Monday, September 29, 2003

Toys for Tots
The good Chief Wiggles is doing great work for all of us over in Baghdad. Read his blog to get an idea of him and his role with the military as well as the work he does with the civilian authority. Right now he has established a Toy Drive for Iraqi kids and has set up an address to receive mailed toy donations. He recommends that basic items be sent: pens, pencils, paper, small stuffed animals, etc. No squirt guns, Barbie Dolls, or other things that may invite controversy. I sent a bunch of magic markers to him and it cost me $4 postage to get to Baghdad. That's ridiculously cheap if you think about it. Heck, this is an effortless way to help out and if it enhances my nation's security all the more, then all the better.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Those calling for a greater UN role in Iraq are quick to shout that the US is mired in a quagmire. Indeed, the US is an amateur at this quagmire game and should hand over their quagmire to the real quagmire professionals at the UN.

Regarding the 4 year old UN quagmire in Kosovo:
"Concerned by the mounting tensions and insecurity in Kosovo, a senior United Nations official today descried a number of violent attacks in the province during the past two months, primarily targeting Serbs, and said the continued support of the Security Council would be "crucial" to maintaining the rule of law."


"These heinous acts underline the urgency of ridding Kosovo of criminal and destructive influences and of establishing a democratic society fully based on rule of law and respect for human rights,” Mr. Ramcharan said in a statement. “The perpetrators of these crimes must not be allowed to undermine the peace process and the efforts to build a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo.”

Nice job guys, you sure do quagmire right!

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Postcards from the Edge
This blog, a diary of a 24 year old grad student and his recent journey throughout Iraq as a tourist, is extremely insightful. Many pictures too. I recommend you visit (click on the links to the right) and read his entries detailing the cities and places he visited.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Heavy Petting
I'm not sure if this phrase is used anymore. I think it has been replaced with the more open ended Fooling Around. What I don't quite understand is what is exactly being pet during a session of heavy petting. Well, that's not true either. But I guess what I'm trying to say is that I wouldn't choose to describe the act as petting at all. Heavy Fondling may be a more appropriate phrase, but it sounds too perverted. Strom Thurmond was a practitioner of fondling and I don't think anyone would want to associate their acts with the dearly departed Strom. Heavy Massaging perhaps? Nah, that sounds too clinical and orthopedic.

Now I know why everyone says Fooling Around.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

A Butterfly Flaps its Wings and Creates a Hurricane
Nah, I'm not going to blog about Isabel, though as an aside I am sure Howard Dean or John Kerry are going to raise a fuss about it. "Is it coincidence that this storm is headed for Washington DC? Did Saddam or Bin Laden create this Weapon of Mass Precipitation? What does Bush know and WHEN DID HE KNOW IT? Mark my words, somebody will kick a fuss. Al Sharpton perhaps?

Nah, what I mean to say is how such little things this morning: lingering in the shower; buttering a bagel; petting the cat ticked off a few precious minutes that when combined with other factors led to my 5+ hour delay here at the airport. No big deal but it is amazing to think of actions and the influence they have on future actions. Whatever, I am in no rush and the airport is an interesting place. I was witness to the "inside scoop" so to speak of how check-in people view people checking in. One check-in guy was chit-chatting with the person who was helping me get on a later flight and began pointing out people - making fun of them. One woman didn't have the chest size to his liking and he made that known. Of another woman dressed all in pink who was checking in at the Air Canada counter, he said, "Definitely a Canadian". Didn't seem to make much sense to me. Maybe if she was dressed in white and red perhaps???

So the question of the hour is, "Should I get a shoe shine?" But I am wearing sneakers so I suppose this question is useless to ponder. Nevertheless, you see these stands at airports and I always wonder how archaic a service it is. Shoe Shine? Isn't that what Underdog did? Too bad Underdog doesn't work here. Then nobody would have any worries about security.

Well, I must find something else to do as this internet "cafe" is not cheap. I've already maxed out the enjoyment factor of browsing Brookstones. There's only so much pleasure one can get looking at all the vibrating massagers on display. Though I suppose for those owning one of these vibrating massagers, the pleasure is of a different sort....

Airport induced dementia is cool....

Interesting revelation discovered at the airport Starbucks. The same number of espresso shots are put into the Venti size as are deposited in the smaller Grande. Just more hot water is added. A woman discovered this and was outraged. I was amused.

GraniteRants World Tour
I am blogging from an internet "cafe" here at Logan. Don't know why they call it a "cafe" since there are no pastries, hot drinks, or surly French waiters to be found. Oh well, no need to tip I guess. Here's a bit of wisdom for all travelers: forget toasting the bagel before leaving the house. It will make you miss your morning flight.....

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Quote of the Day

I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.

-William Faulkner (1950)

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death
Team Sellers hit the hills again this past Sunday (as part of an XTREME sports weekend). Our destination: Mt. Liberty (4459') and Mt. Flume (4328'). Both peaks are the last ones of significance as you traverse the magnificent Franconia Ridge from North to South. (Left to right when viewing the picture).

Our hike began at the Flume Visitors Center where we parked our car and walked a series of paths to gain access to the Liberty Springs Trail trailhead. From there the grade was consistent, not too steep and not exactly flat. The AT uses this path to reach the Franconia Ridge which was our goal as well. Once we gained the ridgeline we turned right and hiked a short distance to the summit of Mt. Liberty. We ate our lunch there (actually lunch consisted of a bag of snack mix made up pretzels, Cheetos, Doritos, and Sun Chips. Hiking is great, you can eat what you want with no worries) and soaked in the fine views of the Cannon/Kinsman range and the Pemigewasset Wilderness. From there we hiked a short and easy 1 mile to the summit of Mt. Flume which is marked by dramatic rock slides on its western face. We didn't hang around for long and soon enough hit our exit path: the much dreaded Flume Slide Trail. The guidebook recommends not using this trail on the descent and perhaps, to accentuate the point, hikers that we passed thought we were nuts to go down this trail. But I knew what we were in for as I had done this very same thing a few years ago while hiking with a friend. The trail is indeed a bitch but it is not overly dangerous if caution is exercised and even if you were to do the loop in reverse you would still have to hike up this trail which is no picnic either. In any case, what must be done must be done and my wife and I avoided the laments of the naysayers and proceeded onward (and downward).

The Flume Slide Trail is basically an elevator shot downward. The trail uses a rock slide that has become more overgrown as the years have progressed. Some sections are characterized by loose scree and pieces of rock and some portions are smooth rock slabs that require some tricky traversing. In terms of elevation loss on the descent, the slide is about 0.7 of a mile and loses about 1500 feet of altitude within that stretch, so yes it is indeed steep. But we did it without too much worry (we did afterall throw ourselves out of a plane the day before) and once at the bottom of the slide the trail is pretty much a level shot back to the car. All in all the hike was fun and my wife was able to bag a few more 4000'+ peaks. Here is a decent site with pictures of the peaks and views we enjoyed on our day in the granite hills.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Quote of the Day
What is above knows what is below -
But what is below does not know what is above

- Rene Daumal

My wife had been wanting to skydive, and over the past year there was a tentative plan to do it. This past weekend (for her birthday) she took the plunge - with myself, and our friends Tiffeny and Andy joining her. Andy is well acquainted with the madness that is skydiving as he himself has done over 75 jumps. As newbies, Tiffeny, my wife and I waited around the field where the jumps are performed and watched others take their jumps. With a sharp trained eye you can see the tiny black specks of people plummet at tremendous speeds towards the Earth. And then like fireworks, their parachutes open, displaying brilliantly colorful canopies. The grace of each jumper gliding peacefully amidst the sky was inspiring to watch and as they came in for landing, each touchdown varied in speed, style, direction, and form.

We suited up and became acquainted with our tandem partners, who in essence were the professionals running the tourist ride we were about to take. Our harnesses involved a complicated process of strapping and buckling which actually supplied a sense of reassurance. I suppose one usually gains a measure of security when one is strapped or buckled to a safety device, but in this case it was necessary to forget that the safety device would be jumping out of the plane as well. No matter, there was really no time to ponder such things since almost immediately we were boarding the twin prop plane that would be taking us up to 11,000 feet.

The plane ride was uneventful and yet very eventful. The ride to the required altitude was smooth and the views extending towards all directions were limitless. There was hardly a cloud in the sky. There was not a lot of talking amongst the jumpers other than efforts by our tandem partners to reassure us newbies. I sat in silence as I looked towards the sliding door in one side of the fuselage that would be our exit into the atmosphere. A look down at my altimeter confirmed that we had arrived at 11,000 feet and final preparations and last minute adjustments were made to the straps and buckles that joined jumper to their parachute pack - the device ultimately responsible for ensuring life over death. The scene in some sense resembled movies depicting D-Day where parachutists in the airborne corps shared a moment of understanding that they were about to undertake something extraordinary. In everyone's face, by their glances and their expressions, an unspoken conversation was happening. Yes, this is insane. You will indeed throw yourself out of a moving airplane flying at significant altitudes. You will place your life and existence into a situation that will for a moment make questionable whether or not that life and existence shall continue. And you have CHOSEN to do this. For the moment in that plane there was a unique sense of camaraderie shared by seasoned jumper and newbie alike. This sense helped keep the nerves in check to some extent. The pilot had positioned the plane within the proper drop zone and in turn the sliding door was opened, revealing a broad horizon and the atmospheric expanse. Our friend Andy positioned himself by the exit and waited for the final signal from the pilot that the time to jump was now. A few seconds later, the green "Go" light flickered on.

Your ability to gauge speed and depth is severely handicapped in that situation. I saw Andy jump and within seconds he was a mere speck hurtling down and away. The roar of the wind and the prop engines was deafening. The next to go was our friend Tiffeny, her tandem partner, and another jumper who would film her first jump. It was methodical and fast. Each tumbled out the exit and away into an unknown fate. My time had come and because of the nature of the tandem harness I had to crouch and squat over to the edge of the exit as my tandem partner positioned us for our jump. We rocked back and forth and on the count of three we leapt. Or I should say my tandem partner leapt and I sort of leaned out of the plane. This hardly mattered as momentum and gravity took over and exerted their effect on my freefall journey. I'd like to be able to relate this part of it all to something familiar and predictable. But it is very difficult. I will say though that it is not like a roller coaster or an amusement park ride. You don't get any gut churning feelings or effects. In fact, you hardly feel any sensations at all. You can sense no forces acting on your body. You cannot feel your weight. The only thing you can feel is the velocity of wind that screams past your ears. I felt paralyzed. Locked in the arch that I was instructed to make. Staring with intensity at the ground below. It was beautiful and yet freakily unknown - an endless carpet where forests looked like heads of broccoli. It was impossible to make out distinct individual shapes that could somehow provide a sense of scale and dimension. The lack of recognizable information in some sense shut down the brain - since it was virtually useless at trying to explain the novelty of the experience. I didn't notice any adrenaline rush, or rise in heartrate, or feelings of fear. Things were just too unfamiliar and unique and no other feelings could displace the sense of total awe that one has while freefalling for a distance of a mile.

I uttered my first sounds after the parachute had been deployed. There is a chaotic moment when the speed at which you are traveling abruptly goes from 100+ MPH to almost a standstill. It is after this moment that you become cognizant of your weight again. Feeling the tug of the parachute overhead and knowing that it was holding me and slowly bringing me back to Earth was very reassuring. It was from this moment that I can say that the experience turned enjoyable. Not that the freefall portion was frightening or awful, it's just that it is hard to wrap your head around it and fully understand it or explain it. As you parachute down, you can take your time and soak in the surroundings, make out the details of the land below. See the forests and the farms, the rivers, houses, and backyard swimming pools. The setting sun cast a warmth over the scenery. The skyscrapers of Boston were seen in the distance. My tandem partner took control of the steering for the landing approach. The field at the airport below looked like Astroturf as we neared. On command I lifted my legs up as high as I could and we came in towards the ground at a shallow angle, swooping in as we gently skidded across the grass. The canopy came to a rest behind us, signaling that the ride was over. I turned around and saw my wife make her landing almost right next to me - her tandem partner having elected to do a standing up landing that requires that you run a bit forward the moment your feet hit the ground. Needless to say, the expression on her face was priceless. A very Happy Birthday indeed.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Jokin' in the Boys Room
I had a brief but humorous conversation with a coworker in my company's men's room. As I was washing my hands the coworker came in and I said, "What's up."

To which he replied, "Same Shit Different Day."

I then said, "I wonder what would be worse: Same shit, different day OR Different shit, same day."

After a brief pause the coworker burst out laughing, "Hahahahahaha. Different shit."

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

The Grain Comes in by Railroad Car
My wife and I toured the Budweiser brewery with friends this Saturday. They make so much goddamned beer so often that the grain has to be delivered by railroad car. It gets dumped into a huge hopper and then sent to the brewing kettles for cooking. I was impressed with the scale of the operation. Indeed, there was one section of the brewery where you looked down this long hallway and all you saw were stainless steel pipes and holding tanks storing millions of gallons of beer. If you looked up you could see that these holding tanks were atop each other for perhaps 10 stories up. Looking at all of this I felt that I was a UN weapons inspector viewing some unholy industrial operation.

So much BEER, dammit!

The Granite State
My wife and I have been going on a few excursions within NH recently. A few weekends ago we drove to the world famous Polar Caves. When I was young there was nowhere else I would rather be than here. Caves such as the Lemon Sqeezer and the Orange Crusher were just too cool to avoid. And I was fascinated with the boardwalk and series of ladders that were built to accommodate you into the caves. And the petting zoo was cool too, though I can't say it was truly a zoo since the variety of animals amounted to a few deer, ducks, and pheasants. The other people going through the caves were annoying however. Lots of bratty kids screaming inside the caves (lovely echo chambers they are), overprotective parents deciding if the cave was safe enough for their child to explore, and preteens doing their thing which is oftentimes awkward and humorous, whatever it is. All of this was sort of a bummer because it intruded upon my idyllic memories of childhood, where going through the caves was to enjoy real adventure. It's tough to get that kind of escape now in a place like Polar Caves where every section has enough hand railings, electric lighting, and arrows to navigate you safely around. The gift shop was cool though. Lots of souvenirs and stuff. Gemstones, moccasins (who buys, much less wears a pair of moccasins?), and pieces of wood with scenes of fantasy airbrushed on them. There were some pieces of ironwork that looked attractive, but I refrained from buying something that would remain hard to explain to guests if they saw it displayed in my house.

Moving on to this past weekend excursion, my wife and I climbed Mt. Monadnock. Before the climb, we fueled up on pancakes, eggs, and other breakfast items at Parker's Maple Barn. What an awesome place! The inside was styled out like a rustic hunting lodge and the musty smell and fireplace would have been familiar to the Teddy Roosevelts of an earlier time. As soon as I walked in and looked around, I instantly wanted to be wearing plaid. We were seated and ate up a tasty breakfast of the usual breakfast items. However, all the heavy food weighed us down some for all the hiking yet to be undertaken. On our way to the trailhead we passed by the boyhood home of Samuel Wilson, better know to us as Uncle Sam who made his fortune selling canned meats to the US army during the War of 1812. Not sure why he isn't also known as Uncle Spam since it would appear to be appropriate. But I leave that question for other minds to ponder.

It took a bit of navigational try-agains to find the trailhead for the Dublin Trail, but we did find it and soon strapped on our boots for the climb ahead. I had never climbed Monadnock, and had not even gotten a glimpse of the mountain until a few years earlier. The lone rocky peak is indeed a fantastic site and it doesn't surprise me that Thoreau, Frost, and Emerson were inspired by it. Indeed, many people seek out its inspiration as it is figured to be the world's most often climbed mountain (after Mt. Fuji). The Dublin Trail was attractive though a bit tiring (many rock ledges and brief descents), but the summit was above the treetops and the views over the surrounding flat terrain were expansive. (Here's a site with a few pics from the Dublin Trail approach). The summit cone was crowded with many hikers, but none of this mattered as I indeed enjoyed myself nonetheless. Its days like these that reaffirm my appreciation for this Granite State.