Friday, October 31, 2008

speaking of Studs

As you listen
you know in your bones

each person
has never
told their story
as cogently
or as fully

and will never

That was Terkel's art

He was maestro
of that most precious craft:


Found in the Guardian's obituary of Studs Terkel who passed away today at the age of 96.

Thank you for listening, Mr. Terkel. It hurts so much to let you go.

what if the whole world could vote?

The Economist's Global Electoral College »

Guess who's blue?

a history of repeated injuries

We fear it will take years of forensic research to discover how many basic rights have been violated.

The Editorial Board of the New York Times in their endorsement of Barack Obama for president speaking to how our current president, George W. Bush "has arrogated the power to imprison men without charges and browbeat Congress into granting an unfettered authority to spy on Americans. He has created untold numbers of 'black' programs, including secret prisons and outsourced torture. The president has issued hundreds, if not thousands, of secret orders."

Thursday, October 30, 2008


More slideshow goodness from the Huffington Post »

Many thanks to @mzmullerz for the link.

five more days

five more days
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
A secret believer left a super cool pin
on my cubicle wall without comment.

Hope & change, baby.
Five more days.

Posting by cameraphone from the office.

sue, take two

good morning.

in the immortal words of the fernet-branca advertisement: "wave your hands together, you'll be feeling better"

speaking of john hodgman
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo

They never punish themselves. Except in sexy ways.

John Hodgman, speaking of Italians.

Worth knowing: John Hodgman, in addition to being an accomplished author, a minor television celebrity, and a remarkably funny man, manages to come across to an assembled crowd, as he did this evening to a mid-size gathering at Borders Books in Oak Brook, Illinois, as an exceptionally humane individual as well.

Although it could be that I was fooled by the warm smile that capped off many of his punch lines, just about a beat behind, so as not to disrupt his trademark straight man routine.

That smile, which brings everyone around it into his fold, the one that occasionally threatens to break into his Daily Show routines but never quite works its way through, was largely unexpected and by itself worth the price admission (although in truth no admission was charged at the Borders event).

It may have been the generosity with which Hodgman handled the most vocal of his fans that deceived me. His fans all want to be him, of course, and one gentlemen took to the mic to articulate his desire to write books of fake facts -- as in fact Mr. Hodgman has himself done. Twice.

Hodgman handled the gentleman's request for advice to all who might aspire to write books of fake facts (the fake fact genre being the highly competitive literary niche that it is) with firm kindness and comedy, articulating his own expansionist plans in the niche, ushering a stern warning to all who might attempt to infringe on his territory, and then offering some true and simple advice for all writers: Be brave. Don't hold back.

There was also Alex, a 13 year old boy who wanted to be Hodgman, whom Hodgman handled a little like Foghorn Leghorn might handle Henry Hawk -- all to the benefit of the assembled crowd, and also to the benefit of Alex, who will probably never forget the night that he shared the stage with John Hodgman.

Just as he will never forget the Fernet-Branca.

p.s. My only regret? That I only learned of Hodgman's appearance a few short hours before it happened. Had I known, I would have bought my Hobo Halloween pic, circa 1970-something, hoping for an autograph.

p.p.s. The point of Mr. Hodgman's visit was to pimp his new book, of course, which I heartily endorse (and did so as recently as this last Monday from LaGuardia International).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

new york sightseeing

Just off Broadway, NYC.

I want to believe.

Video: Campaign film from 1972 in which Richard Nixon almost certainly violates copyright laws by playing "Happy Birthday" for Duke Ellington.

Richard Nixon: A man of courage, compassion and conviction. A man America needs, now more than ever.

The Museum of the Moving Image has posted a remarkable online library of historical American political campaign commercials. It's a fascinating history of political persuasion.

Also of interest: A breakout of the negative commercials of the current political season by political scientist John Greer of Vanderbilt University »

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

thumbs up, with preconditions

I just wish he was more progressive.

Studs Terkel on Barack Obama in the Huffington Post.

I love you, Studs.

Many thanks to @swanksalot for the link.

Monday, October 27, 2008

recycled mobloggage

recycled mobloggage
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
Shot this the last time I was en route to LaGuardia.

Recycling this now because the car I'm riding in tonight has deeply tinted gangster windows that make this same scene look like 9PM.

Ready to be home. Still super unsettled from Saturday's crash and trying to quiet the nervous knot in my belly.


Am I a winner? I have no idea.

I pulled the contest tab on my Suntory green tea, but I can't read Japanese.

Posting by cameraphone from Midtown Manhattan. One more meeting, then home.

(Forgive me, everyone I know and love in NY: there was no time to call.)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Chi skyline, headed home

Chi skyline, headed home
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
One of those just like every other unremarkable except for the fact that maybe if things had played out differently I'd be *dead* kind of days in which the mindful grateful mantra "I'm alive and he's alive and we're alive" keeps playing through my mind.

Be well. Look after each other.

Posting by cameraphone.

synchronous chrysanthemums

Just wrapped up Michael Raine's curiously cool Humanities Day session re the digital analysis of film, where we caught a peek of two hard to secure Japanese films (Raine specializes in Japanese film):

Mizoguchi Kenji's Story of the Last Chrysanthemums from 1939, and Yamamoto Kajiro's The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya (1942).

Toho Studios won't release The War at Sea to the U.S. market because of its subject matter -- a pro-Japanese perspective of the bombing of Pearl Harbor -- but the Last Chrysanthemum is screening next month at the Gene Siskel Film Center in downtown Chicago.

If the clip we saw is any indication of how magnificent a film it is, and if wherever you are is highly accessible to the Loop, then I highly recommend you GO.

I'm gonna. Possibly even wearing the same long sleeve silk screened chrysanthemum tee that I happen to be wearing today -- by sheer coincidence?



Posting by cameraphone from the U of C.

made it.

made it.
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
One 7 vehicle pile up later -- after a quick trip to see our insurance guy, a stop home to get a fresh, unbunged-up car, and a detour to our favorite local diner to fortify with a super late breakfast sometime around Noon, we finally made it to the University of Chicago for the second half of Humanities Day.

Teeing off with Professor Michael Raine who will be speaking on "Re-envisioning the Cinema: computer-based tools for film analysis" in 10 minutes.

Posting by cameraphone from Cobb Hall, Room 307.

Still awfully glad to be alive and in one whole, albeit bruised, piece.

the view from here

the view from here
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
We managed to stop in time when a flatbed squealed to a stop in front of us because the car in front of *him* stopped dead in the middle of the highway because she was trying to make her exit (G*DD@MMIT).

Unfortunately the four cars behind us didn't manage the same, making us the first car in the second crash.

Big mess.

By some miracle no one was seriously injured, and after everything checked out we spent a fair amount of time squeezing our sweeties close.

The moral of this story is: Respect velocity always, and if you miss your turn CIRCLE BACK before you stop stone cold.

Posting by cameraphone from the shoulder of the highway.

A bit bruised, but wholly alive.

Friday, October 24, 2008

and now for a story

John Hodgman: A brief digression on matters of lost time. A TED talk.

how the cookie crumbles

We've never seen a spread like this before in the numbers. I don't know if there's going to be a crumbslide or not. ... We may still predict the winner, but probably by way too many cookies.

Brian Busken, VP-marketing for the Busken family business, commenting in AdAge on the lead -- 6643 to 3202 -- that Obama has on McCain in the Busken Cookie Poll of Ohio voters which "has never failed since its inception in 1984."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

early voting

I squeaked in just before the 7pm deadline to find two very frustrated poll workers and a line of a couple dozen people, due to problems with the computerized voting system not accepting people's driver's licenses. It was taking about 7-10 minutes per person just to get the computer to accept them as valid and to print out their ballot, causing very long delays.

For me the most moving moment came when the family in front of me, comprising probably 4 generations of voters (including an 18 year old girl voting for her first time and a 90-something hunched-over grandmother), got their turn to vote.

When the old woman left the voting booth she made it about halfway to the door before collapsing in a nearby chair, where she began weeping uncontrollably. When we rushed over to help we realized that she wasn't in trouble at all but she had not truly believed, until she left the booth, that she would ever live long enough to cast a vote for an African-American for president.

Recounted by a medical student in Evanston, Indiana. Via Politico via Brad DeLong's blog.

by way of comparison

Photo: Adlai Stevenson by William M. Gallagher (for which he won a Pulitzer)

Photo: Barack Obama by Callie Shell

Many thanks to @jrnoded and M for pointing me in Shell's direction.

divine drops

"It's powerful," Shizuku says of a 2001 Bordeaux, suddenly overwhelmed with images of a turntable, guitars and Freddie Mercury. "But it also has a meltingly sweet taste, with an acidic aftertaste that catches you by surprise. It's like the voice of Queen's lead vocalist, sweet and husky, enveloped in thick guitar riffs and heavy drums."

From Yuko and Shin Kibayashi's weekly manga series Les Gouttes de Dieu.[1]

According to the New York Times, the hero of the series, Shizuku, is rapidly becoming the Robert Parker of Japan.

p.s. Shown above is our hero's adopted brother and nemesis.

[1] The title is French, even though the manga is Japanese, because (I suspect) it's about wine. The New York Times translates Les Gouttes de Dieu as The drops of the gods -- but although my French is rusty I'm pretty sure it should be singular: The Drops of God.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

shelter night, continued

this place smells like a secret

the air is smokey with
the musk of unwashed bodies
often worn socks
and tattered embarrassment

a large man snores against the wall
the tables have been cleared of dinner

polite conversation
among a few stray men
is punctuated
by outbursts
that make no sense
and are mostly ignored

across the room the baby smiles
in his shelter bed

all his beds have been shelter beds

he has learned to laugh quietly
to play with odd packages

and to linger in the sympathy
of strangers

shelter night

shelter night
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
Shelter night is usually good for me: it takes me out of my own head and makes me grateful for all that I have, grateful for everything I don't have to struggle for.

But today my opinion of humanity's ability to look after each other is at a critically low ebb, and I'm not sure I'll clear that stubby nub of heartbreak that churns up every time I sign in a family with kids, or somebody's grandmother, or someone my age -- someone well showered, holding down two jobs, still unable to cover the rent.

So we'll see.

Posting by cameraphone from this miserable little room where we'll feed and shelter 37 souls tonight.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

desolation, a study in blue

Posting by cameraphone on board NW Flight 1559 bound for Chicago O'Hare out of Detroit International.


Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
Homeward bound after a quick day trip to Ann Arbor.

Picked up a Mary Wells CD from the Motown store at DTW (love love love the Motown Store).

Quick sushi dinner at the airport. Probably ill-advised, but favoring the vegetarian options.

Feeling flu-ish.

Posting by cameraphone.

Monday, October 20, 2008

analogue prologue to the dialogue


pretzel knish chili

pretzel knish chili

Tom & Rita

The artist Thomas Hart Benton and his wife Rita Piacenza hanging where Rita left them, in the couple's bedroom in Kansas City, MO.

this rotting catastrophe

Dear Congressman:
“The Foxes,” you will remember from your Sunday School days, “have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head.”

It is now more than 90 days since the flood waters hit the valley out here. Ninety days of wrack, ruin, muck -- and stink!

The attached lithograph shows what things are like, as of this day, for thousands of poor hopeless “Sons of Man” in the Kaw river basin. It was made for you and your fellow members of the 82nd Congress. It is not for sale. [1]

It is given you in the hope that you’ll forget the academics of precedent and get out a new bill which will relieve the human side of this rotting catastrophe.

Truly yours,
Thomas H. Benton

Letter to Congress from Thomas Hart Benton accompanying a lithograph of his "Homecoming, Kaw Valley", framed and hanging on the wall of Tom Benton's home in Kansas City, Missouri, which we visited over the weekend.

The Hart home and studio is now a Missouri State Park and the ranger who walked us through the property told us that the lithographs by the American artist were poorly received by Congress -- treated like newsprint and used to blot spilled coffee. They had no discernable impact on the governing body's action toward relieving the suffering of the folks who had been impacted by a massive flood to hit Kansas City in 1951.

"Just like Katrina," said our ranger. "Nothing's changed."

[1] Correction: some things do change. This lithograph is now available for sale at Paramour Fine Arts for $1600 »

because we all need a little something lovely to start the week with

Mondays, with notcatherinezeta & co »

Sunday, October 19, 2008


It's possible that I'm a little too awesome.

Barack Obama at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in NYC.

Ken Kesey once said "if you lose your laugh your lose your footing." This clip is solid evidence that Obama has both of his firmly planted.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

blue sky & brick

blue sky & brick
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
Posting by cameraphone
from Kansas City, MO

Friday, October 17, 2008

ain't gonna study war no more

WWI Memorial, Hospital Hill, Kansas City, Missouri.

Loaded with all kinds of messages re grief gone and glory remaining. It was lovely in the day's fading light, but it seemed to be seated in the monumental confidence that war memorials sometimes have that we're done with catastrophic world conflicts; that we've learned our lesson.

Um... spoiler alert.

Posting by cameraphone from Kansas City, MO

tom benton's place

tom benton's place
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
Posting by cameraphone from the artist Thomas Hart Benton's home & studio in Kansas City, MO.

noguchi & bloch

noguchi & bloch
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
Noguchi's Endsin the Bloch Building of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

Posting by cameraphone from Kansas City, MO

Thursday, October 16, 2008

please check off what you'd like

Here's how it works at the Hotel Savoy in Kansas City, where they've been "offering continuous gracious, elegant, traditional service since 1888," (and last slapped some paint on the walls in 1980): for breakfast you can have anything -- or everything -- on a page long menu that's subdivided into the food groups Soup, Eggs, Lamb, Pork, Veal, Beef, Poultry, Fish & Seafood.

Your options include Lobster Bisque (which is under soup, not seafood), Seafood Gumbo & Oyster Stew (ditto), Eggs Cooked to Your Order, Broiled Lamb Chop, and the traditional pork breakfast meats Bacon, Canadian Bacon, Sausage, and Ham.

Oh: and a Pork Chop.

That's column one.

Column two covers your Veal Scallopines, your Hashes, your Chicken Livers Sauteed with Bacon, and a healthy assortment of swank mid-century seafood dishes including Oysters Rockefeller, Coquille Saint-Jacques, Baked Boston Scrod and Crab Meat Crepes.

Also expected, according to the menu, are pastries, english muffins, cinnamon rolls, hard rolls, juice and coffee, which I suspect is to mitigate the notable absence of any kind of vegetable matter (unless you count the Lamb Sauteed with Artichokes).

Breakfast is included in the price of the room, but only if you submit your choices by 10PM the night before to the front desk clerk who would rather continue the telephone conversation that she was conducting when you first checked in some hours ago.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Posting from my four poster bed at the Hotel Savoy in Kansas City, Missouri.

the most important meal of the day

Courtesy of the Huffington Post's Campaign Trail PDA: The Obama/Biden Edition

Eat up, guys. You've got a lot of work to do.

them's countin' words

We have also found evidence to suggest that McCain and Obama have different thinking styles. Whereas McCain tends to be more categorical in his thinking, Obama is more fluid or contextual in the ways he approaches problems. Categorical thinking involves the use of concrete nouns and their associated articles (a, an, the) and suggests that the person is approaching a problem by breaking it down into its component parts and attempting to put it in meaningful categories. Fluid or contextual thinking involves a higher rate of verbs and associated parts of speech (such as gerunds and adverbs).

From James W. Pennebaker's word count analysis of last night's debate, posted this morning on his blog, Wordwatchers.

Pennebaker's research is grounded in the assumption that "the ways that individuals talk and write provide windows into their emotional and cognitive worlds." He as his colleagues Roger J. Booth and Martha E. Francis have developed the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) application, a text analysis software program that quantifies word usage, from which they then conduct further analysis.

Pennebaker's post regarding Summary Comparisons of the Candidates’ Language in Speeches and Interviews is particularly interesting. He's also the subject of He Counts Your Words (Even Those Pronouns) in Tuesday's New York Times.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008



Making the coffee for my folks on weekend mornings was one of my first grown up jobs -- and one that I fought my sister for until we relented into rotation.

From under the covers, still sleepy from the week, my dad would lay out the prescription -- the ratio of scoops in the flat bottomed basket to the whole pot of water that I’d pour into the Mr. Coffee coffee maker before flipping the switch to drip and breathing in deep as the steam rose from the plastic contraption.

When it was brewed and done I’d deliver the coffee to them in bed, black, taking care to walk slow so as not to slosh, feeling important and useful and accomplished.

When I was in high school a new crew moved in, against the tears and wishes of me and my brothers. My stepmother gone, my sister off to college, my father’s girlfriend and her two girls brought their percolator with them. It stewed up a bitter brew that sat and warmed for too many hours until it grew dark and viscous. I poured my first cup from that percolator, the first that I intended to drink myself, and did, when I was a sophomore in high school and alone in the house. I laced it heavily with cream and sugar. And then poured the second.

We took to each other immediately, coffee and me. I’d flaunt a mug and a bottomless carafe late at night at Denny’s, arguing philosophy with my boyfriend, the way the cool kids flaunted cigarettes.

My habit was so steep in college, and my pockets so poor, that I trained as a barista just to stay caffeinated. (The coffee was free.)

I drink it now with cream after I’ve brewed it through a cone shaped filter and favor a varietal from Chicago’s Intelligentsia, although this morning I’m drinking a cup of Cone Zone, which my Dad and his new and lasting and first girlfriend I’ve ever loved so much, C, delivered when they passed through town a few months ago. Cone Zone is named after the construction zone that currently surrounds the coffee shop that C owns and runs in Grand Junction.

I met C for the first time when my father lay dying in a hospital bed in Grand Junction. He’d talked of her before, but I dismissed her as just the latest of too many to count. When she walked into the ICU, a true cowgirl with long and curly pure white hair, just back and still bruised from her mother’s funeral, and said to my father deep in his coma “oh honey what have you done to yourself?” I knew she was more than that, and cried even harder, knowing he had even more to lose.

That she loves coffee, that she pours a beautiful shot, that she brought us two pounds as a matter of course -- is only one of the reasons that I know we’re kin for sure.

p.s. another way I know: C posts as desertmoon on flickr »

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

that's what I'm talking about

Barack Obama is putting web widgets to work for America.

And proving -- as if it needed to be proven -- that math can change the world.

Dear Sir, I have no complaints. You did this one absolutely right on.

(Unlike, er, Twitter and Email.)(Although, truthfully, you turned that email thing around.)

Monday, October 13, 2008

speaking of wyoming

Something Special
Originally uploaded by Leviathor

how to fly fish like a depression era railroader

trout fishing in america

The second part of Trout Fishing in America by The World's Best Mechanical Engineer.

Rawlins Wyoming is only about 20 miles from the Platte River, and 40 miles from the "Miracle Mile". The Miracle Mile is really the Miracle Six Miles, sandwiched between two reservoirs. It has some of the best fishing in the lower 48 states, and there are plentiful trophy fish in those waters. We never fished the Miracle Mile with our grandparents. Instead we usually fished in beaver dams on the fringes of the Medicine Bow National Forrest. We became specialists in how to fish this peculiar habitat with obsolete gear. Today we still fish the same area, with the same techniques, and with the same ancient gear. Now you too can fish like a depression era railroader, just read on. (Given the current economic conditions, this could be really useful).

To effectively fish beaver dams you need to have at least a passing familiarity with their architecture and environment. The dams we fished straddled the border between the high dessert and the forest. You can stand on top of the plateaus and believe there's no water or trees for 50 miles to the North, and only pines to the south. But when you hike into the canyons, many have spring fed creeks with aspen groves huddling the banks. In this country, where there are aspen groves and creeks, quite often there are beaver. Beaver are amazing critters that completely transform the landscape. They build a dam so they will have a mote for their beaver hut. Gradually they clear the aspen from the banks of the creek. Their short legs do not favor long distance travel on land. So they build beaver runs that extend from the sides of the dam towards the edges of the aspen groves. This allows them to swim most of the distance; they are nothing but grace in the water. Soon willows take root on the face of the dam, providing easier forage for the beavers. The trout usually lie in four main places: in the beaver runs, in the inlets, within a few feet of the face of the dam, and near the entrance to the beaver hut (if you can figure out where that is, it is underwater). Brown trout in particular like to lie in the beaver runs.

The best way to approach a beaver dam is to wade into it from the inlet side. This allows you to have a back cast area that is either reeds, grass, or water, all of which you're unlikely to snag on. It's hard to imagine a more treacherous terrain than the inlet of a beaver dam. There are hidden holes and holes lined with sharp beaver gnawed sticks. The silt is so fine it penetrates and stains everything, and sometimes grabs your feet like quicksand. I've seen my retired grandfather wade into dams like this time and again, and he always emerged in one piece, so you can too. Fan your casts, and if possible align your back cast with a inlets or beaver runs to minimize the chances of snags. It also gives a tiny chance of accidentally catching a trout on your back cast when the fly flashes across the water. I've seen my brother do this a number of times at McLean Creek. If there are any large logs down in the water, fish often lie under them, but your casting needs to be spot on or you may spend your day disentangling yourself from logs.

In the thirties and forties there was only one fishing pole material for the serious fisherman: bamboo. In the modern day world, the bamboo poles have been mostly usurped by graphite and other composites, although there are some very expensive bamboo poles still made. The quality bamboo poles are hexagon shaped. The bamboo is split into very small triangular strips, then bonded together into a hexagon.

Today my brother fishes with my grandfather's pole, although he gives up a few feet of casting distance compared to the yellow Eagle Claw he fished with as a teenager. He uses it in homage to our grandfather, and I have to say he looks brilliant using it. Not that there is anyone watching but me. My grandfather's pole was a nice American made bamboo pole when it was new, probably 60 years ago. He never bought luxuries, this pole is as close as it gets. I'd guess it's probably worth four figures, but it's much more valuable to us as a symbol of an excellent part of our past. Every time he puts it together he rubs the connectors on his neck to lubricate them just a little with skin oil, just as my grandfather had taught us.

I had my grandmother's bamboo pole repaired a few years ago and I generally fish with it. The first time I ever caught a rainbow trout it was with this pole. I was probably 8 or 10 years old, and when the fish hit I grabbed the pole and dashed full speed up the bank. Unfortunately in my excitement I broke the pole cleanly in two.

By coincidence the pole builder that repaired my grandmother's pole had a nearly new WWII era Japanese bamboo backpacking pole that he'd picked up in a trade. I bought it from him for remarkably little. Today grandmother's pole needs some more repair, I'm a bit hard on equipment. In the meantime my backpacking pole fills my need for an antiquated bamboo pole quite nicely.

You can actually pick up an antique bamboo pole on ebay at a remarkably cheap price. The Japanese WWII era poles aren't considered to be very lively, but for $25 you can't complain too much, it's worth that much as a conversation piece. There are American made poles that are better quality that run from $25-$1000. Most poles came with at least one extra tip, try to find one that still has the extra tip in tact. If the original cloth carrier is still with the pole, all the better. Find a pole with hexagonal sections, not round. Generally speaking a longer pole will allow you to cast a little further, so I'd get a 9 footer if available but it's not mandatory. It's hard to believe how many of these vintage bamboo poles are still around in decent or even pristine condition. Your antique bamboo pole may or may not be the finest fishing pole in the world, but when you have a golden brown bamboo rod in your hand you will feel like you can catch fish.

Dry the pole off when you are done fishing, and when you take the pole apart pull on the metal connectors, not on the bamboo sections. This will prevent unnecessary stressing of the bonded joints. (A little engineering aside here: fishing rod connectors are universally designed wrong in my opinion, and are therefore prone to pulling off the rod they are bonded too). In the event two sections of the pole won't come apart, squat down and put the pole behind your knees. Grab one side of the connector with each hand, put the pole in the crease at the back of your knee joints, then spread your knees apart. This technique provides excellent leverage, and almost no risk of breaking the pole accidentally.

For railroader style fishing you have a couple of reel choices. Engineering has come full circle on fly reels in the last 100 years. They originated as simple spools then evolved into the wind up "Automatic" Shakespeare style spring loaded reels, then they devolved back into the simple spools. The "automatic" Shakespeare reels had a clock spring that you wound up. When you wanted to take in line, you pressed a lever on the reel and it retracted the line automatically. Sure they have fancier drag and ratcheting mechanisms, but at the end of the day it's still a wind up spool. Modern reels may be made of aircraft aluminum and have 500 lightening holes in them, but to tell you the truth I've never lost a fish that I thought, "I would have caught that one if my reel was just 5 grams lighter". Today I use one of my grandparent's very old wind up spool reels, probably from the 30's or 40's. My brother uses a wind up Automatic Shakespeare reel, probably from the 1960's. Oddly in many ways his reel is more antiquated than mine since no one uses the "Automatic" reels anymore. You can pick up one these automatic reels for about $15 on ebay, keep your eyes open and you might get one with fly line still on it. Or you can get a spool type fly reel. Some of the antique ones are super stylized turn of the century designs in both brass and nickel-plating. It looks like the spool type reels range from $10- $50 on ebay, and some of them are pretty sexy. Whatever reel you choose, a drop of oil or two will probably extend the life substantially.

You'll want to get floating fly line from a tackle shop if possible. Fly line is a little expensive, but it'll last a decade or two. There are two reasons a tackle shop is worth the few extra bucks for fly line. First, they can look at your pole and recommend a fly line weight that will cast decently for that particular pole. Since I change my gear so rarely (like never), I don't have a good grip on how to match the line to the pole, but the guy at the fly shop will. I'd put it to them as a kind of hypothetical question, "Supposing hypothetically I wanted to fish this ancient bamboo pole and H.G. Wells reel, what weight of line would I want?" The second reason to go to the tackle shop is to deprive the nimrods at Wal-Mart of your business.

While you're at the tackle shop, you'll need a tapered leader too. This is where some of the depression era thinking comes into play. Modern fly fishermen will fish with anywhere between 7 and 10 feet of leader. My grandfather would buy double tapered leaders, and cut them in half so he'd get two leaders for the price of one, but each leader was only about 4.5 feet long. I don't know if he also liked the improved controllability of the shorter leader. You can't buy double tapered leaders anymore, so my brother and I cut down regular tapered leader to about 4.5 feet long. This is where our methods sharply depart from the usual modern methods. We tie a loop on the end of the leader, just as you would a bait hook leader.

Our flies are snelled to match. All modern fly fishermen tie the fly directly onto the end of the leader, then cut it off when they want to change the fly. Snelled flies allow us to change flies quickly without gradually cannibalizing our leaders, and the fly is easier to change when your hands are cold. The only down side is that we will occasionally loose a fish that strikes at the knot between the snells instead of striking at the fly. . Today it's impossible to buy snelled flies, we buy them and snell them ourselves with about 5 inches of leader. You can look elsewhere on the internet for the knots (the knot to tie the fly to the leader is a cinch knot). One upgrade we've made to the knots is we put a tiny drop of super glue on both knots on the fly to diminish the odds of knot failures.

My grandfather almost always purchased dry flies, but wet fly fished with them. He used to buy some of his fishing flies at the territorial prison in Rawlins, where they were made and snelled by inmates. In wet fly fishing you typically let the fly land on the surface of the water, then it usually sinks below the surface while you draw it toward yourself for maybe 10 seconds. He wasn't fishing with dry flies by choice so much as it was nearly impossible to find wet flies when we were kids: everyone was dry fly fishing at that time. In dry fly fishing you make several overhead casts to dry out the fly, then let it sit on the surface for only a few seconds, and periodically dip it in a fluid that helps it float. As a result dry flies are lighter and intended to float, and wet flies tend to be have heavier bodies and are more inclined to sink. It's been my experience that there are few dry fly patterns that won't sink eventually.

My grandfather always fished with two flies on his leader. The second fly is attached to a loop about 16" from the top of the leader. Fishing with two flies has a several advantages: it allows you to try out different fly patterns faster, and it offers two different potentially appetizing meals to the trout. You can also use the upper fly to alter the presentation of the fly on the water. A "parachute" pattern on the top fly tends to kind of float down onto the water, which is great if the fish are easily spooked. A large beetle type pattern can be used on the top fly to limit the sinking depth of the bottom fly to keep it out of moss or other obstructions. There is a downside though, and that is in mossy conditions a multiple fly rig will get fouled more often. Mossy damns seem to go hand in hand with lots of trout, so this can be a chronic problem. Over the last couple of years I've evolved over the last few years towards a single fly while my brother continues to use two. I guess that some of the old timers used to use 3 flies, but this would seem to be a cumbersome rig at best. A few good patterns if you're getting set up with gear are Parachute Adams, Mosquito, Royal Coachman, and Wooly Bugger. It's a good idea to get something of a smorgasbord of colors so that if you see a hatch of something on the water you can at least match the color. My brother and I both prefer the buggier patterns, flies that look like they are a little beat up. There is a school of thought that the smart trout prefers the injured insect to the intact one because it is less likely to get away. This follows from an entire First Law of Thermodynamics view of hunting animals, that the caloric energy expended on hunting prey must be less than the caloric value of the prey, or the hunter will perish.

Sadly a few trips back the plastic sheets in my grandfather's fly book were shattered by baggage handlers on my plane. It was designed for snelled flies and seems to be irreplaceable. Even ebay doesn't seem to be help on this obscure artifact.

My brother and I make an annual pilgrimage to Wyoming to fish the same general areas. For decades we were able to fish a set of dams just inside Medicine Bow National Forrest. My Mother had fished these dams, and my grandparents had fished these dams all the way back to probably the 1930's. My brother would routinely catch between 20 and thirty fish in an evening (catch and release). A few years back however, they logged this valley down to pretty close to the water. The fish vanished. I don't know if they spilled something in the water, or fished it out, or if too much silt is reaching the creek in the absence of the forest. But the brookies are gone.

Our other great traditional spot was the Red Meated Dams (we named these dams after the pink meat possessed by the monster brook trout in these waters). Unfortunately some calamity befell these dams as well, and a few years back the fish vanished from this dam as well. I suspect that they possibly got too warm one hot summer. The fish at this dam always bit right at dusk, possibly due to the water being marginally high for trout in the first place.

The combined failures of these two waters have forced us to look for new dams. It's difficult since some end up being on private property, some washed out, some are too shallow, and some simply lack trout. But there are the few with spectacular fishing. My brother and I recently caught (and released) over fifty fish in a single afternoon in one set of dams. The last couple of years we've also been experimenting with fishing some alpine lakes in the nearby Snowy Range. But in the alpine lakes it is us who are the fish out of water.

The End.

Hispaniola is a miracle.

a found poem

Mountains are stripped
a thousand times

They dig
split rocks
move stones
carry dirt on their backs
to wash it in the rivers

Those who wash gold
stay in the water
their backs bent
so constantly
it breaks them

As for the newly born
they died early

Their mothers
overworked and famished
had no milk to nurse them

Husbands died in the mines
Wives died at work
Children died from lack of milk

In a short time this land
which was so great
so powerful and fertile
was depopulated

My eyes have seen these acts
so foreign to human nature
and now I tremble as I write

Found in Bartolomé de Las CasasHistory of the Indies, written in 1542, and recounted by Howard Zinn in A People’s History of the United States.

By de las Casas' count 7,000 Arawak children died during the three month period he describes above, some of them drowned by their desperate mothers. By his estimation three million people died between 1494 and 1508 under Spain’s new world order.

The title is taken from a letter which Columbus penned to his investors about his discovery of the new world:

Hispaniola is a miracle. Mountains and hills, plains and pastures, are both fertile and beautiful ... the harbors are unbelievably good and there are many wide rivers of which the majority contain gold. ... There are many spices, and great mines of gold and other metals.

o'hare, once.

short term parking, ORD

Early morning, not too long ago.


speaking of FUD

An appearance in a documentary-style program on the Fox News Channel watched by three million people last week thrust the man, Andy Martin, and his past into the foreground. The program allowed Mr. Martin to assert falsely and without challenge that Mr. Obama had once trained to overthrow the government.

The Man Behind the Whispers About Obama in this morning's New York Times.

According to the Times piece Martin, who in 2004 seeded rumors on the Internet that Obama is a radical Muslim (when in fact Obama is not Muslim, or a radical), is a lawschool graduate whose prolific filing of frivolous lawsuits was the subject of a 1993 hour-long CBS news show and whose "admission to the Illinois bar was blocked in the 1970s after a psychiatric finding of 'moderately severe character defect manifested by well-documented ideation with a paranoid flavor and a grandiose character.'"

Dear Fox News: God knows you're lying too.

Related: FUD, Illustrated »

Sunday, October 12, 2008

presidential double header

Wrapping up a weekend of dead presidents: Watched the first two parts of the HBO John Adams biopic last night; catching a live re-enactment of the Lincoln / Douglas debates tonight.

Verdict: Beats watching the live and hopeful ones.

Posting by cameraphone from Naper Settlement, Naperville, IL

Saturday, October 11, 2008

home fires
(where my books wait for me)

Holga. Home.

Section 60

It's green and white, green and white, green and white, and then there's this multicolored wound where Section 60 is, popping out of the landscape, where there are bright flowers, and mementos. It's colorful in a way that, "We're just trying to will everybody back to life."

Filmmaker Matthew O'Neill in this morning's New York Times talking about Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery which he and his colleague Jon Alpert document in their new HBO film Section 60, premiering on Monday.

The documentary contains no interviews; it only observes family and friends visiting the graves of their loved ones who were killed in America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Photo from Christopher Levy's Flickr photoset of Section 60 »

more money we don't have

Right. And since we're talking about money we don't have? Might as well talk about what we're spending in Iraq.

Video by Athletics for Good Magazine

new widget

See sidebar. Courtesy of The Take Away. (Clickthrough to see it all big like and interact with it.)

The electoral college predictor visualization "provides an overview of the predicted outcome of the upcoming US presidential elections. rows depict the results as reported from different news agencies, such as the Washington Post, The New York Times or CNN, while the columns represent the different US states, with their width according to the number of votes. the swing states, & in particular the lack of consensus among the news agencies, can be easily discerned in the middle of the graph."

via Information Aesthetics

Friday, October 10, 2008

and now for a musical interlude (or two)

As kids the four of us shared, arranged and created a vast and varied musical repertoire. Under the direction of my older sister we'd sing complicated and quixotic acappella arrangements that we picked up from wherever -- pop radio, promotional vinyl, television shows and commercials. One of our best bits was an adaptation of Mahna Mahna, lifted straight from the Muppet Show (my sister was the sweet soprano; I was the scat cat).

Which is why this made me all kinds of happy when my brother passed it along -- it's from a buddy of his who posts as agitpopcom:

Yeah yeah: preaching to the choir. But wouldn't you rather have that tune in your head than that voice?

And while we're having a musical interlude, how 'bout a vote of confidence from Ralph Stanley, an American treasure:

The comments on the YouTube page that hosts the Stanley video pretty much sums up the American divide.

trunk show

even still there was sunlight spilling through the leaves of trees

FUD, illustrated

FUD: Fear, uncertainty and doubt. A tactic of rhetoric and fallacy used in sales, marketing, public relations and politics. FUD is generally a strategic attempt to influence public perception by disseminating negative (and vague) information.




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