All posts by ajohnson

What I’ve been reading: January, 2024

  • Zonal Marking: From Ajax to Zidane, the Making of Modern Soccer

    Great book for someone looking to understand soccer if you didn’t grow up in Europe and weren’t taught how it should be played or coached. Better than Inverting the Pyramid.
    (tags: soccer coaching sports strategy tactics world-cup european-football catenaccio tactical-periodisation )

  • A Fine Line: Searching for Balance Among Mountains
    Inspiring book, relevant quotes:
    • Page 12: "As it crashes out of high peaks, it also draws a line of demarcation between the two highest mountain ranges on the planet – the Himalaya to the south and the Karakoram to the north. In find them to be the most imposing and splendid results of the natural processes taking place on planet Earth. In a life in which I have never, in the traditional sense, found God, these are places that, for me, represent the holy."
    • Page 63: "Kaj explained that, for years, he had been operating under what he described as the 100 year plan. The idea was that any decision made in the mountains was placed against his overarching goal to live to be a centenarian."

    (tags: mountaineering exploration adventure mindfulness perseverance personal-growth alpinism )

  • The Anthropocene Reviewed
    Recommended by Clayton from work. Sounded fun.. and was fun. Apparently John Green is big with the kids these days because of his YouTube work, this book of essays was easy to digest and made me think. Quotes:
    • Page 110: On the Penguins of Madagascar movie: ".. I also love it because it captures, and makes the gentlest possible fun of, something about myself I find deeply troubling. Like the adult penguin who stays in line and announces, "I question nothing,", I mostly follow the rules. I mostly try to act like everyone else is acting, even as we all approach the precipice. We imagine other animals as being without consciousness, mindlessly following the leader to they-know-not-where, but in that construction, we sometimes forget that we are also animals."
    • Page 128: On news: "The word news tells a secret on itself, though: what’s news isn’t primarily what is noteworthy or important, but what is new. So much of what actually changes in human life isn’t driven by events, but instead by processes, which often aren’t considered news. We don’t see much about climate change on CNN, unless a new report is published, nor do we see regular coverage of ongoing crises, like child mortality or poverty."
    • Page 132: on CNN: "Good journalism seeks to correct for those biases, to help us toward a deeper understanding of the universe and our place in it. But when we can’t read the writing on the plywood but still think we know what it says, we are spreading ignorance and bigotry, not the peach and friendship Turner promised."
    • Page 176: "There are so many problems with Monopoly, but maybe the reason the game has persisted for so long – it has been one of the world’s bestselling board games for over eighty years – is that it’s problems are our problems. Like life, Monopoly unfolds very slowly at first, and then becomes distressingly fast at the end. Like life, people find meaning in its outcomes even though the game is rigged toward the rich and the privileged, an insofar as it isn’t rigged, it’s random. And like life, your friends get mad if you take their money, and then no matter how rich you are, there’s an ever expanding void inside of you that money can never fill, but gripped by the madness of unregulated enterprise, you nonetheless believe that if you just get a couple more hotels or take from your friends their few remaining dollars, you will at least feel complete."
    • Page 264, on history and time: "And so, for me, it’s a picture about knowing and not knowing. You know you’re on your way to a dance, but don’t know you’re on your way to a war. The picture is a reminder that you never know what will happen to you, to your friends, to your nation. Philip Roth called history ‘the relentless unforeseen.’ He said that history is where ‘everything unexpected in its own time is chronicled on the page as inevitable.’ In the faces of these young farmers, we glimpse how profoundly unexpected the coming horror was. And that reminds us there is also a horizon that we cannot see past."

    (tags: history technology science culture society humanity non-fiction )

What I’ve been reading: December, 2023

  • A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There

    Dragged on at the end but a good read overall. Quote:

    "We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.…I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf’s job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea."

    (tags: ecology nature environment wildlife wilderness conservation )

  • Why We Love Baseball: A History in 50 Moments

    Fun Christmas present read, had some good stories I had never heard.

    (tags: history sports baseball americas-pastime )

  • Arctic Dreams

    Enjoyed this book, lots of quotes:

    • "… the defining quality of a wild place is that it make us somehow ‘stumble.’ It removes a step from our stairs, and thereby draws attention to the ‘narrow impetuosity’ of human schedules. ‘It is precisely because the regimes of light and time in the Arctic are so different,’ he writes, ‘that it is able to expose in startling ways the complacency of our thoughts about land in general.’"
    • "… And confronted by an unknown landscape, what happens to our sense of wealth? What does it mean to grow rich? Is it to have red-blooded adventures and to make a fortune, which is what brought the whalers and other entrepreneurs north? Or is it, rather, to have a good family life and to be imbued with a far-reaching and intimate knowledge of one’s homeland?… Is it to retain a capacity for awe and astonishment in our lives, to continue to hunger after what is genuine and worthy? Is it to live at moral peace with the universe?"
    • "Because mankind can circumvent evolutionary law, it is incumbent upon him, say evolutionary biologists, to develop another law to abide by if he wishes to survive, to not outstrip his food base. He must learn restraint. He must derive some other, wiser way of behaving toward the land. He must be more attentive to the biological imperatives of the system of sun-driven protoplasm upon which he, too, is still dependent."
    • "Suddenly in the middle of winter and without warning a huge piece of sea ice surges hundreds of feet inland, like something alive. The Eskimo call it ivu. The silent arrival of caribou in an otherwise empty landscape is another example. The long wait at a seal hole for prey to surface. Waiting for a lead to close. The Eskimo have a word for this kind of long waiting, prepared for a sudden event: quinnuituq. Deep patience."
    • "I settle myself in a crease in the tundra, out of the wind, arrange my clothing so nothing binds, and begin to study the far shore with the binoculars. After ten or fifteen minutes I hae found two caribou. Stefansson was once asked by an Eskimo to whom he was showing a pair of binoculars for the first time whether he could ‘see into tomorrow’, with them…. What the inuk probably meant was, Are those things powerful enough to see something that will not reach you for another day, like migrating caribou? Or a part of the landscape suitable for a campsite, which you yourself will not reach for another day?"
    • "In the 1930s a man named Benjamin Lee Whorf began to clarify an insight he had had into the structure of the Hopi language. Hopi has only limited tenses, noted Whorf, makes no reference to time as an entity distinct from space, and, though relatively poor in nouns, is rich in verbs. It is a language that projects a world of movement and changing relationships, a continuous fabric of time and space. It is better suited than the English language to descibing quantum mechanics. English divides time into linear segments by making use of many tenses. It is a noun-rich verb-poor tongue that contrasts fixed space with a flow of time. It is a language of static space, more suited, say, to architectural description. All else being equal, a Hopi child would have little difficulty comprehending the theory of relativity in his own language, while an American child could more easily master history. A Hope would be confounded by the idea that time flowed from the past into the present…. He made people see that there were no primitive languages; and that there was no pool of thought from which cultures drew their metaphysics. ‘All observers,’ he cautioned, ‘are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe.’"
    • "The literature of arctic exploration is frequently offered as a record of resolute will before the menacing fortifications of the landscape. It is more profitable I think to disregard this notion – that the land is an adversary bent on human defeat, that the people who came and went were heroes or failures in this. It is better to contemplate the record of human longing to achieve something significant, to be free of some of the grim weight of life. That weight was ignorance, poverty of spirit, indolence, and the threat of anonymity and destitution. This harsh landscape become the focus of a desire to separate oneself from those things and to overcome them. In these arctic narratives, then, are the threads of dreams that serve us all…. Apsley Cherry-Garrard, a companion of Robert Scott, said that exploration was the physical expression of an intellectual passion." Emphasis mine.
    • "…. Our difficulty lies in part, I think, with our insistence on defining completely the terms of our encounter with new-found wealth. We do no like to be countermanded in our categories by having something define itself. We seem vaguely uneasy, too, with the notion that a flock of snow geese rising like a snowstorm over Baffin Island is as valuable or more to mankind than the silver, tin, and copper being dug out of the Bolivian Andres and Potosi. These are not modern misgivings; they date in North America from the time of Columbus and John Cabot. What every culture must decide, actively debate and decide, is what of all that surrounds it, tangible, and intangible, it will dismantle and turn into material wealth. And what of its culture wealth, from the tradition of finding peace in the vision of an undisturbed hillside to a knowledge of how to finance a corporate mere, it will fight to preserve.… It seemed clear to me that we need tolerance in our lives for the worth of different sorts of perception, of which the contrasting Umwelten of the animals on the island are a reminder."
    • "The European culture… .has yet to understand the wisdom, preserved in North America, that lies in the richness and sanctity of a wild landscape, what it can mean in the unfolding of human life, the staying of a troubled human spirit. The other phrase that comes to mind is more obscure. It is the Latin motto from the title banner of The North Georgia Gazette: per freta hactenus negata, meaning to have negotiated a strait the very existence of which has been denied. But it also suggests a continuing movement through unknown waters. It is, simultaneously, an expression of fear and of accomplishment, the cusp on which human life finds its richest expression."
    • Very end of the book had a picture of a map of the Arctic that I hadn’t seen previously, fascinating perspective if you like maps.

    (tags: ecology nature environment exploration adventure wilderness environmentalism arctic climate-change indigenous-cultures )

What I’ve been reading: November, 2023

What I’ve been reading: October, 2023

  • Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings

    I loved this book: definitely made me want to buy a boat and sail up the coast to Alaska. The writing is great, the history was interesting, and the storytelling was top notch. Seems like a fun trip to do some day. Quotes:

    • Page 118: on the difference between Americans & Canadians: "This blunt distinction fitted nicely with a subtler one made by Russell Brown, a Canadian literary critic. Trawling a broad net through American and Canadian fiction, Brown suggested that one essential difference between the two cultures lay in the characters of Oedipus and Telemachus. In the States, a society founded on revolution, the mythic hero was the runaway son, the patricide; Oedipus as Huckleberry Finn. Escape, rebellion, the cult of the new life at the expense of the old, were the commanding American themes. Up north, in a society founded on the refusal to rise up against its parent, the mythic hero was the loyal son of Odysseus, Telemachus; the voyager in search of the lost father. Americans broke with their ancestral pasts, whereas Canadians honored theirs."
    • Page 363: "Alaska was regarded as an inexhaustible treasury of natural assets, to be looted for the nation’s benefit. One of its great attractions was its remoteness; and things could be done there that would not have been tolerated in Washington or Oregon. Young men could run profitably wild in Alaska without damaging the social fabric of their staid hometowns. In the dog days of peacetime, Alaska held out the promise of all the noise and excitement of a major foreign war."
    • Page 431, a quote from Marcus Aurelius: "In the life of a man, his time is but a moment, his being an incessant flux, his senses a dim rushlight, his body a prey of worms, his soul an unquiet eddy, his fortune dark, and his fame doubtful. In short, all that is of the body is as coursing waters, all that is of the soul as dreams and vapours; life a warfare, a brief sojourning in an alien land; and after repute, oblivion."

    (tags: travel exploration alaska sailing navigation ocean )

  • The Alps: A Human History from Hannibal to Heidi and Beyond

    A bit of a letdown compared to the passion and writing that was in The High Sierra (by KSR). Would not recommend, still on the hunt for a book or two about the Alps, Pyrenees, and Dolomites.

    (tags: history travel germany switzerland mountains geography italy austria alps )

What I’ve been reading: September, 2023

  • The High Sierra: A Love Story

    Really enjoyed this side of Kim Stanley Robinson. I grew up hiking around Mammoth Lakes and did some time in / around Yosemite and Tahoe and have dreamed about backpacking around above the tree line. Some day. Should be required reading for anyone doing hiking in the High Sierra.

    (tags: nonfiction geology mountains hiking walking backpacking glaciers yosemite naming )

  • Behind the Bears Ears: Exploring the Cultural and Natural Histories of a Sacred Landscape

    Picked up our Southwest roadtrip, 400 pages of what could have been dry reading but is really well done. Quotes:

    • Page 15: "Although this never stops journalists from trotting out the ‘rewrite history’ meme every time a new one is found. In following with Betterridge’s Law, anytime you see the clickbait-y headline ‘blank could rewrite history’, put your money on ‘but probably not.’ Footnote: Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by teh word ‘no’. It’s named for British tech journalist Ian Betteridge, although the observation that egregious editorizliating should not be taken at face value is about as old as journalism itself."
    • Page 317: "And here’s where the local community has good reason to despise the legacy of Cerberus. Meth addiction – drug and alcohol abuse in general, for that matter, is a big problem in any impoverished community in the United States, regardless of the dominating ethnicity or presence of churches or whatever all else, because the root problem is socioeconomic. It’s the same in rural communities as it is in inner cities. Substance abuse and base violence are more strongly linked to economic distress and disparity than to any extraneous variable, like skin tone or local culture, because in our country we teach people that poverty is deplorable. In addition to brown air and burning rivers, that’s another fun spinoff from the legacy of consumerism."
    • Page 389-390: "This type of community is a scary idea to some people. It’s often the basis of what nowadays is called identity politics, where people vote or otherwise get political in sole accordance with perceptions of their own and/or favored candidates’ cultural identity, and it’s almost always a defensive reaction against manufactured illusions of invasion. At best, that’s how you get segregation. At worst, fascism and genocide. The thing is, being members of a community doesn’t require a whole lot of scarifice, and it doesn’t require sacrificing one’s own cultural identify. On the contrary, a diverse array of individual and cultural contributions is exactly what makes a community great in the first place. The alternative is like a stew with just one ingredient."

    (tags: history nonfiction utah southwest native-americans arizona colorado bearsears )

What I’ve been reading: August, 2023

  • Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, Revised Edition

    Fascinating / great book. Highly recommended for anyone that lives in the Western United States to understand where your water comes from, who’s using it, and maybe most importantly, who decided who gets to use it.


    • Page 29, loved the description of the rivers from the past: "Soap Creek Rapids, Badger Creek Rapids, Crystal creek Rapids, Lava Falls. Nearly all of the time, the creeks that plunge down the ravine of the Grand Canyon will barely float a walnut shell, but the flash floods resulting from a desert downpour can dislodge boulders as big as a jitney bus. Tumbled by gravity, the boulders carom into the main river and sit there, creating a dam, which doesn’t so much stop the river as make it mad. Except for the rapids of the Susitna, the Niagra, and perhaps a couple of rivers in Canada, the modern Colorado’s rapids are the biggest on the continent. Before the dams were built, however, the Colorado’s rapids were really big. At Lava Falls, where huge chunks of basalt dumped in the main river create a thirty-foot drop, waves at flood stage were as high as three-story houses. There was a cycling wave at the bottom that, every frew seconds, would burst apart with the retort of a sixteen-inch gun, drenching anyone on either bank of the river – two hundred feet apart."
    • Page 212: fascinating to know that there was a possibility of diverting water from the Columbia to the Southwest. "Fifty million here, eighty million there, a hundred million here, and soon one was talking about real money. In the 1960s, Dos Rios Dam could have been built for $400 million; today it might cost $3 billion or more. A diversion from the Columbia River to the Southwest could have been built for $6 billion or so in the sixties, and there was so much surplus energy in the Northwest that a few million acre-feet of water removed from a river that dumps 140 million acre-feet into the sea might not have been missed. Today the cost seems utterly prohbitive, and Washington and Oregon would probably resist the engineers with tanks. The opportunity was there. But the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau squandered their political capital and billions in taxpayers’ money on vainglorious rivalry, with the result that much of what they really wanted to build does not now exist, and probably never will."
    • Page 332, on California: "Everyone knows that there is a desert somewhere in California, but many people believe it is off in some remote corner of the state – the Mojave Desert, Palm Springs, the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada. But inhabited California, most of it, is, by strict definition, a semidesert. Los Angeles is drier than Beirut; Sacramento is as dry as the Sahel; San Francisco is just slightly rainier than Chihuahua. About 65 percent of the state receives under 20 inches of precipitation a year. California, which fools visitors into believing it is "lush", is a beautiful fraud…. There was hardly a single tree growing in San Francisco when the fist Spanish arrived; it was too dry and wind-blown for trees to take hold. Today, Golden Gate Park looks as if Virginia had mated with Borneo, thanks to water brought nearly two hundred miles by tunnel. The same applies to Bel Air, to Pacific Palisades, to the manicured lawns of La Jolla, where the water comes from three directions, and from a quarter of a continent away."
    • On ownership of the farmland in California… this was a big theme in the book and it’s eye opening to say the least: "In August of 1981, the California Institute for Rural Studies released a report on property ownership in five water districts within the service area of the State Project. Most of the districts are in Kern County; most of the farms are neighbors of the McCarthy Ranch… The CIRS report corroborated what the Department of Water Resources had taken unusual pains to point out: that the majority fo the farmers receivering project water were small farmers…. but those farms owned less than a third of the total acreage; the other two-thirds, which amounted to 227,545 acres, was owned by eight companies. The largest of the farmers was Chevon USA, the main subsidiary of the Standard Oil Company of California… In second place, with 35,897 acres, was the Tejon Ranch, one of the great land empires of California. The principal stockholders of the Tejon Ranch are members of the Chandler family, which owns the Los Angeles Times — the strongest voice for water development in California for the past eighty years. In third and fourth place were two more oil companies, Getty and Shell… The presence of Getty (and Chevron USA) in the service area of the California Water Project again pointed up the architectural brilliance with which the project was conceived. They pay a severance tax to California on oil they pump off Long Beach, which is immediately put into a fund that makes annual interest-free "loans" of $25 million a year to the State Water Project, which delivers doubly subsidized irrigation water to their formerly worthless land."
    • Page 434 on the Bureau: "The Bureau is like one of these crooks with money earning interest in twenty different banks – it has to spend the money on something. It is all borrowed money – it belongs to the people of the United States – but the people of the United States don’t know that. The whole thing is a machine, a perpetual-motion machine that keeps churning out dams, which the politicians and most westerners are reflexively in favor of, and the whole business is running the country into the ground. The people who support these boondoggle projects are always talking about the vision and principles that made this country great. Our forefathers would have built these projects!, they say. They had vision! That’s pure nonsense. It wasn’t the vision and principles of our forefathers that made this country great. It was the huge unused bonanza they found here. One wave of immigrants after another could occupy new land, new land, new land. There was topsoil, water – there was gold, sliver, and iron ore lying right on top of the earth. We picked our way through a ripe orchard and made it bare. The new generations are going to go down, down, down. With projects like the Narrows, we’re trying to pretend that things are as they always were. "Let’s just go out and find some money and build a dam and we’ll all be richer and be better off." We’ve been so busy spending money and reaping the fruits that we’re blind to the fact that there are no more fruits. By trying to make things better, we’re making them worse and worse."

    (tags: history wyoming southwest rivers california geography water arizona desert oregon colorado )

What I’ve been reading: June, 2023

What I’ve been reading: February, 2023

  • Wind River Adventures: My Life in Frontier Wyoming
    Found in a random used bookstore in Nevada, am planning on backpacking in the Wind River Range this summer. Fun book and the author painted a very respectful picture of the Native Americans he spent so much time with. Quotes:
    • Page 78, an Indian chief after meeting the POTUS: “Washakie no good talk. Washakie’s heart talks to great white chief. Washakie’s heart says he is glad, and asked Great Spirit to bless white chief and make his heart good toward the Indian.”
    • Page 227: “The Indian, when I first knew him, was far different than he is today. They they were proud, haughty, and independent; kings in their own domain with an empire for their hunting grounds. And until the white man said stop, they knew no ruler. The Indian, as a race, never knew what it was to be despised. Far from aspiring to be like the white man, he has looked forward with a feeling of dread to the coming of the day when he would lose his ethnic individuality.”
    • Page 229: His reflections on the American Indians, after being asked by an audience member if it was “… better that the white man has taken this country from the Indians” as he could “… see clearly the hand of God in the setting aside of the American Indian and the establishing thereon a higher and better religion and civilization.” His answer: “Friend, that is a pretty big question to answer. I do not know whether I can answer it or not but I will say this. If you look at it from a commercial standpoint there is no doubt but that the white man has made greater and more intensive use of this country than the Indian would perhaps in a thousand years. But if you look at it from the standpoint of right and justice and honesty and fair dealing, it takes on an entirely different appearance. Suppose there came from the west a race of people as much more numerous and powerful as we were over the American India and they swept us back into the Atlantic Ocean, setting our remnants aside on reservations here and there and establishing on the continent a higher and better civilization and religion — from their point of view. Do you still see the hand of God as clearly as you did before?”
    • Page 235, his concluding paragraph: “I believe I know the Indian and believe the Indian was a man before outrage and oppression made of him a savage. I have known him as a savage and as a fighting man in the pride and insolence of his strength. I have known him as a monarch whipped into submission…. I have smoked with him the pipe of peace and I have sat with him at his feasts and in his councils. And when I compare them all – the red and white race – calmly in my own mind, their vices and virtues, their sterling worth and their shortcomings, the Indian does not suffer by comparison. When you see an Indian sitting on a curb or standing on the corner with that faraway expression upon his countenance, indifferent to the fate or progress of the world, remember that the white man has taken his country and made him what he is today – a nation conquered and a people dispossessed. His pride is humbled, and his spirit is subdued. His heart is broken. As a race his sun is set.”

    (tags: history wind-river wyoming )