Sunday, August 5, 2012

University of Maine Rifle Team

A big part of my college years at the University of Maine was the rifle team.

The rifle team was one of the most successful athletic teams in the history of the university. The rifle team existed from 1923 to 1984 with four suspended seasons. That's a total of 57 active seasons, out of which the team won the New England championship 20 times. During my four years at the University of Maine (1973-1977) we won the New England championship three times, all but my sophomore year.

An extensive history of athletics at the University of Maine was published in 2007 and just recently made available online:

The Maine Book: University of Maine Athletics 1881-2007

Click here for the chapter on the rifle team. I'm in that chapter in three places, including the team photo on p. 6 from my senior year 1976-77. (The caption for that photo is misleading and partially wrong. See the first comment to this post for a better caption.) We were undefeated that year.

The photo on p. 9 is from the year after I graduated, so I'm not in it, but it is the only photo that shows the sign in the rifle range with all the years that the team won the New England championship. They won it that year, too. We practiced under that sign and it inspired us.

How big a part of my life was the rifle team? I earned a varsity letter in riflery all four years. I was co-captain of the team for three years. My college roommate my junior and senior years was a teammate. I was in several weddings of teammates. Two teammates were in the wedding when Nancy and I were married in 1979.

The University of Maine rifle team was sponsored jointly by the Military Science Department and the Athletic Department. The Military Science Department supplied the range, equipment, and coach. My recollection is that the Athletic Department paid for travel, but I never knew the details of the finances. In my four years on the team, few members of the team, and none of the top shooters, were in the military. The rifle team became a co-ed team the year I was a freshman.

We traveled all over New England and competed against Norwich University, Dartmouth College, MIT, Brown University, the University of Rhode Island, Providence College, and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Once a year we went to a big invitational event at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. We weren't the top dog there, often being competitive only with West Point's second or third team. But one year we beat even their first team. On the national level, there were many college rifle teams better than us, but we dominated New England and we sure had a lot of fun!

The rifle team at the University of Maine started to go downhill when it was determined, a few years after I graduated, that there was too much lead in the air in the rifle range. The team tried practicing off-campus, but it eventually died.

There has been a long trend of declining popularity of college rifle teams since before I went to college. Both the University of Vermont and Saint Michael's College had rifle teams in the past, but they had disappeared by the time I went to college. Vermont's Senator Patrick Leahy graduated from Saint Michael's College in 1961 and was one of the top shooters on its rifle team.

But maybe this trend is starting to reverse. The Wall Street Journal had an article about college rifle teams on Dec. 6, 2011, p. D2:

Young Scientists Take Aim

The article is about the college rifle team at the University of the Sciences (a pharmacy school) in Philadelphia. I was pleased to see in the article that MIT still has a college rifle team.

A few words about the sport at the time I was in college. We competed at 50 feet indoors with .22 caliber rifles. Air rifles were a novelty and were not yet used for competition. We competed in three positions: prone, standing, and kneeling. We fired 20 shots in each position. The highest possible score for each shot was a 10, so a perfect score was 600. We used the A-36 target.

For a match eight shooters would be selected to compete. The high four scores that day constituted the team score. (Sometimes, such as at West Point, we had to designate in advance the four shooters on the first team and the four shooters on the second team.) A perfect team score was 2400. As reported in The Maine Book, we regularly had team scores in excess of 2200.

Target rifle shooting in college was an indoor winter sport. Many of us also competed in matches outside of college, year-round. In college we were not permitted to use telescopic sights. Matches outside of college sometimes allowed telescopic sights and often included a fourth position: sitting (that is, sitting cross-legged, not sitting in a chair). Indoor matches were at 50 feet, the same as college, but often on the easier A-17 target. There were also outdoor matches in the summer, at 50 yards for three or four position events, and at 50 and 100 yards for prone-only events. For outdoor events, of course, weather is sometimes a factor—wind, rain, sun, temperature, etc.

Target rifle shooting in the Olympics has evolved over the years (see this Wikipedia article). The Olympics currently underway in London include five rifle events:

10 meter air rifle, standing only, indoors, men and women
50 meter .22 caliber rifle, 3 position, outdoors, men and women
50 meter .22 caliber rifle, prone only, outdoors, men only

These are all individual events. There are currently no team rifle shooting events in the Olympics. The 50 meter three position event would be closest to what we shot in college except that we shot indoors and at 50 feet with correspondingly smaller targets. Like college, telescopic sights are not allowed in the Olympics.

Scoring is slightly different in the Olympics from what I described above for college. The "qualifying" round consists of 20 shots in each of three positions for women (similar to what I described above for college) while men shoot 40 shots in each position. For both men and women, the top eight shooters in the qualifying round go on to shoot another 10 shots, standing, in the "final" round. For the final round only, scoring is in tenths of a point with the highest possible score being 10.9 for a perfectly centered shot. Scoring is electronic. The scores from the qualifying round and the final round are added together to determine the overall ranking.

As I write this, four of the five events listed above are complete and the U.S. had won only one medal. Jamie Lynn Gray won a gold medal in the women's 50 meter three position event, setting an Olympic record. Go Jamie! There are also additional Olympic shooting events for pistol and shotgun. Details here.

P.S. Almost anything can be found on the Internet these days! Click here to see the location and scoring of every shot that Jamie Lynn Gray fired to win her Olympic gold medal, in both the qualifying round (60 shots in three positions) and the final round (10 shots standing).

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Introduction to SLOW Government

In the previous post I wrote about Slow Food, Slow Money, and Slow Living. In this post I propose a new kind of "Slow."

My day job at Yankee Farm Credit involves financing farmers, which relates to both food and money. In recent years we have been seeing more nontraditional farmers, and I coined the phrase SLO agriculture for Sustainable, Local and/or Organic agriculture. My choice of acronym was a deliberate reference to Slow Food and Slow Money. Later I learned about Slow Living, and that all of these movements are part of the larger Slow Movement.

The philosophy of "Slow" has much to offer. Who doesn't think that modern life is sometimes too fast? But for all that it has to offer, the Slow Movement is missing something. It is missing what I call SLOW Government.

SLOW Government is the opposite of fast government. Fast government seeks to use the power of government to solve more and more of life's problems, resulting in more laws, more regulations, more government programs, more government bureaucracy, more taxes to pay for it all, and more government control over our lives.

SLOW Government first asks the question: Is this a necessary and proper function of government? In a country founded on the principle of limited government, this is a question that we too often fail to ask. SLOW Government recognizes the importance of culture and society outside of government.

The inspiration for SLOW Government came from one of the principles of Slow Money: "There is such a thing as money that is too fast, companies that are too big, finance that is too complex." (source) I believe that there is such a thing as government that is too fast, too big, and too complex.

A good way to think about SLOW Government is as an acronym, which is why it is capitalized:

S is for Sustainable. Government should be financially sustainable. Current policies are not sustainable. Cash outflows cannot indefinitely exceed cash inflows. Debt cannot increase without limit. We in the Farm Credit System have some experience in this area. We know that excessive debt causes borrowers to fail. We know that excessive debt causes financial institutions to fail. The Farm Credit System itself has had several near-death experiences in its long and storied history. Excessive debt also causes governments to fail. That is a fate to be avoided at all costs because it leads to great misery.

L is for Local. Government should be as local as possible. Centralized administration is the enemy of democracy. Alexis de Tocqueville made this observation in the 1830s in his famous book Democracy in America. On my employer's blog I have written two posts about Alexis de Tocqueville's views on the importance of local government, using New York and China as examples.

O is for Organic. The economy should be as organic as possible. Government should allow the economy to develop naturally, without being forced or contrived. Government's management of the economy should rely as little as possible on subsidies, mandates, grants, tax incentives, stimulus spending, etc. Such artificial devices confuse the price signals that are necessary for the economy to work. Such artificial devices also lead to crony capitalism, which is to be avoided because it causes citizens to lose faith in both business and government.

W is for Wise. Government should be wise. Lao Tzu, the founder of Daoism, said: "To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, subtract things every day." (source) Our government has had so many things added to it that it has become unmanageable. It has become unwise. No one can understand the Byzantine complexity of the endless laws, regulations, programs, agencies, departments, boards, etc. that constitute our government. We need to subtract things from government until it is once again manageable and wise.

One of the intellectual fathers of the Slow Movement is Henry David Thoreau. His influential 1849 essay "Civil Disobedience" begins with this sentence:
I heartily accept the motto,—"That government is best which governs least;" and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically.

That perhaps overstates slightly what I mean by SLOW Government, but the sentiment is certainly in the right direction. SLOW Government does not mean NO government. It does mean government that is more Sustainable, more Local, more Organic, and Wiser than our current government.

And with this introduction to SLOW Government, I wish you a happy Independence Day!

UPDATE: Fellow Vermonters have taken the bull by the horns on the "S is for Sustainable" aspect of SLOW Government. Biddle Duke, owner and president of the Stowe Reporter, together with friends Rob Foregger, Steve Silverman, Craig DeLuca, Bob Anderson and Jim Del Favero started a movement that went national in August 2012: Fix the Debt. Sign their petition! Click here for the story of how this movement began in Vermont.

UPDATE: Fellow Vermonters have written the book on the "L is for Local" aspect of SLOW Government. In September 2012 Susan Clark, town moderator of Middlesex, and Woden Teachout published Slow Democracy: Rediscovering Community, Bringing Decision Making Back Home. Read their book! "Slow democracy" means local democracy (and more). Vermont town meetings are an example of slow democracy.

Introduction to Slow Living

In this post I introduce the concept of Slow Living. But first I have to talk about Slow Food and Slow Money.

Everyone knows what fast food is. Slow Food is an international movement founded in opposition to fast food. Slow Food grew out of a protest against the opening of a McDonald's restaurant in Rome in 1986. Slow Food promotes food that is enjoyable, good for the consumer, good for the farmer, and good for the planet. "It opposes the standardization of taste and culture, and the unrestrained power of the food industry multinationals and industrial agriculture." The founder of Slow Food is Carlo Petrini of Italy. Today the Slow Food movement includes over 100,000 members in 150 countries.

The Slow Money movement was founded in 2008 by Woody Tasch of the United States with the publication of Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered. Carlo Petrini wrote the Foreword. The Slow Money movement seeks to "connect investors to the places where they live, creating vital relationships and new sources of capital for small food enterprises." In 2010 there was a Slow Money National Gathering in Shelburne, Vermont, which I attended.

The Slow Living movement extends the philosophies of Slow Food and Slow Money:
This simple phrase [Slow Living] expresses the fundamental paradigm shift that is underway in this age. “Slow” encodes the transformative change from faster and cheaper to slower and better—where quality, community and the future matter. It’s about slowing down and becoming more mindful of our basic connection with land, place and people, taking the long view that builds a just, healthy, fulfilling way of life for the generations to come. It is about common good taking precedence over private gain. It is about shifting not just consumption but investment to support the local and regional economy.

Last month there was a Slow Living Summit in Brattleboro, Vermont, which I attended.

More info (all of the above quotes came from these links):

Slow Food: Wikipedia entry, http://www.slowfood.com/
Slow Money: Wikipedia entry, http://www.slowmoney.org/
Slow Living: Wikipedia entry, http://www.slowlivingsummit.org/

Well, this is all very interesting. Who doesn't think that modern life is sometimes too fast? But what I find really interesting is something that is missing.

What is the philosophy of "Slow" missing? See the next post.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Madonna Vasa Trail

Today we got out hiking for only the second time this winter. It was the first time on snowshoes! It's been a mild winter, with little snow. But we had a good time today. About 30 degrees F, snowing lightly, with about 1.5 feet of snow on the ground where we were.

We hiked part of the Madonna Vasa Trail, which I had never been on before. It's a XC ski trail that was created some years ago (1960s or 1970s?). It runs from one of the parking lots at Smugglers Notch Ski Area (Madonna Mountain) to the Underhill State Park. We hiked from Desjardin Road to Burnor Road.

Here's the crew today:

It wasn't snowing very hard in the photo above. By the time we stopped for lunch, it was snowing harder:

In case you're wondering, the styrofoam cups contain hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps. Do we look happy??

The Madonna Vasa Trail was inspired by the Vasaloppet in Sweden, called the Vasa for short. The Vasaloppet is an annual 90 km XC ski race that was started in 1922 and was in turn inspired by a legendary run by King Gustav Vasa in 1520.