Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Military Working Cats

Just ran across the blog called DuffleBlog, which seems full of smart-ass military insights and satirical writing...just the kind of blog I tend to gravitate to.

Here is a fine example of a typical post:

LACKLAND AFB, Texas – An experimental program to train housecats for military working roles will be scrapped, defense officials have told Duffel Blog. The $93 million initiative, which sought to utilize the feline’s stealth, agility and nine lives in espionage and counterespionage operations, was ultimately derailed by an inconspicuous, yet utterly intriguing, empty cardboard box.
“Training dogs, now that’s one thing. Cats are – well, cats are an entirely different animal,” admits lead handler, Master Sgt. Felicia Keys. “Dogs have discipline – you can teach a dog to ignore tennis balls, Frisbees, squeaky toys. A cat is going to do whatever the hell it wants.”
“Observe,” she says as she gestures to a video monitor showing a low-light training simulation from the adjacent room, where a military working cat (MWC) is being evaluated. The room has been outfitted to replicate an office filled with sensitive and classified materials posing a grave threat to national security.
Kitten First Class Nermal, a gray, mackerel tabby, has been assigned to stop a known hostile from stealing documents and embedding an improvised explosive device within a computer. Instead, Nermal can be seen batting a ball of yarn around for forty-five seconds before becoming bored and then discovering an unassuming but fascinating box. The infiltrator successfully plants the bomb and makes off with the data. A flashing red siren activates.

I just about blew coffee out my nose.  

Monday, March 30, 2015

Another Golf Ball

It's been awhile since I found a golf ball while running and blogged about it (last post was here, from this past fall).

Well, this weekend I just found another one in a last-year's corn field, along Swamp Fox Road, and as before this was in an area where there were no houses.  Just a corn field with a "golf ball" along the edge.

Image credit Gary.  "Golf ball" in situ.

Image credit Gary, a closer look.

Image credit Gary, the tell-tale crossed-out logo.

Regular readers may intuit where I am going next. See, my theory is that these are not errant golf balls hit by some backyard enthusiast: this ball was found at least 400 yards from the nearest habitation.  No, these are alien eggs.  It's the only explanation that makes any sense.  

Look carefully at the logo. It's TOP FLITE, but X'd out.  Savvy golfers may think that these are TOP FLITE rejects, but they'd be mistaken--this clearly must be how the aliens kept track of the eggs versus the real golf balls.  

See, they drop them across the landscape to spread their spawn. My theory:

The ubiquitousness of finding golf balls in unlikely places now leads me to consider some formerly outlandish theories.  I'm beginning to suspect that they are alien eggs, prepositioned, awaiting a hidden signal, and when they all hatch en masse there will be hell to pay for mankind.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Cats in Art: Key West Kitties (4)

From my continuing weekly series on cats in art.

The bride and I recently returned from a fine week with friends in Key West, where we were fascinated with the Ernest Hemingway Home and Musuem and its array of cats, many of which exhibit the polydactyl trait (6 toes).

This is the art, a "sculpture" created by one of the cats in wet concrete.  

And this kitty is perched on top of the memorial stone where the Hemingway cats are laid to rest after death.  I guess she isn't freaked out by the notion of death.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Where I Run: Mason-Dixon Line Marker (Mile 106)

Another installment in my occasional series about visiting and photographing the mile marker stones set in the mid-1700s by the surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. Super information about The Line and on-the-ground directions may be found here, courtesy of the Mason + Dixon Line Preservation Partnership.

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

Before the spring grown overtakes the fields and woods, Mister Tristan (the 7 year old human being, not the blog) and I headed out to find another local stone that I had not previously been to.  My last previous post on the topic (Mile 102) was from Dec 2013.

This is the stone at Mile 106. It's been sitting there peacefully for 248 years since Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon placed it in 1767.  The property owner was very helpful. 

The stone is found in an overgrown fence line; it'll be pretty much invisible and virtually inaccessible in a couple months as the new seasonal growth begins.  Image credit Gary.

Mister Tristan (7) for scale.  Image credit Gary.

The south-facing side with the "M" for Maryland.  Image credit Tristan.

The north-facing side with the "P" for Pennsylvania.  Image credit Tristan.

Friday, March 27, 2015


A couple of years ago I did a post I called  "Embarrassing Moments in Ultrarunning" about the Roberta Flack song "Killing Me Softly" in which I completely turned around the tune and permanently ruined it for any reader (it had to do with wiping my *ss with a snowball, so you really ought to click over and read it).

I'm about to do the same for Eric Clapton.  Ruining a song, that is.  Actually, it's an improvement because the original tune was a real downer.

So this is the Before:

Image credit Target

And this is the After:

YouTube link is here if the embedded video fails.

To close the loop in case it was not clear, every time I see a propane bottle or hear "Cocaine" on the radio, I immediately substitute Propane for Cocaine and burst into song.

It makes for a rather catchy tune.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

What Are You Doing on 14-15 July?

Nope, it's not a race.  It's the North American Manure Expo, to be held in Chambersburg, PA, hosted by the county agricultural agent in conjunction with Penn State.

Web site is here.

I was in their office the other day to get a soil test kit for my garden and could not help but notice this flyer.

Believe me, I get it that farmers are the backbone of America and we don't want to take them or their profession for granted...but this tickled me!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Fragmented Habitats...and Ultrarunning

Here in south-central PA we have been "civilized" for some 400 years, meaning that we no longer have any large swaths of uninterrupted forests.  For example, when I run on the Appalachian Trail near my home, the AT corridor is typically a ridge top scenario and you are indeed in the woods...yet you'd be hard-pressed to travel a linear mile without crossing some sort of of jeep trail or a real road.

I've always thought that the lack of contiguous habitat has adverse effects on the critters and plants that can live there, and this study is one of the more recent that verifies that intuitive thought:

The new study, led by Nick Haddad, a professor at North Carolina State University, and co-authored by Laurance and others, found that fragmented habitats lose an average of half of their plant and animal species within twenty years, and that some continue to lose species for thirty years or more. In all of the cases examined, the worst losses occurred in the smallest habitat patches and closest to a habitat edge. The study also demonstrates, using a high-resolution map of global tree cover, that more than seventy per cent of the world’s forest now lies within one kilometre of such an edge. “There are really only two big patches of intact forest left on Earth—the Amazon and the Congo—and they shine out like eyes from the center of the map,” Haddad said.

Think about that and treasure those times when your running habitat more closely resembles the primeval forest.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Cats in Art: Key West Kitties (3)

From my continuing weekly series on cats in art.

The bride and I recently returned from a fine week with friends in Key West, where we were fascinated with the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum and its array of cats, many of which exhibit the polydactyl trait (6 toes).

Image credit Gary, of a painting hanging in the house.  As previously in the series, I did not note the painter or the date, but you juts gotta love the alert, interested expression on this kitty's face...just waiting for something good to happen.

And this was another of the cats who inhabit the place.  This one looks exactly like our cat, Ca Beere, except for the fact that Ca Beere's tail is shortened due to an infection which led to amputation.  

She gets along just fine with the shortened tail, except that on occasion her leaping is off due to the lack of a tail for balance.  Just the other day Ca Beere tried to execute a leap from the bed to the dresser in our bedroom and came up just a tad short, crashing into the top drawer and running off, shaking her head.  Cats hate to have people see them screw up.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Well-Intentioned Advice...and Ultrarunning

People just can't help themselves--they want to be helpful and concerned, sincerely believing that they have some good advice for you.

"You," of course, being an Ultrarunner.

I was reminded of that this morning when I went out for a snowy run here on the final official day of winter, not a trail run, but just a flat 5-mile road loop from the house on my beloved Harshman Road.  My mother-in-law is staying with us for a few days, being newly mobile--sadly--due to the death of her husband and the loss of her last cat.

All the MIL stereotypes do not apply in her case; she's a kind, sensible and likable woman whom I am privileged to know.  But today as I was heading out the door came the words from behind: "Don't slip!"

I said "Thanks" and went on my way.  And I didn't even slip, not once.

But that reminded me of what surely was one of the most egregious examples of such unnecessary advice, which came when I was running on the Appalachian Trail nearby.  Keep in mind that over the years I have run hundreds if not thousands of AT miles, and this day I had run some 10 miles south from Caledonia State Park in southern PA to the vicinity of Old Forge.  I was running swiftly along the 2 mile downhill on the stretch below Chimney Rocks when I encountered a group of hikers struggling uphill.  Their leader was in the front, a young man, with perhaps a dozen or so teenagers strung out behind.  They may have come from Abraxis or Vision Quest, which are local residential facilities for troubled youth located just off the AT in the village of South Mountain.

(As an aside, in my day, the kids would have been called juvenile delinquents and the place where they were sent was called reform school.  But I am dating myself, and please know that I am quite pleased anytime I see kids on the trail.)

At any rate, as I sailed by heading downhill, the leader said to me, "Be careful, lots of loose rocks on the trail."

I said the requisite "Thanks" and after they passed, just shook my head and smiled.  He did mean well.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

And We've Complacently Begun to Think of This as Normal

The drone war, that is.  Highly touted as an alternative to "boots on the ground," our policy of raining death from the skies has had some unintended consequences (of course, "unintended consequences" are so common as to be recognized with their own rule).

Via Digby, the superb analyst of our day, speaking of the operators who pilot these drones:

Some say that the drone war has driven them over the edge. "How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile? How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?" Heather Linebaugh, a former drone imagery analyst, wrote in the Guardian. "When you are exposed to it over and over again it becomes like a small video, embedded in your head, forever on repeat, causing psychological pain and suffering that many people will hopefully never experience."

"It was horrifying to know how easy it was. I felt like a coward because I was halfway across the world and the guy never even knew I was there,” Bryant told KNPR Radio in Nevada. "I felt like I was haunted by a legion of the dead. My physical health was gone, my mental health was crumbled. I was in so much pain I was ready to eat a bullet myself."

Digby goes on to discuss the effectiveness of drone strikes:

How effective are the drone attacks? Chatterjee cites a report by Jennifer Gibson of the British-based human rights organization, Reprieve, that claims some targets on the White House "kill list" have allegedly “'died' as many as seven times."

Gibson adds, “We found 41 names of men who seemed to have achieved the impossible. This raises a stark question. With each failed attempt to assassinate a man on the kill list, who filled the body bag in his place?” In fact, Reprieve discovered that, in going after those 41 “targets” numerous times, an estimated 1,147 people were killed in Pakistan by drones. Typical was the present leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri. In two strikes against “him” over the years, according toReprieve, 76 children and 29 adults have died, but not al-Zawahiri.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Graceful Herbivores?...and Ultrarunning

Naturally seeing deer in the eastern woods while running is always a thrill.  Not that deer are rare, it's just that it's a real bonus of running.

That's why this article was a tad disturbing:

Deer aren't the slim, graceful vegans we thought they were. Scientists using field cameras have caught deer preying on nestling song birds. And it's not just deer. Herbivores the world over may be supplementing their diets.

You ought to go read the whole article.  In Nature, remember: there is no right and wrong, there are only consequences.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Cats in Art: Key West Kitties (2)

From my continuing weekly series on cats in art.

The bride and I recently returned from a fine week with friends in Key West, where we were fascinated with the Ernest Hemingway Home and Musuem and its array of cats, many of which exhibit the polydactyl trait (6 toes).

Image credit Gary, of a painting hanging in the house, I believe in the main upstairs bedroom.  I did not note the painter or date. 

This gray was quite friendly.  The rules of the road for the Hemingway Home tell guests not to pick up the cats, but petting them is just fine.  They'll exit if the petting gets too much.

Mostly they just lay around, people-watching.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

More Cemetery Musings....

I'm on a cemetery post roll right now, I guess.

Over in Brown's Mill Cemetery near my home, through which I run whenever I get a chance, sits the Clippinger headstone: mother Martha, daughter Mary, and father Howard. A typical family from the late 1800s, living well into the next century.

Howard lived from 1887 to 1970...but look off to the left of the stone. That's a GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) brass flag holder.  Trouble is, the GAR commemorates Union veterans of the American Civil War, which ended 22 years prior to Howard's birth.

All image credits Gary

Here's a close up of the standard GAR piece:

Far from being static, cemeteries are actually dynamic, changing places, and I'm not just talking about new burials.  Stones topple from the heaving of frost--or from the action of earthquakes (see my previous post on that topic here).  Lawnmowers sometimes snag a stone.  And as in the example above, small markers such as the GAR memorial piece come out of the ground and get stuck back at the wrong place.

Stones that tip over may not quite make it back on top of the grave that they were supposed to forever mark, as in this photo:

The point I am making is not to scold the cemetery management, but just to observe that when you have an old cemetery, over time things just happen.

Friday, March 13, 2015

First Wildflowers, Janet Christiansen, and Cemeteries

All image credits Gary

I went for a run yesterday morning after sleeping late. Finally the roadside snow is vanishing. These snowdrops are the first flowers I've seen outside this spring.  These were at a farm, but right along the road, so they got no benefit of sheltered conditions.  Just a tough, beautiful plant that I was SO happy to encounter.

This second series of photos immediately below is from Brown's Mill Cemetery that I run through near the end of the 5 miler. I noted several tombstones tipped over, not by the work of vandals, but just by the heaving of frost. Winter is hard on tombstones, particularly old ones.

Such a dichotomy: life and death, beginning and endings. There is a particular grave in this cemetery of a woman--Janet Christiansen--who was murdered by her abusive husband (I've blogged about Janet before, most recently here). 

I often pause there and reflect, so sorry for what happened to her but grateful in a sense that from her tragic death some nugget of good can result: I am reminded to live each day to the fullest and not to take anything for granted.  

Because life can change in a heartbeat, literally.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Republican Senator Letter to Iran

I've not blogged recently about my secret love affair with the writings of The Rude Pundit. In case you do not read his blog, you should.  It's a guilty pleasure I indulge in, despite the fact that The Rude Pundit makes his points often through very crude sexual analogies and what my mother would have called very bad language.

But...The Rude Pundit is generally spot-on with his political analyses.  You really should read him regularly.

Which brings me to today's post, based upon The Rude Pundit's post earlier this week.  Seems that last week some 47 U.S. Senators all signed a letter to Iran, pretty much sticking a shiv into President Obama's efforts to deal with the Iranians over their nuclear program.  

Here's The Rude Pundit's missive on the subject:

So 47 Republican Senators from the, well, Senate of the United States bravely sent a letter to the leaders of Iran, explaining to them how our government works with respect to treaties and other foreign policy decisions. The letter is related to ongoing talks between the Obama administration and the Iranians over its nuclear program, and, no surprise here, it contains basic misinformation about the process of ratifying a treaty. 

It's pretty goddamned insulting, too. Eleven members of the Iranian government's cabinet were educated in the United States. You can be pretty sure they know more than most of the constituents of the senators about how you negotiate an agreement with the U.S. And the senators got to see the back of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif's pimp hand in response: "I should bring one important point to the attention of the authors and that is, the world is not the United States, and the conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by US domestic law. The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfil the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations." When the Iranian government dismisses your political propaganda as propaganda, you've failed mighty fuckin' badly.

Let's put aside the overheated talk of treason. Let's not go down the rabbit hole of wondering what would have happened if a group of Democrats had done something like this to Bush. Instead, let's say that a group of Republican elected officials from the United States did the impossible: they made the repressive, fundamentalist government of Iran look like the reasonable ones. 

I should note that I continue to find our outrage and fear at any other country's nuclear program somewhat ironic...not that we want a world full of nuclear weapons, it's just that for us to play the good cop role on this topic, well, just seems, a tad ironic.  But that's just me.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Merry Christmas (Joyeaux Noel)...and Ultrarunning

Totally out of season, the bride and I just watched Merry Christmas (Joyeaux Noel) about the 1914 Christmas Eve truce on a portion of the Western Front of WWI.  The film centered on troops sharing the front from three countries: Germans, French, and Scots, and who spontaneously shared a moment of humanity amongst all the killing by an impromptu cease-fire along their portion of the lines.

Suffice it to say that it was a well-done, poignant movie.  I kept thinking about my great-grandfather Julius, a German soldier who died on the last day of the war, 11 November 1981, after the armistice was signed.

This image below was one of the end pieces of the film as the credits rolled.  The kitty was either called Felix (by the Germans) or Nestor (by the French).  The "real" name was Nestor, since one of the French soldiers knew the farm on which the trenches ran--and the cat--from before the war.

Of course, I have always maintained that it's the wrong phrasing to say, for example, "What's the cat's name?" since we can never know what any animal calls itself, which would be the real name.

The link to Ultrarunning, of course, is that I am continually reminded of how first-world (i.e., an optional leisure pursuit) this sport we love is, compared to situations such as those in the film...where ordinary people through no fault or doing of their own are thrust into a life-or-death struggle initiated and controlled by the so-called responsible adults in charge.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Cats in Art: Key West Kitties

From my continuing weekly series on cats in art.

The bride and just returned from a splendid week with friends in Key West.  We could not have wished for a better weather week there, combined with a crappy weather week here, even if we were the weather gods and had smiled upon ourselves.

Image credit Gary

This image is of a painting that hangs in the Ernest Hemingway Home museum in Key West.  I did not take note of the artist or date, just snapped a shot of the oil painting, which is approximately 30" x 24".

Seems that Mr. Hemingway--for all of his manly man-ness and machismo--was a cat lover.  He was especially enamored of polydactyl kitties, which have 6 toes instead of 5. From the Ernest Hemingway Home museum web site:

The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is home to approximately 40-50 polydactyl (six-toed) cats. Cats normally have five front toes and four back toes. About half of the cats at the museum have the physical polydactyl trait but they all carry the polydactyl gene in their DNA, which means that the ones that have 4 and 5 toes can still mother or father six-toed kittens. Most cats have extra toes on their front feet and sometimes on their back feet as well. Sometimes it looks as if they are wearing mittens because they appear to have a thumb on their paw.

Ernest Hemingway was given a white six-toed cat by a ship's captain and some of the cats who live on the museum grounds are descendants of that original cat, named Snow White. Key West is a small island and it is possible that many of the cats on the island are related. The polydactyl cats are not a particular breed. The trait can appear in any breed, Calicos, Tabbies, Tortoise Shell. White, Black, etc. They vary in shapes, sizes, colors and personalities.

The descendants of Hemingway's cats still inhabit the property today.  Look for much more cat goodness from Hemingway in the days to come!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Wood Work...and Ultrarunning

Photo I took last week of my wood scavenging efforts:

I chain sawed a couple of trees that were down in the community park beside our property. Then split the segments. 

The contrast is crappy--I hate taking pictures in the bright sunlight--but this is approx 5 wheelbarrow loads of white ash, not quite as BTU-intensive as oak but OK nevertheless.

On a typical winter day I load the wood stove about 4 times, with 6-8 pieces like the ones in the image. About 6 cords/winter. So I'm always looking for some free hardwood.

The next day I was sore.  Not used to that maul swinging work.  I'm counting this effort as cross training to support my Ultrarunning habit.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Image credit via Blue Gal, here:

I'm not sure how exactly to weave this into a blog post, but I am reminded that thus far, only Brian Williams has paid a price for lying about Iraq.

I would love to see Dick Cheney's trousers (for I'm certain he wears trousers, not pants) burst into flames the next time he opens his mouth.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Kitties in the Mist

A shot taken from our outdoor hot tub:

Wrought iron kitties beside hot tub
Image credit Gary

This cat piece came from a wonderful little antique/vintage shop that features a lot of garden art.  The place is located in the village of Lucketts, VA, on the way to Dulles Airport.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Cats in Art: The Cat in the Mirror (Balthus): 3 versions

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.  This is the 4th of a series focusing on the art of Balthazar Klossowski de Rola--AKA Balthus.

Just like last week, I'm going to offer you extra art: not one, not two, but THREE versions of this painting:

Image credit WikiArt.  The Cat in the Mirror, Balthus, 1978, oil on canvas, 67" x 71", held in a private collection.

Image credit WikiArt.  The Cat in the Mirror, Balthus, 1988, oil on canvas, 67" x 79", held in a private collection.

 Image credit WikiArt.  The Cat in the Mirror, Balthus, 1990, oil on canvas, 77" x 87", held in a private collection.

The size of the paintings-each about 10 years apart--gets larger, while the backgrounds get darker.  The first 2 kitties are great, with wonderful facial expressions and apparent interest in their images in the mirror, while the final kitty is dark and nearly indistinguishable.  The last cat could not even see its own face, given the angle of the mirror.  

I especially love the 1988 kitty as it reaches for the mirror with a paw.  

So it seems that as far as the cats go, unfortunately Balthus went downhill at the end.

I'm not an art critic, but to me the girl figures in the first two paintings look, well, almost photoshopped into the images.  The feet especially look unnatural.  Only in the final painting does the girl actually look integrated into the rest of the image.