Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The U.S. is Wanting With Respect to Manliness

Ran across a list of some of the journalistic fails of 2014, and this one particularly tickled me:


-Fear and Manliness Foreign Policy Award: David Brooks, Cokie Roberts


During a discussion of the Gaza War, ABC pundit Cokie Roberts (7/13/14) argued that the problem with US foreign policy was that no one fears the United States.
You know, we just haven't made a strong enough presence in that region to have people be afraid of this country. And so I think there's a sense that, you know, they can get away with anything they want to get away with.
So the problem with the Iraq invasion, which killed roughly half a million people, along with a 13-year occupation of Afghanistan, the destruction of the Libyan government and drone strikes that have killed thousands in Pakistan and elsewhere--is that they don't instill enough fear.
Roberts wasn't the only one to have this insight; New York Timescolumnist David Brooks explained (Meet the Press4/20/14):
Let's face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have--I'll say it crudely--a manhood problem in the Middle East: Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad, somebody like Putin?

 Let me pull out the main takeaway and repeat it here:

So the problem with the Iraq invasion, which killed roughly half a million people, along with a 13-year occupation of Afghanistan, the destruction of the Libyan government and drone strikes that have killed thousands in Pakistan and elsewhere--is that they don't instill enough fear.

But don't worry.  Changing the name of the Afghanistan War from Operation Enduring Freedom,  to Operation Freedom's Sentinel will totally change the wuss factor.  I mean it.

Monday, December 29, 2014

This Kinda Sums Up Christmas, for a Kid

Mister Tristan--the 6 year old human being, not the blog--models a new Christmas acquisition:




All the best to you all as the year draws to a close....


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Cats in Art: Girl With a Kitten (Freud)

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.  At length I think I am past the art blogging from our recent trip to the Old World...though I reserve the right, as blog owner, to insert yet another cat image from Europe as I review my photographic record  of our trip....


Image credit the here, Girl With a Kitten, Lucian Freud, 1947, oil on canvas, 15" x 12", held by Tate Britain museum, London, England.

Zuffi tells us:

In Girl With a Kitten the artist portrays Kitty Epstein, daughter of the sculptor Jacob Epstein....the almost Dutch style of this period of Freud's painting heightens the most minute details, such as the rather shaggy hair.  Nervous, with her lips slightly apart and an anguished expression, Kitty conveys a sensation of discomfort.  The kitten, oddly gripped by the neck, contributes to the feeling of anxiety projected to the viewer: its wide-open eyes, like those of the woman, allow a pale light to be reflected in their gaze.

My thoughts?  While Kitty--the woman--looks nervously off to the right, the real kitty looks directly at the artist with a mute appeal for intervention.  If I were there I would advise the kitten--as I do my own cats who are disenchanted with some undesired human intervention--that "This is the price you have to pay for domestication.  Get over it!"

I should observe that the woman, to me, looks vaguely like Angelina Jolie...though she would not be born for nearly 30 years after this painting was rendered.  Also I should note Freud's use of the color gray, which happens to also be my favorite color.  Kudos to Freud for emphasizing this vastly underrated color!

One hopes that the kitty was soon released after posing and got back to doing normal kitten things.


Friday, December 26, 2014

Raise the Minimum Wage, Big Time!

Having just recently been in Europe, where the populace just seems healthier and happier than working people here in the U.S., I found this post from The Smirking Chimp to be quite interesting:

Danish fast-food workers get five weeks paid vacation, paid maternity and paternity leave and a pension plan. They also have to be paid overtime if they work after 6 pm and on Sundays.
And, believe it or not, the fast-food corporations operating in Denmark are going along with these better wages and benefits.
They've accepted the fact that, in Denmark, people have to come before profits.
Martin Drescher, the general manager of HMSHost Denmark, an airport restaurants operator, told The New York Times that, "We have to acknowledge it's more expensive to operate. But we can still make money out of it - and McDonald's does, too. Otherwise, it wouldn't be in Denmark."
He went on to say that, "We don't want there to be a big difference between the richest and poorest, because poor people would just get really poor. We don't want people living on the streets. If that happens, we consider that we as a society have failed."
Imagine that: a fast-food industry executive who cares about wealth inequality, and who doesn't want people struggling to survive and provide for their families.
Meanwhile, back here in the US, we have corporate executives in just about every industry who don't give a second thought to wealth inequality and the struggles that US workers are facing. As long as profits keep rolling in, that's all that matters.
The US needs to take a page out of the Danish playbook.

Time for some more leadership via Executive Order, methinks.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Truce, 1914

I originally posted this back in 2010.  I cannot think of a more fitting post for Christmas, 2014.

============================

Christmas, 1914

(image credit here:  British and German soldiers meeting in No Man's Land during the Christmas Truce of 1914.  Picture courtesy the National Army Museum.)

My great-grandfather died on the Western Front on the last day of WWI, 11 November 1918.  He was a German soldier.  I blogged about it here at Mister Tristan. So I found this tale of the 1914 Christmas truce to be very touching.


Via Avedon Carol at The Sideshow, who sends us over to The Daily Brew and a post from 2002: 

As the Bush Administration continues to prepare for its war of aggression, please don't give up hope that the illegal war by the illegal Bush regime may still be averted. Remember that Christmas is just around the corner, and strange things have been known to happen at Christmas. Below is a letter from the front line written Christmas Day, 1914.

My dear sister Janet,

It is 2:00 in the morning and most of our men are asleep in their dugouts—yet I could not sleep myself before writing to you of the wonderful events of Christmas Eve. In truth, what happened seems almost like a fairy tale, and if I hadn’t been through it myself, I would scarce believe it. Just imagine: While you and the family sang carols before the fire there in London, I did the same with enemy soldiers here on the battlefields of France!

[SNIP]

I went to the dugout to rest, and lying on my cot, I must have drifted asleep. All at once my friend John was shaking me awake, saying, “Come and see! See what the Germans are doing!” I grabbed my rifle, stumbled out into the trench, and stuck my head cautiously above the sandbags.

I never hope to see a stranger and more lovely sight. Clusters of tiny lights were shining all along the German line, left and right as far as the eye could see.

“What is it?” I asked in bewilderment, and John answered, “Christmas trees!”

[SNIP]

I was just starting back to the trenches when an older German clutched my arm. “My God,” he said, “why cannot we have peace and all go home?”

I told him gently, “That you must ask your emperor.”

He looked at me then, searchingly. “Perhaps, my friend. But also we must ask our hearts.”

[SNIP]

Still, one cannot help imagine what would happen if the spirit shown here were caught by the nations of the world. Of course, disputes must always arise. But what if our leaders were to offer well wishes in place of warnings? Songs in place of slurs? Presents in place of reprisals? Would not all war end at once?

All nations say they want peace. Yet on this Christmas morning, I wonder if we want it quite enough.

Your loving brother,

Tom 

You really should read the whole letter.  It has much more than the pieces I've excerpted.  The link is here.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

When Non-Conformists All Look Alike...and Ultrarunning

Ran across this reference on the always-good Boing Boing.  It links to a study about non-conformity entitled “The hipster effect: When anticonformists all look the same.”

The accompanying photo?






From the study:

In such different domains as statistical physics and spin glasses, neurosciences, social science, economics and finance, large ensemble of interacting individuals taking their decisions either in accordance (mainstream) or against (hipsters) the majority are ubiquitous. Yet, trying hard to be different often ends up in hipsters consistently taking the same decisions, in other words all looking alike. 

I am not a cartoonist, but I always imagined a cartoon of a football or a basketball team huddle, in which a plethora of bulging, tattooed arms and necks were quite prominent.  The caption would read  "After the game, let's all go express our individuality by getting more tattoos."

The link to Ultrarunning?  I kinda sneer at nonconformists becoming conformists as a result of their nonconformist zeal.  But truth be told, we Ultrarunners kinda pride ourselves as marching--i.e., running--to a different drummer.  We run vast distances while puny marathoners "only" run 26 miles, etc.  

I really do get it.  We are NOT unique, despite our efforts to be or appear so.  It just feels that way!


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Well Played, New Hampshire Driver!

Via Avedon Carol, who linked to a couple of great license plates:




Now back to Ultrarunning, or politics, or philosophy, or whatever floats your boat these days....


Monday, December 22, 2014

Things of Which I am Proud...Pure Ultrarunning

Ran across these two belt buckles when I was going through my "junk" drawer:

Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Miler 1998


Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run 2010

I get it, I'm bragging.  Nevertheless, I am pretty darn proud of these buckles.  

I have had the "pleasure" of cleaning out the personal effects of both my parents and an in-law.  It's not particularly fun.

So now, while I still breathe, I'm trying to figure out to which of the descendants each buckle will go, and bequeath the buckle while I am still here to enjoy the ceremony.  

My current plan: I'm waiting to see if any of them become runners....


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Cats in Art: Lion Statue in the Vatican (3 of 3)

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.  

The bride and I recently returned from a couple weeks in Europe, the trip of a lifetime.  We first took a Rhine River cruise downstream from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands.  Then we remained 3 more days each in Amsterdam and Rome.  While in Europe, my Cats in Art became a sort of quest for us and the others of our group, so the next few weeks here on Sundays will be focused on our kitty discoveries in the Old World.


Today's subject is the third of three lion sculptures from the Vatican.  One large room of one of their museums was filled with animal sculptures, among them this gem:


Image credit Gary, lion statue in the Vatican

The lions of the past couple weeks appeared to be struggling: thin, desperate-looking.

Not so with this svelte kitty, who appears to be well-fed and contented-looking.  Raising a playful paw, this lion seems ready to bat a ball around or to cuff an unruly cub (unfortunately, I managed to not include a pulled-back shot that would have shown the other lions--cubs, possibly--to either side of the principal lion).

Again, I am astounded at the pure skill that rendered this kitty a couple thousand years ago, and wonder if in his wildest dreams he could have imagined that millions of people would have gazed upon his work.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Origins of the Phrase "It Is What It Is"

Last Christmas season I fired up my Kindle and read for the first time A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  Then this season the bride did the same.  This was a repro of the original version with illustrations, which in itself was quite interesting.

We are Christmas Carol junkies, trying to see a stage production every year and watching all of the various film versions we own (our fav is the 1951 version with Alastair Sim).  Something about the story just seems to resonate with us, and we are please to note that this habit seems to be passing down to our descendants.  So I guess we did something right!

Anyway, back to the now-ubiquitous phrase "It is what it is."

Charles Dickens may well have foreshadowed it in writing about the Ghost of Christmas Past, who famously replied when Scrooge was complaining about seeing his painful past:

"I told you that these were the shadows of this things that have been," said the Ghost.  That they are what they are, do not blame me!"

Historical references aside, I just love how the book concludes, after Scrooge realizes what a d*ck he has been his entire life:

Scrooge was better than his word.  He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father.  He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city knew...and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well....

Watch it this year, and feel good about what you may learn.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Audubon Birdcam...and Ultrarunning

Last Christmas, the bride bought me (upon my specs!) an Audubon Birdcam.  This is an automatic wildlife camera; it is motion-activated and has various settings to tweak.  I opted for no flash since I was not going for nocturnal critters.

I use the BirdCam out at our feeder, specifically focused upon the suet feeder.  It has a choice of 3 focal distances; I am still experimenting with the exact focal length for optimum clarity.  In addition, I am fiddling with the shot angle to try to obtain the best background behind the birds.

So this shot isn’t museum quality but it’s nice anyway!

Image credit Gary


This guy, for some inexplicable reason, is called the Red-Bellied Woodpecker.  NOT the Red-Headed Woodpecker that one might assume would be the name (...and one would be wrong!).  Read more here about this bird at All About Birds.

He or she seems quite happy to visit our feeder daily.  Of the some 180 shots that the Audubon Birdcam took over the past 4 days, I whittled them down to about 25.  The red-bellied woodpecker showed up frequently; this shot really struck me as being a pretty decent image.

The link to Ultrarunning is the fact that birds are omnipresent in our backcountry excursions...only we may not be aware of them.  If I consciously focus on birds, then I see or hear them everywhere; if I just run, then typically I miss these wonderful companions.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Where I Run: Abandoned South Penn Branch Line Railroad

These ghostly tracks are all that remain of the South Penn Branch Line of the Cumberland Valley Railroad.  This is less than 2 miles from my home on foot.

 image credit Gary


I don't know why, but there is something mighty compelling about railroads, particularly abandoned railroads.  I mean, how can you NOT run out along these tracks?


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Cats in Art: Lion Statue in the Vatican (2 of 3)

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.  

The bride and I recently returned from a couple weeks in Europe, the trip of a lifetime.  We first took a Rhine River cruise downstream from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands.  Then we remained 3 more days each in Amsterdam and Rome.  While in Europe, my Cats in Art became a sort of quest for us and the others of our group, so the next few weeks here on Sundays will be focused on our kitty discoveries in the Old World.


Today's subject is the second of three lion sculptures from the Vatican.  One large room of one of their museums was filled with animal sculptures, among them this gem:


Image credit Gary, lion statue in the Vatican

Like last week's kitty, who brought down a sheep, this female lion has nailed a goat. 

Like last week's kitty, this statue is near life sized, what I wrote in my last post holds true again about the desperation, the gauntness, and how the artist was somehow able to magnificently convey a living-on-the-edge moment.  

Like last week's kitty, again I shake my head and marvel at the incredible talent displayed by this unknown sculptor from a couple thousand years ago.


Friday, December 12, 2014

The Return of Wisdom...and Ultrarunning

Obviously the subject line is meant to have a double meaning: it's the physical return of a bird called Wisdom, as well as--perhaps--a return of wisdom by humans contemplating a process much bigger and older than ourselves.



From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a feel-good story:

Wisdom, the world’s oldest living, banded, wild bird has returned to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge! Wisdom’s mate has been waiting within a few feet of the pair’s former nest site since November 19. Wisdom was first spotted on November 22. This isn’t the first time these two have readied their nest. Laysan albatrosses mate for life and Wisdom has raised between 30 to 35 chicks since being banded in 1956 at an estimated age of 5.  Laying only one egg per year, a breeding albatross will spend a tiring 365 days incubating and raising a chick.

Now, I seriously doubt that there are any Ultras run on Midway, but it's the spirit of things like this that so captivate we who like to run in the backcountry.  We love the natural world but we understand it so incompletely.  Stories about a 63 year old albatross returning to nest yet again reaffirm to me the fact that things are somehow still OK, despite it all.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Possibly the Best That Humankind has to Offer

The day after we read in the Torture Report about the worst that this nation can do, then we see something that has to be one of the best things than humankind can offer.

YouTube is full of cute and touching videos and I almost always blow them off whenever somebody sends me a link.  While I'm sure that it would be interesting, I figure that I just don't have time to do that for every single link that somebody thinks is worthwhile.

Well, the video below is worth 6 minutes of your time.  Trust me, you will not regret spending those few minutes of your life watching this:



(Link is here in case the embedded video does not play)

I should point out that while the musicians are Air Force personnel, this beauty of this piece has nothing to do with the military.  It is simply beautiful music wonderfully played and sung, and, well, is just kinda inspirational.

When we send space probes out to the far reaches of our solar system and beyond, a lot of thought goes into what info is included in case some other intelligent species finds it someday and wants to know who sent it.  I believe that things like stellar maps,  mathematical universal facts such as pi, and the pediodic chart of the elements are included, as well as some cultural info about our species.

In the latter category, they should just include this video.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Senate Report on Torture

From the Earth Bound Misfit, a succinct summary of where things stand or should stand with respect to the just-released Senate Report on torture.


"Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly." -- Attorney General John Ashcroft, in one of many meetings about using torture.
The Bush Administration knew about it. The Cheney Cabal pushed for using more brutal methods.  
As horrific as the report is turning out to be, it is also a profile in cowardice. There was no acknowledgement of the Bush Administration's demands that people be tortured. And the Obama Administration, aka MTAHNSrefused to turn over nearly ten thousand documents to the investigators. Obama opposed the CIA turning anything whatsoever over to the Senate inquiry, which makes Obama, for trying to cover up the commission of war crimes, as culpable as Bush.
The CIA and the Department of Defense committed war crimes. They committed the sort of crimes that, nearly seventy years ago, we executed enemy prisoners for doing similar things.
But they were not rogue agencies. The CIA and the military did what their bosses demanded of them. Which is not an excuse, but an explanation.
The release of the Senate report is a laudable step. But it is also a stark example of the shitty tendency of bureaucracy to blame the underlings for following the orders of the bosses.
Which leads me to this: We should either open a prosecution of the senior members of the Bush Administration for what they did, or pardon everyone who was convicted for torturing prisoners at Abu Graib. Either we follow through on being a nation of laws or embrace that we are a nation of war criminals. There really isn't any middle ground.



My thoughts are that since so many people wanted to hide the report--basically because it contained unpleasant things and would cast the mighty United States of America in an unfavorable light--then that's all the more reason to release it fully. 

If we are not proud of what we did, then it was wrong.  Period.  So...I'm waiting for the indictments or the pardons.  It's likely to be a long wait.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Drone Deaths

This hasn't made the national news--and it probably won't, although the numbers should be pretty easily verifiable--but an independent organization has done some math on the drone strikes of the U.S.:

According to Reprieve’s analysis as of November 24th, 1,147 people were killed in attempts to kill 41 men.

“Drone strikes have been sold to the American public on the claim that they’re ‘precise,'” Jennifer Gibson of Reprieve told the Guardian. “But they are only as precise as the intelligence that feeds them. There is nothing precise about intelligence that results in the deaths of 28 unknown people, including women and children, for every ‘bad guy’ the U.S. goes after"

Go read the whole article at the link.  And remember that every death adds to the growing list of people who will hate us.  Forever.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Cats in Art: Lion Statue in the Vatican (1 of 3)

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.  

The bride and I recently returned from a couple weeks in Europe, the trip of a lifetime.  We first took a Rhine River cruise downstream from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands.  Then we remained 3 more days each in Amsterdam and Rome.  While in Europe, my Cats in Art became a sort of quest for us and the others of our group, so the next few weeks here on Sundays will be focused on our kitty discoveries in the Old World.

Today's subject is the first of three lion sculptures from the Vatican.  One large room of one of their museums was filled with animal sculptures, among them this gem:



Image credit Gary, lion statue in the Vatican

This female lion has brought down a sheep, so I infer that the geographic locale depicted was the near East, perhaps today's Holy Land.  Lions used to roam there but sadly, no more.

This statue is near life sized, and the lion, well, just looks desperate.  She can now eat, but look at her facial expression, her gaunt ribs.  Life has not been kind to this kitty, and the artist was somehow able to magnificently convey that living-on-the-edge moment.  

To do that in stone is nothing short of remarkable.  Not to take anything away from painters, but if your subject kitty's bony ribs don't look right, you just let the paint dry and then paint over it.  Try that with your hammer and chisel.

In the sculpture above, simply note the number of pieces that are hanging free: the legs on each on the animals, the lion's jaw and ears.  Just think about how easily the sculptor could have tapped his chisel a tad too hard...and suddenly it's an "oh shit" moment.  Without the technology of epoxy or superglue, it was game over.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Where I Run: Jct of Marion and Swamp Fox Roads


Image credit Gary

This post probably only will be meaningful to the vintage guys and ladies.  Explanation at the bottom for the younger folk:

I ran into Leslie Nielsen this morning on my 10 mile loop from the house. We hung out, sang THE song, and then went our respective ways.

====================
Explanation: the village of Marion (exit 10 on I-81 in southern PA) sits just up the road from this shot and is named after the real guy.  So who is the real guy?

Gen. Francis Marion was in the Carolinas and there gave the British fits during the American Revolution.  He was a guerrilla type fighter who became known as the "Swamp Fox."

All I can figure is that a local guy either served with Marion or was a big enough fan from afar to get a PA village and a road named after the General.

Enter the entertainment industry.  Swamp Fox was a short lived Disney TV show in the 50s (maybe very early 60s?) starring Leslie Nielsen.  My formative years....

THE theme song was quite catchy:


Image credit YouTube.  If the link doesn't play:


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

God's Answer to the Gold Rush Crew

Last week I posted about the Discovery Channel show Gold Rush.  In that post I was disgusted that the mining crew would shamelessly pray to God for the success of their mining operations, thusly:



Heavenly Father,
We ask that the gold will just pop out of the ground.
Lord that you would show us the good spots.
Bless us and we pray it in your name.
Amen.

I just looked ahead to upcoming episodes and see that the Discovery producers will close the loop.  This is Comcast's recap of the future episode in which God reacts:


In a move that surprised even Himself, God grants Jack's prayer that "the gold will just pop out of the ground."  All over the Hoffman crew's claim, gold has mysteriously risen to the surface and is just lying on the top of the ground.  They simply pick it up, and without even needing to use mining equipment and processes, are rich beyond their wildest dreams.
And as it that wasn't enough, God personally appears, wearing mining clothes so He won't get muddy, and guides Jack to where the "good spots" are.
Oh, and then blesses all the crew. 

Amen, I guess.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Wolf Hunting...and Ultrarunning

Gray Wolf, image credit Gary Kramer, US Fish and Wildlfe Service


Seems that some "hunters" in Idaho were all geared up for a "predator derby" to be held in January 2015, except that the Bureau of Land Management just pulled the permit for the hunt.

According to The Guardian (I went British to get a hopefully unbiased take on the issue),



The US Bureau of Land Management has pulled the permit for a hunting derby that targeted the Rocky Mountain gray wolf, among several other animals, after environmental groups sued the federal agency.
“BLM’s first-ever approval of a wolf-killing derby on public lands undermines wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies and was not in the public interest,” said Laird Lucas, director of litigation at Advocates for the West, one of the environmental groups suing. 
Up to 500 hunters could have participated in the hunting derby on federal land, scheduled to take place in January on three million acres of federally owned wilderness. Hunters could have taken a nearly unlimited number of wolves, skunks, weasels, starlings, raccoons, coyotes and jackrabbits. The derby would have taken place over three days annually, for the next five years. 
Gray wolves were previously listed as an endangered species. But the top-tier predators became a political hot potato in the west after some ranchers and hunters felt that environmental groups didn’t live up to their end of a bargain struck in the 1990s when the wolves were re-introduced. Since, the debate surrounding gray wolves has become increasingly polarized.
Two things strike me: first, on the admin side, that the BLM ever approved the notion in the first place.  Then they backpedaled and didn't rescind the approval because it's a dreadful and horrid idea; no, they cited some problem with the application paperwork.  Gutless.

But of course the second thing that strikes me is why on earth there are some "hunters" who even think that this is appropriate?  "Let's go see how many critters you can kill in a given period.  We'll even award prize money!"

On things environmental, you have only to check with Aldo Leopold to get some understanding.  In the ecologic masterpiece A Sand County Almanac, Leopold actually writes about killing a wolf in the early 1900s.  Him, personally.  

Here's a excerpt, as posted on the Eco-Action site:

My own conviction on this score dates from the day I saw a wolf die. We were eating lunch on a high rimrock, at the foot of which a turbulent river elbowed its way. We saw what we thought was a doe fording the torrent, her breast awash in white water. When she climbed the bank toward us and shook out her tail, we realized our error: it was a wolf. A half-dozen others, evidently grown pups, sprang from the willows and all joined in a welcoming melee of wagging tails and playful maulings. What was literally a pile of wolves writhed and tumbled in the center of an open flat at the foot of our rimrock.
In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy: how to aim a steep downhill shot is always confusing. When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable slide-rocks.
We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes - something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters' paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.
Since then I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves. I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn. Such a mountain looks as if someone had given God a new pruning shears, and forbidden Him all other exercise. In the end the starved bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of the dead sage, or molder under the high-lined junipers.
Leopold came to realize the ecological error of wiping out the top predator.  But moreover, he realized the profound moral error of doing so, of killing something, well, just because you could.  

The link to Ultrarunning is pretty obvious: the chance to see a wolf in the backcountry.  But again, we have two levels: the higher level linkage is that you live and let live simply because you love life and on some level you just know in your heart of hearts that critters do too.

Monday, December 1, 2014

My Toy Train Group Saves the Day!

The following exchange appeared on my Yahoo Marx Trains group list serve last week (obviously the spammers send to everyone in the victim's address book). 

I tidied up the names and emails: 

3a 

From Bill M...Help!! 

Wed Nov 26, 2014 11:26 pm (PST) . Posted by: 

Bill M

Hello,

 I Hope you get this on time, Family and  i made a trip to Kiev, Ukraine and had my bag stolen from me with my passport and personal effects therein. The embassy has just issued me a temporary passport but I have to pay for a ticket and settle my hotel bills with the Manager. I have made contact with my bank but it would take me 3-5 working days to access funds in my account, the bad news is my flight will be leaving very soon but I am having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won't let me leave until I settle the bills, I need your help/LOAN financially and I promise to make the refund once I get back home, you are my last resort and hope, Please let me know if I can count on you and I need you to keep checking your email because it's the only way I can reach you. I owe you.

Regards,
Bill M

3b 

Re: From Bill M...Help!! 

Thu Nov 27, 2014 12:13 am (PST) . Posted by: 

Paul Y 

Good news, Bill!

We have gotten together and sold all of our tinplate trains to pay your
bills. It didn't come to enough money, but luckily, we just got word from a
lawyer in Uganda that we have just inherited a huge fortune there from a
relative there we never met. We wired the proceeds of the train money to the
lawyer who promises to get us the fortune as soon as possible. Tell the
manager of your hotel that the money is coming. Sit tight. Don't move a
muscle. We promise to get back to you real soon. Honest.

Regards,
Paul Y


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Cats in Art: Leopard Tapestry in the Vatican

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.  

The bride and I recently returned from a couple weeks in Europe, the trip of a lifetime.  We first took a Rhine River cruise downstream from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands.  Then we remained 3 more days each in Amsterdam and Rome.  While in Europe, my Cats in Art became a sort of quest for us and the others of our group, so the next few weeks here on Sundays will be focused on our kitty discoveries in the Old World.

Today's subject is from  the Vatican.  One of their museums is basically a long hall whose walls are covered with magnificent tapestries from antiquity.


image credit Gary, tapestry in the Vatican, no information available as to artist and date


If I recall correctly, this tapestry was about 2' x 4', or perhaps a notch larger at 3' x 5'.  It is of a spotted cat, which would have to be a leopard, as jaguars from the New World would not yet have been known in the Roman Empire.

This poor kitty looks beat: the eyes are sad, the head downcast, the tail drooping.  Maybe it was captured in some far-ranging African expedition, brought back to Europe, and caged for sport (the Coliseum, perhaps?).

At any rate, this poor guy deserved better, but at least his/her image has been preserved for posterity in Rome, to be seen annually by literally millions of humans.  But somehow, we know that this cat just wanted to be home, so hats off to that unknown artist who so faithfully saw and managed to convey the emotions of this long-ago leopard.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Why I Love My Marx Trains


image credit Gary


I am a Marxist.  

No, no, not that type of Marxist.  I am a Marx Train enthusiast, dating back to my early childhood when my brother got a Marx toy train for Christmas.  Those days were magical: the Christmas tree, the lights, the presents, the Marx train...our family didn't have much but we as kids didn't know that and were quite happy.  Think Ralphie in A Christmas Story and you kinda get the picture of that time in America.

I'll do a Marx post today then another on Monday, as I think about things Christmas....

On Fri, Oct 24, 2014 at 9:32 PM, Pete M, one of my as-yet-unmet-in-person friends from my Marx train group on Yahoo, wrote the following.  It exactly captures my sentiments:
If it wasn't for Louis Marx, a whole lot of Kids would not have had the chance to have a train set.  Truth be told...Marx trains were TOYS.  Marx trains were never manufactured to compete with "The big boys".  The niche that Marx sold to was the affordable, lower cost, market where any boy (or girl hypothetically) could own their own train set and have fun with it at a cost that their parents could afford.  Marx built tough, durable, and great running trains for every young "set it up and run it" child. That legacy alone, is the one thing we, who as children, who had nothing, will always remember and appreciate.  

And, by the way, that very Marx train from our youth still runs like a champ around my Christmas tree today, some 60 years later.  They truly were virtually bulletproof.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

False Summits...and Ultrarunning

Once, back in 1998, my buddy Bill and I were in training for the Massanutten 100 Mile run near Front Royal Virginia.

That winter we ran the Wild Oak Trail 50 Mile run near Harrisonburg, VA as a training run.  The course was a couple of 25 mile loops: you'd go out all the way around back to the start, then reverse and run the 25 miles in the opposite direction from originally.

Well, around the middle of the first 25 mile loop the elevation ranged up to over 4,000' and, being February, there was substantial snow on the tops of the ridges.  We called it "postholing" as you'd sink knee-deep into the snow with each step.  Needless to say, the course ran pretty slow.

Shortly before the 25 mile turn-around point we were ascending one last climb that seemingly  went on and on and on, false summit after false summit.  Every time you thought you'd reached the top, the trail merely leveled for a moment then resumed its uphill orientation.  Only you couldn't see that until you reached the tiny plateau.

Which gave rise to Gary's Theorem:

"Seeing daylight through the trees only tells you that you are probably approaching the first false summit."

By the way, Bill and I bailed at 25 miles.  The thought of trudging back through that trail and doing the postholing again--this time after dark--held absolutely NO appeal to either of us.  It was a smart move.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Praying for Gold...and Ultrarunning

I admit that I like to watch Gold Rush on the Discovery Channel (although why that's discovery, I'm not sure, other than a long tradition of pillaging the earth for minerals).

I guess I'm kinda obsessed with the show, cause here's what I wrote back in 2012, and again in 2013:


Another example--I've been watching Gold Rush on the Discovery Channel.  There's something arresting and compelling about these naive miners trying to strike it rich in Alaska.  Anyway, what really strikes me is how they literally have to excavate and wash TONS of gravel just to get a couple of flakes of gold.  The scale of rape-and-pillage-the-environment is absolutely stunning.
I've quite familiar with strip mining sites here in my home state of Pennsylvania, and it's awful.  What is happening in Alaska to extract gold is worse.
And the link to Ultrarunning?  Better enjoy the back country now, because when push comes to shove in a few years or decades, when wilderness is weighed against the precious minerals or oil or gas it contains, guess what'll  come out second best?

But anyway, what gets my goat today about Gold Rush is this: the kindly grandfather, who reminds me of a cross between Popeye and Santa Claus, is quite religious.  In fact, the guys in the mining operation wear shirts with 316 on the back, a biblical reference.  I suppose they are taking literally the Old Testament mantra, what Also Leopold called the "Abrahamic concept of land":

Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. 

So...after that very long-winded intro, here's what the kindly grandfather actually said in 2014 Episode 5, in praying for this season's success:

Heavenly Father,
We ask that the gold will just pop out of the ground.
Lord that you would show us the good spots.
Bless us and we pray it in your name.
Amen.

All said without even a trace of irony.  If God really cared enough about gold mining to entertain a prayer about it, He would smite these jokers.  Just because.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Cats in Art: Last Supper (Rosselli)

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.  

The bride and I recently returned from a couple weeks in Europe, the trip of a lifetime.  We first took a Rhine River cruise downstream from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands.  Then we remained 3 more days each in Amsterdam and Rome.  While in Europe, my Cats in Art became a sort of quest for us and the others of our group, so the next few weeks here on Sundays will be focused on our kitty discoveries in the Old World.


Today's subject is from the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, a place that figuratively knocked my artistic socks off.  
Of the large crew of artists who were commissioned to liven up the place with their art, Michaelangelo's frescos on the ceiling get a lot of attention. deservedly so, but the wall art also is mind-numbing beautiful.  That's where you'll find Last Supper by Rosselli.

In the image below I cropped out some of the edges that were painted to look like the framing of a traditional painting, just to focus on the core image:


Image credit WikipediaThe Last Supper, Cosimo Rosselli, 1482, fresco (oil on plaster), 11' x 18', held by the Vatican as part of the Sistine Chapel.  The cat is in the right center foreground, scrapping with a dog, but pretty small in this huge fresco, so here's the close-up of the kitty:



Wiki explains the symbology:


The scene is part of the Stories of Jesus cycle and, like the others, shows more than an episode at the same time. The frieze has the inscription REPLICATIO LEGISEVANGELICAEA CHRISTO. The supper is set in a semi-circular apse, with a horseshoe-shaped table at whose center sits Jesus, sided by the apostles. Judas, as usual, is depicted on the side, from behind: the fighting cat and dog are elements which further stress his negative connotation. The scene shows the moment immediately after Jesus' annunciation that one apostle would betray him. His hearers' reactions include touching their own chest, or mumbling one with each other.

I wonder if Rosselli had a particular cat that served as the model for this painting, or if it was just a compilation of felines?  I like to think that there was this one kitty, who hung out at the Vatican, and who Rosselli befriended and painted into art immortality.

Note: I posted about this piece previously back in 2011, here.  But now I've seen it with my own eyes....


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Owls...and Ultrarunning

Of all the critters Ive seen over the years along trails and roads, surely the most fascinating has been the owl.

Perhaps because they are quite elusive, I just have a fascination with this bird family, and have blogged about owls before at Mister Tristan (the blog, not the 6 year old human being) here and here.

Image credit Gary

This owl statue above, among several which grace our humble property, is our latest acquisition and marks the occasion of our 40th anniversary in August.  It is a beast of a carved river stone, standing about 24" high, and is just past the limit of what I can lift in terms of weight.  I had help loading it and was able to let it down from the seat in my minivan to the ground...barely.  Thence I wheeled it around the yard on a hand dolly.

I hope to run down on the C+O Canal here in a few days and would like nothing more than to repeat the owl experience I had there in which I stopped to pee at a tree--unbeknownst to me--that just happened to have a pair of large owls resting in it.  They, of course, took off and I was treated to a rare sight.

One final owl tale.  A couple of weeks ago, the bride and I attended an evening owl walk at Renfrew Park in nearby Waynesboro, PA.  The leader gave us a talk first, then we headed out into the woods where she played owl calls to try to lure in a live owl.  Things were simply not happening that night--perhaps due to a persistent wind--until all of a sudden a tiny screech owl showed up in response to the recorded call.

This owl landed nearly directly above the bride's head, only some 20' away, and oblivious to the 30 some people standing quietly there in the dark, proceeded to answer the recorded call.  The screech owl has an array of calls, and this one sounded most like a horse's whinny.

Wow!  So if you ever get a chance to go on a naturalist-led owl walk, by all means do it.