Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Inconsistencies of Internet Pundits

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Another Tourist Asking for Trouble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 7, 2017

RV Friends: Be Careful What You Wish For

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


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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Soggy Tent Campers Making the Best Out of It

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Impressive (Anti-) Demonstration of Traction Control Systems

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Dog's Purpose, A Woman's Purpose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Busting my First Stealth Camper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Best and the Worst Tents

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Passing the Time in Better Ways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 10, 2017

Helping Versus Interfering Versus Enabling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 8, 2017

German Engineering...in the Middle of a River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Testing One's Mettle Over the Fourth of July

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 30, 2017

A Better Way to Spend Your Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And how many days a year is all that crap used?
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[1]  I asked the mother of one family of campers how long it had taken to pack all of their detritus, back home. She said she had been packing the entire week.

Monday, June 26, 2017

A Statistical Approach to People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Fresh Promise of a New Day

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

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

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

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



Sunday, June 18, 2017

Philosophical Ripples from the River Rats

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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