Thursday, February 26, 2009

My Top 4 Juicy Documentaries

I love left-leaning documentary films that expose the ills of society and fire up the will to change things. Of course, they're not all created equal.

Some are dry, some speculate too far into flaky conspiracy theories, some are narrated by a porky celebrity or public figure whose image and reputation overshadows the message, and some are just poorly produced in terms of footage, editing, and music. The following four, however, are AWESOME, and come highly recommended by me.

1. Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism. I knew Fox News was biased towards conservative politics and tabloid pulp, but I never knew how deep it went, or how successfully it had managed to misinform the public and change America, until I saw this film. Watch it and never watch f'ing Fox again.

2. The Corporation. I like this one because it's artfully done, almost like a good music video in some segments. At the same time, it's loaded with good information on what a corporation actually is, and how that legal structure creates a powerful but amoral entity that, if it were a person, we would have to classify as a psychopath. This movie thoroughly debunks the notion that the unregulated free market will act in the public interest, and explains pretty well how we got into the current economic crisis.

3. The Unforseen. This is the most "soulful" of the documentaries in my list. It focuses on the story of the development of the Barton Springs watershed in Austin, Texas. It really gets into the lives and emotions of the individuals involved in the controversy, and their different relationships to nature and each other. Also, it shows the early rise of George W. Bush / Karl Rove, who got elected governor by deviously turning Texans' state pride into anti-environmental, property-rights mania. I actually went to Barton Springs before this movie was made, when it was still almost crystal clear, and it's tragic to think that it has now been spoiled forever by the cancer-like sprawl of the suburbs.

4. Who Killed the Electric Car? Short summary: American car makers actually made a great, fully-electric car way back in the 1990s, but when they saw how popular it was going to get they "pulled the plug" so to speak. They snatched back all of the demo models that people were happily leasing and destroyed them. All so they could continue making a greater profit on traditional gas guzzlers. This movie will give you no sympathy for the the current troubles of Big Auto. They had it and they blew it, because they were too greedy for money.

You can get any of these films on Netflix.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Windsurfing Photoshoot Perils

I've been combining windsurfing magazine board testing with seagrass studies in the Kennedy Space Center by setting up camp at the Banana River Resort in Cocoa Beach. Stacking up work and play had led to some long days where I'm windsurfing before breakfast, mucking around seagrass beds until sunset, and scraping epiphytes in the lab after dark. Of course, doing fun things I don't get too tired. Actually, I'm not so crazy about scraping epiphytes (chlorophyll? - more like bore-ophyll!) but the rest of it is cool.

On Thursday morning the WS Mag Editor Josh Sampeiro was there taking pictures for the magazine. So I got to be in a photoshoot. A couple neat pictures are posted on the Editor's Blog, but of course the better ones will only be in the magazine.

It was hard windsurfing in a choreographed way with two other sailors. We'd have to line up together offshore, shlog upwind to a certain spot, then all get on a plane at the same time, maintain equal speed while sailing scarily close together, display "big, sh*t-eating grins" per Josh's instructions, and jibe or tack at the last second without hitting the pier or each other. If you were in the middle, you couldn't jibe until the person downwind of you jibed, and you couldn't tack unless the person upwind of you tacked. I was in the middle one time when the person downwind of me jibed pretty late. I panicked that I wouldn't be able to jibe without hitting the pier, so I tacked instead and "BAM" realized that the person upwind of me was jibing when her board hit my head. Josh said she put on the brakes pretty hard before impact, which must be what saved my noggin and her board from any visible damage.

Reflecting on the incident, I've thunk of some safety rules for tightly spaced sailing that I'll want to follow in the future:

1. Plan the run in detail, including who will jibe and who will tack and how much time and space each person thinks they need to do their move comfortably.

2. The downwind sailor should initiate the jibe first, and should start it with more room to spare than just what he needs, because it will take a second for the people upwind of him to see and react to his move.

3. The most tentative sailor should be the one upwind, because only the upwind sailor has the option to balk at the jibe and do a tack instead.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Halfway to Jupiter


Well, my plan for today was to honor the great emancipator and the namesake of my home state by going wavesailing in Jupiter (the Florida beach town, not the planet). But on the drive down I got waylaid at the Stuart Causeway. I stopped there for four reasons:

1) About a dozen windsurfers were rigging or sailing, so it looked like a cool place to hang out.

2) To inquire after the beautiful new harness that I left there last Tuesday. Turns out the guy who left last that day saw it but didn't pick it up because he thought the owner might return soon to look for it. Dang! I assume a non-windsurfer picked it up after that and pawned it or used it for target practice or tried to eat it or mate with it or whatever a non-windsurfer would think do with a strange object. Double-dang. My next beautiful new harness will have my name and phone number and "reward if found" emblazoned all over it.

3) To try to sell my clam-sandwich waveboard. Success! After a demo, it went for $100 to Mr. Art Delaossa, a very good sailor. I actually knew Art from Virginia; he spends the warm season there.

4) I had to obey the law of "never leave wind to find wind". It was steady 20 knots from the North right there right then, so I decided to forgo the extra half hour drive south and do the flatwater sailing thing for a change. I used a 5.2 sail and my 106 liter board, since I didn't have a smaller board with me. I'm getting ok at making duck jibes on starboard tack, but I only completed one today on port tack.

I didn't take any pictures, but my new friend Dave did, and he posted them on his blog. He even got some pictures with ME in them: On the right, Center stage.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Play and Work in Florida's Lagoons

Since I moved to Fort Pierce in the fall I've been hearing stories about an enclave of windsurfers who sail from the A1A causeway in Stuart, a town about 25 miles to the South of me. Last Tuesday I finally made it down to the Stuart Causeway myself, to buy some cheap freeride gear from a guy named Jerry. (I saw the gear advertised on the Treasure Coast Windsurfing forum.) It was a breezy day, and lo and behold, the launch site was host to a small crowd of sailors.



They were a nice group, supporting the beginner / intermediate riders among themselves, and warmly greeting me. It was the same kind of friendly, community feeling I remembered from back in Virginia, sailing with the Windsurfing Enthusiasts of Tidewater and the Baltimore Area Boardsailing Association.


The demographics of the group that day were interesting; mostly baby-boomers with some of even older generations. I knew it was technically possible to windsurf past 70, but some of these folks were probably closer to 80! It's cool to see that a windsurfing hobby can last so many decades. Of course it wouldn't hurt the sport to get some new blood. People working on windsurfing programs for kids, like Team USA, are on the right track towards replenishing our ranks.

Shifting gears, on Wednesday I stripped the windsurfing gear from my car and loaded it with a kayak and science sampling supplies. I went up to the Kennedy Space Center where I'm doing most of the fieldwork for my current research project. The project is an assessment of the plant and animal life in seagrass beds inside versus outside KSC's no-fishing zone. To get to the sample sites inside the protected area I have to drive way out on a grass-covered road in the middle of nowhere (but within sight of the space shuttle sitting on its launch pad).


I got a lot of warnings from the other environmental researchers at KSC about monster alligators in the area, so I was very wary wading into the brackish water. I actually didn't see any gators, but my wariness was warranted because the seagrass beds turned out to be chock-full of stingrays. Getting barbed by one of those things would be no joke. Some of the windsurfers at the Banana River Resort in Cocoa Beach, where I have been doing some board testing for windsurfing magazine and crashing during the KSC fieldwork, have been hit by stingrays and have gruesome stories to tell. Along with kidney stones and tonsilectomies, stingray spinings are at the top of the list of things I hope I don't get.

Back to the windsurfing again for a minute, I had an awesome board test session at the BRR around sunset on Wednesday. It was blowing a healthy 20 knots and I got to put several, snazzy, mid-sized shortboards through the paces. There's one that's REALLY a blast, but I'm not allowed to say which. All that fast riding must have warped my sense of speed, because on the way out of KSC Friday I got my first ever speeding ticket. Now I owe $50 to the federal government. I'll consider it my contribution to the economic stimulus.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pass the Package - It's Good!

I like Obama's new stimulus package and I want it to pass in the senate.

Unlike wall street and the automotive industry's sketchy bailouts, it actually puts money in things that will stimulate the economy now, and which are also solid investments for the future; public schools, energy conservation, health insurance for poor people, and essential infrastructure like highway improvements and sewage treatment. They're all common-sense things that we need anyway and which will benefit everyone; not just rich schmucks.

By contrast, the republicans' alternative plan is is more of their usual crap; trillions of dollars in tax breaks for corporations and wealthy individuals, and little support for public works, teachers, cops, etc. The same Bush strategies that have been screwing the middle class for the last eight years.

Unfortunately, the republicans are successfully exploiting the public's bad feeling about the last two bailouts and trumping up the few specks of pork in Obama's plan in a shameless attempt to shoot it down and replace it with their much-worse substitute. Apparently 100 times more people have called congress to oppose Obama's stimulus plan than to support it. Yikes! If that alarms you as much as it does me, you should call up your senator and express your support for the Obama plan, or at least the aspects of the Obama plan that you agree with. There's a number that makes it easy.


Just ask to be connected with a senator from your state, then tell 'em what you think. I already told Florida's Senator Mel Martinez. He's one of the bad guys, so he definitely deserves an earfull.