Friday, September 30, 2011

Cause and Effect, Again

Let's go back to the old cause-and-effect model, shall we, courtesy of Seeing the Forest.  I just posted on this dynamic a few days back, here, relating to military vets.  I need to quote extensively from Seeing the Forest to capture the point. 

Just ten years ago we were paying off debt at a rate that would have completely paid it all off by now. But under George W. Bush we cut taxes for the rich and more than doubled military spending. We deregulated and stopped enforcing laws. We let the big corporations run rampant. Our federal budget turned from huge surpluses to massive deficits....

And then, under and because of Bush, our economy collapsed.

The guru of Seeing the Forest, Dave Johnson, then nails it pretty succinctly: "To Fix The Damage, Undo The Cause." 

The way to fix deficits is to undo the damage Bush did, by raising taxes on the rich, and cutting back the huge, bloated, extreme, massive, astonishing, incredible, stratospheric military budget. And we have to boost the economy by investing in rebuilding our infrastructure to get people employed. We have millions of jobs that need doing, while millions are looking for jobs. Then those people will be paying taxes instead of collecting unemployment and food stamps. And the infrastructure improvements will boost our economy's competitiveness. This is all so simple and obvious that only DC insider types could miss it.

Cutting spending doesn't cut the need, it shifts the burden. Cutting government spending does not cut the costs to society and the overall economy of meeting those needs. Cutting government spending just shifts -- or privatizes -- those costs onto the backs of people who can't afford to spend that money. That need and cost is still there in the economy, except without government -- democracy -- handling it, doing it for all of us, less expensively. Cutting government's role opens those functions up to private profit, instead of We, the People taking care of and watching out for each other -- and making the decisions.

Do you really think that if you phase out Medicare, that old people won't still need the medical care? Of course they will still need it, but the government won't be negotiating cost-savings for them, they'll be on their own, up against the giant insurance monopolies.

I'm no economist, but I'm a pretty smart guy otherwise, and this post captures in a nutshell what we must do: simply go back to the policies that were in effect when the economy still worked.  Duh!


Free Book--Update

On Tuesday I posted about my free book giveaway to commemorate Banned Books Week, here.

I got a number of fine submissions, so my work is cut out for me.

Results on Mon or Tues....

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Things Could Be Worse

From the bizarre site Things Could be Worse, this cartoon sorta tickled me.  Especially since the whole glass-half-whatever construct is just begging to be abused--and it is--by armchair psychoanalysts everywhere.

As for me, I’m happy guy, but sometime the glass IS half empty.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

“War to me is an Oblique Place"…and Ultrarunning

Nearly two years ago I did a post on Emily Dickinson and how she, in 7 words, in a marvelous use of spare language, managed to sum up the meaning of war.

Not much has changed since I wrote that post in 2010, nor since she wrote her letter to a friend some 140 years ago, puzzled, saying "War to me is an oblique place." 

War still is an oblique place, and we keep going there.  Violence seems to be the first resort and not the last one.  I think it’s because we are armed to the teeth, and when all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.  Our military budget is equal to about half of the world’s military expenditures. Put another way, we spend around $700 billion annually on our military, plus or minus…and so does the rest of the world put together.

So when the Very Serious People who run this country say that we can’t afford Medicare or Social Security, what they really mean is that those programs get the crumbs from the table after we’ve fed the military.

See here, here and here for some representative data sources.

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?

When I’m running on a trail, the world gets small.  It’s me—the body aspect consisting of my heart, lungs and legs—but mostly my mind, just savoring the solitude.  I don’t wish to dominate the trail or anything I see.  I don’t care to fight with any creatures, great or small.  I have no desire to compete for resources, or deny anything to anybody.

All I wish is to be left alone in the pursuit of happiness.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Free Book: The God Delusion, for Banned Books Week

I've been pondering how to deal with Banned Books Week for 2011.  Last year I wrote a standard blog post about how shortsighted it is to ban books, etc.  While this remains true, I seriously doubt that any book banners read my post, saw the light, and suddenly became champions of freedom of reading choice.

To generate some blog buzz, I even gave away a Richard Dawkins book to promote the cause.  See the end of this post for this year's giveaway: The God Delusion, also by Richard Dawkins...and read to get there, don't skip ahead!

Nope, what happened last year was that my little post on my little blog was read by the handful of lefty, progressive and/or Ultrarunning folks who stop by at Mister Tristan (the blog, not the 3-year-old human being) to read what I write.  There was probably some head nodding in agreement, some folks entered my free book contest, and that was that.

This year I'm trying to figure out, as all incipient activists do, how to write something new on this topic that will matter, about the shortsightedness of banning books?

Fact is, I probably can't write something new.  If you're the type who sees goodness in banning certain "inappropriate" books for everyone and can't/won't trust people to make their own informed choices--well, chances are that you're never going to change.  If, on the other hand, you get the need for freedom to read what you wish, then you'll simply agree with this post.

Even if it's extremely unlikely that I will make a difference, that's no reason not to try.  I believe in freedom of personal choice and I believe in the freedom of expression.  So let's go slay us some dragons!  I'm smitten with the thoughtful words from the National Council of Teachers of English Guideline on The Students' Right to Read:

The right to read, like all rights guaranteed or implied within our constitutional tradition, can be used wisely or foolishly. In many ways, education is an effort to improve the quality of choices open to all students. But to deny the freedom of choice in fear that it may be unwisely used is to destroy the freedom itself. For this reason, we respect the right of individuals to be selective in their own reading. But for the same reason, we oppose efforts of individuals or groups to limit the freedom of choice of others or to impose their own standards or tastes upon the community at large.

OK, still with me?  Or did you skip down here?  At any rate, this year's giveaway is also by Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion (image credit Amazon).  Whether you are a religious person or an atheist, you would benefit from reading this book as it examines with a critical eye the conundrums and bad effects (as alleged by Dawkins) that result from belief in God.

I am not aware of this book being on any banned or challenged lists, but it certainly fits into that genre of being controversial.

So, the contest:

In a few sentences, just tell me why you deserve this book.  My decision is final (and probably somewhat arbitrary). Oh, and it's not new--it's my paperback copy and I read it once.  But it is in excellent condition. 

Email to

Good luck!


Monday, September 26, 2011

Presidential Achievements to be Proud Of

From The Guardian, a British interview with former President Jimmy Carter:

What he's most proud of, though, is that he didn't fire a single shot. Didn't kill a single person. Didn't lead his country into a war - legal or illegal. "We kept our country at peace. We never went to war. We never dropped a bomb. We never fired a bullet. But still we achieved our international goals. We brought peace to other people, including Egypt and Israel. We normalised relations with China, which had been non-existent for 30-something years. We brought peace between US and most of the countries in Latin America because of the Panama Canal Treaty. We formed a working relationship with the Soviet Union."

It's the simple fact of not going to war that, given what came next, should be recognised. "In the last 50 years now, more than that," he says, "that's almost a unique achievement." He was bitterly opposed to both Iraq wars. "Iraq was just a terrible mistake. I thought so in Iraq 1, and I was against it in Iraq 2." And it's not just George W Bush who has blood on his hands, he says, but Tony Blair too: "I don't know what went on in private meetings when Tony Blair agreed to it. But had Bush not gotten that tacit support from Blair, I don't know if the course of history might have been different."

More than any other U.S. President in recent memory, Jimmy Carter, I think, best understands the limit, extent, and proper use of Presidential powers.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cats in Art: The Scullery Maid (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 ARTILIM Online Art gallery, here.  Guiseppe Maria Crespi, The Scullery Maid, c. 1710-15, Oil on canvas, 16" x 12", held by Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.
Zuffi comments:
In the solitude of the kitchen, in the corner warmed by the hot coals that still glow in the fireplace, there appears the unmistakably rounded outline of a sleeping cat, a silent, discreet companion in the young scullery maid's life.
Cat + chair + heat = an unbeatable combination.  Crespi was so good at capturing ordinary scenes from ordinary life, even on such a small canvas as this one, little more than a foot square.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ultrarunning Shoes

I’ve posted about my shoes before, but wanted to make a couple more observations.  I'm going to use my Vasques for the upcoming Blues Cruise 50K on 2 Oct.
That makes me think about my overall hierarchy of shoes by applications:

1. Gnarly trails, rocky, rooty, etc:  I have an older pair of Montrail Vitesse that I keep just for this type of running. Perfect example around here is the Appalachian Trail or most of the trails from the Massanutten 100 in VA.

2.  Easier trails to dirt roads: I use a pair of Vasque (forget the model).  I run in these for the JFK 50 miler in MD.

3.  Dirt roads and jeep trails: ASICS 2140 trail, which can also be used just fine on pavement--a great Umstead 100 (NC) shoe.

4.  Pavement:  Whatever’s on sale, although I have never had a pair of ASICS that I didn’t like.

Your mileage WILL vary.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Sharing an Irony

If my memory serves me well, according to Kurt Vonnegut (and I think it was in Cat's Cradle, currently awaiting a re-read in my Kindle), it is impossible to share an irony.

An irony is a personal "aha moment" that a person either gets or not, and cannot be successfully explained to someone who did not get it initially.

Thus I offer emptywheel's post in its entirety from last week, and trust that you will get it, for I cannot explain it to you.  It can't be done.  The graphic is a slide from an FBI PowerPoint training session.

Spencer has a must read story on the FBI’s recent training program for counter-terrorism agents on Islam.

I’m going to have a few points to make about it. But for the moment I wanted to (in addition to recommending you go read the whole thing) draw attention to this slide on Islamic law, explaining some of the reasons why it purportedly leads to militancy.

The problem, you see, is Mohammad “ordered the assassinations” of critics and “employed torture to extract information.”

I can imagine how such things would corrupt the people who practice such things.

Gary says, "Indeed."



Thursday, September 22, 2011

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?...and Ultrarunning

In a Page 1 article in Tuesday's Washington Post entitled A Possible Future For Drones: Automated Killing, we read about a successful test of autonomous drones to acquire and identify a target:
This successful exercise in autonomous robotics could presage the future of the American way of war: a day when drones hunt, identify and kill the enemy based on calculations made by software, not decisions made by humans. Imagine aerial "Terminators," minus beefcake and time travel.

The killing of terrorism suspects and insurgents by armed drones, controlled by pilots sitting in bases thousands of miles away in the western United States, has prompted criticism that the technology makes war too antiseptic. Questions also have been raised about the legality of drone strikes when employed in places such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, which are not at war with the United States. This debate will only intensify as technological advances enable what experts call lethal autonomy.

The prospect of machines able to perceive, reason and act in unscripted environments presents a challenge to the current understanding of international humanitarian law. The Geneva Conventions require belligerents to use discrimination and proportionality, standards that would demand that machines distinguish among enemy combatants, surrendering troops and civilians.

"The deployment of such systems would reflect a paradigm shift and a major qualitative change in the conduct of hostilities," Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said at a conference in Italy this month. "It would also raise a range of fundamental legal, ethical and societal issues, which need to be considered before such systems are developed or deployed."

Seriously, if the Washington Post is carrying this article on its front page, I have to believe that research and development must be MUCH further along than hinted here.  This functionality is probably pretty close to being deployable...only we won’t know about it.

Note: I see where The Earth Bound Misfit has also weighed in, and not on the thumbs up side either.

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?  Imagine running down a peaceful trail with some companions, only to be suddenly vaporized by a terminator drone, invisible overhead.  This is what is happening (via pilots, not autonomously yet) in the war zones, but I think that pressure would mount--if this technology "works"--to use it domestically. It's not all that far-fetched a scenario, given the increasing state of "us vs. them" that seems to be polarizing the nation. 


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cause and Effect = Hard, I Guess

As usual, the Earth-Bound Misfit gets it right on our obligations to those who served in America’s armed forces.  She is commenting upon reports that the White House is sending out feelers about possible budget-balancing cuts to military retiree benefits (profanity left in for emphasis):

If we, as a nation, are unwilling to shoulder the financial burden of caring for our military retirees and veterans, then this is what we should do: Stop making so many veterans by getting into wars. When the shooting starts, there are going to be maimed veterans who will need care for the next eighty years. If that cost is unacceptable to the politicians, then stop sending men and women off to fight. No fighting, no combat veterans to care for-- that should be a simple enough equation for even most politicians to grasp.
If we don't want to pay for so many military retirees, then cut the size of the armed forces and cut back on the global presence that we have had since the end of the Second World War. If, on the other hand, you want to have that global presence, then suck it up and realize that when someone on active duty completes a twenty-year career and retires, you're going to be paying him or her retirement benefits for possibly another sixty years. Shut the fuck up and pay for it.

Simple cause and effect seems to be a difficult concept for The Very Serious People in DC to grasp. 


Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Sunday AM got up, pre-dawn, to run 16 on local roads, this in prep for the Blues Cruise 50K in 2 weeks.

The moon was waning, but still about half full and high overhead, casting a bright light that created sharp shadows.  On one turn in particular I startled myself when suddenly my shadow, which had been unnoticed in front of me, suddenly appeared to my left, and I thought it was an animal or something.

I was reminded of the old Cat Stevens song, Moonshadow from the early 1970s.  It wasn’t a blockbuster single, but it was a good album tune from that era when Cat Stevens was popular.

Sometime later he converted to Islam and took a different name, Yusuf Islam, and left his music career to devote himself to educational and philanthropic causes in the Muslim community.  I always thought Cat was a cool name for a human and mourned the loss.  Maybe he should have split the difference and became Cat Islam.

Mr. Stevens (or Mr. Islam, whichever you prefer), was actually born Steven Demetre Georgiou, 21 July 1948 (credit to Wikipedia).  So he’s had at least three names, which is an interesting situation if you think about it.


Monday, September 19, 2011

The Marshmallow Test...and Ultrarunning

In one sense, Ultrarunning provides instant gratification.  The endorphins that are responsible for that sense of well-being that comes from physical exercise such as running kick in rather quickly, and you typically just feel good to be exercising.

And in the long haul, Ultrarunning provides for delayed gratification, as it takes awhile for a runner to build up to the types of distances that we run--50 and 100 milers.  It's clearly a sport for the patient.

This short versus long term gratification is why I was fascinated to read this over at Boing Boing: A Possible Link Between Pollution and Crime—and Marshmallows.  An excerpt:

At Wired, Jonah Lehrer delves into an interesting theory about why American crime rates have fallen so drastically over the last 30 years. Apparently, there is both a correlation and a mechanism that would seem to connect falling rates of a certain kind of environmental pollutant to the downward trend in crime statistics. It all comes back to one of my favorite experiments in the annals of behavioral psychology. I'm speaking, of course, of the marshmallow test.
In the late 1960s, psychologist Walter Mischel left pre-schoolers alone in a room with a marshmallow. He gave the kids a choice: Eat your marshmallow now, and it's the only one you get. Resist temptation, and you'll be given two marshmallows to eat later. It's a classic test of delayed gratification and self-control. And only 20% of Mischel's test subjects managed to get the second 'mallow. Their secret: Distracting themselves with other activities, like singing or playing a pretend game.

But here's the interesting thing I didn't know—Mischel has followed those marshmallow kids over the course of their lives. Today, we know that the 20% who could hold out for a second marshmallow also had higher SAT scores, more friends, and fewer anger management issues as teenagers. And, thanks to brainscans, we can actually see differences between the adult brains of the 20% and their less self-controlled counterparts.

Better go read the whole post at Boing Boing.  It's a good one! 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Cats in Art: The Chess Players (de Man)

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 Azerbaijan Rugs, here. Cornelius de Man, The Chess Players, c. 1670, Oil on canvas, 97.5 cm x 85 cm, held by Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, Hungary.   

Zuffi comments:

In this home, a game of chess may mask an amorous "battle": as far as we can tell, the moves of the game are observed by a beautiful tabby cat, well cared for and groomed to perfection...This is one of the seventeenth-century works in which the cats' role as a domestic animal is most obvious.

Or maybe the cat is mentally beaming clues about strategic moves to the woman.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

War Means Somebody F**ked Up

The following was posted by Atrios at his Eschaton blog back in May 2011.

I am quoting it verbatim, so if you are offended by profanity, you've been warned...but read it anyway.

I'm not sure exactly when I started seeing myself as a pacifist. It's one of those words which to Very Serious People means "you like it when the bully punches you in the face don't you dirty fucking hippie!" But what I've learned over the increasingly many years of my life is that the existence of just about any war in which the US is involved means that the Very Serious People, with all the power they have, fucked up completely. Even if that war is, in some sense, "necessary," it still means that the people who run this place screwed up and at the very least should resign in shame before sending people off to kill and be killed. But they don't. They go on Meet the Press to talk about how awesome they are.

I wish that I had written this.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Europe Threat Alert Scale...and Ultrarunning

This bit, allegedly written by John Cleese, British actor and comedian,  once of Monty Python's Flying Circus, was making the rounds early in 2011.  I tried to source it, but there were just too many hits.

Image credit: Wikipedia.

Somehow I missed it then, but better late than never, right?


The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent events in Libya and have therefore raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved." Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross." The English have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to "A Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.

The Scots have raised their threat level from "Pissed Off" to "Let's get the Bastards." They don't have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.

The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide." The only two higher levels in France are "Collaborate" and "Surrender." The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France 's white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country's military capability.

Italy has increased the alert level from "Shout Loudly and Excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides."

The Germans have increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbor" and "Lose."

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.

The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.

Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from "No worries" to "She'll be alright, Mate." Two more escalation levels remain: "Crikey! I think we'll need to cancel the barbie this weekend!" and "The barbie is canceled." So far no situation has ever warranted use of the final escalation level.

Oh, and the Ultrarunning connection?  Regardless of my personal threat level, going for a trail run is always a good idea.  It washes clean the psyche and lifts my spirits.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Organization Name FAIL

I work for the Defense Department.  Face it, our end product is death and destruction. I get it, that we want to have the best kick-a** weapons in the world. 

But guys, could you have come up with a better organization name than this one: US Army Joint Munitions and Lethality Life Cycle Management Command (JM&LLCMC)??

No political correctness here!

From their web site, they have a list of "What We Do (Core competencies).  The list is pretty routine, largely what you'd find on many Fortune 500 websites...until you get to the last one:

--What we do (Core Competencies)
--Research, Development, Engineering
--Acquisition / Program Management
--Logistics, Industrial Operations, and Contracting
--SMCA Executor & Field Operating Activity
--Demilitarization and Disposal
--Industrial Base Management & Transformation
--Munitions Readiness Reporting
--Manage World-Wide Assets
--Centralized Ammunition Management
--Integrated Lethality Solutions

What the heck is an Integrated Lethality Solution?  I guess you don't want to have any Non-Integrated Lethality Solutions.  I can only presume that you don't want to be lethal in a willy-nilly must be organized and part of a larger comprehensive plan for death and destruction.

This whole sorta surreal discussion reminds me of the George Carlin quote on flamethrowers that I've previously posted about, here:

The very existence of flame-throwers proves that some time, somewhere, someone said to themselves, You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I'm just not close enough to get the job done.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

War Criminals...and Ultrarunning

Now this is kinda ironic...but again, we've been told that we are not looking back....

Via a link from Avedon Carol: Obama Bans War Criminals, but Not Our Own, by Nat Hentoff.

"By executive order on Aug. 4, President Barack Obama refused entry to the United States of war criminals and human-rights violators (, Aug. 4). He ignored, as he often does, the deeply documented factual evidence of war crimes committed by the Bush-Cheney administration - along with grim proof that the Obama administration also violates our anti-torture laws and the U.N. Convention Against Torture we signed. 

The United States also signed the Geneva Conventions, which mandates - and please pay attention to this, President Obama - each contracting party "shall be under the obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, such grave breaches (of the Geneva Conventions), and shall bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts."

This means that you, President Obama, are obligated to bring the foregoing list of war criminals [George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA director George Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft, David Addington (counsel to Cheney) and John Yoo author of the unsparingly cruel, aptly dubbed "torture memos" from the Ashcroft Justice Department that gave "legal cover" to allow torture] during the Bush presidency into our courts - or, before that, be subject to an independent criminal investigation."

I guess what boggles my mind is why the Very Serious People in Washington cannot see this with the clarity that I and my friends see this.  Wait, they're not stupid, of course they see what I see...and choose to provide "professional courtesy" (read: cover) for their predecessors, hoping to establish precedent in case they themselves will need cover from the subsequent administration for their present actions.

Oh...and the link to Ultrarunning?  For those of us gentle people who quietly run trails, seeking solace and solitude, the concept of torturing another human being fills us with revulsion.  That our elected leaders do it our our name to "keep us safe"...I'd just rather be unsafe.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Looking Back, With Regret (part 2)

Part 1 ran on Saturday.  Regrets seem ubiquitous these days.

From Crooks and Liars on 30 Aug 2011. Somehow I doubt this will ever happen, but it's nice to imagine.  I suppose that it's better late than never, but Wilkerson could have had more credibility had he broken ranks at the time rather than now, a number of years later:

The former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell pledged Tuesday to testify against former Vice President Dick Cheney if he is ever tried for war crimes.

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson told Democracy Now's Amy Goodman that he would participate in a trial even if it meant personal repercussions.

"I, unfortunately -- and I've admitted to this a number of times, publicly and privately -- was the person who put together Colin Powell's presentation at the United Nations Security Council on 5 February, 2003," Wilkerson said. "It was probably the biggest mistake of my life. I regret it to this day. I regret not having resigned over it."


Joining Wilkerson and Goodman to discuss Cheney's new book "In My Time," Salon's Glenn Greenwald said that it was disturbing to see the former vice president treated simply as an "elder statesman.

"The evidence is overwhelming... that Dick Cheney is not just a political figure with controversial views, but is an actual criminal, that he was centrally involved in a whole variety not just of war crimes in Iraq, but of domestic crimes, as well, including the authorization of warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens in violation of FISA, which says that you go to jail for five years for each offense, as well as the authorization and implementation of a worldwide torture regime that, according to General Barry McCaffrey, resulted in the murder -- his word -- of dozens of detainees, far beyond just the three or four cases of waterboarding that media figures typically ask Cheney about," Greenwald explained.

"And as a result, Dick Cheney goes around the country profiting off of this, you know, sleazy, sensationalistic, self-serving book, basically profiting from his crimes, and at the same time normalizing the idea that these kind of policies, though maybe in the view of some wrongheaded, are perfectly legitimate political choices to make. And I think that's the really damaging legacy from all of this."

But I guess we're looking forward and not backward.  Sure, we invaded a sovereign nation under false pretenses, tortured and violated personal privacy under the guise of homeland security, spilled the blood of tens of thousands, depleted our treasury...nothing to see here folks, just move right along. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Somewhere on Mars....

From the incomparable Driftglass, a post about the Mars Rover, which he points out is "Operating 3,000% beyond design specification...And run by the Evil Gummint."

I, for one, am always inspired by our efforts in space and feel it's shortsighted to cut back. 

Back to Driftglass, who feels the same:

Scientists directing NASA’s Mars Opportunity rover gushed with excitement as they announced that the aging robot has discovered a rock with a composition unlike anything previously explored on the Red Planet’s surface – since she landed on the exotic Martian plains 7.5 years ago – and which offers indications that liquid water might have percolated or flowed at this spot billions of years ago.
Barely three weeks ago Opportunity arrived at the rim of the gigantic 14 mile ( 22 km) wide crater named Endeavour after an epic multi-year trek, and for the team its literally been like a 2nd landing on Mars – and the equivalent of the birth of a whole new mission of exploration at an entirely ‘new’ landing site.
This is what Hope actually looks like: a small helpmate to mankind made by our species with love and exquisite precision, slowing ambling across the surface of an ancient world, enduring so far beyond anyone's wildest dreams as to border on miraculous, and sending back dispatches from the Final Frontier in silent streams of 1s and 0s.
Remind me again how tax cuts and Creationism were responsible for landing this tireless emissary of the human race on Mars?

 I continue to think that something from space--an asteroid perhaps, or actual proof of other life--is about the only thing that has any possibility of altering our headlong rush to destroy this planet and ourselves along with it.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Cats in Art: The Effects of Intemperance (Steen)

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. 
Last week's post was Jan Steen's painting of Children Teaching a Cat to  Dance, and the week before it was his Children Teaching a Cat to Read

Guess I'm just on a Jan Steen roll right now (I greatly admire him and his attention to detail).

Image credit Gandalf's Gallery, here. Jan Steen, The Effects of Intemperance, c. 1663-1665, oil on wood, 76 cm x 106.5 cm.  I am unsure about where this particular work is held. From Gandalf's description:

The woman slumped on the left, whose purse is being picked by a child on the extreme left, is sleeping off the effects of alcohol. As in many other paintings by Steen, it is the foolishness of their elders that encourages the children to misbehave. Here the child throwing roses to the pig illustrates a popular saying about foolish behaviour (to throw roses before swine). In the background an old man is seducing a young girl, another of the pitfalls of alcohol. As in many of Steen's paintings the coarse subject is in sharp contrast to the refined rendering of the various textures of the objects on the floor and the shimmering fabrics.

Oh, and in the center right a cat is being spoiled...just like things are meant to be.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Looking Back, With Regret

Richard Cohen, columnist for the Washington Post, looks back with regret, in a 6 Sep 2011 post called The Longest Day.  The opening quote is from one of my all-time favorite books.

The teacher stands before a class of young men. He is flanked by open windows. A military parade passes outside the school, and martial music fills the classroom. The teacher, Mr. Kantorek, is exhorting his students to enlist. "I believe it will be a quick war," he says, "and there will be few losses." It is 1914, the war lasted four years, and the losses were staggering. This is how the movie "All Quiet on the Western Front" begins. So did Sept. 11, 2001.

Now it is 10 years later, and the war is not over. We fight still in Afghanistan and Iraq, wars now without purpose or, in the case of Iraq, reason. Like those students, we got high on war fever and marched off led by men - a president and his vice president - at least as incompetent as the German kaiser or, on the other side, that gaggle of statesmen and field marshals who allowed Europe to be convulsed by a war whose effects are still being felt.

The passage of time blurred its purpose, and so we fight, as Hannibal did in Italy, because we can't think of what else to do. This is an odd reason to die.

It seems we have become habituated to war. It's the new normal for anybody under the age of about 15 or so--a state of perennial war is all they now know.


Friday, September 9, 2011

The Best Feeling in the World…and Ultrarunning

I’m talking about how one feels during a race...specifically the time when you realize that you will finish.  Maybe for a 50K the issue of just plain finishing is not all that important a question for most, but in a hundred miler, the issue could certainly in doubt.

So, I’ve read race reports from 100 milers who pointed to a realization in the race that they could walk it in and still finish under the time limit.  For example, suppose you make it to 80 miles in 22 hours, and you are still capable of walking 3 mph.  So simple math (the only kind you can do in your head at mile 80) tells you that even if you can no longer run, you could walk and still come in under 30 hours.

There are other thresholds along those same lines, say 90 miles in 25 hours and you can walk 2 mph.  You get the idea.

But for me, the salient milestone is what I affectionately call “The Land of Single Digits Remaining,” and it works regardless of ultra race distance. Whenever I come to the point that there is less than 10 miles to go, I heave a mighty internal sigh of relief.  I KNOW that I could practically crawl 10 miles if I had to.  The remaining 10 miles tick off like clockwork and the finish line comes into view, and another memory has been made.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Tools of the Ultrarunning Craft

See my photo over there to the right under About Me.  Notice anything?

Well, you’d have to be brain dead to not notice the running shoes—after all, they’re pretty much the only thing in the picture.

As surely as hammers and screwdrivers and drills are tools, so are our shoes...and our bottle packs and flashlights and reflective gear and high-tech clothing, etc. 

But all of these “improvements” to our leisure pursuit of Ultrarunning are but a few decades old, at best.  Nowhere near 1.76 million years old as is this tool:

Image credit Boing Boing, such a wonderful site if you like science and culture with an eclectic bent.

The fact that these ancestors of ours used tools--sophisticated tools, really--links them to us in a rather primal way.  That, probably, is one of the prime characteristics that makes us human.  Much as we have our favorite running shoes or flashlight, nearly 2 million years ago there was some individual who carefully crafted this stone ax and used it in life-or-death survival.  One can imagine that he or she held and kept it close, deriving comfort and security from its firm heft in the hand....

And I bet those Homo erectus folks could do some mean endurance running as well.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cat Balloon Video

A great (brief) cat video find via Dependable Renegade:

I gotta find me one of these balloons!

Reminds me of an old Gary Larson cartoon captioned "Games you can play with your cat," in which a guy wearing a dog mask is hiding behind a door, waiting for the cat to walk through.

It's good to not let your cat get too complacent.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Heartbeats...and Ultrarunning

Image credit National Geographic.

I ran across this one last week on a Discover Magazine science blog: Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Time. 

There were a number of physics type entries, but it was the last one that intrigued me:

10. A lifespan is a billion heartbeats. Complex organisms die. Sad though it is in individual cases, it's a necessary part of the bigger picture; life pushes out the old to make way for the new. Remarkably, there exist simple scaling laws relating animal metabolism to body mass. Larger animals live longer; but they also metabolize slower, as manifested in slower heart rates. These effects cancel out, so that animals from shrews to blue whales have lifespans with just about equal number of heartbeats - about one and a half billion, if you simply must be precise. In that very real sense, all animal species experience "the same amount of time." At least, until we master #9 and become immortal.

I must quibble a bit about the blog post, however.  The author, Sean, states that a "A lifespan is a billion heartbeats" in the header for his para 10, then in the body he says "...about one and a half billion, if you simply must be precise."  Also, if you Google "heartbeats in lifetime" you'll see a bunch of results that, without clicking thru, would seem to be mutually exclusive.

That's quite a difference, and I can't speak to the math, and it kinda sounds too much like pop science. That said, let's suspend our disbelief and go with the bigger picture here. Namely, that the notion of an allotted number of heart beats, while not new, does sound rather intriguing.

See, we endurance athletes bank our heartbeats.  Sure, when we do some heart-pounding, leg-quivering ascent and our heartbeats soar to 200 or whatever your personal max is, it seems that you're squandering those precious beats.  Until you consider that your heart rate is only elevated for a few hours for a long run, then it drops back to your fit resting rate of what--40s?  50s?--for the rest of your existence.

That's a good trade off.

What will you do with your billion to 1.5 billion heartbeats?  I think I'll go trail running.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Water Gardening

My water garden was awesome this year! 

Unfortunately, as we move into September here in south central PA, growth will begin to slow and it'll be time to shut things down for the winter.

Specifically, that means I will pull up the pots (all my plants are contained in submerged pots to keep them corralled) and divide the root balls.  I whack at the root ball with a hatchet to reduce the root mass back to about 1/3 of its size, then replant it in the same container.  Then I will add some garden soil to fill up the pot, include a fertilizer tablet or two, and finally cover the top with small stones to cover the mud and to discourage the goldfish and koi from rooting in the pots and stirring things up. 

I cut the green vegetative growth off and sink the pot to the bottom of the pond (my deepest point is about 3').  The pots remain there all winter until spring when I pull them up to higher shelves so they can start next spring's growth.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Cats in Art: Children Teaching a Cat to Dance (Steen)

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.  Last week's post was Steen's painting of Children Teaching a Cat to Read, and when I Googled it I noted numerous hits on another Jan Steen painting, the topic of this post, Children Teaching a Cat to Dance.

Image credit Rijkmuseum, here.  Jan Steen, Children Teaching a Cat to Dance, also known as "The Dancing Lesson," c. 1665-1668, oil on panel, 68 cm x 59 cm, held by Rijkmuseum, Amsterdam.  From the museum's description:

Four children are playing with a cat, making it dance. At the centre, a young boy is holding the cat by its front paws while the girl plays a flute and the other two children watch laughing. The cat screeches, the dog barks and the old man looks out of the window. [Gary note: I don't see any old man?] The scene is mainly painted in beige and brown tones. Only the girl is wearing brightly coloured clothes: the blue of her dress is particularly bright and striking. This painting is a 'typical Jan Steen': an amusing scene in a domestic setting with a sexual undertone to the symbolism.

I'm not sure I get the sexual undertone assertion, but the painting is indeed vibrant and almost sensual.  It is clear that Steen was a big fan of cats (undoubtedly they were his principal muses!), sprinkling them liberally and prominently in his paintings.

As for the cat, it obviously is cataloging the humiliation and will exact proper payback at a later date.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Tales from the Perimeter: Knee Surgery

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.
Image credit Amazon.  Book is also available at the OBX Bookstore.

One of our noontime running group, KK, buggered up his knee to the point where he could no longer bend it properly.  It was not a particular incident or accident, but rather a cumulative effect that resulted in a torn meniscus.  So last week he had arthroscopic surgery to fix it.

Once I got the report that KK was doing well, I could not resist combining busting him at home via email, using a children's book that the bride and I had bought for Mister Tristan (the human being, not the blog):


Glad to hear that the knee surgery went well.

However, if your recovery takes a sudden change for the worse, plus you somehow are transformed into a cat, you still may have a productive career in piracy ahead of you.


Friday, September 2, 2011

A Small Effect of the Earthquake

Here are some shots of a tombstone in the Brown’s Mill Cemetery in the village of Kauffman, PA, that I think was toppled by the earthquake last week.  This first shot is of the stone lying down to show the break; in the second (see below) I have propped it up to make it readable.

The break in this tombstone is fresh and clean, and there were no other newly tipped-over stones that might indicate vandalism.

The grave is that of John Zarger, son of Adam (1819-1882) and Matilda Zarger (1827-1864), whose graves are immediately adjacent.  John’s waist-high tombstone, the one that apparently toppled in the quake, is pretty illegible.  I picked it  up and positioned it against another tombstone so that the sun was on edge to it, trying to make shadows be cast into the carved letters to try to read them, but it’s quite worn.  The year of death appears to be 186x; I cannot make out the birth year.  I make out his age as having two digits, the first one being “1” and the second roundish but illegible (perhaps 0, 6, or 8), thus he’d have been 10, 16, or 18.  

Besides the parents, there are two other graves close by in the row, sister Elizabeth (again, birth and death years and age are illegible) and another presumed sibling, whose stone was broken off long ago and contains no readable info.  Thus this was a 5-person family who lived and died in the mid-1800s.

They were as real as you or me, with hopes and dreams and loves and fears, all of it, not some dusty historical family.  There was a mom and a dad, and at least 3 children, of which John seems to have died before reaching age 20.

When the earthquake hit on 23 August 2011, it is kind of strange, even unnerving, to imagine the dead under the ground being shaken.  It's easier to imagine above-the-ground effects: John's tall, relatively thin stone, swaying, breaking, and toppling.

Rest in peace, John Zarger.

NOTE: Brown's Mill Cemetery is in the village of Kauffman, 2 miles south of Marion, PA and 3 miles north of Greencastle, PA.  It's the cemetery adjacent to the Manito School admin building, not the cemetery beside the old one-room historic Brown's Mill School.  To find the grave, imagine a line from the small white maintenance shed in the middle of the cemetery to the southmost exit door of the Manito admin building.  John Zarger's grave is on that line, about 5 or 6 rows north of the maintenance shed.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Everlasting Afghanistan

Image credit, here.

Just in case you thought we were going to leave Afghanistan anytime soon, you ought to check out this post on 26 August 2011 from William Rivers Pitt at The Smirking Chimp:

A pair of vitally important news reports were lost recently amid a blizzard of stories about the gyrating stock market and a rogue East Coast earthquake. The first came from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who announced that a deal had been struck to keep US forces in Iraq beyond the oft-publicized December 31st withdrawal deadline and into 2012, contrary to Mr. Obama's promises...A few days after this announcement came a report from the UK Telegraph that is nothing short of staggering:

America and Afghanistan are close to signing a strategic pact which would allow thousands of United States troops to remain in the country until at least 2024, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

The agreement would allow not only military trainers to stay to build up the Afghan army and police, but also American special forces soldiers and air power to remain.

Both Afghan and American officials said that they hoped to sign the pact before the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan in December. Barack Obama and Hamid Karzai agreed last week to escalate the negotiations and their national security advisers will meet in Washington in September.

Pitt is dumbfounded, writing:

2024. More than twelve years from now.  Seven congressional elections and three presidential elections from now.

I, too, am struck speechless.  We never are going to leave, are we?