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Showing posts from March, 2011

Compassion and Control

Immediately after spouting off, I regretted it. Outside the college library a fellow had merely asked about my heavy breathing and whether I needed assistance. With a scowl on my face and voice I pointed out that I had just bicycled up one of the steepest hills in town. The poor fellow must have gone away thinking that no good deed goes unpunished. What was it that caused me to react so ungratefully to his apparent kindness and concern? Perhaps whenever I am on a college campus I feel a latent hostility that always boils just below the surface, and it takes little to set it off. Meanwhile, off in the big world, liberal interventionists are bombing away in the name of humanitarianism. The commentariat is struggling to make sense of liberal interventionism and nation-building as a type of muscular social work. Is there a relationship between these two examples of meddling do-goodism: one a micro-version, the other a macro-version? Many people have noticed that the transition is

Foreign Policy

It is rare pleasure to say something good about the Media. Lately I've been enjoying the high quality articles in the magazine, Foreign Policy , which I access through . Today it offers an editorial about Syria which really teaches the reader something. Precious.

Volunteer Work

People who succeed at turning volunteer work into a nice part of their lives should give the rest of us advice. What is their secret? For the second time I signed up to work on the continental divide trail, and then canceled out. It is frustrating. I'm not blaming them. Organizations such as the Forest Service or the trail association have their ways of doing things; cantankerous, independent people (like me) don't like being told how to do things. It's not that I'm unwilling to be a team player or to defer to any kind of supervision. But I just seem unwilling or unable to allow anyone else to impose their schedule or calendar on me; it seems like a type of rape. If so, then it is an example of how my fears were right all those years about early retirement and full time RVing undermining my moral character! The bigger the organization, the more likely it is to have some salaried, 30-year-old, volunteer coordinator who sits in a cubicle in front of her computer, p

Endless War on Another Planet

What can you say about a town in which all the car bumpers have the same stickers? On a recent ride through the Little Pueblo I noticed a bumper sticker that was cracked and sun-faded: "God Bless the Whole World. No Exceptions." This slogan was almost obligatory in this town, and I agreed with them. Presumably the bumper sticker was intended to be a refutation of those "God Bless America" bumper stickers that Fox News listeners installed after 9-11. Once again this got me rolling my eyes at the hypocrisy of the anti-war Left. The cracked and sun-faded bumper sticker was installed during the Bush II Imperium; the New Mexico sun had finally taken its toll. Why weren't all the "anti-war" people in town installing new bumper stickers with anti-war slogans, now that the Afghanistan war has become longer than Viet Nam? Why weren't they holding a protest march or a candlelight vigil because of the Libyan invasion? What about America's great ally Sau

No Free Lunch from Google

Recently I've had trouble in the New Post editing window when user blogger (blogspot). It didn't show the editing icons (font, bold, italics, etc.), which made it harder to post of course. An associated blog ( got me started with the Help capability of blogger. Normally I give up on such things before giving them a fair chance. The solution didn't come from tech thinking; it came from "cui bono" paranoia: I've always been afraid that if internet users get hooked on freebies from Google, they would sabotage adblocking capabilities, since ads are how Google rakes in obscene profits. (I use the Firefox browser with AdBlock Plus.) Paranoia is useful sometimes: I guessed that I should turn off AdBlock Plus on the page in question, which is one of the options on the pull-down menu of AdBlock Plus. Sure enough, the editing icons showed up again: problem solved. Shame on me for expecting a free blogging service, free Picasa photo-editing, a

Advice to the DVD Movie Industry

As long as I'm telling the book publishers how to run their business, the DVD movie industry might as well get some advice too. I know of no industry that illustrates Thoreau's classic words, better: " with a hundred "modern improvements"; there is an illusion about them; there is not always a positive advance... Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York. We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate." First off, the "step up" from regular DVDs to Blue-Ray discs is non-value-added if all it gets the consumer is more pixels and higher resolution. A regular DVD and LCD screen are flat-out gorgeous; nothing more needs to be done; the poi

Keynes and Qaddafi

What was it, the next day after the earthquake and tsunami that Keynesian market commentators began licking their chops over how these disasters would actually help the Japanese economy, because of all the stimulus spending and quantitative easing? That was their knee-jerk reaction, despite Japan's stimulus spending since 1990, which produced two lost decades. It's funny that they didn't use the same argument about the international invasion of Libya and all the ensuing destruction and civil war. After all, if you subscribe to the broken-window-fallacy, what difference does it make whether you throw a rock through somebody's window, or use a ball instead?

Doing Dishes the Old-fashioned Way

The other day a friend got me thinking how far out of the mainstream we both were for never owning a dishwashing machine in our lives. But see what we'd be missing? This was deja vu for me: three fellow cyclists and I were having lunch one day, in the middle of a Saturday ride. It was humorous the way we all realized at the same time that we were sitting with a whole table-full of kooks who didn't even own a television.

How to Revive a Reader

This morning I remonstrated with a woman who has long practiced a book-besotted lifestyle. She even refuses to apologize for it, and as we all know, getting people to admit that they have a problem is half the battle. I fear she is irredeemable since she resists all of my efforts to improve her. (It's their job to improve us, you know.) In contrast to this sad story I'd like to report a small success in the book world. I am in the habit of downloading classic books as text files from sites online, and then editing the crap out of them. Basically that means deletion, but it wouldn't have to. There is a profound and exciting difference between editing a book and merely reading it, since the latter is mechanical tedium more than anything else. It's high time that we did something fundamental and truly revolutionary with all this information technology. I am currently finishing the second iteration of abridging Boswell's Life of Johnson . It will be difficult to br

Why Was Ma Bell Broken Up?

Now that ATT and T Mobile are planning on merging, and the American market becomes dominated by two wireless telephone companies, I have to ask why the government ever bothered to break up Ma Bell back in the 1980s. It didn't have a total monopoly back then: there was GTE as well as numerous local carriers. Besides, Ma Bell was regulated as a utility. It seems like we've come full circle.

Shock and Awe, Chapter 4

Once again American taxpayers are getting a chance to see all the shiny toys and weapons that their billions have paid for, while generals give slide shows of how accurate they are. Such great television! Isn't war fun -- it's just like playing a video game. (Meanwhile, in the AfPak theater of operations, the highest-tech weapon of all, the drone, kills boys gathering firewood. But that's yesterday's news.) It is infuriating to watch all the air-time that BBC and CNN are giving the Gadhafy regime. Why do they even bother to listen to its lies? On a purely technical level you have to admire how well the Gadhafy regime has learned to convert the Media into a lapdog. Apparently they have been studying the American government during this era of 7 and 24 news, when a successful news biz or career depends on access to government officials everyday. They say that a culture is defined by the questions it never even thinks to ask. If so, how does that apply here? Obviously,

Playing Hard to Get

It's natural for a beautiful girl dog's thoughts to turn to Love with the spring weather we've been having lately. My kelpie, Coffee Girl, has a new playmate in the morning: a French Brittany spaniel, named Jake. (How declasse'.) I've never seen her act so silly before; she runs alongside him, licking his face. When he stops, she pushes the side of her body against his. A lot of good it does her. Jake is a (hunting) workaholic who has no time to waste on romantic nonsense. He has another quirk besides this: he picked up a cholla thorn the other day. His owner had to hold him down, while I pulled the two thorns out. They barely required any pulling, yet he howled bloody murder about it. I couldn't resist giggling. On our bike ride to town we saw an impressive, medium-sized, brown hawk that flew only five feet off the ground. A half dozen times I almost got my camera out, but he wouldn't cooperate. What a tease! It had a conspicuous transverse white stripe

Rare Praise for the Mainstream Media

This blog makes pinatas out of government and the mainstream media (and about ten other things) so often that some readers might be tired of the "cynicism". Very well then, for the sake of being Fair and Balanced, let's take a second to praise and publicize somebody in the mainstream media for writing something sensible. From the AP we have "Why Inflation Hurts More Than it did 30 Years Ago" . I was impressed by this article. Usually the mainstream media just... well, let's not even get into that today.

Rites of Spring

A prudent cyclist either road-rides with a club or mountain bikes as an individual. It's my intention to mountain bike as long as I can -- into May hopefully. On one of our first 70 degree days I was mountain biking up a hilly paved road, up to the Continental Divide. Near the top a young female cyclist was resting; she wanted to know if I'd seen a friend of hers on the hill somewhere. My goodness, it is amazing what an effect well-sculpted spandex can have on the male brain and body, even one as old as mine. I stood outside my own body and sniggered at myself. My attitude about female beauty is out of the mainstream, when compared to stereotypical nature lovers, those nice folks with the Tilley hat, wrinkled skin, binoculars, and zippered nylon khaki pants. ("Nice" was meant seriously, of course.) The subject is curiously uncomfortable around them; almost taboo actually. Where do they get such an odd and inconsistent viewpoint? I've often been interested in exp

Smartphone App for Not Losing a Son

Consider how easy it is to be a member of the amateur commentariat. No wonder we don't get paid for it. Then again, look at how easy it is to be an amateur anything: you only do what you want, when you are in the mood to do it. What a remarkable talent it must be to be a novelist, and to put yourself into other people's heads and hearts. I will never be able to do that well. The extreme difficulty of doing this was brought home to me today. The local bicycle email group notified us of a cycle touring guy who was going through the Little Pueblo, trying to raise awareness of the dangers of texting while driving. His college-age son had been killed recently on his bicycle by a distracted driver who was paying more attention to texting than driving. Most of the local cyclists were out of town for a special race, so I am the only one who rode out halfway to escort him in, to honor him and his cause. He was some kind of medical doctor, and a very personable fellow, easy to talk

Aren't Tear Gas and Bullets Obsolete?

It wasn't so long ago that I mused in a speculative way on uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. I didn't really think it was going to turn out to be so BIG! Tomorrow a protest is scheduled for the Big Enchilada, Saudi Arabia. Is this the End? Will lightning strike twice? My guess is that the Saudi protest will stay somewhat subdued. Isn't shooting protesters rather old-fashioned and unnecessary? It creates martyrs. The next day there is a public funeral, and the mob is itching for revenge. Maybe a reader knows how it works when they non-violently arrest a protester. Aren't you required to have your national identification card with you at all times in most countries? So they know who you are, and then enter that number into the computer. You are marked for life. Many of the protesters are young. Do they expect to ever get a government job someday? And that's the biggest part of the economy these days, directly or indirectly.  Even if the protesters

Chihuahua Hill

On our standard winter bicycle ride we pass this house on a steep street up to Chihuahua Hill. There's something about the curvature in that front porch that grabs my eye as I grind away on the mountain bike. Maybe it just shows how some people's brains are geometrically oriented. Towards the end of the ride we were at the usual coffee shop, enjoying a sunny wind-break from the building. A retired couple -- visitors from Juneau -- were asking me about the Little Pueblo. It was an innocent question and they probably wondered why they were being punished by having to listen to five times as many opinions as they really needed to hear. But I was delighted that they liked the funkiness of New Mexico, which is quite a contrast to the boring architecture in the other Four Corner states.

Drilling for the Truth about Oil

If anyone knows of a particularly good website that specializes in energy, please let me know. So far, the ones that I've read have too much ideological baggage. You know the drill (ahem): Peak Oil, instead of being based on petroleum engineering or economics, gets used as an apocalyptic prophecy of divine retribution visited upon mankind for living in Sin with SUVs and big pickups. It was astonishing to read that Saudi Arabia's oil reserves might be 40% lower than they have claimed in the past. It took Wikileaks to uncover this? And he is being hounded as a criminal? What the heck was the mainstream corporate media doing the last few decades if they never got around to revealing this (if it's true). I have seen graphs of oil production from Mexico; it is falling so fast that they might not even be oil exporters in seven years. Since oil revenues used to fund a large part of the Mexican government, just imagine the millions of desperate Mexican refugees at the American

Silent Spring

There are definitely times of the year when it is good to live in the highlands of southern New Mexico, weather-wise that is. But you always lose on something. Mother Nature is rather bleak in spring here. The plants and flowers go crazy in September after the monsoon season, rather than in spring. Basically spring is good for longer daylight, warmer temperatures, and high winds. The texture of fields gets pretty beaten down by late winter and spring. It does not green up. That's why I took this photo: here was a spot that was holding its beauty all the way through a cold winter.  What's so beautiful about it, you might be asking? Well it is beautiful, in context. Of course, photographs don't give the seasonal or temporal context of anything, and that's probably why I will always be in the Edward Abbey school of camera haters.

Comment Gadget Dropped

As much as I appreciate comments, I had to drop the Recent Comments gadget that sits in the margin because the comment text wouldn't show up in this new design. I played around with the template designer, but couldn't get it to work. If anyone has any ideas, let me know.

Dancing with Wolves, part 3

This morning my dog, Coffee Girl, and I got off to an early start, riding down to a grassy ridge which features a 360 degree view. Following that I planned to drop her off back at the RV and then to finish the bicycle ride on my own. Halfway down the field I lost track of her. I stopped and turned around. Where the heck was she? Then I saw her streaking down the trail towards me, and at maximum speed. It was impressive and beautiful, but something was wrong. Two coyotes were in hot pursuit. The leader got within 50 meters of me before he noticed me charging him on the mountain bike. He quickly turned away from the trail. In the tall grass I couldn't chase him down. He did the usual: he ran to the back side of a juniper bush until he could just see me through the branches. How wary and observant they are!  I am really getting to hate coyotes but until I think of a way to vanquish them, I must settle for fantasies: imagine dragging its carcass behind my mountain bike and riding

Good Union, Bad Union (part 1)

Political discussions are best when there is ambivalence in the situation, the writer, or the readers. There is an opportunity to discuss unions on that level, although so far, the discussion of the Wisconsin public unions has been bitterly partisan. You can be against overpaying public unions -- primarily in the form of pensions and benefits -- and still see a constructive purpose for unions in the private sector and in the right industries. The worst part of the discussion so far should offend everyone, regardless of how friendly they are to unions. Democrats are trying to compare public sector unions in Wisconsin to genuine freedom fighters in North Africa and the Middle East. Why? Just because they are having demonstrations? In the Middle East protesters are risking their lives. They are trying to overthrow an oppressive regime and build a new country. In contrast, the public sector unions in Wisconsin are trying to preserve the status quo , in which they are a privileged caste

A Routine Ride (contains obscene cuteness)

(Finally I got the photo op with the pups that I wanted. But say, the litter is getting smaller every day.) I forgot to bring the camera. How many times have you said that -- and meant it, regretfully, bitterly? My dog, Coffee Girl, and I were doing a routine ride this morning. We were about to enter a large city park that gobbles up a hill where, in olden times, mining got started above the Little Pueblo. The animal shelter sits at the entrance to the city park. On our side of their building they have a cage that is separate from most of the animal cages, which are on the far side of the building. And in that cage were ten squirming fuzzballs, perhaps two separate litters of puppies. They beckoned us and I surrendered, with little fight. We've all seen the image before so many times: squirming puppies. It gets used by advertisers on television when the ad wants to soften you up about something. But I've never really experienced such an opportunity before -- not in