Thursday, January 31, 2013

"She's In a Better Place"...Really?

Tough post to write.  The bride and I recently spent some time with friends, a couple who had lost an adult daughter in an auto accident.

Unlike some such social get-togethers, they were very free and open in discussing their daughter: her life and death, the grief process, the healing, the short, anything and everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask for fear of offending or creating an awkward situation.  It was a sad (at times) but also comfortable evening.

Now this was a "typical" church family, regular attendees but not overtly zealous or the like.  The mom mentioned that the one comment she frequently got--from well-meaning church friends--was "She's in a better place."

Our friends related how they grew to loathe that comment, just wanting to shake the commenter (or worse) and scream "Really?  Danielle is better off dead in a car crash than with her family?"

I get it--religious people think comments like that one are helpful.  But to a parent who has lost the light of their lives, it's insensitive at best.

I cannot fathom what it is to actually lose a child, but we came close when a loved one went off for awhile to a very dark, life-threatening place.  The bride and I were prepared (or as prepared as one can get) to receive that dreaded phone call in the middle of the night.  In sharing that sentiment with the dear friends of a support group that helped keep us sane during that time, we found that many of the other parents, like us, had already accepted the practical necessity of thinking about funeral planning, what type of service, what clothes we'd pick out, etc.

It was a grim, dark time...from which we have had the happiest of outcomes.  Unlike our friends, who have somehow managed to keep on going without their daughter.  They are OK now, but changed forever.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Pale Blue Dot...and Ultrarunning

Th actual "pale blue dot" is tiny: look in the long streak on the right, just below the centerline:
 [image credit Wikipedia]

I'm a sucker for Dr. Carl Sagan, and agree with Phil Plait, the motive force behind the wonderful blog, Bad Astronomy, that Sagan's words are inspirational and powerful:

It is a wonderful thing that words written many years ago can inspire people today. When Carl Sagan wrote his essay “Reflections on a Mote of Dust” (commonly called “Pale Blue Dot”), he must have known how special it was. His words were inspired by a picture taken from a spacecraft 6 billion kilometers away, a probe commanded to turn around and look at our solar system from this great distance. It was so terribly remote at the time that our entire planet appears as a simple pale blue dot, a single pixel of color in a vast patch of darkness.
His essay is, in my opinion, one of the finest examples of writing in the English language.
So let's look to Sagan's words themselves:

We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.
The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.
Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It's been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

The link to Ultrarunning, of course, is that all of our efforts and miles and pain and joy really don't amount to much on the cosmic stage. That's a humbling thought.

But on the other hand, when we do our Ultra thing, when we kindly and compassionately embrace a spirit of mutual effort on the trails to further our understanding of ourselves, we really are honoring the words of Dr. Sagan:

"To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Somewhere, the Gods Clapped Their Hands

[image credit here]

The title comes from a Dr. George Sheehan book.  For those of us who came of age in the running boom of the 1970s, Sheehan was a running philosopher who could write about our passion, and make us think about it.  He was a must-read, and runners today could learn a lot from him.

Anyway, I recall the title quote above or something like it from one of his books, and thought it applied here.

See, one of the grandbabies, the 9-year-old, whose nickname for purposes of this blog is Doody Bug, was off school today due to the freezing rain that landed through our early morning hours.  So I, being retired, am the go-to guy for emergency/unexpected child care requirements.  Since mom and dad had to work, I got to watch Doody Bug (which is always great, and NEVER a hassle).

Doody Bug came through the door with a DVD video that I have here right in front of me as I type this post.  It's The Nutcracker ballet, featuring Mikail Barishnikov and Gelsey Kirkland, circa 1977.

It is amazingly beautiful, and is a story that kids can follow.  Barishnikov does phenomenal leaps in which he hangs in the air, seemingly forever.  And Kirkland is ethereal as Clara, the girl who gets the magical nutcracker doll.

Doody Bug asked that we play it and watch it together.  So we settled into the sofa, snuggled together, she with her juice and me with my coffee, and loved it.  Just plain LOVED IT.

Somewhere, the Gods clapped their hands.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Modify Your Shoes for Ice

Here's a recycled post that I put up about 2 years ago, on modifying one's shoes for traction in icy conditions.  Here in south-central PA, today is supposed to bring some nasty freezing rain, plus I had an inquiry about this a couple weeks back, so it's a timely walk down memory lane.



Freezing Rain...and Ultrarunning

After several days of political or otherwise non-ultra posts, let's get back to basics, shall we? As in running and shoes and weather (all photos by Gary).

Well, the post title is kinda a misnomer. It's not Ultrarunning, strictly--this post is more about just plain running. Because when we have freezing rain as we did on Tuesday and is happening again today, I cannot imagine even thinking about any back country trail running.

But if you are braver than me and want to tackle icy trails, I do understand it. has been discussed many times on the UltraList, some years back I went ahead and created some semi-slip proof running shoes by screwing in a number of 1/2" hex head screws. The screws go around the perimeter of the bottom of the shoe. It's best to use a nut driver or socket, because a screwdriver would slip out of the screw head pretty easily as you try to torque the screw down.

For me, both the heel screws and the forefoot screws are equally important: the heel because I am a heel striker and need a solid grip as my foot comes down. And the forefoot, because that's how I push off for the next stride.

Tuesday morning I was out the door at 5:30 AM as I needed to be back to begin teleworking at 6:30. I knew there had been some freezing rain overnight, so I busted out my old Adidas Trail Response shoes that I only keep for ice running. In running my Harshman Road 5 mile loop, I was quite surefooted and really never had any instances of needing to catch myself.

I bet the drivers of the 5 cars that passed me thought I was nuts. But I was in heaven, tooling along with my arms out like an airplane, enjoying myself like an ebullient drunk (I did not do the arm thingy when seen).

I know that all runners have a stash of shoes that are not quite wrecked or worn enough to toss, but for that very reason are never worn anymore either. Go ahead and get pair ready for ice.

When I say "for ice" I am being literal. I should point out that these studded shoes really don't help appreciably on snow. I find that a pair of trail shoes with an aggressive tread is much better for snow running.

And then when you get home, you take off your wet duds, hang them by the woodstove, pet the cats, and life is mighty good.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Cats in Art: Reopening of the Chat Noir Cabaret (Steinlen)

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 am currently featuring 4 installments of the art of Theophile Alexandre Steinlen--this is 2 of 4:

Image credit WikiGalleryReopening of the Chat Noir Cabaret, 1896, T. A. Steinlen, 1896, oil on canvas.

The poster cat looks a tad bit hyper--either hopped up on catnip, or out of sorts due to all the humans attending the reopening of the cabaret. 

Or, merely mugging for the artist and acting the part of being famous enough to have a cabaret named after you.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Emily Dickinson....and Ultrarunning

That's Emily Dickinson, mysterious and reclusive poet in the middle 1800s, who, I am convinced, had the soul of an Ultrarunner and may have become one of us had she lived now.

Why do I say that?  Because she understood all the right things:

“I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven.” 

“Dying is a wild night and a new road.” 

“Whenever a thing is done for the first time, it releases a little demon.” 

“I hope your rambles have been sweet, and your reveries spacious” 

“The only Commandment I ever obeyed — 'Consider the Lilies.'” 

“Forgive me if I never visit. I am from the fields, you know, and while quite at home with the dandelions, make a sorry figure in a drawing room.” 

 “I believe in possibility.” 
From goodreads, here.  The first quote is my favorite of the bunch, far and away.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Where I Run: Stone Bridge

One of my road routes from the house is along the appropriately named Stone Bridge Road--so named for the 2-arched limestone bridge that there crosses the East Branch of the Conococheague Creek:

View from the downstream side

View from the upstream side

These images show that there is a modern, two-lane concrete bridge superstructure superimposed upon the underlying original 1-lane, 2-arch limestone bridge. 

Most people know little of the underpinnings of society--what makes things work--and I suspect this bridge falls into the same category.  I doubt whether even half the people who use it every day even know that they are driving on an antique (but fully functional) structure.

This is what the circa-1850 bridge would have looked like originally.  This photo is of the nearby Social Island Road bridge, from a way cool site called Bridgehunter:


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Armor-Piercing Bullets...and Ultrarunning

Via Dependable Renegade and The Raw Story, we find the following opinion from a man who aspired and still aspires to be your President:

World Net Daily columnist and former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum on Sunday insisted that Americans were entitled to armor-piercing bullets because they are “a right in our country.”

The Pennsylvania Republican told an ABC News panel that conservatives “should stick to our guns” and oppose President Barack Obama’s efforts to curb gun violence in the wake of the slaughter of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut.

“Armor-piercing bullets, why do you need that?” Granholm [the host] interrupted.

“Why do you need to protect Hollywood?” Santorum shot back.

“You’re deflecting,” Granholm observed. “Deer don’t wear armor. Why do you need an armor-piercing bullet?”

“But criminals could,” Santorum quipped.

“And police officers certainly do,” Granholm noted.

“Having the ability to defend yourself is something that is a right in our country,” Santorum asserted.

I understand "sporting weapons" for hunting.  I  grew up in a hunting culture at home (it didn't stick with me).  But I just don't understand the rest of the gun fetish.

And the connection to Ultrarunning?  Many hunters use the same trails we do for our respective endeavors; whenever I can, I give them the widest berth possible.  Chances are, they're a law-abiding hunter...after all, I've never heard of an Ultrarunner getting whacked in the backcountry by a hunter.

But increasingly, especially the last few weeks since the Newtown massacre, I am realizing there is a strong undercurrent of gun crazy--like that above by Santorum--that makes me uneasy.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Good Day for a Run...Bad Day for a Hawk

Yesterday (Tues) I put one of my pet running theories to the test: namely, that I have some of my best runs ever when the weather is crappy.

Well, here in southern Penn's Woods, yesterday was the coldest day of the winter and probably the coldest day in 2 years.  Real air temp when I started the run was about 14F, warming to 18F at the end.  And the wind was howling out of the west at 15-20 steady, with higher gusts.

As I typically do for windy winter runs, I headed west into the wind to get that nasty part over first.  The run was a big rectangle of some 16 miles, so the first quarter was tough, but then the wind was either quartering or from behind.

I was dressed in my maximum wind chill outfit and actually was quite comfortable.  Running directly into the wind was unpleasant but doable, and it didn't last forever.  And I felt smooth and strong and happy, like I could run forever.  And I loved all the puzzled looks I got from drivers passing me!

There was one major downer early in the run--I found a dead hawk in a box beside the road.  It obviously had been tossed out of a vehicle, and the hawk spilled out of the open box.  To me it appeared the tail feathers had been removed, so I couldn't confirm my supposition that it was a red-tailed hawk.  Plus it was frozen and contorted, making ID difficult.  Nor could I note an obvious cause of death, for that matter--it may have been shot, or perhaps struck by a car and collected for its feathers. 

I'll leave that part to the authorities: when I got home I drove out to bring the bird and the box home and called the Dept of Natural Resources to report it, but the game warden has not yet contacted me.

The hawk was magnificent, even in death:

As found

The claws

The beak

Such a sad thing.  I also was amazed as just how light the hawk's body was--maybe a couple pounds at most.

So, back to the overall theme here.  Bottom line is not to hibernate when the weather, by any objective standard, sucks.  Get out there and run--you will be happy you did.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Stupidist Beer Can Ever

I am on top of the topic of beer can litter where I run, as evidenced by my previous posts, here and here.

But over the weekend I found a roadside discard that takes the cake:

A blaze-orange can of Busch beer, very Naturey-looking, with the inspirational message "Cold as a a mountain stream, smooth as its name."
Yep, after we all go hunting, we'll drink some beers and toss the empties out the window.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Words to Get You Through an Ultra

Simple words, appropriate for the day, that have gotten me through many a rough patch in ultra races across these United States:

We have the right to walk to Montgomery if our feet will take us there. -- Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Cats in Art: Two Cats Poster (Steinlen)

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 am currently featuring 4 installments of the poster art of Theophile Alexandre Steinlen--this is 1 of 4:

Image credit WikiGalleryTwo cats: Poster for the Exhibition of Drawings and Paintings by T. A. Steinlen, T. A. Steinlen, 1894, colored lithograph and watercolor, 23" x 19 ", held by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA.

Zuffi's analysis:

This lithograph, clearly inspired by Japanese art, right down to the elegant calligraphic the printer's proof for the poster of the first and most comprehensive exhibition of the work of Steinlen, who was the first great poster artist in the history of art and advertising, working closely with Toulouse-Lautrec.  Steinlen adored cats, and considered it a mark of destiny that he began his career working for a periodical entitled Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat).  Indeed, his first collection of engravings was devoted to cats.  For this reason, as the key image of his first retrospective exhibition, he chose the soft, elegant lines of two practically Art Nouveu cats; the image also plays on the chromatic contrast between a three-colored "harlequin" cat [we in the U.S. use the term calico] in the foreground and the extremely elegant, totally black cat in the background.

Steinlen captures perfectly a phenomenon that I like to call "cats pretending they're not with you" in which a cat follows or accompanies you somewhere, then lies down in an oblique posture that emphasizes its independence...all the while keeping one eye out for any action on your part.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Phone Stack Game

Now here's an idea that resonates with me.  See, one of my pet peeves is restaurant meals being interrupted by incoming calls, and by the answering of same.

Yes, there are legitimate reasons to keep your phone on--say, for example, that you need to be reachable at all times by the babysitter.  But by and large, attending to one's phone rather to one's companions basically says that "my commitment to you is only partial right now."

Enter the Phone Stack Game, offered below with no additional comment or analyses:

We usually take a pretty hard line against phones at dinner, but a new trick just popped up that gives us hope for the future.
It's called a phone stack, and it's a buzzing, flashing reminder of every phone-etiquette rule the world seems to have forgotten.
It works like this: as you arrive, each person places their phone facedown in the center of the table. (If you're feeling theatrical, you can go for a stack like this one, but it's not required.) As the meal goes on, you'll hear various texts and emails arriving. and you'll do absolutely nothing.

You'll face temptation-maybe even a few involuntary reaches toward the middle of the table-but you'll be bound by the single, all-important rule of the phone stack.

Whoever picks up their phone is footing the bill.

It's a brilliant piece of social engineering, masquerading as a bar game. It takes the phone out of the pocket-where you can sneak a glance and hope nobody notices-and places it in the center of attention at all times.

Suddenly, picking up your phone is the big deal you always secretly knew it was. And more importantly, it comes with consequences.

But if, after the third ring, you decide your call is more important than your lunch tab, we're sure your friends won't object.

Friday, January 18, 2013

I'm Done With Fear

From Brilliant at Breakfast back on 6 Dec 2012, a post that I saved that captures why I am a liberal:

Few people are better at whipping up hysteria than Republicans. For my entire lifetime, it's been Republicans promising Dire Consequences lurking right around the corner. Their stock in trade, at least since the 1950s, has been fear. Yes, there's loathing too, but the primary focus of Republican energy is fear. Fear of Communism. Fear of the Devil's music. Fear of terrorists. Fear of interracial marriage. Fear of GAY marriage. Fear of black people. Fear of brown people. Fear of women. Fear of children. Fear of job loss. Fear of church authority figures. Fear of hellfire. Fear of God.

Republicans champion fear, and then do whatever they can to create the conditions under which that fear can grow and thrive, because at least up until this past election, fearmongering had shown to be very effective for them.

As for me, I'm done with fear, at least of the types of ginned-up fake fear that are enumerated above.  I don't have all that many years remaining to me--my life is probably better than 2/3 over--but I'm going to live it fearlessly.  I vow to awaken each day, not scared of trumped-up "threats," but rather simply be full of the possible.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Climate Change...and Ultrarunning

Over at Bad Astronomy, another great piece by Phil Plait.  He makes me excited about the heavens, and the broader scope of Nature.

And he's a scientist.  Meaning that he believes in the scientific process, the documentation of results, the writing of peer reviewed articles to expand the common body of knowledge.

Did you catch the term peer-reviewed?  That simply means that before an article can be published in a scientific journal, it must first be reviewed by a number of other scientists who know that field.  That guards against the publication of articles, frankly, that are full o' crap.

So...back to Phil.  The blog posted cited above contains this cool graphic:

See, the premise is simple:

If global warming isn’t real and there’s an actual scientific debate about it, that should be reflected in the scientific journals.

He [another scientist, Lawrence Powell] looked up how many peer-reviewed scientific papers were published in professional journals about global warming, and compared the ones supporting the idea that we’re heating up compared to those that don’t.
The results above speak for themselves.  Phil's conclusion:
So let this be clear: There is no scientific controversy over this. Climate change denial is purely, 100 percent made-up political and corporate-sponsored crap. When the loudest voices are fossil-fuel funded think tanks, when they don’t publish in journals but instead write error-laden op-eds in partisan venues, when they have to manipulate the data to support their point, then what they’re doing isn’t science.
It’s nonsense. And worse, it’s dangerous nonsense. Because they’re fiddling with the data while the world burns.

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?  We who spend significant time in the backcountry are well attuned to the pulse of nature.  We should be leading the fight for addressing the issue of human-caused climate change.  Because it sure seems to be a word that will never escape the lips of the "leaders" of this country.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Learning from Butterflies...and Ultrarunning

Ran across this scientific nugget at SciTechDaily (also the image credit), where I learn all sorts of cool stuff:

The Glanville fritillary butterfly (Melitaea cinxia) was studied by researchers, who measured its metabolic rates. They found that whether the butterflies were lab-bound or released to island meadows in Finland, the ones who flew more energetically lived longer.

The obvious take-away is that the more we move, the more we live.  Duh--a no-brainer for Ultrarunners, who already knew that.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Shooting Guns for Kicks

On the eve of Vice President Biden's report due to the President...from a week ago, Jon Stewart got it right about gun control (via Raw Story):

On his show Tuesday night, The Daily Show host Jon Stewart expressed his bafflement over conservatives who refused to even consider any new restrictions on gun ownership in the wake of multiple mass shootings. He noted that conservatives had blamed gun violence on movies, video games, mental health, and even sin.

The late-night comedian mocked politicians and others who claimed that numerous gun laws already existed, saying that McDonald’s hot coffee was more regulated than firearms.  “Why is it that there is no other issue in this country with as dire public safety consequences as this that we are unable to make even the most basic steps towards putting together a complex plan of action to slow this epidemic spread? What is really going on here?”
For Stewart, Alex Jones’ crazed rant about gun rights on CNN seemed to sum up the die-hard opposition to gun control. For conspiratorial gun advocates like Jones, absolute tyranny was the inevitable result of anything other than unlimited access to firearms.
“No one is taking away all the guns,” Stewart said. “But now I get it. Now I see what is happening. So this is what it is, their paranoid fear of a possible dystopic future prevents us from addressing our actual dystopic present. We can’t even begin to address 30,000 gun deaths that are actually in reality happening in this country every year because a few of us must remain vigilant against the rise of imaginary Hitler.”
The bride and I were over at some friends' home over Christmas, and our host asked one question that keeps haunting me: "Why would anyone NOT want to do something that would help make kids safer?"

Banning "assault weapons" would not impact hunting as we now know it. (Let's dispense with the argument that citizens need to be armed with assault weapons in case the government turns bad, 'cause you wouldn't have a chance against regular troops). Removing such non-sporting weapons from society would help keep their enhanced lethality out of the hands of the crazies--the homicidal rampages that will still inevitably occur would take place using more conventional (i.e., slower and less lethal) weaponry.

In a nutshell, the downside is that people would no longer be able to have and shoot assault weapons just for kicks.

Let me repeat that: the downside is that people would no longer be able to have and shoot assault weapons just for kicks.

No anarchy, no trampling of self-protection rights, just the loss of one facet of the recreational shooting spectrum.  I don't know about you, but I don't get the objection to the sacrifice above asked of the responsible gun owner.

The precedent already exists that certain weapons are not OK for society at large.  Just like private citizens can't possess tanks or shoulder-launched missiles, this proposal merely expands the window of military-only weapons a bit to cover these "assault weapons" as not being approved for Joe Citizen. 

To me that's a small price to pay for safer children (and I agree that gun safety needs to be addressed as part of a comprehensive solution, to include better mental health diagnosis and treatment, background checks, etc.).


Monday, January 14, 2013

PA is Laughing All the Way to the Bank

This billboard is along southbound I-81 around Milepost 8, less than a mile from my home.  Every time I pass it on a township road that literally passes in the shadow of this tall outdoor ad, I must stifle a chuckle because it represents government bureaucracy and opportunism at its best (or is it worst?).

Let me hand off to the Philadelphia CBS affiliate for a recap of our bizarre laws here in Pennsylvania regarding fireworks:

Do you want to buy large fireworks in Pennsylvania? The law says out-of-state residents may, but not Pennsylvania residents.
Pennsylvania law says Pennsylvania residents may only buy the small stuff — sparklers or small toy caps — from Pennsylvania dealers. But the dealers ARE permitted to sell larger fireworks with names like “storm chaser” or “rolling thunder” to out-of-state residents, according to Pennsylvania State trooper Morgan Crummy.
“Larger consumer fireworks, or display fireworks, may be sold to Pennsylvania residents,” Crummy says. “But they must have a display permit and also proof of residency. For non-residents, all that is required is proof of out-of-residency status.”
Crummy says buyers would then be subject to the laws of their home states. She says Pennsylvania residents may legally buy fireworks in other states, but it’s still against the law for them to be fired-off in Pennsylvania.

So to recap, PA residents may pull into places like Keystone Fireworks pictured above and buy only sparklers and the like, unless you've gotten a fireworks display permit from your local authorities.  However, if you whip out an out-of-state ID card, you may buy anything, even the big stuff.

So the good legislators of PA believe that big fireworks are just too dangerous to put into the hands of Joe or Jane Pennsylvanian...but if you are from somewhere else, buddy, go ahead and buy whatever you want (and thank you very much for that 6% sales tax you just paid us).  Just be extra careful, because those babies are too dangerous for our citizens.

Good for thee but not for me....believe me, I have no ax to grind here when it comes to fireworks.  Because besides attending the traditional large public displays on the 4th of July, I have no interest whatsoever in fireworks at the consumer level, even sparklers.  Just didn't get the pyro gene, I guess.

But it just seems a little disingenuous to ignore danger to the public to collect some tax revenue, just because that danger will happen south of the Mason-Dixon line.

I know, I know, big government and all that, but wouldn't it be, well, logical, for the Department of Commerce to establish some Federal standards here?  Seems like a perfect and logical exercise of national power for the bettement of all.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Cats in Art: Fur Traders Descending the Missouri (Bingham)

Life is interfering with blogging...this is a repost...but the kitty is still mysterious and compelling, and Bingham as a painter sure knew how to intrigue the observer....

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Running Tights

A couple winters ago I bought a pair of Brooks running tights from my local running store.  I always want to spend some money there just to support the local store, even though these babies were $65.00. 

These tights were brand-name (Brooks), men's LARGE, but right from the get-go they just seemed a bit undersized.  I always felt like I was a stuffed sausage trying to squeeze into them.

Contrast that with my other pair of tights from Race Ready, same size, which (while still leg-hugging) are roomy and just plain comfortable.  Plus they are at least 2" longer than the Brooks.

Race-Ready on Left; Brooks on Right:

[photo by Gary]

Other features. You can't see it from this image, but the Race Ready tights have a series of exterior pockets at the waist that are quite handy for my phone, bee sting AnaKit, and whatever.  On the other hand, the Brooks have more reflective fabric and zippers at the bottom of the legs for ease of getting them on and off.

I think the comfort and fit derives from the fabric composition:

Race Ready "Driline"      Brooks "Equilibrium
--63% nylon                     --0% nylon
--32% polyester                --93% polyester
--14% lycra                      --0% lycra
--0% spandex                   --7% spandex

Yeah, I see that the Race Ready total adds up to 110% (maybe they do go the extra mile!), but it seems to me that their superior comfort and fit is due to the high percentage of nylon.  I'll keep that in mind next time I shop for tights.

Oh, and I have no financial interest in either product.


Friday, January 11, 2013

On the Health Care Front...and Ultrarunning

Via Rising Hegemon, I see where the National Academy of Sciences has kinda dissed the notion that Americans have the best health care that money can buy:

America Is Number One (At Obesity, STDs and Dying Young)...among wealthy, developed countries, that is. According to a study from the National Academy of Sciences, Americans are "far" unhealthier than their counterparts in Canada, Australia, Japan, Britain, France, Portugal, Italy and Germany and eight other countries. But just how bad is it?

Well, Americans ranked last (or first, depending on how you look at it) in infant mortality, injury and homicide rates, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS, drug abuse, obesity and diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, and disabilities. But don't worry, we managed all this while spending $8,600 a year per person on healthcare, which is more than twice as much Britain, France and Sweden, "even with their universal healthcare systems."
It is always amazing to me that the health care debate came from such ignorance, I suppose it shouldn't. But all those folks under 65 complaining about their taxes, don't seem to have any desire to notice that their health insurance premiums are disgusting. Maybe, just maybe, in return for paying say $3,000 a year more in taxes, you pay $5,000 less a year in health insurance premiums AND get better care.
The problem, of course, is that our health care model is flawed.  See, first off we have a for-profit model, in which the profits of the providers are higher if they provide customers less (= poorer) service.  Their "natural" inclination for their shareholders is to keep costs down, maximize profits, etc. 

Part of that cost control necessarily involves deny, deny, deny.  The bride and I have 5 college degrees between us, yet whenever we read from our health care plan coverage manual, we come away with a glazed look in our eyes of incomprehension.  It literally boggles the mind.

Then we have this vast middleman layer--the Blue Crosses of the world--that shuffle the papers associated with this admin support. To the tune of 20% overhead, while the admin costs of Medicare are amazingly low--around 2%.

Which is why many folks like me think Obamacare should just have said "Medicare for All" and we'd all be SO much better off.

And the mandatory connection to Ultrarunning?  I tend to think that my active lifestyle tends to confer immunity to cardiovascular disease.  Truth be told, I also suspect I'm less likely to to die of cancer.

But guess what?  My probability of dying is still 100%.  As is yours.

So even if my heart pumps well and faithfully, another malady will stop me dead in my tracks, if you'll excuse the phrase.  My only hope is that my Ultra lifestyle will add years to my life...and not "junk" years added to the end, but quality years added NOW to the middle.

Note to self: do some investigation of life expectancy for runners to try to get a handle on this important question.  So many questions, so little time....


Thursday, January 10, 2013

More Local Hooftie News...and Ultrarunning

Heres' yet another example from my local paper, of the local crazies.  This scanned from the Chambersburg Public Opinion on 8 Jan 2013:

Well, if Celia has never been to jail, well, 2013 will indeed be different.

Oh, and the editing geek in me dictates that I quibble about the exact phrasing.  Perhaps the paper simply prints police reports verbatim with no editing, but it kinda makes me wonder whether Celia may have meant that whatever change she imagined, it was going to happen specifically at 1:09 am on 31 Dec.

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning? There seemingly are a lot of hillbillies around here, and sometimes I do think about encountering some of them on the trail. The good news is that such "hoofties," as a friend calls them, only go into the woods to party and then only close by a trailhead.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My Traditional Midwinter Stupid Stream Crossing

Every winter, I make it a point to ignore a perfectly good bridge and splash across a freezing creek.  Why?  Well, just because. 

I did this run as part of a 10-mile road loop on Tuesday morning.  Air temp was approx 28 F.

Bridge over Conococheague Creek on Frederick's Mill Road

Some clown wading across the creek.  Note the walking stick (I'm dumb but not stupid--it really helps).  Using self-timer feature on my Nikon Coolpix pocket camera.

I tell myself that the ostensible purpose of this exercise is to toughen my feet in particular and my body in general to some of the conditions that an Ultrarunner may face, either in a race or in some backcountry training run.  See previous post here about this same crossing in the summer, here for another stream crossing in winter, and a post here I recently wrote here about toughening my feet by going outside barefoot in the winter.

But truth be told, it's become a symbolic gesture, kinda like doing something just because you can.  Or just because.  Reminds me of the scene from the TV miniseries Lonesome Dove, where Gus chases some buffalo just because they're there and he can and he feels like it.

This post would be incomplete without my mandatory feet-in-water shot--the water got to mid-thigh at its deepest.  See also here for another feet-in-water shot from the Potomac River in September.

Oh, and once I resumed the run, my cold feet were back to normal within 2 miles. So just do it!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Colors of Cat Noses...and Ultrarunning

This post kinda fits in with my weekly Sunday regular posts called Cats in Art.  Rather than make you wade through several pictures of my cats, I'll just put the Ultrarunning connection up front and encourage you to scope out my cats further on.

This is a photo of a bobcat, the color of whose nose can best be described as "plum" (at least that's how it appears to me).  I've never seen one here in PA, where they are endemic, but had to fly clean across the continent to have the great fortune of encountering one on a trail run in the hills above Monterrey, CA.

[Image credit DreamsTime]

Now on to the domestic front, where we currently "own" 4 cats, all of whom are distinctly different in size, color, and disposition.

In parallel with their coat color variations, all their noses are different colors as well: pink, gray, black, and a brown/pink combo on the calico. So without further ado, for your viewing pleasure, I present my gallery of cat noses (all photos by Gary):

Pink-nosed Tizzy
Gray-nosed Amanda
Black-nosed Ca Beere (AKA the Dutch diamond magnate)

Brown/pink-nosed Molly


Monday, January 7, 2013

Quien es mas macho?...and Ultrarunning

The bride and I spent a lot of mindless but entertaining time this weekend on a sport other than Ultrarunning: NFL football.

In thinking about picking winners in the 4 games, I did not do so well, and idly speculated about simply picking winners based upon whose mascot was more macho.  This, of course, for you seniors, was reminiscent of an old Saturday Night Live skit, "Quien es mas macho?" (Who is more Macho?), circa 1980, which was a game show hosted by Bill Murray, in Spanish.  Contestants had to guess which personage was more macho, e.g., Ricardo Montalban vs. Lloyd Bridges.  It was a hoot.

With that in mind, in the AFC wild card games I would have picked Colts over Ravens, and Bengals over Texans...and been wrong twice.  In the NFC I would have been right in Seahawks over the Redskins: it's subjective, I know, but given the co-equal relationship that Native Americans had/have with the natural world, I called it a toss-up and went with the raptor.  And I would have been wrong about the obvious pick of the Vikings over the Packers.
But next week and beyond is where it gets even better.  Here are the divisional matchups, with my macho-based predictions:

AFC Divisional games:
1. Ravens—Broncos.  Pick = Broncos.  Easy, horses are clearly more macho than birds. 

2. Patriots—Texans.  Pick = Texans.  You don't mess with Texas, plus I think a Texan is more macho than a sissy New Englander.  Plus I hate extremely dislike Coach Belichick and his history of cheating.
NFC Divisional games:
1. Seahawks—Falcons.  Pick = Falcons.  A battle of the raptors just gotta make anyone smile, but the Falcons get my vote just because of correct biological naming.  See, a falcon is a legitimate bird (in fact, there are some 37 species of falcon) but a seahawk is not--it is simply a colloquial name for an osprey.  So although an osprey (bigger, more powerful) would ordinarily defeat a mere falcon, the biological geek in me dictates that I must call a penalty for incorrect naming and go with the Falcons.

2. 49ers—Packers.  Pick = Packers.  Obviously a blue-collar breadwinner is more macho than a get-rich-quick gold-mining grifter.

Based on my picks above, this yields the final four for the conference championships:

AFC Championship: Texans vs. the Broncos.  Pick = Texans.  They've been breaking horses for centuries.

NFC Championship: Packers vs. Falcons.  Pick = Packers.  Unlike my (twisted) logic above in picking a human mascot (native American) to lose to a raptor, in this case we have a "traditional" American vs. a raptor.  It's another matter altogether.  Since rank-and-file Americans have been thoughtlessly exterminating raptors since forever, the Packers get the vote.

Which leads us to:

Super Bowl: Packers vs. Texans.  Pick = Packers: although this could go either way, since each mascot has their own brand of toughness, when I apply the Quien es mas macho? principle, the Packers are the tiniest bit more macho.  Of course, my blue-collar industrial family heritage has nothing to do with my purely fact-based analysis.

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning is that our sport is the antithesis of macho.  Yes, running 50 or 100 miles is indeed difficult, but I maintain that it's not macho in the sense of being a heroic, manly effort.  It's anything but that. 

Ultrarunning is a personal quest of discovery to explore the breadth and depth of one's physical and mental limits, not to prove whether "mine's bigger than yours."


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Cats in Art: Figure of a Cat (Galle)

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.

In this case the medium is ceramics rather than paint.  Here are 3 images from Emile Galle (1846-1904), each fascinating in its own right.  The first is from the Zuffi book; the last two are of other Galle ceramic cats, pulled from the web.

Image credit Zuffi, pg 273.  Figure of a Cat, enameled terra-cotta with details in glass, 13" tall, held in private collection.

Image credit GoogleImages
Image credit GoogleImages
Zuffi's comment on the first image:
His [Galle's] passion for natural forms and the beauty of creation were perfectly in keeping with the aims of Art Nouveau...that found its greatest creative stimuli in the beautiful designs of nature.  It is said that the door to his studio bore the inscription "My roots are in the depths of the woods, next to springs, floating on the foaming waves."  This testifies to Galle's visceral connection to Mother Earth, of which our animal is one of the exemplary "products."
My take?  Galle's cats as pictured here all look carefree and happy.  I like to think that the original kitty models were likewise happy animals.  I also find the cats' "fur" to be fascinating, covered as they are with flowers or designs.  Seeing an original up close would likely take the top of my head clean off.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

100 Miler Conversations

Sometimes people who know I run vast distances (I just love the word vast, so kindly excuse the minor hyperbole) ask me what I think about during those many hours of running, and whether I get bored.

The truthful answer is that I have NEVER been bored while running.  Never.

The act of running--the physical, the mental, indeed the spiritual (you get to define that one)--combine to make any run for me a rich pageant of experience.  And if you're talking about a race, the ante has just been upped, for the venue of a timed, measured course and competition all serve to heighten the experience.

Case in point is my last 100 mile effort, the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Race, in March 2010 (has it really been 3 years already?).  Throughout the race I temporarily partnered up with various runners who were running at my speed, but such conversations were fairly short.  That night, however, during my 62.5-75.0 mile segment and again in my 87.5-100.0 segment (the course is 8 repeat loops over a 12.5 mile course), I teamed up with two volunteer pacers and carried on a couple three-hour conversations, respectively.

We talked about the death of a spouse; running technologies; of near-death addiction issues by loved ones; about running to celebrate a healthy grandchild who might never have even walked (I carry a piece of her infant body cast in every race); of TV, movies, and books; of working for the Defense establishment; sedentary lifestyles; better life thru pharmaceuticals; of the use of pacers in short, of anything and everything.

And the time flew, as did the miles, and the finish line drew nigh. And my mind was still racing.


Friday, January 4, 2013

The "Rape Exemption"

In my wide-ranging reading--anything from biographies, historical fiction, nonfiction, spy thrillers, biological and geological textbooks, blogs--I follow some feminist blogs to understand what's in the forefront of such issues.

Naturally the assault on abortion rights--or more broadly, women's bodily autonomy rights--is a prime topic.  I ran across this a couple weeks back that highlights one of the inconsistencies of some of the anti-abortion folks on the so-called rape exemption:

Question: What is the difference between a woman who wants an abortion after accidentally becoming pregnant with her boyfriend and a woman who wants an abortion after becoming pregnant through rape? Answer: The first woman voluntarily chose to have sex while the second woman didn’t.
In other words, people who want to see abortion banned but want to keep a rape exemption care very much whether a woman chooses to have sex or not. A woman who chooses to have sex should be required to deal with the “consequences,” i.e. pregnancy, birth, and child rearing. But a woman who becomes pregnant after being raped? Well, she didn’t choose to have sex so she shouldn’t have to deal with the “consequences.” In other words, if someone allows for a rape exemption, their opposition to abortion is not about “saving babies” but rather about making sure women who voluntarily choose to have sex and then become pregnant have to deal with the “consequences” of their decision to have sex.
It is likely that there are some people who believe abortion is murder but also support rape exemptions simply because they haven’t thought through the consistency of their position. They believe abortion is murder, but it seems instinctively wrong to force a woman who never chose to have sex in the first place but was instead forced against her will to carry and bear her rapist’s baby.

I don't know why this is so hard.  It's actually very easy: a woman gets to choose whether or not to be pregnant because it's her body.  BECAUSE IT'S HER BODY. 

Case closed.  Nobody else gets to decide, regardless of how "moral" their arguments may be.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

This is What Used to Drive Me Nuts at Work...and Ultrarunning

...the illusion of participatory engagement, when all along everything was already a done deal.

Kinda like the fiscal cliff dance.

Click to enlarge, ESC to return.

Courtesy of Scott Adams at Dilbert, 19 Dec 2012, here.

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?  There's very little bullsh*t in Ultrarunnning.  You just run.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The First Run of the New Year

With Mister Tristan around (the 4 year old human being, not the blog), plus Christmas, coupled with our love of trains, we saw a LOT of The Polar Express the past few weeks.

So I was reminded this morning of the scene in the movie where the boy is selected by Santa to receive The First Gift of Christmas, a pretty big deal.  And the boy opts not for some major toy but rather simply asks Santa for a sleigh bell that had fallen from one of the reindeer's harness.

So today was The First Run of the New Year, simple but symbolic.  I was a tad underdressed, having not properly focused on the weather whne I dressed--I thought it was 10 F warmer and that there would be little or no wind (wrong!), so it was quite a chilly run. 

But it was a great harbinger for the year--I hope--in that I felt strong, swift, and powerful.  I felt, in the words of the poet Mary Oliver:

"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'
Here's hoping to great running for all of us in 2013.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

This is Why I Blog

[photo by Gary]

Today marks the beginning of my 4th year of blogging. Except for a few instances where life intruded, I have posted something new every day, well over 1,100 posts.  Aside from Ultrarunning, this is one of the things in my life that has stuck.

Now, a relevant quote from some guy:

"What an astonishing thing a book is. It is a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts, on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person. [...] Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. Books are proof that humans are capable of working magic."
--Carl Sagan, courtesy of The Writer's Almanac (which if you do not subscribe to, you must.  Really.) .  He was born on 9 Nov, 1934.

Now, try not to think of me as pretentious, as in my mind I substitute "blog" for "book" in the quote above.  Of course, it's a vast stretch to equate blogs with books, but the underlying concept is indeed the same.  You have some notion or idea percolating in your brain.  It wants out, so you let it out, and post it.  Some people, maybe lots of people, read your thoughts and hopefully it resonates with them.

Mister Tristan (the blog, not the 4 year old human being) represents an outlet for my thoughts.  I'd love to have a vast readership, but it's just a small blog with a few folks who stop by.

No matter, it's the getting out of the ideas that are here in my head that is the point.  Even if only one person reads them, it's a success.