Tuesday, May 31, 2011

REPOST: I’d Rather Laugh With the Sinners than Cry With the Saints….

While I am down after arm surgery and can't type, I am recycling some posts from a year ago.

This from 31 May 2010, here (you'll need to click back to see any images, I could not easily or quickly insert them in this re-post):

As an ultrarunner who has had some mid-pack success—I once finished 3rd in a small 30 person 50K—I am always interested in the facial expressions of the front runners. That is, if the race venue is such that there is some sort of out-n-back that enables the runners further back to see the leaders. For example, the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Race had a couple of spurs that permitted those of us further back to see the leaders coming back the other way.

And usually it seems that the leaders are not enjoying themselves as much as the middle or back of the packers are. They just seem not to having as much fun as I am further back. Now, of course I realize that the top dogs probably have much different goals than I do (i.e., winning rather than merely finishing!), and I am NOT being judgmental. It’s just that I am glad, at age 58, that I’m not a contender and can figuratively sit back and enjoy the companionship of the race and not feel compelled to push if I don’t want to.

To stretch an analogy, as Billy Joel once sang, I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints…the sinners are much more fun….

(tried to embed the YouTube, but failed, so go here instead)

Monday, May 30, 2011

REPOST: Habituated to War

While I am down after arm surgery and can't type, I am recycling some posts from a year ago.

This from 30 May 2010, here (you'll need to click back to see any images, I could not easily or quickly insert them in this re-post):

Via Andrew Sullivan, I wound up over at Travels With Shiloh. The author there attended a COIN Symposium 11-13 May at Fort Leavenworth, KS (COIN meaning Counter Insurgency).

He observed the following:

There were about 100 attendees at the conference with a pretty even mix of military and civilian personnel (both contractors and what appeared to be a smattering of reps from other departments). While primarily American there were other nations represented, particularly Canadian, British and Australian. There were no representatives from Afghanistan which was disappointing but apparently logistics got in the way of that.

Most of the military attendees were field grade officers (between major and colonel) with a few scattered captains and senior enlisted (SFC and MSGs) thrown in.

On an interesting note I don't recall hearing the terms 'War on terror', 'long war' or anything similar over the three days. The conflict in Afghanistan was (rightly, I think) divorced from some greater project.

While, current U.S. policy states that we'll begin withdrawing our forces in 2011 there was a universal recognition that any real effort to apply COIN in Afghanistan would take a very long time. While the subject wasn't addressed (except for one question at the final Q&A roundtable) my impression was that all of the speakers (British, Canadian and U.S.) were operating under the assumption that forces would be in place well beyond 2011. I heard no discussion about how to conduct any sort of hand off to the Afghans within 18 months, alterations to COIN theory or doctrine or trains of thought about alternate ways militaries could support/conduct COIN without significant numbers of forces on the ground. I would interpret that to mean that the military has been given the word (explicitly or implicitly) that that 2011 deadline is NOT set in stone. I would, in fact, go further and predict that barring some unforeseen change in the operating environment we will almost definitely have a significant presence in Afghanistan for some time.

With respect to that last paragraph, are you much surprised? Didn’t think so. Beyond the reality of continuing occupation, the fact that it isn’t surprising is perhaps the other point of the story.

Somehow we have become habituated to war since we've been at it 9 years and counting (in our current iteration). Rather than the use of military force being an exceptional condition, only invoked and perpetuated in the gravest of situations, it’s sort of become part of the background noise.

Move along people, there's nothing for you to see here, just an endless war with a blank check, no success criteria, and no discernable exit strategy. In the meanwhile, service men and women keep coming home in boxes.

See also my post on Congressman Grayson's attempt to rein in defense spending, via The War is Making You Poor Act.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cats in Art: Annunciation (Barocci)

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. Annunciation, Federico Barocci, 1592-96, Oil on canvas, 109" x 66 ", held by Santa Maria Degli Angelli, Assisi, Italy.

A close-up of the sleeping cat in the left foreground is the image that Zuffi uses to grace the cover of his book, The Cat in Art.  This is the second Barocci cat painting in a row that I am using--the guy loved his cats, I guess.

Zuffi has a long explanation, but the money quote is simply this: "...the cat is blissfully snoring by the sewing basket."

Doesn't get much better than that, does it?


Saturday, May 28, 2011

REPOST: The War is Making You Poor Act

While I am down after arm surgery and can't type, I am recycling some posts from a year ago.

This from 28 May 2010, here (you'll need to click back to see any images, I could not easily or quickly insert them in this re-post):

Here's an action that I can support:

From Congressman Alan Grayson's (Dem, FL 8th District) web page, he gets its exactly right:

During a compelling speech on the floor of the House last night, Congressman Grayson pointed out that the United States spends as much as the rest of the world combined on defense.

"Why is that necessary? If we are going to have that much military spending, do we really need another $159 billion for the wars on top of that? I think not, particularly when people in America are suffering," Congressman Grayson said.

The War Is Making You Poor Act (H.R. 5353) does not necessitate an end to the wars or mandate a cut-off date. The bill simply requires the President to fund the wars from the $559 billion budget for defense spending in FY 2011. "There is no longer any need to go beyond the exorbitant base defense budget. It is not necessary. Enough is enough."

I don't think that Congressman Grayson's action here is a mere stunt, I want to believe--and I do--that he is a person of conviction and courage, with the unique ability to influence U.S. events by being in Congress.

I do, however, despair at the possibility for meaningful results. I'm working on a post I think I'll call Habituated to War, that will try to delve into our lack of concern? outrage? over the perpetual state of war we have found oursleves in for the past 9 years. Even if the mood of the country is to continue these military efforts, as embodied by our elected representatives, then we do need to treat such expenditures as part of the budget rather than as a semi-permanent supplement appropriation each year.

The way we do it now is nothing more than a form of book-cooking, and masks the true cost to the American people...and the Mister Tristans of this nation, on whose backs and wallets this burden will ultimately fall.

(photo credit here)

No, I am NOT depicting Congressman Grayson as an a-hole...the key feature is a couple feet south of there. You go, Congressman Grayson!

Note that I hesitated to include this picture of balls to represent the courage of Congressman Grayson, since I consider myself as a feminist and am sensitive to the fact the language of sexism is pervasive and damaging. I don't want to perpetuate the male-dominated patriarchic society, but go with this image anyway for now...I certainly would be grateful if someone could provide me a gender-neutral equivalent of balls = courage.

Friday, May 27, 2011

REPOST: Golf Balls, Catnip, and Running

While I am down after arm surgery and can't type, I am recycling some posts from a year ago.

This from 27 May 2010, here (you'll need to click back to see any images, I could not easily or quickly insert them in this re-post):

This past weekend I did not make it out for an Appalachian Trail run as I had hoped. We were away Friday and Saturday, and Sunday seemed just too good an opportunity to catch up on some sleep that an AT run just wasn’t feasible.

I did run 10 miles on local roads, and out in the middle of nowhere I found a golf ball, in perfect shape. I carried it home and gave it to a golfing buddy, even though, as we all know (just like NASCAR), golf is not a real sport. I’ve previously found golf balls on runs far away from any course, so all I can figure is that golf aficionados must be teeing off from their yards to practice their drives…or they are tossing them from moving cars.

Neither explanation seems too plausible.

The other thing I bought home was some catnip for the cats. I don’t need to plant any in my yard as it grows profusely around here on roadsides. It seems mighty strange to see a cat munching on a green plant, but munch they do, eagerly.

By the way, the run went OK, but barely. The skies were threatening when I went out and sure enough, about 5 miles out I got drenched, although that was no big deal since it was not cold. The main reason for an unsatisfactory run was that I just had nothing in my legs.

My running has been majorly flat and uninspired since completing the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run on 27 March. I’ve experienced similar letdowns subsequent to some major effort and I realize that this, too, shall pass. I need to apply for another race—there’s nothing like a commitment and an actual date on the calendar to focus one’s mind and body.


(photos by Gary)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

REPOST: Death Hits Close to Home

While I am down after arm surgery and can't type, I am recycling some posts from a year ago.

This from 26 May 2010, here (you'll need to click back to see any images, I could not easily or quickly insert them in this re-post):

Army SSG Richard J. Tieman (photo credit here)

Nicole Belle at Crooks and Liars has posted last week's casualties, based upon a Pentagon release of the names of eleven service members killed in Afghanistan:

US Navy PO3 Zarian Wood, 29, Houston, TX US Marines
CPL Nicholas D Parada Rodriguez, 29, Stafford, VA
US Marines SSGT Adam L Perkins, 27, Antelope, CA
US Army COL John M McHugh, 46, New Jersey
US Army LTC Paul R Bartz, 43, Waterloo, WI
US Army LTC Thomas P Belkofer, 44, Perrysburg, OH
US Army SSG Richard J. Tieman, 28, Waynesboro, PA
US Army SPC Joshua A Tomlinson, 24, Dubberly, LA
US Marines LCPL Patrick Xavier Jr, 24, Pembroke Pines, FL
US Army SSG Shane S Barnard, 38, De Smet, SD
US Army PFC Billy G Anderson, 20, Alexandria, TN

According to iCasualties, the total number of allied service members killed in Iraq is 4,717; in Afghanistan, 1,783. During this same period, Iraq Body Count lists 78 Iraqi civilian deaths. The Army announced this week that they would launch an investigation into the illegal deaths of Afghan civilians.

The 7th name on the list strikes home: Army SSG Richard J. Tieman, 28, Waynesboro, PA. He was from a community just a few miles away. I did not know him personally, but his death will leave a hole in his family that can never be filled.

While I continue to strongly feel that continuing the Afghanistan venture is ill-advised and basically a no-win situation, I applaud the sacrifices made by all service members, who can take satisfaction from the fact that they are doing their duty to the best of their abilities. We have a seemingly endless war, coming with a blank check (i.e., no estimate as to costs), no success criteria, and no discernable exit strategy.

Richard Tieman deserves better.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

REPOST: Looking Down on a Red Tailed Hawk

While I am down after arm surgery and can't type, I am recycling some posts from a year ago.

This from 25 May 2010, here (you'll need to click back to see any images, I could not easily or quickly insert them in this re-post):

(Photo by Gary)

Last summer, the bride and I celebrated our 36th anniversary. We picked well and have been lucky, and have thoroughly enjoyed our time together. We hope to be fortunate enough and healthy enough to continue to enjoy each other's company until we depart this earth.

To commemorate that anniversary, as a surprise I booked a hot air balloon ride with Windjammer Balloons out of York, PA. The ride originally was booked for our anniversary weekend, but the weather did not cooperate (rain and wind are the nemeses of ballooning and do necessitate rescheduling, perhaps as much as half the time). Trying to reschedule with the other couple was tough, so we ultimately punted until this spring when the ride went off as scheduled without a hitch.

As a nature lover and ultrarunner, I am pretty familiar with the critters that roam in our neck of the woods here in southern Pennsylvania. I have been blessed to have had many encounters with them, on foot, in their own territory where I was the intruder and always strive mightily NOT to be an unwelcome guest. So one of the things that pleasantly surprised me about the balloon ride was seeing critters. As we flew over farm fields and woods we saw numerous white-tailed deer. Also we saw two separate foxes, one that appeared from its color to be a red fox, and the other a gray fox.

But the crème de la crème for me was to be looking DOWN on a red-tailed hawk in flight. I have always admired this magnificent bird, but have only ever seen it from below. I am pleased that they are again doing well. Their population was in severe decline due to ill-informed people shooting them on sight so as to increase the population of game animals, and the effects of DDT.

When I and my running buddies take our noontime run around the perimeter of the Navy base where we work, we often see a resident Red-tail, who is familiar enough with people that he/she often does not fly from its street light perch as we run beneath it. And when it does fly, seeing those magnificent red tail feathers spread to catch the wind brings a thrill to my spine.

Back to Windjammer--their price per person for a 1-hour flight is $195 (I have no financial interest in this). The pilot was friendly, professional, and inspired confidence. I should mention that one of our flying companions is a licensed private small-plane pilot and is strictly by-the-book when it comes to safety--he was impressed with the attention to equipment and procedural safety. The ground crew in the chase vehicle kept in constant radio and visual communication with the balloon, and was there to meet us as we gently touched down in an large backyard.

Then after the balloon was stowed and we had been transported back to the launch site, we toasted the experience with champagne. What a memorable day--highly recommended!

The Balloonists' Prayer

The Winds have Welcomed you with softness.
The Sun has blessed you with its warm hands.
You have flown so high and so well,
that God has joined you in your laughter.
And He has set you gently back again
into the loving arms of Mother Earth.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

REPOST: Terrible Things

While I am down after arm surgery and can't type, I am recycling some posts from a year.

This from 24 May 2010, here (you'll need to click back to see any images, I could not easily or quickly insert them in this re-post):

While I'm on a Writer's Almanac roll (see Saturday's post on Salvador Dali), I saved this one from last August 14th:

It's the birthday of journalist, essayist, and humorist Russell Baker, (books by this author) born in Morrisonville, Virginia (1925). He's a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner; the first he won in 1979 for distinguished commentary for his syndicated humor column, "The Observer," which ran from the early 1960s to the late 1990s. The second Pulitzer he received for his autobiography, Growing Up (1982). He's edited a number of anthologies, including The Norton Book of Light Verse (1986). He once said, "I gave up on new poetry myself thirty years ago, when most of it began to read like coded messages passing between lonely aliens in a hostile world."

Russell Baker said, "Usually, terrible things that are done with the excuse that progress requires them are not really progress at all, but just terrible things."

Sure makes me immediately think of the War on Terror and the justifications for torture, unlawful wiretaps, and incarcerations without due process.

Monday, May 23, 2011

REPOST: Last of the Mohicans and Ultrarunning

While I am down after arm surgery and can't type, I am recycling some posts from a year ago.

This from 23 May 2010, here (you'll need to click back to see any images, I could not easily or quickly insert them in this re-post):

Last of the Mohicans and Ultrarunning

(image credit here)

I posted this to the Ultralist back in 2000 but I think it’s sorta funny to resurrect here on the blog. Besides, after my recent political and philosophical posting, I’d better put up something to do with ultrarunning, right?

A buddy of mine is into 18th century living history and has probably worn out his copy of the Last of the Mohicans movie. Anyway, for those into such things, he pointed out 2 pretty cool technical errors in the film that survived editing:

--Near the beginning of the final climactic hill climbing scene, the main character (Daniel Day-Lewis) emerges running from under a "cave" or rock pile.....and he bounces off a "rock" in the left foreground that shakes significantly. It obviously must be a fabric-covered mock up.

ULTRA CONTENT: we need these forgiving rocks on the trails we run on.

--In the scene after the surrender of the besieged fort, when the stream of British & settler refugees is walking thru that long meadow just prior to being ambushed: a crew person in a blue/purple baseball cap with a small megaphone is clearly visible in the right foreground walking with the others.

ULTRA CONTENT: late in an ultra, with a crash & burn imminent, we may need crew direction.

I better go running now.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Cats in Art: Holy Family With a Cat (Barocci)

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. Holy Family With a Cat (or, The Madonna of the Cat), Federico Barocci, 1577-80, Oil on wood, 44" x 40", held by Musee Conde, Chantilly, France.
Zuffi comments:
For Barocci, the cat is the very symbol of the family, domestic intimacy, peace....Barocci also experienced nausea, convulsions, and psychosomatic problems that forced him to put down his brushes.  It is well known that stroking and looking after a cat are among the most effective natural ways to calm the nerves.

Well, duh!

The babies are John the Baptist (with the finch) and of course, Jesus.  No play date is complete without a cat.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Cats in Tanks

Via Dependable Renegade, I clicked over to Vimeo where I found this fun video (note: it does contain violence).

The format is new to me--I'm only familiar with YouTube--so let's see how well the embed works:

Cats in Tanks from Whitehouse Post on Vimeo.

Also on Dependable Renegade, I see Mr. Sulu's (George Takei) comment on Donald Trump exiting the quest for the White House:

Donald Trump bows out of presidential race, citing inability to prove he wasn't born a douchebag.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Emperor Has No Clothes...and Spanking

I love me some smart-a** comments, where somebody points out that the emperor has no clothes.
Commenting on pending legislation in Texas that would permit school officials to administer corporal punishment without parental permission, Atrios at Eschaton hits it out of the park in two sentences:

What's The Frequency (May 11, 2011)

Occasionally the conservative worldview clashes with itself in ways I can't resolve. Texas conservatives, who don't trust public school teachers to educate their kids, want to empower them to hit their kids.

As the spouse of a public school teacher, I'm quick to rise to the defense of the bride and her profession as it increasingly becomes a target for all that's wrong with society. I've diagnosed the real problem: it's that everyone (almost) has gone to school and thus knows something about it. They think that the fact of their attendance uniquely qualifies them to spout concerned rhetoric about what's wrong with public schools and what they would do to fix them.

As the bride likes to point out, it's like her claiming to be a highway engineer just because she's driven a car for decades.

(Original newspaper article here)



Thursday, May 19, 2011


Today I am having a couple surgeries to fix a couple bio-mechanical problems that are not getting better on their own, and won't: tennis elbow repair + nerve release, and hernia repair.

I floated an idea to the orthopedic doctor (arm) and the general surgeon (hernia) about doing the surgeries during the same operating session. Benefit to me would be one general anesthesia and one recovery period. I was expecting one or both to say "Well, that might be a good idea but there are too many variables, and besides, I'm too busy and my schedule is too crazy to be able to do that sort of special accommodation."

I was wrong, in addition to being astounded. Both doctors were strongly in favor of the idea, saying "Great idea! We can make that work for you!"

As for Mister Tristan (the blog, not the 3 year old human being), because my right arm (of course, I am right-handed) will be immobilized from the tendon work and neurosurgery, I will be unable to keyboard for probably a couple weeks.

Thankfully the Blogspot software has a scheduling feature whereby a blogger can queue up posts in advance to be published on a specific day and time. So what I've done is to write several new posts in advance but largely I will recycle some posts from a year ago (May 2010). Hopefully these will be fresh for many of my 2011 readers who were not around in 2010.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Biggest Sin...and Ultrarunning

Nope, not murder, adultery, rape, bad as those are.

In my book the biggest sin is to be incurious about the world.

People ask me about what I think about while I'm running hours in the woods alone.  "Don't you get bored?" they say.

Outwardly, I say "No," and make some sort of superficial explanation.  Little sense trying to convert them.  Inwardly I just shake my head and feel sorry for them, that they seem to be that incurious about the world, implying that hours spent out in nature would somehow be empty and bereft of interest and meaning.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Loneliest Plant in the World

This story practically brought tears to my eyes. I am a sucker for factual tales of the last this, or the final surviving that. The importance of species survival plans for endangered critters--both plants and animals--cannot be overestimated. I posted last Oct about the tragic story of the American Chestnut and how it may yet have a happy ending.

When I think how much good could have been done, say, in world conservation efforts, using the funds that we have pissed away in our misbegotten efforts to swagger in Iraq and Afghanistan, I feel ill. Instead we have thousands of dead. And, well, thousands of dead.

From NPR:

One day in 1895, while walking through the Ngoya Forest in Zululand, southern Africa, a botanist with the oh so suitable name of John Medley Wood caught sight of a tree. It sat on a steep slope at the edge of the woods and looked different from the other trees, with its thick multiple trunks and what seemed like a splay of palm fronds on top. From a distance it looked almost like a palm tree, and Dr. Wood — who made his living collecting rare plants (he directed a botanical garden in Durban) had some of the stems pulled up, removed, and sent one of them to London.

That little tree stem was then put in a box and left in the Palm House at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. It sat there, alone, for the next 98 years.

Named E. woodii, in Dr. Wood's honor, it is a cycad. Cycads are a very old order of tree and it turns out this one, which is still there in London, may be the very last tree of its kind on our planet, the last one to grow up in the wild.

Researchers have wandered the Ngoya forest and other woods of Africa, looking for an E. woodii that could pair with the one in London. They haven't found a single other specimen. They're still searching. Unless a female exists somewhere, E. woodii will never mate with one of its own. It can be cloned. It can have the occasional fling with a closely related species. Hybrid cycads are sold at plant stores, but those plants aren't the real deal. The tree that sits in London can't produce a true offspring. It sits there, the last in its long line, waiting for a companion that may no longer exist.

"Surely this is the most solitary organism in the world," writes biologist Richard Fortey, "growing older, alone, and fated to have no successors. Nobody knows how long it will live."

Along these lines back in 2000 or so I was temporarily working at Fort Sill, OK, and on the weekend went to one of the local museums. They had a nice exhibit about the Navaho code talkers of WWII (here and here), how they (along with all WWII vets) were rapidly dying off, and how sad it'd be when the last one would be gone.

I thought, the saddest event wouldn't be when the last one died, but rather when the next-to-last one died. Then the last one would have no one to talk to.

Like the cycad.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Streak Running

I'm not anal, really. I just like to hit certain milestones.  I can stop anytime I want to.

As I have previously noted, I am a minimalist runner, meaning my running over the past 15 years or so has averaged maybe 1200-1400 per year, or at about 100 miles per month.  So hitting 100 miles per month somehow has become an important benchmark for me.

I know, many of you young runners commonly or even regularly reach 100 miles every week, but it works quite well for me.

This month I reached 50 miles early, on 7 May, when I finished the Capon Valley 50K.  But I figured I'd not be able to make 100 for the month because of only being able to run through 18 May, losing the last 13 days of the month (more about that in Thursday's post).

Anyway, I made a concentrated effort to plan and execute some runs when ordinarily I would have been easing back in after the 50K.  So today when I run the perimeter with the guys I will hit the magic 100.

I am quite aware that nobody but me really cares about my mileage.  And nope, I'm not anal at all.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Cats in Art: The Birth of John the Baptist (Tintoretto)

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

Image credit here. The Birth of John the Baptist, Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti), 1554-1555, Oil on canvas, 71" x 104", held by Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Zuffi comments:

...the cat is completely uninterested in its surroundings, concentrating instead on what it is doing...the cat advances with an indifferent air towards its possible prey.

In other words, the cat is slinking, a move that cats have total mastery over.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Torture, Take 2

Blogspot software has been hosed up off and on for a couple days.  Finally it seems OK as I write this post Friday PM for posting Saturday morning (you didn't really think I got up every single day to write a post around 6:00 am, did you?).

My Thursday morning's post on War Machines never went up and for some reason remained as a draft until I just hit PUBLISH moments ago.  Friday morning's post on torture didn't get published until Friday afternoon and was inaccessible to me to revise.

So...here is the rest of the torture post, which consists of a couple more lefties like me decrying the normalization of torture:

Matthew Alexander, quoted at Crooks and Liars: My argument is pretty simple, Amy. I don't torture because it doesn't work. I don't torture because it's immoral, and it's against the law, and it's inconsistent with my oath of office, in which I swore to defend the Constitution of the United States.

And it's also inconsistent with American principles. So, my primary argument against torture is one of morality, not one of efficacy.

You know, if torture did work and we could say it worked 100 percent of the time, I still wouldn't use it. The U.S. Army Infantry, when it goes out into battle and it faces resistance, it doesn't come back and ask for the permission to use chemical weapons. I mean, chemical weapons are extremely effective-we could say almost 100 percent effective. And yet, we don't use them. But we make this-carve out this special space for interrogators and say that, well, they're different, so they can violate the laws of war if they face obstacles.

And next, from Pruning Shears:

If you're willing to allow your visceral impulses to conjure up exceptions to your principles then you have to let others do the same - which is exactly what led to the torture regime, general disregard of human rights, and the implementation of police state surveillance. That said, my main reaction [to bin Laden's death] has been, "he is one dead m*rf*r."  I know my deep satisfaction with his death comes from a primitive and emotional place. I understand how dangerous it is to let animal instinct take precedence over rational thought. I should be better than that. I'm working on it.
So am I.


Friday, May 13, 2011

An Adult Conversation About Torture

From the blog Whiskeyfire, on how proponents of torture are crawling back out of the shadows, and the following quote from one of them:

Patterico: It's infantile to argue about whether or not torture works. Of course it does! This scene from Dirty Harry proves it.

Whiskeyfire: Yes, that's really his argument.

Patterico: So let's please stop the childish claim that waterboarding-hell, even torture-cannot be effective. And let's instead have the adult conversation about whether we as a people believe it is morally justified and if so, when.

Whiskeyfire: "Adult conversations" exclude the idea that torture can ever be morally justified.  Not that I am claiming we live in a nation run by adults. At best, vicious adolescents not half as bright as they imagine.

I gotta go with Whiskeyfire on this one.  I still cannot believe that we are even having this discussion.  The efficacy of torture?  Doesn't matter--it's just wrong, one of those things that moral people don't do.



Thursday, May 12, 2011

War Machines...and Ultrarunning

Several years ago I was running the Appalachian Trail in PA, near Tower City where the in-laws live. I had just made the long 3 mile trudge up the hill northbound from the PA Rt 325 crossing and was enjoying the summit. This section of trail is not crushingly steep: the delta is from about 600' elevation to about 1800' over the 3 mile uphill. In my younger years I've run the whole uphill, but it's the type of grade that most of us would walk.

I say that I was enjoying the summit, but there was no view because the ridge top was ensconced in fog or low-lying clouds. It was sort of surreal--the dampness, the trail, the lush, largely oak forest--like a scene out of a movie. And quiet, very quiet. I could feel--and almost hear, it seemed--my heart beating heavily in my chest from the effort of the climb. There was no wind, no animal noises.

Suddenly the peace was shattered by the auditory appearance of a couple war machines--helicopters screaming over, low above the trees but still out of view owing to the fog/clouds. The sound was deafening and absolutely shattered the peace and stillness. They must have come from the nearby Fort Indiantown Gap military reservation for the PA National Guard and the Army Reserve.

I get it--we need military training to keep sharp. You gotta train so you can function effectively in a real event. But the abrupt juxtaposition of quiet solitude with war preparations was absolutely jarring.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Examining My Head

From the 60 Minutes interview on CBS on Sunday night, 8 May (last page), with President Obama.

OBAMA: As nervous as I was about this whole process, the one thing I didn't lose sleep over was the possibility of taking bin Laden out. Justice was done. And I think that anyone who would question that the perpetrator of mass murder on American soil didn't deserve what he got needs to have their head examined.

I'm trying to unpack this quote and keep getting hung up on the word "deserve." I'm not a proponent of capital punishment, but I would have to concur with the President that in an eye-for-an-eye world that if ever there was a crime deserving of death, bin Laden deserved to die. What an awful creature he was.

However (and there's always a big however)...our legal system has gone beyond mere eye-for-an-eye retribution. Every accused person, from a street punk to a mass murdering terrorist, deserves a fair trial via the legal system, and not vigilante justice. My opinion is that nobody--even bin Laden--deserves summary execution. Especially when it appears that we could have captured him.

Otherwise we have a two-tiered system of justice: one tier for the really bad guys, in which we can conveniently serve as judge, jury and executioner when it's expedient to do so. And the other tier for your regular accused folks. And who would be the gatekeeper for opting for one over the other?

We're the United States of America. We're the good guys. We stand for the rule of law, innocent until proven guilty, and fair trials.

I am not fond of slippery slopes. And two sets of justice certainly qualifies.  So I guess I need my head examined.

(NOTE: I don't know what happened in the compound in the small-unit action when bin Laden was confronted by the Navy Seals. The Seals may have had no choice but to shoot him. But it sure sounds like the default approach going in was to assassinate him rather than take him alive, presumably because the latter approach would be more inconvenient.)


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The End of an Empire

Via this post at Corrente; the original appeared at Tom Dispatch.

I can't improve upon this thoughtful article, so here are some key parts and ask you to click over to read the whole thing.

I don't know what it felt like to be inside the Roman Empire in the long decades, even centuries, before it collapsed, or to experience the waning years of the Spanish empire, or the twilight of the Qing dynasty, or of Imperial Britain as the sun first began to set, or even of the Soviet Empire before the troops came slinking home from Afghanistan, but at some point it must have seemed at least a little like this -- truly strange, like watching a machine losing its parts. It must have seemed as odd and unnerving as it does now to see a formerly mighty power enter a state of semi-paralysis at home even as it staggers on blindly with its war-making abroad.

The United States is, of course, an imperial power, however much we might prefer not to utter the word. We still have our globe-spanning array of semi-client states; our military continues to garrison much of the planet; and we are waging war abroad more continuously than at any time in memory. Yet who doesn't sense that the sun is now setting on us?

The feelings that should accompany the experience of an imperial power running off the rails aren't likely to disappear just because analysis is lacking. Disillusionment, depression, and dismay flow ever more strongly through the American bloodstream. Just look at any polling data on whether this country, once the quintessential land of optimists, is heading in "the right direction" or on "the wrong track," and you'll find that the "wrong track" numbers are staggering, and growing by the month. On the rare occasions when Americans have been asked by pollsters whether they think the country is "in decline," the figures have been similarly over the top.

It's not hard to see why. A loss of faith in the American political system is palpable. For many Americans, it's no longer "our government" but "the bureaucracy." Washington is visibly in gridlock and incapable of doing much of significance [except give trillions of our money to the banksters, destroy the Constitution, foment more wars, and impoverish us], while state governments, facing the "steepest decline in state tax receipts on record," are, along with local governments, staggering under massive deficits and cutting back in areas -- education, policing, firefighting -- that matter to daily life.

Theoretically, none of this should necessarily be considered bad news, not if you don't love empires and what they do. A post-imperial U.S. could, of course, be open to all sorts of possibilities for change that might be exciting indeed.

Right now, though, it doesn't feel that way, does it? It makes me wonder: Could this be how it's always felt inside a great imperial power on the downhill slide? Could this be what it's like to watch, paralyzed, as a country on autopilot begins to come apart at the seams while still proclaiming itself "the greatest nation on Earth"?

I don't know. But I do know one thing: this can't end well.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Capon Valley 50K Results

The Capon Valley 50K on Saturday is history, and I clocked a 6:49 or so. Official results are not yet up on the website. That put me about 95th among some 150 finishers, I think, but I need to see the final results.
My buddy, Jody, came in 10th place with a stunning 5:10 or 5:15 race. He is FAST and on this day it all must have come together for him. The course is quite hilly, but the footing is very runnable, and great combination of single track, jeep trails, and gravel roads. The course is reputed to be a fast one, and with 2 finishes under my belt (2009 and this year), I agree.

I was undertrained so my race strategy was just to run comfortably and not push it (my longest training run in the past 6 months was only a 21 miler some 3 weeks ago). I was very fortunate to be able to hook up with a couple of runners and spent much of the race with them, sharing stories and just helping each other maintain the pace.

I was so fortunate to run with one young lady. She was always athletic and healthy, but she shared with me the ordeal of being thru the ringer with a variety of health issues arising suddenly the past couple years. Plus she had triplets 2 years ago, and is trying valiantly to balance family, health, and running….and succeeding! With the past year and a half she went from being overweight and largely sedentary, to running a couple marathons, to this, her first ultra, at the Capon Valley 50K.

I shared with her my grandchildren stories, and I confess I cried at telling her the story of the bride and I seeing a boy severely handicapped with cerebral palsy at Hershey Park, and how lucky the we felt then that our granddaughter’s cerebral palsy was mild in comparison.

We talked of spouses and kids and ultrarunning and gardens and blisters and health care and bin Laden’s death and neighbors and running clothes and…...you get the idea. If you’ve ever been on a trail run or race with someone, you know. You just know. I’m not Catholic but I imagine it’s analogous to the confessional. You spill your guts to a perfect stranger and it’s normal and OK.

She kept thanking me profusely for hanging with her, when I could have gone on. I have nothing to prove on the course or with PRs, so I was quite content to stay with her and BS. Truth is, she kinda pulled me along.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Cats in Art: The Wedding at Cana (Veronese)

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

Image credit here. The Wedding at Cana, Paolo Veronese, c. 1562, Oil on canvas, 22' x 33' (that's BIG!), held by the Louvre, Paris.

And the close-up of the cat in the right foreground:

A bit hard to see due to the pixillation, but the gray cat is, as Zuffi points out:

...performing a sort of somersault next to one of the pitchers in which water has been transformed miractulously in to excellnt wine.

Aha, so that's the explanation!


Zuffi makes an interesting observation:

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Capon Valley 50K

As you read this--if you read it on Saturday--I will be running my first ultra in over a year, a perfectly lovely little race in northeastern West Virginia called the Capon Valley 50K.

Wish me luck!

If I am motivated when I get home I will post about the race.  Of course, I may be too busy getting prepped for tomorrow's brunch to honor the bride.


Friday, May 6, 2011

End of Days...and Ultrarunning

As always, the Writer's Almanac does not disappoint.

Have you ever had to euthanize a cat? (I can't say "put to sleep" although I want to). Then read the following. I know, I know, it's a poem and most of you can't hit the DELETE key fast enough. But read on, Ultrarunner, I'll meet you down at the end.

End of Days by Marge Piercy

Almost always with cats, the end
comes creeping over the two of you--
she stops eating, his back legs
no longer support him, she leans
to your hand and purrs but cannot
rise--sometimes a whimper of pain
although they are stoic. They see
death clearly though hooded eyes.

Then there is the long weepy
trip to the vet, the carrier no
longer necessary, the last time
in your lap. The injection is quick.

Simply they stop breathing
in your arms. You bring them
home to bury in the flower garden,
planting a bush over a deep grave.

That is how I would like to cease,
held in a lover's arms and quickly
fading to black like an old-fashioned
movie embrace. I hate the white
silent scream of hospitals, the whine
of pain like air-conditioning's hum.

I want to click the off switch.

And if I can no longer choose
I want someone who loves me
there, not a doctor with forty patients
and his morality to keep me sort
of, kind of alive or sort of undead.

Why are we more rational and kinder
to our pets than to ourselves or our
parents? Death is not the worst
thing; denying it can be.

"End of Days" by Marge Piercy, from The Hunger Moon: New and Selected Poems, 1980 - 2010. (c) Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

The connection to Ultrarunning? Most of us won't admit it--I know I don't like to--but our ultra careers are finite. There was a beginning and there WILL be an end. For the lucky few, I suppose, they will be running up until the day they die, and never have to face a life without Ultrarunning.

But for most of us, old age will take its toll, slowing us down and chipping away at our limbs and our organs and our minds, until at last running becomes impossible. After decades, probably, the sudden stillness will be abrupt and final. One day, you are an Ultrarunner, and the next day you are not.

Frankly, I am afraid to cope with that eventuality. I started running in 1979 when I was 27 years old, when a job change afforded me the opportunity. I have been a runner for the 32 years since, with brief timeouts for surgery etc (although I have never had a serious running injury that put me on the disabled list for more than a week).

But wait, read the poem again. If the decline is gradual, I will see the end of Ultrarunning and come to accept it as just being time. I will look back and be eternally grateful for the quietly rich pageant that has been my ultra career, and bask in the memories until my real light finally goes out for good.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Lost Cargo of the Titanic

In honor of the day....I send this out each year as a sort of annual ritual.

Image credit here

Most people don't know that back in 1912, Hellmann's mayonnaise was manufactured in England. In fact, the Titanic was carrying 12,000 jars of the condiment scheduled for delivery in Vera Cruz, Mexico, which was to be the next port of call for the great ship after its stop in New York.

This would have been the largest single shipment of mayonnaise ever delivered to Mexico. But as we know, the great ship did not make it to New York. The ship hit an iceberg and sank, and the cargo was forever lost.

The people of Mexico, who were crazy about mayonnaise, and were eagerly awaiting its delivery, were disconsolate at the loss. Their anguish was so great, that they declared a National Day of Mourning, which they still observe to this day.

The National Day of Mourning occurs each year on May 5th and is known, of course, as Sinko de Mayo.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What We Have Lost

Just An Earth-Bound Misfit had a great post on Tuesday, pondering the milestone event that is represented by the death of bin Laden.  We indeed have lost a great deal:

What I want to ruminate on, now, is what we have lost. We, as a nation, have spent trillions of dollars on both the Iraq and Afghan wars. Without 9-11, Afghanistan would not be a concern of any nation other than its neighbors. Without 9-11, George Bush and his cabal would not have been able to gin up a phony casus belli. Without 9-11, we would not have had to send over five thousand men and women to die in Asian land wars, not to mention the tens of thousands who have come back with devastating injuries to their bodies, brains and psyches.

We have lost or given up a lot of our civil rights. It is now acceptable that the government can monitor the telephones and e-mails of anyone it chooses. It is now acceptable that, without a warrant, the Feds can snoop through our bank accounts and library records. There are cameras in many places which automatically record into a database every vehicle which has passed by. The Feds now conduct warrantless "sneak and peek" searches, no matter what it happens to say in that pesky Fourth Amendment. The Federal government has claimed the right to hold anyone it wants, wherever it wants to, for as long as it pleases them, without granting them access to family or attorneys and without any form of judicial process.  The Federal government (as well as state and local governments) now treat public protests, a right enshrined in the First Amendment[6], as though they were terrorist events and treats protesters as national security threats to be tracked as though they were cooking up PETN in their kitchens.


In the meantime, and in no small measure due to the fecklessness of the Bush Administration, we are locked into a land war in one of the most inhospitable and inaccessible places on the planet. In Year Ten of the war, the best that the commanders can say at the Five O'Clock Follies is that "tangible progress" has been made. Many more American fighting men and women will be killed and maimed. At least another trillion dollars will be spent. There is no end in sight for this war.

So one may make the argument that, even as his corpse is being chewed by crustaceans at the bottom of the sea, that bin Ladin won his war.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Whales, Getting Lost...and Ultrarunning

Ever get lost while you were trail running?  Or slightly stray off course?  It's a disquieting thing.  First you practice denial: "I'm OK."  Then the creeping doubt becomes real and you admit you have a problem.  Then you try to solve it, either by backtracking to a known point (the right approach in a race to avoid DQ), or forge on ahead to attempt to reach a known location.

Now these guys seem to just know the way, unerringly.  This story is way cool:

An eight-year project that tracked humpback whale migrations by satellite shows the huge mammals follow uncannily straight paths for weeks at a time.

The results suggest a single migratory mechanism isn't responsible. Instead, humpbacks may use a combination of the sun's position, Earth's magnetism and even star maps to guide their 10,000-mile journeys.

"Humpback whales are going across some of most turbulent waters in the world, yet they keep going straight," said environmental scientist Travis Horton of the University of Canterbury, whose team will publish their findings April 20 in Biology Letters. "They're orienting with something outside of themselves, not something internal."

Click through to the story and check out the plots of tracked whales setting a straight line.  Nothing short of amazing!


Monday, May 2, 2011

Capon Valley 50K in 5 Days....

Sunday I did my last long run--7 miles. See, I am a minimalist when it comes to training, and have 30 years of running "muscle memory" to pull me through.

I have always been able to run long on race day on minimal training.  In fact, as I detailed here, I had a sub-24 hour, top half finish a year ago at the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run on barely 100 mile months.

This years' training for the Capon Valley 50K has been no different, with a longest run since Christmas of 21 miles on the Appalachian Trail a couple weeks ago.  Then last week while I was on business travel to Newport News, VA, I did run back-to-back 10 milers on the Noland Trail.

So, I'm ready. I have no doubt I could be faster and improve my times if I wanted to...but I don't want to.  Running fast is not pleasant and I don't enjoy it.  At age 59 I have nothing left to prove, so I just want to enjoy my trail running moments.

As I will on Saturday.  I can't wait!


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Cats in art: The Supper at Emmaus (Bassano)

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 Supper at Emmaus, Jacopo Bassano, 1537, Oil on canvas, 92" x 98", held by Cittadella Cathedral, Padua, Italy.   

Zuffi makes an interesting observation:

Cats are often present under the table in scenes from the Gospels painted during the Renaissance.  It is not always necessary to seek symbolic meanings at all costs; sometimes they are simply realistic touches.

The cat in the lower left seems angry and confrontational, wondering what the resting dog may do.  So sometimes a cat is just being a cat, even in priceless art of antiquity.