Skip to main content


Showing posts from 2013

II: Barbarism at the Starbucks

Yuma. On the group's bicycle rides we frequently stop in at a Starbucks for a rest. I look forward to it. I don't mean the coffee. How do you explain why these places are so popular? Is it just "affinity marketing?" They offer a pseudo-sophisticated and PC image to people who need it, and who feel good about being surrounded by strangers who presumably think the same way. Hence the shade-grown, bird-friendly, fair-trade coffee; the New York Times available inside (does anybody still read that?); and the smooth jazz (elevator jazz actually) drowning out the conversation. Except that there isn't much conversation. Everybody is trying to look sophisticated and important by burying their nose in the Latest-and-Greatest electronic gadget. Look over by the couch -- a man is trying to look alpha-professional while staring at his little screen -- the latest sports scores, probably. He is thinking, "I wonder if that hot babe (a minivan-driving matron, actually) at

Barbarism at Starbucks, part I

Perhaps the reader is relieved that there aren't Google ads in this blog. Actually, as a reader, I really don't mind stationary ads in parallel with the reading material. But product-placement ads infuriate me. So this blog doesn't offer those, either. Perhaps the reader thought that this was too good to be true. Well, it was. Today marks the beginning of a new policy on this blog. Not ads. But there will be homework assigned. Mandatory reading. I expect to double my hit-count because of this new policy. The only thing still to be decided is how to quiz the readers at the end of the post so I can see if they've been cheating. Very well then, today's assignment is a short essay by Jonathan Swift on conversation.

Off-line Victory over Waste on the Hard Drive

Very well then, we are all agreed that in pursuing a winter lifestyle that enlarges our overall lifestyle we must move towards complementarities rather than outright reversals. For instance, the internet is a pretty big part of most people's lifestyle these days. But surely most people suspect that much of their online time is wasted on predictable repetition of absolute trivia. It's tempting to fantasize smashing the computer with a hammer and chucking the whole thing into a dumpster, and then dropping the expensive monthly charge of the cellphone carrier. But wait. Where is the perpendicular move? It must make a youngster's eyes roll when an old timer tells them that that they used computers for several decades without being online. (Although they were hooked to a mainframe computer, usually.) In fact it even makes me wonder sometimes what I ever found to do with an offline computer at home. But remember my sighs over the great charnel houses in the cloud, or for tha

Winter Should Be 90 Degrees Out of Phase

I misspoke in my advertisements for doing something, in the winter, that is the "opposite" of the usual activities during the rest of the year. That became clear when I renewed my library card in Yuma. (And what a luxury it is for a traveler to have a library card!) For instance, I read non-fiction most of the time. What am I to do? Start reading fiction? Old novels are full of nothing but love-intrigues. New novels are full of the same rot, but with bedroom scenes added. What a waste of time fiction is! We all have reasons for our preferences. To reverse them suddenly is nihilistic. Who wants to become a different person? It makes more sense to use winter as an opportunity to become a larger person, not a different person.  This can best be achieved by adding complementarities, rather than negations. Think of a vector, a line segment with an arrow on the end, representing velocity, position, force, etc. I see no reason to build a winter lifestyle that is

Forgot a Classic Quote about Evil Reinventing Itself

Normally it is pretty easy to insert a quote from a classic book when I write a post. But last time, I dropped the ball. It finished as: Of course Gandhi-on-Wheels gets his compensation by visualizing Mobility as a consumer good and status symbol, and then by falling in love with the insatiability of mobility.  So it really is just a re-incarnation of the very thing he thinks he is rebelling against. I forgot to pull in a quote from Edmund Burke, in his classic "Reflections on the Revolution in France":   Seldom have two ages had the same pretexts and the same modes of mischief. Wickedness is a little more inventive...The very same vice assumes a new body. The spirit transmigrates; and, far from losing its principle of life from its change of appearance, it is renovated in its new organs with the fresh vigor of a juvenile activity. By the way, somebody recently asked me, What is a classic book or movie? My answer was similar to what a Supreme Court justice said abo

Some Wise Men Versus the False Prophets of the RV Blogosphere

On one of the tabs at the top of the screen I take issue with the False Prophets of the RV blogosphere. (Must I take the time to point out that many bloggers, including myself, have flirted with asceticism; and it is the Idea, not somebody in particular, that I'm planning on having some tongue-in-cheek fun with.) The world is divided into three camps on the issue of  'How much crap does a person need to own?' But most people close their minds to the topic. When they hear any criticism of Insatiable Consumption, as promoted in TV commercials, they probably take it as criticism aimed at them .  But that makes no sense; they, as individuals, did not invent the consumer culture that we have. They, as individuals, were merely swept along in the rising trends, brought on by advertising and tax policies. So there's nothing personal in merely going along with the prevailing consumer culture. But there could be something that dignifies the Individual when they rebel aga

How Can a Traveler Best "Lie Fallow" in Winter?

You've heard me advertise that a traveler should take a couple months off in the winter, and live differently that the rest of the year. Even if you don't agree, I ask you to pretend that you do , so that we can play ball and see where it goes. We need a metaphor, lest we drown in petty details and verbosity. Consider the remarkable statement that the Wikipedia article on "Crop Rotation" starts off with: Middle Eastern farmers practiced crop rotation in 6000 BC without understanding the chemistry, alternately planting legumes and cereals. Then the three crop rotation became the tradition, by adding a fallow field as one of the three "crops." Wikipedia was vague on how a fallow field was actually helpful.  Did it just sit there, doing nothing? Fallow fields were replaced later by growing turnips and clover (a legume) in a four crop rotation. Thus the amount of food increased. (See the Wikipedia article on the "British Agricultural Revolution.&quo

Are Blogs Part of the Solution or the Problem?

Call it a blessing or a curse as you wish, but it is certainly true that pontificating on the internet (even anonymously!) makes you feel obligated to practice what you preach. (How grim!) For instance, I was extolling the general value of the Rockhound Principle recently. The perfect place to apply this principle is in the reading of books. Where else can you benefit more from infinite patience with "detritus?"  Instead of feeling disgusted, you can channel this into delight when you finally do find something precious. You can also work to ensure that the precious nuggets you find stay found, by actively assimilating them into your life. Recall that I was reading "The Name of the Rose," by Umberto Eco. All in all, I don't recommend it. Still, there were a few precious nuggets on the way through the book. The leading character was a monk trying to solve some murders in a monastery in the early 1300s. One body was found in a vat filled with the blood of re

Getting Your Butt Kicked by 70-year-olds

Yuma, AZ. Before I lose track of the theme of last post, I want to use a tangible -- and even life-and-death -- example to pound the nail home. Novelists and moral philosophers need to give more emphasis to distinguishing the Tactical and the Strategic in a person's life. The world is more regulated than it used to be. Therefore, on a daily basis, a powerless individual must follow all the rules and be outwardly conventional. Rather than write off the modern world as a glorified prison, a non-defeatist must imagine how Strategic independence can thrive, like mushrooms, even when growing in the muck of conformity. On the way back home on today's bicycle ride, the Old Boyz were kicking my butt pretty good. This is a good thing, all in all. Two miles from the end we had to turn left at a stoplight on a busy federal highway. Despite the advantages to road-cycling in a group, there are still pitfalls, such as handling an intersection based on how the other cyclists handled it.

A Serious Traveler in His Own Country

I used to believe it just wasn't practical or possible for me to be a real traveler (as opposed to a sightseeing tourist). By that I mean somebody who visits different cultures, notices everything, asks fundamental questions, learns a language, takes on a part-time job, and shops locally. Expense was the first limitation, but there are others such as personal safety, health, and having to leave my dog at home. Many of the most enriching experiences would require the traveler to have a gregarious personality that could instantly charm a stranger's socks off. Therefore it was a pleasant surprise to accidentally stumble onto the practice of performing at least some of that in my own country. The USA is not just one country. There is a rural/metropolitan split that is huge. When a camper goes out and disperse-camps, he even becomes more separated from the mainstream metropolitan-suburban culture of the USA. And that sets up quite an opportunity for the camper when he comes in

Rethinking the Tribal Dance

Normally I'm not as slow in finding some significance to an outdoor trip as in the last post. I did mention that it was the best group event in 16 years of full-time RVing, and that the little spring was the first gurgling of water that I had ever seen in the desert. But now I want to try harder. There was a similarity between the ebullience of the dogs and gurgling of the water out of the side of the arroyo. Think of the 'irrepressibility of life.' I know, it sounds a little corny. But it's true. Perhaps it only seems like corny overstatement because we live in an age when we can take water, the stuff of life, for granted. The early explorers or settlers in the Southwest would not have needed convincing. They would have fallen to the muddy ground at the foot of the spring's trickle and prayed. If we can't appreciate something as fundamental as water, isn't it likely that we are handicapped in general when it comes to experiencing anything authentic in

'Best in Show:' Wild Canids in the Canyon

The reader might be familiar with the semi-recent movie, "Best in Show." The spine of the plot is a dog show, but it is not really a 'dog movie.' Rather, it's a comedic mockumentary about their neurotic human owners. Today's hike in Zion country (southwestern Utah) turned out the opposite: it was the humans who were acting sensibly, and the dogs who were nuts. We had five dogs in our party, eight humanoid-companion-units, and a neighborhood dawg, Blue, who tends to join any frolic taking place on her BLM land. As we drove up, I thought my kelpie, Coffee Girl, was going to crash through the windshield with excitement when she saw all these playmates. All of the dogs, no two alike and weighing from 10 to 80 pounds, got along beautifully. I get really charged up by the frantic synergy of dogs. You could think of this walk as a linear-BLM-version of a dog park. Vertical wall of a red sandstone arroyo. What could cause such a weird bend in the whitish laye

Whose Voice Could Be Out There?

Is that who I think it is? I heard what I thought was Mark's voice. My dog, Coffee Girl, perked up her ears. She too caught it. But where were they? We were resting at the high spot of a dirt road that our friends were taking from their RV park (blush) in Virgin, UT. We had biked from the other end of the road, where we were dispersed camping. It was dead calm, so maybe a human voice really could carry through all that hum-drum Zion scenery. You can see the road in the left semi-foreground of the photo. And here they come: Jim & Gayle , Bobbie , and Mark , raring to summit on this road.  It was fun to watch the gang coming to us on the summit. Better yet, the "incompatibility" of boondockers (me) versus RV-parkers (them) has been turned into an advantage.  I was promising to take them down a secret canyon, and back to the main road. It would be the first time for me, too. But I cheated a little the previous sunset, and had walked up the canyon from my

Fabian Lifestyle Improvement

Once again it is winter, daylight-wise.  A precise solar calendar of cliff and grassland. Just walk to the same spot every day. And that means that this camper is once again fighting the Early Bedtime Syndrome. This is no laughing matter, at least for some of us. Nothing degrades the quality of sleep like going to bed too early. What if I could make a lousy two minutes of improvement per day? Just think, an hour per month! In working on this project, you can't help but appreciate how general this issue is. Once I was biking up Snow Canyon (St. George, UT) and passed a mother who was towing a baby trailer behind her bike. In it was a 25 pound youngster. I kidded her about persisting with this hill-climb over the next year, and getting stronger and stronger as the child gained weight. She smiled and referred to some folk tale (or fable) about carrying a calf when it was young, and continuing with this habit until it was a cow. Five points of extra credit to any reader who

A Seasonal Travel Style "Perfected"

Every traveler is prone to romanticism. Thus it is hard to admit that I have "arrived" as a full-time traveler, that is, reached a final "destination." I don't mean geographic location; I mean lifestyle arrangement. Nine months of travel -- emphasizing dispersed camping and mountain biking -- is complemented beautifully by three months of gravel-lot rental in Yuma.  There are other types of complementarity: when traveling, I am alone, which is not the best lifestyle. During the winter sabbatical from travel, I get to enjoy my (road) cycling with as many as fifty friendly acquaintances. I also get to switch from mountain biking to road cycling -- these are really rather distinct, although you might not think so, if cycling isn't your thing. After three months of non-traveling, the appetite comes back. This is both a positive attraction to travel and a repulsion from the downside of living in a boring suburb outside Yuma, the traffic, the train noise, etc.

The Patience of Rockhounds

When we were camped in the wash near Moab recently, a half-dozen trucks drove by one morning. It took a few minutes before I could tell what they were up to. They were rockhounds. How strange it seemed for somebody to be pursuing an inexpensive and, may I say, old-fashioned activity. The outdoor sports around Moab are usually more flamboyant. It's as if each tourist is locked in competition to out-glamor every other tourist, in a frenetic orgy of adrenaline and dollars. Since I feel drawn to just about anything that is out-of-step with modern times, these rockhounds started me thinking... What fraction of the time does a rockhound come up with anything interesting? How can anyone be so patient? Perhaps their patience isn't so unique. A dog sniffs for a rabbit, and chases across the field with all the hope in the world; and it usually comes away empty-jawed. How many times does a professional salesman hear, "Maybe. I'll think about it," before he actually

The Case of the Purloined (camping) Playmate

A couple posts ago I was celebrating having camping playmates who actually mountain bike. That's the first time I've been that lucky in 16 years of full time RVing. And they could even dispersed camp! Sigh. The gods punish men who look too happy, lest they get cocky. My playmates have been lured over to the emoluments of an RV park. So goeth the Way of all Flesh. (Or at least married flesh.) And what is the big attraction? Showers. Bottomless hot water tanks for taking a shower. At least I have the satisfaction on this pulpit of rejecting the extremism of both the False Prophets of the Desert (aka, the Ascetics ), as well as the mainstream Sybarites. Few things are more sensible than a navy-style shower with hot water.   Effective and non-wasteful. One gallon is enough. It is helpful to visualize a simple graph of Benefits versus Gallons. Remember that one of the quiet, but profound, satisfactions of RV camping is the daily discipline of looking at what you consume, and

Murphy and the Mesa

Following our fearless leader up and over a crumbly cliff near Moab, I nonchalantly grabbed onto a boulder, about 2 feet in diameter. When much of my own weight was transferred, the boulder pulled out of its matrix, missed my leg by a bit, and crashed down onto a jeep road. Some day a jeeper's adventure will be interrupted by this boulder in the middle of their thoroughfare, and they will be forced to get out of the vehicle and use muscles to move the boulder. (They will then use that as an excuse to go shopping for a new GPS system or smartphone with a new app that identifies boulders on jeep roads.) This really wasn't such a close call, but it was the largest adjustment of the Earth's surface topography that I have ever been responsible for. Later in the scramble I was forced to wedge between two larger boulders. As I transferred my weight to one of these large boulders, I wondered how evil Murphy really was. Imagine if that boulder pulled into the other one, with my

Piecemeal Pilfering Somebody Else's Good Life

It is hard to believe that only a month from now I will be in southern Arizona, paying rent (gasp!), and riding a road bicycle with a large club. How strange it is that some of my "fellow" cyclist-snowbirds have already been in that furnace since the first of October. How could doing the same five rides/routes for seven months of the year be the Good Life? Isn't Dry Heat something you'd wish on your worst enemy? But they enjoy the shoulder seasons there, somehow.  And they agree with me on the cycling, something that is rare amongst gasoline-besotted Americans. It is probably common to expect less and less of other people as we grow older. But the situation is different when somebody, who you thought had something in common with you, shatters your comfortable expectations of compatibility. This might be the sharpest kind of loneliness. Be it a sports club, a church, or a political cause, you can befriend each other easily when you appear to have a bit in common.

Appreciating Vastness

While mountain biking the other day we saw something strange ahead of us, as we headed downhill to the main dry wash -- the same one where I witnessed my first "flash flood," a couple posts ago. And once again I was fluttering my eyelashes at the abrupt onset of a small "slot canyon" in plain ol' dirt. In the past I've tried to explain this fascination on the grounds (ahem) of it being easier to make a big impact on a human observer when processes take place on a human scale, regarding years and size. In contrast, the working out of geology and topography over millions of years can leave the human observer indifferent and unimpressed. In a sense, we need to anthropomorphize geology and physical geography in order to make them interesting. Then I crawled down into the "slot canyon," and photographed the vertical walls. It was easy to imagine this two-foot-high slot as being more dramatic than all the famous photo icons in the Moab ar