10.29.2008

Ocean reveries

MV Shamrock, moored at New Bedford, MA -- the harbor from which the Pequod set sail.

"Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball." Chapter 1 ("Loomings") of Moby Dick.

It's the fag end of October, the foliage has been stripped from the trees, and nights come with gusts of wind and cold rain, this morning there is a dusting of wet snow on the ground. Melville's words are apt given the time of year, and but also fit the national mood -- a case of collective 'hypos', the ceaseless drumbeat of bad news matches the dark and sullen days. Escape to the sea, or to a remote cabin off the grid somewhere, feels attractive, and my condominium, (keeping with the nautical metaphors), feels less like a place to live, and more and more like an albatross that could drag me down into the vortex... Also, as the presidential campaign reaches its climax, the candidates (especially John McCain) become Ahab-like figures, ceaselessly wandering the country, driven by a deeply personal obsession with obtaining temporal power.

I have posted a few more New Bedford photos here.

10.26.2008

Fear and Loathing, revised and updated 2008 edition

"Richard Nixon represents the dark side of the American spirit." Hunter S. Thompson quoting Robert Kennedy

I'm waiting for the movie Gonzo to play at the Savoy, the trailer mentions that HST in his prime would have had some pertinent things to say about the current mess we're in (crowds at Palin rallies chanting "Drill Baby Drill", "We want Fox" [?!], and worse things), I tend to agree. A side note: HST gave a lecture at Vassar while I was a student there, of course I didn't go... in many ways my life is succession of missed opportunities. But I heard he was totally incoherent (higher than the proverbial kite) at the event so maybe I didn't miss much.

What the modern Republican party doesn't understand, is that in my own twisted way, I'm a "values voter" too, and the more the GOP conflates the Bible and the flag, mocks science and education, conducts whispering campaigns about the origins and religious beliefs of Barack HUSSEIN Obama -- which, I have discovered, has launched a trend on Facebook, of people listing their profile as First_name HUSSEIN Last_name -- and carries on about side issues like William Ayers -- the less interest I have in their platform and candidates. David Brooks, among other commentators, has noted how the Republicans have become a party of rubes, appealing to a small, mostly white, mostly scared, and less educated segment of an increasingly polyglot country, a party where sophistication has become a dirty word.

I think that the Republican Party is stuck in the past and is unable to move past the legacy of two disparate Presidents: Nixon and Reagan.

Tricky Dick in a skirt? Is Sarah Palin a less sophisticated, less worldly, (hopefully less corrupt? -- it would be hard to trump Nixon in this department) version of Nixon, with her embrace of the 'silent majority' and unsubtle comments about a 'real America'. And now John McCain has made "Joe the Plumber" -- largely a fictional creation -- a centerpiece of his campaign....demagoguery and nonsense. "Jeff the Recruiter" is not impressed.

The other figure who looms large over the present-day Republican Party is Ronald Reagan, who has been deified, and like other gods in the Greek and Roman Pantheon (at least Reagan was not an enthusiastic churchgoer), seemingly assigned supernatural powers, specifically in the area of cutting taxes and reducing the size of government.

This blog, it's just a diversion, not a dissertation, but it can be argued that Reaganism may have been (or perhaps not) an appropriate response to the situation in the 1980s... but how relevant is it today? This idolatrous relationship with Reagan's legacy means that the Republican party has only one answer to all sorts of problems:
  • Fighting wars abroad? Cut taxes.
  • Collapsing worldwide financial markets? Cut taxes.
  • Infrastructure crumbling? Cut taxes.
  • Need a coherent energy policy? Cut taxes.
  • Schools failing? Cut taxes.
  • etc.
It plays like a stuck record and betrays a lack of flexibility and willingness to deal with the real world, it's time to move on, the 1980's are over, and Ronald Reagan is dead.

I think Barack Obama has run a decent campaign -- both in the sense of 'competent', and also 'upstanding' -- less appealing to the dark side -- than his opponent. I don't expect miracles, nor does his oratory particularly excite me (unlike Chris Mathews), and I certainly have fond memories of the heyday of the Bill Clinton era -- booming job markets, balanced budgets, discussions about the 'end of the business cycle' & no more recessions, etc., it seems so long ago. Here's hoping...

10.19.2008

Trail work, Woodward Mountain ski trail, 10/18/08

I spent Saturday doing trail work with some folks on the Woodward Mountain Ski Trail. After a very vibrant foliage season things are past peak and the woods are becoming more bare with each passing day. It's interesting to walk these woods when there is no snow because it's very different when snow cover smooths everything out -- when trimming branches, one tries to imagine what the trail is like, with four or five feet (or more) of snow on the ground -- "eye level" changes with the season. Despite the the fact that it was the first day for moose hunting the woods were pretty quiet, at least on this stretch of trail.

Volunteers watch as a downed tree is cut up with a chainsaw. If the coming season turns out to be a good snow year (like last winter) I look forward to spending plenty of time on my skis -- work, due to the meltdown in the financial sector and the widespread collateral damage throughout the economy, promises to be rather slow.

10.16.2008

A sad, anachronistic little book, part 2 (I scooped the New York Times)

This document little more than a long and never-ending list of self-absorbed trivialities, floating in a vast sea of similar dreck, as it has been said before, we are all living in our truth, and perhaps this endemic narcissism and self-absorption is why the United States is practically bankrupt and physically crumbling... but I digress.

Back on September 14th, I wrote a short post on how the publication of the book "Damn it Feels Good to be A Banker" could not have been more poorly timed, given the cataclysm on Wall Street, and the disappearance of major firms (Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, etc.), and the subsequent elimination of thousands of finance sector jobs.

Yesterday's New York Times had an article on the same subject and a wistful interview with author Amit Chatwani, not surprisingly, it is reported that book isn't selling as well as expected, probably because it wasn't that funny even during the recent, largely imaginary good times and is even less amusing now. A lot of people in financial services were paid a lot of real money off of imaginary valuations and now the real bills come due, leaving a bitter aftertaste for all.

10.14.2008

One year ago

One year ago, I wandered as a stranger in a strange land, a place with crumbling (or non-existent) infrastructure, limited communications facilities, a weak, fractious and divided government propped up by foreign aid... I was in Nepal (42% literacy rate, per capita income, $1200/year -- ie, about $3.30/day & a 40% unemployment rate). One one hand, perhaps these dismal figures should make one glad to live in the United States, however in light of recent events, it could also be argued that Vermont and Nepal have some unpleasant commonalities... we are getting poorer and more indebted every day. When will the true tipping point arrive?

Despite the poverty and craziness of Kathmandu, the rural parts of Nepal were very pretty and there is a tradition of hospitality there that does put my rather surly and reclusive more immediate neighbors to shame. Pictures from the trip are here (flickr) and there's a video here (vimeo) -- also search for 'Nepal' on this site to find some posts on the subject.

10.10.2008

Auf Wiedersehen to good times in America

Each day brings a new set of apocalyptic headlines (today's offering: "Markets Tumble in Europe and Asia"), and vast sums vanish into the ether, probably for good. My sleep patterns have been disturbed, in the silent hours of the early morning I lie awake, stare at the dim ceiling above me, and wonder where it will end for me personally: Maybe I should buy a four season tent.

So, in this collective long night of the American soul, what's more apropos than Liza Minnelli and Joel Gray singing about hunger knocking at the door?



I see that Barack Obama has purchased a 30 minute block of time on national networks in the week before the election. I wonder if his message will consist of empty platitudes and comfortably non-specific promises or if he will be blunt and speak to the painful reordering of priorities that will be necessary to get out of this mess.

10.09.2008

Signs of bears

...A sign in the Adirondack High Peaks, there are lots of well-fed bears there, they have learned that humans = food, and also how to open bear canisters like my Bearvault.

(As previously seen on this blog), bear scat near the top of Ricker Mountain, about five miles from where I live in Waterbury.

The 52 week trend line of the stock market.... "Take stock in America".... ?? Today's New York Times has a story about Alan Greenspan's affection for complex derivatives and how he (along with characters like Richard Rubin) fought attempts to regulate the market in these financial instruments. I'm not a huge fan of Bernie Sanders (I think he is loud, self-aggrandizing, and shrill) but this quote (from 2000) does Sanders some credit in light of recent happenings:
Aren’t you concerned with such a growing concentration of wealth that if one of these huge institutions fails that it will have a horrendous impact on the national and global economy?” asked Representative Bernard Sanders, an independent from Vermont.
...and my small IRA's performance -- and this doesn't include October's losses -- I think the losses now total over 20%, and there's no end in sight.

10.06.2008

Wedding photography

Weddings and wedding services are big business. One way to make money with a camera, is to become a wedding photographer. This has never really appealed to me very much for several reasons (lack of talent, lack of equipment, lack of patience with the whole wedding hoopla scene, etc.).

But, this past weekend I was at a wedding and, as I didn't feel a huge emotional connection to what was going on, I tried to capture some of the scene with my Pentax and the fastest autofocus lens that I have. Most of the photos are average at best but this sequence did come out OK and I probably was in a better position to capture the bride and groom leaving the church than the professional covering the event (in the background with an external flash mounted on a Nikon system).






Many happy returns to the bride and groom (my cousin): But if I ever marry, it will be in a courthouse with some unknown passers-by as witnesses. No officious preachers, brash DJs, unfortunately dressed bridal parties, awkwardly mixing families, indifferent food and overpriced drinks, etc. -- and I'm not speaking specifically about this particular event -- just summarizing the weddings I have been to in my lifetime.

10.04.2008

Praising First Responders

The scene on Rt 100 approaching Stowe yesterday on my way to work: A different kind of foliage shot.

As the economy falls over the edge, there's no doubt that there's lots of blame to go around, and blaming the young and wealthy "masters of the universe" is a cheap and easy way out: The United States has been defined by a culture of mass consumerism, and living on easy credit, for a very long time. That being said, as I have noted, I am sick of hearing how a great pool of young smart people, educated at very wealthy non-profit, tax sheltered institutions, aspired to work in financial services... (a career in law was also popular with my peers for similar reasons).

I see this process as a quite destructive failure of imagination; financially I am much poorer than some of my college classmates (and Vassar isn't known for stamping out financial wheeler-dealers like some other schools, it's too avant-garde -- ie, weird). I figure that I spend quite a bit more of my life in the outdoors and that there is a certain trade-off there.

But I digress -- as usual -- I just wanted to say that I have more respect for the local volunteer firefighters and EMTs, than say, Dick Fuld. The First Responders work in the local community, put something back, and generally make a much more tangible, positive contribution than the captains of finance with their outlandish compensation.

I don't know how this particular accident played out, but when I was driving to work after my short trip to New York I was caught behind a fatal accident on the same road (an elderly driver had a medical situation while driving and swerved into oncoming traffic) and early this summer there was a suicide-by-car -- the victim deliberately drove into a cliff face at 80 mph -- near here so the local emergency crews have been up close to some terrible scenes. I kind of have a latent desire to put something back to the local community but then I wonder how I would react in such an environment.

10.02.2008

2008 Green Mountain Cyclocross Weekend images posted

Amy Dombrowski over the barriers on Sunday.

Jamie Driscoll rides in pursuit of Dan Timmerman.

I have posted images from some of the cyclocross races at Catamount on Sunday:
(I don't know what USA cycling is using for cyclocross categories these days, but you get the idea.) In September I posted lots of cycling-related media... and many people visited this site -- bike racers looking for images of fleeting glory. A few people I know thanked me on Sunday and I did get one email from a GMBC member thanking me.... but it would be nice if some these visitors left some sign or indication that they appreciated the time and effort (or maybe not? -- Graham Watson I am not.). Otherwise, I'll go back to posting images of bear scat. I think that 'social networking' (blogging, flickr, facebook, etc.) is a false construct, it really is distracted, alienated strangers flitting by.