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 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.
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.
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!!!
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
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.
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.
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. . .