Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cats in Art: The Satyr and the Peasant (Jordaens)

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 Satyr and the Peasant, Jacob Jordaens, 1628, oil on canvas, 68" x 79", held by Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany.

Zuffi’s thoughts about the cat in the lower left, under the chair, after commenting about the satyr’s attempts to live among humans:

The sly-looking cat that witnesses the scene has clearly found an effective modus vivendi with humans, much sooner and more skillfully than the satyr!

To me, the cat seems to think that satyrs are rather unremarkable.  Just another appurtenance designed, of course, to make cat life better.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Janet Christiansen...and Immortality

Image credit here.

Second post this week about immortality.  Wonder if that means anything?

The other day I ran through the cemetery where Janet Christiansen is buried.  I’ve previously posted about Janet here, here, here and here, and how in some way her murder touched a nerve in me, although I have no connection whatever to her or her family.

As I often do, I take wildflowers to place on her grave whenever I run by.  On this day I noticed a lone Queen Anne’s Lace right along the roadside.  The shoulder had been mowed by the township within the past couple weeks and plant growth remained quite low (4-5 inches)…except for this single Queen Anne’s Lace that stood up about a foot or so.  All by itself.  And seen by me just because I happened to glance over at the opposite side of the road.

So I picked it and carried it along the 2 miles or so to Janet Christiansen’s grave.  I placed it there and just sorta stood awhile thinking about life and death, the luck of the draw, and immortality.  I don’t try to communicate with Janet, it’s not that kind of thing.  It's not a weird sort of stalking of the dead.  I just am moved to ponder stuff when I consciously pick a flower and put it there.

Anyway, rest in peace.  Will be back soon.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Correct English...and Ultrarunning

I’m a stickler for correct English.  I hope that this has been evident here at Mister Tristan (the blog, not the human being).  Whenever I do notice an error in a post, I cringe that my editing skills were wanting.

Anyway, every day as I commute with my carpool up I-81 northbound here in southcentral Pennsylvania, I get crazy when I pass through one particular construction zone.

There is a flashing electronic sign, 3 lines tall, that flashes 3 times with 3 sequential messages:


Flash 3 times, followed by


Flash 3 times, followed by


It’s that PLEASE DRIVE SAFE that drives me nutzoid.  Of course, since the word SAFE modifies DRIVE, a verb, it should be the adverb form…i.e., SAFELY. Thus, PLEASE DRIVE SAFELY.

Let’s hope that PENNDOT constructs highways better than they write.

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?  I cannot figure out how I can be so laid back about trail running, and yet so anal about a road sign, that while grammatically incorrect, is nevertheless understandable.  Maybe I should lighten up.  At least I haven't written an angry letter to the authorities...yet.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

When the Mask Slips

From Amanda at Pandagon, a post (I'm using her title) that just begged to be extensively quoted:

One of the markers of conservatism in our modern democracy is a routine willingness to say one thing privately and another publicly.  The reason for this is that our national consensus has turned towards justice, which causes defenders of the old order into a bad situation where they either say what they mean and sound like monsters, or they try to reframe their authoritarian views in liberal terms to confuse the issue.   Historically, this has mostly been a stalling tactic, if in results if not in intention.  Slave owners bought a little more time owning slaves by claiming slavery was good for slaves, because they weren't smart enough for freedom...In the early days of segregation, what was privately expressed as an explicit desire to keep black people as second class citizens was cleaned up and publicly presented as "separate but equal".  When that stopped working, private support for segregation as segregation was cleaned up and presented to the public as "states' rights" or "private property rights".  After desegregation, private anger at black people for demanding equality was cleaned up and presented as "law and order" in public.  You know this history. 

I believe that racism is what developed the strategy, but now it's endemic. Abortion is privately about sluts who can't keep their legs shut, publicly about "life".

Economic policies that that are designed to grow the gap between the haves and have-nots are publicly supported because they supposedly grow the economy and do the opposite. 

Anti-gay bigotry is blatant in private spaces, but about "traditional marriage" in public spaces.

The problem with this strategy is it actually takes a lot of effort to maintain elaborate facades.  And really, only people who are out in public are expected to maintain the facade.  The blatant nastiness is freely expressed in private spaces, which is why, as I've pointed out before, elaborate email chains are one of those things that help create conservative solidarity largely out of the view of liberals.   

Now, most of us do this to one extent or another, but with liberals I rarely hear a direct conflict between their private values and their public ones, but with conservatives, there's often a direct conflict, or at least mismatch, between private values and public ones.

Yet another significant difference between liberals and conservatives.  And one that I would get a lot of head nods about from my liberal cronies, but dismay and denial from my conservative buddies (yes, I have some of those).  Self-awareness seems not to be a strong suit among that crew.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Running on Railroad Tracks...and Ultrarunning

Image credit here
These aren't "my" railroad tracks, but they sure look a lot like them.

Let’s get the admin stuff out of the way first:  railroad tracks are private property and you could run afoul of trespassing laws by running there.  So do it at your own risk.

That said, sometimes a RR track run is both convenient and fun.  That is, once you develop some sort of rhythm and stride to deal with the usually-awkward spacing of the ties.

On Sunday I took a walk with the bride for 3 miles, then peeled off to add another 6 running miles.  I ran my beloved Harshman Road north up to Marion, then elected to use the CSX tracks to reverse my route back to the south.  These are the tracks I can see out across the fields from my front porch.

Sure, you need to pay attention to your footing, but the main draw is that you are running off-road, typically a shady, wooded corridor, and it’s rather pleasant.

Nature notes: passed by 3 road kills between the tracks—looked like 2 skunks and a dog.  How stupid would an animal have to be to get run over by a train?  This brought to mind the first time I ever saw an armadillo up close.  I was running some railroad tracks east of Texarkana, AR (business trip) and desperately needed to get off the highway where thundering lumber trucks threatened my very existence.  So I hopped over to the parallel RR tracks, where I saw the dead armadillo.  A pretty cool creature, all in all, and I was sad to see it dead.

The link to Ultrarunning?  There is no way that a normal human being could run any sort of ultra distances on RR tracks.  It's just too hard, with the stone ballast between the ties and the uneven spacing of the ties.  Unless you are superhuman.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011


I cannot improve upon this.  As a father and grandfather, I do think--a lot--about the circle of life, immortality, my legacy, etc. 

Derek K. Miller wrote the following back in 2007.  He knew then he was dying of cancer, but the end would not come until May 2011.  His blog contains a bunch of honest writing about his disease, his treatments, but most importantly, his thoughts about living and dying.  I'm still exploring from his home page, and you'd enjoy it too ("enjoy" isn't quite the right word, but I think you know what I mean):

My meaning, comfort, and wonder come from another place, from trying to understand people, creatures, life, the planet, the galaxy, the universe, and their amazing diversity from my miniscule perspective as a man living in the 20th and 21st centuries here on earth. From trying to be a good person, a good husband and father.

What will outlive me is not my soul, because I don't think I have one. But my children will outlast me. Their children, if they have them, will too. As will, perhaps, some of my words and ideas, like the ones written here. Anything that persists of me-besides the molecules that used to make up my body-will be in the memories of others, or in their genes (another type of memory). That might not be much, and it won't be up to me to decide what that includes.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Moon Over Afghanistan

This cartoon, which appeared last week in the science blog Pharyngula, neatly ties into my posts from last Thursday and Friday.

PZ Myers comments that it'd be funnier if it were a little less true. 
(Try clicking on the image to make it bigger):


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cats in Art: Young Woman with Rose and a Cat (Crespi)

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 (from a local art lover) Young Woman with Rose and a Cat, c. 1695-1705, Guiseppe Maria Crespi, oil on canvas, 26" x 22", held by Pinacoteca Nazioanle, Bologna, Italy.

Zuffi comments:
The attractive young woman in the painting is teasingly prodding the cat with the prickly stem of a rose.  The animal seems to enjoy the attention, with the particular pleasure that cats experience in being caressed in sensitive spots, especially behind the ears, purring loudly in return. 
"The animal seems to enjoy the attention"  Seems??  You put anything pointy or angular anywhere near a cat's face and the cat is powerless to resist--it'll rub and scratch its cheeks and whiskers against the pointy object almost indefinitely.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Gatorade...and Ultrarunning

If you are like me, when you cruise into an aid station during an ultra I'm all business--get me in and out quickly.  As I enter, I have my bottle out and am handing it to a volunteer to fill, and grab for some food to place in my Ziploc bag to nibble as I walk the next uphill, whenever that comes. 

Depending on how I'm feeling and how far into the race it is, I typically ask the volunteer to fill the bottle(s) half with water and half with whatever energy drink they have that day.  Often it's Gatorade, the old standby.

As a result of reading this article in, I may rethink my ultra drinking regime.  Seems that swishing the Gatorade around in your mouth then spitting it out is the way to go:

...the allure of sports drinks shows no signs of letting up. While Gatorade began as beverage for the Florida Gators football team - the seven tablespoons of sugar per serving were supposed to help replenish the carbs lost during sweat - it has since expanded into a Byzantine array of drinks tailored for different phases of the workout process. If we really want to maximize performance, then we can't just drink Gatorade while working out. We also have to drink Gatorade Prime before exertion, Gatorade Perform during and Gatorade Recover afterwards.

Needless to say, most of these claims are bullsh*t. But they're an interesting kind of bullsh*t.  Because it turns out that sugary sports drinks (like Gatorade, Powerade, VitaminWater, etc.) do generate significant performance benefits. It's just that these benefits have little to do with the replenishment of lost electrolytes. And that's why we seem to get the biggest benefits from these expensive liquids when we spit them out.

The article then goes on to describe the clever controlled experiment these researchers ran on some endurance cyclists.  The test was whether swishing a drink containing real sugar was any different that swishing an artificial sweetener.  Researchers found that basically your body gets an endurance boost--and a psychological boost--more from the oral swishing of a sugary drink than a fake one.  There are oral receptors that can detect sugar vs. sweetener, and tell your body that sugar is coming, even if your taste buds are fooled.

OK, I get it.  But then they sorta leap right over into saying that swishing with a sugary drink is better than the actual ingestion of same.  "Tasting energy was more important than ingesting energy."  That part of the article was weak, and endurance bicycling experimentation may not translate over into Ultrarunning.  Seems to me that the boost you'd get from swishing real sugar would be short-lived, and if you're gonna be out there for hours and hours as in an ultra, you'd be better off to actually ingest the sugar rather than relying on an ephemeral fake-out of your body.

Go figure.  Better check out the article yourself, but I'm going to experiment with some swishing, but only near the end of a race.

(ASIDE: I went over to the official Gatorade web site to look for an image that I could grab (failed), but I happened to notice that there was a login button.  Seriously, the site offers an optional login screen with username & password.  Who would actually do that?)


Friday, July 22, 2011

Budget Trade-Offs

I'm beating on an old drum here, but with the present standoff over the budget and deficits, a post from Think Progress back in June is relevant. 

That post was written at the time that President Obama was set to announce his troop drawdown strategy for Afghanistan (which for the near-term only pulls out the troops he had "surged" in and so effectively isn't much of a reduction at other words, the long slog in Afghanistan continues with no end in sight).  Here are some things that we gave up this year alone (FY 2011) to pay $113 billion for this war:

  1. Provide 57.5 Million Children With Low-Income Health Care For 2011
  2. Provide 23 Million People With Low-Income Health Coverage In 2011
  3. Give 20.2 Million $5,500 Pell Grants To Students In 2011
  4. Provide 14.35 million Military Veterans With VA Medical Care In 2011
  5. Give 14.7 million Children Head Start Funding In 2011
  6. Give 14.26 Million Scholarships To University Students In 2011
  7. Employ 1.93 million Firefighters In 2011
  8. Hire 1.75 Million Elementary School Teachers In 2011
  9. Hire 1.65 Million Police Officers In 2011
  10. Equip 67.8 Million Households With The Ability To Use Wind Power In 2011
  11. Equip 25.39 Million Households With The Ability To Use Solar Photovoltaic Energy In 2011
Oh, to say nothing of the dead and maimed soldiers and civilians.  Yet a serious discussion of war funding seems not to be on the table...while cuts in our social programs for our most vulnerable citizens are. 

How misguided is that?


Thursday, July 21, 2011

WeCan Put a Man on the Moon...Not...and Ultrarunning

Later today, if all goes according to plan, the space shuttle Atlantis will coast safely to earth and the U.S. manned space program will be effectively over.

Being an explorer rather than a warrior (see here for that explanation) this cost-cutting move is both short sighted and just plain wrong.  We have the money, we just choose not to use it for reaching out into space with manned flight.


Today, I read yet another angry article on the continuing death spiral of the American economy, which ended with what has become a rather stale cliché:

We can put a man on the moon, but…

Actually, no. We can’t put a man on the moon. We might have been able to do it once upon a time, a long time ago. But today? In this technologically overloaded era, we can chat with friends and rellies on the other side of the planet, we download half the Library of Congress on our Kindles and Kobos, we can tweet what we had for breakfast in California to the twittering lunchtime crowd in New York, we can play on-line video games with sophisticated graphics and total strangers, and we can blog about it to the entire world. But we cannot do what we once did with not much more than a slide rule and the completely insane self-confidence that we as Americans could do anything we set our minds to. Failure was not an option.

Gene Cernan [the last astronaut to walk on the moon] has long been a genial ambassador for America’s space program, but lately has become an outspoken critic of what he considers a deliberate agenda to destroy what NASA has achieved. It’s not just about the end of America’s space shuttles. ‘The agenda is to dismantle America’s space program, Cernan said. ‘There’s no objective. There’s no timetable. There’s no goal. And there’s no mission. We’re retiring America’s space program. We’re out of the business.’

In our rush to cut back all the ‘unnecessary’ programmes, such as Medicare and Social Security along with NASA, in order to ‘balance the budget,’ we will continue this long, not-so-slow slide down into irrelevancy and endemic depression. Where we had a Kennedy who could galvanize the American spirit and bring out the best in us, this administration, hounded by the jackals on the right to cut everything to the bone (unless you’re an oil company or a multi-billion dollar bank, that is) is not only allowing us to fail, but helping us along. With a poke in the eye for good measure.

We can put a man on the moon, but we… well… can’t put a man on the moon. How sad is that?

These are the money quotes.  If you have not done so, click over to Crooks and Liars and read the whole thing, and be sad.

Oh, and I guess I already made the nexus to Ultrarunning.  If you're an explorer, you understand.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tales From the Perimeter: Finding Motivation

Perimeter meaning the 6 mile patrol road inside the fence of the military installation on which I work, where some half a dozen of us comprise a pool of running “talent” and strive to show up for a noontime run a couple times a week if we can escape our desks. We share a lot and these guys are one of the core pillars of my sanity.

A recent email exchange with the noontime running boyz, a couple of them being rather Republican in their politics, just prior to my surgery:

This week I will be teleworking on Wed rather than Tues so I can attend a training session on Unauthorized Commitments.

Said training is tomorrow 1100-noon, so I'll just pass on running at midday. I might go out in the AM if I can summon some motivation.

I asked a Republican friend how I could get motivated. He said "Cut taxes for the rich and let the free market fix it."

Anyway, I probably won't see you all this week. My surgeries are on Thurs, and I expect to be out 2-4 weeks. I'll email when I know more.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

In Which I Get the Willies on the Appalachian Trail...

With the bride away at her parents' for a couple days, I worked a long day around the house and yard on Sunday, then debated whether to go for a run or not.  I was supremely unmotivated, but figured that I REALLY should drive the 17 miles over to the Appalachian Trail at Caledonia Park (PA) and take a run.

Well, I got a late start and was on the trail at 5:00 pm.  From where I parked it was nearly a mile on the flat to the start of the AT section--a good warm-up, because I HATE starting a trail run with an immediate macho uphill section.  That, to me, is Hell, or at least Purgatory.  Anyway, the uphill section goes up some 1200' or so over 3 miles, passing en route the Quarry Hill Shelter.

Here is where I saw a gaggle of Boy Scouts dragging their butts into the shelter after what obviously was a long day's hike. They look pretty bedraggled, and no wonder: the temp was about 90 and any breeze was practically nonexistent down at ground level in the forest.

At the 3 mile mark I hung a right onto the Hosack trail, the day's destination, as I had never hiked or run it.  It loops back towards Caledonia Park and has the potential to be part of a short loop or a long loop.  I aimed for about 8 miles due to time and daylight constraints.

The Hosack trail from its junction with the AT is decidedly different in character (single track vs. rocky jeep road) and almost immediately begins a descent into the adjoining hollow, one over from the hollow that holds the Quarry Gap Shelter and stream.

The trail was in great shape and easy to follow. As the trail plunged, the trees became larger, presumably from the increased difficulty in logging them out of this narrow ravine.  There was much mountain laurel and rhododendron, and finally, at the bottom, I reached the small run that drains this little valley.  It was cold and pure, with no human habitation upstream.  In short, it was a beautiful, shady scene, well worth the run (or hike if that's your druthers).

But--and that's a big but--I quickly realized that I was alone and nobody else was going to hike that trail in the remaining couple hours before sunset.  Suddenly I got all paranoid, fearing that I'd take a dive, hurt myself, or have some medical issue and nobody would even know where I was.  Sure, I'd told the bride, but I seriously doubt that she'd recall any trail names.  I could kick myself, having just watched 127 Hours, about how Aron Ralston was nearly undone by not telling anyone where he was going with any specificity, and wound up self-amputating his arm to survive.

My paranoia was lessened somewhat by taking another trail at the next junction that led in fairly short order to a forest road and thence out to the highway.  I attribute my willies to being 59, and having the life experience to now know that bad stuff doesn't always just happen to other people. 

When I was younger--like Aron Ralston--of course I was bulletproof, running the backcountry with impunity and sometimes without an itinerary.  About the only time I was ever seriously paranoid was running on the Pinhoti Trail when I was on a business trip to Fort McClellan, AL (since closed).  I had no cushion of time and I elected to run anyway on a new (to me) trail, and emerged from the woods as night was falling.  Not my smartest move, but that's a separate post.

Anyway, I must do better--probably the best, as well as the easiest, method would be to just call my son and leave a voice mail with explicit locations, times, etc.  How hard would that be while driving to the trail, or while getting parked and started?


Monday, July 18, 2011

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

From Andrew Sullivan's The Dish, a great quote:
"Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution is pretty simple. It says, 'Raise an army.' It says absolutely nothing about race, color, creed, sexual orientation. ... Let's just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let's be Marines," - Sgt. Maj. Michael Barrett, the top non-commissioned officer of the Marine Corps, on the repeal of DADT.

This is one savvy Marine.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cats in Art: Young Man With a Cat (Hals)

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.  Note that I could not find an image of the original.  But as it turns out, there are a number of sites where you can purchase a reproduction of famous art; this is one of those sites.

Young Man with a Cat (or Portrait of a Man with a Cat), Frans Hals, 1635, Oil on canvas, 17" x 17", held by Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, Kassel, Germany.

Zuffi tells us:

The young man with the wispy moustache and crude hairstyle gives us a knowing look while trying to soothe, with practiced caresses, a rather too lively kitten.

Looks like the kitty got into some lipstick.  Not sure if it's really her color.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

"This is What You Shall Do"...and Ultrarunning

More good stuff from the Writer's Almanac (from 4 July 2011), a free daily email I get with that has a literary bent.  As an unabashed Walt Whitman fan, I must confess that the quote at the end was new to me.  What a powerful message!  I've bolded it in blue.

On this day in 1855, Walt Whitman published the first edition of Leaves of Grass. The first edition consisted of 12 poems, and was published anonymously; Whitman set much of the type himself, and paid for its printing. Over his lifetime, he published eight more editions, adding poems each time; there were 122 new poems in the third edition alone (1860-61), and the final "death-bed edition," published in 1891, contained almost 400. The first edition received several glowing -- and anonymous -- reviews in New York newspapers. Most of them were written by Whitman himself. The praise was unstinting: "An American bard at last!" One legitimate mention by popular columnist Fanny Fern called the collection daring and fresh. Emerson felt it was "the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom America has yet contributed." This wasn't a universal opinion, however; many called it filth, and poet John Greenleaf Whittier threw his copy into the fire.

The 1855 edition contained a preface, which was left out of subsequent editions, and in it he wrote:

"This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body."

Read that last clause again and see if it doesn't speak directly to Ultrarunning:

...and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Pommes de Terror

I love me some Dependable Renegade (who provided the French title), an eclectic blog always with cool pictures and videos.  And since this one is about a kitten, and a kitten who resembles our own Amanda, what's not to like?

(if embed doesn't work, YouTube is here)


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Senator Mitch McConnell On Casey Anthony Trial

From Talking Points Memo, 11 July 2011.  This is a United States Senator, for crying out loud.  I'm flabbergasted.

 McConnell On Casey Anthony Trial: It Means Terrorists Could Win
(by Ryan J. Reilly):

The top Republican in the Senate invoked the high-profile acquittal of Casey Anthony on charges she murdered her daughter as a reason to oppose the use of civilian trials for terrorism suspects.

"These are not American citizens. We just found with the Caylee Anthony case how difficult is to get a conviction in a U.S. court," Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on "Fox News Sunday." McConnell has called on the Obama administration to place suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay and prosecute them in the military justice system.

"I don't think a foreigner is entitled to all the protections of the Bill of Rights. They should not be in U.S. courts. They should be at Guantanamo and before military commissions," McConnell said.

Late update: In an email to TPM, McConnell spokesman Don Stewart writes "the Administration itself has tacitly acknowledged that once a foreign national is brought into this country and into the civilian system, the ability to indefinitely detain them is lost, regardless of whether they are convicted in a civilian court of criminal offenses. Civilian courts have ordered released into this country foreign nationals who have been convicted of violent felonies after the United States has been unable to deport them. That problem does not exist if foreign terrorists are detained at Guantanamo Bay."

Just read that last para again: "...the ability to indefinitely detain them is lost..." and "That problem does not exist if foreign terrorists are detained at Guantanamo Bay." 

Well, duh, a lot of inconveniences like trials and juries and judges and courtrooms would surely go away if justice was dispensed via a quick bullet in the head.  In fact, that's such a good idea that the police really should have just whacked the entire Anthony family--Casey, Mom, Dad, brother--to save the nation the inconvenience of a trial and the circus that became. 

Let's extend the "logic."  Why not--since we KNOW that Iran is the real bad guy in the Middle East--just nuke Tehran right now. And then we won't even have to rassle with those pesky questions about whether to keep Guantanamo open or invoke military tribunals for any Iranians.  They'll be pre-emptively dead and we won't need those messy civilian trials.

Looks like Diane at Cab Drollery on 12 July had similar outrage.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It's Chicory Season

Image credit Wikipedia.

Much of my running is not actually on trails but rather on the rural roads surrounding my home in Franklin County, PA.  Pehaps the most common wildflower I see is the Common Chicory (Cichorium intybus).

I'm partial to blue flowers anyway, and to see a faint line of blue on the roadside stretching away as far as the eye can see is great.  I'm also a fan of chicory because it grows along roadsides and waste areas, thriving where other plants would perish.  It's definitely one tough plant.

Gotta throw in a poem here that I ran across by John Updike
("Chicory" from Americana and Other Poems. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2001):

Show me a piece of land that God forgot—
a strip between an unused sidewalk, say,
and a bulldozed lot, rich in broken glass—
and there, July on, will be chicory,

its leggy hollow stems staggering skyward,
its leaves rough-hairy and lanceolate,
like pointed shoes too cheap for elves to wear,
its button-blooms the tenderest mauve-blue.

How good of it to risk the roadside fumes,
the oil-soaked heat reflected from asphalt,
and wretched earth dun-colored like cement,
too packed for any other seed to probe.

It sends a deep taproot (delicious, boiled),
is relished by all livestock, lends its leaves
to salads and cooked greens, but will not thrive
in cultivated soil: it must be free.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

James Franco…and Ultrarunning

(Image credit here)

Courtesy of our friends at NETFLIX on Sunday night the bride and I just watched 127 Hours (since Breaking Bad doesn’t start for another week!).  Now, many of you are probably cutting edge when it comes to films, seeing new releases in the theaters.  Or if you didn’t, then seeing newly released DVDs immediately.

Well, the bride and I are usually neither.  We only go to the theater maybe 2 or 3 times a year (most recently was for Johnny Depp in some movie about pirates).  And our DVD watching is sporadic—bursts of activity followed by weeks of inactivity.

That said, I wanted to comment upon 127 Hours, the story of Aron Ralston, the outdoor enthusiast who got trapped in a slot canyon in Utah when a small boulder fell, pinning his arm.  After several days and with death by thirst looming, Aron managed to hack off his arm to save his life.

The film was excellent.  This direction and editing was edgy, the music was great, and James Franco was utterly believable as Aron. I’m now thoroughly a James Franco fan.

Oh, and the connection to Ultrarunning? There are several obvious ones: Aron has completed some 100s after the accident.  Of course, always tell someone where you are going in as much specificity as you can (Aron did not).  Carry more water than you think you’ll need.

But the real takeaway for me was redemption: Aron got a do-over.  From the literal brink of death, summoning inner mental and physical resources that amaze me, he survived to live out the rest of his days.

Without sounding preachy, any one of us can get a do-over of our lives, like starting RIGHT NOW, if you wish.  You don’t have to go through a life-threatening experience.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Cats in Art: Sleeping Girl With a Cat (Renoir)


NOTE: Blogger's software was hosed on Sunday, so here is what should have posted.

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 hereSleeping Girl With a Cat, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1880, 120 x 94 cm, oil\ on canvas. 

See here:

Renoir also included cats in several paintings, perhaps the best-known being Girl with a Cat. Renoir's cats were always pleasant, contented felines. To share their warmth, he often nursed one of the many cats that lived around his house. Occasionally, the Institute Pasteur in Paris, checking the authenticity of Renoir's paintings, has found cat hairs in the paint, which helps date the paintings.

Both the girl and the cat are the epitome of contentment.  Sorta like me after a long trail run.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Shenandoah National Park

Just back from several days at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.  As I mentioned yesterday, this place is a true national treasure.

In the 1930s as part of President Roosevelt’s programs to alleviate the Great Depression and get people back to work, the federal government took over a 100+ mile stretch of the famous Blue Ridge as a national park.  The famous Civilian Conservation Corps built the roads and the trails and the park buildings. Indeed , many mountain families were displaced and relocated, and I leave that part of the history to others to debate.

Now the pleasant Skyline Drive winds peacefully along the length of the park, some 105 miles.  Elevation ranges from the valley floor at Front Royal or Luray (perhaps 1000’) to just over 4000, so many ecological zones are represented.  And the trails!  It’s an Ultrarunner’s paradise.

Today I want to focus on the critters: in the park you will see too many deer to count.  They are habituated to people and so can frequently be seen at close range.  They remain wild, yet accessible, almost the next natural hybrid progression beyond an open-range zoo.

While deer are common, the real prize is to see a black bear.  We go to Shenandoah at least once a year and we see bears about every other trip.  This time we saw two separate bears, a wonderful lesson for Mister Tristan (the 3 year old human being, not the blog) and Miss Doodybug.  Both sightings were at dusk, so no photos, but he kids will grow up with these memories and others yet to come when they carry on the tradition of bringing the next generation to Shenandoah.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

The God Delusion, Part 2..and Ultrarunning

On Tuesday I commented on Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion.  In a later chapter addressing why he is so hostile to religion, Dawkins brings up the issue of faith and the sanctity of human life.  In a passage that tickled me for his dry with, he says:

Human embryos are examples of human life.  Therefore, by absolutist religious lights, abortion is simply wrong: fully fledged murder.  I am not sure what to make of my admittedly anecdotal observation that many of those who most ardently oppose the taking of embryonic life also seem to be more than usually enthusiastic about taking adult life....

While I was running today I pondered this observation, along with Dawkins' pointing out that the born-again George W. Bush, while he was governor of Texas, presided over executions at the astonishing rate of one every nine days.  Every nine days

That statistic blew me away even more so that than the deaths associated with his ill-conceived adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Godzilla vs. Marx Trains

In our play with Mister Tristan (the 3-year old human being, not the blog) and my vintage Marx trains from the 1940s and 1950s, we introduced some other actors as shown above.

It is so great to see the enduring play value of certain toys, in this case model trains.  While Lionel is more realistic, I remain completely sold on Marx trains.  They are tough and virtually bulletproof.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The God Delusion

Am most of the way through reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. 

For those who would take the Bible literally, Dawkins begins his Bible-focused chapter with this intro:

There are two ways in which scripture might be a source of morals or rules for living.  One is by direct instruction, for example through the Ten Commandments, which are the subject of such bitter contention in the culture wars of America's boondocks.  The other is by example: God, or some other biblical character, might serve as a role model.  Both scriptural routes, if followed through religiously, encourage a system of morals which any civilized modern person, whether religious or not, would find--I can put it no more gently--obnoxious.

To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and "improved" by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries.

The rest of the chapter is a scientist's systematic dismantling of the literal interpretation of the "good book" to probe religious points.  An excellent read for skeptics.


Monday, July 4, 2011

Breaking Bad Marathon

(Image credit here)

Nope, not that kind of marathon, that all of us Ultrarunners progressed through on our way to the true enlightenment of running vast distances on trails.

I'm talking about the American Movie Classics cable channel AMC, where the new season of Breaking Bad happens in 2 weeks, on 17 July (10:00 pm Eastern).

The drama is about a high school chemistry teacher (Bryan Cranston), diagnosed with cancer, who takes up cooking crystal meth to provide for his family after his demise.  And he is wonderfully supported by Aaron Paul, who plays an addict and Cranston's co-cooker...and friend.

Despite the obvious criminal issues, both leads are sympathetic characters and show is anything but black and white.  The nuances of right and wrong, the shades of gray, the situational ethics, are right up my alley.

Oh, and the marathon?  I was off this week so the bride and I just finished watching all of last season's episodes again to be primed for the Season 4 premiere.  Can't wait.

We love trail running, but when the time comes for you to park your butt in front of the TV, you can't do any better than this.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Cats in Art: The Spinners (Velazquez)

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 Spinners, c. 1657, Diego Velazquez, oil on canvas, 86" x 113", held by Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

Zuffi discusses the many interpretations of this work "...which, for some, sums up the whole of Western art on its own...."

Wow, that's quite a painting, I'd say.  But lets focus on what Zuffi says of the cat at the lower right:
Is it a mere decorative element, or is it a symbol of freedom, linked to loyalty to the Spanish crown (and as such, a symbolic representation of the strong working and intellectual relationship between Velazquez and Philip IV?  Critics seem to disagree over these interpretations. In the meantime, the cat, confirming its ancient reputation for laziness and indolence, is the only living thing that is idle in this setting that, in contrast, is a hive of activity.

I can't comment on the royalty intrigue, but I can interpret the cat: smart cat, that one.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Raising Social Security...and Ultrarunning

Ran across a great Thomas Geoghegan editorial comment in the New York Times last week:

As a labor lawyer I cringe when Democrats talk of "saving" Social Security. We should not "save" it but raise it. Right now Social Security pays out 39 percent of the average worker's preretirement earnings. While jaws may drop inside the Beltway, we could raise that to 50 percent. We'd still be near the bottom of the league of the world's richest countries - but at least it would be a basement with some food and air. We have elderly people living on less than $10,000 a year. Is that what Democrats want to "save"?

This is the kind of social spending that, morally, we should do...except that we are "broke" from our military spending.  It's guns versus butter, and the guns have prevailed, again.  We could do it if we really wanted to, but we're too busy shooting rather than talking, and also mighty busy preserving and increasing the wealth of the wealthiest at the expense of the regular folk.

Oh, and the nexus (I love that word!) to Ultrarunning?  Maybe there's none, other than when I retire I hope to be able to continue to enjoy leisure pursuits such as Ultrarunning without having to worry about paying for the basic necessities of life. For example, food insecurity or heat insecurity would kinda make it tough to enjoy trail running.  Survival always trumps play.


Friday, July 1, 2011

Set Points...and Ultrarunning

Got motivated and ran 10 miles on Wed, the longest since my tennis elbow surgery in late May.  It went well and with no problems with the arm, but I was getting low on energy towards the end…although my theory is that when we know the length of a long-ish planned run, mentally your body seems to wind down as you come to the end.

It’s like when you pre-pay cash at the gas station, say $40, and when the pump runs up to $39 or so it begins to slow down in preparation for stopping.  This set point phenomenon (the running part, not the gas part) has happened many times in my own training experience, so I’ve come to expect it and am not surprised or bummed out by it.