Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Psychopath, on Psychopaths

Think about the following quote when you listen to candidates for office appealing for your vote. 

I am particularly referring to those on the conservative side who would want to keep defense and homeland security spending as is or higher, while arguing how Social Security and Medicare and going broke (not true), thus recipients must accept diminished benefits. Or how saving the unborn  becomes paramount, even when it literally means hijacking a woman's body to serve as an unwilling incubator:

When someone cannot go beyond themself and begin to consider how their actions affect others and are solely motivated by their own self-interest, we call them psychopaths.

From a Today show interview, 25 Oct 2012, between Matt Lauer and convicted DC sniper accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo (via telephone from jail, where he is serving a life sentence...mastermind John Muhammad has been executed).

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Well, this post was supposed to be called "What a Difference a Year Makes!" and consist of photos of my Elephant Ear plants this year as opposed to last, when a freak early snow caught us by surprise. 

I will do those photos at the end, but first I must observe that yes, it's been another year and another wild weather phenomenon--this time, Hurricane Sandy.  But all in all, looks like we got off lucky here in southcentral PA.

Schools are closed for the second day, as are many businesses, but locally the flooding and storm damage were less than expected.  I just did the walk-around and found no shingle or tree damage, so my home fared just fine.  Looks like the rain gauge yielded 4.5" over the past 24 hours.  No power outages here at my home, but millions of people have been affected and the storm is not over yet for folks north and east of here up through New England.

Keeping our fingers crossed.

....Changing gears...let's look back a year....

From a couple weeks ago, here are my 2012 Elephant Ear plants, which were taller than a person:

Here they are a year ago, from the freak late October snowfall here in the Mid-Atlantic as I posted on 4 Nov 2011:

Monday, October 29, 2012

What the President Said about Rape... what the bride has been saying for years now.

President Obama went on the Leno show last Wednesday night and said this (courtesy of Firedoglake):

Rape is rape. It is a crime. And so, these various distinctions about rape and, you know — don’t make too much sense to me. Don’t make any sense to me. The second thing this underscores, though, this is exactly why you don’t want a bunch of politicians — mostly male — making decisions about women’s health care decisions. I — women are capable of making these decisions in consultation with their partners, with their doctors. And, you know, for politicians to want to intrude in this stuff, often times without any information, is a huge problem. And this is obviously a part of what’s at stake in this election. You’ve got a Supreme Court that — you know, typically a president is gonna have probably another couple of appointments during the course of his term. And, you know, Roe vs. Wade is probably hanging in the balance.

Bolding is mine.

I just don't see how there is even debate on this.  It simply mystifies me.  Any human being should have the inalienable right to control their own bodily autonomy, to include decisions about whether or not to be pregnant.  Duh!

I've been disappointed that Obama has not been nearly as progressive as I hoped and expected.  But he is clearly the better choice between the two tickets, if for no other reason than he will appoint sane people to the Supreme Court...which is probably much more of a lasting legacy than whatever policies and laws any administration enacts.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Cats in Art: Girl With a Black Cat (Boldini)

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 WikiPaintingsGirl With a Black Cat, Giovanni Boldini, 1885, oil on canvas, 22" x 16", held by Istituto Matteucci, Viareggio, Italy.
Zuffi observes: the viewer's gaze is drawn by the wide eyes of the young girl and the big black cat, that with some effort, she holds in her arms.  But while the girl has a vacant and rather absent expression, the cat is watchful, wary and alert.  Here is yet another version of the old and always fascinating theme of a girl and animal, brought together by the painter in a double portrait.

Indeed, it is the cat's eyes that arrest me in this painting.  The cat seems ready for anything, but to relax.  Hopefully the cat got a nice long nap for its trouble.

I should also note that Boldini was known as the "master of swish" for his flowing style of painting.  Click over to this site to see a number of his paintings--you'll see that the flowing style is obvious.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

We Are Small, and Humble...and Ultrarunning

Over at the blog Bad Astronomy, Phil Plait does a pretty commendable job of first praising the knowledge provided by the Hubble space telescope, and then weaving it into a humbling soliloquy on our place in the universe:

And when you do, look at what Hubble shows us. That tiny region of the sky – easily blocked by a grain of sand held at arm’s length – contains thousands of galaxies, each a sprawling city of billions of stars. It represents a relatively random part of the sky, so you can expect to see something like it no matter where you point a telescope… and that picture shows just one 24-millionth of the entire sky.

The implication is clear: there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in our Universe. That in turn means there are sextillions of stars, each a Sun, and many, if not most, circled by a retinue of planets.

It’s the most ironic aspect of any science I know: it crushes my sense of scale and ego into dust, but also fills me with wonder and amazement that we can know such things, and be a part of it.

As is so often the case in science, you don’t know what you’ll get when you build a new instrument. You build it for one reason or for many, but later on new applications arise, new ways to use it. And sometimes, years down the road, it’s utilized in a just such a new way which profoundly changes how you see the Universe, how you see yourself and your place in it, and in a way you had may have only had an inkling of when you started out. The Hubble Deep Fields are perfect examples of this.

We knew intellectually the Universe was deep, and our place in it infinitesimal yet rare and beautiful. But Hubble showed that to us.

The link to Ultrarunning is not on a grand, universe-wide scale.  But rather the fact that every time we head out to our trails for a run, we share that sense of awe and wonder, of belonging yet being such an infinitesimal cog.  Our presence is ephemeral and fleeting, and the bigger natural world proceeds apace with or without us.

I am reminded again of some memorable lines from a very smart guy who lived and died a couple centuries ago:

     To see a World in a Grain of Sand
     And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
     Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
     And Eternity in an hour.

[William Blake, 1757-1827, Auguries of Innocence]

These are the thoughts I think when I am out on my beloved trails.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Ghosts--Seriously (Part 3 repost)

This post originally ran in March 2010. I figured it would be a timely re-post for Halloween this year.


Ghosts--Seriously (Part 3 of 3)

This may be the "Big Rock" mentioned later in the post, just inside the treeline at the right center of the shot, immediately to the right of the large oak.

A closer view of the rock; it's about 6' high. Photos by the author, 9 March 2010.

My home sits along the route the Confederates used on their way both to and from Gettysburg in 1863. This post concerns a series of odd--dare I say ghostly?--personal experiences as I run along a particular section of road, between the villages of Marion and New Franklin, perhaps 5 miles from my home. This is where the 17 mile long Confederate "wagon train of the wounded" passed on its way back to Virginia.

Following the battle of Gettysburg in 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee entrusted the conduct of the wagon train of the wounded to Brigadier General John D. Imboden, to try to get the wounded of the Army of Northern Virginia safely back home. Imboden was a gifted writer and left behind a detailed and chilling account, excerpted here. He starts with his orders from General Lee:

We must now return to Virginia. As many of our poor wounded as possible must be taken home. I have sent for you, because your men and horses are fresh and in good condition, to guard and conduct our train back to Virginia. The duty will be arduous, responsible, and dangerous...You will re-cross the mountain by the Chambersburg road, and then proceed to Williamsport by any route you deem best....

Imboden explains the logistics:

About 4 P. M. [Gary: this was on 4 July, the day after the 3-day battle ended] the head of the column was put in motion near Cashtown, and began the ascent of the mountain in the direction of Chambersburg. I remained at Cashtown giving directions and putting in detachments of guns and troops at what I estimated to be intervals of a quarter or a third of a mile...the entire column was seventeen miles long when drawn out on the road and put in motion.

Then Imboden reveals the awful nature of the gruesome caravan:

After dark I set out from Cashtown to gain the head of the column during the night...For four hours I hurried forward on my way to the front, and in all that time I was never out of hearing of the groans and cries of the wounded and dying. Scarcely one in a hundred had received adequate surgical aid, owing to the demands on the hard working surgeons from still worse eases that had to be left behind. Many of the wounded in the wagons had been without food for thirty-six hours. Their torn and bloody clothing, matted and hardened, was rasping the tender, inflamed, and still oozing wounds. Very few of the wagons had even a layer of straw in them, and all were without springs. The road was rough and rocky from the heavy washings of the preceding day. The jolting was enough to have killed strong men, if long exposed to it. From nearly every wagon as the teams trotted on, urged by whip and shout, came such cries and shrieks as these: "Oh God! Why can't I die? My God! Will no one have mercy and kill me Stop! Oh! For God's sake, stop just for one minute; take me out and leave me to die on the roadside." I am dying! I am dying! My poor wife, my dear children, what will become of you?

Some were simply moaning; some were praying and others uttering the most fearful oaths and execrations that despair and agony could wring from them; while a majority, with a stoicism sustained by sublime devotion to the cause they fought for; endured without complaint unspeakable tortures, and even spoke with cheer and confront to their unhappy comrades of less will or more acute nerves. Occasionally a wagon would be passed from which only low, deep moans could be heard.

Adding another piece of the puzzle: in 1963, the 100th anniversary of the battle, the Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce published a soft-cover booklet entitled "Lee's Invasion--The Great Decision 1863." It included some anecdotes under the heading "My Grandfather Told Me--Personal Reminiscences 100 Years Later." One story stands out, submitted by Misses Carrie and Thelma Small of Marion, PA:

After the battle across the mountain, lots of the rebels came back to this section on their way to get home. This was the way they came and maybe they thought it was the only way back to Virginia. Two of the rebels died in the field and were buried opposite the Big Rock. When another reb was buried an Indian skeleton was found and buried back with him.

The 17 mile long wagon train of the wounded passed this way some 147 years ago. Along this section are several rock outcrops, any one of which could be the "Big Rock" of the Misses Small story. On occasion, when I have run along this stretch when it's quiet, say in the early morning or after dark, I actually sense a faint presence. It manifests itself as a sort of vague murmuring behind me, and a faint or imagined footfall in step with mine. But when I stop to listen, all I sense is an indistinct rustle that may only be the wind.

Then I resume my running, and the feeling returns that I am hearing faint footfalls or low voices.

Unlike my other local ghostly experiences while running (here and here), this is much more qualitative than sensory, and also a bit more disquieting. I was going to use the word malevolent, but that would be overstating. I do feel slightly uneasy here, but only slightly, and have never seriously considered altering my route to avoid this stretch of road.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ghosts--Seriously (Part 2 repost)

This post originally ran in Feb 2010. I figured it would be a timely re-post for Halloween this year.


Ghosts--Seriously (Part 2 of 3)

This is the second of 3 posts on unexplained phenomena--ghosts, if you will--I've personally experienced on my runs.

This incident occurred only a couple hundred yards from the first story I blogged about. It involves a Revolutionary War era cemetery, called the Brown's Mill Cemetery, close by my home.

The cemetery is surrounded by a wrought iron fence, pictured here, whose pickets are quite close together--perhaps 3-4". The fence sits close to the ground as well, and is almost chest-high. The combination of picket spacing, no room to wiggle under, and the height of the fence meant that nothing larger than a squirrel could pass from one side of the fence to the other without a major (and time-consuming) effort.

I was out for a run early one summer morning before work, pre-dawn. My route was a 4-miler, an out-n-back, and I was only about half a mile from ending up back at the house. I was running up a slight incline, on the left side of the road facing traffic, of course (although there was no traffic on this rural road at that time).

Across the road from me on the right side sat the cemetery. I was about even with the lower corner of the cemetery (in the top photo, the stone post in the lower right is at that corner), which runs some 200' uphill directly beside the road. There were some street lights in the campground across the road to the left that provided diffuse light to the road and fence where I was (i.e., no need for a flashlight there).

Suddenly I saw a movement ahead of me and across the road: it was a low, animal-like shape, right along the wrought iron fence. I immediately think "Dog" and glance down at my footing and simultaneously move more to the left, onto the gravel shoulder, to give myself the maximum berth around the animal. The shape of the object was a bit more than knee-high, and its size and outline were very collie-like, in that the back was flat and straight but with that abrupt, right-angle downturn back at the tail.

In the 1-2 seconds between seeing the shape, glancing down and moving left, and then looking again across the road to see whether this "dog" was any sort of threat to me, the form had disappeared. Vanished. And there was absolutely nowhere for it to have gone--the fence was impenetrable for a critter of that size, too low to squeeze under, and too high to jump.

Besides, by the light of the streetlights I could see across the fence into the cemetery, which was fairly open, and there was no "dog" inside. The critter could not have simply scooted along the fence to a corner and exited that way, for it was too near the middle of the 200' run of fence to reach a corner in the time it took for me to look down and back up.

It was simply gone, with no explainable way of disappearing.

Beyond the normal rush of adrenaline that any runner would get from suddenly encountering a dog whose intentions are unknown, the experience was not menacing in any way. It just was. Any me and my rational thinking cannot figure it out.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ghosts--Seriously (Part 1 repost)

This post originally ran in Feb 2010.  I figured it would be a timely re-post for Halloween this year.


Ghosts--Seriously (Part 1 of 3)

First off, let me preface this post by saying that I pride myself on being a rational thinker, a skeptic of things paranormal. I don’t honestly think ghosts are involved here, but one particular tombstone has me scratching my head.

Check out the dark stone along the road, on the right side of the photo.

The cemetery here, the larger one of two close by my home, is big enough to have a couple of paved lanes thru it. I frequently run thru this cemetery, and as a matter of respect, I always take off my hat, and if there are visitors present, I detour and don't run past them.

Here is the dark tombstone, centered and a bit closer.

Finally, right up close, with my JFK 50 Miler ball cap on top to give you an idea as to scale.

The tombstone is about chest-high. That is, it's chest-high today. I've not measured the stone with a tape but I have the feeling that its height changes. Much like, say, when you see your adolescent niece or nephew after not having seen them for 6 months or a year, you KNOW without actually measuring them that they have grown. They are taller than before.

Same with this tombstone. After a hiatus of some weeks or a couple months without running through the cemetery, when I do, I know that the Statler tombstone is taller than it was before. The first time I saw this phenomenon, I literally stopped in my tracks. Can I prove it? Of course not, but it is taller, just as in the niece/nephew example above.

It's not menacing or spooky, just more of an observation.

I have a couple other ghostly anecdotes from my local runs that I'll post soon.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dog "Attack"...and Ultrarunning

Today the bride dropped me off for my run, on her way to work, as we've been in the habit of doing.

It was a glorious fall day, nothing but blue skies and brilliant sunshine.  I was running on Helman Road, more or less, east to west, thus the sun was directly behind me.  Since it was soon after sunrise and the sun was still low in the sky, the shadow I cast was quite long.

In fact, geek that I am, I stopped to measure it.  Noting that the shadow of my head reached a roadside sign, I then paced off  the distance as being about 30'. I was running, just kinda zoned out, thinking about everything and thinking of nothing--you long distance runners all know how that goes--all of a sudden I saw a large shadow looming in my shadow.

Dog immediately astern!  Evasive maneuvers!  I had no chaff or flares to decoy him with, so I just stopped, wheeled around and faced him.  He stopped in his tracks as well and we eyed each other up.

The news was good: I could see rather quickly that he was curious and not menacing.  Talking soothingly ("Good dog!  Good dog!") I stooped to try to make up to him, but he was skittery, barked some, and backed away to a safer distance.  You could tell he was wanting to be a buddy but just was too unsure of this strange runner on the road.

Right about then a young man from the farmhouse nearby came out to check out the barking and tried unsuccessfully to get the dog to come to him.  I finally walked across the yard to the porch so the man could get ahold of the dog so I could proceed unimpeded.

That objective completed, I return to the run, which proved to be uneventful the rest of the way home.

The link to Ultrarunning is that many of us do much of our training on roads and thus frequently encounter dogs.  Not so much in the backcountry, where most of the dogs you see are under the immediate control of a hiker. 

Here's what I do to help even the odds in the unlikely event of an actual dog attack.  I carry a flat folding knife in case a dog encounter goes south. I began doing that after I was cornered on a rural road by a pair of roving Rottweilers--fortunately for me, right near a farmhouse.  As one dog circled and tried to get behind me, the other kept me busy in the front.  All the while I was hollering and just in the nick of time the owner popped out of the house and called off the dogs.  It could have been ugly.

Monday, October 22, 2012

What the Cat Brought Home..and No More Cat Scabs

I wrote here about the scabs that ca Beere gets on her ears.  Whatever the season is for what she was getting, it's now over.

Well, her penchant for capturing shrews seemed dormant for awhile but yesterday she again brought home a Blarina brevicauda, the short tailed shrew.


Long ago when a previous cat brought home a shrew, I originally keyed out the shrew to determine the species. I vividly recall that the guide book said something like "This is the shrew that the cat brings home and drops on the doorstep."

I said to the bride, "Well, it must not be the short-tailed shrew--the cat left this one on the porch, not the doorstep."


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cats in Art: Awakening (Sophie Gengembre Anderson)

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.

I first must observe that this week's post was a real exercise in detective work in the on-line art world.

And I failed.

Zuffi's book (pp 256-257) contains a full page + image of a young girl holding a gray tabby cat, painted by Sophie Gengembre Anderson, identified as belonging to the Pre-Raphaelite school of painters.  It is not in a museum, but is held in an unidentified private collection.  Anderson was British, but painted in Paris.

On-line, I could find no image of this work, nor even a title listing it as one of Anderson's works.  It's as though this painting does not exist.  But somehow Zuffi managed not only to find this cat image but to capture the image from the private collector for inclusion in his book.

So, all I can do is to provide a scan of the image in Zuffi's book:

Image credit Stefano Zuffi, The Cat in Art, Awakening, 1881, Sophie Gengembre Anderson, oil on canvas, 26" x 31", held in private collection.
I think it was the cat's face that first grabbed me, a nearly perfect rendering of our first cat, Sam.  But then the title intrigued me: whose awakening?  The cat or the girl waking up?--I doubt it.  How about the girl on the verge of adolescence?--possibly, but she looks a little young.  So we just don't know.
In my travels to find this image I did find a Wikimedia Commons site, first in French and then a shorter version in English, that contained some 25 images of Anderson's work.  Here's one that really captures Anderson's style and essence (NOTE: this image, sadly, does not contain a cat):

Image credit Wikimedia Commons, Take the Fair Face of Woman
The Wikimedia Commons site contains some 25 images of Anderson's works.  By all means go there and be as amazed as I was.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Survivor...and Ultrarunning

[image credit CBS]

This week Dana was sicker than a dog (gastrointestinal distress), but was cleared by the show's medical staff to remain in the game if she wanted to.

She opted to drop out, and thus became a prime topic for my noontime running buds.  I was not there to run with them in person, but contributed my $.02 via email.

We here in the Ultrarunning world know a thing or two about extreme physical and mental challenges, and what it takes to find the resources deep within yourself to go on when dropping would be the easiest thing.

I'm guessing--based upon personal experience--that Dana, approximately 2 hours after leaving the island, was undoubtedly kicking herself for not trying to stay another 12 hours. 

In the Ultra world, where feeling like hell and feeling like you could run forever are frequently very close together in time and space, there's a saying: "It doesn’t always keep getting worse."  That is, when things are objectively bad or even very bad, they don’t always continue downhill; often there's a turnaround coming. 

You don't know, so you just keep on with the relentless forward progress. And maybe, just maybe, you'll be rewarded with the change in fortune.  Maybe it'll come at an aid station where you get the right food or drink that sits good in your belly; maybe a nice downhill where you get your running groove back; perhaps a nice uphill where the long walk serves as a recovery period.

You get the idea.  I was advised once that you should decide in advance what circumstances would be grounds to drop.  Basically it boils down to this: if continuing would not endanger you or your long-term running, then you keep going. 

Your stomach hurts?  Keep going.

Your knee or ankle hurts but there's no obvious sign of trauma, just overuse.  Keep going.

Your mind is baked and going on seems futile.  Keep going.

I don't want to come off as an unsympathetic a**hole, it's just when the stakes are high you raise your game.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Implications of the 24+ Mile Parachute

I wanted to pass along an image and some interesting comments from Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy, one of my daily must-read blogs:

Phil writes: feelings on it are mixed. While I really am glad it got people excited, I couldn’t shake the feeling it wasn’t more than a stunt. A cool stunt, but a stunt. It was plugged as a way to learn more about spacesuits and all that, but I had my doubts. Having it sponsored by a sugary caffeinated energy drink marketed to teens also made me a bit wary.

Phil does go on to explain the nuances of why the U.S. government cannot launch a human into space and why he still thinks that's OK (this parachute jump, awesome as it was, was not an orbital, i.e., space, event):

Now, some people will point out that in fact the US cannot do that, at least not with people. We don’t have any rockets rated for human flight into space.

That’s true, but brings up my third point, the most important, what a lot of people don’t seem to get: you need to add the words "right now" to the end of that sentence.

We can’t launch humans into space right now. But in just a few years we’ll have that ability. In spades.

SpaceX is working on making sure their Falcon 9 rocket is human-rated for flight – even as I write these words they have a Dragon capsule berthed to the International Space Station. ATK is another. There’s also Sierra Nevada, Blue Origin (which just had a successful engine firing test), XCORR, and others. Let’s not forget Virgin Galactic, too. [Update: D'oh! Shame on me, and ironic too: I forgot to add Boeing and ULA's work on this as well.]

Both SpaceX and ATK think they’ll be ready to take people into orbit in 2015. Virgin Galactic and XCORR may be ready to do commercial suborbital flights before that date. [Note added after posting: I want to be clear; these are not NASA programs, but some have contracts with NASA, and I'm talking about the US as a nation, not necessarily as a government space program.]

The Space Shuttle was retired in 2011. We’re in the middle of what’s planned to be a five year gap where the US can’t take humans into space. Mind you, when the Apollo program shut down there was a nine year gap before we had a program to take humans to space again (with the exception of a few Saturn flights to orbit for Skylab and the Apollo-Soyuz mission; even then there was a six year gap until the Shuttle launches began).

My point? Things aren’t nearly as bad as people think. Yes, the Shuttle is retired, but to be brutally honest, while it’s an amazing machine, it could not nor would it ever be capable of taking humans beyond low-Earth orbit. It also cost way more than promised, and couldn’t launch as often as promised. I’ve made this point before, and it’s one we need to remember. Getting to space is not easy, and if we want to do it we have to do it right.

I get his point, but I still think that the United States of America as a nation should have a human space exploration program.  I'm reminded of the disquieting thought that it is the profit motive that drives these firms.  Or as I once read that a U.S. astronaut said, paraphrasing, that he couldn't help thinking as he was launched into space that "...everything that went into his capsule was supplied by the lowest bidder."


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Getting Physicked...and Ultrarunning

Couldn't sleep the other night so returned to the great room for some late night TV.  The "interesting" commericals one sees are nothing short of astounding.

Guess what?--many of the commercials late at night deal with urogenital issues, sexual performance issues, and pooping issues.

Case in point was for a product called "Colon Flow."  This product falls into the last category above.  You can imagine what it does, but the name, well, just doesn't cut it.  You don't want a product name that kinda implies a torrent of poop (but here's the legit phone number anyway: 800-931-8197, although I have no financial interest in it).

Which brings me back to the title of this post.  The bride's grandmother once ate sauerkraut at our home and very shortly headed quite rapidly to the bathroom, announcing that the sauerkraut had physicked her (our elders sometimes provide too much body information!).

I looked it up and it is indeed a word.  I am hoping to bring the verb "physic" back into common usage.  Example: with respect to the inexplicable factoid I learned on the Today Show this morning: "Mitt Romney is gaining ground among women...this physics me."

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?  Hitting the trails seems to physic me, as I usually must swerve off the trail and head behind a tree soon after beginning a run.  Perhaps instead of sending for some "Colon Flow" people should head for a trail run instead.

Or--cue the dramatic music--perhaps I am obsessed with the topic?  After all, I've previously posted about things poopy here and here.  maybe I need professional counseling?


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Duct Tape, the Apocalypse...and Ultrarunning

Via Boing Boing (if you're of a scientific bent, or even the slightest bit geeky, you must visit this site regularly!), we see conclusive evidence that the Apocalypse surely is upon us:
The fact that Justin Bieber duct tape even exists is proof positive that the end times are here.  Tonight, if the mother ship again fails to show up for me, I may as well end it all.
Many Ultrarunners swear by duct tape as an essential item of gear, especially using it to tape up the feet for long runs as a blister preventative.
I've tried that, and it just doesn't work (your mileage may vary, however).  It just took too much time and effort and didn't stay put on my feet anyway through hours of use and tens of miles run. 
I think a sounder approach is simply to put enough long distance miles on your feet so that they become tough and trained to stand up to, well, long distance miles.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Caledonia Park...and Ultrarunning

[old picnic table...image credits Gary]

Sunday here in south-central PA was magnificent--temps in the upper 60s, sunny, no wind.  So we (3 generations) made our annual fall pilgrimage to Caledonia State Park for a brunch cookout.

The menu consisted of pancakes, eggs, bagels and cream cheese, sausage, and the "heart attack sandwich": thin-sliced beef tenderloin sauteed with onions, smothered with melted cheese, covered with an egg and served on a toasted bagel.

Pure cholesterol, of course, but I figure that in any balanced diet, there gotta be room for 1 heart attack sandwich per year.  At least I hope so.

And Nature seldom disappoints.  We walked through one open section of trail surrounded by grassy brush, and were suddenly covered with ladybugs, as my son found out:

They were fun and knowing the reputation of ladybugs for being good luck, we carefully brushed them off and were on our way.

Anyway, the Appalachian Trail goes directly through the park, and we hiked a short, flat section of it with the grandkids.  To them it's a fun hike, and they really have no idea--and truth be told, neither would the bride--of what it's like to actually run the trail.  It's like there are two trails, or perhaps more properly, two trail experiences: one for families and/or regular people, and one for trail runners.**

And that's today's connection with Ultrarunning: the feeling of self-sufficiency, of being a good animal, of yearning to see what's up around the bend or over the next hill.  How covering vast distances on foot makes regular hiking seem, well, simply too pedestrian

    **better make that 3: the through hiker experience


Monday, October 15, 2012

Beware of the Strange Tree.

I encountered a rather strange tree beside the road on a local run over the weekend.  WARNING: This is a test.

Here is a close up of the trunk and leaves:
And finally, the reveal that this is not really a tree, but merely a telephone pole completely grown over with poison ivy:
Be careful out there.  I've previously blogged about the scourge that is poison ivy, and how it has theological implications, here.
[all image credits Gary]

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Cats in Art: Woman 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. 
NOTE: this post originally appeared on 17 Oct 2010.  I figured it was worth another appearance.  Again I must warn the young woman that she is about to get schooled by a cat, and it will be a painful lesson indeed.

Woman With a Cat, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1875, 56 x 46 cm, oil on canvas. Image credit here.

While the young lady looks pretty happy with the situation, the same cannot be said of the cat, who looks ready to bolt. The woman better watch out for those hind claws when the cat launches itself from her arms.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Vintage Print Ad...and Ultrarunning

Other than occasional profanity, here at Mister Tristan (the blog, not the 4-year-old human being) I tend to stay away from adult-oriented subjects. 

But in reading the great science blog Boing Boing today, I ran across a post about a vintage print ad for Beverly peanut butter that sounds more like an ad for a woman rather than a food.

The sexual innuendo--intended or not, you decide--had me blowing coffee out my nose. 

Offered without further comment...Enjoy!

Click to enlarge...ESC to return
Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?  I wish I could have met the real Beverly...she sounds like a particular (and peculiar) trail running lady I know.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Saturday's Pre-dawn Run

If you don't have a run planned tomorrow morning, you must.

I have not posted much about astronomy lately (except this one and this one), but runners out early tomorrow will see a cool sight: Venus--the brightest planet--above the almost-gone waning crescent moon:

[Image credit EarthSky]

Also, the brightest star in the sky, Sirius, also puts in a major appearance tomorrow morning.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

How to be an Obnoxious Ultrarunner

Courtesy of an old Dilbert cartoon, which graced my cubicle at work for a number of years:

Instead, let your friends and co-workers come to you.  Don't bring up the topic of Ultrarunning first--in fact, you'll find you'll never need to, once people know you run vast distances.  They'll approach you...and then you can open the floodgates!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Groucho...Or, the Generation Gap

One of my neighbors has a fat gray tabby kitty that loves to bask in their driveway.  I often pass the cat when I am running. 

I suspect that it is old and likely hard of hearing, because I usually say "Hey, kitty!" as I pass, but it never reacts.  Then again, perhaps the cat simply believes I am beneath him (one of the 99%).

Anyway, the neighbor's cat has a moustache.  It's not as striking as that of this kitty...

...but its moustache is definitely there (image credit here).

Which brings me to the generational comment in the title.  I had almost forgotten a similarly moustached cat from when daughter worked in a vet's office.  We picked her up one evening after she was cleaning out cages, etc. and she was excited to show us "Groucho."

Except that she botched the name and called him--phonetically speaking--"Goo-cho."  She was obviously too young to have seen Groucho Marx perform on TV or in movies, and in her cultural travels had also missed him as a show business icon.  So Marx's famous moustache was simply not in her realm of experience.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Another Reason to Dislike the Ravens

Disclaimer: I grew up in western PA (Beaver Falls, to be exact), and thus am a lifelong Steeler fan.  The Ravens are pretty much the devil’s spawn.

That said, I always observe that lotsa people over the centuries have lost their minds about sports.  Truth is, sports are a diversion, a pastime, entertainment, an enhancement to everyday life.  What a sports team does really doesn’t amount to a pinch of crap on the cosmic scale. 
But what sports figures—who may have influence in terms of role-modeling for the young’uns—say or do can have a profound effect on impressionable minds.

So, speaking of crap, it’s crap like this makes my blood boil.  In a TV ad opposing marriage equality in Maryland:

Baltimore Ravens Center Matt Birk tells voters to oppose Question 6, which would put the state's legislatively-passed marriage equality bill into effect in a new ad for the Maryland Marriage Alliance, which was uploaded to YouTube by the Maryland Catholic Conference.

Says Birk in the ad: "Marriage is not easy. but it has lasted throughout the ages as an honored institution because it provides unique foundations for societies and children. Marriage is more than what adults want for themselves. It is also about the next generation. Marriage is and should remain between a man and a woman. Gay and lesbian couples already receive benefits in Maryland, like hospital visitation, state health benefits, and tax breaks. They don't need to redefine marriage."
The man can certainly have bigoted opinions, and I would defend his right to be an a**hole.  But I would think that the Ravens organization would tell him to knock it off, this ad reflects poorly on the team and the NFL. 
I loved a couple of the comments:
"an honored institution"? What is the straight marriage divorce rate these days? 50%. Yep, a real honored institution there buddy.
What is the end game for these bigots? Do they honestly think if the marriage bill is defeated, all gays and lesbians will close up shop, dissolve their relationships, and turn straight? No matter what, gays and lesbians are going to be together, they are going to raise children, and they are going to live their lives as best they can.

Monday, October 8, 2012

We Love Science...He Doesn't

Via Yahoo News, a recent story about one of our elected Congresspersons:

Georgia Rep. Paul Broun said in videotaped remarks that evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory are "lies straight from the pit of hell" meant to convince people that they do not need a savior.

The Republican lawmaker made those comments during a speech Sept. 27 at a sportsman's banquet at Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell. Broun, a medical doctor, is running for re-election in November unopposed by Democrats.

"God's word is true," Broun said, according to a video posted on the church's website. "I've come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. And it's lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior."

Broun also said that he believes the Earth is about 9,000 years old and that it was made in six days. Those beliefs are held by fundamentalist Christians who believe the creation accounts in the Bible to be literally true.

I see room for people of faith to also have a belief in scientific fact.  But with Rep. Broun, it's like he's shaking his head with his fingers in his ears saying "La la la la la la I can't hear you la la la la la la..."  He lives in a world where if the facts are inconvenient you either ignore them, or double down and outright condemn them, in this case calling them "lies straight from the pit of hell."

This joker sits on the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology.

Also, in case you missed it back on 4 Jan 2012, see my post about the age of the Earth.  It's short, has this cool photo of the back side of the moon, and scientifically and unarguably refutes the notion of a very young earth.

[image credit Astronomy Picture of the Day]


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Cats in Art: A Flood (Millais)

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.

Click to enlarge, ESC to return.   Image credit WikiPaintingsA Flood, Sir John Everett Millais, oil on canvas, 39" x 57", Manchester Aer Galley, England.

Zuffi's comment:

...the cat, which is well known to dislike water, is paralyzed with fear and can only manage to howl with terror.

How the cat got there and why is unknown, but I know the feeling.  Poor kitty!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Tragic Photos...and Opportunities

Here is a belated post about 9/11.  I will not identify the blog from whence it came until the end, lest you be prejudiced against the content simply by the author.

The blog first posts three tragic images (the first World Trade Center building begins to collapse; the wreckage of a hotel in Kenya destroyed by terrorists; a screaming young Iraqi girl, covered in blood), asks "What is this?", then provides an "opportunity" themed quote related to each one.

Then the author ties them all together:

For normal people, it's an unmitigated tragedy when their fellow citizens are killed in terrorist attacks or wars. Normal people cry, become afraid, and think of children who now have no parents and parents who now have no children.

For our would-be "leaders," however - in every country - the situation is different. Of course, they pretend to feel the same as normal people. They give teary-eyed speeches about sorrow and suffering.

And yet, behind their tears, there seems to be something else. When they think no one is looking, you glimpse another expression flitting across their face. You think it couldn't be. But - yes, incredibly enough, they're smiling. Because before the bodies are cold, before the mothers have stopped shrieking, our leaders are thinking:


And for them it is. It's an opportunity for them to do whatever they wanted to do before, but couldn't get away with. It's an opportunity for them to smear anyone who criticizes them as disloyal. It's an opportunity for them to become much more powerful than they ever could be in peacetime. Leaders love war. That's why there's so much of it.

Thus we see a subtle erosion of privacy and rights, some world-stage cowboying, more hatred of the U.S. and a new generation of would-be terrorists and actual terrorists, all in the name of protection.
The original post is here, wherein you can see the images referred to and the author.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Enemy of the Good...and Ultrarunning

Ran across this one at the blog Balloon Juice, and realized that this was the sort of low-information, reactionary response that drives me nuts:

The Last Four Years in One Quote

By mistermix September 25th, 2012
In an otherwise innocuous story about the new calorie labeling at MacDonalds, Dick Nigon of Sterling, VA is every Republican:
I did find one customer who had noticed the calorie labels: Dick Nigon of Sterling, Va. He and his wife, Lea, had stopped by McDonald’s after seeing an exhibit at the Renwick Gallery. Dick had ordered for the couple, noticed the calorie labels and liked them.
“I like that you have the information before you order,” he told me, when I asked about the labels. “It’s better than some kind of government health mandate in Obamacare.”

I told him that the calorie labels were, in fact, a government health mandate in Obamacare.

“Well that changes things a bit,” he responded. “I thought this was more of a voluntary sort of thing. Now I’m not quite sure how I feel about it.”

What’s dumber: the notion that MacDonald’s would voluntarily tell customers the calorie count of their greasy-ass food, or the way that the mere mention of “Obama” changes his mind?

It continually mystifies me that people 1) have such negative, knee-jerk reactions to the mere mention of Obama and Obamacare, and 2) they keep taking anti-Obama stances against their own self-interest (e.g., supporting the Other Guy (Romney/Ryan) who want to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits). 

The in-laws are a classic example of this.  I love them dearly, but their minds are filled with the "fair and balanced" so-called "facts" that come from having Fox News on virtually every waking hour.  Having a solid and permanent social safety net in place for their old age should be their number one priority...yet they bash Obama whenever they can (FIL much more so than MIL, so maybe we're seeing some of that white male rage).

Make no mistake, I've been disappointed that President Obama has been less of a progressive than Candidate Obama seemed to be, but I can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  A Republican victory would so bad, on so many levels--so bad.  I gotta remain in Obama's camp.

Of course, I must somehow link this theme to Ultrarunning.  Suppose I was thinking about entering a race, but some friends had told me that some of the rules imposed by the race director were oppressive and dictatorial. In fact, the mere mention of the race director's name elicited disdain from my friends, like "You don't want to run one of his races, do you?"

In fact, I did not know he was the RD, I just liked the race.  On the surface, I initially reacted a bit negatively to some of the so-called onerous rules, delved a bit deeper I could see that they actually benefited me as a runner--they were there for my protection and in the interests of the greater good. 

Maybe an imperfect example, but you get the gist.  THINK, people, don't just react or follow blindly what others tell you.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Powerful Men Do What They Want

The bride and I have been long-time watchers of NBC’s Today Show for decades, a habit that dates back to the day when the only TV channel we could pick up in our rented trailer from a rooftop antenna was the local NBC affiliate, WHAG in Hagerstown, MD.  So to this day part of our morning routine is to tune in to the Today Show to see what’s happening in the world.

On Tuesday, Bill O’Reilly (a conservative talk show host and political pundit on the Fox network) was a guest, promoting his new book on the real John F. Kennedy.  I do give Bill some credit, for even though our politics are largely diametrically opposed, and he can be a bombastic, pompous a-hole, he is in fact one of the saner members of the Fox news stable.  I actually find myself agreeing with him occasionally (perhaps under the theory that even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and then).

At any rate, in discussing Kennedy and his romantic dalliances, O’Reilly observed, “Powerful men do what they want.”  Now, this is not an earthshaking proposition, but hearing it spoken aloud just reminded me again of how much of a man’s world it remains.  Women don’t earn as much for the same work; their actual bodily autonomy is increasingly being controlled by old men in suits;  if they work outside the home they are castigated for neglecting the kids to promote their careers, but if they are stay-at-home moms they are not working hard enough to provide income.

From mundane, social interactions (expecting special and preferential treatment because of who they are) to world stage actions (starting or continuing wars), powerful men do what they want. 

Another nugget from Tuesday’s show: they showed a clip where former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway introduced Mitt Romney at some campaign appearance in Colorado.  Elway revs up the crowd and introduces Romney as “…the next President of the United States!”

The bride laconically observed, “Well, he’s not as smart as I thought he was.”

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Mister Tristan on the Appalachian Trail

Took Mister Tristan--the 4 year old human being, not the blog--over to the Appalachian Trail this weekend for a short hike.

To you folks who know the trail here in south-central PA, we parked at Old Forge and hiked north to the Tumbling Run shelters, so this was pretty short.  The main purpose was just to get out, take a short walk, and drink from a spring to let Mister Tristan know that's how water originally was obtained back in the old days...not from a faucet.

Along the way we saw some deer, some other small critters, and lots of teaberry plants with fruit.  You eat one of these berries and it's like chewing the teaberry gum we enjoyed as kids back in the 1950s: 

The berries are the size of peas, to give you a sense of perspective.

The Tumbling Run spring, which I have never seen go dry.
Mister Tristan's new hiking boots.
Spiderman enjoyed the hike as well.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fog Running

Not my photo, but this is what it was like running this morning:

 [image credit Marjolein Vegers, here]

The bride dropped me off on her way to work early this morning and I ran back home.  Heavy fog; visibility was perhaps 200 yards max.  You could certainly hear cars approaching well before you could actually see them.

And there were spider webs everywhere.  The saturated air had laden them with dew, which had the effect of making the webs quite visible.  Here in south-central PA, in the late summer and early fall we get many extensive webs around the house from large spiders I've always just heard called "garden spiders," but I had no idea that literally thousands of smaller spiders are right under our noses all the time.

One final observation: running in the fog is closely akin to running at night.  For me, in night running, since you cannot see any landmarks far off and lack much sense of visual proportion, it always seems to me that distances pass faster.  In other words, I frequently come up on a place way sooner than I thought I would (like, "Man, am I here already?").

Fog running is quite similar.  You're pretty much putting one foot in front of the other, seeing only what you can make out within a short radius, and all of a sudden you've reached a known point much more quickly than you figured.