Friday, February 5, 2016

A State of Permanent War

I recently read a pretty disturbing article by Micah Zenko, here, asking a pretty simple question: "How many bombs did the U.S. drop in 2015?"

Let’s review U.S. counterterrorism bombing for 2015. Last year, the United States dropped an estimated total of 23,144 bombs in six countries. Of these, 22,110 were dropped in Iraq and Syria. This estimate is based on the fact that the United States has conducted 77 percent of all airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, while there were 28,714 U.S.-led coalition munitions dropped in 2015. This overall estimate is probably slightly low, because it also assumes one bomb dropped in each drone strike in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, which is not always the case.  

So, let's accept these data at face value (Zenko's article does cite source data from which he built this estimate).  What is our policy towards ISIS?

“We kill them wherever we find them,” and just this week, Col. Steve Warren, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman, claimed, “If you’re part of ISIL, we will kill you. That’s our rule.”

Since our avowed foreign policy seems to be one of destroying ISIS, how are we doing?

Pentagon officials claim that at least 25,000 Islamic State fighters have been killed (an anonymous official said 23,000 in November, while on Wednesday, Warren added “about 2,500” more were killed in December.) Remarkably, they also claim that alongside the 25,000 fighters killed, only 6 civilians have “likely” been killed in the seventeen-month air campaign. At the same time, officials admit that the size of the group has remained wholly unchanged. In 2014, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated the size of the Islamic State to be between 20,000 and 31,000 fighters, while on Wednesday, Warren again repeated the 30,000 estimate. To summarize the anti-Islamic State bombing calculus: 30,000 – 25,000 = 30,000.

So we've killed 25,000 bad guys, but there still seems to be at least as many of them now as when we started:  "At the same time, officials admit that the size of the group has remained wholly unchanged."

Sounds like a recipe for a state of permanent war.  They are replacing themselves faster than we can kill them.

Also sounds like it's time for a different approach.  Zenko's article touches upon the notion of preventing radicalization of young people to becomes terrorists, rather than wait till they actually have crossed the line and then focus on the kill.

You should go read the article, here.  This is not an unexpected result.  Suppose your family was decimated by a drone stoke.  If you're a survivor, wouldn't you bear hatred in your heart forever for the U.S?  We are creating terrorists faster than we can kill them.  It's a failed approach.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Serendipity...and Ultrarunning

Ever have a cool unexpected experience while trail running, that occurred because you were precisely at the right place at the right time, and any number of circumstances, if altered only slightly, would have precluded the occurrence?

Courtesy of The Free Dictionary, Let me introduce the word serendipity, which was invented some 262 years ago:

We are indebted to the English author Horace Walpole for the wordserendipity, which he coined in one of the 3,000 or more letters on which (along withhis novel The Castle of Otranto, considered the first Gothic novel) his literary reputation rests. 

In a letter of January 28, 1754, in which he discusses a certainpainting, Walpole mentions a discovery about the significance of a Venetian coat of arms that he has made while looking at random into an old book—a method by whichhe had apparently made other worthwhile discoveries before: "This discovery I made by a talisman [a procedure achieving results like a charm] ... by which I find everything I want ... wherever I dip for it. This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word." 

Walpole formed the word on an oldname for Sri Lanka, Serendip. He explained that this name was part of the title of "a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of...."

You can go to this site and read more yourself.  I can come up with a number of ultrarunning experiences that were truly serendipitous.  For example, despite spending many hours on trails and in the backcountry over the course of my lifetime, I'd never seen a bobcat...until one time about 10 years ago when I was on a business trip to Monterey, CA.   

I was running a trail in a park only a couple of miles from the city center, when I decided on a whim to take a turn at a junction.  Moments later a juvenile bobcat scampered right across the trail in front of me.  It stopped, and I stopped, in awe, and enjoyed the moment.  

The bride tells me that when she was a kid, she was told that bobcats are invisible, that's why people don't see them.  Also she revealed how puzzled she was the when she saw a sign advertising "Bobcats For Rent," dumbfounded at the fact that people could actually rent a bobcat (for what purpose is unknown)....then she realized that the ad was for a piece of equipment.

Monday, February 1, 2016

How Far Did I Run?...and Ultrarunning

If you're like me, early in my running career I was pretty anal about distances and times, and understandably so.  When you first start out, the progress comes quickly as you progress from a non-runner to someone who can now run a half mile, a mile, your first 5K, then 5 miles, a half marathon, a full marathon...and, since you have landed on this page, eventually a real Ultra.

That's where this tool can come in very handy to plan out your routes: the Google Map Pedometer.

Knowing your distance and speed is pretty important, but eventually you may reach the point I am at, where I no longer keep a daily running log.  Just seemed to be too much work.

But the Gmaps Pedometer still comes in mighty handy, as I just used it now to plot today's run as the bride drops me off on her way somewhere and I will run home.

Very likely there now is an app for a phone that does the same thing (probably better), but being old-school, I kinda like planning my routes on my desktop.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Cats in Art: The Madonna of the Cat (Barocci)

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art.  Having moved on from Stefano Zuffi's marvelous work, The Cat in ArtI am now using some ideas from Caroline Bugler's equally impressive book, The Cat/3500 Years of the Cat in Art.

Image credit The National Gallery, The Madonna of the Cat, Federico Fiori Barocci, ca. 1575, oil on canvas, 44" x 37", held by The National Gallery,, London, UK.

Bugler's analysis: 

The Italian artist Barocci evidently loved cats.  He drew them on a number of occasions, and incorporated them into several finished paintings....At first sight it appears to be a simple image of a family affectionately playing with a pet, but there is a more tragic undercurrent.  John the Baptist is teasing the cat by holding up a goldfinch.  While the bird was once a favorite pet for children, it became a symbolic reminder of Christ's passion because of the legend that it acquired its red spot when it flew down to remove a throne from Christ's brow and was splashed with his blood.  But the viewer knows that the cat will never catch the bird, and that the fate waiting the chubby baby in Mary's lap can never be avoided.

Seems that Barocci painted this image at least twice.  This one is on canvas, and an identical image, but on a panel, is held by the Musee Condi, Chantilly.

The cat is where?  Lower left, of course--that's seemingly where they always are.  Also, I just wish that we could see the kitty's face, for everyone else in the image is quite contented-looking, if not outright happy.  I bet the cat is quite annoyed over having to chase the bird, seeing as how cats are powerless to resist anything with feathers.

Gary note: With my Cats in Arts posts, I encourage you to scope out the art appreciation site Artsy (I have no financial interest in the site, I just like it), where you can explore many aspects of the world of art.  You'll certainly be entertained and enlightened!

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Math is Simple

I get it that people want to have the means to keep themselves and their families safe.  That's an obvious evolutionary adaptation that aids in the survival of the species.

But there's that pesky math thingy that can't be ignored:

Thanks to Digby's blog for the image.

Back to the math thingy.  Sure, I will admit that there are circumstances where the good guy with a gun saves the day over the bad guy with the gun.  But overwhelmingly, chances are that the something else will happen...something bad: a toddler finding a gun in a nightstand, kids playing with a gun while the adults are away, an"empty" gun going off unexpectedly in the hands of an otherwise responsible owner.

You may quibble with the actual numbers in the picture above but they are basically right. Your loved ones are far more at risk when guns are in the home.

I will also admit that this risk essentially goes to zero when firearms are secured in a kid-proof gun safe...provide that the "good guys" admit that virtually no one does that 100% of the time.

Sorry, that's just the math.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Guest Quote

One of the following pair of quotes is an actual quote last week from a famous politician.  See if you can guess which one is real and who said it:

1.  Zippity doobie blobbity ROOOAR summa summa ice ice baby boom boom boom boom da boom boom can't stop this hammertime run run rudolph run right wingy dingy WINGDINGS Clippy bop bop ba loo bop tutti frutti.  Amen and praise god.

2.  You quit footin' the bill for these nations who are oil-rich, we're payin' for some of their "squirm-ishes" that have been goin' on for centuries where they're fightin' each other, callin' Allah Akbar, callin' jihad on each other's heads forever and ever. Like I said before, let 'em duke it out and let Allah sort if out!

The correct answer is the second one is real and was actually uttered in a major speech by Sarah Palin as she endorsed Donald trump for president.

We're in trouble, folks.

Credits: The first quote is courtesy of Eschaton, here.  The second is via Digby, here.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Cats in Art: The Last Supper (Bassano)

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art.  Having moved on from Stefano Zuffi's marvelous work, The Cat in ArtI am now using some ideas from Caroline Bugler's equally impressive book, The Cat/3500 Years of the Cat in Art.

Today I feature a second painting by Leandro Bassano (also known as Leandro da Ponte, or Leandro da Ponte Bassano):

Image credit Wikimedia Commons, The Last Supper, Leandro Bassano, 1578, oil on canvas, size unspecified, held by Santa Maria Formosa, Venice, Italy.

The "held by" is not a gallery, but rather is a church, where the painting simply hangs.  And yes, there is indeed a cat in the picture.  To see it, however, we need a close-up of the very dark kitty crouching--of all places--down there at the lower left:

The painting above is soooo dark and gloomy that I hesitate to even show it....except that it provides a valuable art lesson.  Turns out that Leandro--as did many artists--painted more than one image of The Last Supper.  Perhaps the one above was originally a much brighter painting, but has deteriorated over time.

Regardless, check out Leandro's other crack at The Last Supper.  This one is much brighter and pleasing to the eye:

Image credit here, The Last Supper, Leandro Bassano, oil on canvas, date and size unspecified, held by Archivio Bridgeman Art Library, Berlin, Germany.

And here's the mandatory kitty close-up of the feline down in the lower left front:

Thank goodness for the Internet and all the wonderful art images that are to be found there. Without it I would have been stuck with a very poor Last Supper.

Also, it appears that the very same cat as last week was the subject for this painting as well.  Way to go, Leandro, immortalizing your pet forever!  I can well imagine Leandro saying to his dad Jacopo--also an artist and who also apparently painted this same cat--"Dad, can I borrow the cat for a couple of days?  I'm working on The Last Supper and I've got a blank spot down there at the lower left."  

Or, if my Italian translator is working OK, "Papà, posso prendere in prestito il gatto per un paio di giorni? Sto lavorando su l Ultima Cena e ho un punto vuoto laggiù in basso a sinister."

Gary note: With my Cats in Arts posts, I encourage you to scope out the art appreciation site Artsy (I have no financial interest in the site, I just like it), where you can explore many aspects of the world of art.  You'll certainly be entertained and enlightened!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Astronomy, 5 Planets Visible, and Ultrarunning

It's been awhile since I posted anything about astronomy, but that field is one of my favorite almost-hobbies.

I say "almost" because I don't have any telescopes or anything, I'm just a knowledgeable casual naked-eye observer.  I pride myself at being able to identify at a basic level planets, stars, and constellations.

Anyway...turns out that the next couple weeks, if you haul your butt out of bed just before dawn, you're in for a treat.  I'll let the always-good Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy tell us more (also, the image above is part of his post):

If you get up very early over the next couple of weeks, there’s a treat waiting for you outside: All five naked-eye planets known since antiquity are visible in the dawn sky at once.

This is actually pretty cool, and it’s visible from anywhere in the world. Very generally, if you go outside well before dawn (5:30–6 a.m. local time) and look south (in the Northern Hemisphere; face north if you’re in the upside-down part of the world), you’ll see the planets lined up across the sky.

Mind you, that’s “very generally.” Here are some specifics:
In order from their apparent positions from the Sun in the sky, the planets are Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter.* They scoot around a bit over the next few weeks, changing their positions and distances from each other, but stay in that order. Venus is the brightest by far, with Jupiter next. Saturn and Mars are about the same brightness as each other (compare them with the red supergiant star Antares which shines near Saturn), but Saturn will appear yellowish, while Mars will be rust-colored (because it’s rusty).

Click on over here and read the rest, then add Bad Astronomy to your regular reading regime.  You really must!

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning.  In the spirit of adventure running, about which I just wrote, I plan to scope out the overnight weather conditions over the next couple of weeks--looking for a clear forecast--and get up early for a pre-dawn run.  It's been awhile since I've done that, and it should prove to be magical.

Practically any activity is magical anytime you're doing something cool that is nowhere close to being on the radar of the rest of the world.