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Showing posts from February, 2011

Water Fountain, Stone Sculpture

Where we have coffee, downtown. The fountain-sculpture was just thawing out.

Flashing Ads on the Internet

Advertisements certainly have their place on the internet. How else would you pay for websites? Government grants? Do everything with volunteers? Guilt-ridden PBS-style beg-athons?
But today I went to an economic/political blog and found a flashing ad in the right margin. I tried to cover it with a popup window, but that didn't quite work. Then I enlarged the font of the website, hoping that would bump the flashing ad off screen. That too failed.
Long ago -- back when "call waiting" was a new high-tech phone option -- somebody told me how he got a telephone call from somebody who immediately asked, "Can I put you on hold?" He responded by hanging up; it made his day.
It's not quite as fun as that when you quit going to a website because of one of those obnoxious flashing ads, but it still counts. It's hard to believe that anyone would put up with them. What does it say of a person or society who does put up with flashing ads?

A Non-trivial Travel Experience

Long-suffering readers are probably tired of my complaints against the trivialness of travel-newbies or the romantic escapism of wannabees. OK then, let's keep it positive. Every now and then a reader runs across an exception to the trivia of travel, and it can occur in the most unlikely place. 
I read bicycle touring blogs. Normally they show pretty postcards of landscapes, punctuated with mind-numbing prose about camping details. Or ride statistics. Everybody has a cycle odometer these days. If they rode  56.43 miles today, as read off the screen of the odometer, they will include the '3' in the hundredths place in their daily post, as if the reader really cares. Now I ask you, folks, what does the hundredths place have to do with the Human Condition or the state of the Universe in general?
But there are exceptions. A bicycle tourer was going through Egypt during their recent uprising. He stayed at a hostel next to Tahrir Square. He actually had the guts (or recklessness) t…

Another Curable Syndrome

Seldom do I willingly repeat myself on this blog, although it must happen. My favorite time of the day tempted me once. Coffee Girl (my dog) and I had finished a nice outing in the morning. After taking a shower, we did what we've done so many times: lied down on the bed for an early afternoon siesta. I wanted to write about it, but surely that would be repetition. What is so bad about that?
Where did I get this sick idea that one is supposed to think of something new, new, new all the time? I ridicule the Constant Travel Syndrome -- and its puerile infatuation with novelty -- at every opportunity. Perhaps it is time to choose a new pinata; call it the Constant Thinking Syndrome. How much good has thinking ever done me? Maybe it's over-rated.
Ironically there was something new about this siesta; completely new for me. I was actually enjoying some violin music for the first time in my life: Beethoven's Romance #1 (opus 40), Romance #2 (opus 50) and the famous violin concerto…

Opposite Shores of the Mediterranean

Just think of all the chaos in North Africa. It used to be a part of the Roman Empire. It was the home of St. Augustine, essentially the founder of medieval Christendom. Perhaps il Mar Mediterraneo is not as wide as we think.
Libyan jets have defected to the island of Malta, just a short flight away. That is one of the places I would love to travel to; what a fascinating history they have had. Peruse the article in Wikipedia on that chain of islands and you will be reminded of how close ancient Carthage was to Sicily, Italy, and Europe. What if Hannibal had finally beaten Rome? Would the Christian/Islam split even exist today?
By the way there is an excellent movie, starring Anthony Quinn, called Lion of the Desert. It was the story of Omar Mukhtar, the Libyan hero who fought Italian imperialists before and after Mussolini.
These days, they say that there are more (active and used) mosques in Europe than cathedrals or churches. The numbers of Muslims in Europe is astonishing. I have neve…

Western Myths, Arab Heroes

This weekend the violence has increased against protesters in Middle Eastern countries. On the internet we can watch American "allies" murder their own people. Is it starting to sink in, with Americans in particular, what a sham these Arab protesters are making of our own self-flattering mythology?
The Arab protesters have no weapons. They are just waving flags or sometimes throwing rocks. Throwing rocks. The goons and mercenaries firing back at them have all the high-tech gadgets, shields, helmets, and organization. The Arab protesters might have a metal bucket on their head, if they are lucky.
When the Americans had their own successful war of secession from the United Kingdom, most Americans had muskets that were basically the same as what King George's troops had. We lacked the pretty red coats. But the technological mismatch wasn't that great.

The French no doubt look back at their Revolution as full of heroes, at least initially. What did it take to start a revolu…

Is Stagflation the Winner?

Oh no! Is it going to be the 1970s all over again? Every time I go to the store I see rising prices. 
The inflationists have been predicting this for a couple years now. But the deflationists have counter-argued that an economy-wide wage-price spiral can't get going like in the 1970s because unions are too weak, too many of our goods come from China, and the housing industry is too weak.
The lessons of the 1970s have been forgotten, I fear. The American people are too sheep-like to protest rising inflation. They'll meekly submit, or be fooled by packaging gimmicks or phony statistics from the government. They'll simply have less to spend on many things, since a bigger fraction of their stagnant incomes is gobbled up by gasoline, home heating and cooling, food, medical care, college, and perhaps state income taxes in states like Illinois. The result will be stagflation.
Not only have oldsters forgotten the lessons of the 1970s, but an entire generation has grown up that has ne…

Looking for Allies

Since I was falsely accused of misogyny the other day, I have gone looking for allies to prove my innocence. At first I thought of Schopenhauer or Nietzsche. Too intellectual perhaps. How about Professor Henry Higgins of My Fair Lady? Hmm...maybe not.
Wait a minute, I've got it: look up the biography of legendary movie director, Joseph Mankiewicz, (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, All About Eve, etc.) on imdb dotcom or Wikipedia. Nobody ever accused him of being a misogynist, that's for sure.
In the justly honored All About Eve, Anne Baxter (who was Frank Lloyd Wright's granddaughter) played a pretty and young stage-actress-wannabee who "showed up on the doorstep" of Betty Davis, who played a famous, but aging, actress on the New York stage. Eve started off humbly, but quickly, to displace Betty Davis. Eve used manipulation and cunning to trick everybody into helping her in her ambition.
Naturally, the other women in the movie were first to catch on to Eve's tricks. Ha…

A Curmudgeon on Valentine's Day

Being able to ignore national holidays is not the smallest advantage of an independent lifestyle. Still, they give opportunities for thought, especially when they are as weird as Valentine's Day. Look at how the marketing hype panders to women, with the jewelry, chocolates, restaurant events, etc. Isn't this just a bit slatternly, 40 years after women's lib?
Valentine's Day is a perfect example of how 'there is no new thing under the sun.' Women always have and always will run a sexual extortion racket to their own advantage. Believe it or not, I don't really blame them for this. Biology and evolution have dumped a lot of overhead on the females. Males get most of the pleasure from reproduction, while women get stuck with the consequences. So there is a rough justice in women using their weapons to get even.
Their imperiousness used to irk me when I was a young man. Old age has moderated this. Getting a female dog has had an even bigger effect. It was amusing…

Wolf at the Door, conclusion

Update: on the bicycle ride home today I stopped by the German Shepherd's house in the barrio that I ride through. He had almost completely recovered from his crash with the car! Then he confronted me like he was auditioning for a bit role in Stalag 17. He was off-leash, so I called Animal Control.



During the recent sub-zero night there was an element of playful adventure and even drama. But the dominant mood was one of anger. I was furious about being so weak and letting winter cold beat me. This became so noticeable that there had to be something larger at stake.
In Lawrence of Arabia a newspaper reporter asked Lawrence what he liked personally about the desert. It's clean, he said. Keep in mind that Hollywood scriptwriters will put a western movie in Dodge City, Kansas, with Rocky Mountains in the background. The desert is not clean, but winter cold is. Perhaps it can fascinate us because of the clarity that it brings to life; it condenses issues into a manageable view...

Or m…

Wolf at the Door, part 2

One thing that I've learned about being cold is that you reach a point where you just can't put on enough clothes to help. You must move. The only thing possible in a small RV is doing push-ups. I tried that, and with good results. Normally I use closed-cell foam pads underneath my hands for comfort's sake; on this minus 2 F morning, the foam took on a compression-set that recorded an impression of my wrists and palms.
I couldn't do push-ups for the next five hours until sunrise, so I popped Lawrence of Arabia into the DVD player, hoping that the desert scenery would warm me up, at least psychologically. It didn't work.
There was only one more card to play: going into the campground's shower room and taking a 30 minute, scalding hot shower at their expense. But this seemed unsporting and unmanly, so I declined.
What is the appeal of "cold survival" stories? Is it in our DNA? It has been a big part of living for much of the history of our species. Recentl…

Wolf at the Door

I woke up at 1 a.m. last week. Something was different. I was just too cold to sleep, despite wearing a winter parka to bed, as well as boots, polartec pants, and a warm skull cap, all underneath two layers of warm sleeping bags. The catalytic propane heater was set on high; those things are fine for a mobile RVer who chases the warmth in winter, but in a real winter they must be supplemented with an electric heater that blows the air around a little. For the first time the electrical heater also needed to be clicked on high.


I made breakfast, not because I was hungry, but just for the heat from the stove and for an excuse to stand and stomp my feet.
The water pump wouldn't turn on of course. (I never use water hoses from the campsite spigot in winter.) But tonight was a first: the toilet froze. It was necessary to boil water on the stove and then pour it into the toilet to thaw the trap door. The water that I spilled on the bathroom floor soon froze.
The thermometer said it was 37 …

Eric Margolis Audio Clip

It's probably true that a blogger is getting lazy and isn't adding that much value if he slips into being a mere retailer of other people's original content. Still, sometimes I can't resist. Finding a needle in the internet haystack does have a certain amount of value.
Here is an audio clip by Eric Margolis, a writer who actually knows something about America's Raj in southwest Asia and the Middle East. You won't hear about him in the mainstream media.
You can just push the play button to hear the audio clip on your computer. You don't have to have some gadget like an iPod.

Politics in the Movies

You probably wouldn't believe me if I claimed there was already a movie about the Egyptian uprising. OK, that would be an exaggeration. But movies can sometimes express the nature of political maneuvering better than thick, scholarly books that bury the essence of things under a mountain of extraneous details. There is no excuse to do so, because politics is not terribly intellectual or complex. It is irritating to wade through 500 pages of verbiage to get at the point of the whole thing.
For instance, in Braveheart a rebellion starts up in Scotland, against the English king. The lairds of Scotland had lands and titles in both Scotland and England. They played a duplicitous game regarding the rebellion, and it came across so clearly in the movie.
I have no particular criticism to aim at the current president regarding his handling of the Egyptian uprising, since if the other party was in the White House they might have already sent in the Marines while they gave speeches promising f…

Disguising Inflation

Most of my grocery shopping is done at an Albertson's that is a five minute walk from my RV park. They made quite a fuss out of rearranging the store recently, moving things from one aisle to the next. It wasn't a remodeling or an improvement; just a reshuffling.
Over the years I've memorized the prices pretty well. The store actually has great loss-leader sales, which are the only things I buy. It has always surprised me that a security guard doesn't block my entrance into the store. During all the commotion of the great reshuffling I noticed that some of the prices had gone up 25%. Or had I noticed them? Maybe my memory was playing tricks on me. Say, wait a minute, I still have a good memory. Something else was going on, and it smelled fishy.
The last few days the news media has actually done a little honest-to-goodness investigative reporting about repackaging at the grocery store. For example the food company can reduce the size of the product from 16 ounces to 14, p…

The Internet's Prague Spring

Update: An editorial has recently popped up on CNN that overlaps with this post.

When Egypt shut down the internet, the blogosphere reacted with surprise and indignation. Why so? Did they think the internet was sacred or untouchable?
Forget about Egypt for a minute and think of the stereotypical cartoon of a revolution in a South American kleptocracy. When the junta finally reaches the tipping point, they send troops to the national radio or TV station and proclaim victory. Then they send troops to the presidential palace where they kill anybody still there. In all likelihood the deposed dictator absconded in a private jet, a few hours earlier, with a suitcase full of gold bars and his beautiful wife, 28 years his junior.
But it isn't just dictatorships. Freedom-praising democracies have controlled radio and television for many decades, in the name of the "people" of course. The most egregious example is the BBC in England. I used to think this was such a contradiction in t…