Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Nietzsche and Desert Tortoise Fences

The other day I noticed fences, intended to protect desert tortoises. (Or some other species. It hardly matters to the rest of this post.) The fences seemed so elaborate and expensive. Common sense asserted itself to make me think, "You've got to be kidding..."

By luck I happened to be reading Mencken's book on the "Philosophy of Nietzsche." Imagine Nietzsche pulled though a time machine to modern America. I don't think he would be an angry white man about what he saw.  More likely he would just sneer at modern culture and say something like, "I knew it would be bad, but I didn't think it would be this bad!"

The limiting case for his sneering may be these fences. What could more perfectly embody the "slave morality" of the masses than treating endangered animal species as though they were so precious. Nietzsche would have thought it was just fine that a superior species, such as homo sapiens, could wipe out an inferior species like the desert tortoise.

You may disagree with Nietzsche about this. That is not the point. This was a splendid little example of how travel can make reading a book more interesting, and vice versa

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Building Character in a Canyon


I had a rematch with a complex canyon system recently. Would it still be interesting -- even after hitting it pretty hard the last few years? Proceeding through the canyon, the experience became more subjective and internalized. What could I do differently from the past? Or should I forget about myself and "externalize?"

Indeed, something was quite new this year: instead of walking the canyon, I was mountain biking it on my new bike, with 3 inch wide tires. These "plus" tires do quite well on the rubble and sand. I highly recommend that anybody in the market for a new bicycle go with 3 inch tires.

The experience also seemed new because biking is faster and cooler than walking. Walking is so slow that it almost numbs the mind. And it is warm.

The canyon has a badlands type appearance because much of it is rather soft and easily eroded.




The trick is to focus on it qualitatively rather than quantitatively. Think about the variety of interesting shapes, and how they got that way, rather than on how BIIIIIG things aren't. 

One single thought made a big difference to me, subjectively: I imagined sculptors coming into the canyon and carving gargoyles into these canyon walls.



Soon I was seeing gargoyles every hundred yards -- but something more than gargoyles: sculptural autochtons that grew out of the bizarre shapes of the canyon walls, and merely intensified and stylized the ideas already in the canyon walls.

So much fuss is made over petroglyphs made by the early tribes of the Southwest. Why use a two-dimensional art to merely scratch the rocks, instead of three-dimensional sculptures? Then again, maybe sculptures were made somewhere, and they just haven't been found. Eroded by time and weather, they collapsed into a cloud of dust at the bottom of an unknown canyon.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Quality Travel Experiences

Strangely, a certain coffee shop near St. George, UT, has been the location of a couple different experiences for me, memorable because there was something to them, other than scenery.




The coffee shop was located in an affluent housing development, at the foot of red cliffs. Until recently the coffee shop had a gift shop built into it -- the gift shop was trying to look like an Indian 'kiva.'  (Presumably the gift shop was "inspired" by the small Indian reservation, nearby.) 

It always seemed ironic and thought-provoking that Native American culture appeared so upscale and glamorous in the gift shop, with the expensive coffee table books, hand-carved wooden flutes, music, books, etc.; and yet, the genuine Indian reservation a mile down the road was a slum. (I rode my bicycle through this irony when I rode with a local club.)

But this year the kiva-gift-shop had been converted to an expensive restaurant. Presumably the menu featured items 'sacred to the Native Americans,' while in actuality they probably came from the Sysco truck, as with most restaurant food in the USA.

So that was a disappointment. But on the positive side I was reading a book on Russian culture and literature. During the 1800s, intellectuals went through a period of romanticizing the peasants of "Holy Russia."

It was delicious to think about that delusion in Russia while standing in a place in Utah that featured an analogous delusion.  There is no idea too ridiculous to be universally popular with intellectuals at some time or some place.

This is one more opportunity to give an advertisement for the strangely satisfying experience of reading the right book in the right place, when traveling. But why is the satisfaction so profound? Perhaps it is because different planes of existence are temporarily and serendipitously overlapping.



Monday, November 27, 2017

Always a Sucker for Analogies


One of these days I will outgrow my susceptibility to analogies. Until then I will be charmed by quotes like this, coming from Chris Whalen:

The idea of the Greenspan Put was that lower interest rates would cure the market’s woes. Unfortunately, the FOMC has since fallen into a pattern whereby longer periods of low or even zero interest rates are used to address yesterday’s errors, but this action also leads us into tomorrow’s financial excess. As one observer on Twitter noted in an exchange with Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari:
“Central Bankers are much like the US Forest Service of old. Always trying to manage ‘nature’ and put out the little brush fires of the capitalist system, while they seem incapable of recognizing they are the root cause of major conflagrations as a result.”




A traveler in the western states gets to experience a real forest fire every now and then.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Moral Quandary at the McDonald's Kiosk

This wasn't the first kiosk at McDonald's that I had ever seen. But the first time, it had been optional to use it. Rest assured that I ordered and paid the old-fashioned way.

But today I wasn't even given the choice. The young punk was loud and aggressive about it. I dutifully walked over to the kiosk. But then something deep-within began to express itself.  I starting digging in my heels. Of course he thought that a stupid old man just couldn't figure the thing out, so, before my moral protest had time to get properly organized, he came over, asked the usual questions, and pushed the appropriate buttons.

So why couldn't he have done all that at the cash register -- the old-fashioned way? His final question was, "Pay with your card here, or with cash?" I actually paused and started to get curt. But he assured me that paying cash was still an option, although we had to walk to a special cash register to do it. Why couldn't we have done that right from the beginning!?

Before the young punk came over to push the buttons for me, I was deciding whether I would submit to this nonsense, or throw up my hands, cuss out loud, and storm out of the McDonald's. Alas, now we will never know.

He hasn't live long enough in this old world of ours to realize that 95% of change is aimed at extracting more dollars from his wallet, in exchange for fewer goodies. Then it puffs up as progress, leaving you to dutifully submit, with no questions asked.

We can guess McDonald's motivations. Much of it is outside their control. They will certainly lose a lot of business with geezers, who were probably their least profitable customers, anyway. 
_______________________________________________________________

It all happened so fast that there was bound to be missed opportunities. At least I had time to appreciate that I was staring into the abyss of moral and cultural decay...


...and that once this threshold was crossed, there would be no going back.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Family Values in Utah

Towards the end of a mountain bike ride, when I am feeling my best, I saw this family enjoying a ride together in Utah. I don't think a vision of a family ever seemed more appealing.


The boy was even wilder and more spirited than the border collie. His parents were wise to let him go first so he wouldn't always be struggling to keep up with them, and becoming discouraged. The bike was too large for him, but no doubt he was looking forward to growing into it -- and as soon as possible!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Appreciating Stylishness

There are even mountain bikers who ride with a certain stylishness, although they are not as stylish as horsemen. There is no need to watch a video of myself on a bike -- it can simply be assumed that I ride with no stylishness whatsoever.

This topic interests me perhaps because an appreciation of stylishness has developed so late in life. It snuck up on me.  Blame the horse opera DVDs I watch at night as a sleeping pill. They make everybody and every horse look so glamorous.

A female rider always has long hair streaming behind her, blowing in the wind.  Male riders are prone to high jumping onto the horse, without bothering with the stirrups. Or they ride with their upper body canted at a slight angle, to make them look more jaunty and confident.

The limiting case of this is Gary Clarke ("Steve"), one of the stars of the first couple years of "The Virginian." He would jump up vertically from the ground, and somehow insert his boot into the stirrup on the way up. I would like to see a blooper reel of the times he missed. 

The saddles and horse blankets of the horses are always gorgeous. And sometimes it seems as though the mane and tail of the horse were actually wigs.

But there are other examples of unbearably delightful stylishness. The actresses wore spectacular "Victorian" costumes on "The Virginian." One guest star on the same show had the sort of figure that most male sexist pigs couldn't take their eyes off of. But an above-average pig might have noticed her unusual voice, or rather, vocal delivery.

Perhaps the explanation for this appreciation is that repeated watching of a show or movie causes the viewer to ignore the story, dialogue, or suspense. This results in a type of vacuum, which the viewer then fills with their imagination. And it moves onto other things.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Death of Europe

Long-suffering readers of this blog are used to me praising moldy old books, while ignoring or even denigrating modern books. I am happy to be proven wrong. I have finished reading 2/3 of "The Strange Death of Europe," by Douglas Murray.

It's an "anti-mass-immigration" book by an Englishman, or rather, a Euro-person located on the island of Great Britain. It is uniformily calm and rational throughout.

To give you a flavor of the book, 2/3 of the way through the book he might have hit the essence of the problem:
The problem is one that is easier to feel than it is to prove, but it runs something like this: that life in modern liberal democracies is to some extent thin or shallow and that life in modern Western Europe in particular has lost its sense of purpose.
That statement made quite an impact on me, in part because I was simultaneously reading a book by the famous Catholic historian, Hilaire Belloc, "The Great Heresies." In his chapter on Islam, he reminded the reader how recent the European dominance of Islam was.

He wondered if the pendulum would swing back the other way, that is, towards the domination of Europe by Islam. It was fascinating to watch him think out-loud (in 1920's) about how this Islamic resurgence might happen. He never guessed that Europe would someday willingly surrender to Islam, as it now is.

I eagerly look forward to seeing how Murray's book ends. For my part, I see Europe's problem as basically that of Icarus, in the Greek myth. They flew so high in the age of Enlightenment. And yet the program was essentially negative: they destroyed Christianity, which is what had given Europe its identity. 

They never found anything to replace it with, other than the soul-less secular religions of Democracy (number-worship), Jacobin Equality (envy worship), Utilitarianism (comfort worship), Nationalism (state worship), and Socialism (bureaucracy worship). Daily life is protected against this existential angst by trivial busy-ness.

Quoting Murray again:
After all, how long can a society survive once it has unmoored itself from its founding source and drive?

Monday, October 30, 2017

A New Cultural Low on the Internet

Like many travelers I am happy that eBooks exist. Boxes of dead-tree books are heavy and space-consuming. And how many times per year can a traveler get to a decent bookstore?

Therefore I was in a good mood -- and a grateful mood -- when downloading an Amazon Kindle book today. But I noticed something new: in subtle, almost subliminal, markings, the eBook told you where other people had highlighted sentences in the book. For instance, it would say, "438 readers highlighted this."

Infuriating! Who the bleep cares what other people highlight? Am I not supposed to think for myself when reading a book? We don't need the equivalent of television's Nielsen ratings in a book! 

To think that reading a book is degenerating to the watching of television, or looking at "thumbs-up Likes" on social media! This would be a new low for modern culture.

I was so angry that it took me a long time to figure out how to eliminate "popular highlights" in a Kindle eBook. At the top of the screen for Kindle-for-PC, click on:

  • Tools. 
  • Options.
  • Annotations.
  • Then uncheck the box for "Popular Highlights."
Naturally the Kindle-for-PC downloads with the default set to display these obscene suggestions, since that is the networking business model of everything on the internet these days.

But in Amazon's defense, they at least allow you the option to wipe out popular highlights. And that's no small miracle. This was a close call: how do I know if I would have had the spine to boycott Amazon if the option didn't exist?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Blog Spin-off Happens

In the old days, successful television shows occasionally featured guest stars who took off on their own shows. With that pattern as our inspiration, I am advertising a link to a discussion thread I started on mtbr.com , a mountain biking forum.

Its intention is to foster a sort of traveling club of mountain biking RV/van campers. We are trying to be rig-agnostic, that is, we welcome people in any rig. Where they camp is their business. (My cycling compadre and I disperse camp.)

The theme of the autumn and winter Romp is Utah and Arizona. Obviously we will follow the weather, as we head to lower altitudes and latitudes, approximately down the Colorado River. 

We have not advertised on RV forums. Perhaps we should. I don't know where the right place is.  

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Ten Year Anniversary

Has it really been ten years? I checked. It has. It was ten years ago, and right here in the Book Cliffs/Grand Junction area, that I adopted my sweetheart.

Her first day with me on adobe badlands, ten years ago. What is that face saying? "I'm not so sure about this, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt."

She doesn't look much different today. You never quite know what a canine-American person is thinking, but she probably thinks she has had a pretty good life since then.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Returning to the Womb in Winter

Last post, I was having fun re-inventing the water bottle. But today I'd like to be completely non-facetious, because it really was profoundly satisfying to take that hot water bottle to bed with me. Isn't profound satisfaction worthy of a post?

The old saying about 'hunger is the best sauce,' is certainly true, and that no doubt gets a lot of the credit. 

But there is something else. Insulating a camper, wearing the right clothes, and toughening-up are all valuable activities. But they smell too much like 'living without.' That is, they are negative approaches. ('Negative' should not be thought of as a synonym for 'bad.')

There is something in human nature that is frustrated by emptiness, that is, 'living without.'  Using fewer gigabytes of data on your internet plan, eating less, spending less, being celibate, showering less, stifling yourself in conversations, sleeping less, etc. At some point you rebel against these constant, nagging constraints.

You simply must add a positive -- that is, additive -- approach to your life. Carrying that hot water bottle into bed was an example.

Of course, running a conventional heater would be another example of a positive approach. But it is so sterile and meaningless to just buy some bar-coded product. In contrast, it means something to an individual to invent, improvise, learn, and struggle.

The water bottle was warmer than snuggling with a little dog.


Archive: snuggling back in the old days.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Almost Needing a Heater

It is easy to poke fun at ascetics. I do a bit of it myself, particularly where the 'holy man in the van' syndrome displays itself, usually ostentatiously. Therefore it will seem ironic that this post appears to strut its asceticism before the readers.

Perhaps asceticism only seems ridiculous when it concerns itself with a topic that doesn't interest you, personally. Somebody who, say, gets up at 5 a.m. and runs five miles every day may laugh at people who are abstemious at the dinner table. There are many such examples.

In my case, small RVs don't particularly interest me. It seems like common sense to keep a rig small-to-medium in size, and that is that. But what does interest me is avoiding heaters in a camper. There are some obvious practical reasons behind this, but I would only be fooling myself if I started running on about microscopic 'practical' justifications.

The real reason is that the challenge of living without heaters inspires me. Blame my ethnicity, past habit of reading polar exploration books, a childhood or delivering newspapers in the frozen Midwest, or more recently, my dislike of summer camping, and growing appreciation of winter camping.

At first the weather gods were predicting that it would fall to the high teens this morning. Then they backed off to 20 F. Still, the chances were pretty good I'd break my personal record of 28 F inside the trailer by this morning. 

Ahh, but this time I have a secret weapon. Perhaps you have seen the classic movie, "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. There are two really good reasons to watch the movie: looking at Gene Tierney, and listening to the musical score of Bernard Herrmann. 

Courtesy of IMDB.com
At one point Gene Tierney's character, a young widow in England in the 1930's, prepares for bed by heating some kind of water container. Of course!, we 'moderns' have forgotten that a large reservoir of hot water kept people warm at night, before the age of central heating.

So I bought a Platypus brand water bottle, the flexible kind, with a capacity of 2 liters. I put the hottest water I could stand in it. The plastic and the seams did not melt. The heat lasted for three hours, and I slept like a baby. What a magnificent comforting feeling it gives you in bed!

So take that! Mr. Buddy Heater, Olympian, Propex, and Dickinson heaters. We live in harmony with nature in this camper.
 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Appreciating Cuteness

What statement from his wife does a married man dread the most? You could choose worse than this one: the couple is shopping. The poor fellow is bored out of his mind, but the path of least resistance is just to humor her. There is something noble and admirable about his stoic resignation. 

After awhile he finally hears what he knew was coming: "Honey, look at this. It is so cyoooooooot!" It is particularly cringe-worthy if spoken with a girlish squeal. Whereupon the wife comes running up to him, cooing and cuddling some utterly useless item that she has squandered unconscionable sums of money on. It might be the item's shape or texture, but it's probably the color.

The demographic of human males who suffer in this way is fairly broad. Their suffering may be more intense and predictable if they are middle-class, from a northern European Protestant heritage. And if they do something technical for a living.

This lengthy preamble was probably not really needed to establish my credentials with the reader as one of those no-nonsense guys who has no appreciation for cuteness. Until recently.

The other day a vehicle pulled into the campground with a small trailer behind it. I wanted to run it down, and even before they got parked, start mushing and gushing how cyoooooot! it was. It was small, and had only one axle. The paint job was fresh and custom. Some things had been done on the inside, too.

Although 'retro' style trailers have become quite the rage, this little baby was authentic: it was from 1967, had the rounded look, and some of the Z trim patterns they put on back then.

If only I could remember what color it was... 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Campers Who Arrive After Dark

Well, well, I seem to have gotten quite good at this. I actually like walking through the campground early in the morning and busting people. It is usually campers who arrived after dark the previous evening. I nailed three of the little bastards this morning. Busting stealth campers gives me the greatest pleasure.

There is an element of grim humor to it. A movie metaphor always comes to mind, from "Apocalypse Now." Remember Robert Duvall's "I love the smell of napalm in the morning."

It is so important not to be a marshmallow and not to be a rule-nazi (or a Barney Fife.) Yes, the agency wants their camping fee. But busting one camper doesn't bring in that much money if it is only one night's fee. 

It is accomplishing something subtle to win over the camper by hitting just the right balance of firmness, friendliness, and explanations of the realities of a campground. Long term, that is worth a lot more money.

In a lot of ways, a campground host is like a school teacher: constantly dealing with kiddies who don't like to do what they are supposed to do. The teacher has to learn not to get upset about it, and adopt a professional attitude that steadily pushes the kids in the right direction, so that progress is made long term. In the short term, kiddies will be far from perfect. Especially late night arrivals.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

More Equality is Needed for NFL Team Rosters

Some cynics say that politics is a sour and depressing topic, and that we should just avoid discussing it. Nonsense! I am enjoying the 'take-a-knee' protests by NFL players during the national anthem.

For one thing, it takes gumption to do what they are doing. That used to be a trait of Americans when they were a free people, way back when. 

The anti-protesters say that the players are welcome to their political opinions, but they shouldn't use their workplace to trumpet those opinions.

Oh really? Why aren't the anti-protestors concerned about the Military using NFL games as recruitment posters? Look at the military brass bands at half-time, the moments of silence to honor dead Heroes, and the flyover of Air Force jets. Do none of those things express a political opinion, at least implicitly?

The anti-protesters could win this situation by simply eliminating the tradition of playing the national anthem. Why don't they? Most entertainment industry events in America or the rest of the world do not start off with a national anthem. Why should they?

But the anti-protesters won't take this step. To do so would make American culture one tiny step less worshipful of militaristic nationalism. As a result, the take-the-knee protesters will win.

But there are plenty of hypocrisies on both sides. If the take-the-knee protesters are so worried about Equality in America, why aren't they a little more concerned about inequality on NFL rosters? 

How many Chinese, Jews, women, or transgender quarterbacks are making millions of dollars per game? And why not? There can be only one explanation: Discrimination. It might be subtle or implicit, but it must be there. Behind this discrimination must lie something even uglier: Hatred.

But I want to leave you with a positive plan: let's put the NFL schedule on hold until an Equal Opportunity program can be designed for its teams. Mind you, I'm only talking about a temporary program. It won't do any lasting damage to the NFL, and if it does, I'll eat my hat.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Autochthonous is the Magic Word for Outdoor Recreation

Surprisingly Wikipedia has no article on the 'history of the downhill ski industry in the USA.' Presumably it was a well-established industry by 1970. It had become expensive, some of which was unavoidable to a sport that requires special and exotic locations, and requires engineered slopes and lifts. Plus the cost of getting there.

But there were a lot of not-strictly-necessary expenses: fancy restaurants, chic ski fashions, gift shops, etc  -- all encased in glamor, faux exclusiveness, and hype. There was always a chance that somebody would have more expensive equipment than you.

Then, circa 1970, something radical happened: the sport of cross-country or Nordic skiing came to the US. It was the most un-American thing that has happened in my lifetime, in the field of outdoor recreation. The person who taught me to cross country ski said, 'This is so great! Just throw on regular clothes and a nylon windbreaker. Just head out from your backyard.' I was suspicious that that all sounded a little too good be true, at least for long. I was right.

This is a lengthy preamble to my attitude towards the mountain biking industry. With my mountain biking/RV friend, my job is to gently persuade him away from industry hype; that is, to look at the gorgeous land right in front of his rig, and adapt his attitude, riding, and equipment to that land, rather than go looking for situations that live up to the preconceived template produced by the industry. But of course, I won't push too hard.

It is just too nice to have somebody to ride and travel with, to jeopardize his cooperation with my blowhard theories. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Bringing a Cliché to Life

Why do certain phrases annoy, in a vague sort of way? For instance, 'scudding clouds.'  'Scudding' is an interesting word.

Currently I disport on a mountain bike in the sage hills near Gunnison, CO. The monsoons have survived until now. Sometimes this area is hit with showers and wind on these open, sagebrush-covered hills. Once again I thought of 'scudding clouds.'

I wanted to be inspired by the phrase, but it still seemed flat. What was I missing? Perhaps I needed to stop worrying about beauty, and think about ugliness, instead. Some of that was readily available: power lines bisected this area.

But are these power lines really ugly? One could think of the power lines and towers as noble pieces of triangular architecture, like the ropes and masts on a ship at sea. This area, with its lonely rock skerries in the midst of a 'sagebrush sea,' (another cliché!) brings to mind the place where 'scudding clouds' is typically used. The mountain bike becomes a sea kayak that nervously paddles and pedals from skerry to skerry, looking for shelter. A dip of only a few feet destroys the horizon, and the bike is swallowed by angry waves in the 'sagebrush covered sea.'

This is how natural beauty actually affects me. It only happens after the mind cuts itself on sharp contrasts, and then soothes itself by wandering off to analogies far away in time or place.


Friday, September 8, 2017

Avoiding Over-Crowding in Tourist Areas

I was almost personally insulted to only have one camper at my campground last night. Was the world trying to say that we weren't offering a desirable product? Maybe I should have stopped in at his campsite and turned on the charm offensive.

No wonder we don't get many visitors: the scenery is too ugly!
But when I looked at it rationally and laid out the pro's and con's, things stacked up pretty well at this location. But most people don't think like that, apparently. They want to go to places that are popular with everybody else. It is strange that many people have so little confidence in the carefulness of their own thoughts.

An unpopular location or season offers a huge payoff to the visitor in Colorado. The over-crowding in this state is becoming discouraging. So it is very hopeful to realize that you can escape the crowds if you stop defining beauty the way that everybody else does.

All a person has to do is recognize the standard, bar-coded postcards that attract the masses, and then steer away from such places, at least at certain times of the year. Of course, that is re-defining beauty in a purely negative way. What we really need to do is visualize the unpopular places in an exciting way.

Maybe the next Democratic president will declare this a national monument and we'll get 2.6 million new visitors the first year. Gee, that'd be great!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Identity Politics in a Campground

It has been a long time since I have been this positive about the political scene in the US. But don't misinterpret me. The situation has become so surreal, on both sides, that it has become easy to laugh the whole thing off. And laughter is more positive than anger.

For instance, identity politics is drowning in its own absurdity. The other day I was invited to give my comments to a large corporation where I had recently made a large purchase. Considering the blue-state headquarters and clientele of this corporation, it shouldn't have surprised me to be asked about which gender I "identified" with.

What phoneys!  If they really wanted to liberate human beings, why not broaden the question to "which animal species do you identify with?"

I know my answer. The other day I was making the rounds at dawn at the campground. No members of homo sapiens were up and about. But several dogs were already living the good life. A society of dogs seemed to be sharing a secret life, with well established routines and activities. It was redolent of that scene in "My Fair Lady" when Eliza's working class folks were up in the pre-dawn hours, setting up their stalls in the marketplace, while their betters were sleeping off a late night of easy living and debauchery.

One labrador retriever followed my dog and me for about a half mile. He was completely quiet and good natured. Then he suddenly stopped on the road and wouldn't proceed further. He just sat on the road, looking at us.

Closer to home we encountered two dogs who were disporting, silently but briskly, just outside the tent where the homo sapien members of their tribe were still sleeping. There was something about the dogs' style that made me love them to pieces. They were so idyllic. 

It was dawn, and rather bright by now. Why were the homo sapiens still sleeping? There is nothing to do in camp when the sun goes down, so why not go to bed, arise early the next morning, and enjoy cool air, calmness, and blue skies?  But no, homo sapiens won't become active until the heat of the day.

Dogs have more sense. Therefore I "identify" with canine-Americans. But that wasn't one of the options that the broad-minded, tolerant, PC corporation offered on their questionnaire.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Mixed Feelings on Donating to Houston

What do people think when they get an appeal to donate to Houston hurricane victims? Retrogrouches (like me) should respond positively to an appeal for voluntary help. It's about as 'retro' as it gets; after all, in modern America everything is either mandatory or illegal.

Then too, many people see the pulling together of humanity as one of its more admirable qualities.

So why didn't I donate? A seditious thought immediately came to mind: how could a society that has unlimited money for fighting foreign wars or inflating various financial bubbles, not be able to take care of hurricane victims in Houston, through government aid? 

How many people had this reaction to the appeals for aid? I am not arguing that it is the best reaction.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

My First Experience at Appreciating Metaphysics

"The great uncertainty I found in metaphysical reasonings disgusted me, and I quitted that kind of reading and study for others more satisfactory."
Good old Ben Franklin.  Thus he dismissed metaphysics from his life, and went on to accomplish real things. I reached the same conclusion years ago. So it is ironic that, relatively late in life, I've actually enjoyed a book about metaphysics.

Hardly a day goes by when there isn't news about Islamist terrorism. I am actually sick of the whole topic. Consider how much of your short life can be wasted on following the news on this subject, and yet, you end up understanding nothing! But being buried under trivial and repetitive news makes a person suspicious that something fundamentally important has been overlooked.

This put me in the mood to go back to the early days of Islamic thought. Where and when was the fork in the road for Islamic thinkers? Why did they take a different fork than Christian ones?

After reading Robert Reilly's "Closing of the Muslim Mind," I still wonder "why" Islam took the opposite turn from Christianity. But at least the When, How, and Where are more clear. He also did a good job in explaining how general orientations in patterns of thought have consequences in the daily news of the modern world.

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.