Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011...and Ultrarrunning

As I've previously blogged, I have been so loving my Sirius XM radio that came with a new vehicle a couple years ago.  Of late I've been focusing on the 60s channel, as that was the music I first knew as I came of age. 

During our Christmas travels the bride and I spent a number of hours in the car, tuned to the 60s channel.  I came to the realization that the 60s began with hopeful, cheery songs, written by carefree musicians who only seemed to be concerned with girls and cars.  But be the end of the decade, the music and turned dark and angry as the country came off the rails over our involvement in Vietnam.

Today's music?  I can't tell whether it's upbeat or somber.  As 2011 draws to a close, I guess I feel sorta nostalgic and a bit sad, I suppose, thinking about the year just passed.  Thinking about wars and maiming and death and families destroyed...and children and grandchildren and hopefulness for their lives and futures.

May your 2012 be filled with promise.  And many happy miles on our beloved trails.

Gary, blog owner


Friday, December 30, 2011

Airport Security

If you don't read Boing Boing, you should.  It's a geeky but entertainingly readable science blog.

I could point you to many articles, but since I travel frequently I am particularly interested in what security guru Bruce Schneier calls "Security Theater."  Here's the latest:

To walk through an airport with Bruce Schneier is to see how much change a trillion dollars can wreak. So much inconvenience for so little benefit at such a staggering cost. And directed against a threat that, by any objective standard, is quite modest. Since 9/11, Islamic terrorists have killed just 17 people on American soil, all but four of them victims of an army major turned fanatic who shot fellow soldiers in a rampage at Fort Hood. (The other four were killed by lone-wolf assassins.) During that same period, 200 times as many Americans drowned in their bathtubs. Still more were killed by driving their cars into deer. The best memorial to the victims of 9/11, in Schneier’s view, would be to forget most of the “lessons” of 9/11.

Before you deluge me with comments to the effect that the lack of deaths PROVES that our counter terrorism efforts are working, you should read the whole article.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Yard Art...and Ultrarunning

[photo credit Gary]

The bride and I love to collect yard art, and like to think that we only have an eye for tasteful additions to the collection.

Fall is our acquisition time, as our favorite landscape supplier always knocks 30% off at the end of the season.  The owl is our latest addition. 

I want to call it whimsical but I've come to hate that suddenly-overused word.

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?  Down on the C&O Canal this summer I had one of my most interesting wildlife experiences.  I stopped to answer the call of nature one morning along the towpath, and just happened to look up.  There, on a branch directly above me, was not one, but a pair of barred owls, quietly observing me.

These guys can be large, as large as Great Horned Owls.  Had I not needed to pee, I would have run on by, totally oblivious, and missed that wonderful sight.  They watched me and I watched them until I quietly ran off, leaving them further undisturbed.

What were the changes of stopping under that tree at the right time?  The odds are vanishingly small, and I've never seen barred owls in the wild before or since. 

Every run delivers some prize, some gift, some memory, some knowledge.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How to Pet a Kitty

Somebody on the Ultralist posted a link to a humorous site called The Oatmeal and I clicked over. 

It was so worth it, for there I found this particular gem, as well as many others.  I am posting the first panel see the entire comic you'll need to head over there.

How to Pet a Kitty

Go know you want to....

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What I Worry About

I’ve been running for 32+ years, since 1979, and been trail running since about 1990. Over my trail running “career” my philosophies have evolved.

What I worried about in 1979:

What I worry about now:
  • Getting lost
  • Falling
  • Twisting an ankle
  • Running out of water
  • Running out of food
  • Not getting back before dark

I will say that “worry” is really not the right word.  I’m just a bit more cautious than I used to be…I guess it’s because I have more at stake, and the years have taught me that bad things don’t always happen to other people.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Cats in Art: The Ray ( Chardin)

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 Ray, Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin, 1728, oil on canvas, 45" x  57", held by Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.

Zuffi nails it with his comment:

The secret and the magic of Chardin's paintings lie in their cold, sterile light, which seems to saturate objects, and in the intimate absorption that seems to endow them with a timeless existence.  The only living presence--and it is very much alive, with its bristling fur and demonic eyes--is the cat, who is more interested in the fish placed on the table than in the hug sea monster in the background.

Cats--always focused, always aware of their situation.  Except, in our home, De Beere, who, frankly, is just a klutz. 

One other thing to note about The Ray (even given the clue that my series of posts here every Sunday is called "Cats in Art") is that the place where my eye is drawn in this painting is not the grotesque, partially butchered sting ray hanging in the back. 

Nope, the cat is what I notice first.  And that's the way it should be.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

We are So Fracked

Here in Pennsylvania, Governor Corbett (R) is against any sort of impact fees, regulations, local community controls, etc. when it comes to Marcellus Shale development.  Why, you'd think that he was in the pocket of the Marcellus Shale developers (he is).

Via John Cole at Balloon Juice a couple weeks ago, this post, saying "...he was shocked, shocked, I tell you.":

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday [8 Dec 2011] that fracking - a controversial method of improving the productivity of oil and gas wells - may be to blame for causing groundwater pollution.

The draft finding could have a chilling effect in states trying to determine how to regulate the process.

The practice is called hydraulic fracturing and involves pumping pressurized water, sand and chemicals underground to open fissures and improve the flow of oil or gas to the surface.

The EPA's found that compounds likely associated with fracking chemicals had been detected in the groundwater beneath a Wyoming community where residents say their well water reeks of chemicals.

Health officials advised them not to drink their water after the EPA found hydrocarbons in their wells.

The EPA announcement has major implications for the vast increase in gas drilling in the U.S. in recent years. Fracking has played a large role in opening up many reserves.

John Cole truly understands the big picture:

The most depressing thing about this, though, is what the response to this declaration will be. In a sane universe, it would be an IMMEDIATE cessation of all fracking activity around the nation. Stop. NO MAS. Halt. You simply can not replace poisoned water. So stop until we figure out how to do this safely. We don't live in a sane universe, so what will happen is the Republicans and Blue Dogs from energy states will double down on the calls to disband the EPA, energy lobbyists will triple, and the energy industry will keep on drilling and putting out more and better commercials telling you that toxic sludge is good for you.

Nothing will be done about this until we are well and truly f**ked.

It's already happening. There is no way that drillers can pump all that toxic fracking cocktail into the earth under great pressure and NOT have some of it re-emerge.  Basic hydraulics, people.

Oh, and Merry Christmas.



Friday, December 23, 2011

Mister Tristan...and Bears

[image credit Gary]

For some reason the other day Mister Tristan (the 3-year-old human being, not the blog) asked a question about bears and remembered seeing a couple last summer at Shenandoah National Park in VA. We try to go there for a mini-vacation every summer. 

This summer Mister Tristan was old enough to show interest in the wildlife, and had the opportunity to see many of the critters of Shenandoah.  One night when we went for dinner at the Skyland resort restaurant, in the lobby Mister Tristan saw a bear statue, 4'-5' tall, dressed up in a park ranger outfit, but was a bit shy about approaching it too closely.

I took his hand and led him over to the bear, asking him whether he wanted to touch the bear's nose.  He said yes, so I lifted him up, whereupon Mister Tristan stuck a finger up the bear's nostril, pulled the finger out, examined it, and announced "No boogies!"

I try to do some trail running at Shenandoah and have been fortunate to have seen many bears over the years.  No matter how many times that happens, it ALWAYS is a huge thrill.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Wait, I KNOW This Goat...and Ultrarunning

Sent to me by my brother Michael, who in turn had gotten it sent to him via email as it makes its way around the net.

See, this goat also occasionally serves as a volunteer at races, having used black magic to temporarily transform itself into human form.  Mostly found at road races, this entity may also be present at an occasional Ultra (though the caliber of our Ultra volunteers is almost always above reproach).

This creature is the person you pass as you near the end of the race who tells you that the finish line is only a quarter of a mile thataway, when in reality it is at least another mile.

These people (or goats) will surely burn in Hell.  Wait, perhaps that's where they come from.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Pixilated Side-Boob....

...Morality Politics, and Ultrarunning

Well, the 23rd season of Survivor is history.  One might quibble with Sophie winning the $1M rather than Coach, but hey, it’s just an entertaining game (that many contestants and fans take far too seriously).

The bride and I quite enjoy the show and faithfully watch every episode.  Two of my noontime running buds also are fans, and we have many a spirited discussion while we run the perimeter of our military base.

Anyway…back to the title of this post.  Last week’s Survivor episode was interesting in that there were multiple camera shots in which one of Sophie's breasts was somewhat visible in profile through the armhole of her tank top.  The Survivor producers pixilated that part of the image, but it happened across multiple shots and so the pixilation became a technological distraction.

I get it—CBS needed those scenes of some key interplay in the game, and to make the shots usable for a prime time show they had to blur the image out.  No problem, they did the right thing for a family show.  But the pixilated side-boob got me thinking about morality politics, and that can be dangerous.

I thought again of just how the Republicans as a group to me seem abnormally fixated on morality issues, and not just of a sexual nature.  Witness the near fetish they have for trying to endow fertilized eggs with personhood as a way of torpedoing Roe v. Wade and abortion rights; fervent support for public displays of the Ten Commandments; pushing for (Christian) prayer in schools; promoting school vouchers as a way of keeping kids from being tainted by the public school environment; reflexive inclusion of the Pledge of Allegiance--to include of course, “Under God”--at as many public venues as possible.

All of this comes under the symbology of the pixilated side-boob.  It’s a proxy for the moral failings of the unwashed Democratic masses.  All the while the righteous right ignores the fact that the economy is in the toilet, poverty is at an all-time high, millions of people still are without jobs or health care, and saber-rattling in the direction of Iran is becoming a steady drumbeat.  But watch out for those pixilated side-boobs.

Never mind, too, that the Congress has utterly forgotten the absolute truism that “you can’t legislate morality.” Incoming freshmen and freshwomen should have that slogan tattooed on the back of their writing hand so they will see it hundreds of times every single day.  You. Can’t. Legislate. Morality. [see note 1 below]

So give it up, dear leaders. Forget about the various pixilated side-boob issues that fall under the umbrella of trying to prescribe morality. Just focus on people’s basic welfare and needs. Sorta like that new testament dude talked about.

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning? I’ve been in many trail races, where both male and female competitors are out there for dozens of miles and hours. We eat, burp, pee, fart and poop and guess what? We’re all athletes using our working bodies and so it’s not a big deal. The pixilated side-boob would be such a non-issue on the trail.

[Note 1].  I was curious who first said this, that you can't legislate morality.  The quote used the word "precribe" instead of "legislate", and appears to be attributed to R.M. MacIver (1882–1970), Scottish sociologist, educator. The Modern State, ch. 5, Oxford University Press (1926).

What then is the relation of law to morality? Law cannot prescribe morality, it can prescribe only external actions and therefore it should prescribe only those actions whose mere fulfillment, from whatever motive, the state adjudges to be conducive to welfare. What actions are these? Obviously such actions as promote the physical and social conditions requisite for the expression and development of free—or moral—personality.... Law does not and cannot cover all the ground of morality. To turn all moral obligations into legal obligations would be to destroy morality.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

More Emily Dickinson and Ultrarunning

Last week (10 Dec 1830) was the birthday of Emily Dickinson, the famous New England poet of the mid 1800s.
The Writer's Almanac noted this date.  Ms. Dickinson seemed rather normal until she was a young adult, then seemingly became more and more closeted and reclusive, eventually scarcely venturing from her home at all.

Over the years, scholars have done a lot of speculating about Dickinson, coming up with all sorts of theories. Last year, a biographer named Lyndall Gordon suggested that Dickinson was epileptic, and that her epilepsy explained her seclusion, the rhythm and content of her poetry, and even her famous white dress, which according to Gordon was white for sanitary reasons. Various critics have tried to prove that her seclusion was the result of a broken heart, and have offered up any number of men in her life as the possible heartbreaker. A few years ago, a scholar named Carol Damon Andrews published an article claiming that Dickinson was engaged to her brother's friend George Gould, but that her father broke it up because Gould was too poor, and that Dickinson's love poems are written to Gould. There is also the popular theory that she was a closeted lesbian, possibly in love with her sister-in-law, Susan. Other scholars have diagnosed Dickinson with SAD, seasonal affective disorder.

Many people think that there is no one answer for Dickinson's seclusion — but that above all, she was driven by a fierce desire to write poetry, and she chose to sacrifice everything else for that. Allen Tate said: "All pity for Miss Dickinson's 'starved life' is misdirected. Her life was one of the richest and deepest ever lived on this continent."

I've blogged about her before, here, but I continue to imagine what it would be like to see the natural world through her eyes, wondering what she might make of trail running, and the physical and mental boundaries that it expands. 

Her attention to the details of nature--plants, animals, inanimate objects--as revealed in her poetry is quite remarkable.  She certainly knew the motivating forces that compel many of us to head to and love the backcountry.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Eta Caninae and Creationism

Eta Carinae (image credit National Geographic)

From the science blog Pharyngula, P. Z. Myers has been running some posts from readers on the topic Why I am an Atheist.

One particular post I liked for its astronomy angle came in from Michael Baizley, in which he raises an interesting conundrum for proponents of the young earth theory (i.e., 6,000 year old):

Increasing scientific knowledge did nothing to quell my views on god's creation. Seeing as my favorite star [see NOTE below] was eight thousand light years away, knowing that a light year is how far light travels in a year, knowing that my favorite star was at least eight thousand years old - and most likely far, far older - only made this doubt of god's creation grow. Especially in a world where creationists and fundamentalists, a great part of the United States population (40%, as late), tend to believe the world is six thousand years old.

If my favorite star were eight thousand light years away, and the oldest known sources of light were over thirteen billion light years away, what was the rationale for believing that the world [was] six thousand years old?

NOTE. In doing a bit or research, I'm suspecting that Michaels' favorite star is Eta Caninae, about to blow its stack in the photo above.

See also my previous post on Organ Cave, WV, where science and creationism also collide in documented measurements of natural phenomena.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Cats in Art: Portrait of the Cat Armellino With a Sonnet by Bertazzi (Reder)

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.

Click image for larger. Image credit, here (could not locate any museum or art repro images), Portrait of the Cat Armellino With a Sonnet by Bertazzi , Giovanni Reder, 1750, oil on canvas, 30" x 24", held by Museo di Roma, Rome, Italy.

Zuffi tells us:
Very few cats can boast that they have actually had their portraits painted, that is, that they have been depicted without any allegorical, moralizing, religious, esoteric, or simply decorative intent on the part of the artist....Armellino, wearing an elegant little collar, has literally posed on a luxurious cushion; a sonnet by the abbot Bertazzi has even been dedicated to him.

That's next cat will be Armellino.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Moon Art

Paul Van Hoeydonck is responsible for the only piece of art on the moon, a tiny memorial sculpture called "Fallen Astronaut." The piece is interesting for several reasons. For one, it presents us with a clear understanding of the kinds of technical limitations that moon artists must work under. Limitations, of course, can be instrumental to an artist's practice -- a broke Basquiat painted on window frames and cabinet doors -- but space art's parameters border on the draconian. In the design of the piece, Van Hoeydonck was restricted to materials that were both lightweight and sturdy, as well capable of withstanding extreme temperatures. Since it was to be a memorial to deceased astronauts, it couldn't be identifiably male or female, nor of any ethnic group. The somewhat questionable result: what looks like a metal Lego lying face-down on Mons Hadley.

Like the Moon Museum, Fallen Astronaut was an unofficial venture; the statuette was smuggled aboard the Apollo 15 lunar module by the astronauts themselves -- Scott and Jim Irwin -- without the knowledge of NASA officials. Its "installation" was unorthodox: in laying down the sculpture and its accompanying plaque, Irwin and Scott performed a private ceremony on the lunar surface. "We just thought we'd recognize the guys that made the ultimate contribution," Scott later said. Notable: "the guys" include eight American and six Soviet astronauts, a surprisingly apolitical act of solidarity in the midst of the Cold War.

Maybe I'm sentimental--OK, I am--but there's something really cool about imagining that statue "up" there on the Moon.

I wonder when we'll ever go back?

Friday, December 16, 2011

End of Story

In an 8 Dec post from the goddess Echidne "More on Newt Gingrich and the Forced Birthers," she recaps a gaffe recently made by candidate Gingrich:

Newt Gingrich has moved quickly to repair any potential fallout from his remarks last Friday to ABC's Jake Tapper in which he said that life begins at the "successful implantation" of a fertilized egg, rather than at conception.

That is heresy to the pro-life movement, and had the potential to complicate Gingrich's rise in the Republican presidential polls, especially in crucial states like Iowa and South Carolina, whose early caucuses and primary are dominated by conservative Christian voters.

"As I have stated many times throughout the course of my public life, I believe that human life begins at conception," Gingrich said in a statement posted Saturday on his campaign's website and sent to Joshua Mercer at, a conservative political site that had first called attention to -- and sharply criticized -- Gingrich's statement.

Then Echidne nails the hypocrisy.  This is along the lines of what the bride always says: "Why is it that old men in suits are always the ones setting up the rules about abortion?":

Too bad Newt is not a woman. Then he could walk his talk. For instance, if he happened to get a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, he could just let himself die rather than have the fertilized egg removed. But even as a man he could start a giant movement to have all those frozen fertilized eggs in fertility clinics implanted in forced birthers.

Why is this even under discussion?  A woman's body is HER body and SHE gets to choose whether or not to be pregnant.  End of story.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

My Kind of Statue...and Ultrarunning

[Image credit, from Planet of the Apes]

I would gladly contribute to funding this effort.  From Dave Lindorff at The Smirking Chimp:

Wanted: Sculptor who works in bronze to construct life-sized group of statues of President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, all to be mounted at the high tide line below a high cliff in Maine's Acadia National Park.

There what's left of American posterity can watch as the seas rise inexorably over the coming years and decades, first lapping at the feet of the statues, then the knees, then the waists, then the chests and finally cover over the heads of these "leaders" in Washington who have cynically and foolishly squandered the last opportunity to take effective action to combat climate change.

Such a sculpture would give the lie to these climate deniers, as rise of the sea level due to warming of the ocean and to the melting of the polar caps and the mountain glaciers gradually swamps and submerges these images. It would also serve as a focal point for shaming those politicians who allowed short-term political and monetary gain to blind them to the need for true leadership and action in combating the gravest threat to humanity and to life on the planet since a comet blasted the earth 65 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs.

Have we forgotten what even animals know is the Prime Directive: For. The. Children? 

If it enhances their chances for survival, do it; if not, don't.

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?  Pretty obvious--no habitable planet, no trails.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas, Death Throes, and Ultrarunning

Via Watertiger at Dependable Renegade, a rather disturbing Christmas card:

Watertiger's caption, upon which I cannot improve:

Nothing says "Happy Holidays" like some good old-fashioned taxidermed death throes.

These are some twisted people, to take real, live, beautiful critters and permanently freeze them into a shallow representation of life.  Why not just enjoy them in the wild, live and let live?

Some of my best trail experiences ever involve seeing critters in the wild.  I can honestly say that I never had the desire to kill them and have them stuffed for my home enjoyment.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

If Nicolas Cage Were an Ultrarunner

The bride and I watch a fair number of movies, and probably my least favorite A-list actor is Nicolas Cage.  Flipping thru the channels, I just saw him again a couple weeks ago in Windtalkers, the WWII flick about the war in the Pacific and him protecting the Navajo code talkers.

To me, it always seems like he's acting, like I can never suspend my disbelief enough to think "That's a real character."  I always think, in this example, "That's Nicolas Cage pretending to be a Marine."

It wasn't much of stretch to imagine him--acting poorly, of course--in an Ultrarunning movie.  You wouldn’t be able to believe that he's a real Ultrarunner; you'd know that it was Nicolas Cage only pretending to be an Ultrarunner. Imagine that Nicolas Cage syrupy voice saying lines like these:

"You run up the trail.  You puke your guts out.  Then you wipe your mouth and keep on running."

"Your manners are terrible [cocks pistol, points it at a rude runners head, at an aid station]. You say "Thank You" to the nice volunteers because it's the right thing to do, because nobody's holding a gun to their heads like I am doing to you, making them stand out here for hours handing you water."

"I stopped wearing shoelaces.  Now I just ziptie my shoes on my feet and keep the same shoes on the whole race.  If I die during the run it'll be like the ultra equivalent of dying with my boots on."

"Pissing in the woods?  Crapping?  That's for wussies.  Real men can hold their stuff."

[channeling Steve Prefontaine] "A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts."

"I don't use Body Glide or any of those products on my junk or anywhere.  Lube is for wimps.  I want the total experience, pain and all."

"Buckles?  You mean those shiny trinkets you get for finishing a 100 miler? I keep my buckles right up here, where it really counts [taps head]."


Monday, December 12, 2011

Martin Luther...and Ultrarunning

Saved this tidbit from the 10 Nov 2011 edition of The Writer's Almanac.  I'm beating the same drum here as I always do, but you gotta subscribe to their daily emails if you have a curious bone in your body.

This date is the birthday of Martin Luther, of theological fame.  I think of him as a sober, sincere, reverent man.  But evidently he was a hellraiser, who actually wrote about Ultrarunning and post-run refreshment (well, not really, but see BOLD below):

When a friend wrote Luther a letter confessing that he was depressed, Luther had some advice for him: "Be strong and cheerful and cast out these monstrous thoughts. Whenever the devil harasses you thus, seek the company of men or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, aye, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all. So when the devil says to you: 'Do not drink,' answer him: 'I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to.' One must always do what Satan forbids.

In Ultrarunning we find in our play, and in play we find our salvation.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cats in Art: Portrait of Louise Vernet as a Child (Gericault)

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.

Click image for larger. Image credit Wikipaintings, here.  Portrait of Louise Vernet as a Child, Theodore Gericault, 1819, oil on canvas, 50 cm x 60 cm, held by Musee du Louvre, Paris, France.

Zuffi laconically observes:

Following the eighteenth-century fashion for depicting cats held in the arms of their owners, Gericault portrayed Louise, daughter of the well-known painter Horace Vernet, posed with an enormous cat.

Enormous, indeed--the cat looks like a mountain lion.  But at least it's placid, for now.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Plan B, a Liberal's Dilemma...and Ultrarunning

My fine Sunday hat is high in the air for my favorite guilty pleasure, blogger The Rude Pundit, whom all of you should be reading as a matter of daily routine, like brushing your teeth.

In his 8 Dec post, he's thumping President Obama, and rightfully so, starting with the decision to not make Plan B emergency contraception available to women under 17 without a prescription.  [see NOTE at the end of my post for more solid thinking on the subject, from Lindsay Beyerstein]

He nails the rationale: politics trumping science.  Somewhere in the White House, a staffer thunk these thoughts and they prevailed (bolding is mine):

If you think about it, of course HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA's decision to allow the Plan B emergency contraception to be sold over-the-counter with no age restrictions. Can you imagine the Republican ads in 2012? "President Obama thinks it's okay for 13-year old girls to abort their children without parental consent," they'd lie. "Mitt Romney is pretty sure that's wrong." There's an election in less than a year. And your precious science and "facts" and "rights" have no place here.
The Rude Pundit would bet that some White House insider would say that it was more important to take abortion off the table as an issue in the presidential election, even if Plan B is a contraceptive, not an abortifacient, and, really, the anti-choice yahoos need to make a decision here on whether life begins at conception or at ejaculation. He bets that that insider would tell women of all ages not to worry, that the decision would be changed in a second Obama term, that that's just the way the world works.
The Rude One goes on to opine that the Obama administration is now most analogous to the meanderings of the TV series "The X-Files" in having no apparent direction, premise or end game:

The Obama administration now seems like a television series that has lost its plot thread. The Rude Pundit remembers watching The X-Files back in the day, believing that the mysteries and mythology would have a resolution by the end of its run, that the creators of the show knew the arc and knew the conclusion. So you'd get a great episode involving aliens and conspiracies in the government one week. And then the next week you'd get David Duchovny being beaten up by a talking ape. But you stuck with it, thinking that it would all pay off, that your loyalty would be rewarded.
But in the end, that happy revelation and closure were not to be.  It was all indeed a random, ad hoc goat rope.
You finally realized that you were being suckered, that there would be no satisfaction at the end, that the only goal was to make more money for Fox TV by staying on the air....So it is with the presidency of Barack Obama. Any time you attempt to say that you're sick of the cynical way the White House takes the left for granted, you're given a list of things that Obama has accomplished, as if somehow you were denying that he did those things. Yeah, he did accomplish an overhaul of the health care system that has benefited Americans in ways large and small. Yeah, he did get Osama bin Laden and is, at least to an extent, winding down the Iraq war. Yeah, yeah, fine, fine. But this isn't a case of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately.
The Rude Pundit wants to believe that there's an ideology at work, a path, if you will, to what Obama wants to achieve as a president. And, no matter what you say about Republicans in Congress blocking his way, it seems that, often, even when it's purely executive branch matters, there is no ideology at work, either - just political calculations, as with the Plan B decision, or the continuing concentration of power in the executive, as with indefinite detention and drone assassinations.

When he ran the first time, Obama created a narrative about the nation and its possibilities. That narrative has been abandoned for the sake of expediency, out of fear of the right, with barely any nods towards it anymore. He might say that the exigencies of the contemporary political and economic and foreign policy landscapes have forced changes in the storyline, but that the goal is ultimately the same. We just need to keep believing him. And, c'mon, liberals, what choice do you have?

The link to Ultrarunning is that in our sport we have simplicity and consistency.  Sure, there sometimes is a whiff of the woo factor, of superstitions and luck, of habit or hunch trumping logic.  But in the end, we Ultrarunners are a practical lot.  We deal with fact and science, with what has been proven to work, either through our own "experiment of one" or through the collective hive mind that has run literally millions of trail miles and shared the results via blogs like mine, the Ultralist, or the print voice of the sport, UltraRunning Magazine.

I like to think that thinking Ultrarunners are as appalled as I am by the Plan B decision and by the political expediency of the current administration.
[NOTE promised in para 2 above.  C'mon: the stated reason to not make it over the counter to under 17s (and to keep it behind the counter for over-17s) is this, from blogger Lindsay Beyerstein:

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius concedes that Plan B has been shown to be safe and effective when used as directed. She claims she is overruling the FDA because the company that asked to sell it over the counter didn't produce evidence that girls under 17 "can understand the label and use the product appropriately."

By that logic all over the counter medication should be banned because people under 17 might buy it.

Plan B is not difficult to use. Plan B One-Step is a single dose in a single tablet.

It is effective for 72 hours after unprotected sex. If it is taken too late, it won't work. That's it.

Besides which, a kid who can't figure out how to take 1 pill in 3 days is really not ready to be a parent.

The FDA lets kids buy Tylenol over the counter, despite the fact that surprisingly small overdoses can kill. The instructions on cold medicine and allergy pills are more complicated than the instructions on Plan B. The FDA trusts young women to treat their own yeast infections with OTC fungicide, a process that requires much greater reading comprehension, dexterity, and tenacity than taking a single pill.


Friday, December 9, 2011

Mind Tricks...and Ultrarunning

Over at Boing Boing (always a good, geeky read!), I was fascinated by an article called Mind Tricks to Try and Use

I've used this one for some time, and it does indeed work:

When I walk through large crowds of people, to avoid walking into anyone, I simply stare at my destination. I look no one in the eyes. People actually will watch your eyes and they avoid the direction you are going. If I look into people's eyes as we are walking into each other, we are sure to collide. You have to let people know where you intend to go with your eyes. It always works for me, try it!

How many times do you make eye contact, then you and the other approaching person juke back and forth and nearly collide anyway?  Just act distracted and don't make eye contact.  Problem solved.

The link to Ultrarunning is that this really doesn't apply much.  First, not all races have sections in which you face opposing runners.  In training runs, the number of people encounters is pretty small anyway.  I just usually make it a habit--as is the normal rule on multi-use trails--to keep right except to pass.

Never had so much as a close call to hitting another runner on a trail.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's A Wonderful Life...and Ultrarunning

Image credit Wikipedia.

This brilliant Frank Capra movie, which my grown kids hate, was not always on my fav list either.  But over the years, as I've seen more stuff, experienced more things, and grown (I think) more wise, this 1946 film keeps calling me as being even more relevant than ever.

I ran across an article about the fate of Zuzu, Jimmy Stewart's and Donna Reed's youngest child in the movie, at the Washington Post.  The piece is entitled "For Zuzu of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ it wasn’t such a wonderful life afterward."

Karolyn Grimes played Zuzu, and never saw the movie until some 33 years later as an adult.  She certainly had seen hard times in her life, and commented:

Oh, it was fresh and dark, about as relevant today as it was when it was made,” said Grimes, quieting a moment. “Think of all the people out of work, losing their homes, hungry kids worried about their parents. What’s so different about today and 60 years ago?

Indeed.  But watch it this holiday season, by all means.

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?  Had George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) been a trail runner, I think he would have been able to cope better with life's adversities, even those crushing problems that caused him to come within a whisker of suicide in the film. 

At least that's been my experience.

My family is no different than most; like many others, we've experienced great joy but also have seen some serious stuff.  I will say here that were it not for my Ultrarunning, I am certain that I would have imploded (equal credit is due to loved ones, a cat, a support group, and my noontime running buddies).


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

7 Dec, 1941

70 years ago today....

This memorial is a quiet, solemn place.  The oil still bubbles to the surface from the USS Arizona, a fitting place to reflect upon the futility of war.

[photos by Gary]


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

More Pacifism....

Via The Smirking Chimp, author David Swanson decries the current Defense Appropriation Bill under consideration as being all-war, all the time.  Can't say that I disagree. 

It's a bill to dump over $650 billion into wars and aggressive weaponry, continue the slaughter in Afghanistan, ramp up the creation and use of drones, and expand U.S. military bases around the globe.

Swanson then goes on to talk passionately about an alternative.

In the absence of an overall conversion-to-sanity-and-sustainability bill, there is a related bill that has been introduced in the current Congress: "The Nuclear Weapons Abolition and Economic and Energy Conversion Act of 2011" introduced by Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Here's the full text.  Simple and elegant, and exactly the type of action that in a sane world we need to do for our descendants.  Unfortunately, it is extremely doubtful that this will even generate much debate, much less passage. 

"(a) In General- The United States Government shall--
(1) by the date that is three years after the date of the enactment of this Act, provide leadership to negotiate a multilateral treaty or other international agreement that provides for--
(A) the dismantlement and elimination of all nuclear weapons in every country by not later than 2020; and
(B) strict and effective international control of such dismantlement and elimination;
(2) redirect resources that are being used for nuclear weapons programs to use--
(A) in converting all nuclear weapons industry employees, processes, plants, and programs smoothly to constructive, ecologically beneficial peacetime activities, including strict control of all fissile material and radioactive waste, during the period in which nuclear weapons must be dismantled and eliminated pursuant to the treaty or other international agreement described in paragraph (1); and
(B) in addressing human and infrastructure needs, including development and deployment of sustainable carbon-free and nuclear-free energy sources, health care, housing, education, agriculture, and environmental restoration, including long-term radioactive waste monitoring;
(3) undertake vigorous, good-faith efforts to eliminate war, armed conflict, and all military operations; and
(4) actively promote policies to induce all other countries to join in the commitments described in this subsection to create a more peaceful and secure world.
(b) Effective Date- Subsection (a)(2) shall take effect on the date on which the President certifies to Congress that all countries possessing nuclear weapons have--
(1) eliminated such weapons; or
(2) begun such elimination under established legal requirements comparable to those described in subsection (a)."


Monday, December 5, 2011

A Despicable Human Being

This "man" is a despicable human being.  From Crooks and Liars on the day before Thanksgiving, 2011:

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Monday suggested using drastic cuts to health care for the poorest Americans to fund the Department of Defense.

Speaking to employees of BAE Systems, one of the nation's largest defense contractors, the candidate said that President Barack Obama and members of the "super committee" should agree to scale back the Medicaid program in order to prevent $600 billion in cuts to defense spending over ten years.

"A doomsday scenario for our military is not the right course, given where the world is headed," Romney remarked. "I would call on the president -- and do call on the president -- to immediately introduce legislation which says we will not have a $600 billion cut to America's military. We should not cut any funding from our base Department of Defense budget. That should not occur."

"And I would apply the $600 billion [in cuts] that were anticipated being imposed upon the military, I would take those and apply them to other parts of the federal budget," he continued. "And there are a number of candidates for that. One of them, of course, would be to take something like Medicaid, which is our health care program for the poor, and return that program to the states."

In a world where on defense we outspend the rest of the planet's nations put together, he has the nerve to say that poorer folk must suffer so as to leave the DOD budget untouched?


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Cats in Art: Espirit de Baculard d'Armand (Greuze)

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 The Scholar's Resource, here.  Espirit de Baculard d'Armand (or in English, The Son of Francois Thomas de Baculard d'Armand), Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1776, oil on oval canvas, held by Musee des Beaux-Arts, Troyes, France.  

Zuffi observes, on the art of this period:

The cat faced up to this age of revolution and change with its customary nonchalance and proverbial adaptability.

In other words, tell me when it's over, but in the meantime, keep on petting me or I'll get even more annoyed than I am now....


Saturday, December 3, 2011

More Exit 29, Ultrarunning, and Wilderness

Here’s another Milepost 29 post on the heels of yesterday’s post.  As I drove up Interstate 81 as part of my daily 60-mile commute (today was my day to drive the carpool) I reflected that every single drop of gasoline that we use is based upon extraction technology and is a truly finite resource.  Now this is not a new fact, but today for some reason, I truly examined that fact and it really sank in for the first time.

Once we extract that last drop, it’s gone.  There’s no more.

That fact alone should make all of us and especially our leaders shudder.  Truth is, it’s kinda stupid to continue to base our entire infrastructure and economy on fossil fuels with no Plan B, but that indeed is what we are doing.  One would think that our leaders would be calling for a full-court press, like the concerted heroic effort that placed a man on the moon in the 1960s.  But one would be wrong.

I can’t solve the energy problem, but the finiteness of extractable fossil fuels contrasts starkly with the non-consumability (within reason) of wilderness. 
Wilderness (and I use the word loosely here to mean any backcountry in which we run), unlike fossil fuels, is non-consumable in the sense that whether 1 person or 1000 people view a waterfall, the waterfall is not diminished.  Within reason, given the constraints of physics and geology--erosion, soil type, etc.--most trails can tolerate few or many folks walking/running there.  In other words, wilderness persists without diminution. 

Wilderness is relative in the degree to which it contrasts to everyday life.  The beauty of ultrarunning is that it CAN be part of everyday life, thus inextricably tying us to wilderness.

Let’s let Aldo Leopold have the last word on wilderness:

Ability to see the cultural value of  wilderness boils down, in the last analysis, to a question of intellectual humility.  The shallow-minded modern who has lost his rootage in the land assumes that he has already discovered what is important; it is such who prate of empires, political or economic, that will last a thousand years. It is only the scholar who appreciates that all history consists of successive excursions from a single starting point, to which man returns again and again to organize yet another search for a durable scale of values.  It is only the scholar who understands why the raw wilderness gives definition and meaning to the human enterprise.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Milepost 29…and Ultrarunning

A couple of years ago, before Mister Tristan (the blog, not the 3-year old human being), I fell asleep while driving along Interstate 81 in southern PA.  Near Milepost 29, I ran off the southbound lanes onto the right shoulder, obliquely hitting and grinding to a stop along the guard rail.  My car was totaled, but there were no injuries to me nor any effect on anyone else, so it was a benign outcome to what could have been a tragic circumstance.

A couple of weeks ago I saw in the local paper that another vehicle had run off I-81 at Milepost 29.  In viewing the site, I saw where the two impact points were less than 100' apart. 

Unfortunately, in the latter accident, the angle of impact was much more acute (i.e., more perpendicular to the guard rail), so the vehicle plowed through and/or over the guard rail where a few feet down the embankment it was abruptly stopped cold by impacting a tree.  Of the three occupants, one died right there; another barely clings to life today; and the third sustained non-life threatening injuries and will survive.

I’m not claiming any special recognition here; any one of us could cite a parallel example from their personal experience where tragedy was narrowly averted by the luck of the draw.  The law of averages can both smile and frown upon us, rather randomly. 

The point is simply acknowledging another demonstration of the fragility of life.

Literally, any moment, any breath, any heartbeat could be our last (and, like it or not, that will be our fate, sooner or later).  All of us have likely seen the inspirational slogan that life is not measured by how many breaths we take, but by how many moments take our breath away.

Ultrarunning neatly fits that bill, replenishing our psyches via time spent alone--or with like-minded souls--in nature.  We recharge when we are being what the late Dr. George Sheehan referred to as “a good animal,” using our bodies efficiently and purposefully in the pursuit of physical and mental perfection out on our beloved trails. 

Being a good animal--fit, alert, aware--opens the doors for the mental enlightenment that can only come through physical challenge.  The heart revs up the mind, and in so doing we come closer to perfection than the sedentary will ever know.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas Trees, Cats, and Ultrarunning

[photo by Gary]

We put up our Christmas tree this weekend--we always do that the Saturday immediately after Thanksgiving.

We have a regular ritual.  We go the the tree farm in October to pick and tag a tree, then return Thanksgiving Saturday to cut it and bring it home.  I put the lights and garlands around it, then push it back into the corner of the great room where we attack it with ornaments.

Mister Tristan--the 3-year old human, not the blog--really got into it this year.  Of course, when I got the stepstool to reach to the the top of the 9' tree, also climbing the stepstool became a high priority for him.

Oh, and laying under the tree becomes a priority for the cats.  This particular feline is called Amanda--Mana for short--and has staked out the under-tree region as hers.  That is, until she goes outside, in which case the area is up for grabs.

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?  This tree is a Douglas Fir.  Here in the East, people know it only from Christmas trees, where it is very popular because it retains its needles very well even when cut and indoors.

I can't ever forget my first time on a trail out west seeing mature, old-growth Douglas Firs in their native habitat.  I mean, these trees were real giants--6' or more thick and 150' tall--like smaller versions of a redwood.  I was in utter awe of their majesty, and couldn't help but be compelled to use my library voice when I spoke.