Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My New Ultra License Plate

[Photo by Mister Tristan, the now-4-year-old human being, not the blog]

Back in the Nov 2011 issue of UltraRunning my article on ultra license plates was published.

To celebrate the event, I went ahead and got the ultra plate that I was considering:  RUN 50X2.  Here in PA, RUN 100S was already taken.

I should confess that for most of my adult life I have kinda looked down upon people who do personalized plates as narcissistic jerks.  See, by now referring to them as "personalized plates" and not calling them "vanity plates" I am already distancing myself from my former position.

Truth be told, I like to think I now have a broader perspective and have simply changed my mind on the subject.  I fit into the category I identified in my article as "Identifying as an Ultrarunner."  Now all I have to do is to flash the plate around at some races...so people can either categorize me as a jerk or as a seasoned Ultrarunner. 

Doesn't matter--I got the plate to celebrate an accomplishment of which I am very proud--publication of an article in a national magazine.


Monday, January 30, 2012

Painted Shoes...and Ultrarunning

The painted shoe milieu is an as-yet untapped venue for self-expression, courtesy of Boing Boing.

Many Ultrarunners, marching as we do to some different drummers, tend to express our individuality in various ways, such as attention-grabbing outfits or tattoos*.  Catra C, for example, is legendary among Ultrarunners for her unconventional appearance.**

But these painted shoes somehow grab me, and I think some experimentation with an old pair of running shoes is in order.


*On tattoos...I think I get it about tattoos, the expression of one’s individuality, etc., although I’m not interested for myself.   However...should one of your loved ones ever need a transfusion and you could be a match, a recent tattoo could defer you.  With the American Red Cross, getting tattooed in one of the 18 states that do not regulate tattoo parlors precludes your donating blood for one year.  If you get tattooed in one of the regulated 32 states, you're OK to donate.

**When I ran the 2010 Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Race, Catra also ran and turned in a great time ahead of me. The Umstead course, with its couple of out-n-back segments, is among the best for providing all runners with glimpses of those both ahead and behind.  Seeing her always brought a smile to my face.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Cats in Art: The Toilet (Boucher)

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

Here for the second week in a row we have another piece from Francois Bouchet:

Image credit WikiPaintings (click to enlarge). The Toilet, Francois Boucher, 1742, oil on canvas, 21" x 30", held by Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain.

Zuffi's analysis:

The cat, playing slyly with the ball of thread at the lady's feet, is one of the customary amorous touches of which the artist was fond, like the love letter and the garters left absently on the mantlepiece.  It's mewing--barely hinted at--is further confirmation of its complicity, but also a delightful device to illustrate the presence of the painter who is portraying the lady and her maid.

The cat's expression is vey realistic to me, caught in the middle of play.  Boucher obviously knew his cats.  Put a hand down there and better be prepared for a scratch or play bite.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Engineering Flowchart...and Ultrarunning

This from one of my online Marx Train buddies, who probably swiped it from someone else. At any rate, WD-40 and duct tape should be part of the collective commons anyway.

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?  There isn't one.  I was only kidding.

BUT WAIT!!  On second thought, many of us have indeed used duct tape to hold together our gear, or on our feet to prevent blisters.  I've tried the foot thing and frankly, I'd rather have the blisters.

That said, there are many elaborate schemes using duct tape for the blister thingy.  Just Google duct tape + blisters.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Road Trips, Pink Houses..and Ultrarunning

[photo by Gary]

Made a road trip last week to Georgia and back over 2 days, some 650 miles each way.  More later on the reason for the trip (it’s all good) but what I wanted to post about was some road tripping observations.

1.  Pink House.  Photo above is of the old pink marble home of the company president of the quarry I went to.  Of course, the Mellencamp song applies (here, clip from Farm Aid 2008, in case the embed does not work):

2.  Crosses, big and small.  I saw several huge Christian crosses at churches, a couple of which were identical.  So I guess there’s now a company somewhere whose niche this is.  Oh, and I pronounce it “nitch,” not “neesh” like the talking heads on the radio do.  And tons--too many--of small crosses where people were killed in traffic accidents.

A friend of mine lost his daughter in an auto accident, and in a quiet moment I asked him whether he was drawn to the spot of her death.  He said no, it had no special draw for him...but he did like to go to the cemetery and talk to his daughter at her grave.  He told me this softly, but not apologetically or sheepishly. 

I don’t know what I’d do.  I get the idea of the roadside cross, and I get the cemetery thing as well.  Both do not compute on a purely scientific basis, but whatever helps you get thru the loss of a loved one is a good thing—I’m not going to judge, as I’ve not walked in those shoes.

Lots of good music.  The most coincidental was probably the John Mellencamp tune above, which actually played shortly before I saw and photographed the real pink marble house.  Also in the truck's console I found an old compilation cassette tape, a birthday gift to me from by buddy Don, way back in 1984.
That's 28 years ago!  And it still played!  Of all the mixed tunes on the tape, the one I particularly loved all over again was Rosalita by Bruce Springsteen, (here in case embed fails):

The Boss sure gets cooking in this tune!  And does anyone else also think that his style is very reminiscent of Van Morrison?...or maybe it's the reverse?

At any rate, I love road trips, and this was a wonderful journey.  My Dad was an over-the-road trucker back in the 1950s, and a proud member of the Teamster's union.  I like to joke that I inherited what I affectionately refer to as the "Teamster gene."

Maybe that's what compels me to run vast distances on foot?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cranes...and Ultrarunning

If you love birds, and who doesn't, this video is absolutely worth 101 seconds of your time. 

I saw this at Shakesville, where Melissa explains:

Description: Video, from a new BBC special called "Earthflight," of common cranes flying over Venice. What's remarkable is that the video is shot from among the V of the flying cranes, getting in slow-motion and amazing detail every feather and every sinuous move of the cranes' lovely long necks.
How did they do it? "Common cranes have been hand-reared to fly alongside a microlight to capture these images. Earthflight uses many different filming techniques to create the experience of flying with birds."

Videos like these remind me again how big and varied and old Nature is, and how young and brash and self-centered humans are.  The chance to see critters in the wild, doing wild critter things, is absolutely one of the best things about our sport.

So many of my friends and co-workers have no idea of what mammals or birds are endemic to our area...and sadly, don't particularly care and have no notion of the natural treasures that they are missing.

I've previously posted about other species of cranes here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Blowing Up a Car With Flaming Tampons...and Ultrarunning

From the Chambersburg (PA) Public Opinion, my local paper, a tale of a hapless couple:

A man and woman are charged with vandalizing a car and trying blow it up with flaming tampons outside a Metal Township bar.
Patricia Elyse Deshong, 25, of 8962 Pleasant Ridge Road, Harrisonville, and Quentin Adam Deshong, 22, of 196 N. Clear Ridge Road, Hustontown, are charged in the Jan. 7 incident, according to police charging documents.
 Troopers located the Deshongs outside the tavern and arrested them. According to the affidavit, they were intoxicated.
[Patricia Deshong] is also accused of threatening to kill Trooper Gregory Strayer while she was secured to a prisoner bench at the Chambersburg station.
 Suffice it to say that these people are not rocket scientists.  They tried to ignite tampons stuffed into the gas fill pipe and the oil fill pipe, but the car failed to catch fire, much less blow up.

Susceptibility to detonation is in inverse proportion to real life.  In other words, in the movies, cars seemingly spontaneously burst into flames, particularly when zooming off a cliff into space.  In the real world, flaming cars are fairly uncommon.

Except on trails. I can't count the number of times I've had to dodge blown up or still-flaming cars in the backcountry.  Probably even more common than roots or rocks. 

So whenever well-meaning people (non-runners) tell us we better be careful out there, Ultra folk, flaming cars are what they're probably talking about.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sociopaths in Banking

Mike the Mad Biologist recently featured a piece by Brian Basham on the subject of sociopaths in the banking industry.

You should read Mike's piece in its entirety, but here are a couple teasers from the original Basham piece:

Cut to a pleasantly warm evening in Bahrain. My companion, a senior UK investment banker and I, are discussing the most successful banking types we know and what makes them tick. I argue that they often conform to the characteristics displayed by social psychopaths. To my surprise, my friend agrees.

He then makes an astonishing confession: “At one major investment bank for which I worked, we used psychometric testing to recruit social psychopaths because their characteristics exactly suited them to senior corporate finance roles.”

Here was one of the biggest investment banks in the world seeking psychopaths as recruits.

Mike goes on to say:

There is no way to understand the collapse of Big Shitpile [the international financial collapse] without understanding the criminal mind. This is as much a problem of fraud, as it is macroeconomics (and microeconomics). We would be better served by listening to professors from criminal justice and psychology departments, as opposed to economics departments.

We are so screwed.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Sun Tea...and Ultrarunning

[photo by Gary]

Finally here in the northeast, we've gotten our first snow (if you discount the freak snow back at the end of October).  Even in the depths of the winter, we usually keep a jug of sun tea in the refrigerator.  The sun's low, weak rays are still enough to work the magic of sun tea.

This is one of my favorite post-run ways to rehydrate.  I am always surprised how much sweat I lose even in the winter.

Oh, and it's unsweetened, of course.  After all, I'm north of the Mason-Dixon line.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Cats in Art: The Beautiful Kitchen Maid (Boucher)

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

Image credit Arts Prints on Demand (click to enlarge). The Beautiful Kitchen Maid, Francois Boucher, 1732, oil on canvas, 16" x 12", held by Musee Cognacq-Jay, Paris, France.

Zuffi's analysis:

Boucher's woman can only be accompanied by the domestic animal par excellence, which resembles her in its sensibilities and behavior, and is perhaps also a silent, harmless witness to her fetes galantes.  In this pantry there must therefore be a cat, a spectator and accomplice to the amorous idyll, but also a customary denizen of larders and food stores.

My take differs a bit.  My first impression of the painting is that the cat looks demonic, in contrast to the rest of the "innocence (maybe) lost" theme.  While Zuffi considers the cat to be benign, it looks to me to embody the darker potential of the situation.

Also, take note of the size of this painting: only 16" x 12".  Boucher certainly packs a lot of detail into such a tiny space!


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Liberals and Conservatives

Seeing how this is still the tail end of the week in which we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King day, it's appropriate to highlight this succinct post.

It points out one critical difference, perhaps the critical difference, between liberals and conservatives.

Via Digby, a post by David Atkins (16 Jan 2012)

MLK:  "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'"

Ayn Rand:  "If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject."

Atkins then comments:

Conservatives get to claim one or the other. They can't have both.  And if they pick door #2, they can't have this guy, either.

I can't add anything to that.  When somebody else nails it, you quote and offer thanks. 


Friday, January 20, 2012

Springer Mountain...and Ultrarunning

[Appalachian Trail plaque on Springer Mountain, image credit Wikipedia]

Last weekend I found myself mere miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. The place is legendary, as the jumping off point for most thru-hikers (most of whom choose to head south-to-north).

However--and more on this part of the story will come in a later post--I did not have the time and the daylight on this personal trip to head over there and do a trail run up to the summit where the AT actually starts.

Over my career I have had countless business trips, and one of my prime directives was always to scope out the local trail running possibilities.  As a result I have run in some pretty cool places that I otherwise would never have seen in this lifetime.  Unfortunately, this trip's logistics of necessity precluded any running.

Being that close to Mecca was heartbreaking but there will be future trips to northern Georgia.  And I have an unfulfilled date with Springer Mountain.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Urinating Upon the Dead

I've consciously refrained from comment upon the story of the 4 Marines urinating on dead Taliban bodies, but it's time, because I have a somewhat different take on the story.  See here for a network news story.

Couple observations to set the stage:
  • When you send young guns to war, it's hard to shut off that kill-or-be-killed instinct and be "respectable" and play by the rules.
  • Desecrating the bodies of your enemies is a time-honored tradition and is nothing new (it's still wrong, wrong, wrong).

That said, I find it remarkable that so much rage and disapproval is being heaped upon these 4 Marines for an act that I find understandable, though not appropriate.  They knew better--especially in the digital age--and deserve some reprimand, but not a destroyed career.

But what I really find totally and strangely absent from the dialog is any disapproval of the fact that there are bodies in the first place to be urinated upon.

It's like the 800 pound gorilla in the room peed (to continue the theme) on the floor, and everybody says, "Ewww--there's a mess over there!" and go on at great length about 1) how uncouth that gorilla is, or 2) how it's only doing gorilla things.  Yet the puddle on the floor is only the proximate issue...and nobody bothers to address the ultimate issue of why the gorilla is even there in the first place. 

Let me try another analogy about cause and effect that applies here.  It's kinda like a post I did here, linking to a great post by the Earth Bound Misfit, regarding moaning over how much our military vets would cost us over future years.  She said:

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.

How long have we been in Afghanistan--10+ years, right?  Shouldn't that have been more than enough time for the Very Serious People in DC to have wrapped this thing up and gotten us out of there?

Now we have the Secretary of State--and normally I am a Hillary Clinton fan--making noises about possible war crimes?  War Crimes?  Are you serious?  Before we do that, where's the prosecution of President Bush and his minions for deliberately taking us, under false pretenses, into an unnecessary war in Iraq?  Oh, and for the torture, too.  There's your 800 pound gorilla, not the actions of 4 Marines.

I am reminded of a recent comment I read somewhere, about a guy in his early 60s who fervently hoped he would outlive President Bush.

Why?  The thing that kept this guy going was the goal of being able to urinate on Bush's grave.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Golf Balls, Again...and Ultrarunning

Well, it's happened again--finding yet another golf ball while running along a rural road where no self-respecting golf ball ought to be.

I've previously noted this phenomenon here, and I still have no cogent explanation.  But it happens enough--say 5 or 6 times a year--to seem to be a bit more than random chance.

I'm glad that I took up Ultrarunning first, as there would be no time in my life for golf as well.  Both sports (and in the case of golf I use the term "sport" extremely loosely) are notorious time suckers.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dr. Martin Luther King...and Ultrarunning

Life is interfering with blogging...this is a repost; originally ran on 18 Jan 2010.

Further note: this should have automatically posted on Monday but it did not.  So here it is a day late.

Read on, it's short, and there is in fact a connection to UltraRunning.

On this, the Federal Holiday instituted to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., please ponder two brief quotes. Inasmuch as my family contains members who are white, black or mixed, and who are all loved equally and without reservation, Dr. King and his legacy have special meaning to us.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963

And of course there’s the promised Ultra connection, right?

“We have the right to walk to Montgomery if our feet can get us there.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1965

Rest in peace, gentle man. I often repeat your Montgomery words for inspiration and strength when I am struggling in the latter stages of an Ultra. Moreover, I thank you for your words of hope for a racially agnostic world.


Wesley the Owl—and Ultrarunning

Life is interfering with blogging...this is a repost; originally ran on 8 Jul 2010.

Just completed a wonderful book, Wesley the Owl, by Stacey O’Brien. It’s a true story about a young researcher at Cal Tech, Stacey, who fosters an injured barn owl from infancy thru his ultimate passing at the ripe old owl age of 19. She writes lovingly and compellingly of her lifelong relationship with Wesley. It’s full of love, science, spiritualism, and is just a delightful and memorable book.

Photo credit here.

You should go read it.

Here’s one example of the science part. Although I have a couple degrees in Biology, I never quite understood the Northern Spotted Owl issue from the Pacific northwest. Sure, I knew that logging was threatening this owl and I—of course—was on the side of the owl, thinking that those who favored logging were shortsighted and uninformed. But here’s why (from page 164):

Biologists were warning the public that the old-growth forests, a delicate habitat that can’t be replaced, were disappearing at an alarming rate. The streams and rivers were silting and warming up, destroying the salmon runs and the entire ecosystem because of the runoff from clear-cut areas. The apex predator of these forests, the northern spotted owl, was endangered. When the apex predator is thriving, then so is the environment. But when the predator is faltering, biologists know that means the entire system is falling apart.

Most of the loggers didn’t understand the “canary in the coal mine” connection and thought the entire issue was about saving the owls, rather than their habitat. Because the loggers had been told to stop destroying the ancient forests before the forests were completely gone, they would lose their livelihoods sooner than if they kept cutting down trees until the entire ecosystem went extinct. Focusing only on their own livelihoods, they didn’t want to be told what to do, got angry, and took it out on the owls….

They didn’t understand—or they just chose not to—and they reminded me of the buffalo hunters of the nineteenth century determined to hunt down every last animal. They failed to see that they were going to have to find something else to do anyway after the last buffalo was gone.

We who run trails and treasure them can learn a lesson from this analogy. Our areas that are wild and free are a precious—and finite—resource. Nobody is making any more wilderness. So that’s why we must fight tooth and nail to preserve what we have, set aside more threatened areas, and ensure that encroachments from mineral rights, logging, etc., are not permitted.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cats in Art: Fur Traders Descending the Missouri

Life is interfering with blogging...this is a repost; originally ran on 16 Jul 2010.

The above photo is entitled Fur Traders Descending the Missouri, by George Caleb Bingham (1811–1879), painted in 1845, oil on canvas, dimensions 29 x 36 1/2 inches. Credit for the image here.

Why post this? I love cats, I love art, and this is a natural confluence. I've decided that I'm going to do a continuing series of posts on instances of cats appearing in works of art. I've previously done this here, when I posted on a 122 Year Old Cat in a Night Cafe, based upon a painting by Paul Gauguin, with an adorable kitty under the table.

The cat really is the focus of this Bingham painting. The two men are backgrounded by the island, while the cat is silhouetted by the pale river as background and pops from the image. I wonder if Bingham strategically placed the cat in the bow of the boat for purposes of realism, or if he was just a cat lover and used the painting as a venue to get a kitty in there.

Also, think about the title--Fur Traders Descending the Missouri. This implies that their trapping journey is nearly over (also evidenced by the pile of furs on the canoe). So the cat, presumably, was along for the entirety of the trip, unless they got the kitty from Indians (who only had dogs as domestic animals, I think).

That's one loyal cat. Wonder how many lives he/she used up on the trip?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Paved-Over Souls...and Ultrarunning

Here's one of the reasons we become--and remain--Ultrarunners:

Our kinship with the Earth must be maintained, otherwise, we will find ourselves trapped in the center of our own paved-over souls with no way out. 

Quote attributed to John Steinbeck, from the Fall 2011 issue of Sylvanian, the quarterly publication of the PA chapter of the Sierra Club.

Call it a battery recharge or communing with Nature or what have you, we come from the Earth and to the Earth we will return.  In the meanwhile, we can retain that connection via spending time in the backcountry. 

Now, whether you run trails as we do, or walk, matters not; what does matter is being out there.


Friday, January 13, 2012

Hard Fall, New Watch

Photo by Gary. 
Left to right: Old watch.  New watch.

Couple weeks back I was running home from dropping my car off at the garage in what I like to call a "destination run," previously blogged about here.

Well, it was pre-sunrise and still dark.  As a car approached I got as close to the edge of the road as possible without getting onto the shoulder.  Then I suddenly went down hard and fast as though somebody had lassoed my feet.

Turns out a woody roadside plant has extended a 1" branch just onto the edge of the macadam.  It was low enough that the mowers wouldn't get it.  But my left toe sure did.

I leaped up as quickly as I could so as not to freak out the car that by now was going by, like "I'm OK!"

Turns out I was OK but my trusty Timex Ironman, my gold standard of running watches, got cracked across its face in the fall.  I purchased a new one, but of course the latest Ironman model was now slightly different.  Thankfully the buttons seem largely the same so hopefully no huge learning curve to overcome.

Rest in peace, old Ironman, you served me well.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

2011 Running Recap

I have repeatedly said here that I am a low-mileage Ultrarunner.  For example, here are my summary stats from last year:

  • 1186 miles (average 99 miles/month)
  • 173 runs
  • 6.9 average miles per run
  • Longest runs: a pair of 50K races (May & Oct)

My training has been like this for years and has enabled me to decently complete 50K, 50M, and 100M races.  So you don't have to sell your soul to the sport to be successful, provided:

  • You have a long base (in my case, running since 1979), and
  • Long runs in prep for specific events (i.e., three or four 35 milers to get ready for a 100M).

Good luck in 2012!


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

When a "Cut" is Really an Increase

Credit to PBS, here.  The relevant segment is at 1:17 and is short.

Last week (5 Jan 2012) at the Pentagon, President Obama announced plans to restructure our defense spending.  I've been all over the usual news sources but somehow this quote, straight out of the mouth of the President, did NOT become front page news.

I found it via Corrente, who lead me thru Steve Clemons (who, by the way, thinks Obama should dredge up former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to oversee the cuts to the military), and ultimately to the PBS clip above.  Here's the transcript of the quote I want to highlight:

BARACK OBAMA: Over the next 10 years, the growth in the defense budget will slow, but the fact of the matter is this. It will still grow. In fact, the defense budget will still be larger than it was toward the end of the Bush administration. And I firmly believe, and I think the American people understand that we can keep our military strong and our nation secure with a defense budget that continues to be larger than roughly the next 10 countries combined.

Let me repeat that quote, lest you missed it, with highlighting:

BARACK OBAMA: Over the next 10 years, the growth in the defense budget will slow, but the fact of the matter is this. It will still grow. In fact, the defense budget will still be larger than it was toward the end of the Bush administration. And I firmly believe, and I think the American people understand that we can keep our military strong and our nation secure with a defense budget that continues to be larger than roughly the next 10 countries combined.

In a sane world, people all over the country would have been driven to torches and pitchforks, demanding his ouster.  You want to plus up the Pentagon and call it cutting?  And with a straight face applaud the fact that the U.S. spends more than the next 10 countries combined, and act like that's somehow a desirable statistic?  Seriously?  When children in this country are going to bed hungry?

According to CNN, here in the U.S. some 22% of U.S. children are in poverty according to the government's own statistics. 

More children in poverty: The poverty rate for children under age 18 increased to 22% in 2010, meaning more than 1 in 5 children in America are living in poverty.
The nation's poverty rate rose to 15.1% in 2010, its highest level since 1993. In 2009, 14.3% of people in America were living in poverty.

About 46.2 million people are now considered in poverty, 2.6 million more than last year.

The government defines the poverty line as income of $22,314 a year for a family of four and $11,139 for an individual. The Office of Management and Budget updates the poverty line each year to account for inflation.

For. The. Children.  I guess not.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Bears, Ultrarunning...and the Bible

Or, don't make fun of bald Ultrarunners... especially in bear country, where many of us run.  Bear with me (!) as I set the stage for the actual bear story at the end.

Somewhere I ran across Dan Kimball's blog, where he posts every Wednesday about an unusual sounding Bible verse and tries to offer some explanation of it.  Dan comments:

There are plenty of very weird passages from the Bible to be looking at...But I think if we only are reading or focusing on the nice, encouraging cheery verses, then we can subtly only paint one part of the BIble to the exclusion of other parts. Or get only one understanding of God's character and the full Bible narrative and neglecting parts we don't like. It's easy to just focus on the nice, cheery understandable verses (which is needed and wonderful!). But we better not ignore God's Word and also explore the not-so-cheery-verses and not-too-easy-to-understand often weird sounding verses as well.

Now for the actual bear story.  Again, quoting Dan Kimball:

A classic and well known almost cliche example of a strange story from the BIble I will start with today is from 2 Kings 2:23-25. The story goes:
"From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys."

So basically, Elisha gets made fun of by some youth for being bald. Elisha then calls a curse on them and two bears kill all 42 boys.

For us, the moral of the story: don't make fun of bald Ultrarunners in bear country.  Of course, lest you think you'd be safe in making fun of a bald Ultrarunner if, say, you were in Rhode Island or Kansas, states not known for their bear populations, better think twice.  You could equally be mauled by a pack of aggressive weasels or raccoons, I suppose. 

So better not make fun of anybody anywhere, it's just not nice.


Monday, January 9, 2012

Death From the Skies

The Washington Post back on 19 Dec took on the Obama administration's drone war.  This program may be 100% legal, 100% necessary, and we'd be stupid NOT to do it. 

That said, try this on for size.  How would we feel if another nation took similar actions against us: designating some target person or persons for violent, unannounced death from the skies, just because they thought assassination was the appropriate action?

Secrecy Defines Obama's Drone War (Karen DeYoung)
Since September, at least 60 people have died in 14 reported CIA drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal regions. The Obama administration has named only one of the dead, hailing the elimination of Janbaz Zadran, a top official in the Haqqani insurgent network, as a counterterrorism victory.

The identities of the rest remain classified, as does the existence of the drone program itself. Because the names of the dead and the threat they were believed to pose are secret, it is impossible for anyone without access to U.S. intelligence to assess whether the deaths were justified.

The administration has said that its covert, targeted killings with remote-controlled aircraft in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and potentially beyond are proper under both domestic and international law. It has said that the targets are chosen under strict criteria, with rigorous internal oversight.

It has parried reports of collateral damage and the alleged killing of innocents by saying that drones, with their surveillance capabilities and precision missiles, result in far fewer mistakes than less sophisticated weapons.

Yet in carrying out hundreds of strikes over three years - resulting in an estimated 1,350 to 2,250 deaths in Pakistan - it has provided virtually no details to support those assertions.

Who's the impartial arbiter, the judge, to say whether the claims of the death-dealers are legitimate?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Cats in Art: The Watchful Cat (Williams)

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art. Thus far I have been using some ideas from the coffee table book, The Cat in Art, by Stefano Zuffi.  However, today's post comes from a museum note card that my brother sent to the bride for her recent birthday.


Image credit  The Metropolitan Museum of Art (click to enlarge). The Watchful Cat, John Alonzo Williams, c. 1940, watercolor on wove paper, 12" x 17", held by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (but inexplicably not currently on display?!)

The cat is expectantly and excitedly waiting for something good to happen.  Probably not a simple petting; more likely the cat is expecting a food treat.  Our cats--all 5 of them--display this behavior when meat is being cut, or a bag of cat treats has been gotten out of the cupboard, or when I get out some "cat bubba."
Cat bubba is just one of those tiny cartons of half-and-half that you get in a restaurant.  I bring them home if unused.  The term "bubba" is our word for a bottle for a baby.  You get the picture, I think.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Tales from the Perimeter: Bailed...and Ultrarunning

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. 

Right before Christmas I did the normal noontime perimeter run with my running buddies, then told them about my plans to do a double that day and run a short section of the Appalachian Trail on my way home.  I rarely do doubles, but I had a couple hours of vacation time I still had to use or lose, so that was the plan.

However, as we all know, the best laid plans....so here's the confessional email I sent to the guys afterwards:


Without sounding too much like Brandon Hantz [from the most recent season of Survivor], I wanted to be up front with you and tell you I wussed out of the trail run.

When I got to my turn off Rt 11 and had to commit, it was raining HARD and I just thought, "I really don't feel like doing this."  Plus I was thinking about a number of other stops I needed to do today.  So I didn't run.

Please vote for me for the $1M anyway, so I can turn around and give it to somebody.

Sometimes the right running plan is NOT to run.


Friday, January 6, 2012

Praying to Cats

Amanda at Pandagon recently had a cute post about why it makes more sense to pray to cats than to gods.  I tried to cull out a couple from the list to highlight, but they're all good, so here's her list in its entirety:

Ten Reasons to Pray to Cats Instead of Gods

1) Cats are real.

2) Because of this, cats have a marginally better chance of answering your prayers than gods do. For instance, if you pray specifically for purring or for someone to scratch your furniture, your cats can probably get that done for you. Not much else, of course, but something is better than nothing.

3) As my buddy Ross said, "Plus, the cuddling and the purring. They actually deliver on the promise of temporal comfort." Science proves him right!

4) Cats may pee on your bed, but they're not going to send you to hell for all eternity.

5) You'll be able to see with your own eyes that the cats appreciate your prayers, whereas gods tend to be notoriously silent with the gratitude.

6) Cat offspring. God offspring. 'nuff said.

7) By praying to cats, you run no chance of praying to the same thing at the same time as that putrid douchebag Ross Douthat, who used Hitchens' death to write this horrible sentence: "My hope - for Hitchens, and for all of us, the living and the dead - is that now he finally knows why." The "why" in this case is why Christians believe---Douthat studiously ignores other religions making competing claims with his. But since Christians like Douthat believe that non-believers are going to hell, he basically just wished Hitchens was in hell. Maybe he's too stupid to grasp that, or maybe he thinks that you can sin against his god, but he'll let you in anyway so long as you showed proper contempt for women and Muslims. Who fucking knows? Either way, by praying to cats, you have nothing to do with that kind of mindless cruelty remade into "morality" by public displays of piety.

8) Sure, cats enjoy murdering smaller creatures, but they eventually eat them, making good use of the proteins within. If you pray to gods, you have to believe that they make people suffer for no good reason whatsoever.

9) People who may not like cats or who prefer dogs may argue with you about aiming your prayers at cats, but they're unlikely to start a holy war.

10) Cats have never, as far as I know, been used to rationalize denying women reproductive control of their bodies, trapping women in the domestic sphere, or denying gay people their rights. Unlike many gods conjured by humans, cats have no opinion on what you wear, and certainly won't smite you for going about with your hair or your knees uncovered.

I'm partial to 4, 9 and 10.  Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?   I've said it many times here: Ultrarunners as a demographic are more laid back and sensible than the rest of the population at large.  Cats are right up our alley as far as deification goes.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Sadness of the Short Obituary

I’ve posted before about Janet Christiansen (most recently here), a former local resident who was murdered in North Carolina back in 2005.  Last summer her body was disinterred from its grave in Brown’s Mill Cemetery about half a mile from my home.  The purpose of the disinterment was to gather additional forensic evidence, since authorities have recently charged her husband with the murder.

Anyway, I wanted to keep abreast of the case and set up a Google Alert to inform me of any web activity under the search terms “Janet Christiansen.”

A couple weeks ago I got an incidental link to an obituary for one Caleb Christiansen.  Here's a short excerpt:

Caleb Christiansen returned to the hands of God on Dec. 14, 2011. He was born in Upland, Calif., on Sept. 10, 1990 to his parents Chris and Janet Christiansen and was loved and cherished by them, his family and everyone who knew him. He moved with his family to Burnet when he was 1 ½ where he lived for the remainder of his short but full life.

This is obviously not the same Janet Christiansen, it’s just a case of two people with the same name.  But I was struck by the obituary of this 21 year old, likely because “Caleb” is a name in our family. Plus the fact that while the rest of the write-up tried to be uplifting, it really was fairly short. 

And the circumstances of this young man’s death are not mentioned, so my mind naturally assumed either drugs or suicide.  Usually if a young person has a fatal disease there’s a mention of memorial contributions to a group dealing with that affliction.

I have some experience with the short obituary.  In fact, I still regularly scan the death notices in my local newspaper to see whether I know any of the young dead who would have passed due to a drug overdose. 

The tragedy and the waste are so awful and hurtful.  My heart goes out to that family out there on the west coast, and for all families who are part of the short obituary.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Earth is a Bit Older than 6,000 Years

(image credit Astronomy Picture of the Day).

Via Pharyngula, some concrete ammo to use in discussions with folks who believe in the literal creation story from Genesis.  Good science should trump the bad "facts" of young earth creationism, and we do our kids a disservice when we allow stupidity and/or ignorance to reign.

Geoffrey Pearce sent me this argument he uses with creationists, and I thought others might find it useful, too:

I am regularly approached by young Earth creationists (yes, even in the bedlam of sin that is Montreal...) both on the street and at home. If I have the time I try to engage them on the age of Earth, since Earth is something whose existence them and I agree upon. They will tell me that Earth is somewhere between 6,000 - 10,000 years old, and, when prompted, that the rest of the universe is the same age as well. I have taken the approach of responding to this assertion by pulling out a print of the far side of the Moon [see above].

I cannot tell you how handy this is! Once they've had a good look I usually point out that almost all of the craters were formed by asteroids smashing into the planet, and that the Moon has over 250 craters with a diameter of 100 km or more. After explaining that Earth is just as likely to be struck by large asteroids as the Moon (is more likely to be struck, in-fact, due to its greater gravitational well), I then ask them to consider what their time-scale entails: that Earth should be struck every couple of decades by an asteroid capable of completely ejecting an area about the size of New Hampshire (not to pick on New Hampshire). Since such an event has never been observed and there are no well-preserved impact structures anywhere close to this size range, I then suggest to them that the only sensible conclusion is that Earth is much older than they had thought.

I have nothing to add.  Except I'd better fold up a copy of that photo and keep it in my wallet.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Extraction...and Ultrarunning

Via Boing Boing, always a great read, we see this post about how natural gas will not be our salvation.

Over the past few years, I've heard several people in the natural gas industry estimate that the United States is sitting on 100 years worth of natural gas. Every time I've heard the 100-year estimate batted around, it's been presented as a positive thing, a shorthand way of saying, "We've got tons of home-grown energy, people! We don't need to worry about the future of energy at all!"

It's an interesting example of the fundamental disconnect between short-term and long-term thinkers.

All things considered, 100 years is not really a very long time.

All our extraction approaches sorta gloss over the fact that there is just a finite amount of xxxxx in the ground, and once it's gone, it's GONE.  

Petroleum is a wonderful case in point.  Since, say, 1900 or so, American infrastructure has worshipped at the throne of the internal combustion engine.  We've literally paved over a vast chunk of our land to support a mode of transport that is finite and probably doomed.

Even if we successfully move to electric vehicles, where do you think the electricity comes from?  Coal, anyone?  It burning coal really better for the environment than oil?  Oh, and someday the coal will run out, too.

Of course the only rational long-term solution is renewable energy such as solar, wind, tide, geothermal.  But I sure don't see the full court press--like the putting a man on the Moon mission of the1960s--that we need.

Better to kick the can down the road and let the kids and grandkids solve it.  Or not.

Another example--I've been watching Gold Rush on the Discovery Channel.  There's something arresting and compelling about these naive miners trying to strike it rich in Alaska.  Anyway, what really strikes me is how they literally have to excavate and wash TONS of gravel just to get a couple of flakes of gold.  The scale of rape-and-pillage-the-environment is absolutely stunning.

I've quite familiar with strip mining sites here in my home state of Pennsylvania, and it's awful.  What is happening in Alaska to extract gold is worse.

And the link to Ultrarunning?  Better enjoy the back country now, because when push comes to shove in a few years or decades, when wilderness is weighed against the precious minerals or oil or gas it contains, guess what'll  come out second best?

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year's Resolution...and Ultrarunning

[Not my actual Bowflex machine, but one just like it.  Image credit here: two tabs will open--close the stupid Lycos Yellow pages tab and look at the other green one]

Not my actual body either, but one just like it...yeah, right!  Image credit here]

Well, 2012 is upon us, and unlike many of us who pooh-pooh New Year's resolutions, I happen to love them.  I believe in changes, I believe in watershed events, I believe in milestones, so the notion of making a promise to yourself at the symbolic start of a new year resonates with me.

Of course, you could make yourself a promise anytime, but somehow a New Year's resolution carries more weight.  Or something.

My Bowflex PowerPro machine has lived in my basement for 15+ years.  I use it sporadically, typically starting  about 3 months before a major ultra (50 or 100 miles).  I use it to strengthen my legs and to also strengthen my upper body, which really helps me in the latter stages of a long race.

Here's one specific benefit example.  I tend to run with my shoulders hunched up a bit, and usually after some hours of running I even have trouble looking down at my shoes to see whether they are untied.  Not so if my upper body (back, shoulders, etc.) has been toned.

So....I am fully aware of the benefits that would accrue if I would do year-round exercise to strengthen and tone my body.  Thus, Bowflex it is, a 3x a week commitment to myself.  Today's the day!


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Cats in Art: The Washerwoman (Chardin)

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

Image credit Fineart-China (click to enlarge).  The Washerwoman, Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin, 1733, oil on canvas, 14" x  17", held by Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Second week in a row for Chardin.  Zuffi knows his cats, and explains:

This docile three-colored cat belonged to the artist since 1728 (the year that The Ray was first exhibited).  Crouched in an almost perfect oval shape, it too is part of that poetic, inner world that Chardin portrays in his genre scenes and still lifes....

I love me some calico (our present count is 2 of 5), and since he did too,  Chardin muts have been a pretty smart guy.  Even though he and his kitty have been gone for nearly 300 years, this painting brings them both back to life again.