turn back means losing everything you were moving towards.

      • Some people live. Some people level up. 🙂

        • And that just became my Quote of the Day. Thank you. 🙂

        • *musing* It really is kind of true.

          More obvious, in retrospect, than some others.

          ….

          I really want to add to that, but after some thought…. I really can’t.

          I know, on a gut level, that folks level up– I’ve seen it. Married folks are more obvious, and there are several less obvious levels.

          But I can’t really explain it in words, I just see it and know it.

  32. Dorothy Grant

    Once upon a time, I was offered a chance, should I finish my commercial pilot’s license quickly, to go fly in the bush for a living. I gently refused the request, no matter that the gentleman asking was 1.) serious 2.) paying good wages 3.) owned a respectable lodge 4.) I’d be flying Dehavilland Beavers and Twin Otters.

    As I said, with a smile, “I’m afraid I have a complete and utter addiction to hot, running water and indoor plumbing.”

    The gentleman smiled, completely unoffended, and nodded. “My wife does, too. That’s why she likes to live in The City.”

    I missed the adventure of a lifetime, and a turned down an offer very few people get – that other people would sweat blood and work years to get. And I think fondly of what might have been, but I don’t regret it at all. I adore hot running water and indoor plumbing. It didn’t take long without it to know that I prize it above chocolate and bacon.

    • Silly girl. I haven’t had a shower in two weeks and I feel fine. Also, I live in Flarduh, and it’s Summer. I do bathe before attending Divine Services, but that’s about it.
      Why, yes, we boy-type people really are like bears with furniture in some ways. Make the most of it!

  33. I suppose it’s in part because I’ve owned far too many old things, whether hand-me-down or “found” or otherwise acquired on a minimal budget, but .. I don’t hold the past in any great regard.

    The folks who designed the faux-Greek-Revival WPA buildings or the classic brownstones, or the thousands of snug little Chicago brick bungalows were no more saints than we are .. and they took just as many (if not more…) shortcuts with a less-well-thought-out building code.

    I do, however, hope one day to scrape together enough ca$h in one place to build a couple classic brownstones – on the outside, anyway – somewhere in Suburbia so that, long after I’m dust, the neighborhood will have a unique feature. “Yeah, you’ll recognize it, it’s the left of the only two brownstones on the street”…

    Mew

    • True benefit of truly old things:
      they are AROUND to he had as sub-par goods three plus generations later.

      • It’s interesting to see what survives, Foxfier. Quite a few “antique” stores have videotape (VHS, usually ..haven’t seen Betamax) stashes right next to the old books, and records. I’ve also seen old electronics – stuff that came out in the ’80s and ’90s – on shelves of antiques places.

        One store I was in had a 1970s vintage Barbie Hair Salon on display, consisted of a rather large Barbie head bolted to a plastic tray holding hair pins and “makeup” paints… Not what I’d consider an “antique”… but if one of the nieces were the right age, I would have bought the thing as a gag gift.

        It’s funny what survives.

        Mew

    • After looking at Roman stuff in Germany for two weeks, I started to wonder if 1) the Romans really built better than later people or if 2) the majority of their stuff was average to poor and so all that we see is the really, really, “forget the budget I want quality no matter the cost overruns” good stuff.

      • Well, TXRed, boffins recently figured out what separates Roman cement from Portland .. lime content. (Roman cement will last for centuries underwater, Portland is good for half a century…) So .. in some ways, their methods *are* superior.

        That said, and I haven’t kicked around Germany looking at ruins, but .. my understanding of what’s survived are mostly either military or religious, both qualify for your “forget the budget, make it *last*” point..

        Mew

      • Rob Crawford

        Romans didn’t have the math to build the lowest-cost structure that would serve their purposes, so they massively over-built (by our standards). Plus, labor was available for little more than the cost of food, though once any work required skill the cost increased, too.

        But, yeah, we mostly see the high-end stuff still standing. The apartment buildings in Rome were notorious for collapsing or catching fire, or both.

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  35. There’s a lot of nostalgia in classic SF. I just watched “A Stop at Willoughby,” on the July 4th Twilight Zone marathon. Rod Serling was full of nostalgia for 1900 American village life. Bradbury was to of course, and Disney built an entire land in Disneyland around it. Heinlein and Simak had some of this too. I wonder if there’s something about SF that draws this.