Packing light for an active, varied, round-the-world trip



I can fit all of my possessions for this round-the-world trip in one carry-on. Well, that is, if I cheat a little. My goal has always been to pack light enough to meet Ryanair’s cabin requirements of one cabin bag with the maximum dimensions of 55 by 40 by 20 centimeters.

Ryanair says the weight limit for cabin bags is 10 kilograms, but I’ve never seen them check this. The airline seems to have eased up its rules, because now they’re also allowing one small bag of up to 35 by 20 by 20 centimeters (13.77 by 7.89 by 7.89 inches) per passenger. That’s totally doable, especially if you remember that the bag can be a little bigger than that, as long as you can actually smash it/fold it down to the right size if asked.

I have several goals with what I pack. One, keep myself warm, healthy and safe. Two, look good. Three, make my life as easy as possible as I travel. So I balance packing light with including enough comforts to sustain me. Here’s a partial list of what I packed for my round-the-world trip:

  1. Climbing harness, locking carabiner and belay device.
  2. Climbing shoes.
  3. Climbing shorts.
  4. Sports tank with built-in support, svelte enough for going out in.
  5. Reasonably quick-drying tshirt I won’t mind wearing a lot. Most blended tshirts fall into this category.
  6. Icebreaker cardigan, or other light jacket layer that resists odor and washes easily in bathroom sinks.
  7. Icebreaker travel clothes

    Visiting my little brother, wearing the pants my niece picked out and an Icebreaker shirt.

    Long-sleeved Icebreaker or similar multi-purpose long-wearing shirt >>>

  8. One pair of pants, appropriate for dancing, professional situations, and general sightseeing. In other words, they should be sleek and comfortable, with stretch. I allowed my three-year-old niece to go shopping with me and she advised me to buy this particular pair; as it turns out, she has impeccable taste.
  9. Light scarf.
  10. Five pairs of wool socks, differing weights, including one small enough that they don’t show over your chosen pair of shoes.
  11. Seven pairs of underwear, small and reasonably quick-drying (most women’s underwear seems to fall into this category, as long as it isn’t all cotton).
  12. One pair of flip-flops you can walk for miles in (mine are North Face).
  13. Two stretchy sundresses with built-in support (mine are from Patagonia and Mountain Hardwear).
  14. Two bathing suits.
  15. One travel towel/sarong.
  16. Tank top and stretchy shorts for sleeping; to double as streetwear in an emergency.
  17. One decent pair of sunglasses, polarized.
  18. Collapsible water bottle, such as those made by Platypus.
  19. Bandana and silicon earplugs, for sleeping.
  20. Digital SLR camera, and charger.
  21. Adapter. I researched what I’d need based on where I’m going.
  22. Laptop, cord.
  23. Some kind of laptop case that doubles as a collapsible day pack.
  24. Hard copy of my schedule, compiled into one master document and protected in a plastic sleeve.
  25. Simple first aid kit: band-aids and possibly moleskin, as well as cures for what commonly ails me.
  26. Vitamins (including fish oil and probiotics).
  27. Wet wipes.
  28. Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 1.48.10 PMToiletries. I go light here, but I’m bringing mosquito repellant, sunscreen and itch ointment. I’m also bringing silica hair powder, a volumizer that doubles as dry shampoo.
  29. Small notebook and two pens.
  30. Enough of the foreign currency to get me into the main city and out of the airport.
  31. Passport and some way to wear it under my clothes. Because I don’t like losing passports.
  32. I started out with ten Epic bars, ten Larabars, and my coconut macaroons with chocolate whey powder substituted for some of the melted chocolate. This is mostly to avoid eating overpriced airport food, and to have trustworthy, healthy snacks available.
  33. Ten or so teabags, assorted. Often, there’s hot water in a hotel or hostel, but it’s rare they have the kind of tea you want.

On the plane, I wore another Icebreaker shirt, comfortable jeans, a down jacket (doubles as a pillow) and Toms knock-offs in black. These canvas shoes are my new favorite traveling shoes — they’re minimalist and don’t offer a ton of support, but they’re very comfortable and they look decent in spite of being extremely inexpensive. And I’m kind of into minimalist shoes right now anyway.

As a sidenote, nobody is paying me to plug their products, or even offering free review material. I’ve just discovered that the brands I mention are excellent for traveling. As I’ve said before, good outdoor gear makes for the best-performing, most compact travel wear I’ve come across. It can be pricey, especially if it looks good, but I scour the sales on deal websites and physical stores — being size XS helps.

IMG_9457As for how to pack all this stuff into the small space allotted to you, that can be tricky. I took two thin plastic bags, the kind you use for produce in grocery stores, lined my (cleaned) climbing shoes with them, and then stuffed smaller clothing items into the lined shoes. I converted my clothes into tightly-rolled blocks and laid them like brickwork into the Tetris field of the larger, immobile objects. I used food bars to fill small spaces. I unlaced my climbing harness and strung it around the parameter of my suitcase. Basically, I was going for maximum density. I left enough space at the top for my laptop.

Searching for travel apps at the AMTA



The customs agent pauses with the passport stamp in his hand and asks what my business in Canada is. “I’m going to a conference, the AMTA, Association of Machine Translation in the Americas,” I say. “You’re late,” he tells me, snapping the stamp downwards. This is the first time any customs agent has even heard of the conferences I go to, so I nod and then slink away past him into Canada, feeling chastised and amused both at once.

I’m attending the AMTA as a localization professional, but my globe-trotting self has a pressing question: is it ever going to be possible to have a reliable, accurate machine-translation (MT) travel voice-recognition and text-reading app for all your daily communication needs in far-flung locales?

MT combines linguistics, coding and even mathematics. At the AMTA, I keep thinking: this is a homeschooler’s paradise, where the super-nerds could really excel and maybe even make money from being super nerdy. If you could corner the market on accurate MT, you’d be rich. I wear my super-nerd-trying-to-be-cool uniform of an artisanal T-Rex tshirt purchased at the Portland Saturday Market from ARTjaden. And then a somber gray wool cardigan to button up over it in case it’s too casual.

Nearly all of the presentations at the AMTA deal with corporate or governmental MT: which engines work with which languages, which subject matter, which approach, how many errors are Ok in what kinds of documents. Also, how to train linguists to be corporate MT post-editors, and how to feed their improvements back into the MT engine so it learns how to translate better.

MT is incredibly complex because language is incredibly complex. For a language pair like French-English, something like Google Translate works reasonably well, reasonably being the operative word. First, because the languages are similar in terms of grammar and vocabulary. Second, because a huge amount of text already exists in parallel French and English iterations. There’s a whole slew of English source texts and French translations, and vice versa. This means that when something like the Google translation engine is learning how you are supposed to translate “Bob’s your uncle,” it can approximate pretty accurately from the million or so similar examples previously translated by real humans. Google is a statistical machine translation engine, meaning that behind its machinations, it learns basically how babies learn: by rote, by observation. Or perhaps I should say, how second-language learners learn. Like many second language learners, statistical machine translation engines may err on the side of taking things too literally.

Here’s why literal translation may not work. A guy behind me this morning cheerfully says to the speaker, who’s about to go on: “Je te dis merde.” She’s horrified; she must understand some French, and asks “why would you say that to me?” He responds: “It means break a leg,” but she still doesn’t understand. Since I’m physically in the middle of them anyway, I translate the two idioms: “it means good luck, but you’re not supposed to say good luck.” She’s relieved, and tells the French-speaker thank you. Ironically, her presentation is about how to code semantics with rule-based engines so that mistranslations like this don’t happen.

Now I’m curious, so I look this phrase up on Google Translate.Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 1.17.06 PM

Nonetheless, a properly trained pocket French-English statistical machine translator might not be that bad, as long as it could access the cloud and the enormous of data it would need to run effectively. Something like Swahili-English, not so much. Swahili is too grammatically complex, too dissimilar to English, and very little parallel data exists on the web for it. You’d need to build a rule-based system for it, and spend a fair amount of time training the engine.

I keep an ear open for it, but nobody in the private or public sectors at this conference specifically mentions developing MT apps for backpackers; the conference focused mainly on scenarios for more accurate translation, complete with mathematical formulas and heavy use of acronyms, such as “C API used for BASIS Language ID, rather than SOAP-based API.” One person did bring up having apps for tourists, and suggested having different apps for different scenarios, such as a specific terminology-oriented app for the doctor’s office. As everyone in MT knows by now, training engines for domain-specific, limited usage is way more accurate than when you throw hundreds of idiomatic expressions together into computational soup. So, in case this wasn’t already obvious, if you’re relying on Google Translate for your foreign doctor’s visit, that’s a terrible idea.

However, all this behind-the-scenes research and development may one day trickle down into cheap portable commercial MT paired with voice recognition, and the way things are looking, it may only be five years or so before this is a reality. Note: this is what people have been saying about MT since about 1955.

One woman, one round-the-world trip, one month, $1,000


Back in May, one of my friends posted on Facebook about this crazy deal on Priceline: you could get tickets from JFK to Europe and then on to Asia for a couple hundred dollars. He said to play around with the parameters to see what you could get, so I spend a couple of hours doing just that, worried that the deal would disappear the entire time.

My final itinerary was from JFK to Milan, and then from Lisbon to Bangkok, for $376.

To this I added a one-way ticket from Bangkok back to Spokane for $74 — and a lot of Delta air miles. I got to JFK on a paltry $5.60 fee and 12,000 United points. Mind you, the route was less than ideal, sending me through LAX and taking longer than all but the Bangkok-to-Spokane leg of the journey. From Milan to Lisbon I purchased a one-way Ryanair flight for $94. Total round-the-world flight price: $556.

I tacked all this onto the end of a work trip to Vancouver, BC. I leave in a couple of hours. All told, I’ll be gone for a month and a day, and I’ll travel eastwards the circumference of the globe and then some. My plan is to try to do the entire trip on a $1,000 budget, just to prove I can — and without resorting to sleeping on park benches and eating out of trash cans. More power to those who can do that; I’m too spoiled for such austerity.

As for the budget, it’s about what I’d spend in the month of November anyway on housing (as luck would have it, a friend called and wanted to rent for a month, so I’m getting out of my biggest bill), food, gas, entertainment and so on. So, really, if you look at it a certain way, the trip will be free. I’ll even be working remotely — appropriately, on an issue of our magazine that deals with how cloud-based technology is affecting global business.

I’ve never done anything quite like this before. I’ve traveled enough, I feel savvy enough. I think I can pull it off. But we shall see.

Trail-ready paleo coconut macaroons



I made an entire bag of chocolate-coconut macaroons that we took hiking with us, small treats that combined the caloric punch of fatty coconut and coconut sugar with the protein of egg whites and the buzz of chocolate. Because space was an issue, I didn’t whip the egg whites, opting to food-proccess them instead. They were probably the best trail food I’ve ever had.

I adapted this recipe from Smitten Kitten, halving the chocolate on the assumption that I was going to be eating about five of them in a row. I also added another egg (extra protein) and a dab of coconut oil (extra fat) and adjusted the sugar. Note: if you want a really decadent treat, use the Smitten Kitten version.

Yield: About 2 dozen tablespoon-sized cookies

About 2 ounces (115 grams or about 1/3 cup) unsweetened chocolate. I used half of Ghirardelli’s unsweetened baking bar, and also added a tablespoon of coconut oil.
About 14 ounces (400 grams) unsweetened flaked coconut. I bought mine from the organic bulk section.
1/2 cup (130 grams) coconut sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
4 large egg whites
Heaped 1/4 teaspoon flaked sea salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat oven to 325°F. Oil a glass baking dish well.

Heat chocolate chunks and the tablespoon of coconut oil in a small saucepan over low heat until almost melted, then stir until they’re smooth. You don’t want to overheat the chocolate.

In a food processor, blend the coconut. Add the sugar and cocoa powder and blend another 30 seconds or so. Add egg whites, salt and vanilla and blend until combined, and then blend in the melted chocolate. With a tablespoon, scoop batter into 1-inch mounds on the baking dish. You can arrange the cookies fairly close together as they don’t spread, just puff a bit.

Bake cookies for 15 minutes, until the macaroons are shiny and just set. Let them rest on the tray for 10 minutes after baking, and let cool completely before putting them in plastic baggies for the trail.

Glacier in September



BIMG_9085ackpacking IMG_9156Glacier was less rugged than I thought it would be. I was sort of envisioning cutting cross-country with the bear spray primed and ready, while stumbling over branches and weeds with 30-plus pounds strapped to my back. Instead, there were well-maintained trails and flat dirt campsites with tall metal rails to hang your food over and thus keep it (and the bears) out of your campsite. You could explore and picnic and leave your gear in the campsites without worrying.

IMG_9194We had hiked two days and 14 miles in up to Brown’s Pass when the weather decided to change. The wind picked up to a slow howl and freezing fog rolled in. We made camp quickly and crawled into our down sleeping bags. “The jewel of the continent, from the confines of a tent,” joked my boyfriend. We made hot tea with a Jetboil and fantasized about hot food, because we apparently hadn’t packed quite enough calories for the journey. We talked about a Mexican restaurant we had seen on the drive to Glacier. My boyfriend made me really mad by bringing up La Rosa’s pulled pork shoulder with polenta and fried kale. However, in my layers of wool and spandex and down I was my own personal toasty burrito, and I slept well, breathing through a small tunnel of down.

We got up early the next morning and shook off the snow that had accumulated on the tent, and hiked the 14 miles back in less than six hours. We stopped in Kalispell to find a place to eat, and flopped from the car, unwashed, travel worn, our bodies stiff and sore. We walked like zombies, slowly, painfully, across the street. We were supposed to be looking for good restaurants, but ended up just picking the closet one. We stumbled in and ordered: one hamburger, one New York strip. I had been talking about how good food tasted when you’d been eating nothing but dehydrated meats and trail mix, and I was prepared to be delighted even if it wasn’t objectively the most delicious fare on the planet. However, the mediocrity shone through our hunger — the fries tasted like they’d come out of a frozen bag and been reheated without salt, and my boyfriend said his steak was the toughest New York strip he’d ever had. “We’re foodies,” he said, and he laughed.

Non-resistance to evil



The images of police in riot gear advancing on unarmed US citizens is nothing new. But for the first time, with Ferguson and the police crackdown on protests, including the arrests of journalists and the gassing of a senator, the wider population is starting to pay attention. For the first time, they aren’t widely dismissing police violence with “well, obviously, the police are just doing their job.” For perhaps the first time, the protest is nonpartisan; it’s not only some of the right or some of the left that is upset about the conduct of the police. It’s almost everyone.

And for good reason. Which means it’s a good time to revisit just how widespread and ongoing this problem is. You’ve probably heard of the WTO protests. You’ve probably heard about SWAT teams accidentally bombing infants and swarming the wrong houses looking for drugs. But there’s more — there’s always much more of this sort of thing that got ignored because the people who were targeted didn’t appear sympathetic enough. For example: you’ve probably never heard of the incident on July 18 1993, in Portland, Oregon. On that day, police in riot gear preemptively blocked off the X-Ray cafe in downtown Portland, having been (probably incorrectly) tipped off that in the crowd of people exiting the venue after a punk rock show, there were going to be instigators of violence.

According to multiple eyewitness sources, some of which I won’t be citing, the police refused to let anyone leave or even tell anyone why they were there, and they blockaded Burnside to ensure nobody snuck away. They did mention something about the crowd “filling up the sidewalk,” which was apparently bad, but not so bad they would let them disperse. If this sounds like a recipe for disaster, well, it’s because it is. Some of the crowd did the hokey pokey in front of the police line to try to diffuse the situation. Some started shouting at the police: they were “working-class sell-outs,” they oppressed their fellow man at the behest of those in power. Some started digging bricks out of the side of the wall they were being held against in case things got ugly. Many of the crowd were punk rockers and anarchists, replete with dreadlocks and piercings. There’s a brief documentary of this with several minutes of footage and interviews starting at the 3:16 mark of this video. At some point, the police decided the crowd was getting too agitated, and decided to remedy the situation by spraying everyone with tear gas — or gas of some kind, mace, possibly. The crowd tried to walk away collectively and pandemonium broke out; someone broke a window, then two. Most of the crowd tried to run from the police, and many were chased down, bashed with batons and combat boots, and arrested. There were so many arrests, the police chartered a bus to hold everyone.

They were charged with rioting, which is a Class C Felony in the State of Oregon. The newspapers reported the only facts about the defendants that they appeared to find salient: the defendants were “self-styled anarchists.”

The word, used as a pejorative, dehumanized and cast these young people as lawless criminals. However, anarchism is nothing more or less than a (largely misunderstood) political theory. Leo Tolstoy was a Christian anarchist who strongly believed in “non-resistance to evil,” and his writings on the subject influenced Gandhi — specifically the call for nonviolent protest of the British occupation of India. Though there are some anarchists who call for using any means necessary to gain ground, just as in any political movement, many or most of them currently are devoted to peace. Though there are some anarchists who take a more individualistic view of politics, many are more accurately called anarcho-syndicalists, in that they aspire to a communal society with no overlords. This is different than libertarianism because anarchists do not believe in the authority of the state, not even to grant liberties. This is different than communism because anarchists are suspicious of power, and believe that if you give anyone the power of the people, the power will begin to supersede the people. Anarchists theorize about a society where intellectuals are not considered to be better than craftsmen or workers, and propose a sort of rotating system where everyone shares the burden of decision-making. Cops, for example, are taken from the general population; everyone takes a turn patrolling. Anarchists tend to be fond of George Orwell and Henry David Thoreau.

Anarchists tend to identify with (and some even are) homeless people; the aforementioned Portland anarchists had, in fact, had run-ins with police previously — over feeding the homeless without a permit.

Which brings us back to the legal trouble the “rioters” found themselves in. They were held, and some were released on bail, though not before they’d lost their jobs due to not showing up to work for a couple of days. Some pleaded guilty to diminished charges. Some demurred; five were subsequently taken to court in State v. Chakerian. The case notes that “A person commits the crime of riot if while participating with five or more other persons the person engages in tumultuous and violent conduct and thereby intentionally or recklessly creates a grave risk of causing public alarm.” Judge Janet Wilson dismissed the case on the grounds that the statue was “unconstitutionally overbroad,” and the demurrers were free to go. Of the five charged, I tracked down two; one is married with two children and is now a Jack Johnson fan; the other is divorced with two children and runs a small business. They both look entirely middle-class. The statute, however, was upheld in an appeal and is still part of Oregon law.

What is interesting about the Oregon statute is that by that standard, the police should have been charged with rioting; they moved in unprovoked in riot gear and gassed people. That seems to fit the standard of recklessly creating “a grave risk of causing public alarm,” at a bare minimum.

What is also interesting is that, as far as police and public opinion went, the youth were largely presumed guilty due to their political beliefs, their taste in music and their clothing. Try to imagine the same amount of stigma being attached to being a Christian, a metalhead, or even an Abercromie-wearing frat boy. Try to imagine being arrested for, essentially, attending the wrong concert and thinking the wrong things. In the United States of America.

This stigma is not isolated; public records, again in Oregon, show agents trailing totally peaceful anarchists and even random Subarus and participants of organic grow-op markets because of their loose association with anarchism. Again, try to imagine the same amount of stigma being attached to being a Christian, a metalhead, or even an Abercromie-wearing frat boy. Imagine being followed by the FBI because you shop at the Christian bookstore instead of the local co-op.

For most of the population, this has yet to happen. For the lowest on the totem pole, however, this has been happening for years. There’s no crime that people accept so readily as the crime of looking just a little too weird.




Easy paleo Thai iced tea



I’m sitting here drinking possibly the most delicious Thai iced tea I’ve ever had. And it was kind of an accident. You know that flavor that you can’t quite place that is definitely not present in regular black iced tea with milk, the one that reminds you of walking around the hot, bustling streets of Asia with a frosty plastic cup of milky tea? Well, you can replicate it by adding a splash of vanilla and a reasonable helping of coconut sugar to super-strong black tea.

Here’s the recipe:

Medium-sized saucepan of water about 3/4 full

8 or 9 bags of mostly-black tea (what I used: 2 English Breakfast, 2 decaf English Breakfast, 2 Vanilla Almond, 2 Chocolate Rooibos, 1 Chai. I strongly recommend using at least half decaf bags. Subtly mixing in vanilla, rooibos and chai flavors seems to work well)

A splash or two of vanilla extract

Heat these ingredients until they begin to boil slightly, and then turn the heat off. Add in about a cup of coconut sugar, and stir until dissolved. The coconut sugar has a relatively low glycemic index and a smoky, syrupy flavor.

Let the tea cool and steep in the saucepan, about an hour. Transfer the tea to glass jars to keep in the fridge, wringing out the teabags and then discarding them. The tea should be more or less opaque.

You can serve the tea over ice, or if you don’t want to dilute it, in frosty mugs from the freezer. Pour 2/3 of a glass and top off with whole milk, cream or even coconut milk (I use fresh raw whole milk, and it’s amazing).

Now, I’m guessing you could substitute the sugar/milk with sweetened condensed milk, which is what all the Thais I saw making iced tea used. But this way, you get the additional fun of being on a trendy American diet that’s no doubt better for you than the real thing.

Of goats and men


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Scotchman’s Peak is the tallest in the Idaho portion of the Cabinet Mountains, and yesterday I trekked up it for the first time ever, with my boyfriend Cole and his two daughters, Ada (age 15) and Lina (age 10). Note: their actual names have been changed for reasons that may soon become apparent.

It is blisteringly hot, and slow going due to the steepness of the trail. Only four miles up and four miles down, but not what you’d call easy. The girls provide entertainment, however, by informing us of their various hiking-induced woes, which range from being too hot to not being allowed to listen to their iPods. “I got a text!” Ada announces triumphantly. “I want a text!” says Lina. “Daddy, text me! Nobody ever texts me!”

In short order, their socks soaked in sweat, they both get blisters and resort to hiking in their socks or shuffling along with the heels of their tennis shoes turned down. “I’m pretty sure you could get arrested for child torture,” Lina tells Cole darkly. Cole makes her drink extra water and we take plenty of stops; Lina has a small pack full of candy and chocolate and organic beef jerky she’s been allowed to get at the store, and she doles these out to herself in the shade. I’m stoked on the stops and pick huckleberries from the surrounding bushes, shoving them into my mouth like I’m some kind of rare white spirit bear on the verge of extinction. Neither am I beneath wheedling candy from Lina.

hikingThree hours into the trip, we emerge into the shale fields and rocky outcroppings of the high alpine. We spot a mountain goat immediately. Ada and I think it’s cute until it starts to follow us, and then we scamper away after Cole and Lina. “Maybe it can smell the salt on our skin,” I say.

Cole says we shouldn’t be afraid of them. “Hikers come up here all the time,” he says “the goats know what we are.”

“Yeah,” I add “human salt blocks.”

It takes forever to reach the summit, another hour at least. We’re picking our way through shale and the sun is unrelenting. There’s a breeze, but I’m worried that my shoulders are frying. I left my sunscreen in the truck. Also, there are more mountain goats. We’re 50 feet below the summit, and one steps forward, right on the peak, and looks down on us. His chest is massive, and his white fur blows lush and gentle in the mountain air. His black horns curve up pointed, lethal, above his giant skull. “He’s huge!” says Cole “Look at him! He’s the real deal!”

“Dad,” says Lina “I am not going up there.” Ada and I agree: we sit down in the shade of a shrub, and get out our assorted treats. Cole advances upwards, skirting the goat slightly. He stops on the ridge, and turns to face the goat. Outlined against the blue sky, with cliffs a few feet on either side, we see a man and a goat sizing each other up. The goat’s head looks nearly level with Cole’s, or at least his horns end somewhere around Cole’s brain. The goat steps towards Cole. The three of us don’t like this, and start yelling helpful things at Cole:

“Dad! Get down from there! I’m serious!”

“Babe, if that thing butts you, he’ll knock you off the cliff! And you’ll die!”

“Dad, Dad, I’m serious! He’s an alpha male!”

“He’s fine,” says Cole “He’s just hot. Look at him. He’s curious.”

The alpha male apparently decides he’s going to check out this trio of screaming women, and starts taking the path downwards towards us. “Dad!” Lina yells “I don’t like this!”

“He’s just checking you out,” says Cole “Get up and go around him.”

goatLina jumps up and starts crying in fright: the goat is still coming. It’s substantially bigger than she is. I take her hand and lead her behind the shrub, telling her the goat can’t charge us that way and we’ll just go around the tree if he tries to get us. Ring around the rosie with an enormous horned animal, like a fun little game. But Lina is too scared for this game: she tries to run back down the trail, but I stop her and take her a different way, higher up, since I’m hoping the goat just wants to use the trail we’re on — or possibly investigate Ada’s shoes, abandoned in her own flight. But he starts heading towards us again instead. Lina is sobbing by this time: obviously the goat wants to get us. It lumbers along, panting in the heat, its expert hooves picking across the shale. “You’re scaring her!” Cole yells at me from the ridge. “Just go around him!”

“I’m helping her!” I yell back. “That’s what we’re doing!” I make Lina go back down towards the tree again, and then up the ridge towards her father, and Lina calms down. Of course, the goat comes back up again and stares at us, but after awhile he turns around and goes away. There are two more goats on the ridge, just hanging out in the breeze. But they are smaller and they stay where they are.

We take some photos on our iPhones and then we walk back down. I discover I’m getting a migraine, probably from dehydration, since I’ve been rationing my water and since my skin is dusky pink by this time. I charge down the trail, half-running, hoping to beat the migraine before my vision goes black, sucking water from my camel back, yanking berries from the bushes as I fly past for electrolytes. I only twist my ankle twice. In the truck, I wrap my eyes in a shirt and blast the AC on my skin. I fall asleep in this unlikely position, and then further cure my headache with ice water and salted steak.

Once my headache is cured, Cole tells me: “I’ve been called a goat before.”

“That makes sense,” I say “you’re stubborn, and you’re a Capricorn.”

Navigating history: Dominion worldview and Christian jihad.


I’ve just finished reading through the book “Navigating The Worldviews of Egypt,” written by my cousins Anna Sophia, Elizabeth, Isaac and Noah Botkin and a variety of their colleagues (and parents and in-laws). I read it at various intervals and in small chunks, because it was difficult to consume at any length without it hurting my brain. The book is dedicated to pointing out the inferior worldviews of Egypt, starting with its pagan decadence and finishing with the more recent uprisings. Large portions of the text are dedicated to explaining that Islam is terrible and that often, Muslims will lie to you about what they actually believe (p. 93). The authors concede that there are some moderate Muslims in the world, but they insist these people aren’t really following the Koran and Mohammed’s example.

This is juxtaposed with various comments about the right way to do things, such as the right way to have adventures and take dominion over the earth. The right way to adventure is seen, for example, in the exploration and dominion of Christopher Columbus. The right way to take over a nation is seen in the example of Oliver Cromwell, whom the book speaks very fondly of. That’s right, Oliver Cromwell. The same guy who invaded Ireland and slaughtered thousands of Irish Catholics, some of them even after they’d surrendered, on the assumption that their religion would pre-dispose them to be pesky and possibly belligerent. The authors additionally pitch Cromwell killing his king and taking over the country as a good thing: “When Charles I began ruling as a tyrant and violating the common-law liberties of Englishmen, Oliver Cromwell and other Puritan men used these scriptural principles to dethrone and execute him in a lawful and orderly way which demonstrated to the world the responsibilities of Christian magistrates” (p. 168). Executing your rulers because you don’t like their tax policies: totally contrary to the words of Jesus, but apparently still part of “the responsibilities of Christian magistrates,” according to the dominion mandate.

The book explains that Islam isn’t very good to its women, as can be seen in their overly restrictive gender and dress codes. The authors quote a passage by Bojidar Marinov that seems a little ironic given recent events: “Islam leaves it to women to protect themselves and society from destruction by choosing their clothing in such a way to completely shut them off from the world… In the Shariah legislation, a woman is guilty of adultery even when raped. It must be her fault, and the man is very often absolved, as being an innocent victim of his own overwhelming lust and the woman’s lack of prudence” (p. 89). Compare this to aforementioned favorite Puritan Oliver Cromwell, who is clearly so different in his opinions about female dress: “Cromwell believed that women and girls should dress in a proper manner. Make-up was banned. Puritan leaders and soldiers would roam the streets of towns and scrub off any make-up found on unsuspecting women. Too colourful dresses were banned. A Puritan lady wore a long black dress that covered her almost from neck to toes. She wore a white apron and her hair was bunched up behind a white head-dress.”

A big part of why Islam is bad, according to the authors, is jihad. Jihad in the American vernacular is synonymous with holy war, but it isn’t interpreted that way by all Islamic scholars. In fact, one medieval Islamic scholar states that part of jihad is the improvement of society: “one of the collective duties of the community as a whole [is] … to solve problems of religion, to have knowledge of Divine Law, to command what is right and forbid wrong conduct.” Of course, the debate rages as to how far one is to go to make this happen. Should it be done with laws, with discourse, or with military might? Regardless, the authors warn that “[Islam's] adherents have a deep sense of Islam’s moral superiority over other ethical systems, and of their authority and duty to bring the world into Islamic order… The goal of Islam is to rule the entire world and submit all of mankind to the faith of Islam” (p. 92).

Compare this to the dominion mandate, which is crucial to the Christian worldview, according to the authors. Man is “to ‘subdue’ the earth, taming it and bringing it into submission to his will under God. He acts as God’s administrator to manage creation and bring forth its treasures, cultivating its soil, mining its gold, silver, and precious stones, naming and utilizing its creatures… In summary, a biblical view of progress encompasses man’s advancement of God’s rule over every inch of the globe and over every thought and idea of man” (pp. 15-16). Put more succinctly, “The entire world has been given us to study, explore, and civilize” (p. 121).

Now compare this in turn to the people the authors state have fulfilled the dominion mandate. They state that in the 1500s, Christians were the most adventurous people on earth, which was only right and fitting (p. 121). They specifically mention Christopher Columbus (pp. 83, 121). Perhaps they are ignorant of the fact that, according to his own letters, Columbus enslaved the people he encountered and claimed everything they had as his own. Ultimately, his expedition led to forced conversions to Catholicism, rape, pillage, and often death under the so-called Christian adventurers who followed him in the 1500s. In the words of the Conquistadors’ own Requirement:

“We ask and require you … that you acknowledge the Church as the ruler and superior of the whole world,

But if you do not do this, and maliciously make delay in it, I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their highnesses; we shall take you, and your wives, and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey, and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict him: and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us.”

Perhaps the authors are ignorant, or perhaps this fits well with their idea of the dominion mandate. Change the name Don Cristóbal to Mohammed al Hussein, and you’ve got something that looks like the worst kind of jihad; but since Columbus and the Conquistadors were ostensibly Christians, it’s called “taking dominion of the earth,” and celebrated.

The authors also point to the bloodshed and in-fighting of warring tribes and factions within Islam, saying “It is not an accident that the political legacy of Islam, when examined as a whole, has been a series of autocratic tyrants replacing each other by bloodshed” (72). The same thing could be said for the vast majority of Europe’s history, and yet the authors do not even seem to imagine a world where Europe’s wars of religion and family feuding besmirch the “political legacy” of Christianity in the slightest. Apparently bloodshed, and specifically beheading your king, is fine as long as it’s done by someone with the correct theology. Of course, this is exactly what Islamic militants believe also.

In spite of these obvious similarities, the authors go to great pains to point out the specific differences between Shariah and Biblical law. They claim that, for example, “Biblical law is consistent, reflecting the unchanging character of God,” whereas “Shariah law changed with Muhammad’s changing moral opinions” (p. 75). I suppose this would explain why the authors quote Old Testament law so extensively, and why they reference passages such as Deut. 22:13-19 (p. 88) as being more beneficial to modern women than the current laws. However, the authors are not intellectually honest, since they claim that, for example, the Koran requires whipping for a raped girl, while the Bible demands that she go free and the man be punished (p. 75). Obviously, however, Muslims have a different take on this, and the Koran actually says that whipping is for fornication, applied equally to both parties — although in some traditional societies, a woman must prove she was raped by producing four eyewitnesses, which rarely seems to work out well for her.

Additionally, the Biblical mandate the authors quote is only for certain rape scenarios, which I’m sure the authors know very well. There are other scenarios in the Mosaic Law where this isn’t the case: if the raped woman is not betrothed, she is handed off to her rapist permanently, as his wife, after the rapist pays her father. There is also another passage in the Mosaic Law where women who are raped in the city and “do not cry out” are required to be stoned to death, on the assumption that the burden is on the woman to get someone’s else’s attention — presumably someone who will testify on her behalf, like in the Koran — or it’s not really rape. In a recent webinar, Anna Sophia and Elizabeth reference this passage, saying if you are being molested, you must cry out or the burden of sin is upon you also. They say this even after admitting that most women naturally freeze up under such circumstances.

In another passage within the book, the authors state that the Koran promotes killing people who don’t believe the same things they do, while the Bible commands that strangers are to be welcomed as guests. Of course, the authors have once again cherry-picked their verses, since there are a host of them in the Old Testament about God’s chosen people being commanded to wipe out all the men, women, children and even livestock of heathen nations.

So who’s being disingenuous about what they believe now? Or, alternately, is Biblical law and precedent something the authors think changes?

Throughout the book, the idea that culture is an expression of religion, and that all people are religious, is touted over and over again. Religion is defined as “A person’s network of pre-theoretical assumptions about God, self, and reality. Every person has one and every action of a person flows from these core beliefs” (p. 44). By the authors’ own estimation, the mass killings of other populations by Christians, then, are part and parcel of their Christian faith. There could be no other possible motivation, since religion is your “pre-theoretical assumptions” and all of your actions. It’s a bizarre statement, but it must be followed to its logical end. Additionally, in a section called “What Long-Term Judgement Can Look Like,” the authors state that Coptic Christians are to blame for their persecution by the Muslims, because they have not fulfilled the Great Commission (pp. 108-109). So there you have it: not only are all of your actions part of your religion, what is done to you is part of your religion also.

Armed conflict escalates as death toll rises in Salem


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July 21, 1694, Reuters staff writer

SALEM, Mass — Over 60 Puritans have been killed today as the death toll rises on both sides of the conflict in Essex County. The Naumkeag people have also suffered, having lost 14 warriors and two other members of their tribe since the fighting began a month ago.

“We were here first,” said a Naumkeag warrior who spoke with us on the condition of anonymity. “The Puritans are terrorists who oppress and kill us as well as their own kind. Their women are tortured and hanged and made to wear funny bonnets. Their morality is positively medieval.”

According to a treaty created by the sovereign state of England, the Naumkeags are entitled to most of Essex County. The Puritans are allowed to remain within Salem city limits, but in practice have been regulated to Gallows Hill as the Naumkeags have moved in on the other neighborhoods after carpet-bombing them with pig’s bladder balloons full of poison gas, as well as long-distance trebuchet shrapnel bombs. Pickering Wharf is now blockaded by the Naumkeags.

“They were asking for it,” the same warrior said. “They elected a mayor who is known to be hostile to our kind, and they refused to come to the peace talks in England. It all started because a white person killed three of our teenagers, so it’s really their fault. All we want is peace. We tell them we’re going to bomb them, and they still don’t leave their homes. They keep shooting muskets in the air instead. One of the bullets actually hit someone. They will not rest until we are all dead.”

“We could not make it to the peace talks,” Puritan mother Chastity Brown explained from her kitchen near Gallows Hill. “They blockaded the port and took our boats. They bombed our gardens. We have no food now. Over a hundred of our children have been killed by the airstrikes. They tell us to surrender, but if we surrender we don’t know what they will do to us. They have already taken so much of our land and killed so many of our people. They tell us it’s their land, but I was born here too. My father was born here.” Brown stops and begins to sob. “They shot my son as he was playing kickball in a field.”

Over 500 Puritans have died since the conflict in Essex County started. A Naumkeag chief recently called for “the killing of all mothers who breed little Puritan snakes,” and about 50 Naumkeags have recently taken to a hilltop to watch the long-distance bombings with a spyglass and cheer when something or someone gets hit. “#bloodforblood,” one Naumkeag elder wrote in the sky via smoke signal.

The English government has provided the pig’s-bladder balloon bombs and trebuchets, and several English banks have made agreements to invest in experimental weapons and land-clearing devices, since the Naumkeags are excellent innovators.

A faction of high-ranking Anglican dispensationalists believe that the Bible foretells the second coming of Christ to Salem, but that this will only happen if Salem is not populated by the Puritans, who are their enemies.


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