Friday, November 30, 2012

My Goat is Gotten

Seems there's been some ill-considered comments by Florida Senator Marco Rubio, supposedly one of the Republican party's rising stars, about the age of the earth.  Via Alex Knapp at Forbes:

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who many political observers think has a strong shot to be a 2016 Presidential candidate, just finished a lengthy interview with GQ that you can read here. One thing that struck my interest here, as someone who often reports on science, was Rubio’s answer when he was asked the question, “How old do you think the Earth is.”
In response, Rubio told GQ that, “I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.”

Matthew Francis at Galileo's Pendulum weighs in on the age of the earth and Rubio:

I also get that in today’s Republican Party, there is a conflict between secular conservatism—which cares little for theological debates, in favor of and a powerful Christian fundamentalist element that won’t throw support behind anyone who doesn’t take a literalist view of Genesis. You’re trying to have it both ways.

However, the age of Earth is not a matter of opinion, so there is no “middle ground” for discussion. Whether there’s a dispute among theologians or not is, frankly, irrelevant. The age of Earth (4.54 billion years, which you find if you type “age of earth” into Google search) is not a controversial issue, and hasn’t been for many years in the scientific community.
And (going back to Alex Knapp) here's why what Rubio says and thinks matters:

This doesn’t mean that our representatives to the Congress and to the Senate should be scientific experts. But if they hold ideas about the world around us that are fundamentally at odds with scientific evidence, then that will ultimately infringe on their ability to make reasoned judgments about a host of issues where the economy touches technology. And that could end up harming the economy as a whole.

In other words, Rubio (to use but one example) is saying:

1. I believe X is true, as so pronounced by my faith. 

2. The premise Y--although universally accepted within the scientific community--is at odds with my belief in X.

3.  Therefore, since X must be true, that means that Y is false.

When I see scientific denialism, my goat is gotten. Nothing drives me nuts more than simply denying facts that conflict with one's paradigms. My

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Go. See. Lincoln.

Here at Mister Tristan (the blog, not the 4 year old human being) I sometimes give advice but never give orders.

Well, I'm breaking that rule now:  You MUST go see the film Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg.

Daniel Day-Lewis' performance as Lincoln was absolutely perfect.  Unlike other actors and other roles, not once did I ever think, "That guy's an actor and this is a movie."  Rather I felt--as did the bride--that I was really seeing the 16th president in action through some miracle of time travel or magic of film making.

The movie focuses on Lincoln's efforts to secure passage in the U.S. House of Representatives (the Senate had previously approved) the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.  If the House passed it by a 2/3 majority, the amendment would go to the states for ratification, where passage was expected.

The House was bitterly divided on the amendment; Lincoln's skills as a president were sorely tested as tried to secure sufficient votes for passage.

Oh, and here's the text of the proposed amendment: 

Section 1.

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

So, the 13th Amendment abolishes slavery in the United States.  Today, nearly 150 years later, it seems self-evident, yet the decision at the time was momentous.

There were those Congressmen that were on the right side of history and those who were on the wrong side of history.  I see exact parallels to today, where restrictions on women's rights and on the rights of gays are similarly being debated, and again we have those who are on the right side of history and those who history will record as being on the wrong side.

Harper Weekly was an influential magazine in 1865.  Some history-minded person (bless them!) has recreated every issue of the original periodical.  The 11 Feb 1865 issue, here, has the original list of how each member of the Congress voted on the issue of the 13th Amendment.

You must click on the thumbnail image at the upper left to enlarge the page.  And you should do that--actually take the time to glance through the names of those who voted for the amendment and those who voted Nay.  The latter group deserves the everlasting censure of history.

Why am I passionate about this?  Simply put, I have black and mixed race people in my family.  They are no different than you or me, and I cannot see how anyone can look at them and see something less than I see.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A New Concept in Running Gloves

[photo by Gary]

Yesterday here in southern PA a cold front swept through after midnight, bringing cold rain and some wet snow.  Higher elevations got more snow; here at my home, elevation 633', the snow was confined to grassy areas and fields.

I elected to empty my wood stove before my run, and since it was wet, could scatter the ashes on a flower bed without any fear of fire.  So I carried out the bucket of hot ashes, wearing the leather gloves pictured above, and proceeded to dump them. 

I left the flower bed immediately for my run, and a quarter of a mile later realized that I was still wearing the leather gloves.  At this point I had little desire to return to the house just to change gloves, and--being the scientist that I fancy myself to be--opted to conduct a glove experiment.

I was out for an hour and the gloves performed their main task of keeping my hands warm.  Very well, in fact.  I managed to avoid most of the rain, thus the gloves only got wet on their cloth backsides.  I also picked up, flattened, and carried home 3 beer cans to recycle; this endeavor got the palm side of the fingers a bit damp but the wetness did not soak through.

Bottom line: they worked OK in a pinch--in fact, better than I expected--but I'll stick to gloves made of synthetic materials.  Leather works to keep cows dry but it loses something in the process.

I should also comment on the gloves themselves: the main wear and tear on these gloves is the care and feeding of my woodstove.  The fingers tend to wear through from the abrasion of handling pieces of wood, so I effect temporary repairs using duct tape.

Reminds me of a great scene from Lonesome Dove, where the crew is making fun of Deets' (Danny Glover) outfit, a hodgepodge of patches and repairs.  Gus (Robert Duvall) observes some thing like: "Deets isn't one to give up on a garment just because it has a little wear."


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ultrarunning Dreams

If you thought I was alluding to my hopes and aspirations in the realm of Ultrarunning, you are mistaken.

For last night, after some 30 years in the sport, I had my first dream about Ultrarunning.  Well, the first dream I remembered after I awakened.

I was running an Ultra in the fall, as the leaves were down but it was still fairly mild, no snow.  My overall color impression was browns and grays.  I was running downhill on a decent trail, trying vainly to keep up with a runner about 50 yards ahead.  Suddenly he made a turn and was lost to sight.

I, too, came up to the turn, which was strangely unmarked, and kept on running.  The other runner was now gone.  After a short distance, I came up to another trail junction, this one a bit trickier, which was also unmarked.  I thought to myself, "Man, this race has some shi**y course markings!"

I was trying to assess the correct way to go when a bunch of runners appeared coming from the other direction.  I knew--in this dream--that the course was an out-n-back, but for some reason I did not know the distance.  So I turned up the way that the other runners were coming from.  As I passed the string, lo and behold I see our son running in the middle of that mini-pack.

I wave, he waves, and we go on our separate ways.  I knew that I had been running slowly (my normal speed these days!), but the fact that encountering of the pack of runners on their way back happened so early in my run indicated that my speed was glacial and I may as well drop.

That was the conclusion of this stupid dream, so I never found out the distance, results, etc.

Here's hoping for a more satisfying dream next time.


Mandate for Change?

Via Balloon Juice a couple days ago, we see an interesting observation:

In 2004, Bush beat Kerry 50.7% to 48.3%. In this year’s election, Obama beat Romney 50.8% to 47.5% (these numbers may change to numbers that are slightly more favorable to Obama as more votes are counted). Yet Bush had a mandate and Obama does not.
I get pretty sick and tired of double standards and hypocrisy and that kind of stuff.
Wouldn't it be nice if President Obama acted like he had a mandate and went full-court-press nuts for the next 4 years trying to do all the right thing(s) as though he had nothing to lose?  (e.g., taking on climate change, protecting social programs, universal health care, women's rights, gay rights, demilitarizing the U.S., etc....)
Wait, he doesn't have anything to lose.  What are they gonna do, vote him out?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Asteroid Mission...and Ultrarunning

I guess I'm a space junky.  Things astronomy make me perk up and take notice.

Thus it was that in my regular perusal of the Rude Pundit blog some days ago, I found this gem.  As I always do, I hasten to point out that reading the Rude Pundit is a secret vice, as he is foul-mouthed and uses crude sexual comments to make his points.

But you know, I almost always agree with those points.  So here we go, from the Rude Pundit's post of 16 Nov 2012, complete with the original rudeness intact:

Electing Obama Might Save Us From Asteroid Collision Doom:
So here's an issue that didn't get much play during the endless election cycle: Which candidate would save the earth from the dust and fire-filled doom of an asteroid collision? Science writer Ian O'Neill, a name that couldn't be more Irish if it whacked you in the nuts with a shilelagh, thinks that the United States chose the path of doom-aversion by re-electing Barack Obama.

See, one little-discussed project that President Obama supports is a manned flight to an asteroid. Yes, yes, just like in Armaggedon, but probably with significantly less Liv Tyler. O'Neill thinks that Republicans would have just concentrated on going to the moon again, like, you know, Newt Gingrich talked about. The asteroid mission won't happen until 2025, at least. But Obama is backing it because no one wants to get a face full of asteroid rock....
Oh, by the way, former conservative demigod, now regular ol' House member Paul Ryan voted against NASA's funding the last two times it came up. And his great and grand budget cut the agency even further, despite paying lip service to outrage over Obama's move away from doing a moon landing rerun and the end of the space shuttle program.

It turns out we didn't just dodge a bullet by sending the GOP tools back to the woodshed, but we might end up dodging an earth-destroying space rock.
The promised link to Ultrarunning?  Just that talking about asteroids and spacey stuff reminds me that it's high time for a night run.  At this time of year, on a good night the air is crystal clear and frosty, the roads or trails are still, and you'd swear you could reach out and touch the stars.

There's goodness in doing something nobody else does.  The recharging effect of being alone with the stars is incalculable.  But you just can't explain the magic and mystery of a night run to anyone who doesn't do it.  So it's our secret. 


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Cats in Art: Puss in Boots (1 of 2)--Dore

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

[Image credit Wikimedia Commons.]

Illustrations for Puss in Boots, 1883 edition, Gustave Dore, held in a private collection.

The engraver Gustave Dore provided the illustrations for Charles Perrault's 17th century swashbuckling cat story.  Zuffi tells us:

Naturally, Perrault's tale has tickled the fancy of many illustrators: even the great Gustave Dore, tireless creator of images to accompany tests such as the Bible or the Divine Comedy, could not resist the fascination of one of the world's most famous cats.
Puss in Boots embodies the notion of a suave, yet naughty cat effortlessly outwitting the clumsy humans.

Perrault and Dore certainly nailed it.

NOTE: Next week will feature a second Dore image.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Bigfoot...and Ultrarunning

[Image credit here]
From the article accompanying the photo above:
I loved reading breathless tales of encounters with the Yeti, Loch Ness Monster, Jersey Devil, Bigfoot, and other cryptids as a child, but those stories have never been supported by anything more substantial than an out-of-focus snapshot or embellished campfire story. And in the case of North America’s legendary nonhuman ape, the picture historians and sociologists have pieced together is that Bigfoot and other shaggy humanoids are cultural inventions that we have repeatedly conjured so that there’s always something wild and mysterious in the woods.

Case closed--no Bigfoot.  I get why we "need" Bigfoot, I guess, as a mystery of the backcountry.



Friday, November 23, 2012

Petraeus...and Ultrarunning

The Gen. David Petraeus saga, in perspective.  Courtesy of Tom Tomorrow, here:

Clicking on the cartoon should enlarge it, then ESC to return.  If that fails, check out the original here.

You may ask, and rightfully so, "What does this have to do with Ultrarunning?"
My answer is have that we all have that little voice inside of us that tells us what is right and what is wrong.  You know, your conscience.
Even if you twist some logic or stretch some truth to justify something, you know, you know, deep down, whether it really is justifiable.  You may talk yourself into something being OK, but that still, small voice is the real judge of what's right.
And if you fail to heed that little voice, then (as I once read somewhere) you get to sleep in the most notoriously uncomfortable of all beds--the one you make yourself.
My Ultrarunning hours are too precious for me to waste agonizing over and regretting having done something that I knew was not right.  I want to enjoy and savor my hours in the backcountry with a clear conscience.
You know, the same principle of preciousness is true about my non-running hours.  So just do the right thing.  You almost always know, in your heart of hearts, what that is. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Picnic Table Along the Appalachian Trail

[photo credit Gary]

The old, decrepit picnic table is immediately beside the Conococheague Creek where the Appalachian Trail crosses it in Caledonia State Park.  This is in southern PA, about 18 trail miles north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

I like to suppose it is reserved for old, decrepit hikers (or Ultrarunners); as such, I would have a standing reservation there.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Eerie Trees

The view from my south window (photos by Gary):
And a bit closer up:
Sometimes in lieu of a run I take a short walk through this park beside my home, where there is a quarter-mile long trail through the remnants of an old farm woodlot.
These Black Locust trees--useful as they were to the farmer for virtually indestructible fence posts--always give me the willies when I pass under them.  Can't put my finger on exactly why, it's just a feeling I get.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


[photo by Gary]

Yesterday (19 Nov)  was the 149th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, a speech remarkable for its beauty and simplicity.  A buddy and I went over to Gettysburg yesterday to participate in the annual memorial commemoration at the National Cemetery, where Lincoln actually spoke. 

The featured speaker was Steven Spielberg, director of the new Lincoln movie.  The day was both fun and sobering, as one remembers the real purpose of being there:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

I have family members who are black, and have mixed race grandchildren.

I cannot fathom how anyone could look at those precious children and see anything less than what I see.

Slavery was an abhorrent abomination whose demise was long overdue.

Nevertheless, as a researcher and writer on the American Civil War, I feel compelled to confess my opinion that the South was right in asserting the right to secede from the Union.

That position puts me in a murky area of (probably) being right--at least in a techncial sense--yet somehow appearing to be on the wrong side of the human bondage issue.

My thinking means in turn that Abraham Lincoln and the Federal Government were wrong to oppose secession by force of arms. That the Confederacy was actually correct in their assertion of the right to freely leave the Union that they had signed up for in 1776.

Now, I fully realize that the prime reason for the Confederacy to want their autonomy was to perpetuate the vile institution of slavery. I want to be clear that I in no way am excusing the enslavement of human beings. But that does not negate the right of the southern states to assert their autonomy--to freely leave an organization they had freely joined--even though it was for a despicable reason. I see it, we have Lincoln and the Union being wrong on secession but for the right reasons (opposition to slavery).  And we have the Confederacy being right on secession but for the wrong reasons (support of slavery).

It's easy for me to armchair quarterback this one from a century and a half away.  Then throw in the situational ethics of "the end justifies the means." Were I alive at the time I may well have had a different opinion of things.

Ain't gonna solve this one here.  So, to end on a shallow note, let me simply observe that I can't wait to see the movie.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Toughening My Feet

We Ultrarunners are understandably cognizant of how tough our feet are.

In my first 100 miler I had no specific system for foot management and as a result paid a huge price in terms of  HUGE blisters that covered most of the bottoms of my feet.  Self-inflicted, of course, but it was quite an ordeal.

In this post I'm not going to get into shoes, socks, duct tape to protect the feet (I'm not a fan), etc.  I'm just going to provide one simple tip that has worked for me.

Go barefoot.  No, not on your runs--to me, that's insane.  I'm suggesting you simply go barefoot around your home and yard whenever possible.  You'll toughen the soles of your feet over time.

And do it under poor conditions.  For example, I just walked down to my mailbox to get the morning paper.  It's probably 200' + one way, close to 500' round other words, nearly 1/10 of a mile.  The temp was in the upper 30s F.  This definitely stresses--and thereby toughens--the feet.

Now, I don't do the mailbox thing Valley Forge style when there's snow on the ground (although I suppose I could), but barefooting it to the mailbox is my normal routine all year.  Give it a try.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cats in Art: The Bridge (Larsson)

Not from Stefano Zuffi's coffee table book, The Cat in Art, that has been the guiding template for my continuing Sunday series.... but rather an image that I just stumbled upon in my research:

Image credit Swedish version of Wikipedia, The Bridge, Carl Larsson, 1912, watercolor, held in private collection.

Since I don't have Zuffi to steer by, I get to be the art critic solo here.

The bright greens and yellows of the foliage create a sense of vibrant life, and the human presence seems at first glance seems to be normal and peaceful...until one considers the almost jarring bright orange of the artist in the image and the stark black cat.

The cat becomes the focus of the painting--it's where your eyes are drawn.  Even if you try to pay attention to the other details, you keep getting pulled back to the cat.

Indeed, even on high resolution the cat seems to be a silhouette virtually devoid of all detail (although I'd love to see the original up close and see the actual brushstrokes that comprise the cat).

And what is happening over on the bridge?  The man--if that's the gender--on the bridge has insufficient detail to make out what, if anything, he is doing.  Yet both the cat and the artist (who seemingly has dropped her brush) are staring intently in that direction.

All in all, a fascinating painting!


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Farm Scenes as I Run

[photos by Gary]
Volunteer corn stalks amongst the ground cover

I love the routes around my home, especially the Harshman Road loop.  Here we have a field that was in corn last year (2011), and still had some viable kernels in 2012, even when another crop was planted.  I am not certain of what the ground cover is (perhaps barley?).

The closest volunteer
I learn so much from the annual cycle of agriculture, but the most important lesson is that food comes from the ground, not from the grocery store.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Another (Cynical) Veteran's Day Post...and Ultrarunning

Via Jude at First Draft, in a post called "I Didn't Fight for Your Freedom," that is actually more realistic rather than cynical.  Pretty much in its entirety:

So it's Veterans Day, which means that the US is awash with mostly obligatory tributes to military personnel.

I hate this shit.

I didn't fight for your freedoms. In the six years I was in, I never once defended your right to vote, or to carry a gun, or to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure (that one doesn't really apply anymore, anyway), or any of the other things you enjoy as a citizen of this country. I just didn't. Neither did anyone who went to Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Vietnam. It's all bullshit. It's a fucking lie that we tell ourselves and each other so that we don't have to think about why we send young men and women to serve, suffer, and die for old men's vainglorious ideas and profit margins.

I don't mind honoring sacrifice, but the military doesn't have a monopoly on that, now does it? I also don't mind remembering military dead and wounded. But we do it all wrong. We just fetishize the suffering (like good Catholics, no?) without wondering why it ever happened in the first place. Remembrance and memorial, it would seem, also involve reflection and assessment. Just because someone died or was wounded doesn't automatically validate how he or she came to be in that state. We send our young people overseas to be bored, pull duty, sometimes get shot at, and occasionally get hit. Then we never ask why they're over there in the first fucking place, because doing so, apparently, does them a disservice. What kind of jack shit is that?

A real Veterans/Remembrance Day would involve commitments to cease sacrifices that don't actually, you know, do anything in the name of freedom. Losing your legs so that Chevron can see higher profit margins is not noble. It's a god damned shame. Dying in the service of defense contractors doesn't bestow sainthood on the deceased. It just means that a life got snuffed out for no good reason. Reflexive military worship is a cancer on society. Unscrupulous people use it to justify their actions and avoid any criticism. That shit makes the act of asking why we should send young people to absorb bullets and get blown to pieces into some kind of subversion and/or sedition. How fucking ridiculous is that? Wondering if someone's death was worth the cost doesn't dishonor the person. I don't know how we've confused evaluating the motives and actions of leaders with spitting on corpses, but we have. And until we can untangle those things, we're just well and truly fucked when it comes to international affairs.

So this Veterans Day, take a minute to actually reflect on the acts and deeds of people in uniform. But that involves critical thought instead of blind acceptance of the rightness of our leaders' actions. Honor the dead and care for the living, but don't think that people in uniform today are actually standing between you and tyranny.

Remember that.

There is no nexus to Ultrarunning here.  Politically and militarily we run roughshod over the world because we can and we choose to.  Our military doesn't protect our fundamental right to run, as many of us might like to imply.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Cost of War...and Ultrarunning

Belatedly--'cause I didn't see it until yesterday--I want to cite some fine blogging by David Swanson, here

On the original Armistice Day in 1918, much of the world ended a four-year war that served no useful purpose whatsoever while costing the lives of some 10 million soldiers, 6 million civilians, 21 million soldiers wounded, an outbreak of Spanish influenza that took another 100 million lives, environmental destruction that is ongoing today, the development of new weapons -- including chemical weapons -- still used today, huge leaps forward in the art of propaganda still plagiarized today, huge setbacks in the struggle for economic justice, and a culture more militarized, more focused on stupid ideas like banning alcohol, and more ready to restrict civil liberties in the name of nationalism....

Let's pause there to digest what was said before we finish that sentence.  The "war to end all wars" snuffed out or forever altered literally millions of lives.  Without, you know, ending all wars.  In fact, many historians view WWII as merely a continuation of WWI, after hitting the PAUSE button for a couple decades.

Now, the rest of the sentence, which is where I really wanted to go:

....and all for the bargain price, as one author calculated it, of enough money to have given a $2,500 home with $1,000 worth of furniture and five acres of land to every family in Russia, most of the European nations, Canada, the United States, and Australia, plus enough to give every city of over 20,000 a $2 million library, a $3 million hospital, a $20 million college, and still enough left over to buy every piece of property in Germany and Belgium. And it was all legal. Incredibly stupid, but totally legal. Particular atrocities violated laws, but war was not criminal.

Can you imagine the good that spending today's dollars on butter and not guns could do?  How about universal childhood immunizations?  Safe drinking water all over the planet?  Universal health care?  Funding sufficient research to eradicate any number of diseases?

Instead we p*ss it all away under the guise of defense.

My previous Cost of War posts are here, here, and here.  And especially here, where I posted about Water Project.

The link to Ultrarunning is that we know, probably more than most here in the west, about the importance of safe drinking water.  Most of the rest of our citizens take it for granted that good water just plunges happily out of our taps.  We don't, based upon our experiences in the backcountry, where safe water is still a neccesity, but not a given.



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Turnip Flowers for Janet

[image credit PlantCoverCrops]

In a fairly recent trend, I notice where local farmers are planting turnips as winter cover crops.

The pretty yellow flowers did double duty the other day as memorial for Janet Christiansen, a local woman, a murder victim, whom I have previously blogged about here and here, where I wrote:

Janet was murdered in 2005. Her husband, Raven, was charged with the crime in 2010. She left behind a 6-month old, Kaiden, and was pregnant at the time of her death.
She came to my attention last summer when I read in the local newspaper that her remains were to be exhumed to gather additional forensic evidence. Her grave is only half a mile from my home, and I frequently run through the Brown's Mill Cemetery. Once I became aware of the circumstances, I began leaving wildflowers on her grave whenever I would run by. Today was no exception.
I have no personal connection with Janet or her family, it's just that her life, cut short, somehow resonated with me to help make me a better person by NOT taking my life for granted.

Rest in peace.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Appalachian Trail Run: Cumberland Valley Crossing

Yesterday I went for a 16 miler on the Appalachian Trail with a  couple buddies.  We did the crossing of the wide Cumberland Valley in central PA, north-to-south.  Used to be that this section was totally on roads and was notoriously the pits, but in 1992 a relocation was completed that utilized woodlots, fencerows, etc. to make for a beautiful, almost secluded wooded trail corridor.

The day was beautiful, mild, and we saw lots of deer.  Plus a small flock of bluebirds along one of the ubiquitous fencerows.  The trail corridor is interesting in that as you pass north to south, you first come down off North Mountain to reach the valley proper.  Then in rapid succession you cross PA Rt 944 in a pedestrian tunnel under the road; cross I-81 on the highway bridge that carries Bernheisel Road over the interstate highway; cross U.S. Rt 11, the former main north-south corridor prior to I-81, on a pedestrian bridge; cross the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks at grade level; and cross the historic Pennsylvania Turnpike on the highway bridge that carries Appalachian Drive over the turnpike.

Admittedly I am a transportation geek, but objectively speaking, all of these crossings are just plain interesting, as they involve historical routes from the past and present.

Last item of note, I am normally rather sure footed, rarely falling, but near the end I took a hard fall.  Rather than try to catch my fall with my arms I just turned the fall into a buffalo roll where the brunt of the impact was absorbed across my chest, shoulder, and back as I rolled.  Thankfully I impacted nothing hard—like rocks—and am only minimally sore today.  But it could have been disaster.

All in all, a great run.  Nothing really exceptional about it, but that’s part of the beauty, I guess.  Runs don’t have to be spectacular, they can be just as gratifying when they are plain ordinary.  See, an ordinary run trumps a sedentary period of equal duration anytime.

After the run, when the car shuttling was over, I visited the Waggoner’s Gap Hawk Watch (also image credit for above shot) location where PA Rt 74 crosses North Mountain west of Carlisle, PA.  I have always wanted to scope out a migratory raptor viewing site, so this was my day.  The birds were sorta quiet this day—the recorder told me that they had had just 18 birds over about 4 hours that morning…but in rapid succession soon after my arrival 4 red-tailed hawks and a bald eagle cruised by on their way south!  So perhaps I brought good luck.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Armistice Day...Every Family Has a Story

I am reposting the same post I have put up for the past 2 years on 11 Nov, commemorating the end of World War I.

Armistice Day...Every Family Has a Story

For Veteran's Armistice Day (as it was originally called)....

Every family has a story. My mother told me of my great-grandfather, Julius (or Jules?) Brinkmann, who was killed on this date in 1918 in World War I on the Western Front.

Word of the armistice, which took effect the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month of 1918, did not reach all the lines in real time. He was killed sometime later that day, AFTER the armistice.

He would have been one of the very last casualties of the Great War. You know, the war that was supposed to end all wars.

Oh, and he was a German. Funny, that really doesn't seem to matter, does it?

What is your family story? Please comment.

This is a generic photo, not of Julius...but it could have been.

Photo credit here.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Cats in Art: Stone Carving in Libya

Ran across across a photo of this neat stone engraving, that also embodies the theme of the cat in art:

Image credit Hakeem Gadi on Wikimedia, here, engraving of Fighting Cats at Mathendous, Libya.
I saw a real cat fight once--not a domestic squabble display like many of us see daily in our homes--but rather a full-on, no holds barred heavy duty cat fight in a barnyard.
The nearest thing I can compare it to is the standard cartoon depiction of a cat fight, where a writhing ball of fur spins around like a miniature tornado.  The fur flew, literally.  And the sounds: screaming meows, wailing, yelps of pain.  It was a jaw-dropping experience that I've never forgotten, nor would you if see one.
The cats in the engraving look like they are ready to rumble, and not for play either.
So...I wonder what compelled the unknown stone carver, of all the myriad subjects he could have chosen, to do an engraving of cats?  Also, I wonder about the scale of this engraving--there is no way to tell from the image or from the accompanying data exactly how large the cats are.  To me, they certainly appear to be much larger than life size, but I am speculating.
At any rate, they are locked for eternity in their pre-fight posturing, a moment before the fight begins in earnest.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Rewilding of the Northeast...and Ultrarunning

Via Discover Magazine, good news for those of us who love the backcountry: there's more of it, even here in the northeast:

Since the 19th century, forests have grown back to cover 60% of the land within this area. In New England, an astonishing 86.7% of the land that was forested in 1630 had been reforested by 2007, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Not since the collapse of Mayan civilization 1,200 years ago has reforestation on this scale happened in the Americas....

With the reforestation--today's second-growth forests now 100+ years old--the chances of seeing rare or formerly vanished critters is getting better. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Kristallnacht...and "The Bombers Won't Come"

[Image credit Jewish Virtual Library]

Via The Writer's Almanac, always a great read:
Today is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night in 1938 when German Nazis coordinated a nationwide attack on Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues. The attack was inspired by the murder of a German diplomat by a Jew in Paris. When Hitler heard the news, he got the idea to stage a mass uprising in response. He and Joseph Goebbels contacted storm troopers around the country, and told them to attack Jewish buildings but to make the attacks look like spontaneous demonstrations. The police were told not to interfere with the demonstrators, but instead to arrest the Jewish victims. Fire fighters were told only to put out fires in any adjacent Aryan properties. Everyone cooperated.
In all, more than 1,000 synagogues were burned or destroyed. Rioters looted about 7,500 Jewish businesses and vandalized Jewish hospitals, homes, schools, and cemeteries. Many of the attackers were neighbors of the victims. The Nazis confiscated any compensation claims that insurance companies paid to Jews. They also imposed a huge collective fine on the Jewish community for having supposedly incited the violence. The event was used to justify barring Jews from schools and most public places, and forcing them to adhere to new curfews. In the days following, thousands of Jews were sent to concentration camps.
The event was called Kristallnacht, which means, "Night of Broken Glass." It's generally considered the official beginning of the Holocaust. Before that night, the Nazis had killed people secretly and individually. After Kristallnacht, the Nazis felt free to persecute the Jews openly, because they knew no one would stop them.
The following is a true family story, as related to me by my mother.  This was not dusty history comprised of grainy black and white photos.  This was a real thing in the world:

That night, my mother was a 13 year old in Frankfurt, Germany.  Her recollection of Kristallnacht--The Night of Broken Glass--was seeing the windows smashed out of her favorite bakery just around the corner from their apartment.  She said, "I used to walk by the bakery on my way home from school.  All those pastries in the front window, just covered with broken glass...what a waste!" 

Then she teared up, and just sadly shook her head, perhaps remembering other things....
Later in the war her family's apartment would be bombed out in a nighttime bombing raid by the Brits (the U.S. bombed during the day).  My mother, her mother, younger sister, and younger brother would be buried for 3 days in the basement bomb shelter (an older sister lived elsewhere; her father was fighting on the Eastern Front).  Coal miners finally dug them out by hand.  Several of their neighbors died in the shelter.

Usually the family dressed in clothes to go to bed, just in case there was a bombing raid and an urgent exit to the bomb shelter was required.  That particular night her mom said, "Kids, it's cloudy tonight...just wear your pajamas.  The bombers won't come."
My grandmother was mistaken about the British bombers that night, so the family all fled to the bomb shelter wearing only their nightclothes.  Everything else would be destroyed, that's why Mom had no photos or objects of family history prior to 1944.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Where I Run: The Mason-Dixon Line (Mile 100)...and Ultrarunning

The bride dropped me off on her way to work and I scoped out a couple of the actual line markers for the Mason-Dixon Line in southern Franklin County, PA.  The Line and its marker stones are nearly 250 years old.

This stone is at Mile 100 of the Line...right in somebody's front yard (would that be cool, or what!?).

[image credit Gary]

I have previously posted about The Line here and here.  Per the Maryland Historical Society,

The Mason and Dixon Line (or Mason-Dixon Line) runs for 233 miles along parallel 39°43’ in the eastern United States, marking the boundary between Maryland and Pennsylvania. The line was surveyed by English astronomers Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon in 1763-1768 to settle property disputes between the Penns and the Calverts, proprietors of Pennsylvania and Maryland, respectively.

This is a great site for on-the-ground stone location information. I've found it very useful and specific.

The link to Ultrarunning is that I LOVE to combine training runs with history.  Having a destination to run to or past, packing a camera, is so exciting, espeically if there is an element of searching or discovery involved.  Plus the notion that you are checking something out that never even appears on the radar screens of most "normal" people.

I can't count the times when I've been having a discussion about, say, geography, with somebody, and when I mention the Appalachian Trail, or the Skyline Drive, or the Mason-Dixon Line, all I get are blank stares.  It's kinda sad, actually.



Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Soaring Words...and Ultrarunning

Offered without additional comment--these words truly stand on their own merits:

I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope. I'm not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. I'm not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight.

I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.

America, I believe we can build on the progress we've made and continue to fight for new jobs and new opportunity and new security for the middle class. I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you're willing to work hard, it doesn't matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn't matter whether you're black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you're willing to try.

I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We're not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.

Source: President Obama's victory speech.

The link to Ultrarunning?  I just enjoyed a celebratory run, wherein I felt exactly this way:

"I feel my heart pumping hard, I want to think again of dangerous and noble things.  I want to be light and frolicsome.  I want to be improbable, beautiful and afraid of nothing, as though I had wings." -- Mary Oliver, 'Starlings in Winter'

President Obama got my vote, although I had plenty of reason to be disappointed about the last 4 years.  Mitt Romney was so gracious in defeat, and I believe the country would have been OK under him. 

But today I feel that the President, relieved of the burden of campaigning and facing re-election, will feel empowered to take some bold steps to improve this country.  Things like addressing climate change in a real way, a coherent energy policy, ensuring that women have agency over their own bodies, social and legal equality for all people, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, and a pulling back from the politics of war as a so-called instrument of peace.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012


We may be well and truly screwed.

A poll taken last week by Public Policy Polling revealed the following (via Alternet, here):

A staggering 68 percent of registered Republican voters stated that they believe demonic possession is real. Meanwhile, only 48 percent of self-identified Republicans believe in another equally if not more scary natural phenomenon: climate change.

That story is just an aside--the real point today is to GO VOTE, whatever your political preferences are.


Monday, November 5, 2012

The Decay of My Form

No--not the decomposition of my body after death--I'm talking about running form.

Yesterday I had a great run up on the Appalachian Trail with a couple buddies.  We did a car shuttle so the run was point-to-point, heading south from Caledonia State Park (Franklin Co., PA).  I planned on 11 miles while J and K ran on to the next auto access point to make their run a 16 miler.

Anyway, the trail along this segment is pretty rough at spots, with significant elevation change  My favorite expression for this type of run is that "the trail runs slow."  (I realize that should be slowly, being an adverb and all, but I'm being colloquial here).  I'd not run rough trail like this for awhile, so I became rather abused by the trail.

Towards the end, as fatigue caused my running form to decay, I kept catching my toes, stumbling, and nearly falling.  The failure or ability to lift ones feet as little as 1/4" would prove crucial to remaining upright or biting the dust.  I managed to save myself from falls multiple times, so not falling was indeed an accomplishment.  Had the run been longer, however, I feel certain I would have become horizontal.

Earlier in my running career, when I was focused on road racing, up to and including the marathon, I read a great deal about running form and technique.  Seems that according to the "experts," I could be faster if only I did this, or did that.  Just pick up any issue of Runner's World and you will see what I mean.  I dabbled in trying to improve my running form, with no success.  Maybe I didn't work hard enough at it, but eventually I realized that I ran because I liked it, and when I became focused on "improving" I began to dislike running.

I didn't realize it at the time, but my rejection of messing with my form represented the first manifestation of the principles of running for the pure enjoyment of running...and that principle eventually steered my course into trail running and Ultras.  Yay!

I believe that each one of us has a form and technique that is unique to us, predicated upon our physiology and our physique. The way we naturally run is in all likelihood the correct form for us.  Unless you have the potential to be world or national class, just run the way you run and enjoy it.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Cats in Art: Young Girl With a Cat (Morisot)

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 The Daily Glean. Young Girl With a Cat, Berthe Morisot, 1892, oil on canvas, 22" x 18", held in a private collection.

Zuffi comments:

The beautiful, pensive girl, with a faintly sad smile and the long light-brown ringlet that falls lazily toward her breast, is stroking a docile cat that sits on her lap.  The painter's treatment of color is marvelous, with brushstrokes that alternate between rich, dense impasto and ethereal lightness.  In this interior scene, dominated by a sense of peace and relaxation, the cat's open, alert eyes add a touch of animation.
Contrast this painting with the one from last week, the similarly titled Girl With a Black Cat (Boldini).  In the Boldini painting the cat was alert and appearing ready to bolt, while in Morisot's above, the cat is also alert, yet at the same time relaxed.

Also in my web travels I ran across this quote from the painter, on the craft of painting (I can't for the life of me find the link again--sorry!), that really humanized her to me:

"I wear myself out trying to render the orange trees so that they’re not stiff but like those I saw by Botticelli in Florence. It’s a dream that won’t come true."

Friday, November 2, 2012

When Death Comes...and Ultrarunning

Via Hecate--who is a witch, seriously--we get a wonderful Mary Oliver poem.  Guess I'm back on the immortality theme again:

When Death ComesWhen death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

We Ultrarunners won't have simply visited this world--we have trod it, sweated on it, bled on it, and embraced it.  The backcountry brings us life in all its glory.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Weather vs Climate Change...and Ultrarunning

From Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy (also the NASA image), an examination of what Hurricane Sandy may mean:

A question I’ve seen a lot is: what was the role of global warming in all this? Christopher Mims wrote a short, measured analysis of this that matches my thinking almost exactly. Basically, it’s hard to know the precise role of global warming in the formation, movement, power, and damage caused by Sandy, but what we do know is that the Atlantic had warmer temperatures for longer than usual – conditions consistent with global warming – and that is a source of both energy and water for the hurricane. There is some thought that the huge arctic sea ice melt this year may have contributed to the abrupt westward turn of the hurricane into the coast. Correlation isn’t necessarily causation; the details are difficult to calculate and we may never know.

But we do know that something looking very much like this has been predicted by climate scientists. This may be an unusual event – after all, the nor’easter timing was important, and the spring tides from the full Moon contributed as well – but it’s hard to say just how unusual it will be in the future. Warmer waters lead to an extended hurricane season which can stretch into the time when nor’easters are more likely to occur. These circumstances loaded the dice. And as Mims so aptly phrased it, the reality of global warming means "climate change, by definition, is present in every single weather event on the planet."

There has been some political opportunism with this storm as well. I am not a fan of such parasitism; latching on to an opportunity under the thinnest of pretense to trump a partisan view. However, let me be clear: we just had the world’s biggest metaphor come ashore in the United States. Years of outright climate change denial and faux skepticism will hopefully be shaken by this event. Sea ice melting happens far away; droughts, fires, shifting weather is unpredictable and difficult to grasp; statistical graphs are easily manipulated by special-interest groups and generally difficult to interpret anyway. But a hurricane a thousand miles across doing tens of billions of dollars of damage and causing untold chaos is more than a wake up call.

It should be a shot of adrenaline into the heart.

My own heart goes out to everyone who has had to deal with this storm, and I am uplifted by the stories of heroism, self-sacrifice, and selflessness. I am a skeptic and a realist, but there is also a streak of optimism in me. When faced with extraordinary challenge, I will always hope that humans will rise to match it.

The link to Ultrarunning is that our wonderful world of nature may not always be as friendly as we think it is today.  "Natural" doesn't always equal good.  There are bad things that are natural--think Sandy.