Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Where I Run: the Death of William Rihl

(photo credit here)

About 3 miles from my home, some 147 years ago last week, shots were fired in anger. Grown men were making war on one another. Two men were shot, one of whom was killed with a bullet in his brain, William Rihl.

Now, one man’s death didn’t amount to much amidst the carnage that characterized the American Civil War. But William’s life certainly mattered to him, and to his siblings, and to his mother and father, who had raised him, as would any parent, with hopes and dreams and plans for a happy life.

Rihl's death is memorialized with a monument as shown in the photo above.  You should click on the link to see some additional photos of the site and read the description of this small unit action.

Whenever I run by the monument, I try to remember William Rihl and the waste of how his life was cut short, ultimately, by politicians from both sides who found it easier to start a war than negotiate a peace....


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Arrogance of Power

Go ahead and read this. Read it carefully. It was a speech on 20 March 2003 by a prescient person (revealed at the bottom).

I have added bolding to some of the passages that resonated with me:

I believe in this beautiful country. I have studied its roots and gloried in the wisdom of its magnificent Constitution. I have marveled at the wisdom of its founders and framers. Generation after generation of Americans has understood the lofty ideals that underlie our great Republic. I have been inspired by the story of their sacrifice and their strength.

But, today I weep for my country. I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart. No more is the image of America one of strong, yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed. Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned.

Instead of reasoning with those with whom we disagree, we demand obedience or threaten recrimination. Instead of isolating Saddam Hussein, we seem to have isolated ourselves. We proclaim a new doctrine of preemption which is understood by few and feared by many. We say that the United States has the right to turn its firepower on any corner of the globe which might be suspect in the war on terrorism. We assert that right without the sanction of any international body. As a result, the world has become a much more dangerous place.

We flaunt our superpower status with arrogance. We treat UN Security Council members like ingrates who offend our princely dignity by lifting their heads from the carpet. Valuable alliances are split. After war has ended, the United States will have to rebuild much more than the country of Iraq. We will have to rebuild America's image around the globe.

The case this Administration tries to make to justify its fixation with war is tainted by charges of falsified documents and circumstantial evidence. We cannot convince the world of the necessity of this war for one simple reason. This is a war of choice.

There is no credible information to connect Saddam Hussein to 9/11. The twin towers fell because a world-wide terrorist group, Al Qaeda, with cells in over 60 nations, struck at our wealth and our influence by turning our own planes into missiles, one of which would likely have slammed into the dome of this beautiful Capitol except for the brave sacrifice of the passengers on board.

The brutality seen on September 11th and in other terrorist attacks we have witnessed around the globe are the violent and desperate efforts by extremists to stop the daily encroachment of western values upon their cultures. That is what we fight. It is a force not confined to borders. It is a shadowy entity with many faces, many names, and many addresses.

But, this Administration has directed all of the anger, fear, and grief which emerged from the ashes of the twin towers and the twisted metal of the Pentagon towards a tangible villain, one we can see and hate and attack. And villain he is. But, he is the wrong villain. And this is the wrong war. If we attack Saddam Hussein, we will probably drive him from power. But, the zeal of our friends to assist our global war on terrorism may have already taken flight.

The general unease surrounding this war is not just due to "orange alert." There is a pervasive sense of rush and risk and too many questions unanswered. How long will we be in Iraq? What will be the cost? What is the ultimate mission? How great is the danger at home? A pall has fallen over the Senate Chamber. We avoid our solemn duty to debate the one topic on the minds of all Americans, even while scores of thousands of our sons and daughters faithfully do their duty in Iraq.

What is happening to this country? When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomatic efforts when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy?

Why can this President not seem to see that America's true power lies not in its will to intimidate, but in its ability to inspire?

War appears inevitable. But, I continue to hope that the cloud will lift. Perhaps Saddam will yet turn tail and run. Perhaps reason will somehow still prevail. I along with millions of Americans will pray for the safety of our troops, for the innocent civilians in Iraq, and for the security of our homeland. May God continue to bless the United States of America in the troubled days ahead, and may we somehow recapture the vision which for the present eludes us.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D - WV), on March 20, 2003, who just passed away on Monday.


Monday, June 28, 2010

My Oldest and Favorite Garment

(Photo by Gary)

Of all the clothing I own--and I am not a clothes horse--this threadbare T-shirt is both my oldest and my favorite article of clothing.

The T-shirt dates from 1980 and I still wear it regularly for running in the summer. Long ago I cut off the short sleeves for hot weather use. I know, I know, it's cotton--AKA the Death Fabric--but technical shirts were not the rage 30 years ago.

I only wear it now for road runs of up to an hour or so, and go with a technical top for anything longer, or if I'm going into the woods.

It'll be a sad day indeed when this shirt bites the dust.  I got it when I had to go to Anchorage (Fort Richardson) and Fairbanks (Fort Wainwright) to work early in my career. I was able to take the bride along, and stay for several days after the work part of the trip was done. We were there over the summer solstice in late June when it never really got dark.

The scale of everything in AK was grand, and beautiful. And the critters! Moose, caribou, Dall sheep, grizzly bears, salmon....I've been back several more times for work, but am eagerly awaiting the time when we can take a purely pleasure vacation.

And I'd better look for a replacement T-shirt.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

More From the Writer's Almanac

From the 24 June 2010 Writer's Almanac. I get a free email from these folks daily, and it seldom fails to please. This day's entry had 3 gems worth passing on:

It's the 71st birthday of poet Stephen Dunn, born in Forest Hills, New York (1939). He is the first male in his family to live to his 60s. He wrote: 'Because in my family the heart goes first / and hardly anybody makes it out of his fifties, / I think I'll stay up late with a few bandits / of my choice and resist good advice.'

And this one, about Ambrose Bierce:

It's the birthday of the writer and satirist Ambrose Bierce, born near Horse Cave Creek, Ohio (1842), In his Devil's Dictionary (1906), he wrote: 'WEATHER, n. The climate of the hour. A permanent topic of conversation among persons whom it does not interest, but who have inherited the tendency to chatter about it from naked arboreal ancestors whom it keenly concerned.'

And finally, an excerpt from a poem called "Figs," (Erika Jong, (c) Penguin Group, 2009) just because I happen to like figs:

I believe it was
not an apple but a fig
Lucifer gave Eve,
knowing she would find
a fellow feeling
in this female fruit

One bite into
a ripe fig
is worth worlds
and worlds and worlds
beyond the green
of Eden.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Tales From the Perimeter: When Did God Become a Sports Fan?

Perimeter meaning the 6 mile patrol road inside the fence of the military installation on which I work, where some half a dozen of us comprise a pool of running “talent” and strive to show up for a noontime run a couple times a week if we can escape our desks. We share a lot and these guys are one of the core pillars of my sanity.

This is a great link. The money quote for me was this:

Athletes who publicly thank God for victory are often calling more attention to themselves than their faith, says William J. Baker, author of "Playing with God." They are selling their goodness, and their brand of faith, to a captive audience, says Baker, who describes himself as a Christian. "I don't think it's the right place and it's not the right gesture," says Baker, a former high school quarterback. "It's an athlete using a moment to sell a product, like soap."

When we discussed this during our perimeter run the other day, somebody asked:

Do you think that Jack "Thanked God" after his round of 75 at the Rich Valley golf course last weekend?

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Korean War...and Ultrarunning

(photo credit National Park Service, here)

60 years ago today the Korean War began with the invasion of the south by the North Koreans. It lasted some 3 years and killed an estimated 4 million human beings, half of them civilians.

Several years ago I was in Washington, DC for a training class in the summer. I stayed at a hotel near the Capital, and after work one evening I needed to get a 15 miler or so in. I ran around Haines Point, across the river to the Mount Vernon Trail, and came back across at the Lincoln Memorial. I wanted to see the relatively new Korean War Veterans Memorial before heading back to the hotel.

Well, this being Washington, DC in the summer, the hazy, hot and humid weather brewed up a thunderstorm. I could see the storm gathering, and other than being concerned about lightning, I was not worried about the rain per se because it was warm, I was covered with sweat anyway, and getting wet was not an issue. I ran up to the Memorial, slowed to a respectful walk, and was immediately struck by the haunting, gaunt, individualized faces of the 19 life-size statues. At this time you could walk among the statues (they are fenced off now). All or nearly all the soldiers were wearing ponchos...and just then the skies opened up in a deluge.

I was the only live person there and I have to say it was one of the most eerie experiences of my life, standing right among all these poncho-clad figures in the pouring rain, just like it must have been in Korea all those years ago.

(photo credit, here


The Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC was dedicated in 1995 to 1.5 million American men and women who served in the Korean War. The expansive memorial includes a group of 19 statues that depict soldiers on patrol facing an American flag. A granite wall has a mural of the faces of 2,400 unnamed soldiers with a reading that states “Freedom is not free.” A Pool of Remembrance honors all soldiers who were killed, wounded or missing in action.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

3 of 9 Down

( by Gary)

We are keeping our son's cat. This "temporary" arrangement has persisted about a year now.

The cat is called Tizzy (I refuse to ever say that a pet is named whatever, because I maintain that we can never know what they call themselves). My son found her along an interstate highway on-ramp in a cold rain, as a tiny kitten, and she would have surely died had he not rescued her.

Life # 1 used up.

Son's family enjoyed a happy home until one day Tizzy managed to get out and got hit along the busy street out front. She was able to make it home, and fortunately the only damage was a broken front leg, which necessitated a cast. Within a couple weeks the cast was off, with no apparent lasting effects.

But there went Life # 2.

In the meanwhile, our son and daughter-in-law conceived another child, and daughter-in-law could no longer take her allergy meds while pregnant. So we were asked--and agreed--to take Tizzy temporarily until after the baby was born and normal allergy treatments could resume. Well, you certainly can see where this is going....son, the cat person, gets outvoted and young Tizzy cannot come home.

So it looks like we've got a cat. I should say another cat--we already have 3 of our own.  Plus Tizzy, plus our daughter's cat: 5 in total.  That's borderline nuts, I'm afraid.

Which brings us to last week. Tizzy, now an indoor-outdoor cat, failed to come home one night (our cats always sleep in at night). And she remained gone the next night, and the next.... We canvassed the neighborhood, scouted backyards and roadsides, all to no avail. Young Tizzy was toast, or so we thought, until on the 4th day she showed up, rather bedraggled, but uninjured. We figure she may have gotten trapped in someone's outbuilding or shed, until the door was opened again several days later. Who knows?

But cross off Life # 3.

She is a sweet cat, a calico as you can see from the photo. Here's hoping that lives 4 thru 9 will remain unused for a long time.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tales From The Perimeter: Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation

Perimeter meaning the 6 mile patrol road inside the fence of the military installation on which I work, where some half a dozen of us comprise a pool of running “talent” and strive to show up for a noontime run a couple times a week if we can escape our desks. We share a lot and these guys are one of the core pillars of my sanitySee also here for a previous post.

Yesterday we had 5 of our 6 potential members show up to run (the missing one injured his hamstring recently in a military Physical Fitness run--somehow that seems ironic--speed does kill). Somehow we got on the topic of people becoming less literate, and being ignorant of the rules of spelling, punctuation, and grammar that we all grew up with.

I, who admittedly am anal-retentive, would have made a GREAT editor, and one of my pet peeves is when I read a poorly written email or document. I happened to bring this up during the run and met with violent consensus. I should note that the youngest of our group is in his early 40s; the eldest is 60, so perhaps we are reflecting the view of the "older generation."

The next day, I was moved to compose the following tongue-in-cheek email in response to whether anyone was running.

From: Gary
Sent: xxxxx
To: xxxxx
Cc: xxxxx
Subject: RE: Run today

Sending you a email to tell you Im a no-show, didnt bring my stufff, waiving off the run. See you Thrsuday.

Instead of runnning, for lunch today I will eat 2 cheeseburger's, maybe an hamburger, and a orange. Its what Im hungrey for. Then when I get home I will pet my kat because I like it's soft fur. Their really nice anmimals.

(facetiously messing with speeling, grammer, and punctuashun following yetserday's perimieter conversatoin)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

For the Children....Thomas the Tank Engine...and Ultrarunning

(photo by Gary)

Over the weekend we took Mister Tristan (the 2 1/2 year old human, not the blog) over to the excursion railroad at Strasburg, PA and took a ride on Thomas the Tank engine's train.  Of course, we adults were also enthralled at the festivities, and I mean that seriously.  The Thomas children's program and DVDs are actually quite good, I think, at teaching kids lessons in self-image, responsibility, cooperation, etc.

We had a wonderful day, and the kids were well-behaved and loved the day out.  This was Mister Tristan's first experience up close with a real train--other than the ones we see from our front porch about 1/2 mile away across the fields--and his first actual ride. 

Later, when we got home, I marveled at the good fortune that we have at being born in the US, and being in a stable and financially secure family.  Our problems are largely logistical (how can we fit in the Thomas trip?) while the problems faced by most of the children of the world have to do with food clean water and shelter and health name it.

Which also brings up the parallels with Ultrarunning.  Face it, this is for most of us a leisure pursuit made possible by our comfortable standard of living here in the US.  We don't have to scramble for food and water and medicine, we mostly worry about fitting in that trail run or buying a new Petzl headlamp.

I'm not going to give up Ultrarunning because there are needy children in the world, I'm just saying that we do have the moral obligation to help those in need.  My volunteerism and charitable giving need to be a priority and not an afterthought.

For the children, you know.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Afghanistan--Looks Like We're Staying

Via Corrente, we see that Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) has become a conspiracy theorist.

Q. What is the new definition of "Taliban"?
A. Anyone who lives above a lithium deposit

On Monday [14 Jun] we learned something that the Pentagon has known for years: Afghanistan is sitting on a trillion dollars worth of valuable minerals.

If you're wondering when the U.S. will withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, you now have your answer: Never. Our worst case scenario is peace. If war ends in Afghanistan, some subset of the Taliban would eventually become fantastically wealthy with the help of foreign mining operations. Nothing good can come from Taliban billionaires. That's the strategic risk that will keep us there forever.

I feel beyond head-shaking, beyond surprise, just sorta numb.  It's like we've sh*t the bed and there's just no good way to unsh*t it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

English Vs. Spanish

I'm shaking my head so hard I gave myself a concussion. From the Think Progress blog:
After making ‘American English’ the official language of Texas, GOP recruits Latinos in Spanish.

This weekend, delegates of the Texas Republican Party voted to include a provision in their state party platform advocating for an immigration law similar to Arizona’s SB-1070.  The platform also proposes “making American English the official language of Texas and the United States.”  Nonetheless, the first video of a YouTube campaign aimed at attracting more Latinos to the party that was launched yesterday…in Spanish.

Hypocrisy is something I can't abide, although if it's mere stupidity, I'm not much reassured.  I won't tolerate rudeness either.

Time to go for a trail run.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Groping...and Ultrarunning

In my cyber strolls about the Internet, ran across this one that made me blow coffee out my nose. From a site called FILMDRUNK, we see what is purported to be THE SINGLE GREATEST NEWS LEDE OF ALL TIME:

BERVARD COUNTY, Fla. [sic] — The Brevard County doctor who was arrested for groping a woman while dressed as Captain America with a burrito in his pants will not go to jail.

Hop over here to see the photo of the good Captain and read the whole story. Another funny part:

The woman called police and, when they arrived, the officers wrote in their report “there were so many cartoon characters in the bar at the time, all Captain America’s were asked to go outside for a possible identification.”

I never cease to be amazed at what people will do in the pursuit of sexual gratification. Maybe our Ultrarunning is a a good substitute for pent-up sexual demand?

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Rude Pundit and Obama's Oil Speech

Another non-ultra post: I must confess to the guilty pleasure of absolutely loving The Rude Pundit's blog.

He is extraordinarily profane and sacrilegious, so if you are easily offended, don’t read on, and don't click the link. But if you can tolerate the Pundit's usage of colorful language and sometimes crude sexual hyperbole to effectively make a point, and want to gain some insight, do read on, and do click here. Then scroll down to Tues 16 June (his separate posts do not have a unique URL), to the post called Obama's Oil Spill Speech: Us and Them.

I've cleaned it up a bit below, but you get the gist.

The President's big Oval Office speech was a bullsh*t pile of news updates, vague promises, and toothless threats. Look, we know that Obama wants the leak to stop. We know that the government is doing a lot of sh*t to make that happen, we know that the oil and tar and dead things need to be cleaned up, we know that BP is on the hook, we know that sh*t is effed up for fishing fleets and shrimpers. We know that he has limitations on what exactly he can do.

But the man said, "Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash America’s innovation and seize control of our own destiny." And he's right. So tell us what to do. Lead us. That's what we want; it's what we've wanted all along, not an especially skilled anchor informing us that oil spills are bad. "As we recover from this recession, the transition to clean energy has the potential to grow our economy and create millions of jobs -– but only if we accelerate that transition. Only if we seize the moment," he said. So effing seize it.

Obama's cautious approach to governance made him speak in generalities with little vision for the future. He could have said he was wrong about further drilling. He could have laid out a path that said, "Here's where we are. Here's where we want to be. Here's how we get to this new place." And he could have called on all of us to help. Jesus Christ, how about one mention of conservation (beyond having "conservationists" on one of the endless stream of panels studying sh*t)? How about saying that it's time, once again, for American drivers to give up their big-ass SUVs? How about enlisting us in the fight, or making it into a fight for our survival? "It's wind energy or The Road, mf-ers. Which do you choose?"

Above is what I was hoping for--President Obama to use the disaster to seize the moment, to channel President Carter from 30+ years ago, and to challenge the United States of America to undertake a program analogous in scope and difficulty of putting a man on the moon.  The oil WILL run out.  We--and our children--need an all-out, full-court press to develop non-fossil fuel energy sources now while we can still be in proactive rather than reactive mode.

We just need a strong leader with vison to take us there.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Scampering...and Ultrarunning

(photo credits here)

Not many adults scamper--it's primarily a phenomenon of children and small cute animals, such as goats or cats. I love the definition from Merriam-Webster:

to run nimbly and usually playfully about

You see, there are two key facets: being nimble and playful. And this is why I love Ultrarunning--it affords me the opportunity to be playful and childlike. Scampering actually has a serious purpose in Ultrarunning--sometimes it's the best way to navigate a rocky downhill. See, you can step tentatively and carefully from rock to rock. Or you can opt to go kamikaze style, feet operating independently from each other, intuitively thinking/looking/reacting a couple of steps ahead, much like a chess master automatically calculating and executing his next move almost without conscious thought.

You may be taking a long stride with one foot while executing a stutter step with the other, all done automatically, unthinkingly, just doing it. You skip joyfully downhill in an exhilarating rush, much more fun than picking your way gingerly down. And, in my opinion, doing it just as safely, while having a blast!

One of my best mental pictures is of my buddy Dave C from Shippensburg as we ran the Appalachian Trail north near Pine Grove Furnace State Park. There was a rock-filled downhill, big rocks, not little rollers, and Dave without thinking took off hard and fast down the trail. I watched amazed from above as he literally scampered, loving the run, safely and sure-footedly picking out the route. I can see that image as clearly as when he did it some 12+ years ago, in a move that I call "Scampering 101."

He set the bar high and every single time I've done it since I've been rewarded with childlike joy and exuberance.

Try it!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

World Cup Soccer, Thuggery, and Ultrarunning

For our soccer aficionados, courtesy of the blog Pharyngula:
Tired of the World Cup? Move to Somalia! The mullahs have declared that anyone watching sports on television is un-Islamic, so now thugs wander about, beating up or killing anyone caught watching the World Cup.

BBC news story here.

I'm wondering if they have enough help, or whether they're looking for a few more good thugs. I'd apply but I have a problem with thuggery and narrow-mindedness and people controlling the lives of others.

Good thing Ultrarunning is not a TV sport, lest all the couch potatoes get beaten by the thugs.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Susan B. Anthony Had it Right

Offered without stands completely on its own.

From Tennessee Guerrilla Women, 18 May 2010, here.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Falling...Or Not

At the risk of jinxing myself (I've never typed the word "jinxing" before, and I sorta like it!), I will make a dangerous observation: over the years I've come to realize that I'm quite surefooted on the trail.  I rarely fall and have never--yet--had a spectacular fall in which I drew significant blood or caused significant injury.

Analysis?  I think that years of trail running trains--in the sense of strengthens--the ligaments, tendons, muscles, and even the bones of the total leg.  As a result, the foot, ankle, knee, and hip joints are more resilient to unevenness of footing and consequently more resistant to injury.

For example, during a trail run I sometimes roll an ankle on an uneven surface, swear involuntarily, hop about, wonder if I'm injured...then within 30 seconds I've resumed running as though nothing has happened.

I have had a couple of falls that were more funny than serious, and occurred when I least expected them--coming off a trail onto a "safe" surface.  Once I had covered some 20 miles of the Appalachian Trail, only to take a header when I crossed a paved road.  A similar fall occurred when I was running the JFK 50 Miler, where I left the towpath to cross the Antietam Aqueduct, and promptly caught a toe and tumbled to the ground right before entering the aid station.

In both cases, wounded pride, not a wounded body.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Defending the Indefensible

I recently ran across a pretty funny post--in a sarcastic way--by Stephen M. Walt, that he called Defending the Indefensible: a How-to Guide (link here)

I'll excerpt a few of the good ones of his list of 21:

Powerful states often do bad things. When they do, government officials and sympathizers inevitably try to defend their conduct, even when those actions are clearly wrong or obviously counterproductive. This is called being an "apologist," although people who do this rarely apologize for much of anything.

Some readers out there may aspire to careers in foreign policy, and you may be called upon to perform these duties as part of your professional obligations. Moreover, all of us need to be able to spot the rhetorical ploys that governments use to justify their own misconduct. To help students prepare for future acts of diplomatic casuistry, and to raise public consciousness about these tactics, I offer as a public service this handy 21-step guide: "How to Defend the Indefensible and Get Away With It." The connection to recent events is obvious, but such practices are commonplace in many countries and widely practiced by non-state actors as well.

Here are my 21 handy talking-points when you need to apply the white-wash:


4. Ok, we did it but it wasn't that bad ("waterboarding isn't really torture, you know").

5. Well, maybe it was pretty bad but it was justified or necessary. (We only torture terrorists, or suspected terrorists, or people who might know a terrorist...")
 7. Besides, what we did was technically legal under some interpretations of international law (or at least as our lawyers interpret the law as it applies to us.)

18. It's a tough world out there and Serious People understand that sometimes you have to do these things. Only ignorant idealists, terrorist sympathizers, craven appeasers and/or treasonous liberals would question our actions.


Time to go read the whole list, don't you think?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Very Deep Hole

Bob Herbert of the New York Times is always one of my favorite reads.  He has the vision that is seemingly lacking--despite all our fond hopes--in President Obama.  I guess I'm feeling about him as I felt about President Carter: the time was right and ripe for a strong person of vision to seriously change the way this country was heading.  But neither president proved up to the task.

From Mr. Herbert's column on 7 June 2010:

For all the money that has been spent so far, the Obama administration and Congress have not made the kinds of investments that would put large numbers of Americans back to work and lead to robust economic growth. What is needed are the same things that have been needed all along: a vast program of infrastructure repair and renewal; an enormous national investment in clean energy aimed at transforming the way we develop and use energy in this country; and a transformation of the public schools to guarantee every child a first-rate education in a first-rate facility.

This would be a staggeringly expensive and difficult undertaking and would entail a great deal of shared sacrifice. (It would also require an end to our insane waste of resources on mindless and endless warfare.) The benefits over the long term would be enormous.

Bold and effective leadership would have put us on this road to a sustainable future. Instead, we’re approaching a dead end.

Our children deserve better.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Teddy Roosevelt Would Call “Bullsh*t,” not “Bully!”

(photo credit here)

My run this week along the Potomac River (see yesterday's post) took me up to Theodore Roosevelt Island, opposite Rosslyn, VA. There I got a very needed trail running fix, albeit only 2 miles (of the 10 total on this run). But running in the woods, however short, is always worth it, especially so close to Washington, DC—Roosevelt Island is only about 2-3 miles on foot from the White House.

This land is owned by the National Park Service, and the memorial to TR is comprised of water features (pools and fountains), a large statue of TR, and stone inscriptions of some of his famous sayings, all in a woodland setting.  Per the NPS site:

One of Theodore Roosevelt’s greatest legacies was his dedication to conservation. Today, this island stands as a fitting memorial to the outdoorsman, naturalist, and visionary who was our 26th President.

But here in early June, the water features are dry and full of winter’s debris. I assume that this is a casualty of budget cuts to the NPS.

In times of economic distress—or any distress, for that matter—I submit that we need more parks, not less. We need the soothing effects of the woods and of water features such as those on TR Island.

It breaks my heart that our national parks are underfunded and barely limping along in many cases. It pains me that the TR memorial is decrepit, largely ignored, and neglected. Yes, turning on the water features on TR Island will cost money, but you know what? Just pull the $$ from the Defense Department and pass it to the Department of the Interior. Sort of swords into plowshares.

Back to the title of this post—Teddy Roosevelt would be appalled, not at the neglect of his memorial, but at the larger issue of lack of funding for our historic and natural treasures protected for our children under the auspices of the National Park Service.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

DC Running: the Mount Vernon Trail

As a Defense Department employee, I have had my share or business travel, to some sucky locations but also to some very nice destinations (such as Hawaii, Japan, Alaska, Puerto Rico, San Diego, San Francisco, New Orleans, to name a few).

This week I attended a conference in Arlington, VA (across the Potomac River from Washington, DC and within spitting distance of the Pentagon). This conference focused upon research and development projects specifically set aside for small business under the Small Business Innovation Research program. I manage a couple of these contracts and wanted to attend this conference to see what other projects were in the works.

So that’s why I was in Arlington. After the conclusion of today’s sessions, I put on my running clothes to knock out 10 miles on the Mount Vernon Trail. This is a multiuse paved trail that runs on the south (Virginia) side of the Potomac River from Mount Vernon to Theodore Roosevelt Island (opposite Rosslyn, VA). I picked up the trail at the Crystal City section of Arlington and ran upstream some 4 miles to Theodore Roosevelt Island. There I logged a couple of miles on the trails of the island, then returned via the same route to my hotel.

Over the 8 or so multiuse jogging trail miles run between 4:00 and 6:00 PM, I passed many bikers, runners, and roller bladers and had several observations that I thought were interesting:

1. Of the roughly 150+ bikers, about 90% were wearing helmets. I am ambivalent over the mandatory use of helmets or seat belts—my libertarian streak, I guess—I see it as a good end but a questionable means. But I do support mandatory helmet usage for children. So even if you don’t want to wear a bike helmet yourself you absolutely should wear a helmet to set a good example for the children…which is one of my personal crusades (see here, herehere, and here).

2. Of the runners, I observed how many were wearing headphones/ear buds, etc. I only counted up the women, just because I was thinking about personal safety issues. Of some 40 female solo runners, only 10 were NOT wearing headphones/ear buds. I was astounded, I guess, at their trust.  The Mount Vernon Trail is heavily used but is largely bordered by thick vegetation where a victim could be quickly dragged. Maybe, though, the wearing of headphones is a statement that "I will not be intimidated."  Gotta think more about this.

3. Of the handful of roller bladers (less than 10), all were wearing helmets but nobody wore elbow or knee pads. Again, that’s your personal choice, but what is the example you are setting for the children?

4. Of the dozens of bikers that overtook me from behind, a slim majority was courteous and safety conscious enough to ring their bell or call out “on your left” by way of warning. There were many bikers, however, who zoomed by with no warning and who came very close to me, as though they owned the multiuse trail.

5. Last observation: when I run on the local roads around my home, or on the C + O Canal, or on the Appalachian Trail, I always greet other runners and bikers and even nod or wave to passing motorists. This was not the case along the Mount Vernon Trail, where of the couple hundred people who passed me coming from the other direction, NOT A SINGLE PERSON waved or offered any sort of greeting. Zero. Zilch.

Now, I realize that: 1) this is a metro area and people become sort of insulated and isolated, putting on their anonymous faces, and 2) the Mount Vernon Trail is a local Mecca as a running/biking venue for the more serious athlete to do some serious traffic-free miles. But c’mon people, could you just be a tiny bit friendly?????

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sir Paul McCartney...and Torture

Greg Sargent, of the Washington Post, 4 June 2010, commenting on Sir Paul McCartney's recent visit to DC to receive an honor:
And the random deep thought of the day: Paul McCartney's crack about George W. Bush's lack of familiarity with libraries is far more controversial and worthy of discussion than Bush's glib claim that he would authorize torture again.

We certainly have become desensitized, haven't we?

Per Dan Froomkin at the Huffington Post blog:

George W. Bush's casual acknowledgment Wednesday that he had Khalid Sheikh Mohammed waterboarded -- and would do it again -- has horrified some former military and intelligence officials who argue that the former president doesn't seem to understand the gravity of what he is admitting.

Waterboarding, a form of controlled drowning, is "unequivocably torture", said retired Brigadier General David R. Irvine, a former strategic intelligence officer who taught prisoner of war interrogation and military law for 18 years.

"As a nation, we have historically prosecuted it as such, going back to the time of the Spanish-American War," Irvine said. "Moreover, it cannot be demonstrated that any use of waterboarding by U.S. personnel in recent years has saved a single American life."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

How Dogs Run

(photo credit here)

I really love The Writer's Almanac, delivered free daily to my inbox.

This from June 5th. I know, I know, it's poetry, and most of you can’t hit the DELETE button fast enough. But just read it, OK? It has a lot to say to us about a model for simplicity in our ultrarunning.

Read it.

Billy Collins

The way the dog trots out the front door
every morning
without a hat or an umbrella,
without any money
or the keys to her doghouse
never fails to fill the saucer of my heart
with milky admiration.

Who provides a finer example
of a life without encumbrance—
Thoreau in his curtainless hut
with a single plate, a single spoon?
Gandhi with his staff and his holy diapers?

Off she goes into the material world
with nothing but her brown coat
and her modest blue collar,
following only her wet nose,
the twin portals of her steady breathing,
followed only by the plume of her tail.

If only she did not shove the cat aside
every morning
and eat all his food
what a model of self-containment she
would be,
what a paragon of earthly detachment.
If only she were not so eager
for a rub behind the ears,
so acrobatic in her welcomes,
if only I were not her god.

Monday, June 7, 2010

My Timex Ironman Gave up the Ghost

My Timex Ironman gave up the ghost. Well, the plastic band did, anyway.

I attempted to get a replacement band at 3 places but it seemed so integral to the whole watch that I figured nobody could just replace the band. And that turned out to be the case.

So, I just went ahead and bought a new one. And then luck turned in my favor—I was able to purchase exactly the same model. So I will not have to go thru the anguish of learning the controls for a new watch (I hate getting a new cell phone for the exact reason).

I provide an illustration below. Left to right: Old watch. New watch. Life is good.

(photo by Gary)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Who are the REAL Robber Barons?

An interesting point from the folks at Corrente:
Per President Obama on 27 May 2010: “What’s also been made clear from this disaster is that for years the oil and gas industry has leveraged such power that they have effectively been allowed to regulate themselves.”

Well, the banksters have "leveraged such power that they have effectively been allowed to regulate themselves." Then they crashed the economy, squeezed the taxpayers for the largest transfer of wealth in world history, and the same people are still in charge, and the big banks are bigger than ever. That is a mighty FAIL, and just as mighty as Deepwater Horizon. So why the double standard?

Are Goldman and JP Morgan really all that different from BP? Why?

I mean, say what you like about the oil companies, but they actually deliver oil that people use, a tangible product. They didn't inflate a huge financial bubble based on phony paperwork and accounting control fraud, and then loot the wreckage when the bubble burst, either.

To answer the question posed by the title of this post, obviously both the Banksters and the Oil Companies are culpable for their respective disasters. 

Oh, and I do know what the answer is to preventing these types of rape and pillage.  Just follow this advice:

I can’t help but think that if we so-called “mature” people would ALWAYS guide our actions by the credo, “Is this good for the children?” then we’d all be much better off. Especially the children.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

“We’ve Always Been at War with Eastasia”

I was hoping to do an ultrarunning post today but I’ll do this instead.
Rep. Alan Grayson, who represents Central Florida (FL-8), seems to be the only one in the Congress of the United States of America who understands what’s at stake with our endless wars:

On May 30, 2010, at 10:06 a.m, the direct cost of occupying Iraq and Afghanistan will hit $1 trillion. And in a few weeks, the House of Representatives will be asked to vote for $33 billion of additional "emergency" supplemental spending to continue the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. There will be the pretense of debate -- speeches on the floor of both chambers, stern requests for timetables or metrics or benchmarks -- but this war money will get tossed in the wood chipper without difficulty, requested by a president who ran on an anti-war platform. Passing this legislation will mark the breaking of another promise to America, the promise that all war spending would be done through the regular budget process. Not through an off-budget swipe of our Chinese credit card.


The war money could be used for schools, bridges, or paying everyone's mortgage payments for a whole year. It could be used to end federal income taxes on every American's first $35,000 of income, as my bill, the War Is Making You Poor Act, does. It could be used to close the yawning deficit, supply health care to the unemployed, or for any other human and humane purpose.

Instead, it will be used for war. Because, as Orwell predicted in 1984, we've reached the point where everyone thinks that we've always been at war with Eastasia. Why?

Not because Al Qaeda was sheltered in Iraq. It wasn't. And not because Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan. It isn't. Bush could never explain why we went to war in Iraq, and Obama can't explain why we are 'escalating' in Afghanistan.

For most of us--although many of us have been hit hard the past couple years--our lives are reasonably stable so we have not become activists.  But I fear that we be forced to.

Tales from The Perimeter: When Did God Become a Sports fan?

Perimeter meaning the 6 mile patrol road inside the fence of the military installation on which I work, where some half a dozen of us comprise a pool of running “talent” and strive to show up for a noontime run a couple times a week if we can escape our desks. We share a lot and these guys are one of the core pillars of my sanity. See also here for a previous post.

Email exchange below (reads down) is typical of what we talk about before, during, and after our runs around the perimeter. This one centered upon athletes publicly thanking God after a sports success.

-----Original Message-----

From: xxxxx
Sent: xxxxx
To: xxxxx

Subject: Run discussion...

Here is Jack's favorite topic:

-----Original Message-----

From: xxxxx
Sent: xxxxx
To: xxxxx

Subject: RE: Run discussion...

Do you think that Jack "Thanked God" after his round of 75 at the Rich Valley golf course last weekend?

-----Original Message-----
From: xxxxx
Sent: xxxxx
To: xxxxx
Subject: RE: Run discussion...

Great link. The money quote for me was this:

Athletes who publicly thank God for victory are often calling more attention to themselves than their faith, says William J. Baker, author of "Playing with God." They are selling their goodness, and their brand of faith, to a captive audience, says Baker, who describes himself as a Christian. "I don't think it's the right place and it's not the right gesture," says Baker, a former high school quarterback. "It's an athlete using a moment to sell a product, like soap."

Friday, June 4, 2010

Knee High by the 4th of July

Today’s morning run ( I was off work today) took me on my familiar Harshman Road. As always, I enjoyed observing the farm activity.

First off I noted the crops. Around here, the farms are largely dairy, so the primary crops are corn, alfalfa (for hay), timothy grass (also for hay). Also we have—although not for cattle—soybeans and wheat.

It was the corn, however, that caught my attention today. My father passed away in 1989 but I vividly recall one of his favorite expressions, that the corn should be “knee-high by the 4th of July.”

That maxim held true for western PA where I grew up, but here in the Cumberland Valley of south-central Pennsylvania we have a milder climate so that the growing season starts at least a couple of weeks earlier than western PA. Well, let the record reflect that for the first time since I moved her in 1974, the corn reached knee height by the 4th of June—a full month early.

Here is Harshman Road as it looked in January (photo by Gary).  On the left, the closer field is now in soybeans and the farther one is in timothy grass.  The field on the right is in corn, where I made the knee-high milestone discovery. 

This winter's snowpack and subsequent mild spring have created perfect conditions for plant growth this year...which in turn creates an extremely pleasant environment for running.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

U.S. Military Spending vs the World

(image credit here, where there's lots of good stuff)

Take a look at the pie chart above.  Take a good look.  Let it sink in.

In other words,

•US military spending accounts for 48 percent, or almost half, of the world’s total military spending

•US military spending is more than the next 46 highest spending countries in the world combined

•US military spending is 5.8 times more than China, 10.2 times more than Russia, and 98.6 times more than Iran.

•US military spending is almost 55 times the spending on the six “rogue” states (Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria) whose spending amounts to around $13 billion, maximum. (Tabulated data does not include four of the six, as the data only lists nations that have spent over 1 billion in the year, so their budget is assumed to be $1 billion each)

•US spending is more than the combined spending of the next 45 countries.

•The United States and its strongest allies (the NATO countries, Japan, South Korea and Australia) spend $1.1 trillion on their militaries combined, representing 72 percent of the world’s total.

•The six potential “enemies,” Russia, and China together account for about $205 billion or 29% of the US military budget.
Surely we could scale back our global military mission to refocus on domestic priorities?  I think we have confused our defense wants with our defense needs.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

17 Ridiculous Laws Still On The Books In The U.S.

Thanks to the Huffington Post, I had a good laugh about these ridiculous laws. 

I sorta liked #6, just because of the running connection, although I am neither a drunk driver, nor a fan of personalized license plates, nor from New Jersey.  I just can't figure out the logic for the associated "ridiculous law":  In New Jersey, Once Convicted Of Drunk Driving You May Never Again Have Personalized Plates. 

I'm betting that they'll rethink that one, because tax revenue, however small, will trump additional punishment for drunk drivers. 

Upon further thought, I suppose the reason for the law was to not so much to punish drunk drivers after the fact as it as was to create a deterrent to drunk driving in the first place. However, do you really think that somebody, about to take the drink that'll put them over the limit, will suddenly stop and say, "Whoa--if I get caught, there go my personalized plates. No effing way!" Then they put down the drink, untouched.

Number 17 is also a major winner, although I am loathe to post that particular photo here. It's definitely worth clicking through to it!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Memorial Day (sorry this is late)

(photo credit LA Times Opinion page, 31 May 2010)

I know it's Tuesday, a day after Memorial Day. But it was only this morning that I caught up with a very poignant opinion piece in the LA Times by Andrew J. Bacevich.  It pretty well articulates the ambivalence I feel about Memorial day this year--wanting to honor the duty and the sacrifice of the fallen, but raging at the misguided priorities that caused many of those deaths in the first place.

I've taken the liberty of rearranging Mr. Bacevich's piece. I'll start in the middle:

The fallen gave their lives so we might enjoy freedom: However comforting, this commonplace assertion qualifies at best as a half-truth. Who can doubt that the soldier killed in battle at Gettysburg or on Omaha Beach died while advancing the cause of liberty? Whether one can say the same about the Americans who lost their lives assaulting Mexico City in 1847, suppressing Filipino demands for independence after 1898 or chasing rebels in 1920s Nicaragua is less clear, however.

In recent decades especially, the connection between American military intervention and American freedom has become ever more tenuous. Meanwhile, competence has proved notably hard to come by. Rather than being a one-off event, Vietnam inaugurated an era in which the United States has routinely misunderstood and repeatedly misused military power. Even as political authorities sent U. S. forces into action with ever greater frequency, decisive results - what we used to call victory - became more elusive. From Beirut and Bosnia to Iraq and Somalia, the troops served and sacrificed while expending huge sums of taxpayer money. How their exertions were helping to keep Americans free became increasingly difficult to discern.

The ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, already the longest shooting war in U.S. history, embodies these trends. Just about no one, from the senior field commander on down, considers the war there winnable in any meaningful sense. Arguments for perpetuating the U.S. military commitment resemble those once offered to justify Vietnam: We can't afford to look weak; American credibility is on the line.

How exactly did we get ourselves in such a fix, engaged in never-ending wars that we cannot win and cannot afford? Is the ineptitude of our generals the problem? Or is it the folly of our elected rulers? Or could it perhaps be our own lazy inattention? Rather than contemplating the reality of what American wars, past or present, have wrought, we choose to look away, preferring the beach, the ballgame and the prospect of another summer.

So while politicians promise peace and Congress ponies up the money for war, the troops head back for yet another combat tour. And more American families will be given the opportunity to experience Memorial Day in ways they never expected.

 Now let's go back the beginning of Mr. Bacevich's opinion piece. He's in unique position to write about this topic:

Three years ago this month, my son was killed while serving in Iraq. His death changed many things, among them my own hitherto casual attitude toward Memorial Day.

Here in New England, where we now make our home, deejays and local news anchors still proclaim Memorial Day weekend the unofficial start of summer, as if unearthing some fresh discovery. Folks with cottages to open up take to the highways, pushing through traffic toward seashore or mountains.
Our trek will be considerably shorter and simpler: We will make the five-minute drive to our son's gravesite.
For us, personal loss has rendered the last Monday in May into the day of remembrance that it was originally intended to be. Yet loss has also invested Memorial Day with political significance, posing uncomfortable questions.