Category Archives: Travel

Sometimes travelling is a pain in the Ass

Toilets are not really one of my favorite subjects for photographs or blog posts. But this one in our hotel in Reykjavik drove me nuts.  OK it drove me even more nuts. Notice the huge “button” behind the bowl. While sitting on this reading chair or throne or whatever you want to call it, if you leaned back a tiny bit toofar you would push the button with your back and have sudden blast of cold water that shocked you awake from any slumbering. And you hoped it was not a golden shower, or worse!

Travel/ Travail

Notice Chris’ Finger!

As I have said before: the words travel and travail are similar for good reasons. They both share the shame common root and like all of life, when we share a common ancestor that sometimes is experienced sharply. Today was one of those days. As I have also said before, life is hard when y ou are stupid. Again, sadly that was experienced again.

We decided on a trip to Iceland about 10 months without giving much thought to it. After all, why would anyone leave sunny Manitoba during its finest season to travel to Iceland where the temperatures now average between 10 and 15 °C? That is a darn good question. Sadly answers are not as good.

First we got up in Winnipeg at 4 a.m. so we would have plenty of time to have a bit to eat and arrange for boarding the plane. After that we flew to Toronto and arrived at about 10 a.m. We thought we arrived in Toronto in plenty of time to catch our connecting flight to Iceland. WRONG! We arrived LONG before that! We had about 11 hours before our flight to Iceland thanks to insufficient care and attention to travel details. These were details that bit us in the rear end BIGLY. We had a long boring half day in Toronto sitting and waiting for our flight to Iceland.  We sat on our seats long we had burns on our butts. All of this made our 5 our tortuous flight to Iceland even more barbaric than could have been expected because we were too sore to sit any more. What do you do in aircraft when you are unable to sit?

Later when we arrived at our hotel, early in the morning they were not ready so we had even more sitting around to do. This was almost enough for us to swear off traveling for ever. This was among our worst and most boring traveling days ever. It was not suprising we were all in bad moods.

 

Bryce National Park: “Poetry in Stone”

Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah has been described as “Poetry in Stone.” I loved that description.  Each of us who visits Bryce has to remember that the landscape is never static. It is always dynamic and changing. Change is the only constant. The forces of weathering never get fatigued and exert a relentless force on the rock. Bryce Canyon consists of a series of deep amphitheaters filled with a variety of colored rock formations. Some of them are called hoodoos and they are what Bryce Canyon is most famous for.   Hoodoos are eroded columns of sandstone.  They were formed when wind, rain, and ice eroded “fins” of harder rock that eventually being columns and then further eroded into strangely shaped hoodoos. When those windows grow larger, their tops eventually collapse.  Everyone wonders why do they appear here and not in many other places of the world, though I have seen them in Alberta. Frank Decourten wrote a book called Shadow of Timeabout Bryce and its hoodoos “the grand icons of erosion.’ He also pointed out that “Hoodoos are ephemeral–new columns form while older ones are destroyed–and erosion is both their creator and, eventually, their executioner.”  They are created by differential erosion, the cap is harder and does not erode as fast, protecting the column underneath.

 

We loved the views at the various look offs. Each was spectacular in its own unique way. The spires of pink, orange, and red spires were breathtaking. The Paiute Indians who used to hunt here described them as “red rocks standing like men in a bowl-shaped recess.” The image above is a panorama. That means I combined a number of photos into one image. If you click on it, I hope it gets bigger.

 

Of course in the world of geography nothing is forever. As Decourten said, “Inevitably, even the pillars, protected to some degree by dripstone and caprock , succumb to the relentless attack of the elements and the hoodoos begin to crumble.”   Bryce really is a phantasmagorical funhouse made of stone. Bryce is one of the few places where people notice–really notice–the rock. That is because it is so strange. There is no place like it. But they are not only beautiful, they are fascinating if you dig into the geology of Bryce. As Decourten pointed out, “The vibrant colors, the intricate patterns of erosion, and the infinite variations in the surface textures of these rocks are both enchanting and mystifying.”

 

If you look closely at this picture of me you might be able to see Fear.

Bryce was affected by the Cretaceous Period is one of the most interesting periods in the history of our planet. It lasted approximately 79 million years145.5 million years ago 65.5 million years ago when the dinosaur disappeared. Decourten said “The Cretaceous was perhaps nature’s greatest excursion into mayhem. It was a time when the gradual, steady, geological processes of the planet went haywire.  For example, the slow spreading of the ocean basins which results in continental drift was proceeding at a rate up to three times greater than the rate at which such spreading occurs today!  During the Cretaceous, the plates of the Earth’s brittle crust were dashing around the planet at a geologically reckless speed–as much as 8 inches per year–about five times faster than your fingernails grow (the normal speed of the tectonic plates). Partly as a result of the high rate of seafloor spreading, great quantities of magma were produced and volcanoes erupted on an unprecedented scale with astonishing intensity.  More igneous rock formed worldwide during Cretaceous time than in any other period of geologic history (except perhaps the period just after the formation of the Earth). Ash and gases erupting from the Cretaceous volcanoes seem to have created a natural “greenhouse effect” which profoundly changed the global climate. It was warm 100 million years ago, very warm.  Tropical forests grew as far north as Alaska. The arctic zones disappeared and temperate conditions at eh poles caused the icecaps to melt. Water released during this great thaw lifted the world’s oceans onto the low borderlands of all the Cretaceous continents.

On land and in the swollen seas, a riot of evolution, induced by the rapid and profound environmental changes, produced bizarre life forms: giant seagoing lizards (mosasaurs); flying reptiles the size of small jet aircraft; the horned, armored, and duck-billed types of dinosaurs (not to mention the fearsome predators, such as Tyrannosaurus, which fed on them); tree-sized ferns and other primitive plants. Finally, there is some good evidence the Cretaceous might have been punctuated, 66 million years ago, by a collision between the Earth and an asteroid, an appropriately violent end to a turbulent period. A great extinction followed this event resulting in the extinction of vast amounts of life on earth, including, the dinosaurs.  Much of that ancient history is told in the rocks and fossils of Bryce. The story is endlessly fascinating.

 

An inland sea divided North America east to west 90 million years ago (‘mya’). During this time sediments were deposited at the bottom of that sea, forming the oldest rocks in the park. Before the canyon was filled with hoodoos it was filled with water. I am particularly interested for some reason in the fact that much of North America was at one time split by an ocean seaway. How can that possibly be? How weird is that desert regions like the American southwest were at one time inundated by this interior seaway? This has been called the Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway. When this interior seaway covered much of North America, including Manitoba, coal, sandstone, and mudstone accumulated along the western edge of this seaway. If it had accumulated on the eastern edge we might be richer here in Manitoba today. What a pity. During this time what we now call the Gulf of Mexico penetrated north across the low plains of central North America and joined the waters that were advancing from the northern Arctic Ocean. This incredible seaway in time submerged the entire region where the Rocky Mountains are now found (though they were not in existence yet at that time). This great interior seaway divided North America into two island continents!

Between 55 and 40 mya years ago much of Utah was a basin of water encircled by mountains.  That seems impossible now because it is so dry. Yet for millions of years rivers deposited sediments –mainly dissolved limestone—into a system of large lakes at the top of the Plateau . 20 mya ago, as the Colorado Plateaubegan to be uplifted the lakes dried up and their mixtures of sediments became the muddy limestone that geologists now refer to as the Claron Formation. Then massive tectonic plate activity from 20 to 15 mya began to push up an incredible part of the Earth’s crust. Eventually this uplifted the region by an astonishing 2 miles, creating the 130,00 sq. mile Colorado Plateau that I have come to know a little bit and love a lot.

If one stand on the rim of one of the amphitheaters in Bryce Canyon and thinks about things like this one’s mind is expanded to near stretching limits. The world is and has been a very strange place and much of that strangeness can be detected right here at Bryce.  This ancient world has been recorded in stone. That stone of course was subject to what Decourten called “Water, wind, gravity—nature’s wrecking crew—worked in concert to efface and obscure. He also said, The erosion which removed much of the younger layers created this glorious shrine to the dynamic artistry of geologic processes. Whatever else Bryce Canyon National Park may be, it is certainly a monument to erosion.

What we saw today was the product of massive rock layers that had been uplifted and fractured over millions of years and then submitted to the relentless never-ending forces of erosion. Those forces are not at sleep today. They never sleep. What we see tomorrow will also be the product of those same forces.

 

I have fallen in love with geology the study of how these forces have shaped our wonderful planet.  That is to me an astonishing admission. I would never have dreamed this were possible when I was a liberal arts student as an undergraduate at the University of Manitoba. I despised all science. I was enamoured of the arts and humanities. Science was irrelevant. Now I know how foolish I was. Science is critically important to understanding our world. If we understand it, even if we don’t solve all of its mysteries, we can’t help but love it and if we love it we will try to care for it. That is why science—just like arts and humanities—is vitally important.

 

Our next stop was one of my favourite—i.e. Natural Bridge formed through the erosion of rock by streams or rivers. This window or arch formed from a combination of processes. First, frost wedging, which is the expanding of cracks in rock as water turns to ice, weakened the rock. Then over time, dissolution occurred as a result of chemical dissolving of the rock by rainwater that cut away at the top and sides of this wall of rock. Over time the relentless force of gravity pulled loose the weakened pieces of rock at the center and that created a hole in the wall that we could clearly see and photograph today. That is why the “bridges” of Bryce Canyon, such as Natural Bridge, are spectacular examples of arches that, like the hoodoos, are constantly at risk of destruction as the never ending forces of erosion chip away at the rock. Nothing stands in the way of time. Everything changes.

Pontificator-in-Chief

 

The Pontificator’s Hot Tub

One day at the pool we were sad to see the return of the Pontificator-in-Chief. He is an extremely opinionated right wing evangelist. He has boisterous, bellicose, and offered belligerent opinions that he loves to share with a voice so loud it can be heard across the pool. In fact, if he is the hot tub his is the only voice that is audible. Why is it such opinionators have such loud voices? I have to be careful in asking that question because I have a loud voice, but I don’t think my opinions are as extreme, but I recognize that extremism is in the eye of the beholder. In this case we were amused to see that within minutes of mouthing off the hot tub was vacated as fast as if he had shouted “Water Snake.”

Are you Scared Yet?

 

Some of my friends are scared of coming to Arizona. They think that ever since Donald Trump entered on to the political scene, and then shockingly became President, the USA has gone mad and therefore they want to give it a wide berth. I thought that was going a bit far. Is it?

Journalist Michael Wolff, for some strange reason, was allowed to occupy the Whitehouse for weeks. He sat around and interviewed as many people as he could. He had a couple of conversations with President Donald Trump, talked frequently with Trump’s strategic advisor Steven Bannon, and numerous other Whitehouse officials. He learned a lot about Trump and his administration. During this time he gathered enough material for a book that is now on the bestseller lists, because of all that he revealed about that administration and all the people that work inside it.

One of the things that Wolff revealed hardly seems controversial. This is that Trump reads absolutely nothing. He has probably only read one book in his entire adult life and that was his own book, which he co-wrote with his ghost author–The Art of the Deal. No wonder he said this was his favorite book after the Bible of course. Can you imagine naming your own book? Trump has no shortness of ego. To call him a narcissist seems wildly understated.

By itself this is scary. After all one would expect the leader of the richest, most powerful, most influential country in the world to be a person of wide experience and learning. But not only does Trump not read, he does not listen either. He won’t listen to what anyone has to say (except the pundits on Fox News and some other similar thinking Internet sites and blogs.) He only listens to complements about himself. He does not even listen to his own advisors. He has the attention span of a young teenager totally incurious about anything that does not deal with him directly. He loves to learn what others think and say about him. That’s it. That is the man with his finger on the nuclear trigger–and it is “big” and “it works.” Excuse my bad language, but is it surprising that his own Secretary of State called him “a fucking moron?”[1]

He has been President now for a year and has still not appointed a science advisor. The science advisor is the person who gives impartial advice to the President on issues that either affect science or would benefit from scientific input. For example, he has had to deal with what many have called the most important issue of our generation–climate change. If ever there was an issue that cried out for scientific advice this it. Yet President Trump has made the important decision to pull the United States out of the Paris accord without the benefit of independent scientific advice. He is entitled to the best of scientific advice and has chosen not to seek it. Presumably he gets his scientific advice from the media pundits on Fox Channel instead. Can you imagine choosing to follow an empty-headed bombastic political pundit rather than a person of science? That is exactly what Trump has done.

In the meantime in April of 2017 the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record 410 parts per million when for decades scientists have known that anything amount beyond 350 parts per million is dangerous. This level is higher than anything the world has experienced in 3&1/2 million years!

What has Trump done about this in one year in office? Nothing positive. Who is advising him? No scientists that’s for sure. He has removed restrictions on coal production when the use of coal is a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions. He has removed restrictions on transporting bitumen from the Tar Sands of Alberta that were imposed by President Obama who had a first rate science advisor when Tar Sands production is massively worse for the atmosphere than conventional oil production. All of this was done by a man who does not read without the benefit of the best scientific advice.

Perhaps we should stop worrying about what Trump and Kim Jong-un are doing with their nuclear weapons. Are you scared yet? If we are not scared perhaps we “a fucking morons.”

[1] I might apologize for the bad language, but I think the actual words have to be included to give the true flavour of the incident

Fear: the whacky world of the Super-rich in Salina Kansas

 

We drove near to an ancient Titan missile site located near Salina Kansas close to the Nebraska border. We did not see it but I knew it was here. It was one of the two such sites in North America during the Cold War. The other was located in Green Valley Arizona where Chris and I lived for a month a couple of years ago. That one was turned in to a museum. We toured it with friends.

The second site near Salina is being developed as a security haven for the super rich of America. These are among of the most fearful people in America. The site is being converted into a super secure place for the super rich to hunker down. It is their luxurious bomb shelter, designed not just for bombs, but for any and every catastrophe. Rich people are getting ready for a crack-up. They are called survivalists. They want to survive the impending doom. We used to think of survivalists as woodsmen living off the grid, crackpots in some religious colony, and other assorted crackpots. Recently this has changed to included the super-rich especially hedge-fund managers and techies from Silicon Valley.

I am fascinated that this is being developed by the very rich. Why is that? I don’t know, but I have a theory. I think the rich in America live in fear. They fear that their wealth will crumble and they will be left to their own devices among drug-crazed hooligans out to get them and their families and their wealth. In fact, I think (entirely without evidence of course) that this fear emerged out of a sense of guilt. American society–and American wealth in particular–is based on 2 ultimate horrendous injustices. The first was the genocide of Indigenous peoples that the first European settlers encountered in the New World. The second was the astonishingly long imposition of slavery on African-Americans. They were immigrants from Africa as Ben Carson famously called them. That injustice led to guilt, which leads to fear. Many rich Americans are incredibly fearful. I think many of them fear what Quentin Tarantino emphasizes in many of his films–i.e. the turning of the tables. In many of his films a very evil man tortures an innocent man and later in the film the tables are turned and he gets the chance to impose revenge for the injustice. I think that is exactly what many rich Americans feel deep in their corroded souls. They fear justice.

In American many rich people have wealth beyond anyone’s imagination. And the greater the wealth the deeper the unconscious belief that such wealth is not justified and then justice might be served some time soon.

Many of the super-wealthy have helicopters, all gassed up and ready to go when the apocalypse arrives. Many of them want to be ready for whatever arrives– unrest, revolution or environmental collapse. They live in fear that soon the gig will be up.

Many of them want to defend themselves. Some take archery lessons. I kid you not. Some of these guys are young yet incredibly rich (even though many also seem incredibly stupid). Welcome to modern America. One of them is Steve Huffman, the thirty-three-year-old co-founder and C.E.O. of Reddit, which is valued at six hundred million dollars. Not bad for a 33-year old, but he is not happy. He is scared shitless!

Many of the survivalists have dreams (nightmares?) of collapse. Many of the survivalists, or preppers, are deeply concerned about political instability in the United States. They fear there will be widespread unrest. Huffman forecast “Some sort of institutional collapse, then you just lose shipping—that sort of stuff.” According to Evan Osnos, who wrote an article on this in the New Yorker, “Prepper blogs call such a scenario W.R.O.L., “without rule of law.” That is what they fear.

People like Huffman believe that that the consensus that holds society together is fragile. As he said, “I think, to some degree, we all collectively take it on faith that our country works, that our currency is valuable, the peaceful transfer of power—that all of these things that we hold dear work because we believe they work. While I do believe they’re quite resilient, and we’ve been through a lot, certainly we’re going to go through a lot more.

Preppers or survivalists such as Huffman often have a good understanding of modern social media and the corrosive effect it can have on social relations. “Social media can magnify public fear. Huffman put it this way, “It’s easier for people to panic when they’re together,” he said, pointing out that “the Internet has made it easier for people to be together,” yet it also alerts people to emerging risks.”

Osnos also reported on a study obtained by National Geographic that “found that forty per cent of Americans believed that stocking up on supplies or building a bomb shelter was a wiser investment than a 401(k). Online, the prepper discussions run from folksy (“A Mom’s Guide to Preparing for Civil Unrest”) to grim (“How to Eat a Pine Tree to Survive”). Some of these things are hard to believe, I know.

No one knows exactly how many wealthy Americans have bought into this fear, but the numbers are not insignificant. Osnos asked Hoffman to estimate what share of fellow Silicon Valley billionaires have acquired some level of “apocalypse insurance,” in the form of a hideaway in the U.S. or abroad. He guessed 50%.

There is something inherently barbarous about rich people taking such extreme measures to protect themselves from hazards that their own reckless disregard for benefits to other classes has wrought. Max Levchin, a founder of Paypal and of Affirm, a lending startup admitted this to Osnos, when he acknowledged, “It’s one of the few things about Silicon Valley that I actively dislike—the sense that we are superior giants who move the needle and, even if it’s our own failure, must be spared.” If only these multi-millionaires and worse spent some of their money helping others, or even if they moderated the exploitation of workers and the system in their own favor, and less time worrying about how they can survive the impending troubles a solution to the problems might actually be found.

Levchin told Osnos that he prefers to shut down cocktail party discussions on the subject by asking people instead,

 

‘So you’re worried about the pitchforks. How much money have you donated to your local homeless shelter?’ This connects the most, in my mind, to the realities of the income gap. All the other forms of fear that people bring up are artificial.” In his view, this is the time to invest in solutions, not escape. “At the moment, we’re actually at a relatively benign point of the economy. When the economy heads south, you will have a bunch of people that are in really bad shape. What do we expect then?

 

While many captains of industry are unable to see anything that is not in their own immediate advantage, a few do recognize that there are vulnerable people out there who have been screwed by the system and many of them may seeks “solutions” to their problems that may involve insurrection, as far fetched as that may sound to some of us.

Many of the rich think, as the aristocracy of France did before the French Revolution that the poor can eat grass. Others fear revolution that might upset their privileges. Dugger said, “ “People know the only real answer is, Fix the problem,” he said. “It’s a reason most of them give a lot of money to good causes.” At the same time, though, they invest in the mechanics of escape.”

Elite fantasies of escape are often exactly that–fantasies. There are all kinds of logistical problems. Many of the wealthy cannot see these problems. They assume there must be a way for them to escape. After all they deserve that escape. They have earned that right to escape. So at least they think.

Dugger one of the super rich, told Osnos about a lavish dinner in New York City after 9/11 and the bursting of the dot-com bubble, “ “A group of centi-millionaires and a couple of billionaires were working through end-of-America scenarios and talking about what they’d do. Most said they’ll fire up their planes and take their families to Western ranches or homes in other countries.” One of the guests was skeptical, Dugger said. “He leaned forward and asked, ‘Are you taking your pilot’s family, too? And what about the maintenance guys? If revolutionaries are kicking in doors, how many of the people in your life will you have to take with you?’ The questioning continued. In the end, most agreed they couldn’t run.You can run, but you can’t hide.

Robert A. Johnson was another person that Osnos interviewed. He saw the fear of his peers as “the symptom of a deeper crisis.” I agree with that. I too see the fear as a manifestation of fundamental unease about their place in modern society. They are unmoored and their wealth, which often is extreme wealth, is not able to fill the void. Johnson was the manager of a hedge-fund. He was also the head of a think tank. He called himself “an accidental student of civic anxiety.” From my own career, I would just talk to people. More and more were saying, ‘you’ve got to have a private plane. You have to assure that the pilot’s family will be taken care of, too. They have to be on the plane.’ ”

Osnos analyzed this situation this way,

 

By January, 2015, Johnson was sounding the alarm: the tensions produced by acute income inequality were becoming so pronounced that some of the world’s wealthiest people were taking steps to protect themselves. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Johnson told the audience, “I know hedge-fund managers all over the world who are buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand because they think they need a getaway.

 

It is difficult to discern why the privileged are so fearful. What do these ultra wealthy people have to fear. If money does not buy happiness, surely it buys security. If one thought that, one would be wrong. As Osnos reported,

 

As public institutions deteriorate, élite anxiety has emerged as a gauge of our national predicament. “Why do people who are envied for being so powerful appear to be so afraid?” Johnson asked. “What does that really tell us about our system?” He added, “It’s a very odd thing. You’re basically seeing that the people who’ve been the best at reading the tea leaves—the ones with the most resources, because that’s how they made their money—are now the ones most preparing to pull the rip cord and jump out of the plane.”

 

Near Salina in Kansas, where we drove through on our way to Arizona, is interesting countryside. Osnos drove to the site where the luxury bunker in the old Titan silos is being built. It is called the Survival Condo Project near the town near Salina Kansas. When Osnos arrived he was met by a guard dressed in camouflage holding a semiautomatic rifle. The condo project is being built inside an underground missile silo like the one we saw in Green Valley Arizona. The developers are building 13 luxury condos. The facility housed nuclear warheads from 1961 to 1965. After that the site was decommissioned. The site was built in response to a perceived threat from the Soviet Union that was engaged in a long-standing “cold war” with the United States and its allies. The developers are led by Larry Hall the CEO of the new project. According to Osnos, “Hall has erected a defense against the fears of a new era. “It’s true relaxation for the ultra-wealthy,” he said. “They can come out here, they know there are armed guards outside. The kids can run around.”

Wow is that the best the super rich can do? Is there not more to life than being ensconced in a cocoon? To me that sounds horribly limited. I guess being rich is not all its cracked up to be.

Hall developed the property for which he paid $300,000 by spending nearly another $20,000,00 for renovations. With that he created 12 private apartments that he sold for $3in the case of full floor units and $1.5 in the case of half floor units. He sold them all except for one that he decided to keep for himself.

The silos in which the apartments are located are solid. After all, they were built by the Army Corp of Engineers to withstand a nuclear strike. The inside has enough food and fuel for 5 years off the grid. Of course it will require that people raise tilapia in fish tanks and hydroponic vegetables under grow lamps and supposedly renewable power that could function indefinitely, according to Hall. I am not sure how he would accomplish that.

In a crisis more drastic measures can be expected. According to Hall, “In a crisis, his swat-team-style trucks (“the Pit-Bull VX, armored up to fifty-calibre”) will pick up any owner within four hundred miles. Residents with private planes can land in Salina, about thirty miles away. In his view, the Army Corps did the hardest work by choosing the location. “They looked at height above sea level, the seismology of an area, how close it is to large population centers.”

That does not mean that each prepper has an individual bunker. After all, hardened bunkers are expensive and complicated to construct. The complex looked and felt like a ski condo that did not have any windows. What kind of ski condo is that? But it had a central area with pool table, stone fireplace, a kitchen, and leather couches.

Osnos had the benefit of a tour of the Kansas facility. It had many amenities. $20 million buys a lot of amenities. It has a 75-foot long pool, a rock-climbing wall, an Astro-Turf “pet park,” a classroom with a line of computers, a gym, a movie theatre and a library. According to Osnos “It felt compact but not claustrophobic.” Osnos also described the armory and related facilities:

 

We visited an armory packed with guns and ammo in case of an attack by non-members, and then a bare-walled room with a toilet. “We can lock people up and give them an adult time-out,” he said. In general, the rules are set by a condo association, which can vote to amend them. During a crisis, a “life-or-death situation,” Hall said, each adult would be required to work for four hours a day, and would not be allowed to leave without permission. “There’s controlled access in and out, and it’s governed by the board,” he said.

 

This is not exactly paradise is it? The facility also contained a hospital bed, operating table, dentist’s chair and food storage area. 2 doctors will be residents and 1 dentists. I guess they are wealthy enough.

One problem is how to get away with the absence of windows. Can you imagine it? According to Osnos, “The condo walls are fitted with L.E.D. “windows” that show a live video of the prairie above the silo. Owners can opt instead for pine forests or other vistas. One prospective resident from New York City wanted a video of Central Park. “All four seasons, day and night,” Menosky said. “She wanted the sounds, the taxis and the honking horns.” So that is what she got.

This is not virtual reality; this is whacky reality. Hall has given some thought to how people will live there, but I wonder if he has given enough thought. According to Osnos, “Hall said the hardest part of the project was sustaining life underground. He studied how to avoid depression (add more lights), prevent cliques (rotate chores), and simulate life aboveground.” Frankly I would not be satisfied with simulated life. Would you? I would rather have life. Or is even death preferable? This is particularly poignant when you consider that most (all?) life might outside the bunkers might perish.

Some survivalists have mocked Hall’s plan. They say they won’t pay. They will just attack when the time comes. To this Hall responded that he and his guards could repel all forces. And if necessary, the guards would return fire. How long could people survive a siege?

Some of the people who put down $3 million for a unit have strange fears. Maybe they all do. Osnos interviewed Tyler Allen a real estate developer in Florida who bought a unit. He worries about future “social conflict” in America. I do too. Allen also thinks that the government will deceive the public, as it has done in the past. He even believes that Ebola was allowed into the country “in order to weaken the population.”

Allen claimed that when he started suggesting ideas like this people thought he was crazy, but they don’t anymore. He said, “My credibility has gone through the roof. Ten years ago, this just seemed crazy that all this was going to happen: the social unrest and the cultural divide in the country, the race-baiting and the hate-mongering.” Now to many it seems like a reasonable precaution.

Of course how will people get to their bunkers? The buyers don’t live next door. Tyler lived in Florida. That is a long way from Kansas. Tyler thought he would have 48 hours to make it to Kansas. Most people he believed, when the crisis came, would head to the bars while he headed towards Kansas. I guess he thinks they would be watching the action from “Sports bars.”

As I have said, all of this is driven by fears–in particular fears of the very rich. Osnos does not disagree,

 

Why do our dystopian urges emerge at certain moments and not others? Doomsday—as a prophecy, a literary genre, and a business opportunity—is never static; it evolves with our anxieties. The earliest Puritan settlers saw in the awe-inspiring bounty of the American wilderness the prospect of both apocalypse and paradise. When, in May of 1780, sudden darkness settled on New England, farmers perceived it as a cataclysm heralding the return of Christ. (In fact, the darkness was caused by enormous wildfires in Ontario.) D. H. Lawrence diagnosed a specific strain of American dread. “Doom! Doom! Doom!” he wrote in 1923. “Something seems to whisper it in the very dark trees of America.

 

Not everyone has the same fears. Often ideas of the end times flourish during times of insecurity. Insecurity (fear again) breeds monsters. “Jack London, in 1908, published “The Iron Heel,” imagining an America under a fascist oligarchy in which “nine-tenths of one per cent” hold “seventy per cent of the total wealth.” Doesn’t that sound a lot like today?

Fear was not invented recently in America. It has always been there. There was fear earlier in the United States. The Cold War was brimming with fear. Many thought there were communists under every bed. Many feared nuclear annihilation. Thousands of people built bomb shelters in their basements and stocked them with food. Doom boom some called this.

There is no doubt that all of this is being driven by fear. Fear of disaster can be a useful thing. When the world realized that a hole was being punched in the Ozone layer because of chlorofluorocarbons (‘CFSs’) in the atmosphere they got together and adopted the Montreal Protocol to do something about it. They phased them out. That action has been a remarkable success story. But this is not happening here. Instead it is another case of the super wealthy doing nothing to solve the problem. They are using their money to buy an escape. That escape is illusory, but that is what these rich people want to do with their money. Instead of using it to help solve the problem, they are trying to run away from it. As Osnos said,

 

Fear of disaster is healthy if it spurs action to prevent it. But élite survivalism is not a step toward prevention; it is an act of withdrawal… Faced with evidence of frailty in the American project, in the institutions and norms from which they have benefitted, some are permitting themselves to imagine failure. It is a gilded despair. As Huffman, of Reddit, observed, our technologies have made us more alert to risk, but have also made us more panicky; they facilitate the tribal temptation to cocoon, to seclude ourselves from opponents, and to fortify ourselves against our fears, instead of attacking the sources of them. ”

 

 

Another super-wealthy CEO had a much better approach. This is what he said,

 

There are other ways to absorb the anxieties of our time. “If I had a billion dollars, I wouldn’t buy a bunker,” Elli Kaplan, the C.E.O. of the digital health startup Neurotrack, told me. “I would reinvest in civil society and civil innovation. My view is you figure out even smarter ways to make sure that something terrible doesn’t happen.” Kaplan, who worked in the White House under Bill Clinton, was appalled by Trump’s victory, but said that it galvanized her in a different way: “Even in my deepest fear, I say, ‘Our union is stronger than this.’ ”

 

As it has so often in the past, America is being pushed and pulled at the same time. On the one are people like survivalists, neo-liberals, and their political puppets who have shredded all of their fellow feeling in order to fill their bags with as much money as possible. On the other hand there are the kinder gentler souls who see a better way, but seem to be increasingly crushed by the more vocal and bellicose side. I don’t know who will win this battle, but I care. I hope that America (and with Canada dragging along behind) comes to its senses and abandons this philosophy of fear. Fear is all right but it must be managed. When it gives way to panic we have to realize that smart decisions will no longer be made. We must abandon panic; we must embrace critical thinking and fellow feeling. If we can do that then we will survive. If we are unable to do that, we will sink into the mire, or worse. We can sink into the whacky world of the super rich.

Belleville Kansas to Hereford Texas: Moron’s Delight

 

Watching the Weather Channel I realized that it is all based on fear. After all who would watch it if the weather was “normal.” Normal is boring. No one needs to see that. People need to watch scary stuff. That is what they showed tonight and again in the morning. They kept talking about a “winter storm.” When you listened more carefully it became obvious there was no storm. No snow, no precipitation no blizzard. There was just extreme cold. I don’t deny that extreme cold needs to be respected but that is not a “winter storm.”

The Weather Channel reported that 200 million people in America woke up to colder than normal temperatures. That sounded fearsome. That is until you realized that the United States has 320 million people. That meant that 120 million people woke up to temperatures above normal! Is that really so scary?

As we drove through Kansas I noted what I referred to as “Mennonite Country.” These were the communities around Newton Kansas and Tabor Kansas. I remember, friends of mine who went to post-secondary school here. There are some Mennonite colleges in the area.

After driving through Kansas we entered Oklahoma by late morning.

We drove by many Oil wells. In Oklahoma oil and gas is king. The environment is the vassal. Not even a lord, but a lowly vassal. A controversial pipeline project has been proposed from the Tar Sands of Canada to refineries in Texas.

The proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, if it is built will travel through the heart of the Great Plains. The Great Plains are what we in Canada call the Prairies. Part of it will go through Oklahoma, the land of Scott Pruitt. Amazingly, earthquakes have been on the increase in Oklahoma. In fact, “the earthquake risk in Oklahoma is greater than anywhere else in the U.S.”

Oklahoma earthquakes have increased exponentially. In 2007 it had 1 over 3.0 on the Richter scale. Recently that has increased to more than 700 such earthquakes per year–a startling increase. Starting in about 2009 the frequency of earthquakes in Oklahoma increased from an average of fewer than two 3.0+ magnitude per year since 1978 to hundreds per year in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Thousands of earthquakes have occurred in Oklahoma and surrounding areas of Kansas and North Texas since 2009. What is happening here? This is where we drove today.

What is the cause of this? Some point to the significant amount of subterranean activity such as oil drilling, and more recently fracking. To this Trans Canada Pipeline who wants to build the pipeline, proposes to add a new element—bitumen. Bitumen not oil will be transmitted by its proposed pipeline. How does that fit with all this seismic activity? The answer is not well.

“With all these earthquakes the Keystone XL pipeline endangers any place that it passes,” according to veteran Oklahoma lawyer Garvin Isaac a long time critic of oil and gas interests in the state. Isaacs warns that “earthquakes and pipelines are a lethal combination.” Now Isaacs is a lawyer not a scientist, so we have to take what he says with healthy degree of scepticism, but it seems intuitively true. Of course I am a recovering lawyer so you take what I say with an even greater measure of scepticism. I know my wife does. She says I don’t know what I am talking about. She might be right. But since when has that ever stopped me from talking?

While the cause of this increase in earthquakes is not certain, many believe that the main cause is “water violently injected underground as part of the natural gas fracking process.”

Of course during this period of the enormous growth in earthquakes Oklahoma has been “protected” by its Attorney General Scott Pruitt who was responsible for investigating, challenging, and prosecuting the oil and gas sector. The best friend of oil and gas was in charge of investigating it. Unsurprisingly, during this time he spent much of his time fighting the federal Environmental Protection Agency about its role in this process of behalf of the federal government. Oklahoma’s Attorney General was more concerned about reducing regulation, than finding out what was going on. Pruitt was not interested in enforcing laws or regulations against corporations, he was opposed to such laws and regulations.

Since then Donald Trump appointed him the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. That seems like a good fit. While Pruitt was AG for Oklahoma he spent much of his time suing the federal EPA that he now heads because he believed only the state should regulate environmental issues. Of course he really meant no one should regulate, because he did not want the state to regulate oil and gas either. Unsurprisingly, many oil and gas businesses supported Pruitt’s election campaign.

While Pruitt was the AG of Oklahoma he sued the federal EPA 14 times. During this time, oil and gas controlled Oklahoma. Since Trump has appointed Pruitt the head of the federal EPA the oil and gas sector has its best friend as its regulator! Nice.

In Oklahoma politics it is often a matter of scratch my back and I will scratch yours. Pruitt clearly believed in this approach. Now he is in charge of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The fox is in the chicken pen.

The New York Times described Pruitt’s connection with the oil and gas industry as a “secretive alliance.” [1] The only part of that which does not ring true is that the relationship was not all that secret. Secrecy is not needed in a state like Oklahoma. Everyone expects and accepts such a relationship. Anything else would be unnatural, if not un-American. An elected official is expected to act in accordance with the needs of oil and gas. Oil and gas is sacred in Oklahoma.

One of the places where oil and gas interests intertwine with the forces of Mother Nature is Cushing Oklahoma. That is about half way between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. We drove near to it today. Cushing calls itself the “pipeline crossroads.” Cushing is also home to “the world’s largest oil storage facility. According to the 5th Estate, which had an interesting television show on this issue shortly before we left, “it holds enough gasoline to fill up ½ of all the automobiles in the U.S. and if the Keystone pipeline goes ahead it will reach from Alberta right through it to the Gulf of Mexico.” In Cushing there are 50 million barrels of oil stored underground. Add Keystone Pipeline and add another 800,000 barrels of oil per day and you have a powder keg. An earthquake here would create a pretty big mess.

As Isaacs said on the CBC show, “Donald Trump wanted Pruitt in there to protect oil and gas. Of course, he was not there to protect the environment. None of this was an accident.

Much to our surprise as we were driving Sarah, our GPS woke up! She had frozen solid in Fargo and refused to cooperate. This was wonderful news. We figured this happened because temperatures had rose enough to satisfy her.

We also noticed signs advertising Free 72 oz. steaks. Presumably, we would have to eat it. This reminded me of the good old Dutch Maid Ice Cream Parlour on Osborne Street when I went to University. They had a sundae that was called “Moron’s Delight.” It was so big that if you ate one you could have a second one free. What a deal!

We stopped for coffee at a MacDonald’s in Sayre Oklahoma. It is located about halfway between Oklahoma City and Amarillo Texas. Chris enjoyed a latte and I settled for a good old black coffee. I picked up a newspaper from Elk City. It had a section I found interesting. It contained a list of all the local that had been jailed recently. I did not notice any names I recognized. Not even the miscreants that I know.

After that we drove into Texas. Surprisingly it was colder here than the other states we drove through. We noticed hoar frost on the roads, but it was not so serious that we could not keep moving. It was cold, but really driving conditions were excellent. No problem for hardy Canadians. Local radio commentators kept talking about “extreme cold” but by Canadian standards it was a piece of cake.

Texas is a place of great culture. That may surprise some of you.  We arrived in Hereford Texas after dark. We did not like driving in the dark, but wanted to avoid Amarillo so we kept going a little farther. After checking in to one more modest inn, we dined at the Pizza Hut. That is called ringing in the New Year with elegance.

 

[1] Eric Lipton, “Energy Firms in Secretive Alliance With Attorneys General,” New York Times, November 14, 2014

Steinbach Manitoba to Fargo North Dakota: I don’t believe in Generals

 

Chris and I invariably start out late on the first day of a holiday. Too much too do with too little time to do it. But today, we outdid ourselves in a late start. Of course we blamed the grand children and their parents for staying a couple of days after the Christmas party at our home. Although we cast blame on them, we loved the visit. It was a fantastic visit from Nasya, Emma, Nick, Debbi and Nolan who all stayed a couple of days extra to keep us company and we loved every minute of it, but this made it impossible for us to pack or get ready for our trip down south. It was all worth it. And retired people like us can go with the flow. We just left a few hours later than we otherwise would have wished. No biggie.

First I had to drain the hot tub. That was a draining experience. Then I had to pack my stuff. It is hard to pack for 3 months. Packing is always more difficult or at least time consuming than I think it will be. There are many important things that “must” be brought along.

At the top of the list from my perspective are books. I always take too many books. This time I took a stack of books, but I was reminded of Abdul Kassem Ismael, grand vizier of Persia in the tenth century A.D., who never travelled without his library of 117, 000 volumes, carried by a caravan of 400 camels trained to walk in alphabetical order. Sadly I had no servant to do my bidding. What a pity.

Our first stop was the Salisbury House. We had not eaten breakfast or lunch. This was barbaric! I loved the cartoon I read there that showed 2 polar bears. One said to the other, “I never thought we would be going south for the winter.” This was no doubt in reference to a recent event that was reported by Canada’s head of Weather Reporting Dave Philipps. He said that he lived in Windsor the most southerly part of Canada. The other day, he said, it was much colder there than it was at the North Pole. The weather is acting weird. Again.

The day was fiercely cold. The coldest of the year I believe. Temperatures were expected to reach -33°C. It was about -30 when we left. Yet, the drive was most pleasant. Conditions were perfect except for extreme cold, which we had to be careful about of course. It was my last chance to listen to CBC radio for 3 months. At least that was what I thought. I had not taken into consideration the wonders of modern technology. More on that later.

CBC broadcast a wonderful repeat of the Song Writers Circle that had been held in June for the Juno Awards. There were a number of outstanding singer/songwriters including Colin Linden, Lisa LeBlanc, and Bruce Cockburn. Cockburn talked about his song “Lovers in a Dangerous time.” He said it was not just about lovers, but it was also about the times. These times are dangerous because of wars and environmental damage and economic chaos. Yet a line from the song said, “Spirits open to the thrust of grace.” He also talked about his song “If I had a rocket Launcher.” In that song he said,

I don’t believe in guarded borders
And I don’t believe in hate
I don’t believe in generals
Or their stinking torture states

The ride out was beautiful. We saw gorgeous sundogs near the border. The beauty of the prairies on such an extremely cold day is also extreme. Chris took a couple of great shots of them as we drove. Later we were shown a fine prairie sunset. What a great start.

August 25, 2017 London England to Steinbach Manitoba: It was worth the trip

            We all have our reasons for wanting to go home. I am rarely ready to go home. I love to travel,but eventually I want to go home, but it takes some time. Once I am ready—once I am on the way—then I wish I was home at the touch of a button. This is particularly true of air travel which has become increasingly brutal. It used to be much more enjoyable. Those days are long gone Sally.

The most interesting part of the trip home was the Heathrow airport in London. That sounds crazy. It is crazy. What made it interesting was Shoheha. I hope I spelled her name right. She was a crazy Iranian woman we met in the airport. Chris and I were sitting in the airport waiting for our flight to begin. This is not usually the most pleasant task, but a book always makes it bearable. Shoheha was sitting next to us. She had a broken arm and was carrying a large carryon bag with the good arm. She asked me where I had purchased my cup of coffee and after I pointed out the kiosk nearby, she ambled off carrying her massive bag. Chris, being much smarter (and better) than me, told me to go and help her buy coffee. It would be impossible for her to carry the bag and coffee with one good arm. Dutifully, I got up to help. I offered to carry her bag while she bought coffee. Chris said a real gentleman would have bought her coffee. Right again. When I carried her bag I was astonished at the weight. It was HERAVY! Shoheha explained that she had been visiting her family in Iran and was going back home to Ottawa. Her mother—like mothers everywhere—insisted on filling her bag with Iranian culinary treats that you can’t get anywhere except from moms. And like all moms, she brooked no objections from her daughter. It did not matter how heavy the load or inconvenient the huge bag, Shoheha had no choice but to take it back home to her family who would no doubt be overjoyed at the treat bag. Easy for them to say.

We were stuck in Heathrow for an extra hour and half, while what the airline called a simple electronic problem that would be fixed soon” was dealt with. Assurances that the delay would be brief vaporized into the ether like such assurances usually do. Thankfully, we have a pleasant conversation with our new friend from Iran.

Naturally we missed our connecting flight in Toronto and managed to text our friend Garry who was picking us up, that we would be delayed while we waited for the next flight. We were very happy there was a next flight that day. A couple of hours late was no biggie. Our friend disconcertingly advised us he would wait for us in the bar. He might be intoxicated, but he would be there he assured us.

Annoyingly the flight to Winnipeg from Toronto varied between stifling hot and bone-chilling cold. No one would call it a pleasant flight.

We did arrive in time completely exhausted ready for home where, to quote Simon and Garfunkel,  all our words would come back to us like emptiness in harmony. But we were filled with joy. It is always great to travel; it is always great to come home.

I love to travel. I think I inherited this from my mother and father. They loved to travel. I am like that and my children are like that. Chris got infected with it the first trip we ever made with my parents to Grand Forks North Dakota .

I often try to figure out why we love to travel. What is so special about it? I think travel is learning. We learn about new places and new people that we would not encounter back home.

Mark Kingwell that great philosopher from Toronto (yes we have them there) got it right. He said travel was like a drug, not just because it is addictive, but also because it alters our consciousness. It affects the brain. It can challenge our routine way of thinking and, as a result, it can change us. One is not the same person after a trip as before.

Alfred Lord Tennyson on the other hand got it backwards I think when he said, “I am a part of everything I meet.” I rather think that everything I meet is now a part of me. I carry a small part of Luzerne Switzerland, Kőln Germany, Strasbourg France, Amsterdam, Paris and London with me. And I will carry them with me forever. I think that makes me a better person. I know others will say, not good enough. They are right. Never good enough.

The essential lesson is to heed the wise words of that children’s book many of read when we first learned to read: “Stop, look, and listen.” That is what it is all about. If we do that, we will enjoy the travel for we will experience something we cannot experience back home. It is not there no matter how much we love our homes. As Robertson Davies said, “People are very very hungry for some kind of contact with a greater world than the one they can immediately perceive.” This is true in more than one sense.

We do not travel to see new things, or new places, or even new people. Henry Miller was correct when he said, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing.” We want to see things, places, and people differently than we did before. We want to change. We want to become better.

Steinbach has this crazy motto: ‘It’s worth the trip.’ Every place is worth the trip. If we see nothing worth seeing that does not mean that we went to the wrong places. It means we were not worth the trip. We did not bring our minds to the trip and then the trip is worthless. Then it is not worth the trip, but we have no one to blame but ourselves. Henry David Thoreau that great American thinker said, “It is not what you look at that matters, but what you see.”

Thoreau’s friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, also a great thinker, said, “If we meet no gods, it is because we harbor none. If there is grandeur in you, you will find grandeur in porters and sweeps. He only is rightly immortal, to whom all things are immortal.”

To do that we have to be open to new experiences. Sometimes that is difficult. But we will be rewarded if we do. One of my favorite philosophers, Albert Camus, who haunted one of the cafés we passed by on trip in Paris, understood this well. He said, “All of a man’s life consists of the search for those few special images in the presence of which his soul first opened.” We want to open up our souls. That’s why we travel.

And once our souls are opened then we can truly see. Then we are able to appreciate what we have back home. It is special too. It also is a place of wonder. If we have learned something on the trip then we can bring that new knowledge to our old home. As T.S. Eliot wisely said,

 

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time

 

Then we are able to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, which to my view is what great art is all about. Finding the miraculous in the common. I hope I found this on this trip. I think I did. It was truly worth the trip. I can hardly wait for the next trip.