Blue skies and white puffy clouds (finally)

Kind of a follow up to the previous post, taken early this afternoon from the Stowe Pinnacle. It was a fine day to be out and there was a nice breeze up top to cool things off and keep the bugs away. We were talking to a couple of realtors, taking pictures with my camera, and one of them emailed me from the top -- he had a Blackberry with him, so that I could share the images when I got home. It worked... hmm, maybe I should get a rugged laptop, a solar charger, & a fully featured cellphone, and work a few days a week from various remote high places in the area. I don't know if such a setup would be good for my productivity but it would probably be good for my morale.

The scene at the top: That's me sitting down and badly in need of a shave.


All it does is rain

This was taken on Sunday, but it could have been taken yesterday, today, or even over the coming weekend... it has been raining hard and frequently here:
In Burlington through Tuesday, 4.72 inches of rain had fallen in July, up from 2.8 inches at this point last July. June, July and August tend to be the wettest months of the year in Vermont, says [National Weather Service meteorologist Paul] Sisson, because that’s when the tropical storms are happening down south. Over the past 30 years, the amount of precipitation has increased steadily from June to August (italics added). Article about the weather in today's Free Press.

Will the tomatoes ever ripen under the damp gray skies?

I know that I would enjoy a stretch of warm summer days with blue skies and white puffy clouds. The steady rain means things are very lush but also that there are mushrooms sprouting in the garden and that my attempts to commute by bike are faltering (the recent rains are more than just hit-or-miss showers). Summers in Vermont are short -- if life gets busy, they can slide by almost unnoticed -- unlike the winter season, which tends to begin early, and drags out longer than most people would like. So while there's little point to complaining about the weather, the present weather pattern of recurring waves of tropical moisture being squeezed out over the Green Mountains is more than a little discouraging.

Water, water everywhere, it's good for bugs and slugs, but tough on the psyche.


More on politics: I attend the 1st gubernatorial debate

We were in Montpelier on Sunday morning and I saw this notice posted on a bulletin board, and as it was an almost biblically rainy day and I didn't have any plans for the evening, I decided to go. I feel that there are many difficult choices facing Vermont and am not very enamored of any of the three choices (some potshots at the current Governor here), so I thought it would be a good opportunity to see the candidates live and in a relatively unscripted environment.

The event was sponsored by the Vermont Natural Resources Council and a group of Vermont Localvores. It was supposed to focus on both agriculture and energy, but tended to focus more on the 'agriculture' side of things. The energy issues facing the state are myriad and complex and I hope that there is a future debate just on this one topic. The Douglas administration has been a passive bystander to some very shady antics by the present owners of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant and has also not been very forceful in planning for a Yankee-less energy future in Vermont.

Political metaphor? Do we get the leaders we deserve? (I bought a new lens for my camera, more images here)

Anyway my dubiousness about the leadership in this state was pretty much confirmed at the venue. I think that Jim Douglas is glib ("Jim = Jobs" -- ha ha), feckless and cowardly and has not taken hard stands on difficult problems. The Democrat in the race seems to be for a continuation of Vermont's big (unaffordable) government status quo.

In this environment, one would think that I would be supporting a 3rd party candidate. The 'Independent' (he was a 'Progressive') on Sunday at the debate -- expediency led to a charge of heart and affiliation -- Anthony Pollina was fairly effective (the debate covered his core issues) and he was well received, as many of his supporters were in attendance. I did, however see a clip of Pollina on television decrying cuts in the size of the state workforce... and it would be very difficult for me to support anyone who is favor of keeping as many state employees as possible on the books.

I think that my disillusionment with the choices on the upcoming ballot partly stem from an increasing disillusionment with what is happening in Vermont and even in the US as a whole. There are many problems and very few practical, sustainable, implementable solutions being put forward, and calls for sacrifice are rare.


Unintended irony: Saunier-Duval's "Natural Born Riders"

...a rather unfortunate choice of words on the Saunier-Duval team website (link may be dead, the sponsor will probably pull out in short order). The image features the two guys that caused the scandal. As I recently noted, this blog is now three years old, and posts about doping in the Tour de France are pretty much an annual event, appearing every July: Last year Rasmussen and Vinokourov, in 2006, Floyd Landis...


Say it ain't so, Ricardo

An update from the 2008 edition of the Tour de France:

On 7/13/08, I wrote:
Ricardo Ricco launched a huge attack on the Col d' Aspin -- he rocketed out of the main field, it looked like he had an extra gear or two compared to the other riders, and held on to win the stage. Ricco isn't always the classiest guy -- he's known for shooting off his mouth -- but he sure goes uphill fast (italics added).
Apparently, he did have an 'extra gear or two' on the field, as he tested positive (only the "A" sample so far) for a drug known as CERA (Continuous Erythropoietin Receptor Activator), and has been removed from the race -- actually, hauled away by the gendarmes, doping is now seen as criminal activity in France. Two other minor riders had been removed from the race prior to this incident but Ricco is the first major rider -- a double stage winner, and leader of both the KOM and best young rider competition -- to be removed from this year's Tour. It also raises doubts about there being a 'new generation' of cleaner riders -- perhaps the best hope is for a new generation of testing protocols....


Kathy Mattea plays in Stowe, 7/13/08

Despite being moved indoors because of heavy rain showers, this was an excellent show. I don't really have the proper gear to take photos in dim light but this came out sort of OK. I have posted a few more images here.


The junk train at the Tour

(and by 'junk' I don't mean 'drugs' as in 'training in a vial')

Tour de France 3e etape St-Malo Nantes from Casou on Vimeo.

I found this cool clip on the VeloVimeo channel on Vimeo -- it shows the peloton cruising by during a relatively quiet part of one of the opening stages of the Tour, and includes video of the 'junk train' (cavalcade of advertising vehicles) that precedes the race. I wonder what it is like to drive an oversized coffee cup around France for three weeks?

I also discovered that there is live video (grainy, small, and not terribly smooth) of race available online.... just the thing to keep me amused on a languid humid Sunday morning.

Ricardo Ricco launched a huge attack on the Col d' Aspin -- he rocketed out of the main field, it looked like he had an extra gear or two compared to the other riders, and held on to win the stage. Ricco isn't always the classiest guy -- he's known for shooting off his mouth -- but he sure goes uphill fast.

Alejandro Valverde is easily identifiable on his yellow-trimmed Pinarello and with his Spanish champion's jersey. I wonder if he is thinking of his dog Piti as he climbs the mountain... I don't think cycling is clean but I also don't like how clueless American sports reporters pile on the sport every July while the Tour is on before going back to producing their puff pieces about Major League Baseball and the NFL, two big money sports with laughable drug policies.


Everybody knows this is nowhere

Near Waterbury Center, more images here.

Quote from a Vermont state employee (from the Department of Human Services) at a forum on the future of the state held in Barre -- I would have liked to attend this forum, but social obligations got in the way:
"I see the underbelly... I see the people who don't typically go to the town meetings… I see addictions, I see homelessness, I see abuse and I'm trying to figure out for 30 years … why we still have all of this in the midst of these almost movie-type scenes."
The whole article is here, but this quote jumped out at me, it is a bald statement of some of the themes I was trying to explicate in my "Independence Day" post. In some ways I live a pretty sheltered life full of essentially hollow middle class aspirations but I have been close enough to the underside of things to appreciate what this man was saying.

I am really quite down on what the future holds here, for one of the few times in the past twenty years I can see getting out, but we'll see. The United States as a whole is a pretty messed up and troubled country at this point in time.


A happy consequence of the current energy situation: I'm more fit

"In 1973, the year of the infamous oil embargo, the United States imported about 24% of our oil. In 1990, at the start of the first Gulf War, this had climbed to 42%. Today, we import almost 70% of our oil. ...This is a staggering number, particularly for a country that consumes oil the way we do. The U.S. uses nearly a quarter of the world's oil, with just 4% of the population and 3% of the world's reserves. This year, we will spend almost $700 billion on imported oil, which is more than four times the annual cost of our current war in Iraq." Oilman T. Boone Pickens, in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal.
In the future, $3.99/gal will be thought of as 'cheap gas'.

I think that the current energy situation is the new reality of things and that perhaps the summer of 2008 will be seen in the future as the tipping point, the moment in time when relatively cheap energy became a relic from the increasingly distant past. I think many wrenching changes will come about because of this: A restaurant closed in Barre recently, a victim of competition and the slowdown in the economy, but the owner had calculated that the cost of heating the place during the coming winter, would be in the area of $32,000 -- up from $14,000 (already an inflated figure) in the 2007-2008 heating season.

Personally I am somewhat gladdened that the current prices finally amount to something of a tax on large inefficient vehicles -- though the money flows to corporations and countries that I have little regard for -- and also may encourage higher density housing patterns: McMansions in the exurbs, with the inhabitants totally dependent on (large) automobiles & SUVs for every aspect of daily life, will not be sustainable now. Of course, American society has been in denial about this for a long time, and now the present situation has arrived suddenly, without preparation, and people just complain (see "American Energy Policy, Asleep at the Spigot," etc.) and wish for a return to the way things used to be.

As I have previously noted, I have been able to commute to work by bike for every paying job I have ever had with only one unhappy exception. Mostly this has been a lifestyle choice but now that filling the tank in my little Ford Focus costs a nifty $45 or more there is a strong incentive to park the car as much as possible. My commute isn't that bad but isn't particularly easy either; 8.5 uphill miles on a bad road in the morning.

I find that I need to consciously think like "driving is not an option" and to almost pretend that I don't have access to a car to get in the right mindset for commuting by bike. There is definitely a 'time cost' associated with riding to work -- especially when preparation and clothing changes are also factored in -- but the benefits more than compensate for this.

I have been using my old cyclocross bike as a commuting rig. It gets the job done and the cross gearing and fat tires work well for this purpose.

When I first acquired my 1 x 9 mountain bike, I thought that the bike was woefully undergeared for riding around Waterbury -- mountain bikes have really low gears for a reason: There are steep climbs on the trails in the woods. This past weekend, however, I discovered that my more consistent bike commuting has made me noticeably stronger this season. The profile below is from riding from the entrance to the Perry Hill trail network along the Winooski River to the high point of the trails -- and then gingerly descending again -- I may be stronger, but technically I am still very inadequate on the tricky sections, really just someone with a road cycling background who got lost in the woods. I was happy to discover that going uphill was noticeably easier for me than in the past: Previously, the problem wasn't so much the setup of the bike, it was my lack of fitness.

As a final note, the Waterbury Mountain Bike festival is this weekend and it will be possible to register at the venue. Proceeds (if any -- I wonder how attendance will be, the economy is biting hard) will go to help finance work on expanding local trail networks, the scope of some of the planned projects exceeds what can be accomplished with volunteer-only construction crews.


'Independence Day' 2008: Grim and cheerless

Thursday morning I had to go to Montpelier to register my car (now $60/year, a nice regressive little hidden tax, thanks Vermont), as I was driving, I listened to the news conference on Brooke Bennet's murder, the 12 year old's body had been found the night before after a week-long search. There is nothing like listening to the Attorney General answer a question about semen found in a dead girl's underwear to make me violently depressed and withdrawn, I feel dirty and ashamed just by the simple fact of living in this state.

I'm starting to feel more and more that Vermont is a pretty place to visit but do I really want to live here? There have been a string of high-profile murders here over the years, cases of violence and brutality against women and now girls. When I first graduated college I spent five years living in and around the town of Randolph -- I worked in Brookfield -- and the area is a rural landscape of soft green hills but it's very poor and there are lots of unpleasant social issues festering beneath the surface (James Parker and Robert Tulloch -- the teenagers who committed the Dartmouth murders -- lived in this general area as well) . I once had a friend who worked as a social worker in northern Vermont and he eventually quit to open a bike shop because the problems he faced on a day to day basis were just too pervasive and overwhelming.

Coupled with a variety of other disfunctions large and small on the state and federal level it is becoming increasingly difficult to feel optimism for the future: Things fall apart -- economically, politically (it is hard to overstate my contempt for the political atmosphere in this state at this time -- profiles in feckless cowardice), socially. I think that Thomas Friedman's column this week (entitled "Anxious in America") summed it up nicely:
My fellow Americans: We are a country in debt and in decline — not terminal, not irreversible, but in decline. Our political system seems incapable of producing long-range answers to big problems or big opportunities. We are the ones who need a better-functioning democracy — more than the Iraqis and Afghans. We are the ones in need of nation-building. It is our political system that is not working.
The whole column is worth the read...