Saturday, February 28, 2009


Snowmobiling is big business in Northern New England. Really big business.

A 2004 study by Plymouth (New Hampshire) State University and the Institute for New Hampshire Studies suggests just how big.

In the winter of 2003, the total impact on New Hampshire's economy by snowmobilers was nearly $1.2 billion. It represented 1% of the gross state product and more than 10% of all travel spending in the state.

The average New Hampshire resident snowmobiler made 12 trips per season, some of which included overnight stays. The average non-resident snowmobiler made nine trips to New Hampshire each season.

Average per-person, per-day spending in New Hampshire was $67.07 per resident snowmobiler and $88.30 per non-resident. In addition to spending on their trips, each snowmobiler spends $1,830 annually on equipment, clothing, club memberships, insurance and state license fees.

I like motor vehicles. I like the excitement of going fast, and a fast snowmobile provides plenty of excitement. Racing at 90 mph across a snow-covered pond on a snowmobile generates a 200 mph adreneline rush.

Snowmobiles are a lot of fun, and they provide transportation for people living in far northern climes. They also provide a livelihood for many people.

All that being said, snowmobiles are one of the most environmentally unfriendly devices invented by man. Riding a gas guzzling, pollution spewing, motor vehicle into the woods for entertainment is an environmental felony.

All winter, I see caravans of giant 4-wheel drive pickups and SUVs dragging huge trailers full of snow machines up and down the interstate at 70-80 mph. These 10-mpg rigs burn large amounts of fuel and leave behind a wake of hydrocarbon haze. When they reach their destination, they disgorge packs of 10-mpg snow machines which race through the woods burning large amounts of fuel and leaving behind wakes of hydrocarbon haze.

Snowmobiling has become such big business that we justify the felony by saying that it’s vital to the economy. How about looking at the real cost?

Snowmobiles consume an unacceptable amount of precious fossil fuel and pump an unacceptable amount of pollution into our precious atmosphere for the entertainment of a few people.

When does entertainment become too costly?

Six Word Stories

Here’s a game my son, Brian, recommended to me. The object is to write a story using only six words. It’s one of those addictive little games that sharpens your writing skills. I’ve included a few of mine. Send me some of yours!

Engagement ring for sale. Never worn.

She’s pregnant. I’m not the father.

The flashbacks continued his whole life.

The planet exploded after they left.

The tower collapsed on my family.

He didn’t remove one incriminating fingerprint.

The twelfth statue ended up missing.

The water receded. I found her.

Robin Kent & Jim Barner – Artisans at the Bend

Some artists see the world very seriously. Others take their work very seriously. Robin Kent and Jim Barner don’t seem to do either. You get the feeling they’re just having fun.

They create some of the most compelling sculptures and paintings you'll encounter. Their work is visually stunning, clever and artful. And it proves that serious art doesn’t have to be serious.

Each piece is carefully conceived and thoughtfully executed, but you don’t notice that. Instead you think how much fun it would be to have in your living room when friends come over.

Robin and Jim hail from Brandon, Vermont, but their work is featured in galleries around the country. They also exhibit every November at the prestigious Vermont Hand Crafters Fine Art & Craft Show in Burlington, Vermont.

You can see more of their terrific work at:

Last man standing

Here’s what I see as the basic flaw in our War on Terror. We’re not fighting an army. We’re fighting people.

We call them terrorists; but they’re people who passionately believe we’re greedy, imperialist murderers who want to occupy their lands and plunder their resources. And we’ve played right into that belief.

From their perspective, the United States helped the Jews invade the Holy Land after World War II and has since provided Israel with aid and weapons of mass destruction that resulted in tens of thousands of Muslim deaths over the last fifty years.

In 1953, we sponsored a coup in Iran because their Prime Minister Mosaddeeq wanted to nationalize Iran’s British-owned oil company, and we didn’t want to lose control of Iran’s oil supply. We reinstated the Shah, a repressive dictator who had been overthrown by a Muslim revolution.

Over the next two and a half decades, we supported the Shah and his shockingly opulent lifestyle against the wishes of a starving Iranian people. He was ousted again in 1978, and the United States welcomed him here as a friend.

A few hundred outraged Muslim students retaliated in 1979 by taking over the US embassy in Iran and holding American diplomats hostage. The Reagan Administration negotiated a clandestine deal for the release of the hostages in return for US-held Iranian assets and immunity from all charges.

When war broke out between Iran and Iraq, the United States supplied weapons to Iran including a secret arms-for-hostage deal involving the Israelis. Most neighboring countries supported Iraq. Estimates of deaths from that war run as high as 1.5 million.

In 1990, the Bush Administration practically goaded the ruthless Saddam Hussein into invading Kuwait. This provided the US with a reason to invade Iraq and gain control of Iraqi oil fields. In a bombing campaign of historically unprecedented proportions, US armed forces destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure and killed as many as a hundred thousand civilians.

A small number of Muslim extremists again retaliated by bombing New York’s World Trade Center in 1993 and by finally destroying it in 2001. The United States responded by invading Afghanistan and then Iraq. We indiscriminately killed, captured and tortured people as part of our War on Terror. The Bush Administration did it’s best to hide the number of civilian casualties, but international groups report that deaths exceed twenty thousand in Afghanistan and more than a half million in Iraq over the last seven years. And who knows how many maimed and crippled.

Is it any wonder these people believe we're evil? Each time we kill one of them, we confirm their beliefs. Each family member we kill turns the rest of that family against us. Each man we torture ignites hatred among his brothers, cousins and neighbors. We may not share their beliefs, but we damned well better figure out a better way to deal with them.

We’ve been dragged into an endless war – a war than can only end with the last man standing.

It’s time to stop.

Friday, February 27, 2009

160 MPH

One beautiful summer morning a little over forty years ago, I was driving out of Boston on Route 2 to work at my very first job after art school. I was poking along in the slow lane in a decrepit old Volvo 445 Duette.

Suddenly, a sleek white Jaguar 3.8 Mark II sedan with a bright red accent stripe under the windows sped by in the fast lane. As it passed, I was treated to that lovely deep vibrato exhaust note distinctive to six-cylinder Jaguars.

When I arrived at work, the Jag was sitting in the parking lot, and a tall, lanky young man was walking away from it toward the building.

I don’t remember which one of us first struck up a conversation, but Malcolm Lee and I became friends. It was the beginning of a long series of automotive adventures and a friendship that lasts to this day.

Soon after we met, Malcolm replaced the Jaguar sedan with a gorgeous XKE coupe. It was the early model with the 3.8-liter engine, real knock-off wire wheels and covered headlamps, a car that I still believe is one of the most beautiful automobiles of all time.

Malcolm was as anxious to show off his new car as I was to see it; so he came by my house to take me for a ride. We took the back way up to Nashua, New Hampshire, reveling in the way the car handled the winding roads. We stopped for a cup of coffee and then headed home, taking the highway this time.

As we drove down Route 3, I looked over at the big round speedometer. The numbers went up to 160 miles per hour.

“Will it go that fast?”

Malcom looked at me and grinned. “There’s only one way to find out.”

The final section of the highway connecting Nashua and Chelmsford had just been completed. When we reached the smooth new pavement, Malcolm pressed the gas pedal to the floor. The sleek coupe effortlessly accelerated.

I watched the speedometer needle climb to 80, 100, 130 and then 150, my adrenaline level climbing with it.

The road was coming at us faster than I could ever have imagined, but the car tracked straight and steady.

I glanced over at the speedometer again. The needle pointed to just under 160 miles per hour.

We passed a couple of cars that were probably going sixty, but they were barely moving. They were traveling a hundred miles per hour slower than we were.

When we reached the end of the new road, Malcolm slowed down to a crawl. I checked the speedometer. We were still going eighty-five.

We both burst out laughing. It was the first of many such laughs.

Our great-grandchildren are watching

In his 2007 Nobel Peace prize lecture, Al Gore posed the following question about global warming:

“The future is knocking at our door right now. Make no mistake, the next generation will ask us one of two questions. Either they will ask, ‘What were you thinking; why didn’t you act?’ Or they will ask instead, ‘How did you find the moral courage to rise and successfully resolve a crisis that so many said was impossible to solve?’ ”

What should I tell my great-granddaughter?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Emergency Room

A man died at the end of the eleven-to-seven shift in the emergency room at UMass Memorial Medical Center last week. He was hit by a car while jogging at twilight and then life-flighted there, the largest emergency medical facility in central Massachusetts.

After a mostly sleepless night at my daughter’s bedside in the ER, I went to the coffee shop around six-thirty. I returned to find a scene of controlled panic as doctors, nurses and technicians struggled to keep the new patient alive. His cubicle across from my daughter’s bed was crowded with people and machines—all there in a valiant attempt to save him. But in the end, they couldn't.

I watched the doctors and nurses disperse, peeling off blood-spattered face masks, gloves and smocks. They acted serene and detached, as they must; but the lack of emotion was surreal. In the outside world, we react to death with so much emotion.

A nurse in bright flowered scrubs who had just walked in to start her shift whispered to her cohort, “That’s a lousy way to start the day.”

The clean-up staff began their grisly task. Four large cardboard cartons marked BIOHAZARD were set up in the hallway and lined with special plastic bags. Bloodstained linens, dressings and medical paraphernalia were tossed into them. It seemed like everything in the small room was being dumped into those boxes. I was struck by how much blood there was.

Several nurses continued working inside the room. I couldn’t see, but I supposed they were cleaning up the body.

The cleaning crew wiped down the electronic instruments and tossed the wipes into the boxes. When they finished, the boxes were sealed up, stacked on a dolly and wheeled out. Finally, the crew washed the floor in the room and the hall.

When everything was finished, the deceased patient lay in the room awaiting his family. Every couple of minutes, a nurse or technician would come by, look into the room and then turn away. I guess there's still a morbid curiosity about the dead even among medical professionals.

One nurse in particular—a middle-eastern man with a black close-cropped beard—seemed very emotionally involved. I guessed he was the nurse assigned to the patient.

Even though his shift was over, he kept coming back to the room. He moved things around. He wiped down a shelf by the door. He arranged the furniture.

It was clear he was having a difficult time letting go of this patient. I wondered if he wanted to make everything right for himself, the patient or the soon-to-arrive family.

He put on his jacket, threw his backpack over his shoulder and started to leave. As he walked by the room, he looked in. Then he took off his backpack and jacket and put them on the nurse station counter.

He opened a package of moistened wipes and went into the room again. A few seconds later, he emerged. He took one last long look, put on his jacket and picked up his backpack.

I watched him walk down the long corridor, the death weighing heavily on his shoulders.

My daughter still slept, so I walked back out to the waiting room. Outside the large windows, a construction crew was already at work backfilling around the foundation for a new addition. They were oblivious to the drama that had just taken place inside.

A small yellow backhoe danced a mechanical ballet as it dug into the pile of fill, turned and then dumped. Over and over again.

Friday, February 13, 2009

It's official. Judd Gregg is a wimp.

This week, New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg decided that it would be better for him to continue being a Republican obstructionist in the Senate rather than help the President move the United States out of this historic economic crisis. By turning down his President’s request to serve as Secretary of Commerce, Gregg chose partisan politics over progress.

“It has become apparent during this process that this will not work for me,” Mr. Gregg said, “as I have found that on issues such as the stimulus package and the census, there are irresolvable conflicts for me.”

What a wimp! He’s not able to put aside personal politics to serve his country. He doesn’t believe enough in his own ideas to work for them in a bi-partisan administration.

He shouldn’t wait for 2010 to step down. He’s an embarrassment to those of us in New Hampshire who believe in real public service.

Monday, February 9, 2009

It's our war too.

All Americans share responsibility for the actions of our government. We elect the officials and either support or condemn their actions.

We let George Bush and his neo-con cronies start an unprovoked war in Iraq. We stayed quiet even after we knew the rationale for war was a lie. We saw the videos of Abu-Ghraib. We didn’t demand our Senators and Congressmen stop the violence and abuse. We sat comfortably in our living rooms in front of the TV clicking our tongues over the awful things our government was doing as if it was out of our hands.

If our soldiers and mercenaries murdered innocent Iraqi civilians, they must be held accountable. If our military and intelligence personnel tortured and abused prisoners, they must be prosecuted. If the Bush Administration broke the law, they must face the consequences. We can’t pretend these things didn’t happen and blithely continue on with the rest of our lives. We let them happen.

So we must accept the responsibility for all the brave young men and women who were sent on a fool’s errand and returned home broken. We have an obligation to help make our veterans whole and return them emotionally intact to civilian life. We owe them that.

We allowed them to be sent to war.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Public Retirement Insurance

Here’s my idea for public retirement insurance:

For about $600 retail and hopefully even less in quantity, the government could issue every citizen who turns sixty-five a Model 637 Smith & Wesson revolver and one bullet. When a retiree decides there’s no more point in living, he or she could blow their brains out.

For less than one month’s retirement check, we could save years of social security payments to tired old folks who have nothing to live for. They would die with the satisfaction of knowing they saved their country money by ending their miserable lives. And there would be more money left for well-adjusted oldsters.

The Social Security deficit would disappear and politicians could again begin dipping into it for pet projects. Smith & Wesson would become so profitable that it could offer deep discounts to law enforcement departments. And it would create new jobs to help the floundering economy.

As retirees died, their handguns would be turned in so the government could recycle them to new retirees and generate even greater savings.

It could be the solution to our social security shortfall.

Model 637
1-7/8" Revolver

SKU: 163050
Caliber: .38 S&W Special +P
Capacity: 5 Rounds
Barrel Length: 1-7/8"
Front Sight: Serrated Ramp
Rear Sight: Fixed Notch
Firing System: N/A
Grip: Uncle Mike's Boot
Trigger: .312" Smooth Target
Hammer: .240" Semi-Target
External Safety: N/A
Frame: Small - J Frame Rd
Finish: Glassbead
Overall length: 6-5/16"
Material: Aluminum Alloy / Stainless Steel
Weight Empty: 15 ounces

*Suggested Retail, Dealer Sets Actual Pricing.

(photo and specs courtesy of the Smith & Wesson web site )

Barry Van Dusen

I’ve known Barry Van Dusen for many years. He created wonderful illustrations for my ad agency’s clients back in the 1980s. In addition to his significant talent, what always impressed me about Barry is his unswerving dedication to his work. He is a consummate artist.

Barry is having an exhibition of his recent work at Mass Audubon's Joppa Flats Education Center in Newburyport, Massachusetts from February 22 to April 5, 2009.

Ttiled At the Water's Edge, the exhibit will feature more than 35 paintings in both oil and watercolor, many on display for the first time. Coastal subjects from various regions of New England will be represented, along with subjects from Barry's rambles around the swamps, rivers, ponds and lakes near his home in central Massachusetts.

Wrackline Wraith

Barry will host a meet-the-artist event on Sunday, March 1, from 2-4 pm. If you want to meet a very talented artist and see some beautiful work, do yourself a favor and attend.

The artwork will be for sale with a portion of proceeds to benefit the programs of the Joppa Flats Education Center. The Center is open 8:30 am to 4 pm, Tuesdays through Sundays (and Monday Holidays). For more information and directions, visit or call 978-462-9998.

If you want to see more of Barry’s work, visit his website at You can also visit his studio in Princeton, Massachusetts where he displays a wide selection of original works.

Loafing Godwits

Bluebird and Crabapples


It's easy to age gracefully when your life is full of grand accomplishments. We all admire Katherine Hepburn, Jimmy Carter and Mother Theresa.

But who admires a retired auto body repairman with a persistant cough, a divorced wife and an estranged son.

It’s difficult to be old and graceful when your life is full of clumsy mistakes.

Friday, February 6, 2009

31° Below Zero

It was 31° below zero the other morning when I drove up to St. Johnsbury.

The storm door on the back porch opened hard. When I stepped off the porch, it sounded like I was walking on Styrofoam. The hinges creaked as I pulled open the car door, and the icy cold leather seat stung the back of my thighs as I slid inside. The engine turned over like it was filled with molasses, but at least it started.

Every little imperfection in the frozen road surface was telegraphed up through the car’s unyielding suspension into my now frozen buttocks as I drove down the hill and over the bridge across the Connecticut River. When the needle on the temperature gauge finally started to move, I switched on the fan. It squealed in protest.

As the inside of the car warmed, I thought back to another time I’d been out in such fiercely cold weather.

On New Year’s Day 1993, my wife and I drove up across the border into Quebec to take pictures. It was a bright clear morning when we left a friend’s house in northern Vermont. The temperature was –15°.

I got some beautiful shots on the back road up to Sherbrooke, but by noon a good snowstorm had blown in. We weren’t far from a picturesque round barn in Barnston that I had photographed the previous summer, so I decided to take some shots of it in the wintry weather before we turned back. I wasn’t concerned about getting stuck because my trusty old Volvo wagon wore four Gislived snow tires.

It was snowing harder, and the wind was howling when we reached the barn. I pulled into a plowed driveway and put on my hat, gloves and long wool stadium coat. Then I gathered up my camera and tripod and headed out into the field beside the barn.

I’ve never taken photos under such adverse conditions. The wind sucked the heat away from my body in spite of numerous layers of warm clothing.

I set up my tripod and snapped a few pictures. On the third shot the shutter froze. After coming that far in that weather, I didn’t want to go home empty-handed; so I took the camera off the tripod and stuffed it inside my coat.

After several minutes, I pulled out the camera and snapped a few more shots. I repeated this process several times until I was sure I had a good picture. By then, I was really feeling the cold.

When I turned to head back to the car, I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t find my tracks in the snow. I was caught in a whiteout in the middle of a large field with the temperature well below zero. After a moment of vertigo, I set off in the general direction of the car. With nothing to guide me, I couldn’t tell if I was even going in a straight line.

I strained to see some landmark.


Finally, I spotted a phone pole. I worked my way toward it and climbed over the snowbank into the road. I could see the faint outline of the house where the car was parked and headed in that direction.

The warmth of the car was sublime. I peeled off my coat, hat and gloves and held my frozen fingers against the heater grilles as the car rocked with each gust of wind. My wife looked up from her book and asked me how it went. I told her she didn’t want to know.

Looking at the photograph still makes me cold.

Andrew Wyeth

My favorite artist, Andrew Wyeth, died. I’ve loved his work since I first attended art school. He was the artist that inspired me.

Wyeth was the subject of much controversy. Critics often dismissed him as a self-absorbed sentimentalist – more commercial illustrator than artist. The media indulged their tabloid tendencies by exploiting his Helga paintings. Dealers promoted his work because it was immensely profitable to do so. But Andrew Wyeth had a huge audience of people who admired his work.

I never met Wyeth. I attended his shows at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Currier Gallery in Manchester, New Hampshire. I made pilgrimages to the Brandywine Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and the Olson farm in Cushing, Maine. I own several books that chronicle his work.

To me, Andrew Wyeth was one of the most accomplished painters of modern times.

As an aspiring artist, I find his drawing skills and mastery of the dry-brush tempera medium are unmatched. As an experienced graphic designer, I admire the masterful subtlty of his compositions. As a person who has also struggled with depression, I relate to the somber beauty of his paintings.

But the ultimate value of art is how well it communicates with you. Whether it reaches out and draws you in. Whether it touches your soul. Andrew Wyeth’s work does all three for me.

These are a few of my favorite Wyeth paintings. If you click on the images, you can see them larger.

Trodden Weed

Master Bedroom


Toll Rope


Northern Point

Garret Room

Pennsylvania Landscape

Day Dream