Saturday, July 31, 2010

Catalogs and Ultrarunning

Just picked up the Aug/Sep copy of O Gauge Railroading, which deals with model trains such as the old Marx sets that I have so much fun playing with, with Mister Tristan (the human being, not the blog). 

The magazine's editorial, in discussing model train catalogs (but could equally apply to any catalog), contained this gem:

A primary purpose of catalogs is to impart dissatisfaction.  No matter what you already have, the goal is to give you a sense of unfulfillment with the status quo.

That's kinda true of Ultrarunning, although I think our needs are more basic and easily fulfilled.  For example, beyond comparison shopping for packs or headlamps, what else is there?  We all kinda/sorta already have our shoe allegiances; likewise for shorts, tops, jackets, etc.  I just can't see me saying something like, "Man, I just gotta get me a pair of those nifty gloves.  Mine just suck!"

Despite the sport being highly technical, it mostly is highly simple: you go out your door and run.  Maybe you drive over to a trail, and then run.  Or maybe you enter a trail race.  Whatever, it's really that simple.  And that's what I like about it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Afghanistan: Winning vs Not Losing

Once again, the Europeans are morally and pragmatically ahead of us.  From the London Times, July 21, 2010, Support For Military Campaign Is Waning Across Europe,  by David Charter.

Pressure to pull troops out of Afghanistan is growing across Europe, with politicians increasingly promising withdrawal plans in the face of hardening public opinion.

"There is definitely something happening across Europe, which stems from the December 1 announcement by President Obama that American troops would begin to be withdrawn from the middle of next year," Alex Nicoll, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said. "It is only logical for European governments to be thinking about their own exit strategies because there will be an increasing push to reduce combat presence in Afghanistan starting as soon as they reasonably can."

I just can't see where we can "win" (which begs the question as to whether the U.S. winning is the correct outcome).  I think our leaders now recognize that we can't win, but their thinking has only progressed to the point where they think the next best outcome is "Don't lose."

Wrong.  The next step should be to replace our combat soldiers with humanitarian aid and otherwise get out of their country.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Who Speaks? And Why?

Image credit here.

Larry J. Schweiger, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, in the Aug/Sep issue of National Wildlife discusses organized opponents to global warming.

In the editorial, he also mentions all the flack that Rachel Carson took, being "attacked relentlessly by DDT manufacturers and their hired critics."  He says:

I am reminded of Rachel Carson's response to her chemical industry sponsored critics.  "I recommend," she said, "that you ask yourself: Who speaks?  And why?"  we would be wise to listen to her advice and look behind the curtains.

This advice goes hand in glove with that of Susan B. Anthony, whom I previously posted about:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sirius/XM Radio

Recently bought a new minivan and it came with a 3-month free subscription to Sirius/XM radio.

I'm loving Channel 46, Classic Vinyl, and the Sixties (Channel 6).  I also note that there is a Golf channel and a NASCAR channel, and I cannot for the life of me imagine how they fill those airwaves up 24/7 since these are not Real Sports, right?

Haven't yet found the Ultrarunning channel yet but I'm still spinning the dial.  Maybe it'll turn up.  Hey, a broadcast of a 100 miler would fill a whole day!  Hardrock would take 2 days!

Today I was listening to the 60s channel and a song by the Foundations came up, "Build Me Up Buttercup" although the display on my radio dial truncated the song title.  It simply read : "Build Me Up Butt". 

Offered without additional comment, other than I blew coffee out my nose.  Good thing I opted for the fabric treatment on the upholstery.

Couldn't embed the YouTube, so that URL is here.  I had no idea the Foundations were a black group.  Neither could I have named the group, although I probably knew all the lyrics.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mister Tristan, Marx Trains, and Ultrarunning

When I was a kid, my brother got a Marx model train set for Christmas one year.  It was metal, and used the 3-rail silver O-gauge tracks.  We beat the crap out of it, but that set survives to this day.  While it is well used and scratched, it remains pretty much indestructible.

Unlike Lionel, which focused more on being a realistic scale model, the Marx trains focused on play value and  durability.

A couple years ago I was sniffing around on e-Bay and was able to find that very set, and since then have added some additional rolling stock and engines.  While I doubt I will ever become a die-hard model train enthusiast--although I would not rule anything out--I do love to bring out the Marx set and play with it with Mister Tristan (the human, not the blog).

He loves it, as do I.  I have the layout on a 4 x 6 piece of plywood that I stand up against the wall when it's not being used.  When it's play time, I just drop it to the basement floor, hook up the transformer, let Mister Tristan select the engine and cars, are we're in business in a matter of a couple minutes.

And I'm loving my second childhood.  These Marx trains run as well today as when they were new some 50-60 years ago, and are still putting smiles on the faces of children (of all ages!).

Oh...and the connection to Ultrarunning?  Marx trains are durable workhorses that can take a beating, even over decades.  Plus they are just plain fun and cut across generations.  Sounds a lot like desireable attributes for an Ultrarunner.

Just as I hope that Mister Tristan will love the Marx trains he will someday inherit from me, so I hope that we will also run some trails together.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mississippi's Pascagoula River

I love the National Wildlife Federation.  I have not done research into nature groups, and maybe (I honestly don't know) there are other organizations that are better, more effective, etc., but I always get a wealth of knowledge and information from their monthly magazine.

For example, many people would not know this, from the Aug/Sep issue of National Wildlife (also for the photo credit).  I sure didn't:

Southern Mississippi's Pascagoula River starts with the wedding of the Chickasawhay and Leaf Rivers near the former timber town of Merrill and cuts lazy S-curves through verdant forests, swamps and floodplains to the Gulf of Mexico. It is 80 miles long and drains a watershed the size of Vermont.

In a 1994 study of rivers in the northern third of the world, the journal Science identified this undammed, unlevied, undredged vestige as the largest free-flowing river system in the lower 48 states. Naturalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward O. Wilson, who grew up in nearby Mobile, Alabama, says places like the Pascagoula "are the closest thing the south-eastern United States has to wilderness."

That is one interesting factoid, that every other river of any significance in North America, has been either dammed or levied or dredged.  Kinda sad, that civilization has progressed (?) so far.

The concern of the NWF is that:

...the Pascagoula is threatened by a proposed Strategic Petroleum Reserve depot, a proposed port expansion, periodic dam proposals and the prospect that large timber tracts will be subdivided once the real-estate market rebounds.

This is why contributing to such groups, who can serve as a focused advocate for conservation, is such an important thing, even as many of us have tightened our belts thru these tough economic times.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Matthew Yglesias at Think Progress posts on 21 July:
With the Pentagon prepping to survey America’s soldiers about how they feel about allowing their gay colleagues to have equal rights, my colleague Igor Volsky took a trip to the National Archives to examine the last time they attempted this charade:

Today [i.e., yesterday], I traveled to the National Archives and recovered some of the surveys the military conducted about the troops’ attitudes towards black people between 1942 and 1946. At the time, the military — along with the overwhelming majority of the country — opposed integrating black servicemembers into the forces and preferred a ’separate but equal’ approach that would have required the military to construct separate recreation spaces and facilities. One month before Truman’s order, a Gallup poll showed that 63% of American adults endorsed the separation of Blacks and Whites in the military; only 26% supported integration.

These surveys show that the same attitude pervaded the military: 3/4 Air Force men favored separate training schools, combat, and ground crews and 85% of white soldiers thought it was a good idea to have separate service clubs in army camps.

Sometimes you’ve got to do the right thing.

A sentiment I echo unreservedly.  We don't need any more handwringing and studies.  Prseident Obama just needs to issue the appropriate Executive Order and say, "Make it so."  And then we'll see that the sky did not fall, the world did not come to an end, and that gay service men and women pose absolutely no threat to military readiness.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Jesus is an Ultrarunner

(photo credit UltraRunning magazine, July 2010)

Looks like Jesus, doesn't it?  Although I guess that'd take all the drama out of a race.

Actually, this is Tony Krupicka at the Miwok, CA 100K, on 1 May 2010.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Mobs Blow...and Ultrarunning

Another gem from the Writer's Almanac (19 July 2010). This may be stretching the analogy a bit, but as my good buddy Don once said, "Mobs blow."
It was on this day in 1692 that Rebecca Nurse, Susannah Martin, Elizabeth Howe, Sarah Good, and Sarah Wildes were hanged for witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts. Their accusers were mostly young girls who fell sick with strange fits and hallucinations, and then testified that they had seen these women flying through the air or asking them to sign the Devil's book.

Today, many scholars see the witchcraft trials as a product of tensions in and around Salem. There was a strong divide between the town of Salem, a prosperous port town, and the village of Salem, which was a poorer farming town.
In general, people who were accused of witchcraft fell into two categories. Some were easy targets -- they were old, social misfits, or generally unpopular. Others were upstanding citizens but their accusers had something to gain, either property or status, from the downfall of the people they accused.

Kinda reminds me of this from a previous post:

I promised, via my title, to connect the fact that mobs blow with Ultrarunning, so here goes.  I've not read of anyone doing any investigations involving administering psychological tests to Ultrarunners.  But if this were done I'd suspect that we, by and large, would turn out to be more independent and free-thinking than the population at large.  Thus we'd be less susceptible to the kind of group-think and mindlessness that characterizes mobs. 

I suggest that Ultrarunners would be more inclined to buck the trend, not go along with a (momentarily) popular but wrong cause, and be willing to call bullsh*t faster.  Valuing independence, we'd not be afraid to call attention to the turd in the punchbowl even if it'd be unpopular to do so.  So sacrificing rational thought--as in done when one commits to joining a mob--is not the typical behavior that one would expect in the perfect model of an Ultrarunner that I have constructed here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Chafing and Pooping: An Ultrarunner's Guide

This'll be easy and you'll thank me profusely someday.

Warning: this is somewhat graphic, but hey, we're all athletes here trying to solve a mechanical problem, right? No need to be embarrassed.

On long runs, particularly in warm weather when your clothing gets wet from sweat, some chafing is inevitable. Such chafing usually affects the inner thighs, the butt crack, the nipples, and/or the armpits.

Chafing: Possible solutions that work for me. Your mileage may vary, and you may feel free to mix-n-match my solution with other body parts. Repeat as needed.

1. Inner thighs: I now use biking type running shorts in the summer for long runs--chafing problems are eliminated. If you use traditional nylon running shorts with a built-in brief or panty, lube up with a roll-on product like Body Glide.

2. Butt crack:  Apply Body Glide, and also lube up with a 1" dab of A + D Ointment (see here where I call it the Magic Elixir)

3. Nipples: Forget lubes, slap on a waterproof Band-Aid. Done!

4. Armpits: Lube up with a 1/2" dab of Vaseline or A + D Ointment.

Pooping: This stuff is caustic. Ever see a baby's butt with diaper rash? You probably will need to poop in the woods sometime. While it really is no big deal, you do want to minimize any possibility of rash. So do this: forget carrying toilet paper, just do your thing and then use a stick or leaves to scrape off the excess. Then wash your butt with water from your bottle or a mud puddle (your hand will obviously then also need washed). Then apply a 1" dab of A + D Ointment. Repeat as needed.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Argentina Just Joined Canada....

Good news that at least two of our hemispheric neighbors are enlightened:

The Senate voted 33 to 27 in favor of the bill, which the lower house had approved in May with strong backing from President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The vote -- which also made Argentina the second country in the Americas, after Canada, to approve marriage for gay men and lesbians -- prompted thousands of supporters to whoop in the streets and shout, "We made history!"

One day, hopefully in the not-to-distant future, we will all look back upon this nation's treatment of gay members of our society as being shameful and disgusting.  We will say "WTF were we thinking? 

People are just people.  To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, what really matters is not who a person is attracted to, but the content of a person's character.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Set Your DVR to "Paladin"

(photo by Gary from the TV, credit to Encore Westerns)

Reminder that tomorrow morning, Wednesday 21 July, 6:30 (that's EDT...not sure if this'll vary in other time zones) the cable channel Encore Westerns will air an episode of Have Gun Will Travel in which Paladin reveals how he became a gunfighter.  I have not seen the episode and am only relying on the Comcast channel guide info, but I am excited about it.

Have Gun Will Travel is a show from my youth, and I recall that it was dark and with some moral ambiguity relating to the fact that the protagonist dresses in black, is a gunfighter, and an antihero to boot.  I can't wait to see this episode.

See here for a previous post I did on the subject.

Also, yesterday I posted on my C + O Canal run and how tough it was.  Today when I ran on the perimeter with my work buddies, I also had a tough run.  It was only 6 miles, but my mutual consent we took 2 brief walking breaks.  Getting old, I guess.

One thing I forgot to mention, that was a plus of the run yesterday, relates to what I'd call the "smugness factor."  Williamsport, MD is a central Mecca for Canal usage--good parking, easy access, etc., so many people park there to use the Canal.  My route was such that I parked at Williamsport but did not start out on the Canal. 

Typically runs on the Canal have to be out-n-backs, but I find that psychologically difficult.  I much prefer a loop course.  So I began my run along the roads east from Williamsport in the downstream direction (Potomac River), in effect running the end road miles of the JFK 50 Miler in reverse.  I then cut over on other roads to intersect the Canal towpath, and then run upstream to return to Williamsport.

By starting at dawn I was returning along the towpath to Williamsport around 8:00 am.  As I approached the town I encountered more and more people coming the other direction (i.e., downstream from Williamsport), people who had just started their run or bike.  And I was just about done, and I secretly had to smile knowing that fact. 

Yup, I was smug.  And I liked it.


Monday, July 19, 2010

11 Miler on the Canal...and Paladin

Today I got up at daybreak and headed to the C + O Canal.  This particular run starts out in roads and then intersects the Canal. 

I had 2 choices: 6 miles of road, then 12 of Canal towpath, for 18; or again 6 miles of roads followed by 5 miles of towpath, for 11.  I opted for the latter because when I started out at 6:00 am, the humidity was thick.  Quickly I had sweat dripping off my eyebrows, nose, chin, and elbows.  I figured that going for the longer distance would have been unwise, as I have not gone beyond 10 miles for a couple months.

Good decision.  I was done in at 11 miles and very glad I didn't have to death march another 7 miles.  Did see a raccoon up close (30'), which was the wildlife highlight of the run.

Change of gears: Wed morning at 6:30 (that's EDT...not sure if this'll vary in other time zones) the cable channel Encore Westerns will air an episode of Have Gun Will Travel in which Paladin reveals how he became a gunfighter.  This is a show from my youth and I can't wait to see this episode.

See here for a previous post I did on the subject.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Mark Twain and Ultrarunning

Last week I had a work trip to St Louis, took the bride, and made a long-deferred excursion to Hannibal, MO, the boyhood home of Mark Twain. 

I will post more later, but among the exhibits at the Mark Twain Museum (also the photo credit is theirs) I saw and just loved this quote.  While it's about pirates, I substituted the word ultrarunners and it still meant about the same:

Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Emily Dickinson and Hope

Once when my soul and psyche were quite low, I came across a wondrous Emily Dickinson poem that truly resonated with me.  I've previously posted on Ms. Dickinson and Ulrarunning.

Photo credit to

I don't want to reveal too much of a private matter here, but suffice it to say that a loved one was in trouble, deep, life-threatening trouble. I was powerless to help, except for moral support, since the problem's cause and its cure were entirely in the loved one's hands and no one else's.

I could not and would not pray, but I could hope, and Ms. Dickinson's poem, Hope, gave voice to that yearning, and truly sustained me through that dry season.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all. 


Friday, July 16, 2010

Cats in Art: Fur Traders Descending the Missouri

The above photo is entitled Fur Traders Descending the Missouri, by George Caleb Bingham (1811–1879), painted in 1845, oil on canvas, dimensions 29 x 36 1/2 inches.  Credit for the image here.

Why post this?  I love cats, I love art, and this is a natural confluence.  I've decided that I'm going to do a continuing series of posts on instances of cats appearing in works of art.  I've previously done this here, when I posted on a 122 Year Old Cat in a Night Cafe, based upon a painting by Paul Gauguin, with an adorable kitty under the table.

The cat really is the focus of this Bingham painting.  The two men are backgrounded by the island, while the cat is silhouetted by the pale river as background and pops from the image.  I wonder if Bingham strategically placed the cat in the bow of the boat for purposes of realism, or if he was just a cat lover and used the painting as a venue to get a kitty in there.

Also, think about the title--Fur Traders Descending the Missouri.  This implies that their trapping journey is nearly over (also evidenced by the pile of furs on the canoe).  So the cat, presumably, was along for the entirety of the trip, unless they got the kitty from Indians (who only had dogs as domestic animals, I think).

That's one loyal cat.  Wonder how many lives he/she used up on the trip?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ultrarunning...and Possessions

I still love my Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run belt buckle. I wear it whenever I can, although in the summer it’s not quite as useful since I am not wearing jeans, and my shorts, depending on which pair, often call for another type of belt.

The buckle is silver, representing a sub-24 hour finish. It has enormous significance to me, as only I know what all went into earning it.

I remember cleaning out my mother’s personal effects after she passed, going carefully through her “treasures.” She was a frugal person and not given much to souvenirs or mementos, and so her collection of stuff was not particularly voluminous to go through.

I tried to be respectful and cognizant of why she had saved certain things until the end of her life, electing to keep particular items that would have meaning for her children (me and my brother), her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren. Although she was born in 1925, her family “heirlooms” only started in 1945 with the end of World War II. See, my mother was German, and during the war, her home in Frankfurt had been bombed out, the family losing literally everything.

In fact, the night they were bombed out, my mother was wearing only pajamas. Usually her mother (my grandmother) had all 4 kids dress in their clothes overnight in case the British bombers came that night.  My grandfather was away on the Russian front.  But this particular night was overcast so my grandmother let the kids sleep in their pajamas, since she thought the bombers wouldn’t come.

But come they did. Somewhere up in the dark skies a British bombardier hit the switch, sending a bomb hurtling downwards into the city. Their apartment building was struck, and my mother’s family was buried alive in the basement bomb shelter under their collapsed building for 3 days until they were dug out.

That’s why I treasure what she did accumulate after the war, because she knew how ephemeral possessions are.

I wonder what will become of my Umstead buckle after I am gone.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ultrarunning...and Sarah Palin

I'm still trying to figure out the phenomenon that is Sarah Palin. Politics aside, I guess I simply cannot for the life of me how anyone could have regarded her as a suitable vice-presidential candidate. Or now regard her as a serious presidential candidate, in view of her fundamental lack of experience in world politics.

Digby at Hullabaloo had a great post on 12 July that gets to the heart of the matter (excerpt below, you should click over and read the whole thing):

Reality Entertainer of The Year

I find it very telling that the Villagers don't get what's going on here. She is not a serious politician. She is a political celebrity/entrepreneur, collecting money from her fans to fund herself and sell her brand. To the extent that she is working for anyone but herself, she's working for The Republican Party, bringing together some of the disparate strands of the conservative movement, striking the pose of the "outsider." But that is the extent of her serious commitment to politics.

Palin is a "reality" entertainer. Look on the covers of the celebrity magazines and you'll see lots of them. There's a lot of money to be made by someone like her in merchandising alone, much less personal appearances, books etc. I'm guessing she'll find herself on the personal growth/religious circuit too, along with her reality show on TV.  
Maybe some readers of Mister Tristan, or many readers, love Ms. Palin and are disinclined to agree with the observations made above by Digby (with whom I agree). That's OK, in a free country we must have room for differences of opinion and preferences for people who represent your interests.

However, when it comes to Ms. Palin, I must confess to a bias, and this relates to ultrarunning, in a way. Sarah Palin believes that it's OK to hunt wolves from helicopters.

Let me say that again, bold and blue and in italics: Sarah Palin believes that it's OK to hunt wolves from helicopters.

Anyone who believes that is an acceptable practice is a despicable human being, and therefore I absolutely and automatically distrust any other opinions espoused by that person.  It’s like I've figuratively put my fingers in my ears and loudly bleat "La-la-la-la-la" to avoid hearing anything else that Ms. Palin may say, on anything. I've simply lost all respect for any opinion she may hold. To place such an individual in charge of our nation's wilderness areas, land use policies, National Parks, trails, endangered species, energy policies, etc., is utter folly.

To bring this back to ultrarunning, if you love trails, you gotta go with a true environmentalist, someone who understands why wolves matter. And Sarah Palin is not that person.



Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Another Perfectly Nasty Little Run

Sunday morning at 0-dark-thirty the bride and I were on our way to Baltimore-Washington International Airport. It’s a 95 mile drive from our home, which we had left at 3:15 AM for a 6:50 AM flight.
About halfway on the drive east we crossed over South Mountain, along which the Appalachian Trail runs. Here in the Appalachian Mountains of southern PA and central MD, what passes for a mountain is perhaps 2000 feet in elevation—not a major uphill for a runner, but significant nonetheless.

After crossing the AT, Interstate 70 runs across the Middletown Valley, then makes one more climb up another ridge, this being the Catoctin Mountain, just prior to Frederick, MD. In the pre-dawn darkness off to the left I could see the lights of the cluster of communications towers on the ridge, and my mind immediately went back to the Catoctin 50K trail race that is held every August. The towers are along the early part of the run.

If you have read about or experienced (I have) the legendary rocks at the Massanutten 100, they have nothing on the rocks of Catoctin. It’s a 50K that runs like a longer race. It’s largely single track, with some jeep trail thrown in, but by and large it’s a rock fest.

And it was my first trail race, back in 1996. At that time they had a 35K option as well as the 50K. and being a rookie, I opted for the 35K. It went so well that I should have gone for the 50K but I lacked experience and confidence, so I stayed low and succeeded, whetting my appetite for more. So while officially it was not an ultra (that would come later in the year with a real 50K and my first JFK 50 Miler), in hindsight, that 35K trail run at Catoctin set the tone for my love of ultras.

This initial run at Catoctin was held in March, and that day it was some 12 degrees, and the stream crossing was, shall we say, fun. But soon afterwards my feet were dry enough and warm enough, so I learned a valuable lesson about winter running and water—no need to fear it provided you keep moving steadily afterwards.

I ran Catoctin another 4 or 5 times, this time at the full 50K distance, after the race came under the able race directorship of Kevin Sayers, and was moved to the summer.

Although I have great memories of the Catoctin runs, I won’t run it again as long as it’s in the summer. Why? Nope, it’s not the heat. It’s the bees. I am quite allergic—I carry a bee kit with me at all times—and the last 2 runs at Catoctin I happened to be in the lead of a small pack of runners and passed over a nest of ground bees right on the trail. I’m unsure of the correct identification (hornets vs yellow jackets?), but while I passed over the nest and stirred up the bees--personally escaping getting stung--the runners behind me got nailed.

And that was on the outward leg of the out-n-back course, so I was quite leery of returning over the same path. Fortunately I remembered within about a quarter mile where the attack had come. I picked my way gingerly thru that section until I was past the nest (although I never did see another bee). Plus by that time everyone was strung out and I was running alone deliberately so that I wouldn’t have to contend with other runners stirring up any bees.

With ultras as with other major events in life, you never forget your first time. And I still love Catoctin. Maybe I should run there again on my own in the winter.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Tales From the Perimeter: Church Sign Generator

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.

Another typical email that we send among ourselves to provide a humorous update as to what's been going on:


I was out at Dayton OH this week but am back in the office today. Next week I'm heading to Denver.

Despite the rain, I plan to run today. Anybody else interested?

By the way, I had an early day on Wed and was able to take a run along a beautiful paved trail alongside the Miami River. Attached JPG sums it up.


(I forget where I got the site, but you can just Google "Church Sign Generator")


Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Threat of Cyberwar Has Been Grossly Exaggerated

The Earth-Bound Misfit is typically much more paranoid than I am, and weighs in heavily against the new NSA-run program, “Perfect Citizen.” Her post is here, and the original article in the Wall Street Journal is here. The WSJ says,

The federal government is launching an expansive program dubbed "Perfect Citizen" to detect cyber assaults on private companies and government agencies running such critical infrastructure as the electricity grid and nuclear-power plants, according to people familiar with the program.

I can see the need for ensuring that we have protection against cyber attacks, but the name. The name absolutely sounds like something straight out of Orwell’s 1984. Really, Perfect Citizen? You’ve got to be kidding…unless that was the intent—to make it sounds like 1984 on purpose.

Bruce Schneier, whose opinions on security I value more than anyone’s, has this to say:

The Threat of Cyberwar Has Been Grossly Exaggerated

There's a power struggle going on in the U.S. government right now.

It's about who is in charge of cyber security, and how much control the government will exert over civilian networks. And by beating the drums of war, the military is coming out on top.

We surely need to improve our cybersecurity. But words have meaning, and metaphors matter. There's a power struggle going on for control of our nation's cybersecurity strategy, and the NSA and DoD are winning. If we frame the debate in terms of war, if we accept the military's expansive cyberspace definition of "war," we feed our fears.

We reinforce the notion that we're helpless -- what person or organization can defend itself in a war? -- and others need to protect us. We invite the military to take over security, and to ignore the limits on power that often get jettisoned during wartime.

If, on the other hand, we use the more measured language of cybercrime, we change the debate. Crime fighting requires both resolve and resources, but it's done within the context of normal life. We willingly give our police extraordinary powers of investigation and arrest, but we temper these powers with a judicial system and legal protections for citizens.

We need to be prepared for war, and a Cyber Command is just as vital as an Army or a Strategic Air Command. And because kid hackers and cyber-warriors use the same tactics, the defenses we build against crime and espionage will also protect us from more concerted attacks. But we're not fighting a cyberwar now, and the risks of a cyberwar are no greater than the risks of a ground invasion. We need peacetime cyber-security, administered within the myriad structure of public and private security institutions we already have.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Goodnight Moon

"In the great green room...."

I am a lucky man indeed. I just put Mister Tristan to bed (the 2 1/2 year old human, not the blog), and as usual when I put him to bed, we read Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.

Either you know this book or you don't, and you are a far richer person if you know this book.

Goodnight, Mister Tristan, you future ultrarunner....

Photo credit here.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Why the Race?

Consider this—early man lived by his wits, skills, and to a large measure, luck.  Life spans were measured in years, not decades.  Survival was a moment to moment reality, certainly not something taken for granted.  Early man was on the edge virtually all the time.

But take modern man—virtually never on the edge, almost never called on to perform at 100% intensity.  In a sense, we've grown soft, but this is an observation, not necessarily an indictment. As an example, just think about your job.  If you're like me, I frequently work hard but almost never with absolute, total intensity and concentration. We now seem to get our living and our intensity largely vicariously.

Here's an important question: when was the last time you were totally concentrated, absorbed, focused, going to the limit?  Unless you are, say, a performing actor or musician, you probably do not absolutely reach that state.  And this question is more than merely rhetorical. The answer to this question can define a person, can be one of those "either/or" issues that separate humankind into two camps: those who know the perils and pleasures of what it's like at the edge, and those who don't.

Running—racing—is my way (and I've recognized it's perhaps my only way) to go to the edge and beyond, to perform something with total abandon, intensity, and concentration.  The last time in my life that I totally abandoned myself to anything was at the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Race this spring, in which I realized that at the halfway point, I had run 10:05 for 50 miles, and a sub-24 was possible.  So over the next 50 miles, over the next 12+ hours, I strove to maintain my pace and not slack off. 

My world shrank to encompass only me, the trail, and that next runner ahead of me. The race became total concentration, my whole life's drama being played out on that brief stretch of trail. The start of the last 12.5 mile loop came and I continued to press, more than I needed, almost gliding now as my concentration and effort became pure distillation of that primal urge for survival, for I had entered that strange world where pleasure and pain are the same. I found that the masochist is not a pervert, he is merely an extension of ourselves. In the process of the race I discovered a little bit more of who I am.

I both dread and love that feeling; I approach the race with fear and avoidance, attraction and longing. Race day brings alternate feelings of both dread and excitement. Am I capable of holding this pace that I desire? In a more esoteric sense, am I worthy enough to put myself on the line both mentally and physically?

So why even go to this mystical edge?  I'm not a psychiatrist but I feel that it's important for one's mental health to experience the full range of one's psyche. And why the race? Simply put, most of us won't push enough in training to get to the limit; the race is the most convenient means to get to that level of intensity and thereby open up your mind.

This post is simply a plug for using the vehicle of a race to go to a place deep within yourself, a place on the edge where the vast mass of humanity never goes, and sadly, never even suspects is there. And so the measure of success in a race is not necessarily the time showing on the clock, or the distance run, the position placed, the medals, the ribbons, the certificates, or the camaraderie, fine as all those things may be.

No, the true measure of success in a race is whether you did your best, and in giving your best, did you somehow approach that edge?  Did you flirt with that shadowy realm of total intensity, where vicariousness was abandoned for immersion?  Did you somehow sense that survival is not merely an abstract concept rendered quaintly obsolete by the veneer of civilization?

If you get close enough to sense that edge, then you have in fact succeeded.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Wesley the Owl—and Ultrarunning

Just completed a wonderful book, Wesley the Owl, by Stacey O’Brien. It’s a true story about a young researcher at Cal Tech, Stacey, who fosters an injured barn owl from infancy thru his ultimate passing at the ripe old owl age of 19. She writes lovingly and compellingly of her lifelong relationship with Wesley. It’s full of love, science, spiritualism, and is just a delightful and memorable book.

Photo credit here.

You should go read it.

Here’s one example of the science part. Although I have a couple degrees in Biology, I never quite understood the Northern Spotted Owl issue from the Pacific northwest. Sure, I knew that logging was threatening this owl and I—of course—was on the side of the owl, thinking that those who favored logging were shortsighted and uninformed. But here’s why (from page 164):

Biologists were warning the public that the old-growth forests, a delicate habitat that can’t be replaced, were disappearing at an alarming rate. The streams and rivers were silting and warming up, destroying the salmon runs and the entire ecosystem because of the runoff from clear-cut areas. The apex predator of these forests, the northern spotted owl, was endangered. When the apex predator is thriving, then so is the environment. But when the predator is faltering, biologists know that means the entire system is falling apart.

Most of the loggers didn’t understand the “canary in the coal mine” connection and thought the entire issue was about saving the owls, rather than their habitat. Because the loggers had been told to stop destroying the ancient forests before the forests were completely gone, they would lose their livelihoods sooner than if they kept cutting down trees until the entire ecosystem went extinct. Focusing only on their own livelihoods, they didn’t want to be told what to do, got angry, and took it out on the owls….

They didn’t understand—or they just chose not to—and they reminded me of the buffalo hunters of the nineteenth century determined to hunt down every last animal. They failed to see that they were going to have to find something else to do anyway after the last buffalo was gone.

We who run trails and treasure them can learn a lesson from this analogy. Our areas that are wild and free are a precious—and finite—resource. Nobody is making any more wilderness. So that’s why we must fight tooth and nail to preserve what we have, set aside more threatened areas, and ensure that encroachments from mineral rights, logging, etc., are not permitted.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ultrarunning...and the Difference Between Liberals and Conservatives

Just recently saw a an interesting post by Libby Spencer at The Impolitic from some months ago, posted on Saturday, March 13, 2010 (you'll have to scroll down to that day).

I was reading about the Republican National Committee paying for Tea Party signs last night and had an epiphany of sorts. I've been trying to distill the difference between these crazy Tea Party cons and liberals into a few words for a while and I think I finally have it. Conservatives care about "me" and Liberals care about "everybody."
What sparked that thought was the sign that the RNC provided to the event said, "Listen to Me!" If you think about all their rhetoric, it's incredibly self-absorbed. "I want my country back." "Keep your hands off my health care." "The government is stealing my money for taxes." Dan Riehl in the post below calling to euthanize Mrs. Reid says, "I can't recall her ever doing anything for me." These people have no apparent social awareness, nor any desire to contribute to the communal good.

Liberals on the other hand talk about healthcare for all. Equal treatment for all. Civil rights for everyone. Save the planet for the next generations. There are of course exceptions, but generally, it's demonstrably true.

I'll try to articulate in just a couple sentences how I think this liberal-conservative dichotomy relates to what's important in my life and why I think the way I do.

Our biological imperative is to survive and reproduce. It seems to me that behaviors that directly benefit our descendants and favor their survival are good, thus the liberal approach to health care, social programs, etc. seem preferable to me.

And when it comes to UltraRunning, let me just focus strictly on the availability of trails to run on. Wild areas are a national resource that must be protected, not exploited--we need more and larger parks, not fewer. And we must resource them properly (even if it means higher taxes) to ensure their conservation and preservation to the generations that come after. both my examples I mention our duty to the next generations. I think about the Mister Tristans of the world and that guides my actions--I can't help but default to Liberal.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

If the Shoe Fits....

Please read the post below slowly, objectively, and thoughtfully. 

From at Jun 12 edition of Glenn Grenwalt's blog on Salon:

John McCain on the Evil, Barbaric Iranians

John McCain has a new article in The New Republic -- which is exactly where it should be -- calling for regime change in Iran. The whole article contains one paragraph after the next of the favorite pastime of America's political and media class: self-righteously condemning other nations for what we ourselves do (at least) as much. Of all McCain's paragraphs, this is probably my favorite:

"Is it any wonder that this is the same regime that spends its people's precious resources not on roads, or schools, or hospitals, or jobs that benefit all Iranians -- but on funding violent groups of foreign extremists who murder the innocent?"

As the American war in Afghanistan enters its ninth full year and our occupation of Iraq its seventh, and as we continue to find all new ways to kill innocent civilians in various countries around the world, and as we continue to transfer billions of dollars every year to Israel and the Egyptian dictatorship -- all while thinking about how to slash Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and thus erode the weak safety net even further, while confronting collapsing domestic infrastructure, rampant unemployment, and massive teacher lay-offs and even grade elimination for American children -- is there any other country you can think of, besides Iran, which "spends its people's precious resources not on roads, or schools, or hospitals, or jobs that benefit all [citizens]" but rather on wars and support for foreign groups which kill "the innocent"? And over the last decade, what was the position of John McCain and his party on whether the "people's precious resources" should be spent (a) on "roads, or schools, or hospitals, or jobs that benefit all" or (b) wars that kill the innocent?

It seems as though the foreign policy of the United States is mired in what I'd call the "Knuckle Sandwich School of Problem-Solving."  I don't know the overarching objective of that foreign policy, but it's not about making the world a better place for our children. 

Oh, the Serious People in charge will say that they are trying to protect the children, but overall such animosity towards Iran will only serve to create more problems downstream than it solves today.

Does the shoe fit?  It's about time for our short-sightedness to change--for the children.  This is my theme, the credo to guide all my actions.  See my previous post, here.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Programming for Success at the Pig Farm

Today, not having Mister Tristan, the bride and I slept until we wanted to sleep no more.  For me, that was about 7:45 AM, as I usually arise on work days at 4:15 AM (ugh!...that's to accommodate a 1-hour commute and a starting time of 6:30).

So I fed the cats, drank some wonderful coffee--a flavor called "Highlander Grog"-- from our local roaster, and was out the door a little after 8.  Since running the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance race back at the end of March, I have cut back on my running, and have not run longer than 10 miles.

Today I felt very sluggish, so I immediately was faced with a decision--which direction to run my Pig Farm 10 mile route?  See, doing it counterclockwise affords one the opportunity to bail early and end up with about 8.5 miles; clockwise, one is committed to the entire distance.

My legs said go with the bail-out opportunity, but my heart and head said to program for success and commit to 10 up front.  So that's what I did.

This was a routine run in all ways, except that I did see one new--and unfortunate critter--a road-killed bat.  Must have swooped down after an insect last night and got clobbered by a car. 

At the end of the 10 miles I was pleasantly tired but still with some life in my legs.  It was great to sit on my front porch while the sweat poured off me, drinking orange juice diluted with flavored club soda--what a great concoction after a run!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Red-Crowned and White-Naped Cranes

(photo credit: June-July 2010 issue of National Wildlife magazine)

There is some good news out of the Korean Peninsula:

On the Korean Peninsula, the Demilitarized Zone is a peculiar kind of oasis. After the cease fire that halted the Korean War in 1953, this two-and-a-half-mile wide, 155-mile long ribbon of land, which had been popu¬lated for more than 5,000 years, became a "no-man's land."

In the absence of farming, the prairies and scrub native to the western portion of the DMZ, as it is called, and the thick forests in the more mountainous eastern section, eventually grew back. Soon after, some of the wildlife that had vanished from the area also returned, including two of the world's rarest birds: the white-naped crane and red-crowned crane. Both are among the 10 species of crane—out of 15 that range worldwide—on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The money quote for me:

That the cranes, traditionally considered birds of peace, should inhabit one of the most dangerous places on Earth is an irony not lost on George Archibald. "It's quite extraordi-nary," says the noted biologist and cofounder of the International Crane Foundation (ICF) in Wisconsin who has worked to conserve cranes in the DMZ since the 1970s.

So, on the 4th of July, I offer you red and white cranes.  Couldn't do anything about a blue one.  I hope they fare well.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Guns Vs. Butter

From Eric Martin at Obsidian Wings. This type of smart-ass political commentary is why I love the left-wing blogosphere:
John Boehner Offers a Plan for Precipitous Withdrawal from Afghanistan

John Boehner, master strategist or stealth peacenik? You decide. Here, he predicts a strong showing and touts his Party's burgeoning prospects:

House Minority Leader John Boehner, the Ohio Republican with his eye on Speaker Nancy Pelosi's gavel, said the tide is turning the GOP's way.

"The American people have written off the Democrats," Boehner said Monday in an interview with Tribune-Review editors and reporters. "They're willing to look at us again."

Boehner stopped short of predicting Republicans would gain the 39 seats they need to retake control of Congress, but he said a backlash against President Obama's policies has energized Republican voters more than Democrats. Boehner said voters are angry at a government they believe is overreaching and indifferent.

OK, a bit cocky and boastful, but pretty much as expected for a political leader. Besides, the GOP was bound to make at least some gains during the midterms regardless, and you can't fault him for crowing about it. But then he goes and blows the wad:

Ensuring there's enough money to pay for the war will require reforming the country's entitlement system, Boehner said. He said he'd favor increasing the Social Security retirement age to 70 for people who have at least 20 years until retirement, tying cost-of-living increases to the consumer price index rather than wage inflation and limiting payments to those who need them.

Yeah, that ought to be a real popular message:

"People, you can either have 10 more years of this wonderful war in Afghanistan, or Social Security. Since the GOP has its finger on the pulse of the American people, we're going to go ahead and begin dismantling Social Security. Because that's what you want. Amirite?"

Gary here.  Not to be trite or anything, but isn't this the old Gun vs. Butter conundrum? Except that in this situation, there's no conundrum--you opt for butter.  Let me highlight what Boehner said, again: "Ensuring there's enough money to pay for the war will require reforming the country's entitlement system." What a disgusting individual.

Friday, July 2, 2010


I love to sweat.

One of life's little pleasures, for me, is to go out on a humid 90 degree day and run an hour or whatever. The kind of day that the weatherman, here in the northeast, refers to as HHH: hazy, hot, and humid. I'm talking the kind of day when my running clothes quickly become totally soaked, sweat drips off my nose, ears, and elbows, and a bandana is essential gear to keep the burning sweat out of my eyes.

Then upon my return home, I sit on the cool bricks of my shady front porch and let the sweat just gush from my pores while I enjoy some lemonade or ice water. I often lay on my back and just enjoy cloud-watching.

By the way, cloud-watching is a highly underrated activity for adults. Mister Tristan is a little young to understand clouds, shapes, etc., but I'll keep pressing the point over the next months and years until that day comes when the light goes on in his brain and he says "I see a bunny in the sky!" or the like. And on that day I will clap my hands because I will have done my job.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Amazing Robert Byrd

The death of Senator Robert Byrd (D, WV) will leave a void that I’m not sure will be filled anytime soon. I don't want to make more of him in death than he was in life, and he certainly had his blind spots, but the more I read his words the last couple days, the more I am in awe of his prescience.  This man courageously spoke the truth to power…but power failed to heed his wisdom. From Oct 2009, on the proposed Afghan “surge”:
Mr. President, what is really at stake for the United States in Afghanistan? We all know that Afghanistan is not a threat to us militarily. The Taliban is not a threat to us militarily. Al Qaeda, however, is a demonstrated threat to us with ambitions and a philosophy that must keep us vigilant. But the link between al Qaeda and Afghanistan is a tenuous one, based only on the temporary expediency of location, an expediency that has already been replaced as the al Qaeda leadership has moved, and may move again.

Building a Western-style democratic state in an Afghanistan equipped with a large military and police force and a functioning economy based on something other than opium poppies may or may not deny al Qaeda a safe haven there again. It will guarantee that the United States must invest large numbers of troops and many billions of dollars in Afghanistan for many years to come, energy and funds that might otherwise go toward fueling our own economic recovery, better educating our children or expanding access to health care for more of our own people. And yet there are many here in this body -- the Senate -- who believe we should proceed with such a folly in Afghanistan. During a time of record deficits, some actually continue to suggest that the United States should sink hundreds of billions of borrowed dollars into Afghanistan effectively turning our backs on our own substantial domestic needs -- all the while deferring the costs and the problems for future generations to address.

Our national security interests lie in defeating -- no, in destroying -- al Qaeda. Until we take that, and only that, mission seriously, we risk adding the United States to the long, long, long list of nations whose best laid plans have died on the cold, barren rocky slopes of that far off country of Afghanistan.

Jill at Brilliant at Breakfast (see post on 28 June 2010) addresses the shortcomings of Senator Byrd as a younger man, and lauds his enlightenment later in his life:

The very same people who want to delude themselves that they have a free pass into heaven despite supporting policies that keep people mired in poverty, despite cheating on their wives and getting into bed with corporations that ruin their God's creation, don't want to give a man whose later life was about as solid a demonstration of penitence as I've ever seen, the same chance at redemption. So let them talk about the Klan instead of the apology, let them talk about the mistakes of a young man who was shaped by the most vile practices in this country's history, and who opened his eyes to realize the injustice in which he was raised. Let those who continue to use racist code to dogwhistle to those who would undo all the racial progress of the last fifty years remain focused on a renounced past. Let them project their own bigotry. Because what we honor today is not a life without mistakes, a life of unequivocal virtue. What we honor today is a life which demonstrated the possibility of growth and redemption.