Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In Memoriam

From Nicole Belle at Crooks and Liars, we lost another 8 service members last week:

US Marines Sgt Jason T Smith, 28, Colorado Springs, CO

US Army SSG Loleni W Gandy, 36, Pago Pago, AS
US Army SGT David J Luff Jr, 29, Hamilton, OH
US Army SPC David S Robinson, 25, Fort Smith, AR
US Army SSG Sean M Flannery, 29, Wyomissing, PA
US Army SPC William K Middleton, 26, Norfolk, VA
US Marines LCpl Arden Joseph A Buenagua, 19, San Jose, CA
US Marines 1LT William J Donnelly IV, 27, Picayune, MS

According to iCasualties, the total number of allied service members killed in Iraq is 4,747; in Afghanistan, 2,232 of which, 153 are Canadian.

I'm unable to add any meaningful comment, other than to say that there are 8 more families forever changed because we had a President who went to war in Iraq just because he could.


Monday, November 29, 2010

The Final 10 Miles of a 100 Mile Race...

Loved this from Ultrarunning Magazine, the September 2010 issue (pg 47):

It's not easy to describe the experience of the final ten miles of a 100-mile race. Presumably, many reasons lead people to push themselves to the horizons of their perceived limits, not knowing - like Columbus - whether they’ll fall off the edge or just keep sailing until they discover unexplored territories. One rarely sees a human being - at least in our more technological and "comfortized" world – stripped so bare, where life is about basic needs and the simple premise of continuing to move forward, towards a clearly-defined, but ever-elusive goal.

- Ron Abramson, Vermont 100 pacer for Kami Semick

Brilliant--I can't really add to that.  We seek the edge, and thru running we can find it.  I've gone 100 miles three times, and each one was truly a voyage of discovery.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cats in Art: Sleeping Cat

My continuing Sunday series:

Image and text credit here.  [c. 1850, Japanese, Sleeping Cat, watercolor]

Fat and contented, this meditative cat seems oblivious to any adversaries in the world around him.

Like when I'm deeply into the zone while running.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The True Cost of War

Via Jill at the always-good Brilliant at Breakfast on 23 Nov, I click over to The Nation for this sober assessment of just how much the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are costing us:

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes now estimate the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will reach $4 to $6 trillion. There have been approximately 2,200 US and coalition casualties in Afghanistan, and tens of thousands of Afghan civilian deaths. The Christian Science Monitor reports that “softening” the 2011 and 2014 deadlines “could add at least $125 billion in war spending—not including long-term costs like debt servicing and health care for veterans."

And perhaps a full accounting of the health-related care for service members might just help dissuade us from putting our troops in harm's way so blithely as was done by President Bush:

One idea which might make the war resonate more with voters is to take responsibility for healthcare for veterans through a Veterans Trust Fund. Proposed by House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner, it would require Congress to appropriate funds upfront whenever they vote to go to war so that when soldiers are injured or wounded they are able to receive the care they need when they return home. Currently, that funding isn’t necessary when we send our troops off to war, so proper care is far from guaranteed.


The importance of a Veterans Trust Fund—aside from taking care of those who risk their lives for this nation—is that it makes visible the too-often hidden costs of fighting these wars. The maimed and wounded soldiers serving in Afghanistan simply aren’t seen. And for all their bluster about supporting the troops and also tackling the deficit, the GOP is loathe to make the costs of war known or to walk the walk when it comes to providing for veterans.

Then, to use a perhaps fitting analogy, the nail in the coffin (emphasis mine):

And yet Win Without War National Director and former Congressman Tom Andrews writes of one Member of Congress who complained that the Veterans Trust Fund would drive the cost of war too high—as if hiding these costs somehow makes the war cheaper. In fact, illustrating the cost of war is necessary, and if it’s too high, then we shouldn’t send the troops—especially when the case for our national security interest is so tenuous, as it is in Afghanistan. As Major General John Batiste, who commanded forces in Iraq, testified in September: "Why are we discussing a Veterans’ Trust Fund nine years into these wars? We might very well have decided if we’d done the strategy right that the ends, ways and means are not in balance and therefore this was not a good idea. That, at the end of the day, is the bottom line."

Indeed.  The squandering of our blood and national treasure, and the trashing of our moral authority on the world stage, have made this about the saddest chapter of this nation's existence.  And the end is nowhere in sight....

Friday, November 26, 2010

Ultrarunning Food--Homemade Peanut Butter Granola

(photo by Gary)

This is a first for Mister Tristan--a recipe, for Peanut Butter Granola.  I guarantee that if you make this--according to directions, of course--YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.

I got the basic recipe from Organic Gardening, maybe 35 years ago or so, in my back-to-the-earth hippie period.  I have modified it over the years and still make it today.

The only "fancy" ingredients are raw (unsalted) sunflower seeds, and raw sesame seeds, both readily available at a bulk foods store or a large supermarket.

We usually eat it with vanilla yogurt, but with milk is fine too.  Goes great before a run!

Please comment to let me know how it went for you.


1/3 C vegetable oil
2/3 C honey
1 C peanut butter
2 tsp vanilla

Microwave above 4 wet ingredients together on high 2-3 min and stir till smooth.

6 C whole oats
1/2 C raw sunflower seeds, unsalted
1/2 C raw sesame seeds, unsalted

Mix above 3 dry ingredients together. Then stir in hot peanut butter mixture, stirring well until the entire mixture is uniformly coated.

Press into standard size cookie sheet with sides (12" x 18").

Bake @ 250 degrees for 1 hour, rotating cookie sheet part way through. Do not stir. Let cool completely in cookie sheet.  When cool, remove from cookie sheet with spatula.  Granola will come off in chunks or sheets.  Store in plastic container.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tales From The Perimeter: Chuck Norris, and Thanksgiving

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 that I sorta like.

A quick story from last week. Here's an email I sent after the fact to my lunchtime running buddies:

Despite the howling gale, I ran alone on Wed to uphold the honor of the tribe.

Back to Tuesday's run in the rain (KK, JH and I being the hardy ones), I have a profound observation: we got wet. But if Chuck Norris had run with us, he wouldn't have gotten wet--the rain would have gotten Chuck Norrised.

This makes 2 runs in a row with less than optimal conditions. I'm glad I'm a macho man. Today should be a pretty fine day to run, see ya later.


I love these guys, with whom we have literally shared blood, sweat, and tears. My Thanksgiving wish for you out there is that you are fortunate enough to have running buddies in your life who are half the people these guys are.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Politically Feisty

I'm feeling politically feisty today, so if that type of rant doesn't interest you, better bail now. 

I was hoping for something better with President Obama, but I realize now he's just not into championing causes because they are right.  He goes along to get along.  Contrast that with Bobby Kennedy, via the Writer's Almanac on 20 November:

We just don't hear that type of inspirational, soaring rhetoric any more.  Or if we do hear it, we think it's insincere and pandering.

Now, to continue with the rant.  President Bush has been out of office for two years, and whenever I see him, I still have a visceral skin-crawl. And now that he's put himself back into the media with his reputation rehabilitation book tour, I find my aversion has, if anything, increased.

Via Dan Froomkin at Huffington Post, who says it much better than I can:

WASHINGTON -- These days, when we think of George W. Bush, we think mostly of what a horrible mess he made of the economy. But his even more tragic legacy is the loss of our moral authority, and the transformation of the United States of America from global champion of human rights into an outlaw nation.

History is likely to judge Bush most harshly for two things in particular: Launching a war against a country that had not attacked us, and approving the use of cruel and inhumane interrogation techniques.

And that's why the two most essential lies -- among the many -- in his new memoir are that he had a legitimate reason to invade Iraq, and that he had a legitimate reason to torture detainees.

Neither is remotely true. But Bush must figure that if he keeps making the case for himself -- particularly if it goes largely unrebutted by the traditional media, as it has thus far -- then perhaps he can blunt history's verdict.

A day after winning the California  primary, in the early morning of June 6, 1968, Senator Robert Kennedy was shot and killed as he left a campaign rally in Los Angeles. 

Two months before his assassination, he said: "What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

In Memoriam

From Nicole Belle at Crooks and Liars, we learn of the deaths of 18 more of America's youth:

US Air Force SrA Andrew S Bubacz, 23, Dalzell, SC
US Army CPL Shawn D Fannin, 32, Wheelersberg, OH
US Army SGT Edward H Bolen, 25, Chittenango, NY
US Army SPC Shannon Chihuahua, 25, Thomasville, GA
US Army SPC David C Lutes, 28, Frostberg, MD
US Army SSG Juan L Rivadeneira, 27, Davie, FL
US Army CPL Jacob R Carver, 20, Freeman, MO
US Army SPC Jacob C Carroll, 20, Clemmons, NC
US Army SSG Kevin M Pape, 30, Fort Wayne, IN
US Marines SSgt Javier O Ortiz Rivera, 26, Rochester, NY
US Army SPC Shane H Ahmed, 31, Chesterfield, MI
US Army SPC Nathan E Lillard, 26, Knoxville, TN
US Army SPC Scott T Nagorski, 27, Greenfield, WI
US Army SPC Jesse A Snow, 25, Fairborn, OH
US Army PFC Christian M Warriner, 19, Mills River, NC
US Army SSG David P Senft, 27, Grass Valley, CA
US Army PFC Kyle M Holder, 18, Conroe, TX
US Army SPC Justin E Culbreth, 26, Colorado Springs, CO

No end is in sight.  I recall back at the height of the Vietnam War when my Dad and his Uncle Harry were discussing the war (Dad being pro-war and Uncle Harry, once pro-war, had finally reached the tipping point).  Uncle Harry said, "My God, Jack, we lost 500 boys last week!"  That overheard conversation was also my tipping point.

The numbers in Afghanistan are orders of magnitude smaller, but for those families that will be forever changed, the deaths are every bit as devastating. 

No end is in sight.


Monday, November 22, 2010

JFK 50 Miler...for Judy

My hat is off to my friend Judy, who finished the JFK 50 Miler with a very strong performance. She clocked a 10:10:29, which is more than respectable. I can’t wait to hear the details!

Per the preliminary results, Judy was 441st of 1014 finishers, and was 26th of 85 in her age group.

Judy was a stranger to me until last March, when I drew her from the pacer pool at the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Race for my 6th (of 8) 12.5 mile lap. Prior to the race, I had been negative or at best ambivalent about using a pacer, but in the middle of the night it seemed to be a good idea.

And it was. We talked for 3 hours as though we were the best of friends and had known one another for years. Funny how on the trail you can connect with a stranger so quickly, and share many personal things that in normal life it’d take a tremendously long time to broach.  The miles flew by comfortably.

So…hats off to you for a super job.  And in April 2011 you're gonna get one of these:

By the way, in all my happy chatter about the JFK race, I am mindful of the fact that on this date in 1963, the President of the United States was murdered. That event truly helped to shape the worldview of Americans ever since.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cats in Art: The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters

My continuing Sunday series.

Image and text credit here: 1797-98, Francisco Goya, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, etching with aquatint

Goya's observation of the world led him to believe that the eighteenth century philosophers' dream of Reason only produced monsters. His etching, entitled The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, shows a student asleep over his books while the air around him is filled with screech owls and bats.

This etching has been given various interpretations, but it is generally thought that the work represents the "triumph of nightmare." Does the cat represent Goya's belief that Reason, with its inherent power to end the nightmare, sits back and does nothing?

My vote is that the cat simply does not care.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Remembrances While Running: Janet Marie Christiansen

The backstory: This is another in a series of posts triggered by the murder (in 2005), burial, exhumation, and reburial, of Janet Marie Christiansen.  Her grave is near my home and I pass it often while running.

When I last posted here on 5 November that it appeared that her grave was still empty--that forensic tests associated with the reopening of the unsolved case were still presumably underway--a commenter in Alaska corrected me:
Thank you for caring about Janet and leaving flowers. She has been re-interred, though; the court order only allowed a limited time before the casket was to be returned to the ground. 

To which I replied, in Comments, explaining how I came to be mistaken:

You are right. I just called the local newspaper reporter who covered this story, and he said the judge had stipulated a 48 hour turnaround.

I had assumed the process would take some weeks. With the drought we had in Jul-Aug this summer, when I first saw her grave, it was still bare as no grass had regrown (unbeknownst to me, Janet's body had been exhumed and already reinterred).

Assuming the forensic process was still underway, I just figured I'd see a new disturbance of the ground once the forensic folks were done. Well, the grave never was re-disturbed this fall so I posted as though things were really dragging out. My mistake, and thanks for pointing that out.

For what it's worth, I wanted to set that part of the record straight, on the timing of the exhumation and reburial.  I am happy that Janet's body has been reinterred--that had to be so tough on the family.  I hope that the legal proceedings against the newly accused (her husband) will happen quickly.

Also, I wanted to point out something else I did not know.  When I Googled Janet's name a couple weeks ago--just to try to establish a date for her reburial--I was astonished to learn that this story had been covered on national TV (ABC News, I think).  All I was responding to initially was a short, tragic, local (I thought) story in my hometown paper since the grave was quite close to my home. That explains, I think, why I got several comments to these Janet posts on my tiny blog.

While I am only an interested bystander, with no dog in the fight, so to speak, the story of this stranger has touched me in a way that's hard to explain.  Maybe it's the feelings of fear of loss, that what happened to her could happen to any family; maybe it is the triggering of thoughts of immortality; maybe it's some sort of visceral connection on even a subconscious level.

All that said, I will continue to leave wildflowers whenever I run by.  Yesterday's were a couple dandelions that were still hanging on despite some heavy frosts.

Note: I have changed all references to Janet in this and previous posts to read Janet Marie Christiansen (dropping the married name Abaroa), as this is how she is referred to on the family site Tears For Janet.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Gettysburg Address

(photo credit Wikipedia, here: the only confirmed photo of Abraham Lincoln (circled) at Gettysburg)

Today is the 147th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.  The battle had taken place some 4 months prior.  The Union dead were in the process of being dug up from hastily done burials on the field and removed to a permanent resting place in the new National Cemetery.

Lincoln was in town to speak at the dedication of the National Cemetery.

I forget where I ran into this short video, but you should watch it.  If not for yourself, watch it in remembrance of the dead of that battle, who were as real as you and me.  I will try to embed, but if that fails, click here.

Gettysburg Address from Adam Gault on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

JFK 50 Miler Thoughts

This year's JFK 50 Miler runners will commence their trek some 48 hours from this posting. Although I've started and completed 5 JFKs, I won't be among the runners this year--I opted instead to spend more time with the family.

I sound like a disgraced politician who just resigned before a scandal broke, hoping that the real truth would somehow not see the light of day. But the truth is that I burned up a lot of family goodwill in training for the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run earlier this year (March 2010). I strove mightily to minimize the time spent in running, and tried to render training time invisible by running those brutal 0-dark-thirty 35 milers last winter.

However, the fact remains that ultrarunning is necessarily a time-consuming endeavor. Not a wrong endeavor, but just of long duration. 35 mile training runs take half a day or better. Arguably, doing ultras is somewhat selfish, but on the other hand. we all need and deserve our personal space.

The bride is supportive of my running, but only to a point. That gray zone where fitness activities cross over into a quest--which is what a 100 miler is--is tougher for her to swallow.  So I decided to scale back the running for the rest of 2010, which include passing up the JFK.  Besides, with increasing demand for the race, race organizers upped the grandfather rule for automatic entry consideration from 5 finishes to 10...so I would have had to go thru whatever hoops the open field has to go thru for entry.

So, instead of running on Saturday, we are taking Mister Tristan (the human being, not the blog) to the Greencastle Christmas parade at 9:21 am (the sponsor is a radio station with that FM slot). He should really enjoy it, as we will.

Oh, and good luck to the JFK runners--I will be thinking about you.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Paranoia, and Freedom Fries

I posted last week about my own family story of Armistice Day (now Veteran's Day), here.  In that post I talked about how my great-grandfather was killed on the Western Front after the armistice was signed at 11:00 am on 11 Nov 1918.

That post got me thinking some more about group think and what seems all too common these days, checking one's brain at the door in lieu of rational thought.  A prime example would be what I posted about here, how all 37 Republican candidates for the U.S. senate disagree with the notion of man-made climate change.

So back to World War I.  Recall that at that time, anti-German sentiment resulted in the renaming of certain German foods. Sauerkraut was renamed "liberty cabbage", dachshunds renamed "liberty pups", and hamburgers renamed "liberty steaks" or "Salisbury steaks" (a name that remains in use...thanks to Wikipedia).

Well, anybody else remember the stupid episode in our recent history when the French, in a prescient move, refused in 2003 to endorse of support our move to invade Iraq?  Again, via Wikipedia:

On March 11, 2003, Representatives Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) and Walter B. Jones, Jr. (R-North Carolina) declared that all references to French fries and French toast on the menus of the restaurants and snack bars run by the House of Representatives would be removed. House cafeterias were ordered to rename French fries to "freedom fries". This action was carried out without a congressional vote, under the authority of Ney's position as Chairman of the Committee on House Administration, which oversees restaurant operations for the chamber. The simultaneous renaming of French toast to "freedom toast" attracted less attention.

According to a statement released by Ney, this move was intended to express displeasure with France's "continued refusal to stand with their U.S. allies" (see Iraq disarmament crisis). The statement further read: "This action today is a small but symbolic effort to show the strong displeasure many on Capitol Hill have with our so-called ally, France."

Well, whatever happened to Freedom Fries?  Bob Ney wound up resigning in disgrace in 2006, and--to his credit--in May 2005, Walter Jones (who remains in the House of Representatives today) became enlightened:

Representative Jones, having arrived at the belief that the United States went to war "with no justification", said of the "freedom fries" episode: "I wish it had never happened." By July 2006, the House had changed the name of the two foods in all of its restaurants back to "French fries" and "French toast".

Paranoia always seems to result in extremism, doesn't it?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Moon...and Ultrarunning

(Image credit here)

We who frequent the backcountry are explorers.  Maybe we don't think consciously of ourselves in that way, but it's a truism.  We explore the backcountry itself, looking for new scenes, critters, experiences.  And we explore the backcountry within ourselves--our physical abilities, and our psychological boundaries to undestand how and why we go to extremes in ultrarunning.

There are web sites (here's one) dedicated to the highest points in each of the respective states of the union--where they are, how to get there, etc. It may be geeky beyond all belief, but I want to go to ALL those spots. I won't make it, of course--I will never stand on the summit of Denali, AK--but that doesn't keep me from dreaming.

Well, the concept has been extended to our nearest solar neighbor, the moon.  From Bad Astronomy on 3 Nov 2010:
I live less than an hour from some spectacular Rocky Mountain peaks. The view from up there is always magnificent, and when we hike we’re always curious about just how high we are. 11,500 feet? 12,000? That knowledge isn’t necessarily useful, but it’s fun.

Hiking in the Moon is a different matter. How would you know how high up you are? Well, if you had the elevation data made by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter you’d be all set, because then you’d know that if you were at a latitude of 5.4125° and longitude of 201.3665°, you’d be on the highest spot on the Moon!

See that red arrow? That's the spot. If you stood there, you'd be 10,786 meters (35,387 feet, about 6.7 miles) above the average lunar elevation*.


Still and all, I was trying to think of some sort of scientific use of knowing where this particular point on the Moon is. I’ll be honest: I’m not sure there is one. I mean, sure, having elevation maps is interesting and useful, and knowing where places have higher elevation can lead to insight into formation mechanisms and all that.

But knowing where the actual highest point is?

Well, maybe there isn’t scientific usefulness for it. But you know what? It’s cool. And sometimes that’s enough.

I agree totally with the Bad Astronomy guy.  It's just cool.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Mr. Sulu Ges it Right...

...and calls out a homophobic douchebag.  With gay folk in my family, I tend to take this crap sorta seriously.

The backstory from Huffington Post a couple of weeks ago ( I know this isn't breaking news any more, but I just found the wonderful Mr. Sulu clip):

The Arkansas school board member whose homophobic rants on Facebook drew widespread condemnation announced he was resigning on Thursday's "AC360."

Anderson Cooper told viewers that Clint McCance, a member of the Midland School District board in Arkansas, contacted him to set up an interview after his anti-gay Facebook posts sparked a wave of outrage.

The posts, which emerged on Wednesday, were written in response to the "Wear Purple Day" that was launched to show solidarity with gay youth in the wake of a recent string of suicides. In one post, McCance protested the idea behind the initiative.

"They want me to wear purple because five queers committed suicide," he wrote. "The only way I'm wearing for them is if they all commit suicide. I can't believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid.

Steady as she goes, Mr. Sulu:

If the embedded YouTube won't play, here's the URL:

Now if our beloved and inspirational President could only show half the fire in his belly as Mr. Sulu and issue that Executive Order to drive a stake thru the heart of Don't Ask, Don't Tell before the Republicans take over the House.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cats in Art: Eiaha Ohipa

Continuing my Sunday tradition of Cats in Art.

Photo and text credit here.

This painting by Paul Gauguin is sometimes referred to as A Tahitian Interior, but the artist named it Eiaha Ohipa which means "doing nothing" in the language of Tahiti. And is there anyone who can do nothing better than a cat?

[1896, Paul Gauguin, Eiaha Ohipa, painting]

I love Gauguin's notion of "doing nothing" and including a cat.  Well done!


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Time to Re-Read Treasure Island..and Ultrarunning

Image credit Wikipedia.

I continue to love me some Writer’s Almanac, a daily email I get that dealing with highlights of this day in history, always with a delightful literary bent.

I saved this one from the archives from 13 November 2007, and I’m featuring it here on the anniversary of the author's birth. It’s relevant because Treasure Island was one of my favorite books as a kid, and I just read it again at the beach this summer. Guess what?--loved it again!  Moreover, I found the biographical info about the author, Robert Louis Stevenson, to be SO compelling. What a love story!

It's the birthday of Robert Louis Stevenson, born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1850), who was a sickly, moderately successful essayist and travel writer, living in France, when one evening he walked to a friend's house, looked in through the window, and fell instantly in love with a woman sitting there at the table. To make a grand entrance, he opened the window, leapt inside, and took a bow. The woman was Fanny Osbourne and she was both American and unhappily married. She had come to Europe to get away from her husband, but after spending months getting to know Stevenson, she decided to go back to California.

Stevenson got a telegram from her a few weeks after she'd returned to the United States, and he decided on the spot to drop everything and go persuade her to divorce her husband and marry him. His health, as always, was terrible, and the trip to the United States almost killed him. He collapsed on Fanny Osbourne's doorstep, but she nursed him back to health. She did divorce her husband, and they got married in San Francisco and spent their honeymoon in a cabin near an abandoned silver mine.

They moved back to Scotland with her son from her previous marriage, and one rainy afternoon the following summer Stevenson painted a map of an imaginary island to entertain his new stepson. The map gave him and idea for a story and in a single month he had written his first great novel, Treasure Island (1883), about the young Jim Hawkins, who finds a treasure map and goes on a journey to find the treasure. He meets pirates, survives a mutiny, and gets to know a one-legged cook named Long John Silver. The book has been in print for 124 years now.

Go to the link to read the rest. 

Robert Louis Stevenson, said, "Our business in life is not to succeed, but to continue to fail in good spirits."

Sorta like Ultrarunning, when the run or the race is not going so well....it still is fun (mostly!).


Friday, November 12, 2010

Happy Birthday, Neil Young!

My favorite musician turns 65 today.  I was painting the bedroom yesterday after the Snake Run (see next post down), and cranked up some vintage Neil--Everybody Knows this is Nowhere (1969) and After the Gold Rush (1970).

Some great tunes there:

--Cinnamon Girl
--Cowgirl in the Sand
--Tell Me Why
--After the Gold Rush

And I will try to embed the arguably best tune of all, Southern Man, this version from 2000 with back-ups Steven Stills, Graham Nash, and David Crosby.

Snakes and Running

I love me some critters (I do have a MS in Biology that I've never used professionally, just as a hobby).  Yesterday's run brought a first--I carried a garter snake home, running with it some 6 miles--to show to Mister Tristan (the human being, not the blog).

I've previously posted on how I "mine" the local fields for limestone rocks to use in dry stone walls and flower beds.  Well, I was off on Thursday for Veteran's Armistice Day, and I had the bride drop me off on her way to work so I could run home from there.

I made my way home along Fort Stouffer Road, where I saw a pile of rocks along an embankment.  I pulled them close to the road for later pick up with the pickup (I'm pleased with that turn of a phrase!).  Under one of the rocks was a very cold and immobilized garter snake.  The overnight low was about 30 degrees and had not warmed up much by 7:30 am. 

I slipped it into the pocket of my running vest and zipped it shut.  I doubted the snake would warm up enough to become mobile but I didn't want to risk losing it.

Well, Mister Tristan, at age 2 years 8 months not only showed little fear, he almost immediately wanted to hold the snake.

Then he graciously let me hold it.

Oh--and later I did take the snake back to the scene of the capture.
(all photos by Gary)


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Armistice Day...Every Family Has a Story

For Veteran's Armistice Day (as it was originally called)....

Every family has a story.  My mother told me of my great-grandfather, Julius (or Jules?) Brinkmann, who was killed on this date in 1918 in World War I on the Western Front.

Word of the armistice, which took effect the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month of 1918, did not reach all the lines in real time.  He was killed sometime later that day, AFTER the armistice.

He would have been one of the very last casualties of the Great War.  You know, the war that was supposed to end all wars.

Oh, and he was a German.  Funny, that really doesn't seem to matter, does it?

What is your family story?  Please comment.

This is a generic photo, not of Julius...but it could have been.

Photo credit here.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Trail Running--in Chicago

(Image credit here)

In a post last week I promised I'd comment about my running while on a business trip to Chicago. It was all I hoped for, and much more.

First off, convenience. I was staying at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare, which sits less than a mile east of the airport. With no rental car, I despaired of finding a decent place to run. Typically at airport hotels, the best you can hope for is street running involving parking lots, franchise avenues, and traffic.

I am a frequent traveler and pretty good by now at sniffing out places to run.  I had done my research ahead of time, Googling such things as Trail Running, Mountain Biking, Nature Trails, with the Chicago location. Also did a MapQuest lookup of the area, looking for green space that indicates some sort of park land. I found there was a series of "forest preserves," with trails, stretching along the Des Plaines River. Best news: I could reach the nearest access point on foot, along Lawrence Avenue, only about 1.5 miles from my hotel (this suburb is called Rosemont).

Second, the trail was pretty decent. The Des Plaines Trail was along the wooded river bottomland. The path and setting was pretty similar to running on the C+O Canal towpath along the Potomac River, of JFK 50 miler fame. It was a dirt and fine gravel path in the woods. The path was well-maintained and pretty well-marked. No water available here in Nov, although there were water pumps for summer use. There were several road crossings, all of which either had pedestrian crossing signals, overpasses, tunnels under the roadway, or routing under bridges right beside the river.

Most of the time I could not see any civilization. But I sure could hear it--auto traffic at a distance, and air traffic. Being under an approach path to O'Hare, the passenger planes coming in had flaps down and landing gear down and were screaming CLOSE overhead. Make no mistake, it was an urban trail. But it was plenty woodsy enough to be quite pleasurable.

Third, cool critters. I saw about half a dozen whitetail deer. One doe was quite close--she scared the crap out of me--I'm talking a mere 20' away, just off the trail. She seemed used to people and fairly unconcerned. Later I saw a magnificent 10 point buck, huge antlers, huge body, only 50' away. That's the closest I have ever been to one that big.

Bottom line: I ran about an hour and half out, then returned; I figure about 18 miles. These were some of the best "urban" miles I've ever logged. Not perfect, but very good for no car, right beside O'Hare Airport.

Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

(all photos by Gary)

This is a tough time of year for me.  We are well into fall here in Pennsylvania, when things are dying back, cold weather and snow are on the way, and it rather depresses me.  Already I am thinking ahead half a year to when one of my favorite trees re-emerges in a big way.

One of our first plant acquisitions when we bought our home some years ago were several Eastern Redbuds, Cercis canadensis.  I "liberated" 3 or 4 of them as knee-high seedlings from a nearby abandoned quarry area and transplanted them into our yard, where they have thrived.

So my eldest are some 25+ years old, and I have an equal number of their offspring from their own natural seeding. The tree is a prolific seed producer, and the babies sprout and grow rather easily.

Why do I like the Eastern Redbud? In a word, it's the flowers. Well, actually it's 3 words: Lovely. Early. Flowers.

This tree produces small (1/4") but stunning pink-to-purple flowers closely upon its branches and even the trunk. Once a tree is fairly mature, say 5-8 years old, the trunk and branches are covered with these flowers, and they come early. This splash of color comes in early April, just before the dogwoods. Although spring flowers are up, this is a still a time in southern PA when the predominant colors are dull grays and browns.

According to Landscape America, "George Washington reported in his diary on many occasions about the beauty of the tree and spent many hours in his garden transplanting seedlings obtained from the nearby forest."

Gotta give it to the father of our country.  He sure knew his trees!

My Eastern Redbuds in full flower, April 2010:

Same shot in late October 2010:

Close up of the seed pods...after all, the biological point of all those flowers!

As I've posted before, in the spring, when I I return from a local run, turn that last corner, and see those trees, I just have to smile at that stunning natural beauty.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

On the Election, a Week Later

Well, the election is over a week now and I'll throw out a couple comments now that's had time to sink in.  Here are 3 items I picked up in the left-wing blogosphere that hit it pretty well for me:

1.  I echo what Melissa McEwan at Shakesville said about the Tea Party and the election:

"Victories Suggest Wider Appeal of Tea Party" says the New York Times, which the Democrats should be reading as: "Victories Suggest Widespread Disillusionment with Republican-Light Policies, and, Hey, Don't a Lot of Those Tea Partiers Show Up in Videos Actually LIKING Medicare and Social Security, Which Suggests They're Really in Favor of MORE PROGRESSIVE Policies, and Are Really Just Enamored With a Movement That Appeals to Their Sense of Frustration, Irrespective of the Actual Policy Positions, So Maybe We Should MOVE F***ING LEFT FOR A CHANGE?!"

2.  Next, from Corrente

Exit polling from CBS:  The Democratic Base Stayed Home.  Core Democratic groups stayed away in droves Tuesday, costing Democratic House candidates dearly at the polls.

Hispanics, African Americans, union members and young people were among the many core Democratic groups that turned out in large numbers in the 2008 elections, propelling Mr. Obama and Democratic House candidates to sizable victories. In 2010, turnout among these groups dropped off substantially, even below their previous midterm levels.

In short, everybody that Obama threw under the bus. Hispanics? No immigration reform and increased deportations. African Americans? Horrific unemployment and continued jailing under the War on Drugs. Union members? No card check and the HCR sellout. Young people? Horrific unemployment again, along with the big "F**k you" on issues like gays and marijuana legalization.

3.  Finally, last item, again from Corrente:

Department of How Stupid Do They Think We Are?
On October 27, 2010, a group of 5 "liberal" bloggers met with Obama: Duncan "Atrios" Black of Eschaton, John Amato of Crooks and Liars, Barb Morrill of Daily Kos, Oliver Willis and Joe Sudbay of AmericaBLOG. Bloggers often criticize the MSM for asking lame questions, not focusing on the important issues, being easily fobbed off with pap, and not following up. Reading the transcript of their interaction with Obama, I would say they got rolled and performed pretty much on par with the MSM.

The general form went something like this:

Blogger: Question
Obama: blah, blah, blah
Blogger: Thank you

There were so many questions that could have been asked, so many questions that could have been asked better than they were, and with better follow up. It didn't happen. But the point is they could have been. The participants had the time to think through their questions and even bounce them off colleagues beforehand. This does not seem to have happened.

The two questions I would have asked are: You were elected on a platform of "Change". You came to office with the biggest Congressional majorities in 80 years. You didn't deliver. You never fought for change. You always pre-compromised. You never forced the Republicans to filibuster. You didn't use reconciliation. You didn't use the power of the office and the leadership in Congress to punish obstructionist Democrats, let alone obstructionist Republicans. You never effected change that you could have done using the power of the Presidency: to end wars, to respect Constitutional rights, to stop indefinite detention, to cutback on domestic surveillance, to investigate criminality on Wall Street, and in the Bush Administration. Nobody forced you to make secret sweetheart deals with Big Insurance and Big Pharma on healthcare. And it's not like you fought and lost. You embraced Bush's programs, which voters had elected you precisely to reject. You completely froze out progressives from your Administration. You let Republicans and conservative Democrats dictate your agenda. Don't tell us that it is the Republicans' fault. Don't tell us that it is hard. You weren't elected for it to be easy. So why now should any liberal, progressive, independent, or Democrat, believe you and vote for you or any Democrat?

Americans have seen trillions go to bankers, bankers who drove the country to the brink, bankers whom you left in place, bankers who continue to pull down multi-million dollar bonuses. Yet when they look around for what you are doing about jobs or help for homeowners, they see nothing. They see bunches of lame excuses, but they don't see the urgency or the emphasis you have when it is the banks that come calling. We see your priorities. So again why should any voter support you or any Democrat?

I just can't add anything else.  I guess I'm too liberal for Obama.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Real Worries vs. Fake Worries...and Ultrarunning

Via NPR, some things parents (and us grandparents) should--and should not--be worried about for the little ones.  Again it all goes back to science, and a basic understanding of probability and statistics.

Based on surveys Barnes collected, the top five worries of parents are, in order:


2.School snipers


4.Dangerous strangers


But how do children really get hurt or killed?

1.Car accidents

2.Homicide (usually committed by a person who knows the child, not a stranger)




Why such a big discrepancy between worries and reality? Barnes says parents fixate on rare events because they internalize horrific stories they hear on the news or from a friend without stopping to think about the odds the same thing could happen to their children.

I used to worry about getting hurt or lost on the trail when I was out running.  I gotta say that in my years of back country running, I have never heard of such an occurrence resulting in death. 

No that it can't or won't, and I'm sure it's happened.  But all in all, this is a pretty safe endeavor.  The universe of participants is extraordinarily fit, and I'd say, resourceful.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cats in Art: Cat Attacking Dead Game

Continuing my Sunday tradition of Cats in Art. 

Photo and text credit here.

Detailed, almost photo-realistic, still life paintings became highly popular during the 17th & 18th centuries. This still life painting is livened up a bit by the presence of a cat who is about to grab some game for herself.

[c. 1700, Alexandre-Fran├žois Desportes, A Cat Attacking Dead Game, painting]

You just gotta do what you gotta do to survive.  I've always thought that female cats (this one is a calico, thus female) are better hunters than the males, presumably because they often have more mouths to feed.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Sing-Along Songs...and Ultrarunning

As I did here, theme for today is sing-along songs.

After my free subscription ran out, I went ahead and signed up for continuing service from Sirius/XM Radio--well worth the $$ for me.  Without further ado, here are today's offerings:

--Touch Me (Doors)
--Behind Blue Eyes (Who)
--Daydream Believer (Monkees)
--American Pie (Don McLean)
--Devil With a Blue Dress On (Mitch Ryder)
--I Fooled Around and Fell in Love (Elvin Bishop)
--Our House (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young)...which I will try to embed below, but my blogging mojo seems to be cursed when it comes to embedding YouTube videos.  This video is cool, because--in keeping with the theme--it contains an audience sing-along at the end:

As I wrote before, I never take any music devices along when I run, but can easily conjure up these tunes from memory when I need a music fix while running.  I'll lustily belt out these tunes as though I were on Broadway--provided I am alone--and the miles just fly by.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Grave Still Empty...and Ultrarunning

I posted awhile back (Aug 2010) about Staying Buried...and Ultrarunning, where Janet Marie Christiansen's body in a cemetery by my home was disinterred for forensic reasons.  She was murdered in 2005, and recently authorities in NC have charged her husband with her death.

Couple Fridays ago, while I was running thru the tail of Halley's Comet (see my post here), I looped thru the cemetery to pause at her grave.

It is still empty, as evidenced by the weeds and grass growing on the bare earth uncovered from the disinterment this summer.  I've been placing flowers there whenever I pass by.  Last Friday's flowers were Chicory, a tough roadside flower with a lovely blue color.

As when I previously posted, I'm not sure of the point here; the whole situation at once seems necessary and sad and bittersweet.  But I keep being drawn back, as though writing about Janet--whom I did not know, neither do I know her family--seems like something I should be doing.  So I do.

Thoughts of immortality frequently are on my mind as I run.  And that sheer time to ponder is one of the totally underrated aspects of Ultrarunning.  Most people in their lives simply do not have hours-long blocks of time in which to think about as much--or as little--as you wish.  During my time on roads or trails, I can examine an issue, toss it about, leave it to focus on the now of the trail (footing, animals, water, whatever), later come back to it....

I think that aspect, more than any other, may be the real reason I run long.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

More Tech-Using Time Travelers Spotted in Archival Film Footage

If you are not currently a Boing Boing reader, you should be.  The combination of geek and tech and contemporary society is marvelous.

Here is a terrific example.  I can say that I spent an enjoyable, fun half hour clicking thru all the links:

My co-editor Mark recently caused quite a stir here on Boing Boing when he blogged this highly controversial clip of a female figure clearly talking into a cell phone in 1928 footage of people lining up for the premiere of Charlie Chaplin's movie The Circus. 
Disbelievers gotta disbelieve, but with a new week comes new evidence: not one, but two new videos of time-travelers in footage of yore. In the video above, a very, very early adopter of Apple products.

I'm sure not ready to become a born-again Time Travel conspiracist, but I certainly can't explain the 1928 Charlie Chaplin clip where the woman is talking on a cell phone.

No Ultra content, just geekiness.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Running in Chicago...and the TSA

This week, perhaps as you read this, I will be in the skies above this nation flying to and from a business destination.  My business is in Chicago, where I will be staying at an airport hotel, but will not have a rental car.  Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I was able to find out that there is a trail, only a mile from my hotel, along the Des Plaines River near O'Hare Airport, that apparently stretches some miles.

Having scheduled my flights to have plenty of time on either end, I will be able to fit in a nice long run.  Will report after the fact on how it went.

Now, switching over to the aviation side of the equation, turns out that Just an Earth-Bound Misfit just ranted long and hard about airport security and the TSA:

It was pretty clear then, and it is clearer now, that the TSA's job is purely theatrical.

Meanwhile, the pilots and the flight attendants are not at all happy about having to undergo trial by X-ray several times a duty day, and I cannot blame them for that. The TSA says those scanners are safe, but really, does anybody trust for a picosecond anything that the TSA says? It's already come out that the assurance of the TSA that the scanners don't store the images is a lie.

The part about screening the pilots is especially inane. In the cockpit of airliners is a crash ax which, if my recollection is correct, has on its head one really pointy end and one very sharp end. So the TSA makes sure that the pilots don't have a little bitty knife, they feel all happy of their screening the pilots, and then the pilots get to sit in a itty bitty room with the modern equivalent of a war axe. And that doesn't even get into the point that a determined pilot could just crash the airplane and kill all aboard if that was his goal.

Love that last point about the ax!  Don't misunderstand--I am all for security that really and truly makes us safer.  But don't waste our time with security theater.

Along these lines, I can't help but draw a parallel with the broader impacts of 9/11.  Via Spencer Ackerman's Trapped Within a Frame:

Here I was, set to write a long post about the new Woodward book excerpts, when Gulliver distills my intended point in a tweet:

"Does not compute: if we could "absorb" another 9/11, why are we wasting $70B/yr on war that won't prevent it anyway?"

He's referring to an Obama quote about how the U.S. proved resilient after 9/11.


It’s also a point that ultimately cuts against the massive expansion of the Afghanistan war that Obama has instituted. One way of getting close to squaring it is to say that we’re going to go big for a limited period of time in order to mitigate what we can in Afghanistan — the ol’ “so it doesn’t go back to being a safe haven” argument. But that still doesn’t address the basic resource-interest mismatch. And it’s hard to avoid the conclusion from Woodward’s excerpts that the factor inhibiting Obama from addressing it is an inability to break out of the fear-driven politics that surround terrorism, which inhibit counterterrorism vigilance under the guise of bolstering it.

Then there’s this:

Woodward quotes Petraeus as saying, “You have to recognize also that I don’t think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. It’s a little bit like Iraq, actually. . . . Yes, there has been enormous progress in Iraq. But there are still horrific attacks in Iraq, and you have to stay vigilant. You have to stay after it. This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.”

Feeling safer and better about your (grand) kids' future?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Torture and Assassination

From Glenn Greenwald at Salon on 2 Oct

During the Bush-era torture debates, I was never able to get past my initial incredulity that we were even having a "debate" over whether the President has the authority to torture people.

Andrew Sullivan has responded to some of the questions I posed about his defense of Obama's assassination program, and I realize now that throughout this whole assassination debate, specific legal and factual issues aside, my overarching reaction is quite similar: I actually can't believe that there is even a "debate" over whether an American President -- without a shred of due process or oversight -- has the power to compile hit lists of American citizens whom he orders the CIA to kill far away from any battlefield.

The notion that the President has such an unconstrained, unchecked power is such a blatant distortion of everything our political system is supposed to be -- such a pure embodiment of the very definition of tyrannical power -- that, no matter how many times I see it, it's still hard for me to believe there are people willing to expressly defend it.

My sentiments exactly.  Very Serious People were unapologetically talking then about torture--as they are talking now about targeted killings--without the slightest bit of self-consciousness, or humility, or conscience....

That kind of hubris is nothing short of unbelievable.


Monday, November 1, 2010

When You Vote Tomorrow....Vote Science

From one of my favs, Bad Astromomy:

Science is our best method for figuring out reality. It provides us with a method to rigorously test our ideas to find out if they are right or wrong. We can discard bad ideas, keep good ones, and that way get ever-closer to being able to understand what the Universe is actually trying to tell us.

Scientists are necessarily conservative when it comes to consensus. It takes years, decades, of testing ideas to build an agreement on what’s what. At first, many will argue against it, but eventually, as evidence piles up, the scientists will come to terms with the new idea, and use it as the default position.

When it comes to global warming, that consensus has been built. The vast majority — and I do mean vast — of climate scientists agree that the Earth is warming, and while evidence is still coming in, most of these scientists agree warming is due to human causes.

OK, so far so good, we know that scientists believe in the fact of, and the seriousness of, man-made global warming.  Let's translate that into, "Now what do we do about it?" as in, let's look to our elected representatives to have our back on this.  After all, we are talking about the fate of human life on this planet, right?

So what does it say when every single Republican candidate running for Senate this autumn is either a denier of man-made global warming or disputing facts about it we know are true?

It’s actually quite amazing. 37 seats are up for grabs in November, and of the 37 Republicans (and their Frankensteinian offspring, the Tea Party) running for these seats, not a single one supports taking any action on global warming.

Don't any of these people have children or grandchildren?  I guess since party loyalty and discipline are evidently of paramount importance, the best we probably can expect is a unanimous "We're sorry" ...well after the point of no return has been reached for the planet.