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Admiration

One of the uses of old age is to develop the "muscles" that can actually improve with age. By that I mean developing the capabilities and habits of Appreciation, Gratitude, and Admiration. Today's focus is on Admiration.

I once used an inspiring speech by an anti-hero, "The Hustler," in the 1962 black-and-white film noir movie starring Paul Newman, George C. Scott, and Jackie Gleason. But before re-quoting it, let's first ask why it inspired at all. Art, according to Tolstoy's "What is Art", is not really about "beauty," as most people mistakenly suppose; rather, Art is the infecting of the viewer/reader with the emotional experience of the artist, by words, pictures, or sounds. And the makers of "The Hustler" certainly did that to me. 

Maybe their trick was to exploit the inherent advantages of an anti-hero. (Does that trick also apply in the blogosphere?) If a goodie-two-shoes, follow-the-rules, smiley-face had made the sam…

Wanted: More "David Lean Style" Novels

It might be fair to describe the David Lean style movies (e.g., Bridge On the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, and Doctor Zhivago) as consisting of a close-up drama of the main characters, usually during wars or revolutions, and with a huge landscape in the background. (Doctor Zhivago was the only one in the list that was pulled down by love triangles, adultery, and all the rest of that puke. And that wasn't really Lean's fault.)

To be a happier novel-reader I need to find books that remind me of Lean's movies. By luck I did. Tolstoy's "Hadji Murat" was written late in Tolstoy's life. The short novel took place in the same setting where young Tolstoy served in the Czar's army, the Caucasus, between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea.

Reading this short novel will probably make you feel like the ideal traveler, who learns about radically different ways of life, and not just silly scenery tourism. Of course there is plenty of scenery in the neighborhood, includ…

The Time of Year to Be Realistic about People

There is indeed a silver lining in every cloud. The decline of American culture and society has brought an unexpected blessing: the "Fourth of July" (once called Independence Day) has superseded Christmas as the most ridiculous national holiday. 

Believe it or not, that has made it easier for me to ignore or laugh at Christmas. I saw a car in the parking lot with one of Santa's legs crushed by the trunk of the car. Poor Santa's withered leg dangled out. Now there is a motorist who has the right attitude about Christmas! Don't be sour or critical about it. Limit your comments about Christmas to crisp and good-natured mockery, when it is irresistible. The rest of the time, say nothing. Talk about the weather or the condition of the roads.

The holidays put a lot of pressure on you to make "conversation" with people. You probably find yourself looking down the table and wondering how it could be possible that you all came from the same womb. Just settle for c…

Good News About Wireless Signals in Rural Areas

According to a recent article on Seeking Alpha, by Thurman Dunn, there is some reason for expecting better wireless data and voice in rural areas far from interstates. There is going to be another auction soon of low frequency/long wavelength electromagnetic spectrum:
But things are going to change in 2016. The FCC is gathering up as much of the 600 MHz spectrum as it can get from TV owners (who largely no longer need it). This 600 MHz spectrum is shaping up to be the biggest thing in a long time, as far as cellular service providers go. It has the potential to completely rearrange the playing field in the telecommunications industry.Recall that frequency (MHz) times wavelength equals a constant, the speed of light. So low frequency means long wavelengths. These long wavelengths are not absorbed as easily as the short wavelengths. Visualize rocks, trees, walls (etc.) absorbing 50% of the signal strength per wavelength. So an obstacle would have to be twice as thick to absorb 50% w…

"Almost" Dropping Out of the Internet

Last month I went through my 5 Gigabyte allowance with Verizon for the first time. In fairness to the great oligopolist of the aether, they did notify me at the 5 GB limit, three days before the monthly clock was to be reset.

This motivated me to go on a complete fast. The month ended with a usage of 5.010 Gigabytes, or something ridiculously close to 5.000. Would the jerks charge me $10 for going over the limit? I assumed that they would, despite the fact that I go under the limit by 1.3 Gigabytes on most months. (And because this is conventional, nobody gets angry about it.)

The three day internet fast felt so morally redeeming! (It's not for nothing that fasting has been a big part of the religious tradition for millennia.) It fired up my ambition to "cut the (ethereal) cord," and save $53 per month. But this is probably just an empty bluff. 

But what if they really did charge extra for the microscopic bit of overage? Wouldn't anger make me carry through with termin…

A RetroGrouch Has a Good Day and a Bad Day

It has been quite a few years since I went over to Algodones, Baja California Norte, Mexico to get my teeth cleaned. Thus it was time for a little bit of nostalgia -- I hadn't been to Mexico since the early Aughts.

As I walked into the lobby of the oficina dentista, my heart sank. It had been gringa-ized! Pretty decorations, glossy magazines, nice furniture, and a marble floor. One of the attractions of going to Mexico used to be that it helped you to realize how much of what you pay for in the USA is just worthless overhead.

Ideally you should walk into the dentist's office and find a dirt floor. Then you would sit down on a bale of hay. In front, a burro or two would be snoozing. To kill time during your wait, the customers could throw snacks down on the ground for chickens and roosters.

Then you would go into the dentista's room, and find it full of state-of-the-art dental equipment from Siemens. It used to be somewhat like this idealized picture.
__________________________…

Complaining About Torture is Anti-American

I haven't read everything that there is to read about the Torture Report, the big news story of the day. So at the risk of making a mistake, based on pure laziness, I would still like to point out what isn't being said: everybody is ignoring the fact that the American CIA didn't practice beheading.

Beheading is shocking and barbaric. Only medieval Muslims would practice that. America is the sort of country that aims at higher ideals. We are a civilized and Christian nation. We restrict ourselves to torture.

How to Appreciate a Novel by a Woman

I am here today to tell you that all things are possible in this old world of ours: I have just enjoyed a novel by a woman novelist: Charlotte Bronte's"Jane Eyre."  My goodness, one of the Bronte sisters, just the sort of book a school marm would have approved of, and thus would have been hated by most (male) youths. A freakish event like this must be explained somehow.

Actually the idea of reading this book came from my enjoyment of movie music scores. Dario Marianelli seems to have carved out a niche for himself in writing piano-intensive scores for movie renditions of Jane Austen or Bronte novels, such as the recent Jane Eyre movie. It certainly makes sense for the piano to be the main instrument here.  

In explaining why this book was enjoyable, let's start with what it doesn't have. (Recall the Latin poet, Horace, and his "Fleeing vice is the beginning of virtue.") This novel is not built around a love triangle. Surely we can agree that there are …

In the World, but Not Of It

In contrast to the solitary traveling and mountain biking that I do the rest of the year, midwinter is the season for non-traveling and sociable road cycling with an excellent club in Yuma. I love having a library card and the public library to use it at. But there is an even more radical lifestyle-adjustment: I bought a television antenna so I can watch football. They actually have broadcast stations here.

In watching television, and especially the commercials, I get the profound satisfaction of feeling that "I am in this country and culture, but am not of it." That is an old saying in various religions [*]. I suppose it is usually a mere platitude for them, but no doubt some religious people really mean it. In any case I would like to apply this platitude to the internet, as well. 

Yes, I use the phrase 'profound satisfaction' too often. But it really is true that, at times, you need to slow down and let the sweetness and significance soak in.

The internet is not the…

What Keeps Bloggers Tied Down?

Surely most internet readers have learned from experience to temper their expectations about websites that are new to them. How many times have you gotten excited about a newly-found website, only to learn that your first half-dozen visits have shown everything that you are evergoing to see there? Then, when the sting of disappointment sets in, you just want to grab the blogger by the throat and scream, "Come on! You can do it. Take a step upward." But they seldom do. [*]

What is stopping them? Are they just dummies? Or completely static? Maybe they are afraid of something.

Lately I have been fixating on a simile from Arnold Toynbee's abridged "A Study of History," Vol 1, Chapter IV. Maybe it will mean something to readers:
Primitive societies...may be likened to people lying torpid upon a ledge on a mountain-side, with a precipice below and a precipice above; civilizations may be likened to companions of these sleepers who have just risen to their feet and have …

Blogs Can Be Improved by Blending with Books

The history of the English language is a subject that has interested me from time to time. It is rare for an Indo-European language to lack most inflections (endings on verbs and nouns), to make modular use of helper or auxiliary verbs ('If she had gone to town yesterday...'), and to lack gender.  With its history of borrowing from other languages and innovating itself -- without some centralized bureaucracy full of language police as in the French model -- it should be capable of much more.

For instance, when is somebody going to invent, and the rest of society cleave unto, a phrase or word that adequately describes 'drowning in trivia.' Trifles, distraction, minutiae, soul-sucking drivel, and other words are pretty good. But we need something better to express the debasement of human dignity and the utter destruction of the human soul that the internet now offers.

Why do smartphones and drivel-blogs take up so much of our time compared to reading classic books? I was j…

Success at Reading and Writing Fiction

My "mighty" success at reading a novel started when I was rereading Boswell's "Life of Johnson" for the umpteenth time. Why do I keep rereading this book? Is it because it is a rare example of a book that brings philosophy down from the clouds? It also makes philosophy brief enough for human conversation.

At any rate Boswell mentioned that Samuel Johnson loved Henry Fielding's "Amelia." This is surprising since Johnson stubbornly held to a low opinion of Fielding's work. Nothing quite disposes us to accept advice from somebody else like seeing them make an exception to a general position of theirs.

And so I read and enjoyed "Amelia."  It resembled "Tom Jones" actually: the surprises were a bit outlandish, and it had too much lovey-dovey. So then, why did I enjoy it?

The book is quite a sermon about not blaming "Fortune" for the consequences of our rash behaviour, especially when we are young. It seems odd to use the…

Seasons Can Be "Complementary Lifestyle Modules"

Once again I am in Yuma, wondering if there is a business where I can put my brain into cold storage for the winter. 

And why not, I ain't got no use for it, anyhow -- at least not for the next couple months. In fact the intellect is over-rated, as my winter lifestyle will prove. My enjoyment of life will be physiological and anthropological: I will be roadie-cycling with the single best cycling club in the Southwestern winter.

As you can tell, I just finished my first club ride, came home and took a navy-style shower, popped "The Big Country"  into the DVD player, and took a deep sag in front of it. (Notice I did not say 'nap.')

There is a real satisfaction that comes from changing your lifestyle in the winter, rather than merely changing your geographical location. What is the marginal utility of one more location to an RVer after 50 locations, the rest of the year? [*]

But if he can spot some deficiency in his lifestyle the rest of the year, and if he can somehow…

Why Do Some Enjoy Reading Fiction?

There is no point in trying to hide it: I am quite pleased with myself. I read a novel, and even enjoyed the ordeal, overall.

Still, there were times when I was bored and frustrated. The only thing that helped me through those episodes was visualizing my suffering as "noble and heroic." The half-facetiousness of this lightened my mood. Fortunately the novel would then become more interesting in a couple pages, and I could take a break from my play-acting. 

This gimmick worked all through the novel. Many times, I kept hearing a voice say, "It's a far, far better thing I do than..." But say, where did that come? Wasn't it from some novel I was forced to read in high school, and therefore, probably disliked? Rather ironic, if true.

And yet there are many people who enjoy novels, effortlessly I suppose. What is their secret? Why don't they spill it to people like me? Maybe it will help to consider one category of successful novel-readers at a time.

1. Novel-re…

Euro-Vans, Go Home!

Once again I took advantage of a mountain biking event to check out the motor vehicles, used to carry bikes and camping gear around. Once again I didn't learn much, because most people had the bikes on external racks. No thanks.

I didn't see one homemade, plywood cap/shell on a pickup truck. That is my best plan for the future. The commercial caps are expensive, not tall enough (at the stern), lack barn doors (at the stern), and have too many windows. (The first mistake in any vehicular design is too many windows.) Besides, I want to mount furring strips, shelves, and hooks on the inside, just like a cargo trailer. Are you really going to drill holes through a new commercial $2000-3000 cap?

But then I got a little excited about seeing the rebadged Fiat cargo van that Chrysler is selling as the RAM "Promaster." My goodness, where do they put the engine in this ugly, snub-nosed thing? But 'ugly' is OK with me. I knew that it was front wheel drive, and therefore …

Syria and Iran Should Be Very Nervous

The Republican party won a major victory last night. Big deal! They won't accomplish anything the next two years. 
Will they roll back the amerikan police state by repealing the so-called Patriot Act?Discuss whether the USA should withdraw from NATO, now that it serves no defensive purpose? Will they make it legal for amerikans to import pharmaceutical drugs, at lower price of course?Do anything to slow rampant inflation in health care and college costs?How about cleaning up the corruption in the banking and financial sector?Will they limit the fanatical Keynesian bubble-brewing of the Federal Reserve?Can they help young people look forward to good jobs or anything brighter than college debt and paying for trillions of dollars of Medicare expenses for aging Baby Boomers?Of course not. The only thing the Republican party cares about is military spending and finding new wars in the Mideast: new places to kill Muslims or anybody who doesn't like Israel, where 1/3 of the Republican…

Let's Raise the Voting Age to 30

Every year I get closer to seeing Democracy as more of a dogmatic faith than a sensible system of government for grown-ups. Universal suffrage is the worst idea that any society has ever come up with.

Consider the 26th Amendment of the U.S. "Constitution." It lowered the voting age to 18. Why? It was probably aimed at redressing some unfairness during the unpopular Vietnam War debacle. People asked how the government could send 18-year-old "boys" to their deaths in soggy rice paddies, when they couldn't even vote on the war, back home.

It is easy to sympathize with that argument. But historically this amendment was obsolete by the time it was ratified, because the military establishment has shifted over to voluntary enlistment. And it seems permanent. 

Perhaps the Vietnam draft argument was only part of lowering the voting age to 18. The Media and the advertising industry focused on the huge demographic bulge of Baby Boomers becoming consumers, and after all, voti…

Ghouls Silently Dancing Along the Ridges

Many people in the USA live along the latitude of 40 degrees north. So did I for much of my life. Typically there was a nasty weather collapse near Halloween. Now living in the Southwest, I should be free of all that.

But not this Halloween. Actually I put it to good use. Blue skies can make scenic areas look too predictably pretty. And insipid. I rather like the moodiness of mesa and canyon country during storms.


Canyons also give you a little protection from blustery winds. Of course if it were raining hard, you would be wise to stay out of the canyon. So I took my dog, Coffee Girl, up some canyons that are parked right outside my camper's door.


I wonder who loves this more, she or I? But this time the experience was enhanced by the stormy weather and the possibility of rain on the walk. It sounds ridiculous to think that a little rain has become some great Malevolence to me, but I guess living in the Southwest will do that to a person.







Good luck put a little more mood into this Hal…

The Mesa Minders

OK I admit to feeling a naughty grin when I looked down on the mesa where some Lazy Dazers are camped. My dog and I were on a mountain bike ride on a higher mesa popular with my breed, near St. George UT.


Zooming in, I can see somebody's rigs, left-center and slightly to the right of center.


An allegory popped into the mind: do you remember that episode in the third season of the original Star Trek, called "The Cloud Minders:"  a community of exalted intellectuals, musicians, and poets live in a city called Stratos that is levitated in the sky. They do nothing but pursue intellectual and aesthetic pursuits all day. Meanwhile, down on the planet's surface, live the miners who do all the grunt work that allows the elitism and luxury of Stratos to exist. 

As I looked down on the Lazy Dazers and grinned naughtily -- and haughtily -- the allegory grabbed control over my mind. Why was it so powerful? It was not caused by the visual stimulation alone, impressive as it was. M…

Time Travel in Utah's High Country

On a recent mountain bike ride near Richfield UT, they caught me sleeping. I was focusing on choosing a path between the rocks, when my herding group dog, Coffee Girl, took after a herd of sheep that we had almost stumbled into. But she was eventually scolded into returning to me, and the sheep weren't too rattled.

Hey wait a minute, weren't we only a couple seconds from an ambush by giant white dogs, screaming out of the sagebrush to protect their herd?

But none came. As we sidled up the ridge, the size of the herd became more apparent.


Where were the dogs and the human shepherd? Eventually we spotted him. But he seemed to only have a couple border collies to help him.


I waved at him so he'd notice that my dog was now on a leash, but he didn't respond. Maybe he didn't speak English, or even Spanish. Maybe he was a Vasco, that is, a Euskal from the Basque country. I'm a bit skeptical about Great Pyrenees dogs being hostile to humans, but I wasn't so sure what t…