Saturday, December 24, 2016

Cognitive Dissonance at Christmas

While flying for the first time in 20 years, I certainly saw the convenience of smartphones, compared to the clumsy laptop I was dragging around. It was a good example of 'cognitive dissonance.' But this Christmas I experienced an extreme example of cognitive dissonance. 

Let's shift a little bit first: I congratulate anybody who makes it through life without having to clean up the ghastly mess left by a relative who has died recently. So much of the mess was avoidable. But we all tend to ignore our own mortality, so a bit of orderliness doesn't get a chance.

The cognitive dissonance comes in when the relative's death occurs near Christmas. Look at all the maniac shoppers driving around, stressed out of their minds, crashing into each other in the parking lots. Yesterday I actually saw a pickup truck turn a road's shoulder into a driving lane by jumping his right-hand wheels over the curb, and up onto a sidewalk.

It would never occur to these shoppers that their precious 'bargains' (and fun luxuries) are headed to next year's yard sale. Or maybe they won't. Maybe they will just pile up in basements and closets. And then the 'lucky' relatives will get to rent a payloader and dispose of all that crap when the shopper dies.

Think of the Indian tradition of putting a carcass on a funeral pyre, and then lighting the match. Maybe that is a good idea for material detritus.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Navigating by Feeling the Topography

Do you suppose there are people in this racket (RVing) who aren't map/geography nerds? Anything is possible I suppose. At any rate, such a person would not like this post.

I had to drive from Quartzsite to Havasu to find a veterinarian to remove some infected cactus spines from my dog. The job was successful, so I was in a good mood driving home. Perhaps that had something to do with my sudden appreciation for the road design in that town.

Yes I know: it's not something that you think too much about, or would deem worthy to write about. But I tend to write about things that seem unusual; and enjoying the 'town planning' of any place is unusual, especially after disliking the road layout of Havasu in the past.

The road system was a grid of approximately orthogonal lines: one set of streets went roughly uphill, along the steepest gradient, away from the Colorado River. The orthogonal set of streets ran along isoclines, more or less, which eventually fell back down to the main highway.

Believe it or not, it was fun to drive through town, completely unaided by maps or GPS help, and 'feel' my way back to the main highway by looking at the topography. (It goes without saying that using GPS gadgets is only for the unmanly traveler.)

Now I understand why I had disliked Havasu in the past. A sailor or a midwestern landlubber thinks in terms of latitude and longitude, and any other type of grid seems barbaric and random to him. But Havasu's grid isn't random: it was laid out relative a noticeable ramp away from the Colorado River and towards the mountains in the east.

Many 'old towns' were laid out parallel/perpendicular to the river which created the town in the first place. In such a place, you would only confuse each other giving directions in terms of north, south...  

Rather, you say "away" from the river or towards it; upstream or downstream.

When I was a young navigator there was a small town nearby whose streets were cock-eyed. I didn't see how anybody could live in such a place. But once again, the street design was set up with respect to the 45 degree railroad track that founded the town back in the 1800's.

Even the longitude/latitude thinking of the sailor/midwesterner is 'topographically' based. It's just that there is no topography there except the shape of the globe and its spinning.

Long-term camping near Quartzsite.

This line of thinking hits paydirt -- literally -- when getting perplexed by the plexus of ATV trails that lead from my trailer door, into the surrounding lunar-scape of Quartzsite. The layout seems random at first, and I haven't been able to repeat a circumnavigation around Dome Rock without getting 'lost.' But I love getting lost on my mountain bike, with trails and trails...

...steering by insinuating my body into the canyons and saddles between the lunar mountains; and looking for a gap, a passage. I wouldn't take a map along if you paid me.

A philosopher would say, 'All topography is in one of two categories: convex or concave.'  Then he would yawn or sigh something like, 'All is vanity...'

But a human animal, who wants to survive, looks at the individualities of terrain. He cares for distinguishable differences, not commonalities or broad categories. Thus the land stays interesting to him for a long time.

If you'd like, you can crawl on top of this sturdy mine-shaft-guard, look down the vertical shaft with a flashlight, and drop a pebble in. Not me!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Making Peace With Quartzsite

A big part of an independent lifestyle is being able to appreciate things. Now and then I see a sudden jump-up in my appreciation of something -- many times a location. The more general question is what is holding me back? But let's consider a tangible example.

I have always found Quartzsite AZ difficult to appreciate. Most of the junk for sale isn't such a great bargain. Besides, what is so great about a clutter of miscellanea and detritus?

On the other hand, it has been easy to appreciate the fine winter weather: cool dry air with no insects. Quartzsite is not too crowded in December. Library privileges are offered to visitors.

This year I have made better use of the plexus of ATV trails that one of the camping areas has. Mornings are cool, so the motorhead crowd waits until afternoon. (And even then, it still ain't bad.) That makes these trails excellent in the mornings for mountain biking with my dog. 

I don't know why I overlooked this advantage, in the past. Perhaps the highway noise bothered me. Noise from an interstate highway is rather steady after all, so I could have tried harder to think of it as white noise. Besides, it drowns out the neighbor's generator.

With wider tires, a mountain biker can adapt to the rocky trails. And you would never have to worry about mud! I pedal along, fantasizing about bigger and wider tires. Ah well, that's OK. Delayed gratification is fun. 

(People who still have 26" wheels are starting to feel like losers. Even better than a standard 29" wheel, would be a 29er bike with the wider "Boost" hubs. These bikes accept a 27.5" X 2.8" wide tire, as well as a standard width 29" tire. They also eliminate the front derailleur by using 1 X 11 gearing.


Epilogue: I take it all back! Quartzsite lost its veterinarian. Now it's a long drive to Havasu or Yuma. A grand total of one in Blythe. Imagine the problems with getting in to see a vet in January when the dashboard dog population spikes!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

UPDATE: Hope for the Generator Ghettoes During Winter

There is a tendency to be discouraged by the noise pollution when camping in the winter. Don't be. Things are improving. Solar panels and high quality generators are becoming more common.

And yet some people still buy one of those yellow P.o.S generators from China just to save $600. What fraction is that of their total rig expense? For many RVers, it is less than 1%. Hell, that's round-off error.

For those who are burdened by the $600, consider the alternative I posted about in the tab "Almost Needing a Generator," at the top of the screen.

Regardless of the noisiness of your neighbor's generator, most of its 'on-hours' would simply disappear if he put $200 into a proper "three stage" charger, such as Iota, Xantrex, Blue Sea, Samlex, etc.

But instead, your neighbor simply pulls the electrical power cord out of the hole in the side of the RV, just as he would in an RV park, sticks an adapter on the end, and plugs it into his generator.

Then what happens?! The AC power goes from the generator to his rig's "converter/charger", which powers the DC circuits and slowly charges the rig's battery at 13.5 Volts. You can't charge a battery quickly unless you get up to 14.4--14.8 Volts, which is what would happen with a proper three stage charger. Thus most of his generator hours are wasted. 

Does anyone know what fraction of RVs come from the factory with crappy "converter/chargers" that only put out 13.5 Volts DC to the batteries? After writing this post, I bumped into an answer. See the Epilogue below.

For instance I bought a 30 Amp charger from Samlex for $200. I charge my two 6-volt GC2 "golf cart" batteries this way, on a cloudy day.  I will run it 30 minutes, and be optimistic that the solar panels will get lucky later in the day.


Epilogue. Quartzsite is a good place to learn about these things. I was pleased to learn that the standard RV supplier of converter/chargers, Progressive Dynamics, sells a $30 optional module, with a cable and connector, that upgrades the Intelli-power 9100 series into a 4 stage charger. You just mount the little "Charge Wizard" module to a hole in a wooden panel, connect it, and push the button to go into 4 stage charging.

Hooray for them! This would be a good way for your neighbor to cut down on his hours of generator usage.

Check out the Series 9200 of Intellipower converter/chargers. It might have the Charge Wizard already built into it.   

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Finally Appreciating the Female Camper

Permission to speak freely? I have never envied men who camped with women. It's not that I don't appreciate women, it's just that the female camper usually seems like a proverbial 'fish out of water.' When I camped with a small band of RV campers this past summer, it really hit me that I had never considered this topic before, despite its importance to the human condition.

Imagine the poor devil camping in the desert in winter, and having to listen to the lawnmower-like scream of a vacuum cleaner for hours a day. Think of all the electricity it wastes. And yet, the crazed woman never thinks things are clean enough. She fancies herself a nature-lover (aka, a scenery snacker). Yet she thinks dust blowing in the desert wind is unnatural. This is one of the many examples of a woman-camper being a liability to the poor fellow. But who wants to give up on half the human race that easily?

Last summer my best conclusions about why women disliked camping were:
  1. They lack sports and activities that are done outdoors. Many of these primal satisfactions are enjoyed by the mighty male hunter/warriors of the tribe, but not by them.
  2. Their crucial importance in the cycle of life and physical survival has been downgraded as we have developed a cash economy. The home doesn't produce anything anymore. Now it's all about running to the store to satisfy one's needs, and the camper is usually far away from decent shopping. 
Well, it was just my first stab at it. So what should women-campers do? Let us put that aside, and go back to world of experience and observation before coming back to this issue.

These days I have switched over to watching "Wagon Train" DVDs. Now how is that for a classic television western, aimed at the RV lifestyle?

In the first season, an episode started off with a woman in the wagon train singing a child to sleep. It may have been an old spiritual song, but she sang it like a lullaby, and with no accompaniment. (The actress was Shelley Winters, who sang well enough for roles in Broadway musicals.) This had a powerful effect on me.

Many people have vague memories from their childhood of a woman's voice, humming or singing around the house. It is the sort of primal satisfaction that I like to experience, or at least be reminded of, when camping.

This experience gave me what I was looking for: a way to appreciate a woman-camper above and beyond mere existence and survival. She has a way of creating a 'reality distortion field' around her house, which makes life for everybody seem better than what it actually is, if 'is' just refers to material conditions.

Those conditions have been austere and grim for most people of our species for virtually all of its lifespan. Isn't it incredible that evolution has equipped women with the hardware and firmware to make life not just possible, but also worth living?

Saturday, November 26, 2016

How to Raise an RV Grasshopper

One of black squares in my checkered past is a brief stint at teaching. I say "black" because I was aware I wasn't very good at it. This seemed unfair, because my father was an excellent teacher. Perhaps that is why I am enjoying mentoring Grasshopper as he hooks up the solar panels, battery charger, and inverter on his new Nash trailer.

When he called up on the phone to buy my first trailer a couple years ago, I didn't think he showed much promise. He said that he had no house-handyman or technical experience. Worse yet, he didn't seem to desire overcoming that handicap. Any RVer who intends to camp outside RV parks and their hookups has to be a little bit willing to get involved with their RV.

Buying my boondocking trailer from me was a deft move by him, because all that solar/battery/charger/inverter stuff was done. Even better, it was visible, because I treated the trailer as a cargo trailer wannabee. And he asked questions from time to time.

Before getting back to Grasshopper, I must pontificate on how bad most RV 'how to' blogs are. Sure, they mean well. And they are pretty knowledgeable. But I suspect one eye is always on their link-bait or Google income. Sometimes they bury the newbie under mountains of extraneous details. Why so? Their game can be guessed at -- but let's skip it.

Whatever happened to the old proverb about 'give a man a fish and you feed him for one day...teach him how to fish, and you feed him for life?' It is astonishing to see these blowhards on the internet spoon-feeding newbies with endless snippets of 'practical' details.

I am here to tell you that solarizing a rig is not rocket science. Rather than going on and on about minutiae, the newbies' main challenge is to simply adjust their attitude: stop thinking like a wasteful and conventional suburbanite. 

How many RVers think that the only way to heat a cup of tea is to turn on a 2000 Watt microwave oven [*]? 

Don't they know how well an old-fashioned pressure cooker works -- on a propane stove -- for cooking a variety of foods?

No, they don't need a 1000 Watt Mr. Coffee gadget for making a cup of coffee. Can't they see that their thinking-patterns are merely inherited from their shameful past in a stick-and-brick house?! If they try real hard, they might convince themselves that water in a metal pan can be heated on a propane stove.

Pulled into a morass of details, the newbies aren't even taught the basic ideas and principles and categories: you use propane for high-power devices, and electricity for low-power devices.

There are other examples of "technical" problems that really just show an unwillingness to adjust mentally: 
  1. Why are they using a 50" television in a van? 
  2. Why are they still using an obsolete 17" laptop instead of something that uses lower power? 
  3. Would it kill them not to have toast for breakfast? How much electricity does a WASA cracker take? 
  4. Why do they waste propane on a water heater that runs 24 hours a day, when they could just heat water in a pan on the propane stove, and take a navy shower?
  5. Why do they dress the same way they used to, in their stick-and-brick house, instead of adopting a practical style for winter weather?

Well, this rant has pulled me away from my original mentoring story. Later.

[*] Most people who have just bought a $60,000 pickup to pull a $70,000 16,000 pound fifth-wheel can probably afford a $25 Kill-a-Watt meter to measure their energy hogs.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Lone Rider of Chinatown Wash

My dog was giving off an unusual bark at the screen door. Although it wasn't such a great idea, I let her charge out towards whatever or whoever was bothering her. It was a pretty, half-white horse and its human 'operator.' They were moving towards us on a mountain bike single-track trail. (Actually it is for other non-motorized users, too.)

I apologized to the horseman for my dog's barking, but neither he nor his horse seemed concerned. I guess they'd seen a dog or two in their day. They walked up to about one body-length from me, and calmly 'parked' themselves.

Just to put the reader into a Western mood.

I felt an instant affinity for the man and horse, perhaps because I too am a lone rider on the same trails, albeit with a dog and mountain bike, instead of a horse.

I watch DVDs of TV westerns these days; "The Virginian" in particular. Horses always look so big in the show. But here the horse looked smaller. His eyes were even with mine. Of course they were three or four times as large. The horse stared calmly at me the whole time.

People are always getting thrown from their horses in western shows, caught in the stirrups, and then dragged. Looking at the rider and horse in front of me, I wondered why modern horsemen didn't have a stirrup "safety release," like a mountain biker or skier.

The rider didn't even look that high in the saddle. Recently the ride looked so high when Jena Engstrom mounted the horse in an episode of the Virginian. I fell in love with her riding. She even did her own stunts, once falling off the horse. (And you could see her face -- it was no stunt-girl.) She had to lift her foot up to shoulder height to get on her horse. I almost laughed when comparing it to long-legged Chuck Connors's style of mounting a horse.

Then I peppered the rider with questions about saddle-making, bits, reins, etc. He didn't roll his eyes at my city-slickerish ignorance. He patiently answered the questions, and really seemed to enjoy it. He even gave a demonstration of his horse-handling techniques.

It was late afternoon, getting towards dusk. Finally he needed to get going. His wife was waiting on the main gravel road with the horse trailer and pickup truck. His wife didn't ride with him anymore. She had been thrown twice in one year, and she was, after all, 80 years old. He was 84. Something about that fact was soothing. America seemed basically OK if there were people like them still around.

Moments like this bring on nostalgia for a West that has mostly passed, but not completely. Recall the ending of Jack Schaefer's "Shane:"
"...the man who rode into our little valley out of the heart of the great glowing West and when his work was done rode back whence he had come and he was Shane."
But even better than his evanescence into western myth, look at this photo of Chinatown Wash, just as it hits a high, dry waterfall. Thenceforth the canyon is dark and vertical. The slow trickling-down of the Present abruptly becomes fatality and the Past...

And "what was corporeal, vanished, as breath into the wind..."

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Popular Tastes and the Recent Election

My entire central nervous system, my soul, my personal dignity, everything that seems to define my existence, is under assault right now.  I am having breakfast at a fast food joint, and using the "free" wi-fi. Free, my butt. Look at the price I am paying for it. A loudspeaker (of rather good quality) is blasting trashy popular music at me, as I try to read, write, and think.

Who selects this music?! But I should stop complaining. It could be rap music. Most of it is just lewd female shrieking in rather standard love songs. Gawd, I hate Whitney Houston.

But from a different angle, this torture is beneficial. Sometimes you need to be shocked into confronting unpleasant truths. Consider the recent elections from the perspective of popular music, movies, or whatever.

If this election did not prove 'Democracy: the God that Failed,' then at the very least it shows that universal suffrage is an absurdity. And yet, in the 1800's it was seen as 'progress' that idealists worked for. How could they be so naive as to believe that Rule-of-the-Most is better than Rule-of-the-Best?

Yea I know, how do you agree on who the 'best' is? But is it good to quit trying, and just accept 'no standards' when it is difficult to agree on standards?

Friday, November 11, 2016

Praise for the Real Virtues of Veterans

It is important to offer honest praise for vitally important virtue. Is that what you hear in the standard speeches on Veterans' Day? I think you just hear empty and perfunctory slogans.

Pacifists and warmongers are fools. I assert that nothing is more important than defending your home against an outside invader. (Perhaps 'sacred' is a better choice than 'important.')

And think of the sacrifices soldiers make, when they do so! It goes a lot further than the chance of being injured or killed. What will they do for a living when it's over? What happens to their homes, farms, or financial savings? Will they get halfway decent medical care when the killing is over? How many years will their children's education be blocked? The same issues arise for the people that the soldier knows and cares about. What if the entire social and economic fabric of their country is torn up?

So many soldiers have made that sacrifice. If public speakers really meant what they say about 'honoring the troops', they would acknowledge that 90% of the honor should go to soldiers who fought the US military -- at least since World War II.

The last 10% of the honor should go to US soldiers, not for what they actually did, but for what they thought they were doing. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Healthy Downsizing Project for Election Day

Election day is probably the only day that brings more relief than Christmas. And for pretty much the same reason: a protracted, half-insane process has finally ended. 

From an individual's point of view, both Christmas and presidential elections represent a marvelous opportunity to practice mental hygiene, by ignoring these two seasons as much as possible. If you do a good job at that, you have accomplished a lot more than by downsizing physical clutter in your life.

It's possible that I am fooling myself about how well I've performed this mental downsizing over the last 18 (?) months of the presidential election cycle. Very well then, at least I'll do a good job on election day.

Today's project will be the ultimate downsizing project. I will spend the day reading Benjamin Constant's "Political Principles." He seems rather forgotten today. A real shame. So far his book has been interesting and easy to read. For the most part it is an attack on Rousseau's Social Contract as the great error of modern philosophy. Rousseau believed in the unconditional surrender of an Individual's rights to the mysterious and abstract "General Will" in a democracy. He believed in the unlimited power of democratic sovereignty.

But by reading an important and fundamental book on election day, rather than by following the blow-by-blow accounts of the horse race as presented by the clowns on television, an individual can show that they have not surrendered.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Longest Frog Hollow

It is quite something how popular 24-hour races have become over the last few years. But why should that matter to anybody other than extreme athletes? 

That was the challenge before me, as I camped in "Frogtown" and volunteered at the "longest 24 hour race in the world," so called because it goes from 10 am Saturday to 10 am Sunday, over the end of Daylight Savings Time. Thus it is 25 hours long in real time, and Frog-Time.

Some "typical" scenery, mountain biking in central Utah.

Practical benefit: I learned how some 29 inch mountain bikes will accommodate the 27.5 inch (aka, '650') wheels with 'plus' sized (wide) tires.  I was leaning to the 650 Plus bikes for my next mountain bike.

Additional benefit: having my nose rubbed in the obsolete-ness of my 26 inch mountain bike. Will I even be able to buy tires for it five years from now?

When roaming free range over a wide group of people, it is so easy to begin categorizing creatures. Otherwise the human mind drowns in minute and fractured details. Here is a list of my favorite categories, stepping down to least favorite:

1. Dogs. Surprisingly my favorite was an uncropped male Doberman pinscher. I praised the owner to his face for allowing his friendly pooch to remain au naturel. 

2. Cute little girls.

3. Pretty young mothers.

Then there is a huge gap in the likability ranking.

Negative infinity plus 2. Old crones who cackle.

Negative infinity plus 1. Young boy monsters. (These may be promoted one notch, depending on the upcoming election)

Negative infinity. Males 16--30, who speak half-intelligible English, composed of the latest slang; and who wear their testosterone-crazed egos on their shirt sleeve. My goodness, how did young women ever put up with us, back then?

The difficulty of riding all night cannot be fully appreciated until you remember how deeply a younger person sleeps. They are really affected by sleep patterns that are disturbed.

Although mountain biking at night sounds semi-suicidal, remember that all riders had two powerful headlights. These have become remarkably good the last couple years.

Perhaps this experience is like that of soldiers in combat. Visualizing it thusly, and trying to put yourself into the shoes of the participants, may be the trick to making the experience interesting for a non-extreme athlete, who would otherwise laugh off the race as useless. Perhaps William James himself would have appreciated races like this as the "moral equivalent of war."

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Real and Imaginary Loneliness When Camping

Yesterday I had a nice visit with the fellow who bought my first trailer from me. He bought my trailer for $1800, camped full time in it for two years, and then sold it for $20oo. The bastard!

I tend to treat him as my "grasshopper." So when the topic of loneliness came up, I was a bit disappointed to hear him endorse the "sacred solitude" paradigm of RV boondocking. But he didn't outright deny experiencing loneliness as some solitary campers do.

Let's take an indirect approach to this issue of the loneliness of campers, by experiencing the human tribe at its best, during a festival. Currently I am camping near, and volunteering for, a mountain bike race in southwestern Utah.

1. Racing. The festival is predicated on the idea that racing is supposed to be exciting. Observing the crowd's behavior, this appears to be true. But it is strange how any human endeavor must be turned into a competition.

Consider the expense of these bicycles, let alone the risk of injury.

Is there nothing about the activity itself that is intrinsically interesting and rewarding? Must everything be about ego-gratification?

2. The sardine can. Consider the automatic tendency of many people to deliberately choose to camp unnecessarily close to other people, despite having the freedom to do otherwise.

3. The "beam." There are people who are like the two dogs I've had: they can easily and quickly win over just about any new acquaintance. They have a "charm-beam" like a bright LED flashlight: all they have to do is point it at their next conquest to light them up.

But calm people don't get noticed too much. Even worse are serious-looking people, who look nerdy and scholarly. Lepers would be more popular.

It is easy to observe people's impatience with other people.   

4. Mis-managed expansiveness. Watch people roll in to camp in their cars. After turning off the engines, they pop all the doors open and spew music all over the camping area. What is going through their heads? 

Give them a little freedom, and they instantly convert it into noise pollution. Paraphrasing the classic speech about television in the original "Manchurian Candidate," we could say that 'there are two distinct types of people in the world: people who go to the Great Outdoors to get away from noise, and a second group that goes there to make noise.'

But from their point of view they are doing something harmless or even positive that expresses a momentary feeling of expansiveness. The same might be said of dog owners whose expansiveness takes the form of giving their dog freedom around other people. 

It's a good thing, is it not?, for freedom, cheerfulness, and expansiveness to be linked. Both the music-sharers and the dog-sharers are not evil; they are just forgetting to look at it from other people's perspective.

But the reader might say that I could try harder to 'think positive' about human behavior. They're right. But one could also try harder to think positive about solitude. Therefore, how positive or negative one wants to be, cancels out of both sides of the equation.

The point here is not to force yourself into a deliberately positive or negative attitude, but rather, to observe human behavior as it really is -- not as you want it to be. The result is an ambivalence about being around human beings. This ambivalence should keep your annoyances mild when around people, and your loneliness mild when alone.

Anybody who says that solitary camping can't get lonely is simply in denial. Rather than deny, let's manage loneliness, instead. This consists largely of restraining yourself from exacerbating loneliness by fantasizing about ideal human beings. 

Secondly, it involves going back and forth between solitude and group events of whatever kind, in order to restore your ambivalence and equipoise. Notice I did not say 'indifference.'

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Some Hope for a Clinton Presidency

I have no prediction about who will win this presidential election. It is humbling to see my supposed knowledge of history provide so little perspicuity at this time. The closest thing you could offer to a 'solid bet' is that a Clinton presidency -- if one comes -- has no chance of accomplishing anything, because it will be mired in legal battles, scandals, charges and counter-charges.

Ah but wait...maybe history does offer hope for a Clinton presidency. In order to distract the public from her endless scandals and legal problems, couldn't she go 'all in' for War? It would be easy for her to go that direction. She is already a neo-con, and part of the Beltway foreign policy consensus. She is the Defense sector's favorite candidate, other than John McCain.

More American involvement in Syria is the most likely course. But considering the sheer number of scandals and possible indictments, she should keep her options open on bombing and invading Crimea, Poland, the Baltic States, the South China Sea, the Philippines, Yemen, Somalia, and maybe a second rendition of Libya.

A cynic might argue that America has shown no interest in fighting a major war in Syria. But that is just because a sufficient provocation hasn't been offered -- something more compelling than Obama's "Assad crossed the Red Line" argument of a couple years ago. What about ye olde 'They fired first!' gimmick? It gets 'em every time. American presidents have been brilliant at suckering the 'bad guys' into firing the first shot. 

If President Clinton offered a trap for America in order to get her out of her own trap, most of the Stoopid Party would fall for it. They simply can't resist an opportunity for another trillion dollars of ineffective war, especially one in a country so close to Israel. 

There is only one problem with my optimistic political advice for the Clinton administration: Putin would have to take the bait. He has already shown, when the Turks shot down the Russian fighter, that he is too adroit to fall for such a trap. In fact I suspect he would dance circles around Mrs. Clinton, just as he has with Obama. Is it legal to write him in when you vote next week?

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Clicking the Camera Versus Taking a Photograph

This is the wrong time of year to talk about this photograph, but I can't help it. It should be presented at the end of May or whenever tedious speeches are given all over the country at graduation ceremonies. You know how it goes. The speaker drops into a stentorian tone of voice, "...and furthermore, students and parents, let me remind you of one more thing: that this is a Beginning, not an Ending." Or something like that.

The idea is basically correct. We shouldn't be throwing tomatoes at the pompous speaker just because the phrasing is so hackneyed. 

Take this as an opportunity. Many of the most important truths in life lose their force with repetition. Rather than switching our attention to trivial novelties, the timeless and classic Ideas need to "reincarnated" in particular situations, with characters that we actually care about, so that the Truth matters once again. That should be the mission of novelists, screenwriters, painters, and photographers.

Mother Nature presented me with lots of eye candy recently, in central Utah.  Like anybody armed with a digital camera, it was easy to be trigger-happy. But I reminded myself that neither I nor anybody else in the world needs one more pretty postcard.

Of course, sometimes there isn't time to really think about the ideas or metaphorical interpretation of a photograph. You just have to click the shutter, and then delete 95% of the pile. Every now and then, you find a photograph that means something.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Metaphorical Caption Contest

After an evening rain I awoke to fog and low clouds playing games with the mesas of central Utah. Actually it seemed more like a rapid military invasion and conquest.

I was quite sincere in my Photographic Manifesto that there is a worthwhile purpose to cluttering the internet with one more photograph. That purpose is the visual representation of an important idea, rather than trivial prettiness and entertainment. Visual representations of ideas have advantages over the tedious word-wrangling of authors.

The trick is to photograph things that suggest -- that lure -- the viewer into finishing the connection between different objects in the photograph. But it must not be too difficult to make the connection, or the viewer won't even try. They will just say, "This photograph really ain't that purdy." And then turn away from it.

It would please me to see readers offer metaphorical captions to the photograph above. For my part, it reminds me of the essay by William Graham Sumner, "The Conquest of the United States by Spain." (in his essays, a free ebook from )  When two opponents fight a war, the "winner" might end up taking the form of the loser. Looking back on it, the nominal winner may ask, "What was the point of the war? We became what we hated." The fog seems to be doing that to the mesa.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Democracy and Football: the Gods that Failed

An optimist would say that it can only get better from now on: that America has hit absolute bottom in this year's election. For my part, I feel pretty good about ignoring the long primaries season. Just think how much cultural pollution my mind was spared, because of that. Besides, thinking about politics just makes a person sour and angry.

I still think the best way to handle this frustration is to channel it into reading history. Look at the two candidates America has chosen to run for president, and ask yourself if you were brainwashed in school about how democracy really works, and why it was so great.

Perhaps I should read the book, "Democracy: The God that Failed." But I am afraid the book may be academic and full of abstruse libertarian theology.

The older you get, the easier it is to be content with small accomplishments. I am feeling pleased with myself for ignoring the NFL professional football season, so far. Actually it makes no sense to follow any professional sport until the playoff season starts.

Perhaps I should thank Colin Kaepernik. I actually admired him a little bit for having the substance to make his protest, although there is no reason why a football player's political opinions are worth paying special attention to.

At least it started me thinking about how ridiculous the NFL is: its overpaid athletes, the commercials, ticket prices, and how freakish the sport is. Kaepernik was right to have his little protest. Now let me have mine.

A couple weeks ago, when this story was big news, I was pleased and impressed that a couple pundits on the internet actually got around to asking, "Why do we sing the tribal war song at the beginning of an entertainment show, anyway?"

The worst thing about the NFL is how the US Military/State uses it as a recruitment and advertising platform. I feel like vomiting at their jet fighter flyovers, the military bands, and the hokey ceremonies honoring the troops for "protecting our freedoms."

The last time an American soldier made any sacrifice to protect our freedom was 1945, and I'm tempted to say 1865. ALL of the wars during my lifetime have been wars of choice, on other people's soil.

But I do miss the NFL cheerleaders. How I would like to grab them by the...  Oh wait, now we are talking about politics again.