5.31.2009

#Tweetup (?)

Now if he says that he's afraid,
Take him at his word.
And for the price that the poor boy has paid,
He gets to sing just like a bird.... (Stage Fright, The Band)
I attended a 'tweetup' this week. By way of preamble, I have worked, off and on, with things online since May 1995, a time when Internet access for consumers was pretty much brand spanking new, unlimited dialup access without hourly restrictions was all the rage, 'the next big thing'. In those heady, long-lost days of innocence*, my employer would occasionally host user group meetings, there was a tremendous interest in all things online, and it was considered revelatory when an early session included a video tour of the primitive server room, complete with a glimpse of the slender cable that carried the connection to the Internet backbone.

Later, as times changed and I switched jobs, 'blogging' -- kind of a Web 1.1 social networking platform -- became the next big thing, and so there were blogger meetups. I actually never attended one of these events because I never really saw the point... From my perspective, I put what I can come up with here, and the audience judges accordingly -- this site is usually quite unread, unless I provide some amateur reportage on some local event largely ignored by the 'professional' media (usually, but not exclusively, bike races).

Now, however, blogging is passé, twitter is all the rage, and 'tweetups' are the next new thing. The event I attended at least had theme beyond just twitter, it was billed as as a "localvore tweetup", and as such, featured an impressive spread of locally produced food products. The write up of this event in the Burlington Free Press attracted the usual horde of negative commenters, sniping aggressively at both the menu, and at the concept of social networking via tools such as twitter.

On one hand, I have lots of issues with Vermont at this juncture -- particularly the stagnant economy and incompetent politicians -- I think the state is becoming a micro-California. But I do appreciate Vermont's food culture, I am not a haute-cuisine snob, but think that it is a generally good thing, that I have more choices for fresh bread and locally brewed beer, in Waterbury, VT (population 5,000) than in all of Wilmington, NC (population 100,000, and part of a MSA with over 300,000 residents). But I am far from convinced about twitter, it's intensely narcissistic, and made up of lots of self-reinforcing interactions: like associates with like. It was kind of ironic at this event, that I had dinner with a young couple, apprenticing at the Round Barn for the summer, who didn't have any online presence at all -- not even Facebook, so we talked mostly about North Carolina food culture (southern fried water) instead, it was good -- but slightly odd -- to have an real, face to face, social interaction, an increasingly rare thing this days.

*The old days weren't so innocent, I worked at an ISP, one the company's customers was murdered with a pipe bomb sent via UPS, the victim had been involved in online transaction fraud.

5.25.2009

Art & Commerce: 2009 Vermont Business Expo and the Spielpalast Cabaret

The official swag bag for the Vermont Business and Industry Expo, made in China, like most tsotchkes being given away by exhibitors at the venue... and many, many other things these days.

I first attended this trade show back in 1996, working as an exhibitor. I kept at this through the frothy, bubbly late 90's, which were the heyday of dot com boom, a period when the show was completely sold out, and one year there was even a tent set up in the parking lot to cope with exhibitor demand. Even as I have subsequently changed employers I have usually made it over to check out the venue in the following years, it is a way to reconnect with some of the people I have worked with in the past, as well as a quick snapshot of what's hot and what's not -- the big telecom/Internet/web marketing frenzy of the late 90's has noticeably cooled. It is also quite remarkable, how little some things change, at the venue, I felt like a fly preserved in amber, ready to step into a booth and start conversing about small business web hosting packages, dial up Internet access, and delivering dedicated Internet access via frame relay or ISDN (dating myself).

Because my current (soon to be 'former', or at least 'on hiatus') employer needs to diversify, I also attended the lunch presentation by Van Jones, President Obama's "Green Jobs Czar", who used his speechifying opportunity to fulsomely praise Vermont, its business climate, and the state's congressional delegation. All in all the atmosphere at this event was akin to a religious revival, albeit a camp meeting not for condemned sinners flirting with damnation, but for the smug, sanctimonious and already-saved, as the crowd interrupted the speech with applause several times, and there was a resounding standing ovation at its conclusion, and there was a palpable air of mutual self-congratulation in the room. I wish I could think more optimistically about the future but I really found the atmosphere annoying, especially as the speech was quite non-specific and avoided any mention of costs or necessary sacrifices needed to reduce carbon emissions and achieve energy independence.

After meandering around the trade show for a few more hours I did go see the 2009 Spielpalast Cabaret which was a rather more enjoyable experience. I had my camera with me, although sans batteries, so I just left it the car, which was probably just as well, the DSLR is big, clunky, kind of loud, and temperamental when trying to capture moving objects (ie, cabaret girls) in dim light.

The show was very entertaining but one thing that surprised me was that it was very non-topical, the present economic situation was not referenced except in passing. Considering that the Spielpalast troupe self-consciously recalls the cabaret culture of Weimar Germany (a time when currency lost all value, banknotes were used fuel), I expected that news of mass layoffs, foreclosures, devaluations, hyperinflation, downward mobility, etc. would have provided limitless fodder for an array of musical numbers, but this really wasn't the case. Anyhow, it was an excellent show with a great band, and perhaps being more escapist and non-topical made it easier to forget the Sturm und Drang of the outside word for at least a couple of hours.

Also, I noted that the Vengeance Aria from the Magic Flute was incorporated into the show, which gave me pause, because I used it as backing for this clip from 2007... I suppose it could be just serendipity (it's a very famous aria), or perhaps in some small way I inadvertently made a creative contribution to the show, if that is the case, I can die happy now.

5.18.2009

I would not describe myself as in any way 'pleased'

An unfortunately-worded headline in the Waterbury Record characterizing two local state representative's responses to the recent Vermont budget, which was promptly vetoed by Governor Douglas.

Now, I do not intend to start a political blog: the subject is not that interesting, it is mostly tiresome, and most of the small traffic amount to this site is from people vainly searching for Tyler Hamilton's ex-wife. As I have noted, however, my ample free time these days did allow me to follow the recent Vermont budget debates... and I am most emphatically not happy: I feel like I am being lied to and that unpleasant truths are not being spoken out loud.

In many ways the Vermont budget debate is a 'values' question, I currently live making unpleasant fiscal choices every day [insert description of my extremely unglamorous supplementary income job here] and cutting corners wherever I can, so a group of glib and feckless legislators denying reality is more than slightly irksome to me. It's almost enough to make me emulate the esteemed example of Hunter S. Thompson when he ran for sheriff of Aspen on the Freak Power ticket. I certainly feel that the two party system has failed me.

I'm not totally naive, I know that Vermont is just an isolated backwater that is a small part of a much larger problem -- I read somewhere that collectively, states are $200 billion in the hole, with California leading the way downward, and that when one looks at the situation nationally things really get completely out of hand. But these situations are more abstract and far removed from me, what I find infuriating, is that in Vermont decisions made quite close to home, and yet feel so far removed from what I think is smart or prudent (or even risky in a way that might lead to a positive outcome), instead just represent denial and evasion.

5.16.2009

Just add water

...and suddenly things are very lush. I am hoping that this summer will be less wet than last year's virtual monsoon, however, one of the predicted characteristics of climate change is an increase in the amount of rain in New England: just another thing to worry about, along with economic collapse, plagues, wars, etc. Some days it seems like the four horsemen of the apocalypse are clattering by.

I have planted peppers, tomatoes and some other odds and ends in containers which are now scattered around the outside of my condo, to the probable annoyance of my neighbors, who get to see me puttering around the plants in a ratty bathrobe most mornings, cup of coffee in hand, channeling Tony Soprano and Vito Corleone.

5.09.2009

Watching the sausage get made

The Vermont Statehouse, in sunnier times (October 2006)

Twitter, it's inane, narcissistic, shallow, and a host of other bad things (twitter kills blogging, a funny, short -- only 80 characters -- comment about this here), but occasionally provides interesting blow by blow instant reportage -- though stripped of context -- of events as they happen. So on this cool gray Saturday afternoon the local twitter stream followed the Vermont legislature's attempt to pass a budget and adjourn for the year:

(Perhaps the columnist providing these 'tweets' should quit his day job and start writing press releases for the left wing of the Vermont Democratic Party. Also, I think the reported comment by one of Waterbury's representatives is patently false -- it's more like the Vermont budget represents the ideal of 'spending money that you don't have', which is how the current impasse came to be.)

As I wrote in an earlier post -- making a rather muddled argument -- to be a Vermont taxpayer these days is to be caught between two distasteful political realities; a caretaking and vision-less Republican governor and a willfully naive and intellectually dishonest Democratic legislature. I know that to be in public life is difficult, especially in testing times like these -- but I am really quite angry and increasingly appalled at how this process has played out.

I believe that the current 'Great Recession' is not a normal blip in the business cycle but in fact a re-ordering of things and that there is going to be lot less money sloshing around the economy in the future. There seems to be a consensus that a future recovery will come not with a bang, but with a whimper, and that job creation is likely to be very gradual and incremental. I don't hear anyone in the local political sphere addressing these realities. Instead of vigorous debate and discussion on what the Vermont's future will look like, I see the same old platitudes and failed ideological divides. I think that perhaps the best analysis of this situation was by Emerson Lynn published in the St. Albans Messenger and the very partisan Vermont Tiger site...

5.03.2009

Spring Vermont woods

Today I got up early and drove over the reservoir. It's a nice time of year to be in the woods as things are dry, open, and relatively bug-free -- though the black flies are starting to come out.

Things are only now starting to green up -- the understory is clear, and the trees are only beginning to leaf out, especially at higher elevations.

This is a good time to see moose -- they are on the move this time of year after wintering in the mountains. While I saw lots of moose sign, including some quite fresh tracks, this chipmunk was the largest land animal I came across (more images here). I also scared up a couple of grouse and the sounds of male grouse 'drumming' filled the woods at times.

Wildflowers bloom in the short temperate period before other, larger plants leaf out and block out sunlight on the forest floor.

Painted trillium.

Fresh bear sign, I wonder if this is from last autumn or if some bear recently made these marks after emerging from hibernation; perhaps a hungry bruin was recently poking around looking for a few left over beechnuts.

5.01.2009

A bitter worker's holiday: May Day 2009

Socialist Labor Party seal carved in granite at the Barre Labor Hall.

May Day, 2009 is a rather bitter worker's holiday, the real unemployment rate is probably somewhere between 15% - 20% and still rising, millions of jobs have been lost in the present severe downturn. Does the wealth of America act as an opiate that prevents people from pouring into the streets in protest about inequality and limited access to healthcare?

My own feelings are confused, I feel a revulsion against the truly unseemly (and ever increasing) concentration of wealth in America that has been a defining characteristic of my adult life (page with some cheerless statistics about this here). But I am also suspicious of state sponsored solutions to many problems, a ideological position that differentiates me from many of my neighbors, who support self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders in droves. I am caught in a maze of contradictions and feel increasingly stressed from the constant barrage of bad news.

I will say this, however: This site, it's not very overtly political and is largely unread, except when by some chance I post about something topical that generates a trickle of traffic via google searches. I also don't bother reading many blogs regularly, there's far too much content out there to wade through it all, and a good part of it is quite uninteresting and predictable. What makes this site absolutely unique, however, is that it is written by someone (ie, myself) who at one time worked on the floors of various factories throughout Vermont, from Hubbarton Forge in Castleton to the Lydall plant in St. Johnsbury -- which is in the process of closing. I've noticed that many (perhaps most?) of these places have had layoffs in the current downturn, and this is what I am thinking about today, the 'worker's holiday', and I just wanted to acknowledge this in a small way.

Previous May Day posts:

Primo Maggio 2008

"Se la Pietra Sapesse Parlare" (2007)