Wednesday, April 26, 2017

How to Croak Alone in the Woods, Without Killing Your Pet

The marketing department here at the Institute for Advanced Recreational Studies barely approved of this post. "This isn't the topic to increase clicks," they tried to explain.

Still, the problem remains for a solo camper who wants their pet to survive their sudden and unexpected demise while camping alone. Just imagine the situation for a ranger or emergency personnel: they must bust into a rig, and what do they find? Pet urine and feces, and probably vomit. The pet might still be alive. They also encounter a partially eaten human carcass. If your pet is a dog, it would have actually felt bad about that. But what choice did it have?

Presumably, this would not look good on your pet's post-partem adoption resumé. Then again, a clever worker at the animal rescue place might advertise, "Fluffie has shown herself to be self-reliant and resourceful..."

There is a solution on the marketplace: a doggie door. Few products in this price range have improved the lives of owners and pets so much. The typical customer works long hours and doesn't want their poor dog to have to 'hold it' for 10 hours per day.  

I saw one of these doors in action at a friend's house. It was impressive how much her dog depended on it -- and liked it. Doggie doors are available at Lowe's, Home Depot, pet stores, online, etc. I bought the Ruff Weather model by Ideal Pet Products. 

Campers with cargo trailers have an advantage in installing a doggie door. But most campers have wives, who wouldn't be caught dead (oops) in such an unfashionable rig. But most conventional camper-trailers have flat surfaces, at least on the sides. All but the largest doggie doors would fit between the 16 inch studs of any conventional camper trailer, if you could find the studs. 

Rigs such as vans or Airstreams have curved surfaces that would complicate the installation of a doggie door. Perhaps thick enough weather stripping or even a curved board would accommodate the curve.

But does my Coffee Girl appreciate this improvement?  


Friday, April 21, 2017

Thinking My Way Out of a Dead End


Finally I have some good news to report about my new tow vehicle.  There are so many headwinds to face, thanks to easy financing by the Federal Reserve and more restrictive regulations coming from Washington, DC.  I have complained about these trends before, so today I want to discuss this on a different level. Let's think of it as an example of problem-solving in general. 

There's no point in pissing and moaning about these negative trends because I can't do anything about them, other than work around them as well as I can.

Even though I have fewer options for tow vehicles compared to the past, I have more options than other campers. 

Depending on how you categorize these tow vehicles, I have a half dozen options. None of them are terrible. So what is the basic approach here? So far, I have always thought myself half to death by trying to come up with one more option: one magical, exciting, new option that revolutionized the situation  -- something that I had somehow overlooked.

This approach seemed so irresistible. But it produced nothing. Finally I faced up to the fact that this was just juvenile romanticism.

Look at what I was doing to each of my half dozen half-decent options: I was immediately assassinating them with a 'yea, but...'

What if I actually acted like an adult, for a change, and accepted these half dozen options as being the 'hand of cards that I have been dealt', and tried to improve one or two of them, instead of running off to escapist romanticism about a whole new option? Well, I did it, and it worked: nothing radical, but a noticeable improvement of what existed before.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Predatory Truck Consumer Smacks His Lips

One of these days I will give up the bad habit of reading doom-and-gloom financial blogs. They don't do their readers any good. They are the proverbial 'broken clock that gives the right time, twice a day.'

These days they are screaming about how bad automobile sales are. Through the alchemy of confirmation bias, I seem to see a glut of automobiles for sale in make-shift parking lots where they don't even belong.

It is time to actually believe the doom-and-gloomers when the prices actually go down. Still, it is easy to believe them after the insane auto industry trends of the last seven years. The very apotheosis of these trends is the ridiculous size and popularity of pickup trucks. But don't let me get started on that...

Right now, all a consumer can do is visualize a serious predator, like a mountain lion or wolf, spotting a herd of unsuspecting deer. The predator moves in carefully, so as not to alarm the herd. And the predators allow themselves no demonstrativeness more than licking their chops.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

An Alternative to Being Angry at the News

It happens so often: you see a couple options on some issue, and you're not happy with either of them. So, where is the third choice?

With all the depressing news these days, the two obvious choices are:

1. Sit in front of the television, and passively allow yourself to be brainwashed by the spin and lies from the corporate media and the American War regime.

2. Read the alternative media, and try to maintain the integrity of your own mind, as you spew anger out your ears or stew in sourness. It becomes exhausting after awhile.

As an alternative, I have praised reading history as a way of escape.

The other day I accidentally hit on another alternative. I happened to listen to Richard Rodgers's musical theme for the 'Good War' myth-making classic, "Victory at Sea." In fairness, this documentary wasn't nearly as narrow and jingoistic as you would expect.

The music sounds so noble and uplifting. It had just the right balance of optimism and gravitas. It was a musical expression of the great foundational/creation myth of the War Regime in Washington.

Like any memorable movie score, it combines synergistically with the visual images. The subject matter of "Victory at Sea" was drastically better at myth-making than a realistic depiction of infantry war would have been.

In "Victory at Sea" you see the most powerful weapons of the Age, blasting away at each other. You don't see any human bodies that got in the way of those 16" shells.
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I don't know why, but it soothes me to wash my hands of the daily ephemera in the News, and run off to something timeless and classic. A calm detachment. As if lies aren't bad enough, there is something degrading about a human being's 'soul' being caught up in daily trivia.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Trump's Post-White-House Career

I am officially going on record as predicting that Trump is going to be a one-term president. It is reasonable to ask what his plans are for his emeritus years. An ex-president should do something with a certain amount of importance; but it shouldn't be too strenuous, either.

Perhaps he should get on the board of United Airlines. Maybe he can drain the swamp there.

Friday, April 7, 2017

President Obama/Trump Makes America Great Again

I wasn't paying any attention to the news for a few days. So it was shocking to learn of President Dubya/Obama/Hilary/theDonald's attack on Syria. But why was I surprised?

Donald Trump doesn't have the patience for walking important legislation through Congress. He is no deal-making, arm-twisting, cajoling political leader. Who cares whether Americans can afford health care, college,  or $60,000 pickup trucks. He is simply an egotistical, knee-jerking, publicity hound, who is going to enjoy military bluster around the globe.

That's why I wouldn't vote for him (or the other candidate.)

I have a lot of catching up to do with reading editorials. So far, they look pretty good. But then again, they are missing the point. It doesn't matter about the Why or the Who Did It. It only matters that a large fraction of the American public likes having a militaristic strong man in the White House.

They ain't got no interest in nambie pambie doubts and complaints such as:

1. What legal right did Trump have?

2. Has Syria attacked the USA?

3. What vital American interest is at stake?

4. What reason would Assad have to play with chemical weapons, when he is winning the war anyway?

5. If president Obama/Trump did succeed in deposing Assad, who would replace him, and why would he be any better?

6. What the hell is the USA doing in Syria anyway?

But jingoes don't care about that. They want to stick out their chests and walk with an extra bounce in their steps because they feel strong. Their country is strong. They wanted a president who said he'd make America great again, and -- according to the jingoes -- the president has. No arguments matter.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Apotheosis of the American Dream

What a pleasure it has been to learn how to use my Android smartphone! Granted, everybody else on planet Earth went through this seven years ago. I even took a couple photos, just so I would know how. But I think I'll continue to carry a regular digital camera, with its 18X optical zoom.

Perhaps I should reconsider that. After all, the smartphone is always with you. For instance, yesterday I missed a potentially great photograph. Long-suffering readers know that that means a photograph that tells a story, or is a visual metaphor of an important part of the human condition. They also know what it doesn't mean: a purdy picher.

I had just finished the appointment with an attorney who made my last will and testament, then went to knock off other errands before the migration north begins. I got rid of an annoying aluminum extension ladder that I have carried in my van, after replacing it with a collapsible telescoping ladder.

As I rolled into the landfill to dispose of the ladder, it struck me how strange it was to be there on the same day that I signed my first will.  There was a message here. But composing an essay takes time. It would have been nice to take a photo of the dump, and think of a good caption or essay later. 

There is something thought-provoking about visiting a landfill -- as there is at a graduation ceremony, wedding, or funeral -- even for people who don't do a lot of deep thinking. 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The RV Boondocking Blabbermouth Syndrome

No doubt, over the years, many ex-readers noticed that this blog just wasn't what they hoped for. It wasn't helpful to beginners. It wouldn't wallow in practical details. It didn't even give google map screenshots or GPS coordinates of boondocking sites.

The disappointed reader probably thought, "What a selfish fellow! He wants to suppress information that would benefit his fellow RVers. To hell with him then, I'll just read a nicer person's blog.  They have more pretty pictures anyway, and I won't have to keep looking up words..."

The disappointed reader is certainly right about one thing: there are other blogs to go to that will give them want they are asking for. But what if they eventually decide that the easy and popular approach is destructive in a subtle way?

Wouldn't it be more constructive to look at the philosophical significance of the Boondocking Blabbermouth Syndrome? Romanticism and escapism motivate most people to travel. There is nothing wrong that, as a beginning. But it should move on to something more solid.

For instance, RVing is besotted with hackneyed phrases, 'living the Dream', 'starting our new adventure', etc. And yet, virtually everything on the RV blogosphere is aimed at taking adventure away from it! How can anybody see this as the "positive" approach of a "nice", helpful blogger? Hell, it's the approach of a blogger serving Mammon, not their fellow RVers.

Adventure? Do they mean being spoon-fed the answer, as an overly indulgent teacher does with lazy and timid students? Does a parent who loves their child want to keep that child weak and dependent on the parent?

When a newbie or wannabee thinks they need to be told where to camp, it is probably because their rig is too big and awkward. In other words they want their cake and to eat it too. Is it really such a nice thing for a blogger to pander to phony readers of that type?

But there is another reason for the Blabbermouth Syndrome -- a sociological reason. RVers are bourgeois couples, for the most part. That is good and bad, of course. It affects everything they do when they travel. They don't really want adventure; they want comfort, security, and bourgeois respectability. That comes from consuming travel, rather than experiencing it. 

Therefore they want to remove risk, effort, or spontaneity from RV boondocking. They want a campsite to be domesticated into a bar-coded product that they can consume. Despite their hypocritical posturing as adventurers, they don't want any adventure in going out there and finding it.

A blogger should try to be a good mentor: helping others get started in approximately the right place; teaching them to fish instead of just giving them fish; and giving them encouragement to become stronger and more knowledgeable. And when they do, finding that campsite will be half the fun. 

In summary then, I hope this has been constructive because I have convinced some people to allow their RV adventure to actually be an adventure.

Friday, March 31, 2017

An Irrepressible Smile

If only I'd been quick enough on the draw -- with the camera, that is. The group of mountain bikers passing by on the trail would have made a nice photograph.

It has been years since I've seen a half dozen senior-ish mountain bikers riding as a group -- competently, but not competitively. It gave me a good feeling. Why are these encounters so rare?

Location. Terrain, weather, and access to practical things dominate my camping locations. Then I ride on the nearest dirt roads. In contrast, most mountain bikers buy into dedicated single track trails, usually at brand-name locations. So, no overlap.

It feels good to see people pursue a sport without a young male's obsession with competition and 'whose bike cost more.' Millions of people are deprived of the pleasure of mountain biking because of its image as an 'extreme sport' for athletic freaks. They think of reckless stunts for acrobatic geniuses. America has bifurcated into two non-overlapping camps of obese couch potatoes and obsessive athletes.

Actually, mountain biking blogs and forums do a great job in building up this negative image of the sport. 

As for RVers, I sometimes wonder why a sport as slow, hot, and plodding as hiking seems fairly popular with them, while there isn't one in a thousand who rides a bike. When all is said and done, most RVers have rigs that gave no thought to carrying anything other than a Walmart bike that they never ride. They need a pickup truck with a high cap or a van.

As we come down the trail with her frolicking off-leash, we encounter a walker from the other direction. An irrepressible smile breaks loose on their face: "That is one happy dog," they usually say. They appear gleeful. It gives real pleasure and satisfaction to know that we helped to incite it. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Quandary of Consumers

Of all the childish and naive notions a person could have, the one that is the hardest for me to outgrow is believing that the world is supposed to make sense, more or less; that people's way of life is supposed to be -- not perfect -- but at least semi-rational and explainable.

Take consumer behavior. Most of life is gobbled up by work -- one of life's most over-rated activities. Then the wage-slave runs around town or the internet and spends all of their money. And yet, they aren't any good at it. Why don't they want to be good at it?

A local business got a new owner a couple years ago. And I like the way they run the business. It is a trailer repair and parts place. I asked the owner why trailer springs have a reputation for breaking, whereas leaf spring suspensions on trucks seldom break.

This led to me pontificating about the reluctance of consumers to spend one more dollar where it might actually do some good. But the owner 'hijacked the thread' by turning the issue to one of morality.

But I stand by my point: a "good" consumer is normally considered one who does price comparisons. But what good does it do them to split hairs quantitatively if they don't understand the qualitative differences between one product and the next? And how do you do that if you don't understand any of the basic principles and categories of science and engineering?

I assume that it is still the case that a person leaves primary and secondary education with little knowledge of, and no interest in, science. I am not referring to the algebraic scrabble of science, but to a layman's knowledge of the "How Things Work" type. 

What an irony! The modern world is what it is, largely on the basis of science and technology, but a person leaves the diploma factory with more knowledge of Beowulf -- in the old days -- or Afro-American/feminist/lesbian poets in more recent times.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

How to Handle a Deplorable on the Trail

Oh yea, I can hear it, a ways off. It is a Saturday after all. There is a 50% chance that it will head away from me, rather than towards me. But no, it wouldn't do that. They never do. That hateful sound kept getting closer and closer.

At a bend in the dirt road, a smallish ATV suddenly appeared. "Thanks for stopping and not running me over," was my initial thought. The driver was so velocitized that it took some effort for him to stop that idiot-machine of his.

But he was a good kid, and apologized. And I did my best to smile at the little motor-crazed monster.

As my dog and I kept plugging away on that road, the damned kid seemed to be playing "tag" with us. I had an obligation to both of us not to let this bother me. But the harder I tried to ignore it, the more resentful I became. It was a classic example of the medieval tale of a fairy telling the guy she will grant him his fondest wish if only he wouldn't think of a pink elephant for the next ten minutes.

On the way back I studied his camp, his father, and the truck, to see if there were any of the typical signs of miscegenation of the kind one sees at Walmart or the Dollar Stores. But the father looked pretty decent, even if he was being indulgent with his son. 

On the last leg of the ride back to my van, the little Deplorable kept playing tag or leapfrog with me. By now I was really getting angry. I fantasized about getting off the bike, and stoning the dumb kid.

When my dog and I rolled into the trailhead/parking lot, the monster drove up one last time. I really wondered whether I was finally going to tell him off, or maybe, control myself and give him some kindly grandfatherly advice.

He shut off his motor and removed his space-alien helmet. With a big smile, he told me how much he liked my dog. It reminded him of his dog at home.  We talked about his machine and the road and a few other things. I don't have children. I haven't even talked to children for years. How do you do this? What would a lad his age want to talk about? I didn't want to sound condescending.

He was actually a fine lad, polite, well-spoken, and intelligent. It seemed kind of cute that he had cowboy boots on to drive his ATV. I was astonished that he could transform so suddenly from a little monster to a cute friendly kid.

One of the nostrums of modern, squishy social science is that Anger is a "negative" emotion. Experiences like this illustrate that the popping of a malevolent bubble is charming beatific. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Pilgrims of Gringo Road

They plod past my driveway, the last one before heading out to the remaining 750 miles of the Arizona Trail. One part of me wants to open up to the spirit of adventure emanating from them. But it is difficult.

It would be easy to fantasize about camel trekking in Morocco, or riding long sections of the Silk Road, or sea kayaking between Asia and North America, across the Bering Strait.

But walking, plodding, and trodding in Arizona heat? They are visualizing something that I can't, although I would like to. All I can see is a slow-moving sport that lacks all pizzazz or sex appeal. Their sport is the perfect activity for a puritan's Sunday.

Perhaps I am being unfair, for demographic and cultural reasons. Hikers tend to be Greens, urbanites, Democrats, veggies, etc. 

A few of them had real panache. For example I have seen a couple hike with silver umbrellas fastened to their backpacks. Correction: parasols. And of course that appeals to the romantic imagination of a retro-grouch.



One day I even saw a man and woman trying to coax their German short-haired pointer across a cattle gate on the Trail. Oh sure, I rolled my eyes, thinking, "Damned city slickers. Their dawg ain't even seen a cattle gate before!"

But at least they had a dog, rather than a cat on a leash, which is about what you would expect from a city slicker. Later in the day I ran into the same couple in the town post office. They had wrapped duct tape over the dog's pads to try to protect them. I told them about real hiking shoes for dogs, made by Neo-Paws. She was interested, but it was too late to do her any good.

On another day I saw a hiker running from side to side on the road (the Trail, for a short distance). She was picking up empty plastic bottles. Didn't she know she could buy a plastic bottle at the upcoming grocery store?

But there was something else: she seemed so ostentatious about it. Was she a Green picking up litter, and enjoying it a bit too much -- perhaps because somebody would see her? The more you think about this whole activity, the more it seems analogous to religious pilgrimages of yore. Weren't they supposed to Suffer, even if they had to indulge in self-flagellation to do it?

But what Sins are these modern urbanite metro-sexual secularists trying to expiate? How does it work, that is, how many units of sin are erased by how many units of heat and drudgery?  

For those who haven't seen it, I recommend Bergman's "The Seventh Seal." The march of the flagellants might make quite an impression on you.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Annual Battle of Classicists Versus Romantics

During my annual visit to Mayberry-for-Hippies, AZ, I fall back into the polemics of a classical approach to life, rather than the romantic approach. Oddly enough, it is the scenery that crystallizes the issue for me.


This is ranch country, as well as mountains and forests. Therefore it is useful for grazing cattle. That leads to food, a practical and unromantic thing. The land isn't just here to gush over as scenery, although in fact, I love it as scenery.

 
It has never interested me much to try to 'solve' the conundrum of classical versus romantic. A reductionist approach to life seems unappealing.  To hell with looking for magic recipes that explain everything. 

All that interests me is to watch this dualism operate on different things, and to see how the balance changes over the years. Indeed, I do become more classical every year, but that doesn't mean that the classical approach to life is some sort of philosophical monad. 

A scissors with two countervailing and reciprocating blades cuts paper better than a knife.

In the mean time, chalk one up for the importance of visual representations of abstractions that would otherwise seem like uninteresting homework.  In fact a local artist has painted some spots around here where I may have paused the mountain bike, just to admire. 


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Opening Up to the Charm of Other People

Learning to appreciate a variety of things is important for what I call an independent lifestyle, that is, one in which sheer busyness, phony pragmatism, and chasing after toys and status symbols is not the 'meaning of life.'

I had a couple examples of appreciation that were new to me, recently. My dog and I were returning on a mountain bike ride. Therefore we were cruising downhill. Another dirt road 'teed' into ours. Coming down this road were a half dozen large beautiful horses, with riders. I guessed that the horsewoman who led the troupe was the employee of a nearby (dude) guest ranch. 

I asked and she confirmed it, in four or five words.  That's all it took for me to bike away, cooing, and fluttering my eyelashes at the sheer prettiness of her voice. This effect was so exaggerated that I had to wonder about it.

Was it just the usual joy juice in my blood that comes from mountain biking? This has happened so many times. Sometimes it almost scares me. Certainly, that is some of the explanation.

And yes, some women really do have lovely voices. Their voices can be amazingly clear on the telephone when the man's voice sounds like mere mumbling. I thought I was only knocked over by the hit-arias sung by the soprano in Puccini operas.

But maybe I was just being a dirty old man, and was imagining that woman in tight blue jeans, riding her horse away from me? Or maybe it was seeing people enjoy a traditional western experience?
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It is rare to find a town in America that has any individual character. For the most part, they are all the same. It fits in with the massen-mensch mindset of democracy. And the consumption of mass media. And besides, there is barely enough freedom in modern America to display individuality.

Despite all that, Mayberry-for-Hippies, AZ, allows dogs in their public library. One day a reader came through with their miniature schnauzer in tow. He was grey and older, and so sedate. His whole personality reminded me of a little old man who runs an antique book store in London: you know the image, a cardigan sweater, nerdy eyeglasses, and maybe a little mustache.

I simply cannot forget that little dog. It's like he was born to work in that library. Of all the times I have been charmed by dogs, that experience is still my favorite.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Retro-grouch Gets His First Smartphone

Just in case I haven't said it often enough: late adopters rule, and early adopters drool. That is how I am feeling after finally finding a telephone/internet plan that I liked. Walmart was offering a pre-paid Verizon plan that can serve as my internet and phone plan, after I bought an inexpensive Android smartphone to serve as a hotspot for the laptop computer.

My goodness, I have held off for years! Because some people think a retrogrouch is either afraid of new things or is just a chronic curmudgeon who aims his curmudgeon-ness at technology, allow me to say a word in their defense. The problem was always the high price of the plans, not the smartphone itself. 

Actually it was fun and easy to learn how to use the Android smartphone. (Must I add that I wasn't even tempted to debauch myself with an overpriced iPhone?)  

Better yet, there was a certain vindication in being a cranky preacher against excessive motor vehicle usage. Look at how everything on the smartphone is aimed at tracking your location, and tailoring advertisements and maps towards getting you into the next fast food joint or Starbucks. It confirms what I have always said: that the car keys are the enabling technology for setting off a chain of unnecessary spending.

Because the 'medium is the message,' smartphones exacerbate bad habits, besides driving around in a city and squandering money. They bend your communications into one-liners and quips. They encourage you into an addiction to trivial, bite-sized 'news' and distraction: "Dude, how R U? Howzit hangin?" Eventually it will be deemed too slow or inconvenient to say, "Howzit hangin?" so it will be replaced with an emoticon-hieroglyphic. We can only imagine what that will look like.

Actually you can do just about everything better on an "old-fashioned" laptop. 

The smartphone is so synergistic with driving a car that one wonders how long it will be before old-fashioned key fobs are no longer needed to unlock and drive off in your car, and instead, there is an app on your smartphone to do it.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Fire and Ice

Now and then, I catch myself bragging about setting a 'personal best' when camping. Last week the temperature inside the camper hit 27 F. 

Of course I have a heater, but refuse to use it. Usually I try to joke my way out of it. A better explanation would be to point at the movie, "The Red Violin." 

Chilly dry air, in contrast with sunlight at sunrise, seems like perfection to me. With a Platonic and pseudo-religious attitude, I pop my trailer door open to the east, and let the glorious sun come into the trailer. It feels warmer instantly, and irresistibly cheerful. If there is a better way to start a day, let me know what it is.


Nevertheless, consider this an exception to the rule. You will not have to read many advertisements for 'the ideal' or 'perfection' on this blog. Experience has taught me that the enemy of the Good is not the Bad, as you would expect. The enemy of the Good is the Ideal.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Natasha Dances for the American Deep State

How nice that I have managed to appreciate art in 'this lifetime.' Although music and comedy were two forms of art that were easy to appreciate, the visual arts left me yawning, in the past.

I refer to "art" in the Tolstoyan sense. This is quite different from Beauty, which most people confuse with "art."  Tolstoy thought that art was anything that transferred emotional experiences from the artist to the viewer/reader/listener, by means of words, pictures, sounds, or stories. Beauty is a another matter, according to Tolstoy.

Movies should be good at providing "artful" experiences in this sense of the word, and, one would think, the Russian movie version of "War and Peace" should be good at it, too.

I watched the first third of the three-disc movie, and couldn't make up my mind if I liked it. The star of the second third of the movie was "Natasha," the young Russian noble-girl who came of age during the lead-up to Napoleon's 1812 invasion of Russia.

It became easier to notice how graceful her movements. Well of course! Look at her: she has "ballet dancer" written all over her. And thank heavens they chose a young actress to play this role, instead of taking the BBC approach of using a 30-year-old actress to portray an adolescent.

Tolstoy uses the behavior of Natasha's family at a wolf hunt to foreshadow the upcoming big-battle-scene. Gone are the genteel French manners. Natasha's family starts acting like Russians. But what exactly does that mean? Napoleon is about to find out.

I wasn't prepared for what came just after the wolf hunt, at the evening meal at her bachelor-uncle's hunting lodge. Natasha hears some Russian folk music being played on a balalaika, a traditional instrument. They tell her to dance, although she doesn't quite know how to dance to uncivilized Russian folk music.

But she plays along, and improvises, haltingly, almost reluctantly. Somehow she connects with something, and finally cuts loose, while the voice-over and subtitle repeats Tolstoy's words:
Where...how...when had this young countess absorbed the spirit of this dance from the Russian air she breathed? Dressed in silk and velvet, educated by a French emigrée governess, how had she acquired these movements; yet these movements were the very ones, inimitable, unteachable, Russian, which her uncle expected of her. How well she understood all that was in...

Let's be playful with an anachronism, and imagine ol' Bonie in the slow lane on St. Helena. Since he has lots of time on his hands, he pops the movie into the machine one night. What would he really think of the wolf hunt and Natasha's dance? "Art" or merde.

Perhaps modern neo-cons, Democrats, and Deep-Staters might get something out of Natasha's dance, as well, before they try to force Russia to surrender Crimea.

Monday, February 20, 2017

How Someone Should Write History

I should probably offer an excuse for talking about a book about the French Revolution, lest somebody say, "Yea but how is that, like, relevant, man?"  The answer is that much of what we call political news and "current events" is really just fighting the French Revolution all over again.

Details. Do I ever hate details in history books. Consider a book on the causes of the French Revolution: the author could grind through the legal system, economic conditions, etc. All very important of course. But what a tedious bore!

Consider the rather different approach used by Simon Schama, in "Citizens," A Chronicle of the French Revolution. Old-regime France had been no stranger to public ceremonies and spectacles. But your place near the viewing stand was controlled by the aristocratic pecking order.

Then, in the 1780s, public spectacles saw a radical change. Balloons became the high-tech rage. Once they were in the air, it all viewers had the same view.
In other words, [the balloonists] succeeded in establishing a direct and unmediated relationship of comradeship with enormous multitudes of people.
...As a spectacle it was unpredictable; its crowds were incoherent, spontaneous and viscerally roused...
The sense that they were witnessing a liberating event--and augury of a free-floating future--gave them a kind of temporary fellowship in the open air...

...it exemplified the philosopher's vision of a festival of freedom: uplifting glimpses of the Sublime in which the experience, not the audience, was noble.
What a gorgeous metaphor! I will always think of it first when reading about any kind of revolution.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Connecting With the Cosmos

Well, here I am again after a hiatus of a couple years -- back in a favorite camping area. The special attraction here is the 'alignment of the stars.' Just kidding.

'Sleeping under the stars' is both romantic and phony. How many times have you done it, literally? I did it once, as a lad, above tree-line in Colorado -- quite an adventure for a lad from the flatlands. But I was too uncomfortable to sleep much.

A camper could sleep out under the stars anytime he saw fit: a nice cot, air mattress, and sleeping bag should do the trick. A tent would ruin it. So why don't I do it? There are unpleasant practicalities, of course. Perhaps I don't really think the stars are all that interesting to look at. Maybe the shallowness of mere looking is the problem.

But let's return to the nightly spectacle of 'alignment' here. I love the alignment of the setting sun with a certain topographic feature, near the equinox. Currently it is about a month away from the equinox, so the alignment is not as good as the last time I was here.


The mountain peak on the right is Mt. Baboquivari, the noblest peak in this area. 


As you approach the equinox you can watch the setting sun approach the peak. You can hold up a couple fingers at arm's length, and measure the progress of the season. Or you could walk a certain distance along a transverse road to adjust the alignment a certain amount.

Day by day you look forward to perfect alignment. The immensity of the earth and solar system no longer seem so vast that they bore you. You have anthropomorphized them, and made them interesting.

Mt. "Babo" was supposed to be 'sacred to the native Americans.' That cliché usually makes me roll my eyes. But camping here, living here, and wrestling with it every night makes it quite plausible to see the mountain as a moody and mysterious god.

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Great Chapter of Life Ends

A title like that sounds like a traveler who is announcing that they are going to hang up the keys, or at least, close their blog. Nothing quite so drastic. 

I came back from the bicycle shop sniffling and whimpering, like a puppy with an ouchie stuck in his paw. But my friend in Mayberry-for-Hippies just laughed at my silliness. I was halfway serious though. A big chapter in my life has been closed: I sold my road bicycle. Now I am down to one bike, a mountain bike. Earlier in my career I traveled with four and a half bikes in my van.

It has been a wonderful part of life: road cycling, that is. I built my annual travel schedule around it. Most of my friends were bicyclists. I felt happier road cycling than at any other time. 

With an advertisement like that, why give it up? Primarily because of safety and better agreement between backwoods camping and mountain biking. You need to camp in town to be a road biker. 

As a help for anyone taking up road bicycling, note that there are more off-street recreational trails than before. That is the good news. But there are more cars, and half the drivers are more concerned with playing with their electronic gadgets than looking out the windshield.  So if you must ride on roads, do yourself a big favor and ride with a club or at least a small group of riders. I always did; perhaps that is why I have never been seriously injured on a bike, despite doing it most of my adult life.

When readying the road bicycle for sale, I was reminded of all the silly fads that bicyclists have been suckers for. Don't worry: I will spare the reader any standard stump speeches. Suffice it to say that this was the last time I will be bothered by hard-to-mount skinny tires and those damned Presta valves.

Thinking back, I have known so many other bicyclists who were admirable on at least some level. But they weren't perfect either. In any group of voluntary association, one always comes away feeling, "I can't live with 'em, and I can't live without 'em." That sounds bittersweet on paper, but tonight it feels more sweet than bitter.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

When Is It Time to Renounce Folly?

I've had thousands of chances to drive off, after a bicycle ride, and forget something -- like a front wheel. And yet I never did so until recently. Although I knew the spot where I left the front wheel, it wasn't lying there when I returned two days later. Infuriating!

Add this wheel to other casualties over the years, such as the $120 hiking poles I left behind, once.

After this incident I have started to put the front wheel in the van first, since forgetting the rest of bike is less likely. How much thinking was required to make this trivial improvement? And yet, it takes a surprising amount of persistence to form a new habit.

So why didn't I think of this 40 years ago? When my grandfather was in his seventies, he once told me, 'A young man just lets things happen to him. He doesn't think about the consequences of what he does.'

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I own several pricey cylindrical flashlights. They were purchased after a great deal of 'deep thought' about the best flashlight to buy.  Apparently I was impressed by the advertising slogan of "aerospace grade aluminum" or something. 

Duh. Why does that matter? Have you ever owned a flashlight whose aluminum failed? They fail because of a cheapie plastic switch or spring.

Recently I saw a selection of flashlights in an outdoor equipment store. It's a wonder that it doesn't take a license to buy one of these things! They are dangerous. But they can't wait to tell you how many lumens of retina-blasting power they have. One of them has the batteries installed, and a little sign invites you to "try me."

Of course they repress how quickly the two or three AAA batteries wear down. 

Now really, does it take deep thinking to realize that cylindrical flashlights are a nuisance? Forty years of being a middle class consumer should be good for something, shouldn't it? They roll around as you try to use them.  So you end up running out of hands, by carrying it. Or you stick it in your mouth and chip a tooth on the "high grade aerospace aluminum."

Duh. Wouldn't the ideal shape of a flashlight be rectangular and roll-free? After all these years I have finally switched to $5 rectangular flashlights, as opposed to the $25 roll-around-the-trailer jobs.

Perhaps all flashlight marketing is done by Sigmund Freud.
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It is so easy to mouth platitudes about 'living like it is the last day in your life.' But it is difficult to put an end to incompetent shopping habits that have been allowed to endure far too long.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

What If I Were a Car Camper?

Every day I travel by a solitary car camper. Sometimes I feel like walking up and introducing myself. But I never have.

Is this just bourgeois prejudice, looking at somebody who appears to be a low-life? It could be, but it could also be reasonable caution. How am I supposed to know which topic lights the guy up like a firecracker? And how will I escape his rant, gracefully?

Another motive is self-protection. His situation seems sad, and I don't really want to wallow in it. The other day was a big day for him. I saw him walking around his car a little bit. At one point, he bent down and tied his shoes. That is the most action he has had in a week. The rest of the day, he just sits in his car and looks out the windshield.

There could be some genuine drama happening in that car. But who would know? Who could be affected by it vicariously, if everybody is afraid of him?

I always feel ashamed of myself when I go by him. Are he and I in the same category -- desert rat boondockers?
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In contrast, walking by a female car-camper makes me feel rather good. She is a talented musician and a dog lover -- she might have four or five of them in her tent and jeep.  She is always doing something. I have talked to her a couple times when her dogs came out to say hello to mine, as we biked by.

Perhaps the contrast comes from the vibrations she gives off that seem to say she only does this seasonally, and it makes no practical sense to buy a regular RV for a short stint in the desert.

At first, I rolled my eyes and thought, "Four dogs. What do they use for common sense?" But the more accustomed to her I became, the more it seemed like she was offering an authentic, anthropological performance that befits the human female. I like to think of people as a type of wildlife. 

Previously I had complained that I couldn't see any positive role for female campers. Most of them seem not only useless, but to be outright liabilities. In contrast, this woman was doing what they have always done: staying busy with three things at once, providing existence, survival, comfort, security, and pleasure to the other creatures in her life.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Thoughts for a Rainy Day in Arizona

The woman at the bakery was quite serious when she complained about Quartzsite business being down this year. Well, I was certainly doing my part to help, considering how many times I have been into the bakery. Perhaps she should stay open more than four days per week? And really, being closed on Saturday! But what do I know about running a successful business?

Still, perhaps we should all do our part, and try to come up with fresh business ideas to bring the crowds back to Quartzsite. The only sure winner I can think of is ... drum roll... clip-on dreadlocks. Why should millennial hitchhikers from California get all the babes? Old guys need a chance, too.
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A hard rain last night. How strange that I felt so resentful. There is supposed to be a secondary rainy season in the Sonoran Desert in mid-winter. And after all, I appreciate green ocotillo stalks and spring wildflowers. Since I prudently stayed camped on desert pavement, there was little chance of getting stuck in the mud.

So I should have enjoyed the rain. Perhaps I am no better than the tourists (from cities) who I usually poke fun at, as nature-frauds. Or I could take the easy way out and blame it on "genes." White people have usually lived in dismal climates of cold, clouds, and mud. It is hard for us to believe that we can get too much sunlight.

Still, it is strange how difficult it is to follow along with what makes sense.