Sunday, January 24, 2010

Das Kapital

Since I recently listened to 2 audiobooks on The Wealth of Nations, I figured that I ought to look at Das Kapital. So I listened to this audiobook, which is part overview of the book and part biography of Karl Marx, describing the conditions surrounding his writing it, as well as its reception throughout the world. It was quite interesting - and only 3.5 hours long (3 CDs). Others agree, as it currently has 4.5 stars from 6 Amazon reviewers (wow, only 6!). Here's the publisher's description:
In vivid detail, Francis Wheen tells the story of Das Kapital and Karl Marx’s twenty-year struggle to complete his unfinished masterpiece. Born in a two-room flat in London’s Soho amid political squabbles and personal tragedy, the first volume of Das Kapital was published in 1867, to muted praise. But after Marx’s death, the book went on to influence thinkers, writers, and revolutionaries, from George Bernard Shaw to V. I. Lenin, changing the direction of twentieth-century history. Wheen’s captivating, accessible book shows that, far from being a dry economic treatise, Das Kapital is like a vast Gothic novel whose heroes are enslaved by the monster they created: capitalism. Furthermore, Wheen argues, as long as capitalism endures, Das Kapital demands to be read and understood.

A couple things stuck with me. Marx reviewed official British government data cataloging worker conditions and related industrial profits. Many grumbled about the poor laborer conditions, but he was the first to examine the official data. Alternatively, the book reportedly includes plenty of rambling anecdotal stories of horrid conditions and profiteering industrial magnates. Marx repeatedly prophecised the self-destruction of capitalist systems, which never occurred. Das Kapital was published in 1867 when Marx was living in London. It was published in German and nobody was interested in translating it to English. It was translated into Russian and published there in 1872, skirting the heavy censorship and finding a great audience there.

I'm not quite done with my personal education in economic history. I plan to read "Fiat Money Inflation in France" (1933), by Andrew Dickson White (1st President of Cornell University). That one was recommended by my well-read friend Tom. This one is available as a free PDF download from the Mises Institute here. And, speaking of Mises, I've just received "The Theory of Money and Credit" (1912) by Ludwig von Mises from Amazon. Here's the wikipedia page for this one. If you're educated in this field and can detect a thread of bias in my reading, then I'd welcome the heads up.

ps: I'm not sure why the text formatting doesn't properly revert after I employed the blockquote tag. Probably some messup with the CSS template I'm using. Sorry for that.

Monday, January 18, 2010

South of Cima Dome

Before I drove past the Kelso Dunes (see previous post), I explored some dirt roads on the south side of Cima Dome.

Some of the old corrals have NPS wildlife cameras installed. I've seen som e of the resulting animal photos on display at the visitor center in Kelso. Neat. Coyotes, rabbits, owls, mountain lions, and more.

Here's another one.

I was hoping to make it to Deer Spring via the back way, but the old road was closed to traffic.

I did find a nice looking small cabin. There were seriously faded signs indicating it was private property, so I didn't disturb anything. Soon afterward, I came upon another private property sign - on the road - so I turned back and headed west.

I turned south down a straight road toward Kelso. There was a bit more brush than I'd hoped for.

I drove the entire length of road shown here.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Kelso Dunes Powerline Road

This past Friday, I drove the powerline road that runs between the Kelso Dunes Wilderness Area and the Bristol Mountains Wilderness Area. It was a fun drive.

The road was in great condition and I only had to turn around once to avoid deep sand. To be fair, the wind had blown a sand dune across the road. Luckily, in that section, there was an alternate road that was in much better condition. Most of the road was smooth and recently graded. I was able to drive 35 mph or more while listening to CDs (without any skipping). If you drive this road, then I recommend starting at Kelso Dunes and driving west toward Ludlow. That way, when you hit the sandy sections, you're going downhill and that's much less disconcerting. I can say this because I recently drove the sandy section the other direction - uphill - and that was a little disconcerting. The sandy section is on the western side of the Bristol Mountains. This google map is centered on that portion of the road.

This shot was taken at the border to the Mojave National Preserve looking east toward the dunes.

Here's a shot of one of the sandy sections. Notice how the tires had sunk in, and then the loose sand backfilled the tracks. The more gas I gave it, the slower I went.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Wealth of Nations

The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith, was the 2nd most important publication in 1776. The original publication was over 900 pages in 2 volumes and basically explained economics. Specifically, market economies.

Having seen this book mentioned throughout my life, I decided to read it. OK, I actually listened to an audiobook version. I'm glad I did that because 18th century English is not my native tongue and hearing it is much easier to understand than reading it. I've mentioned this sort of thing before, when I listened to Paradise Lost.

The book was actually interesting, although I confess to having pressed the "next track" button on the CD player a few times. It was fascinating to listen to the (very understandable) explanations of the economics of making nails by a lone craftsman, then by a group of specialists, then on to factories and farms, and finally to nation states.

I think Smith had a somewhat naive view of the effects of self-interest, but it's interesting to see how it all started (or at least, was famously codified). If you're interested, here's the version that I listened to. It's abridged and that wins it 1.5 stars from 3 Amazon reviewers.

So then, just in case I missed something, I listened to this outline of the book by political satirist P.J. O'Rourke. It has better reviews on Amazon, but I enjoyed it less. It did point out areas where Smith contradicted himself (understandable for a 900+ page book) and where Smith's arguments or explanations are just plain odd. Like the part where Smith describes how a beaver is worth more than a deer to a trapper: "If, among a nation of hunters, it usually costs twice the labor to kill a beaver which it does to kill a deer, one beaver should naturally exchange for or be worth two deer." O'Rourke humorously points out: "Can killing a beaver really be twice as hard as killing a deer? A deer can run like hell. We know where the beaver lives..."

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Rowher Flats OHV Area

Friday morning I drove up to explore the Rowher Flats OHV Area, and escape the traffic mess in my neighborhood due to the Rose Parade passing nearby. Rowher Flats was closed for months, and when I checked the USFS website I was surprised to find it now open. It was a nice morning and I had the place almost to myself. I encountered only 2 bikes while I was driving trails. This place is great for bikes and ATVs and has very few trails for jeeps. Here's a USFS map of the area. And here's the Dirtopia page for Rowher Flats.

They've got 3 staging areas with pit toilets. I saw two tent campers at one of them.

I took a leisurely drive up Fall Canyon to Sierra Pelona Trail along the ridge line. From there I had a great view of the entire area.

Here's a shot of Bouquet Reservoir, which serves as a water source for Los Angeles. The water level was really low.

The most challenging trail for 4x4s is the Rowher Trail. I didn't drive it. Wells' trail book rates it as difficult, due to some very steep sections. I'd rather tackle it when friends can watch (or egg me on). Here's a photo I took of the bottom section, from the bottom end of the trail.

Here's a photo I took of the top section.