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Showing posts from December, 2011

Dark Shadows in the Desert

Sometimes I try to imagine the world of the Positive Thinker, as the term is typically used in popular culture as defined by squishy, trendy social science and by boob toob commercials. How bland and sugary it must be!  Although I mock dualistic religions and political philosophies on this blog, the truth is that I love dualisms aesthetically. Nature, like a movie, is no better than its villain. This winter I've been having fun imagining Malevolences looming over and threatening the landscape: Unfortunately this buzz only lasted until I could glance at the cause: The most exciting time to hike is early in the morning, when gaps in the sky island threaten you with Plutonian and diabolic cold and uncertainty.

The Moral Equivalent of Football

Watching the glorious Green Bay Packers last night, I had some questions about how football should be interpreted. How far can we carry the analogy between football and war? How literally we can see it as mock war? The football team is an army, dominated by its commander-in-chief, its American Caesar, the quarterback. It has kicking (artillery), running backs (mobile armored divisions, or cavalry in the old days), and passing (an air force). No navy, though. The cheerleaders' job is to quicken the animal spirits in the fans, a job for which they are admirably, uhh, suited; their equivalents in the political and military arenas are the talking-heads in the media, whose job it is to promote the popularity of the war with the public. There is a well-defined front in gridiron battle. It is symmetrical warfare. The team moves the ball into enemy territory. Getting through the goal posts of the enemy is like seizing a national capital. When fans pull the goal posts down after a victory

Better Than a Stick in the Eye

It was so cold in Silver City NM that we only had one good birding year. Sensible birds go to Arizona in the winter, but not to dry lunar settings like where I am now. The best refuges are along creeks in southeastern Arizona. I miss photographing these rascals. Of course to do it right you need a five pound camera, a one-foot-long telephoto lens, and a tripod. You must also be willing to go where the birds are, rather than the other way around. So I'll never be a real birder. Still, it's fun to get what I can. It's remarkable how much variation there is in the color of red-tailed hawks.

Doubts about the Human Race in Phoenix

People who aren't completely accustomed to airline travel sometimes feel affected by the big picture when they take off and leave the trivial earth-bound details behind, or rather, below. A calm perspicuity can set in at 35,000 feet. But at times perspicuity is troubling rather than calming. In a famous scene in the classic film noir, The Third Man : Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles ride alone to the top of a Ferris Wheel type ride at an amusement park in post-World-War-II Vienna. The cynical and ego-centric Welles character stops the ride at its apogee where they can look down at small objects, people, crawling around on the surface of the earth a hundred feet below. He asks the Joseph Cotton character, 'Would he really mind if one of those ants stopped scurrying, because it died from the watered-down penicillin that Welles was smuggling in Vienna?' It is thought-provoking, and yet troubling, to come in from a solitary camp in the desert and hit the outskirts of a mon

A Cliff-Hanging Tail

The sky islands of southern Arizona are great places to camp, hike, and mountain bike; thus we've returned to them, after three years off the road. We had a strange experience here, four winters ago. In fact I am looking out the window at the exact spot on the mountain, as I type.  It was just a couple months after the little poodle had been rescued above Book Cliffs near Grand Junction, CO. I've edited this oldie-but-goodie. Tonopah AZ... Walking right from the RV's front door of our solitary boondocking site, we headed for the nearest mountain. These small mountain ranges can be quite photogenic; even better, they are finite: you can look at them from a variety of angles on one day. It was topped off with a cliff and caprock that almost made it look like a mesa. A large hole in that cliff had attracted my eye for days. It got steeper as we approached the cliff, so much so that I had to scramble on all fours. At the foot of the cliff the little poodle froze in

A Condensed View of a Rainy Desert

As the modern Brownie camera keeps getting better, will the electronic camera industry be a victim of its own success? Customers could become jaded enough to expect a technological marvel for $99, and then just shrug at it, almost with indifference. In fact that day is already upon us: the camera I use for this blog is the Canon SX110, purchased three years ago. Its successor, the SX130 was on sale at Walmart and Target for $99, as a loss leader presumably. Camera technology is good enough; it's only the photographer that needs improvement. (Oh sure, there are utilitarians and mindless rat-racers who can't get enough megapixels, but they are just kidding themselves.) It's sad enough to see the marvelous results of the camera industry taken for granted, but what about the nuanced skills of photographers, themselves? Will their viewers learn to shrug with indifference at superb photographs since everybody has an excellent camera these days, and if that isn't good enou

Dancing on Christopher Hitchens's Grave

Several years ago I skimmed Hitchens's God is Not Great . Disappointment, rather than disagreement, was the book's main effect on me. It is sophomoric for a modern intellectual to pose as Voltaire or Thomas Paine and rail against traditional religions. Why don't they show some real guts by taking on the conventional belief systems of the intelligentsia itself? These are well known, but seldom acknowledged and never criticized, by conventional intellectuals who want to stay popular within their own coteries. (They have to make a living after all, so they don't want to be on the receiving end of the subtle blacklisting that a Marxist or Green apostate would receive from an editor in the publishing industry or a reviewer at the New York Times.)   None of the obituaries that I've read about Hitchens really inspires me to read any of his books. But the threshold is far lower for magazine-length articles. A fair number of them are free and accessible at Indee

The Next Life of Certain RV Bloggers

It is very satisfying to rise to the challenge of walking in generic (non-national-park) deserts and finding things that interest you. You have to use every angle that you can think of. You can't just be passive and expect the sheer optical pop-titude [*] of the place to wow you into a state of entertainment. (This is one of the False Doctrines of the Desert that some blogs preach. grin.) In the Wickenburg AZ area Coffee Girl and I went to work on the generic Sonoran desert landscape. Imagining the topography as time lapse, accelerated photography is one of the great advantages of arid land, since geologic layers are exposed. Except for crumples in the earth and lava expulsions, much of the topography is formed subtractively -- that is, erosively -- from layers upon layers that have different erosion rates. This caprock is only four inches thick; it overhangs about one foot. The mesa is only 20 feet over the lower lands adjacent to it. And yet this numerically humble cap

iDrones on Sale at Walmart?

Zero Hedge is a financial blog that I sometimes scold myself for reading: it is doom-and-gloomy, hot-headed, and sensationalist. But perhaps a person has to tolerate a certain amount of kookiness from a blog or a person in order to get something other than predictable, Establishment cheerleading and conventional thinking. At any rate Zero Hedge outdid themselves recently with some comments about President Obama asking for the errant drone back from Iran: " We've asked for it back. We'll see how the Iranians respond ," Obama said at a news conference. Obama said he wouldn't comment further "on intelligence matters that are classified." Great, the only problem is Iran will never return it, as they have already indicated, for the simple reason that it has already been reverse engineered 5 ways from Sunday somewhere deep in the bowels of one of China's unpopulated cities, which just doubles as a very populated military intelligence base. The o

Off-Target at Walmart

The other day I was migrating through the monstrosity of Phoenix when I stopped in at a Target store. Since nobody knew me in town I wouldn't lose face by being seen in such an unmanly store. And besides, I had recently bought my newly beloved netbook from them, and at a loss-leader price too. Seriously, as long as Target offers a 45-day return policy on electronics, compared to 15 days at Walmart and other places, it is worth giving them the benefit of the doubt. There was a time when I wasn't so kind to Target. Financial analysts used to heap praise on Target because it 'knew how to distinguish itself from Walmart'. Maybe they were right: Target was useless and Walmart was my favorite place to shop; and that is quite a distinction. What did Target offer that Walmart didn't, besides wide aisles? And who goes into a store to buy aisles? Target offered the same cheap Chinese crap that Walmart did, except at slightly higher prices since it selected things that were

Marc Faber's Prediction of War

I haven't said too much on politics lately, perhaps because the financial recklessness and lies of our leaders and central bankers leave me speechless. Also, all that really needs to be said about politics, has already been said by Mencken : The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. ( That would seem to cover the big news story these days, the saber-rattling with Iran. It's unusual to see so much agreement between Europe and America on an issue, and that alone should make one suspicious. In America the saber-rattling with Iran will be a mainstay of the seemingly-interminable presidential campaign. It's an old idea actually: the Republicans think that the populace sees the Democrats as foreign policy sissies and that this should win votes for the GOP. In order for this to really work there needs to be an official b

Crossing the Kindle Threshold

No, I didn't go out and buy one, the gadget that is. But I did follow through on a commenter's suggestion of downloading Kindle ebooks from Amazon onto my netbook. I chose a freebie of course. Buying books is a "bridge too far". I firmly rejected the option of reading the eBook in the over-hyped "cloud" since that requires an internet connection, the very thing I want to liberate myself from. Instead, I opted to download the Kindle eReader onto my (Windows PC) netbook and to do the same with the eBooks themselves, since an internet connection is only needed during the downloading process, itself. Soon I was using it on a free classic, Samuel Johnson's Preface to Shakespeare . By his own admission he could write a preface to anything, even a cookbook, and the preface would be more popular than the book, proper. There is no "Edit" tool at the top of the screen; to copy a juicy quote you must highlight it first and then right-button for copy

Does 4G Wireless Matter to Travelers?

At the moment I am in the Valley of the Sun, the Phoenix megalopolis. (If only it would run out of water and start shrinking. It would be a better place.) Its only real significance to me is that it is still on the Gila River migration route. But I can't help wondering about Verizon's 4G wireless service, available only in big cities like this. My mi-fi gadget is only a 3G model, so I can't actually sample the 4G service. It seems like I should be as excited about this improvement as I was when Verizon upgraded from 2G (1xRTT) to 3G (EVDO) a few years back. But back then there was no 5 Gigabyte per month limit. It makes sense that there should be a limit like that, despite the howls of gamers and video-addicts on the tech forums. So I have no real complaint against Verizon. But it does make a customer wonder what is so great or important about 4G wireless service: the only thing it's good for is watching videos, but if you give in to that temptation, you'll smac

Snowbound in the Arizona Palms

Oh sure, I knew Globe AZ was a bit higher than the Gila River that I was following into the state. But a casino is a good place to wait out a winter storm while watching NFL football. The sun wouldn't come out long enough for a good morning shot of palmas y sierra nevada . At least the photo proves out the title of this blog. I thought the weather would recover on Monday. I don't mind the cold, but a dog-owning RVer hates precipitation. So I took off this morning only to find that the small climb to Globe was enough to create a heavy snowstorm. The road didn't actually feel slippery but after my clay debacle of last week I am feeling cautious. So I pulled off into a big box parking lot. There sat a nice-looking pickup and camper, who probably had the same idea. I snickered when I saw the Florida license plates. After all, what sort of moron would drive all that way to Arizona in December and then get stuck in snow? (grin)

The Public Wi-Fi Experience

It wasn't so long ago that "AT&T" charged $20 per month for wi-fi at Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, McDonalds, and various hotel chains. Now all the wireless telecoms are delighted to give you free wi-fi at such places. Off-loading data to wi-fi hotspots to lessen the data traffic jam at cell towers is a huge trend these days. In theory this should be a nice help to travelers. Having failed to win any looks of envy (or even respect) at Starbucks with my new $200 netbook, it seemed like McDonalds might promise more success: surely some toothless old man would be impressed with my spiffy new machine; you know, the old boys who find section D of yesterday's newspaper and read it in slow motion while drinking bottomless refills of senior coffee. Old habits die hard: walking into the store my eyes scanned the walls for an electrical outlet. First, they seem to design public wi-fi places without a single electrical outlet. That must be deliberate; they're not

The News and Novelty Syndrome

Every Age has not only its own spirit, its zeitgeist , but also its characteristic vices and diseases. The Information Age sucks us into paying attention to too much trivial and trashy "news". For travelers in particular, the same syndrome manifests itself as Novelty idolatry. I was feeling very pleased with the world on the last day of November when this (un-edited, un-photoShopped) sunset crowned an excellent day. I was camped on some BLM land, on the western edge of New Mexico, watching my first Arizona sunset in over three and a half years. For some reason it was important to me not to enter Arizona before December 01. As luck would have it, a winter storm was arriving the first day in Arizona. On this autumn's migration it was satisfying to have connected the Colorado/San Juan river systems with the Rio Grande, and back again to the Colorado/Gila system with a minimum amount of driving. It was sweet revenge to revisit the place near Grand Junction where I alm