Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Marriage

Credit YouTube for the Princess Bride excerpt. Link here if embed does not play.

The bride and I attended a Halloween-themed wedding on Saturday night. This, by far, was the simultaneously the oddest -and coolest wedding we have ever been to. The groom wore an all-gray outfit: a frock coat suit, tails, top hat, and long white hair wig. The bride wore a more-or-less white gown, white hat, and both the bride and groom had on ghoulish white pancake makeup. The officiant at the ceremony was the Grim Reaper.

You get the idea. Knowing this couple, who have been together a number of years, the venue fit perfectly.

The ceremony and reception were in a barn that is outfitted for 3-season parties. Unfortunately, Saturday was when the mid-Atlantic states got nailed with a freak October snowstorm (some 5" locally of perfect snowball--or snowman--snow!) and temps in the 30s. So the barn was COLD. Literally, I shivered, for the first time in years. You could see your breath the whole evening.

The only solution was to dance, and dance hard. To keep warm, you see. So the dance floor was a very popular place.

All of which causes me to focus on the bride. My bride, actually, and a retrospective of our marriage. So this post is dedicated to the bride.

We've been married a lot of years. So as I mull over that fact, it's fair to say that our marital longevity is a combination of having made a compatible partner choice, plus we continue to get most things right.

Which brings to mind a couple of relationship quotes that pretty much sum up where we're at and why our marriage is successful (these from a USA Today article 26 April 2011):

"Don't stop doing the things that helped you fall in love, that made the relationship fun to begin with--the play, the intellectual exchange, the adventure. It's very important to protect the couple you began as."-Pepper Schwartz, sociologist, UW-Seattle

"Have a policy of pre-emptive forgiveness. Refuse to get offended by petty things. Make a decision early on to cut the other person some slack in everyday life. Then you can take comfort in knowing they'll do it for you, as well. Accepting each other, flaws and all, is what love is all about."-Gaelen Foley, author of My Irresistible Earl

Believe me--and I would have argued vehemently against this proposition when I was in my 20s--there are some things that only life experience can show you. These are a couple of those things. If me pointing them out helps you to absorb those lessons a tad earlier than otherwise, there's no need to thank me.

Danny and Mishi: take heed, and all the best to you as you begin your marriage!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cats in Art: Still Life With Gun and Cat (Fyt)

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 Fyt, Still Life With Gun and Cat (or Game and Hunting Gear Discovered by a Cat), c. 1650, Oil on canvas, 37" x 48", held by The Louvre, Paris, France.

Zuffi comments on the cat at the top left:

This "harlequin" cat, alive and active alongside the dead game, is a brilliant, credible presence, and analogous to similar cats in paintings of pantries and kitchens.

Pantries?  Kitchens?  Duh!--hanging around these places is a no-brainer for any self-respecting cat.  I really think that in this painting the cat is trying to figure out how the gun works, knowing that it would make a difference to cats everywhere.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tales from the Perimeter: Survivor

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.

During yesterday's run we had a full quorum of our group, save for KK,  who is still rehabbing a surgically repaired knee (a non-running injury).  The majority of our group avidly follows both The Amazing Race and Survivor, and the conversation as we navigated the perimeter turned to Survivor.

In this week's episode, Coach's team prayed as a group prior to the day's challenge--which they won--and immediately afterwards, Coach bade them to get down on their thank God for the positive result. 

Oh, and Ozzy committed to a poorly-thought-out scheme whereby he volunteered to be voted out so he could go to Redemption Island so he could defeat the unlikeable incumbent castaway Christine so he could reemerge into the game triumphant after the merge so he could sail on towards the $1M so he could have pulled of the boldest stroke EVEH in the game so he could have immortalized himself forever in Survivor lore.

I was appalled. Nope, not the Ozzy strategy stuff, interesting as that will be as it plays out. Rather, what shocked and astonished me was the shameless invoking of God to favor a particular team...and thanking him afterwards for the positive results, as though God gave a sh*t about it.

Talk about peer pressure.  If one of the team were, say, an atheist or a Buddhist, and wouldn't go along with the prayer circle stuff ("I'll just stand over here while you guys pray", and said so...methinks that player would be voted out ASAP to retain the purity of the team.  Inquisition, anyone?

PH, our non-Survivor-watcher, but who is our most religious member, commented that they were engaging in transactional prayer.  That is, praying for a specific result for which there would be a reciprocation from the supplicant should the wish be granted.  Example: "Dear God, please let our team win 'cause if we win I will become a better Christian, I swear I will."

Transactional prayer, in theology, is thought to be pretty much a juvenile approach, analogous to treating God as though he were Santa Claus. PH believes that the goal of prayer should be to achieve understanding and to create a close relationship with God, NOT to ask for specific favors.

So it'll be all the sweeter when Coach and his band of religious thugs go down hard.  Then it'll be interesting to see how they explain why God changed his mind.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Chuck Norris Has Been Golfing Again...and Ultrarunning

I can't tell you how many golf balls I have found over the years while running, but it's probably dozens.  I'm talking, far, far, from any golf course.  It's as though golfers are secretly teeing off, to get their jollies, I guess.

Here is the latest installment.

I will say that I have never found one on a trail, only roads, so score one for the Ultrarunners.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Joseph Medicine Crow

As I've written many times now, The Writer's Almanac is a treasure trove.  You can go to the web site, or better yet, sign up for a free daily email of things loosely categorized as "literary."

Here's an excerpt from today's entry, which bumped what I was going to post:

Today is the 98th birthday of Joseph Medicine Crow-High Bird, best known as Joseph Medicine Crow, who was born in 1913 into the Apsaalooke people -- the children of the large-beaked bird -- near Lodge Grass on the Crow reservation in southern Montana. Joseph Crow is the oldest living man of the Crow tribe and the last traditional Crow chief. As a writer, he has produced seminal works on Native American history and reservation life. But it is for Medicine Crow's writings on the victory of the Cheyenne and Lakota warriors led by Crazy Horse and Chief Gall over the U.S. Cavalry and George Armstrong Custer that he is best known.

Joseph was the first member of his tribe to attend college and was in the middle of graduate studies in anthropology when World War II began and he joined the Army as an infantry scout. He'd learned from his grandfather that a warrior must have the strength and intelligence to carry out four traditional military acts, a process called "counting-coup," in order to qualify as a chief, and Medicine Crow completed all four during the war. One highly prestigious act was to make physical contact with an enemy and escape unharmed, and on one occasion, he fought and grappled with a German soldier whose life he then spared when the man screamed out for his mother. On another, Medicine Crow led a war party to steal 50 Nazi SS horses from a German camp, singing a Crow song of honor as they rode away.

After the war, Medicine Crow returned to Montana where he was appointed his tribe's historian and anthropologist. He began writing academic works, collections of Crow stories and the Crow creation cycle, nonfiction books for children, and his memoirs, to mention just a few. Medicine Crow's step-grandfather had been a scout for George Armstrong Custer and an eyewitness to Custer's Last Stand along the Little Big Horn River, and as a boy Joseph had heard many stories of the battle; today, Medicine Crow is the last living person to have received direct oral testimony from a participant of Little Bighorn, which he has written about in Keep the Last Bullet for Yourself (The True Story of Custer's Last Stand) and other works.

Medicine Crow has been awarded the American Bronze Star as well as the French Legion of Honor. A White House press release naming Medicine Crow as a recipient of the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom praised him for his "contributions to the preservation of the culture and history of the First Americans," saying that those achievements are only matched by "his importance as a role model to young Native Americans across the country."

I gotta check as to Kindle availability for this book.  So much to read and so little time....


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, Part 2

Here's another post about David Miller's book, AWOL on the Appalachian Trail.

I posted about it last week here, and got sidetracked into a rant about nicknames.

Anyway, I basically forgot to comment upon the book itself, so let me correct that here by saying this was a wonderful read, two big thumbs-up.  The book was quite hard to put down, and I marked a number of passages in my Kindle that I wanted to remember or use here at Mister Tristan (the blog, not the 3-year-old human being).

Anyway, AWOL is staying at a hostel early in his hike called the Sunnybank Inn, where the owner, Elmer explains over dinner to the hikers that every night they come up with a question and bat it around the table to hear everyone's answer.

That night's question was "If you could choose one musical group or artist to eliminate--it would be as if their music never existed--who would you choose?"

AWOL doesn't list any of the responses, but I have mine.  Keeping mind that I grew up in the Classic Rock era of the 60s, and that's the music I still love today, here are my thoughts:

  • Elton John
  • Steve Miller Band
  • Led Zeppelin

The last one may seem odd, but whenever I go my CD library, I never think, "You know, some Led Zeppelin would sound pretty good right now."  And as for Steve Miller and Elton John, when a tune comes on the Sirius XM radio, I just flip to another channel.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Possible Pitfalls for Ultrarunning Couples

This obviously is a Gary Larson cartoon, which came to me in a The Far Side greeting card for our anniversary a few weeks back.

The bride and I are happy to have wandered off the beaten path. 

But in an organized Ultra, you'd better be conventional and stick to the beaten path.  Training runs and marriages, not so much.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Afghanistan, Continuing

Looks like we are indeed staying the course--whatever that means--in our perpetual war in Afghanistan.

From John Bennett in on 12 Oct 2011

New Joint Chiefs Chairman Predicts Current Wars Won't End 'During My Tenure'

Newly installed Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey predicted Wednesday that U.S. forces will still be fighting and keeping the peace in Afghanistan and Iraq when his tenure expires.

Dempsey began a two-year term as the military's top officer earlier this month, meaning his first of two possible terms will run out in October 2013. If he serves four years as chairman, he could remain in the post until late 2015.

A slide that accompanied his remarks at an Association of the U.S. Army forum in downtown Washington on Wednesday stated that one of the military's goals during his stint is to "achieve our national objectives in the current conflicts."

Methinks our national objective is to remain there forever, doing something.  Mission accomplished.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cats in Art: A Musical Gathering of Cats (van Kessel)

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 WikiGallery, here. Ferdinand Van Kessel, A Musical Gathering of Cats, c. 1670, Oil on canvas, 16" x 32", held in a private collection.

Zuffi calls this painting "Cats' Concert," and comments:

However, there is no doubt that the cat, unexpectedly, can produce a repertory of song  that is entirely worthy of respect....Nocturnal serenades (often interrupted by the hurling of some object on the part of exasperated, sleepless people) or furious fights reach very high decibel levels.  Van Kessel...depicts cats brilliantly in this painting.
Sure, cats can sing...about as well as I can.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Meow Cats vs. Rrreow Cats

Over the years we've been fortunate enough to have had a number of cats, all of which vocalized differently.  Some were big talkers, others had puny voices.  Now our oldest cat (at 17) is stone deaf and vocalizes extremely loudly, like a human wearing earphones and exaggeratedly talking too loud.

But over the years the cats seemed to segregate themselves into 2 types of talkers: the meowers and the rrreowers.  It's a distinct difference between the initial "M" sound as opposed to the initial "R" sound.

Samples, courtesy of Kessels Cat Sounds website:

There is no sound in the following photos, but Tizzy is a Meower.

Sammy (the deaf one), on the other hand paw is a Rrreower.

And that's all they have to say about that.


Friday, October 21, 2011

The Potomac Eagle Train...and Ultrarunning

Photo credit: Gary

Just went on another tourist train, the Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad, in Romney, WV.  Love those things!  Romney is located in the Potomac highlands of WV's Eastern Panhandle.  This summer we also went on another excursion train, the Durbin Rocket, in which we actually stayed overnight in a caboose outfitted like a comfortable camper.  I posted about it here.

Back to the Potomac Eagle: it's claim to fame is its route through "The Trough," a narrow gorge through which the South Branch of the Potomac River flows north, and the resident population of bald eagles there.

Of course, Mister Tristan (the 3-year old human being, not the blog) was along, the bride, and daughter's boyfriend's 13 year old son, who also loves trains, geography, and geology.  The day was a magnificent October Sunday with the leaves here in the northeast beginning to turn.

Oh, and did I mention the eagles?  We took turns back at the open air observation car, and the train went through The Trough twice (outbound and return), so the eagle count is very soft.  I personally saw about 5 identifiable individuals.  I did not count silhouettes of raptors coasting way up high, which just as easily could be turkey vultures.  The others in our party saw a similar number, and the bride is still gushing over the one she saw up close (maybe 50' away) in a tree immediately adjacent to the tracks.  No good photos, however.

Mister Tristan loved the 3 hour round trip and was never bored.  We had packed some train playthings so in between looking out the open windows he was happy to puff his trains around on the seats of the coach.

And the link to Ultrarunning?  There are no roads (other than the railroad) through The Trough, and no foot trails.  I've posted before about the fact that running on railroad tracks sucks, but I think this run would be a winner: remote, beautiful, and wild.  Probably the act of running on the stones and ties would be no worse than the infamous rocks of the Massanutten 100 miler, of which I have firsthand running (and finishing!) experience. 

Might even be easier.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Blood Donation

  More on this video at the end:

I donated blood the other day, as I've done for years.  Here in Franklin Co., PA, there are probably 20 drives per month, so my donation location often varies so I can hit a drive at the most convenient time and place for me.

This particular blood drive was at a rural Christian school.  Based upon the plain long dresses of the women volunteers, the school belongs to a conservative sect, likely Mennonite. But unlike more traditional Mennonite women whose hair is in a bun with a small lace cover, these women wore more of a white scarf over their hair.

Anyway, I'm a creature of habit.  Whenever I donate blood I observe certain rituals:

  • Food. Pre- and post-donation I love to eat fried chicken livers to enhance my hemoglobin.  Whether it works or not, blood donation is an excuse to indulge in this vice.
  • Endorphins. I imagine I am sharing endorphins, since my usual schedule these days is to run at lunchtime and donate in the early afternoon.
  • Time off. I take full advantage of the fact that my employer (U.S. govt) encourages blood donation by extending up to 4 hours paid administrative leave when you donate.
  • Ears vs fingers.To me, the pre-donation finger stick to check for sufficient hemoglobin levels is worse than the actual arm stick with the (much larger) donation needle. I hate the finger stick intensely, and long for the old days when they stuck your ear lobe and drew a drop of blood from there.
And last, but not least:
  • Reading material (choose it wisely!). I always take a book along in case there is a wait. A couple years ago I took along a copy of The God Delusion (Richard Dawkins).  The tech in the pre-donation interview conversationally asked "Whatcha readin'?" and when I showed her the book, I could instantly see a light go on, face darken, and a big change in her formerly friendly demeanor.  Thank goodness she wasn't the one who was going to stick me in the arm!

One final observation about this drive.  Somebody had a boom box playing...symphonic music, and it was soooo soothing and beautiful.  Must have been a CD of well-known classical music, for I instantly recognized the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from The Nutcracker. 

I idly wondered how a species like ours could on one hand create such musical and dance masterpieces, while at the same time becoming so good at creating engines of war. 

Then the Jethro Tull line sprang to mind, "He who made kittens put snakes in the grass," and I kinda felt that if one believes in the Christian God, creator of man in his image, then the dichotomy makes perfect sense.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Rock Music, Rambling...and Ultrarunning

As I continue to love my car's Sirius XM Radio, I've noticed a recurring theme for some some rockers from the period/genre of Classic Rock (60s and 70s).  They tend to romanticize the stereotypical artistic, footloose antihero, imbued with wanderlust so as not to dilute the power of their music. 

Oh, and also they sing about it.  To wit:

Free Bird (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
But, if I stayed here with you, girl
Things just couldn't be the same
'Cause I'm as free as a bird now
And this bird, you'll can not change

Rambling Man (Allman Brothers)
When it's time for leaving, I hope you'll understand
That I was born a rambling man

Heard it in a Love Song (Marshall Tucker Band)
I'm gonna be leaving
At the break of dawn
Wish you could come
But I don't need no woman tagging along

Ramblin' Gamblin' Man (Bob Seger)
I ain't around to love you now, and I gotta run
Gotta keep moving, never gonna slow down
You can have your funky world, see you 'round

Must be tough to have to forgo all those potentially entangling relationships just to stay free to do music, and, well, to ramble. 

Whenever--rarely--I use the word "ramble" with respect to me, or if the bride does so, what we mean is that I am babbling, talking on and on and on.  I never use it to express a need to roam so as not to be stifled.

I guess the link to Ultrarunning is that maybe we get our vicarious rambling jones out of the way via trail running, so we can be happy and secure in our personal relationships and not feel the need to roam.

Videos follow for your listening pleasure....

And a very gray-haired Bob Seger....

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Why I'll Never Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail

I am just finished up my Kindle book, AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, by David Miller (trail name AWOL). I am very familiar with my local sections of the AT here in south-central PA and all of MD, via my hiking and trail running.  But I have never set foot elsewhere on the AT along its 2,172 mile length as it winds its way through 13 (I think) states. 

Not that the notion of a thru-hike isn't appealing--some 1000 or so souls complete one every year. I love reading accounts of thru hikers and imagining how cool such a long trek would be. 

The obvious downside?  Freeing yourself up for the 5 months or so that a hike would take; being financially secure enough to afford it; planning and executing all the logistics.  Oh, and having the mental and physical fortitude to walk 2,172 miles in one long stretch.

Nope, all that stuff is doable for the determined.  What would be my undoing is the fact that all thru hikers are expected to assume an alias, a trail name by which they are known to the ATC and to each other on the trail.

I could not bring myself to do that.

See, I hate nicknames.  Always have.  I realize that there may be very good reasons for a person to assume or have conferred upon them a nickname, but that's not me.  I have, admittedly, an almost pathological aversion to even using a nickname for somebody else, much less having one of my own.  To me it's like, "Do I know you well enough to call you Crunchy instead of your real name, Craig?" 

So I'd have to go under my real name of Gary, to the consternation of all other thru hikers.  You just don't toy with time-honored traditions, so if I won't play the game, I'd just better not hike. 

See how easily I talked myself out of it?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Custer, Hubris...and Ultrarunning

Image credit from SonoftheSouth, here

I have previously used The Writer's Almanac as fodder for my posts, but seriously, if you are in any way touched by the term "literary" you should sign up for the free daily email.  There is almost always some nugget of info that you are tickled by, and say "I didn't know that!"

From 14 Aug 2011, Custer  by David Shumate

He is a hard one to write a poem about. Like Napoleon.

Hannibal. Genghis Khan. Already so large in history. To do it right, I have to sit down with him. At a place of his own choosing. Probably a steakhouse. We take a table in a corner.

But people still recognize him, come up and slap him on the back, say how much they enjoyed studying about him in school and ask for his autograph. After he eats, he leans back and lights up a cigar  and asks me what I want to know. Notebook in hand, I suggest that we start with the Little Big Horn and work our way back. But I realize I have offended him. That he would rather take it the other way around. So he rants on about the Civil War, the way west, the loyalty of good soldiers and now and then twists his long yellow hair with his fingers.

But when he gets to the part about Sitting Bull, about Crazy Horse, he develops a twitch above his right eye, raises his finger for the waiter, excuses himself and goes to the restroom while I sit there along the bluffs with the entire Sioux nation, awaiting his return.

Custer was a crazy SOB, who grew to "maturity" in the crucible of the American Civil War.  He was a warrior--which there is a need for at times--and was superior at his craft.  He ultimately suffered from an excess of hubris (overbearing pride or presumption; arrogance), which proved his undoing.

The link to Ultrarunning?  Whenever you enter a race, or go for a training run that is above and beyond previous attempts, be humble.  Be respectful of the trails and of the craft of Ultrarunning.  Be realistic about your abilities on that day.  In short, be cognizant of the danger of'll fell you quicker than catching a toe on a stone.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Eyebrows In Afghanistan

From a page 1 article in the Wall Street Journal on 13 Oct:

Emerging amid the camouflage and crewcuts is the latest in combat chic: male soldiers with eyebrows professionally shaped into slender arches."I just wanted them to shape up my eyebrows," explains Private First Class Richard Guillemette, whose job is to call in artillery barrages from the front lines.


These threaded, plucked or shaved young soldiers are proving befuddling to an older generation of bushier warriors. Army regulations are silent on the subject of male eyebrows, except to say that one's hair must not reach so far south.

In 2007, however, the Marine Corps added a line to its grooming regulations stating that "excessive plucking or removal of eyebrows is not authorized, except for medical reasons." The Marines left open the question of what constitutes a pluck too far, though the Corps did make a half-hearted, circular attempt to define what would count as eccentric and faddish (bad), compared with conservative and inconspicuous (good).

This article just tickled me, though I can’t put my finger on exactly why.  Maybe it's seeing "the man" squirm a bit uncomfortably.  Or the juxtaposition of a harmless cosmetic procedure being done to, well, young men who in their day jobs are trained killers (not being judgmental here, just recognizing that the end product of the military is arguably death and destruction).  Or just the fact that this seems to be a classic case of gallows humor, where people in a potentially lethal situation turn to diversions, any diversions, just to keep their sanity.

Regardless, this trend could almost make me enlist, except I'm too old.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Jane...and Ultrarunning

I could almost write the following para in my sleep:

As usual, the Writer's Almanac doesn't disappoint.  This is a free daily email with a literary bent (did I mention that it's FREE?).  I'm going out on a limb here, but the fact that you are reading Mister Tristan (the blog, not the 3-year old human being) tells me that there is indeed a literary bone in your body.

From 9 Oct, a post about the fate that awaits many of us, even though we are young and healthy and Ultrarunners, for Christ's sake!  And I know--in a sentence that I also could write in my sleep--that when many of you see poetry you can't hit that DELETE key fast enough.

But read it anyway, OK?

Jane, the old woman across the street,
is lugging big black trash bags to the curb.
It's snowing hard, and the bags are turning white,
gradually disappearing in the storm.

Jane is getting ready to put her house on the market
and move into a home of some sort. A facility.
She's just too old to keep the place going anymore,
and as we chat about this on the sidewalk
I'm thinking, I'm so glad this isn't going to happen to me.

It seems like a terrible fate, to drag out your trash bags
and then head for a facility somewhere.
And all the worse to be old in a facility. But then,
that's the whole reason you go there in the first place.

But the great thing about being me, I'm thinking,
as I continue my morning walk around the block,
is that I'm not going to a facility of any sort.

That's for other people. I intend to go on
pretty much as I always have, enjoying life,
taking my morning walk, then coffee
and the newspaper, music and a good book.
Europe vaguely in the summers.
Then another year just like this one, on and on,
ad infinitum.

Why change this? I have no intention of doing so.
What Jane is doing—growing old,
taking out her ominous black trash bags
to vanish terribly in the snow, getting ready
for someone to drive her to the facility—

that may be her idea of the future (which I totally respect),
but it certainly isn't mine.

"Jane" by George Bilgere.

Oh, and the connection to Ultrarunning.  None of us, repeat, NONE OF US, gets out of here alive.  All we can do is to forestall obsolescence somewhat, and there nothing better than Ultrarunning to help with that.

But notice how I used the word "forestall."  Not cancel, not eliminate.  I'm still gonna die, as will you. 

The question is, will what you did in your life fill you with memories and satisfaction when it's time for assisted living or nursing home care, as in Jane's example above?

Ultrarunning lets me answer, "YES."


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Toy Trains...and Ultrarunning

Via Boing Boing, we see that Walt Disney liked toy trains.  Oh, and it seems that Salvador Dali did also.

I love me my O-gauge tintype Marx sets from pre-war thru the 1950s--and so does Mister Tristan (the 3 year old human being, not the blog).  See here and here for previous posts with photos of some of my collection.

Anyway, I'm getting interested in what are called "garden trains," where you have a larger gauge set-up outdoors, running thru your landscaping.  I'm just at the reading-about-it stage.  If I proceed, my scale would not be as large as Walt's above, but I can see this being a lot of fun.

The connection to Ultrarunning is that I would try to model some of my favorite trail running sites.  For example, the Annapolis Rocks site along the Appalachian Trail in MD.  Also Chimney Rocks along the AT near my home here in PA.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

You Won't Come Back From Dead Man's Curve

My older brother is a smart *ss (and I love him dearly!).  He can find humor in tragedy, not because he is callous, but because his mind examines the entire spectrum of all possible reactions to a situation.  Then, unlike most of us, he is willing to give expression to those dark thoughts that everybody thinks but nobody says out loud.

He recently sent the bride a newspaper clipping about a man in California who drove off a road and into a ravine, in late September.  This was a national news story covered by the AP.  The man survived a week until his kids found him alive. 

Coincidentally, his car landed beside another car that had gone off the same curve 10 days earlier...only that car's occupant was dead.

My brother's reaction:

With respect to the refrain of the 1964 Jan and Dean song, Dead Man's Curve, that you "won't come back from Dead Man's Curve," they were only partially correct.  Apparently, your chances of coming back from Dead Man's Curve are 50%, that is, if you have a persistent family.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fear...and Ultrarunning

Ran across this list of phobias in The Bathroom Trivia Book (subtitled Nuggets of Knowledge for America's Favorite Reading Room) and was struck by how many of them had a connection to our favorite sport.

If you have any of these fears--taken to a debilitating level, of course--you could be SOL on the trail:

          Batophobia (walking)

          Homichlophobia (fog)

          Keraunophobia (thunder)

          Mysophobia (dirt)

          Ombrophobia (rain)

 Arguably, some of us actually turn to Ultrarunning because of these fears:

          Ergophobia (work)

          Gametophobia (marriage)

And my favorite fear in real life as a reason to take to the trails:

          Tropophobia  (making changes)

Your mileage will vary, of course.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Gay Marriage, Ho-Hum

John Cole at Balloon Juice passed along a cool graphic that I also must share.  Unfortunately, beyond crediting John, I can't discern the original source, otherwise I'd want to thank them and shake their hand:


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Cats in Art: The Sleep of the Infant Jesus (Le Brun)

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 Artfinder, here.  Charles Le Brun, The Sleep of the Infant Jesus, 1655, Oil on canvas, 34" x 46", held by The Louvre, Paris, France.
Zuffi comments:
A big, placid white-and-gray striped cat seems to have fallen asleep by the warmth of a burning brazier; however, it is not quite asleep, for its ears are pricked up.
A cat is always aware of its surroundings.  In this case, the cat is probably thinking, "I don't care if he is deity--Baby Jesus better not try to pet me."

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Debunking The Myth Of The Wealthy Job Creator

Back in July, I think, Avedon Carol pointed me to Thom Hartmann and a great discussion of the myth of the wealthy job creator.

The conservatives keep reciting--to me, reminiscent of the mob of zombies chanting "Imhotep" in the first Mummy movie--that tax cuts for the wealthy are the best way to create jobs and stimulate the economy.  In fact, I think they actually believe it.

But it makes no sense.  The cart is not only before the horse, there seems to be no horse.  Let's try this for some logic:

The way jobs are created is through demand for goods and services.  I need my car worked on, so I take it to a garage.  If enough additional people like that particular garage, eventually the owner will need to hire another mechanic to meet the increased demand.  Merely giving more money to the owner via tax cuts--in the absence of increased demand--will not cause him suddenly to say "Aha!  Now I can hire that mechanic!" The new mechanic will be sitting on his hands because the cars are not lining up outside.  Why? People in a fiscal crunch are doing more of their own auto maintenance or deferring it.

Nope, it's D-E-M-A-N-D, in the form of spendable money in people's pockets, that will create jobs.  It's always been a bottom-driven process, never a top-down, trickle-down effect, despite all the lockstep chanting.



Friday, October 7, 2011

The Death of Anwar al-Awlaki

The President of the United States ordered an American citizen killed last week.  Without a trial.  Judge, jury and executioner, all in one fell swoop.  That should bother you.  It certainly bothers me.

Oh, Mr. al-Awlaki was probably a bad guy, make no mistake about it, but we're better than that.  We don't jettison the Constitution because it's a bit inconvenient.

Well, actually, we did jettison the Constitution.  I should have said, "We mustn't jettison the Constitution because it's a bit inconvenient."

Here are 3 observations from a week ago that are so much better than what I could have written:

1.  The Rude Pundit:

Sometimes there's cases where the liberal rubber hits reality road and you gotta decide whether your beliefs are beliefs or just conveniences based on circumstances and filled with holes. See, if you believe in due process, if you believe in innocent until proven guilty, if you believe in trials, if you believe in the Constitution, then you have to believe that all of us have those rights. And that includes presumptive terrorists, like Anwar al-Awlaki, whose death by U.S. drone attack is being danced over by the supposed upholders of the very laws his murder violates.

2.  Glenn Greenwald:

When Awlaki's father sought a court order barring Obama from killing his son, the DOJ argued, among other things, that such decisions were "state secrets" and thus beyond the scrutiny of the courts.  He was simply ordered killed by the President: his judge, jury and executioner. 

What's most striking about this is not that the U.S. Government has seized and exercised exactly the power the Fifth Amendment was designed to bar ("No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law"), and did so in a way that almost certainly violates core First Amendment protections (questions that will now never be decided in a court of law). What's most amazing is that its citizens will not merely refrain from objecting, but will stand and cheer the U.S. Government's new power to assassinate their fellow citizens, far from any battlefield, literally without a shred of due process from the U.S. Government.  Many will celebrate the strong, decisive, Tough President's ability to eradicate the life of Anwar al-Awlaki -- including many who just so righteously condemned those Republican audience members as so terribly barbaric and crass for cheering Governor Perry's execution of scores of serial murderers and rapists -- criminals who were at least given a trial and appeals and the other trappings of due process before being killed.

While everyone's talking about having "got" this latest bogeyman, I just wanted to remind folks the kind of language the Administration used to explain why it could kill an American citizen with no due process.
"Accordingly, although it would not be appropriate to make a comprehensive statement as to the circumstances in which he might lawfully do so, it is sufficient to note that, consistent with the AUMF, and other applicable law, including the inherent right to self-defense, the President is authorized to use necessary and appropriate force against AQAP operational leaders, in compliance with applicable domestic and international legal requirements, including the laws of war."
As to the actual evidence that Anwar al-Awlaki was a terrorist? That's a state secret.

The bottom line is we need to adhere to a simple rule that even kids on the playground can understand: you don't get to have 2 sets of laws, one for the the baddest of the bad, wherein we can take shortcuts just because it's expedient, and another set for the rest of us.

The beauty of the Constitution is that it is pretty agnostic: the law of the land applies even to those who would spit upon it.  We are better than that.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Stupid Moves in Ultrarunning

In the late 90s and early 00s (did we ever settle on calling that decade "the aughts"?), my job took me on multiple trips to Anniston, AL.  I was working with the IT (telephone and LAN) people at Fort McClellan to transfer their capabilities from Fort McClellan, which was closing under the Base Realignment and Closure program, to Fort Leonard Wood, MO and Fort Jackson, SC.

I always tried to craft my travel logistics so that I'd have time for a long trail run.  Many times I just ran on Fort McClellan proper--they had much backcountry full of jeep trails etc--but I also was able to run in the Mount Cheaha State Park area.

On this particular Stupid Move occasion my flight arrived around noon at Birmingham (as an aside, I recall from my elementary social studies from 45-50 years ago that Birmingham had the nickname "The Pittsburgh of the South" due to its steel industry, but the AL locals instead preferred to call Pittsburgh "The Birmingham of the North").

I drove straight down to the Cheaha area.  This website describes some of the trails. I recall parking at Lake Chinnabee, I think, then running uphill on the Chinnabee Silent Trail past some nice stream cascades, thru the Turnipseed Camp, and up the ridge to the Pinhoti Trail (approx 6 miles to this point).  Then somehow I joined the Cave Creek Trail (there may have been an Odum Trail in there somewhere as well) and headed north on it to Cheaha State Park, then returned south along the Pinhoti Trail.  Enroute along the Pinhoti was the wreckage of a small airplane crash.  I think the Cave Creek Trail--Pinhoti Trail loop was about 10 miles, which put me back at the top of the Chinnabee Silent trail.

Anyway, although this was a spectacularly beautiful trail run, what made this run spectacularly stupid was that I did not bother to tell anyone where I was going.  And up on the exposed ridge that afternoon, a major thunderstorm brewed up, with lightning and thunder crashing CLOSE by, but I felt compelled to run thru it anyway.  I realized that if I didn't keep pressing on I was going to get up against sunset.  The trails ran slower than I thought, plus I had not brought a flashlight.  I was extremely relieved to reach the Chinnabee Silent trailhead, knowing I only had 6 miles, all downhill, to run in under an hour.  I fairly flew down the Chinnabee to my rental car, arriving there just when it was about too dark to run without artificial light.

Had lightning nailed me, or I turned an ankle, or got lost, whatever...that was a spooky experience that I took to heart for years, until this more recent stupid solo trail run.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What Happened to Him When He Was a Boy?

As usual, the Writer's Almanac does not disappoint.  I love when each day's installment shows up in my inbox.  This offering from Sunday 2 Oct was a good one.
The notion of killing living organisms for sport--for sport--appalls and horrifies me.  I will never understand it.  Never.

Game, by Maxine Kumin

Before he died
Archduke Franz Ferdinand,
gunned down in Sarajevo
to jump-start World War I,
bragged he had shot three
thousand stags and a miscellany
of foxes, geese, wolves, and boars
driven toward him by beaters,
stout men he ordered to flush
creatures from their cover
into his sights, a tradition
the British aristocracy
carried on, further aped
by rich Americans
from Teddy R. to Ernest H.,
something Supreme
Court Justice Antonin
Scalia, pudgy son of Sicilian
immigrants, indulged in
when, years later, he had
scores of farm-raised birds
beaten from their cages and scared
up for him to shoot down
which brought him an inner joy.
What happened
to him when he was a boy?

[From Where I Live: New and Selected Poems, (c) W.W. Norton & Company, 2010.]

 I am so grateful for my life, for the opportunity to live, and I assume that other living things feel the same. Insofar as possible I try to refrain from unnecessarily taking the life of even so small a thing a spider. I often capture them in the house and release them outside (although I have no compunction against swatting flies and mosquitoes, plus I eat meat, so, yes, I am a hypocrite).

What did happen to these folks when they were children?


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Blues Cruise 50K Results

Sunday, on sloppy trails, I ran a 6:59, about an hour slower than last time.  The trail is a one-way 31 mile circumnavigation of Blue Marsh Lake northeast of Reading, PA, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control/recreational project.

The first half was tough because it was largely flat and the trail was a slippery, muddy mess in many places.  It had rained all night, though thankfully the rain held off during the race.  I definitely should have worn a shoe with a much more aggressive tread.  When the description of the course says "single track" it means it.  In many sections, the trail is in open grassy fields and literally is only a foot or even less wide, a track made lower than the surrounding ground level via the erosion action of feet and trail bikes.  The water has nowhere to go.

To run in a narrow track like this is sometimes dicey under normal conditions, much less under slippery conditions.  Saw this on Oprah one time: I was forced to do the "stripper walk" (or in this case the "stripper run") where you place the foot that you are extending directly in front of the planted foot, or even cross it in front of and laterally past the planted foot.

Not a natural gait, I can tell you.

The second half got easier as it was more in the woods with many ups and downs, so the trail drained much better.  There was one major stream crossing where the bridge had been lost due to flooding, about 30' wide wade in thigh deep water.  It wasn't particularly cold and did wash off the mud (until the passage of another half mile completely muddied them again!).  Oh, and at one of the late aid stations I ate what arguably is the best aid station food that I have ever had: bacon and fried peirogies.  It hit the spot like nothing else and sat oh-so-good in my belly.

I went to the race with a buddy who clocked a great time, but I'd better not identify him any more specifically than that.  Why?  Despite have run many trail hours in training and official ultras, during this race he pooped outdoors for the very first time ever. At the risk of too-much-information (but we're all athletes here, right?), I tend to be a pooping fool, like clockwork, when I hit the trails. The woodsy ambiance seems to physic me, I guess.  As with anything, you get practiced at it and it needn't be any kind of big deal.

My time was solidly in the last quartile.  That's tough getting used to, but I'm realistic enough to know that at age 59 I've slowed and the deterioration will continue.  Sure beats the alternative, though!

The next day (Monday) I did a 6 mile walk/run with my noontime buddies to loosen up. I was creaky at the beginning but quickly warmed up.   I am not averse to a couple days off or even a week of R&R after a big effort, but I just felt like running the day after. 

I can stop any time I want, seriously.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Winner of the Banned Book Contest Announced

I had a number of good responses to my giveaway contest of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.  See here for the original post.

Basically I asked readers to tell me why they deserved the book, and I'd evaluate using some mysterious subjective criteria known but to me, and announce the winner.

I should first say up front, thanks to all who took the time to write!

Well, Mister Tristan (the blog, not the 3-year-old human being), is nominally about the softer side of Ultrarunning, a sport I love.  Rather than the hard-core technical how-to stuff, I love to write about the thinking and the philosophy and why the sport matters.  But if you scroll around here you'll quickly see that I'm a lefty, progressive blogger who quickly gets outraged at the erosion of civil liberties and social injustice in general.

That's why R. J. Yinger's response takes the book this year.  It's a short tale, steeped in nostalgia, and directly addresses censorship that personally affected a young man.  Here it is in its entirety:

I was in the seventh grade at St Anthony’s Grade School Dayton, Ohio. It was the ancient times when I still lived on Glen Rd., before our house was magically transported to John Glenn Rd.

It was the first Wednesday of the month when the bookmobile was coming. Most of your readers will not relate but grade schools didn’t have libraries and the branch closest to my house was long bike ride along narrow busy streets. Librarians were respected, books more so.

I boarded the bus to get my six library books for the month. My grandfather had a great library mostly murder mysteries and my parents were college grads dad on the GI bill so books littered the house but library books were special. Science fiction was my genre, I got 4 Tom Swift Jr. books per year from Grandpa since learning to read but at the library the stacks would call out their recommendations. This day Mein Kampf called to me. I remember it was thin, just a snack.    

Twelve, is that when we begin to die? Standing in line checking out, Mein Kampf removed from my pile. That is for adults take your five books and wait for enlightenment young man you child. I remember the rest of the day being red. I remember riding my bike to the library. I remember my hands freezing cold (who knew of wind chill). I remember searching the card catalogue gathering the much thicker volume from the shelf, holding it in my hand openly, defiantly as I exited the building. I don't remember riding home or even reading the book.

It is still on my shelf and I will return it if I win the contest.

Mr. Yinger--well done!  Please email me with your snail mail address so I can get the book on its way to you:


The Stranger


From the snarky site The Stranger, complete with a nifty graphic, let’s play Jeopardy:

Contestant: “I’ll take Republicans for $800, Alex.”

Trebek: “The answer is: Bring the fetus to term, then kill the mother. Every life is sacred."
Contestant: “How would Republicans deal with an uninsured, unborn fetus, gestating inside a death-row inmate?”

Close to being over the top, but it neatly points out the odd fetishes that some folks have with fetuses and the death penalty.