March 31, 2017

Constructive Compromises for a New Center Coalition

Until recently, a center coalition ruled Washington civilly. Trouble is that the coalition agreed mainly on mutual back scratching and became the creature of lobbyists and interest groups. It tried to appear to do something for everyone but we ended up with crumbling infrastructure, feckless foreign wars, increasingly expensive college tuition and health care costs, bank bailouts, and burgeoning wealthfare and welfare rolls. We elected whomever seemed to offer the most prospective for “change” – without being very fussy about what is going to be changed. Many Americans lost the hope of improvement which has been our distinguishing force. The wrath of both the Tea Parties and The Occupy Movements was kindled.

 Suddenly both parties have become captives of their radical wings, neither of which I think offers much hope. The radical wings can be left flapping in the breeze if there’s a new center coalition and Republicans and Democrats vote for the same bills after some reasonable compromise. Here’s my suggestion for constructive compromises which IMO address the legitimate grievances of voters.

“I’ll vote to end the subsidies and tax loopholes for my contributors (oil and gas drillers , for example) if you’ll vote to end the subsidies and tax loopholes for your contributors (‘renewable energy’, for example).”

Upside: Much less burden to taxpayers. The market rather than government determines business winners and losers.

Downside: Campaign contributors don’t contribute. Congress people have less chance to claim bacon brought back to their districts. The market won’t take into account hidden costs (like pollution) so it is necessary that these are accurately assessed on producers.  

“I’ll vote authorization for US troops in combat if their mission is defined and they are given 150% of what they need to accomplish it in six months.”

Upside: We defend ourselves effectively when we need to; we go less often to places where lives (and money) will be squandered.

Downside: We might be penny-wise and pound foolish and leave ourselves vulnerable. Presidents would need to specify costs and objectives (which we might not want to tell the enemy). Congresspeople would have to take responsibility for the costs of what they approve

“I’ll vote for massive public works if the regulations are changed so all new projects – public or private - must be approved or disapproved within two years, preparing for approval takes no more than six months after design is complete, and those seeking to halt a project after approval need to post a bond for the cost of delay to be refunded only if they prevail in their appeal.” (more here)

Upside: Infrastructure gets built and upgraded as it didn’t under the last stimulus bill. Private dollars pour into projects like pipelines with speedy and firm approval possible. As pipelines are built, gas will displace more coal and oil (lower CO2 AND virtual elimination of SOx and NOx and other bad stuff). Oil will travel by pipeline rather than by train which is not only cheaper but much safer. Better infrastructure helps the regrowth of American manufacturing.

Downside: A project might get built in your backyard and, although you’ll be able to testify against its approval, if it is approved you won’t be able to stop it for 20 years with after- approval litigation. Doesn’t bring back coal miner jobs. Hurts the railroads who lose coal and oil transport business (tough on Warren Buffet).

“I’ll vote for deregulation so banks can lend to new and small business again so long as we also assure that no bank (or other institution) will be bailed out if it fails. This means assuring that no institution can grow to the size that it poses a systemic threat and can blackmail the government for a bailout.” (more here)

Upside: Making loans available to small and new businesses means that the best job-creators are back in business in force. Tired old companies which don’t innovate lose the protection they have now because they get can get credit and nimbler would-be competitors can’t. Local and regional banks grow at the expense of money center banks.

Downside: More banks will fail. Regulating bank size is not easy and could be abused.

“I’ll vote for strict work requirements for all public assistance programs including Medicare if you’ll vote for a higher minimum wage.” (more here)

Upside: It’s bad for both donors and recipients if needed public assistance becomes a disincentive to work. More resources can be focused on those who can’t work if those who can work do and if pay for work covers necessities.

Downside: Determining who can and can’t work and who really needs assistance for how long is difficult and intrusive. Increasing the minimum wage will eliminate some entry level jobs entirely.

“Let’s write legislation which is so clear and concise that regulators don’t make important policy decisions and endless court cases aren’t needed to figure out what we meant.”

Upside: Policy control is in Congress where we can see it rather than in vast bureaucracies where we can’t. We won’t need endless court cases to know what a law means.

Downside: Compromise is more difficult when vague language doesn’t leave it possible for both sides to claim victory. Hard to strike a balance between precision and too much detail in legislation.

March 29, 2017

The Failure of the Center

In The Ship of State is Taking on Water, I warned that increased rocking means we’re in danger of floundering from water coming over both rails as we lunge from side to side. Reader comments have shown both that my metaphor suffers from assuming there’s a strict left-right dichotomy and that failures of the center have much to do with our current instability. Interestingly the two commenters I’ve extracted from below probably don’t agree on much except the failure of the center.

Daniel Berninger wrote (in response to a later post):

The usual left - center - right decomposition misses the more powerful vertical dynamic driving politics across the planet today - elite (up) versus the people (down) aka globalism versus populism/patriotism responsible for a President Trump, Brexit, et al.

The populist energy reflects two things:

  1. Incompetent (actual competently self-serving) stewardship of government by a uni-party power elite. The $48 trillion burned across two R terms and two D terms since 2000 in the US produced a dramatic decay of prospects for the common man (and via similar numbers in the EU) across every category of government activity.
  2. Massive expansion of Internet enabled communication options after 1995 makes it extremely difficult for elites to control the usual narrative - aka everything is fine and we are doing a great job. The government apologist forces control 100% of traditional media channels (and 90% of top 100 news websites), but the existence of direct public to public channels (like this comment) make it impossible (for the moment) to hide reality of utter and complete government failure.

The comprehensive vilification of Trump by punditry can not[sic] dissuade the people of things directly experienced in daily life. The various polls point to pessimism about the prospects for the next generation for the first time.

I defy anyone to name a single aspect of government intervention since 2000 improving daily life. The list of degradations is endless - cost of healthcare & associated insurance, accomplishments of military interventions, median income, labor force participation rate, cost of college and student debt, home ownership and equity, along with an explosion of public and private debt and on and on without end…

John Fairbanks wrote:

…While I would agree - this is the easy part - with the idea we need more thoughtful, evidence-based comity in our public policy discussions, I take exception to other points. While, from your point-of-view, Obama went too far left, he was and is a moderate-to-liberal Dem with a strong sense of social justice. His foreign policy was a mess, but it wasn't coming from the left. The ACA/Obamacare, which you deride as a "Ponzi scheme" (which seems to have become the favored term-of-art on the right for any tax-payer-funded social program), was born at the Heritage Foundation and field-tested by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. Had Obama been a leftist, he would have pushed for single-payer, if not national health insurance, or at least added the public option to his program. He did none of those things, perhaps out of political utility, but also perhaps because he doesn't see things from the left perspective. (I might add that deriding the ACA as you do, while not snarling and shouting, is neither an example of civil discourse.) Similarly, Obama did not send the Justice Department after the bankers, who not only wrecked the economy and cost millions of Americans, me included, our jobs, savings, and retirements. Anyone from the left would have, at least, done that. The largely-tax-deductible settlements the banks made with the federal government and other plaintiffs scarcely made a dent in the costs of repairing that damage…

Both of their points are well-taken. The anger of both Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party originated in the massive bank bailout called TARP (see It Was TARP that Boiled the Tea and The Occupiers and Tea Partiers are Both Right). Bernie Sanders got the Occupy votes; Trump got the Tea Party votes (grossly generalizing). Had it not been for the (pretty realistic) public perception that Hillary Clinton represented a continuation of non-partisan wealthfare, she’d probably be President today.

TARP originated in the Bush administration and got even worse under Obama; last outbreak of bipartisanship we’ve had. Not what we want to go back to. The coalition in the middle used to be more civil – but it hasn’t recently been constructive. Compromise has meant I’ll give a handout to your contributors (let’s say oil drillers) if you give one to mine (say “green” energy investors); and let’s both not forget our bankers. Compromise has meant massive funding for public works so tied up in regulation that practically nothing gets built (see We Need Infrastructure, Not Another Stimulus Bill). Compromise has meant fighting undeclared wars while not actually giving our troops the means to win.

My suggestions for a new center are here.

March 23, 2017

The Fantasy Tweet

Trump’s Great Chance.

As of tonight, Republicans in the House of Representatives can’t agree on a healthcare bill that enough of them will vote for given unanimous Democrat opposition to any Republican bill. The President, who really doesn’t belong to either party, could just call a halt to the partisan charade. The tweet would look like this:


The truth is that ObamaCare added coverage for people who weren’t covered before in a way which has resulted in ruinously rising premiums and diminishing choices in coverage for almost everyone, even those not covered by ObamaCare. On the other hand, the bill was addressing a real problem and many people now depend on its provisions. Fixing it is as hard as fixing a bridge which must remain in service during repairs. Thoughtful, constructive legislation needs to be passed.

What we don’t need is a semantic debate over whether we’re repairing or replacing ObamaCare. Who really cares except politicians?

The extreme right wants no government involvement; the extreme left wants no private involvement.  Both are willing to block any compromise by their respective parties if they can’t have all they want. Best way to disempower them is from the middle. If reasonable Dems and Reps vote together for a compromise, the extreme wings of both parties will be flapping in thin air. Great opportunity for a President who is a deal maker and wasn’t the choice of either party.

The Ship of State Hanging by a Thread

We Gotta Talk to Each Other.

Wednesday I blogged The Ship of State is Taking on Water. This morning was kind enough to run the post. The mainly civil thread of comments it attracted makes me very hopeful that we can steady the ship by talking to rather than past or at each other. Here's the best example:

commenter robby porter wrote:

Yeah, the rocking boat is a nice metaphor, and the story well told, but to imply that Trump's lunatic administration is just the other side of Obama, who ran a scandal-free, competent administration for eight years--eight years of slow but steady growth, declining crime, gradual disentanglement from the wars--is so ridiculous that it pretty much discredits the rest of the essay. Worse, it makes a false comparison between Obama's rational policies which you don't like, and Trump's irrational behavior.

And I replied:


I'm glad you liked the metaphor. It does imply that each rock is worse than the last roll. So the next lurch (presumably to the left) scares me even more than our present unbalance.

Although, as far as I know, no Obama officials were caught with their hands in the cookie jar, there was plenty to react to in his (very rational) administration including:

redlines set and ignored. the world a more dangerous place than it was eight years ago.
entering into significant international agreements without Senate approval (makes them nonbinding which isn't good either)
abuse of executive authority (doesn't matter whether it was in a good cause. precedent now very dangerous)
much more significant hunting down of press leak than his predecessors of either party did
vilifying police while ignoring the terrible violence they are coping with (yes, there are bad cops). BTW, crime now growing again altho I certainly don't blame Obama for the opioid crisis
a health care act whose funding mechanism seemed to have been designed to fail (perhaps to force single-payer)
continued wealth protection, especially for bankers
abuse of the IRS to harass conservative organizations.

This is not to defend the irrational twitter blasts or unforced errors of the Trump administration. It is a partial catalog of what sane but alarmed people reacted to, not just in the election of Trump but in the election of Republicans at the state and congressional level.

My hope is that we can work on the very real problems our state and country have with civility instead of ad hominem attacks (yes, I know who is the ad hominem attacker in chief), without panic, and certainly without dictatorship of the left or right.

To which robby replied:

Thanks for replying, Tom. Look, rational people can disagree about rational choices, but Obama is mostly in the past, so we should let that go. I agree with your sense that the country is lurching and the boat was a good image and I liked the story.

Solutions, as we both know, are much harder than criticism.

It seems to me that the core problem, is that things are getting worse for a majority of people in this country. I think worse is defined by material well-being, not in the narrow sense of a computer that is twice as fast as last year's or a $500 phone in everyone's hand, but in the sense of material and financial security-- whether someone feels that their job is secure, fears that an unexpected illness might bankrupt them, suspects, with statistical justification, that their children's lives will be less secure than their own, and so on.

America, the American Dream, and, frankly, capitalism, is predicated on things gradually improving. Capitalism needs growth, money lent at a rate needs a return, otherwise the system doesn't work. Over the past thirty or so years, most of the value of economic growth in this country has gone, increasingly, to a minority of the people. Naturally the majority, rightly or worngly, feels as though they don't have much to lose, nor do they have much reason to believe in the traditional values of the country, honesty, hard work, democracy, capitalism, and all the rest.

So yes, maybe the next lurch will be hard to the left. I remember a college professor telling us that, in the height of the Great Depression, communism was considered, by many people, be a reasonale alternative to capitalism which didn't seem to be working very well. Personally I consider that an unrealistic and discredited system, but I don't think you can be surprised that people are upset with the status quo.

This increasingly uneven division of the economic pie seems, to me, to be the core problem. You're a smart guy and a guy who has done well in this system, do you agree? If not, what do you think is the core problem? And at any rate, whatever you see as the problem, what do you think is the best way to solve it? That's an essay I'd love to read.

And I had the last word (so far): 

I absolutely agree with you. wish I wrote what you wrote.

my parents were communists during the depression (and their youth). Capitalism - and democracy itself - must deliver at least a chance of improvement - just as you say. If the perception is that the system is rigged, the system will fail.

The "system" is never completely fair, of course; but today it is too close to rigged. I think that is much of the source of anger.

The bipartisan bank-bailout called TARP was the eye-opener for me. It started in the Bush administration and got worse under Obama (as it might have under a Republican). Those who got the big bucks because they took risks got to keep the big bucks even when they failed. On a symbolic level the carried interest tax deduction for hedge fund managers has survived both Republican and Democratic administrations. Hedge fund managers are big campaign contributors.

I do think that repression by political correctness and identity politics with its set asides and quotas also lend to the perception of unfairness.

But it's easier to diagnose the problem than fix it. I do propose improvements from time-to-time. Today I'm encouraged by the tone of the comments on this piece. we can't fix anything if we can't talk to each other.



March 21, 2017

The Ship of State is Taking on Water

A million years ago when I was in college, my friends and I drove to Cornell for a party. Friends there had arranged blind dates and even a boat for an evening on Cayuga Lake. The boat was basically a raft with floatation provided by barrels underneath (I don’t think Styrofoam had been invented yet). There was a cabin on the raft and the flat roof on top of the cabin was the main location for drinking, socializing and attempted seduction. I, unfortunately, was running the outboard and steering us around the lake – my blind date didn’t like me.

For some reason too many people were on one side of the boat. The boat tipped that way. Everyone rushed to the high side. The boat tipped even further in the other direction. The next tip was so extreme that there was water on the low side of the deck. Now the panicking people were reinforcing the rocking motion. The top of the outboard was getting wet and I worried that it would stall and also that the barrels would come loose from under the raft. Drunks would drown and it would be all my fault.

Fortunately, a friend on the boat exercised his voice of authority and got everyone to stop in the middle. The rocking subsided; the drinking, socializing and attempted seduction resumed; and eventually I took us safely back to shore.

I’m afraid that America is currently a rocking boat. We wanted “change”; we elected Obama. From my PoV, the ship of state tipped too far to the left: foreign policy was abysmally weak; more people were covered by health insurance than had been previously covered but the funding mechanism was (is) a Ponzi-scheme; the rich got richer; banks got bailed out; and the poor remained at least as dependent on government largess as they had been. Political correctness reached new lows, especially on campuses.

So we elected Trump. The ship of state rocked far in the other direction.

Xenophobia became policy. Incivility became the norm in political discourse. There are indications that hate crimes are up. The political promises of Republicans are as hard to keep as the promises of the Democrats were. The left is up in arms and would like to lead a “resistance” stampede back to the other side of the boat. After all, water is now coming over the right rail.

History is full of countries which rocked themselves into authoritarian leadership either of the left or the right – frightened people vote for stability. Frightened people vote for authoritarian captains.

Neither Obama or Trump or their “movements” were all right or all wrong. But somehow we have to stand in the middle of the boat and stop the mindless rocking. Then we can get somewhere. Civility and tolerance might be a good start.

March 15, 2017

Free Speech Isn’t Granted by the First Amendment

It’s an “unalienable” right.

Nevertheless it’s a right which is endangered by the intolerance of both the right and the left. Lately and near home some have thought to excuse the disgraceful assault on free speech and free debate, not to mention the physical assault on a professor, at Middlebury College on the grounds that, since the college isn’t the government, free speech (and apparently professors) aren’t protected there.

True enough, the first amendment in The Bill of Rights “only” says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;…”. Congress could only abridge a right if it already existed. This amendment protects the right of free speech; it doesn’t grant it.

The Declaration of Independence makes clear where these rights come from: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,…” In other words, no one gets to take rights like free speech away; not government at the federal level; not government at the state level or the local level; and not a mob like the one at Middlebury.

In fact the protections against certain acts of congress in The Constitution have been extended by a series of court decisions to apply to the states and their subdivisions. Congress has extended the obligation to protect these rights to many recipients of federal aid – including colleges. Would those who argue that free speech protection doesn’t apply at Middlebury also argue that Middlebury isn’t obliged to offer equal-opportunity admission or equal funding for men and women’s sports?

Another specious argument used to defend the mob is that Charles Murray had no inherent right to speak at Middlebury. That’s true but irrelevant. It’s not his right that was abridged; it’s the right of the students who invited him and wanted to listen to him or debate with him that was denied by those who wouldn’t let him speak. Free speech means the right to listen to whomever you want as well as the right to say what you want.

Free speech needs lots of defense, partly because it obliges those of who treasure it to protect the rights of those who say obnoxious things – including attacks on free speech itself. We must extend them the right to be heard that they would deny us.

Lately there have been endless parallels proposed between the election of Donald Trump and the rise of Nazis in Germany. We should never forget these lessons. But I’ve just returned from France with its horrible memories of the tyranny of the self-righteous left after the French Revolution. The mob at Middlebury is a reminder that liberty is most at threat from those who are convinced they have a monopoly on truth, whether they are on the left or the right. Our unalienable rights are always endangered and always need defense.

March 13, 2017

Fair Warning in the Desert

A racket overloaded my hearing aids. It sounded mechanical at first but I was in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve reslinging my pack after a snack and getting ready for the last long uphill of the day; nothing mechanical there. Then atavism overcame analysis and instinct recognized the sound. The rattlesnake sunning on the rock next to the one I sat on for lunch was much thicker than I would've expected. Most of it was coiled except for its head and tail. I didn't stop to get my phone out of my pack to take its picture. Later I wrote to my grandson Jack who shares my appreciation of Shel Silverstein and Ogden Nash.

I saw a snake;

The snake saw me.

"Skedaddle," he said with his rattle,

Causing me to flee.


Jack responded with illustrations.

Papersnake Snake

March 08, 2017

Statement of Principles by Middlebury Faculty

So far Bill McKibben has not signed on.

Following the disgraceful events at Middlebury, which included shutting down an invited speaker and assaulting an escorting professor so she had to go to the ER, an impressively large group of Middlebury faculty have written a statement of principles defending free speech and asserting the importance of contrary views. They posted it online along with their names and I’ve quoted it below.

Surprisingly Middlebury professor and environmentalist Bill McKibben is NOT on the list of signers. Since he has made a career of protesting vigorously for his views, I’m sure he understands the importance of free speech and how jealously it must be protected. The list is open until March 11 so perhaps he will still join.

Below is the statement:

On March 2, 2017, roughly 100 of our 2500 students prevented a controversial visiting speaker, Dr. Charles Murray, from communicating with his audience on the campus of Middlebury College.  Afterwards, a group of unidentified assailants mobbed the speaker, and one of our faculty members was seriously injured.  In view of these unacceptable acts, we have produced and affixed our signatures to this document stating core principles that seem to us unassailable in the context of higher education within a free society.

Our statement of principles first appeared in the Wall Street Journal on March 7, 2017.

The principles are as follows:

Genuine higher learning is possible only where free, reasoned, and civil speech and discussion are respected.

Only through the contest of clashing viewpoints do we have any hope of replacing mere opinion with knowledge.

The incivility and coarseness that characterize so much of American politics and culture cannot justify a response of incivility and coarseness on the college campus.

The impossibility of attaining a perfectly egalitarian sphere of free discourse can never justify efforts to silence speech and debate.

Exposure to controversial points of view does not constitute violence.

Students have the right to challenge and to protest non-disruptively the views of their professors and guest speakers.

A protest that prevents campus speakers from communicating with their audience is a coercive act.

No group of professors or students has the right to act as final arbiter of the opinions that students may entertain.

No group of professors or students has the right to determine for the entire community that a question is closed for discussion.

The purpose of college is not to make faculty or students comfortable in their opinions and prejudices.

The purpose of education is not the promotion of any particular political or social agenda.

The primary purpose of higher education is the cultivation of the mind, thus allowing for intelligence to do the hard work of assimilating and sorting information and drawing rational conclusions.

A good education produces modesty with respect to our own intellectual powers and opinions as well as openness to considering contrary views.

All our students possess the strength, in head and in heart, to consider and evaluate challenging opinions from every quarter.

We are steadfast in our purpose to provide all current and future students an education on this model, and we encourage our colleagues at colleges across the country to do the same.

March 06, 2017

Rules for Detecting BS

Borrowed from Astronomer Carl Sagan.

He called them rules for avoiding baloney but he wrote at a politer time. Given the flood of alleged science on the Internet and the impossibility of fact-checking it all, these rules are even more essential than when he wrote them. The list is from his book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Highlighting below is mine.

  1. Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”
  2. Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
  3. Arguments from authority carry little weight — “authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.
  4. Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.
  5. Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.
  6. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.
  7. If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them.
  8. Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.
  9. Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle — an electron, say — in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.

Yes, I would like to see these rules followed in the debate about climate change which it is essential that we have.

I heard Carl Sagan lecture twice. The first time he was predicting a new ice age, which he called the nuclear winter. He said it would be caused by dust from nuclear testing blocking sunlight from reaching the earth. It’s impossible to know whether he would have been right since above-ground nuclear testing ended. This was the climate worry of its day and was very popular and helped make Sagan a cultural icon. It also helped that he was generally liberal and hated Richard Nixon.

The second lecture was about the likelihood of us ever contacting another intelligent civilization. If I remember right, the odds were 50-50 because he believed that “intelligent” civilizations are likely to destroy themselves in nuclear conflicts around the time they got technically advanced enough for inter-stellar communication. He would be interested to know that his estimate of the frequency of earth-like planets was orders of magnitudes low, partly because he assumed they would have to be circling stars very like our sun. He didn’t have the advantage of recent advances in astronomy. Good scientist that he was he laid out all the steps of his calculation so that it could be updated when astronomy (or history) showed a premise to be incorrect.

Thanks to good friend Eric for pointing me to these rules.

March 03, 2017

The Differences between Camel’s Hump, VT and Camelback, AZ

640px-Camelback_Mountain_2  640px-CamelsHumpVT2012


The most important difference between these two very different mountains is what happens when you stumble and reach out to grab the vertical object you see in your peripheral vision. On Camel’s Hump, the object may be a birch and you may crush a slug in your hand. Disgusting. On Camelback you will grab a cactus and you will wish you had crushed slug in your hand.

It’s true that both mountains have humps on them; actually most mountains which don’t have peaks have humps. Neither of the people who named these mountains had ever seen a live camel (don’t fact check me; I made that up).

Both mountains have scrambles at the top. On Camel’s Hump you scramble the last few hundred feet on solid granite. On Camelback the scramble is the top one third of one approach and most of the other approach, in both cases on not-very-trustworthy sandstone.

Which brings us to hiking sticks. On Camel’s Hump a hiking stick is a great help both for pushing up steep places and not tumbling down them on the way back. On Camelback a hiking stick is something you don’t want to have in your hand because you need to grab the rocks you’re scrambling over with both hands (see scrambling above).

Late news from the hot tub: the trails on Camelback used to be walkable. The recent heavy rains washed out the sand and left the shark-tooth-like jagged stone ridges which require two-handed scrambling.

The view from the top of Camel’s Hump is much prettier. Signs of civilization in Vermont are hidden from view by the geography so the foreground is green forest and the background is other mountains to east and west. Suburban sprawl is very visible on the flat plains between Camelback and the taller mountains on both sides as pictured below.


The view at the top of both mountains is disappointing: too many other people who seem to have easily made the climb you struggled with.

Dogs are only allowed on the Vermont mountain.

For a truly great hike in the Phoenix area, try Tom’s Thumb in Scottsdale’s wonderful McDowall Sonoran Reserve. The trail on hard sandstone has perfect traction; the landscape is a garden of huge rocks and cactus. Dogs are allowed. See author below at the eponymous peak, which is as perfect a pluton as Pinnacle in Stowe, VT.


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