Saturday, October 30, 2010

Boys and their Toys

In over a decade of full-time RVing I've seldom had the chance to hike or bicycle with another RVer, their proclivities and demographics being what they are. And I've never had the chance to hike with another camper, my dog and his dog, the hiker personality-type being what it is. I've tried to accept things as they are, without too much complaining.

So I want to honor the occasion by bragging it up. My dog, Coffee Girl, and I went for a hike with a fellow camper and his Aussie shepherd, here shown getting suited up with water and snacks.
 

Coffee Girl hasn't gone for a car ride in two years so she was delighted even before the hike began. It was better than a car ride: it was in the other camper's new Jeep Wrangler! She and the other dog disported on and off the trail all the way to the top. They're both herding group dogs, and are of the same size and age.

All good things come to he who waits, apparently. But 12 or 13 years seems a bit excessive to me. I'm happy to have had this opportunity, but the other camper thinks that women are important, so I expect to see one come along soon and rub out our little "boys and their dogs" hiking club. It's an old story that any long-time single man understands.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Unvanquished

Fourteen days after being attacked by a coyote, my little poodle got his stitches removed. Believe it or not he insisted on returning to the field where the attack took place. He was walking tall again, casting a long shadow over the golden West. He really wanted to kick some coyote butt.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Back in the Saddle Again

The local chamber of commerce likes to brag up the highlands of southern New Mexico as having "four gentle seasons." Who are they kidding? Our climate is a continental one, at 6000 feet above sea level; it has two semi-gentle and real seasons interleaved with two mathematical concepts known as spring and fall. If you're really serious about a four season climate, full-time RVing is the best thing to do. But I'm a townie now.

Neighborhood gossip revealed that some of my neighbors were already using heat. In mid-October! How could they do such a thing after trying to sleep in the summer with noise and heat? The cooler the air the better you sleep, but only to a point. I merrily switched sleeping bags, put pants and socks on, and finally covered my head, but when I actually had to turn on the heat I felt profoundly defeated. Why take it so seriously?

It wasn't just the seasons that transitioned quickly; so too was the switch from road cycling to mountain biking. It's a fairly big transition: different routes, riding posture, and pedaling stroke. Those factors were easy this year, but I struggled with the cold, despite mountain biking being 10-15 F warmer than road cycling. The winter routes, the cool wind, and fall colors made it feel like a "travel" adventure. This was quite a relief, since the desirability and plausibility of being a stationary ex-full-time traveler is based on the idea of substituting time travel (or season-travel) for odometer travel.

When I was a full time RVer on the road I worked at avoiding the stereotypes. Thus I found challenges to keep it interesting. Now I must do the same thing as a permanent, a townie, particularly with respect to standard climate notions: being able to wear shorts on the golf course in January, or whatever the retiree saw on the front cover of a glossy. There's something distasteful and enfeebling about always being comfortable.

This might be one concrete, personal example of the "Challenge and Response" that Toynbee talked about in his Study of History: certain civilizations have responded positively to poor soil, bad climate, or hostile neighbors, while others were smacked by excessive challenges and were retarded or even succumbed to them. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Photo Cliche

How many prrty pichers of sunsets are there on the internet? How many million, I should have asked. That's why I only burden readers with sunrises, which of course are completely different, and therefore fresh and original.

OK seriously, how much of an aesthetic snob should you allow yourself to be, when you are a blogger? I am prone to rolling my eyes at travel blogs by newbie RVers from the East, who show photos of, say, Monument Valley. Maybe this is churlish and unfair. After all if I were to adopt a new kitten, should I fail to get pleasure from its play with a ball of twine because that's a cyootsie-wootsie photo cliche on calendars and Hallmark cards?

Recall the chapter, "Zest," in Bertrand Russell's classic The Conquest of Happiness: 
"...the fastidious person who condemns half the pleasures of life as unaesthetic. Oddly enough, all these types feel contempt for the man of healthy appetite and consider themselves his superior.
From the height of their disillusionment they look down upon those whom they despise as simple souls. All disenchantment is to me a malady, which is to be cured as soon as possible, not to be regarded as a higher form of wisdom."
OK, let's compromise. Here are some prrty colors at sunrise. Let's agree that colors by themselves are not what make for a marvelous sunrise.


The male mind being what it is, I got some real pleasure from the shapes of the clouds in this sunrise, although I couldn't get the ideal colors and shapes at the same time.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Raven Wrangler

Every morning these days the ravens gather and wait for Coffee Girl to enter the field.

Neither they nor the dog disappoint each other. This photo shows only one raven flying low to taunt "poor" Coffee Girl, but in fact there's usually a dozen of the naughty scoundrels. She gets noisy about it. Although she is in the cattle dog family, she has a lot more fun promoting biological diversity.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Lens of Politics

If it's hard to believe the political situation that the Obama administration has fallen to, perhaps the explanation lies in the initial expectations. The mainstream Media treated him like the messiah. His adoration in Europe was even more unrealistic.

Back then I started to notice how consistently the Media photographed him: his eyes were always inclined at about 25 degrees above the horizontal. I wouldn't have expected his eyes to be looking at the floor of course, but his eyes never looked horizontally at the camera either, like a normal mortal's would.

It was easy to recall the famous painting of Christ in profile, looking upward towards heaven, which used to hang in an honored spot in many Americans' houses. When that image popped to mind, it seemed like fair game to poke fun at the Media's adoration of Obama. (A political cartoonist could have achieved immortality if, during those salad days of post-inaugural euphoria, he had drawn Obama in a humble white robe, facing his backside to the camera, as Christ was usually portrayed in the sword-and-sandal movie epics of the 1950s.)

Was I just imagining it or was candidate and president Obama consciously trying to sound like Martin Luther King? In either case, he wasn't very good at it. MLK had a fine southern Negro preacher's cadence to his speech that Obama couldn't hit. Still, it was a relief to Americans -- even to Republicans whether they would admit it or not -- that they had an articulate president instead of a tongue-tied dolt like Bush.

Since noticing the 25-degrees-above-horizontal syndrome my eyes latched onto photographs of other politicians over the years. I am not making an issue of how biased the mainstream Media always was; that's an old story. What I wanted to know is whether the photography reveals their biases more than their prose or talk.

During the 1980's I was reading an article about president Reagan in US News and World Report. I knew it was a Republican magazine, but I didn't know how Republican until I saw the side-by-side photographs of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan in that article. Kennedy was coming out of the water in swimming trunks; he was skinny and good looking as a young man, but by the time of his presidency less-than-perfect health and middle-aged paunch had finally caught up with him. The photograph of Reagan, as a much older man, showed him in jeans and a work shirt, chopping wood on his ranch. He looked like the model he had once been in his young manhood.

Are photographs more influential than talk or prose? It's easy to confuse Cause and Effect. If Obama is no longer photographed looking 25 degrees above the horizontal, is that because the Media no longer adores him, or are they merely responding to his low poll ratings?

Sometimes the most lasting images of presidents are actual photographs; other times they arise mentally from situations that are easy to visualize. For instance when it was announced recently that Obama would install solar panels on the White House roof, the Media was quite naughty in showing a 1970's picture of Jimmy Carter with his solar panels. No doubt Obama would have preferred allusions to the Comeback Kid, Bill Clinton.

Accurate or not, images linger. We remember Jimmy Carter's cardigan sweater, his preachiness about energy usage, and his "Malaise" speech. (Check me on this but I think it's true that he never actually used the word.) Perhaps in the future people will look backwards to Obama and remember him sneaking back home early from the Copenhagen climate conference in order to escape a Washington snowstorm. How naughty the Media would be if they accompany any mention of that episode with a picture of Jimmy Carter in a canoe, swatting at a killer rabbit.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Movies Enhancing Music

When geezerhood brings a man one step from the glue factory, it's natural
for him to fantasize about being young again. If he were to step into that time-machine and return to youth, what would his greatest pleasure be?

No, not that one. For my part it would be sleeping -- deeply and uninterruptedly -- all night long. Bereft of that sweet pleasure, geezerhood
has at least granted me the post-lunch nap. I'll never tire of saying that half of the reason for being retired is the freedom to lie down for a few minutes after lunch.

Although this blog occasionally throws mud pies at the Idol of Progress, the
modern mp3 player represents true progress. Sometimes lying down for a nap after lunch with music of your own choosing is the best time of the day. What makes it especially sweet is the half-consciousness and dreaminess of it all.

Earlier a friend had introduced me to the Portuguese musical group, Madredeus. They were featured in the movie, The Lisbon Story, by Wim Wenders, which I finally saw. (Wenders is supposed to be a German movie auteur. I'm not familiar enough with his oeuvre to agree or disagree.) The group consisted of male instrumentalists topped off with a lovely young female vocalist. That's probably the ideal demographic for a musical group.

She probably wouldn't be too popular in American pop culture. For one thing she has a feminine voice, not the raunchy, androgynous voice of the modern pop/country diva. Few teenagers would care for her attractive and traditional appearance, or for her lack of "dancing", that is, the lewd pelvic thrusts and hip grinding that are an integral part of MTV culture or boob toob commercials.

In slipping off into half-consciousness while listening to Madredeus, it really helped to imagine them visually as they were in the movie. This isn't the first time that a movie has enhanced my enjoyment of music that wasn't written for a movie. Perhaps I'm a part of music-video culture, after all.
 

Maybe some kind of visual context is necessary for the remarkable concreteness which, together with transcendence, becomes the glory of a dreamy state of mind. By transcendence I mean a type of "travel" experience: listening to Madredeus while snoozing lets you travel through time, and escape the sterile confines of gringo, Yankee, northern European, Protestant culture. Imagine her as a sculpture from classical times, or better yet, a Renaissance Pieta; as stationary as marble, but evoking with her voice and eyes the sad beauty of the older civilization of the Mediterranean.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dancing with Wolves, part 2

My little poodle has recovered wonderfully from his wounds after the coyote attack of 12 days ago. He even insisted on returning to the evil field today, with the leash on, of course. In the aftermath of that attack I was amazed by the generous care of a woman in my RV park who used to be a veterinary technician.

Then it got better: another woman who used to live here heard the news of the attack. She is only five feet tall and weighs about a hundred pounds; but if I had blocked the door, I think she would have knocked me out of the way on her way to cooing over the little poodle. When she lived here, we barely acknowledged each other's existence.

This recalled the opening of Arthur Schopenhauer's dreadful essay On Women, which nonetheless started well with a quote from Jouy: "Without women, the beginning of our life would be helpless; the middle, devoid of pleasure; and the end, of consolation."
Nature was certainly erupting that day, if you are willing to see homo sapiens as an animal species. The women displayed an assertiveness that was almost violent. No wonder people living thousands of years ago, who were in much closer contact with real (non-pinup calendar) nature, made a goddess of Mother Nature. And I was part of it: I took a weapon to the grassy field on the next walk with my larger dog, Coffee Girl. It must have looked foolish to anyone else, but it provided me the delicious fantasy of burying that weapon in the skull of the coyote.

Something that a couple people said irked me greatly; they said that, after all, he (the coyote) was here first, and so they hoped he wouldn't be killed. "Here first?" What did that mean? If they wanted to trot out that cliche for an attack in the zillion-acre wilderness area a few miles to our north, fine. But this attack took place on private property in the city limits.

For some reason this got me thinking about the movie Dances with Wolves, starring Kevin Costner (yuk). After so many years of full time RV travel, how did I neglect to visit the hilly South Dakota grasslands where the movie was shot? I rewatch it from time to time and try to focus on the cinematography and John Barry's soundtrack. The script is dreadful. Consider these immortal words of the protagonist:
"I'd never known a people [the Sioux] so eager to laugh, so devoted to family, so dedicated to each other. And the only word that came to mind was 'harmony.' "
When will the environmentalists of the world hire a new prose stylist? Still, the movie viewer can be thankful that Kevin Costner didn't rattle on about how each cloud, weed, or rock was 'sacred to the Native Americans.'

But just when I decided that the movie's script had no hope, they fooled me. The Sioux and the Pawnee had a battle, and the Costner-character volunteered to help his hosts, the Sioux. After the battle he said:
"It was hard to know how to feel. I'd never been in a battle like this one. There was no dark political objective. It had been fought to protect the lives of women and children and loved ones just a few feet away."
Is it not amazing that the Hollywood liberal-weenie who wrote the script had enough of a connection to real nature -- not coffee-table book nature -- to see that violence was a legitimate part of the DNA of male homo sapiens?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Moth

I didn't notice the fine structure on the edge of the wing or the "mustache" until the photo was blown up.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Art Imitating Life and Vice Versa

On a human level we're all happy that the Chilean miners got out safely. But let's look at it as a media/entertainment product. Isn't it amazing that ye olde 'men trapped in a mine' drama still works in the internet age?!

By dumb luck Ace in the Hole arrived on the same day. The movie was made in 1951 by the wonderful Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17, The Apartment, Sabrina, etc.) In it, Kirk Douglas is a reporter who is trying for a comeback. He accidentally comes upon a situation that might turn into a big-time story: a man is trapped underground at some Indian ruins in New Mexico. Kirk Douglas takes over the situation and cynically twists it into a headline grabber.

Although the Media couldn't admit it out loud, the Chilean miner story turned out to be an anti-climax. As Kirk Douglas said in the movie, Bad News is news; Good News is no news at all. The Chilean miner rescue was so orchestrated with safety precautions, high budgets, teams of experts, and camera-grabbing politicians, that it was as boring as a NASA mission. Worst of all is the psychological hand-holding that the miners will now be insulted with. Where is the real drama that the same story would have had in 1951?

Once again, congratulations to the real-world miners.

Milkweed Season

October is the season for milkweed. Wikipedia has an interesting article on it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Real Brownie for the Boonie?

A camping neighbor enjoys walking his Australian shepherd with Coffee Girl. He asked if I was interested in photography. That was a simple yes/no question, but I had trouble with it.

When I started living in this RV park two years ago I was delighted to have a large field to run my dogs in. But as a former full-time traveler, it seemed boring and unnatural to do anything twice. To put my mind at rest I decided to bring the digital Brownie along and put more effort into looking at the small things that the change of seasons brings along. It has been a successful project.

The neighbor offered to let me borrow his digital SLR Canon camera. He showed me a whole bag of lenses and equipment and a tripod. What if I dropped this camera! As impressive as this was on one level, it was repulsive too. When he tugged on the zippers of the side-pouches, I cringed. Using impedimenta like this would completely change the outdoor experience for me. It would be great for setting up near a bird nest or something stationary like that, but that wasn't my style.

I was trying, but probably failing, to keep an open mind about the DSLR. All of my life I have rolled my eyes at equipment weenies, be they camera snobs, gearheads, computer geeks, audiophiles, etc. What all these people have in common is the psychological need to squander unconscionable sums of money on gadgets, which are really just toys, status symbols, or objects of idolatry to them. They aren't really interested in using these toys for anything.

So I passed on the generous offer of a thousand dollars of SLR equipment.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Front

A front went through recently and produced this. I've never quite seen a cloud development like this.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Too Close to Ignore

Yes, I promised no more curved bill thrashers, but this bird landed three steps away and held the pose. Love those eyes.

Green Goes Splat

Let's make a guess how Media consumers are reacting to the SplatterGate video or to lesser known videos of that genre, put out by Green organizations.
  1. NPR and the BBC watchers don't know what I'm talking about.
  2. Mainstream Media watchers have heard of Splattergate, but it was dismissed as unimportant.
  3. Internet addicts are screaming bloody murder about it: the biggest news since ClimateGate.
I had a strong reaction to the video but for a different reason: I like classic books as a context for many topics, and by chance I was rereading a mid-20th-century classic, "the god that failed," ed. Richard Crossman. That book contained the testimonials of some well known ex-Communists about their psychology during their Communist years. Thus my sensitivity to Authoritarianism was at a peak when I watched the video.

The Green belief system only partially overlaps with other Authoritarian belief systems of the 20th century. The latter were studiously unsentimental. In contrast the Greens are mawkishly sentimental about all of nature except the animal species known as homo sapiens.

What the video did for me was expose the Authoritarianism that usually lies just under the sentimental surface of the Green belief system. (It must have been a relief for them to expose it.) I've run into individual Greens who showed this tendency. I am not a hater; but those individuals were the few that I've met in my life who were really worthy of hate. I wonder if other anti-Greens became so, for the same reason.

At any rate I don't believe the Green organization about being surprised that people were so offended by their video. They were media-savvy people who probably succumbed to the old adage that, in show business, there is no such thing as bad publicity.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Defiant Ones

Dixxe wondered about letting a miniature poodle wander off leash. Well in hindsight, I wouldn't of course. But there's always a trade-off between quantity and quality of life with pets, and the best we can do is hit some reasonable balance and hope it works out.

At age 15.5 years, he is slowing down and sleeps most of the time of course. If an older pet spends 10 minutes a day doing something other than sleeping -- exciting stuff like eating, pooping, and peeing -- that adds up to 61 hours of "life" per year. But out in the field he prances and explores like the little poodle that I remember. Maybe seeing him get old is harder on me than him.


So it seemed worthwhile to tolerate higher risk in order to enjoy some life while he still could. It was after all private property inside the city limits, and my larger dog, Coffee Girl, swept the field free of critters before the little poodle went across it. We only saw coyotes three times in 1800 walks in that field, over a two year period.

But the Wiley One fooled me. The little poodle typically leads the way back home since he tires first. The damned coyote was waiting on this return trip, when I least expected him.

Once I posted about Harley riders: how much I used to dislike them for their noise and ridiculous affectations. But then I started to appreciate that a 60-year-old who falls in love with a new sport is taking advantage of the opportunities that he still has, while there's still time, and that is worth the risk. That's pretty much what was happening in the field.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dancing with Wolves, part 1

The coolness during our morning walks is really enjoyable. If only there were some place that had ten months of autumn, and two months of suffering, just to remind you how lucky you are most of the time. The autumn patterns with flowers, seedheads, and migrational birds seem a little different from last year. One yellow flower has taken over the field, so I stopped to photograph it:

But I never really finished the photo-op. There was a "hurt animal" sound nearby that sounded like my little poodle. I charged off in that direction, while yelling as loud as possible. I saw what looked like the back end of a coyote run off toward the main arroyo. I didn't see his head, but assumed that he was carrying off my little poodle to kill and eat in a minute.
 
The worst thing was knowing that my actions in the first few seconds might have life-or-death consequences, but I could only guess what to do. If only the little poodle wasn't such a non-barker! I looked for him in the direction that the coyote had run. In a minute we saw the coyote on the other side of the arroyo, staring back at us with an arrogant and bold look, somewhat like a coyote that I photographed at an animal shelter a couple years ago:


But why didn't he have my little poodle in his mouth? At any rate my younger coyote-sized dog, Coffee Girl, charged across the main arroyo and chased the coyote out of the neighborhood. Good girl! Isn't it amazing how even lovey-dovey dogs can turn on the ferocity when it is needed, as this photo of her a year ago shows:



Since the little poodle has fooled me before with miraculous survival stories -- see the "Sad Story at Book Cliffs" tab at the top of the screen -- I decided to walk towards home. Who knows?!

Just before crossing a secondary arroyo and entering the RV park proper, I couldn't believe what I saw: the little poodle was staggering to cross it. In the first couple seconds I could see blood on his leg, but there was no blood spurting out of an artery, no guts falling out of the abdomen. For the first time in his life, he seemed happy to be carried. When I got him home he collapsed on the rug outside my RV:


The most visible wound in the photo, on his back, was not deep and wasn't bleeding much. The more dangerous two wounds were on the throat, close to the carotid artery. But the coyote had missed. It was a relief to see steady breathing.

My neighbor in the RV park is a retired veterinary technician, who has quite a few supplies for her own dogs. She was generous enough to come over and shave off and dress the wounds with antiseptic, so he would be ready for the vet on Monday morning. My mood improved by the second as she worked away. Maybe even the little poodle could tell he was under expert care that he needed, because he was the perfect little patient, standing there.


His recovery is proceeding well.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Field-burst


Didn't I promise recently to renounce grassy texture photos on this blog? Well, I lied.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Nice Little Family



Every couple days we see this horseman, followed by a free-ranging adult horse and a sprightly colt, who gets visibly bigger every week. I wonder if they are all the same family? When a horse runs, it really is a beautiful animal.

Quinn on the Consumers

If only I had a nickel for every hour I've wasted on the internet, reading junk. Now and then an article seems really worthwhile, and it's fun to advertise it. James Quinn might be the last of the Puritans; his attitude about the American debt culture is more moralistic and scolding than mine, if such a thing is possible. 

But what if a person's values or political views are different? The article might still be worth reading since it is an antidote to thinking that 1980-2005 is the "normal" we are destined to return to. 
"In the good old days, before the advent of the credit card in 1969, Americans saved up to buy a house, a car, or an appliance. Consumer expenditures as a percentage of GDP stayed in a range of 61% to 64% from 1960 until 1980. This range was reflective of a balanced economy that provided good paying wages to blue collar workers who produced products that were sold in the US and in foreign countries. What a concept. America ran a trade surplus. The financial industry did not drive the economy, they provided financing for businesses that wanted to grow and produce. Sounds quaint. As the Boomers entered their 30s in the early 1980s the easy credit delusion, promoted by Wall Street and the mainstream marketing machine, convinced the spoiled materialistic Boomers that wealth was measured in cool stuff rather than accumulated savings invested over time. Consumer spending as a percentage of GDP surged from 62% to 70% over the next two decades."
I agree with what Quinn implies: that the Boomer/Yuppie generation is the Worst Generation. It is a generation of overgrown financial-children.