Thursday, March 31, 2011

Kinetic Military Action

In the past I have been accused of dumping on Obama, so I guess here's another installment. Monday night our President went on network TV to explain our actions in Libya, some days after we had already gone to war. 

I wrote this piece Monday (3/28) without having seen what he said, but the news reports the next day outlined his rationale.

My objection is that we went to war--we went to war--with very little debate or discussion.  Killing other human beings, no matter how justified it may be in this particular case, certainly warrants a bit more consideration than that.

From Linh Dinh, here, a piece he calls Winding Down Obama, an excerpt:

As firemen and cops are being fired across America, as teachers are being told they must accept austerity measures, the country is broke, after all, as public radio and television, with their supposed liberal bias, lay on the chopping block, as more homeless sprawl and tent cities spring up, as casinos, a sure sign of desperation, mushroom, the United States has entered another costly war without any fanfare or discussion whatsoever. Obama didn't have to persuade anybody, no sending a Secretary of State to make a fool of herself in front of the United Nations' General Assembly, no congressional vote, which, last time I checked, was supposed to be a Constitutional requirement, no media blitz. No lies even. He simply ordered more than a hundred Tomahawk missiles, so far, to rain down on Libya, with many more to come. In any case, this it not even a war, but merely a "kinetic military action," according to an Obama aide. Such straight faced butchery of language, even as one butchers real people, shows that the United States has entered a deep psychotic state. Upon winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama himself declared, "I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence."

The rest of Dinh's post continues in that vein, and I can't say that there's anything there I disagree with.  Take a read and see what you think.  Perhaps as I sit in my hotel room, wishing I was at home with my loved ones, I'm feeling cynical tonight.  Maybe this will all work out, the world will be a better place for this action, the forces of good will prevail and be proven to have been right.

But the process was flawed, badly.  And as I cast my vote for Barack Obama in 2008, I hoped for more, much more.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Deja Vu

Well, I didn't make it out to Stone Mountain for a trail run after work on Tues.  Recall from Monday's post that I am in Atlanta for a standards conference, cooped up indoors doing work that, while necessary and useful, is B-O-R-I-N-G.  So I needed a trail fix, badly.

Unfortunately, we worked too late, past 5:00 PM, to permit sufficient time to drive out and run at Stone Mountain.

So...Plan B was to head east on 14th Street on foot from my hotel near Georgia Tech over to Piedmont Park to try to get a 10 miler in.  This is a beautiful and spacious urban park that is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise sterile concrete and steel environment.

When I first entered the park I decided to loop the perimeter.  As I proceeded around it reminded me of something but I could not put my finger on it.  But then I reached the corner of the park where the dog park sits, and I thought, "I know this place...I think I've been here before" although I could not be any more specific than that. 

Then I headed around the part of the park that runs along 10th Street and suddenly I knew--I had run there before, back in 2004 or 2005, in the fall following when Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.  I had been in Atlanta for another conference and was staying at a hotel further south, and had also run up to Piedmont Park--from another direction--to do some park running.  I remember this because that fall Atlanta was the recipient of many refugees from New Orleans, and I was able to help a couple people with money and food.

Anyway, that year when I ran at Piedmont Park, I came upon a distraught young female runner who, it turns out, had just been flashed by a guy I could see running off across one of the open grassy fields.  I stayed with her and we ran a couple laps together until she was composed and settled again. 

Tues evening I called home and told the bride that I've been doing this job too long--too many airports and hotel rooms and conferences and meetings that I could no longer recall the specifics of certain trips unless something served to remind me...such as remembering running in an urban park.

This trip's run was a good one--pretty and uneventful.  The Eastern Redbuds and dogwoods were in full bloom, as were many other flowers.  It was a great early dose of spring, my body felt good, and I was rejuvenated.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Standards, MIL-Speak...and Ultrarunning

I am in a hotel as I write this Mon evening for a Tues morning post.  My business in Atlanta is to participate in a standards conference.

It is boring. Boring beyond belief, yet I realize that standards are essential to commerce, government, the military, etc.  Think about something as simple as the size and shape of electrical outlets and the plugs that fit them.  Here in the U.S. we pretty much take it for granted that when we buy appliances we don't have to worry about whether the plug will fit or if the normal AC power will work.  They just do.  These are national standards that we adhere to in the U.S.

Note: Overseas power and outlets are another story, in that international standards never were quite consensed upon.

I deliberately used the word consensed above, as an example of what I call MIL-Speak.  It's the annoying habit that we who are associated with the military have of corrupting words.  "Consensed" is the verb form of the noun consensus, and is used to mean agree or concur.  You will NOT find "consensed" in a dictionary. 

Here are 4 other MIL-Speak words you will not find in a dictionary.  I love language, I love reading, I love writing--that's one of the reasons I blog--and these are particularly egregious and annoying examples of "words" from my personal experience:

1.  Footstamp: verb, meaning to add emphasis.  Example: Let me footstamp this point (corruption of adjective/noun combo foot stamp).

2.  Offramp: verb, meaning to exit. Example: Our plans to offramp Afghanistan are nebulous at best (corruption of noun off ramp).

3.  Propensed: adjective, meaning disposed. Example: He was not propensed to vote for that candidate (corruption of noun propensity).

4.  Churn: noun, meaning confusion and delay (if you have a little one and watch Thomas the Tank Engine, you will know exactly what I mean!).  Example: Failure to communicate our plans caused a lot of churn (corruption of a verb into a noun). 

Back to today's standards conference and reality.  The chair of this committee used as a verb the MIL-Speak word "footstamp" as a verb some 3 times just in Monday's afternoon session. I seethed inside and wanted to throw something at him.

The connection to Ultrarunning:  I really need to go on the Stone Mountain run I promised myself yesterday.  Tues PM may just work out....

Monday, March 28, 2011

Stone Mountain, GA

I'm heading off Monday at 0-dark-thirty, heading to Atlanta for a meeting.  Am taking my running stuff, although scheduled times are long and running appears doubtful.

Keeping my fingers crossed and hoping to be able to take a run over here:

Image credit HCC Rare Coins, here.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cats in Art: Studies of Cats (da Vinci)

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art. I'm using some ideas from the coffee table book, The Cat in Art, by Stefano Zuffi.

Image credit hereStudies of Cats, Leonardo da Vinci, drawing 11" x 8", Royal Library, Windsor Castle, England

Zuffi tells us:

Leonardo was fascinated by every aspect of nature, but he had a particular fondness for horse and cats....The famous drawing in Windsor Castle is one of art's most fascinating homages to the cat....[da Vinci] observes and reproduces many different poses with a mixture of amusement and admiration.

Horses, cats: da Vinci got it right, didn't he?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Butterflies @ Umstead 100 Miler

Regarding the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run next weekend, a friend who is running is understandably a bit nervous.  It's hard to concentrate and be motivated for regular stuff, running seem not to be going well, and there are doubts, even fears, about sufficiency of training and tapering.

This is a big event, a stretch, because running 100 miles is a non-trivial activity.  Few people on the entire planet can do this.  But this runner is experienced and well-trained, and these feelings are completely normal.  It'd be abnormal NOT to have doubts and reservations at going for 100 miles for the first time.  And those feelings can be overpowering and even debilitating.

So here's what I emailed back.  Not that I'm THE expert (I've really only run 100 miles 3 times, to include Umstead in 2010) or anything, I'm just passing along some thoughts that might help.

I was pretty nervous the last few weeks prior to the race last year but can't really say there was fear per se. 

But I have had unreasonable but real fear.  A good analogy is when I went back to grad school and the first few days of class it seemed as though everyone else was young and sharp and what the heck was I even doing there?!  But then I said to myself, calm down, you've always done well in academia, this will be no different.  And it was OK after the initial shock but I did feel crazy with fear for about a week.  Anxious, sleepless, etc.

So...I get it that you're quite nervous. And fear is not an unreasonable response.  Everyone is different.

My words of wisdom are simply these--nobody is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to run.  This is a voluntary quest for excellence.  I think the best approach is simply to adopt a relaxed and playful attitude toward the run and let the chips fall where they may. 

It's not life or death, it's not a must-win situation, it's an optional activity that should be fun.  Meeting your goals would be nice, exceeding them would be better, but if you don't it's not the end of the world.

You're well trained, you're healthy, you are an experienced athlete, I'm sure you have a solid race plan figured just remember, RELAXED AND PLAYFUL!


Friday, March 25, 2011

Forgetfulness...and Ultrarunning

The Writer's Almanac seldom fails to please. Those nice people are kind enough to send me a free daily literary infusion. 

On March 22nd the featured lead-in piece was a poem by Billy Collins.  I know, when most of you see or think poetry you can't run away fast enough.  You're trail runners, by god, and are tough and physical.

But be cerebral for a moment, bear with me, and at least skim the short poem that follows.  It really resonated with me because I am slowly falling into that forgetfulness pit.  I read this poem and I said, "I get it.  That's soon gonna be me."

Forgetfulness by Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.

No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

As long as I don't lose my memories of and love for many happy hours spent on the trail....


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Social Security...and Ultrarunning

From Jill at Brilliant at Breakfast on 16 March:

I realize that it seems churlish to talk about money when there are people in Japan cooking and living outdoors in the snow because their town has been turned to rubble and there are four nuclear reactors within 50 miles of what used to be their home that are FUBAR, and their government is at best clueless and at worst lying through its collective teeth to them.

But if you DO have retirement savings invested with companies like Vanguard and Fidelity and the other companies where many of us have some 401(k) money stashed, you may not want to look at your balances right now...because the Dow-Jones Industrial Average is down 430 points this week and the S&P 500 is now in negative territory for the year.

Kind of makes you wish there was some kind of retirement vehicle you could rely on, doesn't it? Something where you wouldn't even feel the money taken out of your check, but when you retire you'd be guaranteed a certain amount every month so that you could do things like keep a roof over your head and a few boxes of Kraft mac 'n' cheez in the house? There's something like that here in the US, but if the Republicans have their way, it might not be around in its current form for much longer.

Jill then links to an NPR article, quoting the following:

Social Security has long been considered the third rail in American politics — those who touch it risk getting a huge shock. And yet on Capitol Hill, there's a growing drumbeat from Republicans to revise the rules of the nation's premier retirement program as part of a larger push to rein in deficit spending. For them, it's an article of faith that Social Security's days are numbered. They want Democrats — especially President Obama — to join their cause, and share whatever political pain may come with it.

Republicans also believe the very best time to fix Social Security is now, during a time of divided government when both Democrats and Republicans can share ownership of any changes. Last week on the Senate floor, freshman Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky demanded an overhaul of Social Security and acknowledged the danger.

The irony of it all is that Social security is not, in fact, in trouble. As a matter of fact, it is happily solvent through at least 2039.  And with minor tweaks, pretty much forever after that. For a more in-depth look at solvency and the non-crisis, see Blue Girl's post here, "What Social Security Crisis?":

The fact of the matter is, in case you are one of the people in this country to whom facts matter, Social Security is a self funding entity, independent of the general fund. It funds itself entirely through payroll taxes, and so long as payroll taxes are collected, retirees will get their checks. The only way that changes is if Congress acts to stop collecting payroll taxes or to outright abolish the program.

When I think of my mother’s last few years of life as a widow, living within her means on a small union pension and Social Security, I wonder how her finances (and those of millions of other seniors) would have turned out had President Bush somehow managed to privatize Social Security….just in time for the big Wall street implosion.

As a Federal employee under the old Civil Service Retirement System, I don't pay into Social Security and will not draw any benefits.  But permit me the luxury of stretching the truth here to figuratively include me in the pool and say that we Ultrarunners will be much better off in our old age if Social Security is treated as a sacred contract that continues to function exactly as designed nearly 80 years ago--an insurance policy with guaranteed benefits.

We can all rest easier and run easier in our old age.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

One-Way or Destination Runs…and Ultrarunning

Tuesday morning my trusty old Ford F-150 pickup truck had to go see the car doc. It’s not seriously ill and should be as good as new shortly. But with the bride and I working at different times and in different directions, sometime shuttles to/from the shop are logistically a bit tough.

So today I arose early and drove the truck to the garage and ran home. I call this sort of run a “destination run,” meaning that it’s a purposeful, one-way route. The garage is exactly 10 miles from home, and despite it being morning commute time, the rural roads I run on were not exactly clogged with traffic. Sure, I wore reflection and carried a flashlight for visibility, but by and large it was a pretty pleasant stroll through Franklin County.

Heard a couple wild turkeys, and enjoyed the large moon, just past full. Venus was prominent in the east, low in the sky but with discernable diameter and a distinct yellowish cast. Soon Venus faded out and the pink sky took over. I guess sailors are bummed out today: ”Red sky at morning, Sailors take warning/Red sky at night, Sailors delight.”

I’ve used this one-way technique with great success in trail running as well. When you run alone, as I often do, you either have to do an out-n-back on the trail or devise a loop course to avoid backtracking. In either case you’re closer to your vehicle. However, if you throw in either a planned drop-off or a planned pick-up , then your effective distance of new trail can double without backtracking.

For example, I’ve had my carpool drop me off at the Appalachian Trail crossing on US RT 11 in Cumberland County, PA, and run some 30 miles south to Pine Grove Furnace State Park where the bride picked me up. Or drove alone to a trailhead, did a long one-way run, and again the bride picked me up at the other end, then we circled back to grab my car on the way home. You can come up with some other scenarios, but these one-way or destination runs always seem to go fast and easy—it’s a fun feeling akin to the day before Thanksgiving or some other holiday—expectant anticipation.

Give it a try!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Libya...and the Constitution

I'm not going to get into the pros and the cons, I'm not a Mideastern expert.  But what I would like to explore a bit is the process by which we began to hurl Tomahawk missiles at COL Kaddafi's air defenses.

I will simply never understand the view that the Constitution allows the President unilaterally to commit the nation to prolonged military conflict in another country -- especially in non-emergency matters having little to do with self-defense -- but just consider what candidate Barack Obama said about this matter when -- during the campaign -- he responded in writing to a series of questions regarding executive power from Charlie Savage, then of The Boston Globe:

Q. In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? (Specifically, what about the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites -- a situation that does not involve stopping an IMMINENT threat?)

OBAMA:  The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent.

Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution of the United States, reserves to Congress the power to declare war.  For some reason President Obama did not seek such a declaration from Congress, nor has Congress taken any concrete steps to debate the notion of military enforcement of a Libyan no-fly zone.

Matt Yglesias has more.  He also points out the same disconnect above between Obama's words then, as a senator, and now, as the President.  Matt then goes on to talk about the abdication by Congress of the authority to use our military:

But the one observation I would make about this, is that while the trend toward undeclared military incursions is often described as a kind of presidential "power grab" it's much more accurately described as a congressional abdication of responsibility. Even if you completely leave the declaration of war business aside, congress' control over the purse strings still gives a determined congressional majority ample latitude to restrain presidential foreign policy. The main reason congress tends, in practice, not to use this authority is that congress rarely wants to. Congressional Democrats didn't block the "surge" in Iraq, congressional Republicans didn't block the air war in Kosovo, etc. And for congress, it's quite convenient to be able to duck these issues. Handling Libya this way means that those members of congress who want to go on cable and complain about the president's conduct are free to do so, but those who don't want to talk about Libya can say nothing or stay vague. Nobody's forced to take a vote that may look bad in retrospect, and nobody in congress needs to take responsibility for the success or failure of the mission. If things work out well in Libya, John McCain will say he presciently urged the White House to act. If things work out poorly in Libya, McCain will say he consistently criticized the White House's fecklessness. Nobody needs to face a binary "I endorse what Obama's doing / I oppose what Obama's doing" choice.

Which is all just to say that presidents will go back to accepting congressional authorization for the use of force as a binding constraint when congress starts actually wanting that authority.
Take a stand, Congress, that's why you're there!


Monday, March 21, 2011

Ultrarunning Insults

So we're are war again...I'm still trying to digest that one. 

Rather than shoot from the hip and comment upon our intervention in Libya, let's instead talk about some politeness on the trail, shall we?

I am getting older and my hair is largely gray mixed with blond.  Of late I have found myself being referred to as "Sir" when strangers speak to me.

I can understand that happening in public, on the street, after all, it's just the polite thing to do.  But it now has happened in Ultra races.  As in, "Looking good, sir!" when being passed by someone half my age. 

Seriously, this has happened.  More than once.  "Looking good, sir!"

So...I am going to study this clip (and the original as well).  I want to be prepared.  Next time somebody passes me in a race and uses the S word, I swear, I'm gonna unleash hell on them in the form of a torrent of insults such as the world has never seen or heard.

Check out the clip, here and embedded below:


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Cats in Art: Return of Odysseus

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art. I'm using some ideas from the coffee table book, The Cat in Art, by Stefano Zuffi.

Image credit hereThe Return of Odysseus (or Penelope with the Suitors, fresco transferred to canvas, c. 1509, Pinturicchhio (Bernardino di Betto)

The scene represents the explorer returning--with other suitors--to Penelope.  Inexplicably, the suitors are demanding that she finish her weaving work.  Zuffi tells us:

One of the most important figures in the scene is the large cat in the foreground, delighted to have caught a ball of thread to play with.  For him, clearly, Penelope's weaving is no problem at all.

Ball of thread?  Cat playing?  Hello--that's a match made in heaven.  Maybe one of the suitors will play with me?


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Race in 2 Weeks!

I ran this race in 2010, but am not entered this year.  I will be there in spirit, and the race will never be far from my mind throughout that weekend.

The race is in 2 short weeks, on Saturday 2 April.  The training is done--or should be.  You can only screw things up now by training hard.  Your goal is just to keep your legs loose and uninjured, and your overall health OK, going into race day.

Finishing a 100 mile race is an accomplishment that puts you into a very elite group.  Back in 1998 when I finished my first 100 at Massanutten, VA, I once did the math: 

In 1997, less than 1000 separate individuals completed a 100 mile race in North America.  That's 1 out of 250,000 Americans (.0004%--4 ten thousandths of one percent--of the U.S. population), or even less if you add in the 30 million Canadians. 

The numbers are no doubt up now in 2011, but the principle remains: You are elite--keep repeating that! 

Program for success.  Don't even think "If I finish...", you can only say, "When I finish...."  You will experience some bad patches, but make a pact with yourself ahead of time that the only acceptable reason to drop is if continuing the race would cause injury.  If your knee hurts or your stomach is sick, but it's not the type of symptom that indicates further damage if you proceed, then you keep on going. 

You walk if you have to, but you keep moving forward at all costs.  And the symptoms will abate and the running will again get easier.  Seriously.  Some learned Ultrarunner--I forget who--once said "It never always keeps getting worse," meaning that at some point the difficulty will resolve and get easier.

All your hard work in training is about to bear fruit. You are elite! 


Friday, March 18, 2011

Busting Contracts

From BuzzFlash:

Does anyone else recall this and appreciate the irony with respect to the recent push towards union-busting?

Conservatives' One-Way Contractual Integrity

Curiously when voters and some legislators decried the huge bonuses for bankers and Wall Street operators, especially those who had benefited from government bailouts, the answer was that firms were contractually obligated to abide by previously drafted agreements. Yet when cities and states struggle with budgeting shortfalls, contracts with municipal employees are not considered sacrosanct and in fact often become targets for deficit reduction by fiat.

Hypocritical thugs.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Climate Change Denial

Talking Points Memo is one of my daily reads.  An excerpt from Wednesday (and you should read the entire article):

Thirty-one Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee -- the entire Republican contingent on the panel -- declined on Tuesday to vote in support of the very idea that climate change exists.

Democrats on the panel had suggested three amendments that said climate change is a real thing, is caused by humans and has potentially dire consequences for the future. The amendments came on a Republican bill to block the EPA from offering regulations to mitigate the results of global climate shifts. The global scientific community is in near unanimous agreement that climate change is real, and that humans contribute to it.

Now that's some forward thinking.  Don't these dolts have children?  Grandchildren?  Party loyalty evidently trumps everything, including one's moral sense of what's right.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Night Runs, Part 2

Yesterday I posted about walking and running with the bride, and about seeing Venus in all its glory.

Today I want to post about simply running at night. 

Being male, I seldom have to worry about my personal safety as women do.  My rural nocturnal runs from my home are presumed to be safe, and whenever I travel for work, I make it a point not to run anywhere and anytime that would be stupid.

That said, if you think about Ultraunning, in races and frequently in training we run at night on trails.  Think about that, and how it runs so counter to conventional wisdom about staying safe.  We run in the woods at night, often alone.

That is an incredible statement about the level of commitment that we ultrarunners have to our sport.

But what is even more remarkable to me is that we actually don't think that running alone on trails at night is particularly remarkable.  Again, this may well be skewed by my maleness and the inherent safety factor that entails, but I never feel unsafe in the woods at night.  I view it as an opportunity that few people experience, to their detriment.  I'm a richer man for doing that sort of activity.

No bogieman, no bad guys, just me, the trail, and my headlamp (or flashlight).  And a rich experience of physicality, focus, and I guess spirituality that you just don't get in daylight.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Night Running

Was up early with the bride and went out with her for her morning walk since I was home today anyway for teleworking. We did a 2 mile loop then I stayed out for a couple more miles of running.
With the switch to Daylight Savings Time it is again dark @ 0530. Since it was clear, Venus was very prominent in the low eastern horizon and had a discernable diameter. Plus—and this was the really cool part—it had a noticeable yellowish cast. Colors in celestial objects are way cool (e.g., the red of the star Betelgeuse; the icy twinkling of Sirius; the reddish hue of Mars).

We’ve all seen the photos of the earth from the moon, and it sure is blue from that close. I wonder if the Earth looks blue from a far distance when the observer would see a disk like we see the size of Venus?

The other thing about night running is preserving your night vision. I always wear a baseball cap just so I can shield my eyes against car headlights and streetlights when I pass civilization. In the winter I go so far as to wear a knit cap to cover my ears over my baseball cap. I love being able to see things well at night and the bill of the cap really helps.

Once I saw on Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters show the hypothesis that pirates wore eye patches over one eye—a good eye—just so when they would go below decks after having boarded another ship they could flip up the patch and have instant night vision in that eye. Sounds possible, even plausible, but unless a written account is found to corroborate that hypothesis, it remains just a Mythbusters shtick.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Quilting...and Ultrarunning

Yesterday, I did not run.  Instead, the bride and I made day-long trip to Towson, MD, a suburb of Baltimore, to attend a quilt show.

The show was put on by the Baltimore Heritage Quilters Guild.  I quickly learned that you have "your grandmother's quilt" (traditional)...

...and you have your more modern and expressive quilts (contemporary):

Frankly, this was an art show, using fabric.  These quilts--over 250 on display--were visually stunning.

The connection to Ultrarunning?  In the contemporary category there were any number of quits that featured outdoor themes: animals, nature scapes, the sea,  the heavens, and even a series that featured native American pictographs.  All things that we Ultrarunners see every day in our backcountry excursions.  See and hopefully appreciate.

And the same craft mentality that many of us bring to the sport of Ultrarunning was also there, in spades.  Hours of time invested in an endeavor that many would deem irrelevant and tedious.  A passion for perfection.  Attention to details.

Bottom line: if you EVER get a chance to go to a quilt show, do it.  You will not be disappointed.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cats in Art: Last Supper (Rosselli)

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art. I'm using some ideas from the coffee table book, The Cat in Art, by Stefano Zuffi.

Two weeks ago I put up another version of the Last Supper, by Huguet. Last week, same subject, that time by Domenico Ghirlandaio.  This week, again the same topic (didn't those guys have any other ideas?), this time with the cat in the right foreground having an altercation with a dog.
Image credit here.  From Zuffi:
Last Supper, 1482
Fresco, 111.5' x 7.3', Sistine Chapel, Vatican City
It is to Cosimo Rosselli that we are indebted for the presence of a cat in Catholicism's most sacred place, the space in which the most solemn papa; ceremonies, including papal conclaves, are held...This is without doubt one of the most suggestive and realistic images of a cat in art from the second half of the fifteenth century.  The color of its fur, with its gray and white stripes, and its aggressive pose toward the dog--which seems to want to steal the cat's bone--all hint at the new cultural significance that the cat, now freed from its medieval heritage, has acquired in humanist culture.
I just like the cat.  It's feisty!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Distances in Space...and Ultrarunning

Bad Astronomy doesn't disappoint, as usual.  From a Phil Plait post on 24 Feb:

How far away is the moon?  I’m sometimes asked what’s the one thing I wish people would understand better about the Universe. My answer is always the same: scale. We humans have a miserable sense of just how big space is, and I’ve spent a lot of time over the years working out ways to express it better.

Most people don’t really grasp just how far away the Moon is, and it’s the closest astronomical object in the sky!

Phil then helpfully embedded this video to show the relationship:

I run about a hundred miles a month (I am busy, and can train low and still run LONG on race day).  Astronomical distances utterly fascinate me and I can't get enough of trying to understand such vast scales.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Taxpayer Budgeting

Ran across an interesting report of how the American taxpayer--not the President and not the Congress--would go about wrestling with deficits, etc.

From World Public

An innovative study has found that when a representative sample of the American public was presented the federal budget, they proposed changes far different from those the Obama administration or the Republican-led House have proposed.

The biggest difference in spending is that the public favored deep cuts in defense spending, while the administration and the House propose modest increases. However, the public also favored more spending on job training, education, and pollution control than did either the administration or the House. On average the public made a net reduction of $146 billion--far more than either the administration or the House called for.

While there were some partisan differences in the magnitude of spending changes, in two out of three cases average Republicans, Democrats and independents agreed on which items should be cut or increased.

The public also showed readiness to increase taxes by an average of $292 billion--again, far more than either the administration or the House.

Some of the details are revealing about how "we" would prioritize versus what the establishment would.  It's a good mix of cuts and revenue increases:

On average respondents made net spending cuts of $145.7 billion. The largest cuts included those to defense ($109.4 billion), intelligence ($13.1 billion), military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq ($12.8 billion) and the federal highway system ($4.6 billion)--all of which were cut by majorities.

On average respondents increased revenues by $291.6 billion. The largest portion was from income taxes which were raised by an average of $154.8 billion above the levels currently in place. Majorities increased taxes on incomes over $100,000 by 5% or more and increased them by 10% or more for incomes over $500,000.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tales from the Perimeter: Chuck Norris Cat

Image credit here.

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.

The following is an email I sent to my running buddies the other day.  By way of introductory explanation, for some inexplicable reason, I am totally smitten by Chuck Norris jokes.  I LOVE them.  On the other hand, one of our group (Jack), does not embrace Chuck Norris jokes whatsoever.  He is not neutral on the subject: he doesn't like them, doesn't get them, and doesn't think they are funny.

Jack, of course, is dead wrong.

Oh, and "The Horse" is a retired member of our group, with a build like a linebacker but still a very good runner.

Running Homies,

This one is especially for Jack, since he no doubt has been on Chuck Norris deprivation during his recent cruise with the lovely bride. Jack, I know you declared a CN moratorium but I BEG you to make an exception in this case and view the attached photo.

Obviously (and sadly), the dog, of course, did not survive the roundhouse kick.

I am on travel this week to the Springfield VA area, and tonight--in honor of The Horse--I elected to stay at the hotel and enjoy a couple beers rather than try to run on streets around this god-forsaken semi-urban hellhole.


My apologies to any readers who live, work, or run in the greater DC area.  When I use the term "semi-urban hellhole" it only means in contrast to my rural existence, where running on the rural roads around my home, I usually encounter maybe 1 car per mile. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Stinking Badges...and Ultrarunning

Not long ago, the bride and I watched Treasure of the Sierra Madre, with Humphrey Bogart, just because it's a classic we had never seen.

We were amazed to see this iconic clip in the film and realized that this movie was the source.  Maybe that's common knowledge, but not to me or the bride.  Yet another reason to watch the classics--they are classics for a reason, and you learn things.

The link to Ultrarunning is that you put on your running shoes and head out onto a trail.  Depending on your plans, you may wish to carry along some greater or lesser amount of gear to make your run safer or more comfortable. 

But the bottom line is that you don't need any stinking badges.  The activity and its practitioners are a laid-back, forgiving, and welcoming lot.  No prerequisites mandated, you just run. 

And that's the simple, elegant beauty of Ultrarunning.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011


[Note--this may have been posted already on Monday but it wasn't supposed to go up until Tues AM.  Blogger software seems to be working strangely today]

I liberated this photo--I think--from a magazine in a doctor's office (it may have even been People, although I am loathe to admit the fact that I would even touch such a publication).  I make this confession because as a writer and dabbler in media, it is vitally important to me that proper credit be given to sourcing.

Unfortunately, in this case, I cannot credit my source due to my lack of knowledge, or I absolutely would.

Anyway, I keep this 8.5 x 11 print on the wall of my cubicle at work, and you would not believe how many comments it evokes.  It's almost as if Einstein himself were standing there.

No nexus with Ultrarunning, other than the fact that Albert looks pretty buff, although his fitness isn't reminiscent of a runner's physique.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Harshman Road...and Ultrarunning (part 2)

Part 1 was here.

This is how my beloved Harshman Road looked a few weeks back.  Now the snow has vanished and the farmers' fields with winter wheat are noticeably greening up.

Smack in the middle of Harshman Road, an old railroad crosses that branched off the main north-south line and went west some 15 miles or so to Mercersburg.  Now the tracks are all removed except this half mile section that bisects Harshman Road. 

I love this type of running--even if not on a trail--because of the sense of history and tradition that one can experience.  These railroad tracks go nowhere today but certainly recall the glory days of railroading before truck transportation became ubiquitous.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Cats in Art: Last Supper (Ghirlandaio)

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art. I'm using some ideas from the coffee table book, The Cat in Art, by Stefano Zuffi.

Last week I put up another version of the Last Supper, by Huguet.  In this image by Domenico Ghirlandaio, the cat in the foreground is a bit smaller and less prominent, but much closer to Christ.

Image and comment credits hereLast Supper: Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494, fresco, 1480, held by Museu Di San Marco, Refectory, Florence, Italy.
With customary ease, Ghirlandaio fills the lunettes with large trees and birds in flight against a bright sky whose light is reflected onto the right-hand wall where an open window frames a perching peacock. The rest is in shadow. Two flower-displays complete the frame which encloses the space. A cat, waiting patiently for a hoped-for scrap of meat, lends a touch of intimacy and domesticity that is rarely lacking in Ghirlandaio.

So...over 500 years ago, Ghirlandaio paints a fresco that still exists today, and in it captures so well the "touch of intimacy and domesticity" that is the embodiment of cats.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Pictures of Cats Winning

What's not to like about this site, Pictures of Cats Winning?  Looks like a strong left hook by the kitty.  Hard to tell how badly the dog was stung--probably a standing 8-count.

This is just one of several photos of this type.  Better go over there and check them out.


Friday, March 4, 2011

More XM Radio...and Ultrarunning

The Ultrarunning content is at the end, relating to this video.

Wednesday on the way in to work we had a carpool snafu. While I had been expecting to be a passenger (and snoozing!) for the 1-hour trip, I wound up unexpectedly driving alone because the other driver thought I was not coming in, and our other two people were out as well.

XM Radio assuaged my troubled psyche by serving up a plethora of "sing-along songs" on the 60s channel. Here's a partial list:

Red Rubber Ball (Cyrcle)
98.6 (Keith)
Soul Deep (Boxtops)
She's Not There (Zombies)
Hello Goodbye (Beatles)
Woodstock (Crosby, Stills, Nash + Young)
My Girl (Temptations)
California Dreamin' (Mama and Papas)

My throat became sore from singing (I do not subject my carpool mates to singing, which is reserved for only when I am alone).

Oh, and the Ultrarunning connection?  Thursday when I ran Harshman Road at daybreak, the morning sun was shining like a red rubber ball.  I have to look up the atmospheric physics of that phenomenon, but we've all seen it and it's a striking effect.  Plus I was also thinking, how many people in our circle of acquaintances are ever deliberately on foot and outside when the sun rises?  Not many, I'd venture to say.  Great great day to be alive and running.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Interest & Commitment...and Ultrarunning

So speaketh Art Turock, motivational speaker and management theorist:
There's a difference between interest and commitment. When you're interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstances permit. When you're committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.

I submit that we Ultrarunners are both interested and committed--with a strong accent on committed--to our sport to an extent not seen among your typical weekend warrior.  Ultrarunning engenders a sort of laid-back passion, a feeling that we get it, we have transcended other forms of running, and in our commitment to the backcountry sport we have arrived at the Promised Land. 

I suppose that notion of transcendence could be labeled elitist, but to me it's kinda analogous to the thought that "It's not bragging if you can do it." Meaning that in Ultrarunning we really do transcend and function on a higher level.  We are committed, but still take the time to smell the roses.

Perhaps I'm babbling, but this sport has given me so much and asked so little in return.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Taxation...and Ultrarunning

Via Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing, always a good read.   Cory in turn was tapping Think Progress, here.

This, my friends, is an excellent question.

Why are America's largest corporations paying no tax?

Inspired by the UK Uncut movement, Americans are taking to the street, asking why they're being asked to tighten their belts when the largest corporations in the country are paying no tax at all:

- BANK OF AMERICA: In 2009, Bank of America didn't pay a single penny in federal income taxes, exploiting the tax code so as to avoid paying its fair share. "Oh, yeah, this happens all the time," said Robert Willens, a tax accounting expert interviewed by McClatchy. "If you go out and try to make money and you don't do it, why should the government pay you for your losses?" asked Bob McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice. The same year, the mega-bank's top executives received pay "ranging from $6 million to nearly $30 million."

- BOEING: Despite receiving billions of dollars from the federal government every single year in taxpayer subsidies from the U.S. government, Boeing didn't "pay a dime of U.S. federal corporate income taxes" between 2008 and 2010.

- CITIGROUP: Citigroup's deferred income taxes for the third quarter of 2010 amounted to a grand total of $0.00. At the same time, Citigroup has continued to pay its staff lavishly. "John Havens, the head of Citigroup's investment bank, is expected to be the bank's highest paid executive for the second year in a row, with a compensation package worth $9.5 million."

This is beyond insane.  Yet with the partisan gridlock paralyzing Congress, can you possibly imagine that we can revise the tax code?  I'll give you a hint: the answer is NO. 

The link to Ultrarunning?  I spend more on my running shoes than several of America's largest corporations together spend in corporate taxes.

(Gary note: I take Cory and the source blog, Think Progress, at their word as careful and respected blogs.  I have not fact-checked this article)


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Well Done, Mr. President!

I am not being facetious--the administration is on the right side here, meaning the right side of history was well as the right moral stance.

Consenting adults who love one another and wish to marry should not be excluded from that institution just because they happened to be born gay.

Via Melissa at Shakesville

After careful consideration, including a review of my recommendation, the President has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny. The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA [which defines marriage for federal purposes as only between a man and a woman], as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional. Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in such cases. I fully concur with the President's determination.

Consequently, the Department will not defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA as applied to same-sex married couples in the two cases filed in the Second Circuit.

—Eric H. Holder, Jr., Attorney General of the United States, in a statement regarding the Defense of Marriage Act's federal definition of marriage as only between a man and a woman, announcing that "this Administration will no longer assert its constitutionality in court."