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And so it was, Gentle Reader, that emanix , having recently called upon her Aspect and bodily shoved a 22-year-old camper van from a deep ditch, calmly returned to the front seat and saying "do you fancy some tea?" We drank tea, for all the world like nothing had happened. She fixed the broken clasp in her bra nonchalantly, as if popping out of clothing while performing impossible feats of force were an everyday occurrence with her (which, in all fairness, it might just be), and we were off.

I am not, Dear Reader, much of a planner. I would like to say I chose a route for us that was breathtaking in its efficiency and military precision, but that would be a lie.

Our next destination was the Oregon town of Sumpter, a town whose status as the incorporeal essence of the deceased is vastly overstated. It's described as a ghost town on the Web, sure, but in reality, it has a population larger than many of the Midwestern towns I grew up in as a child. In fact, we arrived to discover the allegedly late town of Sumpter was having a street festival.

It was not a total wash. Sumpter does boast a tiny collection of ruined buildings from antiquity (by US standards, which means anything prior to 1950 or so). There was the old brick safe from the old bank that burned down during the old fire of 1917, for example.

We also found the remnants of a long-abandoned gas station, now completely overgrown and with trees sprouting from what was doubtless once a nexus of commerce for the town.

Something about this place kinda reminds me of a location from the video game Portal 2. I kept expecting to hear a synthesized voice say "Sorry about the mess. I've really let the place go since you killed me. By the way, thanks for that."

The outskirts of Sumpter is home to an open-air museum of sorts given over to the study of the various ways in which large old pieces of machinery can gather rust. I recognized this mining dredge from my time in Nome, Alaska; it's a smaller version of the dredges they used there.

I like this old tractor. They don't make 'em like this any more.

Probably a good thing, really. This machine looks like it runs on leaded gas and the fingers of the careless.

One of the vendors at the festival was selling corn dogs. Corn dogs, for those of you who are not acquainted with this peculiarly and quintessentially American gastronomic innovation, are hot dogs breaded with cornmeal, deep fried, and served on a wooden stick.

Bunny found the notion quite intriguing, having grown up in a land where things like black pudding (which is neither black nor pudding--it's actually fried congealed horror) is more conventionally served. She had one, pronounced it delightful, and we stopped for the night, resuming our journey the next morning toward Sparta.

Sparta is not really a town. Sparta is a wide spot on a long dirt road that is more a suggestion of a town. It's like one of those places in an open-world video game where you get the feeling that the game designers weren't really trying, or couldn't think of anything to put there.

One reaches Sparta, if one is of a mind to reach Sparta, by spending a very long time traveling a very narrow dirt road through arid desert. And believe me when I say "long" and "narrow." This is the real reason people were reluctant to invade Sparta: it's just too much of a pain in the ass to get there.

One travels along this road until one finds, first, a crumbling foundation, and then, a few miles past it, a crumbling stone cottage.

One then drives past these things, interesting but not really a proper ghost town, until one arrives at the center of town.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is Sparta!!!

Seriously. This is it. This is Sparta.

We were, as you can probably imagine, distinctly underwhelmed. No crumbling old buildings quietly decaying into the desert sands, no burly spear-armed men thrashing about in ways that are no not even the least bit homoerotic not ever so don't you even think that.

But fear not, Gentle Reader, for though our tale reaches a low point here, we were soon to discover ghost towns quite marvelous in their essential ghost-towniness, despite the lack of not-homoerotic burly spear-armed men.

Update #3 on the sex toy you can feel

A while ago, I had an idea on how to create a strapon that the wearer can actually feel, as though it were part of your body. The idea took off, so my partner Eve and I started a company and commissioned an engineering firm to do a design proposal. We recently tested a first-generation prototype, and discovered that not only does the tech work, it works far better than we expected.

Things have gone a bit crazy since then. We've received an avalanche of support and interest, and we've been talking to folks from all over the place who want to see this device become a reality.

I'm working on a second generation prototype that's a lot more sophisticated than the first-generation prototype. It's an interesting bit of engineering, for sure.

Still quite crude, but I'm refining it very rapidly. Right now, the main area I'm concentrating on is sensor design. The second prototype will have much more sophisticated sensors and will actually be usable for fucking (the first prototype wasn't really suitable for penetration).

We've also been doing tons of market research, and the results have helped steer us toward a design that will work well for a lot of people.

If you're interested in keeping up with this project, we've set up a Mailchimp email list. Feel free to add your email to the list! You can find it here:

Sign up for email list: http://eepurl.com/bxc2FT

Feel free to publicize this link to anyone you think might be interested!

We're hoping to present the second-generation prototype at this year's Arse Elektronica convention in San Francisco in October. Stay tuned!

Want to keep up with developments? Here's a handy list of blog posts about it:
First post
Update 1
Update 2
Update 3

Threesomes and intrigue and kink, oh my!

As some of you may know, Gentle Readers, among all the other things I do, I write porn. Well, erotica, I guess. I've never been entirely clear on the distinction. Sex stuff. I write sex stuff. Novels about people having kinky sex.

Long novels about people having kinky sex.

These novels are published under a pseudonym, and I've just released a new one. It's called Nineteen Weeks.

The premise of Nineteen Weeks is straightforward: Amy, a suburban housewife married to a successful man, discovers that her husband is having an affair. But after she catches him red-handed with his mistress, she decides to deal with his infidelity in an unusual way; since her husband and his mistress had been sleeping with each other behind her back for nineteen weeks, she demands that they give her back that time, and pledge themselves to her to do anything she asks for nineteen weeks.

I deliberately tried, in this book, to take every one of the tropes of a conventional romance and flip them all on their heads. The powerful man takes control of the shy and inexperienced woman? Nope. The torrid affair ends with them settling down? Not quite. The--well, you'll have to read it and see.

Plus it might be the only porn novel that quotes Ovid.

Anyway, check it out! You can find it here. If you despise the romance genre and you like kinky sex, this book might be exactly what scratches your itch.

Now through the end of September, you can get it for $2.00 off using the coupon code XQ68N. And patrons who support me on Patreon get a coupon code to download it free!


Update #2 on the sex toy you can feel

A while ago, I had an idea on how to create a strapon that you can actually feel, as though it were part of your body. The idea went crazy, a lot of people expressed overwhelming support, so my partner Eve and I started a company and commissioned an engineering firm to do a design proposal.

In the meantime, I've also been working on the idea independently of the engineering firm, so last week I put on my Mad Scientist hat1 and built a simple proof of concept.

Then I went to my friend Emily and said "hey, I have this prototype of a computerized strapon with sensors and a wearable computer and stuff, do you want to help me test it?"

"Sure!" she said, because my friends rock. (I love my life.)

So two days ago, I showed up at her house bearing the crude prototype. "Okay," I said when we were safely in her bedroom, "this bit goes here, and that bit goes up in front like so..."

There were some design flaws in the first version--the wires leading from the computer to the electrode weren't quiiiiiite long enough, so she ended up doing this one-legged dance trying to put it on. When it was all powered up and running (which looked quite odd--the sensors mounted to the big purple dildo all have little red lights that come on to show the sensor is working, so the overall effect looked a bit like a prop from a 70s science fiction porn flick), we spent some time adjusting the signal generator and making sure everything was working, and then got to it. I touched the sensors and had her describe what she felt. At one point, as I knelt in front of her stroking her cock, it suddenly struck me exactly what I was doing. "Man," I said, looking up at her, "this is really obscene."

"But Franklin," I hear you ask, "how did it work?"

Emily wrote a really good writeup from her perspective on her blog, appropriately titled "Brains, Bunnies and Boners." Here's an excerpt:

I stood sporting a sizable electrode-covered, purple erection as this man knelt before me stroking the blinking phallus. Looking dreamily into space, I concentrated on this new sensation and how to communicate it. He asked questions that had nothing to do with arousal and everything to do with programming or nerve density. It crossed my mind briefly that this was a strange situation. Covered in wires, half naked in front of a man I’m not intimately connected to, waxing poetically about the sensation of him passively stimulating my g-spot. Meanwhile he educates me on the corresponding connections between penis and vagina, sensitivity wise. [...]

I see him touching the wirey and weird strap on, the sensation of that cock hitting my pubic bone becoming enough to fully trick my mind. The arousal of the plug flitting electrical currents over my internal nerves quickly translates into a thought of, “wow if he keeps doing that I’m going to get a hard on during science and that will be embarrassing.” Except logically I know I already have a hard on. A big purple one that he brought along for me to borrow. My brain has already made the adjustment in the five minutes we’ve been testing this to believing in the new genitals.

So the answer is it works really, really well. Far better than I expected, given how primitive the prototype was. Within minutes, it seemed her brain had internalized the dildo as part of her body; she said that touching the dildo felt like touching her. Which was amazing. I'd expected just to validate that the device could be made to work; I didn't expect it to work that well.

Eve and I are actively pursuing making this device a reality. We're currently enrolled in a venture accelerator program in Vancouver and we're doing market research to validate the market for this device. Interested in being interviewed as part of that market research! Hit me up in email! franklin (at) franklinveaux (dot) com.

1 By which I mean my Mad Engineering hat. Well, technically, my Mad Engineering Magnifiers for Precision Soldering.

Want to keep up with developments? Here's a handy list of blog posts about it:
First post
Update 1
Update 2
Update 3

As our journey around the Pacific Northwest unfolded, emanix and I slowly gained an awareness that not all ghost towns are the same. There is, in fact, an entire taxonomic classification of ghost towns--a phylogenic tree, if you will, of abandoned places.

The classic, Scooby Doo variety of ghost town--an entire town whose members have left behind, leaving empty buildings in their wake, is relatively rare. Ghost towns like that don't usually last very long, unless they're in high desert. The artifice of human hands is surprisingly fragile and crumbles quickly without human tending. Some of the ghost towns that had formerly be on our list, before we started validating them with Google Earth, are nothing but foundations scattered about in otherwise unremarkable landscape.

Some ghost towns are what Bunny calls "zombie towns." They're towns that were mostly or completely dead, then came back to life when the economic conditions changed. One ghost town we had planned to visit but then removed from our list is a classic example, an old mining town settled in the 1800s that became nearly deserted in the 1940s when the mine played out, then saw new life in 2011 when new mining technology made it possible to reopen the mine.

More common are ghost towns that aren't really ghost towns. People still live in them; there are inhabited houses and ongoing business enterprises set in amongst abandoned houses. The town of Venango, Nebraska where I grew up is a semi-ghost town. Some of these ghost towns reinvent themselves as tourist destinations, playing up the "ghost town" mystique for the benefit of visitors.

Granite is a tourist ghost town. Being there is a bit like being on a very realistic movie set. There are still people living there--quite a few of them, in fact--and many of the abandoned buildings have little signs telling you what they once were.

Granite wasn't all that impressive at first glance.

I have often been told not to judge a book by its cover. It's advice that never made a whole lot of sense to me; if the cover didn't matter, why not just put a blank cover with the book's title on the front? Today, as co-owner of a publishing company, it makes even less sense to me. But the idea behind it has a small grain of truth. You can't always tell from a first glance at something what you'll get. First impressions can be deceptive. Something that doesn't seem impressive at first might be far more impressive once you delve a bit deeper.

Sometimes, though, you can judge a book by its cover...and Granite was one such book. We hopped out of the Adventure Van and poked around for a while, waiting to be blown away by something amazing. Amazing things failed to happen.

We did both like this old dance hall, to be fair.

We knew it was a dance hall because a sign told us so.

That sign was probably old when mammoths walked the earth. Oh, the stories that sign could tell--skies filled with the leathery wings of great flying pterosaurs, the discovery of the western reaches of the New World by a strange species of hairless ape, Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy.

The building is for sale, if you want it.

The same style of sign identified the old fire station and the old church. (It's hard not to put "the old" in front of the remnants of abandoned places--the old Miller place, the old asylum, the old space shuttle Vehicle Assembly Building, the old Detroit.)

But we soon found ourselves bored and in search of wifi. There was a small combination convenience store/winter sports staging and supply area/restaurant at the edge of town, where we wandered in search of food and Internet access. They had wifi but told us guests weren't allowed to use it, on account of the considerable expense involved in airlifting data packets to such a remote place.

They also seemed flummoxed by Bunny's English accent and even more befuddled by her request for tea. It took a while, but they finally sorted out what "tea" was an a loose approximation of how to make it, and delivered, after considerable fussing, a beverage which was more like tea than you might expect from, say, a Sirius Cybernetics Corporation beverage dispenser.

We headed out of town, pausing only long enough to photograph this rather fetching ruin of the old car, located just a short distance from the old lodge right next to the old tree.

We headed out to our next destination, which we hoped would be less semi-ghost town and more authentic ghost town than Granite, and we--

"Hey! Pull over!" Bunny said. "What's that?"

"That" turned out to be a cluster of ruins--not a town, precisely, but more a gathering, or perhaps clump, of old houses long since abandoned.

And it was awesome.

I stopped the Adventure Van off the road, a narrow and straight strip of highway that cut through the desert like a length of electrical tape placed by some unknown hand over an otherwise innocuous birthday cake, or something.

We hopped out, cameras in hand, and explored.

That's an enormous mound of old tin cans, now rusting, behind that house.

This lovely, lovely old stove was slowly turning to dust beside the collapsed wall of one of the houses. At least I think it's an old stove. I'm not entirely sure. That's an old stove, right?

We cautiously poked our noses into one of the houses. The floor was littered with decades of detritus. There were some magazines from the 1940s lying scattered amongst the refuse and rubble.

The building next to it was in slightly better repair--but only slightly.


This was our first real jackpot--a completely serendipitous find that was absolutely magnificent in its decay.

We wandered around for a time. Eventually, a car pulled up next to the van. "Hey!" a woman said to Bunny. "I think you're trespassing."

"Okay!" Bunny said. That seemed to be enough for her, and she drove away.

I paused to get one last panorama of the scene before we left.

We hopped into the van. I put the transmission in Drive, and approximately two hundred milliseconds later had dropped the front of the van into a ditch.

We got back out. Bunny shook her head.

A car traveling the strip of electrical tape stopped and a lovely young couple got out. "Need a hand?"

I pointed to the van. "Yep. We're in a ditch."

I got back in. Bunny and the couple put their backs against the nose of the van. The wheels spun.

I wish I could tell you, gentle reader, what happened next. I feel that I can't quite properly comprehend it myself. It seemed as if Bunny turned green and...swelled somehow. And roared a mighty roar, a roar to make the heavens tremble and brave men weep. The nose came up out of the ditch and the van lurched backward as though tossed like a Dixie cup in the mighty fist of Hulk Hogan, who was perhaps at a picnic with friends and no longer needed it, having consumed the combination of Kool-Aid and Pabst Blue Ribbon it once contained.

The couple waved cheerfully and drove away. Bunny climbed into the front seat, once again her normal size and color. "I think I popped the clasp on my bra strap," she said. I stared at her, thankful that time and circumstances have never conspired to cause me to be in a fistfight with her, as she would without question crush me like a bug.

And we were off once again, heading down the electrical tape highway across the great frosted birthday cake of life, destined for more adventures which I shall relate in the next chapter of this tale.

eBook Design Illuminated

A short time ago, I was hired by Talk Science To Me to do the eBook version of Tantra Illuminated, a very lengthy academic work on the history of Tantrick religious traditions in India.

The book was large and beautifully designed, with a great deal of content from original Sanskrit sources. The design used a number of different, complex elements, including copious margin notes.

I'm in the process of blogging about the complexities of eBook design with non-English alphabets and complex layouts. Part 1 of the series is up on the Talk Science To Me blog. Here's a teaser:

The project turned out to be far more daunting than I’d imagined, even knowing from the outset that it would likely be more complex than it first appeared. I could easily write a book on the various technical, layout and rendering challenges I encountered creating this e-book (in fact, that might be a good future project!), but we’ll just look at a few of the interesting potholes we encountered on the road to creating the e-book.

A tale of two diacritics

The text in Tantra Illuminated contains significant lengths of transliterated Sanskrit. Sanskrit uses a non-Latin alphabet for which a standard transliteration system called the International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration (IAST) exists. This is the system employed by the transliterations in Tantra Illuminated.
The IAST relies heavily on Latin characters with diacritic marks. Most of these marks are supported by the majority of e-book readers, so I didn’t anticipate difficulty with the transliterations.

I was wrong.

You can comment here or over there.

GMohno! Part 3: "Because Monsanto"

It's an article of faith among certain people that Monsanto, Inc, the American seed company, is inherently and intrinsically evil. And not just evil in the way that you might say any large corporation is "evil," in that it's an organization of people with a vested interest in the organization's survival, but maliciously evil--deliberately and vindictively harmful to others and to society as a whole.

So pervasive is this attitude that it's accepted even by folks who don't have a particular problem with GM food or agricultural biotechnology.

I can't really complain about the folks who accept this idea. I used to be one of them. For many years, my conversations about GM food took the form "I think that genetic modification is a valuable tool for feeding a world of billions, and there is not the slightest evidence whatsoever that GM foods are in any way harmful or dangerous, even though I think Monsanto is evil."

I couldn't really put my finger on why I thought they were evil. I just knew they were. It was an idea I'd heard so often and was so pervasive I accepted it as true. (There is a quote that runs "If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it." It's often erroneously attributed to propagandist Joseph Goebbels, though there's no documentation that he ever said it; the idea appears to have been around for quite a while.) I consider myself a skeptic and a rationalist, but I am still not immune to accepting things without evidence merely because I have heard them often enough.

In fact, it was during an effort to prove how evil Monsanto is that I started to realize many of the things I'd believed about the company were wrong. Someone in an online debate had challenged me to support the idea that Monsanto is an evil company, and I'm rarely one to turn away from a challenge to what I believe. "Piece of cake," I thought. "A few minutes and a half-dozen links ought to be enough. This ought to be about as hard as proving that Moscow is a city in Russia."

If you Google "Monsanto evil," you'll find a vast river of hysterical Web sites that scream Monsanto's vileness to the heavens, usually accompanied by ridiculous and emotionally manipulative pictures like this:

But this river of Google effluent is about as persuasive as a Flat Earth Society page, and I reasoned that if I wouldn't find the source credible myself, it would be disingenuous to try to use it to support my argument. Besides, I thought, I didn't need to cite crap sources like that--there was plenty of legitimate support for Monsanto's encyclopedic catalog of evil from reputable sources.

So I kept going, past the Googlerrhea of sites like NaturalNews and GMOwatch, looking for the clear and obvious evidence I knew would be there. I had heard all the standard arguments, naturally, and was quite confident they would be easy to support.

It turned out to be not so simple after all. In fact, the deeper I got, the more Monsanto's supposed "evil" started to look like smoke and mirrors--propaganda fabricated from the flimsiest of cloth by people frightened of agricultural technology.

First, I thought Monsanto was enormous. It's not. As corporations go, it's actually not all that big. It's about the same size as Whole Foods. It's smaller than Starbucks and The Gap. It's way smaller than UPS and 7-11. (In fact, I wrote a blog post about that last year.) As of the middle of 2014, Monsanto's size compared to other corporations looked like this:

In fact, this graph is now out of date; as of the last quarter of 2014, Whole Foods is significantly larger in terms of revenue than Monsanto. (People who believe that little guys like Whole Foods are sticking it to the big bad megacorps like Monsanto likely don't realize what they're doing is merely supporting one giant megacorp over another.)

Then I read the company's history, and learned that when people talk about things like how Monsanto made Agent Orange, they're showing ignorance of a simple fact I also used to be ignorant of: there are, in a real sense, two Monsantos.

A Tale of Two Companies

The first Monsanto was Monsanto Chemical, a company that manufactured food additives, industrial chemicals, and plastics. This Monsanto no longer exists. In the late 1990s, it developed the drug Celebrex. Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company, bought Monsanto in 2002 because they wanted to capture Celebrex, a profitable and popular drug for treating arthritis.

Pfizer is a pharmaceutical company. As a pharmaceutical company, it's not especially interested in being in agribusiness. In 1996, Monsanto (the chemical company) had bought an agricultural company, but Pfizer didn't want to keep the agricultural business. So after the purchase of Monsanto, Pfizer spun off the agricultural business as a new company, which kept the old name Monsanto. This new Monsanto was entirely distinct from the old: new board, new directors, new business model, new bylaws, new incorporation. In what would prove an ill-fated decision, it kept the name "Monsanto," which Pfizer also wasn't interested in, to avoid having to rebrand itself. Changing the name, they estimated, would cost $40 million.

Was the old Monsanto evil? A case can be made that Monsanto (the chemical company) was a ruthless competitor. But a lot of the charges levied against it by the "Monsanto is evil" crowd turn out not to be true.

Monsanto invented saccharin? Not so fast

One of the claims I've heard many, many times is that Monsanto invented saccharin, the artificial sweetener. This is so far from true it's "not even wrong," as the saying goes. Saccharin was invented in 1879 by chemist Constantin Fahlberg of Johns Hopkins University. It was first manufactured in Magdeburg, Germany. Monsanto was one of many saccharin producers until 1972, but the claim they "invented" it is absolutely false.

In fact, these days, "Monsanto invented saccharin" is a litmus test I use in conversations with anti-Monsanto activists. If someone trots out this chestnut, I know he's a person who can't be arsed to do even a simple Wikipedia search to support his ideas. He is the sort of person who blindly accepts anything that supports his existing beliefs, and I stop talking to him.

Monsanto and Agent Orange

This is another factoid routinely trotted out to prove Monsanto's despicable evil. Only an evil company could invent and manufacture so foul a substance as Agent Orange, right?

Well, Monsanto didn't invent Agent Orange. It was invented by the US Army in 1943--the notion that Monsanto created it is another of those litmus tests I use to determine whether someone is interested in doing even the most rudimentary fact-checking or not.

During the Vietnam War, Monsanto wasn't even the main contractor that manufactured Agent Orange--that dubious honor belongs to Dow. Monsanto was one of many overflow suppliers the government used when Dow couldn't make it fast enough; the others included Uniroyal (the tire manufacturer), Thompson-Hayward Chemicals (now Harcros Chemical Co), Hercules (now Ashland Inc), the Diamond Shamrock Corporation (now Valero Energy Corporation), and Thomson Chemical Company.

It's interesting that folks will tell you "Monsanto is evil because Agent Orange," but not "don't buy tires from Uniroyal; they're evil because Agent Orange." It is, sadly, a truism that we will use an argument to support a position we already believe even when that argument applies equally well to a premise we aren't invested in.

Monsanto and glyphosate

The notion that glyphosate is bad is accepted as self-evident by many folks who oppose GMOs, and I've often heard a circular argument used in discussions about glyphosate resistance: Monsanto is evil because they make glyphosate, and glyphosate is evil because it's made by Monsanto.

Monsanto (the chemical company) was only incidentally interested in agribusiness. Monsanto (the chemical company) developed the herbicide glyphosate in 1970. The patent on glyphosate expired in 2000, two years before Pfizer bought Monsanto (the chemical company). Pfizer wasn't interested in making herbicides, so Monsanto (the seed company) kept the glyphosate business. They still make glyphosate today, but they're not a huge manufacturer--because the patent has expired, most glyphosate manufacture these days is by other companies in China.

Old Monsanto aside, the new Monsanto is still evil!

So what about Monsanto (the seed company)? I keep reading tons of stories about how evil it is, but when I go to validate those stories, they tend to turn out not to be true.

A lot of folks fear GMOs, for the same reasons a lot of folks fear vaccines--there's a lot of bad info out there. Some of it (like "GMOs aren't tested" or "GMOs cause cancer") is demonstrably false.

Monsanto gets a lot of its bad reputation on the basis that it makes GMOs and people are frightened of GMOs. A lot of other companies also make GMOs, but Monsanto is singled out for special hate, even though it's not the biggest company in the GMO business (Syngenta, for instance, is bigger).

Another common argument on the "Monsanto is evil" side of the fence is that Monsanto patents seeds. If a corporation can control our seeds they can control our food! That's clearly evil, right?

I touched on plant patents briefly in part 1 of this series. A lot of folks don't understand plant patents, but many foods--including organic and conventional produce--is patented. (Yes, you read that right. The 100% organic, all-natural kale you buy at Whole Foods is patented.) Any kind of new seedline--whether GMO, hybrid, conventional, or organic, can be patented. The first plant patents in the world were issued in the 1800s; the first plant patents in the United States were issued in the 1930s...long before GM technology existed.

And not all GM food is patented.

If you want to argue that patenting plants is a bad idea, by all means, make your argument. But don't get confused. That argument has nothing to do with Monsanto and nothing to do with GM food.

Saving Seeds and Monsanto Lawsuits

Once you get through the clearly false claims about saccharin and Agent Orange and patents, you start encountering the second wave of arguments for Monsanto's evil evilness of evil, which usually ride into battle under one of two banners: "Monsanto doesn't let farmers save seeds!" and "Monsanto sues farmers for accidental contamination!"

Here is where I believed I would find some real meat--some genuine, clear-cut evidence that Monsanto is bad news.

That evidence turned out to be a mirage--I saw it glittering on the horizon, but when I got close, there was nothing there but sand.

Now, it is true that farmers can't save seeds from patented crops. This isn't a GM issue; farmers also can't save seeds from patented organic or conventional crops either. They also can't save seeds from hybrid crops (seeds from hybrid crops don't tend to breed the desired traits reliably, as I talked about in part 1). But I grew up in a farm town, and I've never met a farmer who wants to save seeds. It's bad for business. Seeds are one of the cheapest parts of running a farm. Farmers who save seeds have to dry, process, and store them. Farmers who buy seeds get a guarantee that the seeds will grow; if they don't, the seed company will pay them.

As for the idea that Monsanto is evil because they sue farmers for accidental contamination of their fields. I looked, but I couldn't find any court cases of this. I did find court cases where farmers denied stealing seeds and said it must be contamination, but in all those cases, a jury or the court found they were lying. (Protip: If someone inspects your field and 98% of the plants growing on it are a patented variety, that's not accidental contamination.)

Monsanto neonicotinoid GMO dead bees!

There is a lot of confusion and misinformation about GM plants. And, unfortunately, that confusion tends to lead to a lot of conflation about entirely unrelated issues.

One complaint I've heard many times, including in the comments on an earlier part of this series, is Monsanto is evil because their GMO seeds are coated in neonicotinoid insecticides that kill bees.

It's hard, at first glance, to tell where to begin to untangle this snarl, because it confuses entirely unrelated things into a tangled mess of misinformation and error.

I mean, yes, neonics might be harmful to bees, possibly, but...er, um...

...that technology was developed by Bayer, not Monsanto.

And it has nothing to do with GMOs. Neonics are insecticides, not herbicides. They are not poisonous to plants; you don't need to engineer plants to resist them. (In fact, they are derived from nicotine, a natural insecticide made by plants. The name "neonicotinoid" literally means "new nicotine.") Neonicotinoids are seed coatings--they're applied to seeds after the seeds are collected, not produced by the seeds themselves.

Of course, all this information is irrelevant in the face of the final, last-ditch argument put forward by Monsanto's detractors...

It's all a conspiracy, man

The conspiracy theory is the final sanctuary of the person with no arguments. It's an attempt to discredit an argument without looking at the argument directly, and also poison the well, by claiming that anyone who supports the dies of some debate you don't support is in league with a sinister and all-encompassing evil.

I've received emails--many emails--from my blog posts about GM foods, asking me how much money Monsanto is paying me to write them.

The idea Monsanto has paid off all the world's scientists to engage in a vast conspiracy to say GMOs are safe when they're really not is so absurd as to be farcical. Look, ExxonMobil is enormous compared to Monsanto, and with their vast piles of money they can't pay off all the world's scientists to say global warming isn't a thing! If ExxonMobil can't afford to pay off scientists, how can a company that makes less money than Whole Foods?

So after looking into it, I was forced to change my mind and conclude that Monsanto (the seed company) isn't particularly evil, at least not in a way that other corporations aren't. ConAgra might be more evil, if you look at biotech companies. But Monsanto (the seed company)? Not so much.

Now if you'll excise me, I'm off to buy another Lamborghini with the shill bucks Monsanto just paid me.

Note: This blog post is part of a series.
Part 0 is here.
Part 0.5 is here.
Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.
Part 3 is here.

It is a truth that in any human endeavor, there must necessarily be those things that don't go quite according to plan. Just as Hannibal's trip over the Alps with an army of elephants met with certain less-than-favorable outcomes, so too did our adventure.

We had to contend with fewer elephants and less snow than the luckless Hannibal, but we faced our own trials nonetheless. Chief among them was a dollar-store can opener, which, like many dollar-store items, was perhaps less splendid in its design and construction as we might have hoped.

This was unfortunate because emanix had, during our provisioning, acquired for us many canned goods, which, lacking a functional can opener, we were unable to use. The hatchet I had thoughtfully packed in the back of the van was an altogether unsatisfactory substitute. Fortunately, emanix is a skilled camper who plans ahead, and she had hidden in her numerous tool belts and pouches a US Army-style miniature can opener, which has a user interface that's a bit less than obvious but nevertheless succeeded where my can opener failed.

Be prepared, they say.

With our cunning new plan (by which I mean her cunning new plan) to scope out potential ghost towns on Google Earth before journeying forth, we set about revising our itinerary and set off toward Granite, Oregon.

Granite was rather a long way from where we were, as our previous itinerary proved to be almost exactly wrong in every respect when compared with the new. So we set out on a flat ribbon of highway that stretched through the desert of eastern Washington and Oregon, driving for hours along a hypnotic stretch of arid tundra, with nothing to see or do--

"Hey! Pull over!" Bunny said. "What's that?"

That would, as it turn out, become the refrain of the day "Hey! Pull over! What's that?"

I pulled over. Just off the road, Bunny had seen a crumbling barn, quietly decaying into the landscape.

We stopped to shoot some pictures, then headed off once more, destined for Granite, where we hoped to--

"Hey! Pull over!" Bunny said. "What's that?"

I pulled over. Bunny had spotted the top of a crumbling house just peeking out between the trees in a valley right off the road:

When I'd parked just off the road, we hiked back to take a look. We weren't disappointed.

This was, Bunny said, the sort of thing you don't see in England. Great Britain is a small, densely inhabited country completely surrounded by water. The western United States is an enormous, sparsely-populated country with vast quantities of land being put to little use. The two could not be further from each other unless England were a suburb of Hong Kong (which, compared to the desert of rural Oregon, it might as well be), so there is a great deal of stuff we take for granted in the more uninhabited part of this country that you don't expect to find across the pond.

Sadly, we were unable to get closer, as it likely would've been quite a lot of fun to explore this magnificent old ruin.

We piled back in the van. The wheels turned, the road hummed by, and--

"Hey! Pull over!" Bunny said. "What's that?"

Pulling over turned out to be a bit trickier this time, as we were on a narrow paved road with no shoulder cutting through a vast swath of absolute nothingness.

The "what's that?" in this case turned out to be a deer that had apparently tried to leap over a fence, with sad results.

emanix took pictures, with her parasol and bunny ears...there are moments when I am with her that she just seems so very British.

I felt bad for the deer, though. Nothing should have to die like this.

It will definitely be appearing in the book she's working on, no question about it.

We set off once more, the van eating away at the miles between us and Granite, bringing us closer with each passing mile to--

"Hey! Pull over!" Bunny said. "What's that?"

This time, "that" turned out to be the remnants of a long-deserted gold mine.

I should mention as an aside, before I continue on, that the ruins of long-deserted gold mines seem to be a regular theme in my life these days. A few months back, Eve and I were on our way to talk polyamory at a swinger convention in Canada when, from the window of our rented car, we spied a glimpse of a long-abandoned gold mine and, naturally (because we are who we are and we must do that which it is in our natures to do) we stopped to explore. The video that accompanies my Patreon was shot there, and I still intend to write about the place (with pictures! Many pictures!)

This gold mine was much different from that one, an altogether cruder and less Indiana Jones place, and crumbing in much more spectacular fashion.

We forded a small stream to get there, which alerted me to the fact that my tumble off the log into the river the day before had not only given me a cracked rib but put a hole in my shoe as well--a brief discomfort, gentle reader, that was soon forgotten, driven from my mind by the splendor of large-scale wood structures in decay.

We scrambled up a steep incline to get more pictures.

That little stairway on top, a few short steps to an abrupt and sticky end in the yawning chasm below, is nightmare fuel, for serious.

Let me take this opportunity to assure you, dear reader, that we did in fact eventually make it to Granite. We also passed something along the way that would turn out to be even more interesting than Granite, and I dumped the Adventure Van into a ditch while we were about it...but hat is a story for the next installment.

There is a postscript to this portion of my tale. Yesterday afternoon, as I was preparing for another trip to Canada, I received a package in the mail from Bunny, a gift sent all the way from the UK. Inside, I found this.

If you're wondering why I love her, that is but one of many, many reasons.

Some thoughts on little white lies

It's probably no surprise to anyone who's read my writings for any length of time that I'm not a fan of dishonesty in relationships--of any sort, big or small. I have always championed the cause of open, honest communication, especially in romantic relationships. A great deal of human misery and suffering in relationships can, it seems to me, be addressed by the simple but nevertheless radical idea that communication is good.

That doesn't mean I embrace the idea of Radical Honesty™, at least not as it often shakes out in the real world. I've written about that before.

But I am no fan of intentional dishonesty, even in small ways. The little white lie? It has effects that are farther reaching and more insidious than I think most folks realize.

People who advocate for the little white lie often argue--indeed, seem to believe--that they are being compassionate. The function of the little white lie is to save someone from hurt or embarrassment, the reasoning goes. What is the harm in that? Isn't it cruel to tell a hurtful truth, if there is no purpose to it?

I have oft observed a very strange thing in romantic relationships, and that is good things our partners say to us tend to bounce off as though our self-conception were made of Teflon, whereas bad things have amazing power to stick. If our partner tells us "I think you're beautiful; I am totally attracted to you," it is easy to say "well, he doesn't really mean it," and not to internalize it. But a partner saying "I don't think you look good in that dress" sticks tenaciously, and can haunt us for weeks.

Why is that?

There might be a lot of reasons, but I think one of them is the little white lie.

We live in a society where there are certain things we are "supposed" to say. There are certain lies that we are encouraged to tell--little soothing words that we set up like fences around anything that might potentially be hurtful to hear.

Each of them might, in and of itself, not be that big a deal. Who cares, really, if your partner's butt looks big in that skirt? You're not with your partner because of the size of their butt, after all; it doesn't matter to your relationship.

But here's the thing.

When you tell little white lies, however harmless they may seem, you are telling your partner, Don't believe me. Don't believe me. I will lie to you. I will tell you what you want to hear. Don't believe me.

Is it any wonder, then, that positive stuff bounces off but negative stuff sticks? You are establishing a precedent that communicates to your partner, straight up, do not trust positive things I say. They are empty words. They do not reflect the reality of what I believe. So how, given that, can we really expect our partners to trust it when we give them affirmation?

Little white lies are corrosive. They communicate a very important truth: I will be dishonest to you to save your feelings.

When we make a habit of telling the truth all the time, something wonderful happens. We tell our partners, You can believe me. I will not say what you want to hear; I will say what I actually believe. That means when I tell you positive things, I mean them.

Lies, however innocuous, breed insecurity. They cause your partner to second-guess everything you say: does he really think this is true, or is he just trying to placate me? Is he genuine, or is he just trying to avoid saying something I might not want to hear?

A question I hear often is "When I tell my partner things I like about them, why don't they believe me?" And the answer, of course, is that we live in a society that cherishes comfort above truth. We are taught from the time we are children that we should tell white lies, and expect others to lie to us, rather than say anything uncomfortable. That leaves us in a tricky position, because we don't have any way of telling whether the positive words we hear are lies.

Oh, we know we can believe the negative words, because those aren't little white lies--the purpose of a white lie is to avoid discomfort, and negative things are uncomfortable. We trust the bad stuff implicitly. But the good stuff? We have no reason to trust that! We don't know if it's real or if it's a white lie.

So here's a thought. If you want your lover to believe you about the good stuff, give them a reason to. Let them know it's honest. How? By embracing honesty as a core value. What's the harm in little white lies? They create an environment where we suspect dishonesty from everyone. We can never quite be comfortable that anything positive we hear is the truth; there is always--there must always be--that niggling little doubt.

It is very difficult to develop positive self-esteem when we can not trust the good things people say about us. And yet, taking away our trust to believe the good is exactly what little white lies do.

Don't do that. Be compassionate in your truth--but be truthful.

If you spend any time in any forums where people talk about sex, it is a truth as inevitable as night following day that, sooner or later, someone is going to talk about porn.

And as soon as someone starts to talk about porn, a certain predictable conversation will come up.

"Porn performers are coerced and trafficked," someone will say. "Porn is bad because women are forced into it. It is a terrible meat-grinder industry. We need to rescue all the victims of porn."

The same narrative comes up around sex work as well. Sex workers, according to a certain kind of person, are victims, people there because they have been forced, threatened, or tricked into it.

The people who make these arguments, in my experience, almost certainly don't know any porn performers or sex workers. They will cite "studies" they read on the Internet, like the rather dreadful study that claims legal prostitution in the Netherlands has resulted in a huge increase in trafficking in that country. (I've read that study. Buried in the fine print: the study's authors define a "traffick victim" as any person who for any reason crosses national boundaries and then ends up working in any capacity in the sex trade. So a person who immigrates legally and voluntarily goes to work as a sex worker is a "trafficking victim" according to the study.)

A particularly pernicious variant on this "women-as-victims" narrative is circulating amongst folks who are generally politically liberal and see themselves as allies of women, but still face discomfort about porn and sex work: Well, yes, women can and do freely choose to go into porn or sex work, but, you see, not abuse porn like what you see at Kink.com. Those women go into normal mainstream porn, and then they get "groomed" to do abusive porn.

I've seen variants on this narrative turning up in places where people are otherwise open to the notion that not all sex workers or performers are victims--sure, "mainstream" porn (whatever that is--I would say there really isn't any such thing as "mainstream" porn; porn is, by its nature, niche) isn't inherently exploitive, but that kinky stuff? Man, just look at it! Sometimes the performers cry! That's clearly abuse!--and for a long time, I've simply chalked it up to standard, ordinary squicks about exchanging money for sex, cultural taboos about sex, ideas about what is "normal" or "not normal" around sex. You know, the ordinary soup of preconceptions, emotions, and cultural norms that oozes through the public discourse on sex.

But lately, I've started thinking there's something else at work, too. Something that lies rooted in a tacit assumption that those who hold these ideas about porn and sex work hold, but don't directly articulate, and an assumption that sex-positive folks who support the right of people to choose porn and sex work don't directly address: the starvation model of sex work.

The starvation model of sex work starts with the assumption that it is hard to find people who want to do porn or sex work. A reasonable person wouldn't make that choice, except through coercion or the most dire of necessity. Therefore, to feed the demand for sex workers and porn performers, there must be coercion and abuse.

In places where porn and sex work are criminalized, that makes sense. Production of porn and sex work becomes a criminal enterprise. The pool of people willing to work in criminal enterprises is small.

In places where these things are not criminalized, the equation is different. I personally know many porn performers and sex workers (yes, including performers for Kink.com). They report they enjoy what they do and choose to do it freely. I have no reason to doubt them.

And yet, whenever I ask the folks who criticize the porn and sex work industries, or cast sex workers as victims, if they've ever talked to sex workers, the answer is almost always "no." And when I say the people I know choose what they do, the response is almost always incredulity.

If we assume that it is true nobody would voluntarily choose to do porn or sex work, then it makes sense to think the folks who are doing it, aren't there by choice, and to look for coercion. If we assume there are lots of people who are willing to do porn or sex work, but nobody would choose to do "abusive" sex work, then the same thing holds--the folks who appear in Kink photo shoots must be being groomed, tricked, manipulated, or coerced.

If, on the other hand, we assume that there are actually quite a lot of folks who are totally okay with porn and sex work, the narrative falls apart. Why would I, as a porn producer, risk my business (and prison) forcing women to perform when I can simply put out a call that I'm looking for performers, and people will come to me voluntarily? Why would we assume that every sex worker is a trafficking victim, given that there are people who like the idea of doing sex work?

For the women-as-victims narrative to hold true, a necessary prerequisite is women wouldn't choose to do this voluntarily. But that premise is rarely stated explicitly.

So why would people make that assumption?

I spent some time asking questions of people who promote the sex-worker-as-victim narrative, and discovered something interesting.

Psychologists often talk about a quirk of human psychology called the fundamental attribution error. It's a bug in our firmware; we, as human beings, are prone to explaining our own actions in terms of our circumstance, but the actions of other people in terms of their character. The standard go-to example of the fundamental attribution error I use is the traffic example: "That guy just cut me off because he's a reckless, inconsiderate asshole who doesn't know how to drive. I just cut that car off because the sun was in my eyes and there was so much glare on the windshield I didn't see it."

We do this All. The. Time. We do it without being aware we're doing it. We do it countless times per day, in ways large and small.

The penny dropped for me that something similar was going on in discussions about sex work during a different conversation--not about sex work but about polyamory. There was a guy who was railing, and I mean railing, about polyamory. Nobody, he said, would ever truly be okay with it--not really. No guy would ever willingly share a woman with another guy. Sure, poly folks say they are okay with it, but that's just because they think it's the only way they can keep the one they love. You give any poly person the magical power to have absolutely anything they wanted, he declared, and nobody would choose to share a partner.

Now, this is a load of bollocks, of course. I would, in a perfect world, still be poly, and still not have any desire to have my partners be sexually fidelitous to me.

When I told him that, he flipped out. That's disgusting, he said. No man--no man, no man ever--would be okay with it. No man. If someone says otherwise, there's something wrong with him.

We see the same line of reasoning used in other arenas. No man would be okay with having sex with another man--if a guy fancies other men, there must be some kind of damage or trauma, as one example.

And then it clicked.

I would like to propose that there is another bug in the operating firmware of humanity, similar to the fundamental attribution error. Call it the fundamental construction error, if you will. We as human beings re-construct the world in our own image, assigning our own values, ideas, squicks, taboos, likes, and dislikes to the great mass of humanity as a whole. "Nobody likes," "everybody wants," "nobody would," "everybody thinks"--all statements of this class can most properly be understood to mean "I don't like," "I want," "I wouldn't," and "I think."

"You must be damaged in order to be gay" really means "nobody would want to be gay," which really means "I wouldn't want to be gay."

"All sex workers are victims" really means "nobody would want to be a sex worker," which really means "I wouldn't want to be a sex worker."

The fundamental reconstruction error makes it extremely difficult to realize that other people can be, on a very deep level, not like us. We assume that others are like us. This tacit assumption is the foundation of most of the models we build of the social world around us. It doesn't get explicitly mentioned because it's wired so deep it doesn't even get noticed.

Why are porn performers and sex workers victims? Because nobody would do these things voluntarily. Why would nobody do these things voluntarily? Because I wouldn't do these things voluntarily. Ergo, it must be--it follows inevitably that it has to be--that people who do these things are damaged, broken, victimized, or have no other choice.

And since it follows that these people are damaged, broken, victimized, or have no other choice, then the stories of people who work in the sex industry voluntarily can be discarded--because they are the words of someone who is damaged, broken, victimized, or has no other choice.

I would like, therefore, to propose a radical idea:

The world is made of lots of people. Some of those people are different from you, and have different ideas about what they want, what turns them on, what is and is not acceptable for them, and what they would like to do.

Some of those ideas are alien, maybe even incomprehensible, to you.

Accept that it is true. Start from the assumption that even if something sounds weird, distasteful, or even disgusting to you, it may not be so to others--and that fact alone does not prove those other folks have something wrong with them. If someone tells you they like something, and you have no compelling evidence that they're lying, believe them--even if you don't understand why.

How do you do it?

Awareness of the fact that your cognitive impulses are buggy is a good place to start. I started looking at myself any time I caught myself saying "oh, that driver is an asshole" or "oh, that person is obviously an inconsiderate jerkoff"--I would stop and say "huh. Have I ever done that? Is this an example of the fundamental attribution error?"

Doing the same thing when you find yourself assuming that all X are Y, especially if it's "all X are victims" or "all X are damaged goods," is probably a good mechanism for sorting out the fundamental reconstruction error. Is that really true, or are you just re-creating the world in your own image?

In which Franklin has a weird appendix

For the past few months, I've been dealing with weird pain in my lower back. It's been an ongoing thing that has followed a consistent pattern: I wake up in the morning in intense pain, take ibuprofen, the pain goes away, I go about my day, and it comes back the next morning.

Being a middle-class citizen of an industrialized twenty-first-century nation, I did what any middle-class citizen of an industrialized twenty-first-century nation would do in such a situation: I consulted the Oracle at Google. And lo, the Oracle at Google said that this might be a kidney infection, so I should talk to an actual practitioner of medicine rather than Googling my symptoms.

And so it came to pass that I made an appointment with the doctor, on the day before I was scheduled to head to Canada for several weeks. The doctor poked and prodded my back, made me pee into a cup, asked me lots of questions, and said "hmm" a lot. Then she disappeared for a while, leaving me to sit in a small room with an old-fashioned electro-mechanical clock on the wall that reminded me of the clocks in the elementary school I attended in the plains of Nebraska.

A short time later, she returned to say that whatever my issue was, it definitely wasn't a kidney infection (take that, Google!) but it could be a kidney tumor, and I should make an appointment for a medical imaging test. Oh, and stop taking ibuprofen, that can aggravate kidney tumors.

Naturally, on my return home, I consulted the Oracle at Google once more, and Google obligingly filled me with horror stories about renal adenomas and such. I also made an appointment to have the imaging done--something that would, they said, take a month to schedule.

Head now completely filled with the possibilities of a rapid and gruesome death, I ventured to Canada, sans ibuprofen.

The pains kept getting worse, and then worse after that, until finally Eve offered me industrial-strength painkillers...that did pretty much nothing. Well, nothing save for making me feel like my head was stuffed with cotton balls, anyway.

So I called my doctor who suggested I make my way posthaste to an urgent care center for imaging.

Now, we live in a twenty-first century world that still clings to nineteenth-century notions of borders. My insurance, as it turns out, is not valid in Canada. So we piled into a car, Eve and I, and drove across the border to Bellingham, where I explained the situation and was admitted with alacrity.

A short time later, I was able to mark "Get a CAT Scan While Wearing Bunny Ears" off my bucket list.

For those of you who have never had a CAT scan, the whole experience is a bit "bureaucracy at the DMV meets a scene from a science fiction movie." You're cataloged, bar-coded, and wheeled into a futuristic-looking room where the technician feeds you into a giant machine with displays and blinky lights and a big spinny thing.

That part's pretty cool. The bit that's less cool is the stuff they inject you with to make your innards show up better to the machine.

"You will feel hot," the dude said. "And then you will feel like you're peeing. Relax. You're not."

That didn't exactly fill me with images of pleasant frolics through a lovely garden, but the reality turned out to be even less pleasant than he suggested. He shot me full of some transparent liquid and I could feel it traveling through my body as a wave of intense heat. Even my eyeballs got hot--something I hope never to experience again. As promised, when it hit my waist, I felt like I was peeing, though he'd neglected to mention that it'd feel like I was peeing hot lava.

Then the machine did its spinny blinky thing and Was wheeled back.

After a bit of waiting, an earnest-looking and overworked doctor came in to give me the news: my kidneys were fine. No problem at all. The problem, he said, was totally different: I had appendicitis. And, apparently, my morphology is as unorthodox as my ideology. My appendix is in entirely the wrong place; the end of my large intestine points toward the front of my body and curves up, leaving my appendix pointing straight up at my liver like a defiant middle finger raised against one's oppressors. (I'm not saying I have an oppressive liver, mind you; it's a metaphor. Work with me here.)

He told me the Three Wise Men (the doctor, the radiologist, and the surgeon) had consulted, and my appendix was right on the threshold of the point where they would normally opt to remove it, but after some deliberation they'd made the decision not to. He gave me a CD of the CAT scan (complete with autorun.inf file--seriously, has anyone in the entire world not got the memo on why autorun is a terrible fucking idea?) and told me to follow up with my doctor, who should figure out what to do with me.

So the problem is still ongoing: I wake up in the morning with pain that dissolves at the touch of ibuprofen, even though it's intractable in the face of rather more potent painkillers, and go about the day.

Apparently, my insurance only covers out-of-state medical care if it's an "emergency." I'm not sure if "appendicitis that's right on the fuzzy border of requiring surgical intervention, so we're going to pack you up and send you home" is an "emergency" or not. A part of me is still holding my breath wondering if I'm about to be hit with a huge hospital bill for all of this.

But hey, no kidney tumor! That bit was a huge relief; we (my sweeties and I) were, I think, more worried about that than we'd realized at the time this was all happening.


We woke, emanix and I, the next morning with birds chirping all about us. She made breakfast and massive quantities of tea (the latter would soon become a regular fixture on our adventure), and discussed where we would go next.

I do not fully understand, dear reader, what strange malformation of logic gave rise to our decision. Somewhere in that conversation, we lost the guiding light of Reason and Logic, and opted to continue down the narrow dirt road in the direction we were headed, rather than heading back to Liberty, the disappointing ghost-town-that-wasn't and to our previously established route. Perhaps we thought there was another ghost town to be had at the road's end, though quite what might have given us that idea, I am not sure.

We packed up the van and proceeded down the track, which gradually grew rockier and more treacherous, until soon we feared getting stuck with every passing yard. We pushed on ahead nonetheless, until finally we came to a narrow but quite rapid stream that bisected the road, or what there was of a road, preventing easy passage.

We stood there, debating whether we should risk taking the van through the stream and up the rocky bank on the other side. While we weighed the merits of going on vs. turning around, a young couple in a Toyota Prius pulled up behind us.

They discussed a discussion that followed along the lines of our discussion. "Where does this road go?" we asked them, reasoning (apparently optimistically) that if they were all the way out here, they must have some notion of where they were headed.

"We don't know!" they said.

Ultimately, they opted to try their luck with the stream. The Prius did that spooky thing Priuses do where it crawled forward with nary a sound, and was soon axle-deep in water. It pulled up on the other side. We waved. They waved.

"Think we can do that?" I asked Bunny. She looked skeptical.

"I wonder what's on the other side of the stream," I said. "I want to take a look."

She set about making lunch while I went upstream a bit and looked for some way across. I found a large log, stripped of branches and leaves, and cautiously walked out onto it.

It turns out, gentle reader, that logs partly submerged in water become quite slippery. You may guess what happened next. My feet shot out from under me, and I plummeted like a stone into the stream, colliding with the log on the way down. The spot where I went in was deeper than it looked, and cold, and moving very fast.

I struggled back out of the water. emanix waved cheerfully. "Lunch is almost ready!"

That episode would have a long-lasting effect on the rest of the trip, as I had, apparently, managed to crack a rib on colliding with the log. For the rest of our adventure, I was reminded of that log every time I tried to lie down at night.

After dinner, we concluded there was no legitimate reason to try crossing the stream, given that we had no idea what (if anything) the other side might offer. We packed up and headed back, retracing our route to Liberty, and from there to the next stop on our cunningly-devised plan.

That next stop turned out to be rather a lot of nothing. We followed Siri's directions to what would, according to the Web, be an abandoned gold mining town high in the mountains, and discovered...trees. And narrow muddy roads.

At this point, we'd decided we'd had quite enough of navigating the van along steep mountain trails, and headed to the nearest major road to regroup. We spent the night at a rest stop, and woke bright and early the next day. Bunny prepared a rather astonishing quantity of tea, and we were off once more.

We eventually found ourselves, after many hours of driving, sitting in a small country restaurant in a small town in...well, I think it was Washington, though I'm not convinced I'd wager on it.

"I know!" Bunny said. "We should look at Google's satellite view of all the places we're headed, so we can tell if they're worth going to or not!" Such a simple idea, and yet so brilliant.

We hopped on the WiFi and did just that. The ghost town Web site, as it turns out, was a bit rubbish, and most of the places on our route had either come back to life ("zombie towns," she called them) or faded into nothingness.

We scrapped our previous plan and, after a bit of frantic Googling, put together a new itinerary. Then we piled into the van once more and started down the road toward Hardman.

Hardman, Oregon was settled in 1879, according to Wikipedia. We arrived shortly before sunset, and finally, we got a taste of some real meat.

Hardman is not technically abandoned. A small number of folks still live there, and there are trailers and inhabited houses scattered more or less at random through the ruins.

There's a community center that's still in use.

We peeked into the community center. A man who lived in a small shack next to it wandered over. "Want to look inside?" he asked.

"You bet!" we said.

He unlocked the door and ushered us in. "Where are you from?" he said.

"I'm from England," emanix told him. "I'm from Portland," I said.

"Portland. It's full of liberals. Always telling us what to do," he said.

He ushered us upstairs and showed us around, talking about the history of the place, the ruins of the post office next to the community center, and how he hunts cats in the fields around the town.


We discovered this lovely hulk quietly rusting away just outside the town.

Photos taken, we left town, driving into a most fantastic sunset on the way out.

A much more productive day than falling into the water and cracking a rib, all things considered, but the real jackpots still lay ahead.


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