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L. Neil Smith's
Number 512, March 29, 2009

"Maybe it's not such a bad thing to be thought a barbarian.
People usually don't mess with barbarians, after all."

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Thuggish Highways
by Paul Bonneau
2.paulbx1 -+at+-

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

I spend a lot of time driving around the states of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington State and Oregon. One gets a strong impression of a state by looking at the road signs, and watching the highway patrol. It's clear in this group what the most thuggish, unfriendly state is: Washington. And Oregon is the runner up.

When seeing road signs that irritate, one whiles the miles away thinking of ways to improve those signs. I will give a few examples, and hereby solicit other ideas for these.

Washington's #1 irritating sign is surreal: "Litter, and it will hurt!". What a nice friendly welcome to someone crossing the border into the state, eh? It positively screams, "We are thugs and we'd like to beat you up!"

Well, there is only one way to improve this sign. Stop some moonless night armed with a stapler and tape, and leave the sign festooned with banana peels and dirty baby diapers. Don't get caught though! I think those Washington tax collectors—er, I mean, highway patrol—have little sense of humor.

Another Washington irritatant is a bit of bureaucratic doggerel: "Click it or ticket!" with a picture of a seatbelt. No doubt, the bureaucrat who dreamed this up got a raise and a promotion. I am so driven into paroxysms of rage whenever I think of this one that I have been unable to think of a single way to improve this sign, other than the standard remedy for bad poetry—the shotgun. Unfortunately, Oregon bureaucrats have become so enamored of this that the sign has infected Oregon also, proving that bad taste is universal among bureaucrats.

Washington is also prone to signs with multiple lines of small type that you have to read while driving by at 75mph. Cute, eh? You wonder what good info you just missed. Of course "ignorance of the law is no excuse", as statists love to say. But don't pull over and stop to read it—that is a violation too.

I once took a trip to see the John Day Fossil Beds in Eastern Oregon. The owner of these lands, in a moment of insanity or senility, maybe accompanied by a little arm-twisting, signed the lands over to the federal government, years ago. As a result, I encountered a "No guns allowed" sign when driving up to the place. Now, about the last thing someone has, when driving around in eastern Oregon, is "no guns". After all, the charm of the place is that there are almost "no people", and there are lots of long distance rocks to kill, or ground squirrels and rock chucks to whack, or even that odd coyote caught in the middle of the pasture, to take down. So what was I going to do with my guns—leave them in the roadside ditch, before driving in? I leave it as an exercise for the reader, to guess how I dealt with my dilemma.

The only way to improve that sign is to give it a couple of .44 caliber bullet holes. Unless they are .45 caliber holes.

Speaking of bullet holes in signs, it must be a usual thing to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon over there, to drive around with a six-pack on the front seat and a rifle in the rack, hunting for "deer crossing" signs. It's on my list of things to do before I die. Except they don't restrict themselves just to signs with pictures of deer on it. Some places, [i]every single sign[/i] has a bullet hole or two or 10 in it. It certainly makes a person smile. The perforated signs work just as well as virgin ones, but it adds a bit of local color. The red-neck's version of "question authority". I think local governments have given up replacing them, because they just can't keep up with it. Of course one does have to remember Cooper's 4th rule, "Be aware of your target, and what's behind it." But people are few and far between in eastern Oregon, so this is pretty easy. Strangely, this custom seems unknown in my adopted state Wyoming, which also has few people. I may have to introduce it here.

I do recall reading advice in gun magazines, not to shoot holes in road signs, lest the general populace think gun owners are barbarians. Whereupon gun prohibitionists would go out with shotguns and blast signs to show that gun owners are barbarians. Ah, the games we play. Anyway, maybe it's not such a bad thing to be thought a barbarian. People usually don't mess with barbarians, after all. Here is one of my favorite quotes about them:

Discussing the attempts of Augustus' generals to add to the extent of the Roman Empire early in his reign: "The northern countries of Europe scarcely deserved the expense and labour of conquest. The forests and morasses of Germany were filled with a hardy race of barbarians, who despised life when it was separated from freedom; and though, on the first attack, they seemed to yield to the weight of the Roman power, they soon, by a signal act of despair, regained their independence, and reminded Augustus of the vicissitude of fortune."
—Edward Gibbon, from his condensed version of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Another example of thuggish Washington highways were the "registration wars" some years back. Oregon had cheap auto registration, like $32 for two years, while Washington really laid it on, hundreds of dollars. Washingtonians did the obvious thing, registering their cars in Oregon. Whereupon people driving in Washington with Oregon tags were subjected to "enhanced scrutiny", as I think they'd put it. Getting stopped for "driving while Oregonian", that sort of thing. It was like a war zone on I-5 for a while. Finally some angel in Washington got up a tax revolt and passed via initiative an Oregonian-level registration fee, despite blubbering from the cops and government. This stopped the interstate battle though. Amazing how governments protect and serve us, eh?

Of course registrations are a crock, and inherently against freedom. Just used for checking up on people who aren't doing anything bad, and controlling people, and taxing people. We won't be free until the day we replace our state licence plates with our own personal plates that say "Fuck the Government", or something along that line.

By the way, I discovered that Wyoming did not have (or at least, require) driver's licenses as late as 1948. One wonders that anyone managed to survive driving in the state back then. I mean, think of the chaos that must have ensued, not having that bit of bureaucratic paper in your wallet.

What else about Idaho, Montana and Wyoming? Nothing much to report there. All three have "only" secondary seatbelt laws (I did see a Montana sign that said "please" use seatbelts, saying nothing about the law or about being beaten up—how refreshing). All three have motorcycle helmets mandatory only for kids. Oh, you are supposed to slow down a bit when passing an "emergency vehicle" in Wyoming. I have to say though, Montana takes the cake. Best state to drive in, and hardly any cops.

All 5 states have the abominations, "fines double" zones, although Oregon seems to take it to absurd lengths, so you start to wonder if there are any "fines single" zones left. Part of these are the ubiquitous "school zones". El Neil dreams of the day government schools would be "razed to the ground so that not one stone is left standing on another, and salt is sown on the ruins." To that I would add that we need a nice big bonfire for all the "fines double in school zones" signs.

Washington and Oregon cops are generally bad news, with maybe some exceptions east of the Cascades where few people live. I have hardly seen any Montana cops. My run-ins with Wyoming cops are as pleasant as can be, considering they are still in the business of stealing money. But one let me off completely, and the other only dinged me for one thing out of several, and even left a business card that reminded me how nice Wyoming cops are supposed to be—I guess hoping my traffic stop was a pleasant one. And it was, besides the loss of $50. Gee, how can one not like cops like that? It's almost like they are regular people.


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