Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cats in Art: The Cat's Dancing Lesson

Continuing my Sunday tradition of Cats in Art.

Photo credit and text credit here.

Portraying a lively domestic scene, Dutch artist Jan Steen painted The Cat's Dancing Lesson. It's difficult to tell whether the cat is as amused by the experience as the humans around him. Although a few cats will do anything for attention, most of us would find this very undignified behavior.

[17th century, Jan Steen, The Cat's Dancing Lesson (detail), oil on panel]

As with my post last week, I interpret the cat as decidedly negative about the whole affair.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Running Thru the Tail of Halley’s Comet

Last Friday (21 Oct) I was up at 0-dark-thirty for a run so as to be back prior to assuming Mister Tristan duties (the human being, not the blog).

My destination for this 5-mile counter-clockwise loop from my house was Harshman Road, where I planned to run south from Marion. Harshman Road is about 2 miles long, and I was running SE, almost directly towards Orion, fairly high in the night sky.

Why run there, and then? Well, I love me some meteors. And since the Perseids back in August were a local bust due to cloud cover, I fell back on the Orionids as being the next one in time. Via Meteor Showers Online we learn:

The Orionid meteor shower is the second of two showers that occur each year as a result of Earth passing through dust released by Halley's Comet, with the first being the Eta Aquarids. The point from where the Orionid meteors appear to radiate is located within the constellation Orion.

The Orionids generally begin on October 15 and end on October 29, with maximum generally occurring during the morning hours of October 20-22. The Orionids are barely detectable on the beginning and ending dates, but observers in the Northern Hemisphere will see around 20 meteors per hour at maximum.

Well, my meteor count was 2. Or well, maybe 3 (this over about 20 minutes), it was hard to tell. My neck was getting a crick in it from looking up at such an angle.  In all cases it was the briefest flash, not even a streak. One blink and you miss it. Perhaps the bright moon had something to do with it, although it was low in the west and 90 degrees to my right shoulder as I ran south.

While the meteors did not live up to expectations, the run had other benefits. As I said, Orion was high in the southern sky, with its major stars Sirius and Betelgeuse bright and prominent. The "W" shape of Cassiopeia was brilliant in the NW sky. The warm, humid air was quite still, and a light ground fog lent an eerie appearance to the landscape.

After the end of the meteor quest at the southern end of Harshman Road, before returning home I ran thru the old Brown's Mill cemetery. It wasn't spooky, just more of a feeling of kinship with those who had gone before.

And so I quietly slipped back into the house, satisfied. 

Oh, and Halley's Comet--the real appearance--was here and I saw it in 1986, but won't be back until 2061, long after I'll have begun taking a long dirt nap.  So I'll have to content myself with running thru its tail every year, as long as I am able.


Friday, October 29, 2010

Shakespeare...and Ultrarunning

(image credit here)

From the site that I use as my homepage, REFDESK, on 7 Oct 2010, comes this nugget about William Shakespeare:

Countless excellent phrases, now commonly used, occur first in Shakespeare, including one fell swoop, vanish into thin air, play fast and loose, be in a pickle, foul play, tower of strength, flesh and blood, be cruel to be kind, and with bated breath. - Provided by

So, I thought, why not do a search and see what the Bard had to say about running?  I came up with 2 cool passages (from OpenSourceShakespeare, here).

From Henry VIII, the Duke of Norfolk warns:
Be advised;
Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot
That it do singe yourself: we may outrun,
By violent swiftness, that which we run at,
And lose by over-running.

Or better yet, from King Lear, where the king says:

Then there's life in't.  Nay, an you get it,
you shall get it by running.

Pretty smart guy, huh?  Gotta watch that over-running....


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Math is Hard

Jill over at Brilliant at Breakfast (scroll down to Monday 18 Oct) had a great economics post that pretty clearly lays out the math of federal deficits and revenue.  She writes:

Paul Krugman pointed out yesterday that when you have a recession and people are out of work, government revenues drop vs. expenditures:

The Republicans would have you believe that if we "cut spending" and reduce tax revenue even further, the budget will be balanced. According to this graph, spending right now is about $5.3 trillion. Revenue is about $3.95 trillion. I wish someone would ask Republican candidates how they plan to cut over $1.3 trillion in spending. The Republican so-called "Pledge to America" pledges to cut spending back to 2008 levels, which still puts us at about $4.7 trillion. This pledge also comes with promises of FURTHER tax cuts, reducing revenue even more.

Not even the most radical Republican plans, such as eliminating the Department of Education, will make a dent in that gap. Only dramatic cutbacks in military spending (which we never hear about, not even in the context of trying to find the billions that went missing in Iraq) AND the elimination of Social Security and Medicare (which ARE part of the Republican agenda) will.

Economics is a difficult subject, but I try valiantly to dig deep enough to understand it.  I do know this: repeating the phrase "tax cuts" and "reduce spending" won't cut it--such statements MUST be accompanied by specifics, not platitudes. 

The reduction in spending absolutely MUST must look hard at the Defense budget.  I've previously posted here about how the U.S. spends its military dollars; I'll include the 4 most shocking points again below:

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

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

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

US military spending is almost 55 times the spending on the six “rogue” states (Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria) whose spending amounts to around $13 billion, maximum.

Do you think that maybe, just maybe, we could beat some those swords into plowshares and provide health care and quality education to all Americans, plus take care of our crumbling infrastructure?


Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Photos by Gary.  Trellis is 6' high.

Close-up of a fruit cluster, approx 4" long.

Several years ago we planted a couple American Bittersweet vines (Celastrus scandens). I just love the name…it evokes a sort of wistfulness that goes hand-in-hand with the outpouring of beautiful orange fruit just as the first traces of winter begin to loom on the horizon.

From HowStuffWorks on 24 Oct 2010 we learn the following facts:

American bittersweet, a climbing shrub, is native to North America east of the Rocky Mountains. It is an extremely rampant grower and care should be taken not to let it escape into desirable trees or shrubs.

Description of American bittersweet: This woody shrub climbs by twining around its support and is so efficient that it frequently strangles the trees it grows on. It can grow to whatever height its host attains. The stems are woody. Its deep green, glossy leaves are ovate and pointed, turning yellow before dropping in the fall. The male and female flowers, inconspicuous, appear on separate plants. If pollinated, female flowers bear striking orange berries in the fall, lasting through much of the winter.

Growing American bittersweet: This plant will thrive in nearly any soil that is not constantly wet. It requires full sun or partial shade to get started. Make sure to plant at least one male per group of three females to ensure pollination. Prune severely in early spring to stimulate flowering and also cut off unwanted suckers.

Uses for American bittersweet: American bittersweet is often used to cover unsightly fences and rock piles. It can be trained up arbors, trellises, and even mature trees, but should never be allowed to climb young trees or shrubs because the vine's twisting woody stems can cut off their sap as they grow. The seeds, although poisonous to humans, seem to do no harm to the birds that eat them in winter. The fruit-bearing branches are often harvested for dried winter decorations.

American bittersweet related species: The Loesener bittersweet (Celastrus Loeseneri or, more correctly, C. Rosthornianus) is similar, but less hardy and not as attractive. Asian bittersweet (C. Orbiculatus) is an invasive weed and should not be planted.
There are both male and female plants, with a pair required to set fruit. Not knowing whether there was another specimen of the opposite sex in pollination range, we elected to plant one of each sex in at the same spot. I built a simple trellis out of 4x4 treated posts, and affixed a decorative metal fencing piece inside the arches.

Don’t be scared off by the dire warnings above. It’s a pretty plant with beautiful fruit, just don’t plant it where it can vine over onto something else.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"Profiling HURT"

I reviewed the Barry Walton production, "Profiling HURT" on 21 Oct here.  My bottom line: two big thumbs up--a well done production, a must-own for anyone who is contemplating doing HURT or who otherwise has an interest in the race.

At the time I did not have ordering information for anyone who wished to order a copy.  The site to purchase a copy is here ( Then click on the link to DVDs.

The disclaimer: Nothing in it for me.  I was asked by Barry to review this 34-minute video (it also has lots of extras and bonus features) of the HURT (Hawaiian Ultra Running Team) 100 Mile race in Honolulu, HI (URL here). He provided me a review copy, owing to the fact that I have this blog. I have not received any consideration, financial or otherwise, for reviewing this documentary, and my comments are strictly my own opinion.

That said...I would love to run this race.  Here are a couple more shots to tantalize you (all image credits Barry Walton):

Monday, October 25, 2010

Tales From The Perimeter: A Bit of Politics

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.

Never missing an opportunity to bust a running partner, here's an email string sent among our group the morning prior to a run last week.  Political differences aside, we would go to the mat for any of our group. We've shared--literally--blood, sweat, and tears and I feel as close to these guys as to virtually anyone in my life.

You should know that CW is a retired Marine and is very conservative; I am the exact opposite, the classic liberal/progressive.  KK is in the middle.  PH is a warm-hearted, lovable oaf.

Anyway, on to the story:

From: KK
Sent: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 1:40 PM
To: xxxxx
Cc: xxxxx
Subject: Running

OK guys, CW is starting to get a complex, because no one else will run with him. I've been running (stuck) with him the last three (miserable) running days. I can't stand his (liberal) views and need someone more (conservative) like Gary to balance him out.

Let's show our support to CW and his ego by not punishing him (or me) by having him running with me.


-----Next Message-----

From: Gary
Sent: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 16:06
To: xxxxx
Cc: xxxxx
Subject: RE: Running


You're right, even Ray Charles could see that CW is such a flaming liberal that he puts Nancy Pelosi to shame. Come hell or high water, I will relieve the pressure on you on Friday, and hope for 2 laps. I will speak eloquently about:

--My passion for preserving tax cuts for millionaires (because that trickle-down sh*t REALLY does work)

--Why we need to kick Iran's *ss militarily right NOW

--Why man-made climate change is about as real as William Shatner's hair

--How "don't ask, don't tell" makes our armed forces stronger


-----Next Message-----

From: PH
Sent: Thursday, October 14, 2010 9:05 AM
To: xxxxx
CC: xxxxx
Subject: RE: Running

It's NOT REAL??? Please don't tell me that ;-(

Guys, I'm going to attend bible study I will not be running. Please keep xxxxx in your prayers as she is taking her day long medical boards today. I'm also praying for xxxxx'x mother and her speedy recovery!

I may come to work for 1/2 day tomorrow and if so, I will run with you guys. Consider that a warning.

Warm Regards

I love my running buddies, that's the only way to say it.  They have kept me sane when things were unraveling.  Hoping that you, too, have some people like this in your life.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cats in Art: Laughing Children with a Cat

Continuing my Sunday tradition of Cats in Art.

Photo credit here, “Laughing Children with a Cat”

This is a vey interesting painting.  It is early (1600s) and was done by a woman, Judith Leyster.

From Britannica online

Judith Leyster, (baptized July 28, 1609, Haarlem, Neth.—buried Feb. 10, 1660, Heemstede, near Amsterdam), Dutch painter, one of the few female artists of the era to have emerged from obscurity. Among her known works are portraits, genre paintings, and still lifes.

Leyster was the daughter of a brewer. She began to paint while still quite young, and by age 24 she had become a member of the Haarlem painters’ guild. Her subject matter embraced a greater range than was typical of Dutch painters of the era, and she was one of the first to exploit the domestic genre scene.

I love the expression on the cat's face.  It clearly is not having nearly as much fun as the kids are.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

More on "Victims of a Terrible Swindle"

I wrote about this a month ago but it keeps reappearing my my thoughts, and I find more ways to think about Dr. O'Hare's essay.  From a California professor's letter to his students:
The bad news is that you have been the victims of a terrible swindle.

Swindle – what happened? Well, before you were born, Californians now dead or in nursing homes made a remarkable deal with the future. (Not from California? Keep reading, lots of this applies to you, with variations.) They agreed to invest money they could have spent on bigger houses, vacations, clothes, and cars into the world’s greatest educational system, and into building and operating water systems, roads, parks, and other public facilities, an infrastructure that was the envy of the world. They didn’t get everything right: too much highway and not enough public transportation. But they did a pretty good job.

Young people who enjoyed these ‘loans’ grew up smarter, healthier, and richer than they otherwise would have, and understood that they were supposed to “pay it forward” to future generations, for example by keeping the educational system staffed with lots of dedicated, well-trained teachers, in good buildings and in small classes, with college counselors and up-to-date books. California schools had physical education, art for everyone, music and theater, buildings that looked as though people cared about them, modern languages and ancient languages, advanced science courses with labs where the equipment worked, and more. They were the envy of the world, and they paid off better than Microsoft stock. Same with our parks, coastal zone protection, and social services.

This deal held until about thirty years ago, when for a variety of reasons, California voters realized that while they had done very well from the existing contract, they could do even better by walking away from their obligations and spending what they had inherited on themselves.

Read the whole thing. This is right up my For. The. Children. theme that is never far from my thoughts. 

Oh, and we CAN afford it.  We just choose not to:

The budget deficit that’s paralyzing Sacramento is about $500 per person; add another $500 to get back to a public sector we don’t have to be ashamed of, and our average income is almost forty times that. Of course we can afford a government that actually works: the fact is that your parents have simply chosen not to have it.

Friday, October 22, 2010

American Chestnuts...and Ultrarunning

(photo by Gary)

The leaf is from the American Chestnut, Castanea dentata. This is from a healthy sapling, that nearly certainly will die within the next 10 years. I just took this shot—one of hundreds I could have taken—near Little Stony Man Cliffs in Shenandoah National Park. Wikipedia tells us more:

Once an important hardwood timber tree, the American Chestnut is highly susceptible to chestnut blight, caused by an Asian bark fungus accidentally introduced into North America on imported Asiatic chestnut trees. The disease was first noticed on American Chestnut trees in what was then the New York Zoological Park in 1904. The airborne bark fungus spread 50 miles a year and in a few decades girdled and killed up to three billion American Chestnut trees. New shoots often sprout from the roots when the main stem dies, so the species has not yet become extinct. However, the stump sprouts rarely reach more than 6 meters (20 ft) in height before blight infection returns.

Here are 2 stunning statements:

It is estimated that the total number of chestnut trees in eastern North America was over three billion, and that 25 percent of the trees in the Appalachian Mountains were American Chestnut.

The number of large surviving American Chestnut trees over 60 centimeters (24 in) in diameter within the tree's former range is probably fewer than 100.

I always get excited when I see chestnut saplings when I run along the ridges of the Allegheny Mountains (for example, along the Appalachian Trail). They speak to me of perseverance and of hope.

The American Chestnut Foundation is agressively working to develop a blight-resistant strain, and results thus far look very promising.  More here.

In today’s world where everything is known and already discovered, I hold out the hope that in a hidden hollow somewhere I will chance upon a mature, healthy specimen that has survived the blight.  And I will no doubt weep for joy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Review of the HURT 100 Documentary

The video in question is titled "Profiling HURT" by Barry Walton of BTV Productions.

The disclaimer: I was asked by Barry to review this 34-minute video (it also has lots of extras and bonus features) of the HURT (Hawaiian Ultra Running Team) 100 Mile race in Honolulu, HI (URL here). He provided me a review copy, owing to the fact that I have an ultra-related blog, Mister Tristan (see I have not received any consideration, financial or otherwise, for reviewing this documentary, and my comments are strictly my own opinion.

By the way, I saw that Christian Griffith first reviewed it back on 10 Oct, here. I made it a point NOT to read his, so rest assured that these two reviews are completely independent.

My review: I was excited to review this video, since I have often thought wistfully about running this race. However, I have dismissed those ideas as being personally unrealistic, from both a logistics as well as a physical standpoint. I am not an ultra junkie with a long race history; I'm more of a journeyman runner.To establish some credibility with you all, I have run three 100s: Massanutten in 1998, an American Cancer Society track run, and most recently Umstead (March 2010), where I logged a 22:35.

Make no mistake: the pool of runners with the ability to succeed at HURT consisist of those with some talent, a lot of training, and a ton of motivation. I'd sumbit that Massanutten is arguably a comparable race to HURT. The video makes it quite clear that HURT is not something to be taken lightly.

I have in fact run on some of the HURT trails--I work for the Navy and have had numerous recent business trips to Oahu. One afternoon I recall vividly that I parked at a lot near the top of the first uphill of the race at the same time as a local woman. Ultra folk being friendly as we are, we could identify each other as trail runners (water bottles & gaiters gave it away), and we struck up a conversation. She offered to guide me on a 7 or 8 mile loop. During that hour we shared stories and laughed, and I got a great look at some of the trails used in the HURT race. They are indeed gnarly, big time, but beautiful beyond all description.

On another trip I ran the switchback trail up from Manoa Falls. That uphill was tough enough, then at the top I encountered the nastiest, rootiest trail tread that I have ever seen. This, of course, figures prominently in the video.

All in all, this was a delightful video of the HURT 100 mile race. It consisted of flashbacks of preparation and training interspersed with footage taken during the actual race. Technically the production was smooth, with excellent direction, filming, music, and editing. It flowed well as it told the story of a couple runners preparing for and then doing the race. The mental and physical challenges of the course are well-explained. And the video does a wonderful job at documenting the efforts of the race staff.

I thought the video did a good job too, of dealing with the psychological and motivational aspects of the runners. The participants did not come off as head cases; they were sympathetically portrayed via the editing process as being driven and motivated to train for the quest (there's no other word for it) that the HURT run represents.

Bottom line: Two big thumbs up--a well done production, a must-own for anyone who is contemplating doing HURT or who otherwise has an interest in the race.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Running at Shenandoah (not)

The bride, son & daughter-in-law, and grandkids headed south to Shenandoah National Park this weekend for a fall getaway.

I took my running clothes, hoping and expecting to get away for a short trail run.  Not much, mind you--just hoping for an hour.  But the way the weekend evolved, the timing of plans, etc., ruled out any running.  But we did go for several hikes and covered several miles walking, including some considerable uphills and downs.  Plus it was necessary for me to carry Mister Tristan (the 2 1/2 year old human being, not the blog) for a couple miles.

So I got an upper body workout, and loved me some quality family time.  Oh, and we took the grandkids for a night hike, which they LOVED--it was dark and windy and spooky (I used my Petzl headlamp, which was as close to ultrarunning as it got!)

Here are a couple more shots I took.  This place is truly a national treasure:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Children's Literature...and Ultrarunning

Late posting today, sorry, was away for a long weekend.  More on that probably tomorrow.

Being married to an elementary school teacher, and having 3 grandchildren, I love me some children's literature.  R.L. Stine is an icon.  From the Writer's Almanac, 8 Oct 2010:

It's the birthday of young adult novelist R.L. [Robert Lawrence] Stine, born in Bexley, Ohio (1943). He quit his job as a social studies teacher to become a freelance writer, and at first he specialized in humorous books for kids. But his career really took off when he started writing scary stories for young adults. By the early 1990s, Stine's books were selling about a million copies per month. To keep up with demand, he had to write 20 pages a day, finishing a book every two weeks. His Fear Street series was the first modern book series for children that sold equally well to both boys and girls.

Some critics have said that his books aren't good for children, but R.L. Stine said, 'I believe that kids as well as adults are entitled to books of no socially redeeming value.'

That whole notion of doing things "of no socially redeeming value" ought to resonate with us folks who spend hours running in the woods.  Thinks about that again--we spend hours (days, sometimes) just a-runnin' in the woods.  And it's normal to us.

This idea sorta goes back to a David Blaikie quote that most Ultrarunners have seen and know, if you do any Ultra-related reading. Even if you are inclined to skip over this quote, having seen it many times before, you should read it again right now, carefully:

"Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense. The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being -- a call that asks who they are ..."

I'm an ultrarunner, that's who and what I am.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Swords Into Plowshares

IF this really happened--the beating of swords into plowshares--we'd be leaving a better world for our children.

(Photo credit and narrative here)

The United Nations garden contains several sculptures and statues that have been donated by different countries. This one is called "Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares" and was a gift from the then Soviet Union presented in 1959. Made by Evgeniy Vuchetich, the bronze statue represents the figure of a man holding a hammer in one hand and, in the other, a sword which he is making into a plowshare, symbolizing man's desire to put an end to war and convert the means of destruction into creative tools for the benefit of all mankind.

The original concept comes from the Christian Bible Old Testament, King James translation, Isaiah 2:4:

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cats in Art: Woman With a Cat

Continuing my Sunday tradition of Cats in Art:

Woman With a Cat, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1875, 56 x 46 cm, oil on canvas. Image credit here.

While the young lady looks pretty happy with the situation, the same cannot be said of the cat, who looks ready to bolt.  The woman better watch out for those hind claws when the cat launches itself from her arms.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Titanic, Bravery...and Ultrarunning

Photo credit here.

Once more, another gem from the Writer's Almanac, 8 Oct 2010:

It's the birthday of historian Walter Lord, born in Baltimore (1917). His most famous book was A Night to Remember (1955), about the sinking of the Titanic, a disaster that had fascinated him since he was a boy. He said: 'I think small boys get interested in things the way they catch colds or get chicken pox. Nobody knows why or how they do it. ... I suppose if there is anything more exciting to a young boy than an ocean liner, it is an ocean liner sinking.'

But actually, there was a pretty good reason that young Walter knew about the Titanic. His mother told him bedtime stories every night about the big ocean liners she had sailed on, including the Olympic, a sister ship of the Titanic. When Walter's father proposed to his mother, she told him she needed to think about it, and so she got a ticket on the Olympic from New York to London. She decided that she would say yes, so as soon as she got to London she got another ticket, turned right around and went back to New York to accept. When Walter was nine years old, his mother took him on the Olympic for a transatlantic cruise, and he quizzed all the crew members about the exact details of the Titanic's disaster.

So he was well-prepared to write a book by the time he was in his 30s, working a respectable day job for an advertising agency. At night he did research, pored over documents about the Titanic, and interviewed more than 60 survivors. And then he tried to reconstruct a history of the disaster, a narrative that would be factual would also give readers a sense of the lives of the passengers, and tell the events of the disaster like a story. A Night to Remember became the ultimate resource for Titanic buffs. It was a best-seller when it came out in 1955, and again in 1999 after the success of the film Titanic.

Walter Lord said that one of his goals for A Night to Remember was "to get across the point that wealth, position, rank and the like have very little to do with whether a person is good or bad, quick or slow, brave or perhaps not so brave. We get all that somewhere else.''

Making an analogy to Ultrarunning--forget about "...good or bad, quick or slow," let's focus on the "brave or perhaps not so brave" and talk about bravery in Ultrarunning.

Bravery is going out, not for that last loop, but for the next-to-last loop. For me, that's the ultimate test, more so than the last loop.

Bravery is running through pain, the kind of pain that hurts but will not result in a chronic injury (i.e., blisters will heal, but to try to run, say, through severe knee pain in the joint, is stupid).

Bravery is running alone at 4:00 am on a cold, windy winter morning.  I'm not alluding to confronting any physical danger of getting assaulted, or of freezing to death on a trail.  No, this bravery concerns leaving a warm bed to pursue a long-term goal.

Bravery is setting an A-list goal for yourself and doing what it takes to achieve it.

Bravery is not running when your family needs you.

Go ahead and add some comments....

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Chilean Alternative Explanation

The entire world is cheering over the successful rescue of the Chilean miners.  I could not watch the rescue with a dry eye--it was quite emotional and uplifting. 

PZ Myers, over at the science blog Pharyngula, had an interesting post a couple days before the rescue:

We've all heard about the Chilean miners trapped in a cave-in, who have been sustained for over two months by supplies delivered through a narrow tunnel drilled down to them. Their rescue is imminent, with an escape tunnel being drilled and almost at their position — they should be out this week. Personally, I credit technology with saving them, but…three religious groups are squabbling over which version of god deserves thanks.

The three Christian denominations have each claimed credit for what they say is divine intervention in the survival - and expected imminent rescue - of the 33 men who have spent 67 days beneath the earth.

You know, the drill hasn't quite reached the miners. Maybe we should just shut down the machinery, withdraw all the tools and the laborers, and have Mr Diaz, Mr Quintana, and Mr Soto stand above the men and use their magic to complete the rescue. That would be impressive.

I'd also like to see the three frauds step forward and take the blame for all mining deaths, as well.

PZ doesn't pull any punches...that's probably why I like reading him so.  There's a place for spirituality and a place for technology, and the two should not be confused.

Kinda reminds me of an incident some years ago where our daughter was attending a Christian horseback camp in August.  We had had quite a drought here in southern Pennsylvania that summer, which had just been alleviated by soaking rains from the remnants of an east-coast hurricane. 

The leader of the camp offered an invocation in which she thanked God for sending the rains...oblivious to the fact that a couple days before, a dozen people had drowned in North Carolina from those very same rains.

I believe that spirituality has its place.  But I think the weather is just the weather, with no need for any divine steering of the rain clouds.  As for the miners, they were the victims of a cave-in that was triggered by simple physics.  I do believe that their spiritual beliefs comforted them and thereby probably aided their survival in the mine over those couple months of being trapped. 

But I agree with Dr. Myers--they were saved by technology.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Everything You Need to Know About Global Warming in 5 Minutes

I could also have entitled this post “Have They No Grandchildren?”

This article, "Everything You Need to Know About Global Warming in 5 Minutes" was succinct and very well written.  I found it via Barry Ritholtz, writing on the blog The Big PictureFor those of us who love running in the back country, I'd call it a must-read.

It really provides the gist of the facts that an informed person needs on the subject.  The article contains some 13 bullet points; I've excerpted a few here to whet your appetite for reading the whole thing.

1) The amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, after at least several hundred thousand years of remaining within a constant range, started to rise with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. It has increased by almost 40% and is rising each year. This is certain and straightforward.

3) Several other factors, like changes in solar output, have major influences on climate over millennia, but these effects have been observed and measured. They alone cannot explain the rise in the global temperature over the past 50 years.

7) The biggest cost of all from global warming is likely to be the accumulated loss of biodiversity. This features nowhere in economic cost-benefit analysis because, not surprisingly, it is hard to put a price on that which is priceless.

10) Conspiracy theorists claim to believe that global warming is a carefully constructed hoax driven by scientists desperate for … what? Being needled by nonscientific newspaper reports, by blogs, and by right-wing politicians and think tanks? Most hard scientists hate themselves or their colleagues for being in the news. Being a climate scientist spokesman has already become a hindrance to an academic career, including tenure. I have a much simpler but plausible “conspiracy theory”: that fossil energy companies, driven by the need to protect hundreds of billions of dollars of profits, encourage obfuscation of the inconvenient scientific results.

11) Why are we arguing the issue? Challenging vested interests as powerful as the oil and coal lobbies was never going to be easy. Scientists are not naturally aggressive defenders of arguments. In short, they are conservatives by training: never, ever risk overstating your ideas. The skeptics are far, far more determined and expert propagandists to boot. They are also well funded. That smoking caused cancer was obfuscated deliberately and effectively for 20 years at a cost of hundreds of thousands of extra deaths.

We know that for certain now, yet those who caused this fatal delay have never been held accountable. The profits of the oil and coal industry make tobacco’s resources look like a rounding error. In some notable cases, the obfuscators of global warming actually use the same “experts” as the tobacco industry did! The obfuscators’ simple and direct motivation – making money in the near term, which anyone can relate to – combined with their resources and, as it turns out, propaganda talents, have meant that we are arguing the science long after it has been nailed down. I, for one, admire them for their P.R. skills, while wondering, as always: “Have they no grandchildren?”



Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Night Running

Image credit here.

I need me a dose of night running about now.  I feel in a lull, because I am pressed for time due to some family medical stuff.  In fact, my available running time has pretty much flatlined. 

The medical stuff is all non-critical and non-life-threatening, thank goodness, and it all should turn out fine.  But for now it still is a very time consuming endeavor and I am wearing down somewhat mentally. 

I do see the light at the end of the tunnel, and the first opportunity I get (this weekend, I hope), I will plan a night run.  Running at night has a special enchantment and ability to recharge my batteries.  It's always worked for me as a means of getting back on track with a routine for my runs.

Hope to update you all with a tale of a successful run!


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ultrarunning and $$

Other than seriously overinvesting in running shoes, this sport of Ultrarunning is very affordable.  That is, unless you enter a lot of organized events, as entry fees tend to be high.  Not high in the sense of unreasonably costly--since all those aid stations and logictical support for 12-36 hours of elapsed event time do cost money--but high in the sense of writing a check for $150 or more, just to run a long race in the woods.

But my strategy is to only enter at most a couple of ultra races a year, and enjoy the rest of my ultrarunning as training runs in the backcountry...for free.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Broken Soldiers, Broken Dogs

This is Gunner:

From the Wall Street Journal on 6 Oct 2010, "Shell-Shocked Dog Of War Finds A Home With The Family Of A Fallen Hero,"
by Michael M. Phillips

Jason's Death in Iraq Left Room for a Marine at the Dunhams' House; Gunner Fit the Bill
SCIO, N.Y.—Gunner, a bomb-sniffing dog mustered out of the Marines for canine post-traumatic stress disorder, has found a new home with Deb and Dan Dunham, whose Marine son died in Iraq protecting the men beside him.

With patience and a red-rubber toy, the Dunhams are trying to coax Gunner back to emotional health. With liquid brown eyes and Labrador loyalty, Gunner is giving the Dunhams back a little of what they lost. Together, they are healing what they can and living with what they must.

"My Marine never came home," says Deb. "I have a place for a Marine."

Please read the rest.  I have a special place in my heart for pets, knowing that a dog was instrumental in saving a loved one's life in my family (more on that here).

In 2004, during a patrol near the Syrian border, Cpl. Jason Dunham found himself fighting an insurgent hand-to-hand on a dusty road. When two other Marines ran over to help, the Iraqi dropped a hand grenade.

Instead of rolling away, Cpl. Dunham covered the grenade with his helmet, shielding his men.

At the White House in 2007, then-President George W. Bush presented the Dunhams with their son's Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award.

Gunner is making slow progress, too. These days he sleeps under Deb's [Jason's mom] vanity, nose out instead of nose in. Dan [Jason's dad] spends hours playing fetch amid acres of fields and rolling hills. He is, he admits, in love with Gunner. "I think Gunner will overcome," Dan says. "Everybody's resilient—human and dog."

But the Dunhams know that they can't erase all of Gunner's scars, any more than he can erase all of theirs.

"To us it's like Jason died yesterday," says Dan. "To Gunner, whatever happened to him—it's probably like that happened yesterday. We get up each day and find a new way to get through the day realizing that Jason's not here. We have to pass that on to Gunner."

Broken soldiers, broken dogs.  It will take years, decades probably, to realize just how pervasively destructive our adventure in the Middle East has been.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cats in Art: Geraniums and Cats

The weekly Cats in Art post:

Geraniums and Cats, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, oil on canvas. Image credit here.

The cat is kinda lost at the bottom of the vase.  Must have looked like a great place to relax.  Of course, if you're a cat, just about any place is a good place to relax.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Wall Street's Favorite Politicians


From Zach Carter at Campaign for America's Future:

A full 90 members of Congress who voted to bailout Wall Street in 2008 failed to support financial reform reining in the banks that drove our economy off a cliff. But when you examine campaign contribution data, it's really no surprise that these particular lawmakers voted to mortgage our economic future to Big Finance: This election cycle, they've raked in over $48.8 million from the financial establishment. Over the course of their Congressional careers, the figure swells to a massive $176.9 million.

When you're trying to decide which bums to throw out in November, here's one place to start. These members of Congress are okay with setting up economic calamities, and they don't mind paying for them with your tax dollars.

Zach has the list of 90 at the link.  Again, I go back to the theme of For.The. Children.  Are our leaders acting responsibly, with the best interests of future generations?  As I posted here,

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

In the case of the Pope and high ranking Vatican officials, naturally we first must observe that the actual abuse of a child, of course, is wrong. But then when they put protecting the welfare of the Catholic Church as an institution above that of protecting the welfare of defenseless children, they committed an unconscionable, unforgiveable act. When Tiger Woods chose to dally with women outside of his marriage, he deliberately chose to place his desires above the welfare of his children. Again, unconscionable.

Our children are a gift, and as children do not have the ability to defend themselves. That’s up to the responsible adults.

These politicians are protecting their Wall Street-Washington institution, much like the Vatican circled its wagons.  Self-preservation is a powerful force.

But it goes out the window when you choose to preserve the well-being of children.  For. The. Children....remember and act upon it.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Sirius/XM Radio: (Un)healthy Relationships

I've previously posted (here, here, here and here) on how much I am loving my Sirius/XM radio service that came as a free trial with a new vehicle.

Those posts were on the fun side; today's is a bit more serious.

Being born in the middle of the post-WWII baby boom, my musical tastes run mostly to classic rock of the 60s and 70s.  Two of my favs, which are pretty iconic rock anthems, are:

     Bad Company:  Feel Like Making Love
     Foghat:  I Just Want to Make Love to You

However, it finally dawned on me recently just how awful these lyrics are: both use the preposition TO rather than WITH, as in “making love to you,” rather than “making love with you.”

How is that possible? Making love “to” somebody implies dominance, control, a lack of free agency on the part of the recipient, etc. Making love “with” somebody implies a mutually agreeable, consensual activity undertaken as equals.

Maybe I’m reading far too much into lyrics that were penned decades ago, under personal and cultural circumstances that I know nothing about. Perhaps I am being too harsh. But words do matter, and I would not want a guy to have this sort of sexual viewpoint concerning one of the women in my family (or any woman, for that matter).

OK, moving on to Linda Ronstadt. Over the past couple days Sirius/XM radio happened to have served up a major dose of LR, whose music I have always adored. Along the lines of words matter, I began to speculate on her song You’re No Good, another classic.

That must have been one dysfunctional relationship. In this single song she disses some guy no fewer than 20 times, telling him repeatedly that he’s no good. Ouch! 

(Note that there are another 8 instances of the lyric "you’re no good" which are about the singer: “I broke a heart that's gentle and true…I wouldn't blame him if he said to me…You’re no good etc.)

Let’s end on a happier note. Lest we think that LR only sings about dysfunctional relationships, I also heard Different Drum, yet another iconic classic. Although it’s about a breakup, sounds like a healthy breakup to me.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

WWII...and Ultrarunning

(Image credit here

The Writer's Almanac for 5 Oct was sobering.  From the poem "Graduates of Western Military Academy" by George Bilgere, here's a excerpt.  Sure, it's poetry, and as I always say, most people can't hit that DELETE key fast enough.  But please give this one a try and click thru the Writer's Almanac link above:

One day, as this friend of my father, Paul
was flying over Asia,
he vaporized a major Japanese city.


But somehow, all my father got to do later on
was run his own car dealership. A big one,
but still. While Paul
got to blow up Japan. My father
ushered in the latest models.
Paul ushered in the Atomic Age.
It seems unfair, but there you are.

My father was a WWII vet, but missed out on combat, a fact he always seemed to regret.  He had 2 brothers who did see combat; one turned out normal.  But the eldest brother, a paratrooper on D-Day, was dropped behind enemy lines in Normandy to cause havoc prior to and during the invasion.  All brothers survived, but the eldest never was the same mentally afterwards.

In contrast to all that, my life has been remarkably safe.  Now--I am not suggesting that Ultrarunning and WWII are equivalent.  No way.  But as I've posted before on why we run, there are parallels in that both involve intense experiences;  the key obvious difference being that Ultrarunning is voluntary and uplifting, while war is involuntary and destructive. 

Let me repro a couple of my previous words here since that's where my mind again went to after reading the poem above. 

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?

That is why I run.  And my hat remains off for my father and uncles and father-in-law and short, to all the vets, living and dead, who did their duty.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Movie Plots That Could Have Been Solved in Minutes

(Photo credit here)

I try to make my on-line time productive, so that I have something (even if invisible, i.e., mental growth or knowledge) to show for it. So when I confess that I frequently visit, I justify that fact by saying that’s it’s great just to laugh.

Anyway, that’s the preamble. They had a great take-down some weeks ago about flawed movie plots that just about made me blow coffee out my nose. I particularly loved the one on Raiders of the Lost Ark:

Writing movies is hard. Especially when audiences stubbornly demand you entertain them for at least 90 minutes. This is why, in movie-land, characters are so often forced to drag problems out for an hour when, in reality, the situation could have been solved during the opening credits.

What Happened:

Archaeologist Indiana Jones is briefed by Army intelligence that the Nazis are looking for the fabled Ark of the Covenant because, through some ass-backward logic, they think that the best way to kill the Jews is by invoking the God of the Jews. Sure enough, Indy agrees to "get a hold of the Ark before the Nazis do," and kick as much Nazi ass as he can along the way.

The Nazi's logic seems airtight. In the Bible, the Ark tends to make the armies that carry it invincible. Sure those armies tended to be made up mostly of Jews, God's chosen people and the Nazi's chosen extinction target, but the God of the Old Testament wasn't one to get bent out of shape over a minor technicality. Of course, as we find out in the climactic scene, Indy knows a secret about the Ark the Nazis don't: It has a habit of melting faces right the hell off their skull.

What Would Have Made More Sense:

The most sensible response for the Army to this whole Ark business is coincidentally the easiest: Do absolutely nothing.

The Fuhrer's army, lacking Indy's superior archaeology skills, misunderstood the location of the Ark to begin with. Without Indy's meddling, the Nazis would have blown millions of dollars from their 1936 budget digging in the wrong place.

But let’s say the Army doesn't know the Nazis are geographically challenged. All the more reason not to do shit. Instead of stealing and re-stealing the Ark from the Nazis, Indiana Jones and the U.S. Army should have been rooting for them to find it. Their best case scenario is that the Nazis mission goes exactly according to plan: find it, ship it off to Germany and open it in a lavish pageant in Berlin with the whole Nazi high command in attendance. That was what they had planned to do all along. All the top Nazis in Berlin, including Hitler, front and center at the grand opening of a device that has a reputation for melting the faces of anyone in its vicinity.

It'd not only be the end of the movie, but of the whole damned war.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dick Cheney…and Ultrarunning

One of my favorite reads is Just an Earth-Bound Misfit, I. She gets pretty irate abut stuff and sometimes drops a lot of f-bombs, and I say, “I wish I’d said that.”

Well, she just did it again in this post.

A tantalizing excerpt. After quoting a USA Today piece about going after a Guatemalan human rights abuser, she says:

What about our own war criminals? What about the National Security Council of the Bush Administration, which discussed, with great specificity, what torture techniques were to be used?

No, we won't go after our own war criminals. We'll let other nations do that. Which is why you probably have not seen any of the senior cabinet members of the Bush Administration, other than maybe the Secretary of Agriculture (whoever the hell that was) take any foreign vacations since they left office.

This whole Obama “we’re looking forward, not looking back” thing is really just looking the other way. What a disappointment.

Sure, the torture of captives in Iraq and Guantanamo has very little to do—directly—with Ultrarunning. Probably nothing. But when I run trails I want to be comfortable in my own skin, to know that I’m one of the good guys. And if my President, the guy I voted for with a feeling of hope, wants to continue to sweep this utter moral failure under the rug, then I can’t rest easy.

This probably sounds utterly stupid, but for me the fact that the United States of America not only tortured prisoners, we continue to ignore what was done, kinda diminishes the whole wilderness thing. I mean, how can I blissfully run my trails and act like there’s nothing wrong? Conflicted doesn’t even begin to cut it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

RESULTS: Free Book Contest for Banned Book Week

Here are the results of my free book giveaway to commemorate Banned Book Week. The prize: a copy of Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth, a wonderfully readable book about the facts of evolution.

Bottom line first. I chose 2 co-winners: Traci C. of Zanesville, OH, and Michael P. of Everett, WA.

Traci’s submission really resonated with me, since it seemed clear that she has an open, inquiring mind, and I appreciate her attempt to make sense out of all this by homing in the facts of science.

Michael’s submission came from the standpoint of being a secondary school teacher and wanting to use the book as a resource for his students. My wife is a public school teacher, so the notion of helping to teach the facts of evolution to the next generation also resonated strongly with me.

I received a number of entries; frankly, more than I expected, but these two were clearly above the rest. I agonized about it all weekend, and went for a run over on Harshman Road to clear my head and to try to decide on one over the other. Suddenly it became crystal clear that both were equally deserving. So I am sending Traci my copy and I will order a new one from Amazon for Michael.

I really must thank Batocchio over at Vagabond Scholar for sending a lot of blog traffic my way.

As an aside, I spent at least an hour Sunday evening (after the Steeler game, of course!) trying to email Traci and Michael that they had won.  Seems that I could not get an email to go, I guess because it contained words like congratulations, winner, won, contest, prize, etc.  I can only assume that the spam filters were hard at work...too hard, it seems. 

So to Traci and Michael--CONGRATULATIONS!  Well done.  To the rest of you who submitted entries--thank you for your interest, and good luck next year when hopefully I will try this again.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Cats in Art: Girl and Cat

The weekly Cats in Art post:

Girl and Cat, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, oil on canvas. Image credit here.

Not sure what is going on with the cat.  Oh, well, never could figure them out anyway.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

"Hell" and "Handbasket"

(Photo credit here)

The words that come to mind are "hell" and "handbasket."

I am of a scientific mind, where anecdotal data about the economy is compelling, but where data is king. So I was absolutely dumbfounded to read these numbers just a few days ago. I will excerpt the handful that were true shockers, but you should go here to read the entire list of 15, with much more explanation:

#1 Approximately 45 million Americans were living in poverty in 2009.

#3 The U.S. poverty rate is now the third worst among the developed nations tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

#5 The number of Americans on food stamps surpassed 41 million for the first time ever in June.

#7 One out of every six Americans is now being served by at least one government anti-poverty program.

#8 More than 50 million Americans are now on Medicaid, the U.S. government health care program designed principally to help the poor.

#10 Nearly 10 million Americans now receive unemployment insurance, which is almost four times as many as were receiving it in 2007.

#15 One out of every five children in the United States is now living in poverty.

I don't know what's to be done, but I sense critical mass approaching.

Wait a minute--I DO know what's to be done.  I can't influence Washington but I can help those around me who need a helping hand--donations of food, cash, goods, and volunteer work. 

Any one of us could experience an event that could catapult one's family into dire financial straights pretty darn quick.  Friends, neighbors, and family are what works on the ground.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Introspection...and Ultrarunning

I finally figured out what makes me tick, why I tend to look inward, to be introspective. Via REFDESK (my homepage), this article.  Turns out that I have (or so I believe) loads of gray matter:
Introspection is basically thinking about your thinking, a way to judge your own thoughts and actions - and inherently difficult to study. The British research team devised a way to measure introspective ability by comparing people's confidence in a decision they made with the accuracy of that decision.

Brain scans showed the people's introspective ability was strongly linked to the amount of gray matter in a spot of the prefrontal cortex, right behind the eyes, the researchers reported.

In addition, the study found people who were more introspective also had stronger functioning white matter in that part of the brain - the nerve fibers that act as a telephone system to allow cells to communicate with others.

By learning the neurologic basis of self-awareness, "might we be able to come up with potential strategies to intervene in these cases and improve people's introspective ability?" asks Stephen Fleming of University College London, lead author of the new research published in the journal Science.

Being introspective may not be a prerequisite for being drawn to Ultrarunning, but maybe it helps. After all, we spend hours alone on the trails, with only the companionship of our thoughts. And introspection takes that thinking a step further--it is thinking ABOUT thinking.

To me that sounds like some pretty high order mental functioning, and with that I'd better stop before I wrench my arm out of joint with self-congratulatory back patting.