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Showing posts from January, 2016

Finally, a Success at Reading a Russian Novel

It is always a bit of a triumph when I survive a Russian novel, in this case a historical novel by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, "August 1914". A worthy book.

I'd like to do something I haven't done before on this blog: show what I've been doing most of my adult life when I read a book. What good is a book if the words go into one eyeball and out the other? In order for the book to have any effect on your life, you must retain the best parts of it -- its juicy but condensed nuggets of goodness. And then you can digest and assimilate these nuggets into your own organism.

To mix metaphors, let's look for the book's classic quotes, its pemmican of wisdom, and turn them into building blocks for our own mental skyscrapers in the future. 

p. 107/622:  He had not expected to find much to hearten him at Second Army Headquarters...Vorotyntsev was still depressed whenever experience confirmed the invariable rule that every headquarters was staffed by people who were selfish…

The Yukkie Reality Under the World of Appearances

The other day I went to "Poop Central" in Quartzsite, that famous modern equivalent of Cloaca Maxima of ancient Rome.  I expected to pay 80% as much to dump a 5 gallon porta-pottie as you would pay to dump a 75 gallon tank in a Class A motorhome. That's how things work in this country. Much to my relief (bad pun), the cost was entirely reasonable.

I brought a flexible sheet of plastic along, to make a funnel out of, in order to dump the porta-pottie into the 4" hole without spillage. It was strange the way they brushed me off, just as a busy auto mechanic dismisses the emotional anecdotes of a female motorist who is describing her car problems. The worker at Poop Central pulled up a manhole cover, and told me to just hurl it in.

What? Hurl it in? What was going on down there, anyway? After a couple seconds my eyes adjusted to the shadowy netherworld under the superficial world of appearances, and I saw a milk crate a couple feet below. Why would a milk crate be there?

Conversational Extremes at the Quartzsite Gab-fest

The trick is to avoid eye contact. When walking on the sidewalk of a large city, people learn that you must avert your eyes from winos, junkies, and panhandlers. Quartzsite is not a big city, but the same principle holds. If you slip up -- even momentarily -- at the laundromat, the old boy will notice what license plates your vehicle has, and start in with whar-ya-frum, and then move on to story after story about what happened to him, there, 38 years ago.

At another time, in a crowded bakery, a line of annoyed people were held up by an old boy cracking "jokes" with the bakery worker. When he wasn't succeeding well enough at holding her up, he would look around and try to spot some new victim who made eye contact or seemed slightly amused at his bullshit. That person would soon regret it.

I tell ya... there are worse things than death; like out-living your usefulness, and becoming one of these old men in Quartzsite.

It is easy to enjo…

What If You ALMOST Need a Generator?

Long-suffering readers know that I like to poke fun -- gently I hope -- at campers who are Gandhi or Thoreau wannabees. They also know that I am not a solar purist. A rational and professional camper uses technology up to the point of diminishing returns. (Or more correctly, the point of diminishing marginal utility.)

And yet there are solar purists who make it work for them. People who have vans or motorhomes probably don't count, since they can always charge their house batteries from their engine battery on a cloudy day. So let's only discuss trailers.

A trailer-puller can connect their tow vehicle to the trailer, and run the engine. But that charges too slowly, perhaps 7 or 8 Amps.

So what do you do when you finally admit that even Arizona is not sunny every day, and that you occasionally park under trees, or near the perpetually cloudy Coast? Buy a windmill? Never heard anything good about them. Besides, you need to supplement a solar system with a secondary system that doe…

Contradiction and Talking for Victory

I am going to continue with the subject of civilizing conversation because this is the only time of year when a backwoods camper snowbird desert rat actually talks to other human beings.

As Swift pointed out in his essay, all human beings are capable of making big improvements in their conversational habits, and with only moderate effort. Consider how easy it is easy to break some of these bad habits compared to giving up smoking. And yet millions of people have succeeded at giving up smoking. When you consider the advantages of improving conversational habits, relative to the effort involved, and look at it from a rational economic cost-benefit perspective, it is hard to think of any project more worthwhile.

Referring back to the list in the previous post, today's sins are:

#5. The Chronic Contradictor.

#3. Talking for Victory.

These have been paired up because they overlap. You could even think of #5 as the short term or tactical version of a more persistent #3.

Years ago I read good …

Old Men Talking Their Victims to Death, in Quartzsite

A commenter pointed out that another category was needed for the list in the previous post: the One-Upper. I invite you to read his comment in the previous post.

And I overlooked the most ubiquitous of all conversational rogues: the Interrupter. At least these people are pretty easy to forgive. They are a bit like a dog who barks when nervous, but not at other times. Let the Interrupter calm down after a minute, or let them see the look on the face of their victim, and they will soon correct themselves.

There is a marvelous bit of acting by John Goodman in the Coen Brothers' "Barton Fink", showing him to be the victim of an over-eager, know-it-all, intellectual playwright, who won't listen to the John Goodman character tell his story.

But I'll bet you too have run into Interrupters who don't calm down and back off, but rather, keep interrupting forever. I simply don't know how to explain that. Are they insisting on being the dominant one? Their problem is qu…

Frustrating Civilized Conversation

When thousands of campers are congregated in a town like Quartzsite, and have the opportunity for campfires and conversation, it would be nice to believe that it leads to better conversations than usual. But maybe that is just primal-ism and romanticism.

The retrogrouch in me yearns for conversations in olden times, when there was more formality and a tighter consensus about the rules of proper behavior. Come on now, admit it, don't you feel a little of that when you watch the polite rituals in the movies called historical 'costume dramas?' But the standards of yore haven't survived a couple hundred years of democratic leveling.

But maybe this presents an opportunity to reconstruct rules of conversation from a blank piece of paper. And this time, we will do it right. Shouldn't the aim of conversation be good will, a bit of entertainment, and subtle education? If we get good at this, we can enjoy full-bodied conversation about non-trivial subjects. Imagine conversati…