Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I Know We Run Beyond 26.2 Miles, But This is Incredible!

The new world's record in the marathon (men's) is now 2:02:57,  just set in Berlin this weekend.  

Wanna feel like a wimp?  This is 4:41 pace, people!

I've blogged about this before, but some years back I was running laps overnight at an American Cancer Society's Relay for Life.  I had decided in advance to run 100 laps, and so I executed that plan. I ran well and was relatively fresh when I hit my 100 lap goal, which equated to 25 miles. 

I wasn't spent or burnt out, I simply had no interest or desire to add another 1.2 miles so I could call it a marathon.  I suppose that was the moment when I truly became an Ultrarunner.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Perfect Endless Loop, It Seems....

Via Shakesville, who points us to the original article at CNN:  

The United States is spending millions of dollars to destroy U.S. equipment in Iraq and Syria — gear the U.S. gave the Iraqi military that was later captured by ISIS forces.
The U.S has hit 41 Humvees since attacks began in August, according to data from United States Central Command.
The U.S. is sending $30,000-bombs to eliminate these armored vehicles, which cost about a quarter of a million dollars each depending what it is equipped with, according to Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
The U.S. Defense Department confirmed the targets to CNN. "In some cases, we have seen instances of ISIL capturing and employing U.S.-made equipment," said a spokesperson. "When we've seen these terrorists employing this equipment, we've sought to eliminate that threat."
Once the U.S. destroys the equipment, it might have to re-supply the Iraqi military.
"If we want them [the Iraqi military] to be able to secure their own borders in the long run, we're going to have to re-equip them," said Harrison. "So we'll be buying another Humvee and sending it back to the Iraqi military.''

I'm not good enough with my Apple software and Blogger to draw this, but what I'd like to depict below would be a circular loop, with 4 circles distributed at the noon, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock positions.  And all connected by clockwise-pointing arrows.

Imagine the circle just described:

NOON:  U.S. supplies "good" guys

3 PM:  "Bad" guys intervene, attack "good" guys, capture U.S. provided military equipment and supplies

6 PM:  Chaos ensues, lots of human misery, "good" and "bad" guys and the way ahead all quite ambiguous, but we must do something!

9 PM:  U.S. blows up "bad" guys and their captured military equipment and supplies

NOON:  U.S. resupplies "good" guys

How many times in our Middle East adventures have we seen this same sort of scenario play out?  In the meanwhile, whenever we shoot, we create more people who hate the U.S. than existed before we shot, exacerbating the problem downstream in the future.

I keep thinking that the only solution to break this endless loop is to tell the "bad" guys,

"You know, we were gonna send $xxx worth of drones, Tomahawk missiles, and bombs to try to wipe you off the face of the earth.  Instead, we are sending that same amount of humanitarian aid in the form of food, shelter, medical supplies, and well-digging equipment to aid the ordinary people whose lives are screwed by near-constant war."

This may not work, but let's just try it this once, OK?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Cats in Art: A Community Art Project, Highland, IL

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.  In this case, I'm taking a break from the traditional art I've been featuring to showcase a contemporary piece of artwork: painted tile created as part of of a community park beautification project.

 Both image credits Gary:
This is the town square in the peaceful community of Highland, IL.  The one-block square park features an art deco fountain at its heart (on the right of this image), with a small pavilion beyond (in the left-center of this image).

On the illuminated front wall of the pavilion, facing the fountain, dozens or even hundreds of community members have created tile and painted art.  The bride and I--in town to visit a dear old friend--scoured the wall, looking for cats, and at last spotted this tiny guy in the upper left corner of the wall.  Only about 4" long, the impressionistic kitty just looks like he is reaching out to a human, any human.

I like to think that this cat will still be creating smiles many decades from now, even after the unknown artist is long gone.

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Runner's Hat

[image credit Gary]

I usually wear a baseball cap when I run to keep bugs away from my head and the sun away from my eyes.

Yesterday I ran for the first time in my newest old hat--the one pictured above--that belonged to my father-in-law, Charlie, who passed away a few weeks ago.  The bride and I got him this hat some years back to commemorate the ship he sailed on in WWII, the USS Turandot, AKA-47 (see here for a brief history of the ship).

When I ran through the village of Marion near my home, a car pulled up and the window came down.  I swear I almost jumped, because it was a black SUV with black windows that looked just like a Secret Service car...but turns out it was just a lost guy.  After I gave him directions (he wasn't far off track) and we were parting ways, he glanced at my hat and said, "Thank you for your service."

I explained that it was my FIL's hat for his ship in WWII, and that I was wearing it in memory of and to honor Charlie, but, well, the tears just began.  At length I managed to get out the brief story, but I was an emotional wreck the rest of the run.

That's how grief goes, I know, from having experienced it numerous times: you're OK, then there's a trigger, something that reminds you of the loved one you have lost, and then the waves of grief come washing over, sometimes even interspersed with laughter.

There's no right way to grieve, you just wing it.  And somehow I think your departed loved one understands.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sliding Stones in Death Valley...and Ultrarunning

Have you ever seen this phenomenon written up?  Seems there are stone that somehow slide around Death Valley, thus far eluding explanation.

[image credit Bad Astronomy]

Until now.  From the always-great read Bad Astronomy, Phil Plait explains:

When I was a kid, one of the coolest mysteries going was the moving stones of Racetrack Playa. This is a dry lake bed in Death Valley, California, where large rocks are embedded in the dried mud. However, many of the rocks have clearly been moving; there are long tracks behind them in the caked, baked mud pushed up like rails along the tracks’ sides.
What could be moving these stones? No one knew. They would sit for years, then suddenly be found to have moved many meters. Could wind push them? Maybe ice formed after rain, forming rafts that floated the rocks up. Speculation abounded, and I remember watching TV shows about the rocks, and reading about them in sketchy “Mysteries of the Paranormal” type books when I was a wee lad.
Now, however, this enduring mystery has been solved. And I mean,solved. Like, we know what’s causing this. A team of scientists and engineers were able to capture the motion on camera, finally revealing the mechanism behind this bizarre behavior.

In a nutshell, the playa is very dry, getting only a few centimeters of rain per year. In the winter, when it does rain, the slightly tilted playa gets accumulations of water a few centimeters thick at one end. It gets cold enough for the water to freeze on top. When the Sun comes out, the ice begins to melt, forming large chunks called rafts. The wind blows these rafts (which are typically a few millimeters thick), which then hit the rocks and push on them. The ground is softened by the water, so the rocks can move more easily ... and then they do. 

Gosh, I love science!

The link to Ultrarunning, of course, is that Death Valley is where the Badwater race takes place, a race that I have absolutely NO desire to ever run.  If you do, my hat's off to you, but this clearly is a case of different strokes for different folks.

And so on.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Yellow Flowers on the Tuscarora Trail

I don't know what these guys are, but for a stretch they dominated the trail a couple weeks back when I took this shot.  I have a good Audubon wildflower guide, just lack the motivation to key it out.

[image credit Gary]

The plant was a single upright stem about waist high, terminating in these showy yellow posies.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Cats in Art: Cat Catching a Bird (Picasso)

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.  

[Note: sorry this is posting a day later than usual.  The bride and I were on the road a bit last week.]

Image credit WikiArthere.  Cat Catching a Bird, Pablo Picasso, 1939, oil on canvas, 32" x 39", held by Musee Picasso, Paris, France.

Most of us don't think of our kitties as killers, but Picasso's surrealistic painting kinda dispels that notion, at least for this cat.  A few thousand years of domestication don't negate the millions of years of evolution that produced such an efficient and successful predator....that also delivers and receives cat love with such style.

That's one of the reasons why we love them, I think: the undercurrent of wildness behind the purring, the inability to know what cats are thinking, the aloofness and distance that many kitties keep.  You know, the mysteriousness, the dangerousness, which Picasso captured so very well in this image painted a lifetime ago.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Jack in the Pulpit Fruits

We have several of these wonderful plants growing around our property in various flower beds.  I particularly love them since they are Pennsylvania natives.

Anyway, the growing season is over, the plants have withered, and the fruits are set:

[image credit Gary]

These are the fruits of two plants that grew closely together.  The larger fruit is about the size of a golf ball, if elongated.  The color in this image is true: a very scarlet red.

I should read up on whether the fruit is edible or has any medicinal uses.  Regardless, it sure is pretty!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Asics Shoes...NOT Made By Extraterrestrials!

Over the decades I have always had good luck with Asics shoes.  They are affordable, and right out of the box they slip onto my feet and just go.

So, the other day I was surfing online for another pair.  I do confess that I typically get my running shoes online rather than in local store.  This is a screenshot of one I was looking at:

So far so good, just another running shoe (I guess perhaps my only quibble with Asics is that they have way too many shoes, making the choice process needlessly hard).  But as I drilled down to the actual product info, this screenshot struck me.  Check out the "Features + details":

Guess what?  The shoe is manmade.  Just in case you were thinking that Asics had all their shoes made by extraterrestrials.  Or meerkats.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Good Guys With Guns

This cartoon points out to me the simple dilemma that the NRA conveniently glosses over in its whole shtick about "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun":

Credit to Tom Tomorrow, here

Along these lines, courtesy of Crooks and Liars, here, a philosophy professor offers an amazing response to open carry activists who enter family-friendly establishments with guns strapped to their backs. He notes,"As many have pointed out, there is no way for bystanders to know whether the people with guns are "good guys" or "bad guys." It is rational to be afraid of someone with a weapon, especially if you know nothing about them."

His solution:

My proposal is as follows: we should all leave. Immediately. Leave the food on the table in the restaurant. Leave the groceries in the cart, in the aisle. Stop talking or engaging in the exchange. Just leave, unceremoniously, and fast.

But here is the key part: don't pay. Stopping to pay in the presence of a person with a gun means risking your and your loved ones' lives; money shouldn't trump this. It doesn't matter if you ate the meal. It doesn't matter if you've just received food from the deli counter that can't be resold. It doesn't matter if you just got a haircut. Leave. If the business loses money, so be it. They can make the activists pay.

Following this procedure has several advantages. First, it protects people. Second, it forces the businesses to really choose where their loyalties are. If the second amendment is as important as people claim, then people should be willing to pay for it. God knows, free speech is tremendously expensive.

I kinda like this idea.  Remember:  it is rational to be afraid of someone with a weapon, especially if you know nothing about them. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Obama...Who Fails to Occupy the High Ground

Via Avedon Carol, I was directed to a Salon article in which Thomas Frank interviews Cornel West, a professor at Union Theological Seminary and noted public intellectual.

NOTE: this interview came before the Obama speech on ISIL on 10 September.  The highlighting in BLUE is mine.  Professor West nails it for me: I was so ready, so excited, for a progressive president back in 2008.  But that's not what we got.


FRANK: So that’s my first question, it’s a lot of ground to cover but how do you feel things have worked out since then, both with the economy and with this president? That was a huge turning point, that moment in 2008, and my own feeling is that we didn’t turn.
WEST: No, the thing is he posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency, a national security presidency. The torturers go free. The Wall Street executives go free. The war crimes in the Middle East, especially now in Gaza, the war criminals go free. And yet, you know, he acted as if he was both a progressive and as if he was concerned about the issues of serious injustice and inequality and it turned out that he’s just another neoliberal centrist with a smile and with a nice rhetorical flair. And that’s a very sad moment in the history of the nation because we are—we’re an empire in decline. Our culture is in increasing decay. Our school systems are in deep trouble. Our political system is dysfunctional. Our leaders are more and more bought off with legalized bribery and normalized corruption in Congress and too much of our civil life. You would think that we needed somebody—a Lincoln-like figure who could revive some democratic spirit and democratic possibility.

FRANK: What on earth ails the man? Why can’t he fight the Republicans? Why does he need to seek a grand bargain?
WEST: I think Obama, his modus operandi going all the way back to when he was head of the [Harvard] Law Review, first editor of the Law Review and didn’t have a piece in the Law Review. He was chosen because he always occupied the middle ground. He doesn’t realize that a great leader, a statesperson, doesn’t just occupy middle ground. They occupy higher ground or the moral ground or even sometimes the holy ground. But the middle ground is not the place to go if you’re going to show courage and vision. And I think that’s his modus operandi. He always moves to the middle ground. It turned out that historically, this was not a moment for a middle-ground politician. We needed a high-ground statesperson and it’s clear now he’s not the one.
And so what did he do? Every time you’re headed toward middle ground what do you do? You go straight to the establishment and reassure them that you’re not too radical, and try to convince them that you are very much one of them so you end up with a John Brennan, architect of torture [as CIA Director]. Torturers go free but they’re real patriots so we can let them go free. The rule of law doesn’t mean anything.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Cats in Art: Still Life With Cat and Lobster (Picasso)

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

Image credit WikiArt, here.  Still Life With Cat and Lobster, Pablo Picasso, 1962, oil on canvas, 51" x 63", held in a private collection.

Whenever I write the words, as I just did above, "held in a private collection," I kinda cringe a bit.  Because beautiful art should belong to all of us and be held for the benefit of everybody in public museums.  I guess that's the Socialist in me, thinking of the greater good of society rather than the private pleasures of the few who can afford it.

Anyway, political rant OFF now, and back to Picasso: this is probably the first Picasso painting that I have carefully investigated.  My focus, is of course, the kitty, and quite the kitty it is: one-eyed, zombie-like, ghoulish, yet somehow not sinister.  Just a scruffy kitty about to score really big in the seafood department.

As I look at the two-dimensional image, I am drawn to the brush strokes that look as though Picasso really slathered on the paint, and am immediately reminded of the first time I saw some Van Gogh paintings and was stunned to see just how thick Van Gogh laid on the oils: at least 1/4" thick at some points.  This brush strokes in the cat in this painting appear the same way to me.  Just to stand in front of this painting--and it is big, bigger than 4' high and 5' wide--to scope out the textures would be like heaven.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Trail Work and Decompression

[image credit Gary]

Last week the blog was largely dark because I took some time off to decompress from the death of my father-in-law, with whom I was very close.

I spend a lot of time doing volunteer maintenance for the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, and I just figured it was the right time to go to "my" shelter and trail and just chill. Typically when I go there I am wielding a weedwhacker, loppers, and/or a mattock.  The work is long and sometime intense.  This time I only did some minimal maintenance activities and spent most of the days in reflection.

I took plenty of reading material, some adult beverages, my camp stove, and trusty old battered coffee pot.  I spent 3 days and 2 nights at the Reese Hollow Shelter and did not see another soul...which was as I wanted it.

This image is of the trail signpost adjacent to the Reese Hollow Shelter, at the origin of the Reese Hollow Trail**.  I made the two lowermost signs.  The ferns in the background are characteristic of the entire area--a veritable sea of ferns--as far as the eye can see.

**southern PA, Franklin County, just west of Mercersburg

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Running With a Friend on the Appalachian Trail

Earlier this summer my good running buddy, Jody, and I ran the 15 mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail in southern PA from Caledonia Park south to the Rt 16 road crossing at Blue Ridge Summit.

Jody is an excellent photographer and took a number of shots using a high-end pocket camera (sorry, I don't have the make & model handy).  These two photos (of me!) struck me so I'll share them here:

A ghostly chestnut oak tree on the ridge top

On top of Chimney Rocks

The first scene: this site always kinda gives me the willies whenever I run under that particular tree.  This area was logged probably 100 years ago, I'm guessing, but this tree was spared and is now way larger than any other tree along that ridge.  The way the lateral limb hangs across the trail (did you note the white Appalachian Trail blaze, which being out on a horizontal limb has to be an AT rarity?).

For some reason this tree seems eerie, almost, but not quite sinister, and putting it behind me always is a relief, especially if I am running there alone.

Then the lovely vista from Chimney Rocks practically knocks your socks off.  It's well worth the trip.  Heading south you then have a screaming downhill of about a mile and a half that passes the twin Tumbling Run shelters, a mountain brook, and a wonderful spring.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

For Those of You Who Keep Giants as Pets...and Ultrarunning

I'm a cat person, myself, though the dogs of friends and relatives are OK to engage with when the opportunity presents itself.

For those of you who keep giants as pets--think canned green beans--I am passing along some product information that I recently ran across.  I do this as a public service here at Mister Tristan (the blog, not the 6 year old human being).

This product will undoubtedly make your life as a responsible giant owner much easier in the housebreaking department:

[image credit Gary]

Note that this is one heroic-sized litter box: scope out the mature, 40' tall trees in the background.  Of course, you'd have to scoop it with a backhoe, but that's a small price to pay for the many pleasures of having a giant as a pet.

The link to Ultrarunning?  Think of how you struggle to complete a 50 mile race, using those puny 4' strides that you may be able to effect when the terrain permits.  On rough ground, of course, your stride length is even shorter.

Then think of how a giant could cover the same course almost effortlessly, using vast strides that are orders of magnitude beyond your anemic efforts, stepping over streams and hills, and covering level terrain with unbelievable speed.

Why, it's enough to make me just want to give up and throw in the Ultrarunning towel.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Cats in Art: Woman With a Cat (Leger)

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

Image credit Metropolitan Museum of Art, Woman With a Cat, Fernand Leger, 1921, oil on canvas, 56" x 35", held by Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Zuffi tells us that other artists of the period described Leger's style as a "tubist," that is, a reconstruction of forms based on the cylinder.  It's hard to describe, but if you scroll through a chronological series of Leger's work--such as this one at WikiArt--the theme comes through loud and clear.  It's an interesting approach, and while art appreciation is an individual thing, this type of work happens to appeal to my senses.

I guess one of the appeals of the painting above is the black kitty.  We currently have a black cat we call Ca Beere, a name that derived from Mister Tristan's (then a 3 year old human being, not the blog) inability to pronounce the cat's previous appellation.  So Ca Beere she became, and to me she is the sweetest kitty in the world.

Another interesting feature of the painting is the woman's head: the straight black skater's  hair, the lack of a real face. But posed with a cat, and a book: what's not to like?

My now well-worn copy of The Cat in Art by Stefano Zuffi, the original prompting for my recurring Sunday feature that has now persisted here for several years, shows a Fernand Leger painting called Woman With a Cat...only it's not this one.  Here it is:

Image credit Stefano Zuffi in The Cat in Art, pg 306-07, Woman With a Cat, Fernand Leger, 1955, oil on canvas, 25" x 36", held in a private collection.

It's 30+ years later in Leger's career, a 1955 image with the same title, but as I have found previously with researching cats in art, finding an on-line image of a particular painting can be difficult or even impossible, particularly if the painting is obscure or held in a private collection.  We think of the Internet as a vast, complete resource, but at times it yields nothing and we feel cheated somehow.  "Why can't I find it?" I sometimes think...then I remember that somewhere, sometime, an actual human had to input EVERY piece of information that appears on the net.

So while the 1921 image at the top is very well known, the second image--from 1955--that Zuffi featured is not.  Which is one of the cool things about Zuffi's book--he occasionally tosses in an image that nobody else seems to know about.

Since in my series Cats in Art I am an inputter of data, so to speak, I am rather forgiving when I can't find something that nobody, so far, has been motivated to upload.

So let me end with Zuffi's comment.  Bolding is mine: 

Perhaps Leger's fundamental stylistic trait [tubism] does not appear in full in this painting, but certainly the work displays a considerable simplification of volumes and surfaces, and the exclusive use of primary colors (with only the addition of green).  The indispensable companion for a placid, bourgeois afternoon spent with a good book is, once again, our friend the cat.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Off For a Couple...

We'll be dark here at Mister Tristan (the blog, not the 6 year old human being) for a couple days.

Please check back for Cats in Art on Sunday.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Trail Maintenance...and Ultrarunning

This week I have some signage to install in the vicinity of "my" overseer site: the Reese Hollow Trail and Shelter.  This is a feeder trail to the Tuscarora Trail just east of Mercersburg in southern PA.

The Tuscarora is a dry, ridge top trail so the Reese Hollow Trail brings backpackers down about a mile off the ridge to a shelter and spring.

image credit Gary

I did these signs with my Dremel Tool and with practice, I think I've gotten fairly proficient.

The link to Ultrarunning?  I've beaten this drum before, but trails do not magically appear and stay maintained all by themselves, just for our running pleasure.  There's a LOT of sweat involved, so I'd encourage you to take the plunge and volunteer with your local trail organization.