Thursday, August 30, 2012

Paul Ryan, Whippersnapper

Ultrarunning on hold while we speak about politics, prompted by the gathering in Tampa.  Here's a piece by Matt Taibbi (via Vagabond Scholar) about the Very Serious Person and Republican vice-presidential nominee, Paul Ryan:

Every few years or so, the Republicans trot out one of these little whippersnappers, who offer proposals to hack away at the federal budget. Each successive whippersnapper inevitably tries, rhetorically, to out-mean the previous one, and their proposals are inevitably couched as the boldest and most ambitious deficit-reduction plans ever seen. Each time, we are told that these plans mark the end of the budgetary reign of terror long ago imposed by the entitlement system begun by FDR and furthered by LBJ.
Never mind that each time the Republicans actually come into power, federal deficit spending explodes and these whippersnappers somehow never get around to touching Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. The key is that for the many years before that moment of truth, before these buffoons actually get a chance to put their money where their lipless little mouths are, they will stomp their feet and scream about how entitlements are bringing us to the edge of apocalypse.
The reason for this is always the same: the Republicans, quite smartly, recognize that there is great political hay to be made in the appearance of deficit reduction, and that white middle class voters will respond with overwhelming enthusiasm to any call for reductions in the “welfare state,” a term which said voters will instantly associate with black welfare moms and Mexicans sneaking over the border to visit American emergency rooms.
The problem, of course, is that to actually make significant cuts in what is left of the “welfare state,” one has to cut Medicare and Medicaid, programs overwhelmingly patronized by white people, and particularly white seniors. So when the time comes to actually pull the trigger on the proposed reductions, the whippersnappers are quietly removed from the stage and life goes on as usual, i.e. with massive deficit spending on defense, upper-class tax cuts, bailouts, corporate subsidies, and big handouts to Pharma and the insurance industries.
This is a political game that gets played out in the media over and over again, and everyone in Washington knows how it works. Which is why it’s nauseating (but not surprising) to see so many commentators falling over themselves with praise for Ryan’s “bold” budget proposal, which is supposedly a ballsy piece of politics because it proposes backdoor cuts in Medicare and Medicaid by redounding their appropriations to the states and to block grants. Ryan is being praised for thusly taking on seniors, a traditionally untouchable political demographic...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My Karass...and Ultrarunning

Yesterday's post was about sharing secrets with strangers, and touched upon the notion that such confidants must be part of one's karass, a term invented by Kurt Vonnegut in his book, Cat's Cradle.

Karass is a great term, and using it in conversation usually results in some knowing looks (plus some puzzled ones). First from the Urban Dictionary:

A group of people linked in a cosmically significant manner, even when superficial linkages are not evident.

Think of the small group of people you have ended up running into and spending time with over the course of your life. Some may be friends, others not. A big part of Vonnegut's Karass concept revolves around coincidence evolving beyond apophenia, into the realm of the mystical.
The author suggests a divine plan behind the interactions of those within a karass, but adds it is unlikely that its purpose will ever be revealed. I suspect it is, like the universe itself, recursive in function.
In summary, to begin to understand one's karass and those who are entwined within it, simply look for a common denominator between all those you have spent substantial time with, by choice or otherwise. The collective experiences garnered through these contacts both become and determine one's karass.

A karass is a spontaneously forming group, joined by unpredictable links, that actually gets stuff done— as Vonnegut describes it, "a team that do[es] God's Will without ever discovering what they are doing." A granfalloon, on the other hand, is a "false karass," a bureaucratic structure that looks like a team but is "meaningless in terms of the ways God gets things done."
No doubt you've experienced these two types of networks in your own life, many times over. The karass is that group of friends from college who have helped one another's careers in a hundred subtle ways over the years; the granfalloon is the marketing department at your firm, where everyone has a meticulously defined place on the org chart but nothing ever gets done. When you find yourself in a karass, it's an intuitive, unplanned experience. Getting into a granfalloon, on the other hand, usually involves showing two forms of ID.
karass: a term for a disparate group of people linked together without their knowledge. Your family and friends would not be part of your karass. You wouldn't choose its membership, and you may never know who is in it or what its purpose is.

I know that my karass includes various Ultrarunners, inlcuding the 3 mentioned yesterday.  It truly is an adventure discovering other members along the trails.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sharing Secrets With Strangers on the Trail

Here’s a topic that I may have touched upon obliquely in the past: how Ultrarunners can be comfortable with sharing even their deepest secrets while running with a stranger.

This has happened to be on more than one occasion.  Most notably I was on a business trip to Hawaii (tough gig, I know!) and had a few hours one afternoon, so I drove up to the hills above the University of Hawaii—pretty much straight inland from Waikiki beach—and parked at a trailhead to get ready.  Moments later, as I was sitting on the edge of my driver’s seat, lacing up my shoes and getting my gaiters on, another trail runner showed up, and also began gearing up.

I asked her whether she was a local and knew the trails.  I must have looked OK, for without hesitation she said yes and asked whether I’d like to join her for a 7-8 miler.

I jumped at the chance, as I only “knew” the trails from maps that I has scoped out, having never run there before.  So off we went.  In the couple hours we spent running, we talked about jobs and family, and got deeply into the life-and-death struggles we’d experienced dealing with the addiction issues of a loved one.  The tears flowed freely but were just as quickly erased by warm rain showers, followed by rainbows.

Eileen and I parted as friends who likely would never synch up again, but whose presence for a few hours and miles was a priceless gift.

I had similar experiences running at night with a couple of different pacers back in 2010 at the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run.  Deep secrets shared with strangers, literally only minutes after meeting for the first time.  But I get it.  It just seemed natural.

I guess these folks are part of my karass, a term invented by Kurt Vonnegut in his book, Cat's Cradle. 
More on that tomorrow.  Stay tuned.


Monday, August 27, 2012

How Long the USA's Been at War

I forget where I got this, and the URL listed in the image returns a 404 error, otherwise I'd give credit.

This is a sobering chart:


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Cats in Art: Asakusa Rice Fields...(Hiroshige)

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 Brooklyn MuseumAsakusa Rice Fields During the Festival of the Cock, Ando Hiroshige, c. 1857, colored xylograph, 13" x 9", Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England.

Zuffi comments:

In this delightful engraving, the national icon, Mount Fuji, appears in the background, and a handsome white cat, which has climbed onto the windowsill, seems to gaze with romantic languor at the colors of the sky and countryside.

The cat is obviously thinking "All that I see, I own, especially the people."


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Another Reason to Go On Living

Don't ask me how I possibly missed this one a few weeks back.

Via People Magazine, on line: Snoop Dogg Changes His Name to Snoop Lion.

[image credit here]
Yes, the artist formerly known as Snoop Dogg has renamed himself after he says he underwent a spiritual and artistic rebirth in Jamaica.
While recording his album Reincarnated in the Caribbean country, he developed a traditional reggae style. The result is a three-part project: a reggae album, documentary and coffee-table photo book, all under the name of Snoop Lion.
"I have always said I was Bob Marley reincarnated," Snoop, 40, told reporters at a news conference, according to The New York Times. "I have always been a Rastafari." (Marley's son, Rohan, gave his blessing at the news conference, which was held at Miss Lily's, a Caribbean eatery in New York.)
So will Snoop (real name: Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr.) turn his back on rap completely? Not likely. "I could never become Snoop Lion," he says, "if I wasn't Snoop Dogg first."
There you have it.  However--since I love to nitpick--the original Bob Marley died in 1981, at which time Snoop Dogg Lion Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr. was about 9 years old.
I'm no expert, but I always thought that the whole death-reincarnation thingy was virtually simultaneous, and that it involved babies.  Soul or essence or spirit or whatever leaves the dying body and WHOOSH! it arrives in the newborn.  Makes me wonder what happened to Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr. when Marley took over the kid's body?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Blazes...and Ultrarunning

Nope, this post in NOT about those helpful painted marks on trees and rocks that show you where the trail is.  I love me some of those blazes!

Rather I want to talk about fires.  Or more properly, people talking about fires, as in newscasters.

Seems that there are a lot of serious wildfires out west right now.  It's been a hot, dry summer, making conditions right for fire.  National news has been devoting a lot of coverage to the situation, especially since many homes are at risk, to say nothing about the thousands of acres burned.  I have nothing but sympathy and heartfelt wishes for a good outcome to all affected.

But what I really wanted to get to was the use of the word "blaze."  See, I think it's fair to say that you and I never use the word blaze, as in "Did you see that house over on Madison Street that was destroyed in a blaze?", or "Man, those blazes out west are really terrible this year!"

Nope, blaze is a word only used by newscasters.  Every time I watch the news (whether national or local) and they present a story about a fire (whether structure, grass, or forest), I wait for the talking head to use the word blaze.  It actually would make a good drinking game, where you have to take a drink every time the TV person uses the word.

It usually is not long in coming, as newcasters must get tired of repeatedly saying  fire this and fire that.

Except that normal people simply never say blaze.  It sounds contrived, and it is.

The connection to Ultrarunning?  My thing about blazes--the trail kind, not the fire kind--is that I wish they would incorporate some sort of reflective component into the paint.  Many times when I am running in low light conditions, say around sunrise or sunset, or if it's foggy, having a blaze reflect back at me from my flashlight or headlamp beam would be SO very helpful.

I expect to begin some volunteer trail maintenance duties soon with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, and I will be sure to make the case for reflectivity.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Party Platforms

Via Corrente, here's what the Democratic Party should adopt for its platform when they convene at their convention in Charlotte, NC on 4-6 September:

The 12 Word Platform

1. Medicare for All

2. End the Wars

3. Tax the Rich

4. A Jobs Guarantee

Here is the official site of the Democratic National Convention.  Nowhere can I find even a draft of the party's platform--what the Democratic Party actually stands for.

The site only mentions in passing that they're working on the party's platform and it will be voted on at the convention.  To me, a working draft to read up on in advance would be kinda nice, but that's just me, I guess.

That tells you all you need to know about how important the party leaders think their platform is.

By the way, the 12 Word Platform is spot-on.

I would be remiss if I did not also comment upon the Republican platform, where we read the following, courtesy of RH Reality Check:

The draft official platform strongly supports a "a human life amendment" to the Constitution:
"Faithful to the 'self-evident' truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed," the draft platform declares. "We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to unborn children."
Let's be very, very clear that such an amendment—which Mitt Romney has said unequivocally he would sign—would not only criminalize abortions of any kind for any reason, but also would outlaw many forms of contraception, in-vitro fertilization, and treatment of pregnant women with life-threatening conditions such as cancer. Moreover, it would also criminalize miscarriage.

When will we ever reach the point of enlightenment when we finally recognize that it should be the fundamental right of any woman to control her own body and to decide whether or not she chooses to be pregnant? (that is a rhetorical question to which the answer, sadly, seems to be "never").


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Pelicans, Dolphins...and Ultrarunning

[image credit here]

[image credit here]

Another post about vacationing along the Outer Banks of North Carolina, this one to do with critters.

The Brown Pelican is ubiquitous there, flying in majestic lines low over the waves...until fish are spotted and a pelican pulls up sharply to gain altitude, then plunges straight into the water with a big splash.  I never tire of seeing that happen.

And the dolphins.  I must confess that I cannot tell whether our friendly North Carolina guys are Humpback or Bottlenose...doesn't matter.  All I know is that when I see dolphins crusing lesiurely up the beach, I can rest easy that we have safely passed another year.

This year we had a treat in the waters off Ocracoke Island--three dolphins surfed a wave heading directly towards the shore, out about 50 meters or so.  Didn't look like they were fishing, just playing and being happy they were dolphins.

The link to Ultrarunning?  These critters are just doing critter things; focused on surviving, to be sure, but also seemingly just loving life.  I know that when I'm out running I feel the same way, just cruising along, being what the late Dr. George Sheehan would have called "a good animal."


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Milky Way

Well, the family and I just returned from a wonderful week on North Carolina's Outer Banks--Nags Head, to be exact.

I'll do a couple more posts about it, but today's has to do with astronomy, as did one of my posts last week I called Things Ultrarunners Know: Astronomy.

For the first time in years we saw the Milky Way--the galaxy in which we sit, on our return trip at night from an excursion down the Banks to Ocracoke Island.  The night was darker than ever, due simply to the lack of light pollution that far from the mainland.

Here are a couple shots of the Milky Way, followed by some non-technical explanation of what it is we are seeing.

[image credit  Nick Ulivieri]

[image credit Dan Schroeder]

In a nutshell, the Milky Way is a faint, milky-colored band of stars that you can see stretching across the night sky.  It used to be easy to see from practically anywhere, but light pollution is negating that ability. From Nick Ulivieri's site:

To put it simply, a galaxy is a massive, gravitationally bound group of stars, dust, and gases, and other stellar remnants. The Milky Way happens to be our home galaxy. Our galactic neighborhood is about 2/3 out from the galactic center of the Milky Way within the Orion–Cygnus Arm; one of many arms that gives our galaxy its spiraled shape.  The Milky Way is impressively large, spanning some 100,000 light years across.

Technically, we can always see the Milky Way since we live in it, but when I refer to the Milky Way in terms of photographing it, I’m describing photographing the galactic plane; the white, milky band that streaks across the southern sky...the Milky Way itself is a disc-shaped spiral, and given our position in the galaxy, our view of the galactic plane is head on. Just as if you were looking at the edge of a frisbee. What you are actually seeing in this white, milky band, are all of the densely packed stars, gas, nebulae, and dust that form this disc we call the Milky Way.

From the Cornell University astronomy site:

Because we are inside the Milky Way, we don't get to take any pictures of it from an angle "above" the galaxy - for example, like this beautiful picture of M31, the Andromeda Galaxy. (However, we can make an educated guess as to what the Milky Way might look like from such an angle - for example, see this artist's illustration.)

Instead, we only get pictures in which we see the structure of the Milky Way edge-on, from inside of it.

Hopefully, that's enough of the science.  The point of the post is that there are marvelous things in the sky that used to be common knowledge for everybody, but now are in danger of being missed.

And that would be a shame.

Monday, August 20, 2012

"Why We Lie, Go to Prison and Eat Cake"...and Ultrarunning

I recntly read a great interview of Dan Ariely in Wired, by Joanna Pearlstein.  First, a wonderful title: Why We Lie, Go to Prison and Eat Cake: 10 Questions With Dan Ariely.

I could post the entire lengthy article--it's that good--but I'll just tantalize you with a couple excerpts.  Let me say that I saw myself in what I read, and you will too.  I understand unethical behavior a little more now.

Without further ado, here are a few gems:

If you’re a fan of a sports team, it’s easy to see a call against your team as the referee being evil or stupid. You need to have a motivation to see reality in a certain way. The second thing you need is flexible rules. If the rules are incredibly strict, you can’t bend them in any way. But if the rules are slightly grey, there’s a zone in which you can cheat. And finally, you need a way to rationalize your actions for yourself.

If you thought that crime or dishonesty is driven by a cost-benefit analysis, then you have some very basic solutions — for example, put people in prison. And people who were going to commit a crime would say, ‘Okay, I’ll go to prison, not worth it.’ I’ve been talking to big cheaters, including people who have been to prison, and I tell you, nobody I’ve talked to has ever thought about the long-term consequences of their actions. How many people who did insider trading thought about the probability of being caught and how much time they would get in prison? The number is incredibly close to zero, maybe exactly zero. What will happen if we increase the prison sentence? Basically nothing, because it’s not part of their mindset. What we need to understand is the process by which people become dishonest.

If you think about it, your own idea of morality is really kind of binary, you’re either good or bad, nobody thinks to themselves, I’m 80 percent good. What happens if you pass the threshold? If you pass the threshold and you can no longer think of yourself as good, you say to yourself, I’m a bad person, I’m an immoral person, I might as well enjoy it.

We talk about honesty, but the reality is we have lots of human values, and they are not all compatible. We don’t always tell the truth about everything, no matter what the consequences. If you have an internal truth of what you think and you have an external truth of what you say to society, in the social domain it’s called politeness, and it’s many cases it’s okay. The problem arises when this becomes commercial rather than personal. If you’re an accountant and you have an internal truth of what’s happening in your company and you have an external truth, you can see where this goes. Honesty is a complex and tricky thing, and we don’t want to be honest all the time.

By the way, there’s some really disturbing results showing that the best financial investment in the U.S. is lobbying. Return on the money is really high. I mean, you can give someone a sandwich and they will start seeing the world from your perspective to a slight degree. The moment you do favors for somebody, the moment you put them in a different situation, their view does change.

Oh, and the mandatory connection to Ultrarunning?  Instances of cheating in Ultrarunning are remarkably rare.  It's just not important to go down that road--our motivation and rewards system are just on a different plane.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Cats in Art: Woman Churning Butter (Millet)

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 Jean-Francois Millet site, here]. 
Woman Churning Butter, Jean-Francois Millet, 1866-68, crayon and pastel on paper, 48" x 33", held by Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France.

Zuffi comments:
Absorbed in her task of churning butter in a tub, the peasant woman almost does not notice the affectionate presence of a large, long-haired cat rubbing itself against her ankle.  She remains suspended in the natural light in a state that must seem immutable and eternal, but is not less dignified for all that.

Seeing the cat in detail reveals such an expression of pure bliss.  Perhaps the cat really loves the woman, or knows it is about to get a major treat: butter and cream.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

This is What it Takes

Amidst all the Chick-fil-A insanity, a breath of fresh air.  This from Anthony Picolia, the manager of New Hampshire's only Chick-fil-A, who has announced that unlike his parent company's CEO, he's just fine with gay people. So fine, in fact, that he'll continue to be a sponsor of the state's gay pride festival:

In both my personal and professional life, I have had and continue to have positive relationships with family, friends, customers and employees in the LGBT community. It would make me sad if someone felt that they were not openly welcomed into my life or restaurant based on their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.

Chick-fil-A at Pheasant Lane Mall has gay employees and serves gay customers with honor, dignity and respect. We also don't discriminate in giving back to the Nashua community, donating to a wide variety of causes. I would challenge people to come have a conversation with me before they make assumptions or boycott my restaurant. Come to my restaurant and see for yourself that my team and I only have one mission: To serve exceptional experiences to all.

This is what it takes.  Regular people who have had their eyes opened to the fact that LGBT community members are people.  Just people.  Who happen to love in a way that is not now thought to be mainstream. 

Then the regular people take a stand to say that discrimination is not OK.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Things Ultrarunners Know: Animals

To complete tthe series of Things Ultrarunners Know, here is a repost of one on animals from 8 Jan 2011:

(Meadow vole image credit Wikipedia)

(Deer mouse image credit Wikipedia)

The other day, while running, I passed a road kill on a local road near my home. What made it a bit unusual was that it was a small critter, either a mouse or a vole.

One would think that a road-killed animal of such small size would have been completely smashed, but this one was not crushed; it was only slightly bloody about the head. But very dead.

That struck me as strange, meaning that the mouse-like animal would have been struck--but not run over--by a vehicle tire, as though it ran into the side of the tire. Now, I’m sure that it can happen that way, but my mind immediately thought “hawk” and I looked up to see whether I was under a tree or telephone pole where a raptor may have just dropped its partially eaten prey.

Nope, turns out I wasn't under any such perch, so the dead mouse or vole was in all likelihood just a road kill. But when you hear hoof beats, you think horses, not zebras. A hawk being involved seemed more likely than road kill, but I was wrong.

Why even bother with this pretty mundane story? Because it points to another example of what we ultrarunners know and “regular” people don’t. You see, we know local fauna in a way that most people don’t—we see dead animals up close on the roads. And we see live ones out on the trails and the roads. Without having taken a single zoology course, we ultrarunners have a pretty good idea of who in the animal kingdom lives nearby.

We know, for instance, whether the local cat population includes cougars, bobcats, lynxes, or none of the above. Or the difference between a skunk, an opossum, a raccoon, a beaver, and a woodchuck. How to distinguish between a red and a grey fox. Whether the deer is a whitetail of a mule deer. That the local large hawk is in all likelihood a red-tail, or how to ID one of the smaller raptors. And whether any bears (grizzly or black) live locally.

You get the idea. I plan to expand this theme of Things Ultrarunners Know into a series of posts on other disciplines such as meteorology, astronomy, geology, and hydrology, as a minimum. I previously did a post last May on this theme, about rain and getting wet.

We are a pretty smart bunch. Or at least observant.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Things Ultrarunners Know: Astronomy

Here's the third installment of Things Ultrarunners Know.  I previously posted on Things Ultrarunners Know: Astronomy here.

In the big picture, if you are a serious Ultrarunner, you will be doing some of your running at night.  And if you know something about astronomy you will be fascinated for hours at what you can see with the naked eye.

The most basic is the moon and its phases.  I find that I am particularly aware of when the full moon is, and whether the lunar phase is waxing (gettign bigger as it heads towards full) or waning (getting smaller as it heads towards the new moon)

I've posted a lot about things pertaining to the heavens. If you scroll down to the lower right, to the SEARCH box, and type in astronomy, you'll get a number of hits.

Science aside, my favorite philosophical astromomy post is this one about Walt Whitman, here:

   When I Heard the Learned Astronomer
   When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
   When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
   When I was shown the charts and diagrams to add, divide, and measure   them,
   When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
   How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
   Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
   In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
   Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

By the way, the Perseids meteor shower is upon us, with the peak expected to occur the night of 12 August.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Things Ultrarunners Know: Meteorology

Here's the second in the series of Things Ultrarunners Know.

This is pretty simple: if you are going to run long distances and be out there for hours, it helps to know what the weather is going to be.  As a minimum, you need to know which local source of weather information is best and most likely to be accurate for your situation.

For example, one can always go to The Weather Channel, but I find that my local NBC affiliate, Channel 25 in Hagerstown, MD, is usually spot on and better than more national type resources.

Beyond the forecast, obviously, your personal observations are also critical--what's the humidity?  Which direction is the wind coming from, and at what speed?  I find that in the summer I tend to run east more often, so that I can enjoy the cooling westerly breezes as I finish my run.  In the winter, I tend to run west first, into the teeth of the wind to get it over with, then cruise home with the wind at my back.

One final note: especially in the early morning or evening, I love to experience what I call micro pockets of air: areas where you feel a distinct change in temperature or humidity.  Usually this is associated with a low spot or depression where cooler air tends to pool.  But sometimes in the morning you can be running along in the coolness, then top a small rise, where the air has a noticeably warmer feel.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Things Ultrarunners Know: Hydrology

[photo by Gary, Greenbriar River near Durbin, WV]

For some time I've wanted to do a series of posts about some of the ancillary disciplines that Ultrarunners get at least a bit proficient in, as a result of our backcountry running passion.

I, for one, am extremely cognizant of surface streams.  Here where I live in south-central PA, the underlying rock strata is limestone, which is soluble and can contain very complex subterranean drainage systems.  In the area surrounding my home, there are only a couple surface streams, and those issue from limestone springs.

As I run I like to look out across the farm fields to scope out the slope of where rainfall will drain to.  Around here, rainwater usually flows across the surface for a bit until it reaches a gravitational dead end...then it slowly seeps into the ground to join the water table.

At some later time it will re-emerge as a spring. All these hydrological  characteristics are called karst:

Due to subterranean drainage, there may be very limited surface water, even in the absence of any rivers and lakes. Many karst regions display distinctive surface features, with cenotes, sinkholes or dolines being the most common. However, distinctive karst surface features may be completely absent where the soluble rock is mantled, such as by glacial debris, or confined by one or more superimposed non-soluble rock strata. Some karst regions include thousands of caves, although evidence of caves large enough for human exploration is not a required characteristic of karst.

Anyway, I wonder where the water goes.  Of course, in the backcountry, we need to be alert to potential water sources if our run will keep us out longer than the water we carry will hold out.  In that case, we need to know where the safe-to-drink springs are, or stream water than can be treated with a purifying agent.

Monday, August 13, 2012


Via Stop Land Mines:
What would you do if you had to worry about landmines every time you went to the store, took a drive in the countryside or went to see your doctor?

That’s the reality for millions of people in about 80 countries. With such large numbers of people affected by landmines in countries that may seem very far away, it’s sometimes easy to forget about the problem.

Landmines may not be in your backyard, but they’re in the backyards of people all over the world. The United Nations is helping dozens of countries end the threat of landmines. You can help too by donating to have a minefield cleared.

The fight against landmines is a fight for the rights of people to live free from fear, in a safe environment conducive to development and peace.

The United States of America is not a signatory to international treaties banning land mines.  We like them, I guess, and practicality trumps principles.

Here's the reality, if it were occurring in the U.S. If the embed fails, go to YouTube, here.

Remember, Swords into Plowshares...and For. The. Children.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Cats in Art: The Artist's Studio (Courbet)

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.
First, the overview image (image credit Musee d'Orsay):

Then the detail, the money shot.  No, not because of the nude woman--because of the white cat (image credit Musee d'Orsay):

The Artist's Studio, Gustave Courbet, 1855, oil on canvas, 11.8' x 19.3', held by Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France.

Now that's some painting, just in sheer size--look again at those dimensions above.  It must weigh a bunch!  Plus I did a rough calculation: the cat is about 10% of the height of the painting, so it's over a foot high and perhaps two feet long.  I can't wait till sometime, maybe, finally, I get to Paris and can see this painting in person.  I may simply be struck mute (a fate that the bride would likely endorse).

Zuffi comments:

Many different interpretations, all of them fascinating, have been put forward for the presence of this magnificent white Angora specimen in the very center of one of Courbet's masterpieces.  The most plausible seem to be those that refer to Les Chats, a book by Champfleury, a critic and friend of Courbet's; or those connected to the cat's ability to see in the dark, which makes it an emblem of the power of sight....No less attractive is the theory that the cat is a symbol of freedom, a significance it acquired during the French Revolution, of which it became one of the emblems.  Despite these possible underlying allusions, the cat in no way seems to diminish the painting's realism; indeed, it helps to brighten the room with its usual play (probably with an insect).

My theory: Courbet liked cats.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Packing Heat...and Ultrarunning

The Ultralist (a daily news group or user group by, about, and for the sport of Ultrarunning) is cyclical in nature regarding the topics discussed, as successive waves of Ultrarunner members come and go.

One thread that repeats at frequnet intervals is that of self-defense along the trail, specifically on whether to carry a weapon--read gun--while running.  While that need doesn't resonate with me, I kinda understand the desire to feel safe, protected, and self-sufficient.  I just think that on balance, packing heat is more likely to have unintended negative consequences than to save the day.

At any rate, blogger The Rude Pundit weighs in on the Colorado shootings and the peculiar hold that the National Rifle Association wields over our leaders.  He writes, on 6 Aug:

There is no reasoning with the NRA. It exists solely to advocate for reckless policies that are demonstrably harmful to the nation. If it was run by Muslims, calling for more firepower and ease with which to buy and carry guns and ammo, it would have been designated a terrorist organization.

That sums it up for me.  If you think about it, he's right. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

The "Cuteness Factor"...and Ultrarunning

[image credit and article here]

May as well keep the thread of the last couple days and follow the though of the "Cuteness Factor."

Scientists who study the evolution of visual signaling have identified a wide and still-expanding assortment of features and behaviors that make something look cute.

Scientists who study the evolution of visual signaling have identified a wide and still expanding assortment of features and behaviors that make something look cute: bright forward-facing eyes set low on a big round face, a pair of big round ears, floppy limbs and a side-to-side, teeter-totter gait, among many others.

Cute cues are those that indicate extreme youth, vulnerability, harmlessness and need, scientists say, and attending to them closely makes good Darwinian sense. As a species whose youngest members are so pathetically helpless they can't lift their heads to suckle without adult supervision, human beings must be wired to respond quickly and gamely to any and all signs of infantile desire.

The human cuteness detector is set at such a low bar, researchers said, that it sweeps in and deems cute practically anything remotely resembling a human baby or a part thereof, and so ends up including the young of virtually every mammalian species, fuzzy-headed birds like Japanese cranes, woolly bear caterpillars, a bobbing balloon, a big round rock stacked on a smaller rock, a colon, a hyphen and a close parenthesis typed in succession.

To garner empathy while running, I may need to consciously change my projected image while on the trail to emphasize "...bright forward-facing eyes set low on a big round face, a pair of big round ears, floppy limbs and a side-to-side, teeter-totter gait...."

I think the teeter-totter gait is my normal locomotion late in a run anyway.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

White Bison Born on Connecticut Farm...and Ultrarunning

[image credit 88.9, KETR, here]

Another offbeat item (see yesterday's post), courtesy of my northern CA brother.

This one is good news, a feel-good story.  Plus, I defy anyone to NOT smile at a photo of a baby, regardless of species.  In fact, some evolutionary biologists refer to the "cuteness factor" as being important for species survival...but that's a for another day.

The Associated Press recently announced the birth of a white bison on a farm in Goshen, Connecticut. Native Americans were thrilled by this rare occurrence, because many tribes honor the white bison as a symbol for hope and unity. However, what caught my attention was the down-to-earth, "gee whiz," enthusiasm of the fourth-generation farmer, Peter Fay.
Faye is reported to have said: "They say it's going to bring good things to all people in the world. How can you beat that? That's the way I look at it."
"Good things to all people." Fay is right. How can you beat that!!?? With economic woes everywhere, fighting and death in Syria, and the massacre at the theater in Colorado, we could use a little optimism and good news.

The connection to Ultrarunning?  Tenuous at best, but one of my favorite local runs is along Zarger Road, where the buffalo indeed do roam.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Cash is Not Trash

I've previously blogged about found items while running.  I've never found any cash, but have found plenty of rubber bungee cords, beer, and porn. 

Plus a humongous combination wrench (1 1/2" or maybe even 2"), found near the C + O Canal in MD, which I carried for over a mile, knowing I would give it to the maintenance guys at Fort Frederick State Park.  Turns out it actually belonged to one of the guys.

Anyway, here's an offbeat story in this general topic, courtesy of my brother out in northern CA:

A kind driver whose money fell to the ground while trying to donate it to a panhandler will not face a $344 littering citation. A Cleveland prosecutor decided that "Cash is Not Trash." This decision will be good news to all those who like money, or who value the giving and receiving of charitable donations. It also is heartening to see that common sense still has a place in the legal system.

Many communities, including Eureka and Arcata, California, are discussing or have enacted local ordinances to limit panhandling and to restrict the "Occupy" movement. Panhandling and "Occupy" are not the same, obviously, but both tend to ignite class conflict in the USA today. By now, we all have heard of the 1% versus the 99%. However, it seems unwise to use the legal system against lower socio-economic classes.

For a few citizens, cash is like trash, as in the phrase "disposable" income. But, for many Americans, "Cash is Not Trash," especially when you don't enough money for food, housing, clothes, and medical care. The courts are unlikely to sort out this discrepancy.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

How To Talk to People Who Are In Wheelchairs

We who are able-bodied Ultrarunners should read this, just to keep us humble and not to take our strong legs for granted.

For life has a way of changing things, in a heartbeat.

Via Mike the Mad Biologist on 6 Aug 2012, who points us to M Monica:

How To Talk to People Who Are In Wheelchairs
One of the things I notice when I am in my wheelchair is that many adults have difficulty knowing exactly what to say or how to act with someone who is in a wheelchair. Sometimes I notice inadvertent, side-glances; people who don't glance directly at me, but will furtively look at me and then look away, as though they're afraid of being caught staring.
I think that it is important to note that while you may be curious, some good general tips are as follows:

She then lists 7 tips that are worth reading.  I was drawn to Tip 3, as Mister Tristan (the 4-year-old human being, not the blog) has expressed great curiosity whenever he sees a wheelchair:

Tip 3.  If you have small children, and they ask you something like, "Mamma, why is that girl in a wheelchair?" The best way to respond is probably to say something like "I don't know; let's ask her." I have heard parents hush children up with a "Stop it, that question isn't appropriate," or they may say, "We don't ask people those sorts of things. It's rude." Children have a natural curiosity about the way the world functions. They want to know. And by allowing them to approach and talk to me, you are increasing their tolerance and acceptance for people with disabilities. Plus, the majority of people in wheelchairs are happy to interact with curious children. They ask the questions that the majority of adults are thinking, but are afraid to ask.

All in all, a worthwhile read.


Monday, August 6, 2012

I Got Nuthin'...and Hiroshima

Dropped my minivan off at the garage for some work today and ran home, approximately 10 miles.  This is a run I have done numerous times before, but today was a debacle.

I managed some 6 miles before needing to walk a for stretch.  Then the walking breaks became more frequent as I struggled home.  It's a bad feeling to have nuthin', which is exactly what I had--or didn't have--today.

Hopefully tomorrow's run will be better.

Now's the part where I should segue and say, "And now on a lighter note...." but let's turn towards the darker side, shall we?

It was 67 years ago today that the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, with the following result:

 [image credit, here]

Targeted for military reasons and for its terrain (flat for easier assessment of the aftermath), Hiroshima was home to approximately 250,000 people at the time of the bombing. The U.S. B-29 Superfortress bomber "Enola Gay" took off from Tinian Island very early on the morning of August 6th, carrying a single 8,900 lb uranium bomb codenamed "Little Boy". At 8:15 am, Little Boy was dropped from 31,000 ft above the city, freefalling for 57 seconds while a complicated series of fuse triggers looked for a target height of 2,000 ft above the ground. At the moment of detonation, a small explosive initiated a super-critical mass in 141 lbs) of uranium. Of that, only 1.5 lbs underwent fission, and of that mass, only 600 milligrams was converted into energy - an explosive energy that seared everything within a few miles, flattened the city below with a massive shockwave, set off a raging firestorm and bathed every living thing in deadly radiation. Nearly 70,000 people are believed to have been killed immediately, with possibly another 70,000 survivors dying of injuries and radiation exposure by 1950.

My bad run doesn't seem so bad now.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Cats in Art: Children Playing With a Cat (Cassatt)

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.

This post originally ran 15 Aug 2010, but I loved it so much that it deserved another posting. 

This is a perfect post for a lazy summer Sunday morning.


Children Playing with a Cat (may also be known as Sara Holding a Cat), Mary Cassatt, 1908. Image credit here (scroll down towards bottom). The site owner also comments:

Mary Cassatt was born in Allegheny City (Pittsburgh now), Pennsylvania but spent much of her working (painting) life in France. It was the time when Paris, France was the center of the Impressionist movement and it seems that she was inspired and motivated by the place and the people. She befriended some well known artists such as Edgar Degas and exhibited with the Impressionists.

Mary Cassatt's brother was better known than her during her life. He was Alexander J. Cassatt (1839 – 1906) the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad from 1899 to 1906. Although Mary Cassatt struggled to achieve recognition in her lifetime, particularly in the USA, her paintings are now very valuable, one being sold for $2.87m (2005).

These kids are richly blessed, to share space with a cat for eternity.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Tone Deaf, and Sexless

My local paper—the Chambersburg Public Opinion—had a good opinion piece on Thursday this week by Jason Stanford.

Concerning Mitt Romney’s recent European trip and the gaffes he committed, the one single action that tells anyone all they ever need to know about Romney is this one:

For my money Romney’s worst blunder was when he said he might not watch his wife’s dancing horse Rafalca compete in the Olympics.  “I have to tell you, this is Ann’s sport.  I’m not even sure which day the sport goes on.  She will get the chance to see it, I will not be watching the event,” said Romney. Translation, he’d rather be elected president than ever have sex with his wife again.


Friday, August 3, 2012

Cat Scabs

Here is a cat mystery.  And no, the topic of the post does not refer to substitute cats who come in as strike breakers when the regular cat pets are walking the picket line.  Please read on.

This cat, who we now call "ca Beere," is an indoor-outdoor cat (but always is in overnight):

Image credit Gary

The image above shows how ca Beere's ears get bitten by some unknown creature whenever she goes outside. At any given time she has several scabs on each of her ears.  If she remains indoors for a couple days the wounds, which are not particularly large or deep, heal up just fine.  So there is no indoor causation.

None of our other 4 cats is similarly affected, so the bride and I are totally baffled.  The only difference between ca Beere's habits and those of her feline brother and sisters is that ca Beere often catches and brings home short-tailed shrews (Blarina brevicauda), placing them triumphantly on the porch.  But she has no other wounds that might indicate a shrew fight, so my guess is some insect that bites her.

As for the cat's name, she is our daughter's and was originally named Bear.  But daughter always used a high-pitched voice when she talked to the cat, calling it "The Bear" but it actually sounded audibly and phonetically like "de Beere" as if the cat was some Dutch diamond magnate or something.

Anyway, when Mister Tristan, then the 2-year-old human being, not the blog, began to speak he could not say "de Beere" but rather called the cat "ca Beere."

So now it remains so.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Tales from the Perimeter: I Feel Better Than James Brown

Via YouTube:

Just got back from a run with my old noontime running buddies.  Now that I am retired I make it a point to join them about once a month for a run.

It was a time of catching up, of Olympics talk, of home improvements, of families.

And I gave each of the guys a gift: a DVD copy of Brokeback Mountain.  Some years ago when the bride and I saw the movie, I told the guys how much I liked it.  Ever afterwards, they teasingly busted me about gays every chance they got. And believe me, there were plenty of opportunities, as I always went out of my way to defend gay and lesbian rights.

So now they have their very own copy.  And I feel better than James Brown.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Olympic Swimmers...and Ultrarunning

These men and women (though some are but teenagers) are water equivalent of runners.  Some sprint, some do middle distance, and some--our kindred spirits--do long distances.

But the one thing the swimmers all have in common with each other, in sharp contrast to the stereotypical lean Ultrarunner, is that they are all shaped like seals.  Or maybe sea lions (I can never keep them straight).

Not that there's anything wrong with that.  Just an observation.

As for me, I have done lap training in pools for cross-training, and I'm a decent enough swimmer, but I Just. Don't Like. It.  At all.  There's no worse feeling in the world for me than being out of breath in the pool.  I liken it to waterboarding, if to which I were subjected I would sing like a canary before the first drop even hit.