Saturday, February 25, 2012

Update on Surprise Speeding Tickets in the Mailbox

When I got together with a Tucson friend yesterday my first question was about the photo-surveillance cameras used here; then a ticket is mailed to the citizen-criminal. I was concerned about tardy payment penalties being added to the speeding tickets of travelers who only get snail-mail forwarded every month or two.

My Tucson friend has indeed gotten a camera-based ticket the past year, and his wife got three. Each was over $200. Hers were at the same intersection, but on different days, which helped her think that they were repeated notices of the same "crime". (She didn't read the dates or times apparently.) She didn't pay all three tickets and got her driver's license suspended.

The good news is that the Tucson reich sends somebody to your house before raising the stakes. At another time they called on the telephone. What a relief that was. It keeps the citizen-criminal from being completely at the mercy of snail mail delivery, which alarmed me the most.

How will they handle an out-of-stater? 

So far, I've tried to relate the facts with a minimum of spin. Obviously I can't keep this up or I'll bust! Let's back up to the big picture: in a democracy politicians get reelected (for an entire lifetime, typically) by promising key voters (in organized constituencies) benefits, freebies, and goodies at somebody else's expense. Democracy was pretty satisfied with this arrangement for a century or so.

But then this arrangement became passe. Democracy took the next step up in its evolutionary progress: it started promising even more goodies at nobody's expense; that is, it learned to just borrow money for whatever goodies it takes to get reelected.

Ever since the financial turmoil started in 2008, states needed to become more innovative. They couldn't just raise taxes; the voters were too accustomed to free lollipops. So the states had to step up penalties and fines as a stealth tax increase. Imagine the "revenue enhancement" that just one of those surveillance cameras produces. It probably pays for itself on the first day. And it will never get sick or need a pension. If I were a donut shop owner, I'd start looking for a new line of work.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Owl in a Cactus

I've only gotten close to an owl once before today, and that was when mountain biking in a ponderosa forest. They are larger and more powerful than I expected. They seem more exotic and menacing than other raptors. So I grinned from ear to ear when a friend walked us over to an owl nest on the southwest side of Tucson. (Gee, maybe I should provide GPS coordinates so readers will have the ultimate in convenience in finding the owl. Isn't that how "RV blogs" are supposed to work?)

An impudent Malevolence in the shadows...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Surprise Speeding Ticket in Your Mail Box

In Tucson yesterday I noticed a sign alerting drivers of photo-enforcement of the rules of the road. As a bicyclist I should probably approve, but I don't have the guts or the foolishness to ride my bicycle on these busy highways anyway, despite all their efforts at putting in shoulders for bicyclists.

What happens to a traveler who is caught by one of the surveillance cameras going ten miles per hour over the speed limit? Is a $350 ticket mailed to his mail box in South Dakota or Livingston, TX? There must be a time limit for paying the ticket. What if the traveler only requests his junk mail be forwarded every month or two. Has the speeding ticket now become a $1000 ticket? Does he need to appear in court because the ticket is unpaid? Will he need to hire an attorney?

At the end of the year, I wonder how the traveler would categorize that expense? I would put it in the "transportation" category or whatever you call the cost of being mobile.

Now please don't tell me that this wouldn't happen to a traveler because it's "unfair" or shows no "common sense". You aren't living in Mayberry anymore, and the post-9/11 police state is not Sheriff Andy. You should have realized that much when you saw the surveillance cameras going up in the first place.

If you got the ticket the old-fashioned way -- with a police officer stopping you-- you'd have an easy time paying it off punctually. (You'd would make sure the police officer used your mail-forwarding address; then you'd ask how long it takes to mail out the ticket; finally you'd call your mail forwarding service to see when it arrives.)

But with photo-enforcement, a ticket could show up any time with no warning. The penalties about late payment assume that you're a normal person who gets mail every day. No allowance will be made for someone with a "weird" lifestyle. The post-9/11 neocon reich is hostile to the very idea of mail box addresses. This is just speculation. If somebody knows different, I'd like to hear it.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Down with Dog Shows!

There are readers of a mild and sanguine disposition who probably think the opinions on this blog are excessively cynical and critical of contemporary American culture. Oh very well, live in your rose-colored dream world, if you must. But let's put your happy-spin to an empirical test: consider this year's winner of the Westminster Dog Show, and tell me that our society hasn't already gone past the tipping point.

Photo by Seth Wenig.

Of all the weird looking dogs to choose from, did they have to pick one that looks like a rap star?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Deadly Skies in the Sonoran Desert

The skies have been weird around here lately. Blame most of it on stormy skies, especially in the mornings.

Later in the day the Fly Boys strafe my trailer. They go over at 12 o'clock high, maybe 500 feet above my roof. (It's hard to judge heights like that.) Maybe I should complain that such low flights interfere with my Fox News TV reception. (satiric grin.) You'd think they would have an adequate playground over the Goldwater Bombing Range, which is bigger than some states in the northeast. But no, they need to fly over an American citizen legally camped on public land. Why don't they at least fly over and intimidate illegal immigrants in the desert?

I wonder how many (borrowed) dollar bills per hour squirt out the ass-end of these Air Force Warthogs. Wikipedia says the rotating 30 mm cannon (visible in my photo, taken looking up from my RV) fires 4000 rounds per minute -- what a fine addition this is to the Killing Machine that our country has become.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Three Flavors of RV Blogs

Soon after most people become acquainted with the RV travel blogosphere, they start to see patterns, enough so that they might classify them like this:
  1. RV 101 blogs. How to. Chock full of useful information for newbies. They work pretty hard for their nickels and dimes of Google ad income. Too bad there are so many minute details, which are intended to be practical but really aren't, since the reader's circumstances are different than the blogger's. Readers can feel insulted when such blogs appear to offer friendly advice to a "fellow" RVer, but then the reader learns he is just a chump being hit with a thinly-disguised ad. (The Linkbait Syndrome; it gets 'em every time.) Ah dear, the sordid topic of coin...
  2. RV travelogues. Where are Fred and Mildred today? Aimed at armchair travelers and RV wannabees, these blogs offer pleasant entertainment as long as you live life purely through your eyeballs; mentally you will leave the blog completely starved. Finally escaping to their RV Dream (!!!), they offer scenic postcard after postcard, as well as updates on the world's cutest grandkids. And did I mention the scenery!!! Mildred just knows there is a God because the sunsets are so breathtakingly beautiful. Rhapsodies about sunsets are usually mixed with news about the latest shopping trip to Walmart or the Dollar Store for paper towels or RV toilet paper.
  3. Latter-day Howard Beals-on-wheels, emphasizing the philosophical underpinnings of unconventional, un-bourgeois lifestyles. Imbued with visions of higher forms of truth, these prophets of the desert are sententious and preachy, abstemious, celibate, impoverished, and a bit mad. Secluded in a gravelly dry wash for over three years, he is finishing his 643 page eBook, "The One and Only Truth for Achieving Ultimate Simplicity." It includes a Google Earth app that locates all the county landfills that allow free overnight parking.
OK, so I lean towards category #3, with just a bit of #2, and none of #1. (By the way I was astonished to see the DVD of Howard Beal's "Network" available for $6 at the Family Dollar store.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day: Pulling Down the Goddess's Statue

Once again it's time for the annual Valentine's Day peroration. Hopefully this version won't make me as unpopular as the last one. It would be nice to have the advantage of my boondocking neighbor: she nonchalantly dismisses RV wives as "all needing mansions on wheels" or being afraid to dry camp and preferring to stay in RV parks with hookups. Nobody is offended when she says it. I should be so lucky.

I probably wouldn't be writing any of this if an ad during the Super Bowl hadn't outraged me. Yes, outraged -- somebody who isn't a part of TV culture can retain the ability to be outraged at cultural depravity. The ad featured a half-nude "ho" giving a pitch for some kind of Valentine's Day goodie that men were supposed to remember to buy for their honeys. Her punchline went something like, "It's simple, guys. Give and ye shall receive. (wink, wink.)"

Try to imagine the male analogue of that trashy ad. I can't come up with a thing that is remotely comparable. When the "double standard" is to their detriment, it will earn you a scolding for being politically incorrect; or it might land you in jail. But if it's to their advantage, the double standard is not only permitted, but it is mandatory; and any man who refuses to pay obeisance to these spoiled overgrown schoolgirls is seen as a misogynist who hated his mother.

I'm still waiting for new spouse-abuse laws to be passed that punish a spouse for shrewish nagging, crying (to get his/her way), and withholding sex.

But I let all this go. Next time I want to discuss how Venus and Aphrodite get in the way of choosing lifestyle alternatives.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The True Colors of a Flower

Small flowers are popping up everywhere right now in the Sonoran Desert, courtesy of the rain last November and December, presumably. Nothing seemed extreme when I took this photograph, but now I have to wonder whether the camera was malfunctioning, perhaps because I was aiming too close to the sun. No, the camera seems OK. The backlighting is bringing out the yellow in the desert flower that ordinarily is not noticeable.

It's strange that our notion about "color" in nature is usually aimed at reflective colors rather than transmitted colors. We hardly ever think about it. This suggests some idea of wider applicability. But what is it?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Fred Reed Rocks!

Fred Reed is one of my favorite writers. I don't know how many venues he uses; LewRockwell dotcom is the one I'm used to using to read him. Yesterday he really outdid himself. It seemed worthy of a long quote:
I wonder whether something else is not involved. Today most of us live in profound isolation from the natural world. People in large cities can go for decades without seeing the stars. Should they drive through the countryside, it will be in a closed automobile with the air-conditioning running. On a trip to the beach, the sand will be overrun by hordes of people, half of them on whining jet skis.
We exist utterly in a manmade cocoon, as much as desert termites in their mud towers. This, I think, profoundly alters our inner landscapes. Live in the rolling hills around Austin, say, as they were before they were turned into suburbs, with the wind soughing through the empty expanse and low vegetation stretching into the distance, the stars hanging low and close in the night, and you get a sense of man’s smallness in the scheme of nature, of the transitoriness of life, a suspicion that there may perhaps be more things in heaven and earth. It makes for reflection of a sort that throughout history has turned toward the religious.
People no longer live in large wild settings, but amid malls and freeways. The ancients believed that the earth was the center of the cosmos. We believe that we are. There is little to suggest otherwise in manicured suburbs and cities where the sirens will be howling at all hours. It is an empty world that begets philosophically empty thinking.
Without the sense of being small in a large universe, and perhaps not even very important, the question arises, “Is this all there is?” and the answer appears to be “Yes.” Without the awe and wonder and mystery of a larger cosmos, existence reduces to blowing smog, competitive acquisition of consumer goods, and vapid television with laugh tracks. We focus on efficiency, production, and the material because they are all we have. It is not particularly satisfying, and so we are not particularly satisfied.
I suspect that the decline of religion stems less from the advance of scientific knowledge than from the difficulty of discerning the transcendent in a parking lot.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Why People Don't Like Political Essays

It's so much easier to find political opinions on the internet these days, compared to the dead tree era. Remember how you could travel from one end of the country to the other and buy newspapers that featured the same six pundits on the editorial page? But even though there are more choices today, dualism gets in the way of enjoying political essays. You're either on my side or the other side, Good versus Evil, left versus right, big government versus small, blue versus red states, etc.

That's why the ideal political essay should try to stay away from this trap. It should reach out to opinions and values that aren't necessarily "political" in the normal sense of the word.

Besides avoiding simplistic and divisive dualisms, we should also avoid excessive consistency and predictability. For instance Eric Peters writes about automobile regulations from a libertarian point of view. At times I agree with him; at other times, he irritates me with his gearhead culture. Libertarian purists don't believe in speed limits, for instance. But what matters is the inconsistency in my reactions to him; it's what makes reading his essays beneficial to me.

Consider the surprising accord between pols on both sides of the pond in hitting Iran with sanctions. What a contrast that is with the disaccord during the buildup to the Iraq War in the early Aughts. Regardless of where you fit on the dualistic spectrum you might look at this surprising accord and think, "Something's fishy. They're probably both up to No Good."

And they probably are. It's not surprising that the USA-Israel Axis is bucking for a new war that will extend or protect Axis domination of the Mideast. What else is new?! But why would Europe ally itself with the Axis this time around?

The likely answer is that this is the price of an insurance policy: a bailout of Europe by the American taxpayers, ministered by their great public servant, Ben Bernanke. It astonishes me to find this explanation so overlooked in the media.

If this speculation is incorrect it is at least the right kind of effort. We need to laugh off official stories. Instead of rehashing the issue du jour we need to back up a step and ask what the assumptions are. Political discussions are likely to be useful only if they try to pull the curtain back from the little man who is operating the controls over the big phony projection of the Wizard of Oz.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Capturing the Perfect Cactus Photo Cliche

Somewhere and somehow I got a photo cliche into my head: a Gila woodpecker or a cactus wren or a curved bill thrasher sticking its head out of a cactus lacuna. These rascals are always interrupting my bike rides by tempting me with the expectation of capturing this photo cliche. But as I approach, they skedaddle.

Phainopeplas are not rare around here. What I liked about this next guy is the geometry of the ocotillo stalks that he chose to frame his portrait with:


And then there is the bird with the sexiest curves of all, the curved bill thrasher:

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Music of the Night, II

Based on a comment on the last post, perhaps I overemphasized how much noise an RVer has to put up with. It's hard to fairly partition the blame (for poor sleeping) between old age, the Early Bedtime Syndrome, the RV lifestyle, or boondocking, since all of these factors overlap. But for today it doesn't matter which factor is more important; it only matters that poor sleeping -- whatever the cause -- can be mitigated with the right music.

Most people struggling to sleep learn that the worst approach is to lie there concentrating on trying to sleep. Totally self defeating. The mind needs to be kept busy, relaxed, and ultimately tired of it all.

The other day I was watching the audition tape of the female lead for a recent movie version of Madame Butterfly. My gosh, how does a human being learn to do something like that? Emoting, bleeding, and practically dying in front of the camera, followed by instantly relaxing when the audition was over. This was proof -- not that any was really needed -- that listening to Puccini heroines swell and flourish in their death-swoons is not the best music for relaxing at night.

Isn't it also a good bet that the female voice, regardless of the musical genre, is too affective to be effective as a sleeping pill? There might be exceptions. In olden times many of us heard our mothers hum lullabies to us in the cradle. (Do they still do things like that?) I have found that Enya and her music make a good sleeping pill.

Long ago I expostulated on the superiority of the female voice to the male, and was surprised by the opposition in the readership. In either case, if a person does find the male voice unaffective and uninteresting, why not try to use this to advantage? For me, Willie Nelson is easy to sleep to. More generally, shouldn't we see this as a chance to turn lemons into lemonade?

The world is full of music that we pay little attention to because we find it lackluster. In fact that's the usual case. Only a bit of the world's music can cause chills to go up and down our spine, and most of it was written by Puccini, Bernard Herrmann, Ennio Morricone, John Barry, and a few others. If we find the tiny fraction of that mountain of lackluster music that is somniferous and soporific, then we have scored a huge victory at little cost.

After writing off opera as a soporific, let's consider instrumental classical music. Instantly we hit roadblocks: Mozart is too sprightly, and Beethoven is too earnest and intense. In fact symphonic music in general is terrible as a soporific: one moment three woodwinds are quietly chirping; a couple seconds later a fumarole of 130 instruments erupts. Not what we want.

In fact, we have arrived at the unpleasant truth that, for sleeptime, musical quality counts less than the music's qualities as sound. During the day a music lover might pine for lush melodies; but overnight, melodies need not be affective. A certain neutrality is better. What you need is evenness of sound volume.

You'd think that New Age music would be the ultimate musical sleeping pill, but not if that means dreamy, musical Valium. Slow moving music doesn't relax me at all. To make things worse this genre sometimes contains "sound recordings of nature".  How can I go to sleep if I'm annoyed with myself for having wasted good money on the maritime mooing of whales or the squawks of seagulls shitting on a beach?

On top of that they sometimes put heavy bass tracks on top of that dreamy New Age drivel. It makes no sense musically, but a great deal of cents, marketing-wise. "See here, Mr. Arkenstone," says the marketing chief at Narada, "Sales are good with white, menopausal women taking yoga lessons after work. But we need to reach a wider audience."

Consider jazz. It's an amorphous category. Let's define it as what you get when real music is subjected to hydraulic frakking, thereby producing a moving slurry of musical pebbles, unconnected by melody. During the day I don't care for jazz but since melody is not so important at night, and perhaps even a negative, maybe jazz is worth a second look.

The jazz that might work best could be described as "easy listening" jazz; yes, I know that conjures up the image of moony-and-swoony, low bandwidth versions of easy-to-recognize lounge standards. But recognizability must be avoided.

Enough of these polemics! Time to discuss what works splendidly. Solo piano music, a la George Winston. It has the all-important property of evenness of sound volume. It isn't recognizable as a ditty or tune, but it isn't cacophonous noise either. Comparing it to sound instead of to music, solo piano music tends to sound like a mountain stream. The relatively fast tempo is most helpful, unless the pianist gets carried away with rubato. The nocturnal and somnolent brain is a funny thing: it hears the nimble tempo and becomes tired just imagining keeping up with it. Ironically, that same brain would be able to keep up with slower music, and thus be kept awake.

Recently I became familiar with, Amazon's bargain basement. It has quite a bit of free music to download, from lesser known artists usually. Sometimes the freebies are from well known artists, but why does that matter? There are several reasons why any artist would want to hand out free candy as a loss leader. Between these freebies and CDs at the public library, my Eine Kleine uberNachtMusic playlist is now four hours long.

If a peaceful night weren't precious enough, consider that the speakers, fed from your mp3 player, are only draining a half an amp from the RV battery (plus the parasitic draw of the inverter). If you follow a commenter's advice about noise-cancelling earbuds, you drain zero amps from your RV battery since you can turn off the inverter.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Music of the Night

Or, Eine Kleine (uber)NachtMusik for Kampers.

Most of what you can read about RV travel is just promotionalism, even when it's a blogger who is not being paid to sell anything. Why this is so is the subject of another essay. Today I merely want talk about a challenging reality of RV life. (Wannabees will want to push the "channel" button now; this is not the "RV Dream" channel.)

It's a brutal truth -- and most truths are brutal -- that sleeping on top of noise is something that an RVer has to get good at. This is probably more difficult for an urban boondocker, all in all, than for an urban RV park camper, and it's worse the older you get.

I've been advised to use silicone ear plugs -- not those useless yellow foam things that won't even stay in the ears. I bought some, but haven't tried them yet. In the summer it helps to run a vent fan, and not just for ventilation of course! I used to generate "semi-white noise" by running my satellite radio at night, but didn't like any of the music stations, and the news programs had as many commercials as television.

Then I switched over to DVD movies as my white noise generator of choice. Movies do put you to sleep, but since televisions get larger every year you can hardly avoid sucking down 4 amps (DC) or more, which is more battery drain than most dry campers want at night.

The biggest problem with movies is that the eyes shut easily, long before the ears and brain do. Movies have scary sound effects, suspenseful "something is about to happen" music, and sudden changes in sound volume. Something more relaxing and less disruptive is desirable.

For some reason I had not been fully utilizing an mp3 player. It would be nice if you could pair it with anti-noise headphones, but wouldn't that limit you to sleeping on your back? It's easy to send the mp3 signal to small "computer" speakers or a docking station that uses only a half amp DC.

Next time I'll discuss the success I've had with this experiment, and the pro-s and con-s of different musical genres.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Home Improvement, Gila Woodpecker-style

Sometimes you can hear his "hammer" frantically working on his "house". But I've never caught the little rascal in the act. Here is as close as I've gotten to seeing him crawl into his residence.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sunset Without Sadness

You needn't have too scary of a misadventure outdoors to develop a sudden interest in the "wilderness survival" genre. It's an interesting sub-cult. These books emphasize how deceptively dangerous it is to go out for a sunset walk in the desert, alone. "But it's just a nice stroll," the victim says, "to take some pretty sunset pictures." What happens to somebody who twists an ankle or runs out of light and gets lost when the sun goes down in the winter desert and the temperature plummets?

In contrast, the morning misadventurer has all day to get rescued by a motorized or foot-powered passer-by. We should all be as lucky as some people, who have a trail-chewing spouse to share their outings with. Those who go adventuring with dogs should not be so naive as to think that Lassie will really run back to get help when that blockhead Timmy (once again) falls into a well.

In reality the dog will just be one more worry, as I found out the only time I really got into danger on a mountain bike ride, on a slope above St. George, UT.  Suffice it to say that the biggest causes of that near-fiasco were starting atypically late in the day and attempting an unfamiliar loop route instead of my typical out-and-back. After that I banned serious outings late in the day.

And that is why something really clicked when I read that evil post (grin), praising sunset outings at the expense of morning outings: the only way to really defeat the Early Bedtime Syndrome was to rescind the ban on outings at sunset. More than anything else, this cursed Syndrome stands in the way of making the RV boondocking lifestyle better than it already is. Of course a person must be flexible with other things such as showering time, house cleaning, evening meals, etc.

How can you have it both ways? How can you get the psychological and physiological boost that keeps you happy in the evenings, rather than grouchy or already in bed, without paying an inordinate price in personal safety?

The trick is to distinguish a routine from an adventure, at sunset. Exercise and observe, but don't explore or discover. Use a familiar route; let it be along a dirt road that has an occasional passerby; and avoid loop routes, new routes, or solitary trails away from the cellphone signal. (My gosh, I never noticed until I edited this post that "routine" and "route" have the same etymology.)

This is an important new phase in my lifestyle and I'm so glad my little poodle is still around to be a part of it. And wouldn't you know it, sunset is his favorite time of the day to be active. He helps in practical terms too, since his trailer is a good place for emergency supplies:

Maybe this solution seems obvious to the reader. It's easy to start off in the right frame of mind, but complacency and overconfidence grow as endorphins flow. Also a liberated lifestyle resists the degradation of routines. Fresh adventure has become an integral part of its self-identity. But in this particular case of sunset outings, routines should be tolerated for the sake of safety, in order to reap significant benefits.