Out of the Ashes: How an Irish Episcopal Priest Saved Norwich University

I've sold a new article to the Norwich Record, titled Out of the Ashes: How an Irish Episcopal Priest Saved Norwich University. This was one of the projects that I was working on last fall, and shortly after the start of the New Year, I submitted my final draft. The research phase was interesting: going through archives and piecing together a rather interesting and diverse man that was a central, but forgotten figure in Norwich University and local Vermont history.

When assigned to this project, I was a little skeptical: what exactly were the links between the Episcopal Church and how would something like this be relevant to today's reader and Norwich alum? After reading up on Bourns, it became clear that there are some interesting things that he has to teach us today.

Out of the Ashes: How an Irish Episcopal Priest Saved Norwich University

The year 1866 was a pivotal one for Norwich. In March, a fire destroyed the school’s primary building—the Old South Barracks—and the University’s future lay in jeopardy. The disaster represented the biggest challenge to date in Reverend Edward Bourns’ tenure as president, a career that had shepherded the young school through fifteen years of adversity, including hostilities from the citizens of Norwich and Hanover, crippling debt, and four years of civil war. Yet, under the immensely popular Irishman’s steadfast guidance and vision, the University would not only survive, but thrive.


Reverend Edward Bourns was well-equipped to run a college. A learned man, he not only held the office of president, but served on the faculty, teaching ancient languages and moral sciences. An ordained Episcopal priest, he held religious services on Sundays.

The reverend’s lack of military training in no way hindered his leadership abilities. Described by Adelbert Dewey as “a man of peace by profession, better versed in canon law than cannon balls,” he had nevertheless acquired “the swinging stride of the modern soldier.” An insatiable reader renowned for his “incisive and delicate wit,” it became a saying among the cadets “that no one could enter the doctor’s rooms on the briefest of errands and not depart wiser than he came.” An imposing presence at six foot two, Rev. Bourns was respected by all, and perfectly suited—both as a shrewd administrator and genial leader—to steer Norwich safely through perilous times.

Born October 29, 1801, in Dublin, Ireland, Bourns entered Trinity College in 1823, but put his education on hold to serve as a private tutor, completing his degree a decade later. Ellis’ History of Norwich University describes him as “a man of learning and acumen,” and at Dublin he won numerous book prizes for scholastic achievement.

From Dublin he moved to London, where he engaged his skills as a writer and reviewer, working alternately in the publishing industry and as a teacher. In 1837, he journeyed across the Atlantic to the United States, where he became acquainted with a fellow Irishman, the Reverend William DeLaney, Provost of Pennsylvania University. Shortly after, Bourns followed Reverend DeLaney (now the Bishop of Western New York) to Geneva, where he enrolled at Hobart College, earning his MA and becoming an adjunct classics professor. By 1841, having received his LLD from Hobart, he was ordained Deacon of Geneva’s Trinity College. Four years later, after a short stint as a fully ordained priest, Dr. Bourns resigned his professorship at Hobart and left for Brooklyn, N.Y., where he taught ancient languages for five years.


You can read the full article here.

Depictions of History

(Click for a larger version)

War has a universal impact on the world: travel to any town or city on the planet, and you'll likely find a stone engraved with various wars that the place has witnessed, and the citizens that they lost. We count our experiences by our losses, and I try to make it a point to look at one of the memorials if I happen to go near one. This past weekend, I came across one of the best ones that I've ever seen, located in Hardwick, Vermont.

Where most that I've seen around Vermont are simple affairs - a polished granite slab, etched with names - Hardwick's is a fascinating one to behold. The names are carved on the back of five blocks, each depicting five of the conflicts of the 20th century: World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East (presumably, the current wars in Iraq / Afghanistan). Each panel holds with it a similar theme: a depiction of their surroundings, the tools with which they used, but most importantly, the profiles of the soldiers who served.

In and of itself, the memorial is an outstanding depiction of the evolution of war in the 20th century, without losing the key focus: those who served and died for their country. The tools of war have changed drastically: rifles were replaced with machine guns, while the aircraft overhead have grown ever more faster, flown higher and have served numerous purposes on the battlefield. The terrain has shifted from the ruins of Europe to those of Iraq, from the Pacific islands to Vietnam and Korea. The people, however, remain constant, faceless.

History begins at the personal level. For all of the major reasons for which a war is fought; Axis aggression in Europe, the spread of communism in Asia, or the threat of state-sponsored terrorism, there is the ground level view from the people who served. What I take out of this memorial is the focus not on the politics and reasons for the war, but for the simple reminder that the people who carried out the will of their country shouldered one hell of a burden. Beyond that simple message, it's elegantly executed, a visual story that sums up almost a hundred years of military history at a glance, a powerful image to take in.

Memorials are worth taking a look at, connecting to, because the stories of history are literally set in stone here: not the individual stories, but hard data, showing who really paid the ultimate price, and when.

The Aftermath

This past weekend, I was able to volunteer in both Waterbury and Moretown, two towns that are struggling with the floods. The aftermath was heartbreaking. My hometown was inundated with upwards of 7 feet of flood waters in places, and many other communities around the state were under water, with roads flooded, houses swept away, and businesses destroyed.

On Saturday, I drove a group of Norwich University students out to Waterbury, where they worked on one of the streets hardest hit by the rising waters, which took out a number of places in the downtown areas of town, including one of my favorite Pubs, the Alchemist, and a number of state administrative buildings. While I'd seen a number of pictures, videos and driven up and down several roads up and down the Northfield area, nothing prepared me for what I saw in Waterbury: houses with their entire contents in the front lawn, silt baking on their surfaces. Mud and dust filled the air: everyone wore a mask, gloves, heavy boots, and clothes smeared with grime. The scene changed as I drove back out of the village, and onto the interstate: everything was green and untouched.

Sunday marked a work day. I'd driven through the day before, over patched up dirt roads, and into town. The scene was even more striking. Descending into the village, we passed a sign: "All routes in and out of town closed." Moretown was covered in a fine layer of dust, kicked up from the cars that passed up and down Rt. 100 B. Driving through town, we saw where the bridge into town had been washed out at one end, over a narrow chasm of rock that was still saw the Mad River rushing below it. Megan and I signed in, and helped wash one man's house before moving on to another, which had seen a couple of feet of water in the main parts of the house. Tearing up the floorboards, I was struck by two things: no matter how secure we see, nature can really disrupt our everyday lives, and that I was tearing up a gorgeous hardwood floor, and the home's owner was smiling. It was astonishing.

A pack of volunteers had converged on the house: groups of two were pulling up the floor, sweeping up the dust and river muck that had collected under it, and pulled out the nails. Bathroom tiles shattered, sheetrock was removed, pipes stripped out, as we sweated in the dust. It was a rewarding couple of hours of work: by the end of the couple of hours, the floor had been removed, swept and free of nails, while others outside were salvaging what they could of the wood we pulled up and out. Fortunately, they seem to have had flood insurance.

The attitude of Vermonters in the aftermath of the flood has been the most remarkable thing to have come out of the disaster. Everywhere, people were enthusiastic, ready to work, ready to volunteer, and ready to rebuild. Despite the dust, the mud, the destroyed roads, washed out riverbanks, bridges and fields, the people of Vermont have shown that they’re resilient, tough and as a whole, strong. While disasters such as these are horrifying in the damage, they’re welcome in only that they can demonstrate the unity that they invoke from the community. Their roads and homes might be broken, but not the people.

On Hype

The story this morning amongst a lot of the news outlets this morning are questioning whether or not Hurricane Irene was overhyped or not: much was made of the dangers of the storm, prompting massive evacuations from all along the eastern seaboard. The storm did dissapate quite a bit as it moved up the coast, downgrading to a tropical storm by the time that it reached New England, but where the storm lost wind, it made up for it in rainfall.

Earlier this spring, Vermont experienced some horrific floods following a wet spring: entire towns found themselves under water. Once again, flooding returned to Vermont, in what people are comparing to the epic floods of 1927, which killed numerous people and destroyed countless bridges. Driving around Vermont, look at the years in which they were build: many were built in 1927 or 1928: replacements.

This storm wasn't overhyped, nor should we think that there's any greater danger in overhyping a storm of this type.

The pictures from around the state are scary: my hometown of Moretown is under feet of water from the Mad River, Brattleboro is covered, and with houses and bridges swept away by the floods. People and resources were prepared, and a single person was swept away last night, with around twenty fatalities all told. Considering the population density of the Eastern seaboard, that's a remarkable figure: had there been no evacuations or preparation, that number would surely rise.

It's easy to prepare for the worst: it's much harder if you're caught unawares. Overhyped? Not for Vermont: we'll be cleaning out and rebuilding out for weeks, if not months.

Random Things

The iPad 2 was unveiled the other day by a skeletal Steve Jobs. It looks neat, and it's clearly designed to entice the next crop of people who held off on the first one. Faster, slightly different shape, new cover, etc. They've got a good product, and I suspect that anyone who's waited a little while will be happy that they did.

That being said, I'm not planning on upgrading mine for, well, ever. It's a fantastic product (and I'm decidedly not an Apple fanboy) that I've gotten a lot of use out of since I got mine 8 months ago. I do a lot of writing on mine, and I've been happy that it's an all around general computer that does pretty much everything I want it to. I don't do a lot of web browsing on it, but when I have, I've generally been pleased. (My one complaint is Safari's insistence on updating every single open tab when there's a couple open. It's annoying). Writing is fantastic, and as predicted, I've gotten better at writing on the screen. Moreover, I use the calendar a LOT. Since I take the thing everywhere, I've gotten into the habit of writing down dates, something that I've typically never done, and it's nice to have a reminder when I need to be somewhere.

Plus, game developers are starting to get in on the platform, and there have been some very cool games over the past couple of months that I've gotten hooked on. There's the obligitory Angry Birds obsession, and I've found two other games lately, Battleheart and Canabalt, that I've really enjoyed. Battleheart is a fun cross between World of Warcraft and D&D, which appeals to my geek sensibilities, and Canabalt is a game that's stupidly simple, and stupidly addicting (running and jumping over gaps on a roof).

I've been reading more books on the device as well, mainly late at night, when I don't want to turn on a light and keep Megan up. It's not something that I read a lot - I'm currently reviewing Embedded, by Dan Abnett for SF Signal, and between late night reading sessions, I typically pull out my other book, Kraken, which I've got in hardcopy.

I also haven't upgraded my iPad since I got it - it's still on the original iOS system, which I'm content with. I'm not particularly won over by the introduction of folders, or the removal of the lock switch (which I really like having). It was fine when I got it, and I'm still pleased with the purchase.

I've had the pleasure of writing for the website Blastr a number of times over the past couple of months (the articles that I've written are linked in the 'Writing' tab here), coming up with lists on all sorts of things when it comes to science fiction. It's fun to relate what we love to read and watch to current events or to pick apart a franchise for things, and while it's not particularly smart writing, it's fun writing, and I'm really enjoying delving into a topic and finding a wide range of things.

By far, my favorite one to write thus far has been the '83 Crazy Differences Between Fringe’s Alternative Universe and Ours' piece, which allowed me to look at one of my favorite shows, Fringe. There have been a couple of things added, and if the show goes on, I'm sure that we'll be able to add an update to it at some point.

Lists by themselves are meaningless, I think: the usual top ten or top one hundred lists of the 'best' and 'favorite' types are always so contingent on people's individual tastes - and they fall into either the list of safe choices, where few people can argue about the selections, or a bunch of obscure or other ones that gets people arguing about everything that wasn't on the list. It's frustrating to read comments, I'm finding, because people either don't read the article and think about it, or read it and ignore what you're trying to put forward.

Such is life. I've got a couple of lists that I'm working on, and I’m excited about what's to come.

Last year, a friend of mine and I started up a website called Geek Mountain State (a play off of Green Mountain State), designed as a catch all for all things geek in Vermont. So far, it's been quite a lot of fun to write for. The idea for the site goes back to 2009, when I was driving out to Middlebury for a talk by author P.W. Singer, who wrote a book called Wired For War, (I wrote a review for the book for io9, here, and interviewed Mr. Singer, here.) an examination of robotics in the battlefield. It struck me that there were probably more talks like that around the state. Over a year and a half later, I've heard more and more about all types of science and technology news, commentary on the future, politics, geeky events and things along those lines throughout the state, and after speaking with a friend of mine, we decided that the idea had merit, and we decided to launch a blog, along with a Twitter and Facebook feed, to capture these sorts of things happening around the state.

Looking at almost 30 other websites, we've been able to update a daily list of events happening throughout the state that relate to geek interests, either in the typical geek interest levels, such as science and technology, but also gaming and book signings, while we prowl through Flickr and online for photos of niche things that catch our interest: ruins, wind farms, bookstores, and quite a lot more, along with blurbs and links to articles that fall under the same heading, as well as short pieces that I'll put together.

The site's not quite where I want it yet - I'd love to see a larger audience (it's certainly growing though), and eventually, our own domain that we can maintain ourselves. We've got some ideas that we'll implement as time goes on - I'd love to begin interviewing people in all walks of geek life, get some more original articles, new writers, and monetize the site on a local level, for local businesses, but some of that is pretty far down the line. Eventually, I'd love to get to the point where we can solicit and commission local science fiction and fantasy (and pay people to do it!), but I don't know how to get there yet. Personally, I'd love to see an anthology of local speculative fiction, by local people - that would be beyond cool.

A Stranger's Gift

I have one particular addiction: books. There's very little that I don't like about them, from an orderly line of them occupying a shelf, the heft and weight, to their universal format that allows them to be accessed by everyone. (That sounds like a dig against eBooks, but it's not). Inevitably, when I am drawn to a bookstore, I end up with a couple volumes that caught my eye under my arm as I leave the store. This happen earlier today after a late lunch when Megan and I wandered back home. A local store, The Book Garden, is holding a sale for their used books, buy one, get another free. I've picked through the store pretty well, and I'm always happy to see that they've got a replenished collection every time that I go in. This particular trip, I found that they had a pair of Harry Potter novels, The Sorcerer's Stone and The Deathly Hollows, neither of which I had, and both in hardcover. I've bee working to get all of the book for my own collection (in hardcover), and used bookstores usually have a couple of them, I picked up the pair, intending on adding them to my collection (with just a couple of others (Books 4 and 6) left to pick up after that before I had the entire set.

The books bagged, We walked home along Barre St, where we came across a trio of children playing on the sidewalk. The three of them were bundled up against the cold, but looked like they were having fun. They spread out across the sidewalk and a demanded a password to cross, giggling. Megan guessed Cat (or Kat, they said it began with K) and I guessed people for mine, and they allowed us to pass. One little girl said that she could read the sign on the side of the truck parked across the road, and read it for me.

Impulsively, I asked them if they liked to read. Her dark face lit up with a wide grin and nodded. I pulled one of the books out of my bag, The Sorcerer's Stone and handed it to them, asking if they wanted it. They took it out of my hand and look even more excited, and ran inside. I overheard the brother tell his mother that a 'nice man gave us Harry Potter!' as we walked by their apartment's door. I hope that the mother's reaction wasn't that her children had just been given a book by a stranger, and throw it away or forbid them to read it, but accept it in the spirit that it was given: impulsively, with the intention that they will read a fun children's story, one that I greatly enjoyed as a youngster. Their excitement was tangible, and he way that their faces lit up gives me some hope that the book will be enjoyed (maybe in a couple of years, or hours).

Books, I think, should be given out more freely, and their use encouraged in the instances when that's not possible. It's certainly something that I'd like to do more, and I wonder if i should start picking up books that would appeal to children and find some way to distribute them to those in need. Reading is important, essential, and some of the stories that I've heard from family members and significant others about the abilities of children in the school systems, I'm worried about some of them. Hopefully, I've inspired a couple of kids that reading can be, well, magical, interesting, and exciting.


I'm not voting for Brian Dubie today. I can't say that I'm terribly enthused for voting for his opponent, Peter Shumlin, because the prospect of a unified House, Senate and Governor in the state also isn't all that terribly appealing to me. However, that fear isn't outweighed by the fear of not a Republican in the office again, but by an incompetent one.

When I graduated from Norwich, our speaker was Mr. Dubie, a life-long Vermonter and member of the Vermont Air National Guard (where he's earned the Meritorious Service Medal with an Oak Leaf Clusters for his actions during September 11th and Hurricane Katrina), and serves as a pilot for American Airlines and is a co-owner of the Dubie Family Maple Orchard here in Vermont. In addition, he has been Vermont's Lt. Governor for four terms. He first won his office against Peter Shumlin in 2002. I'm a little surprised that we haven't seen this come up yet in the campaign.

The gubernatorial race for Vermont has been an exceedingly negative one, and highlights the worst in both parties. The Democratic side ran five candidates for governor, and engaged in recount that cost them two weeks against Dubie, who ran unopposed. I didn't bother voting for any of the candidates, because they were all essentially shilling the same message: Expanded healthcare, close down Vermont Yankee, and revitalize jobs in the state. Dubie has firmly remained behind building jobs, and has stubbornly refused to move off of that message. As soon as Shumlin entered the race, the gloves came off, and both sides have attacked one another mercilessly. I'm very, very glad that I don't watch TV or listen to radio with commercials very much.

My impressions of Dubie, however, don't come from his service, but from how he seems to work, it was from the speech that he gave at my graduation last year. Clearly already thinking of running for Governor, the talk was a bloated, incoherent talk about Dubie, and how he was someone who shot from the hip and talked down Cuban diplomats. Coming out of a program that emphasized writing and organization as a way to convey a clear and concise message to your audience, it was disheartening, at best, to see someone talk for an extended amount of time with absolutely no point or moral to what he was saying. If someone can't organize (or make the point to organize) what they are saying to a group of people, how can they be expected to run a state with the same level of organization?

Fundamentally, I disagree with some of what Dubie says and on what he has been campaigning for. I dislike him as a person, his approach to doing things, and his attitude towards his responsibilities. I don't disagree on how jobs are important to the state, but they're not the only thing that occupies the public's attention or interest. As such, I see anyone who wants to focus only on one issue as being narrow minded, and I do question their ability to react to changes in the script. Jobs in the state will change, and demand attention, but at the same time, other issues are important to Vermonters. Similarly, I don't believe that wielding a knife and making extensive cuts to the state will Vermonters; a more nuanced approach to the issue (a series of cuts and strategic spending choices) is required, and Dubie's already shown that he's not a nuanced person. (Of course, neither is Shumlin, but I see him as recognizing the spending and cutting issue a bit better than Dubie).

When it comes to the political spectrum as a whole, I'm at a loss. I don't believe that either party has my interests at heart, beyond their own interests in beating back the other side. I want to vote as a Republican, because I believe that spending needs to be reined in to a more appropriate level, and that the level of national government needs to be scaled back. Over the course of my studies, I became a big fan of President Eisenhower and his policies in the 1950s. I'd like to see that again. I want to vote Democratic, because I believe that the Federal government has a duty to protect the people under it, from outside sources and from one another.

I won't vote for the Republican side of the house in general because their calls for lowered spending sounds hollow to me: they are the people who took a surplus and turned it into a major deficit. They're the ones who have denied people equal status in the law, and have frequently sought to vilify those who don't deserve it, while engaging in a massive war that seemingly has no end (to combat operations AND finances).

I don't want to vote for the Democrats because they can't seem to understand that we can't continue to place out future on a credit card, that they characterize the right as a group of racist, warmongering and homophobic bigots who will turn the country into a wasteland, and that they can't seem to get a cohesive message and agenda together that they can communicate.

I for one believe that the social messages come first and foremost, with finances as a close second. For this reason, Shumlin's getting my vote - I hope that he can fulfill his image of being socially liberal and financially conservative and working to make a balance between party line and the real needs of the state. I hope that he can keep spending under a bit of control in these troubled times, that he can effectively manage and replace Vermont Yankee, ensure that no more jobs are lost in the state, that we don't take a step back in the rights for individuals and so much more. I hope, because I have no way of trusting my elected officials any more. I hope that changes.

Marian Call

Earlier this year, I met up with a friend, John Anealio, who at one point, said: "If you like what I've done, have you heard about Marian Call?" I hadn't, and soon thereafter, looked her up. Marian Call, a singer-songwriter out of Anchorage Alaska, has embarked on a 50 state tour, largely with the support of her fans. Last night, she popped in to Montpelier Vermont, and I was finally able to listen to her live, after listening to a couple of her albums and following her exploits on twitter.

If you haven't seen or heard of Marian, you should do yourself a favor, and check her music out. As I've gotten more interested in geek music, her name comes up with some of the real rock stars of the genre: Jonathan Coulton, Paul and Storm and w00tstock, and it's clear that she's on an upward trend when it comes to this sort of music. Judging from the article on Wired that John Anealio posted recently, it's clear that she's really done a good job in her own self-promotion by visiting each state. (There's just a couple more left in the tour)

The nice thing about Marian is that her music doesn't just cater to the geek community, unlike artists like Anealio, Coulton and Paul & Storm, who's music doesn't stray out too much beyond the boundaries. Over some of her albums, she's got songs like Ave Maria, Flying Feels Like (about a dislike of flying), Love and Harmony (about Karyoke), Ancorage (about the Alaskan City, alongside songs like Dark Dark Eyes, It's Good to Have Jayne On Your Side and Vera Flew the Coop, all inspired by the TV show Firefly, as well as the fantastic song I'll Still Be a Geek After Nobody Thinks It's Chic (The Nerd Anthem). In that, her songs are display a measure of subtlty, and even if you're listening to some of the more obvious geek songs, it's not as obvious as songs like 'It's Going to be the Future Soon' or 'A Stormtrooper for Halloween'. (No digs at the aforementioned artists)

In person, I arrived at Montpelier's Langdon St. Cafe unsure of what to expect. What surprised me the most was that Marian, largely unsupported, still has a voice, and in person, she's a stunning performer, and her songs were just as impressive live as through my headphones. Very clear, very strong, and very dynamic, all at the same time. The show was certainly a memorable one, and it was a pleasure to meet Ms. Call as she worked the room during her short intermission - it's always a pleasure to speak with artists directly, and as Anealio says, she's the real deal. Hopefully, we'll see Marian back in the state at some point in the near future (she noted several times at how much she liked the state) for another great set.

If you haven't seen her yet, you should really check out her music, or check in with her website to see where she's playing next. It's well worth your time.

Spam, Spam, Spam

On Tuesday, my parents took Megan and I out to see Spamalot, the musical based off of the fantastic Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It's something that I've seen before, when I was in London, in 2007, and when the production reached Boston a year later. Even three times in, it's still an absolutely hilarious musical, and one of the joys was watching my parents and Megan watch it for the first time.

One of the things that I've long appreciated from the musical and soundtrack is at how well the musical relates to the rest of the Monty Python canon. References were numerous in the songs, and it's delightful to hear references from not only the other films (Always Look on the Bright Side of Life is possibly the most obvious) but smaller references to the Flying Circus pop up frequently in the dialog and lyrics. A couple that I heard this time around were from the Parrot Sketch and the Lumberjack song, as well as a bunch of regular popular culture references, such as a Lady Gaga riff, as well as shots at Britney Spears, Michael Moore, and Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss.

What has long impressed me with the series is how it's retained the defining characteristic of the Pythons to look at popular culture and find the humor in it - there are very few groups out there that can do that - and the productions that Monty Python put together thrived on going right up to the edge when it came to humor. It was funny, but it was also incredibly thoughtful, and has an edge to it that makes a lot of their sketches timeless. Spamalot is very much the same. At the risk of putting off the hand that feeds them, the creators do a couple great numbers: 'You Won't Succeed on Broadway if you Don't Have Any Jews' and 'The Song That Goes Like This' that are satirical of the formulas in Broadway, which had the audience roaring on Tuesday night. At the same time, I'm waiting for the Seven Days to miss the point by pointing out how politically incorrect the show is.

Humor is something that's tricky. My mother can't stand Rusty Dewees aka 'The Logger' (For those out of State), because of his character and the style of comedy that he does, as a highly stereotypical Vermont redneck. I can't get enough of the guy. Comedy, I think, should offend to the core - it's a long style that goes way back to the roots of comedy. Laughter is often the best thing to get people not only interested in something, but realizing at how ridiculous some of the stands people take on any sorts of issues.

The big thing in the news over the past couple of weeks has been the issue of bullying and high profile suicides of six gay youths who were ousted. I can't help but think back to the line in the musical: "Just think Herbert, in a thousand years, this will still be controversial." This issue probably will be. Hopefully, people will eventually take the stance that the Pythons seem to have run with: life is ridiculous, and it's probably best not to take things too seriously.

The Green Mountain Parkway and Vermont's Future

I heard a ridiculous commentary on the radio on the drive in this morning. As I cut through the hills between Montpelier and Northfield on Route 12, I listened to a comparison between the Green Mountain Parkway and a road that has been proposed in Tanzania, which would cut across the Serengeti.

In 1931, a highway was proposed the length of the state, similarly to the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina, and had the backing from various federal and state officials, while it was opposed by groups such as the Green Mountain Club. With a couple years of intense debate, the state voted in 1935, with the proposal failing in the House of Representatives, and going down again on town meeting date in 1936. Since then, the state has remained with two segments of highway: I-89, which cuts across West Lebanon and winds its way up towards Canada, travelling through Montpelier and Burlington on the way, while I-91 comes up from Massachusetts and shoots to the north. The Green Mountain parkway would have begun at the bottom of the state at Massachusetts and worked its way up through the middle of the state, connecting the western part of Vermont a bit more efficiently to New York and its namesake city.

I for one, would like to imagine what the state might have been like had the road been built. The 260 mile highway would have likely brought a number of needed jobs to the state during the Great Depression, and would have provided a massive infrastructure base for the future of the state. As the road never progressed beyond the planning state, we'll never know for sure, but after seeing the state have its own issues over the last couple of years, I would have imagined that such a project would have been heplful in the present day. The major population center, Burlington, is serviced by a small international airport (it goes to Canada), but is otherwise difficult to reach because of the lack of direct flights beyond some of the hubs, while reaching Burlington from somewhere like New York City by car means that someone has to drive up through Connecticut, Massachusetts and across the state in order to reach or, or up through New York and over some of the slower state highways. The short version is, it's not a quick trip.

Currently, the state has a difficult time retaining businesses. Companies such as Ben & Jerry's has remained in the state, but with most of its operations outsourced to other states or countries where regulations are a bit more lax. Burton Snowboards has relocated to Switzerland, and years ago, Mad River Canoe relocated away from its namesake Mad River Valley years ago. IBM has downsized some positions, and there have been rumblings that the company might leave at some point in the future, while a major startup, Dealer.com might put its expanding workforce in another state. It's difficult to grow a business here in the state, because of the location (NeW England is somewhat remote anyway), climate and terrain (Cold and mountainous) and its regulatory nature (fairly strict, geared towards preserving the state's image - Not a bad thing). One less avenue for transit is just one more thing against the state's own economy growing.

The reason, Dennis Delaney notes, is that the state would have destroyed a key part of the state's environment and natural beauty in order to make life easier for people. It's an easy enough reason to understand, and something that I support. I love how rural the state is, that its resisted the growth and population that New Hampshire (a state of similar proportions) boasts and that I can look up into the sky to see the stars without an incredible amount of light pollution. That being said, all of those benefits are able to be enjoyed because I'm employed and can enjoy Vermont for what it is, as well as the major source of income that comes from tourist dollars to see the state as it is.

What really gets me annoyed is Delaney's assertion that while infrastructure in Africa would likely help poverty (my understanding is that roads are bad, and much needed) in the continent, this major road project is something that should be shot down because it will harm the beauty of Africa, and the Serengeti. I can understand that to a point, but I would have to ask: how much does beauty compare to the human cost of poverty in the continent, and does the cost of keeping the African wilderness absolutely and completely pristine balance that? I'm not suggesting that the entire region be bulldozed and paved over, nor do I think that Western values will solve all of the problems overseas as a concerned liberal. Natural surroundings are important, should be preserved and protected, intensely. But at the same time, I believe that if there is something that can be done that will positively benefit the lives of people who have very little, it should be done, but it should be done intelligently. Create a roadway that will minimize the impact on the environment, put together protections for the herds that will travel across the road, create an engineering and technical marvel that will leave the road suspended tens of feet in the air.

I have heard the same arguments recently in the state (and out of state) when it comes to wind power farms that could reduce, in part, our dependence on energy technologies that are truly destructive, such as the failing Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant or coal plants that leaves us with acid rain in the hills. People place the intrinsic beauty of their surroundings over projects that are likely essential to the growth of the state and that support the well-being of its citizens. The alternative could very well be something that would be far worse to see: a coal fired plant in Vermont? The expanding slums of a city? How about a state that is forced into further economic problems because it cannot retain a profitable base that would ultimately help the state and its people?

I, for one, do care about the environment of the state, as contrary as it seems to what I just said. However, one needs to be fairly realistic as how we interact with our surroundings, and realize in just what state we can enjoy Vermont's natural beauty. I for one don't believe that the state has to be abandoned and undeveloped to retain the mountains and forests of the state. We just need to be mindful of how everything fits together. Personally, I would have been interested to see a Green Mountain Parkway weaving its way up through the mountains: I-89 is already a gorgeous drive, and that doesn’t really take away from the beauty of the state as a whole. It certainly allows me access to the beauty of the state.

Gothic October

While Science Fiction has long been the genre that I've been most passionate about, I've grown exceedingly fond of the Gothic blend of horror fiction that's out there. When in college, I attended an upper level English course titled Gothic Tradition which reintroduced me to the likes of Washington Irving, Mary Shelly and Edgar Allen Poe, while introducing me to H.P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson and others. I've come to view this genre as one that's largely atmospheric, with some astounding stories in it. Earlier this year, while attending ReaderCon, I went to a panel titled New England: At Home to the Unheimlich, which looked to the premise that there is something about New England in particular that has helped to foster some of the best gothic-related stories out there now. Getting out and about during the fall is a good way to see this come to life.

This panel had gotten me thinking about how New England would foster some of this. When I was younger, I remember visiting Boston with my mother, and we had walked through a cemetery, one that dated back to the earliest days of the country, and we saw patterns of dates, usually corresponding to illness and pandemics that occurred at the time. As a result, I've been fascinated by some of the older cemeteries that I often see here in Vermont, dotting the countryside.

The panel at ReaderCon discussed a couple of specific influences: the weather and harsh seasons were - and are - a big influence in the mentality of New England residents. Winters are long, with very short days, long nights, and with clearly defined seasons. The Fall in particular is a wonderful time of year, with a broad range of colors in the hills, leading to bare trees in just a couple of short weeks. Coupled with the geography of the region: mountainous, with numerous small valleys, hollows and forests, the region is one that can be very dark, chilly, prone to fog. Further coupled with a writer's imagination, and the northeast is ripe for setting the fantastic.

Vermont in particular had a number of small cemeteries, and a very hard, rural life from the 18th and 19th centuries. Visiting one of these places, sometimes sparsely maintained, out of operation and crumbling, one will find grave sites that date back to the early days of the nation. In several, I found the resting places of soldiers who served in the American Revolution and Civil War.

Along with the history of gothic / supernatural horror fiction that existed throughout the United States, and with the seasons turning here in the state at the moment, it's a good time to visit a number of these sites. Their existence, small cemeteries, abandoned houses and cold forests, all serve to supplement this feeling in the region.

Cemeteries in particular serve as interesting reminders. While Megan and I walked through one such site, she noted that there was far more emphasis on the reminders of mortality and the fragility of life, especially when compared to their modern counterparts. The careful artwork that is now vanishing from the weather and acid rain is highly symbolic, with doves, willow trees, lambs and crosses representing the end of life, while epitaphs go straight to the point. One such memorable entry that I saw on a grave in Northfield read to the tune of: Don't forget about me. Death is a debt to life, and I have paid mine: it is coming for you.

Similarly, looking at the ages and years in which people had died is revealing. In each cemetery, there were several graves of for children, often from the same family, close in age, with their deaths at similar times - one such family lost six of their children in Barnard. Soldiers from war, and younger men and women had died, while a number of people likewise passed away in their eighties, with very little in between the extremes.

Over the past couple of weekends, and in the upcoming days of October, I've been working on visiting and taking some photographs from some of these cemeteries (and aging homes from the period, when I can find them) which really exemplify the gothic and horror feel of the state. You can see the gallery here.

She's Got the Medicine that Everybody Wants: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, the band's self-titled release jumps off a cliff with its opening track, Paris (Ooh La La), a remake of the hidden track If I Was from Paris from their prior album, This Is Somewhere. At least, that's what it feels like - a rush of adrenalin followed by fun beat that gets one moving to the song. With their fourth album, the Nocturnals have undergone some changes. Last year, the band lost its original bassist, Bryan Dondero over some creative differences, which in turn allowed the band to bring bass player Catherine Popper, as well as rhythm guitarist Benny Yurco.

With the new lineup comes a new sound for the Nocturnals. While this isn't something that's really unexpected (Original Soul and Nothing But The Water differed a bit, while This Is Somewhere also pulled away from their sound for a more mainstream classic rock sound and feel), it's by far the bigger departure for the group, sound wise. The guitar work is far bolder throughout the album, the lyrics more evocative and overall, this effort feels far more personal and intimate; Goodbye Kiss hits the listener right to the core, much like Apologies did in her last album. Most of the songs on the album really work well with the lyrics, coming out of the speakers with a nice, easy flow, songs like Oasis, Medicine and One Short Night.

Moreover, where her last album felt like a classic rock homage, this one veers into a new direction, inserting funk and soul into the album once again. Hot Summer Night exemplifies this sound excellently, as does That Phone, Oasis and Goodnight Kiss, which gives the album and band a bit of new flavor, which has been seen in some of their reworking of their older songs in recent concerts. There are some anomalies here though: Tiny Light feels free and light, with a real '70s feel, while Things I Never Needed feels a bit like a country ballad. Paris (Ooh La La) is in a class of its own, but then again, it's always been.

Like her last album, there is a good mix between the tone and feel of the album between songs - Paris starts off with a rush of energy, followed by Oasis and Medicine, but songs like Tiny Light and Colors draw the lights down for a closer, slower and more personal feel. This variety and range of sound is a trademark of the Nocturnals, especially at their concerts: They can jump, very easily from slow to fast, bringing out a wall of sound and rhythm. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals is a further effort towards this image, and it does so wonderfully.

The strongest part of the album, and the band's music in general, has long been with their lead singer, the wonderful Grace Potter. Surrounded by the new sounds, musicians and songs, her voice is the one thing that really carries the band along, along with her fantastic lyrics. This album contains a number of gems from the group, which both highlight her songwriting and vocal talents: Oasis, Medicine, Tiny Light, Only Love, One Short Night, That Phone and Hot Summer Night, all fantastic songs that fit well within the growing catalog of songs that the band has been producing steadily over the past couple of years. While the sound feels different, Potter is the connecting point between albums, and while I focus on her voice and lyrics, a lot of the differences fall away between her old and newer songs.

What Grace Potter and the Nocturnals does for the band, however, is give them an incredible amount of face time with a sound that fits very well with the mainstream rock and roll scene, but there's just enough color and texture to the songs that they produce to push them over the top of quality. Where her last album was the breakthrough into the popular markets, this album feels like they've regained some of their footing and are beginning to push back with their own sound, which makes this album extra special. While I really loved This Is Somewhere and still constantly listen to it, it felt like there was something missing at points – looking back, it felt as though the band was reaching for something, and found a good compromise. Listening to this album though, it feels much like the color has flooded back into the room, and the sound's been turned up as high as it'll go. The Nocturnals have found what they’ve been looking for.

At the end of the day, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals is simply a stunning album from a stunning band. Not content to recycle their prior successes, the band has once again reinvented themselves to attain a better, brighter and richer sound throughout their new album, with songs that are truly inspiring, interesting and most importantly, fun to listen to. It’s clear that they’re on the upwards path, but this new lineup shows that the group is maturing, and they’re bringing out a whole new sound that will really make heads turn.

Vermont is a Border State Too

The state of Vermont resides between New York to the West, and New Hampshire to the East, with Massachusetts to the South and Canada lying along its northern border. Often, I forget that Vermont is just one state that borders a foreign country, save for the occasional trip to Montreal every year or two, or an irregular security check point set up along I-91 that runs the length of the state. Quite simply, immigration and issues with the border rarely become an issue here. The recent events that have transpired in Arizona brings an acute reminder that other states have problems with their borders, with illegal immigrants coming across the border and all of the issues that comes along with an influx of foreign individuals. While I am largely horrified by the law that has just been passed in the state, I am forced to see, understand and accept the reasons for which it was implemented.

Arizona and a number of the states that border Mexico have legitimate issues with illegal immigration. I've always felt that the United States should have the right to determine who enters the country, and with a porous border, there will always be a level of uncertainty as to who, and what is moving across the border. This transcends race and nationality as an issue, and relates directly to national security issues. This event demonstrates the level of frustration that a state has with the lack of responsibility and action that the federal government has taken when it comes to securing the border, taking actions into their own hands. In all likelihood, the state's right to supersede the federal government's will be slapped down by the courts, which makes me wonder if a law such as this is just something designed to get a lot of attention to a particular issue.

The issues here is that given the demographics of the region, with a wide mix of legal and illegal immigrants as well as naturalized and natural-born citizens, determining who is supposed to be in the country is difficult, and the state has granted unprecedented powers to detain and deport people without papers. In all likelihood, the massive amounts of national attention on the law will be sufficient to hold the police and other state officials in Arizona in line. The first person who is wrongly accused, detained and deported will cause further public relations and legal issues for governmental officials. What scares me is not so much the law, but the potential for its abuse by state officials, and for local citizens, who can prompt action from their local police forces. A collective effort to govern is not necessarily the best method of government, but collective action to enforce potential laws seems worse. The argument that people should trust their police is something that I have a very hard time accepting.

The solution won't rely on the enforcement and vilification of the illegal immigrants by deporting them. The reasons for the problem in the first place need to be dealt with at the source - on both sides of the border. Vermont has not enacted this law for very good reasons: we don't have the problem with immigration that the southern states seem to. My one encounter with a random Border Patrol team is a unique event, and if the problem was worse, I'm sure that I would see a heightened presence from them. But, Canada is a fairly stable country, with a large scale economy, and with a population that isn't desperate for a new life here in the United States. Issues across the border become our issues, and any plan that Congress will most likely soon be looking into should include ways to help Mexico mobilize its own economy and work on retaining their workers, while working out our own policies towards immigration in this country.

I don't see immigration as a bad thing for the country. After all, we all have our roots as newcomers here to the country, but more importantly, new people, diversity and change to our demographic makeup gives the country a unique perspective, with numerous viewpoints, ways to approach issues and to look at the world. We're stronger for it, and I hope that Arizona's law, and crucially, its mindset leading up to it, will never come to the Green Mountain State.

High Speed (or, I Want To Read On The Way To Work)

Recently, the problem of drivers texting while in a vehicle has been brought to the forefront of the news, shedding light on a vital issue that illustrates that driving is inherently a very dangerous activity. Road safety is something that should never be far from our minds, either in the car, or out of it, and every day on my drive to work, I see examples of poor training and practice amongst my fellow drivers. Two years ago, the issue was on the roads themselves, where cuts and transfers of funds to the roads took place, resulting in roads with plenty of hazards. Both issues taken separately are worrisome, but taken together, they're both downright scary.

Thinking about this has brought to mind another initiative that has been making a bit of news over the course of the past year: high speed rail service. Currently, the nation lags far behind other industrialized nations, such as the United Kingdom, much of Europe and Japan, for large-scale access to a fast train system. In part, I suspect, that's due to the sheer size of the United States, as well as competing for space with freight transportation across the country. Because of the size, a high speed rail system is going to be an expensive proposition, upgrading the current one to something far better.

However, despite the expense, I want to see a high speed rail system come to the United States. On my way to work, I cross a set of rail road tracks that have since been abandoned, and over a hill, follow alongside the major railroad track that runs from the Burlington area all the way down to Boston and down the East Coast. A friend once visited from New York City, and it took her just as long to get up as it would have been to drive. Driving alongside the railroad tracks this morning, I couldn't help but think how much I would prefer to have the ability to make a short walk to a train station, get on a train and simply ride in to work. While I lived in England, in 2006, this was a common occurrence for me, and I found that I really enjoyed riding in to work and class via the underground and regular London transit system.

Maintaining a high speed rail system in the State of Vermont would be a good thing for Vermonters. Our long winters bring about hundreds of accidents each year on the highways that commuters use between Montpelier and Burlington, and hopefully, a rapid system would help to cut transit time for people who live a bit further away, and would help reduce the load on the roadways. With an increasing number of people texting and driving, deteriorating roads, moving more people off the roads into a mass transit system will help reduce some of the risks while on the road, and will help with the wear and tear on the roads. It's an alternative that should be available, and as public transportation has increased as fuel prices have done the same, hopefully there will be the the perfect storm of dangerous drivers and accidents, federal spending and infrastructure and availability to Vermonters.

A system such as this would be good for the state as well, linking Vermont to the southern states and cities, allowing for the state to market itself as it has long done for weekend excursions during changing of the fall leaves to the ski season, as well as all of the other attractive reasons to visit our state. It's easy to do that by car, but I've always seen taking a train ride somewhere as a sort of adventure, and have many fond memories of doing so while in London, travelling to Edinburg, Cambridge, Oxford, Eastbourne, Stratford-Upon-Avon and many other places. It was quick, allowed me to plow through fourteen books in four months and allowed me to see the rest of the country without requiring a personal vehicle.

Plus, mass transportation is a good, sustainable sort of practice. Thousands of people driving separately to their destinations is a woefully inefficient activity in the grander scheme of things, only going to highlight some of the issues that the country has when it comes to dependence on oil. It would be good to get used to the idea of having to limit ourselves and what we use before we're forced to in the future by high price by becoming a more efficient society. Don't get me wrong, I like driving my Mini very much - it's one of the reasons why I bought a car in the first place. But I while I enjoy driving, I get very little joy out of my morning commute. I would much rather be reading a book and not having to worry about the other drivers around me.

Driving Like Crazy

Last Week, VPR's Vermont Edition hosted a program devoted to recent legislative efforts designed to combat cell phone usage in cars. Why there is any sort of debate over this issue is beyond me, but apparently there is quite a bit of discussion over whether or not this sort of thing is necessary or right for government to do to individual citizens.

A while ago, I read and reviewed Tom Vanderbilt's book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), which is, as the title suggests, about driving and how we drive. Prior to reading the book, I was not thrilled with the idea of a cell phone law in Vermont - it's intrusive, it's problematic and above all, it is possible to drive, talk, text or so forth while driving. That's not the case, far from it, and recent deaths in the state suggest that this is only the start to a larger issue in the state.

Vanderbilt notes that studies show several things: it doesn't take long for a driver to be distracted, and that even small amounts of time without one's eyes on the road could mean the difference between continuing home and ending up in a hospital. While on the road, Vanderbilt explains, the driver is constantly taking in information about their surroundings - what's in front of them, to the sides and the road conditions. Modern conveniences such as radios, CD players, and connections for phones only add to the things that drivers have to contend with. Furthermore, the human brain is fundamentally incapable of processing everything that comes in, and mental awareness of one's surroundings drops. There have been occasions while driving that I've spoken on the phone or peaked at a text message and find myself further down the road, automatically steering around well known corners, but with little recollection exactly to what I just did. The same is true with any task that involves thinking. In today's culture, drivers have far more to distract them on the road, and that's what is getting scary.

The rise in texting (I remember reading something recently that noted that the average teenager sends around 40,000 words a month in text form) makes this all the more scary, because as drivers are increasingly spending some of their time looking at their phone, reading a message and then thinking about and typing a response out, their eyes are not where they are supposed to be: on the road. Normally, I would advocate personal responsibility for the driver and say that if they crash because they weren't looking, well, it's their own fault. However, the roadways are populated by everyone else on the road, in all directions, and the actions of one driver not paying attention can mean dire consequences for someone else on the roadway.

So what is the solution? Well, as pro-life people naively state: abstinence works. Well, yes, it does, but holding people to that sort of thing doesn't necessarily work as well. Keeping teenagers away from cell phones (and adults, for that matter), is a huge problem, and merely telling people to turn off the phone and keep their eyes on the road isn't necessarily going to work, even with a stiff fine from police officers. A law needs to be put into place, no doubt about that, with stiff penalties for any driver caught doing this sort of thing. But, in addition to that, money needs to be spent on educating drivers, young and old alike on one simple fact: driving is the most dangerous thing that you can do on a regular basis. Taken out of a normal, everyday context, you are climbing into a rolling collection of metal parts, fueled by a highly combustible fluid and set off along roadways with more people doing the same thing, at high speeds. If that isn't enough to freak you out, now imagine that nobody is looking where they're going.

100 Years of Boy Scouts

A couple weeks ago, my father pointed an article out to me in the local paper, the Valley Reporter, where there was a brief announcement about a local Boy Scout receiving his Eagle rank. It was exciting for the both of us, because with myself and my brother finishing up our time in scouting by reaching the rank of Eagle, my father, who held out troop together and fostered a solid group of kids in Troop 100 through, left to focus on other things, and we've largely been out of the loop when it comes to scouting for almost a decade now.

Yesterday, The Boy Scouts of America celebrated its centennial. The Scouting movement itself is a couple of years older, founded by Robert Baden-Powell in England, before migrating to the United States in 1910 from where it grew through to the 1970s, when membership hit its peak, before declining to the present day. Over that time, Scouting has become a vastly important organization within the United States, and numerous notable members of the public, such as Neil Armstrong, James Brady, Clive Cussler, Robert Gates, Harry Knowles and Robert McNamara, just to name a very few. In the recent years, the Boy Scouts of America has declined, in membership and in public perception with a number of scandals and lawsuits over its membership, tainting its reputation. My memories, however, of the organization, despite my own issues with the stances that the organization takes, are some of the most precious to me and my family. Wired Magazine published an article yesterday, asking whether the BSA was still a relevant organization. I believe that it is, and I believe that in this day and age, with more options for children and young adults to occupy their time, the Scouting movement is one that is vital to this nation's character, despite the issues that it has internally.

Amongst the biggest issue is the group's stance towards homosexuality and atheism within its ranks, amounting to a sort of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy, one that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, and one that certainly impacted my own scouting career at several points, from having Moretown residents slam their doors in my face while selling popcorn to having people question my own morals, assuming that my beliefs matched those held by the organization. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I have never believed that recognition or participation necessarily equated to compliance or recognition. In any case, none of the regulations really applied to our own troop, and we continued to do everything that we had done before.

What I remember the most from my time as a Boy Scout (Of course, any Eagle Scout will tell you that once you have achieved that rank, you are always an Eagle Scout) is the lessons in character, interpersonal relations and the practical skills that I learned while away at Summer Camp at Mt. Norris every year. I was a bit of a troubled kid at points, and Scouting taught me much when it came to dealing with other people my age, and basic elements of problem solving: skills that are not really emphasized in a school setting, which, in my mind, makes this organization all the more important for children in the United States. But even the basic skills that I learned while earning badges are ones that might come in handy someday: First Aid, Emergency Preparedness, Communications, Personal Fitness, Camping, Climbing, Environmental Science, Geology, Orienteering, Reading and more. I firmly believe that my experience in scouting gave me a well rounded education and background that I would not have had otherwise. It has taught me much, and far beyond the basic skills earned in the pursuit of a Merit Badge, but an appreciation for nature and the outdoors, for science and community, all things that I most likely wouldn't have been exposed to in the classroom or with life in Moretown.

Where it is asked whether Scouting has a future and purpose at this time and place, I have to pause. I would not trade my experiences in Scouting for anything in the world, as it has made me the person that I am today, but I also believe that the organization needs to change, drastically, as societal norms change as well. The things that the organization has been condemned for have good reason to be, but I don't believe that either issue clouds Scouting as a whole, nor do I believe that it detracts from what I learned. I see comments and hear people say that they would never allow their children to join a bigoted and backwards organization. I believe that in the larger scheme of things, Scouting falls on the lesser of evils list. While Scouting has its issues, ones that I sincerely hope will be fixed in the future, there are other groups out there that deserve more anger directed towards them for their own policies.

The thing to remember with groups such as this is that it's not the overall policies that matter to the people, it's how they are carried out. I was sickened to read that a group of Scouts were booed off the stage during the 2000 Democratic National Convention, because of the sheer narrow-minded and elitist, hypocritical stupidity that it represented. The Boy Scouts on the stage may or may not have been firm believers in the overall rules of their organization, and it troubles me in any instance in which people are judged not for their individual beliefs, but for what they are perceived to represent. How many of those democrats honestly pushed for a restriction of prayer in schools or for gay marriage? Beyond that, Scouting is far more than the problems that it faces. To the people who refuse to be involved, especially the ones who say: "I would join, but...", I would say that they don't help the problem, because Scouting isn't the rules that it is governed by, but it is what the people who belong to it make it. My experiences with Scouting was heavily based on the morals and experiences of my scout masters, and everything that they taught, but in the end, it was I who decided how to incorporate that into a relevant experience that I make use of every day.

This past Christmas, I bought my brother a coffee table book on the history of Scouting, and I was delighted to see his face light up when he opened it. For me, and for my brother (I'm reasonably sure), Scouting gave us some of the best experiences and education in our lives. No rules, controversy or slammed doors can ever take that away from me, or tell me that it was all for naught.

Radar Rd. and the Cold War

Over the last couple of months, I've been thinking and writing a lot about the defensive posture of the United States during the Cold War. From the Second World War onwards, there was an enormous buildup of organization and manpower to become one of the dominant powers on the planet. During the 1950s, there was a transition in power from a more conventional air power, a bomber force, to a deterrent based one with ICBMs. The military-industrial complex grew to meet demand. Every level of society was touched in some degree, whether it was through looking at the television screen at astronauts in space, to the very highways that we depend upon.

At my alma mater, I took a course in institutional history, where I learned much about the school's founder, Alden Partridge. A huge supporter of experiential learning, I found that this sort of learning is an important one. My geology courses emphasized field work, and I absolutely loved going into the field to see what I was studying in action.

While I've done quite a bit of reading thus far about the Cold War, I've also found a couple of ways to find tangible evidence on the Cold War in my surroundings. Last spring, a friend of mine and I drove up to East Haven, in the Northeast Kingdom, where there is an abandoned Radar Facility, named the Lyndonville Air Force Station.

Commissioned in 1952 by the US Air Force, it was up and running in 1955, during the height of the Cold War, and at the beginning of the rise of the rockets as a major defensive tactic for the United States. The ground based radar station is just one of many that were scattered around the United States at the time, and undoubtedly would have been used to seek out Russian planes or missiles coming across the Atlantic Ocean.

Our hike up the mountain found a deserted, well preserved road into the middle of the woods, with a base camp to support the base staff, and a separate facility a mile up the road that housed the radar installation. (Unfortunately, it was getting late and we weren't able to visit that part of the site).

What the station helped to demonstrate was some of the historical context to how the United States defended itself. The radar station in and of itself was most likely not as important, but it made up part of a system that helps to show the reach of the military at this time. Between the fall of Nazi Germany and the rise of the Soviet Union, the United States had utilized a massive military presence in the world - an unprecedented show of force in the world at that time, one that extended not only to military assets capable of striking far off nations, it implemented a large network of logistical and defensive support that was much, much larger.

The site was abandoned in 1963, and remains in East Haven to this day, a lonely, rundown reminder of the Cold War, and how it affected everything.

RIP, Waldenbooks

On Tuesday, our local branch of the Waldenbooks franchise closed down for good. Undoubtedly, there will be a number of customers that will be coming to the mall in the next six to twelve months asking whoever rents out that spot where the bookstore went, but there you have it.

Borders, which owns Waldenbooks, decided late last year that they were going to close down 200 of the smaller mall locations around the country. Two in Vermont - Berlin (My store) and Rutland, were both on the cutting block, although the Borders express in South Burlington will remain open. I'm guessing that this is a bit of a complicated position for Borders - the recent financial crisis added to the already piling issues that brick and mortar face: declining sales in light of competition from online retailers, not to mention absolutely inefficient business practices on the part of how Borders runs their stores, something I've ranted about before.

Still, with all my issues about Borders aside, I will miss working there, and the store itself. I began work in the fall of 2006, where I worked at the Kiosk, and continued to work through the winter and next fall as a regular employee, before leaving to work at Norwich University. I returned late last year after a friend left, because I was hit with a bit of nostalgia for the store and working there. While that didn't last long, it was nice while it lasted. I've long been a customer at this particular branch, even before I went to work there. The selection for what I was looking for, mainly science fiction, was always top-notch, and when I began to work there, I met a number of people who I likely wouldn't have met normally, and like camp, I've managed to hold onto a good group of close friends.

Looking back at my time there, I've often told myself that if I'm ever going to be in a position to make a television show, I'll write something about here. There was endless problems with customers, other employees (there was always drama of some sort) and from all that, quite a lot of humor and laughter. Romance books were something that could easily be thrown across the store at an annoying co-worker, but also the slow times, after all of our duties were done, chatting with people for a couple hours in-between customers. There are a lot of good memories there, which I'll remember over the bad times that I've had there (and there were several). Hell, I'll even miss some of our crazy regular customers who were really out there.

Plus, the bookstore was a source of a lot of books for me. We made sure (when we could) that the comics and Science Fiction and Fantasy section was well stocked, special ordering books that we knew would move out the door, kept it well stocked and neat, and offered a good selection of other books as well. There's a bunch of stores in the area, such as Bear Pond Books, Rivendell Books and the Northfield Bookstore, but they just don't have the same selection. I'll stop in when I can, but I just won't make a point to stop by and browse, because my friends won't be there either, as I'd often do over the past couple of years.

So, farewell, bookstore. I'll miss giving you money in exchange for feeding my habit of books, and while my wallet and bookshelves won't thank you, I'll miss the fun times that never will be, and the friends that I made there.

2009 Reading List


So, this year, I read a total of 21 books, far below the total number that I was shooting for - around 40 or so. There are some large gaps - February, March, May, and much of the fall, which coincides nicely with the numerous writing projects that I had going on throughout the year. With this coming year, I'm hoping to read quite a lot more as my schedule allows, and I've got quite an extensive list, as I've been steadily expanding my own personal library - I'm up to 748 books now. That number is sure to grow in the next 12 months.

1 - Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, Matthew Stover (1-2) This was probably the last Star Wars book that's come out that I've really liked. Stover is always an interesting writer, and here, he takes cues from some of the earliest Star Wars books and plays up the pulp factor. This one is fast, engaging and entertaining. In a nutshell, it harkened back to the Bantam Spectra days of Star Wars literature, and that's a good thing. I've got a huge backlog of books from the series that I just haven't gotten around to reading, simply because I'm not all that interested anymore.

2 - Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Suzanna Clarke (1-11) Jonathan Strange is by far one of my favorite books of the decade, and one of the greatest fantasy books since J.R.R. Tolkien. Elegantly written, plotted and conceptualized, Clarke has put together a masterpiece. It took me several years to get through the first half of this book, but when I finally sat down to read it, I absolutely couldn't put it down. I can't wait to read it again.

3 - The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of, Thomas Disch (1-25) I completely forgot about this book, and had to look it up - it's a history of Science Fiction. It was interesting, but I took some issue with some of the things that he brought up at times. I can't for the life of me remember what, but I preferred Adam Robert's history of SF. I picked up the book because I was thinking that I was going to be reading and writing more about the origins of Science Fiction, but that never really panned out. Still, it wasn't a total loss of a read, and it did make some good points about the genre.

4 - Firearms: A Global History to 1700, Kenneth Chase (1-25) This was the only school book that I've actually gone back to, to read over again (although there's one other one that I'm planning on reading again), and that's the history of firearms. This book does a bit more than go through the motions of firearms - it examines the impact on tactics and the makeup of armies (it was revolutionary) and how the technology travelled from Asia to Europe. I used for a couple of my classes and it's highly engaging, interesting and informative.

5 - Wired for War, PW Singer (3-19) PW Singer's book on Robots in Warfare was a fantastic book, easily one of my favorites and something that I'll read in the future. Exceptionally thought out and researched, it not only looks at robotics, but the military command structure and environment, which to me, is far more interesting, and gives the book a significant party piece when it comes to talking about the future of the military. I got to see Mr. Singer talk, and he signed my book, and had a blast doing it.

6 - It's Been A Good Life, Isaac Asimov (4-1) Asimov's shorter biography, this was a quick reread that I'd wanted to do for a while. His life is pretty interesting, from his experience with the military to his start as a writer. Asimov is one of my absolute favorite Science Fiction writers, and it's interesting to see some of the behind the scenes elements to his works. It's a little self-indulgent, I think, but worth reading all the same.

7 - The Catch, Archer Mayor (4-7) Archer Mayor's book from last year, this was another fun book from him. This one introduced a couple new characters and themes, but I liked this year's better - this one was ultimately forgettable, until this year's Price of Malice, and the plot fell pretty flat for me. I think that the two of them could have been combined to become one novel, and it would have worked much better. It's a good reminder that I really need to read some of the older ones again.

8 - It Happened In Vermont, Mark Bushnell (4-16) This is a book of historical thumbnails on Vermont. Lots of fun information on a variety of topics throughout the state's history, but it misses some crucial ones that will be historically relevant in the coming years. The earlier elements provide quite a bit of detail, and some good stories about this state, but honestly, how does one not include something like Civil Unions?

9 - The Soloist, Steve Lopez (4-27) There was a movie based off of this, which looked good, and the book was only a couple of dollars in the bargain pile. It is the story of a reporter for the LA Times and a Schizophrenic man who was a musical prodigy and provides an interesting look at the homeless and LA.

10 - The Book of Lost Things, John Connolley (5-28) I really enjoyed this fantasy book by John Connolley - It's quite a dark book, but I like that. It takes a number of fantasy fairy tales, such as the knight in shining armor, the seven dwarves and a couple others, and puts a new, modern twist on them in a way that reminded me of Pan's Labyrinth.

11 - Rocket Men, Craig Nelson (6-13) This book was instrumental in my capstone and my thinking about space. This is the story of the Apollo 11 mission, and talks a lot about the mission beforehand. I gather that there are some inaccuracies, but I'm willing to let that slide because of some of the concepts that he brings up - the economics of a space program, for example.

12 - The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (6-15) Neil Gaiman's latest book was a delight to read - a wonderfully dark young adult novel that's been nominated for a number of awards, about a boy who grows up in a graveyard. I wonder when a movie will be made of this one.

13 - Explorer's House: National Geographic and the World It Made, Robert Poole (7-29) This is the type of history that I really like - looking at the world through a much smaller thing, and what is more influential than the National Geographic? This book traces the magazine and society's history from the beginning to the present day, and gives a very interesting insight to both.

14 - The Magicians, Lev Grossman (8-19) I loved this book, a modern, dark, brooding and realistic fantasy tale that takes points from the best of Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia. Grossman has put forth an interesting entry into the Fantasy genre, and it's become one of my favorites.

15 - Old Man's War, John Scalzi (9-8) I've rapidly become a fan of John Scalzi because of this book, and his blog, Whatever. This is a pretty ordinary take on the super soldier/ military SF theme, but it's a fun one, and I've already picked up the sequels for some time that I'm in the mood for military Sci Fi.

16 - Consider Phlebas, Iain M. Banks (9-17) Banks came highly recommended to me, and this book was a fun one to read. Exceptional world building - the pacing was a bit off - and interesting characters. It's an epic space opera and adventure, and I'm looking forward to the next couple books in the series.

17 - The Windup Girl, Paolo Bachaglupi (10-6) If this book doesn't win a Hugo Award, I'm going to be very, very annoyed. This has to be the best SF book in years, with a brilliant future imagined for the planet, with multiple storylines, politics and motives from the characters. It’s an exceptional book.

18 - The Price of Malice, Archer Mayor (10-11) Archer Mayor's latest, and one that I really enjoyed, more so than The Catch, and it took on a bit from his earlier books, in my mind. I can’t wait for next year’s book.

19 - The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century, George Friedman (10-19) Ugh. I didn't like this book that much, but it had some interesting points. I found Friedman's book to be an infuriating read, simply because of the assumptions and things that he missed over. Not highly recommended, but there are some good points that he makes - how to think about history and historical events, for example.

20 - Clone Wars: No Prisoners, Karen Traviss (10-20) One of Karen Traviss's last Star Wars books, it's an okay entry, nowhere as good as her Commando books. It’s a fun, throwaway reading for an afternoon. I read it in a day.

21 - Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (And What It Says About Us), Tom Vanderbilt (11-1) The last book that I read last year was back in November, although I have a bunch started that I'm working on getting through. This book is a fantastic one to read - reminded me a lot of Wired for War, in that it's well researched and interesting, and in my mind, essential for anybody who wants to get behind the steering wheel. Already, it's helped me to understand why we drive the way we do, and it's affected how I percieve traffic problems, and how I drive.

That's what I read last year. I've already got quite a list for the coming year, and I'm excited to see how many I get through.

Grace Potter and the New Year

Where the rest of the world has New York City's epic ball drop in Times Square, Vermont has Grace Potter to ring in the new year. It's rapidly becoming an annual event, with several lead-up concerts at the Higher Ground to meet demand, and the overall event has become a highly anticipated run of concerts. I wasn't able to attend the New Year's Eve show, but I was able to attend the second concert on the 27th, with Alberta Cross opening up for the Nocturnals. All in all, I came away from the show pretty disappointed. The Nocturnals sounded great, played a number of newer songs, several covers and re-arranged songs and a bunch of old classics.

The group has been a popular one here on Carry You Away, and I've followed their rather extraordinary rise from small, local group to major-record-label one, and it's been a fun ride to watch. Their last album, This Is Somewhere, was absolutely fantastic, blending modern and classic rock, fantastic songwriting and with an incredible energy throughout their album and their live shows.

This show wasn't bad, it just wasn't what I expected, and it wasn't as good as other shows that I've seen from them. Part of this, I think, is because it was the lead-up to the really good show: New Year's Eve. With additional concerts added on, I have to imagine that the show was a bit toned down (even then, the energy was high), and that some of the really good material was saved for later.

The show that I saw, while good, was scattered. With a new album coming out later this year (from what I know, it's called Medicine), and with a new lineup, changes are to be expected, and some of the results were here - the band is certainly straying into more directions musically, which is very good, but with this concert, the group felt all over the map, from Classic Rock to Jam Band Raegge to Soul and regular rock. I'm interested to hear where they go, but the overall concert felt incoherent, poorly planned out and overall, that affected the entire evening for me. Music such as this is far more than just the musicians - it's their presentation, the quality of their music, how they play it, and how well thought out each concert is.

This leads me to two of Grace's opening acts, Alberta Cross and Josh Ritter, whom I've seen both open for the Nocturnals, and a good example of presentation. Alberta Cross, opening for Grace became a band that I'd rather not see again. I have their latest album, The Thief and the Heartbreaker, and I've liked a couple of the songs, but live, in person, the band seemed lax, sloppy at points and just not all that exciting to watch. On the other hand, when I was Josh Ritter in 2007, and recently again in 2009, they presented a far different appearance - they coordinated dress (and actually didn't go for the grungy rock star look), played a great set of music and clearly looked like they enjoyed themselves and put a bit of thought into what they were doing. This wasn't something that I got a good sense of with Alberta Cross, I'm sorry to say.

Similarly, I have to wonder if this was sort of the same deal with the Nocturnals, coupled with their rapid rise to local and national fame, and leaves me a bit worried for the future of the group. In 2009, the band's bassist Bryan Dondero left the group over creativity issues, leading the band to add on a new bass player Catherine Popper, as well as rhythm guitarist Benny Yurco- with new directions in mind. This sparked some worries that the group is going to be departing far more from what they've done before as they've become a major label band. Fortunately, the concert on the 27th, despite some of the issues that I had with it, seem to show that the group is still churning out good music, abit with a much larger variety of sound.

To be very fair, after listening to the NYE show, there were some improvements over the Saturday show - they were still a bit scattered, but sounded better, with much more energy and with a lot of good material to play. Here's to hoping that they will continue that trend in 2010.