Copyright 2012 by John T. Reed

I have recently written a number of widely disparate articles that touch on the same theme: my mystification as to why a lot of people observe or experience some bad thing then swear it was great.

• If people are on vacation or attending a much-looked-forward-to event, and it goes badly, they proclaim their delight with it.

• If people get admitted to some selective group and suffer as a result, they say the suffering was great.

I mentioned this in my article about my November 2011 Grand Canyon hike.

I mentioned it with regard to my military training at West Point and in Army ranger school.

I mentioned it recently in my review of the book How to Retire Overseas.

And I just saw another version of it when I read the book Vagabonding.

What the hell is up with these people?

‘All in your mind’

When I coached football, game day would sometimes turn out to be very cold and rainy making the field muddy. And the adult coaches would be telling the players, “It’s all in your mind. This is great for our team. Don’t let it bother you.”

They’re nuts. The proper response is to tell the players, who in my California area rarely have to contend with other than dry, mild conditions, that the conditions are bad but we still have to play the game and win it same as normal. Focus on your assignments. You can’t be thinking about your comfort level. Do your jobs, all of you.

Then tell them about all the stuff you are doing to try to offset the conditions like having towels, hot cocoa, dry socks, dry uniforms if you have them, space heaters, etc. at half time and on the sideline. Try to equip them with gloves, turtlenecks, leotards, long underwear, whatever can help them stay dry and maintain optimum body temperature in the high nineties.

Similarly, I have seen people go to the big football game at the end of the season against the big rival, and the weather is total crap, and the people are talking about how great it is. Once, on TV, our local San Francisco 49ers played the Chicago Bears in a blizzard at Soldiers Field in Chicago—a playoff game. The fans started cheering. The announcer said, “I think they’re cheering the weather.” And they were. We won.

I took a date to the Army-Navy Game in 1971 I think. That game was a much bigger deal back then. Sold-out 100,000-seat stadium. Sitting with my classmates and friends in the Class of 1968 section. But it was Philadelphia on Thanksgiving weekend and started pouring rain in the cold. I left at half time. My date, sensing the big deal and that West Pointers are never deterred from cheering on The Old Army Team had not requested it, but thanked me profusely for leaving. If you dress for it, you can survive such outdoor events just fine as a fan. But players can only wear so much.

Main point, it was too cold and wet for us because we had not expected it and prepared for it, so we left. We seemed to be the only ones. So be it. The others were telling each other how great it was. “Good infantry weather” and all that.

They’re nuts.

You gotta have objective standards

The problem seems to be like losing sight of your principles in an ethical pressure situation. Only in these cases, it is not principles but simple standards.

Your body temperature needs to be in the high 90s. You can die if it is not. And certainly you cannot perform optimally if if gets away from that. Cold air temperatures are not so much the danger when you are running around on an athletic field. The combination of cold air temperatures and being wet is the danger. It is that combination that causes your body temperature to fall.

My son was the star of his final high school football game. His team won the North Coast Section Championship 40-0 and he scored 26 of the points. But it was cold as hell and raining sideways in December. After the game, the players were celebrating as they expected to if they won, and giving interviews to the media, and getting a group photo taken, but they were shaking like leaves from the cold and celebration or not, needed to get into the locker room to dry off and warm up.

The book Vagabonding

I have lately been fascinated with the multi-flag strategy for dealing with a monetary crisis—inflation or deflation—in the U.S. Multi-flag means a willingness to leave the country or move your money or assets or business out of the country. Such books as there are on it tend to over focus on tax law differences for my purposes. So I read all sorts of books on various aspects of availing oneself of different countries or states in order to cheaply survive extreme inflation or deflation.

Vagabonding is about long-term (like a year or more), foreign backpacking by an American or other OECD national.

The author Rolf Potts, twenty-something young man, apparently aspires to become the next “Most interesting Man In the World.” I can’t complain too much about that. When I was in my twenties I went to West Point, Army ranger training, paratrooper units, Vietnam, skiing, traveling as a member of the cast of Up With People, hitching rides on U.S. Air Force planes around the world. There was no Most Interesting Man in the World back then. But I guess my classmates and I who were doing all that stuff were trying to be John Wayne or James Bond or some such.

I appreciate Potts’ best practices for international travelers traveling light. That is what I was looking for.

I did not appreciate, but understand the reason for, his proselytizing for the whole idea of vagabonding. The book is too much about why and not enough about how. The book I have sold the most copies of—Aggressive Tax Avoidance for Real estate investors—has a chapter on why you should do a tax-free exchange, followed by one on how to do it. That’s because there was special reluctance on doing them when I first started writing about it. They are now widespread in part because of my proselytizing. So there is some need for that.

For example, Potts explains that vagabonding is cheaper than most people think. Good to know. But then he goes on and on like a religious cult recruiting pitch telling us more than we asked to know about how great wandering around the off-the-beaten-track world wearing a backpack is. My enemies in the real estate investment information business similarly go on and on about how great it is to be rich in books that were supposed to tell you how to do it, not why. All of which is getting away from the objective standards and going into the “everything is great!” mind-set.

Here is a pertinent You Tube about how travel book writers cannot seem to see that some stuff in foreign countries is simply bad not the moral equivalent of our culture.


You gotta have objective standards. Potts had some, but he kept flying off into rhapsody and defining a sort of vagabonding religion.

“Religion” is a good generic word for all this.

Here is a definition of “religion” from

1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
3. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.
4. the life or state of a monk, nun, etc.: to enter religion.
5. the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.

And here is their definition of the word “faith”:

belief that is not based on proof

Aha! That’s what I was looking for. Potts and I and everyone else must have objective standards for evaluating experiences and observations.

Define vagabonding, if you must, then list its advantages and disadvantages, capabilities and limitations, strengths and weaknesses. This is what I do for a living. For example, in my book on hyperinflation & depression, I list the advantages, e.g., a million dollars in gold fits into a safe deposit box, and disadvantages, e.g., gold capital gains are taxed at 28% instead of 15%, of gold as an inflation hedge.

Potts does some of that, but he also does the rhapsody and religion and those are not rigorous, objective best practices or descriptions of limitations.

You must have the right attitude

Travel authors, like Potts, and Kathleen Peddicord, the author of How to Retire Overseas, and Rick Steves who has travel books on Europe and a PBS TV series, tend to instruct us not only on how to get a cheap air fare, but also on what attitude we must have toward different things that may happen to you while traveling abroad.

Is it wrong to give attitude instruction?

I would not go that far. If you read all 35 of my how-to books on six different subjects, you will find I sometimes instruct readers on what attitude they should have for different activities. For example, Zen is necessary for some success, but not in everything. My Succeeding book explains in the spouse choice chapter that falling in love is Zen. You do not make it happen, you let it happen. Trying to make that happen is an extremely bad idea.

However, with regard to meeting the person you fall in love with is concerned, the opposite is true. Waiting to accidentally bump into Ms. Right or Mr. Right as you just go to work and run errands is a fairy tale misapplication of Zen and a good way to become an old maid or lifelong bachelor or divorced. (Do not tell me of some serendipitous meeting you know about between happily-married spouses. That is anecdotal. I don’t do anecdotal. As Venkman said in Ghost Busters, “Back off, man. I’m a scientist.”)

Similarly, in baseball coaching, full-swing hitting, throwing/pitching, and fielding hot grounders in the infield are Zen activities. Don’t make it happen; let it happen. Whereas base running, outfielding, and bunting are non-Zen. Don’t expect them to happen without practice and drilling and maximum effort.

At West Point, in the first two months, your attitude needed to be that you would not think about quitting. You focus on getting through the next several hours to the next somewhat pleasant thing like a meal or lecture in an air-conditioned auditorium. In ranger school, the proper attitude is to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

But here’s a better idea. Don’t go to West Point or ranger school to begin with. The benefits are not worth the pain or, in ranger school, the real risks. If you want to test yourself, take a civilian mountaineering or some other challenging course, but do it where you can change your mind without having to spend years in the military afterwards. Or get court martialed.

I trained for my Grand Canyon hike without having any military rules, duties, slave drivers, or legal obligations involved. You can find plenty of similar challenges and even replicate many of those at West Point or ranger or SEAL school if you wish.

You need “a attitude” to play defense in football. To be a landlord. To negotiate real estate deals. To get a mortgage. And in my books, when there is a non-intuitive attitude needed to succeed, I point it out and explain how to get it.

But some things are just stupid or dishonest or incompetent

But mostly my books do not tell you what attitude you should adopt. And I especially do not tell you to adopt attitudes that deny reality like cold is comfortable or foreign diseases are an attractive adventure or that everything foreigners do is instructive and deserving of respect.

Those travel authors and others do tell you to spin many negative occurrences as good experiences.

Religion, not reality

For example, Potts quotes a lot of fellow vagabonding-as-religion folks. One, Linda Rose, offers this rationalization:

…my goal is to experience another culture as it is, and not look for the easy way out, not try to sanitize the experience. Overall, the discomforts are few and are far outweighed by the joy of discovery.

The “as it is” phrase is meaningless psychobabble which has no objective definition but is invariably delivered with such conviction that all within hearing genuflect. “Look[ing] for the easy way out” sounds some character defect, but what exactly are we talking about here? Finding a better hotel where roaches are not waking you up by walking across your chest?

“Sanitize?” Some things should be sanitized, like germy foreign drinking glasses. And some experiences are in great need of sanitation but unsanitizable and therefore should be escaped from, like my having to send a suit to the cleaners because a really fat woman with body odor sat next to me on a bus during one of my travels.

These phrases “as it is, looking for the easy way out, and sanitize,” in this context, are the sorts of words and phrases that politicians use to distract you from pertinent facts and logic and to evoke emotional responses so they can manipulate you. Religious cults do that, too. And I think this “don’t be like a tourist” crowd is cult-like.

To his credit, Potts devotes some space to denouncing those who go overboard on the tourists-suck stuff that comes out of the mouths of anthropologist poseur travelers who are so self-righteously superior to mere tourists because they avoid tourist attractions and see the “real” country. The problem is Potts himself is still too much one of those.

Potts seems enamored of what I call Jesse Jackson cadences. Jesse says,

Up with hope. Down with dope.

Potts says

…travel is…a process not of seeking interesting surroundings, but of being continually interested in whatever surrounds you.

He just said nothing is boring or uninteresting. Hey, Rolf. You need to get out more. The world has all sorts of boring stuff.

This sentiment is also reminiscent of

If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one your with.

which is a much celebrated song lyric that is less rhapsodized about in its country-western version

The girls all get prettier at closing time.

Rolf, read my lips. The objective standard is to say there are lots of interesting things in the world, when you find one, enjoy it. When you are in a foreign country and they are doing something that is foreign, but still boring, move on. Do not try to spin yourself into thinking that everything that happens to you in some Godforsaken back alley in some 182nd-in-per-capita-GDP country is interesting. The girls do not all get prettier at closing time. That is a self-delusion. So is if it’s foreign, it’s “great!”

Potts and the rest of them all say to be open-minded and accepting. Of what? Female genital mutilation in Muslim countries? Letting cows roam free among humans because they are sacred? Having to pay a bribe every time you turn around? Smoking cigarettes like a chimney all day?

I agree that the U.S. way is not the only way and you should try to appreciate what you see in foreign lands. But do not abandon objective standards. Don’t turn your brain off. Don’t start regurgitating the catechism of some cult—foreign travel, military, football coach, etc.


On page 158, Potts identifies the ideal: the “sincere vagabonder.” Ah, yes. Apparently similar to the Great Pumpkin rising up out of the most sincere pumpkin patch in the world each Halloween.

More quotes from the vagabonder’s Bible:

It is so often circumstance that makes an adventure, not a place or action.

All foreign travel is an adventure for me. It’s about opening the mind and challenging the soul. [Emphasis added]

What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy, and strength, if faced with an open mind. Every moment is golden for him who has the vision to realize it as such.

This is more spinning yourself and denouncing objective standards upon which to base your feelings or conclusions about events during foreign backpacking. Psychobabble rules. These people would spout this stuff to describe stepping in foreign sacred cow poop.

Something that seems painful, like coming down with some third-world disease, really is just painful and not a travel experience worthy of rhapsodizing about.

Here is Potts telling you what attitude to have in situations that clearly go beyond mere mind-set.

…it’s important that you don’t get carried away and inadvertently seek misadventure. It’s wise , for example, to keep a positive adventuresome spirit while you endure malaria (as I did once, in a Bangkok hospital), but it’s foolish to invite such misadventure through sloppy health habits. In the same way, getting robbed (as I was once, in Istanbul) might be rationalized afterward as part of the grand drama of travel, but it’s stupid to let your theft defenses go soft merely to keep things interesting. [Emphasis in original]

This will be my last mention of Potts book, but I want to comment at a little bit of length because it sort of captures this whole ethos of that which obviously sucks to the “little boy who said the emperor was wearing no clothes” should be depicted as “great” by those who have replaced objective standards with blind faith in the wonderfulness of all that exists beyond the borders of the U.S.

First, look at Potts’ best practice. It’s okay to get malaria or robbed, as long as you don’t seek it.

What difference does it make?


And I love the phrase “inadvertently seek.” That’s a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron. The two words are mutually exclusive. I think he means “subconsciously seek.”


I did a tour in Vietnam. We were told to take malaria pills daily. I did. Hardly anyone else did. Why not? They said they made you feel queasy. I asked the doc about that. He said just take them after a meal and they will have no such effect. So I did. Religiously, if you’ll pardon the expression. I didn’t want to get malaria.

I never got malaria. A whole lot of Vietnam vets did. Once, I was in a Quonset hut hospital in Long Binh with a fever of unknown origin. A doctor stopped at the entrance and asked, “All of you with malaria raise your hand.” Everyone but me did. Then he asked everyone who took their malaria pill every day to raise their hand. I did. I was the only one. He laughed, shrugged his shoulders, and held out his arms and hands palm up as if to say, “You can’t say we didn’t warn ya.”

Malaria is not an illness that goes away forever after your infection and treatment. It often recurs over a period of years.

Malaria is caused by a parasite that is passed from one human to another by the bite of infected Anopheles mosquitoes. After infection, the parasites (called sporozoites) travel through the bloodstream to the liver, where they mature and release another form, the merozoites. The parasites enter the bloodstream and infect red blood cells.

So Potts, and those other guys in that Quonset hut with me in Vietnam, are morons. Potts’ notion that he did nothing wrong because he did not seek it is silly. Those guys in that Quonset hut did not seek it. But they got it, because they failed to do what they were told would prevent it. Presumably, that is why Potts got it, too. For another thing, refraining from wandering the earth collecting an Eagle Scout’s sash full of exotic travel merit badges to brag about would also have saved him from acquiring a hard-to-treat, vicious, recurring parasite.

Got-robbed merit badge

Is it just me, or did Potts just brag about getting robbed in Istanbul? I think he’s bragging about that. Another resume item to submit to Dos Equis when the position of Most Interesting Man in the World becomes open.

Robbery is “The felonious taking of personal property from someone using force or the threat of force.” “Your money or your life” is the usual robber admonition, and it is accompanied by the brandishing of a deadly weapon. Potts was not killed or injured that we know of in this incident, but the could have been maimed or killed. There is no guarantee that the robber does not intend “your money and your life” just for the fun of it. He would not have been the first.

I am 66. I have never been robbed. I am no Pottsesque professional world traveler, but I have traveled to all sorts of places inside the U.S. and around the world. Part of it was luck. But vis a vis Potts, most of it was I felt no need to wander the earth trying to collect an impressive bunch of off-the-beaten-path, travel ticket punches or visa stamps in my passport. Potts has spent his adult life asking for this kind of trouble it sounds like to me. Doesn’t that violate the seeking rule?

Finally, thank you, Rolf, for telling us that

it’s stupid to let your theft defenses go soft merely to keep things interesting

But please explain how you rationalize that good advice and depiction of your own disciplined behavior with your statement on page 164 that

…your travels won’t be the same if you don’t occasionally take the time to put on a buzz, let your inhibitions down, and get to know new people.

I guess you got to know some new people over there in Istanbul by “putting on a buzz and letting your inhibitions down” but not letting your “defenses go soft.”

Low-grade Steve Irwin

Here’s my objective standard conclusion on Potts’ “vagabonding.” He is an immature twit whose probably clinical compulsion to collect travel merit badges has done him physical harm and may yet do him more harm or get him killed. He strikes me as a low-grade Steve “Crikey” Irwin—the “wildlife warrior” who got himself predictably killed in his career of pissing off dangerous animals from close range.

If you apply Potts’ vagabonding best practices to wandering around America, it would have you in gang turf, wandering through border areas near the Mexican-US border, going into biker bars, Italian social clubs in the Bronx, climbing Mount Whitney, etc. To advocate such nonsense in the U.S. to Americans would immediately be recognized as stupid or dangerous, if not suicidal, by Americans. But when you give similar advice about wandering the world beyond U.S. borders in a backpack, it’s “great.”

I would not even wander around Sydney, Australia—which I visited once on R&R from Vietnam in 1970—without first consulting locals who know the city. Potts’ advice is more along the lines of stay alert and don’t walk alone at night. That is not good enough given the enormous spectrum of dangers in the many exotic places Potts brags about having visited. His blase minimal precautions simply sound like the naive notions of one who had NOT done all the travels he claims. I don’t dispute that he did the travels, but he is amazingly unchastened by them.

Stay objective

Call a spade a spade. Do not be swayed by peer pressure or what you are supposed to think about certain situations. Don’t be a pollster. Look at the objective facts. Apply logic. Don’t turn your brain off when the subject is foreign travel, macho exertion activities, or established institutions that do dumb things.

This is obvious and no more evidence is needed beyond Potts’ own book. And he is a classic example of what I am talking about in this article: a person who looks at or experiences that are objectively bad things, then spins them to himself and others as wonderfully authentic, desirable, anthropologically-correcter-than-thou, travel experiences. The fact is his risk-reward meter needs adjusting. And he needs to take something for his travel show-off compulsion, preferably after a meal.

In my review of How to Retire Overseas, I had similar complaints that Peddicord seemed to give the advantages and disadvantages of each of her 14 countries, but she also had the same, “If foreigners do dumb or incompetent things it’s charming rather than just dumb and incompetent” or that you should overlook it on balance because of how cheap it is to live there, travel is broadening, etc.

Again, the antidote to this erroneous approach to life is the make sure you have objective standards for what you declare to be good. Living in a nation of dishonest, incompetent, manana, late slobs should not pass your objective standards. You should not give them a pass because they are not Americans.

I agree that foreigners are sometimes better than Americans at some good things. Learn from those, Other things that they do differently are merely neutral and interesting. But dishonesty, incompetence, disrespect for your time, etc. are unacceptable.

‘Pain = gain’

Then there is another strain of this that ought to be recognized for what it plainly is: masochism.

I first encountered this in high school football. “No pain, no gain,” which is somewhat true regarding weight training. But it has morphed into “pain = gain” in football and some other macho sports and in the military. I call the military strain “Pride through masochism.”

Pain does not equal gain outside the realm of lifting heavier and heavier weight to build stronger muscles. The greater strength comes from the slight damage being done to the muscle fibers then being repaired and replaced by stronger muscles.

Football coaches used to torture their players with what I called Bataan Death March two-a-day practices that included grass drills, calisthenics, gassers (sprint back and forth across the field), running the stadium steps. The goal seemed to be to push the players until they throw up or quit. Many good players took up other sports to get away from that.

Conditioning must be targeted and adequate, not just harder and harder for the sake of being hard

In that case, pain does not equal gain. It equals wasting time that could have been spent on learning useful football skills. It also is not the only way, or even the best way, to raise the physical conditioning, strength, and stamina of your players to adequate levels.

I have written eight books on football coaching and coached 16 football teams. Many of my readers have had great success around the world following the advice in my books. See my testimonials.

Were my players conditioned? Yes and no.

I invented the warp-speed no-huddle and named it that in 1991. I ran my practices at a warp-speed tempo—about three plays per minute when we were in a scrimmage segment. The typical youth or frosh-soph football practice operates at more like a one play per three minutes tempo. In an early game in my first year as head coach, the opposing coach said his first-string defense wanted to be taken out of the game in the first quarter because they were too tired from our warp-speed no-huddle, which only operated at a two-play-per-minute tempo in actual games because the referees were too slow at giving the ready-to-play signal for the next play.

I also conditioned my players in our daily kicking-game practice segments. We would walk one direction on kickoff and punt coverage—making sure everyone stayed in their lanes and started to converge on the ball carrier when they were 15 yards from the ball carrier’s yard line—then we would reverse direction and kick the other way this time emphasizing the need to go full speed.

Were my players conditioned? Absolutely. You would see them sweating and huffing and puffing when we ran the warp-speed practice tempo and when we practiced kicking plays. I was conditioning them without torturing them. They thought they were playing football which is what they signed up for. Covering kicks is not much different physically from running gassers. But players hate gassers. They regarded my kicking coverage practice as football practice, not just pain-inducing torment.

In 2004, for example, we won a number of games in the final minutes. We never lost the lead in the final minutes that season. That is the proof that we were adequately conditioned. At the varsity level, I once walked into the film room and after watching the game film for a minute or two said, “This is fourth quarter isn’t it?” “Yes,” they said, how could I tell? “Because the players on both teams are obviously dragging ass.” They were pooped. But you cannot tell if it’s fourth quarter when looking at freshman or JV game tapes. They do not get tired like the “old men” on the varsity.

But the head varsity coach gave me crap about not conditioning my team enough. He needed to condition his seniors and juniors more than I needed to condition my freshmen, because boys over 16 pull muscles and get cramps and get tired. 14 and 15-year olds, however, do not pull muscles or get cramps and they will get tired if they are not in shape, but I had 55 guys on the team so I could substitute more. Also our games were 40 minutes, not the varsity 48 minutes.

At the end of the 2004 season, my quarterback went out for basketball and the coach commented that he was in not in shape for basketball even though he had just played his last freshman football game the day before.

He may not have been in shape for basketball, but I was the freshman football coach. I do not have time to get him ready for basketball. I had to spend that time teaching him how to find the open receiver, how to call audibles, etc.

So I have been somewhat famous for not conditioning my players, except among my opponents who said I was running their starters into the ground. In another game, in freshman play, we barely lost. In that game, I started in the warp-speed then stopped it because it did not seem to be paying dividends. After the game, the opposing coach said I would not have won had I kept up the warp-speed. He said his players were dying. Mine were fine.

Pain ≠ gain always

Bottom line, pain does not equal gain in every case. The correct version is sports team practices need to be extremely efficient because there is so much to do in so little time. One solution is to do two things at once like practicing your plays and blocking assignments while also conditioning through up tempo. The rule on conditioning is not more, more, more, but enough. Torturing your players out of some notion that pain = gain is a formula for making your team worse, not better.

At age 17, I entered West Point. They were much more intelligent about pain = gain, but not better enough. They made things hard for the sake of making them hard not to achieve optimal standards of performance. Same in ranger school and jump school. Pride through masochism. If it’s hard, it must be good for you. If it’s hard, it must be building your character.

In part two of my article “Should you go to, or stay at, West Point?” I said the philosophy there seemed to be:

Any damned pain in the ass to which we can subject the cadets makes them better combat leaders.

Bullshit! The goal is achieving optimal standards of performance of actual job tasks, not optimal general unpleasantness or optimal nausea. At West Point, we were tortured physically to an extent, but also in every other way they could think of. I did not mind it if it was making me better. But I did if it was just jerking me around on the Nietsche-esque theory that what does not kill me—anything and everything that is unpleasant or awful but does not kill me—makes me stronger.

No, it doesn’t. Again, that principle applies to weight lifting to an extent, but not all torture or torment or harassment or hazing makes people better. Pride through masochism says you should bang your head against a wall for five hours so you can brag the rest of your life that you did that to people who did not. The Navy SEALS are big on this nonsense. One test to be a SEAL makes you swim in a bathing suit with your wrists and ankles tied behind your back. That has no application in combat. You could argue that it is tangentially interesting and bears some remote resemblance to combat and separates those who can do it from those who cannot. But that doesn’t wash. It’s like the physical tests for being a fireman that were flunking all the female candidates but passing most of the male candidates. Judges ordered the fire departments to make the tests realistic. So they switched to tests like pulling fire hose out of the truck and running it 50 yards. More women passed.

I have no objection to higher standards for getting into institutions like West Point or the SEALs a long as those standards relate directly to the job that will be done. As with football, the stupid torture tests in the military either discourage good candidates from applying or flunk out good officer or SEAL prospects because they did not happen to excel at some stupid, irrelevant test. Ranger school, like SEAL training, was just stupid. For example, we were deprived of food and sleep on patrols that lasted up to 7 days.

Did we need to learn that we could perform under such conditions? Yes. Did we need to learn how you perform in that condition? Yes, again. But we could have done that on one patrol. They made us on every patrol for two months. That was bullshit. Just torture for torture’s sake. It is well-established that people who have been deprived of food and sleep are not going to learn much during that period. It is supposed to be a school, not a torture chamber, but because the military is run by Neanderthal cretins who believe pain = gain, and who like to haze the new guys to make themselves feel like big men, it continues in the military.

‘Building character’

At West Point, whenever anyone complained about some stupid ordeal we had to endure, another cadet would sarcastically point out that we were “building character.” That was the bullshit official justification for all of the torment there, and in ranger and jump and SEAL schools. The military would also claim that they were testing to see to reveal who had the most character. Again, most is not the goal. Enough is. High standards? Yes. But there is no point to finding the guys who are best at swimming with their hands tied behind their backs if graduates of SEAL school do not swim with their hands tied behind their backs in combat.

A reader of my “Should you go to, or stay at, West Point?” article said the propensity of many West Point people to think what happened to them there was “great,” in spite of the obvious silliness of having to always point your toothbrush to the left in your locker, et al., is called “effort justification” in psychiatry.

This is probably a theme running through all of the situations where people swear the stupid is smart or the bad is good and so on: vacations, foreign travel, adventure travel, extremely expensive college or university degrees, extremely selective membership in a group, extreme hardship. They went to a lot of time, effort, and/or expense to get there, so, by God, it’s “great!” they insist through gritted teeth.

Grand Canyon

I spoke about this at length in my account of my November 2011 Grand Canyon hike with my brother. That was, to put it neutrally, a seven-day adventure which included a five-day, daunting backpacking walk from the South Rim of the Canyon to the bottom then back out the South Rim. We carried our tents, sleeping bags, and most of our food. The vertical climb was 4,400 feet and the horizontal distance was 20 miles round-trip. I was 65 when I did it. The Grand Canyon is famous, I was relatively old, the altitude was a challenge on the climb back out. So it felt good to meet the challenge of it.

But the fact is most of the people who do that tend to say everything about it is great. No, it’s not. The “we love parks and animals but we hate humans” crowd has made the Grand Canyon unnecessarily too dangerous and too uncomfortable in an obvious effort to discourage people from doing what my brother and I did.

They could and should make more water and emergency phones available. They also could and should make showers available, ditto with ways to clean clothes and cook food and have bowel movements in a sanitary manner. As far as I know, I am the only one who makes these criticism. But they are objective.

Heat-exertion injury is a very real danger there in spring, summer, and fall. Heart attack is always a danger. Water prevents heat stroke, but it is heavy to carry which, in turn, also causes heat stroke. When someone goes down with heat stroke or heart attack they must be treated very soon—the Golden Hour—or they suffer permanent brain damage or maybe die. My Grand Canyon article specifies how far apart their emergency phones and water faucets and chopper landing pads are, discusses how long it would take to get an EMT to the fallen, and compares that to recommendations of EMTs for treating those problems. The comparison reveals that the Grand Canyon is substandard with regard to predictable emergency situations likely to occur there. The same liberals who deliberately make the Grand Canyon unsafe and ban Disney from turning it into a theme park would sue Disney out of existence if they ran any park as unsafely as the National Park Service runs the Grand Canyon.

There are also unsanitary situations with regard to proper cooking of food, disposal of used toilet paper, being able to get clean and dry. Inability to get sanitary food and water and stay clean and dry cause all sorts of injuries and illnesses to soldiers in wars. Prior to World War II, those things actually killed more soldiers than combat itself in all wars. A hike in the Grand Canyon is not combat and it is ridiculous for the people who operate the Canyon to be risking World War I-type troop sicknesses to campers.

It would not kill the Park Service to add more water faucets, emergency phones, showers, some microwave ovens, more outhouses. But the absence of them may literally kill some backpackers And probably already has. And it will not get fixed as long as everyone involved declares that everything about the Grand Canyon is “great.”

Stay objective.

John T. Reed