Monday, August 31, 2009

Monadnock Resonation

Made up Mt. Monadnock last Wednesday, in a hike that had a little bit of everything. I started off around 10:00 on the Parker Trail, which is mainly flat as it heads due west. I turned north and started the real climb on the Cliff Walk, which is just as tough as it sounds. All this time, it was hot and rather humid, and by the time I hit Bald Rock and took my lunch break, I was overheated and tired. However, as I traversed my way underneath the peak via the Amphitheater trail, the clouds rolled in and cooled things off a bit. Still, the Summit trail to the top was a mix of sun and clouds, although the peak of Monadnock was windy as ever. The clouds were rocking and rolling, as evidenced by the picture above.
As usual for this mountain, I didn't spend a lot of time at the top because there were a LOT of gapers yelling at each other and being generally annoying, so I headed NE on the Pumpelly Trail. By this point, it was downright gloomy and somewhat chilly until I got underneath the tree line, and I wasn't feeling all that great. However, two things got be back up to par: 1) as soon as I started back to the State Park via the Cascade Link, I ran into huge bushes of wild blueberries which I ate with abandon, and 2) dunking my head in the stream that runs parallel to the Cascade Link was incredibly refreshing. Still, by the time I had met up with the main trails (the Red Spot and White Dot trails) it was raining, so I was pretty happy to get back to the car. All in all a good day!

Where i've been

I've either been painting or prepping to paint recently, and that combined with a mini-vacation and nice hike is responsible for the radio silence. Which you can now consider broken.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Meditation and the Brain

While I've always been interested in meditation, I've never followed up this interest with any actual - you know - meditation. Just too impatient, I guess. No time. So short of "corpse pose", I'm out of the loop. However, I find this account fascinating:
This retreat was in the Vipassana tradition, which emphasizes gaining insight into the way your mind works. Vipassana has a reputation for
being one of the more intellectual Buddhist traditions, but, even so, part of the idea is to gain that insight in a way that isn’t entirely intellectual. Or, at least, in a way that is sometimes hard to describe.

... I’ll just say that it involved seeing the structure of my mind — experiencing the structure of my mind — in a new way, and in a way that had great meaning for me. And, happily, this experience was accompanied by a stunningly powerful blast of bliss. All told, I don’t think I’ve ever had a more dramatic moment.

More on expanding your mind here.

Before and After

Last week, I spent a very satisfying day pressure washing the house and deck. To give you an idea of how badly the house needed a cleaning, check out the two sides of my bulkhead doors, one of which was pressure washed, and the other in its original glory. Can you tell which one is which?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Quote of the Day

Two cliches make us laugh but one hundred cliches move us.

Umberto Eco, writing of the cumulative effect of cliches in Casablanca.

Deep Thought

It's depressing how much time I have to spend convincing my almost-three year old son to go to sleep. In the last 24 hours alone , I've spent almost 1.5 hours in his room going through the nap/night time routine. Add in the destressing time recovering from all of his crying and complaining and it's even longer.

I hope to god this is just some form of awful phase.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

He placed a jar in Tennessee...

A new Wallace Stephens poetry collection is out. The NYTimes reviews, but spends a good half of the article gossiping and bemoaning the lack of unpublished poems. The reviewer is probably one of those people that pay more attention to the "making of" and "extras" on a DVD than the movie itself.

Anyways, Stephens is the first modern metaphysical poet I ever "got", thanks to Prof. Barnaby at UVM. His “Anecdote of the Jar” is a fantastic picture of how man changes his environment simply by being there, by observing. It's a nice piece of work.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Do they need the money that badly?

So someone - I suspect our doctor's office - sold our name to some "having a baby" list and now we're getting stuff from people ranging from all of the kid krap stores to the lactating mothers of America society. Considering the lengths we go through to prevent the amount of junk mail we get, this new stuff is dammed annoying. Stop selling our name!

Deep Thought

The vibrations from a power washer sure do make your arms tired.

The Big Bang down to the Final Sigh

I haven't had much time for reading recently - for example, I spent all of yesterday washing the deck for painting - but I'm still working on Inherent Vice. The NYTimes graced us with a nice revew this weekend, and contains this great quote:
The weighty points his work makes about the universe — that it’s slowly winding down as the Big Bang becomes the Final Sigh — tend to relieve our despair, not deepen it, by letting us in on the cosmos’s greatest gags: for example, that the purpose of the Creation was to make itself perfectly unmanageable and purely unintelligible. No wonder so many of Pynchon’s characters revel in chemical dissipation. Entropy — if you can’t beat it, join it

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Party Allegiance

Politically, I'm a registered independent, mainly because the Republicans offend my intelligence and the Democrats are mostly spineless (not to mention, in MA, hopelessly corrupt). Digby, as usual, puts the dilemma better:

[The Democrats] are afraid to say the truth. The right is unafraid to lie. And that leads to a distorted political dialog that nobody can understand. And into that void, the scare tactics have a distinct advantage

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Kind of Confusing

As much as I love Miles' Kind of Blue, I've never pretended to understand the musical theory behind it. Occasionally, someone will try and come close, but in the end I just don't get it. Perhaps if I played an insturment?

In the meantime, the LP will continue to be on in heavy rotation for weekend breakfasts and romantic dinners with my girl.

First Line of Coetzee's "Slow Man"

The blow catches him from the right, sharp and suprising and painful, like a bolt of electricity, lifting him up off of the bicycle.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The High Cost of Discounts

I remember talking to someone once about some boots that they were wearing that were falling apart. He was complaining that "they don't make them like they used to", but when we chatted more about it, it turns out that they were Chinese-made boots that he bought at Wal-Mart.

I thought about him again as I read about Ellen Ruppel Shell's book "Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture". Cheap consumer crap is killing America. Or, as Shell points out:
Cheap chicken, cheap shirts, cheap sneakers — they’re all being paid for by somebody, even if it’s not the person taking them home. More than a third of the working poor, Ruppel Shell notes, have jobs in retail, where the annual mean wage for a department store “associate” is $18,280. That’s one reason we pay so little for those shirts and sneakers. We’re also being subsidized by a distant labor force we never see, the Chinese and Mexicans and Vietnamese who work under well-­documented Dickensian conditions.

Kids say the darnest things...

As long as I'm talking about kids, I thought you might like to hear some funny Hunter stories from the last few months.

When he's not sure if you're listening to him, he'll turn to you and say "Are you listening to my words?" If you're sitting with him, he might actually lean towards you and physically move your face so that you're looking at him.

At times, if i'm on the computer while he's watching TV, he'll demand that I "Put those things on your ears" until I put on my iPod headphones. Then he'll be happy. Along those lines, if he's wearing shorts with drawstrings, he'll sometimes put the strings in his ears and say "I listening to my iPods".

One new thing is if something exciting happens, he'll say "No Way!" When he does this, I often respond "Yes Way!" But then Hunter wants to say "Yes Way!" so he'll tell me: "Daddy. You say no way & I say yes way".

The other day, the Ashland Police were handing out "junior officer badge" stickers. When he put it on, he was very proud of himself, but when I told him that he was a police officer, he looked confused and said "I not a police officer, I Hunter!"

For those of you that haven't heard...

Kelly and I will be having another boy! Due date is still on X-mas day, 2009. Kelly is still doing fantastic now that the first trimester is over.

Sorry Anya!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

More Insurance Absurdities

A doctor writes:

"Verifying coverage and benefits for our patients can take 20 hours or more per week. Another way to think of it: every hour of patient treatment time will require 30 minutes or more interacting with an insurance company."

Action must be taken.

Friday, August 14, 2009

There but for the grace of god...

Being someone that's been unemployed and self-employed a lot over my career, I read about all of the people lined up at volunteer free health care clinics because they're either un- or under-insured and am thankful for my wife's insurance. It may not be the best, and the deductables are very large, but at least we have coverage if something goes wrong. Not everyone can say the same thing.

Bella Update

So Bella's surgery to replace her ACL in her left knee was successful, thank goodness. I detailed the details of the procedure here.

She had a soft purple cast on for a few days, but that's off now and you can see the stictches holding the incision together. This exposure to the air means not only that it will heal faster, but also that she can now lick and chew the wound, so she's had to wear an Elizabethian collar to keep her away from it. Suprisingly, after the first night, she's been remarkably good with it, so all is progressing nicely for now.

The plan is to remove the stitches on Thursday, and her unforced inactivity will continue until at least a week from this Monday. After that, we start the "rehab", which basically means taking her for short walks and helping her to regain her strength in the knee. This short walk period is supposed to last at last four weeks, but as my friend Amy sez, there's a good chance that she'll heal much faster. At this point, I'm thinking that she should be back to as normal as possible by Hunter's birthday.

I'll post some pix when I'm online (not on the iPhone). The cut looks nasty, so we'll have to see what the scar looks like.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Quote of the Day

A biographer sifts the truth from a quarry full of facts. A poet or novelist intuits a quarry full of truth from a single fact.

Julia Cameron, Walking in this World

This is why Health Care needs to be reformed, somehow

Andrew Sullivan's blog is again pointing out some of the awful absurdities in the current health care system, pain points that are being blocked out by the current "debate".

For instance, a reader writes in:
For a few months, I worked at an electronic medical billing company. I was astounded at how complicated and convoluted medical billing is, and this is ultimately why we need to have significant health insurance reform. What happens is a doctor's office will decide on a price for a procedure - for instance, a checkup typically costs around $180. Say I have Tufts. They might pay out $100 for a checkup - the rest the doctor writes off. Why not just charge $100 and not have to write off $80? Well, that's because other insurance companies - say Blue Cross and AETNA - might pay $120 and $150 respectively. So it make sense for doctors to charge significantly more than they would expect from most insurance companies. However, if somebody doesn't have good insurance or has no insurance, they are billed for the full amount -$180, even though the doctors office might expect to write off up to $80 dollars of that charge from somebody with good insurance. Given that the majority of the people without health insurance are lower income, this can cause crippling financial problems, or result in a denial of service. And why? Is someone with insurance "better" than somebody without? Are they more deserving of good health because they happened to not get laid off during a particular bad recession?

And another of his readers - who worked a job where they tried to automate medical procedure approval processes - points out the amazing waste that takes place in every doctor's office or hospital in the amazingly antiquated approval procedures that take place manually every day. Details after the link, but then there's this:
Of course we know that just because the insurance company says they will pay, it doesn't mean they really will. There's a whole different team of people who have to pick it up on the back end in that case.

Everyone who thinks that their current insurance is good, hold your breath that you don't get sick, because you never know what you will or won't be charged once the procedure is completed.

Um... Isn't that a bit over the top?

Now, like any good Thomas Pynchon fan, i've got no problem with paranoia. But the conspiracies put forth by the "birthers" - those people that believe that Obama wasn't actually born in the United States - are simply amazing. For example, John Richardson followed Orly Taitz, one of the head of the movement designed to "expose" Obama's foreign birth, and found out exactly what she believed in:

But Taitz wasn't finished. She marched her troops straight over to the secretary of state's office and did the exact same presentation all over again. Then she headed to the FBI to do it a third time. And the whole time, she never stopped talking:

Goldman Sachs runs the treasury.

Obama is a puppet.

There's a cemetery somewhere in Arizona where they just dug 30,000 fresh graves, which wait now for the revolution.

Baxter International — a major Obama contributor — developed a vaccine for bird flu that actually kills people.

Google Congressman Alcee Hastings and House Bill 684 and you'll see that they're planning at least six civilian labor camps.

Google an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about train cars with shackles.

The communist dictator Hugo Chavez way back in 2004 purchased the Sequoia software that runs our voting machines and the mainstream media won't report any of it — not even Fox because Saudi Arabia bought a percentage of Fox in 2007.

This is the stuff that the media never gives Taitz a chance to say because it's so focused on the news hook of the "birther" issue. (And, believe me, this has been merely a tiny sample of what I saw on my road trip this spring.) But this is the stuff that reveals who she really is, and what this movement really is.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

You say Tomato, I say Blight

No tomatos for us this year - the tomato blight is taking them all down.

Dan Barber explains more about the tomato blight and why it's so bad this year.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Quote of the Day

"Everything human is pathetic. The secret source of humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven."

- Mark Twain

Um... Mr. Wilson?

This reasoning is exactly why the Bills remain irrelevant as they were before the TO signing:

"I said, 'Sign him,'" Ralph Wilson told the Associated Press. "In Buffalo, we haven't had a national figure publicity-wise since [Jim] Kelly."

Signing an old WR with a reputation for being a locker-room killer to a one-year deal for a team that's starting no less then three new linemen on their offensive line? When there are much more pressing matters (btw, has your first-round draft pick signed yet? Didn't think so) to attend to?

The reality is that TO was signed to get attention, and to sell tickets. On both of those fronts, the signing has been wildly successful. Hey, football's a business; what do I know. I'd just like a winning season one of these years, and beating the Pats now and again would be cool too. But I suspect we're looking at another 7-9 season at best in 2009.

In Which I Demonstrate my Newfound Interest in Food

Over on Digby's blog, tristero's been talking alot about food. Today's post is about how the current organic food debate is missing the point, regardless what the UK Food Standards Agency says about Organic food not being demonstratively healthier then "regular" food. Instead, we should be focusing on taste. After stating that if you eat good food, you shouldn't be worrying about nutrients (which seems about right to me), he says:

Sadly, that's not so easy in modern America. Americans have been trained since birth to eat cruddy-tasting food and think it tastes great. It's not that burgers taste bad: they don't, they can taste great. It's rather that the burgers - and the fries, and the shakes, and so on - made available to the typical American taste awful, with fake flavors that pretend to taste good. But once you have, say, really great chocolate - and, hard as it is to believe, few of us have - you'll never, ever go back to the fake or adulterated stuff currently marketed as "chocolate." Other foods are harder to taste than chocolate, of course, but the principle's the same.

Now it's not just The Man's fault. True, big corporations have done an extraordinary job of feeding us huge piles of crappy-tasting slop (and also "disappearing" good food). In doing so, they've guaranteed that their owners will make enough of the other green stuff that they'll never have to eat their own lousy products. But that's only part of the problem.

If your parents were like mine, you never knew what broccoli could taste like when it wasn't cooked down to mush, or even how awesome a simple tomato salad could be. Incredibly, if we want to enjoy good food - something other cultures take for granted (and not just Europe!) - we actually need to learn, starting from square one, what it tastes like and how to cook it. That's how clueless most Americans are about food.

I know my introduction to cooking is slowly forthcoming and it's been a long, painful process, but this, combined with our CSA and attempts to buy local produce, mean that i've been enjoying the food i've been eating more then I can remember in a long, long time.

With Regards to the Teabaggers Disrupting the Health Care Town Meetings

This cartoon from Mark Streeter, with the Savannah Morning News, just about sums it up:

Thinking of Bella

Today Bella goes under the knife to replace the ruptured ACL on her left hind leg. She's getting a procedure called Lateral Suture Technique (or LST) where the vet will basically drill holes in her bones and attach nylon string to stabilize the knee joint. The procedure has a high success rate and as long as we keep Bella's weight down she should be able to enjoy a happy and productive life for the rest of her years. However, as with all procedures, there's a chance that something could go wrong, so here's hoping that everything goes smoothly.

Oh, and she's down to 36 pounds from 39, which was part of the reason why she tore the ligament in the first place. We just need to get her to ~33 and the risks of re injury will be minor.

Friday, August 7, 2009

First Paragraph of Inherent Vice

"She came along the alley and up the back steps the way she always used to. Doc hadn't seen her for over a year. Nobody had. Back then it was always sandals, bottom half of a flower-print bikini, faded Country Joe &the Fish T-shirt. Tonight she was all in flatland gear, hair a lot shorter than he remembered, looking just like she swore she'd never look."

Very noirish.

Health Care Andicdotes

Andrew Sullivan has been documenting fascinating stories about how awful life is for those without health insurance, and also how much society pays for the care for these people. Check out this story about a student epeliptic for one example. Money quote:
The simple act of being picked up off the ground, transported to the hospital and ingesting a Tylenol offered by doctor there would run me over a thousand dollars. When I checked my bill I discovered that the two Tylenols I had ingested alone cost me over 50 dollars.

Those of you who oppose health care reform because it's too "expensive" would do well to think of stories like this.
Here's another one about someone with insurance:
When I began work post seminary, the cost of the standard plan offered by my denomination for two of us was $4000. It seemed reasonable in 1999 and was a whopping 8% of my salary. Well since then costs have gone up each year by 20% or more. We have added our two children to our family since I began working, and the cost of my family's healthcare plan is now $22000 this year. This currently represents 1/3 of my salary, and the cost has increased $7000 in the last three years alone.

One third of your salary just for health insurance!

Another Headlong, Fearful Escape...

I felt a little bit bad for hating on Against the Day yesterday, for as flawed as that book is, it still contains many excellent moments. Here's one that stuck in my head. It's from the novel's home stretch, when two characters are trying to navigate the through chaos of pre-WWI Slavic Europe with their newborn child:
... the dead, who had begun to appear in increasing numbers, like immigrants into a country where they were feared, disliked, pitilessly exploited.

As the landscape turned increasingly chaotic and murderous, the streams of refugees swelled. Another headlong, fearful escape of the kind that in collective dreams, in legends, would be misremembered and re imagined into pilgrimage or crusade... the dark terror behind transmuted to a bright hope ahead, the bright hope becoming a popular, perhaps someday a national, delusion. Embedded invisibly in it would remain the ancient darkness, too awful to face, thriving, emerging in disguise, vigorous, evil, destructive, inextricable. p.964
Note how the takes the specific and ties it into the universal in a poetic fashion. That's why we love the guy.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I Could Write Them Blindfolded

I've got Inherent Vice in hand am reading it at a leisurely pace. I can tell you that I laugh out load at least once a chapter; the book is absolutely hysterical.

The thing that annoys me are the reviews of the book. The same load of crap that is written about any new Pynchon novel is being written about this one. The cliches are: he's too hard to read, too many characters, the books are too long, the books are over-literate, etc.

In my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, Against the Day was overlong and, at points, boring. But he's not hard to read at all, and Inherent Vice is downright easy to read.

Come on, reviewers! Read the book you're supposed to be talking about rather then your impressions of the author's life, or his past books.

Deep Thought

Flat tires are a huge inconvenience.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Quote of the Day

"If everything in this dream of prerevolution was in fact doomed to end and the faithless money-driven world to reassert its control over all the lives it felt entitled to touch, fondle, and molest, it would be agents like these, dutiful and silent, out doing the shitwork, who'd make it happen."
Thomas Pynchon

Man, I can't wait for this book!

Cotzee's "Disgrace"

I read J.M. Cotzee's Disgrace (after picking it up at the Cazenovia Library's fantastic book sale) in a fever pitch, finishing it in three days. It's an incredible book. I'll need to read it again to pick up all of the elements that create this fascinating tension throughout the book: one moment, you feel that the protagonist has found his salvation, the next, you see that he's in an even worse situation as before.

The entire thing is filled with Cotzee's incredible musing, piercing prose. It's not a light-hearted book. I'm also sure i'm missing a lot of the undertext of the South African situation (I didn't even realize that one of the characters was black until over half-way through the book, and it's a major point). Regardless, it's a stunning book that has colored my last few days and will continue to do so.

Tomorrow: onto Inherent Vice!