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Showing posts from October, 2015

Saying Much With Little, to a Foreigner

I've said it before: that in my next life I am coming back as an international traveler. Among other things, it gives you a chance to be a practical linguist. There are people who pick up foreign languages easily. But you needn't be one of those to find the subject of language fascinating. 

In a Walmart parking lot, of all places, I just finished talking to a French family who is traveling in the Southwest with their motorhome, imported from France. Eventually they will make their way to Argentina. I am proud to say that I did not start off the conversation with, "Soooo, whar ya frum? Do you gahs really eat frawgs?" I spoke with the father and his 10 year old son.

Speaking with someone who knows a little English is an intellectual challenge and pleasure. And it takes so much self-discipline! You must not grin at their mistakes, or be over-corrective. You must build their confidence.

Obviously you must speak slowly and repeat frequently, but it also helps to leave space …

Chasing a Balloon Across a Red Rock Sky

How do they do it? Although it is easy to find the places where balloon-ride companies launch from -- in fact I've camped right there a couple times -- but how do they ever retrieve their balloons and customers after a ride?  I suppose there is more of a serious business to it than what first appears to a customer, or even to new employees.

Coffee Girl and I were returning from a mountain bike ride, when we crossed paths with three young buckaroos in retrieval mode. We made a game out of using them as our pace car. Notice the rectangular openings in the wicker basket. Are those meant to be peepholes for munchkin customers?

At one point we caught the three balloon wranglers, which I'm guessing consisted of a pickup driver and two balloon pilots. They looked just like you would guess: young men, 25-30, healthy and vivacious, who are postponing real employment in the rat race for a brief stint at a "fun" job in a glamorous location. 

It must be easy for the company to find…

The Autumn of Experiencing Nature in America

What should an experienced outdoorsman look for in a hackneyed location like Moab, UT? Certainly not the iconic red rock arches and canyons. They are justly famous, but you've seen them a hundred times in jeep commercials, cellphone commercials, nature pin-up calendars, etc. They belong to everybody and to nobody. They certainly cannot belong to you.

But that doesn't mean you should just give up, and relegate Moab to the tourist trade, as I used to do. When the weather was still a little summer-ish, my dog and I started a mountain bike ride before most of the tourists were up. As always, we wanted to beat the heat.

We started going downhill; not far, maybe 300-400 feet. I was shocked at how chilly it was getting. In fact, I wished I had gloves on! At the bottom of the canyon I was amazed to find a "crystal house" of dew, that is, preternaturally dense dew, glazed onto grasses in a little swale. 

It reminded me of the ice crystal house in Dr. Zhivago. The movie was filme…

Escape From the Jurassic Mudpits of Moab

You would think that a lot of experience at camping would toughen a fellow up, considerably. But rain and mud have a way of humbling me. Nevertheless, for the fourth time in two days, I narrowly escaped getting stuck in the mud, thanks in part to actually taking advice from a local expert about mud on certain roads in the Moab area.

It sounds so simple, doesn't it? Taking advice. It is certainly good news to become a 'wise old man' who is willing to finally do so. And yet, it is hard to break the changes down that happen to a person who becomes 'older and wiser.' Perhaps a person becomes humbler and more cautious with each misadventure that happens in life. It finally seems inconvenient, expensive, and stupid to have to learn everything the hard way. Misadventures have lost their romantic charm.

There was another reason for my narrow and successful escapes. I had a pair of rubber-bottomed boots in my van. Rather than rashly bulling my way through the mud, I put the b…

Beating the Over-priced Pickup Cap Syndrome

Every now and then I like to give the readers a good laugh as I scheme against the pickup truck bubble. If it weren't for the weaknesses of the newer vans [1], I wouldn't even be tempted to think about pickup trucks as tow vehicles for (non-fifth-wheel) travel trailers.

We are probably down to the last couple years of availability of basic, regular cab, low trim level pickups, aimed at farmers, ranchers, or the city water department. I want to avail myself of that opportunity before it disappears from the automobile industry, as so many other choices have disappeared.

One of the great weaknesses of the pickup truck as a tow vehicle for a full-time RVer is that the silly thing is semi-useless unless you put a cap/topper/shell on it. [2] The typical installed price of a fiberglass cap is well over $2000. Even worse, it is 75% glass. [3]

A semi-tall driver who likes to store his bicycle inside will not enjoy getting into the back of the pickup truck, compared to a van. The van is t…

Asymmetric Warfare When Playing Chicken

While detesting the neo-con/Israel-first/Republican/Rapture Christian doctrine of permanent war, I still have an interest in being an 'armchair general' or military strategist. Yes, it is inconsistent, but if consistency is your hobgoblin, you are at the wrong blog.

The world seems to be beating Washington's pants off lately, with a Russian/Syrian/Iraqi/Iranian axis building up in the Mideast, and China becoming more assertive about its reclaimed islands in the South China Sea. One way to see these developments is as a growth in a new type of asymmetric warfare, aimed straight at the least trusted government on planet Earth.

Do any readers know of any good articles or books about asymmetric warfare? The Wikipedia article is a good place to start. They give several famous examples in history.

What if the world is learning to exploit the fragility and hollowness of the American economy to play 'chicken' with Washington, and to win? Washington's rivals around the wo…

Murphy's Law Has Loopholes

Obviously the world doesn't need to see any of my photographs of the Moab area, with all the tourists running around with iPhones. Still, I like to take a few photographs on a mountain bike ride, perhaps just as an excuse to stop and enjoy certain spots. I did so here.

Just then I noticed something weird happening on my face. My prescription sunglasses had just fallen apart. Actually it was just that one screw in the frame had come off. Can you believe it? With all the crap that I bring along and never use, I didn't have the little screwdriver and a couple spare screws that you need to fix eyeglasses.

What if I were a rock climber and this had happened? Or a sea kayaker? Is this why 'four eyes' used to get draft deferments?

At any rate I was able to mountain bike back to the van with only one lens, and the other eye closed. My three-dimensional vision was messed up, and it is surprising that I didn't goof up on the Utah slickrock.

But just think. I've been wearing…

Nibbling Away at Moral 'Perfection'

I have an ON again/OFF again involvement with achieving moral perfection. Mostly off. Even though I am getting started 40 years later than Benjamin Franklin, it still 'counts'.

And it isn't as silly as it sounds. What should a person work on as they get older? Sleeping 8 hours per night, without waking once? Growing lush dark hair on their head? Running a 4 minute mile? Living the dissolute life of an international playboy? Good luck with all that.

The fact is that wisdom about the conduct of life, self-control over our own behavior, and having a broader perspective on the human condition are just about the only things that we can improve at, with age. And that is good news! These are the things we should have been emphasizing our whole lives, instead of running around, taking care of frantic busywork.

So how does one proceed on this noble quest? There is something to be said for a 'bottom up' approach, quite the opposite of the approach of long-winded philosophers. I…

The "Awakening" When Coming Back to a City

I have written before of how thought-provoking it can be to come into a city after a lengthy spell in the backcountry. The greatest difficulty in doing a good job at this is to belittle it right from the beginning: "Oh this is just some kind of thought experiment. It isn't practical. I don't want to waste time by acting like a kook, in his own little mental playground..."

Recently I experienced a special version of this. I was visiting a small metropolis that was big enough for a tumescent growth of big box retail stores on the edge of town. The Republican party's debate was in the news. As tempting as it might be to throw mud-pies at each specific runt in the debate, it is more important to ask something more fundamental: if Democracy were so great, and if Americans were so suited for it, how could a country as large as the USA and with all its achievements and deep pool of talent, produce such a pitiful list of candidates?

Something is fundamentally wrong with ou…

Are the Uni-power's Glory Years Over?

Most people probably don't talk about geopolitics and world events with family members. Who wants to have an argument with your own mother about politics? Perhaps that is why I still remember when my mother talked about the dissolution of the Soviet empire circa 1990: " all seemed so easy!" 

After all, most of her life had been spent during the "Good War" and its aftermath, the Cold War with the USSR. It must have seemed strange to her to realize that the world had suddenly become something quite different from what she had known.

So too it must seem to people, say, 35--45, whose adult years have been spent during the era when Washington DC was the great Uni-power, the mighty Hegemon of the world. It was a time with no "first world" military opposition. Washington could take over any country it wanted, on the flimsiest -- and phoniest -- excuse. The financial cost meant nothing -- they just borrowed whatever they needed.

I was astonished when the ne…