Sunday, December 26, 2010

It's All Local - China Food to Fuel

It was harvest time in the parts of China that I visited in September for work. At one of the many-course dinners that we attended in our honor during the trip, I asked our dinner host in Bayannur whether the dishes were prepared with locally grown food. "Everything is local," he replied with a smile. It is hard to imagine how much food it takes to feed more than 1.3 billion people - on top of that, much of it is done by local production.

The popularity of local grown food has grown in the past few years, and has particularly gotten added attention by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through a program called Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food. I was working on a local
food project before switching over to my present biofuel assignment, and had put together a team to estimate the capacity of the eastern seaboard region to provide food for the population along the urban corridor from northern Virginia to Portland, Maine. As it is now, a majority of the fruits and vegetables consumed in the East are shipped in from other region of the U.S. - or from other countries. As for China, they are already doing local foods by necessity - in rural regions, as well as within urban areas. A question for the Chinese now is how to produce biofuels on top of the land that is needed for food - to do food and fuel together. It is a similar question for us here in the U.S. There was a lot of controversy around whether the development of biofuels had caused the spike in food prices from 2007 to 2008. A recent report supported by the World Bank has provided good perspective on the issue of food versus fuel, and is worth the time to read (click here).
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Here are some of the observations - mostly about food - that I made while driving between Baotou and Bayannur on a Saturday, and between Beijing and the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.

Along the highway between Baotou and Bayannur,
Miles and miles of sunflowers tended by farmers,
Small fields with plants of varied color,
All of whom live within a bicycle ride's distance of their fields.
Sunflower heads full of seeds lay on the ground,
Being turned with rakes by hand to dry, 
Seeds threshed in small stationary combines.
Seeds for oil, seeds to eat, seeds to plant another year.

Sitting in chairs near the road,
What do they talk about as we pass by?
It's hard to see old people around this country,
Young people every where,
Where are the old people?

Piles of yellow-skinned melons,
Gathered in neat rows as long as the fields.
Why do they lay and wait there like that, still ripening?
Trailers full of red tomatoes,
Being towed down country roads,
That stretch out to the distance.
Do these stay in this town, or go to markets far away?

Not to waste a square inch,
Herbs growing in rows perpendicular
To irrigated rows of sweet sorghum,
Growing tall, standing in still air, waiting,
Soon to be turned into biofuels.
A new modern biorefinery,
Being built in an industrial park,
Where none existed 18 months before.
China speed we are told.

From the ancient local fields,
Near the new crop sweet sorghum,
Those sweet melons now lay sliced,
Proudly displayed on tables,
A treat for the long-traveled guests from 12 time zones away
Half way around the world,
Graciously served by the hosts - 
Gratefully accepted by the visitors.

Along the road leading from the rings of freeway belts,
Away from Beijing to the Wall,
Soft corn husks in piles near cleaned hard yellow corn kernels,
Recently separated from one another.
Only the day before and an hour's jet plane ride away,
Sunflowers growing, and drying on roadsides where corn seed now lies.

Leafy greens growing on terraces beneath our feet,
As we rise sitting in our chair lift seats,
The serpent shaped ancient Wall stands above,
A message in painted white faded stones across a distant hill,
Showing the signs of slow disrepair,
Honoring the late great Chairman,
Long gone, now an ancient himself,
But unlike the Wall - a memory.

Tables of fresh and dried fruits and nuts
On tables that stretch down the walk,
Below the many flea market vendors' stalls,
Prices called out - inflated ten-fold to start with,
Note pads in hand, ready to negotiate a deal,
Like Monty Hall, but all the doors are open,
Calling out: Two tee-shirts - one Yaun.
Bate-and-switch, or loss leader?

Field after field of fruit trees pass by,
Riding in the cab back to Beijing from the countryside,
Families picnicing along a river,
More solitude together with others here,
Than together in the city there.
The walls of small towns pass by,
Old houses and shops next to one another rush by,
The taxi drives mostly to the right,
But sometimes weaves to the left
Horn ready to be honked
At any every danger - real or not.

Ancient worn mountains in the distance,
Eons of rain drops have fallen,
Countless feet have stepped on,
Many fields tilled, planted, and harvested from these terraces.
Heavy loads carried,
Every square inch used,
Every square inch useful.
Mountains, worn ancient mountains.
Beijing, old city - worn new city.
Gongjian Hutong, another ancient - more than 700 years,
Chickens in coups on roof tops,
Carpenters working a log,
Narrow streets.
A public street, but also a front yard, a backyard, a porch.
A small market just around the corner,
Chinese kabobs in boiling broth just down the lane.
The street flows out of the hutong.

Near the boulevard with more walls surrounding,
Places where other ancients lived - history now.
Restaurants mixed with other store fronts
Pass by our left as we walk - tired, a long hot day.
People walking, talking, biking, waiting,
Riding in cars and cabs and buses.



Saturday, December 25, 2010

Cooperation - No Idea When I Was A Kid

Change happens.

I had no idea when I was a kid that things would be different when I grew up. Our farm was about seven miles north of the Visalia city limits. I remember once when riding in our car with my mom and asking, "Would the town ever reach our farm?" Mom laughed and said, "No." It is interesting how the city limits now reach the levee banks of the Saint John's River - well on the way in the direction of the farm.

My folks now live in a development north of the old city limits - they sold out all of their land, the home I was raised in, and their farm equipment. I think the population of Visalia back when I was a kid was around 30,000 people, and as I remember, the cost of gasoline was around 33 cents a gallon - that was the price on the gas pump at the station where we filled up. Gas is over $3.00 a gallon right now, and the town's population is more than 125,000 - it was only 40,000 when I left in 1975.

As far back as I can remember, we grew a lot of cotton on the farm - Acala, a long staple variety of Upland cotton.  As of the late 1950's, we used weeder geese to control nutsedge and grassy weeds, but new herbicides came along that easily controlled some - Treflan, and hard-to-contol Johnsongrass - Ansar. The sounds and sights of crop dusters and the smell of defoliants at the end of the season were familiar every year. There were other names common to cotton: Calcot, Cotton Incorporated, California Cotton Planting Seed Distributors (CPCSD) , and Ranchers Cotton Oil.

Another tradition was the annual members dinner for the Visalia Cooperative Cotton Gin - the place where our trailer stuffed with our harvest would go to have the lint separated from the seeds. The dinner was held at the Dinuba Memorial Building  - the Veterans building in a town about 13 miles north of our farm. Other than having to sit through talks from the stage, a memory from each meeting was the match books that had a curious cartoon inside showing two mules that learned a lesson together about what cooperation can accomplish. I had no idea back then that the purpose for cooperatives was an expression of the cartoon series inside of the match book.

Jump ahead 56 years, and there was an article in the USDA Rural Development cooperative magazine titled, When a Coop Dies. My mom told me about the feature story, about the Visalia Coop closing down because the acres of cotton once familiar to the east side of the San Joaquin Valley had been replaced by grapes, oranges, almond, and dairies - times had changed, agricultural geography had changed.

My dad was invited to cast an honorary vote on Sept. 11, 2006 with the board of directors to close out the coop. Even though the economics of the cotton industry and agricultural economy had changed, what hadn't changed is the need for cooperation - even when closing out a cooperative that had run its time of usefulness.

Six Indicators of an Oregon Grocery

If you follow this blog and my Facebook postings, you should have noticed by now that I like to check out different farmers' markets, grocery stores, and restaurants whenever I travel. Two days ago we were shopping for the meals that will be prepared on Christmas Day and the day-after-Christmas that will be our "Christmas" with the entire family - the day that we can get everyone together after the married kids make their different family rounds with their in-laws. When going through Ray's Food Place market in Albany, Oregon, I smiled as we walked the aisles and saw various labels of local brands that are common here, and either rare or unknown in Maryland, as well as a few of other indicators. Following is the list of products common to an Oregon market.

a. A display of a diverse variety of tortillas. I am sure there are specialty markets in the Washington, D.C. metro area that cater to Mexican shoppers, but none that I have seen around the Annapolis area. This tortilla display stood out. We had just eaten lunch at Mexico Lindo restaurant in the same shopping center right before coming to the grocery, and the food was the best I had eaten since the last time I was in Oregon - the taste of West Coast Mexican food cannot be beaten, compared to the restaurants we frequent back home in Maryland. Oregon this part of the U.S., there is a growing influence by the Hispanic population - including cuisine second to none.

b. Oregon Duck football team featured on magazine covers. The Ducks are playing for the BCS National Championship Game on January 10th - being just 45 miles north of Autzen Stadium, it is no wonder that multiple sports magazines displayed on the rack show the Duck team in a prominent place at eye level that helped these copies stand out among the rest of the periodicals. By the way the Ducks will be wearing their new designer uniforms at the BCS Bowl - even though I am a Beaver fan, it is great to see an Oregon team get so much attention.

c. Umpqua and Darigold dairy products. Not that milk, cheese, and yogurts stand out among the pack, but these names are Pacific Northwest familiars. The dairies in Oregon are more picturesque than those in the San Joaquin Valley in California - much more like the ones shown in the happy cows commercials that are paid for by the California Milk Advisory Board.

d. A prominent Rogue Brewery's Dead Guy Ale display. This beer is available on the East Coast - at a price far greater than sold in Oregon. Dead Guy is a true northwestern microbrew, made with "free range" coastal water. My youngest son reports that it is also available at Miller's Ale House on tap in Pensacola, Florida - it must be a Navy favorite there. A list of hops varieties can be found clicking here.

e. Almost countless varieties of cheeses from the Tillamook County Creamery Association outside Tillamook, Oregon. Smoked cheddar, pepperjack, colby jack, swiss, mild cheddar, sharp cheddar, grated cheddar..... all from the Tillamook Valley on the northern coast of Oregon, Tillamook cheeses are well known and well represented in Oregon grocery circles. When my father-in-law would drive to Oregon to visit, he would stop by the factory to buy fresh cheese curds to snack on while he enjoyed the coastal views. For a list of all the different kinds of cheeses and their descriptions, click here.

f. An entire full aisle spilling over and out the end with Oregon labels and many other wines. In Maryland, if you want to buy beer or wine, you have to go to a liquor store - not in Oregon. I remember when we moved to Oregon the first time for graduate school in 1978, that if you wanted to buy beer, you had to go to state owned liquor stores. I think some time between 1981 and 1988 that law changed - grocery stores had selection available by the time we moved back for our second tour in Corvallis.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Morning - On Steroids

Yesterday, we heard our son had passed his last of six examinations for Aviation Preflight Indoctrination - API. That meant that today he was issued all of his flight gear. Along with one of the photos he took with his iPhone in the mirror was the comment: "Leathers is a nice touch, too. Gear issue day is like Christmas morning on steroids." After the upcoming real Christmas leave, it will be two more weeks in Pensacola, and then a move to Corpus Christi, Texas for Primary School. Likely the training platform will be the Beechcraft T-34C Turbo Mentor. I have only been in a Cessna 150 for about 10 hours of flight school back in high school, and that general aviation machines like that didn't hold a candle to the T-34 - at least that is what my son has said. From what I have been told, once your fly in this, submarines don't hold a candle to the T-34.

During his Plebe year at the Naval Academy, we would visit our son on Sundays and bring along a picnic basket with hot dishes - roast beef, vegetables, mashed potatoes - comfort food. We would pick him up at Brancroft Hall and then go over to the Drydock Restaurant in Dahlgren Hall to the downstairs cafeteria. Our favorite booth was in the far corner of the eating area. On the walls and handing from the ceiling are all kinds of Navy memorabilia - even the dividing headboards around the booths had photographs of Naval personnel from the past. The "theme" of our both was formal naval aviator and president George HW Bush, a very young Lieutenant Junior Grade who was once shot down while in combat. When I first looked at photographs of the T-34, it reminded me of Naval aircraft from World War II, such as the Avenger bomber that President Bush once flew (click here).

With our son soon-to-be-moving to Corpus Christi, we are glad that we at least we got to see Pensacola and the Naval Air Station at Thanksgiving time. Primary School will be six or seven months. I am sure we will be making a trip down there after things get settled. It will be fun to hear more stories once he gets off the ground and into the air. It will be interesting to see where he ends up landing - fixed wings, helicopters, and the coveted F-18. With the F-18, should he be fortunate, it will mean landing on carrier decks - not at least understanding the physics of yaw, pitch, and roll are in place.
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Specifications for the Beechcraft T-34C Turbo Mentor (* data not verified):

Engine: PT6A-25 Turboprop
Empty Weight: 2210 lbs*
Max Horsepower: 425 hp
Max. Speed: 322 mph
Normal Cruise Speed: 246 mph
Range: 500 miles*













Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Bit of Mixed Emotions

A brief summary of the 111th annual Army Navy Football game:

Ricky Dobbs threw the longest touchdown pass in the 111-year history of the Army-Navy game, Wyatt Middleton had the longest fumble return in Navy history, and the Midshipmen (9-3) extended their winning streak against the Black Knights (6-6) to nine straight with a 31-17 victory Saturday in Philadelphia. Associated Press, December 10, 2010.

Six or seven years back on a Saturday morning, we talked briefly on the phone cross country from Oregon with our son in the Army in northern Virginia and asked, "What are you doing this morning?" "Polishing my boots," he replied. That wasn't out of the ordinary, at the time he was training to be a sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknowns. "I am going to the Army Navy football game today." We thought that was pretty good deal, and felt bad when Army was beaten later on. That our youngest son would be at the Naval Academy a few years later wasn't in any stretch of our imaginations - not on our radar back then. Army was the team to rout for.

But times changed. Our youngest decided he wanted to go to the Naval Academy and was admitted - we switched alliances and bought Navy Football season tickets the four years while he was there. We passed on our option this year, but I caught several of the game on television, and watched the entire event yesterday. It was fun to see the Midshipmen win their ninth game in a row against Army, especially after loosing earlier in the season to Air Force, and giving up the Commander-and-Chief's trophy. But once Navy locked up the game towards the end, and seeing the different Division patches on the Army uniforms, I couldn't help but feel some sadness for the Cadets and the soldiers at the game and those elsewhere routing for them, especially when I caught a glimpse of the 101st Airborne patch. It has been a tough year for the 101st in Afghanistan.

Some friends of ours' son is deployed now - last time in Iraq, this time Afghanistan. No doubt about routing for Army there, regardless of football game outcomes. Go Army!


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Two New Movies In Next Two Weeks

The Christmas movie season has arrived, and there are two films on my list - and won't need to check the list it twice. The first is the third installment of the C.S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia series - Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I wrote about this some time back, it is my favorite from the BBC production that appeared on PBS over 20 years ago - even though Prince Caspian and Dawn Treader were bundled together into three one-hour segments. The new preview trailer looks great. The movie opens next weekend, Friday December 10. By the way, I recently read a good interview with Douglas Gresham, Lewis' stepson who was executive producer of the film.

My second season pick is the sequel to the original computer graphic science fiction film - Tron - and opens a week later. It is released by Disney - Disney dropped the Voyage of the Dawn Treader film after
Prince Caspian made half the revenue of the first Narnia production - The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I hope both films do well, but wish the better revenue return for Dawn Treader. I am curious what the Tron sound track will be like - like the computer-generated graphics in the original film are greatly surpassed by today's technology, I wonder how the use of the original Wendy Carlos Moog Synthesizer scores that were innovative at that time will work in the new film now - with Daft Punk as the musicians. Also, will an anthem by the group Journey wrap up the end of the film as well? Tron opens December 17.

The past year has been a bit of a crunch, so I am looking forward to some pure fantasy at the theater, to go along with my anticipated winter diet of Poirot classics. Yes, I know what I want to see this Christmas, and don't need to check my list twice.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Lost to a War, But Not Unknown

An article about Adam Dickmyer's funeral appeared in the Boston Globe newspaper on November 23. In the article the writer, Kevin Cullen, mentioned the connection of Adam to the funeral of Senator Ted Kennedy, and how the the Senator's doctor's nephew - an Army Captain, along with Mrs. Kennedy, attended the funeral. I appreciated what Cullen wrote, so sent him an email last night thanking him. He wrote back today. Below is my note, and his reply - followed by the article - Lost to a war unknown. There are always stories behind the stories - these are no exceptions. (1)
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November 29, 2010

Dear Mr. Cullen,

Thank you for your follow-up article to the funeral of SSG Adam Dickmyer at Arlington National Cemetery. Our son served with Adam for three years at the Tomb of the Unknowns - his loss was close to home for us. I appreciate you mentioning the Army connection to the Kennedy's family through the Senator's physician, as well as Mrs. Kennedy's attendance. You may not know, but another attendee of the funeral was SSG Salvatore Giunta, who the day before was presented the Medal of Honor. My understanding is that the Tomb Guards had helped him shape up his uniform for the presentation at the White House, and later the day of the funeral, his induction into the DoD Hall of Honor at the Pentagon - he walked unnoticed with the mourners from the chapel to the Section 60.

There are many ways that those in the military support one another. Thank you for your support of our troops through good articles such as you wrote about Adam.

Sincerely,

Jeffrey Steiner
Annapolis, MD
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November 30, 2010

Thanks.
Dr. Ronan called me when his nephew told him about Adam being KIA.
He asked me to write something to recognize Adam, and I'm glad I did
because it reached a lot of people, and Adam was, like so many of our
people in the military, the best of us.

Cheers
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Lost to a war unknown
By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / November 23, 2010

For six years, Army Staff Sergeant Adam Dickmyer was a “sentinel,’’ one of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.

He was one of the elite Old Guard, the select soldiers who, in rotation, bear silent witness every minute of every day, in all kinds of weather, honoring the unknown soldiers who died on foreign battlefields.
It was something he took seriously.
 
Dickmyer spoke to Robert Poole for Poole’s book, “On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery,’’ which was published last year. He explained the Old Guard’s mission with a poignant simplicity.
 
“We want the guys who sacrificed everything to know that they are still remembered, that someone still cares,’’ he said.
 
Sometimes, his duties took him away from Arlington. Dickmyer was lead pallbearer for Senator Ted Kennedy last year. He was with the casket every step of the way, from Hyannis Port to the Kennedy library to the Mission Church. Tens of thousands of people from Massachusetts and beyond would have seen Dickmyer or passed close to him, but they wouldn’t have known who he was.

Hundreds of thousands would have watched him over the years at the Tomb of the Unknowns as he faced the tomb for 21 seconds then marched 21 steps, a ceremony of remembrance practiced over and over again. But none of those tourists would have known his name.
 
Dickmyer was part of one of the most distinguished units in the Army. Less than 20 percent who try out make the Old Guard. Still, he volunteered for combat duty, leaving the Old Guard for the Second Battalion of the 502d Infantry Regiment, Second Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division. In June, his unit arrived in Afghanistan for a yearlong deployment. On Oct. 28, Dickmyer dismounted from his armored vehicle and was on foot patrol in Kandahar when a hidden bomb exploded, killing him. He was 26.
 
He was just the third sentinel killed in action. Two others, Staff Sergeant William Spates Jr. and Sergeant Marvin Franklin, were killed in Vietnam.
 
Dickmyer was the first of five soldiers out of Fort Campbell in Kentucky to be killed in Afghanistan in five days. The day after he died, Specialist Pedro Maldonado, 20, was killed by grenades and gunfire. A day later, Specialist Brett Land, 24, was killed, like Dickmyer, by an IED.
 
Four days after Dickmyer was killed, a guy on a motorcycle drove up to the Second Brigade’s base. Specialist Jonathan Curtis, 24, a great kid who grew up in Belmont, and Private First Class Andrew Meari, 21, were on guard duty and stopped the motorcycle, preventing it from entering the base. In doing so, they saved many lives, but lost their own when the guy on the motorcycle detonated the explosives he was wearing.
 
The war in Afghanistan is the ultimate war of the unknown soldier. So few Americans have their own flesh and blood in harm’s way. So few think of the war on a daily basis. The war trundles on, unknown to so many.
 
They remembered Jonathan Curtis in Belmont Sunday, and last week they remembered Adam Dickmyer, the face of the unknowns, who had been seen by so many and known by so few, at the cemetery where he stood in silent witness before he went off to war. Dickmyer’s cortège was escorted by Army Captain Mark Boyle, whose uncle, Larry Ronan, was Ted Kennedy’s doctor. Ted Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, was there, too, as Dickmyer’s widow, Melinda, accepted a tightly folded flag.
 
“It is he who commands the respect I protect, his bravery that made us so proud,’’ the sentinel’s creed reads. “Surrounded by well-meaning crowds by day, alone in the thoughtful peace of night, this soldier will in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance.’’
 
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com.
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(1) Rex Looney has posted photographs from the day of the funeral on his Flicker site, as a part of the memorial portfolio to Adam. No doubt there are more stories behind these photographs - beyond the captions that Rex provides. A personal photographic narrative account of the impressions from participating in a funeral procession can be found by clicking here.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Pensacola Birding - Santa Rosa Island

Doing the tourist thing and birding are not necessarily optimally the at the same time. We have had a relaxed pace for looking around the Pensacola area. Tuesday I bought a couple of field guides for Florida birds. I really like the color plates in Florida's Birds by Maehr and Kale, but found that the Birds of Florida by Alsop was more useful. My wife and son were patient to let me do a little dedicated looking on the west end of Santa Rosa Island after we had toured Fort Pickens. A
Mississippi Kite was my first spot when walking out into the bush as seen in the photograph to the left. On the drive out we saw Brown Pelicans, Great Cormorant, Herring Gulls, and Osprey. On the drive out of Gulf Islands National Seashore park on the way back to Pensacola, there was a Green Heron just off the road in the low vegetation. The Gulf barrier islands are pretty cool - parts of Santa Rosa Island are only 300 feet wides and have sparse tufts of beach grass and other plants to hold the sand together, while other parts like in the photograph above have more complex combinations of vegetation. Inland, I spotted Northern Mockingbird, American Crow, European Starling, and Tree Swallow.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day 2010 - Life Long Service

We are waiting for the broadcast of the Wreath Laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. As I grew up, the word Veteran and my mom's brother Gordon were synonymous - even though I lived a long ways from where he lived. He served in the Army Infantry during World War II in Europe (1), and after the war as a guard at Nuremberg. I remember when we visited Wisconsin for a month in 1964, going to his apartment and seeing his collection of patches from uniforms - it seemed impressive to a kid who with his brothers would play Army for hours at a time during the summer - inspired by episodes of the old Combat! television series. Only a fraction of the veterans from World War II are still alive (2) - I am fortunate that my dad, father-in-law, and uncle are still counted among those who remain of the Greatest Generation (3). For my uncle, today is to be a busy day. He is the American Legion Post Commander in the village of Hilbert, Wisconsin - the Veterans Day Parade, and all of the flags that have to be displayed. He notes often when he writes or talks, that he is also busy other days with the steady stream of veteran funerals that he helps with. A retired U.S. Postal Service employee and the long-time Postmaster of Hilbert, his name is a synonym for life-long service as well.
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 (1) Records of Purple Heart recipients are found in a search of the Roll of Honor at the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in the Town of New Windsor, New York.

(2) Of the approximate 16-million American men and women who served in WWII, an estimated 2,583,000 veterans were still alive in September 2008, but dying at the rate of about 900 per day. This puts the total living population at just over 2 million in November 2009 (Department of Veterans Affairs).

(3) In today's commemoration ceremonies at Arlington Nation Cemetery, Vice President Biden in his Veterans Day remarks described the present generation of men and women who serve as whom could
be described as the next Great Generation. "Over the past decade our militaries have embarked on a longer period of sustained combat than in all of American history." Now counted among the most tested of Americans, the Vice President went on to quote his wife, "only 1% of this nation is fighting these wars, 100% of the nation owes them a thank you." (4)

(4) For information about the challenges some families face with the return of their loved ones who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, watch the testimony given last year to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee subcommittee that oversees Veterans benefits by clicking here.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Another Round of Season Change

The weather outside has definitely gone to the cool side - had no motivation today to go out and plant the daffodil and tulip bulbs. When the season changes like this, my volume of reading goes up, and the desire to get into video series rises as well. This afternoon my wife and I watched the second of three stories in an Agatha Christie Poirot The Movie Collection, Set 5 - Third Girl - it was excellent. We bought the set last month as Sam's Club - whenever a new set shows up, I buy it (1). We have quite the collection of Hercule Poirot videos from PBS Mystery program (2), and later ones that were broadcast on the A&E cable channel. This set is from a more recent PBS Masterpiece Theater series - we didn't catch these when they played this past summer. Looking ahead, there are newer movies that have not yet been shown on television in the United States - if my Web browser was registered in the United Kingdom, I would be able to watch them on-line.
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(1) The DVD sets at Sam's Club are about $10 cheaper than at Amazon.
(2) When the kids were young, we used to watch Poirot on Mystery every Thursday evening.

Newest Addition - Carolina Wren

We put up a suet bird feeder last year, but it didn't seem to get that much attention. I tried again this this autumn - putting in a block that contained insect parts. The owner of the Wild Bird Center shop where we go to here in Annapolis recommended it since the weather was still warm and the suet still stood a chance of melting. I used fruit-based suet cakes before, but didn't seem to get much success - I had hoped
these would attract Baltimore orioles. Earlier in the week, I noticed a downy woodpecker frequenting the feeder a couple of times. Yesterday evening I saw a wren make a quick stop, but couldn't tell which species. This morning, for sure it was a Carolina wren - distinguished by the white eyebrow stripe and the short tail. These markings are different from the Bewick's wren that also has the eyebrow stripe, but a longer tail with white striping. The Bewick's wren is a threatened species - see information here, so is not seen very frequently. The National Geographic bird site gives a nice description of the Carolina wren here. For suet recipes, go to the Website here. Also, I have been noticing a lot of activity by tufted titmouse at the seed feeder this week as well, along with the house finch and sparrows.

Friday, November 5, 2010

DRK i'd Junk-o

I got to see a new bird in our backyard this evening. I had meetings downtown this afternoon, and when things were finished there, it was too late to take my Metro train back out to where my car was parked and then drive back to the office - so I drove straight home from the Landover Station. At the beginning of last month I figured out how to use the hands-free feature in my car, so I can do some work calls while commuting - as of October 1, the Maryland law went into effect that disallows use of hand-held cell phones while driving. When I got home
and stepped out of the car, I was welcomed to the chirping of a northern cardinal - a male was in the top of the cherry tree in the front yard, his bright red coat contrasted against the dark gray clouded sky. After taking off my coat and tie, and placing my ID badge on the table next to the front door, I looked out the patio sliding glass door at the feeder to see if there was any bird action going on (1). There were three house finches jockying for position on the feeder. Just then a few darkish colored birds swooped into the yard, with one lighting on the gravel path. I had a pretty good idea of what general kind of bird it was, so a quick look at my copy of Peterson's A Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America confirmed what I though: a dark-eyed junco. A description of this junco that is similar to the Oregon junco we were familiar with back home in Corvallis can be found by clicking at the U.S. Geological Survey Website here. When the birds swooped into the yard, their flight pattern was different from the other more regular frequenting species we see. The question for today is whether there were just passing through, or will be new regulars to our yard this winter. The dark-eyed juncos are widespread across much of the United States during the winter.
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(1) Did I ever mention that I can be a very dull blogger? Definition of dull found by clicking here.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Giants Win, Four Games to One

The first baseball team I was aware of was the San Francisco Giants - the Giants were our family's team - the Dodgers, were not talked about. As I watched this year's game five of the World Series, I could tell that it was with a bit of distant interest. Being on the East Coast, it is hard to stay up on work nights with the time zone difference to watch games that end after 11:00 PM when they are broadcast from the West Coast - but then, maybe that is the tell-tale-sign that I really am no longer the Bay Area fan I used to be. I know that 17 years in the Pacific Northwest turned me and my family into Mariners fans (1) - the year we moved to Oregon was the year Oakland lost to the Dodgers, and the following year was the Battle of the Bay Series, with earthquake (2) and all when Oakland trumped the Giants. Don't get me wrong, I am tickled that the Giants won last night, and stayed up way past my bed time to watch the analysis of the final game and the series on ESPN2. I know that I would have an easy time rooting for Giants if they matched up with almost any American League team - except, maybe the Mariners. The photo above with Tim Lincecum the winner of games 1 and five tells it all. A great ESPN This is Sports Center commercial featuring Lincecum is found clicking here. It is these kinds of things that I miss during the six months Major League Baseball is not up and running.
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(1) There are much better Giants fans than me. Tonight on All Things Considered on NPR, there was a short report about 74-year-old Bill Kent, head of the New York Baseball Giants Nostalgia Society, and his decades-long love for the New York and San Francisco Giants - 56 years after the Giants moved from the East to West Coast, he is still a fan. That is dedication to a team, regardless of geography.

(2) Because of the earthquake, a ferry dock had to be constructed to accommodate commuters crossing the bay while the Oakland Bay Bridge was repaired. As is happened, my brother was a worker on the dock, and one day Dave Stewart, an Oakland pitchers came by, and Brian was able to get his autograph on a Heath candy bar wrapper. He mailed it to us in Oregon knowing that our then nine-year-old son Dan was a real fan (3), but for some reason, the envelope never made it.

(3) In the fall of 1988, Brian, Dan (seven years old), and I saw the game in Oakland when Jose Canseco hit his 40th home run in his 40-40 season (first to get 40 home runs and stolen bases in the same season). The only down side of the game was that Dan threw up at the game soon after the blast over the left field wall, so we missed the rest of the game - it turned out to be 11 innings. It is interesting to see how a crowded walk way filled with people coming and going to the concession area parts like the Red Sea in front of Moses when a kid projectile vomits.
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SF Giants On Top Of The World With 1st Series Win
Henry Schulman, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday November 2, 2010

Arlington, Texas -- There stood pitcher Matt Cain, at 26 the longest-tenured player on the 2010 Giants, raising the circle-of-flags trophy above his head on the field so hundreds of San Francisco fans who refused to leave the Rangers' ballpark could see it.

"Wow, this is sick," Cain said. "We're the World Series champions of 2010."

How long the faithful have waited to hear those words - not years, but generations. The Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958 and had not touched that trophy until Monday night, when they beat the Texas Rangers 3-1.

The Giants needed only five games to win the franchise's sixth World Series, its first since 1954. They dominated Texas in ways they could not have imagined during a 162-game regular season and two rounds of playoffs that lived up to the team's unofficial motto of "Giants baseball: Torture."

The unlikely Most Valuable Player for an unlikely World Series winner was Edgar Renteria, an injury-plagued shortstop from Colombia who might retire after the season and whose two-year, $18.5 million contract was ridiculed because the Giants gave it to a player thought to be washed up.

Renteria already belonged in the pantheon of World Series heroes. In 1997, then 22 and a big-leaguer for less than two seasons, he won Game 7 for Florida with an 11th-inning single. On Monday, Renteria secured a seat at the head table when he supplied all of the Giants' runs with a three-run homer in the seventh inning that broke a 0-0 tie.

Renteria called his shot against Cliff Lee, twice telling center fielder Andres Torres before the game he was going to go deep.

"He told Andres he was going to hit one and he did it," outfielder Aaron Rowand said. "He Babe Ruth-ed it, I guess."

Tim Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young Award winner, allowed three hits and struck out 10 in eight innings in the most important win of his 26-year-old life.

On a team with so much youth, it was fitting that Buster Posey, a 23-year-old rookie catcher, did the keenest job summarizing what this championship means to an organization and a city that was starved for it.

"It's crazy to think with all the great baseball players who have come through San Francisco, there hasn't been a World Series championship," Posey said.

"The beautiful thing about the organization is, you've got guys like Will Clark here. You've got J.T. Snow here. You've got Shawon Dunston here. When we get back to San Francisco, we'll have Willie Mays and Willie McCovey and Gaylord Perry. The list goes on and on. It's so humbling to have won the first World Series in San Francisco. It's unbelievable."

How fitting that the Series ended with closer Brian Wilson blowing a strike-three fastball past Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz, setting off a celebration sure to rock the Bay Area for a long time. After all, everyone had generations to plan it.

52 title-free years

With the first toast, revelers could bid good riddance to the ghosts of failures past.
McCovey's line drive to Bobby Richardson in 1962, the earthquake sweep in 1989 and the Game 6 collapse in 2002 - their power to spook the faithful is gone, defused by a championship year led by four homegrown pitchers, including Lincecum, who came up huge in the clinching game.

Former managing general partner Peter Magowan, a Giants fan since 1951 who could not guide the franchise to a title during 16 years at the helm, said this title makes up for everything.

"It does. It erases it," Magowan said. "I don't think a day goes by that I don't think about the '02 World Series. I still think a lot about '62, to say nothing about all the other near-misses. This does knock it all away."

Nailing it down

With two outs in the seventh inning of a 0-0 game, and Cody Ross and Juan Uribe on base after singling, Renteria knocked a 2-0 cut fastball from Cliff Lee over the wall in left-center field for a three-run homer that helped secure the trophy.

First baseman Aubrey Huff, who broke into tears as the World Series win truly dawned on him, said he was happier for Renteria than anyone.

Renteria was derided by fans for not living up to his contract. In 2010, he spent three tours on the disabled list with three different injuries. He also was injured in late September when the Giants, who were not hitting, held a pregame meeting inside the batting cage at Wrigley Field.

In one of the season's most emotional moments, according to those who attended, Renteria rose to speak. He was in tears.

"I had a feeling this was going to be my last year," Renteria recounted Monday. "I told my teammates, 'Let's go. Let's play hard. I know we can do it. I believe in you guys. If you guys have a chance to put us in the playoffs, I'll help you once we get there.'

"The Giants organization gave me a two-year contract and I was not able to help them. But they always had my back. I just wanted to do something big for them."

The Giants still had to get nine outs after Renteria's homer. Lincecum got six. Though he allowed a seventh-inning homer by Cruz, he also struck out three hitters in the inning and one more in the eighth.

Lincecum was lights-out

Lincecum was not sharp during the Giants' Game 1 win. In Game 5 he was lights-out and became the 15th pitcher in history to win four games in one postseason.

Posey said he knew it would be OK before the game when he saw Lincecum's demeanor.

"It's called being a gamer," Posey said. "Walk into the clubhouse today and the guy's as loose as he can be, joking around, same old Timmy. He had no idea he had an opportunity to go out and win Game 5 of the World Series and win us a championship."

Afterward, it still had not sunk in.

"It'll take over later on tonight," Lincecum said, "when we get to be by ourselves and really think about everything."

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Thought You Should Know

We got an email today from our son letting us know that one of the soldiers he served with for three years at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery was killed in Afghanistan on Thursday, October 28 - "Thought you should know" was the title line. Yesterday
there was a short report on the NPR Morning Edition radio program about a memorial service held earlier in the week in Afghanistan for another soldier in the 101 Airborne Division who was recently killed. I make a point not to tune out reports of casualties - to stare at the reality, and try not to become callous. When checking the Corvallis news earlier in the week, I also saw that a Marine from nearby Albany had recently been killed. A few months ago I happened on a report in the Los Angeles Times that showed a picture of a father holding his son's Army photograph after learning of his son's death - I knew the father from high school. All of these reports touch me - sons of former classmates, soldiers from
towns or states where we have once lived, loved ones of old friends who go to former churches we attended, and most recently - graduates of the Naval Academy. But this is the first time someone I have met has been killed in war - closer still since our son,  Badge 536, had worked with him. The news about Staff Sergeant Adam Dickmyer, Badge 528, is close to home. We had met him several times when visiting the Tomb, and he was the commander of the relief when Mike took his last walk on the Fourth of July three years ago - he ate the meal we brought to the sentinel's quarters to celebrate the end of Mike's 38 month tour.

I read that the family of Staff Sergeant Dickmyer wants to have him buried at Arlington where he served for six years (1). The daily funeral schedules is posted at the bottom of the cemetery's Website homepage. A photographic memorial put together by Rex Looney who regularly photographs life at the Tomb of the Unknowns is found here. The Associated Press has posted a number of photographs of Staff Sergeant Dickmyer when he was received at Dover Air Force Base (2).
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(1) Internment is scheduled for Wednesday, November 17 from 9:00-11:00 AM in Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery, the service begins at the Memorial Chapel at Fort Myer.
http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=130725056983236

(2) See an earlier post about the significance of Dover Air Force Base.
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Fort Campbell Soldier on patrol dies after being struck by an IED 

October 30, 2010

Fort Campbell, KY – A 101st Airborne Division Soldier died October 28th, when struck by an improvised explosive device while on dismounted foot patrol in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.

Staff Sgt. Adam L. Dickmyer, 26, of Winston Salem, NC, was an Infantryman assigned to 2nd Battalion, 502th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). He joined the Army in October 2002 and arrived at Fort Campbell in November 2009.

His awards and decorations include:  Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal; Army Achievement Medal; Army Superior Unit Award; Army Good Conduct Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Army Service Ribbon; Non Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon; Air Assault Badge; Expert Infantry Badge; Parachutists Badge; Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Identification Badge and Marksmanship Qualification Expert Badge.

Dickmyer is survived by his wife, Melinda K. Dickmyer of Arlington, VA; father, David Dickmyer of Winston Salem, NC; and mother, Stephanie L. Dickmyer, of New Port Richey, FL.
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Other follow up articles reporting Adam's funeral at Arlington National Cemetery are found at:
Boston Globe
Washington Post and here
Winston-Salem Journal

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Aves de Uruguay y Argentina

As soon as we drove out of Colonia into the country side, I knew I was going to be disappointed. I couldn't believe the diversity of birds I saw out the car window on our way to our scheduled appointment at the Instituto Nacional de Investigación Agropecuaria research center at La Estanzuela, but there was no time to stop and look. All I could do is jot down descriptions of what I saw - hoping I could recognize the birds by my notes and memory later when in my hotel room with my copy of Field Guide to the Songbirds of South America, The Passerines by Ridgely and Tudor. It was a wonderland of new species. I saw birds in Argentina as well, especially the last day near Buenos Aires, but nothing like what was across the rolling hills of farm land in southern Uruguay. For sure, I would love to go back again in spring and spend all of the time in world just looking.

a. White banded mockingbird
b. Shiny cowbird
c. Forked tailed flycatcher
d. Red-crested cardinal
e. Rufous hornero
f. Brown-chested martin
g. Southern burrowing owl
h. Yellow brown tyrant
i. Scimitar-billed woodcreeper
j. White-tipped dove
k. Plumbeous ibis
l. White monjita
m. Chimango caracara
n. Snowy egret
o. Rufous hornero nest

And, this was just the start. For a check list of Uruguary birds, click here. For a check list of Argentina birds, click here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Argentine Politics - On Display

I knew nothing of contemporary news about Argentina before visiting last week, much less Argentinian politics. So it caught my attention this morning while listening to the morning radio news when a report came on that the former president and husband of the present President of Argentina had died today. While out walking back to our hotel the
first night after the reception for the conference I was to speak at the next day, I noticed a sign board at the side of the street with posters for a political candidate. As it turned out, he was a former friend of the President's husband's against whom he would be running in the 2011 election - now that won't be. It is interesting that in Argentina, most anyone you talk with has a political opinion - just like here in the United States. Also, on my last afternoon in Buenos Aires, the traffic in the city was particularly bad - by any standard. The Embassy folks said their was a follow up protest to one the day before because some one had been killed during the  
previous day's demonstration. At a stop light from across the boulevard going in the opposite direction, I took a picture of the marchers - an image of times past as I remember seeing in the news - also not mattering whether it was in the U.S. or Argentina. When reading the State Department briefings about Argentina (and other South American countries) before leaving on my trip, there was a warning to avoid political rallies, so I was fortunate to see one from a distance - and catch a photograph.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Itsy Bitsy Spider...

All summer I have been trying to get a look at what I thought was a black widow spider, living in the valve box that holds the irrigation controllers that water our yard. I didn't know black widows lived in Maryland until my wife mentioned earlier in the year that she had seen one in the valve box. I have several times cleared the sticky webs that reminded me of the ones we always had in our garage in California - just no sight of one. But today, when I went to turn on the valve to give the resident female eastern box turtle a little wetting down, there was the spider hiding in the valve box cover. A quick visual identification guide of the spiders found in Maryland can be found by accessing the link by clicking here. A nice general guide to identify various insect orders can be found by clicking here.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Very Good Day

Three favorite college football teams, three wins.

Ricky Dobbs leads Navy to last-second win over Wake Forest.
Associated Press

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Ricky Dobbs led a brilliant touchdown drive capped by a 6-yard pass to Greg Jones with 26 seconds left to give Navy a 28-27 win and hand Wake Forest its second straight last-minute loss.

Dobbs, who had been knocked out of the game briefly after taking a sack on the previous drive, found an open Gee Gee Greene for a 34-yard gain to the Wake Forest 15 with just over a minute left.

Then on third down he hit Jones in the right corner of the end zone. Joe Buckley kicked the tie breaking extra point and Navy (3-2) avoided a second straight loss.
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Final: Oregon State 29, Arizona 27
By Ted Miller

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona couldn't defend its No. 9 ranking against a resurgent Oregon State team that again appears to be making a turnaround after a slow start.

That slow start is attributable to having played a pair of top-five teams, TCU and Boise State -- two teams that will be pleased with this result.

There is some bad news, however, from the Beavers 29-27 win over Arizona. All-American receiver James Rodgers suffered a knee injury that looked like it might be serious, though there was no official word.

The Beavers win was a coming out party for quarterback Ryan Katz, who turned in a career best day, passing for 393 yards and two touchdowns, completing 30-of-42.
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Oregon wins with no style points
By Ted Miller

Sometimes a 20-point win on the road doesn't feel so good.

No. 3 Oregon piled up 558 yards and beat Washington State 43-23, but it was a costly day. And not just because the win lacked the style points that are often required to keep moving up in the polls.

First, quarterback Darron Thomas was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury. Also, running back Kenjon Barner was seemingly knocked out, though the nature of his injury hasn't been revealed. He was was in stable condition and undergoing tests at the hospital, Oregon reported.

Oregon is 6-0 for the first time since 2002. With Alabama's loss at South Carolina, it's possible it could take another step forward in the polls.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

南锣鼓巷夜景 (Nanluoguxiang)

I had no idea of where to find the Beijing hutongs, so was watching as we rode cabs through the city on the way to the hotel and to meetings. After returning early Sunday from Baotou, my work companion asked the hotel concierge about the best options for getting to the Great Wall and Tian'anmen Square (compare descriptions here and here). We had the rest of the day off so figured we would go to the Wall first, and the area around the Forbidden City after getting back.

As it turned out, the hutongs were in the downtown area near Beihai Park, so after getting back from the Great Wall we had the cab driver we hired for the day drop us off. After walking along the lake in the park for a while, we 
figured out that the stylized tourist map was not to scale, and the Forbidden City - still a long walk away - was closing soon, we exited the East Gate. We wound our way through a series of narrow streets and alleys, quickly viewing life there - grocery stores, carpenters working rough sawed lumber, a chicken coup on the roof of a home, people coming and going. We made our way forward, keeping 
our left side always towards what we thought was the wall around Beihai Park - a bearing point like the North Star. Our likely route was along Jingshan West Street, and then keeping to the left and north through Gongjian Hutong - passing Beijing Xicheng Shenchahai Elementary School. When we got back to De'anmen E Street near entrance to Beihai Park, we crossed the street and walked east by rows of shops and restaurants until we came to the sign for Nanluoguxiang - I remembered the entrance sign to this place from the year before. (1)

As we turned into South Luogu Alley (English for Nanluoguxiang), I tried to quickly re-oriented myself with familiar-remembered places. 
Walking to the right down a side street, we looked for the restaurant I ate at last year. After passing the brightly painted police station on the left, across the street on the right was the non-descriptive restaurant entrance. I asked the waitresses who were standing just inside whether we could look to see the central courtyard - and there it was. I asked how late they were opened, and one replied and asked if we wanted to make a reservation. The restaurant had just opened at 5:00 PM, but it was too early for dinner, so we walked back to the lane. Flying overhead were magpies - a few sparrows were perched on the edge of a roof, who then flew into a tree as we approached.

What was new this time, was that most of the people I noticed walking the street were young Chinese, not foreign tourists. This was even more apparent when we tried to hail a cab at the end of the lane - many young people coming and going - constantly being dropped off while others caught cab rides, off to other places on an early Sunday evening. When Google'ing Nanluoguxiang, it turned out that even the CRI (Chinese Radio International) reports that this street is a trendy area for young people. The shops are chic boutiques - no brand names, just cool. When I came out of one of the shops, a college-aged woman  
asked me to take a picture of her standing in front of one of the store signs with her cell phone - my companion mentioned the photo was probably now on a Facebook page somewhere. Before coming to China this time, the two things I wanted to buy were a framed print of a farm scene done in Chinese peasant art style, and a CD of traditional Chinese music (remember my odd music tastes). The peasant art store I remembered from last time was no longer there, but we did come across a small music shop called Source. (2) The proprietor was a youngish man with long hair who introduced himself as "Stephen." When I asked about "traditional or folk" music, he led me to a part of a shelf with Chinese labels and pulled out several albums. I picked one to listen to, and he offered us a cigarette while we listened. My camera was out of battery charge, so I regret that I don't have a picture of the shop and its proprietor.(3) Stephen called the disc I chose Chinese Indie - how about that? (4)  I took the business card he offered me, and when home looked up the Weblink for Source and found that it is an outlet for a modern arts association - Yan Club Arts Center.

It is an endeavor to try to find out more about a music artist from China when all of the information on the CD jacket is in Chinese. The ISBN and  ISRC numbers didn't help, but I was able to find out that the
record label - Modern Sky Entertainment - is the largest in China. Clicking on that site, and finding the Badhead label, I found the record cover with the artist I was looking for - but wouldn't you know it, all of the information for this album is in Chinese. However, by using the Google Translator Tool, it turns out that the artist is named He Ping 小河 (translated: Brook), and his album is described as: Highly experimental alternative folk singer color, "good pharmacy (5)," lead singer, the experimental concept of his music is: with one another, mutual liberation, and in his music contains a deep feeling of freedom and love. Translation: Chinese Indie, just as Stephen described it when listening to the disc in his shop.

Some thoughts of the artist follow:

—有的人做音乐是在做人,有的人做音乐是在做科学家,有的人做音乐是为了革命,有的人做音乐是在做诗人,有的人做音乐是在做暴徒,有的人做音乐是在做小偷,有的人做音乐是为了卖身……
—我相信音乐不是自私的,我做音乐是为了我们一起幸福……

That translate:

Some people make music in life 
Some scientists are doing is making music
Some people do music is to the revolution 
Some people do music is to be a poet
Some people do music is doing the mob
Some people do music is to the thief
Some people make music to sell their bodies
I believe that music is not selfish
I do music is happy for us   

Just like the young woman on Nanluoguxiang who asked me to take her picture with her cell phone, technology is prevalent throughout China - the My Space page for 小河 and his band can be accessed by clicking here.  
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(1) A map of the vicinity of Beihai Park and Nanluoguxiang can be accessed by clicking here.
(2) Source, No. 14, Banchang Houtong South. The Website for Yan Club Arts Center also mentions a restaurant called Source. I cannot tell by the map whether it is the same one I had eaten at last year, or not, but the description on the Website mentions a courtyard eating area as well.
(3) For more pictures of activity along Nanluoguxiang, go here and here.
(4) Indie refers to Independent music. A Website specializing in distributing independent music can be found clicking here.
(5) This is the name of the band Glorious Pharmacy.