In this best of all possible worlds

"....let us cultivate our garden" -- the conclusion to Candide. This seems like a good follow up to yesterday's dour and not terribly coherent post.

Made on Saturday 04/25/09 which was a very warm summer-like day in Central Vermont.


Stuck in the middle with you, unfortunately

....Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right, here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you,
Yes I'm stuck in the middle with you,
Stuck in the middle with you.

[This song was used to devastating effect in the notorious 'ear scene' in Reservoir Dogs, and I could have embedded that clip here, but I decided that there is quite enough violence and brutality in the world today... so I didn't. Reader beware, it's one of the more violent scenes in a very violent movie, and can be viewed here.]

I have a lot of time on my hands these days -- my job has been cut back to two/days per week, and even this may go away entirely before the start of summer. These short hours give me plenty of time to follow the news, though I also think that this is unhealthy, and, as I have noted, can lead to a paralyzed, depressed stasis where even small tasks are difficult to complete. This ample amount of unwanted free time lets me watch the ongoing debates about Vermont's state budget (the subject is not as dry and boring as it sounds) with a mixture of contempt, extreme displeasure, and despair. Vermont is a very small state facing quite large problems that are, naturally, being sharply exacerbated by the current economic situation.

A chart tracking employment trends from the official (& very gloomy) Vermont Updated Fiscal 2009-11 Revenue Outlook report (pdf).

On one side, the current Republican Governor, Jim Douglas, is utterly lacking in a positive vision for the state. His administration has resisted almost all attempts to raise revenues while insisting that deep cuts need to be made to the state's workforce. I actually agree with some of this assessment, as Vermont politicians tend to have a rather expansive view of the role of state government. The way the options have been presented, however, lacks conviction or vision, and this lack of vision in many ways has been a defining characteristic of his administration. I also think that some of the administration's detractors do make valid criticisms, ie, that the administration has been stacked with hacks, flacks and an unprecedented (for Vermont) number of political appointees. Also, the proposed cuts to state government are made with a sledgehammer, not a scalpel, and lack finesse.

On the other side, the Vermont legislature is controlled by Democrats -- the people who tend to have an expansive view of the role of state government. The current governor may lack vision, but there not many clear rational voices in opposition, either. The legislature looks to federal stimulus money to avoid making very difficult decisions and seems to live in a world disconnected from today's harsh fiscal realities, it is all just papering over things and looking for the easiest solutions without addressing underlying fundamental problems. I find that it is very hard for me to respect 'leaders' who deal with these very critical problems by avoidance and digression, and I don't see many profiles in courage on the legislative side of things, either.

I wonder as things play out if there will be a rise of a new American demagogue like Huey Long in the 1930s. I certainly feel disenfranchised by what is going on and feel that the current leadership (left and right) is not remotely addressing my concerns -- I'm not saying that I want to join up with some anti-democratic third party movement -- just speculating that conditions are ripe for such a occurrence.

I recently read a very pessimistic analysis of the national economic outlook for Obama's first term, and while I can persevere through this month, the coming summer, even the balance of 2009, without much of a steady income, I can't exist for four years or more only on my diminishing savings: I feel like I am in a slow motion head-on car crash, it's not happening in the blink of an eye, but almost imperceptibly, but still heading towards an inevitably violent and catastrophic conclusion, and I can't find a way to hit the brakes and stop the pile up.


Enjoy the silence

Greta Garbo: Elegant, mysterious, famously reclusive, but in a classy way (unlike, say, Howard Hughes after he went completely crazy). If Garbo was alive today, I do not think that she would have a presence on Facebook, write a blog, or 'tweet'.

I post this banal little observation because I am all shared out and am becoming numb to it all. At work (which has been down to two days per week all this year, and even that may come to end shortly, it's not easy being a recruiter these days, as seen in this depressing CBS News story on food stamps) I have a twitter account. The twitter stream is pretty small, as I only 'follow' -- a very sheep-like metaphor -- a small number of people, mostly industry thought leaders in recruiting, along with some social media and consulting types. I am amazed at some of the amount of trivial information posted by some of these self-proclaimed industry leaders. Their activities and incessant posting make me think a lot less of these characters, they are building a brand online, but the irony is, that I associate their personal brand with narcissism, self-absorption, and triviality, as well as wondering how they accomplish any real work. And yes, I have started 'unfollowing' the more egregious perpetrators of this trend.

A small disclaimer: I have created a personal (non-work related) twitter account, I use it to follow Vermont topics, cycling, and other oddball subjects of interest, and also use it in my feeble attempts at blog promotion. Now that cyclist Tyler Hamilton has retired (an event that generated almost 1,000 page views in the course of one week, all searches on his ex-wife's name -- triviality is everywhere these days) I'm sure that traffic on this site will soon recede to its normal, near-zero baseline state.


The road tilts ever upward

The steepest section of Blush Hill in Waterbury -- part of the Gravel Grinder course.

It's sad but not surprising that it takes another cycling doping scandal to temporarily revive interest in this moribund blog. Cyclist Tyler Hamilton tested positive for a banned substance with little if any performance enhancing tendencies and announced his immediate retirement yesterday. His career was certainly checkered and included some high points as well as some incredible lows (doping scandals), and the lows were never fully acknowledged or objectively discussed. Pro cyclists are, to a large extent, a gladiator class, and it's probably best not to fully know what goes on behind the scenes.

Six degrees of separation: Back in my wasted youth, I was at a wet, cold, dirty and miserable edition of the Keene NH road race and Hamilton rode the pro/elite race and crushed the field alone, I remember Dick Ring announcing what what happening as I cleaned up after finishing my race. I also knew someone who raced on one of Hamilton's old bikes -- a steel Serotta -- from early in his career; the bike was later destroyed in an epic racing crash. This was during the heyday of the Killington Stage Race in Vermont so I am, as usual, dating myself.

What does this have to do with this site? In May 2007 I wrote a post about doping in cycling that was entitled "The secret dossier of [Hamilton's then wife]" -- her name was on a fax sent by a notorious Spanish doctor. Over time this post became the 2nd most viewed page on this site, a fact that I was not too thrilled about (at least the most viewed page on the site is a more innocuous write up about my current 1x9 mtb setup). I don't know if this person had a lot of friends, or if cycling fans had an unhealthy interest in Hamilton's marital situation, but I hope that interest will now fade. I also don't think that I wrote anything slanderous or that could be construed as libel in my original post.

Hamilton's retirement announcement yesterday sparked a sudden surge of searches for this subject and consequently has generated a month's worth of traffic to this site -- granted, not very much -- in the course of two days.

A sample of recent keyword activity, and also a graphic illustration of Google's monopoly on search today.

Myself, I hope that Tyler Hamilton fades into history and that interest in this subject on this site noticeably diminishes. I still foll0w the antics of the pros but I do so fully aware that there's a lot of 'training in a vial' that still goes on -- and also look at more mainstream American sports (baseball, football) quite dubiously as well. Myself, I just want to go for a mellow ride tomorrow on the local roads without getting too sore...


Wintery Adirondack Easter

Ursine calling cards: A beech tree marked by a bear's claws.

Wintery Easter 2009 from JG on Vimeo.

Easter Sunday I got up early -- like, 5 am -- and discovered that the weather forecast had changed for the worse overnight. I had packed my gear the night before, however, and since I had to drive to Burlington anyway to drop off a package, I stuck to my original plan of going for a long solitary trail-less hike in the Jay Mountain Wilderness Area. The weather was cloudy, cold, very blustery and generally cheerless.

I am quite familiar with the east (Vermont) side of this area from several past trips, so I was able to make my way up a watershed and ascend up the west side of the bowl without any real navigational issues. As I climbed up the watershed of Derby Brook the woods got darker (Adirondack spruce thickets remind me of something out of the Brother Grimm -- gloomy and foreboding) and my morale, never too high to begin with, started to fade. It didn't help that my mind felt 'foggy' and unclear and I was doing stupid absent minded things (ie, I left my map of the area on the front seat of the car) which was worrisome in such a lonely and untraveled spot. So at 12:3o pm I stopped for some food and badly needed hot tea and decided it was time to head back to the car.

My Jetboil stove struggled to bring water to a boil in the cold (mid 20s), wind and snow -- it's not designed for use in full on winter conditions.

All in all, this was not the most fun day I have spent in the woods, and at the end I kind of regretted the experience, which also included driving 110 miles and buying an $18 ferry ticket. There are still many places in the Adirondacks that I plan to explore if the opportunity affords itself, but I think the east side of the Jay Range (post describing previous trips here) is now off my list.

Easter where I live is not a soft warm day redolent with the promise of spring: One year I went skiing; one year we were in Montreal, where cold winds blew through the urban canyons of the city.


Local class IV roads

Vermont's own lost highways: Class IV roads, ancient roads through the woods that recall a time when the landscape was farmed (in the 19th century sheep farming was huge, there were few forests, the state was one big pasture) or logged more intensely than it is at present. Even now these 'roads' -- using the term loosely -- are still legitimate public thoroughfares.

These images are from a ride on Thursday afternoon (as I have observed previously, 'the unstreamed life is no life at all'):

Looking north from Cobb Hill, Moretown, near where the road becomes a mucky track through the woods.

Things have not dried out yet and there are just a few touches of green in the forest understory.

Higher up, pockets of rotting snow and lots of running water. This was a 'hike a bike' section, a portage with the bike.

After emerging from the woods, a deer grazed along the Mad River.

This route was part of the 2009 Gravel Grinder ride (the 'extra' loop), however, I'm not sure if I will be up to sitting on my 1x9 mountain bike for 40 miles of riding, the lack of multiple hand positions make riding for extended periods tough on certain parts of my anatomy.


Gray Sunday afternoon, Stowe, VT

This chicken farm is in Stowe -- a rather incongruous site, since Stowe is one of the wealthiest towns in Vermont -- these derelict buildings recall a time (pre-AIG, the current owners of Stowe Mountain resort) when this was not the case. As I tramped up up West Hill road in the gloom of the late afternoon there was a steady stream of luxury vehicles (Audi, BMW, Lexus, etc.) whizzing by, perhaps some are somewhat insulated from the current hard times?

Early April is a chill damp time of year in northern Vermont.

I don't think there are any chickens to be had here anymore.

An abandoned, rotting truck with the ski trails on Spruce Peak shrouded in low cloud in the background.

The very tattered "Heartbeat of America."

Mt. Elmore framed by last season's cornstalks.

Though it's spring, signs of rebirth are still hard to come by. A few more photos in this sequence can be viewed here.


The fail whale of my imagination (Twitter is killing this blog)

Seen on Twitter today...

One gray day this week, I (being less than fully gainfully employed) went for a bike ride. I stuffed my pre-DSLR camera in my jersey pocket, but later discovered that the batteries were really dead, so I don't have any photos from this ride. I didn't take my GPS and I don't own a cell phone, let alone a portable computing device like a Blackberry or an Iphone. So this experience of getting lost and riding through thick mud remains undocumented, known only to myself... did it even ever exist? Perhaps not, a process ironically described at Rough Type:
Reality becomes real only after it has been mediated, encapsulated into an electronic message and shot through a network into a virtual community. The unstreamed life is no life at all.
I think twitter is inane; a vast chattering self-absorbed hive of mutual congratulation mixed in with little bits of somewhat interesting reportage and questions stripped of all context like this sterling example:

So am I supposed to engage with this stranger (who I chose to 'follow' based on location and professional profile) in the context of 140 character messages about his 8 year old Kona mountain bike? I don't know how this person rides, how the 8 year old Kona is configured, the bike's intended purpose, etc. For all I know it could be classic steel hardtail with a rigid fork that is a perfect around town bike, or it could be a 40lb 1st generation dual suspension bike that isn't good for much of anything at all. And, of course, my 'review' of my current very retro ride and much more cycling material is available on this blog... not that anyone cares, traffic has noticeably fallen off with the rise of twitter and the new twitter-like Facebook.

Peggy Noonan had a column recently where she posited that one of the causes of the current global economic crash/recession/depression was the increased use of antidepressants and antianxiety drugs in post 9-11 New York: If one's perception of the world is filtered through Prozac and Xanax, it follows that rational risk assessment might consequently suffer.

But I think another contributing factor to the ongoing catastrophe (another 660,000+ jobs lost last month, the real unemployment rate is probably 15% or thereabouts, and any recovery is a long way off) is the increased popularity of the tools of public self-absorption and radical subjectivity that make up "Web 2.0": We are experiencing what happens when the incessant self-generated buzzing in our ears has an uncomfortable confrontation with hard objective truth (like, don't spend more money than you take in, for example). We have been living happily in our own truth (another quote from Rough Type -- context here), but have finally hit the wall, hard.