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.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Finally, Finding Hope in Moab

I have been struggling to make 'lemonade from the lemons' of Moab. The pressure was made worse by a Utah school holiday coming up. But I'm glad I didn't give-in to defeatism. 

Surprisingly good results can come from remembering that 'the early bird gets the worm.' There is a jeep/ATV road that is easy to see from my campsite. It looked quite appealing to mountain bike on. Should I be so foolishly naive as to try?

I started a few minutes after sunrise, when it was still chilly. For the first hour and a half, not a single motorized device passed me, despite this trail being well-signed and well-known. Then I popped out on a dirt road and had a nice conversation with a young couple who was taking their niece on a walk. My dog loves children, and vice versa.

It is not surprising that this worked, but it is that it worked so well, and in Moab! There is probably quite a wind chill factor when 'four wheeling' in an open jeep, ATV, or Texas wheelchair ('side by side'). So why would they start early?

Besides, they are on vacation. They want to sleep in, and then take the family out to breakfast at a sit-down restaurant. That takes forever. No wonder 90% of the motorhead traffic is in the afternoon.

From now on I will dress up in cool-weather-cycling clothing, and hope for the best, starting at sunrise. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Part 2: Hopeless Moab

What is that crazy dog up to now?! She took off running up a cliff. But I have learned that bizarre behavior on her part is usually due to ravens.  The raven sat right at the top of this strange, ugly geologic feature. 

She never learns that the raven will simply fly away before she gets there. On the way down, Coffee Girl seemed to pose for the camera, with a look of contentment in her body language. 

It seems that I am content to look at things from her point of view. 

Often I run across unpleasant and impractical dogs, and wonder why the owner was so 'stupid' as to choose that dog. But to be fair, it really isn't about stupidity. Didn't the Bard say (more or less) that 'a young man falls in love with his eyes, not with his heart.' The same could be easily said about most people as they choose their pets.

It would be better to choose a dog blindfolded. Lower your hand to its mouth for an eager, but bashful, lick. Feel its body start wriggling when you pet it. Hear the vibrato of its wagging tail.

The same thing happens with motor vehicles and RVs. Does 'Mildred' (of Fred and Mildred fame) care about anything other than the color schemes in her new rig? Later, she encounters one disappointment after another. She acts surprised.

But being a bit indifferent to the scenery of Moab doesn't mean that there aren't other things to make the experience interesting. Rolling into town the other day, I was once again amazed at how hellishly hot canyon bottoms are. A month of thermal progress was wiped out in a second. I was furious!

My years of experience with travel have taught me not to suppress my aversions, because soon, something ironic usually happens. Later that same day, it did happen. Instead of closing up the trailer at night, like you would in the high country, I left everything open. How wonderful it felt to have cooling, but still balmy, wind blowing over the skin. I could relax with my environment, instead of bracing against it, like you would in the high country.

What is most amazing is that these sense-impressions through the skin never seem to get boring, as most delights do. 

In being surrounded by hordes of scenery tourists, it helps to visualize them as a rather different animal species from myself: they process information differently than I do. So does my dog. I put up with it from her, so why not cut these clownish tourists the same slack?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Moab Is Hopeless, But Is That So Bad?

Is there something cheerful to think about when you are in Moab, UT? Let's be playful and take it as a challenge. (And no, red rock scenery doesn't count.) So far I am drawing blanks...

1.  And yet look at all the people milling around town: they seem pleased to be here. They must be doing something right. Enjoying Moab vicariously seems like the only approach that might pay off.

To fail at this completely is still good news, if it helps me to appreciate novelists and scriptwriters. This could be a big deal to me. Just think how good they must be at putting themselves into other people's 'shoes' in order for their novel or script to be the least bit interesting!

2. Quite separate from the angle of vicarious enjoyment, there is a second approach that ties in with the book I am reading, by Siedentop. Why did early Christians choose Hope as one of their cardinal virtues? I think it is pernicious. It only leads to disappointment and disillusionment.

I came to Moab without any hope whatsoever. Therefore there is nothing to lose. It's a genuinely peaceful and secure feeling. Somehow Moab may be tricked into surprising me on the up-side.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Pleasure of Meeting Intelligent People

What do people think of when they first think about intelligent people? Is it somebody with little personality who grinds away at their career all the time? Or is it somebody who appears superficially polite, but actually is snide and supercilious?

I'll bet they don't think of the pleasure an intelligent person can give to other people. Let me give you a little anecdote about being on the receiving end of this. But first you must bear the set up.

I was in Cortez Colorado, looking to buy a new Utah atlas, either the DeLorme or Benchmark version. This area caters to tourists, and it is the closest small city to the Four Corners. So you would expect it to be easy to buy an atlas for any of the four states.

Wrong. I failed to find these atlases in a half dozen places. The frustration was worsened by driving from place to place while pulling my trailer. Towing a trailer is a terrible way to knock off errands in a city.

If a sensible person were replacing a hardware or mechanical part, they would bring the old worn-out part to the store, and spare everybody the frustration of spewing out verbiage to the store's employee. But I was too foolish to do that, because I had already decided that this errand should be easy.  

What blank, uncomprehending stares I got from the employees! One woman reminded me of the look that cows give when you encounter them on dirt roads in the forest.

At first I thought that Benchmark and DeLorme were terms only known to the cognoscenti of the outdoors. So I softened my approach by only using the term 'atlas.' But even that term confused these blockheads. And here I thought the average second grader knew what an atlas was!

With a certain amount of hope I went into a visitor's center that was connected to nearby Mesa Verde national park. It disappeared when I saw the first customer: he looked like a New York tourist visiting Florida in 1960. The store was filled with Native American kitsch souvenirs and coffee table books. Jean Jacques Rousseau would have loved this place. But no atlases.

Sometimes they could read my frustration, and then returned it. But I just couldn't believe that I was unable to make myself understood when talking to people who spoke English as a first language.

Finally, as a broken man, I went into Walmart and threw myself on the mercy of an employee. She wasn't just sentient -- which is all one could reasonably expect in a Walmart -- she had a mind like a steel trap. She sent me right to the place, although Walmart just sells the old Rand-McNally highway atlases that get the mass tourist to Disney World, Las Vegas, or the national parks in the West.

That wasn't her fault. When I left the store I still felt dazzled by the eager pounci-ness of her mind.

Friday, October 7, 2016

A Single Man Finally Tastes Legitimacy

I started noticing something strange during my couple weeks as a campground host. Quite unrelated to this, a mountain biker dropped by yesterday. We ended up having a conversation unlike any I've had before. Its conclusion probably explains what I was noticing as a campground host.

People were treating me in a more friendly manner than what I was used to. Had I suddenly become four times better-looking or developed irresistible charm?

He mentioned that he avoids talking to people in public situations. He attributed this to his socially-marginal status as a single (heterosexual) male, without a wife, recent girlfriend, or children. He routinely senses hostility from the wives of male buddies.

Well, that is easy enough to explain: at the very least, wives don't want their husbands to come under the baleful influence of unmarried male friends, the sort of irresponsible, self-centered, spoiled clowns who are used to spending their own time and money on exactly what they please. She has years of effort, and a certain amount of progress, in turning her husband into a nice, domesticated lapdog; and she doesn't want to see any regression by him hanging out with a coyote.

On top of that, the single male might be a felon, a recent parolee, potential child abductor, rapist, or the next lone-wolf shooter at the shopping mall who you read about.

Neither one of us wanted pity or a government affirmative program to help us with our social handicap. We had accepted the situation with a grim sense of humor.

The thing that is the most galling is the moral posturing by the PC crowd for "Toleration" and "Diversity." This never seems to extend to people like him and me. The hypocrisy is astonishing: the most ostentatiously PC couple, who accepts (notice the use of the singular verb) a gay couple into its social circle, will not see that its tolerance is based on the gay couple being a couple. Tolerance and broad-mindedness end at the moral stain of singlehood. 

I told him of the remarkable experience I had had last spring: I traveled for a week with a female friend. We were not a couple, but apparently other people thought we were. It was amazing how friendly total strangers were, at restaurants or other public places. It made me realize what an 'unterMensch' I was the rest of the time.

His explanation: well of course, you wore the seal-of-approval from a woman, for that week, so other people saw you as 'OK.'  Lacking that, the next best thing is to wear the imprimatur of a large corporation or government organization, which is what I did as a campground host.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Mark of the Beast

You would expect something bizarre when you are traveling in the greatest volcanic explosion in Earth's history. Something unearthly. And sure enough, we found it. 

Do you think she likes mountain biking? Hard to tell with the stoical expression that dogs always have on their faces.

In case you didn't catch it the first time:

Monday, October 3, 2016

Busting My First Campers?

Some observations from my campround:

1. It is pleasant to talk to anyone who has some special interest and knowledge. They are rare. One camper was a serious jeeper. He taught me about the "pull-pal," a type of land anchor. It is a steel plow that digs its way into the ground when you pull on it with a winch. Perhaps even a "come-along" hand winch. Then it collapses/folds so that you can store it in your vehicle. Made in Carbondale, CO.

2. Had our first bicyclist from the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. (Adventure Cycling, Missoula, Montana.) Wish we had more of them. Maybe we aren't on their map.

I have to admit that doing nothing but cycling all day and camping in a tent don't really appeal to me as a mode of travel.  Still, their stamina is certainly impressive. 

3. One campsite had a large number of kids sitting on rocks, waiting for their meal. They looked so enchanted by the campfire. It would be fun to be invisible and hang out there and watch them. Personally I don't remember any campground experiences from childhood, because my family didn't camp. So it was hard to imagine what the kiddies were thinking.

4a. I considered busting my first camper. The first "opportunity" was a van-tramp (grin) who thought that he was going to park overnight for free in the day use area, despite the sign saying that that wasn't allowed. Then he would have used the toilets or dumped his offal and excrement in our trash cans, no doubt.

Listen to my prejudices! Good thing I didn't try to make a living as a cop. In fact, I gave him advice about all the free dispersed camping roads in the area, and it looks like he benefited.

Woe unto any "stealth" van tramp who invades my suzerainty and tries to camp for free! (grin)

4b. I came closer to busting a dog owner, of all things! I have no interest in being petty about dogs off-leash, as long as it is not causing a problem. That means somebody or their pet bleeding. 

But it also means 'being terrified.' One group had two dogs that charged my dog and me at full speed -- twice. Once again, my prejudices came out! I don't like German shepherds. 

The good news is that these two loudmouths just acted intimidating, rather than biting me or my dog. I am pretty good at not over-reacting to "problem" dogs. But if I had been a mother, walking her small child, with Fi-Fi alongside, these two off-leash dogs would have terrified me.

It is something to think about: one can read theoretical essays by philosophers, particularly of the libertarian stripe, and they seem to border on theology -- so disconnected from real people in the real world.

Where was the internal self-control on the part of those dog owners? At any rate, I am getting an education.