Tag Archives: connecticut

Fuchsprellen Colog-nuh

A quick update on the adventures of Fuchsprellen. If this band is wrong I don’t wanna be right…

We secured a date at Cafe Nine in New Haven, on very short notice, and played a double bill with Light Upon Blight on November 9. LUB is Jeff Cedrone’s project, and I have been playing bass along with Peter Riccio on drums. Normally we would have Neil McCarthy on alto sax but he couldn’t make it for this gig. This means that the Fuchsprellen rhythm section opened as a trio under Jeff’s direction, then we switch back to Fuchsprellen mode with the Fuchsprellen Horns. This could go horribly wrong, but so far it has not. Jeff’s concept with LUB is heavier, darker, and more brutal than 90% of anything Fuchsprellen does. The result is improvised “doom jazz” in power trio format.

Note: this is an expanded version of the “Mother’s Day Debacle” show where LUB and Fuchsprellen played trio sets in the same way: LUB trio, followed by Fuchsprellen trio. Just as a musician can train for sight reading, or chord chart reading, or soloing over set forms, there is a strong New Haven area improvisational tradition that has New Haven Improvisor’s Collective at its core. All of the musicians I have been involved with through NHIC have improvisation backgrounds and ambitions, but the formalized work done at NHIC has helped with both vocabulary/skill building as well as providing context for musicians to launch their own projects, like LUB, and Fuchsprellen, among many. But I Digress…

We had a trio of reeds for the Fuchsprellen set: John Venter on tenor sax, Richard Brown on Alto, and Steve Chillemi on bass clarinet. The rhythm section is there to provide support for the horns, and keep them flying for the entirety of the set. One thing is for sure, these guys are ready to rock from the downbeat. The hardest thing we face is giving the rhythm section a chance to settle in before the horns get down to bid-nezzzzz. We did a great job at finding balance at this gig (audio to come, real soon now, and maybe video too).

Huge thanks to Michelle and the good folks at Cafe Nine, and all the people who turned out for the gig. We had an excellent crowd for a Sunday , and I expect that we will be back at the Nine over the winter. Hooo-Yeahhhhh!!!!

IMG_0842.JPG
Light Upon Blight – photo by Hank Hoffman

IMG_0836.JPG
The Fuchsprellen Horns – photo by Hank Hoffman

Can Politics ever really reach Bottom?

As the results trickle in from Connecticut’s 2014 midterm election I can’t help but wonder if the process can get any worse. It was impossible to find substantive discussion on either side. Republican candidate Tom Foley apparently spent the past four years in cryogenic suspension because he was less informed about every issue that he was when he ran four years ago. He either refused to answer questions about actual state policies, or admitted ignorance but made references to his problem solving skills, and gave no example of them but trust him they are impressive. Incumbent Democrat Dannel Malloy fell into a trap of taking the bait on nonsense issues. His record might not be the kind of thing that voters are thrilled about (sheparding a state back from a global economic meltdown without making things worse) but it is his record. His approach has worked, but it required state tax increases and a slower pace of deficit reduction in exchange for shielding the state’s 169 towns and cities from funding cuts. Since all property taxes are assessed locally this means that the citizens of Connecticut were spared mil rate increases that impact the poor and working poor especially hard.

Asleep yet? I wouldn’t be surprised. Malloy has stayed true to his “good government” blue collar roots. In return he has been largely tuned out by the electorate.

Foley had one pitch: “that stuff you don’t like, I wouldn’t have done that”. See. Easy to digest. No policy angle. You can go on with your day unencumbered by facts, figures, data, policy details, or anything else that can vaguely be pulled under the heading of “reality”. His track record is either sketchy, hazy, or negative. Six months heading the Provisional Authority in Iraq, where U.S. lucre was hauled away by the wheelbarrow load by… well, nobody knows who. But billions of dollars were unaccounted for. This was also over a decade ago, and the entire venture was largely undocumented. And he is a corporate guy. A business guy. All we really know about his corporate ventures is that he made millions upon millions of dollars and played hardball with labor.

But they had debates.That should have proved edutaining! Errrrr, No. The debates were like mud wrestling without the charm, and the voters found out nothing the really needed to know to make an informed decision. Nobody seemed to care. They were too busy staking out some imaginary high ground. There is no high ground. There is only swamp land.

So you have a showdown between a sitting Governor who was not that able to frame his policies in a way that appeals to voters, and a guy who has never held any elected office and who couldn’t remember his running mate’s name with three weeks to go before election day. Surprised that the election will be a nail-biter?

Good Night. Good Luck. Good Grief.

Bicycle Thoughts in Deep Winter – 2

One great resource for bicycle reading is Urban Velo magazine out of Pittsburgh. In the great tradition of mags like Tape-Op and Beer Advocate, it is a sharp focus mag with a strong identity and strong opinions. In this case Urban Velo has a fixed-gear focus with a strong undercurrent of Bike Friendly and Bike Awesome development. Check them out, and if you like them get a subscription and support them.

Been There, Haven’t Done That

As much as I like what I see in places where bikes have a place in every day life, it is not lost on me that for every Portland, OR story or Manhattan High Line, there is China. China was bike-dominated until as recently as 15 years ago, and has since given over to the automobile in a huge way. I believe that is an indicator that much of this urge to return to bike-friendly fantasy land could be seen as a First World thing, a luxury item where it is easy to want it when you don’t feel you need it. But the difference, as I see it is about where on the development continuum you are. China is a rapidly growing economy with a huge demand for western conveniences. In time they will want to be less dependent on fossil fuels and want a return to bicycle-scale transport. What “First Worlders” have in spades is the opportunity to become more flexible and less dependent. Bike lanes in places like the US could be like Social Yoga, bringing flexability back to a too-rigid frame.

Aggro Culture

In my small part of the world the bike world is dominated by “racer types”. They are nice folks and all. You know, some of my best friends wear spandex bibs! There is a kind of split in the bicycle world between “racer types” and pretty much everyone else. Everyone else rides for fitness or for enjoyment. Racer types ride in more of a competition mindset, and they typically ride faster (less differential between their speed and the speed of a car). Far from being the spandex mafia (though they are) the racer type is a good fit when you lack bike infrastructure. That physical and mental profile can get you comfortable with sharing roads that lack even the most basic bike facilities, like a shoulder with painted line. In areas with real bicycle infrastructure the rider is able to ride in a more relaxed fashion, in normal clothes, at a more moderate pace. The bicyclists we see in Amsterdam, or Copenhagen, or Montreal for that matter, don’t have to duke it out with inattentive drivers on their commute. The “barrier to entry” is much lower, and in the best cases the barrier is actually higher for automobiles. As opposed to some cases where there is a “chicken or egg” paradox, in transit there is no paradox. The transit follows the path of least resistance. The best infrastructure provides the least resistance. If we had throngs of square-peg dorks on Dutch Bikes clogging up secondary roads it would be obvious, but in the case of suburban New England, the bikes are the effect, not the cause.

Back to the Future

To tie back in with the previous post: In central Connecticut, I think that the pessimism over Fastrak is based on lack of experience with successful transit projects. We have a popular rail-to-trail system that recreational bicyclists love, but it does not act as a commuter route for most users. That is recreation infrastructure (linear park) but it is a bad example for a commuter solution. The target for Fastrak is getting people into Hartford for work or entertainment, and then home safely. As the Capitol of Connecticut, and one of the most commuter-intensive cities I have ever been around, there is hope that demand for a better/cheaper solution to local transportation should be a winner. The on-the-books population of Hartford is roughly 125,000, but the “daytime” work week population gain is anywhere from 70,000 and up depending on your data source. A city that bloats from 125,000 to 200,000 in the morning and then deflates by 6pm. That is a commuter rich environment, and an option poor environment.

One of the weirdest arguments is that nobody will use infrastructure. Every example seems to point in the opposite direction. We have Metro North rail system linking the shoreline from New Haven to NYC and beyond. It is positively clogged with riders, and any increase in capacity is filled in short order. We have rail-to-trail and greenway projects that are again, filled to the brim with walkers, bikers, strollers, birders, and if you want to observe the Yeti-like rollerblade, that’s where you go. The same for State Park infrastructure, rivers with fishing and swimming, and boating opportunities, and infrastructure of their own. So we can assume that if you build it, people use it. Just as in those scenarios we can facilitate that use, just as we have done by connecting hundreds of thousands of rural residents to highways and malls with vast networks of solid two-lane. Nobody is asking for infrastructure at that level, but the scale shows how resources are allocated to support a single mode of transportation.

Bicycle Thoughts in Deep Winter

The winter of 2012 was a wonderful aberration. In most of New England it was the “winter without a winter”. While some people remember the lack of skiing, skating, ice fishing, or snow plowing, my memories involve bicycles. Not the lack of bicycles, but the amazing gift of a winter bicycling season. Unseasonably warm temps meant that I was taking rides around town in January, and not covering every inch of exposed skin against frostbite-inducing winds.

This winter, not so much. It has been business as usual with heavy snows, cold arctic-born winds, and our favorite form of frosty excitement: Wintry Mix! If it is, say, 37F and raining, and maybe some ice, sleet, snow, or other unknown matter is along for the ride, you’ve got Wintry Mix. Actually it is formal slang for “crappiest of winter weather” and can mean anything from a foot of ice nuggets to rain showers onto frozen ground at 19F… black ice machine weather. As a result there has been less time for riding and more time for thinking about riding.

Bike Curious

On top of that I have been following the progress of CT Fastrak, the project previously known as the New Britain Busway. It has many of the markings of a successful transit diversification project. As a pure transit service concept, this particular project is a loser. It provides one mode, rubber-tire buses on a closed roadway, in an effort to provide a service that nobody asked for. At least not that we know of. I have been around Connecticut long enough, and New Britain specifically, to know that it is possible that *many* people in New Britain are big fans but don’t have a voice or don’t feel comfortable in the current discussion.

There is a silver lining for some of us, tarnished as it may be: the southern half of the Fastrak project includes a 5 mile bike/pedestrian path. That solves a problem for me by eliminating one of the worst sections of my bike-to-work route. As usual, it creates another problem by dumping me in a residential area with zero bike infrastructure. That is where I would have been anyhow, but the idea is that the bike route ends near absolutely nothing. If there is nothing but the chance to ride on the shoulder of the road and battle it out with the texting and driving crowd, it can very easily turn into a kevorkian-esque piece of social machinery.

One thing I would like to find is a commitment to development that leverages the Fastrak project. If you are a struggling city you could do worse than have your own transit corridor to jobs and commerce. Location of residential or commercial development with good access to the Fastrak system would seem to be a given. To me, that is the identifying trait of successful transit development. The city needs to buy in for it to be a success. This could mean residential development in the South End or on the East Side, with solid tie-in to Fastrak.

I need to see more about mayor Tim O’Brien’s planning vision before resolving that question. I think he is doing a solid job as mayor, so maybe I need to look harder. In fact, I will. To hear the anti-busway voices, providing transit from New Britain to Hartford, Connecticut is a masterpiece of unintentional comedy. And of course, if that drives the dialogue, they could be right.

Bike Friendly

I recently had the very good fortune to attend a few events where the new direction of the Connecticut DOT has been touted, and even illustrated. The Bike Walk Connecticut membership dinner was a last minute thing, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. Bike geek stuff is usually a hit with me. On top of that I was able to see Dan Esty, the Commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP, where I am employed), speak on the topic of transit infrastructure and how great bicycles are! I have seen the same thing as part of my job, but seeing it “in the wild” was good for some perspective. Dan Esty was an infotational and positive as always. That is a compliment.

As well, there is a 600lb gorilla in most of the high-level communication about bike transit. I appreciate the enthusiasm, no doubt, but most of these presentations miss the fact that those bicycles are ridden on roads with zero bike-safety structure. You might get some painted lines, maybe even a “sharrow” or two. Might. probably not.

Bike Agnostic

Being bike-friendly at the destination is about showers and bike storage. We have had that at DEEP headquarters for a while now thanks to a few people who saw opportunity and bingo! Bike Racks! I had the good fortune to attend an awards event where a Deputy Connecticut DOT Commissioner awarded a Bronze Bicycle Friendly Business award to DEEP because of the agency’s bike-friendly policies and basic infrastructure (Bike Racks!). The DOT showed up with a great slide show on the bicycle infrastructure improvements in Connecticut. I am looking for a link to that content. It is a good example of how priorities at the top effect the actions of the agency.

One of the projects he brought up was Fastrak. I took the opportunity to ask, after the meeting broke up, “why didn’t we get the last 5 miles of bike trail on Fastrak?” Apparently the right of way was too narrow to accommodate more bike lane. I nodded and all, but I have a hard time believing it. I believe the answer, but I wonder what the prospect for the entire project is with the half measures and lack of continuity. As another attendee said “If they needed the space for cars, they would get it”.

I am happy to have a 5 mile section of bike path, so it is a net positive for me [less likely to be run down by a driver hitting 65mph on Cedar Street]. But, it would be many times more useful if Fastrak extended into Hartford. The right of way issues should be a spur in the replacement infrastructure department, but it seems to be off the radar. The challenge now will be to upgrade the roadways that extend from the ends of the bike path, giving them wider shoulders and better sightlines, and allowing more of the surrounding population to reach the trail by bike, and end up in bikeable distance to their destination. That is how you link a community to a job source, and consumers to stores, without tying them to the car as a solution..

HEBBY ROTAYSHUM!!!

fuchsprellen update:

Fuchsprellen Fever! Catch It!  Our friend Ernst shot a video at the January 3, 2013 Best Video show and it is currently experiencing “hebby rotayshum” on New Haven Cable Access…

Two videos up, and a few more in the pipeline:

https://www.youtube.com/user/fuchsprellen3000

Audio from 3 January, 2013 at Best Video now free, or best offer at:

http://fuchsprellen.bandcamp.com/

And one track from best Video, plus some archival stuff, free for the streaming at:

Coming soon: bandcamp album from 13 January at the Outer Space, Comp of the first two fuchsprellen recordings, reboot of some material from early 2012 “proto-fuchsprellen”, and perhaps a new studio/ambient piece.

Quick Note on CT Gun Law

When I applied for a concealed carry permit in CT it was apparent that this wasn’t some rubber stamp process.

  • Town, State and Federal background checks with fingerprinting.
  • Three written reference letters.
  • NRA Safety Certificate.
  • Local and State review before approval.
  • 5-year review and renewal process

For the reference letters I needed to involve friends and family in the process.  For the prints and background checks I needed to meet with my local police department.  In short, I went through everything involved in a major crimes arrest except for the arrest record, and had to deal with law enforcement in-person to get through that process.

Note that in CT you do not need a carry permit to purchase a rifle or shotgun, though it does help out on the paperwork.  You do have to have your ID run though a background check database.  As long as you come up clean you can buy all you can afford.  So on one hand, Connecticut is a strict state from a Gun Control perspective.  On the other it is not a lot harder to purchase an AR-15 than it is to purchase a lawnmower.

The only control over gun storage occurs “after the fact”.  In the case of the Newtown shootings Nancy Lanza might be in jail right now if she had not been murdered by her son, but there is no up-front control over storage of and access to guns.  No limits on quantity of ammunition.  As well, the limits on magazine capacity and ammunition type are only enforced ex post facto.  That is true across the nation.  Can we as a nation tolerate the intrusion necessary to separate gun control over ownership limits?  According to the NRA, the answer is no.  Maybe that is where the front line on this conversation might be best drawn.

 

Silence of the Wolves

Less than two weeks ago you didn’t have to look far to hear the NRA squawk box holding forth on the relationship between a national tragedy and a national call for better gun regulation:

Eleven days ago—since when two mass shootings have taken place, this one in Newtown and another earlier this week at a shopping mall in Oregon—the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) president, referring to yet another shooting, bemoaned the media “[seizing] on the back of this national tragedy to try to piggyback their anti-Second Amendment national agenda right on top of the back of the national tragedy and try to force it on Americans all over the country.” Mr LaPierre, like the NRA’s Twitter page, has been silent today.

Read more: Here

So, where is LaPierre and his rhetoric after two more “major” tragedies?   Uh, they shut down their Twitter and Facebook accounts is where they have been.  In addition to Clackamas and Newtown, buried in the newsfeed noise, have been a host of other gun-violence episodes in the past 72 hours, and a foiled plot to attack an Oklahoma school involving guns… and because we ‘murrikens loves us some ‘spolzhuns… bombs.
I find LaPierre’s statement to be particularly disingenuous.  Note that the NRA will exploit virtually any piece of “evidence” that they can frame as supporting their positions.  I can’t remember the NRA failing to exploit tragedies in nations where there is strong gun control (Norway, anyone?) or at least the assumption of strong gun control, as evidence that gun control doesn’t stop tragedies.  Yet the NRA has the balls to tell others to remain silent on the same issues.  The NRA is simply on the wrong side of this argument.  Instead of using their supposed expertise and their very real and extensive membership base to craft sensible and effective gun legislation, they have chosen to be the Vatican of Firepower.  They got what they need, and plenty of tithers feeding their organization, and they aren’t going to listen to any outside information.  The occasionally venture out onto their balcony to issue directives at the masses, and then skulk back into the shadows.  Dialogue is for the losers.
Much like the ramblings of halfwits like Mike Huckabee, LaPierre is answering a question that nobody asked, ever.  The NRA is a firearms industry protectionist lobbying group masquerading as a civil rights organization.  Real civil rights recognizes that justice is often a process of give and take, and that there are two sides to the process.  If your side is all “take” and no “give” then you get stasis, not progress.  Sadly the NRA is content to play for stasis because the chessboard is heavily weighted in their favor now.  Note that this is much like the GOP playing for stasis now that the wealthy and corporations are paying historically low taxes, if you were looking for a current events analogy.  They both use that current advantage to generate more and bigger donations from their respective bases.
To wrap on a personal point of reflection: I used to think that the NRA was a 2nd Amendment organization, and my response on why I would be a member was “because I wish every part of the constitution has an organization of that size and power”.   And I really do have that ideal as an example of “things that would be good”.  As well I listened hard to the replies in those conversations and did a lot of research to see if the NRA was really about the Constitution.  I won’t say there was none, but what there was lacked any real substance beyond propagandizing.  I had to come around, though it isn’t that far, to the realization that the NRA’s attachment to the 2nd Amendment is purely window dressing.
Extra Credit: the folks in Vegas might say that the odds are very high that when we do hear from the NRA it will be a brief nod to the victims, and then right back to the equivalent of a Papal Mass.  Any takers?

Each Tragedy is an Argument for Gun Control

In what is becoming a kind of trend, Reason and Politics has written an entry in response to today’s tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.  Josh wrote a piece that I could have written almost verbatim and it would be entirely accurate.  Please give it a read.

I grew up around guns, was educated on their destructive power well before being educated about their use, and as a result did not grow up as a “gun nut” or even a “gun romantic”.  My father was involved in competitive target shooting with the US Army, and that was the tradition I was handed.  We weren’t hunters, plinkers, or military enthusiasts.  We were paper-punchers, specifically practicing the discipline of “bullseye” shooting.  Around here it is represented in the main by 50-foot indoor gallery competition with .22 caliber pistols.  It is the firearms equivalent of the chess club.  But even from that small bore tradition, I have had to do a lot of soul searching about my relationship with a sport, a technology, a government, and a group of psychotics called the NRA.

An NRA membership was a requirement for membership in my local range, and I didn’t think much of it 15 years ago.  Then I started getting their political mailings, and I honestly looked for anything other than fear mongering in their propaganda.  I found nothing of any use.  I have engaged some NRA type folks on the topic and it was frighteningly like reading those mailings… a lot of hot air and fear-baiting and basically zero facts.  Also, zero tolerance for discussion. A hard line, no debate ideology.

Like almost every other aspect of my life, I believe in voting with my voice, my wallet, my feet, etc… And with the NRA I voted with my wallet when two years ago I made the conscious decision to let my NRA membership lapse, and now my voice.  The spectre of an assault weapons ban is, and I don’t think this is breaking news, the prime motivator of many NRA members and the NRA leadership.  The main reason, I believe, is because they couldn’t win an honest debate on the issue.  Same for magazine capacity limitations and barrel length and automatic fire capability, and so on.  What the NRA is saying is that despite being powerful enough to snuff out all attempts at regulating guns in the United States, they fear that once they yield on any point it will cause a domino effect of regulation.  Their supposed show of strength is actually a show of weakness.

Each individual needs to make their own path through this tragedy.  I make the choice to start walking the walk as well as talking the talk.  I hate to say that I am not even sure where to start on engaging a progressive and effective route toward gun control.  I know that it doesn’t mean a wholesale firearms ban.  I also know that in the US of A we are kinda stupid and everything ends up being some kind of “all or nothing” debate.  As long as both sides remain extreme on this issue there will be no effective legislation.  Sounds a lot like our fiscal cliff showdown, unfortunately.

New Britain-Hartford Busway pt1

Dumb All Over

The Connecticut DOT has been planning a busway from New Britain to Hartford, and is supposedly in the “home stretch”.  In ConnDOT-terms that means that sometime in the next decade you might move from hearings to the bid process.  Glacial Progress is the order of the day. It would seem that taking an underused railway bed and returning it use as an active transportation corridor would be a win-win project.  Look around the region, if not the world, and you see evidence that transit projects create economic hubs, jobs, and opportunities.  The T System in Boston, MA is a major economic corridor.  Home prices near T-Stops are higher than those elsewhere.  Retail and service business can leverage transit traffic for everything from convenience stores, gallery malls, and even the ubiquitous taxi services.

As simple as it would seem to explain the benefits of transit infrastructure investment to the communities that would be hosting that investment, this busway is becoming a layer-cake of what is wrong with transit planning in America:

  • Planning by an agency that is hostile to mass transit
  • Opposition by politicians who are hostile to intelligent discussion
  • Lack of Vision by citizens who can’t leverage an opportunity
  • Resistance by communities who fear change

That’s not a complete list, but you get the picture.  This busway project is not dependent on some kind of Jetsons-like unproven technology.  The technology is off-the-shelf old-school stuff.  The money is available through a routine bonding process.  The roadblocks to this busway will not be technological or financial, they will be social.  The host communities have been built “facing away” from the railway corridor (the busway uses an existing railway… more on that in pt2), in both the physical and societal sense, and those communities are now being asked to accept a new use of that space.  Residential and commercial development has occurred, centered on the automobile and the roads that accommodate the automobile, at the same time that rail use on the railway has declined.  This creates a form of NIMBY in the host communities, instead of a PIMBY (Please, In My Back Yard) reaction that could have resulted from a positive approach to leveraging infrastructure investment.

The DOT has taken their typical “lowest common denominator” knuckledragger approach to solve a problem with the only hammer they have ever known: rubber tires on blacktop.  Conventional buses on a closed roadway is about the least effective form of mass transit possible, and (in my opinion) the least best use for this transit corridor.  The DOT is doing nothing less than replacing one single-mode system (cars on surface streets) with another single-mode system.  The busway plan has no bike lanes, no pedestrian facilities, and no set-aside for future expansion/retooling to light rail.  You could possibly see a move to a “guided busway” in the distant future, which is akin to lipstick on a pig.

Next Up: a 300 foot wide mountain range in Connecticut

Ragged Mountain Project

Happy New Year and I wish y’all a great 2010.

For the new year I’m starting a new blog project…

It has been about five years since I started making an effort to photograph the Ragged Mountain area as part of my usual hiking activity. Ragged has been one of my favorite places to hike and climb and decompress and whatnot for a long time. I started coming to Ragged as a kid, when my hiking and bicycling adventures led me beyond the Meriden Mountain ridge behind my house. That was over 30 years ago. I was about 13 when I rode my bike to the south levee at Wasel Reservoir, and I started hiking into the woods and up to the top of the Main Cliff at that time. By the time I was in high school I had been watching some technical climbing, and even got a chance to toprope a climb with a borrowed harness, with a climbing party that invited me to take a shot at something easy at the Small Cliff. While still in High School I met my good friend Harry White, who was a very active climber. With partners/belayers in short supply I was able to get in a lot of traprock routes, mostly at Ragged and the surrounding crags.

I picked up a lot of experience in rope handling, rigging belays, rapelling, self-belay techniques, and actual climbing… but for some reason I have very few photos from that period. At the time that I was climbing I was also taking a load of black and white photos, doing my own darkroom work, and basically nagging everyone for tips on darkroom and composition techniques. I had a small set of climbing photos in my collection of negatives, but I had a binder full of negs either stolen or discarded while I was at CCSU in the 80’s, and they were in there. I am still finding old sets of photos, and still hope that some kind of classic image from that period shows up. What I have now is about five years worth of digital images and I hope you find some of them interesting.

Over the course of 2010 I hope to post images from the month/season. I will also be making posts regarding the history of climbing at Ragged, my personal recollections and reflections on my experience there, and maybe the occasional “guest post”.