Archive for February, 2010

More snow

February 27, 2010

A few more inches of snow in Vermont this morning.

Photos are Taylor Park, St. Albans, Vt., 8 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010

Town Meeting Terror

February 27, 2010

Vermont is gearing up for its annual Town Meeting. I’m supposed to like it, as everybody else does.

In the age of corporate, lobbyist-run government, it’s a last vestige of direct democracy. Town Meeting is a treasure, I’m told.

I’m dreading Town Meeting.

I have to write about Town Meeting every year for the newspaper where I work. You want to write interesting articles about it. The Town Meeting folks don’t give me a lot to work with.

Town Meeting usually doesn’t exactly rise to the level of Norman Rockwell, homespun democracy at work, let me tell you.

For instance, how do you write an engaging piece about how voters argued for four hours over whether to spend $500 on a new office copying machine or $250 to repair the old one?

You can write a good article on that, but not when you also have to collect the results of dozens of budget votes while you’re trying to piece that together. And since some town clerks who we ask to report Town Meeting results to the paper treat the subject like a State Secret, tracking down the information can be a challenge

The culture clash that is life in small town Vermont is usually on full display at Town Meeting. The old timers who like things simple do battle with some of the more granola types. So you get long, heated debates over whether the new town highway truck should be fueled by free range organic native clover biodeisel. Or something like that.

Some people go to Town Meeting because they like to hear themselves talk. And talk. And talk. Nothing wrong with asking questions about the town expenses, or complain about rising taxes. But think about it. If you’ve said exactly the same thing 220 times, and the rest of the voters aren’t swayed, you’re probably not going to make much headway.

Town Meetings are prime places to play drinking games, but of course it’s hard to write a coherent article about the meeting afterward when you’re incoherent from 27 shots of Jagermeister. So I stay sober, but play the games vicariously.

Here’s an example of how it works. There’s always some loudmouth in the audience who yells “Point of order!”

Point of order is normally a request from someone to make sure they understand how the procedings are working. Will a yes or no vote reduce the budget? that kind of question.

Some people, however, yell “Point of order” over and over, I swear to bog down the procedings so much that people give up on the item that’s up for a vote. So one drink for each yell of “point of order.” Instead of drinking, I just mark down how many times it’s yelled.

You take another shot for each time a member of the selectboard or school board up in front rolls his or her eyes at a stupid remark.  That usually ends up as a really big number.

Another shot for each time the lady next to you with a seemingly fatal head cold sneezes or coughs in your direction. You get the idea.

My whines about Town Meeting are all selfish.So what if it can get boring?

Of course voters get the job done, and at least they’ve (usually) decided for themselves how to run their town. If you’re interested in how it all works,  get a copy of Frank Bryan’s book on the topic, to see how well Town Meeting works or doesn’t work.

I just have to remember the basic good of Town Meeting in Vermont: At least something is in control of the average person.

Gorgeous Morning

February 26, 2010

Seems a storm is pounding all of the Northeast, except here in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.

It’s a gorgeous spring morning, as you can see by the photo. I took it around 8 a.m. this morning in Burlington’s Waterfront Park, on Lake Champlain. (click on the pic to “embiggen” it)

When I took the photo, it was about 43 degrees, there was a gentle, warm breeze, and robins were fighting for territory in the nearby trees.

Loving the Crazies

February 26, 2010

I love the Westboro Baptist Church. Love them!

The Westboro Baptist Church is that small, vile band of “Christians” who are famous for their “God Hates Fags” signs. I think their leader, Fred Phelps, doth protest too much, but that’s another story.

So why in the world would I love this strange little band of losers?  Because more and more, they are inspiring great acts of random, loopy street theater. They’ve really put the fun back in fundamentalism.

In the photo, a guy brings his “God Hates Signs” sign to a happy little WBC event.

Check out the latest video of one of their protests, last week in Long Beach, California. Watch especially for the offbeat signs people brought to the raucous counter-demonstration.

Plus they’re the best advertisement for the very things they’re protesting against.  The WBC is so clownish, of course people are going to go for whatever they’re against.

Plus I’m fascinated by them. Do they really believe what they say? Do they realize everyone is laughing AT them, and certainly not WITH them? Why the big focus on gays?

Look,  I  know that any hate group, including the Westboro Baptist Church, is dangerous and a scourge. The Southern Poverty Law Center has an excellent and very sad overview of how bad the WBC is. Leader Fred Phelps bullies people relentlessly, especially in Topeka, Kansas, where they are headquartered, according to the SPLC.  People who should be tamping them down are often cowed. Police won’t arrest them if they break the law. Politicans are too afraid to weigh in against them.

But the people who  participate in these offbeat, zany and random counter protests against Westboro Baptist Church have hit upon the most effective ways to destroy them and their ilk.

Laughter and derision can wilt and put an end to  hate groups as effectively as Roundup on dandelions.

Snow afterglow

February 25, 2010

I’m still either enjoying or suffering from yesterday’s big soggy snowstorm, I’m not sure which.  Clearing 14 inches of slush from my long driveway was certainly a very nice workout. It was warm this morning, and the work was intense enough that I was down to a t-shirt and I was still roasting.

I probably would have been comfortably warm shoveling naked, though I’m not sure my neighbors would have been so comfortable with such a scene.

I’ve got a couple more pictures from the storm.

The first one shows Interstate 89 just south of St. Albans as I drove to work yesterday morning.

Second one is my driveway this morning. The snowbank is taller than I am.

And the third pic shows the semi-havoc in St. Albans with snow, bad roads, and traffic signals not working due to power failures.

The weather keeps getting weirder and weirder. It’s supposed to be warm with more rain than snow today and tonight way up here in northern Vermont. The exact same storm is causing a near-blizzard and deep snow around Philadelphia, New Jersey and Delaware. So the further north you go, the warmer it gets. Should I be planning a sunny tropical weekend getaway in lovely Labrador?

Snow job

February 24, 2010

The snow today had the consistency of wet cement.

Usually, Vermont snowstorms bring a nice powdery snow, but last night and today, the snow fell in a dense cloud of goopy wet flakes.

It was pretty disruptive, which I  like, because if nothing else, it makes things interesting. 

By the time I got around to shoveling my driveway, there was about eight inches. That amount of snow usually takes me an hour to shovel, but this was so wet and heavy, it took two hours. I’m not complaining, it was a great workout. I was exhilarated.

First picture shows my shoveling done. But it was still snowing hard when I left for work an hour later, and new snow was piling up fast. It will surely go past a foot.

 As I shoveled, it  was pretty warm, so I didn’t have to wear too many bulkly clothes, which I like.  I got soaking wet, but never got cold.

I started before dawn. I didn’t need lights, as the falling snow made street lights in nearby St. Albans City cast a nice glow.

The soggy snow stuck to the trees, and you could hear a few of them snapping in the woods under the weight. On a c0uple of occasions, the sky lit up with buzzing blue flashes as power lines failed.

As I shoveled, the light of dawn came and revealed a winter wonderland. Indeed.

I wondered if my power would stay on. I wondered if my truck would stay on the road on the way to work.

I set down my shovel and went inside. I was famished and devoured a big bowl of cereal.

Then I set off for work. As I drove, I saw the trees sagging under the weight of the snow, as if exhausted by the exertion of enduring yet another winter. The traffic lights between my house and Interstate 89, were out, so people politely took turns going through the intersections.

On the highway, white pines leaned menacingly toward the road. As I passed one stand of pines, I was startled as a large branch let loose, collapsing to the ground in a waterfall of snow. A snowplow up ahead shot a wave of dirty snow high into the air as it swiped the Interstate pavement clean.

It’s still snowing, but it’s getting even warmer out.  The snow is supposed to change to rain. There could be some street flooding tomorrow.  A wicked wind storm is due Friday. All that will make things even uglier. And it will make me, the weather fan, happy to take it all in.

Glop Warning

February 23, 2010

They’re predicting a week of wet, sloppy snow, mixed with a little rain here in northern Vermont. If you like snow that reminds you of runny, wet cement, this is your week.

It’s amazing how somebody like me could have such mixed emotions over something as simple as mixed precipitation. On the one hand, I’m itching for a snowball fight, and I want to build a snowman, as wet slush is perfect for that.

On the other hand, if the worst case scenario happens and we get a foot of heavy, heavy snow, the driveway shoveling isn’t going to be pretty. Chiropractors are now gleefully chomping at the bit, no doubt.

Wet snow on the roads tends to compact into ice. Icy roads attract stupid drivers, so the trip to and from work will be interesting for the rest of the week.

One would think Vermonters would have learned to drive in the snow by now, but one would be mistaken.

 When the roads get icy, half the people out there are trying to break world speed records, that is until their out of control cars pinwheel and twirl faster than an Olympic figure skater before crashing into the rocks, and of course my truck.

The other half of the drivers are in full panic mode, with white knuckled-hands in a death grip on the steering wheel, mouth agape in terror, as their cars inch down the Interstate slower than a 90-year-old with advanced arthritis walking with two crutches.  

The picture is of a road sign somewhere in New England. I don’t know where it was taken, but I love it. I got if off Failblog.org.

Meteorologists are already saying this storm is so tricky, unpredictable and weird that they are already all but conceding their forecasts are wrong, even before we get any weather.

So maybe we’re in for a week of 90-degree tropical sunshine. Where’s my beach chair?

Mouse That Roared

February 22, 2010

Talk about mouse adventures. Since I’m fascinated by the good and bad in advertisting, I sometimes search for interesting examples, and I found a good one.

This ad is  for Nolan’s Cheddar, a product I’d never heard of before.   It even has cheesy music at the beginning. Watch it, it has a really cool story arc.

What attracts me to this is it’s simple, it has some funny sight gags, and doesn’t hit me over the head with a fevered product pitch. I don’t know much more about Nolan’s Cheddar than before I watched the ad, but now I want to try it, if only because the ad made me laugh.

Putting people in a good mood makes them want to try your product. Pissing people off has the opposite effect. Are you listening, purveyors of Internet pop-up ads?

Climate Poster Child

February 22, 2010

We had about three inches of snow over the weekend here in St. Albans. Down at the store, a customer looked out the window and remarked to the clerk, “So much for global warming.”

So I guess it sunk in. People who have convinced themselves global climate change isn’t happening will glom onto anything to to prove their point.

Snow — in February! In northern Vermont of all places! — Who ever heard of such a thing? There was three inches of it! And only a little bit of it melted in the afternoon!

Well, since global warming isn’t coming, I guess I should cancel plans to plant coconut palms in my back yard this spring.  Damn! Thank God the guy in the store set me straight.

We went through this sillinesss when it snowed in Washington DC earlier this month. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman had a good take on this in his Feb. 17 column. Since global warming doesn’t mean everyone will warm up, he suggests calling it “global weirding”

I write a lot about the weather for the Burlington Free Press, and I  have a weather blog at the Freeps as well. It seems every time I write about cold and snow, even if the winter weather is perfectly normal, the blogosphere grabs ahold of what I’ve written to say global warming doesn’t exist.

A classic example is an article I wrote for the Freeps on May 21, 2008. It was just before Memorial Day, and as always, there was still a little mud and snow atop the mountains. My piece was just a routine article warning hikers about the summit slop.

The Drudge Report picked it up and since then the article has been bouncing all over the blogosophere, as absolute proof that global warming doesn’t exist. Because there were patches of normal, old snow on top of Vermont mountains. Never mind that the article explicitly states that the snow is nothing unusual. Notice, too, that my article doesn’t even mention global warming

Geez, I never knew I was such an expert that I could refute the work of thousands of climate scientists, all in one article that took me probably a half hour to throw together.

My article must be authoritative. Google it. It’s all over the place.

I’m in good company.  Donald Trump weighed in on global warming recently  claiming New York City is having its coldest winter ever, so therefore there’s no global warming, and Al Gore should have his Nobel Prize taken away as a result.

Uh, Donald? New York is not even close to having its coldest winter. And depending upon how you measure, the earth as a whole had either its second or fourth warmest January on record. The eastern U.S. and Europe were a couple of cold spots in an otherwise warm world last month. Sorry.  

 I’m not one of those who think the world will end in five minutes because of global warming. It’s not going to be 110 degrees next month in Minsk, and the ocean isn’t going to flood Manhattan in an hour. Global warming or weirding is something we have to deal with, but not panic over.

 But I am amused at how people will distort the most innocuous thing, like my little article, and offer it up as “proof” of something that doesn’t exist.

I remember a famous politician once saying “Facts are stupid.” To many people, I guess they are.

Beaker of Soup

February 22, 2010

I’ve got a slight cold, so I figured making a big pot of chicken soup would help.

My best Muppet friend Beaker helped.

It didn’t go so well.