Saturday, April 30, 2011

Mama Duck, Ducklings...and Ultrarunning

While on this business trip to Newport News, VA, I posted here yesterday running the Noland Trail.

What a local treasure!  This trail has everything, and is a great Mecca for local trail runners--and business travelers/tourists like me.

One of the points I mentioned in my post was seeing a mama duck and her 8 ducklings.  The babies happily paddled (I know, I'm anthropomorphizing) behind her as she crossed Lake Maury.  I was reminded of a book I once read about a mother and a small son, that contained a quote along the lines of " we went, hand in hand, not knowing where we were going...but you thought that I did."

Seeing the mama duck made me think of my relationship with my kids and grandchildren.  She needs to teach her babies about food and shelter and staying safe.  For my part, at first glance, the knowledge that I can impart to the Mister Tristans of the world (the 3 year old human being, not the blog) is mostly relevant to Ultrarunning.  I can easily pass on and teach him about the techniques, the technologies, the philosophy, the how-to, etc. of the sport.  I feel entirely at ease in doing that--provided he is interested and willing--it's well within my comfort zone.  I only hope he has the interest.

But in the real world, Ultrarunning doesn’t amount to a pinch of crap. Ultrarunning is a way of feeling good about ourselves, to augment our already-OK existence.  What really matters, and what I need to convey to Mister Tristan, is how to be a good man, how treat all living things and the environment with love and respect.  In that sense what I am doing is little different from what the mama duck is doing--giving her offspring the knowledge necessary not only to survive, but to thrive.

I want Mister Tristan to thrive.  That's the reason I am so down on many of our politicians, who seemingly are more interested in reelection than in doing what's right for their descendants. As I always say, have they no children?  No grandchildren?


Friday, April 29, 2011

Urban Parks (Newport News, VA): The Noland Trail

Whenever I travel on business, I always do my homework ahead of time to try to scope out some place to run.  In this case I traveled to Newport News, VA, part of the greater Norfolk area, and had ascertained that there was a 5-mile wooded trail—the Noland Trail--around a lake at the Mariners’ Museum.  This trail was a gift back in 1991 from the Noland family to the Mariners’ Museum.
Well, this site was located only about 3 miles away from the conference hotel, so to the Noland Trail I went after work one day.  I was prepared to almost be condescending about this trail.  After all, one website I was on speculated whether the clockwise direction on the 5 mile loop was tougher than the counterclockwise direction due to the uphills.  I’m thinking, for crying out loud, it’s a LOOP located in a virtually flat geographic area—what hills?
Then when I began running the trail—a nice sandy or gravel 5’ wide path—I noticed that any roots impinging on the trail had been painted orange as warning against tripping.  Again I was inclined to be condescending about the sissy nature of the trail.
But then I took off my grizzled old Ultrarunner persona, quit looking down my nose, and became a grandfather again.  I thought, this urban trail is a real treasure.  It’s a breath of fresh air amidst lots of civilization, roads, and cars.  It’s beautiful!  There were dozens of people on foot, many walking and many running.  It’s extremely family-friendly.  Toddlers walk on this trail; moms and dads push babies in strollers here.  The orange root warnings are not inappropriate.  The hills are gentle but if you’re with little ones, you might well want to consider clockwise vs. counterclockwise (or vice versa).
When I started running the trail, within a mile I had seen a Great Blue Heron, really close.  And seagulls.  And a mama duck trailed by about 8 babies swimming on the lake brought a big smile to my face.  Then, on this easy urban trail with painted roots, I caught a toe and came within a whisker of going down—not once, but twice—within about half a mile.  I will say the hills were not formidable; I ran the entire loop twice, once in each direction, and ran the whole way.  That said, if I were in an actual ultra I probably would have walked some of the hills as the trail rounded various points of the lake.
Oh, and the official motto of the trail, which was inscribed on stones at the various trailheads, was nothing short of awesome:
Today I have grown taller from walking with the trees (Karle Wilson Baker).

If you are in the area, you should make it a point to run this trail.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

MIL-Speak, Version 2

Several weeks ago I posted here about the military's propensity for making verbs out of nouns or otherwise corrupting the conventional usage of language, a process I called MIL-Speak.  In that post I discussed the use of the words consensed (verb), footstamp (verb), offramp (verb), propensed (adjective), and churn (noun).

Well, I'm at another conference and the words are being abused again here.  Must happen automatically when you get a critical mass of military folks together in one place.  The egregious example today is the word "architect."  No, not the person who designs buildings.  I'm talking here about the act or process of designing something.  You know, the verb form, as in: "We are here to architect a new logistics system."

If I applied that same logic to Ultrarunning, I could come up with a whole raft of new words.  Rather than say that I'm stopping at this next aid station, I could just say, "I'm going to aid station here."  Or instead of drinking, I could say that "I'll water bottle now."  And if I'm going to change my footwear at a drop bag, I'd say "It's time to drop bag and shoe."

Or when it comes time to fill out an entry form for my next race, I'll simply have to corrupt the noun "entry" into a verb.  Never mind that we already have a perfectly functional verb, "enter."  Nope, I must instead say "I'm going to entry the JFK this year."


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Heart of an Ultrarunner

As I write this I am sitting in Newport News, VA, attending  a conference dealing with the automation of logistics systems for the visibility of assets.  In other words, tracking shipments thru the supply chain from manufacturer to the end military user customer.
Or, let's put it layman’s terms.  We are trying to answer the age old question that’s been the realm of military logisticians since the Roman Legions: Where’s My Stuff?
Anyway, as I sit here I took my pulse as I sometimes do when I’m sitting quietly.  My pulse checked in at 53, a number that has gradually climbed over the years.  I’m thinking how my heart quietly and steadily beats, always there, pumping my blood day in and day out, hours by hour, minute by minute, contracting every 1 to 1 ½ seconds for up to a century, without conscious direction, without rest, without redundancy (unlike, say, kidneys or lungs).
If that’s not a great system, I don’t know what is.
So, Ultrarunners, let’s salute our hearts, the engines that propel us without us ever really thinking much about it…unless the engine develops a miss or worse.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Wolves...and Ultrarunning

From the New York Times (12 April 2011):

Congress for the first time is directly intervening in the Endangered Species List and removing an animal from it, establishing a precedent for political influence over the list that has outraged environmental groups.

A rider to the Congressional budget measure agreed to last weekend dictates that wolves in Montana and Idaho be taken off the endangered species list and managed instead by state wildlife agencies, which is in direct opposition to a federal judge’s recent decision forbidding the Interior Department to take such an action.

While the language on the Rocky Mountain wolves was a tiny item in budgetary terms, environmental groups said it set an unnerving precedent by letting Congress, rather than a science-based federal agency, remove endangered species protections.

I've seen wild wolves in Yellowstone, and it was one of the highlights of my life.  I don't often get to run out west where wolves exist, but is one of my dreams to see one on a trail somewhere.

That probably won't happen just because my work trips won't put me at the right place at the right time.  But it definitely won't happen if our Congress keeps putting politics ahead of science, children, common sense...and a sense of wonder at things wild and free.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Amanda, Taking Cat Independence to New Levels

Cat thought balloon: "I think I'll bask here awhile.  That's why this chair is here anyway, right?"

This cat was a rescue kitten, found in a dumpster with two siblings and her mother.  Named Amanda--now just called Mana thanks to young granddaughter who couldn't say Amanda--she was the only one of the 4 cats to survive.

Bottle fed, one would think that Mana would have an especially close and loving bond with humans.  One would be quite wrong.

Mana takes feline independence to new highs, and will generally only let you pet her about 3 strokes before she fake bites you, followed by a real bite on stroke number 4.  Yet in the evenings she will hop up onto my lap--provided I respect the 3 stroke limit--and lay there for a long time, purring contentedly until she gets too warm or something and hops off.

My secret weapon: if I pick her up, often she will cry or hiss, but I quickly flip her onto her back with her head cradled in my left hand and with my right arm the main support under the length of her back, with my right hand fingers massaging her shoulder blades.  It's like those alligator wranglers putting an alligator to sleep but stroking it a certain way.  She will purr blissfully and remain there for minutes, until my arms get tired.  Then I put her down.

Oh, and when she was little, if you annoyed her she would bite the closest part of your body.  I remember one time a dog chased her part way up a tree and I tried to calm her and lift her out of the tree.  My face was closest to her so she bit me on the cheek.

I guess it's a sign of progress that she hasn't bitten me in the face lately.  And I love her to death.

 This sink is MINE.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cats in Art: The Family of Adam and Eve (Pourbus)

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 here.  The Family of Adam and Eve, Frans Pourbus the Elder, c. 1570, Oil on wood, held by Residenzgalerie, Salzburg, Austria.

I guess the family consisted of Mom, Dad, 2 children, a goat, a dog, a monkey, 2 cows or such in the right rear...and of course, a cat.

Zuffi points out:

...the splendid figure of the large cat in the bottom right-hand corner--almost reclining, yet also vigilant and on the alert, its staring eyes focused on the big, gentle dog found at the opposite edge of the painting.

I don't think the cat is watching the dog.  Any cat worth his or her salt would be watching the monkey.  Duh.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

I Think I Have a New Hero...and Ultrarunning

Emil Zatopek

I ran across this quote somewhere on the West Virginia Mountain Trail Runners web site, and Googled Emil Zatopek to try to find the context of the quote.

There is a great advantage in training under unfavorable conditions.

Emil Zatopek was a Czech runner--much along the lines of the later American runner, Steve Prefontaine--who kicked some serious butt at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.

Zatopek not only won the 5,000 meters, the 10,000 meters, and the marathon, but he did this within a span of only 8 days, and set Olympic records in all three events! 

Zatopke was a road runner, not a trail runner, but his passion for perfection ceratinly has parallels in Ultrarunning:

"When a person trains once, nothing happens. When a person forces himself to do a thing a hundred or a thousand times, then he certainly has developed in more ways than physical.  Is it raining? That doesn't matter. Am I tired? That doesn't matter, either.  Then willpower will be no problem."


We forget our bodies to the benefit of mechanical leisure. We act continuously with our brain, but we no longer use our bodies, our limbs....We have a magnificent motor at our disposal, but we no longer know how to use it."

I found more, much more. We would all do well to emulate Emil Zatopek.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Environmental Regulation = Bad (in Maine, anyway)

From Matt Yglesias at Think Progress, something to turn your stomach if you love things wild and free.

On what planet can a state's chief executive think this is a good idea?

Weeks after he was sworn in as governor of Maine, Paul LePage, a Tea Party favorite, announced a 63-point plan to cut environmental regulations, including opening three million acres of the North Woods for development and suspending a law meant to monitor toxic chemicals that could be found in children's products.

Don't these jokers have children?  Grandchildren?  We need to revive the old sayings, like Ben Franklin's.  It was he or someone from that era who coined the phrase, Penny Wise and Pound Foolish.

It applies here.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bloodroot...and Ultrarunning

In my shady woods, one of my favorite early wildflowers is the bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).  Mine just bloomed around 15 April here in southern PA, hardiness zone 6.

The graceful white flowers with the yellow centers are perhaps 2" across, and my plants stand about 6" high.  The deeply lobed leaves come later and are very reminiscent to me of watermelon leaves.

See here and here for more details, but this was the wildflower that I originally fell in love with when we moved to this home back in 1978.  Since then I have carefully nurtured mine and saved other wild specimens from destruction in the woods adjacent to my property.

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?  When these guys come out in April, along with the Virginia Bluebell, you know it's prime long run season.  Sure, you've plowed through some long training runs over the winter, but they've been of workmanlike necessity.

Now it's time for a fun spring run!


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The People's Budget

The People's Budget

From Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo on 13 April.  This is the kind of real world budget that makes actual sense, not the political posturing that passes for a serious go at a budget. 

Kinda reminds me of the fake fights that various animals stage, just for show.  Because if they really fight, somebody will get hurt. 

Read the whole thing, but here are a couple key points that jumped out at me: 

Representatives from the 77-member House Progressive Caucus gathered at the Capitol on Wednesday to roll out their plan to cut the deficit and put the budget back into balance. Their simple solution: pull the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, install a public option for health care, raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations and voila, America is fixed.

The caucus plan, known as The People's Budget, was explained in some detail by Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs last week. Today, progressive members extolled the virtues of the plan as members sat waiting for President Obama to introduce a deficit reduction plan many Democrats worried would sacrifice necessary spending on the altar of a mistaken understanding of fiscal responsibility.

"We want to cut," [Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), co-chair of the caucus] added. What's on the progressive caucus chopping block? "Eliminating unnecessary weapons systems from the Defense Department, eliminating huge tax credits for oil and gas industries, eliminating subsidies for new nuclear power plans," Grijalva said.

The plan would "eliminate the deficit," supporters say, and put the nation budget in surplus by 2021.

I previously blogged about the budget here.  The theme is the same.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Appalachian Trail, Wet Feet, and Ultrarunning

I promised a more in-depth run report in my post yesterday.

Sunday at 0-dark-thirty, my buddy JS and I started at PA Rt 16 and headed north to Rt 233 at the village of South Mountain, and returned the same route. This cool and handy Appalachian Trail distance calculator pegs it at 10.6 one way, so it was a 21 miler.

The ostensible purpose of the run was to get a bit of headlamp running in on technical trail, but mostly to see the sun rise from Chimney Rock (AKA Buzzard Peak). We began running @ 0430, using headlamps, crossed the Old Forge road around 0530, then trudged up the long, steep hill to Chimney Rock. We got there around 0615, with official sunrise moments away (see here from the U.S. Naval Observatory for sunrise & sunset data for anywhere, any time).

I brought my small pocket Nikon camera for some sunrise photos, then we headed north for the remaining 4 miles to the Rt 233 turnaround.

The main remembrance of the day will be the WATER. The system on Saturday that spawned violent tornadoes across the southeast gave us here in southern PA some high winds and dumped well over 2" of rain. The AT was a soggy mess the morning after, running ankle deep in water in many places. Any little stream was a torrent, and the big stream you cross at the Old Forge shelter was raging.

The East Branch of Antietam Creek at Old Forge Shelter (yes, the Antietam Creek of Civil War fame)...and my best side!

Early on in my ultra career I was paranoid about running with wet feet. Coming from a marathon background--as many of us do--wet feet would appear to be the kiss of death and instantly spawn mega-blisters. Well, I vividly remember my first (accidental) controlled experiment with wet feet. I was trail running near Fort Belvoir, VA, on a business trip there, in the adjacent nature preserve. In crossing a small stream one of my feet slipped and one foot plunged into the water up the calf. The other foot remained dry.

I had to keep on running. Well, within a few minutes, certainly less than mile, the difference between my feet was indistinguishable. I ran another 10 miles or so, and finished the run with no blisters on either foot.

It makes sense when you think about it. Running in the summer, your feet sweat, big time, and I submit that you are running with wet feet anyway. It is obviously true that your feet get more wet when you go thru water, but with today's running shoe technology, the water quickly drains off and you are left with a foot that only is about as wet as it would be from sweating alone.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cats in Art: The Holy Family Around Fire (Vermeyen)

From 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 here.  Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen, 1532-1533, Oil on wood, 26'' x 20", Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Zuffi tells us:

"...our attention is caught by the presence of a handsome tabby cat in the foreground.  Our friend has chosen as always, the best spot: reclining amid the comforting folds of a cloth...."

I get it.  You put a blanket or piece of clothing or newspaper on the floor, my cats are on it in a heartbeat like it was exactly what they were waiting for.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

More XM Radio..."Old" Musical Instruments

I find myself listening largely to the 60s channel (conveniently, this is located on Channel 6), because this is the musical period in which I first came of age.

I keep noticing the usage of three particular musical instruments that you rarely hear in today's music: the organ, the tambourine, and the harpsichord.  Here are 3 classic examples of tunes from the 60s utilizing these instruments:

1.  Organ: look no further than the Doors, and the keyboard artistry of Ray Manzarek.  Just about any tune of theirs will do for an example, but the iconic example has to be Light My Fire.

2.  Tambourine: What else but Green Tambourine by The Lemon Pipers?

3.  Harpsichord:  How about Scarborough Fair by Simon + Garfunkel (with the added bonus that the YouTube link is from the movie The Graduate)?  Or Vanity Fare, with great harpsichord in Early in the Morning?

While I'm on the subject of XM Radio, sometimes I tune in The Coffee House Channel 51).  I just gotta ask--because it seems that every other song is by him--who the h*ll is Jack Johnson????


Friday, April 15, 2011

Civil War Trenches...and Ultrarunning

Image credit here.

Several years ago (1999 or 2000) I was on an extended site survey trip to Fort Lee, VA that lasted for about 7 weeks.  Thank goodness I was able to return home to southern PA every weekend. 
Fort Lee is located in Petersburg, VA, and is immediately adjacent to Petersburg National Military Park.  In fact, the two are physically contiguous, an attribute that I took advantage of in my running.
After a day of “manhole diving” (i.e., entering communications manholes underground to document cable routing) I would change into my running clothes and head on foot from the Fort Lee side into the battlefield.  The battlefield contained a one-way driving tour road right up the middle, with a decent array of trails existing on both sides of the road.
Petersburg National Battlefield Park exists to preserve a huge array of Union and Confederate trenches and earthen forts—presaging WWI some 50 years in the future—where the two great eastern armies were stalemated for some 9 months in 1864-1865.  Petersburg was the key to Richmond: if Petersburg fell, so would Richmond, and indeed that is what happened in the early spring of 1865 when the Confederacy finally collapsed.
Anyway, there is a well preserved array of trenches that exist today.  It is amazing to me just how close the opposing trenches were at certain places.  The driving tour hits many of the historically interpretative highlights, as do some of the trails.  The battlefield closes at dusk, and the National Park Service rangers were sensitive to the danger of relic hunters working the battlefield at night.  So their daily routine, which I became aware of,  was to carefully lock up the entry gate to the one-way road, patrol the length of the road, then lock up the exit gate at the other end.
With my work schedule I was usually pressing against that dusk deadline to get a decent run in.  One late afternoon I was able to get in a 10 miler but I had taken a wrong turn and it was getting dark.  I was running on a trail adjacent to the entrance road, paying attention to the trail as I headed back to the Fort Lee side, when suddenly the headlights of the ranger’s patrol car were nearly upon me.  The trail right at that point happened to be crossing a set of trenches perpendicularly, so I instinctively dove into one of the trenches to avoid detection.
I laid there for a moment until I was certain the ranger had indeed passed by…and had the thought that it’d been some 135 years since anyone had sheltered in that trench.  I laid there a bit longer, savoring the irony, that here I was, a scholar of American Civil war history (in fact, I’ve had a couple of articles published), getting down and dirty in a genuine Civil War trench.  In the twilight I could not tell whether it was a Union or Confederate trench, but I suppose that was unimportant.  In fact, it was more symbolic that I didn’t know, because it really didn’t matter. 
I wondered if human beings had died there at that actual spot where I laid.  Certainly soldiers had hugged the earth in fear for their lives in that very trench, for to raise your head in the daytime was to invite a bullet to the brain…and in the 1860s there was no such thing as neurosurgery.  You died. 
At length, and by now it was past dusk, I got up and headed back the half mile or so back to Fort Lee.  The trail was wide and sandy, easy to follow (at a walk) even without a flashlight by the remaining ambient light.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Fix for the U.S. Budget

From They Gave Us a Republic, a simple fix for our budget woes.  I could get behind this one, for sure. 

The solution is NOT to tinker aound the edges of only trimming discretionary spending; no, there must be increases to revenue as well. 

Somehow that basic Accounting 101 fact seems to elude our leaders.

I've got a better plan for returning the country to prosperity. Here it is.

Withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Cut all defense spending by 50%.
Restore all tax rates to 1981 levels - across the board.
Double the Estate Tax.
Pass a millionaire's tax.
Eliminate the mortgage interest deduction >$500,000.
Eliminate mortgage interest deduction on vacation homes.
Eliminate corporate tax loopholes.
Eliminate tax breaks for Big Oil.
Eliminate Big Farm subsidies.
Pass a carbon tax.
Pass a bank tax.

Problem solved.

Now when do I get breathlessly praised for my serious, courageous leadership?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Ths Wisdom of Matt Damon (seriously)

From Mike the Mad Biologist, a good one:

What Rich People (or Matt Damon Anyway) Do with Their Tax Cuts

What I've never understood about the idea of tax cuts for the rich to stimulate the economy is that, as one wealthy person told me, "I spend what I'm going to spend, and the rest goes in the bank." Tax cuts don't stimulate growth, unmet demand stimulates growth. Sure, there are some rich people with insatiable appetites who will spend all of the additional money. But most will just stick their money in the bank (or invest and drive up asset prices simply because they have to invest in something). In an environment where banks aren't lending, that is the worst way to create jobs--the money just sits in the bank.

In an interview with The Guardian, actor Matt Damon thinks the same thing:

Damon appears so disillusioned that, playing devil's advocate, I ask whether he is considering voting Republican. "Good God, no! I just got a 3 per cent tax cut. Do you think I'm going to start a small business with that money? You're out of your mind if you think so. I'm going to put it in the bank. So is every other guy that makes the kind of money I make. I don't think that's what's best for the country. I think a stronger middle class makes for a stronger country."

Really. That's how most, though not all, rich people will behave. They might spend some of that money and create some jobs, but the government will spend all of it and create many more jobs.

To me, seems that a tax break for the lower classes would put more money in their pockets...which they would then use to procure goods and services...that in turn would drive demand to produce those goods and services.

As above, I think the conservatives have it all backwards. To give them massive tax breaks and hope they will generate jobs will not stimulate the economy in a trickle-down manner simply because the consumers are not consuming.  No rich joker would invest in a business that has no market.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tales From The Perimeter: Everything is Relative

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.

Monday during our 6-mile run around the base perimeter, everyone seemed a bit slow and devoid of energy. Our pace typically hovers near the 10 minute per mile mark and even that seemed fast.

I had had not run on Sunday and should have been fresh, but instead felt logy (I love that word!).

Mike mentioned how his legs felt absolutely trashed from an 8 mile training run the day before. He had run a couple laps around Wildwood Lake, which is part of the Harrisburg Marathon course. A pleasant asphalt path encircles the lake and goes through the woods, including a couple decent hills. Mike had run a strong first lap and decided to try to put the hammer down for the second lap.

A check of his watch revealed that putting the hammer down = 8:05 miles. I appreciate the irony. Everything is relative nowadays.

Actually (and I'm not rationalizing, am I?) I'm glad that I not only am old and slow, but that I recognize and accept the fact that I am old and slow. Road racing PRs are a distant and painful memory. I no longer enjoy running fast and love the freedom to be slow that Ultrarunning provides. Footing rough? You walk. Uphill? You walk. Just feel like taking a walking break? You walk. Otherwise, you run the flats and the downhills and savor the sheer joy of running in the woods.

I embrace and honor the word trudge. Speed kills, as they told us in the 70s. A slog is a pleasant pace.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Schneier Gets it Right...Again

Via Bruce Schneier, always a good read, who points us to an article by Shikha Dalmia, "What Islamist Terrorist Threat?"

But this year marks the 10th anniversary of 9-11 and none of the horrible scenarios conjured then have materialized. Islamic terrorists have not flown more planes into buildings. They haven't detonated "loose nukes" or dirty bombs. They haven't released nerve gas into subway stations. They haven't poisoned the water supply. They haven't even strolled into one of America's hundreds of malls or farmer's markets and blown themselves up.

Maybe this is because enhanced post-9/11 security has made America invulnerable. Or maybe the Islamists never posed that a big threat to begin with.


Over 5,000 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan and Iraq without on balance saving any civilian lives. It is time to call off the "war" on terrorism. Al Qaeda is not worth it.

Gary: In the meanwhile, we've sunk some $1 trillion into a pair of wars and another $1 trillion into Homeland Security. And blithely passed along that bill--outside the normal budget process--to succeeding generations, all the while trumpeting fiscal discipline.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cats in Art: The Madonna of the Cat (Romano)

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.

The Madonna of the Cat: image credit here, Giulio Pippi (known as Giulio Romano), 1520, oil on wood, 171 x 143 cm, Parma, collection of Barbara Sanseverino.

And here is the kitty, cropped and close up:

The figures in the painting are Mary and Jesus, and Elizabeth and John (the Baptist).  Zuffi points out that the only figure in the painting that looks directly at the viewer is the cat, "...crouching vigilantly to the right."  He goes on:

The magnetism of this animal--only apparently marginal and extraneous to the overall design of the composition--justifies the title by which the painting is traditionally known.

If it were one of my cats, it would have bitten my toes by now.  The Madonna's surely are at risk, especially if Baby Jesus were to crawl over and pull the cat's tail.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Wanton Destruction...and Ultrarunning

I am running up on the Appalachian Trail Saturday morning, having queued up this post in advance.

A month or so ago I put up a post entitled Embarrassing Moments in Ultrarunning, here, wherein I described an unfortunate incident of pooping my pants while running on the Appalachian Trail.  I wanted to follow up with a different aspect of that same story.

The stream where I tried to clean up was the tiny little run that issues from Bailey Spring, perhaps half a mile or so north of the PA Rt 16 crossing.  Bailey Spring is a walled spring, with the stream also walled for a distance of maybe a hundred feet or so to channel the water down a narrow (1'-2' wide) streambed to where it crosses under an old woods road.  The spring itself runs well year-round in all but the most extreme droughts. 

Several years ago an Eagle Scout undertook a project to cover the spring by roofing it over to prevent leaves and other forest debris from filling the spring.  The young man used 4" x 4" treated lumber posts to support the roof.  If I recall correctly, there were only a pair of posts in the front, as the back of the roof abutted the hillside embankment to the rear of the spring.  The roof was of corrugated tin, and a plaque was affixed to identify the project as an Eagle Scout endeavor.

It wasn't long before the plaque was all shot up by hoofties (a friend's moniker for hillbillies) with guns.  Subsequent trail runs past the spring--where I always would stop to fill my bottles or get a drink--revealed more and more bullet or shotgun blast damage.  The roof soon was full of holes from being shot from above, and eventually the posts were shot to smithereens, dropping the roof into the spring, rendering the spring itself unusable.

Of course I must note that the Appalachian Trail is off-limits to firearms and hunting, but that doesn't stop the hoofties.  Law enforcement in the backcountry is almost nonexistent due to lack or resources.

My most recent trip showed that someone (perhaps the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club maintainers) has dragged the construction debris off to the side to uncover the spring again.

What's the answer to such wanton violence and vandalism?  The only "solution" would be to move the spring deeper into the backcountry where hoofties don't venture.  The question of "why" will never be answered--vandalism has existed for millennia and will continue to exist. 

It's just a shame that we who love the backcountry, who love it with every fiber of our being, have to put up with stuff like this.


Friday, April 8, 2011

Shades of Gray

From Pharyngula, always a great read.  This must have been triggered by our involvement in long-distance death in Libya.

PZ Myers doesn't mince words, he's an all-out pacifist:

Sometimes, issues demand nuance. This is a complicated world and there are a great many subjects that simply aren't reducible to binaries - we do a disservice to the subtleties when we discard them in favor of absolutes. And often I can agree that we need depth and breadth of understanding if we're to navigate a difficult situation.

But sometimes the issues are black and white. Sometimes the answers are clear and absolute. And in those cases, attempts to bring out the watercolors and soften the story by blurring the edges do a disservice to reality. There are places where there are no ambiguities, and the only appropriate response is flat condemnation. And we witness them every day.

And PZ goes on to describe what it means to be a party to killing.  I've snipped a lot out, and you should click over to read it all.  He explores the queasy truth, that most of us can't and won't kill....yet we have few qualms about engaging proxies to kill for us, often at a distance. 

PZ Myers forces us to realize that it's still really our finger on the trigger.

I'm an extremist in this debate, I will freely confess. I hold an absolute view that no killing is ever justified, that individuals have the necessity to defend themselves against assailants, but that even that does not grant moral approval to snuffing out the life of another. Don't even try to pull out a scale and toss a copy of the Koran on one side and the life of a single human being on the other - the comparison is obscene. Do not try to tell me that some people are 'moderates' when they tolerate or even support and applaud war and death and murder for any cause, whether it is oil, or getting even, or defending the honor of wood pulp and ink.

The bone is bleached white. The flesh is burnt black. The blood splashes scarlet. You can't render it in grays and pastels without losing sight of the truth.

In the end, you sleep in the most notoriously uncomfortable of all beds, the one you make yourself.  PZ's post made me uncomfortable, and it should you as well.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Pie Chart on Gay Marriage Legalization

Ever wonder what would happen if gay marriage is legalized?

Via Melissa McEwan at Shakesville, here's a pie chart showing various outcomes.  I can't seem to copy the graphic, so click over.

A someone who has gay family members and friends, I concur in this chart.  Some folks are simply born gay--if you are a believer, then that means God made them that way--and to continue to discriminate reveals more about you and your insecurities than it does about them and the objects of their affection.

A generation from now will shake its collective head and say, "Whatever were they thinking back then?"


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Mercury...and Ultrarunning

No, this is NOT the moon:

Credit to Bad Astronomy, which never disappoints!

The NASA probe Messenger flew by the planet Mercury last week, sending back the first close-up, high-resolution photos of the solar system's smallest planet.  These images are exciting, and BA says it quite well:

But there’s a terrible beauty in all these pictures. Mercury is a strange little world. Hot, dense, battered, cracked… it’s as unlike Earth as any solid body can be, and it’s exactly those contrasts that will help us understand more about planetary geology and environments. We travel the solar system for many reasons — to learn about strange, new worlds; to discover new science; to have our brains tickled at the wonder and majesty of nature — but it’s funny how so many of these findings wind up helping us understand our own planet. That may not be the only reason we go, or even the most important one, but it’s still a fine thing to do.

The very reasons to get excited about Mercury are the same reasons I love Ultrarunning: " learn about strange, new worlds; to discover new science; to have our brains tickled at the wonder and majesty of nature...."


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Unilateral Wars

From the never-disappointing blog, Lawyers, Guns & Money, a post called "Death and Taxes,", by Paul Campos. 

This goes along with a previous post of mine, euphemistically called Kinetic Military Action (as though a war by any other name isn't really a war), about how the expenditure of millions of dollars--when we theoretically are BROKE--was scarcely acknowledged, much less vigorously debated:

I suspect James Madison et. al. would be appalled to discover that it would eventually become much harder for presidents to pursue even the most modest aspects of their preferred domestic policies than it would be for them to launch, with no congressional participation of any kind, unilateral wars against nations that hadn't attacked America, and posed no threat to our security.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Congratulations, Umstead Runners!

Looks like preliminary results are up for the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run in Raleigh, NC, and I was pleased to see that my pacer from last year, Judy Holden, logged a 22:19!!!

That, my friends, is some mighty fine running, and now Judy is the proud and very deserving owner of a silver buckle, signifying a finish within 24 hours.

I am looking forward to hearing all the details.  Well done to all who ran!


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Cats in Art: Allegories of Music and Prudence (Grien)

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 here.  Left image: Allegories of Music and Prudence (or Allegory of a Woman with Song Book, Viol, and Cat);  Right image: Allegory of a Woman with Mirror, Snake, and a Pair of Deer.  Hans Balding Grien, 1525, Oil on Wood. 

You must admit that these two images have an interesting assemblage of props, which the titles reflect.  Zuffi tells us that Grien often painted elegant female nudes in the company of symbolic animals.

Personally, I'm of course partial to the left image, as it contains one very large feline.  Grien, unfortunately, did not leave behind information as to what exactly the cat was to symbolize.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

van Gogh...and Ultrarunning

The Starry Night.  Image credit here.

Vincent van Gogh had a birthday this week, on Wednesday.  Born in 1853, this would be his 154th birthday.  Unfortunately for the art world and the rest of us, he only spend some 37 years alive on the planet, dying in 1890.

The connection to Ultrarunning is this: who among us who has had the occasion to run at night doesn't like--no, love--the joy of night running?  Doing something in complete safety that the rest of the world would practically be aghast at?  Enjoying the sheer physicality of using your body to run as it was intended to run, vast distances at a trot?  The silence, the solitude, the peacefulness?

And seeing the stars; for me, the icing on the cake, the awesome beauty and sense of infinite distances.

Several years ago the bride and I saw a traveling van Gogh exhibit in Washington, DC at the Smithsonian.  It was marvelous (I love to use that word!)

What struck me were several things:

--How many of the the paintings I recognized (a lot, and I'm no art expert)
--The vibrancy of the colors, especially some of the blues that he used
--The beauty of his flower paintings (irises, sunflowers, cherry blossoms)
--How his paintings had literal depth: his oils were heaped on, sometimes a quarter inch or more deep

Go see an exhibit if you can.  This image, one of the most famous in the world, is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.  I sense a NYC trip in my future.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Good Luck, Umstead Runners!

For those of you about to embark on your 100 mile adventure tomorrow at the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run, remember 2 things:

Relaxed and playful.

I'll be thinking about you all.  Maybe there's one of these in your future: