Wisconsin – Kettle Moraine Forest

We’re back, after an unexplained 13 week absence. During that time we had the pleasure of enduring work, more work, a visit with a self-described crypt-keeper-leprechaun, some more work, and we fought a dragon. Now we’re back to mindlessly telling stories and share the breadth of humanity’s experiences. Because it’s what we do. Side note: don’t ever fight a dragon. This was a bad choice.

Anyways, as part of their desire to endlessly prove their incompetence, I ended up in Milwaukee again for work a whole day early. Rather than tool around downtown again I decided to venture out away from the concrete. So I planned a hike through Kettle Moraine Forest, Lapham Peak Unit. It’s about a half hour drive west of Milwaukee via I-94.

I hiked the Moraine Ridge trail which they clock at 6.6 miles. I broke with my usual practice and didn’t carry any weight. I even left the boots aside and just used my running shoes. I was just too tired to get crazy with anything.

I saw something new in that all the trails are actually made for cross country skiing. In most places the paths are cut through the woods with a very wide diameter. It’s weird. Though they probably don’t have any choice for skiing.

When I was there it was still the end of winter, only the very barest of green saplings were beginning to appear.

The various trails constantly cross each other at multiple points.  Accordingly, the park unit labels each intersection and provides an updated map.  Beyond that they don’t really label the trails at all.  I had to check multiple times to ensure I didn’t take a wrong turn.  Even so, I did actually take the wrong way once and had to backtrack.

Dude is glad winter is ending.

There were many other folks on the trails, but I would not call them crowded.  Like a dummy I dropped my gloves and had to go back and get them at one point.  A couple put them where I could see them after finding them on the ground.  I passed them later and they were happy to see I’d found them.  I thanked them, though was a bit embarrassed.  I was a nice human moment.  I think they were Quebecois.

According to the trail marker, the Native Americans that used to inhabit the park grounds bent these trees on purpose as their own markers.  This one marked the way to a water source.  Here is another example.

Note the difference between the trees just emerging from winter, and the pine trees who laugh at winter.

I didn’t time myself, I stopped here and there.  Again, I was tired to begin with so it didn’t matter.  But I had a great time.  It was a good release from paperwork and all the stuff that doesn’t actually matter.  So nature did it’s job.  Hail nature.

oh, no

I’ve connected through Houston Bush before, but that was years ago.  So I deplane and as soon as I get out the gate I notice there’s a bunch of small screens everywhere.  The normal waiting areas with rows of chairs were apparently replaced with tables.  Each individual seat had a tablet in front of it.

I didn’t think much of it at first.  I had a quick hour to grab food before the next flight.  I ended up at a place called Bam Bam for Vietnamese.  I sit down at the bar, and I’m face-to-face with another tablet.

Oh, no.

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It’s the future.  Today!

It took me about five minutes to realize no bartender was coming to see me.  I figured out on my own that to get a beer or order food I had to use the tablet.  Then I had to swipe my credit card right on the spot.

Even after you’re done ordering, there’s this still that evil screen right in front of you.  They continuously bombard you with ads, proposed money games, and whatever else.  You can’t turn the damn thing off, at least not that I could figure out.

The beer was local Texas good, they had a great banh-mi, and a so-so salad.  But I couldn’t get over the darn screen.  I want a quiet beer and meal.  And maybe to watch sports behind the bar.  Not get ads shoved in my face.  Note the company logos on the shot above from the many, many usual suspects of the Giant Octopi.  I should have put a napkin over the thing.

I’m an introvert.  So you better believe it’s a legit problem when I say I actually genuinely missed ordering my food and drink from a real live person.  To actually engage in conversation with a fellow human.

I eventually figured out the screen thing, but almost nobody else did.  Other folks coming in were exasperated with trying to work it out.  And they got frustrated as the one poor waiter had to walk them through it.

Business consultants told Bam Bam and Houston Bush that there would be friction during the “initiation period”.  But that eventually customers will get used to using this technology on a regular basis to order.  Then they can save 47% on restaurant personnel costs once all orders are handled in this electronic manner.

This is the future.  Every single moment of your time is one giant opportunity for somebody to shove ads in your face.  Everyone notice the new gas pumps?  Where they throw ads at you in the 49 seconds it takes to pump your gas?

Machines probably won’t totally take over every job.  You won’t see a full blown robot bartender.  Instead you’ll see various aspects of humanity removed from the equation.  Technology will destroy jobs on the margins.  Instead of six waiters a restaurant will have two.  What are the other four newly unemployed humans supposed to do?

If you believe the wizards of the future, technology will free those four people to go become artists, or learn a new trade like plumbing, or whatever.  What I suspect will happen instead is that society will generally continue to become poorer and more unequal.

When traveling, I don’t think I’ll do this again.  If I see a screen like this again, I’m walking away.  I’ll take my cash to a business that employs humans.  And if every bar stool on the planet has a screen one day?  I don’t know what I’ll do, but that’ll be a sad, sad day.

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The future can kiss my ass.

why is CNN on everywhere?

You get to the airport and CNN is on at the gate. You go hide in the bar and CNN is above the drinks. You check into the hotel and they’ve got CNN on the wall.

All last week I was strapped to four work colleagues for travel. Everywhere we went there’s CNN on some screen. I suppose I normally don’t notice it when I travel. I don’t pay attention. But the four of them were all into this political craziness. I’m seated at some hotel bar with them and CNN is literally on a screen at the table. There was no escape.

I wanted to run and hide under some coats. I don’t get cable news. It’s like some kind of putrid disease. Everything is breaking news. Every station is biased. The talking heads shout at each other even though they’re so dumb they likely forget where their chauffer put their car keys.

But people drink this stuff in to their detriment. I think if you strapped a live human to a chair and forced him/her to watch four hours of CNN and four hours of Fox News a day for a month, they’d come out the back end of the process as a truly demented person.

Why does everybody choose CNN for their airport/hotel/bar? Why can’t they put sports on? Or a channel about cats? I think it’s because CNN was one of the original cable channels and the original news channel. It’s the glory days of 1993 when television was just starting to dominate our lives. One upon a time there wasn’t television at every single darn airport/hotel/bar. And CNN actually used to attempt to be serious and even somewhat classy. Remember Vader’s, “This is CNN”?   No more.

Well, we at TAP are here to help. Instead of harming people’s brains, we want to improve the quality of all our lives. So we propose that CNN be replaced on all travel screens with The Arcturus Channel.

The Arcturus Channel will have content fit for the brain of a five year old for most of the day. It’ll show nature videos of giraffes, and tigers, and whales and all kinds of Earth stuff. We’ll do a whole three hour special about how awesome volcanoes are. It’ll be like all those nature channels were before every cable channel became the same generic stuff with different channel names.

And from 9pm on, we’ll have The Arcturus Channel (After Dark), for us adults, after the kiddies have stopped traveling. So when you’re exhausting waiting for a connection at Houston Bush at 10pm you have something decent to watch. It’ll show monkey’s copulating, gazelles getting ripped apart by predators, and snow bears devouring baby seals.

Overall, The Arcturus Channel shall focus upon nature topics that are meant to calm your brain rather than disturb it. No politics, no controversy, just something to make you happy while you grind through your journey on the way to a hopeful happy destination. What a novel concept.

Mount Fuji, Part Two – Fuji stick

You’re supposed to bring home at least one item from every country if you can, or at least every trip.  How does one do this though if you’re constrained to one backpack?  For this reason and many others, I don’t really have too many corporeal possessions from my travels.

But sometimes you pick up an item that you find a way home any darn way you can.  I think I shipped my Fuji stick home via 1912 British Imperial tramp steamer.  I made it happen.  It cost me 13 pounds, 6 shillings, and a bottle of my finest barley swill.

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If you ascend Fuji, you have the option to take the wooden Fuji stick.  Not everybody does so.  Those who’ve been up multiple times have no need.  Some folks consider it a vicious tourist trap kind of thing.  But I just think it’s too cool.

The idea is you start out with this bare piece of wood.  At various way stations on your journey up, they use a hot brand to burn logos into the stick.  Here’s a shot of mine of a local carrying one up where he’s taken the flag off.

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Of note, whereas I left my Japanese flag on my stick, see how the local has taken his off.  I attribute this to the difference in patriotism between your average Japanese and say an American.

For example, my Parents have always had the Stars & Stripes flying outside their front door.  Always.  You would not see this type of behavior from almost any normal Japanese family.  Patriotism is a very different mindset between the two countries.

The Fuji stick takes this concept into overdrive as the flag that adorns it is not just any flag, but the older Rising Sun Flag of Imperial Japan.  I don’t know why Fuji chooses this over the modern and less controversial single red circle?  But anyways, a lot of locals took their flags off their stick.  Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t matter to me either way, I just find the concept interesting.

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Here’s a close up of one of the stamps.  A torii gate with the year I climbed, 2005.  Man, I’m getting freaking old.

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A few more stamps, one with 3,400 for 3,400 meters.  Then, above it again the year 2005, and 11,000 feet.  Note feet, not meters.  I think that guy must have had two stamps.  One that did meters, and one that did 11,000 feet for the gaijin.

My Fuji stick sits right next to my home desk, always.  You can actually catch it in the background of an old shot I had for a previous post where I talked about beer.  Win.

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Mount Fuji – only once?

It is said that a wise person will climb Fuji once, but only a fool will do it twice.  Well, what if you’re not wise to begin with?  And what do you do when you climb it the first time, and it’s a fog filled mess?

I think the answer is you have to climb it again.  Even if that throws my soul out of alignment and curses me.  Then I’d need to enlist the services of Shōki The Demon Queller to cleanse my spirit.  But I’m down with that.

Shōki only takes payment in fine sake.  So he and I can get ripped on it after he’s done slaying the cursed demon that’s bugging my dogs while they troll around the basement looking for crickets.

So I’ll be climbing Fuji again someday.  Just to do it again.  And because I couldn’t see anything when I reached the summit because of all the fog.

Besides, when climbing Fuji I constantly got passed by folks who were probably 73 years old.  They were kicking my ass.  I’m betting (other than the fact that these people are awesome) that this was not their first dance with Fuji.  If they can do it multiple times, so can I.

IMG_1018This shot is actually in the early afternoon at the end of my climb.  It’s the only decent shot I have of Fuji that day.  Note the clouds that still owned the summit.

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Nobody should climb Fuji unless they’re in decent shape.  There are no training wheels.  You get a stick, you get the assist lines, and that’s it.  In some cases the path is a total mess.  You’re walking directly on volcanic rock.  I loved it.

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The climb is a series of switchbacks.  At the choke points it can get a bit crowded, but I suppose there is room to slide by if you’re in a hurry or are timing yourself.

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Foooggg.  I did somehwat regret the fog, but honestly, since I know I’m going up again it was actually a lot of fun.  It added to the mystery of Fuji.  It’s like walking on a mystical moon.

Looking Up4Unrelated photo of climbers who are better than I.

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I don’t have any shots of the summit.  There some shops and such.  But we couldn’t see anything up there.  Here is a shot right below the summit upon beginning descent.

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Descent is just as much a challenge as ascent.  You’re using different muscles and the switchbacks are over different ground which is looser.  Note in this shot the slow descent from volcanic wasteland until it’s ultimately the greenery of lower altitudes.

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Nature begins to return with some green here and there.

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One of my ubiquitous random forest shots at the end of the descent.  I’ll also go back to hike the forests around Fuji itself.  They’re beautiful, and a sharp delightful change from the overwhelming concrete of urban Japan.

 

 

controlled dreams

I remember few concrete things from the wacky Jetsons cartoon.  But certain things remain sharp.  They had robot football, this angered me.  They also had a machine that could control dreams.  You got to dream about whatever you wanted.  How cool would that be?

I find the older I get the more garbage my dreams are.  It’s a mess of bad nonsense.  I can barely remember a thing.  I think a pet dinosaur stole my television.  Whatever.

But Japan is there quite often in a way nowhere else is.  I have no idea why.  I haven’t been to Japan in ten years.  Money and time keep getting in my way.

I think it’s because I lived there.  I suppose I equally dream about places I lived growing up and just think nothing of it.  Japan’s different because it’s the outlier.

I’m usually like scaling mountains, or somewhere near the water, and always roto-sushi.  I’m always wandering around crowded streets trying to find a place to eat roto-sushi.  If I was a billionaire I’d first open my own brewery.  Then I’d open my own roto-sushi place so I could visit it forever.

I don’t know what all this means.  Don’t really care.  So whatever, here’s a shot of Fugi in the fog I took back then.  This seems dream-like.  Win.

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Turkey – Ephesus

In 262 AD, having already raided large portions of Asia Minor, a Goth force descended upon Ephesus. Outnumbered (and by this point probably also outclassed) the Roman military was unable to offer any substantial opposition. The Goths sacked Ephesus and burned the Temple of Artemis to the ground. One of the Seven Wonders of the World ceased to exist alongside many other major structures within the city. It’s likely that a substantial portion of the population was killed, scattered, or enslaved. Ephesus never recovered.

It is as if aliens descended upon Europe tomorrow and sailed up the Thames or Seine to gut Paris or London alongside millions of people and all their major landmarks. Only in Aleppo could you find a rough template today to compare this to. Except that with Ephesus it was a factor of time. It has taken five years to lay waste to Aleppo, it’s people, and its historical landmarks. It probably only took a few days to burn Ephesus. All that’s left now is broken stone, rubble, and a ghost of what was once one of the major cities on Earth.

Trees grow on bare grass that was the ground floor of some rich trader’s mansion. The fallen columns of one of the greatest architectural masterpieces ever made were ground down for plaster to make lesser buildings. The written knowledge and cultural history of one of the great cities of history is so completely destroyed, so burned, so reduced to waste that it’s actually disputed which year (not which day or month) Ephesus was attacked by the Goths.

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When you go back and look at places such as Ephesus I’m inclined to divide the history of the human race into two geographic categories. You either live in a town, city, or country that has been a doormat of history or you do not. Those that caught the doormat category, even to this day, have to overcome the problems that trace their roots back thousands of years.

Despite turmoil, wars, and bombing raids, London was completely destroyed only once in 60 AD by Boudica during her revolt. Paris has never been razed to the ground. Depending on how you count, Ephesus was demolished at least seven times over thousands of years. It’s hard to build a long standing, secure culture, language, commerce, and politics when somebody shows up once every few hundred years and devastates it all. I think this goes a long way to explain why Britain and France are relatively stable democracies while Turkey’s still attempting to discover its identity.

London had the Celts, Romans, Saxons, a few Vikings, even fewer Normans, all eventually melded into English. Ephesus by contrast had to deal with this journey through history:

Arzawans

Hittites

Mycenaean / Ionians

Cimmerians

Greeks

Persians

Macedonians / Seleucids

Romans

Byzantines

Arabs

Seljuk

Ottomans

Turkish

Good luck trying to wrap your brains around how all that is supposed to create a stable safe place to live for multiple generations. Sometimes a sustained melding of cultures can create a truly special blend of humanity that enriches a people. Think of the unique joining of Moorish and Christian that Spain traces its roots. But other times there is no blending, there’s just history’s great eraser that does away with the old, and sometimes never replaces it with the new.

Kemal Atatürk’s vision was that history would be undone, his country remade. He wanted to wipe away the chaos described above. Turkey would be reborn into something new. Whereas religion was the one great binding principle, Turkey would become an ultra-secular state. The Turks would even get a brand new alphabet. What people could and would wear would be dictated. Those who lived in Turkey would become singularly Turkish, one way or the other. The Kurds were oppressed and the Armenians simply liquidated.

In retrospect, it seems clear that this was never going to work. It relied entirely on the personality of one man, and the ability of those with guns to enforce it. Whenever things got out of hand the army would simply step in to preserve Ataturk’s legacy. Turkey suffered more coups than most African states. If the planet’s last hundred years or so have shown anything, it’s that you cannot build long term prosperity in a country where the chief method of civil institution is violence. Eventually things come off the rails. But in the interim, folks can generally muddle through.

So in this sense, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule is actually the direct successor to Atatürk’s legacy. In that he’s running the show simply because he controls the most guns. The recent coup, while dramatic and bloody, never had widespread military support. Erdoğan controls the army, so he controls Turkey.

Modern democracy and prosperity require many civil institutions that were built up over centuries such as freedom of speech, rule of law, freedom of the press, and so on. How exactly would these have emerged in Ephesus when every once and a while every civil institution was doused in flames?

I’ll roughly wrap up this line of thinking, because I want to talk about Ephesus’s golden age, by saying I’m not optimistic about Turkey’s immediate future.

In the short term it’s the Erdoğan Show. This week he submitted to parliament constitutional amendments to give him unchecked executive level powers. He will get them. He will get them because he wants to be Sultan and Atatürk II. He will get them because he controls the guns. And the guns control the voting, education, media, and just about every other aspect of Turkish civil society. The Erdoğan Show will continue until he dies. After that, what?

It just depends. Sometimes a country can right itself after incompetent one man rule departs. But even if everybody realizes the nightmare was indeed a nightmare, it’s hard to fix things. Just look at what Venezuela, another broken democracy, is going through even though Hugo Chávez is long since dead. Even if Turkey’s ultimate future is bright, I think Erdoğan will ultimately set back progress by fifty years. What comes after that, is up to Turkey’s people.

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The ruins of Ephesus are at the foot of Selçuk, the modern Turkish town. In ancient times Ephesus was on the Aegean Sea. But over the centuries the Cayster River silted up and now the entire area is several miles inland. If one takes a more nuanced view of history than I describe above, you can simply make the argument that Ephesus died out once it lost access to the Aegean and was no longer able to serve as a major port.

A good first stop is the ruins of the Temple of Artemis which are a few hundred meters from Selcuk. What little is left is among the oldest of the places available for visitation. The temple underwent three phases. The Bronze Age shrine might be among the oldest on the planet. This original temple was lost to floods in the 7th Century BC and was replaced by the more recognizable Greek columned temple around 550 BC. In 356 BC a true fringe lunatic of a man burned it down. Starting in 323 BC it was slowly rebuilt to the final recognizable structure.

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Ruins of the Temple of Artemis looking northeast with Selçuk in the background. The single freestanding column is rebuilt from various wreckage they found. Imagine the size of the temple by contemplating a structure that fully filled the entirety of the basin in this photo with 127 total columns. Note the Ionic fluting on the fallen column blocks. Also see in the front of the shot the square holes cut into the eroded column blocks. Each column had a wooden centerpiece which they stacked column blocks through as they built up the height, in the case of Artemis, 60 feet high. The blocks were then fitted, sanded down, fluted, and decorated to give the column a single cohesive look meant to last for thousands of years. The problem with ancient Greek temples was they required wooden roof beams to support the marble tiles that typically sat atop. The intricate concrete roof construction one sees in say the Pantheon didn’t exist yet. This left most ancient Greek temples very vulnerable to fire, despite their stone base and columns. This was the cause of many Greek temples losses, as of course with Artemis as well.

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One of the many maps of Ancient Ephesus. To the left you can see the bulge emerging from the west of what was once the harbor inlet from the Cayster River that lead to the Aegean. The Temple of Artemis and Selçuk are off to the northeast. Note the extent of the city walls. Depending on how you count, Ephesus surely had over one-hundred-thousand citizens. Always a major city state during the Hellenic eras, it reached its cultural, economic, and political heights during Roman rule. For reference in subsequent photos, the Library of Celsus is #20. The Great Theater is #25. Harbor Street is #26.

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The Library of Celsus. A couple of things to keep in mind as you look at this. First, the façade is a complete reconstruction. Second, look back at the map. As impressive as the library is, it’s one of the smallest buildings that once called Ephesus home. Despite the building’s small size, the library was among the largest of the ancient world housing over ten-thousand scrolls. The interior was burned out by the Goth attack, the façade collapsed centuries later. How much more would we know of the ancient world if at least some portion of the library’s content had survived? Completed in 120 AD by a son to honor his father, both of whom where Roman counsels, it’s a structure that mirrored both its Greek and Roman roots.

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Grand Theater of Ephesus. Likely the largest theater in the ancient world, it could hold a crowd of 25,000 people. Greek theater was probably performed through its history and in the later Roman years people died there for the amusement of their fellow humans. I can’t begin to describe to you, but hope to loosely capture in pictures, just how big this place is. It rivals modern stadiums in its size and scale.

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From the Grand Theater seats looking west down Harbor Street. This must have been quite the view with all the buildings and the ships back in the day. The inlet to the Aegean and the Harbor Gate would have been at the end of this road.

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Backstage of the Grand Theater.

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Harbor Street. Not much is left, and so your brain is left to imagine what it would have looked like. All the way down to the harbor and the ships. The tens-of-thousands of people who walked this street and lived out their lives.

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