Massachusetts Weather

It may not be knowledge to everyone in the world, but Massachusetts (and New England in general) is known for its changeable weather. That description accurately captures the drastic differences between seasons (with summer getting to a very humid 30+ degrees Celsius/90+ Fahrenheit, and winter -20C/-10F and colder), but doesn’t prepare anyone for the rapid changes in weather that happen here all too frequently. Unfortunately, most of the changes involve precipitation of some form, with numerous distinctions drawn between different kinds of snow/hail/sleet/”wintry mix”/etc.

Anyway – don’t move to Massachusetts for the weather: whether you prefer hot or cold, you’ll get both. It does allow for very different pictures, though. Look at the following two photos taken from my window:

Autumn/Fall
Winter

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The Countdown Begins

I just realised that I have three weeks left in the US before I leave for the UK.

This is a rather daunting prospect, because I have obviously done very little in terms of organising my departure, moving, etc. So far, all I have organised are my flights and somewhere to stay in the UK for three weeks. So I have a huge mound of vaguely defined things to do in the next few weeks, on top of all the goodbyes that I want to squeeze into that time…

Wish me luck.

Whoosh

To all my most sincere apologies: I’ve been increasingly caught up in work and my upcoming move to the UK. I’ve struggled to maintain any energy to read many blogs, never mind post to my own. In the last month or so, I’ve done far more travelling than I am used to and have found myself with increasingly less spare time as a result. I’ve managed to squeeze a five-day trip to Florida, eight full days of visits from my girlfriend, a day trip to New York and a six-day trip to the UK into the last four weeks, and definitely feel the need to slow down. Unfortunately, that’s looking unlikely, given that I have a business trip to Florida looming next week. Sigh…

I do have a less whiny personal update, however: I will officially be leaving the US in the first few days of May, so please do get in touch with me if you’d like to see me before I move across the Atlantic. (For those of you already in the UK, I will only be moving properly a week or so later, when I get back from Germany – the travelling won’t quite be finished.)

At some point soon, I will be officially reviving my feeble posting rate. [Please hold me to this.] So please do keep me somewhere near your radar.

Flickr Update

As you may have noticed, I updated my Flickr stream with photos from my recent trip to Seattle. Here is a nice photo of the Space Needle:

The Space Needle

The Cost of “Safety”

I read a recent email on Dave Farber’s Interesting People mailing list that surprised me somewhat. The email was in reference to the extreme level of phone tapping used by the FBI in fighting the “war on terror”, but the thing that surprised me was not the content of the email but the quotation the author, Ken DiPietro, referred to in the email. The quotation reads as follows:

Those who would give up ESSENTIAL LIBERTY to purchase a little TEMPORARY SAFETY, deserve neither LIBERTY nor SAFETY.

The quotation is generally attributed to Benjamin Franklin, but may be due to Richard Jackson or another member of the Pennsylvania Assembly. Irrespective, much has changed in the nature of the United States in the last two and a half centuries. Given the way in which the current US government has continually encroached on the liberties of US citizens and non-citizens alike over the last few years, I am hugely surprised that I have never seen or heard this quotation used by anyone opposing the current government.

I don’t know what context the quotation was originally used, so that may well explain why it’s been left to languish out of the spotlight, but I doubt that given the current political climate. The very reason the current government is able to infringe upon the “essential liberties” of its citizens is widespread ignorance and the fear it breeds. Were the quotation’s context not politically relevant to a pro-liberty politician, that self-same ignorance could allow the quotation and it’s possible originator to wow millions of people into a different viewpoint.

Unfortunately, I think that’s just a pipe dream, despite being an interesting thought experiment. The nature of life in the US has changed too much since the 1750’s, when the quotation made it into print, for it to have the same effect. The fervour with which people fought for freedom has disappeared. 9/11 made people realise that their freedoms and liberties could be taken away: freedom is taken as a given and the urge to fight for liberty has been misdirected. Instead of pursuing personal liberties in the US, people have been recruited to generate “freedom” for Iraqis and fight against terror as opposed to for freedom. So the quotation still raises an interesting question: what price is the US truly paying for its temporary safety?

Some travels: Colorado, Kansas and Overkill

After mentioning that I was travelling with my parents, I think I should point out the highlights of our trip. We flew west to spend some time in Colorado. We ended up seeing a lot of Colorado and some of Kansas as well.

We spent two days driving in the Rockies, with my personal highlight being the Independence Pass. It’s not all THAT high for the Rockies at 12 095 feet, but it was incredibly impressive and bleak nonetheless. (See below.) I also really enjoyed seeing Aspen, which was surprisingly gorgeous: it was really green and pretty. At the same time, though, it was clearly a playground for the wealthy. Not every small town in the Rockies can claim quite the same number of designer stores as Aspen, that much is certain.

From the Independence Pass:
Landscape

After Aspen, the next highlights were the Kebler Pass, which lies very close to Crested Butte, followed by the Monarch Pass. The western slopes of the Kebler Pass were spectacular. The vegetation and the landscape had me entranced. The pass was much lower, but the highlands leading up to the pass were something to behold.

En Route to the Kebler Pass:
Mountain Landscape

From the Monarch Pass:
Photographer in Action

After the Rockies, we descended to Colorado Springs, where we saw the Garden of the Gods. Again, I would suggest seeing the amazing sandstone formations if you can. The snow on Pike’s Peak in the background provides a wonderful contrast to the reds and whites of the rock formations. From Colorado Springs, we wended our way generally eastward across the plains as far as western Kansas. Some of the country south east of Colorado Springs was desolate and broken, but the real farming areas in eastern Colorado and western Kansas amazed both me and my parents. After seeing that small sliver of the plains, I get some idea of how much food is grown on the plains. It was literally unbelievable: there were simply miles upon miles of cultivated lands filled with good-looking crops.

It’s hard to capture the flatness and the expanse on camera, but here is my best attempt at doing just that:
Wheat on the Plains

Last, but not least, my parents and I ventured into some outdoor megastores near Denver. After seeing entire walls covered with rifles, cabinets upon cabinets filled with binoculars and spotting equipment, multilayered racks of fishing rods and almost every other kind of outdoor equipment you can imagine under one roof, I was at a loss for words. I don’t know how best to sum up the experience, but the words of one store assistant are probably better than anything I could string together: in his words, the stores are “candy stores for big boys”. I would go further and say the stores are wondrous places for most people, even if that wonder isn’t necessarily that of a child in a “candy store”. Needless to say, all three of us were absolutely exhausted by the experience.

The next time you have a few hours to spare, visit an outdoor megastore. (We went to Gander Mountain, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Outdoor World, and any of the three would be worth a visit.)

P.S. I am working on my photography and will actually be posting more of my photos to my Flickr account after I get back from South Africa. I hope you enjoy what I have, though.

Perspective

I’ve been traveling with my parents since they arrived in the US on the 21st of May, and being with them has been very interesting. They have never been to the US, so it’s been very good for my sense of perspective to hear their take on what they’ve seen. After four years here, I’ve become jaded towards some aspects of society in the US, and my parents have reminded me of the differences between home and the US. Furthermore, I closely watched their interactions with my (American) girlfriend, though there were also other motivations for that: they had never met each other…

Beyond the personal aspects of perspective, there were still some marked differences between the ways all four of us perceive and interact with the world around us. I would love to elaborate on some of the conversations that revealed these differences, but I am not going to go that far – the conversations weren’t meant to be public. Still, I think I gleaned a lot from them that isn’t specific to my parents and girlfriend.

One of the things that has struck me throughout my time in the US is the amount of waste that is produced here, as well as some of the unnecessary consumption that drives the production of that waste. My parents came to Amherst for one of the worst weekends of the year for waste: when all the graduates leave college, they discard all manner of items that they’ve accumulated over four years, including large and expensive items like sofas and televisions. Beyond that, each student throws away all sorts of knick-knacks, papers and such-like in leaving his or her room. The amount of rubbish produced is quite mind-boggling, especially to people like my parents, who are used to items being specifically handed on to new owners. They were also shocked to see how much waste is produced through the use of disposable cutlery, plates and the like for many kinds of catering. Just about everything is thrown away. And what is worse, much of the food itself is also discarded. At a number of restaurants, portions are really large. At home, we are used to eating whatever is put in front of us. In the US, though, the level of wealth and waste makes it possible for many people to discard whatever they don’t feel like at the time: they have funds available for a later purchase of food. The result – lots of discarded food. As per the college example, this situation extends to all sorts of possessions. It marks one of many differences between home and the US. I think going home again will be good for my perspective, because I will again be with an outsider seeing things at home from a different perspective to my own. It won’t be the first time that’s happened, but it is always good to reconsider how one looks at the world.

P.S. I am aware that I haven’t seen poverty in the US, such as it is. My time in the US has not involved seeing the hard side of American life: I don’t deny it’s existence, but it’s nowhere near as prevalent or as intense, I would argue, as the poverty at home.

P.P.S. My parents left the US today, but I think I will be thinking about their impressions of the US, and my reactions to their impressions, for quite some time to come.