Friday, December 31, 2010

Ultrarunning…and Nature (part 1 of 2)

I contribute to the National Wildlife Federation, so they send me a calendar each year full of wonderful wildlife photos and short nature-related quotes each month.

The quotes are great, so I’ll blog them across 2 posts today and tomorrow. Some quotes or authors may be familiar; others brand new. In any case, enjoy, and I hope that these thoughts will cause all of us to be thankful at the marvelous gift of nature that is ours through the endeavor of backcountry running:

The landscape belongs to the person who looks at it. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

We will be known forever by the tracks we leave. -- Native American proverb

We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. -- Native American proverb

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. -- John Muir

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. -- William Shakespeare

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you. -- Frank Lloyd Wright

In the wilderness is the preservation of the world. -- Henry David Thoreau

The goal of life is loving in agreement with nature. -- Zeno

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas, 1914

(image credit here:  British and German soldiers meeting in No Man's Land during the Christmas Truce of 1914.  Picture courtesy the National Army Museum.)

My great-grandfather died on the Western Front on the last day of WWI, 11 November 1918.  He was a German soldier.  I blogged about it here at Mister Tristan. So I found this tale of the 1914 Christmas truce to be very touching.

Via Avedon Carol at The Sideshow, who sends us over to The Daily Brew and a post from 2002: 

As the Bush Administration continues to prepare for its war of aggression, please don't give up hope that the illegal war by the illegal Bush regime may still be averted. Remember that Christmas is just around the corner, and strange things have been known to happen at Christmas. Below is a letter from the front line written Christmas Day, 1914.

My dear sister Janet,

It is 2:00 in the morning and most of our men are asleep in their dugouts—yet I could not sleep myself before writing to you of the wonderful events of Christmas Eve. In truth, what happened seems almost like a fairy tale, and if I hadn’t been through it myself, I would scarce believe it. Just imagine: While you and the family sang carols before the fire there in London, I did the same with enemy soldiers here on the battlefields of France!


I went to the dugout to rest, and lying on my cot, I must have drifted asleep. All at once my friend John was shaking me awake, saying, “Come and see! See what the Germans are doing!” I grabbed my rifle, stumbled out into the trench, and stuck my head cautiously above the sandbags.

I never hope to see a stranger and more lovely sight. Clusters of tiny lights were shining all along the German line, left and right as far as the eye could see.

“What is it?” I asked in bewilderment, and John answered, “Christmas trees!”


I was just starting back to the trenches when an older German clutched my arm. “My God,” he said, “why cannot we have peace and all go home?”

I told him gently, “That you must ask your emperor.”

He looked at me then, searchingly. “Perhaps, my friend. But also we must ask our hearts.”


Still, one cannot help imagine what would happen if the spirit shown here were caught by the nations of the world. Of course, disputes must always arise. But what if our leaders were to offer well wishes in place of warnings? Songs in place of slurs? Presents in place of reprisals? Would not all war end at once?

All nations say they want peace. Yet on this Christmas morning, I wonder if we want it quite enough.

Your loving brother,


You really should read the whole letter.  It has much more than the pieces I've excerpted.  The link is here.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

True Grit 2010

The bride and I went on a date today for dinner (Italian) and a movie (True Grit).

Both of us are big fans of westerns, and big fans of Jeff Bridges.

Bottom line: Go. See. It.  Repeat:  Go. See. It.

Why?   Because the Dude abides.

Next related activity is to watch the John Wayne original.  I see where it'll be on AMC on 8 Jan at 8 PM EST.  Set your DVRs.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Family Christmas

The cats figure prominently in this narrative.

Amanda (who probably should be in the slammer)

Sammy (the sweetest kitty ever)

Tizzy (named by our son...because the bride and I believe in human names for our cats)

We had the heirs to the estate (huh!) and their progeny over for our Christmas dinner and gift exchange on Sunday.  It was wonderful to to see Mister Tristan, Miss Doodybug, and Baby Sophia again and love them to pieces.

In the meantime, the cats, a disobedient and disrespectful bunch, were all over the counter, trawling for food.  The word "Git!!" was quite common.  Everything was covered and thus inaccessible, but their behavior was appalling.

I think I may have to send them a strongly worded letter.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Cold and Ugly Run

Just got back and warmed up.  Today, needing some 22 miles prior to the end of 2010 to reach my target goal of 100 miles per month average and thus 1200 miles for the year, I headed out at 0-dark-thirty for a 12 miler.  That'll leave me 4 days for the other 10 miles.

The temp was only about 20 degrees F and the wind was howling out of the NW at 25-35 MPH, with higher gusts.  There was a trace of snow but it wasn't slippery at all.  The real accumulations of snow blasted the Mid-Atlantic coastal areas and New England, but we are far enough inland here in south-central PA to have completely missed it.  Seems the storm has already been dubbed the Blizzard for 2010 for those folks.

But as usual, whenever I run when conditions pretty much suck, I had a great and wonderful run.

Call it the smugness factor, but the feeling of knowing I'm out there and nobody else is, makes me feel, well, determined and tough.  Apart from the others.  More dogged, braver, better...or at least better motivated.  Ah, but I did see another runner on a backwoodsy stretch.  He was young and fast and overtook me from behind, scaring the crap out of me.

Most times (there have been exceptions) when I almost have myself convinced to wave off, I say to self, "Either you're serious about running, or not."  And then I (usually) head out the door. 

Today I was under the gun for my annual mileage--not that I'm anal or anything--so waving off was not an option.  And true to form, when the weather, by any objective standard, sucks, I invariably have a great run.

As I did today.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Cats in Art: The Terrasse Family

My continuing Sunday series on Cats in Art.

Image and text credit here.  [1902-03, Pierre Bonnard, The Terrasse Family, oil on canvas]

Bonnard is better known for his paintings, some of which resemble the works of the Impressionists although there are many dissimilarities. He was one of the few painters at the turn of the century to include cats in his work.

In this detail from The Terrasse Family, the family cat enjoys a social afternoon with his humans.

Actually, the humans are enjoying a social afternoon entertaining their cat.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Pirate Radio

(Image credit here)

Several days ago, the bride convinced me to watch Pirate Radio, starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman.  She had seen it one day last week while off work for a bad cold and sore throat.

I was kinda skeptical, since I knew it'd been out about a year and hadn't seemed to kick any butt at the box office.  But she was enthusiastic, so I figured, why not?

IT WAS GREAT!  If you like classic rock from the 1960s, watch it.  Now.  The soundtrack is phenomenal. 

HBO has it On Demand for free until about 10 January. 

We love us some Phillip Seymour Hoffman.  He first came to our attention several years ago, playing Brandt in The Big Lebowski.  That movie will be the subject of an upcoming post, a great film for which Jeff Bridges should have gotten Best Actor and John Goodman should have gotten Best Supporting Actor. 

But the Academy doesn't much like the word f**k, evidently.

Back to Pirate Radio...from

In Britain 1966 recently expelled student, Carl has been sent by his mother to find some direction in life by visiting his godfather, Quentin. However, Quentin is the boss of Radio Rock, a pirate radio station in the middle of the North Sea, populated by an eclectic crew of rock-and-roll deejays. Life on the North Sea is eventful. Carl discovers the opposite sex and who his real father is. Meanwhile, pirate stations have come to the attention of government minister Dormand, who is out for the blood of these lawbreakers. In an era when the stuffy corridors of power stifle anything approaching youthful exuberance, Dormand seizes the chance to score a political goal, and The Marine Broadcasting Offences Act is passed in an effort to outlaw the pirates and to remove their ghastly influence from the land once and for all. What results is a literal storm on the high seas. With Radio Rock in peril, its devoted fans rally together and stage an epic Dunkirk-style hundred-boat rescue to save their deejay heroes. Some things may come to an end, but rock and roll never dies.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Tree, Spiders, and Ultrarunning

Late posting today.

The bride and I have the empty nest syndrome going today.  So we went ahead and exchanged our gifts to each other this morning--Christmas Eve--which is our custom.

The sun was streaming thru the windows and highlighted the cobwebs that evidently came from a batch of spiders hatching from our Concolor Fir.  Look at the shots to see if you can see the cobwebs.  I don't begrudge the spiders for trying, and I don't go out of my way to kill them.  I just am not a fan of the cobwebs in the sunlight.

Somebody once wrote (and I'm too lazy to Google it) that "Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant."  The writer was alluding to politics and back-room deals that never would be done, were a strong light to be shined upon the attempt.

Link to Ultrarunning?  After having run all night in a 100 miler, and your energy is tanking as you chug into the final miles, having the sun come up is absolutely the best disinfectant for purging negative thoughts and feelings.  You know you can finish!


Thursday, December 23, 2010


As part of an extended Christmas season, we had friends and relatives over on Sunday.

Daughter’s boyfriend is a chef and did a TurDuckEn for us, and it was good. He deboned a chicken, stuffed it into a deboned duck, then put it all into a deboned turkey. Well, actually he used boneless duck breast rather than deboning a duck, but the principle is the same.

Oh, and he added some stuffing in and around the meat.

Here are a couple of cross-sectional shots I took of the bird(s):

And of course, Wikipedia tells you how to do it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cat Blogging

You gotta hand it to cats, they know how to optimize their environment. Our cat Sammy knows how to relax, safely ensconced under a Christmas Cactus that originally came from the bride’s grandmother (photo by Gary).

Sammy is 15+ and now deaf as a stone. It hasn't seemingly slowed him down much, although he does meow really loud these days. He remains a real buddy and lap cat. The bride maintains that there is no cat personality as sweet as a male butterscotch tabby. And no plant as pretty and as steeped in hand-me-down tradition as the Christmas Cactus.

Another shot, closer up:

And now for the plant stuff.  Here in Pennsylvania, the Christmas Cactus (hybrid Schlumbergera × buckleyi ) is pretty much a ubiquitous indoor houseplant. Native to South America, they are tough, long-lived, and bloom readily for the holidays if you provide the proper conditions. Namely, the horticultural consensus and my personal experience is to put the plant in an unheated bedroom in October, don’t overwater (it is a cactus), and the blooms will start by Thanksgiving.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Lunar Eclipse...and Ultrarunning

Well, I didn't get up quite in time to see it.  I was out the door at 5:30 am today and the moon had already been restored to its full diameter. I must look ahead to June, I think, when the next lunar eclipse is slated to occur and specifically plan for a night run at that time.

But this morning was a fine morning indeed to run. As I did my old, familiar Harshman Road 5 mile loop, the full moon was off my left shoulder as I first headed north. The it was directly in my face as I turned generally west for a mile. Right then the moon went behind a thready cloud and a perfect image of the old Mobil logo Pegasus horse emerged. It was uncannily accurate, but persisted only a moment before the clouds roiled and it was gone.

(image credit here)

Then the moon was off my right shoulder as I wound my way back south. Over the last segment, it was directly behind me as I headed over to the cemetery where I paused again at Janet Christiansen’s grave. Today all I could bring was some wild grasses.

Car count, from both directions = 4.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Don't Ask Don't Tell Is Toast!

Senator John Kerry said it best:

The military remains the great equalizer.  Just like we did after President Truman desegregated the military, we'll someday look back and wonder what took Washington so long to fix it.

Remember the quote that is attributed to Clint Eastwood:

The more insecure a man is, the more likely he is to have extreme prejudices.

Hopefully if things go smoothly in implementation, we will be having no more protests like this one:

(photo credit here)

WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 15: Members of the U.S. Park Police arrest gay rights activist and former Army Lt. Dan Choi, along with other activists, who has handcuffed himself to the fence of the White House during a protest November 15, 2010 in Washington, DC. The activists called on the Obama Administration and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to keep their promises on repealing the 'Don�t Ask, Don�t Tell' policy, which prevents gay people from serving openly, during the lame-duck session of the Congress.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cats in Art: Laziness

My continuing Sunday series of Cats in Art.

Image and text credit here.  [1896, Félix Vallotton, La Paresse (Laziness), woodcut]

Swiss artist Félix Vallotton pays homage to the quest for the exotic that was prevalent in the late 19th century. The cat in this woodcut is an important compositional element, completing the strong white diagonal that begins in the bent arm of his human and adding energy to the languor of the subject matter.

Don't you just love the word languor?  Nothing better after a long run.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Anvil Shooting

Nothing to do with Ultrarunning, but if you are geeky like me, and/or like to see things blow up, check out this video.  Apparently anvil shooting has a long and proud tradition.

Sorry, can't embed, you'll have to click over.  You won't regret it:


Friday, December 17, 2010

Very Serious People

From a DOD-sponsored distance learning class that I am currently taking on military logistics, one of the lessons is a cautionary tale about the man, who at the time, was the chief warrior of the United States of America. This lesson deals with the logistics of the initial days of the Iraq war in 2003.  I quote the entire lesson, it's short:

"Bring war materiels with you first, then forage on the enemy." -Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu always emphasized the need to be prepared to go to war at any time, be able to take with you what you need, and not have to return to resupply.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made the decision to deploy mostly combat units in the weeks before the invasion, and held back Army and Marine Corps logistics and support units. Battalions of tanks and armored vehicles dashed forward in pursuit of the enemy, leaving behind a trail of broken-down vehicles because there were no repair parts. Some units even ran dangerously low on ammunition and had problems getting resupplied. Others that needed M-16 rounds received unneeded tank shells instead.

An important lesson, "Bring with you what you need," was not learned.

General Paul Kern noted in an interview that "American forces managed to prevail only because of the creative ability of individual soldiers to pull the pieces together. They are the heroes."

Bottom line: beware of Very Serious People. Don’t be in awe of them, for often they are stunningly wrong.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Business vs the Public...and Ultrarunning

I think it was on BBC World Service news the other morning on the radio. I heard a story (but cannot find a BBC link for it) about possible corruption in Sweden involving the wedding this past summer of Princess Victoria to Daniel Westling, a former fitness instructor and entrepreneur. 

From the Monsters and Critics (M + C News website, evidently the newlyweds...

…flew to French Polynesia on a private jet and then took a week-long cruise on a yacht after their June wedding. Both the jet and the yacht are owned by Bertil Hult, founder of the EF language schools company.

The anti-corruption unit said that several of the complaints had referred to reports in the tabloid newspaper Aftonbladet, which estimated that the cost of renting a private jet or yacht was several million kronor (hundreds of thousands of dollars). 

The money quote in the BBC story went something like this: This gives the perception that the monarchy will give preference to serving business interests rather than the public. 

I immediately thought of the good old USA, where it seems our representatives and senators in DC seem hell-bent on—and totally unapologetic for—serving business rather than the public.

If business triumphs and the so-called “invisible hand of the marketplace” is deemed to be the best model for allocating supply and demand for goods and services, how long do you think it’ll be until parks and public land are closed permanently because they don’t generate revenue? Or usage fees will be the norm for trail running?


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I Shop for ALL My Pantyhose at Walmart...and Ultrarunning

In my early Tues run, I commented on the cold conditions and the need to dress extra warmly for the first time this winter.

One of the facts for getting older as a runner—for me at least, though I suspect this in common experience—is that you get cold easier. Up till last year I was fine with “normal” tights from National Running Center or Road Runner Sports or the like. At the end of a run my legs might be red under the tights, but I never really felt cold per se.

Well, last year saw me do some heroic training under crappy winter conditions, and my legs did in fact get cold. So rather than buy a heavy-duty pair of running tights to the tune of $40-$60, I decided to layer up. The bride and I headed to Wal-Mart. I know, they are the essence of corporate badness and I try not to shop there, but this was an emergency of sorts.

I was looking for the heaviest pair of women's tights they had, not in the sporting goods or athletic wear area, but in the pantyhose department. I was able to buy a pair of fairly heavy tights for use as an thin first layer, over which I’d wear my real running tights. Better yet, they actually had some tights without feet, ankle length, so I didn’t need to worry about destroying them with my toes.

Well, for yesterday’s run I did the 2-layer thing with the Wal-Mart tights under my running tights. On top I wore my heaviest zippered fleece top. It has a hood, the good feature of which is it has no drawstring—it zips all the way up to my chin, covering the vulnerable neck area and leaving only my face exposed. I wear a baseball cap under it for shade—don’t need a knit cap as the hood is sufficient. Plus the sleeves are a tad long (I usually fold them back an inch or so), meaning that I can retract my gloved hands into the sleeves if it’s really cold.

So, bundled up, I had a great run. See, there’s no such thing as bad weather…only weather for which you are not adequately prepared.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Winter is Here...First Snotsickles

Late post today, got busy.

Today being a telework day and I would thus be unable to run a lunchtime with my running buddies at work, I went out the door from home at 5:30 AM for a 5 miler along Harshman Road.

It was 19 degrees F and with a howling wind out of the NW, but the route is basically a rectangular loop, and only 1 segment would be right into the teeth of the wind. The rest of the route would have quartering winds off either shoulder, or be at my back. I bundled up massively, breaking out for the first time my heavy fleece hooded shell, and wore 2 pair of tights.

I was only passed by 4 cars along the route, coming from either direction, so that gives you a feel for how rural these roads are. When the first car passed, I got a strong whiff of tobacco, and thought to myself, ”Enjoy it while you can, buddy. You’ll reap what you sow.”

This was an olfactory run. Just after the smoky car, I passed the chicken farm, always an aromatic treat. Opposite the chicken farm is the abandoned farmhouse with the semi-feral cats. I shined my light on the porch and picked up the eyeshine of 3 cats on the old glider. Then halfway around the loop I was exactly downwind from the Martin’s plant over on Rt 11, where they make Nibble With Gibble potato chips. The smell of oil and chips was good.

Near the end I looped thru Brown’s Mill Cemetery, where I visited the grave of Janet Christiansen, whom I’ve previously posted on. Fresh wildflowers were obviously not in the cards until spring, but I did pick a dried up Chicory flower from along the roadside. It used to be blue, but now was brown, but it’s the thought that counts, right? Also, in deference to the weather, I did not take off my hat and hood, as I usually do out of respect for the cemetery and its inhabitants.

When you think about it, running thru a cemetery at night really isn’t a mainstream activity, but I suspect that most ultrarunners wouldn’t think it strange, either.

I was soon back at home. Oh, and this morning I had my first snotsickle of the season. Again, not a remarkable occurrence in ultrarunning.  But it may augur for a long winter....


Monday, December 13, 2010

Tell Me Why Our Govt Isn't Paying ForThis?

Tell me why this is not paid for by the government who sent these servicemembers into harm's way?

The mission statement of Homes For Our Troops:

Building specially adapted homes for our severely injured veterans at no cost to the veterans we serve.

Q: Why on earth should a private entity be doing this?

A: Because it reduces and obscures the true cost of war.  Oh, also because our decision-makers are callous, craven haves, and injured servicemembers are have-nots.

Again I ask, and please, anyone, tell me, why is this NOT a service provided automatically by our government for vets needing this type of assistance?  So seriously wounded as to need specially adapted housing, why does not the government shoulder this burden?  It's an issue iof basic fairness, on a huge scale.

From the Homes For Our Troops newsletter:

As we celebrate our 6th Anniversary I would like to personally thank you for your generosity and support. You invested in the mission to support our injured heroes and together we have grown from a startup non profit in 2004, struggling to build awareness for our mission and to build our first home, into a strong military charity that is regarded as one of the best. With your support, we have been able to expand our program and give back some of the freedom and independence to more of our injured American heroes through barrier-free homes. Freedom and Independence. These are American treasures that our military heroes fight to protect for all and we made the promise to help rebuild their lives when they return home severely injured and in need.

I am proud to say we have built and donated more than 50 specially adapted homes and we have committed to building an additional 30 homes nationwide at this time. As the wars rage on, we are reminded that our work is far from complete and our Veterans are still coming home with catastrophic injuries each day. In 2010, let's rededicate ourselves to our mission in service to those that have given so much for their country and have asked for so little in return with a contribution. Choose a contribution level that works for you whether it's financial, volunteer time, or helping us raises awareness, it all makes a difference.

Thank you for your continued support, together we are keeping the promise.

Best Wishes, John Gonsalves

This tune seems appropriate:


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cats in Art: Lait pur Stérilisé

My continuing series of Sunday posts.

Image and text credit here.  [1894, Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, Lait pur Stérilisé, lithograph]

Lithography emerged in the late 19th century as a favorite graphic arts medium for advertising. This poster advertises pure, sterilized milk and features the artwork of Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, well-known for his illustrations of cats.

Cats will dance for milk.  Just like I will kill for a liter of zero-calorie flavored fizzy water after a long run.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Tales from the Perimeter: Sistine Chapel

(Photo credit Wikipedia)

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.

One of our running group, KK, passed along a link to a virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel.  It is magnificent.

One his motives was to bust me--pointing out all the naked guys on the ceiling--because he knows that gay rights are important to me. 

That's OK, because I was able to work in a Chuck Norris joke in response:

Contrary to most expert opinion, Michelangelo did not do the painting at the Sistine Chapel. Chuck Norris held loaded paintbrushes between his toes and roundhouse-kicked the images onto the walls and ceilings.

Instructions for the site:  Hold Your Left Mouse Button and Move your mouse around. You can zoom in or out. You can also change the mode of the mouse-lower left hand corner. I found this to be helpful because it moved fast and far before I changed the mode.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Bluebeard...and Optimism

This was my Bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis) on 26 October (photos by Gary):

And here it was on 20 November, still hanging on:

And now, as of early December, the plant is pretty much toast. 

But when it comes to flowers, I have a special place in my heart for fall flowers.  Everyone raves and oohs and ahhs about the first flowers in the spring (I'm one of them, too).  But as spring gives way to summer, the explosion of color slows down; by mid-to-late summer, the slow-down is pronounced.  And by fall, only a few optimistic and patient flowering plants are putting out their flowers.

It's the optimism, I guess.  Even though winter is just around the corner, the plants that in an evolutionary sense have committed to fall blooming as their niche are just getting started.  They compress a potential entire growing season's worth of time into a few weeks late in the year, when little else is blooming. 

It's a good strategy, evolution-wise.  Obviously it works in a functional sense, and the bees and butterflies respond to pollinate.  But it's still the optimism that impresses me most.

From the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, some scientific facts about the cultivated plant from the verbena family, native to southeastern Asia:

Butterflies have become an important consideration for many gardeners, so the plants chosen for flowery borders often reflects this interest. One of the best for attracting butterflies and bees in late summer and fall is Bluebeard, Caryopteris x clandonensis.

Bluebeard, or as sometimes called blue spirea, is a dieback shrub; a plant with a cold-hardy, woody base and tender branches. It grows as far north as Chicago where plants can reach three feet tall and wide by summer’s end, but the slender stems at the top freeze back during the winter.

The inch-long elliptic, opposite leaves are green, gray or golden, according to the cultivar. Blue, lavender or purple flowers are borne in terminal or axillary cymes in late summer and fall. The five petals of the flowers are short lived, but the protruding stamens persist and give flowering plants a kind of bearded look.

Caryopteris are tough, drought-tolerant plants that do best in sunny sites with good, well-drained soil. They flower on new growth each spring, so the easiest way to ensure good flowering is to cut plants back to stubs in late winter.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell...and Ultrarunning

Via Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish, we see this moving photo:

Th caption:

Iraq War Army Veteran, Lt. Dan Choi, who was discharged from the military for being gay, cleans the gravestone of Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, at Congressional Cemetery on November 15, 2010 in Washington, DC. Sgt. Matlovich who died in 1988 was a Vietnam Veteran who a received both the Purple Heart and Bronze Star and was later discharged from the Air Force for being gay. An inscription on his tombstone reads 'When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.' Some 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal advocates consider Sgt. Matlovich's gravesite to be a memorial to all gay veterans. By Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Then Andrew goes on to comment:

Anyone who doubts the professionalism of today's military would do well to read the Pentagon Report on DADT. First, it's a massive undertaking, involving hundreds of thousands of responses, 95 face-to-face meetings, and a range of views from everyone who might be affected. It's one of the most impressive reports I've ever read from a government agency.

It's also extremely calm and fair. If you've been in the thick of this debate as long as I have, you'll know how rare that is. The tone is empirical, and judicious. It does not gloss over some serious objections - such as moral and religious ones - and grapples directly with some of the more emotive issues, such as sharing showers or sleeping quarters. It feels in no way skewed or prejudged.

And the report is absolutely clear that straight servicemembers by large majorities have few problems with openly gay servicemembers. 69 percent of them acknowledge they have fought or worked alongside gay men and women already. A staggering 92 percent of those were fine with lifting the ban. Again: when you know someone is gay, all the fears and stereotypes tend to evaporate. This is not a surprise. The men and women of the US military are among the finest in the land; they want to do the job at hand, not deepen social division or posture politically.

It is looking increasingly unlikely that a Senate vote on repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell will occur before the Christmas recess. Shame on them--the Republicans for opposing it, and the Democrats--especially President Obama--for not going to the mat to do the right thing and end this odious anachronism. Shame on them.

I have gay folk in my extended family, and they are just people. No more and no less than you or me. That is, except in the eyes of the law of the land.

The connection to Ultrarunning? I've said here on Mister Tristan before that we tend to be an open, welcoming band of people. I am convinced that we are more accepting of people as they are, and much less judgmental than the populace at large. If somebody can run 50K or 50 or 100 miles, that tells me enough about the content of their character.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Craft Mentality…and Ultrarunning

In the early years of the UltraList, I saved some goodies. This one comes from 1999, and was authored by Raymond Zirblis, who may still be on the List.
I don’t know Ray, and am stealing this, with grateful credit to him.

My post is likely going to sound like the grousing of an old man who is grumpy about the faced-paced speed of society, who may fear being left behind. I hope it doesn’t, because what I want to emphasize is the value of taking it slow, of paying your dues, as a means to truly understand whatever your passion is.

Basically in Ultrarunning I’ve been seeing that some? many? folks rush things. A typical trajectory has someone come flying into the sport from the marathon (or not), do a 50K and love it, do a 50M and love it, and within a year are tackling a 100 miler. Then the year after that are feeling dissed when they are not granted entry into Badwater or Barkley.  They may burn out and leave the sport within a couple years, an are heard from no more.

Another analogy I like to use is the value of a long dating period or courtship before two folks move in together or get married. Seems to me that you need to see your prospective partner at their best and at their worst. This can only come thru the sheer passage of time, which uncovers various situations, whatever life throws at you, which you both handle (or not).

How about yet another example: the Amazing Race seems to throw a very harsh light on relationships in stressful situations. Getting to see what your partner is really made of may not be a pleasnat experience.

Now let’s see what Ray had to say about "craft mentality". His thoughts were largely directed to the sport of climbing, but equally apply to Ultrarunning.

I suppose that with climbing I am most annoyed by the short cuts which the last twenty years of technological advances allow people to take. There are plenty of people out there who climb grade six ice but couldn't self arrest on a medium snow slope with a heavy pack on. I was climbing in the 'Daks a few winter's back, and a guy came up to me at my car and asked, "How much does it cost to get into this sport?"

I have tended to approach climbing and running, and many other things in my life, with a craft mentality. I am aware of the traditions, the history, the people I've served 'apprenticeships' with, and the inherited and constantly re-developing ethics and code of conduct of the craft.

The poet Galway Kinell was once asked about when he became a poet, and his reply was interesting. He said that the title 'poet,' is one of the last in our culture still conferred by others on a person. He said that, for good or bad, society is full of people who 'title' themselves, often bypassing the work and tradition of an endeavor in doing so. I am all for an individual constructing his or her own identity, but I see his point. In being 'titled,' one is also entitled: as a mountaineer, I felt the pride in and responsibility of that craft, and was entitled to- earned and enjoyed- respect, (that is, the respect which counts, that of a few friends and comrades.) I find a similar trajectory for myself with running.

I don't have a firm answer for myself, but value the craft approach and the discipline and solid honesty of putting the time in. I know that I am giving my life to the things I love. And that is, to me, what the craft approach is about, giving one's life. In return,...maybe...sometimes, one achieves moments of insight into and far beyond the activity itself.

Bottom line: go slow. Savor the moment. Pay your dues. Bring a craft mentality to Ultrarunning.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

69 Years Ago

(photos by Gary)

I've been fortunate enough to have had several business trips to Hawaii. One of the must-see things, of course, is the memorial to the USS Arizona, which was sunk during the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 69 years ago today, on 7 Dec 1941.  From the National Park Service web site:

The USS Arizona is the final resting place for many of the ship's 1,177 crewmen who lost their lives on December 7, 1941. The 184-foot-long Memorial structure spanning the mid-portion of the sunken battleship consists of three main sections: the entry and assembly rooms; a central area designed for ceremonies and general observation; and the shrine room, where the names of those killed on the Arizona are engraved on the marble wall.

It's a quiet, hushed, almost reverent place. It's hard to imagine the bedlam and fury of that day. One of the things that moved me the most was seeing the list of survivors who chose upon their deaths to be buried with their shipmates from 1941.

Crewmembers who were assigned to the USS Arizona on December 7, 1941, have the right to have their cremated remains interred inside the barbette of gun turret four by National Park Service divers. If you were a crewmember before that infamous day, you have the right to have your ashes scattered over the ship. In both cases, the common thread is that these men were at one time in their navy careers assigned to the USS Arizona. This policy is strictly enforced by the USS Arizona Reunion and Survivor Association. (In addition, any Pearl Harbor survivor can have their ashes scattered over the place in the harbor where their ship was located during the attack). On April 12, 1982, the ashes of retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Stanley M. Teslow were interred, becoming the first USS Arizona survivor to return to his ship. By mid 2006, 28 surviving crewmembers have rejoined their shipmates in simple and private ceremonies, complete with a two-bell ceremony from the Fleet Reserve Association; a rifle salute from the U.S. Navy or Marine Corps; and a benediction with the echo of Taps being played across the harbor. The services are conducted inside the memorial and consist of an invocation, funeral ceremony, and a flag presentation to the family. Following the ceremony, the urn is carried from the memorial to the dock area and presented to divers, who swim the urn into the open barbette of gun turret number four and proceed to a large open "slot" that measures approximately 6" x 5'. The urn is placed into this slot and slides into the ship.

Drops of oil float to the surface to this day:
Again, from the NPS site:
There were 1.4 million gallons of fuel on the USS Arizona when she sank. Over 60 years later, approximately nine quarts still surfaces from the ship each day. Some Pearl Harbor survivors have referred to the oil droplets as "Black Tears."

Monday, December 6, 2010

Diety, Sports...Ultrarunning

Among my running group, a link recently made for some conversation.  Seems that on the religious front, a high school football player was recently flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for pointing heavenward after a touchdown.

We debated for a couple of miles around the perimeter whether it's OK for a religious person to publicly demonstrate said religiosity.  We reached no consensus.

My tongue-in-cheek comment after all was said and done was this: most people would focus narrowly on the after-action reverent display. I think the true "unsportsmanlike" part would be the advantage accruing from invoking deity for yours or your team's benefit (translated: unfair to have God on your side...after all, the omnipotence thing, you know).

I can say that I have not personally witnessed any such demonstrations at any of the ultra finish lines I have crossed.  But I'd be OK with it--different strokes for different folks, and so on....

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Cats in Art: Cat and Goldfish

My continuing Cats in Art series.  Another Japanese work.

Image and text credit here.  [19th century, Kuniyoshi, Cat and Goldfish, woodcut]

This woodcut by Japanese artist Kuniyoshi Kitagawa entitled Cat and Goldfish is from the series Kingyo Zukushi (Goldfish Story). Although cartoon-like in its execution, this woodcut captures the reality of the cat and goldfish relationship.

The cat is waiting to pounce, just like the famous quote from H.L. Mencken, that for me sums up the whole notion of using Ultrarunning as a vehicle to go to "the edge" to explore your physical and mental limits, whatever that means to you:

Penetrating so many secrets, we cease to believe in the unknowable. But there it sits nevertheless, calmly licking its chops.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Iraq Advise and Assist Brigades

This summer, the administration announced the fact that there were no more combat brigades in Iraq.

There, is however, more to the story, as reported in the Raw Story back in Aug.  I am sorry, but I simply forget where I got this reference.  That bothers me because I always try to attribute any leads to articles such as this one:

The US military and the Obama administration loudly trumpeted the withdrawal of the "last combat brigade" from Iraq last week, but news reports suggest the move is purely semantic: The combat brigades are still there, but under a different name.

The Army Times reported on Saturday that the US still has seven combat brigades inside Iraq, but they have been renamed "advise and assist brigades." The name change will reportedly change little in terms of the duties the brigades carry out.

And there's more disquieting news, just in case you thought we were leaving Iraq anytime soon:

The US military presence in Iraq may continue long after the end of 2011, when all American forces are supposed to depart under a security agreement.

Top military leaders in both countries acknowledge Iraq still may need help from the US armed forces after 2011.

"We're obviously open to that discussion," US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week. "But that initiative will have to come from the Iraqis."

Iraq's top military officer told AFP last week that American forces may be needed for another decade.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Let's Retire the Global Policeman

(photo credit CNN)

Reading Shakesville is usually a treat, Monday being no exception. Melissa McEwan points us to Andrew J. Bacevich and a link to CNN wherein we read:

[Bacevich] has become a leading voice among anti-war critics. He is a retired colonel in the U.S. Army, a former West Point instructor and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

He's also a Boston University international relations professor who offers a historical perspective with his criticism. He says Obama has been ensnared by the "Washington Rules," a set of assumptions that have guided presidents since Harry Truman.

The rules say that the U.S. should act as a global policeman. "Fixing Iraq or Afghanistan ends up taking precedence over fixing Cleveland or Detroit," Bacevich writes.

His solution: The U.S. should stop deploying a "global occupation force" and focus on nation-building at home.

"The job is too big," he says of the U.S. global military presence. "We don't have enough money. We don't have enough troops. There's a growing recognition that the amount of red ink we're spilling is unsustainable."

It's guns vs. butter all over again.  I guess it's always been guns vs. butter.  To date, guns have been winning.  High time that butter gets its due.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Elevated Body Temperature...and Ultrarunning

On Tuesdays I telework from home, but usually go for an early 5 mile run at 5:30 am so I can be at my computer at 6:30 am, the start of my normal work day.

This day, however, I stayed in bed.  A cold made its may around the family over Thanksgiving, affecting multiple people.  I usually am immune to such things, but this one got me.  Monday evening I was down hard with congestion, sore throat, and just feeling lousy. 

I do have a theory that I did not put into practice this time.  You know how you always hear that running a fever is your body's way of fighting an infection?  That an elevated body temperature can kill pathogens, such as bacteria or viruses? 

Well, my theory is that in running we elevate our body temperature all the time and that's why--in my case, at least, as an experiment of one--we are healthier than the general population.  Not just fitter, but healthier.

Hopefully I can run at noon today with my perimeter buddies.  Even if I am not 100% I think it'll be good for me.