Monday, December 17, 2012

Books and Reading

Hi all,

I spoke with a couple people about a several books over this past weekend.  If you don't care, don't bother reading or replying to the email.

Fun and Fast:
- "A Stranger in the Kingdom" by Frank Howard Mosher (This work offers a fantastic perspective on rural life in Vermont as well as racism.)
-"Disappearances" by Frank Howard Mosher (Rural Vermont life that features tall tale in the time of prohibition.
-"A Man Without a Country" by Kurt Vonnegut (Many consider this to be the closest thing Vonnegut ever wrote to an autobiography.  For that reason alone it is well worth a read)
-Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jewels Verne (Obviously awesome)
-Around the World in Eighty Days by Jewels Verne
-20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jewels Verne
-"The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexandre Dumas (a magnificent journey through the human experience of a wronged man. The work contains a fair amount of revenge and reflection)
-"A Day no Pigs Would Die" by Robert Newton Peck  (Depression era coming of age story about a farmer's son in Vermont)
-"A Part of the Sky" by Robert Newton Peck (This is the sequel to the previously listed book)
-"Call of the Wild" by Jack London
-"White Fang" by Jack London

Short Stories
-"To Build a Fire" by Jack London
-"Late Great Works of Leo Tolstoy"  This is a two volume set. It is one of my prized possessions.

General Recommendations
- Anything by Isaac Asimov.  (I probably wouldn't recommend reading everything he wrote, but taking in the Three Laws of Robotics is worthwhile).
-A Study in Scarlet; The Hound of the Baskervilles; Adventures of Sherlock Holmes; The Return of Sherlock Holmes all by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Modern readers will probably be surprised by the similarities to CSI, some of the incredible stereotyping that Holmes undertakes, and the incredible take on Mormonism)

-The Dexter series  (After the first book the written series radically departs from the TV series and is well worth reading.  Despite the appearance of light and air writing, I believe that the writing is actually well thought out and very good).
- The Flashman Series (a comedic series based on the fictitious exploits of a victorian era british soldier)
-Joe Gunther Series by Archer Mayor (Vermont author that writes in the procedural crime genre)

-The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo series by Steig Larson

-The D'Artagnan Romances: The Three Musketeers; Twenty Years After; The Vicomte du Bragelonne; The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas (all of these are super fun reads.  None of the language is overly complex, but some may find his storytelling overly descriptive.)

- The Ender's Game series by Orson Scott Card. (Child warriors provide a constant sourcing of fascination for many.  There are also themes of bullying, manipulation and family.  The setting is futuristic and lush)
Structural knowledge:
-Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss (Comedic outlook on punctuation in modern english)
-How to Write a Sentence by Stanley Fish (seriously)

Thought provoking and entertaining:
-White Teeth by Zadie Smith  (She has more fantasticly evokative sentences in this book than I could hope to write in a lifetime)
-Dead Souls by Nikolia Gogol (Gogol is often called the father of Russian literature and rightfully so. I don't think that it is particularly hard to get through and is a great introduction to Russian literature)
-Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand  (Most folks who have selected UVM for their undergraduate education will find many of the ideas she espouses to be absurd.  However, I think that Rand provide one of the few truly thoughtful, moral defense of capital; whereas, there is a sea of articulate capitalist discontents.)
-"Slaughter House Five by Kurt Vonnegut (Written based on Vonnegut's life experience as a GI durring the firebombing of Dresden.  If you are not familiar with that period of history, it is worth a read.  Vonnegut's perspective on the human experience at a time when humanity is no where to be found is humorous and simultaneously chilling)
-"Cat's Cradle" by Kurt Vonnegut (Vonnegut interviewed real GE scientists to build the foundation of this novel. The book tackles humanity's ability to destroy itself.)
-"Siren of Titan" by Kurt Vonnegut (a perspective on the ability of man to equalize the inequities visited upon each of us by the incident of our birth)
-"The Corrections by Jonathan Frazen (Age, society, madness, perfection and rigid family structure are all served up in this work.  
-"Freedom by Jonathan Frazen (After reading this book I concluded that Frazen was the best American author of the last century.  He successfully wrote the book that every post modernest dreams of writing: the story of moral ambiguity and try to get by.
-To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (I am sure you all had to read this at one point in your life, but it is worth re-reading.   I try to make a point of reading it yearly.  The concepts of fairness and equality throughout the book take on different forms as your perspective as a reader shifts with age and experience.)
-Walden by Henry David Thoreau (The first section on economy is only worth reading once you have read the rest of the work.)
-The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (A beautiful story about the transformation of a country and the lives within.  The book is functioning on several different levels simultaneously and occasionally permits interplay between the levels.)
-The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Chabron (A tragic and adventurous novel that relates the story of a comic book writer who escaped Nazi Germany)
-Maus by Art Speigleman (A graphic novel relating the author's father's experiences during the Holocaust.  I am sure that Forrest could tell you more about it.  I always found the imagery of different animals for each of the different classes of people to be especially interesting)
-Night by Eli Wisel (Fantastic)
-Native Son by Richard Wright
-Black Boy by Richard Wright
-Pagan Spain by Richard Wright
-The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sopher (Fantastic look at the revolutionary culture in Iran immediately following the revolution through the eyes of a young Jewish girl)
-War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy 
-Anna Karinina by Leo Tolstoy

Ultra heady
-When Affirmative Action was White  (This book examines the impact of the GI bill and the relative ability for African Americans and Caucasians to gain access to education and equity)
-Black Trials  (This is a series of historical / poli sci studies of the leading trials featuring race throughout American history)
-Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault  (This is a fantastic study of devices of  societal control)
-Madness and Civilization by Michel Foucaoult  (After reading this it is hard to think about medication and hospitalization in the same way)
-A History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault
-Two Treatise by John Locke (only the second one is worth reading. The foundational generation of this country relied heavily on this man's thoughts.  There reliance in turn shaped many of our societal institutions, so it is worth working through).
-American Foreign Policy by William Appleman Williams (A crucial piece of writing to understanding the role the United States plays in the world today).
-Milestones by Sayyid Qutb (There are a million different spellings for this man's name.   Often this work is cited as the seminal intelectual work of pan-muslim radicalism. It has been banned in several countries over the years.) 
-The Irony of American History by Rienhold Niebuhr (The preeminent american theologist of the twentieth century. He grappled with America's post WWII role in the world)
-Faith and History by Rienhold Niebuhr
-The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness by Rienhold Niebuhr
-The New Jim Crow (I picked this up but haven't been able to read it yet.  Everybody is talking about what Michelle Alexander wrote, so I think that it is worth reading)
-The Way we Vote by Alec Ewald (I took a bunch of classes with Professor Ewald and think very highly of him.  I found his book to be very good and believe it is accessible to someone without specific education in the area.)

A letter to someone starting a long distance relationship.

For the better part of the last 4 years, I have lived in one place and my partner has lived in another. These places are separated by a 12 hour car trip.  We had dated for about two and a half years prior to this geographic divide.  We gave it a go, almost without thinking about it.  It has been trying, but we still love each other and, I think, we have a strong relationship.  

Another friend wrote to me, facing a similar situation, and asked for advice. While I don't have all the answers, I have the foundation of what made the relationship work for us and thought I would share. Here is my reply, sanitized of their identifying information.

Hi __________,

Thanks for the email. It is good to hear from you. First, congratulations on getting a job and having a partner you care enough about to consider a long-term, long-distance relationship. The challenges inherent in your situation are minute compared to the blessings that brought you there. For me, remembering these blessings is the most important thing. In short, you have a problems but it is a good problem; the problem is the confluence of two strokes of good luck. Second, I get how hard this is going to be.  Emily and I have spent the last 3 1/2 years living 12 hrs apart. There are three main commitments that have carried me through: emotionally commit to the rigors of the situation, make the time to see each other in person on a regular basis, and trust in your relationship and each other.

The emotional commitment to this type of relationship is challenging. People—whether they are close friends, family or co-workers—will always look at you like you are crazy when you tell them what you are doing. The reason is that this is hard,  it seems crazy, and a recipe for heartache. They assume you are young, foolish and don't know realize how little chance your relationship has of succeeding. For me, an emotional commitment to the relationship means that I believe and reaffirm my belief that our relationship is valuable and enduring. This belief is shelter from the unintentional storm of people's sideways looks.   I can't tell you how to fortify yourself, only that you have to do it.

Perhaps the logistically difficult thing to do is see each other in person on a regular basis. Each of us will travel once during a semester. Then, we will also spend our breaks together.  It really doesn't make for that much time together, maybe 30 days during the course of the school year.  Usually, whoever is being visited still has all of their school obligations too. Even with all of those reasons why visits are a hassle, you have to do it; otherwise, it is too easy to drift apart. On a separate note, that much driving is murderous.  I recommend audio books. and both have huge selections. All you can really do is hunker down, do the drives, and not complain too much about it when you get there. Even though it isn't the same as being there in person, speaking to each other by gmail video or Skype on a daily basis is helpful. No matter how busy we get, we always talk face to face at the end of the day - it helps.

Long distance relationships require a solid foundation of trust. There will be a lot of times when both of you are frustrated with our situation.  If you have nagging concerns about the other person's fidelity, then things start to crumble. SOmetimes people get burned. But for the most part, more relationships die for want of trust than do by actual infidelity.

That is the best advice I have for coping with the challenges before you.  Staying positive helps and there is a silver lining to this dark cloud too. There is the old, tired, and very cliche saying, "distance make the heart grow fond." I guess I would modify that a little bit. Now, the time we actually get to spend together feels so mud more valuable. It is now so much harder to waste a day together.  Which, for all of the tribulations of the last couple years, is a very good thing.

Best of luck and don't be a stranger


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Reflections on my first SCOV arguement

September 11, 2012 at 2:00pm I started my first appellate argument.  A half an hour later, it was over.  Never in my life has time traveled so quickly.  The issue that we had oral argument on wasn't particularly interesting and was pretty abstract.  So, I am not going to write about that; instead, I want to gel my thoughts on the process.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the appellate process in this country, here is a quick run down.  Trial courts are the first court that handles a case. Those courts make rulings of law as a case is litigated.  Sometimes, those courts make findings of fact; although, that is usually left to a jury. If a party doesn't like one of those rulings, they may appeal to a high court.  Some jurisdictions have a multi-tiered system of appellate courts; Vermont does not.  So, in Vermont any decision that is appealed goes to the State's Supreme Court.  That is how I got there.

This summer I was an intern in a prosecutors office. One of the first things I did was write the brief for this case. As the other party appealed the decision, I had a template to respond to.  Based on the available law (which is limited in VT) and the facts of the case, I thought our position was very strong.  Once the oral argument was scheduled, the prosecutor's office asked if I wanted to argue the case.  I jumped at the opportunity because I thought it would be great experience.

One thing that athletics have taught me is that I always feel ready when the competition is far away; but once it gets close, I think of how unprepared I am and how much else I could have done. Needless to say, that horrifying feeling of unpreparedness was pretty intense before the argument. Unlike a bike race, I had never done this before (we do a pretend one in the second year of law school.  I was pretty bad at that), and somehow I managed to convince myself that I had missed something in the other party's brief and that I was going to get ambushed.  So, I spent much of the 36hrs before the argument feverishly going over the material I had used to compile my brief and trying to figure out better ways to articulate the abstract ideas my brief contained.

What did all of that preparation get me? In a rational world I would have felt confident and prepared; instead, all I had was a feeling that there was no good way to explain my position.  So, I took notes and prepared to get a thorough intelectual spanking.

I was lucky enough to catch a ride up to the Supreme Court with the supervising attorney from my summer internship. The ride took about half an hour.  We chatted, but not about the argument.  I cleared my mind.

We sat through the argument before mine. I thought it was pretty helpful. It gave me a flavor of the exchange between the Justices and the attorneys. Fortunately, the flavor wasn't bitter or strong; it was mild.  This reassured me, to a degree.

Our case was called. The attorney for the other side was not the attorney who wrote the brief, but a young woman, not that much older than me. The prosecutor with me did not know who it was, so we assumed she was a new hire.

Once the woman got through the formalities, she launched into an argument that was in there brief and that I hadn't researched. Panic set in.  Was I going to have to argue something I didn't know and had never even encountered?

Fortunately, procedure and rules saved my keister. One of the Justices asked if this issue had been briefed; it hadn't.  Then, the Justice asked if this was properly discussed here; it wasn't.

Finally, it was my turn to argue. Just as my experiences regarding preparation for athletic evens held true here, so my experience competing also held true.  Once it started the my preparation and competitiveness carried me through. It went by so fast.  I though only five of my fifteen minutes had gone by when I rested, but the entire block had expired.

In the end I enjoyed the experience for a variety of reasons. How does it compare to the trial level work I did the last two years?  It is hard to say definitively, but I don't think I want to spend all my time working at the appellate level; although, I wouldn't mind an occasion detour there.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Letter to the UVM Cycling List Serv

I know I haven't posted in a quite a long time, but life happens to you.  Even though I have been very busy this spring, I have had very little to say, especially about cycling.   As some of you may know, UVM cycling has a pretty lively list serv (although, this comes and goes).  There has been a lot of talk about the decline of the team and even a taunt from an unnamed Conference Director.   Below is my response.  Although much of the email is specific to UVM cycling, I think some of the elements transcend team boundaries. Every team leader dreams about what their team could be some day; the great ones put these plans into action and make it happen.  Sadly, collegiate cycling's management is brutally cyclical.  If a team is lucky, they will get a couple of years of great leadership out of one person, then they will ride off into the sunset, then a new leader with vision and drive is needed to keep it going.  

Hi all,

A couple of days ago J^% *&pena sent an email to the list serve.  It was less than flattering of the UVM Cycling team's prowess.   While I have been banished to the windswept wasteland of tyranny (Canada), I have had a little time to reflect on what actually makes UVM Cycling great.  It does seem like there is a little bit of a lul at the moment, but that it entirely reversible.   The cornerstones, as I see them, of UVM Cycling's greatness are: a bloodthirsty desire to win, a tremendous  all-inclusive espirt du corps, and being a massive horde.

Durring a conversation with a couple of current riders, I spoke about the winning spirit when I joined the team.  This didn't mean that the team won all the time, far from it.   What it meant was that the questioned posed after riders finished a race was, "did you win?" or "what did you do to make a teammate win?"  Additionally, the team pushed for all the riders to be there all the time.  If you know somebody who is "saving" their green and gold chamois for nicer weather, give them a kick and tell them to, "get in the f!K$ing vans!"  We used to send out the rosters for each weekend when there was still time to sign up to encourage/shame those on the fence to sign up.  This is because the Conference title isn't won by individual riders, or just a riders; it is won by teams.  Teams win by riders in the C & D races  fighting for the last spot in the points like it was for the top step in the Roubaix velodrome.  Each rider and every single spot matters.   Dropping out of races when you still have a shot at any points is a black smudge on the shimmering broadsword of UVM Cycling.  One of my favorite cycling quotes by Eddy Merckxs, a kindred spirit of UVM Cycling, was, "My advice to aspiring cyclists: when in doubt - attack.  Always attack"  

It goes without saying that the defining characteristic of the team is its crazy zaniness.  Despite what my fellow alumnus may have to say, I think you guys have this locked down.   Nobody else pranks or party's quite so hard.  Nobody else can rally into a parking lot with an American flag fluttering out the window and "Ride of the Valkaries" blaring with the same panache.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly is the team's character as a teaming horde of villains, scoundrels, rakes and barbarians from the North.  I would never be so insulting as to suggest that you aren't villains, scoundrels, rakes and barbarians; but, UVM Cycling is no longer a horde.  A better descriptor might be, contingent, battalion or troop.   UVM has 50% more students than when I was a freshman (and electricity too); the team has nearly doubled its budget; however, only half the number of warriors fill the vans.  It is sad, but not irreparable.  Each and every of you owe a duty to UVM Cycling.  The team's greatness is directly proportionate to its roster.  Each of you knows somebody with a bike.  Each of you possesses the power of persuasion - use it.   There are washed out runners, crewers, nordic skier, and others who could be part of the greater glory of UVM Cycling, but they probably don't know it exists or don't realize how accessible the sport truly is. If they have a bike to use and a helmet, then the ECCC will take them, run them through the intro clinics and make a bike racer out of them.   You all just need to get them in the vans.  

I guess that is all I have to say, minus one parting thought.   Change is inevitable, but decline isn't.  The team Derek, Lee, myself, Slim, etc led is gone and will never return - to think otherwise would be madness (at least there can only be one Dark Lord Satan).  Each member of the team helps to build a castle of sand that is, at least partially, washed away by the tide of graduation.  The perpetual loss can be disappointing, but if nobody tries the team will shrivel to a single van every weekend of people who knew about collegiate cycling before they got to UVM and would have raced bikes anyways.  Everyone benefits by bringing new riders into the sport and infusing them with the UVM Cycling's innate enthusiasm.  I would challenge every person on the team to bring two new people to the next meeting and to encourage their teammates who are opting to stay at home to sack up and to to the races.

Good night and God bless,

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Strafford Nordic 10k Skate

Today I did my third day on skate skies and did a 10k skate race.  Needless to say the race was not my best effort.  I don't do many skate races, but prefer hard track skating when I do.  With the recent snowfall the track was pretty soft.   Being a pretty big guy I was pushing through often.

The venue was great.  This is the first year they are in operation.  I really hope they make it.  The terrain they are working with is really top notch.  There were some really great homemade bagels for sale after the race.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


I, just like everyone else, malign New Year's resolutions, but also make a few myself.  Most of the time, resolutions are made with crazy dreams of unattainable plateaus in life.  My resolutions are a little more grounded in reality, concrete and are within my reach (hopefully).

Usually I write down my resolutions somewhere.  This year I decided to write them up like this.  It may be entertaining for others and help me to stick by them.

Character Traits:

-Prioritize and dedicate:
Life gives us so many avenues for our time and our energy.  Few of these are really worth the time it takes to engage in them.  My internet usage is a small example.  Because I am such an avid reader and have a broad interest base, I frequently spend way to much time poking around the internet.  Some of the material is worth reading, much of it isn't.  This goal encompasses: my time allocation, interpersonal behavior, and assumption of tasks.

- Patience:
While I deeply believe in introspection, I have found it increasingly hard to practice as I age.  Perhaps this is because my habits have ossified.  No matter the cause, I need to work on this.  Without effort on this front I alienate friends and become a burden to work with.

- Considerate:
For me, this is closely dovetailed to the preceding goal.  If I take time before acting I am usually considerate, but haste and frustration frequently gode me towards inconsiderate or gruff actions.  Both are nasty, and a a source of shame and regret.

Physical Goals:

-Regain fitness:
Yeah, Yeah, me too.  I have joined the countless millions with this resolution.  Since beginning law school I have spent way less time exercising and more time eating / stressing.  The results are predictable, that I have put on some weight and slowed down substantially.   This goal really requires me to meet the first of my character trait goals.

-Compete in a full off road tri schedule:
After stepping back from the sport for a couple of years, I realized how much I miss it.  The last couple of races I did on a whim and performed relatively poorly.   Regaining the type of form that saw me winning races is unlikely this year, but I would like to get an overall podium before the end of the year.

-Build up core strength and improve flexibility:
The impetus for this goal is to avoid running injuries and to mitigate back pain.

-Bike Racing:
Do enough of it to match how much I love it.  The last two years I haven't done enough.  I had been blaming my other commitments but in reality, I lacked the commitment to make it happen.

-Keep a workout log:
This year I am actually going to do it.

Mile Markers:

-Complete 25 titles of reading:
This year I fell short of my 20 book goal.  I blame several of the large works that I read for this failure.  I did manage to take down two of Tolstoy's epics and several of Dumas' as well.  So long as I can maintain my habit of pleasure reading every day and don't take on too many large works, I think I can make it.

-Break 19min in a 5k:
A few short years ago I was trying to break 16, but here I am.  Putting down solid goal on this front will probably help me stick to a regular running schedule.  Since leaving UVM XC I have pursued other forms of exercise and cut my weekly milage by about 80-90%.  At the time, my peak weekly milage would creep into the 70s.  Without a long injury free buildup, I doubt I could hit that sort of milage.  So, I have to scale back my milage.  As long as I am able to get 25-30 miles a week, I hope I can hit that time by this summer.

-Complete Marcel Proust's works:
So much for my first goal of this section.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A trip to Wheelock

I just got back from my friend's hunting camp up in the NEK.  Since I was at MMU a group of our friends has been going up for an annual Christmas Bowl on either side of the holiday.  The last couple of years we have all been to busy or too far away to make it happen.   This year a friend of our who has been living in China was going to be back for the holiday and suggested we revive the Christmas Bowl. While we couldn't get all of our high school and sundry friends together, we got a pretty good crew together for four days in camp.

The camp itself is pretty awesome.  Located miles from the closest town road, over rough terrain, it is practically a world unto itself.  There is no electricity and no running water.  A hand pump brings in water from a well, propane lamps provide light and an ancient wood fired stove is the cooking implement.  Although the camp is pretty plush by hunting camp standards, it is a long way remove from our normal modes of life.  The added tasks to cook meals, heat the building and even to wash your hands are reminders or a different time.  The perspective I get from a visit is always great.

Traditionally, the main event is a game of tackle snow football.  This year the game was out of the question.  There was no more than an inch of snow on the frozen solid ground.  When we were younger we probably would have just played and gotten the snot kicked out of us.  Fortunately, some things have gotten better, or at least more reasonable with age.

We did get in a lot of solid hunting.  Snowshoe hares and grouse are in season.  We didn't see much action on the latter durring the trip, but we had some pretty good hare hunting.  Most of the time we were man-dogging to get action.  This entails working your way through dense cover while still trying to get a shot at a hare that may pop out.  One of the days we were treated to a pack of really great rabbit dogs.   Our former principal and a couple of other hunters met up with us and worked through a couple of thickets.  

This was the first time that I had hunted rabbits with good dogs.  It totally changed how we hunted.  Instead of hours of forced marches through thick cover, we were able to set up good shooting spots and let the dogs run the rabbits back to us.  I did enjoy the additional shooting that we ended up doing, but am still unsure how I feel about the dogs.

Most of our nights there we played games of chance or the Settlers of Catan.  Both of these provided some great opportunity for competition and carousing.

Sadly, we never go to the primitive biathlon we have occasionally done.

All in all the trip was a much needed break from my regular pattern of life and