Sunday, July 29, 2012

Bumpass Hell

(Sulphur Works)

Bumpass Hell is a part of Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California. It is named for the unfortunate guide Mr. Bumpass, who lost his leg after he broke through the crust on a boiling mud pot. Today this area is being used as a natural laboratory to investigate conditions for the original origin of life on Earth. David Deamer, author of First Life: Discovering the Connections between Stars, Cells, and How Life Began is one such researcher.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Backpacking Gear Test 2012

Earlier this year I purchased a day pack and lightweight hiking boots for a trip to Europe, so for this year's gear test I decided to see if they would be suitable for an overnight backpack. For last year's Backpacking Gear Test I had a base weight (without fuel, water, fuel) of 14 lbs and a total pack weight of 19 lbs. This year I had a base weight of 12 lbs and a total pack weight of 17 lbs: a reduction of 9%.
Gear Weights
I took the 2012 gear on an overnight hike from Bottchers Gap to Jackson Camp in the Ventana Wilderness, 5 miles each way.
Mountain Hardware Hueco 34

The Hueco is a climbing pack. At 34 liters is is much smaller than my previous packs, and because of this it is almost a pound lighter than my previous lightest pack even though it is not an "ultralight" pack. With a new down sleeping bag (below) I was just barely able to squeeze in all my overnight gear. While the pack is hydration reservoir compatible it would not fit with my other stuff, so I am back to carrying two cycling water bottles externally. Unlike the Granite Gear Escape the external bottle pockets are not reachable while the pack is worn.
The Hueco does not have a proper hip belt; instead it simply has a 1.5 inch web belt (probably to keep the pack in place while climbing). I was curious to try a pack without a hip belt, as I have found that with each lighter pack in my progression I have gotten less "lift" from the hip belt, and have noticed that many leading-edge ultralight pack vendors (such as Gossamer Gear) also often omit hip belts. A hip belt would not work with a pack as short as the Hueco, and I found that with a load of 17 lbs I was ok without one. Of course on a longer or multi-day hike I might feel differently.
REI Igneo Sleeping Bag
This is an 800-fill down bag, rated to 19 degrees, long length. It has a waterproof+ breathable coating on the shell, which got me past my previous concerns about a wet down bag. Note the seams are not taped, so a waterproof bivy is still required. And they recommend stuffing the bag inside out (probably to avoid damaging the waterproof coating while stuffing), so a hydration reservoir leak in the pack could still be a serious problem. At 2.2 lbs it is only 9% lighter than my synthetic North Face Orion (20 degrees, regular length) bag, but as a down bag it compresses much smaller.
With one night's use in a bivy I found the Igneo much more comfortable than the Orion. The long length was more amiable to side sleeping, and the down felt more "fluffy" than the Orion which always seemed sparse. I felt warm all night, though it may not have been as cold as my previous trips. In the morning the only water I found in the bivy was underneath the sleeping pad, and the bag was dry, so I guess the waterproof+breathable coating worked.
Durham Cloud Hiking Boot
Durham is also made by New Balance, and comes in narrow widths. They have apparently stopped making my previous Rainier Hiking Boots; if so I should have stocked up. The Cloud is comfortable, and a pair is almost a pound lighter than the Rainier. They worked fine for carrying my light 17 lb load, but I would want my Rainiers for carrying 40+ lbs for a week in the Sierras.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Authority and Politics

“Politics makes strange bedfellows” is the non-explanation for peculiar alliances often found in politics. A current example worth considering is between business elites and creationists. At first glance this doesn’t make much sense. Wouldn’t business leaders want a scientifically literate workforce for competitive reasons? A standard explanation is a short-sighted pandering for votes. But why this particular combination? A different understanding can be reached via a longer historical view. Historically the same combinations appear over and over, in diverse places such as the factions in the Spanish Civil War, back to the origins of what we today call “conservatism” and “liberalism”.

The common attractor combining many otherwise disparate interests is the argument from authority plus essentialism. As discussed earlier essentialist arguments about “noble blood” were originally used to defend the authority and property of kings and aristocrats. The church, which supported the “divine right of kings”, justified both its power and theology through argument from authority and an essentialist worldview. American conservatism, while of course not supporting monarchy, has often served to defend the privilege of old and new aristocracy. This then is the commonality between aristocratic business elite and creationists: both see their interests advanced by the more general acceptance of essentialism and argument from authority. In general the “conservative” wing of politics will accumulate all those groups dependent on essentialism and argument from authority. Also note a "strict father" often argues from authority, matching Lakoff's metaphorical model of the family in politics and religion.

The historical tie between conservatism and argument from authority is natural. In the past almost all argument was done via appeal to authority, so an ideology that is trying to preserve systems from the past will naturally be more bound to use this type of argument. In practice this often becomes circular: old authorities are cited to “prove” that old sources and methods are best or authoritative. This type of argument only began to be discarded during the enlightenment, and amusingly some of their progress came from ignoring sources in the recent past and instead going back to older Greek sources. One can also imagine a dark post-apocalyptic future where the scientific method [or constitutional representative democracy?] is nearly forgotten, and the golden past that is surreptitiously cited and preserved is our scientific present. In that scenario I would call myself a “conservative”. For now we use the expression “reality has a liberal bias”, because science has shown that essentialism has no scientific basis and appeal to authority does not prove anything.

David Brin often discusses this in terms of time orientation. Conservatives seek absolute truths in the past, in old books and cultural norms. Liberals seek provisional truths in the future, in new scientific experiments yet to be performed. Evolution as scientific method is a mixture of old and new, preserving what works while trying new experiments.

Appeal to authority is of course not limited to the conservative side. Marxism, while starting from flawed economic/scientific premises, quickly solidified into doctrinaire arguments from authority of a few documents and leaders. On the libertarian side, Ayn Rand’s objectivism also started from flawed essentialist assumptions, and quickly became driven by argument from authority.

Breaking out from the control of the argument from authority is difficult. As discussed, many institutions depend on it, and others question whether most people are capable of functioning civilly without it. And almost by definition this cannot be taught. Every individual must figure it out for themselves. Like the immortal dialog from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”:
Brian: Look, you've got it all wrong! You don't need to follow me. You don't need to follow anybody! You've got to think for yourselves! You're all individuals! 
Crowd: [in unison] Yes! We're all individuals! 
Brian: You're all different! 
Crowd: [in unison] Yes, we are all different! 
Man in crowd: I'm not... 
Crowd: Shhh!