Monday, January 31, 2011

Homeland Security...and Electronic Devices

Glenn Greenwald at Salon shines some light on something that most people have not heard too much about in the mainstream media.  However, since you are reading this on a blog, you obviously have at least a minimum level of comfort and experience with PCs, the Net, etc. So it seems logical that you should care about privacy, due process, reasonable suspicion, and the lack of redress.  Read on:

For those who regularly write and read about civil liberties abuses, it's sometimes easy to lose perspective of just how extreme and outrageous certain erosions are. One becomes inured to them, and even severe incursions start to seem ordinary. Such was the case, at least for me, with Homeland Security's practice of detaining American citizens upon their re-entry into the country, and as part of that detention, literally seizing their electronic products -- laptops, cellphones, Blackberries and the like -- copying and storing the data, and keeping that property for months on end, sometimes never returning it. Worse, all of this is done not only without a warrant, probable cause or any oversight, but even without reasonable suspicion that the person is involved in any crime. It's completely standard-less, arbitrary, and unconstrained. There's no law authorizing this power nor any judicial or Congressional body overseeing or regulating what DHS is doing. And the citizens to whom this is done have no recourse -- not even to have their property returned to them.

Go ahead and read the rest.  The creeping erosion of freedom, in little nibbles, is turning into a bigger bite.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cats in Art: Cat Walk

My continuing Sunday series on cats in art.

Image and text credit here.  [c. mid-20th century, Max Kahn, Cat Walk, lithograph printed in color]

American sculptor and printmaker Max Kahn created this expressionistic lithograph entitled Cat Walk. In this work, the artist has created a humorous visual pun --the cat walks on a cat walk... (get it?)

I got it.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

State of the Dream

This sorta goes along with my post from Wednesday:

(from Black Agenda Report, here)

Author Glen Ford, like me, also expected more, and is disenchanted with the president:

The Right’s amazing advances in recent years have been made possible by the wholesale capture by Wall Street of much of the Democratic Party, most dramatically in the person of Barack Obama, whose Black presence has neutralized African Americans as an effective political force, including most of what used to pass as the Black Left. The enemy advances without effective opposition all along the unguarded flanks and rear of progressive politics, dressed in Democratic clothing and with a brown complexion, while organizations like United for a Fair Economy instruct us to keep our eyeballs focused solely on the Republican bogeymen. It is the equivalent of wearing blinders in a battle, a guarantee of defeat.

I am exceedingly sad to conclude that the annual “State of the Dream” report, designed to arm us for struggle, is a fatally flawed weapon in the face of the Obama Phenomenon.

Friday, January 28, 2011

In Memoriam

We lost eighteen service members in the last two weeks.  From Nicole Belle at Crooks and Liars:

The Pentagon has released the names of eighteen service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan:

US Army SGT Ethan C Hardin, 25, Fayetteville, AR
US Army PFC Ira B Laningham IV, 22, Zapata, TX
US Army PFC Robert J Near, 21, Nampa, ID
US Army SSG Omar Aceves, 30, El Paso, TX
US Army CPL Jarrid L King, 20, Erie, PA
US Army SPC Benjamin G Moore, 23, Robbinsville, NJ
US Army SGT Zainah C Creamer, 28, Texarkana, TX
US Army MAJ Evan J Mooldyk, 47, Rancho Murieta, CA
US Army PFC Zachary S Salmon, 21, Harrison, OH
US Army SPC Jose A Torre Jr, 21, Garden Grove, CA
US Army SGT Michael P Bartley, 23, Barnhill, IL
US Army SPC Martin J "Mickey" LaMar, 43, Sacramento, CA
US Marines Cpl Joseph C Whitehead, 22, Axis, AL
US Army MAJ Michael S Evarts, 41, Concord, OH
US Army SPC Joshua T Lancaster, 22, Millbrook, AL
US Marines Sgt Jason G Amores, 29, Lehigh, PA
US Navy PO Dominique Cruz, 26, Panama City, FL
US Army PFC Amy R Sinkler, 23, Chadbourn, NC

Just to pick out one person, I clicked thru to the service member from Pennsylvania, where I've lived my whole life, US Marines Sgt Jason G. Amores, 29, from Lehigh, PA.  Here's his picture:

He was married, with children aged 9 and 3.  This was his third deployment.
An unwinnable war with no end in sight.  I think we'll remain engaged awhile longer, simply because nobody in power wants to be the one who speaks the truth.  Namely, that this was a bad idea from the start, and that all the deaths--despite honorable and dedicated service to their country--have been in vain.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Purpose of The Universe...and Ultrarunning

Ever wonder, on those long runs in the back country, about why the universe exists?  Why we exist? 

Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish pointed me to Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, at the blog Big Questions Online

Because whether there is a God or not, the universe per se cannot have a purpose in any anthropomorphic sense for which that term is usually employed. The universe is simply the collection of galaxies, stars, planets, comets, meteorites, and other solar system detritus, plus whatever dark matter and dark energy turn out to be. The universe is governed by laws of nature that themselves have no purpose other than what they inevitably dictate matter and energy to do. Stars, for example, convert hydrogen into helium, and they have no choice in the matter once they reach a certain size and temperature. Stars are not sitting around thinking “my purpose in life is to convert hydrogen into helium so I better get on with it.” Ditto everything else in the universe, including all living organisms, from C. elegans to H. sapiens.

Life began with the most basic purpose of all: survival and reproduction. For 3.5 billion years organisms have survived and reproduced in a lineal descent from the pre-Cambrian to us, an unbroken continuity that has endured countless terrestrial and extraterrestrial assaults and five mass extinctions (six if you count the one we may be causing). This fact alone imbues us with a sense of cosmic purpose. Add to it the innumerable evolutionary steps from bacteria to big brains, and the countless points along the journey in which our lineage could have easily been erased, and we arrive at the conclusion that we are a glorious contingency in the history of life. As Charles Darwin wrote in the penultimate paragraph of his 1859 masterpiece On the Origin of Species: “When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Silurian system was deposited, they seem to me to become ennobled.”

Humans have an evolved sense of purpose — a psychological desire to accomplish a goal — that developed out of behaviors that were selected for because they were good for the individual or for the group. Although cultures may differ on what behaviors are defined as purposeful, the desire to behave in purposeful ways is an evolved trait. Purpose is in our nature. With brains big enough to discover and define purpose in symbolic ways inconceivable to billions of preceding and co-existing species, humans stand apart as genuinely unique in our attention to purposeful behavior. Evolution gave us a purpose-driven life.


Whether there is a God or not, all of these purposeful activities — and many more — stand as ends in themselves in the here-and-now, not as means to some other end in the hereafter. Purpose is not some prop on a momentary stage before an eternal tomorrow, where its ultimate meaning will be revealed to us. Purpose is created by us through the courage of our convictions and the honor of our actions.

There.  Think about that next time you run.  There will be a test.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Marriage Must Be Pretty Darn Fragile

From Shakesville, Melissa McEwan points us to the Washington Post and an article by Kerry Eleveld:

Less than a month after President Obama repealed "don't ask, don't tell," his Justice Department filed its latest brief defending the so-called Defense of Marriage Act—the law that makes gay Americans second-class citizens by outlawing federal recognition of their legal marriages.

Until gay folks have full marriage equality--and not just Civil Unions, which perpetuates the myth that there are "better" and "lesser" versions of marriage--the notion that gays are still second-class citizens remains still alive and well.

I've never quite figured out how traditional marriage is at risk because people of the same gender wish to marry.  The bride and I were talking about this recently, and her observation was that traditional marriage must be pretty darn fragile if gays marrying totally threaten the institution.

Here's how I look at it.  You gotta set these discussions in real-world, close-to-home scenarios.  Say that our daughter, whom we love with all our hearts, comes to us and says, "Mom, Dad, I'm in love and I want to marry her."

Naturally that discussion would be longer, and we'd already know pretty much what was going on, but would we say to her (again, abbreviated for brevity), "Nope, sorry, gotta withhold our blessing because it's wrong for women to marry other women."?  Or would we say, in recognition of the fact that she was born gay, "We love you unconditionally and accept you, and if marrying your partner makes you happy, we're totally on board."

Oh, and back to Melissa McEwan--if you clicked thru to see the link, you'll see that she sarcastically titled her post "I'm So Glad We Elected a Democrat, Part One Billion and Two."  She's fed up with people (e.g., President Obama) being politically expedient rather than doing what's right.  These are people's lives at stake here, it's not just some philosophical discourse.

I, too, am fed up.  Down in the comments I read this, which pretty much sums up where I'm at on all this:

I'm just *frustrated*. I was so excited to vote for Obama in my first presidential election. I defended him to all my right-wingy relatives. I bought that shiny vision for the future, and I hate, HATE those "how's that hopey-changey stuff working for you?" stickers. There was nothing wrong with the hopey-changey. Hopey-changey is EXPECTING MORE. Obama promised us MORE and then completely f***ing failed to deliver.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Umstead--9 Weeks to Go!

Teleworking from home today, so I went out early for a short run (4 miles) from the house. I was thinking about the upcoming Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run in April, and my mind veered off into a discussion of time.

I am not running Umstead this year but am having flashbacks (positive, of course!) of my run there in 2010, basically to prove to myself that I could still run 100 miles. I was thinking, OK, it’s January, the race is still almost 3 months away, for anybody running in 2011 there’s still lots of time to complete your training.

But then I recalled that the race date was the first Saturday in April; i.e., 2011 race day is 2 April. That’s basically 2 months from now, not 3. And then I shifted times scales from months to weeks, and realized the race is only 9+ weeks out. For me, thinking in weeks always seems to bring more immediacy than thinking in months.

Perhaps this is because months--again, in my mind view—are just a bit more amorphous. Months have different durations and can start/end on any day of the week. You don’t have a structured, fixed set of weekends around which you build your long training runs. But weeks do: you go thru the 5 day workweek and then your weekend shows up, consisting of a Saturday and a Sunday, and you plan on how best to fit in the training run that you need that weekend.

In my mind, working backwards, if I were running this year, I’d be planning for 3 more long runs. These would be about 30-35 miles, three weeks apart, and ending three weeks prior to the race. Those dates work out to be 29 Jan, 18 Feb, and 11 March. As for the two weeks between the long runs--I’d be doing a 10 and a 15.

So…the entrants better be doing their last few long runs NOW. Good luck, my heart will be with you!


Monday, January 24, 2011

Zero-Gravity Cats...and Ultrarunning

From the always entertaining Dependable Renegade, a link to YouTube and cats floating in zero-gravity.  And the question: Why were they training kitties to become astronauts?

The video from YouTube:

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?  Every once in awhile--doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's magical--you have a run when your feet merely skim the trail, you literally scamper over rocks and roots as though you were weightless.  It all suddenly becomes as easy as a bird in flight.  Seeing these weightless kitties makes me think of that type of magical running.

See a previous Mister Tristan post here, complete with pictures.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cats in Art: Cat and Bird

My continuing series of Cats in Art.

Image and text credit here.  [1939, Pablo Picasso, Cat and Bird, oil]

During the period of the Spanish Civil War, Picasso created surrealistic paintings and etchings which served as propaganda against the Franco government. His painting entitled Cat and Bird symbolizes the cruelty of the laws governing nature.

Sometimes you just get rolled by a cat.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Contact Comfort...and Ultrarunning

I recently cleaned off my desk at work, removing various items I had taped or pinned up in my cube over the years. 

I removed 3 anniversary cards I had received from the bride, and was struck by the fact that all involved contact comfort and animals.  I sense a recurring theme here:

(photo by Gary)

Once in awhile, you meet someone you like.  Once in a great while, you meet someone you want to spend the rest of your life with.  I am indeed a lucky man.

Oh...and the connection to Ultrarunning?  Only that it strikes me as odd that I have gravitated to such a "loner" sport that involves many hours by myself, running in the woods.  Yet I crave contact comfort and a like-thinking partner, as evidenced by these cards.

Actually, maybe it's not odd at all, just two sides of the same coin.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Jack London...and Ultrarunning

May as well make it two posts in a row from the Writer's Almanac.  Jack London was featured last week on his 12 Jan birthday, in 1876.  Most people know of him from his novels about the north, such as Call of the Wild.

London had a school of hard knocks childhood, then headed up north for the Klondike Gold Rush.

When he came back, he started writing, setting many of his stories in the Klondike. He worked as hard at writing as he did at everything else — he stuck to a writing regimen of 1,000 words every morning. And his work paid off — he published The Call of the Wild (1903) when he was just 27 years old, and it made him famous. Between 1900 and 1916, he wrote more than 50 books. But he died in 1916 at the age of 40 from an overdose of morphine, which he was using to treat his uremia.

But it was his grasp of the raw essentials of existence--that have real parallels with the experiences we deliberately (and in a sense artificially) create for ourselves when we run ultras--that snapped me to attention.  London got it right:

In The Call of the Wild, he wrote: "There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive. This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad in a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight."

And so this ecstasy comes to the ultrarunner as well.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Being Worn Out...and Ultrarunning

From the always good Writer's Almanac, this one from month ago.  I'm feeling a bit worn out by various externalities that are inexorably nibbling away at me and my mental energy.  I'm feeling that there always is something I should be doing. 

Nothing life-threatening going on, just a momentary lull here in the mid-winter.  I'm ready for a good dose of spring.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was worn down to a much greater extent, desperately so, and I am not equating his resignation with my much milder flatness.  But he sure could articulate that feeling of just being done in much better than I can:

After huge critical and commercial success in his 20s, Fitzgerald found himself in his mid-30s deep in debt and feeling depleted. He said: "A writer like me must have an utter confidence, an utter faith in his star. It's an almost mystical feeling, a feeling of nothing-can-happen-to me, nothing-can-touch-me. … I once had it. But through a series of blows, many of them my own fault, something happened to that sense of immunity and I lost my grip." He said, "One blow after another and finally something snapped."


He wrote: "I began to realize that for two years my life had been a drawing on resources that I did not possess, that I had been mortgaging myself physically and spiritually up to the hilt." He'd "cracked like an old plate." He said: "Of course all life is a process of breaking down, but the blows that do the dramatic side of the work—the big sudden blows that come, or seem to come, from outside— the ones you remember and blame things on and, in moments of weakness, tell your friends about, don't show their effect all at once.

There is another sort of blow that comes from within—that you don't feel until it's too late to do anything about it, until you realize with finality that in some regard you will never be as good a man again. The first sort of breakage seems to happen quick—the second kind happens almost without your knowing it but is realized suddenly indeed."

Now, this gonna sound hokey.  But when life is grinding you down, you go for a run.  Not just any run, but the run, the one that's special to you, the trail or course that always puts a smile on your face, the one that always pleases, the one you reserve for special times.

Yesterday a buddy and I ran on the C + O Canal in MD, of JFK 50 miler fame.  This is one of my rejuvination spots.

We started at daybreak and were alone on the trail.  No critters such as wild turkeys or deer--the snow remnants were too crunchy and noisy--but we spotted a raft of waterfowl at various spots in the Potomac River, and a couple of Great Blue Herons.

They seemed happy doing their bird things.  And suddenly I found a smile on my face too.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pot Vs. Kettle

This for all the world sounds like some lefty in the early 2000s, railing against President Bush.:

His overall approach to expanding the size of government, expanding the deficit, and giving more and more authority and power to the government over the private sector,” xxxxx said in an interview with Jamie Gangel for NBC News. “Those are all weaknesses, as I look at yyyyy. And I think he’ll be a one term President.

Nope, it was former Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking of President Obama, just a couple of days ago.

These guys have such a limited sense of self-awareness.  Insert whatever cliche works for you: physician, heal thyself; take the log out of your own eye; pot vs. kettle comment; etc.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dr. Martin Luther King, Misappropriated by DOD

My head still hurts from reading this yesterday on the U.S. Department of Defense news site:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2011 – If Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today, would he understand why the United States is at war?

Jeh C. Johnson, the Defense Department’s general counsel, posed that question at today’s Pentagon commemoration of King’s legacy.

In the final year of his life, King became an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War, Johnson told a packed auditorium. However, he added, today’s wars are not out of line with the iconic Nobel Peace Prize winner’s teachings.

“I believe that if Dr. King were alive today, he would recognize that we live in a complicated world, and that our nation's military should not and cannot lay down its arms and leave the American people vulnerable to terrorist attack,” he said.

I call BS.  Dr. King preached non-violence, and would not have succumbed to the fear-mongering that resulted in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that still are ongoing today.

My post from a year ago on Dr. King, which in my humble opinion, gets it right.

My visits to Atlanta, wherein I made it a priority to visit the National Park Service site dedicated to Dr. King, are among the most poignant and important things I have ever done.  I can't wait until Mister Tristan (the human being, not the blog) and his two cousins are old enough to understand. 

Then we make a road trip to Atlanta, like a pilgrimage.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Luck...and Ultrarunning

Via Refdesk, my home page when I fire up the Internet, and drilling down to Thought of the Day for 10 Jan 2011:

"People always call it luck when you've acted more sensibly than they have." - Anne Tyler

This is along the same lines as reaping what you sow, or fortune smiles on the prepared.  In Ultrarunning, that means to be prepared mentally and physically for all your races.  You do your homework, you train, you crosstrain, you get your head into the course.

Then when race day comes, in the immortal words of Dr. George Sheehan, you "...look to the day when it all is suddenly as easy as a bird in flight."


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Cats in Art: Greenwich Village Backyards

My continuing series on Cats in Art.

Image and text credit here.  [1914, John Sloan, Greenwich Village Backyards, oil]

The Ash Can School was a group of American painters devoted to commonplace subjects. They typically painted journalistic scenes of the city like this painting by John Sloan of children building a snowman in a Greenwich Village alley. One cat spies on the children while another simply huddles on the fence.

Again, a call to get out to a trail.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Things Ultrarunners Know: Astronomy

In looking back over my posts here at Mister Tristan, I see where a frequent topic has been night running and astronomy (see here on astronomical distances, here for Orion (and specifically the star Sirius), and here for the Perseid meteors, to cite 3 examples). 

I can't see how anyone who runs at night can fail to be awed by the heavens and want to learn more, much more.  I find myself constantly consulting various astronomy sites to learn about what I was seeing.

One of my favs is Bad Astronomy for an eclectic view of astronomy.  Another with more of a layman's approach to understanding what you see in the night sky is Tonight's Sky.

For example, last weekend I was thrilled to see the juxtaposition of Jupiter and the Moon.  I had noticed the bright planet very near the moon, but did not know for sure without checking that it was Jupiter.  And Venus is particularly bright this week, low in the eastern sky before daybreak.

Of course, no post about astronomy and Ultrarunning would be complete without mentioning the U.S. Naval Observatory's site for Sun and Moon data.   I use this site regularly whenever I travel to see when local sunrise and sunset will occur.  When you click over there you will notice the term "civil twilight."  For ultrarunners, the practical definition is "when can I run without a flashlight?" 

You can start about half an hour prior to sunrise and be able to see well enough to not not kill yourself sans flashlight.  On the other end, it's the drop-dead time when you better be out of the woods or you're in a heap of trouble.

To use the Naval Observatory site you plug in your location and date to get a customized result.  For example, I know I will be in Everett, WA the end of July 2011 for a conference.  So on Sunday, 24 July, sunrise is at 5:35 am, with civil twilight beginning at 4:57 am.  So I could start a run around 5:00 am without a light.  At the end of that Sunday, if I'd choose to run late, the sun sets at 8:55 pm, with civil twilight ending at 9:33 pm.  So I could aim for an 8:30 pm finish and have half an hour cushion before full darkness.

Oh, and the moon will rise just after midnight early that Sunday morning, be at its highest at 7:55 am, and set at 3:49 that afternoon.  It will be waning, and be about 35% full.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Women Laughing Alone With Salad...and Ultrarunning

Somewhere along the course of my Internet meanderings I came across a post from 3 Jan 2011 on a site called The Hairpin

I know I didn't stumble upon it by accident, I went there via a link, but I cannot figure out my path or I would of course provide credit to the source.

Anyway, this Hairpin post is entitled "Women Laughing Alone With Salad."  It is exactly what it says.  The women look like they are really enjoying themselves.

The link to Ultrarunning?  We all should eat more salad--look how much fun it is!


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tales from the Perimeter: Mithraism

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.

One of our group, CH, is pretty religious but not in-your-face. His approach to faith is one that is respectful and able to be respected, even by nonbelievers.

That said, we other runners cannot help but bust him whenever we can. MS heard something about the religion Mithraism on public radio, was intrigued, did some research, and sent out a list of some 17 similarities with Christianity, just to tweak CH:

Today's Running Discussion Topic - Mithraism

Q - What is Mithraism?
A - Ancient Persian religion popular among Roman military which preceded Christianity by approximately 600 years?

Q - Who is Mithra/Mithras?
A - Ancient Persian god of light and truth; sun god?

Q - What similarities exist between Mithraism and Christianity?
A - Numerous

1) Mithra was born on December 25th as an offspring of the Sun.
2) He was considered a great traveling teacher and masters.
3) He had twelve companions as Jesus had twelve disciples.
4) Mithras also performed miracles.
5) Mithra was called "the good shepherd, "the way, the truth and the light, redeemer, savior, Messiah."
6) He was identified with both the lion and the lamb.
7) Mithras seems to have owed his prominence to the belief that he was the source of life, and could also redeem the souls of the dead into the better world ...
8) The ceremonies included a sort of baptism to remove sins, anointing, and a sacred meal of bread and water, while a consecrated wine, believed to possess wonderful power, played a prominent part.
9) The sectaries of the Persian god, like the Christians', purified themselves by baptism.
10) The disciples of Mithra formed an organized church, with a developed hierarchy.
11) They possessed the ideas of Mediation, Atonement, and a Savior, who is human and yet divine, and not only the idea, but a doctrine of the future life.
12) They had a Eucharist, and a Baptism.
13) In the catacombs at Rome was preserved a relic of the old Mithraic worship. It was a picture of the infant Mithra seated in the lap of his virgin mother, while on their knees before him were Persian Magi adoring him and offering gifts.
14) He was buried in a tomb and after three days he rose again. His resurrection was celebrated every year.
15) Mithra had his principal festival on what was later to become Easter, at which time he was resurrected.
16) His sacred day was Sunday, "the Lord's Day."
17) The Mithra religion had a Eucharist or "Lord's Supper."

Whereupon I emailed the group as follows as to my theory on why this religion has not flourished:

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

From: Gary
Sent: Wednesday, January 05, 2011 10:27 AM
To: xxxxx
Cc: xxxxx
Subject: RE: Today's Running Discussion Topic - Mithraism

Probably why Mithraism hasn't caught on is that it doesn't lend itself well to blasphemy.

Like when you hit your thumb with a hammer, it's much more satisfying to say "J**** C***** !" than it'd be to say "Mithra!"


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Closing the Washington Monument

I love me some Bruce Schneier, the most sensible person on things security, whom I have linked to before (Security Theater and Cyberwar):

Securing the Washington Monument from terrorism has turned out to be a surprisingly difficult job. The concrete fence around the building protects it from attacking vehicles, but there's no visually appealing way to house the airport-level security mechanisms the National Park Service has decided are a must for visitors. It is considering several options, but I think we should close the monument entirely. Let it stand, empty and inaccessible, as a monument to our fears.

An empty Washington Monument would serve as a constant reminder to those on Capitol Hill that they are afraid of the terrorists and what they could do. They're afraid that by speaking honestly about the impossibility of attaining absolute security or the inevitability of terrorism -- or that some American ideals are worth maintaining even in the face of adversity -- they will be branded as "soft on terror." And they're afraid that Americans would vote them out of office if another attack occurred. Perhaps they're right, but what has happened to leaders who aren't afraid? What has happened to "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself"?


The empty monument would symbolize our war on the unexpected, -- our overreaction to anything different or unusual -- our harassment of photographers, and our probing of airline passengers. It would symbolize our "show me your papers" society, rife with ID checks and security cameras. As long as we're willing to sacrifice essential liberties for a little temporary safety, we should keep the Washington Monument empty.

I did the math once as part of a talk I was giving on the 47th Alabama Infantry at Gettysburg.  As an American, your probability of dying on 9/11 was about 1 in 92,000.  Had you been alive on July 1-3, 1863, your chance of dying at Gettysburg was about 1 in 4,200.

Risk is relative.  Back to Schneier:

It's our reaction to terrorism that threatens our nation, not terrorism itself. The empty monument would symbolize the empty rhetoric of those leaders who preach fear and then use that fear for their own political ends.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Nature, Kids, and Ultrarunning

From a Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail.  Those crazy citizens of the former British empire have the best ideas!

At the Coombes school in southern England, the playground looks like an arboretum. Narrow paths snake through the shrubbery past apple, willow and walnut trees. There is a pond, two labyrinths, a garden and plenty of good spots to dig for worms. Lessons often take place outside.

It is the creation of Sue Humphries, an educator who, over four decades, transformed the once barren yard into a verdant outdoor classroom because of her conviction that sitting in chairs is not the best way for children to learn. There is mounting scientific evidence that she is on to something and it has become part of a growing outdoor movement that could transform the way school yards are designed and built.

Read the rest, then hear my radical idea.

Back now?  My radical idea is that things that are good for kids are good for adults, too!!  I'm pretty sure that this breakthrough concept is going to make me very wealthy any time now.

There's more:
Studies suggest that interacting with nature can help children pay attention, motivate them to learn and improve both classroom behaviour and scores on standardized tests. Neuroscientists and psychologists are investigating why nature is good for young brains and how being around trees and shrubs helps recharge the circuitry that children use to focus on a page of fractions or a spelling test.

I need nature time to recharge MY batteries, too.  This is why Ultrarunning will always beat road running--the mental component is so much richer.


Monday, January 10, 2011

You Reap What You Sow

Political post today, as I can't get the targeted shooting of AZ Rep Gabrielle Giffords out of my mind.

You talk the talk, skirt on the edge of hate, and incite a climate of fear.  Then when the predictable result happens, you remain unapologetic, unremorseful, even arrogant as you distance yourself.

You reap what you sow.

For. The. Children. should be the guiding principal in all our lives.  Not this.  Previous post here.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Cats in Art: Paris Through the Window

My continuing Sunday series of Cats in Art.

Image and text credit here.  [1913, Marc Chagall, Paris Through the Window, oil on canvas]

Russian painter Marc Chagall painted a dream-like vision of Paris through the open window of his studio. His cat seems to sit on the edge between dream and reality.

Cat looks a little fraught with angst.  Maye it's the whole urban scene, and he/she needs to get out to a trail to run.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Things Ultrarunners Know: Animals

(Meadow vole image credit Wikipedia)

(Deer mouse image credit Wikipedia)

The other day, while running, I passed a road kill on a local road near my home. What made it a bit unusual was that it was a small critter, either a mouse or a vole.

One would think that a road-killed animal of such small size would have been completely smashed, but this one was not crushed; it was only slightly bloody about the head. But very dead.

That struck me as strange, meaning that the mouse-like animal would have been struck--but not run over--by a vehicle tire, as though it ran into the side of the tire. Now, I’m sure that it can happen that way, but my mind immediately thought “hawk” and I looked up to see whether I was under a tree or telephone pole where a raptor may have just dropped its partially eaten prey.

Nope, turns out I wasn't under any such perch, so the dead mouse or vole was in all likelihood just a road kill. But when you hear hoof beats, you think horses, not zebras. A hawk being involved seemed more likely than road kill, but I was wrong.

Why even bother with this pretty mundane story? Because it points to another example of what we ultrarunners know and “regular” people don’t. You see, we know local fauna in a way that most people don’t—we see dead animals up close on the roads. And we see live ones out on the trails and the roads. Without having taken a single zoology course, we ultrarunners have a pretty good idea of who in the animal kingdom lives nearby.

We know, for instance, whether the local cat population includes cougars, bobcats, lynxes, or none of the above. Or the difference between a skunk, an opossum, a raccoon, a beaver, and a woodchuck. How to distinguish between a red and a grey fox. Whether the deer is a whitetail of a mule deer. That the local large hawk is in all likelihood a red-tail, or how to ID one of the smaller raptors. And whether any bears (grizzly or black) live locally.

You get the idea. I plan to expand this theme of Things Ultrarunners Know into a series of posts on other disciplines such as meteorology, astronomy, geology, and hydrology, as a minimum. I previously did a post last May on this theme, about rain and getting wet.

We are a pretty smart bunch. Or at least observant.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Ultra Distances

If you think running 100 miles is far and takes awhile, think about this little story from the blog Bad Astronomy:

Since last July, the Earth has been falling ever closer to the Sun. Every moment since then, our planet has edged closer to the nearest star in the Universe, approaching it at over 1100 kilometers per hour, 27,500 km/day, 800,000 km every month.

But don’t panic! We do this every year. And that part of it ends today anyway.

The Earth’s orbit around the Sun is not a perfect circle. It’s actually an ellipse, so sometimes we’re closer to the Sun, and sometimes farther away. Various factors change the exact date and time every year — you can get the numbers at the Naval Observatory site — but aphelion (when we’re farthest from the Sun) happens in July, and perihelion (when we’re closest) in January.

And we’re at perihelion now! Today, January 3, 2011, around 19:00 GMT (2:00 p.m. Eastern US time), the Earth reaches perihelion. At that time, we’ll be about 147,099,587 kilometers (91,245,873 miles) from the Sun.

That's a lot of numbers and geekiness.  So just how far is that 91+ million miles that are we away from the sun?

To give you an idea of how far that is, a jet traveling at a cruising speed of 800 km/hr would take over 20 years to reach the Sun.

That, my friends, would be the flight from hell.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

In Memoriam

This week, the United States of America lost “only” 3 service members in Afghanistan. Of course, if you were one of the 3, your family will be forever shattered.

Via Nicole Belle at Crooks and Liars, the list:

US Marines LCpl Kenneth A Corzine, 23, Bethalto, IL

US Marines Sgt Garrett A Misener, 25, Condova, TN

US Marines Cpl Tevan L Nguyen, 21, Hutto, TX

And no end in sight....

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Boxed Wines...and Ultrarunning

Over at The Daily Dish, I see where another wine lover has seen the brilliant light that is Franzia’s line of boxed wines.

Yes, boxed wines. Of all places, on a blog that purportedly is about “the softer side of ultrarunning.” Well, maybe that topic qualifies, although I think that beer drinkers may outnumber the wine drinkers among ultrarunners.

The author at the link loves the Franzia Cabernet (but NOT the Franzia Merlot or Chianti...can't say, I have not tried those). I personally prefer this one, the White Zinfandel:

(photo credit: Gary)

I am not a wine expert, but know enough. The bride and I have enjoyed touring many of the wineries in our mid-Atlantic area and even managed a wonderful trip to the Napa wine country in conjunction with a San Francisco trip. So I don’t feel I am taking a risk in recommending this White Zinfandel to you. Your mileage may vary, but you oughta give it a try.

The price in PA for the 5 liter box--when it’s not on sale--is about $18 with tax, which works out to $3.60 per bottle. Plus it is a much greener way to purchase wine (as though you need another reason!).

Try this: after a run you need to rehydrate, and alcohol is a diuretic and worsens the dehydration. So, after you’ve consumed about enough water to replace the sweat, try mixing some wine (why not this White Zin?) with some club soda, either flavored or unflavored, and ice. Sip. Repeat as necessary.

Very refreshing!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Umstead Pace Chart

I ran Umstead in 2010.  Ran it pretty well, actually, in 22:35.  Here's a tip that may help you.

Based upon race director Blake Norwood's wonderful guide for first-timers at Umstead (see link "How to Train For and Run Your First 100 at the Umstead 100" on the race homepage, here), I planned for a finish of 28 hours (so I overachieved a little bit!).

I made the following pace chart up in small card format, laminated it, and carried it with me to consult during the race to try to stay on pace.

I never used it.  I just ran the first lap and it felt good, as did the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc., so I figured, why mess with success?  So it remained in my pocket until I cleaned out my gear after the race. 

But YOU might need it.  So hit the PRINT button, laminate it, and carry it along.  You may never even think about it...or, you may find it absolutely indispensable to your personal race management.  The point is, use ALL the resources at your command to maximize your chances for success. 

So--print it and carry it (or Blake's similar lap plan for a 23:30 finish)--it may make all the difference for you.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Where I Run: A Celebratory Pig Farm Run

On Friday I took my last run of the year, needing 10 miles to reach 100 for the month and 1200 for the year. Usually in the winter I run to the west to have the wind in my face at the start and thus be able to finish with the wind at my back.

On Friday, however, the ever-present wind was absent so I could do the run that I really wanted to do—to the east—the Pig Farm 10 miler.

This run has been integral to my running life for 30 years. I wanted to “dance with the one that brung ya,” so to speak, and pay homage to a great route that has sustained me thru thick and thin and hundreds of runs.

Of course, the obligatory disclaimer is that I'd much rather be running trails.  But getting there adds time and complexity, while the Pig Farm route is right out my door.

Photos of the highlights of the run, complete with links to previous posts:

Of course, the local place names.

The beautiful stone wall, that puts my dry stone wall efforts to shame.

The “big rock” where a dead Rebel was buried on the retreat from Gettysburg in 1863.

The unnamed and unsigned church--so I don't know the denomination-- where the men line up to enter thru one of the front doors and the women do the same at the other front door.  There are no horses and buggies here but ALL the cars are black and unadorned.  I get water here halfway thru the run at an outside frost-free spigot.

No photo, but the field where water runs uphill, I swear.

The run has been good to me and I am thankful to celebrate it!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Cats in Art: Cat

My continuing Sunday series on Cats in Art, with another Bonnard image.

Image and text credit here.  [1903, Pierre Bonnard, Cat, brush and ink]

In 1903, French artist Pierre Bonnard created a series of illustrations for Jules Renard's Histoires naturelles. This wry little cat is from that series.

My cats are all "wry little cats."  Well, maybe just the wry part--they mostly are fat.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Ultrarunning…and Nature (part 2 of 2)

(image credit National Wildlife Federation)

See yesterday’s post for part 1. 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, yesterday and today. 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:

We do not see nature with our eyes, but with our understandings and our hearts. -- William Hazlitt

The who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. -- Rachel Carson

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. -- Albert Einstein

Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a songbird will come. -- Chinese proverb

Let nature be your teacher. -- William Wordsworth

An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language. -- Martin Buber

Keep your send of proportion by regularly, preferably daily, visiting the natural world. -- Catlin Matthews