Author: Phil Houtz

How Donald Trump Became More Popular than God

This week journalist Farhad Manjoo attempted a noble experiment – taking a week away from news about Donald Trump. In his weekly New York Times column Manjoo describes an eye-opening discovery he made during the weekCoverage of Mr. Trump may eclipse that of any single human being ever.

That’s a pretty bold statement. Manjoo is frank that he has no scientific way to back up his claim that Donald Trump may be the most talked-about man in all of history. But he does have analysis from an organization called MediaQuant to support his theory. According to MediaQuant Trump received $817 million worth of media coverage in a single month, almost double his closest competitor, Barak Obama. previous

I did my own semi-scientific investigation into Manjoo’s theory. Logging into Google Trends I compared searches for “Trump” to searches for “Jesus.” On the whole, over the past five years, people searched for “Jesus” 25% more often than they searched for “Trump.” But starting in 2015 that changed dramatically. In the week of the November 2016 election searches for Trump hit an all time high with “Trump” getting almost eight times more search traffic than “Jesus.” Plug in “God” instead of “Jesus” and you see the same trend, suggesting that Donald Trump is literally more popular than God.

Why, though, is Donald Trump on everybody’s lips and everybody’s mind? Does he command respect, admiration, awe or fear? Not for me. I think he’s a boob. A schmuck. A grifter. An unalloyed asshole.

Columbia University law professor Tim Wu might have an answer for us. In an episode of the Kai Rysdall, Molly Wood podcast Make Me Smart Wu explains how our attention has been commoditized over time. The Church, political parties, private entrepreneurs have all clamored for a share of the public’s interest and attention. Wu elaborates the inexorable conquest of public attention in his book The Attention Merchants.

“If my book is successful it foretells…if I would have been a genius I would have written this in the book…that there will arise,” Wu says in the podcast, “a lord of the attention merchants who uses the techniques of commercial media, of celebrity, of reality television and social media which jump over the media and reach the people directly, using this to accumulate political power transforming politics as we know it into part of the entertainment industry.”

Donald Trump, if Wu is correct, is this man who for whatever reason is able to demand our attention, sucking it like a vampire from our hearts, feeding off of it and growing bigger by the day. In some ways it was inevitable that such a man should arise. Many prophets from George Orwell to Saint John the Apostle have predicted this time would come. Trump simply had the means to be the right man at the right time coupled with a disposition to stop at nothing until he gets the attention he feels he deserves.

Back in November I wrote a blog post suggesting that Trump doesn’t seek political power, he seeks our worship. Judging by the enormous amount of attention he continues to get I’d say that he’s getting exactly what he wants.

15 Ways to Use Public Space to Make a City More Liveable

Hosier Lane, Melbourne Australia by Dale Bowerman via Business Insider

Hosier Lane, Melbourne Australia by Dale Bowerman via Business Insider

Business Insider’s title for their urban round-up is a little off – 15 of the most beautiful public spaces in the world, according to urban designers makes you think you’ll be seeing a dozen parks or outdoor malls. In fact what you’re getting is an overview of how insightful urban planning can transform a city center by considering the greatest public good.

Some of these include:

Millenium Park, Chicago Illinois – 25 acres of prime downtown real estate that makes the surrounding area more valuable because it brings joy to the public.

Borehamwood, England – A quaint but not spectacular town became more vibrant – and walkable – when automobile traffic was restricted.

Hosier Lane, Melbourne, Australia – This nondescript alley became a technicolor art experience when city planners allowed street artists to take over.

Some of the Best Apps for Hiking – Plus How to Hike Without Your Phone

We’ve gotten to the point where it’s hard to imagine going anywhere without our phones. And it just so happens that there is a great crop of apps to enhance your experience outdoors.

But just so we’re clear on this, no app is going to take the place of basic woodcraft skills. Think about it – your battery could die. Your phone could die. You can be in a place where you get no signal. You need to know what to do when you can’t count on your phone.

Fortunately some of the best trail apps help you prepare for the worst.

Knowstartup rounds up 10 Apps that Every Hiker Shouldn’t Live Without. Along with tracking apps like Map My Hike, this list has first aid and safety apps such as the SAS Survival Guide.

Not on the Knowstartup list, and one of my favorite apps, is GAIA GPS, a mapping app that has offline navigation tools for areas with no cellular service.

If you’re planning a true wilderness hike by all means take a look at Knowstartup’s list. But also get familiar with some good old-fashioned map and compass skills.

Here it Comes – The Death of the Boomers

Death isn’t something we like to think about much. But in 2016 it feels like death has been all up in our faces.

This shouldn’t be surprising. The Baby Boomers are coming of age. As a society we’ve held death at bay for a long while now, but here it is, death is catching up with us.

The Baby Boomers have changed the world, for better or for worse, in everything from the way we celebrate Christmas to the music we listen to in elevators.

In the same way that the Boomers have dominated culture, the pig-in-the-python generation is destined to shape the way we look at death. They say life comes at you fast, but starting now death comes at you faster. The Boomers, who statistically should be living longer, are dying younger than earlier generations.

So as we remember the lives of Carrie Fisher, David Bowie, Sharon Jones, Alan Rickman, Prince, Gary Shandling and quite a few others, be prepared for the next wave coming in 2017.

Terrible Predictions for 2017

Public domain photo via Library of Congress

Public domain photo via Library of Congress

Now that we no longer have the Mayan calendar to kick around where can we turn for our year-end doomsday predictions? One place to start is the blood of San Gennaro.

Every year the dried blood of Saint Januarius is presented in a ceremony of the Roman Catholic Church in Naples, Italy. And every year the centuries-old blood miraculously becomes liquid. Except for this year.

Failure of the miracle of San Gennaro is supposed to portend evil tidings. The last time the blood of the saint failed to liquify was 1980, the year of a terrible earthquake that killed over 2,000 people.

Nostradamus Predicts Monetary Crisis Following Trump Election

Michel de Nostradame, everybody’s go-to predictor of cataclysm, might have predicted the election of Donald Trump in the quatrain 40 from Century 1. We should know if this is true when somebody from Egypt starts messing with global monetary policy. It’s also quite likely that you can read anything you want into Nostradamus’ ambiguous verse.

Psychic Predictions for 2017

Channeled from beyond the grave, the Bulgarian mystic Baba Vanga supposedly predicted that Obama will be the last U.S. president. This means that something will happen to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president – or possibly that Trump will find a way to end the presidency once he takes office.

Also posthumously, the famous “sleeping prophet” Edgar Cayce might have predicted that Vladimir Putin will prevent the world from slipping into a third world war and bring spiritual renewal to the West.

Current non-dead psychics are less specific and less interesting in their predictions.

Futurist Predictions for the Year Ahead

Predictions from scientists are less interesting than those from psychics because scientists see next year mostly as a continuation of the last. Aliens, yawning chasms and apocalyptic horsemen aren’t part of the dataset for most futurists.

Among top science and technology trends will be a race to create a truly intelligent assistant, a surgeon will successfully transplant a human head, and hackers will climb to a whole new level in 2017.

My personal prediction for 2017? Anxiety will become the new “normal.”

Best of Wild Rye – 2016

Photo by Andrew Neal via

Photo by Andrew Neal via

How did 2016 stack up here at Wild Rye? A lot of the year’s most popular posts were evergreen topics from years gone by, but the dominant theme seems to be “if you’ve got an itch you gotta scratch it.”

Use Witch Hazel to Cure Posion Oak Rash – Witch Hazel acts as a mild astringent and for my money beats other “cures” such as calamine lotion.

Poison-Oak: the Itch You Can Never Scratch – How and why poison oak makes you itch.

Where to Camp in Ventura County – Some of the best local campsites.

Get 32 AA Batteries from a Single 6 Volt Battery? Maybe Not So Much… – Big batteries are made of smaller batteries. But you’re not likely to find an AA bonanza inside a single lantern battery.

Hike to Two Trees – The hike to Two Trees isn’t Ventura’s best hike, but it is the most asked-about.

Trails – Directions to a few Jeep trails. A little bit useful but not current.

Trail Notes: Ballinger Canyon and Deer Park Jeep Trails – More Jeep trails.

Getting Tough: Building Climbing Calluses – When you start out rock climbing you wish there was some kind of lotion you can put on your hands to help you build calluses. Your wishes are in vain.

Mysterious Sphinx of Malibu Found? – The book Weird California teases about an ancient monument in the Malibu mountains. I discovered the secret location – but it’s just a natural rock formation.

Giant List of the Best Off-Road Camping Trailers – So many awesome trailers, so little time.

Love Camping but Can’t Part with Your Mid-century Modern Life? Try These – Eichler homes on wheels.

Grove of the Titans – Really big trees in an undisclosed location.

The Ghosts of Christmas Past – A Creepy Look at the Darker Side of Yuletide

Victorian print taken from an engraving by R Graves via Stephen Bywater @authorbywater

Victorian print taken from an engraving by R Graves via Stephen Bywater @authorbywater

So much of Christmas is supposed to by happy, jolly and filled with thoughts of prancing reindeer that we often overlook the darker side of winter solstice. But if we think about it for a while we start to realize that Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is certainly a ghost story. The Nutcracker, especially E.T.A. Hoffman’s version, while it may not have ghosts per se, is clearly very creepy.

There are quite a few other ghostly, creepy and malevolent stories set around Christmas time – think The Shining and Psycho.

So if you’re in the mood to settle down with some good old fashioned gothic horror this Christmas look at what sites like are serving up – creepy stuff like M.R. James’ Mezzotint. Also check out NPR’s Linda Wertheimer’s reading of a selection from Marjorie Bowen’s Crown Darby Plate.

On that note, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Sometimes You Need a Map – Here are Some of the Best

map of areas without roads

Regions of the world without roads – National Geographic

I recently had a conversation with my wife, her sister and her brother about the value of a good old fashioned paper map. While GPS systems are convenient they don’t help you get the big picture of your surroundings.

National Geographic, known for its amazing maps, serves up the best maps of 2016. Along with the map of the world’s most valuable roadless areas, shown above, there are secret Japanese military maps, maps of cities under surveillance by the FBI and DHS, and a glimpse inside Stanford University’s public map collection.

And if National Geographic’s site isn’t enough for you, check out Edward Tufte’s collection of unusual maps.


Fight the Power – How to Start

Photo by Jordan Whitt

Photo by Jordan Whitt

Consider the picture above – several children running along a meadow path. It may not be the obvious image to illustrate organized resistance to the power structures of the world. But it illustrates clearly the reasons you might want to “fight the power.”

From all appearances the next four years of politics in the United States will be hard on the environment, hard on the working class, and especially hard on young, poor, marginalized and disenfranchised people. All of us are going to have to work together in order to protect the powerless from the rich and powerful.

But where to start? Sojourners Magazine suggests starting with the Matthew 25 Pledge – taking a conscious effort to act out Jesus’ manifesto to his followers:

“… I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ … Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

The Sierra Club invites people to Explore, Enjoy and Protect the Planet (and give money of course). Use their locator to find activities near you.

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich encourages people to help educate and inform people by supporting Inequality Media.

UK publication The Independent shares five things you can do right now to resist the Trump administration.

20 Mongolian Yurts. 2,700 Lbs. of Bison Meat. How to Supply Dakota Pipeline Protesters.

Dakota pipeline protesters confronted by guard dogs. Photo by Getty.

Dakota pipeline protesters confronted by guard dogs. Photo by Getty. Via

Members of the Hunkpapa Lakota tribe and their supporters have been protesting the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline since April of 2016. At times up to 4000 protesters have been occupying land at the Sacred Stone Camp, a remote place with very little habitable shelter.

Recently supporters have been equipping protesters to continue their occupation for a long and bitter winter. Jane Fonda just chipped in with 2700 lbs. of bison meat and 20 Mongolian yurts. Patton Oswalt contributed a laptop, a wind power generator and a drone.

If you’d like to help the protesters make it through the winter you can check out the Sacred Stone supply list here.

With Trump Holding All the Cards It’s Time to Fold (Our Hands)


I’m taking a break from the regular topics of this blog (camping, hiking, adventure, urban design, etc.) Instead I’m going to start praying.

It was hard to have a prayer time this morning. My mind was jumping like a monkey. I’m stunned that Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States. I’m not going go into all the reasons I think this is a terrible thing, at least not now. I want to consider what can be done.

I really believe that a Trump presidency will be ruinous to the country, that terrible things will happen soon and they will last for a very long time. If the American public wants to offset a tragedy we will have to take action right away. We will have to be smart, organized and effective.

And for that reason I plan on doing nothing. At least I’m going to make an heroic effort to calm down and focus on prayer.

People of prayer have faced worse threats than Donald Trump. Think Nero, Caligula, Herod the Great. (Muslims would likely add the likes of Pope Urban II.)

The Kingdom of Heaven is bigger, more important and longer lasting than the institutions of man. “All flesh is grass” says the Bible. Donald Trump will come and go. The U.S. government will come and go (possibly sooner rather than later, *gasp*). But the Kingdom of Heaven will remain.

There is work to be done folks. And I think the work starts on our knees. It’s not going to be easy – not for me. I am a fantastically lousy pray-er. But if I’m going to go “all in” on something, what better than something that’s a sure bet to last?

A Packable Panini Press and Other Outdoor Gear You Never Knew You Needed

panini press

BuzzFeed’s list of 30 Insanely Useful Camping Products You’ll Wish You Knew About Sooner is an awesome assortment of good, bad and ugly outdoor equipment that you either need or need to avoid.

The Good

Water Filter. The MSR Miniworks water filter is fantastic. I’ve used it on numerous trips and it works great. Be aware that in the winter the ceramic will freeze and you won’t get any flow.

Inflatable Solar Lantern. My daughter got us a bunch of these blow-up solar lights. They are fun, lightweight and festive. Easy to pack but they do pop, so be careful.

Stormproof Matches. Seems like the only time I need to make a fire or light a stove is when it’s cold, drizzly, windy and my fingers barely work. Stormproof matches are like tiny highway flares that burn for a while even when the wind is blowing hard.

The Bad

Electronic Pest Repeller. Uh, yeah. And you also have a million dollars waiting for you in a Nigerian bank.

Poler Napsack. These things get great reviews. And yet… Maybe bring an emergency blanket just in case (mylar emergency blankets really work in a pinch.)

The Ugly


EVA Poncho. They just look stupid.

Seriously though, most of the things on BuzzFeed’s list are worth a look, like the JetBoil backpacking stove – I wouldn’t get one ($$$) but they work as advertised and I’m always a little jealous of the folks that have these and are enjoying their hot freeze-dried Teriyaki chicken twenty minutes before I am.

How to Take Any Car Off-Roading [Insert Caveats Here]

off-roading in a sedan

Photo: VW Forum

So you want to venture into the wilderness but you don’t want to fork out the dough to build an ultimate adventure rig? No problemo. Outside Magazine tips you to what you need to venture off the beaten path no matter what kind of car you’re driving.

At the top of their list is traction because, well, it’s all about where the rubber meets the road. Or doesn’t as your case may be. So tires and tire repair are definite must-haves.

And if you have the derring-do to adventure into the outback in your Corolla, please read to the end of their article…which is all about recovery. Sand ladders, a tow strap and some kind strangers might be all it takes to make your trip something you can survive long enough to share with the grandkids.

Wide Open Spaces Are Going Fast – Map Shows How Fast

dwindling open spaces

You’ve heard of urban sprawl. Chances are you’re quite at home with it. But you might not be aware of how fast it spreads – an acre of land is lost to human development every 2-1/2 minutes according to the website Disappearing West.

An interactive map of disappearing open space gives a county-by-county view of land loss with an explanation of what is being lost and why development is taking place.

A team of scientists at the nonprofit Conservation Science Partners, or CSP, analyzed nearly three dozen datasets; a dozen types of human activities; and more than a decade of satellite imagery for 11 western states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

Here is what they found: Human development in the West now covers more than 165,000 square miles of land. That is roughly the size of 6 million superstore parking lots.

This development is growing fast. Between 2001 and 2011, natural areas in the West—including forests, wetlands, deserts, and grasslands—were disappearing at the rate of one football field every 2.5 minutes.

The aim of the site is to inform, inspire and motivate people to make an effort to protect open space before it is too late.

[Via Adventure Journal]

Giant List of the Best Off-Road Camping Trailers

off-road camping trailers

You like to get far off the beaten path but you hate sleeping on the ground. We get it. And so does the Adventure Portal with their buyers guide to off-road camping trailers. All in all they cover trailers from 32 different manufacturers, with a rundown of models, features and specs:

The styles of the off-road trailers covered in this article are:
(1) Teardrop.
(2) “Internal Living Space” trailers.
(3) Fully spec’d Box Frame/Expo.
(4) M416 Utility.
(5) Flatbed Toy Hauler.

Terrain capability of each off-road trailer is rated:
(a) Easy: graded fire roads where 4High is only used on occasions.
(b) Moderate: rough terrain where 4Low and high clearance is needed.
(c) Difficult: 4Low, lockers, high clearance required with careful wheel placement and spotters. Potential for trailer and rig damage.

The Adventure Portal’s guide has a great rundown of makes and models with prices and differences between models. With a wide range of trailers from off-grid capable teardrops to DIY project rigs, you’re bound to find something that works for you.

If that’s not enough, you can find even more camping trailers at:

6 Adventure-Going Off-Road Trailers from Gear Patrol
1001 Off-Road Trailers on Pinterest

UPDATED 5.25.2016: An incredibly comprehensive review of Turtleback trailers at Expedition Portal

UPDATED 5.27.2016: Gizmag lists the latest and greatest off-road camping trailers from Arizona’s Overland Expo.

And for the budget-minded? How about a roof rack and a two-person tent cot (available on Amazon)?

two person tent cot