Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Inconsistencies of Internet Pundits

I am impressed by internet pundits from time to time. They can say something that really needs to be said, and that the mainstream media won't say. Sometimes a single sentence from the pundit seems of more value than most books.

Then the pundit jumps on some emotional hobbyhorse. In seconds the reader feels embarrassed to even be reading the article. How could they be so "brilliant" one moment, and such jackasses the next?

One could argue that the same personality is putting out everything that they write, about every topic. So maybe the reader should just dump their entire opus into the waste can.

It may make more sense to acknowledge that it is easy for any human being to display checkered behavior or thoughts. Take a limiting case of this: I have read that Isaac Newton wrote more on theology than mathematics and physics, and that his theology was crank-ish. I have never read his theology, so I don't know if that is true. But if it were true, how could you explain sheer brilliance of great historical importance one moment, and crankish thoughts the next moment?

Another way to explain the inconsistent behavior of internet pundits is to make an analogy with a major league baseball player, especially a home run hitter. They usually are at the top of the league in strike outs, as well.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Another Tourist Asking for Trouble

I was becoming inured to tourists drowning their brand new $50,000 motor vehicles in our neighborhood river. So perhaps it was a good thing that the young woman showed up at the campground and asked about how to get to her friend's remote location higher up in the mountains.

There was only an hour of daylight left, the usual time for tourists to get organized enough to do foolish things.  She had a text message, but no map. She was driving a low clearance, passenger car. I didn't quite know the place her message named, but I was suspicious. Back in my trailer, I looked up the place on one of my smartphone apps. It was as I feared. 

Did she have much of a chance to get there? There wouldn't be any car repair places open tomorrow, Sunday. She had already lost cellphone reception. Had her friend made it to that location because they had a high clearance car? 

A tourist can be so foolish and get away with it because  -- and only because -- they have cellphone reception and a credit card. I'll bet that young woman didn't know how to change a tire, and that she was not equipped with warm clothing, a tow rope, a can of expanding tire sealant, or jumper cables.

Her notions of safety and normalcy were totally dependent on that delicate tendril of communication to a cell tower, and she had already lost that.

Or was I just being an elderly worry-wart? Would somebody else come to her aid? Young women do have advantages when it comes to getting assistance from a stranger. 

I admit to feeling a foolish male urge to chase after her and help her out of the mess she was working so hard to get in to. But I pushed the urge away: this summer has taught me not to expect too much from people who need to be rescued. In fact she would probably resent my interference.

So all I could do was sigh in resignation, and think of an image from the beginning of "The Wizard of Oz," when Dorothy is running away from home, and she encounters the kind-hearted old carnival man. He cons her into returning home. As she leaves, he looks up at an approaching storm, and says, "Poor kid. I hope she makes it."

Monday, August 7, 2017

RV Friends: Be Careful What You Wish For

It always seemed like a personal setback that I had to mountain bike alone. Such was not the case with road cycling. But a person gets better at accepting that 'the way things are, is the way things ARE', the older one gets. 


When I was least expecting it, a mountain biker showed up at my campground and introduced himself as a reader of this blog. We ended up doing quite a bit of mountain biking together during his canonical 14 days.

So that's good news, right? Not so fast...

He left me behind like I was a walker every time the trail got a little rocky or rooty. One explanation is that he had 29" by 3.0" tires. Since we are the same size, it was easy to exchange bikes. I was won over to "big rubber" immediately.

Today I bought a new mountain bike, on sale, with big rubber. In a week I'll run down to the urban hellhole to pick it up at the REI store. 

The moral of this story is 'be careful what you wish for.' It never cost me money to mountain bike with a dog!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Soggy Tent Campers Making the Best Out of It

Oh no, here it goes again. What will it be this time? Hail, a slow all-night rain, or a monsoonal downpour. But the campground is full, mostly with tents or tent trailers. What do people see in this activity?

They have told me stories of how wet they get. But many people seem so good-natured about it. Some people are well prepared with tarps strung up between trees. Their gazebo-shelter-canopies sometimes protect an entire picnic table. Life seems to go on pretty smoothly at the picnic table.

So I want to admire how people make the best of it. I am held back only by the seditious thought that these people are crazy, and should be doing something else on vacations with their hard-earned money.

But they see something I don't. Think of this as a small example of how hard it would be to be a good novelist, who must crawl into the heads of the characters. 

I have better luck using a historical imagination. The other day a Brit was telling me about Scottish weather. Think of life in the winter in medieval Scotland. These people at their protected picnic sites help me imagine it.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Impressive (Anti-) Demonstration of Traction Control Systems

I thought the season was over -- the season of pulling people out of the river at my campground. But a rear-wheel-drive Ford Transit van got stuck just after its drive-wheels hit the water. It's true that he chose the wrong place to cross.

Remembering what I learned from experimenting with a Nissan NV van a couple years ago, I told him to turn off the traction control switch on the dashboard. Naturally he had no notion what that meant. But he finally found the switch. By turning off that switch, the traction control system was supposed to surrender its capability to throttle back/down the engine when a wheel starts slipping. Still, it was supposed to apply the brake to the slipping wheel, thereby imitating a limited-slip differential.

But that isn't what happened in practice, with the Ford Transit van in the river, where one wheel still slipped, while the other was completely stationary -- just the malaise of an open differential, in olden times. All this occurred in reverse gear.

Then I had the driver turn the traction control system back on. No difference. But the tow vehicle, a Toyota 4Runner, and several men kept working on it, until they succeeded in backing the Texan (naturally!) out of the drink.

I guess I need to study the owner's manual for the Ford Transit van. So far, it would appear that their traction control system was completely inoperative or useless, at least in reverse gear.

This was disappointing. Unaccustomed as I am to being a cheapskate and trying to beat the System, I used to scheme about buying an unpopular and inexpensive two-wheel-drive pickup truck or van as my next tow vehicle, and then hope for modern traction control systems to overcome the "one wheel slipping" syndrome. That appears to be a false hope.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Dog's Purpose, A Woman's Purpose

On our bicycle ride to town my dog and I have crossed paths several times with an older female jogger. What a tough ol' gal! An ideal observer would let someone like her inspire them, and then write a nice little sermon about her.

But I needed a little more. About 50 yards behind her, ran her even frailer old dawg. There is something about him that produced a lump in my throat. 

What was he thinking about? He looked so frustrated and disappointed, now that he can no longer keep up with his human -- and she is pretty frail herself. Was he thinking about a few years ago, when he was a still spry 10 year old dog, and she was a 70 year old "girl", and they were knocking off the trails one after another?

What kind of life had they had together? And now it was winding down.  

Perhaps the reader has seen that wonderful new movie directed by Lasse Hallström, "A Dog's Purpose." In the movie, a dog lives with his humans for awhile, ages or dies, and is reincarnated into a new doggie life.

How would the tough old broad jogger and her struggling dog fit into an episode of that movie?
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A couple days ago someone interrupted my siesta with a knock on the door. A hiker had just come off the main trail, where he saw a couple women trying to rescue an emaciated dog. He took a photograph with his smartphone of the location. I got busy finding the phone numbers of local animal rescue organizations.

Then another hiker gave her version of the story: that two woman had gotten the dog to come to them, and they were carrying it down the trail, for a mile or so. The dog was a brown labrador, and weighed 30 or 35 pounds. I asked if I should get the wagon I had been given for heavy work, and see if I could get it across the river, so the women wouldn't have to keep carrying the dog.

Off I went with the wagon. By the time I got to the river, the two women and the dog had crossed the river. They had been taking turns carrying this dog in their arms, for the last mile. The poor young female dog looked even more tired than the women.

Although I was disappointed to end up being useless, there was something significant and meaningful about what these two women had done. In a way, my involvement would have detracted from their experience. 

They had started a hike with no real result in mind other than a standard, meaningless, touristic experience. They had ended up having an experience about as satisfying and primal as it could be. What could be more natural and fundamental than a female of any animal species protecting and nurturing life, especially young life?

The dog's owner's phone number was on its collar. Soon he was there. The brother of the young female dog had managed to make it into our campground, on his own power. So now the owner had both of his dogs back. They had gone AWOL at a campground five miles away, with a huge mountain in between. They had been missing for five days.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Busting my First Stealth Camper

What is the right attitude -- the fair attitude -- towards a certain category of campers? I refer to 'stealth' van tramps. There is something about them that makes me want to bust them, in my job as a campground host.

Is it their impudence? They think they can outsmart the system. Maybe what really pisses me off is they think they can outsmart me with their little games.  There is a grim humor in this: think of the old Roadrunner and Coyote cartoon. But I'm not thinking about the fun when trying to bust them, even when they do no apparent harm to anyone, including me.

Some of their scheming for free camping makes no economic sense. For instance, last night we had a new-ish, $50000 Mercedes van trying to play the stealth trick. The camping fee was $5. That is a ratio of 10,000 -- ten thousand. We have vehicles with $20,000 of all-carbon mountain bikes in the back of a $50,000 pickup. And they act so wronged and victimized to pay any fee at all. Our fee would barely pay for a cup of coffee in town, after tax and tip.

The rules that apply to everybody else don't apply to themselves. Why not? It's as if they have all been programmed by some internet blogs to play this game. (I could give you a list...) Regardless of the bloggers' intentions, they are not doing their readers much of a favor.  

Although van tramps purport to be self-contained in their rigs, I have yet to meet one that I considered truly self-contained. They don't have the space for storing trash or poop, so they need public facilities; but they don't think they should have to pay anything for the convenience.

Still, the real explanation of my aversion to van tramps almost sneaked in to the opening sentence of this post by way of Freudian slip. I almost said "a certain class of camper," instead of "category." 

"There he goes again," says the long-suffering reader of this blog, "Making a piñata out of yet another group of people." OK, let's give a constructive alternative: people who are desperate for free camping would be better off asking for advice from hosts and rangers, rather than trying to trick them. They would be wise to maintain a perfectly clean campsite, avoid building fire pits, and having campfires.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Best and the Worst Tents

The other day I was walking by a campsite on the river...and stopped dead in my tracks. That has never happened before. I had to stop and admire a large screen house tent that was lording over the river. What a great view they had in that tent! It seemed that a person could live there.

After all, a tent is physical shelter -- a temporary abode. How can something seem livable unless you can stand up in it? No wonder I disliked tent camping when I was young: I would buy those backpacker-style tents that you couldn't even sit up in, or put your pants on, let alone stand up in. The average coffin has more space for its resident.

Somebody else had a screen house, with their pickup truck parked nearby. During the day they painted and lived their lives in the screen house. Imagine trying to paint if you were swatting bugs. Then at night, they slept in the back of the pickup cap, with some protection from bears.

So far, I've seen a couple big name brands, but haven't yet seen the famous Clam brand of screen house that is supposed to pop up in a minute.

At the other end of the 'brilliant' spectrum we have the roof top tent. It seems that every young hipster from the big city has one of these. I can't imagine a stupider tent.

They can't be serious!
Studying these tents has laid out something rather fundamental. Consider what a big deal shopping/consumerism is, in this country. And yet, how often does a new product really impress or please you that much?

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Passing the Time in Better Ways

If 'life is short' is such a universal complaint then why do we waste so much time on the internet? The best thing you could say about it, is that it helps pass the time when the weather is bad or the sun is down. But so would playing Solitaire.

Charles Hugh Smith had an interesting post about how worthless 'the News' is:

The "news" is so devoid of content that a simple software program could assemble a semi-random daily selection of headlines, scrolling banners, and radio/TV "news" reports from a pool of typical "news" stories and insert a bit of context...
What he said about the news would apply to other genres of internet fluff, such as debt&doom blogs, travel blogs, or perhaps worst of all, the 'what I did today' blogs.

This is all so obvious that there is little to be gained by berating this stuff. Instead, let us just accept the fact that human beings have a certain amount of time to kill, and that they also need distraction from the dreariness and seriousness of life. The question is, can we think of a better way to meet that need?

The publishing industry is the real villain here. The world is full of talented writers forced to produce weighty tomes that don't meet the humble 'daily nibble' requirements of real human beings.

Another under-rated activity is non-extreme sports and outdoor activities, such as sauntering with your dog. I have gone to nice, new dog parks in small cities and found nobody there. Where is everybody? At home, watching the news? When somebody is there, a much better conversation ensues than at bars, restaurants, or coffee shops.

Very few places in America have a bicycle culture, even in a state like Colorado. The other day I overlapped with a woman riding her "commuter" bike into town. There is a special charm in adult women using a bicycle to run errands in town, especially if they are wearing a dress. They look so youthful and unharried by the 'thousand and one' things-to-do of the average matron. We had a nice conversation in which I did most of the listening.

As we hit the city limits and the ride was nearing its end, I found myself involuntarily fluttering my eyelashes at her. She hadn't dropped the infamous "We..." into the conversation, and I wanted to invite her to a cup of coffee at my favorite hangout. But she needed to go to work. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Helping Versus Interfering Versus Enabling

When I was first told by my employers to not get involved with people driving across our river, it seemed harsh and unkind. After all, every man is a bit of sucker for wanting to play the hero. But with experience, I have come to a 'keep hands off' position.

Sometimes people seem to resent my advice. Do they suppose I know nothing about the situation when I just saw some fool, with a car of the same category, maybe an hour ago? But now I accept that they want some adventure, and don't want a safety lecture. Apparently the financial consequences of their rashness do not matter to them. Well, they should be a better judge of that than I. 

The biggest reason for adopting a hands-off policy is that I was being an enabler -- that is, offering a safety net for encouraging post-adolescent foolishness. Let them make up their own mind, and live with the consequences. 

Let's find some goodies in "The Case for Working with your Hands," by Matthew Crawford:
My point rather is to consider the moral significance of material culture. 

On all sides, we see fewer occasions for the exercise of judgement...

The necessity of such judgement calls forth human excellence. In the first place, the intellectual virtue of judging things rightly must be contemplated, and this is typically not the product of detached contemplation. It seems to require that the user of a machine have something at stake, an interest of the sort that arises through bodily immersion in hard reality...
Don't you just love it that this quote used the word 'immersion' ?! Thank you, Matthew.

This post could be interpreted on a second level: turning the reading of a book into a hands-on experience by blending it with real life.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

German Engineering...in the Middle of a River

These days I feel like a professional accident-gawker. People are doing the craziest things, and not always getting lucky about it: driving across a high and fast stream in crossover utility vehicles; driving low clearance vehicles on rough roads; and in general, having the wrong tires on the wrong car at the wrong place.

They can't imagine being away from phone service, therefore they are confident that every problem can be fixed by whipping out their smartphone, and giving somebody a credit card number. Do they know how long it can take for a tow truck to arrive in the mountains on a festival weekend in a busy tourist town?

Don't they understand that automobile repair and tire shops are closed on the weekends in small towns? That a small town tire shop isn't strong in specialized European or barrio-style tires? That the river is higher in the evening than in the morning?

My favorite was a small Mercedes crossover utility vehicle that tried to do exactly that, cross over, our river. It was probably his license plate that I fished out of the river the next day. He learned that, despite the vaunted reputation of German engineering, it is not a good idea to put the alternator at the bottom of the engine compartment.

Naturally he didn't have a tow rope. (Why would he ever need a tow rope -- he's driving an expensive car?) Although there were plenty of pickup trucks who could have pulled him out of the drink, none of these ruff-n-tuff weekend warriers had tow ropes, either. (I did have one, but my van was in town at the repair shop.)

It took all day for a tow truck to come. I went out a couple times to check on their phone connection and their supply of drinking water. Then I couldn't believe what the tow truck had to do: a modern vehicle has an electronically-controlled transmission. So when the vehicle is electrically dead, you cannot shift into neutral. So the tow truck has to winch the vehicle up its ramped bed, with dead car's wheels skidding on the ground.
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But we could drown in more examples like this. (ahem...) What principles do these examples illustrate? In general they show the disconnect from physical reality that most people from the big city have achieved.

Nobody knows anything about cars anymore. That part of American culture has been killed off by the mandated complexity of modern cars. 

Nobody knows how to use tools anymore. Everybody works in a cubicle,  and dicks around all day with spreadsheets and planning software.

Men have become useless to women in situations like this, and if they weren't useless, women wouldn't trust them anyway, or resent their sexist helpfulness.

People's notions of automotive capabilities are completely warped by television commercials showing some mommie-mobile blasting through snow banks or gliding over sand dunes.
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But it is too easy to mock modern society. Let's end this post with a practical and positive suggestion: that it should be mandatory for high school students to read, "The Case for Working with Your Hands, " by Matthew Crawford.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Testing One's Mettle Over the Fourth of July

Campground hosting over the Fourth of July, in a popular tourist area? It should be the ultimate test of one's moral fiber.

Alas, it was a bit of an anti-climax. The campers are no longer the young hooligans of the past. Perhaps because the campground now has fees, it has acquired an outdoorsy family clientele. On top of that, the area does not cater to motorheads or party-at-the-lake types.

Thus I was disappointed: no test for me. But a woman came to my door halfway through the weekend, with a story she was quite upset about. Apparently she had been meditating by the river, when some loose dogs chased a fawn. She wasn't sure how badly it was injured.

Long-suffering readers of this blog expect me to have rolled my eyes and launched into a standard stump speech. But I sensed the opportunity to make a test out of this. So I took her sincerity and discomfort seriously.

There wasn't anything I could actually do. But it seemed to be accomplishing something to just listen to her and put myself in her shoes, as difficult as that was, for me. In its own way, this was the 'test of my moral fiber' that had been missing.

Today a woman asked where the best place to cross the river was. I told her, and added, "Just stay 20 feet downstream of that spot." She asked, "This way downstream?"

Naturally I gave some boorish male retort, like, "Lady, how many ways downstream do you think a river has?" She wouldn't speak to me after that. Back to my old ways.

Friday, June 30, 2017

A Better Way to Spend Your Holidays

Addendum: A Honda Element just had a contest with a snow-melt-engorged tributary of the Gunnison River. Which one do you think won?

I missed the show, but I heard about it. Perhaps the Crossover Utility Vehicle (CUV) driver had heard (incorrectly) that there was free camping on the far side of the river, from one of those lists of free campsites on the internet -- that are obsolete the microsecond they are published. Then he took the chance of trashing his vehicle, all for the sake of saving 5 or 10 dollars.
_______________________________________
 
It is time once again to put out an advertisement for a better way to spend your holidays than camping. Just a few years ago, "stay-cations" were talked about as an alternative to travel-oriented vacations. Has that new buzzword already receded from public thinking?

I hope not, because it is a great idea. Think of how much fun people could have by going to a nearby luxurious hotel, resort, or casino. Let the kids go to a real movie or a water slide. Let Mom and Dad treat themselves to a candlelight dinner at a great restaurant. There would be little packing and unpacking. Little driving. They may even have time to relax. [1]

That is just the opposite of what they are doing by driving long distances to the mountains or the shore, where they fight crowds and bugs. 

This proposal seems obvious to me, but why won't other people jump on the bandwagon? Is it the high cost of the 'stay-cation' at the nearby resort?

I'll bet that is mostly perception rather than economic fact. It's all about sloppy accounting systems that people carry around in their heads. Consider the people who resent paying a couple dollars at my campground, where it had always been free before. 

But they have thousands of dollars tied up in mountain bikes, kayaks, ATVs, UTVs, motorbikes, Goretex hiking boots, climbing equipment, generators, miscellaneous camping junk, driving costs, RVs and trailers, $60,000 four wheel drive vehicles, etc. Oh, and then the storage costs.

And how many days a year is all that crap used?
__________________________________________

[1]  I asked the mother of one family of campers how long it had taken to pack all of their detritus, back home. She said she had been packing the entire week.

Monday, June 26, 2017

A Statistical Approach to People

An extreme illustration occurred today. A woman went from 'no luck' to superb luck in just a couple minutes, as we went to find her an open campsite. Based on actual experience, most people would have been delighted with her luck.

But the woman kept dragging her feet, finding something wrong with the postcard-perfect campsites we found. What was she looking for?

Since I have taken other people to these campsites, it was easy to laugh off the woman's quirks by rolling my eyes and thinking how sorry I was for her boyfriend, husband, or sons. What is worse than a woman who is impossible to please?

The difference is between a statistical (or 'diversified') approach to a person and being trapped in an 'all your eggs in one basket' situation.

As society has 'progressed', we have devolved from well-balanced and diversified situations to over-concentrated, tense, worrisome situations:

1. Imagine a folk dance in olden times compared to a couple waltzing 50 years later.

2. Extended families versus a nuclear family, followed by a nuclear family with only one or two children, followed by single-parent families.

3. Knowing neighbors and church members versus the soul-less modern suburb where you never speak to neighbors, and where secularized people no longer go to church.

4. The decline of legislatures and congresses to a rule by 9 supreme justices or EPA bureaucrats, all nominated by a president. 

5. The war-making power going from congress to the white house.

6. Self-sufficiency on a farm, supplemented by a cash crop, compared to a paycheck-to-paycheck life, all dependent on one employer, and one boss to suck up to. 

7. The sole and supreme importance of happiness on earth in the Here and Now, compared to balancing it with a belief in an afterlife.

8. No longer being a 'nation of shopkeepers' who satisfy dozens of people most of the time, but now a cubicle rat whose day can be poisoned by ill relations with two or three cubicle mates and one supervisor.

9. The collapse of local newspapers into opinion-makers controlled by just a few global 'News' corporations. 

10. Have heard of the book with the excellent title, "Bowling Alone," but haven't read it yet.

A healthy diversification is so important to approaching anything in a truly rational way. The world doesn't make it easy. I am afraid it has been getting even harder over the last couple centuries.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Fresh Promise of a New Day

The birds start their days between 0450 and 0500. How sensible they are! There is just enough light to see the outlines of the mountains, yet a planet or two is still visible. Dawn is always like this; fresh and full of promise.

If I had a tripod I might try to photograph dawn. But that may be the wrong approach. The appeal of dawn is only partly visual.The other senses awaken. Most of all, the imagination awakens.

Nobody at the campground is up. They sleep through the best part of the day. What are they thinking -- that it is too cold at dawn? There are no mosquitoes at this time of the day, and that is no small advantage. Colorado is not a bug-free state like New Mexico. There is no wind at this time of the day. No rain.

But the true miracle of dawn is that the world is not over-populated. Still, I would like to see a lonely campfire, making some cowboy coffee. I might even invite myself in and try to find out how that person thinks.



Sunday, June 18, 2017

Philosophical Ripples from the River Rats

It is always enjoyable to see people having fun in the outdoors. I even like studying their exotic and expensive equipment. And I did so once again, this time with river rats, aka, whitewater kayakers. But I should have left well enough alone.

Once the first flush of interest was over I asked one of the kayakers whether his sport was good for his moral character. He acted as if nobody had ever asked him that before.

It isn't as silly as it sounds: hobbies, activities, and sports all have philosophical implications. Looked at in this light, whitewater kayaking is all about getting 'a thrill a minute', that is, risk and excitement for the sake of themselves. 


So how does one become addicted to the drug of excitement and go home and deal with the drudgery that is inevitable in normal living?

What would these river wild men around me think if they sat down and read Bertrand Russell's "The Conquest of Happiness"? Especially the chapter on "Boredom and Excitement."

A person accustomed to too much excitement is like a person with a morbid craving for pepper, who comes at last to be unable even to taste a quantity of pepper which would cause anyone else to choke. There is an element of boredom which is inseparable from the avoidance of too much excitement, and too much excitement not only undermines the health, but dulls the palate for every kind of pleasure, substituting titillations for profound organic satisfactions, cleverness for wisdom, and jagged surprises for beauty. I do not want to push to extremes the objection to excitement...
And indeed, neither do I. What would be the sport that has the opposite characteristics of kayaking? Hiking, which has no excitement whatsoever. Naturally it is popular with women.

The whole issue of outdoor excitement shows that I am married to Aristotle's doctrine of the Golden Mean, as boring at this doctrine is to the young.


It might not be exciting, Pops, but it's delightful.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

What Exactly Is a Conspiracy Nut?

Everybody has their deficiencies. If it happens to be paying attention to the news, then you no doubt hear the word 'conspiracy theory' bandied about, quite a bit. Nobody ever talks about what exactly is meant by the term. Why does conspiracy-mongering appeal to some people and not others? There are questions that are worth asking about the subject. But all you really hear is somebody using 'conspiracy' theory as a handy smear against anyone with a different political viewpoint.

Recently I stumbled across an interesting discussion on, of all things, a mountain bike forum that bears on the subject of conspiracy theories. The topic was 'Which goodie on bikes is most over-rated?" Considering the cost explosion in the mountain bike industry, it seemed like a topic that was worth reading. The discussion was better than usual: the commenters were knowledgeable, and thread-hijacking and trivial quips were minimal. 

And yet, something was missing. The discussion was mired in details. All of a sudden, a new commenter starting talking about how the industry works, instead of the merits of individual pieces of equipment. He also discussed the psychology of the customers.

What a relief the new comments were! It reminded me of the opening of Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," which features the 'Sunrise' movement of Richard Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra."

Here was somebody groping to get at fundamental truth by seeing specific details of equipment as Effects. But the Cause was the economic realities of the mountain bike industry. I'm surprised that one of typical detail-oriented commenters didn't come right back and accuse the fellow of being a conspiracy nut.

It was so refreshing to encounter an illustrative example in my daily life, free from the hackneyed milieu of politics and news.

I wonder if conspiracy nuts could be compared to alchemists of the Middle Ages. Neither one had much in the way of results, but it was certainly not for a lack of trying. Both are easy to mock. And yet, the alchemist did make progress in glass making, various techniques, and familiarity with different chemicals. Eventually real scientists came along who were able to take rapid steps forward, as in the music of Also Sprach Zarathustra. They benefited from the technical soil left by the charlatans and alchemists.

Some aspects of medieval alchemists and modern conspiracy nuts are admirable, such as the desire to understand cause and effect. But they don't know how to succeed. So they grope with trial and error. They also become trapped in a stubborn and subjective mental prison. The conspiracy nut becomes addicted to the emotional kicks he gets out of his efforts.

And yet, is the non-conspiracy-nut really more admirable?  With perfect insouciance they sit in front of the television and accept today's lies and spin as being real and important. Wouldn't they benefit from trying to understand how the world really works?

Let me leave you with a visual metaphor: think of Dorothy's dog, Toto, in the Wizard of Oz. Remember when he pulled the curtain away, exposing the Wizard racket? Does that make Toto a conspiracy nut?

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

"Handicaps" for Conversationalists

Tonight my sleeping pill will be the movie "Seabiscuit." The reader may have seen the movie. If not, I highly recommend it. 

Now, I'm not one of those bookish types who thinks that movies based on a book are supposed to be identical to the book. But after the movie I read the book, and appreciated the importance of handicaps to the sport of horse racing. (The movie made Seabiscuit into a Rocky-for-horses.)

Golf tournaments use handicaps, don't they? The NFL draft has the same function as handicapping. But in fact, handicapping could be used in more than just sports. It could be used in just about any endeavor in which unequal "contestants" would produce a dull contest. 

Conversation could be seen as a sport that uses handicaps. That is what I am discovering as a campground host. I have better luck than I normally do in face-to-face conversation with strangers. 

But I won't kid myself. It is not because I have suddenly become charming. Rather, it is because I am "cheating." My pseudo-uniform and hat make me a weak form of authority figure. In addition, people feel safe talking to a campground host the same way they warm up to the host of a party.

But this doesn't bother me. I need the handicapping in order to have a close match with the other contestant. It needs to be "close" in order to make and observe incremental improvements. Otherwise I will keep committing the same verbal faux pas the rest of my life. 

I'm not sure how the reader or I could apply this principle to more things in life. But I'd like to.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Three Different Types of Campers

I looked out the window and couldn't believe the trailer coming into camp. Most of our sites are built for car campers and tents. Smaller motorhomes and trailers get by. But this thing!

Besides, the campground was almost full. I went along with him to help, as a tugboat does when an oil tanker needs to dock. You've got to give him credit for guts. He made it. But it was close. 

They were newbies. I tried to think of something helpful to say, but it was difficult. They did not want to hear, "Ya got the wrong trailer." I finally decided to encourage them to camp in flatter, more open land; and to avoid going right up into the mountains proper, with their narrow roads and cramped forest campgrounds.

Later, we joked about the movie of Lucille Ball and Desi, "The Long, Long Trailer." As it turned out, he was a young lad at some state or national park in California when they were filming that movie!
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A backpacker walked up. He was doing the Continental Divide Trail, but was veering off of it from time to time to escape the snow. Thus he was using the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, which is at lower altitude, and is seldom single track.

Talk about a minimalist! He did have an ice axe, though. Sunset was coming on, so he needed to camped soon. But I could tell he really wanted to keep talking to somebody. I get a kick out of chatting with people like him, and I usually treat them like celebrities. But once the novelty and entertainment value of their extremism wears off, one is left with the dreariness of crappy food, sleeping in a tent every night, and nobody to talk to. 

Have they never heard of the 'point of diminishing returns?'  What is so interesting about doing one and only one thing all day, every day? You see a lot of outdoor extremism in Colorado, such as 24 hour races and the like. Well, they see something worthwhile, so good luck to them. But I have no desire to emulate.
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Did I mention that the other weekend I was just 'in love' with my camping neighbors? They were two families, with children, dogs, and bicycles. The kids climbed around on the rocks like the baboons of Gibraltar. The dogs were friendly and always frolicking. The mothers were young and pretty. It's funny how a young man sees a mother as "old, boring, unsexy," but eventually he sees fertility as attractive and reassuring. What confidence in the future it implies!

At night they had a campfire. And I kid you not: somebody was strumming a guitar at the campfire. Talk about 'old school!' Imagine what an impression that could have made on the solitary backpacker. What if he had been trudging along all day with nobody to talk to, and then, quite unexpectedly, he had come up to a campfire with some singing and laughter?

Actually this family seemed like the ultimate in 'being in harmony with nature.'

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Learning From Somebody Else's Enthusiasm

Because I know nothing about the sport of rock climbing, it seemed like I should at least watch people doing it. When was it -- the early 1990s? -- when this sport became popular where I lived at the time. I had a friend who got sucked in, while I just rolled my eyes at the latest fad.

After all, there weren't good places to pursue the sport locally. So it was likely to turn into one of those sports where one buys a bunch of equipment and spends most of the year planning and fantasizing over a vacation at some exotic location. I have never been attracted to sports that can only be pursued at a few specific locations, far far away from where you live.

Therefore I was not pre-disposed to think highly of the rock climbing that I watched recently. Surprisingly, it was rather interesting.


For one thing the climber was using their entire body, unlike the aerobic sports, which tend to only use the legs, lungs, and heart.

Secondly, there was risk to the climbing. I am not going to offer an advertisement for pursuing risk for the sake of risk. But I won't deny that a certain amount of risk is necessary to make sports interesting.

And what great skill the climber needed. He was intensely focused on problem solving of a mechanical and gymnastic nature. He wasn't just plodding along on some tedious sport that leaves nothing to talk about at the end of the day, other than "how many miles did you do?"

So there is much to be said for climbing. But that isn't really the point. It was an example of what I need to when I do anything outdoors, or more generally, when I pursue a do-it-yourself project, or read books. I need to ask myself: why is this interesting?, or what could I do to make it more interesting?

For instance I don't think much of technical mountain biking trails. But by focusing on skill rather than tedious plodding, I can reap some of the advantages that the climbers have.

Monday, May 29, 2017

How To Improve Memorial Day

Every year, on Veteran's Day, I suggest a way to improve it by making it more real, honest, and fair. I have gotten one email that praised the essay.

Today I would like to improve Memorial Day. Let's start with the premise that it is a fine thing to remember and honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

The question is, why should those honorees be restricted to members of the U.S. military? Let's honor the civilians killed intentionally or unintentionally by the U.S. military. The civilians' sacrifices were just as real. Why do we discriminate in such an unfair way?

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Choosing Rather Than Being Chosen

Is this really happening? I am camp hosting on the first of the Big Three summer weekends, in Colorado, and I am enjoying myself. So is everybody else. And they are such nice folks.

So what's the catch? Oh yea, we did have some obnoxious ultra-lite planes fly over the campground at 7 a.m. at low altitude, for no reason other than saying, "Look at me." But the kids probably enjoyed it.

So why am I jinxing myself by shooting my mouth off on the internet? The gods smite mortals who commit hubris online. At least I won't compound the sin by also committing blabbermouthery about my location.

This experience reminded me of a trick I learned long ago when winter camping in one of the crowded places in lower Arizona. It seemed clever to camp away from the crowd. But invariably, some clown would see me off by myself and move in close. Then they would start off-loading the kiddie motorcycles, contractor generators, etc.

And I would think, what did I do wrong? Actually, what works is the opposite of what you would think.  Instead of trying to get alone, you should deliberately insinuate yourself into a group of  people who all have solar panels and non-motorized sports.
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The experience above reminded me of something. From time to time you hear a woman sigh and say something like, "You always meet the right guy at the wrong time, or too late in life." Or inverting that, "You always meet the wrong guy first."

Is that because, traditionally, women waited to be chosen, instead of actively doing the choosing themselves? If so, it is analogous to the camping situation above.
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What if Colorado becomes more and more crowded, and travel plans, MVUMs, and camping restrictions keep expanding? How will it end?

Perhaps in a new way to do free camping. If you qualify as a desirable campground neighbor, people will be willing to pay for your campsite if you camp next to them. You must be certified as yellow generator-free; similarly with ghetto-blasters, outside entertainment centers, two-cycle kiddie motorcycles, and drones. Carried to its logical conclusion, there may even arise a new profession: the camping call girl or gigolo, who is paid a serious salary to merely camp or park next to you -- and nothing more.
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This has been a convoluted way to talk myself into adjusting to an over-crowded world.  If no neighbors are no longer possible, then at least let them be the right kind of neighbors.  And that will happen only if I get proactive in choosing them. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

How Real World Experience Affects Political Theories

Although I am not one of them, there are people who enjoy reading political science or 'theory of government' books. It would be interesting to see what a person of that type would go through if exiled from their reading lamp to the right place in the real world.

Let them take a campground hosting job for awhile. Quite aware that my suzerainty is much better than the average gig, or rather, that its clientele is much above average, I am still affected by the experience. It gives me a chance to see how people behave when they act as they really want to act.
  1. Many people immediately turn to generating noise, destruction, or filth. 
  2. Unmindfulness of the consequences of their own behavior on their neighbors, who have an equal right to enjoy their public land.
  3. Using a construction site generator to power a microwave oven to make a cup of tea or coffee. Are they really unable to understand that they can heat a pan of water on the propane stove in 3 minutes?
  4. Do they need high power appliances in their RV, including a 54" diagonal television set?
  5. The redneckization and ghetto-ization of American popular culture. You see that every time a codpiece pickup truck comes into camp, with thumpah-thumpah "music" pounding the ground around it. More than anything else it is the music that makes me feel completely unpatriotic toward what used to be "my" country.
  6. And speaking of codpieces, why does almost every one of these suburbanites and city slickers have a four-wheel-drive machine, while I -- a guy who could actually benefit from one -- do not have one?
  7. Why am I the only mountain biker who uses the flatter trails -- which are actually appropriate for a self-powered, wheeled machine? Put differently, why don't people hike on rough rocky trails, and pedal on smoother flatter trails?
  8. How citified and feminized our culture has become. The more someone thinks they are a 'nature lover,' the bigger of a fraud they probably are.
The good news is these annoyances are quite minimal in my suzerainty, for which I am grateful. For instance, after a busy Mother's Day weekend, there wasn't a scrap of litter left at our campsites. Wonderful!

Experience with real people in the real world persuades one to see the great deity of democracy as having 'feet of clay.' How could we be brainwashed with the notion that it represents some kind of perfect theory? Readers are encouraged to talk me out of spiraling down into a preference for mildly repressive authoritarian regimes.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Outdoor Perfection

I actually got a picture of both of them disporting on the ridge, but it isn't worth showing. After all, that is the whole point.

Chilly, dry air. A mostly blue sky, with a few puffy clouds. And just enough cool breeze to stimulate without annoying. But I wasn't the only creature to respond to the breeze. A turkey buzzard was using ridge-lift to fly along, almost effortlessly.

A mountain bike, a dog, and a turkey buzzard. I thought my dog was tired until she saw that turkey buzzard. Then she blasted across the ridge, using the trail as her route -- quite surprising. The turkey buzzard was curious about her, but didn't taunt her as much as a dastardly raven would.

It doesn't get any better than this. But you're not telling us anything new, the long-suffering reader is thinking. But I don't care. I'm not trying to invent something, I'm merely trying to wallow in something good.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Defeating the Prevailing Tourist Culture

Stepping out of your camper early on a cool windy morning, you don't expect to be greeted by a slithering rattlesnake. But there it was, sidewinding its way from the tow vehicle to my trailer door. Of course, it could have been a bull snake, but I didn't have time to ask questions. It was strange how purposeful and sentient its behavior seemed.

I chased it underneath the trailer. I cringed when it wrapped itself around the axle and then expanded its circle to fill up the inside of the wheel. Hey wait a minute, don't I have holes in the floor? This snake was becoming alarming.

I kept chasing the snake with rocks, a broom, and then a (short!) mattock. He knew I was after him. When I circled around him, he would turn his head to face me, head on. He also retracted into a multiple-sigmoid shape, and struck at me, several times. Finally the mattock cut him in half.

But he didn't die right away. He lacked rattles, so perhaps he was a noble bull snake, who is supposed to be the enemy of rattlers. (There wasn't time to check the internet to see if immature rattlers completely lack visible rattles at the end of their tail.) If I'd had a camera, a video could have zoomed in and recorded the death-throes of the snake. These were quite horrible. 

By now I was feeling guilty: I hadn't really killed anything other than insects since I was a high school lad who did a little hunting. Hunting didn't really interest me. It seemed like incompetent, amateurish assassination to merely pull the trigger on a powerful piece of technology. True hunting should be more chivalrous. Your foe should have a chance to fight back, and if you do manage to vanquish your valiant foe in a fair fight on the field of honour...

But let's not head off to a Sir Walter Scott novel. This fight with the snake occurred on the same day as the good conversation with the man who was filling his truck with the spring water. What a remarkable piece of luck it was to have experienced authentic and fundamental nature twice in one day. It shows that you shouldn't be too discouraged by the tourist kitsch of Taos or some such place.

How the tourists in Taos visualize Nature. (Except that the photo needs pretty butterflies and wildflowers.)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Authenticity Surrounded by Taos Tourism

If you want to lose confidence in your own judgement, just try visiting the famous plaza in Taos, NM. First you will have to fight traffic and struggle for a place to park. Then you will walk around, visit a shop or two, and put up with aggressive store workers and high prices.

Then a seditious thought lays hold of you: that there is nothing "famous" about the place. A visit to the downtown area in any small city in Mexico (or any place with a Mediterranean culture) is more interesting, chaotic, free, colorful, and authentic than Taos, NM.

But if that's true, what are all the tourists doing here? There are a hundred of them for every one of you. Are you going to claim that you are so much smarter or have such superior taste to the hundred?

Perhaps one reason that some of the suckers are there is that the previous president abused the Antiquities Act to declare a gigantic area nearby a national monument. The Antiquities Act is not should not be a way for a presidential signature to bypass Congress's responsibility in declaring a national park. But mass-tourists from the big city don't care about legal fine points like that. You have to crawl into their heads to see this.  I thought I did a pretty good job of that in my favorite post in all these years of blogging, on a tab at the top of the screen, entitled "Shopping at the Nature Mall."

But it is too easy to walk around Taos and feel superior to dumbshit tourists from the big city. It is also too easy to feel discouraged. Instead, let's see if we can find something authentic near all this phoniness. I was lucky...
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Considering how much traveling and camping I have done, it is strange that I have drunk water from nature only once. I was camped at nearly 9000 feet at Cuba, NM. A little spring was gushing water. I asked somebody in a nearby campground, and learned that it was safe.

What a shame! What could be more important and more real than water, especially in the Southwest. While camped in the Rio Grande gorge close to Taos, my dog and I went on a mountain bike ride along a dirt road. We saw a surprising sign about, "Caution, Water Hauling Trucks." Then we came upon a pickup truck with a giant water tank being filled from a hose coming from a spring.

Just think of this experience from a qualitative point of view, rather than the usual touristic one. Yes the gorge cut into the lava is impressive. 


But the scenery isn't world-class, as it is at Moab or in the San Juan mountains. I'm afraid the tourists are going to find a certain devaluing in the spectacular-ness of the scenery as presidents declare places to be national park wannabees. That is, they are running out of truly spectacular scenery.

But, thinking about that fellow filling his tank with spring water, it makes you think of this solid-looking volcanic lava differently. Maybe it is filled with cracks, and is rather permeable. I have seen ponderosa pines sink roots through the cracks of lava that come right to the surface along the Mogollon Rim in Arizona.

It was gratifying to see some bighorn sheep.


This is only the second time I have seen a large number of them, so it should have been special. Oddly though, it was disappointing. Perhaps that is because I held my dog back, now that this is a national monument. That took all the drama out of it. It makes the sheep seem too placid and cyootsie-wootsie. Wildlife doesn't seem authentic unless it functions as prey or predator.

Outside of an over-regulated tourist trap, we have had more authentic experiences:


Wow, this guy thinks he's fast. But watch this, Pops!

Hot dang, this is fun, this 'being in harmony with nature' stuff.

 Isn't real nature supposed to be 'red in tooth and claw'?

Alexander the Great would have been pleased with the phalanx formed by these Bighorns in fending off the 'big bad wolf,' aka, Coffee Girl.