Yay for Phil Klay

IMG_4240So, suddenly, this is sort of a big deal. Phil Klay, US Marine Veteran, author of "Redeployment" and Dartmouth alumn, just won himself a National Book Award. Yay for him. I had the opportunity to try to get a decent picture of him at a panel discussion at Dartmouth last month with Benjamin Valentino, Steven Simon, and William Wohlforth.

I wasn't particularly excited about the result -- the light in that particular room is iffy (as is the case with most of Dartmouth's auditoriums -- or is that auditoriae?), the layout super awkward, and I was in a rush to get to another assignment.

But, as the kids say, whatever...

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Dear Ballard Trail Terrorist... We Really Need to Talk

IMG_0026Not much can surprise in our increasingly dysfunctional community nowadays. This, after all, is where police cars are set on fire, determined attempts are made to ban dogs from public property, and anonymous complaints are raised over the Halloween decorations at the post office. Apparently some of us have nothing better to do than complain and throw tantrums.

Still, such pervasive kvetching does require a fresh outlet from time to time, so I was only mildly surprised to discover on a run earlier today that someone had gone to a lot of trouble to block the Ballard Trail about half way between the Norwich Pool and Schoolhouse Road. What at first glance appeared to be blowdown was instead a remarkably diligent effort at making the trail impassable by piling branches across it. With the help of a fellow runner I managed to clear most the debris, but as I finished my run on that wonderful public trail of ours I came to realize that this might well be the first awkward blow in yet another cringeworthy battle with some anonymous neighbor over yet another aspect of life in Norwich that I've foolishly been taking for granted.

But, dear misguided vigilante, save yourself further exertion in your futile attempt at undermining the public good. Instead, please consider this: if you're unhappy with trails on public land in Norwich, their usage policies or their route, then bring the matter before the Norwich Trails Committee. That's what it's there for. If, on the other hand, the cause of your unhappiness is more existential, if it's the healthy, considerate lifestyle of the majority of your fellow Norwitches that has gotten on your nerves (what with our quest for fitness and our continued commitment to communal space and shared resources), then perhaps you should consider moving. There are plenty of rigorously regulated gated communities to be found across the country; many of them would no doubt welcome a cantankerous malcontent with open arms.

It's a trail. It's public. Most of us like it that way. So get over it. Or go. Because given the choice between having someone with your attitude towards sharing and caring around, or keeping the Ballard Trail open to the community, I think most of us would be more than happy to help you pack. Heck, I'll even drive you to the airport myself.

Sincerely,

 

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Election season always gets me depressed.

IMG_0058The hateful ignorance of the Republicans, their callous narcissism and greed masquerading as piety and mock compassion: “Well, I've got mine, so fuck you. It's just manifest destiny that my rich friends have second homes while your kid's surgery sent you into bankruptcy. Jesus clearly wanted it that way. Nyah nyah...”

The abject failure of the Democrats to actually stand for something, anything – even the most basic common sense and decency. Seriously, between Obama's inability to actually deliver after eight years and the party's inability to articulate a compelling platform with appeal to anybody outside the community of professional fundraisers it's no wonder they can't make headway on the matters they supposedly care about.

The eagerness with which a lethargic and indifferent electorate allows itself to be deceived by simplistic soundbites and irrelevant wedge issues; the willingness of the media to serve up the most irrelevant bullshit under the guise of “election coverage.” The outright lies. The obvious deceit. The false promises. The grandstanding. The backpedaling. The utter waste of FOUR BILLION DOLLARS on a torrent of obnoxious “Well, my opponent is a poopyhead, so vote for me!” radio and TV ads.

Thankfully, my Green Card status limits me to paying taxes to finance the follies of this collection of moral midgets and inept asshats; my ineligibility to vote is a blessing in disguise: I can loathe them all with impunity, blissfully spared the impossible challenge of picking one over the other on Tuesday.

But to those of you who feel compelled to take part in the dismal mockery of democracy that is American politics: my condolences, and good luck with all that.

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A Quiet Genius: Miguel Marin-Padilla

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A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to be asked to get some pictures of Miguel Marin-Padilla, a retired Dartmouth professor still living in Hanover, NH with a full research lab set up in his basement. I'd never heard of the professor before, but learning more about his lifelong passion for painstakingly uncovering the secrets of the brain was fascinating, and meeting him in person was a delight.

padilla_2Marin-Padilla has made some spectacular breakthroughs in some of the most complex studies of the inner workings of the brain -- and yet, he is largely unknown and ignored by all but a few of his peers.

Read Susan Green's full story of Miguel Marin-Padilla on the website of the Geisel School of Medicine -- and learn about one of the unsung heroes of modern science.

 

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A Trip Down an Albanian Memory Lane

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Fifteen years ago I strung together a handful of assignments for relief organizations and newspapers and got myself to the border between Kosovo and Albania just as the Serbian ethnic cleansing of Kosovo got underway and the first refugees started arriving.

The desolate town of Kukes in Northern Albania was a sad, lawless place for these poor folks to seek shelter, but it was better than nothing.

A request for options for a book cover on international health sent me back to the archives, and I came across this shot that I still really like.

© Lars Blackmore/Ameridane Press 1999

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Carson on Africa

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Johnnie Carson, Former US Ambassador and retired Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, answers a question from a visiting Fellow taking part in the Young African Leaders Initiative at a dinner at Dartmouth College in July 2014. (1/200s f3.5 @ 2000 ISO)

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Young African Leaders at Dartmouth

yali_dartmouth_nowThe editors at Dartmouth's in-house magazine, Dartmouth Now, made good use of shots I took of the first group of Washington Fellows participating in the Young African Leaders Initiative.

A great bunch of amazing individuals, they were fun to tag along with while they did team building adventures at Oak Hill in Hanover, NH.

I look forward to covering the rest of their activities as fellows at Dartmouth College.

Full story here.

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In the Kitchen with Geisel's Med Students

UntitledFun little piece I got to shoot a while back.

No, this is not "Dartmouth does Breaking Bad" -- Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth does a crazy cool gourmet cooking elective, ostensibly to keep their wicked busy students from going completely nuts with anatomy and biology and lessons in bedside manners.

I couldn't stay to sample the results, but it looked and smelled completely amazing. Read Susan Green's full story here.

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Which Part of “Do Not Call” is Not Registering?

helloI have a really simple policy when it comes to telemarketers of any sort: if you call my house to sell your junk, then I'm not buying, even if it's a cure for cancer or a unicorn that shits gold bricks.

I've got all our phone numbers on the official “do not call” lists, and that takes care of the bulk of the more pedestrian stuff. If you haven't done it, then go do it, right now (cell phones, too).

But of course, I still get the hilarious calls from that poor schmuck in Bangalore who claims to work at the Microsoft's Tech Support Center and has found a virus on my PC (even though my caller ID says it's Diane Smith from Minnesota – hers being the most recent phone number the crafty scam artists have reversed engineered to cover their tracks), but I put those down to cheap entertainment, so they don't really count.

No, the ones that really grind my gears are the non-profits that for some reason have been given an exemption from the “do not call” registries. That's why I still hear from the Association of Chiefs of Police about their raffle a couple of times a year, and various other groups that somehow have managed to beg, borrow, buy or steal a list with my name and number on it. Earlier today I got a call from a woman who introduced herself as a paid fundraiser for the American Breast Cancer Foundation (or Society or Fellowship or some such thing --- same difference, really).

No exemptions in my book, so as I said: if you call me at home, then I'm not giving. Ever again. Worthy cause or not, you simply do not get away with this intrusive shit. Infest my mailbox if you must, my email too – those I at least check at my own convenience and it's no biggie to ditch your sales pitch along with the rest of the crap. But calling me in the middle of dinner to launch into your carefully scripted sob story intended to make me pay up out of sheer annoyance? So. Not. Okay.

I've worked for enough non-profit to know how the game looks from that side of the table: it sucks to be you, trying to meet your fundraising goals for the month/quarter/year. While you're struggling to come up with something that hasn't been done to death before, you come across the countless crafty con artists (a k a consultants) offering new and exciting ways to reach a target audience with an increased conversion rate and guaranteed results.

I've had the tedious debate more than once with directors of development who couldn't see a problem in adding telemarketing to the mix in the hopes that it might deliver a little extra. I think it's a terrible idea, because your innocent little exercise in home invasion may backfire, leaving people like myself holding your intrusive behavior against you and your cause for the foreseeable future. Then it's not just a dud that'll bring down your overall kill ratio, it's a distinct liability that's actively costing you goodwill and jeopardizing donations you might have gotten elsewhere at a future date.

So, please: don't be that development douchebag and think that just because you're doing it for “a good cause” it's suddenly okay to violate common sense rules of decency. Nobody is sitting around waiting for your call, we've all got infinitely better things to do – even if it's watching paint dry.

If you're so desperate that telemarketing is beginning to sound like an appealing way to raise funds for your organization, then you may need to rethink your vision, your mission and your very reason for being.

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Random Rants from a Vermont Writer & Photographer