Saturday, June 30, 2012

My Oldest and Favorite Garment, Revisited

Well, this post ran 2 years ago and the shirt still exists.  In fact, I wore it today, though those additional years have accelerated the decline.  But I've always been of the mind that you use things, you don't just save them--what use is a set of fine china (or a favorite shirt) if it remains unused and untouched. 

Better to risk breakage or wear and enjoy the item.

So here's the post in question:

My Oldest and Favorite Garment

(Photo by Gary)

Of all the clothing I own--and I am not a clothes horse--this threadbare T-shirt is both my oldest and my favorite article of clothing.

The T-shirt dates from 1980 and I still wear it regularly for running in the summer. Long ago I cut off the short sleeves for hot weather use. I know, I know, it's cotton--AKA the Death Fabric--but technical shirts were not the rage 30 years ago.

I only wear it now for road runs of up to an hour or so, and go with a technical top for anything longer, or if I'm going into the woods.

It'll be a sad day indeed when this shirt bites the dust. I got it when I had to go to Anchorage (Fort Richardson) and Fairbanks (Fort Wainwright) to work early in my career. I was able to take the bride along, and stay for several days after the work part of the trip was done. We were there over the summer solstice in late June when it never really got dark.

The scale of everything in AK was grand, and beautiful. And the critters! Moose, caribou, Dall sheep, grizzly bears, salmon....I've been back several more times for work, but am eagerly awaiting the time when we can take a purely pleasure vacation.

And I'd better look for a replacement T-shirt.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Tales From the Perimeter: Bikers...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.

I have a running good-natured battle ongoing with another of my noontime running buddies, KK.  I bust him unmercifully about how biking isn't a real sport, etc.  And he hammers me back about my liberal viewpoints and the like.

Anyway, here's an email that I sent him quaoting our very own UltraList:


Just ran across the following comment in a posting on my Ultrarunning newsgroup and it really tickled me. You know how I like to make tongue-in-cheek comments to you about biking not being a "real" sport. Plus you are not here to rebut in person.

The ultra guy was talking about doing trail maintenance volunteer work, specifically working on some downhill sections on some joint-usage trails out in California:

    "The trails were being trimmed back, water-bars realigned, some downed trees shoved over to the sides, mainly to prevent idiot mountain-bikers from getting the Final Air of their short, brutish existences….

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Vary Your Routes

We are all creatures of habit.  For example, in my normal run from the house on rural roads, I often run my beloved Harshman Road loop.  I always run it counterclockwise.  Why?  Simply because in that direction I get the boring part right beside I-81 out of the way first, leaving the quiet half for last.  So in that case there’s a pretty good reason for my directionality.

Well, today I ran the Clay Hill Road-Talhelm Road-Strite Road loop.  As with Harshman Road, I always run it counterclockwise but as I started out I realized that there was no good reason for doing so—it was just a habit.  So I ran it in reverse and saw all kinds of things from that side of the road and from that direction that were new to me. It was like another different run altogether.

So, shake it up a bit.  Go ahead and form those new neural pathways.  Unless there’s  compelling reason not to, vary your normal running routes.  Just because.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Distance Calculation Tool for Ultrarunning

If you are not yet using this, you should.  It is called gmap pedometer

This is a web-based application where you first enter a starting point on a map that you drill down to by zip code or place name.  Then you enter points along your route.  All the while you see the cumultative total of miles; push pins markers appear on the map at each way point and each mile.

It lends itself best to road running, but it has a handly little button where you can select the option they call "manually (straight lines)" where you can plan an off road (i.e., trail) route. 

This alternative causes you to enter a bunch more points to create any curves or turns--you are actually entering a lot of small straight line segments--but that's only a matter of some extra clicks.  It works rather well.

One tip: you start your route by clicking "Start Recording" and each intermediate point you must double click.

Give it a try: you will be very pleased with this tool!


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Hey, Times are Tough

Courtesy of The Rude Pundit, whom I read and love like a secret daily vice.  You should too.

He is no fan of jerks, of whatever political persuasion, though he saves his best ammo for conservative idiocy.  The Rude Pundit usually always nails it, and his column of 21 June was no exception, where he discusses North Carolina's forced sterilization program that ran from 1929...through 1974.

1974.  Thinks about that. 

He points out that many of the victims still are around today, and the NC state legislature considered financial reparations (excuse the language, if you are easily offended...The Rude Pundit uses profanity and crude sexual analogies to make his points):

Your Daily Example of Republican Fuckery:  So used to be that North Carolina, like many states, had a eugenics program. That is, under a misguided belief that you could breed out the bad, the damaged, the feeble, people were sterilized, sometimes for things like being a rude kid at school (which means that Bart Simpson would have lost his nuts) or liking to fuck around. Thing is that most places stopped the practice when they understood, oh, shit, this is the kind of thing that Hitler believed.
Not North Carolina, though. Nope, "it actually ramped up its program after the war. Between 1929 and 1974, North Carolina forcibly sterilized about 7,600 people whom the state deemed 'feeble-minded' or otherwise undesirable. Many were poor black women." Since it ain't something from the distant, distant past, some of the actual victims, not their families or descendants, but the sterilized people themselves are still alive. Keep that in mind: we're not talking reparations for slavery.
So, in an example of decency, after a few years of activism and negotiations, with a formal apology issued in 2002, the Democratic Governor and the Republican House Speaker had come up with compensation for the victims. $50,000 each, with $10 million budgeted for the purpose. It ain't perfect, but it's something.
Enter the Senate Republicans, who said to the victims, "Fuck your pain." Yep, they blocked the effort and the compensation fund failed to be included in the state budget.

The rest of the blog post contains all the good reasons flimsy excuses as to why the legislators could not be bothered.


Monday, June 25, 2012

My Quads, They Were Hammered

Going up the steep hill, I could feel my quads tensing, even though it’s the downhills that really stress that muscle.  I felt I couldn’t move really well due to all the other closely-packed in participants, and the inability to stretch out my quads worried me, knowing the killer downhill that awaited us.

At length the group crested the top of the first hill and plunged down the impossibly steep other side.  I was carried along involuntarily and my quads tensed up almost as though they were in spasm. But there was no relief until the bottom of the hill was reached and the ascent of the next hill began.  This hill was shorter but even more steeper, with a sidehill twist to it that taxed my already-tense quads even further.

The next downhill and the ones after that along this hilly track totally fried my quads.  When we finally reached the end, my legs felt like jelly and a swayed a bit after I stopped moving.

But then we had some burgers and fries and moved on to the next roller coaster.

Literally, the next roller coaster.  For this course was not in the backcountry along some trail—it was at Hersheypark, a landmark amusement park in central PA.  We went last Wed, when the combination of 95 F temps and midweek day combined to make the crowds virtually nonexistent.  We could ride a coaster, get off, come back around and get back on with NO wait.  Except for the brand new, one-month-old Skyrush, where the line was 10 minutes.

It was easily the best amusement park day I had ever spent.

And Mister Tristan (the 4-year-old human being, not the blog) rode his first roller coaster, the fast and surprisingly agile Trailblazer.  I hope he’s hooked.

Even as I write this, several days later, I can still feel where my quads are still a bit hammered form all the tensing and bracing that comes from a day of aggressive coaster rides.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cats in Art: Young Boy With a Cat (Renoir)

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.

Image credit The Artchive, hereYoung Boy With a Cat, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1868, oil on canvas, 44" x 26", Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France.

And a detail of the kitty:

Image credit Musee d'Orsay, here.

Zuffi's analysis:
Renoir, one of the 19th century  painters who showed the greatest interest in cats, offers us this splendid portrait, filled with sensuality and affection for the animal.

The full sized-image I find a little bit creepy.  Although it is a great rendering, it looks staged and unnatural.  Plus I just don't know of any boys who spend naked time with their cats.

The close-up really shows the cat to advantage--it looks quite serene and enjoying the attention.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Postcards From the Edge...and Ultrarunnning

I just found this quote and it really fascinates me.  Now I gotta see this circa 1990 film (I presume it's on video):

"I think that's what maturity is: a stoic response to endless reality."

- -- Carrie Fisher, "Postcards From the Edge"

And the relationship with Ultrarunning?  Our sport is an outlet, a crutch, a diversion, a lark, a lifestyle, a hobby, a fitness regime, a passion, an incidental excursion, a fad, an exploration, a commitment, a stoic response to endless reality.....

Your mileage may vary.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Food Stamps

Via Southern Beale on 15 June, a great quote about balancing the federal budget:

Horrible person Rand Paul’s effort to drastically cut food stamps was smacked down by the Senate, failing 65 to 33. Said Sen. Frank Lautenberg,
“Hungry children didn’t cause the recession or the deficit, and cutting food stamps will not solve our debt problem,” he said. “But hungry children don’t have lobbyists, so programs like food stamps end up on the Republican chopping block.”

Amen, brother!


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Quanah Parker Quote

If I've posted this before, please forgive me, but this quote from a tombstone in the "Indian graveyard" at Fort Sill, OK still touches me:

Resting Here Until Day Breaks
And Shadows Fall
and Darkness Disappears
Quanah Parker

Last Chief of the Comanches
Born - 1852
Died Feb. 23, 1911


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

More on theTheme of "Invisible Runs"

On the heels of yesterday's post I felt I should 'splain my family dynamics a bit more, whne it comes to Ultrarunning.

My wife is a wonderful, loving, understanding  person, and is a former long distance runner, so she knows the drill.  But the plain fact is simply that she and the rest of my family are very jealous of my time. Let's face it, if I go out for a 25 miler on the Appalachian Trail near my home, you're talking a 6-hour run, plus drive time.  Boom--there goes half a day.  Vaporized.  And in 1998, when I ran the Massanutten 100, on Mother's Day weekend...that quest burned up a massive chunk of banked goodwill.

My solution has always been to run at "invisible" times--i.e., running at work whenever possible (my employeer espoused fitness time off) in lieu of going out for a longer/slower 1-hour run in the evening; beginning my long weekend runs well before dawn so as to be back by 8:00 AM; saving up my monthly "really long" run for when I was out of town on a business trip; etc. 

So I get creative to keep the peace.  We all, myself included, have our blind spots.  Some will say I should throw down the gauntlet at home, stake out my turf, dammit, and claim my rightful guilt-free leisure time.

But that's not my style or my personal choice. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ultrarunning Time Management

The following is adapted from a post I did to the UltraList some yeasr back, but still is quite relevant today.


First off, at the risk of stating the obvious, you have to set your running scheme based on your goals.  Just maintain fitness?  Do you want speed?  To extend your overall long-distance threshold?  To complete a specific ultra event?

Let me use my 1998 as an example.  I wanted to run the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100-miler.  Didn't care about time, just wanted to finish.  I also wanted to keep the peace at home by keeping my training as invisible to the family (wife + 2 early teens) as possible.  This meant low mileage, and running at creative or even odd times and places (early, early morning; late evening; getting dropped off by my carpool for a run part way home or to work). 

So, to prepare I decided that my minimum run would be 10 miles.  With only a couple exceptions, whenever I laced up the running shoes I'd cover 10 miles or not go out.  For the 6 months prior to MMT, I did these 10-mile minimum weekday runs before work from 5:00 to 6:30 AM, generally twice a week.  Family didn't know, didn't care.  On the weekends my distance alternated between "short" and "long" weekend runs: 10 on the "short" weekend and 25 on the "long" weekend.  To maintain my cloak of invisibility I also did the weekend runs early so I wouldn't shoot half a day.

To get my distance threshold up, I threw in an ultra-distance run every other month (38, 40, and 50).  Now, these runs were in fact done during "prime time"--couldn't make them invisible.  In 1998, the year I completed MMT, my annual totals were:  1190 miles--107 runs--11.1 miles avg per run.  My numbers were real similar for 96 and 97. 

I guess I'm trying to make several points:

--Pick your goal and THEN design a training regime around it, BUT.....

--Do your goal picking with your loved ones in mind: no sense alienating those most important to you by embarking on a quest that comes at their unfair expense

--Do be fair to yourself: it is reasonable to plan activities, such as ultrarunning, that benefit no one else, for your own growth/dreams/fitness/etc.

--Scale back: you probably can be a successful ultra runner with low training miles


Monday, June 18, 2012

Grim Milestone

Via Nicole Belle at Crooks and Liars.  Not with a bang, but a whimper, we've reached a grim milestone: U.S. Marines Cpl Taylor J Baune, 21, Andover, MN, officially became the 2000th soldier to die in Afghanistan.

My heart goes out to his family in recognition of the unfillable hole that his loss will always leave.  And my heartfelt sympathy to all the other 1999...and counting.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Cats in Art: The Cat's Paw (Landseer)

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.

Image credit ABC Gallery, here [click  to enlarge].  The Cat's Paw, Sir Edwin Landseer, 1824, oil on canvas, 32" x 29", private collection.

Zuffi's analysis:
This painting, marked by subtle cruelty... shows a monkey trying to burn the cat's paw by holding it over a brazier. Along with the hapless protagonist, the work includes other cats, observing the situation with interest and concern.

The morals of the story:  Monkeys can be a**holes.  Plus cats and monkeys don't mix.  Better stick with the kitties.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Mr. Jefferson and Science

As usual, one of the fathers of our country had it right (via Pharyngula):

I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness…Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [tyranny, oppression, etc.] and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Disquieting Wage Statistic...and Ultrarunning

Guess what?  In no state is a 40-hour, minimum wage work week enough to afford a two-bedroom apartment.  See link here.

Better repeat that shocking statement: In no state is a 40-hour, minimum wage work week enough to afford a two-bedroom apartment.
Good thing raising the minimum wage is bad for business, and therefore simply cannot be done, or else some folks at the lower end of the pay scale might be able to afford decent housing.  Wouldn't want that, no sir.

Here's one thing that bugs me about any discussion of raising the minimum wage: it is always couched in terms of limited or no options.  In other words, the consequence of raising the minimum wage is always stated as small businesses can't afford it and if forced to pay more, they will fail.

Now, I'm not trained in business, but I never seem to hear the option that the small business could simply raise its prices and pass along the increased labor costs to their end customer.

I am so fortunate that my income is healthy such that I have the leisure to pursue Ultrarunning and not have to worry about being able to afford basic necessities.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Environmentalism...and Ultrarunning

Lest you think that this fall's presidential election doesn't much matter, think again.  Whether you think that this election is a choice of the lesser of two evils, or that both candidates are already owned by the banksters and the 1%, or whatever, in terms of the environment, the choice is pretty clear to me at least.  Via ThinkProgress:

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is no stranger to attacks on the environment, as seen in his ads against clean energy jobs, his pledge to roll back fuel economy standards that protect public health and reduce carbon pollution, and the fact that he doesn't know "the purpose of" public lands that belong to all Americans.

But this morning's [9 June] Washington Post sheds more light on Romney's energy plan, including the fact that he would open up "virtually every part of U.S. lands and waters" to drilling regardless of whether they are national parks, national monuments, or protected in some other way.  As the Post reports:

Asked whether any place would be off limits for oil drilling, campaign spokesman Andrea Saul said, "Governor Romney will permit drilling wherever it can be done safely, taking into account local concerns."

Current law sets some public lands and waters off limits to drilling, including national parks, national monuments, and wilderness areas.  These places are protected for other uses like hunting, fishing, sightseeing, and recreation.

Presumably, if there was oil and gas found there, Romney would allow drilling in places like the Grand Canyon, Arches National Park, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, and Isle Royale National Park in the Great Lakes, regardless of its impacts on them.  In essence, he would take lands that belong to all Americans and turn them over to oil companies.

Thinks about that when you're running in what used to be wilderness.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ten Commandments...and Ultrarunning

From the always-interesting pages of the blog The Smirking Chimp, a musing on the Ten Commandments.

Now, while I do think myself a moral man, but don't espouse any particular religion, this post truly resonated with me.  See, I think that humans, irrespective of any religion or supreme being, would have developed some-sense laws and precepts for the smooth functioning of burgeoning civilization.  These "laws" lend themselves neatly to the Ten Commandments.

Anyway, on to the post.  You should really read the whole thing, it's that good.

Until now, I've always opposed the idea of posting the 10 Commandments on government buildings.

I don't want a theocracy. I don't want religion at all, even separated from government. I'm embarrassed for my species that so many people imagine we haven't advanced at all in millennia. Must we really turn to an ancient book that sanctions slavery and rape, stonings and genocide, to find not only guidance but unquestionable dictates? I'm disgusted by the notion that we should behave decently merely because of an imaginary system of rewards and punishments. Even mice only behave for real cheese and real shocks. How pathetic are we, exactly?

Well, truth be told, pretty damn pathetic. And how far have we advanced over the millennia? I'm beginning to wonder. Take a look at the ten commandments. Setting aside the preamble (worship this god, not that god, or you and your children and grandchildren and great grandchildren will be visited with iniquity), the first thing we're commanded to do is to limit the work week to six days.

A six-day work week would be a huge step forward for many workers in the United States, not to mention the vastly greater number of workers abroad who produce profits for U.S. owners, profiteers, "job creators." That's right, we have lots of little "creators" now, and we are expected to worship them, but -- among other defects -- they tend to create seven-day-a-week jobs. Remember, not only are you supposed to take a day off, but so are your son, daughter, manservant, maidservant, cattle, and strangers. There's no "unless they're building your i-phones" clause. It's for you to judge, I guess, whether foreigners rise to the status of cattle.

Next we are to honor our fathers and mothers. I'm no theologian, but stripping away pensions and threatening to slash Social Security doesn't seem like honoring to me. Enriching health insurance profiteers rather than providing healthcare strikes me as the opposite of honoring. If we honor our fathers and mothers, we're told, our days will be long on the land that god gave us. Well, never mind for a minute where the land came from or whether one species owns it or whether owning it is a helpful concept at all, if the land is going to last long (for anyone to do anything on it) we're going to have to stop destroying it so disgracefully. We're going to have to learn to treat something as sacred, as more valuable that our individual lives -- much less the enrichment of our fossil fuel barons.

Then comes a big one, the first in the list of forbidden actions, the top crime -- until now: Thou shalt not kill. The President of the United States kills and brags about it openly. He kills adults. He kills children. He kills adults and children who were nearby the other adults and children. He kills Americans and non-Americans. He kills people whose names and stories he knows. He kills people he cannot identify but whom he finds suspicious. He kills completely unrelated people by mistake. He kills with drones. He kills with planes. He kills with missiles. He kills with soldiers, guns, and bullets. He kills for no higher purpose found in the 10 commandments or elsewhere. His killing fuels hatred, resentment, rage, and more killing, sparking a vicious cycle of crime. He kills with sanctions and starvation. He kills by commission and omission in great numbers through the choice President Eisenhower outlined when he said, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." The President does not kill alone. He has the support of the Congress, the courts, the military, and ultimately the rest of us. Our state governments kill too, in many cases, with "capital punishment." Individuals kill too, in large numbers. And our entertainment, as for the Romans, consists largely of killing -- just take a look at a television or a movie theater. Surely, Thou Shalt Not Kill should be posted on every wall of the White House, flashed in neon lights, and painted in blood.

Read. The. Rest.

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?  Just that we who run the backcountry seem particularly to be cognizant of the, you know, moral precepts that underlie the Ten Commandments. We tend to be responsible and non-judgemental.  We honor not only our parents but all people (until they dishonor that trust).  We tend to be of the notion "live and let live" rather than being drone-happy.

Now, these altruistic traits are not limited to Ultrarunners; it's that this is a convenient frame of reference for me.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

David Beckham...and Ultrarunning

My local newspaper, the Chambersburg Public Opinion, carries on its sports pages a daily quote they call "Say what?"

A recent entry reads thus:

David Beckham [soccer superstar] has a pretty good right foot.  He can hit a stop sign from 40 yards away.  Not many players can do that.  It's why he is rich.  We [American coaches] probably would have grabbed David Beckham, put him on left wing and said, "You need to work on your left foot, kid."

-- former U.S. soccer player Eric Wynalde, who has been critical of how American coaches develop players, mostly working on the their weaknesses rather than taking advantage of their strengths.

Decades ago, when I used to be fast and competitive, I would eagerly read all the technique and how-to stuff I could get my hands on: breathing, stride length, leg turnover, foot strike, you name it.

Then I finally realized that each of us has our own natural running gait, one that has evolved over time and over miles to be the most efficient for YOU.  And to tinker with it was folly.

So then and there I decided that I would run.  Just run.  And that was the root of my lifelong love of running.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Emerging Vs. Submerging…and Ultrarunning

As I look out across the cornfield across from my house to the railroad embankment, I just can see the depression where a branch of Muddy Run emerges from a limestone spring.  The farmer there tells me that just on the other side of the tracks is also another spring, one that hoboes and tramps used, as well as Confederates soldiers back in 1863 on their march to and from Gettysburg.

The two springs merge and flow south through pasture land for a quarter mile, where their little stream is joined by another that small stream that emerges from another spring.  While the first two springs will go dry in a drought, the third one has never ceased flowing in recorded memory.  The property on which this latter spring sits is one of the original William Penn land grants (I am told).  A home was built over the spring some 20 years ago; prior to that time, I would frequently stop there for some ice cold water during a run.

But back to the watercourse.  The yield of the three springs crosses the Clay Hill Road and continues south, but only about another quarter mile.  Here there is a crevice in the limestone bedrock of the streambed, and in times of relatively low water the entire flow of the stream simply disappears into the ground.  It submerges into a limestone cave, one whose passages are too small or without a human-sized opening to access and explore.

Oh, and the nexus to Ultrarunning?

In Ultrarunning, I have periods when I am in emergence mode and times of submergence mode.  Sometimes I am busting out, full of energy and full of the possible.  It is a time of race applications, of long, involved training runs, of complex schemes.

Other times I find myself more contemplative, more inward, more in simple maintenance mode.  I’ve submerged and will bide my time until the light of day beckons again.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Cats in Art: Portrait of Franz Pfoor (Overbeck)

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

Click image for larger, ESC to return.  Image credit German History Docs, Portrait of Franz Pfoor, Johann Friedrich Overbeck, c. 1810, oil on canvas, 24" x 18", held by Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany.
Zuffi's fills in the history:
Overbeck [the painter] was their leader [of an artistic group called the Nazarenes], but Pfoor was an emerging talent.  Sadly, he died very young, and Overbeck dedicated to him this posthumous portrait, filled with symbolism and grief.  The cat that rubs itself against its master, purring, adds a heart-rendering, intimate touch, and is a prominent part of this perfectly happy environment in which Overbeck wished to remember his dead friend.

So we have a cat being a posthumous buddy to a young man who died young.  A job a cat can clearly handle: purring and rubbing.  I can see where the Egyptians wanted cats mummified to help in the afterlife--makes a lot of sense to me.

As for young Franz, his eyes look sad and/or mistrustful--a sort of cautious wariness fills them.  I hope he did not die unhappy.


Saturday, June 9, 2012

War Crimes...and Ultrarunning

Diane at Cab Drollery on 31 May nails the hypocrisy.  She first discusses the sentencing of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, by an international war crimes court, to 50 years in prison.  This for his conviction for "...supporting rebels in Sierra Leone who murdered and mutilated thousands during their country's brutal civil war in return for blood diamonds."

Imagine that: a guy is tried and convicted of war crimes for facilitating a war in another country in which hundreds of thousands are killed, maimed, raped for personal aggrandizement and increased wealth. And he will actually go to prison.
Of course, none of this has any relevance to our country. I mean, oil and rare earth minerals are different than diamonds, and crazy militias are different than mercenaries and private contractors with connections to the White House. Water boarding and forcing prisoners to stand naked for hours are totally unlike rape and the terrorizing of innocents. Furthermore, our new high tech weaponry is surgically precise, not like lopping off limbs indiscriminately, which is just savagery.
Most importantly, we are not Africans. We are Americans, the beacon of hope and freedom for the rest of the world.

Thank goodness we are looking forwards and not backwards, otherwise we'd have that whole pesky war crimes issue to deal with for high ranking members of the Bush regime.

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?  Again I have to point out how lucky we are in this country.  Despite our moral selectivity on war crimes, at least we have the leisure time and the freedom to pursue trail running when we wish to, without fear of armed bands of rebels or civil war.



Friday, June 8, 2012


Nope, not the altruistic citizen type.  Rather, I refer to garden volunteers, where plants spring unbidden from the soil.

[photo by Gary]

Case in point: this potato plant, which sprouted in my garden from discarded compost (see front center, along the edge).  A chunk of raw potato must have had an "eye" (that's the place where sprouts emerge from a potato after you've had it awhile) woke up, and started putting down roots.

When I noticed this plant I recognized it as a potato and left it grow in situ.  When the above-ground foliage dies back, then it's time--as the locals say--to "raise" your potatoes.  then I'll find out whether it's red or white, and of course the size of the individual potatoes attached thereunder.

I've been accused of being kinda with OCD or anal about keeping my garden spiffy.  This more panoramic photo could be Exhibit A, but bear with me:

You can see the volunteer potato plant at the left-center front.  But immediately behind it is a row of volunteer sunflower plants, which emerge every spring from last year's sunflowers.  I transplant them into a row from their various sprouting locations throughout the garden.  And the cool thing is that we never know what we'll get, since we plant several varieties of sunflowers from seed every year.

If I were truly afflicted with OCD, these volunteers would not stand a chance.  Instead, I welcome them.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

False Summits

Every Ultrarunner has his favorite story of false summits along the trail. 

Mine is neither dramatic, nor especially interesting.  But it was memorable, for me.  It was in the late winter of 1998 and my buddy Bill and I were training for the Massanutten 100 Miler in VA that May.

The training run in question was The Wild Oak Trail 50 miler (out 25 miles to the start/finish, then reverse the course).  It was sort of a Fat Ass type of run: low key, no shirts, nominal fee to cover expenses, etc.  The course, on the WV-VA border, slowly wended its up way to the 4000' level, where we had been warned to expect some serious "post holing," where the snow is too deep to run and you wound up lifting one leg after the other vertically just to get it out of the snow and on to your next step.  This section was more frustrating than tiring.

At last the course turned downhill and retreated below the snow line.  Bill and I were still optimistic and running well.  But somewhere around mile 20 of the first loop, after a descent to a pretty low level, there came an undistinguished uphill.  It wasn't real long, as I recall--perhaps a mile or so--but what drove me crazy about it was that you could see the top.  That is, until you got there...and then saw that the trail continued uphill to the "real" summit.

Only that summit was also false, and the trail continued uphill some more.

Doing this about 4 times completely shattered my resolve and my desire to continue.  We pulled in to the start/finish area; while not having a huge abundance of time, we could have turned back out for the second loop.  But the false summit trail had done me in, even though we would have run it in the downhill direction.  Then the notion of post holing in the dark at 4000' sealed the deal: we called it quits at 25.

Today, whenever I think of that run, all I can think about are those false summits.  Maybe now I am better at gauging slopes, etc., and have never again been snaked like I was on that day. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Don't Take Your Trees For Granted...and Ultrarunning

From a cool article in Boing Boing--which as I always say, should be on your daily reading list if it is not already: "Income inequality can be seen from space."

How? It's surprisingly simple. Turns out, demand for trees in neighborhoods behaves a lot like a luxury item, as opposed to a basic necessity.

Tim De Chant at The Per Square Mile blog wrote about research on this a couple of weeks ago. Then, he went out and found examples, using images from Google Earth.
Research published a few years ago shows a tight relationship between per capita income and forest cover.
...They found that for every 1 percent increase in per capita income, demand for forest cover increased by 1.76 percent. But when income dropped by the same amount, demand decreased by 1.26 percent. That’s a pretty tight correlation. The researchers reason that wealthier cities can afford more trees, both on private and public property. The well-to-do can afford larger lots, which in turn can support more trees. On the public side, cities with larger tax bases can afford to plant and maintain more trees.
The trouble, as De Chant points out, is that the disparity here is about more than aesthetics. It's about air quality, cooling effects in the summer, and documented impacts on stress, crime, and quality of life. It's also interesting because it seems to go against the stereotype of wealthy suburbs where all vegetation has been eliminated in favor of houses.

So the next time you cuss out a tree root for making a horizontal Ultrarunner out of you, please give a thought to the folks for whom trees are a luxury, not something simply taken for granted.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

His Brother's Keeper

This Paul Newberry Associated Press article was in my local paper on 1 June.  It concerns a couple NBA stars from the 1950s, names I didn't know...but now wish I had. 

I am posting the entire article.  Please take a couple minutes to read it and ponder what it means to be your brother's keeper.

One of the greats is gone.

And, no, we're not referring to anything Hall of Famer Jack Twyman did on a basketball court.

Twyman ignored the ugly racial times that were the 1950s and '60s to dole out perhaps the greatest assist in NBA history.

He stood up when many wouldn't, becoming the legal guardian and the best of friends to Maurice Stokes when his stricken African-American teammate needed him most.

It's a life everyone should know about.

It's a story worth telling again and again.

"Maybe this is a little learning opportunity for everyone who plays professional sports," said John Doleva, president and CEO of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. "Jack didn't look for accolades. It was just the right thing to do. That's what made him a very, very special man."

Twyman, who died Wednesday night at age 78 from an aggressive form of blood cancer, was a largely forgotten relic from that quaint era before professional hoops became a truly national sport. Never mind he was a six-time All-Star, who along with Wilt Chamberlain became the first player to average more than 30 points in an NBA season.

None of those glitzy numbers was more important than the lasting bond he carved out with Stokes, who passed away more than four decades ago but remained a part of Twyman until his last breath.

The NBA could do its part to keep their legacy alive by establishing the Twyman-Stokes award, honoring the best teammate in the league.

The recipient wouldn't have to go as far as Twyman did — stepping in as Stokes' legal guardian after he was stricken with a debilitating brain injury and essentially watching over him for the last 12 years of his life. But that would be the template. Someone who fit the description on and off the court, who would be willing to put aside his own wants and needs if something so tragic happened to another in the same uniform.

"I knew the story," Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Thursday during a break in the Eastern Conference final, "but, honestly, I don't know it as well as I probably should."

Well, here's a refresher.

Stokes was one of the NBA's budding stars in the '50s, a power forward who could do a bit of everything. Rebound. Shoot. Dribble. Block shots. Run the court. In a documentary that aired on NBA TV, legendary coach Red Auerbach remembered Stokes as "Magic without flair."

Stokes scored 32 points in his first NBA game for the Rochester Royals. He went on to average 16.8 points, 16.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists in his rookie season, was chosen Rookie of the Year and earned the first of three straight trips to the All-Star game.

"Probably next to Michael Jordan, he was the greatest ballplayer to hit the NBA," Ed Kalafat, who played during that era, said in the same documentary. "This guy, for as big as he was, he could do everything Michael could."

Twyman, who was 11 months younger than Stokes, entered the league with Rochester during the same 1955-56 season and had the look of a budding star, though he wasn't as dominant as his teammate. The Royals moved to Cincinnati in 1957 and made the playoffs for the first time in three seasons, with Stokes ranking third in the league in both rebounds and assists.

But Stokes — and Twyman — would be forever changed by what happened in the last game of the regular season at Minneapolis.

Stokes fell over the back of another player and slammed his head on the court. He was knocked cold but, in the crude medical treatment of the times, some smelling salts brought him back to consciousness and he finished the game. He also played in the opening playoff game, a loss at Detroit. On the flight back to Cincinnati, Stokes suddenly became ill.
"He sweated profusely," Twyman would remember years later. "It was if someone grabbed him by the head and dunked him in a swimming pool."

An ambulance was waiting when the plane landed, and Stokes was rushed to a nearby hospital. But nothing could be done. He fell into a coma and was totally paralyzed when he came out of it. He was suffering from post-traumatic encephalopathy, which ravaged the part of his brain that controlled motor skills. He would never walk again, much less play basketball.

That's where Twyman stepped in.

He was one of the few Royals who lived in Cincinnati during the offseason. His teammate was confined to a hospital bed — scared, all alone, with bills to pay and no way to do it.

"How would you like to be one of the premier athletes in the world on a Saturday?" Twyman once said. "Then, on Sunday, you go into a coma and wake up, totally paralyzed, except for the use of (your) eyes and brain. I mean, can you imagine anything worse?"

Twyman took over as Stokes' legal guardian, organized what became an annual exhibition game to raise money, and made sure his buddy was cared for the rest of his all-too-short life. That Twyman was white and Stokes was black made no difference, even during an era when race relations had become the nation's defining struggle.

"To do what he did in the late '50s when, frankly, racial relationships were what they were, it wasn't a normal thing to do — a white man to basically adopt and become the legal guardian for Maurice," said Doleva, who oversees the hall where both men are rightfully enshrined. "It's an extraordinary story, but it speaks to his heart. Jack left his heart on the basketball court every time he played, but he had a much bigger heart when it came to his teammates."

Physically, Stokes never came close to being the man he once was. Mentally, he was stronger than ever, never feeling sorry for himself, never griping "Why me?" His heart finally gave out in 1970. He was just 36, having never realized anything close to his potential as a player, but having lived a full life as a man.

Later, when explaining why he did what he did, Twyman said simply, "That's what friends are for." Besides, he always felt he and his family got far more out of his relationship with Stokes than they ever gave back.
"He taught us a lot. We learned a lot from him," Twyman said in the documentary. "We're honored to have had the opportunity to be associated with him."

Right back at you, Jack Twyman.

The human race was honored to have been associated with you.


Monday, June 4, 2012

I Love North Carolina, But....

Head, meet sand (from Scientific American, via the Earth Bound Misfit):

...the meter or so of sea level rise predicted for the NC Coastal Resources Commission by a state-appointed board of scientists is extremely inconvenient for counties along the coast. So the NC-20 types have decided that we can escape sea level rise – in North Carolina, anyhow – by making it against the law. Or making MEASURING it against the law, anyhow.

Here’s a link to the circulated Replacement House Bill 819. The key language is in section 2, paragraph e, talking about rates of sea level rise: “These rates shall only be determined using historical data, and these data shall be limited to the time period following the year 1900. Rates of seas-level rise may be extrapolated linearly. …”

It goes on, but there’s the core: North Carolina legislators have decided that the way to make exponential increases in sea level rise – caused by those inconvenient feedback loops we keep hearing about from scientists – go away is to make it against the law to extrapolate exponential; we can only extrapolate along a line predicted by previous sea level rises.

We vacation there on the Outer Banks every year, and have done so for decades.  Whew, I am sure glad that the sea level is only going to rise 8" as stipulated by the legislators, rather than the 39"+ predicted by, you know, actual climate scientists.  Because you see how that would be inconvenient for tourists and the hospitality industry there.


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Cats in Art: The Dead Cat (Gericault)

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

Click image for larger, ESC to return. Image credit Wikipaintings, hereThe Dead Cat, Theodore Gericault, 1821, oil on canvas, held by Musee du Louvre, Paris, France.

We previously saw Gericault's Portrait of Louise Vernet as a Child in this space back in Dec 2011, where a young girl--Louise Vernet--was holding one enormous cat.  With respect to this dead cat painting, Zuffi comments:

Rarely has the death of an animal been depicted in a more dignified way.  ON a bare bench, the cat's pale body is analyzed in all its stark reality, in the stiffness of death--its face contorted in a tragic grimace, its paws limp.  It is true that whoever has seen his or her cat die cannot be happy with a replacement, so important is the individuality and character of the one that has passed away.

So sad, so realistic.  Gericault gets it right.


Saturday, June 2, 2012

Guess Who Said It?...and Ultrarunning

  1. "Corporations are people, my friend." 
  2. "...we don't need more national parks in this country; we need to actually sell off some of our national parks." 
  3. "It's long past time for this Administration to stop delaying American energy production off all our shores." 
  4. "Overregulation from EPA is at the heart of our stalled economy." 
  5. "I'll get us that oil from Canada that we deserve." 
  6. "Let EPA go the way of the dinosaurs that became fossil fuels." 
  7. "No one will miss a hill or two." 
  8. "We have to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency."
  1. Mitt Romney
  2. Rep. Cliff Stearns, FL
  3. John Boehner, Speaker of the House
  4. Rep. Mike Simpson, ID
  5. Mitt Romney
  6. Rep. Louis Gohmert, TX
  7. Sen. Rand Paul (on mountaintop removal coal mining)
  8. Newt Gingrich

All these quotes were in a recent fundraising request from the Sierra Club, of which I have been a member for years.  To me, it's a no brainer that any serious user of the backcountry--such as we Ultrarunners--just has to align philosophically with the principles of conservation and preservation espoused by environment organizations such as the Sierra Club.

Yet in certain places in my social circles, even mentioning the Sierra Club--much less admitting I'm a member--is tantamount to saying that I molest children and kick stray dogs.

Somehow it's become chic to want to sell out our descendants' legacy of things natural, wild, and free, as though we can't afford to protect such things.

We can't afford NOT to.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Where They Lived

I'll conclude my Memorial Day series of posts with the May 2012 issue of Smithsonian Magazine, containing a sad article entitled "Where They Lived."

Author T. A. Frail and photographer Ashley Gilbertson teamed up to document homes where grieving parents have preserved intact the bedrooms of their dead servicemember children.

There's a balance between remembrance and getting over it.  I hope never to have to walk in those shoes and I will never criticize any family's choices on such a personal matter.

My heart goes out to all those thousands of families whose lives have been shattered forever.  May peace be yours.

By the way, the photo above is of the bedroom of Army Pfc. Richard P. Langenbrunner, 19, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Langenbrunner committed suicide on April 17, 2007, in Rustimayah, Iraq.  This bedroom, with its PC and telescope, looks like the kind of bedroom I would have loved as a teenager.  I can't even imagine the kind of wartime stress and hurt that would have caused a 19 year old kid to kill himself.