travel report, part the second.

When last we checked in with our intrepid correspondent, Team Munchkin Wrangler had returned from their excellent little side trip to Vienna.

Back at my brother’s place, we spent the next few days with Family Stuff™. One thing that really worked out well on this trip was the way in which we were able to spread ourselves around evenly among the family so everyone could spend time with us and nobody felt like they got the short end of the stick. Robin and I went gift-shopping in Muenster and used the opportunity to leave Lyra and Quinn with my mother, who was more than happy to ply them with toys and treats all day long.

(When we came to pick them up, I asked my mom if they’d had nothing but candy all day long. She shook her head and asserted that OF COURSE they’d had real food. At McDonald’s.)

The kids had no problem at all being the center of attention and consuming their own body weights in German candy all day long at Oma’s place, and we got to stroll around Muenster without any complaints about hurting feet or boredom.

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Quinn, Lyra, and their Oma.

Lyra even got to spend a day at a German kindergarten with her cousin Janne, who is also five years old. You’d figure the language barrier would have been a problem, but at that age, it doesn’t seem to hold them back much when they can’t really understand the words coming out of the other’s mouth. When I came to pick her up, she asked to go again the next day. (“It’s a school just for playing!”) In Germany, kindergarten starts at age 3, so they don’t do all that much educational stuff in the mixed classes and mostly let the kids engage in free play.

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The sight that greeted me when I walked into the Kindergarten to pick up Lyra.

I took a little bit of time on this trip to visit some landmarks of my childhood. This time I had a DSLR in tow, thanks to my friend Oleg. For example, I went to see my old kindergarten in the center of Muenster:

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St. Ludgeri kindergarten in Muenster. I went there as a wee lad, back in 1976-77.

I also drove out to a small village called Ladbergen, where we used to live in the late 1970s. I’ve always had fond memories of that quaint little place, unlike some of the places we lived in subsequent years.

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Moeller’s Hof gasthaus in Ladbergen. My father ran the place in the late 1970s/early 1980s. My sister Nadine was born while we lived here.

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The village bookstore, still in the same spot where it stood in 1978/79. I used it as my unofficial library quite a bit.

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Another gasthaus on what is Main Street in town. Also another family landmark: my little brother got hit by a car right in front of the place. (He was fine.)

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My old elementary school. I spent second and third grades here.

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The church and main cemetery, right in the town center. I played there a lot as a kid with my local friends.

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A closer look at the church and that ancient cemetery wall all around the place.

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Detail above the church door. It’s been in that spot for a while. The words are “Come; for all things are now ready”, from Luke 14:15-24, the parable of the Great Supper.

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Memorial in the cemetery, commemorating “our brothers fallen for king and fatherland” of the Franco-Prussian and Austro-Prussian Wars. Before the German Empire’s establishment in 1871, Westphalia was part of the Kingdom of Prussia.

I appreciated that the trip was unhurried enough for me to indulge in a bit of personal history sleuthing, going back to places I hadn’t seen in thirty years or more. If you don’t know where you came from, you can’t know where you’re headed.

(Part Three to follow, in which I will show you around Muenster, my favorite city.)

analog data: the longevity thereof.

One of my regular reads from the old Fatherland has an interesting article today about a letter that took 71 years to deliver. (link is in German)

In WWII, German troops occupied the Channel island of Jersey for five years. Some of the local yoots decided to steal a bag of German military mail as an act of defiance. They didn’t destroy the letters, but kept them safely stashed away. One of the former defiant yoots turned a bunch of them in to the Jersey archives 70 years later. They made copies, translated what they could, and then contacted the post office. The Jersey post office got in touch with the German Mail, and together they came up with the idea to deliver whatever letters they still could. Some of the recipients couldn’t be located, some letters went to (now luckily defunct) National Socialist organizations and offices and definitely couldn’t be delivered anymore, but ten of the letters found their way to the addressees or their descendants.

I’ve mentioned the hand-written recipe books my wife owns—they were written by her maternal grandmother before she emigrated to the United States in the early 1920s. Not only can I still read them (with a little difficulty—the Sütterlin script taught in schools back then can be a bit hard to decipher even for a German speaker), but it’s really neat to be able to hold and own an object that she owned and filled with her own handwriting. The postcard story above reinforces to me that the analog ways of data recording and transmission not only still have value, but also advantages that digital data lacks. Imagine if your descendants go through some old stuff in the attic in seventy years and find a USB stick with your writings or drawings on it. Will they be able to extract the data on whatever computers they use in 2082?

(I have a set of Jaz disks in a box in the attic that have some of Robin’s college and grad school stuff on them. I’m quite handy with a computer, but even I don’t have the necessary hardware and drivers to extract that data. How about a bunch of 5.25” floppies with WordStar documents on them? Or maybe a 3.5” disk formatted for AmigaOS?)

Handwritten notes, however, will still be perfectly legible and accessible, providing they’re stored in a dry spot.

That assumes, of course, that our descendants in 2082 can still read.

do you hate a plant more than you love your rights?

Prohibition causes huge profit margins for dealers cause turf wars cause violence causes public concern causes calls to “do something” cause gun control. If you’re for prohibition, you are for gun control. That’s irrespective of the substance to be prohibited.

I posted that on Facebook yesterday, in response to one of my FB friends posting about the pot legalization law in Colorado. I want to expand on that statement a little, even though in its current form it’s pretty much distilled down into the TL;DR form already.

Prohibition of a desired substance or item always causes a black market, unless you have police powers and social controls similar to the German occupation forces in WWII Eastern Europe. (And the fact that even the Nazis were never able to fully suppress the black market for cigarettes and butter despite death penalties for “economic parasites” just shows how nigh-impossible it is to kill that sort of entrepreneurship.) The reason is simple: government prohibition of a desired good makes that good artificially expensive, and all the profits go to those willing to risk bucking the system. As the Prohibition was an effective price control and profit guarantee for bootleggers, hooch runners, and speakeasies, the current War on Some Drugs serves in the same fashion for pot growers, cocaine smugglers, and meth cooks. The risks are high, but when you pass a law that effectively puts a 10,000% profit margin on a simple plant product, you will always have plenty of people taking the risks involved in its manufacture and distribution. That’s a simple economic fact, and working against it is as pointless as working against gravity.

(It may not seem obvious from the position of a reasonably prosperous American suburbanite, but imagine I put an ad on Craigslist and offer twenty times the average annual U.S. salary to volunteers willing to smuggle twenty pounds of banned Earl Grey tea into a foreign country. How many takers do you think I would get per week? Answer that question to yourself, and you’ll realize why it’s utterly pointless when the DEA busts some scraggly smuggler at the border crossing with a few pounds of Colombian marching powder sewn into his car seat.)

Because people can make astronomical profits serving the market for the prohibited goods, turf wars between the suppliers are also inevitable. And because they’re all operating in an extralegal space already, they solve their competition issues in an extralegal way—gang violence. Prohibitions drive up the crime statistics directly (turf warfare between the gangs and syndicates involved), and indirectly (the ancillary crime related to the customers of those syndicates having to finance their purchases via property crime). Sooner or later, the public violence gets to a point where Joe and Jane Q. Public want Something To Be Done, and that something is often a push for arms control. The Prohibition violence brought us NFA ‘34, banning what were perceived the typical tools of the trade of gangsters: short-barreled shotguns and automatic weapons. (Machine guns got slapped with a tax rather than banned outright, but a $200 tax stamp on a gun retailing for less than half that in a time where the average annual wage is $1,300 is effectively a ban.) The 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill was a result of the drug wars of the 1980s and 1990s (and Joe and Jane Q. Public watching Miami Vice as a documentary). And that stuff is a mere inconvenience compared to the awful excesses of asset forfeiture laws, which have given police departments all over the country a financial incentive to outright steal property from citizens without the inconvenience of having to prove that a crime occurred.

It’s interesting how the same people who scoff at the notion that criminals won’t use guns if they’re banned can simultaneously hold the opinion that people will stop using or trading in drugs when they’re banned. They’ll use the same arguments the gun control crowd makes in favor of gun bans: at least it’ll be more difficult to get them, we can just come up with really draconian punishments for offenders, and doing nothing will make things worse. If that logic doesn’t apply to guns, why should it apply to drugs—which are easier to make and smuggle, and carry much higher profit margins? The rules of the market are what they are, and they don’t bend around a pet cause. And what if that “doing something” is in fact far worse than doing nothing? Gun control is unilateral disarmament of the law-abiding citizen in favor of the criminal. Drug prohibition is government-enforced price control for drug cartels, and a universal adaptor for an overreaching police state. Both cures are far more poisonous to the host than the problems they mean to fix. And the kicker is that support for the latter invariably results in getting more of the former.

battleship.

My friend Mark went to visit USS Iowa (BB-61). Being a 3D animator type, he took a metric crapton of detail pictures. If you’ve never been on an Iowa-class battleship, or you’re just a sucker for those big-ass ships and their big-ass guns, his Picasa page of the trip is worth a look.