Friday, April 29, 2011

The Latest Iteration of Folly

Seldom have I benefited more from a boob-toob-less lifestyle than recently, when I was spared the non-stop hype over the royal wedding. Why didn't they put it off a couple months so they could've hit the 30th anniversary of Princess Diana's wedding? (I guess there was a groom, but nobody remembers his name.)

People who worship the false idol of Progress should ask themselves some brutal questions. For forty years women have been liberated, supposedly, and they've all wanted to become hard-boiled district attorneys Monday through Friday; but they still want to be fairy princesses on the weekend, or at least on one "magical" day of their lives. My gawd, did you see that ridiculous "train" or whatever you call it that Princess Kate dragged behind her with the help of an aide. (Lady-in-waiting?)

Perhaps my whole problem is that I'm old enough to remember the world and the media making fools of themselves over Princess Diana. And yet the younger generation thinks that there is something NEW and EXCITING about Kate Middleton. 

The Old did learn something in their lives, but they're never able to pass that wisdom on to their successors. So the Young must learn everything all over again. So is real progress even theoretically possible?

Why do Republics have to turn into Imperiums after the example of ancient Rome? Why do financial bubbles still occur centuries after the Tulip Bulb Mania and the Mississippi Bubble? After the Great War (World War I) why did a new generation have to experience World War II? Why is this decade going to be one of stagflation and deficits, after the lessons of the 1970s?

There was a strange episode in Star Trek: the Next Generation, in which they looped through a disaster a half dozen times. They gradually became aware that they went through this before, and started sending signals to the future iteration, warning them of it. With each iteration the experience changed slightly. Finally, despite maddeningly slow learning, the Future learned to avoid the disaster of the Past. Well, that's the difference between Fact and Fiction.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Is Beauty Ever General?

Dog owners know that one of their urchin's favorite tricks is falling behind on a walk, supposedly due to some worthy distraction. Then they suddenly look up and realize they're too far away. This brings on a mad dash back to their owner; their paws sound as loud as the hooves of a galloping horse. Coffee Girl, my Australian kelpie, pulled that trick this morning.

But something was a little different this time. There was no wind to disperse her dusty contrail. It stayed intact a few feet off the ground and drifted away, ever so slowly. It seemed too solid for anything airborne, perhaps because the rising sun was illuminating the contrail, but not the field proper. It was cruise missile-like; in an earlier era we would have said that it belonged in a Loonie Toons cartoon. The contrail of dust, el camino del polvo, seemed like it was a part of her streaking body. Sigh, if only it had been possible to film a video of this, backlit by the morning sun.

At first I wondered if it was silly to be so affected by such a thing. Shouldn't I be focusing on loftier and more general forms of beauty?

Since I have little appreciation for the Arts, I can only compare this to a couple other things. Imagine a scholar writing a lengthy tome on humor, say, 549 pages with the last 64 pages being footnotes. He might lay out the history of humor, the main categories and sub-categories, and then contrast and compare one type with the other, and one previous author's opinion with another's. But the reader probably won't get much laughing in, while reading the book.

What if Mozart had preferred to write on musical theory instead of actually writing music and melodies. After all, musical notes are just details -- mere applications of his general theory of music.

The same day I saw one of George Will's editorials in a list of rival editorials on realClearPolitics.com. Regardless of whether you agree with his opinions, you couldn't help but notice how much more local and concrete his theme and treatment were, compared to the "big theme" articles of others. He has been writing editorials before some of the others were born. Maybe he has become bored with the Left versus Right shibboleths of the beginners.

One of Montaigne's translators, Donald Frame, praised him for writing with vivid concreteness. Orwell inveighed against generalities, particularly in political discussions. In Democracy in America, volume 2, de Tocqueville warned that general abstractions would overtake Americans in a way that it had not done to Englishmen.

"General" thinkers have a way of posing as great thinkers, advanced thinkers. In fact they are usually lazy thinkers, content with bandying platitudes and slogans that have grown stale. So I will stop thinking that melodies of light and motion, encountered outdoors, are too trivial to notice or write about.

But how do you tell the difference between "vivid concreteness" and picayune trivia?

Day 2


I mountain biked up to a viewpoint on the Continental Divide and looked down at our annual bicycle race, once again using my 10 X zoom. When it comes time to buy a new camera, optical zoom will once again be the priority.

These are the Men's Pro guys going by. Looks like a few are violating the rules of the road.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

They're Back



The annual bicycle race is back in town and today is the first day.
Top) Men's Pro category starts off by heading through downtown.
Bottom) I mountain biked to our public park built over old mining land, and photographed the boys leaving town, headed northwest for 94 miles. I needed the 10X zoom.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Belief System of Cheap Oil

Finally I found a big-picture article on the subject of oil and other resources. I am not terribly familiar with Jeremy Grantham but I do like this article, particularly the second graph, "Exhibit 2", on page 5.

The article is flawed. It is contaminated with standard environmental gloom and doom theology: mankind has been Sinful for living it up, therefore Gaia must punish mankind. I am heartily sick of supposedly intelligent "free-thinkers" taking pride in outgrowing outdated religious traditions intellectually, but then clinging to the most puerile, Sunday-school-kindergarten notions, emotionally. They do everything but suck on their thumbs.

Today let's consider some of the ideas in Grantham's article that seem profoundly true. One of them is that mankind needs to focus on growing qualitatively, rather than quantitatively. That's a big topic for another day.

In opposition to Grantham's environmental gloom-and-doomism, you could choose the so-called optimism of the business community. This is expressed most consistently and dogmatically by Forbes magazine. Good old-fashioned can-do optimism: let's work like hell, think positive, and sell 5% more of Whatever next year.

But is that belief system any more rational than the environmental one? Malthus, the Club of Rome, and Paul Ehrlich have looked pretty wrong. There are grounds for saying that humanity has been remarkably clever about creating new resources and adapting them to our needs. On the other hand these positive developments have taken place over the last 200 years, which is a small fraction of our history.

How do we know that we're going to keep discovering the equivalents of coal and petroleum and a couple other improvements? Maybe we were just lucky a couple times, and the low-hanging fruit has already been picked.

Optimism (or Progress) is a belief system. Like Environmental Theology, it dresses itself up as Science, and tries to win people over with an aura of Inevitability. There is no fundamental law in Science or History that says that more people can enjoy more material goodies, with each succeeding generation, forever and ever, Amen. Entire books have been written on the idea of progress. It is a remarkably recent notion.

I am really interested in which of these two rival belief systems is more adult and rational.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Gasoline and Strange Bedfellows, part 2

Some in the financial commentariat say that Bernanke must stop printing money and weakening the dollar by 2012, or food and gasoline inflation will put Obama out of work.

It does cause me to roll my eyes when I hear (fellow) Obama-bashers use opportunistic arguments like 'Americans need gasoline to get to work.' Well sure, but I wonder what fraction of our passenger-miles in motor vehicles is really about getting to work. I do a lot of bicycling after the morning "rush hour"; how many of those people who pass me are going to work, versus going on an unnecessary shopping trip, or just looking for an excuse to get out of the house? I could be attributing my own slouchy driving habits to other people.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that half of driving is just entertainment, thinly disguised as transportation and phony necessity. Isn't there cheaper entertainment available in this modern age?

If you walked up to the average gasoline pump, where a driver is staring with disbelief at the numbers rolling by, and asked, "How much do you spend per mile to buy, finance, insure, license, repair, and depreciate your Brontosaurus?", would he even venture to guess the order of magnitude?

The AAA estimate was updated recently, but gasoline has gone up even more since they did their estimate. They came up with 59 cents per mile. On average, people drive 15,000 miles per year; so they piss away $8600 per year on the ol' brontosaurus. Just imagine if, instead of the hyped-up gadgets for cars these days, you had a large-display meter like a taxicab has, showing you the dollars evaporating in front of your face as you drive 15 miles to the Walmart to save a few cents on store-brand paper towels and elbow macaroni.

I do wish that Small-Government partisans (my folks, usually) would stop deifying the automobile. If my informants are telling the truth, gasoline taxes only pay for 20-25% of the cost of highways; the rest is paid by general funds. Therefore, the average righteous, freedom-loving, motorist is a bit of a welfare queen. (As opposed to bicyclists who are 100% welfare queens.)

Did automotive-freedom-loving Libertarians ever stop to consider that under-taxing gasoline and having toll-free highways makes motoring America's most socialist institution? And that's not even taking Government Motors (GM) into account.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Allegro non Troppo on a City Street

Today I was bicycling up a street where I usually get lucky at seeing dog walkers. A woman, with some kind of physical problem, was riding her electrical cart up the street. On her curb side, at a distance of three feet, ran her canine companion. His gait was happy, but steady.

At first I went into mooning-and-swooning mode over a happy dog. But this was just habit. It wasn't accurate for this particular dog. He was happy certainly, but not ebullient, as I've come to expect. He was too earnest and professional. Did his owner think she was doing her little friend a favor by letting him run with her, or was he concentrating on doing her the favor? Maybe she realized that her physical problem could be turned to advantage with the electrical cart; most dogs just get tied up in the backyard. I don't think I really appreciated his special type of aura before today: one beyond mere fun, one of responsibility and purposeful effort.

Later on the ride I ascended the draw separating two parallel ridgelines, on their way up to the ponderosa forests. The early morning sun was backlighting the cottonwood leaves. Normally I don't care too much for these trees; they are the water-wasting sybarites of the streams and dry washes of the arid West. But today they were showy Lolita-like teases with the light-greenness that new leaves have only in spring.

In a couple hours I was back home in siesta mode, listening to the allegro non troppo -- fast, but not too fast -- movement of Beethoven's violinkonzerto. Dissolving into the semi-conscious bliss of an after-lunch nap, I smiled thinking about the same qualities in that dog today.

No wonder music lovers have no real use for pretty scenery of the postcard kind: it isn't musical.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Perspectives, Walking, and Tall Buildings

In moving to a retirement town someone who has read a lot over his lifetime might be influenced by good bookstores or university libraries. But that restricts retirees to a small number of cities. How fortunate we are that the internet and eBook gadgets liberate us from such geographical strictures. 

My own town of choice, the Little Pueblo of the southern New Mexico highlands, has a small public university. The library's book collection is disappointing; I've learned to turn that to advantage. When walking through the stacks and not finding anything to read, it's easy to feel frustration develop into surliness; then I walk to the lower numbers in the book numbering scheme. 

These are the books of general philosophy and historical overview. They are in the last, northernmost row. I pick out one of these books of the Big Picture, and carry it over to large, tinted windows facing north to the ponderosa covered mountains. The stacks are on the second story of a small campus situated on a hill, so the view from these marvelous windows puts the reader into the right mood. He cares only about the broad sweeps of human history. What a marvelous perspective!

(As much as the architectural glass and the pretty view deserve credit, the thing that really makes it work is the discipline of deliberately torturing yourself first, and then feeling mental release into all that empty mountainous space, with your mind roaming free over human history, while holding a book with the same perspective.)

Seneca, the Stoic philosopher of ancient Rome, lived in a tower during his exile on Corsica. Fifteen hundred years later, his disciple, Montaigne, probably exploited the same phenomenon when he walked the third story of his stone tower, paced back and forth, and wrote his famous Essays. He had a view of his courtyards and fields. It was his sanctuary, his throne. I wonder if he permitted his wife or daughter to violate this refuge with the fussing and domestic trivia of Woman. (of that era, not ours. Ahem)

There is something about elevation and isolation that might have helped him write and think. I reroofed my house once. Despite being intent on finishing that gruesome job, there were times when I couldn't resist just looking at the neighborhood. From that angle it looked so different. Then I'd forget about the job and just sit there and think. 

 
Montaigne's reading was just as haphazard as his writing. He would read a little and then pace around the library. It was sixteen paces in diameter.


"Every place of retirement requires a place to walk. My thoughts fall asleep if I make them sit down. My mind will not budge unless my legs move it...

The mind is exercised in books, but the body...remains inactive, droops, and grieves."
Indeed. I can do the same thing as Montaigne back at my college library. This link between the mind, the body, thoughts, books, and altitude might be a microcosm of what I read about in one of those low-numbered books, Francis Bacon, The Philosopher of Industrial Science, by Benjamin Farrington. How significant one of the author's comments was:

(Chapter 4, page 60, "It must never be forgotten that Bacon belonged to that tiny minority of writers who make books out of life, not to the immense majority who make books out of books."
I wonder if Farrington or Bacon walked around in the upper stories of buildings when they wrote.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Future Boonie-mobile?


What I miss about my former lifestyle is taking a mountain bike, dog, and camera out onto a new trail everyday. And sleeping away from city noise. And walking up arroyos with a dog in the winter.  I was never much interested in what I saw through the windshield.

There's still a couple years until I can start withdrawing my IRA penalty-free, but it's fun to fantasize about the next boonie-mobile. I no longer want to tow, and be 40 feet long in total. Short trips around the Southwest are all I want; no more full-timing. I want something that gets 20 mpg or more. Inside there needs to be a 3" Thermarest air mattress, water jugs, a solar shower bag, a cookstove, and porta-potty.

I would not try to make a pickup cap look like a finished RV, with all the useless overhead of middle-class respectability or feminine decorativeness. It isn't supposed to be a cute witto house; it's supposed to be a sleepable vehicle.

As much as I dislike pickups, I don't think that a Ford Transit Connect van would suffice, with its car-like clearance. They'll probably be too hard to find anyway. My best option would probably be a low-end Toyota Tacoma pickup with a four cylinder engine and a tall cap, shown in the photo. (It's 56 inches tall, on the inside.) It is white and windowless, with cargo doors at the back. It's funny how spartan functionality appeals to no-nonsense guys. One of the real positives about this cap is the interior frame made of square aluminum tubing: that makes it so easy to attach flat wood, and once you do that, you can mount storage shelves, Sterilite boxes, etc., wherever you want.

I'm not sure how I would bring a propane tank and a generator along, in what is my sleeping area.

Monday, April 18, 2011

In Front of a Dictator's Tank

At one point during the recent turmoil in Egypt I saw a video of unarmed Muslim protestors kneeling on the street to pray right in front of a water cannon, which merrily blasted away at them. That had quite an effect on me. I wonder how many proud secularists in the West felt uncomfortable watching that video, and if so, did they know why? Was it because of the obvious cruelty or was it something else?

There is a connection between this contemporary image and a point made by George Orwell in his review, written in the early days of World War II, of the unabridged edition of Hitler's Mein Kampf.
[Hitler] has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all Western thought since the last war, certainly all "progressive" thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security, and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he never is a able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won't do.

Hitler...knows that human beings don't only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth control, and in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice...
A 'tin materialist/utilitarian/secularist' somehow won't do, either. Western utilitarians stand for nothing but the most craven comfort-worship. Their crowning achievement is the American baby-boomer generation, a generation that has never known sacrifice of any kind. It has never aspired to any achievement more noble than toys, entertainments, and status symbols. But since we haven't been hit with a real life-or-death struggle for so many years, we can't yet appreciate what pygmies we've become.
(George Orwell, "Notes on the Way," from Time and Tide.) I thought of a rather cruel trick I once played on a wasp. He was sucking jam on my plate, and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed esophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him. It is the same with modern man. The thing that has been cut away is his soul, and there was a period -- twenty years, perhaps -- during which he did not notice it.
Most baby boomers will probably make it to the grave and never really discover that they 'can't fly'. Maybe that will be OK with America at large. The government could start some new loan program that would fund more exotic funerals or coffins for dead baby boomers. I wouldn't mind having titanium handles on my coffin, and a high-tech carbon-fiber lid.

In our "War on Terror" everybody in the West believes that they hold the high moral ground since suicide bombers deliberately target innocent people. But I wonder if compassion for the victims is the real concern, or whether it's the unnerving idea that there are people in this world who care more for an idea or principle than their own skin.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Gasoline and Strange Bedfellows

Recently Obama got a question from an audience about the high price of gasoline. Obama, half-jokingly, suggested that if the questioner was driving a vehicle that got 8 miles per gallon, he should trade it in for something better.

This outraged the blogosphere, since it was interpreted as a "let them eat cake" wise-crack. But I thought his response was sensible and candid.

At this point the reader's eyes are starting to narrow because he suspects that a foot-and-pedal partisan such as me is rolling in schadenfreude over gasoline approaching $4 per gallon. Very well then, I admit that it is 70% of the reason why I agree with Obama's statement, above.

But let's discuss the remaining 30%. I'm old enough to remember when the average American drove an automobile, rather than a monster pickup truck or truck-based SUV. Is the nostalgia of old age playing tricks with my mind? I remember passenger cars doing pretty well; many drivers loved their cars. Only farmers drove pickup trucks, which were inexpensive and utilitarian. What happened?

Naturally I run after the Environmentalists and Big Government first. When the government imposed Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements on car-makers, cars became neutered and uninteresting to many consumers. The unintended consequence was to chase these people into SUVs and pickup trucks.

Detroit was delighted. With its huge pension and health care overhead, Detroit can't make money on a $15,000, 4 cylinder, econobox. The break-even point is towards the higher end, which is the role filled by SUVs and monster pickup trucks, especially after they are adorned with every bell and whistle.

What really made this into a perfect storm of gasoline waste was that gasoline became quite cheap in the 1980s and 1990s. After all, the "energy crisis" of the 1970s was less about a physical shortage of oil than it was about American inflation and the decline of the dollar. When Volcker slew inflation in the early 1980s with high interest rates and a brutal recession, we embarked on a golden quarter-century of cheap gasoline. I was a newbie RVer in 1998, and once paid less than a dollar per gallon for gasoline. Yeee-hah! Furthermore, countries such as China, Brazil, and India were not yet consuming large quantities of petroleum. Throw in easy finance and you complete the transition from passenger cars to monster pickup trucks as the average family motor vehicle.

Unlike bicyclists and environmentalists, I don't think Americans should feel guilty about the Cheap Gasoline era, nor do I think that the litmus test of a progressive thinker is to "be more like Europe." I do think we should realize that the Cheap Oil Era is mostly in the past. But walk into your grocery store or dollar store parking lot and see if there are any fewer monster pickups than before, despite the customers having trouble making ends meet in several ways.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Big Chill in the Middle East

Another Protest Friday has come and gone in the Middle East, with Syria becoming a big headline grabber. I have appreciated the commentariat comparing current goings-on with the aborted revolutions in Europe in 1848. This is a subject that doesn't get enough attention in the history books. My first year RVing in the Southwest I was surprised to learn of the unsuccessful German revolutionaries of 1848 who moved to the Texas Hill Country, and left their names on many of the towns.

But rather than choose 1848, why not choose the more recent 1968? Those of us who were a bit too young to be a part of the "Big Chill" generation have probably always held a grudge against those who were; and we learned to mock those whose brains froze in that year. But let's play nice and say that there were some serious reasons for 1968 being a year of riots, such as the Vietnam War, racial problems, etc.

I still can't help believing that 1968 was put on the map primarily because of a huge demographic bulge of young adults and post-adolescents hitting their stride right then. They didn't have jobs, houses, and children to worry about. Their hormones were at high tide. The ad-based media was obsessed with these baby boomers. So they acted up.

The media has done a good job of reporting the explosive demographics of today's Middle East, as well as the high unemployment. If you were a professional historian you'd probably like to find a reason for Middle Eastern turmoil that is more glamorous than demographics. Statistics makes for pretty boring reading. It would be a better career move to explain today's Middle Eastern turmoil in terms of, say, a world-historical clash of ideologies; or center your analysis around a photogenic and evil dictator who is reminiscent of Hitler. But I think the simplest explanation is that it's the Middle East's 1968, demographically.

Perhaps twenty years from now an Arab film maker will make their equivalent of The Big Chill.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Hanging Up on a Cellphone Bully

It's so rare to have a success in the gadget world that I want to brag up LG, the cellphone manufacturer, and Verizon, the service provider. I managed to lose my old LG cellphone, after a run of six years. It had even survived one trip through a washing machine. I'll probably find it under a heap of something someday. But I couldn't call the lost cellphone with somebody else's phone, because the prepaid minutes had expired.

It was a pleasant surprise to learn that I could keep the old service plan (which no longer exists for new people) and the old phone number. And all of this was explained by a nice young man who spoke English as his first language.

I had another cellphone success, of a different type. Unaccustomed as I am to finishing a nice mountain bike ride with a coffee and cookie at a local coffee shop, I did so today. It was so pleasant just sitting there, thinking about the perfect ride and weather.

Just then a woman had the effrontery to intrude on this sanctuary. She was wearing one of those phone headset thingees, and held forth in a loud, stentorian voice, as they usually do. I didn't want her conversation imposed on my personal space. Why are we so passive in front of every new assault on our lives by gadgets and noisy engines?!

There were plenty of places to sit a few steps away. With all the brusqueness my body language could muster, I stood up and carried my goodies away from the interloper, and then found a spot to finish. That felt so good, and I think she noticed!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Servile to a Cervine

A camper friend and I were walking our dogs in the "south 40" when we spotted a herd of six deer trying to jump a chain link fence, 5-6 feet high. They didn't use a perpendicular approach as I might have guessed, but approached it at a glancing angle. I was surprised at how interesting it was to watch them try and fail, several times. Their bodies ricocheted off the fence ungracefully, yet they still managed to land gracefully. 'The deer as problem-solver' certainly doesn't fit the sentimental postcard of Bambi munching on a pretty flower, next to a cute witto stream. Perhaps it's an under-rated pleasure to watch animals solving problems, rather than standing around like dumbshits, trying to look pretty.

But not everybody sees it like that. Bicycling up near the Continental Divide the other day, I saw a couple deer crossing the road. Yawn. A top-end SUV slowed down and then stopped, right out in the lane of traffic. At first I thought that the SUV had hit the deer.

But they hadn't hit the deer. They had stopped to ogle the deer, as if there were something thrilling about them. I glanced at their license plate, curious to know where such naifs of nature could come from. Arizona. Oh dear, they were probably from that ghastly conurbation in Pima and Maricopa counties.

Just behind them a pickup, going their direction, crested the hill and was surprised to find them blocking his lane. He did manage to get slowed down; he seemed like a local, with a beat-up pickup truck, so I gestured at him as if to say, "Ain't these big city tourists sumpum?!"

For decades now, I have been amazed that people think it's big news to see a deer, despite their commonness. And doing something blatantly dangerous with the car is not an unusual response. Yet America is more overpopulated with deer than with homo sapiens, if such a thing is imaginable.

Most people in deer country know that city slickers live in a bubble, but I doubt that ant-hillers see themselves that way. For instance, how would the startled pickup driver convince the semi-suicidal deer-oglers of today's post that they were risking human lives for a routine and uninteresting animal sighting? After all, they know more than he does -- they're from the big city. Few ideas enter the head of an ant in the anthill except through the Mass Media, which is of course located in the anthill.

How many times does the Metropolitan Bubble Syndrome affect politics and culture in subtle ways? It might be the most under-diagnosed affliction of modern times. Our culture is almost completely divorced from physical reality: there have to be consequences of this.

The closest they ever come to experiencing the rude grandeur of nature is when they push a button to lower their opaquely-tinted driver-side window, spill their SUV's air-conditioning onto 200 degree pavement, and grab their $4 coffee from the drive-through barista.   
__________________________________________________________

It is going to get a lot harder to bicycle up to the Continental Divide from now on. For the last month I was so inflamed with fear about being chosen for that jury -- a capital case that might last for 10 weeks! -- that anger alone seemed to get me up the hill. As I ranted away internally, the miles and altitude slipped by almost without notice.

Now that I have escaped the clutches of the Leviathan -- that is, was rejected for jury duty -- I will have to go back to pedaling up that hill the old-fashioned way: by huffing and puffing.

There are other examples of how bicycling (or any aerobic sport) is affected by mind games. I was resting at the turnaround point today. (I was safely off the road.) A driver went by, on that narrow and curvy road, with a camera in her hand and the window rolled down. She had a smile on her face that would remind you of a kid's on Christmas morning.

Did she even have a hand on the steering wheel? What the hell was going on? A hundred yards back there were a couple deer along the road. Big deal.

But it was probably the usual explanation: the deer-loving driver was a tourist from the big city who "loves Nature", but is completely ignorant of nature or even of physical reality. She thinks deer are rare and exciting enough to endanger other people and herself just to get another look.

These are the suburbanites that Greens prey on.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Partially Seen Villain

It was time for an uneventful hike in an Arizona sky island, a couple winters ago. We went up a canyon or draw, up to a saddle that I recognized from an earlier hike. Although I favored backtracking, since that is the safest thing to do, the little poodle made the decision for me. He headed up to the saddle, which would suck us into making a loop. It was good to see him exonerate himself from his unmanly behavior on a recent hike.
 
I stopped in my tracks when I saw a dead teddy bear cholla. Since my photograph didn't do it justice, I deleted it. It was as startling as seeing Norman Bates' mother at the end of "Psycho". The dead cholla was more anima-morphic in three dimensions than in the photograph. You could see its two eyes and maw. It was standing up with curved forearms. Its face seemed frozen in a death-agony. 

 
Since villains are seldom that scary when you actually see them, Hollywood has learned to give the viewer indirect views of the villain, at least in the beginning of the movie.

Another of their tricks is to intensify the hatefulness of the villain by endowing him with some gratuitous quality, such as arrogance. There is nothing particularly scary about the visage of John Malkovich, but he oozes evil with his elitism and intelligence.

People who are new to the desert might have an exaggerated fear of snakes and such. I've only seen a couple rattlesnakes close up, in years of biking and hiking in snake country. I got to within six feet of a coiled rattler once. Since it was motionless and semi-dormant it was no real threat. It was the perfection of the coil that made it seem arrogant and more malevolent.

But for me, the best representation of a Malevolence was in the movie version of Stephen King's "Children of the Corn". He was never shown overtly but his terrible effects on the ground and sky were shown, leaving to the viewer the job of imagining the cause. The Evil One was never quite named. The children referred to him as He Who Walks Behind the Rows.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sidney Lumet

In honor of famed director Sidney Lumet, who died yesterday, I watched Twelve Angry Men. (Background information is available at imdb.com .) How long do you think it will be before movies like that are made again? It must be the most interesting lowest budget movie I've ever seen. "Low budget" is putting it mildly. How much did it cost to put twelve guys in the jury room and let them talk to each other? Intelligent dialogue between adults -- how boring and out-of-date can you get!

If you want to give your imagination some exercise, try to put yourself in the shoes of a 16-year-old who encounters Twelve Angry Men today, by mistake no doubt. The poor lad must be bored out of his mind by a movie with no action, no bedroom scenes, no special effects, and no graphic and gratuitous violence. If he were capable of making it through the movie, he must think that people "back then" were ridiculously easy to amuse since, like, you know, they had a lower standard of living, and didn't have anything high-tech in their lives.

Here is something even harder to believe. I've actually heard customers and financial analysts wonder why Netflix didn't go out of business since it only costs a buck to rent a movie from the Redbox vending machine. Our culture being what it is, why don't they put Redbox machines in the drive-throughs of fast food joints. The driver could be thumbing away at his iPhone Redbox/McDonalds app, selecting fat-soaked junk food and special-effect-laden B movies with virtually the same keystrokes. It would save time and be so convenient, assuming the driver doesn't crash his 1 ton dualie diesel pickup into the side of the building. Somebody is probably working on it, right now. But don't get your hopes up waiting for a movie from Sidney Lumet at such a place.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Spring Cleaning on the Internet

Naturally I want to be Fair and Balanced on this blog. Sometimes I might be too anti-government. The current administration claims to know something about pollution, even going so far as to declare carbon dioxide -- a gas without which life could not exist -- as pollution; perhaps these folks would be doing us more of a favor to remove some of the pollution off of the internet.

The obvious place to begin is with the least controversial purging: surely most people would agree that travel blogs are internet pollution. Then they can quickly move on to bigger fish, such as product reviews.

Yesterday I was reading reviews of RV parks, including the one that I'm currently in. Most people were charmed by the rustic nature of the park, but were disappointed by gravel, grass, "weeds", wind, sunlight, and juniper trees.

The reviewers were disappointed that there was no cable TV here, and that there were few broadcast channels in our town. Such deficiencies detracted from their RV Dream and the Freedom and Adventure of the Open Road.

There were numerous complaints about the campsites being unlevel. Actually it's only about six sites that are so, out of 70 total. Forty-foot-long motorhomes do have trouble leveling out on those sites, since their jacks only extend a foot and a half.

Some people missed not having a swimming pool and clubhouse/convention center; they also wanted lower fees. An exercise room would be nice, even though it's a five minute walk to the grocery store, which most of them drive to, in their 1-ton dualie pickups.

The strangest complaint was about the lack of a dog park. In fact there is a 200-acre field and ridge where a dog can run off-leash.

If there were any doubt in your mind how ridiculous RV culture is, reading these reviews would remove it. Most of these reviewers would be better off camping on a flat, asphalt, or astroturf parking lot with 100-amp service at the post and a 500-watt pole-light for security.



Friday, April 8, 2011

Charles Hugh Smith is on Fire!

Wow. I needed to find some new blogs. It's funny how, with all this information available on the internet, it's so easy to fall into narrow ruts.

I'm really getting to love Smith's blog, OfTwoMinds. He posted part II of his analysis of our consumer economy.

A Smart Motorhomer


After I learned that a (now ex-) reader didn't care for my comments on motorhomes, I saw a chance to partially redeem myself. Of all the motorhomers that I've seen go through here, this is the first time that I've seen this arrangement. What a great way to get around town and really experience it, instead of being in a glass and steel cocoon. A moped might be limited to good weather, but RVers usually arrange it so that they are having good weather.

I think these little cuties would really help an old boy feel young again.

Orwell's Extinct Type of Intellectual

In writing about all the turmoil in the Middle East, some pundits like to refer to the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. This revived my interest in George Orwell, who volunteered for the (government) Loyalist side. In fact I checked out a 1300+ page collection of essays and magazine articles that he wrote during his short lifetime.

It struck me how important it used to be that public intellectuals (like Orwell and Arthur Koestler) were not tenured professors or think-tank intellectuals. They put their beliefs into practice. You might disagree with their politics as I certainly do, and as they eventually did, later in life. But there was real integrity in an intellectual pushing back from his desk, and suffering the mud and stink of real war. Both were in physical danger. It's something that would never happen today.

Imagine the suburban comfort of the interventionist today: their McMansions in northern Virginia or in fashionable areas of Maryland. They might have tenure at a university, or they might draw a comfortable salary at some neocon think-tank. Their children won't be drafted. None of their friends or near-relatives is in the military. Their spouse has a good-paying job for some federal agency.

And yet, even in the late 1930s it was rare for an intellectual to have experienced war directly. For instance, leftist intellectuals in England were more eager for war with Germany than were their counterparts in France. Orwell pointed out:
[In France] war means to him something quite different from what it means to a middle-class Englishman. It means a notice on the wall, "Mobilisation Generale," and three weeks later, if he is unlucky, a bullet in the guts.

Of all the left-wing journalists who declare day in and day out that if this, that and the other happens "we" must fight, how many imagine that war will affect them personally?

But these people, who have been born into the monied intelligentsia and feel in their bones that they belong to a privileged class, are not really capable of foreseeing any such thing [as a big scale air-raid of the modern type.] War is something that happens on paper, and consequently they are able to decide that this or that war is "necessary" with no more sense of personal danger than in deciding on a move at chess.
Our civilisation produces in increasing numbers two types, the gangster and the pansy.

And it is, of course, precisely because of the utter softness and security of life in England that the yearning for bloodshed -- bloodshed at a far distance -- is so common among our intelligentsia.
Orwell and Koestler grew intellectually and emotionally during their direct involvement with the Spanish Civil War. Without such experience, could they ever have produced the adult writings that they did? The deskbound intellectual is just a professional spectator, a perpetual college sophomore who thinks he understands the world just because he's read books.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Consumer

Considering the title and description line of this blog, it doesn't surprise anyone that the blog is implicitly hostile to the borrow-and-spend consumer culture of America. So it never seemed necessary to preach too much about it; people have heard the sermons before. And I never really aspired to go to heaven and sitteth upon the right hand side of Gandhi or Thoreau.

But recently an excellent post has appeared on OfTwoMinds blog. There weren't any new ideas in the post, but it is an excellent summary of the idiocy of the American lifestyle.

I got a kick out of the commenter who wondered, angrily, why consumers were good enough to buy the semi-useless crap sold by American corporations, but not good enough to be hired by them. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Dumb Consumer

There goes my self-image as a smart consumer. Never again will I ridicule the dummies silly geese hip/cool/sexy/smart people who buy Apple products, $43,000 pickup trucks, motorhomes, seldom-used boats, etc. I just got back from a 35 minute (one-way) walk from downtown in a pair of Keen "shoes". It felt like I walked home in my stocking feet. When they wear out I'll replace them with $25 sneakers from Walmart.

How did those outdoor-equipment stores ever convince me to spend $100 for these lousy Keens? They're just over-priced house slippers.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Progress in Politics

The Iraq War started with a lie about weapons of mass destruction. At the time it seemed hard to believe that the Bush administration would lie about something that they would so easily get caught at, so I tended to believe them while suspecting that they were exaggerating.

That is where I was a naif and the neocons were brilliant. WMDs were revealed as a lie gradually. At no time was the lie Breaking News; thus it wasn't news at all, and there were no consequences for the liars.

In contrast, the Obama administration is not providing false evidence of a genocide in Libya; it provided no evidence at all. The only thing it provided was a "what if", that is, Fear.

And thus we have come to see the Change we can Believe in: starting wars on the basis of no evidence at all, rather than false evidence.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Gabby's Ridge

During my siesta the other day I was listening to the opening of Verdi's La Traviata, a dance scene. Sometimes a music lover needs to be reminded of the connection between music and motion. It was a good time to let the mind drift off to possible connections between famous musical themes and motion. In fact, some of Verdi's dance scene music reminded me of Coffee Girl leaping and bounding through the field.


Dogs aren't the only critter that is beautiful when in motion. When we made it up to Gabby's Ridge -- named after an Australian shepherd who led her owner there every day:


(Gabby is on the left, above. Despite being disciplined and repressed more than any dog I've ever known, she can't hide her joy. That's dogs for you.)


I looked down into the little valley and saw a horse prancing around its corral. It was stepping so high. So was its tail. It would have been grand if I had been down in the valley, looking up at the sprightly horse as it ran along Gabby's Ridge, silhouetted against the harsh New Mexican sky.



But there was something about looking at it in an inverted way that made the idea even more appealing.




Friday, April 1, 2011

Spring in New Mexico


I'll give you one guess as to which direction I was cycling when I took this photo.

Getting off the Road

"Getting off the road" or "turning in the keys" have an ominous and depressing sound to a full time RVer, since it usually means that health problems and aging have finally gotten the upper hand. But let's say that it's not these typical issues. What else would make him get off the road?

Imagine rolling into town and going out to run some errand. Perhaps your propane tank needs to be refilled. You have a couple minutes to kill while the attendant does his work, so you ask where the best grocery store is. The directions are totally useless of course, which you knew would happen if you had thought of it in time. Next you look up at the sky and start to make small talk about the weather, which should be more his speed. Well yea, he says while straightening up and lifting his baseball cap to let his sunburned head cool off, but you know what they say about Mudburg's weather: iff'n you doan lok it, ya jes wait 10 minutes! After delivering the punchline, the local yokel starts violently slapping his side and hee-hawing like a braying mule.

Alternatively you could winter in Yuma, AZ. The quintessential Yuma experiences are to found at the laundromats, with dog-eat-dog competition for a machine. Imagine being in one of those gladiatorial arenas, late in the winter; you look out the window and dream about getting the hell out of that town. Another customer looks over at you and says, Soooooooooooo, where ya frum? Your face locks up into a painful grimace, and you fight against groaning audibly. Livingston Texas, you reply, hoping that will end the conversation. But your washing machine neighbor is looking bright-eyed: Livingston Texas, whah hell, ain tha sumpum! Three of mah nebbers at the RV raaanch is frum thar too.

But these are just anecdotes. There is something deeper in this whole issue. Although I avoid transient travelers at my present RV park, sometimes they have nice dogs that go for a romp with mine. So I can't help being aware that 99.9999% of the visitors, living their RV Dream, will drive 40--60 miles to the same two tourist attractions that our town is known for.

They're just nice, normal folks wanting typical amusement during a standard travel "adventure". Nobody ever thinks how obsolete it is to use a motor vehicle as an alternative to a television set or internet terminal. But if they ask about those two standard tourist attractions I groan (inaudibly). It has become odious for me to think that happiness should be chased by immediately reaching for the car keys and driving 100 miles away from wherever I happen to be. Why can't it just be where I am?