A Scale of the Mind

The current books I’m reading while having meals or waiting for an appointment are a series of medieval mysteries that I’m 90% sure are very badly researched.  There’s just this air of “I’m bsing this part” about them, but it’s not my time period (before the Black Death) and as such I don’t know details, so nothing has jumped up to bite my nose. And the stories are pleasant enough with interesting and human characters.  Oh, yeah, and they’re included in my KULL membership, so even though when I had all the appointments I was reading two a day, they’re free.  (Also they’re nine or ten of them, which is useful when you want to not work very hard at getting into another series.  So, for the indie authors out there, yes, volume matters.)  Before that I read a couple other (indie) series of medieval mysteries.  You see, Amazon recommends one after the other, and since these are my “fill in the blank space” books, I don’t work too hard at finding something else, unless the book I’m reading kicks me out (which is why a couple of other recommended series didn’t last more than three pages.)

Being immersed in medieval mysteries has got me thinking about the scale of polities.  Oh, sure, the electors had something to do with it too, because their function is part of the scale of society and of technology.

In fact, even with electors “to carry the vote of the people” I doubt if a country on the scale of the United States would have been possible a couple of centuries earlier.  It would be unthinkable earlier than that.  The combination of technology and the ability to project force to keep the roads clear of danger were the gating features of previous empires.  And the ability to rule a large empire was implicitly the ability to rule only “in the important things” and let local customs do the rest.

All previous large-scale empires (well, in the sense that it’s a conglomerate of sovereign nations/states, and that we’re supposed to have some sort of central governance though local rule is SUPPOSED to prevail — we won’t go into how it doesn’t —  we could sort of consider the US an empire without an emperor, certain recent presidents nowithstanding.  That the idea of local governance is decaying is also a matter of technology.  When people move around so much during a life time, it’s hard to believe in citizenship of the state and in local rule.  And since you might move to another state tomorrow, you care about how the other states are governed too.)

Look, I’m not a dialectical or any other kind of materialist. Most of the time I believe in a spiritual realm (look, it’s a struggle, okay.  Some of us are born people of very little faith.  But I work at it.  And recently I’ve had reason to realize I’m not as deaf to the spiritual as I tend to think I am.  And no, it’s not any of your business.) But all of the time I believe in the human spirit.  And humans for good and — often — for ill are quire capable of overcoming material impulses and conditions, and make their society something completely different from what you think material conditions dictate.

Even given the ability to project force, etc, the idea of empires before about the 18th century should be bonkers.

You see, not only is the past another country, but that country is very small, and restricted to the travel time of human feet and those domesticated animals we can get to pull carts and carry a rider.  And yet with that technology and the ability to sail, our species created nations that encircled the globe, and a trade network that spanned it.  Because we’re clever monkeys and restless ones.

But the technology does influence the scale of life and dreams of most people.  I keep being stopped, in these medieval mysteries, when distances are mentioned.  Fifty miles as a trip that would take maybe a week on foot, and three days or so on horseback.  (And I think they might be optimistic, when talking of the state of roads in medieval Europe.)  A peddlar who works two or three villages might be traveling maybe 20 miles in a week.  The village ten miles over is another world, necessitating a peasant on foot almost the whole daylight of a day to get there, and that at a brisk pace, not suitable for women and children.  Two villages over is another world, where a man who say left a wife in your village can present himself as a bachelor, start a whole new life, and never be revealed.

It shouldn’t surprise me, because I grew up with the fossilized remains of such a type of scale.  My grandfather came from maybe five miles down the road.  Can’t have been much more than that, because when I was five, he’d have me put on my best hat, and we’d walk, hand in hand, for the feast days of his native village.  (Mostly to hear the band perform. Grandad liked band music.)  Then walk back at the end of the day.  Heck, might only be two miles.  I never measured.  BUT in local parlance it was talked of as another world, with their own strange customs, their bizarre ideas, and very definitely a different “tribe.”

In the same way, when my uncle who came from a little farther afield, started courting my aunt, the local boys gave him a couple of friendly beatings, to try to discourage him from poaching “one of our girls”.  The sense of a different place entirely was there.

But I grew up between worlds.  In my dad’s day there were coal trains, but the tickets were too expensive for frivolous travel.  Most of their distances and social associations were measured on shanks’ pony spans.  “How far can you walk in a day?”  There were buses too, and those were cheaper, though, which is why dad poached mom from half an hour away (by trolley) and my uncle “poached” my aunt from about the same distance away.

In my brother’s day (just a little before mine) the cost of bus fare was reasonable and besides students had a pass for the bus, which made it very reasonable, so his courting my sister in law who lived (in a better area of the region) about where mom came from was unremarkable.  In fact, he had friends he hung out with who came from much further regions.

And in my day, with pass, it was very rare for me to stay in the village for the whole day after about 11 or so, when I went to Preparatory (for highschool, think of it as early middle school) school in fifth grade.  Even though I lived in, and had my roots in a rather small place, I spent most of my days in the second largest city in the country.  I knew the coffee shops, the delis, the places to buy paper or books, all of it in the big city.

My grandmother, in contrast, born and raised in the same village, had been to town a handful of times in her lifetime.  She knew where to shop and how to maneuver the necessities of life in the village, but when you took her to the city she behaved like she was in a foreign land.  Because at her time, and given the transportation and communication abilities of the time, it was a foreign land, and also one she had no necessity to go to.

I don’t live in Portugal right now, so this part is speculative.  When I was growing up, Porto (objectively I think 10 kilometers away as the crow flies, but really much farther away in terms of winding roads) was easy to reach (about 20 minutes by train.  An hour or so by bus) but to cross the country to Lisbon or Algarve, in the Southern-most coast, was a chore.  The first few times we drove there took the whole day, and was exhausting too, as most of the trip was at 30 miles per hour on winding mountain roads.  You stopped at roadside fountains to refill your bottles.  You carried food, because there might not be any type of restaurant.  It was an “endeavor.”  (My dad tended to make short work of these by driving over night, so most of my recollection of cross country trips in my youth was of sleeping in the back seat while dad drove.)

However around when Robert was born, so about 20 some years ago, they put in a highway system.  It is now maybe all of three hours (or less, if traffic is good) to Lisbon.  I would not at all be surprised if when mom is looking for something particularly outre, say imported food, or a specific type of fabric, she makes dad drive her to Lisbon and back in one day, something UNIMAGINABLE even thirty years ago.

My thought processes thus tend to be mixed up on the matter of scale.  I am at the same time someone who grew up with an almost medieval scale of things, including local governance, someone for whom travel by train was easy and cheap, which means I had an early 20th century mental scale and idea of travel — how long it took to get somewhere often depended on train connections and layovers, more than distance — and a woman who has lived in the US for almost 35 years, and who, therefore, tends to think of 100 miles as “no big, we can drive there in an hour and change.”  Sure, not something you want to do every day (though we did last week, for doctors’ appointments) but also not something that will daunt us if there’s something we want to do, say a doctor or, when we lived in the Springs, a trip to Pete’s Kitchen (in Denver) or to a museum.  Sure, we try to group the things we need to do in the other city (doctors’ appointments were a chance to visit with younger son or go to Jade Dragon, for instance) for convenience’s sake, but whether we’re in Denver or the Springs, it wouldn’t be the first time that on a beautiful summer night, we’re sitting around and go “Hey, you know what would be fun?” then proceed to go to the other city.

Perhaps because of this, I am aware of how that scale, the ease of “travel and communication” shapes how we think of ourselves and how we govern ourselves.

Take the electors.  Yesterday at National Review (!) I found a columnist boliviating on how he believed in electors voting their conscience.  [Facepalm.]  This would be a lovely idea if we had chosen electors for their conscience and their probity and our trust in their intelligence.  If I got to vote for Bob the elector over Joe the elector, if the campaign was all about Bob or Joe’s probity and intelligence and knowing history, this would be great.  Because then I would trust Bob or Joe’s conscience.  And it would be a representative system.

But electors are merely a fossilized system, from when the country was much more difficult to traverse or communicate across (not this is not the same as saying that we should abolish the electoral college.  It is more saying that at this point “electoral votes” from various states need not be carried by a PHYSICAL person.  Their existence is necessary, to save us from being ruled by the corruptocrats of California.  BUT physical, animated, human “carriers” of those electoral votes are a relic from a time when tech was very different.)  They are picked merely to “carry” the will of the people.  Yes, I know they have some latitude, something particularly necessary when life was far more uncertain.  Say a president-elect died before assuming power, the electors could make the necessary adjustments, while respecting the will of the people of the states who sent them.

This is to say that the electors, while in theory able to change their vote are not, and should not be, able to circumvent the will of the voters in the states that deputized them.  To do so would make our elections moot and also p*ss off a bunch of very well armed people, something the weasels currently trying to subvert the election should remember, lest this all end in blood.

However, that digression aside, a lot of what is plaguing us, including the growth in power and reach of the Federal government are part of how technology has changed since the founding.  As in, in their time it was more plausible that each person would be born, live and die in the same state.  Therefore, citizenship in a state made perfect sense.  (Heck, in many cases, citizenship in a town made perfect sense.)  And you really didn’t have much say in how other states governed themselves, because what business was it of yours?  You were not likely to go there, much less live there.

Yes, Americans were always more mobile than, say, people in Europe, but there were still natural limitations on communication and travel.

The automobile and the telephone changed that, and we saw the natural and consequent growth of centralized government over an area that most Europeans still can’t conceptualize.  The same forces drove Europe into a “union” with centralized government.

But things have changed, haven’t they?

We now have near instant communication, across the globe.  And while I hate traveling by plane, we do that, across the country, at least three times a year for some reason or another.  And we do it across the sea usually every three years (not the last five years, which have been difficult on ALL fronts, mostly because of my health, which is also an influence — alas — on our finances.)  And we’re stay-at-home boring people, by any definition.

I can even see why early twentieth century writers through that this type of travel and communication would lead to one-world government.  I can.

But that doesn’t seem to be the way we’re going.  You see, sure, the facility of travel and more mobility, and better communications, push us into taking a far greater interest in other countries business.

At the same time this communication (and maybe some day the travel!) are more individualistic and atomized. The difference in communications right now, in relation to the early 20th century is like the difference between the US where individuals travel in their own cars and Europe where, until recently, they traveled in buses and trains, at others’ convenience and in a communal sort of way.

Even when I was young, communicating across the world depended on the post office of at least two countries.  It depended too on the press, for the large scale sort of communication.  It depended on what governments had negotiated for communication.

This is how we end up with Europeans thinking the US is a military regime, or Americans thinking every European lives in a quaint little kingdom with a castle at the center.

You can’t maintain those illusions (unless you really work at them) when some of your writing — or gaming, or reading, or music — buddies are across the glove in a completely different land.

Communication is now atomized and personal.  Sure, we’ve lost the sense of community (bah, the people who lament that never lived in a real small community, and think it’s all flowers and butterflies) but we gained the ability to go nosing about where we want to when we want to, at least with our minds.  (I spent sometime yesterday looking up plague pits in Portugal — it’s tangential to DSR and finding out that as far as anyone knows either there aren’t any or no one ever looked.  I grew up with mass graves enough, but those were from the Napoleonic war or the civil war.)

And I suspect travel too will get easier and more individual in the next fifty years or so.

So, what do these developments mean?

Blamed if I know! As I said, it was perfectly logical and made perfect sense for writers of the early 20th century to think developments like ours would lead to one world government.  It is logical for our crazy progressives to think that the world should vote in US elections.

But logical isn’t always how things happen.  Logically, being born a very small, premature baby in a village where medical technology was … oh, 19th century or so, and having caught every illness that crossed the village or even waved from the road, I should have died oh, fifty years ago, or so.

And there are factors that those writers, who, by and large, were people who believed in the “benefits” of a large state and thought the larger the less corrupt, didn’t take in account.  Near instant, individual communications, and the ability of anyone and everyone to grab a megaphone and address the world, means that we know a lot more about individual governments, and individual politicians, and we’ve learned the bigger they are, the more corrupt they are.  We’ve also realized very sharply that the larger the polity, the more they ignore local/regional/ and in Europe even national concerns.

So we have Brexit as an harbinger of things to come, and it might come to fracturing much smaller than that, to the important polity being the neighborhood, where you can stop nonsense in a very immediate way.

It might also very well lead to extra-regional polities: conglomerations of people by interest across many regions or countries, to form a big enough group that can then pressure the governments of the areas where their members live for something or other.  I can’t for instance think of any such thing all writers need, except maybe freedom of expression, but if the need arises in the future (and if my colleagues weren’t mostly of that “logical” persuasion that believes in “scientific” governance (that is to the left of Lenin) I could see such a polity of writers forming.  Or of bloggers.  Or of clothes makers.  Or really… anything.

The fact is, I could argue for one, for the other, or for a combination.  But the more I try to probe the future, the more I get the feeling it’s something we can’t even imagine, any more than a medieval man could imagine life in the US right now.  It’s one of the things we have to get there to see.

I suspect “the singularity” is not an event, but a series of them, and we’ve already gone through several, though perhaps the one looming ahead is biggest of all, given how instant communication and easy travel are changing our life.

Whatever is ahead, it will certainly be interesting times.  And I’m Martian (Heinlein — it’s a joke, son.) to want to be around to see it.

Sure, may you live in interesting times is a curse, but when things are trending towards more freedom and mobility for the individual, some of us would like to be around and at least see the beginning of it.

At least I would.  After all, I can already sort of understand three of the mental scales of human life that have prevailed through the centuries.  I’d very much like to see what these clever and restless monkeys will come up with next.

354 responses to “A Scale of the Mind

  1. it’s not my time period (before the Black Death)

    Confusing right from the get-go, eh Sarah?

    Does this mean your time period is pre-Black Death or that the series time period is pre-Black Death and your time period is post-Black Death? Or does it mean you are the Black Death and the series is set prior to your onset?

  2. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    Random thoughts.

    A few years back, I was driving across Michigan and noticed small towns every thirty miles. I realized that thirty miles was a day’s trip by horse & wagon.

    My dad was researching the Howard family line in the US. He got stuck with the Howard who moved to Southern Indiana and who had claimed he was from some place in Kentucky. Problem for Dad is that he didn’t find any trace of this guy before he moved to Southern Indiana. Dad decided that he wasn’t originally named Howard.

    Going along with the above, I was reading a book on “Superheroes and the Law” and the authors took a look at the problems of “Immortal” heroes and villains concerning “changing” their identity. Your immortal hero/villain can’t just travel a few hundred miles and set up shop again without somebody “wanting to know who you are”.

    • And modern tech has only made that easier. Remember the famous “signature scene” from Highlander? The only defense is to go unnoticed.

      • Highlander is the one thing I’m tempted to write fan-fic of and actually have part of a pilot episode written for. The TV show was filmed right on the cusp of the era of global connection via computers and the latest seasons touched on that. My “solution” for immortals going forward was for my hero to dedicate himself into longevity medicine so that normal life spans would increase enough for the immortals to continue to hide.

    • Probably more common in Canada than the US, but there are a lot of towns named “Five Mile” or “Ten Mile,” from back when they were important stopping places for west-bound travelers.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        In the Detroit area there are streets/roads named “Three Mile”, “Five Mile”, etc.

        Likely named because they were “three miles”, “five miles”, etc from some point in Detroit.

      • The Township and Range system was deliberately set up so that no one in settled lands lived more than 3-1/2 miles from a town.
        It was always fascinating for me to hear about the towns and schools that no longer existed.

      • I’ve been wondering for a bit about why a small town a bit away from here is named “Nowthen”. Wondering what to do when they finally arrived at the point? What?

    • According to local tradition (I say that because I’ve never researched the statute to see if the story is true), the counties in the Texas Panhandle are no larger than 30X30 miles so that people could come to the courthouse in one day to take care of legal matters, weather conditions et cetera permitting.

      • Georgia has so many counties so that a landowner could ride into the county seat, vote, and ride home in a day.

        • North Carolina is similar, theough the justification was voting in a single day. We ended up with exactly 100 counties in the state. That big round number makes me suspect that the final county lines involved a bit of horse trading somewhere.

      • It is true. I once saw that law when the local historian of Glasscock County showed it to me.

    • I’ve heard similar things about mountain towns in Colorado being about 10 miles apart (travel being slower in the mountains), though I’ve never actually tried to measure to see if it was true.

      • Did railroads go through them?

        IIRC, 10 miles (or some multiple thereof) was about the distance a steam train could go between water stops.

        • I believe it’s 100 miles, not 10. At least, that’s my understanding as to why the major (major being a relative term in this case) cities in Wyoming are 100 miles apart, as most of the towns were founded in the era of the railroad.

    • RAH’s Howard Family!

    • In 19th century Texas, they drew the counties and set the county seats so that any citizen could get to the courthouse in about one day.

  3. Dealing with “another world” still exists. I’m moving from the east coast to the mountain west in a few months, and how people react is definitely influenced by where they are.

    Co-workers, almost uniformly, react as if I’m moving to another planet (“you’re moving where?!?”). Family (in one of the non-California west coast states), are delighted that I’ll be so close and are enthusiastic about coming to visit and exploring this state.

    Note that if I were moving to California (directly after suffering a severe head injury!), my co-workers would be quite enthusiastic and regale me with all the things they like about the state … my family would disown me.

    • Nothing like having your kids used to five-hundred-mile drives to see Grandma to get you to think of long distances as “close.”

      • Here in Connecticut my SCA group had to deal with members who wouldn’t go to an event in the next group over because it was a 2 hour drive each way. (Though this is at the same pre-Amazon time as folks telling me that we didn’t need stores selling a particular specialty item since we were “only 2 hours from Boston and 2 hours from New York”.) One of our group’s members at that point was from Texas and laughed hysterically; she told us that she and her friends would travel 8 hours each way into Houston to go shopping every few months.

        I grew up dealing with drives from southern Michigan to NYC suburban NJ as a one day trip. OK, with my father it was leave at 6am, don’t stop except for food or (grudgingly) because one of us kids has to go potty and can’t wait another hour, and get in around 1am, but one day still. (I just checked and that trip is only just over 600 miles.) When I was going out with my husband I used to make the 500 mile, 10 hour each way trip to see him every other weekend. Even though I can’t hack that sort of drive anymore it has definitely affected my definition of distance. 500 miles or so is One Day. I still think of commutes by time rather than distance, so the doctor’s office which is right off the highway 11 miles away is if anything closer than the one 6 miles away in the next town because of how much time it takes to navigate the city streets and stop lights.

        • We get people from Wyoming coming to my store to shop (We’re east of Denver). They do it every couple of months and spend… well, they make my day every time they stop in.

          • Back when we were only semi-broke (when we discovered Pete’s. Marsh was two I think, and Robert 6) we used to go to long weekends in Denver every six months (back then, the speed limit was lower and we lived in manitou so Denver was almost 2 hours.) I went to Murder by the Book on Friday and cleaned out their used section of anything that looked interesting. At $1.50 to $2 a book (20 years ago) we would spend $300 to $350 and stagger out with large bags of books. Which I’d made inroads into over three days, and then finish and re-read several times over the next six months.

            • The only think I liked about living in Albuquerque was living walking distance from Page One Too so I could get my reading fix without going broke or needing the car. Thank God for Amazon and the kindle.

              Currently, I drive out to Estes Park for Job #2 and I’m always irritated when I don’t get to spend time beyond what it takes me to do the job. When I was first learning how to drive, Boulder was an all day thing because it was so far away. Which…would have been about the time you all were driving in from Manitou, if I have the dates right.

        • Jeepers. I’ve driven more than two hours to go to SF conventions from Connecticut.

          • I used to drive 2 to 6 hours to get to SCA events back when I was active, and when they were in Sweden, like one of the bigger camping things, one of them is in Visby and another at least used to be in southern Sweden, way more than that (well, the Visby event requires several hours spend in two ferries, one from Finland, either Turku or Helsinki, to Stockholm, then the ferry from the mainland to the island of Gotland. Totally worth it though, the SCA camp is there during the Medieval Week, and the town of Visby is one of the few in all of Europe which still has most of its medieval – 14th to 15th century – defense wall more or less intact, and the old town inside the walls is, well, pretty damn old too, including several houses which are almost equally old as the wall. Swedes have more really old left than we in Finland do. One reason being they stopped having wars a bit earlier, the other they build more of stone while Finns used mostly wood, which meant that the cities here tended to burn down about once a century).

            Mostly just 2 hours though. Finland has large distances for an European country. There are people who do 2 to 3 hour drives to get to their jobs, mostly those who work in Helsinki. It’s about the most expensive place here to live in, enough that not everybody cares to move there even if they do work there. The other reason is of course wanting to live outside a city.

  4. Empires of the past tended to be bureaucratically catered affairs, with the hand of central governance laid lightly upon the local shoulders. Typically, by the time the Emperor (or ministers thereof) learned about any local problem it would have been resolved, or if not resolved the “Foundational” options become very limited, the Empire’s role essentially being to clean up the remaining debris.

    The telegraph changed that, rapidly followed by its descendants and consequences — newspapers, magazines, television, the internet — all coupled by rapid transit of persons, goods, and services. These days Sean Penn can learn of a tsunami and be there within a day, bequeathing largess and pausing for photo-ops. Heck, Sally Struthers can have a tearful public service plea in the can and on the air in three days or less.

    But in our hearts we still measure time and distance by the references learned in our youths, so that “a long way to go” (hums: It’s a long way to Tipperary, it’s a long …) even though today’s culture revels in near Instantaneity. News arrives immediately and people can jump on Amazon and ship bail money (oops — memories of the important function held by the Western Union of my youth) er, aid & succor, in a jiff.

    One thing remains unchanged: the arrogant belief of outsiders that they can parachute in, assess a situation and report accurately in under twelve hours. And we fall for it when it involves any community other than the one we directly know. Look at the reporting on Ferguson or any other “trouble spot” and consider that it reflects far more of the reality of the reporters than of the community. At a guess, I would venture to opine that the daily lives of “People of Color” in Ferguson are less horrendous than those in Chicago, New York or Los Angeles — but Ferguson’s situation is reported according to the presumptions of reporters accustomed to life in those big cities and possessing an idealize conception of small towns and suburbia.

    • Newspapers predate the telegraph a long time. So does media bias. Compare Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre to the sketch he did during the trial.

      • Newspapers were essentially local affairs, reporting on events their readers were capable of investigating for themselves. Very few had national influence.

        Media bias in the modern sense is new. Back when most newspapers were acknowledged to be aligned with a particular party or faction. The bias these days lies largely in the pretense they have no bias — it’s all their competitors who suffer from bias.

        • An example of the effects of changes in scale on the newspaper industry: there is no way this story out of Whittier, CA, merits news space even 75 years ago, much less gets picked up in the New York and Washington Post:

          Wedding turns tragic after tree collapses

          Emergency personnel at the scene where a large tree fell on a wedding party in Whittier, Calif.
          December 17, 2016 | 9:09pm
          WHITTIER, Calif. — One person was killed and another critically injured when a massive eucalyptus tree fell on them as they posed for wedding pictures in Southern California on Saturday, authorities said.

  5. Your extra-regional polities: ring a bell about David Weber’s construction of governance on Beowulf. They had something “odd” like that. Though I can’t remember it exactly.

    • Basically, Beowulf was set up as a corporate board with members representing various guilds or professions, IIRC. There were also a few members at large.

  6. “You can’t maintain those illusions (unless you really work at them) when some of your writing — or gaming, or reading, or music — buddies are across the glove in a completely different land.”

    Apologies to highlighting a typo, but the reference to “glove” reminded us of Michigan, where the lower peninsula is a glove, and got to talking about how crossing to the upper peninsula on the Mackinaw Bridge was “another land”.

  7. Most of the time I believe in a spiritual realm (look, it’s a struggle, okay.  Some of us are born people of very little faith.  But I work at it. … )

    Funny thing, He doesn’t give us more than we can handle– had some friends who think I’m “so spiritual,” when it looks to me like He knows I’m not and adjusts accordingly.

  8. > appointments

    I know you and Dan have danced with the medical services industry before, but just in case… if you’re put on the referral-go-round, you should question your doctor about exactly *why*.

    I got run through the whole routine a couple of times, bounced from specialist to specialist for months, with multiple follow-up visits. Sorting it all out later – and dealing with the flood of deductibles and co-pays – I realized that the only reason for most of it was “because we can bill your insurance for it.”

    Also, particularly in an emergency room visit, it’s common for hospitals to shotgun tests and consults to their business partners, often without ever actually having them do any work.

    Some years ago my wife had surgery. The bill came in – back then, the provider sent the bill to you, and your insurance company paid you, and then you paid the provider – and I noticed that they had her down for four days in the hospital instead of three. A lot of other things looked wonky, so we made an appointment with her doctor – and paid full rate for an office visit – and had him look at the bill. He took out his pen and started checking things off, including a number of “I don’t even know what this is!” items.

    The hospital’s only reaction to our questions was “Give us money NOW!” so we went back home and spent more than a day’s gross pay on long distance to the insurance company, explaining about unauthorized and fraudulent charges. We got passed around several times, and finally an exasperated “manager” said, “But you got paid! Why are you worried about it?!”

    …and that’s why your insurance rates are so high…

    How much money was involved? Enough to put my wife in a 2-year-old Mazda RX-7. instead of the junker she was driving at the time. *After* paying the “adjusted” bill at the hospital.

    • PREACH IT!!!

      I swear, medical billing is now just a legal way to launder money.

      I managed the bills for my late mother when she became too impaired to do it herself, which meant hours on the phone to Blue Cross questioning charges like 6K$ for a simple x-ray (really). And even worse were the doctors who wanted to run expensive and unpleasant tests, of no therapeutic value, on a confused and frail old woman. (Like nerve conduction test for wrist tendonitis, which I know to be quite a painful experience, on a woman who couldn’t use her hands anyway because of Parkinson’s. Really). EVERY TIME the response was “but her insurance will cover it!”.

      Sorry for shouting, but just thinking about it has me steamed all over again. To steal is bad enough, but torturing sick people–there’s no hole in hell hot enough.

      • We once paid for an MRI the four year old never had, because stupid hospital sent it to collection and we were trying to buy a house.

      • I have noticed a change in how they disaggregate billing. What used to be billed as a single, follow-up Oncologist visit for the Beloved Spouse now arrives as a bill for the oncologist, a separate billing for the exam room, a separate billing for the bloodwork, and another bill for the nurse who assists the oncologist in performing the exam. I think the administrative nurse who schedules the follow-up exam in # months is (at least for the nonce) incuded in the room charge.

        • It’s probably related to some of the insurance companies noticing fraud — or from folks who pay a percentage deductible not being quite as loosey-goosey about “it’s only ten thousand.”

    • Geoff Withnell

      I was in a hospital for a hip replacement. This particular hospital because my wife, an RN, had very particular views as to which surgeon was going to get to whittle on her husband. NOT the hospital where my cardiologist was associated. After the operation, a Dr. I had never met, came to my room and announced they were going to keep me there another day. He said they were concerned that my pulse was a little elevated. I asked if they had consulted with my cardiologist. No. Well then, I am going home. If there is anything going on with my heart, you will need to either bring my cardiologist here (unlikely) or ship me to his hospital, because you are NOT taking any cardiology action with me, without the doctor who has keep me going and symptom free for the last ten years. So the only thing keeping me here does, is run up the hospital charges and allow you an probably a couple of other docs to charge consulting fees. He looked sheepish. I went home.

      • Tsk — you want to eschew those trendy, faddish “hip” replacements and stick to OEM equipment whenever possible.

        As for keeping you in durance vile, I seem to recall certain rules regarding Medicare, Medicaid, and/or insurance billings about 3-day “minimum” stays being necessary for hospitals to be sure of collecting. Probably not applicable in your case, but people and institutions tend to fall into certain habits of thought.

      • In this case, I wouldn’t blame the doctor.
        You see, one of the many “reforms” of Obamacare was that if you are released from the hospital, and you have to go back into the hospital within 30 days, the hospital has to eat the costs of the second admission. Even if the cause is completely unrelated.
        This has made hospitals predictably extremely gunshy about releasing patients, and very eager to run tests that aren’t really necessary. After all, they make money on the tests, and actively lose money if an underlying problem crops up.

  9. > if we had chosen electors

    In my state we don’t get to choose our electors. The state granted that power to the political parties, with no limits or oversight.

  10. Fifty miles as a trip that would take maybe a week on foot, and three days or so on horseback. 

    *wiggles hand* Really depends on too many variables– Hills? Traveling with what kind of load? Health?

    “Walking distance to figure travel time” doesn’t even work in modern life.

    There’s a guy on our road that will walk to the store, buy a 20 pound bag of cat food, and walk about 5 miles home. (Probably a bit longer.)

    Nasty route, though paved it isn’t flat and has no sidewalk, and he frequently doesn’t have to finish it because…well, even a very hitchhiker adverse woman with kids is going to be more willing to pick up an older guy who is packing a bag of pet food over his shoulder or in his arms… but he can manage it in about two hours.

    In contrast, walking to the library from our old house was only about a mile, flat, paved, sidewalks or close enough, and it would take me half an hour on a really nice day because of obstacles like “I do not play chicken with pickups.” All I had was the empty canvas bag in case I found something to check out. That’s when I am a fast walker.

    • St. Alphonsus de Liguori wrote moral theology books dealing with various cases (which makes him a “casuist,” btw). One of his more remembered opinions was that, if an old lady lives more than 15 minutes donkey ride from church, she was automatically dispensed from her obligation to go to Mass every Sunday. (Although she was good to go, of course, if it wasn’t causing the old lady undue burden.)

      Medieval roads varied a lot. Some of the old Roman roads were also pilgrim roads and trade roads, and they tended to be in good condition. But my understanding is that otherwise, roads tended to stink unless it was worth the local lord or merchant’s guild’s time and money to keep them up. But in some places, road upkeep was a pretty good job, or a standard task for the annual covers, or something the village did on certain days of the year. But it varied a lot. Military chronicles tend to wax eloquent about dirt roads being dusty in summer, icy ruts in the winter, and quagmire in the damp seasons. Corduroy roads were a thing, in some places, or dumping rocks and gravel into mudholes.

      The Dominicans and Franciscans were pretty good walkers. We know that St. Albert the Great walked several thousand miles through Europe, visiting Italy, France, Germany, the Slavic countries, and maybe England and Russia. But he was regarded as a tough cookie. Merchants like his uncle were pretty good travelers too (Swabia to Padua was an annual trip), but they often had horses and/or wagons.

      • Anyway, if your area was off the beaten path and marshy, or mountainous, news and goods could take weeks or months to get there. If you were on a main drag or your king had a well-stocked courier system, things could move fast.

        • While we’re talking about transportation, rivers were very important. and would remain so into the 20th Century.

          • 21st. We still have a working port on our river for shipping containers from overseas. I don’t see that shutting down anytime soon.

            • Albany is still where a lot of the East coast bananas arrive for distribution. Yes, on banana boats, designed just for transporting huge quantities of bananas. The U.S. eats a lot of bananas. They don’t come in by container because the holds are sealed and filled with gas to keep them edible. And also to kill the spiders and such that come with them.

            • Patrick Chester

              Heck, the Mississippi River and others are still used for moving cargo. Visited my birthplace of Alton, IL a few years back and the lock system is still in use.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        I started doing a wiki trawl starting with Sanzo Gojyo, and there are some people who’ve gone very long distances with very primitive transport. There’s apparently more than one Buddhist monk who went from China to India on foot.

    • My mother did the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage via France last year. (“Why did I decide this was a good idea?” “So your kids could have bragging rights, Mom.”) Looking at the distance, that’s almost 500 miles, and she took about five and a half weeks, IIRC. That’s a 71-year-old woman on a route that is well-maintained but which includes the Pyrenees. So yeah, road condition counts for a lot.

      • My MIL and the cousin who was raised with me as a sister (15 years older) did it two years ago. From Portugal, of course.

        • My mom’s “bucket list” (which is variable) is ordered from most strenuous to least so as to account for potential mobility issues. Macchu Picchu was first, but the Camino snuck in there and took her by surprise. She’s going to a photo safari next.

          • not MIL. SIL. I can’t imagine my MIL doing anything that strenuous.

            • Her mother (adoptive) died comparatively young (early 70s) through physical neglect. She ate wrong, never walked anywhere, smoked like a chimney, and so on. It’s not just memory that has her as “old” when my mother, at the same age, isn’t “old.” My mom made a promise to herself to not have that sort of deterioration happen to her, and has worked hard to retain physical health. She is, however, on her last dog*, because she thinks another one would outlive her.

              *Dogs are useful for keeping up walkability, because they’ll demand it.

    • You can do 40 miles in a day on horseback across rough terrain.
      Provided that you travel lightly, there’s quality fodder waiting at the end of the ride, and that you won’t have to ride that particular horse for a day or three.

      • I’ve done cattle drives of 20+, multiple says in a row– but we are ALL in good health compared to then!

        • This. Plus the cattle is better fed and in better health.
          BTW yesterday while researching plague pits (shut up) I came across a possibility that OUR GENES have changed so we don’t take to the Black the Death. I.e. the Black Death is of the exact same virulence it was (they’ve decoded the DNA) but it no longer takes us by storm in a way that neither better nutrition nor better hygiene explain.
          It’s possible it killed mos tof the people that were susceptible to it.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            I heard somewhere speculation that it had the effect in European populations of strongly selecting for disease resistance in general.

            • There is that—and there’s also the fact that we keep a lot of livestock. Pigs and chickens and such are huge zoonotic germ factories, so we get exposed to a wider variety of illnesses. That’s why the Native American population was so vulnerable; they kept dogs and not much else. Obviously, any still around today have a similar level of disease resistance to folk of strict European heritage.

              Disease selection is not kind.

        • Been there, done that.
          😉 Wheel and Flank are fun, Drag sucks.

      • US Army Cavalry Manual, “40 Miles in Saddle” by Major Assburns…………

    • Yep. I would regularly walk from the car repair joint to the mall (with public library and half price bookstore) and back. It was an easy 40 minutes… and I just looked it up: 2.9 miles. 9 minutes by car.

  11. This is to say that the electors, while in theory able to change their vote are not, and should not be, able to circumvent the will of the voters in the states that deputized them. To do so would make our elections moot and also p*ss off a bunch of very well armed people, something the weasels currently trying to subvert the election should remember, lest this all end in blood.

    And then there’s the underwear stains that are looking forward to that last part, thinking that they’ll come out on top in spite of evidence to the contrary.

    (Never mind historical precedents, of which there are plenty to be found with a bit of looking. Those “very well armed people” are probably not as on the Regressive side as the underwear stains wish to think.)

    • They think they’ll come up on top, because they’re a cult who thinks they’ve been promised power over the whole Earth.

      • Hillary said The Donald was. not. qualified. Therefore The Donald is not qualified and no honest electoral college member should vote for him.

        Hillary wouldn’t lie to them, after all.

        Betcha a doughnut that none of them could name three qualifications* for the office which he does not meet.

        *Legitimate constitutional qualifications only, not the imaginary ones developed for this single unique instance.

        • Lessee…. US citizen, over 35 years of age…. am I missing one or am I thinking of the qualifications for some other office?

          • Natural born citizen*, in the US for at least the last 14 years, and at least 35 years old.

            Article II, Section 1: http://constitution.findlaw.com/article2.html

            * The “or US citizen at the time of the adoption of the Constitution” clause is kinda moot nowadays, since no one is over two centuries old, outside of Agent Franks from MHI. 😛

            • Now THERE’s a Highlander fanfic…

            • Dang it… now there’s a dragon in my head wondering if she can run for president…

              • Probably not — it rather depends on whether the Proglodytes manage to redefine “citizen” so broadly as to eliminate the presumption of being human.

                “Naturally born” might also prove a hurdle, as it might be interpreted as a requirement for live birth rather than hatching. It is possible that a dragon’s lifespan* would slide her in as “a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution” if the citizenship question is resolved in her favor.

                Would it be too cruel to suggest that, the Democrats having run a Harpy for president they are ill-positioned to challenge any other mythological creature’s candidacy?

                It could prove an interesting campaign, especially as she might have a hoard of such wealth as to allow her to campaign on a promise to pay of the National Debt, although Democrat demands that she provide all of her tax returns might prove nettlesome they would be less so than prior to this last election. If she has incorporated herself (if a corporation can be a citizen, why cannot a dragon incorporate?) it might even be that she has been filing tax returns.

                It might be interesting to see how the Secret Service responds to the challenge of providing protection for her … for that matter, of keeping up with her as she would presumably be more secure in flight than Marine 1 or even Air Force 1. Her first summit with the dragons covertly controlling China (what, you doubt?) ought prove revealing.

                *She would, of course, renounce any presidential pension.

                • It could prove an interesting campaign, especially as she might have a hoard of such wealth as to allow her to campaign on a promise to pay of the National Debt, although Democrat demands that she provide all of her tax returns might prove nettlesome they would be less so than prior to this last election. If she has incorporated herself (if a corporation can be a citizen, why cannot a dragon incorporate?) it might even be that she has been filing tax returns.

                  I think that the corporation can only take on the citizenship of the members….but if she can transform into a human, she might have all the needed papers. And everyone was just passing it as a paperwork error….

                  • “That has to be a typo… We’ll fix it in the computer.” “Actually.” “Come on, you can’t have been born in 1487. 1987 maybe…” *deep sigh and head shake*

                • Yes, she would renounce the pension. Why in the world would she need more money? Money’s easy. Dragons could flood the gold and gem market if they chose (side affect of leaking transmutation magic on a grandiose scale). She’s only about 500 years old, which is barely an adult for a dragon. Which may explain the exuberant folly.

                  Would the dragons have been able to acquire citizenship when the US was founded? Now there’s an interesting question. I could see some historians jumping all over such a document, both for and against to see how the founding fathers handled such a thing. 😉

                • Probably not — it rather depends on whether the Proglodytes manage to redefine “citizen” so broadly as to eliminate the presumption of being human.

                  That’s most likely to be destroyed from the opposite direction– with biological human being insufficient, because it gets in the way of abortion, eugenic infanticide, organ harvesting and euthanasia.

                  If it’s shifted to an ability based measure, which is quite popular in the “quality of life” circles, then a rational being that is not a biological human would have a much easier time getting involved.

                  • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                    Of course, there’s always the “Do you want to tell that multi-ton firebreathing dragon that he’s not a person?” aspect of it. 😈 😈 😈 😈

              • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                How does she prove that she’s been living in the US that long?

                Franks at least has the Agreement with the US government(s) that shows he has been living in the US that long.

                Oh, I suspect that his Agreement/Deal with G*d prevents Franks from serving as President. 😉

                • I don’t think Franks’ huberis is of the sort that he’d ever want the job of President. It would prevent him from being able to directly shoot things.

                  In her case, that is the question. I’d have to do some research into what forms of documentation were available at the time and what circumstances might make them necessary or desirable to procure for a dragon. Possibly involving her family filing claims to lands so they’d have their own hunting grounds. (The Dragons likely having moved to the new world because the old one is getting cramped by draconic standards unless you move to Siberia… and who wants to move to Siberia?) Or possibly having been ‘local’ and just deciding to formalize their claim on their hunting grounds with the local humans so they don’t have to worry about pesky humans coming to their lands and either poaching or deciding to go Knight Errant.

                • For story purposes, it would probably be best if she didn’t initiate the problem.

                  Have some gov’t agency try to take her land away for tax fraud, because it couldn’t possibly have been owned by the same person for 300 years.

                  • And then she runs for president to stop such abuses?

                    • Well, it’s not an abuse, it’s a mistake based on an inaccurate assumption– but you could have a couple of antagonist paper-pushers who want to insist that it be confiscated anyways, and her getting outraged because she’s working with some protagonist paper-pushers who just want to follow the rules.

                      Gotta have a good reason she doesn’t burn the whole building down, after all.

                      Hehe, have her allying with both the “Animals are people” and the Alliance Defending Freedom type groups.

                    • The problem I see her having with ‘animals are people’ would be her instinctive reaction is “most animals are lunch unless they’re too small to be worth catching… then they’re babyfood.” Which won’t go over very well with most of those groups.

                    • The more lawful groups are willing to make common cause with anyone that will advance their goals, even a tiny bit– there were some awesome stories out of England when they were debating the part animal human embryos of Catholic group working with Animal Rights groups, the Catholics because they view it as mutilating a small human (and thus immoral) and the animal groups because they viewed it as mutilating animals, which are the same as people, and thus it’s immoral.

                    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                      Now Foxfier, all she has to do with those obnoxious paper-pushers is to calmly go from human form to her normal dragon form.

                      Of course, she might have to refrain from expanding her size to her full dragon size.

                      I wonder how quickly those obnoxious paper-pushers would “see the light”? [Very Big Dragon Grin]

                    • Outside of TV, how often do you actually see the guy saying “take their stuff”?

                      It’s like saying that the True The Vote lady should pull a gun on the IRS agent in charge of harassing her– she doesn’t even have a name, much less have them doing it in front of her.

                    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                      We’re talking about Dragon!

                      Dragons have ways of finding out who is trying to “mess with us”. [Very Very Big Dragon Grin]

                    • Doesn’t work since until they do the damage, they don’t “exist” as doing anything–and after, they can’t undo it.

                      It’s not like folks have never tried to get their way by violence before. The system is well protected.

                    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                      First, that should be Legally Exist as in accepted as existing by the US Government.

                      Second, “The system is well protected” may be true as far as humans go but when dragons are involved it’s a very different matter. Dragons can be very sneaky when we want to be.

                    • They are neither the mob nor the cartels. And they can die.

                    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                      True, dragons can die and/or be killed but it could take so much fire-power to do so that the Eastern Seaboard might be wrecked in the attempt.

                      Of course, this all depends on how powerful wyrdbard’s dragon is. 😉

                      Still, a wise dragon might decide to use the human legal system before taking “direct” action. 😀

                    • First, that should be Legally Exist as in accepted as existing by the US Government.

                      No, I mean that they aren’t detectable– you don’t know who to target because they aren’t doing anything, yet.

                    • While you are giving me ideas about what scrying spells she’d need to figure out who to intimidate, odds are she’d just find ways to deal with the system. Now… anyone sent to evict her by force is more likely to be met with ‘I am a large, tough, magically enhanced carnivore and you taste good with katsup, do you really want to go there?’ counter.

                    • Katsup? How boring. Have you considered a nice dipping sauce, such as sriracha mayonnaise? It seems very popular these days; even Wendy’s is offering sriracha flavored fries.

                    • It’s never a good idea to give a dragon indigestion. Sriracha is contraindicated.

                    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                      I’m still searching for the proper sauce to use on wallaby. 👿

                    • Pshaw, everybody knows wallabies are naturally saucy.

                    • Understood. Perhaps a coriander-leaf chutney or cucumber-mint raita? Honey mustard seems widely popular, to judge by offerings thrown out of windows at McDonalds and Hardees/Carl Jr.s? Tomato BBQ sauce is what katsup wishes it could be.

                    • This reminds me. I need to see if I can scare up enough mint for mint jelly. Must plan the garden or we’ll forget to plant it until April which is a bit late…

                    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                      My dear Wallaby, Dragons do enjoy plenty of other sauces beside catsup.

                      However, It Is Traditional to talk about “using catsup” when warning humans (& wallabies) against “meddling in the affairs of dragons”.

                      Do you have some major problems with that Dragon Tradition? [Very Stern And Hungry Dragon Grin]

                    • As a wallaby of Jewish descent I well appreciate the importance of tradition, especially in this holiday season. There’s nothing like a tasty brisket served with horseradish to whet one’s appetite for latkes! With maybe ein bisschen kugel on the side? And doughnuts (sufganiyot) fried in oil (never baked!) for desert.


                      But a good host tries to offer variety of experiences to guests, nicht wahr?

                    • and a couple years ago it was chipotle everywhere…

                    • The “she isn’t evil” assumption comes in big– and depending on how magic works, she’d need a guide.

                      And dragon slaying is an issue. We have a lot more hero sized guys these days, even if modern weapons don’t work for some reason.

                    • Oh, indeed. Dragons have thick hide and magic, but they’re not invulnerable. I’m roughly seeing their ‘toughness’ about at a modern tank level. With some weak spots. I’m still figuring out how it all works for this world. Though you folks are giving me all KINDS of ideas!

                    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                      Anti-tank weapons would work on her but dragons can fly thus she could generate a miss.

                      On the other hand, there’s those heat-seeking missiles….

                    • “And then she runs for president to stop such abuses?”

                      More likely she decides to run for president and then people start wondering why she’s claiming to have owned the same land for 300+ years.

              • Can the dragon run for president? Hmm, what if you set it in a world where there are projecting holograms and such so that no one in the media realizes that Candidate D is a Saurian-American?

                Actually, somewhere I’ve got a Weird West story about dragon ranching, and activists who discover that the dragons vastly prefer the “nasty white ranchers” to the First Nations. Something about getting regular meals in exchange for some things vs. being looked at as a meal-to-be.

                • That could be fun. Shapeshifting is also a possibility. It also leaves open possibilities for dramatic (or comedic) assassination attempt failures.

                  Then there’s always the question: What do the OTHER dragons think of this?

                  • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                    What do the other Dragons think about her running for President of the US?

                    They think it’s somewhat silly as why would a Dragon care ruling a bunch of humans.

                    On the other hand, she claimed North America as her horde centuries ago and none of the other Dragons have been able to successfully challenge her ownership of North America. [Very Big Dragon Grin]

                    Note, she does allow other dragons to visit or live in North America as long as the other dragons acknowledge her ownership of North America.

                    Oh, I’m not going to challenge her. [Nervous Dragon Grin]

                    • “Oh, I’m not going to challenge her. [Nervous Dragon Grin]”

                      She’s a friendly sort. Though that gives me ideas. What better way to solidify a claim on at least part of North America than by being elected its legitimate leader?

                      Too many ideas! The dragon will happen. I don’t know if she’ll run for president but the dragon will happen.

                    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                      Since she’s a friendly sort, there’s no need to fight her.

                      But she’s still not somebody that other dragons want to fight as she may be friendly but she’s still a very tough lady dragon. 😉

                    • Oh, that is CLEVER….

              • Dunkelzahn already did it in Shadowrun….

                • Not overly familiar with that particular world/RPG setting.

                  • BobtheRegisterredFool

                    Long ago there was magic. This was their fantasy setting Earthdawn (IIRC.) Then the magic went away. Then it came back in modern times, and people turned into elves and trolls and stuff. Shadowrun was a cyberpunk fantasy where players were criminals for hire.

                    Dunkelzhan was a dragon who had been sleeping in the US when magic came back, and was elected President.

                    The guy who did Campione did another light novel series, somewhat similar, that at one point had one of the Dragon tyrants oppressing humanity decide it wanted to run for office.

                    • They also tied it more or less explicitly to the Mayan Calendar Sixth Cycle; it was going from the Fifth to the Sixth that supposedly triggered the return of magic

                • If this field never re-did ideas, there would be no field.

                  • Sarah, I’m the last person to complain about that. I mention stuff like that because I remember JMS using “Bureau 13” in Babylon 5 not realizing that Nick Pollotta had already used the term for HIS secretive organization….

        • Patrick Chester

          Natural-born citizen, 35 years old, gets the electoral votes?

          • Gets the electoral votes is not exactly a qualification, is it?

            If we are going beyond the Constitutional requirements I suspect anybody here can come up with several reasonable standards which Hillary couldn’t clear with a Trebuchet.

            • Never mind with a trebuchet, not without a Saturn V strapped to her ass. 😛

            • That’s one of the things I always found funny about this election. All the people on Hillary’s side screeching “But Trump’s not qualified!” with my own reaction being, “Well, yeah, that’s true, which is why I’m not voting for him…but how is Trump any different from Hillary in this regard?”

              Everything said about Trump applied to Hillary, sometimes even tenfold.

    • Yeah, I don’t think the morons calling for the electors to “save the Republic” have thought the ramifications of their proposed action all the way through. Namely that in the highly unlikely event they actually succeed:

      a) there’s no faster way (IMO) to incite a full-scare militant uprising/civil war faster than invalidating an otherwise-legitimate (if admittedly unfortunate) election because you don’t like the results…

      b) their opposition has all (or nearly all) of the guns….

      and c) they only have, what? Safe spaces, sex toys, and safety pins?

      Yeah, good luck with your “revolution”, cupcakes.

      • I saw one person who was urging electors to change their votes who apparently took the situation seriously, because he (a Democrat) was urging the Democratic electors to change their votes… to a different Republican.

        I actually respect his reasoning, for the fact that he thought things through and actually came up with a way for electors to both signal that they think Trump is dangerous… but that they respect the people who voted for him.

      • What’s there to think through? They have a desired end and they see a path directly to it. They aren’t about to waste time on thinking of possible problems of the sort which can only occur if people act out of evil intentions. After all, they promised to respect unfaithful electors in the morning.

    • The people who think this way also often have a tendency to think that the military is nothing but a bunch of mercenaries, and all they have to do is give orders and sign the paycheck.

  12. > Yes, Americans were always more
    > mobile than, say, people in Europe,

    I’ve read a bunch of books by or about Soviet defectors to the West. One thing many of them commented on was that Americans (and British and Canadians, for some of them) could just GO. Anywhere, any time. Move across the country. Change jobs. Just get in the car and drive around seeing the sights. No timetables, no residence permits, without giving any reason, or indeed, even *having* a reason.

    Some of them were deeply disturbed by that, particularly after the CIA finished with them and turned them out on their own. Now that they could do anything they chose, they didn’t know what to do with themselves.

    • *considering*

      Given that they actually saw it– fish and water– it could be partly that they had a grasp of how dangerous a thing it can be.

      We have a lot of disappearances every single year, most of which there’s never…anything. Not even “their car was found at a national park,” like that recent Coast to Coast episode. (That at least makes some sense– animal or human, predators do make sense, but their cars couldn’t have ALL been stolen from the parking lots.)

      The fact that you can just randomly decide to show up anywhere means that someone who wants to do you harm can just show up in town, and unless it’s a very small town without much tourism, nobody will even notice. If it is, all they need is a camera around their neck and nobody will notice.

      • Of course, without the freedom or movement, it’s entirely possible that you would have far more people who DO belong in your town who want to do you harm…

        I do get what you’re saying, though, and it’s one of the disadvantages of living in a large, free society. I remember reading a book where an American cop is talking to his Israeli counterpart about missing people, and the Israeli, while he understands intellectually, has a hard time emotionally accepting the idea that someone could just disappear without there being a huge outcry around the country.

        • They’d already be use to that idea, though– it’s not a new threat.

          Being able to vanish means that you can disappear you, too, avoiding folks who mean you wrong…but there being something you can do, somewhere you can go, isn’t going to be an option they’re use to.

          Sort of like folks who don’t really grasp that they can have a concealed weapon freaking out about concealed carry rates. (Nevermind that CCL holders have a lower crime rate than the police. 😀 )

          • Disappearing is not simply an American habit:

            The chilling stories behind Japan’s ‘evaporating people’
            As a newlywed in the 1980s, a Japanese martial arts master named Ichiro expected only good things. He and his wife, Tomoko, lived among the cherry blossoms in Saitima, a prosperous city just outside of Tokyo. The couple had their first child, a boy named Tim. They owned their house, and took out a loan to open a dumpling restaurant.

            Then the market crashed. Suddenly, Ichiro and Tomoko were deeply in debt. So they did what hundreds of thousands of Japanese have done in similar circumstances: They sold their house, packed up their family, and disappeared. For good.

            “People are cowards,” Ichiro says today. “They all want to throw in the towel one day, to disappear and reappear somewhere nobody knows them. I never envisioned running away to be an end in itself . . . You know, a disappearance is something you can never shake. Fleeing is a fast track toward death.”

            Of the many oddities that are culturally specific to Japan — from cat cafés to graveyard eviction notices to the infamous Suicide Forest, where an estimated 100 people per year take their own lives — perhaps none is as little known, and curious, as “the evaporated people.”

            Since the mid-1990s, it’s estimated that at least 100,000 Japanese men and women vanish annually. They are the architects of their own disappearances, banishing themselves over indignities large and small: divorce, debt, job loss, failing an exam.

            [SNIP]

      • A friend of mine ran a wrecker service. I saw a lot of the “abandoned vehicle” thing. I even bought a few from him.

        One had been abandoned by the side of I-40 near West Memphis. Had some girl’s clothes and other belongings, schoolbooks, her master’s thesis, various personal papers… like she just got out of the car and walked away. Tommy got one of those several times a year.

        Another time I helped him pull a Ryder truck. It had been at a motel parking lot for three months. Had a car on a tow bar in the back. Had all of someone’s personal belongings, stereo equipment, furniture, etc. Neither the car nor truck were locked. Nothing looked missing. (yes, I *do* live in Mayberry…) The motel said someone had checked in for a night, never checked out. Poof.

        • If the average person knew how often things like that happened, they’d never leave the damn house, and keep all their loved ones at close hand–Bound and gagged, if necessary.

          I remember a couple of cases from my military career that were just… Baffling.

          One was a guy who drove to Utah on a three-day weekend; the unit got word that his small truck was found parked, idling on the side of the highway up in the mountains in Oregon, door open and no sign of him around, at all. The Oregon State Patrol searched, and never found him. For all the world, it looked as if he’d been raptured out of the truck, or something. Supposedly, they did a full-scale search of the area for him, never found a damn thing.

          Years later, a road crew was doing work up there, after a brush fire, and found a human skull sticking up out of the ground. It was him, and the dental records proved it–Only way I heard about it was that they came around looking for anyone who remembered this guy, because he’d been carried as AWOL for nearly a decade. So far as I know, nobody has a clue how or why he died, just that they found his mostly intact skull within yards of where his truck was parked. I don’t know if the family ever got closure, or not–They certainly should have been due his life insurance and other military death benefits, because he most certainly did not go AWOL.

          The other case happened the summer before my assignment to that same unit, and I actually moved into the room these two guys had lived in. Two E-5 Sergeants just up and disappeared one afternoon in early summer, and nobody could find them. Due to who they were, and their general reputation, nobody thought they’d gone AWOL together, and the whole unit and post mobilized to search for them. No signs were found, whatsoever, no activity on their credit cards or anything else–For all intents and purposes, these two guys just vanished off the face of the earth one afternoon, them and the car one them was restoring. The families were distraught, and kept right on looking for them all summer, giving up only in September when the money ran out.

          Sometime in early October, a hunter in one of the training areas found the car, and both of them. It was literally feet off of one of the main roads, but invisible unless you walked up on it on the side away from the road. From reconstruction, they’d gone off the road, hit a tree, and then the fact that the seats and seatbelts weren’t bolted down properly caught up to them. Both were thrown a really improbable distance from the vehicle, and likely died instantly. Alcohol was thought to be involved, but at the time the bodies were recovered, testing wasn’t an option. The powers-that-were still outraged everyone that knew these guys by displaying the car as a part of the anti-DUI campaigns for the next couple of years…

          Human life is fragile, and the universe around us is a very dangerous place. Act accordingly.

          • Your stories remind me of Bermuda Triangle stories. First of all, in a country with vast distances and a population in the hundreds of millions it’s inevitable the occasional mysterious occurrence. And then there is the penchant for mistellings, exaggerations and out-and-out tall tales.

            If disappearances were all that common, then everyone would know of one within their realm of acquaintances.

            • If disappearances were all that common, then everyone would know of one within their realm of acquaintances.

              A reasonable assertion, and demonstrably true as I, myself, have disappeared on multiple occasions …

            • Yours is the attitude of the settled person who hasn’t had much experience of life outside your narrow, safe confines.

              Talk to a few police officers who’ve investigated these things. Disappearances are a hell of a lot more common than you’d like to think, and the number of “Jane and John Doe” bodies that turn up are more common than not. Three years

              Hell, just one case I can think of, off the top of my head, is that of Michelle Malkin’s niece. Last seen at a grocery store near her school, and then, zip… Nothing. There’s a whole laundry list of similar cases surrounding young asian-appearing girls her age in the Northwest, and there’s a strong suspicion that we may be looking at a serial killer who’s preying on that demographic.

              Of course, she might be like that woman whose faked identity only got solved a few months back, when they traced her. But, finding these people who go missing alive is a hell of a rare thing.

              You talk to the cops who deal with this stuff, and it’s an eye-opener. The rate that these things happens is a lot higher than one would think, and it occurs across all walks of life. A reservist I was with in Iraq was on a task force looking into these things down in one of the Carolinas, and the numbers they had come up with were mind-numbing, particularly in the demographics nobody pays attention to. Young person from a white-bread middle-class home goes missing, and the media goes nuts–Case in point, Brittanee Drexel. Young, pretty, white, from a relatively well-off family. You’ve likely seen her face in the news–She was telegenic as hell. Have you heard about Lakenda Powers, who went missing in the same area, but “Not much is known about her circumstances.”?

              Out on the margins, this stuff happens a lot more than the average person thinks; and, it happens largely in the shadows, to those whose “circumstances are not much known”.

              • “Yours is the attitude of the settled person who hasn’t had much experience of life outside your narrow, safe confines.”

                Petty, much? I didn’t say disappearances never occurred, I said they weren’t nearly as common as fabulists like you hype.

                • Actually, you asserted it reminded you of Bermuda Triangle stories, and then you asserted that they would be occasional, and the stories would be mostly exaggeration.

                  Folks do tend to get a bit touchy when someone accuses them of ignorance, exaggeration and possibly even lying their asses off, especially when that person has done so little research that they objectively do not have grasp of the situation, and are instead going off of impressions of the stories that are worth telling.

                  Additionally, your assertion that if it was that common, everyone would know about it, is ridiculous even before the question of knowledge– do you walk around looking for that third of a child in the 2.3 child families? One would hope not. It’s entirely possible that some circles are much more likely to have a disappearance than others. Probable, even, unless one is wedded to all of them being caused by a single, random factor.

            • Sort of– only works if people are actually talking about it. Framing it as a “disappearance” makes it sound different, but I can think of three different folks in my circle of acquaintances where their families don’t know where they are.
              They might be missing, or they may have just cut off all ties with their relatives– I know a couple of sailors who did that. (toxic relatives)

              The FBI’s missing persons cases that are neither canceled, solved or closed is about 10,000 a year; that’s between a quarter and a fifth of the number of suicides. Suicide chosen because, besides possible overlap, the rate of it not being reported might be similar– if nobody knows a person enough to notice they’re gone, they won’t notice they’re gone, and the reluctance to record “suicide” might simulate the “we’re not recording this as a missing person, it’s clearly a run-away” failure to record. (That made news a while back because a kidnapped teen was thought to be a run-away due to prior behavior, and cops wouldn’t take a missing person on…her, I think.)

              Fatal motor vehicle accidents is somewhere around 32k-36k, three or four times as common.

              Firearm homicides are about a thousand more than the missing persons. (does not include suicides, does include justified)

              All homicides are only about half again as common.

              We don’t consider any of those other things so incredibly rare that they’re not to be worried about, even if they’re nowhere as common as the fear-mongers would like to insist.

              • Occam’s razor decrees we accept the most probable explanation until evidence proves otherwise.

                • *nod* It’s why the “they only care about white girls” shtick is so annoying– it’s a false pattern that leaves folks ignorant and sets them against the people helping, unproductively. It’s not “white,” it’s “lacks other risk factors.” Like being friends with people who have criminal records, or having run away, or recent “behavior issues.”

                  • We still don’t know what happened to the son of my ex-coworker, Nichelle McKnight. Her body was found and her killers dealt with, but his body never was found at all.

                    • A century back, his authoress had Lord Peter Wimsey opining that only a portion of murders were even detected, much less solved.

                      Hopefully the killer– or kidnapper– of the son was caught for something else.

                      If he was a kid, he may still be alive, and alright.

              • A friend of mine was a disabled vet in San Diego. We talked on the phone three or four times a week at a minimum. Then he quit answering his phone.

                I tried e-mail, and letters, and checked with the VA hospital that he had been to a few times, and other hospitals, and the police. I checked the county coroner’s office, online obituraries, and everything else I could think of. I knew his brother’s name and that he lived in east Texas, but he didn’t show up anywhere on the internet.

                Eight months later I picked up an unknown caller from east Texas. It was Bob’s brother, who had just been called by Bob’s landlord, who was cleaning out Bob’s trailer and had found his address book. Turned out Bob had, in some complicated fashion, gone to the VA, which whisked him to some kind of non-VA “care facility” up north of San Francisco without ever admitting him, which is why he wasn’t in the VA’s records. Then he had died there, and (this would be absolutely typical of Bob if you ever knew him) there was some kind of bizarre paperwork fustercluck, and there was still no death certificate.

                Meanwhile, a year and a half later, his Social Security and disasbility checks are still going into his checking account, his bills are auto-paid, his phone still says his voicemail box is full, his car payment and insurance are still being paid… all of Bob’s life still continues, except without Bob in it.

        • In the forward to “From a Buick 8,” Stephen King said that his inspiration was from an experience where he was driving through Pennsylvania, stopped at a gas station, and walked around a little bit to stretch his legs. Behind the gas station was a steep embankment leading down to a deep, fast-moving river. He leaned down to get a better look at the river, then slipped, catching himself just in time to avoid tumbling down the embankment. He found himself wondering what would have happened if he had fallen; likely he would have been killed and his body swept away by the river, but how long would it have taken the gas station attendant to figure out that no one was coming back for that car parked at the pump? What would happen then? Would anyone ever figure out what happened to him?

          I always found that little anecdote far more interesting than the novel that it inspired.

    • Mind you, we didn’t have permits for movement in Portugal, but way back when I was little it was relatively expensive. Also my mom’s mom was obsessed with the idea of train and/or bus accidents. We never figured out why.

      • I suspect we all have at least one relative like that, obsessed with strange things. I’ve a great aunt who is obsessed with Satanic cults. God knows why.

  13. Thinking about my family…. Only one of my grandparents lived in roughly the same area that she was born in, and for that it was still in the sense of “the same county,” where she was so-and-so’s daughter; the other three were from Kansas (those two met and married in a tiny town in Oregon, they were born maybe 20 miles apart) and the last was from the Great Lakes somewhere.

    They all had to do their moving while they were single. It was all basically for work. The one that did some travel to get her husband to some training in…Texas, I think… it was a epic journey that required joining up with another household, and she only had one kid. We do it to visit a grandma, every year.

    My parents’ generation, moving two states over with kids for work was a big deal, but doable. We’re moving from one edge of the country to the other, and the only reason it’s complicated is because of time out for several months of training in yet a third place that requires they live on site, in the barracks; it’s routine for military families to pack up and move all over the world every two to four years, kids cats sacks and wives.

    That it’s becoming easier to move means that people can much more easily leave a nasty situation…although, oddly enough, a lot of the “safety nets” are making it harder, rather than easier. (we just had to re-do our insurance for the move; it’s an incredible mess)

    • One the one side, my family has a long military history – my grandparents were in the Philippines under MacArthur, in Arizona running a depot, in Illinois at one point, and I’m not sure where else. On the other, my grandmother married a Scottish engineer immigrant, and left her country to raise her children in oil camps in exotic muddy locales.

      There’s a definite cultural difference between third/fourth/fifth generation military/diplo/oil brats and the kids whose parents never moved – the world is there to be explored, make new friends anywhere you go, because you’re going to be going anywhere, never get too attached to stuff, home is where the people are… and bored or just because is a perfectly good reason to change cities/states/countries.

      Hyper-mobile culture is here – it’s just not evenly distributed. That said, I’ve also noted a tendency to try to find the right end-state: a culture that matches the mental attitude, and settle in. This can’t help but contribute to regionalization, and making politics local, as people want to defend their culture against incomers who want to change it, allied with other incomers who moved there specifically for that culture and want to keep it.

      We have a house now in North Texas, and I’m slowly adjusting to the idea of not moving next year, nor the year after, nor the year after that…. It’s kinda foreign to me!

      • It’s fairly long-established that young soldiers’ wives “go home” when the husband is deployed. Before the Desert Shield deployment, I was at a reception in Copperas Cove, TX, when one of the locals asked Mrs. Tommy Franks (he was the deputy commander of 1st Cavalry Division at the time) if she was “going home while Tommy was deployed?” Her answer has stuck with me ever since, “Home is where my furniture is.”

        (There’s a nagging thought I’ve told this story in this forum before – if so, I apologize.)

        • There’s that, yes. But then there’s also families like mine, who are probably following traditions as old as camp-followers. We’ve been military for a very, very long time. (We also have a family tradition of using the old cavalry saber to cut the wedding cake. The working saber, with nicks where it hit bones at speed, because we’ve lost the parade sword. This confuses civilians who marry into the family, and thoroughly delights other multi-generational military families, who get the impression that we’re pretty used to the whole living-on-the-move with your soldier thing.)

      • I’ve also noted a tendency to try to find the right end-state: a culture that matches the mental attitude, and settle in. This can’t help but contribute to regionalization, and making politics local, as people want to defend their culture against incomers who want to change it, allied with other incomers who moved there specifically for that culture and want to keep it.

        Yes, this was a big deciding factor in picking my next destination. My state of origin has changed a great deal over the last 20yrs, and I really don’t want to go back for more than visits. So, I spent a fair amount of time figuring out what cultural elements are important to me, and then shopped for the state and community that comes closest. Now, I’m aware that it won’t be an exact match, and I’m prepared for some good-natured teasing about being a city slicker, but I’m more than willing to learn.

  14. Martin L. Shoemaker

    In Double Star, Heinlein had a government with electors at large that represented interest groups, not regions (though they had regional electors as well). Dak Broadbent was an elector for space pilots, for example.

    I never quite saw how it would work. Who would decide which interest groups got electors? Who would decide whether you qualified as a member of a group? What if you qualified for multiple groups?

    • Isn’t that the basic problem of identity politics? The drive to put people in groups of minorities results in a plurality – should I vote as a woman? As a Hispanic? As a wife of an expat? As a pilot?…

      As the subdivision goes fractal, I’m eventually divided down to the smallest minority – the individual – and I’ll vote as I please, regardless of which larger interest groups scream that they have claim over my voting block.

      • The end product of that is a demarchy like in Joan D. Vinge’s “Outcasts of the Heaven Belt.” One of the societies there was democratic… they voted continually, down to the smallest details of government, and voters formed ad-hoc groups for specific purposes.

        Imagine a parliament of all the populace, making deals and voting via Twitter, with the various news services doing their best to twist opinion this way and that.

        Vinge didn’t explore the subject too deeply, but I’ve spent many odd hours considering that piece of backstory. At some point “democracy” and “mob rule” start looking awfully similar.

        • Read Athenian history if you want to see that sort of thing at work. This is what inspired Plato’s statement that a perfect state could only have so many people: If you had more than that they couldn’t all meet face to face and debate policy.

          • Or you could just look to California where Bill and I live. In the late primary we had a US Senate candidate promising to put everything up on the web and let the majority decide his vote on every issue. (Yeah, no problem there 😉 ). But seriously the whole initiative process has led to such absurdities as waking up the day after the election and having the supermarket give it’s best imitation of the Soup Nazi, “No bag for you!”

            It’s government by the most committed. Wait, didn’t we do away with involuntary commitment?

    • C.J.Cherryh’s Union (in her Alliance and Union universe) seems to work that way too. I’m guessing both are SFal examples of soviets “done right”.

      • iirc from rereading them all this summer, the Union wasn’t so much ‘done right’, more that they had huge mobs of cloned “non-slaves” and weren’t held back by the limited access to stars the Alliance had, or the Earth government’s tendency to tell anyone who wanted to leave the planet that they had to pay their per capita share of the planetary debt, first. They had advantages that let them live as the Soviet apparatus wanted to live, without having to worry much about someone else outdeveloping them, or the people at the bottom finding a way to nuke the Kremlin. Changed a little in later centuries, but they still had no problem about breeding clones to trade to alien societies for access or simple Danegeld purposes. Later the Alliance got the Mri as members, though; that probably altered the balance a bit.

    • Most of the representatives stood for territorial districts. The exceptions were groups that were hard to link to a territory. For example, Penelope Taliaferro Russell was the member for districtless university women. I never thought about the details, but that sounds as if a university student could perfectly well stay attached to the district for their home town, and vote for its member of the GA, but those who travelled around a lot and found it difficult to keep up local ties could be officially “districtless.”

    • Actually, *Double Star* was set in a constitutional monarchy, with a Parliament. Dak was an M.P., and “spacers” was his “district.”

  15. It’s fascinating seeing, and hearing, how the world has changed in regards to travel. My mom talks about travelling from Liberia to Louisiana by ship and taking two weeks to get there. Then there was the travel by train to Canada by way of Chicago going to the prairies. Since then things have rapidly sped up. As a family we travelled to China, direct flight, and were there in 13+ hours.

    As to how North America is for travel it’s a dream. Direct drives are simple and easy now. I talked to a British reservist back in the late 80’s and he pointed out the difference between us. We used time to gauge how long to go, where as they used distance. A 100km (60 mile) trip for us was a commute, whereas with them a 35 km trip was a weekend excursion. Noticed something similar in China. From one big city to a smaller city was about 50 km as the crow flew. By road it was almost a 5 to 6 hour trip.

    Here we have a lot of empty space so building direct roads is easier. Older countries don’t have that luxury and typically have “major” roads the meander from hamlet to hamlet taking the most circuitous route possible.

    Communication has been a boom as well. Two weeks for a letter from Canada to an overseas posting in 1989. Today, I am able to e-mail someone half way around the world and get a response by the end of the day if not sooner. RAH commented on this in Expanded Universe in one of his essays. He said that travel and communication would get cheaper. Boy did he nail that one.

  16. Doing some family tree research on an ancestor sea captain in Nova Scotia, I discovered another person with the same name, birthdate, etc. in England with a family there. And then discovered he was a sea captain- of the same ship. So I have some distant half-cousins in England. In the days of wooden ships and iron men, how would he be found out? He died at sea. I have read of some airline pilots who’ve done the same thing.

    As far as family mobility goes, as fynbospress pointed out, it’s not evenly distributed, not at all. In my direct line ancestry I don’t have any ancestors in North America who died within 50 miles of where they were born. On my mother’s side of the family, I’ve found distant relatives with the surname literally living in the same family home in Virginia since the early 1700’s. With newspaper articles documenting it. In the small rural town I live in now it seems 90% of the people are related by blood or marriage in three jumps or less. Looking at surnames, and where my family has lived in the past, I might be 6th or 7th cousins to some of them. But I haven’t found a connection yet.

    • In Portugal the pope gave permission for seafarers to have a wife in portugal and one in one of the colonies. This was to solidify colonization, but…

      • The more interesting question might be whether wives of seafarers were allowed more than one husband, especially as “he” might be gone for two years or more.

      • Heh. I bet that didn’t happen, but I bet it was a sailor urban legend…. It is amazing, the stuff that people say got permission, and then you look it up and it is all different. There’s an urban legend about permitted polygamy in Paraguay, for example, and that turned out to be an inversion. (The Church was always telling local tribes to stop having polygamy for high status men, and yet they kept doing it for a long time. So you got credulous American writers saying polygamy was a popish thing.)

        Probably some kind of annulment thing set it off, though. And you would probably still have to support your kids after an annulment, so it might look that way. Alternately, it could be a blind eye bishop.

        I’m going to look this one up! I wonder if that’s where the Paraguay urban legend derived from.

        • no, it did happen. It was a bull of dispensation. Or at least we studied it in history and it was mentioned in law books I read when doing research.
          Now, the thing is, I suspect the king bullied the pope.

        • Ooh. Turns out the Inquisition in Portugal and Spain had to deal with LOTS of polygamy cases, mostly crypto-Islamic but also lazy Christian. In the late 1500s in some Spanish cities, polygamy was over a quarter of all cases. The inquisitors in the New World also prosecuted polygamy big time. And the pope anathematized polygamy in 1563.

          Which is not proof of urban legend, but it sure looks that way.

          • Look specifically at India and people spending years in India.

            • Oh, that means going back to That Lawyer Guy’s Book. My head hurts already.

              • Argh! That Lawyer Guy has failed me. Even the anti-Catholic books and sites have failed me! Portugal is being totally left out of juicy gossip!

                I have found out about Henry the Navigator promoting marriage between Portuguese and Africans, about Afonso de Albuquerque’s policy of encouraging marriage between Portuguese men and Indian Muslim women, various Portuguese nobles who married Hindu princesses, and so on. But no papal bulls. I must not have the right search terms, or current academics don’t want to think about it.

                Since the Portuguese men were staying in India, though, I suppose they were trying to get dispensations after seven years for separated spouses to regard each other as dead?

                • Btw, I also found out that the Portuguese of the day regarded just about everybody as white. Chinese? White. Burmans? White. Brazilian Indians? A lot of negroid Africans? “As white as we are.” I bet they would have said the same thing about green Orion girls.

                  You had to be pretty darned dark not to count as white, to an Age of Exploration Portuguese man.

                  • Yep.
                    HOWEVER the English by the 17th century considered the Portuguese a “dark” race. Meh.
                    And well, yes. Obama, possibly not (maybe) but reverend Wright? NO ONE in Porugal would even think of NOT considering him white. I have a cousin who is considerably darker than he is and has more African features and who would faint if someone told her she isn’t white.

                  • “You had to be pretty darned dark not to count as white, to an Age of Exploration Portuguese man.”

                    Too funny!

                • Honestly, I read it in primary sources… So if it was wrong, it was what they believed.

                  • I believe you; I am just puzzled.

                    Was it dispensing people from “bigamia”? Because that was serial monogamy (a remarried widower was “a man of 2 wives”), which usually banned a man from becoming a priest, even though it was okay for a layman. If you were signing up to be a priest in the missions, they dispensed a lot more stuff, including excommunication.

                    • yeah, I know.
                      Portugal is weird. Part of what sent me on the hunt for plague pits was that I found out by looking at google air-pictures of the region I grew up in, that all the forests in the area have the imprint of ruins. Now while I grew up reading Latin inscriptions in the forest, these imprints looked more medieval. SO I poked around to find out whether the village had shrank, by like 3/4th in the Germanic invasions OR the plague. Turns out a couple of articles point to the plague, but AFAICT there are no signs of plague pits, which for that kind of loss, were almost inevitable.
                      So… If I had the money, I’d finance archeology in Portugal but part of the issue in Portugal is that anything they find, they hide, or you’d never be able to build ANYTHING. The biggest, modern cowshed in the village was built over a Roman cemetery that was treated by the “Shovel and shut up” method.

                    • Ah. In Cologne there’s a motto that, translated from the dialect, says ‘The first man to find a wall cries.” Because all work has to stop for at least six months while archaeologists determine what it was, how old it was, and is it important enough to keep.

    • Um… fascinating stories for spaceship pilots though, uh?

      • It would be, if there were similar factors of scale involved.

        My own suspicions about the nature of deep space travel we’ll actually face would basically imply that any community you want to keep in touch with had better be one you take with you, and stay within. Because, the time and distance factors involved likely imply that there’s no way you’re going to put your foot back in the particular part of the river you were in before you departed. You’ll likely return to find great-grandchildren, where you left a wife and kids.

        Basically, once you depart, you ain’t coming back within a time frame to see anyone you knew alive again. Unless you also posit those people going into suspended animation, or something, until you return–Which would mean that your community is basically going to lose touch with the surrounding milieu, no matter what.

        Of course, who really knows? The true nature of these things remains to be seen, and it is possible that we’ll eventually be able to transit to Alpha Centauri as easily as we fly from the US to Portugal. I’m gonna go out on a limb, though, and wager that’s a long damn ways off.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Travels within the Solar System could be interesting even though within the Solar System, talking with your family would still be possible.

          • I think we’re eventually going to define things by how far the noosphere surrounding a given settled star system can propagate itself. That’s technology-dependent, and to a degree, also sociologically dependent. One could posit a society that put itself into suspended animation while it waited for lightspeed-limited communications to catch up to it, in order to maintain cultural community with the home system, but I don’t see that as being an attractive option for most people. More than likely, distance is going to mean separation in culture and social values/mores.

          • But expensive. VERY expensive.

        • Kirk, in science fiction we can have “jump” methods.

          • A lot of which strike me as being more convenient story devices to advance or enable the plot for all too many authors.

            While we don’t know for sure what the actual reality is, with regards to this, I like to keep my personal speculations within the range of “likely”, based on current understandings of the universe. Sure, we could write stories where space whales show up tomorrow, attracted by our electromagnetic profile, but… How likely is that? You take me through too many willing suspensions of belief, and I start to lose interest in the story, in more than an academic sense.

            I think the distances and sheer scale involved are going to mean that once you go, you’re gone to all those you left behind. Sure, you might make it back to that particular location in space, but the displacement in time…? Yikes. Take what you need with you, ‘cos you won’t be seeing those things again. Ever.

            One of the most egregious things I find annoying with science fiction in general is where the author screws up the scale of things. Even during the age of exploration, where you were gone five-ten years on a voyage, you were coming home to something recognizable. Society moved more slowly in those times, too. If you left Portsmouth in 1670, 1675 didn’t look all that different when you came back.

            Scale that up to the better likelihoods for interstellar travel, now… Holy spit. Imagine the cultural lag between the voyager and home port, over whatever period it turns out to require on a round trip. Say it’s a hundred years–If it were the hundred years (in terms of change) between 1370, and say, 1470? Changes, yeah, but things are more-or-less recognizable to the voyager. Make it the hundred years between 1890 and 1990? Recipe for madness, that one.

            I’m going to contend that the only way to avoid losing “it” is for you to take everything that matters with you, so that you don’t care a whit what you find upon your return.

            • Kirk, we don’t KNOW what science will be in 100 or 200 years. If the nineteenth century wrote fiction about the 21st (they did) they’d have to extrapolate wildly about “impossible things” to be able to make it what happened.
              They didn’t, and their sf about the 21st is stupid.
              I prefer to bet we don’t know everything. Not even about physics.
              Also, PFUI. Only little minds think that what we think can’t be done will bind our descendants. Double PFUI.

              • e.g. the cyberpunk literature of the early 80s still didn’t predict ubiquitous computing power, just the equipment, and was still largely based off the client/server model (although ‘the cloud’ could be said to be a modern representation of that) Basically none of the 60s or 70s sci fi predicted ubiquitous personal computing. Of course, in most of it, the voice recognition worked better, but it is only 2016…

                (also: they really didn’t predict working touch screens becoming ubiquitous…)

              • “Jump” technology is sorta implicit in M-theory. Only a fool (or a US Patent Official) imagines we’ve garnered any significant amount of understanding of Reality.

                • BobtheRegisterredFool

                  Hey! ‘People with my training’ does need to include some people who are skeptical of technological advancement, and who are reluctant to assume a new technology before it is proven.

        • In “This Moment of the Storm” by Roger Zelazny the main character is a slowship crewman who periodically relocates. In return for staying awake for part of the trip he gets free passage. In the novella he is working as a cop on a planet where he had been one of the original colonists before leaving. Periodically he pulls up roots and moves on, and if he ever returns everyone he knew is dead and it’s a very different place.

      • Another interesting spaceship pilot question. Right now, in most areas, you can’t marry your 1st cousin, and not your aunt or uncle, definitely not your child or grandchild. So, if you’ve been gone for a while, in cold sleep or time dilated, or whatever, and return, can you marry your great-great-great-great-great-grandchild?

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Well, in RAH’s Time For The Stars, the main character ended up marrying the “great-great” granddaughter of his brother. 😉

        • Or, in a tiny community that represents a spaceship crew, are you going to be able to find a sexual partner during the voyage? What happens when the only options are relationships we mundanes would classify as incest? Would such a society decouple sex from reproduction, and allow sex between close relations, but only accept reproduction with outsiders or stored germ cells traded between other space-faring communities?

          A lot is going to depend on things like how often these communities hit ground, and what their options are while “in transit”.

          I’m sure it could be made to work, but I’m also pretty sure that there are gonna be some very, very strange values used for “work”.

          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

            First, it depends on the size of the crew. If we’re talking about something the size of the generation starships, there shouldn’t be a problem with finding a husband/wife that not too closely related.

            On the other hand, RAH’s Citizen Of The Galaxy had a starship-based culture where the young people raised on an individual starship married young people from one of the other starships of the culture.

            IIRC it was a case, where young men took wives who were born on one of the other starships while their sisters left the starship that they were raised on to live (& take a husband) on another starship.

            I believe that the biggest sexual taboo of that culture was to have sex with somebody else born on the same starship as you were. It was the same as “having sex with your brother/sister”.

            • That’s one of the examples of “how it might work” that I was thinking of, although I have to admit that the scale of things as described by Heinlein felt a little “off”.

              With as much contact as the Free Traders had with outsiders (of their own ships), the necessities described felt a bit forced. Not to mention, the time scales involved… The slaver societies Heinlein described felt like something that should have taken some thousands of years to grow up, and that just wasn’t allowed for with the time scale and continuity he implies.

              • The classical separation is seven times removed, but most of Christendom has been okay with everything up to kissing cousins. The taboo against marrying an aunt or uncle has been pretty strong in most places outside royalty….

                Marrying a child of the woman who nursed you, or a child of your godparent or fosterer or adoptive parent, has often been considered a sort of spiritual incest; it got into canon law in some times and places. I think it just tangled up family obligations too much. It was totally okay for an ex-apprentice to marry his ex-master’s daughter, though, so that only went so far.

            • That’s true, but the Free Traders also divided each ship into “moieties,” a bit RAH took from Australian cultures. A young man belonged to the same moiety as his father and his father’s brother, so he couldn’t marry his sister or his father’s brother’s daughter. But his father’s sister would have married into the other moiety, and he could marry her daughter; and his father’s wife would have come from the other moiety, and he could marry her brother’s daughter. (Then there were larger groups that had four or even eight moieties, and elaborate rules about who could marry who.)

              Thorby’s big crisis was that a young woman who was part of the same moiety got sweet on him, and asked to transfer to the other moiety, figuring it was okay because Thorby was no kin to anyone on the ship anyway. But she ran into two obstacles: The fact that the Free Traders took fictive kinship totally seriously, and the schemes of the captain’s mother to marry
              Thorby off to a young woman from another ship and form a prestigious alliance. So she got traded to a different ship. It might not have happened if Thorby had been interested in a girl from the other moiety, though.

              Yeah, I reread CotG earlier this year. . . .

        • The laws are usually in terms of degrees of consanguinity; parents, siblings and offspring are all first degree.

          I think third degree is the standard no-go range; that would be your great grandchild, so great great would (genetically) be allowed, same as… I think it’s second cousins?

    • It doesn’t require a sea captain or airline pilot. Charles Kuralt had a second family in Montana.

  17. Christopher M. Chupik

    You know, I’ve probably learned more about America reading this blog than in all the years before.

  18. “In the United Kingdom, a hundred miles is a long way. In the United States, a hundred years is a long time.”

    When I started working as a copy editor for scientific publications, back in the late 1980s, we could call an American or Canadian author, if there was an urgent and difficult question about a manuscript; it wasn’t something we did routinely, because long distance calls cost money. If a European paper had problems, we wrote a letter and put the paper aside for a month. For a Chinese paper, it could be six months.

    Now, if I have that kind of question about a paper or book, I e-mail the author. My newest client assumes a five-day turnaround and builds that into their schedules. (I’m a freelancer now, rather than an employee, because my corporate job was outsourced to India, another thing that wouldn’t have worked before e-mail was widespread. Though ironically, much of my worked is outsourced back to me from two Indian firms. . . .)

    Your point about electors not being chosen for their character or judgment, but for their partisan loyalty, is a good one, and one that I hadn’t thought of. I had been more concerned with the argument that the outcome of an election should always reflect the popular vote on a national scale. That “always” only makes sense if you believe federal constitutions are inherently illegitimate; if you have a federal system—not just a federal façade over a unitary architecture—then sometimes the choices of the different states will combine to produce a different outcome than the majority of a single voting pool. Ann Althouse cites someone who pointed out that Clinton’s majority in California’s popular vote was larger than her majority in the national popular vote, which means that if Clinton gets in, it will represent California imposing its will on the entire nation—which was exactly the kind of thing the federal constitution was designed to prevent. And, you know, I think that there are enough cultural differences between American regions so that’s still a valid concern—or why would people in Oregon and Colorado be complaining about Californian immigrants? But, anyway, you made a good point and I’ll add it to my intellectual magazine.

  19. When reading about the American Revolution, one of the things that came up was the argument that representation wasn’t even workable due to distance. Fast forward to 1803. The US originally wanted just New Orleans and the surrounding area, and Napoleon says “Wanna buy the whole thing?” It’s interesting that Jefferson’s misgivings was political and constitutional, rather than administrative. What happened over the last twenty eight years or so to change the idea of workable representation?

    No, I don’t know. I know there is a reference to the Creeks during Brim (before the Yamassee War) having signal towers, and I can’t confirm it or know what they were. Brim was cagey enough to do something like that, and was keeping close tabs on what was going on in Europe, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility on land. Nor do I know if there was anything like the European message towers in the US prior to telegraph. Be that as it may, for whatever reasons, with technology not much removed from the American Revolution, no one was worried about the communication aspect of holding the country together.

    Was it because we’re an organization of separate states? The militia model not only was to give the states some muscle and prevent a large standing federal army, they were expected to handle their own defense as much as possible, or at least to keep an enemy from marching unopposed until the rest of the states could respond. Each state did its own thing, up to a point.

    That said, forgive me for saying this, but the US impression of distances, even at the time of the Louisiana Purchase, is very different from the European perspective. Right now I’m thinking about the story of a man who walked through woods to a town about fifty miles away, and back again, to get medicine for his sick child. Apparently he didn’t stop for sleep. That story has the phrase “He didn’t know quit,” indicating this was unusual. But I’m also thinking of an account of a military march during the War of 1812, and of a state in that period where counties where a journey of about twenty miles to the county seat wasn’t considered arduous, but one of about forty miles had settlers asking for it to be divided into separate counties. I have the distinct impression that they thought it possible to travel twenty miles in a day (the Monday prior to terms of court and the like) I do know that one grandfather talked about walking to locations in excess of ten miles as though it was nothing.

    Come to think of it, my other grandfather married a woman about twenty miles away, in another state, separated by a major river. There was also enough contact with both states that the old matriarchs kept close ties on who was related to whom. His family had been in roughly “once place” since settling on what was once Tory land, but it’s interesting that what they called “one place” was about twenty miles or more in radius. And then they picked up and moved several hundred miles in mule-drawn wagon for whatever reason, and went back “home” the same way each Christmas. Then there was the ancestor who followed the edge of the frontier until he died.

    From all this, I’m thinking that American concepts of distance in the East were roughly twice that of European, even with the same technology. Have no idea why, unless it has to do with population densities. It would be interesting to compare rural school distances in, say, 1900, in both Europe and the US. Off the top of my head, I’m thinking of several old schools about seven miles apart, implying three to five miles was considered acceptable for children to walk twice a day. School distance increased after the introduction of the school bus – changes in technology at work.

    Yet I don’t think changes in technology has changed our perception of things like the Tenth Amendment and such. What I saw in the 20th Century is that the Tenth was inconvenient when certain factions wanted to override local will. This gets into a very nasty can of worms which I will not open. That said, it says much that “the end justifies the means” is advanced whenever someone raises the constitution as an issue. And, of course, if a political faction is intent on increasing power through decline of local rule, why, they’re all for it. They’re selling things not by “That would be so bad if you want to move where that goes on,” but “That’s so bad to allow such things.” That’s been the narrative before I was born, and what’s behind the eroding of local rule. And I’m thoroughly enjoying the discomfort of the Left as they discover what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

    • yeah, I also think that the American perception of distance was about double. I think it has to do with how sparsely populated the US is EVEN IN THE EAST (unless you’ve been to some of the OLDER countries in Europe, like most of the Mediterranean, you won’t get it. Germany is relatively unpopulated too, and is still much denser than our Eastern seaboard.)

      • The interesting thing is that my kids are running into people from the same state who do not realize this. They think they’re getting their legs pulled when they hear about one stop-light towns and schools so small the teachers not only know most of the children, but also the parents.

        Travel distance is something I’ve long tried to get a handle on, and failed. For the kid’s books I faked it with distances in day’s journey, and never mention miles. But I’ve never had to try to estimate travel distance in miles, not even when trying to trace Hernando de Soto. There have been estimates, but since they weren’t measuring the distance, that has to be taken with grains of salt. It says something that, until there was a reliable means of calculating latitude by the transit of the moons of Jupiter, halfway accurate east-west distances were rare or didn’t exist. Something about a king of France complaining that astronomers had diminished his kingdom more than an enemy at war.

        Anyway, since a day’s journey was variable depending on time of year or weather, even that’s hand-waving.

        About US towns and distances, I know from 19th Century maps that some of the “towns” were what we’d call unincorporated communities. One such town consisted of a church and a house and that’s it. I’m trying to remember the small country stories, which were still in existence in my childhood. Some were a couple of miles apart and others were much further. Maybe schools and Justice of the Peace locations?

        How about Masonic lodges? Very popular in the 19th Century. Based on population, to be sure, but maybe a better gauge than churches.

        • I’ve met people in Everett, WA who have literally never been outside their immediate metro area in the Puget Sound. To them, the idea that people actually live in the mountains that ring the Sound and then past it? Unthinkable. I told them where I’d driven from that day, and that I’d nearly been late to the appointment because the passes were snowed in… In return, I got an expression of what I can only describe as befuddlement, as it had apparently never occurred to them that people lived up there.

          This was 2008-ish, so it isn’t an artifact of some remote era, either. What it is would actually be an indicator of just how insular some humans can be, and how constrained they keep their horizons. The idea that I (and, a bunch of other people like me…) lived up in those distant mountains was something they found vaguely disturbing, as if their sense of proprieties had been offended.

          I don’t know if it was cultural, racial, or what, but the whole experience of talking to those folks just left me with a really disturbed sense of community with that part of my own state. It was seriously dislocating to be “othered” like that, because when the conversation turned around that whole “from the mountains” thing, it was like I was suddenly an object of suspicion because of the prejudices they had towards that area, which were wrapped around the whole “Here be rednecks” idea that they had of the regions beyond the metro area they were familiar with.

          • Something like 80% of Germans live within 30KM of where they were born, and most of those live closer. I suspect, if the SMOD or something were to hit the world and Europe fell apart, the German Länder would break apart, and then those would revert to subsections again. 1870 wasn’t all that long ago, and that’s when “Germany” became Germany.

            • As opposed to “the Germanies” or “the German states”?

              • Yes. I’ve gotten conditioned to saying “the German-speaking lands” when referring to the area currently in modern Germany, plus adjacent bits of Poland and the Czech Republic, because of trying to keep from confusing students (discovered last year that when I referred to Europe, they assumed I meant that the EU had existed since before the Romans. Oops.) Saying “German states” can also confuse students, because of how “state” is used prior to 1800 or so.

                • 😦

                  The Daughter argues that certain concepts should not be covered in High School science because when the students get to college they have to be untaught and this rarely goes well. I must now conclude that the history courses are not much better.

                  • *Wry* Thinking about some of the absolute jacked up junk that a lot of college professors want to teach, without having to deal with the students already having Views on the subject, I’m afraid the good teachers are just going to have to deal with outdated/inaccurate/badly learned stuff.

                    Honestly, that’s part of the importance of college– getting the idea that what you were taught isn’t needfully so.

                    • The Daughter is and has always been STEM, and notes that some students who are attempting a major in the fields cannot learn what is the current state of scientific thought because they were so ingrained with improper explanations beforehand.

                      (If you will listen The Daughter will then go on to tell you that some of those improper explanations are a good century out.)

                    • Sounds like a feature, not a bug– even though I know it’s gotta be rough on the teacher. (Not cheap sympathy, either. I was a tutor for the slower members of our class in tech school. Out-stubborning a Marine who is quite sure of what he’s already been taught is enough to make stone cry for mercy.)

                      I DO NOT WANT a bridge built by someone who just “knows” that, say, a specific sort of iron in a specific organization is the “best” way to build a bridge. Or, as someone here mentioned actually seeing, “limestone is always good to build on!” (Even while the geologists are screaming that THIS limestone is fracture all to heck. I think it was Bard? Pretty sure I got the stone type correct?)

                      Stupid history errors that they don’t even recognize (like a howler I heard this morning, “Are Catholics even Christian, technically?” from a historian) in stuff that doesn’t involve folks’ lives is one thing. Annoying, yes, but unlikely to be deadly. A, say, biology student who can’t adapt to finding out that Haeckel’s recapitulation theory (likewise a century out of date) doesn’t match up to actual embryos is not going to be a safe bet for dealing with any other changes, ones that might be a lot more deadly.

        • One stoplight? In the two towns that make up our school district, there are no stoplights, but one blinker in each town. And there are nearby towns with no lights whatsoever. And off the main roads, those 8 sided red signs have warning letters that mean Slow To Observe Police. I discovered that shortly after moving here by almost being rear ended several times.

          BTW, on my visit to Colorado Springs last year, I noted that speed limit signs appeared not to be even advisory in nature. I’m wondering why they’re even put up.

        • Christopher M. Chupik

          I walked past a Masonic lodge once. It was . . . interesting.

        • What defines a “town” in the US varies by state. Some states have to have some kind of mandate from the state, which can be repealed under some circumstances.

          My state has nothing like that. If you live out in the county you can round up some neighbors, set up a government, levy taxes, and set up your own police and courts. And people *do*. And then give up on the whole thing and move away, or change the name (which happens often!), or merge with a nearby town, or…

          I do some software work for a local company, tweaking their ancient sales system to handle changes in taxes. It can be interesting; the tax goomers notify us that “Black Oak” has enacted a 1% city sales tax. Then we have to figure out which of six Black Oaks they’re talking about, two of which already have sales taxes… the state does not maintain a list of cities, towns, or “incorporated areas”, because they have no official state status, so I have to use census and USPS datasets to figure stuff out…

          Most east coast states operate much differently, dating back to British America. All the land belonged to the King; you bought a charter to get permission to have a town. That idea carried over into the new management after 1776. Westward, many places never bothered with such formality.

      • Actually, I think the perception of distance varies within the US depending on where you live. Texas has much vaster distances between it’s major cities than the east coast. A trip from Austin to Dallas and back is tiring but eminently doable in a day. Whereas a 400+ mile round trip in a day via car for someone living on the east coast might be viewed differently…. or maybe not since their rail net is much more extensive and usable.

        • Definitely. My inlaws keep referring to Cleveland as too far away (maybe 50 miles) while we do 100 because “Greek food” or “the good Chinese restaurant.” Or even “that cool park.”
          Note in the comment above I was only comparing to EASTERNERS. Westerners it’s double as much again, at least.

          • We live in the east and used to drive two hours out and back to visit a science museum (Discovery Place in Charlotte, an incredibly fun place if you are into that kind of stuff) and Indian food.

            Now it is lots more driving because mountains. O.K., they are small mountains to those of you living with the Rockies, but mountains just the same.

        • A friend of mine took a couple-day trip on Amtrak a few years ago. He called from the train a few times, but we couldn’t actually talk; the PA system was turned up to ear-bleeding volume and blared nearly continuously; when it paused for some reason, wailing children tried to fill in the relative silence.

          • That’s rather odd. I’ve traveled by Amtrak dozens of times and never encountered that, except for short stretches of time when in really urbanized areas where they’re making station stops every few minutes. Maybe they were in a scenic area and they were describing things via PA? I know some of the trains out west do something like that.

            • He was traveling from San Diego to Little Rock. Not much “scenic” along that route. The PA was mostly trying to sell stuff; dining car specials, seat upgrades, tchotchkis. Repetitiously. In Spanish too.

      • “Germany is relatively unpopulated too, and is still much denser than our Eastern seaboard”

        That was my impression in 1994.

        • When I lived in Ireland, (Galway, quite rural, by both Irish and American standards, at least in the ’80s) my father had a Dutch grad student who commented that he’d love to move to Ireland since the population of the Netherlands was about 9 times as dense as Ireland’s as a whole, and he loved how open Ireland was.

    • What kind of defenses would Average Peasant have had?

      Average American that was traveling had a gun of some sort.

      • A staff, for one. Given accounts of what damage they could do, not to be trifled with. Some hazily remembered folk tales that imply light and strong vs heavy was preferable due to speed. Blackthorn come up as a suitable wood.

        A knife, for another. Most had knives, if only for dining.

        Maybe dependent on place? England expected peasants to have some arms, and to use them when called up either for war or apprehending a criminal (note: I am not clear on how this worked, only that men in a community were held responsible for crimes and such, and even that summary is probably wrong).

        The average rural US citizen in 1800 had a shooting iron, and could probably load it rapidly, but muzzle loaders are still not noted for speed. Lewis and Clark carried an air rifle because it was capable of repeating shots faster than the muzzle loaders.

        What comes up is knives, notably the Bowie knife, though knives for such purposes were already in existence. A Mexican War veteran used one to deadly effect when bandits killed his partners and he had emptied his firearms before being over-run.

      • Scythes in some areas, large sticks they used as cattle prods, a few might have had boar spears or something similar, timber hooks in some areas (for pulling down dead branches for firewood – “by hook and by crook”), flails, clubs, knives, catch-ropes and snares, man-traps (or deer-traps, officially). Look at what the peasants of the Vendee managed to do in 1792-93, or the Galician peasants in 1846, or the Germans in 1524-25, and other Jaqueries. Or the various Japanese and Chinese peasant uprisings.

  20. At its peak the Roman Empire built and maintained 250,000 miles of roads, 50,000 of them stone paved.
    To build a major road the Romans first dug a trench, then filled it with large stones, following with smaller stones, then pebbles, then sand, and finally flagstones on the surface. Why some still exist some 2,000 years later.
    I see two major elements to the success of the Roman Empire. Their administration was fair but ruthless, and they became masters of logistics. And those roads provided the means for immediate response to problems in remote districts and the ability to move and supply troops wherever needed.
    I suspect that Eisenhower had Roman roads in mind when he conceived of the US interstate system.

    • Maintaining was NOT difficult. The main road in the village was one of those and hadn’t been maintained in centuries.
      In fact Robert thinks that Romans built so things didn’t need maintaining.

      • After reading the essays in the big Oxford University book about engineering in the Classical World, I’m inclined to agree with Robert. The Romans overbuilt, I think in part so they wouldn’t have to do it again, and in part because they were building to make an impression – “We built this. It is here. You want a piece of the sort of people who will drill holes in mountains and move rivers just to have running water and baths? Didn’t think so.”

        • As if Romans would trust provincials to maintain their roads. It would be like giving them an open invitation to quarry it for stones.

        • “Barbarians were more impressed by watching us make camp than anything else” is a fairly common theme. “Yes, we’re going to build an overnight camp that’s better than your hill fort you’ve been building since your grandfather’s day, then tear it down just as fast. We can tear your fort down that fast too.”

    • I thought Eisenhower had that inspiration after seeing the Autobahn, and thinking of his ordeal in trying to travel across the US on dirt roads.

    • The Roman method was basically to keep piling up rocks until they reached down to stable enough soil to bear the weight, or bedrock. When the roads sank into mud, they laid more rocks.

      A Scot McAdam invented a “metalled” road that used small stones and asphalt to divert water to the sides, which were dug out as ditches to give the water a place to go and evaporate from. Later it turned out that you could build a useful road just by humping the dirt up slightly above grade and putting ditches alongside it.

      Like many things, the ditch had been invented before, but a lot of major advances were invented many times before they took off. Nobody ever thinks about ditches, other than to be annoyed by them… but they’re part of the road, and more important than the part they’re driving on.

  21. richardmcenroe

    Even with the wretched Chris Suprun as an example, I’m reluctant to remove any level of human involvement from the political process.

  22. In the early 19th century, a journalist writing about the introduction of the telegraph marveled:

    “This extraordinary discovery leaves…no *elsewhere*…it is all HERE.”

    Heinrich Heine, living in Paris in 1843, made a similar observation about the coming of the railroads:

    “I feel the mountains and forests of all countries advancing towards Paris. Already, I smell the scent of German lime-trees; the North-Sea breaks on my doorstep.”

    With reference to the telegraphy quote, though….if wired communications reduced the sense of *elsewhere*, it seems that the proliferation of wireless communications has reduced the sense of the *here and now*.

  23. The genius of the founders is undeniable even in unforeseen ways. The Elector Collage was set up due to travel time back then and to balance the influence of urban versus rural. However in modern times, the Electoral Collage has the additional benefit of making stealing presidential elections much harder. Imagine the chaos of a close presidential election that was to be decided by just popular vote. There would be recount demands in every precinct across the country ad infinitum.

    As far as this election, I think Hillary’s plurality over Trump is fictitious. I suspect that the word went out to California precincts to go into overdrive and rack up as many Hillary votes in order to give her a popular vote ‘win’ and making the Democrat maneuvering to ‘delegitimize’ Trump’s victory more cover. I don’t think they think they can keep Trump from assuming office, rather it’s just an opening salvo of an unrelenting war against Trump that will make Bush II and Regan’s reign seem amicable in comparison.

    • Not just in California, either viz. the precincts in Detroit where more votes were registered than there were actual voters because poll workers would run ballots through the counter multiple times because ‘they thought the ballot hadn’t been tabulated correctly’.

    • No, no. The electoral college was formed to prevent one state from ruling the others. the ELECTORS and the possibility of their changing their vote? That was because of tech.

      • Indeed. Although the states with bicameral legislatures often structured themselves like Congress. They had a fixed number of senators by county, then a population-based set of districts for the lower house. That was often influenced by rural concerns regarding the urban dwellers and their ways.

        • All the states did that with bicameral legislatures. From the very founding of the Republic. That’s what the Supreme Court found unconstitutional in the -one man one vote- decision that did away with that. They found the one man one vote provision in the invisible ink between the lines, because it isn’t in the Constitution. Since the original state’s constitutions were written and influenced by the VERY SAME PEOPLE who wrote and influenced the United States Constitution, I think they would have known that organizing state governments the same way as the federal government was unconstitutional, but somehow they missed that, and it took an 8-1 vote of the supreme court in Reynolds v. Sims in 1964 almost 2 centuries later to discover it. Oh, that stare decisis thing that liberals say must be used every time a court case comes up that challenges a previous liberal decision? Ignored, as Colegrove v. Green just 20 years earlier was decided the opposite way.

          Reynolds v. Sims is why NY, CA, MA, and other liberal states have become so liberal. I think it was wrongly decided, but I’m not Harvard trained and able to see invisible ink and emanating penumbras.

    • I suspect that the word went out to California precincts to go into overdrive and rack up as many Hillary votes

      There’s also the effect of the down-ballot races.

      The Senate seat was between two Democrats. Democrats might care between the two, and be motivated to vote. I left that race blank. Same thing for the House race on my ballot. Presidential race didn’t matter as far as electoral votes… they were going to Clinton. I actually voted for Stein on the off chance that the Greens could get money in 2020 to pull votes from the Democrats.

      • HT to Instapundit for spotting this Investors’ Business Daily analysis explaining the California vote:

        while Clinton’s overall [2.8 million vote] margin looks large and impressive, it is due to Clinton’s huge margin of victory in one state — California — where she got a whopping 4.3 million more votes than Trump.while Clinton’s overall margin looks large and impressive, it is due to Clinton’s huge margin of victory in one state — California — where she got a whopping 4.3 million more votes than Trump.
        [SNIP]
        Republicans in the state had nobody to vote for in November.

        There were two Democrats — and zero Republicans — running to replace Sen. Barbara Boxer. There were no Republicans on the ballot for House seats in nine of California’s congressional districts.

        At the state level, six districts had no Republicans running for the state senate, and 16 districts had no Republicans running for state assembly seats.

        Plus, since Republicans knew Clinton was going to win the state — and its entire 55 electoral votes — casting a ballot for Trump was virtually meaningless, since no matter what her margin of victory, Clinton was getting all 55 votes.
        https://pjmedia.com/instapundit/252133/

        When I first came to North Carolina in 1972 we were advised to register as Democrats because they held power so tightly in the state that voting was tantamount to voting to have your streets unpaved, your trash left at the curb and your emergency services … de-prioritized. That was largely true throughout the “Solid South” where anybody registering Republican was considered an outside agitator.

        1972 was also the year that a “turncoat” Democrat named Jesse Helms went t the US Senate as a Republican and dedicated himself to building the GOP brand throughout the state and the region. Others joined him, Howard Baker (’67) from Tennessee, William Scott (’73) in Virginia and in the states governors such as James E. Holshouser, Jr. stood forth. It has been a long time turning, but the South is now becoming solidly Republican, with GOP held legislatures and governors’ seats in TN, MS, AL, GA. SC & FL and controlling the legislatures of LA, VA & NC.

        Having a voice matters. I very much doubt many California Republicans drove to the polls Nov. 08 to cast their vote for whether the state would be represented in the US Senate by Dumb or by Dumber.

        • Republicans in CA not only don’t have a vote, they were actively silenced. Former GOP chairman Rich Bond did endorsement mailings for the Democrats in my district, since “they were going to win anyway” and every time we put up a local candidate for Congress GOP Sacramento would send a spoiler down into the district. And DO NOT get me started about Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman.

        • Res- exactly. California is a good preview of exactly what would happen nationwide without the protection of the Electoral College.

        • I baasically voted ‘against’ Kamala Harris for Senate.

  24. Re: Electoral College – The Hollywoodites at UntieUnite America are lying to us from the start. No, Mr. Sheen, et al., The Electoral College was *not* instituted to ‘ensure that an unqualified candidate could not attain the Presidency’, it was instituted to ensure that the most populous States such as Virginia and Pennsylvania (now California, Texas, Florida, New York) couldn’t run roughshod over those states with smaller populations such as Delaware and Georgia. (now Alaska, the Dakotas, Wyoming). So what else are you lying about? And *now* you are discovering the blessings of the Electoral College? You and your ilk are usually railing against it because ‘Undemocratic’.

    Re: Representation – L. Neil Smith’s North American Confederacy illustrates a manner in which a truly proportional representative system might work (or not work, as the case may be) at least on a Continental basis. It would certainly avoid situations like mine in which ‘my’ representative is Keith (G*d help me) Ellison, even though the man in no way represents *me*. This is why I refer to him as ‘the person selected by the majority (and it has been, sadly, a majority and not just a plurality) of voters in my District to represent them’. On matters of national import, I find Justin Amash of Michigan (not a Real American according to some) to be much more ‘representative’ of my values than Mr. Ellison will ever be.

    • I hear you, man. My rep in Congress is Andre Carson. I’ve voted against him in every single election since he got in, but he’s got his grandma’s seat, and it’s a nice, safe seat.

  25. Your idea of polities with common interests being cohesive enough to influence government is similar to what Neal Stephenson imagined in The Diamond Age. It’s interesting, but I think you still need to control land to be effective. And to be truly powerful, you must rule the seas — the vast, uninhabited stretches with no infrastructure and essentially no government.

  26. I have written on several MSM sites decrying how the electoral college was designed to give slave states more power, that it actually did exactly the opposite. There were 16 states in the first census in 1790- Virginia was by far the largest state. In order, from small to large, DE, RI, KY, GA, VT, ME, NH, NJ, CT, SC, MD, NY, MA, NC, PA, VA. Of the 8 smallest states (in bold), 1 joined the CSA. Of the 8 largest, including the largest, 3 joined the CSA. A 4th, MD, would have, but was thoroughly occupied by federal troops. Numbers tell the true story. The differential between largest/smallest then was 16.7-1. Now it’s 66.1-1. And I’m certain policies from CA and NY wouldn’t work in WY. In fact, policies dictated by Albany don’t work in rural NY, but the city dwellers who dominate the legislature because of the one man one vote decision based on words and concepts not actually found in the Constitution ensure rural communities have little to no say in state government.

  27. I think mass media fits in here somewhere, especially in a world where somebody in England can exchange views with a mostly US community because of technology and because they speak the same language. Mass media and celebrity mean that voters in the US are more informed and more interested in Trump and Clinton than in whoever the local elector was. Similarly in the UK most people care far less about local politics than national politics and I think in the US voter turnout shows similar effects.

    I think language barriers are a big deal in such an environment, and one reason why the EU doesn’t hang together – or, alternatively, why its internal stresses were not more immediately evident from its inception than they were. E.g. from http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21650565-german-ordoliberalism-has-had-big-influence-policy-during-euro-crisis-rules-and-order “German thinking on economics has long differed from the mainstream in other countries, including other euro-zone members.” The central country of the EU has radically different views on how economics works from everybody else, and most people have only just begun to notice this.

    • It isn’t simply language barriers, as is implicit in George Bernard Shaw’s observation: ‘England and America are two countries divided by a common language.’

      Language is an expression of culture and even when the same word is used two very different meanings may accrue. Look at the current kerfuffle over Russian “hacking” of the US election. The degree of concern over such depends on what meaning you apply to that word, hacking.

      To those who understand it to simply be the uninvited intrusion into and release of email documents it is no big deal; to those who watch TV and Film too credulously and imagine it means entering our ballot counting process and affecting election returns it’s a very big deal.

      All in all it reminds me of the slur issued against the wife of an opposing candidate: “In college, she was a thespian!”

    • Linguine franca anyone? Right now, courtesy of an empire on which the sun never set and its rebellious offspring English reigns, probably the first truly world wide lingua franca. It is the language of commerce. It is also the language of research, with that that is not originally composed in it is translated to it.

      • Spell check delenda est. It helpfully ‘corrected’ the initial word of my post without my asking!

        Bother! Grimace. Grumble. Grump. Growl…

        • It made it a post that pasta understanding 😀

          • I had been considering that linguine franca would be a rather garlicky dish.

            • Right? I must use that typo in something, possibly the shifter books. It sounds like something Conan would say.

              • Well, it could be a French schoolkid telling his Mom he needs lunch money.

                Alfredo: “Mother? It’s pasta day in the cafeteria; I shall need some linguine franca.”

                Mother: “Here are some francs, but get the fettuccine.”

              • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                “By Crom! No I won’t!”

                Oh, wrong Conan. 😉

              • If you wish to employ my mistake in a book who am I to complain?

                I decided to create a dish of that name — I’m thinking garlic sauteed in a fruity olive oil, maybe an addition of some red onion or shallots, add a few handfuls of greens and finish a splash of a nice white wine, cook until the wine has mostly evaporated and greens are wilted but still bright before tossing it with the pasta.

            • Or something I would have come up with in my student days involving hot dogs…..

      • Which shows another difficulty, similar to what RES pointed out – we can speak English with a lot of people, but still not exactly be saying the same thing, with seriously problematic results. And there are people who speak English far better than they read it (heard a fascinating example last week – minor matter but good to know for when I work with this individual in the future) and vice versa. What you caught on OttoCorrupt might well sail past a non-native speaker. And I’ve encountered some translations of technical and archaeological books that caused my left hand to try to get loose and go find a red pen so I could correct all the not-quite-right and literal-but-wrong usages. One was so bad I wanted to write to the author and offer to do a tidying-up edit free of charge.

        • Huns of a certain age may recall how one comedian mined such elements for humour …


          You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  28. As for myself? I’m perfectly fine with electors voting their conscience. After all the heck that Republican voters have been put through, however, I would expect their conscience to be “I can’t let the mobs change my vote, I’m voting for Trump”.

    Granted, Trump isn’t even President yet, but while I might not agree with everything Trump has done these days since being elected, he has convinced me that he at least has as much an idea of how to be President as anyone else who has had this position for the last 40 years or so…

    I’d have a lot more respect for the calls of “vote your conscience” if these people would have said “Trump isn’t fit for office, and neither is Hillary. Whether you are Republican or Democrat, vote your conscience, vote for someone else altogether!” because every reason that makes Trump unfit for the Presidency applies to Hillary and then some.

    I’m not entirely sure if the vote is completed (as I write this, Trump has already obtained the necessary votes to be President), but I’m crossing my fingers and hoping there’s one or two Republican defectors, and twice as many Democrat ones. But mostly because I would find that highly amusing.

    (And I could imagine a Democrat defecting saying “Hey, you told me to vote my conscience!”)

    (Which, now that I think about it, is what I found deeply ironic about Hillary’s tweet “Yeah, vote your conscience!” after Cruz’s speech at the Republican convention. Yes, Hillary, I *will* vote my conscience, which is why, regardless of who I vote for, I *won’t* be voting for you!)

    • I’m not entirely sure if the vote is completed (as I write this, Trump has already obtained the necessary votes to be President), but I’m crossing my fingers and hoping there’s one or two Republican defectors, and twice as many Democrat ones. But mostly because I would find that highly amusing.

      So, what lotto numbers are you amused by?

      (You called it.)

      • My wife told me about the results last night, and I was very pleased with them. If this is what we get when we’re *very* displeased by our candidates, though, it makes me wonder what circumstances would result in the Electoral College going completely against the electorate (beyond obvious tame scenarios, such as the President-Elect dying before the Electoral College convenes)…and how many of those scenarios don’t end with Civil War…

        As to the lotto numbers I’m amused by, I’m afraid I won’t be of much help: I’m amused by letting the jackpot get really big, and then buying all of them. The strategy is somewhat expensive, and there’s a little risk involved — you might have to share the jackpot, so the winnings might be less than what you paid for all the tickets — but the idea of winning the lottery by buying all the tickets just tickles me pink.

        To the best of my knowledge, this has only been done once. (Or perhaps once and a fifth, if you count the runner-up to buying all the tickets: the person who won by buying all the tickets bought 1 in 5 tickets in a previous lottery, because he couldn’t afford to buy all of them at the time….)

  29. I live in the Ozark Mountains of Northern Arkansas. We see the places that still have names on the map, but have nothing left but a church, or not even that. I am old enough to have talked to the people who remember the community, the store, the school or all of the above. It was a big deal to leave to visit somewhere else.

    And they could be VERY different. Places like Germantown and Tontitown had those names for a reason.

    I currently live in what was the black community, on top of the (small) mountain above the town in the valley.

    Travel in the old days was not easy, and there were always things to be done around home. Those who traveled usually travelled as part of their work. They were also a source of news.

    BTW, I quibble with you having the walkers going so much slower than horses. Horses can’t keep their fast pace for long without injury. So it roughly averaged out. Although a horse can carry a bigger load. And travellers often had two horses, one for packing.

    All things writers need to keep in mind, and everyone realize how different life was then.