Monday, September 22, 2014

Music Nominations Wanted

Thanks to the munificence of a long-suffering sibling and a recent birthday I am looking to buy some MP3 music tracks from Amazon. In the past I've gotten some good suggestions, so let's try it again. I am primarily interested in:
  1. Movie musical scores ("soundtracks")
  2. Solo piano or piano concertos. 
  3. Female vocalists.
In the first category are composers like Jan Kaczmarek, Mario Darianelli, Patrick Doyle, and Gabriel Yared among contemporaries. Of course I love the movie composers of an earlier generation, such as Bernard Herrmann, Victor Young, Maurice Jarre, Ennio Morricone, etc.

In the second category I like much, but not Valium-capsule music, or nambi-pambie nature soundtracks, e.g., waves hitting the shore, seagulls squawking, or whales mooing in the ocean.

In the third category, there are divas like the bluesy EmmyLou Harris, moody Celtic lasses, Puccini heroines, or Broadway musicals.

I do not listen to music dominated by electric bass guitars or any kind of thumpah thumpah ghetto crap. On the other hand Caribbean or Cuban music does interest me sometimes.

Classical music and operas interest me, but not gigantic Beethoven/Mahler type symphonies.

As someone who is impatient at doing internet searches, I will be grateful for any ideas.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Salad Days of Secession

It improves your life to pay little attention to the "News," but not for the reason usually offered: that it is too negative.  At the moment there are Baja-hurricane-related flash flood warnings in southern Arizona. That's certainly negative, but it is worth knowing about if you live near an arroyo down there.

A better reason for ignoring news is that most of it is trivial entertainment, spin, and government propaganda. But I certainly admit that some of it has been interesting lately.

Consider the Scottish Independence vote. Incredible news actually. Isn't there an old proverb on Wall Street that a stock market adviser can give the price of a stock OR a date, but should never give both. In defiance of that I am here to make a fool of myself, on the day of the Scottish vote, and predict that they will vote 'No' to independence.

Perhaps it will be close, but the whole thing is redolent of Quebec versus the rest of Canada. Threatening to secede is just a bargaining chip that gives the minority more power than mere numbers give it. It makes sense that the majority of the country would get sick of the extortion eventually and tell the secession-threateners to put up or shut up. There must be many 'undecideds' who get cold feet about disrupting their lives with independence.

In the case of Scotland, the issue must be oil in the North Sea. It is too easy for the majority of a country to cave in on something and give the secessionists more autonomy or more free goodies, and keep them in the country.

But I hope I'm wrong. The world would benefit from more secession, be it Basque, Catalunya, Venice, eastern Ukraine, Kurdistan, etc. The USA should split into at least two or three countries.

Isn't it strange how we are all brainwashed with the holiness of democracy, but it seems dangerous or extreme to talk of secession. Consider how Thomas Jefferson put it: 'government derives its powers from the consent of the governed.' And that means of course that the governed can withdraw that consent, and secede. 

There have been worrisome but still peaceful secessions. One of them was the Norwegian secession from Sweden in 1905. It helped send my grandfather to the USA. If he had stayed in Sweden he wouldn't have been sent as cannon fodder to fight Germany 12 years later.

The country that mismanaged secession worst of all was the last country that should have. The USA completely failed as a nation when it used the secession of the southern states as grounds for an invasion. Americans still think there is something evil about secession, even though their whole over-rated country owes its existence to a secession from the UK in 1776.

If Scotland votes 'Yes' to independence, what would happen if things proceed relatively smoothly, and it all works out rather well? Would anyone even point out how ridiculous it makes the USA look for the disaster of 1861? Perhaps the Brits aren't as civilized as they look. Maybe they only offered the Scots a vote because they thought that the vote would be against independence. That lesson will be learned from the "mother" countries elsewhere, who won't even offer a vote to Catalunya, Basque, Flanders, Venice, etc.

I wonder if it will be 1861 all over again if any European country tries to withdraw from the suffocating bureaucracy of the European "Union."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Walking off Trail

I love the geology and topography of this spot, on the eastern edge of the San Juan's, near Little Mexico, CO. It's a land of decomposed laccoliths, with just the perfect balance of the Horizontal and the Vertical; of partly cloudy September skies; and of cliffs and ridgelines in the foreground, and big mountains in the distance. Even the vegetation is balanced between grass, small cactus, and junipers. 

My dog was picking up stickers the first day or two, but then she learned how to avoid them. How is that even possible? Dogs are gifted animals when it comes to any kind of motion.

As is often the case, I imitated my dog. There are no hiking trails as such around here, and the mountain bike was in the shop getting new brakes, so I decided to go bushwhacking across the grass/cactus fields. It was cool enough on these September mornings that I wasn't too worried about rattlesnakes. Over 80 F they are a consideration around here.

Dogs know they don't need no stinkin' trails, so why should their humans?

There is something liberating about walking off trail, walking free over the landscape. Walking a trail seems so arbitrary, unnatural, and confining. Of course, to bushwhack like this you need to be on a grassland or desert, rather than in one of the National Thickets, managed by the US Forest Disservice. (But sometimes you can bushwhack in ponderosa forests.)

Let's see now, you step out the door of your little house on this prickly prairie and wonder where to go. Well, that's easy enough. If this were the lower desert you would choose a walkable arroyo, but it is too high altitude for that, so something else is needed.

The exposed volcanic layer is in the upper right of the photo.

Here the best choice was to see if it is possible to climb over the exposed volcanic cliff edge that was visible for miles. It was horizontally grand, but vertically humble. It only took a couple minutes to be at the exposed cliff face. It was only 20-30 feet tall, but too vertical to climb. So I walked along it, probing for weak spots in its defenses. 

Notice how I was not walking along, mushing and gushing about how pretty something was. The whole thing was more of a problem to be solved. Military metaphors popped up. I had turned into a type of predator.

I finally found a spot for the final assault. My dog had to be lifted over a couple spots. She hates that. Geezer though I be, I was feeling like a boy playing "king of the mountain", or fantasizing about some medieval romance where the knight takes the castle. At the top of the cliff it seemed wise to build a rock cairn so that I could retreat gracefully, if that were needed. 

I walked along the top of the laccolith. It was glorious. There is always a breeze near a cliff-line, always birds playing with ridge-lift. But how was I going to get off this thing? I finally found a spot. 

Halfway through the descent I noticed that my dog was missing. I called to her and blew my whistle. And there she was, at the top of the volcanic cliff, backlit by the morning sun, looking down at her Pops. Dogs seem to dislike excessive verticality. I had to climb back to the top to coax her down. On the descent I offered to lift her down at places, but dogs prefer to jump free, even if that means risking a sprain.

Off the top of my head I don't remember if the poet Wordsworth or the Yankee blockhead, Thoreau, went on their daily walks on trails or "overland," or even if they made the distinction. Maybe one of the readers knows.

At any rate I am almost glad that I have partially overlooked the pleasure and importance of bushwhacking because it gives me a "new" sport to play with in my senescence. Recently I wrote about different techniques for making hiking more interesting. It's embarrassing to have neglected bushwhacking.

Hiking off trail is to hiking trails what dispersed camping is to campgrounds. It is real life: an intelligent and competent predator, exercising all of its senses and shrewdness to solve problems, spot opportunities, and avoid risks. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Recidivism on a Pit Bull's Rap Sheet

The weekend finally over, the animal shelter opened up today.  I dreaded taking "Tipper", our self-invited weekend guest, to the shelter. I imagined the volunteer taking one look at Tipper and saying, "Oh that's just great, just what we need, another uncastrated pit bull! And this one requiring veterinary expenses on top of that!" Oh geez, would that mean 'the back room' for this sweet monster?

I had to lift Tipper into the van because of his sore foot. He was lighter than I thought. He just sat there. Not a squirm out of him. I rubbed his head all the way to the shelter. There was a stoic resignation that was disturbing. Did he know something that I didn't?

It was the opening of the work week at the animal shelter, and the dogs were acting out their anarcho-libertarian political leanings. They were running loose and barking their heads off. The place stunk. Apparently they don't like being ignored all weekend.

The volunteer opened the door of my van and immediately said, "I know this dog. He's been here before." The volunteer looped a leash over Tipper's head and led him through "processing." In fact, there was even a grim humor to ol' Tipper's behavior. He seemed to know the route.

Perhaps the reader remembers the Coen Brothers' classic hit movie from the 1980s, "Raising Arizona". Recall Nicholas Cage's low-key, routine response to being re-processed and re-incarcerated in the same ol' prison for his same ol' crime of knocking off convenience stores.

Remember him appearing one more time in front of the committee for his parole review. "There's a name for people like you: recidivism. REEpeat OAF-fender."

The volunteer gave me Tipper's rap sheet. But it was good news actually. He was born across the street from the animal shelter. These days he was owned by a guy with an actual job, which is no small luxury in this impoverished part of Colorado. The owner was prone to hiking in my camping area. In fact he worked for the forest service. So why had Tipper run away? The volunteer suggested thunder. Also there is some gun fire up there.

The volunteer said that they would get the bad boy over to the vet, who was right next door to the animal shelter. I gave a small donation. The volunteer mentioned that the law had recently been changed in Colorado so that animal abuse was now a felony. That didn't really have anything to do with the case in question, it was just an aside.

Or maybe it did. I learned that Tipper's real name was "Sponge Bob." Good grief. 


The animal shelter took my name and phone number. I'm not asking to be fawned over, like I'm some mighty hero or something. But it would be nice to get a simple 'Thank you' call from the pit bull's owner. But past experience has shown me that the System does not work like that. 

Since I was in the animal shelter why not have the fun of checking out their "inventory?" Along the way I stopped back at "Sponge Bob's" cage and put my fingers through the chain link fence. That mighty maw was waiting just on the other side. He gave my fingers a soft lick. 

What is that famous quote by Mark Twain that ends in the punchline 'and that is the difference between a man and a dog?' 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Returning the Favor of Dog Rescue

(Dispersed camping near Little Texas #3, CO.) Coffee Girl, my Australian kelpie, did not like the intruder, an uncastrated pit bull. In fact I've never heard her growl at another dog before. Initially I thought of getting my foot all the way back, and then kicking its brains in. Like most people, I despise pit bulls.

But wait a minute. It was acting so friendly. The colors were "friendly" too. It had a sore foot. After watering and feeding it, I set up a doggie luxury lounge underneath my trailer.

Why don't people put tags on their dog with their phone number so that somebody in my position would know what to do?

This dog responds so enthusiastically to attention by beating its white-tipped tail that I have started calling it "Tipper." I wish it were putting a little more weight on its sore foot. On Monday I'll take it to the animal shelter. Too bad.

Anyway this is such a sweet dog that it is a pleasure to return the favor to some stranger that Will F. did for another stranger -- me -- several years ago when he rescued my little poodle after he had run off; he had freaked out because of the echo of gunfire by target practicers, when we were getting ready to camp at the foot of Book Cliffs near Grand Junction, CO.

The heroic elk hunter from Idaho, who rescued my Little Poodle several years ago.
Let's just hope that the owner wants their dog back. This affable monster sure eats a lot of food!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Part 2: Thinking Your Way Out of, and Into, a Box

If you too are in the habit of coming up with "brilliant" ideas, only to find that they don't work out as well as expected, you might enjoy having a good laugh at my frustration.

Since only a small fraction of the readers have the same needs for a new tow vehicle that I do, I will try to drag my problem towards more general ideas, as the post moves along. 

Until then, recall the starting point of this problem-solving exercise: the most economical way to live at the point of diminishing returns regarding comfort and camping freedom is to pull a converted cargo trailer. I have had this opinion for a decade, and now I am proving it in real life. 

Now it is time to move on to Phase 2, finding a good tow vehicle for a lightweight trailer (3000 pounds loaded). By "good" I mean:

1. Something far less than the standard pickup price of $65000 (or whatever).
2. Something that can get over 20 mpg unhitched. (I only tow 2000 miles per year, so I can be a good loser and accept deplorable fuel economy when towing. Besides, there is nothing much you can do about it.)
3. As much ground clearance as a full-size van. Pickups and truck-based SUVs have more, crossover utility vehicles (except Subaru) have less, minivans and passenger cars have far less.
4. Modern goodies such as anti-lock brakes and traction control. I'd probably be happy with rear wheel drive, just for economy's sake. By "goodies" I don't mean electronic bells and whistles, motorized mirrors, and all the rest of that crap.
5. Good storage: the ability to carry two bicycles inside, with the front wheels off of course, but without lowering the saddle of the bicycles. Also I need enough room to store a half dozen medium sized plastic boxes and 20-30 gallons of water. 
6. A nominal tow rating of 5000 pounds.

Does it seem like I am asking for "the moon and the stars"? I don't think so. But automotive industry, government regulations, and financialization trends have made it difficult.

My "brilliant" idea was to hang out in Crested Butte, CO, one of the founding fathers of mountain biking, and study all the vehicles coming in. Over half of them had mountain bikes. Surely I could get a good idea or two. Why 'reinvent the wheel?'

Alas, I was completely skunked. The visitors were just tourists with external bicycle racks, usually on the rear. I even saw a full-size van, like what I am driving now, with the bicycles stored on an external rack. Sigh.

So I retreated downriver to Gunnison, a far better area to mountain bike. While nursing my wounds, guess what I saw? A couple homemade pickup caps (shells, canopies). I said "cap" (an inverted tub that clamps to the rails of the cargo bed), not "slide-in camper."

Why didn't I think of that before?! Well actually I did, but a painted plywood cap seemed too downscale and embarrassing. Not so. They looked fine. I am really excited. 

This post is getting too long, so I'll live up to my promises next time.

Monday, September 1, 2014

A More Sane Approach to Holidays

Little Texas #3, CO. Let's get one thing out of the way: I like Texans. All it took was spending my first winter as a full-time RVer in the Texas Hill Country. I left wondering why so many Yankees have a prejudice against such friendly people. At least I did, at one time.

Furthermore, I do not hate motorized recreational sports. There are just too many of them, that is all.

Aren't there better alternatives to the weekend/holiday warrior pattern? Just think of the expense families suffer when they own motorized toys, one for every family member over age 6, and then use those toys a couple days per year. And then there is the toy hauler or flat-bed trailer, and a $65000 King Ranch F350 pickup truck to pull all that crap. They are pissing money away so fast. They should save it for double digit inflation in healthcare, college, and food.

Let's try to come up with some constructive alternatives. Wouldn't it cost less to give their little darlin' 6-year-old girl lessons with an Uzi machine gun? And stay home. Keep the money in the local economy. (e.g., the Uzi instructor or the local gun shop.)

Seriously folks, wouldn't it be advantageous to take under-utilized public facilities, such as the county fairgrounds (or the county landfill for that matter), and build a dirt obstacle course? There could be a kiddie track next to the adult track. Public safety would be enhanced. Think of the ski industry.

At my dispersed camp this weekend there was a bit of excitement. An ambulance circled through my camping area, with all lights flashing. A sheriff followed. Then they left. What was that all about it?

The next day I returned to camp to find a flat-bed toy trailer loading up ATVs, with the supervision of a Law Enforcement officer of the U.S. Forest Disservice. I must have given the father a dirty look for blocking my campsite, because he began apologizing. One of the ATVs was pretty banged up. He said his son had driven off into a ravine the previous day, had broken his shoulder blades (?), and was now in a Denver hospital. That was what the ambulance and sheriff's car were all about the previous night. I wonder what the kid's age was.

Besides safety and expense, dirt tracks with obstacles at the county fairgrounds would create a festive atmosphere every weekend: country-western bands, barbecues, antique car or tractor shows, arts and crafts. People could camp in the infield of the racetrack and whoop it up all night. Nobody has to drive anywhere that night -- all the fun is right there! And that county fairground is un-used most of the year.

You might say that this would hurt the tourist economy in Colorado. Yea well, so what? The economy of this state depends on retirement McMansions as far as I can tell. The money not spent in Colorado would be spent more efficiently and safely back in Texas.