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Do Novelists Write Better History than Historians?

More than once on this blog I have laughed at all the history books I read, and wondered what excuse there could be for it. There are so many dry facts to wade through -- so many meaningless details!

That is even true of the excellent history book I am reading right now on the battle of Stalingrad, by Anthony Beevor. Just before reading Beevor I had read Vasily Grossman's novel of the battle of Stalingrad, "Life and Fate."

Actually it was an overly thick novel, difficult to read with all those Russian names. But at one point, towards the end, the novelist described the German retreat, during their denouement. Corpses of men, dead horses, burned out farmhouses, mud...


Suddenly the road and the ruined house were caught in the rays of the setting sun. The empty eye-sockets of the burnt-out building seemed to fill with frozen blood.This image literally took my breath away -- and leave it to a Russian writer to come up with something like this! What point is there in reading abo…

America's Snowflake-in-Chief

It has been awhile since the alternative-media made a meme of politically-correct crybabies on college campuses. "Snowflakes" they were called. But things become passé very quickly these days.

I enjoyed the criticism of college crybabies, and would like to see the 'snowflake' meme revived, in a different context.

How about Wall Street? Wall Street and president Trump are acting like snowflakes about the mild steps taken by the Federal Reserve to normalize interest rates. An entire generation of investment professionals has grown up thinking that free interest is normal. Trump apparently thinks that the stock market is a proxy for the state of the "great" economy that America is supposed to have.

And how do fake stock prices matter to the average American?

The Stock Market Still Believes in Santa Claus

I was quite amazed to read this in an "alternative" news-site, Zero Hedge. It was an article about rumors of Trump firing the head of the Federal Reserve:
...but terminating the Fed chair would likely send a shockwave across global financial markets, resulting in a collapse of risk asset prices and undermining investor confidence in the central bank’s ability to guide the economy without political interference.  You mean that there are still people on this planet who think that the Federal Reserve is free or was ever free from political pressure? If they believe that, they would believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Bogeyman, or the Second Coming.



And yet people who believe in these things can be intelligent, well-educated, professionally competent, responsible, sane adults -- in most other things! 

Remember when General Colin Powell was talked about as a potential presidential candidate, and some people would say, "Yea, thatz wut dis cuntree needs: a non-politi…

The Local Librarian as a Travel Wonder

From time to time I write about the special magic that sparkles the reading of the right book at the right place.

At the moment I am in Quartzsite, AZ, reading William Rosen's "The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention." It came from ransacking the history section of the local public library.

The world changed so much after the Industrial Revolution. We seldom think about it, except in the negative sense that Romanticists and modern Environmentalists like. 


For instance I knew next to nothing about the steam engine or James Watt. The whole topic never seemed interesting before.

But Rosen's book does not wallow in microscopic details about the steam engine itself. Instead, he uses it as the focal point for big picture trends that preceded it. For instance, he talks about coal mining, another topic that a spoiled and jaded modern never gives a thought to.

But there is something about camping on the rocky desert ground of Quartzsite that …

Non-Binary Approach to Politics on Blogs

There seems to be an unwritten rule in the blogosphere that you shouldn't discuss politics. Sometimes the rule is made more explicit by someone who acts like they are being idealistic. Actually though, they are probably more worried about scaring off eyeballs -- monetization of their Yoob Toob channel or their blog is really their main concern.

But in a way I agree with them. There is no point in offending people-who-disagree-with-you while boring people-who-agree. 

So we keep our mouths shut, and the System grinds along, unimpeded. This isn't 'idealism.' It is subservience and defeatism.

What we need is a third choice. Consider the current trend of the moment: non-binary attitudes toward sex. What if we were to take a non-binary approach to politics?

One such approach in a travel blog is to see juxtapositions along the road that surprise you -- they might even be bizarre. But if the juxtaposition is thought-provoking, it is good for something, especially if the blogger of…

A Puny Consumer Rebels

What a quixotic mission it can be to not submit to consumer trends! I have written about the insanity in the automobile/pickup truck industry, and how ridiculous their products are. I "solved" that problem by accepting defeat, that is, by losing interest. 

Another example is the "combo" meal at a fast food restaurant. Again, they are oversized, and their price belies the 1.8% inflation that the government tells us we have. I solved that problem by deciding that french fries are not sacred, and therefore it is advantageous to buy from the Dollar Menu.

The final example is the BIG flat television. This is hardly the electrical appliance needed for a small camper -- of course I've seen people put ridiculously large TVs in RVs as small as vans!

In addition to physical compactness, a small television uses less electricity.


Of course you don't need a television at all if you don't watch broadcast signals. (I watch old television westerns in DVD disc form, as a sl…

Keeping Camping an Adventure

It is quite something how we take a instant like or dislike to someone we have just met. A fellow approached me in a parking lot and started talking about being a snowbird/boondocker/camper in Arizona. He was rather new at this racket.

Instantly I liked him, and wanted to be helpful. And then my bubble burst -- and it wasn't really any fault of his! My emotional rollercoaster was so extreme that I must try to understand it.

He started asking about 'how to' this, that, and the next thing. He had done so much homework on well-known van camping forums and Yoob Toobs (aka, You Tube) that his approach was stereotypical, and therefore, predictable. I knew what he was going to ask next before he did.

It almost hurt to listen to him. My gawd, is anything more boring than a 'nuts & bolts' guy who is utterly predictable?!

Meanwhile my friend and I explored the ramp up to a mountain range. I had camped here, but it was so many years ago that it didn't 'help'. We h…

Crossing Pathes with Pepe Le Pew

Perhaps I should have expected one more strange thing to happen today. For the first time in who-knows-how-many mountain bike rides, I got cold. Or rather, I returned cold. 

It seems to be against some fundamental law of nature to experience anything other than cold mornings and hot mid-days. The day seemed sunny, so I under-dressed. Then it played a strange trick and clouded over. So I was cold all the way back down the mountain.

When pulling into the "driveway" of our camp, I saw a small, strange animal running away. My dog saw it too. Was I ever glad that she was leashed!


But it wasn't quite Pepe le Pew of Loony Toons fame. Rather, it was a western spotted skunk, an animal that I had never seen before. Of course skunks like to stay unseen.


He couldn't have weighed more than 2 or 3 pounds, and dare I say it, almost cute! He wasn't about to hang around while I fumbled with a camera.

For those who are interested in the etymology of words, consider Pepe le Pew of Loony…

The Solution to Winter Evenings when Camping

Long winter evenings have never been my favorite thing, when boondocking. All I could do was waste time on the internet or read books. Perhaps older eyes just don't like reading in the evening. Or maybe I have had my fill of reading by evening.

The result was boredom and glumness. This was a serious problem for me. My solution was to go to bed early.

Some solution! It results in poor quality sleep. And who can sleep for 12 hours per night?!



Lately I have been experimenting with organizing things in the evening. Consider all the photographs stored on your computer. They need to be organized and culled. This ends up being fun because it gives you a chance to reminisce over your travels.

You could argue that you just have too many photographs to tackle in this manner. Then why not just throw them out? You are never going to look at them again, anyway.

Organizing is needed for the file structure on the laptop and the smartphone, as well.

There are physical things that need to be organized,…

November 11, 1918 to 2018, A Century of Progress?

If I were a student of American popular culture, I would follow the Media today just to see if anybody cares about the Great War ending 100 years ago. It is possible that a few of them do. But don't hope for too much in this country.

But if you look at a wider circle, there is some good news. With the exception of the USA, most of the combatants of the Great War are not addicted to war anymore. They don't seem to see it as inevitable.

Perhaps the USA is the exception because its people didn't suffer invasion or privation during the world wars. And its corporations made a lot of money during both world wars.


It is also good news that Bolshevism -- one of the miserable legacies of that war -- is dead.

There is some sad news to offset some of this: the Mideast is still a mess, thanks to the policies and agreements that arose during the Great War.

On a personal level I am going to commemorate the day by reading some of the excellent anti-establishment opinion pieces out there, toda…

Tables and Mesas

There is a quarry in the neighborhood that makes flagstones for patios. Maybe the quarry is a private in-holding, surrounded by BLM land; or maybe it is leased BLM land.

Perhaps it is the latter, because that would give the quarry operators reasons for brown-nosing with the BLM. And that could explain the donations to a trailhead nearby.

There were two picnic table made of these flagstones. They were functional -- but not too soft!


You don't have to know too much Spanish too see something a little poetic in these flagstone picnic tables with a famous mesa in the background. 


Better Traction for a Cheapskate?

At long last I finally got a chance to install tire chains on somebody else's truck. This was important because I tend to be skeptical of promotional videos.

Recall that this was the scheme for making my tow vehicle & trailer more capable on muddy roads. I really don't have problems on dry roads, when pulling a lightweight trailer with a rear-wheel-drive van.

Tire chain installation proved to be pretty straightforward. All it takes is a bit of practice and some organization, with a foam pad and gloves. What it really takes is the self-discipline to install the chains before you slide into a muddy rut.

In other words, most of the alleged negatives of tire chains are psychological and lifestyle-related, rather than real and physical.



But let's back up a step and ask why this is important. Why not just be a normal American consumer and get a big expensive 4WD pickup on credit? Of course that would defeat much of my philosophy in pursuing this lifestyle. I want to beat the sy…

The Courage to Do the Unpopular

A canine friend and a two-legged friend and I are checking out an area not so far from the overcrowded tourist hellhole of Moab, UT. This place is so uncrowded that it is almost funny.

How do you explain this? It has wonderful physical assets, not just in terms of "Wow," but also in terms of variety. But as I said before, it is uncrowdedness that really counts in modern America. Perhaps it is blessed with scenery that is just short of being a national park. That means it lacks the razzle-dazzle to get on the bucket list of millions of idiot-tourists. This area is like a picturesque mountain in Colorado that is 13,950 feet high.




The town doesn't really have a bicycle culture, but it could. In fact it has built its first mountain bike singletrack close to town. It has a hip coffee shop. Of course, with mountain bikers being the besotted sybarites that they are, the town probably needs a microbrewery. 

Tomorrow we will ride that trail. It doesn't seem to have many customer…

Constructive Use of Honduran Marchers

Much of this post will seem like an impractical 'thought experiment.' But I still think it can be worthwhile.

Let's imagine that the Honduran marchers actually make it all the way across Mexico in large numbers. That would be quite a feat, wouldn't it?! At the very least you have to admire their gumption. Where would you find 5000 Americans who could accomplish something like that, for any cause?

To me, a demographic invasion should be handled with the same seriousness as a military invasion. But before resorting to drastic methods like that, we need to ask a couple questions:

If invading somebody else's country is an act of war -- and it is! -- why hasn't America's meddling to our south been seen in that light? We have committed one crime after another down there since the days of Teddy Roosevelt. It was and is immoral and disgusting.

We have been invading other people's countries in the Mideast for 17 years. Most of those peoples had nothing to do with &#…

The Stow-away

If you live long enough, you will experience just about anything and everything. The other day I actually rode a technical mountain bike trail and enjoyed it -- not in spite of its technicalities, but because of them. Credit the soft sandstone geology of Utah.

I consider that last example to be extraordinary, but if the reader isn't a mountain biker, they may not care.

OK, try this one on: I left the dispersed camping site near Moab a couple days before two friends were planning to. I stopped at one guy's van to say goodbye, while keeping an eye out for his little dog, so I wouldn't run over her. But it was a bad time for him, so I kept going. Everything seemed smooth.

Unaccustomed as I am to wasting time and money in coffee shops, I did stop in at the one in Green River, Utah. There I noticed a message from one of the friends back in Moab. (My phone volume had been turned off because of some telephone spammers.)

The message said that Olive, the little dog, was missing. And wo…

Turning the Murder of a Journalist into Electoral Success

The independent punditocracy is criticizing the Establishment Media for paying so much attention to the murder of Khashoggi by the Saudis, given that it has paid almost no attention to the death rained down from the skies by the Saudis onto miserable Yemen.

But there is an explanation, and it shows that the Establishment has learned something from their Kavanaugh debacle.

The Establishment cannot have an overhang, a positive aura, survive until the mid-term elections, to the benefit of the Republicans. They can't have voters still thinking about the deplorable behavior of the Democrat groups during Kavanaugh's confirmation.

So attention must be diverted elsewhere, and quickly! If the Never-Trumpers are lucky, Trump will be seen as the defender of cruel, spoiled, despotic Saudis. And perhaps this time, the guilt will be established. It is possible the Trump is stupid enough to fall into this trap: after all, Israel and Saudi Arabia are allies in everything but name. 



Or maybe split…

Hiking in Cold Wind

I don't do much hiking these days. Normally it is suffocating and stultifying. But it sure is nice when it is too cold to ride a bike.



Today Coffee Girl and I did a nice hike in our "back yard," while camping near Moab, UT. Most of the hike was along a windy cliff-line, in abnormally cool October weather. I have no photos to show you, because the closer scenery was austere to the point of being ugly. But that is a good thing! It made the distant scenery look that much better. 

But then, scenery wasn't the point anyway. When hiking in cold air, my "spiritual" battery is on a fast charge; walking discharges the battery at roughly the same speed.

Something similar happens with summer hiking, but in reverse. There are softies out there who will tell me that it is "negative thinking" to hate hiking in warm weather. Not so! The intensity of the pleasure coming from cold-weather hiking is proportional to the intensity of the displeasure during warm weather.

What Would Edward Abbey Have Thunk?

Moab, UT. The world is still full of people who have to be given credit for good planning of a certain type: they arranged to be born in the right year. In fact, most people who chose to be born from 1945 to 1960 in Europe and North America should get credit for this.

The author, Edward Abbey, also deserves credit for being born in the last decade or two when one could still experience the glories of Moab, UT. What would he think today?

I believe it was in "Desert Solitaire" that he wrote about being so tired of the summer heat in Moab that he got in his car and blasted down a washboarded gravel road on his way to the LaSalle Mountains, in order to cool off. 'The ultimate test of man and metal,' was how he put it.

Let's consider his example of deliberate hardship and postponed release, and see if it applies to my situation today.  I was able to use it by remaining parked in a ghastly place, just to milk the act a bit.  I "enjoyed" tourist helicopters overh…

How Not to Shut Down So Early at Night

It has only been a couple weeks since I stopped my incessant whining about hot sunlight and dry air. And now I am already whining about too many hours of darkness, and getting cabin fever during rainy days.

There is something to learn from the campers who wear headlamps at night. They continue to do useful things at night, instead of limiting themselves to boob toob, yoob toob, or miserable books.

In fact modern headlamps having gotten ridiculously good. No longer are you allocating one hand to carry things, while trying to get things done with the other hand. Have you ever tried to operate a zipper with one hand? A camper spends most of the day fighting zippers, especially in winter.



The other day somebody went mountain biking by me at night. I couldn't believe how bright his headlamp was. I am still not motivated to ride at night, but it would sure be great to stay active in the evening with daily chores.

Ahh, but there's the battery, the weak link in any of these electrical gad…

Missed Opportunity: Camping at Fairgrounds

What a pleasure it was to saddle up the ol' hound dog and go for a walk in town to all the places that one needs to live. I like to take the pulse of a town in this style, and walking is the best way to do it.

I am camped in a low-budget county fairgrounds in western Colorado. It is hard to believe that "low budget" and "Colorado" could appear in the same sentence, but they can, once you avoid the tourist traps. Better yet, you can sometimes get quite close to tourist traps without suffering the disadvantages.

All it really takes is the willingness to get interested in something besides how 'breathtakingly beautiful' it is, aka, how big, freakish, and vertical it is.

And why shouldn't it be economical to camp at the county fairgrounds? The facilities have to be put there to service campers using the fairgrounds during the half-dozen festivals that happen every year.  Any additional camping fees are just "dessert" for the fairgrounds.

And if th…

BREAKING NEWS... Russians Put Kavanaugh on Supreme Court

Boris & Natasha (*) are at it again. Wasn't it bad enough that they installed their agent in the White House in 2016?! But now they appear to be on the verge of installing another agent on the US Supreme Court...unless there is some 11th hour and 59th minute surprise. 

The mainstream media hasn't quite yet broken the bad news to the public. But I owed it to the readers to do so. Nobody else will commit quite yet -- except maybe "The Onion."

(*) For the benefit of young readers, there was a cartoon back in the Cold War, The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, that featured two Russky spies, Boris and Natasha. 

Best Fall Color Experience Ever

A new reader to this blog might expect a photo-dump after a title like that. But I didn't even bring my Canon digital camera. (I did bring the smart phone, but just don't take it seriously as a camera. Maybe I should.)

My friend and I were mountain biking down a trail along a "draw" in the Gunnison CO area. Despite the anti-scenery slant on this blog, I just had to stop and ogle what was there: about 20 aspens, blazing yellow of course, that were pinned between the cliff and the dry creek. 

It was really sagebrush country, but the small aspens had managed to survive in their chosen niche. There was a drama to their tenuous existence. Also, it had rained a little recently, and the tiniest bit of moisture seems miraculous to me, after this summer! 

The autumnal morning's sun was just clearing the cliff, so that it illuminated the tops of the stunted aspens. The rest of the area was dry sagebrush, in all its glorious austerity. What a contrast!

This was a powerful examp…

The Annual Lump in the Throat

Every year at this time, I think about the same thing: the most important change-of-seasons. It was made more memorable by what my dog and I were doing: having one of our best mountain bike rides of the year, and in one of our favorite places. (How many untouristy areas can still be found in a place like Colorado?!) This summer has made me sick and tired of hot sun, so it was no small miracle that the day seemed glorious despite being sunny! 

It was getting on to mid or even late morning, but there was still a chill in the air. She and I pretty much like the same temperatures.


I notice the seasonal transitions at other times of the year, but somehow, they don't affect me in the same way that the onset of autumn does. There is no lump in the throat, as there is now. Perhaps that's because it is so great to get rid of another summer. Summer is just a long disease that one must submit to, stoically. Or maybe it's because I start migrating more as cooler weather comes in.

Perhaps…

'In Harmony with...' Something Better Than Nature

Something unusual happened last night. I was camped in a campground, and yet, felt at peace.

My friend and I were sitting at the picnic table and watching the sky show. The heat of the day was hours in the past, but the night-time chill was holding back.

To begin with, it is an unusually spacious campground. (With kazillions of acres of public lands, what is the excuse for the urban-RV-park-like congestion of so many public campgrounds?)

On top of that, it was half empty, so the neighbors were just at the right distance. You could hear their muffled voices around the campfire, but not the conversations. The campfires flickered at their bodies until it made distant jack-o-lanterns out of them.


There was no music coming out of car stereos. 

Was there some kind of self-selection taking place? Were the people here specifically because they are disgusted with the crowded and noisy tourist industry in Colorado? Were they exhausted from their mountain biking and rock climbing? 

Ahh who knows. All…

A Good Gadget Review Website?

Some good news: I actually found a useful site for gadget reviews. But let's set the situation up, so it doesn't look like it was easy.

The project was to find better noise-cancelling or masking technology. For instance I installed the MyNoise app on the smartphone. It produces the soothing sounds of nature: Rain, Spring Walk, Temple Bells, Ocean, Waterfalls, etc.

But wait, you say, why would I need to generate those sounds electronically when I am in a campground in Colorado, and all I need to do is open the door and listen to the real thing from Mother Nature? 

Clearly the reader has never been to a public campground in their life. 'Peace and Quiet' are the last things you should expect in a campground. Basically they are noise ghettoes. 

The next step was to experiment with headphones. As usual I ended up wasting my time on reviews that I didn't trust, subjective anecdotal reviews by customers who can't type or spell, and the info-tainment of Yoob Tube. (My name…

A New Super-pundit?

I never heard of Caitlin Johnstone until a few weeks ago. Perhaps purposely I have avoided trying to find about her, and have simply been content to enjoy her essays.



She doesn't overlap with me too much: she seems to be a Green. One advantage of putting up with deviations of any kind is that when they do agree with you, you feel entitled to enjoy it -- after all, you earned it!

It will be interesting to see how her career evolves. Recall good ol' Ben Franklin's best friend. As young buckaroos, they went to England together, with the friend hoping to become a poet. He failed. But then he become a pundit who was actually paid to keep quiet by the opposition. That must be the ultimate compliment to any writer. (By the way, google or blogger.com should be told that I am open to negotiations on that issue...)

But they probably don't do that anymore. So Caitlin's career will develop in some other way. Her personal appearance isn't that of a honey-bunny, so we can assum…

Attitudes Toward Drought

It is strange the way weather reports, especially on television, talk about a "40% chance of rain" as if it were life-threatening. This is so common it is easy to not even notice it. But it is a perfect example of how modern life is separated from nature and even physical reality.


I can't help thinking about that as we finally get a spot of light rain here in Colorado, after a dud monsoon season. How tiresome hot sun can get! Sunny mornings are still enjoyable, but in mid-day, the sun simply makes me stay indoors. I can't face it anymore.


But the tourist/camper still thinks that rain is the enemy, and that a sunny sky is something to feel happy about.

What a fraud the modern citified 'nature lover' is! 'Nature' doesn't mean anything to them other than a chance to gawk at freakish scenery of some kind. 

What if they actually had to grow something or hunt something to live? 


Demographic Profiling in a Campground

So far, I've posted about the question of whether working with the general public (as a campground host) can affect your political viewpoint. Can it also affect how you feel towards certain "demographic profiles?"

Of course demographic profiling is non-PC. But if people will tell the truth, everybody has to do it when they are in a hurry. It is only unfair when more information comes in but you lazily cling to your original judgement.

For instance today some yahoo was blasting away with a gun, at a target; he was only 200 yards away from the nearest campsite. I went over to investigate. My eyes scanned the row of parked cars. I zeroed in on the one most likely to belong to a Deplorable. I expected to see a "MAGA" bumper sticker on it.

I have been affected by this experience, and in a rather nice way: I have come to appreciate women more. They aren't perfect: they ask too many dumb questions about bears. They expose too much skin in public, and almost as bad,…

Herding Dogs as a Model for Ideal Government?

Recall I was wondering how the experience of working with the general public can change a person's political views. I have thought for years that democracy was an over-rated shibboleth.

But the experience of working with the general public as a campground host has convinced me that democracy is completely impractical.

One could generalize on this and make a big project out of re-reading and re-estimating the classic authors on political science. I haven't really done that. In part it is laziness.

But it has always seemed that general thinkers float around in the clouds too much, and that they are actually lazy and inaccurate thinkers. They fall in love with their own pretty theories and think they have had the final word on the subject, and that the disciples of rival philosophers should be tortured and then put to death.

A good Baconian (like me) would rather reduce the size of an issue to something small enough to be manageable.

As an example of that consider how a general politi…

Improving Conversation, as a Campground Host

Being a campground host is not just about cleaning restrooms. There are some thought-provoking moments, as well. For instance the host gets a lot of practice in reading people quickly, and adapting his speech to the other person's needs or interests. I wish I had gotten good at this 40 years ago.

Consider this quote from Boswell's classic "Life of Johnson:"


JOHNSON. 'Well, Sir, Ramsay gave us a splendid dinner. I love Ramsay. You will not find a man in whose conversation there is more instruction, more information, and more elegance, than in Ramsay's.' 

BOSWELL. 'What I admire in Ramsay, is his continuing to be so young.' 
JOHNSON. 'Why, yes, Sir, it is to be admired. I value myself upon this, that there is nothing of the old man in my conversation. I am now sixty-eight, and I have no more of it than at twenty-eight.'
This is certainly something to think about when the host is older than most of the campers. Some of my desire to avoid 'old …

Switch in Political Affiliation?

Could the experience of being a campground host change a person's political orientation? Perhaps it is worth generalizing this to: will working with the general public change your political views?

I am inclined to answer, Yes. I seem to be switching from libertarian to MRAG, that is, Mildly Repressive Authoritarian Regimes.

This switch does not please me. But there is a big caveat: seeing tourists all day is like teaching second grade. The tourist is not really an adult. Implicit in the libertarian viewpoint is the idea that you are dealing with adults who are responsible for their actions.

The child or adolescent gives little concern for the long term consequences of its actions. And it gives no concern for the effect on other people.



Society as a whole has become progressively more adolescent over the last hundred years. The welfare state deserves its share of the credit for this. But even more, the culture of consumer debt has enabled a childish "Gimme it now" mindset tha…