Friday, August 31, 2007

pro-wrestling now as credible as pro-cycling

Pro-wrestling: In a previous blog, I expressed some consternation at George Vecsey, sports editorial writer for the NYT, for calling professional cycling as 'bogus' as professional wrestling. Needless to say, I quickly dispatched him with a piece of two-cent psychoanalysis and suggested he shouldn't take his personal feelings of betrayal out on professional cycling.

In sad, but not altogether shocking news, Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment has suspended 10 superstars after receiving information from the Albany County prosecutors office that said 10 wrestlers had allegedly been clients of the Signature Pharmacy in Orlando, FL, purchasing various supplements of an anabolic kind. I haven't found an official news source that lists all 10 wrestlers, but this person claims to know.

I think we can now safely say that the WWE is not only the first US-based sports organization to do something major and public about the use of steroids in its ranks, but can now reasonably claim to be almost as credible as professional cycling.

I think I saw Barry Bonds wearing a Randy Orton t-shirt today. Looked small on him.

Pro-cycling: the Vuelta a EspaƱa kicks off tomorrow! The last of the Grand Tours of 2007. In much the same way, and for obvious reasons, where Italians really show up for the Giro, Spaniards tend to go out for their home tour. And I don't know these guys half as well.

I'll be bold in my predictions and will hopefully a) not be disappointed by a bunch of drug-addled, pro-wrestlers masquerading as cyclists and b) come out glorious in my fantasy cycling league. The top-4 for the Vuelta will include Carlos Sastre (CSC), Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto), Denis Menchov (Rabobank), and Stijn Devolder (Discovery).

Thursday, August 30, 2007

growth spurts

1) As suspected, high amounts of sleep = significant gains in body weight. Jozsi just tipped the scales at 27.9lbs. Yoiks.

More impressively, yesterday afternoon, immediately before Momo and I left for western MA to go chase chukar, Joszi either spied or smelled a mourning dove in the trail and just froze up in stellar form... and as the bird moved, he would relocate and re-freeze. Not sure if Momo saw it at the same time or was honoring his little brother's point, but once he froze up, I called 'whoa' to hold him so we could all watch Jozsi getting birdy. Inspiring stuff. And no, of course, there was no camera around to document Their Majesties doing their bird-thang.

2) Momo and I had another good morning at Fullflight Game Farm and Preserve. I had originally intended to get several birds 'in-hand' that I would place myself so I could do some 'whoa' drills with Momo, but when we got there we were informed that 'a bunch' of pheasants had escaped one of the flight pens and were roaming free.

And so we got warmed up on a small gaggle of pheasant instead before going to find the chukar that had been placed out earlier in the morning. The challenges of the morning were that there was even more undergrowth and a lot of pollen in the air and, while humid, there was enough bare sunlight to burn off any available scent. Momo did really well, in spite of either running birds or ones so dug into shady, covered places I would have needed to have trodden on them to have found them.

Here's a pic of him on point. If you click on the pic to get it full size and look carefully at the dark spot directly in line with his nose, you can just barely make out the chukar.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

mysteries of technology

Blogger (the software platform this blog is produced on) has just developed a new feature to allow simpletons like me to a) not have to use YouTube to store video clips, or b) try to learn HTML. To be fair to myself, I made several good faith attempts to learn the code so I could imbed clips that we took and which were stored on our computer, but failed.

And so, in honor of this new feature, and because moving pictures are the only way to really do justice to His Junior Majesty, here are 11 secs of glory. He is such a ribby little monster, but you can see what great lines he has.

Incidentally, I think he's in another growth spurt. His body now seems long by proportion and his head is a little wider. And he's sleeping really hard even though his exercise levels are the same. Ooh, he's now 25.2lbs.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mustela Kathiah

As much as I want to shout hallelujah from the rooftops with the news of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's resignation effective September 17th, the rumor that Michael Chertoff might be nominated as his successor is frankly disturbing. How can a guy who can't manage a hurricane disaster be entrusted with the judicial integrity of the presidency?

Sadly, while John Ashcroft and Gonzales were both weasels (actually to be fair to Ashcroft, Gonzales gave weasels a bad name), I wanted to find evidence that this was the first presidency to have two Attorneys General resign during the president's tenure, but I can't. I guess it says something about how riddled with corruption and vice the Grant administration was that the country experienced 5 Attorneys General in 8 years.

Monday, August 27, 2007

running with the big dogs...

Sorry if the title of this blog is a little tenuous, but I was struggling with how to link canine intelligence and handcycling prowess.

Big woof #1:
World Off-road Handcycling Championships: Steve Garro, 'the unknown' as Denise puts it in her blog, took 3rd in Saturday's hillclimb competition and then 4th yesterday in the cross-country event. Kudos to Steve! And some serious bragging rights... don't think there were any Leadville 100-style belt-buckles being given out, but from telephone reports it sounds like it was a well-organized event with lots of schwag for the contestants.
If you go to Denise's blog, you'll see lots of pictures from Saturday up so far. There's one shot of Denise and her brother-in-law walking up one of the hills alongside Steve... uh, keep in mind that the handcycles weigh close to 55lbs and that behind them someone with a regular mountain bike is walking the hill.

POST-SCRIPT: Steve has some other pics and personal testimony on his own blog here.

Big woof #2: While I cannot disclose any personal information for fear of an international incident, I have recently learned that my new canine hero, God rest his soul, is a cocker spaniel named Ike. It seems that Ike had the imminently good sense that when, then, Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, visited his owner's house, Ike leapt on him, covered him in slimy mud, and bit a hole in the Secretary's suit somewhere around the mid-section.

Big woof #3: Just remembered another great canine photographer, Nancy Whitehead, and this is her site. She has some incredible dog pictures, but some of the most remarkable scenes are of woodcock in flight. I wish I could take pictures like she does.

Big woof #4: The Jozsi-Monster has clearly demonstrated that the first time wasn't a fluke. I took him out yesterday for an early morning training session with a pheasant wing... and he is a fiend. We got another five or so, solid retrieves in at about 15' or so. I think he'd still try to keep it from me if I didn't underscore the 'come' with a gentle pressure on the checkcord, but he's showing good signs of being a natural retriever. Here's the evidence... the big smudge is dew on the lens from being put in the grass... couldn't quite juggle a checkcord, lob a pheasant wing, restrain a puppy, and take a picture with just two hands.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

couple of new Mongolia blogs

Blog #1: Annie has finally broken down, decided to abandon e-mail, and awed by how easy blogging must be because The Regal Vizsla looks so good, started her own blog about her time in the Land of the Blue Sky.

Blog #2: Another Fulbright scholar, Jaspal Sandhu, has a nice blog as well. He's not as cool as Annie who's hanging out with Mongolian rockstars -- but his most recent post has a nice reminder about traveling in the Land of No Roads. I do think that, sometimes, Mongolian drivers use cleaning the spark-plugs or changing a tire as either a) a ritual technique to deflect bad luck and b) a chance to stop driving across mud roads in Russian microbuses or jeeps. (The general rule of thumb with these seems to be to skimp on actual suspension, but add a thin layer of quilting on the inside of the vehicle's roof.)

Friday, August 24, 2007

a few tasty tidbits...

Morsel #1: We got linked to by Wendy and Chris at Widdershins Farm, our two Vizsla-beasts' breeders. Momo is already a poster-child on the front page of their 'dog' section, but it's really nice to know that other prospective Widdershins Vizsla owners might come here.

For those of you who just want to read 'dogs' posts (or 'Central Asia' posts, for that matter), go to the 'Labels' section on the right-hand side and click on the 'Dogs' label... then you can skip all my rantings on lame cycling journalism and just see how things are going with our beasts. Incidentally, this is what velcro-vizsla-love looks like at 6:30am.

Morsel #2: Annie is back in Ulan Baatar, Mongolia, beginning her year's research on special education through the Fulbright Scholarship program. She has found a sweet apartment and has already called to say how much the city has changed in two years.

Morsel #3: The Regal Vizsla got a nice reply from Azamat in Bishkek. If you go to the 'Democracy in Kazakhstan' post, you can read it. He says much the same about Kazakhstan as Annie does about Mongolia. While much of post-Soviet Central Kazakhstan and Mongolia seems to feature rusting cranes on the horizon and half-finished concrete apartment blocks, the 'new' capitals of Astana and Ulan Baatar have a palpable energy to them. (Frankly, Almaty was still in a building boom of its own two years ago that I doubt has abated.)

I call Ulan Baatar a 'new' capital because it is also trying to reinvent itself, albeit in a different way than Nazarbayev's Astana. Admittedly Mongolia doesn't have the oil or gas revenues accelerating development -- good, bad, and kitsch -- but I did get the feeling that the government was being deliberate about how it proceeded. Annie mentioned that, after significant discussion, the mausoleum in front of the Parliament building in Sukhbaatar Square had now, in fact, been removed since she was last there. The mausoleum had housed the bodies of Sukhbaatar and Choibalsan. While Sukhbaatar was arguably the military man who made the modern nation of Mongolia possible after defeating the Chinese and Tsarist forces in 1921 and Choibalsan one of Stalin's greatest generals, Choibalsan was also the figure responsible for the Buddhist purges of the late 1930s and 1940s. There are some estimates that over 30,000 monks were exterminated during his pogroms. And so, it seems that 'new' Mongolia is uncomfortable memorializing itself in quite such a way. Amazingly, here's a blog post by Guido Verboom at Mongolian Matters with before and after pictures. (One of the comments on the 'Mausoleum gone' post does imply however that the process for removing the mausoleum was not quite as democratic as we might have hoped. Will need to do some checking.)

Morsel #4: Was flattered to get a reply to a comment I left at Registan by Afghanistanica and then to see The Regal Vizsla on his blog-roll. Wait till he discovers I just recycle other people's stuff. Like this mildly humorous take on how we can somehow find Chechens involved in everything that involves terrorism.

The vitriol that ethnic Russians express toward Chechens amazes me... we have a good friend who immigrated from Kazakhstan who still says that name with complete scorn... and, as a result, I have read a number of interesting books. The most persuasive, surprisingly perhaps, certainly to me, is by a Russian anthropologist, Valery Tishkov, Chechnya: Life in War-Torn Society. Not at all academically dry, and certainly felt equally critical of both sides and the myth-production they both engaged in.

Morsel #5: Just got an e-mail from my brother, Alastair, who had somehow found Brooklyn Lager in his local Glasgow offie (that's a 'package store' in northeast US parlance). The Brooklyn Lager is tasty, but my current fave is Dale's Pale Ale... so much flavor in a can! (I also love it that you need to attest that you are at least 21 to look at Brooklyn beer on-line. Beer porn. Cool.)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

quick, touching read...

Saw a reference to Kate Braestrup's new book, Here if You Need Me, on Stephen Bodio's Querencia and decided to buy it. I was drawn to the book for a couple of reasons... while not a religious person (in an orthodoxical way), I am genuinely interested in why other people are drawn powerfully to a life of faith. For example, I enjoyed Kathleen Norris's Dakota a lot, too.

But what caught my attention here is that Braestrup serves as the chaplain to the Maine Game Warden Service, the law enforcement wing of the Department of Fish and Game. She is the person charged with ministering to both wardens and the families of those who are lost in the outdoors.

We moved from Maine a year ago, where I served as a search-and-rescue volunteer with the MDI SAR for four years. If there was an incident in Acadia National Park, we were called out by the Park; if it happened anywhere else in Maine, we were called out by the Warden Service. Sadly, I have taken part in several lost-person searches that became body-recovery exercises. And while the book is really about the Warden Service, and therefore only briefly mentions the National Guard helicopter pilots that would fly in all weathers to do evacuations, I would just like to say that I am equally grateful for their service and skill. Here's a picture from one of their missions in Baxter State Park.

The book is absolutely heart-breaking in places, funny in others, and above all a touching tribute to the too few Game Wardens that serve The Pine Tree state in every season and all kinds of conditions.

hey, tough guy...

Our friend, Steve, husband to Denise (of Flagstaff blog fame), and ace bike builder, is off to the World Off-road Handcycling Championships in Crested Butte this weekend. Here's a pic of Steve in action recently.

You can probably find most of the details on Steve's site at Coconino Cycles about how he ended up riding a handcycle. I will just say this: if he hadn't been in incredible shape when he got hit by that pick-up truck, he'd be dead. Steve is just about walking again, albeit with Canadian crutches. (I feel like there should be a joke in there... but I gather from Denise, who's a medical professional, or at least plays one on TV, that that's the technical name for those extended walking sticks with the forearm braces on them.)

Steve's handcycle was built by Mike Augsberger of OneOff Titanium. My weird small-world story is that Mike was one of the founders of Merlin Bicycles, one of, if not the, original custom titanium bicycle makers. I was in a bikeshop in Somerville, MA, back in something like 1991 and the guy in the shop offered to show me the workshop downstairs. Turned out it was Merlin in its early days! Mike makes awesome bicycles and handcycles.

The point of the post, though, is to wish Steve best of luck!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

little monster getting bigger

It's the midweek and I'm back to my usual schedule at work -- with Weds and Thurs off. Two days with the boys: enough to drive a man mad or really quite happy. The pictures are both of our Little Prince, all limbs and ribs and tail and nose.

Momo is, for the most part, learning to be part of a two-dog team -- where sometimes one dog does one thing, the other does an other, and it doesn't mean either is the better dog or more loved. Next week's jaunt to chase chukar will hopefully help diminish his anxieties and help reinforce that he is still very much loved and valued.

And 14.5 weeks old, Jozsi tipped the scales at 24.1lbs. Today's breakthroughs were a) seeing him register my changes in voice tone (and therefore not go eat poop because he knew the alternative was getting hoisted by the scruff of his neck) and b) having him retrieve a pheasant wing. I chose him from his litter because of how nuts he went for a chukar wing... tossing a pheasant wing out in front of him created a similar effect... Vizsla on crack! We did two retrieves and on the third, he was starting to figure out that he could probably keep it to himself; I put him on his check-cord and did two more successfully! Certainly enough for the first day.

Now, he has nothing close to a soft mouth at this point! The wing I used is now about half the size it was... I figure teaching 'soft mouth' later will be easier than trying to instill a desire to retrieve.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

democracy in Kazakhstan

The ruling party of Nur Oltan won the national election with 88% of the vote. And none of the other contending parties got the required minimum 7% of the vote, which would have entitled them to take seats in the parliament. From Radio Free Europe: "Nazarbaev said the Nur Otan victory was logical, and that all Kazakh citizens stand to benefit from the election results." And anyone who disagreed would presumably be made ambassador to some country far away.

Bonnie Boyd has a very interesting counterpoint to all of this. Whether we're talking about post-Soviet or post-Borat, the Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan has entangled itself in a net of suspicion and skepticism (which may or may not be of its own making) and I'd agree with Bonnie's characterization of popular opinion in saying that I expect elections in Kazakhstan to be rigged and that process to be opaque. One element of her counterpoint is that both the Austrian government (in the case of Rakhat-gate) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) (in the case of Kazakhstan's aspirations to chairing the organization) are being no more forthright and equally obfuscatory in their treatment of Most Glorious Nation.

Radio Free Europe has another interesting story about how the recent elections in Kazakhstan might serve as a dubious example for the other post-Soviet, arguable neo-autocrats in and around the Ferghana Valley.

Our favorite Kyrgyz blogger Azamat was part of the Kyrgyz contingent of OSCE observers monitoring the elections and his last couple of blogs are quite interesting... nice picture, too, of the Bayterek Tower.

Azamat makes some comparisons between Astana and Almaty. We were in Almaty in December, 2004. It had been almost seven years since my wife had been there for the Peace Corps. And while it was great to meet old friends of hers from her two years there, the city was clearly in a period of tremendous growth. As Volodya drove us from the clearly very new airport in Almaty, we were somewhat dazzled by the very smooth, evenly lit access road into the city lined with Audi and Porsche dealerships.

Almaty was fun to see -- but because it had 19thC boulevards, camels being driven along the main streets, a Mad Max-esque public transportation system (till that point I'd never been in a bus that was spontaneously driven onto the pavement to get around a car in the wrong lane!), and shashlyk and lipioshka vendors with clay ovens and grills built into the sidewalk.

OOOH: congratulations to my favorite State Department smart guy, Evan Feigenbaum, and his wife, on the birth of their first child, Alexander.

Monday, August 20, 2007

cool weather and adventures in the wind

First, here it is... the Khan Shatyr of dog-boxes firmly esconced in the back of the Team Vizsla-mobile.

It's been pretty funny to see this big shift in their personalities and energy levels now that the weather has, hopefully permanently, dipped back into the 70s. It got cooler up here on Saturday and it was as if Momo had woken from a deep sleep. He knows that cooler weather means more fun -- and cooler weather means more energy.

But I think they're actually running and playing more intensely for, ironically, shorter periods of time... which means that when they're out they're helions, but then they crash out even harder (and certainly sleep better). So, we cut out yesterday evening's post-dinner walk and, after a solid night's sleep, we still almost had to drag the Little Prince out for his first promenade-du-jour.

And while he has been using his skills for evil (ie. finding poop in the woods to try and snack on), the Little Prince has been high-nosing and ground-sniffing like a fiend. I might start him on some drills with a pheasant wing soon... or tape one to the outside of his kennel. Actually today was the first day I thought 'Jozsi looks like a little big dog, rather than a big little dog.'

OOOH: The Mominator and I are going to chase some more chukar up in western Mass. next week -- and work on a few drills so he's ready for his hunt tests this fall. If everything goes to plan, we should be meeting up with a 'virtual friend' there, too. Alex has Griffons: it's going to be very interesting: he has never seen a Vizsla hunt, and I've never seen a Griffon hunt. Whoop.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

very muddy water

Jose Padilla has been found guilty -- not of plotting to set off a dirty bomb, but for conspiracy as part of a 'terror cell'. My only challenge with this set of verdicts is that we have no way of knowing. Padilla has been so rough-handled in his almost four years of detention that how can we know he was even capable of defending himself after his detention and interrogation? Stephen Vladeck has gone so far as to opine that the trial itself is 'anticlimactic' precisely because, even if the presiding judge is correct in not admitting evidence secured while Padilla was in a military brig, the civilian trial creates a palimpsest of those three-and-a-half years. The procedures used to detain Padilla and the techniques used to interrogate him have never been fully questioned and can now be neatly swept under a large rug.

Believe me, if he is a terrorist, he will find his appropriate place in the afterlife. But how can the White House claim that Padilla "received a fair trial and a just verdict"? A juror would need to have been living in the hodoo in way-outer Mongolia without pirated satellite TV to reasonably claim that they knew nothing about Padilla's case and could make an impartial decision. As the article states: arguably, Padilla's co-defendants were already guilty by infamous association rather than by the force of concrete evidence. (I guess that's why 'conspiracy' may become the anti-terrorism charge of choice for the future.)

And again, believe me, I want to believe in the conventional judicial system. Which is why I feel insulted by the White House with its claim of due-process being served -- even after they actively engaged in circumventing it. As it says in the IHT:

"President George W. Bush and his aides have often criticized the Clinton administration for treating terror as a crime, and they have created an alternate system of military detention centers and military tribunals, or commissions, to try terrorist suspects."

Adam Liptak has an interesting article in the NYT about how Padilla's trial sets a likely pattern for future anti-terrorist trails. The University of Pittsburgh law School site has a nice repository of materials about Padilla's detention and trial.

travelling in style

Got a phone-call yesterday from Bob to say that Their Regal Majesties' new travel accessory has arrived safely. I won't be able to pick it up till Monday, but this now means the boys can travel safely in the back of the truck -- and Meg and I aren't trying to wrestle Vizsla-monkeys while I drive.

And so, we are about to install a Deer Creek Houndsman Deluxe (in racing red) in the Team Vizsla-mobile.

So, many thanks to Bob for receiving the box at his work. I do have a sneaking suspicion that now that my dog-box is in his truck, I may need a crowbar to get it back!

And, above all, a big thank-you to Adam Deist at Turn Left Beagles. As soon as we decided to get a fancy Deer Creek box I started calling dealers. Adam picked up right away and was happy to talk about dog-boxes from nuts to soup. While companies like Cabelas can still have excellent customer service, I do prefer to give business to the small-business owner -- especially when they take pride in making sure you get what you need.

Even though he runs funny little dogs, if you need a dog-box give Adam a call.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

branding Kyrgyzstan

Registan flagged this one for me: the conversation about whether or how the nation of Kyrgyzstan might brand itself to stimulate foreign investment.

There seems to be some debate about whether you can market 'nothing' as something worth investing in. Obvious answers might seem to be that in a virtual world of legislation and tax-havens, one can create a financially attractive place relatively easily. That is the core premise in Neal Stephenson's compelling novel, Cryptonomicon, after all. And, as mentioned here, one that Turkmenistan seems to be headed down the path to with the new resort town of Turkmenbashi.

"“One of the main objectives behind establishing a national brand has to be advertising Kyrgyzstan as a tourist destination,” said Turusbek Mamashov, the director of the State Agency for Developing Tourism.

However, political analyst Marat Kazabaev, doubts that even the cleverest branding will make much of a difference to Kyrgyzstan’s economy, given that there are no strong, competitive industries on which to base it."

Kyrgyzstan has the benefit of a) being relatively unknown and therefore not subject to some of b) the ridicule, well-earned and not, that has been bestowed upon Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan or c) the autocratic ultra-kitsch that those same two nations have created for themselves (e.g. the giant gherkin in the sea or the ginormous tent in the political phantasia that is Astana). [Postscript: Bonnie Boyd has some other lovely examples of Astana-Disney here.]

While no-one would ever accuse the Mongolian government of moving fast, there is some evidence that one can market 'nothing' relatively successfully in the name of ecotourism. Bavuu Zorigt's essay in Linking Green Productivity to Ecotourism sketches some of the challenges to ecotourism in the Land of the Blue Sky. Arguably, while articles like this assert the strength of the ecotourism industry in Mongolia, arguably the biggest challenges to branding 'nothing' (and to blogospherics) is the lack of reliable internet infrastructure (and therefore internet information and resources).

Having said that, I have seen both the billboards for ecotourism companies just outside the packed dirt airstrip and the mammoth cell-phone antenna in Bayan-Olgii. Everything is possible.

the joys of Vizslabeasts

Aaaah, the milestones we've crossed...

a) the first book whose cover got chewed because we left it on the floor and lost track of His Junior Majesty. Happily it was a book I used to use for work -- as opposed to the beautiful hardcover dedicated to Joel White's beautiful wooden boat designs (that Choya munched in a moment of junior boredom).

b) the first really nasty vomit clean-up. I leave it to your imagination as to what dogs like to find in the woods, eat, and then barf up once they've reached the safety and comfort of home.

c) the first long day in a kennel without peeing. We do both work although we have off-set schedules and there are a couple of days a week that the boys are in their kennels for 8hrs. It's not ideal but we have a neighbour who will let them out a couple of times a day if it seems like we might be longer. But even for a young guy, it's amazing how quickly Jozsi came to understand his crate as a place of quiet and calm (and therefore as good for him as it is us). And he had a good model in His Senior Majesty.

I should point out that we completely adjusted our work schedules, took vacation time, and began gently introducing the kennel to Jozsi to get him on a regular schedule and to minimize any sharp shocks to his vastly expanding, but imminently maleable, puppy brain. As far as the crate goes, we had been gently extending his kennel time over the last three weeks -- even if we didn't actually need to leave the house. He has also been crated during the night, albeit next to our bed, since the day he arrived in the house.

d) selective human memory. No-one likes vomit in the house, but I was gently reminding Meg last night about how much dog-effluent we had to clean up after we adopted His Senior Majesty as a pup. Momo was not an especially difficult pup, but, for example, he used to eat his blankets; by contrast, Joszi has taken vaguely longer to house-train for peeing, but has only half-considered pooping in the house once.

Jozsi goes to see Dr. Arns today to get all his almost-grown-up shots. Dr. Arns is at the Bond Animal Hospital in White Plains. We like her. Which is better.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

the subtle politics of resistance

I was pleased to find this article in the Christian Science Monitor. I don't mind taking a clear side in the China/Tibet relationship -- and I have a sense that this article's author does too. However, what makes the story interesting to me is not (what appear to be) the blunt attempts by the Chinese organizing committee to co-opt participation (and thereby manufacture consent* for their version of the festival), but the ways in which cultural resistance is played out in "whether or not to wear animal furs".

*[Reading the article, I was reminded of Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman's book, Manufactured Consent. Here's an interesting interview with Noam about said book.]

The Daily Telegraph had published an article in February 2006 highlighting the Chinese authorities initial anxiety and fury over Tibetans' willingness to observe His Holiness's wish that Tibetans desist from wearing fur, ostensibly in response to Indian environmentalists concerned that significant numbers of animals were being endangered for largely aesthetic purposes. Apparently some Tibetan groups in the capital Lhasa had gone so far as to have 'fur bonfires'. Heaven knows... autocrats don't like fire, unless they start it.

The London Times had picked up on this story some two weeks ago -- and also revealed that performers at the Khampa festival in Yusho were being threatened by the organizing committee: "Entertainers who ignore [the command to wear fur] face being fined their appearance money of 3,000 yuan (£200), a huge sum for a Tibetan farmer." The article also makes mention of another piece of anxious autocracy:

"A rock group in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, was called in by officials because one of its hits was a song critical of the slaughter of wild animals. After the musicians had reassured the officials that the tune predated the Dalai Lama’s call, they were released. Their song was banned."

Maybe they should move to Uzbekistan where pop-songs are all Uzbek, all the time. Or else. It does remind me of the Chinese authorities' anxiety over Mongol metal-stars, Hurd, back in November 2004 when they were scheduled to make a stop in the Inner Mongolian college-town of Xohot... but weren't allowed to.

Monday, August 13, 2007

not a moment too soon

As much as the IHT tries to paint this as a decision 12mos in the making, I only want to imagine that it is a sign of a fatal crack in the White House's hubris that is actually obliging Karl Rove to leave. As much as he may call it 'resignation,' I sincerely hope this is the first public step in what will be reasonable, full, and legal closure to the cases involving the leaking of an active CIA agent's covert status and the firing of numerous U.S. district attorneys.

Perhaps we could arrange a trade-for-oil, where Austria keeps Rakhat Aliyev, but Kazakhstan gets to try Karl Rove instead? Seems more likely to be productive than Dick Cheney's 'Iraq's oil will pay for its own reconstruction' prediction.

If there is any justice in the afterlife, it will be knowing that Phil Drabble will not be sharing space with Karl 'The Jackal' Rove.

A moment too late: for an upbeat moment, though, it turns out that I missed National Melon Day in Turkmenistan on Sunday. While I think a few Uzbeks might dispute this, "since ancient times Turkmenistan has been considered the homeland of the best melons in the world."

Sunday, August 12, 2007

weird differences in scale

I'm sure there are smart people who can wax lyrical about what 'local' means in a post-colonial, internet-fueled global context -- and those people are probably Joshua and Nathan at A real pair of Evan Feigenbaums.

Speaking of which, and in a funny, weird-sense-of-scale kind of way: it turns out I have only one degree of seperation from Evan... he went to high school with Dave (of the Chaotic Soliloquoy).

Mini: Anyways, back in Orkney, they're all excited because they had radio coverage of the County Show, the 'premier agricultural show' (presumably in the highlands and islands, or maybe just the outer hebrides, or possibly just the premier agricultural show on the island of Hrossey... it's all about scale). Better click on it quick... they don't let the headlines stick around for too long at The Orcadian.

Midi: In Turkmenistan, Gerbankuly Berdykmukhammedov gave amnesty to eleven prisoners who had been found guilty of trying to assassinate the late, great Turkmenbashi. Having said that, an undisclosed number were not amnestied, but one of those who was was the former mufti for Turkmenistan, Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah. It does make one speculate as to whether the Supreme Turkmen uncovered a plot and rounded up a few extra unsavouries, including the leading Islamic cleric, to keep things neat and tidy. As the article mentions: "For example, ibn Ibadullah had loudly protested against the wide use of Rukhnama or Book of Spirit by Saparmurat Niyazov in mosques." Radio Free Europe strongly suggests as much (and has a nice picture of Berdykmukhammedov, too.)

I wonder if this comment from the article -- "Some specialists in the meantime believe that ibn Ibadullah should actually blame his ethnic roots for what was done to him." -- actually means that ibn Ibadullah wears a beard (like a 'good' Wahabbist) or if he was 'merely' an ethnic Uzbek.

I wonder if there are a few disco DJs or dentists specialising in gold prosthetics in that list of eleven as well.

Maxi: Duh!

And today's weird-sense-of-scale picture is this. His Junior Majesty gets bigger and bigger... now up to 22.5lbs!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

'the flying Kazakh'

Leaving aside that Vino isn't actually ethnically Kazakh, I wanted to follow a couple of loose threads from previous posts. In the process, I found Nathan and Joshua's excellent -- or as they put it, 'All Central Asia, all the time.'

Warp: While Vino's doping has further tarnished the Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, it barely seems to register on a seismic scale compared to all the goings on with Rakhat Aliyev. He must have really pissed off his father-in-law is all I can say.

Two days ago, the IHT reported that "The Vienna court ruled that Rakhat Aliyev should not be sent back to Kazakhstan because he would not receive a fair trial there." The Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is now asking Austria to prosecute Aliyev for kidnapping... I'm no lawyer, but I think Austria's probably right when it says "... in general Austria was not responsible for prosecuting a foreign national for alleged crimes committed abroad." Makes sense to me. This article is largely about the Gordian knot of intrigue that surrounds President Nazarbayev's son-in-law, Rakhat Alieyev, and the various attempts to impress upon Austria that they're better off just sending him home.

Weft: After giving kudos to T-Mobile and Nordmilch, I need to express some frustration at Tailwind Sports for seemingly failing to find a new title sponsor for Team Discovery. Now $45million dollars over three years is a fairly hefty commitment... but this may be the winningest franchise in sports history over the course of a decade. Oh well, maybe Gorgeous George Hincapie will be going to T-Mobile... Matt White is already signed to Jonathan Vaughters's new Slipstream/Chipotle team... can't imagine that anyone else will be struggling too hard to find a job...
I just wonder with the Vuelta coming up if it means everyone will now be riding for themselves, trying to raise their individual standings in the open market. Which would make sense, but would pretty much eliminate what made USPS/Discovery the successful team it was.

OOOH: Happy Birthday, Pop!

Friday, August 10, 2007

couple of interesting places to go

Stop-over #1: I was trolling around the folks on Blogger who have an interest in Central Asia and found The Azamat Report. He appears to be a twenty-something reading, writing, and thinking out loud in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. I left Azamat a comment and hopefully he'll come here to check out my ramblings, as well.

Stop-over #2: He linked to The Political Compass -- which is a very interesting survey for assessing where one finds oneself on the Left-Right and Authoritarian-Libertarian axes. He and I turned out to be quite close, although I was a little disturbed (mostly for their sakes) to find myself apparently sandwiched between Gandhi and His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. It's one thing to be brave on an internet survey, and I can only hope that my life demonstrates their courage and conviction.

Stop-over #3: My wife's sister, Annie, is on her way back to Mongolia in just under a week to study the country's special education system, such as it may or may not be, under the auspices of the Fulbright Scholarship program. Her future roommate, who is also there on a Fulbright, has this very interesting blog.

So folk aren't working too hard to put the pieces together: my wife served in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan, her brother served in Kyrgyzstan (and then received a Fulbright to study in Uzbekistan), and her younger sister served in Mongolia. I was lucky to marry my wife and spend our honeymoon visiting Annie-bagsh in Mongolia in December, 2004. We just received our tickets to go back in February, 2008. As I said to Azamat, I am fascinated by what 'nationalism' means in post-colonial nations, whether that's the post-colonial Middle East or the post-Soviet Caucusus and Central Asia.

Stop-over #4: I have almost finished Colin Thubron's Shadow of the Silk Road -- which is a very interesting travelogue and meditation on nationalism, identity, and exchange. I did find its tone to be a mixture of melancholy and mystery: melancholy insofar as he seems to be finding the 'new' Silk Road a shadow of a former Silk Road he'd visited earlier; mysterious because the book reminds me of Borges's aphoristic 'On Exactitude on Science'.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

kudos to T-Mobile + Nordmilch

Who? Well, after months of weanies taking easy swings at professional cycling, it's nice to read that at least two major sponsors, T-Mobile and Nordmilch (who sponsor Milram), have decided to honor their multi-year sponsorship contracts... despite the fact that both teams have hosted some cyclists with dubious nutritional supplement histories. It's refreshing to see that someone with some significant financial investment also believes that a corner has been turned in the constant desire for common ethical standards in cycling.

Here's a nice steroid-free picture of Momo from our Catskill weekend to maintain the optimistic mood.

As of this morning, Jozsi weighed in at 20.5lbs. He's gaining roughly 2lbs a week. Assuming that rate stays fairly steady and that adult body weight can be guestimated at double that of the 4mos weight, then he will come in around 52lbs. We are expecting him to be a little bigger than Momo, and that's about perfect.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

rediscovered blog

I was fortunate enough to first read Stephen Bodio's book, Eagle Dreams, when I was in Bayan Olgii in western Mongolia. Bodio's book is about his own odyssey to find the source of a photograph he had seen in a 1950s National Geographic, a photograph of a Kazakh eagle hunter.

I'll fill in more of the background to our December 2004 trip to Mongolia at various later points. (We are actually returning in February 2008.) But Olgii is where Bodio's search begins in earnest -- and inspired by the book, we also inquired about whether visiting a Kazakh family that hunted with eagles would be possible when we returned to Olgii after a week in Kazakhstan. And it was.

The point of this post, though, is to let folks know that Stephen Bodio has his own blog. And it has all kinds of cool things on it, including a link to Darne shotguns -- one of the coolest designed shotguns in the world. I'd love to shoot one at some point in my life. So, as you can tell, Bodio and I have several interests in common. Hopefully he'll come visit the Regal Vizsla sometime.

... and more numpties

1) Somehow CNN scooped, but Andrey Kashechkin just tested positive for the same homologous blood transfusion that got Vino and the rest of Team Astana excused from the Tour. It was a surprise test while he was training in Turkey!!


2) In trying to be fair in my treatment of Meat, I found this article in Wired which nicely captures 'the Pound paradox': namely that Meat violates the rules to enforce the rules. Meat characterizes his tightrope act as follows:

"Pound insists that he chooses his words carefully and always includes a disclaimer. "If you're caught, then I'm enough of a lawyer to know that you're innocent until proven guilty," he says, "even in cases where there's a moral certitude that you're dealing with somebody who's doped. You sort of have to let the system deal with it."

Hmmm. Sounds a lot like a former White House aide who was a lawyer and had to rely on his former boss to get him out jail (even if he didn't get a pardon).

3) It seems that Vlast, the entity that suggested that Moldavia was part of an axis of weasel, sorry, circle of malevolence, or ring of unpleasantness, whatever... is the weekly magazine wing of Kommersant and taken sufficiently seriously that the US Ambassador to Russia, William Burns, agreed to an interview with them in July, 2006.

But -- "Stop using the sports term “finish" -- are you serious?

liars, cheats, and desperados

a) In shocking news, Meat and the WADA have opened an investigation against... Alberto Contador. Stunning. After receiving documents from Werner Franke, they have decided to review materials all over again. This piece reminds us all of the fact that Franke was not only censured by the German courts, but also acted in defense of Danilo Hondo... who did have a positive drug test in front of him (and was subsequently found guilty).

b) In a related story Barry Bonds hit his 756th home run breaking Hank Aaron's long-standing record. Meat was nowhere to be seen, heard, or smelled. Alex Massie has a few interesting things to say. *

c) A mystery rocket hit the Georgian town of Tsitelubani. Now, how the Russians can deny it was them when the missile failed to explode and landed in a potato field, I have no idea. I guess it's better to deny that you can't manufacture reliable high-tech weapons than to admit deliberately antagonising your former republic. I was checking out Kommersant, Russia's Daily Online, to see about coverage, clicked on the 'CIS Countries' section, and immediately discovered just how much antipathy Russia and Georgia have for each other:

[Russians] now know that 1 million Georgians live in Russia illegally and squeeze $1 billion per year out of the federal economy and send it home to Georgia. Moreover, Georgians are the backbone of the Russian criminal world and they control the big casinos where Russians are stripped bare and poisoned with poor quality wine.

Hmmm. This is starting to sound like current US immigration policy... wonder if any missiles fell on Tijuana recently. The article goes on to name Finland as one of the members of the axis of evil... sorry, circle of evil... and recommends that amongst other things evil can be dispelled by a) charging sauna users with immoral behavior and b) no longer using the sports term 'finish.'

I can't tell whether the article is actually serious or not. How one would name Norway, Moldavia, and Mongolia as legitimate members of a 'circle of malice' is a little beyond me. But then again, I was one of the 8million watching sheepdog trials on TV.

Monday, August 6, 2007

end of an era

Popped over to Alex Massie at The Debatable Land and caught this obituary to Phil Drabble. Phil was to televised sheep-dog trials as Phil Ligget is to the Tour de France -- his was the voice that captured the ballet of One Man and His Dog.

I wanted to mention this to everyone because I was one of those 8million Britons watching the show with regularity. Now maybe this is a reflection on how exciting life was for teenagers in Thatcher's Britain, but I remember having serious conversations about the show the day after with other boys at school. None of us were farmers, but there was something magic in both the ways the dogs worked the sheep, and Phil narrated it to all of us.

I hope there's a lot of good sheepdogs waiting for you upstairs, Phil.

catskill adventure

We just got back from a lovely couple of days up in the southwestern part of the Catskills. It was Jozsi's first road-trip since a) his 7.5hr marathon drive from Maine, and b) his first vet's visit. So, it was good to have a sub-two-hour drive be his first family vacation. He is fortunately still small enough to ride at Meg's feet or on her lap (while Momo rides in the extended cab space behind the seats). But we are also in the process of ordering a double dog-box for the back of the truck... will definitely post pictures once we have it.

Anyways, the highlights of the trip were:
a) no mosquitos
b) actually cool at night and in the morning
c) having Meg and Jozsi meet Jackie, Bob, and Belle
d) cable TV, but no cell-phone coverage
e) Jozsi's first impromptu swim
f) all of the above

So, this first picture is taken shortly after Jozsi slid off a rock into a pool in the river. He was cool as a cucumber, started doing his doggy paddle, turned around and had his dad scoop him out. Momo, by contrast, has never cared for water, and when he wades up to his chest, it seems like he's being daring. I think this is just a matter of choice on his part: why get wet if you don't have to? Jozsi doesn't seem to get phased by anything except torrential rain. And if I were a small short-haired dog, I would be, too.

The next picture is of Jozsi chugging along this great trail we found in the Park. Wish I could remember the name, but it's the first trailhead on the way north up Route 19 up to Big Indian, and about 2miles after the hugest, craziest YMCA I ever saw. (The story on the Frost Valley YMCA can be found here; the main castle (!) can be found here.) The final picture is Momo looking for creatures out in the misty forest. Lots of great trees and lichens and general all around quiet. Nice.

Anyways, it was also real nice to have my good friend, Bob, come over with his partner, Jackie, and their dog, Belle. They happened to be staying up in Phoenicia and were equally eager to for everyone to meet everyone else. Besides our friends Dudley and Susan, Bob is the only person Meg and I have allowed to look after Momo when we've been out of town. That's the the kind of guy Bob is. It was great to meet Jackie and see who puts up with him -- and I'm sure mildly funny for him to meet Meg and see who puts up with me. Hopefully we'll get to do this as a four-top again -- and me, Bob, Belle and Momo will get some good grouse-chasing days this fall.

Friday, August 3, 2007

quick tribute to Grandma

Momo seems to be coming out of his little funk... which is great. It seemed like an interesting combination of ignoring us because he was hypnotized by the little guy and wanting more attention because we were hypnotized by the little guy.

Anyways, the point of this post was simply to post a picture of Momo and Jozsi's common grandmother, FC Obertakt Hollywood Wildthing JH VC (or 'Wylie' for short). The pic is of her when she placed 3rd in the 2003 National Gun Dog Championship.

We're all off to the Catskills for the weekend -- and will hopefully meet up with my good friend, Bob, on Sunday. Now we'll find out what it's like to drive with two crazy monsters in the truck!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

sad days for Central Asia

Weird story #1:
It seems that, in addition to being a haven for excommunicated professional cyclists, Kazakhstan is also home to some serious numpties. Seems that relatives of President Nazarbayev got ripped off by a NY college-counseling firm promising entry into a prestigious school for a mere $200K... and after receiving the cash, then told the young man he "is not Ivy League material." He got into Columbia by himself instead.

a) Winner: Columbia University. Even if the young man is a dunce, there's a good chance of some post-graduation munificence from the Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.
b) Losers: IvySuccess. I think these people forget that this is a country in which the President feels comfortable trying to extradite and arrest his own son-in-law, Rakhat Aliyev, and declaring his daughter's marriage dissolved. "After publicly criticizing recent amendments to the Kazakh Constitution that cleared a path for Nazarbayev to become president for life, Aliyev was fired in May [as ambassador to Austria]."

I'd best be careful otherwise I might find myself labeled as a purveyor of filth and lies.

Weird story #2:
I heard this on my BBC World News podcast yesterday, but can't find any on-line record of it. So maybe I dreamt it, or was drunk again on my way to work. (I fly Space Shuttles.) But, as I remember it, the nation of Kyrgyzstan has offered to name a mountain in the Tien-Shan mountains after Jackie Chan if he comes to a film festival they're holding in Issyk-Kul. Not sure if this is for the 1st International Film Festival or the subsequent one. The thing I love about Central Asia is that they're not afraid to think big: "Sufficient sums will be set aside in the 2008 budget for the Issyk-Kul film festival which we hope will eventually challenge the Cannes Film Festival."

Weird story #3:
While looking for the mythical Jackie Chan story I discovered I'd just missed the 4th Annual Felt Symposium held in Kyrgyzstan this year.