Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Compassion and Control

Immediately after spouting off, I regretted it. Outside the college library a fellow had merely asked about my heavy breathing and whether I needed assistance. With a scowl on my face and voice I pointed out that I had just bicycled up one of the steepest hills in town.

The poor fellow must have gone away thinking that no good deed goes unpunished. What was it that caused me to react so ungratefully to his apparent kindness and concern? Perhaps whenever I am on a college campus I feel a latent hostility that always boils just below the surface, and it takes little to set it off.

Meanwhile, off in the big world, liberal interventionists are bombing away in the name of humanitarianism. The commentariat is struggling to make sense of liberal interventionism and nation-building as a type of muscular social work.

Is there a relationship between these two examples of meddling do-goodism: one a micro-version, the other a macro-version?

Many people have noticed that the transition is pretty quick and easy between a liberal's "caring and concern" and her coercion.

Do liberals ever ask themselves why they should have greater powers of empathy than anyone else? Which gene did they inherit that gives them greater capacity in this regard? The amount of genuine compassion that can be generated by a normal human being is quite limited. Recall your Boswell:
JOHNSON. 'Sir it is affectation to pretend to feel the distress of others, as much as they do themselves. It is equally so, as if one should pretend to feel as much pain while a friend's leg is cutting off, as he does.'
Nor is this a bad thing. The world has so much suffering in it that too much empathy would cause us to always be miserable.

But the liberal does affect to feel more sympathy for the world's suffering than the average slob does, thus showing her moral superiority. Combine that with her mental superiority (which should be obvious to everybody) and she is left with a social duty to help other people even if they don't want her help. Thus compassion morphs into coercion. Perhaps it is even true that the more violent the coercion the more validated her superiority becomes.

Ordinarily the real world restrains liberals' helpfulness, which must be frustrating to them. But during foreign interventions they can finally break free.  At last liberals are free to act as good as they are, free of apologies, and free of suspicions about their motives. Finally the intelligent people get to win. And if people don't like it, they can just blow the little morons up. What an emotional relief that must be.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Foreign Policy

It is rare pleasure to say something good about the Media. Lately I've been enjoying the high quality articles in the magazine, Foreign Policy, which I access through . Today it offers an editorial about Syria which really teaches the reader something. Precious.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Volunteer Work

People who succeed at turning volunteer work into a nice part of their lives should give the rest of us advice. What is their secret?

For the second time I signed up to work on the continental divide trail, and then canceled out. It is frustrating. I'm not blaming them. Organizations such as the Forest Service or the trail association have their ways of doing things; cantankerous, independent people (like me) don't like being told how to do things. It's not that I'm unwilling to be a team player or to defer to any kind of supervision. But I just seem unwilling or unable to allow anyone else to impose their schedule or calendar on me; it seems like a type of rape.

If so, then it is an example of how my fears were right all those years about early retirement and full time RVing undermining my moral character!

The bigger the organization, the more likely it is to have some salaried, 30-year-old, volunteer coordinator who sits in a cubicle in front of her computer, playing with Powerpoint, and generating tons of informational detritus. Imposing rules and calendars on the lowly volunteers probably gives her a feeling of real power and control.

But do I really know all this, or am I just projecting my anti-bureaucratic prejudices onto the situation?

Anyway, this is a defeat for me. If a fellow doesn't make friends doing things he loves, then a totally solitary life results. Suffering disappointment or working around it is part of any job, and being independent is a job or profession. It is not a romantic, escapist vacation.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Endless War on Another Planet

What can you say about a town in which all the car bumpers have the same stickers? On a recent ride through the Little Pueblo I noticed a bumper sticker that was cracked and sun-faded: "God Bless the Whole World. No Exceptions." This slogan was almost obligatory in this town, and I agreed with them. Presumably the bumper sticker was intended to be a refutation of those "God Bless America" bumper stickers that Fox News listeners installed after 9-11.

Once again this got me rolling my eyes at the hypocrisy of the anti-war Left. The cracked and sun-faded bumper sticker was installed during the Bush II Imperium; the New Mexico sun had finally taken its toll. Why weren't all the "anti-war" people in town installing new bumper stickers with anti-war slogans, now that the Afghanistan war has become longer than Viet Nam? Why weren't they holding a protest march or a candlelight vigil because of the Libyan invasion? What about America's great ally Saudi Arabia and their invasion of Bahrain? We all know why.

In Colorado during Bush's last year I went to a couple meetings of a local anti-war group. Do you think that group officially disbanded in January of 2009? Everybody at the meeting was a leftist stereotype, except me, so I kept my mouth shut on political subjects other than war. 

Of course there is plenty of hypocrisy from the other side of the aisle. It is quite amazing how anti-interventionist George Will has become recently. There are even a few Tea Party guys whose fealty to the United States Constitution goes as far as objecting to presidentially-declared wars. I suspect most of this crowd wouldn't say boo if a Republican was in the White House right now. 

Recently I rewatched an episode from Star Trek, the original series. (The episode, "A Taste of Armageddon," can be streamed for free from Hulu dot com.) The Enterprise steps accidentally into a 500-year war between two planets. Computers  simulated "hits", which declared people in the stricken area to be official casualties. Then they had 24 hours to walk into a disintegration chamber that turned them into real casualties. In this way War -- or in modern parlance, "kinetic military actions" -- caused only death, while minimizing discomfort to their material civilization. Captain Kirk showed them that it was this discomfort that caused people to actually end wars. 

This episode is not exactly analogous with our present form of Permanent War, but there's enough for me to see the episode as prescient and brilliant.

Friday, March 25, 2011

No Free Lunch from Google

Recently I've had trouble in the New Post editing window when user blogger (blogspot). It didn't show the editing icons (font, bold, italics, etc.), which made it harder to post of course. An associated blog ( got me started with the Help capability of blogger. Normally I give up on such things before giving them a fair chance.

The solution didn't come from tech thinking; it came from "cui bono" paranoia: I've always been afraid that if internet users get hooked on freebies from Google, they would sabotage adblocking capabilities, since ads are how Google rakes in obscene profits. (I use the Firefox browser with AdBlock Plus.)

Paranoia is useful sometimes: I guessed that I should turn off AdBlock Plus on the page in question, which is one of the options on the pull-down menu of AdBlock Plus. Sure enough, the editing icons showed up again: problem solved.

Shame on me for expecting a free blogging service, free Picasa photo-editing, and free Picasa web albums that integrate with everything else. Oh yea, and free Google maps and who knows what else. And then I reward them with suspicion. Recall that scene in The Godfather when Don Corleone convened the other families to call a truce, after Sonny got assassinated. His rival said, "Of course Don Corleone is entitled to make a fair profit for these services [legal protection, etc.]. After all, we are not Communists." The gangsters all sniggered.

Neither am I. I wouldn't even complain if simple, non-flashing, non-lewd, print ads showed up in the margin of my blog. But when ads become obtrusive like in television or they flash at you on the internet, it's war. God help us if Google ever sucks us into using their Chrome browser.

Advice to the DVD Movie Industry

As long as I'm telling the book publishers how to run their business, the DVD movie industry might as well get some advice too. I know of no industry that illustrates Thoreau's classic words, better:
" with a hundred "modern improvements"; there is an illusion about them; there is not always a positive advance...
Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York. We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate."

First off, the "step up" from regular DVDs to Blue-Ray discs is non-value-added if all it gets the consumer is more pixels and higher resolution. A regular DVD and LCD screen are flat-out gorgeous; nothing more needs to be done; the point of diminishing returns has been reached; mission accomplished.

But oh no, they have to give us higher resolution Blue-Ray discs so our computers, TV screens, and players are rendered obsolete and we are forced to buy a menagerie of new toys.

I wonder if higher resolution Blue-Ray discs degrade sooner or easier than lower resolution DVDs. It seems that they would. No doubt, that is exactly what the industry intends.

Meanwhile there is genuine progress that could be made on disks. Making an interesting commentary track needs to become an art, instead of being so ad hoc and unprofessional.

More importantly there is something analogous to the improvements needed for books that I posted on a couple days ago: the viewer should be able to push one button to blank out the talking in the movie so that he can just listen to the soundtrack. Let's face it, the dialogue in most movies is uninteresting drivel. When the soundtrack isn't doing anything interesting, the talking could be allowed to come through. Granted this improvement is aimed towards customers like me who use movies as sleeping pills or as white noise to drown out the roar of diesel pickup trucks a half mile away.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Keynes and Qaddafi

What was it, the next day after the earthquake and tsunami that Keynesian market commentators began licking their chops over how these disasters would actually help the Japanese economy, because of all the stimulus spending and quantitative easing? That was their knee-jerk reaction, despite Japan's stimulus spending since 1990, which produced two lost decades.

It's funny that they didn't use the same argument about the international invasion of Libya and all the ensuing destruction and civil war. After all, if you subscribe to the broken-window-fallacy, what difference does it make whether you throw a rock through somebody's window, or use a ball instead?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Doing Dishes the Old-fashioned Way

The other day a friend got me thinking how far out of the mainstream we both were for never owning a dishwashing machine in our lives. But see what we'd be missing?

This was deja vu for me: three fellow cyclists and I were having lunch one day, in the middle of a Saturday ride. It was humorous the way we all realized at the same time that we were sitting with a whole table-full of kooks who didn't even own a television.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How to Revive a Reader

This morning I remonstrated with a woman who has long practiced a book-besotted lifestyle. She even refuses to apologize for it, and as we all know, getting people to admit that they have a problem is half the battle. I fear she is irredeemable since she resists all of my efforts to improve her. (It's their job to improve us, you know.)

In contrast to this sad story I'd like to report a small success in the book world. I am in the habit of downloading classic books as text files from sites online, and then editing the crap out of them. Basically that means deletion, but it wouldn't have to.

There is a profound and exciting difference between editing a book and merely reading it, since the latter is mechanical tedium more than anything else. It's high time that we did something fundamental and truly revolutionary with all this information technology. I am currently finishing the second iteration of abridging Boswell's Life of Johnson. It will be difficult to bring it in smaller than 125 pages.

Here is a business idea for somebody like iBooks or Amazon. Gadgets like Kindle are a great innovation, but they are underutilized if they merely reproduce or imitate the dead tree book experience. These gadgets and their software should be smart enough to offer Lite (abridged) versions of classic lumber.

Just think of all the good stuff that is neglected because it is too wordy or contains sections that are irrelevant to the modern reader. The eBook gadget owner should merely have to push one button to download the abridged version, produced by... well... somebody like me, who is paid a six figure salary to edit the classic books.

Old books are dead books commercially. They are available for free in libraries or for a small fee at musty ol' used bookstores. How can the publishing industry make money off of them other than by putting them in collections with dignified hard covers, and then sell them as furniture for people's living rooms? A customer is getting something for his money if he buys the abridgments from a company that has developed a good reputation. The abridgment is a differentiated product. It is high value-added.

Why Was Ma Bell Broken Up?

Now that ATT and T Mobile are planning on merging, and the American market becomes dominated by two wireless telephone companies, I have to ask why the government ever bothered to break up Ma Bell back in the 1980s. It didn't have a total monopoly back then: there was GTE as well as numerous local carriers. Besides, Ma Bell was regulated as a utility.

It seems like we've come full circle.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Shock and Awe, Chapter 4

Once again American taxpayers are getting a chance to see all the shiny toys and weapons that their billions have paid for, while generals give slide shows of how accurate they are. Such great television! Isn't war fun -- it's just like playing a video game. (Meanwhile, in the AfPak theater of operations, the highest-tech weapon of all, the drone, kills boys gathering firewood. But that's yesterday's news.)

It is infuriating to watch all the air-time that BBC and CNN are giving the Gadhafy regime. Why do they even bother to listen to its lies? On a purely technical level you have to admire how well the Gadhafy regime has learned to convert the Media into a lapdog. Apparently they have been studying the American government during this era of 7 and 24 news, when a successful news biz or career depends on access to government officials everyday.

They say that a culture is defined by the questions it never even thinks to ask. If so, how does that apply here? Obviously, only a crank or kook would bother to ask whether the United Nations' own charter authorizes military action against internal, civil wars in member countries. Only kookier cranks ask why Congress no longer declares war; in this case there wasn't even a funding enabler bill passed.

But what is the most fundamental societal belief that never gets talked about, during these reality-television wars? Life and death, freedom, democracy, torture, and all the other shibboleths are only superficialities. My answer is: zero down payment. Put it on the ol' national credit card.

How about an instant surcharge tax at the gasoline pump to pay for it day by day? The issue of cost would never come up to any sane, well-adjusted, mainstream American. So off we go, merrily bombing our way into our fourth tax and sacrifice-free, sub-prime war in the Middle East.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Playing Hard to Get

It's natural for a beautiful girl dog's thoughts to turn to Love with the spring weather we've been having lately. My kelpie, Coffee Girl, has a new playmate in the morning: a French Brittany spaniel, named Jake. (How declasse'.) I've never seen her act so silly before; she runs alongside him, licking his face. When he stops, she pushes the side of her body against his. A lot of good it does her. Jake is a (hunting) workaholic who has no time to waste on romantic nonsense.

He has another quirk besides this: he picked up a cholla thorn the other day. His owner had to hold him down, while I pulled the two thorns out. They barely required any pulling, yet he howled bloody murder about it. I couldn't resist giggling.

On our bike ride to town we saw an impressive, medium-sized, brown hawk that flew only five feet off the ground. A half dozen times I almost got my camera out, but he wouldn't cooperate. What a tease! It had a conspicuous transverse white stripe on the tail. It's funny how territorial hawks can be. 

Closer to town we once again saw the only butterfly that I've seen this spring: large and black, with a light yellow transverse stripe on the rearward edge of the wing. I've come so close to photographing these guys, but not quite!

Finally we reached the usual coffee shop downtown, where one of the handsomest dogs in the world was relaxing with his human companion. Smokey is a mixed breed from the animal shelter. He has the good looks and star quality to get a gig doing dog food commercials. But he growls if Coffee Girl approaches him. What's a girl to do?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Rare Praise for the Mainstream Media

This blog makes pinatas out of government and the mainstream media (and about ten other things) so often that some readers might be tired of the "cynicism". Very well then, for the sake of being Fair and Balanced, let's take a second to praise and publicize somebody in the mainstream media for writing something sensible. From the AP we have "Why Inflation Hurts More Than it did 30 Years Ago". I was impressed by this article. Usually the mainstream media just... well, let's not even get into that today.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rites of Spring

A prudent cyclist either road-rides with a club or mountain bikes as an individual. It's my intention to mountain bike as long as I can -- into May hopefully. On one of our first 70 degree days I was mountain biking up a hilly paved road, up to the Continental Divide. Near the top a young female cyclist was resting; she wanted to know if I'd seen a friend of hers on the hill somewhere.

My goodness, it is amazing what an effect well-sculpted spandex can have on the male brain and body, even one as old as mine. I stood outside my own body and sniggered at myself. My attitude about female beauty is out of the mainstream, when compared to stereotypical nature lovers, those nice folks with the Tilley hat, wrinkled skin, binoculars, and zippered nylon khaki pants. ("Nice" was meant seriously, of course.) The subject is curiously uncomfortable around them; almost taboo actually. Where do they get such an odd and inconsistent viewpoint?

I've often been interested in explaining this: I once ran into a bicycle tourist in Baja California. He was headed back to the USA. His most precious cargo was a paperback copy of Thoreau's Walden. He was in his late twenties, and seemed to be a thoughtful, soul-searching sort of young man. When we started discussing Walden, I mentioned that I had read it several times, and couldn't remember Thoreau ever mentioning a pretty girl, which seemed odd to me since they are as much a part of Nature as pretty sunsets, butterflies, and flowers. He had no response.

Thoreau didn't mention pretty girls as part as nature because he wasn't really interested in nature Herself; rather, he was a product of decayed and frustrated Puritan New England, which was looking for a new religion. The Transcendentalist coterie finally found Salvation in Abolitionism.

Switching over to another famous Henry of New England ... a scion of the famous Adams family of Boston and Quincy, young Henry Adams was accompanying his father on a Washington DC political gig just before the Civil War. In his Education of Henry Adams, he recalls:
Life was not yet complicated. Every problem had a solution, even the negro. The boy [how Henry Adams referred to himself] went back to Boston more political than ever, and his politics were no longer so modern as the eighteenth century, but took a strong tone of the seventeenth. Slavery drove the whole Puritan community back on its Puritanism. The boy thought as dogmatically as though he were one of his own ancestors. The Slave power took the place of Stuart kings and Roman popes. Education could go no further in that course, and ran off into emotion;
The modern nature lover sees everything in nature as Perfect except homo sapiens, who alone of all the animal species has known Sin. The universe is a Dualism to them: virtually all of nature is on the side of Good; homo sapiens alone represents the principle of Evil. Thus Evil includes pretty young girls. Even dogs are Evil, not because they are canids but because they belong to a human.

Anyway, the next day I switched over to my road bike; I hadn't ridden it since early October. The road bicycle is so light and fast compared to that ol' tractor-like mountain bike. I dressed in bike shorts instead of pants. It felt so strange to expose skin, instead of cowering underneath sweaty layers. But I had to do something new. Something had to be reborn to celebrate spring.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Smartphone App for Not Losing a Son

Consider how easy it is to be a member of the amateur commentariat. No wonder we don't get paid for it. Then again, look at how easy it is to be an amateur anything: you only do what you want, when you are in the mood to do it.

What a remarkable talent it must be to be a novelist, and to put yourself into other people's heads and hearts. I will never be able to do that well. The extreme difficulty of doing this was brought home to me today.

The local bicycle email group notified us of a cycle touring guy who was going through the Little Pueblo, trying to raise awareness of the dangers of texting while driving. His college-age son had been killed recently on his bicycle by a distracted driver who was paying more attention to texting than driving. Most of the local cyclists were out of town for a special race, so I am the only one who rode out halfway to escort him in, to honor him and his cause.

He was some kind of medical doctor, and a very personable fellow, easy to talk to. A local rider was hosting him overnight. All three of us went out to lunch.

What does a man who has no children, like me, say to a father who has unexpectedly lost his son in the bloom of youth? He must have it harder than, say, parents who lose a son in a war, since they are aware of the possibility than their soldier won't come back, and they know that other parents are going through the same thing.

We've all made the mistake of giving a speech to console somebody about death in the family. No sooner than the words get out of your mouth than you realize how banal the platitudes sound, as if they are just cliches from a mass-produced Hallmark Card.

Grief doesn't want to be blunted before its natural cycle is over, no matter how good your intentions. I've made that mistake once or twice and was surprised at how nasty the reception was.

But it frustrated me to just give up like that. I was tempted to invite him to see something tomorrow which I think would mean something to me if I was in his shoes. (But since I'm probably wrong, I will leave the man alone.)

In the old mining area overlooking the Little Pueblo there is a vertical mineshaft that has been covered with steel mesh. It has taken me two years to find it. A bicyclist can ride over mesh. It is a "dare" that we tease visitors with. You could also walk into the middle, lie down, and stare into the abyss. This would make quite an impression on anybody, but especially on those of us who freak out when they see mine shafts going into the ground.

If I were this father I imagine -- probably incorrectly -- that at noon I would walk out into the middle, lie down on my stomach, and look down into the terrifying vertical shaft, while imagining what lies beyond what I can see. Then I'd drop a smartphone with my son's phone number into the mine shaft. How many seconds would you hear nothing? Then it would bang the side and go into a fast spin. Then another bang, and another, each one growing fainter. Finally, silence. Then I would scream as loud as possible, until I ran out of breath or injured my throat. 

I'd never really know whether the smartphone broke while it was still falling, or whether it reached the bottom of the mineshaft first. And there must be a bottom, with the shaft and with Grief.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Aren't Tear Gas and Bullets Obsolete?

It wasn't so long ago that I mused in a speculative way on uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. I didn't really think it was going to turn out to be so BIG! Tomorrow a protest is scheduled for the Big Enchilada, Saudi Arabia. Is this the End? Will lightning strike twice? My guess is that the Saudi protest will stay somewhat subdued.

Isn't shooting protesters rather old-fashioned and unnecessary? It creates martyrs. The next day there is a public funeral, and the mob is itching for revenge. Maybe a reader knows how it works when they non-violently arrest a protester. Aren't you required to have your national identification card with you at all times in most countries? So they know who you are, and then enter that number into the computer. You are marked for life.

Many of the protesters are young. Do they expect to ever get a government job someday? And that's the biggest part of the economy these days, directly or indirectly. 

Even if the protesters' side won eventually, wouldn't a police record be a disadvantage, with all the unemployment? Successful revolutionaries are likely to become reactionary and repressive once they get in power. At the very least, the boss should suspect the rock-throwing youngster as being likely to hang around the office coffee pot and complain about the boss.

What about college loans, small business loans to open a pita shop, home loans, or health care. A black mark against you, held forever in the computer, means that the government could threaten you in any number of ways. So why does it need to shoot anybody?

So maybe protesters leave their national IDs at home on the big day and can't be identified. But that strikes at the heart of the regime. You'd think people who committed that unthinkable crime would be imprisoned for years.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Chihuahua Hill

On our standard winter bicycle ride we pass this house on a steep street up to Chihuahua Hill. There's something about the curvature in that front porch that grabs my eye as I grind away on the mountain bike.

Maybe it just shows how some people's brains are geometrically oriented.

Towards the end of the ride we were at the usual coffee shop, enjoying a sunny wind-break from the building. A retired couple -- visitors from Juneau -- were asking me about the Little Pueblo. It was an innocent question and they probably wondered why they were being punished by having to listen to five times as many opinions as they really needed to hear. But I was delighted that they liked the funkiness of New Mexico, which is quite a contrast to the boring architecture in the other Four Corner states.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Drilling for the Truth about Oil

If anyone knows of a particularly good website that specializes in energy, please let me know. So far, the ones that I've read have too much ideological baggage. You know the drill (ahem): Peak Oil, instead of being based on petroleum engineering or economics, gets used as an apocalyptic prophecy of divine retribution visited upon mankind for living in Sin with SUVs and big pickups.

It was astonishing to read that Saudi Arabia's oil reserves might be 40% lower than they have claimed in the past. It took Wikileaks to uncover this? And he is being hounded as a criminal? What the heck was the mainstream corporate media doing the last few decades if they never got around to revealing this (if it's true).

I have seen graphs of oil production from Mexico; it is falling so fast that they might not even be oil exporters in seven years. Since oil revenues used to fund a large part of the Mexican government, just imagine the millions of desperate Mexican refugees at the American border by the end of this decade.

Another problem with energy websites is that they over-sell green energy, which is mostly just Buddhist physics, central planning, crony capitalism, and hippie-dippie sentimentalism. I am more interested in the opinions of people with real engineering backgrounds.

Recently I was reading the entertaining (environmentalist) rants at I even agree with him sometimes. Once he encouraged the reader to imagine all the wealth, houses, roads, automobile culture, etc., in America that have no future, since the cheap oil era is ending. Have no future -- those words really struck me. Perhaps you have to be a truck driver or a full time RVer to be so affected, since they can think back to all the highways they've covered, all the ranchettes 20 miles from the job, and all the strip malls.

From time to time I do find informative articles on various websites about energy. The link is one of the best, although I have mixed feelings about the blog. (Too emotional and political.)

My goodness, we've been kicking the energy "can" down the road since 1973. We've made no progress. Will the current problems in the Middle East finally force us to get sane and serious?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Silent Spring

There are definitely times of the year when it is good to live in the highlands of southern New Mexico, weather-wise that is. But you always lose on something. Mother Nature is rather bleak in spring here. The plants and flowers go crazy in September after the monsoon season, rather than in spring. Basically spring is good for longer daylight, warmer temperatures, and high winds.

The texture of fields gets pretty beaten down by late winter and spring. It does not green up. That's why I took this photo: here was a spot that was holding its beauty all the way through a cold winter. 

What's so beautiful about it, you might be asking? Well it is beautiful, in context. Of course, photographs don't give the seasonal or temporal context of anything, and that's probably why I will always be in the Edward Abbey school of camera haters.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Comment Gadget Dropped

As much as I appreciate comments, I had to drop the Recent Comments gadget that sits in the margin because the comment text wouldn't show up in this new design. I played around with the template designer, but couldn't get it to work. If anyone has any ideas, let me know.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Dancing with Wolves, part 3

This morning my dog, Coffee Girl, and I got off to an early start, riding down to a grassy ridge which features a 360 degree view. Following that I planned to drop her off back at the RV and then to finish the bicycle ride on my own. Halfway down the field I lost track of her. I stopped and turned around. Where the heck was she?

Then I saw her streaking down the trail towards me, and at maximum speed. It was impressive and beautiful, but something was wrong. Two coyotes were in hot pursuit. The leader got within 50 meters of me before he noticed me charging him on the mountain bike.

He quickly turned away from the trail. In the tall grass I couldn't chase him down. He did the usual: he ran to the back side of a juniper bush until he could just see me through the branches. How wary and observant they are! 

I am really getting to hate coyotes but until I think of a way to vanquish them, I must settle for fantasies: imagine dragging its carcass behind my mountain bike and riding triumphantly across the field, like Achilles did to Hector's body, in front of the topless towers of Ilium.

Coffee Girl was unharmed. Thank goodness she has enough sense to run back to Papa when she is in danger. She was in a good mood today, having enjoyed the excitement perhaps.

Later I finished my own bicycle ride and was relaxing at the usual coffee shop; I had a nice conversation with a couple of hikers who had just finished a hike in the national forest. They were good people, yet I felt estranged from them as I always do around "nature lovers" who see Nature as a postcard. They do their best to find an intermediary between themselves and Nature: they use heels and cameras. But they lack a dog as the ultimate psychological stepping stone.

On the ride home a car beeped needlessly when it was exactly even with me, even though I was doing everything right. As usual I tried to see this as an advantage: a reminder of risk and thus a partial remedy against the complacency that goes along with not encountering a jerk for several months.

The same thing happens on my dog-walks in the grassy field. I hadn't seen a coyote since one attacked my little poodle last autumn. This is the first time I've ever seen two working as a team. This caused a certain complacency to seep in. What an insidious thing complacency is; you are unaware of it until it is almost too late. Maybe I should tie a bell around Coffee Girl's collar and call her back when she gets too far away.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Good Union, Bad Union (part 1)

Political discussions are best when there is ambivalence in the situation, the writer, or the readers. There is an opportunity to discuss unions on that level, although so far, the discussion of the Wisconsin public unions has been bitterly partisan. You can be against overpaying public unions -- primarily in the form of pensions and benefits -- and still see a constructive purpose for unions in the private sector and in the right industries.

The worst part of the discussion so far should offend everyone, regardless of how friendly they are to unions. Democrats are trying to compare public sector unions in Wisconsin to genuine freedom fighters in North Africa and the Middle East. Why? Just because they are having demonstrations?

In the Middle East protesters are risking their lives. They are trying to overthrow an oppressive regime and build a new country. In contrast, the public sector unions in Wisconsin are trying to preserve the status quo, in which they are a privileged caste compared to the thralls in the private sector who pay their salaries.

On a different level, the discussions have been full of silly anachronisms. I almost expected Democrats to trot out old folk songs from the Wobbly (International Workers of the World) era. Let's see, how does it go: union man, union man...something or other...a full lunch can? Then there's the old song about the Peabody Coal company in Harlan County, Kentucky. (?) My memory is rusty. How about stories of Pinkerton scabs breaking the heads of strikers. There is a venerable romance about Union Man fighting the evil capitalist exploiter. There is some truth underlying this mythology; but it has nothing to do with public sector unions in Wisconsin.

In my own neck of the woods there is a movie called "Salt of the Earth": a romance about exploited Mexican or Indian miners a couple generations ago, in the local copper mines. Modern elitist Democrats love to trot this movie out when they want to remind everyone that they own the high moral ground. 

What they won't mention is that if he/she had their way, the copper mine would be closed altogether for environmental reasons. (Electric cars and windmills don't need any copper, you know.) Not paying high enough wages and benefits is exploitation, you see; but wiping the job out altogether is "progressive", as long as it's done for the proper reasons. Presumably the unemployed miners will move to Silicon Valley or Seattle and become highly paid software engineers.

That's enough debunking of the Democrats' posturing. Next episode I'll move on to a different point of view.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Routine Ride (contains obscene cuteness)

(Finally I got the photo op with the pups that I wanted. But say, the litter is getting smaller every day.)

I forgot to bring the camera. How many times have you said that -- and meant it, regretfully, bitterly? My dog, Coffee Girl, and I were doing a routine ride this morning. We were about to enter a large city park that gobbles up a hill where, in olden times, mining got started above the Little Pueblo.

The animal shelter sits at the entrance to the city park. On our side of their building they have a cage that is separate from most of the animal cages, which are on the far side of the building. And in that cage were ten squirming fuzzballs, perhaps two separate litters of puppies. They beckoned us and I surrendered, with little fight.

We've all seen the image before so many times: squirming puppies. It gets used by advertisers on television when the ad wants to soften you up about something. But I've never really experienced such an opportunity before -- not in the flesh. So I stuck my fingers through the chain link fence, and into their holding pen. Every finger was attacked, nibbled, and sucked on. Every two seconds the winners changed. What an absolute free-for-all!

One of the litters was of Australian shepherds, maybe 10 weeks old. They looked like they were wearing little tri-color tuxedos of soft fur.