Thursday, February 25, 2010


Me with the Collier's (Steve, Barby, and Brooke)

To start off I’d like to get a little off subject (can you get off subject when you haven’t started yet?) and mention a place I forgot to mention from New Mexico, the Petroglyph National Monument. It’s a really cool area not far from Albequerque. There are tons of petroglyphs all over a very large area. They all popped up around 1300 BC which was believed to be a major time of change for the peoples of the area. Unfortunately nobody knows exactly what any of them mean, then again I’m not sure that anyone knows exactly what any modern art means. Now I don’t really know much about visual art, but isn’t part of the point to play with form and substance to create something new . . . something that is open to an inherently infinite play of meaning . . . something that’s anti-linguistic (at least anti-structualist linguistic). So maybe all these people writing all these books trying to uncover the meaning of each symbol in the petroglyphs are at some level not giving the makers enough credit.


Everyone always says that Austin is a cool town. Pseudo-hippies, hipsters, artists, musicians, and all sorts of other people are flocking to Austin. There are even some Emo kids there. Emo kids always look sad. I think they should look at this happiness flow chart and see if it can help them. There are 4 former Wataugans from my years in Austin right now. There’s Anna the photographer who makes most of her money waiting tables, Anthony who’s learning studying Arabic and the Middle East hoping to join the State Department, Shannon who organizes and leads girl scouts backpacking trips, and Tamera who is on the campaign of R-Sen. Kay Hutchinson who is attempting a run for Governor. A diverse group indeed.

While I was in Austin I had a chance to see a few different things. There is UT which is one of the biggest schools I’ve ever seen in my life. Its campus was very pretty, but man was it huge. Even larger are the absolutely enormous apartment complexes that most of the undergraduate population lives in. Seriously I’ve never seen apartment complexes this big. Everything really is bigger in Texas, even the people . . . .

Big Tower on the UT campus (the one the snipper shot people from)

Now I guess that only speaks to Houston (and also Dallas) but after a trip to Rudy’s with Tamera I can see how this might have happened. Rudy’s is a BBQ chain attached to gas stations . . . And its awesome! And its cheap! When you go for the first time they give you a quick sample of extra moist brisket, extra lean brisket, smoked turkey, and creamed corn. Then you can pick from among those (and other items). You order by the pound and then they throw in a bunch of white bread so that you can make it into a sandwich if you want. I’m especially fond of the creamed corn, which critics might say is more creamed than corn. The critics would be correct on that count, but taste is in the mouth of the beholder.

Tamera enjoying her first trip to Rudy's

This brings me to a potentially interesting point. I told Steve at dinner my last night (I’ll get to that later) that I would try and fit Foucault into this post. Unfortunately until this moment I had no clue where Foucault fits in with Austin (other than 6th street). But here it comes, the first thing I always think about with Foucault is “The Carceral” where he argues that (the first real utilitarian legal scholar) Jermy Bentham’s influential prison design that created a scenario where one guard could be potentially watching any prisoner at any time without the prisoner’s knowing about it, had created a new power-knowledge schema revolving around the potentiality of being watched at all times. This in Foucault’s mind has eventually led to a society that polices itself, where the individual becomes obsessed with behaving “normally” not just when authorities show up at the door, but all the time because someone could always be watching. And moving from there you quickly create an individual psychology where a person is worried not about getting in trouble, but about being abnormal. Now people have talked about this in regards to sexuality a lot (and some believe that this emphasis on abnormality and the need to understand it both inter and intra-personally created the modern homo-sexuality lifestyle).

But I want to take this idea back to the creamed corn. Have we policed ourselves in terms of what we eat. When you look at the rates of obesity in places like Houston and places like Colorado Springs the disparities are shocking. And looking at them I can only wonder if different localities have self-policed themselves into eating in a more homogenous fashion than we might imagine (and I’m really thinking about the openness of a school cafeteria here). I mean how long can you go as a vegetarian in a Houston school district without feeling abnormal? How long can you really go in a Colorado Springs school district without eating vegetables before becoming abnormal? Now I know Pierre Bordieau looked at this from a very globalized social-class perspective, but what about from a very localized perspective?

Everything remotely interesting left west Texas because the constraints of social enforcers of normalacy were too great. Even the trees couldn't take it anymore.

Santa Fe and Silver City

Jill, Josh, and I at the tipi in Silver City

Santa Fe is one of the oldest towns in America. The area was originally inhabited by publean people and the architecture there is still very much true to that history. Of course the Spanish came into the area (I think they were originally looking for gold) established missions and the town. There are still lots of monuments to the early Spanish settlers. They put a nice light on things. They say things like: “Local Indians completed work on this building under the guide of Commander X of the Spanish infantry”. This sounds better than: “After defeating the local people in a war of conquest and chopping off the left hand of all the surviving males, Commander X forced some of the local people to make this building”. The Spanish had good PR people.

Unfortunately for the Spanish, they were botted out (though many of the same people remained in power). Unfortunately for those successors they got caught up in their own war of conqest (except they were the conquested this time) and in the Mexican American war we gained control of Santa Fe. Here are some of the very old buildings of Santa Fe:

Oldest Church in the USA

After Santa Fe I went to see Jill and Josh who live in a tipi in New Mexico. You can check out there blog here. My favorite post is “Conditional Indestructability” which was written a few weeks after Josh first started living in a tipi (this was in Bozeman, MT not Silver City, NM). Jill works at the food co-op in Silver City and Josh works in the garden center at Wal-Mart, but he quit while I was in town. He is considering being a tax preparer for the next couple months (he was an accounting major in college). There are some advantages to living in a tipi, these include: $0/month rent, $0/month utilities, no loud neighbors, and excellent views of the star when the tipi rain flap is open (though Josh and Jill can’t see this without their glasses on), and lots of smores. There are also disadvantages, these include: no showers, colder afternoons than I would prefer, and limited space (although this has improved thanks to some interior decorating advances since the move to New Mexico).

Josh making smores in tipi

We went to the Gila National Forest which is huge. There we saw the Gila cliff dwellings which people were only lived in for about 1 generation. The people left the cliffs around 1300 BC. I believe the people that lived there were part of the Mogollon population which the Hopi and Zuni trace their ancestry from. The Gila National Forest also claims an animal that is exactly the way Snipes were always described to me – this was quite a surprise! Apparently this animal is really taking over a wide geographical area extending into the Ozarks. Its really tough and has very few predators.

Gila Cliff Dwellings

Later we went to a natural hot springs in the area. It was pretty awesome because it wasn’t freezing outside. Its always freezing outside when you go to hot springs in Montana which is not that great.

Salida, CO

Me and Claire at the Top of Monarch Mountain

After Moab I drove down to Salida. Claire and Craig are staying at Claire’s parent’s condo in Salida until Claire moves to Alaska where she’ll be leading a small crew of trail builders. You can read her blog which will cover her AK adventures here. One thing that’s always great about hanging out with Claire and Craig is that I can ask Craig tons of questions about animals and evolutionary theory. This time we covered an animal we hadn’t talked about much in the past, homo sapiens sapiens. I was curious if there were any evolutionary trends we might be able to see in humans in very recent times. A couple thoughts came out. One was that we may have unintentionally created an extra-stong/health/extra-immune population of African-Americans in this country on the basis that the weak or sick died on their way to the US during the slave trade (remember that 50% died on the marches to the African coast and another 50% died on the boats to America). There was also an idea that westerners may have created a extra-weak/unhealthy/less-immune population. The reasoning is that we’ve got enough medicine, technology, social welfare, etc that almost everyone survives to mating age. There was another thought that we may be in the process of creating a significantly less “intelligent” (recognizing potential definition problems) population in the west. This would be because “intelligence” probably doesn’t have much correlation with mating success in the West. Craig also seemed to think that a nation like Brazil where you’ve got a lot of intermixing of various peoples from around the world is probably they type of population that would be best able to withstand future disease and achieve greater measures of success in other areas over the long-term.

Maybe Craig would dispute me here, but I definitely hear a bit of a “nature morality” in his tone (and I think I here this with most biologists). A biological nature morality would posit that evolution and reproductive success is natural and good. By this definition we in the west with our declining birth rates (remember that our population in this country only grows because of immigration and that the trend is even stronger in most of Europe) have tried to beat nature – and if you take your meaning from a biological standard (passing on your genes) or from the Catholic spin on the equation (being a good father/mother) – then “beating nature” isn’t such a good thing. But that’s precisely the problem . . . we’re humans, we actively create our own personal sense meaning. Its what we’ve always done, and its as natural to us as anything. We’ve got language and once you’ve got language you’ve got a potential for desire outside of sex and survival. It makes art, math, poetry, religion, and altruism all possible. Of course it also makes cruelty, genocide, racism, teasing, depression, and the economic injustices of capitalist accumulation possible. So proceed with caution . . . . but proceed anyways because there really isn’t any other choice.

The first day in Salida we went skiing. It was really fantastic. The snow was great and it was the least crowded ski mountain I’ve ever seen. Because there were so few people there was a lot of powder on some of the least used goomed runs. It’s pretty awesome to ski through, though I admit that I don’t very well in it at all (probably because I lack some technique knowledge.

Me Skiing

The next day we went snow shoeing on a trail in a National Forest whose name I can’t remember. Craig’s dog Copper came along with us. Copper is a funny dog because despite being rather large he seems to think he can sneak around and get to places he isn’t supposed to go to. Unfortunately for Copper, its hard to be sneaky when you’re 75 lbs and you’ve got a tail that constantly bumps into things.

Coper and us snow shoeing

Later Claire’s friend Caitlin and her boyfriend Sean came to visit. We went to a hot springs at night which was really cool. The hot water boiled into a river and they owners had built up little rock coves that helped trap the hot water and keep the area warm. The next day they made green curry vegetables and rice which was pretty good.


Other events in Salida included drinking too much and eating too much food. Hooray!!!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Park City, SLC, Arches, Canyonlands

Well its clearly been a while since I've posted, and I've been to quite a few places in the last couple weeks. I only have about 10 minutes to do this post so I think the best option is to spare you my obscure rants and just do a quick overview of where I have been recently. That way you won't have to weed through all my unedited crappy ideas and can just see the pretty pictures.

After Zion and Bryce I went to Park City, UT. My friend Kerry from App is there working as a patroler at Deer Valley which is one of the finest ski resorts in the country. He got me two free lift tickets which was pretty awesome. A few things of note about Deer Valley and Park City. Everyone there is a pretty good skiier, which is surpising to me. The houses at Deer Valley had heated driveways (so the snow won't stick to them) and they run their heated outdoor pools all year long (even though most only visit a few times a year). That's not exactly winning any sustainaiblity awards but it is awesome. Deer Vally and all the resorts out there are much bigger than we're used to on the east coast. That combined with a more rural population base leads to much less crowded slopes, which is nice. Also I got to ride in a gondellah for the first time. So that's pretty cool. Here are some pictures:

Gondellah and a nice house

Better skiiers than me going down the mountain

After Park City I went to Salt Lake City. I took a brief look at the Capital and then went to the Temple Square. Apparently there are tons of visitors in the summer and they can get tours with about 20 other tourists. This is not the case on a Monday afternoon in the winter. There are very few tourists and lots of tour guides. The tour guides are all young women (all fairly good looking - which makes me wonder what they do to all the less good looking women in Mormonland) of various nationalities (Sweeden, Ireland, Korea, Japan, South Africa, Mexico, etc). I think they are in SLC as part of a 2 year mission trip. I ran into them everywhere and they all wanted to give me a tour (always 2 of them). They all were super-friendly, but sounded like they were on some strange sedative drug. Its really hard to describe, but it was totally bizzare. I didn't take any of them up on their tour offers because I was so weirded out at the prospect of being by myslef with two of these seemingly drugged up tour guides. After a while I left the temple block. I do have to say they had some impressive arhcitecture and fountains.

The temple

After Salt Lake City I went out to Moab to see Arches and Canyonlands. I stopped at the Moab Brewery and got a porter some relaly cheap and large nachos and the beer-cheese soup that came with the nachos. Does anyone know exactly what beer cheese soup is and how its made? I'm kind of curious. I spent a good bit of time in Arches. Apparently all the arches are starting to succomb to gravity. One fell just last year, and landscape arch is very much on its way down (a few tons of rock fell off it recently). But its nice to have the arches for now. Its amazing how well different all the southwest canyon areas are: Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon, Arches, Canyon De Chelley - they are all just so different. I wouldn't expect the geology to be so different in one area, but it really creates these wildly different formations. I hiked out to a few different arches. I saw Landscape arch, double O arhces, and a few others whose names I can't remember. Here are some pictures:

Can't remember the name of the rock behind me but I think its somewhat famous

Landscape Arch

The North Window (I think)

After Arches I made a brief run to Canyonlands. I didn't have time to see much, but Canyonlands seemed pretty cool. Its an enormous canyon (like a bigger Zion) with a lot of mesa's. I went to one point called "The Neck" where a mesa gets really thin for about 10 miles. People have traditionally used this area as a place to draw in and hunt bighorn sheep. That's pretty smart of them. Here is a Canyonlands picture.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Desert Part I: Sedona, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, a bit of Navajo

Me in Bryce

First off I have 2 updates of note:
1. I’ve been told a few times that I have poor grammar and that I should consider editing or at least briefly reading over my posts before posting. I have rejected this criticism and my readers (assuming I have any) will have to continue to read my poor grammar and incomplete thoughts. Sorry.
2. I’m told that the reason I did not see sea lions at fisherman’s wharf in San Francisco is that the sea lions left. No one knows why they left, but they did. I suspect they got tired of people tossing them McFish sandwiches instead of real fish. Interesting idea from Drew: try asking the people at McDonalds what kind of fish a McFish is . . .

I’ve been in the desert for the past few weeks. The desert has played a major role in our thought for quite some time. Biblically it’s the place the Jews had to spend 40 years before becoming ready to enter the promise land, its where Jesus was tempted, and it’s the place many of the prophets fled. Even the Mormons had to cross (and settle in) a desert of sorts. In American literature its been the point of some of our most famous poems, I’m thinking mainly of the wasteland but also of Crane’s In the Desert, the one where the beast eats his heart because its bitter. Maybe he is bitter after watching this again. . . Good lord. I remember watching this my junior year of high school saying, if Colin Powell says its true than I bet it is. Little did I know these guys had taken over the White House, seriously look at those names its basically Bush's kitchen cabinet. And Yea, that’s the group that in the 1990’s that said we needed to attack Iraq for its oil, but that it would take a “pearl harbor” like attack on the US to spur the American people to action. Its true, in fact all their old papers are still online. You can read them here. Back to what I was saying . . . Campbell and Jung and those types have argued that in our collective conscious the desert is a place you have to pass through to dry yourself out (lose yourself) in preparation for becoming pure and entering a type of spiritual re-birth. Its sort of a John the Baptist kind of thing. Now the Campbell and Jungian types think that this is a universal and necessary way of thinking, I tend to see it as a localized historical development, but its an archetype of our thought either way.

I’m not sure that you can get the same “drying out” process by spending a week driving through national parks and eating pre-made trail mix from Wal-Mart. But there is definitely a unique feeling walking through these desert canyons alone. There’s a feeling of solitude (bordering on loneliness) that I definitely didn’t get in wetlands of the west coast. There’s less life around. Not many plants, not many animals, not much water. Just a lot of big red rock.

Alone in a canyon . . . spooky

Walking down the Bright Angel Trail in The Grand Canyon (only got about a mile before the impending darkness made me turn around)

Zion. Sidenote for those who have been: I almost made it up angel's landing despite the snow. I got kinda spooked toward the end though (after the first round of chains) and turned back.

And yet it is inhabitable. People lived in these places for thousands of years. And many of them still live here without the extreme changes that other cultures have made in response to our colonial occupation. I guess there’s some safety to the desert. It’s the area that no one wants. No one ever really tried to take the lands of the pueblo peoples because nobody wants it (well except the Navajo who have been beating up on the Hopi). So Hooray for the desert peoples for not getting pushed off their land, killed in war, or killed by disease!!!!

The unilineal evolutionist anthropologists of the 1800’s based a lot of their theories on archeological evidence from this region. They came up with theories that said cultures develop along a unilineal path of development (some faster or slower than others). They saw the mission of anthropology as an attempt to classify each culture at a point along a stage of evolution and then use this to get a glimpse into what our own culture looked like at various points in the past. This was of course a complete bastardization of Darwin’s evolutionary theory which is infinitely multi-directional, but the unilineal evolutionists never actually read evolutionary theory and didn’t quite get it. In the early 1900’s an anthropologist named Franz Boas looked at all the evidence and discovered that you could only support a unilineal theory by leaving out key artifacts and pieces of evidence. He wrote a paper called “The Limits of the Comparitave Method of Anthropology”. A few years later the unilineal evolution movement was dead.

One prominent unilenial evolutionist, Edward Tyler, had a theory that little pieces of our barbaric past would make it through evolution and would exist like living fossils in our own culture. I think he was on the ball here. I have a few examples. My first is debutant balls. The best part about debutant balls is that even people who participate in these remnants of our barbaric past actually think it makes them special. Unfortunately, it only makes them special in the “special ed” sense. Here is another remnant from our barbaric past. And here is another. Man I try to defend my southern homeland, but this is tough, some of this stuff is just too embarrassing. Oh wait a second, it seems that the north has also held onto some remnants of their barbaric pasts. We all suck.

Anyways I gotta go before my internet runs out. Hopefully I’m purified enough to enjoy a few days of skiing in Park City, UT and Salida, CO.

I'm hoping that the yuppyized pueblo architecture and art of Sedona contributed to a spiritual cleansing.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Las Vegas

I’ve mainly been in national and state parks since I left Helena and didn’t really plan to go to Las Vegas, but my friend Julia was in town so I drove down and met up with her. She was at a social psychology conference. Social psychologists completely lined the Rivera, which was funny. Apparently evolutionary psychology may be a stronger trend than I thought. Now I’m fine with that on one level, trying make some guesses at why the data we get might be evolutionarily advantageous is an interesting thing to do. In my limited experience the research evolutionary psychologists do is no better or worse than any other psychologists. The problem is their total misunderstandings of human evolution. To make a good guess at why something might be an advantageous adaptation takes a real understanding of evolutionary biology, archeological findings, physical anthropology, ethnographies and health studies of hunter-gatherers, etc. Some people have training in these things, most social psychologists don’t and so many of them seem to theorize off these totally incorrect assumptions like: most early humans spent a lot of time and energy trying to get food (they didn’t), most early humans raised children in at least semi-nuclear families (they didn’t), hunting was really important (it wasn’t), most people that were alive at mating age didn’t live past age 40 (they did), etc. Now I’ll step off that soapbox and talk about Las Vegas.

Las Vegas makes no sense. I like to imagine that one day some future archeologists will look at Vegas and spend a lot of time trying to figure out why so many big buildings and people were in this randomly placed outpost.

It’s a city built largely by the mob and it was built as the sin city. At some point some people with a lot of money thought they could make more money by pitching it as more of a family atmosphere. So now we have this completely ridiculous mixture of gambling, scantily clad women, little kids, old couples from south Florida, clowns, mimes, art, strippers, and a bunch of preserved bodies (and for some insane reason I actually went to see that).

Not a good thing to see right before or after eating

Me and a Storm Trooper

The best part is that these seemingly opposed things don’t stand in opposition in Vegas. The whole package is just completely accepted by everyone. People that would be completely disgusted by some of the things they see in Vegas (or would at least pretend to be disgusted) let their 8 year old daughter see them in Vegas. Now its not so strange that another area would have different understandings of what goes together or of what is and isn’t ok for public consumption, but this isn’t a city of its own inhabitants – it’s a city of people from places like Iowa and Wisconsin. Where else do you get something like that? If anyone knows, I’d like you to share.

An old couple with grandkids thought this was the funniest thing they've ever seen

On another note I figured out how to beat Vegas. Trying to actually win money is way to unlikely. However you can be super-cheap. Go to the 25cent video poker machines. It takes forever to lose $5 on these things. By the time you lose $5 you can have 2 $5 drinks for free. And thus you have beaten Vegas. . .

Beating Vegas

Sunday, January 31, 2010


I had a little false start on my drive into Yosemite. Here’s a good rule of thumb for anyone driving through the mountains in the winter. If you know that some roads are closed for the winter, you should definitely map out your route and actually use that route instead of relying on a GPS. Otherwise you may find that you’ve added 2 hrs onto your trip when you hit a road that says “snow tires only”.

Eventually I reached Mariposa, CA (which is a bit further from the park than I thought). I stayed there and took the bus in each day (2 days) to avoid camping in the cold weather without the security blanket of my car (and literally the extra blankets in the car). One highlight on the bus was riding across the isle from Shelton John. For those who have seen the Ken Burn’s documentary on the national parks Shelton John is the philosophical park ranger who likes to compare the confluence of geological forces to music, the concept of responsibility in relation to national and state parks, etc. I did not talk to him on the bus because he was either sleeping or praying. Its hard to tell the difference sometimes. However, I did talk to him at the visitor center. He said that people don’t normally recognize him. He postulated that this is because people don’t expect to see people from TV in real life. He said tons of famous people like Harrison Ford come to Yosemite and hardly anyone notices them. This is a valid point, there is a lot of evidence that we completely fail to notice things that we don’t expect to see and further evidence that we fill in gaps of our memory with things we do expect to see. Its been pretty well documented in court studies that visual memory is very unreliable (though it remains the most convincing type of evidence to a jury). Another park ranger noted that when Brooks and Robin Lopez came everyone noticed them, however this could be because it is hard not to notice someone that is 7 feet tall, famous or not.

Shelton John

Yosemite Valley was really cool. Completely surrounded by some amazing mountain formations (that I believe were carved by glaciers). The waterfalls were moving pretty well, apparently they dry up in September, but start moving again in January because the area gets a good bit of snow, but its still warm enough for it to melt. I spent the whole first day in the valley area. I tried to walk all the way to the top of Yosemite Falls. There were a bunch of kids also doing the walk with the Yosemite Institute that does outdoor education. They kids were from San Jose. Their leaders told me I probably wouldn’t get to go past the view point that was on level with the bottom of the upper falls (there are 3 falls upper, middle, and lower that combine to be over 600ft). About a hundred yards after the viewpoint I fell into about 5 feet of snow. I decided they were right, dug myself out of my snow hole, and walked back down. PS: walking up and down a mountain in the snow is relatively easy on your joints but super hard on your muscles, which I guess is a good thing, but it made me very tired. I also saw bride veil falls and vernal falls while I was in Yosemite.

Me at the viewpoint (only upper falls is shown here)

At the visitor center I was informed that I had to put away my bear spray. Bear spray is not allowed in Yosemite. Its not all that necessary because the area only has black bears. I like to compare black bears to my parent’s yellow lab Bratton. If a hamster stood on its hind legs and hissed Bratton would run away scared, despite the fact that she outweighs a hamster by 40 lbs, is no slower than a hamster, and has a much more vicious bite. Bratton is convinced that almost anything can defeat her in a fight. Black bears are pretty similar, they really only attack humans when they get frightened. If you make noise as you walk they’ll run away, all you have to do is avoid sneaking up on them. Apparently instead of just making noise a lot of people from the Bay Area would take out their bear spray and shoot at the bear who was a good 50 ft away and upwind. Bear spray only shoots about 15 ft so. This means that this shot is not only ineffective, but that is also is likely to blow back at the shooter, possibly causing long term damage. Other characters tried spraying their tents or clothes as a way of preventing a bear attack. This is about the worst thing you do with bear spray, short of spraying yourself in the face. After a few of these incidents they outlawed bear spray in Yosemite.

The second day I went up to Badger Pass, where I had a couple of hours to ski. Badger Pass is the only downhill ski area in a national park. It was a good bit of fun and not crowded at all. There were maybe 50 people there (which is not much for a mountain with 4 lifts). A man I had seen on the park bus a few times and was playing the game “gay or European” with (not quite as fun as the game “daughter or girlfriend” but still a good game) thought I was a ski instructor and asked me about lessons. I took this as a major complement to my skiing, I think I’ve gotten a lot better this year. The gay or European guy talked with a slight lisp, carried around a small dog which he called “my baby”, and may have been with another man wearing some pimped out rings and a large fur coat. Fur coat pimp guy was from Charlotte so that’s cool. Never found out where gay or European guy was from, but I’m kind of thinking he is both gay and European.

Badger Pass

After Badger Pass I took the bus out to Nevada and Vernal Falls. The trail was closed after Bernal Falls, but that was ok because it was starting to get dark anyways. The bus driver taking me back to the visitor center told me that they are thinking about restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley. Hetch Hetchy was damed a while back to provide water and electricity to San Francisco. This was the first real environmental v. development battle in the US. Its also the famous battle between Muir and Pinchot and one of the major historical battles during the progressive era of Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson. The environmentalists eventually lost when the Wilson administration decided to dam the valley. Apparently its not that useful to San Francisco anymore so there is discussion about restoring it. Of course there is a new potential battle within the park community. One group wants to restore the valley but not put in buildings in, leave it essentially off limits to all but backpackers. I kind of like this, in the sense that a valley surrounded totally by mountains is really cool with no buildings in the way. But at the same time there is something to the idea of making the best features of the park accessible to everyone. Yosemite is after all a national park and not a national forest. The group that wants to keep out buildings isn’t really worried about accesability (or my views for that matter). Its main concern is making the area “natural” again. Now I’m not exactly sure what “natural” is, but I’m probably with the group that thinks it’s a relatively meaningless word that people use to promote things they like. Keeping out buildings in Yosemite for this group, keeping birth control out of the phillipeans for Catholics, preventing gay marriage for Pat Roberson, etc. I think it’s a sham. We think of “nature” or “natural” as being good so people try to claim that certain things are “natural” and that other things aren’t. But isn’t creating buildings part of our human nature, isn’t that natural. Isn’t trying to alter our social surroundings and constantly changing social conditions also a part of our “nature”.

Me and the John Muir Statue

I thought about a some similar things in ethics (because we definitely try to make this pitch that “nature” is ethical). What is justice? That’s a tough question right. You can come at it from so many angles: egalitarian, utilitarian, virtues, de-ontological, Kantian, etc. How do you decide. Recently a new brand of utilitarianism has swept the world and its rather enticing. John Rawls said that a just society would be the one we would create if we had to make it from behind a veil of ignorance (not knowing what our place in that society would be). But, Rawls added that we can’t be completely ignorant. We need a concept of economics, otherwise how will we know how to build the society (I would add that we might also need a concept of psychology and an understanding of happiness). But this creates a new problem. What kind of economic model do we use. We could go Chicago school, neo-classical, Marxist, Keynesian, etc. And of course the kind of economic theory you choose is going to have a lot to do with your current economic status, historical, cultural status. There’s no objective way of knowing what to pick and so we’re already infected with an inability to get behind this veil of ignorance. So what is justice really? Maybe the inarticulate Thrasymachus of Plato's Republic was on to something. Maybe justice really is just an argument based on obscure undefined buzz words like nature, good, fair, etc intended to advance the agenda of whoever is talking.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Notes from San Francisco: A Strange Place Indeed

Driving into San Francisco I got to see the beautiful hills of the Napa vineyards. Back in the days of John Steinbach these hills were worked by abused illegal immigrants who (many of which were children). Thanks to modern social advances in the state of California the hills are now worked by illegal immigrants (many of which are children) who are abused a little less. Hooray!!!

As I drove in I noticed thousands upon thousands of cars driving out. It was approximately 4:30pm which I’m told means that the many thousands of people who go to work at 7:00am in the Bay but can’t afford to live there are supposed to drive in bumper to bumper traffic (at about 30 mph) for 50 or so miles.

I then drove into Berkeley. When I first reached Berkley I was on a very low elevation area that seemed to be very prone to flooding. A lot of Hispanic people, some black people, and a few white people were walking around in this area. The buildings there had bars on the windows. The bars looked like this:

As I drove uphill I began seeing lots of white and Asian people. The two groups had distinctive modes of dress. The Asians wore lots of jeans, sweatshirts, and other clothes you might find at the gap. The whites were separated by gender. The males wore really tight jeans, kind of like cowboys except their jeans were dark. The women wore colorful tights and tops that they bought at anthropologie. I suspect that they would tell you they bought these tops (that definitely came from anthropologie) at the thrift store, but I did not ask any of them so I cannot confirm this suspicion. Some of the white people had bikes. These bikes were very old and lacked the advantages that modern bicycle technology has to offer. Many of them also carried apple computers. Apple a large corporate entity, run by a slave driving maniac, that sells hi-tech items to yuppies so as to increase shareholder profits. Yet apple is cool because it rejects the pleasures of the first-world. I do not exactly understand this, but hope to figure it out soon. . .

Next I drove to San Francisco. I had to pay $4 to cross a bridge. Apparently this is a very special bridge, but I’m not sure why. I did not like paying $4 and would have turned around and gone another way, but I think this would have made the people behind me mad. Driver’s in San Francisco are generally fairly angry people. They like to honk their horns a lot (often for no clear reason). Any time they have to wait longer than they would like they start honking their horns.

This is the place where you pay $4 to go over a bridge.

When you get into the city the roads are very strange. There are these light rail busses that use the same streets as cars. Sometimes you are allowed to ride in a lane with rail tracks, sometimes you are not allowed to do this. I just did whatever the car in front of me did. If there was no car in front of me or if that car had a license plate that read “Minnesota” I quickly turned onto a street that did not have these rails.

Parking in San Francisco is $38 per day. This is more expensive than Mariposa, CA where parking is $0 per day. There are lots of homeless people in San Francisco, when it rains they sleep in their sleeping bags under various shop signs. I would have taken a picture to show you, but I did not know if that would violate local custom.

I stayed in the USA Hostel. My roomate’s name was Venrik,, or Penrik, or Dinrik. I’m not exactly sure, but it definitely ended with an irk. He had been traveling all over America. He was very impressed by Las Vegas. He had intended to visit the Grand Canyon while he was there but he didn’t because “the party and the women that take off their clothes were too good to leave”. I walked down to the Mission District in search of my own party, but I discovered that San Francisco, CA is like Helena, MT in that neither have much of a Monday night party scene. I was going to walk back, but on my way I saw a young woman raise her hand at which point a taxi driver pulled right up to here and took her away. I thought to myself “I can do that too. I saw it from Sex and the City.” And so I did. I did not know if I was supposed to tip the taxi driver or how much I should tip him so I just told him to give me a $10 back as change from my $20 on a $7.34 taxi bill. Was that appropriate?

When I got back I was hungry and noticed a Thai place. So I walked over to get some food. I decided to get sweet and sour duck, because I had never had duck before. It was ok, but not my favorite.

The next morning I walked over to Fisherman’s Wharf. I heard it was touristy, but you get to see the sea lions. Being a tourist myself I didn’t mind the thought of being around my own kind, and I was all up for see lions. Unfortunately I saw neither tourists nor sea lions. I did see some people fishing off the dock and some park employees doing some ship restoration.

Fisherman's Wharf

On the way to and from Fisherman’s Wharf I saw China Town and Little Italy. This was excellent because I had never scene a China Town or a Little Italy before. China Town is the most crowded place on earth. It smells like fish. There are lots of outdoor markets there and as you might guess fish is a primary item. All the people speak a langauge that is not English. I suspect it might be Chinese, but I cannot confirm this because I cannot recognize any languages other than English and Pig Latin. Little Italy has many places to eat that cost more money than I was willing to pay. It also has little flags of Italy on the lamp posts. It seems that China Town may be invading Little Italy, because I saw quite a few stores with Chinese writing within Little Italy.

This is what China Town looks like

After this I decided to drive down the famous Lombard Drive. I was going to pull a James Bond and whiz down really fast, but I noticed a 25mph speed limit sign. I figured 2 tickets was enough for one trip and decided to coast down at a slower speed. After Lombard Drive I drove out of San Francisco at approximately 4:30pm and became one of the cars I had seen on my way in. I honked my horn one time when I wished we were going faster, this helped me fit in with the group and get the full San Francisco experience.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Redwoods

When you first see them you are in total shock, at least I was. These trees are gigantic. Many of them are over 300 ft tall. 300 feet is about like having 45 times standing straight up stacked against one on top of the other. They don’t have very deep roots. Due to the wet and nutrient ground they don’t need them. Instead their roots spread out and lock in to each other. Then when a big storm or something comes they have a large mutual support network to hold each other up. Their bark is super thick and isn’t alive, this allows them to withstand fire. To some degree they thrive on the fire, they need it to kill off competition that will surely steal all the water and good nutrients if allowed to survive.

And then I’m not in shock anymore, not surprised at all. I’ve looked them over, figured out what they are, categorized them, learned a little about what makes them work . . . in short, I’ve gotten used to them. Pretty soon they were cool but not that exciting and anyways it hurts to look up like that for so long. Seriously, you’re neck is not made to stare up 300 ft all day (and neither are your eyes, they need to look at the ground or else you start tripping all over the trail . . . trust me on that one . . . ).

In some ways the cultural anthropology fieldwork model developed by Malinowski. The idea is that you go to a new place, get totally shocked, get used to it in some piercian process of semiosis, then go back home, get shocked again, get used to it again, and then finally have a new way of reflecting on your experiences and bridging everything together. But what happens when you already have a pretty good idea of where you’re headed. I’ve seen pictures of the redwoods and so my shock didn’t last that long, I was surprised at something I knew was coming (like kids at Christmas) but that surprise doesn’t last long enough to have some lasting impact. I wonder if the same problem is occurring in anthropology – as things like video and globalization become more and more prevalent.

On a separate note I’m glad that the state of California saved so many areas of redwood forests. A lot are gone but a lot are still there. There are tons of good groves and quite a few great parks. I spent some time in Jeddediah and in the Prairie Creek Reedwoods State Park (the avenue of giants drive there is phenomenal). Really I think the whole country has done a pretty good job of saving off sacred pieces of land, we’re probably as good at it as anyone else in the world (the areas that aren’t named as sacred I’m not so sure about).

ave of giants

Unfortunately my run of good luck with the weather ran out in the redwoods and the forecast is 90 – 100% chance of rain for the rest of the week. Because of this I only really spent one day in them. I’m in San Francisco now, and tomorrow night I’ll head to Mariposa and then into Yosemite the next day.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Columbia River Gorge and Oregon Coast

After Portland I headed down to the Columbia River Gorge and using a combination of the historic highway and the new interstate. This section of the trip wasn’t part of my original plan (mainly because I had forgotten it was here) but when Ashley mentioned it and I thought back to reading about the area in Richard White’s The Organic Machine I knew I had to stop in. The area was absolutely gorgeous. So far every gorge I’ve been too (this plus Linville and New River) has been a great trip. The Columbia River Gorge is absolutely loaded with waterfalls. There are little ones coming down right at the side of the road every mile or so. And a number of gigantic ones. I hiked up to the top of these two large waterfalls

Wahkeena Falls

Multnohma Falls

One of the coolest things about the gorge is that it is a sight where you can literally stand on a number of major historical events. The area was originally home to a ton of different tribes who lived off the abundance of salmon and other sea and rainforest life in the area. During the multifaceted Indian, European, and American trade, colonization, and war that created all sorts of strange and temporary alliances during the 17 and 1800’s a pigeon language combining local dialects with a variety of European languages swept the area. Later due to disease and colonization most of the natives were replaced by Americans who were also heavily involved in the fishing salmon. During the New Deal era two Dams were built to put people back to work and create electricity for the surrounding areas (and flood some Indian villages . . . but no one ever mentions that). A series of fantastic parks and roads for recreation were also built. During the post-war era a lack of fishing regulation, a new interstate built right through the gorge, and the two dams brought the salmon population to its knees. Today we spend more money trying to fix the mistakes of those projects than we spent on the projects themselves. For instance, it takes constant dredging of a stream that was diverted to make room for the interstate in order to prevent mass flooding of the area. A wide variety of plans have been hatched to save the pacific salmon who can’t make it over the dam including “fish ladders”, catching them and the dropping them off upstream, etc. Hopefully in the future we can find ways to avoid building things that will cost more money to fix than they did to make. I’m worried that the gorge is just a sampling of what’s coming next, the realization that suburbia was a very bad long-term plan for the country. I hope I’m wrong.

After a few hours it started raining so I decided to drive down to the Oregon coast. It has a lot more variety than I had anticipated. Some beaches are very sandy with light rolling waves. Others are super rocky with rough waves (I enjoyed trying to climb onto the rocks at some of these). Towards the south Hwy 101 gets really interesting as you have mountains directly to your left and the coast directly to your right.

A rocky coast

I stopped for one night at Beverly Beach State Park in Newport. It had a small nature trail and a cool beach access point. I had a chance to go to the Rouge Brewery in Newport. At Mark and Ashley’s suggestion I tried the John-John. It is named after the master-distiller and brewer (both named John). It is the Dead Guy Ale aged for 3 months in Whisky, pretty good. I also had a pint of a great Hazelnut Brown. I’m a big fan of Hazelnut Brown.

The nature trail at Beverly Beach State Park

At the bay block I heard a bunch of strange noises which I realized the next day are sea lions. There are tons of sea lions from Newport all the way down to the California border. I saw a few swimming around and a ton at the really awesome tourist trap (Sea Lion Cove). I don't understand sea lion culture all that well but I believe I saw some males fighting for the right to various spots in the cove. They didn't really fight, they just pushed each other a little bit until the smaller sea lion gave in. Sea lions are super-polygamous. I feel bad for the weak sea lions which are never going to mate. They say polyagmy in humans is bad for females, I think its just as bad for the vast majority of males who are going home alone in a polygamous society. Really, a lot of things that are pitched as bad for women and good for men are really only good for a small minority of men (I think Eric Wolf and the peasant studies movement really has demonstrated this).

I thought about Darwin and competition for mating and survial rights. One thing we seem to have that the sea lions don't is some sense of something that at least resembles altruism. Other animals protect their young or have group protection setups, but no interpersonal connection. Freud of course thought that we aren't really all that altruistic that its just a myth that helps us repress the truth so that we can just get along with the group protection we need. Marx thought altruism was a myth that helped convince the masses to keep working in a system that didn't favor them. He thought that if people could see their real conditions they would overthrow the system and create a new more benefical system. But out of that he hoped that we could devleope a new sense of values that went beyond the sea lion approach. I don't really know whose right, but I'd like to hope that there's something more going on with us than sea lions already (although I do see plenty of them in us).

Sea Lion Cove

After Sea Lion Cove I got another speeding ticket. Awesome. In my first 9 years of driving I got one ticket. This week I got two. First the 75 in a 70, now I got nailed in a speed trap 47 in a 30 – totally didn’t see the sign and still thought I was in a 45 . . . So I’m really hoping this doesn’t get reported and rock my insurance. The $300 I owe in tickets is enough to begin with.